February 8, 2014

NYT: "Are You My Cousin?"

Contemporary thinking about genealogy seems exceptionally lowbrow.

From the New York Times:
Are You My Cousin? 
By A. J. JACOBS   JAN. 31, 2014 
I LOVE my family, but I’m glad I don’t have to buy birthday presents for all my cousins. I’d be bankrupt within a week. 
My family tree sprawls far and wide. It’s not even a tree, really. More like an Amazonian forest. At last count, it was up to nearly 75 million family members. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re on some far-flung branch of my tree, and if you aren’t, you probably will be soon. It’s not really my tree. It’s our tree.  
The previously staid world of genealogy is in the midst of a controversial revolution. A handful of websites have turbocharged family trees with a collaborative, Wikipedia-like approach. You upload your family tree, and then you can merge your tree with another tree that has a cousin in common. After that, you merge and merge again. This creates vast webs with hundreds of thousands — or millions — of cousins by blood and marriage, provided you think the links are accurate.

How good are online genealogy websites?

A few years ago, I helped out some relatives, two brothers, trying to find out about their father who had died when they were young. Their mother had remarried and their new stepfather had put the kibosh on all talk of their father. Now they were middle-aged and wished to get in touch with a whole side of their biological family they didn't know anything about.

I was not impressed with the quality and disinterestedness of the commercial genealogy sites I came across in a quick review. I eventually tracked down the newspaper in Whittier, CA in which an obituary of their father would likely have appeared, but only intermittent parts of the archives are online and not the crucial month. (The Whittier College library no doubt has the full newspaper archives on microfilm, but I've never gotten out there to look at them.)

Hopefully, the quality online genealogy has improved over the last few years.
One site, Geni, has what it calls the World Family Tree, with about 75 million relatives in more than 160 countries and all seven continents, including Antarctica. 
My newfound kin include the actress and lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow, a mere 17 steps away, and the jazz great Quincy Jones, a mere 22. There’s also the former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is apparently my wife’s great-uncle’s wife’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s uncle’s wife’s son’s wife’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s brother’s wife’s nephew. 
These folks have no clue who I am. They have yet to return my calls. But at least according to this research, we are, in the broadest sense, family. 
In a few years, we may have a single tree containing nearly all seven billion humans on earth. The Family of Man will no longer be an abstract cliché. We’re all related — we just have to figure out how. ...

Concepts like "pedigree collapse" appear to be ungraspable in the current zeitgeist.

Russians win Olympic fashion parade by rejecting unisex

The Russians won the Opening Ceremony parade of nations fashion contest by simply rejecting the unisex orthodoxy for national uniforms. Just about every other country dressed both its male and female athletes identically, which can work at the Summer Games because that athletes aren't wearing all that much in the way of clothes. But, at the Winter Games, everybody has to march into the stadium in heavily insulated winter wear, so females curves get buried. 

This may appeal to some athletes on the women's ice hockey team, but not to most women. My experience with skiing in California over the years is that snow bunnies generally wear the most skin tight clothes possible without general frostbite setting in.

(In general, the Winter Olympics are noticeably less lesbian than the Summer Olympics, due to a number of factors: if the premiere sport, figure skating, didn't exist, it would be invented by the Disney Corp. to sell more merchandise to Daddy's Little Princesses; the smaller number of team sports; and the general association of winter sports not with school but with expensive vacations.)

If on top of the insulation, you insist upon dressing the male and female winter athletes in the same exact clothes, it makes for a thoroughly unsexy look. Thus, the American squad all wore patriotic ugly Christmas sweaters that kind of looked like a Fourth of July family reunion where all your aunts and uncles decided it would be the cutest thing to make everybody wear the same bulky red-white-and-blue sweaters to attend a very chilly fireworks show in Juneau, Alaska, or something.

A few Eastern European countries dissented from unisex dogma. The Czechs at least gave the boys and girls different colored hats. The Poles were subtly but elegantly varied with the men in gray and white, the women in white.

The Russians went all the way and dressed the men in some sort of dark pea coat-like militaristic thing to make their men look strong in the upper body, while their women wore long fake fur coats nipped in at the waist and flaring over the hips to make them look sexy. The Russian's execution of this basic concept -- make our men look manly, our women look womanly -- may have been less than ideal, but in the Culture War going on in Sochi, getting the basic concept right is a win for the Russkies.

Independence for Puerto Rico

From the NYT:
Economy and Crime Spur New Puerto Rican Exodus

 At the beginning of the 20th Century, the world was divided up into great empires, but the dominant political trend of the 20th Century was nationalism. After much turmoil, most of the empires are gone, and we live in a world of a couple of hundred independent countries. 

And, strange as it may seem from watching the 24-hour-news, the world is more peaceful and prosperous than ever. Sure, lots of former colonies remain badly run, but the general trend is toward slow improvement: after all, its their problem and they have incentives to get better at ruling themselves.

But self-rule is ideologically passe. Globalism is the default assumption: diversity, you know? Thus, the ongoing failure of imperialism and open borders in Puerto Rico is seldom portrayed as the ongoing failure of imperialism in Puerto Rico. The notion that maybe, after 116 years it's getting toward time for Puerto Rico to stand on its own two feet simply doesn't come up in 21st Century thinking.

Much of the problem is simply that we've replaced old-fashioned conceptual thinking with who-whom thinking. See, imperialism wasn't nice, and American elites believe in being nice to Puerto Ricans, so therefore it's not really imperialism.

February 7, 2014

Victoria Nuland and Ukraine

What's going on in Ukraine, where the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland was embarrassed by the Russkies releasing a presumably tapped phone call of her attempting to stage-manage Ukrainian affairs (e.g., heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko should be kept out of any coalition government) and expressing short-temperedness with her putative E.U. allies?

The Game of the Great Powers. It's kind of like the Seahawks are winning 36-8, but even if they put in the reserves, the reserves are still going to try hard to run up the score even further. That's what they do. Ukraine may not strike you or me as hugely crucial to America's national interests, but if you are the State Department official in charge of Ukraine you still want to sack Peyton Manning (or the geopolitical equivalent).

Your Lying Eyes took a look at Ms. Nuland's background:
She got into the State Department during the Bush Administration, so she's probably not some wide-eyed liberal nut. In fact she's married to Robert Kagan - that's a familiar name, isn't it. Robert and brother Fred seem to have strategically implanted themselves in key policy-making positions within the Democratic and Republican party apparatus. Robert is embedded at Brookings, while Fred is ensconsed at AEI. It's a beautiful thing, America 2.0 (or is it 3.0 - can't keep track).

Her father-in-law is Yale historian Donald Kagan, author of a four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War from which neocons appear to have drawn remarkably wrong-headed lessons: e.g., a turning point in the war between Athens and Sparta was when the here-to-fore dominant Athenians decided to invade irrelevant Sicily, which turned out to be a vast waste of money and men. Athens ultimately lost the war. Back in 2002, the neocons, like all three Kagans, somehow deduced from this lesson of history that the New Athenians (us) should invade Iraq.

Fred and Kim Kagan
on the job for you and
me bringing democracy
to Iraq.
Her brother-in-law Fred's wife is Kimberly Kagan, who is also a militarist pundit and adviser.

Her father is surgeon and Yale medical school professor Sherwin Nuland, author of the bestseller How We Die.

A talented, energetic family that is part of the Permanent Government of the United States. It doesn't really matter who wins the Presidential election: some Kagan-Nuland will be doing something somewhere in your name and on your dime. From Wikipedia:
Nuland has had a long career in the Foreign Service and has worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations. During the Bill Clinton administration, Nuland was chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott before moving on to serve as deputy director for former Soviet Union affairs. During the George W. Bush administration, she served as the principal deputy foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and then as U.S. ambassador to NATO. During the Barack Obama administration, she was special envoy for Conventional Armed Forces in Europe before assuming the position of State Department spokesperson in summer 2011, which she held until February 2013. 
She was nominated to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in May 2013 and sworn in to fill that role in September 2013.[3]

So, if the 2016 election is between, say, Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan, she won't be sweating about whether or not she'll have a job in 2017.

Considering their catastrophic track record on Iraq and their continued ascent in the stratosphere of power players, is there anything the Kagan-Nulands could screw up that would hurt their careers? (Other than publicly recanting and apologizing, of course.)

NYT v. WaPo on NSA spying glass: 1/3 full or 70% empty?

It's fun to compare how the New York Times and the Washington Post headline the same story on NSA domestic spying. 

The NYT emphasizes that the NSA is spying on about a third of American calls:
N.S.A. Is Said to Gather Data on a Third of U.S. Calls 
The once-secret program that is collecting bulk records of Americans’ domestic phone calls is gathering a large amount of landline data but has struggled to take in cellphone information, according to officials.

The Washington Post is a company town newsletter, and its town has prospered munificently over the last 13 years from all the black budget spending in the Global War of Terror. So, the WaPo focuses on all the American calls left for Washingtonians to spy upon.
NSA collects less than 30 percent of phone records 
Ellen Nakashima 
The agency is unable to keep pace with the explosion in cellphone use, officials say, contradicting popular perceptions that the government is sweeping up virtually all domestic phone data.
So, get back to work, all you spooks within the Washington Post home delivery zone! If you need more taxpayer dollars to help you spy on the last 70% of American calls, just let us know and we'll put out the word.

Bottled water and walkability

When I was young, bottled water wasn't sexy. It mostly came in giant glass bottles that you laboriously tipped upside down into a standing dispenser and then drank from tiny conical paper cups. I associate it in my mind with not very prosperous small businesses. Then Perrier came to upscale restaurants in the 1970s, but it was much joked about as a needless extravagance.

My vague impression is that the Gulf War of 1991 really boosted the idea of drinking water from plastic bottles among consumers. The U.S. military made a fetish out of keeping troops fully hydrated, so CNN’s coverage of the triumphant American military during those six weeks was like one giant product placement for plastic water bottles. U-S-A! Bott-led-Wa-ter! U-S-A!

An often overlooked downside to things like bottled water is that buying liquids in bulk almost requires that the shopper own a vehicle: water weighs a pint a pound and therefore it’s practically impossible for a mom to manhandle a family’s worth of bottled water home on foot or on bicycle. These days everybody talks about all the advantages of walkability and how much a family could save if they only had one car instead of two and so forth, but few have changed their shopping patterns to accommodate their talk. Bottled water can be the backbreaker.

In general, a week’s worth of groceries has gotten a lot heavier per person over the last 50 years. For example, in the 1960s, my mother bought Tang at the grocery store and mixed it up with tap water at home. In the 1970s she upgraded to frozen concentrated orange juice and added three parts tap water at home. In the 1980s-90s, she upgraded to a carton of orange juice. Quality improved with each upgrade, but heaviness went up too, and along with that dependence upon having a car for shopping trips.

Buying, say, three gallons of bottled water is of course more extreme than buying a half gallon of orange juice, since the taste differential is smaller and the consumption level is greater, but lots of people do it.

So, if you are going to buy things like bottled water, you probably need a car for shopping, and if you need a car for shopping, you might as well live in a car-oriented place, and thus who cares about walkability and all that.

So, the key to reducing Carbon Footprints and all that is going back to Tang-centric consumption. And that's not going to happen.

Open Borders not working out so hot in Puerto Rico

From Reuters:
White House says still not considering Puerto Rico bailout 
9:22 a.m. CST, February 5, 2014 
WASHINGTON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday it was still not considering a bailout for Puerto Rico after Standard & Poor's on Tuesday cut its credit rating to junk status.

Boehner admits to pulling a boner on immigration

From the NYT:
The yearlong effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, which had the support of President Obama, Republican leaders and much of American business and labor, was seriously imperiled on Thursday when Speaker John A. Boehner conceded that it was unlikely he could pass a bill. 
His pronouncement, amid mounting resistance from conservatives, significantly narrowed the window for success this year and left it to Mr. Obama to win the trust of balking Republicans. 
Mr. Boehner’s remarks came a week after he and other House Republican leaders offered a statement of principles intended to win support for the measure. But, he said, House Republicans are not prepared to move forward in partnership with a Democratic administration that they believe will not fairly and impartially carry out the laws they pass.

Also from the NYT:
Democrats Aim for a 2014 More Like 2012 and 2008
The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle. 
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts. 
They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director. 
... Even with new funding and tactical tools, the Democratic Senate campaigns face considerable challenges. The voting rates of core Democratic constituencies — blacks, Hispanics, unmarried women, younger voters — historically drop off considerably in midterm elections. According to data from the Voter Participation Center — a nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing the share of historically underrepresented voting groups — the drop-off among these groups between 2008 and 2010 was nearly 21 million, going from roughly 61 million to 40 million. 
... “The question is whether the party’s Obama-era volunteer base will replicate itself for a Mark Pryor or a Mary Landrieu or a Kay Hagan,” said Sasha Issenberg, author of “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns,” referring to three vulnerable incumbent Democratic senators. ... 
In many ways, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s efforts are simply reflective of a broader shift in electoral politics toward a more data-reliant and empirical approach: The effectiveness of television ads — which experts agree reach a point of oversaturation near the end of campaigns — is difficult to measure, while improved data-modeling and analytic techniques allow campaigns to more closely target their ideal voters.

You know, maybe the Republicans should try being smarter for a change instead of ignorantly wasting time and momentum on obviously bad ideas like these "immigration principles." Maybe the Stupid Party should try to get over being stupid?

The new conventional wisdom: Szukalski vindicated

As C. van Carter pointed out to me, Jim Woodring wrote in his profile of the eccentric Polish sculptor, The Neglected Genius of Stanislaw Szukalski:
Among his most strongly held (and extensively documented) theories was the notion that a race of malevolent Yeti have been interbreeding with humans since time out of mind, and that the hybrid offspring are bringing about the end of civilization. As proof of this, he pointed to the Russians.
Szukalski: Typical Russian
Also, I apologize for going a full 24-hours without any new Amy Chua-related content.

The last two Chua-centric posts have garnered 129 and 212 approved comments, so I shall get back to work ferreting out more denouncers or defenders of Professor Chua.

Jay Leno

We live in an era of quite good stand-up comedy, which has a number of guild customs that strive to keep any individual from getting too large of a share of the market the way that Bob Hope had in the mid-Century. Jay Leno's ambitiousness grated against this spirit of the age, so much of the resentment against him and his mass market comedy came from intense comedy fans. The finest comedians tend to be messed-up depressives, but, still, I have to be in awe of the bulletproof supermen like Leno and Hope who can just go on and on and on.

Personally, I liked Leno as a comedian (I saw him live among nine stand-ups at the Improv in 1981; not surprisingly, he was the best, and his story about his father coming to visit him from Boston is one of the most memorable I've ever heard), and I didn't hold it against him that he pitched his show's comedy at the 98 IQ mass audience and let Letterman aim at the 103 IQ audience.

But, the interviews ... Unlike stand-up comedy, we don't live in an era of good interviewing, so the fact that Leno was a terrible interviewer didn't generate that much criticism. But he was much worse than his predecessor Johnny Carson. The science fiction classic Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle about the approach and catastrophic impact of a comet includes a brilliant chapter written from Johnny Carson's point of view as he interviews the two astronomers who discovered the approaching comet. Niven and Pournelle go inside Carson's head as he figures out on the fly on live national TV how to guide the scientists into making their esoteric topic fascinating to the masses in TV land. Granted, astronomy was Carson's hobby so this comparison is a little unfair, plus nobody is interested in anything besides show biz celebrities these days, but Carson was also much better than Leno at interviewing movie stars.

February 6, 2014

The ideal Winter Olympics event

More quadrennial content repurposification:
My ideal Winter Olympic event 
The problem with most of the Winter Games events is that only one person or team competes at a time. That's because it's so slippery out there that catastrophes could ensue if athletes competed directly. So, the events end up with play-by-plays like this: 
"And there goes Schievenhoffel! He's going really fast. Man, he's flying! He's very quick! Wow, he's fast! Fast, fast, fast! And there's his time: oh, well, he just wasn't quite fast enough..." 
What I'd like to see is the Mass Downhill -- all the skiers line up side by on top of the mountain and the first one, no holds barred, to the bottom gets the gold. Whacking each other with ski poles is not only allowed, but encouraged.

Over the years, they've added a number of sports coming closer to my specifications, such as snowboard cross (remember when the American girl only had to stay upright to win the gold but she couldn't resist hot-dogging?) and short-track speed skating. 

I'm sorry to hear that Apolo Anton Ohno has hung up his skates. Every four years, you'd see him out there elegantly skating in ovals for two minutes concluded by ten seconds of absolute chaos that always seemed to end with him triumphantly crawling on his hands and knees over the bodies of a couple of fallen South Korean skaters to grab a medal. Then the Koreans would go berserk over how Ohno always getting a medal of some kind was obviously a Nippo-American plot against Korea. They may have had a point, but it was fun TV. 

28th Amendment: Bar children of Presidents from being President

One problem with Syria politically is that the stakes are too high: a single nuclear family, the Assads, has been ruling the country since 1970. This combination of president-for-life followed by president-for-next-life means that it's really, really important who grabs the presidency when it's up for grabs.

There are two obvious means to lower the stakes: term limits and bans on dynasticism.

Mexico limited presidents to a single six year term starting in the 1920s to lower the political pressure by assuring political players that if they live long enough they'll get another chance. Mexico has a lot of problems, but it hasn't had a convulsion like the Revolution that drove Porfirio Diaz from decades in power, killing a million people or so in the process, in a century. 

In the U.S., George Washington set a precedent of no more than two terms, but when FDR violated that in the 1940s, the 22nd Amendment, passed in 1951, added the two term limit to the Constitution. 

In places with less strong term limits, such as Russia, Turkey, and New York City, the term limit routinely gets junked when a politician is popular.

The other prong would be to legally restrict dynasticism. The United States has had two examples of children of Presidents succeeding to the White House:

- John Quincy Adams in 1824 -- 24 years after his father left office, after being a successful Secretary of State (the Monroe Doctrine), and in a country of 10 million people. After leaving the White House, Adams was elected to the House.

- George W. Bush in 2000 -- only 8 years after his father left office, after being governor of a state with a constitutionally imposed weak governorship, and in a country of 300 million people. After leaving the White House, Bush took up painting.

That's not really progress.

After JFK appointed RFK Attorney General, Congress passed a law in 1967 making that illegal:
(b) A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official. ... 
(3) “relative” means, with respect to a public official, an individual who is related to the public official as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.

That seems a little much, but the broader issue is less nepotism than dynasticism.

The problem with dynasticism is not just one family having the opportunity to hold on to political power for so long, but elevating nobodies like George W. Bush into Presidential Timber. Let's stop ourselves from indulging our dynastic predilections and take a symbolic stand by passing the following as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution:
No person shall be elected to, succeed to, or in anyway hold the office of the President who is the child, biological or legally adopted, of another person who has held the office of President. But this article shall not apply to the children of any person holding the office of President or who had formerly held the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.

In other words, just like the 22nd Amendment, passed by Congress in 1947, didn't apply to Harry Truman, Jeb Bush can still be President, Chelsea Clinton can be President, George W. Bush's kids can be President, Obama's kids can be President, and so forth. But the next President's kids don't get to be President. Therefore, if Hillary becomes President, then Chelsea is barred. (Surely 3 Presidents from one household is too many?)

In the long run, I'd also want to ban spouses of Presidents from becoming President as embarrassingly Banana Republicish, but I'll hold off on that until Hillary is no longer the Great Pink Hope.

Welcome to the Winter Olympics

The more things change, the more they stay the same, so here are some posts I blogged about the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City:
Yes, I know lots of you couldn't care less about figure skating, but from a human biodiversity perspective figure skating is hugely instructive because it is that rare sport (assuming it is a sport) that appeals more to women than to men and to gay men than to straight men. It is the exception that proves a lot of rules. 
The Figure Skating Powers That Be have announced that they are going to try to make their sport's judging more objective by giving credit for each move on a degree of difficulty scale. There's only one problem with this. Figure skating, as we know it, is essentially about being a princess, not a jock.

Irate Wellesley feminists v. annoying po-mo Plop artists

Richard Serra's "Tilted Arc"
In the early 2000s, the Caltech administration hired celebrated sculptor Richard Serra to deface the only large open lawn on the tightly-packed campus with another of his massive rusting iron walls running diagonally across the greensward. Eventually, the nerds got themselves organized enough to defend their main frisbee-tossing site and the administration backed off. But that kind of victory over ugly, stupid, hostile post-modern institutional art was hard for even the high-IQ students of Caltech to pull off since they didn't have handy identity politics categories to deploy. 

Fortunately, the feminists of women-only Wellesley College appear better equipped to defend their nice-looking campus since they can frame it as a macro-aggression against their sense of comfort. From the NYT:
BOSTON — When Sruthi Narayanan, a Wellesley College senior, first saw a nearly naked man who appeared to be stumbling on campus, she assumed he was a drunk, about to be arrested.  
Art (the snow accidentally improves it)
He was actually a new work of art. 
The sculpture, “Sleepwalker,” is 5 feet 9 inches tall and made of epoxy, fiberglass and paint. The figure, with a bit of a paunch, is clad only in tight white briefs. His arms are stretched out in front of him, his face reddened and miserable. The work, by the Brooklyn artist Tony Matelli, was commissioned by the Davis Museum at the college as part of a solo exhibition of Mr. Matelli’s work, called “New Gravity.” 
The appearance of “Sleepwalker” along a busy thoroughfare on Monday stoked anger among some of the students at this all-women’s college in Wellesley, Mass. They swiftly took to the Internet to petition the school to move the statue indoors. By Thursday afternoon, the petition had more than 500 supporters.  
An explanation of the petition, which was started by two students, Lauren Walsh and Zoe Magid, calls the sculpture “a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community.”

What if it were a sculpture of a black man? Would the students have dared mention it "triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault?" Fortunately for the feminists, it looks like a drunk fraternity boy from MIT, so that's not a problem. Here's the petition against the piece of Plop Art:
The sculpture of the nearly naked man on the Wellesley College campus is an inappropriate and potentially harmful addition to our community that we, as members of the student body, would like removed from outdoor space immediately, and placed inside the Davis Museum. There, students may see the installation of their own volition.

Within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, the highly lifelike sculpture by Tony Matelli, entitled “Sleepwalker,” has become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community. While it may appear humorous, or thought provoking to some, the “Sleepwalker” has already become a source of undue stress for a number of Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study, and work on campus.

As the sculpture was placed in a highly trafficked location, it is difficult for students wishing not to see the “Sleepwalker” to travel to the campus center and the residential and academic quads.  
While the sculpture may not trigger, disturb, or bother everyone on campus, as a community it is our responsibility to pay attention to and attempt to answer the needs of all of our community members. For those among us who find the sculpture triggering, daily activities that require moving about the campus may be seriously impeded by the nature, location, and context of the sculpture.  
In signing, we assert that the undue stress that the “Sleepwalker” causes some of us is enough reason to move it inside the Davis Museum. We also stand firm that art, particularly outdoor art installations, are valuable parts of our community. 
We welcome outdoor art that is provocative without being a site of unnecessary distress for members of the Wellesley College community. Further, we ask that in the future, the Davis Museum and the College notify us before displaying public art, especially if it is of a particularly shocking or sensitive nature.

Back to the NYT:
In an interview, Ms. Narayanan, who signed the petition, said on Thursday, “I know people who have had triggering responses to the statue.” She added, “The statue was put in a public place without students’ consent.” 
The reaction has pitted students concerned with their peers’ discomfort against the college administration, which has focused on the sculpture as a catalyst for discussion. 
“The community is debating everything from compassion to censorship, to freedom of expression and the significance of safe spaces,” said H. Kim Bottomly, the college’s president, in a statement on Thursday. She said the students who led the petition were going to meet on Thursday with Mr. Matelli and Lisa Fischman, director of the Davis Museum. 
Ms. Fischman said she intended to keep it on public view until the exhibition ends in July. She wanted the sleepwalker to be male, she said, partly because she thought a female sculpture would seem too exposed.  
“I was completely taken aback by this response,” said Ms. Fischman, who hopes to use the discussion around the work as “a teachable moment” on “creative freedom and what it means to honor that on campus.” 
The reaction to the sculpture also surprised Mr. Matelli, who said he intended the sculpture to be a vulnerable depiction of a man, in contrast with the aggressive, monumental figures that are more typically wrought in statues of men.  
“What they see in the sculpture is not in the sculpture,” said Mr. Matelli, who added, “If you have bad feelings toward this and it’s triggering you, you need to seek sympathy, you need to seek help.” 

Dude, to say stuff like that, Tony Matelli better be some kind of Hispanic rather than Italian name, and you better be wearing a dress or at least be gay.

So, I went to Google to find out about Mr. Matelli and this immediately came up:

Oh, that's convenient of Google. They've taken to putting up a rainbow symbol to instantly tell you who's gay or not. So, Mr. Matelli's got that going for him in his war with the Wellesley feminists, which is nice.

But then it occurred to me to test my assumption:

So, this rainbow flag is not a handy new feature to confirm your gaydar, it's just Google demonstrating World War G solidarity against all those homophobic Russian figure skaters, or something.

Anyway, Mr. Matelli doesn't wear a dress, looks like a white guy, and specializes in really ugly sculptures.

The NYT gives the feminists the last word:
Ms. Narayanan said she was frustrated that students’ concerns about the work’s impact on students have not been addressed. “It sort of feels like the big point here is that students’ emotions to [sic] the statue are being pushed aside in favor of having a discussion about art,” Ms. Narayanan said.
I'm betting on the feminists over the postmodernists in this scrap. But we shall see. There may be trump cards yet to be played. The feminists have the jargon, but the modern art promoters have the money (what are the odds that a major Wellesley donor is also a major Tom Matteli collector?), plus the big money art collectors are hardly hurting when it comes to hiring academics to make up jargon for them (e.g., "transgressive"), either. So we shall see.

"The future of U.S. politics, as seen in Silicon Valley"

Lion of the Blogosphere writes:
The future of U.S. politics, as seen in Silicon Valley 
Most rich businesspeople can’t vote Republican because they are disgusted by the prole values that Republicans stand for. Anti-abortion? Anti-birth control? Anti-gay? Climate change deniers? No way are rich businesspeople who want to be part of polite society going to vote for that stuff. The Democrats are the only viable party to vote for. But why do the Democrats have to be so anti-business? 
Well, as explained in a NY Times article, rich businesspeople in Silicon Valley are doing something about it. They are putting huge money behind Ro Khanna, a Democratic Indian lawyer who is mounting a primary challenge against the incumbent Michael Honda.

Honda is a Japanese-American Democrat of old-fashioned pro-poor liberal views.
Khanna “favors changes to tax policy suitable for a global economy, including ones that would make it easier for American companies to repatriate overseas profits without being taxed under certain conditions.” 
In other words, multinational corporations who have been evading the spirit of the tax law by keeping their profits overseas should be given a tax holiday and rewarded for it. That’s exactly the stuff that Republicans traditionally support. 

I skimmed this article, but didn't notice what LotB keyed in on: the priority in putting Khanna in the House is to the be point man for another massive rip off of the American taxpayers. (Here's my 2011 post on how Microsoft uses Puerto Rico, Ireland, and Singapore to avoid paying corporate income tax.)

Khanna is a patent lawyer, so no doubt he'll come in handy in intellectual property wars down the road, as well.
I think that as the Republicans become a Christian party that can only wins elections in Bible Belt states, we will see the Democratic Party split apart, into a pro-business SWPL/bobo wing, and another wing representing blacks and Hispanics
But the real future of politics is to have the best of both worlds: You're doing it for the diverse and the poor and it's going right into your bank account. Thus, for example, Mark Zuckerberg's class war on his employees is framed as being waged out of concern for the Dreamers living in the shadows etc etc. The real political genius will be the guy who figures out how to tie tax-free repatriation of tech profits in Puerto Rico into World War G/T.

Exception that proves rule proves unexceptional

I'm a big fan of the cognitive utility of the old phrase: "The exception that proves the rule." But then I'm kind of an exception in that regard, since anytime I mention I like that, I get deluged with logical and etymological objections. 

I merely mean that an exception that is famous for being exceptional suggests a general tendency in the opposite direction. The canonical example is that Beethoven's titanic fame as a deaf composer suggests that most composers aren't deaf, while, say, the lack of obsessive publicity about painter David Hockney's late onset deafness suggests that deafness isn't all that big of a deal, one way or another, to painters. Judging from the immortal fame of Beethoven's battle with deafness, we can assume that there aren't many deaf composers, while the ho-hum response to Hockney's deafness suggests that we can't make strong quantitative assumptions about painters and deafness.

Recently in Japan there has arisen an exception to my canonical exception: a popular deaf composer named Mamoru Samuragochi. 

From the NYT:
Renowned Japanese Composer Admits Fraud 

TOKYO — He was celebrated as a prolific musical genius whose compositions appeared in popular video games and the competition routine of a top figure skater in the coming Sochi Olympics. His deafness won him praise as Japan’s modern-day Beethoven. 
It turns out his magnum opus was his own masquerade. 
On Thursday, Japan learned that one of its most popular musical figures, Mamoru Samuragochi, 50, had staged an elaborate hoax in which someone else had secretly written his most famous compositions, and he had perhaps even faked his hearing disability. 
Across a nation long captivated by Western classical music, people reacted with remorse, outrage and even the rare threat of a lawsuit after Mr. Samuragochi’s revelations that he had hired a ghostwriter since the 1990s to compose most of his music. The anger turned to disbelief when the ghostwriter himself came forward to accuse Mr. Samuragochi of faking his deafness, apparently to win public sympathy and shape the Beethoven persona. 
The scandal began on Wednesday, when Mr. Samuragochi publicly confessed that someone else had written his most famous works. These include Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima,” about the 1945 atomic bombing of his home city, which became a classical music hit in Japan; the theme music for the video games Resident Evil and Onimusha; and Sonatina for Violin, which the Japanese Olympic figure skater Daisuke Takahashi is scheduled to use in his short program performance at the Winter Games in Sochi.

The timing could hardly have been worse for Mr. Takahashi, a potential medalist who won the bronze in the Vancouver Olympics four years ago. He said in a statement that he would continue to skate to the musical piece — he really had little choice with scant time left before the competition — and hoped the revelations would not overshadow his performance. 
... The reason for this sudden repentance became clear on Thursday when the ghostwriter revealed himself to be Takashi Niigaki, 43, a hitherto largely unknown part-time lecturer at a prestigious music college in Tokyo. Mr. Niigaki said he had written more than 20 songs for Mr. Samuragochi since 1996, for which he received the equivalent of about $70,000.
He said he felt so guilty about the deception that he had threatened to go public in the past, but Mr. Samuragochi had begged him not to. He said he finally could not take it anymore when he learned one of his songs would be used by the Olympic skater. He told his story to a weekly tabloid, which went on sale Thursday.
“He told me that if I didn’t write songs for him, he’d commit suicide,” Mr. Niigaki told a crowded news conference. “But I could not bear the thought of skater Takahashi being seen by the world as a co-conspirator in our crime.” 
Perhaps just as shocking was Mr. Niigaki’s assertion that Mr. Samuragochi was never deaf. Mr. Niigaki said that he had regular conversations with Mr. Samuragochi, who listened to and commented on his compositions. Mr. Niigaki said the deafness was just “an act that he was performing to the outside world.”

Why didn't the CIA bribe the Soviets into giving up?

Several decades ago I read an amusing first person account by (as far as I can recall) composer Igor Stravinsky about what it's like to visit your Swiss bank to check up on your private stash. (I can't find the story online to confirm this memory, other than a biographer noting that Stravinsky visited two Swiss banks in October 1968.)

Anyway, Stravinsky (assuming that was the narrator) emphasized that a visit to a high-end Swiss bank involved much careful shuttling from one private waiting room to another, like in the opening scene of an expertly constructed bedroom farce before everything goes awry in the last act. Discreet staffers orchestrate your movement down cleared hallways so that you don't accidentally bump into other clients visiting their own loot. I mean it would be embarrassing for all concerned for Maestro Stravinsky to bump into Prime Minister Wilson or General Secretary Brezhnev coming out of the vault.

I recall that when I read this (around 1982?) that I laughed at Stravinsky's example of the Labour PM, but I was surprised by his very notion that the Soviet supremo might be on the take, might be salting a little away against the day of destruction, then somewhat intrigued: it was an idea that just didn't come up much in the culture of the time. Two things were taken for granted back then: Muscovite women were homely and Muscovite men were honest.

So, that raises the question: Did the CIA ever attempt to bribe the Soviets into just giving up? And if not, why not?

February 5, 2014

Time: Chinese woman says calling Amy Chua racist is racist

Chen, not Chua
From Time Magazine:
Why the Tiger Mom’s New Book Makes You Nervous 
When it comes to discussing success in America, we're still afraid to talk about race 
By Vivia Chen Jan. 31, 2014
Amy Chua is an easy whipping post. After all, she’s the iconic Tiger Mom who blithely bragged about her extreme parenting methods in her book 2011 Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Overnight, she became the archetype of the nightmare Asian mom, hell bent on raising uber-achievers at all cost. 
I thought Battle Hymn was a humorous, breezy read, but many people (who probably never read the book) were outraged. ... This time, though, Chua is condemned not just as an arrogant elitist and abusive mother but something else: racist. 
Suketu Mehta writes in TIME that the book represents “the new racism—and I take it rather personally.” Mehta adds that “the language of racism in America has changed . . . It’s not about skin color anymore—it’s about ‘cultural traits.’” 
In a follow-up to Mehta’s article, Anna Holmes argues that the “new racism” in The Triple Package is just a continuation of “the same old racism.” Her verdict on the book: “It’s the same old garbage, in a slightly different, Ivy League-endorsed disguise.” 
The tenor of a lot of the criticism has been angry, hostile and extremely personal (Chua seems to get singled out much more so than her husband). And, I think, racist. The fact that some of the slings come from minority group members doesn’t make the criticisms less vicious. 
What gives the attacks a distinct racist tinge is that Chua is reduced to a stereotype—a Dragon Lady, of sorts. This time, though, the Dragon Lady is not the evil seducer of old Fu Manchu movies, but the new evangelist of racial superiority. Maureen Callahan writes in the New York Post: “[Chua] used her heritage and all the worst stereotypes of Chinese women — cold, rigid Dragon Ladies.” ...
Chen is the creator and chief blogger of the Careerist and a senior reporter at the American Lawyer. The views expressed are solely her own.

The NYT ramps up Phase 2 of immigration ploy

Once the GOP agrees to amnesty, they will self-emasculate their base's favorite moral argument: "What part of 'illegal' don't you understand?"

But that won't get the media to stop telling Hispanics that Republicans are evil white men who hate Latinos because look how they didn't give the undocumented the vote! That campaign of anti-white agitation will then go on for years until the GOP gives in on The Path to Citizenship, too.

Thus, the New York Times prepares Phase 2 of the immigration campaign:

From Shadows to Citizenship


All In for Citizenship rallyImmigration activists last spring called for a special path to citizenship. Alex Wong/Getty Images
One of the contentious points in negotiations over comprehensive immigration reform is a House Republican proposal that would allow for a form of legal status to immigrants who are in the United States illegally, but would not include a clear path to citizenship.
But is it sensible to make citizenship hard to obtain for someone who is allowed to live and work here after years of residence? Would it be in the national interest for them to have the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?

Time: Amy Chua is racist (as are Samuel Huntington, Thomas Sowell, Adam Carolla, Madison Grant, Jason Richwine, and some lady from the Congo)

In Time Magazine, an Indian-American novelist, author of Maximum City, a book about Bombay (which he resents calling by its new Hindu nationalist name of Mumbai), lists numerous people whose racism you should be shocked by. Below is Mehta's article, with his Google Voice annotations.
The 'Tiger Mom' Superiority Complex 
By Suketu Mehta 
From time to time, every Indian American finds an email in his or her inbox, wearing a font of many colors, like the one my grandfather once sent me: "Take a Pride--Being an Indian. 38% of Doctors in U.S.A. are Indians. 36% of NASA employees are Indians. 34% of MICROSOFT employees are Indians.

And 100% of the CEOs of Microsoft! Boo-yah! In-di-a! In-di-a! In-di-a!
"India invented the Number System. Decimal Point was also invented by India. Sanskrit is the most suitable language for computer software ..." 

Of course, that was just my grandfather's ethnocentrism speaking. Not me!
On my desk now is a book-length version of such an email: The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld. You may remember Chua as the "Tiger Mom" whose 2011 memoir about the rigors of Chinese parenting set off waves of anxiety among aspirational American parents who had been raised with Dr. Spock's permissive child-rearing attitudes. Her new book, co-authored with her husband, widens its aim, purporting to explain why not just Asians (like Chua) but also seven other groups--Cubans, Jews (like Rubenfeld), Indians (like me), Nigerians, Mormons, Iranians and Lebanese--are superior when it comes to succeeding in America. 
The book claims that these groups thrive because of three traits: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control. The ones lacking the "Triple Package" are African Americans, Appalachians, Wasps and pretty much everybody else. 
Does such thinking shock you?

I should hope so.
If not, it may be because it has become so insidiously commonplace over the past decade as a new strain of racial, ethnic and cultural reductivism has crept into the American psyche and public discourse. Whereas making sweeping observations about, say, African-American or Hispanic culture--flattering or unflattering--remains unthinkable in polite company, it has become relatively normal in the past 10 years to comment on the supposed cultural superiority of various "model minorities." I call it the new racism--and I take it rather personally. 
I am an American, Calcutta born. I'm writing a book about immigrants in New York, dedicated to my two American sons. I want them to know why we came here and how we found our place in this new land. I want them to know about the teachers at the Catholic school in Queens who called me a "pagan," and the boy there who welcomed me to the school by declaring, "Lincoln shoulda never let 'em off the plantations," and the landlord who welcomed us to the country by turning off the electricity.

In other words, the most important family memories that my sons are having inculcated in them is that they are Victims of Whites. That's the most important legacy to instruct your children in in the 21st Century.
I also want them to know why their family did well in the end. We worked hard, yes, and we read books and went to the right schools and are "well settled," as our relatives back in India describe us. But we also benefited from numerous advantages--from cultural capital built up over generations to affirmative action to an established network of connections in our new country--none of which had anything to do with racial, ethnic or cultural superiority.

None, I tell you, none!

By the way, why do we Indian immigrants get affirmative action? I could never figure that out. Are you people crazy or something? I'd say thanks, but then you might start figuring out how nuts it is.
When my family went to America, we left behind a system in which people are often denigrated because of their caste, religion, language or skin color.

Not us, actually. The Mehtas are Gujarati diamond merchants from Bombay. Perhaps we're Jains (who dominate the diamond trade) or maybe Parsis (like conductor Zubin Mehta) or Brahmins or merchant caste, but whatever Amy Chua-type Market Dominant Minority I am, I try to keep my privileged ethnicity obscure here in the Colonies States so I can be the Voice of All India to you poor dumb Americans. It's a living.
The U.S., of course, has its own deeply troubled history with regard to race, but its path has tended toward more equality. 
Recently, though, the language of racism in America has changed, though the plot remains the same. It's not about skin color anymore--it's about "cultural traits." And it comes cloaked in a whole lot of social-science babble. The new racialists are too smart to denigrate particular cultures. Instead, they come at things the other way. They praise certain cultures, hold them up as exemplary. The implication--sometimes overt, sometimes only winked at--is that other cultures are inferior and this accounts for their inability to succeed.

When everybody knows it's really their Bad Karma.
The U.S.--like Brazil or England--likes to think it has moved beyond race. After all, we elected a black President, twice. But in reality, the terrain of race-baiting has simply shifted. The condescension once aimed squarely at African Americans now also claims as its targets Latinos, Muslims and--in a novel twist--large swaths of whites. And the people doing the condescending might be black or brown themselves. 
A Congolese immigrant whom I met in the course of researching my book told me about the African Americans she knows at the supermarket where she works. "We are really different," she said about her community, as opposed to African Americans. "They don't have African values. They don't have the values to be black." 
I asked her what that means. 
"To be black," she explained, "means you get married and you don't have children before." The American blacks at her supermarket, she said, need to go to college. "They ask if you want to have marijuana. It's just normal for them. It's easy for them to say that 'My ancestors were oppressed.'" 

Let me be clear that I, Suketu Mehta, didn't say this. An extremely black woman from the Congo said it, not me. She may have been an extremely black woman lesbian pre-op transgender immigrant from the Congo for all I know. In other words, don't blame me for what she said. I'm a person of color myself. I would never ever think that maybe she had a point about African Americans, with whom I stand in utter solidarity from my Manhattan high rise apartment provided to me free by NYU, where -- did I mention? -- I'm a professor. I'm not endorsing the shameful thing she said, I'm just reporting it so we can all cluck in approbation over it.
A book like The Triple Package, even if it takes pains to argue in nonracial terms, is an example of this sort of ethnocentric thinking writ large. And it is only the latest in a long line of books--spanning more than a century--arguing for the superiority of this or that American group over others. The roots of alleged superiority have changed over time from race to class to IQ to religion and now to culture. 
In 1916 Madison Grant wrote The Passing of the Great Race, which purported to demonstrate the racial and cultural superiority of Northern Europeans over Southern Europeans.

I'm annoyed that Time wouldn't give me the column inches to work in a clever reference to Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby here.
The book was influential in drumming up popular support for passage of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which barred Asians from immigrating to the U.S. and established quotas for Southern and East Europeans, to keep out Jews.

Which caused the Holocaust.
Decades later, an influential 1959 article by Bernard Rosen

Presumably, not a Jew. I mean, I wouldn't passively-aggressively quote some utterly obscure Jewish person saying something politically incorrect 55 years ago, now would I? I mean, who would write a gigantic passive-aggressive put-on like this article appears to be? I'd have to have grown up in some place like Queens and really resent Jewish domination of the New York literary world to go out of my way to find somebody who isn't a famous Jewish thinker to poke fun at for my own private satisfaction while you can't prove I'm criticising Jewish thinking. Are you implying that this article is just a hoax to see what I could get away with without any editors at Time actually getting the joke?

I mean, Rosen could be a Teuton, right?
declared that "Protestants, Jews and Greeks place a greater emphasis on independence and achievement training than southern Italians and French-Canadians." ...

And that was obviously wrong because TBD
This line of argument expanded in the 21st century. In 2004 Samuel Huntington, the Harvard professor who became famous for his book The Clash of Civilizations, warned against Latino culture in a Foreign Policy cover story bearing the title "José, Can You See?" In his book published the following year, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, he explained the differences between Anglo and Latino culture by quoting a Texas entrepreneur on "Hispanic traits ... that 'hold us Latinos back': mistrust of people outside the family; lack of initiative, self-reliance, and ambition; low priority for education; acceptance of poverty as a virtue necessary for entrance into heaven." 

Of course, that's wrong because the 50 million Latinos in America provide only two members of the Forbes 400 while the few million South Asians provide six members. Boo-yah! ... Which just shows how racist America is.
In 2009 an article by Jason Richwine

Shouldn't somebody fire that guy?
, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute

Up to a point, Lord Copper.
, caught the attention of my people with its title, "Indian Americans: The New Model Minority." East Asians continue to excel in the U.S., he noted, but Indians are clearly the latest and greatest model. Why? "Exhibit A is the spelling bee." Success in spelling and other similar cognitive tasks, according to Richwine, proves that we are smarter than whites as well as Ashkenazi Jews--a happy finding for my father, who spent a lifetime in the diamond market, where they have a big presence. Richwine's conclusion: immigration policy should favor these model minorities over, say, Mexicans. 

Obviously, I, Suketu Mehta, utterly disagree with this finding. But I think you should know about it ... just so you can be mad at Richwine. I'm not trying to plant any ideas in your head or anything about how brilliant we Indians are. I'm totally not into saying that us Indian Americans are smarter than you Ashkenazi Jews, but I think you should know that this horrible Jason Richwine person said it. Get 'im. For me. For the children!
Then there is Stanford University's Thomas Sowell, who in Migration and Cultures: A World View identified six model "middleman minorities" who exemplify the entrepreneurial virtues he thinks the U.S. desperately needs. Last year he took the argument to another level, writing that there are some cultures that are just incompatible with Western values, primarily (surprise!) Muslim culture. 

Where are these maniacs coming from recently? Back in the 1970s you'd never hear any vicious racist nonsense like this! What? Sowell's just repeating his 1978 book Ethnic America?

Who knew?
These bromides don't just come thundering down from the ivory tower. They're all around us in casual conversation about group accomplishment and group blame. Typical was a recent podcast by the comedian Adam Carolla,

I heard that Carolla grew up in practically the same neighborhood as that horrible Sailer person.
in which he interviewed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Newsom noted that half of Latino and African-American families in California don't have access to a checking account or ATM. 
"What's wrong with them?" asked Carolla. "I want to know why those two groups don't have access ... Are they flawed? ... Do Asians have this problem? ... They were put in internment camps. Are they at the check-cashing places?" 

They own them. No, I didn't say that.
"Look at the history," Newsom responded. "It's naive to suggest that those things don't matter." 
"How about the Jews?" asked Carolla. "No problems in the past? ... Why are the Jews doing well? ... Why do some groups do so much better? I'll tell you why: they have a family who puts an emphasis on education." He may have been speaking lightly, but Carolla's words show how easily the line can blur between cultural praise and cultural denigration. 
Of Ethnicity and Reality 
... The new American racism, however, is turning the clock backward. While Chua and Rubenfeld are not the only ones peddling this pernicious line of thought, their book is likely to make them prominent spokespeople for it. So it's worth taking a close look at the "evidence" they marshal for their argument. Too often they--and their compatriots--ignore the realities of American history to make their half-baked theories stick. 
The authors attempt to barricade themselves against charges of racism by protesting that the Triple Package has nothing to do with race or IQ; it's about ethnicity. So not all blacks are losers--look at Nigerians and Liberians! They are so well represented in the Ivy League! But the authors fail to acknowledge that Africans and Afro-Caribbeans are beneficiaries of affirmative action, won through the civil rights struggles of African Americans.

Which makes what I just said about quotas A-OK. We shall overcome ... Sing it!
What's more, African Americans are not in a bad way because of lack of racial pride

In fact, have you noticed that African Americans seem to have plenty of self-esteem? I'm just sayin' ...
or a problem with their impulses.

I would never say that.
Their challenges as a community trace back centuries; they were brought here in chains, their women raped

Not by me, personally, but your tastes may vary.
and their families deliberately broken. 

Take that, Chua! Let no one ever say that a Chinawoman can out BS an Indiaman.
This is what President Obama was talking about in his remarks after the Trayvon Martin verdict

That Zimmerman guy, I have to say, a year of hiding indoors really did his complexion a world of good. "Wheat-colored" we'd call it in the marriage market personal ads.
, when he said, "I think it's important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away." 

Because History!

Look at all those instructive historical epics, such as 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, and Lee Daniels' The Butler. It used to be that blacks caused problems for themselves because of white racism, but now the country has elected some nonentity comfortable-in-his-own-skin Constitutional scholar President because he's black so awesome, so now ... Because History.

In summary, don't blame me: Us Indians just got here!
Time and again, when examining the claims of the new racialists, we find other, deeper, often more complex explanations for why the children of some groups do better than others. 
As Nancy Foner, a leading immigration scholar

Here's the extended Foner family family tree of leftist academics and Marxist labor organizers. Three of her four Foner uncles were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. By the way, I was hoping that Nancy would introduce me to the movie star Gyllenhaal Siblings, but she explained that they are her cousin Eric's ex-wife's children by her second husband, so I'll just have to figure out another way to get my screenplay into Jake's' hands: Maybe I'll tell him, "'The Prince of Persia' changed my life!" D'ya think?
, points out in an essay, "Today, the way East Asian--as opposed to black or Hispanic--immigrants fit into New York's racial hierarchy makes a difference in the opportunities they can provide their children." Because they are not black, she notes, "East Asian (and white) immigrants face less discrimination in finding a place to live and, in turn, send their children to school." That translates into greater access to heavily white neighborhoods with good public schools.

Well, that clears that up. For example, that's why Stuyvesant is about 70% Asian: it's near Wall Street, which is heavily white.
Moreover, even if they attend school with native-born blacks and Latinos, they do not feel a bond of race with native minorities--making them less likely to become part of a peer culture found among some disaffected inner-city black and Latino youth.  

In other words, Asians youths are less likely to join criminal gangs. So, it doesn't have anything to do with culture.
Cubans, meanwhile, are in favor over other Latinos among the new racialists, since they appear to do better in America than groups like Mexicans. But as City University of New York's Philip Kasinitz, an expert on ethnic assimilation, notes, "If Mexicans threw out the top 10% of their population into America, you'd be singing a different tune about Mexicans."

Maybe we should try only taking the top 10% of Mexicans? Speaking of Talented Tenth Mexicans, maybe Alfonso Cuaron would like to direct my screenplay as his Gravity follow-up? I could add some long tracking shots for Lubezki to film. Heck, I could make the plot about the oppression of illegal alien Mexicans in a post-apocalyptic England. What was that movie about, anyway? But I don't care: if Cuaron wants to direct, I'll slap in a maid, gardener, busboy, whatever. I'm cool.
And among Cubans, there's a subset that hasn't done well: the "Marielitos," who immigrated in 1980 when Fidel Castro emptied the island's prisons and told the inmates they were free to head to America. They were much darker in complexion than the first wave of Cubans, and they have not done anywhere near as well as their light-complected compatriots. What does this suggest? First, that if you were doing well in the country you're leaving, you'll do well in the country you're going to, and vice versa. Second, that lighter-skinned people tend to fare better than darker-skinned people when they immigrate to the U.S.,

Or any country ... Except for those damn Tamils. Have you ever noticed how pushy Tamils are? Don't they know their place?
even if they're from the same country.

Here's something I didn't actually know about the Marielitos until I started getting just plain hateful emails after my Time article appeared: a sizable fraction of the Marielitos were career criminals or lunatics emptied out of Cuba's penal institutions by Castro and dispatched on boats as a giant middle finger guffaw at the expense of Castro's archenemy.

I'll grant you that's not common knowledge, but apparently there is this obscure art film called Scarface directed by the exquisitely tasteful Brian De Palma, written by the Oxford professor of history Oliver Stone, and starring an understated character actor named Al Pacino as Tony Montana that obliquely referred to that history:
But how is some Indian like me to supposed to know about obscure American stuff like that? It's racist to expect Indian immigrants to know American history just because we're paid to write long articles in Time Magazine about it. Do you know anything about Indian history? I sure don't. I mean, You sure don't.
What about Jews? Scholars like Stephen Steinberg in The Ethnic Myth have pointed out that the success of immigrant Jews was largely due to the fact that they arrived in the U.S. with "industrial experience and concrete occupational skills" well suited to the booming urban economies of the new world.

That's why so many Jewish-Americans these days have good paying jobs as factory foremen.
Not, as Chua and Rubenfeld posit, because "Jews maintained for millennia the idea that they were God's chosen people."

Well, that clears that up once and for all.
... Lastly, what shall we make of Indians--who, aside from Chinese, are perhaps the new racialists' favorite model minority? Indians in America are, as Chua and Rubenfeld note, "by any number of measures, the most successful Census-tracked ethnic group in the country." 
Well, if Indians are so great, what explains India? The country is a sorry mess, with the largest population of poor, sick and illiterate people in the world, its economy diving, its politics abysmally corrupt. For decades, those who could afford to get out did. The $1,000 that it takes to purchase a one-way ticket to the U.S. is about a year's salary for the average Indian. If India shared a border with the U.S. and it were possible for its poorest residents to cross over on foot, we would fast cease to be the model minority, and talk-show hosts would rail against us just as they do against Mexicans. 

You mean to say that legal restrictions on immigration are actually good for the American public? Maybe we shouldn't take the rest of the world's "huddled masses?" No, I'm just kidding. U-S-A! U-S-A! Statue of Liberty FTW!
The groups Chua and Rubenfeld and the other new racialists typically pick out as success stories are almost without fail examples of self-selection. Forty-two percent of Indians in the U.S. ages 25 and older have a postgraduate degree. But only about 20% of those they've left behind in the motherland even graduate from high school, and 26% of the population is illiterate. It's the same with Nigerians: the ones who are here represent a vastly richer and better-educated subset of the country's population as a whole. 

So Africans really aren't that smart on average? Is that what I'm trying to tell you? No, absolutely not. You should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking that. What kind of racist are you?
Further, the authors pay almost no attention to the role of networking, which accounts for so much of the success of groups like Jews, Cubans and Indians. Part of the reason so many immigrant groups thrive is that when they arrive in the U.S., they already have an uncle who runs a store and cousins who are tutors, doctors or lawyers who can help them negotiate the new country. 
When my family immigrated in 1977, we didn't do well because of delayed gratification or cultural superiority or a chip on our shoulder. We did well because my uncle in Detroit, an engineer, brought us over on the family-reunification bill, not in shackles or in steerage. When my father started his diamond business on 47th Street in Manhattan, there was a network of Indian diamond merchants who could show him the ropes.

Oh, come now, the diamond industry is notoriously meritocratic and wide open to any individual with a little moxie.
My sons, in turn, will benefit from my connections. 
Much of The Triple Package focuses, naturally enough, on immigrants in New York City--then and now the immigrant capital of the country, if not the world. So you could profitably browse a gold mine of a book just put out by the NYC department of city planning, The Newest New Yorkers, a compendium of figures about the diverse groups that make up my hometown. 
Chinese Americans in New York City, it turns out, earn less than other groups lacking the Triple Package. The median household income of Chinese in the city ($42,766) is lower than that of Ecuadoreans ($46,126), Haitians ($48,175) and Pakistanis ($50,912). The New York City group with the highest percentage of high school graduates isn't Chinese or Indians; it's Ukrainians (94.4%). But rarely are we treated to encomiums about the cultural superiority of the Borscht Mom.

Like the Brooklyn Nets are owned by a simple Slavic farm boy who was just better than anybody else at growing potatoes. Or something. I wasn't really paying attention. I leave that to bad people like Amy Chua. Did I mention how much you should hate her?
America's Real Exceptionalism 
The pity is that this book, and this entire line of argument, is taken seriously--among my relatives

Whom I totally disagree with.
 , for instance, --when all the scholars I've consulted laugh at it. 
"Every one of the premises underlying the theory of the Triple Package is supported by a well-substantiated and relatively uncontroversial body of empirical evidence," the authors assert. "Give me a break," said Foner, who is one of the authorities cited in the endnotes. "There is a large body of literature showing that the most important factor predicting success among the children of immigrants is parents' human capital." That is: skills and education, from family to family and individual to individual. 

And family has nothing to do with culture. Or genes. Neither nurture nor nature matters. Don't even think about children inheriting genes from their parents. No Indian has ever thought about blood ancestry. You can't hear this Indian thinking about biological inheritance. I'm putting my fingers in my ears and chanting so you can't hear me think about that.

Nyah Nyah Nyah.