Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Gas or water worth more?

Out and about, I stumbled across this excerpt from an industry magazine:
The chain is now looking to cash in on the rising popularity of high-end bottled waters. Its stores have begun stocking brands like FIJI water and San Pellegrino. "High-end water has a lot of potential," he added.
High-end water? Consumerism gone amok. In a country where a gallon of water costs one-fifth of one penny in the most expensive municipalities (the figure is from NYC), I see a liter of Fiji water retailing for $1.79. That comes to $6.78 a gallon. Paying to fill up my tank, I overhear people celebrating the drop in gas prices to under $2 a gallon. The same publication shows that bottled water sales in the US will exceed $9 billion this year.

Yes, I realize there are convenience and health factors, as well as image concerns. But in a country that imports more oil then any other on the globe, does it not strike you as inane that people will pay over three times as much for water that they have in utter abundance as they will for ever-essential gasoline? That they're so price-sensitive to black gold that they'll drive across state lines to save a couple nickels per tank?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Japan moves to the right

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party continues to push the country to the right, having recently passed educational reforms designed to instill patriotism into Japanese kids:

Last month, the government revised its Basic Education Law for the first time since it was implemented after World War II, in an attempt to instill greater patriotism in students.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his majority in the Diet ostensibly argue that the educational reforms will quell an overemphasis on individuality, which they blame in part for "misbehaving children, bullying in classrooms and students who have no concern for others." Critics say it is an electoral ploy to shore up Abe's approval rating (currently at 48%). To the extent that the cynics are correct, it should be of little consolation to them, as the primary reason for the popularity decline is an attenuation of the reform agenda that made the eccentric former PM Koizumi so successful.

Most international media sources don't like Japan's rightward movement, especially Abe's attempts to strengthen his country's relationship with the US:
The alliance with the US is likely to become even more important in the face of China's rise, and, with the Americans' encouragement, Japan will continue to assume a wider global role.

Far from being persuaded by the growing power and prosperity of east Asia - and in particular China - to turn over a new leaf in its relationship with the region, it would appear that Japan is determined to continue with the mindset that has dominated its attitude ever since the Meiji restoration in 1868, namely one of superiority and detachment.

Most international media sources despise the US, and the reasons extend far beyond our flailings in the Middle East. As the ultimate market-dominant minority, America is naturally going to irk cosmopolitan elitists, who would like to see the US, and the West in general, decline to the point that there is no longer any globally dominant geographic area or civilization. This is another reason to cheer Abe on.

Looking long-term, the attempt to reacquaint this amazing nation (Japan didn't begin modernizing in earnest until the Meiji Reforms of 1868, and within four decades had defeated two hempispheric giants, Russia and China in back-to-back wars) with its past is a positive for the US.

It's part of a larger movement within Japan to amend its restrictive post-WWII Constitution, specifically Article Nine, which relegates the islands to a perpetual hiatus on military buildup and disallows the declaration of war.

The pacifistic constitution caused the US a headache almost immediately after being implemented, when a newly communist China still allied with the Soviet Union backed a North Korean incursion into the South in the summer of 1950. Electing to pull troops stationed in Japan to aid South Korea, the US, under Colonel Frank Kowalski, put together a ramshackle Japanese fighting force of some 75,000, equipped primarily with US supplies and weaponry.

It is a contemporary headache as well. While much attention is given to the justification for some 30,000-and declining US troops stationed in a South Korea that doesn't really want them there and matches up as favorably against the feeble North as well as the US does against Iran, the US has nearly twice that many active duty military personnel in Japan as it has stationed in South Korea. This 47,000-strong contingent strikes me as even less justified than the Korean presence.

Japan spends more than all but five countries in terms of total military expenditures, has the world's third largest economy, the second highest per-capita purchasing power in all of the East (only the financial and technology hub that is Hong Kong is more affluent), one of the world's most intelligent populations, over half of the world's working robots, and is home to several of the globe's most successful MNCs like Sony and Toyota. Can the country not defend itself? Do we have a vital interest in the island? Do we need a military presence there?

Or should we encourage Japan (and leave the door open for Taiwan and South Korea) to continue with its military buildup and look toward nuclear weapons (they were almost there at the end of WWII, and as the world's third largest user of nuclear energy, it can't be that far away)? Pincered by India to the south and Japan to the east, Chinese expansionism, to the extent that it is a threat to 'regional stability', will be checked. Letting our allies in the region stand on their own two feet, which they are clearly capable of doing, seems the best way to retain a favorable balance of power in the Pacific and curtail our unneccessary military commitments in an area of the world that is going to be increasingly difficult for us to control directly anyway.

The nationalistic bent may hold a key to turning the nation's demographic fortunes around as well. Japan's Health Minister recently came under fire for equating Japan's population of women between the ages of 15 and 50 with its number of "birth machines", but the context is important. He was pointing out the birth dearth that threatens a rapidly shrinking Japanese population, where one-fifth of the population is over the age of 65, and the total fertility rate has plummeted to an unsustainable 1.26 babies per woman (2.1 is generally considered the replenishment threshold). If current fecundity trends continue, those over the age of 65 will constitute more than a third of the population by mid-century, while the total population will have declined from 130 million today to 100 million. By the end of the century, it will have fallen to a paltry 64 million.

Japanese collectivism, and the racial pride that is essential to understanding East Asia (according to CIA estimates, Japan has a net migration rate of 0 per 1,000 people--few leave and few are allowed in), tell me that governmental reforms designed to impact the way the public views itself are more potent than in the West, where government-sponsored campaigns are often the target of derision and are rarely successful.

I wish the LDP luck.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ode to an eagle

The removal of the Gray Wolf from the Endangered Species list has me refreshing myself on North American wildlife. I'm not that familiar with Gray Wolf management (wildlife management is basically artificially-maintained defense against Darwinian natural selection in action), although a common misconception is that wolves are dangerous to people. To the contrary, they almost never assaulted people two decades ago and prior. In the last twenty years, attacks are on the rise (owing primarily to preservation efforts in areas of relatively significant human concentration) but still nowhere near the frequency and severity of attacks on humans from other canines (coyotes are especially problematic), or other predatory animals like mountain lions, diamond-backs, or black widows.

Jumping orthogonally, check out the shot of the Golden Eagle above. Even if an emaciated, immature one went after Fred the Rabbit, they're awe-inspiring.

What an incredibly majestic creature. I respectfully offer a dissent both to the majority of the Founding Fathers who chose the American (Bald) Eagle, as well as Ben Franklin who backed the Wild Turkey, to represent the US as the national bird.

True, the Bald Eagle is unique to North America, and is the second largest raptor floating in our skies (and no one is going to back the aesthetically 'displeasing' and nearly extinct but slowly recovering quasi-raptor, the California Condor). And the Wild Turkey is a scrappy, potentially vicious if unassuming bird (a nice fit for the US in the late 18th Century).

But the Golden Eagle combines dexterity, regality, and sheer power into an awe-inspiring end-product. Unlike his clumsier, slower cousin, the Golden Eagle doesn't live primarily through theft (from Ospreys) and the consumption of carrion. Instead, he hunts biggies (even the occasional sheep or deer). And tough though the turkey may be, he'd better take cover when the sun's saffron rays iridescently reflect off the feathered panoply of this most wonderful creature.

Provocative okay, controversial bad?

In the countless fawning eulogies for the late Robert Drinan heard on NPR today, another unspoken word-choice media guideline made itself apparent to me. When a thing somewhere on the right is threatening to shake things up, it's almost always "controversial". When a similarly disruptive thing comes from the left, it is often "provocative". Hence, Drinan was quite provocative during his time in office, especially regarding the Vietnam War and gunning for Nixon (I counted "provocative" four times throughout the day but didn't hear "controversial" once). Meanwhile, Bush's argument that failing to support the troop surge will harm the troops is "controversial" (keeping in mind that most of the media errantly categorizes the Bush neocons as rightists).

It's not as tight as the use of "moderate" to describe a liberal Republican while "conservative" is used to describe a conservative Democrat, or as certain as the employment of the adjective "vibrant" to portay a locale as a desirable place to be when there is little that actually makes it a desirable place to be, but it's not a bad generality.

For example, a Google search for "Charles Murray controversial" turns up 956,000 hits; "Charles Murray provocative" turns up 318,000. For "Michael Moore controversial" we get 1,180,000 hits; "Michael Moore provocative" delivers 748,000. Moore is thus over 90% more likely to get "provocative" in place of "controversial" relative to Charles Murray. Using "controversial/provocative liberal/conservative" sees "liberal" as nearly 1,100% more likely to get "provocative" relative to "controversial" as compared to "conservative"--and the web isn't as left-leaning as 'mainstream' media are. I suspect a LexisNexis search will reveal an even more pronounced disparity.

Diversity, diversity

I wonder if the dreams of our fathers are being realized today:
The emergence of viable black, Hispanic and female presidential candidates -- combined with unprecedented pressure for campaign donations -- is drawing a new generation of female and minority donors to the intensifying contest for cash among 2008 Democratic aspirants.

Illinois' Barack Obama, the only African-American currently in the U.S. Senate, is courting a network of rising African-Americans in law firms, at high-tech companies and on Wall Street. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose mother is Mexican, is mobilizing Latino business owners. And New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is tapping into email lists of individual women across the country.
Why Singapore's patriarch, Lee Kwan Yew, is weary of democratic reform:
"In multiracial societies, you don't vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion."
Can you blame him?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Relationship (or lack thereof) between intelligence, education dollars

Charles Murray's three-part exposition (here, here, and here) on education and intelligence brought into the mainstream an argument that empiricists have been making for a long time.

Essentially, he argues that innate intelligence sets parameters as to what children can achieve, and urges educational reforms that cater to this reality. For anyone who has children, the veracity of Murray's central argument is obvious--while their kids have been raised in the same environment, been given the same opportunities, and have been imbued with the same ideas of morality and purpose, they differ in a countless number of ways. Yes, our children on average tend to be more like one another than one of their classmates chosen at random, but there are countless exceptions. Blatantly obvious.

Yet our public education system is set up on the demonstrably false premise that educational opportunities (specifically money put into the system) creates smarter children. So while educrats clamor for insatiable spending increases, American children continue to perform below their peers in the rest of the developed world. More resources are needed!

In actuality, the reason the US doesn't compare favorably with other Western European and East Asian nations is because over 25% of our population is black or Hispanic, and these groups are on average less cognitively gifted than whites and Asians (this same demographic reality holds true when considering socially pathological ills on a national level). As the Hispanic portion of our student population grows, we are only going to fall further behind, irrespective of how much money or how many labtops each student receives. If only white and Asian American students' test scores on considered, by contrast, the US places near the front of the international pack (usually in third or fourth).

Do those who clamor for more spending have a case, at least domestically? There are plenty of anecdotal examples arguing that they do not. Most prominent among many is that of the KCMO schoool district, which was infamously ordered in 1985 by Federal Judge Russell Clark to spend $11,700 per pupil, causing higher teachers' salaries, adding amenities like a model UN, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and a robotics lab, and bringing the teacher-pupil ratio to 1-to-13, the most favorable in the country. Of course, the district continued to perform dismally and eventually lost accredidation that it is to this day struggling to regain.

How about at the state level? The correlation between per-pupil expenditures and NAEP performance is non-existent, with a p-value of .62. There is no relationship whatsoever. What about paying enough to keep good teachers around? Again, nothing. The relationship is statistically insignificant and actually trends inversely--that is, as teacher salaries rise, performance drops.

If we adjust for cost-of-living, a modest, but statistically significant relationship of .35 exists. For teacher salaries, it remains beyond statistical confidence. But the relationship between a state's standard-of-living and its childrens' scholastic performance is a considerably more rigorous .65. To the extent that greater real spending is associated with better performance, it's a symptom of a smarter, more productive population. A state's standard-of-living, not educational expenditures, is what's important. That's not surprising, given that monetary SoL proxies quite well for IQ.

If the goal truly is to raise academic performance, realizing a more intelligent population is the best way of achieving it. States need to heed the advice of VCU's Professor Michael McDaniel, not the bunk spewed from the mouths of NEA harpies. A merit immigration system, an end to third-world Hispanic immigration, and economic incentives to encourage the affluent to have more children and the impoverished to have fewer, will all do far more to boost the US' scholastic performance than any amount of educational expenditure increases ever will.

Read through Murray's stuff if you have the time, especially the second piece. In it Murray makes the same argument that I, and more persuasively Randall Parker, have been making for some time. Education needs to be customizable, and online classes and video-recorded lectures are a good way of going about that.

It'll cut costs drastically (secondary room-and-board educational costs average $15,500 in-state), obliterate the anti-empirical, anti-Western slant that characterizes academia by allowing the most skilled professors to lecture and instruct potentially millions of students (professors are a full ten times more likely to be leftists than the general public), and business leaders are more than willing to accept the idea--63% of them believe online education to be at least as good as or superior to traditional classroom setups.

Further, vocational schools will spring up allowing less endowed students an early exit from the standard primary educational track that is not going to do them any good so that they can start earlier in life and enjoy a modestly better standard of living than they would as unskilled menials. Relatedly, the most endowed will be able to take courses over the summer and on weekends, so they can blaze school quicker and become productive members of society faster than they are able to now.

Finally, as an aside, I'm often asked why I continue to patronize the DOW Jones news service with a WSJ subscription. For one, it is to insure an endless supply of blog post topics--every time the paper's op/ed board opens its mouth on immigration it lobs the restrictionist movement a softball. More seriously, the paper is the only major print organ in the country that permits the free expression of ideas from the empirical right. In what alternative universe would Murray get to run a three-part series in the NYT or the LAT?

Lighter-skinned immigrants more successful than darker peers

Lighter-skinned immigrants are more successful than their darker counterparts:
Joni Hersch, a law and economics professor at Vanderbilt University, looked at a government survey of 2,084 legal immigrants to the United States from around the world and found that those with the lightest skin earned an average of 8 percent to 15 percent more than similar immigrants with much darker skin.
This follows from the general relationship between skin color and IQ (John Bolton pointed me to an international survey of IQ and skin tone that I've misplaced--John, if you'll post it in the comments I'd greatly appreciate it).

Hersch illustrates how many social researchers are less astute than the average third grade child:
Hersch took into consideration other factors that could affect wages, such as English-language proficiency, education, occupation, race or country of origin, and found that skin tone still seemed to make a difference in earnings.
How about IQ? Or even rigorous accounting for of educational attainment. Did she look at years in school, or the degree obtained? Without considering these factors the 'conclusions' she comes to are meaningless.

I'd like to know how the open-bordered putative free-marketers will deal with this one. Is the free flow of resources, including people, riddled with inefficient biases and racially-imposed deadweight losses? Or are some immigrants more valuable than others? Of course the free-market argument works in the second case--the market rewards lighter skinned immigrants because they tend to be more intelligent and more productive, but admitting that is nearly fatal to a continued enthusiasm for unfettered open borders.

Even if Hersh's puerile hypothesis is true (and due to statistical discrimination--in which employers and customers rationally employ in favoring one of two candidates who appear otherwise equal--it isn't completely invalid), isn't that still be an argument for taking in fewer low-earning immigrants? If the US is so irrationally racist that swarthy migrants are treated like second-class citizens, is it not our moral responsibility to keep more of them from coming into this hellhole?

Whether you prefer quixotic tripe or empircally-grounded logic, it's time for a merit immigration system and an end to the Hispanic third-world inundation.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ignorant lights create up to 10% of all traffic congestion

Getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic isn't inevitable, at least not to the degree that it currently occurs. Fat Knowledge reports that the Federal Highway Administration has found that 5%-10% of delays on the nation's highways are a direct result of poorly-timed traffic signals, translating into an extra 295.8 million traffic hours (per year, presumably).

That's a substantial deadweight loss--if those stuck in traffic suffered only a minimum wage opportunity, that comes to an accounting cost of over $1.5 billion. Of course, many of those facing vehicular stagnation during normal business hours, when traffic congestion is the worst, are white collar professionals whose work is worth significantly more than five bucks an hour.

The congestion also surely accentuates the problem of drivers with 'intermittent explosive disorder', the subset of the population most likely to engage in road rage (up to 16 million Americans depending on how it's defined).

Then there is the squandered gasoline. While idling, your engine is consuming about as much gas as it would be if you were driving 25 mph. So if 7.5% (using the middle of the estimated range) of the slowdown is due to unnecessary congestion, and being stuck costs about half as much in gas per minute as cruising down the highway does, about 5.25 billion gallons of gas are wasted in the US due to sub-optimal traffic signals. At 19.5 gallons of gas per barrel of oil, that's 270 million barrels of squandered oil, or about 750,000 barrels per day (very roughly), saving over half as much oil as opening up drilling in ANWR would add.

Without being a city planner, a few common sense improvements, in addition to simply re-timing older intersections and installing traffic control automation in antiquated intersections that are not equipped with it, are not difficult to come up with:

- Minimize the number of signal changes. Each time one occurs, there is an interregnum in which the signals for all directions must be red.

- Building on this, give increased priority to main thoroughfares. It is senseless to stop twenty cars to let a single one pull out of a neighborhood rivulet onto a main drag. Doing thus forces forty tons to be brought from cruising speed to a complete stop over a few hundred feet. If there were quasi-highways every few miles going east-west or north-south (concentrated in juxtaposition to the area's major freeways), in which drivers entering them from side streets would be required to wait a couple of minutes to get on them, massive deadweight loss would be reduced. Yes, drivers would be required to wait a couple of minutes early in their commutes, but after that they'd be able to cruise without stop for most of the remaining drive.

- Install countdown systems in all electronic crosswalk signal devices. These serve as enduring yellow lights that will increase traffic flow and save fuel.

As an aside, required drive around the metro area for work purposes, but living on its outskirts, I've become a bit obsessed with trying to optimize the fuel economy of my vehicle. The EPA lists my vehicle (a Taurus) as getting an average of about 23 mpg, but I get just under 32 thanks to a combination of efficient driving tactics.

FF parody

For those born sometime between 1980 and 1990, this'll make your day. If not, viewing it will be a waste of your time.

It's a role-playing parody, mostly taken from the Final Fantasy series but with a touch of Zelda as well. While VII is the primary focus of the satirization, the creator goes back as far as IV (from what I can tell--there may be some III in there, too). The timing, the sound effects, and the UCs are hilariously well done. The Chocobo running into the camera is the only aspect of the spoof that should be done away with. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Morocco to restrict mosque money, construction

The Occident might take a lesson from one of its former colonial holdings:
Morocco has enacted a law that restricts the construction of mosques.

Parliament approved legislation that increases supervision over Islamic charities and activities. The new law, passed on Jan. 16, would regulate donations for the construction of mosques, Middle East Newsline reported.

Under the bill, donors must register with Moroccan authorities before establishing or contributing to a mosque fund. The law also stipulated that a special permit would be required for the construction of a Muslim house of worship.

Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Al Tawfiq said the law was meant to prevent the exploitation of mosques. Al Tawfiq denied that the legislation was recommended by Morocco's allies in the West.
How delightfully scandalous would it be to find that certain Western governments actively encouraged the Parliamentary measure? The situation is a little more desperate in North Africa than in Europe or the US. So quixotic notions of unfettered religious freedoms for Muslims must be put on hold there (as it is for Christians and Jews throughout most of the Islamic world), pragmatic Western dipolomats are arguing.

Parenthetically, I'd love to find out that Western governments are doing just that. Seems to me the best way to regulate the Islamic world is to separate ourselves from it by ending Islamic immigration to North America and Western Europe, write the $300+ billion squandered in Iraq as a tragic loss and pour money into alternative energy projects (creating research prizes or a instituting a sort of Manhattan Project for energy independence) to try and obsolesce Middle Eastern oil, and promise Islamic governments that if they do not sufficiently keep their populations in check--from an unapologetic Western perspective--the US will carpet bomb their capitals, knock them out of power, and kill their (extended) families. Said leaders will have free reign as to how they make this happen.

That Western governments may have encouraged King Mohammad to let his Parliament vote the way it did is just my conjecture. What is more interesting is how this story has received virtually no coverage in Western media. That a country whose population is more than 99% Muslim must create a bureacracy to regulate the construction of, and fundraising for, mosques, is quite telling. It begs the obvious question as to why new mosques are permitted to be built in Dearborn, Birmingham, or Paris. Yet a week after the Parliamentary vote in Morocco (and I can't find a breakdown of how overwhelmingly the 600+ representatives voted in favor of the measure, which Islamic parties oppose), it's all quiet on the western front.

Propitious pets

"We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment." -- Mary Anne Evans

Having a pet (specifically a dog) is good for you:

A psychologist from Queen's University, Belfast, said dog owners tended to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Writing in the British Journal of Health Psychology, she says that regular "walkies" may partly explain the difference.

Dr Deborah Wells reviewed dozens of earlier research papers which looked at the health benefits of pet ownership.

She confirmed that pet owners tended in general to be healthier than the average member of the population.
The article doesn't detail controls that may or may not have been used. As income increases, so does the propensity to own pets. Also, as family size increases, so does the likelihood that the family will have a pet. Income is correlated with physical health. Family size is more ambigious as many people living in extended family situations are doing so out of necessity, but married folks tend to be in better physical condition than lone wolves. I suspect that after taking financial well-being into account, larger families are generally healthier ones.

Wells' research, however, shows that dogs have a more benign affect on their owners than cats do. It's often argued (and it appears to have some empirical grounding) that the fidelity, courage, and selflessness of dogs make them choice pets for Republicans, while the insouciance, independence, and haughtiness of their feline counterparts attract Democrats to cats. And Republicans tend to be wealthier, healthier, and happier than Democrats.

So it may be that good health and other characteristics that are associated with it lead people to take in pets, especially dogs. But there are plausible reasons to believe that, ceteris paribus, dog ownership bestows health benefits on the owner. Dogs need exercise. They need to be walked, wrestled, and played with. That physical activity is good for you as well! Dogs relieve stress. Stress can cause inflammation, and inflammation is associated with all kinds of ill effects on your health. Dogs provide unrelenting companionship. They are a powerful bulwark against loneliness, which, like stress, is linked to all kinds of negative outcomes from learning problems to high blood pressure.

More reasons to get one of man's best friends. Unfortunately for me, I live alone and my work schedule keeps me away from home for periods of time that are too extended to adequately care for one. For those in my situation, I recommend this online substitute until your life's situation changes to the extent that you can adopt your own pet.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Email without leaving a trace

The world of record-keeping just became even more interesting. VaporStream is a service that vanquishes email correspondences after they've been received, in Mission Impossible-style virtuality. Instead of five seconds, the reader has until he clicks out of the message. The name of the sender disappears even faster than that.

As the technology behind the patent is pending, the LLC's site doesn't detail how it works. From my limited understanding of the virtual world, it appears that Vapor sends an empty email with a sort of IM attachment. Consequently, no email record is leftover in either the sender's or the receiver's email account, and Vapor, which hosts the email-turned-IM, deletes the IM from its server after the correspondence has been read. The service also claims to disallow saving and printing of any messages. I suppose "Print Screen" is probably still a viable circumvention, but the service is not billed as being designed to keep 'whistleblowers' who receive untoward communications from reporting them, but for allowing communication that neither party ever wants to be made public to remain forever private.

It seems inevitable that such a service will run into subpoenas from the SEC or other governmental investigators wanting records (like what happened last year to several major search engines) of the communications Vapor has relayed and then destroyed. Such a situation will put the company in an extremely precarious position, sticking it between challenging the government and defrauding its customers, who were sold on the service precisely because it promised no third-party would ever become privy to confidential communications.

While it apparently does allow mischievious employees to get away with amorous emails and dirty-joke exchanges, a company can still monitor these things via remote access.

The huge potential upside is that it will allow company executives and other employers to communicate candidly and honestly, without the perpetual fear of stepping outside the bounds of political correctness. This will encourage crucial risk-taking in a number of ways: R&D/brainstorming activity will be more secure, confidential exchanges will no longer include the burden of having to physically meet in discreet locations, and hiring/firing/promotional considerations will be able to be made with more attention to merit and less attention to fending off charges of whatever-ism (agism, sexism, racism, etc) down the road, allowing the market to be more efficient with the placement and utilization of its human capital.

Encourage Tancredo to run in '08

Tom Tancredo has created an exploratory committee to look into a 2008 Presidential run. An online petition urging him to make a bid is here. He's been an outspoken critic of the third-world Hispanic inundation of the Southwest and especially Florida (where he sardonically compared Miami to Havana), and has vociferously called for reduced immigration and tighter border security since being elected to the House over six years ago (one of the few sovereignty warriors who was on the war path prior to 9/11).

The other GOP big names--Giuliani, McCain, Brownback--are open-bordered amnesty advocates, so Tancredo has my support for sure (I'll also strongly back Duncan Hunter if he's able to gain some notoriety). That Tancredo has enthusiastically supported the Bush Administration's war in Iraq isn't optimal, but I don't want to make the perfect an enemy of the good. Encouragingly, Tancredo has joined in the chorus of opposition to Bush's recent troop 'surge' (that still falls nearly 350,000 troops short of what a RAND survey concluded would be necessary to stabilize the place).

And immigration reform is more important than the war in Iraq. That's easy for me to say as I bask comfortably in the glow of my LCD screen, five hundred miles away from any spot outside of the continental US. But on the macro level, the Iraq war is something the US can recover from.

Yes, we may end up squandering 5,000 promising American soldiers and up to $2 trillion for what is a strategic net loss even before factoring in the dead and wounded or the enormous economic costs. But fundamentally our free market system, entrepreneurial ethos, relatively high IQ population, and strong national unity (for a Western nation), will remain intact. Continued importation of the Hispanic underclass, in contrast, directly threatens all of these essential fabrics to continued US greatness. The Iraq war is like going to a local community college when offered a full-ride at MIT, while maintaining open borders is like eating paint chips instead of potato chips. With the former, the next Bill Gates may still be lingering in the parents' garage; with the latter the effects are irreversible.

I realize that Tancredo is a long shot. In (premature) polling among Republicans, Tancredo and Hunter garner a combined 2%! He's short and doesn't possess a particularly alacritous tongue. The Republican's national leadership and its corporate backers are firmly against him. Even though he's been a sovereignty champion for years, he's still largely an unknown figure. I've had a Tancredo for President bumper sticker on my car for almost three years now (I was in my sophomore year of college in a very leftist town, and I like conversational engagement, so give me a break--although now that I work for a large corporation it probably isn't in my personal best-interest to retain the sticker), and almost everyone who makes mention of it to me does so by asking me who he is.

But if not before then, when the debates begin the Hunter-Tancredo one-two punch will make the populist alternative public knowledge. If nothing else, it'll force other nominees to justify empirically why they hold US sovereignty in contempt. The sooner we get that ball rolling the better, so sign the petition and encourage Tancredo to go for it.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Bush to tell ME to fix ME problem he created, Kurds want none of it

I don't want to beat a dead horse by pointing out yet again just how inane the US' involvement in Iraq is. But with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid loudly proclaiming that President Bush must receive authorization from Congress prior to any military intervention in Iran, it bears repeating:

Mr. Gates, who then flew to Afghanistan on a trip that will take him to the Gulf region and Iraq in coming days, wants to make sure that U.S. allies in the region understand the consequences of sitting on the sidelines if they are concerned about Iran," said a senior defense official. The Sunni-dominated monarchies are increasingly concerned that Shia-dominated Iran will try to dominate the region by appealing to Shiites in such places as Bahrain, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has probably already snuck in from the sidelines. Saudi Arabian official Nawaf Obaid has indicated as much. Because of the kingdom's internal instability and its signifcant Shia contingent in the oil-rich east, an official military prescence is highly improbable. But the Royal Family will (or will continue to?) funnel money to Sunni fighters, many of them former members of the Republican Guard. Egypt has simultaneously made it known that it will provide a pummeled Sunni resistance with vehicles and weaponry.

Mubarak and Abdullah must be incredibly irked by Gates' demands. Iran is the sole victor of the Iraq invasion, and expanding Iranian influence is directly attributable to the Bush Administration's disastrous blunder. It's like a chronic drunk-driver admonishing you for not doing enough to quell the effects of drunk driving, while he is continues to recklessly drive drunk.

Says Senator John McCain, an unrepentant supporter of the invite-the-world, invade-the-world strategem:
"I'd like to see the Saudis, for example, fund a major jobs creation program in Iraq."
The Sunni center and westernmost province of Iraq are not resource rich. It wouldn't take much to truly spur these local economies. In the late eighties, as a collapsing Soviet Union saw Gorbachev contracting his forces in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia poured more than a billion dollars to fund mujahideen fighters.

With a budget surplus approaching nearly $100 billion, one percent of that transferred directly to Sunnis would represent in the neighborhood of a $250 boost in Sunni per capita purchasing power, an increase of some 13%! Even at the 'national' level (an abstraction that is almost meaningless in understanding contemporary Iraq), a Saudi cash infusion might do just what McCain pines for, but the consequences would not be an attenuation of the raging ethnic warfare, but an accentuation of it.

Meanwhile, a 'national' Iraqi force sent in to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad is reluctant to take part in the its mission, to say the least. NPR's Ivan Watson reports that Kurds are considerably less committed to a centralized Iraq than the New Orleans' police force was to its job following Katrina:
"The public is adamantly against it up here," said Lt. Col. Dennis Chapman, who commands a small team of American military advisers attached to the Kurdish battalion. ...

Chapman says there have been desertions. He expects only several hundred soldiers to show up in Baghdad, out of a battalion of 1,600.

The pesh merga (Kurdish militia) has been battling with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters in Kirkuk for over a year. While the Kurd's are Sunni Muslim, they are on relatively good terms with Shia Iran. They are non-Arab and friends of neither side in Iraq's sectarian fighting. Given that they cannot even communicate with Sunni or Shia Arabs, it's hardly surprising:
Sunni Muslim in religion, the Kurds consider themselves ethnically distinct from Arabs, a group that includes most Shiite and Sunni Iraqis. While many of their officers speak some Arabic, most of the troops [90%] do not. Their government flies the Kurdish, not Iraqi, flag and desires independence.
Do you believe that Aztlan members from the American Southwest would take up arms to stop fighting between Irish- and English-Americans in Boston? Only affluent nations of Western European ancestry are consistently capable of that level of self-immolating magnanimity. The Kurds aren't going to sustain casualties in Baghdad over an extended period of time just to undermine their own power and sovereignty.

This is all a result of a quixotic belief in the transforming power of representative democracy, of guaranteeing self-determination. Nevermind that a consanguinety rate of over 50%, an estimated IQ of 87, tribalistic divisions going back centuries, an intolerant religion in Islam, a PPP of $1,900, and an all-or-none cultural ethos utterly prevents the outcome the Bush neocons initially desired (or claimed they did). Nevermind that our putative great antagonist in the region is the sole beneficiary of over 3,000 dead Americans and tens of thousands of more injured, plus some $300 billion and growing down the drain.

What the hell are we sacrificing promising, patriotic blood and treasure for? Ignoring the restraints of reality, what is the optimal outcome at this point anyway? I don't even know what it is, let alone how it can possibly be achieved. It's time to cut our losses and disconnect from the Islamic world altogether.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Another example of how Hispanic immigration is terrible for American blacks

++Addition++ The Crider case also illustrates the false dichotomy of amnesty or mass deportations. For each illegal federal agents nabbed in the raid, nearly five fled Stillmore on their own:
Two Crider employees were among four men arrested for allegedly running a document mill, churning out fake green cards and other fake documents. Immigration officials initially worked with Crider over several months to gradually weed out those workers who couldn't prove legal worker status. Then, federal officials became much more aggressive, launching the raid over Labor Day weekend. Agents hauled away about 120 mostly Mexican immigrants, according to immigration officials.

The rest fled Stillmore or went into hiding nearby. Some women and children hid for days in the scrubland and pine woods outside of town without food or shelter while they waited for immigration agents to leave. In the week after the raids, dozens of Latinos crowded a vacant lot beside a bodega, across from Stillmore's city hall, to get on buses operated by a Mexican bus line leaving for other cities in the U.S. or back to Mexico.

When President Eisenhower's administration executed Operation Wetback, between seven and eight illegal Mexican laborers left for each menial that the INS detained. Increased enforcement will lead to attrition. So will an end to unconstitutional birthright citizenship. So will a physical barrier along the US-Mexico border (meanwhile, the 700 miles of Congressionally-approved fencing waits on funding that may never materialize). So will scrapping of the federal income tax in favor of a national sales tax. So will direct entitlement benefits paid to US citizens in lieu of the complex and inefficient government programs now in place.

Also, Donald Collins of VDare has come out with an article about the same Crider raid.

---

Another example illustrating how the arguments the immigration restriction movement persistently makes regarding unfettered, unskilled Hispanic migration into the US are basically right in every way (free article here):

STILLMORE, Ga. -- After a wave of raids by federal immigration agents on Labor Day weekend, a local chicken-processing company called Crider Inc. lost 75% of its mostly Hispanic 900-member work force. The crackdown threatened to cripple the economic anchor of this fading rural town.

But for local African-Americans, the dramatic appearance of federal agents presented an unexpected opportunity. Crider suddenly raised pay at the plant. An advertisement in the weekly Forest-Blade newspaper blared "Increased Wages" at Crider, starting at $7 to $9 an hour -- more than a dollar above what the company had paid many immigrant workers. The company began offering free transportation from nearby towns and free rooms in a company-owned dormitory near to the plant. For the first time in years, local officials say, Crider aggressively sought workers from the area's state-funded employment office -- a key avenue for low-skilled workers to find jobs. Of 400 candidates sent to Crider -- most of them black -- the plant hired about 200.

One of the worst things the US has done for native blacks and Hispanics, and the native white working class was passing the Immigration Reform Act of 1965. By opening up the US to massive Latin American third-world immigration, the Act has undercut the menial's best friend--a tight labor supply. The wealth gap has been egregiously accentuated, as an increase in the unskilled labor supply depresses wages and opportunities for the less endowed. A merit immigration system would do just the opposite--by increasing the supply of professionals, the services professionals offer are kept modest due to more intense competition, and the extra wealth higher value-adding professionals create translates into more work for a working class that would be shrinking as a proportion of the total population.

Despite the appaling dereliction of duty on the part of contemporary black leaders to call attention to the immigration issue, the percentage of blacks (73%) who believe immigration levels are too high is greater than the national (66%) and white (68%) percentages.

That's not surprising, despite the attempts of groups like La Raza to paint immigration restrictionists as bigots opposed to the civil rights' movement the black community collectively holds so dear. In the economic recovery of '03-'05, black unemployment actually increased by .8%, while it decreased for all other groups and the national unemployment rate fell by .2%. This bodes terribly for blacks, who tend to benefit more than the rest of the nation when times are good and suffer more than the rest of the nation when times are bad. The next recession is really going to hammer the black community.

The Crider raid is unequivocally good news for blacks:

For the first time since significant numbers of Latinos began arriving in Stillmore in the late 1990s, the plant's processing lines were made up predominantly of African-Americans.
For many enterprising white guys, that's not a reason to celebrate. Obsequious Latin serfs are more polite, harder working, and less physically threatening than black inner-city imports. But when an illegal from Oaxaca displaces a black from South Los Angeles, the black doesn't just disappear. Jobless, he's now more likely to involve himself in criminal activity, welfare recipiency, and other undesirable social activites.

Those who seem to fancifully believe that Hispanic menials are replacing blacks need to ask themselves what is more desirable--the unproductive Leroy working at a low-wage job with Juan back home, or the marginally more productive Juan working the low-wage job with Leroy on the dole and with idle hands?

The first-generation toilers in many cases enjoy a ten-fold increase in their earning power relative to their places of origin. But are their children, who are growing up in a decadent culture that inculcates in them a hostility toward work and encourages an entitlement mentality, who've grown up with Nikes and XBoxes, and whose cognitive ability does not compare favorably with their white and Asian counterparts, going to accept grueling for $6 an hour in deplorable conditions without benefits? Or are they going to become similar to the blacks who are seen as unreliable and unwilling to work for such 'chump change' with skills that cannot legally earn them much more than that six dollars?

Men like President Lincoln who advocated repatriating blacks to Africa or sending them to other places like Haiti have long sense been removed from the political arena. The ancestors of those the British and Spanish brought over four centuries ago for cheap labor are here to stay. We have the option as to whether or not we want to take in another underachieving ethnic underclass and still have the ability to stop the importation. We owe it not only to our international competitiveness and our high standard of living to do so--we also owe it to the least endowed of our fellow citizens, who are hurt the most by extra competition at a time in history when their limited abilities are becoming progressively less valued in the marketplace.

The packing industry's working conditions are embarrassing:

A 2005 Government Accountability Office report on working conditions in the meat and poultry industry found injury rates among the highest of any U.S. industry and cited slippery floors and cold temperatures among the harsh conditions workers endure. Federal workplace-safety inspectors cited Crider in 1997 for a forklift accident in which a worker was run over and killed. Other plants in Georgia have even higher incidences of violations, according to federal records.

A newspaper ad by Stillmore, Ga., chicken processor Crider, which lost most of its work force in government raids against illegal-immigrants last September. With the arrival of so many immigrants willing to toil for rock-bottom wages on brutal round-the-clock shifts, the number of black workers at Crider declined steadily to 14% in early 2006 from as high as 70% a decade ago, the company says. Wages stagnated at about $6 an hour, just above the U.S. minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, current and former workers say.

These workers are obviously subsidized by the net taxpayer. Crider is enjoying corporate welfare, paid for by value-adding Americans. Six dollars an hour comes to about $12,000 a year. Even if these workers are legal, the EITC alone (upwards of $4,400 in the form of a refundable credit, not in terms of simply adjusting AGI and removing $4,400 from reported income) makes it likely that not only are they not paying a dime in federal income taxes, they're actually probably getting a disbursement in the form of a credit. With a couple of children, at nearly $10,000 annually per (plus another $3,000 or so if ESL is required), Crider is enjoying dirt cheap labor while the net taxpayer is contributing more to the worker than his employer is! That's without considering all the other negative externalities he brings--overcrowding, pollution, housing unaffordability, crime, disease, infrastructure wear, social services, police, medical care, and so on.

This is not the free market. It is a wealth transfer from American natives to third-world, low value-adding industries, and to migrants who last year sent $20 billion out of the US economy in remittances to Mexico alone. Crider is not a company that helps put the US on the cutting edge of technology or helps it lead the world economy. There is no reason to subsidize a third-world industry in a developed country. It's better for the maquiladora to stay in Mexico than to bring in and operate the maquiladora in Georgia, although innovating out of the need for serf labor is more optimal still.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thinking about China's one-child policy

The case of a popular Chinese singer having a second child in violation of Communist government's one-child policy has spotlighted what is perceived to be draconian by most of the Western world. Beijing responded by stating that the country has no choice but to keep the policy in effect. The artist, Mao Amin, despite the government-honoring name, is prepared to shell out the big bucks to have the kid anyway.

An aside, the policy is not as all-encompassing as it is often portrayed. It applies only to the Han, who are essentially the country's first-class citizens, comprising a little over 90% of the population. While ostensibly in place to curtail rural birthing, enforcement is lax in much of rustic China and more stringent in areas of concentrated conurbation. And rural dwellers are allowed an extra baby if the first one is a girl (so the first-born girl is protected from infanticide, but if the coin lands wrong-side-up twice in a row, the second child isn't so lucky). Also, single children are allowed to procreate twice (Mao has another sibling so she is still in violation). It is possible to circumvent the regulation by having a child out-of-country or by paying fines (both of which make the policy mildly eugenic).

Seems to me the policy is one of folly. China's economy is growing over seventeen times faster than its population is. That translates into about a $650 per year increase in terms of purchasing power parity. A doubling of China's birth rate (which, if sustained would propel the country to a total fertility rate of 3.5 kids per woman), ceteris paribus, would still see the economy growing at over five times the rate of the nation's population. A bump up to replenishment rate (from the curent TFR of 1.73), would slow current PPP growth by about $20 annually, to $630. Granted, more resources and energy would have to be devoted to extra urchins running around, so the slowdown might be more pronounced.

But the decrease in living standards that would result from a birthing increase will be offset to some degree by an attenuation of kidnapping rings (where baby girls are snatched away to be sold off as young brides to the parents of a young son, or for puproses of international adoption, where girls are disproportionately chosen over boys by foreigners from the developed world), and the settling effects a more gender-balanced population will likely bring (ie Massachusetts Bay vs Jamestown). This latter point strikes me as particularly potent, since regime stability is putatively always on the minds of the Chinese government. Also, allowing the yuan to float offers another way to boost living standards almost overnight (to the detriment of exports, but the country is running a $120 billion annual trade surplus).

It is oft-quoted that China will anomalously grow old before growing rich. To the extent that is true, it'll be the government's own doing by retaining the one-child policy. The PRC's working-age population (ages 15-64) is going to grow by over 100 million in the coming decade. By that time, at current growth rates, it'll be wealthier than Poland or Hungary are today. With a median age of 33, China is nearly a decade younger than the rest of the developed world that is facing a similar inverting age distribution.

With over $800 billion in foreign exchange reserves, a population savings rate of 30% of income, a high IQ population (100) and a rapidly expanding economy, it seems that China is shooting itself in the foot by intentionally perpetrating a fate that is likely to befall it anyway as it becomes wealthier--that of the rest of the developed world (save the US and Israel), where women are no longer reproducing enough children to sustain their populations over time.

Probability bucked, but at least (for my ego) NFC holds

Well, the expected would've trumped the unexpected if Marlon McCree had prudently swatted Brady's pass into the ground on fourth down with only six minutes remaining, instead of picking it off (even if he hadn't sloppily turned it back over to the Pats it still would've cost San Diego field position). Instead, the two-turnover play led to a New England touchdown and victory.

I should've added an asterisk to the post on the top-two seeded post-season NFL dominance for this particular playoff season--Marty Schottenheimer chokes in the playoffs. Always. You can be as confident of that 'theory' as you are of evolution or gravity! He's taken his team to the playoffs thirteen times, but has never won a divisional championship.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Illegal immigrants and universal healthcare

The WSJ op/ed board is lamenting Schwarzenegger's new 'universal' medical coverage proposal that will in some form likely become policy in the coming months. What the net taxpayer had been subsidizing through free medical care for illegal immigrants is going to be shifted in part to private employers, and the 'corporatists' at the WSJ don't want their constituency to have to suffer what they haughtily mock most of America for not wanting to suffer.

Continued Hispanic immigration is swelling the ranks of the uninsured, as some 43% of non-citizens living in the US are medically uninsured. In a democratic society, that translates to more pressure for just the kind of proposal Schwarzenegger is making. The logic is really quite elementary. But when it comes to immigration, logic can be tough to come by, as Jared Taylor tersely explains:
We claim to be fighting poverty, but we import poor people. We claim to be fighting school failure but we import dropouts. We claim to be fighting disease, but we import tuberculosis and plague. We claim to be fighting crime, but we import people with high crime rates. This is baffling for anyone not in the uplift business and afraid of running out of work.
Despite only representing about 5% of the total US population, illegal immigrants are a powerful determinant of a state's uninsured rate. The percentage of a state's population that is illegal correlates with the percentage of its population that is uninsured at a statistically significant .54 (data here). Look for Texas, New Mexico, and Florida, who have the nation's highest rates of uninsured(California is fourth), to eventually go the way of the Golden State and transfer wealth from natives to immigrants to better the latter's health.

Notice also that these states, including California, used to be GOP strongholds. Only Texas remains so, and even the Lone Star state is taking on a blue hue along its border with Mexico. Immigration is obliterating the Republican Party's hold on the Southwest by importing a deluge of what is the apotheosis of the Democratic Party's favored voter: destitute, diseased, uneducated, criminally-prone, member of an ethnic minority, and disproportionately urban.

Why the WSJ op/ed board can't come to terms with just how detrimental third-world Hispanic immigration is to the economic and social positions it takes is frustratingly confounding.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Suicide bombers don't clean up well

Maybe the elusive 'moderates' in the Muslim world should counter the traditional belief in 72 virgins for Islamic martyrs with more pictures like these (WARNING: Violent image of ugly reality). Even if you're rewarded with dozens of houris at your beckon call, in such a condition it doesn't look to be the most pleasurable of experiences.

At least in this life, despite having to settle for none other than your buck-toothed first cousin, your genitals are locatable and your organs aren't strewn out across the ground for vermin to feed on.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Iran is Iraq's big winner

The WSJ's Neil King Jr. and Greg Jaffe have a great feature (available for free here) on the geo-political implications and reprecussions of the US-led Iraq 'strategy' change.

We've been antagonistic toward Iran for almost thirty years now. We withheld support for Massoud's Northern Alliance in Afghanistan for too long as the Taliban grew in the country's south, in part because of Massoud's friendly ties to Iran.

Despite pincering Persia through US-led invasions to the country's east and west, this paltry place is causing us all kinds of headaches. And as the WSJ details, the big winner of the Iraq--historically hostile to its eastern neighbor--debacle is none other than our putative arch-nemesis in the region, Iran. Despite the WSJ op/ed's paeans celebrating open borders in North America, Jordan is mobilizing forces to shut down the influx of Iraqi refugees pouring into her capital, Egypt is considering sending equipment and munitions to Sunni fighters in Iraq, and the Saudis are looking (and have probably already begun) to funnel cash to the Baathist remnants in a desperate attempt to quell expanding Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf.

History may well show the Iraq invasion to be the worst tactical blunder in all of America's storied history.

Insecure CIA?

Whenever I go to access the data-lush CIA factbook, Microsoft sends me a warning page alerting that navigation has been blocked, and warning "there is a problem with this site's security certificate". It's the only site I visit on a regular basis that runs me into the problem. Of all the places on the internet that might have security problems...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Superbowl victors by seed

The late Lamar Hunt seemed to be smiling down, the stars aligned, Fate distracted, and her mischievious son Twist pulling the strings. Our persistently mediocre Chiefs beat Jacksonville, the Titans and the Bengals both went down at home, and the hapless 49ers pulled off a stunning upset in Denver. So KC was in. Then, without a first down in the first half, we were obliterated by Indy.

The wildcard week was drearily predictable, with both #5 and #6 seeds losing to their respective #4 and #3 seeded hosts. When I last followed the NFL closely back in 2001, the 'parity' phenomenon was all the rage. Picking the winner on 'any given Sunday' was tantamount to correctly predicting whether a quarter would land heads- or tails-up.

With free-agency and shorter and less binding contracts that does appear to be the case on a season-by-season basis (eg the Saints, Ravens, and Chargers this year), but when it comes to who takes home the Lombardi trophy, it's historically a tale of two seeds: #1 most of the time, with #2 occasionally threatening. (The anomalous '05-06 Steelers, seeded sixth last year, actually were tied for the third-best record in the AFC and had been on a tear in the second half of the season).

Since the NFL went to a seed-based tournament playoff bracket system in the 1977-78 season, a #1 seed has won the Superbowl 62% of the time, a number #2 seed 21% of the time, although #2s have surged in the era of parity, having won three of the last six. A #3 has only won once, when the Redskins beat the Broncos in '87-88. Three #4s have gone all the way, no #5 ever has, and until last year no #6 ever had either.

The winner of the losing conference has similarly been the domain of the #1 and #2 seeds, who've dominated over 86% of the time. (Click graphics for detail)

If you're a football-illiterate who spends his Sundays productively, you can still sound pretty sagacious by predicting a Bears/Chargers matchup in Miami. To add an extra layer of insight, be sure to leave open the possibility of either Baltimore or New Orleans clawing their way in as well!

Swivel posting here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

WSJ stays with failure in Iraq

A study by the RAND Corporation's James Dobbins determined in the mid-nineties that to secure a nation having just been invaded requires one occupying soldier for every 50 civilians. By this calculation, Iraq requires no less than 500,000. That's more than one-third of America's total active duty personnel, and about one-fifth of the total force, active and reserve combined. The now-retired General Eric Shinseki believed several hundred thousand were needed. The Bush team has elected to send 20,000 more, bringing the total force on the ground to 165,000 or so.

The WSJ op/ed board opines:
If the stakes in Iraq are as great as Mr. Bush says -- and we believe they are -- then he should commit whatever forces are needed to achieve success.
What success is achievable? It's unclear what the optimal outcome even is. Shia militias, in concert with the mostly sympathetic/infiltrated Iraqi Security Forces, have the political power, the resources, and the tacit support of Iran. The fragmented Sunni fighters may have already peaked and are on the way down in terms of potency. How is strengthening Iraqi security and military personnel, most of whom are Shiites, going to 'bring security' to Iraq? Unless security comes from the submission of the Sunnis and their forced removal from all Shia areas, I don't see it. And it's an open question as to whether or not Saudi Arabia will allow for such an outcome.

For his part, Prime Minister al Maliki is pledging to stop the violence in Bagdad with what amounts to martial law. While the joint US-Iraqi operation Together Forward in Baghdad last year was clearly not a success, the Iraqi Security Forces don't play by the same rules as the Americans:
Any civilians carrying arms faced automatic detention, he said, and would be shot if they resisted, the general said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.

Al-Suneid and al-Maliki insisted that this drive to contain militants, as opposed to a largely ineffective joint operation with the Americans in the second half of 2006, would succeed because it would be in the hands of Iraqi commanders who have been promised American backup and airpower if they call for it.
Those paragraphs are less favonian if the order they appear in is swapped. Saddam knew how to control a city. The Shiites he oppressed seemed to have picked up on it. The coalition remains oblivious.

Of course, the operation again raises the question of what victory is. While al Maliki claims to be squelching the violence caused by both Sunni and Shiite militias, the initial attacks are to focus on Sunni strongholds. Wonder how long that phase of the operation is going to last?

The op/ed piece argues that if we leave, the Shiites will have no choice but to call on Iran and Hezbollah to help. But with economic, political, and numerical superiority, that's probably incorrect. And those entities are helping to some extent already. But why would they want to do the heavy lifting when the US will do it for them?

What is so frustrating is that the WSJ and other neocon voices are apparently ignorant of the crucial differences between the modern Occidental and Arabic worlds. Most of the opinion piece linked to above celebrates the removal of various Iraq War players like Rumsfeld and General Casey, as if the poor performance of American strategic planners and executors is at the core of the problem. But IQs in the eighties (Iraq is estimated to be 87), widespread consanguinous marriage (over half of Iraqi men are married to a second cousin or closer), the feebleness of the idea of Arab nationalism, the aggressive winner-takes-all Middle Eastern culture, and Islam, are of absolute importance. They are are exponentially more important in assessing whether Iraq is either going to bloodily partition or be held together by a secular iron-fist like the one that was just hanged than who is heading CENTCOM.

In responding to a couple of fatal criticisms--that a US 'military victory' is a phrase that doesn't apply to the contemporary situation on the ground in Iraq (again, what is this military victory?) and that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is too sectarian to 'unify' Iraq--the master polemicists wield this slam-dunk:
...There are many serious people who believe success is still achievable in Iraq. They include retired four-star General Jack Keane and military historian Fred Kagan, who recently worked with some of the military's brightest officers to suggest a plan to secure Baghdad under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute. Among those officers is Colonel H.R. McMaster, the mastermind of the Tal Afar campaign. The President's two most important political allies on Iraq, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, also both believe more troops will make a difference.
Important people who haven't seriously addressed the underlying reasons for failure in Iraq say it is so and so it is so. Convincing.

It's long past time to cut our losses and pull out. As we're drawing down, we can facilitate the movement of Sunnis into western provinces and Shia from them to ease the clashes between the two, and we can lend support to an independent Kurdistan. The money we save can be spent on developing viable alternative energy solutions to get us out of the desert for good.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Murray's end to motley entitlements

I've finally gotten around to reading Charles Murray's In Our Hands, an endeavor long overdue. Although I've only churned through the introduction, his refreshing candor about innate differences between people in terms of ability, attractiveness, charm, etc has solidified a new maxim to live by: If an author dealing with social policy doesn't acknowledge what Darwin made clear, he's not worth the time. That's not to sound close-minded, and if the writing dealt explicitly with trying to refute the existence of meaningful human biodiversity, I'd consider giving it a whirl. But if blank-slatism is simply assumed ipse dixit, forget it.

Recall that Murray's plan is to consolidate the profligate and inefficient governmental wealth transfers into direct cash transfers to the citizenry via funds wired to personal bank accounts at $10,000 per person annually, phased out to a minimum $5,000 when income exceeds $50,000.
Combine this with a scrapping of the federal income tax in favor of a national sales tax, and we deracinate the economic advantages of using illegal unskilled labor. Down $10,000 to begin with and without free healthcare and other governmental services to enjoy, it will be much more difficult for illegals to accept wages lower than the going rate at the bottom of the native pecking order. And being subject to the same taxes as the American citizen (as taxes are embedded into the price of goods and services, not in income that may go unreported), third-world Hispanic menials lose the unfair gross-equals-net advantage many of them currently enjoy.

While $10,000 per person over the age of 21 raises the potential problem of disincentive to work, it is superior to regressive benefits like the EITC and other public assistance programs that lead low income earners to choose between minimum wage occupations and entitlement benefits. This way working even part-time at a low wage wouldn't compromise the transfer. And of course jobs paying such low wages add virtually nothing to total economic activity or to the US' global economic competitiveness anyway.

Since the $10,000 stipend will be received by individuals irrespective of habitation status, it'll encourage marriage and other more efficient living arrangements, allowing resources to be pooled. But without an added benefit for children, its effect on US fecundity may push us in an even more barren direction. On the other hand, by removing regressive benefits like the Child Tax Credit, it will likely have a moderately eugenic effect on procreation patterns.

An end to discretionary entitlement spending will mean an end to Medicare, and that means a drastic reduction in medical costs. Echoing the argument made frequently by Rush Limbaugh, if the government gives everyone full warranty car insurance, every minor malfunction down to a dim bulb in the glove compartment will lead to the vehicle being taken in!

With Social Security out of the picture, an opt-out retirement plan will be able to insure larger retirement cushions with less up-front costs (yeah, we can spend less and get more when the deadweight loss of government is removed--wealth creation isn't a zero-sum game).

One of the most fallacious arguments made in opposition to the private account push is the one claiming that said accounts run the risk of some people realizing a negative return, an unacceptable risk given that Social Security is supposed to be just that--guaranteed security. But as I pointed out at Parapundit when the issue was hot (and please don't read through most of what I wrote--lord have I progressed a lot in the last two years, not that it's saying much), historically, with a broad-based index fund, losing money is an impossibility.

If you'd have put $1,000 in the DJIA at the end of of '72 (when the market was at an all-time high prior to dropping by a quarter over the next half decade) and pulled it out upon retirement following 9/11 when the market was at a nadir, your annual return would still be just north of 7.4%. That's about the worst you could have done. The expected return on the money you put into a Social Security system that may not even be able to deliver on its paltry 'promises'? Less than 1.5%.

What if returns stagnate and the DJIA stalls? Well, if that happens, how the heck do you expect the current Social Security system to survive? If the DJIA approaches zero growth, the global economy is in deep recession and any unfunded governmental liabilities become utterly and irredeemably insolvent. In that case precious metals will be about the only thing to hold real value. The market will always beat (handily) the CPI and average wage growth over time.

I digress from Murray, having meant only to highlight the new maxim worth adhering to (as many probably already do).

LA whites tenaciously colorblind

But all the colors mix together, to grey/And it breaks her heart...

Is it specifically white Angelinos--residents of America's most distrustful city--that insist on burying their heads in the sand, tenaciously hanging on to the mythical belief in zero group differences, or is it endemic among white America? Guilt-stricken white America's intentions are about as good as they can possibly be, but in the words of Ned Flanders:
Well my family and I can't live in good intentions, Marge! Oh, your family's out of control, but we can't blame you, because you have gooooooooood intentions!

From the work he's been doing on Putnam, Steve Sailer links to the the Harvard professor's LA data. Looking through it (see page 3), the section on interracial trust demonstrates just how quixotic whites living in a sea of 'vibrant' conurbation often are. While blacks, Hispanics, and Asian Americans have varying amounts of trust for the various racial groups, whites blandly either trust everyone or are suspicious of everyone: 11% of whites do not trust other whites, 12% do not trust blacks, 11% do not trust Asians, and 11% do not trust Hispanics.

This is a depressing illustration of how far Americans of European descent have to go before they'll collectively take a hard look at demographic changes in the US and what they mean for the nation's future, looking vainly for solutions in everything from more money for education to more money spent on diversity training. Even with so much evidence available as to how important race is at the macro-level, white America remains oblivious (at least when anyone else is watching, reading, or listening).

A friend of mine, who has quite the misanthropic streak, frequently attempts to bail himself out of situations where he's pushed the envelope too far with a particularly acute ethnic- or gender-based comment, by maintaining "I'm not racist/sexist, I hate everyone equally." Even the politically incorrect South Park, cultishly popular among white college students, promotes itself as a show that makes fun of everyone and everything with equality, leaving no one out. Other laissez faire buddies who don't like putting up with the need-for-diversity-and-equality-at-the-same-time crap (NZ Conservative has a great take on this common phenomenon) protect themselves with economic arguments that proxy for the things they'd like to point out but don't dare to.

A couple other interesting notables:

- Blacks trust Hispanics the most (more so than other blacks even), though Hispanics trust blacks the least.

- Over twice as many Asians distrust blacks as distrust everyone else, the greatest proportional gap of all the combinations of group-to-group levels of mistrust. I suspect much of this comes from the LA riots and the black-led boycotts of enterprising Koreans operating in crummy areas of the city.

- Relatedly, while Asians get high marks by whites, Hispanics, and other Asians (solely or tied for the most trusted racial group by all three), blacks trust them the least. This likely stems in part from what's mentioned above--Koreans (and other Asians such as Indians) frequently operating businesses in mostly black areas, creating a feeling among blacks that these Asians are stealing their jobs and ripping them off.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Top countries by excess oil per capita

Climatic reprecussions and even US national interests aside, I'll buy the universalist's argument that it is morally--er, ethically--imperative that we find a way to obsolesce oil. Following is a list of the top 25 countries in terms of annual excess barrels of black gold per capita, computed by subtracting national consumption from national production, dividing by total population, and converting to annual figures:

1. Trinidad and Tobago -- 385
2. Kuwait -- 319
3. Qatar -- 312
4. UAE -- 293
5. Equatorial Guinea -- 283
6. Norway -- 235
7. Brunei -- 183
8. Saudi Arabia -- 104
9. Libya -- 87
10. Bahrain -- 85
11. Oman -- 83
12. Gabon -- 66
13. Angola -- 47
14. Venezuela -- 36
15. Kazakhstan -- 26
16. Republic of the Congo -- 26
17. Iraq -- 24
18. Azerbaijan -- 16
19. Russia -- 16
20. Iran -- 14
21. Algeria -- 12
22. Ecuador -- 9
23. Turkmenistan -- 9
24. Chad -- 8
25. Nigeria -- 6

The only nations worthy of the Occident's moralistic approval are the former Spanish colonies of Trinidad/Tobago and good-natured Norway. Flush with money from the commodities boom of the last few years, the Norwegians have appointed Philosophy professor Henrik Syse to apply SRI to the nation's national pension, funded primarily by oil and gas revenues. The Saudis have historically invested in their own brand of social responsibility, bank-rolling the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example.

While the Scandanavians exclude defense contractors like Honeywell and Boeing from the pension, many of the other countries topping the list use the cash to buy all kinds of deadly toys from places like Israel, Russia, and the US.

These places are enjoying a steady, massive wealth transfer from the rest of the "oil-addicted" world. Their people are enjoying (or at least their leaders are enjoying) money begotten through the luck of the geographic draw, with few 'internationally acceptable' (I'm trying to think like Thomas Friedman) standards attached. Although oil has dropped under the $60 mark, to the lowest levels in a year and a half, we're still looking at $168 billion in excess in revenues for Saudi Arabia, $16 billion for little Qatar, and $56 billion for Venezuela.

That Marxist leadership is sustained on the back of free-trade's dime in the Republic of the Congo illustrates how resource wealth makes political 'reform' unlikely. Enjoying this wealth infusion means countries like Russia do not have to adhere to 'fair trade' practices--if the Kremlin wants to chill Ukraine's penchant for European-style democracy or wants to gouge a putative ally in Belarus, it's going to. So we deny a UAE-owned company the right to US port security. Good for us, but we're not exactly dealing these friends of bin Laden a stinging economic blow.

A full listing of per capita oil shortages and surpluses is available here. Mexico, coming in at #26 with almost six barrels in annual surplus for each of its 107 million people, should at least be giving us a few of these for free in return for importing the country's refuse, inheriting all the problems they create, and exporting billions in remittances to Mexico in return (estimated to total $25 billion per year by the end of the decade).

Obsolescing oil will do far more to further humanitarian goals than any number of ill-advised military forays into the backward nations that extract an abundance of the stuff. Why not take what remains of the some $2 trillion we're set to end up pouring into the Iraq miasma and use it to finance a Manhattan Project for making alternative energy economically viable?

In the US, we can use our glut of coal for energy (in place of oil if something like the Fischer-Tropps process of converting oil into liquid fuel is able to be cost-effectively utilized largescale as companies like Syntroleum are trying to make happen) in the relative short-term while we develop photovoltaics, battery, and wind power. Long-term, nuclear fusion will hopefully serve as the ultimate azoth.