Saturday, March 31, 2007

Warmer weather, turkey vultures returning

Summer's coming, I can feel it coming, like a flock of turkey vultures clumsily drifting in the warm updrafts, I go running...

Eastern Kansas loses these scavengers around the end of September each year, as the temperatures begin falling below freezing on a regular basis. The darker months do see a modest increase in the bald eagle population along the Kaw River, but prairie falcon sightings become less frequent (I dread this downturn the most, as there's scarcely anything more exhilirating than catching a glimpse of the world's most dextertous bird as it bobs and weaves between houses and trees and then opens up like lightning over a field before crashes into an unsuspecting songbird just mere feet above the ground).

The buzzards showed up a bit earlier than usual this year. It must have something to do with climate change. Like many other creatures in the ornithological world that aren't particularly specialized, a milder climate bodes well for the turkey vulture. Although they provide humans with a service of greater value than anything those cute and cuddly polar bears do, the fact that they shower by defecating on themselves doesn't help endear them to the general public. Well, here's one bird lover who's not so shallow that he's unable to be happy for their good fortune!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Contemporary lessons drawn from SE Asia two centuries ago?

As an intellectual toddler who only realized that a world beyond the front door existed a few years back, I'm relentless in trying to draw analogies between the present and the historical accounts I read. When your body of knowledge is so limited, you don't have many other options. Still, sometimes things are so blatant that even I can come up with something 'profound' in them.

I'm reading The Colonial Impact on Southeast Asia by former UMKC academic Donald Carlson. It's an obscure scholarly tract with a liberal inserting of other academic essays throughout. That it was written more than three decades ago with a geographically-specific focus, in a manner that is impressively non-political (as a student of the early 21st Century university system, I'm jaded--just about everything from the past seems free of tendentiousness by comparison!), makes the contemporary 'lessons' I draw from it all the more powerful.

On page 38, Carlson writes:
In the mid-1880's, Britain occupied Upper Burma and abolished the royal government, resulting in overwhelming hostility toward the British. Though the monarchy had failed to respond to the needs of the Burmans, it had represented a long tradition in Burman life and had served as a symbol of Burmese culture. This rapid break with tradition resulted in an armed insurrection against British authority under the leadership of the monastic orders, the defenders of tradition and Burman culture.
The British weren't welcomed as liberators. For overthrowing native miscreants, they were rewarded with ire. Religious leaders headed the insurrection against the Brits. Sound familiar?

Compared to Malaysia and especially Singapore, where the British were involved in at the same time, Burma was a major headache. The more Burkeian administrative bent in Malaysia was also more lucrative, less costly, and ultimately turned out a lot better than Burma by just about any measure.

As corrupt and unfriendly to private enterprise as Communist China was from the late forties on, Zedong knew how to utilize his industrious expatriates making money outside of the Middle Kingdom. In his treatment of the circumstances faced by the ethnic Chinese living in Southeast Asia, Carlson writes on page 170:
Within limits Peking was willing to help, since it wanted the Overseas Chinese to contribute liberally to the party funds and repatriate their money for investment in China. In addition they could be a very useful fifth column. A special government department, the Commission of Overseas Chinese Affairs, was set up in 1949 to protect the interests of Chinese abroad, foster close ties between them and China, and persuade them to send money home on a generous scale.
Chinese consulates lobbying for special privileges in Jakarta, the ethnics they're lobbying on behalf of sending money to sustain an ugly government at home. And in preparation for future hostilities, it's good to have a substantial population situated in the bowels of the enemy. No word on whether Peking had the audacity to berate Jakarta or Manilla for allowing opium to make its way onto the Chinese mainland.

The similarities with today need to be tempered with a few considerations, though. It wasn't all bad for the Southeast Asian countries. The ethnic Chinese were more intelligent and industrious than their native populations at large, and helped sustain competitive manufacturing and export economies on a viable scale. Instead of being subsidized by Indonesians and Malaysians, the Chinese migrants subsidized them. They virtually abstained from violent criminal activity. And they only ended up with the small city-state of Singapore--it's not like they gobbled up the entire southwestern island of Sumatra!

Those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Contemplating empathy's value

Human morality is likely a maturation of emotional empathy. The latter is also found in various primates. Chimpanzees, our closest living ancestors, also display an empathy that is more encompassing than other species save for us:
Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.
Chimp communities have methods for deflating internecine conflict. An instinct toward diffusing tensions within social groups has obvious social advantages:
If two males fail to make up, female chimpanzees will often bring the rivals together, as if sensing that discord makes their community worse off and more vulnerable to attack by neighbors. Or they will head off a fight by taking stones out of the males’ hands.

Dr. de Waal believes that these actions are undertaken for the greater good of the community, as distinct from person-to-person relationships, and are a significant precursor of morality in human societies.
This behavior can also be thought of as a precursor to social compromise and reciprocity, which in turn allows for groups to grow much larger than what is feasible in communities of one or a few dominant males and those subservient to them.

It is not without costs, however. Fit males are unable to capitalize on their full procreative potential. Scarce resources must be shared, and big finds are more quickly consumed. Warfare likely forced humans, out of necessity, to 'transcend' these restraints:
As Dr. de Waal sees it, human morality may be severely limited by having evolved as a way of banding together against adversaries, with moral restraints being observed only toward the in group, not toward outsiders. “The profound irony is that our noblest achievement — morality — has evolutionary ties to our basest behavior — warfare,” he writes. “The sense of community required by the former was provided by the latter.”
From these localized beginnings, human morality has become increasingly ecumenical. Religion is a tangible representation of this phenomenon, and has helped facilitate it. It generally followed a similar path, from localized animism and shamanism, to regional supernatural narratives in Nordic and Greek mythology, to the universal accessibility of Christianity, and (arguably) to pluralistic humanism that is unconditionally all-inclusive.

The degree of moral sophistication likely differs between contemporary populations as well. Anglo populations descended from northwestern Europe seem to have gone the farthest, as evidenced by their propensity to engage in costly undertakings with a determination to make the world a better place for all its denizens. The leadership in business, media, and politics, all largely see the world from some variation of this universalist/propositionalist perspective. The 'ancient', pugnacious Bushmen are at the other end of the spectrum as the least morally 'evolved'.

In my favorite war strategy game, I find myself forming emotional bonds with the fictional troops I lead. Compromising the strength of an expeditionary force, I keep some warriors who've previously kept me alive garrisoned up uselessly in the center of my encampment just so they won't be at risk. This is absurd and self-destructive. But it is genuine. As a vegetarian and 'practitioner' of ahimsa, I'm a pretty extreme example, though my ancestry is Scottish and English.

I throw out the 's and the bit of self-indulgence as a segue into the question of how evolutionarily beneficial such moral ecumenicism is to human fitness going foward. Will it lead to self-immolation for those societies that extend it to other societies that do not have a universalist conception of morality? Will the latter societies on the receiving end use this moral generosity to overcome those giving it to them?

Randall Parker reports on emotional "brain damage" that inhibits emotive responses in those who've suffered from it:
Consider the following scenario: someone you know has AIDS and plans to infect others, some of whom will die. Your only options are to let it happen or to kill the person.

Do you pull the trigger?

Most people waver or say they could not, even if they agree that in theory they should. But according to a new study in the journal Nature, subjects with damage to a part of the frontal lobe make a less personal calculation.

The logical choice, they say, is to sacrifice one life to save many.
A morality that is extended wide enough to include all levels of an entire society facilitates technological and economic growth by allowing the most industrious in that society to rise to the top.

Despite East Asia's IQ advantage over Europe, the latter has been the world's advancing force for the last five centuries. The social immobility in the lands of Confucianism (although Confucianism is often thought of as being distinctly Chinese, it's influence in Korea and Japan has been monumental) retarded the East for hundreds of years, and communism has done so more recently. While China may have more raw human capital, it seems to have been inefficient in its use of that capital. With anxiety and curiousity, we wait to see whether or not China will finally be able to maximize that human potential and become the world's human epicenter.

Yet those with a damaged frontal lobe may have more of an edge than we realize.

As Asia continues to propel itself foward at a staggering rate, the struggle for natural resouces is going to be propelled to unprecedented levels. China alone has 1.3 billion people. At less than 5% of the world's total population, Americans consume about a quarter of the world's energy. China has more than four times as many people as the US. India will become even more populous than China in the coming decades. That's an enormous increase in demand. Will a dumbed down world be able to keep up on the supply side?

A cold logic devoid of emotive moralism may have a real premium in the future. Genetic engineering, a growing share of elder dependents, and claims to scarce resources are all areas in which utilitarian logic may become an absolute necessity.

It's plausible that genetic manipulation will eventually make for customized levels of emotional empathy. Those who are going to be combat soldiers, bounty hunters, and judges are not well served by being sappy. Occupational therapists and caretakers of the senile or handicapped, on the other hand, need to be especially empathetic.

French rioters march on

Terrorism is said to be an unavoidable consequence of unstoppable globalization. Is destructive rioting also an inevitable consequence of an unstoppable multicultualism? It does seem to be an inevitable consequence, at least when Africans and Middle Eastern Muslims are involved:
Riot police firing tear gas and brandishing batons clashed Tuesday with bands of youths who shattered windows and looted shops at a major Paris train station, officials said. Nine people were arrested.
A generic term like "youth" is Orwellian speak for some group deemed unassailable by Western media elites. If they were members of Le Pen's National Front doing the rioting, rest assured we'd get a descriptor more precise than that. Digging a little further, the obvious is insinuated:
The train lines from Gare du Nord radiate out to the same suburbs north of Paris where three weeks of rioting erupted in 2005. That violence was born of pent-up anger - especially among youths of Arab and African origin - over years of high unemployment and racial inequalities.

Youths at the station said Tuesday's clashes started when police manhandled a young person of North African origin. Some claimed that the youth's arm was broken in the confrontation.
The first step in ameliorating this problem is to cut off immigration from North Africa and the Middle East into Europe, especially France which, with somewhere in the area of 4 million Muslims originating from these places, is saddled with parallel societies hostile and parasitic to the host country.

The AP story conveys the words of a witness who fallaciously believes that the perpetual rioting has become more tame since 2005, yet 2006 was even more destructive than the previous year when the phenomenon received international attention. But the sensational becomes the norm over time, whether the topic be Hispanic gang activity in the US, Palestinian terrorist activity in Israel, rapacious land redistributions in southern Africa, the destruction of private property rights in Latin America, the deaths of US soldiers to IEDs in Iraq, or the swarthy underclass destruction in France. All of these things were initially shocking, but have now more or less come to be considered the usual.

None of the above need continue, however. Like frogs in a boiler, we resign to accept them as inevitable at our own peril.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Black's just dandy, but a Mormon?

The WSJ/NBC poll referenced in the previous post contains another bit of interesting information. The pollsters probed for potential novel attributes of Bush's successor that gave the survey participants concern.

Despite all the hoopla that's being made over a prospective black President, the American public is quite comfortable with the idea. It's the well-behaved, innocuous followers of Joseph Smith that get people twisting in their seats. The percentage of people who said that the corresponding attribute for which they either "have some reservations about" or are "very uncomfortable with":

Mormon -- 38%
Oldest ever elected -- 30%
Married to Bill (!) -- 28%
Female -- 23%
Twice divorced -- 21%
Hispanic -- 20%
Black -- 13%

The vast majority of Americans are not irrationally racist. Most are worried about an increase in the number of blacks and Hispanics, but for reasons that are very much factually grounded--higher crime rates, lower earning power and levels of educational attainment, lower literacy and English fluency rates, their roles as vectors of disease, and so on (all on average compared to the current population). Filter the results restrictively enough, and we'll probably even welcome a smurf. This is something that open borders supporters often cannot grasp.

We still judge individuals as individuals. As a nation of European descent, we put a great deal of emphasis on that.

WSJ favors attacking Iran; public increasingly says 'not unless we're hit'

The WSJ op/ed board wants to blow up a few Iranian toys:
As with the 1979 hostage crisis, how Britain and the rest of the civilized world respond in the early days of the crisis will determine how long it lasts. Britain has already demanded the safe and immediate return of its personnel; they will have to make clear that its foreign policy will not be held hostage to the mullahs. ...

It is worth recalling, however, that Iran was at its most diplomatically pliant after the United States sank much of Tehran's navy after Iran tried to disrupt oil traffic in the Persian Gulf in the late 1980s. Regimes that resort to force the way Iran does tend to be respecters of it.

The Iranian public's opinion of the US has actually improved since 9/11. It is considerably more favorable than that of our Saudi Arabians or Jordanians, residents of supposed allies. This isn't surprising, given that the US has removed Iran's primary antagonist in the region, spread Shia influence westward (and erstwhile helped it expand eastward in the late nineties through support for Massoud and by knocking out the Sunni Taliban), eliminating the buffer zone that rendered any tactical moves on control of the Persian Gulf imprudent, and, in its stumbling in Iraq, the US has revealed itself to be less capable than the mullahs believed it to be after Desert Storm.

Like most popular prognosticators, the op/ed board makes no mention of the obvious fact that the war in Iraq setup this capture of British sailors. Bogged down in Iraq and on tenuous terms with most of the other countries trying to dissuade Iran's nuclear ambitions, the US looks relatively feeble to an Iranian president who's reportedly not winning many popularity contests at home. Nabbing a few British seaman may even lead to pressure on the US to release the Iranians captured by the US in Iraq.

Nor does it make note (though the evidence comes from a poll the paper just released) of how military action against Iran might have been an easy sell a few years back, but that the Iraq War the WSJ op/ed so fanatically supported has seen the preemptive imperative politically untenable.

A new WSJ/NBC poll shows that only 40% of Americans say the US should strike at "groups or countries that are preparing to commit terrorist acts on the United States" if we have evidence of an impending attack. Thirty-nine percent say we shouldn't respond until they've actually carried out the attack. In September '02, the shares were 67% and 22%, respectively.

The ideological board is reckless. The positions they supported cost the GOP in the November midterms. They advocate open borders and all the negative externalities it entails. Now they want us to pick an unnecessary fight with a country four times the size of Iraq and home to more than twice as many people as the next-door neighbor we're so unsuccessfully occupying. Gigot and company are dangerous. Don't believe me? Try this:
It is also far from certain that Western military strikes against Revolutionary Guards would move the Iranian people to rally to their side: Iranians know only too well what their self-anointed leaders are capable of.
No doubt they'd welcome us as liberators.

Iraq outsourcing security in Green Zone

The rhetoric about our boys standing down when the Iraqis stand up has been tossed into the dustbin of history. With a majority of the House okaying legistation to have US troops home by the end of next year, Bush will have to wield the veto pin with enough dexterity to frustrate the 63% of the American public that favors the creation of a timetable. His focus now is making sure he can stave off a veto override and parry forced withdrawal long enough to kick the issue onto the lap of his successor.

If Bush had the bumptiousness to say it again, he'd have to explain why the Iraqi Prime Minister doesn't even have enough faith in Iraq's security forces to have the ISF secure the Green Zone:
The suicide assassination attempt on Iraq's deputy prime minister was carried out or set up by a security guard who was a distant relative the official hired as a bodyguard despite a previous arrest as a suspected Sunni insurgent, a senior Iraqi security official and an aide to the victim told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The major security breach, at least the third involving a top politician in four months, prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to order a government-wide security shake up, including plans to hire a foreign company to guard the Green Zone building where parliament meets, the security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with reporters.
If there's a single place in all of Iraq that the ISF should be able to protect, it's this area just a few miles east of Baghdad's international airport. It's the point from which most of the globe sees Iraq, and there is hardly another location that takes precedence over it. So, effectively the best of 325,000 or so ISF members cannot be cobbled together into a force trustworthy or effective enough to secure a single building inside the four most technologically and culturally advanced square miles in all of Iraq. This after four years of magnanimous reconstruction and intensive coalition training.

It is accurate to place executional blame on the Iraqis. But this alarming report illustrates just how blameworthy the Administration and Pentagon war planners are for not realizing how unlikely it was that the Iraqis would do anything other than fail. The deputy Prime Minister targeted in the attack that led to al-Maliki's mercenary decision is a Sunni. Most of the ISF rank-and-file are Shia. Assigning the fox to guard the chicken coop is rarely a sound decision.

But the illustration extends beyond this single incident. Notice that there've been at least three assassination attempts made on top Iraqi politicians in the last four months. The tribalistic nature of the Middle East almost guarantees that there is always a vengeful member of a rival faction no more than a couple of degrees away. With vigorous, intricate kin networks weaved all over the social landscape, how to you come up with a government operating on a national level and with a federal perspective? Throw in widespread poverty, the inherit intolerance of Islam, and an average estimated IQ of 87, and the situation seems utterly hopeless.

I'm currently reading Gibbon's history of the Roman Empire. Contemporary Iraq brings to mind the bloody internal strife of the Third Century. But I've no idea how Diocletian would be able to pull this one off.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Map of estimated average IQ by state in US

Above is a mapped visualization of estimated average IQ by state, created by taking the regression equations produced by running the numbers in the data table put together by Richard Lynn in Race Differences in Intelligence where he correlates IQ scores with international math and science test scores (pp 173-175) and then adjusting the nominal test score values (by running an IQ of 98 through the regression equation produced by Lynn's numbers) on the international tests to the NAEP math and science tests in the US.

Many Eyes, a web service similar to Swivel that allows for better aesthetic utilization than its predecessor, provides the engine, and a better and more 'interactive' visualization of the IQ data is on its server, found here (click on each state to see its individual IQ estimate).

Parenthetically, competition in this market is going to greatly enhance the ability of data to be presented more fully, and for models to be better built and understood. My thanks to Fat Knowledge, who alerted me to and keeps up on these rapidly developing web resources.

The dichotomous englightened-coasts vs. ignorant-heartland is helpful as a general paradigm for political-geographical distributions, but not for those based on cognitive firepower. More appropriate is a northern-intelligence vs. southern-'vibrancy' split. As we head northward, we reach the mundane foothills of the Dakotas and without realizing it, we're in banal Canada. Contrast that to the vivacity of the American Southwest, and the always-alive Mexican border towns.

It might also be seen as a jobs-Americans-will-do vs. jobs-Americans-won't-do split. Take Texas (#35), Florida (#42), Arizona (#43), Nevada (#44), California (#46), and New Mexico (#47), bastions of the economically essential immigrant peasantry. Compare these to states like North Dakota (#2), Montana (#4), and South Dakota (#5), where Americans still do the jobs that Americans won't do.

Finally, it can be viewed in relationship to race. Alone, the racial composition of a state 'explains' 72% of that state's estimated IQ, with the two correlating at a robust .85. Expenditures per student, teacher salaries, and classroom size combined explain a paltry 15%. Considered independently, they are statistically insignificant and explain virtually nothing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Voter fraud, Islamic backwardness dealt setback with burqa reversal

Quebec's Director General of Elections has reversed himself, requiring that veiled women reveal their faces to allow for the validation of their identities. He bowed in an effort to proactively prevent electoral disruption by mischievious troublemakers hiding under the protection of their veils. The story belongs in the Onion, headline reading: "Director reverses self; after fearlessly supporting unknown, cites fear of unknown in dropping support for unknown".

A burqa-wearing dissenter would've fit the piece perfectly:
“People are usually scared of what they don't know,” she said of the uproar and yesterday's change in the law. “A lack of information is driving regulations like this.”
Uh, like who's behind the veil? Why insist on policies that make the public unneccesarily uneasy?

If only Canadians knew more, they'd willingly embrace knowing less. Not rational, logical, or empirical, you say? Those are oppressive Western concepts. Inshallah!

Friday, March 23, 2007

More reasons to separate from Islamic world

A few more reasons to advocate Western-Islamic separationism:

- Last week, the FBI issued a nationwide warning to local police apprising them of a particularly chilling development:
Suspected members of extremist groups have signed up as school bus drivers in the United States, counterterror officials said Friday, in a cautionary bulletin to police.
The Bureau emphatically states that there is no need for immediate alarm. But the potential for terrorist activity of this nature is terrifying.

Driving a school bus is as easy as obtaining a commercial driver's license, having a minimal understanding of written English, and being free of a felonious past.

Once infiltrated, a cell could easily carry out a real-life Speed with children as collateral.

The driver arranges to pick up a couple of others with explosives somewhere near the end of the morning route, with the bus full of elementary students and the workday beginning in full-swing. Office buildings, the bustling elementary school parking lot, an overpass, and targets downtown would all be susceptible. Even without someone on the inside, hijacking a school bus presents little challenge. With young hostages on board, the decision to fatally intercept the vehicle before it reaches its target would be excrutiatingly difficult to make, and the threat of effective passenger revolt would be nonexistent.

The greatest deterrent to such an event is probably the negative PR it would receive. Widespread condemnation would ensue even among the staunchest Islamic apologists who would find an American Beslan tough to excuse.

- Going forward in Quebec, women wearing burqas will be allowed to vote in elections. The city's Director General of Elections has also said that a woman will not be required to remove the veil if a family member vouching for her identity is also present, or, unbelievably, if she simply swears that she is who she claims she is. Electoral fraud is but an insignificant egg to be cracked for the multicultural omelet.

- Women's rights in the Occident are a few more eggs. A Frankfurt judge has rejected a woman's application for an immediate divorce from her physically abusive husband, citing a Koranic passage dictating to a man the right to castigate his wife. Presumably he's referring to the 34th verse of the Al Nisa sura ("Women"), which is translated in my Koran thus:
"Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other... Good women are obedient... As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them."
- In a victory for gender equality, however, a Hamas television station recently broadcast a portrayal of the four year-old daughter of suicide bomber Reem Riyashi. The urchin, enamored with the late heroine who was her mother, asks dead mommy to let Muhammad know that she sends her love.

Riyashi is credited as being the first female to take up the chest-strapped bomb suit, opening up an avenue for women that had previously been dominated by men.

Duke witchhunt burns out in face of reality

The absurd spectacle finally comes to its predictable conclusion:
Inside Lacrosse Magazine writer Paul Caulfield told FOX News on Thursday that several sources have revealed to him that the assault and attempted kidnapping charges still pending against Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y.; Dave Evans, 23, of Bethesda, Md.; and Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Falls, N.J., will soon be dropped.
The accuser, meanwhile, retains a veil of anonymity in the mainstream press. The internet, however, cut through the fog long ago when the miscreant was revealed to be Crystal Mangum. A despicable liar, likely prostitute, all-around failure in life, Mangum's unfounded story was full of holes from the beginning. But her accusations were billed by several media organizations as evidence of a patriarchal, oppressive white society.

It's amazing how the evidence for a phenomenon so putatively ubiquitous is so persistently fleeting. Nevermind that whites (women especially) are at much, much greater risk of being the victims of violent black criminal activity than blacks are of being the victims of white criminal activity. Nevermind that more substantive cases involving the high-profile violation of women go largely underreported.

While so much disigenuity on behalf of major media sources makes a mockery of the truth, for those of a more realist nature it also makes for shooting fish in a barrel. When your powers of prognostication are as humble as mine are, you have to take the opportunity to gloat when you get the chance. Last April I predicted:
My prediction: Our Betty got inebriated and played catatonic out of fear of consequences that might arise. The DA, who is up for reelection against two more qualified candidates. That is, Nafing, who is a white man, is running against a harpy of a woman and a black man. Durham is 44% black. The opportunity to burn a gang of white yuppies at the stake on behalf of a black single-mother was a godsend.

Tom Wolfe wins again. The fatal flaw was that it all happened too quickly. The severity of the charge would have been sufficient for the Nafing to get reelected in May. But the credulous media made the story page one in its indefatigable search to prove white male oppression.
Nifong won a Pyrric victory in his reelection bid last year, with the embarrassingly credulous NYT carrying his water. When a media titan like the NYT is looking for a few well-bred white boys to burn at the stake, objectivity and veracity are hastily thrown by the wayside. He might have saved himself by dropping the case after the campaign, but instead he fell into the psychological trap known in the investment world as an "escalation of commitment".

Now he faces civil action from the players in addition to possibly being disbarred for multiple ethics violations. As these innocent boys had their lives nearly destroyed by the state in a zealous witchhunt (er, warlock hunt), we can expect the tab and manpower for a civil suit against the DA's office to be picked up by the ACLU, since this is exactly the sort of case that the group claims as its raison d'etre...

Well, at least the three sacrificial lambs don't come from impoverished families!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Iraqis still think life's better than under Saddam, but gloom growing

That life today is better than life prior to the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein is still the most commonly held view among Iraqis:
Asked to compare their lives today with conditions before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the proportion of Iraqis who say things are better now has slipped below half for the first time. Forty-two percent say their lives have improved, down from 51 percent in 2005 and 56 percent in 2004. Thirty-six percent now say things in their lives are worse today, up from 29 percent in the 2005 poll, which was taken during a period of relative optimism ahead of parliamentary elections. Twenty-two percent say their lives are about the same.
Another poll conducted by a British media researching company was a bit more optimistic:
MOST Iraqis believe life is better for them now than it was under Saddam Hussein, according to a British opinion poll published today.

The survey of more than 5,000 Iraqis found the majority optimistic despite their suffering in sectarian violence since the American-led invasion four years ago this week.
In either case, the perception that life has improved is hardly surprising, since the Baathists have been removed from power and a Shiite coalitional majority now controls the Iraqi government. The results predictably breakdown along sectarian lines:
Assessments of the government in Baghdad reflect sectarian and ethnic differences. About three-quarters of Shiites and Kurds have confidence in the government, while just 8 percent of Sunnis feel that way. Similarly, two-thirds of Shiites and six in 10 Kurds approve of the prime minister's work, but only 3 percent of Sunnis do so.
Both surveys reveal a majority of Iraqis believing that things will improve once multinational forces leave the country. After four years of slugging it out with mostly Sunni militias, training a mostly Shia security force and military, and legitimizing majority (Shia) rule, it's not surprising that most Shiites are ready for the coalition to shove off. We've obliterated their sectarian antagonists and handed the reigns over to them. From their perspective it's best for us to depart now before we start getting too even-handed and begin protecting Sunni communities.

Many Kurds probably see the coalition's departure as a green light for an even more autonomous Kurdish north--one that feels no pressure to act when called upon by Baghdad to play mediator in escalating Arab Sunni-Shia fighting.

The Iraq War has removed a secular Persian antagonist from the heart of the Middle East and installed a Shia-dominated government friendly to Iran. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other moderately pro-US Muslim governments are increasingly worried about the threat a Shia Iraq poses. Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern coastline is home to most of the kingdom's Shiites. Just across the Persian Gulf is Iran, with an Iraqi buffer separating the two by land.

We should follow the footsteps of our largest partner in the invasion and begin pulling out. Most Iraqis want us gone. By a margin of 63% to 35% most Americans do as well. Due to the high number of injuries compared to fatalities the US has absorbed during the war, the human cost is going to remain a living legacy similar to that of Vietnam. The foundational support of Congress for the war has vanished because of the war itself. It's over. Yet with most Iraqis saying life is more auspicious now than under Saddam, a democratically-based election system in place, and lots of IED-making militants in the ground, with heart-over-chest we can still profess dignity and success as the US military executes a troop drawdown.

The Bush administration is continuing to dig its heels in, however. On the war's fourth anniversary, the President pleaded for more time to allow the latest corner-turning tactical adjustment to take effect. He has less than two years left. He may, despite widespread consanguinety, an estimated average IQ of 87, Middle Eastern tribalism, widespread poverty, a professional class exodus, and Islam, still believe that Iraq can come out the way he initially imagined it would. Or, less nobly, he may be trying a "decent interval" strategy to keep the US involvement in Iraq alive long enough to pass it on to a Democratically-controlled Congress and Whitehouse to deal with.

Independent drops support for pot legalization in face of use consequences

The Independent, a major left-leaning publication in Britain, has reversed itself and come out in opposition to the legalization of marijuana:
More than 22,000 people were treated last year for cannabis addiction - and almost half of those affected were under 18. With doctors and drugs experts warning that skunk can be as damaging as cocaine and heroin, leading to mental health problems and psychosis for thousands of teenagers, The Independent on Sunday has today reversed its landmark campaign for cannabis use to be decriminalised.

A decade after this newspaper's stance culminated in a 16,000-strong pro-cannabis march to London's Hyde Park - and was credited with forcing the Government to downgrade the legal status of cannabis to class C - an IoS editorial states that there is growing proof that skunk causes mental illness and psychosis.

Contemporary pot has tetrahydrocannabidinol (THC) levels some 25 times higher than the levels found in wild hemp. Toking up today isn't the same as toking up forty years ago. Nor are the effects of marijuana use as ambivalent as they were in the past.

In an experiment using lab rats in which some were given an injection of THC proportional to the amount absorbed by a person smoking a joint and others were not, the difference in neural functioning between the two groups of rats was stark:
Normally, cells in hippocampus fire in sync, creating a current with a total voltage of around 1 millivolt. But THC reduced the synchrony of the firing. The drug did not change the total number of firings produced, just their tendency to occur at the same time – and this reduced the combined output voltage of the nerve signals by about 50%.
The drug dulls the senses. It also scrambles thought processes and dampens nerve signaling. This is why dopers appear so slow-witted and obtuse. It would be interesting to see how marijuana users fare on IQ tests when sober and while high. In my experience being around users who are high, it seems they effectively lose several IQ points. Substantial long-term use appears to have a mildly depressive effect on IQ, with heavy users experiencing a drop of about four points. I expect the immediate consequences are more severe than that.

More positively, this nonsensically sporadic state of mind probably also fuels 'artistic creativity' (to the extent that artistic expression is the glorification of the irrational and the surreal).

Also of concern is the relationship between marijuana use and psychosis, especially its potential for triggering the onset of schizophrenia in people predisposed to suffering from it:
Many medical specialists agree that the debate has changed. Robin Murray, professor of psychiatry at London's Institute of Psychiatry, estimates that at least 25,000 of the 250,000 schizophrenics in the UK could have avoided the illness if they had not used cannabis. "The number of people taking cannabis may not be rising, but what people are taking is much more powerful, so there is a question of whether a few years on we may see more people getting ill as a consequence of that."

"Society has seriously underestimated how dangerous cannabis really is," said Professor Neil McKeganey, from Glasgow University's Centre for Drug Misuse Research. "We could well see over the next 10 years increasing numbers of young people in serious difficulties."
If hashish use increases the rate of schizophrenia by as much as 10% that strikes me as a legitimate reason to severely restrict its use. Schizophrenics tend to have below average IQs, and marijuana users in general are less affluent than non-users. Like so many other aspects of the do-as-you-feel social culture promoted by elite libertines, the most vulnerable members of society are the ones least able to embrace that same culture without being negatively effected by it. Quixotic deniers of human biodiversity claim that stigmatizing certain behaviors is immoral because they (the enlightened ones) engage in those behaviors and function quite well. Those of a more empirical mind argue that the less endowed are unable to handle such behaviors responsibly and it is in their interest especially that such behaviors should be frowned upon.

The arguments against legalization do not convince me that we should shift from prohibitive enforcement to lucrative legalization through taxation (like we do with cigarettes). The deleterious effects of second-hand smoke are well-documented. Many states and municipalities are sagaciously banning cigarette smoking in public places as a means of protecting bystanders from the damage it causes them. Why move in the opposite direction with cannabis when the evidence increasingly suggests it poses health risks?

If cigarettes were made illegal, their use would continue, just as people toke up in places where doing so isn't allowed (although similar to illegal immigration, stricter enforcement and harsher punitions would reduce the number of people engaging in these activities). But they would be much less likely to do so in public. While banning pot doesn't stop people from smoking, it does make it less likely that I will be exposed to it while out and about.

People engaging in alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and drug use present hazards to non-users in their vicinity. To protect those who choose not to self-immolate from those who do is the primary reason that I support public restriction of all of these activities.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Birthrates, climate can turn on a dime?

In his commentary on Mark Steyn's America Alone (which takes a thorough look at demographic trends in the Occident, overlapping Pat Buchanan's Death of the West that was published a couple of years before), David Frum caught the attention of Matt Yglesias:
David Frum, reviewing Mark Steyn's book, makes a great point that's been weirdly ignored during the contemporary fad over demographic fear-mongering: "Demographic trends have a surprising way of reversing themselves with amazing rapidity. ..."

Of course, Yglesias likely knows the same thing is true regarding climate change. In the mid-seventies, after global temperatures had been cooling for more than three decades, global cooling was portrayed as an imminent danger of catastrophic proportions. Then global temperatures began rising and have continued to inch upwards over the last three decades, so cooling stopped being sensationalized (for the worst, since global cooling presents a far more threatening existential threat to humanity than warming does) and warming became the story. Just because something has been capricious in the past doesn't mean it's prudent to write-off thinking about it in the present as a waste of time.

Demographic trends, like climate trends, have in their histories plenty of unexpected pivoting. But global temperature tracks rigorously with solar activity (CO2 emissions do as well, but trail temperature changes by several hundred years). What to do about the sun? Ideas are out there, but the subject is more arcane than fecundity patterns. Most people have some firsthand experience to bring to the table with respect to the latter.

Outside of Israel and the US (barely), the developed world is procreating at a rate below replenishment. Unique to most of human history, today affluence and fecundity are inversely related, accentuating the wealth gap and conceivably creating a dysgenic effect. And the full effects of birthing pattern shifts are felt generations after they begin, so it's hardly too early to be thinking about possible consequences and strategies surrounding what might be a societally-threatening sustained birth dearth.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yglesias on Sailer

[Addition: Steve informed me that Yglesias' site automatically rejects comments with a certain number of embedded links. Sure enough, I reposted the comment without the links and it's been accepted. So as a humble sugar ant I apologize. It would be nice for a disclaimer of some sort alerting a reader of that, instead of leaving him hanging by saying the comment will be reviewed before showing up.]

Steve Sailer's groundbreaking AmCon feature on Presidential candidate and Illinois Senator Barack Obama is making waves in the blogosphere. Andrew Sullivan, who gets sixteen times Sailer's daily traffic, posted on it. Why does this 'obscure' writer get so much attention from numerous cultural giants? He's diligent, empirically-minded, and well-written. And I suspect his readers, while less numerous than some of the more 'mainstream' internet pundits can claim, have a per capita level of influence that makes them much more difficult to simply dismiss than their numbers alone would suggest.

Matthew Yglesias is upset by the one marginally approving thing Sullivan had to say. Yglesias is a predictable leftist blogger and staff writer for The American Prospect. In a recent entry he reports that more broadly-based NCAA basketball displays greater variance in skill level than the more selective NBA. Just like local residents taking to the track on a Sunday afternoon in suburban San Diego will display more variance in running ability than those who run in Beijing next year. Fascinating!

He trenchantly debunks Steve by arguing that most media figures haven't raised the same issues about Obama as Steve has. Really, that's the extent of his argument. Oh, and he admits to not having read Dreams, on which Sailer's essay is based.

Yglesias' comments section is long on mean-spirited personal attacks on Sailer, but, unsurprisingly, short on actual challenges to the content of Steve's feature. No big deal. Realists on human nature are used to such substanceless vacuity.

But as if posting on his home turf, with the vast majority of readers holding the same views he does, isn't enough for Yglesias, he is also actively barring comments from those trying to come to Steve's defense. Perhaps he saw how Gladwell was humiliated on his own website when most of the commenters who chimed in sided with Sailer when the two debated the effectiveness of car dealer price discrimination, and wanted to avoid a similar fate.

Here's what I attempted to add. It was, without explanation, twice rejected:

I haven't seen this much puerility since grade school.

One can scarcely find a comment that isn't consumed almost entirely in ad hominem vitriol.

Dreams obviously raises questions about the post-racial Obama we've incessantly been hearing about, from none other than the Senator himself in his more recent book.

Matthew, unfortunately, hasn't read Dreams or even all of the Sailer piece he's discussing, so can offer little, other than to point to those in the media who've tirelessly boosted Obama's personae following the DNC speech in '04 and who have not speculated as Sailer has. That, of course, is as logically falacious as having smeared the minority of Americans who were opposed to the Iraq war in early '03,
pointing out that most did not come to the same conclusions that these naysayers had. Epicycles didn't beat Galileo, irrespective of who bought into them.

I wonder if he's read some of the reporting on Dreams as well. On his website, Steve excerpts from reports by Newsweek, CBS, and the Washington Examiner that all deal with how Obama's past contradicts markedly with what he says about his past today.

Where do commenters specifically disagree with Sailer? Have they even read his essay? Is it not interesting that Obama is primarily thought of as a black man in spite of the fact that he was raised and nourished almost exclusively by his white relatives, or that he is as biologically black as he is white?

How many are aware that Obama was captivated by a fervent black nationalist? Despite Sailer's repudiation of white nationalism, the commenters here pillory him for his supposed involvement in it, while seemingly denying Obama's self-described infatuation with black nationalism. Inane.

Just as many putative Darwinists are blithely unaware of the title of Darwin's most infamous work (and similarly ignorant of his 'follow-up', Descent of Man), so are many clueless didactics unaware of the full title of Dreams. Sailer didn't pin racial differentiation on Obama. Obama brought it up a decade ago.

It is, of course, Obama who unequivocally speaks of the humiliation he feels (or felt) in being white. Just as the ubiquitous but elusive 'ignorant southern tough' laments the black man stealing his white women, so Obama laments white women being attracted to black men. He's even apparently disgusted by his mother's doing this, despite the resulting procreation that brought Obama into the world.

Who before Sailer has has brought all these things to light? Why remain so purposefully ignorant of what has transpired, especially when it involves a potential future President of the US?

Obama very well may have morphed into a character much different than the self-portrait he paints in Dreams. In the words of Keynes, "When my information changes, I change my opinion." An epigone, I ask these commenters here who've not yet read either Sailer's essay or Dreams itself: What, sirs, do you do with new information?

Parenthetically, Karl [a particularly ridiculous commenter], do us a favor and look up the etymology of the word "eugenics". You may see that you, too, "advocate eugenic ideas" in some of the ways that Galton first considered them. We embrace such ideas with regards to a host of plants an animals. But in terms of the contemporary understanding of the word, do you also condemn a woman who chooses to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome? Or the vast majority of Chinese scientists who support eugenic practices for nationalistic reasons?
Squelching opposing viewpoints is, startlingly, a tactic frequently employed by many ideologues. It's conspicuously present in the debates on climate change and immigration, but that's not all that it pervades.

As frustrating as it must be to deal with such hateful intolerance, Sailer still comes out ahead. His article is getting lots of exposure. Many of his detractors are revealing themselves to be intellectually bankrupt--unfamiliar with the source material being dealt with, ignorantly attacking Steve for positions he doesn't hold, and blithely unaware that their 'defense' of Obama is being undercut by Obama's very own words. While Yglesias may be trying to stack the deck in his own favor by silencing those who don't echo him, Sailer's piece is made available nonetheless.

This instance is a microcosm of what is taking place on the internet at large. By allowing users access to limitless information and viewpoints without those who would try to destroy them for seeking it out being made aware, and conversely allowing purveyors of information and views to make them known anonymously or at least with some degree of physical security, is a monumental sea change from only a decade ago.

Similarly, access to web forums in real time allows for polemical Thermopylae. Instead of being verbally overwhelmed, a lone erudite and persistent person can outdo a hostile horde. He can repudiate each charge in the tranquility of his own home or office. Though the number of commentators may favor his detractors, even alone he can match their words tit-for-tat. Those silently taking in the spectacle can make up their own minds in a similarly tranquil environment. Exposed to what conventional omertas used to keep hused up, some are convinced immediately, and others change their minds over time.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Durkin's documentary challenges CAGW 'consensus'

Al Fin has tracked down Martin Durkin's skeptical documentary on the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming hysteria, which aired on Britain's Channel 4 last a week ago. It's made its way onto the internet, escaping the omertas and intellectual censorship of those holding the 'consensus' view. Escaping the hostile intolerance wasn't easy, however. Durkin struggled for a decade just to get his documentary commissioned. The level these zealots sunk to in an effort to silence anyone offering an opposing point of view has left him understandably bitter:
‘It shows that environmentalists and journalists can be utterly intolerant’, he says. ‘They simply will not tolerate any dissenting view. Straight away they try to take it down. You can see that in the kind of language they use – they say “the jury is in” on global warming, or “the science is done and dusted”, or you’re a “denier” if you question the consensus. This is not about having a debate but about shutting down debate.’

Indeed, many of Durkin’s critics have responded to The Great Global Warming Swindle by trying to slur Durkin and the participants in the film. Or they have gone running to the Office of Communications (Ofcom) to demand that it rap Durkin’s knuckles – a bit like overgrown school sissies squealing to teacher about the boy they don’t like in the hope that teacher will give him a jolly good thrashing.
Like blank slatists with issues regarding human biodiversity, CAGW partisans take a position that is logically tenuous. While realists contend that biology, environment, and epigenetics (essentially the combination of the former two) play a role in shaping human attributes, abilities, and temperaments, blank-slatists believe that the external environment is the only thing of consequence in shaping human behavior. The CAGW believers, in prounouncing a 'consensus', launching vitriol or worse at anyone who questions this 'truth', and rejecting the possibility of other non-artificial explanations, similarly put themselves in a position that is polemically difficult to defend. Factually threatened, both groups of absolutists habitually turn to ad hominem attacks, banking on a sympathetic media to cover for them.

The blank slatists face copious IQ testing data, genetic sequencing, the rigorous correlations of various attributes with race but not with a host of other conventional environmental explanations, exploding research on the human genome like the HapMap Project, the discovery of genes like microcephalin and ASPM and their variance in frequency across differing human populations, and the antipodal outcomes of persecuted groups (Ashkenazic and Korean success, persistent black struggles).

The CAGW partisans, meanwhile, face scrutiny as to why solar causation is implausible, why ocean temperatures haven't been warming for the last couple of years, why satellite data on global temperature diverges from ground-reading data, why Mars has warmed up in tandem with Earth, why the planet was warmer 700 years ago than it is today, and how it is historically certain that CO2 is a result of temperature change rather than the other way around.

While they're at it, they might also point out how apocalyptic predictions about global cooling and Malthusian concerns have been risibly wrong, that humanity has faced a persistent existential threat from global cooling (the Younger Dryas, for example, forced humans out of much of northern and central Europe) but never warming, that the Arctic contains a quarter of the world's oil reserves and will become more accessible if the earth warms up, that vast expanses of land currently uninhabitable due to severe cold is also where most of the warming has been concentrated (Siberia, Greenland, northern Canada, etc), that milder winter seasons generally have a benign effect on crop yields, and that economic activity is buoyed by warmer weather.

I'm looking forward to tuning in to Durkin's documentary later this weekend.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Immigration and parasites, other diseases

Our open-border immigration policy is the gift that just keeps on giving. Chagas (Trypanosoma cruzi), a parasitic insect that feeds on vital internals like the heart, nervous system, and GI tract, is coming to a blood bank near you:
A little-known but potentially deadly parasite from Latin America has become one of the latest threats to the blood and organ supplies in the United States, especially in Los Angeles, where many donors have traveled to affected countries, health officials say. ...

The parasite, which is generally passed to humans from a blood-sucking insect that looks like a striped cockroach, can feed over years on tissues of the heart and gastrointestinal tract. After decades, tissues can be eroded so much that the organs fail.

A callous cynic might use the latter paragraph as part of an analogy that uses a certain country in place of the infected person.

Los Angeles is ground zero for the parasite in the US. The county's rate of infection for donors has increased by 260% in the last decade, to 1 out of every 3,800. But blood donations are disproportionately made by white males, so the rate of infection among LA's general population, 36.2% of whom are foreign-born, is higher. While virtually non-existent in the native US population, Latin America is a different story, with 1 in 25 people being infected. With rates of contamination as high as 53%, it is ubiquitous in some blood banks in Central and South America.

The FDA has approved a test for widespread screening, and the Red Cross is already using it, although other blood banks blood banks in the Southwest haven't yet done so.

Unlike cysticercosis, another item of Latin American import, Chagas is not combated with basic hygienic practices. The former is brought into the US by immigrants from communities that allow pigs to eat human feces. The population then eats the swine, contracts the infectious tapeworm, and transmits it through contact with food (the spreading of which can largely be prevented by regular hand-washing and laundering of clothes). Filthy as the transmission of cysticercosis is, Chagas is worse because it's not as easily preventable, and even the strongest anti-protozoal drugs rarely eliminate the parasite completely.

Of course, ending illegal immigration and instituting a merit immigration system which includes the applicants health and physical fitness as part of a total desirability score is the best method of preventing its spread in the US:
"The number of [immigrant] Latinos in Southern California, Texas and other parts of the United States are growing, but especially in L.A., a large proportion of organ donors are Latino," Nowicki said. "They're basically bringing with them the disease prevalence in the area they used to live." (Reporter's brackets)
Gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis, tuberculosis, cysticercosis, and Chagas are all maladies disproportionately brought into the US by immigrants. Reducing their prevalence can be realized by building a barrier along the US-Mexico border, handing down tough punitions to employers who knowingly higher illegal immigrants (the Basic Pilot Program makes verification easy for employers), and through criminal deportations and attrition.

Those arguing for unfettered open borders are essentially arguing for the onset of these third-world diseases in the US. Destitute migrants can receive better healthcare here than in their countries of origin. It's yet another way in which open borders give rise to wealth transfers from net taxpaying natives to impoverished third-world migrants.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Education, affluence are marks of terrorists

The traditional Marxist explanations for the root causes of terrorism don't work. We've come upon a couple of sources suggesting that it is not the most destitute and unenlightened who are the most likely to become terrorists. A thorough analysis by former CIA case officer in Afghanistan, Marc Sageman, revealed just the opposite:
Most people think that terrorism comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing - the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they’re just plain evil.

Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority—90 percent—came from caring, intact
families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that’s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.
Foreign Policy magazine's John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed conducted a more far-reaching survey of 9,000 people across nine Muslim countries. They found those supporting suicide bombings and other terrorist activities are better off than their moderate brethren, and found no difference in religiosity between the two (both groups--and by extension, the broader Muslim world--are extremely pious). Their results are summarized below:
Primary school or less:
Radicals - 23%
Moderates - 34%

Radicals - 44%
Moderates - 38%

Low or very low
Radicals - 22%
Moderates - 31%

Above average or very high
Radicals - 25%
Moderates - 21%

Expect to be better off in
five years:
Radicals - 53%
Moderates - 44%
We know that hotbeds of terrorism are generally not the most impoverished places on the planet. No sub-Saharan African country plays a significant role. With the exception of Afghanistan, which has long been a proxy battleground for foreign jihadists first against the Soviet Union and then against a coalition of US-led Western nations, the Islamic states producing international terrorists are relatively well-off--Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the UAE, Egypt. The reprobate from poorer Muslim states, to the extent that they carry out terrorist activities, are mostly localized--Hamas in Israel, separatists in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Zarqawi in Iraq from neighboring Jordan.

Now Fortune's Cait Murphy touches on these points in addition to bringing a deluge of additional analysis that obliterates the 'desperate poverty' explanation. I generally try to limit the quantity excerpted, allowing readers to follow the link if further interested in source, but there's simply too much here that can't be cut out:
First, to the question of poverty. Of the 50 poorest countries in the world (see list at right) only Afghanistan (and perhaps Bangladesh and Yemen) has much experience in terrorism, global or domestic.

But surely that is the wrong way to look at things. Aren't the people who commit terrorist acts poor, even if they are from countries that are not? No. Remember, most of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were middle-class sons of Saudi Arabia and many were well-educated. And Osama bin Laden himself is from one of the richest families in the Middle East.

But it goes deeper than that. In a 2003 study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova reported the results of a post-9/11 survey of Palestinians. Asked whether there were "any circumstances under which you would justify the use of terrorism to achieve political goals," the higher-status respondents (merchant, farmer or professional) were more likely to agree (43.3 percent) than those lower down the ladder (laborer, craftsman or employee) (34.6 percent). The higher-status respondents were also more likely to support armed attacks against Israeli targets (86.7 percent to 80.8 percent). The same dynamic existed when education was taken into account.

In another study, 129 Hezbollah militants who died in action (not all of them in activities that could be considered terrorism) were compared to the general Lebanese population. The Hezbollah members were slightly less likely to be poor, and significantly more likely to have finished high school.

Outside Palestine, there is general agreement that suicide attacks on civilians is a form of terrorism. So where do suicide bombers fit in? A study looked at the biographies of 285 suicide bombers as published in local journals, from 1987-2002. And this found that those who carried out suicide attacks were, on the whole, richer (fewer than 15 percent under the poverty line, compared to almost 35 percent for the population as a whole) and more educated (95 percent with high school or higher) than the rest of the population (almost half of whom went no further than middle school). A similar survey of terrorists in the Jewish Underground, which killed 29 Palestinians in the early 1970s, found the same pattern.

A comprehensive study of 1,776 terrorist incidents (240 international, the rest domestic) by Harvard professor Albert Abadie, who was sympathetic to the poverty-terrorism idea at first, found no such thing. "When you look at the data," he told the Harvard Gazette, "it's not there."
Murphy, however, doesn't discount economics entirely. She points out that the grandest terrorist operations tend to be delegated to the most educated and affluent, as the 9/11 crew epitomizes.

Even the world of civilian slaughter isn't devoid of merit considerations. I suspect that the education and affluence of those carrying out major operations proxies for higher IQ (relative to the local populations these terrorists come from). The botched attempts are probably disproportionately the work of dumber terrorists, further accentuating the errant conventional conception of the tragic terrorist who has failed in life.

Post-Christendom Westerners have trouble understanding fanatical religious devotion. The spiritual motivations of Raymond IV of Tolouse and Pope Innocent III are relics of Europe's distant past. But most of the Islamic world has not progressed beyond the Fifteenth Century. The top response for what the West can do to improve relations from both the moderates and the radicals in the survey referenced earlier is to "respect Islam" (coming in ahead of providing "Economic development/jobs").

Occidental elites, thoroughly secular and materialist, are especially clueless. Murphy mentions in her opening paragraph that leaders from Bush to Chirac have pointed to poverty as an underlying cause of terrorist activity. They represent the two ends of Western elite thought on how to deal with the Islamic world.

They're both wrong. The stagnant economy French economy is being further undermined by underachieving north African and Middle Eastern immigrants who are clamoring for affirmative action in a nation that's always rejected it. Meanwhile, the country simmers. The neocon's half-hearted invade-the-world strategy sees 100 million Muslims believing that 9/11 was "completely justified".

We need to disconnect from the Islamic world. We'll need to scrap the Diversity Visa Lottery program, secure our porous borders and push out criminal immigrants already here through attrition and deportation, institute a merit immigration program, and develop economically viable alternative sources of energy to do this. Until these things happen, we can expect more of the same.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Georgia public schools to offer classes on Bible

The Good Book is going to get a good look down in Georgia:
ATLANTA — Georgia is poised to introduce two literature classes on the Bible in public schools next year, a move some critics say would make the state the first to take an explicit stance endorsing _ and funding _ biblical teachings.
I'm stultified by the controversy surrounding this move by the Georgia Board of Education. The Bible is the best-selling book in the world, with a 600% lead on the runner-up. It is nearly impossible to understand the last two millenia of human history, especially of post-Greco Western thought, without at least a cursory grasp of what it contains. I'm empirically-minded and non-religious yet clearly aware of how obvious this is.

Just a few non-exhaustive events and movements it has inspired or influenced:

- The fall of the Western Roman Empire.

- Anti-Judaism in Europe, from St. John Chrysostom's Homilies against the Jews to Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies to Nazi Germany.

- Isonomy (both at the individual and national levels) through priests like Montesinos, Vitoria, and Las Casas.

- The laying of the groundwork for Newtonian physics by the French priest Jean Buridan, Steno's stratigraphic principles, and Newton's own inspiration for inquiry, among other early scientific contributions, were facilitated by their shared belief in a rational creator that would not act in capricious vanity--in opposition to Islam's idea of omnipotence without bounds or understanding ('Inshallah'), Buddhism's immovable conception of the physical world and the laws binding it as ephemeral (and Socratic philosophy can be seen similarly), animism's mysticism, and the Confucian focus on emulating nature without manipulating it.

- The Crusades that momentarily halted almost five centuries of Islamic aggression and expansion into Europe and disrupted the continent's internecine fighting. Secular leaders like Raymond of Toulouse of the First Crusade epitomize the religious motivations for the reclaiming pilgramiges to Jerusalem, and the Hospitallers' construction of a grand hospice in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims first and later the downtrodden in general at no expense to its hosts evince a Christian impetus.

- Moralistic self-improvement on a personalized level, as illustrated by John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and the Protestant idea of an individual calling, the idea that work is intrinsically rewarding, a way of doing God's work without an eye for personal gain (as opposed to the Catholic emphasis on 'works'), that forms the basis for what Max Weber called the "Protestant Work Ethic".

- Poland's struggle against the Soviet Union.

- The zealotry of the Inquisition and the dogmatic opposition of some in the Catholic Church to the veracious theories put forth by Galileo.

- The contemporary social conservative's opposition to abortion (pithely found in Jeremiah 1:5's "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you..."), emphasis on personal charity (Matthew 25:40's "The king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"), and opposition to homosexuality (Romans 1:27's "In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.")

Those sporadic points are pulled from a mind full of mush that spent thirteen years in the public school system and another four at a state university. The influence is far more pervasive than I can possibly make clear.

It is absurd that those who argue against parental groups wishing to remove controversial books from school reading lists are not up in arms over how little attention is given to the Bible, especially the Gospels. That various ideas and lifestyles floating around in the stratosphere should not be denied to 'empowered' children is the typical argument, so the Bible should be at the top of their advocacy lists. Clearly the value of exposure to biblical writings and their historical relevance outstrips the value in reading fictional books about pedophilia, drug-use, and sexual experimentation.

The ACLU, self-described defender of individual freedom, doesn't like Georgia's proposed courses (both of which are electives):
Maggie Garrett, legislative counsel for the Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the curriculum approved Tuesday _ like the Legislation itself _ is vague.

"They didn't put in any outlines describing what they can and can't do constitutionally," she said. "The same traps are there for teachers who decide to teach the class."

Some teachers might seek to include their own beliefs or be pushed by students into conversations that include religious proselytizing, Garrett said.
Wow. Then it is time to scrap every course ending in -studies. Might want to ax political science courses and the humanities as well. Governmental schools are replete with examples of teachers pushing their ideological beliefs on impressionable children, and the ACLU often defends their right to do so. The best way to combat this problem is by offering video-recorded lectures to students so that the top instructors can be utilized by millions of students, instead of putting them in front of mediocre minds often times less intelligent than they are.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Machismo men and adolescent girls

The objectification of young women is another imported Latin American cultural value enriching the US:
It starts out like most fotonovelas, Latino comic books with themes often centered on love and betrayal: Teenage "Yaneth" is at a picnic when she spots handsome, raven-haired "David."

She nabs his number and afterward, playfully sends him a text message.

A few pages later, Yaneth is not smiling. She is in a car alone with David, who turns out to be a man in his late 20s. He is demanding sex and 14-year-old Yaneth is scared.

The Virginia Department of Health hopes readers will want to find out what happens next to Yaneth, and to many real life Latina teens like her.

The department spent two years developing the comic book to combat statutory rape -- the crime of an adult having sex with a minor -- among Hispanic girls.

Authorities believe Latinas are at higher risk of becoming victims because of their limited understanding of American laws and cultural mores condoning May-December relationships.
Our neighbors to the south aren't voracious readers. The average Mexican reads just one book every six months. So the Virginia Department of Health has tried something more appealing--celebrity comic books:
Popularized in Latin America, fotonovelas use photographs of live actors instead of drawings, and illustrate soap opera-like stories. The books have caught on among health care agencies as a hip alternative to stiff brochures about diabetes risks and other medical issues.
Birth-control is not ubiquitous in Latin America. Consequently, the US Hispanic teenage birthrate is higher even than it is for blacks (83.4 and 66.6, respectively, compared to the white teenage birthrate of 28.3), and the pregnancy rate is almost identical to blacks (131.5 and 134.2, respectively, compared to 48.2 for whites--Hispanics are the least likely of the four major racial/ethnic groups to abort). Many of the future citizens in these teenage Latina bellies have a rough road ahead of them:
CDC data shows Mexican and Puerto Rican girls at an especially high risk. ...

Health officials say it is hard to figure out who's fathering their children.
It is common for the girls to refuse to give information out about the fathers of their children, who are often old enough to be the girls' own fathers. Understandably, they're afraid of doing so. Spilling the beans provides evidence of statutory rape, and may jeopardize the girls' safety.

Several groups on the American left should be in opposition to increased Hispanic immigration to the US. Labor unions suffer depressed wages and decreased bargaining power, environmentalists face more pollution and an expanding population (both domestically and globally), Jews see anti-Semitism on the rise, and now the feminist see this obstacle to achieving 'gender equality'. Yet all of these groups in favor of or ambivalent towards open borders, even though the causes they support fare much better in the US than in Central and South America.

Then again, when the leader of the country does what Bush does, the self-immolation seems more than curious. It's epidemic:
In remarks as he opened a meeting with Calderon today at a hacienda outside Merida on the Yucatan peninsula, Bush said he would "remind my fellow citizens'' that many of the people who cross the border between the two countries are seeking a better life for their families and U.S. law should give them the opportunity to work in the legally.

"I will work as hard as I possibly can to pass comprehensive immigration reform,'' Bush said.
Nevermind that an amnesty will relegate the GOP to permanent minority-status going forward. Forget the troubling externalities such as greater welfare use and lower average intelligence such a "reform" will bring stateside. Nevermind all the local security that has had to lock down various parts of the cities that Bush has been visiting due to persistent protests. Erstwhile, the popular Venezuelan socialist shouts "Gringo go home!", while Bush promises to transfer even more to an ungrateful, backwards Latin America:
US President George W. Bush has announced plans for additional US aid initiatives in Latin America days before a six-day, five-nation tour to boost the US image in the region.
Bush is one of the worst Presidents in US history without the massive amnesty that he, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain are trying to push through. If he gets his way, he will wrest the title from others like Wilson and Johnson, and have the nadir all to himself.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Steve Sailer on Obama

The contemporary Barack Obama still strikes me as a politician who conducts himself well enough. Thankfully there are perspicacious truth-seekers out there to fill in the many gaps I allow.

Steve Sailer has masticated the Senator's autobiographical Dreams from My Father, and discovered that the young Obama more-or-less fits the expected mold of a successful, black Democratic politician. That is, he rejected the tempting allure of the life as a sated minstrel in favor of making sense of his membership in the black community, and then acting with that community in mind.

For a black to win over Republican hearts (and those of white Democrats), he has to have the 'class'--he has to avoid harping on everything from a blatantly racial perspective--of a Clarence Thomas or a Condoleeza Rice. But to succeed in the Democratic Party requires a firm sense of racial identity that colors every political action, real or symbolic. It usually requires a black majority in the electoral area as well, the half-black Obama being an exception. Consequently, most black Democratic leaders are incessant in their focus on how such-and-such is effecting the black community (simply "the community" when directed at a black audience). Charlie Rangel and Al Sharpton are two well-known examples in a field of many.

Obama's racialist tone in Selma and the expositional avalanche of his interesting past that Steve's started, coupled with the fact that to get the White House he first has to win the Democratic nomination, the Senator will likely see much of his generic, raceless veneer melt away. Hillary Clinton, leveraging her marriage to the "first black President", will be able to snatch a significant portion of the black vote if Obama tries to uphold it under evidence to the contrary.

Parenthetically, a person's past matters now more than ever. Reinventing oneself is becoming progressively more difficult to pull off thanks to the invaluable power of the internet. Even the past conduct of relatively obscure auxiliaries to a political campaign matter, as the Edwards' blogger spectacle illustrates. The Keynes' defense, rather than pretending to be deaf to any concerns about the past (Hillary Clinton's strategy), will probably become the new standard. Romney's using it on a few social issues like abortion, and Obama has proactively done so regarding past drug use.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fewer deaths or more injuries in Iraq?

Nearly 3,200 US soldiers have died in Iraq since military operations began. The cost of invasion becomes more acute when considering that several times more military personnel have been injured in action, many having suffered chronic and debilitating damage. The large injured-to-killed ratio masks the magnitude of US losses, but it also reveals how the coalition's utilization of military and medical technologies have kept a lot of warriors who might have died in the past from dying today.

Or does it? It sounds reasonable, but causation also stems from the nature of US strategy, that of grounded occupation and the urban warfare it invites. Conventional warfare inherently sees a less prodigious ItoK ratio because artillery forces rolling in, under fire from rockets and automatic fire, are facing a pretty stark black-or-white outcome--getting hit spells death, avoiding it wins the right to continue on. When a vanquished city is being occupied, however, the threats are more 'organic'. Less lethal, they allow for more gradations. The shrapnel from an IED can leave an unfortunate victim in several different states, death being but one of them.

Not surprisingly, the official ItoK ratio was 3.1-to-1 in March '03. In April '03, it climbed to 4.5-to-1. Since then, the ratio has been close to 7.5-to-1. The increase is the result of the US-led effort to pacify the streets and cleanse neighborhoods of militia elements, not of rapidly improving treatment and recovery methods.

In contrast, the first Gulf War, fought in the open deserts of southern Iraq in conditions that heavily favored the US, saw few injuries per fatality (click to see the graphic in better detail--notice that the chart at top includes all medical evacuations from the war theatre, while the injured in the aforementioned ItoK ratios were strictly comprised of those injured by bullets, shrapnel, and explosives). The US lost 382 soldiers in the excursion. Fewer than 500 were wounded.

Did Desert Storm occur at a time when American lifesaving technologies were at a nadir? Were we less medically capable fifteen years ago than we were during the Revolution? The medical advancement/prevention explanation is only partial--remedial and rehabilitative techniques have steadily and progressively improved over time, but the number of wounded soldiers per fatality by conflict shows a tenuous chronological trend at best.

It's good that many American soldiers come home knocked down but not out instead of giving up the ghost on Middle Eastern soil, and the 98% survival rate of injured soldiers enjoying the superb inpatient care of military hospitals has a lot to do with that. But many of these sufferances are due to a conscious decision to conduct house-to-house raids and building-to-building small-arms fire exchanges, relegating US battle capabilities to the equivalent of those enjoyed by the tribal militias. A more indiscriminate policy would lessen the ItoK ratio not by increasing US deaths but by decreasing non-fatal injuries.

A lesson to take from this? Leverage our vastly superior firepower instead of sending promising Americans into urban chaos on behalf of tribalistic factions vying for illiberal control of the areas being patrolled. Leaflet problem sections of Baghdad warning residents of what will follow, and then carpet bomb those same places hours later. Treat entire neighborhoods known to be infested with militants as insurgent citadels to be eviscerated. Either go all the way, or (better yet) go home. More trenchant tactics will reduce fatalities somewhat, but the reduction in casualties will be far greater.