Thursday, July 31, 2008

Countries sending more work-related immigrants send better immigrants

Using an impressively detailed report from the CIS, I came up with a merit index for immigrants to the US by country of origin based on six factors: The percentage using one or more welfare programs, % self-employed, % lacking health insurance, % having graduated from high school or an educational equivalent, % having attained a Bachelor's and beyond, and the percentage living in poverty. Merit scores by country of origin and the estimated average IQ of the country correlated at a statistically significant .57, which jumped to .65 with India removed from the analysis.

The Department of Homeland Security's Yearbook of immigration statistics provides data on legal immigrants by country of origin as well as by the method used to attain legal residency (through family reunification, employment, or as refugees or asylees). I used the Yearbook's compilation for '07 to determine the percentage of immigrants from each country that are granted legal residency based on employment-based preferences and employer sponsorship and then related those percentages to the merit scores for the 25 countries detailed in the aforementioned CIS report*.

The percentage of minted residents from a country who gained their status through employment and the merit index of that country correlate at .66 (p<.001). Put simply, this suggests that immigrants who come for employment-related reasons do much better on a host of social indicators than do immigrants who are brought in by family members already in the US or who are let in as refugees and asylees.

That is not an endorsement of current work visa programs. The H-2A and H-2B programs allow for cheap, unskilled labor to be brought in, disincentivizing the mechanization of menial processes that drive secular increases in the standard of living over time. Tech companies pushing for the annual number of H-1B visas to be raised are effectively working to lower the cost of their labor, in turn making tech careers less lucrative to US natives who choose something less intellectually demanding but often as or more financially rewarding, like finance or accounting.

The point is not to argue the merits for more or less employment-based immigration, it's to show that family reunification and refugee granting are dumb ways to go about forging immigration policy** (and keep in mind we're only dealing with legal immigrants here--tolerating illegal immigration is even dumber). They lack merit testing and not surprisingly places that send large numbers of migrants who are granted residency through family reunification or as refugees are the places where the least successful migrants come from. Whatever the net effect of employment-related immigration is on the quality of life for US natives, the effects of family reunification and refugee-related immigration is worse.

An objection might be that refugees tend to come from impoverished, dysfunctional places and so by grouping them with those who are brought in via family reunifications, I'm making the latter look bad. Actually, the opposite is the case to the extent that it is occuring. There is no relationship between the refugee percentage and merit. Refugees constitute a significant percentage (20% or more, with 6% or less as refugees from the other 19) of immigrants from only six of the countries***, three of whom have done well in the US (Chinese, Iranians, and those from countries formerly part of the Soviet Union) and three of whom have struggled (Colombians, Cubans, and Haitians).

There is an inverse correlation of .43 (p<.04) between the percentage by country brought in via family-sponsorship and merit, however.

The strength of the relationship between the percentage of a country's migrants granted residency based on employment and that country's merit score exists even though the two are measuring different points in time. Most of the new legal residents have just recently arrived, while the merit index is based on the performance of those already here. This suggests a long-term pattern of those being brought into the US for family reunification or as refugees being more likely to fall to the bottom of society than are those who come for reasons directly related to employment.

* For a few countries, data was missing in multiple columns for 'disclosure' reasons. When one of this missing points was in the Diversity Visa Lottery field, I assumed it to be zero. When the two missing points were from other fields, I took the total, subtracted all other known fields, and split the remaining discrepancy equally between the two missing fields. This was necessary for four of the countries but its effects are negligible. It represented less than 1% of the total migration in all four cases.

** The Diversity Visa Lottery system is probably the dumbest approach of all, but "diversity immigrants" (really, that's what they're called) do not constitute a significant portion of immigrants from the 25 countries being considered, as these countries are major senders of people to the US and consequently their populations are not eligible (or their eligibility is severely limited) to participate in the DVL. Diversity immigrants make up less than 1.5% of the total new legal residencies granted for people from the 25.

*** Contemporary nations that were part of the Soviet Union are combined to mesh with the CIS study, which looked at immigrants from the former-USSR as a single 'country'.

Make it more difficult to live in the US illegally and fewer people will do so

Does high profile, targetted immigration enforcement reduce the size of the illegal immigration population? Preposterous to think that something so logically simple could be true! Nonetheless, the CIS finds that seems to be the case:
- Our best estimate is that the illegal immigrant population has declined by 11 percent through May 2008 after hitting a peak in August 2007.

- The implied decline in the illegal population is 1.3 million since last summer, from 12.5 million to 11.2 million today.

- The estimated decline of the illegal population is at least seven times larger than the number of illegal aliens removed by the government in the last 10 months, so most of the decline is due to illegal immigrants leaving the country on their own.

- One indication that stepped-up enforcement is responsible for the decline is that only the illegal immigrant population seems to be affected; the legal immigrant population continues to grow.

- Another indication enforcement is causing the decline is that the illegal immigrant population began falling before there was a significant rise in their unemployment rate.

- The importance of enforcement is also suggested by the fact that the current decline is already significantly larger than the decline during the last recession, and
officially the country has not yet entered a recession.

- While the decline began before unemployment rose, the evidence indicates that unemployment has increased among illegal immigrants, so the economic slow-down is likely to be at least partly responsible for the decline in the number of illegal immigrants.

- There is good evidence that the illegal population grew last summer while Congress was considering legalizing illegal immigrants. When that legislation failed to pass, the illegal population began to fall almost immediately.

- If the decline were sustained, it would reduce the illegal population by one-half in the next five years.
The bolded finding is especially remarkable. Consider INS estimates of illegal alien removals during Operation Wetback in 1954:
It is difficult to estimate the number of illegal aliens forced to leave by the operation. The INS claimed as many as 1,300,000, though the number officially apprehended did not come anywhere near this total. The INS estimate rested on the claim that most aliens, fearing apprehension by the government, had voluntarily repatriated themselves before and during the operation. The San Antonio district, which included all of Texas outside of El Paso and the Trans-Pecos, had officially apprehended slightly more than 80,000 aliens, and local INS officials claimed that an additional 500,000 to 700,000 had fled to Mexico before the campaign began.
Take the low-end figure from the San Antonio district and we get 7.25 aliens leaving of their own volition for each forcibly deported.

The false cries over the logistical costs of 'mass deportations' are hollow. Oklahoma and Arizona, among several others, have enacted enforcement measures directed primarily at businesses and at the state level. This has led to hundreds of illegal immigrants leaving the state on a daily basis. Make it more difficult to live illegally in the US and people are less likely to do so.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Forbes' list of top counties to raise a family supports Sailer's Affordable Family Formation strategy

Tangentially related to the last post, for guys like Dennis Mangan who've been toying with the idea of leaving California, I'm familiar with the county Forbes recently listed as the third best of the nation's 3,141 to raise a family* and would be happy to play tour guide and real estate counselor for those interested in settling somewhere in the area.

Here are some vitals (compared to national figures) from 2000:

Percent of the 25+ population with a bachelor's or higher: 47.7 (24.4)
Percent below the poverty line: 5.4 (12.7)
Home-ownership rate: 72.3% (66.2%)
Median household income: $68,013 ($44,334) [without even making cost-of-living adjustments!]

Also, it voted 61%-38% Bush in '04. Too sophisticated for thimble collecting, but not progressive enough for huge welfare caseloads!

Heh, well, can you blame me for hoping the best and brightest make their way here?

Of real interest, though, is how Forbes' list of the top 20 best counties to raise a family in provides more real-world evidence that Steve Sailer's Affordable Family Formation strategy is Republican gold.

The 20 counties are populous, averaging (mean) 325,000 people per county, to the national average of 95,000 per. They are comprised mostly of cities and the political battlegrounds that are the suburbs. Rural areas, which vote Republican throughout the country, are effectively excluded. Eleven of the 20 counties are in states that went for Kerry in '04, and four of the nine counties in states that went for Bush are in the 'swing' states of Florida and Ohio, not sure bets like Nebraska or Oklahoma (neither of which are represented).

Despite these 'odds' seeming to favor Democrats, Bush won 14 of the 20 counties, with an average advantage of 55.3%-44.0%. That includes the brutally unaffordable and anomalous (relative to the rest of the list) Marin County, which backed Kerry 73%-26%.

As the note below explains, the counties taken under consideration are all relatively affluent and have well-educated (intelligent) populations. Forbes separated the wheat by looking at things like cost of living, housing prices, home ownership rates, per-capita income, commute times, and crime rates--all things made worse by an influx of low-skilled immigrants.

* The list's composition is a bit lazy, but still useful for this purpose. Forbes first eliminated most rural areas by knocking off counties with populations under 65,000, then winnowed further by requiring that at least half of per-pupil educational funding come from property taxes, thus favoring counties with high residential real estate prices. Home prices, especially relative to the surrounding area, do proxy well for the desirability of the place. 'Failing schools', 'high crime', 'poverty', and other factors that imply what isn't stated explicitly in polite company determine them. But only after this does Forbes look at SAT and ACT scores. Finally, with 51 counties remaining, it evaluates the following: Cost of living, graduation rate, standardized scores, home price, property tax rate as a percentage of median home price, percentage of homes occupied by owner, per-capita income, air quality, crime rate and commute time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Racial demographics of CNN/Money's 25 best cities

++Addition++The racial percentages have been adjusted slightly thanks to astute commentary. Please see the explanation at the end of this post.

---

CNN and Money magazine just announced the 100 best small cities in the US to live in. With populations of 50,000-300,000, most cities in major metropolitan areas that border the major city that anchors the broader MSA are up for consideration. One of the factors that figures into the rankings is a "racial diversity index". Higher scores indicate more racial diversity, or more bluntly, a proportionately smaller white population.

The reason I point this out is that the other measurable variables clearly add or detract from the value of living in an area. You'd expect a higher percentage of days free of cloud cover to, ceteris paribus, make a place more desirable than a lower percentage would. Conversely, you'd expect longer average commute times to make a place less desirable than it would be if commutes were shorter. But do most people scouting out a new community to move to feel that greater racial diversity is a benefit that will influence their decisions, as is assumed by CNN/Money?

Here is the racial composition of the top 25 (nationally), excluding Hunter Mill and Sully, both in VA, for which I couldn't get information on (the demographics are similar across all 100, so just looking at the top quarter is a personal time saver). I estimated that 61% of Hispanics choose "white" as their race and came up with the non-Hispanic white percentage from that:

Race% best (national)
White76.2 (66.4)
Black5.7 (12.8)
Hispanic6.5 (14.8)
Asian8.8 (4.4)
Nat Am0.5 (1.0)
Pacific Islander0.0 (0.2)
Other2.5 (?)
2+ races2.3 (1.6)

Yeah, the cities are whiter than the nation as a whole, but not really by that much. Of course, rural areas are whiter than more settled areas are, including the suburbs, so the white population is at a 'disadvantage' at the city level compared to state-level comparisons.

To answer the previously stated question, the short answer is no. Should a factor that is inversely correlated with "best living" in the minds of most people be embedded in the "best living" score? Doesn't this just distort the value provided by factors that actually measure desirable qualities like average scholastic test scores compared to those of the state as a whole or the percentage of the population that is married?

But to the extent that racial diversity does factor in, Asians are the preferred filler. The Asian number is even more impressive because the cities tend toward the center of the country due to cost-of-living and residence affordability.

* The Census doesn't breakdown non-Hispanic whites at the city level, but Peter noted in the comments that my previous estimate of 85% of Hispanics considering themselves white may have been too high. His intuition is correct, according to this article from the NYT. Half of Hispanics chose "white" as their race in the 2000 Census, with a little over 40% choosing "other" (only 2% chose "black"). Further, virtually all of the "other" category is comprised of Hispanics (97%). So I counted the entire 2.5% "other" as Hispanic, and the additional 4.0% of the total as white Hispanic to arrive at the non-Hispanic white percentage (listed simply as "white" in the table).

Hispanics thank Bush, McCain for support of open borders

Someone should ask the President and the open borders champion he hopes to succeed him if relegating the Republican party to the brink of permanent minority status and pushing the US towards third-world status has been worth this:





















All in a vain attempt to win over a group that will represent fewer than 5% of the voters in 'swing' states this election cycle.

I feared that an Obama-McCain matchup would feature a split of the Hispanic vote, resulting in four years of harping on how no restrictions on or requirements for residency in the US is key to the GOP's future. I figured Hispanic uneasiness towards blacks would prevent him garnering a substantial majority of that vote. So I guess this repudiation of that assumption is something I should find 'encouraging':



















One-in-four believes being white will hurt McCain while one-in-three thinks being black will help Obama. Hispanics are more enthusiastically down for the struggle than I thought. I wonder how much the state of residential housing, which is hitting blacks and Hispanics the hardest, is playing into this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Racial and gender party profiles based on '08 primaries

Most of the interesting demographic stuff so far this Presidential campaign cycle has taken place on the Democratic side. That's not surprising, since the Republican party is overwhelmingly white and mostly male. The race and gender of all of the GOP's candidates were the same as the typical Republican voter. That meant 'the issues' were more of a deciding factor than demographic characteristics were for Republicans relative to Democrats. Unfortunately for the conservative base, Romney and Huckabee split their support while neoconservatives and 'moderates' were able to get behind McCain after Giuliani flamed out early.

As Hillary and Obama went at it, the details of their respective healthcare plans remained obscure, as Pat Buchanan humorously pointed out. The Democratic contests underscored the wisdom of Singapore founder Lee Kwan Yew:
In multiracial societies, you don't vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.
States where exit polling data were gathered for caucuses is not included among the polled state numbers because the number of total voters is unknown. They're included in the non-polled numbers instead. When estimating voter totals for the two Democratic candidates, I looked to demographically and politically similar states for guidance but this time party totals are what I'm after, so the exit polls aren't as much help.

Because the Republican nominating process essentially ended on March 4, exit polling data for voters on the GOP side only extends up to that date. The exit polls cover 74.5% of the US' total population. To adjust for the quarter of the population not represented for whites, I took the national white percentage and divided it by the total white percentage (adjusted for population size of course) of the population not covered in the exit polling and multiplied the result by the white percentage of total votes from the population covered in the exit polling. The same process was then repeated for the other racial groups. I then adjusted proportionally to get the percentages of all five groups to equal 100% (I've never liked the "Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding").

The white percentage in states not covered in the exit polling represents 80% of the non-polled states' total population, compared to just 62% in the states polled. Recall most of the states that held caucuses are sparsely populated white flyover states with the glaring exceptions of DC and Hawaii (and to a lesser extent Nevada and Colorado). But because even though whites made up less than two-thirds of the population in polled states they still comprised 89% of Republican voters, the adjustment effect only nudges the GOP's white total up a couple of percentage points. It correspondingly drops the Hispanic percentage by a little over one percent (Hispanics made up 17% of the population in polled states compared to only 8.3% in non-polled states).

The same method was applied on the Democratic side. The effect of the adjustments are even more marginal here, as only 11% of the population was not covered in exit polling due to caucuses instead of primaries being held. This ups the white percentage by 1.5 points by trimming the black percentage by a point and the Hispanic percentage by half a point.

Here are the percentage totals by gender and by race with the aforementioned adjustments included (with pre-adjusted totals in parentheses) for states where exit polling was conducted and individual votes were tallied (click on graphics for a better image):

GenderDemocrats
Male42.4
Female57.6
Race
White67.5 (65.7)
Black18.0 (19.3)
Hispanic10.7 (11.2)
Asian2.1 (2.1)
Other1.7 (1.7)






GenderRepublicans
Male53.6
Female46.4
Race
White90.6 (88.9)
Black2.0 (2.3)
Hispanic4.8 (5.9)
Asian1.3 (1.6)
Other1.3 (1.3)















In Freedonomics, John Lott shows that female suffrage pushed US politics to the left starting in the early 1900s. A century later, that, in addition to the Fifteenth Amendment, continues to push the country leftward.

I wonder if Bill Clinton is still exulting over the minoritization of whites in the US. You might say the chickens have come home to roost. He should be more careful what he wishes for in the future.

In what year will that become the case on the Democratic side? Doing some quick estimating, my guess is sometime around 2030, but that's projecting a long way out. At that point the rubicon will have been crossed. As the Democratic party continues to represent West Virginians less and less, will there be an exodus to the Republican side, essentially creating two political parties--the white party and the non-white party--in the US? That is already the case to some extent, of course.

A few other interesting tidbits:

- Oklahoma and Utah are the only two states where the gender trend was bucked. In both cases, women comprised a majority of Republican voters. Pulling that off requires being so conservative as to move the female distribution far enough to the right that a big chunk of the left side of the distribution is still in Republican territory--enough to overcome the smaller male distribution that is inevitably to the right of female distribution in all states, irrespective of political environment. In no state did men make up a majority on the Democratic side.

- In Utah, Mitt Romney received 255,218 votes. The combined total for all other candidates from both parties comes to 146,705. This was one of the two only instances where one candidate garnered more votes than all the other candidates from both sides combined while the Republican race was still competitive. The other occurence was Washington DC, where Obama dominated with 85,534 to all the other candidates' pooled total of 32,984. Tribalism anyone?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hey Benin, this gift's a lot bigger than you are!

Other than being located on the continent of Africa, what do Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have in common?

Their individual economies, at '07 average exchange rates, are all smaller than the $48 billion in aid money being appropriated over the next five years to 'fight'* AIDS on the Dark Continent.

Of the sub-Saharan nations, only Angola, Nigeria, and South Africa (and Sudan if it is counted as such, which is understandable since most of its wealth comes from the sub-Saharan southern portion of the country) have annual economies that surpass the amount to be doled out by the US.

The total economy of sub-Saharan Africa in exchange rate terms in '07 was $808.8 billion. The AIDS bill totals nearly 6% of sub-Saharan Africa's annualized GDP. So it's sort of like another nation giving the US $820 billion over half of a decade. That'd be a donation exceeding what has been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the same period of time.

That's a staggering amount of money from an African perspective. Apparently the revelation that the AIDS pandemic has been overblown hasn't been bad for business.

* This verb choice irritates me, as fighting AIDS is--excepting those who are born HIV-positive--as easy as avoiding the behaviors that transmit the disease.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Alternative energy research offers immediate gasoline price relief that drilling potential does not?

A few days ago in Jacksonville, Obama responded to McCain's lauding of the lifted executive order on offshore drilling:

It would have long-term consequences for our coastlines, but no short-term benefits, since it would take at least 10 years to get any oil," he said.

And that's not soon enough, he added: "Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today."

How about turning that around by saying it would have a long-term benefit in increasing oil production levels but no short-term cost, since it would take 10 years to get any oil?

Opposition to increasing the federal government's ability to 'lease' ocean beds to energy companies by harping on how it wouldn't bring immediate relief sounds silly if this is the offered alternative:
The Illinois Democrat said he would put a higher tax on companies that pollute and use the money to invest in wind, solar, geothermal and other alternatives to oil. He said he wouldn't rule out nuclear energy as a future source of power, if problems of waste storage and safety can be resolved.
And that will offer immediate price relief how? Reducing the federal rate of $.184 a gallon (or reducing the varying amounts of state takes) or removing the tariff on foreign (Brazilian) ethanol are among the few ways to put immediate downward pressure on prices. Everything else has a longer-term orientation.

I'd much rather Obama honestly assert that petroleum energy sources are not clean enough or renewable enough, and anything that will work to lower their prices (or the growth rate of their prices) will make it more difficult for other alternative sources to become economically viable.

Blond is beautiful, relatively if not absolutely

GNXP's Agnostic has done a series of posts arguing that the trend in male preference for brunettes relative to blonds already exists in the US (and Western Europe?) and is becoming stronger. That contradicts the speculative conclusion arrived at here by looking at Maxim magazine's list of the 100 'hottest' women of '08. He persuasively suggests the list isn't optimal and offers some others. Rather than serve up a poorly restated synopsis of his post, read it here if interested.

In the comments, Peter Frost offers a few estimates of hair color distribution among whites in the US and the UK:
68.1% brunette, 26.8% blond, 5.1% red. (Rich & Cash, 1993)
68% brunette, 25% blond, 1% red, 6% black (Takeda et al., 2006)
74% brunette, 18% blond, and 8% red (Mather et al., unpublished)

As the third is presumably the most recent, I'll use it. Representation by hair color among the 'hottest' whites in '08 relative to the general population (brunette includes raven black hair):

Blond -- 269%
Brunette -- 67%
Red -- 25%

Among Maxim cover girls, Agnostic finds that brown beats blond by about 61%-39% when light and dark versions of each color are combined. Excluding red hair (which, for these purposes, Agnostic enters as a neutral value), representation by hair color among cover girls from '97 to today relative to the general population:

Blond -- 199%
Brunette -- 76%

For "hometown hotties", running from '03 to '07, Agnostic finds brown beats blond by a similar 65%-35%. Representation relative to the general population comes to:

Blond -- 179%
Brunette -- 81%

The actual blond overrepresentation among those of European descent is even greater, as Agnostic includes non-whites in both tallies used above. The inclusion of even a handfull of Latin American and black women thus artificially boosts the brunette number.

Regardless of whether or not blonds outnumber brunettes among female celebrity sex symbols in an absolute sense, blonds are overrepresented and brunettes are underrepresented among the most physically desirable relative to their respective frequencies in the general population. Northwestern European is beautiful!


Friday, July 11, 2008

Swing states: Whiter, less Hispanic, Asian than decided states

++Addition++Pat Buchanan comments on what this should mean for John McCain, who seems intent on doing everything in his power to play to his own weaknesses and to Obama's strengths.

---

Continuing on the recurring theme of overselling Hispanic electoral importance, consider the demographic profiles of four groups of states, as laid out at CNN's election center site:

1) 'Swing' states considered too close to call where margins in '00 and '04 were less than 5%. These include CO, FL, IA, MI, MO, NV, NH, OH, and VA.

2) Competitive McCain-leaning states. They are AR, GA, IN, LA, MT, NM, NC, and WV.

3) Competitive Obama-leaning states. They are ME, MN, NJ, OR, PA, WA, and WI.

4) Electorally safe states that are effectively out of play for the '08 Presidential election. They are the other 26 states and DC.

Following is a table showing the population percentages by race/ethnicity for the four groups of states:

WhiteHispanicBlackAsianOther
Swing73.110.312.92.51.3
Lean McCain68.97.619.81.81.9
Lean Obama78.67.78.04.21.6
Electorally safe59.620.212.65.91.7

Or, shown dichotomously as states that are competitive and are uncompetitive heading towards November:

WhiteHispanicBlackAsianOther
Competitive73.78.813.22.81.5
Uncompetitive59.620.212.65.91.7

The major media narrative goes something like this: "Hispanics only comprise X% (virtually always overstated) of voters nationally, but they account for a larger percentage in several key swing states." One can be forgiven for thinking that means Hispanics are overrepresented in swing states and thus more electorally important than their national numbers alone suggest.

As the tables above show, however, that is not the case at all. Whites, casting nearly 80% of votes nationally, are an even more important force in states that are competitive. This inflated electoral influence comes at the expense of Hispanics and Asians, who are more heavily concentrated in states that have already been decided. Blacks are slightly more concentrated in competitive states than in uncompetitive ones.

Keep in mind that electoral votes don't mirror racial demographics. Whites, being older, wealthier, and more civically-minded than blacks and especially Hispanics, comprise a greater share of the vote in a state than their numbers alone would predict. Blacks vote slightly less than their numbers would suggest, and Hispanics much less so--slightly less than half of what their population numbers would suggest. So Hispanic votes are unlikely to comprise more than 5% of the total votes cast in the 'toss-up' swing states, and closer to 3-4% in the competitive states that lean toward either McCain or Obama.

Another thing to take note of is that more than half of the swing states' Hispanics are in Florida, where Central and South American illegal immigration across the US-Mexican border takes a backseat to Cuban issues among Hispanic voters. If Florida is removed, the Hispanic percentage in the swing states drops to 6.4%.

When you read or hear about the putative disproportionate importance of the Hispanic vote in the swing states, know that it is untrue.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hispanic electoral heft oversold for the infinity billionth time

Tuesday's WSJ article by Elizabeth Holmes on McCain's speech to LULAC makes the oft-repeated exaggerated assertion of Hispanic electoral power:
Views of conservative Republicans are often at odds with those of Hispanic voters, a small but critical bloc because of the latter's large populations in swing states. Hispanics make up only 9% of the eligible electorate nationwide, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, part of the Pew Research Center. But they account for 37% of the electorate in New Mexico, 14% in Florida and 12% each in Colorado and Nevada.
Okay, but they do not respectively account for the actual percentage of voters in the country or in those states. In the last three election cycles, Hispanics have topped out at 6% of the total electorate.

While around two-thirds of Hispanics vote Democratic, Hispanics struggled to post those numbers in the Democratic primaries (where whites are underrepresented relative to their heft in the general election). Hispanic voters as a percentage of the total vote in the '08 Democratic contests:

New Mexico -- 35% (they account for 37% of the "eligible electorate")
Florida -- 12% (14% of eligible)
Nevada -- 15% (12% of eligible)
(No exit polling was conducted for Colorado)

Hispanic voters as a percentage of the total on the Republican side for the two states where exit polling took place:

Florida -- 12% (14% of eligible)
Nevada -- 8% (12% of eligible)

With the relatively affluent Cuban population, Florida's Hispanics are skewed to the right. The Democrats' proportional Hispanic advantage in Nevada, double the Republican proportion, is more nationally representative. Of the 25 states where exit polling was conducted for both parties' contests, on average Hispanics comprised 7.7% of the Democratic vote and 3.7% of the Republican vote. That's basically a 2-to-1 Democratic advantage (67.5% to 32.5%)--virtually identical to a Gallup poll conducted from March through June showing Obama ahead of McCain 67%-33% among Hispanic voters with a stated Presidential preference (88% of those polled).

Multiplying the Hispanic proportion on the Democratic side by .75 provides a reasonable estimate of proportional Hispanic turnout by state in the upcoming general election. Thus that reported 37% for New Mexico is probably about 10 points higher than the actual Hispanic turnout will end up being.

When thinking about this, keep in mind that when proportions are small they tend to be, if anything, artifically inflated in exit polls (the '04 Presidential election exit polls being a prime example, where Hispanics were initially reported to represent 8% of the electorate but turned out, upon more meticulous inspection by the Pew Hispanic Center, to comprise only 6% of the total). The 'repudiation' above probably actually overstates the Hispanic proportions a bit.

And the assertion that Hispanics are heavily concentrated in the swing states relative to their distribution throughout the rest of the country is simply not true. More than half of the country's Hispanics live in California or Texas, two of the most electorally reliable states. Of the ten most competitive states in the 2004 election, only two are proportionally more Hispanic than the nation at large, New Mexico (third closest) and Nevada (seventh closest). The other eight (in order of competitiveness)--Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Oregon, have (far) smaller Hispanic proportions of their total populations than the country does as a whole.

Finally, allow me to leave my restrictionist readers with this comforting excerpt from the same article:
Sen. McCain and his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, share more similar views on immigration than perhaps on any other policy issue.
Vote for Chuck Baldwin or Bob Barr.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Do women want bad boys, or do bad boys just want more women?

The NMSU study reporting that bad boys get more girls has been a post subject at several sites I regularly visit. The unfounded conclusion some have reached is that women find bad boys more attractive than good guys. Maybe, but this study doesn't prove it. There are several reasons to be skeptical:

- What is the relationship between the number of sexual partners one has and the number of offspring produced in the US (and the developed world where contraceptives are widely available more broadly)? Do these men actually grow up to have more children?

The idea that you need to have the appeal of James Bond to reproduce in contemporary Western society is absurd. Fornification and procreation are no longer basically the same thing--the latter only occupies a small sliver of the former's terrain. Have all the conventional attractive attributes--financial success, self-confidence, good personal hygiene (including dress), intelligence, height one standard deviation above the mean, a symetrical and handsome face, a little more time on the planet than the girl (in the range of 2-8 years), a toned upper body (the more athletic the better)--and producing as many children as you desire is not difficult.

These traits, coincidentally, better describe the traits women actually say they find desirous in men than the dark triad does. Women also find long-term relationships more appealing than men do, which suggests that what most women want in a man and what some women will give to a man in hot pursuit are not the same thing.

I suspect that if intelligence is controlled for, good guys are more desirous of children than bad boys are. This desirability (or at least acceptance) of children is surely one of the most important indicators of how many offspring men actually end up having in the developed world.

- The desire to actively pursue multiple sexual partners is plausibly the single most important factor in how many sexual partners one has. Men who scored higher on the "dark triad" personality traits also expressed more interest in short-term relationships than soldiers of the light did. If good guys are more likely to be in long-term relationships than bad boys are, of course bad boys are going to have more partners. The Boomhauer strategy nets more notches in the belt, but it doesn't indicate greater attractiveness.

- Might psychopaths be more likely to embellish the successes of their own personal exploits than others are? This just in: People who score high on personality traits associated with exaggerating their own personal abilities and accomplishments are more likely to have greater abilities and to have accomplished greater things than others, according to self-reported response data!

Self-reports on the number of sexual partners are especially suspicious. Wherever I've seen it reported, the number of partners males average tends to be at least twice as high as the female average which is, uh, mathematically impossible unless you're a harpy living in Xanth*. A study out of the University of Michigan found one-in-five men and just less than one-in-six women admitted responding inaccurately, and men who reported 50 or more partners were far more likely to lie than other men were. Even if it is the median rather than the mean being reported, such a pattern suggests that there are a few indefatigable women (presumably prostitutes in many cases) while men are more middling, exactly the opposite of what is being insinuated with this report (dark triad traits don't correlate with more partners among women).

- Prostitution, VIP rooms, bar prizes, and the like can all essentially be bought. The bad boys, being more desirous of multiple partners than good guys are, are probably more likely to earn notches this way than good guys are. In the college environment, this translates into poaching freshmen girls at parties!

Questions of psychopath integrity aside, men more desirous of several partners almost certainly do have more partners than men relatively more interested in long-term relationships. And the preliminary results out of Bradley University showing that men with dark triad attributes are more reproductively successful internationally suggests that prior to the widespread availability of birth control, being a bad boy definitely had its evolutionary advantages (although this too is suspicious--if psychopathy is evolutionarily beneficial, wouldn't it be expected to occur more frequently than it does, rather than being about as common as homosexuality in the general population?).

[Agnostic answers: "It's not a dichotomous trait like gayness, so 3% of the male population exceeds some threshold to be categorized as psychopathic. But that's just the tail of a continuous personality trait."]

This still doesn't say anything conclusive about what women want, though.

* It's not clear if these questions only pertain to partners of the opposite sex. Male-to-male encounters could skew the male number upwards, but not enough to account for the entire discrepancy. If 5% of the male population is gay, fully accounting for the male-female disparity would require the average gay man to have 40 times as many partners as the average heterosexual man (assuming lesbians are about as sexually active as heterosexual women). The gay male hedonist reputation is explained by the fact that both parties involved are men, and men want sex more frequently and with more people than women do.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Final Fantasy VII review (spoiler warning)

(These are my reflections on Final Fantasy VII for PS. RPGing is a personal hobby, and such exposition enhances the gaming experience for me. But it may not be of interest to many readers, so please disregard this post if that is the case).

Final Fantasy VII pushes in the opposite direction of the traditional RPG. Rather than taking place in a Tolkienesque world at a time approximating the European Middle Ages, it is set in the post-industrial future. Historically, the genre has looked sourly on the prospects for the future (think Chrono Trigger's 2300 AD or Earthbound's 20XX), but VII goes far beyond these in that in its entirety, it takes place in a dystopian world reminiscient of the One State from We, Rouge City in the movie AI, and especially Oceania's London in 1984.

The first several hours of play take place within the unending slums of Midgar, where the degeneracy of the population rivals the detritus of the filthy structures they dwell in. Aggressive homosexuals worshipping "Big Bro" give Cloud (and the gameplayer) an uncomfortable experience early on, while cross dressing is a necessary tactic to be used in freeing Tifa. The lawless slums are loosely controlled by crime bosses like Don Corneo (whose name is a play on the Godfather's Don Corleone), with access to the upper plate where Shinra's capital building sits strictly monitored.

While Midgar, Shinra's power center, is the most nauseating place in the game, the dystopian theme doesn't dissipate much throughout. There are a few sanctuary locations, most notably Cosmo Canyon*, the place where those interested in the "study of Planet Life" pilgrimage, and Wutai, a city that comes out of Japan's early Edo period, with a neat samurai residence where a Zen Garden is maintained.

It didn't take long to notice that these desirable places are free of technological progress and the Western Man. Shinra (which roughly translates to "Roman truth" or "Roman core") embodies the worst fears people have of 'corporatocracy'. It is both the world's largest MNC and the world's most powerful political force. As a producer of energy and manufacturer of weapons, Shinra gives artistic life to Ike's fears of a military-industrial complex in operation. The energy it produces, called "Mako" (which might be translated as "pure sin"), requires an environmentally-brutal extraction process that seems to mix the worst elements of coal mining with nuclear power generation. The land surrounding the Mako reactors becomes toxic (apparently all Mako reactors end up as Chernobyl-style disasters) at which point a rapacious Shinra pulls out entirely to leave the unemployed and sickly townsfolk who worked at the reactor to fend for themselves.

At the same time, the Shinra levies higher tax rates on the population while billing the increase as a way for Shinra to do the people greater good and increase production (this is only one of several points in which the Shinra and Orwell's "The Party" bear a striking resemblance).

Further, the Shinra is involved in Faustian biological experimentations. Dr. Hojo, head of scientific research, undertakes a Jenova project to create super humanoid lifeforms like Sephiroth and enhances people like Vincent with superhuman abilities. He has also created clones such as the protagonist Cloud (injecting with Jenova~ cells) and shows interest in breeding members of different species to create powerful chimeras. Hojo is devoid of any remorse for the outcomes of his creations. He is thus a loose Mengelian caricature.

The Shinra is evil not only in what it does, but in what it doesn't do. The space program that was to launch Cid, as rocket captain, into space is shelved so that more resources can be devoted to Mako harvesting and Materia discovery. Not enough money for NASA, too much money for the Pentagon!

Enter the forces battling the Shinra. AVALANCHE, led by Barret, is an eco-terrorist group working to destroy Mako reactors. It is revealed that Barret's hatred for the Shinra extends beyond the damage it is doing to the planet and is of a more personal nature. At the Great Glacier, he actually tackles the discomforting notion that his terrorist tactics may be doing more harm than good. But ostensibly he is working to "save the planet!"

Characters of African descent are a rarity in RPGs, which makes Barret quite a curiosity. While he displays some typical black attributes like imposing physical strength and a lack of self-restraint (his response in encountering potentially adversarial forces is to immediately rain machine gun fire on them), his position as head of an eco-terrorist organization is not one of them. The group's name is much more representative of the demographic profile of contemporary environmental movements.

Aeris is an Ancient, an, uh, ancient race of people with the ability to communicate with the planet and feel it's lifestream, or something**. She is the last one alive, having been taken in by a woman in Midgar as a young child. Aeris was to use this special relationship with the planet to heal it, but the plan is sliced up when Sephiroth slices her up***:



Her death marks a blow to the planet, as a meteor heading toward it was to be averted using Holy Materia only she could access. Technology tries to step in to fill the void. But the Shinra rocket only succeeds in doing minor damage to the meteor, not obliterating it or knocking it off course as was hoped, much to the dismay of Cid, who had asserted the primacy of science over magic.

In another conspicuous reference to 1984, Sephiroth states that the Ancients putatively control the past (and thus they had to be destroyed). However, by leveraging his unique powers, he has broken away from the Shinra and intends to take control of the present from the organization. He then remarks that by controlling the present he will be able also to control the future. In Orwell's novel, O'Brien explains to Winston that he who controls the present controls the past, and that he who controls the past controls the future.

Red XIII is a native of Cosmo Canyon. Although a feline^, he's identifiably a Native American. The Canyon's music and Red's decorum make that clear. Even his name serves as a 'derogatory' reference to as much. The number indicates his unfortunate plight. He was born in Cosmo (as in "cosmopolitan") Canyon, and thus is a citizen of the planet, yet his tribe has been reduced to just one--him^^. He is disdainful of humans, and initially is only interested in joining Cloud and company to get back home. It is when he realizes that they are out to destroy Shinra that he becomes a permanent feature of the party.

Cloud throws in with AVALANCHE initially to make money, as he's no longer employed by Shinra. He wants to track down Sephiroth for personal reasons, namely the torching of his hometown and the death of his friend Zach. His memory has been tinkered with and he's been injecting with Jenova cells. Without family or friends (other than Tifa), he looks at the world with cold indifference, all of which fit nicely with his last name, Strife. He uses saving the planet, an idea that is associated with moral rectitude throughout the game, as a rationale for leading the party against Sephiroth more than a driving force for his own actions. His raison d'etre is made clear in one of the story's most satisfying moments:



Cait Sith, controlled by Reeves, is a Shinra insider who ends up becoming a double-agent. He sympathizes with the struggle against Shinra and has become disillusioned by the organization he holds high rank within. His allegiance shifts across the rubicon when he sacrifices himself at the Temple of the Ancients. Fortunately, the sacrifice isn't quite Christ-like--because he's an animated puppet (or two of them), he's back in no time, adopting a necronym from the first Cait Sith. It's like he never even leaves!

The other characters do not fight for eco-religious reasons. Vincent was made into a guinea pig by Hojo and wants revenge, Yuffie wants to collect Materia for less nefarious purposes than Shinra, Tifa just wants to be around Cloud, and Cid holds a grudge because of Shinra's axing of its own space program.

So, Shinra is the political-corporate behemoth harvesting vital Materia from the earth, in competition with Sephiroth who is after Materia to make himself invincible. Power, wealth, fame--that's what the evil Anglos are after, to the detriment of the planet. The protagonist party can't quite summon Captain Planet, but it does use summon Materia to protect Gaia from these rapacious forces.

A major theme running through the course of the game is one that mixes misanthropy, Ludditism, and extreme environmentalism. Some aspects of the game that starkly bring this theme into focus:

- Bugenhagen, who Red refers to as "grandfather", maintains a planetarium and has the power of levitation. He also has the unique ability to hear the cry of the planet. Later, he informs the party that Holy Materia will come to wipe out all evil from Gaia. It remains an open question as to whether or not that includes eradicating humans. The final sequence, 500 years after the defeat of Sephiroth, shows Red overlooking the overgrown ruins of Midgar. There is not a single human to be seen. Humanity has presumably been wiped out:



- The planet is revealed to have the ability to heal itself, as if some kind of super organism. However, the Shinra is extracting Mako and Materia faster than it is able to regenerate.

- Wutai, at war with the Shinra in the past, is forced to submit when the Shinra develops super weapons through the utilization of Mako energy and Materia. Technological progress thus allows for resource exploitation by the evil forces that would tap into it. Mount Wutai, from which its name derives, is considered the first among the four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism. It's home to the Boddhisatva of wisdom--wisdom, presumably, not to go after Mako and thus bring ruin to the world!

- The strongest attack is Cloud's Omnislash. It doesn't come from Barret or Vincent, who use artillery and small arms fire. Cloud uses a sword to pull it off.

- Every town that has been involved with Mako energy production has become a destitute wasteland. Junon and Barret's hometown of Mount Corel are among the most devastated.

- Dyne, Barret's friend and father of Marlene, the girl he has taken in, opposed opening up Mount Corel to Mako production, preferring to stick to old coal extraction. Barret saw the opportunity for economic growth and prominence in Mako, and was able to persuade the community to his side. The results were tragic--technological progress always is, right?

- Fort Condor is home to enormous, endangered birds of the same name (although they look like eagles, not condors). They are nesting on the top of a Mako reactor that the Shinra want back. Here you fight with planetary mercenaries in a futile effort to protect the birds' eyries. To the Sierra Club's dismay, however, the Condor pictured nearby is eventually blasted away by a Shinra lazer beam.

The green extremism isn't portrayed in a uniformly positive light (though the thrust is overwhelmingly in that direction). When the party reaches Cosmo Canyon for the first time, Barret remarks that for a long time he's wanted to come to the place to study, but hasn't been able to due to overcrowding. If all these greens were really the greenest of the green, that wouldn't be a problem. They would've already committed the greatest green act of all--suicide. Few are pure enough to take their beliefs that far, though!

Conservatives often compare environmentalists to watermelons--green on the outside, red on the inside. When Barret is trying to reconcile the human toll his actions made in the name of the planet have taken, he states that for the greater good, one has "gotta expect a few casualties". Can't make an omelette without cracking a few eggs, right?

Another theme shared with many others in the genre is the resistance organization fighting against the evil empire. As has been discussed, VII goes far with this theme. In another allusion to 1984, Scarlet lets Tifa and Barret know that their executions will be public: "We will be broadcasting your miserable deaths live on national television." This to redirect any public frustration from the government to the scapegoats being axed.

More cynically, fighting the evil empire is a surefire winner in the eyes of teenage males. At this hormonal stage of life, glory and freedom are appealing; responsible corporate governance, well, not so much.

Finally, to those who assert gaming is not an educational experience, I offer my frustrations in riding around on the floating Bronco plane. It took several minutes to navigate around the huge continent in the center of the world map when my destination, blocked by land, was just a few seconds as the crow flies. In that frustratingly long slog through the ocean, the utility of the Panama and Suez canals came to light!

Final Fantasy X is next on the chopping block.

~ "Jenova" is a couple of letters away from "Jehovah". Indeed, these cells bestow superhuman abilities on those who are injected with them, but a consequence of this greater power is invariably a diminution of the ethical compass. To be touched by Jenova is to eat from the forbidden tree--it moves one closer to omnipotence, but further away from omnibenevolence. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

* The soundtrack matches the story's desolation. Consequently, it's not among my favorites. An exception is the score for Cosmo Canyon, which brings to mind some of the best Quena music I've heard (and Amerindian tribal music in general), strikes my ear euphoniously. It is my favorite track from the game.

** The lifestream concept is similar to the Hindu conception of the soul, which will eventually reunite with the Ultimate or God (or in this case, Gaia), except it doesn't appear that normal humans contain it or are able to communicate with it like the Ancients are. They're outsiders, parasites that live on the planet, not in harmony with it.

*** I found this turn of events to be particularly annoying. Because Materia can be shifted around freely from character to character, it doesn't really matter who is in your party--everyone is pretty fungible. The loss of Aeris from a playability perspective didn't matter at all--I'd decided early on to use Barret and Red XIII from start to finish (and did so except for places where the story prohibited it as well as at the end when I used Yuffie to get lots of ability sources). But why was Aeris so reckless? Why go through the Ancient Forest alone, ahead of Cloud and company? She was asking for death, so I guess it's fitting enough that she got just that.

^ Or is he a canine? He roars like a lion and shares the big cat's tail. But his battle stance, shown in the picture above, resembles that of a snarling dog.

^^ This is revealed when Hojo attempts to mate Aeris and Red XIII, both of whom are the last living members of their respective races. Curiously, however, the game's ending sequence shows an aged Red running with two youngsters in tail. How they came to be is not apparent.

++Addition++Don't miss Squarepusher's insights found in the comments section. He tweaks my 1984 comparisons and references other allusions. I'd thought about the Heidegger connection, but FFVII's is pretty vacuous. Besides laughing, he's pretty taciturn, too. But maybe that's a shot at the putative intellectual vacuity of philosophical nazism. It fits the mold of criticism directed at Mein Kampf, for which many contemporary critics criticize Hitler of being an--do I dare say?--epigone, a hot-air blowing, gesticulating pseduo-philosophizing demagogue.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Don't toss the donation requests--take a page from Tesla

After a nearly two year hiatus, I've begun receiving regular donation solicitations again. Three came yesterday: A "census" questionnaire from the RNC, a form letter from the McCain campaign, the third from President Bush. The temptation is to just drop them into the trash with most everything else. But recalling the 'mass' phone bank firing* that took place just last year, I decided to resume scribbling slogans in the credit card information box like I did back in '06.

It's nothing profound or painstaking. To the RNC: When we build a wall, heavily fine employers taking advantage of subsidized labor, cut H2B visa issuances, drop the DVL altogether, and shift our legal residency grants toward EB-5s, my gifts will resume. Until then, not a dime.

To McCain: I'll be voting for Baldwin. Save the postage expense for illegal immigration tuition subsidization and ER treatments.

To Bush: Open borders and furtive attempts at amnesty are wrecking the Republican party. I won't throw good money after bad.

Eternal vigilance doesn't have to make you sweat!

* From the Washington Times article:

"Last year, my solicitations totaled $164,000, and this year the way they were running for the first four months, they would total $100,000 by the end of 2007," said one fired phone bank solicitor who asked not to be identified.

There has been a sharp decline in contributions from RNC phone solicitations, another fired staffer said, reporting that many former donors flatly refuse to give more money to the national party if Mr. Bush and the Senate Republicans insist on supporting what these angry contributors call "amnesty" for illegal aliens.
What do these phone bank staffers make? Is it a full-time, perennial job? With benefit costs, we're probably talking at least $40,000 a year annually, in addition to equipment operation, maintenance, and housing, database building and maintaining, etc. Close to fifty cents on the dollar probably goes just to sustain this type of fundraising.