November 19, 2011

Earning vs. owning your way on the Forbes 400

I was flipping through the Forbes 400 list of American billionaires recently, and I got to thinking about the relative balance of people who are the list because they own valuable things and people who are on the list because they've earned a lot of money. The Walton children are in the top 10 because they chose their dad wisely, so they are good examples of somebody who are on the list due to ownership. Consider Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who retired from Microsoft in the first half of the 1980s when he got Hodgkins Lymphoma. I remember press comments that nobody ever beats that cancer, but he was among the first to get the modern, highly effective treatment. So, he earned some of Microsoft's early success, but wasn't around for his powerhouse days, from which he benefited by ownership. 

Michael Dell would be an example of somebody who started a huge company out of a dorm room and has run it, on and off, since. But, still, if he retired today, how much money would he have in 10 years? Assuming he's hired good second tier managers, probably almost as much as if he worked another 10 years. So, most of his billions come from ownership.

Another way to look at this is in terms of being irreplaceable. We had this discussion with Steve Jobs and Apple. My guess is that he was pretty irreplaceable during it's ascent, but, hopefully for Apple stockholders, will be reasonably replaceable in the long run. But, the majority of Jobs's wealth came from owning Pixar, where he wasn't hugely valuable except in negotiating with Hollywood sharks. Jobs did an outstanding job of keeping John Lasseter and Company free to do their thing, but the Pixar people weren't sorry when Jobs got his job back at Apple and didn't have time anymore to drive them crazy.

Which billionaire is at the the extreme of a person who earned just about every penny by getting out there day after day and doing the job? Which one was utterly irreplaceable? Which Forbesian's future cash flow is most dependent upon not retiring, upon personal effort from now on? My guess would be a pretty famous name, so I'll vamp while you try to guess.

Whose earning power among billionaires is least dependent upon owning corporate entities where others do the work and most dependent upon doing the work herself?

Is that enough of a clue to who has personally earned the largest fraction of her billions?

Yup, that's right, Oprah. She made her $2.7 billion less by founding or inheriting a valuable company or making successful leveraged bets and more by getting out there everyday and doing her job. She is the brand and the brand is her. 

November 17, 2011

Hungry football players

From the L.A. Times:
College football seemed so easy for Robert Woods. 
The bigger players and harder hits, the roaring crowds, he sailed through all of that to become an instant star at USC, catching passes by the dozen as a freshman. 
It was another part of the game — a part fans don't see — that took him by surprise. It was the peanut butter and jelly. 
"You think, coming to USC, they'll have food whenever you want but it's really not like that," he said. "I've gone four days straight of just sandwiches." 
Now a sophomore, Woods has learned that bills — rent, utilities, and phone — devour most of his monthly scholarship check, leaving only dollars a day to eat. The team feeds him dinner during the season, but the rest of the time, he says, "you're on your own." 
This dilemma affects student-athletes nationwide. According to a 2010 study, the maximum financial aid allowed under NCAA rules can fall short of covering school and living expenses by anywhere from $200 to $10,000 a year, depending on the campus. 
At USC, Athletic Director Pat Haden estimates that his athletes need another $3,300 to meet basic needs. "It doesn't seem right," he said. "And I think it's a public relations nightmare." 
With the Pac-12 Conference and other major conferences set to reap billions from new television contracts, the NCAA board of directors recently announced that members will have the option of boosting aid by as much as $2,000 a year.

It's very hard for an outsider to get a realistic picture of how well star college football players like Woods, who was the #1 ranked receiver in his recruiting class two years ago, live. For example, during a heat wave a few years ago when USC was the king of college football, I read quotes from USC players were complaining that the football players' dorm wasn't air-conditioned. Traditionally, a lot of dorms at USC weren't air-conditioned because the school is in the relatively cool LA Basin that benefits from ocean breezes. But football players have to move in during August, when it's not infrequently over 100, and those kind of temperatures can recur well into October during Santa Ana winds. I'd always assumed that USC football players had air conditioning, but apparently that wasn't true. 

Perhaps boosters put a lot of money into doing flashy things for superstar recruits but not that much for the average player? 

Head football coaches, however, live very well.

November 16, 2011

How do you find surgeons' batting averages?

Surgeon Atul Gawande writes frequently in The New Yorker about how he uses statistics on national norms for various surgeries to monitor his own performance.
After eight years, I’ve performed more than two thousand operations. Three-quarters have involved my specialty, endocrine surgery—surgery for endocrine organs such as the thyroid, the parathyroid, and the adrenal glands. The rest have involved everything from simple biopsies to colon cancer. For my specialized cases, I’ve come to know most of the serious difficulties that could arise, and have worked out solutions. For the others, I’ve gained confidence in my ability to handle a wide range of situations, and to improvise when necessary. 
As I went along, I compared my results against national data, and I began beating the averages. My rates of complications moved steadily lower and lower. And then, a couple of years ago, they didn’t. It started to seem that the only direction things could go from here was the wrong one. 
Maybe this is what happens when you turn forty-five. Surgery is, at least, a relatively late-peaking career. It’s not like mathematics or baseball or pop music, where your best work is often behind you by the time you’re thirty. Jobs that involve the complexities of people or nature seem to take the longest to master: the average age at which S. & P. 500 chief executive officers are hired is fifty-two, and the age of maximum productivity for geologists, one study estimated, is around fifty-four. Surgeons apparently fall somewhere between the extremes, requiring both physical stamina and the judgment that comes with experience. Apparently, I’d arrived at that middle point.

A reader wonders whether those statistics are available to the general public. In particular, can you find out whether a surgeon you are considering having slice you open is above or below average? Anybody know?

$1.6 million paid to historian: Nice work if you can get it

From the NYT:
The report from Bloomberg News, which said Mr. Gingrich received at least $1.6 million [from Freddie Mac], is signifcantly higher than previous estimates of Mr. Gingrich’s compensation for what he has described as his work as “a historian” for the troubled mortgage lender.

Gingrich was out of power at the time, so this wasn't a direct bribe, it was more an attempt to mold opinion to keep Freddie respectable by buying the friendship of a voluble famous guy, with maybe some big payoff down the road if Gingrich made a political comeback. Moreover, paying Gingrich a lot after he was out of office serves to encourage the others in office to be nice to Freddie now in the hopes that they too can get what's coming to them down the road. 

In modern America, it's crucial for rich institutions like Fannie and Freddie to control what ideas are respectable and thus thinkable. 

For example, after Bill Gates got in trouble over anti-trust, he started the vastly wealthy Gates Foundation, which then, in Bill's own disillusioned 2009 words, wasted $2 billion on the New Left concept of turning high schools into "small learning communities." Why didn't anybody make clear to him at the time that this was a boondoggle? Because Bill gave $57 million to education think tanks, so that practically every "expert" that reporters called was on the Bill Dole or hoped to be. To thinktankers, $57 million is huge money, but to Bill Gates it's about as important as the change lost in his sofa cushions. So, Bill's dopey Ayers Brothers-inspired brainstorm was the height of respectability, until Bill himself got sick of it.

In contrast, one obvious way to help America's public schools over the next generation -- don't let in so many unintelligent foreigners with high fertility rates -- is simply unmentionable. There are lots of highly respectable ideas about school reform backed by huge amounts of money, but the single most sure-fire way to help the schools never even registers on the mental map of respectable opinion. Where's the money in it?

Similarly, being alarmed about carbon emissions causing global warming is extremely respectable. Not being alarmed about carbon emissions causing global warming is semi-respectable because the energy companies put a lot of money into keeping doubt alive. But to point out the tautologically obvious lesson that mass immigration from poor countries to rich countries causes increased carbon emissions isn't even not respectable, it's just unheard of. There's practically no money backing skepticism about immigration, so it's not respectable, and very little at all on the immigration leads to increased carbon emissions idea, so it's just unthinkable. 

This is just my self-interested bias, but my counter-intuitive take is that rather than go all blue in the face trying to crack down on Newt Gingrich and Michelle Obama getting paid off by rich institutions, the more valuable service to America would be to develop larger alternative sources of funding for ideas that aren't respectable at present. As you so often hear, there are a lot of rich guys in America. What's the point of being a rich guy, however, if not occasionally spending money on something that you find fun but that respectable opinion finds baffling or shocking?

Ed West on Equality v. Diversity

In the London Telegraph, columnist Ed West reflects on the slowly growing awareness among intellectuals that Diversity != Equality. He cites as a locus classicus of the genre a VDARE column of mine from way back in 2000, Inequality, the Immigration Dimension, comparing, among the Four Corners states, the more diverse and less equal New Mexico and Arizona versus the less diverse and more equal Colorado and Utah. West concludes:
Sailer is a popular blogger, rather like an eccentric but brilliant professor possessed of a vast breadth of knowledge, and would probably be a big thing in American commentary, producing those American polemics With Those Absurdly Long Subtitles that Explain the Entire Subject of the Book, but his views on the biology of race put him beyond the pale for mainstream conservative publications. 
That's above my GCSE double award science-level knowledge of the subject, but on the growing inequality in American life he is almost certainly right, and the untrammelled globalism of George W Bush-style conservatism, described by Sailer as “invade the world, invite the world, in hoc to the world”, has been a dismal failure. Sailer’s own state, California, with its high rate of illegal immigration and legal out-migration, has already become Latin Americanised, with ever higher levels of inequality and a shrinking middle class (not to mention bankrupt cities and rotting public services). This has been allowed to happen because diversity makes important Right-wing people rich and important Left-wing people feel good about themselves. 
The Spirit Level was popular because it touched on a truth – that inequality is a bad thing – but with all its countless measures of prison rates, child mortality, obesity and even aid, it almost completely ignored the elephant in the room. Where equality campaigners even dare to mention diversity, they argue that this handicap can be solved with a chequebook, ignoring the unfortunate facts that you can’t buy social capital, and that ethnically diverse populations are unwilling to support Scandinavian-style wealth redistribution (as suggested by various studies). 
Protesters can camp outside St Paul’s from now until the Second Coming for all the good it will do, but until they start to question the diversity delusion, then Britain, like the United States, will continue down its road to Latin Americanisation.

Read the whole thing there.

November 15, 2011

Was "J. Edgar" Gay or Mulatto?

The young Hoover
From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
Clint Eastwood’s biopic J. Edgar, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the Washington bureaucrat who ran the FBI and its predecessor from 1924 to his death in early 1972, provides an intriguing data point for tracking the 21st-century struggle between blacks and gays for the upper hand in the Victim Sweepstakes.  
Hoover was widely rumored to be either a self-hating gay passing for straight, a self-hating mulatto passing for all-white, or both. So did Clint, a presumably neutral bystander, wind up blaming racism or homophobia for warping Hoover?

Read the whole thing there.

[P.S., the technical glitch that kept you from reading the last half of the review is fixed.]

Energy and IQ

Inductivist and Jason Malloy check out the General Social Survey to look at people self-reporting to have "energy all the time" over the last month. Jason writes:
wordsum IQ 
0-2: 11.6% 
3-4: 14.8% 
5-6: 10.2% 
7-8: 8.7% 
9-10: 5.0% 

Intelligence and energy have an inverse relationship! Smarter people feel a lot more drained.

Maybe smart people get worked harder. Or maybe it's just wider knowledge among smart people of how incredibly energetic some people are. Like I once spent five minutes talking to financier Michael Milken. He had a lot of energy! And he has a lot energy all the time. My favorite Milken story is about the nobody who had been trying to get a meeting with Milken for months to pitch his idea for a junk bond leveraged buy out. Finally, Milken's secretary calls to say Mr. Milken can meet with him next Sunday at 5:30 am. He says, "Great, I'll be there!" 

Then, late than night he gets a call from the great man himself. Milken apologizes for not noticing that this Sunday is going to be the first day of Standard Time, and since the clocks will Fall Back at 2 am, he'd like to change the meeting to 4:30 AM Sunday. "So, 4:30 am okay?"

Yeah, sure, Mike, no problem, I was just wondering myself what I was going to do with that extra hour!

Nature v. Nurture solved!

From The New Republic:
The Two Year Window
The new science of babies and brains—and how it could revolutionize the fight against poverty.
Jonathan Cohn

The End of Nature v. Nurture?
The New Science of Babies and Brains

A decade ago, a neuroscientist named Charles Nelson traveled to Bucharest to visit Romania’s infamous orphanages. There, he saw a child whose brain had swelled to the size of a basketball because of an untreated infection and a malnourished one-year-old no bigger than a newborn. But what has stayed with him ever since was the eerie quiet of the infant wards. “It would be dead silent, all of [the babies] sitting on their backs and staring at the ceiling,” says Nelson, who is now at Harvard. “Why cry when nobody is going to pay attention to you?” 
Nelson had traveled to Romania to take part in a cutting-edge experiment. It was ten years after the fall of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceau┼čescu, whose scheme for increasing the country’s population through bans on birth control and abortion had filled state-run institutions with children their parents couldn’t support. Images from the orphanages had prompted an outpouring of international aid and a rush from parents around the world to adopt the children. But ten years later, the new government remained convinced that the institutions were a good idea—and was still warehousing at least 60,000 kids, some of them born after the old regime’s fall, in facilities where many received almost no meaningful human interaction. With backing from the MacArthur Foundation, and help from a sympathetic Romanian official, Nelson and colleagues from Harvard, Tulane, and the University of Maryland prevailed upon the government to allow them to remove some of the children from the orphanages and place them with foster families. Then, the researchers would observe how they fared over time in comparison with the children still in the orphanages. They would also track a third set of children, who were with their original parents, as a control group.

Back in 2007, I reported on Dr. Nelson's study. He found that the poor kids who continued to get warehoused in these cheerless Romanian orphanages averaged IQs of 73, while those who got to move in with foster parents averaged 81. A control group of non-orphans averaged 109. 

As I said in 2007, an 8 point boost for getting out of a bleak Romanian orphanage and into a family setting seems a quite plausible nurture effect to me. But, what in the world accounts for the 28 point gap between the fostered kids and the control group of non-orphans?

I found an earlier report by Nelson noting a big ethnic difference:
"Of the 136 institutionalized children included in the study, 78 are of Romanian ethnicity (57.4%), 36 are Rroma Gypsy (26.5%), 1 is Turkish (0.7%), 1 is of subcontinent Indian extraction (0.7%), and the remaining 20 (14.7%) could not be classified. ...

The control group with the 109 average IQ is much different in ethnicity:
"Of the 72 who consented to participate, 66 children (91.7%) were Romanian, 4 children (5.6%) were Rroma, 1 child was Spanish, and 1 child was Turkish."

In summary, major selection effects seem to be driving part of the almost two-standard deviation IQ gap between the foster care and biological family groups.

Before America goes out and more or less kidnaps black babies away from poor black mothers in order to raise their IQs -- the upcoming Borrowed Generations national apology of 2056 -- some more pointed research is needed.

If there really is a critical 2-year-window where children who don't get talked at enough are doomed for life, that would imply certain falsifiable hypotheses:

- For example, some poor black mothers are taciturn and others are loquacious. Do the loquacious ones have children who grow up to have higher IQs relative to their mothers IQs? If so, how much?

- If what really matters to a person's adult IQ is having a middle-class upbringing as a small child with a mother who constantly is nudging you to look at this thing or that thing, wouldn't it be cheaper to encourage blacks to point out stuff to their kids rather than to take their kids away from them for 14 hours per day? If it's all culture, why not improve the culture of the black mothers? That doesn't strike me as impossible to do. If, say, Oprah and Beyonce teamed up to push for a decade to get mothers to talk more to their babies, I wouldn't be surprised if they could move the needle.

- Many middle class white women turn most of the baby-raising over to low IQ servants, many of whom don't speak English and don't have middle class urges to point out every damn thing under the sun to the babies they are caring for. Are these middle class white women damaging the IQs of their own children? Should they leave the workforce and raise their own kids? But if white women stop hiring Honduran illegal immigrants to raise their own babies for them, then who is going to raise the babies of poor black women for them?

November 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Raided

I should try to get the NYPD to raid my garage and throw out for me all the decades of junk piled up in there.

Anyway, Occupy Wall Street reminds me of another current phenomenon, food trucks and other businesses that have set themselves up rent-free in the public streets.

For example, in recent years, there's always a big yellow sign advertising "Thai Massages" (I presume that's a euphemism) mounted on a trailer parked in the right hand turn lane at a busy nearby corner. It's a great location for advertising a massage parlor because the pimp doesn't have to rent the land the sign occupies. Less obnoxiously, there's now often a miniature barber shop in a trailer parked in front of a prosperous local strip mall where monthly rents are substantial.

Similarly, downtown Manhattan is, for most people, one of the most expensive places in the world to live, but a couple of hundred people have been camping rent free there for two months.

Why this 200-person free campout is the biggest deal since the Fall of the Bastille, however, is another question entirely.

Republicans and ideology

From my new VDARE column:
In his November 9th New York Times column cleverly entitled The Cain Scrutiny, Ross Douthat calls attention to the arresting spectacle of white conservatives rising up to defend the honor of Herman Cain and black manhood against allegations by blonde tramps that the Republican Presidential candidate's sexual advances were unwanted: "We should remember this moment, because it’s a perfect encapsulation of how race’s role in American politics has changed over the last 75 years." 
Indeed.

Read the whole thing there.

The Obama Touch

I wanted to call attention to this article from last month's LA Times because it provides an interesting example of the Obama Administration's preferred mode of operation: the fix-is-in. Barack Obama doesn't particularly like confrontation. What he likes is exemplified by this pseudo-confrontation over "civil rights," where both sides, the feds and the L.A. school district, were already in agreement that the taxpayers should pony up a lot more money for blacks and the children of illegal aliens, but neither side wanted to scare taxpayers by yet putting a dollar value on their deal, the bill for which will come later:
LAUSD agrees to revise how English learners, blacks are taught 
Officials say the accord, which settles a federal civil rights probe, could be a national model. The district is not accused of intentional bias, and deciding how to make changes will be done locally. 
October 11, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times 
The Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to sweeping revisions in the way it teaches students learning English, as well as black youngsters, settling a federal civil rights investigation that examined whether the district was denying the students a quality education. 
The settlement closes what was the Obama administration's first civil rights investigation launched by the Department of Education, and officials said Tuesday that it would serve as a model for other school districts around the country. 
"What happens in L.A. really does set trends for across the nation. More and more school districts are dealing with this challenge," said Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights. 
The agreement poses a potential financial problem for the school district, which has faced multimillion-dollar budget cuts and layoffs over the last few years. 
The Education Department launched the probe last year, at first to determine if students who entered school speaking limited English, most of whom are Latino, were receiving adequate instruction. The nation's second-largest school system has more students learning English, about 195,000, than any other in the United States — about 29% of the district's overall enrollment. Later, at the urging of local activists, investigators widened the probe to include black students, who make up about 10% of the district's enrollment. 
Federal authorities do not accuse the district of intentional discrimination. But the settlement requires a top-to-bottom revision of the district's Master Plan for English Learners, which is already well underway. The goal is to let the district develop the details, under continuing oversight from the Office for Civil Rights, a branch of the Education Department. 
Under the settlement, the district for the first time will focus on the academic progress of students judged to have adequately learned English. Many of these students subsequently flounder academically.

The reporter is messing up the issue, which almost nobody understands: there are a lot of young people in L.A. who are from Spanish-speaking homes, but who, with Ron Unz's 1998 initiative stifling bilingual education, now speak English like Moon-Unit Zappa. But many of these English speakers remain officially classified as English Learners because they can't pass written tests. Year after year goes by, and these kids who have passed the spoken English test continue to fail the written English test, just as they continue to fail their math and science tests.

How come? Because they aren't very bright.

But you can't say that, so everybody pretends that they must be victims of discrimination who are having their civil rights violated.
The district will also concentrate efforts on students who have reached high school without mastering the English skills necessary to enroll in a college-preparatory curriculum and who may be at risk of dropping out. 
L.A. Unified also agreed to provide students learning English and black students with more effective teachers. Improved teaching would result from "ongoing and sustained" training, among other potential efforts, Ali said. 
The decision on how to improve instruction will be a local one. The district will be judged in large measure by student performance data. The ultimate sanction for not living up to the agreement would be withholding or withdrawing federal funds, Ali said. 
L.A. Unified was selected for the investigation in large measure because it is an epicenter for the challenge of educating students whose native language is not English. For years, district officials insisted that L.A. Unified performed as well as or better than nearly all other school systems with this population. 
Federal officials did not challenge this record. Instead, they emphasized that past efforts simply haven't succeeded as well as they must. District officials, in fact, have echoed this rhetoric. Former board member Yolie Flores consistently criticized the district's performance with English learners. 
Under federal law, discrimination can exist even when it is not intentional, based on the levels of opportunity afforded students through even well-meaning policies and practices.

So, this seemingly confrontational but actually conspiratorial process has resulted in an agreement that everybody participating wanted. Of course, no representatives of the taxpayers were invited to the talks. But, the taxpayers haven't been told yet how much this binding agreement will cost them ultimately, so almost zero attention has been focused on this scam among the general public.

Was "Bad Teacher" first Post-Obama hit movie?

Last summer's comedy Bad Teacher, with Cameron Diaz as a bad teacher, finished up in domestic theaters with exactly $100 million in box office revenue (plus another $115 million abroad), which is a lot for a comedy with a $20 million budget. A friend argues that Bad Teacher represents perhaps the first distinctly Post-Obama hit movie, a scalding reaction to the sanctimoniousness that propelled Obama to the White House. Perhaps.

Stereotype Threat v. Stereotype Pet

The Stanford sociology department is sponsoring a speech on an exciting conceptual breakthrough: "Stereotype Promise."
Jennifer Lee
Professor of Sociology, University of California, Irvine
Visiting Scholar, Russell Sage Foundation 
The Tiger Mother and Asian American Exceptionalism?
Framing Success and “Stereotype Promise” among LA’s Second Generation 
*Jointly sponsored with the Department of Sociology and the Center for Comparative Studies on Race and Ethnicity
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Colloquium with Q&A 12:30-1:45
email suemartin@stanford.edu for more information 
"Why do second-generation Asians exhibit exceptional academic outcomes, even when controlling for socioeconomic factors like parental education, occupation, and income? ... Moreover, the external validation and reinforcement of the frame by teachers can generate a “stereotype promise” among Asians—the promise of being viewed through the lens of a positive stereotype that leads one to perform in such a way that confirms the positive stereotype, thereby boosting one’s performance. As a result, Asian students—regardless of ethnicity, class, and gender—gain an advantage over their non-Asian peers in the context of U.S. schools."

I don't think "stereotype promise" reminds people enough of "stereotype threat." "Threat" and "promise" are kind of antonyms, but it's not self-evident that they are being used as opposites. Therefore, Professor Lee's assertion that that Asians outperform others because teachers are biased in favor of apple-polishing Asian students should be renamed "stereotype pet."

Is it true? I don't know, but it's definitely more memorable as Stereotype Threat / Pet.

Bad Rachel: How neocons really feel

A reader notices that an old acquaintance from decades ago now has her own blog: Bad Rachel. A fairly representative post is here.

Rachel Abrams of the Weekly Standard is the daughter of Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, and half-sister of John Podhoretz.

Her husband Elliott Abrams was, according to his biography at the Council of Foreign Relations where he now hangs his hat, "Former senior director for democracy and human rights, senior director for the Near East, and deputy national security adviser handling Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush administration."

In other words, Rachel Abrams is a diplomat's wife. A diplomat assigned, presumably, to bringing peace and reconciliation to the Middle East.

Mrs. Abrams, however, gives us the less diplomatic version of the family feud.

I always wondered about Bush putting Elliott Abrams in charge of Middle Eastern diplomacy. Do you think it was at all possible that people in other countries thought that Mr. Abrams, during his Bush Administration career in charge of Middle Eastern diplomacy, was something less than a completely fair-minded neutral facilitator? Perhaps something Mrs. Abrams said at diplomatic cocktail parties might have given the rest of the world reason to doubt the good faith of Mr. Abrams

Of course, if other diplomats ever did doubt the objectivity of Mr. and Mrs. Abrams, that would just prove they're hateful bigots and probably should get cruise-missiled. (We're looking at you, Luxembourg.)

By the way, a commenter has asserted that Midge Decter is the original for fussbudget Lucy van Pelt in Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts cartoons. Is there any truth to that?