Monday, December 31, 2007

The Sailer buyer's (enormous!) surplus

Steve Sailer's blog is the intellectual treat I look forward to more than just about any other, and looking at my blogroll, that's saying quite a lot. He's fused a lucid, illuminating writing style with an uncanny ability to make sense of, well, things. All kinds of things, especially insight into why people do the things they do. His background is in market research, and he can certainly be making a heck of a lot more in that industry than he is making by making the fruits of his mental toils available for free.

Or at least he could have made a lot more. In an age when googling the name of a job applicant (or landing a client) is as common as expecting a resume, those who choose to boldly challenge the Cultural Marxist establishment put their breadwinning capabilities on the line. And that line can be a rubicon in a case like his.

Yet Steve averages over 5,000 (don't look now, it's the holiday season!) unique visitors a day, according to SiteMeter, which may understate his actual regular readership by half. As one who reads every word, I still only stop by the site every third day or so. If I'm fairly typical of the average reader, that nets Steve somewhere between 15,000-30,000 regular readers. If as many could come up with $10 as a token of appreciation--as much as we're spending on a single movie ticket sometime over the course of twelve months--we'd have him for perpetuity.

Affordable family formation, the Hispanic voting myth (of '04 or the vote in general), a workable definition of "race", getting at the real Barack Obama, challenging the vogue 'rogues' like Gladwell and Levitt who are uncritically fawned over by the media establishment--I'd rather give a ten-spot to a good cause than have these things yet unrevealed.

If you share that sentiment, and have more than $5,350 in deductions for 2007, do it before midnight. Otherwise, unload some of that dough your momma sent you for Christmas before you use it to break your New Year's resolution!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A few thoughts on Bhutto's death

Pat Buchanan, in criticizing what he sees as the US' undue focus on the Islamic Middle East, frequently points out that Pakistan is one bullet away from a nuclear-armed, Islamic-led nation of 160 million people, nearly half of whom have a favorable impression of Osama bin Laden.

Bhutto's assassination underscores as much. Given the successive attempts on her life, it seemed irresponsible for her to continue to invite attacks that could (and would) lead to the deaths of hundreds of her supporters. It also suggests that, to say the least, opening up Pakistani society at this point would be destabilizing. Bill Richardson's call for Musharraf to step down is a call for chaos (and Joe Biden's excoriation of that position confirms in my mind that he is the best Democratic Presidential candidate being fielded).

In Bhutto's defence, she had requested foreign protective services, for which she had offered to foot the bill. Musharraf apparently scoffed at the idea, insinuating that his government could protect her.

While Bhutto was a liberal by the standards of the region, especially in the area of women's rights, she was hardly a reliable friend of the US. It was while she was prime minister that the Taliban moved from Afghanistan's southwest into the seat of that nation's power. Though some elements of the ISI despised her in the mid-nineties for not being supportive enough of the Taliban (and may well be revealed to have had some role in killing her a decade later), her support and recognition of the group was crucial to its rise to power.

Randall Parker has a great post on the former Pakistani prime minister.

Friday, December 28, 2007

More ammonia, cyanide, nitrogen oxide present in pot than in cigarettes

More evidence that inhaling smoke created by burning dirty plants is not good for you:
Inhaled cannabis smoke has more harmful toxins than tobacco, scientists have discovered.

The Canadian government research found 20 times as much ammonia, a chemical linked to cancer, New Scientist said.

The Health Canada team also found five times as much hydrogen cyanide and nitrogen oxides, which are linked to heart and lung damage respectively.
Cigarettes were injected into the English world's bloodstream during the Crimean War, brought from the Near East by Ottoman soldiers who fought alongside British forces against Russia. Less than a decade-and-a-half later, before the American 'Civil War' had ended, cigarettes were being produced on this side of the Atlantic.

Although a London physician named John Hill had discovered a link between tobacco use and cancer (of the nose) in 1761, the negative health effects of cigarette smoking did not became common knowledge until the latter half of the 20th Century. Those who assert that toking up is benign are akin to those who, from the 1850s to the 1950s, claimed that cigarettes were harmless.

Scientific knowledge accumulates a little faster today. Marijuana, as a ubiquitous cultural item, has been around for less than half a century. Over the last decade, a range of detrimental effects have been discovered: It increases the risk of suffering from Schizophrenia-like symptoms, increases the risk of actually suffering from Schizophrenia, high THC levels (which are on average around five times higher in today's marijuana than they were in the sixties, and some pot has THC levels that run as high as 30% compared to 2% that was the standard in the days of Woodstock) jumbles thought processes by disrupting the way nerves fire in the brain, and regular use has a depressive effect on IQ of about 4 points (although this disadvantage seems to disappear once drug use has stopped), in addition to likely increasing the risk of heart and lung damage. I suspect that more damaging consequences of marijuana use will be discovered in the future.

In addition to those health risks, marijuana use carries with it economic negatives. Money is spent to cultivate, distribute, and purchase it, instead of being used more productively. Users forget to fulfill obligations they've made, like showing up for work.

Municipalities across the US have begun instituting public smoking bans due to the damage lighting up causes. Well, this too should inform the debate on pot legalization:
Dr Richard Russell, a specialist at the Windsor Chest Clinic, said: "The health impact of cannabis is often over-looked amid the legal debate.

"Evidence shows it is multiplied when it is cannabis compared to tobacco.

"Tobacco from manufacturers has been enhanced and cleaned whereas cannabis is relatively unprocessed and therefore is a much dirtier product.

"These findings do not surprise me. The toxins from cannabis smoke cause lung inflammation, lung damage and cancer."
If marijuana is potentially more dangerous than cigarettes are, it seems vertiginous to argue in favor of granting greater public access to pot smoking while simultatneously restricting public access to cigarette smoking.

Many libertarians will argue that even if cigarettes or alcohol were made illegal, their use would continue, just as people toke up in places where doing so is prohibited. But similar to the issue of illegal immigration, stricter enforcement and harsher punitions would reduce the number of people engaging in these activities.

Without getting too discursive, I'd like to see the enforcement approach modified. Instead of attempting to simultaneously punish both sellers and buyers, why not make the punishment for sellers extremely harsh while offering rewards (in addition to amnesty) for users who report sellers to authorities? Allow these buyers to do so in a way that keeps that protects their identity from being revealed to the public. Instead of encouraging the two sides to conspire, why not potentially turn everyone against the sellers?

Those in favor of legalization also argue that what a person does to himself is none of the government's business. But the ban on pot smoking is why it is so much less likely to be undertaken in public than cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption are. While banning pot doesn't stop people from smoking, it does make them less likely to do so where I will be exposed to it as I am out and about. And as the negatives associated with marijuana use pile up, that becomes increasingly important.

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

NAEP improvement in nineties (limited data)

In attempting to expand NAEP scores beyond just this decade in math and reading, I first looked at black performance over the same time period that had been looked at for state student bodies on the whole and whites exclusively.

For black students, there is an interesting inconsistency with all students and whites on reading tests, where no statistically significant relationship in improvement over time exists (for reading improvement for the '03 and '07 cohorts, the r is .20 with a p-value of .21, compared to .52 for all students and .50 for whites only, both statistically significant). In math, black improvement by state follows the same pattern as it does for the other categories, but it is weaker, at .35.

This comports with an analysis I did on NAEP scores and factors conventionally thought important in ensuring a good education for children. I found that while there are moderate correlations between expenditures on students even after cost-of-living adjustments are made for whites, Hispanics, and Asians, no such relationship exists for blacks. Of course, it might also be seen as refuting the idea that gauging improvement by looking at the difference in the performance of each state's 4th and 8th graders relative to those in other states is of any value.

To look for consistency over a longer period of time, I trekked back to the nineties. Unfortunately, the available data are pretty sporadic. Analyzing the '92, '96, and '00 results together requires using data from only 28 states and DC. Further adding to my frustration, the math and reading results alternate in two year intervals. Math numbers are available for '96 and '00, while the reading numbers cover '94 and '98 ('03, '05, and '07 are available for both, and for all states; I used '03 and '07 for the first post trying to potentially look at teaching effectiveness by state). Science ('00 and '05) and writing ('02 only) results are even more restrictive.

Using math numbers from less than three-fifths of the states from '92 to '00 still leads to correlations of eighth grade improvement relative to fourth grade performance during a given year to the same four years before or after similar to what was found using data from '03 and '07 (.50 from '92 to '96, .70 from '96 to '00), but over an eight year period (meaning that there are no children showing up in both years) from '92 to '00, the correlation drops to .33.

Improvement is thus somewhat related over time. For example, say a state's score puts it at the 45 percentile in 4th grade and 48% in 8th grade, a 3 point improvement. Four years later, the state's 4th grade score puts it at 46% in 4th grade and 47% in 8th grade, a 1 point improvement. Doing this for all the states yields an improvement correlation that is fairly strong, fluctuating from .50 to .70 depending on the years used.

We're just looking at what takes place on the edges, since a state's absolute score relative to another state's doesn't matter, only how the scores for each state change over time as compared to its previous and proceeding performance relative to other states.

I knew that, having figured as much in coming up with state IQ estimates, but I didn't realize just how far out on the edges I was snooping around. A state's actual performance--not what I've called "improvement"--relative to other states is incredibly stable. Looking at actual scores of 4th graders in '03 and 8th graders in '07 (mostly the same kids) by state, measured in terms of standard deviations, we get a correlation of .93 for math and .92 for reading. Doing the same for math from '92 to '96 garners an r-value of .97 (with only 28 states considered). For '96 to '00, it's .96.

I should've done this obvious analysis earlier, to give proper perspective on how minimal these improvement variances are, and why the standard deviations appear so large (because the absolute numbers that underlie them are so stable, small differences seem to be magnified--that's also why in terms of standard deviations, white improvement seems more varied than when all races are considered).

While the varying levels of improvement are fairly consistent going back into the nineties, this improvement (which is only based partly on effective teaching--or ineffective teaching, as suggested by Jason Malloy--and may also be based on children moving, entering public school from private school between 4th and 8th grade, pathogens, parental involvement, the weather, or some other combination of things which includes some amount of noise) is only "explaining" 5%-15% of 8th grade actual performance.

The other 85%-plus is explained by how well the kids perform in 4th grade. Of this 7%-15%, the .50-.70 relationship in improvement over four year periods (and less than that over the eight years from '92 to '00) suggests that somewhere in the range of 25%-50% (arrived at by squaring the r-value) of that 7%-15% is due to consistent differences (ie, not inconsistent noise). If pedagogical strategies comprise half of this, and the other potential causes makeup the other half, adopting the best teaching practices for DC might narrow the performance gap with Connecticut (among the worst in terms of improvement) by 2%-3%.

To make the US smarter, we need smarter children. The intelligence of children is not crafted in the classroom, but in the womb (and probably to a lesser extent during infancy and at the dinner table). Our immigration policies should be informed by this, as should the birthing incentives and disincentives that exist in the IRC.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ranking obfuscation, reading-level style

Since I spent half an hour playing with this after being introduced to it by Ilkka Kokkarinen, I might as well try to make something out of nothing. The tool purports to classify the level of educational attainment required to understand whatever blog or other site you offer it.

Taking a run through my blogroll, GNXP ("High school") and Agnostic ("Junior high school") both fall short of my "College (undergrad)" rating. That in spite of the fact that the entire GNXP crew (including Agnostic) have at least two years more schooling under their belts than do I, and have IQs that probably average around a standard deviation higher than mine (if not more). Perhaps even more absurdly, my unserious facebook profile earns a "Genius" rating. The thing is obviously bunk (although it does give criticsrant.com, its hoster, a "Junior high school" rating).

But if you use a normative scale to rank things, people tend to pay attention, even when the rankings are tripe.

In the comments of Ilkka's post, Markku suggests that the tool probably just counts rare words. The three links I have to opinionaters outside of North America all come in as "Genius", and are the only three on the list that do (not that it's undeserved!). So he seems to be near the mark.

Hmm, "Genius" might be seen in a negative light as it requires the reader to make sense of gibberish and infer what is trying to be said but is being so poorly expressed. Meanwhile "Elementary school" is optimal, being written so clearly and succinctly that it takes little work on the part of the reader to make sense of what is being said... It is this kind of empty conjecture about dopey 'rankings' that is so useless.

Forget how suspect the methodology is. Let's use the results to broadcast something controversial! Why not start with a political slap, in the spirit of the IQ hoax borne out of results from the '00 Presidential election?

The nation's top two 'conservative' newspapers, the WSJ and the Washington Times, earn "College (undergrad)" and "High school" ratings, respectively. The top two 'liberal' papers, the NYT and LAT, both earn "Junior high school" ratings. So much for the haughtiness of stuffy coastal elites. They're revealed to be unfledged indeed!

This tool is silly, but it serves as a useful example of how rankings and indices that are arrived at without disclosing their methodologies should always be greeted with skepticism. Often, if an inordinate amount of digging is required to get some idea of what methods were used, or they are not available at all, the presenter is either tendentious, so lazy that even in granting him good faith his data entry is likely so sloppy that his results are probably erroneous, or he's disguising personal preference as quantitative data so that his output is about as useful as the information obtained in reading a daily horoscope.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

War on Christmas illustrates West's tolerance

The "War on Christmas" has indeed become an annual affair:
... Britain’s Daily Mail reported on November 1, 2007 that the Institute for Public Policy Research, a leading Labour think tank, was advocating that Christmas be "downgraded." Such a downgrading would be part of an "urgent and upfront campaign" to promote a "multicultural understanding of Britishness." [Christmas should be 'downgraded' to help race relations says Labour think tank, By James Chapman] This downgrading would be accomplished by promoting other holidays at the expense of Christmas: "If we are going to continue as a nation to mark Christmas—and it would be very hard to expunge it from our national life even if we wanted to—then public organizations should mark other religious festivals too," the report said.

While Western governments have gotten involved, the most salient battles take place in the contest between "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas", as the two phrases jockey to firmly become the standard greeting and parting in business establishments during this time of year. That the latter phrase has become publicly contestable illustrates Western Christendom's (or post-Christendom's, or Occidentalism, or however you want to broadly label liberal Western society) extreme tolerance relative to the rest of the world's major value systems.

Around 80% of Americans are self-identified Christians, and over 95% of Americans celebrate the federal holiday of Christmas. That major retailers like Wal-Mart thought squelching the mention of or reference to the holiday throughout its stores (and others like Lowe's still think it to be a good idea) would be good for the bottom line highlights this extreme tolerance. The 5% who do not partake in Christmas celebrations and take offence to the standard greeting are seen as potentially pushing harder (in absolute terms) than the 95% that do partake in the celebrations and have no problem with the words "Merry Christmas".

Leftists (and it is leftists--while fewer than 1% of Republicans and Independents take offence, 8% of Democrats do) who attack the putative intolerance of the West in celebrating what has become its most important holiday are doing so because it is one of the few accepted ways of allowing their leftist value system--what I see as the unfettered acceptance and even promotion of everything that isn't foundational to Western Christendom, but what less cynically is seen as tolerance in its purest form--to assert its dominance over another value system, since all other non-Western Christendom value systems are basically off limits.

This is inherently self-immolating if pure tolerance is the goal. The target, Western Christendom's values system, is essentially the only major values system willing to passively accept--and even voluntarily fight for--a (or many) competing, and potentially threatening, values system(s) existing in its midst.

To attack the world's least morally judgmental major values system whenever it does make a values judgment (that "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" should be used around Christmas time, when people are busily running around the retail world on account of Christmas)--or even its assertion of the right to inclusion among a plurality (a Creche alongside a Menorrah and a Cresent Moon)--is akin to an autoimmune problem.

Even when it is 'in charge' (as Western Christendom is within the West), and consequently not forced to grant a plural existence to others, these leftists attacking it from within for exerting its right to self-preservation are doing battle with the world's strongest protector of cultural plurality and liberalism. That protector is also being attack from without, of course, as is standard fare when disparate civilizations come into close contact with one another.

Unfettered tolerance has no response to intolerance. A civilization that can find fault in nothing other than itself is not long a viable civilization at all.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tancredo calls it quits, backs Romney

Tancredo's bowing out isn't a defeat for the restrictionist cause he championed. His effort received no support from the Republican establishment or putatively mainstream conservative media outlets like the WSJ. Yet every remaining candidate in the Presidential race--Democrat and (especially) Republican--save the consistent Dennis Kucinich, has taken a more restrictionist tone in their public rhetoric than their voting records indicates they'd like to. He has nudged the entire campaign away from advocating open borders. And having him actively back in the House has its own benefits (hopefully he will reconsider his decision not to seek re-election next year, a reversal he has made in the past).

My support is now more firmly behind Ron Paul, who has been good on the illegal underclass immigration front and, excepting Duncan Hunter, has the best overall immigration voting record among the Republican contenders. And Paul's foreign policy toward the is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the GOP's Presidential field.

Tancredo is now supporting Romney, who I like most among the four (or five, if Thompson is included) top-tier candidates. His obsession with number crunching and data perusal are welcome changes from the ideological orientation the Bush administration has offered for the last seven years. It's probably safe to allot him some rightward premium on account of having been the governor of the nation's most leftist state. To the extent that he shifts politically from where he had been in Massachusetts, it will almost certainly be to the right.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mass deportations? Illegal immigrants leaving ahead of immigration enforcement laws going into effect

More evidence that the mass deportation argument--that the repatriation of the US' illegal immigrant population would require a massive manhunting and governmentally-funded transportation effort--is a brittle strawman with no grounding in reality:
It's a common scene this time of year: streams of overloaded cars, pickups and vans with U.S. license plates crossing into Mexico for the holidays. Most are filled with Hispanic families from Arizona and other states on their way to visit relatives south of the border for a few weeks before heading back to the U.S. But this year, the holiday travelers are being joined by scores of families such as Jorge and Liliana Franco, who are driving to Mexico not to visit but to stay - permanently. ...

The number returning to Mexico is difficult to calculate [heh, I wonder why? The best estimates I've seen put the number around 100 per day], but there is no question that many families are leaving, according to Mexican government officials, local community leaders and immigrants
themselves.

"The situation in Arizona has become very tough," Jorge said minutes after driving into a Mexican immigration and customs checkpoint south of the border on Mexico 15.

Dozens of immigrants are leaving the U.S. daily, and even more are expected to leave once the sanctions law takes effect in January, provided the law survives a last-minute legal challenge, said Rosendo Hernandez, president of the advocacy group Immigrants Without Borders.
Pass laws with real penalties for residing in the US illegally, and people will stop residing in the US illegally. It's really that simple. No massive increase in ICE agents needed. No train of buses stretching all across Route 66 required. Just a little legislative action and some targeted employer raids, and the problem is just about whacked.

During Operation Wetback, for every one illegal forcibly removed, seven or eight left of their own volition. A similar ratio appears to be the rule today.

Immigration and Jason Riley's reliance on dubious WRF study

Yesterday's WSJ op/ed board chides President Bush for allowing the Senate's version of the "omnibus" spending bill to exceed what he had declared would be the maximum amount he would tolerate in discretionary spending for next year:

Oh, and Congress is also funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the tune of $70 billion -- something Democratic leaders had vowed not to do. White House sources add all of this up and say that sooner or later a President has to take yes for an answer -- or else he looks unreasonable. The howls of frustration coming from liberal interest groups suggest they have a point.

And yet this is hardly a lean or mean budget. When combined with the Defense spending bill that has already been signed, Congress will still exceed Mr. Bush's $933 billion "top-line" thanks to about $11 billion in budget gimmicks and "emergency" spending. (Such spending isn't added to the "baseline" budget.) This includes $2.9 billion for "border security," $100 million for security for the Democratic and Republican conventions next year, $500 million for California wildfires, plus more for home heating oil and other political favorites.

Instead of $31 billion for Afghanistan, we get $70 billion for both theatres (and $55-$60 billion of that will end up being spent on the disastrous Iraq war). The board cheers this. Then it inexplicably puts border security in quotes and groups it with more dubious expenditures, as if to suggest this $2.9 billion for a partial fence along the southern border that should've been built more than a year ago is an example of fiscal profligacy, in contrast to the $60 or so billion going on $2 trillion for Iraq! It does illustrate where the board is coming from, though, that's for sure.

Unlike the $70 billion grant to help in the continual buildup of Iraqi and Afghani armed forces, the $2.9 billion for barrier construction has strings attached:

A provision sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, would modify the law that requires at least two layers of fencing and specifically spelled out where that fencing should be built in Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona. ...

It allows the Homeland Security secretary to dispense with fencing, physical barriers, lighting, cameras and sensors at particular parts of the border where he determines those
resources are not needed. ...

The bill would require the department to consult with the Interior Department and Agriculture secretaries, local governments, Indian tribes and property owners to reduce the impact of fencing on the environment, culture, commerce and quality of life for communities and local residents.
Restrictionists (myself included) worry that a Huckabee Administration would encourage Homeland Security to do a lot of dispensing indeed. The WSJ's Jason Riley, however, thinks Huckabee is sounding entirely too tough on immigration. Riley contends that Huckabee, who has orchestrated the most surprisingly successful campaign of the Presidential race, doesn't know what he's doing:
With polls showing his lead gone in Iowa and narrowing in other early primary states, Mitt Romney has stepped up attacks on Mike Huckabee in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. ...

[Huckabee's] response was the "Secure America Plan," which involves fencing off Mexico by 2010, hiring more guards to patrol the Rio Grande, and giving the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. 120 days to go back where they came from. Like Rudy Giuliani and Mr. Romney, Mr. Huckabee is convinced that tough talk on immigration, however irrational, is necessary to win the nomination. And while such rhetoric may indeed earn you support from nativist groups like the Minutemen, who endorsed Mr. Huckabee last week, there's a danger that it also could consign the GOP to minority status in Washington for some time.
If only the former Governor would support what the vast majority of the American public opposes, he'd really win them over! He'd do much better than he has done thus far, foolishly vowing to support the same things they support. That "irrational" strategy has, after all, only vaulted him from second-tier obscurity to first place in Iowa (and the national polls as well) in a couple of months!

Debunking the myth of the all-important Hispanic vote is a tired trick now. Hispanics comprise 6% of the voting electorate. More than half of the nation's Hispanics live in either California or Texas, both of which are electoral locks.

Of the ten closest races in the 2004 Presidential election, only two--New Mexico (third) and Nevada (seventh)--have proportionally larger Hispanic populations than the nation as a whole. The other eight states have smaller Hispanic populations--and proportionally larger white populations--than the rest of the country. So that 'key' 2%-3% of the electorate, is actually less important than the numerical figure alone might otherwise make it appear!

Open borders advocates on the Republican side commonly point to GOP gains among Hispanics in Presidential elections from 1996 to 2004 as 'evidence' that immigration enforcement is politically suicidal. What they forget to mention is that GOP gains among whites over the same period dwarfed the Hispanic increase.

From Dole's run to Bush's re-election, Republicans picked up more than 11 million white voters, as well as just under 1.3 million Hispanic voters. The Hispanic vote, which tends to mirror the white vote (slide 19) shifted 25 or so points to the left, did just that over those eight years. The 800-pound gorilla was, and continues to be, the white vote.

Although the Hispanic vote is of minor significance, Riley should take note of the fact that even Hispanic Republicans are miles apart from the op/ed board on taxation and governmental growth. A Pew poll found (slide 21) that while only 17% of white registered Republicans stated that they'd favor paying more in taxes for a larger government, 52% of Hispanic registered Republicans said they would. No te olvides de cancelar el periodico, I guess!

Presumably, Hispanics who don't support the GOP are even bigger tax-and-spenders. As affirmative action eligible, relatively impoverished, relatively uneducated, non-English speaking ethnic minorities with significant concentrations in urban areas, it is hardly surprising that Hispanics tend to favor the Democratic party.

In attacking Romney, Riley points out a major benefit with regards to illegal immigration of a national consumption (or sales) tax to replace the federal income tax:
But even illegals working in the cash economy can't avoid paying consumption taxes, which are levied on the purchase of goods and services.
That Huckabee is the only 'top tier' candidate openly embracing the FairTax idea (Tom Tancredo also supports the plan) is at least one positive for him on the immigration front.

Riley cites a study by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (which focuses on "economic, racial, and social justice") to argue that illegal immigration has economically benefited Arkansas:
Yet a study released earlier this year by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation found these newcomers to "have a small but positive net fiscal impact on the Arkansas state budget."

Taking into account both education and health care expenditures, the report found that immigrants "cost" the state $237 million in 2004, but made direct and indirect contributions of $257 million.
There are a host of problems with that study. Most blatantly, only direct (accounting) costs are figured, while both direct and indirect sources of revenues are counted on the contributions side. If you're going to include the ripple effect from immigrant contributions, shouldn't you also include ripple effects on the expenditures side (like the opportunity costs of not spending that money elsewhere, the deleterious effects on academic rigor in public classrooms, or the increase in public consumption by the businesses who are indirectly contributing on behalf of these immigrants)? An apples-to-apples comparison (page 17 of the pdf) shows an immigrant shortfall of $44 million ($193 million directly contributed to the $237--or more, see below--spent).

On the contributions side, all governmental receipts are included. On the expenditures side, however, 4% of state government expenditures (referred to as "remaining government" expenses) are apparently not allocated to immigrants. Including that, and assuming the same usage rates as are applied as are estimated for other categories like education, brings the debit side up to more than $246 billion, cutting the putative net benefit in half.

Only state spending is considered. Benefits like the EITC and SSI, among other federally bankrolled programs, aren't factored in. At the federal level, the Center for Immigration Studies found that illegal immigration created a net fiscal deficit of over $10 billion in 2002 alone.

There is also the question of worker displacement, as Hispanics in Arkansas are only one-fifth as likely as other Arkansans to own their own businesses. What happens to the torpid American Joe being replaced by Juan if Juan has his job by way of accepting a lower wage and doing better work than Joe? Joe goes on welfare (is heavily subsidized) and Juan keeps the job (is subsidized to a lesser degree). I'll take the American being subsidized, even to a greater degree than Juan would have been, and Juan in Mexico. If I could magically swap Juan for Joe, I probably would. But working poor immigrants do not replace working poor natives, they compete with them and augment the total size of the American working poor.

This study isn't convincing for the reasons stated above, but even if it were, Arkansas is hardly representative. It has the fifth highest poverty rate in the country. It is 16% black, and its white population performs poorly (41st among states) on scholastic measures of academic performance, while its Hispanic students do relatively well (eighth among states). It's certainly not Massachusetts.

Riley dares not breach the issue of what an increasingly Hispanic population portends for the US' economic future. NAEP tests, probably the best source of information serving as a proxy for IQ on a nationwide scale, suggests an average IQ of 93 for Hispanic eighth graders as of 2005. In an ever more competitive international marketplace, that could be a lot more costly than a dollar amount on the debit or credit side of a state's annual budget today.

Open borders advocates often point to the fact that second generation Hispanics do better than the first generation does. But they still do worse than the average citizen. Even four generations in, a gap similar to the one for those in the second generation remains. If a QB's passer rating starts at 20 in preseason but has the potential to get to 40 with a couple seasons in the backup spot, you probably still shouldn't keep him.

While it is encouraging to see Riley touch on quantifiable data, something that tends to be lacking on the open borders side, he still laces the editorial with plenty of invective:

... tough talk on immigration, however irrational [oh, the irony!]...

...voters can't be expected to support a Republican Party that takes its marching orders from Lou Dobbs populists [Dobbs, the bane of the Republican establishment, controls the GOP?]...

... it's not taking them from xenophobic fringe outfits [the Minutemen, viewed favorably by more than half of the public] animated by reconquista conspiracy theories.
The WSJ's op/ed board has supported the Bush Administration on almost everything: Open borders, messianic democracy, the war in Iraq, surveillance wirtetapping, taxes, social security reform, opposition to increasing the minimum wage, and on and on. The President's approval rating hasn't gotten beyond the thirties for a couple of years. There has been an exodus among his 'inner circle', and under his leadership the GOP has given up the House and couldn't hold on to the Senate. Not exactly a proven track record on how to attain political dominance.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Green for greater good, or to make others green with envy?

++Addition++Always eager to do my part (and have plenary indulgences, er, credits, granted on my behalf, if you happen to be reading, Mr. Vice President!), I've 'created' a green fitness machine.

The control panel on my treadmill just died. It appears to be something electrical. I decided to use it anyway, moving the tread with my own feet. While it looks as though I'm slogging through a marsh, it's grueling lower body work, similar to cross-country skiing uphill--without using any electricity.

---

New York City's 'green' Christmas tree campaign is more symbolic than anything else. But why not use LED lights, powered by solar panels instead of tungsten lights powered by coal-generated electricity to make the tree sparkle in the cold winter's air? Light-emitting diodes are soothing, and solar power is pretty hip. The tree is going to be chopped up and donated to Habitat for Humanity when the holiday season is over, and the land from which the tree was taken is going to be revitalized. This is some cool green stuff.

One aspect of the campaign strikes me as counterproductive, however, if spreading the appeal of 'going green' is the intention:

The City Hall news release also boasted that this year’s tree was cut with a handheld saw for the first time, to reduce energy consumption.
The tree is more than 35 feet wide. Using a handheld saw, the two burly lumberjacks who took the spruce down must've toiled for hours. Technological regression is not appealing to the vast majority of people living in modern societies (or the billions of people aspiring to live in them). This isn't as absurd as the overtly misanthropic, anti-natalist campaigning of some environmentalists, but the two share a disdain for modernity, a sure loser in the realm of public opinion.

I'm reminded of the 'No Impact Man', who forsakes toilet paper and the transportation of food as mortally damaging to the planet. To aspire to live the life of a vegetarian caveman appeals to a small sliver of people, virtually all of whom set themselves up to be revealed as hypocrites. Al Gore has been obliterated thus, being spotlighted for having too many kids, living in a 20-room mansion, using more than 20 times the electricity of the average American, flying around in a private jet to exotic places like Bali, and so on. This crowd strikes me as being more concerned with moral posturing as a means of distinguishing themselves from the burghers below than actually effecting real change.

Digressing for a second, having read much on the Crusades recently, I see similarities between the technologically regressive green movement and the monastic reformers of the Church in the latter-half of the Eleventh Century who eventually gained control of the papacy (Urban II, who 'launched' the First Crusade, was a major reformer):

It is no exaggeration to say that they wanted to monastacize the Christian world. They dreamed of a clergy, celibate and untainted by worldy values, ministering to lay men and women who as far as they were able lived lives and adopted devotional practices that corresponded to monastic ones. ...

Most extraordinary of all is the way the papacy was captured by them... Only once, in the later eleventh century, can it be said that the popes found themselves in the invigorating but dangerously exposed positition of being the leaders of a radical party in the Church.
The reformers saw the mass pilgrimage as a way of instilling within the lay community the monastic vows they sought to live by. That didn't much happen, as most people weren't too keen on foregoing the stuff of life. Instead, the reforming movement led to an embracing of a liberalized Augustinian justification for righteous violence that would help characterize the Church for more than half a millenium. And it was the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre from the control of Muslims (paynim), not the idea of living like a monk, that moved the men who marched alongside Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond of Toulouse into the Levant.

Alternative energy sources must be made economically viable to be used in any serious capacity. Nuclear power is the most obvious candidate for baseload power, but the competition among photovoltaics, batteries, wind, hydro, and other variable sources to see widespread use is going to come down to economics. And for any of these to be more economical than coal and petrol, technological progress is required. The environmental movement should focus on showing people how living a green lifestyle does not mean living the life of a modern-day, secular Benedictine.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Demographic profile of US' 100 most influential liberals and conservatives

++Addition++Steve Sailer weighs in, and his legion of commenters offer even more food for thought.

---

The Daily Telegraph of the UK came up with a list of the top 100 most influential 'conservatives' and 'liberals' in the US earlier this year. After going through it, I realized that either I'm out of the loop or the Beltway folks (and the media correspondents in Washington that report on them) are out of touch.

Dick Cheney is more influential than President Bush? Than Condi? Still? He can't show his face anymore, if he is even still alive. When was the last time you heard about him doing or saying anything? His hawkish stance on Iran isn't going anywhere.

Larry Craig has influence? He didn't before the airport tryst was exposed, and he has even less sway now. Laura Ingraham over Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, both of whom have millions more listeners (and Hannity has a TV show as well) than she does? Mississippi's Governor at #18, ahead of the President? Elizabeth Edwards over her husband, a Presidential candidate? Obama's wife (quickly, what is her name?) over Steny Hoyer, who is House majority leader and has been a Congressman for the last quarter-century?

Okay, enough of my quipping.

The methodology isn't even disclosed, so speculating on how or why the players were ranked as they are is purely conjecture. But the names on the lists have face validity, even if the specific rankings do not. So who are they?

It took longer than I'd expected to gather basic demographic information on them. The liberal side is especially difficult to find information on, presumably from a relative lack of scrutiny from media sources.

The Protestant-Catholic split among those of Christian heritage should be taken as an estimate--if nothing turned up, I looked to ethnicity and ancestry, then to names, visual images, and failing that finally assumed Protestant (for about 15 of the 200 a best guess is substituted for certainty).

In cases of Christian conversion, the 'final decision' was used (since mention of conversion presumes it is important in the person's worldview). Erik Prince of Blackwater, for example, was raised Dutch Reformed but converted to Catholicism in adulthood. Judaism, however, is determined by birth. Consequently, the percentages add up to a little over 100% for the section covering nominal religious identification.

Only avowed atheists who've given themselves that description were counted as such. Others, many of whom are surely only nominal members of a religious organization, are still counted as representing that religious grouping.

In a few cases (four conservatives, five liberals) age is estimated as well, based on when the person's career started. I presumed about 24 years prior to that point, using pictures as an aid).

Sexual orientation is assumed heterosexual unless there is reason to suspect otherwise.

The occupation categories are pretty broad. The section captures what makes them influential today, not what brought them into the limelight in the past (Howard Dean, now head of the DNC, is classified as a "Moneyman" rather than as a "Politician"). "Political fiends" work for political parties and/or politicians but do not actually hold political office themselves, with the exception of those who primarily work to raise funds for causes, even if those causes are primarily political (and sponsored by a political party) in nature.

"Activist" is a catch-all that characterizes people like Al Gore and Cindy Sheehan who have star power behind them but not an official position or job that gives them notoriety, and also those who were politically involved at one time, like Colin Powell, but who don't do much of anything influential today other than leveraging the prestige of their pasts to bring attention to their contemporary causes and positions. Additionally, spouses of prominent figures who are not in positions of power themselves are counted (Michelle Obama, for example).

In the cases where a person could qualify under multiple occupational labels, the one for which he is most well-known is used. For example, Bill O'Reilly is classified under "television" although he is also a powerful radio presence.

"Scholarship" can be further broken down into "historian", "academic", or "scientist", but the category is already small when it is this broadly defined. Victor Davis Hanson and Noam Chomsky are included under the heading.

The Wyly brothers, who are for this purpose demographically identical with the exception of a one year difference in age, are counted as a single person (presumably their high ranking would not have been merited by only half of the team). For the moveon.org founders, Joan Blades, the more publicly active of the two, is tracked.

Race is broken down into the four major Census categories. I counted Ralph Nader and John Abizaid as white, although they are both half-Arabic.

AttributeLiberalConservative
Average Age58 years, 7 monthsJust under 58 years
Male81%93%
Female19%7%
Outed homosexual3%2%^
Religion/heritage
Protestant43%44%
Catholic27%29%
Mormon1%3%
Orthodox3%*0%
Jewish24%23%
Buddhist1%**0%
Openly atheist3%1%

Race

White82.5%94%
Black14.5%3%
Hispanic3%1%^^
Asian0%2%
Occupation
Politician33%24%
Political fiend13%8%
Thinktank6%6%
Print media3%22%
Television4%6%
Radio0%6%
Religious interest0%4%
Moneymen5%1%
Judiciary1%3%
Internet3%

3%

Military0%6%
Scholarship1%3%
Economics2%2%
Actor/film producer8%1%
Racial interests4%0%
Activist14%5%

* Includes Arianna Huffington, who seems to be spiritually mystical
** Blogger Jerome Armstrong
^ Includes Larry Craig, the other being Andrew Sullivan
^^ Alex Castellanos of rats 'fame', currently working for Romney's campaign

The right is more heavily comprised of dead white males than the left, but Euro-descended Christian men make up the majorities on both sides. Baby-boomers make up more than half of those identified (54%). Most of those outside of this generation preceded it. Only 15 (7.5%) of the 200 people were born after 1964.

Jewish representation, coming to almost one-quarter of the total on both the right and the left, far outstrips its representation in the population at large. It is in line with Jewish representation among US nobel prize winners (27%).

Racially, the story is mostly one of blacks and whites. Asians are almost non-existent (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Michelle Malkin are the only two). There are a total of only four Hispanics from both sides. Just two of the four--Bill Richardson and Markos Zuniga (the Daily Kos guy)--come close to household name recognition.

Perhaps surprisingly, the conservative side has a substantial representation of columnists while the liberal side is almost devoid of them. This is partly due to the leftward slant that characterizes most of the traditional media, which makes it more difficult for leftist writers on the editorial page to stand out from what is contained in the hard news pages, since there is so much overlap.

Conservatives don't get much help from Hollywood. The only entertainment figure to make the list on the right is Chuck Norris, whose acting career is essentially over. This meshes well with the perception that to be openly conservative in Hollywood is to jeopardize one's career. Liberals, however, are foreigners in the land of radio (NPR just isn't that influential).

Politicians and political operatives are more heavily represented on the left than on the right. That might also be a consequence of 'selective' media focus, as in the case of Charles Schumer.

With the exception of the "print" category, the occupational list is predictable enough. Military figures show up on the right. So do religious figures. Racial leaders appear on the left. More of the left's influential figures are involved in awareness campaigns and public protests (activists) than they are on the right.



Tactic for enhancing concert experiences

To enhance the experience of going to a concert, don't listen to the act performing for as long a period of time prior to the performance as you are able.

That's the approach I'm adopting from here on out, anyway. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra rolled through here last weekend at the new downtown Sprint Arena. I usually have something playing while I read, and if the material doesn't require an extreme focus on my part, it might include lyrical stuff. But for the last few months I hadn't listened to TSO.

It paid off. While it seemed out-of-ear meant out-of-mind (before the concert, I wasn't as pumped as I'd been in the past), distance did make the heart grow fonder. It felt reminiscient of how it did when I was experiencing the music for the first time. More so than would have otherwise been the case, anyway.

The satisfaction I derived from having abstained for awhile might also be influenced by the false-closer (before the encore), bleeding over into all aspects of the performance, thereby enhancing my enjoyment of it. Going from the Ninth into a battle between the Fifth and Mozart's Requiem is more than I could've asked for:

(Although TSO is primarily known for their Christmas-themed albums, Beethoven's Last Night is my favorite).

Whenever I go on trips to places that are new to me, I bring an album I'm somewhat familiar with, and generally like, along. (With the IPod 'revolution', that's probably antiquated now, but it might just as well be an artist instead of a specific album). When I'm running or driving there, I'll listen to the album. From then on, hearing any of the music from the album brings potent memories from the trip to mind.

I've been doing it for about a decade, and it has worked tremendously well as a memory device. It is similar to the emotions and memories brought on by hearing what you and a girlfriend had designated as "your" (as in the identity as a couple) song.

While you're pining for memories past, don't go digging too deeply, though. Youtube has become a place where old music videos flourish. Finding the video of the song is unlikely to better the emotional experience, but there is plenty of opportunity for it to be soured.

Take the following Blues Traveler tune, for example. I became acquainted with it in Boulder. Still-shots of the Rockies would've been 100 times better than this. Now I'll have to struggle to block out the video whenever I listen to the song!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wish you were here...

...to experience the last throes of global cooling, before our Purgatory becomes irreversibly locked within the walls of Dis. Here, in unmolested purity, are some pictures of what the ice storm that swept through the Midwest left as conciliation for the damage it wrought. I took them on a trek through the woods, made into a crystal forest, near my house.











Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ranking the performance of immigrant groups by home country

Included in the impressive report issued last month by the Center for Immigration Studies are data on various socio-economic attributes of the US' foreign-born population, broken down by place of birth for migrants who are from one of the top 25 countries in the world in terms of first generation representation in the US.

How each of the attributes, as measured by the percentage of persons from each nation who fulfill the definition of as much, correlate with average estimated IQ of the migrants' country of origin (all of these relationships are statistically significant):

Using one or more welfare programs -- (.58)
Self-employed -- .56
Without health insurance -- (.48)
Less than a high school education -- (.46)
Bachelor's and beyond -- .45
In poverty -- (.44)

These relationships come as a bit of a surprise. I supposed I might end up using them as a seque into pointing out how group averages often tell us little about specific individuals within those groups. The notorious success of Indian immigrants had given me that impression.

From this, I could plug my support for a merit immigration system designed to skim the cream of the world's crop for the benefit of the US, making note of the fact that while the residencies granted by such a program might proxy weakly with race/ethnicity, the numbers wouldn't be driven by it.

Okay, so the proxy would likely be stronger than I'd envisioned. It's still a good idea.

Indians in the US are a special case. India's migrant profile is an outlier (as is Iran's to a lesser degree). The world's second most populous country is a diverse place, and we're almost certainly getting more than our share of its upper crust (Brahmins). If India is removed from the analyses, all but one of the relationships become noticeably stronger:

Using one or more welfare programs -- (.67)
Self-employed -- .55
Without health insurance -- (.53)
Less than a high school education -- (.51)
Bachelor's and beyond -- .60
In poverty -- (.49)

Based on those six factors, I've created a simple index to rate the top 25 nations from which our foreign-born population originates. The scores correlate with estimated IQ at .57, and .65 with India removed.

The non-Hispanic native white performance is set at 100. I gave equal weight to each of the factors, which probably inflates the numbers on education and underappreciates welfare use (or a lack thereof). Nonetheless, the rankings certainly have face validity:

RankCountry of originMerit index
1.India145.6
2.Japan139.0
3.Canada133.2
4.United Kingdom128.1
5.Germany120.1
6.Former USSR108.3
7.Philippines108.0
8.South Korea103.0
9.Iran100.8
xn-H White natives100.0
10.China91.6
11.Italy84.9
12.Poland76.5
13.Vietnam54.9
14.Colombia54.8
15.Peru48.9
16.Jamaica43.4
17.Brazil30.6
18.Cuba26.0
xHispanic natives21.8
19.Haiti15.3
xBlack natives13.2
20.Ecuador(13.3)
21.Dominican Republic(54.5)
22.El Salvador(60.7)
23.Honduras(64.8)
24.Guatemala

(85.0)

25.Mexico(87.7)

Why are Peruvians so successful relative to immigrants from other Latin American countries? Despite the Uribe government's attempts to break the FARC, Colombia is one of the most chaotic countries in South America, so it's not surprising that, as it was for fleeing Cubans from the sixties onward, resourcefulness is being selected for to some extent.

Native Hispanics appear to fall comfortably in the middle of their 'ancestral' Latin American homes. But the Mexican contribution is larger than the total contribution of all the other Latin American countries combined. So we're seeing what is already known--subsequent generations of Hispanics tend to improve over the first generation that spawned them. But they do not reach white or Asian levels of success, coming instead to rest in a position slightly happier than that of black Americans.

The farther they have to travel, and the fewer who actually make the move, the better those who do come will fare stateside, right? Nearly one-fifth of Mexico's native population currently lives in the US, and Mexican migrants rank near the bottom of US society by almost every measure. The correlation between the number of migrants from a country and its merit index score is an inverse .37, though it is outside 95% confidence (the r-value is surprisingly high given a p-value of over .07 due to how heavily Mexico, with the largest population and worst performance, weighs on the numbers).

That isn't the case for immigrants from Canada, however. America Junior isn't alone in bucking the trend. In fact, when Mexico is removed from the analysis, the relationship disappears completely.

A point to take from this is that thinking about immigration involves more than just entertaining a few questions that pertain to how many have come and will continue to come, and what the annual numerical limit on residencies granted each year should be.

Ellis Island nostalgia doesn't work due to the sheer number of contemporary immigrants, a major expansion in the public safety net since the first wave, civilizational (in Huntington's definition of the word) disparities between immigrants then and immigrants now, and vastly different needs for manual labor and geographic expansion in the mid-nineteenth to early-twentieth Century compared to today.

It also doesn't work as an argument in favor of unfettered Hispanic immigration. One can easily favor leaving the door open to nations that sent immigrants before 1924 and still favor the construction of a wall, an end to underclass immigration from Latin America, tough employer sanctions, and the like. All immigrants are not the same (something open borders advocates like the WSJ op/ed board don't seem to get).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hillary Clinton's strawman regarding 'mass deportation'

++Addition++John S. Bolton points to this telling bit from the CIS' latest report on immigrants in the US:
It's also worth considering that the correlation between native unemployment rates and the share of an occupation that is comprised of immigrants is .80. The square of a correlation, in this case .63, can be interpreted to mean that the presence of immigrants in an occupation explains 63 percent of the variation in native unemployment rates across occupations.
As the report details, immigrants are primarily involved in the same lines of work as are members of the native working- and underclasses (since 2000, immigration has increased the size of the US workforce with less than a high school education by 14%, while only increasing the size of the total workforce by 3%).

---

At yesterday's Democratic radio debate, Hillary Clinton brought up the potential for 'mass deportation', stating:
The best estimates I have is that it would take about $200 billion over five years to round up 12 to 14 million people. It would take tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of new law enforcement officials. It would take a convoy of 200,000 buses stretching 17,000 miles. People in America would be outraged at the loss of their privacy, and the invasion of their homes and businesses.
Her cost is more than twice that of what ICE officials estimated it would be just a few months ago. And even the latter's numbers strain credulity.

Indeed, deporting 14 million illegal immigrants would be impossible. The great majority would leave of their own volition long before ICE agents got around to them. She is creating a strawman by arguing against something that cannot exist.

The historical precedent set by Operation Wetback in 1954 suggests that for every migrant forcefully removed, seven or eight will leave on their own. Given the downturn in construction, the voluntary exodus might be even higher.

There is anecdotal evidence from Arizona and Oklahoma that the pattern holds today. Both states have passed tough laws rendering the harboring of an illegal a felonious act alongside strict punitions for employers who hire them. The laws came online a couple of weeks ago in Oklahoma, while activists in Arizona have drawn up a challenge to the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment's putative granting of birthright citizenship that could conceivably send the issue to the US Supreme Court.

Prior to the laws going into effect, and without the powers of deportation (states do not have this power, as it is delegated to the federal government), hundreds of illegal immigrants were estimated to be leaving each of the states on a daily basis. No buses, no armies of ICE agents, no billions of dollars spent. Yet tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands (heh), were removed nonetheless.

In response to John Edwards' contention that illegal immigration is depressing American wages, NPR's Jennifer Ludden comments:

The main groups hurt by illegal immigrants are uneducated Americans and, ironically, legal immigrants, who compete for low-wage jobs. A number of studies, notably by George Borjas of Harvard University, have found that illegal immigrants drive down wages for this group by 3 percent to 7 percent.

For everyone else, having undocumented workers in the marketplace seems to be either a wash or a slight gain.
Then is it fair to say that aiding the most vulnerable Americans is not one of the federal government's primary objectives in the eyes of Democratic frontrunners like Hillary Clinton?

Unskilled Hispanic immigration is accentuating the wealth gap, hurting the bottom rung by expanding its size (which in turn hurts society as a whole). NAM citizenry are especially hurt by it.

The "wash or slight gain" is derived from the effects on wages. It is missing the taxes paid to shore up the net governmental deficit illegal immigration creates. That tab is disproportionately picked up by middle and upper classes. Nor does it take into consideration technological innovation, although such innovation is retarded by an abundant availability of cheap labor.

Underclass immigration hurts most Americans in one way or another. That holds true across the political spectrum. Immigration reform is a populist issue that pits the public against the various arms of the Establishment.

The pro-sovereignty forces have won several defensive victories over the course of the last year. It is now time to go on the offensive. Voicing support for the SAVE Act, which has been introduced in both the House and Senate, offers an opportunity to do so. Let your representatives know where you stand.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Obscurely inconsequential event makes everything else seem obscure, inconsequential

Sometimes impressionable experiences come at the most unexpected of times. Invariably, trying to transcribe an existential occurence to text is bound to leave an account that is lacking. There are no quantitative data bits or much speculative punditry below, so readers may want to save themselves a couple of minutes and move on to something else.

Yesterday, I'd arranged to ride home in the afternoon, after picking my bike up from the shop, having left my car at home. As an avid cyclist, it's a 23-mile ride I've made countless times before. In the early morning, I did twenty minutes of circuit training and a 2-mile jaunt with my younger brother, who runs cross country in high school. It's just a short late-day trip.

The afternoon rolls around. I'm out of the office and some paces later on the Cross Check fancifully deemed my black stallion. It's been too many days now, and I'm pumped.

The wind is howling out of the southwest. The road home runs from south to west, and the directional hybrids that lay between. The noise is so loud that anything in the ears is out of the question.

That lack of stimulus allows my mind more freedom, though. And as I ride, it wanders into an analogy on the 'human experience' (or life, if you prefer). I start out invigorated, taunting the deafening wind as it resists every push. I call on everything I have to keep in front of the vehicle in the left lane for as many feet as possible coming out of the traffic lights.

A few miles in, I come to a valley, where I descend for half a mile and then face a steep climb of the same distance (while Kansas is generally thought of as one big plane of flat farmland, that does not characterize the easternmost part of the state, which resembles the hilly, foresty Ozarks of neighboring Missouri more than it does the western prairie; to the right is a walking trail near my home). The wind is unrelenting, and I'm standing the entire way up. The harder I push the harder it pushes back.

While it seems like everything to get to the top, the sense of accomplishment fades quickly, as an endless array of hills become visible from the momentary perch.

As time wears on I start to wear down. The idea of slicing through the gale, forcing it to blow as strongly but from the northeast, goes from being a happy hope to ridiculous quixotry. Frustration replaces resolve. But the weariness brings its benefits. I start to employ established energy-saving techniques instead of relying on adrenaline to get me through.

I try a couple of backroads that are situated by tree and slope windbreaks. But this course has been charted before, and there isn't an easier way, even if it strikes me as so in the moment. Some lead to deadends. The wind carries me back. When I face it again, it is that much more imposing. Others wind this way and that. The 'shortcuts' are costly.

I curse the Weather Channel's meterologists, who had, the day before, forecast winds of 5-10 mph. Less than 24 hours after those predictions, its blowing constantly at three times the upper limit of that range and gusting beyond it. The cynicism briefly turns toward the stake placed in various climate models.

The sun's starting to set. As my pace slows, the sweat-drenched undershirt is starting to chill. I'm in shorts, but this late in the game, that can't be helped. I hadn't anticipated the duration, so I'm also thirsty. To the very end I'm paying for the mistakes I made in the beginning.

But I'm resigned now. The anxieties that had bounced around in my head have dissipated. As I turn north into the neighorhood's entrance, I float half a mile home on a couple of symbolic pedals. What should've taken just over an hour took more than two.

I suspect windburn as I stable the steed. The shower confirms it. It doesn't disrupt my peace of mind, though. I take care of nothing that needs doing. I just climb under the covers and quickly drift away.

I hope dying is this easy.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In Amsterdam, homosexuality isn't as popular as it used to be

There is surely a "How many bureaucrats does it take to..." joke in here somewhere:

With the number of homophobic attacks rising in the Dutch metropolis, Amsterdam officials are commissioning a study to determine why Moroccan men are targeting the city's gays. ...

In 2006, the city registered 32 hate crimes directed at gays. During the first half of 2007, 26 had already been reported, including an attack perpetrated during the Dutch city's annual gay pride parade in August. The attack against a British gay couple generated headlines around the world in newspapers catering to the gay community.

How naive of me to think that Mayor Cohen was becoming a hard-nosed realist.

Before the academic commission gets started on this important work, let's brainstorm a little. Maybe this offers a clue:
Hardline Islamic insurgent groups in Iraq are targeting a new type of victim with the full protection of Iraqi law, The Observer can reveal. The country is seeing a sudden escalation of brutal attacks on what are being called the 'immorals' - homosexual men and children as young as 11 who have been forced into same-sex prostitution.
It's not only flamboyant gays that are being killed. Innocent children, abducted into the sex trade and prostituted out to homosexual men, are getting bullets through the eyes. And it's legal. Section 111 of Iraq's penal code provides protection for murder when the victim is acting against Islam. Even if the victim is just a helpless boy abducted from his family and sold into the sex slave. That's gay enough to get the sword.

Perhaps we can garner some idea of the Islamic world's attitude on homosexuality from the Persians:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad skirted a question about the treatment of homosexuals in Iran on Monday, saying in a speech at a top US university that there were no gays in Iran.

"In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country," Ahmadinejad said to howls and boos among the Columbia University audience.
We might be unduly focusing on the present, however. Let's take a look at the eleventh Sura, verses 79-83:
They said, "Thou knowest now that we need not thy daughters; and thou well knowest what we require."

He said, "Would that I had strength to resist you, or that I could find refuge with some powerful chieftain."[590]

The Angels said, "O Lot! verily, we are the messengers of thy Lord: they shall not touch thee: depart with thy family in the dead of night, and let not one of you turn back: as for thy wife, on her shall light what shall light on them. Verily, that with which they are threatened is for the morning. Is not the morning near?"

And when our decree came to be executed we turned those cities upside down, and we rained down upon them blocks of claystone one after another, marked[591] by thy Lord himself. Nor are they far distant from the wicked Meccans.
Perhaps, though, it's most useful to look directly at the community from which these attackers come:
Recently Khalil El-Moumni, a preaching Moroccan Rotterdam imam caused a national controversy by recently calling homosexuality a contagious disease on national television.
At least throwing these ideas out there will give this forensic commission a place to start from. You might think so, anyway. Apparently, though, these suggestions aren't on the working agenda:
This month, Mayor Job Cohen commissioned the University of Amsterdam to conduct a study on the motives behind the hate crimes. Half of the crimes were committed by men of Moroccan origin and researchers believe they felt stigmatized by society and responded by attacking people they felt were lower on the social ladder. Another working theory is that the attackers may be struggling with their own sexual identity.

Right, Dutch men are responsible because they create more value and generate more wealth than their Moroccan counterparts! Or are Dutch women the culprits, in not making a good time freely available to their new neighbors?

Does the Netherlands need to drop the cash it's going to require to pay these erudite scholars to get out of a 'quandary' with as obvious a cause as this? And the solution--ending Islamic immigrantion into Europe while bribing those already in-country to exit--isn't much harder to identify than the problem is. The money would even be better spend shoring up entitlement finances or investing in the revitalization of Amsterdam's red light district.

A society that consistently finds fault in nothing other than itself cannot for long remain a viable society at all.