June 19, 2010

What do online newspaper readers like?

Online versions of newspapers frequently post lists of their most popular current stories, as measured in various ways: most viewed, most emailed, most linked to by blogs. Here are the Los Angeles Times' Most Viewed Articles the evening of Friday, June 19, 2010:
Yesterday was the first time I've ever seen all top ten most-viewed stories be sports stories.

The LA Times, which in the last 30 years of the 20th Century tried to compete with the NY Times as the most serious newspaper in the country, has in this century increasingly become a Sports Page-dominated outlet.

Granted, it was a big day in sports in LA, with the Lakers having won the NBA title the night before. And the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pebble Beach is a big deal with the demographic that reads newspapers online (PGA fans are the most likely to vote of all sports fans). A large fraction of LA golfers have at least driven by Pebble Beach Golf Links to ogle it (you can see a lot of the duller inland holes up-close-and-personal from your car, and if you park, you can see the famous 18th without paying anything other than the admission fee to the 17 Mile Drive).

Keep in mind, also, that The Most Viewed Articles have a high self-referential component, dependent in part on how big a push the online paper gives them.

In contrast, the New York Times' most viewed articles at the same time:
The Most Emailed Articles tend to be female-oriented self-help pieces that ladies forward to their friends and loved ones. The Most Blogged articles tend to be male Political Talking Points of the Day stuff.

Manute Bol, RIP

 A charter member of the Human Biodiversity Hall of Fame has died.

June 17, 2010

And two tacos, too!

My favorite moment of the radio broadcast of the LA Lakers' 7th game victory over the Boston Celtics 83-79 for the NBA title was when it was announced with 90 seconds left that if the Lakers held the Celtics under 100 points, then everybody in attendance (going price $1100 per seat) could use their ticket stub to get two free tacos at Jack-in-the-Box.

My favorite victory riot story is one a coworker who lived in a highrise on Michigan Avenue in Chicago told me. After Michael Jordan's Bulls won their second title in 1992, she watched a mob of drunken yuppies smash in the front window of Chicago's finest small bookstore, Stuart Brent's (where I'd seen Nobel laureate Saul Bellow browsing), and loot coffee table art books.

June 16, 2010

U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach, located 117 miles south of San Francisco, is the most glamorous golf course in the rotation of the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday. The sixth hole is the uphill par five on the right side of the picture. The famous seventh is the tiny downhill par three that plays from right to left across the point of the peninsula. The spectacular eighth hole plays back toward the camera, with the second shot across a chasm (which my father almost fell into when we played it in 1973) You can click on the picture to get a bigger view. To decipher an aerial picture of a golf course, the crosshatched areas are the fairways of short grass, the light-colored ovals guarded by sand traps are the putting greens, and the light-colored rectangles are the tees.

The combination of sea cliffs and headlands level enough for a golf ball to stop rolling gives the course the combination of the sublime and the beautiful that Burke would have appreciated.

On the downside, the greens fee is supposedly $475, plus you really ought to take a caddy, who is extra. It's ridiculous to take a cart and find yourself restricted to the cart paths away from the ocean. My father and I paid $10 each to play in 1973 (walking, carrying our own bags), so demand to play famous golf courses has apparently increased somewhat over the years. After we finished #18 (below), it was low tide, so we poked around down in the tide pools to the left of the fairway and found enough golf balls in a half hour to pretty much make up for the cost of our greens fees. Evidently, the economics of the relative prices of manufactured items versus desirable real estate have changed somewhat over the years.

Also, you can't tell from the TV broadcasts, but many holes are lined, at least on the inland side, by houses (very, very nice houses, but still ...). My dad aimed so far away from the ocean on the 18th tee (the point of land at the bottom of this picture) that he bounced it off the front door of a zillionaire who lives to the right of the big fairway sand trap.

Also, on TV, as shot from the tower, the par 3 17th hole (the green is at the bottom right of this picture) looks like one of the most spectacular holes in the world, but in person it's pretty dull-looking.

June 15, 2010

Dept. of Better Late than Never

Veteran progressive John Judis experiences an epiphany in The New Republic (10/20/2009) in "End State: Is California Finished?"
But the heart of the problem lies in California's K-12 education: According to the Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, California eighth-graders came in forty-eighth in 2007 among the 50 states and District of Columbia in reading and forty-fifth in math.

At the conference at Stanford, members of Hoover's Task Force on K-12 Education tried to explain why schools in California and elsewhere were performing poorly. The experts generally blamed bad teaching and the refusal of the teachers' unions to do anything about it. They want to improve the teaching through evaluations that weed out bad teachers, through merit pay to reward good ones, and by paying extra to teachers willing to teach in problematic schools. They also want to use school choice and, in some cases, vouchers, and the establishment of charter schools to pressure poorly performing schools. (With support from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has advanced a set of proposals along these lines.) For many reformers, everything begins and ends with bad teachers and union obstinacy.

At the gathering, held in a plush conference room, one of the experts projected tables and graphs comparing various states. It was there that I had my own "AHA!" moment. The states with thriving educational systems were generally northern, predominately white, and with relatively few immigrants: the New England states, North Dakota, and Minnesota. That bore out the late Senator Patrick Moynihan's quip that the strongest factor in predicting SAT scores was proximity to the Canadian border. 

The states grouped with California on the lower end of the bar graph were Deep South states like Mississippi and Alabama with a legacy of racism and with a relative absence of new-economy jobs; states like West Virginia that have relatively few jobs for college grads; and states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Hawaii that have huge numbers of non-English-speaking, downscale immigrants whose children are entering the schools. 

Actually, New Mexico and Hawaii don't have that many immigrants. New Mexico started out Hispanic, so it doesn't have a good enough economy to attract Mexican immigrants. Hawaii just seems like Lotus Land. All the ambitious Hawaiians, like Barack Obama and Bette Midler, leave.
California clearly falls into the last group, suggesting that California's poor performance since the 1960s may not have been due to an influx of bad teachers, or the rise of teachers' unions, but to the growth of the state's immigrant population after the 1965 federal legislation on immigration opened the gates.

In California, one in four students has to learn English in school, while the average in the United States is less than one in ten. Half of California students are eligible for free or reduced meals. Together, almost 60 percent of California's school population is made up of Hispanics, many of them low-income, and African Americans--groups that generally have a much lower rate of student achievement than whites, Asians, and upper-income students. (One in three Latinos fails to graduate from high school.) And that affects how well schools do in the Department of Education's measure of "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP). As the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) reports: "Fifty percent of elementary schools with the highest share of low-income students made AYP in 2007, whereas 98 percent of elementary schools with the lowest share of low-income students made AYP. This suggests that AYP reveals more about the type of students who attend a school than it does about the effectiveness of teachers and administrators at that school.”

This is not to say that exceptional teachers can't make a difference. It is also not to say that non-English-speaking immigrant kids are unteachable. But they are more difficult to teach, especially when their parents aren't high school graduates. And, without an extraordinary infusion of resources, as well as active and knowledgeable support from parents, their achievement levels are likely to bring down a state's bar graph.

June 14, 2010

Man of The Rite: "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky"

Here's my the beginning of my review in Taki's Magazine of a new movie about old-fashioned modernism:
The astringent new romance film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky might be the arthouse equivalent of that often-proposed high concept blockbuster Superman & Batman. Instead of “Who would win in a fight: Batman or Superman?” Dutch director Jan Kounen delivers: “Who would win in an affair: Stravinsky or Chanel?”

In the 1913 prelude, the ambitious young dress shop owner attends the most celebrated classical music event of the last century, the Ballets Russes’s Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring. To her bemusement, a riot breaks out between the avant-garde claque who had received free tickets from the wily impresario Sergio Diaghilev and the paying customers, who are outraged by Vaslav Nijinsky’s angular choreography and Stravinsky’s polyrhythmically pounding score.

Ever since, “Le Massacre du Printemps” has been portrayed as inaugurating a new golden age of music. Yet, looking back from the 21st Century, The Rite seems more like the grand finale to two centuries of musical glory, the greatest run any civilization has enjoyed in any artistic field.

In 1920, the White Russian composer is back in Paris, down at the heels after the Bolsheviks stole his homeland. At a party with Diaghilev and a man named Dmitri, he meets Chanel. She offers to put him, his tubercular wife, and their four children up at her gorgeous Art Nouveau villa in the suburbs.

At first, he refuses due to the impropriety. Although The Rite’s debut was the most famous triumph of the bohemian motto “├ępater le bourgeois,” Stravinsky was himself a starchy bourgeois, a modernist man of the right like T.S. Eliot, whose 1922 poem The Waste Land was likely influenced by The Rite.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

"English Learner Lifers"

From my new VDARE.com column on the newly noticed problem of "English Learner Lifers:"
Over the last decade, a bipartisan consensus has been emerging among politicians, the prestige press, and leading philanthropists: the racial gap in achievement is the fault of ... schoolteachers.

If only schoolteachers were more multiculturally sensitive, or if only they held students to more rigorous standards, or if only they could be fired in large numbers and replaced by young investment banker-types who work 19 hours per day and live on Red Bull and idealism, or if only … well, the cure-all proposals go on and on.

As a certain anonymous teacher wrote in an important essay on Achievement Gap Politics on the National Association of Scholars blog on May 9th:

“Educational policy is consumed by the achievement gap … It's race that generates the most intensity. I don't just mean that this is the number one priority. It's the only priority. The achievement gap pervades every corner of American educational policy discussion. Nothing else matters. No Child Left Behind was entirely about the achievement gap and measuring schools to see if they'd closed it. Obama's Race to the Top is just another take on the achievement gap—again, focusing on testing and this time holding teachers responsible if they can't get low-performing students to improve.”

Unfortunately, nobody has ever been able to point to a single one of the 16,025 school districts in the country where reformers have been able to make the Gap go away.

My question: How much of the current elite frenzy over the supposed failures of teachers stems from unspoken guilt over the educational results of 40 years of open door immigration policy?

Maybe our ruling class is saying to itself something like this:
“OK—we’ve now got 48 million Hispanics. And, on average, they aren’t climbing the ladder like the Ellis Island immigrants did. We said they would, but they’re mostly just kind of sitting there, generation after generation, at the prole level. They aren’t earning enough money to pay enough taxes.

“And look what we’ve done to California. That used to be America’s shining future. Back in 1970, California ranked 7th out of all the states in highest percentage of high school graduates in the workforce. Now, California ranks 50th.

“And Texas is 49th, so it’s not as if it matters whether it’s a Blue State like California or a Red State like Texas. From 2000 to 2010 in Texas, the number of Anglo public school students fell from 1.7 million to 1.6 million, while the number of Hispanic students rose from 1.6 million to 2.4 million.

“Together, the two biggest states account for 62 million people.

“Last year, only 51% of the babies born in the country were white, and that percentage is falling about one point per year.

 “Uh oh! We’ve really fouled up the whole country.

“Quick—find somebody else to blame! Like … uh … TEACHERS! Yeah, Latino lack of achievement is the fault of the TEACHERS! That will distract the voters for a while!”

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it here.

June 13, 2010

Soccer's advantage

The U.S. tied England 1-1 in the World Cup despite England by all accounts being obviously better. (The English goalie muffed an easy save.) 

Why?

The low-scoring in soccer means the outcomes of individual games have a high degree of randomness, which makes soccer great for betting on.

I've always wanted soccer to have more 3-2 games, like England over Cameroon in the 1990 Word Cup quarterfinals. Everybody always talks about how fun that game was, so why not reform soccer so there are more 3-2 games?

I think part of the answer to my question is that if scoring were made easier (e.g., by enlarging the goal), while there would be more 3-2 games, there would also be more 4-1 and 5-0 games, and those would get boring about halfway through.

Worse, the better team would win more of the time than now, so betting would become more of a science and less of a crap shoot. And what's the fun in that?

Moreover, while the World Cup always starts out seemingly random, it always ends up with one of soccer's Great Powers winning the whole thing. New Zealand or Slovenia or America or North Korea isn't going to win the World Cup and embarrass the whole sport. The most obscure country to win the World Cup since Uruguay in 1950 is Argentina, which is pretty famous. The other winners over that time have been Brazil, Germany, Italy, England, and France.

So, you've got to give the FIFA boys some credit for balancing randomness and respectability nicely.