March 29, 2014

Nation building in Ukraine and Italy

In the New York Times, Stephen Sestanovich of the Council of Foreign Relations, argues:
No one wants to revive the Cold War. But it offers lessons for today. In the 1940s, the authors of “containment” saw nation building as the key to success. They wanted to check Russian power without war, and believed that across Western Europe, once viable societies were so deeply divided that they might not survive. Those nations’ political and economic models, like Ukraine’s today, were broken. They would not hold together without what Dean Acheson called “the added power and energy of America.” 
What made “containment” successful was not the infliction of pain on the Soviet Union. The heart of American policy was to revive, stabilize and integrate countries on our side of the line. Yes, we worried that Stalin had been able to bring down the government in Prague. We worried even more that he might do so in Rome and Paris. Successful nation building eventually dispelled those fears.

The examples of Italy and France as examples of post-WWII nation-building are a refreshing contrast to the usual cliches of West Germany and Japan, which weren't exactly lacking in national fortitude in the early 1940s.

Both France and Italy had huge Communist Parties (the French CP slavishly following the Moscow line, the Italian CP occasionally showing a little self-respect). The U.S. devoted much effort to keeping an election in either country from turning out with a result in which the CP would get the Ministry of the Interior, because there might not be another meaningful election.

France, of course, had among the grandest nationalist traditions in the world, so reviving it after the collapse of 1940 was not quite as challenging as building Ukrainian nationalism. Still, French national restoration ended up requiring a conservative leader (De Gaulle) who was distinctly unfriendly toward America, withdrawing from NATO in 1967. (In turn, this French rightist anti-Americanism set the ideological stage for the leftist leader Mitterrand to turn toward America in the crucial Cold War year of 1983.

As for America's role in Italy, a much weaker nation-state historically, well, the U.S. did what it had to do in terms of subsidizing the Christian Democrats and winking at their vote-garnering alliance with the Mafia to keep the Communists out. But it's by no means clear that the long U.S. Cold War involvement in Italy otherwise did much to build up Italy as a well-functioning state. It's not completely a coincidence that much of the crackdown on the Mafia by heroic prosecutors took place after the Berlin Wall fell.

Ideally, the U.S. would no doubt have liked to help reform Italy so that a big chunk of Italians wouldn't have reason to feel the place was so corrupt that the only solution was voting for Russia's party. But, that's hard to do when you have a friendly pro-American set of politicians already running the place and promising that if you help them out, they can keep the Russians out (which they did). 

I haven't thought through all the implications for Ukraine, but the Italian Cold War analogy doesn't seem all that appealing. 

The Chinese military-disco complex

In recent years, the government of China has been announcing large increases in military spending (although they usually don't wind up spending all they announced).

Back in 2000, there was a horrific disco fire in China with 309 people dying in a nightclub with safety violations. I vaguely recall an NPR segment explaining that fire codes weren’t enforced on discos because all the discos in China at that time were owned by the People’s Liberation Army. So, fire inspectors, lacking main battle tanks, were outgunned in confrontations with disco-owning generals.

I haven’t been following the Chinese military-disco complex since then, but has there been a cultural revolution in the military in which China’s best young men join today because they want to defeat America in battle or are they still getting the kind of recruits who see the military as the best route to becoming a nightclub owner?

March 28, 2014

My opinion on Bitcoin

Recently I received an email from a reporter asking if I had a new email address for a certain person on my blogroll. I replied that I don't, and that (although he didn't mention why he was asking) I don't know if this blogger invented Bitcoin or not. And that if he did invent Bitcoin, it wouldn't make any sense for him to talk to me about it because my brain just gets very, very sleepy whenever anybody tries to explain Bitcoin to me.

In fact, I'm not really all that sure I could fully explain the logic behind why the corner liquor store lets me have a can of Diet Coke in return for a one dollar bill. So anything involving any kind of currency more abstract than bars of salt and rifle cartridges is over my head. Maria Teresa thalers are about my limit of comprehension.

Therefore, I don't have any opinion on Bitcoin.

Obama Administration and disparate impact, Part MCVIII

From the Orlando Sentinel:
Bright Futures scholarships are subject of federal investigation

Denise-Marie Ordway, Sentinel School Zone 
12:18 pm, March 24, 2014 
Florida's popular Bright Futures scholarship program is the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, an agency spokesman confirmed Monday. 
The federal government is looking into whether the program's eligibility requirements discriminate against some minority students. 
The program has helped hundreds of thousands of students pay for college since its creation in 1997. But some groups have criticized its reliance on scores from college-entrance exams to determine who gets an award. 
That criteria, according to groups such as the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, hurts many black and Hispanic kids, who don't tend to do as well on standardized achievement tests. 
The U.S. Department of Education issued the following statement: 
"The Office for Civil Rights is investigating allegations that the state of Florida utilizes criteria for determining eligibility for college scholarships that have the effect of discriminating against Latino and African-American students on the basis of national origin and race, in particular with regard to its Bright Futures Scholarship Program, which uses SAT- I and ACT cut-off scores to determine eligibility."

Nate Silver's new website

How's the much hyped new quant website run by Nate Silver, the former NYT election data guru, doing at the close of its second week? 

I seem to be the only person in the world who has usually had mildly positive views of Silver. During the 2012 election, he did a good job of making up a spreadsheet with weighted averages of the 90 or so different Presidential polls out there. It wasn't exactly quantum mechanics, but it was quite sensible. Ironically, his final prediction turned out to be off by a couple of points, just like Republicans were hoping. Unfortunately for Romney, though, Silver underestimated just how much Obama would win by: 3.8 percentage points.

But Silver's forecasting error was ignored in a tidal wave of Democratic self-congratulation upon how the existence of Nate Silver proves Democrats are better because Science.

So now he's left the NYT to start a website under the ESPN aegis, casting aspersions upon most NYT columnists other than Ross Douthat, with the old guard denouncing him back.

How's his new website going?

Not bad, but not too exciting either. I haven't gotten interested in the NCAA basketball tournament this year, so their coverage of that hasn't been of interest to me. The other stuff seems okay, but so far it's not clear that having a website organized around a methodology (because numbers!) is some overlooked killer app.

The feature article today is by Emily Oster:
Reports of a Drop in Childhood Obesity Are Overblown

But Razib Khan of The Unz Review did that in Slate an entire month ago:
The Obesity Rate for Children Has Not Plummeted

Mostly, Silver seems to want to do short pieces. For example, here's a baseball one
Quantifying the ‘That Guy Is Still in the Major Leagues?’ Phenomenon

where Neil Paine made up a table of all the players in the league in 2009 based on their age and 2007-2009 performances who are the most improbable that they are starting 2014 on an MLB roster. That's interesting to only a small fraction of the audience who might be interested in, say, political forecasting, but it's pretty interesting to people who find it interesting. Having gone to all the work of ranking all the players in the league on this dimension, Paine could have easily milked his database for 1500 words of this and that, but instead he wrapped it up in a few paragraphs. Paine had so much good stuff that down in the comments he tossed in other factoids he'd uncovered like the players who are most surprising that they aren't in the league anymore. So why not put more good stuff in the original article, especially in this period when the website needs to be building its brand among influential people with long attention spans (e.g., me)? There will be plenty of time in the future to dumb it down for the short attention span masses.
Check it out and see if I'm overlooking something in my tepid response so far.

Cochran-Harpending paper on "Amish Quotient"

Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran have a rough draft of a new paper: "Assortative Mating, Class, and Caste:"
The Amish marry within their faith. Although they accept converts, there are very few, so there is almost no inward gene flow. They descend almost entirely from about 200 18th century founders. On the other hand, there is considerable outward gene flow, since a significant fraction of Amish youth do not choose to adopt the Amish way of life. In recent years, something like 10-15% of young Amish leave the community In the past, the defection rate seems to have been higher, more like 18-24%. Defection is up to the individual - there are no exterior barriers against Amish who want to participate in modern society.
Since the Amish have very high birth rates ( > 6 children per family), their numbers have increased very rapidly, even though there is a substantial defection rate. There were about 5,000 descendants of the original 200 by 1920, and today [2013] there are about 280,000 Amish. 
Every way of life selects for something, but the Amish way of life is so different that natural selection in that population should be noticeably different from that in the general US population. It seems likely that the Amish have undergone selection for two specific traits, due to their unusual social and reproductive pattern. 
First, they were almost certainly selected for higher fertility. A recent study (Milot et al., 2011) found evidence of this kind of selection in preindustrial French Canadians, who, like the Amish, went through a very rapid population expansion. 
Second, and more interesting, the Amish have probably experienced selection for increased Amishness - an increase in the degree to which Amish find their lifestyle congenial, since those who like it least, leave. We have called this kind of differential emigration 'boiling off'. Obviously, if some of the soup boils off, what is left is more concentrated. 
This boiling off is essentially truncation selection. If we assume a normal distribution, the loss of the least plain 10% corresponds to the loss of everyone more than 1.25 standard deviations below the Amish mean. If we assume a narrow-sense heritability of 0.3 and use a scale similar to that for IQ, the Amish gain about 1 point of plainness per generation. Not counting possible selection for this kind of personality in Europe, before they settled North America, the Amish have spent about ten generations under this kind of selection. Therefore their 'plainness', their Amish quotient (AQ), might have increased by about 0.6 standard deviation. During most of the period for which we have sufficient in- formation, the defection rate was significantly higher than 10%, so this may be a conservative estimate. Although there are certainly other factors that might influence the defection rate, such as increasing differences between the Amish way of life and that of their neighbors, increasing plainness would tend to reduce the defection rate over time. 
The Amish have some genetic problems because of genetic drift in a small population, and those have received a fair amount of attention from medical geneticists. However, in our opinion, their social pattern probably drives strong selection for a particular flavor of personality, which is downright fascinating and worthy of further investigation. One could, with difficulty and a lot of investment, identify dimensions of a hypothetical AQ. It would likely include affinity for work, perseverance, low status competition, respect for authority, conscientiousness, community orientation, and so on. We proposed (Cochran, Hardy, & Harpending, 2006) a similar mechanism to account for Ashkenazi Jewish evolution in Medieval times selecting for ability and success in white collar occupations.

Driving cross country recently, we zoomed through the Amish country in Holmes County in Ohio, where 44% of the population speaks some sort of German/Dutch as their first language. I was under the mistaken impression that the Amish abjure all technology past some point in history, such as the New Testament, on fundamentalist theological grounds. This would imply that the comfort gap is continually increasing: e.g., children would be playing with un-awesome wooden toys.

But a couple of hours of driving around showed I was mistaken. Congregations apparently pick and choose which technologies they will allow themselves based on what they kind of culture they want. This means they can adopt new technology if they feel it is constructive. The kids, and there are a lot of kids, typically have brightly colored plastic outdoor toys like other children have. 

There's nothing that looks like modern poverty and there's a faint air of quiet prosperity. It's a much tougher life than I'd like, but my general impression was that these people know what they are doing. They might well be getting better at doing what they do. 

March 27, 2014

Cartel monopsony power and antitrust laxity

Here's an old WSJ article:
FTC Investigates Oil Firms Over Hiring, Wages

Updated April 26, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET 
WASHINGTON—The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether the world's biggest oil companies colluded to suppress managerial, professional and technical employees' wages in ways that violated U.S. antitrust laws, according to people familiar with the matter. 
The previously undisclosed probe has been open for several years and involves as many as a dozen oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM +1.63%  , Royal Dutch Shell RDSB +0.39%  PLC, BP BP +1.28%  PLC and Chevron CVX -0.03%  Corp, these people said. The probe remains active, they added, but the five FTC commissioners have yet to vote on the matter, and it is possible a suit will never be brought. 
The investigation is the latest evidence of concern among U.S. antitrust enforcers that the nation's largest employers may be interfering with the labor market to hold down costs. The U.S. Department of Justice is carrying out a similar probe into whether companies in the technology sector have improperly agreed not to poach each other's employees, according to people familiar with that matter. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment. 
The oil companies and the FTC have discussed possible settlements over the course of the investigation but have failed to reach agreement, people familiar with the matter said.

I can't find anything more recent about this, so it may have fizzled out.

One general point I want to make is how bizarre "ExxonMobil" looks to an old-timer like me who can remember press and public paranoia against Big Oil in the 1970s and early 1980s. After all, Exxon is the direct descendant of the firm at the heart of the 1911 Standard Oil trust decision by the Supreme Court. 

That a Democratic administration in the late 1990s would approve the mergers of Exxon and Mobil, BP and Amoco, and Chevron and Texaco was unthinkable 20 years before. 

If six colossal companies suddenly turn into three supercolossal companies, economic theory predicts that it's now easier for the merged firms to exercise some degree of cartel power against their employees over pay: there are three fewer companies that might defect from informal arrangements.

A meta-general point: there were a lot of things 35 years ago that I turned out to be more or less right about. For example, it wasn't all that popular in 1979 to argue that Big Oil companies are not the chief locus of evil in the world.

On a lot of 1970s-1980s arguments, I turned out to be on the historically winning side. And that's great!

But ... here's the thing: diminishing marginal returns.

If the arguments in 1979 for smashing up and nationalizing the oil companies were, on the whole, bad, that doesn't necessarily mean we should, in effect, gut the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1999.

If the CIA needed to help undermine Russia's influence in Lisbon in 1975, well, that doesn't automatically mean that, on the whole, its all that crucial the CIA should do the same thing in Donetsk in 2014. It's 4,800 km from Lisbon to Donetsk by air. Sure, the Game of Nations never ends and all that, but we've built up a huge lead.

Crimea as a comedy of divorce

I want to expand upon my suggestion in this week's Taki's Magazine that there's a potential negotiated solution for the Crimea crisis. 

Both sides of the issue are essentially symbolic:

-- Russia wants Crimea as a symbol that Russia can't be pushed around as shamefully as it was in the 1990s.

-- The world in general doesn't like the symbolism of one country changing another country's borders by military might.

The good news is that since Crimea was seized without much violence, then there's a decent chance that a lot of this trouble can be worked out with money rather than blood. (By the way, if you compare the lack of bloodshed over Crimea -- so far at least, knock on wood -- versus the staggering amount of killing by Chechens and Russians whenever Chechen raiders would seize Russian hostages in the 1990s and 2000s, it would seem like talk of Slavic fraternity isn't wholly delusionary.)

My beach house divorce analogy is a useful template for thinking: the ex-husband (Russia) has gotten back on his feet financially, so he's particularly shocked that his ex-wife (Ukraine) has announced she's going to marry somebody else (EU). He breaks into their former beach house (Crimea) that she got, perhaps unfairly, in the divorce settlement, and has barricaded himself inside.

One response would be for the ex-wife to call in the SWAT team (NATO) and go all Janet Reno at Waco on the ex-husband in the beach house. 

Another option would be for the ex-wife to let the ex-husband have an opportunity to extricate himself from the legal jam he's gotten himself into by letting him try to buy the beach house, although at a hefty price, to retroactively regularize what just happened through a negotiated contract.

After all, he seems to want the beach house more than she does. And they do have residual interests in common, such as their children, so it's in her interest to see him put this behind him and go back to work rather than for him to hole up from the law in the beach house, bleeding cash rather than paying their children's tuition bills. And, his male ego might mean he's in the mood to agree to pay her a big price to show he's a man of means again.

An interesting question is: What would be the ex-wife's new fiance's view of this potential transaction? 

On the one hand, she has a lot of credit card debt that he's not looking forward to paying off when they marry. So, if she can bring in a lot of cash by selling this stupid beach house to her stupid ex, that's less cash he'll have come up with to bail her out.

On the other hand, the fiance might try to sabotage any deal between the exes out of a belief that continuing bad blood between them over the unresolved beach house crisis will keep them from ever getting back together again, which is what he really worries about, that, deep down, he's Ralph Bellamy while in their eyes they're Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

Tablet: "The Chinese Believe That the Jews Control America."

From The Tablet, a fine Jewish magazine:
The Chinese Believe That the Jews Control America. Is That a Good Thing? 
Prof. Xu Xin’s Institute of Jewish and Israel Studies at Nanjing University seeks to establish Chinese scholarship on Jews 
By Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore|March 27, 2014 12:00 AM

“Do the Jews Really Control America?” asked one Chinese newsweekly headline in 2009. The factoids doled out in such articles and in books about Jews in China—for example: “The world’s wealth is in Americans’ pockets; Americans are in Jews’ pockets”—would rightly be seen to be alarming in other contexts. But in China, where Jews are widely perceived as clever and accomplished, they are meant as compliments. Scan the shelves in any bookstore in China and you are likely to find best-selling self-help books based on Jewish knowledge. Most focus on how to make cash. Titles range from 101 Money Earning Secrets From Jews’ Notebooks to Learn To Make Money With the Jews. 
The Chinese recognize, and embrace, common characteristics between their culture and Jewish culture. Both races have a large diaspora spread across the globe. Both place emphasis on family, tradition, and education. Both boast civilizations that date back thousands of years.
In Shanghai, I am often told with nods of approval that I must be intelligent, savvy, and quick-witted, simply because of my ethnicity. While it is true that the Chinese I’ve met are fascinated by—rather than fear—the Jews, these assertions make me deeply uncomfortable. 
So, it was with a degree of apprehension that I recently traveled to the former imperial capital of Nanjing to spend the day with Prof. Xu Xin, director of the Diane and Guilford Glazer Institute of Jewish and Israel Studies at Nanjing University. The first thing Xu did was suggest lunch. As we sat down to a steaming tofu hot pot, he woefully conceded that many Chinese believe the Jews to be “smart, rich, and very cunning.” Just before my visit to Nanjing, the Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao made international headlines by publicly announcing his ambitions to buy the New York Times and later the Wall Street Journal. In a TV interview he explained that he would be an ideal newspaper magnate because “I am very good at working with Jews”—who, he said, controlled the media. 
Yet Chen presumably, like the majority of Chinese, has few concrete ideas about the reality of Jewish history or practices. Xu, the 65-year-old pioneer of Jewish studies in China, is campaigning to change that—and, by doing so, challenging entrenched stereotypes. The diminutive professor has made it his life’s pursuit to present a more nuanced view of the Jewish race and religion to his countrymen: one based on scholarship rather than rumor. To this end he launched the Institute of Jewish Studies in 1992, the first of its kind in Chinese higher education. 
Today there are more than half a dozen similar programs across the country, many started by Xu’s former students. In Nanjing, Judaica courses—from Ancient Jewish History to Rabbinic Literature to Holocaust Studies—have proved popular. According to Xu one of the best-attended courses in the institute is Jewish Culture and World Civilization, in which 18 topics are covered in a 20-week semester. It attracts roughly 200 undergraduate students per term. Survey of Judaism and Study of Monotheism, both graduate courses, have enrollments of around 30 to 40. 
Strung up around the unheated classrooms of the institute are dated photographs of Jerusalem and fuzzy black-and-white images of the death camps. Bookshelves boast Chinese translations of the Haggadah and Xu’s own books, including his best-selling A History of Jewish Culture. In a glass cabinet sit various teaching tools: embroidered kippas, bronze menorahs, and polished shofars. Thankfully, there is not a “get rich quick” manual in sight. 
The institute is funded largely by foreign Jewish donors, who have their own interest in seeing portrayals of Judaism propagated in a more balanced way. “Hatred and intolerance are bred in ignorance,” the executive director of the China Judaic Studies Association, Beverly Friend, a patron of the institute, wrote to me in an email. “The institute provides knowledge.” 
... Chinese state media has long championed positive portrayals of the Jews, in part because Judaism, with its ethnically based and non-evangelical nature, has proved less of a threat to the Communist Party than other foreign monotheistic religions, like Christianity or Islam. 
... Today China’s authoritarian government is invested heavily in the oil states, including Iran and Iraq. But it is also increasingly forming ties with Israel. ... “China finally decided to establish former diplomatic relations with Israel [in 1992] because they believed that being friendly with Jews is good for China’s development and to change China’s image internationally.” If China’s global clout does not yet match its status as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, developing closer ties with Israel and the Jewish Diaspora may be a relatively easy way to widen China’s influence, or so some Chinese leaders seem to believe. 
... It is this space and allowance—even encouragement—for debate that has helped Jews make cultural and scientific strides in the world, Liu said he believed: “In the Talmud, for one question they have different answers. But in China we have [either] correct or incorrect. If someone has different opinions, it is difficult to live.” 
“Do you know how many Chinese Nobel Prize winners there are?” asked Liu, not waiting for an answer. He didn’t have to. The Chinese have long articulated ambitions to win more Nobel prizes. (No Chinese-born scientist, for example, has ever been awarded a Nobel Prize for work in the mainland.) “The Jewish population is very small but the Chinese is big,” Liu said. “Compare that, if you will. When we know that the Jewish people are so successful in both science and human studies, we feel that maybe we can learn from them.” 
As the afternoon drew to a close, I mentioned Chen Guangbiao, the billionaire who declared he is good at working with Jews. Liu was exasperated by such reductions. 
“In their minds, Jewish people control the banks in America. It means for them that Jewish people control the world, controls the governments,” he railed, shaking his hands in disbelief. “I feel it’s a joke.” 
Prof. Xu was more understanding. “Stereotypes are overemphasized. But in China this is positive,” he said calmly. After all, he added: “Had the Jews achieved nothing, no Chinese would be interested in them.” 
You can help support Tablet’s unique brand of Jewish journalism. Click here to donate today. 
Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, a Sydney-based journalist, lived in China from 2009 to 2014. Her Twitter feed is @cmontefiore.

The Sebag-Montefiores are a grand old Sephardic family.

Here's a 2004 "strategy paper" from the Jewish People Planning Institute on building Jewish ties with China. In the introduction, U.S. State Department Middle East honcho Dennis Ross, then Chairman of the Jerusalem-based JPPI, wrote a decade ago:
... there is a risk of the resurgence of "the old canard of a Jewish world conspiracy" could seep into China. To date it has not.

White House pastry chef resigns on principle

Harry Baldwin comments: 
"There was a recent news story about how the White House pastry chef resigned because “I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs,” which was Michelle's policy. It struck me that this was the first resignation on a matter of principle from a White House position that I can remember since Elliot Richardson in 1973."

Washington does not have a glorious tradition of resignation on principle.

William Jennings Bryan resigned as Secretary of State in 1915 to protest how Wilson's policy was pushing the U.S. into the Great War, but that just proves what a hayseed bumpkin Bryan was. (In Britain in August 1914, two cabinet ministers, John Morley and John Burns, resigned in protest.)

Opposing the Iranian hostage rescue plan, Cyrus Vance secretly submitted his letter of resignation as Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State three days before the attempt.

And that's about it for cabinet posts. 

Besides the Saturday Night Massacre over Watergate, Jerald F. terHorst resigned as Ford's press secretary to protest the Nixon pardon. Leftist Peter Edelman (husband of Marian Edelman) quit as Assistant Secretary of HHS to protest Clinton signing the welfare reform bill.

Two low level State Department figures resigned to protest the Iraq Attaq of 2003. They're so obscure I wasn't going to mention them, but, now that I think about it, they deserve some recognition:
John H. Brown, who had been a cultural attaché at the embassy in Moscow, submitted his resignation to Mr. Powell, saying, ''Throughout the globe, the United States is becoming associated with the unjustified use of force'' and is ''giving birth to an anti-American century.'' And John Brady Kiesling, who had been political counselor at the American embassy in Athens, resigned last month, saying in a letter to Mr. Powell, ''I do so with a heavy heart.''
P.S., White House pastry chef denies resigning on principle. For those of us concerned about the state of morals among government officials, we can only hope he's lying.

March 26, 2014

Russia v. the West

The notion of Vladimir Putin as the defender of Western Civilization appears to be based on enemy-of-enemy-is-friend logic. But that's kind of hard to square with Putin's sponsorship of the savage Muslim buffoon Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin's proxy ruler in Chechnya. 

In truth, the old KGB man is in charge of a giant, multicultural empire that traditionally doesn't have all that much going for it other than size and relative lack of fractiousness. The height of Russian political thought going back to the throwing off of the Tartar yoke is centralized command-and-control of political and (either directly under Stalin or indirectly under Stolypin and Putin) economic power, combined with multicultural sensitivity. 
It's a way of thinking that demands to be understood, and even respected for its endurance, but it's alien to us fortunate enough to be born in the more geographically privileged Anglo-American world.

"The Other O" in 2016?

A reader who is either paranoid or brilliant or both calls my attention to a Hollywood Reporter story:
She's hitting the road again. 
Harpo Studios, O, The Oprah Magazine, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment announced today the Fall 2014 launch of "Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend." 
It's an eight-city arena tour and "transformational weekend" featuring Oprah and some special guests. 
"All of my life I have wanted to lead people to an empathy space. To a gratitude space," says Oprah in the announcement release. "I want us all to fulfill our greatest potential. To find our calling, and summon the courage to live it."

As one of the few surviving men to have experienced being in the studio audience of an Oprah show while free stuff is being given out, he writes:
Oprah POTUS ... I think this is a trial balloon and the Canada tour [in 2013] was to polish her game. Lots of red, white and blue, stars and strong suggestion in that article image! ... I don't think Hillary can get it done in 2016, but we will know better after this November what the general sentiment is toward the real conservatives.  I am closely watching the "other O" for signals and this is a bit conspicuous to me.  On the backside of 2003, I am pretty sure Oprah can get a huge chunk of white-woman votes.

Having spent about 15 seconds in The Presence in 1987, Oprah remains the greatest natural politician I've ever met. 

Personally, I think a giant empire like modern America would be better off splitting the roles of ceremonial Head of State and utilitarian Head of Government, rather than in getting them all entwined. The Premier or whatever we'd call him would, in today's culture, typically be some senior black entertainment or athletic figure: James Earl Jones in the past, Morgan Freeman today, Oprah tomorrow, maybe David Robinson after her. 

Instead, out of that urge, we elected a part time college lecturer to fill both jobs in a mediocre fashion. 

March 25, 2014

Crimea and Korea: the New Cold War and the Old

From my new Taki's Magazine article:
William Goldman’s fantasy tale The Princess Bride made famous the saying “never get involved in a land war in Asia” (it was purportedly advice General Douglas MacArthur gave to President John F. Kennedy regarding Vietnam). But historically the costs of a land war in Europe have been even more horrifying, which is why it’s important to comprehend the various psychological processes that have been driving us toward World War G. 
One force is the general tendency of triumphalist powers to press onward until they’ve backed their rivals into a corner. It’s hard for winners to declare victory and go home. It’s more fun to keep the game going, even if the conceivable gains are rapidly diminishing.

... Among the more vivid examples of pushing too hard in foreign affairs are the events of 1950, a year in which experienced men who had been tested in the great trials of the 1940s made almost uniformly catastrophic strategic choices. Almost every major outside decision maker in the Korean conflict, such as Stalin, MacArthur, and Mao, had emerged from the previous decade a winner. Yet despite their successful track records—or perhaps because of them—most pressed their luck too far on that divided peninsula, refusing to settle for half a loaf. The result was a drawn-out war that killed more than a million people over three years—without moving the border at all.

Read the whole thing there. At the end, I toss out a suggestion for a diplomatic process that might conceivably make things a little better.

Why are infrastructure projects so slow these days?

One of the odder aspects of modern life is that it takes forever to build infrastructure. For example, the 2.7 mile paved walking path around the beautiful Lake Hollywood reservoir (which is under the famous Hollywood Sign), was washed out in places during the 2005 rains. The loop finally reopened in 2013, over eight years later. In contrast, the sizable Mulholland Dam that created the reservoir in the 1920s was built in either 1.5 years (according to the bronze plaque on the dam) or 2.5 years (according to Wikipedia). In either case, it took at least five years less time to build the dam from scratch in the 1920s than to fix the road around the reservoir in the 2000s and 2010s.

On the other hand, as I was reading up on this dam, I saw that William Mulholland, Los Angeles's titanic chief water engineer, followed up his Hollywood dam with his nearly identical St. Francis dam out in the northern exurbs, which also built in only a couple of years.

Unfortunately, the St. Francis dam collapsed in 1928, killing approximately 600 people. (In Chinatown, the depressed water engineer Hollis Mulwray is vaguely based on Mulholland post-St. Francis dam disaster.)

So, in the 1930s, Los Angeles went back and pushed a huge amount of dirt in front of the Hollywood version of the dam to keep from losing Hollywood. I hadn't realized how tall the dam is under all the dirt until seeing this photo of the safety project from a 1934 Popular Science:

So, I don't know. Maybe we have good reasons for doing things more slowly now?

"Why Does the NSA Want to Keep Its Water Usage a Secret?"

From Wired:
Why Does the NSA Want to Keep Its Water Usage a Secret? 

Utah Data Center: Note these
are multistory buildings
The answer is not too easy but also not too hard to guess, so take a moment to come up with your answer.
BY ROBERT MCMILLAN    03.19.146:30 AM 
The National Security Agency has many secrets, but here’s a new one: the agency is refusing to say how much water it’s pumping into the brand new data center it operates in Bluffdale, Utah. According to the NSA, its water usage is a matter of national security. 
The agency made the argument in a letter sent to officials in Utah, who are considering whether or not to release the data to the Salt Lake Tribune. Back in May, Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle asked for local records relating to the data center, but when he got his files a few months later, the water usage data was redacted. 
The situation shows just how important the new data center will be to the agency’s operations, including its widely discussed efforts to eavesdrop on internet communication. If it revealed how much water it’s using in Bluffdale, the agency believes, outsiders could get a good idea of the scope of NSA surveillance. 
“By computing the water usage rate, one could ultimately determine the computing power and capabilities of the Utah Data Center,” wrote the NSA’s associate director for policy and records, David Sherman, in an undated letter filed with Bluffdale in response to the Tribune’s public records request. “Armed with this information, one could then deduce how much intelligence NSA is collecting and maintaining.” 
The reality is that Sherman’s argument requires a pretty big leap of logic. Data center engineers can get rough ideas of compute power based on how much power a building consumes, but figuring this out on water is another matter. Some data centers, like Facebook’s facility in Prineville, Oregon, use custom-made swamp coolers to mist the air and cool down servers. Others push hot air into evaporative cooling towers, which are kept cold by running water. 
“There are many different ways to cool a data center,” says Jonathan Koomey, a research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University. “Without knowing more about the actual facility then I don’t think anyone’s going to give you solid [computing capability] numbers.” ...
Early planning documents estimated that the NSA’s data center, which opened last year, would guzzle about 1.7 million gallons of water per day. That number was revised downward to 1.2 million gallons — made available at a discounted rate — according to other local documents uncovered by the Tribune. NSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

"The Silicon Valley wage suppression conspiracy"

The Silicon Valley wage suppression conspiracy 
by Tyler Cowen  
Many readers have asked me what I think of the email chain which shows evidence that Silicon Valley firms conspired to hold wages down, by refusing to engage in competitive bidding for workers’ services. 
I would suggest caution in interpreting this event.  For one thing, we don’t know how effective this monopsonistic cartel turned out to be.  We do know that wages for successful employees in this sector are high and rising.  Many a collusive agreement has fallen apart once one or two firms decide to break ranks, as they usually do.  Without legal enforcement, or without an NCAA-like clearinghouse enforcement structure (also backed by the law), it is hard to find examples of persistently successful monopsonistic labor-buying cartels.

Tyler is an economics professor, and I took Econ 323 in 1979 in which I learned that the cutting edge among economists was that collusion and cartel behavior aren't really much of a problem in the modern economy. So, we know that.

Too bad Steve Jobs was just a college dropout and didn't have a chance to learn that too. If poor Steve had read enough contemporary econ textbooks, he'd have known that he, Eric Schmidt, Michael Dell (another college dropout, let me note), Meg Whitman and so forth were just wasting their time by conspiring against their employees. Think how much richer they'd be if they only understood modern econ thought.

Another thing is you've got to feel for the techlords because of how disruptive it is to their big projects when their frenemies lure away key employees by offering them more money. It's like how Richard Sherman changed teams on the morning of this year's Super Bowl for a doubling of his weekly wages, leaving Seattle without a good cornerback, so Peyton Manning threw for 500 yards.

Oh, wait, NFL teams negotiate contracts with their key employees so that doesn't actually happen. Some observers think tech firms could try that too, but those people are communists.
... A second point is this.  Let’s say you knew that when you took a job at Apple or Google that no other Silicon Valley firm would bid you away.  You don’t need to have explicit knowledge of the workings of the cartel, rather you simply observe that other people in your general position seem to stay put rather than receiving fantastic outside offers.  Given that you have outside alternatives, you would demand, and receive, higher wages in the first place for moving to one of those firms.  This actually would increase wage compression and limit inequality, albeit while decreasing efficiency.  

If you want to limit inequality, you got to divert that extra $500 per week from the pockets of overpaid software engineers and into the pockets of Brin, Page, and Schmidt.

Todashev shooting: FBI maintains 71 out of 71 hot streak in killing only folks who had it coming

Remember Ibragim Todashev, the Chechen friend of older Boston Bomb Brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who supposedly was confessing to helping Tamerlan in the ritualistic murder of three Waltham, MA dope dealers on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when he suddenly attacked an FBI man and was shot dead?

The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ has issues its report on the shooting, and what do you know, the feds have determined, for at the least the 71st consecutive FBI shooting, that the FBI done good.

Todashev was the son of an important government official in Chechnya, who is two steps down the org chart from Ramzan Kadyrov and thus only three down from Vladimir Putin. Yet, young Todashev managed to obtain refugee status in America, even though he told his dad he wasn't coming here because he feared violence at home but because America has better gyms for training to become an MMA fighter.

Of course, nobody will issue a report on how in the world Todashev got asylum.

Interesting bits from the DOJ report:
Todashev had an arrest record for assaultive behavior. In 2010, he was arrested in Boston for disorderly person and resisting arrest. In 2012, Todashev was accused of assaulting another man in an Osceola County, Florida bar. On May 4, 2013, he was arrested in Orlando for aggravated battery. In this latter incident, Todashev allegedly fought two men, knocking one unconscious. The Massachusetts Investigative Team was aware of Todashev’s arrests for assaultive conduct, knew from his gym associates that he was known as a tenacious martial arts fighter, had viewed the YouTube postings of his mixed martial arts competitions, and strongly suspected his involvement in the brutal 2011 triple homicide.

Is it too much to ask that the feds also check out arrest records and Youtube videos of guys claiming to be terrified refugees? The pattern I've noticed is that successful asylum seekers these days seem to be disproportionately connected to the power structure in their home country. They are often the folks with the money and bureaucratic expertise to construct sad stories to win residency in the U.S.

Now, you could argue that poor Todashev's life was in some danger in Chechnya because Kadyrov might eventually be overthrown in a Third War of Chechen independence, and then the relatives of all the victims of Kadyrov's and Putin's bully boys will come after the relatives of their former oppressors. But, still ...
... While there are audio/video recordings of the interview of Todashev earlier that evening, there are no recordings of the shooting. ... 

The interviewer who was recording the interview on his cell phone switched to looking at his text messages.
In response to continuing questioning, [Todashev] hesitantly, but indisputably, admitted complicity in the murders. The verbal confession was recorded on the troopers’ recording devices. ... 

And supposedly the last sentence of his partially handwritten confession admitted guilt just before he ran amok. But we're not allowed to see that yet:
Because the investigation of the triple murder continues, the Middlesex County, Massachusetts District Attorney has requested that the details provided in Todashev’s confession not be made public at this time. ... 
According to both the Agent and the Assisting Trooper, Todashev refused to comply with commands to show his hands. The Assisting Trooper saw Todashev grab a metal utility pole from the corner next to the front door. While the Assisting Trooper attempted unsuccessfully to draw his handgun, Todashev raised the pole over his head, holding it with both hands in “a trained fighting position” as he charged at the Assisting Trooper. The Assisting Trooper raised his arms up in front of his face to block an impending blow. According to the Assisting Trooper, he expected to be “impaled” by the pole. 
The Assisting Trooper heard a volley of gunfire from his right. He saw the gunfire strike Todashev and Todashev fall to, or partially to, the floor, then quickly regain his footing and lunge toward the Assisting Trooper. The Assisting Trooper estimated that Todashev’s body was coming back at them at a 45 degree angle from the floor. He heard a second volley of gunfire. The Assisting Trooper saw the impact of the bullets twist Todashev’s body back and forth. He thought he heard three or four shots in each volley. The Assisting Trooper further declared that, had he been able to draw his handgun in time, he “absolutely” would have shot Todashev because the Assisting Trooper feared for his own life. ... 
Todashev suffered gunshot wounds from seven bullets.

So, Todashev was hit three times in the first volley, but he still got up and was coming at the FBI shooter when four more bullets put him down for good.

Whatever else you want to say about him, he died like a true Chechen.

March 24, 2014

Tony Benn, RIP

The lion of the left of the British Labour party, Tony Benn (a.k.a., Anthony Wedgewood-Benn, a.k.a., Viscount Stansgate) recently died. In this video, he tries to answer the question: "Does the welfare not just encourage young girls to go out and get jiggy with Mr Biggy?"

NYT: "When a Man Loves a Woman … It’s Diversity!"

Jesse Wegman of the New York Times editorial board scoffs at the idea that heterosexual marriage represents Diversity:
When a Man Loves a Woman … It’s Diversity! 
As opponents of marriage equality continue to lose in courts and legislatures around the country, they have trotted out a remarkable array of bizarre arguments. ... but special notice is due the response from Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, after a federal judge struck down that state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage on Friday.
“In 2004 the citizens of Michigan recognized that diversity in parenting is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable,” Mr. Schuette said in a press release minutes after District Judge Bernard A. Friedman issued his ruling. ... 
But what is this “diversity in parenting”? It appears that “diversity” here means two parents of the opposite sex, and not, say, a white parent and a black parent, or a Jewish parent and a Hindu parent. 

Everybody knows "hetero" means homogenous, plain vanilla, white bread.
That children do better with a mother and a father is not a new argument. But perhaps because there is no evidence that it is actually true, marriage-equality opponents have realized they need to engage in a little creative repackaging — and even though “diversity” tends to be a buzzword for the left, it has such a nice ring to it. 
The term  has been used at least once before, in a brief filed in January by Utah’s attorney general, Sean Reyes, in litigation over that state’s (also-overturned, also-stayed) ban on same-sex marriage. 
In that brief, Utah argued that “the combination of male and female parents is likely to draw from the strengths of both genders in ways that cannot occur with any combination of two men or two women, and that this gendered, mother-father parenting model provides important benefits to children.” 
Which brings us to the wonders of diversity. 
“Society has long recognized that diversity in education brings a host of benefits to students. If that is true in education, why not in parenting? At a minimum, the State and its people could rationally conclude that gender diversity — i.e., complementarity — in parenting is likely to be beneficial to children.” 
Not simply diversity, then, but “complementarity” — a double dose of diversionary discourse.

Well, I never ... How dare White Male Republicans try to steal our word diversity to refer to marriage between the opposite sexes!

Diversity doesn't mean "diversity," it means who is good and who is bad. The bad people can't appeal to some technical mumbo-jumbo about what the word actually means. When we use a word, it means just what we choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

The question is, which is to be master — that's all.

Michael Vick

Michael Vick, who has long been the ultimate in NFL black athlete quarterbacks -- an incredibly fast runner with a strong arm -- has gotten another $5 million contract to play back up for the NY Jets, a half decade after he served 18 months in prison for running a dog fighting ring on his property.

I've always thought Vick was a sort of symbolic sacrificial victim for white America's discomfort with its black athletic heroes. In Vick's rather backward Southern rural culture, dogfighting was considered sporting and glamorous, just as bullfighting in Spain seemed sporting and glamorous to Hemingway 90 years ago. So Vick saw himself not as some evil person, but as a sportsman take a sporting interest in the sport of dogfighting.

The real reasons whites have for resenting black football players all sound like racist stereotypes -- their lack of preparation for being college students, their high rates of sexual assault on white coeds, their tendency to beat up nerds, their unfortunate rates of sticky fingers around other students' electronic entertainment devices, and so forth -- so those are largely unmentionable in polite society. For whites to get furiously mad at a black jock over dogfighting, however, doesn't sound racist, so a lot of white anger at black athletes in general was focused upon Vick.

The Class War in Silicon Valley

Mark Ames writes in PandoDaily:
Revealed: Apple and Google’s wage-fixing cartel involved dozens more companies, over one million employees

The prime mover according to a trove of Google emails appears to have been the late St. Steve of Apple, but the number of firms that got hands-off treatment from recruiters was absurdly large, such as Nike and JCrew (common board members). I particularly liked this email from Eric Schmidt of Google:
“I would prefer that Omid do it verbally since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later? Not sure about this.. thanks Eric”
Here's another one:
From: Eric Schmidt
Sent: Wednesday, September 7, 2005 10:52 PM
Subject: Phone call from Meg Whitman 
Meg called to talk about our hiring practices. Here is what she said: 
1. Google is the talk of the valley because we are driving up salaries across the board. People are just waiting for us to fall and get back at us for our “unfair” practices now. 
2. Our recruiting practices are “zero sum” and it appears that somewhere in Google we are targeting EBay to “hurt them” and its the reputation that we are doing this against Yahoo, EBay and MSFT (I denied this.)

If you don't have a job offer from another company, it's hard to get a double digit raise. You'll keep puttering along getting 3% raises year after year unless you have an offer from another firm. So this kind of cheating has sizable impact on the lifetime earnings of employees.

Baby Boomers' Wikipedia Pages

As a native California Baby Boomer with a Wikipedia page (much improved in recent years: thanks to whomever is fighting the good fight; by the way, please note this), this map of the density of Wikipedia pages by births during the 1946-1964 Baby Boom seems plausible to me, although others seem to have methodological quibbles. Such as: what does having a Wikipedia page really mean? For example, I'm a good example of the paradoxes of having a Wikipedia page. I'm not terribly successful or notable, and I'm famous only in the post-Warholian sense that in the future everybody will be famous to 15,000 people. 

But, I do have a Wikipedia page, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes:
Roughly one in 1,209 baby boomers born in California reached Wikipedia. Only one in 4,496 baby boomers born in West Virginia did. Roughly one in 748 baby boomers born in Suffolk County, Mass., which contains Boston, made it to Wikipedia. In some counties, the success rate was 20 times lower.

Baby Boom California was a place with fair amount of talent and a whole lot of opportunity. Consider that 30% of Wikipedia bios are devoted to entertainment figures (e.g., every single one of the nearly 20 movie technicians per year to be nominated for a Best Sound Oscar gets a Wikipedia page; in contrast, nominees in West Virginia for Coal Miner of the Year don't get as much Wikipedia attention). Another 29% goes to athletes, so it's hardly surprising that being born in California, with its huge entertainment industry and its big advantages in sports facilities and year-round play back during the Baby Boom, did well. 
First, and this surprised me, many of these counties consisted largely of a sizable college town. Just about every time I saw a county that I had not heard of near the top of the list, like Washtenaw, Mich., I found out that it was dominated by a classic college town, in this case Ann Arbor, Mich. The counties graced by Madison, Wis.; Athens, Ga.; Columbia, Mo.; Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Gainesville, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; and Ithaca, N.Y., are all in the top 3 percent.

Sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson often mentions the important role of college towns in producing high achieving people like himself. He's a classic WASP College Town-American.
Why is this? Some of it is probably the gene pool: Sons and daughters of professors and graduate students tend to be smart. And, indeed, having more college graduates in an area is a strong predictor of the success of the people born there. 
But there is most likely something more going on: early exposure to innovation. One of the fields where college towns are most successful in producing top dogs is music. A kid in a college town will be exposed to unique concerts, unusual radio stations and even record stores. 

When I was in Houston to attend Rice U. in the late 1970s, it was universally acknowledged that Austin, an oversized college town, was much better for popular music than Houston. Heck, I was rock guru at Rice just because I'd go home to L.A., listen to KROQ, then come back and tell people that The Pretenders were going to be big.

Among Baby Boomers, musical talent wasn't that crucial to becoming a rock star -- being in the right place at the right time was important. (I suspect rock bands today tend to be more skilled than in my day -- they have to work harder to make it big because music is less driven by the search for the Next Big Thing.)
College towns also incubate more than their expected share of notable businesspeople.

Tom Wolfe's 1983 profile of Robert Noyce, "the mayor of Silicon Valley," emphasized that he was the son of the Congregationalist chaplin of Grinnell College in Iowa. Wolfe saw in Silicon Valley a sort of Midwestern college town low church Protestant work ethic in contrast to the high church Ivy League Episcopalianism of New York City.
Being born in San Francisco County, New York City or Los Angeles County all offered among the highest probabilities of making it to Wikipedia. (I grouped New York City’s five counties together because many Wikipedia entries did not specify a borough of birth.) 
Urban areas tend to be well supplied with models of success. To see the value of being near successful practitioners of a craft when young, compare New York City, Boston and Los Angeles. Among the three, New York City produces notable journalists at the highest rate; Boston produces notable scientists at the highest rate; and Los Angeles produces notable actors at the highest rate. Remember, we are talking about people who were born there, not people who moved there. And this holds true even after subtracting people with notable parents in that field. ...
Suburban counties, unless they contained major college towns, performed far worse than their city counterparts. My parents, like many boomers, moved away from crowded sidewalks to tree-shaded streets — in this case from Manhattan to Bergen County, N.J. — to raise their three children. This was potentially a mistake, at least from the perspective of having notable children. A kid born in New York City is 80 percent more likely to make it to Wikipedia than a kid born in Bergen County. These are just correlations. But they do suggest that growing up near ideas is better than growing up near backyards.
The stark effects identified here might be even stronger if I had better data on places lived throughout childhood, since many people grow up in different counties than the one they were born in. 

I suspect his anti-suburban finding is just about 180 degrees backward.

I suspect this is something an artifact of the researcher focusing upon county of birth during the years 1946-1964. I wouldn't be surprised if lots of Baby Boomers with Wikipedia pages were born in New York City, but then graduated from Bergen County high schools as part of white flight. The population of Bergen County more than doubled from 1940 to 1970, much of that growth coming from upwardly mobile Jews fleeing the five boroughs.

For example, the Zuckerberg family is a near perfect model of four generations of upward mobility, from peddler to postman to dentist to Facebook. The billionaire's father, a highly successful dentist, was born in Brooklyn. The tech entrepreneur was himself born in suburban Westchester County, but that hasn't seem to hurt his career.

Moreover, outside of New York, many counties that are home to big cities include areas that were highly suburban during the Baby Boom. For example, Cook County, IL, which was the most populous county in the U.S. until overtaken Los Angeles County midway during the Baby Boom, includes high-achieving North Shore suburbs such as Wilmette and Northwest suburbs like Northbrook and Barrington. New Trier High School in Winnetka has long been a famous suburban source of movie stars, such as Ralph Bellamy, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Ann-Margaret, and Bruce Dern. But it is in Cook County, so it shows up as urban in this study.

What are now considered Chicago's suburban counties such as DuPage, Kane, and McHenry Counties were, during the Baby Boom, more populated by rural and small town dwellers.
there was another variable that was a strong predictor of Wikipedia entrants per birth: the proportion of immigrants. The greater the percentage of foreign-born residents in an area, the higher the proportion of people born there achieving something notable. If two places have similar urban and college populations, the one with more immigrants will produce more notable Americans. What explains this?

Immigrants go where the money is: e.g., California rather than West Virginia. Los Angeles County has lots of celebrities and lots of immigrant servants who clean up after the celebrities, but over the generations there has been remarkably little overlap between the offspring of the two groups. The number of children of Mexicans in the L.A. entertainment industry, for example, is remarkably low. The last time I checked, the last person of Mexican descent raised in the U.S. to be nominated for an Oscar was in the 1980s. There's such a shortage that I've seen the press try to pass off as kind of Mexican the Weitz Brothers (sons of fashion designer, race car driver, and historian John Weitz).

The notion that immigrants are attracted to where the money is seems to be hard for analysts to grasp. West Virginia increasingly tends to be populated by leftover people who don't have the drive to leave tapped out coal mining towns. West Virginia isn't poor because it doesn't have many immigrants, it doesn't have many immigrants because it's poor.

Similarly, before immigration, California used to have some rich people and a very large middle class. Now it has a lot of extremely rich people, a lot of quite poor people, and a shrunken middle class.
A LOT of it seems to be directly attributable to the children of immigrants. I did an exhaustive search of the biographies of the 100 most famous white baby boomers, according to M.I.T.’s Pantheon project. Most of these were entertainers. At least 13 had foreign-born mothers, including Oliver Stone, Sandra Bullock and Julianne Moore. This rate is more than three times higher than the national average during this period. 

Stone, Bullock, and Moore are all offspring of American Army guys. Stone's mother was a French war bride, Moore's father was a colonel who married a girl from Scotland, and Bullock's dad was an opera-loving soldier (or civilian employee of the Army?) from Alabama who married a German singer. That seems pretty idiosyncratic.

March 23, 2014

A Man, a Plan, an Underfunded Pension Liability, Puerto Rico!

In Taki's Magazine, John Derbyshire asks:
How Can We Get Rid of Puerto Rico?

Wouldn't it be great horrible if Putin were to fund the Puerto Rican nationalist movement? It would be a real stroke of luck strategic setback for the United States if an independent Puerto Rico became Russia's fiscal black hole ally.

Language as a boobytrap

We generally think that the purpose of words is to communicate ideas; thus words should be relatively stable to maximize comprehension across the broadest number of people. Of course, many people prefer to use words as fad items for purposes of status marking so that they can sneer at those who aren't up to date. Eventually, this facilitates demonizing and punishing those who aren't with it.

From the New York Times:
To most ears, it probably sounds inoffensive. A little outdated and clinical, perhaps, but innocuous enough: homosexual. 
But that five-syllable word has never been more loaded, more deliberately used and, to the ears of many gays and lesbians, more pejorative. 
“ ‘Homosexual’ has the ring of ‘colored’ now, in the way your grandmother might have used that term, except that it hasn’t been recuperated in the same way,” said George Chauncey, a Yale professor of history and an author who studies gay and lesbian culture. 
Consider the following phrases: homosexual community, homosexual activist, homosexual marriage. Substitute the word “gay” in any of those cases, and the terms suddenly become far less loaded, so that the ring of disapproval and judgment evaporates. 
Some gay rights advocates have declared the term off limits. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or Glaad, has put “homosexual” on its list of offensive terms and in 2006 persuaded The Associated Press, whose stylebook is the widely used by many news organizations, to restrict use of the word.

One not completely obvious bug with jettisoning "homosexual" for "gay" is that "homosexual" fairly covers both "gay" and "lesbian." In other words, "homosexual" is non-sexist while "gay" is clearly male-dominated. As a lesbian leader pointed out once, "We're not gay, we're angry!"

But the sexism of gay is not really a bug, it's a feature. After a number of years of persecuting older individuals for saying "homosexual" instead of "gay," then the persecutions can begin of people for saying "gay" instead of "lesbian and gay." And then the bisexuals and trans will have their turn persecuting the losers who say "lesbian and gay." And then the different flavors of trans will get to persecute those who aren't paying adequate attention to their immensely important differences, and so forth ad infinitum.