March 3, 2013
February 24, 2013
For a while jokers like Noel Ignatiev have been promulgating “whiteness studies” claiming that groups like the Irish were not initially considered “white”. My comment no longer appears at Reason, but I tried pointing out to Ron Bailey that even turn-of-the-century racialists who embraced the concepts of “Nordic”, “Alpine” and “Mediterranean” still considered European immigrants to be white. Lothrop Stoddard’s notorious book “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy” (which you can read for free online) is quite explicit on that point. At the same time, what we consider salient depends on the context. So if the only people who can effectively vote are white men (an important legal distinction inclusive to these supposedly non-white immigrants), intra-white distinctions are going to be salient in politics. In other situations where people are homogenous in race and language they might divide over religion, as in Northern Ireland.
Recently I came across one of the rarest of things, an anonymous comment at the iSteve blog which is actually worth reading. It links to the American Journal of Sociology paper Defining America’s Racial Boundaries: Blacks, Mexicans, and European Immigrants, 1890–1945 by Cybelle Fox and Thomas A. Guglielmo. The paper is unfortunately gated, but anonymous provides an excerpt:
In stark contrast [to the black-white boundary], there was essentially no SEE-white boundary [SEE=Southern and Eastern Europeans]. Contrary to the arguments of many whiteness studies historians and the social scientists who have drawn on their work, we contend that wherever white was a meaningful category, SEEs were almost always included within it, even if they were simultaneously positioned below NWEs [=Northern and Western Europeans]. Some individuals and an occasional institution questioned—or appeared to question—the whiteness of SEEs and other Europeans, blurring the boundary in limited contexts. But the categorization of SEEs as nonwhite was neither widely recognized nor institutionalized. In fact, quite the opposite. Federal agencies including the census, the military, the immigration service, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and others all counted by race and placed SEEs firmly within the white category. No court ever denied Europeans the right to naturalize as free white persons at least in part because race scientists and the “common man” placed SEEs within the boundaries of whiteness. Furthermore, when SEEs saw Whites Only signs in movie theaters, restaurants, swimming pools, playgrounds, buses and streetcars, and at places of employment, they could—with near certainty—be confident that those signs were not meant to exclude them. Similarly, when housing covenants restricted the sale of homes to whites, when unions declared that their membership was restricted to white workers, when schools declared that their doors were open to white children only, and where marriage laws prohibited miscegenation, SEEs quickly learned that the category “white” included them, too.
So yes, Jim Crow really existed, and it did apply to blacks and not European immigrants. This also came up when a bunch of people got irritated at Fabio Rojas for writing about our “post-racist society“. It would be understandable if he said something extreme like “racism doesn’t exist”, but nobody says that (although if race didn’t exist, that’s what you’d expect). He was quite clear in his original post that he was saying that the end of legal sanction for explicit racism was a significant change, which I’d think would be hard to dispute. But perhaps for reasons of “mood affiliation” (and a better example than most of the time Tyler Cowen uses the phrase now), people got upset for him saying positive things about what improvements had happened rather than focusing what bad things exist now. Further back Mencius Moldbug and his acolytes tried to claim that after the civil war slaves were still sharecroppers, so their lot was not meaningfully different. Economic historians actually gather data on what folks earned back then, rather than relying on mere assertion, so I was able to point out that was false.
February 13, 2013
I’m fairly sure I heard about the movie “The Pentagon Wars” from EconLog, and more specifically with a link to this clip (featuring possibly the worst case of feature bloat and meddling in history), but for some reason I can’t find the original post. At any rate, it’s a fine example for the underserved genre of movies about bureaucracy. There’s no war for the officers to fight, so it’s just a matter of whether the misbegotten M2 Bradley fighting vehicle can be cranked out so those behind it get promoted, with one stubborn non-team player Congressional appointee using every rule in the (literal) book he can to stop it. That man is of course the hero, and as in real life he wins the “battle” to put the crapware back on the drawing board, but the movie explicitly ends by noting that the villains knowingly pushing the defective vehicle forward without adequate testing got promoted or jobs in the defense industry, while Colonel James Burton was forced into early retirement. “This is why we can’t have nice things” the movie. And it’s a hilarious movie, supposedly true, though in the course of writing this post I reread the Wikipedia page and found some new material debunking one of the most damning bits (about exporting the vehicle). Their cited source doesn’t actually say anything about export, but it does have a military historian saying it was very inaccurate (though it did indeed have a “development hell” and lousy testing). I was set to discuss whether the empirical results of Burton’s long-sought test even mattered, since the Israelis deduced it as defective from the designs, but as mentioned that bit may have been invented by the film-makers.
Since “The Americans” has put SecDef Caspar Weinberger back in mind, I thought I’d mention a bit where he’s meeting the officers in charge and angry about leaks in the Washington Post about the weapons program. The officers pipe up that they’ll clamp down any leaks, and Weinberger responds that leaks to the press are the only way he gets any information!
February 11, 2013
I’m going to begin on a completely unrelated note by mentioning that a book I requested at the library recently became ready for pickup. Listed as being there when I ordered it, it has since been listed as “In Transit” for about two months. Now I feel slightly guilty that I’m not going to pick it up, because some time after I originally ordered it I picked up a rather lengthy book from a university library from when I temporarily had privileges, and hence won’t be able to review. I’ve been holding off on that in part because I’ve procrastinated so much when it comes to writing this review.
I forget where exactly I heard of Brad Spellberg’s “Rising Plague”. Megan McArdle seems most likely, since she occasionally references increasing antibiotic resistance. It seems like an important problem about which little is done, so good thing there’s a book about it. Unfortunately I can’t give a hearty recommendation while at the same time that’s not because of some objective flaws. I didn’t care much for his writing, which makes some sense since he’s a doctor rather pop-science writer (although both Oliver Sachs and Michael Crichton have a background in practicing medicine). Sometimes I was irked at how much it was aimed at a broad audience with its emotional anecdotes illustrating the need for action (he’s quite explicit about soliciting and collecting them for that purpose) rather than mere statistics, but clearly pleasing me was not his primary goal. (more…)
January 27, 2013
January 21, 2013
Leave a Comment
I’ve mentioned earlier the study involving sending MBAs to India, and the common denigration they receive in our culture. This isn’t a mere matter of counter-cultural hostility to capitalism and business, since their subordinates “in the trenches” often feel they have more domain knowledge* while their ignorant Dilbert-esque “pointy-haired” bosses screw things up. The founders of Google apparently shared that view, at least before their empiricist side led them to realize that was a mistake.
*There is a contrary view where the primary added value of management is the skills they impart to their subordinates, and I may have linked to a study on that but can’t find it now.
There might seem to be a bit of a contrast between this post and the one on “The Collapse of Complex Society” and its section on the wasteful growth of administration. I believe that to be a very real phenomena (particularly outside the for-profit sector), just as I can believe that firefighters provide a valuable service even if there are too many of them.
I had planned on having a more substantive post by last night, but I keep procrastinating rather than working on it. All are encouraged to berate.
UPDATE: More from Slate on the scope for managerial improvement in other countries.
December 29, 2012
I’ve seen Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” recommended in a few different places. Jared Diamond’s book might be one of them, the guest-posts of Captain David Ryan aka “Tony Comstock” for James Fallows at the Atlantic might be another. The sidebar of John Robb’s “Global Guerrillas” blog is the only one I remember with certainty. It’s a not a very long book, and you can get the gist of it from Tainter’s wikipedia page. (more…)
December 28, 2012
December 1, 2012
Leave a Comment
A couple weeks back Dominic Preston emailed me about this, but I’ve been busy and my internet connection has been too sporadic to deal well with streaming video. I assumed others would remark on this, but I haven’t read anyone else do so yet.
Apologies for the infrequent posts as of late. There’s a book review I should be writing, but the quarterly schedule of a university library takes the pressure of. And conversely, the hold someone placed on a book I had due today at a public library means I have to start a new book without finishing the old one.
November 29, 2012
October 29, 2012
Reinhardt & Rogoff’s book is an impressive achievement, though hard for a layman reader like me to appreciate. The most significant thing about it is how many countries are covered and over how much time in their dataset, but I’m just reading a book rather than crunching numbers. The thesis that crises of various sorts (external & domestic sovereign debt, banking, hyperinflation, relative currency crash) have happened many times throughout history is well supported. But if you were to ask whether people were irrationally sanguine about such a prospect (perhaps like Taleb on tail-risk), I don’t really know whether their data can say. Perhaps they could have tried to analyze the expected return of certain assets over all that history, bring up equity premium puzzle. But the authors go for re-iterating the message that it CAN happen rather than trying to establish how likely it is. There is a useful empirical finding that developed countries can “graduate” from serial default and very high inflation. There does not seem to be a process of “graduation” from banking crises. On the other hand, the historical summary of banking crises in the final subject appendix can range from relatively detailed descriptions of failures & takeovers to the repeated boilerplate “Some banks experienced problems”. In the absence of reliable quantitative indicators they mark a banking crisis with “(1) bank runs that lead to the closure, merging, or takeover by the public sector of one or more financial institutions […] and (2) if there are no runs, the closure, merging, takeover, or large-scale government assistance of an important financial institution (or group of institutions) that marks the start of a string of similar outcomes for other financial institutions”, so I have to assume something of that sort happened in the vaguer crises. The question of how we should define and categorize crises has become a recent dispute between the authors and Bordo & Haubrich (plus John Taylor). Unfortunately, there is nothing in this book that says what it makes sense to do after a crisis, although there’s no statement of a policy-ineffectiveness proposition either. One thing I will say in response to John Cochrane on financial crises causing sovereign debt crises: R&R state that this is largely caused by reduced revenues. So obviously the problematic policy is pro-cyclical progressive taxation!
October 28, 2012
October 24, 2012
Lise Eliot’s “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” is the most cited work among those arguing against “gender essentialism”, or at least that’s my impression. The most telling argument in favor of gender essentialism is the outcomes of children like David Reimer aka “John/Joan” raised as female after having their genitals removed at a young age. I had heard that Eliot addresses the Reimer case, but hadn’t really investigated further. It turns out the section of her book dealing with it is available through Google Books. Eliot finds the case problematic as illustration of a general principle because the surgery that completely removed his testicles took place too late at twenty-two months (although his parents had already started raising him as a girl at seventeen months), and he had an indentical twin brother raised together with him. To me having an identical twin raised by the same parents but treated as a boy is great for illustrative purposes (and Dr. John Money who publicized David as “Joan” agreed). And if we’re just focused on psychological effects, the age seems reasonable to me in finding the effects of parents raising their child to be a girl*. Admittedly, I am nothing like an expert, David & his brother just didn’t seem to have any conscious memory of him previously being a boy.
The best piece of evidence Eliot has to counter the Reimer case is another (unnamed in her book) case reported in 1998 of a boy who also lost his penis in a botched circumcision and was surgically reassigned at seven months. This one continued to identify as a normal woman. I find her citation of a 2005 review by Heinz Meyer-Bahlburg (finding that only seventeen of seventy-seven boys raised as girls for a variety of reasons reverted to females) less persuasive, because as she notes only a minority were cases of “penile ablution”, with most being intersex. This is important, because Money critic Milton Diamond (cited in Colapinto’s linked article above) had started out complaining that all the “successful” cases cited by the Money camp thus suffered a “genetic or hormonal imbalance in the womb”. Since Diamond’s focus was on pre-natal hormonal exposure, his theory would then be falsifiable with an experiment varying the age of post-natal reassignment, even if the change was purely “biological” rather than psychological.
*Interestingly, Eliot’s footnote states that none of the genetic boys raised as males later reverted to female. Her recommendation if you have an intersex child is to raise them as male “if the urogenital system can be adequately reconstructed through surgery”.
I don’t write this to attack Eliot, I find it commendable that she not only addressed Reimer but pointed out the problem with using reassigned intersex children rather than those purely biologically male/female. She is also no strawman (straw-woman?) who claims babies start out identical. Instead the title of her book refers to the small differences at early ages becoming magnified later on. This in itself doesn’t mean much to me because the heritability of many traits increase with age (and puberty obviously plays a role in gender differentiation over time). Judith Harris pointed out in “The Nurture Assumption” that many correlations based on parental treatment are misleading because parents treat children differently as a result of the child’s (heritable) traits. This is just what Eliot believes, although actually untangling the treatment effect of such a feedback loop sounds tricky to me. Unfortunately we don’t allow scientists to give children to robots to raise, completely unaware of the child’s actual gender. It would make for a great sitcom.
October 20, 2012
I read Robert Crew’s “For Prophet and Tsar” because it was recommended by Razib. As a westerner, the histories of Russia and Islam are unfamiliar to me, that of Islam in the Russian empire even moreso. Unfortunately the book had more information about Russian Islam than I cared to know and was trying to push an optimistic narrative (for politically correct modern times) that I didn’t quite buy. The interesting thing about the Russian empire is that it was a Christian state with Muslim subjects for a much longer period than any other. Unfortunately, the book really only covers the period starting with Catherine the Great’s edict of toleration, several centuries after Muslim subjugation began and not really any earlier than the British & French experience (although with the loss of its Indian territories, I believe France went through an intermission without Muslims). Crews is setting out to argue against Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” by pointing out that a period of cooperation once existed, but Huntington was explicit that civilizational salience was a change from prior divisions by ideologies, nation-states, kingdoms & empires. Crews repeatedly takes care to suggest that Russian state authorities need to treat Muslim subjects well so that new Muslim territories would surrender to them, but the impression I tended to get was that Russian officials treated complaints from Muslim authorities (including ones they had put in power) with indifference at best and expressions of annoyance more often. Near the end he draws a parallel to modern cultivation by European governments of “moderate” Muslims, but imperialists had a different attitude about things. It is true that Slavophiles complaining about the existence of Muslims and demanding they all be converted to Orthodoxy didn’t get their way, but they often seemed to be taken more seriously than Muslims. (more…)
September 30, 2012