The slugfest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in which only the most painstaking analyst can discern any disagreement over policy, highlights the ancient yet growing importance of ethnic identity in politics.
The race didn't start out that way. The 2007 polls showed that blacks favored Senator Clinton, the wife of "America's first black President," over Senator Obama, the preppie from paradise. Yet, when the crunch came, four-fifths of black Democratic primary voters rallied to the yuppie technocrat's banner.
Shaken by the defection of an ethnicity Hillary had assumed was hereditarily hers, the Clinton campaign then pointed to the Latino vote as their "firewall." And in the important California primary, Hispanics did vote 67 percent to 32 percent for the former First Lady. Elsewhere, however, the vaunted Hispanic bloc once again didn't quite live up to the hype. Indeed, Hillary responded to her post-Super Tuesday woes by firing her Hispanic campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, and replacing her with Maggie Williams, who is black. As I write, Mrs. Clinton is left hoping that Latinos will bail her out in the upcoming Texas primary.
The multiracialization of American politics has barely begun. When it comes to identity politics, numbers count. And a new population projection from the Pew Research Center estimates that Hispanics will grow from 42 million in 2005 to a jaw-dropping 128 million in 2050. Meanwhile, African-Americans will increase from 38 million to 57 million (while Caucasians will barely creep over the 200 million mark, presumably on the strength of Middle Eastern immigration).
The relationship between blacks and Latinos will become increasingly central to American life. It's a murky phenomenon, poorly understood by the white-dominated press. …
Americans just don't pay much attention to Latinos, period. In American public discourse, Hispanics, especially Mexican-Americans (who now number about 30 million), remain what interstellar "dark matter" is to astrophysicists -- a quantitatively significant, yet mysteriously featureless aspect of the universe.
This is not for a lack of motivation on the part of America's corporate and political elites. Consultants have been trumpeting the growing numbers of Hispanics for a generation. Marketers have been lusting for the emergence of more Mexican-American celebrities to plug their products at least since Nancy Lopez's record-setting 1978 LPGA rookie season made her the most popular lady golfer ever among advertisers.
Although the media constantly try to drum up interest in Hispanics by extolling them as "swing voters" living in "vibrant neighborhoods" and so forth and so on, the tedious reality is that the single word that best sums up Latino America is inertia. Things just sort of keep on keeping on in the general direction that they were already moving.
March 1, 2008
A new satirical website called Stuff White People Like has earned three million visits in the last ten days by offering dead-on deadpan analyses of status symbols among the under-40 upper middle class. Listed along with such de rigueur affectations of the more-sensitive-than-thou set as "Apple Products," "Threatening to Move to Canada," and "Barack Obama," is "Michel Gondry," the French director of Bjork's music videos and "such white classics as 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.'"
Christian Lander, who masterminds the site, helpfully advises:
"[Mentioning Gondry] can be used to help find common ground with white people. Talk about how you wanted to direct music videos after you saw Michel Gondry’s video for “Around the World” by Daft Punk. Then make a joke about how foolish you were at that age and everyone will have a good laugh. But they will also feel your pain about sacrificing your artistic dreams."
Like much of the stuff white people like, there is something to be said for the ingenious and ingenuous Gondry, whose video autobiography is aptly entitled "I've Been 12 Forever." His twee trademarks are childlike sets and props that he might have made out of cardboard and other junk he found in his dad's garage. Indeed, I found Gondry's surrealist comedy "The Science of Sleep," with Gael García Bernal as a boyish graphics designer who can't tell his waking and dreaming lives apart, the most delightful movie of 2006.
Yet, while Apple can charge $800 extra for a laptop, movie tickets all cost about the same, so having a small upscale fan base doesn't do much financially for Gondry. To escape the status-striver's ghetto and connect with the American mass market, Gondry is recycling the do-it-yourself aesthetic of "Science" in "Be Kind Rewind." It stars part-time heavy metal singer Jack Black and part-time rapper Mos Def. Unfortunately, although not surprisingly, American lunkheadedness and French condescension make an ineffectual combination.
The intensity of anti-Mormon feeling displayed during the defeat of Mitt Romney must have come as a shock to Mormons. They put up the most competent-looking Presidential candidate, and he gets kicked around. In a very recent poll, 32% said they wouldn't vote for a Mormon for President, compared to only 4% who wouldn't vote for a black.
That must send a wake-up call to Mormons. For generations, they've assumed that because they have a weird religion, they will have to be the most normal of Americans. But now, being a normal American is considered weird.
It will be interesting to see how Mormons respond.
The next test of the strength of anti-Mormonism in the U.S. will come in the "American Idol" voting, because a 17-year-old Hispanic Mormon kid from Utah named David Archuleta appears to be more talented than anybody else. Here's a video of his rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," in which he somehow turns the most hackneyed song in the world, the quasi-national anthem of Brussels Eurocrats, into a thing of beauty. The kid won "Star Search" at age 12 and appears to be a professional singer, so it's kind of like a 17-year-old Stevie Wonder competing against a bunch of amateurs ("Hey, Little Stevie, weren't you in all those Beach Party movies with Annette Funicello four years ago?" "Shhhhh.")
But the anti-Mormon Evangelical demographic makes up a big chunk of the phone-in voters on "American Idol," so it will be interesting to see if anybody can upset Archuleta.
By the way, it's fun to compare Archuleta's slight reworking of Lennon's limited melody to contestant Jason Yeager's attempt to make up his own melody for Henry Mancini's exquisite "Moon River." Check out the video beginning 45 seconds in, when Yeager gets a proud smile on his face as he unleashes on humanity the new tune that he's dreamed up for the line "Two drifters off to see the world."
Take that, Henry Mancini, I totally pwned you! Next, I'll do a couple of songs I like to call "The Purple Panther" and "Baby Hippopotamus Walk."
Yeager looks like Val Kilmer doing an American Idol parody on Saturday Night Live.
Also, I didn't find much on Archuleta's ethnic background, but if I had to guess, I would bet he's descended on his father's side from settlers who entered what's now the American Southwest under the King of Spain's rule many centuries ago. There's a county in Colorado named "Archuleta" down on the border with New Mexico, and most of the Archuletas in genealogical databases are from that general area.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.
High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.
Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.
Gosh, I wonder what the reason could be. I'm totally baffled. It's not like Minnesota kids usually score near the top of the NAEP tests in America.
Oh, wait, they do…
I wrote in VDARE.com last year:
In 2005, the Washington Post sent two reporters to Finland for several weeks to find out why Finland has "the world's best educational system, produces such talented musicians and architects, and has more cell phones per capita than Japan and America."
Sitting here in my pajamas in California, I could have saved the Washington Post all the expense. The most important reason why Finland is so Finlandy is because it is full of Finns.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the population is 93.4 percent Finnish. The biggest minority group at 5.7 percent is ... Swedes. Then come Russians at 0.4 percent and Estonians at 0.2 percent. Roma (Gypsies) make up 0.2 percent and the Sami (Laplanders) are 0.1 percent.
Finland maintains its borders and thus it can maintain a governmental and social system well suited to its unique population.
Of course, all these American educators will go over to Finland for a look-see and take home the exact wrong message to their schools in the 'hood: We need less discipline!
February 29, 2008
Zvi Zohar, a professor of law and Jewish studies at Bar-Ilan University, told me that in Judaism’s classical view of itself, Jews are best understood as a “large extended family” that accepted a covenant with God. Those who didn’t practice the faith remained part of the family, even if traditionally they were regarded as black sheep. Converts were adopted members of the clan.
The median price of homes sold in the San Fernando Valley (northern Los Angeles) dropped from $655,000 last June to $500,000 in January. Now, lots of people think that's the worst tragedy ever, but to my mind, half-a-mil is still way too high for the typical SFV house, which is about 35-55 years old, 1600 square feet, on a one-fifth acre lot, and with a lousy school. (But the weather is nice). Who can afford these prices without having Cousin Aram, his wife, three kids, mother-in-law, and her maiden sister move in with you and yours?
Yet, everybody who counts wants to bail out the speculators who drove the prices up to ridiculous levels.
If I were Obama or Clinton, I'd love to have a recession in 2008, so that after I win, prosperity will be back in time for my re-election bid in 2012. The last thing I'd want is to artificially postpone a correction now so that something worse comes along in three or four years.
I guess they all know something I don't know, because this Holman Jenkins column in the WSJ makes a lot of sense to me. What am I missing?
Any debate about a housing bailout can be put aside -- the bailout is underway, even in advance of specific plans being shopped around Washington by Bank of America to prop up home prices with direct subsidies to homeowners whose debt exceeds the value of their houses. No, the perverse effect won't be a replay of the '30s, or even Japan's decade of stagnation in the '90s, but the latter is your model, with a little inflation thrown in. The goal: avoid foreclosures and slow the fall of home prices to market-clearing levels.
Notice that today's bailout will be the opposite of the misnamed S&L bailout of the '80s. Then, only depositors, whose money was guaranteed under federal law, were bailed out. The federal government closed down thrifts, wiped out their shareholders, seized loan collateral and dumped it back on the market, even at firesale prices.
But this time, the liquidationist school has been routed -- so named for Herbert Hoover's Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, who said: "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. . . . It will purge the rottenness out of the system."
Making the hole even harder to climb out of in tough-love fashion, government policy itself played a big role in creating the bubble, on the bipartisan theory that homeownership begets "social stability."
Like all good things, when converted to a slogan, this idea became our road to perdition. Charles Kindleberger, the late MIT economist who wrote the classic handbook "Manias, Panics, and Crashes," noted as early as 2002 an emerging housing bubble. In an interview with this newspaper, he pointed a finger first of all at Fannie and Freddie, whose channeling of government subsidized capital into the housing market helped turn housing into a leverageable, tradeable asset class.
Result: The minting of new homes and home loans as speculative chits, which in turn has made housing more susceptible to the ups and downs of other speculative markets.
So here's the question: Do the people who would be bailed out want to be bailed out? Do they benefit from being bailed out?
For starters, many homebuyers in the last two years were rank speculators, taking out zero-down subprime loans, then walking away when the bet didn't pay off. A careful study of recent Massachusetts foreclosures by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston economists suggests that the key factor wasn't an inability to pay, but an unwillingness to pay, once falling house prices made homeownership no longer a winning speculation. These people are already skipping out, because that's their best option.
Next up, what about the low-income homeowners who (unlike speculators) were the intended beneficiaries of homeownership expansion policies? Both President Clinton and President Bush championed such initiatives, and now 69% of households own their homes, up from 64% in 1992.
February 28, 2008
There's a new Rand Corporation report out, "Education and the Asian Surge," comparing the educational systems in the two giga-countries, China and India. The report doesn't have much on actual outcomes (e.g., internationally normed achievement test scores) so it relies on nominal outputs (# of graduates) and inputs (spending), but it's still interesting because, well, because it's about China and India and they're important.
As I wrote in VDARE.com in 2004 in "Interesting India, Competitive China," India's system was long more elitist, with higher illiteracy rates but more top colleges, while China's was more egalitarian, with schooling being more widespread, but not much in the way of higher education. (Of course, the Chinese didn't have much schooling at all in 1966-1976 due to Mao's Cultural Revolution, so it's amazing that they've been able to overcome that.)
Both countries are now trying to backfill their weaknesses, and it looks like China has a sturdier base to build on. China now has a higher percentage of its young adults in college than India does. Lower level schooling in India is sapped by teacher absenteeism -- on any given day, 25% of the school teachers don't show up for work. India seems to be very erratic -- excellence and slipshodness side by side.
In general, I suspect that 21st Century China's consistency and India's inconsistency are tied back to ancient marriage patterns that increased the homogeneity of the Chinese while the Indian caste system split the subcontinent up into tens of thousands of endogamous groups.
Anthrax 2001: A reader in the Comments points out one of the key events in recent history -- the anthrax poisonings right after 2001 that helped stampede the national elite into the Iraq War -- remain unsolved and nobody much cares.
Huey Long - He was a controversial governor and senator with plans for running for President against FDR on a populist platform before being gunned down in 1935 by a doctor (or perhaps by one of his own security guards trying to shoot the doctor who was brandishing a gun at Long) for reasons that still remain murky. Nobody cares.
Martin Luther King - After being arrested in London for the murder of MLK, career criminal James Earl Ray plea-bargained his way out of trial, accepting life in prison, where he eventually died. He eventually tried to recant his plea, spinning various theories about a man named Raoul (Duke?), although admitting to have at least some involvement. Ray certainly shot King, but did Ray act completely alone? Was there any offer of money from someone? Who knows? I would imagine there remains active interest in the black community in this case, but the mainstream media is totally apathetic after a flurry of stories in the 1990s.
Watergate - All along, it looked like the FBI and/or CIA was more heavily involved in the end of the Nixon presidency than in the end of the Kennedy presidency, but nobody cared. J. Edgar Hoover's left hand man, Mark Felt, eventually came forward as Deep Throat, but nobody bought Bob Woodward's book about it.
Pym Fortuyn - The Dutch immigration restrictionist politician was murdered by environmental lawyer Volkert van der Graaf in 2002, the day after Chirac defeated Le Pen in the runoff for the French presidency, the climax of a "two-week hate" in which all right-thinking people in Europe virulently denounced anti-immigrationism. The initial general opinion of Europe's great and good was that Fortuyn had it coming. The consensus later changed to blaming it all on the gunman being one of those animal rights crazies, and that it didn't actually have anything to do with immigration, a position that was debunked by the killer himself in court testimony. Outside of Holland, Fortuyn has largely been forgotten, with Americans more familiar with the subsequent murder of a less important figure, Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim. Did anybody encourage Fortuyn's killer -- I mean, besides the entire political elite of Europe?
From The Scientist:
In an intriguing election-year twist, James Watson, the renowned biologist who made headlines last October when he told the Sunday Times that people of African descent were less intelligent than white people, has supported a person of African descent for President of the United States, according to the website opensecrets.org. Watson contributed $2,300 to the Barack Obama campaign this January.In reality, Watson has always been a Democrat, as was, according to his autobiography, his father before him.
John McCain is running on a strategy of Winning in Iraq, but nobody seems to know whose side we are on these days. We started out being on the side of the guys who are most closely associated with Iran. Lately, we've been on both sides at once. But nobody seems to be on our side. The whole situation makes Catch 22 sound like Euclid's Elements.
Now, in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face. Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening." ...
The American forces responsible for overseeing "volunteer" militias like Osama's have no illusions about their loyalty. "The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money," says a young Army intelligence officer. The 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which patrols Osama's territory, is handing out $32 million to Iraqis in the district, including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector — more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. "Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it "balancing competing armed interest groups." ...
But loyalty that can be purchased is by its very nature fickle. Only months ago, members of the Awakening were planting IEDs and ambushing U.S. soldiers. They were snipers and assassins, singing songs in honor of Fallujah and fighting what they viewed as a war of national liberation against the foreign occupiers. These are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.
"We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority," says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. "Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future."
Okay, but isn't "vast bribing machine" a reasonable definition for most governments? And maybe quasi-feudal isn't so bad? Europe puttered along for a long time being feudal. Indeed, perhaps what Iraq and Afghanistan need is formal feudalism: tell a warlord or gang leader that you're now the Earl of Fallujah, so start behaving like an Earl who expects to leave a prosperous Earldom to his son, the Second Earl of Fallujah.
Parker suggests that maybe we should just bribe more guys, which would have to be cheaper than occupying the place.
The hopeful thing is that people do eventually get tired of violence, although it can take awhile, such as three decades in Northern Ireland. My vague impression is that one of the sticking points in the 1998 agreements in Belfast was that the IRA men wanted jobs as policemen. They wanted to spend their declining years trundling about the old neighborhood, smiling at little children, cashing government paychecks, pocketing the odd bribe, whacking upside the head with a shillelagh anybody who gives them any lip. Is that too much to ask for?
Whatever happened there, anyway? My impression is that Southern Ireland finally woke up and started making lots of money, so the fighting in Northern Ireland started looking less like a zero sum game and more like a waste of time.
Are there any lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland that could be applied in Iraq?
February 27, 2008
In contrast, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, and the other Yankees seemed to hash every disagreement out in the tabloids. As a youth at the time, this always struck me as unseemly, but the Yankees had hit upon the future of entertainment -- taking back office controversies public. By the 1980s, there were top disk jockeys, like Steve Dahl in Chicago, whose act largely consisted of on-air squabbling with station management. By the late 1990s, reality TV shows like Survivor and Big Brother became popular even though they consisted of little besides inside dirt on who was doing down whom.
Leon Hadar points to a Ryan Lizza New Yorker article that makes clear, without quite noticing it, that John McCain enjoys favorable press coverage because he runs his campaign as a sort of private reality show for the reporters important enough to be on the bus covering him:
"It is bracing to drop in on the McCain campaign after covering the overly managed productions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Democratic candidates rarely speak to the travelling press. McCain not only packs his bus with reporters (whom he often greets with an affectionate “Hello, jerks!”) but talks until the room is filled with the awkward silence of journalists with no more questions. ... McCain and his aides openly discuss strategy, whether it’s Brooke Buchanan, McCain’s travelling press secretary, prepping him for a press conference (“ABC might ask about that”) or McCain discussing his targeting strategy for Tampa (“I thought we did a robo-call to tell people about Schwarzkopf”—referring to the endorsement by General Norman Schwarzkopf). ...
McCain’s open-access policy is partly strategic. After all, he is able to hammer talking points like any politician. (It’s not just his jokes that he repeats.) But, by engaging reporters in long, even substantive conversations, he also disarms them. The incentive to ask “gotcha” questions that feed the latest news cycle is greatly reduced, and the hours of exposure to McCain breed a relationship that inclines journalists to be more careful about describing the context of his statements.
This doesn't mean that reporters get anything important out of McCain about what he would actually do as President. He doesn't seem to say anything terribly interesting. He just gossips about horserace politics, like how much he hates Mitt Romney and how much he finds Ron Paul's supporters to be weird, and they find it fascinating.
Strikingly, the top-rated show of the decade, American Idol, follows the old-fashioned Dodger strategy. It completely ignores all the backstage conflicts among the performers and just shows them singing. Similarly, the Obama campaign keeps reporters away from both the candidate, and even his supporters, as much as possible: "The Obama campaign, like the Bush White House, prides itself on message discipline and tracks down leakers with a frightening intensity."
Here's a top of the head list of the most important assassinations of political leaders in America since WWII, plus attempts on the life of Presidents and Presidential candidates, with a rough grouping of the assassins in terms of left, right, or apolitical crazy.Harry Truman - Left -- Puerto Rican terrorists - Left
John F. Kennedy - Left -- Lee Harvey Oswald - Left
Malcolm X - Left -- Nation of Islam hitmen - Left
Martin Luther King - Left -- Conspiracy of white racists and criminals - Right
Robert F. Kennedy - Left -- Sirhan Sirhan - Left
George Wallace - Right -- Arthur Bremer - Apolitical Crazy
Gerald Ford - Right -- Squeaky Fromme -- Left or Crazy?
John Lennon - Left -- What's His Name - Apolitical Crazy
Ronald Reagan - Right -- John Hinckley - Apolitical Crazy
In the candidate's debate last night, Tim Russert raised Louis Farrakhan's recent support for Sen. Obama, and even mentioned Obama's spiritual advisor's recent award to Farrakhan. But, of course, the entire fairly lengthy discussion was approached purely from the standpoint of Farrakhan's anti-Semitism rather than from his more general anti-whiteism (is that even a word?). There was nothing, for example, about the Nation of Islam dogma that evil Dr. Yacub on the Isle of Patmos genetically engineered Europeans to be a race of human wolves. These days, anti-Semitism is absolutely disqualifying, but anti-whitism (in fact, I don't even know how to spell the word, if it is a word) is not worth mentioning.
For example, for Greg Cochran's benefit, here's a transcript from the New York Sun, "In Cleveland, Obama Speaks on Jewish Issues." After an earlier question from the audience at a Jewish gathering about Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. and Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Obama distances himself from Zbigniew Brzeziński, Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser. While Brzeziński was born in Poland, like no doubt some in the audience, he was born to the wrong kind of parents in Poland (see "Borat" for details).
"There is a spectrum of views in terms of how the US and Israel should be interacting. It has evolved over time. It means that somebody like Brzezinski who, when he was national security advisor would be considered not outside of the mainstream in terms of his perspective on these issues, is now considered by many in the Jewish Community anathema. I know Brzezinski he's not one of my key advisors. I've had lunch with him once, I've exchanged emails with him maybe 3 times. He came to Iowa to introduce for a speech on Iraq. He and I agree that Iraq was an enormous strategic blunder and that input from him has been useful in assessing Iraq, as well as Pakistan, where actually, traditionally, if you will recall he was considered a hawk. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party was very suspicious of Brzezinski precisely because he was so tough on many of these issues. I do not share his views with respect to Israel. I have said so clearly and unequivocally."
In contrast to the anti-Semitism non-issue, Obama's feelings about whites in general are very complex, as he explains at vast length in his autobiography. And they don't much fit in with the Oprahesque image he has been pushing on the campaign trail.
His denunciations of Farrakhan in public this week over Farrakhan's anti-Semitism differ sharply from his much more nuanced discussion of the anti-whiteism of Blacks Muslims and Farrakhan on pp. 195-204 of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. On p. 200, Obama writes:
"If [black] nationalism could create a strong and effective insularity, deliver on its promise of self-respect, then the hurt it might cause well-meaning whites, or the inner turmoil it caused people like me, would be of little consequence."
But, after a discussion of the failure of the Nation of Islam's attempts to sell black-only toothpaste and other consumer products, Obama rejects Farrakhanism as being unable to "create a strong and effective insularity."
In front of the Cleveland Jewish group, Obama addressed a question from the audience about the Farrakhan-Wright connection in greater detail
"It is true that my Pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who will be retiring this month, is somebody who on occasion can say controversial things. Most of them by the way are controversial directed at the African American Community and calling on them start reading books and turn off the TV set and engage in self help. And he is very active in prison ministries and so forth. It is also true that he comes out of the 60s he is an older man. That is where he cut his teeth. That he has historically been interested in the African roots of the African American experience. He was very active in the South Africa divestment movement and you will recall that there was a tension that arose between the African American and the Jewish communities During that period when we were dealing with apartheid in South Africa, because Israel and South Africa had a relationship at that time. And that cause - that was a source of tension. So there have been a couple of occasions where he made comments with relation, rooted in that. Not necessarily ones that I share. But that is the context within which he has made those comments.
"He does not have a close relationship with Louis Farrakhan. Louis Farrakhan is a resident of Chicago and as a consequence he has been active in a range of community activities, particularly around ex-offenders and dealing with them. I have been a consistent, before I go any further, a consistent denunciator of Louis Farrakhan, nobody challenges that. And what is true is that, recently this is probably, I guess last year. An award was given to Farrakhan for his work on behave of ex-offenders completely unrelated to his controversial statements."
Obama is lying in this last sentence. The Wright family in 2007 put together an elaborate video tribute to Farrakhan that they presumably showed at their gala Hyatt Regency bash on 11/2/07 when they gave Farrakhan the newly concocted "Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Trumpeter Award" for "Lifetime Achievement."
The video praises Farrakhan for all sorts of things, but not for "his work on [behalf] of ex-offenders." Nor did they distance themselves from his "controversial statements." I gave Obama a break on this excuse of his back in January when he first responded, thinking he might not have known the truth, but he has since had plenty of time to review the copious materials the Wrights put together honoring Farrakhan, so now he is being deliberately misleading.
"And I believe that was a mistake and showed a lack of sensitivity to Jewish community and I said so. But I have never heard an anti-Semitic made inside of our church. I have never heard anything that would suggest anti-Semitism on part of the Pastor. He is like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with. And I suspect there are some of the people in this room who have heard relatives say some things that they don't agree with. Including, on occasion directed at African Americans that maybe a possibility that's just - I am not suggesting that's definitive."But Obama is, as always, highly vague about what exactly he disagrees with Wright about other than Wright publicly praising Farrakhan.
The implication is that this Farrakhan stuff is just Wright going senile. (Wright is all of 66 years old.) In reality, Wright also went with Farrakhan to Libya to visit Col. Muammar Gadaffi in 1984, at the height of Libyan-sponsored terrorism, four years before Obama chose Wright's church out of all the many he had come in contact with on the South Side of Chicago as a Saul Alinsky-style "community organizer." Wright, Obama's most important role model in the 1980s and 1990s, is simply a radical far outside the American mainstream. And that's one reason Obama carefully selected him when he needed to join a church to further his career.
So, to sum up, we see Obama working harder to distance himself from Zbigniew Brzeziński than from Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
The murderer who inspired Michael Kinsley's crack about how boring the LA Times is finally gets sentenced to life without parole:
Authorities alleged that Graff was on a methamphetamine binge when he walked into the upscale Hollywood neighborhood and savaged the men, whose homes are separated by a backyard fence...
Graff attacked the co-writer of the 1948 comedy classic "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and writer on the TV show "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," beheading him and removing some of his organs. Then he carried the head from Lees' home over a back fence to Engelson's home on Stanley Avenue, between Hollywood and Sunset boulevards.
Graff fatally stabbed the doctor with his own kitchen knives, police said. Engelson had been on the telephone making airline reservations for a business trip to San Jose. The agent reported hearing a commotion before the line went dead.
It starts off, though, with the now-mandatory couple of pages of description, starting with a head injury victim and going on to MRI scans, of where exactly in the brain the number sense may or may not reside. I always skip over these sections of articles, perhaps because I lack the part of the brain that allows me to think three-dimensionally.
And, because I never seem to wind up missing anything important.
The NYT Magazine had a laugh last year at how credulous we are in the face of brain scan explanations:
"A paper published online in September by the journal Cognition shows that assertions about psychology — even implausible ones like “watching television improved math skills” — seem much more believable to laypeople when accompanied by images from brain scans."
This is not to say that this it won't eventually prove hugely useful for the layman to have a thorough understanding of brain anatomy, but I don't think that time has arrived yet.
But the second half of the article gets more interesting:
"Nowhere in all this elaborate brain circuitry, alas, is there the equivalent of the chip found in a five-dollar calculator. This deficiency can make learning that terrible quartet—“Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision,” as Lewis Carroll burlesqued them—a chore. It’s not so bad at first.
"Our number sense endows us with a crude feel for addition, so that, even before schooling, children can find simple recipes for adding numbers. If asked to compute 2 + 4, for example, a child might start with the first number and then count upward by the second number: “two, three is one, four is two, five is three, six is four, six.”
"But multiplication is another matter. It is an “unnatural practice,” Dehaene is fond of saying, and the reason is that our brains are wired the wrong way. Neither intuition nor counting is of much use, and multiplication facts must be stored in the brain verbally, as strings of words. The list of arithmetical facts to be memorized may be short, but it is fiendishly tricky: the same numbers occur over and over, in different orders, with partial overlaps and irrelevant rhymes. (Bilinguals, it has been found, revert to the language they used in school when doing multiplication.)
"The human memory, unlike that of a computer, has evolved to be associative, which makes it ill-suited to arithmetic, where bits of knowledge must be kept from interfering with one another: if you’re trying to retrieve the result of multiplying 7 X 6, the reflex activation of 7 + 6 and 7 X 5 can be disastrous. So multiplication is a double terror: not only is it remote from our intuitive sense of number; it has to be internalized in a form that clashes with the evolved organization of our memory. The result is that when adults multiply single-digit numbers they make mistakes ten to fifteen per cent of the time. For the hardest problems, like 7 X 8, the error rate can exceed twenty-five per cent."
You just have to have the Times Table pounded into your head over and over as a kid, but our education system is against "rote learning," so school kids aren't usually forced to chant them like in the good old days. But kids actually kind of like rote learning. (It's adults who hate learning that way, and especially hate teaching that way.) Kids like singing the alphabet song, for instance. You'd think educators would find a times table rap that today's children would like.
"Our inbuilt ineptness when it comes to more complex mathematical processes has led Dehaene to question why we insist on drilling procedures like long division into our children at all. There is, after all, an alternative: the electronic calculator. “Give a calculator to a five-year-old, and you will teach him how to make friends with numbers instead of despising them,” he has written. By removing the need to spend hundreds of hours memorizing boring procedures, he says, calculators can free children to concentrate on the meaning of these procedures, which is neglected under the educational status quo."
I dunno. I spent the 1980s and 1990s in the business world, where arithmetic would be useful in practically every discussion, even if just for doing reality checks of ideas. Yet, I observed then that the only people who carried calculators around with them all the time were the computer geeks, who were way above average at doing arithmetic in their heads or on paper. Maybe it's now changed now that everybody has a cell phone, which can serve as a calculator (although, come to think of it, I never used my last cell phone as a calculator).
"This attitude might make Dehaene sound like a natural ally of educators who advocate reform math, and a natural foe of parents who want their children’s math teachers to go “back to basics.” But when I asked him about reform math he wasn’t especially sympathetic. “The idea that all children are different, and that they need to discover things their own way—I don’t buy it at all,” he said. “I believe there is one brain organization. We see it in babies, we see it in adults. Basically, with a few variations, we’re all travelling on the same road.”
Steven Pinker emphasizes that humans are awfully alike qualitatively, but not necessarily quantitatively. We all breathe oxygen, for example, but some people can function in the thin air above 20,000 feet and some people can't.
"He admires the mathematics curricula of Asian countries like China and Japan, which provide children with a highly structured experience, anticipating the kind of responses they make at each stage and presenting them with challenges designed to minimize the number of errors. “That’s what we’re trying to get back to in France,” he said. Working with his colleague Anna Wilson, Dehaene has developed a computer game called “The Number Race” to help dyscalculic children. The software is adaptive, detecting the number tasks where the child is shaky and adjusting the level of difficulty to maintain an encouraging success rate of seventy-five per cent."
When my kids were little, we bought a computer arithmetic drilling game in which you helped basketball star David Robinson (who scored 1300 on the SAT, old-style) beat the bad guys by getting the right answers. It had adaptive logic that gave you extra work on what you were having difficulty with. It was wiped out in the market place by games with more elaborate graphics that didn't adjust to errors.
In 1980, the military's AFQT entrance exam (which was used in The Bell Curve) was a discouraging 105 pages long. It was discovered years later that black males were particularly likely to give up early, which was one reason the white-black IQ gap in that test was a anomalously large 18.6 points. In 1997, a computerized version of the AFQT was introduced, which provides easier questions if you get a lot wrong. The white-black gap on that is only 14.7 points. So, this kind of software can be useful.
"Today, Arabic numerals are in use pretty much around the world, while the words with which we name numbers naturally differ from language to language. And, as Dehaene and others have noted, these differences are far from trivial. English is cumbersome. … Chinese, by contrast, is simplicity itself; its number syntax perfectly mirrors the base-ten form of Arabic numerals, with a minimum of terms. Consequently, the average Chinese four-year-old can count up to forty, whereas American children of the same age struggle to get to fifteen. And the advantages extend to adults. Because Chinese number words are so brief—they take less than a quarter of a second to say, on average, compared with a third of a second for English—the average Chinese speaker has a memory span of nine digits, versus seven digits for English speakers. (Speakers of the marvellously efficient Cantonese dialect, common in Hong Kong, can juggle ten digits in active memory.)"
Interesting. Nobody is more number crazy than Hong Kongers -- just check out their gambling obsession.
But aren't the East Asian advantages in math ability rooted more on the visual side? Dan Seligman's intro to IQ, A Question of Intelligence has a fun chapter comparing the visual approach of the Japanese to the verbal approach of the Jews. A friend told me once that Leon Kamin, the left wing psychologist who wrote Not In Our Genes with Richard Lewontin and Steven Rose, refused to believe that some people used visual imagination to help them work with numbers. Kamin can do prodigious feats of mental arithmetic working wholly verbally in his head. Perhaps he's descended from a long line of kabbalists?
February 26, 2008
Last year, the little envelope-with-an-arrow icon you see below, which lets you conveniently email a link to my posting to friends, suddenly disappeared. Now, it's back, and it only took me a mere three hours of head-scratching to fix it.
There's been a lot of attention paid lately to the vast endowments piled up by the most prestigious universities. Harvard's endowment recently hit $35 billion, which generates so much return each year that tuition is an afterthought in Harvard's budgeting process.
One reason is that Harvard graduates tend to be richer, so they can afford to give more to dear old Harvard. And people try to get their kids in by giving money. Another reason is that a lot of charity is just an excuse to get together with rich and influential people. Where are you more likely to meet a useful business contact -- at a fundraising cocktail party for Cal State Northridge alumni or for Harvard alumni?
But, something else that has been going on is that at least some of the most exclusive, most famous universities have been earning remarkable returns on their investment. Harvard earned 23% on its endowment in the fiscal year ending last June. Yale's endowment manager wrote a book on how he beat the market for some incredible number of years in a row.
I'm sure he's really good at his job, but I'm wondering, though, if there might not be another factor at work in the most exclusive colleges getting the highest returns on their investments.
Maybe they've just been piling on the excessive risk and one of these years it will all come crashing down. Maybe.
Somebody might want to see if there is a correlation between endowment ROIs and various measures of admissions exclusivity, such as are collected by USN&WR.
In 1992 she earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Hawai'i. Her dissertation, "Peasant blacksmithing in Indonesia: Surviving and Thriving Against All Odds," was 1067 pages long. 
All nostalgic Americans should thank Fidel Castro for preserving for us a slice of the Eisenhower Era. From pictures I've seen of Havana today, it looks like a set from "West Side Story," with ladies hanging their wash on lines from their tenement windows and big Detroit cars with giant tailfins somehow kept running. And people still seem to care about Hemingway. (Too bad, of course, about the folks who have had to live there.)
The American Conservative recently sent Fred Reed to Havana:
The country is poor and run down, and itself almost a museum. Sitting in the DiMar is like visiting the Fifties. The American embargo makes it hard to get new cars, so many Cubans still drive cars from 1959, the year of the revolution, and before. Some sport jazzy paint jobs, and others don’t. It was remarkable to watch the rides of my adolescence go by, charting them mentally as one did in 1964—’54 Merc, ’57 Caddy, ’56 Chevy, on and on. Around me the other customers, down-scale Cubans in all shades of nonwhite, laughed and chatted. ...
The island could use some investment. While I found neighborhoods with nice-looking modern houses, said by taxi drivers to belong to governmental officials and employees of foreign firms, the rest of the city needs paint, repairs, and new sidewalks. Countless once-elegant houses with pillared porches and tall windows are now discolored and crumbling.Why communists imagine themselves to be revolutionary is a mystery. Whenever they gain power in a country, it comes to a dead stop and sits there as other countries pass it by. I do not think that communism generates poverty; rather it finds it and preserves it. It has certainly done so here. Cuba seems firmly mired in 1959.
For several weeks, I've been noticing that a lot of Obama supporters seem to fantasize about their man being assassinated. The creepy NYT article, "In Painful Past, Hushed Worry About Obama," only confirms this hunch. To be crass, I think a lot of Obamaniacs are fondling this fantasy, unable to keep themselves from noticing that a slain Obama would provide them with an iconic image of great usefulness.
But after November 22, 1963, everything changed.
Like JFK, Obama is cautious and crafty. As a President, Obama would likely prove a disappointment to many of his fervent supporters. As a martyr, though, the sky's the limit.
P.S. At least we don't have to worry about Obama being endangered by the same forces of hatred that called for Malcolm X's assassination. After all, this time, Louis Farrakhan is on the young paladin's side.
February 25, 2008
I know I blogged a lot about Michelle Obama last week, but my new VDARE column on her includes much new material and presents, perhaps for the first time, a coherent picture of how her life story drives her strong attitudes on major racial issues, which, in turn, suggests something about her husband's inner views.
Here's an excerpt about her career:
After a few years at Sidley Austin, she let her law license lapse and began working as go-between for Mayor Daley's Machine. She has since enjoyed the kind of vague but well-paid career made possible by affirmative action. The description on the candidate's website of what exactly she's been doing for the U. of Chicago Medical Center is eye-glazing but ultimately revealing: she's in the diversity racket.
"She also managed the business diversity program. Michelle has fostered the University of Chicago's relationship with the surrounding community and developed the diversity program, making them both integral parts of the Medical Center's mission."
With great power comes great rewards. A couple of months after her husband was sworn in as U.S. Senator, Michelle's salary at the Medical Center was raised from $121,910 to $316,962.
A cynic might say that this rather resembles a $195,000 annual … uh, investment by a large private medical institution in the good will of a U.S. Senator and potential President who may well play the crucial role in deciding whether or not there will continue to be large private medical institutions.
Another way of looking at it is that Michelle's value on the influence market went up $200,000 when her husband moved up, so the Medical Center had to ante up or lose her to somebody else who would pay the going rate for the spouse of a political superstar.
Still, to say that would be to suggest that Michelle Obama on her own isn't worth $316,962, which, like any and all skepticism about the Obamas, would be racist. So, almost nobody in America is saying it.
The Daily Mail of London has taken a more jaundiced view:
"An acquaintance of Obama's family compares her with another political wife, another lawyer as it happens, with a keen interest in making money. "Michelle is very much like Cherie Blair [wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair]. She is a middle-class girl who has discovered that money is nice and doesn't see that as a contradiction with having radical beliefs," he said.
Chicago's veteran political consultant and pundit Joe Novak agrees, saying: "She [Michelle] is now motivated more by personal gain than by social consciousness. She saw her opportunities, and she took them." … [More]
Yes, he's a white person, not an Asian as various commenters theorized at length.
The comments on his site tend to be pretty funny in their cluelessness about his motivations. The most obvious analog to Christian, who describes himself as "a general snob," is Tom Wolfe, but without all the exclamation points: a political and cultural conservative with a contrary streak who is an acute observer of status symbols not because he disdains material possessions but because he has strong aesthetic opinions about, well, stuff.
I'm working on a review of "Be Kind Rewind," which is directed by Michel Gondry, and I found something similar:
"Much of Be Kind Rewind takes place on a rundown street corner in Passaic, N.J., with which Gondry clearly developed an affinity. ... Gondry himself grew up in the Paris suburb of Versailles, and says he identifies with that feeling of detachment from the big city but also envy of its glitter and commercialism."
Right. Passaic and Versailles -- two peas in a pod, both equally obscure. (Although I'm not sure that a lack of glitter is what first comes to mind when I hear the name "Versailles.")
I'm reminded of how much of art these days (always?) consists of preserving your adolescent emotions, such as self-pity. The Coen Bros. are living out an adolescent daydream of making an Oscar-winning movie with your brother, but at least they've never displayed the slightest hint that they feel sorry for themselves (or so I hope).