Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Issue-based survey as candidate guide for the ill-informed?

I've seen this simple, but apparently widespread, survey purporting to match up takers with the Presidential candidate who most closely shares their views on John Savage's BNWW and have also come across it through several people via email forwardings. There is a desire for this tool, and a national news services providing it (this one is from Minnesota Public Radio) would likely be popular.

Front-runners, however, detest this sort of thing because it neutralizes the celebrity advantage. One who does not closely follow political current events (mostly women, who are generally more attracted to a self-reflective survey like this one anyway), who had planned on voting for Hillary in the state primary, might instead find herself most closely aligned with Chris Dodd.

Candidates who've distinguished themselves on certain issues (Ron Paul on Iraq and interventionism more generally, Tom Tancredo on immigration) tend not to be among the top contenders, but their differentiation gives them an inherent advantage in this sort of survey. The vague, kinda-sorta answers that benefit front-runners by allowing them to divert attention toward other considerations in which they have an advantage (mild language caution) and away from the issues of the day, actually have a detrimental effect here, often delegating these candidates to an obscure spot in the middle of the pack.

Tancredo emerged as my top pick. He was the only one of the 18 candidates included who shared my view on immigration. The immigration question only had four answers, and more than one-fourth of the American public would choose the same answer I did. Not surprisingly, the Tancredo campaign is promoting the survey. Tell everyone you know to take this thing, and to their collective surprise they'll find that they also support me!

The MPR survey does allow users to designate the importance of each of the 11 issues queried, although it might benefit by giving greater weight to these designations. My second pick was John McCain, although I would definitely not vote for him. While the survey shows me agreeing with him on eight of the eleven issues, I'm in opposition to him on immigration and Iraq, the two issues that determine who receives my political support.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Holding the reigns of the behemoth

++Addition++I meant for the structures with national names on them to represent the US' relationship with the respective countries (they might also be thought of as said places' national honor), not the actual nations themselves.

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Has anyone seen a cartoon criticizing US foreign policy of being steered recklessly by a glut of foreign interest groups, as regular proles, sad and exhausted, toil away to make it all possible. I've not come across one. I envision something like this:














The people on top of the ball would be tagged as lobbyists for Armenians, AIPAC members, Taiwanese nationalists, Chinese businessmen, CAIR, La Raza officials, ostensible Buddhists (Richard Gere, perhaps), etc, scuffling with one another for control of the steering wheel. The window inside the ball reveals worn out average joes shoveling coal into the fire, powering the motor. The structures with the names of countries have been previously damaged by the ball.

Nevermind the atrocious artistic (in)ability made worse by using Microsoft paint or questions over how a ball could roll around with people remaining on top of it the entire time. Make the vehicle a battering ram instead. A good cartoonist would take care of those details, anyway.

Such a sketch would hit home with people across the political spectrum.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wal-Mart's tax minimization efforts demonstrate flaws in tax system

Why the current income tax structures, for both corporations and individuals at both the federal and state levels, need an overhaul:

In May 2001, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. issued an appeal to big accounting firms: Find us creative new ways to cut our state tax bills.

Ernst & Young LLP swung into action. Senior tax experts at the big accounting firm swapped ideas via email and in a series of meetings. At least one gathering, according to an internal Ernst & Young calendar, took place in Wal-Mart's headquarters in the "Tax Shelter Room."

Ernst doesn't specialize in cost accounting. Wal-Mart isn't calling on one of the big four to help it realize efficiency gains in its distribution process. The mass retailer wants to shuffle around income classifications, set up LPs and LLCs, and find ways to allocate depreciation and amortization schedules in states to maximize the paper expense as early as possible:

State income-tax rates for corporations average about 6.9%, and come on top of a federal statutory rate of 35%. Tax rates vary from state to state, and some states have no corporate tax at all on certain income. That provides ample opportunity for so-called tax arbitrage, in which companies allocate expenses and revenues between states in order to minimize taxes owed. That practice has been going on for decades. Some such strategies are perfectly legal. The government considers others to be abusive.

States are looking to go after Wal-Mart for trying to minimize its real tax expense (which, interestingly, means the retailer is trying to hard to maximize its reported operational expenses):

Ernst & Young's contributions to Wal-Mart's state-tax minimization project are outlined in a raft of documents filed in recent months in North Carolina state court, where the state's attorney general is challenging a Wal-Mart tax-cutting structure involving real-estate investment trusts. The material, which includes company emails and memos, provides a rare window into accountants' role in generating tax-reduction ideas at one major company.
Corporations have what amounts to an almost inexhaustable out here, however. They argue it's merely an attempt to raise capital through better business management. And the effect, presuming legality, is to do just that.

If state government regulators discover a novel tax reducing scheme, they are hard-pressed to bring successful charges against the purveyor, as they tend to run into the ex post facto trap. The WSJ article offers reports on candid commentary from an Ernst executive in his discussions with Wal-Mart:

"We don't think there is much the state taxing authorities can do to mitigate these savings to Wal-Mart, however some states might attempt something if they had advance notification," he wrote. "We think the best course of action is to keep the project relatively quiet....there just seems to be too many opportunities for it to get out to the press or financial community and we all know they are difficult to control, particularly when we are dealing with a client as well-known as Wal-Mart."

So hand-wringing occurs. State (and in the case of high-profile national cases like the Enron collapse, federal) legislatures then pass legislation to address these specific tax reducing tactics.

Federally, that adds to Title 26 of the USC, and the 17,000 page beast grows even longer. There are endless opportunities for sharp accountants to find new schemes in that labyrinth. Often that involves taking certain financial operations to other countries (something Ireland has benefited enormously from), or selling assets to foreign investors and then paying those investors (who do nothing with the assets) to 'rent' the same assets, at a pre-tax cost to the company that is slightly higher than what it would have been in retaining ownership (so the investor comes out ahead) but that is more than made up for in tax bill reductions for the company doing the selling and subsequent renting. On net, this means the domestic company makes an inefficient decision and sends money overseas, neither of which benefit the US economy.

But accounting firms are moving increasingly in the direction of this sort of tax minimization work, not only for firms but also for affluent individuals. With double-digit annual growth in the number of US millionaires, and a similarly rapid rise in the number of 'super rich', and the proliferation of low-cost tax software, the H&R Block variety of routine tax preparation is becoming a thing of the past for tax professionals.

Parenthetically, there are three major accounting 'branches': Managerial (or 'cost'--this actually involves working toward bettering business operations by cutting out duplication and streamlining production processes), financial (putting out, complying with, and reviewing corporate earnings reports), and tax. Managerial is growing steadily along with the economy at large. It is mostly done by companies in-house, and is where many accountants migrate to after working on the financial side (although this has seen lots of growth due to Sarbox regulations) for one of the big four. Tax, meanwhile, has become more specialized.

A disproportionate chunk of tax schemes involve the state of Delaware. Like Ireland in Europe, or the UAE internationally, the otherwise obscure First State (when was the last time you heard of anything, Senators excepted, happening in Delaware?) has the most corporately-friendly and developed body of tax policies in the country. The article offers a typical example:
Under Texas law at the time, a limited partner from out of state was exempt from Texas's corporate franchise tax. As a result, scores of companies, including Wal-Mart, reorganized their Texas operations into limited partnerships. The general partner, which was subject to state taxation, was typically a subsidiary based in Texas. But the limited partner, often owning as much as 99.9% of the entity, would be based in Delaware or another tax-friendly state. The result: up to 99.9% of the profits of the Texas operation would flow to that out-of-state limited partner, making that income tax-free.
Wal-Mart's revenue is primarily generated in the US, so it is more focused on state tax restructuring than most companies are. But why shouldn't our federal tax structure be set up to do what Delaware has done, albeit on an international stage?

A consumption tax in place of the federal income tax strikes me as the best way to do this. Such a change would create a magnet for manufacturing and encourage MNCs who started in the US to bring their headquarters back home.

It has other positives. The economic benefit employers see in utilizing illegal immigrant labor gets a major boost from those illegals often not paying federal income taxes, meaning their wages can nominally be 20% less than those of the native working class and still have the same real purchasing power, so the native guy is at an inherent disadvantage. The FairTax, in creating a monthly rebate for all citizens based on family size, turns this around entirely. With $200 coming in at the end of the month, and facing no disadvantage in having to pay income taxes that illegal workers are not subject to, the working class native now has the advantage at the starting gate.

More than $350 billion in revenue is 'lost' by the federal government through the overreporting of deductions, and the underreporting and undercollection of income. That's more than twice the size of this year's federal government deficit. A consumption tax will not eliminate cheating, but it has an enormous built-in advantage over the income tax--it always takes two parties instead of sometimes just one to filch.

There are lots of ways I can fudge numbers on my tax return without any way of being caught short of a detailed audit (which happens to less than 1% of individuals, and that small fraction is disproportionately comprised of people who are members of partnerships, S Corps, and LLCs).

But if the tax is only levied at the point of sale, the buyer can help detect avoidance (as he can now for in the collection of state sales taxes). There is little incentive for him to say anything about it, though, since he stands to benefit directly from that avoidance. However, if there is some incentivizing reward for him in anonymously reporting avoidance to authorities, it does provide some added level of potential detection (turning conspirators against one another in illicit drug sales using a similar reward strategy seems to me a worthy idea to consider as well).

Adam Smith's four maxims of an optimal tax code--equity (progressive, corporations with lots of cash can hire firms to find ways around paying), certainty (if you do your own taxes, you struggle with uncertainty every April, awaiting that letter from the IRS saying you owe more than you thought you did), convenience (advice from the tax accountant: Keep records of everything!), and efficiency (corporations spending money to pay sharp accountants to make business decisions based not on total utility but on tax efficiency)--do not describe the federal income tax in the least.

A consumption tax, in contrast, fulfills all of them. Regarding equity, you pay when you have the wherewithal to do so--that is, when you're making the purchase. You cannot go into debt for tax bills you're unable to pay. Everybody (including immigrants and foreign travelers) pays in.

In terms of certainty, it's simple. If it's a new item or a service, it is subject to the consumption tax. If it is a used item, it is not.

Perhaps its biggest advantage is in convenience. Imagine not having some percentage of each paycheck being diverted to various tax lines. You pay your taxes when you buy groceries and go to the movies. That's it. You never have to think about it.

As for efficiency, the annual cost of compliance (including the loss of potentially productive time) is north of $200 billion, according to the Tax Foundation. A national consumption tax would require only an augmentation of the current systems already in place to ensure sales taxes are collected. Further, while an income tax punishes people for making money and encourages them to spend it (small wonder our national savings rate hovers around zero), a consumption tax does just the opposite--it encourages people to create wealth and discourages them from squandering it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Another year for the AFC

Is this the year the NFC finally reaches its nadir and begins a rebound toward the dominance it enjoyed for a decade-and-a-half from '82 to '97? When the AFC's sixth-seeded Steelers entered the Superbowl as favorites against the NFC's top-seeded Seahawks, and proceeded to make good on the favored status by shutting Seattle down entirely, it seemed that the pendelum had swung as far as it could, given the league's 'socialistic' profit-sharing and salary cap structures (the NFL is perhaps the largest private trust that has never been targeted under Sherman Antitrust rules). An age of parity dictates a little more randomness, does it not?

Thus far, the inter-conference games haven't been especially lopsided. The AFC is up 13-9, winning on average by a score of 22-17. But this year's Superbowl is likely going to effectively be the AFC championship game between the Colts and Patriots. New England's obliteration of Dallas helped remove the veneer of any real NFC threat.

The Cowboys--the NFC's putative best--struggled to beat both Miami (the AFC's worst) and Minnesota, in addition to pulling off a miracle against the hapless Bills. Meanwhile, with the best offense and the fourth best defense (the prevent schemes winning teams like the Patriots frequently go into make the yardage allowed appear worse than their actual play merits) in the league, the New England has beaten its opponents by an average of more than 22 points per game.

Why the emergence of 'dynasties', while other franchises (the Browns) are continually uncompetitive? Whenever I'm grasping for something to make it appear as though I'm semi-literate regarding the NFL while in conversation with someone who the team rosters inside and out, I usually mutter a profundity about how socialism is no good except in the world of sports. NFL seasons certainly are less predictable than MLB seasons are.

But the 'socialism' label isn't accurate. Instead, the NFL is setup so as to maximize the equality of means to a high degree. Just as in the real world, that does not guarantee an equality of outcomes. Good thing, too, as a Superbowl between to 9-7 teams wouldn't have the same luster as a clash of 13-3 squads does.

Instead, the league places more emphasis on the abilities and the corresponding costs of utilizing the abilities of all involved (players, GMs, coaches) than baseball does. And competitive undertakings are more exciting when they're based on talent than when they're based on inheritance or geographic location.

There must be a hate crime in there somewhere

Perhaps La Raza and the NAACP should see this as a priority, more urgent than the fabricated 'hate crimes' of various MinuteMen chapters:

A south Los Angeles Latino street gang targeted African-American gang rivals and other blacks in a campaign of neighborhood "cleansing," federal prosecutors say. Alleged leaders and foot soldiers in the Hispanic gang Florencia 13, also called F13, are being arraigned this week on charges stemming from a pair of federal indictments that allege that the gang kept a tight grip on its turf by shooting members of a rival gang—and sometimes random black civilians. The "most disturbing aspect" of the federal charges was that "innocent citizens … ended up being shot simply because of the color of their skin," U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien told reporters in announcing the indictments.
Thought tribalism had died out in the West? Like tuberculosis, it's returning. The pervasiveness of gangs had similarly taken a downward slide since the early nineties, paralleling growth in the nation's prison population.

Half of all Los Angelenos are Hispanic, and their numbers are growing. Only 11% are black. It's a losing proposition for the old Crips and Bloods (I've heard from multiple people that the two rival gangs are uniting in some cities, but I've not seen anything definitive. If anyone has, please make it known in the comments).

Those who think to themselves that Hispanic thugs are 'better' than black thugs, consider that the black underclass is not being replaced in some sort of man-for-man swap as a consequence of the hasty rise in Hispanic prison gangs. Instead, black gangs are continuing to exist tenuously in separate neighborhoods in the same cities as Hispanic gangs (ie Hispanic gangs in northwest Dallas and black gangs on the city's south side), or have moved to new cities, especially in the midwest (keeping in mind that the information on street gangs is rarely precise):
These findings are echoed in a 1996 study of 99 gang members in St. Louis (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996). A minority (16 percent) of those interviewed suggested that gangs reemerged in St. Louis, MO, through the efforts of gang members from Los Angeles. Several of these migrants had relocated for social reasons, such as visiting relatives. The study also found that St. Louis gangs were more likely to originate as a result of neighborhood conflicts influenced by popular culture rather than from big-city connections. ...

Another study on gang migration in 1996 surveyed 752 jurisdictions in Illinois (Knox et al., 1996). (Because only 38 percent of the law enforcement agencies responded, these findings should be interpreted cautiously.) The majority of respondents (88 percent) reported that gangs from outside their area had established an influence, that one-fifth or more of their local gang population was attributable to recent arrivals (49 percent), that parental relocation of gang members served to transplant the gang problem to the area (65 percent), and that some of their gang problem was due to gang migration (69 percent). The study concluded that, while the impact of migration varies, "it is still of considerable interest to the law enforcement community" (Knox et al., 1996:78).

After three centuries, we've still not been able to assimilate blacks into the mainstream European-American social and economic cultures. We should keep this in mind in the face of an entirely new major demographic element being added to the mix.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Farmers mechanizing in face of cheap labor uncertainty

Morning Edition's Ted Robbins reports on farmers who are switching to crops that are less labor intensive:
After thirty-seven years, Ed Curry is not planting green chili here, the kind used for chili reinos, because corn can be harvested by machine. Green chili cannot.
The Western Growers Association, representing thousands of southwestern farmers, claims that a labor shortage caused by tightening immigration enforcement (and the more important effects it has on potential illegal immigrants coming north and those already here in their decision of whether or not to remain) is forcing decisions like those Curry is making.

In reality, there cannot be a labor shortage for unskilled work in a market economy. The shortage is caused by low wages. Curry is having trouble getting his chili picked for $7 an hour without the importation of foreign labor. As he raises the wage rate (UC Davis professor Phil Martin points out in the same story that this has not happened, nor has there been an appreciable overall decline in US fruit and vegetable production), the shortage will dissipate. At some wage level, there will be a large labor surplus.

Curry understandably doesn't want to pay more than he has to, but most of the American public doesn't want to subsidize the picking of his chilis or have to shoulder the externalities his labor brings into the US.

At seven dollars an hour, his laborers are making $14,000 on a 2,000 hour workyear. Low-skilled households, with an average income of $20,500, resulted in an average net fiscal deficit of more than $22,000 a year. Half of illegal immigrant households (and 25% of legal immigrants) residing in the US are low-skilled, compared to just 9% of natives.

That average deficit is actually accentuated by the fact that many illegal laborers pay no income taxes at all (a national consumption tax in place of the federal income tax would frustrate this). The cheap labor Curry wants is paid for in large part through the transfer of wealth from natives to his laborers.

Parenthetically, libertarians will argue that the problem of a net deficit is due to the existence of so many social programs that lead to more than $32,000 in government revenues being spent each year on low-income families. As Milton Friedman said, "It's just obvious you can't have free immigration and a welfare state." So axe the welfare state. Problem solved.

Except that the people on the receiving end of the current formula don't want the welfare state axed. And open immigration is rapidly increasing their ranks.

The philosophically pure idea of keeping what you earn and being entitled to nothing that you don't is attractive to high-IQ libertarians with annual incomes in the upper five figures and beyond, who are currently paying more into the system than they are getting out of it. But most of their fellow residents do not make that much, and enjoy more in benefits than they are paying in. The vast majority of immigrants under a free migration system (and the the current one that approaches it) will belong to the latter group. They will favor more redistributive taxation, universal healthcare, subsidized social services, and the like.

A less ample supply of cheap labor is causing a small number of farmers to move operations to Mexico. Most are moving toward greater mechanization. Martin comments:
In the long-run, what makes American agriculture competitive internationally is that we have very high productivity, and that usually means substituting machines for people.
The idea of the US competing internationally on the cost of labor is absurd. If a farmer's focus is on obtaining the cheapest labor possible, he should consider moving his operations to Mexico. Of course, there are five billion people living in places less affluent than Mexico, so he has plenty of other options.

In the face of more expensive labor, the majority of agricultural operations that stay stateside will continue to turn toward technological innovation to improve efficiencies and increase productivity. This is a surer long-term strategy for outdoing farmers in Mexico than trying to compete on labor costs with a country where the minimum wage is one-tenth of what it is in the US will ever be.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Music: Echo the Sky

I'm at a loss as to how to tie this into a larger subject of interest. So I'll just admit that I'm shamelessly promoting a friend's music. Honestly though, I really am at a loss in trying to identify, let alone describe, any distinguishing talent a master like Joe Satriani possesses that Caleb (guitar, keyboard) does not.



His duo's myspace page.

Dumbledore light in the loafers

My initial reaction upon hearing the news was annoyance. With the final installment released, the series had lost its organic ability to shift in the face of critical challenges that an ongoing operation enjoys. JK Rowling had decided, or been advised, to nip in the bud any nascent criticism about the Potter universe's traditional (nevermind that it's fantasy!) socio-political structure. Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts headmaster, was the apotheosis of dead white male greatness--disciplined, erudite, studious, magnanimous, rational, and just. Pathetically patriarchal, shamelessly chauvinistic!

I was off the mark, I know. I blazed through the first four books five years ago, in the course of about two weeks, at the request of my younger brother, but hadn't followed the story before, nor since, then. And Dumbledore is immaculate in those earlier books.

Turns out, though, Rowling mixed it up after that point. To where I'd read, each of the characters was clearly either a good guy or a bad guy (with the exception of Snape, a personal favorite alongside Percy). That's a prudent strategy in the beginning for an unknown author--don't make the thing burdensomely confusing. There are an endless number of aspiring writers who create novels with universes that are entirely too complex to take in all at once and so remain forever in obscurity. Once preeminence is establish the complex, entangling alliances and animosities can then be flushed out (the Warcraft series has followed this universal progression with great success as well).

By the time it was made known that Dumbledore--rather than being the asexual professor Rowling portrayed him to be--was gay, illumination on his past revealed a few skeletons tucked away. Ultimately, his penitent desire to apologize to his parents revealed that even in later life he remained fallible. Further obliterating my initial suspicion, Rowling showed that his unrequited love for another man was his Achilles' heel:
Rowling said Dumbledore fell in love with the charming wizard Gellert Grindelwald but when Grindelwald turned out to be more interested in the dark arts than good, Dumbledore was "terribly let down" and went on to destroy his rival.

That love, she said, was Dumbledore's "great tragedy."

"Falling in love can blind us to an extent," she said.
Had he been been stoic in the face of this desire as he'd been in the face of so many others, he would've knocked off Grindlewald several years earlier.

Realizing it is the fantastical Harry Potter series, Dumbledore is not the most credulous choice for a homosexual character. He wasn't flamboyant, conspicuously flirtatious, (with both men and women), gesticulative, or particularly focused on dress as 'ladylike' gay men (those whose sexual preference is evident from a mile away) tend to be. Nor was he sardonic, cynical, haughty, and equipped with a slightly misanthropic streak like 'the guy' gay guys often are (ie, Waylon Smithers when not dealing with Burns, or Squidward from the Spongebob series).

The most reasonable candidate would've been Snape, who fits 'the guy' definition to a tee. Well, that is, until it is apparently later revealed that he is a Sydney Carton-like character whose love for Harry's mother leads him to fidelius devotion to Harry, even though he despised Harry's father and despises the son to his dying day.

Yikes! That means my initial fear might still come to fruition. Snape, perhaps the series' greatest character, is nobly driven by his love for a woman. Dumbledore, who may share 'the greatest' award, is flawed only in his love for another man.

If it teaches young readers that an innocuous revelation about a person's character should not retroactively change their opinions of what they appreciated about the person before, splendid. Why not add that his grandfather was from Zimbabwe and his grandmother from Calcutta while at it (or maybe Tehran, so a charge against Rowling of pining for the old empire doesn't come up)?

That potentially positive message aside, the revelation is going to further take away from Dumbledore's larger-than-life character, for better or worse. Positively, it might be looked at as humanizing him.

It will do so not because he's gay per se, but because he has an explicit sexual orientation and a drive that he acts upon. Sexual desire is inherently selfish, and consequently it generally has a moderating effect on both the good guys and the bad guys, pulling them both closer to the neutral center by diverting attention from their more purely good and purely bad objectives (as what many of those in the 'Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene' camp are trying to do, by diminishing the man from Galilee's putative holiness and bringing him down to a more human level).

DREAM Act morphs into yet another form

++Addition++Predictably, it was shot down again. People do not want birthright citizenship, already constitutionally questionable, expanded to adolescent citizenship.

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The DREAM Act is back again, this time as a stand-alone bill (S. 2205) that Reid is trying to fast-track. With 60 votes needed to stop debate on the floor, this should be a relatively easy victory. Make sure you get a word in with both of your senators, even if it is only to thank them for pledging to vote against what has so repeatedly and overwhelmingly been rejected by the citizenry.

Monday, October 22, 2007

La Raza cancels KC convention

La Raza isn't hosting its annual convention in Kansas City next year. Despite major local media pressure (talk radio excluded) and admonitions against 'costing' (in the economic sense) the metro economy $5 million, KCMO Mayor Mark Funkhouser refused to offer the septuagenarian grandmother who serves as one of five commissioners of the all-powerful Board of Parks and Recreation to the mob.

A couple of things to take from this: First, the ululations of the protected class crybabies. Look forward to progressively more whining as current demographic trends continue. The largest Hispanic advocacy group in the country cannot suffer a city mayor appointing a person to a local position if that person is member to a group that has the support of most of America, and that has, despite slanderous lies by La Raza members, done nothing illegal (in contrast to the lawbreakers it is helping law enforcement track), if that group's aims are deemed to conflict with the political goals of 'the Race'.

Secondly, La Raza has made obvious, well, the obvious--that it is a racially-partisan organization. The organization makes a strong effort to destroy the public career of a unassuming citizen for joining a group that goes to (ridiculously) great lengths to show that it is not racially motivated, for a perceived sleight to Hispanics, the ethnic group it exists for. No similar outcry over the appointment of Amaju Webster, founder of the local chapter of the National Black United Front, which advocates reparations and separatist education for black Americans. Warnings about hyphenated Americanism come to mind.

Mayor Funkhouser, a Democrat who was initially praised for shaking up the WASPy Parks and Rec board, earned a reputation for indifference to media opinion. Perhaps more accurately, he deserves a reputation for showing deference to public opinion.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

NPR's indulegence sales and how Europe owes US a 'thank you'

NPR is hosting another extended mendicant drive. The begging turns me off, so I turn NPR off every few months when another session begins. The unsubtle local staff appealing to the sense of moral imperative all Good listeners house within is more than I can stomach.

While these Good leftists look disdainfully at religiosity, NPR programming is full of ridiculous discussions making use of all kinds of 'metaphysical' descriptors and verbal imagery. Listen to Fresh Air or Morning Edition's This I believe segments sometime to hear the nonsense for yourself. These 'high-brow' leftists dislike religion not because it's too imaginative, but because it's not imaginative enough. Just about any claim goes by unchallenged by interviewers. Contrast that, say, to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, a practicing Catholic, who, much more empirically-minded than Terry Gross, cuts off the mystical chatter immediately. The NPR crew have no problem with the fantastic per se, as stories on art and society routinely demonstrate.

But religion has rules, clear-cut proscriptions on how to live well, and it makes truth claims. Better not to have that rigidity. The animistic tribal religions of 'indigenous peoples' are treated with reverence. Hinduism, with its endless gods, and Buddhism (Western leftists disproportionally purport to be the later) with the mysticism that surrounds the desire to become a bodhisattva and the open-ended nature of the various schools of the religion (which is still being added to), garner some respect. Monotheism isn't as dignified. At least Judaism is waiting for the glorious arrival and Islam must expand the Dar al-Islam. Christianity, merely waiting for the return of what has already been revealed, is most disdained.

The mendicants might as well be exhorting listeners to tithe. Nevermind that the CPB rakes in almost $500 million a year from taxpayers, or that all the programming has 'help' from corporate sponsors. Without handouts from multiple sources, how else would left-leaning radio survive?

At least Democracy Now! doesn't feed from the public trough. A radio interview with two Armenians about bringing the resolution labeling their ancestors suffering under the Ottoman empire during WWI a genocide to the floor of the House led me to mutter, "You're welcome, Europe."

By invading and occupying Iraq, we've given greater autonomy to the Kurds. As Kurdistan has gone from being a 'region' to a self-sufficient, functioning state, Kurd's in southeastern Turkey have been encouraged in their agitation for becoming part of Kurdistan. The Turkish parliament, in spite of half-hearted calls for delay from Erdogan's government, overwhelmingly passed a resolution authorizing the use of major military force in northern Iraq to route out PKK fighters.

Turkey's concerns are not difficult to understand. The latest PKK attack killed 12 Turkish soldiers. Adjusting for total population, that's like 50 US servicemen being killed in San Diego in an assault by Mexican drug gangs the Mexican government won't do anything to stop.

Strategically, there are three times as many Kurds in southeastern Turkey as there are in Iraq. An expansion of the unofficial state would move the bulk of it into nominally Turkish territory. By occupying Iraq, we've destabilized one-fifth of the country, while our actions have knocked out antagonists that had Iran pincered five years ago.

The Bush administration isn't happy, but al-Maliki isn't going to do anything of substance to address Turkey's concerns. What does the Shiite leader have to gain from getting involved? And the Democratic-led House resolution, even if it dies as appears likely, isn't doing much to get Turkish lawmakers to take US concerns to heart.

What happens if Turkey launches a large portion of the 60,000 troops near the border into northern Iraq? Does the US take PUK's side, against a NATO ally? What if Ankara argues that by failing to deal with the PKK, Iraq has facilitated an act of aggression against Turkey, and invokes the NATO charter (part of Turkey is in Europe, after all) in calling upon US assistance?

The ongoing friction between the US and Turkey, which traces back from the latter's refusal to let American troops move through to invade Iraq to the events mentioned above, means the best chance of EU membership being extended to Turkey, through strong US support for it, is out the window. Thus, the Wangen villagers should thank us for the Iraq invasion.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Watson issued more of a clarification than an apology

++Addition++Steve Sailer's new VDare column takes note of Watson's clarification-rather-than-apology as well, and he improves on the basic thrust of my post below in several other ways. Hopefully his readership range is expansive enough for it to be noted widely.

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James Watson was suspended from his administrative position at a respected research center and a speaking engagement at the London Science Museum for a few comments that are grounded in decades of evidence. The difference between sub-Saharan Africans and those of European descent is on average about two standard deviations, a gap that is seen in multiple tests, across multiple countries. Watson, who was suspended by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (I wonder if the organization will change the name of its "Watson School of Biological Sciences"), a research and educational campus in New York, hardly backed down in the torrent of criticism. The statement he issued is more of a clarification of what he meant, a general apologetic rather than an apology:

Science is no stranger to controversy. The pursuit of discovery, of knowledge, is often uncomfortable and disconcerting. I have never been one to shy away from stating what I believe to be the truth, however difficult it might prove to be. This has, at times, got me in hot water.

Rarely more so than right now, where I find myself at the centre of a storm of criticism. I can understand much of this reaction. For if I said what I was quoted as saying, then I can only admit that I am bewildered by it. To those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief. [my emphasis on the only portion of his public response that is being reported]

I have always fiercely defended the position that we should base our view of the world on the state of our knowledge, on fact, and not on what we would like it to be. This is why genetics is so important. For it will lead us to answers to many of the big and difficult questions that have troubled people for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

But those answers may not be easy, for, as I know all too well, genetics can be cruel. My own son may be one of its victims. Warm and perceptive at the age of 37, Rufus cannot lead an independent life because of schizophrenia, lacking the ability to engage in day-to-day activities. ...

In doing so, I knew that many new moral dilemmas would arise as a consequence and would early on establish the ethical, legal and societal components of the genome project. Since 1978, when a pail of water was dumped over my Harvard friend E O Wilson for saying that genes influence human behaviour, the assault against human behavioural genetics by wishful thinking has remained vigorous.

But irrationality must soon recede. It will soon be possible to read individual genetic messages at costs which will not bankrupt our health systems. In so doing, I hope we see whether changes in DNA sequence, not environmental influences, result in behaviour differences. Finally, we should be able to establish the relative importance of nature as opposed to nurture.

One in three people looking for a job in temporary employment bureaux in Los Angeles is a psychopath or a sociopath. Is this a consequence of their environment or their genetic components? DNA sequencing should give us the answer. The thought that some people are innately wicked disturbs me. But science is not here to make us feel good. It is to answer questions in the service of knowledge and greater understanding. ...

In some cases, how these genes function may help us to understand variations in IQ, or why some people excel at poetry but are terrible at mathematics. All too often people with high mathematical abilities have autistic traits. The same gene that gives some people such great mathematical abilities may also lead to autistic behaviour. This is why, in studying autism and schizophrenia, we believe that we shall come very close to a better understanding of intelligence and, therefore, of the differences in intelligence. ...

The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity. It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science.

To question this is not to give in to racism. This is not a discussion about superiority or inferiority, it is about seeking to understand differences, about why some of us are great musicians and others great engineers.

These are not the words of a man who has prostrated himself in front of accusers.

Many media sources, eager to have the inconvenient truth spoken of by Watson buried, portray him now as someone with great compunction for an accidental slip of the tongue.

That's how the story is supposed to go: A public figure says something deemed intolerable, Good People in similar public positions react hysterically, and the mutterer meekly apologizes, throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Watson did not complete the third step, so the media have taken it upon themselves to make it appear as though he did, virtually all of them quoting only a couple of sentences of his lengthy issuance, as the NYT did (even meshing sentences together without indicating, through ellipsis, that they were separated by other verbiage):

In a statement given to The Associated Press yesterday, Dr. Watson said, “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. There is no scientific basis for such a belief.”
That's intentionally misleading. As the detailed excerpts above indicate, Watson says he was surprised at how he said what he said, and that if it were interpreted to mean that all of Africa is genetically inferior, he sees no evidence for what would essentially be a moral judgment. But he did not say there was "scientific basis" for the intelligence gap.

Sub-Saharan Africans are, on average, faster runners than Europeans, and less likely to get melanoma. Those, like the European advantage in intelligence, do not constitute moral judgments. The 'inferior' genes are those of the Neanderthals and of the men who lived alongside our chromosomal Adam some 60,000 years ago.

Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess is relevant here. The contemporary Starry Messenger wasn't just recently written by Watson, though--it's been extant for a century. But even as the pugnacious Galileo felt the heat and had to endure blather on deferents and epicycles, support for his position (and the kindling of a languishing Copernican 'controversy' that would finally come to fruition eighty years later) existed among many of his contemporaries, including those in the Church like the Archbishop of Siena and for a time even Pope Urban VIII. Galileo didn't make the heliocentric system work, nor did his observations alone describe it fully, not by a longshot. Even the "father of science" needed help.

The momentum of veracity is growing today as well, with the HapMap Project, the academic work of men like Lynn, Jensen, Flynn, and Murray, the eager experimentations of people like Craig Venter (who Watson is not too fond of!), the open nature of communication facilitated by the internet, and the bloggers who've excelled using it, like Steve Sailer and the guys at GNXP. The myth of Zero Group Differences that even now seems so frustratingly impervious at the popular level, will soon be dispelled, and the most vociferous purveyors of it relegated to the annals of shame, alongside Cosimo Boscaglia, the first notable to suggest Galileo a heretic (although his protestations, politically-motivated as they may have been, were more genuine than most of the ones that are today directed at Watson).

A more noteworthy aspect of Watson's remarks is how there appears to be no level of credentialism that demands a fair hearing when human biodiversity is the subject at hand. Watson, a Nobel prize winnder with a litany of achievements, truly a scientific pioneer, is no match for the High Council. No public figure may tread where Watson did without vicious efforts to assassinate his character and destroy his livelihood. No need to repudiate him factually, as that would invite a debate no one in the ZGD hierarchy wants aired. The evidence is almost entirely on Watson's side.

I've chronicled several associations between IQ and various social attributes: Infant mortality, life expectancy, obesity, livability, material standard of living, criminality, illegitimacy, unemployment, income, and wealth. I've yet to find one in which IQ trends in the pathological direction, with the arguable exception of fecundity.

The means to bolster the collective IQ of millions of sub-Saharan African children and lessen the prevalence of the sad image nearby are available. Watson is to be commended for suggesting why Africa in the hands of Africans and with the crutch of foreign-aid and Western political proscriptions has become more dangerous and destitute than it was when Rhodesia still existed.

The current approach is not working. The moral posturers who indefatigably enforce the omerta on the discussion of IQ variance are the true miscreants, not Watson.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Steven Malanga on diminutive Hispanic voting bloc

Writing in an op/ed carried by the LA Times (free registration), Steven Malanga of City Journal covers what has been dealt with here on multiple occasions--the myth of the omnipotent Hispanic voting bloc.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Another illustration of Europe's self-immolation

You might say they're assimilating to European culture, albeit a relatively novel brand of it from the slums outside of Paris:
A group of between twenty to thirty youths caused havoc in the vicinity of the police station on the August Allebéplein in the Amsterdam district Slotervaart on Monday night at around 11.00 p.m.

They set fire to a private car in the nearby Jan Tooropstraat, according to a spokesperson for the police. Several other cars were damaged. Stones were thrown at the police station and windows were smashed.

The fencing around the police station had been removed on Monday, following the incident on Sunday whereby a 22-year-old man stabbed and wounded two police officers with a knife. The police are now guarding the police station.

Oops, that was the Expatica version of the story. If I didn't know better, I'd accuse the English-language European news provider of a grievous, intentional error of omission. I'll give the service the benefit of the doubt, though, and merely supplement the above with this:

Moroccan-Dutch youths rioted in Amsterdam overnight Tuesday. ...

The riots followed the death of 22-year old Dutch-born Bilal Bajaka, of Moroccan descent. On Sunday, Bajaka entered the police station of Slotervaart, stabbing two police officers with a knife. Although having sustained serious injuries, one of the officers, a policewoman, shot and killed her alleged attacker on the spot. ...

From the age of 13 up to his death on Sunday, the police said, Bajaka had been involved in several major criminal incidents, including armed robberies and a series of violent incidents. He was allegedly part of a criminal gang.

In addition, police said he was personally acquainted with Mohammed Bouyeri, the convicted killer of the late film director Theo van Gogh, as well as with other Moroccan-Dutch terrorist suspects.

Mohammed Bouyeri and the others allegedly involved in terrorist activities also came from the Slotervaart neighbourhood. ...

Moroccan-Dutch residents of Slotervaart complained to reporters they were "sick and tired" of continuous "negative news reports" about fellow Moroccan-Dutch, adding they felt increasingly stigmatized.

Several television reporters who came to report on the fatal incident at the police station were threatened by Moroccan-Dutch youths.

The Netherlands used to be an idyllic, libertine paradise, with a generous social safety net that allowed its endowed inhabitants to live below their potential while also living below their means. The influx of Islamic immigrants is ruining that. It's not just a Dutch problem, it's a European dilemma.

Disproportionately receiving welfare benefits, with higher rates of unemployment and lower average wages, those of North African and Middle Eastern descent living in Holland are straining the welfare system, while brazen criminal acts like this one and the murder of Theo van Gogh are presenting the Dutch with a tough choice to make: Either continue running an uber-liberal society in the face of economic and physical insecurity, or continue tightening the reins like Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen has already begun doing.

Oh, I nearly forgot a third option: End all immigration from Islamic countries. Entice legal residents to head back to their ancestral places of origin, and deport those who are residing in the Netherlands illegally.

These thugs, who attacked the police and harangued reporters, claim they are sick of being "stigmatized". Nevermind that they are more than justifying that purported stigmatization. Why not do what is best for them? Since they despise the Dutch so much, and the Dutch aren't benefitting from having them around, why not give them all one-way tickets back to Rabat? Make it a typical northwest European act of magnanimity by having the Dutch government foot the bill.

Islam is inherently illiberal. It is incompatible with contemporary Occidentalism. Many of those of North African and Middle Eastern descent are not intelligent enough to become net contributors to the developed economies of Europe, and they are infecting the heart of Europe with heinous aspects of their native cultures, such as so-called 'honor killings'. Western societies should do everything possible to separate themselves from the Islamic world.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

DDS? Just let me talk to the hardware store clerk

From the UK comes something to keep in mind as the desirability of mandated universal healthcare in the US is bandied about. And no, this is not from The Onion, I promise:
Large numbers of people are going without dental treatment and some even report extracting their own teeth because they cannot find an NHS dentist in their area, a survey reveals today. ...

Just over 10% were not registered with a dentist at all. A third of those (35%) said there were no NHS dentists nearby, 22% said they did not know how to find one, 13% said they were on a waiting list and 30% said there were other reasons.

But 6% of the respondents said they were self-treating, which often included pulling out their own troublesome teeth. "Fourteen teeth have had to be removed by myself using pliers," said one Lancashire respondent. "Have pulled teeth out before, easier than finding a dentist," said one in Hull. ...

Some of the respondents show considerable ingenuity. "Filled own teeth - clove oil and Polyfilla," said one in Essex. Another fixed a crown with Superglue and a third used a screwdriver to scrape off plaque.

At least human ingenuity can still overcome governmental 'solutions' to pressing problems like these!

Market distortions in healthcare create shortages, both in the availability and quality of the care that is provided. Government is not the only 'culprit', though. By restricting the number of people accepted into dental school, an artificial upward pressure on wages is leading to a reduction in the number of people in the US who are making regular dental visits:
Since fewer dentists are getting trained now than in the early 1980s (a decline of over 20%) the number of dentists will actually decrease in coming years as many practicing dentists retire. So if you are thinking about getting dental work done best to get it done sooner. It will probably cost less now than in a few years from now. Another alternative is to get dental work done in another country if you have any plans for travel to countries with lower dental costs.

Certification processes that require some duration in training, rather than simply the merit of passing proficiency exams, create a similar effect across a variety of fields. Most accounting work does not require a CPA. Lots of networking jobs do not require the motley mix of certifications offered by industry giants. Most dental visits do not require complicated surgical work. Dental assistants making $15 an hour can handle most of the patients who come in for routine cleanings. So why not be able to go to a 'teeth cleaning' center that is run by people with dental assistant qualifications at much lower cost?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Pew: Trade, free markets mostly embraced; Immigration not so much

++Addition++John Savage and Randall Parker weigh in. Randall counts 48 countries, including the Palestinian territories, but I'm still coming up with 47. John isn't surprised that the US ranks dead last in its citizenry's support for free trade. In the body of the full report, Pew reveals that the US swing from five years ago, when the same survey was conducted, represents the greatest negative shifting among the 47 countries polled (from 78% of Americans saying they thought free trade was "good for the US" in 2002, compared to only 59% in 2007).

I suspect it's not the idea of free trade per se that is feeding into the negative perception as much as it is unreciprocated open trade policies that the US pushes in return for trade policies based on economic nationalism, especially in China, where our one-sided 'free trade' has lead to a historic trade deficit and an accentuated disadvantage for US producers and service providers that is only now, with the precipitous dollar drop, starting to balance out.

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Pew recently released the results of an interesting survey on international attitudes toward free trade, immigration, and democracy. It's worth taking a look at.

The bottom line comes in two parts: Firstly, nations overwhelmingly like being able to trade with other nations and favor free market economies over those that are centrally-planned. Pew is a trustworthy source, but in spite of this it strains credulity to see that, of the 47 nations polled, support for free trade (59%) was the very lowest in the United States.

Secondily, nations are also overwhelmingly opposed to the unfettered flow of people and want their respective governments to "further restrict and control" immigration (with over 70% favoring greater restriction and less than 26% opposing it).

Only three of the 47 countries bucked this trend: The Palestinian territories (does anyone actually immigrate there? I was under the impression that the flow of people was mostly one of emigration), Japan (barely, and since it has so few immigrants it is not particularly surprising that the population is ambivalent toward it), and South Korea (where citizenship is garnered either by marrying a native Korean--and one-fifth of the Korean men who marry each year join in union with a non-Korean, usually of Southeast Asian descent--or by bringing big bucks into the economy).

The idea that free trade and free flow of people are inevitably linked is falacious. The former can be had without the latter. The errant assertion relies on the assumption that people are indistinguishable economic units, blank slates that can be equally educated, assimilated, and utilized across the globe in equal capacities. That conception of human resources is antiquated, as Gregory Clark lays out in A Farewell to Alms (and has been less holistically argued in academia for decades and more recently across the blogosphere).

A barrel of oil from Saudi Arabia and another one from Canada, once they have been through a US refinery and turned into gasoline, are no longer appreciably distinct. Workers from each of these countries, however, will remain distinguishable from one another (and from other Americans, to a varying degree) once they've been through the American 'assimilation process' (whatever exactly that is). They will retain different temperments, different views on how society should be structured, different intellectual capabilities, different views on the value of work, etc.

Whether that slab of beef came from Kansas or Brazil matters less to the people of Missouri than does whether their neighbor just moved from Kansas or Brazil.

That the free trade and the free flow of people are not two sides of the same coin is obfuscated more by how similar the two concepts are semantically. Both involve the free movement of things, right? Except free trade has an obvious caveat--people only import things that they want to use and consume, things that they want to be part of their lives. If Bolivians don't want to buy Ford automobiles, Fords won't be imported into Bolivia. If Spaniards don't want large numbers of Moroccans living in their midst, why should they not similarly be able to restrict immigration from Morocco?

Further, in a competitive, global economy, nations must compete with one another. Any corporation that offered a cubicle, computer, and paycheck to whoever desired a job with the company wouldn't be in business for long. The corporation hires only those that will add value. Natives similarly want those who become their fellow residents to benefit them, the difference being that while a corporation's objectives are primarily economic, people employ a more expansive metric in evaluating what is desirable in a person: Cultural closeness, official language fluency, temperment, and the like.

Swiss oppose construction of conspicuous minaret

Plans for construction of Switzerland's fourth minaret are being met with resistance:

North of Berne in an idyllic Alpine valley cowbells tinkle, a church steeple rises, and windowboxes tumble with geraniums. It has always been like this.

But down by the railway station the 21st century is rudely intruding and the villagers of Wangen are upset. ...

In a case that has gone all the way to Switzerland's supreme court, setting a keenly watched precedent, the Turks of Wangen have just won the right to erect a six-metre-high minaret.
The story is from The Guardian, and the insinuation that the native opposition is comprised of reactionary throwbacks is prevalent throughout. It is curious that the growth of Islam in secular Europe is seen by writer Ian Traynor as the inevitable march of progress that retrogrades hope to stop.

A parliament member from the country's largest political party shares the sentiment of those protesting the construction:

If Ulrich Schlüer has his way the Wangen minaret will be toppled. An MP from the rightwing Swiss People's party (SVP), the country's strongest, Mr Schlüer has launched a crusade to keep his country culturally Christian.
The Turks want construction, but the nasty Schluer wants destruction! Nevermind that the minaret has not yet been built so it cannot be "toppled", or that the contemporary function of a minaret is to call the surrounding community to prayer, an unwelcome intrusion into the lives of most of those in the town. I wonder if Schluer called it a "crusade" or if that is merely an editorial prerogative.

A word on the crusades is appropriate, though. Contrary to the conventional wisdom about long memories in Middle Eastern cultures, the European crusades were unknown in the Islamic world until the end of the nineteenth century (the first Arabic history of the crusades wasn't written until 1899). The Islamic world was internally torn between Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad, contending with far more serious external threats from the north and east than from Europe, whose costly sustaining of a perpetually vulnerable Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Levant was played off by Abbisaids, Ayyubids, Almohades, and the Rum. It was seen as the incursion of 'the Franks', one of several groups of backward barbarians that were, individually, hardly threatening.

The idea of crusade, which was an unknown word in the earliest and most 'successful' expedition (it was seen instead as a pilgrimage), did not focus exclusively on the deracination of Muslim power in the Holy Land and a restoration of Christian oversight that had existed for centuries before the birth of Islam and that religion's subsequent vanquishing of Christianity.

The fourth crusade, in fact, led to the conquering of Constantinople, without touching Islamic lands. Throughout the more than two centuries of papal calls for expeditions to the Levant, 'soldiers of Christ' were seen to be equally fulfilling their duties if they instead fought from Aragon or Castille in Spain. There were also crusades against 'Albigensianism' in southern France (the heretical sect was actually strongest in Toulouse, ironically the home of Raymond, the single most influential person in establishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the first crusade), and the Teutonic knights fought (and expanded into the lands of) against the pagan inhabitants of Prussia and Transylvania. In this sense, Traynor's labeling is potentially accurate.

But the contemporary emphasis put on the crusades is due to the resusicatation of their notoriety by the Romantics and the subsequent invigoration by European imperialists, especially the French, who recast them not as acts in defense of the lands of Christ but of European magnanimity in bestowing upon the primitive world a superior Western civilization. It is in this way that the word "crusade" tends to be used today, especially by those in the Middle East who've picked up the European conception of a word they knew virtually nothing about for the six centuries following its birth. The focus of their ire has been on the state of Israel which, conveniently, exists in the same spot that the Kingdom of Jerusalem did 800 years before.

To use the word "crusade" in the way Traynor does is definitely antiquated, but still useful. Schluer's 'crusade' is defensive. He sees the Islamization of Switzerland extending far beyond airy beliefs about the supernatural:

"Unlike other religions," he argues, "Islam is not only a religion. It's an ideology aiming to create a different legal system. That's sharia. That's a big problem and in a proper democracy it has to be tackled. If the politicians don't, the people will."
This is a story heard before, in Germany, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Spain, the Balkans, Belgium--in short, across all of Europe. Islam is a religion of submission. It is inherently illiberal. Further, most Islamic immigrants into Europe are lowly-skilled, poorly educated, of modest intelligence, and not particularly industrious. For both cultural and economic reasons, European nations should continue to tighten restrictions on migration from the Islamic world, deport those who are living in Europe illegally, and offer carrots to get legal residents to leave.

Traynor asserts that resistance to Islamic immigration is a result of the political far-right:

The far right is making capital from Islamophobia by focusing on the visible symbols of Islam in Europe. In Switzerland it is the far-right SVP that is setting the terms of the debate.
The 'populist vocal minority' charge (which is frequently employed by open borders advocates in the US) doesn't make sense. Most of the media organs are not on board with the SVP. The reason Schluer will get the needed 100,000 signatures on a petition to put up for public referendum an addition to the Swiss constitution that will read, "The building of minarets in Switzerland is forbidden," is because public sentiment is with him. If it were aligned against him alongside the leftist media, he would be relegated to obscurity.

But the European perception of Islam is becoming more hostile, an utterly predictable outcome, as Islam and the migrants who are carrying it into Europe are straining generous welfare programs, depressing wages, disproportionately committing crimes and causing social disruption, and challenging liberal Western attitudes toward things like gender equality, romantic love, and homosexuality. A similar trend is occuring across the Atlantic, as Americans see what their cousins across the ocean are facing and realize that the US is not immune:

Public attitudes about Muslims and Islam have grown more negative in recent years. About four-in-ten Americans (43%) say they have a favorable opinion of Muslims, while 35% express a negative view. Opinion about Muslims, on balance, was somewhat more positive in 2004 (48% favorable vs. 32% unfavorable). As in previous surveys, Muslim Americans are seen more positively than Muslims (53% vs. 43%); however, unfavorable opinions of Muslim Americans have also edged upward, from 25% in 2005 to 29% currently.
After offering several examples of opposition to the construction of conspicuous Islamic buildings, Traynor writes:

This opposition is on a collision course with an Islam that is now the fastest-growing religion in Europe and which is clamouring for its places of worship to be given what it sees as a rightful and visible place in west European societies.
Imagine how Al Jazeera would react to a similar assertion among European immigrants in Riyadh demanding that new churches be built and given their rightful and visible places of prominence from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and across the Persian Gulf coast. Of course, that visceral reaction would pale in comparison to what would come from the residents of the city itself.

That The Guardian sees peaceful protesting Wangen villagers in a more negative light than it did the violent Islamic protesters in the wake of a cartoon depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb tells you what you need to know about much of the Western press: It takes the grievances of Muslim immigrants in Europe more seriously than it does those of European natives who vastly outnumber them.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gay guys obsessed with sex because they, and their partners, are guys

The 'provocative' Folsom Street Fair official poster brings to mind the question of why leading figures of the 'gay rights' movement so consistently confirm putatively negative stereotypes about the gay lifestyle (the event isn't explicitly gay-oriented, but gay men comprise the bulk of those participating). Imagine if a group of La Raza council members publicly leered at middle school girls on their way to class or if Al Sharpton led protesters in Jena holding a sign that read "Not jus' Jena, we bustin' yo' sorry asses 'cross da country".

Yet virtually every organized display of homosexual pride features kinky carnality, usually displayed by males. However the gay community feels about the stereotype (my sense is that it is pretty mixed, with lesbians much less likely to flaunt their sexuality than gay men are), it isn't surprising that gay men are more likely than just about any other group to act like sex nuts.

Both parties to the 'union' have the male sex drive to contend with. Imagine if the girls you were attracted to had the same drive as you, with a similar disinclination toward long-term commitments. That is repulsive to some guys, but to far fewer than such a situation is to most girls. Among readers, it probably would not represent much of a change in the way life is lived. But as we travel west along the bell curve, the benefits of impulse restraint becomes less and less obvious. Women generally control access, so they are crucial in limiting and restraining activity among men. Gay guys don't enjoy (suffer?) from this.

The bathhouses and the bathroom stalls have always been a gay guy thing. As cultural acceptance of homosexuality becomes more widespread, expect more of this carnality to be on public display. The stark contrast between gay men and lesbians will similarly become even more obvious (that is, the animalistic sensuality of the gay pride parades versus the soulful platonism of the Indigo Girls).

Spiderless in solitude

Over the last few months, I've noticed a precipitous drop in the number of my eight-legged friends in the basement. Their population peaked right about the time I indulged myself in posting on them, feigning more affection and less anxiety than I actually had for their presence. I live in semi-rurality, in a stand-alone subdivision under construction (although I bought my house from a previous owner), with an unfinished walkout basement--as open an invitation for creeping crawlers as can be had in a dwelling still considered contemporary. I literally could not go downstairs without seeing several of them; webbers suspended along the walls and my favorite, wolfies, on the cool floor.

Now, I'm fortunate if I see one every few trips down. No freeze has hit. It hasn't even fallen below 50 degrees yet. Unless it gets above 85 or below 45, I don't manipulate the temperature inside. The only thing I've done to intervene has been to remove egg sacs. But I've been doing that all along, and it only applies to web dwellers since hunters like the wolf spider carry the sacs (and their young once they've emerged) on their spinnerets (the 'sticky' part of their abdomens). So I'd been at a loss to explain why they seem to have departed.

Until yesterday, when the lights finally went on. Three months ago, in anticipation of an allergy season that brutalizes me every year, especially from early September until the first freeze when I fight with hay fever, I bought a six-speaker surround sound system to blast DragonForce while (sloppily) shadow fighting in the living room, as another workout option that kept me indoors. Upstairs, it's loud. But only when underneath the source of the sound do you appreciate the bass, which is enough to cause fixtures in the basement to vibrate a little.

I was aware of pesky wildlife, like racoons, being forced out by the application of continuous loud music. Spiders rely on vibrations to 'hear' prey. This is disruptive to all of the hunting styles (and must make it impossible for ambuscaders, although I didn't see much of them anyway). Sometimes I'll go for a full hour, often at night. This is the only thing I can imagine to have caused the exodus. It might be a tactic to try if you have recurring predatory infestation problems.

Live and let live, as they say. Just as I did not consciously alter my behavior in an attempt to push them out, I must remain fidelious in not changing it to invite them back in. No, no, I'm not glad they are gone. I was never uneasy about their presence! Really...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Newspaper diminution illustrates overall media fragmentation

After having briefly reflected on the secular decline in the influence of newspapers, I was able to put a little perspective to it when I stumbled upon a timely bit about one Northeastern paper at the turn of the nineteenth century.

In 1898, circulation of the New York Journal had reached 800,000. That was before the introduction of truly national newspapers like the contemporary US Today or even the reach of today's NYT. The US boasted 74 million people, about 60% (roughly 45 million) of whom were over the age 18. Of those, around 93% (about 41 million) were literate enough to write their own names. That comes to one paper for every 51 potential readers.

Today, the Wall Street Journal has a global circulation of just over 2 million, including its online offering (which comprises just under half of its total subscription base). That number is inflated by bulk deliveries to places like college campuses and hotels. Even with these major qualifications, the number of papers per reader is paltry by comparison to that of the New York Journal on the eve of America's entry onto the colonial stage. The contemporary US has at least 301 million people, 75% (226 million) of whom are over the age of 18, around 99% (224 million) of whom can read and write with basic proficiency. That comes to, using the global number as if all copies ended up in the eyesight of Americans, one paper for every 112 potential readers.

This per capita advantage of more than 2-to-1 for the newspapers of old comes in spite of drastic reduction in the cost of distribution (online, and also through local printing presses for national papers) and a drastic increase in disposable income (it took about 1,500 hours of work to feed a family for a year then, as opposed to 260 hours today).

The media fragmentation is only going to become increasingly more pronounced. It's happened across the media spectrum; Papers, television (from three major networks to literally thousands of available channels), satellite radio, and of course the internet, which allows for communication in any of these mediums, from any source anywhere in the world, to be made accessible through your computer monitor (or phone, or blackberry) in the form of podcasts for radio and tv, directly through sites like YouTube, and from blogs and other sites, whenever you fancy having them.

I'm stating the obvious, I know. But it has implications not only for papers like the WSJ that are facing a looming threat to profitability that isn't going away in the foreseeable future, but also to the way average people see the world.

Because I now feel closer to some of the folks I regularly interact with on the internet than I do with some of my neighbors that I don't know well, it seems to me more crucial than ever that I have as much in common with the neighbors as possible. Since we're not spending as much face-to-face time getting to know one another as my parents did with their neighbors, less amiability is going to be cultivated. So to the extent that it is possible, it needs to be their by default.

Demographic trends in the US are trending in the opposite direction, however, with more languages being spoken, varying cultural norms and mores coming into closer contact with one another, wider income disparities existing in the same local area, and competing belief systems trying to exert influence on a limited public space that is increasingly being shared by more and more special interests.

I don't see this as a good thing. Samuel Huntington predicts this century will be one dictated by the clash of civilizations. Expanding his definition of civilization to include more than social and economic cultural differences to include innate factors, I agree. But the clash is going to occur within polyglot civilizations (at least those who allow other civilizations to grow and fester within them), as well as between them along their most conspicuous boundaries.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Political fortune a tale of white voter surpluses, deficits

For me, having just posted on demographics and politics, Steve Sailer points to a timely article by David Paul Kuhn adapted from his book on the same subject--the Democratic Party's white male deficit:
The truth is that the most important factor shaping the 2008 election will almost certainly be the same one that has been the most important in presidential elections for the past 40 years: the flight of white male voters away from the Democratic Party.

The hostility of this group to Democrats and their perceived values is so pervasive that even many people who make their living in politics scarcely remark on it. But it is the main reason the election 13 months from now is virtually certain to be close — even though on issues from the war to health care, Democrats likely will be competing with more favorable tail winds than they have enjoyed for years.
The Democratic party has kicked around the idea with a "values voter" push, but it had little more substance than simply repeating the word "values" in the 2004 election cycle. The new crop of Democrats from the 2006 mid-terms represents a more serious move in the direction Kuhn suggests is imperative for the party, at least in the short- and medium-terms.

Meanwhile, Republican strategists and their media supporters largely remain focused on trying to pick up Hispanic voters through less emphasis on immigration restriction, irrespective of what effect it might have on white voters.

To get some feel for the magnitude of the variance in voting among the major demographic groups in the US, the +advantages (disadvantages) in terms of actual votes (in millions) for each of the 2000, 2004, and 2006 elections, from the Republican perspective follows.

These numbers slightly inflate the non-white and deflate the white numbers because they're taken from the VNS exit polls, which consistently query non-whites at rates that are a bit higher than the more meticulous Census surveys determine should have been warranted.

2000
White M: +7.9
White F: +.5
Black: (8.2)
Hispanic: (1)
Asian: (.3)

2004
White M: +8.5
White F: +5
Black: (9.5)
Hispanic: (1.9)
Asian: (.3)

2006
White M: +2.2
White F: +.4
Black: (7.7)
Hispanic: (3.1)
Asian: (.5)

From 2000 to 2004, the "security moms" and "soccer moms" takes were fairly accurate, with the caveat that those moms were overwhelmingly white. While the Democrats widened their absolute lead among blacks and Hispanics (gaining 2.2 million brown folks), Republicans more than made up for those losses by pulling ahead with white men (adding 600,000 votes) and especially with white women, for whom the lead was increased by 4.5 million votes.

From 2004 to 2006, when the GOP was obliterated, the white male advantage shrunk by 6.3 million votes. For white women, it dropped 4.6 million, for a total white loss of nearly 11 million votes. The corresponding drop in Hispanic support figures to a net loss of 1.2 million.

The tales of both parties' fortunes are primarily contingent upon how well they fare among white voters. This is hardly surprising, as over 80% of the electorate is white. Yet it is rare to hear this titanic bloc referred to as an influential collective entity in voting.

It's curious how when it comes to impending Social Security and Medicare shortfalls or an unsustainable trend toward more retired dependents relative to active workers, politicians cannot be more focused on immediate concerns (those are ugly things to tackle that are going to necessitate unpopular responses, so why deal with them if you don't (yet) have to?). But when it comes to demographic trends, the impression is that we're already decades down the road.

The black gap is enormous, rivaling even the white gap in absolute numbers of votes, while blacks represent but one-tenth of the electorate. For many of the same reasons that Hispanics will gravitate towards the Democratic party, that is not going to switch in the foreseeable future.

However, Republicans might make some headway among union members, 2 million of whom are black and another 9 million of whom are white, not to mention the 1.8 million who are Hispanic and hardly any better off facing a bloated supply of low-wage laborers than other union members are. By repudiating the suggestions of people like Nadler and Strassel and the unpopular decisions of national labor federations to support open borders, there is an opportunity here that meshes with the sentiments of the vast majority of natural Republican voters.