October 1, 2011

J.Q. Wilson on S. Pinker

In the WSJ, James Q. Wilson reviews Steven Pinker's upcoming The Better Angels of Our Nature: On the Decline of Violence. Wilson gives it a thumbs up, but reminds Pinker not to forget his Sailerisms. :
Alas, when Mr. Pinker departs from his customary close attention to facts, he writes some strange things. ... Mr. Pinker dislikes Mr. Bush because he is "unintellectual." In fact, Mr. Bush never took an IQ test, but he did take the SAT and the armed-forces qualification test. Converting those scores to IQ, Mr. Bush turns out to be brighter than Mr. Kerry, whom Mr. Pinker admires though he got lower grades in college than did Mr. Bush. [Links added.]

When discussing the IQs of American Presidents (Kennedy was smarter than Nixon? Really? That news would have come as a surprise to Joe Kennedy Sr., who paid a lot of money to Ted Sorensen to ghostwrite Profiles in Courage for his son, and to Pulitzer juror Arthur Krock), Pinker can sound a bit Canadian.

Here's Pinker's summary of his argument, with lots of graphs.

If the definition of insanity is ...

... to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, the Rick Perry candidacy would be a prime exemplar. After eight years of Bush, we are now offered the guy Bush was pretending to be.

A friend writes:
To state this in partisan terms, a lot of Republican's don't get that Republican policies don't produce outcomes Republicans want. Sadly, the same can be said of all too many Democrats as well.

Rick Perry and Illegal Immigration

Plenty of folks have objected to Perry's supports for in-state tuition for illegals. However, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Perry is a full fledged Open Borders activist. He has never seen an immigration law he is willing to enforce. Perry is another mass immigration, cheap labor corporatist, no different than the Bushes (Jeb and George) or Rubio for that matter. Of course, while he loves illegals for cheap labor, he doesn't want them to vote. He pushed hard for, and passed, a Voter Id bill in 2011. A few notes on Perry and illegals.

1. Perry claims that in-state tuition is a "States Rights" issue. Actually, it is not. Federal law specifically prohibits the granting of in-statue tuition to illegals unless the citizens of all states have the same privilege. See "Rick Perry, In-State Tuition, and Federal Law" by Heather MacDonald.

Here is what the law actually says.

“An alien who is not lawfully present in the United States,” declares Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), “shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State . . . for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”

Note that the California Supreme Court ruled otherwise. However, a more germane point is that niether Bush nor Obama has ever tried to enforce the law (by suing the states).

2. Perry has consistently opposed any type of immigration enforcement. He opposes E-verify (because it has been shown to work). He opposes fences (because they work in Israel and the U.S.). He opposes using police to catch illegals (along the lines of SB1070 in Arizona) because it works. What does Perry support? Make believe border enforcement. Perry has asked for 1000 National Guardsmen along the border. That's less than one per mile. Allowing for 3 shifts per day and weekends, that less than one Guardsman for every 5 miles. However, it gets worse. What does the border patrol actually do? It catches illegals and returns them to Mexico so they can try again. Many are caught several times in one day. "It ain't over until the illegal wins" is the Perry way.

3. Perry Perry is about as pro-Amnesty as you can get. He just doesn't have the guts to call it Amnesty. So he talks about "work permits" and waiting in line. Guess what? A work permit makes an illegal alien, a legal resident of the United States. You can use any word or words you like, but Amnesty is still Amnesty. As for "waiting in line"... People who come to this country wait in line at home. Under they Perry plan, the illegals "wait in line" right here in the USA draining our country every day of our taxes, jobs, schools, etc.

4. Perry supports the NAFTA superhighway. Enough said.

5. Don't buy the argument that people feel differently in Texas about immigration. Texas polling data shows immense opposition to illegal immigration. See "UT/TT Poll: An Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Government Mood" by Ross Ramsey over at the Texas Tribune. Texas politicians are a different matter. The cheap labor lobby is (much) stronger in Texas than elsewhere.

6. Perry's job creation record is actually rather poor. A detailed study found that Perry has created two jobs for illegals, for each Job that an American got. Another two jobs went to legal immigrants. In other words, Perry has created 4 jobs for immigrants (half illegal) for each new American job.

7. You can find a rather good video on Perry's record here

September 30, 2011

From a teacher ...

Commenter / schoolteacher Maya explains:
What educators do IS important. It allows people to concentrate on their jobs while someone else supervises their kids' educational progress. Sure, you could do it yourself just like you could give yourself haircuts, administer shots to your family and fix your own car. None of it is very difficult to learn. However, a society functions better if people specialize.  
Most teachers I know don't want more funds allocated to education. You are confusing us with upper administration (because that's how they get paid). Teachers yell about funds because they aren't allowed to even hint that the problem might lay with the kids and their families. What most teachers want is a different distribution of funds as well as a different work environment.  
I can do my job in any old room with a chalk board and a set of textbooks. Heck, I'll buy all the creative supplies since I'm used to it already. You can take away my smart board, but can you, please, hire someone to supervise the detention room? (Can we have a detention room?) Hire 10 of these people; I'll take a pay cut. Also, I deserve every second of my vacation time and more. However, if we could take all the special kids out of the regular classrooms, group students by ability, end social promotion, allow failing grades and put violent criminals somewhere else, I don't think I'd need two and a half months to recover. Two weeks would probably suffice.  
In conclusion, you are right. Schools aren't magic. They are just places where kids go to learn stuff. Just showing up won't change anyone's life, won't make up for shitty parenting or fix mental issues/emotional trauma/violent nature. And, as you said, having access to quality education (as ALL Americans do) won't stand in the way of one's dream of ending up in jail.  
However, schools are still important and educators aren't the enemy. I'd say we are the biggest victims of this politically correct bullshit. Have you ever been locked in a room with 30 kids who are at 8 different grade levels, some completely illiterate, more than a few initiating fights right in front of you (or through you) and several with severe disabilities and emotional issues? Imagine those kids ignoring you because their parents don't care what they do, the school doesn't allow any disciplinary actions other than calling the parents, the children know that they will pass no matter what and any peep from you about the kids' behavior is interpreted as prejudice. Imagine being required to make a lesson plan for every level of ability, learning style and disability, every day all the while knowing that the kids will probably not even attempt the work because they know they don't have to. Then, imagine knowing that you'll be blamed for the test scores while you bribe the kids with candy to stay awake, at least, during the high stakes tests. (Half of them will still fall asleep and hand in their test booklets without attempting several sections.)

How Stanford does it

The Stanford football team has won 11 straight games, so the LA Times has an article on how they've been strong the last three seasons:
Everything in college football starts with recruiting. 
Stanford administrators have estimated that only 400 of the 3,500 high school prospects who sign letters of intent each year meet their admissions standards.

So, that's about the 88th percentile of football prospects. You usually don't get to read numbers like that.
A year into the job, Harbaugh doubted that number. 
"We're probably looking at a pool of 100 to 150 scholar-athletes," he said at the time. "It's a small pool. Smaller than anybody else has." 
Consider that Stanford consistently ranks near the top of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rates and nearly half of the upperclassmen on the current roster are enrolled in engineering majors. 

Of their three most publicized players in recent years, quarterback Andrew Luck is an archie, two-way player Owen Something was a premed, and running back Toby Gerhart was in something like construction engineering.
Still, a handful of coaches — Harbaugh, Bill Walsh, Dennis Green and Ty Willingham — have found a way to build winners at the school. 
The Cardinal must cast a wide net, recruiting nationally, with a slightly different strategy. Rod Gilmore, who played receiver at Stanford and now follows his alma mater as an ESPN commentator, calls it the "personal approach." 
"You can't just let the assistant coaches go in there; it has to be the head coach," he said. The family must be a target "because not many parents can say 'no' to Stanford." ...

That's a theme in Moneyball: Billy Beane always regretted signing a minor league baseball contract for a lot of money, against his mother's wishes, because Stanford was offering him a scholarship to play quarterback, to be John Elway's successor. Oddly enough, a high school friend of mine's younger brother wound up being John Elway's successor quarterbacking Stanford. They were a difficult set of shoes to fill.

Another high school friend's younger brother was a baseball pitcher at Stanford. He said that being a baseball player at Stanford was infinitely better than being a minor league baseball player. You spend most of your time in the minors riding buses, the quality of conversation on those buses is not high, you don't get much coaching on developing skills (playing 120+ games per year doesn't leave much time), and medical care in podunk towns is poor. He got sent down from the majors when he lost velocity due to a nagging hip injury. The minor league manager ordered him to run up and down the bleachers. "How about if I run up and walk down?" Nope. Nobody in the minors likes a smartass. He eventually walked off the team, flew back to L.A. and had Sandy Koufax's old surgeon fix his hip. The big league team was angry at this insubordination, until they realized that their Stanford whizkid was right, and all was forgotten.

I visited Stanford in the mid-1970s, and I have to say, I've never been able to think of too many reasons to make some place else your first choice for college.

One funny thing is that Stanford was nationally notorious at the time for grade inflation. Looking back, it's hard to say that Silicon Valley failed to fulfill its potential because Stanford was coddling its students.
A limited talent pool often translates into limited depth.

Last year, they had their middle linebacker also start at fullback on offense.
With fewer players to rotate through the lineup, the best Stanford teams over the last three decades have focused on ball control to keep their defense off the field. 
Walsh employed the West Coast offense, which emphasized short passes. Harbaugh chose another path to the same goal, one that remains in place with Shaw at the helm. The Cardinal has maintained a solid ground game to help Luck rank among the nation's most efficient passers. ... 

I figure that if Toby Gephart had come back for a fifth season at Stanford, they would have gone undefeated and made the national title game (where they probably would have lost pretty badly). Last year, they took a 21-0 lead on Oregon, but with Gephart in the NFL, didn't have the ground game to run out the clock on the up-tempo Ducks.
Good times never seem to last for the Cardinal. 
Gilmore points to the small pool of recruits, the limited depth. 
"You don't have as much margin for error," he said. "If you make two or three mistakes in a recruiting class and you have a guy or two get hurt, now you have a major problem."

So, their current success is probably kind of a fluke due to everything happening to go right for them. Not many articles in the sports section ever quite mention that possibility.

September 29, 2011

Solyndra and The Borrowed Generation

With his Solyndra green energy project getting some bad press, billionaire oil man George Kaiser is looking for some good press by publicizing his $4 billion philanthropy. In Forbes, we see the very model of the modern major donor:
His experience taught him that “rich, smart parents tend to have rich, smart kids–not because it’s genetic but because they can create a home environment and sensory stimulation that lower-income kids often don’t get,” he says. “If you are born into poverty, the chances are good that your children will be born into poverty.” The solution: “The solution: “Find a way to give poor kids the same cognitive stimulus that rich kids receive and they should end up with the same tools for success.” 
... Oklahoma, like a lot of places in America, has universal preschool, but it begins only at age 4, at which point many poor kids are so far behind their rich peers that they’ll never catch up. 
... Educare is Kaiser’s favorite project. No matter how rich you are, it’s unlikely your children went to a preschool as grand as these. It starts with beautifully designed, light-filled buildings erected in the poorest parts of town. Classrooms and play areas are filled with the highest-quality educational toys, books, games, puzzles. Rooms average 15 kids and 3 teachers, who often have graduate degrees in early childhood education. They focus on increasing kids’ cognitive abilities through sensory stimulation and “serve-and-return” interaction–a child does something and you do something back. They even visit students’ homes to make sure they’re being brought up in a healthy environment. 
Parents are encouraged to keep them there all day–from as early as 7 a.m. to as late as 6 p.m.–in order to achieve the best results.

How much do 3-year-olds need to sleep at night? Eleven hours? So, if you are supposed to have your child at Educare at 7 a.m. and pick him up at 6 p.m. -- for "best results" -- that means you'll only have two waking hours per day (5 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., presumably) to ruin him with your no account ghetto ways.

That is the theory, right? To take poor black women's children away from them for almost every waking hour and have them raised by expert professionals? It might work ...

Then, again, doesn't it seem just as likely that decades from now there will be huge lawsuits over "a conspiracy to commit cultural genocide" (which will then become the preferred explanation for continuing black dysfunction), with the taxpayers shelling out multibillion dollar payout settlements to survivors?

September 28, 2011

"The Darwin Economy"

John Whitfield reviews Cornell economist Robert H. Frank's The Darwin Economy. (By the way, as Half Sigma likes to point out, there are a whole bunch of people named Robert Frank who write about economics, so it's important to specify the middle initial.)
Frank bases his argument on the Darwinian notion that life is graded on a curve. How much is enough depends on what others have got. Most people, for example, would rather live in a 4,000-square-foot house that was bigger than their neighbor's than a 6,000-square-foot house that was the smallest on the street. 

Is that true? (Leave aside the difference between a 4,000 and a 6,000 square foot house, both of which would inspire in me the thought I had while taking an endless tour of Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born: "Man, this place would be a lot to dust.") Personally, I'd rather inflict my low-rent presence on neighbors with more money than me than lord it over even lower rent folks than myself. 

This is especially true when it comes to public school districts. I spent a lot of the 1990s looking at the smallest, crummiest houses in desirable school districts like Lake Forest, IL. I recall seriously considering buying a house in Wilmette that appeared to have started out as a WWII military base Quonset hut. I envied a friend who owned a four-room 1,000 square foot house in Santa Monica.

But, your mileage may vary.
Economists call these positional goods, and contrast them with things that aren't so relative, such as safety at work, where most people think it's better to be safe in absolute terms than the safest worker in a hazardous factory. 

But, of course, safety in your house (measured on an absolute scale) tends to be related to the size of houses on your street. Neighborhoods with big (or at least expensive) houses tend to have lower crime rates. Much of the reason for zoning codes demanding large, expensive housing is to keep out low rent folks and their crime-prone, low test score kids.
Positional goods lead to waste, says Frank, because people end up living in bigger houses than they need to, throwing lavish parties, and spending money on pool cleaners. This pressures other people to do the same, and so takes money from the better uses that might be predicted by [Adam] Smith's rational model. 
As a biological analogy, Frank suggests the difference between running speed and antler size. A faster gazelle is better equipped to outrun a cheetah, and so, he writes, "being faster conferred advantages for both the individual and the species." Antlers, on the other hand, are used for fighting with other males. The pressure to have bigger ones than your rivals leads to an arms race that consumes resources that could have been used more efficiently for other things, such as fighting off disease. As a result, every male ends up with a cumbersome and expensive pair of antlers, says Frank, and "life is more miserable for bull elk as a group." 
This has a lot going for it as an economic metaphor. Sometimes competition results in cheaper, better products, like loft insulation or computer memory, and sometimes it results in Louis Vuitton luggage. (Often, of course, it delivers a combination of utility and status, like the iPad.) But evolutionarily speaking, the distinction is bogus. 
Natural selection sees no difference between running speed and antler size: All evolution is positional. When one gazelle got faster, the slower ones got eaten (a point Frank relegates to a footnote). And when gazelles got fast, so did cheetahs. Cheetahs and gazelles would all be better off if they'd stayed slow, because running fast uses energy you might "better" invest in offspring, and legs that are built for speed are more prone to fracture. The lissome cheetah, meanwhile, is bullied and often killed by bigger carnivores such as lions.

Personally, I like a mostly middle-class society in which daily life is less Darwinian than in a society of a few extremely rich people and a lot of extremely poor people.

College admissions testing in Britain and France

It's interesting to compare college admissions in the U.S. to other countries. Here's an NYT article on Britain:
For over half a century, academically inclined students in Britain or other countries who hoped to study at British universities spent their final two years at school studying for A-levels, widely regarded as the gold standard of British education. These single-subject tests are generally considered more rigorous than the French baccalaureate and roughly comparable to the Advanced Placement exams in the United States. 
Originally offered only in traditional academic subjects like English language and literature, mathematics, foreign languages and the sciences, in recent years the range has broadened to include media studies, health and social care, business studies, and travel and tourism. The grading ranges from A* and A down to E, and results are announced in early August.
Typically, a student will take three or four A-levels, which are administered in May and June of a student’s senior year. Since students currently submit university applications between September and January of their senior year — before they even take their A-levels — most British universities admit candidates with conditional offers, based on the A-level grades students are predicted to get by their teachers. For example, a student hoping to study medicine at Bristol, which last year admitted only 216 candidates out of over 3,100 applications, would need predicted grades of at least 2 A’s (including an A in chemistry) and one B. 
However, according to the University & Colleges Admissions Service, or UCAS, the private organization that manages university applications in Britain, A-level predictions are only accurate about 45 percent of the time. Students who fail to make their predicted grades face a last-minute scramble for university places and often end up in courses based on the availability of places rather than their own interests or aptitudes. Critics of the system also argue that teenagers from low-income homes often do not believe themselves capable of being admitted to the best universities; by the time they receive the grades that might have prompted them to aim higher, it is too late. 
Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, said at a meeting of university heads in London last week, according to news reports, that starting in 2016 students should wait to receive their actual A-level grades before applying to universities. Under one set of proposals, students would take their exams before what is now the Easter break, which would mean a five-month summer vacation. Results would be available in July, with applications due in August.

It goes on to talk about the French system as well.

In the second half of the 20th Century in the U.S., the two main pillars of the admissions process were high school grades and aptitude tests (SAT/ACT). 

Those were traditionally viewed as something of polar opposites: High school GPA was a pretty good predictor of college GPA for the same reason that a baseball pitcher's ERA in the minors is a pretty good predictor of his ERA in the majors. GPA measured not only aptitude but also work ethic and effectualness. But, it had the problem that GPAs weren't nationally calibrated (e.g., which high school's grading is tougher: a 3.65 at Poly in Pasadena or a 3.65 at Poly in Sun Valley)? 

Further, grades could be gamed in lots of ways -- e.g., tutors could be hired to do projects, students could cheat off other students during final exams, parents can complain to teachers to get grades raised, and so forth.

So, the SAT was envisioned as a national test of aptitude that couldn't be studied for.

It's a big national news story this week that seven students at a fancy high school in Long Island were caught paying a college student $1500-$2500 to take their SATs for them, but that's a bit of a man bites dog story. The SAT really does have better security than many GPA related activities.

Over the years, standardized achievement tests have arisen within the American system that attempt to garner the advantages of GPA with national comparability of SAT/ACT: the SAT Subject tests, which are one hour multiple choice tests on specific subjects like American History, and the Advanced Placement tests. AP tests are rather like the British A-levels. They have a lot of prima facie validity at predicting college grades because they are similar to a comprehensive final exam in a college freshman level course 

The AP tests aren't much used at present, in part for the same reasons that the British are dissatisfied with the A-levels: they are mostly given after college admissions decisions are made and they take a long time to grade. 

About a half decade ago, the SAT was made more like the SAT Subject tests by incorporating the Subject test's writing essay and various other changes. But, are we losing the value of the differences between the SAT aptitude test and the SAT Subject achievement tests?

My general recommendations for designing college admissions would be to be aware of the ever-intensifying efforts to game the process by Tiger Mothers of all stripes and sexes. Institutional responses could come in two forms: 

- Make some parts of the process harder to game

- Channel gaming efforts into actual learning. For example, putting more weight on the compromise measures (Subject tests and AP tests) might actually get students to, say, learn more chemistry or history as a byproduct of their frenzy to game the admissions process.

September 27, 2011


From my review of the new Brad Pitt movie in Taki's Magazine:
When my son was ten, his baseball coach—inspired by Michael Lewis’s bestseller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game—came up with a statistically brilliant team strategy: Don’t swing. Ever. 
Because few ten-year-olds can throw more strikes than balls, his team won the pennant by letting the little boy on the mound walk them around the bases until he dissolved into tears and had to be replaced by another doomed lad. 
The next spring, the parents got together and decided not to let that coach return. 
Moneyball the movie is, easily, the greatest feature film ever made about baseball statistics.

Read the whole thing there.

Diminishing marginal returns

As you know from reading all the coverage, the most important issue of our times is gay marriage. It's big, big, big!

Well, except that the number of potential beneficiaries appears to be small, small, small ... The Washington Post reports on a new Census study:
The bureau’s latest report said same-sex couples now account for 0.55 percent of total households in the United States, which also increased. That’s about the same share as in 2000, when it estimated there were about 358,000 same-sex households across the country.

Okay, 0.55% ... That's not gay married couples, by the way, that's single sex domestic partnerships, some of whom might take advantage of gay marriage.

Well, now that the forces of enlightenment are well on the road to their inevitable triumph on gay marriage (without, so far as I can recall, ever winning a popular vote on the topic -- they were 0 - 31 last I checked, but who cares about democracy?), they need a new issue to demonstrate their moral superiority. 

Ever since New York approved gay marriage, The New Republic has been promoting this article on its home page under the title "America's Next Great Civil Rights Struggle." Therefore, expect to read a lot of breathless articles about transgender and transsexual rights.

But how many people are there who have had or who want to have themselves sexually mutilated? Granted, the SPLC has dipped its toe in this emerging market, supporting the vicious campaign by three very smart transsexual academics against the academic freedom of Northwestern psychologist J. Michael Bailey for suggesting a subversive alternative theory of the motivation to the standard party line that "I always felt like a little girl on the inside." This drove a few high IQ / high aggression X-men, such as Harvard football player turned economist Deirdre McCloskey, into rages. The Southern Poverty Law Center jumped into helping out with the pogrom against Bailey, but I'm not picking up too many signs since then that the SPLC thinks this is a real growth industry rather than a niche market.

And, what comes after the transexuals win (however winning is defined - presumably, after various people have had their careers ruined for suggesting that there's anything the least bit yucky about having yourself castrated)? There's too much energy, too much anger, too much self-righteousness, and too much money for the taking for the civil rights movement to ever declare victory and go home, no matter how diminishing the returns. So, what's the next stage beyond trans rights?

September 26, 2011

The Texas of Bush and Perry

Chris Roach has an essay about Texas that's well-worth reading. 

A couple of things about Perry:

Being governor of Texas isn't that hard a job. It has an odd constitution where the Lt. Governor is surprisingly powerful.

Perry and Bush hate each other, but Perry seems like the guy Bush was always pretending to be.

Regarding Texas in general:

Since the first oil gusher in Texas 110 years ago, Texas has benefited from a whole lot of competent Americans moving in. The oil industry brings in people who can get stuff done. Other parts of the country, such as West Virginia, have been hurt by the more effectual moving out on average. Texas isn't like that. At least as far back as 1960's Project Talent national post-Sputnik tests, Texas schoolchildren were outscoring California schoolchildren, despite California having a lot more Nobel Prize winners.

Obama, Kennedy, Oprah, and a pack of Marlboros

In VDARE, I review the new book on Obama by a leading black expert on Obama's professional specialty (discrimination law), Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law School, The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency. As usual, I do a close reading of the footnotes, parenthetical clauses, and other obscure parts of the text, in which Kennedy, a strong supporter of Obama, reveals his opinions of Obama's claim to have been shocked to find out what Rev. Wright had been saying, to be a Christian, to have delivered a great speech on race in response to the Wright revelations, and much else. I add in from other sources why Obama dropped Kennedy's class on affirmative action at HLS after one day, how I met Oprah, and my theory of why Obama persisted in smoking long after it became hugely unfashionable. Read the whole thing there.

September 25, 2011

The Candy Brothers

Various screenwriters read this blog, so if anybody is looking for supporting characters for a superhero movie, here's my advice: read up on the billionaire Candy Brothers, whose firm Candy & Candy serves as real estate developers and interior decorators for oligarchs, oil sheikhs, and hedge fund guys. The pages on Google read like headlines of newspapers twirling in an old-fashioned 1930s movie montage:
The Real Estalker: The Candy Brothers Do It Again
The Candy Brothers Sell Their Monaco Penthouse For A Whopping ...
Candy Brothers in Monaco Make Millions in London Housing Slump ...
Candy brothers lose millions of dollars on LA property deal that ...
Billionaire Candy brothers were duped by con men - Telegraph

    and so forth and so on. Your main problem would be how to make the Candy Brothers sound more believable so they'd fit into a comic book movie more plausibly.