Friday, November 30, 2007

How many times can Geert Wilders be killed, anyway?

A member of Holland's parliament brings the legal idea of protection from double jeopardy into the arena of life and death to be tested there. Geert Wilders is creating what is sure to bring (even more) calls for his murder a la Theo van Gogh:
Wilders plans to depict parts of the Quran he says are used as inspiration "by bad people to do bad things."

Less than 10 minutes long, the film is expected to air in late January. It will show "the intolerant and fascist character of the Quran," said Wilders, whose anti-Islam campaign helped his Freedom Party win nine seats in parliament in last year's election.

In the past, Wilders has said that half the Quran should be torn up and compared it with Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf." He has claimed the Netherlands is being swamped by a "tsunami" of Islamic immigrants [now comprising 6%-8% of the populous].
The Dutch politician has been under 24-hour police protection for over three years, ever since an Islamic duo armed with grenades attempted to kill him, along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When receiving multiple death threats is part of the daily grind, what sort of deterrence does the recepiton of still more death threats actually effect?

Incidentally, Wilders' argument that half the Koran needs to be extricated for the book to be compatible with Western liberalism might be hyperbolic (the body of hadith are still less compatible), but references to violence, intolerance of infidels, the expansion of the Dar al Islam, and the submission of society to Islamic law is pervasive throughout its pages, especially in the Madinan suras (which are mostly presented towards the front of the Koran even though they were written after the Meccan suras that are presented later, owing to the use of sura length in determining the order in which they appear).

Islam's prophet was a military leader heavily involved in the secular affairs of government. Contemporary Islamic society reflects that.

Wilders is a duly elected political leader (the Party for Freedom, which he founded last year, holds nine of the Netherlands 150 seats, and is the fifth largest party in the parliament) in the world's most liberal country. Yet in a continent where religiosity has been dumped in favor of humanistic enlightenment, a Dutchman in his own country cannot even express criticism of the world's most aggressive and regressive major belief system without fearing for his life.

Unfortunately, the violent protests and rioting that will likely take place in response to Wilders' video illustrate how unfettered tolerance is impotent in the face of imperial intolerance. To retain liberalism, Europeans need a little illiberalism. Filching from Randall Parker, this is nature's way of telling us yet again that Islamic immigration into the liberal West is a bad idea.

This is hardly an isolated exposition on that lesson. RP reports on what is becoming an annual staple:
But will the natives of France learn from this lesson?

The Muslim kids have turned to rifles as weapons:

Officials in Paris last night warned that rioters in the suburb of Villiers-le-Bel were armed with hunting rifles and air rifles as clashes with police continued to escalate.

More than 70 police officers were injured on Monday night, three of them seriously, in clashes with rioters armed with molotov cocktails and firecrackers. One officer was shot in the shoulder with an air rifle.
In Great Britain, home now to honor killings and the 2005 London bombings, a staggering 94% of imams do not speak English as a primary language and an even higher percentage are foreign-born.

In 2005 (the year the Parisian riots made the international news cycle), less than 50 cars were burned per day on average in the nation's immigrant-heavy banlieues. Last year, the average climbed to over 110. In 2007, the number approaches 140.

In Switzerland, large mosques are being constructed in Christian villages that sent warriors to keep them from being built in Spain nine centuries ago.

The chickens hatched from welcoming cheap Turkish labor are coming home to roost in Germany.

In Scotland, eating in for lunch isn't an option during Ramadan.

In Ireland, an Islamic group houses a body that argues for a fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law to be applied on the island nation.

The list goes on and on. Separationism needs to be the West's collective response.

European nations should halt all further Islamic immigration and target illegal migrants for deportation. Unlike the US, nowhere in Europe, excepting Romania, grants birthright citizenship to the children of unnaturalized migrants (France and Great Britain both have variants of jus soli, but both require at least one parent be a legal resident).

Legally-residing, first generation Muslims should be offered renumeration for voluntarily returning to their places of origin. Rather than offer cash directly to the immigrant, funds should be placed at a bank in the country of destination, with a hold to be lifted upon the migrant's return (France has already begun doing this).

Approaching it in this way helps ensure the home nation's support by essentially saying, "We took this guy in for you and took care of him for X years. He probably sent money home during that time as well, and hopefully acquired some skills in the process. Now you can have him back, and enjoy an additonal $X injection into your economy, paid for by the people of our country. Congratulations!" It also requires the migrant actually return home before collecting the reward.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chinese man to sculpt MLK for eponymous memorial on National Mall

Maybe the acronym will be expanded to NAANYCP, to stand for the National Association for the Advancement of non-Yellow Colored People. Phonetically, nahn-neh-kip has a nice, Kit Katish sound to it:
The California branch of the NAACP has joined a growing protest against the selection of a Chinese artist to sculpt the tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. planned for the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Following a decade of approval hurdles, construction on the monument is expected to start in April, the 40th anniversary of King's 1968 assassination, and completed the following year. But now it faces criticism by black artists, American granite workers and others who are angry about the sculptor chosen as the lead artist, both because of his nationality and his history as an artist. Protesters also say American granite rather than Chinese granite should be used for the sculpture.
As less than an amateur, I'm not qualified to make a refined judgment on sculpting ability, but the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Project discovered him at a symposium of international talent in Minnesota. From the profiles of the artists represented there, Yixin seems to be the most gifted. He certainly demonstrates the greatest skill in lifelike representation (as opposed to Picasso-like abstraction and surrealism), which is what a monument of MLK on the National Mall requires.

I wonder if the WSJ will run an editorial poking fun at this call for 'protectionism' being made by black artists. Come on, they even want American, not Chinese, granite to be used! It's intolerable!

That a board with several major players in the business world did not foresee a problem the black community might have with the choice of a Chinese national to do the work is consternating. Black America is highly suspicious of free trade, and no nation epitomizes the downsides of such policies (when they are unreciprocated, at least) more than China does. As the NAACP points out, the PRC isn't renowned for the civil rights MLK putatively clamored for. To tap a Chinese national for the lucrative job of creating a monument of black America's most conspicuous hero, who enjoys a nationally recognized holiday all to himself (something George Washington can no longer match), seems like madness.

The top executive of the memorial project, who is black, counters by arguing that he is trying to ensure that the end-product is as great as possible:

"Dr. King was an international hero. We searched the world looking for a sculptor who could do this work in granite and stone," Harry E. Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the memorial project, said in a phone interview from China, where he was visiting for a look at a clay model of the sculpture. "I respect the NAACP's right to protest, but they need to review all the facts. There are no African American sculptors that do this type of work in granite.

"In addition, Dr. King stood for equality among all people and said we should not judge by the color of skin but the content of their character. He stood for equality among all people."

MLK's legacy, as it is popularly understood, more-or-less fits the bill of the second paragraph. Demanding that race determine who does the sculpting kind of flies in the face of that popular understanding.

In reality, MLK certainly did care about skin color, and his idea of equality was not one of means but of ends, to be realized through the granting of special privileges and the massive transfer of resources by and from whites to blacks.

A black artist from Atlanta, who has started a petition drive (entitled "King is Ours", it's reminiscient of the once popular clothing brand, FUBU) to have Yixin booted, better represents the actual sentiments of MLK than Harry Johnson does:
"It is disgraceful that there will be a sculpture to honor a black man for his fight against racism in this country and we couldn't find one black person on earth to interpret his likeness," Young said. "It is insulting and does not serve my people well. It makes us invisible.

"I do not think that anyone outside of my immediate community should have been looked at first. We need a black artist to interpret Dr. King and a black name at the base of the monument, because he died for us."
To honor an opponent of racism by specifying that only a person of a certain race should be able to do so strikes most whites as bemusing. But in black America, "racism" is not gauged by how greatly racial considerations factor into something. Instead, it is determined by gauging how strongly non-blacks, and whites specifically, resist granting special privileges and benefits to blacks.

The seriousness with which this criticism is being treated illustrates the double-standard that is hardly novel to readers: Group identity is celebrated when the group in question is non-white and condemned when the group in question is white.

That members of a non-white group may object to another non-white of a different group getting involved with the group they are member to does not change this. Blacks might protest Yixin, or Hispanics might censure blacks for favoring English over Spanish, but they all support the existence of non-white interest groups while condemning white interest groups.

Most of the world is tribalistic. Nations of European descent have offered a rare refuge from tribalism for the last several decades. Migration and birthing patterns are bringing that historical anomaly to an end. Backlashes will (and have already begun to) bring white interest groups into the mix as well. The future will not be raceless. It will be even more racialist.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mississippi isn't immaculate, hate crime statistics notwithstanding

In the comments of the previous post on reported hate crime rates by state, UndergroundMan wrote:
Are you really so naive as to think that Mississippi doesn't have hate crimes? The better explanation is that in Mississipi, hate crimes are dismissed.
He is discrediting the sloppy argument I mockingly constructed for the purpose of taking it down myself.

The list doesn't at all appear to reveal what would be expected of an accurate gauge of irrational hate. Mississippi and Alabama as the two least likely states for designated hate crimes to take place? Indeed, if the rankings were completely reversed, the results would probably strike most people as being fairly accurate. Heterogenous places would be expected to have more incidents than homogenuous places would be.

Yet these FBI statistics are the ones that the usual suspects are trumpeting as evidence of an intensifying noose epidemic:
In a statement Monday, Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, which organized the protest [outside the Justice Department], said, "The FBI report confirms what we have been saying for many months about the severe increase in hate crimes and why many thousands of citizens marched Friday, Nov. 16 in front of the U.S. Justice Department. What is not reported, however, is the lack of prosecution and serious investigation by the Justice Department to counter this increase in hate crimes."
In the artcile UM links to, a project director at the SPLC captures how meaningless hate crime numbers are:
"I would say Southern states are the absolute worst," Beirich said. "You have states like California and New Jersey that report hundreds of hate crimes -- because they do a good job."
She celebrates states where the most hate crimes are reported to have occured! Well, if your business is magnifying racial strife, they surely are doing a splendid job!

Yet the 'good' states are the ones that've created the overall rise that's garnering all the attention in the first place. Reporting more hate crimes indicates that the people of the state are getting over their racism, but in states where fewer hate crimes are being reported, racism is getting worse! At the state level, anyway. Nationally, diametrically opposite logic applies. Damned if you do... unless you're Hawaii, and refuse to participate in the dog-and-pony show altogether.

The whole idea of hate crime tracking, as I argued previously, causes obfuscation, not clarity. Designating a criminal act a hate crime is subjectively based on the motivations behind the actions, not on the actual outcome of those actions.

Less than one out of 1,500 crimes are judged to be fit the definition. In addition to being diminutive, they are, relative to total crime, not particularly serious. Only one of every 5,678 homicides (three in all of 2006) in the US 'fits' the bill, while just one of every 15,409 rapes (six for the year) does.

More useful would be an exposition of total crime in the US and the demographic details of that criminality. It wouldn't necessarily mean a condemnation of black behavior, which the vast majority of the population already knows is, on average, much worse than the behavior of other groups. For while hate crimes committed by blacks are growing at a faster rate than those committed by whites are, the magnitude of total black criminality relative to total white criminality may have shrunk over the last decade. And understanding a problem is the first step to addressing it.

But the material doesn't lend itself well to the portrayal of a viciously oppressive racial majority that media outlets, morally-posturing white elites, and race hustlers are engaged in.

Parenthetically, the misreading by the commenter provides an illustration of why I'm uncomfortable in making use of sarcasm and mockery, and why I limit my use of them online. As engaging speakers know, tone and a host of non-verbal communications are crucial tools in being able to convey the message trying to be communicated as clearly as possible.

Text formats remove those advantages. To compensate, I use an exclamation mark to show absurdity, irony, gross hyperbole, or silliness. For example, I might write to UM:
If we were walking towards one another with ample time for either of us to avert course slightly to avoid a collision, yet we still crashed because I failed to yield, it'd be because I refuse to acknowledge your existence!
In reality, it wouldn't be intentional. I tend to gather wool while I walk, and I'd genuinely apologize if such an incident actually occured.

Also, I use quotes when I'm, well, quoting something verbatim, while I use single apostrophes around a word or phrase when I'm using it in a way I perceive some other person would use it, but not in a way that I generally would.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hate crime rates by state; Republican voters the solution?

Following on the heels of a nationwide noose scare, the nearly 8% uptick in hate crimes reported to law enforcement agencies in 2006 over the year before is surely indicative of the malice simmering in the hearts of white America.

True, blacks and Native Americans are both more likely than whites (including most Hispanics, who are not reported on separately) are to commit hate crimes, but that is driven by institutional oppression and the passive-aggressive ethos of intractable white privilege. Indeed, the blacks and Native Americans who commit these 'crimes' are reacting in the only way they are able. The system affords them no other. Thus, they, and not their supposed victims, are the actual victims of hate!

The repository of this white hate, of course, is in those places of the country where oppressive 'traditional' values are most feverishly embraced. These cultural mores are euphemized ('chivarly', which is sexism; 'merit', which is racism and other isms; 'marriage', which is homophobia; 'rule of law', which is xenophobia; and so forth). In an attempt to legitimize this hateful system, the term 'conservatism' is often used to broadly describe it!

Well, skyrocketing hate crimes reveal just what this conservatism is really all about! The most tolerant states, determined by the number of hate crime incidents per 100,000 people (adjusted for the total population covered by the agencies participating in the FBI tracking program), colored according to how they voted in the 2004 Presidential election:

RankStateHCs per 100,000
9.North Carolina1.19
16.New Mexico1.64
18.Rhode Island1.78
19.West Virginia1.99
23.South Carolina2.55
26.North Dakota2.80


32.New Hampshire3.44
33.New York3.46
48.New Jersey8.70
49.District of Columbia9.80
50.South Dakota12.67

Er, uh, well, evidence the horrors the courageous Brokeback Mountain wrought on South Dakota's gay community! Those troglodytes refused to let their home state be portrayed as a modern-day Gomorrah! Oh, the movie took place in Wyoming? I see. But isn't that closet Senator from somewhere around there...?

Okay, I've probably overdone the mockery by now.

Parenthetically, the rates are based on the number of crimes that are reported, not just on cases that are solved. So the objection that law enforcement agencies in surprisingly 'tolerant' states don't seriously mobilize in their efforts to get to the bottom of reported hate crimes, whatever its veracity, is immaterial to the rankings.

Over half of South Dakota's reports come from Rapid City, the population of which is more than 10% Native American (the data on offenders are not broken down at the state level, but Native Americans commit a disproportionate number of hate crimes). Hawaii does not participate in the FBI tracking program.

The point is to illustrate the absurdity of the 'hate crime' designation, which is subjectively tagged to any of the 15+ classifications of crime as you and I understand criminality. It says nothing about the severity of the crimes, nor does it provide any meaningful insight into crime trends across the country (incidents designated under the "hate" heading comprise less than .07% of the total number of crimes, or less than 1 in 1,500).

Instead, it gives race hustlers and morally posturing white elites, along with media sympathizers, opportunities to rail against the white bourgeoise for a fabricated collective offence. While a closer look at the hate crime numbers still doesn't indict whites as these forces would like it to, that closer look is rarely taken. And in any case it helps obscure meaningful statistics on crime, the knowledge with which the nation at large surely cannot be trusted!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Map of relative improvement from 4-8 grade using NAEP by state, whites only

On Steve Sailer's post regarding the attempt to get some idea of teaching effectiveness by state based on NAEP relative improvement over several years, commenter Justin Halter makes an interesting observation:
The most startling thing I noticed was how well the West does compared to the East. Aside from the stupid liberal states of California and Hawaii, only one Western state was on the minus side, and that just barely (WY at -0.07).
The lack of any discernible pattern underlying the rankings was befuddling. The absence of an obvious demographic explanation lends credence at least to the possiblity that we're getting at the effectiveness (and lack thereof) of what actually goes on throughout the nation's classrooms. It opens up conjecture on what might be taking place (or if we're just hearing a bunch of statistical noise), and ways these thoughts might be tested [Any information on quantifiable measures of the rigor in attaining and maintaining teaching certification, measures of teacher union power by state, and the like would be greatly appreciated!].

Well, Justin's perspicacity is pretty evident in this graphic (brown indicates greater improvement, blue indicates relative deterioration) of the states by relative improvement (in math and reading) from the 2003 class of fourth graders to 2007 eighth graders, for whites only. Excepting California, the West does better than the South and the Northeast, and the differences are stark.

Other commenters are skeptical of the idea that the data reveals anything. It is subject to some noise, with students moving, moving back and forth between public and private schools, an increasing role of heredity in intelligence as students age, and other issues raised in the comments.

But what makes the data remarkable is that the differences are pretty steady over time, at least during the eight year period looked at (and the next task is to peek at other subjects like science and writing as well as look even further back into the nineties to see how well the trends hold up over a longer period of time). We might not be getting a window into teaching effectiveness by state (instead it may be a result of something like different school start times or differing levels in the severity of cheating that is taking place), but we're witnessing something--the 'phenomenon' is not merely the result of randomness.

Regarding the progression as you drive westward, a couple of thoughts come to mind. The US' population center continues to slide to the west (it's now in southeastern Missouri, near the hometown of Rush Limbaugh). A host of IQ measures suggest that the Northeast houses the nation's most intelligent states. As some of these people move into the Midwest and beyond, perhaps they're buoying the performance of the states they arrive in.

Also, unions (presumably those of teachers included) are generally weaker out West. John Stossel targeted New York City due to the strength of the NEA and other teachers unions there in an hour-long special on the dysfunctional state of public education in the US several months ago.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

That sliver of crime with the 'hate' prefix

The killer nooses have not retreated. No doubt they're redoubling now, with catastrophic resuts surely to come:
Police across the nation reported 7,722 criminal incidents in 2006 targeting victims or property as a result of bias against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic or national origin or physical or mental disability. That was up 7.8 percent from the 7,163 incidents reported in 2005.
Part of the rise is attributable to increased 'public awareness':

One potential reason for last year's increase could be that almost 200 additional law enforcement agencies from around the country reported statistics for the year [though only three-fourths of law enforcement agencies participate in the FBI's program of reporting hate crimes].

I do not mean to make light of these crimes, only of their designation. Destruction of property and 'intimidation' together comprise more than 64% of the total criminality reported.

Since there is much more political pressure for prosecutors to designate crimes perpetrated against non-whites (especially blacks) by whites as hate crimes than when the race of the victim and perpetrator are reversed, hate crimes (which might be better dubbed "crimes with hateful motivations") inflate the perception of white nastiness while downplaying the perception of non-white aggressiveness. This is further accentuated by the media's inability to put much of anything into perspective. As whites comprise two-thirds of the country's population, it's not surprising that they make up the bulk of the perpetrators.

How many murders actually took place over the course of the year were classified as hate crimes? Three. Across the entire country. And none of these involved nooses in action!

Al Sharpton does not share my sentiments:
In a statement Monday, Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, which organized the protest [outside the Justice Department], said, "The FBI report confirms what we have been saying for many months about the severe increase in hate crimes and why many thousands of citizens marched Friday, Nov. 16 in front of the U.S. Justice Department. What is not reported, however, is the lack of prosecution and serious investigation by the Justice Department to counter this increase in hate crimes."
It should be noted that black targets are even more highly represented than are black perpetrators, at 267%, of what would be predicted given equal victimization rates across demographic groups.

The Reverend might also make note of another aspect of the story that is not being reported: Rates of offence by race. The over- and under-representation of offenders as compared to their respective portions of the nation as a whole (with 100% being exactly as would be predicted based on total population size):

Blacks -- 161%
Native Americans -- 110%
Whites -- 73%
Asians -- 26%

Hispanics are not reported separately in the statistics, so most Hispanic offenders are included in the white number.

Although the abrupt increase from the year before is being heralded as evidence of increased white racial animus by Sharpton, the black rate of offence rose more from last year than the rate of any other racial group. The year-over-year increase in perpetrators, by race:

Asians -- 37.7% (from 61 to 84 total incidents)
Blacks -- 11.5%
Whites -- 4.3%
Native Americans -- (2.6%)

I do not find the hate crime designation helpful, especially as it is picked up on by media sources. Racial characteristics in exhaustive national crime statistics are rarely reported, so the focus on designated hate crimes gives the impression that criminality is overwhelmingly directed at blacks and perpetrated by the rest of society, especially whites, even as blacks commit more than 5.5 times as many violent crimes (in absolute numbers!) against whites as whites do against blacks, and are seven times more likely than non-blacks to commit murder.

This feeds into the idea of black victimization, which is counterproductive for sustainable black improvement.

It does not mesh at all with what whites see with their own lying eyes on the six o'clock news and in their knowledge of 'no-go' places for whites in many major US cities. This dissonance is a recipe for backlash.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Why discuss group differences?

Why should group differences in intelligence, assuming they exist, be publicly talked about? This question or a variant of it has been asked in several places following the James Watson affair. I've seen a host of insightful answers. But I think the answer can be distilled into a single sentence that is nonetheless pragmatic instead of being based on principal (ie, the truth is good) or pure veracity (ie, because that's the way things really are):

Whatever dysfunctional places (or people) do appears uniformly bad, while whatever the most functional places (or people) do looks almost exclusively good.

That's great for elites, and for morally elitist nations. I'm successful, or our country ranks high on the HDI, and thus whatever suits our tastes is best.

Squelching discussion on group differences negatively influences popular opinion and makes for bad public policy. Try comparing the policies popular in Massachusetts with those in Mississippi. There is no capital punishment in the Bay State, but the Magnolia State allows for it. And in which state do more murders occur? Indeed, it is in places where homicide rates are relatively high that capital punishment is practiced most often!

Quasi-socialism hasn't brought down the Scandanavian countries, which function well with their generous public safety nets and social liberalism. Demographic changes, not the inconstancy of their economic and social systems, are finally challenging their idyllic existences. So quasi-socialism is generally preferable to the free market, then?

There are apples to apples comparisons that give reason to think otherwise, as in East Germany vs. West Germany before the fall of the wall, and North Korea vs. South Korea today. But situations where comparisons approach ceteris paribus such as these do are rare.

Take religiosity and social pathology. A couple of years ago Gregory Paul wrote a paper purporting to show that piety leads to all kinds of negative social outcomes in the developed world. The primary example of this phenomenon in action, of course, is the US.

Except that when the behavior of American blacks and Hispanics were adjusted to the white average, the US fell in with the rest of the pack on everything (abortion rates, infant mortality rates, criminality, teen births rates, life expectancy, etc). Race is the reason for the divergence (something that should be kept in mind when the status of healthcare in the US is compared with that of other developed nations). Dogmatic piety may well be beneficial for many of those on the left side of the bell curve, where a religiously-informed worldview is vying with the lifestyle of the soul survivor. This even as religiosity inversely correlates with benefits like greater intelligence.

Or take the glorification of unmarried motherhood in the media, as evidenced by glowing profiles of popular actresses like Bridget Moynahan. But the divas are exceptional. For the vast majority of children whose parents go their separate ways, life is a lot rougher than it would otherwise be, with higher rates of poverty, lower levels of parental involvmenet, less discipline and less physical security.

It seemed a perpetual argument I'd have with friends who were drug users and drank regularly in high school and college. "That stuff isn't good for you." "I toke up and I got a full-ride." "Yes, you did so in spite of these things. You'll perform even better if you are more abstentious."

Beyond the realization that groups are not fungible lies the realization that uniform proscriptions cannot always optimally treat a diverse set of patients. Not all kids will benefit from taking ritlin, nor will all countries function at their highest levels under democratic principles. A libertine society may allow for the maximization of happiness in the Sweden of two decades ago even as it will maximize suffering in contemporary Haiti.

It is the difference between looking at what the 'best' do and then trying to mimic that, and figuring out what actually works best given the circumstances.

Couple thoughts on football

Seeing the promising young quarterback Jason Campbell being harassed by the best Cowboys' pass rusher since Charles Haley in DeMarcus Ware got me thinking. Ware forced Campbell into two intentional grounding penalties, costing the Redskins 20 yards. Why not throw the ball at the feet of a pass rusher when in the pocket or when scrambling without being able to get the ball forward far enough to avoid the intentional grounding call?

The rulebook doesn't explicitly specify whether or not grounding can be called on a tipped ball, but I've never seen a flag thrown when a pass is swatted down behind the line of scrimmage, even though no receiver is in the area.

"He's back to 80% today. So he'll be starting."

Referring to a player's status using a percentage is virtually always stated incorrectly. If he is four-fifths of what he normally is, tautologically, as, say, a halfback, he's running a lumbering 5.2 forty and getting lucky if he can squat 400 pounds. There isn't that much difference between the starter and whoever comes in as number two. In reality, he probably needs to be at 95%-plus to get the start.

Friday, November 16, 2007

State rankings by NAEP improvement, whites only

++Addition++Steve Sailer weighs in. Commenters make speculations and suggestions (there are those who are both intrigued and who are incredulous) that add lots of extra value beyond what I have here. If interested in the data, it's definitely worth jumping over there.


As a follow-up to the post looking at scholastic improvement by state as measured by the NAEP, the same follows, for whites exclusively. Improvement is measured by looking at how the 2003 4th grade cohort compares to the 2007 8th grade cohort in each individual state. The better the latter performs relative to the former, the greater the improvement:

RankStateImprovement (SD)
2.North Dakota.84
9.South Dakota.50
23.New Mexico.13


33.New Jersey(.06)
36.Rhode Island(.17)
41.South Carolina(.40)
43.New Hampshire(.56)
47.New York(.89)
48.West Virginia(1.10)
49.North Carolina(1.18)

Unfortunately, the NAEP site does not give an average 2007 score for whites in the District of Columbia, for lack of sample size. Algebraically figuring the white score based on its proportional representation puts DC at (.21), between Rhode Island and Virginia.

The actual number could vary widely from that estimate. If, instead of 3% (the NAEP only gives these percentages in whole numbers), only 2.5% of 8th graders in DC's public school system are white, it is easily propelled into the top spot. Whatever the case, DC's whites represent a tiny contingent--there are less than 3,500 whites in the entire district, K-12.

While the white variance by state seems, in sum, wider than is the case for states when all races are considered, that's a consequence of how the data are presented. The standard deviations in each case are derived from the totality of scores for all races, and for whites only, respectively. Because race figures significantly in determining absolute scores, including all races creates more overall variability, and hence in terms of actual scores, 'larger' standard deviations (by about 50%) than is the case when only whites are considered.

Steve and other commenters raise questions about the influence of a brain drain phenomenon (DC attracting upper-echelon immigrants and pushing out impoverished blacks, Hispanics moving to the South and especially North Carolina, the upwardly mobile leaving the backcountry culture of West Virginia, and I also wonder what the consequences are for states that have taken in a substantial number of New Orleans' refugees, etc).

Around three percent of the population moves its primary residence into a new state each year. But over a four year span, the cumulative effect might be substantial. To the extent that this explains the improvement (or deterioration), it takes away from the measure's utility as a proxy for teaching effectiveness by state.

An influx or outflow will also presumably have some effect on the students who have stayed put. However, Nevada's whites have done well in the face of one of the greatest foreign migration rates in the country. On the other hand, California's whites, who experience an even higher rate of foreign migration into their state as their neighbors to the east do, haven't fared as happily.

Although North Carolina shows a lot of deterioration when both all races or just whites are looked at, it's conceivable that in the Old North state along with the rest of the country, migration patterns are changing the classroom atmosphere for the students who remain, for better or worse.

Of course, immigrants from outside the US are not the only migration force at the state level, as most of the people who plant themselves somewhere new have come from another American state.

Also, the proportion of kids in private schools varies by state. Children who split their pre-collegiate schooling between the private and public spheres tend to start in the former and end in the latter (adjusted for total population in primary and secondary schools across the US, kids in their primary years are about 30% more likely to be enrolled in private school than those in their secondary years are). Since, on average, kids in private schools tend to be a notch above those in public schools, a higher rate of children in private schools should be beneficial in terms of improvement.

Louisiana has the highest percentage of children enrolled in private schools in the country, and it does poorly. But New Hampshire, with the second smallest percentage of private school kids doesn't do well, either.

I do not mean to equivocate on the demographic angles, so as to make the method appear a viable way of approximating the general effectiveness of public pedagogical strategies. I will look at all of these factors (and any other potentially viable suggestions) in light of improvement by state.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Patrick Deneen on the Open Book, or Facebook, generation

John Savage brings attention to a post by Georgetown professor Patrick Deneen, who laments how Yers are becoming the Open Book generation:
That classic sentiment of a mid-twentieth century liberal is now almost quaint given where we have now arrived. In the age of the internet, the strict separation between a public and private world is increasingly untenable.

A case in point: a report today on NPR's "Morning Edition" noted that the wildly popular youth "networking" website, "Facebook," will be opening up its pages to advertisers who are hungrily licking their lips to get at the treasure trove of information about students on the site. Students post a wealth of information about
themselves on the site - including, at times, some rather compromising information that has hurt them when they have applied for jobs! - such as favorite music, sexual orientation, political orientation, links to all their "friends" - and all this information is going to save advertisers immense amounts of research, effort and money in providing a whole range of advertising profiles. ...

A student once asked me what kind of social life we could possibly have had in college before the advent of Facebook (hell, he was surprised that I'm old enough to remember the days before the internet and even the personal computer - and I'm not that old...). I replied that we would hang out in dorm rooms shooting the breeze until odd hours of the morning. Perhaps our communication was less efficient - we had fewer "friends," as the word is promiscuously used in the Facebook networking world (in which making friends with someone consists of sending an electronic invitation) - but our conversations were meandering, leisurely, and ongoing.

Facebook has enabled users to get at personal information volunteered by its users since its inception in early 2004. That the company will now be facilitating advertisers in doing so is more the continuation of an expected progression than something surprisingly scandalous. Admonitions against treating the most public of publicly accessible places as though they were the pages in a personal diary are hardly novel. Social networking sites amplify public exposure, but they do not create it.

Facebook easily allows users to hide their information--even the knowledge of their very existences--from those they do not specifically 'grant the right' of viewership to. There is no betrayal of privacy, as users must consciously allow for marketers to have access to the information they put on their profiles. Filling out sweepstakes entries or responding to snail mail and e-mail surveys are more surreptitious ways of obtaining the information these marketers are after. Allowing publicly-volunteered marketing data to be effortlessly obtained allows for more efficiency and possibly even less intrusion into the lives of those who are especially protective of their corporate anonymity.

As a caveat, I should say that this praise for such effortless privacy is a contemporary one. The staggering success of Mark Zuckerberg's company is accompanied by its seeming directionlessness.

I first used the service after spending an hour going through an elementary school yearbook from when I'd lived in the Northwest. Pining for contact, I remembered hearing it mentioned by an accounting professor in class (that's how out of the social loop I am, apparently) a few days before. At that time, it boasted that, unlike MySpace, it maintained authenticity by only allowing people with college or university email accounts to join and provided a genuine local feel by restricting 'group' memberships to people from the college or university from which the group's creator originated.

Those conditions have now all disappeared. If I wanted to, say, create separate profiles for all of my favorite RPG characters, I could... well, if I really started slipping, having run completely out of ideas for posts and life more generally.

Instead of cheapening friendship, the service (potentially) enhances it. Personally, it has allowed past friendships I'd thought lost to time to be resurrected, and has allowed for the creation of bonds that otherwise would never have been forged.

Rather than drowning in frivolous friendships, it has caused pangs of regret in having not gotten to know many of the people from high school who I keep in contact with today but whom I was scarcely aware of then (I primarily hung with the sports crowd). The pool of people with whom I can share a conversation in a summer evening's gloam has expanded, and consequently so has the quality of person I end up conversing with.

Additionally, the message forum provided is like email without having to keep an address book or worry about delivery failures. It facilitates meandering textual conversations by keeping a log of the dialogue that has taken place.

The legions of youngsters who are intent on living their lives as open books are going to be made even easier pickings for marketers than ever before. But in a free society, protecting the careless from themselves is an impossible undertaking.

More unsettling than the providing of information about willing parties to other willing parties is the narcissism social networking sites engender. Never has it been easier to look at yourself from a thousand angles, or to witness how others look at you from ten thousand angles. Fortunately for me, the site has become so cluttered with applications, 'information' streams, and action trackers that I now use it exclusively as email 2.0 and occasionally to hunt for people I once knew.

State rankings by NAEP improvement from fourth to eighth grade

++Addition++Steve Sailer weighs in. I will put up the same improvement list for whites only this afternoon.


Continuing with the idea from a recent post attempting to get some idea of how well states are performing academically given their various demographic profiles, on sagacious advice I included math and reading results in the fourth and eighth grades from the NAEP of 2003 and 2007. Instead of simply looking at point changes (both the math and reading tests are based on a 500 point scale), I gauged average state scores in terms of standard deviations (normally distributed). I also looked at the same for whites exclusively.

For all students, 'improvement' (how a state's fourth graders fare in comparison to its eighth graders, with better relative performance in eighth grade seen as indicative of teaching effectiveness over time, and poorer relative performance showing a 'negative improvement', or deterioration) is pretty consistent. There is a correlation of .57 for the improvement of the '03 and '07 cohorts.

The four-year time interval also allows fourth graders in '03 to be tracked in '07 when the same kids are in eighth grade. It's not a perfect trace, as some families move across state lines and others elect to enter private school at some point during those years. But it still provides a nice proxy.

The improvement of the eighth grade class of '07 relative to how they did as fourth graders in '03 correlates with the improvement of the fourth and eighth grade classes of '03 at a solid .71. It would be optimal to have data from 1999 to see how the eighth grade class of '03 improved over time (they are not available), but using the '03 numbers of eighth graders still provides a good estimate, given the firm relationships mentioned previously. With this consistency, the class of '07 seems an appropriate measure to use in ranking improvement by state over time.

There does not appear to be a trade-off in improving math scores at the cost of reading scores, or viceversa. The improvement for the two subject areas correlate positively at .64 in '07 and .61 in '03.

Curiously, the same relationships hold when only white students are considered, but they are moderately less rigorous. The correlation of the '03 and '07 cohorts is .53 (compared to .57 for all students), while the improvement of the class of '07 relative to the '03 eighth graders correlates at .67 (to .71 for all). The improvement of the all-races class of '07 doesn't correlate with a state's racial composition at any level of statistical significance (the p-value is .27).

The improvement of the '07 class of eighth graders (all races), by state, in standard deviations, follows. Keep in mind that it is a state's improvement in performance relative to other states for its eighth graders in '07 compared to its fourth graders in '03 that forms the rankings. We're essentially looking at a state's rate of self-improvement over the middle four years of schooling:

RankStateImprovement (SD)
1.District of Columbia.66
4.North Dakota.50
7.South Dakota.41
15.New Mexico.21
18.New Jersey.16


41.Rhode Island(.25)
42.South Carolina(.26)
47.New York(.40)
48.New Hampshire(.43)
51.North Carolina(.89)
52.West Virginia(1.00)

The upper Midwest (excepting Michigan) does pretty well, although the trend is not overwhelming. The overseas schools that teach military brats also look good. Not much of a pattern emerges, though. The public school bodies of DC and Massachusetts are about as demographically and economically dissimilar as it gets, yet they occupy the top two spots.

This lends some credence to the idea that the differences are, broadly, a result of what goes on in the classroom. The differences in improvement, pretty consistent over at least the last eight years, are not meaningfully tied to demographic composition or affluence (whereas absolute performance very clearly is).

Whatever the driver, three putatively 'crucial' attributes--the student-teacher ratio, expenditures per student, and average teacher salaries (even after making cost-of-living adjustments for the latter two)--do not correlate with improvement in any meaningful way (.09, .05, .03, respectively, all without statistical significance). To the extent that a miniscule relationship does exist, the trends for all three are in the expected directions (lower student-teacher ratio and more money for students and teachers all weakly correlate with greater improvement).

It would be interesting to line up the results against metrics for difficulty in obtaining a teaching certificate (something like this, but quantifiable) and the vigor with which teacher performance is evaluated. John Stossel, in his special Stupid in America, for example, singled out New York City's school system (New York is near the bottom of the list) as being particularly absurd, refusing to fire even the most incompetent or disturbed educators (if memory serves, only two had been let go over the time period he looked at). Massachusetts, in contrast, has come under fire recently for its rigorous licensing requirements, for which over half of aspiring black and Hispanic teachers fail to make the grade.

Is there a known source for that kind of information? Do other quantifiable attributes that might relate to better educational methods come to mind?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

You don't have to change everything, just change something

I'm usually critical of public awareness campaigns and service announcements. DARE is one of the most oft-cited examples (in elementary school, I became aware of drugs I never knew existed, like Angel Dust and Ecstasy, from the program, and even recall a couple of kids wanting to realize those drugs' effects having just then heard about them). AIDS awareness initiatives serve to portray those who're HIV-positive as sympathetic victims of a malicious virus, like various strains of influenza, that must be cured through antivirals before it hops off of those infected and onto you, rather than as the result of irresponsible behavior that, if moderated, would sound the death knell of the virus.

Those are a couple that strike me as possibly being counterproductive, but the vast majority simply seem ineffectual. Often, they tend to approach the subject too methodically, as in "X number of drivers were killed on State's highways last year while driving under the influence. Don't become a statistic," says a no-nonsense Highway Patrolman with his arms crossed on his chest, instead of the brutal sounds and images of an alcohol-related crash and the desparate ululations of the victim's mother after the fact.

The people who are able to reason abstractly enough to sense just how many 'X' is, and the costs associated with that prodigious number, are not the ones who need an public service announcement to inform them that geting plastered and then cruising down the interstate is a bad idea.

That said, the current initiative being executed by the Kansas Health Foundation is one of the best I've heard. The radio ads feature run-of-the-mill conversations between people who nonchalantly decide to do things like go with mustard instead of mayonnaise, or zip up the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, followed by a James Earl Jones clone saying, "You don't have to change everything. Just change something."

The conversations sound candid, the tone is not didactic, and the goal is not overly-ambitious. The suggestion to listeners to make a minor switch here and another there in the course of their daily routines is universally applicable, rather than only to a niche audience.

Another persistent criticism of these initiatives is that their effectiveness is difficult to measure, and I've nothing to answer that in this case. My relative approval (Generally, I'd rather state tax dollars not be spent--or collected in the first place--for this sort of thing) is based on the fact that it has induced me to make a few minor changes for the better.

After working out in the mornings, I usually slurp down three bowls of cereal. It used to be one bowl of Total and two bowls of some sugary kids stuff. Now, two bowls of Total and only one for splurging. It's become cocoa, water, and the microwave instead of chocolate on the weekends. And I've abandoned reservations about running up stairs two or three at a time and coming down them by grasping the handrails and propelling myself over as many at a time as is physically permittable. To avoid stuffing down more than I should, I've shuffled my recreational time around a little so that I engage in my favorite activity right after dinner. No, don't waste time preparing another sandwich, man, you're squandering precious playing time!

If living more healthily is something you've wanted to do but haven't acted upon the desire for whatever reason, this is an approach you might try.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Attempting to measure educational performance by looking at improvement over time

Steve Sailer suggested an interesting angle to take regarding gauging pedagogical performance by state:
Although demographics obviously are the driving force in measures of student achievement, it is possible for one state to do a better job than another relative to what it has to work with in terms of student potential. One interesting way to analyze the value added performance of a state's public schools is to compare 8th grade scores versus 4th grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. If a state improves from 4th to 8th grade relative to the rest of the country, this could be evidence that it is doing a good job of schooling (at least in the middle years).
I previously attempted to do something similar in looking at how a state actually performed compared to how its racial composition 'predicted' it would fare. The results are here.

But there are obvious problems with that approach. It's doubtful that blue-blooded, English-descended whites in Massachusetts enjoy an estimated six point IQ advantage over Scot-Irish Appaclachia folk in West Virginia because of superior classroom teaching methods alone.

So I ran the mathematics numbers for fourth and eighth graders, by state, using 2005 scores. The following list shows the gap between fourth and eighth grade scores (for both grade levels, the test is scaled out of 500 possible points):

46: Nebraska
45: Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, South Dakota (also, DoDEA)
44: Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin
43: Alaska, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington
42: Colorado, Indiana, New York
41: Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio
40: Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah
39: California, Connecticut, Idaho, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming
38: Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, West Virginia
37: Alabama, Oklahoma
36: Arkansas, Hawaii
35: Florida, Mississippi
34: District of Columbia

This assumes that an absolute increase in the number of questions on the assessment that are answered correctly is paramount. That may artificially favor states that already do well. After all, it seems reasonable enough at first that, on a test with 20 questions, moving from 10 correct to 12 correct should elicit more celebration than moving from 17 correct to 19 correct should.

Indeed, the increase between grade levels and the actual score for eighth graders (the basis of my IQ estimates) correlate at a rigorous .68.

But we're not looking at percentiles--we're looking at actual scores. It's not as if the above is showing that a move from the 50th percentile to the 60th percentile is equivalent to a move from the 85th percentile to the 95th percentile.

The number of questions that had been answered incorrectly before, but, through the educational process, are answered correctly later down the road, seems to me the important issue. Answering the twentieth question correctly in a series of progressively more difficult questions is as big a leap forward from ending at the nineteenth question as stopping at the tenth instead of the ninth is (assuming the average variance in difficulty across questions is as uniform as possible). Thus, this strikes me as an accurate way of looking at it.

The strong relationship might be, instead of revealing an artificial 'boost', bearing out what is intuitive--more intelligent teachers tend to be more effective teachers. The higher a state's average IQ, the sharper its educators tend to be.

Demographics, inextricably related to performance, probably also offer some explanation. While the population of Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans have no statistically significant relationship with the improvement gap, the percentage of whites and blacks both do. Predictably, more whites means more improvement, while more blacks means less improvement (both races correlate with the gap at .45, but in the case of blacks the relationship is an inverse one).

Since blacks undergo faster physical development than whites, perhaps they do so cognitively as well. If their cognitive development slows down relative to whites from fourth to eighth grade, the variance in improvement becomes quite difficult for educators to do much of anything about.
However, if a higher proportion of black kids (and American black culture celebrates individual self-centeredness and disruption in public more than the mainstream cultures of any of the other major racial/ethnic groups do) retards the improvement gap due to more chaotic learning environments, segregation should have a beneficial effect. The segregation would not need to be based explicitly on race or ethnicity, but based on demonstrated behaviors or aptitude (this sort of segregation would roughly proxy for race, however). Cognitive segregation seems the best way to improve the performance of the entire student body, especially the performance of those on the right side of the bell curve.

If, instead, the states are gauged based on the magnitude of the increase in terms of the percentage of questions answered correctly in fourth grade relative to the percentage answered correctly in eighth grade, it shakes out this way (because state performance is determined by dividing percentage of questions answered correctly in eighth grade by the percentage answered correctly in fourth grade, most of the states score slightly differently from one another, hence the numerical ranking):

1. Nebraska
2. Illinois
3. Arizona
4. Montana
5. Kentucky
6. South Dakota
7. Oregon
8. Iowa
8. Virginia
10. Wisconsin
11. Alaska
12. Massachusetts
13. North Dakota
14. South Carolina
15. Minnesota
16. Washington
17. New York
18. Vermont
19. Colorado
20. Indiana
21. Missouri
22. New mexico
23. Nevada
24. Delaware
25. North Carolina
26. California
27. Ohio
28. Tennessee
29. Maryland
30. Rhode Island
31. Utah
32. Maine
32. Pennsylvania
34. Louisiana
35. West Virginia
36. Alabama
37. New Jersey
38. Michigan
39. Georgia
40. Connecticut
41. Idaho
42. Texas
43. District of Columbia
44. Wyoming
45. New Hampshire
46. Oklahoma
47. Hawaii
48. Kansas
49. Mississippi
50. Arkansas
51. Florida

The relative performance of the states looked at in this way also correlates positively with estimated average IQ, albeit more modestly at .33. The only demographic characteristic where a statistically significant relationship exists is with the percentage of the state's population that is white, at .37.

Whichever of the two methods is employed, the Texas miracle doesn't appear particularly miraculous. My state's infamous curricula do not jump out as being optimal, either. States in the Midwest and Upper Midwest generally fare well by both methods. I suspect this might answer the question of what exactly the relatively intelligent people in these areas do with their brains, since they're not in the Northeast trading equities or in California creating start-up technology firms. They do standard middle class work, but perform a bit better at it than their peers in other areas of the country.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Attack of the Killer Nooses!

This audio report was not produced by The Onion. To the contrary, it was indirectly produced by American readers, through an annual transfer of almost $500 million in taxpayer money to the CPB. It is, apparently, to be perceived as serious news reporting. Unfortunately, reporter Mike Pesca has not yet been able to infiltrate a noose stronghold!

The piece runs for less than five minutes. In that span, the word "noose" is mentioned a full 24 times (once every 11 seconds). This noxious pandemic is real, and it threatens the very lives of you and your family!

A cynic might say the two most recent media hunts for the evil white bigot, in the Duke lacrosse case and in Jena, Louisiana, have ended up revealing the most culpable characters to be black. That cynic is wrong! Yes, the vicious assault on a lone white kid (who had nothing to do with the putative impetus, a few nooses found under a popular student gathering spot months prior) by six black athletes who were anything but stand-up guys, proves that the next lynching of an enfeebled black man is merely hours away (the last lynching in the US occured more than a quarter-century ago). Hostile nooses draw near!

Pay no heed to the fact that while 38% of the public have reservations about a Mormon in the Whitehouse, 23% with a woman, and 20% with a Hispanic, only 11% are say the same about a black occupying the place. No time to wonder what percentage of the public would express discomfort in choosing a WASP for the Presidency (I suspect it would be higher than 11%)--hostile nooses draw near!

Nevermind that blacks are 7-9 times more likely to commit violent crimes than whites are, or that in 85% of interracial crimes the perpetrator is black, or that a black is nearly 40 times more likely to commit a violent crime against someone who is white than viceversa, or that blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to commit an officially designated hate crime, the parameters of which are tailored to be used in charging whites for aggression against non-white minorities.' Hostile nooses draw near!

Forget the racial cleansing campaigns taking place in Los Angeles, involving Hispanic and black street gangs, or that there exist Hispanic havens that are no-go places for blacks in America's most diverse city (of course, there are places in virtually every major US city that are no-go for whites). While there may not be a particular location that is a no-go zone due to white aggressiveness, wherever there is a white man, it must be remebered that hostile nooses likely draw near!

No need to raise the issue of lynchings in, say, Guatemala, where there have been 29 confirmed thus far this year in that country. The actual number is likely higher still, given that only 2% of homicide crimes are solved. How this might be relevant, in the face of migrants and drugs entering illegally from Guatemala into the US is of scant concern, though. After all, hostile nooses draw near!

Additionally, the story serves as a reminder of the blatant leftward bias of government radio. The 'experts' interviewed by Pesca of NPR consist of a researcher from the Southern Poverty Law Center and NAACP chairmen Julian Bond. That most Western media outlets skew leftward is nothing novel or ambiguous, but if the majority of your news consumption comes from the internet, allow the report to serve as a quick refresher.

Dennis Dale has more on the growing threat, and Steve Sailer reports on how the nefarious ropes have expanded into the realm of the metaphysical.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Movie critics: Not what they say, but how many of them say something

To clear up any potential confusion, in playing around with movie releases from 2005, unless otherwise noted I've been using total box office receipts rather than absolute profitability in judging a movie's success, as that is what the media care about. It is the metric used in determining a film's popularity.

Although an adjustment for budget is a necessity from the perspective of the studio producing the movie, it is effectively meaningless to the viewing public. My aim is to make a little sense out of how to determine which movies will be likable before dropping ten bucks and giving up three hours in going to see them, not how to optimize the amount Miramax spends on a movie to maximize its profitability.

It doesn't matter to me, as a potential moviegoer, what a movie's production costs are. When I go to see it in theater, my expenses are nearly the same irrespective of whether I'm going to see The Ring or King Kong. To the extent that there is a difference in cost, it is usually slightly cheaper for me to see more expensive movies, as they tend to play in more theatres and with greater frequency, thus cutting down on schedule disruptions and transportation costs.

That said, absolute profit and box office performance are fungible when it comes to average viewer scores, both from professional critics (from Rotten Tomatoes, whose critic base consistently outperform the reviewers used by other sites like MetaCritic) and Yahoo users' ('mavens') movie reviews. For the critics, profit and total receipts correlate with ratings at .32 and .30, respectively. For mavens, it is .41 in both cases. They are virtually the same.

Those modest relationships are not satisfying. While critical review correlates well in a couple of specific genres like action and science fiction, on the whole it does a poor job of 'explaining' a movie's box office success, accounting for only 9% of the variation in performance. The mavens do a bit better, about doubling that explanatory power. But previously I'd wondered if perhaps it wasn't what reviewers had to say, but just how many decided to take the time to say something, that mattered:

Movies that illicit a response in the reviewer, be he professional or otherwise, are the ones he'll most likely rate and write about. More likely than not, even if he isn't particularly impressed, he probably tends to get more from the movie than the next guy who decided not to write about the film. If this is the case, movies rated by the greatest number of people should be the top performers, whereas the ones receiving sporadic comment languish in the face of uninterest.
So how do the number of reviews a movie receives fare against the amount of money it brings in? Quite well, actually.

For critics, the relationship with total receipts is a solid .54, consistently stronger on the whole and across budget levels than the correlation (.31) with actual average critical rating is. Parenthetically, Rotten Tomatoes has an established, static base of "Approved Tomatometer Critics" who may or may not choose to submit a review (either on their personal websites or directly to RT) for a specific movie.

If the entire lot has a professional opinion to give, it's because there is something relevant in the movie, be it positive, negative, or somewhere in between, that speaks to them and in turn compels them to speak to the consuming public. That's not the case when only a handful of reviewers have something to say.

Those who choose to remark on the less remarked upon film usually are doing so for some particular reason--an ideological motivation, a like or dislike for a director or starring actor, etc, that does not translate well to a larger audience. Herein lies the value of specific reviewers, of course. If you find one who exemplifies your own thoughts and tastes in an edifying way, his reviews often correlate well with a movie's worth from a personal perspective. But for the most part, your neighbors won't get a whole lot of use out those reviews.

Though it might cause umbrage, the message to professional critics is this: You're not individually unique, but merely a quantitative cog. We don't need to know the specifics of the clever profundities you've discovered, only whether you've decided to blather on this particular movie or have instead elected to withhold your words for another film.

For mavens, the relationship is nearly perfect. The correlation is .95, meaning the number of Yahoo users who weigh in on a movie explains 90% of how well that movie ends up doing at the box office.

At first it may seem intuitively obvious that more reviewers means more popularity, but even in this most democratic of reviewer forums with tens of thousands of people grading movies, we're looking at the opinions of less than one-half of one percent of the people who saw the thing. More importantly, they may just as easily give a scathing review of a movie as they might sing its paens.

That a movie induces a response shows that it it, quite literally, remarkable. Though the taste it leaves in the mouth may be bitter, it is not so bland as to be immediately forgotten. Thus, it is worth watching. And so people go to see it.

The numbers via Swivel are here.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Gas stations don't like expensive gas anymore than you do

I regularly hear people assert that gas stations are taking it in by the fistfull as gas prices enter a period of steady price increases.

But the opposite is true. Retailer margins are razor thin in a time of rising prices. Consumer price sensitivity becomes heightened, as illustrated by local radio stations broadcasting live from the place with the cheapest gas in the city. Competitors trim margins to a few pennies on the gallon (which, at $3 a gallon, comes to a penny or so on the dollar).

When prices ebb, retailers are able to relax. As the price of refined gasoline drops, retail prices drop as well, but usually not as fast. Consumers are happy to see they're paying a dime less a gallon this week than they were the week before, not knowing (or seriously caring) that they might actually be paying twelve cents less than seven days ago, if only retailers would continue to cut margins to nothing.

And money spent on ultra-thin margin gas isn't spent on high margin stuff like fountain drinks and coffee.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Employers would rather harm gays than make money?

A study by Bruce Elmslie and Edinaldo Tebaldi is being reported as evidence of irrational discrimination against gay men in the American workplace:

According to the authors, gay men who live together earn 23 percent less than married men, and 9 percent less than unmarried heterosexual men who live with a
Lesbians, however, apparently do better than straight women:

The authors also found that lesbians are not discriminated against when compared with heterosexual women.

They conclude that while negative attitudes toward lesbians could affect them, lesbians may benefit from the perception that they are more career-focused and less likely to leave the labor market to raise children than heterosexual women.
Unless there was found to be no difference at all between the respective earnings of the two groups, this almost certainly indicates that lesbians earn more than heterosexual women do. Stating that lesbians are given preferential treatment, or that straight women are discriminated against, however, does not make sense as traditional or mainstream groups are incapable of being treated unfairly!

The actual paper isn't yet freely accessible. Still, there are a few reasons to suspect that the insinuation that such discrimination is based on a disgust with homosexuality (that in a free market system companies would rather stick it to gays than turn as handomse a profit as possible) is inaccurate.

According to a paper released last year by the same two researchers, gay men work fewer hours than their heterosexual counterparts:

It is found that gay men supply less labour than married and unmarried heterosexual men. With regard to women, it is found that lesbians supply more labour and are more likely to be employed full-time than either married or
unmarried heterosexual women.
The researchers based their latest study on 91,000 couples from The American Community survey that the US Census conducts each non-decadal year. There is no way to determine hourly wages from the survey, which inquires only about annual income.

So, unsurprisingly, straight men, in working the most hours, also receive the fattest paychecks. Lesbians, who work more than heterosexual women, show a larger number in the first box of their W-2s.

Why this pattern? In a traditional couple, the man tends to be the primary income earner, and the family follows his career.

That alone pretty much sums it up. In a two-male couple, if the duo dedicates itself to one of the member's careers, just as a traditional couple would, the other member (like most married women) will generally earn less than the one who has the primary career. For lesbian couples, a similar pattern occurs. Thus, the male-female earnings discrepancy among heterosexual couples pushes the average earnings of the two indistinguishable gay partners somewhere in between.

Consider a simple hypothetical to see how this is explanatory. We have three couples (or 30,000, as it were), the Straights, the Gays, and the Lesbians. Guy Straight earns $50,000 a year, while Lady Straight, as the primary homemaker, works part-time around their other obligations to make $25,000 a year. Man Gay earns $50,000, while Guy Gay, like Lady Straight, makes $25,000. Woman Lesbian earns $50,000, and again, like her other two relational counterparts, Gal Lesbian makes $25,000.

Each couple, as a unit, earns $75,000 a year. Yet for the researchers, discrimination against gay men is found to be striking! Heterosexual men are making $50,000 on average, while gay men are only making $37,500. Lesbians, however, at $37,500, are doing fine relative to their heterosexual counterparts, who are only bringing home $25,000.

The need to distinguish between a working person and a primary breadwinner is enough to cast doubt on the entire study. As an entire household, gay men are rolling in it:

A Chicago market-research company, Overlooked Opinions Inc., recently released a demographic survey that found that gay men had an average household income of $51,325 and lesbians $45,927, compared with the national average of $36,520. ...

The major findings of the Overlooked Opinions survey -- that homosexuals tend to be more affluent and better educated; about 60 percent have college degrees, compared with 20 percent of the general population -- were similar to those in a readership study of eight gay newspapers done in 1988 by Simmons Market Research Bureau in New York.
As individual members of a two-person unit, gay men and lesbians are, on average, going to trend toward the center when it comes to individual earnings (especially if the focus is exclusively on people who are living with a romantic partner, as in the case of this study), as they are filling both the breadwinning and homemaking roles in exactly equal proportion. Unless the two members of a gay couple are given identifiers comparable to 'male' and 'female' in heterosexual relationships, this necessarily must be the case.

So heterosexual men come out on top, followed by gay men, then lesbians, and finally straight women. Yet disproportionately 'dinks' (dual-income, no kids), the gay demographic is one that has lots of disposable income.

But there are other reasons that have nothing to do with irrational discrimination, but instead with market forces in action:

Gay men working in management and traditional blue-collar, male-dominated jobs make less than straight men because they are discriminated against by their employers, according to new research released Wednesday by the University of New Hampshire Whittemore School of Business and Economics.
Gay men tend to be less masculine than straight men. Jobs that put a premium on virility (construction, factory work, law enforcement, etc) are going to be jobs that more virile men succeed in, all else being equal. Management is often comprised of people who started at the entry-level, and therefore of people who were good at the fundamentals of the work.

Although no mention has been made in the press about the study, I'd be willing to bet the lesbian advantage over heterosexual women is larger in these same fields than in more traditionally female-dominated positions (secretary, receptionist, etc).

For lesbians, another enormous advantage is the lack of child-rearing commitments relative to heterosexual women. To its credit, the study does make note of this:

According to their study, 18.1 percent of lesbians have children, compared with 49.4 percent of straight women.
Many companies now offer additional days off to parents contingent upon the number of children they have. Obligations to children interfere with the ability to work varying hours, put in overtime, etc. When a couple has (or obtains) a baby, one member usually must interrupt the career pursuit, especially for the first few years of the child's existence. In heterosexual couples, of course, that task virtually always falls to the woman (about 4% of married men who do not work have spouses who do). In contrast, for the purposes of the study, it doesn't matter which lesbian partner decides to take the lead role in child-rearing, to the 'benefit' of average lesbian earnings.

The study's authors almost exclusively emphasize irrational discrimination as the reason for the earnings discrepancy. Even to the extent that this is occuring--the reasons to be skeptical laid out above being set aside for a moment--it is probably more accurate to surmise that it is the personal traits and behaviors of gay men, not their sexual orientation per se, that is causing the discrimination. Prudent people do not talk about their sexual lives in a business setting, whatever their particular predilection.