March 28, 2009

Obama's brilliant management keeps Fargo from turning into flood ravaged hellhole

Just giving credit where it's due ...

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Maureen Dowd: "Blue Eyed Greed?"

As I've mentioned before, many a female pundit's output consists in large part of demands that society's structures and values be revolutionized so that she, personally, will be considered hotter-looking.

Thus, Maureen Dowd writes in today's NY Times in "Blue Eyed Greed?"
At a press conference Thursday in Brasilia with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain — who has a talent for getting himself into dicey spots — Lula started off coughing from some cheese bread he’d wolfed down. Then he suddenly turned accusatory.

“This crisis was caused by the irrational behavior of white people with blue eyes, who before the crisis appeared to know everything and now demonstrate that they know nothing,” charged the brown-eyed, bearded socialist president.

As the brown-eyed Brown grew a whiter shade of pale, Lula hammered the obvious point that the poor of the world were suffering in the global crash because of the misdeeds of the rich.

“I do not know any black or indigenous bankers,” said Lula.

That's just because Brazil is backwards in terms of affirmative action, not starting it until a few years ago. Here in America we've enjoyed the services of Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae and HUD, Stanley O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, and Henry Cisneros of HUD and various home-building schemes.

Perhaps Maureen and Lula got their demographic data from watching old Washington Mutual TV ads?

... The “Lula lulu” by the “Brazil nut,” as The New York Post dubbed it, became big news just as President Obama met at the White House with Vikram Pandit and a cadre of white-bread bankers who have taken the bailout — some of whom, like Jamie Dimon, have distinctly blue eyes.

And it is true, of course, that the upper-crust, underwhelming Anglo-Saxon leaders who allowed America’s financial markets to morph into louche casinos, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, were very, very white men with blue eyes. ...

Before President Obama, whose brown eyes are opaque when you look into them, presidents have been more known for blue eyes. The ones with brown eyes, Richard Nixon and L.B.J., came a cropper.

Throughout history, whether it’s images of Jesus that don’t look Middle Eastern or Barbies who don’t look ethnic, blue eyes and white skin have often been painted as the ideal.

The cerulean-eyed Paul Newman once wryly predicted his epitaph: “Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown.”

Surveys show that people with blue eyes are considered more intelligent, attractive and sociable.

A 2007 University of Louisville study concluded that people with blue eyes were better planners and strategic thinkers — superior at things like golf, cross-country running and preparing for exams — while people with brown eyes had better reflexes, making them good at hockey and football.

Lula’s rant underscored an ancient rivalry.

When I was little, growing up in a house that prominently displayed a blue-eyed Jesus and a blue-eyed J.F.K., I felt my brown eyes were far less attractive than my brothers’ blue ones.

I obsessed on it so much, cutting out a picture of a beautiful brown-eyed model and keeping it in my scrapbook, that my mother finally reassured me:

“You look at blue eyes. You look into brown eyes.”

Later, of course, there would be the thrill of Van Morrison serenading a “Brown-Eyed Girl.”

Before Barack Obama, when I interviewed the brown-eyed sons of immigrants who were thinking of running for president, Mario Cuomo and Colin Powell, they seemed torn about taking the big plunge, given how far they had come in relation to their dads.

I asked Governor Cuomo if he was leaving the field to “the privileged blue-eyed WASPs” like Bush senior and Dan Quayle who felt entitled and never worried about their worthiness.

Barack Obama and his family have already had a profound effect on the culture in terms of what is beautiful and marketable. Black faces are popping up in all kinds of ads now — wearing straw boaters and other prepster outfits in Ralph Lauren ads.

With Michelle urging students to aim for A’s and the president promising to make school “cool,” brown eyes may finally — and rightfully — overtake blue as the windows of winners.

Sorry, Maureen, but your nemesis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is brown-eyed, so you can't actually blame society's prejudice against brown eyes for you not snagging Michael Douglas.

So, I spent some time looking at photographs of Bernie Madoff, Joseph Cassano of AIG FP, Allen Stanford, Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide, Kerry Killinger of WaMu, Roland Arnall of Ameriquest, Joy Jackson of Stripper Fraud Mortages, and various other people who have distinguished themselves in the financial world in recent years, and I came to the conclusion that it's really hard to tell what color eyes people have from candid photographs. Most people have boring-colored eyes.

Unless you have Paul Newman's eyes, you have to be as vain/insecure as Maureen Dowd and spend enough time and money on having your hair dye and lipstick complement your eye color and then have the best glamour photography to make your eye color as readily apparent as her's in her column photo.

By the way, can we finally lose the term "white-bread?" I suspect that for a few decades now, blue-eyed people eat less white bread per capita than brown-eyed people.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

JournoList: Unclear on the Concept

The point of having an invitation-only closed email list is to let people say and hear in private the insightful things that it would be bad for their careers to say and hear in public.

Yet, the liberal reporters and pundits on the JournoList closed email list apparently view their list as an opportunity to exchange with each other exactly the same ignorant eye-rolling, the same politically correct inanities that they spout in public, just with more bad language!

Mickey Kaus has some leaked emails, and Your Lying Eyes absolutely nails the analysis.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 27, 2009

Medical School Test Scores, GPAs, and Acceptance Rates by Race

Also of potential interest: Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores by race

Nicholas Kristof recently wrote a NYT column about how pundits should be graded by how accurate their predictions are. But most of my predictions are really boring and depressing. So, none of the other pundits would touch making predictions about topics I'm interested in.

Everybody else likes to make predictions about tournament-like phenomenon that are inherently interesting because they are hard to predict: e.g., Who's going to win the NCAA basketball championship? Who's going to win the next election? Will the stock market go up or down? So, most pundits aren't much more accurate than random, but they are popular.

In contrast, I hate being wrong, so I like to make predictions about things that have a track record. I've been following social science stats for 37 years now the way Bill James follows baseball stats. (National Review published a letter from me commenting on Ernst Van Den Haag's review of Christopher Jencks' Inequality: A Reassement of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America when I was a freshman in high school.) Over that time, not all that much has changed.

For example, after I posted LSAT scores of law school applicants by race, a reader asked about MCAT scores of medical school applicants by race.

So, I said, to myself: I bet the MCAT scores will be a lot like the LSATs, except for the Asian non-verbal boost that will show up more in the MCATs than the LSATs.

From the American Association of Medical Colleges, here are the 2007 MCAT scores and GPAs for both applicants and matriculants (i.e., people who were accepted and enrolled). I spent some time converting them from raw mean scores (which you can find at the link above) to where each group would fall on the white percentile ranking. In other words, the mean score for whites is set to always be the 50th percentile. So, the mean score of the Mexican-American applicants on the MCAT's Verbal Reasoning subtest would fall at the 21st percentile of white applicants, the African-American mean would fall at the 10th percentile, and the Asian-American at the 36th percentile. (This is based on the means and the standard deviations, so it assumes normality. Your mileage may vary, but this should be close enough.)

2007 Med School Mex-Am Af-Am Asian-Am White
Total Applicants 1,034 3,133 8,390 24,136
% of total applicants 2.4% 7.4% 19.8% 57.0%

Percentile if White
MCAT Verbal Reason 21% 10% 36% 50%
MCAT Physical Sci 25% 14% 61% 50%
MCAT Biological Sci 25% 10% 54% 50%
GPA science 26% 15% 45% 50%
GPA non-science 32% 24% 45% 50%
GPA total 26% 16% 45% 50%

Acceptance rate 43% 36% 42% 44%

Total Matriculants 441 1,139 3,535 10,632
% of total matriculants 2.5% 6.4% 19.9% 59.9%

Percentile if White
MCAT VR 23% 12% 43% 50%
MCAT PS 25% 15% 67% 50%
MCAT BS 27% 14% 61% 50%
GPA science 19% 12% 49% 50%
GPA non-science 29% 24% 48% 50%
GPA total 24% 15% 48% 50%

Obviously, there's a lot of affirmative action in the med school racket: the acceptance rate (43%) for Mexican-Americans is virtually the same as for non-Hispanic Whites (44%) even though Mexican Americans average around the 26th percentile of the white distribution in MCATs and college GPA. And 36% of blacks get accepted compared to 44% of whites even though blacks scores and grades are down around the 17th percentile of the white distribution.

In fact, the AAMC posts offical grids showing how much easier it is to get into medical school for Non-Asian Minorities (NAMs) than for overall applicants. For example, 32.4% of "self-identified" NAMs get accepted to medical school with 3.00 to 3.19 GPAs and MCATs of 21-23, while only 13.4% of overall applicants get in with the same credentials. For applicants with 3.40 to 3.59 GPAs and 24-26 on the MCAT, 67.1 of NAMs get in versus 27.5% of the overall applicants (and somewhat less for Whites/Asians, of course).

In summary, it's probably a good idea to get a second opinion.

There just aren't many high-scoring NAMS. Only 45 of the 1,682 applicants who scored 39-45 on the MCAT (the highest bracket) were NAMs. In contrast, NAMs made up 1,731 of the 2,705 in the lowest scoring bracket of 5-14.

Asians are accepted at a 42% rate versus 44% for whites, which sounds about right because their test scores are almost exactly the same and their grades are slightly worse.

One interesting note is that white applicants to med school have slightly better grades in college than Asians, both in science and non-science courses. I suspect that whites who apply to med school tend to be individuals who want to be doctors, while Asian-Americans who apply to med school tend more than whites to be individuals whose parents want them to be doctors. Hence, the much higher percentage of Asians who apply to medical school, and their slightly less impressive college grades.

Also of potential interest: Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores by race

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Maximizing Uncertainty for Fun and Profit

People who have actually successfully managed something larger than their own images, such as former Intel CEO Andy Grove in his Washington Post Op-Ed "Mr. President, Time to Rein in the Chaos," have been urging President Obama to prioritize and concentrate. For example, Obama has been going out of his way to keep an immigration amnesty an open possibility, even though such an attempt would likely prove politically disastrous for him.

A reader explains why Grove's advice is naive:
There is an important observation to be made about what Obama is doing, and I wish that you would say something about it.

Suppose a new president came to Washington and said, "I basically won't change a thing. My motto is 'Business as Usual.'" What kind of attention would that president get from lobbyists? Obviously, none. Campaign donations would drop precipitously. Corporations would lay off their lobbyists.

The opposite of that is a practice of keeping all the balls in the air, with massive regulation proposals in the works for all major industries. Massive financial system reform! Massive healthcare reform! Massive energy reform! This gets every lobbyist involved. It maximizes the shakedown.

Shakedown is maximized as long as all the balls are kept in the air. Should any reform be settled, lobbying efforts could wind down.

Washington journalists love "Massive X reform." It's good for the local economy, and no doubt helps them collect bribes and gifts. What would they think of a president who said, "Business as usual?" They would hate him. He would be bad for the Washington journalism business.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


A continuing theme here is the distinction between acceptable public discourse about IQ (it's meaningless, it's biased, it's evil, it's useless) and private behavior (it's important, it's what makes me better than those Sarah Palin fans).

For example, consider law school admissions, which are a key part of the American power structure. Top law schools place a strong weight on one's test score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). I never took that test, but at a quick glance, it strikes me as a very good test of verbal IQ.

Of course, compared to, say, Raven's Progressive Matrices, it's culturally biased (it's only in English, and it helps to be familiar with the subject matter of the reading comprehension selections, such as the practice question discussion of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man), and it obviously helps to study up on the tricks for figuring out logical puzzles using pencil and paper. But those tricks are worth knowing in general, and if you really want to make lawyering your life work, well, it's hardly asking too much to practice taking the test.

Via the interesting quant blog Le Carrefour de la Sagesse, I found the Law School Admissions Council report "LSAT Performance with Regional, Gender, and Racial/Ethnic Breakdowns:"
... Designed to measure analytical (or deductive) and verbal (or informal logic ) reasoning skills and reading comprehension, the specific item type makeup of the scored portion of the current test is as follows:

Item Type Number of Items
Reading Comprehension 26–28
Logical Reasoning A 24–26
Logical Reasoning B 24–26
Analytical Reasoning 22–24

A 35-minute writing sample is also administered at the end of the test. Prior to the 2005–2006 testing year, the time given for this writing sample was 30 minutes. Writing samples are not scored, but copies of the writing assessment are sent to all law schools to which the test taker applies.

Here's a sample analytical reasoning question:
A law firm has exactly nine partners: Fox, Glassen, Hae, Inman, Jacoby, Kohn, Lopez, Malloy, and Nassar. Their salary structure must meet the following conditions: Kohn’s salary is greater than both Inman’s and Lopez’s.

Lopez’s salary is greater than Nassar’s.
Inman’s salary is greater than Fox’s.
Fox’s salary is greater than Malloy’s.
Malloy’s salary is greater than Glassen’s.
Glassen’s salary is greater than Jacoby’s.
Jacoby’s salary is greater than Hae’s.

If Malloy and Nassar earn the same salary, what is the minimum number of partners that must have lower salaries than Lopez?

(A) 3
(B) 4
(C) 5
(D) 6
(E) 7

Answer on P. 21. "This is considered an item of “middle difficulty.”" These kind of questions are helpful in figuring out if somebody can work through the logic of a proposed contractual clause to figure out if does what the clients want it to do. Much of lawyer work resembles computer programming in a language based on 15th Century English. You write a lot of if-then-else statements and then debug them.

And here's a Logical Reasoning question, most of which seem to involve pointing out logical fallacies:
A study has shown that there are still millions of people who are unaware that they endanger their health by smoking cigarettes. This is so despite government campaigns to warn people of the dangers of smoking. Reluctantly, one has to draw the conclusion that the mandatory warnings that tobacco companies are required to print have had no effect. Which one of the following, if true, would refute the argument in the passage?

(A) Many people who continue to smoke are aware of the dangers of smoking.
(B) Some people smoke cigarettes for legitimate reasons.
(C) Government has had to force companies to warn potential customers of the dangers of their products.
(D) Some people who are aware of the dangers of smoking were made aware of them by the mandatory warnings.
(E) Smoking is clearly responsible for a substantial proportion of preventable illness in the country.

Answer on p. 23-24. "This question is classified as “difficult”; only 44 percent
of test takers answered it correctly." Forty percent of test-takers fall for a red herring answer.

How is it scored:
As the content of the LSAT has evolved over time, the scale used to report LSAT scores has also been changed on a couple of occasions. The original LSAT scale of 200–800 remained from 1948 until 1982. Due in part to a concern that this scale gave the impression of too much precision, a scale that ranged from 10–50 was established in June 1982. This scale was later reduced to 10–48. Major changes incorporated into the current version of the test, introduced in June 1991, resulted in another score-scale change, establishing the 120–180 scale...

The results form a near perfect bell curve with mean/median/mode just above 150. (See Figure 2) with a standard deviation of about 10. So, a 180 would be three standard deviations above the mean, which, since the mean test-taker is well above average, is off the charts.

Men outscore women on averge by 1 to 2 points, with men and women split almost exactly equally among test takers.

Mean scores by race for 2005-2006:

African Americans: 142.3
Native Americans: 147.3
Asian Americans: 152.1
Caucasian: 152.7
Hispanic: 146.5
Mexican American: 147.7
Puerto Rican: 138.3
Other: 150.7
No Response: 155.2

So, we see the usual one standard deviation difference between blacks and whites, what La Griffe du Lion calls the Fundamental Constant of Sociology. The Mexican American score (o.52 standard deviations lower than non-Hispanic whites) is a little better than what we usually see.

The low scores of African Americans and Puerto Ricans relative to Mexican Americans are probably related to the large number who take the test (11,288 African Americans and 2,274 Puerto Ricans) relative to Mexican Americans (only 1,789).

In comparison, 72,700 Caucasians and 8,976 Asians took the test in 2005-2006. The tiny percentage of test-takers who were Mexican Americans (1.8% versus about 10% of the population) reflects another theme common at iSteve: that America's Eastern elites vastly underestimate the impact of illegal immigration on America because it doesn't provide much competition for their own children. They just don't notice Mexicans around much in the circles in which they move. (On the other hand, since they don't pay any attention to them in their daily lives, they are suckers for bad ideas about them in their business and political lives: "Should we purchase a Mortgage-Backed Security consisting of 1,000 half-million dollar zero money down loans in California? Sure, why not? What's the worse that could happen? Who ever lost money betting on California houses?" etc. etc.)

The really bad Puerto Rican scores probably also have something to do with the test being given in Puerto Rico, but the LSAT is only given in English. Puerto Rico has its own little universe of colleges and law schools that nobody in America has ever heard of because they use Spanish as their language of instruction, but the LSAT is so useful that Puerto Rican law schools insist on their applicants taking it (along with a GRE-like test in Spanish).

The LSAT is one test where African-American men outscore African-American women, but only about 60% as many black men take the test as black women.

Le Carrefour goes on to offer an LSAT to IQ conversion chart. I suspect, however, that it slightly underestimates IQs relative to LSAT scores. It assumes that somebody who scores 151 on the LSAT has an IQ of 105, which strikes me as five or ten points too low for somebody who is close to graduating from college or has already graduated and is considering three more years of study.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

My Obama book now available for Kindle: $7.99 from Amazon

My book, America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance," is now available for Amazon's popular Kindle book reader. You can get an instant download for $7.99.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

March 26, 2009

Fixing the NCAAs

Now that the NBA requires one of college basketball (or European pro play) before it will draft young stars, the NCAA basketball tournament has become much like American Idol, with a different cast each year. This has its appealing side, but it's also lacking in continuity. It's not like the 1984 NCAA championship game, when super centers Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and Akeem Olajuwon of Houston, both of whom had lost heartbreaking final games in previous seasons, fiinally faced off.

This year, I haven't been paying any attention all season so all I know about the participants is that there's this giant homeschooled mulatto kid and his older brother on one of those schools in Oklahoma.

Personally, I would like to see college players stick around longer. For example, Kevin Love was an All-American as a freshman last year at UCLA because of his Bill Walton-like skills. His father Stan Love played for Portland in the NBA. (His father's brother Mike Love is a Beach Boy.) He looked awesome through the first four rounds of the tournament, until he ran into Memphis's NBA-quality athletes in the semifinal, where he looked short and slow.

So, he might not have personally carried UCLA to an NCAA championship, but what a team player to recruit around. If he had announced he was staying all four years, UCLA could have recruited star guards and forwards for a year or two of NCAA glory. And Love, with four years at UCLA and the hereditary Beach Boy connection, would have been a lifelong god in LA no matter what he did in the NBA.

Except, they don't pay you to play college basketball.

So, he went pro, was drafted #5, and is guaranteed $5.4 million over his first two seasons. He's playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging 25 minutes per night, and, while he's not doing much scoring or passing, he's leading all rookies in rebounds per game with 9.0.

He and his dad are very sharp basketball minds, so they probably made the right decision

What top college players can do to make sure they get paid eventually is borrow money to buy disability insurance policies that pay off if they never sign a pro contract due to injury. A few dozen college basketball players do that each year. But few pay off because just about everybody who's highly ranked enough to be eligible to get an insurance policy (insurance companies don't want to write policies on players who just aren't good enough to make enough money to pay back the loans) will sign some kind of pro contract. Insurance polices that guarantee you a certain amount of income are more expensive.

But why should players have to borrow their premiums? Let the teams' boosters pay. The NCAA could have a rule where each college gets to pay for income insurance for, say, one player per class (i.e., a maximum of four at a time). This would encourage more players to stay in college, where they really do get better coaching in fundamentals, provide continuity, but keep a few teams from stockpiling all the best players.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

PennyMac is here to help

Sanford Kurland, who was Angelo Mozilo's right-hand man at Countrywide Financial through 2006, has a new business, PennyMac, which buys dubious mortgages for pennies on the dollar that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has wound up with from taking over collapsing banks.

It all makes perfect sense. Who knows more about toxic assets than Countrywide executives?

Interestingly, one of the largest banks to be "resolved" by the FDIC last year was IndyMac.

IndyMac, PennyMac. Hmmhmm ... Must be just a coincidence.

Except, that IndyMac was another spinoff of Countrywide. Wikipedia says:
IndyMac Bank was founded as Countrywide Mortgage Investment in 1985 by David S. Loeb and Angelo Mozilo as a means of collateralizing Countrywide Financial loans too big to be sold to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. In 1997, Countrywide spun off IndyMac as an independent company.[7] "Mac" is an established contraction for "Mortgage Corporation," usually associated with Government sponsored entities such as "Freddie Mac" (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation) and "Farmer Mac" (Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation). Indymac, however, had always been a private corporation with no relationship to the government.

PennyMac is also a private corporation, although it does a lot of business with the federal government. Perhaps, though, this whole distinction between private for-profit businesses versus government entities has become academic in the Bush-Obama Era.

For 20 months now, I've been reading about how it's completely beyond the power of human comprehension to untangle mortgage backed securities and figure out about what they are really worth, that no mortal man could possibly understand their complexity, that not enough computing power exists to make sense of them. I guess I kind of believed that when I heard it back in August 2007, but that was a long time ago.

I suspect that insiders have been working hard on this question for some time, and Tim Geithner's new "legacy asset" plan has come along at just the right time for them to cash in.

Funny how investors with less than $10 billion are not allowed to bid ...

March 25, 2009

The kind of people the smart money boys at AIG bet on

From the Washington Post:

Woman Pleads Guilty in Mortgage Fraud Scam

By Henri E. Cauvin

A former stripper accused of orchestrating a massive mortgage fraud scheme pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Greenbelt, admitting that she played a central role in swindling desperate homeowners out of millions of dollars.

Joy Jackson, who lived lavishly while the real estate market boomed, wore a green jail jumpsuit with the word "PRISONER" across her back. She was a world away from her $800,000 wedding at the Mayflower Hotel in 2006, where she was feted by more than 300 guests and serenaded at the reception by Patti LaBelle.

Jackson, 41, who was the president of the Metropolitan Money Store in Lanham, faces a decade or more in prison.

Instead of helping people hold onto their homes, as they promised, Jackson and her co-conspirators took titles to properties, drained them of equity and charged exorbitant transaction fees, according to prosecutors.

Jackson, her husband and several others were indicted in July by a federal grand jury. Six of the defendants, including Jackson's key accomplice, Jennifer McCall, have pleaded guilty.

Appearing yesterday before U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus, Jackson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison term of 30 years. With no known criminal record, she is likely to face a sentence of 10 to 12 years.

Three defendants, including her husband, Kurt Fordham, are scheduled to go on trial in July.

The conspiracy spanned from September 2004 to June 2007. Already, 115 victims have been identified in Maryland, and that number is expected to grow, a prosecutor said. Jackson's sentencing is Nov. 16.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said: "Joy Jackson presided over a 'money store' that was in the business of ripping off homeowners and mortgage lenders by submitting fraudulent paperwork to support over $16 million of loans that were never intended to be repaid."

Mighty AIG got taken to the cleaners, in effect, by thousands of small-time grifters like Joy Jackson. As the last participant in the food chain that led from broke nobodies through Joy Jackson through various financial institutions, they were the most clueless about the quality of the mortgages they were insuring against default.

Here's from an earlier WaPo article on Jackson:
With her long hair and shapely figure, Jackson was one of his most popular dancers, earning well over $1,500 a week in tips, said Schwapp, who owns the Legend Nightclub. He said Jackson danced under the name "Night Rider" from 1997 to 2003. One of her most memorable stunts involved riding in on a white stallion, a la Lady Godiva.

"She was very popular, very creative," he said. "She stood out."

It wasn't just the patrons who noticed Jackson's act. Kurt Fordham, a popular disc jockey in Prince George's clubs, liked her, too, and the two started dating.

Jackson eventually stopped dancing to focus on her career as a loan officer, moving from one mortgage firm to another. In September 2004, she teamed with McCall, 46, to open Metropolitan. They advertised on gospel and R&B radio stations and other African American media outlets, promising to help homeowners with cash-flow and credit problems.

Veronica Savoy was two months behind in mortgage payments on her Waldorf home when she contacted Metropolitan in summer 2006.

She said the firm promised to keep her home from going into foreclosure and to get her a mortgage with a lower interest rate. She signed on. Now the deed is no longer in her name, and $100,000 in equity is gone, she said.

"I guess that's where the equity in my home went," Savoy said after hearing about Jackson's big day. "It went to her wedding."

* * *

Investigators say Jackson and McCall ran a sophisticated foreclosure rescue operation that included family and friends, many of whom Jackson taught the ins and outs of the real estate industry.

Essentially, the company would enlist investors with strong credit as "straw buyers" who would take ownership of the houses. The original homeowners could live rent-free for a year and then buy back their homes at the end of the year.

But when the homes passed to the straw buyer, Metropolitan would borrow as much as possible against the value, effectively siphoning out the equity and increasing the cost of the house, according to the suit. The original owners were often unable to repurchase their property; some said they were unaware they were signing over their deeds. ...

Neighbors knew little about the couple but said signs of conspicuous consumption were everywhere. Eight cars were regularly parked outside their home, including a Jaguar, a Porsche, a Corvette and a Cadillac Escalade, several neighbors said. Fordham was seen each day outside wiping down his vehicles and moving them from space to space, neighbors said. A limousine arrived daily to take Jackson's 15-year-old son to a nearby private school.

"We knew when they came on the street they had a lot of drama. They weren't friendly at all," neighbor Roger Liggins said. "It was always about them."

Explain to me again why credit default swaps (i.e., insurance against defaults by mortgage backed securities) don't create moral hazard? If you are Goldman Sachs, you can buy up mortgage backed securities made up of fraudulent refis done by ex-strippers and get AIG to insure them against default. Heads you win, tails AIG loses. What's not to love? Except for the possibility that AIG is so clueless that they'll insure everybody's stripper fraud mortgages so when AIG goes broke you have to go through the inconvenience of calling the latest Goldman Sach's alum heading the Treasury Department to get the federal government to give billions in the taxpayers' money to AIG to pass on to you for the MBS's you own full of stripper assets.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"English Lessons"

From my article "English Lessons" in the March 23, 2009 issue of The American Conservative:
I was visiting a typical Southern California public high school, one in which the student body is close to three-fourths Latino, when it dawned on me that virtually all the kids’ hallway conversations with friends were conducted in English. Indeed, most of the students spoke English without an accent. Well, to be pedantic, they had teen accents -- it’s practically impossible for a high school girl to roll her eyes and exclaim “That is so gay” without sounding a little like Moon Unit Zappa in Valley Girl -- but only a minority of the Hispanic students had Spanish accents.

Nor, I recalled, had I heard teachers lecturing in anything but English. I found out later that a couple of percent of all the classes were conducted in Spanish for the children of parents who requested it, but few parents did.

I realized then that I had barely heard any public discussion in half a decade about the once contentious topic of bilingual education. Yet, it had been promoted adamantly by America’s educational and political establishment from 1968, when Congress passed the first of five Bilingual Education Acts, through the 1990s.

I went home and read up on bilingual education. I quickly discovered the topic of educating “Limited English Proficient” (LEP) students is buried under a bureaucratic jargon that appears to consist of literal translations from some distant language unknown to Earthlings. For example, when an LEP child masters English, he becomes a Reclassified-Fluent English Proficient (R-FEP). His R-FEP status is tabulated at the federal Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited-English-Proficient Students (OELALEAALEPS).

Eventually, I discovered that bilingual education is by no means dead. Yet, it has clearly lost the momentum, the sense of inevitability, it long enjoyed.

That means that America may have dodged a bullet, a long-term threat to our national unity, because nothing divides a country more than multiple languages. In contrast, a shared language enables shared sentiments.

In the three decades when America’s great and good actively promoted Spanish in the public schools, giving official blessing to a second language, it seemed plausible that our country was inflicting upon itself something that could turn into another Quebec a generation or two down the road. Or worse, a Kosovo, which was plunged into war in the 1990s by decades of unassimilated illegal immigration from Albania into a Serbian part of the republic formerly known as Yugoslavia.

And, it struck me, the man who did more to head off the dangers posed by bilingual education is a friend of mine. In fact, he’s my boss: The American Conservative’s publisher Ron Unz.
Okay, I’m biased. But a decade after the 61-39 landslide victory of Ron’s initiative, Proposition 227, put bilingual education on the ropes in California, America’s forerunner state, it’s time to review how the seemingly predestined triumph of bilingualism was knocked off track.

The history of educational plans in America is notoriously littered with broken dreams. Unintended consequences predominate because the reigning dogma of the education industry—the intellectual equality of all students—is wrong. This obdurate refusal on the part of everybody who is anybody in the education business to admit publicly the manifold implications of some kids being smarter than others makes it difficult to get anything done in the real world.

Thus, for example, George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy got together in 2001 to pass the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandates that by the 2013-2014 school year, every student in America’s public schools score on reading and math tests at the “proficient” level (roughly, a B+). This, I can assure you, won’t happen.

Yet, the terrible irony about the decades wasted pushing bilingual education is that the conventional wisdom that no child need be left behind is much truer for young children learning English than for anything else in American education. That’s why the otherwise often zany NCLB has helped consolidate the progress initiated by Unz’s pro-English initiatives.

The most popular public rationale for bilingual education -- that the children of immigrants need to be taught in their native language so that they don’t fall behind academically while they spend many years learning English -- sounds plausible as long as you forget how remarkably good small children are at learning a new language.

Read the rest here.

March 24, 2009

We can only hope the title of this 2008 book isn't already obsolete

History's Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks is a Yale University Press book by historian Sean McMeekin about the tragicomic Communist economic policies of 1917-1923, which largely revolved around organized and not-so-organized crime.

Russia had been one of the great success stories of the capitalist world in the decade leading up to WWI. War and wartime inflation undermined the government's legitimacy, however, and led to power falling into the hands of increasingly leftist elements, ending up with Lenin.

The Bolshevik takeover led to the near paralysis of the Russian economy. In the midst of the world's largest forest, the Communists were soon running out of the paper to print their decrees, propaganda, and currency. What did they have to sell to buy imported weapons to help them stay in power?

Treasure. The gold, silver, and jewelry amassed over the generations. Lenin and Trotsky imposed a policy of looting on a mass scale. As Marx had prophesied: "The knell of private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated."

This didn't prove as immediately successful as the Bolshevik braintrust had hoped. For example, "inventory shrinkage" proved a recurrent problem. When Lenin and Trotsky called for mobs to sack local landowners, bourgeois households, and churches and send the loot to them, the amount received wasn't as lucrative as expected. Rather a lot seemed to stick to the fingers of local Party operatives.

For instance, the murder of the deposed Czar and his family could have been a gold mine for the regime since the daughters had diamonds stuffed in their undergarments. But, not much got back to Party Headquarters. As late as the 1930s, Stalin would send the Cheka to the villages around where the Romanovs were murdered and the goon squads would find locals who had 100-carat diamonds stuffed away.

Just as it was hard for poor peasants to fence humongous diamonds, it was hard for the Bolsheviks to fence their robberies, of which the largest was the Russian government's huge central gold reserves. The French, in particular, were honorable about not fencing the stolen properties of their old allies, who had saved Paris in 1914 by launching the Russian Army on a kamikaze offensive into Eastern Prussia.
Germain Seligman, whose father Jacques had been one of France's leading dealers in Russian art before the revolution, was invited to Moscow by Mikoyan in fall 1927 to inspect items the Bolsheviks wished to sell in Paris. Taken on a tour of the Gokhran's jewelry storerooms, Seligman later recalled the impression that he had been ushered into "a great cave of ormolu and gilt bronze, with stalactites and stalagmites of gold and crystal. Hanging from the ceiling ... was an incredible array of chandeliers and candelabra." Although impressed by the sheer volume of gilt objects on display, Seligman informed Mikoyan that he was an art dealer, not a jewelry thief...

Although an enormous amount has been written about "Nazi gold" laundered through Switzerland, the much larger amount of "Bolshevik gold" laundered through Sweden in 1918-1923 has previously received little attention. Lenin's problem was that gold ingots stamped with the tsarist Russian seal were obviously stolen by the Bolsheviks, so they traded at a large discount. He found a capitalist, Stockholm bank Olof Aschberg, to sell him the rope. Aschberg would buy Russian gold in Estonia, ship it across the Baltic, and have the Swedish Royal Mint melt down the gold and put its own insignia on this. In return, Aschberg would sell the Soviets weapons needed for their civil war and subsequent 1922 war with their own peasantry.

On the political front, British PM David Lloyd George tired of blockading the Baltic, and legitimized Soviet trade representatives in order to get orders for British factories. The British signed a trade agreement with the Soviets in 1921 and the German Foreign Office, which had done so much to put Lenin in charge of Russia in 1917, signed a loan deal with the Bolsheviks at Rapallo in 1922, just as their gold stock was running out.

By the late 1920s, moral scruples like Seligman's seemed old-fashioned. U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon bought dozens of Old Master paintings from the Hermitage in 1930-31, which helped Stalin finance his war on the Ukrainian peasants. Those fenced goods now form the heart of the collection of our National Gallery on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. McMeekin writes:
In one of the most grotesque ironies of Communisms, it was Western fat-cat capitalists like Mellon who inherited the great part of Russia's patrimony, while the Russian proletariat received only the lash. It is hard to imagine a better program for destroying a country's wealth than by robbing and murdering its most successful wealth-producers and shipping their riches out of the country. In this way the Russian people were robbed not only of their cultural past, but of their economic future as well.

History's Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks is available from Amazon.

P.S. Looking through the book's handy appendix summarizing its Dramatis Personae, it becomes evident that, yes, a lot of the figures involved were Jews, such as the key Swedish banker Olof Aschberg. With Aschberg, ethnocentrism doesn't seem to have played a large role: as well as all the help he provided Lenin and Trotsky, he had previously arranged loans for the Czar in 1916 and for Kerensky in 1917. In general, he was a man of the left (he remains a hero to Swedish Social Democrats), but mostly he'd seen his opportunities and he took them. On the other hand, some of the good guys in the book, such as Germain Seligman, were Jews, and many of the book's bad guys who helped the Bolsheviks cling to power, such as Lloyd George and the German diplomats and generals, were not.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Commenter Bill's chimerism theory of the origins of homosexuality

One of the bigger holes in the social sciences is that we have do not have a definitive explanation of why some people are homosexual. Bill, a frequent commenter on this blog, has posted on his Welmer blog his theory that homosexuality tends to originate in the creepy-sounding phenomenon of chimerism, which he sees as an alternative to Greg Cochran's Gay Germ Theory.
The Chimera Hypothesis: Homosexuality and Plural Pregnancy


Everybody keeps talking about the Great Depression in the U.S. as the crucial model for understanding what's happening, but how about something more recent?

Matt Taibbi has an article in Rolling Stone called "The Big Takeover: How Wall Street Insiders Are Using the Bailout to Stage a Revolution" about the secrecy of Fed handouts to financial institutions.
As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren't hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system - transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.

He doesn't mention Russia in the 1990s in the article, but Taibbi was there. The Boston-raised Taibbi played professional (?) baseball and basketball in various godforsaken outposts of the ex-Soviet Empire, such as Mongolia, and then co-founded The Exile in Moscow in 1997 with Mark Ames. In Taibbi's retelling, Goldman Sachs sounds a lot like the American equivalent of the KGB: the best-connected insiders who expect to wind up with the eventual winners of the carve-up of the country.

Somebody else who had a lot of experience with Russia in the 1990s is Obama's chief economic adviser, Larry Summers. As you'll recall, Larry got in all sorts of trouble with the press over some plausible speculation of his about sex differences in cognitive abilities. But a much more genuine Summers scandal that got almost no coverage outside David Warsh's Economic Principals column involved his costing Harvard a huge amount of money in fines and legal fees over his defense of his best friend, prominent Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer.

Warsh writes:
It’s as good a time as any, though, to review why Geithner is at the Treasury and Summers is not.

Exhibit A is the Harvard Russia scandal – a chain of events that played a key role in Summers’ dismissal from the Harvard presidency. It is a black mark that, for some reason, rarely is taken into account when relating the key events of his career. It hasn’t become part of the record. It’s not mentioned in Scheiber’s New Republic piece, for example. But then neither did it come up in the Newsweek or Time accounts of Summers’ return to Washington, either. Not even David Leonhardt, economics columnist of The New York Times, brought it up when he explained The Return of Larry Summers last fall, though he had to ignore his newspaper’s own clips.

And yet it did happen – a story straight out of a Tom Clancy novel. EP readers don’t need to be reminded of how Summers’ protégé, Andrei Shleifer, was hired by the US Agency for International Development to head a Harvard mission to provide advice to the Russian government of Boris Yeltsin, but quietly went into business for himself in violation of his contract, got caught and fired, but retained the sympathy and protection of his mentor, even as Summers served as Treasury Secretary and president of Harvard. A US District Court judge ultimately found Shleifer and Harvard to have committed fraud. The episode has become a standard item in Russia’s anti-American lore. ...

This is by no means to accuse Summers personally of corrupt involvement in the Rape of Russia. The real issue is that this kind of stuff seldom comes up in the press for criticism. I type "lawrence summers russia" into Google and the first page is by Mark Ames and the second one is by ... me.

Did Larry learn anything from his heavy involvement with Russia in the 1990s? Few seem to have asked him. Here's a Pontius Pilatey comment Larry left on Martin Wolf's blog about America's Yeltsin policy, full of lines like:

Was loans-for-shares a necessary price for Yeltsin to pay when he paid it for winning against the communists/staying afloat? What were the right alternatives at the time?

Strobe Talbott claims Larry opposed Yeltsin's "loans-for-shares" sellout of the country's natural resources in return for campaign loans in 1996. A young banker named Khodorovsky, for example, was assigned to auction off Yukos Oil, which owns 2% of the world's reserves. He set a minimum bid of $150 million, accepted one bid (for $159 million) and declared Yukos to be sold -- to himself. Presumably the extra $9 million was his six percent commission for running the auction.

So, maybe Larry would look out for our interests. Or maybe not. Did anybody even ask him about the Rape of Russia?

March 23, 2009

Race Reconciled?

From Dienekes's blog, here's the table of contents of the Special Symposium Issue: Race Reconciled of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Unfortunately, much of the issue consists of semantic quibbling because academic anthropologists still don't have a workable definition of race (although I do). Several of the abstracts are devoted to beating a dead horse of the white-black-yellow racial model of 1900.
Human DNA sequences: More variation and less race
Jeffrey C. Long, Jie Li, Meghan E. Healy

Interest in genetic diversity within and between human populations as a way to answer questions about race has intensified in light of recent advances in genome technology. The purpose of this article is to apply a method of generalized hierarchical modeling to two DNA data sets. The first data set consists of a small sample of individuals (n = 32 total, from eight populations) who have been fully resequenced for 63 loci that encode a total of 38,534 base pairs. The second data set consists of a large sample of individuals (n = 928 total, from 46 populations) who have been genotyped at 580 loci that encode short tandem repeats. The results are clear and somewhat surprising. We see that populations differ in the amount of diversity that they harbor. The pattern of DNA diversity is one of nested subsets, such that the diversity in non-Sub-Saharan African populations is essentially a subset of the diversity found in Sub-Saharan African populations. The actual pattern of DNA diversity creates some unsettling problems for using race as meaningful genetic categories. For example, the pattern of DNA diversity implies that some populations belong to more than one race (e.g., Europeans), whereas other populations do not belong to any race at all (e.g., Sub-Saharan Africans). As Frank Livingstone noted long ago, the Linnean classification system cannot accommodate this pattern because within the system a population cannot belong to more than one named group within a taxonomic level.

Indeed. Of course, the Linnean classification system can't accommodate much in the natural world, either, because things don't evolve from the top down. That's why I long ago explicitly rejected the top-down Linnean approach to thinking about race in which there's a race for everyone and everyone in his race in favor of the bottom-up genealogical approach of thinking of racial groups as extended families that are partly inbred.
Understanding race and human variation: Why forensic anthropologists are good at identifying race
Stephen Ousley, Richard Jantz, Donna Freid

American forensic anthropologists uncritically accepted the biological race concept from classic physical anthropology and applied it to methods of human identification. Why and how the biological race concept might work in forensic anthropology was contemplated by Sauer (Soc Sci Med 34 [1992] 107-111), who hypothesized that American forensic anthropologists are good at what they do because of a concordance between social race and skeletal morphology in American whites and blacks. However, Sauer also stressed that this concordance did not validate the classic biological race concept of physical anthropology that there are a relatively small number of discrete types of human beings. Results from Howells ... and others using craniometric and molecular data show strong geographic patterning of human variation despite overlap in their distributions. ... In this study, multivariate analyses of craniometric data support Sauer's hypothesis that there are morphological differences between American whites and blacks. We also confirm significant geographic patterning in human variation but also find differences among groups within continents. As a result, if biological races are defined by uniqueness, then there are a very large number of biological races that can be defined, contradicting the classic biological race concept of physical anthropology. Further, our results show that humans can be accurately classified into geographic origin using craniometrics even though there is overlap among groups.

In other words, for many decades, when somebody finds a skeleton buried in a shallow grave in the woods, the cops call in a forensic anthropologist from a university, who examines the bones and reports back something like: "Male, black, age between 20 and 30," which is a big help for the cops.

The point is that despite all that sophomore silliness that cultural anthropologists teach about how race doesn't exist, the forensic anthropologists usually don't have much trouble figuring out which Race box to check on the "Missing Person" ID form. In fact, they are now so good at it, that they can often tell a Swede from a Greek or whatever from the shape of the skull, supposedly "contradicting the classic biological race concept of physical anthropology," (although not my partly inbred extended family model).
Race reconciled?: How biological anthropologists view human variation
Heather J.H. Edgar, Keith L. Hunley

How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality
Clarence C. Gravlee

1918: Three perspectives on race and human variation
Rachel Caspari

Biohistorical approaches to race in the United States: Biological distances among African Americans, European Americans, and their ancestors
Heather J.H. Edgar

Folk taxonomies of race are the categorizations used by people in their everyday judgments concerning the persons around them. As cultural traditions, folk taxonomies may shape gene flow so that it is unequal among groups sharing geography. The history of the United States is one of disparate people being brought together from around the globe, and provides a natural experiment for exploring the relationship between culture and gene flow. The biohistories of African Americans and European Americans were compared to examine whether population histories are shaped by culture when geography and language are shared. Dental morphological data were used to indicate phenotypic similarity, allowing diachronic change through United States history to be considered. Samples represented contemporary and historic African Americans and European Americans and their West African and European ancestral populations (N = 1445). Modified Mahalanobis' D2 and Mean Measure of Divergence statistics examined how biological distances change through time among the samples. Results suggest the social acceptance for mating between descendents of Western Europeans and Eastern and Southern European migrants to the United States produced relatively rapid gene flow between the groups. Although African Americans have been in the United States much longer than most Eastern and Southern Europeans, social barriers have been historically stronger between them and European Americans. These results indicate that gene flow is in part shaped by cultural factors such as folk taxonomies of race, and have implications for understanding contemporary human variation, relationships among prehistoric populations, and forensic anthropology.

In other words, "folk taxonomies" tend to be scientifically accurate.
Estimation and evidence in forensic anthropology: Sex and race
Lyle W. Konigsberg, Bridget F.B. Algee-Hewitt, Dawnie Wolfe Steadman

Forensic anthropology typically uses osteological and/or dental data either to estimate characteristics of unidentified individuals or to serve as evidence in cases where there is a putative identification. In the estimation context, the problem is to describe aspects of an individual that may lead to their eventual identification, whereas in the evidentiary context, the problem is to provide the relative support for the identification. In either context, individual characteristics such as sex and race may be useful. Using a previously published forensic case (Steadman et al. (2006) Am J Phys Anthropol 131:15-26) and a large (N = 3,167) reference sample, we show that the sex of the individual can be reliably estimated using a small set of 11 craniometric variables. .... Similarly, the known "race" of the individual is relatively uninformative in "making" the identification, because the individual was recovered from an area where the 2000 US census provides a very homogenous picture of (self-identified) race. Of interest in this analysis is the fact that the individual, who was recovered from Eastern Iowa, classifies very clearly with ... Easter Islander sample in an analysis with uninformative priors. When the Iowa 2000 Census data on self-reported race are used for informative priors, the individual is clearly identified as American White. This analysis shows the extreme importance of an informative prior in any forensic application.

In other words, there probably aren't a lot of Easter Islanders who wound up in a shallow grave in Eastern Iowa, so forensic anthropology works again!
The global pattern of gene identity variation reveals a history of long-range migrations, bottlenecks, and local mate exchange: Implications for biological race
Keith L. Hunley, Meghan E. Healy, Jeffrey C. Long

Several recent studies have argued that human genetic variation conforms to a model of isolation by distance, whereas others see a predominant role for long-range migrations and bottlenecks. It is unclear whether either of these views fully describes the global pattern of human genetic variation. In this article, we use a coalescent-based simulation approach to compare the pattern of neutral genetic variation predicted by these views to the observed pattern estimated from neutral autosomal microsatellites assayed in 1,032 individuals from 53 globally-distributed populations. We find that neither view predicts every aspect of the observed pattern of variation on its own, but that a combination of the two does. Specifically, we demonstrate that the observed pattern of global gene identity variation is consistent with a history of serial population fissions, bottlenecks and long-range migrations associated with the peopling of major geographic regions, and gene flow between local populations. This history has produced a nested pattern of genetic structure that is inconsistent with the existence of independently evolving biological races. ...

But is consistent with the existence of partly inbred extended families.
How Neandertals inform human variation
Milford H. Wolpoff

Race and global patterns of phenotypic variation
John H. Relethford

Phenotypic traits have been used for centuries for the purpose of racial classification. Developments in quantitative population genetics have allowed global comparison of patterns of phenotypic variation with patterns of variation in classical genetic markers and DNA markers. Human skin color shows a high degree of variation among geographic regions, typical of traits that show extensive natural selection. Even given this high level of geographic differentiation, skin color variation is clinal and is not well described by discrete racial categories. Craniometric traits show a level of among-region differentiation comparable to genetic markers, with high levels of variation within populations as well as a correlation between phenotypic and geographic distance. Craniometric variation is geographically structured, allowing high levels of classification accuracy when comparing crania from different parts of the world. Nonetheless, the boundaries in global variation are not abrupt and do not fit a strict view of the race concept; the number of races and the cutoffs used to define them are arbitrary. The race concept is at best a crude first-order approximation to the geographically structured phenotypic variation in the human species.

In other words, we can now go way beyond the old race concept in detail of tracking origin.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Sara Mosle writes in Slate:
In his new book, Work Hard. Be Nice., Jay Mathews claims that the Knowledge Is Power Program is the "best" program serving severely disadvantaged, minority-group students in America today. Let me begin—before I'm denounced as a traitor to the cause of educational reform—by saying that I'm inclined to agree. The improbable story of how KIPP was founded in 1994 by David Levin and Michael Feinberg, two young Teach for America alumni in Houston, is thrilling and worthy reading. KIPP's mission has been akin to putting the first man on the moon: an all-out education race, requiring extraordinary, round-the-clock dedication from parents, students, and teachers alike. But the program is not the proven, replicable model for eliminating the achievement gap in the inner city that Mathews imagines, and this distinction is crucial. KIPP may be something more important: a unique chance to test, once and for all, the alluring but suspect notion that there actually is an educational panacea for social inequality. As of yet, the evidence for such a thing doesn't exist.

There have always been model school programs that work. There have even been some that have been successfully replicated in different parts of the country. But no program has shown it can work for all, or even most, disadvantaged children within a single city or neighborhood. Instead, as critics point out, such model programs tend to skim off those kids who are already better positioned (thanks to better home environments, greater natural gifts, savvier or better-educated parents, etc.) to escape the ghetto. Meanwhile, regular public schools are left with a more distilled population of struggling students. Similarly, model programs tend to attract young, talented, and adventurous teachers, who are willing or able to work long hours for low pay. (Model schools also tend to attract the most philanthropic dollars, which effectively boost per-pupil expenditures, even as such programs can still brag they use no more tax dollars than traditional public schools.) Indeed, Mathews likens KIPP to a cult "without the dues or the weird robes."

There is a lot to be said for cults. A fair amount can be accomplished by developing an espirit de corps based upon some explanation for why we are superior to them, no matter whom we or them happen to be. The French Foreign Legion, for example, has been turning German criminals on the lam into war heroes for generations.

But by definition, a cult is a fringe movement. To date, no one—including such mighty players as the Gates Foundation—has figured out how to take an educational cult and make it the predominant religion within any urban system. ...

For decades, educators argued that disadvantaged children could succeed if only they received the same education as more advantaged, middle-class students. Many, if not most, of the nation's best public and private schools are decidedly progressive, with less emphasis on test scores and more on critical thinking skills, with rich arts, music, sports, and other extracurricular programs. Why shouldn't poorer children enjoy the same?

But KIPP is not the same. The program has usefully changed the debate by acknowledging the obvious: Kids who grow up poor, with no books or with functionally illiterate parents, in crime-ridden neighborhoods, with destructive peer influences and without access to basic medical care (such as glasses to help them read), need something significantly more than—and different from—kids who grow up with every economic and educational advantage on which to build. For one, the academic program at KIPP is relentless in its back-to-basics focus: a boot camp that runs nearly 10 hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., not including transportation and homework, and half a day every other Saturday.

There is a lot of rote learning and test prep, born of the program's emphasis on demonstrable results.

Basically, KIPP is nonstop boot camp. This is an important point. What works best for poor people is order, discipline, shame, repetition, and all the other uncool stuff that liberals have worked for decades to remove from our societies. White liberals have done a great job of liberating themselves, at great expense to the poor.

As a result, KIPP teachers typically work 65-hour weeks and a longer school year. Recognizing that students need more out-of-school aid to supplement their educations, the program also requires its staff to be available to students by phone after hours for homework help and moral support. For this overtime (which represents 60 percent more time in the classroom alone, on average, than in regular public schools), teachers receive just 20 percent more pay. Unsurprisingly, turnover is high. The program has relied heavily on the ever-renewing supply of very young (and thus less expensive) Teach for America alums, whose numbers, while growing, are decidedly finite. Indeed, it's unclear whether KIPP would exist were it not for TFA (and its own philanthropic investment in recruitment and training, which has not come cheap). ...

One obvious question that I've never seen asked is whether America as a whole would be getting a better return on investment if it was pouring these kind of resources into high potential kids instead.

After all, in every other field, we assume that the best teachers will want the best students. For example, I've never heard anybody criticize Barack Obama for teaching very smart, mostly highly affluent young people at the University of Chicago Law School, instead of choosing to teach struggling law students at a fourth tier law school, of which Chicago has several. Everybody just assumes that that of course it's best for all concerned that a radiantly beneficent being like Obama should exude his ineffable influence all over tomorrow's leaders at the U of C rather than over some fourth tier law students who probably won't even pass the bar exam.

For example, many of KIPP's now-lauded approaches were first developed not by Levin and Feinberg but by a career public-school teacher in Houston whose methods they admired back when they were TFAers. Levin and Feinberg tried to recruit their mentor to help launch KIPP, but as a middle-aged single mother, she felt she couldn't afford to join their revolution.

Basically, it's not that hard to find people who will slave for the betterment of other people's children ... until they have children of their own. The usual solution down through history has been celibacy for teachers (e.g., "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.") What KIPP is doing is using up the primes of energetic young women, much like law firms do.

Parents or guardians, too, must be hardy souls at KIPP. They have to sign a contract saying they agree to KIPP's exacting schedule, which serves, intentionally or not, to eliminate kids from less involved or determined families.

Of course, it's a good thing that the most determined parents and children have a way to distance themselves from the slacker masses.

Finally, even with such gargantuan efforts, KIPP helps to close, but does not remotely eliminate, the achievement gap in the inner city.

How big would the gap be if they ran KIPP programs in the suburbs? If somebody proved that a KIPP school in the suburbs raised test scores even more than one in the 'hood, thus making society even better off, would that be hailed as good news or bad news? I suspect it wouldn't be hailed at all.

... Given this, what mystifies me about KIPP is that it has scattered its resources across the country—opening just a few schools in any one state—instead of trying to concentrate its resources more fully in one community.

Because KIPP is skimming the cream. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's a good thing. If you were a hard working kid in some ghetto school, it would be great if KIPP provided you an alternative.

... But since the biggest debate about KIPP, on both the ideological left and right, is whether or not its methods can work for all disadvantaged children (instead of just a handful of self-selecting families), why wouldn't it—and its financial, ideological, and media backers—have a strong interest in answering this question once and for all by taking on an entire urban area or even, for that matter, a single neighborhood as, say, Geoffrey Canada has tried to do in Harlem with his Harlem's Children's Zone?

There's something perversely evasive about KIPP's opening up just one school in Dallas, one school in Albany, N.Y., one school in Oakland, Calif., one school in Charlotte, N.C., one school in Nashville, Tenn., and so on—as if the program recognizes that its best chance at success is to be the exception rather than the rule in any city where it operates. ... Until KIPP tries to succeed within an entire, single community, it is, for all its remarkable rise and deserved praise, just another model program that has yet to prove it can succeed with all—or even most—disadvantaged children.

Okay, let's answer that question. It can't succeed with all—or even most—disadvantaged children.

But, so what? How come Harvard hasn't opened Harvards everywhere? Because they wouldn't be Harvard.

KIPP is doing a good job for a tiny percentage of the nation's schoolchildren who are way above average in diligence. Good for them.

The problem, I guess, is that KIPP is sold not as a way that can help a small minority of poor people undo the damage done by liberalism, but as The Way to Prove Charles Murray Wrong.

March 22, 2009

My new column on the 2007 births statistics

Every year I wait around for the release of the federal National Vital Statistics Report on Births: Preliminary Data for Year 200X, because, like Whitney Huston, I believe the children are our future. Due to a combination of the long term trends and the late Housing Bubble, the last two reports, for 2006 and 2007, have been doozies.

Here's an excerpt from my new column on the 2007 numbers:

The insightfulness of Main Stream Media analysis is displayed in this quote from the NYT’s article ’07 U.S. Births Break Baby Boom Record [by Erik Eckholm, March 19, 2009]:

"But in contrast with the culturally transforming postwar boom, when a smaller population of women bore an average of three or four children, the recent increase mainly reflects a larger population of women of childbearing age…"

Nothing "culturally transforming" going on in the new birth numbers. Nothing! Just move along, folks, no need to gawk.

The Associated Press write-up by AP medical writer Mike Stobbe [March 18, 2009] reflects the conventional wisdom:

"Behind the number is both good and bad news. While it shows the U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend, the teen birth rate was up for a second year in a row."

As you can see, the main area of birth statistics you are allowed to worry about in public is…teen births. Teen births are Bad. It doesn’t matter if a 19-year-old high school graduate married lady gives birth. Teen births are, ipso facto, socially unhealthy.

A high birthrate for the "U.S. population," on the other hand, is "healthy," according to the wire service.

Everybody knows that. Don’t ask inconvenient questions about increased carbon emissions and global warming. That kind of thinking goes in a wholly separate compartment.

And don’t even think about who exactly is getting defined as being part of the "U.S. population." Don’t try to document just how high the fertility of the "undocumented" is.

And, above all, don’t ask: Why do we need high immigration if we have high fertility? Or why do we need high fertility if we have high immigration?

It’s none of your concern. You’re just a citizen.

So, what actually happened in 2007 to birthrates according to the federal statistics?

After the 2006 birth statistics were released, I reported in that 2006 represented a "demographic disaster". Now the 2007 numbers are out and, due to the combination of malign long term trends and the Bush-Rove Housing Bubble, they’re even more disastrous

Everything that suddenly got worse at an accelerated pace in 2006 kept on getting even worse in 2007, although usually at a slightly slower rate....

Thus, from 2005 to 2007, the number of babies born to unmarried white women dropped 2.0 percent, while the number of babies born to unmarried Hispanic women grew 15.2 percent.

By the way, the "picture of California" in my column is of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"Immigrants Can Help Fix the Housing Bubble."

The Wall Street Journal has run the inevitable op-ed arguing for more immigration in order to reinflate the Housing Bubble: "Immigrants Can Help Fix the Housing Bubble." The authors are totally disinterested patriots:
Mr. LeFrak is chairman and CEO of LeFrak Organization, a real estate builder and developer. Mr. Shilling, an economic consultant and investment adviser, is president of A. Gary Shilling & Co.

Actually, the Housing Bubble was a bad thing, so why do we want to fix it? The huge inflation in home prices in a few states made it difficult for prudent savers to purchase a home, while making it easy for gamblers and liars to buy several.

Moreover, this is a good example of why I keep harping on where the the Bubble took place. Few in public life seem to recognize the high correlation between immigration, housing price inflation, and the subsequent collapse.

Um, 66% of all home value inflation during the Housing Bubble took place in the state with by far the highest percentage of foreign-born resident of any state in the union, California.

Roughly the same percentage of all money lost on home mortgage defaults since then has been in California.

87% of all home value inflation from 2000-2007 took place in just four heavily immigrant states: CA, AZ, NV, and FL, with equivalent losses on foreclosures over the last two years.

So, how’d that immigration –> home price inflation strategy work out for us the last time we tried it?

Somebody should summon the ghosts of Henry George and Benjamin Franklin to explain why high land prices are not a good thing for America. It's funny how the first great work of social science theory in American history, Franklin's 1751 Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, which Malthus credited as the precursor to his work, has been written out of America's intellectual history largely because of its call for immigration restriction.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer