January 25, 2014


Like I said, the Best Picture-nominated movie Her is a lot funnier when viewed as a parody of the kind of people who like Her.

Bill Maher: Calling Richard Sherman "thuggish" is racist

As you've probably heard, the biggest pre-Super Bowl story remains Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman's alarming postgame interview with some blonde sideline reporterette. Now, the media has transmuted the story into their favorite topic -- white racism -- because some people have called out Sherman for acting "thuggish," which as we all know is a racist code word for black males no different from the N Word. For example, Bill Maher has jumped in to turn the spotlight on less enlightened whites:
Maher Defends Richard Sherman, Blasts the ‘Underground’ Racism of ‘Thug’ Label

A reader writes:
I've been following this Richard Sherman drama and the discussion of the putatively racialized term "thug" (which was mostly uttered by anonymous Useful Bigots on Twitter), and I've been wondering: did white people use "thug" as a euphemism for scary black people prior to the hip-hop era?
My impression is that the word was appropriated by rappers (e.g. 2pac Shakur) and then white people starting following their lead, referring to swaggering, asshole-ish black guys as "thugs" because that's what swaggering assholes in the rap game called themselves. This is in keeping with their idolization of white ethnic mafia types. Am I wrong about this? 
Did white people during the 70s crime wave typically refer to black criminals as "thugs"? 
Or does the thug euphemism for black go back even further than the 70s?

I'm only in my 20s, so my political memory doesn't begin till, say, Monica Lewinsky. 

The term thug comes from the murderous Thuggee cult in India, which provided villains for two great action comedies, 1939's Gunga Din and 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Despite that, Indians are almost never described as "thugs." 

In Britain, "thug" was used to refer to white soccer hooligans, as in the well-known 1990 book Among the Thugs by American journalist Bill Buford about English soccer outfits.

In America, "thug" was used to refer to semi-organized muscle, adult bully boys: from labor wars with management, we have "union thugs" and "Pinkerton thugs." "Thugs" often was used to refer to white mobsters and their hired goons, as in this 1953 Bugs Bunny cartoon about gangsters. Bugsy, Mugsy, and Thugsy. Yes, its 1990s appropriation by blacks like 2Pac Shakur is likely related to black gangsta rappers' love for all things Mafioso.

So, for a couple of decades, some famous blacks have been boasting tirelessly about their own thuggishness, but the Real Problem is that some whites have finally Noticed.

As for Richard Sherman, may I suggest that the fact that he has a documented 3-digit IQ (SAT scores on 400-1600 tests of 990 and 1060 and a Wonderlic IQ test of 24 where 21 is the mean), admirable study skills (salutatorian of his Compton Dominguez class), and a Stanford degree should not excuse him from apologizing for his outburst. Instead, the fact that he's smarter and better educated than the average NFL cornerback means that he should try harder than average to behave in a more gentlemanly fashion since he has the personal tools to behave better.

How to raise equality and quality

It has become a commonplace that a major cause of inequality in America is radical differences in parental resources per child. Affluent two-parent families can afford to send their only child to, say, SAT prep classes, while poor single welfare mothers can't afford such luxuries for their four children. 

Thus, the demand for universal pre-K to have an impact on income inequality by 2076 by helping close the 30-million-word Nurture gap. (Of course, this purported difference of 30 million words heard by rich children over poor children is supposed to occur before age 4, so it's not clear how universal pre-K is supposed to solve that, but don't worry about that, it's heart is in the right place and that's all that counts.)

But, some worry that the affluent will still continue to invest more per capita in their limited number of children even if the government rounds up all the poor children for almost all their waking hours. 

So, here's a suggestion for a national movement to fight inequality effectively: We must try to raise awareness of the idea that it is the moral duty of affluent and well-educated Americans to have more children, which would decrease the amount of resources of money and time these parents can devote to each child. Conversely, we must raise awareness of the need for the poor and the poorly educated to devote more of their limited resources to each child by having fewer children.

Assuming that Nurture 100% controls outcomes, this will lead to less inequality. Or, if you insist upon assuming that Nurture and Nature both influence outcomes, this would lead to somewhat more equality and quality of Americans. All else being equal, future generations would be smarter, harder-working, and less unequal. 

Time for a Bonfire of the Insensitivities

Some entries on Wikipedia are too long-form for 2014 sensibilities. For example: 
Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation

Not to be confused with the "Twentieth Century Motor Company", a fictional corporation in "Atlas Shrugged". 
Founded 1974
Defunct 1978

Key people Dale Clifft 
Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael

The Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation was an automobile company started by entrepreneur Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael in 1974. The company's flagship vehicle was the Dale, a prototype three-wheeled two-seater sports car designed and built by Dale Clifft. It was powered by an 850 cc air-cooled engine and featured a claimed 70 mpg-US (3.4 L/100 km; 84 mpg-imp) fuel economy and a $2,000 (in 1974 US dollars) price, which were popular specifications during the mid 1970's US fuel crisis.[1] 
Carmichael, 37 in 1974, claimed to be the widow of a NASA structural engineer, a mother of five, and a farm girl from Indiana.[2] ...
... Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times in November 1974, Carmichael said she was on the way to taking on General Motors or any other car manufacturer for that matter.[2] She said she had millions of dollars in backing "from private parties", and also talked of a 150,000 sq ft (14,000 m2) assembly plant in Burbank, California and over 100 employees on the rolls.[2] 
The Dale was also marketed as being high-tech, lightweight, yet safer than any existing car at the time.[1] "By eliminating a wheel in the rear, we saved 300 pounds and knocked more than $300 from the car's price. The Dale is 190 inches long, 51 inches high, and weighs less than 1,000 pounds", said Carmichael. She maintained that the car's lightness did not affect its stability or safety. The low center of gravity always remained inside the triangle of the three wheels making it nearly impossible for it to tip over.[2] She also went on record to say that she drove it into a wall at 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) and there was no structural damage to the car (or her). ... 

That's all very fine, but what could possibly justify the following paragraphs in Wikipedia's Liz Carmichael entry?
After having received money from investors, purportedly for the development and marketing of the Dale car, Carmichael disappeared and the funds were unaccounted for. She was charged with grand theft, fraud, and securities violations. During her trial, Clifft stated that he still believed in Carmichael and expected large royalties once the car would go into production. In fact, he received only $1001 and a bad check. 
Following her arrest, it was discovered that Carmichael's given birth name was Jerry Dean Michael, which was still her legal name, and that she was initially identified as a male. He married the former Vivian Barrett while still living as a man and they were the parents of five children. Michael stated he had undergone hormone therapy and was in the process of completing sex reassignment. Michael had previously been charged by the FBI (when living as a male) for alleged involvement in a counterfeiting operation; he had been released on bail and never appeared for trial. 
After his arrest related to the Dale car, Michael's bail was paid by a news station that was guaranteed the rights to his story. He subsequently jumped bail and remained at large until the airing of an Unsolved Mysteries episode in 1989. The episode revealed that Michael had been working as a flower vendor in Dale, Texas by the name of Kathryn Elizabeth Johnson. 
Isn't it scandalous that back then, people believed in outmoded concepts like the Public's Right to Know? (Apparently, a few people today still think that way today. Time to get 'em.)

For example, here's a 1975 People magazine article. All existing copies of this monumentally insensitive article should be publicly burned:
April 28, 1975 Vol. 3 No. 16 
She Really Is a He: The Bizarre Liz Carmichael Auto Caper

When dream-car hypester Liz Carmichael went on the lam charged with defrauding her investors, police were puzzled to discover wigs, hair remover and well-padded bras in the abandoned $100,000 home the self-styled "widow" had shared with five children in Dallas (PEOPLE, March 10).  
Now the mystery has been dramatically cleared up. Liz was nabbed by the FBI climbing through the window of a rented Miami house clad in a pink checked pants suit. The fingerprints clinched it: she was a he. Liz was disclosed to be one Jerry Dean Michael, 47, a fugitive from justice since 1961.  
Many of the details of the masquerade remain murky, but apparently the 6', 175-pound Michael passed himself off as Liz Carmichael for 13 years. He evidently derived as much pleasure from his tightrope walk between sexual identities as from his numerous scams to relieve the public of loose cash—most recently as head of the Twentieth Century Motor Corp.  
As Liz Carmichael, Michael often boasted that he would "rule the auto industry like a queen" with a cheap, gas-economizing car called the Dale. Now he is wanted for questioning in connection with phony real estate sales, counterfeiting and gun running—not to mention the dream car.  
What about the five kids? Jerry Michael owns up to fathering them all. Vivian Barrett Michael—the woman Jerry married in 1959 and whom "Liz" was in the habit of introducing as her secretary—is the mother of the brood. "We love her just as much as we loved him. The children call her Mother Liz and me just plain Mother," attests Vivian of her husband, who last week said he is a transsexual who has had a sex change operation. Upon capture Jerry Michael insisted that for all the misadventures he is accused of, the dream car can live up to its 70 mpg claim. "I believe 100 percent in this car," claims the 50 percent man. 

And if public article and book-burnings a la Savonarola's Bonfire of the Vanities aren't enough to get the message across, a few public reporter-burnings pour encourager le autres should do the trick.

It's the least we can do for the poor, oppressed Liz Carmichaels of this world. As you know, the most important social justice project of the 21st Century is the War on Noticing, because noticing can interfere with America's most important human rights issue: that conmen sorry, con artists be wholly unimpeded in getting away with their diversity-related cons.

Dirty jokes comprise much of famous sex study data

From the Cornell Chronicle:
Young 'pranksters' skewed landmark sexuality study 
By H. Roger Segelken 
The joke’s on a generation of human-sexuality researchers: Adolescent “pranksters” responding to the widely cited National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the mid-1990s may have faked “nonheterosexuality.”
Preliminary results from the landmark study – known as “Add Health” – stunned researchers, parents and educators alike, recalls Cornell’s Ritch C. Savin-Williams, professor of human development: “How could it be that 5 to 7 percent of our youth were homosexual or bisexual!” Previous estimates of homosexuality and bisexuality among high schoolers had been around 1 percent. 
So imagine the surprise and confusion when subsequent revisits to the same research subjects found more than 70 percent of the self-reported adolescent nonheterosexuals had somehow gone “straight” as older teens and young adults.
“We should have known something was amiss,” says Savin-Williams.  “One clue was that most of the kids who first claimed to have artificial limbs (in the physical-health assessment) miraculously regrew arms and legs when researchers came back to interview them.” 
Now Savin-Williams is the co-author (along with Kara Joyner of Bowling Green State University) of an invited essay in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior that was published online Dec. 24, "The Dubious Assessment of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Adolescents of Add Health." 
The Add Health study (with more than 14,000 participants in four “waves” between 1994 and 2009) was intended to “assess various social and familial contextual variables that influence health, well-being and health-related behaviors” of American young people. 
Over the years, analyzing Add Health’s sexual-orientation data became a cottage industry for scholars of human sexuality – Savin-Williams among them. “We offer this essay, with data, to forestall such wrongheaded scholarly work in the future,” Savin-Williams and Joyner wrote. 
They offered three hypotheses for the gay-gone-straight phenomenon: Perhaps many of the self-reporting nonheterosexuals went “back in the closet” as they aged. Maybe they misconstrued the researchers’ meaning when asked, rather euphemistically: “Have you ever had a romantic attraction to a male?” and “Have you ever had a romantic attraction to a female?” 
Or it could have been a sophomoric joke to claim, in the confidential survey, to be romantically attracted to the same sex. Most of the adolescents who revised their sexual orientation in subsequent surveys were boys – who might have found humor in pretending to be gay or bisexual. ...
“I can take a joke as well as the next academic,” says the Cornell professor, a licensed clinical psychologist, author and director of the university’s Sex and Gender Lab who has spent a lifetime studying adolescent development. 
Yet he is saddened that the Add Health data led researchers, clinicians and policymakers to an inflated sense that gay youth are more suicidal, depressed and psychologically ill than are straight youth. “We need to be careful,” Savin-Williams said, “when we do our research that our sexual-minority participants are representative of the gay youth population so that we can accurately and adequately represent their lives.”

I remember getting a sex survey handed to me in college in the late 1970s. I was having lunch with a coed with whom I never made any progress despite years of admiring her from afar. She took one look at it, said, "This is horrible," and then crumpled her copy and never gave it another thought.

So, the sample was biased because the more conservative students threw theirs away.

I then took my copy back to the dorm and gave it to my roommate, who filled it in with lewd double entendres that were self-contradictory. For example, while most of his answers consisted of implausible boasting about his heterosexual exploits derived mostly from old jokes about traveling salesmen and farmers' daughters, I recall that his answer to the question "What kind of contraception do you use?" was "100% oral: Girls always tell me "No."

So, some of the data in this survey was simply made up to be funny. I fear that did not dissuade the researchers from incorporating it in their databases.

NYT: "When ‘Long-Form’ Is Bad Form"

On January 25, 2002, J. Clifford Baxter, the former chief strategy officer of Enron, shot himself in the head. This was widely viewed not as condemning but as confirming the journalists, such as Bethany McLean of Fortune, who had broken the Enron story. 

Today, if the Enron executive had been wearing women's clothes when he killed himself, there would be a full-fledged agonizing reappraisal of the journalistic inquiry into Enron. How dare anyone report that Enron was run by "conmen" when the appropriate noun is "conwomen!" Why is the press worrying about details of accounting when proper pronoun usage is all that really matters?

From the New York Times:
LAST week, the sports and pop culture website Grantland published a story called “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” — a piece of “long-form,” as we now call multi-thousand-word, narrative-driven reported articles — about a woman named Essay Anne Vanderbilt, who claimed to have invented a golf putter of unsurpassed excellence. 
Over the course of 7,000-plus words, the writer, Caleb Hannan, devoted a lot of space to the contentious relationship he had developed with his subject. Ms. Vanderbilt, who was transgender but in the closet — and also probably a con artist — didn’t like Mr. Hannan’s digging into the details of her personal and professional life. In the final few paragraphs of the story, Mr. Hannan revealed some shocking news: Ms. Vanderbilt had killed herself. 
The piece was initially met with praise from across the Internet. (“Great read,” raved a typical Tweet. “Fascinating, bizarre,” read another.) Then the criticism started. Mr. Hannan was accused of everything from being grossly insensitive to Ms. Vanderbilt’s privacy to having played a role in her suicide. The controversy soon grew so intense that the editor of the site, Bill Simmons, felt compelled to address it in an apologetic, if defensive, 2,700-word post of his own. Mr. Simmons stressed that the decision to publish the piece had not been taken lightly and that somewhere between 13 and 15 people had read it before it was posted and had all been “blown away.” 
Well, institutions make mistakes. Even a group of smart people is capable of doing something dumb. The fact that Ms. Vanderbilt had killed herself — and that the writer may have been involved in her decision to do so — obviously could not be relegated to the status of a footnote. But to chalk up “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” simply to shoddy editing and bad judgment is to miss the bigger picture. Grantland’s decision to publish the piece, like the initial burst of enthusiasm that greeted it, is also a product of the journalistic environment we’re living in. Specifically, the power of the cult of long-form. 
It wasn’t so many years ago that people assumed the Internet would make long magazine-style stories obsolete. Paradoxically, it now seems to have revived this once threatened medium. Magazines may be disappearing, but that’s O.K.; we still have “long-form.” What started as a Twitter signifier (#longreads or #longform), a way to get the attention of people who might be looking for a substantive read, has morphed into its own genre. In the process, a long magazine story went from being one part of a steady diet of journalistic consumption to something artisanal, a treat for connoisseurs. 
Not only are there websites like Longreads and Longform devoted to curating the best “long-form” writing from around the Internet, but even high-metabolism sites like BuzzFeed and Politico are producing their own long-form content. The term confers respectability and connotes something special, something literary. ...
It’s a familiar phenomenon: When you fetishize — as opposed to value — something, you wind up celebrating the idea of the thing rather than the thing itself. How many of those people who initially praised “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” I wonder, even made it down to those final few paragraphs before taking to Twitter to associate themselves with this great journalistic achievement? 
When we fetishize “long-form,” we are fetishizing the form and losing sight of its function. That’s how a story with a troubled woman who commits suicide at its center gets told as a writer’s quixotic quest to learn everything he can about the maker of a golf club that he stumbled across during a late-night Internet search for tips for his short game. There’s a place for writers in their magazine stories, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with offering readers a glimpse into the reporting process. The trouble starts when the subject becomes secondary, and the writer becomes not just observer but participant, the hero of his story.

But the criticism of the reporter has been for his digging too deep into his subject. Sure, Dr. V. was lying about an MIT doctorate, the conventional wisdom says, but Hannan should never have reported that "she" had fathered two children when "she" was Stephen Krol.
What, then, is the function — the purpose — of “long-form”? To allow a writer to delve into the true complexities of a story, and also to bring readers closer to the experience of other people. Whether a long-form story is published in a magazine or on the web, its goal should be to understand and illuminate its subject, and maybe even use that subject to (subtly) explore some larger, more universal truths. Above all, that requires empathy, the real hallmark of great immersive journalism. 
In the end, it doesn’t matter if one is writing about a huckster or a fraud. The best work still enables readers to experience their subjects as human beings, not as mere objects of curiosity. 
Jonathan Mahler is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a columnist at Bloomberg View.

In other words, wearing a miniskirt proves you deserve privileged treatment from the press. Long-form journalism is inherently dubious because it asks too many questions. All that matters in 2014 is: Who? Whom? 

January 24, 2014

U.S. border unenforceable, but Detroit's 8 Mile Road is airtight

To encourage other Americans to move to Detroit would be racist, so the white Republican governor of Michigan is attempting to elect a new people in Detroit by demanding from the Obama Administration special visas for immigrants to Detroit, whom it would be racist to question. 

From the New York Times:
Immigrants Seen as Way to Refill Detroit Ranks 
Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan on Thursday announced plans to seek federal help in bringing 50,000 immigrants to the bankrupt city over five years as part of a visa program aimed at those with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in science, business or the arts. 
Under the plan, which is expected to be formally submitted to federal authorities soon, immigrants would be required to live and work in Detroit ...

We are constantly told that the U.S. border, unlike say the Finnish or Israeli border, is impossible to enforce. Yet 8 Mile Road, the northern municipal boundary of Detroit, is apparently seeded with landmines or something because nobody seems to wonder how the new visa-holders will somehow be corralled permanently in Detroit instead of quickly moving to Birmingham, MI or Ann Arbor or San Diego or some other place in the U.S. nicer than Detroit.

Diversity and "ambient cultural disharmony"

From The Economist:
The downside of diversity
Jan 21st 2014, 16:00 by our Schumpeter columnist

THE closest thing the business world has to a universally acknowledged truth is that diversity is a good thing: the more companies hire people from different backgrounds the more competitive they will become. Diversity helps companies to overcome talent shortages by enlarging their talent pools. It helps them to cope with globalisation by expanding their cultural horizon. It stimulates innovation by bringing together different sorts of people. And so on. 

Diversity has multiple meanings which get conflated.

- The first type of "diversity" is in settings where sheer talent matters most and the talent comes from all over the world. For example, the richest baseball team, the New York Yankees, has players from all over the world. For example, they just signed the best Japanese pitcher to a $22 million per year contract. Hiring people who don't speak a common language doesn't do much for clubhouse morale, but that's probably overrated versus sheer individual skill in winning baseball games. The glamor of the diversity of the Yankees then sheds itself onto other, quite different uses of the term.

- The second use of the terms "diversity" means to hire the less talented and less productive. For example, the Yankees very rarely hire Asian Indians or even Mexicans. And they sure don't let any women on their team. But nobody notices and nobody cares. But if you mentioned the fact that women and, surprisingly, Mexicans aren't really good enough to play much for the Yankees, people would get mad at you.

- The third use is to refer to certain favored groups and to not refer to certain unfavored groups. For example, hiring a white NFL cornerback would, technically, increase diversity at that position, but nobody cares. Whites simply don't count as diversity, even when they should.

- The fourth use is to assume that diversity means that 1+1+1=4. If, say, the Yankees have some players who speak English, some who speak Spanish, and some who speak Japanese, they will play better as a team than if, all else being equal, they all spoke one language. Why? Due to the synergistical magic of diversity. This is the theme of many of the corporate image ads you see during the Olympics and golf tournaments.
But what about the downside of diversity? It does not pay to ask this question. Many countries have equal-opportunity laws on their books. American universities (and many others as well) are institutionally committed to the idea that diversity promotes learning and creativity. Most important perhaps, nobody wants to come across as unsympathetic to minorities or unappreciative of cultural variety. 
Yet a glance beyond the corporate-diversity statements suggests a more complicated picture. It is notable how many of the world’s best companies, such as McKinsey and Apple, have cult-like cultures—probably because they are also very diverse: they need a strong culture. It is also notable how many of the world’s best companies are rooted in small towns: think of Lego (Billund) or Walmart (Bentonville).

Maybe I'm exaggerating, but it struck me in 1991-92 that Walmart was a vehicle for previously underachieving Scots-Irish hillbilly types to come out of nowhere and take over, like one of Ibn Khaldun's high asibya tribes coming out of the Sahara to conquer the diverse rich cities of the coast.
Distinctive religious groups such as the Mormons in America and the Parsis in India have also made an outsized contribution to corporate life. 
It is far too easy to present “diversity” in one-sided terms: as a triumph of enlightenment over bigotry and creativity over closed-mindedness. But the subject is too important to be left to the cliché-mongers. Diversity can bring risks as well as benefits and perils as well as perks. There are trade-offs to be made, for example between the trust that comes from sharing a common background and the cultural sensitivity that comes from employing people from different parts of the word. 
Roy Y.J .Chua, of Harvard Business School, is one of the few academics to produce serious studies of this subject. Mr Chua agrees that in a world of multinational corporations and global product markets success depends more than ever on your ability to foster multicultural thinking and cross-border collaboration. But in a paper in the current issue of the Academy of Management Journal (“The Costs of Ambient Cultural Disharmony: Indirect Intercultural Conflict in Social Environment Undermine Creativity") he goes on to note that getting people from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds to co-operate is fraught with difficulties. At best differences in world-view and cultural styles can produce “intercultural anxiety”, at worst outright conflict. The very thing that can produce added creativity—the collision of different cultures—can also produce friction. The question is whether the creativity is worth the conflict. 
Mr Chua argues that creativity in multicultural settings is highly vulnerable to what he calls “ambient cultural disharmony”. Tension between people over matters of culture, he says, can pollute the wider environment and reduce “multicultural creativity”, meaning people’s ability to see non-obvious connections between ideas from different cultures. “Ambient cultural disharmony” persuades people to give up on making such connections because they conclude that it is not worth the trouble. 
Mr Chua also says that “ambient cultural disharmony” has its strongest impact on people who regard themselves as open-minded. Closed-minded people expect cultural tensions. Open-minded people don’t expect them and so react to them more strongly. ...
In all three studies, subjects who had a greater experience of ambient cultural disharmony fell short on one or another of Mr Chua’s measures of creativity. Mr Chua says that he is not certain how much of a problem this is because his is the first study to identify it. But his results are important partly because many companies have such an optimistic view of cross-cultural pollination and partly because the second-order effects of cultural conflict (particularly among people who regard themselves as open-minded) are so hard to manage.

When I was in the marketing research business, the firm I worked at bought a Waltham, MA firm founded by MIT professors. A young Lebanese executive from the firm soon moved to headquarters in Chicago and rocketed up the ranks because he was unbelievably smart. (Papers were piled six inches deep all over his desk in a seemingly random fashion, but he would instantly retrieve any paper needed because he simply remembered in 3-d fashion where each one was.) The only problem with this Lebanese executive was that he was extremely brusque. Fortunately, I recalled that I had known five Lebanese people previously, and they were all brusque. By Levantine standards of politeness, this new fellow was David Niven reincarnated. So, I got along fine with him because I judged him on the Levantine curve. 

But if you are "open-minded" (which these days means "empty-headed") and rejected on principle my kind of ethnic stereotyping, you'd be as personally annoyed by his behavior as many of our less ethnorealist colleagues were. 

Patton Oswalt: "Political correctness is a war on noticing."

From the Twitter feed of stand-up comic and actor Patton Oswalt (who should have a received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Young Adult):
HeatherN ‏@hrn21245m
@pattonoswalt Um, have you read the article that quote comes from?  … Are you comfortable endorsing it?

HeatherN ‏@hrn21244m
@pattonoswalt I mean, Sailer is pretty objectively racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic.

Phil Butcher ‏@xeronius41m
@hrn212 @pattonoswalt PRETTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTY sure he is mocking Sailer.

HeatherN ‏@hrn21239m
@xeronius @pattonoswalt Oh see. I should know better than to read a comedian's twitter feed seriously.

Patton Oswalt ‏@pattonoswalt28m
.@hrn212 @xeronius I'm in NO WAY mocking Sailer. I don't endorse or agree with his article, but THAT sentence? 100% accurate? ...

Patton Oswalt ‏@pattonoswalt27m
.@hrn212 @xeronius Aren't I allowed to read, test my assumptions, and even sometimes agree with people who don't share all my views?

Phil Butcher ‏@xeronius27m
@pattonoswalt @hrn212 Touche. I had looked at his body of work and just assumed it was mockery (bc he deserves mocking).

Patton Oswalt ‏@pattonoswalt23m
.@hrn212 @xeronius I've never been scared of ideas. I can hear all kinds & still keep my feet. Think I'll call this stance "diversity."

From the 2005 movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo:
Deuce Bigalow [Rob Schneider]: T.J., I'm so glad you are here. 
T.J. Hicks [Eddie Griffin]: How did you find me? 
Deuce Bigalow: Well, this seemed like the only chicken and waffles place in all of Holland. 
T.J. Hicks: Ohhh, so the black guy has to go to a chicken and waffles place, that's Racist! 
Deuce Bigalow: But you're here. 
T.J. Hicks: Yeah, but figuring it out was racist.

Ramzan Kadyrov's Instagrams: pre-Olympic doldrums

Ramzan Kadyrov is the hereditary warlord appointed puppet ruler of Chechnya by Vladimir Putin. 
He has a famous Instagram account where he posts pictures of himself punching out failing ministers, inspecting monster trucks with Gerard Depardieu, showing off his golden gun, sending his body double to work in his place, and the like. 

He's living the dream of eight-year-old Chechen boys everywhere. He's the Checheniest Chechen of them all.

Kadyrov was in the news recently asserting that his crack security forces had disposed of some top terrorist bandit threatening the Sochi Olympics.

But with the Olympics coming to the Caucasus, Kadyrov appears to have been put on his best behavior, Instagram-wise. 
Now it's mostly Ramzan as an ecumenical Father Christmas, or piously making another pilgrimage to Mecca. Apparently, they didn't let him sweep out the Kabaa like last time.

We get an occasional picture of the old Ramzan, but mostly he seems to be trying to maintain a low Instagram profile until this Olympic thing is over. It must be killing him to know that all the cameras in the world are going to be only 400 miles away and they won't be pointing at him.

January 23, 2014

Race Does Not Exist: Same old, same old

From the 2014 Edge.org question on What Scientific Concept Should Be Retired?
Nina Jablonski 
Biological Anthropologist and Paleobiologist; Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University 
[Anti-] Race 
Race has always been a vague and slippery concept. 
... By the 1960s, however, two factors contributed to the demise of the concept of biological races. One of these was the increased rate of study of the physical and genetic diversity human groups all over the world by large numbers of scientists. The second factor was the increasing influence of the civil rights movement in the United States and elsewhere. Before long, influential scientists denounced studies of race and races because races themselves could not be scientifically defined. Where scientists looked for sharp boundaries between groups, none could be found. 

Whereas a concept like "class" is utterly clear cut.
Despite major shifts in scientific thinking, the sibling concepts of human races and a color-based hierarchy of races remained firmly established in mainstream culture through the mid-twentieth century. The resulting racial stereotypes were potent and persistent, especially in the United States and South Africa, where subjugation and exploitation of dark-skinned labor had been the cornerstone of economic growth. 

Which is why Mississippi was the cornerstone of economic growth in America from 1866-1963 and why Detroit, Gary, and East St. Louis are the chief engines of the economy today,
After its "scientific" demise, race remained as a name and concept, but gradually came to stand for something quite different. Today many people identify with the concept of being a member of one or another racial group, regardless of what science may say about the nature of race. The shared experiences of race create powerful social bonds.

Like brotherhood. Or sisterhood. Or fatherhood. Or motherhood. Or nephewhood/niecehood. Or cousinhood. Or so forth and so on.
For many people, including many scholars, races cease to be biological categories and have become social groupings. The concept of race became a more confusing mélange as social categories of class and ethnicity.

I think there are some words missing from that sentence.
So race isn't "just" a social construction, it is the real product of shared experience, and people choose to identify themselves by race.

It's funny how well-policed the boundaries are. If cornerback Richard Sherman announced tomorrow that he was henceforth to be called Rachel Sherman and immediately after the Super Bowl wanted to play power forward in the WNBA and engage in lesbian relationships with women, the Great and the Good would crucify anybody who refused to use feminine pronouns in discussing "her" past, such as "She flattened Cam Newton," or "She fathered three children."

Yet, if a college cornerback announced he was "a black man trapped in a white man's body" and therefore should be at least considered for playing cornerback in the NFL, he'd be laughed at.
Clinicians continue to map observed patterns of health and disease onto old racial concepts such as "White", "Black" or "African American", "Asian," etc. Even after it has been shown that many diseases (adult-onset diabetes, alcoholism, high blood pressure, to name a few) show apparent racial patterns because people share similar environmental conditions, grouping by race are maintained. The use of racial self-categorization in epidemiological studies is defended and even encouraged. In most cases, race in medical studies is confounded with health disparities due to class, ethnic differences in social practices, and attitudes, all of which become meaningless when sufficient variables are taken into account.

Because that's what Occam's Razor is all about: throw out the race variable in studies and replace it with a whole bunch of variables like:

Is grape your favorite soda flavor?
Does your first name have an apostrophe in it?
Do you smoke Kools?
Do you find Tyler Perry funny?
You don't have agree with everything Marion Berry did, but you do have to admit the bitch did set him up?

Ask enough and you won't need the race variable.
Race's latest makeover arises from genomics and mostly within biomedical contexts. The sanctified position of medical science in the popular consciousness gives the race concept renewed esteem. Racial realists marshal genomic evidence to support the hard biological reality of racial difference, while racial skeptics see no racial patterns. What is clear is that people are seeing what they want to see.
They are constructing studies to provide the outcomes they expect.

As opposed to the Race Does Not Exist crowd who don't construct studies, don't do experiments, don't do much of anything except reiterate things that seemed cool to say in 1994, but now seem dopey.
In 2012, Catherine Bliss argued cogently that race today is best considered a belief system that "produces consistencies in perception and practice at a particular social and historical moment". 

It causes white sprinters to run slower.
Race has a hold on history, but it no longer has a place in science. The sheer instability and potential for misinterpretation render race useless as a scientific concept. Inventing new vocabularies of human diversity and inequity won't be easy, but is necessary. 

Like ... ?

Hollywood's conservatives stay in the closet

From the NYT:
In a famously left-leaning Hollywood, where Democratic fund-raisers fill the social calendar, Friends of Abe stands out as a conservative group that bucks the prevailing political winds. 

The name "Friends of Abe [Lincoln]" was chosen as a reference to the "Friends of Bill" in Hollywood who have done so much for the Clintons.
A collection of perhaps 1,500 right-leaning players in the entertainment industry, Friends of Abe keeps a low profile and fiercely protects its membership list, to avoid what it presumes would result in a sort of 21st-century blacklist, albeit on the other side of the partisan spectrum. 
Now the Internal Revenue Service is reviewing the group’s activities in connection with its application for tax-exempt status. Last week, federal tax authorities presented the group with a 10-point request for detailed information about its meetings with politicians like Paul D. Ryan, Thaddeus McCotter and Herman Cain, among other matters, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the organization’s confidentiality strictures, and to avoid complicating discussions with the I.R.S.

Those people said that the application had been under review for roughly two years, and had at one point included a demand — which was not met — for enhanced access to the group’s security-protected website, which would have revealed member names. Tax experts said that an organization’s membership list is information that would not typically be required. The I.R.S. already had access to the site’s basic levels, a request it considers routine for applications for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. 
Friends of Abe — the name refers to Abraham Lincoln — has strongly discouraged the naming of its members. That policy even prohibits the use of cameras at group events, to avoid the unwilling identification of all but a few associates — the actors Gary Sinise, Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer, or the writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, for instance — who have spoken openly about their conservative political views.

To notice who in Hollywood is conservative, you have to be extremely good at reading between the lines. Andrew O'Hehir of Salon, for example, is always raising the alarm that various fashionable auteurs and stars are actually crypto-rightwingers, but few of his readers take him seriously. This is not because Salon readers are tolerant of diversity in the ideological sphere, but because they assume that anybody who is creative and cool has to agree with them politically. It's a law of nature or something.

By the way, I compared the politics of Sinise to those of another NDHS dad, Mark Harmon, a gun control activist, here to illustrate my complicated theory about the political effects of weightlifting versus jogging.

NYT: Income inequality not increasing

David Leonhardt writes in the NYT:
The odds of moving up — or down — the income ladder in the United States have not changed appreciably in the last 20 years, according to a large new academic study that contradicts politicians in both parties who have claimed that income mobility is falling. 
Both President Obama and leading Republicans, like Representative Paul Ryan, have argued recently that the odds of climbing the income ladder are lower today than in previous decades. The new study, based on tens of millions of anonymous tax records, finds that the mobility rate has held largely steady in recent decades, although it remains lower than in Canada and in much of Western Europe, where the odds of escaping poverty are higher. 
Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Harvard and one of the authors, said in an interview that he and his colleagues still believed that a lack of mobility was a significant problem in the United States. Despite less discrimination of various kinds and a larger safety net than in previous decades, the odds of escaping the station of one’s birth are no higher today than they were decades ago.
The results suggested that other forces — including sharply rising incomes at the top of the ladder, which allows well-off families to invest far more in their children — were holding back talented people, the authors said. 
“The level of opportunity is alarming, even though it’s stable over time,” said Emmanuel Saez, another author and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Mr. Saez and Mr. Chetty are both recent winners of an award for the top academic economist under the age of 40. 
The study has the potential to alter the way Mr. Obama and other public figures talk about mobility trends. 
“The facts themselves are pretty unassailable,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has read the paper, which the authors will soon submit to an academic journal. “How you want to interpret them is the question.” 
The study found, for instance, that about 8 percent of children born in the early 1980s who grew up in families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution managed to reach the top fifth for their age group today. The rate was nearly identical for children born a decade earlier. 
Among children born into the middle fifth of the income distribution, about 20 percent climbed into the top fifth as adults, also largely unchanged over the last decade.

Unfortunately, Chetty's methodology is fundamentally flawed as Leonhardt and I discussed in the New York Times last July regarding Chetty's previous study of income mobility by where children were raised. (See the update to the bottom of Leonhardt's post in the NYT.)

Thus you see bizarre examples like Scranton and Newark ranking near the top of Chetty's social mobility charts as the best places to be raised, while Charlotte and Atlanta rank near the bottom. (Chetty's analysis doesn't look just at municipalities, but at "commuting zones," so, for instance, Atlanta's sprawling suburbs are included.)

Yet, over the decades, lots of people have decided that it's in their overall self-interest to move out of Scranton (which is on the edge bankruptcy) and Newark and lots of people have decided it's in their self-interest to move to Charlotte and Atlanta. 

Why? A major problem is that Chetty looks at income but doesn't adjust for cost of living. The cost of housing is much higher in, say, New York City, a common destination for some fleeing Newark (e.g., Philip Roth) and Scranton, than in Atlanta or Charlotte, so wages and salaries are also lower in Atlanta and Charlotte.

Thus, people who fled the house where they grew up in collapsing Scranton or Newark for a small apartment in Queens may not feel like they a higher standard of living in their new life in NYC, but they have a higher income compared to the national average because incomes are high in NYC to account for the high cost of living in NYC, so they are counted by Chetty as upwardly mobile in income terms. 

In contrast, somebody born in Charlotte or Atlanta might feel less tempted to move to a place with higher nominal incomes because the local standard of living is pretty decent in Charlotte or Atlanta even if nominal incomes aren't shooting up because the cost of land is pretty low and stable.

Another major problem with Chetty's regional analysis that found that heavily black areas like the South and the Rust Belt have the least social (income) mobility while West Virginia has quite a bit of income mobility is simply racial regression to the mean. Here's Chetty's map, with places of lower income mobility in darker colors:
My blog response was entitled: "Breakthrough study: Poor blacks tend to stay poor, black."

Notice that according to Chetty West Virginia is an oasis of income mobility in the East, while nearby North Carolina is an abyss of stasis. Yet, lots of people raised in West Virginia who have something on the ball have moved to North Carolina to get ahead in life.

Since West Virginia is only about 5% black and has attracted very few Hispanics and Asians, the bottom 20% of West Virginians in income are majority white, so their children tend to regress toward the white mean, which is higher than the black mean. The bottom 20% in income in the Charlotte or Atlanta area is highly black, so their children tend to regress toward the black mean. Thus, West Virginia comes out looking better for social mobility than Atlanta and Charlotte in Chetty's methodology. 

This doesn't mean that if you had a peek around the Rawlsian curtain of ignorance, you'd choose to be born in West Virginia because of its strong social mobility. If you knew you were going to be born white, West Virginia would probably be last on your list of states to be born into. Nor does it mean that Blue State policies increase social mobility relative to red state policies. It's just mostly Moynihan's Canadian Border effect in action.

Chetty's new paper goes through a lot of contortions to disprove the race arguments I pointed out in the NYT last summer, but I'm not yet convinced.

As for Chetty's new study showing that over about a decade there wasn't much decline in social mobility, I'd take it with a grain of salt. Since he doesn't deal with standard of living, just with income, and since there have been massive population flows away from higher income, higher cost of living places toward lower income, lower cost of living places, and since he doesn't have good tools for dealing with race at the individual household level, I wouldn't consider this finding of stability over time definitive in a meaningful sense. I haven't had time to read it carefully, so I wouldn't reject it either. I just think that high-powered economists need to move on beyond simplistic measures like income to work on standard of living questions.

The ACCRA organization compiles careful data on cost of living by metropolis (including mortgage costs) for corporations moving managers around and needing an objective way to adjust their pay. It's not free, but a high-powered team of economists like Chetty and Saez should incorporate ACCRA data into their analyses.

Update: Chetty's new paper does use ACCRA cost of living adjustments, like I recommended to them last summer. This may be why their new finding is puzzling to the conventional wisdom.

January 22, 2014

Perspectives differ depending upon who's on top

As a young reader of National Review, Commentary, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, I had been a true believer in the judicial doctrines of strict interpretation and originalism. The Supreme Court shouldn't run hog-wild in interpreting the Constitution and other law, I believed, but should instead sharply restrict itself to what was originally intended.

Yet when I read a full statement of this case -- Robert Bork's The Tempting of America -- I turned against it.

Why? Because I had noticed a logical flaw in the argument?

Nah ... Because I read Bork's book in paperback in the spring of 1991. 

And, sure, his originalist doctrine would be a good idea when those rotten Democrats were in ascendance. But in May 1991, only a few months after George H.W. Bush's triumph in the Gulf War,  it was utterly obvious to me that the Republican President would be re-elected in 1992. 

And with the GOP having 5.5 more years in the White House, they would nominate staunch Republican replacements for Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, and Whizzer White. (Marshall, a Democrat, came to the same conclusion as me at this time and retired, allowing Bush to nominate Clarence Thomas to the black seat.)

So, why endorse Bork's judicial doctrine since it would impede My Guys from running hog wild when they'd soon have a huge majority on the Supreme Court and could do whatever they felt like?

My logic struck me as impeccable.

Is this the only time I've changed my mind expediently based on who was winning? Almost surely not -- it's just clearer in my head because my 1991 electoral forecast went so badly awry in 1992.

And am I the only person whose intellectual perspective seems to change depending upon whether My Team happens to be on the top or on the bottom at present? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

Bullying and Projection

The media mania to punish Grantland for one of its rare good articles because it was about not just a conman (which would be okay), but about a conman who wore a miniskirt (which is Not OK) is tied into the Anti-Bullying Movement of recent years. 

The logic is that, by definition, anyone who is "transgendered" was bullied on the school playground, and is therefore above criticism.

The bullying part is no doubt often true. 

For example, I knew somebody who is now a drag queen. I first met him when he was two years old. And he was the gayest two-year-old imaginable. As I heard him explain to some little girls with whom he was dressing up Barbie dolls, "I only play with girl toys. That's just the way I am."

I never heard about him being bullied at school, but it's hard to imagine he wasn't bullied by some moron.

On the other hand, reading about Dr. V., it's hard to not to notice that the promoter was a lifelong bully:
For all her wild stories, though, what Dr. V was most, Kinney [an investor out $60k] said, was a difficult person to deal with. “She would just explode. If you’re disagreeing with her while she had one of her headaches, you were in trouble.”

From an email from the promoter to the reporter:
“To whom this may concern,” it read. “I spoke with Caleb Hannan last Saturday his deportment is reminiscent to schoolyard bullies, his sole intention is to injure or bring harm to me … Because of a computer glitch, some documents that are germane only to me, were visible to web-viewers, government officials have now rectified this egregious condition … Caleb Hannan came into possession of documents that were clearly marked: MADE NON-PUBLIC (Restricted) … Exposing NON-PUBLIC Documents is a Crime, and prosecution of such are under the auspices of many State and Federal Laws, including Hate Crimes Legislation signed into Law by President Obama.”

Hannan notes:
Over the course of what was now eight months of reporting, Dr. V had accused me of being everything from a corporate spy to a liar and a fraud. She had also threatened me. One of the quotes I was able to type down during our last conversation was this: “You have no idea what I have done and what I can do.” It’s not all that menacing when transcribed, but her tone made it clear she believed she could harm me. 

This is not wholly idiosyncratic. For example, the article that more or less launched World War T was a lavishly sympathetic New York Times story about the injustice done to a former male truckdriver who is not being allowed to beat up women for pay in mixed martial arts bouts.

A certain fraction of the trans community seem to represent less "a woman's mind trapped in a man's body" than an exaggeratedly masculine mind (as economist Deirdre [nee Donald] McCloskey kind of sort of admits in this New Republic article "I Know What Chelsea Manning Is Going Through").

To my regret, I've had the experience of noting that a subsection of the male-to-female trans-identified can be atrocious bullies. I got dragged into a bout of bullying organized by McCloskey, computer scientist Lynn Conway, and a few other  trans academics because they were out to get Northwestern U. professor J. Michael Bailey, and I had written about him. (This is not to say that Bailey is wholly right, just that trying to have chilling effects on free speech is a worse solution than, as Justice Brandeis said, more speech.)

McCloskey and Conway set out to systematically demonize anybody who had ever said a good word about Bailey (and, boy, are they ever systematic -- Simon Baron-Cohen could have a field day with their output). Their work was picked up and spread by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has used its crusade against "hate groups" to become the most lucrative hate group in America. This might sound strange, but it really isn't: after all, McCloskey and Conway are much smarter than most SPLC staffers, and also much more masculine -- thus, the flavor of their witchburning fervor is notably different from that of the women and dweeby dudes out to get Larry Summers or James D. Watson. Meanwhile the SPLC leadership is cunning about sniffing out the coming wave of money-making opportunities.

Here's a good New York Times article summarizing the campaign to silence Bailey.

For some reason, McCloskey liked to denounce "the Steve Sailers, Stephen Pinkers, and Seth Roberts of the world," an unusual case of somebody spelling my name right and Pinker's name wrong. 

Here's an email exchange between McCloskey and Roberts (minus Roberts' last email) that McCloskey hosts on his website because he thinks it makes him look good. McCloskey starts out politely, but ... buckle your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. (Roberts' version is on p. 117 here.) 

Obviously, McCloskey has a lot of issues.

You be the judge of who is trying to bully whom.

Freud's concept of "projection" explains much about the postmodern world.

More on Dr. V

To give you some more evidence of the New Conventional Wisdom that has rapidly congealed that privileges for the amorphous class of "the transgendered" is suddenly the Crucial Moral Issue of Our Time (a.k.a., World War T), here are some more articles denouncing Grantland for publishing freelancer Caleb Hannan's fine piece of investigative journalism: (with one admirable exception at the end):

From The Atlantic (can't some billionaire with a sense of history feel offended enough by the Gawkerization of this property founded in 1857 to buy it and lose money on it running something other than clickbait for liberal arts majors?):
Dr. V, Sports Journalism, and Why Sensitivity Matters 
What Grantland could have learned from a past decision at Vanity Fair before publishing its controversial story about Essay Anne Vanderbilt
... The second troubling aspect of “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” is that it survived the editorial layers of a major publication like Grantland, which ultimately bears responsibility for running the story. In a lengthy mea culpa published yesterday, Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons took responsibility for publishing the story, relating how several members of his team failed to flag the troubling aspects of Hannan’s writing. (To its credit, Grantland yesterday also published a stinging criticism by Christina Kahrl, a transgender woman who writes about baseball for ESPN.) Grantland didn’t publish Hannan’s story because it wanted to run a sensationalistic piece, privacy and sensitivity be damned. It published the story because its editors didn’t realize that writing about the transgender community required special sensitivity—and didn’t bother to ask. 

From Poynter, the website of some sort of foundation devoted to journalism education:
Lessons learned from Grantland’s tragic story on Dr. V 
by Lauren Klinger and Kelly McBride 
Published Jan. 22, 2014 2:23 pm 
By editor-in-chief Bill Simmons’ own admission, ignorance was the biggest mistake Grantland made in reporting and publishing the story of Dr. V and her innovative golf putter. Ignorance about one of the most vulnerable minority groups — transgender people.

Jamie Kirchik, who was the last of Marty Peretz's Bright Young Men (a lineage that includes Andrew Sullivan and Al Gore), dissents from the conventional wisdom in the Daily Beast:
Pressuring Journalists Won’t Protect Transgender People 
When Grantland revealed the inventor of a golf putter to be a fraud, a mob attacked the site as bullying a transgendered woman to death. They demand a double standard that is the antithesis of equality for trans people.

Teen employment rates: minimum wage v. immigration

It’s instructive to compare the vast interest in the econosphere over the question of whether higher minimum wages raise teen unemployment versus the crickets-chirping lack of discussion over whether higher immigration raises teen unemployment ... even though the most plausible answer to both questions is likely "Yes."

January 21, 2014

Hard-hitting journalism at its finest

From the front page of NYTimes.com:
2 Friends Reach Across the Aisle on Immigration 
If there is a way to unlock the immigration stalemate in Washington, colleagues say that Esther Olavarria, a Democrat, and Rebecca Tallent, a Republican, might find it.

Is this a news article, or the blurb for a new Sweet Valley High novel for tweens?

The article isn't much different in tone:
The two women might at first seem more like political rivals than a reminder of the way things used to work in Washington. 
Esther Olavarria, a Democrat, left Cuba as a child, worked as Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s top immigration lawyer and now holds a post in the White House. Rebecca Tallent, a Republican, left suburban Arizona and became Senator John McCain’s chief of staff, briefly advised Sarah Palin in 2008 and is now a top policy aide to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio. 
But if there is any way to unlock the immigration stalemate in Washington, colleagues say these two might find it.

Has Carlos Slim gotten his money's worth out of the Times' immigration coverage, or what?

World War T breaks out on the putting green

Here's my new Taki's Magazine column on the current brouhaha condemning a fine piece of longform investigative reporting in Bill Simmons' Grantland by freelancer Caleb Hannan on a con artist who duped Dan Quayle and golf broadcaster Gary McCord. Hannan's crime: prioritizing "fact-finding" over the subject's Pokemon Power Points in the victimism sweepstakes. 

Read the whole thing there.

Thanks to my readers who called my attention to this bizarre confirmation of what I've been saying for awhile about what comes next after World War G.

Richard Sherman

Seattle Seahawks' cornerback Richard Sherman is getting a lot of attention for a postgame interview on Sunday that's more WWE than NFL.

I saw him play in high school in 2005. His team, Compton Dominguez, was so loaded with talent that they crushed my old high school, Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, in the Southern California Division III finals without this future Super Bowl cornerback standing out in the game as a wide receiver (a position he played well for a couple of years at Stanford).

Compton's fast black backs just ran the ball over and over (19 times on the opening drive for a touchdown) behind an offensive line of giant Pacific Islanders, including a 319 pound tight end.

Compton Dominguez had gotten some major personal foul penalties in earlier playoff games, of the kind Sherman got at the end of the NFC championship game, but their conduct was exemplary in this one. Slum schools tend to blow up in high school playoffs, but Compton was very disciplined and didn't start celebrating after tackles until the last couple of minutes of the game.

Compton dominated so dominated on the ground, that NDHS only got one offensive play off in the first quarter, although it was a good one: Quarterback Garrett Green ran a draw 75 yards for a touchdown, pulling away from all four Compton defensive backs, including Sherman. Green was a remarkable athlete, a white guy faster than Richard Sherman, an excellent defensive back, and a quarterback with more or less a Division I passing arm, although not the NFL passing arm required by USC during those years at the top of the heap. So at USC Green just played quarterback on the practice squad, imitating the opponents' quarterback for the USC defense to tee off on, then went into the real estate business, which is a good business to go into if your years of service to the Trojans are appreciated by USC alums.

January 20, 2014

The Spirit of 2076

Vroom, vroom, vrooom! The NYT editorializes:
Pre-K on the Starting Blocks 
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious plan to provide preschool education to every 4-year-old brings high expectations.

As a way to Fight Inequality Now, universal pre-K sounds ... stately. The median age of the Forbes 400 is around 66, so if enrolling 4-year-olds in 2014 works as well as promised, it should really make a dent in about half of the Forbes 400 within 62 years, which is 2076.

I'll be attending my 100th high school reunion (yearbook theme: The Spirit of '76) via one of Robin Hanson's downloaded ems, so I have that to look forward to, which is nice.

"Oscar Gold"

From the comments:
We need to write a script for a movie where the Russians and Yankee WASPs join forces with Southern WASPs and plot to take over the world from the Maidstone Club. The diabolical plot is uncovered by a heroic transgendered migrant worker busing tables at the Knickerbocker Club to help pay tuition at Harvard Law School, pay to feed his four children, and cover the sex-change operation that will turn him into a single mom. Oscar gold, Steve! OSCAR GOLD! 
"Oscar Gold" would be the name of the movie since that will be the name of the migrant hero for obvious reasons. 

Slate: "A Gay Holocaust"

From Slate:
Note to Mary Matalin’s Gay Friends: She Won’t Hide You in a Gay Holocaust

By Nathaniel Frank

My Bubbie and Zada used to tell me my gentile friends wouldn’t hide me in another Holocaust. I like to think they were wrong (and that there won’t be another Holocaust). But that won’t stop me from invoking their wise spirit with a warning to conservative pundit Mary Matalin’s gay friends: She won’t hide you in a gay Holocaust. 
The famously crabby GOP strategist shrugged off a growing human-rights crisis in Russia on Sunday with a glib dismissal of even discussing the anti-gay policy and violence there, just as the upcoming Sochi Olympic Games have finally brought much-needed mainstream media coverage to the problem. “I’m so sick of sports and politics,” she complained in response to questions from George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC’s This Week. Her bottom line? “All of my gay friends think [Putin] looks so buff in his shirtless publicity photos.” Mustering the ghosts of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” she asked about Putin, “Why is he even talking about this?” even though the obvious answer was that Putin was talking about it because Stephanopoulos had, quite properly, asked him about it, and later asked her too. 
It was difficult to make out if Matalin was quoting someone else, but the intent of her comments was clear, and despicable: All this talk of gay suffering is boring, unimportant, and makes lots of us feel icky (the gay part, not the fact that they’re being persecuted), and the only response is not to clearly condemn it but to vomit out a gay stereotype such as the one about how gays only care about how men look shirtless—indeed, they can only see flesh and muscle even when a major country is unleashing a concerted campaign to vilify and dehumanize their people for political gain, giving the green light to mob violence. 
This sort of response illustrates precisely why the head-in-the-sand, “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach can be dangerous and even deadly. The developments in Russia that Matalin was laughing off were a string of provisions passed last year—and their violent consequences—that punishes promotion or even discussion of homosexuality in a broadly defined set of scenarios. No, what’s happening there is not the Holocaust.

You should probably mention that to Slate's headline writer ...
But many observers have noted the eerie influence of the Nazi playbook, including the singling out of an unpopular minority for dehumanizing treatment, a campaign of terror unleashed by punitive laws and tough talk, and an autocratic leader’s use of blatant scapegoating to consolidate power and distract voters from his failed policies. 

1914: World War I
2014: World War G

1914: The Great War
2014: The Gay War

Are big brains not for being smart, but for staying smart?

Another Edge essay on scientific ideas that should be retired:
Nicholas Humphrey 
Emeritus School Professor, The London School of Economics; Author, Soul Dust 
[Anti-] The Bigger An Animal's Brain, The Greater Its Intelligence 
The bigger an animal's brain, the greater its intelligence. You may think the connection is obvious. Just look at the evolutionary lineage of human beings: humans have bigger brains—and are cleverer—than chimpanzees, and chimpanzees have bigger brains—and are cleverer—than monkeys. Or, as an analogy, look at the history of computing machines in the 20th century. The bigger the machines, the greater their number-crunching powers. In the 1970's the new computer at my university department took up a whole room. 
From the phrenology of the 19th century, to the brain-scan sciences of the 21st, it has indeed been widely assumed that brain volume determines cognitive capacity. In particular, you'll find the idea repeated in every modern textbook that the brain size of different primate species is causally related to their social intelligence. I admit I'm partly responsible for this, having championed the idea back in the 1970's. Yet, for a good many years now, I've had a hunch that the idea is wrong. 
There are too many awkward facts that don't fit in. For a start, we know that modern humans can be born with only two thirds the normal volume of brain tissue, and show next to no cognitive deficit as adults.

"Next to no" <> "no"

The brain scan volume to IQ correlations found in recent years have been in the 0.3 to 0.4 range, which is approaching a "moderate" correlation for the social sciences. In other words, the glass is part-full as well as part-empty, but very few people know that. Far more assume Stephen Jay Gould had the last word on the subject.
We know that, during normal human brain development, the brain actually shrinks as cognitive performance improves (a notable example being changes in the "social brain" during adolescence, where the cortical grey matter decreases in volume by about 15% between age 10 and 20). And most surprising of all, we know that there are nonhuman animals, such as honey bees or parrots, that can emulate many feats of human intelligence with brains that are only a millionth (bee) or a thousandth (parrot) the size of a human's.  
The key, of course, is programming: What really matters to cognitive performance is not so much the brain's hardware as its onboard software. And smarter software certainly does not require a bigger hardware base (in fact, as the shrinkage of the cortex during adolescence shows, it may actually require a smaller—tidier—one).

But the history of computers suggests that while there are occasionally advances in software that allow the same work to be done by less powerful hardware, the more typical pattern is for software to elaborate over time so that the minimum processor size keeps going up: look at the "Requirements" small print on an old Word Perfect box, say, and marvel over the tiny amount of hardware capacity (as measured in transistors) once required to provide highly adequate word processing capability.

What has happened of course (Moore's Law) is that the number of transistors you can place on a square centimeter has doubled every year or two, but that seems to be somewhat different from what we see in the brains of animals.
It's true that programs to deliver superior performance may require a lot of designing, either by natural selection or learning. But the fact is that, once they've been invented, they will likely make less demands on hardware than the older versions. To take the special case of social intelligence, I'd say it's quite possible that the algorithm for solving "theory of mind" problems could be written on the back of a postcard and could be implemented on an iPhone. In which case, the widely touted suggestion that the human brain had to double in size for humans to be capable of "second-order mind-reading", makes little sense.

Okay, but our relatively large-brained primate relatives don't seem as well-programmed as honey bees to benefit from cooperation. I've spent maybe 20 hours in the Lincoln Park zoo Great Ape House, and the chimps struck me as jerks. So, considering our relatives, maybe primates have to cogitate their way to cooperating more than social insects have to?
Then why did the human brain double in size? Why is it much bigger than you might think it needs to be, to underpin our level of intelligence? There's no question that big brains are costly to build and maintain. So, if we are to retire the "obvious theory", what can we put in its place? The answer I'd suggest lies in the advantage of having a large amount of cognitive reserve. Big brains have spare capacity that can be called on if and when working-parts get damaged or wear out. From adulthood onwards humans—like other mammals—begin to lose a significant amount of brain tissue to accidents, haemorrhages and degeneration. But because humans can draw on this extra reserve, the loss doesn't have to show. This means humans can retain their mental powers into relative old age, long after their smaller brained ancestors would have become incapacitated. (And as a matter of fact the unfortunate individual born with an unusually small brain is much more likely to succumb to senile dementia in his forties).

Not wholly implausible. Has anybody studied it?
True, many of us die for other reasons with unused brain power to spare. But some of us live considerably longer than we might have done if our brains were half the size. So, what evolutionary advantage does longevity bring, even the post-reproductive longevity typical of humans? The answer surely is that humans can benefit—as no other species could do—from the presence of mentally-sound grandparents and great-grandparents, whose role in caretaking and teaching has been key to the success of human culture.

Or, say, that having a crafty old mother or grandmother to act as matchmaker and social arbiter increases your chance of marrying well? Some of the predicament of the five unmarried Bennett daughters in Pride and Prejudice is not only that their father hasn't provided them with dowries, but also that their mother isn't all that bright at manipulating the social whirl for them.

The basic brain size equals intelligence in old age theory seems quite testable. For example, Ian Deary continues to give IQ tests to Scots born in 1921 who were first given IQ tests in 1932. What are there hat sizes today? (Granted, hat sizes are pretty crude measures.)