Thursday, March 28, 2013

Smear the queer

The equals sign has become almost ubiquitous as the supreme court considers the issue of same-sex marriage. Why are gay rights so chic at the moment?

Putatively fighting for equality is always an easy way to obtain cheap grace.

Additionally, though, I suspect it is because the same-sex marriage crusade feels purer than other potential civil rights crusades do. A black guy who hasn't accomplished much of anything has been twice elected to the presidency in large part because he is black. Affirmative action and racial quotas give non-whites all kinds of special privileges that result in, ceteris paribus, NAMs being favored over whites of equal ability. Anyone who has spent any time in the corporate world knows that rather than there being a glass ceiling keeping minorities and women down, managers fall all over themselves in an effort to lift up and promote people who will make the workforce more demographically diverse. The contemporary struggle for gay rights, in contrast, is perceived as truly being about egalitarianism.
Perhaps at some point in the future SWPLs will begin to have some misgivings about having possibly pushed the gay rights ratchet too far as well, but we haven't reached that point yet. The pickings are slimmer than they were half a century ago when it comes to finding victim groups to shed a tear for, but the tree isn't bare yet.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gay marriage and having sex with your sister

With the supreme court considering California's proposition 8 regarding same-sex marriage*, my social media feeds are full of self righteous crusaders crusading for the cause. Leaving alone the legal considerations and even questions about the potential socio-moral fallout in denying people civil rights or alternatively in devaluing marriage, the supercilious sanctimony of so many of the morally superior proclaiming in favor presents an almost irresistible opportunity to play confounding contrarian, so--inspired by Jonathan Haidt--I've been posing the following questions as thought experiments:

Is having sex with your sister in the privacy of your own bedroom, with protection and the knowledge that neither of you have an STD, wrong?

Is eating your pet dog after it gets hit by a car wrong?

Is consenting to have parts of your body preserved after you die to be used as home decor for those interested in them wrong?

Is a cop who secretly gets off to infant pornography confiscated from a child sex offender before turning it in as evidence, but who would never buy the stuff or encourage its being created, wrong in so doing?

The crusader's mental framework consists of an obvious moral good championed by ethical people being denied by homophobic bigots who nefariously want nothing more than to make gays miserable. But for many people--I'd guess most, actually--opposed to same-sex marriage, the opposition stems from a visceral reaction of disgust to gay sex, specifically gay male sex. That reaction is no more irrational or illogical than the negative reactions most people--supportive of same-sex marriage or not--have to the four hypothetical questions posed above. In fact, negative reaction to gay sex is, logically-speaking, more sensible than negative reactions to any of the four questions are because in those cases no one is harmed nor is the harm of others encouraged, while there are lots of negative real-world consequences of gay (male) sex, most notably AIDS. The rectal lining isn't 'designed' to take the thrusting abuse of an erect penis like the vaginal lining is.

I took the moral foundations questionnaire and scored lowest on the purity/disgust dimension. Personally, it's not difficult for me to find in favor of same-sex marriage and all four of the above, and am amenable to the argument that same-sex marriage should be permissible now since the majority of the country favors its becoming so, while the others should be publicly condemned at present in accordance to the predilections of the majority. But just like I'm worried that the society I live in is increasingly coming to share my sentiments when it comes to spirituality and religion, I'm similarly unsettled by the thought that the rhetorical devices employed above won't be effective for much longer. Not much is sacred anymore (at least not in the liberalized West, anyway, but then again, the liberalized West is the past, Africa and Islam is the future).

* I prefer the phrase "same-sex marriage" over "gay marriage", since it more accurately captures the essence of the issue in a strictly legal sense. There is no prohibition on gay people getting married--the question is whether or not a man may marry another man or a woman another woman, irrespective of their expressed sexual orientations. The Civil War vs The War Between the States vs The War of Northern Aggression, I suppose.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Depicting reality or escaping from it?

I'm finally getting around to reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature. The descriptions of how widespread and commonplace violence was in the 'popular culture' of the medieval and middle ages make for fun reading, but I wonder (because I don't know) how representative said popular culture was of the larger societies it existed in at the time.

I bring this up because that doesn't appear to be the case today--if anything, the inverse seems to be true. Agnostic has indefatigably documented a whole host of things, including this, in a long-running analyses of cultural differences between rising (and high) crime eras and declining (and low) crime eras. Check out comic books from the low crime mid-20th century, for example. Video games, a sort of contemporary successor to comic books, have become far more graphically violent and intentionally realistic in their depictions of said violence (having previously opted for stylized depictions of violence and a predilection for surreality) over the last few decades as actual rates of violent crime have steadily dropped.

As real life in the West has become increasingly more peaceful over the last twenty years, football has clearly surpassed baseball as America's pass time and MMA has left boxing behind. In many ways, as we've become less violent, our popular culture has become more so. Moving outside the US, the exceptionally pacifistic Japanese are into some extremely gruesome and disgusting stuff.

More generally, Quentin Tarantino is a successful director and producer, but if aliens were to try and surmise what life on earth is like for its human inhabitants by viewing Kill Bill and Django Unchained, their conceptions would be wildly off base. Western popular culture is way more violent than life in the Occident actually is.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Deficit spending is about who's doing it

After mulling it over, I think we need a third party presidency for budget deficit reduction to become a sustained, acted upon priority.

Pew has tracked public prioritization of reducing the nation's federal budget deficit for nearly twenty years, and from someone whose default position is one of starving the beast, looking at how partisan positions flip flop depending on which party controls the presidency makes for depressing viewing. The following graph shows the percentage of survey respondents indicating that budget deficit reduction (from '02 onward; prior to that the query was on paying off the national debt, which, while not the same thing, captures similar sentiments) should be a top governmental priority. Results come from surveys conducted in January of each year:

During Clinton's presidency, Republicans cared more about cutting the deficit than Democrats did. Under Bush that flipped, and during Obama it flipped back again. It makes sense if you're all for redistributive spending so long as your guy is the one doing it. It doesn't make so much sense if your party is putatively the one opposed to leviathan's accretion, however.

It's often said that reducing the deficit and restoring fiscal sanity is important in determining the world that older generations will leave to their kids and grandkids, but those kids care less about it than their elders do. Of the 21 issues examined, the only one with a wider old-young (50+ and 18-49 years, respectively) gap is "securing social security", for obvious self-interested reasons.

There might be some reason for cautious optimism, though. Over the last decade, the trend has been upward across the political spectrum, and the GOP now has a high profile champion or two on the issue.

Pivoting to provide Republican pols with political advice, how about emphasizing opposition to gun control? While it's politically savvy, it's not pusillanimously appeasing--a state's gun ownership rate is one of the strongest predictors of how it votes. The higher the rate, the redder the state. And of the 21 issues Pew asked about prioritizing, gun control garnered the highest "should not be done [at all]" response rate of all.

Opposition to restrictions on firearm capacities and ownership is highest among the young, the wealthy, and the well educated, while support for increasing restrictions is highest among the old, the poor, and the uneducated. Excepting the political angle, contemporary demographic trends on the questions of gun control and same-sex marriage are pretty similar. Unlike a lot of other 'social issues' that see the conservative standing athwart history yelling "stop" (which, while I'm personally sympathetic to, is usually portrayed and conceived of in the popular consciousness the antithesis of being hip and forward-thinking), the right to bear arms is important to people who are going and who have gone places in their lives.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rand Paul wins google poll

Rand didn't just win the CPAC straw poll, he's winning the Google interest poll, too. Here are the search results for the rest of CPAC's top four, as well as for Jeb Bush, who the AP, swimming against the grassroots tide--in vain, one hopes--describes as "perhaps the highest-profile establishment figure [in the GOP]". Results track from December 2012 through the present (that is, they're post-election):

The filibuster was a publicity stunt. So what? It was in no way at odds with the positions he's maintained from the beginning of his political career, and it worked. It netted him more google traffic than Marco Rubio's insipid state of the union response. The guy's adroit media savviness and polished public presentation are attributes his father sorely lacked. This Paul has a legitimate shot.

Parenthetically, his murky positions on immigration worry a restrictionist like myself, but, unfortunately, whose in the GOP don't? Paul thinks the 14th amendment has been misread to grant birthright citizenship to the children of non-citizens and wants it challenged in the supreme court. If unsuccessful there, he wants to add an amendment explicitly denying birthright citizenship to the Constitution. There's hope for the man, and, just maybe, there's hope for this country, too.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Human biodiversity needs you!

In a recent Taki's column, the Derb parenthetically notes the unfortunate competition for primacy of the acronym HBD that the phrase "human biodiversity" shares with the phrase "happy birthday".

Nothing against congratulating people for managing to survive another year, but the former phrase is enhanced by the abbreviation while the latter is cheapened by it. Human biodiversity doesn't have a wikipedia page yet, but HBD does have an urban dictionary entry, albeit a shared one.

I'd grown complacent after human biodiversity easily attained the top spot shortly after its debut over a year ago, but subsequently (possibly as a result of the tripe Derb examined in his article), happy birthday retook the summit, in large part due to a slew of negative votes for human biodiversity. Help keep our version of HBD on top by dropping in to vote human biodiversity up and happy birthday down.

Monday, March 11, 2013

We can spare the state department, but that's it

Rand Paul is spitting into the wind. Unfortunately so from my perspective, but it's what he's doing all the same.

Pew recently released the results of a survey in which respondents were asked whether they would increase, decrease, or maintain current spending levels across 19 different expenditure categories if they were writing up the federal government's budget. The following table shows the public appetite for spending increases (decreases) by category, computed by simply taking the percentage of respondents who indicated they would increase spending in an indicated area and subtracting from it the percentage who said they'd decrease it (and letting be the percentage who wanted to keep it the same). The first numerical column shows the broader public's predilections. The three subsequent columns show results by partisan affiliation:

Spending up (down) on...TotalRepDemInd
Veterans' benefits47484547
Social security31184625
Combating crime27244219
Natural disaster relief2233321
Roads and infrastructure2172527
FDA inspections19(5)3817
Scientific research17(10)3717
Health care16(28)5111
Anti-terrorism defenses1326181
Environmental protection11(28)4410
Military defense837(4)1
Aid to needy in the US3(40)303
Unemployment assistance(8)(47)28(12)
State department(20)(26)(13)(20)
Foreign aid(27)(63)8(33)

Statism is alive and well in the US. Combined spending for unemployment benefits, the state department, and foreign aid--the three areas for which there is more desire for attrition than accretion--constituted less than 5% of all federal government spending in 2012. While there is some aversion to sending our pooled money overseas, the masses want it gathered up and spread around by a federal apparatus at home.

Even self-identified Republicans want spending increases in more areas than they want decreases, and more importantly, in the three gargantuan spending categories--social security, defense, and medicare--they want the federal government to spend more, not less, than it's currently spending. In 1980, Reagan's platform included abolishing the department of education. Today, only one in ten Americans (and barely one in seven Republicans!) say they'd like to see federal spending on education cut, let alone abolished entirely.

Leviathan loves the tacit agreement between Demopublicans and Republicrats to allow for increases in international defense offense defense spending in return for acquiescence to increases in domestic spending back home. Consequently, the only outlay category that voters in both parties express a desire for cuts in is the state department (with a $0.030 trillion budget from the $3.746 trillion the federal government spent last year). What percentage of Americans even know what the state department does? Besides being derelict in attacks on diplomatic missions in places like Benghazi, that is. Heh, maybe that's why they aren't overly eager to give it more money.

I'm not qualified to proffer financial advice, but every day that passes sees me becoming more and more satisfied with the investment strategy I've been employing for the last few years--buying gold and silver, exclusively. In retrospect, I wish I would've started when I hit legal adulthood in 2002. Better late than never, though, I guess.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Self-assessed health by race, age, and sex

Despite the claims that low educational attainment among blacks relative to whites is in large part due to blacks feeling intellectually inferior to whites (known in the academic literature as "stereotype threat"), the data actually show blacks to be as confident in themselves--if not more so--than are whites (and other non-blacks).

I wondered how similar the story would be when it came to questions of health. Black athletic prowess is possibly the least 'controversial' HBD-related topic to broach in the US. On the other hand, contemporary life expectancy is lower for blacks than non-blacks, and black obesity rates are higher than white rates are.

The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health asked respondents to self-assess their personal health. The following graph shows the percentages who described themselves as being in "excellent" or "very good" health, by race (white refers to non-Hispanic white, black to non-Hispanic black, etc):

The health problems afflicting Native Americans are fairly well known among the general public, and they are familiar among feather Indians as well, as the survey results illustrate. Hispanic laconic demurity notwithstanding and with a pinch of apparent hybrid vigor, it appears that self-assessments roughly approximate actual outcomes--ice people tend to enjoy better health than sun people do.

For stereotype validation that rests on more certain ground, consider self-assessed health by age range. Again, the percentages describing themselves as being in "excellent" or "very good" health:

Finally, there isn't much difference between Venus and Mars on this one. By sex:

NSDUH variables used: NEWRACE2(1)(2)(3)(4-5)(6)(7), HEALTH(1-2)(3-5), IRSEX(1)(2), AGED(1-7)(8-11)(12-13)

Monday, March 04, 2013

Menthol preference by race

Some follow up on the previous post looking at racial distributions of smokers of the top cigarette brands in the US. Firstly, a couple of commenters asserted that Parliaments are the SWPL brand of choice. Here's the breakdown:

Primarily white with a nice Asian showing and a correspondingly weak NAM share. Looks like we have a winner. Rescued pit bulls suffer secondhand smoke from Newports and then from Parliaments, poor creatures.

Secondly, Billy Bob noted the accusation that by disguising the harshness of cigarette smoke, menthol-flavored cigarettes encourage younger people to take up the vice who might otherwise not if their options were limited to non-menthol options. The FDA applied the same line of reasoning when it banned the sale of other flavored cigarettes in 2009.

Fortunately, the NSHDU survey asked participants whether they've primarily smoked menthols or non-menthols in the past month. Cross referencing these responses to the age ranges of said respondents allows us to look at the relationship of age and menthol preference among smokers. The following graph shows the percentages of smokers who primarily smoked menthols in the last month by age range (and specific age, to the extent the survey data allows for it to be reported). To avoid racial confounding, only non-Hispanic whites are considered:

Tough to argue with the claim that younger smokers are relatively more inclined towards menthols than older (and, by extension, more veteran) smokers are. There is some expected noise, especially among 12 and 13 year-olds, but the trend is clear. The question of whether or not young smokers who take up menthols would be willing to smoke non-menthols at the same age remains, but surely some portion of them would not be apt to do so. Seems plausible to presume that banning menthols would reduce smoking rates (obviously), but more importantly, would disproportionately reduce smoking rates among young people.

There is a racial component to the question of banning menthols, of course. Namely, blacks of all ages are far more likely to smoke menthols than non-blacks are. The following graph shows the menthol/non-menthol distribution of smokers by race:

The idea of banning menthols is akin to prosecuting crack cocaine more aggressively than powder cocaine, and that sets off all kinds of PC alarm bells.

National Survey on Health and Drug Use variables used: CIG30MEN, AGE2, CIG30BR2(120), NEWRACE2(1)(2)(3)(4-5)(6)(7)

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Pugilistic pit bulls

Roissy's perspicacious, if deliberately provocative (it's who he is, after all), post on pit bulls and the bleeding heart SWPL instinct to apologize for (if Tookie was a dog, he'd look like this) and adopt them got me into a heated facebook conversation. Opposition to Roissy's post took two familiar forms; 1) Exceptions to the rule ("My family's three year old pit bull is the most lovable dog ever."), and 2) External factors ("It's all about how they are socialized and raised. Any dog can be made vicious by an irresponsible owner. Rottweilers and German Shepherds used to be thought of as the most dangerous dogs, now pit bulls are.").

Different breeds of dogs do not all share the same propensity for violent behavior. Statistics show that pit bulls kill more people than does every other kind of breed of dog combined. Yes, part of that is a consequence of the way pit bulls are often raised, but the reason they're raised to be fighters is because they are the breed most naturally suited to fight. Even if, for sake of argument, propensity for violence is assumed to be identical across breeds, when a pit bull snaps, it can very well be lethal. When a dachshund does, it's essentially harmless and just sort of funny. Further, pit bulls notoriously give little or no warning prior to attacking, unlike virtually all other dog breeds, which bark, growl, and assess their targets before lunging.

Humans aren't great at thinking in terms of probabilities. Of course most pit bulls are not going to seriously injury people (or other dogs)--the nice pit bull story isn't even the exception that proves the rule, because it's more the rule than it is the exception, but the fact remains that though they are in an absolute sense unlikely to injure or kill people, they are more likely to do it than any other breed is, by a long shot. In absolute numbers, Rottweilers are the second most lethal dog breed, and huskies (or wolf-dogs, depending on how prevalent the incorrect identification of wolf-dogs as huskies is) are third.

Regarding irresponsible owners, there are reasons certain animals are outlawed in most cities. Take tigers as an extreme example. Blaming a tiger's reckless owner after it rips my face off doesn't change the fact that my face has been ripped off. If that same irresponsible owner had a pug instead, I'd be just fine. There exists a spectrum, and pit bulls are as far to the dangerous end of the spectrum as dogs get.

The assertion that pit bulls are the new rottweilers or new German shepherds is difficult to square with the fact that the former breed is (and appears to have been for as long as records have been kept) considerably less common than the latter two breeds are. According to the American Kennel Club, in 2012 German Shepherds were the second most widely owned breed, Rottweilers were ninth, and pit bulls were 76th. These stats rely on registration data, and presumably pit bull owners (present company of SWPLs who are the target of Roissy's derision excluded) tend not to be the types of people who do civically-minded things like registering a pet, obeying federal drug laws, or joining the PTA. Still, it is clear that despite being less common than other potentially dangerous dogs, pit bulls cause a lot more absolute harm than other problematic breeds do.

The same sort of thinking that makes people jump to the defense of pit bulls is the sort of thinking that leads them to defend hip hop culture, oppose racial profiling, support open borders, etc.

Allow me to excerpt one of Roissy's many golden lines:
Not content with leaving ill-bred animals alone, and apparently incapable of enjoying the simple pleasure of normal dogs like labs without experiencing an existential crisis, the pitbull has become the newest cause celebre for urban SWPLs who can’t make it through a day without a pat on the back from their fellow missionaries.
For fun, I took a gander at Google trends' results for the terms "labradors" and "pitbulls" (understanding that the compound word should actually be two separate words, but also aware of the fact that "pitbulls" is more commonly searched on than is "pit bulls", and cognizant that the 'musician' who uses the singular form of the word requires that both terms be searched on in the plural) by state. The following table ranks states by labrador preference, which is calculated by simply taking a state's search index (on a relative scale from 0-100, the higher the number the more frequent the search term is) for labradors and subtracting from it the state's search index for pitbulls:

1. New Hampshire69
2. Montana67
3. Maine62
4. Alaska59
5. South Dakota54
6. Vermont47
7. Connecticut46
8. Idaho36
8. Oregon36
10. Massachusetts34
10. North Dakota34
10. Wyoming34
13. Wisconsin33
14. Colorado31
15. Iowa29
16. Minnesota28
16. Washington28
18. Rhode Island27
19. Pennsylvania23
20. Maryland18
21. Nebraska17
21. Ohio17
23. New Jersey16
24. Missouri14
25. Utah13
26. Kansas8
27. Virginia8
28. New York5
29. West Virginia5
30. Delaware4
30. Oklahoma4
32. Michigan1
33. California0
34. Indiana(1)
35. Kentucky(3)
36. Arizona(5)
36. Illinois(5)
36. New Mexico(5)
36. Tennessee(5)
40. Nevada(6)
41. Hawaii(8)
42. North Carolina(11)
43. Arkansas(14)
44. Florida(15)
45. South Carolina(19)
46. Alabama(20)
47. Georgia(29)
47. Texas(29)
49. Lousiana(42)
50. Mississippi(56)

A cartographical representation is available here. Head north for civilization, south for barbarism.

Weather aside, this ranking could almost double for a listing of the nation's nicest places to live in. The correlations between a state's estimated average IQ and its labrador preference is .77 (p less than .01) and between a state's homicide rate and its labrador preference is an inverse .72 (p less than .01).