Discrimination Against Muslims

November 30, 2006

This is a combination of several very different stories. First, Jill notes a further exchange about Islam between Mark Steyn of “white women must have eight babies each” fame and Ralph Peters, that seems to be all about legitimizing the idea of a European massacre of Muslims.

While Peters says gleefully that Europeans are going to slaughter Muslims one day and Steyn laments the fact that the fascists in Europe are too old, let me take a less idealistic view of what’s going to happen. Consider this the first part of my book to go public:

The Europe of 2020 was very different from the Europe of 2003, in which most people hated the United States more than they did Al-Qaida and the two most important states, France and Germany, were shrilly anti-American. Increasing Muslim immigration produced increased anti-Muslim sentiments in many countries, especially France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. The governments hardly even tried to promote integration, and the greater visibility of anti-immigration politicians entered a positive feedback loop with resentment and cultural separatism among immigrants. In 2005, Algerian immigrants and their descendants rioted in France, fomenting a virulent epidemic of anti-Arabism; but that riot paled in comparison to what happened six years later, when Moroccan immigrants rioted in Amsterdam over a proposed moratorium on immigration, tearing the fabric of Dutch civil society apart and then incinerating the remains. The post-2005 fears of Arabs had materialized, the European mainstream reasoned, and now was the time for decisive action that would restore tranquility in Europe.

Given that climate, it was not surprising that there emerged new restrictions on civil liberties, including broad bans on disturbance of the peace, stifling regulations of assembly and protest, stringent restrictions on immigrations and on the rights of immigrants, and increased state surveillance of potential troublemakers. At the same time pro-Americanism resurged in France and Germany, as did cultural conservatism, to a lesser degree. At the time the United States ruled Iraq and Iran, and talks of an invasion of Syria floated in neo-conservative circles; with fierce rhetoric about women’s rights and freedom of speech and freedom of religion, the United States won the support of many desperate Europeans. While Britain was still recovering from having been the last country other than the United States to withdraw from Iraq, France participated in the United States’ invasion of Syria in 2013. Now Germany and France were the two most pro-American major countries in the world, and Russia was beginning to assert itself as the third.

There’s not going to be a holocaust, not because Europeans are too morally weak to murder millions, but because the way Western European anti-Muslim racism works, the government can’t intervene on anyone’s side. Floating the idea of a holocaust in Europe is like floating the idea of a return to slavery in the US. It’s nice to dwell on, if you’re a sadistic racist, but it only goes to show how detached from reality sadistic racists are.

In 1919, Hitler noted that “Antisemitism based on purely emotional grounds will find its ultimate expression in the form of the pogrom. An antisemitism based on reason, however, must lead to systematic legal combatting and elimination of the privileges of the Jews.” Current European racism is based on (pseudo-)reason rather than emotion.

The other story is due to Gordo, as usual, and takes place in India. India is a democracy, but like the democracies more familiar to people in the West, it has its share of equal rights problems: women outside the upper class are treated like chattel, low-caste people are being discriminated against even though Gandhi formally abolished the caste system upon independence, and the language rights of the two thirds of the population whose native language isn’t Hindi are generally not fully respected.

Now a new report documents just how pervasively Muslims receive inferior education, jobs, and bank credit, and have a literacy rate six percentage points lower than the general population’s. The government wants to institute affirmative action, which already exists to prop up low-caste Indians but not Muslims. Naturally, the opposition party, which unlike the European right isn’t above encouraging pogroms, is aghast.

But one of the reactions of the left slightly bugged me, for nothing more than an irritating word use.

The latest findings have prompted fresh debate. In an editorial in The Indian Express, an English-language daily, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the president of the Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, suggested that the government’s panel had revealed “the hollowness of our concept of republican citizenship.”

“What is at stake,” Mr. Mehta said, “is not just uplifting this or that group, but the very idea of India itself: whether it has the capacity for transcending the cant, indifference and identity traps that have brought us to this pass.”

The rhetoric about identity traps is exactly what I think, but the part about the “concept of republican citizenship” slightly irks me, simply because of the French connection. France bills itself as a country of republican citizens who are loyal only to the nation; as such, its legal system sweeps discrimination under the carpet, because to do otherwise would be to acknowledge that France’s self-perception is flawed. India is not like that; its conception of how to deal with ethnicity is more similar to this of the US and Canada, and would probably have their levels of racism if it had their amount of money and level of infrastructure.

(This is filed under race rather than religion because it has nothing to do with the practice of Islam and everything to do with racial discrimination against a very visible minority in Europe and a minority the nationalists have especial loathing for in India)

Is It a Serious Study?

November 30, 2006

Large swaths of the American left-wing blogosphere (e.g. Bora, Daily Kos) are all over a study that says mentally ill patients were likely to vote Bush in 2004, if they voted. The story everyone seems to be linking to says,

[Link] Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

Bora is of course trumpeting the study as evidence for his theory that conservatism is a form of mental illness born of automaton-like authoritarianism. On Daily Kos there’s a raging debate over whether conservatives are insane or evil. My excuse for not using that material as inspiration to edit another chapter of my book, whose portrayal of the blogosphere is more realistic than idealistic, is that I’m half asleep.

Fortunately, some people on Daily Kos who come off as more familiar with mental illness than most explain this. Sweet Potato comments,

[Link] Anyone who has spent time with the mentally ill knows that they have an inclination towards conspiracy theories, paranoia and collectivized emotion, especially as peddled by the media.

And Brown American explains why this study should be taken with a huge pinch of salt: its sample size is 69, and existing studies peg mental patients as better than the general population at telling when someone’s lying.

The buzzword in areas of social science that generate numerous studies is “meta-study.” It’s easy to botch these too, but when something draws enough buzz for there to be a hundred different data sets about it, a political hack will be able to use five that show the correlation is statistically significant.

In fact, usually there will be many more than five, because published studies have an existing bias in favor of data sets that show significant correlation. “There’s no link between these two things” won’t get you published unless it’s a real hot-button issue like racial IQ differences, and even that only diminishes that bias but does not eliminate it.

Of course, that didn’t prevent Bora from opening his post by snarking,

You know that Bush-apologists say crazy things. They get cited, chastized and mocked for it every day on the liberal blogs, after all. You may have also wandered, by mistake, onto comment threads on Little Green Foodballs, or The Corner, or other nasty Right-wing blogs and suspected that those people are not really ‘all there’.

There he’s completely right. Commenters on top political blogs like LGF, the Corner, Daily Kos, and Firedoglake tend to be an incredibly irrational bunch that gives regulars on Free Republic and Democratic Underground a run for the money. Blog comment threads are usually not that bad, because blogs are public enough for people to have the sense to write for the general reader rather than for the echo chamber, but the forums and the large blogs with insular comment threads are not. There’s no way someone who wasn’t obsessed with satisfying a readership thirsty for viciousness would’ve called a blue dog Democrat a whore (hat-tip to Zuzu and Piny for that gem).

Update: Coturnix has an update explaining he just wanted to alert the left-wing blogosphere to the study, without saying anything about its validity.

Roots of Unity

November 30, 2006

As I said before, a number field K with r real conjugates and s pairs of proper complex ones has r + s – 1 independent units, in the sense that if (u1^a1)(u2^a2)…(u(r+s-1)^a(r+s-1)) = 1 where the a(i)’s are integers, then all a(i)’s are zero. While this doesn’t apply to every set of r + s – 1 units, it does apply to some set of that size but not to any set of r + s units.

What I’m more concerned with in this post is the number of roots of unity in K, as a function of n = [K:Q]. First, note that every number field has at least two roots of unity, 1 and -1. Also note that R only has these two roots of unity, so if K is a subfield of R, it has no additional roots of unity. Since every K for which r > 0 can be regarded as a subfield of R, it follows that if K has more than two roots of unity, n = 2s.

Now, let L be the subfield of K generated by roots of unity. L has degree m over Q, where m < n. In fact m divides n, since K is a vector space over L, so that K is additively the same as L^l = Q^lm for some l and lm = n. If L has k roots of unity, then the multiplicative group of roots of unity can be denoted as C(k), which is just a way of writing Z/kZ in multiplicative notation.

Since C(k) has an element corresponding to 1 in Z/kZ, call it z(k), L is in fact the subfield of K generated by z(k); this is because every other root of unity in K is a power of z(k). The conjugates of z(k) are other kth roots of unity. Furthermore, z(k) is not a root of unity of any order less than k, or else there are fewer than k roots of unity in K. The name for such a root is a primitive kth root of unity. It’s not difficult to see that z(k)^c is a primitive kth root of unity iff c and k are coprime. So the number of conjugates of z(k) is at most phi(k), defined to be the number of positive integers less than k that are coprime to k, or, equivalently, the number of equivalence classes mod k that are coprime to k. In fact the two are equal, but that requires a technical field theoretic proof I don’t want to get into.

So if K has exactly k roots of unity, then phi(k) must be a divisor of [K:Q]. Also, k can never be odd, because we can always pair off roots of unity with their negatives. After all, if z^m = 1, then (-z)^2m = 1, and z = –z iff z = 0.

The converse, mind you, isn’t always true. phi(6) = 2, but Q(SQRT(n)) doesn’t have 6 roots of unity unless n = -3. In fact there are only two roots of unity in Q(SQRT(n)) unless n = -1 or -3, where it’s understood that if n = mb^2 then we only ever write Q(SQRT(m)). Moreover, in Q(SQRT(n1), SQRT(n2)) the number k must satisfy phi(k) = 1, 2, or 4.

If k1 and k2 are coprime then an equivalence class mod k1k2 is determined by its equivalence class mod k1 and its class mod k2, and is coprime iff it’s coprime to k1 and k2, so that phi(k1k2) = phi(k1)phi(k2). That implies that phi(k) is the product of phi(p^m) over all p^m dividing k such that p^(m+1) does not divide k; and phi(p^m) is just the number of positive integers less than p^m coprime to p, which is (p-1)p^(m-1).

In other words, if phi(k) divides 4, then every prime p dividing k must be one more than a divisor of 4 – i.e. be 2, 3, or 5 – and also the exponents of 2, 3, and 5 are at most 3, 1, and 1 respectively. It’s not especially hard to then compute that k has to be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, or 12, where the odd values are not possible from a previous result.

If k = 2, then the only roots of unity are -1 and 1, which is the general case. If k = 4, then K contains i = SQRT(-1) and some other square root. If k = 6, then K contains SQRT(-3) and some other square root. If k = 8, then K = Q(SQRT(-1), SQRT(2)) which is generated by primitive 8th roots of unity. If k = 12, then K = Q(SQRT(-1), SQRT(3)) which is generated by primitive 12th roots of unity. If k = 10, then K can’t be written as Q(SQRT(n1), SQRT(n2)); the only proof I can think of requires Galois theory, in which case the proof is that the field of 10th roots of unity’s Galois group is C(4) while Q(SQRT(n1), SQRT(n2))’s Galois group is always C(2) * C(2). In particular, Q(SQRT(n1), SQRT(n2)) has no roots of unity apart from 1 and -1 whenever n1 and n2 are both different from -1 and -3.

More Natalist Bullshit

November 29, 2006

I was going to gloss over Mark Steyn’s article decrying the fact that Christians aren’t breeding fast enough, because Amanda had already taken care of the angle about the obvious racism and sexism. Steyn doesn’t talk about white people, but the examples he gives of Christians who have few children are all from North America and Europe, even though Latin America and the Philippines’ high fertility cancels Europe’s low fertility.

But Echidne’s take got me thinking about the broader natalist angle. Steyn’s argument is similar to arguments conservative natalists make about fundamentalists versus secularists. When they say that conservatives are having more children than liberals (e.g. here), they brim with joy; but when they find that whites are having fewer children than non-whites, they go nuts.

In neither case is the hunch even right. Conservatives outbreed liberals in the US, but the US isn’t becoming less liberal, because conversions go conservative-to-liberal more than the other way around. The same applies to Christianity, which evangelizes throughout the world. Islam is growing faster, but religioustolerance.org quotes the US Center for World Mission as saying Christianity’s percentage of the world population is stable.

The average Christian is not like Scarlett Johansson, who Steyn deprecates for practicing birth control and not sharing his demented “understanding of sexuality as anything other than an act of transient self-expression.” Even if Scarlett Johansson gets HIV tests and makes sure she doesn’t get pregnant, the average Lucía Martinez and Mary Smith don’t.

Fear-based rhetoric about how the brown hordes are going to overrun Europe and North America is good at riling up hardcore racists and fascists, but bad at agreeing with reality. Amidst fears of a Hispanic takeover in the US, people forget that adding the percentage of self-reported Anglos in the US is 14.9%, slightly more than the percentage of Hispanics. The other non-Hispanic whites have ancestors who at various times in US history were hated for outbreeding Anglos and subverting American culture.

The same applies to misogynist rhetoric about women who shirk their duty to give birth to white babies. Sure, keeping women barefoot and pregnant will increase white birth rates; but the society it will create will look exactly like the one Steyn is complaining is outbreeding his. Steyn may like that society, since like many conservatives, he seems to have no problem with totalitarian societies that speak his language. But intellectual apologists for Western supremacism like Huntington spend a tremendous amount of time ranting about how women’s rights and freedom are fundamental Western values that non-Westerners are inferior for not adoping.

As I often say to people who insist on living the movement: becoming breeders in God’s name makes no sense. If you’re a woman who cares first and foremost about spreading Christianity, then have no kids, and donate the million dollars in lifetime earnings you’ll save to your missionary organization of choice. Considering that Christianity has never shied away from evangelizing-first arguments, there’s no question that promoting insanely high birth rates is not about promuglating the religion, but about keeping women barefoot and pregnant.

Note to Muslim-bashers: yes, Muslims have high birth rates. When they emigrate to first-world countries that don’t throw them into ghettos and then act surprised when they torch cars, their birth rates go down and they adopt Enlightenment values. If you’re worried for the future of democracy rather than for these of white hegemony and the patriarchy, you should welcome them in open arms and make sure they integrate as quickly as possible.

Wednesday Miscellany

November 29, 2006

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society will perform a new chart at the Bowery Poetry Club on 11/30 at 10:00 PM (directions).

The accent quiz is generating a second wave of buzz (see for example Feministe, Pandagon, Majikthise, and Retrospectacle). There’s a lot of confusion about Inland Northern, which the quiz diagnoses in people who distinguish the vowels in cot and caught in all contexts (some Midlanders distinguish cot and caught but not don and dawn), but don’t distinguish Mary, marry, and merry. The most egregious feature of Inland Northern isn’t the mergers, but the vowel shifts. If this word sounds like “cot” to you, you’re probably from the Inland North; if it sounds like “cat,” you’re probably not.

Update: the Youtube link still doesn’t work for me, so you can hear the word here instead.

Amanda notes that Bush’s new appointee for head of the Office on Violence Against Women has no anti-VAW credentials; her past experience is with prosecuting people who sell bongs or write child porn fiction. Jessica, who broke the story first, also notes that the appointee said the Patriot Act supports civil liberties.

You may recognize the author of this story about the scandalous scaffold situation in New York (alliteration not intended).

Under the cover of construction, ads for some of the world’s biggest brands are taking up residence at many of New York’s most prestigious addresses, including many buildings designated as landmarks. So far, Stringer’s PR campaign seems to have had little affect on the number of illegal ads vying for public attention.

Why do these blatantly illegal ads flourish in plain sight, despite the vocal opposition?


“There are different approaches to policing sidewalk shed ads,” explains Givner. “If the OAC is labeled on the sign, we can issue a violation to the OAC. The fine is $10,000 to $25,000. If it doesn’t have a label, [we] issue the violation to the building owner for 0 to $2,500.”

As Scott Stringer notes, building owners risk these fines because it can be very profitable for them to do so. Advertising Age estimates that illegal ads, including sidewalk shed wraps can bring in $40,000 to $50,000 dollars a month, a figure also cited by the trade journal Media Buyer Planner. Moreover, the DOB has no power to remove illegal ads, even if it issues a citation.

I’m Too Scared to Do It

November 29, 2006

Hat-tip to Jessica: there’s a celebrity auction going on that offers plenty of stuff I’d probably be willing to fork over some money for. Down with the useless items; what the auction features is,

KATHA POLLITT edits your manuscript

Novelist THISBE NISSEN names a character after you

Legendary cartoonist JENNIFER CAMPER designs yr tattoo

A signed limited edition broadside from MARGARET ATWOOD

LETTA NEELY writes a poem for YOU

Original comic art by MIKHAELA REID

Performance/Public Speaking coaching w/JACLYN FRIEDMAN

That’s just a sample of the things on the list I find most interesting. Even those I’d try going for I’m too scared to do, though. Having Katha Pollitt edit my manuscript is scary like hell (it’s limited to five pages, so my book doesn’t count, but there’s other stuff I’ve written).

Royal Considered Favorite in French Election

November 29, 2006

France’s Socialist Party nominated Ségolène Royal for the Presidential election in April 2007, making her the first woman ever to win a major party’s primary. UMP, the largest conservative party, has yet to hold a primary, but now that Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy has officially thrown his hat in the ring, his primary victory is a foregone conclusion.

Now, Sarkozy has been a darling of the right ever since the riots in 2005, when he advocated an American-style law and order approach to the riots, and in particular promised to deport rioting immigrants. But most of the population is not composed of right-wing ideologues; Dominique Moisi explains at the Financial Times why he’s a polarizing candidate who will probably make Royal France’s first female President.

In the short time since Ségolène Royal’s triumphant victory in the Socialist party “primaries”, the mood in France has changed spectacularly. Previously, left and right both feared the other side would win next spring’s election; now the left is elated and the right apprehensive. The favourite topic is no longer who is going to win, but what Ms Royal’s first moves as president should be.


Ms Royal seems to have found a magic formula that reflects French society’s contradictions. Her unique strength is her ability to incarnate at the same time a radical rejection of traditional party politics, if not politics in general, with a soft interpretation of rupture – the notion of a decisive break with the past – as far as structural reforms are concerned.

In the debate about continuity and change that will be the key to the election, her formula is in direct contrast to that of her leading rightwing rival, Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr Sarkozy has been visibly at the centre of French politics for so long that it is difficult for a man who appears as the dual inheritor of François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac to present himself as a true departure from the traditional political system. The French are in a mood of rejection, if not punishment, and Mr Sarkozy is an “elephant” within the political system. By contrast, when it comes to the concept of rupture, Mr Sarkozy may sound too radical. His attempted rapprochement with George W. Bush’s US at a time when the American people were about to say “no” to the president’s Republican party in the mid-term elections was not well received by most French people.

While Britain’s first Prime Minister was a hardcore conservative, and Germany’s first Chancellor is a slightly gentle Thatcherite, France’s first President to be is more of a Blairite. She supports some planks of law and order conservatism, such as throwing delinquet youths into military-supervised reform schools. At the same time, she supports single-sex marriage, which is again similar to Blair’s approach (although he’s a religious fanatic, he’s the most pro-gay rights Prime Minister in British history). Hopefully, she’ll also share Blair’s political success, without doing something stupid like supporting a war against Iraq Iran.

Forbes is running an editorial trying to say that Royal won’t win because she’ll be seen as too short on substance. The thing is, she’s very much like (Bill) Clinton or Blair, whose policies were hailed as New Democratic/New Labour. Maybe the operative word in the “she has no substance” accusation is “she.” It won’t be the first time Forbes runs a disparagingly sexist article.

If Royal is anything like Clinton or Blair, she’ll have little difficulty retaining the support of traditional socialist interest groups, like unions, even as she advocates lengthening the workweek from 35 hours to 40. So far the social policy positions she’s explicitly right-wing on are media violence, juvenile delinquency, and Turkey’s EU bid. Support for Turkey’s EU bid in France is in the low 20s, and the only groups media censorship and abusing juvenile delinquents will piss off are the student movements everyone hates.

Tuesday Evening Links

November 28, 2006

Hat-tip to Shelley (see also snark at PZ’s): a woman in Colorado was threatened with a fine by the Homeowners’ Association for putting up a Christmas wreath the shape of a peace symbol on her house.

The association in this 200-home subdivision 270 miles southwest of Denver has sent a letter to her saying that residents were offended by the sign and the board “will not allow signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive.”

The subdivision’s rules say no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

Fortunately, the board of directors relented, in part due to massive outcry. But the board’s president still had no trouble saying that the sign was seen as a Satanic symbol. Apparently, it’s okay to hang Christian crosses on your home in the US, but as soon as you put up a symbol associated with another religion, free speech stops applying to you.

Some EU member states knew about and consented to the CIA’s locating secret prisons on their soil (via Appletree). It’s not a new development that Poland and Romania cooperated with the US, but apparently there are additional culprits, and Poland and Romania are refusing to cooperate with the European investigation.

The report follows months of investigation by a special committee of MEPs led by an Italian, Claudio Fava.

“Many governments co-operated passively or actively (with the CIA),” said Mr Fava, quoted by AFP news agency.

He accused top EU officials including foreign policy chief Javier Solana of failing to give full details to MEPs.

The report echoed allegations made in June by the Council of Europe – Europe’s leading human rights watchdog – that European states were complicit in illegal CIA operations as part of the US-led “war on terror”.

Belledame has yet another depressing post about sex-negativity, judgmentalism, the oppression olympics, and the need of some radical feminists to attack everyone whose sexual practices they don’t like. The highlight – or possibly lowlight – of her post is a quote from Catharine MacKinnon about gay rights:

These suspicions about the male supremacist nature of the privacy right were furthered by another thing some of us noticed. That was that the freedom of the penis to engage in anal penetration in the name of privacy had become a priority issue for women under the banner of “gay and lesbian rights,” without connecting a critique of homophobia with a critique of misogyny.

I keep telling myself to write that damned post about the radical tendency to totalize things. Mostly I’ve been thinking not just about radicals who totalize their pet movements and attack everyone who has the temerity to agitate for something other than The Cause, but also about radicals who try to fuse all radical movements together but end up only becoming more extreme (good blogospheric examples of the latter are Chris Clarke and PunkAssBlog).

Ezra’s sidebar led me to a superb article demonstrating the difference between economic populism, which my commenter Yoram Gat conveniently defines as “taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor,” and economic nationalism, which involved taking money from poor countries and giving it to rich countries.

There is an important distinction to be made between economic populism and economic nationalism. Many of Tuesday’s Democratic victors stressed familiar populist themes: corporate misbehaviour and tough times faced by working people. Al Gore ran in 2000 as an economic populist and so, implausibly, did John Kerry in 2004. Raising the minimum wage (which Republicans foolishly failed to do before the election) is a classic populist position. Opposing Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is another. But in places where Democrats made their most impressive inroads this year, one heard a distinctly different message of economic nationalism. Nationalism begins from the same premise that working people are not doing so well. But instead of blaming the rich at home, it focuses its energy on the poor abroad. The leading economic nationalist today is probably Lou Dobbs, who natters on against free trade, outsourcing, globalisation and immigration on CNN.

The most prominent nationalist candidate this year was Sherrod Brown, who unseated incumbent Senator Mike DeWine in Ohio, a state that has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since George W. Bush became president. Mr Brown is the author of a book called Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. Here is a snippet from one of his television advertisements: “Sherrod Brown stood up to the president of his own party to protect American jobs, fighting against the Mexico and China trade deals that sent countless jobs oversees” [sic – Alon]. For some reason, economic nationalists never seem to complain about job-killing Dutch or Irish competition. The targets of their anger are consistently China and Mexico, with occasional whacks at Dubai, Oman, Peru and Vietnam.

Directly from Ezra comes this explanation of the difference between sensible centrism, and waffling masquerading as sensible centrism. Ezra has consistently attacked the media and the punditry for trying to split the difference on economic issues even when the facts are squarely on the left (e.g. on health care), and the Democratic Party for listening to the said pundits even when polls suggest taking the standard liberal position would be popular. Now he says,

What’s necessary here is, silly as it may sound, to separate ideas perceived as centrist (say, on the economy, policies seeking to achieve equity aims through market mechanisms) and what Atrios would call “wankery,” the deployment of such ideas to undercut more useful solutions or marginalize progressive voices. Guys like Sebastian Mallaby, Robert Samuelson, and David Broder make a play at pushing marginally useful, technocratic ideas as a way of dismissing progressive ones. In these instances, the idea is subordinate to its perceived position on the ideological spectrum.

International Statistics

November 28, 2006

Hat-tip to Vanessa: the latest report on global gender inequality is out, providing statistics from international surveys about gender gaps in wages, political representation, education, health, and employment. Vanessa emphasized that the US only ranked 22nd; in fact, I’m fairly certain it should rank lower, because the report says it ranks third in closing the income gap, behind Moldova and Tanzania, even though in reality Sweden does better.

A good rule of thumb is that if an international study conflicts with an intranational one, then the intranational one is better. There are exceptions, for example if the country that takes the survey fudges data, but usually it holds. So when the US Census Bureau says the USA has a full-time wage gap of 23% and Statistics Sweden says Sweden has a full-time wage gap of 15%, they’re almost certainly right.

An international study usually doesn’t have high enough a sample size to compete with a national one. For a good comparison, let’s talk about national/local instead of international/national. The USA’s National Crime Victimization Survey has a sample size of 150,000. It’s hard to improve on it if you want to, say, find out about national rates of assault. But if you wanted to find the rates of assault in New York, you’d have to do so based on only 4,800 people, of whom 4 or 5 will have been victims of assault with injury. The standard error for that would be so huge the study would be meaningless. If, however, your study were limited to just New York, you’d probably have enough funds to have a larger sample size, say 50,000, which would give you ample data.

The US Census Bureau’s determination of wage gaps in the US is to my knowledge not based on a sample. The official Swedish figures cite a standard error figure of less than 1% of each gender’s income. Somehow, the global study says the occupation-controlled gap in Sweden is 29%, even though occupation controlling always decreases the gap. Color me unimpressed.

Linearly Indepedent Units

November 27, 2006

From the previous math post, the map from the unit group of a number field K of degree n over Q to the vector space R^n has an image with the structure of Z^q where q <= n. In fact, we can say more: if K has r real conjugates and 2s complex ones, then since the map sends the unit group to a subspace of R^n of dimension r + s – 1, we can say that q <= r + s – 1; this is because Z^q is a lattice.

In addition, take any set of units C mapping to an integral basis of Z^q, as well as the set of all roots of unity of K. These generate the group of units O(K)*, because if u is any unit, then f(u) can be written in terms of the integral basis, so that u has the same image as some product of elements of C, call it t. Then u/t has image 0, so it’s a root of unity t’, and u = tt’. There are only finitely many roots of unity in K, so O(K)* is finitely generated, which means it’s a product of cyclic groups.

Also, the group of roots of unity is cyclic, i.e. it has the structure of Z/mZ for some m. To see why, note that it’s a product of cyclic groups, because it’s a finite abelian group. If a and b are coprime then Z/abZ is the same as Z/aZ * Z/bZ because (1, 1) generates the entire latter group; so in fact, the group of roots of unity is a product of cyclic groups of size p^k where p is prime. For some p we can’t have two groups of size p^k, because that means the group has a subgroup Z/pZ * Z/pZ, which means that there are p^2 > p different pth roots of unity, which contradicts the fact that there are at most p different roots of the polynomial x^p – 1. Then we can recombine all the cyclic groups and get one big cyclic group for the group of roots of unity.

Given that, it’s pretty straightforward to show that the structure of O(K)* is Z^q * W, where W is the group of roots of unity. The trick is now to show that q = r + s – 1. For that, let’s just look at the first g = r + s – 1 coordinates in R^n; the next one is determined by x1 + x2 + … + x(r) + 2x(r+1) + … + 2x(r+s) = 0, and the rest are determined by x(r+s+k) = x(r+k). For a start, I’ll only show that there exists one unit that’s not a root of unity when g > 0. The notation g has no special significance; I’m only using it here for convenience.

If c1, c2, …, c(g) are real constants not all of which are 0, then there exists at least one unit u such that F(u) = c1*log|w1(u)| + … + c(g)*log|w(g)(u)| is not 0. This unit can’t be a root of unity because then |w(i)(u)| would be 1 for all i, so F(u) would be 0.

We can always find positive constants t1, t2, …, t(g) such that c1log|t1| + … + c(g)log|t(g)| = 2bh, where h is some positive integer and b is a fixed constant large enough to be strictly bigger than log|d|*(|c1| + … + |c(g)|) (d^2 is the discriminant of K). Given these t(i)’s, we can find some t(r+s) that will make sure that t1*…*t(r+2s) = |d| where t(r+s+k) = t(r+k). Then for each h, we can find some nonzero y(h) in O(K) whose ith conjugate is bounded by t(i), by the complex form of Minkowski’s linear forms theorem.

Now, for a fixed h, we have F(y) =  c1*log|w1(y)| + … + c(g)*log|w(g)(y)|, so that |F(y) – 2bh| = |c1(log|w1(y)| – log|t1|) + … + c(g)(log|w(g)(y)| – log|t(g)|)| <= |c1|*log|(w1(y))/t1| + … + |c(g)|*log|(w(g)(y))/t(g)| <= (|c1| + … + |c(g)|)|d| < b because log|w(i)(y)/t(i)| <= log(1) = 0 < log|d| from w(i)(y) <= t(i) and -log|d| = log|1/d| = log|1/t1*…*t(n)| <= log|1/w1(y)*…*w(i-1)(y)*t(i)*w(i+1)(y)*…*w(n)(y)| <= log|w(i)(y)/t(i)| since w1(y)*…*w(n)(y) = N(y) >= 1.

What that monstrosity tells us is that F(y(h)) is within b units of 2bh, so that it’s between (2h-1)b and (2h+1)b noninclusive. In particular, the F(y(h))’s are all different. In K, at least one quotient y(h1)/y(h2) must be a unit: all y(h)’s have norm at most |d|, so they can only generate finitely many ideals in O(K), so that we must have y(h1) and y(h2) are associated for some h1 != h2 (since elements of a ring are associates iff they generate the same ideal). But F(y(h1)/y(h2)) = F(y(h1)) – F(y(h2)) != 0 since the F(y(h))’s are all different. That unit satisfies the conditions of the theorem.

Finally, we can inductively build more and more units until we have g different ones whose images under f are linearly independent. We already have a first unit, say for c1 = 1 and c2 = c3 = … = c(g) = 0. Given k units, the trick is to set c(i) to 0 for i > k+1 and to set the other c(i)’s in such a way that a nonzero sum will imply that the matrix representing the k+1 units has nonzero determinant. For example, if the first unit is u1, then the second could have c1 = -log|w2(u1)| and c2 = log|w1(u1)| so that the matrix [log|w1(u1)|, log|w1(u2)|; log|w2(u1)|, log|w2(u2)|] has nonzero determinant. This works as long as k < g, so there are g linearly independent units.

The nightmare above proves that the unit group of a ring of integers of a number field with r + 2s conjugates is W * Z^(r+s-1). Unfortunately, actually finding an integral basis for Z^(r+s-1) is annoyingly difficult. For some fields it’s easy – for example, it’s possible to prove that in Z[SQRT(2)], there’s no unit between 1 and 1 + SQRT(2) – but in general it’s not. It’s relatively easy given some constant depending only on K called the regulator. It turns out that the matrix corresponding to an integral basis of units always has the same determinant up to taking absolute values, so the absolute value of the determinant is given that special name. However, actually computing the regulator is, again, difficult.

Bias in Criticism of Media Bias

November 27, 2006

Amanda writes about the latest conservative culture battlefield, the movie Happy Feet. James Lileks is annoyed that the movie is about animals endangered by human overfishing. Since that is tangentially related to media bias, he can’t resist making a quip at movies in general.

[Link] I remember when animals were used as stand-ins for humans, to shed light on human behaviors and foibles; now animals are stand-ins for creatures more ethically advanced than humans. (See also, The Ant Bully. Or rather don’t; that movie said it was okay to be an individual as long as you were part of a collective, and no one ever had competing goals or ideas. Muddle-headed twaddle.) If the current filmmakers had made “Ol’ Yeller,” the dog would have been allowed to stay rabid and chew all the locals.

The attack on The Ant Bully is especially rich, considering that the bulk of the part of his post above the bit I quoted is snark directed at movies that promote individualism. But the more general theme of attacking movies that use animal characters as “stand-ins for creatures more ethically advanced than humans” just makes no sense. Using animals that way goes at least as far back as The Jungle Book. The Jungle Book has a human child as a character, but so do Ice Age and Monsters, Inc.

It’s not particularly new for folk tales – and animated films are nothing if not imitations of folk tales – to be about those considered untainted. The theme of the child who proves the adults wrong is well established in fiction. There’s no reason for animals to be treated differently; after all, non-whites, who Rudyard Kipling’s generation analogized to animals, are “half devil and half child” according to Kipling.

For an analysis of the conservative myth of the golden age, when children’s stories were properly virile, nobody had premarital sex, and the people never questioned the state’s military actions, I can’t improve on Coturnix‘s entire corpus of political theory posts.

But there’s another angle here, that of biased criticism. When I wrote about different inequalities, I mentioned that people looked for the forms of oppression they’re familiar with. This also applies here: when people attack Hollywood for being too liberal or too conservative, the evidence they give is colored by the sort of bias they look for. A conservative who sees a movie with a racially and sexually diverse elite military team that solves everything by force will conclude the movie is all about political correctness; a liberal who sees the same movie will conclude it’s all about lionizing military might.

The same applies to Echidne’s post about sexism in the media in light of Steve Gilliard’s unfavorable comparison of Michael Richards to people who call women fat cunts. That in itself doesn’t establish that the media treats sexism more lightly than racism; it just happens to discriminate against black people by portraying them as criminals instead of by legitimizing people who call them names. But when you look for discrimination that takes the form of lenience toward people who use slurs, you might conclude that on the contrary, the media does treat sexism more lightly.

Another Great Feature of American Health Care

November 27, 2006

I’ve just come back from an appointment with my Columbia primary care physician, who I need a referral from to get any medical treatment I want my insurance company to pay for. The EMG test I had a week and a half ago revealed I needed an MRI, which I of course need a referral for. My physician then informed me that the insurance requires MRI tests to be done at Columbia’s hospital, rather than the hospital the NYU clinic referred me to.

In other words, not only am I burdened with a gatekeeper system and a bureaucracy that leads to waits that make British health care look instantaneous, but also I can’t choose my own doctors and hospitals.

Amazingly, most Americans say they will support universal health care, but not if it means there will be waits or restrictions on their choice of doctors.

Minimum Income

November 27, 2006

Update: check here for a crucial numerial correction.

One of the things Scandinavian countries get right is a guaranteed minimum income. The US has a welfare system whose primary goal is to humiliate the poor by enforcing puritan restrictions on their lives – for example, single mothers are required to name a father before receiving TANF benefits; Sweden has a welfare system whose primary goal is to alleviate poverty.

The basic idea of guaranteed minimum income is that you pass some means test, which is usually having less than X income, and then get your income supplemented to X. Sweden doesn’t even have a statutory minimum wage, but the guaranteed minimum income is something like $14,000 per year (link to data; warning: there’s no inflation adjustment), which means that anyone who doesn’t pay significantly more than that won’t get any employees.

A German-style welfare system, where recipients have to prove they’re looking for employment, could work, but only if the requirements are lax enough to avoid government-side abuses. However chic it is in certain circles to make fun of welfare queens, any half-decent system has few enough infractions that stopping them won’t make a dent in government spending; on the other hand, abusive governmental restrictions on who can receive welfare make the lives of millions miserable.

The American poverty rate is $9,800 for one person plus $3,400 per additional person. A decent level of guaranteed minimum income needs to be at least that. In practice, it’s possible to tweak it to be a little more sensitive to such things as daycare costs (which should be fully state-funded anyway) or the fact that the first child has the highest marginal cost. Without tweaking, the easiest thing to do is to have a guaranteed minimum income at the poverty line for the size of household.

In Sweden, the guaranteed minimum income is given to individuals, so a couple gets twice as much as a single person; this is not a good idea, because it screws single people. A non-puritan alternative to handing out welfare based on marital status is considering actual household size, i.e. the practice rather than the legalese. For example, a woman who leaves an abusive husband to live on her own should immediately be considered single as she lives without her husband.

This also takes care of one of the standard criticisms of minimum wage increases. Since many minimum wage workers are young, the argument goes, increasing the minimum wage will increase at least youth unemployment, even if it won’t make much difference in the general unemployment rate. Supplementing a family of four’s annual income to $20,000 ensures that unless both parents can find a job simultaneously, which usually doesn’t happen, they’ll have no incetive to take jobs that don’t pay significantly more than $10/hour. Meanwhile, young people, who tend to be single with no dependents, will get only $10,000 and so are likely to take a job that pays, say, $7.50/hour.

Assuming that household income is independent of household size, the average payout will be about $15,500, unless people continue working jobs that pay less than that. If the entire bottom quintile takes advantage of that, the cost will be just under 8% of GDP.

To cut costs, there are two possible tweaks. One is to dole out money based on weeks or days rather than years. If the actual payout to a single parent is not $13,200 per year but $255 per week, it’s likely the parent will take a temporary low-wage job instead, as long as it pays significantly more than $255/week; increasing the minimum wage to even $7.50 is likely to produce such jobs.

The other tweak is to phase out the payment continuously as a household gets richer. For example, instead of supplementing the income of everyone to the poverty level, the government can supplement the income of everyone who makes less than 150% of poverty to 100% of poverty plus a third of the level of income. Although the payout will not decrease for any individual, it’ll encourage staying employed somewhat, which will only reduce the total payout.

If both tweaks together gets rid of the problem of voluntary unemployment, then under the same assumptions, the total payout will be about 4.5% of GDP. They won’t, but the weekly dole will probably eliminate it for people who make a decent amount of money per hour but can’t find a full-time year-round job, and the continuous phaseout will at least make a serious dent in it.

One of the problems in some European countries, including Sweden and Germany, is that free tuition plus welfare cause people to stay in school for many years just for the money. The quickest way to ensure it won’t happen in the US is to limit free tuition to four or five years.

The Mathematics of the College Graduate Rate Map

November 27, 2006

Part of the discussion about cities that attract the creative class has revolved around a set of two thematic maps that show the distribution of college graduates in US counties in 1970 and 2000. In 1970, 11% of the US population had a bachelor’s; in 2000, 24% did. Both maps are divided into five colors – off-white for counties lower than the national average by more than 10 percentage points, yellow for counties lower by 4-10, ochre for counties within 4 percentage points of the national average, burnt sienna for counties higher by 4-10, and red for counties higher than 10.

The 1970 map is dominated by ochre in the Northeast and West and yellow in the Midwest and South; the 2004 map is dominated by off-white, with patches of all darker colors scattered around, especially in New England. Amanda said that it’s evidence that college graduates are clustering in college towns. Gordo says it’s just evidence that there are more college graduates in the US now.

In fact, most of the clustering can’t be explained just by the increase in college graduation rates. Plenty of counties switched from ochre to off-white between 1970 and 2000; in other words, between 7 and 15 percent of their population had a college degree in 1970, and less than 14% did in 2000. This suggests that these counties, which constitute a substantial chunk of the Interior West, Texas, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania, have apparently stagnated.

Just the existence of off-white counties in 2000 where there were none in 1970 isn’t evidence of increased clustering of educated Americans. However, the fact that many counties switched from ochre to off-white is.

In addition, there’s the cluster pattern of the 2000 map. If the only difference between 1970 and 2000 were an increased number of college graduates, the two maps would have similar clustering patterns, only the 2000 one would have a starker color contrast. But in fact, 2000 really is more clustered; there are burnt sienna and red counties that used to be ochre.

Incidentally, one feature that nobody seems to have paid attention to is the nature of the clustering. What little clustering existed in 1970 was based in specific cities, while by 2000 it spread to neighboring counties. This is especially true in the Minneapolis, Atlanta, and DC areas, which increased from 1, 1, and 4 burnt sienna or red counties respectively to 6, 6, and 10. That indicates that the growth of education was not just in the cities but also in the suburbs. I’d say it connects to the liberalization of the Northern suburbs in the US, but this is also apparent in the Atlanta suburbs; Cobb County, which issued stickers in biology textbooks saying evolution was just a theory, is red, while New York City’s outer boroughs are all yellow except Bronx, which is off-white.

Sunday Evening Links

November 26, 2006

The 54th Carnival of the Godless is up on Hellbound Alleee. This fortnight’s edition’s theme is, believe it or not, Christmas shopping. The carnival’s highlight is vjack’s What’s a Little Atheist-Bashing Among Friends?, which explains,

How would I respond if I was in a group of co-workers who started making racist comments? Even though I am every bit as white as they are, I am quite certain that I would respond with outrage, attempt to correct the misconceptions, and ask them not to make such comments in my presence. Why the difference? Why am I more tolerant of the anti-atheist comments, especially considering that I am an atheist? I suspect my inaction here (I really don’t consider it tolerance) is due to the far greater frequency and social acceptability of such comments. But does this really make sense?

Timothy Shortell writes about illusions created by the entire self-help industry. He calls what he critiques “authenticity,” but the term is somewhat misleading; I think it’s a lot more instructive to see his post as a general critique of campaigns aimed at convincing people that they can only achieve true self actualization by consuming product X, where X can be a Ford Explorer, the Atkins diet, Christianity, Scientology, or speaking Esperanto.

Gordo comments about the hipness article and blog posts,

The New York Times got a lot of people buzzing with this story, about the the exodus of young, educated hipsters from New York to places like Stumptown (if you were hip, you’d know where that is). A lot of New York bloggers started saying some nonsense about New York being hip. Well, numbers don’t lie, guys.

Now that I think about it, Steve, Jen, Jill, and I all live in New York. On the other hand, the person who got bashed the most for being a snob is Amanda, a thoroughly un-snobby Austinite.

Shelley brings the news that cancer is apparently caused by faulty stem cells.

[Link] Current therapies treat all cancer cells the same. They’re aimed at shrinking tumours on the basis that the various cells within them all have similar powers to spawn new cancers and spread destruction.

But mounting evidence suggests that cancer’s real culprits — the roots of perhaps every tumour — are actually a small subset of bad seeds known best to the world as stem cells.

The Economic Populist Problem

November 26, 2006

Amanda adds to the discussion about the creative class and the brain drain by drawing a connection between feminism and women’s unwillingness to live in conservative areas, and asking how it’s possible for liberal politics to succeed in areas that lose intelligent people to the cities.

[Link] Is it really elitist to flee to a big city because you’re sick of racism, homophobia, and sexism? Are you somehow an uptight elitist if you’re attracted to a place precisely because they are welcoming to diversity? And that’s the underlying tension that makes it so damn hard to figure out how to enact the fixes that Jill suggests:

Because the fact is, while progressive politics certainly don’t hurt rich urban liberals, they’re far more beneficial to people who are lower-income, who are struggling to feed their kids, who don’t have a choice to be a stay-at-home parent, who see many of the kids in their neighborhoods going off to Iraq, who don’t have the privilige of regularly going to openings and shows and performances. That’s who we should focus on — because the fact is, those people make up a far greater portion of our country than the people who get most of the attention. It’s not because they’re dumb or uncreative or tasteless, and I’m not suggesting that we condescend to the poor red-staters; I’m suggesting that most people don’t have the opportunity to be part of a creative class, and that we should emphasize the fact that progressive politics are far more in their interests than conservative ones are. And we should really evalute their interests, and listen to them. Which, of course, is the pat liberal answer that we hear recycled all the time. But either we just aren’t doing it, or we aren’t doing it right. I think it’s a combination of both.

What’s so damn difficult is that the red states aren’t going to have these opportunities until they vote for them. If they wanted more opportunities for their kids, they wouldn’t insist on taking science out of the classroom. The truth is that the working class white people in red states are under a propaganda blitz from the old racist, sexist elite who do not like the way that the world is passing them by and unversities are admitting women and people of color and these folks are taking their rightful spots in the creative class after graduation. As such, they are appealing to people’s nasty jealousies and anger at uppity women and uppity people of color and uppity gay follks and using that to turn out votes. And what I see happening is that instead of doing what they hoped this would do and completely shut down progress, the effect was instead to turn the younger generations of the creative class into a migratory herd that’s clogging up the cities and even leaving the country. It might work itself out in the long run, but in the meantime, the big losers are the everyday red staters who keep voting themselves into worse trouble because they think they’re punishing the highly visible liberal elite while being blind to the more old-fashioned elite that the Republican party represents.

While rural areas are susceptible to left-wing economic populism, it rarely translates to political liberalism. The original populist movement was anti-Semitic, anti-science, and anti-immigrant as much as it was anti-capitalist – after all, William Jennings Bryan argued on the creationist side in the Scopes trial.

The main problem is that any attempt to promote liberalism in a region that feels threatened will only make things worse. Every time Bush talks about spreading freedom and democracy to Iran, he makes it less likely that freedom and democracy will prevail in Iran. The only difference between the South and Iran here is that Iran has a strong native liberal movement, while the South only has economic populists like Ann Richards and John Edwards. I suppose that this is due to proximity; the South is right on the border of the North and is bleeding creative people to Northern cities as well as Northernized Southern cities like Raleigh, so its elites can always portray themselves as under attack from Northern liberals.

Make no mistake about it: it’s completely possible for an area that’s bleeding creative people to another area to be liberal. For a few decades after World War Two, every person in Western Europe or Canada who could move to the United States did. And yet, Toronto, London, Paris, and Berlin are a lot more like New York and San Francisco than like Houston and Dallas; Canada is clearly more liberal than the US, and except on matters of immigration, so are most European countries.

The closest American equivalent to the liberalism that developed in Europe is in North Carolina, with its Research Triangle. Like most other innovations, liberal politics develops in immigrant-rich cities, where the standard tool conservative elites use to control the population, xenophobia, doesn’t work so well as it does in suburban and rural areas. Raleigh isn’t especially diverse, but it and its metro area are filled with educated people, who can liberalize a region just as well; European left-wing activism has always been centered around students and unions rather than immigrants.

The South is not getting a Five Points, so that avenue of propping up creative cities, which help transform mere economic populism into real liberalism, is closed.

The problem is that the other main avenue, promoting a local cultural fusion, has failed to work for four decades. The South has been de facto less segregated than the North since before the Civil Rights Act. But it’s more bigoted, so any sort of development that would bring people of different races together has been stunted by racist whites. A federal crackdown on employment discrimination could help a bit, but for now it’s not going to happen, not least because the last thing the average racist, sexist employer wants is for the government to tell him to hire people based on how qualified they are rather than on whether they have the correct genitalia and skin color.

The other form of bigotry that stunts liberalism, homophobia, is mostly a function of religion. Secular bigots are happy to accept women, gays, and sufficiently assimilated minority groups, and to attack recent immigrants on account of their treatment of women. A successful attempt to dethrone religion in the South will do a lot to make it more palatable to the creative class. It won’t make it less racist, but it’ll make it more culturally tolerant, which could in the long run translate to less racism.

Hipness Began at Five Points

November 26, 2006

The New York Times writes about hip cities, and how cities like Atlanta try to lure young, creative people away from traditional centers of cultural production like New York and Chicago. This has propped an unusually productive inter-blog discussion about it. On The News Blog, Steve explains that,”A lot of black people, a high school friend was one, was lured to Atlanta and lasted four years. Why? Because it was still Atlanta. People still judged you by the church you went to and there were still some jobs you couldn’t get if you were black.” Steve’s co-blogger Jen goes into more detail,

First, let me say that this article makes me want to barf. The fact that some city official would say that (young creative class folks) “view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication” right along with “downtown living” shows a complete lack of understanding as to how “creative” neighborhoods really happen. NO, it’s not a “build crappy coffeehouses and overpriced foodie boutiques and they will come.” In Real Life, you need a pervasive culture of tolerating difference and learing for its own sake in the first place. You also need affordable, equitable housing, not $1800/month slumlike studios that used to house lower-middle class workers before they got evicted when the ‘hood got “hip.”

Amanda adds a good dose of snark to that and starts a discussion about what it is exactly that makes a city attractive to young creative types. Jill gives a really good treatment of the process of generation of coolness,

When Amanda says “the creative class,” I don’t take her to simply mean “creative people” or even “people who make art.” I take her to mean the culture-drivers, the people who decide what’s worth paying attention to and who set the standards of “cool” for the rest of the country. These people are not necessarily the artists and the actual creators — but they’re the ones who determine how successful said artists and creators are, and who shape what youth culture looks like. Of course, the artists and the creators will be drawn to the areas where there will be a large, receptive community to their art — namely, larger cities with a decidedly “hip” contingent.

But it’s that first group — the culture-drivers — who really matter. Artists can create away, but if no one is paying attention then, obviously, their creations don’t register. And having gone to NYU and living in the East Village, I’ve met more than a few of the people who make artists matter. Here’s what they generally have in common: (1) A college education; (2) lots of disposable income; (3) time and energy. This certainly isn’t anything new. Edie Sedgwick wasn’t exactly poor; the Misshapes kids and the audience they cater to aren’t struggling. Of course, this isn’t true of every hipster in the country, but there is certainly a large degree of social and economic privilege involved. How many people can afford to graduate from college and then accept an unpaid internship in a “creative” field while they live in New York and go to shows and parties every night? How many people in their 20s have the security of knowing that whatever they do today, it’ll work out? It’s these kids — the ones who say they like bands you’ve never heard of (but go to the shows largely to socialize) and who complain about gentrification (but who just moved in two years ago) and who apologize for their parents’ SUVs (but are forced to drive them anyway when they go home) — who dictate what “cool” even means.

I don’t think it’s possible to improve on Jill’s post in explaining the process of what makes things cool right now. Its weakness is in explaining why Atlanta is less hip than New York. Jill explains it mostly in terms of inertia: hipsters flock to cities where there already are other hipsters. That’s good on the city level, but it has two weaknesses. First, it won’t tell you why there’s more cultural production in San Francisco than in Houston. And second, it doesn’t explain why hipsters are flocking to Williamsburg.

The key observation is that in American cities, cultural production doesn’t require the tolerance Steve is talking about. New York was a prime mover of American culture even before the Civil War, when it was Dixie by the Hudson. Cultural production in the US began at Five Points, an urban ghetto where blacks and Irish immigrants started creating a fusion culture when they weren’t busy killing each other.

In New York, the most important neighborhood in terms of cultural history is not the Upper West Side, but the Lower East Side. The commenters on Pandagon who stress the importance of cosmopolitanism are right, but the kind that promotes cultural production is not the happy-go-lucky cosmopolitanism of the Upper West Side or Morningside Heights, but the brutal ghetto of the old Lower East Side and South Bronx.

People who produce new culture usually can’t afford to live in trendy neighborhoods. In Paris, artists concentrated on the Rive Gauche rather than along the Champs Elysée; in New York, they did in Greenwich Village rather than by Central Park. And the artists themselves would draw inspiration from a highly cosmopolitan urban ghetto, which in North America means an immigrant neighborhood where different ethnic groups deal with one another not because they want to but because they have to.

This ties into what Jen says: gentrifying a neighborhood won’t promote cultural production – on the contrary, it will suppress it. Long Island City wouldn’t have art collectives if rents in the Village were sane.

Of course, Atlanta can’t become hip just by trashing a few neighborhoods beyond belief till artists can afford living in them. It has enough trashy neighborhoods with rock-bottom rents as it is. The problem is that these neighborhoods are slave-descended black, instead of a combination of slave-descended black, immigrant black, Mexican, Chinese, Filipino, Russian, and Dominican.

That’s at least the number one way for a North American city to become a center of cultural production. There are two more, which don’t involve importing a large number of immigrants and then throwing them into slums.

One is by fusion of local cultures, i.e. black and white. That happened in the less segregated South first, but then caught on better in the less racist North. This also covers African-American cultural revivals like the Harlem Renaissance (which, note, happened in a thoroughly low-income neighborhood), which couldn’t happen in a city where too many white people would sneer at it.

The other is by attracting large numbers of young professionals, what Jill calls the white collar workers who are eager to consume what has been deemed cool. This includes Austin, the Triangle, and even Seattle, which was hip before it attracted immigrants. Lindsay hints at it in a comment on Pandagon that analyzes the situation in terms of universities. Univerisities help, but any nerd attractor would help; having the headquarters of Boeing in your city would do just as well.

Principles of Welfare

November 25, 2006

My post on teen pregnancy and the discussion in the polygamy and welfare thread about polygamist Mormons’ welfare collections are both good springboards for writing about welfare policy in general, something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

Welfare is basically a collection of money transfer programs from the government to people the government deems to need assistance. It usually connotes assistance to the poor, but social security is the most common and most costly form of welfare

The best way to abstract welfare principles is via John Rawls’ theory. Justice as fairness is pretty intricate, but the part of it that applies here is simply a pair of principles for politics:

1. Liberty: government policy should never deprive people of basic civil liberties. In a welfare context, this rules out welfare schemes that impose any kind of puritan morality on the poor, such as the requirement that single mothers receiving TANF benefits not live in with boyfriends.

2. Equality: subject to the constraints of principle #1, government policy should aim for maximum equality; inequality is only permissible if it improves the economic situation of the poorest members of society.

It’s principle #2 that’s interesting from a welfare point of view. It’s possible for a government to say that nobody can receive more than $15,000 per year or $10,000 plus the cost of housing, whichever is lower. That will certainly be more equal than paying $3,500 a month to an unemployed engineer or retired businessman. But paying the engineer so much less in welfare than what he made when he was employed will wreak havoc on his life, which will make him likelier to find an unskilled job rather than wait a few months until he can find an engineering job.

It’s in society’ interest that middle-class professionals take jobs commensurate with their skills, because that increases economic productivity. Some welfare to the middle class is then good, even though the poor need it more.

Social security – that is, pension, survivors’ benefits, and disability benefits – is a bit more problematic. There’s no overriding interest that says a retired businessman who used to make $130,000 a year should get more than a retired retail worker who used to make $20,000 a year. Personal comfort could be a good excuse, but it doesn’t increase the poor’s quality of life. It encourages home ownership, since by retirement one no longer has to pay mortgage, and a higher saving rate among the middle class. In an American context, increasing the saving rate is a good thing, since Americans only save 2-3% of their income on average, whereas a healthy level of saving is close to 10-15%.

Next post I’m going to actually hash out the details of a workable welfare system based on Rawls’ principles. As I like to say, the supreme principle in liberalism is really that of evidence and real-world workability.

Teen Pregnancy Rates

November 25, 2006

I quickly Googled teen pregnancy rates because it had marginal relevance to the welfare post I’m writing. But what I found is significant enough to merit a post on its own.

The United States has a total fertility rate of 2.09. But it has a teen birth rate of 43 in 1,000, i.e. an American girl can expect to have 0.22 children by the time she turns 20. If we assume that a woman’s post-20 fertility rate is independent of whether she gave birth in her teen years, it means that the USA’s post-20 fertility rate is 1.87, which breaks down as 1.78 for non-Hispanics (1.86 for blacks, 1.76 for whites) and 2.49 for Hispanics.

The significance of that is that modern states can only attain replacement rates by making women barefoot and pregnant. France, the most economically natalist state in Europe, has a fertility rate of 1.84, falling to 1.79 when excluding teen mothers.

I’m only pointing that out because I’ve seen people argue a few times that child credit policies should be aimed at discouraging childbirth – for example, by having no child credit. I appreciate that some liberals are trying to socially engineer a more eco-friendly society, but it doesn’t work. Poor people who aren’t religious fanatics don’t stop having children because welfare won’t cover it. Conversely, countries with decent sex education can’t increase their fertility rate to 2 even when they pay women hefty sums of money to be stay-at-home-moms.

Economic populism is usually not a very good idea, but when it comes to child credit policy, reality is on the populists’ side rather than on the latte liberals’.

Abortion is Deadly

November 25, 2006

At least, it’s deadly when it’s performed in unsafe conditions. Every year, 68,000 women die due to unsafe abortions, of which there are 19 million. In addition, 5 million women have to be hospitalized due to complications arising from unsafe abortions.

Lead researcher Dr Susheela Singh said: “The evidence shows that the health burden of unsafe abortion is large.

“The most effective way of eliminating this highly preventable cause of maternal illness and death, would be to make safe and legal abortion services available and accessible.

“A second, more immediately achievable, goal is to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place through improved contraception use.”

Also writing in The Lancet, Marge Berer, editor of the journal Reproductive Health Matters, said the study painted a grim picture.

“The burden of injury and hospital admission are all the worse for being almost always avoidable.

“When legal restrictions on abortion are reduced, the rate of deaths and morbidity decreases greatly.”

Predictably, the wingnuts are going crazy because of the study; Lifesite’s article puts scarequotes around the word “study” and says that it’s “based on pro-abortion guesses,” even though the WHO reached the exact same numbers in a study from 2004 based on figures from 2000.

Like the previous controversial study published in the Lancet, this study is facing criticism that’s long on ideologicaly platitudes and short on facts. The only concrete piece of evidence anti-choicers are fielding in opposition to the study’s conclusion that legalization of abortion increases its level of safety is the experience of Poland, which “imposed new legal restrictions on abortion in the mid 1990s and consequently showed improved maternal and infant health.”

Poland outlawed abortion in almost all cases in 1993. Its infant, child, and maternal mortality rates had been falling before 1993 and kept falling afterward, because of the tremendous economic growth that followed the fall of communism. Similar trends in maternal mortality can be observed in Romania, Hungary, and the three Baltic states.

In fact, Romania, where this trend was strongest, achieved it mostly due to legalizing abortion. The WHO report linked above has a nifty graph of Romania’s maternal mortality rate (p. 3 on paper, or 9 in the PDF file), which went up by 50% of almost two in the four years following Ceausescu’s ban on abortion, with the rate of abortion-related deaths going up by 200%, and then crashed by 50% in the first year after abortion was legalized.

The bodies of women who died in self-induced abortions look more horrific than aborted 22-week-old fetuses. The only differences between the two are that you don’t need to magnify a picture of a dead woman ten times for people to be able to see it, and that pro-choicers have enough scientific facts behind them that they don’t need to resort to these emotional appeals.

Like an individual fascist or communist, an individual anti-choicer need not be a murderer. But the policies he supports usher in millions of injuries and myriads of deaths every year, and retard the development of tens of third-world countries. Suppressing individual rights is murderous regardless of whether it’s in the name of some god, the state, the working class, or the rights of blastulas.

(Via Appletree)