Third Culture Kids

On the plane between “home base” and “forward base”, I spent some time reading the book “Third culture kids” (TCK), which was recommended to us by a friend.

This being a revised edition of the book, there are a fair number of references to 0bama as the first “third culture president” that grow tiresome after a while. The writing is also not as penetrating or engaging (two different things) as I would have liked, but still the concept helped me make sense of some things in my own family (and others like us).

Even today, in the Internet and Web 2.0 age, most children spend their formative years in one culture and one culture only: their “home culture” or “passport culture” as the authors alternatingly refer to it. They may be more exposed to superficial elements of other cultures than ever (thanks to modern means of communication), but their “deep culture” is firmly rooted in one place.

Some children grow up “cross-culturally”. For example, they may be born and partly raised in one country, and then their parents may immigrate to another for economic reasons or as refugees from war or persecution. Or their parents may be from different backgrounds and they end up living in the culture of one parent. Such children deal with both a “passport culture” and a “host culture”, and different ways of (not) coping with the duality may ensue: some children may fully identify with the host culture, others fully and ostentatiously with the passport culture, yet others may try to harmoniously blend aspects of both.

(A more complex variation on this theme occurs when both parents hail from different “passport cultures” while the family lives in a third “host culture”: say, a Chinese/African mixed couple living as immigrants in the USA.)

The term “third culture kids” was originally coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem to refer to a different phenomenon, that unifies children of career military (“army brats”/”navy brats”/”air force brats”), diplomatic personnel, executives in international corporations, international aid workers, transnational NGO personnel, and religious missionaries. Adults in these groups may be, at first sight, radically different from each other in their outlooks on life — for instance, UN types and career military are typically on opposite poles of the liberal-conservative axis — yet they share commonalities in their circumstances that put a shared imprint on their children for life.

The TCK is typically born in one “home culture” but spends much or all of their formative years in one or more “host cultures” where their parents are on assignment. The “third culture” they deal with is the interstitial one created by their parents and others in the same situation, be it military base life, expat enclaves, or the corporate/bureaucratic/diplomatic “expat ghetto”.

What makes TCKs unique? As summarized here on the State Department website:

Because TCKs have developed a unique culture of their own that incorporates elements of varied cultures, they often feel more at home with other TCKs, with no regard for nationality, rather than those of the passport culture (Storti, 1997). Roa (1995) explains that many TCKs experience cultural marginality in which they do not fit perfectly into any specific culture where they have lived, but on the other hand, fit comfortably on the edge or margin of any one of them. In essence, they feel at home anywhere and nowhere at the same time. TCKs who feel at home anywhere may exhibit constructive marginality in which they feel different from others, but are able to use their differences constructively (Schaetti, 1996). Those who experience encapsulated marginality have a feeling of being trapped or encapsulated by their sense of being different. Therefore, they may feel at home nowhere and might have a sense of falling off the edge of the cultural mainstream (Schaetti, 1996).


TCKs who have experienced re-entry [to the USA] state that entering another international posting is easier that re-entering one’s passport country (Schaetti, 1998). They may feel out of place and alienated […]  they tend to cope rather than adjust, becoming “a part of” and “apart from” any situation (Smith, 1991). The TCKs who exhibit encapsulated marginality and fel[t] isolated may have difficulty in maintaining commitments and may avoid solving problems up-front (as they have learned that problems tend to move away).

I have seen this in my own household. One of us (while polyglot) was substantially raised in a single country and “passport culture”, while the other (a military brat) was raised all over the USA (and the rest of the planet) and became a classic TCK in that sense. We lived together for a long time in a country we both have religious ties to (Israel), but while the non-TCK quickly grew roots in the country, the TCK never truly did.

What about people who never left the USA but moved all over it? Sure, they do not (typically) deal with more than one language (except perhaps Spanish, or sometimes French in Louisiana), and large retail and restaurant chains create an “Anytown, USA” experience, but still, once one peers beyond these things, the major geographic regions in the USA (the Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, West Coast, Deep South, Southwest,…., and the Republic of Texas) offer a variety in local attitudes to life not unlike, say, that between different countries in Europe. One gets a “TCK experience writ small”.

(to be continued, hopefully)

Jonathan Last: 0bama, American Narcissus

Jonathan Last’s cover story for the Weekly Standard lays out Barack Hussein 0bama’s obsession with his favorite subject: himself.

See also this postscript. (And Bill Kristol: “What about compliments?”) The Naked Emperor doesn’t just have the huge ego that seems to be an occupational disease of politicians (regardless of party): there is something pathological going on. Pity the nation ruled by narcissists.

UPDATE: via Correspondence Committee, the following gag-inducing comment from one of the narcissist’s chief enablers:

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, quotes White House senior adviser and longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett: “I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. … He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. … So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

Yeah, and I am the Queen of England.

A ghostwriter of academic papers speaks out

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a confession by a pseudonymous ghostwriter of academic papers that has to be read to be believed.

In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper.

I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else. […]

I work at an online company that generates tens of thousands of dollars a month by creating original essays based on specific instructions provided by cheating students. I’ve worked there full time since 2004. On any day of the academic year, I am working on upward of 20 assignments.

In the midst of this great recession, business is booming. At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company’s staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.

You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students’ writing. I have seen the word “desperate” misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn’t write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren’t getting it.

For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?

I live well on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has created. […] Of course, I know you are aware that cheating occurs. But you have no idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system, much less how to stop it. Last summer The New York Times reported that 61 percent of undergraduates have admitted to some form of cheating on assignments and exams. Yet there is little discussion about custom papers and how they differ from more-detectable forms of plagiarism, or about why students cheat in the first place.

It is my hope that this essay will initiate such a conversation. As for me, I’m planning to retire. I’m tired of helping you make your students look competent.

He adds:

From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let’s be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he wants until he doesn’t get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top.

As for the first two types of students—the ESL and the hopelessly deficient—colleges are utterly failing them. Students who come to American universities from other countries find that their efforts to learn a new language are confounded not only by cultural difficulties but also by the pressures of grading. The focus on evaluation rather than education means that those who haven’t mastered English must do so quickly or suffer the consequences. My service provides a particularly quick way to “master” English. And those who are hopelessly deficient—a euphemism, I admit—struggle with communication in general.

Speaking of which:

It is late in the semester when the business student contacts me, a time when I typically juggle deadlines and push out 20 to 40 pages a day. I had written a short research proposal for her a few weeks before, suggesting a project that connected a surge of unethical business practices to the patterns of trade liberalization. The proposal was approved, and now I had six days to complete the assignment. This was not quite a rush order, which we get top dollar to write. This assignment would be priced at a standard $2,000, half of which goes in my pocket.

A few hours after I had agreed to write the paper, I received the following e-mail: “sending sorces for ur to use thanx.”

I did not reply immediately. One hour later, I received another message:

“did u get the sorce I send

please where you are now?

Desprit to pass spring projict”

Not only was this student going to be a constant thorn in my side, but she also communicated in haiku, each less decipherable than the one before it. I let her know that I was giving her work the utmost attention, that I had received her sources, and that I would be in touch if I had any questions. Then I put it aside.

Two days had passed since I last heard from the business student. Overnight I had received 14 e-mails from her. She had additional instructions for the assignment, such as “but more again please make sure they are a good link betwee the leticture review and all the chapter and the benfet of my paper. finally do you think the level of this work? how match i can get it?”

I’ll admit, I didn’t fully understand that one.

It was followed by some clarification: “where u are can you get my messages? Please I pay a lot and dont have ao to faile I strated to get very worry.”

Her messages had arrived between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

[…] It’s not implausible to write a 75-page paper in two days. It’s just miserable. I don’t need much sleep, and when I get cranking, I can churn out four or five pages an hour. First I lay out the sections of an assignment—introduction, problem statement, methodology, literature review, findings, conclusion—whatever the instructions call for. Then I start Googling.

I haven’t been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don’t know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there’s Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I’ve taken hundreds of crash courses this way.

After I’ve gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I’ve refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I’ll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph.

[…] My client was thrilled with my work. She told me that she would present the chapter to her mentor and get back to me with our next steps. Two weeks passed, by which time the assignment was but a distant memory, obscured by the several hundred pages I had written since. On a Wednesday evening, I received the following e-mail:”Thanx u so much for the chapter is going very good the porfesser likes it but wants the folloing suggestions please what do you thing?:

“‘The hypothesis is interesting but I’d like to see it a bit more focused. Choose a specific connection and try to prove it.’

“What shoudwe say?”

This happens a lot. I get paid per assignment. But with longer papers, the student starts to think of me as a personal educational counselor. She paid me to write a one-page response to her professor, and then she paid me to revise her paper. I completed each of these assignments, sustaining the voice that the student had established and maintaining the front of competence from some invisible location far beneath the ivory tower.

The 75-page paper on business ethics ultimately expanded into a 160-page graduate thesis, every word of which was written by me. I can’t remember the name of my client, but it’s her name on my work. We collaborated for months. As with so many other topics I tackle, the connection between unethical business practices and trade liberalization became a subtext to my everyday life.

So, of course, you can imagine my excitement when I received the good news:

“thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now”.

Read the whole thing. And weep.


Market for gov’t health insurance for the uninsured much smaller than thought

Classical Values has one post up I cannot resist quoting:

We Told You So

In today’s fierce moral urgency of change news, it turns out the market for government health insurance for the uninsured is about 50 times smaller than Obamacare proponents told us it would be. Of course, we opponents of Obamacare were arguing last year this problem was overblown, and it appears in retrospect even our most parsimonious estimates were vastly too generous:

Mr. Obama declared at the time that “uninsured Americans who’ve been locked out of the insurance market because of a pre-existing condition will now be able to enroll in a new national insurance pool where they’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable health care–some for the very first time in their lives.”So far that statement accurately describes a single person in North Dakota. Literally, one person has signed up out of 647,000 state residents. Four people have enrolled in West Virginia. Things are better in Minnesota, where Mr. Obama has rescued 15 out of 5.2 million, and also in Indiana–63 people there.

Combined federal-state enrollment is merely 8,011 nationwide as of November 1, according to HHS.

This isn’t what HHS promised in July, when it estimated it would be insuring 375,000 people by now, and as many as 400,000 more every year.

Megan McArdle notably aroused considerable fear and loathing when, immediately post-passage, she called, in her usual admirably empirical way, for Obamacare proponents to attempt to measure their claims for the program against the actual outcomes over the coming years, and made her own predictions. That sound of pounding feet you hear in the background is those people running as far as they can as fast they can from those arguments today.

UPDATE: To put this failure in perspective, consider the resources necessary for the federal government and the 27 states who offered their own policies to implement this measure. It’s very likely taxpayers have actually paid more for administration than enrollees have received in benefits.

Which is, of course, precisely the point: “they’re building empire”. And the only “fierce moral urgency of change” here was putting the Deemocrats [sic] back in power, and creating conditions under which so many people would be beholden to the state that a Deemocrat majority would be guaranteed for generations. “Some things, the more you understand them, the more you loathe them.” (Robert A. Heinlein)

Gerrymandering 101

Zombie has the first post up on a new series on “gerrymandering”, the drawing of artificial electoral district borders to maximize advantage for one political party.

The word gerrymander (originally written Gerry-mander) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette newspaper on March 26, 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then governor Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander. … The term was a portmanteau of the governor’s last name and the word salamander.


The two aims of gerrymandering are to maximize the effect of supporters’ votes and to minimize the effect of opponents’ votes. One strategy, packing, is to concentrate as many voters of one type into a single electoral district to reduce their influence in other districts. … A second strategy, cracking, involves spreading out voters of a particular type among many districts in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting block in any particular district. The strategies are typically combined, creating a few “forfeit” seats for packed voters of one type in order to secure even greater representation for voters of another type.

Of course, there’s been a lot of talk lately about the GOP engaging in gerrymandering because of the way they swept state houses in the recent election.

When commentators blithely note that Republicans will have a “redistricting advantage” next year because of their dominance in state houses, they gloss over the ugly details of what that means. Few are willing to speak The G-Word, but Jonathan Chait at The New Republic takes the plunge:

2. Redistricting. If that’s not a problem enough for Democrats, it’s about to get a lot worse. Republicans had their wave election at a very convenient time, putting themselves in position to control numerous state legislatures and thus control the next round of redistricting, which will last a decade. Partisan gerrymandering can be an extremely powerful tool, and combined with the natural geographic gerrymander, can give Republicans an overwhelming advantage, if not quite an absolute lock.

The reason even most liberals are keeping mute about the horrors of the upcoming Republican gerrymandering is that Democrats have been the most ardent practitioners of it whenever they’ve had the slightest chance. You may have wondered how America overall tends to prefer conservative policies (pollsters like to say “We’re a center/right country”) yet we often have a liberal or at least Democratic majority in the Congress. How can this be? Gerrymandering. It’s so powerful that it has at times fundamentally altered the political slant of our government. Many of the worst gerrymandered districts illustrated in tomorrow’s Part II of this essay (“The Top Ten Most Gerrymandered Congressional Districts in the United States” — don’t miss it!) are the handiwork of Democratic politicians, so the Democrats would have no leg to stand on if they were to now turn around and criticize the Republicans for doing what they’ve been doing for decades — centuries, even. The Republicans have done it too, of course, but in the majority of states in recent cycles, the Democrats have had the advantage, and they’ve not been ashamed to use it.

But that brings up a question of morality: Should the Republican class of 2010 continue the partisan cheating? Is turnabout fair play? Just because the Democrats have attempted to skew the national dialogue for decades, does that give the Republicans the right to do so now? And if your answer is “No,” then how can we possibly stop the practice? Because if the Republicans refrain from gerrymandering the 2010 census, then the Democrats’ pre-existing gerrymandering will remain in place, allowing them to remain over-represented in future elections, and when they regain power they’ll continue redistricting the country to their advantage, laughing at the Republicans for not having done the same when they had the chance.

Now how does gerrymandering work in practice? Zombie has some really nice illustrative graphics:

Sample population distribution: each symbol represents a voter in a generic state.
Option 1: A fair and evenhanded redistricting.

“In the illustration to the left you see a schematized state. The new census shows that it has 15 inhabitants, scattered equally throughout the territory; 9 of them are consistent voters for the “redstar” party, represented by red stars; 6 of them are “greendot” party voters, represented by green dots. The time has come for redistricting, and your job is to carve up the state into three congressional districts each containing exactly five voters. What do you do?

“Option 1: Well, a 9-to-6 split in the electorate means that the state is 60% redstar and 40% greendot. So if your goal was to be as fair and evenhanded as possible, you’d draw the district lines as shown in the illustration at the upper right: you’d end up with two districts which were majority redstar, and one district that was majority greendot, and thus the voters of the state overall would get fairly true representation of their political views in congress. (In this example, District 1 would have a 3-to-2 redstar majority, District 2 would have a 3-to-2 greendot majority, and District 3 would have a 4-to-1 redstar majority.)

But what if you were a partisan redstar politician? Your goal would not be to have fair redistricting; your goal would be to shut out your opponents as ruthlessly as possible. And thus we turn to the next possibility: Majority gerrymandering.

Option 2: Majority gerrymandering to ensure complete electoral dominance.



Option 3: Gerrymandering designed to ensure over-representation for the smaller party.



“Option 2: If your goal was to ensure that your redstar party won as many seats as possible in upcoming elections, you’d strive to create districts in which redstar voters had a slim majority in every single district. So you could gerrymander the boundaries to look like they do in the illustration at the lower left. In this example, each and every district has been purposely designed to have a 3-to-2 redstar majority, and the end result would be that all three districts would elect redstar representatives, and the 40% of the population who are greendot voters would be disenfranchised — no elected official would represent their views.

And lastly: What if you were an incumbent greendot politician looking at the new census map aghast, noting that demographic shifts had now given the opposition redstar party a 60/40 advantage among voters. What would you do? More precisely, what would you do if you were really really evil, like the typical politician? Why, you’d resort to the most diabolical form of redistricting, Minority Gerrymandering:

“Option 3: Behold the horrors of what gerrymandering can do. In this final option, shown in the lower right illustration, the greendot party, despite having only 40% of the vote, has managed to draw the districting lines in such a way that they end up with a two-to-one advantage in congress! The greendot redistricters achieved this feat by shunting as many redstar voters as possible into a lopsided “electoral ghetto,” in which District 3 has a solid 5-0 redstar majority; this soaks up and wastes most of the redstar voting power, leaving the greendot party with a 3-to-2 advantage in Districts 1 and 2.

“Clear? This is gerrymandering in a nutshell. And once you’ve mastered it, you’re ready to become a politician and thwart the will of the voters”.

(S)he continues:

And don’t assume that if you discovered a district that is, say, 85% Republican, then you have strong evidence of Republican gerrymandering. Quite the opposite. Such districts are almost always the handiwork of Democratic redistricters trying to cram as many opposition voters together as possible, an example of the practice known as “packing”:

The two aims of gerrymandering are to maximize the effect of supporters’ votes and to minimize the effect of opponents’ votes. One strategy, packing, is to concentrate as many voters of one type into a single electoral district to reduce their influence in other districts. … A second strategy, cracking, involves spreading out voters of a particular type among many districts in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting block in any particular district. The strategies are typically combined, creating a few “forfeit” seats for packed voters of one type in order to secure even greater representation for voters of another type.

But these gerrymandering strategies can backfire — as they did in 2010, spectacularly. Which explains how the Republicans managed to win so many seats in a nation significantly gerrymandered by Democrats. What happened is this: Over the years, Democrats in many states created many congressional districts in which they diluted Republican voters to approximately 45% of the electorate, thinking this a safe margin for Democratic politicians to win every future election. But in a “wave year,” enough disgusted swing voters abandon the party in power and (at least temporarily) switch allegiances, and suddenly the 45%-and-no-more squandered Republican vote climbs over the 50% mark. Boom. Gerrymandering has blown up in the politicians’ faces.

0bama’s marketing problem: The dogs don’t like the food

Tweeted from the desk of Mitch McConnell:
Senate_GOPs Senate Republicans
McConnell on President Obama’s policies: “I think his problem was not his sales job, it was his product.”
Indeed. There is the famous story of a pet foods brand that spent millions on a slick marketing campaign for a new kind of dog food. Focus groups were formed, marketing concepts were presented, rejected, and modified, and eventually all agreed this was one good-looking marketing campaign.
Yet when sales figures came in, they were disappointing, and nothing the marketing folks did helped.
“So what’s wrong?” asked the CEO.
The reports came back from the ground: “the dogs don’t like the food”.
UPDATE (h/t: realwest): Rasmussen poll: voters regard election as a punishment for Democrats first and a victory for the GOP second.