February 1, 2014

NYT lauds GOP for giving amnesty, blasts GOP for not giving vote

The GOP House leadership can congratulate itself for getting on the good side of the New York Times editorial board for the first time in years:
Fixing Immigration, in Principle

What you need to know now that House Republican leaders have unveiled a list of “principles” that have raised hopes for a breakthrough on immigration reform this year: 
Principles are no substitute for actual legislation, and we’re still a great distance from a deal. Repairing a system so huge and so broken is a big undertaking for any Congress, much less this dismally dysfunctional one. The Republicans’ grab bag of ideas still leaves Democrats nothing to negotiate with. 
That said, the list’s release Thursday, after years of stalemate, leaves us with a palmful of blessings to count.
LEGALIZATION! The question about the nation’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants has always been this: Are they out or in? Criminals or potential Americans? The new principles say that these immigrants must “get right with the law.” This is a big change from “get out,” the central immigration position of the Republicans’ 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who embraced the “self-deportation” mantra of his adviser Kris Kobach, author of Arizona’s brutal immigration law. 

So, the GOP's new principles of amnesty without citizenship are making the GOP more popular with the New York Times! Whoo-hoo!

Except, on the same page, the New York Times doesn't even wait one day to spring the other side of the trap: amnesty without citizenship will just be a perpetual sore spot for the NYT-led media to use to stir up anti-GOP racialized resentments:
Op-Ed Contributor: Second-Class Noncitizens  
By MAE M. NGAI, JAN. 30, 2014
Those who take this ultraconservative position (including many aligned with the Tea Party) are blind to the lessons of history. The United States has a long track record not only of legalizing illegal immigrants, by legislative or administrative action, but also of pairing legalization with a grant of permanent residency, the prerequisite for naturalization.
... The alternative now envisioned by some House members — legal status without access to citizenship — would effectively create a new stratum of society, a permanent second class of Americans. 
We have been down that road before, with grim results. The Asiatic exclusion laws, in force from the 1880s to the World War II era, were openly racist attempts to protect America from the “yellow peril” and “unassimilables.” These laws not only prohibited most prospective immigrants from China and other Asian countries from entering; they also excluded all Asians from naturalized citizenship, including merchants and professionals who were otherwise legal residents. In most Western states exclusion from citizenship also meant exclusion from owning agricultural property and from a range of occupations, from teaching to commercial fishing. 
... In 2012 Congress expressed “regret” over the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. 
Today’s political opposition to a path to citizenship is out of sync with democratic principles, historical practice and the vast majority of public opinion. 
It is punitive in spirit. It also suggests an unease with the prospect of more Latino voters. Republicans seem divided between those who recognize the need to appeal to the growing Latino electorate and those who would rather shut out prospective Latino voters than try to win their support. 
Citizenship is precious. That is precisely why it shouldn’t be held hostage to narrow, defeatist and racially discriminatory partisan interests.

Gee, GOP, it sort of sounds like this whole "immigration reform" thingie is a Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't trap carefully constructed by your political enemies.

January 31, 2014

NYT: Having female loved ones makes men into sexist Republicans

New York Times columnist Charles Blow discovers a new engine fueling the War on Women: having female loved ones makes men more sexist. Apparently, being around women they love causes males to notice average differences between men and women, and Noticing, as we've all been warned, leads to conservatism.
The problem with having your message powered by machismo is that it reveals what undergirds such a stance: misogyny and chauvinism. The masculinity for which they yearn draws its meaning and its value from juxtaposition with a lesser, vulnerable, narrowly drawn femininity. 
We have seen recent research suggesting that men with daughters are more likely to be Republican and a study finding that men with sisters are more likely to be Republican. *
The study of men with sisters was conducted by researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Loyola Marymount University. A report from Stanford about the study concluded, “Watching their sisters do the chores ‘teaches’ boys that housework is simply women’s work, and that leads to a traditional view of gender roles — a position linked to a predilection for Republican politics.”

Also, in 2012 65.0% of white men with wives voted Republican compared to only 50.6% of white men without wives.

It's almost as if the wives, daughters, and sisters of men are poisoning men's minds against the truths of feminism, which are so much more obvious to males sitting alone in their parents' basements.

Seriously, as Henry Kissinger has noted, there will never be a final victor in the Battle of the Sexes because there is too much fraternizing with the enemy.
Here is statistician Andrew Gelman trying to work through the puzzles of how to test for these effects without measuring something else, such as propensity to have larger families.

Brad DeLong, Rod Dreher, and "Be Like Me"

A few days ago, Rod Dreher published a long thoughtful post, "Evolution & the Culture Wars," that began with with a quote from an old article I wrote for the Toronto National Post back in the previous century called "Darwin's Enemies on the Left."

If I had to write it over again, I'd tone down the ending's late 1990s expectation that genetic selection techniques were going to become a big deal fairly soon. In truth, nothing involving medicine moves quickly. But, my 1999 views have certainly held up better to the last decade and a half of subsequent scientific discoveries than those of the conventional wisdom of 1999, as exemplified, at its high end, by the late Stephen Jay Gould.

Rod writes:
That link takes you to a 1999 Steve Sailer piece in which he observed that many on the left embrace Darwinian evolution not so much because Science as because it gives them a point of view with which to bash the troglodytes of Jesusland. ... 

Rod goes on to say:
I don’t see how evolution could be right and Sailer be wrong. I like reading Sailer because he forces me to see things I would often prefer not to see. 

But he also says:
As Sailer points out, it is perfectly possible to reconcile the spiritual and moral equality of humanity with what science tells us is true about human biological variability. The problem, I think, is that we humans are bad at this. Given the history of the 20th century, I flat-out don’t trust our species to handle the knowledge of human biodiversity without turning it into an ideology of dehumanization, racism, and at worst, genocide. Put another way, I am hostile to this kind of thing not because I believe it’s probably false, but because I believe a lot of it is probably true — and we have shown that we, by our natures, can’t handle this kind of truth.


But allow me to point out where much of the mindless fury of the 21st Century resides by quoting from today's blog by prominent economics professor and former Clinton Administration official Brad DeLong
Yet More Thursday Idiocy: Outsourced to bspencer [at Lawyers, Guns, and Money]: Rod D: 
[Lawyers, Guns, and Money] "I’m not quite sure how to talk about this Rod Dreher post because it’s so bizarre.  
It reads as a whiny appeal for liberals to quit being so mean to creationists and fundies. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll find it’s really a threat. And the threat is basically: “Be careful shoving your beloved SCIENCE down our throats, libs, because SCIENCE also says Black people are stupid.” To make his case, he links approvingly to racist XXXXXXXX Steve Sailer. 
[Rod Dreher] One of the things that keeps drawing me to Steve Sailer’s writing is that his beliefs on human biodiversity sometimes lead him to point out inconvenient truths about ideologies informing our common life.
If I’ve given you the impression that Dreher is bullying, racist sxxxhead, I apologize. He’s not. He’s heavy-hearted about what he’s telling us. He’s SAD that black people are stupid and inferior. But don’t you see that he’s left no choice but to be a racist sxxxbag when we insist on forcing our reality down his throat? 
“Darwin wouldn’t be surprised to learn which race had invented rap music”–Steve Sailer 
I’ve got a few issues.... One... there is no consensus in the scientific community that there are significant differences among the races. 
Two... there’s a long way to go from acknowledging differences to enacting eugenicist-influenced policies in response to said differences. 
Three: People are different, period... living full and happy lives. 
So, yes, I’m going to call it: Rod Dreher’s post is at threat, and a disgusting one at that.

The 250+ comments at the blog approvingly quoted by DeLong are highly indicative of the hate-filled state of mind of the people who are true believers in today's conventional wisdom. You really need to read them to believe them.

As for Rod's point about "the importance of maintaining the concept of forbidden knowledge," allow me to make a self-serving suggestion.

Since a 1996 article I wrote for National Review, "Great Black Hopes," I've been poking fun at the intellectual's panacea for all social problems: "Be like me!" For example, in my review of Steven Pinker's 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature, I wrote:
The subject of violence is so gigantic that even Pinker is eventually reduced to advocating that all-purpose solution of intellectuals: Be Like Me! Fortunately, I’m all in favor of humanity becoming more like Pinker: witty, learned, reasonable, and very, very smart. I’m even half-persuaded by Pinker’s ultimate argument that people are becoming more rational, as demonstrated by the rising raw scores on IQ tests—the celebrated “Flynn Effect.” Thus they are less likely to, say, invade Russia.

Most people aren't intellectuals, of course, so it isn't reasonable to offer policies based on the assumption that All We Have to Do is pester everybody into becoming intellectuals.

So, I've been disinclined to offer Be Like Me advice to anybody.

On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to pester public intellectuals to be better public intellectuals by pointing out the flaws, intellectual and moral in the dominant, and noting the admirable aspects of the demonized.

After all, public intellectuals' views influence policy directly and eventually seep down to the masses. And, they've "entered the arena" so it's not at all unsporting to recommend improvements to make them better public intellectuals.

Hence, here's a bit of egomaniacal advice to public intellectuals: Be Like Me.

Try to be extremely reasonable. Put yourself in other people's shoes so you can understand the incentives they face. Learn a few important subject areas in depth, especially major topics where the quality of thought is typically shallow. Don't assume you are an expert on complicated subjects such as macroeconomics or race if you are not. Check yourself to make sure your theories are level-headed. Read widely and carefully. Rethink your old policy favorites, especially when they've become popular because diminishing returns are probably setting in. Question conventional wisdom. Use wit to deflate the powerful, prestigious, and the smug when they go wrong. Don't pile on the unfashionable. Undermine Malcolm Gladwell when he's riding high in 2005-2012, but ease off in 2013 when everybody else finally gets what you've been pointing out. In summary, be less like Brad DeLong writing about race and more like Steve Sailer.

Obviously, that's extremely bad career advice.

And I'm sure that Rod would argue that, just as I laugh at public intellectuals telling average people to Be Like Me, most public intellectuals just couldn't hack it.

But how will they know unless they are encouraged to try? Who knows, maybe a few will be able to surprise themselves?

Field of Schemes

Putin lackey Dmitry Medvedev, 5'4", talks turkey
with oligarch and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, 6'8"
From Field of Schemes, a blog devoted to chronicling the innumerable ways that the rich guys involved with owning stadiums and/or sports teams rip the rest of us off.
Brooklyn Nets project wants to raise more cash by selling more green cards 
Posted on January 31, 2014 by Neil deMause 
Atlantic Yards Report had a long story yesterday (it doesn’t have any other kind) about how the Brooklyn Nets‘ arena developers are looking to do another round of EB-5 financing, the mechanism that allows foreign investors — mostly Chinese, in this case — to jump the line for green cards if they’ll extend interest-free loans to U.S. development projects in blighted neighborhoods. It’s well worth a read if you’re interested, especially for the bit about how the Chinese government will actually be benefitting from this as a co-investor, but I just wanted to call out this quote it pulls from an article last year by Dartmouth business professor John Vogel: 
One of the oddities about the EB-5 program is that the U.S. government is giving out the green cards, but the entrepreneur who puts together the investment gets the money. This scheme seems inefficient and open to corruption. If our government really believes that it is a good idea to sell green cards, maybe we should drop the pretense that this is a job creation program. It might be more efficient to have the money go directly to the U.S. Treasury and reduce the deficit by billions of dollars a year. 
This is actually an excellent way of looking at it: Green cards are a public asset, one that the government mostly chooses to give away in order of application, but which here are being handed out in exchange for investment cash. In other words, the government is selling green cards, but it’s not getting the money — that’s going to private developers. 
Now, you can say that it’s encouraging private development in places that need it (though it’s tough to imagine anyplace that needs a hand in promoting development less than Brooklyn), but still, is that the most efficient way to get housing built?

The chief developer of Atlantic Yards is Bruce Ratner.

The only thing the citizens of Los Angeles can boast about as a self-governing citizenry is that L.A. hasn't had an NFL team in a couple of decades.

The most high profile tenant is Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, a 6'8" Russian oligarch worth $13.2 billion. Prokhorov got rich in 1996 by auctioning off to himself for a nugatory price a government-owned company that produced 1/4th of the world's nickel output.

Is it really too much to ask that professional sports leagues such as the NBA or the English Premiere League in soccer not sell franchises, especially potential flagship ones in major cities, to Russian white collar gangsters? (Perhaps flagship newspapers shouldn't sell a large share of their stock to Mexican oligarchs either.)

A note to Gregory Clark on surname persistence

From an article by Gene Maddaus in the L.A. Weekly:
Salmon P. Chase
Remington Chase and Stefan Martirosian should be on top of the world. In the last two years, they have produced a dozen films, including Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg as a Navy SEAL fighting for his life in Afghanistan. Two years ago, no one in the industry had heard of them, but now they mingle with A-list stars. By their own estimate they have become the biggest independent financiers in the business, plowing $100 million in cash into production, plus another $200 million in bank loans. 
In the week before Christmas, just before the premiere of Lone Survivor, they're having coffee at Urth Caffé in Santa Monica — and sitting down for their first in-depth interview. 
But Chase and Martirosian aren't here to talk about the bravery of the Navy SEALs or about working with Peter Berg. Instead, they want to quash a story about their pasts.
Remington Chase

And no wonder. Their backgrounds include convictions for cocaine trafficking; ties to the Russian oil business, the Armenian government and the African diamond trade; and stints as federal informants. Most disturbing are allegations that they orchestrated a contract killing in Moscow — allegations that the Moscow police took seriously enough to investigate. 
Chase and Martirosian say they can explain everything. (They've brought along a Hollywood publicist to help.) 

Spoiler Alert: Seven pages later the two movie producers / crooks are still talking about their post-Soviet connections and crimes; here's the ending:
Throughout the conversation, Maxine Leonard, the publicist, has been quiet, occasionally looking down at her phone. But as the conversation progresses, her eyes grow wider and wider. Finally, she simply has to interrupt. 
"Can I just stop right here?" she asks, in a very polite British accent. "This is all just kind of incredible, amazing stuff. You don't want any of this — nobody wants any of what I've been listening to for the last 30 minutes, anywhere in any kind of like print story about you guys being involved in Hollywood making movies." 
They try to allay her worries, but she is not kidding around. 
"Any of this stuff coming out," she says, "is horribly damaging."
Stefan Martirosian & Remington Steele:
a study in different quality dye jobs

By the way, for the purposes of estimating social mobility over the centuries via surname analysis, it should be noted that Remington Chase isn't actually descended from Lincoln's treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase, in whose honor the Chase gigabank was named, nor does he have ties to the Remington gun company, nor to the Remington Steele TV show. Nor does Remington Chase look much like Pierce Brosnan, but if you assume he does based on a series of murky associations in your mind that you haven't really thought through, Remington Chase probably wouldn't object.

In truth, he's had lots of names (such as William Paul Elliot and William Elliot Westwood), and Remington Chase is just the cool name he was using when he went into the history books as a big time movie producer.

Take note, Dr. Clark.

Note to Hollywood publicists like poor Ms. Leonard who are hired to represent career criminals: Insist that your clients only be interviewed while wearing dresses. Guys like Stefan and Remington will no doubt initially object, but they will thank you in the long run. 

The best defense is a good offense

From The Jewish Daily Forward:
A Short History of Jews and Obscenity 
Author Explores Link Between Purity Laws and Anti-Semitism 
Reviewed by Joshua Furst

Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture
By Josh Lambert
NYU Press, 280 pages, $35 
Among the Jewish traits I am most proud to be historically and culturally associated with is the way my people obstreperously defend our principles even when doing so goes against our best interests.
I love the loudmouths and the unreasonably argumentative. I love people who are willing to go to great hyperbolic length to get a laugh or to irritate their opponents. I love the ranters and the hysterics, those who never know when enough is enough. Whether I agree with what they’re saying or not, I always appreciate their compulsion to take things too far. I see it as my birthright to get under people’s skin and annoy them until they want to scream. And one of the greatest rhetorical tools people bent toward this sort of behavior can wield is the well-timed, carefully aimed obscenity.
For this reason, I was excited to hear about “Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture,” Josh Lambert’s recently published book on the subject. 
“Unclean Lips” is, essentially, an examination of the way obscenity laws have been historically used to legitimize anti-Semitism in America and the notable roles Jewish writers, publishers and lawyers have played in fighting these laws, and by extension, furthering the cause of Jewish equality in American culture. To this end, Lambert studies examples that further his argument and ignores or merely mentions in passing major cases like Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer,” James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and William S. Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch.” 
Moving sequentially through the historical record, he first attempts to explain how “anti-Semitism, both sexual and genteel, has made obscenity seem meaningful and useful, even necessary, to some American Jews.”  
He draws a connection between the Comstock laws, which regulated depictions of sex and sexual mores in American society throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the stereotype of Jews as bigamists, pedophiles and sexual deviants, framing the fight against these laws as a battle against anti-Semitism. 
As Victorian prudery gave way to modernist transgression, Jewish writers and publishers were able to exploit the laws for personal gain. Lambert explains: “The publishing of obscenity was one means through which to convert… financial capital into a very precious form of cultural capital. It was… a way of purchasing literary prestige.” Thus Jewish publishers like Horace Liveright pursued books that might provoke lawsuits against them, and most touchingly, a writer like Henry Roth was able to believe that he could transform his shame over a youthful incestuous relationship with his sister into a literary cause célèbre on par with Joyce’s “Ulysses.” The reason he failed, according to Lambert, is because “the book was never suppressed, and so while Roth was never threatened with jail, neither did he receive the speaker’s benefit that was due him.” 
The most provocative section of the book examines the way Jewish writers exploited and challenged sexual themes in their work in the decades after the Comstock laws were repealed. For most of this chapter, Lambert focuses his analyses on two books, Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” and Adele Wiseman’s “Crackpot.” “Portnoy” is presented as an allegorical argument against Zionism and “Crackpot” depicts the sexual love between a mother and her son as a transgressive celebration of the imperative to marry within the tribe. ...
When he finally arrives at the present, Lambert brings his argument full circle and looks at the ways that Orthodox Judaism has argued for and modeled a new interest in modesty within American culture, and how in the presence of the resurgent Christian right, secular Jews like Larry David and Sarah Silverman “continue to assert their Jewishness emphatically, in virtually every one of their performances, but also glory in and glorify the use of taboo language… [because] identifying oneself as a ‘dirty Jew’ in the 21st century has become attractive as a means for signaling one’s opposition to… the country’s most powerful social, religious, and politically reactionary movement.” 
... Maybe more problematic, if one cares about the relationship between Judaism and American culture, are the limited and predetermined objectives Lambert presents his Jewish protagonists as having. In these pages, obscenity is first and foremost presented as a tool by which Jews were able to assimilate and gain acceptance by the American cultural elite as well as monetary and societal success, and to enter the “prestige culture” as Lambert calls it. ...
But what of the other ways in which obscenity can and has been used? What of transgression and dissidence? Obscenity is such a powerful weapon against those who would wish to control our behavior (to say nothing of our imaginations) and villainize us for our culture. And the angry refusal of Jewish figures like Lenny Bruce, Abbie Hoffman and even Al Goldstein to accept the terms the over-culture demanded was as Jewish in character as Henry Roth’s yiddishisms and Liveright’s entrepreneurship through scandal. 
To many of them obscenity was a political tactic, a way by which to draw attention to what they perceived to be the greater obscenities of our government’s behavior toward its citizens and others around the world. I would have liked to see what Lambert has to say about the role Jewish heritage played in the antagonistic relationship between these dissidents and American culture. 
One explanation for why he shies from doing so is his fear of what he calls the “booster-bigot trap” by which the well-intentioned scholar “[relies] on essentialist visions of Jewishness that mirror those of anti-Semites.” His reservations are understandable, but they place him in a position of having to normalize Judaism and implicitly promote a vision of Judaism that, ironically, given the subject matter, is both culturally and politically conservative. 
What’s lost in “Unclean Lips” is the thrill obscenity can create. It’s the sharp dangerous edge of anarchy and when used effectively, it can BLEEP up the most carefully planned cocktail party, smashing all propriety to BLEEP. ...
Presenting obscenity as a means of gaining access to the domain of polite, civil society seems, to me at least, to miss the BLEEPING point.
Joshua Furst is a contributing editor to the Forward. He is the author of “The Sabotage Café” (Knopf, 2007).

"... against our best interests." And, yet, judging by the membership of the Forbes 400, their financial interests seem to be doing pretty well. Mormons, to pick out a notoriously agreeable people, are outnumbered by Jews on the Forbes 400 by a ratio of something like 5 to 140. It's almost as if being aggressive pays off better than being polite these days, as long as you can rationalize your hostility as being the fault of those you are defeating due to your certified victimhood.

But woe to any outsider who questions victimhood. Now, that is always obscene and will not be tolerated.

January 30, 2014

Ramzan Kadyrov goes somewhere

I was walking down Massachusetts Avenue in 2002 when Dick Cheney's motorcade of about 15 vehicles roared by, sirens wailing, toward the White House. I thought to myself, Wow, I don't know ... If I had to put the rest of the world to so much trouble every time I wanted to go to a Cabinet meeting to bully the President into invading Iraq, I'd probably just stay home and not bother.

But now I think: Cheney was a piker by Chechen standards ... Via Iron Rails Iron Weights, here's video of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov going for a drive. I count at least 82 government vehicles (followed by a couple of dozen scragglier cars that perhaps were driven by in-laws of Presidential dogwalkers and other lesser members of the Kadyrov entourage).

I hear more than a dozen bursts from automatic weapons being fired into the air from the Presidential motorcade.

Admit it: What else are sunroofs good for? You let that car salesman talk you into spending an extra $3400 on the LX package with the sunroof, but you've barely opened it since.

If you were a Chechen, however, you could shoot your AK-47 off through the sunroof while steering with your left elbow and swigging vodka from the bottle (or, if it were Ramadan, chewing some primo khat).

Also, in Chechnya an automatic weapon makes an excellent lane change signal in case the bulb in your tail light has burned out. Don't you hate it when that happens?

A lot of things would be awesomer if you were a Chechen.

Have you ever noticed that chicks dig Chechens? I'm just sayin ...

P.S., In my Comments, some spoil-sport good government weenie adds:
Here's a higher quality video of a different Kadyrov motorcade.  
No automatic gunfire though.

Are you sure? It's hard to tell, but what's that stuttering sound at 3:39 to 3:41?
But this one has 6 minutes of cars going past.

Yeah, but they are mostly obeying the speed limit, so what's the fun of that?
I can confirm that just when you think it's over, those are the crappier cars and it's still the motorcade. 
To Steve's point - can you imagine being so self-important that you have 100 cars escort you? Can you imagine debasing yourself by being the driver of some psychopath's 100th escort car?  
Is this a good time to be a manufacturer of siren units for cars?  
If we had Steve's immigration safety board, would they notice any problems with immigrants from countries where the police fire their weapons out the window?

You got something against vibrancy?
P.S. In Tyler Cowen's Beantopia, there will be a certain number of promising new jobs as the drivers of 200th-300th cars in motorcades. 

As Ramzan Kadyrov would say, Average Is Over!

Snowstorm politics

From the NYT:
Mayor, in Storm’s Eye, Is Unapologetic 
While Gov. Nathan Deal, left, has been contrite after Atlanta was gripped by an icy paralysis during a snowstorm this week, Mayor Kasim Reed, right, has rejected criticism.
ATLANTA — Anyone who has listened to Kasim Reed, the former entertainment lawyer who became Atlanta’s mayor in 2010, knows the man who calls himself a street fighter likes to be forceful when he makes a point. 
But for the past two days, as the national face of a city that was virtually incapacitated by two inches of snow and ice, Mr. Reed has come across more as peevish than powerful as he has done interview after interview, mostly rejecting criticism of the government’s role in Atlanta’s vast ice storm gridlock. 
“I don’t want to get into the blame game,” he snapped at local reporters Wednesday as children were still stranded in schools and images of thousands stranded on frozen interstates rolled in a seemingly endless media loop. 
The next day, he fired back at national journalists, suggesting that Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” be more accurate in the images of a crippled region he was presenting to viewers and sniping with Mika Brzezinski on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. ...

Gov. Nathan Deal, in an apologetic briefing for reporters on Thursday and in his own series of national interviews, was as soft and contrite as Mr. Reed was unyielding and combative.  

I haven't been following the Biggest Story Since the Fort Lee Lane Closure Crisis as carefully as I should, but let me see if I have this straight: the white politician is deftly putting on a self-effacing image and trying to keep his head down until this whole thing blows over, while the black politician is displaying the kind of inflated but fragile ego that's essential to When Keepin' It Real Goes Wrong.

I never would have seen that coming.

GOP strategy: Divide and Submit

The New York Times' headline seems accurate:
Republicans’ Immigration Blueprint Leaves Party at Odds and Democrats Hopeful
CAMBRIDGE, Md. — The House Republican leadership’s call on Thursday to provide legal status for 11 million undocumented workers, and possible citizenship for those brought to this country as children, caused sharp division within the party even as it provided a starting point for negotiations with Democrats on overhauling the nation’s immigration system. 
Many Republicans rejected the one-page “standards for immigration reform” outright, and others said now was not the time for a legislative push on a number of contentious issues in an election year with trends going their way. Even their leader was cautious about where the issue will go from here. 
“It’s time to deal with it, but how you deal with it is critically important,” Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said Thursday at the Republican leaders’ annual issues conference retreat here. “It’s one thing to pass a law, it’s another thing to have the confidence of the American people behind that law.” 
A closed-door discussion on immigration at the retreat was described by a House member as “very passionate,” with a “sizable bloc” opposing the leadership’s position. Members took turns expressing their distrust of President Obama and Senate Democrats as negotiating partners, and many of the Republicans said they were torn over whether to turn the principles into an actual legislative effort.
... Still, Democrats from Obama to Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York and Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois expressed optimism for an accord. ... “I actually think we have a good chance of getting immigration reform,” Mr. Obama told Jake Tapper of CNN in an interview in Wisconsin. 

Hey, Republicans, if you can't trust Schumer, Gutierrez, and Obama to have your best interests at heart, who can you trust?
... The deepest skepticism emerged around immigration. The Republican blueprint issued Thursday specifies that “there will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws,” and lays out the party’s belief that “specific enforcement triggers,” as well as border security and interior enforcement measures, must be in place before any undocumented immigrant can gain legal status.

Because nobody would ever, ever lie about how well things are going vis-a-vis immigration. Look how well social scientist Jason Richwine was treated last year -- maybe some people disagreed with his interpretations of generations of data, but nobody disputed his right to say that immigration wasn't working out well.
At least in its broad strokes, it does not guarantee a path to citizenship but does not necessarily preclude one — something that is likely to be a deal-breaker for Democrats and immigration activists.

Amnesty plus "not necessarily preclude" citizenship sounds like about 4/5ths of the loaf for the Democrats.
“There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws — that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law,” according to the document. “Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.”

"From here on ..." Man, those three world just make me feel all warm and confident inside.
Even the order of the principles was calculated to win over Republican doubters. 
The principles start with border security, the enforcement of laws preventing the hiring of illegal workers, a new visa tracking system and a beefed up employment verification system, before there is any discussion of expanded guest worker programs and the status of illegal immigrants already in the country. Many activists also said they were heartened that the Republican proposal, at least in its broad rendering, does not seem to preclude citizenship for many of the undocumented immigrants who receive legal status. 

The Zimmerman Instagram

Some low level flunky at the Iowa GOP posted this one slow evening, leading to rapid condemnation of Republicans for being Racist -- We are not amused! -- and it being quickly taken down and the flunky fired.

I'd add the Zimmerman Footnote:
Are they not white, but you don't like them, and you forgot to check to make sure they are white, and it's too late to backtrack now?
They are racist. And white.

The Son Doesn't Rise Too Fast

From an interview with economic historian Gregory P. Clark promoting his new book The Son Also Rises, which is mostly about how surnames don't rise or fall but they remain fairly stable in class over the generations.
Q. So what's driving this? Why is social status so sticky?
A. This is intellectually the most intriguing part of the story, and it's one that's hard to make a lot of progress on.  It is clear that families are very powerful determinants of children’s outcomes. But what do parents transmit to their children? Is it mainly some type of culture? Or is it mainly genetics? 
The data does not exist to provide any conclusive answer to this question. But even if this is cultural transmission, it looks in all respects just the same as biological inheritance. The book performs a series of tests to see if biological transmission can be ruled out as the important link, and the empirical patterns never rule this out.

One factor is that high status surnames can recruit new female talent. For example, John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough, enjoyed a spectacular career as a politician-adventurer, eventually winning the crucial battle of his generation over the French at Blenheim. He was made the first Duke of Marlborough and given a palace and then ... not much happened talentwise for five or six generations of Churchills. But then the dull 6th or 7th Duke of Marlborough married a woman of energy and ambition, and their son Randolph landed an American heiress, Jennie Jerome, who was a tigress, and, voila, Winston Churchill.

Or consider George P. Bush, the half-Mexican son of Jeb. He's kind of a doofus, so he probably married a doofette, right? I did a little a research on the latest Mr. Bush, and doofette she's not. George P. Bush still sounds implausible as President, but not so implausible once I realized that Amanda Bush sounds like she'd be a dynamic, power-behind-the-throne First Lady.

Also, ambitious people sometimes change their surnames. For example, auto mechanic Stephen Krol left behind his bad credit ratings and child support-demanding ex-wives and became Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, heiress to the Society family, Stealth Bomber scientist, and golf entrepreneur.

General Lew Wallace wrote one of the biggest bestselling novels of the 19th Century, Ben-Hur, so it's not that surprising that many mid-20th Century bestsellers were written by Irving Wallace. Of course, Wallace's son, the nonfiction writer, has gone back to being David Wallechinsky.
For example, if biological transmission is the most important, then elite groups will never be the product of the adoption of particular cultural traits. Instead they will always represent a selection from the upper end of abilities of a parent population. Modern Jews will not be elite because of the social and religious mores of Judaism, but because they are a selection based on ability from a larger parent Jewish population. 
For all such elite groups we observe, they do indeed turn out to be a selection from a larger population. Egyptian Copts are such a social elite, for example, but they represent the descendants of the Copts rich enough at the time of the Arabian conquest to be able to afford the head tax levied on all who did not convert to Islam. 
A recent book, "The Triple Package"  [by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld], argues the extreme opposite of biology in explaining social status, with the claim that successful cultural groups in the U.S. have three key features leading to success, one being impulse control. 
But what is remarkable is how disparate the culturally successful groups they identify are – Jews, Chinese, Indians, Mormons, Iranians, Lebanese, Nigerians, Cubans. And it is demonstrable that most of the successful groups identified here were elites selected from the parent populations as a combined result of politics at home and immigration policy in the U.S.
By the way, I found where I got the idea that Mrs. Thatcher was seen in Britain as having a downscale surname. I'm rereading The Third World War: August 1985, a 1979 sci-fi war novel by a half dozen British generals and Economist editors. The conservative Republican president of the U.S. who defeats Walter Mondale in the 1984 election is "Governor Thompson." The Tory prime minister of the UK in 1985 in this alternate future is "Mrs. Plumber."

January 29, 2014

ESPN's Torch Watch: "Where is Olympic flame today?"

I clicked on the ESPN feature "Where is Olympic flame today?" and ... yeah, I should have guessed:
Torch watch: Where is Olympic flame today? 
A leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, runs with an Olympic torch in Grozny, the regional capital of the southern Russian Caucasus province of Chechnya, during the Olympic torch relay.  

In other Chechen news, Larry David buys a detonator from Tibor the Chechen.

In future Chechen news:
Ex-Chechen Strongwoman Denounces Putin in Cannes
New York Times, May 14, 2015
Wearing a stunning floor-length Givenchy gown, former Chechen strongwoman Ramzana Kadyrova was the center of photographers' attention once again as she walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Fired by Vladimir Putin after Chechen rebels dressed as biathletes shot up the grandstand at the Sochi Winter Olympics, Kadyrova was reduced to obscurity until she electrified the global media last fall by announcing that she had "always felt like a girl on the inside." 
Since then, she has become the bearded, lantern-jawed face of the global struggle for transgender rights, as she passed up no photo opportunity to denounce the Russian president for his vicious transphobia. Her campaign climaxed last night with the debut at Cannes of the new movie she originally executive produced when still ruling Chechnya in 2013. The frontrunner for the Palme D'Or, this rapturously-received protest film entitled Fire Me? Putin, You Bastard, I Fire You! stars Steven Seagal, Gerard Depardieu, Jean-Claude van Damme, Hilary Swank, Mike Tyson, Elizabeth Hurley, and Diego Maradona as a crew of veteran mercenaries who fight transphobia wherever it raises its hateful head. A GCI version of the Russian president appears to have been added in post-production and much of the film consists of Putin being blown up in numerous fireballs, eaten by a tiger, and repeatedly run over by a monster truck. 
During the 15 minute standing ovation after the lights came up, Kadyrova took the stage with her stars and was initially ecstatically gratified. But as the applause went on and on, almost as if none of the assembled celebrities dared be the first to sit down, she seemed to grow bored and mischievous. Eventually, she pulled out a solid gold pistol and, winking broadly, goosed Ms. Hurley and Ms. Swank with it. Then Kadyrova hiked up her dress to ostentatiously scratch her testicles, and finally she urinated, quite accurately, on Michael J. Fox sitting in the third row.
Observers were unanimous in their condemnation of Putin, who is currently digging in at Volgograd for what promises to be his last stand against NATO's tanks. "Along the banks of the quietly flowing Volga, Operation Engendering Freedom shall leave no stone atop another stone," promised Vice President Josephina Biden, whose campaign to become the first female Democratic presidential nominee has soared since the invasion of Russia began. Ms. Biden trumped Hilary Clinton's effort to become the first woman President by declaring herself not just a woman but a pre-op transgender lesbian and marrying Miley Cyrus. Polls predict Ms. Biden will meet the Republican frontrunner, former California governor Arlene Schwarzenegger, in the White House's first all-woman race.

Feminism: "Feelings / Nothing more than Feelings"

From The Nation, an article about how black feminists scream at white feminists and then other white feminists pile on those vicious racist white feminists. And how "trans" feminists can get very, very upset at the Vagina Monologues-type feminists who actually have vaginas.
Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars 
Empowered by social media, feminists are calling one another out for ideological offenses. Is it good for the movement? And whose movement is it? 
Michelle Goldberg  
... The dogma that’s being enforced in online feminist spaces is often called “intersectionality,” ... Online, however, intersectionality is overwhelmingly about chastisement and rooting out individual sin. Partly, says Cooper, this comes from academic feminism, steeped as it is in a postmodern culture of critique that emphasizes the power relations embedded in language. “We actually have come to believe that how we talk about things is the best indicator of our politics,” she notes. An elaborate series of norms and rules has evolved out of that belief, generally unknown to the uninitiated, who are nevertheless hammered if they unwittingly violate them. Often, these rules began as useful insights into the way rhetorical power works but, says Cross, “have metamorphosed into something much more rigid and inflexible.” One such rule is a prohibition on what’s called “tone policing.” An insight into the way marginalized people are punished for their anger has turned into an imperative “that you can never question the efficacy of anger, especially when voiced by a person from a marginalized background.” 

World War F
Similarly, there’s a norm that intention doesn’t matter—indeed, if you offend someone and then try to explain that you were misunderstood, this is seen as compounding the original injury. Again, there’s a significant insight here: people often behave in bigoted ways without meaning to, and their benign intention doesn’t make the prejudice less painful for those subjected to it. However, “that became a rule where you say intentions never matter; there is no added value to understanding the intentions of the speaker,” Cross says. 
There are also rules, elaborated by white feminists, on how other white feminists should talk to women of color. For example, after Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag erupted last fall, Sarah Milstein, co-author of a guide to Twitter, published a piece on the Huffington Post titled “5 Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism.” At one point, Milstein argued that if a person of color says something that makes you uncomfortable, “assume your discomfort is telling you something about you, not about the other person.” 
After Rule No. 3, “Look for ways that you are racist, rather than ways to prove you’re not,” she confesses to her own racial crimes, including being “awkwardly too friendly” toward black people at parties. 
Now, it’s true that white people need to make an effort not to be racist. And there are countless examples of white feminists failing women of color and then hiding behind their good intentions. Ani DiFranco provided a textbook example of what not to do when, following an uproar over her plan to hold a songwriting retreat on a former slave plantation, she then canceled it with a self-pitying statement: “I know that the pain of slavery is real and runs very deep and wide. However, in this incident I think [it] is very unfortunate what many have chosen to do with that pain.” (DiFranco later issued a more sincere apology.) 
But the expectation that feminists should always be ready to berate themselves for even the most minor transgressions—like being too friendly at a party—creates an environment of perpetual psychodrama

To feminists, "perpetual psychodrama" is a feature, not a bug.
particularly when coupled with the refusal to ever question the expression of an oppressed person’s anger. 
“I actually think there’s a subset of black women who really do get off on white women being prostrate,” Cooper says. “It’s about feeling disempowered and always feeling at the mercy of white authority, and wanting to feel like for once the things you’re saying are being given credibility and authority. And to have white folks do that is powerful, particularly in a world where white women often deploy power against black women in ways that are really problematic.” 

World War B
Preening displays of white feminist abjection, however, are not the same as respect. “What’s disgusting and disturbing to me is that I see some of the more intellectually dishonest arguments put forth by women of color being legitimized and performed by white feminists, who seem to be in some sort of competition to exhibit how intersectional they are,” says Jezebel founder Holmes, who is black. 
“There are these Olympian attempts on the part of white feminists to underscore and display their ally-ship in a way that feels gross and dishonest and, yes, patronizing.” 
This reached an absurd peak during the tempest over #Femfuture. Jamia Wilson was one of the black women involved in the Barnard meeting, and she has since become part of the four-woman leadership team for the #Femfuture project, which continues to work on ways to make online feminism financially sustainable. She watched incredulously as white women joined in the pile-on about #Femfuture’s alleged racial insensitivity. One self-described white feminist tweeted at her to explain that no women of color had been at the Barnard meeting “and that I needed to be educated about that,” Wilson recalls. Somehow, activists who prided themselves on their racial enlightenment “were whitesplaining me about racism,” she adds, laughing. 
In a revolution-eats-its-own irony, some online feminists have even deemed the word “vagina” problematic. In January, the actress and activist Martha Plimpton tweeted about a benefit for Texas abortion funds called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” sponsored by A Is For, a reproductive rights organization she’s involved with. Plimpton was surprised when some offended Internet feminists urged people to stay away, arguing that emphasizing “vaginas” hurts trans men who don’t want their reproductive organs coded as female.

Reading this more closely, I realize I may have gotten this backward. The protesters may be individuals who have vaginas but are objecting to the cultural stereotypes that encode vaginas as being -- in some arbitrary socially constructed sense -- female.
“Given the constant genital policing, you can’t expect trans folks to feel included by an event title focused on a policed, binary genital,” tweeted @DrJaneChi, an abortion and transgender health provider. (She mentioned “internal genitals” as an alternative.) When Plimpton insisted that she would continue to say “vagina,” her feed filled up with indignation. “So you’re really committed to doubling down on using a term that you’ve been told many times is exclusionary & harmful?” asked one self-described intersectional feminist blogger. 

World War T trumps all others for ferocity and wackiness.

By the way, why did Vagina Awareness become a feminist cause just because Eve Ensler wrote her 1996 play The Vagina Monologues? My impression in 1996 was that Larry Flynt had been doing yeoman's work raising America's Vagina Awareness for decades, and there really was no shortage of Vagina Awareness.

In fact, my recollection from reading Ms. Magazine in 1973 was that back then feminism was in part about raising awareness of a different, more often overlooked part of the female anatomy -- rhymes with Dolores. But that seems to have been forgotten.

Pinker on interpreting twin studies

More from the Edge symposium on what ideas should be retired from science. Here's one that's helpful:
Steven Pinker 
Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology; Harvard University; Author, The Better Angels of Our Nature 
[Anti-] Behavior = Genes + Environment 
... Genes: Molecular biologists have appropriated the term "gene" to refer to stretches of DNA that code for a protein. Unfortunately, this sense differs from the one used in population genetics, behavioral genetics, and evolutionary theory, namely any information carrier that is transmissible across generations and has sustained effects on the phenotype. This includes any aspect of DNA that can affect gene expression, and is closer to what is meant by "innate" than genes in the molecular biologists' narrow sense. The confusion between the two leads to innumerable red herrings in discussions of our makeup, such as the banality that the expression of genes (in the sense of protein-coding stretches of DNA) is regulated by signals from the environment. How else could it be? The alternative is that every cell synthesizes every protein all the time! The epigenetics bubble inflated by the science media is based on a similar confusion. 
... Even the technical sense of "environment" used in quantitative behavioral genetics is perversely confusing. Now, there is nothing wrong with partitioning phenotypic variance into components that correlate with genetic variation (heritability) and with variation among families ("shared environment"). The problem comes from the so-called "nonshared" or "unique environmental influences." This consists of all the variance that is attributable neither to genetic nor familiar variation. In most studies, it's calculated as 1 – (heritability + shared environment). Practically, you can think of it as the differences between identical twins who grow up in the same home. They share their genes, parents, older and younger siblings, home, school, peers, and neighborhood. So what could make them different? Under the assumption that behavior is a product of genes plus environment, it must be something in the environment of one that is not in the environment of the other. 
But this category really should be called "miscellaneous/unknown," because it has nothing necessarily to do with any measurable aspect of the environment, such as one sibling getting the top bunk bed and the other the bottom, or a parent unpredictably favoring one child, or one sibling getting chased by a dog, coming down with a virus, or being favored by a teacher. These influences are purely conjectural, and studies looking for them have failed to find them. The alternative is that this component actually consists of the effects of chance – new mutations, quirky prenatal effects, noise in brain development, and events in life with unpredictable effects.

My impression of male identical twins is that many spend quite a bit of their formative years punching each other. More perhaps than non-twin brothers do, perhaps because they are so evenly matched that neither one has any reason to say to himself: I'd better just let him have it because if we fought I'd probably lose. This sibling violence presumably has random effects on how the identical twins turn out: while the total amount dished out and taken is about equal, the precise effects on different organs likely differs.
Stochastic effects in development are increasingly being recognized by epidemiologists, frustrated by such recalcitrant phenomena such as nonagenarian pack-a-day smokers and identical twins discordant for schizophrenia, homosexuality, and disease outcomes. They are increasingly forced to acknowledge that God plays dice with our traits. Developmental biologists have come to similar conclusions. The bad habit of assuming that anything not classically genetic must be "environmental" has blinkered behavioral geneticists (and those who interpret their findings) into the fool's errand of looking for environmental effects for what may be randomness in developmental processes.

A lot of things may be just that, say, one cell splits funny and that starts a cascade. For example, I almost died of cancer 17 years ago. Nobody has much of a clue why.
A final confusion in the equation is the seemingly sophisticated add-on of "gene-environment interactions." This is also designed to confuse. Gene-environment interactions do not refer to the fact that the environment is necessary for genes to do their thing (which is true of all genes). It refers to a flipflop effect in which genes affect a person one way in one environment but another way in another environment, whereas an alternative genes has a different pattern. For example, if you inherit allele 1, you are vulnerable: a stressor makes you neurotic. If you inherit allele 2, you are resilient: a stressor leaves you normal. With either gene, if you are never stressed, you're normal. 
Gene-environment interactions in this technical sense, confusingly, go into the "unique environmental" component, because they are not the same (on average) in siblings growing up in the same family. Just as confusingly, "interactions" in the common-sense sense, namely that a person with a given genotype is predictably affected by the environment, goes into the "heritability" component, because quantitative genetics measures only correlations. This confound is behind the finding that the heritability of intelligence increases, and the effects of shared environment decrease, over a person's lifetime. One explanation is that genes have effects late in life, but another is that people with a given genotype place themselves in environments that indulge their inborn tastes and talents. The "environment" increasingly depends on the genes, rather than being an exogenous cause of behavior. 
For example, as a child I went out of the way to create an environment for myself that was conducive to my tastes for the intellectual life (e.g., spending a lot of the time at the library -- and I benefited from living two-blocks from the library), but as a middle-aged man I've totally gone over the top in arranging my environment to suit my innate predilection.

NYT: "The Little Bit of Neanderthal in All of Us" -- Who you calling "us," white man?

Carl Zimmer writes in the NYT:
The Little Bit of Neanderthal in All of Us 
Ever since the discovery in 2010 that Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of [some] living humans, scientists have been trying to determine how their DNA affects people today. Now two new studies have traced the history of Neanderthal DNA, and have pinpointed a number of genes that may have medical importance today. 
Among the findings, the studies have found clues to the evolution of skin and fertility, as well as susceptibility to diseases like diabetes. More broadly, they show how the legacy of Neanderthals has endured 30,000 years after their [quasi-] extinction. ...
Neanderthals, who became extinct about 30,000 years ago, were among the closest relatives of modern humans. They shared a common ancestor with us that lived about 600,000 years ago.

In the 1990s, researchers began finding fragments of Neanderthal DNA in fossils. By 2010 they had reconstructed most of the Neanderthal genome. When they compared it with the genomes of five living humans, they found similarities to small portions of the DNA in the Europeans and Asians.

But not sub-Saharan Africans.
But recently, researchers sequenced a far more accurate genome from a Neanderthal toe bone. 
Scientists at Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany compared this high-quality Neanderthal genome to the genomes of 1,004 living people. They were able to identify specific segments of Neanderthal DNA from each person’s genome. 
“It’s a personal map of Neanderthal ancestry,” said David Reich of Harvard Medical School, who led the research team. He and his colleagues published their results in the journal Nature. 
Living humans do not have a lot of Neanderthal DNA, Dr. Reich and his colleagues found, but some Neanderthal genes have become very common. That’s because, with natural selection, useful genes survive as species evolve. “What this proves is that these genes were helpful for non-Africans in adapting to the environment,” said Dr. Reich.

This was predicted by Harpending and Cochran before the confirmatory discoveries.
In a separate study published in Science, Benjamin Vernot and Joshua M. Akey of the University of Washington came to a similar conclusion, using a different method. 
Mr. Vernot and Dr. Akey looked for unusual mutations in the genomes of 379 Europeans and 286 Asians. The segments of DNA that contained these mutations turned out to be from Neanderthals. 
Both studies suggest that Neanderthal genes involved in skin and hair were favored by natural selection in humans. Today, they’re very common in living non-Asians. 

Oops! See below.
The fact that two independent studies pinpointed these genes lends support to their importance, said Sriram Sankararaman of Harvard Medical School, a co-author on the Nature paper. “The two methods seem to be converging on the same results.” 
It’s possible, Dr. Akey speculated, that the genes developed to help Neanderthal skin adapt to the cold climate of Europe and Asia.

Cochran's view, which I think he first told me in 1999 or 2000, was that Neanderthals had longer periods to evolve adaptations to cold climates, so it's likely that Out-of-Africa modern humans would have occasionally bred with them and picked up more highly evolved gene variants for living in Europe.
Both teams of scientists also found long stretches of the living human genomes where Neanderthal DNA was glaringly absent. This pattern could be produced if modern humans with certain Neanderthal genes couldn’t have as many children on average as people without them. For example, living humans have very few genes from Neanderthals involved in making sperm. That suggests that male human-Neanderthal hybrids might have had lower fertility or were even sterile. 
Overall, said Dr. Reich, “most of the Neanderthal genetic material was more bad than good.” 

The Neanderthal Anti-Defamation League would like to have a word with you, Dr. Reich, about your insensitive choice of adjectives.
Some of the Neanderthal genes that have endured until today may be influencing people’s health. Dr. Reich and his colleagues identified nine Neanderthal genes in living humans that are known to raise or reduce the risk of various diseases, including diabetes and lupus. 
To better understand the legacy of Neanderthals, Dr. Reich and his colleagues are collaborating with the UK Biobank, which collects genetic information from hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The scientists will search for Neanderthal genetic markers, and investigate whether Neanderthal genes cause any noticeable differences in anything from weight to blood pressure to scores on memory tests.

How about IQ tests?
“This experiment of nature has been done,” said Dr. Reich, “and we can study it.”
Correction: January 29, 2014 An earlier version of this article misstated the living groups in which Neanderthal genes involved in skin and hair are very common. They are very common in non-Africans, not non-Asians. 


My Super Bowl prediction: Manning to regress toward mean

I don't know anything about football, but let me make a Super Bowl prediction. 

Las Vegas initially established the strong defense and run Seattle Seahawks as the favorite, but a flood of public money on Peyton Manning's high-scoring Denver Broncos reversed that. (Both teams are 15-3.) 

After all, Manning set records this years for touchdown passes and yards passing. In the regular season of 16 games, he tossed 55 touchdowns compared to only 10 interceptions and was sacked only 18 times. 

He had a great game in the AFC championship against archrival Tom Brady's New England Patriots, throwing for 400 yards. This is all despite the 37-year-old Manning being one of the weakest-armed and least mobile quarterbacks in the league. Much of the season, he looked more like a symphony conductor, waving his arms around to direct his players in what to do, than a football player.

I'm a big Peyton Manning fan, as I'm a big Tom Brady fan. In fact, the endless Manning vs. Brady debate helped inspire one of my bigger (and most boring) ideas: Back in 2009, when Malcolm Gladwell was denouncing Steven Pinker in the New York Times for citing known crimethinker Steve Sailer's research debunking Gladwell's contention that the performance of NFL quarterbacks "can't be predicted," Pinker and I got to discussing why humans are most fascinated by arguing over things that are least provable, such as who's best: Manning or Brady? Pinker told me, "mental effort seems to be engaged most with the knife edge at which one finds extreme and radically different consequences with each outcome, but the considerations militating towards each one are close to equal."

Still, that doesn't mean that Manning is bound to win.

The Seahawk's quarterback Russell Wilson is 25-years-old and in his second season in the NFL. He had strong statistics but not up in the stratosphere with Manning's. (Wilson, who is black, is remarkably short for an NFL QB: at 5'11" a half foot shorter than Manning.)

Since pro football is increasingly dominated by quarterbacks, you gotta bet on the guy with the big numbers, right? 

Maybe, but I have this hunch that Manning is due for some regression toward the mean. I mean, how likely is it that he's going to be better on Sunday than he was against New England or the average for his remarkable season? In contrast, what's the chance that playing outdoors in New Jersey in February is going to catch up with him?

And I suspect Seattle has devoted some careful thought over these two weeks to how they are going to make Manning feel less like a young philharmonic conductor and more like an old football player.

So, I'm picking Seattle.

By the way, I was wondering why the Seahawks' Russell didn't make the NFL until age 24. It turns out that, after redshirting his freshman year at North Carolina St., he started three full seasons, and completed his degree (in communications, of course) while playing minor league baseball in the summers. But after three good seasons as a starter, nobody invited him to the NFL draft combine -- he's under 6 feet tall.

So, he transferred to Wisconsin (without having to sit out a year because he enrolled in a graduate program at his new school) and had such a spectacular season, 33 touchdowns and 4 interceptions and winning the Rose Bowl, that he was drafted in the third round.

Russell comes from an upscale black family in Richmond. His father was a lawyer. I believe Russell's Wonderlic test score equates to an IQ of a 114, same as Manning's. Here are Wonderlic's for active Super Bowl winners:

Here are the Wonderlic scores of active Super Bowl winners, with the mean equaling 21 and two IQ points per additional right answer.

Eli Manning, Ole Miss 39 -- 136
Aaron Rodgers, Cal 35 -- 128
Tom Brady, Michigan 33 -- 124
Peyton Manning, Tennessee 28 -- 114
Drew Brees, Purdue 28 -- 114
Joe Flacco, Delaware 27 -- 112
Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio) 25 -- 108

These guys probably study up for the Wonderlic, which boosts their scores, but still, it seems plausible that a 3-digit-IQ is an advantage for 21st Century NFL quarterbacks.

The next Sacha Baron Cohen movie?

From the Associated Press:
HK Lesbian Appeals to Tycoon Dad Over Dowry Offer 
HONG KONG — The lesbian daughter of a flamboyant [but not that kind of flamboyant] Hong Kong tycoon who publicly offered millions of dollars to any man who could woo her into marriage appealed to her father in an open letter published Wednesday to accept her for who she is. 
Cecil Chao made world headlines in 2012 when he tried to find a man who could successfully win his daughter, Gigi Chao, away from her partner by offering 500 million Hong Kong dollars ($65 million), an offer that a Malaysian newspaper who interviewed him last week said he has doubled. 

I initially figured that the Professor Poindexter with the bowtie in this above photo is dad Cecil. But the caption implied these were two women. So, I figured Gigi is doing about as well as she can, what with looking like Yoko Ono's nerdy nephew, to land a cute gold-digger like the one in the dress. But, apparently, the heiress is the one in the dress.
Gigi and Cecil
Sacha Baron Cohen, the actor behind "Borat," is reportedly working on a movie inspired by the tycoon's proposal, according to Hollywood trade publications.

I would go see that movie.
Cecil Chao, who made his fortune as a Hong Kong property developer, has a reputation for being a playboy with a love for Rolls-Royces. He once claimed to have had 10,000 girlfriends but has never married. Gigi Chao is one of his three children by three different women.

Okay, so that explains it. Gigi really hates her dad and this is her revenge on him for being a massive jerk.

SOTU & Immigration

Kevin Drum points out that Obama barely mentioned amnesty in his lengthy State of the Union address. Here's the relatively terse heaping of tripe that the President delivered:
Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.  Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted.  I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.  And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

Apparently, America needs more immigrants so more businesses will "locate." Or something. I don't think Obama is even trying to make sense here. He just wants to check this off his box so he can report back to the special interests that he mentioned it in the SOTU.

But he mostly he doesn't want voters who don't like him to notice he's all for amnesty. With Republican politicians winding up to stab Republican voters in the back, the last thing Obama wants to do is get between them.

January 28, 2014

Blue eyes, brown skin in ancient European

Russell Crowe with a tan?
Greg Cochran has been talking for awhile about how ancient European hunter-gatherers didn't look much like modern Europeans. Karen Kaplan writes in the Los Angeles Times:
Surprise! Ancient European had dark skin and blue eyes, DNA reveals
Blue-eyed people have been living in Europe for at least 7,000 years, scientists have discovered. 
A man who lived on the Iberian peninsula before Europeans became farmers probably had blue eyes but dark hair and skin, according to scientists who have sequenced his DNA. This surprising combination of eye, hair and skin coloring may have not have been unusual during his lifetime, but it is no longer seen among modern Europeans, the team reported Sunday in the journal Nature. ... 
The man, a Neolithic hunter-gatherer known to scientists as La Braña 1, is of great interest to scientists because he offers a snapshot of what was in Europeans’ DNA before agriculture spread through the continent. Experts have theorized that certain genetic traits spread quickly among humans after they adopted the farming lifestyle. La Braña 1 shows that at least some of their predictions were correct.

The man’s skeleton, along with that of a male companion, was discovered in 2006 in a cave in what is now northeastern Spain. The site, known as La Braña-Arintero, sits about 5,000 feet above sea level, and the cave provided a cold, refrigerator-like environment that preserved his DNA. 
In the lab, scientists were able to extract enough DNA from a single tooth to reconstruct La Braña 1’s entire genome. They compared it to the DNA of other ancient Europeans (including Otzi, the 5,300-year-old mummy found in a Alpine glacier) and determined that he was a closer match with hunter-gatherers than with farmers. 
Two specific genes — one for digesting lactose (the sugar found in milk) and another for digesting starch — offered further evidence that La Braña 1 was not a farmer. New versions of both of these genes spread rapidly among Europeans after agriculture took hold and people began milking their livestock and growing crops. And in both cases, La Braña 1 had an older version of these genes. ...
When it came to genes that would influence La Braña 1’s appearance, the researchers found that their 7,000-year-old subject had versions of two skin pigment genes that are either very rare or nonexistent among Europeans today. Then they looked at other places in the genome that influence pigmentation and found a mix of ancient and modern gene variants. Taken together, La Braña 1’s DNA “is likely to have resulted in dark skin pigmentation and dark or brown hair,” they wrote. 
However, his DNA indicates that his eyes were most likely blue, the scientists found. This suggests that gene variants for light-colored eyes and skin did not spread together, they wrote, adding that La Braña 1’s combination “of dark skin and non-brown eyes is unique and no longer present in contemporary European populations.” Today, a blue-eyed person would typically have fair skin.

Here's the article in Nature.

One thing to keep in mind is that recovering ancient DNA is extremely delicate work and it's possible for the scientists' own DNA to accidentally get mixed in with the sample. They've gotten better at this during this century, but do not construct entire worldviews based on one paper.

At West Hunter, Cochran has been arguing that the modern skin lightening mutation of the gene SLC24a5 that's found in Western Eurasia must have had some other effect that provided a sizable fitness benefit beyond the usual theories about Vitamin D and the like.

Razib says that Caveman Moviestar above is missing the modern European variant of this skin-lightening gene.

Keep in mind that a gene variant can do multiple things that don't appear on the surface to be related. For example, the great Russian experiment in breeding silver foxes to have the temperaments to be pets resulted in a variety of changes in how they looked, such as floppy ears.

I'd guess from Greg's posts that he thinks he finally has an idea what that pleiotropic effect of fair skin is, but he isn't saying yet. From the hints he's dropping, it sounds like this gene version, which originated in the Middle East, might have something to do with digesting wheat-type grains. Or maybe not.

Amy Chua and Mormons

From my new Taki's Magazine column:
Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld note that these three common traits of successful minority groups—which I would call ethnocentrism, paranoia, and self-repression—are not liberal virtues: 
"Paradoxically, in modern America, a group has an edge if it doesn’t buy into—or hasn’t yet bought into—mainstream, post-1960s, liberal American principles." 
And yet of the eight minorities, only Mormons are uncool enough to admit they reject liberalism. 
Mormons are interesting because they are the minority among minorities—an odd group out whose members publicly aspire to being ordinary Americans, as Americans used to define themselves before the 1960s. 
Being an insular sect that pretends to be regular Americans, the Mormons are the only minority that publicly dissents from the reigning worldview that minorities are inherently morally superior to the majority. 
But do Mormons actually benefit much financially from their strong moral culture? Or does their notorious niceness, their lack of a chip on the shoulder (which Chua and Rubenfeld cite as essential to minority success), their shortage of hostility toward the majority keep them from fully cashing in?

Read the whole thing there.

What is Sochi all about?

One nagging question is why Vladimir Putin is spending a supposed $50 billion dollars to fix up the Black Sea coastal town of Sochi and a nearby inland mountain ski village to host the upcoming Winter Olympics. That's a huge amount for a Winter games, which are smaller in scale than the summer games that contributed so much to Greece's current debt problems.

Putin's reasons no doubt include national pride and to allow his friends and supporters to skim tens of billions off the top of the construction budgets.

But another reason appears to be to develop one of that vast but northerly country's most southerly, mild, palm-lined, and scenically-varied regions into a world-class four-season resort and retirement destination for Russia's ruling class, where they can't be arrested by Russia's rivals. 

Many of Russia's biggest pre-Putin criminals have fled to safe havens in London, New York, the South of France, and the like, where they occupy themselves owning major league sports franchises and so forth. 

But Putin and his current oligarchs figure that the Washington-New York-London axis will look less approvingly on their crimes than on those of their predecessors. So, they'd better have a nice, warm place within Russia to retire to. 

Czarist and Soviet rulers used to have resort homes in the Crimea (e.g., Yalta), but that beautiful, mostly Russian peninsula got handed to the Ukraine on 1/1/1992. Stalin had a second home south of Sochi on the Black Sea, but that's now in Georgia.

So, Russia's latest rulers need a new, improved dream destination. Hence, the huge investment in Sochi.

That also helps explain some of the Western anger over the Sochi Olympics: the development of Sochi is intended to reduce the threat of Western countries taking Russian leaders prisoner some day, which reduces Western influence over Russia.