October 6, 2012

The Gap: Nobody is even trying to make sense anymore

From Friday's NYT, a good example of the current conventional wisdom about The Gap: few African-Americans do well enough in math to get into Stuyvesant High School because their mothers didn't teach them enough English words (unlike, presumably, all those Stuyvesant students whose mothers don't speak English at all).
Before a Test, a Poverty of Words 
... Earlier in the year when I met Steven F. Wilson, founder of a network of charter schools that serve poor and largely black communities in Brooklyn, I asked him what he considered the greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year. He answered, without a second’s hesitation: “Word deficit.” As it happens, in the ’80s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley spent years cataloging the number of words spoken to young children in dozens of families from different socioeconomic groups, and what they found was not only a disparity in the complexity of words used, but also astonishing differences in sheer number. Children of professionals were, on average, exposed to approximately 1,500 more words hourly than children growing up in poverty. This resulted in a gap of more than 32 million words by the time the children reached the age of 4. 
This issue, though seemingly crucial, has been obscured in the recently intensified debate over the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, the multiple-choice exam used as the sole metric for entrance into some of New York City’s elite public high schools, including Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. 
... Two weeks ago, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, along with other organizations, filed a federal civil rights complaint challenging the single-score admissions process as perilously narrow and arguing that it negatively affected black and Hispanic children, who are grossly underrepresented in these schools, so long considered forceful agents of mobility.  ...
As the complaint makes note, of the 967 eighth-grade students offered admission to Stuyvesant for the current school year, only 19 were black and 32 Hispanic. During the previous school year, only 3.5 percent of students at Bronx Science were black and 7.2 percent Hispanic.  

Okay, but Stuyvesant is 72% Asian and Bronx Science 62% Asian. And a large fraction of those are children of immigrants who often struggle with English.

And the test is 50% math, and the verbal portion is highly oriented toward logic.

How does the Hart-Risley vocabulary theory explain Stuyvesant?
As the education theorist E. D. Hirsch recently wrote in a review of Paul Tough’s new book, “How Children Succeed,” there is strong evidence that increasing the general knowledge and vocabulary of a child before age 6 is the single highest correlate with later success.

I suspect that there is actually strong evidence that "the general knowledge and vocabulary of a child before age 6 is the single highest correlate with later success" but that nobody has come close to proving that "increasing" them matters much, and that even if it does, nobody knows how to reliably accomplish that.
Schools have an enormously hard time pushing through the deficiencies with which many children arrive.

Actually, six year old are extremely good at arriving at school and learning the accents, slang, even the entire new language of the kids on the playground. Smallish children can quickly adapt to speaking a different language from their parents. (Here's my 2000 article, with quotes from Steven Pinker and Noam Chomsky, on the facility with which children can learn new languages.) That's why Ron Unz's successful 1998 initiative to reduce bilingual education in California didn't cause all the doom and gloom that people in the bilingual ed racket predicted: once the schools made clear that the kids were supposed to learn English, they learned English. English is cool.

By the way, an article seven years ago in the NYT sort of pointed out that the way the exam for the NYC elite public high schools ranks scores gives Asian immigrants an advantage. Has this system been altered since then?
Admission Test's Scoring Quirk Throws Balance Into Question 
Published: November 12, 2005 
For weeks, Joshua N. Feinman had graded practice tests to help his daughter prepare for New York City's specialized high school exam. Then one day, he took a hard look at the scoring chart from her private test-prep class and was stunned by how the verbal and math scores added up. 
''I took a look and said, 'Wow, this thing is really nonlinear,' '' said Mr. Feinman, the chief economist of Deutsche Asset Management. '' 'Wow, it's much better to score high in one and low in the other than to score good in both.' '' 
Mr. Feinman had stumbled on a little-known facet of the test: because of the complex way it is graded, a student scoring extremely high on one part of the exam has a sharp advantage over a student with high but more balanced scores in each subject. 
For Mr. Feinman's daughter, Amanda, and more than 26,000 other eighth graders who will get their results in February, the implications loom large. Last year, for instance, a student with a 99 percentile score in math and 49 percentile in verbal would have been admitted to Stuyvesant High School -- the most coveted specialized school -- but a student with a 97 in math and 92 in verbal would not. ...
City education officials and the company that has prepared the test since 1983, American Guidance Service, said that they were aware of the potential outcomes and that scoring for the exam had to be designed this way to identify the best test takers. They also said their hands were tied by state law, which they said required that admission to the specialized schools be based on a single combined score in math and verbal. ...
''Stuyvesant loves lopsided geniuses,'' said Naomi Bushman, a mathematics education consultant who runs a test-prep course for the exam. ...

Principals said they were aware that a super-high score on one part could substantially lift an applicant's chances, because many recent immigrants with extremely limited English skills had earned admission by posting exceptional math scores.

There just aren't very many "lopsided geniuses" among NAMS. Going to a more balanced scoring system would benefit blacks and Hispanics, but it would also benefit whites, so I guess we can't do that.

In the long run ...

For a long time, I've been pointing out that nobody really knows terribly much about effective policies to improve the the educational and economic performance of people already in America, so we shouldn't ignore the impact of policies influencing who is in America (e.g., immigration, affordable family formation for the middle class, encourage the poor to use contraception, and so forth).

One obvious argument with that is that the payoffs are years away. There would seem to be a long lag time. So, the conventional wisdom is, let's just ignore all that long run stuff and concentrate on fixing the people we've currently got.

But, you'll notice, over the years the conventional wisdom has slowly come to admit defeat at fixing The Gap between the races at later ages. So, the emphasis on interventions keeps getting pushed earlier and earlier in life. Currently, all the excitement is focused on pre-K. If only we can fix things up for poor children before they start kindergarten, then we will find out decades later that we have closed The Gap! (And when that proves not to work, then all the attention will be focused upon the first 12 months of life. And then when that fizzles out, the Big Thing will be pre-natal care. And then it will be the first hour after conception. And then the first second after conception.)

Of course, we don't yet know how to fix things up pre-K, so we need to first to do many years of research to find replicable programs. To quote again from Princeton social scientist Thomas J. Espenshade in the New York Times:
We need more research into the impact of factors like diet and nutrition, the amount of time parents talk and read with their kids, exposure to electronic screen time, sleep routines and the way stress outside the home affects family life. But we already know that an expansion of early-childhood education is urgently needed, along with programs, like peer-to-peer mentoring, that help low-income families support their children’s learning. The first few years of life are the most critical ones, when parental investments and early-childhood interventions have a higher payoff than at later ages, particularly for disadvantaged children. 

So, when is the interventionist solution going to actually pay off? 

Espenshade briefly alludes to the problem with the conventional wisdom at the end of his piece:
In 2003, in the Grutter decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that she expected such preferences to disappear within 25 years — by 2028. The children who would go off to college that year are already 2 years old.

So, apparently, O'Connor's obiter dicta, along with the cohorts she was talking about are already doomed. They are already two years old, and they haven't been read Goodnight, Moon enough times or eaten enough organic baby food or whatever, and so we already know The Gap will still be around in 2028. Heck, we need decades of research to figure out what to do before we can start doing it. 

Okay, so if the mainstream approaches to solving the problems caused by The Gap are both unproven and even if they worked would work glacially slow, why not get started now on selectionist solutions?

How to cut the poverty rate

Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times:
Why Let the Rich Hoard All the Toys? 

Yet you gasp: one avaricious little boy is jealously guarding a mountain of toys for himself. A handful of other children are quietly playing with a few toys each, while 90 of the children are looking on forlornly — empty-handed. 
The one greedy boy has hoarded more toys than all those 90 children put together! 
“What’s going on?” you ask. “Let’s learn to share! One child shouldn’t hog everything for himself!” 
The greedy little boy looks at you, indignant. “Do you believe in redistribution?” he asks suspiciously, his lips curling in contempt. “I don’t want to share. This is America!” 
And then he summons his private security firm and has you dragged off the premises. Well, maybe not, but you get the point. 
That kindergarten distribution is precisely what America looks like. ... 
As I see it, the best way to create a more equitable society wouldn’t be Robin Hood-style redistribution, but a focus on inner-city and rural education — including early childhood programs — and job training. That approach would expand opportunity, even up the starting line, and chip away at cycles of poverty.

Wouldn't the most effective ways to reduce the percentage of people in America living in poverty be:

A) Not let in so many poor foreigners?

B) Encourage American poor people to have fewer children, especially not at young ages?

C) Encourage American non-poor people to have more children, especially at younger ages?

Granted, my ideas will take years to work. On the other hand, the government, the schools, the foundations, the universities have all been working on Mr. Kristoff's plan for about a half century now. How's that working out for you?

Meanwhile, Thomas J. Espenshade writes in the NYT:
Moving Beyond Affirmative Action 
ON Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, the latest in a long line of conservative assaults on affirmative action that dates to the late 1970s. ... 
To be clear, I believe that race-conscious affirmative action is necessary, and often beneficial — though I am not hopeful that the court will agree. Our study showed that eliminating it would reduce the number of black students by about 60 percent, and the number of Hispanic students by about one-third, at selective private schools. We also showed that there is no substitute policy, including preferences based on socioeconomic class, that would generate as much racial and ethnic diversity as affirmative action, given the large numbers of working-class non-Hispanic whites and Asians in the applicant pool. 

In other words, working class whites are the main losers from race/ethnic preferences, which may explain why it is so out of fashion to complain about it, you loser, you.
... The racial and socioeconomic gap in academic performance is America’s most pressing domestic issue. When they enter kindergarten, black children are about one year behind white children. When they graduate from high school, black teenagers are four years behind white teenagers. 

So, The Gap is relatively small at younger ages, and bigger at older ages. That suggests that the environmental differences in the early years aren't that important, right?
Despite the No Child Left Behind law, the Race to the Top initiative and endless debate over K-12 school reforms — accountability, standards, smaller classes, more effective teachers, better pay, charter schools, extended day, yearlong schools — the performance gaps have persisted, especially at the later ages. 

"Especially at later ages." So, it must be differences in the environment at later ages that matter, right?
If affirmative action is abolished, selective colleges and universities will face a stark choice. They can try to manufacture diversity by giving more weight in admissions to those factors that are sometimes close substitutes for race — for example, having overcome disadvantage in a poor urban neighborhood. Or they can take a far bolder step: putting their endowments and influence behind a comprehensive effort to close the learning gap that starts at birth. Higher education has a responsibility for all of education. The job of those atop the academic pyramid is not over once they’ve enrolled a diverse freshman class. 
We need more research into the impact of factors like diet and nutrition, the amount of time parents talk and read with their kids, exposure to electronic screen time, sleep routines and the way stress outside the home affects family life. But we already know that an expansion of early-childhood education is urgently needed, along with programs, like peer-to-peer mentoring, that help low-income families support their children’s learning. The first few years of life are the most critical ones ...

Huh? I realize that's the conventional wisdom -- we need to take small black children away from their moms for every single waking hour of the day and have them raised by college educated professionals (thus giving their moms more free time to hit the clubs and get knocked up some more) -- but how does it work that the "first few years of life are the most critical ones" except that the effects of Mom not reading Goodnight Moon only show up in a major way a decade later when the child can't handle Algebra?

We need "a comprehensive effort to close the learning gap that starts at birth." But, you might almost think that The Gap starts nine months before birth ...

October 5, 2012

Philosopher Quayshawn Spencer on "How to Be a Biological Racial Realist"

Philosophy is a field that moves slowly, but tends to have some long term impact on the climate of thought because philosophers eventually get around to thinking very carefully about questions. 

On the other hand, philosophers tend to be limited by not knowing -- or at least not caring to know -- a lot of facts. Personally, for example, I find that having a big mental grab bag of facts and noticed tendencies that I can juxtapose into novel analogies is useful to the way I like to think, but that's too anarchic for philosophy.

Philosophers like to discuss the logical paradoxes of, say, "The present king of France is bald," but that just gets me thinking about, I dunno, can you measure hereditary patterns of baldness from royal portraits? Or what kind of personality traits are linked to baldness? We have first rate psychological descriptions of many of the kings of France and other European countries written by Venetian ambassadors and other contemporary observers, so perhaps that data can be merged with the data from royal portraits. But this turn of mind is why I'm not a philosopher. 

So far, the quality of philosophical thinking about race has been mediocre, with lots of credulous Race Does Not Exist jabber. Fortunately, a young African American philosophy professor at USF named Quayshawn Spencer is setting out to improve it. Here's an invitation to a talk he's giving at UCSD:
Dear Friends of Philosophy,

You are invited to the next Friday, October 12th, colloquium with Professor Quayshawn Spencer, University of San Francisco, who will be giving a talk entitled "How to Be a Biological Racial Realist ." His colloquium will take place from 4:00 – 6:00p in the Seminar Room, H&SS 7077. Reception to follow.  
In this talk, I will show that the case for biological racial realism is more formidable than philosophers have thought, provided that one adopts the right semantic, metaphysical, and biological assumptions.  Specifically, I will argue that given a referentialist account of the meaning of ‘race’, a genuine kind account of biologically real kindhood, a fuzzy graph-theoretic account of populations, and the landmark results from Noah Rosenberg et al. (2002; 2005) on human population substructure, one can fashion a respectable account of race as the “B-partition” of metapopulations in a species (or “BPM race theory”).  After developing this nuanced biological theory of race, I defend it against popular criticisms, such as semantic objections (e.g. Feldman 2008), metaphysical objections (Gannett 2003; Kaplan and Winther 2012), and sampling and other methodological objections (Kittles and Weiss 2003; Kalinowski 2011).  I finish by discussing how BPM race theory fares with racial constructivism, and how it might inform issues that social and political philosophers care about.

Keep in mind that "realism" in philosophy isn't used the way I use "realism" (i.e., urbane impatience with lies, ignorance, spin, and wishful thinking). In philosophy, "realism" just means you are arguing that something is real.

But, this looks to be an important starting point. Here's Dr. Spencer's home page.

Personally, I've long argued that the usual race realist standpoint of thinking of races as subspecies in the Linnaean framework has reached diminishing returns. Instead, there is much to be gained by my new framework where we think of racial groups as big extended families given more and longer-lasting coherence by some degree of inbreeding.

Here's a short article demonstrating that bettors at the Kentucky Derby think more like I do than they think like the great Linnaeus.

SAT and ACT: How hard are they scraping the bottom of the barrel and are they finding any diamonds in the rough?

There was recently some publicity over the national average SAT and ACT college admission test scores dropping. The Unsilenced Science has a vast post with dozens of graphs on the latest SAT and ACT college entrance scores by demographics and state. 

However, there has always been an issue with tracking changes in average SAT/ACT scores in that not everybody takes either of the two tests, and (increasingly) some students take both tests.

However, in the comments, The U.S. and I go back and forth on how to deal with this perpetual stumbling block in SAT/ACT analyses and he points out that a number of states have recently made the SAT or ACT mandatory. 
Here are the significant, single-year participation changes: Colorado’s ACT participation went from 62% to 99% in 2002, and its ACT score fell from 21.5 to 20.1. (SAT-ACT composite fell from 501 to 472.) Illinois went from 71% to 99% in 2002 with a drop from 21.6 to 20.1 (498 to 464). Kentucky went from 72% to 100% in 2009 with a drop from 20.9 to 19.4 (478 to 444). Michigan went from 70% to 100% in 2008 with a drop from 21.5 to 19.6 (492 to 448). Utah went from 73% to 97% in 2012 with a drop from 21.8 to 20.7 (493 to 469). Maine SAT participation went from 73% to 100% in 2007, and its SAT-ACT composite fell from 501 to 469. Delaware went from 74% to 100% in 2012, and its SAT-ACT composite fell from 492 to 465. In fact, Arizona’s ACT participation more than doubled between 2009 and 2011 from 15% to 34% with a similar drop from 21.9 to 19.7. (The SAT-ACT composite went from 508 to 474 as SAT participation went from 26% to 28%.)

I'd never seen that data before and it's pretty interesting. I responded, doing some top of the head calculations:
So from this we can calculate the average score of the incremental test takers. For example, in Illinois, when 71% took the SAT, the average was 21.6, but when 99% took it, the average fell to 20.1. So, all else being equal, that means the incremental 28% averaged a 17, which is 4.6 points lower than what the 71% averaged, and 4.6 is pretty close to one standard deviation.  
If the additional 28% came from the bottom of the distribution, the 2nd to 28th percentiles, then the median of the incremental test takers would be about the 14th or 15th percentiles overall, while the median of the previous 71% would be about the 64th percentile. That would imply a drop of around 6 to 6.5 points, maybe, but instead the drop was about 3/4ths of that. So, some of the incremental scorers came from above the bottom 28% -- although not too many.  
It would be interesting to see if this law made any measurable increase in high scorers (above 30 or above 25) and which race they most came from. I'm betting offhand that the new law rousted more semi-smart white kids into taking the ACT than other races. Probably kids who were set on going into the Army and had done well on the AFQT, that kind of thing.

Keep in mind that 100% participation doesn't mean 100% of all 17 year olds in the state take the SAT or ACT, just, I'm presuming, 100% of the non-dropouts.

So, I think the data is there to answer some questions about the remaining untested students, both including what are the likelihood of them succeeding in college and how many who have the right stuff to make it in college are being overlooked.

Secondly, this information on the scores of the bottom untested ranks should allow somebody to adjust the national figures for participation and track changes over time at the national level, which would be of obvious import.

The triumph of 1970s liberalism in a graph

In a gentrifying era when well-educated white people are heading downtown, you hear surprisingly little about America's oldest and most academic big city, Boston. 

You would think that Boston would be the Portland of the East, but it's not quite. The ultimate success of gentrification is when the gentrifiers' children can walk to their high scoring neighborhood public schools, but that isn't close to happening in Boston because its public school system was systematically demolished in one of the hardest fought triumphs of the War on Racism.

One weakness with Boston gentrifying is that, legally, it's a geographically tiny 17th Century city surrounded by conveniently close-in suburbs that don't have to bus. So, it's easy for young parents to say, forget it, I'm not bothering to try to fight for a good student body in my kid's Boston school, we'll just move a few miles to, say, Brookline. For example, Judge Arthur Garrity, who ordered the school busing in 1974, lived in nearby Wellesley, which is just as Seven Sistersy as it sounds and was, amazingly enough, immune from Garrity's own busing order.

Now, 38 years later, the mayor of Boston wants to lift the curse of busing from his city. Will he succeed? It's generally a bad idea to bet against well-educated white people conspiring over real estate. But, smart white people are also good at not having children. Perhaps the Hispanic Tidal Wave means it's too late for Boston to recover from its 1970s WASP and lace-curtain Irish v. knock-upside-the-head Irish class war over public schools. From the NYT:
Nearly four decades after this city was convulsed by violence over court-ordered busing to desegregate its public schools, Boston is working to reduce its reliance on busing in a school system that is now made up largely of minority students. 
Although court-ordered busing ended more than two decades ago, and only 13 percent of students in the public schools today are white, the school district buses 64 percent of its students in kindergarten through eighth grade to schools outside their immediate neighborhoods. The city tried twice in the last decade to change the system and failed both times.  
In January, Mayor Thomas M. Menino asked school officials to come up with “a radically different plan” under which students would be assigned to schools as close to home as possible. 
Boston’s 57,000-student school district is divided into three sprawling geographic zones. A racially blind computerized algorithm assigns students to schools anywhere within their zone. Many students go so far that transportation alone costs the city $80.4 million a year — about 9.4 percent of the school system’s operating budget, almost twice the national average. 
But expense is not the only concern. Children who live on the same block often go to different schools. In the violence-torn Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Dorchester, school officials said, 1,912 students attend 102 schools out of 128 schools in the entire district. These include high school students, who are not limited by zone. ...
Recent scores show the Boston Public Schools lagging badly behind schools in the rest of the state. 

Why would a school district that's 79% NAM lag behind the rest of this highly white high-scoring state? It's a riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside an enigma. The best minds of the Harvard Graduate School of Education can't solve it, so what hope does anybody have?

October 4, 2012

196 million eligible for race/ethnic preferences by 2050

With the Supreme Court gearing up for oral arguments over affirmative action, I'm reminded for the umpty-umpth time that everybody loves to debate whether African-Americans deserve quotas. Personally, having been following these debates for 40 years, I know all the arguments on both sides and understand that both sides have their points.

What's fascinating / snooze-inducing is that almost nobody on either side of the quota issue is interested in arguing whether immigrant groups should continue to be eligible, even though they are rapidly becoming vastly more numerous than blacks and American Indians.

To quantify this, I took a look at the Census Bureau's 2008 projection of the makeup of the population in 2050. (In 2009, the Bureau followed up with multiple projections based on varying assumptions, but for simplicity's sake I'll just use the 2008 projections as the federal government's last attempt at a single best guess.)

Assume that whites and Asians are not eligible for preferences (and of course Asian businesspersons are eligible for a lot of obscure minority privileges, but let's ignore that for the moment.) Assume that all Hispanics remain a protected class, as well as all non-Hispanic blacks, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders, and half of non-Hispanic multi-racials (i.e., half will be white-Asians and thus ineligible, half something else and thus eligible).

I come up with just under 196,000,000 people in 2050 who will be eligible for race/ethnic preferences, with the great majority of the beneficiaries neither black nor American Indian. 

Shouldn't we be having a discussion of how the country is going to function under those circumstances?

Projecting Obama's blankness onto Romney

"I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views ..." 
Barack Obama
The Audacity of Hope

The concept of "projection" is one of the more empirically valid ideas that Sigmund Freud came up with. You can see it in the newspaper every day if you just look with fresh eyes: for example, that respected organization that is so angry all the time about "hate groups" -- oh, yeah, it is a hate group.

In recent months, we've been inundated with strident media assertions that Mitt Romney is a blank screen, an empty suit, a cipher, a nullity. Perhaps they are right, although Romney's long track record suggests that people who know him frequently turn to him when they have difficult problems requiring leadership and management chops to solve (something that does not seem to be true of Obama).

But, we shouldn't overlook the sizable element of projection in the pro-Obama press's attacks on Romney, which might help explain their rabid reaction to Clint Eastwood's improvisation with an empty chair sitting in for Obama. Clint's old and (judging by his last several movies) lazy, but he's still a cunning old bastard with enough on the ball to intuit one key insight into Obama: there's not a lot there.

October 3, 2012

Jarrett on Obama: "He's been bored to death his whole life"

Here's Chris Matthews blowing gaskets over his man Barack's low energy performance tonight.

Matthews shouldn't have been surprised. Obama's apathy has a long history that's detailed here and there in biographies by his partisans:

David Remnick quotes Obama's long-time Chicago political ally Valerie Jarrett recalling Obama's 1990s in Chicago (p. 274):
"... I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. ... So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that they had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy." Jarrett was quite sure that one of the few things that truly engaged him fully before going to the White House was writing Dreams from My Father. "He's been bored to death his whole life," she said.

Later, after Obama got elected to the U.S. Senate [p. 444]:
The truth was, David Axelrod told me, "Barack hated being a senator." Washington was a grander stage than Springfield, but the frustrations of being a rookie in a minority party were familiar. Obama could barely conceal his frustration with the torpid pace of the Senate. His aides could sense his frustration and so could his colleagues. "He was so bored being a senator," one Senate aide said. ... 
His friend and law colleague Judd Miner said, "The reality was that during his first two years in the U.S. Senate, I think, he was struggling; it wasn't nearly as stimulating as he expected." ... 
The one project that did engage Obama fully was work on The Audacity of Hope. He procrastinated for a long time and then, facing his deadline, wrote nearly a chapter a week.

One reason for Obama's perpetual boredom is that his skill set is basically that of a writer. He has everything that it takes to be a good writer except the ability to come up with interesting ideas.

The Debate

Here's a link to a semi-coherent transcript of the first Presidential debate. 

The President seemed peeved having to deal with somebody who evidently hadn't been briefed that Obama is always The Smartest Guy in the Room. Hadn't Romney gotten the memo from Valerie Jarrett?

From the bits and pieces I saw, it looked like Romney would have won pretty decisively if he wasn't stuck with the reigning Republican orthodoxy. Like I've been saying, the notion that Romney is some particularly horrible individual candidate is silly. He's a man of varied accomplishments (and ridiculously good looking for his age). He's not particularly gifted at politics, but he makes a decent generic GOP candidate. He's a well-adjusted grown-up with a track record of executive skill.

The problem is that the GOP ideology of tax cuts and stronger military and not much else is well-suited to solving the problems of 1980. There are diminishing marginal returns to tax cutting, and (as far as I can remember) we won the Cold War. Imagine that Romney stood up and said, "Look, one of the things we have to do is cut the bloat from the military budget. It's a managerial problem. I have years of experience going over budgets line by line. President Obama has years of experience writing his autobiographies. Who do you trust to do a better job?" But, he can't say that.

Further, the GOP is so throttled in what they can talk about by their concessions to political correctness that they don't have much to say.

The word immigration never came up.

J.P. Rushton, 1943-2012

Here is a short biography (and other links) for the great theoretical innovator in the human sciences J.P. Rushton, who, I am told, died yesterday.
J. Philippe Rushton, B.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc., F.B.Ps.S., the fourth and current president of the Pioneer Fund, was born in 1943 in Bournemouth, England. He received all his degrees from the University of London, including a Ph.D. in social psychology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of 5 books and over 200 scholarly articles published in peer-reviewed journals. Rushton is a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American, British, and Canadian Psychological Associations. He is also a member of the Behavioral Genetics Association and the Society for Neuroscience. Rushton has summarized his research for journals of opinion such as Liberty, the National Review, and the Washington Times’s Insight on the News, and discussed it on TV talk shows such as Donahue, Geraldo Live, and Connie Chung. His major published work is Race, Evolution, and Behavior, which was favorably reviewed in The New York Times Book Review of October 16, 1994, translated into Japanese, and is now in its 3rd unabridged edition, as well as in an abridged edition and an audio book.

Professor Rushton began his career by researching the basis of altruism. The question of why one individual aids another, thereby exposing himself to risk, has long posed a challenge to evolutionary theories of human development. Rushton’s early work focused on the social learning of generosity in 7- to 11-year-old children. After writing a book, Altruism, Socialization, and Society (1980), which examined the influence of the family, the educational system, and the mass media, he broadened his perspective to include sociobiological and behavioral genetic factors. He then analyzed the University of London Twin Register and found that individual differences in empathy and nurturance are about 50% heritable, as were individual differences in aggression and crime, some of which he found to be mediated by testosterone. 
Studying behavioral genetics and sociobiology led Rushton to explore the dilemma of why, throughout the natural world, “birds of a feather flock together.” He found that genes incline people to marry, befriend, associate with, and help others like themselves. Typically, individuals learn to identify and prefer their own ethnic group, rather than others, for largely genetic reasons. Rushton’s Genetic Similarity Theory expanded the kin-selection theory of altruism (a fundamental theorem of sociobiology) to explain why the pull of that factor is so powerful across human relationships and how it provides an explanation for ethnocentrism and ethnic competition. Altruism follows lines of genetic similarity in order to replicate genes more effectively; xenophobia emerges as the dark side of human altruism. 
It also led Rushton to examine race differences. In new studies and reviews of the world literature, he has documented that East Asians and their descendants consistently average a larger brain size, greater intelligence, more sexual restraint, a slower rate of maturation, and greater levels of law abidingness and social organization than do Europeans and their descendants. Europeans, in turn, average higher on these dimensions than do Africans and their descendants. To explain this pattern he proposed a gene-based evolutionary theory in his book, Race, Evolution, and Behavior (1995).

Here's Rushton's C.V. with links to most of his papers.

Here's an abridged version of Rushton's Race, Evolution, and Behavior online.

Here's a short 2003 VDARE article I wrote on Rushton's rule of three on East Asians -- whites -- blacks.

Here's a 107 minute debate in 1989 on Canadian TV between Rushton and geneticist David Suzuki.

Templer on Rushton 

a conversation with J Philippe Rushton 

Jensen on Rushton

Hur on Rushton's contribution to the study of altruism

Meanwhile, Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm has died at age 95, loaded with honors from people his Party would have sent to the Gulag. From Wikipedia's article on Hobsbawm, who didn't resign from the Communist Party until the late 1980s:
1973: Honorary Fellow, King's College, Cambridge
1978: Fellow of the British Academy
1995: Deutscher Memorial Prize; Lionel Gelber Prize
1996: Wolfson History Oeuvre Prize
1998: Companion of Honour, Order of the Companions of Honour
1999: Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung (Hauptpreis)
1999: Honorary degree from Universidad de la República Montevideo, Uruguay
2000: Ernst Bloch Prize
2003: Balzan Prize recipient
2006: Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature[60]
2008: Honorary citizenship from Vienna
2008: Honorary degree from University of Vienna
2008: Honorary degree from Charles University in Prague
2008: Bochum History Prize

An Englishmen in Bucharest points out:
Had Eric Hobsbawm adopted the theories of Gobineau and H.S. Chamberlain, rather than those of Marx and Engels, he would have been left to theorise in pubs ...

In contrast to Hobsbawm, Rushton innovated a remarkably large number of the more interesting and/or useful ideas in the human sciences of the era, and had to undergo, for his accomplishments, a lengthy police investigation.

Who was right about human nature: Ayn Rand or Colin Turnbull?

From Slate:
Ayn Rand vs. the Pygmies 
Did human evolution favor individualists or altruists? 
By Eric Michael Johnson 
Black-and-white colobus monkeys scrambled through the branches of Congo’s Ituri Forest in 1957 as a small band of Mbuti hunters wound cautiously through the undergrowth, joined by anthropologist Colin Turnbull. The Mbuti are pygmies, about 4 feet tall, but they are powerful and tough. Any one of them could take down an elephant with only a short-handled spear. Recent genetic evidence suggests that pygmies have lived in this region for about 60,000 years. But this particular hunt reflected a timeless ethical conflict for our species, and one that has special relevance for contemporary American society. 
The Mbuti employed long nets of twined liana bark to catch their prey, sometimes stretching the nets for 300 feet. Once the nets were hung, women and children began shouting, yelling, and beating the ground to frighten animals toward the trap. As Turnbull came to understand, Mbuti hunts were collective efforts in which each hunter’s success belonged to everybody else. But one man, a rugged individualist named Cephu, had other ideas. When no one was looking, Cephu slipped away to set up his own net in front of the others. “In this way he caught the first of the animals fleeing from the beaters,” explained Turnbull in his book The Forest People, “but he had not been able to retreat before he was discovered.” Word spread among camp members that Cephu had been trying to steal meat from the tribe, and a consensus quickly developed that he should answer for this crime. ... 
At an impromptu trial, Cephu defended himself with arguments for individual initiative and personal responsibility. “He felt he deserved a better place in the line of nets,” Turnbull wrote. “After all, was he not an important man, a chief, in fact, of his own band?” But if that were the case, replied a respected member of the camp, Cephu should leave and never return. The Mbuti have no chiefs, they are a society of equals in which redistribution governs everyone’s livelihood. The rest of the camp sat in silent agreement. 
Faced with banishment, a punishment nearly equivalent to a death sentence, Cephu relented. “He apologized profusely,” Turnbull wrote, “and said that in any case he would hand over all the meat.”

Okay, but best-selling anthropologist Colin Turnbull, who is treated as an objective authority in this article, is one of the few writers even wackier than Ayn Rand. Turnbull was a big deal back in the day. For example, the Royal Shakespeare Company, under the direction of his friend Peter Brook, toured with a play based on his second field study.

Turnbull wrote two well-known books on Africa, The Forest People (about his beloved Mbuti pygmies) and The Mountain People (about the Ik, whom he demonized as "the worst people on Earth" and demanded that they be culturally exterminated). 

What motivated such unbalanced books?

Roy Richard Grinker's biography of Turnbull is called In the Arms of Africa. Here's Grinker's summary of Turnbull's view of the Mbuti pygmies in The Forest People:
Turnbull found the Mbuti to have social institutions more humane and more sophisticated than anything that existed in western civilization. As described in The Forest People, Mbuti children are never pitted against one another. People live in harmony not because they are coerced to do so by laws, the threat of violence, or other external impositions, but because of an internal desire for unity, reciprocity, and social equality ... Mbuti teenagers, he wrote, practice sex freely and yet have no unwanted pregnancies ... In addition, for Turnbull, the Mbuti's apparent subordination to the neighboring farmers was only playacting. The Mbuti pretended to be inferior when they were, in fact, far superior in almost every way. 

Turnbull's second bestseller, The Mountain People, is quite a contrast:
He proposed to the Ugandan government that the Ik society should be eliminated, that individuals should be rounded up and dispersed over an area wide enough to make sure they never found each other again. The Ugandan government and the anthropological community were outraged

Why the sudden switch to a Stalinoid approach to some poor tribe? (There's a recent documentary, Ikland, about the Ik, which shows they are a pretty routine people and not the depraved monsters of Turnbull's bestselling imagination.)

The title of the biography of Turnbull is In the Arms of Africa and that is not metaphorical. Turnbull died of AIDS in 1994. 

Turnbull's book about the pygmies was a Big Gay Ecstasy about a tribe that had furnished him with a boy for a bedmate. The first chapter of Grinker's biography of Turnbull, as published in  the New York Times in 1997, is largely gay pedo-porn. Here's the book's opening paragraph:
On most mornings in 1957, the Scottish anthropologist Colin Macmillan Turnbull would wake up in his hut next to his young Mbuti assistant, Kenge, their legs and arms intertwined in the way that Mbuti men like to sleep with each other to stay warm. At four foot eight, Kenge was more than a foot and a half shorter than Colin, so Colin could hold him easily with his long legs, arms, and wide hands, keeping them both warm in the damp forest nights.

And it just gets creepier from there in its loving description of the Jerry Sandusky of leftist anthropology.

The Mountain People, in contrast, is a Big Gay Snit about how much Turnbull loathes the Ik, especially for not providing him with a boy toy. Grinker writes:
Turnbull hated the Ik. The Pygmies, and even Joseph Towles [Turnbull's African-American boyfriend] (who had begun his training as an anthropologist), empowered him. But because he could do little to stop the famine and social behaviors that emerged in that context, the Ik threatened his role as protector or saviour. Because they did not seem to respect him or care for him, the Ik never gave him the sense of self-worth he derived from Joseph and other underdogs. And because the Ik never gave him someone like the Pygmy young boy, Kenge, whom he could love and idolize, he grew angry and lonely.

You might expect from my extracts that Grinker's biography of Turnbull is a devastating takedown, but the bulk of it is pretty much hagiograpy, which goes to illustrate a lot about cultural power. Grinker got his initial draft rejected by his editor on the grounds that a straight man shouldn't be writing a biography of a gay hero. So, he gayed up his manuscript and got it through.

In the intellectual realm, one way power is exercised is in rewriting the past. For example, Francis Galton was, by any objective standard, one of the more creative geniuses in human history, but he is routinely demonized today. In contrast, this Turnbull fellow was a trainwreck, whose influence in the latter half of the 20th Century is of interest mostly from a clinical standpoint of figuring out why so many intellectuals went so far off the tracks. But, that's not a subject of approved interest today.

There are a few general points worth making about anthropological field work. Few anthropologists are as nuts / evil as Turnbull, but still ...

First, it's not that easy to stay wholly sane in the bush. Westerners can turn into their own versions of Mistah Kurtz.

Second, anthropologists get lonely. One anthropologist studying the Yanomamo, Kenneth Good, married a 15-year-old native, had three children with her, and tried to take her back with him to suburban New Jersey. The Amazonian lass didn't make a smooth transition to Jersey Girl.

More seriously, a gay athropologist, Jacques Lizot, introduced sodomy to the boys of the tribe. This is the worst, but least publicized aspect, of the Yanomamo story.

Third, the most influential anthropology professors, the charismatic ones who most impress their personalities on their grad students, the ones whom cults of personality develop around in American academia, can have similar effects on the tribes they study. For example, Napoleon Chagnon, a third anthropologist to study the Yanomamo, author of The Fierce People about the Yanomamo is a fierce person himself, good man to have in your foxhole. If your platoon was cut off behind enemy lines and you had to fight your way out, you'd want Chagnon as your sergeant. 

A fourth anthropologist who was with Chagnon with the Yanomamo told me, "He is a macho," and that the young Yanomamo males looked up to him as a role model. But, that raises a big question about Heisenbergian effects of charismatic researchers on their subjects. I sort of suspect that if Chagnon had decided to do a study of a local Pop Warner football team, he'd quickly wind up the coach, and his team would go undefeated and be renowned for their fierceness.

Now, it's not fair to Chagnon to mention his name in the same posting as Turnbull, but he's still a good example of how a formidable man might influence his research subjects. 

J.P. Rushton, RIP

Psychologist Phil Rushton has died at age 68. He was an insightful and brave scientist who proposed a number of paradigms that are now part of the toolkit of anybody who wants to think objectively about humanity. 

Presidential debate open thread

You watch it for me and tell me what I missed.

Time Travel: Does it make for a better plot if you can or can't change history?

There are a million stories about time travel, but the good ones have to choose a side: when you go back into the past, either you can change the present or you can't. I'm not an expert on science fiction, but in my mind the canonical stories illustrating these polar opposite theories are one by Ray Bradbury and two by Robert Heinlein.

Bradbury's 1952 story "The Sound of Thunder" about a tourist who goes back to the dinosaur age and steps on a butterfly, making the present much worse when he gets home, is the source of the term "butterfly effect" about how small changes can have big results.

In contrast, Heinlein's 1941 time travel story "By His Bootstraps" is a good introduction to the paradoxes of predestination in which the time travel all unfolds as fated despite the best character's best efforts to change the past. 

Heinlein returned to this notion in 1958 in one of the last short stories he wrote, the crazy, solipsistic "--All You Zombies--". Heinlein's character ultimately reflects:
Then I glanced at the ring on my finger. 
The Snake That Eats Its Own Tail, Forever and Ever. I know where I came from - but where did all you zombies come from? 
I felt a headache coming on, but a headache powder is one thing I do not take. I did once - and you all went away. 
So I crawled into bed and whistled out the light. 
You aren't really there at all. There isn't anybody but me - Jane - here alone in the dark. 
I miss you dreadfully!

That's one of the weirdest endings ever. (That reminds me of all the cults that were forming at the time around around lesser sci-fi writers, such as L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand. There was something in the air in the run-up to the Sixties. It speaks to Heinlein's strength of character and/or short attention span that, despite his tendency toward solipsism that runs amok in 1961's Stranger in a Strange Land, he was less tempted than they were to give in to being a cult leader. Heinlein had the ego, but not the capacity for boredom.)

So, which theory of time travel makes for better stories? 

Back to the Future sides with Bradbury, and that's a pretty good movie. 

On the other hand, you could argue that Sophocles' Oedipus Rex is a proto-time travel story that takes Heinlein's side. How does the Oracle know that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother? Maybe she has a time machine! 

And that plot works pretty well, too.

I was thinking that maybe Bradbury's changeable history makes for better comedy and Heinlein's deterministic history makes for better tragedy, but perhaps the opposite is true. The gyrations that a Heinleinian time travel plot has to go through to make everything wind up being the same are often exhilaratingly comic, while Bradburyesque plots like the new Looper, which takes a strong stand at the end in favor of [Spoiler Alert!] mother love, often tend toward the sentimental.

October 2, 2012


From my review in Taki's Magazine of the fine time-travel movie Looper, with Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing a hit man from the future at different ages:
One irony about dystopian sci-fi and comic-book movies is that although leading men may be slightly East Asian-looking in the future, America's slums will apparently be mostly white, with everybody else black. Much like in The Matrix, Hispanics don’t exist in Looper’s vision of America in 2044. 
While climate change is a favorite subject of sci-fi movies, demographic change is not. With the exception of Blade Runner (set in an Asian-dominated Southern California) and, to a lesser extent, Idiocracy (where America in 2505 is about as Mexican as Texas in 2005), sci-fi movies have shown little interest in projecting out current trends in ethnicity.

Read the whole thing there.

Key & Peele: Annual East/West Collegiate Bowl

From Key & Peele, the Comedy Central sketch show starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. (The announcer named "Jeff Worthing" is played by sportscaster Bill Seward, whom I went to school with from first through twelfth grade.)

It's not really college football without also an African name, such as Ngowa Mbube (delivered with a BBC announcer accent), a Haitian name such as Jean-Francois Perrier, and a West Indian name such as Cumberbatch Duncan-Forecastle.

Also, speaking of BYU, here's my posting on Mormon names, such as "Azer Baloo," "Bretile," "Clemouth, "Denim Levi," "D'Loaf," "EdDean," and "ElVoid."

What will Mormons do post-Romney?

Ever since roughly 1890, Mormons have been trying to compensate for the weirdness of their founding era by closely emulating mainstream middle class white American culture (which hasn't been that hard for them since they tended to start out as mainstream Northwest Europeans).

This worked well for them subjectively in terms of social acceptance within America (nobody much cares, or even notices, that the Democratic Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is a Mormon). 

And, this Mormon strategy of being more mainstream than the mainstream also worked well for them objectively, in terms of prosperity, safety, sobriety, honesty and a host of other measures of good things, because the 20th Century American middle class mainstream had lots and lots of good values.

But now, a representative (indeed, exemplary) Mormon is trying, like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, to lead his people to the ultimate symbolic level of acceptance, the Presidency. To Mormons, Romney represents the beau ideal of their culture. 

Perhaps we'll have a different perspective after the debates, but at present it appears that the Mormon strategy has broken down at making the last leap. Contemporary Americans find Romney, and Mormons in general, weird and creepy and offputting and suspicious. And that's less because Mormons' great-grandfathers were polygamists than because Mormons try hard to act like the mainstream middle class white Americans who took the human race to the Moon, and what could be more uncool (and maybe downright racist) than that?

In 1928, voters rejected the first Catholic presidential candidate, Al Smith. This caused much soul-searching among Catholics, and the overall response was to redouble their efforts to fit into the American mainstream. Catholic schools became ever more Americanized (e.g., relative to Quebec's). The next Catholic nominee, JFK, was almost a parody of upper class WASPishness: winters in Palm Beach, Choate, Harvard, naval officer, sailing, golf, etc. 

As a candidate, JFK gave a famous speech to suspicious Protestant ministers in Houston that allayed suspicions that he would let Catholic internationalism conflict with Protestant American nationalism. This speech is spun these days as a triumph over Protestant bigotry, but if you actually read JFK's speech, it was a near complete capitulation to Protestant American nationalism. Catholic Rick Santorum read it for the first time earlier this year and, being basted in 21st Century minoritariansm, he was shocked by how the minority candidate had fully endorsed the fundamental prejudice of the majority and promised to live up the majority's demands.

After JFK's election and, perhaps more importantly, martyrdom, American Catholic distinctiveness and sense of peoplehood receded.

But what will happen among Mormons if Romney is defeated in sizable part because he's so Mormon in affect, values, and behavior? Will they redouble their efforts to be even more what they are? Will they decide they have to loosen up and get funky? Will we see more ads on TV featuring Mormon Tongan NFL players?

Or, feeling rejected as a people, will Mormons go off in a new, subversive direction of ... what?

Mormons aren't a huge group (usually said to be about 9 million). And they aren't hugely talented. They generally seem to be about the white American average -- but that puts them increasingly above the American average. And they are better organized, more cohesive, and less dysfunctional than most. So, if they move in a particular direction, it could be moderately significant.

The most likely reaction would probably be to modernize by accelerating the Third Worldization of Mormonism. That would be the easy, socially acceptable path. But that way leads to irrelevance because nobody cares much about nonblack nonwhites, especially ones who choose to assimilate into polite Mormonhood rather than riot over YouTube videos.

Perhaps, though, there are other, more unexpected directions that insulted, alienated Mormons could turn. I don't know enough about them to guess what those might be, however.

October 1, 2012

The Dirt Gap: 2012 version

Obama appears to be winning in the Electoral College in almost all models, but Nate Silver's 538 blog has a map up of what the electoral college results would look like if Obama's lead deteriorated:
But suppose there is a deterioration in his polls between now and Nov. 6 — or that the polls have overestimated his standing across the board. And so Mr. Obama wins the states where he has at least an 85 percent chance of victory in the forecast, but no others. Then we’d be left with the following map ...

This distribution of states would produce a 269-269 tie. I'm not particularly interested in trying to forecast this election, but I am interested in what drives the results. This map is useful because it shows the red-blue divide in a perfectly even election. That's not a realistic scenario, but it is a useful one. The Red-Blue map came to major prominence during the protracted 2000 election in what was virtually a tie.  

What we see once again is the dirt gap phenomenon I identified after the 2004 election. The Democrats carry the Northeast coast, the Great Lakes states, and the West Coast, while the Republicans carry the interior and the Southeast coastal states.

I noted in 2005 that:
Let's look at the 50 most populous metropolitan areas in the country. Of the ones in blue states, 73 percent of their population lives in cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, where physical growth is restricted by unbridgeable water, compared to only 19 percent of the population of the biggest red state metropolises, such as Dallas, Atlanta, and Phoenix. 
The Law of Supply and Demand controls housing prices. The greater supply of available land for suburban expansion in red metropolises keeps house prices down.

Lower housing prices make for more affordable family formation, which makes the "family values" party more appealing.

Just looking at the map, it's easy to make up off the top of my head plausible sounding geographic explanations for the handful of anomalies. 

- The largest is why the coastal states of the Southeast are redder than the coastal states elsewhere. That's because cities tend to be inland out of hurricane range. Galveston was the metropolis of the Texas coast until the 1900 hurricane, after which Houston took over.

- Indiana is a red state that touches the Great Lakes, but the city of Gary area is rather depopulated, and other areas near Lake Michigan are more likely low cost exurbs of Chicago.

- New Mexico doesn't have many illegal immigrants, but it does have lots of Hispanics and American Indians. 

- The most curious anomalies are Minnesota and Vermont. Minnesota touches the Great Lakes at Duluth, but is largely inland. I guess you could call it the Moynihan Memorial Canadian Border Effect.

- Oregon isn't really a coastal state (Portland is well inland), but it pretends to be using zoning laws against exurban sprawl.

- In the noncontiguous states, huge Alaska and small Hawaii are the expected colors.

But, that's about all it takes to explain away the whole map, which suggests my electoral model continues to have some explanatory power.

Meanwhile, in strategically located Mali ...

The big news in the Washington Post tonight:
Al-Qaeda threat in N. Africa focus of secret talks 
Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock 
The White House deliberations include whether to prepare for unilateral strikes and reflect concern that the franchise has become more dangerous since gaining control of large pockets of territory in Mali and acquiring weapons from Libya.

The 2011 U.S. war on Libya destabilized strategically located Mali, leading the whitish Tuaregs of the north to rebel last spring against the black rulers of the more populous south and declare themselves the independent State of Azawad.

There was always an anti-black aspect to the successful rebellion in Libya because Gaddafi long positioned himself as the leader of the African continent and invited in many black immigrants and mercenaries, so it's hardly surprising that in the wake of Qaffafee's downfall, Koran-loving whitish desert dwellers in other countries sought to liberate themselves from black rule. But, judging from Michael Lewis's awe-struck account of how Obama decided to start the Libyan War, the President's depth of strategic knowledge may not go much further than having rented Hotel Rwanda from the Hyde Park Blockbuster.

Unsurprisingly, official Washington is now getting around to getting excited about bombing rebel territory in Mali for the usual reasons: spending taxpayers money, the logic of empire, the thrill of the kill, boob-bait for voters, and so forth. I also suspect that Washington would disapprove of whites rebelling against blacks, but it's unclear how many people in Washington actually grasp that aspect of what happened in Mali since everybody is ignorant of physical anthropology today. (You might think that ignorance of anthropology and imperial influence don't go well together, and you'd be right, but who cares about imperial competence when nobody will admit we're running [ineptly] an empire.)

And, it's just Mali for heaven's sake.

Whatever happens
We have got
Remote controlled drones
And they do not.

Hypothetical History: Would Obama have been elected the second black president?

Let's imagine an alternative history in which L.A. mayor Tom Bradley is elected governor of California in 1982, then is picked as Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984 instead of the other diversity choice Geraldine Ferraro. Reagan then has two bad debate performances in a row, raising serious concerns about his advanced age. Mondale ekes out a victory, but dies in an Air Force One crash, making Tom Bradley the first black President. 

Or, in 1995, Colin Powell's wife tells him to run for President and he defeats Bob Dole and wins a narrow victory over Bill Clinton, making Powell the first black President.

In either alternative history, does Barack Obama become the second black President? If there had already been a first black president, would anyone have ever even considered Obama to be Presidential Timber? Would you have ever even heard of Obama?

The Presidential Timber test is one that I emphasize because it's easy to drop Obama into a certain point in the timeline and say, well, sure, all he had to do was beat Hillary and McCain, anybody could have done that. No, the Presidential Timber test is: Would it occurred to many people a couple of years before the election that this person sounds like a plausible winner and plausible President? 

As far as I can tell, Obama has gone far in life because, as soon as he arrived at Harvard Law School, he struck a lot of influential people as a plausible first black President, a historically symbolic role of vast appeal to many. David Remnick's quasi-biography of Obama, The Bridge, makes this point repeatedly. He couldn't find much to say about Obama's own life, so he padded out the book with vast heapings of Civil Rights Era history and with interviews with big shots who told him that the moment they met Obama, they just knew he should be President.

But if there had already been a first black President, if that box had been checked off in American history, what of Obama? My guess is that in that alternative history, he would be a nonentity.

Obama generally has not struck people who knew him well as a natural leader in smaller scale organizations, and his performance in positions like chairman of the Annenberg Chicago challenge did little to change minds. It was always First Black President or Bust for Obama.

By the way, if, say, George Romney had become the first Mormon president in 1968 or Mo Udall had become the first Mormon President in 1976, I could well imagine Mitt Romney not running for President. I have this theory that Romney keeps running for President because he secretly wants to be the Mormon JFK who normalizes his people by becoming President.

But I can't imagine a Udall Presidency would have had much effect on whether other people would have considered Mitt Romney to be Presidential Timber. The number of non-Mormons in America who feel deep down that it's time to elect a Mormon President, even if he isn't particularly qualified, are minuscule. 

Any stories of Obama going out of his way to do something nice for somebody?

Romney is widely assumed to be heartless and out of touch, but he has a long history of organizing helpful interventions for private citizens in need, partly as a Mormon leader, partly as a boss. 

I know a fair amount about Obama, but very few similar stories about him leap to mind. He was professionally employed as a do-gooder for 3 years, but primarily seemed to help get some asbestos removed on the job, much less accomplish anything off hours. Any suggestions for good things Obama has done in his private life to help others?

The Supreme Court, Quotas, and Romney

Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor op-edize in the Washington Post on the upcoming Fisher affirmative action case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on October 10. They did an analysis of U. of Michigan admissions after Sandra Day O'Connor's 2003 ruling that, in effect, racial quotas were A-OK as long as you lie hard enough about what you are doing:
 But our analysis of its 2006 admissions patterns found that racial preferences were clearly much larger than before Grutter, and race was more often the “defining feature” of an application. If we compare Asian and black students with similar test scores and grades, for example, blacks had a 96 percent chance of admission in 2006, compared with 11 percent for Asians. The college used more racial categories in evaluating applicants after Grutter and paid less attention to socioeconomic background.

I sure don't notice Romney talking much about the Supreme Court, and especially not about Supreme Court nominations' relevance to race preference cases.

I'm sure he and his highly paid advisers know best.

Back to affirmative action in colleges: a big question is whether the rise of Asians might begin to drive whites toward favoring affirmative action as beneficial to themselves.

September 30, 2012

"All must have prizes"

General David Petraeus, 2008
Commenter Auntie Analog writes:
But even military decorations have been increasingly handed out like so many CrackerJack prizes: look a the parsimony of fruit salad on the left breast of the top officers who led vast armies and massive fleets and won the largest and most complex of all wars, WWII - men such as General Eisenhower, Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Halsey, General Bradely - and you see maybe three, at most four, rows of ribbons; then look at the nine, ten, and eleven rows of ribbons on General Petraeus and Admiral McMullen, guys who've never led more than a handful of divisions and, by comparison with WWII's enormous fleets, small naval forces, and then only in what have chiefly been constabulary campaigns - these guys wear so many ribbons that, with no more room to stack them on the left breast, the rows of them have begun stacking up above their uniforms' right breast.

I don't have anything against Petraeus, but the contrast with this formal portrait of Raymond Spruance is striking.
Admiral Raymond Spruance of Midway, formal portrait, post-WWII
The self-effacing Admiral Spruance seems little remembered today outside of the U.S. Navy, but he is perhaps American history's greatest sea warrior. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944, he demolished Japanese naval power once and for all. He had the advantage there and he exploited it with superb efficiency. Two years earlier at the Battle of Midway (Midway), however, he won the Navy's most important victory ever, despite an advantage only in codebreaking. He also commanded the naval forces at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

For this painting, Spruance wore one row of decorations.