April 12, 2014

Great moments in marketing research: WaMu's focus groups

From the 2011 book Lost Bank by Kirsten Grind about Washington Mutual, which collapsed spectacularly in 2008: In mid-2003, a market researcher named Kevin Jenne is sent to Orange County and Illinois to conduct focus groups on WaMu customers who had recently acquired Option Adjustable Rate Mortgages. These allowed borrowers to choose anything from 15 year fixed repayment to letting them pay only 1% interest for five years while the principal "negatively amortized" (and then the hammer would come down around 2008 when the interest rate reset to the current index and the principal left to be paid off was larger than when they started). Jenne's assignment was to study these Option ARM borrowers to learn how to persuade more people to get Option ARM mortgages.
The 31 people who attended the dual sessions had two things in common: all of them held Option ARM loans, and few, if any understood what that meant.  
Jenne listened patiently, as, over and over again, the borrowers described what they believed to be their loan terms. They had gleaned startlingly few details about their loans from the mortgage broker or the WaMu loan consultant who had helped them through the process. Most of them knew they held adjustable-rate loans. They also thought the loan was cheaper than a regular mortgage, because they didn't have to pay as much each month. Approval hadn't been a hassle, the customers said -- WaMu had required little paperwork or income documentation. That's where their knowledge stopped. "From their perspective, it was a low payment loan, and that's all it was," Jenne said. "No one understood the option thing." 
Some of the borrowers in the focus groups were first-time homebuyers, still awed by their new ability to capture the American Dream. Recently, President George W. Bush had announced plans to increase minority homeownership by 5.5 million people, piggybacking on the goals of his predecessor, President Bill Clinton. "We want people owning something in America," Bush declared at an expo in New Mexico. "That's what we want. The great dream about America is, I can own my own home, people say."

In reading Bush's minority mortgage speeches denouncing redlining, downpayment requirements, and onerous paperwork requirements such as pay stubs, a recurrent phenomenon is Bush's Yoda-like reverse syntax. Did Bush always sound like this, or just on the topic of minority mortgages?
The focus group borrowers, some of them members of minorities, were effusive about their buying power. "They had been told by so many people that they couldn't afford one," Jenne said. Now they could. 

According to the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act database that exists to make sure minorities get enough loans, over half of the dollars lent in Orange County in 2003 by Washington Mutual's subsidiary Long Beach Mortgage went to Hispanics.
Few of them understood what negative amortization meant, or that it could make their debt grow in the long run. ...  
Half an hour into the first session with borrowers in Orange County, Jenne could tell that quizzing these people on their loan terms was futile -- they didn't know their loan terms. He got up, excused himself, and left the room. ... Jenne walked into another room at the sterile interrogation facility, behind a two-way mirror, where two mortgage production employees from the Home Loans Group had been observing the discussion. ... "I don't think we're asking the right questions," Jenne told them. The questions he had put together seemed useless. But the mortgage employees disagreed. They wanted him to ask about indexing, even though the customers barely understood interest rates. "Find out what the index means to them," they instructed Jenne. 
... He asked the group of borrowers: "How does your interest rate change?" 
No one responded. 
"It changes, right?" Jenne probed. 
The borrowers looked around the table at one another. Finally one said, "Yeah, it changes." 
"I think it's indexed," offered one woman. 
"Yeah, yeah, indexed!" agreed another. They had answered a question correctly! 
"Well, what's it indexed to?" Jenne asked. 
Another long awkward pause ensued. 
"My loan is indexed to the Nikkei," proclaimed one borrower. 
Another long, awkward pause ensued. 
"Your mortgage is based on the Japanese stock market?!" Jenne thought to himself. "Of course I didn't say that, he said later. "But I'm going, 'Oh, my heavens.'" Strangely, in another focus group, in Illinois, another borrower also believed his loan was indexed to the Nikkei. Jenned never discovered where borrowers had received that information. "I don't think they were being told this by someone," said Jenne. "I think that the only index they had heard of, like on TV or something, was the Nikkei. It was just bizarre.
The borrowers did seem worried about the loan terms. One of them said, "It's really scary to me what's going to happen in five years." Another echoed the same sense of foreboding with a slightly more compressed time frame. "Something terrible happens in three years." Said a third borrower: "I'm a little nervous about it. I have this feeling of impending doom. It's almost too good to be true."
On the other hand, the borrowers seemed comfortable in their ignorance. "Despite their lack of understanding, participants were almost universally happy with their loan choice," the report noted. ...
The Home Loans Group wanted Jenne to recommend ways to market the Option ARM. So, Jenne and his team noted in their follow-up report that the best way to off-load the product onto customers was to tell them little about it. That avoided the problem of complicated loan terms and words that no one understood. "Focusing on the right 'need to know' information is critical to developing more Option ARM sales. Participants seemed easily overwhelmed by the product details," the report concluded.
... Jenne came to believe that the Option ARM wasn't just a bad idea -- it might be evil. "After awhile, I lost that feeling," Jenne said. "Then I came back to it later on. And then I thought, 'No, no, this product is definitely evil.'" 
Whether or not [CEO] Kerry Killinger saw Jenne's research on America's hot new mortgage product -- and it's likely that he didn't se it -- WaMu doubled its annual Option ARM production to $68 billion in one year. By early 2005, WaMu promoted its loan as its "signature mortgage." It made up more than 25% of all the mortgages WaMu made or purchased.

A few observations:

The vast Mexican surge into places like Orange County over the last few generations represented basically Fresh Meat to exploit for Newport Beach MBAs with spreadsheets. When you hear the Donor Class of the GOP talking about the need for "immigration reform," that's what they mean: more Fresh Meat.

These dialogues capture quite well the happy-go-lucky agreeableness combined with an aversion to hard mental effort that are a trademark of Mexican-Americans in Southern California (and perhaps elsewhere). When Michael Barone talks about Mexicans as the New Italians, he misses a key distinction: Italian-Americans tend to be suspicious and pessimistic. They put a lot of cognitive effort into trying to understand why this too good to be true offer is too good to be true. They save a lot because they expect the worst.

Mexican-Americans tend to spend a lot because they expect the worst, but it would also be too much work to figure out what might happen, so why not have a good time now?

April 11, 2014

Volunteer Auxiliary Thought Policeperson reporting for snitch duty

Yesterday in "Who, Whom, Humor," I mentioned an NYT article about a sophomoric commuter college humor newspaper written by sophomores, the San Diego State Koala. Here's the "most recommended" of the Reader's Pick comments:
Liz    Chicago Yesterday 
The fact that the writers of the Koala will not print their own names on the byline suggests that all involved with the publication realize that the articles are sufficiently offensive that they might negatively affect future job prospects. If people wish to limit the scope of the Koala a simple strategy would be to provide the social feedback that the writers fear: set up a webpage linking their names to the articles. Free speech is protected by the Constitution, as it should be. Anonymity is not. 
105 Recommend

I really think we need some in-depth research into what kind of person wants to ruin the lifelong careers of teenagers by making sure their Permanent Records highlight any and all youthful indiscretions against the current and future rules of political correctness.

Were there always huge numbers of people like this out there before social media came along? Or does the new digital technology excite them and exacerbate their worse tendencies? Did the Obama 2012 campaign intentionally encourage them? 

It would be a pretty easy experiment for psych professors to survey students to see who thinks it's a great idea to join the Volunteer Auxiliary Thought Police. What are their demographics? Why are they so hate-filled toward people who get more fun out of life?

The Clash's 1979 song "Clampdown" gives us a pretty persuasive picture of the kind of guy who would bully political dissidents for a paycheck, a cool uniform, and the enjoyment of humiliating somebody face to face:
They put up a poster saying we earn more than you!
When we're working for the clampdown ...
You grow up and you calm down
You're working for the clampdown
You start wearing the blue and brown
You're working for the clampdown
So you got someone to boss around
It makes you feel big now
You drift until you brutalize
You made your first kill now

But the Liz in Chicago types have somewhat different motivations. They deserve careful study. 

Charles Murray's advice book is out

At Amazon:
The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life

Stereotype unshattering

Two articles today on two very different kinds of men who take an interest in youths:

In "Meet the Bag Man," SBNation, Steven Godfrey has a long interview with a minor "bag man" for a South Eastern Conference football program. He's part of the deep state aspect of successful college football teams -- boosters, typically small to medium-sized businessmen like car dealers, who don't care about the public attention the big time boosters care about like getting their name engraved on the new weight room. Instead, he and his friends are each happy to hand out $7,000 to $15,000 annually in cash or used cars to their school's recruit targets and current players. 
If you're stinking, filthy rich, a good athletic director or university fundraiser has already contacted you for above-board donations, and you likely won't get into the business of paying players. It's the guys with just about 10 or 15 grand to burn annually and don't aspire for ego-stroking that usually become bag men.
"I think it took me seven years. I knew some guys. They knew some older guys. And before, I really didn't believe any of this happened. Then I start coming around different events, parties, tailgates. After a while one guy says, 'Oh hey, I know him. It's okay, he loves the [team],' and starts talking who needed to get what. And so I was a part of it. I wanted to be." 
Once properly vetted, your money usually buys you first or secondhand access to information most fans (or journalists) would kill for: player run-ins with the law that go unreported, what certain coaches are really like, what kind of power an A.D. or president really has, and most importantly, who really is in charge of your football program.

These kind of shadowy networks of local guys help explain why college football doesn't seem just like hired gladiators -- State U.'s football team is supported by a vast network of boosters, some public, some covert, who find ways to make the mothers of high school stars loyal. It's a test of the community. Football is a war game and lot of guys who are too old to be on the front lines still like to be part of the resource-gathering for the wars and to earn some degree of right to be part of the strategy conversation.

In The New York Times, in contrast, a story on some middle-aged to elderly ascot-wearing European men who live in Tangier, Morocco in lavishly decorated villas: "The Aesthetes" by Andrew O'Hagan. 
For the legendary expats of Tangier, a life devoted to beauty reaches full flower in this North African hothouse of history and hedonism.

The article never quite gets around to mentioning that one crucial attraction of North Africa for a certain type of expat are the cheap boy prostitutes.
Extremely rarely, you hear of an individual who shares some of the tastes of the SEC bag men and some of the tastes of the Tangier aesthetes, and it becomes the biggest story in the history of the world for awhile, but might I suggest that Jerry Sandusky is what you can roughly call the exception who proves the rule?

Ann Coulter on Sheldon Adelson

Ann Coulter writes:
by Ann Coulter 
Between having Republican presidential candidates fly to Las Vegas to kiss his ring, billionaire Sheldon Adelson has managed to fit in time to talk Sen. Lindsey Graham into sponsoring a bill banning Internet gambling. 
As you may know, Sheldon Adelson is a CASINO OWNER. Internet gambling would compete with his casino business. 
On the other hand, when it comes to the services Adelson isn’t selling, but buying – low-skilled workers – he’s for unbridled competition, preferring not to limit the supply even to people who are legally in the United States. (Weirdly, so is Lindsey Graham!) 
Adelson is a big backer of amnesty, telling the Wall Street Journal: “It would be inhumane to send those people back, to send 12 million people out of this country. … So we’ve got to find a way, find a route for those people to get legal citizenship.” 
As Milton Friedman said, “With some notable exceptions, businessmen favor free enterprise in general but are opposed to it when it comes to themselves.” 
Adelson is an especially telling example of the self-interest of businessmen on immigration. His newspaper, Israel Today, the largest newspaper in Israel, is wildly patriotic on immigration (and everything else). 
Israel Today has trumpeted the success of the 15-foot razor-wire fence along Israel’s 140-mile border with Egypt, triumphantly noting last August that, for the first time, “no infiltrations were recorded from the Egyptian border, compared to 193 from the same month last year.” 
Adelson himself had suggested just such a policy to the Los Angeles Times last year, saying he wanted to “Put a big fence around our country.”

By “our country,” he, of course, meant Israel. In America, he wants illegal immigrants pouring across the border to provide him with an endless supply of cheap labor. 
Recently, Israel has been “rounding up” African refugees, giving them $3,500 and plane tickets to Uganda, to encourage them to “self-deport.” Welcome to El Al Airlines. We’re about to begin pre-boarding for Flight 259, offering non-stop, one-way service to Kampala, Uganda. At this time we’d like to invite our premium-plus illegal immigrants to board. 
Wait! I thought we couldn’t “round up” any illegal immigrants! I thought “self-deportation” was a laughable idea! 
In general, Israel has done well for itself as it has increasingly moved in a nationalist direction.

Interview with Gregory Clark

Here's an interview with Gregory Clark in The Prospect (U.K.) by Jonathan (not John) Derbyshire:

By the way, John Derbyshire pointed out in the comments that Americans think Derbyshire must be a classy surname, but in England it's bog common.

It would be interesting to make up a list of surnames that are well-known in England but rare in America.
... In his new book “The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility“, Clark argues that conventional ways of measuring social mobility between generations have prevented us from seeing that it has always been much slower than we tend (or like) to think. In the standard picture, mobility rates are also held to vary dramatically across societies, with more unequal societies, like the US or UK, having notably slower rates than, say, the Nordic countries. 
Clark’s research tells a rather different story. This is because, rather than tracking changes over two or three generations, as most conventional studies do, he tracks status over centuries using surnames as his guide.  
His conclusions are chastening: “Underlying or overall social mobility rates are much lower than those typically estimated by sociologists or economists. The intergenerational correlation in all the societies for which we construct surname estimated… is between 0.7 and 0.9, much higher than conventionally estimated. Social status is inherited as strongly as any biological trait, such as height.” The political implications of that are unsettling, to say the least. 
I spoke to Clark when he visited London last week. 
JD: In your account, then, there was no “Golden Age” of social mobility? 
GC: Right. One of the things that will make this book controversial is that it’s claiming that all the standard methods for measuring social mobility in fact miss the mark, and are likely to find differences in social mobility across societies and time periods that are in fact just spurious. People look at income correlations across generations and extrapolate from that. What this book says is that although there’s a lot of random fluctuation in terms of people’s income or occupation, there’s a much greater underlying persistence. And only by looking at things like surnames do you see that feature. 
Q. If the standard ways of measuring social mobility are faulty, how do you measure it? 
A. If you look at England, for example, what we measure is whether you were at Oxford or Cambridge; how long you live, which is another good indicator of social status; occupational status; are you a member of parliament? Now one of the interesting findings here is that it doesn’t really matter which measure you use. For the families we’re looking at, all these things are actually highly correlated. The wealthy at any time are also the educated, members of parliament, those who live long. What the book shows is that there’s an underlying physics of social mobility which all of our political efforts seem to have no effect upon. And the startling conclusion is that we may never be able to change social mobility rates. 
Q. That sounds like a counsel of despair. 
A. No doubt people will read this as a gloomy book. But the title, The Son Also Rises, was deliberately chosen to emphasise that there are some very positive elements in it. One of the things it emphasises is that the current data, which finds rapid social mobility in Sweden and slower social mobility in Britain and the US, and slower mobility still in South America, seems to suggest that you have massive social failures going on in a bunch of societies. The book finds no evidence of these failures because it finds very similar social mobility rates everywhere. Another implication is that if even in meritocratic Sweden you get very slow mobility, then it must be based largely on people’s abilities, aptitudes and drive. All that we’re discovering here is that we’re living in a surprisingly fair world—one in which, at birth, we could predict a surprising amount about your prospects. Is that a gloomy fact about the world? 
Q. I suppose it depends what you mean by fairness! Is the UK experience as far as social mobility is concerned similar to the US one? 
A. In terms of the estimates in the book, they look identical. One of the things the book is emphasising is that in a society like the US, there’s a lot more private expenditure by people on education than in a society like Sweden, where it’s mostly provided by the state. So you’d expect, on normal accounts of social mobility, that the US would be a more rigid society with slower rates of mobility. But we don’t see any sign of that. So my interpretation here is that whatever educational system you set up, however fair and however open-access it is, there are just families that are better equipped to figure out what they need to do in the system, how you get ahead. And it’s impossible to stop those processes. 
Q. Well, impossible unless you introduce highly illiberal legislation for which there’s probably little popular appetite. 
A. Right. There are extreme cases like India where they say, “We’re reserving a quarter of all places at university for people who the British happen to have assigned to the various scheduled castes.” Though it turns that, in India, that most of the former “untouchables” don’t benefit from [the policy]. It’s people who were misclassified and are relatively middle-class who are able to take advantage. The surprising finding is that however you construct a social system, it’s still going to be highly predictable that from three or four generations ago elite families are still be found heavily among the elite. 
Q. So when President Obama said that social mobility had “stalled” he was making a mistake? 
A. Because America is such an unequal society there has been more emphasis on the possibilities of social mobility. How else are you going to justify the incredible inequalities in the US? So it’s going to be very unwelcome news for people in the States that there really are very slow rates of social mobility. Now what’s interesting about this book is that its message seems to be equally unwelcome to both right and left. The left loves the idea that there are slow rates of social mobility. But they want to hold on to the idea that there’s going to be a political programme that will end this problem. But the book says that there’s absolutely no sign of our ability as a society to change that. The right hates the idea that there are very slow rates of social mobility, but they love the idea that there’s nothing you can do about it. So it’s an odd book in that it’s welcome and unwelcome to both sides.

Magic immigrants who live on dew and innovation

The New York Times explains that the Great Plains is running out of water so it needs more immigrants.
How to Heal the Heartland
APRIL 10, 2014

Timothy Egan

... But the most depopulated area is right down the midsection of the United States. ... But there are other ways to a livable (and that overused word “sustainable”) tomorrow. This future is just below ground level, and at the border’s edge: water and immigration. 
The water is the Ogallala Aquifer, a great lake beneath parts of eight states, with enough volume to flood the entire United States in a foot of ancient liquid. And while that sounds like a lot of fresh water, it’s disappearing, because of heavy irrigation. At the current rate, 70 percent of the aquifer will be depleted by 2060, according to a study released last year by Kansas State University. 
We can’t make water. But we can slow down the rate at which we use it. The solution would involve sacrifice, and resting croplands that are now saturated with water drawn through straws in the Ogallala. The mess of state and local laws makes a single remedy — say, from Congress — all but impossible. It will take the people who live in the area now and use its water — applying piecemeal conservation but on a broad scale, similar to what is now done with soil conservation districts — to make sure there is life for their grandchildren. 
The other resource is people. Without immigrants, many of them illegal, huge parts of the prairie would be left with nothing but the old and dying. “Please come here,” said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, after the census report on depopulation was released last year. “Immigrants are innovators, entrepreneurs, they’re making things happen.” 

Not Nebraska
Like Elon Musk!

Oh, wait, Musk lives in a mansion in Bel-Air. Perhaps rocket scientists from South Africa don't want to live in tiny towns in the Great Plains?

Perhaps other immigrants can be lured in to work in agriculture? Except, there needs to be less water consumed to save the Ogallala Aquifer, so that means less agriculture, so fewer jobs.

As immigration increasingly becomes the go-to solution for all conceivable problems -- Running out of water? Get more immigrants! -- I've noticed an increasing tendency on the part of pundits and politicians to believe that America must have mechanisms in place for forcing immigrants to live in godforsaken places like Detroit and western Nebraska. GPS ankle bracelets? Armed guards? Ball-and-chain?

Canada's experience is surely relevant. Canadian politicians justify massive legal immigration on the grounds that most of Canada is an unpopulated frozen wasteland that could use a few more souls sprinkled hither and yon. And yet, the overwhelming fraction of immigrants crowd into existing metropolitan areas.

April 10, 2014

Who, Whom, Humor

When I was a kid back in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Sixties People, citing martyrs like Lenny Bruce, undermined The Establishment using jokes and satire. Today, the Sixties People are The Establishment and they don't much like young people using jokes and satire because it could get out of control and undermine them.

From the NYT, an article about some humor newspaper at lowly San Diego St. It was started at UC San Diego, before being run off campus, but now clings to life across town at the commuter school, which doesn't attract the more ambitious sort of activist-censor.
Free to Be Mean: Does This Student Satire Cross the Line? 

On a recent cloudless afternoon, a group of young comedy writers — one in Ray-Bans and a floppy wizard hat, another in skateboard sneakers and funky jeans — descended upon San Diego State University’s palm-tree-dotted campus, brandishing copies of their latest creation: a 12-page broadsheet of lewd humor. 
It was distribution day, or Distro, and staff members of The Koala, California’s most reviled student publication, had 8,000 copies to hand out. 
“Come and get it, you know you want it,” thundered Erik Luchsinger, a 21-year-old management major, in Hawaiian swim trunks, tank top and bow tie. 
“All the cool kids are reading it!” bellowed Taylor Etchart, a senior foods and nutrition major. 
“Guaranteed to be funnier than your textbook!” another staff writer shouted as students whizzed by on skateboards and bicycles. 
The cover featured an orgy of naked women with koala heads, clutching beer bottles, injecting illicit substances and vomiting. Inside was a list of “Top 5 Ways to Pick Up a Girl in a Burka,” a four-step instruction guide entitled “How Thou Shalt Use Thine Bible Pages to Roll One Holy Joint,” and in lieu of horoscopes, there were “Whore-o-Scopes.” 
... A professor snatched a pile “to give away to the trash can.”  
The Koala traffics in the kind of off-color banter even the writers recognize as offensive, though they also characterize its content as “witty” and “artistic.” Issues are peppered with jokes about homosexuals, Jews, Latinos, African-Americans, cancer patients and injured orphans. “Zimmermanslaughter” mocked the killing of the black teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of a neighborhood watch coordinator. A particularly controversial issue featured a piece with the headline “RAPE!” It advised student rapists on what to do “when you drunkenly realize she’s conscious enough to call the cops”: “Wipe off the blood and hide in the bushes NOW!” “Koala Call Outs” are anonymous reader letters filled with slurs about students and professors, who are often named or described. 
The student-run tabloid has had a controversial presence across the region — at the University of California, San Diego, where it originated in 1982 and now only occasionally publishes, and at California State’s San Marcos campus, where it was shuttered more than a year ago. Here at the state university system’s San Diego campus, students routinely criticize the paper for promoting “rape culture.” Periodic editorials and campaigns denounce The Koala, including one in 2010 to persuade local businesses to discontinue advertising. Last fall, a group of students sent a letter to the university senate’s Freedom of Expression Committee demanding an end to distribution on campus. 
Despite all this, The Koala seems to be flourishing. It has recouped its lost advertising dollars, and revenues are up by more than 100 percent from fall 2012 (the editorial staff is not paid). For the first time, staff members are trying to sell subscriptions to graduating seniors, to foster an alumni base, and there is a beefed-up online presence. ... 
Mr. Luchsinger, who says he culls inspiration from satirists like Benjamin Franklin, views the tabloid as rebellious and boundary pushing. “This is not highbrow journalism,” he acknowledged. “But we are still trying to do something substantial.” The Koala’s mission, he says, is to tease and tweak the campus melting pot. 
Juliana Bloom, who was recently promoted to editor after Mr. Luchsinger, puts it simply: “We’re a comedy publication. It’s O.K. for us to joke about serious stuff.”

... Not surprisingly, detractors don’t find anything funny here. “I dread it when it comes out,” said Susan E. Cayleff, a professor in the women’s studies department, who spends class time during Distro Days discussing The Koala. “It makes students terrified and uncomfortable and not proud to be here.”

... The battles over The Koala provide a glimpse of how challenging it can be for a university to uphold its free speech mores yet still remain a civil, welcoming place for its increasingly diverse student body. San Diego State’s code “defends the expression we abhor as well as the expression we support,” meaning The Koala can mouth off about different races and still be untouchable. 
Jung Min Choi, an associate professor in the sociology department, has been one of The Koala’s most vocal critics, frequently using the paper in his classes as living exhibits of racial intolerance. In 2008, an African-American professor in his department was attacked in an anonymous reader letter: “Your dissatisfaction with being a fat, ugly and childless black woman is evident,” read part of the letter. It accused the professor of “preaching” instead of “teaching.” Dr. Choi, who specializes in race and identity, and his colleagues approached the university’s Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities about what they considered a case of faculty harassment. 
“I must say I was not actually greeted very warmly,” he recalled. 
Officials told him they had no intention of censuring the paper. “They have a right to be here,” Greg Block, the chief communications officer, told me. “We don’t necessarily agree with everything they publish, but that’s neither here nor there.” And when students pleaded last fall with Mark Freeman, chairman of the Freedom of Expression Committee, to help shut it down, he wrote back that “freedom of the press is very broadly protected.”
Jimmy Talamantes, a graduate student who is Mexican-American, was one of the letter signers. He called the response disappointing. “Students should not feel threatened by any person or organization while attending an institution of higher learning,” he said.

... The meeting built to a crescendo as the students tossed out ideas for one of the trademark features: “Top 5’s.” They jotted down possibilities for “Top 5 Things to Wear to a Gay Pride Parade” and “Top 5 Reasons to Marry an Illegal Immigrant,” including, as one student shouted out, “You get a free housekeeper.” Or “Cheap labor is now free.” Or “She expects the abuse.” 
Responses elicited peals of laughter. “Can someone just say we are all going to hell?” one student said. 
... Mr. Liddle swears his protégés are not filled with misogyny or racial animus — about half of the 25 or so staff members are women, and a handful are Asian- or Mexican-American. Their motives are pragmatic, he said: They want experience with a media outlet. Many of the staff members told me they aspire to work for television, an online magazine or media start-up. 
... They said that when they first read The Koala, they were relieved to find others with a similar sensibility. “I found people who share my sick sense of humor,” Mr. Etchart said. He calls it “dark satire.” The no-holds-barred approach also appealed to Emmilly Nguyen, a freshman journalism major. Around Koala staff members, she said, “I could be myself.” 
The Koala is not the only publication to mine edgy terrain. A subgroup of campus publications — The Quinnipiac Barnacle, The Medium at Rutgers and The Texas Travesty at the University of Texas, Austin — delight in routinely touching humor’s third rail. 
... Staff members at The Brown Noser, founded in 2006 at Brown University, set their own limits. “We don’t write anything that feels classist or racist,” said Louisa Kellogg, an editor.

Aptly named.
... But what of publications that don’t monitor themselves? Dr. Choi believes that’s when universities ought to step in. Administrators have a responsibility, he said, to “uphold not just legal behavior but ethical behavior as well, and some common sense about what is and isn’t funny.” He added: “When administrators don’t take a stand, it is almost as if they are supporting what these people are saying.” 
Mr. Freeman interprets the university’s silence differently. “If we were able to ban any speech we didn’t like, we’d have very little debate,” he said. “For me, this is a teachable moment about the consequences and burdens of living in a democracy.”

Undocumented Unworkers pouring across Rio Grande

All this Obama as Deporter-in-Chief talk doesn't seem to impress actual illegal aliens, who are becoming more blatant about border-crossing:

From the NYT:
Lured by Hope of U.S. Asylum, Migrants Strain Border Security 

HIDALGO, Tex. — Border Patrol agents in olive uniforms stood in broad daylight on the banks of the Rio Grande, while on the Mexican side smugglers pulled up in vans and unloaded illegal migrants. 
The agents were clearly visible on that recent afternoon, but the migrants were undeterred. Mainly women and children, 45 in all, they crossed the narrow river on the smugglers’ rafts, scrambled up the bluff and turned themselves in, signaling a growing challenge for the immigration authorities. 

I know you are supposed to notice differences between men and women and children, and just call them all Undocumented Workers, but when the illegal aliens were mostly men decades ago, they didn't reproduce anchor babies as much. Women illegal aliens are anchor baby generating machines. And then there are their already-born kids who are tax sinks.
After six years of steep declines across the Southwest, illegal crossings have soared in South Texas while remaining low elsewhere. The Border Patrol made more than 90,700 apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley in the past six months, a 69 percent increase over last year. 
The migrants are no longer primarily Mexican laborers. Instead they are Central Americans, including many families with small children and youngsters without their parents, who risk a danger-filled journey across Mexico. Driven out by deepening poverty

 Is there evidence that poverty is deepening in Central America? Are they fleeing hunger?
Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala Among 10 Fattest Countries

Back to the NYT:
but also by rampant gang violence

the solution to Central American gang violence is clearly to import Central American lads into the U.S.
, increasing numbers of migrants caught here seek asylum, setting off lengthy legal procedures to determine whether they qualify. 
The new migrant flow, largely from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, is straining resources and confounding Obama administration security strategies that work effectively in other regions. It is further complicating President Obama’s uphill push on immigration, fueling Republican arguments for more border security before any overhaul. 
With detention facilities, asylum offices and immigration courts overwhelmed, enough migrants have been released temporarily in the United States that back home in Central America people have heard that those who make it to American soil have a good chance of staying. 
“Word has gotten out that we’re giving people permission and walking them out the door,” said Chris Cabrera, a Border Patrol agent who is vice president of the local of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents’ union. “So they’re coming across in droves.” 
In Mexican border cities like Reynosa, just across the river, migrants have become easy prey for Mexican drug cartels that have seized control of the human smuggling business, heightening perils for illegal crossers and security risks for the United States. 
At the Rio Grande that afternoon, the smugglers calculatedly sent the migrants across at a point where the water is too shallow for Border Patrol boats that might have turned them back safely at the midriver boundary between the United States and Mexico. 
A Border Patrol chief, Raul Ortiz, watched in frustration from a helicopter overhead. “Somebody probably told them they’re going to get released,” he said. 
As agents booked them, the migrants waited quietly: a Guatemalan mother carrying a toddler with a baby bottle, another with an infant wrapped in blankets.

Undocumented workers each! Soon they'll be productive members of the work force.
A 9-year-old girl said she was traveling by herself, hoping to rejoin her mother and two brothers in Louisiana. But she did not know where in Louisiana they were. After a two-week journey from Honduras, her only connection to them was one telephone number on a scrap of paper. 
A Honduran woman said the group had followed the instructions of the Mexican smugglers. “They just told us to cross and start walking,” she said. 
But whereas Mexicans can be swiftly returned by the Border Patrol, migrants from noncontiguous countries must be formally deported and flown home by other agencies. Even though federal flights are leaving South Texas every day, Central Americans are often detained longer. 
Women with children are detained separately. But because the nearest facility for “family units” is in Pennsylvania, families apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley are likely to be released while their cases proceed, a senior deportations official said. 
Minors without parents are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which holds them in shelters that provide medical care and schooling and tries to send them to relatives in the United States. The authorities here are expecting 35,000 unaccompanied minors this year, triple the number two years ago. 
Under asylum law, border agents are required to ask migrants if they are afraid of returning to their countries. If the answer is yes, migrants must be detained until an immigration officer interviews them to determine if the fear is credible. If the officer concludes it is, the migrant can petition for asylum. An immigration judge will decide whether there is a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or “membership in a particular social group.” 
Immigration officials said they had set the bar intentionally low for the initial “credible fear” test, to avoid turning away a foreigner in danger. In 2013, 85 percent of fear claims were found to be credible, according to federal figures.
As more Central Americans have come, fear claims have spiked, more than doubling in 2013 to 36,026 from 13,931 in 2012. 
The chances have not improved much to win asylum in the end, however. In 2012, immigration courts approved 34 percent of asylum petitions from migrants facing deportation — 2,888 cases nationwide. Many Central Americans say they are fleeing extortion or forced recruitment by criminal gangs. But immigration courts have rarely recognized those threats as grounds for asylum. 
Yet because of immense backlogs in the courts — with the average wait for a hearing currently at about 19 months — claiming fear of return has allowed some Central Americans to prolong their time in the United States.
At the big immigration detention center at Port Isabel, which serves much of the Rio Grande Valley, half of about 1,100 detainees at any given time are asylum seekers, officials said. With the asylum system already stretched, the nearest officers are in Houston, doing interviews by video conference. In 2013, the closest immigration court, in Harlingen, was swamped with new cases, becoming even more backlogged. 
Detention beds fill up, and migrants deemed to present no security risk are released under supervision, officials said, with their next court hearing often more than a year away.

Bye-bye! Granted, it would be even nicer to have an Uncle Ruslan married to the daughter of a CIA deep stater to pull strings for you, but it's still pretty easy to get Lost in America and have an anchor baby or three before anybody finds you.

FBI: Boston Bomb Brothers were Putin's fault

Dad and Mom Bomb *
From the New York Times:
Russia Didn’t Share All Details on Boston Bombing Suspect, Report Says 

WASHINGTON — The Russian government declined to provide the F.B.I. with information about one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects that would most likely have led to more extensive scrutiny of him at least two years before the attack, according to an inspector general’s report. 
Russian officials had told the F.B.I. in 2011 that the suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer” and that Mr. Tsarnaev “had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.” 
But after an initial investigation by the F.B.I., the Russians declined several requests for additional information about Mr. Tsarnaev, according to the report, a review of how intelligence and law enforcement agencies could have thwarted the bombing. 
At the time, American law enforcement officials believed that Mr. Tsarnaev posed a far greater threat to Russia. 
The new inspector general’s report found that it was only after the bombing occurred last April that the Russians shared with the F.B.I. the additional intelligence, including information from a telephone conversation the Russian authorities had intercepted between Mr. Tsarnaev and his mother in which they discussed Islamic jihad.

Okay. Still, you know, the Russkies did have reasons not to totally trust U.S. intelligence services when it came to the Tsarnaev family.

After all, the Bomb Brothers' Uncle Ruslan used to run a Chechen rebel front organization funneling donations from Al-Qaeda to the fight against Russia out of the house of his (now) ex-father-in-law, retired CIA insider Graham E. Fuller. As I blogged on May 2, 2013:
Uncle Ruslan's org funneled military supplies from Al-Qaeda to Chechen rebels 
One of the big questions left hanging about the Bomb Brothers is how did their useless family get asylum in the U.S. despite going back and forth to the country they supposedly had to flee? Is it just that our overall immigration system is too lax on immigrants?  
That's not a good question for the "immigration reform" marketing push, so you might think an alternative answer would be getting some media love: the Tsarnaevs had rare family connections inside the American deep state that got their asylum application some special string-pulling. 
But that would be a Conspiracy Theory, so we can't dream of that.  
Thus, the only reporter who seems to be following up on the deep state link is Daniel Hopsicker of Mad Cow Morning News. In "‘Uncle Ruslan’ aided terrorists from CIA official’s home," he seems to demonstrate that the Congress of Chechen International Organizations was registered in 1995 by Ruslan Tsarni (the Bomb Brother's father's brother who goes on TV to call them losers) out of the house of his father-in-law Graham Fuller, the former vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council then working for the RAND Corp.  
And Hopsicker has a copy of a letter suggesting that Uncle Ruslan's NGO played middleman to deliver 2,500 pairs of combat boots to Chechen rebels from the Al-Qaeda front Benevolence International. They went to Sheik Fathi, a Jordanian of Chechen descent, who had spent 10 years fighting in Afghanistan. 
Since the postman would presumably deliver mail for Uncle Ruslan's operation to Mr. Fuller's mailbox, it's hard to imagine that Fuller, a Central Asian expert, was oblivious to the organization's general existence, although it's hard to say how much more deeply he was involved.  
Nor can we say for sure what side Uncle Ruslan was actually on. What Kipling called the Great Game can be played in many ways.
Let me make a general point about Conspiracy Theories, which is that almost nobody takes a reductionist approach to them. The typical Conspiracy Theorist is driven by the urge to put forward as complex, crazy, and omnipotent a conspiracy theory as possible. In contrast, the conventional wisdom is that conspiracies don't exist. 
My impression, in contrast to both perspectives, is that conspiracies happen all the time, but most of them are pretty ineffectual. When all is said and done, more is said than done.  
For example, let's assume for the minute that Fuller was involved in supplying combat boots to Chechen rebels in 1996 as part of a CIA conspiracy that went All the Way to the Top, even though the Clinton Administration was also strongly on the side of Yeltsin's Russian government. Why would the U.S. government do something to hurt its ally? 
Well, one reason is in case the Chechens win, then the CIA would have a connection to the winners. "Hey, we gave you those boots, remember?"  
Or, it gives the U.S. something to trade to the Russians in return for something more valuable. It's quite common for Powers to give a little aid to rebels in a rival country to strengthen their bargaining position. 
NISB: National Immigration Safety Board. We need one.

By the way, here's something new on Graham E. Fuller's Wikipedia page:
Hi, I'm probably not doing this right, but I'm Graham E. Fuller, the subject of this Wiki article. Below is the complete list of my pubs, to replace the partial list that you have listed below. I'd like to make a few other corrections at some point as well. Questions were raised on the following: My birth date is 1937, and I was CIA Station Chief in Kabul from 1975-1978. I was never truly an employee of the State Dept, that was official cover. I was a CIA operations officer from 1964 to 1981. I then served as Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at CIA, responsible for all long-range National Estimates until I retired from the CIA in 1987. I was a senior political scientist at RAND from 1988 until 2002.
Fuller is credited with coming up with the original idea behind the Iran-Contra whoop-tee-doo. From the New York Times in 1987:
Mr. Fuller, now 49 years old, is retiring from the agency at the end of the year. He prepared a ''think piece'' for William J. Casey, the Director of Central Intelligence, in May 1985 stating that the Soviet Union was in a better position to exert influence in Iran and that the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was ''faltering.'' 
In his memorandum, Mr. Fuller suggested that Western nations be allowed to sell arms to Iran with a view to gaining influence. 
Those conclusions were also stated in a Government-wide intelligence assessment cited by the Tower Commission and overseen by Mr. Fuller, which was prepared in May 1985 at the request of the National Security Council.

Also, Mr. Fuller was one of the most outspoken figures in the campaign to give refugee status to Imam Gulen of the Poconos. Lattice of coincidence ...
* By the way, if you are wondering whether to marry the hot crazy babe who is a tigress in the sack, take a long look at the this Tsarnaev family photo from the 1980s and then at the top photo on this posting and picture yourself in 25 years as the poor bastard behind the sunglasses without all that good Robert De Pacino hair.

April 9, 2014

The Jamika Plan

From NPR:
Americans Are On The Move, But In The Wrong Direction 
Moving to San Bernardino from Los Angeles may help with housing costs, but the area doesn't have much economic opportunity.

Jamika lives in a two-story apartment complex surrounded by a 10-foot-high security gate in San Bernardino, Calif. The yellow paint on the buildings' outside walls is peeling. 
She doesn't want to use her full name. She doesn't want too many people to know about her situation. 
Jamika and her siblings had to leave the house her family was renting in South Central L.A. when the property went into foreclosure. With money so tight, Jamika moved to San Bernardino, along with three of her siblings. 
All around the country, the cost of housing is driving people out of places with the most economic opportunity, like L.A. They, like Jamika, are leaving cities with better job markets in search of a cheaper place to live.

That is, like, part of The Plan. I mean, perhaps it should have been a giveaway when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti drove Jamika and her three siblings to San Bernardino personally and helped lug their couch up the stairs. *
Jamika, who works in food service at a nearby hospital, says she probably won't go back to L.A. 
In San Bernardino, she says, she can actually save some money. And she says there's no way she could do that in Los Angeles. 
Cheap To Live, Tough To Work 
Between 2007 and 2011, more people moved from Los Angeles County to San Bernardino County than between any other county-to-county pair in the nation. 
The median home value in San Bernardino County is about $235,000, according to the real estate company Zillow. In L.A County, it's almost twice that. So it makes sense that people would move here to save money on housing. 
In the city of San Bernardino, where Jamika lives, not much looks good besides the housing prices. 
"San Bernardino is bankrupt," says City Council member Jim Mulvihill. "Because of that, we've cut back. We had 340 on our police force, now we're down to 240. And given all that, we've had a high crime rate."

* Just kidding (I think).

"The Germ Theory of Democracy"

From Pacific Standard:
The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs 
... What kind of government do you live under? Who are your sexual partners? How do you treat strangers? All of these questions may mask a more fundamental one: What germs are you warding off? ...
Anyone with a basic grasp of biology knows that all animals have immune systems that battle pathogens—be they viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi—on the cellular level. And it’s also fairly well understood that animals sometimes exhibit outward behaviors that serve to ward off disease. Our moment-to-moment psychological reactions to the threat of illness, they suggest, have a huge cumulative effect on culture. 
Not only that—and here’s where [evolutionary biologist Randy] Thornhill’s theory really starts to fire the imagination—these deep interactions between local pathogens and human social evolution may explain many of the basic differences we observe between cultures. How does your culture behave toward strangers? What kind of government do you live under? Who are your sexual partners? What values do you share? All of these questions may mask a more fundamental one: What germs are you warding off?
The threat of disease is not uniform around the world. In general, higher, colder, and drier regions have fewer infectious diseases than warmer, wetter climates. To survive, people in this latter sort of terrain must withstand a higher degree of “pathogen stress.” Thornhill and his colleagues theorize that, over time, the pathogen stress endemic to a place tends to steer a culture in distinct ways. 
Research has long shown that people in tropical climates with high pathogen loads, for example, are more likely to develop a taste for spicy food, because certain compounds in these foods have antimicrobial properties. They are also prone to value physical attractiveness—a signal of health and “immunocompetence,” according to evolutionary theorists—more highly in mates than people living in cooler latitudes do.

Eh ... sex differences are being overlooked. Looking like Denzel Washington or David Robinson in West Africa is a good symptom that you have an excellent immune system, which you will hopefully leave to your children if you leave them nothing else. But looking like you're strong enough for a lifetime of hoeing the yam patch with the other mothers, because you can't expect that good looking, entertaining baby-daddy to do much providing, seems to be selected for in West African women. A strong back is not exactly what most people around the world visualize as "physical attractiveness" in women.
But the implications don’t stop there. According to the “pathogen stress theory of values,” the evolutionary case that Thornhill and his colleagues have put forward, our behavioral immune systems—our group responses to local disease threats—play a decisive role in shaping our various political systems, religions, and shared moral views. 
If they are right, Thornhill and his colleagues may be on their way to unlocking some of the most stubborn mysteries of human behavior. Their theory may help explain why authoritarian governments tend to persist in certain latitudes while democracies rise in others; why some cultures are xenophobic and others are relatively open to strangers; why certain peoples value equality and individuality while others prize hierarchical structures and strict adherence to tradition.

This seems more like a modern America list of Bad Things and Good Things with little regard for how they relate to actual backward cultures. Being Americans in 2014, we've been told over and over how Xenophobia Is Bad, so cultures that obviously have dysfunctions much be Xenophobic, right? Except ...

But, how about Japan? Healthy, long-lived, prosperous, low-crime, and xenophobic as all get out (just in their polite Japanese way).

In contrast, Africans, who suffer from a very high disease burden, are not terribly xenophobic. So, in colonial times, Africa was relatively easy for Europeans to conquer, especially as they got better at handling the disease burden. Opposition from Africans wasn't that huge of a problem for Europeans. Similarly, disease-ridden India was easy for Europeans to conquer.

Today, African countries routinely accept a million refugees from a civil war in a neighboring country. African tribes generally live much more intermingled with other tribes than in other parts of the world. Why? Until recently, most of Africa wasn't anywhere near it's Malthusian population density limits, so there wasn't all that much incentive to keep outsiders out. In general, Africans tended to worry about having too few people to protect against wild animals (which might explain why, while other cultures try to restrain sexual behavior, African culture generally tries to encourage it -- we need all the babies we can get.)

The real impact of high disease burden on African cultures was that it made urbanization difficult -- if too many people got too close together, the settlement could be wiped out by disease, so Africans tended to live in small villages spread out across the vast countryside, and seldom developed the specialized arts and crafts that urbanization allows.
What’s more, their work may offer a clear insight into how societies change. According to Thornhill’s findings, striking at the root of infectious disease threats is by far the most effective form of social engineering available to any would-be reformer.

Getting infectious diseases under control (e.g., Singapore v. Lagos) has all sorts of socially positive knock-on effects. Bill Gates puts lots of money into looking for a malaria vaccine because he understands this.
If you were looking for a paradigm-shifting theory about human behavior, step right up. “Once we started looking for evidence that pathogens shape culture,” Thornhill told me, “we began to find it in damn near every place we looked.” 
THORNHILL WAS STEERED TOWARD the topic of the human psychological reaction to disease in the early 2000s by a young graduate student advisee named Corey Fincher. Fincher had arrived at the University of New Mexico intending to study the mating behavior of rattlesnakes. After a time, however, he instead became curious about the evolutionary effects of disease on human cultural behavior—and particularly about the question of why cultures tend to fall along a spectrum between individualist and collectivist dispositions. 

This isn't really all that good a spectrum for thinking about success and failure in the modern world. Sure, England is pretty individualist and it's a nice place to live, but then Japan is notably collectivist by temperament and it's not too awful a place, either. In contrast, perhaps the most individualist culture in the world is the Pashtuns of Afghanistan-Pakistan, who downgrade even loyalty within the nuclear family. A charming Pathan saying is:
When the floodwaters reach your chin, put your son beneath your feet.

And Afghanistan is an awful place.

Pacific Standard continues:
Psychologists and other social scientists have long been curious about this robust difference between human populations. In strongly collectivist societies, group membership forms the foundation of one’s identity. Sacrificing for the common good and maintaining harmonious ties with family and kin are expected. By contrast, in strongly individualist societies like those of the United Kingdom, the U.S., Australia, and the Netherlands, individual rights are valued above duties to others. One’s identity does not derive from the group, but rather is built through personal actions and achievements. Although these differences have been confirmed by many cross-cultural studies in a variety of different ways, no one had come up with a convincing evolutionary theory to suggest why it would be advantageous for one group of people to become more collectivist and another group to become more individualist. 
Fincher suspected that many behaviors in collectivist cultures might be masks for behavioral immune responses. To take one key example, collectivist cultures tend to be both more xenophobic and more ethnocentric than individualist cultures.

Are Swedes more individualist or collectivist, more xenophobic or more ethnocentric? All of these concepts are extremely relativistic.
Keeping strangers away might be a valuable defense against foreign pathogens, Fincher thought.

Maybe. Andaman Islanders are very vulnerable to outside world diseases. The North Sentinel Andamans have stayed healthy, though, probably because they murder anybody who lands on their island.
And a strong preference for in-group mating might help maintain a community’s hereditary immunities to local disease strains. To test his hypothesis, Fincher set out to see whether places with heavier disease loads also tended toward these sorts of collectivist values. 
Working with Damian Murray and Mark Schaller, two psychologists from the University of British Columbia, and Thornhill, Fincher compared existing databases that rated cultural groups on the individualist-collectivist spectrum with data collected from the Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network and other sources. The team paid special attention to nine pathogens (including malaria, leprosy, dengue, typhus, and tuberculosis) that are detrimental to human reproductive fitness. What the team found was a strong correlation between collectivist values and places with high pathogen stress. In 2008, Fincher, Thornhill, Schaller, and Murray published a major paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B that laid out the connection. 

I critiqued one of these Thornhill papers in 2010.
Thornhill and Fincher found further evidence for the pathogen stress theory by looking at geographical regions that had not only severe disease stress but also a highly diverse patchwork of local pathogen populations. The critters that make us ill—not only the viruses and bacteria, but also the ticks, flies, and mosquitoes that spread them—are tiny and lack the ability to regulate their own heat as larger organisms do. They often flourish only in very narrow climatic zones, where they are adapted to certain temperature and moisture levels. As a result, pathogen threats can be highly localized. One study, for instance, found at least 124 genetically distinct strains of the parasite Leishmania braziliensis across Peru and Bolivia.

Interesting; in general, however, the worst diseases are spread by mosquitos, rats, and other mobile carriers. That way they can kill you quick and still spread. Diseases that spread human tend to mutate toward mildness so you can still drag yourself into work and sneeze on your coworkers. Falciparum malaria, carried by one particular type of mosquito, is probably the most significant disease in the world in terms of Darwinian selection. The anopheles mosquito gets around on its own, so the notion of local germs that never move seems unpersuasive.

Super localized germs will tend to get milder because they are in a long term symbiotic relationship with their hosts. The big killers tend to sweep in from another continent, like the Black Death arriving from Asia in 1347 or smallpox in the New World after 1492.

However, germs that are transported from person to person not by the person but by a mosquito or similar mobile vector can remain virulent for a long time. Gregory Cochran's hypothesis from the 1990s is that falciparum malaria, which is worst in West Africa, is such a huge Darwinian selective force that it will tend to select for:

A. Immune systems resistant to malaria
B. Visible clues in males of resistance to malaria, such as being a Big Man

If a higher percentage of selection among West Africans is devoted to selecting for traits associated with malaria-resistance, then less selection in West Africans can be devoted to other kinds of useful traits. In contrast, if the Swedes or Japanese don't have to worry as much about infectious diseases, they can select more for other traits. That seems pretty persuasive, so you don't hear much about it. (David Epstein vaguely alluded to it in The Sports Gene.)
If you were to live in such a pathogenically diverse place, you and your family would likely develop a resistance or immunity to your local parasites. But that defense might be useless if you were to move in with a group just a short distance away—or if a stranger, carrying a foreign pathogen load, were to insinuate himself into your clan. In such places, then, it would be important for neighboring groups to be able to tell the difference between “us” and “them.” 
With that thought in mind, Thornhill and his colleagues made a prediction: that regions with a balkanized landscape of localized parasites would in turn display a balkanized landscape of localized customs and conspicuous cultural differences among human populations—dialects, unique religious displays, distinctive art and music, and the like. While there is much more research to be done, early findings suggest that—particularly when it comes to the development of local languages and religions—pathogen stress does appear to spawn cultural diversity.

Perhaps, but causation could run the opposite way. Places where people don't get around much don't see much interchange of human pathogens.
A set of more cautious researchers would likely have circled the wagons after unveiling their theory and concentrated on building a body of evidence to defend their early claims. Having a novel explanation for why some cultures are collectivist while others are individualist would probably guarantee one’s place in social science lore. Thornhill and Fincher, however, didn’t stop for a breath. By the time the two published a major paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 2012, they had marshaled evidence that severe pathogen stress leads to high levels of civil and ethnic warfare

And vice-versa -- the Spanish Flu of 1918 was spread in troop hospitals, and a lot of plagues in China seemed to follow the breakdown of public health measures during the breakdown of dynastic order.
increased rates of homicide and child maltreatment, patriarchal family structures, and social restrictions regarding women’s sexual behavior. Moreover, these pathogen-avoidant collectivist tendencies, they wrote, coalesce over time into repressive and autocratic governmental systems.

Eh, you know, highly disease prone tropical countries might pretend to have a a Grand Generalissimo with lots of shiny ribbons who makes all the decisions, but they actually tend to be lackadaisical and chaotic places.
Want to understand the rise of fascism, dictatorship, and ethnocentric campaigns that dehumanize outsiders? Look to the prevalence of pathogen threats.

Uh, no, not really. West Africa isn't much of a source of fascism.

Or it could be backwards: if you want to explain Nazis, note that disease burden in Germany was low and falling fast.

NYT: "Note to Republicans: Channel Jack Kemp"

"Jack F. Kemp... at a 2008 House
hearing on the mortgage crisis."
More sincere political advice from the New York Times:
Note to Republicans: Channel Jack Kemp 

WHEN Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, delivered a speech last month outlining proposals for economic growth, his sponsor was the Jack F. Kemp Foundation, a Beltway organization set up in memory of the Republican politician who died in 2009 and has recently been cited as a hero by some of the party’s most prominent figures. 
Senator Rubio is one outspoken admirer. Another is Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, who worked at Mr. Kemp’s think tank, Empower America, in the 1990s, and has said that Mr. Kemp was one of his principal mentors. 
Perhaps the most surprising Kemp acolyte, given his anti-establishment persona, is Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. Mr. Paul has updated Kemp’s most famous idea, “urban enterprise zones,” which were intended to entice businesses into struggling inner cities. ...
It might seem a curious moment for a Jack Kemp revival. Many remember him as an evangelist for supply-side economics and its drastic tax cutting — exactly the approach some Republicans say needs to be replaced with a fresh agenda that grapples with joblessness and stagnant wages. 
But there was another side to Kemp, a self-described “bleeding-heart conservative” who preached the gospel of upward mobility, economic opportunity, cultural diversity and racial justice. This Kemp personified the big-tent Republicanism that has gone into hibernation in the Obama years and that some Republicans think is crucial to the party’s success in the 2016 presidential election, when voters will want to hear a more positive message. 
It is one thing, of course, to emphasize reaching beyond the Republican base, and quite another to connect with other voters, which Kemp was successful in doing.

When Bob Dole put Jack Kemp on his ticket in 1996, Dole-Kemp won 12% of the black vote. Granted, they lost the election badly, but they still broke double-digits in the black vote. And that's what really counts, isn't it? (What? White people are still enfranchised? Why wasn't I informed?)
During the subprime mortgage crisis, for example, he called for a loosening of bankruptcy laws to protect “the estimated 2.2 million families in danger of losing their homes” and then teamed up with Henry G. Cisneros, the housing secretary under Bill Clinton, to urge congressional action against “predatory and discriminatory lending practices which have had a direct and significant impact on African-American and Latino homeowners and neighborhoods.”

Henry G. Cisneros? You mean, Angelo Mozilo's pal Henry G. Cisneros?

Random notes from Gregory Clark's "Son Also Rises"

I have a lot of notes left over unused from my review in Taki's Magazine of Gregory Clark's The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. So, in no particular order:

The low social mobility seen under the Swedish welfare state over the last 75-80 years despite good public education and health care and all that might have something to do with the welfare state discouraging ambition and risk-taking. And/or it might have something to do with the Swedes sitting out WWII and much of the Cold War, which tended to open careers to talent in more active participants.

Here in the U.S., perhaps the most broadly accomplished surname on average is Huntington, almost all of whom trace back to a Puritan widow and her sons who arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630s. It's not a coincidence that one of the few elite voices against mass immigration in this century was Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington, who pointed out that his ancestors and their relatives had done a pretty good job building a nation even without much Mexican help.

Clark goes to some pains to distinguish the surnames of French Canadian-Americans from French-Americans. For example, Gagnon is 42 times more common per capita in Canada than in France, so Americans named Gagnon are mostly of French Canadian descent.

On the other hand, French Huguenots (Protestants) tended to do better in America. For example, Winston Churchill's American mother's maiden name was Jerome, and traces back to a Huguenot immigrant.

Sailer on Gregory Clark's "Son Also Rises"

From my column in Taki's Magazine, a review of Gregory Clark's new book on surnames and social mobility:
Economic historian Gregory Clark, a Glaswegian now at UC Davis, has been extending a main channel of British science into the 21st Century. His new book, The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility is another milestone in the revitalization of the human sciences after their long, self-inflicted dry spell in the later decades of the 20th Century. 
One of the central concerns of British thinkers from the 18th Century into the mid-20th Century was the scientific study of breeding. The British agricultural revolution that began about three centuries ago led to the scientific breeding of livestock, including thoroughbreds. (Indeed, various meanings of the word “race” in English—a contest of speed, a lineage, and a breed—are related to the British passion for breeding racehorses.)

Read the whole thing there.

April 8, 2014

How can we most fittingly commemorate Aunt Zeituni?

President Obama's Aunt Zeituni has tragically died before she could become an American citizen. In 2010, she was granted asylum in the United States so she wouldn't have to return to Kenya and be persecuted for being related to the most powerful man in the world. 

How can we best commemorate this supreme epitomization of what 21st Century immigration is all about? 

A commenter suggests the President and Congress should be petitioned to grant her posthumous honorary citizenship. Good idea. America has extended honorary citizenship seven times, five posthumously. The honorees have been:
Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965), British Prime Minister, enacted on April 9, 1963 
Raoul Wallenberg (1912–1947), Swedish diplomat who rescued Jews from the Holocaust, enacted on October 5, 1981, posthumously although he was thought to be possibly still alive at the time. 
William Penn (1644–1718), English real estate entrepreneur, and founder and "absolute proprietor" of the Province of Pennsylvania, the English North American colony and the future Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, enacted on October 19, 1984, posthumously 
Hannah Callowhill Penn (1671–1726), second wife of William Penn, administrator of the Province of Pennsylvania, enacted on October 19, 1984, posthumously 
Mother Teresa (1910–1997), Catholic nun of Albanian ethnicity and Indian citizenship, who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, enacted on October 1, 1996 
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (1757–1834), the Marquis de La Fayette or General Lafayette ... a Frenchman who was an officer in the American Revolutionary War, enacted August 6, 2002, posthumously 
Casimir Pulaski (1745–1779), Polish military officer who fought on the side of the American colonists against the British in the American Revolutionary War; member of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth nobility, politician who has been called "The Father of the American Cavalry," enacted on November 6, 2009, posthumously 
Zeituni Onyango (1953–2014), undocumented nonworker, public housing recipient, refugee from popularity of her nephew in her own country, enacted on April 9, 2014 posthumously  

But what about a monument? Perhaps she should be buried at the foot of the Statue of Liberty right next to the Emma Lazarus poem. Liberty means Freedom and Aunt Zeituni loved her free public housing, so if that doesn't make her a Liberty Lover, I don't know what would.

But in the spirit of the healthy-sized portrait published along with her obituary in the New York Times, we should think big. Instead of burying her beneath the Statue of Liberty, we should build a full-sized replica of Aunt Zeituni as the Statue of Liberty. Why should the Statue of Liberty be restricted to a white? 

And why should the East Coast have the only Statue of Liberty? I know, let's put Aunt Zeituni's Statue of Liberty on the beach in Malibu:
Artist's conception

Aunt Zeituni: The worst asylum excuse of all time

From the NYT:
Zeituni Onyango, Obama’s Aunt From Kenya, Dies at 61 

BOSTON — Zeituni Onyango, President Obama’s Kenyan-born aunt, who received asylum in the United States in 2010 after years of living illegally in Boston, died on Tuesday in a rehabilitation home here. She was 61. 
Her death was confirmed by Margaret Wong, a Cleveland lawyer who represented Ms. Onyango in her immigration case. She said that Ms. Onyango had cancer and respiratory problems. 
Ms. Onyango was the stepsister of Mr. Obama’s father. 
Ms. Onyango moved to South Boston on a valid visa in 2000 and sought political asylum in 2002. It was denied in 2004, and she was ordered to leave the country, but she refused. 
She was living in relative anonymity in Boston until just before the 2008 presidential election, when her illegal status was reported by The Associated Press. The Times of London found her in what it described as “run-down public housing.” ...
To escape media scrutiny, Ms. Onyango moved to Cleveland, where the Kenyan community took her in, said Ms. Wong, who helped her obtain a green card. 
In seeking asylum for Ms. Onyango, Ms. Wong argued that if she were forced to return to Kenya she would face undue attention and perhaps danger because of her nephew’s fame. To be granted asylum, people must show that they would face persecution in their home countries. 

Oh boy ...
In Boston, Judge Leonard Shapiro granted Ms. Onyango asylum in 2010. She died before being granted citizenship. 

Aunt Zeituni's reason for getting asylum may even top Ibragim Todashev's, which was more or less: My dad back home in Russia is only three levels down the org chart from Vladimir Putin, so if the 82nd Airborne ever installs Masha Gessen in the Kremlin to bring Russia democracy, good and hard, well, our family could face repercussions.

NYT: Real anti-Semites in Russia, not Ukraine

From the NYT:
Ukraine’s Jews Dismiss Claims of Anti-Semitism 

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine — From his office atop the world’s biggest Jewish community center, Shmuel Kaminezki, the chief rabbi of this eastern Ukrainian city, has followed with dismay Russian claims that Ukraine is now in the hands of neo-Nazi extremists — and struggled to calm his panicked 85-year-old mother in New York. 
Raised in Russia and a regular viewer of Russian television, she “calls every day to ask, ‘Have the pogroms happened yet?' ” Rabbi Kaminezki said. He tells his mother that they have not, and that she should stop watching Russian TV. “It is a total lie,” he said. “Jews are not in danger in Ukraine.” 
Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, added his own voice to the scaremongering in a speech at the Kremlin on March 18, when he described the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine as an armed coup executed by “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites” who “continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day.”

But instead of reeling in panic at any fascist resurgence, the Jewish community of Dnipropetrovsk, one of the largest in Ukraine, is celebrating the recent appointment of one of its own, a billionaire tycoon named Ihor Kolomoysky, as the region’s most powerful official. 
“They made a Jew the governor. What kind of anti-Semitism is this?” asked Solomon Flaks ...   
Mr. Kolomoysky, the new governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, derided Rabbi Lazar’s support for Mr. Putin as Kremlin-orchestrated propaganda. ...
Mr. Kolomoysky, a Russian speaker who has both Israeli and Ukrainian passports, scoffed at the Kremlin’s pledges to protect Jews, Russian-speakers and other minorities. ... 
Anti-Semitism is experienced in daily life, he said, but gets no support or encouragement from the state, unlike in Russia, where the security services have tolerated and at times nurtured neo-Nazi nationalist groups with openly anti-Semitic agendas. Russia’s state-run news media regularly air the views of Aleksandr A. Prokhanov, the editor of the Zaftra newspaper, a notorious platform for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. 
Although not particularly observant, Mr. Kolomoysky, who is also the president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, has poured tens of millions of dollars into Jewish causes over the years. Together with a fellow billionaire, Gennadiy Bogolyubov, he financed the Menorah Center, the seven-towered, $70 million community center here where the veterans’ association, the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community and dozens of other organizations have their offices. Also housed in the building are the Israeli Consulate, a synagogue, kosher restaurants, a Shabbat-friendly hotel and a high-tech Holocaust museum. 
The museum skirts the delicate issue of how some Ukrainian nationalists collaborated with the Nazis when Hitler invaded Ukraine in 1941, explaining instead how Jews supported Ukraine’s efforts to become an independent nation. 
Before the Holocaust, Jews made up nearly a third of Dnipropetrovsk’s population, making it one of the most important centers of Jewish life and culture in Europe. The city now has 30,000 to 50,000 Jews, a small fraction of a total population of over a million but enough to sustain a vibrant community. The World Jewish Congress estimates that there are more than 250,000 Jews in Ukraine as a whole, the third-largest population of Jews among European nations. ...

When protests against Mr. Yanukovych started in November, he said, many Jews shared the pro-European aspirations of the demonstrators who gathered in Kiev’s Independence Square, though some worried about the role played by far-right nationalist groups. One such group, Svoboda, stirred particular unease because of anti-Semitic remarks by its leaders in the past and their lionization of Ukrainian nationalist heroes who, in some cases, helped the Nazis and shared their ethnicity-based concept of nationhood. 
But Rabbi Kaminezki said fears of a fascist revival had faded, “as there is a difference between what these people say to their own crowd and what they do when they become legitimate political leaders.” Anti-Semitism, he added, “exists in Ukraine, like everywhere,” but it has shown no sign of increasing since Mr. Yanukovych lost power. ...
Even Right Sector, a coalition of ultranationalist and in some cases neo-Nazi organizations, has made an effort to distance itself from anti-Semitism. In late February, its leader, Dmytro Yarosh, pledged during a meeting with Israel’s ambassador in Kiev to fight all forms of racism. ...
The protest movement that overthrew Mr. Yanukovych, the letter added, included some unsavory nationalist groups, “but even the most marginal do not show anti-Semitism” and are “well controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government — which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security forces.”
Allow me to mention again my Taki column on how traditional Fiddler on the Roof-style anti-Tsarism is one of the driving forces in this dangerous America v. Russia brouhaha. It's perfectly understandable why the revival of a stronger, more traditionalist government in Russia so upsets Victoria Nuland, Masha Gessen, or Anne Applebaum, but here in modern American there are a lot of thing we're not supposed to understand, even when they are perfectly understandable.

WaPo: Amy Chua totally wrong because Science

Actually, it sounds very much like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, just less funny. From the Washington Post:
Why Asian American kids excel. It’s not ‘Tiger Moms.’ 
Why do Asian American students outpace everyone else academically? 
The most publicized attempt to answer that question — a few years ago, by Yale Law School professor Amy Chua — set off a controversy that rages to this day. 
Chua’s answer, originally set out in a 2011 Wall Street Journal opinion article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” was that “tiger mothers” were prepared to coerce kids into doing homework and practicing the piano, in part by calling them names. Chua (who’s latest book is “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America) held herself and her academically successful children out as examples. 
But a new study published in the journal “Race and Social Problems” by two California scholars takes on Chua, suggesting that with all the economic resources at her disposal — she and her husband are Yale professors with highly-educated parents — her children’s success is just as likely the result of socioeconomic and cultural advantages, generally cited by scholars as the main reason some children do better than others. 
The authors of “The Success Frame and Achievement Paradox: The Costs and Consequences for Asian Americans” are Min Zhou, professor of sociology and Asian American Studies at the Univ. of California at Los Angeles, currently on leave at Nanyang Technological University, and Jennifer Lee, professor of sociology at the Univ. of California at Irvine. 
A better way to understand Asian American academic success, they write, is to look at families who don’t have resources and succeed nonetheless. 
That is exactly what they’ve done. And their findings are pretty straightforward: Young Asian Americans have all kinds of good role models to emulate.

So, it's not Tiger Moms per se, it's Tiger Co-Ethnics.
Their communities and families make sure they get extra help when they need it. Their families, even on limited resources, manage to seek out and move to neighborhoods with good schools. And they aspire to success with specific goals in mind: medicine, law, engineering and pharmacy. And they aim for the best schools. 
It’s not about coercion or some mysterious ethnic gift, they write. It’s about the way they view their horizons, with extraordinarily high expectations — so high that kids who don’t rise to the occasion feel like “black sheep” and “outliers.” 
Zhou and Lee studied Chinese American and Vietnamese American communities in Los Angeles without a lot of financial resources or parental higher education — factors that tend to skew other academic studies of success. 
They focused on two groups: the so-called “1.5 generation” — foreign-born immigrants who came to the United States prior to age 13 — and second-generation families. They conducted 82 face-to-face interviews to get a picture of why these communities are doing so well in advancing their children through high school and college. 
Here’s what they found: Although their means are limited, Asian families in the study choose neighborhoods carefully to make sure schools offer honors and advanced-placement courses. To do this, parents use the “Chinese Yellow Pages,” which the researchers describe as “a two-inch thick, 1,500-page long telephone directory that is published annually and lists ethnic businesses in Southern California, as well as the rankings of the region’s public high schools and the nation’s best universities.” They also make sure their kids get plenty of supplementary help such as tutoring. 
These families have incredibly high standards, according to the study. If kids come home with a 3.5 grade-point average, parents are disappointed that it’s not 4.0 — and they show it. ...
Both groups in the study, Zhou and Lee reported, adopt a similar “frame for what ‘doing well in school’ means: getting straight A’s, graduating as valedictorian or salutatorian, getting into one of the top UC (University of California) schools or an Ivy, and pursuing some type of graduate education in order [to] work in one of the ‘four professions’: doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, or engineer. So exacting is the frame for ‘doing well in school’ that our Asian respondents described the value of grades on an Asian scale as ‘A is for average, and B is an Asian fail.’’’ 
Such high standards have positive and negative impacts, the researchers found.
If expectations are that high, many young people will try to meet them. They will get into Stanford and they will get that PhD. 
The downside is that those who fall short — the ‘A-minus’ student’ — wind up feeling alienated from their ethnicity. In short, they feel less Asian and more, well, American. 
They describe a young man named Paul who chose to be an artist instead of following the path prescribed by his parents. He called himself “the whitest Chinese guy you’ll ever meet.” 
They tell of one young woman they interviewed, Sarah, who when asked whether she feels successful compared to her friends who are not Chinese, pauses “as if she had never considered that comparison before and finally replied, ‘If I were to look at my white friends of that same age range, yes I’m more successful. If I were to look at all of my friends, yes, I would say so.’” 
They write: 
Sarah is not unique in this regard; none of the 1.5- and second-generation Chinese and Vietnamese respondents considered measuring their success against native-born whites (or native-born blacks for that matter). Rather, they turn to high-achieving coethnics as their reference group — a finding that highlights that native-born whites are not the standard by which today’s 1.5- and second-generation Asians measure their success and achievements. 
…So strong is the perception that the success frame is the norm among Asian Americans that the 1.5- and second-generation Chinese and Vietnamese who cannot attain it or choose to buck it find themselves at odds with their immigrant parents and with their ethnic identities. 

In other words, slacker Asians are more likely to assimilate into white culture in high school, for which they are castigated as ethnic outcasts by their relatives: No True Chinaman Gets a B-Minus!