Consonant-Level Links

March 10, 2007

See the above post (soon) for an explanation of the motivation of this roundup’s theme. But for now, suffice is to say that people with 500 hits a day need links more than people with 5,000.

Kristjan Wager delves into John Hawkins’ dishonest column in greater detail than I did; he not only looks at the study in question and shows how the numbers compare with Hawkins’ point, but also proposes a hypothesis explaining the observation.

Jessica Dreadul links to two reproductive rights-themed news pieces, one about Chile’s lowering of the age barrier to parental consent to emergency contraception and another about an attempt to prevent pharmacists from arbitrarily denying women in Georgia EC.

On The Politburo Diktat, there’s a long, engaging thread about the war on Iraq and whether the US is irrevocably doomed and has nothing better to do than cut and run.

Shelley reports a breakthrough in research into curing hearing loss. While her lab is trying to cure deafness by infecting ear cells with benign viruses, another lab has achieved results by directly compensating for a deficient protein.

Bean notes that one group of people in the US who are especially impacted by the nastiness of the prison system are the mentally ill, who are often tortured with solitary confinement.

Dog Bites Man; Conservative Pundit Abuses Statistics

March 10, 2007

Tyler DiPietro fisks conservative pundit John Hawkins who’s clueless about science, but leaves fisking his statistical claims to me. I’m always happy to oblige; the claim in question is that liberals are more racist than conservatives. I hate to disappoint Tyler, but Hawkins isn’t making an error in mathematics, but in basic reasoning. He quotes a study saying,

White Republicans nationally are 25 percentage points more likely on average to vote for the Democratic senatorial candidate when the GOP hopeful is black…In House races, white Democrats are 38 percentage points less likely to vote Democratic if their candidate is black.

The most shoddy part of the quote is the ellipsis, which covers several paragraphs in the relevant article. The 25% and 38% figures are not meant to be compared; after all, the 25% figure applies to Senate races while the 38% applies to House races, in which different dynamics might be in play.

In addition, just comparing white Democrats to white Republicans is somewhat misleading, since Democrats also have a significant black and Latino vote. In the 2006 election, a sixth of the Democratic House vote was black and 10% was Latino compared with only 2% and 5% of the Republican House vote respectively.

The remainder of Hawkins’ point about racism is a short screed about how Republicans are the party of Lincoln whereas Democrats had a Dixiecrat contingent. Not surprisingly, Hawkins stops short of looking at Democratic versus Republican behavior sometime in the 1960s, when the Dixiecrats defected to the Republicans after LBJ did something to help black people.

Incidentally, the other point of Hawkins refuting which Tyler left to me – namely, that conservatives contribute to charity more – is something I talked about a while ago. In a nutshell, charity is meaningless. If you have 200 dollars to burn, the best way of spending them is contributing to politicians who help the poor; for a billion dollars every four years you can elect a President and a Congress that will push through programs that will increase federal payments to both the real (i.e. third-world) poor and the US poor by 30 billion dollars a year each.

Why the US Needs Prison Reform

March 8, 2007

Bean’s post about one of the fringe benefits of the prison-industrial complex – namely, that inmates are counted in the census for reapportionment purposes even though they can’t vote – leads me to the subject of prison reform in the US, which I haven’t addressed yet even though I should have.

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world – about 700 per 100,000 people, give or take. Now, you’d think that it’s what’s deterred crime, causing the US to have a survey crime rate half of 23%, while the USA’s incarceration rate has increased by more than 50% since 1991 and gotten about the same reduction in crime.

Looking at the actual breakdown of inmates suggests that the USA could easily slash its prison population. A significant percentage of admissions is for drug offenses; indeed, about 9% of new admissions are for mere drug possession without proven intent to sell. Including people who are counted as drug dealers even though they are not – two college students sharing a joint are considered to engage in dealing – yields an even higher figure.

It gets worse. Black people comprised 17% of drug users and 37% of drug arrests in 1998. In general blacks use cocaine more than whites, but the margin is far lower for powder cocaine than for crack cocaine. And, as you can imagine, sentences for crack cocaine are harsher: a 1986 law set the minimum amount needed for a mandatory sentence at 500 grams for powder cocaine versus 5 for crack.

Almost all people sent to prison would be in the workforce and likely unemployed if released. The US has a labor force of 153 million, so adding 2 million inmates to the number of unemployed increases the unemployment rate from 4.6% to 5.9%. Among blacks, the labor force’s size is 17.5 million, so adding 900,000 black inmates increases their unemployment rate from 8%, lower than the white rate in France and Germany, to 13%. Although the USA still has a better black-to-white unemployment ratio than the comparable minority-to-white ratio of every European country I’ve checked, much of it derives from throwing black people to jail, where they don’t enter unemployment or labor participation statistics.

Not surprisingly, black civil rights groups consider prison reform an important priority. And not surprisingly, everyone else doesn’t. For white conservatives, disenfranchising large numbers of black people whose sole crime is private use of a substance Congress believes it has the right to tell people not to use is a good way of holding power. Once that dynamic is in place, they can rationalize giving ex-felons the right to vote as just a Democratic ploy to get more votes.

White Democrats, in turn, have mostly given up on doing anything for black people. The Clintons have spearheaded the technique of talking the talk and then supporting harsher drug laws that benefit nobody; sadly, Obama is so bad at black politics that Clinton is once again the black people’s candidate despite having done nothing to earn their support.

One of the fringe benefits of having a large prison-industrial complex in the US is that once incarceration rates come down to sane levels, a lot of the overcrowding problems, which contribute to insanely high rates of prison rape (by one estimate, 21% of male inmates experience sexual assault, of which 7% experience rape). Of course, another contributor to prison rape is the cultural attitude that doing anything for inmates is weak on crime.

When you think about it true, cruelty toward criminals isn’t required for being tough on crime. It’s after all how things work in foreign policy: typically, the best results come from policies based on diplomacy rather than naked aggression. It’s the same with crime. Giuliani credits New York’s crime drop to his broken windows policy, but in fact that drop started several years earlier, correlating with Dinkins’ assuming office and implementing less glamorous programs, such as community policing. No harsh sentences are needed; increasing arrest rates is what deters criminals.

This already produces several components of the high incarceration rate of the US, all of which can be manipulated to reduce it to normal levels without increasing the crime rate.

First, the drug war doesn’t do anything good. Drug abuse is a public health problem, not a crime. That’s how people who snort superglue or drink excessively are treated; why are cocaine and marijuana treated so differently? Dealing is something else, but unless you can catch the people who actually run the show, there’s no point; unfortunately, the US seems intent on not doing that.

Second, 10-year sentences should be reserved to very serious criminals. If you’re not a rapist, a murderer, a terrorist, a serial violent offender, or an important crime boss, you shouldn’t get more than a single-figure sentence. Even if you take an economic view of crime wherein criminals respond to harsher sentences, it’s not linear. There’s a huge jump between 0 and 1 year, which is far greater than the difference between 7 and 8. The difference between not getting arrested and getting arrested and not prosecuted is likely to be greater than the difference between getting 7 years and getting 8 years.

Third, the two most serious crimes, murder and rape, are in most cases committed by someone known to the victim. As such, they respond better to policies aimed at defusing volatile situations, such as gun control, encouraging women to report rapes, and programs aimed at reducing domestic violence, which comprises 14% of all serious violent crimes and 35% of serious violent crimes committed by non-strangers.

Fourth, the justice system should be reformed to allow accused people the resources needed to mount competent defense. Public defenders who fail to clear a person later shown to be innocent should at the minimum face a hearing in which they’re likely to be disbarred if they fail to pass a reasonable person standard; this is true regardless of any plea bargain. Similar standards should apply to DAs who keep prosecuting people they know to be innocent. Furthermore, public defenders’ salaries should be increased in order to encourage promising lawyers to not always take the prosecution’s side in criminal trials.

Some of the problems inherent in the justice system are problems of the common law system. The overreliance on plea bargains, which encourage innocent people to plead guilty if they have incompetent counsel, creates an assembly line justice system. But that’s mostly a question of counsel competence, when it comes right down to it. What’s more, if it’s considered good enough to throw a criminal who pleads guilty to jail for 5 years, it should be good enough to throw him for 5 years if he pleads not guilty and is convicted. Punishing people for exercising their right to a fair trial isn’t very consistent with civil liberties.

However, other problems in the US have nothing to do with the common law system. Mandatory minimums are a recent innovation of politicians who are more interested in looking tough on crime than in being tough on crime; as such, they can be safely scrapped. Elected DAs are under immense pressure to convict; Britain and Canada do just as well with appointed prosecutors.

And fifth and finally, giving black people harsher sentences should be considered racial discrimination. The military lets minorities complain of discrimination or harassment, and, if the complaints check out, punishes the offending officer or at least blocks his promotions. The same rules should govern the justice system. Judges who discriminate in sentencing and lawyers who discriminate in jury selection don’t belong in court. Racial disparities go beyond laws; the same law is applied more harshly against black people, both in sentencing and in the decision to incarcerate.

Incarcerating more people is not the solution to anything. Abortion is something that should be made more rare if only because it’s a less pleasant experience than using birth control. But incarceration is not merely unpleasant, but a serious loss of liberty. It should be reserved for when it’s necessary rather than for when a politician wants to tell racist constituents that he’s cruel to black people.

Obama Winks to Dominionists

March 5, 2007

What appears to be an innocuous battle between Clinton and Obama for black voters has in fact turned into a Dominionist reference on Obama’s part: “Generation Joshua.”

Obama, an Illinois Democrat, declared himself part of a new cohort of black political leaders that he called “the Joshua Generation.” It was Joshua, the Biblical successor to Moses, who led the Jewish people to the Promised Land after Moses delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

To the average voter, the term means nothing; it could just as well be yet another of Obama’s hope-inspiring phrases, one of many Biblical references to civil rights. It’s not exactly out of the ordinary to use religious language to refer to the struggle for black-white equality in the US.

But in fact, it has a very specific meaning to Dominionists: Generation Moses was the generation of parents who sequestered their children from the outside world by homeschooling them, while Generation Joshua is the generation of those now grown-up children who will conquer American politics for the movement. Like Bush’s phrase “Compassionate conservative,” this is a calculated wink to Dominionists that Obama is in fact one of them.

Unlike cases in which an organization coopts an opposing movement’s language, as in Feminists For Life’s title, here there is nothing to gain by talking about Joshua. The terms “feminist” and “pro-woman” have significant levels of support and are familiar throughout mainstream politics; the reference to Joshua is something nobody except Dominionists and people who have read Kingdom Coming will catch.

The actual racial references Obama makes are clever, but still not very remarkable. Obama notes that just like slave-descended blacks have a family history of slavery and segregation, so does his father have a history of being on the receiving end of colonialism. It’s clever insofar as it will define him as black to black Americans, who tend to care more about that than other Americans, and as practically white to white Americans, who only know about slavery; but it says nothing about his politics or even his campaign.

However, the religious references peg him once again as a Dominionist. His attempt to split the difference in his Call to Renewal and endorse the Dominionist charity agenda could be plausibly described as excessive moderation. However, excessive moderates don’t generally use extremists’ language. On the contrary, they’re typically more concerned with language than they should be, taking great care to e.g. not sound too socialist when they advocate more government in health care or education.

Even the appeal Obama made to black voters seemed to be too much about religion and too little about racial equality. Clinton at least paid lip service to poverty and inequality, though months earlier, when push came to shove, she was silent when NYPD murdered an innocent black civilian. Obama doesn’t even pretend to talk about those issues; instead, he tries talking to black people the same way the religious right is, and hopes that because he’s a black Democrat, he’ll succeed.

Immigration Political Scorecard

March 1, 2007

Hat-tip to Lindsay: Amy Taylor of DMI Blog reports the position of each American Presidential candidate on immigration so that you don’t have to. I’ve only read the positions of the six serious candidates – honestly, Tom Tancredo’s position doesn’t matter since even if he wins the primary, he’ll lose the general by a Goldwaterian margin – but they don’t sound that different from one another.

All candidates, except possibly Romney, say they support giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, after they pay a fine. They differ on the details somewhat, but the differences are small. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is the most restrictive that’s acceptable in American politics (e.g. Tancredo) and 10 is the most permissive (e.g. Kennedy), I’d say the gamut ranges from 5 to 9. And, mind you, the scale could easily expand; a Le Pen-style racist would be about a -5, while I’m about a 20.

Clinton follows her husband in being a hardliner on enforcement issues; she supports a mandatory ID card as a means of cracking down on illegal immigration. At the same time, on welfare-related issues she’s consistently taken a pro-immigrant stance, cosponsoring an act that would consider long-term residents who are in the US illegally as legal permanent residents and supporting a bill that would grant them in-state tuition (7).

Obama supports tough enforcement and in fact broke a promise not to vote for any enforcement-oriented bill that did not include a legalization component. In addition, he supports a guest worker program, but at the same time acknowledges its shortcomings and proposed an amendment that would require employers to pay everyone the prevailing wage regardless of immigration status (7).

Edwards talks about immigration as a labor issue, as he does on all other issues. He publicly rejected the notion that illegal immigrants suppress American workers’ wages. He also supports unionization as a means of helping illegal immigrants. On the other hand, he’s far vaguer than even Obama, and tends to underplay the issue (7).

Giuliani has repeatedly praised immigrants’ economic contributions. As Mayor of New York, he opposed an anti-immigration bill in 1996; more recently, he supported the more conciliatory Senate immigration bill over the punitive House version. On welfare his record is mostly positive; he had the City sue the federal government to restore welfare benefits to illegal immigrants. On the other hand, he has an anti-immigrant record on language issues, including bilingual education, and talks about the issue in terms of security just like Edwards does in terms of labor (8).

McCain clearly distinguishes between people who overstay their visas and terrorists. Together with Ted Kennedy, he introduced the conciliatory Senate bill mentioned above. He’s against the security fence, but prefers alternative high-cost gadgets to seal the US-Mexico border. Speaking to the AFL-CIO, he said that illegal immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want (9).

Romney supports the fence, and as Governor of Massachusetts supported requiring local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration laws. He has said nothing about issues like a guest worker program or a path to citizenship. Conversely, he supports increasing the rate of legal immigration, which the US throttles (5).

Racism Clarification

February 25, 2007

Stentor clarifies what he meant when he said racism is objective. In light of the clarification, his argument becomes far more robust. He explains that what he meant is that “One important source of information about those effects is the testimony of purported victims.” That’s of course true: it matters what members of the possibly oppressed group say; for example, continuing with my example of Jews, when a conservative Jew says that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, it deserves a serious response at least initially.

Stentor says, and I completely concur, that instances when the effect on the minority group is subjective, subjective impressions are all there is.

Levy’s interpretation of my argument comes close to being accurate with respect to the particular example I used in my post — Native American mascots — due to the nature of the alleged benefits weighing in favor of keeping the mascot. Defenders of Chief Illiniwek claim that the Chief honors Native Americans. Honoring, though, is an act whose success can only be judged by its subjective impact on the intended honoree — that is, does the honoree feel honored or not. So the honest testimony of Native Americans is the only evidence we have to go on for this particular issue.

The main available defense against racism charges is not applicable here, so asking native Americans if they’re offended is the only recourse.

In many circumstances, one can show non-discrimination, or insufficient evidence of discrimination. An employer who’s called a racist or a sexist can ask for proof of differential treatment, or alternatively produce positive proof of equal treatment. “In the last three years, 12% of my hires have been black against a 12% black talent pool, and a black employee makes on average the same as an equally experienced white employee” tends to be a trump card.

In the case of native mascots, it’s impossible to make a good argument like that. Some people analogize native mascots to Viking mascots, but a) the Vikings are an extinct civilization, and b) the descendants of the Vikings are widely known to be normal human beings with modern rather than Viking moral codes. The employment discrimination analogy to the Viking analogy isn’t the example I gave above, but “I don’t give men or women any pregnancy leave, so I’m not a sexist.”

Alternatively, returning to the example of Jews, one can try impeaching the testimony of the members of the minority group. It usually involves a double prong: first, noting that e.g. criticism of Israel is acceptable in light of Israeli actions, and second, showing that Jews tend to analyze anti-Semitism irrationally (for example, most American Jews live in areas without local anti-Semitism, so they underplay domestic anti-Semitism and instead totalize Israel). The first is often sufficient on its own, but sometimes the second is necessary to reinforce it.

And again, in the case of mascots, or for that matter other examples of public mockery, this doesn’t really apply. Showing that native mascots are legitimate free speech isn’t enough; the response to that should be, “You’re also free to vote Republican, just as I’m free to try convincing you not to.” One has to show that the mascots represent the chosen tribe, or even all native Americans – the two tend to get conflated – accurately. And, again, they don’t, at least not according to what people who know something about native Americans seem to be saying.

Israel and Apartheid

February 24, 2007

I don’t think I’ve ever referred to the Israeli occupation as apartheid. But now that a UN envoy who’s a South African professor of international law is saying that the Palestinians’ situation is the same as this of black South Africans in the 1970s, I’m starting to warm up to the comparison. What’s more, the envoy suggests that “Israel is imposing a policy of ‘controlled strangulation’ that is helping to give rise to a failed state on its doorstep” – in other words, that Israel is deliberately screwing Palestine’s economy to make it ungovernable.

Israel’s response is predictable: “You’re one-sided.” Israel can’t justify the occupation itself in terms that won’t make people so angry that they’ll demand sanctions. It can much less justify the specific details of the occupation – the roadblocks, the protection of settlers’ lynches of Palestinian civilians, the fence, and so on.

So, instead, when people criticize it, its best shot is to make shrill accusations of anti-Semitism, and to try delegitimizing the notion that Palestinians should have rights. The Israeli government isn’t the only organization that believes certain people’s rights depend on sufficient obsequity, but it’s the one that defends this notion the most blatantly.

Look, what Bismarck said about laws and sausages applies to liberation movements, too. Everyone likes a liberation movement, after (or right before) it achieves its goals. When it’s still not painfully obvious it’s won, it gets demonized, regardless of what tactics it uses. Even Martin Luther King was billed as a dangerous radical into the early 1960s. It then goes without saying that any political movement that isn’t blessed with fighting a relatively non-violent establishment, which can be fought non-violently, faces even greater delegitimization, regardless of whether its causes or methods are justified.

So comparisons between modern Israel and apartheid South Africa are complicated by the fact that Nelson Mandela’s success made it impolitic to defend apartheid South Africa. But in fact, once one gets over that differential, the comparison still holds. Olmert isn’t Assad or King Hussein, who slaughtered Palestinians by the thousands and myriads. South Africa wasn’t Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, either; it had no arbitrary pogroms.

Almost every regime can point to a worse regime. It’s somewhat analogous to pathological extremism, where the subsitute for radicalism is nationalism. Killing people is certainly a way of showing one’s authentic patriotism. That way, Palestinian terrorists can say they’re better than the IDF, and the IDF can say it’s better than Syria, and Syria can say it’s better than Pinochet, and Latin American fascists can say Pinochet’s better than Mussolini, and Italian fascists can say Mussolini’s better than Hitler. Nazis are sufficiently vilified that no political force needs to ever invoke them positively.

Israel isn’t Britain. The British Empire was the sort that stopped its trains when Indian independence activists lay on the railroad tracks. As Orwell noted, Gandhi could only use non-violent tactics because Britain had a conscience. Israel has no conscience; its military whitewashes its bulldozer drivers’ running over activists who stand in front of buildings that are scheduled for demolition. As such, denying human rights to all Palestinians because a small group of them commit terrorism against Israeli civilians isn’t an especially rational thing to do. And, while we’re at it, India had its terrorists, too – Subhash Chandra Bose went as far as allying himself with the Axis against Britain in World War Two.

It’s possible to typify most countries as stereotypes of people. The US used to be Vito Corleone, until Bush turned it into Sonny Corleone. In that paradigm, Israel is the annoying kid who murders someone, gets caught, and then complains to the judge, “But the terrorists are killing more people and you haven’t caught them yet!”. Yes, kid, brag about your incompetence at hiding your atrocities. When you do that, you deserve to do hard time just for stupidity.

Who Do You Believe When You’re Called a Racist?

February 23, 2007

Stentor says that since racism is an objective rather than subjective phenomenon, majority-race people should accept minorities’ judgments in assessing whether they engage in racism.

If you (as a white person, at least) bring out the standard “I’m not a racist” line, that pretty much means you are one. And I don’t mean that just in the sense that everyone in our society is at least a little bit racist. If you think that you have the authority and ability to make a definite statement about your own racism, that implies that you think racism is wholly subjective, making the question about you rather than about the people of other races who are affected by your actions.

Of course, the obvious problem with that is that minorities aren’t always right. Jews, at least those who get heard in the media, scream at everyone who’s even neutral on the I/P conflict that he’s an anti-Semite. Being an oppressed minority doesn’t always make one right. The gentiles I know who think American foreign policy should be less pro-Likud – Amanda and Tyler come to mind – dismiss claims of anti-Semitism, and rightly so. They’d be right to dismiss those claims even if they didn’t have people like me or Lindsay or Ezra to point to, since after all, there exist blacks who support anti-black racism, too.

Usually, the left responds by creating a distinction between oppressed groups – women, black people, Native Americans, Hispanics – and groups that are not oppressed. That conveniently gets rid of radical Christians who believe the entire world hates them, as well as of Jews who totalize the I/P conflict. The problem is that this distinction tends to be based more on soundbites rather than on who really is oppressed, leading to e.g. silence on grave racism practiced in socialist countries. As I noted on Debitage,

Gravatar Stentor, the problem with applying the “racism is objective” standard to things like mascots is that you have to make a determination of which groups are oppressed and which aren’t. You can sometimes do it by consensus, but it gets short-circuited a lot. The Western left took 20 years to get disillusioned about Zionism; in the 1940s and 50s it trumpeted Israel’s socialism and Jewish nationalism, regardless of how many Arabs Israel was oppressing.

At the same time, just asking people makes no sense. For what it’s worth, conservative Christians feel oppressed, too. And Jews themselves tend not to appreciate being written out of the coalition of the oppressed; that’s why you have large numbers of neoconservatives who think anyone who believes Palestinians should have rights is anti-Semitic. Having written things that made people call me self-loathing and that would have made them call me anti-Semitic if my name were Jackson rather than Levy, I can sympathize with the majority-race person who gets trapped by ridiculous demands of solidarity.

On a somewhat related note, please remind me to write about how exactly Zionism got booted out of the coalition of the oppressed. The simplest explanation – the Six Day War turned Israel from a small country in hostile territory to an occupying power – is gravely wrong.

At any rate, another problem with refusing to argue, “I’m not a racist because…” is that people’s judgment varies. One black person might read my posts on race and conclude I’m an arrogant white person who thinks he knows what’s best for black people. Another might read them and conclude I’m friendly to black Americans’ civil rights. Who do I believe, then?

This is especially relevant to the issue Stentor is generalizing from, native American mascots. My own position is that it’s a non-issue. I don’t think my university has one, nor do I care, but if it were put to a vote of all students, I’d oppose a native mascot mostly on tackiness grounds. I reserve the right to choose which issues I care about, and symbolic issues tend to round up the bottom of my list; I care more about wage gaps and educational gaps than about mascots.

It’s entirely possible that in fact most native Americans care about mascots more, though I highly doubt it. But even if I’m wrong, I’m not obliged to think what most native Americans think. Again, use the Jew test: not only do the most visible Jews in the US media tend to think unconditionally supporting Israel is more important than fighting anti-Semitic bigotry in the US, but also 65% of Jews in Connecticut voted for Lieberman in 2006, suggesting his hawkishness appeals to them. And still I’ll defend anyone who says it’s idiotic for conservative American Jews to totalize Israel and ignore domestic Dominionism; I would even if I didn’t have a name that provided a trump card against accusations of anti-Semitism.

Saturday Link Roundup

February 17, 2007

I wanted this roundup to be science-themed, but there’s been too few linkworthy science posts and too many political posts. Still, starting with the science, GrrlScientist reports about how sulfur particles cause some global cooling, which can be exploited to mitigate global warming. The only thing I have to say about that is to recall the Futurama episode where Fry says at a ski resort, “It’s a good thing global warming never happened.” Leela retorts, “It did, but the nuclear winter balanced it out.”

Orac writes about the dilemma of whether to allow individuals access to experimental drugs. He comes down strongly on the side of not allowing, explaining that,

The entire ruling also seems to rest on a misperception that there are “miracle drugs” out there that we will have to wait years for because the FDA is too slow to approve them. However, if there really were such a “miracle drug” that was amazingly effective compared to anything we have now, a large randomized phase III trial would not be necessary to detect its efficacy. Indeed, its efficacy would almost certainly show up in even a small phase I trial. There’d be examples of amazing tumor shrinkage or even outright cures. In reality, we don’t see these things in Phase I trials, because there are no miracle drugs, at least not yet. Because the effects of most new drugs against various tumors tends to be less than miraculous, we need Phase III trials to determine safety and efficacy.

Kevin Alexander Gray of Black Agenda Report skewers Obama as a bland, white-identified politician who’s not listening to the black community’s concerns. Obama happens to be black, but he’s not the black voters’ candidate; black voters prefer Clinton, who they’re backing by several percentage points more than whites do, while supporting Obama by no greater numbers than whites do. It could be due to unfamiliarity, but it could also be due to Obama’s failure to tap into traditional sources of black support.

Matthew Yglesias turns his attention to Iran. Scott McLemee has an entirely misguided column on Inside Higher Ed that accuses liberals of not caring about Iranian democracy. Matt Yglesias notes that he has no idea what he’s talking about. After all, American conservatives want to bomb Iran, a surefire way to cement support for the regime, while the liberals are letting the regime crumble under its own weight.

Via Ars Mathematica I found a long article in the New York Magazine about praise and self-esteem. The two-line conclusion is that praising children’s intelligence will only hurt them by making them complacent and causing them to view failures as embarrassments, while praising their effort will make them work harder. In addition, praise needs to be specific – e.g. “It’s good that you can concentrate for so long” – or else it will be perceived as disingenuous. Draw your own conclusions about education.

Tuesday Small Hours Links

February 13, 2007

There are so many good links from the last day or two.

Jessica Dreadful breaks another abortion ban story from South Dakota, this time with exceptions for rape and incest in order to make the bill more palatable. But even then, the rape and incest exceptions are created with the most draconian restrictions possible.

[Link] The bill would allow rape victims to get abortions if they report the rapes to police within 50 days. Doctors would have to confirm those reports with police; doctors also would have to give blood from aborted fetuses to police for DNA testing in rape and incest cases.

The Commissar explains exactly what is wrong with the Bush administration’s accusations of Iranian support for Iraqi militants. Instead of trying to doubt the intelligence that was used to gather the conclusions, he shows why the conclusions themselves are implausible.

At the recent US military briefing about the Iranian mortar shells given to Iraqi Shiite militias, it was reported that these super-bombs have killed 170 US troops since June, 2004. I’m sure that Shiite IED’s have killed American troops in Iraq. How many overall? If the Iranian EFP’s have killed 170 Americans, what fraction is that of the total.


Of the 553 (82+471) where the sect of the attacker can be reliably inferred, 15% of these deadly IED attacks were committed by Shiites. Extrapolated to the full set, that would be 144 overall. That’s right. Only 144 Shiite-IED related deaths since June 2004.

Ezra has a three part series on the horrors of prison rape. While he doesn’t use the wonky style we all know and love, his posts still come off as very strong. He notes,

According to the Justice Department, “[in] 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.” This is important. The relative infrequency with which white Americans enter prison, particularly for extended periods of time, surely effects the political urgency of prison reform. Indeed, it’s likely the reason overall legislation pushes in the other direction — towards overcrowding and longer sentences and less rehabilitation.

Brent reproduces a letter about the invisibility of atheists in the US. Since atheists are impossible to immediately discern from theists, bigoted Christians can get away with assuming that everyone in their lives who is a good person shares their religion. Based on that, he urges atheists to come out publicly.

First, misconceptions about us abound because of this invisibility. People don’t realize that we are their doctor, their teacher, their spouse or the nice guy that just held the door for them. The only face of naturalism a person is likely to see is a militant one. Is there any doubt that the image of naturalists would improve overnight if politicians, stars and athletes would come out?

d of Lawyers, Guns and Money comments on a statement by Bill Kristol about Obama that makes Joe Biden look like the second coming of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, W. E. B. DuBois, and Frederick Douglass all rolled into one. Kristol says Obama would’ve supported pro-slavery politicians in the 1850s. d notes,

When Kristol suggests — wearing his arrogant smirk like a badge of honor — that Barack Obama “would have been for Douglas in 1858,” he seems not to know one important historical fact. According to the laws of Illinois in 1858, Barack Obama would not only have been incapable of voting for Stephen Douglas, but he also would not have been allowed to enter the state in the first place. In 1853, Illinois passed one of the most restrictive black codes in the so-called “free north.” Blacks from other states were permitted to remain in the state for ten days; if they did not leave, they were subject to arrest and temporary enslavement — they would be sold to bidders who would be entitled to their labor until the mandatory $50 fine had been worked off. If the offending individual remained in Illinois after his or her release, the fines increased by $50 increments for each subsequent offense.

In her latest basic concepts post, Shelley turns to prions, the proteins that cause mad cow disease. Although they are proteins rather than organisms, they have the capability to mess with existing proteins in a way that makes them infectious in a way.

The protein that prions are made of is found throughout the body normally(called PrPc), although what their non-disease function is is not yet known. These proteins are encoded by the PRNP gene, and mutations in this gene are responsibly for inherited prion diseases. The disease-state prion protein is called (PrPSc) and is resistant to proteases which would normally denature a protein and render it harmless. The theory of how prions become infectious to other proteins is detailed below.

Abbas reproduces a letter by Waleed Hazbun, a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut. Hazbun describes the city,

Walking down the streets of the Hamra district of Beirut I think to myself that more cities across the Arab world should feel this way. Even as the city is re-dividing itself politically and police and security forces stand watch over public spaces, key buildings, and the residences of leading politicians, Beirut remains a urban, cosmopolitan environment. By invoking this term I do not refer to the fancy shopping districts with Euro-American name brand shops, the haut-hipsters hanging out a Starbucks (or even the much cooler De Prague), or the late night dancing parties going on at the trendy clubs. Beirut is a costal Levantine city that has never been cut off from other Mediterranean cities and trade routes nor fully isolated from its Arab/Islamic hinterland. It is not a show case ‘modern’ city built next to a museumfied medieval era ‘madina,’ like Tunis nor an artificial metropolis emerging out of a desert landscape due to royal patronage or the flows of petrodollars. It is more like Istanbul and how cities on coast of Mandate Palestine might have developed in some alterative reality.

Also on 3QD, Dhiraj Nayyar writes about the parallels between India and the US. India is aspiring to global superpower status, complete with economic domination and massive exportation of culture. But the social problems of the US pale in comparison with those of India.

Can India possibly claim to be superpower, the new emperor, just because some of it’s corporates are taking over firms abroad. Corporate might hasn’t turned into well-being for the majority of the people who still languish in poverty, illiteracy, hunger: basically dismal human conditions. Even possessing a few nuclear weapons doesn’t change this fact. And if half a country’s population cannot read, feed or cloth itself, what does that say about the empire? Even the American empire seems hollow when it is estimated that one in six people in the US is functionally illiterate, a large number of them live in poverty, where poverty is often a function of race, and where hurricanes like Katrina leave the mighty government fumbling for solutions.

Tyler expresses skepticism of much-hyped developments in quantum computing. In principle, quantum computers can factor integers in polynomial time, compared with exponential time for normal computers. In practice, constructing a quantum computer is about as feasible as fusion power at this stage. Tyler explains,

An actual working 16-qubit quantum superconductor that can overcome decoherence and the ubiquitous errors that plague any effort to build a computing device on quantum principles would be quite an achievement. It would indeed be interesting to do a full scale quantum computation, perhaps actually executing the Shor factoring algorithm. But A.) 16-qubits isn’t going to cut it and B.) they’ve been ominously reserved about releasing any results for professionals and academics to evaluate. And needless to say, with the grandiose proclamations the folks at the company have made, I’m skeptical.

Zuzu rips into the third chapter of Dawn Eden’s book, The Thrill of the Chaste (the parts Zuzu quotes sound as unintelligent as the title).

The chapter opens with a description of a continuing education course on “Living Single.” Dawn reads the description — which is all about helping people confidently navigate the single world, whether they’ve never left it or are re-entering it — and all she sees is “lack.”

She would, wouldn’t she?

I mean, her whole life, she’s felt lacking, and though she’s changed her strategy, her goal is the same: get married. Thing is, as she does so many times, she breezes right by the point. The course is designed to alleviate some of the social pressure that single adults feel to be in a couple, that they are in fact lacking something. It’s designed to help people understand that they don’t need to be in a couple to have fulfilling lives. But Dawn just sees the course as evidence that women are mired in a pathetic, pop-culturally-dictated “single lifestyle” that is all about lack — that lack being, of course, lack of a man and lack of God.

Finally, Bora collects all Darwin Day posts in one big link post. I haven’t had time to look at them yet, but you should.

Catholics, Jews, and Delusions of Oppression

February 10, 2007

Fitz’s comment on Majikthise that the Catholic League is a Catholic civil rights organization, and the periodic casting of critics of Israel as anti-Semites, together display many unnerving parallels. The delusion of oppression is a radical pathology that is present in smaller amounts among non-radicals. Whether this oppression exists or not is immaterial; organizations like the Catholic League would look for it in the wrong places anyway.

Being an oppressed group carries a few fringe benefits: the right to call clueless members of the majority group bigoted, greater leeway in criticizing mainstream values, mainstream tolerance of safe spaces. These are far outweighed by the very real effects of discrimination, but white people are likelier to notice a black person who calls the media racist than a hundred white people who support school segregation.

Now, enter ethnic whites. Many were discriminated against in the past for being named Ferrera or Cohen or O’Leary or even Bauer, rather than Jones. In that climate, it’s easy for organizations like the Catholic League and the Anti Defamation League to sell themselves as civil rights organizations, while engaging in pure sacroturf and political intimidation.

Conservative WASPs can’t talk about the civil equality of people who came to the US on the Mayflower without looking like idiots. Therefore, they launch organizations that try to make it look as if white Christians are an oppressed group: the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority. Talk radio hosts like Limbaugh and Savage demonize black people and complain about black racism in order to portray whites as a marginalized group.

Obviously, some of these do suffer from latent discrimination. Hate crimes against Jews exist, though more in Europe than in North America, and in mostly Jew-free areas of the US, anti-Semitic bigotry runs rampant. The ADL really was a civil rights group for a long time, allied with the ACLU and the NAACP.

But right now, systematic discrimination against Jews and other ethnic whites is gone. Jews and Catholics are overrepresented in the Supreme Court. Kerry ws criticized for being insufficiently Catholic rather than too Catholic. For the individual cases of civil rights violations that invaribly linger, there’s the ACLU.

So in their lust to become oppressed minorities, many Jews and Catholics (Jews more so than Catholics) turn to organizations that support a controversial country’s controversial policies. For Catholics, that country is the Vatican, with its Papal social policy. For Jews, it’s obviously Israel, with its occupation of Palestine.

These delusions of oppression create absurd political alliances. Most hawkish Jews have internalized the notion that Jewry equals Israel to the point that they ally themselves with anti-Semites as long as they support Palestine. In Europe, they end up apologizing for anti-Semites on the extreme right whose redeeming feature is hating Muslims more.

And the Catholic League is simply the Catholic version of the religious right. Non-denominational and Protestant organizations call anyone who disagrees with them an anti-religious traitor with no evidence; the Catholic League uses “anti-Catholic bigot” instead.

This despite the fact that many Catholics in the US are in fact oppressed for being Hispanic. Given that almost all of the 14.5% of Americans who are Hispanics are Catholics, it’s likely that the majority of American Catholics are Latino. In light of that, supporting civil rights for Catholics in the US means supporting greater rights for immigrants and measures for racial equality.

It’s true that Anglo racism isn’t religious in nature, Samuel Huntingon’s rationalizations notwithstanding. But the NAACP and NOW don’t attack discrimination directly, either. Abortion, school funding, paid family leave, and public housing aren’t strictly speaking about gender or race; they just affect women and minorities disproportionated, making it sensible for NOW and the NAACP to advocate for them.

The organizations that do the most to advance Catholics’ and Jews’ civil rights are the traditional civil rights organizations, especially the ACLU. Although the ADL was traditionally a civil rights organization, it broke away from the civil rights movements after the 1960s, preferring to focus on shoring up public support for the occupation of Palestine.

News or Links, Take Your Pick

February 4, 2007

Guestblogging on Ezra Klein, Ankush notes that Edwards is even more of a waffler than he comes off in Ezra’s interview. He notes that Edwards blames the war on intelligence failure, and rebuts,

Today, I’d like to see a presidential candidate grapple with the questions that should be raised about why so many politicians — including, if you supported the war on the basis of WMDs, you — were so wrong when it was far from inevitable. What do you plan to do about promoting and reconciling dissent within the intelligence agencies? How should a President seek out conflicting viewpoints and process the contradictions? What should be the default presumptions when, as is often the case, you have very little intelligence to work off of? Are you concerned that Washington is dominated by a fairly homogeneous, vaguely hawkish group of foreign policy types, many of whom aren’t particularly good at what they do? In essence, why were you wrong in interpreting the evidence about Iraq and what do you plan to do in order not to be wrong the next time?

Edwards’s claims that the intelligence was irretrievably tainted and that everyone was wrong about the wisdom of war — claims which, to be fair, are frequently made by many, many other politicians and pundits — are so demonstrably false as to be borderline offensive. I appreciate his sincerity about his regret over the tragic costs of this war, but, so far as evaluating one’s participation in bringing this disaster about, expressing such regret is quite literally the least you can do.

A few days ago, Hamas and Fatah set a record by holding their fire for a whole day. But as the second day of quitting smoking chocolate coffee indiscriminate violence is always harder than the first, it didn’t work out very well, and Palestinian civilians are living in fear again.

Gazans have long been accustomed to violence. But until recently, the fighting was between local militants and Israeli forces, and the lines of battle were clear.

The last few weeks of fighting between Hamas and Fatah gunmen have taken on a different feel. Gunfire can erupt at any time, poorly trained fighters shoot at random, and the target isn’t always known.

Rudy Giuliani is still not “in it to win,” but is saying there’s a “good chance he’ll run.”

He has emphasized his steady hand dealing with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. However, his moderate stances on gun control, abortion, gay rights and other social issues could be liabilities for him in a GOP presidential primary that includes hard-core conservatives as a central voting group.

For instance, in November, South Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex unions.

“The fact is I appeal to conservative Christians the way I appeal to everyone else,” Giuliani said at a news conference. “I don’t think you have separate appeals to people.”

Giuliani is right. A very big constituency in the South includes people who think it was a mistake to give black people civil rights; Giuliani has a lot to sell them. Another big constituency hates it when non-conformists have free speech; Giuliani can placate them, too. Before Southern conservatives had God, guns, and gays, they had blacks. has a compilation of information about the HPV vaccine, which Texas Governor Rick Perry has just made mandatory for all girls aged 11-12.

Tony Blair is not only a lame duck Prime Minister, but also under immense pressure to quit now rather than in the summer. It’s not the brown-nosing of Bush or the religious fanaticism that turned the people off, but a corruption scandal involving cash for honors.

The ICM survey for the Sunday Express found that 56 per cent of the public want him to go now rather than wait for his planned summer departure.

The poll found that 43 per cent of Labour supporters feel it is now time for him to step down.

The survey also reveals a loss of trust in the Blair regime with some 66 per cent believing that evidence relating to cash-for-honours allegations has been covered up by people in Downing Street.

Victoria Brittain notes that there is such a thing as Islamic feminism, and that it has achieved several successes in rolling back discriminatory laws in Muslim-majority countries.

Embattled Muslim women, suffering the burdens of the worst cultural attitudes to rape and adultery enshrined in medieval laws in Pakistan and Northern Nigeria; or the sexual violence and rolling back of their rights, unleashed by the war in Iraq; or the targeted killings of women activists in Afghanistan, are turning for help to Muslim women’s groups. From those in Morocco and Malaysia, in particular, the skills of self-help training, experience of long legal battles, linking scholars and activists, are in great demand.

At government policy levels some, Islamic women activists’ campaigns are having successes large and small in some surprising places: Morocco’s Moudawana (religious personal statute laws differing from civil law) have recently been revised after 30 years of struggle; in Turkey’s Ministry of Religion there is a cautious beginning by some scholars to work on the highly sensitive area of questioning the historical basis of the hadith (sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet) which seem misogynist; and in Indonesia’s rural areas teaching materials are being revised.

The Democratic Party is waffling about abortion, as its candidates deemphasize it more and more in order to appeal to Dominionist voters.

Day believes it is the beginning of getting some voters back into the fold. “If I had a nickel for every person who came up to me and said ‘I used to be a Democrat and I’d come back if they changed their stance on abortion,’ we’d be back to a 290 majority like we had in the 1970s.”

Day’s analogy is correct but incomplete. If the Democrats appeal to Dominionists, they’ll be back to a 290 majority in the House like in the 1970s; and like in the 1970s, they’ll have Southern conservatives hold key committee chairmanships that they’ll use to push the entire party to the right.

Skatje writes about homosexuality and the religious nuts who have a problem with it.

You let your bible tell you to shun gays, but you don’t pay attention when it tells you to shun women on their period? The bible says a lot of ridiculous things. You shouldn’t take the “unnatural affections” being a sin bits any more serious than the parts where it says to dash your enemy’s children against rocks or stone disobedient women to death. The reason I figure for including the part about homosexuality in the bible is the same reason they include various sorts of washing, staying away from dead bodies, etc. At the time these things were written, they didn’t know about bacteria and how disease works. They just knew that if you did such and such, you’re less likely to become ill. Anal sex can be unsanitary without the proper precautions. Back then, it was probably a good idea not to stick that there. I’m also undoubtedly sure that homosexuality is mentioned because the bible is notorious for disapproving of things that are different or unusual. Not very good justification though. Don’t let the bible tell you to hate stuff, ‘kay? Use your own head.

The best quote comes from commenter Azkyroth, who mocks a theistic commenter who confuses “canon” with “cannon,”

Also, “canon” is the official Christian doctrine; “cannon” are what they’ve been using to spread the canon since the cannon was invented.

Hat-tip to Robin: Timothy Garton Ash responds to Pascal Bruckner, who accused him of being an Islamist apologist after he criticized Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Pascal Bruckner is the intellectual equivalent of a drunk meandering down the road, arguing loudly with some imaginary enemies. He calls these enemies “Timothy Garton Ash” and “Ian Buruma” but they have very little to do with the real writers of those names. I list below some of his misrepresentations and inaccuracies, with a few weblinks for the curious.

Pascal Bruckner speaks in the name of the Enlightenment, but he betrays its essential spirit. The Enlightenment believed in free expression, without taboos. Because I disagree – courteously, precisely and giving clear reasons – with the views of a woman of Somalian origin, Bruckner does not hesitate to imply that I am a racist (he calls me “an apostle of multiculturalism,” then describes multiculturalism as a “racism of the anti-racists”) and a sexist (“outmoded machismo”, “the spirit of the inquisitors who saw devil-possessed witches in every woman too flamboyant for their tastes”). This is exactly the kind of blanket disqualification that he himself criticised in an article in Le Figaro entitled “Le chantage a l’Islamophobie,” (reprinted from Figaro here) deploring the way any critic of Islam is (dis)qualified as an Islamophobe racist. Except that here he is the blackmailer. Voltaire would be ashamed of him.

Educational Links

January 29, 2007

Mark CC has a post explaining the basics of formal logic as well as the difference between syntax and semantics.

Logic, in the sense that we generally talk about it, isn’t really one thing. Logic is a name for the general family of formal proof systems with inference rules. There are many logics, and a statement that is a valid inference (is logical) in one system may not be valid in another. To give you a very simple example, most people are familiar with the fact that in logic, if you have a statement “A”, then either the statement “A or not A” must be true. In the most common simple logic, called propositional logic, that’s a tautology – that is, a statement which is always true by definition. But in another common and useful logic – intuitionistic logic – “A or not A” is not necessarily true. You cannot infer anything about whether it’s true or false without proving whether A is true or false.

In line with the theme of studies about racial or gender bias, here‘s a study that shows that legal immigrants to the US make more money when they have lighter skin or bigger height, even after controlling for other possible variables (via Retrospectacle).

Whether and how quickly immigrants assimilate into the U.S. labor market is an issue of great policy importance and controversy. Using newly-available data from the New Immigrant Survey 2003, this paper shows that new lawful immigrants to the U.S. who have lighter skin color and are taller have higher earnings, controlling for extensive labor market and immigration status information, as well as for education, English language proficiency, outdoor work, occupation, ethnicity, race, and country of birth. Immigrants with the lightest skin color earn on average 8 to 15 percent more than comparable immigrants with the darkest skin tone. Each extra inch of height is associated with a 1 percent increase in wages.

Ruchira Paul of Accidental Blogger writes about Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim Indian who volunteered to engage in espionage for the British in World War Two.

After a hurried (and rather incomplete) training in England, she was posted in Paris as the first woman radio operator for the SOE, entrusted with intercepting Nazi wireless transmissions. This gentle, shy and talented young woman became a thorn in the side of the German military – an unlikely, intrepid, wily spy, expertly eluding capture. Noor was later betrayed by one of her own colleagues. Captured, questioned and beaten by the Nazis, she was deported to Dachau for her non-cooperation, where after further beatings and torture, she was shot. At the time of her death Noor was thirty years old. According to her biography (and the testimony of her captors), she died without divulging any secrets and the last word she uttered was liberté.

Via Pharyngula: in honor of Charles Darwin’s upcoming 200th birthday, the Beagle Project is planning to rebuild the Beagle and sail along the same path Darwin traveled along.

Imagine: 2009, and a replica Beagle sailed around Capre Horn and through the Pacific by an international crew of young scientists sails into The Galapagos as part of a recreation of the Voyage of the Beagle. That, surely will be the TV picture of the Darwin 2009 celebrations. How can Darwin’s 200th anniversary pass without that happening? Donate, and help us give a new generation of young people the chance to see a replica Beagle built and launched, and the opportunity to head for horizons of their own.

The Blank Slate and Other Phantom Theories

January 29, 2007

I keep posting my 3QD columns increasingly late. My most recent one, about Pinker’s The Blank Slate and the inconsistencies between how it portrays the world and how the world actually is, was up only at 8:42 pm even though we’re supposed to have them up and running by midnight between Sunday and Monday.

The most important one liner from the entire post is in my opinion, “The truth is never oppressive” – or, in its fuller version, “the truth, or what a reasonable person would believe to be the truth, is never oppressive.” I then show that on the contrary, the views Pinker holds about gender and apologizes for about race fail any scientific reasonable-person standard.

The spine of the article is four paragraphs about a third of the way through, including that one liner.

The relationship between Pinker and Lewontin is an interesting one. Pinker notes that although Lewontin claims that he thinks the dominant force in evolution is the interaction between gene, organism, and environment, in terms of social implications he ignores everything but environment. On that Pinker is certainly right: Biology as Ideology is an anti-science polemic that distorts facts to fit Lewontin’s agenda (my take on Lewontin was subsequently debated in length here). However, Pinker commits the same transgression: he says he believes in the sensible moderate view that human behavior is determined by both inborn and environmental factors, and goes on to not only ignore the implications of the environmental part but also defend racists and sexists who have used pseudoscience as cover.

For instance, he starts by ridiculing people who called Richard Herrnstein a racist for a 1970 paper about intelligence and heredity. Although the paper as Pinker describes it is not racist per se, Herrnstein was indeed a racist. The screed he published with Charles Murray in 1994, The Bell Curve, is not only wrong, but also obviously wrong. Even in 1994, there were metastudies about race and intelligence that showed that the IQ gap disappears once one properly controls for environmental factors, for example by considering the IQ scores of children born to single mothers in Germany by American fathers in World War Two.

The truth, or what a reasonable person would believe to be the truth, is never oppressive. If there is indeed an innate component to the racial IQ gap, or to the gender math score gap, then it’s not racist or sexist to write about it. It remains so even if the innate component does not exist, but the researcher has solid grounds to believe it does.

However, Murray and Herrnstein had no such solid grounds. They could quote a few studies proving their point, but when researchers publish many studies about the same phenomenon, some studies are bound to detect statistically significant effects that do not exist. By selectively choosing one’s references, one can show that liberals are morally superior or morally inferior to conservatives, or that socialism is more successful or less successful than capitalism. At times there are seminal studies, which do not require any further metastudy. There weren’t any in 1994, while existing metastudies suggested that the racial IQ gap was entirely environmental. As I will describe below, the one seminal study [link added] done in 2003 moots not only Murray and Herrnstein’s entire argument but also much of Pinker’s.

As in my other scathing book reviews, there are some parts I would’ve liked to rebut but couldn’t without breaking the article’s flow. Things that would’ve made it into the post if I’d written it in bullet point format include,

1. Pinker’s scare campaign around Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. Hardly anyone cares for them anymore, especially for Dworkin. Even Brownmiller felt the need to compare Dworkin’s speeches to revival tents in a paragraph praising Dworkin’s passion.

2. The general use of abstract moral principles against social movements. Proponents of torture advise opponents of torture to speak only in moral terms and ignore the fact that torture is ineffective; sexists advise feminists to only attack obvious discrimination and ignore the fact that men and women are cognitively nearly identical.

3. The reemergence of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, largely due to the discovery of the Pirahã’s inability to master basic counting. Chomsky’s transformtional grammar is the only serious challenge to Lockean empiricism, which Pinker tars by associating it with the phantom theory that is the blank slate.

4. Relational models. Pinker quotes Alan Fiske’s theory of four relational models – market pricing, communal sharing, equality matching, and authority ranking – and claims that equality matching is the most common to support his claims. In fact there’s no criterion that can determine which is more common; for what it’s worth, equality matching is the weirdest of the four in some precise ways.

5. The Larry Summers controversy, in which Pinker defended the assertion that women are innately worse at math than men. There’s no obvious EP-derived hypothesis why it should be so, and even if there were, it would fail to conform to reality, since women can and often are as good at math as men. Feminist activism has changed a lot; Columbia’s progressed from having its first female Ph.D. student in math 20 years ago to having a 50-50 incoming class this year.

6. Education. I have no idea where Kim Gandy’s getting her numbers from when she says boys and girls are 99% identical in learning, but the basic point that the differences in cognition are small is right. Stentor has a link to the relevant research somewhere in his archives. I allude to this point in the post, but don’t explicitly mention this research.

The Assumption of Equality

January 20, 2007

I promise I’m going to review Pinker’s The Blank Slate sometime soon – if I read enough background material and feel brave enough to skewer the guy on a blog he reads, I’ll do that on the 29th on 3QD – but now I’ll just focus on one point of his, the assumption of equality.

Feminists, he says, don’t need to assume that men and women are equal in any way. All they need is to do things like send identical resumés to firms and see if there’s systematic bias in hiring. But mere imbalances in pay or the number of women should not be taken as evidence of discrimination in themselves, because they could be due to things other than discrimination.

In fact, the assumption of equality is crucial. The studies that show systematic bias in hiring can never implicate a single employer. In the seminal study on racial discrimination in hiring in the US, each employer was sent four resumés, two for each race. Sending any more was impossible due to strict controls on the content of each resumé. Overall, the basic result was significant at a p-value of 0 to four decimal places, but for an individual employer, it could never be lower than 0.25.

Update: in the comments, Bruce explains the definition of a p-value to the lay reader. The p-value is the probability of getting a result at least as extreme as the one in the experiment. If you toss four coins and all four are heads, then the p-value is 1/16, since no result is more extreme than all-heads. But if you get three heads, the p-value isn’t the probability of getting three heads, 1/4, but the probability of getting at least three heads, 5/16.

More detailed studies within the same employer could in principle discern discrimination, but even then it’s impossible to finger specific culprits. Fingering specific culprits isn’t necessary if all we want to learn is how much discrimination there is, but is critical if we want to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

For a concrete example, take a big law firm that hires eight lawyers every year. Let’s say that the talent pool consists of all graduates of top 10 law schools, who are 50% female. Let’s also say that there’s systematic discrimination in hiring, so that only 20% of all people hired are women. Looking at the firm’s hiring pattern over the last ten years will quickly confirm that, since there will be 16 women and 64 men hired, which is significant with a p-value of 0.00000003.

Now, thanks to a large pile of research in sociology, psychology, and economics, we can be reasonably certain that it’s not because women are just bad lawyers. We could even look at class performance, and conclude that indeed women are as qualified as men, which allows us to conclude said firm is violating equal rights laws.

Then we could impose a quota, say 6 women over the next two years (which has a p-value of 0.23; 5 would have 0.11); ordinarily quotas should give more leeway, say a p-value of 0.05, but when the discrimination is obvious and blatant, a more stringent quota is in order.

Without research telling us that the assumption of equality is correct, we could never correct such cases. In a single year, hiring 2 women out of 8 is insignificant, with p = 0.14. Even sending matched resumés over several years wouldn’t help. To avoid making the firm suspicious, we’d have to limit ourselves to, say, two of each gender in each year.

If 20% of people hired are female, we need 8 or 9 successful applications, or callbacks (assuming the bottleneck is in callbacks rather than interview results), to get a p-value under 0.1, and 11 or 12 to get a value under 0.05. A hiring or callback rate of one in four means it will take 11-12 years of tracking to discover the discrimination; a rate of one in ten means it will take almost 30. In other words, it makes equal rights laws toothless.

In contrast, once we establish that the assumption of equality makes sense, we could get a p-value under 0.05 in two years, and under 0.005 in three. The lower the p-value, the easier it is to build a case against the firm, and the more it makes sense to impose more stringent quotas, which rectify the problem sooner.

There are also entirely different avenues of discrimination, which become entirely invisible without the assumption:

First, there are ostensibly neutral standards, like fireman exams that emphasize physical toughness more than is needed on the job. Minneapolis’s fire department got better after its first female head took the fireman exam apart and removed the parts that weren’t really necessary, but kept women out. Although the actual changes to the exam did not require any assumption, it took the heuristic that differences in results probably underlay discrimination to know that the exam might be biased.

And second, there are cultural biases. Pinker tries to argue that women are hardwired to like different things from men based on the fact that in the US at least, math departments have fewer female professors than physics departments, but it’s incredible to believe that mathematicians are more bigoted than physicists. The likeliest explanation is that the American educational system steers girls away from science and especially math, which is nigh impossible to detect with the studies Pinker promotes.

Now, you might ask, how do I know that this assumption of equality in abilities, interests, and desires holds?

The answer is, there are multiple pieces of evidence, or lack thereof. First, research into cognitive differences has failed to find any innate racial differences. Any solid ingrained difference has been traced to culture; for example, the use of Chinese characters sharpens spatial perception, which improves mathematical abilities. Eric Turkheimer disposed of the idea that the black/white IQ gap is genetic once and for all in a 2003 paper.

Innate cognitive differences between women and men do exist, but are far smaller than people like Pinker implies. The only social effect that has been reliably traced to them is the fact that young women drive language change, on account of women’s better linguistic perception. Men’s domination of the hard sciences has never been traced to any cognitive difference.

Second, international data holds biology constant while varying culture. If girls are innately less interested in math than boys, then we’d see a similar effect of female underrepresentation in math throughout the world. But in fact, this effect varies hugely by country. In the US and Japan, women are indeed grossly underrepresented in math and science. In Sweden, India, and Thailand, they’re still somewhat underrepresented, but by a margin that doesn’t even come close to the American one.

It might be that the natural level of female representation in science isn’t 50% but 40%, but given that the US is at 13%, dismissing attempts to encourage girls to explore math more as doomed social engineering is unwarranted.

With race, the proper international comparison is of dominant to oppressed groups. As Pinker notes, the IQ gap is found all over the world to correlate with ethnic inequality, even when the ethnicity isn’t defined by race. White Americans have higher IQs than black Americans, and Protestant North Irelanders have higher IQs than Catholic North Irelanders.

Third, large-scale surveys of discrimination of the kind Pinker approves of can function as pilot studies. These studies can’t implicate single employers, but can implicate industries, or trends. When every industry where there is a gender or race gap is found to engage in discrimination once an appropriate study is done, it’s safe to conclude that a firm with a large gender or race gap is guilty of sexism or racism until proven innocent.

And fourth, even when gaps are found not to result from discrimination but from a smaller talent pool, it’s almost always possible to trace the effect to sexism or racism, and seldom to innate factors. People who believe in large, socially significant cognitive differences based on gender have never been able to agree on what these social effects precisely are; in most cases, each person’s views are very close to what we’d expect to find if he were motivated by sexism rather than science.

For instance, take elections. In Canada, female candidates for Parliament are slightly less likely to win than male candidates, but the effect is statistically insignificant, with p = 0.14. There are numerous plausible sexism-based reasons why Canada’s Parliament is only 20% female: unsupportive party leaders, lack of role models, cultural expectations of male leaders, and so on. In contrast, there’s no plausible innate reason, since solid gender differences in cognition don’t include a higher male capacity for leadership.

Pinker berates Bella Abzug for insisting that equality means that women must have fifty percent representation everywhere. But that assumption of equality is exactly true. Nobody’s saying that women should comprise seventy or eighty percent of linguistics professors because of their superiority in handling language. It’s assumed that the slight difference still means the proper gender distribution is roughly fifty-fifty. By the same standard, equality means exactly proportional representation for women and minorities.

Noam Chomsky, Standards of Criticism, and Race

January 16, 2007

I don’t want to interrupt Tyler and Whig’s flamewar in my comment thread, so I’ll respond to Emma’s questions about Chomsky here. I criticized Chomsky’s totalization of class a few months ago, in response to which Emma fielded a few questions worth answering.

1. “Radical anti-Americans like Chomsky have no trouble rationalizing violence whenever it’s committed by groups that aren’t allied with the United States.”

Can you back this up with anything? Also, how do you justify the use of “anti-American”?

2.) You mentioned Brad Delong’s criticism of Chomsky. Have you read Edward Herman’s response to Brad Delong? Any thoughts?

First, the second question: people who think the US does more harm than good are in fact anti-American. That doesn’t justify the bad rap anti-Americanism is getting – pro-Americans have their Ann Coulters just like anti-Americans have their Bin Ladens – but it’s descriptively accurate. People who consistently attack French culture, vilify French history, and support anti-French forces are radically anti-French. People who act the same toward the US are anti-American. Further, Chomsky is a radical anti-American, since he tends to defend people solely on account of their opposition to the US or Israel, even when they deserve defense less than flu viruses.

Second, the first question (plus the third). In the perennial debate over Chomsky’s pro-Khmer Rouge comments dating back to 1979, the traditional pro-Chomsky argument is that he was concerned over anti-communist propaganda, or over pro-American atrocities, or over inconclusive evidence. That may be so, but it’s legitimate to ask how come the same person who’s always been the first to point out American atrocities was the last to acknowledge atrocities committed by an anti-American regime.

It’s entirely possible for a consistent skeptic to have doubted that the Khmer Rouge had killed millions and even said it “elicited a positive response,” or to have assumed that just because someone is a Holocaust denier doesn’t make him anti-Semitic.

However, Chomsky is not such a consistent skeptic. Whenever the US or an ally of its is the culprit, Chomsky is at the forefront of the criticism. He blamed Israel for actively perpetrating the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which it didn’t. His writings about Vietnam posit dark motives instead of normal mission creep. Similarly, Edward Herman’s article invents pernicious US interests in the Balkans going far beyond standard realist politics. Worse, Herman claims that data from the Khmer Rouge government itself was credible at the time, a courtesy neither he nor Chomsky has ever extended the US.

3. You say: “Chomsky’s argument is typical for a class warrior. Class warriors, such as Chomsky and Howard Zinn, portray The People as essentially good creatures, corrupted and made fatalistic by predatory capitalism. In their conception, sexism is a historical accident that only a few misguided whiners rail specifically against, and racism is either that or a deliberate ploy by the rich to divide the underclass against itself.”

Can you back this up with more specific quotes?

In Understanding Power, Chomsky says without evidence Americans are obsessed with sports because of an elite conspiracy to a) distract them from politics and b) make them more chauvinistic. I don’t have the exact quote, but I know occasional commenter Bushbaptist does. Zinn isn’t so conspiratorial, but does say 99% of Americans have the exact same interests but are being duped by the top 1%.

In the interview I linked to on UTI, Chomsky explicitly says class is all that matters.

You say that class transcends race, essentially.

It certainly does. For example, the United States could become a color-free society. It’s possible. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it’s perfectly possible that it would happen, and it would hardly change the political economy at all. Just as women could pass through the “glass ceiling” and that wouldn’t change the political economy at all.

That’s one of the reasons why you commonly find the business sector reasonably willing to support efforts to overcome racism and sexism. It doesn’t matter that much for them. You lose a little white-male privilege in the executive suite, but that’s not all that important as long as the basic institutions of power and domination survive intact.

And you can pay the women less.

Or you can pay them the same amount. Take England. They just went through ten pleasant years with the Iron Lady running things. Even worse than Reaganism.

The part Emma quotes is a sincere observation about the difference between radicals who totalize class, like Chomsky and Zinn, and radicals who totalize race or gender. People who write radical books about the Native American experience don’t say white Americans are good people who are duped by the establishment; they say whites are genocidal colonialists. Black and Hispanic nationalists don’t even extend white Anglos the courtesy Zinn extends to the upper middle class – they often say all whites are categorically racist.

The US could become color-blind without changing anything else. The Gini index would remain .47, and the intergenerational income regression coefficient would remain .47 as well or drop to the intra-white level that I think is about .4. Welfare would remain humiliating and poverty-entrenching.

Or it could become class-blind without changing anything else. The Democratic Party tried to do just that between Reconstruction and the New Deal – support more income equality and redistribution of wealth without doing anything about racial equality. The Dixiecrats would have been perfectly happy with universal white-only health care in the 1930s.

Obviously, racial tensions have been an obstacle to economic reforms. Roosevelt’s universal health care scheme failed precisely because it was color-blind. But that goes both ways: affirmative action schemes encounter opposition from business, and many black Americans are kept in poverty because of popular opposition to welfare. It’s possible to construe both kinds of problems in a way that puts class above race, but that’s just playing with the facts to fit the theory.

Since Marx, radicals pretending to be serious sociologists have tried constructing simple, monolithic theories of oppression, which almost invariably totalize the form they’re most familiar with and ignore the others. Exposing their intellectual bankruptcy is one of the goals I’m aiming for in my radical pathologies series.

I don’t think Chomsky is personally invested in downplaying gender and race. The next radical pathology I’m going to write about is extremism, which shows how on the contrary, radicals seek to be as extreme as they can. But to accept that the combination of class and imperialism isn’t everything would require people like Chomsky to complicate their worldviews too much, which might necessitate rethinking their radical anti-Americanism.

Religion and Racism

January 15, 2007

My latest post for 3 Quarks Daily, Religion is Like Race, is now up. The post is mostly about the analogy between religion and race as markers of group identity and as causes for conflict and discrimination. It builds on a brief exchange on Appletree between me and Len, who began by arguing that killing people of a different religion wasn’t strictly speaking genocide.

Len argued, “When Religious Faction A is slaughtering Religious Faction B and their root conflict is largely based on little more than niggling points of theological interpretation, why call it GENOcide? The word itself implies acceptance of the hypothesis that being Sunni or Shia or what-have-you is a genetic factor, which is of course fallacious.” I rebutted mostly on the pragmatic grounds that religious conflicts are more comprehensible when one considers religion yet another ethnic marker.

On 3QD, I wrote a more complete argument, and also explained why atheist activists like Dawkins and Harris often make the mistake of considering religion a separate marker.

Like the other ethnic markers, religion is intimately connected to group identities. Even apostates often have some cultural connection to religious customs: secular Jews hold Passover Seders ex-Christian atheists usually celebrate Christmas, and secular Muslims in Turkey tend not to eat pork… This religious identity is weaker among secular people, but it doesn’t disappear entirely, as Bosnians discovered in the early 1990s; analogously, linguistic identity is weaker among polyglots than among monoglots, and racial identity is weaker among people whose social circle is racially mixed than among people whose social circle is racially uniform.

I’m not going to quote my entire article here; you should read it where I posted it and, if you have something to say on that subject, comment there.

Rather, the point I have here is somewhat more personal. Different racebloggers naturally focus on different forms of racism. As I analogized on Fetch Me My Axe a while ago, “In the 1970s, South African refugees complained about apartheid more than about the Cambodian holocaust.”

Unlike sexism, which is global, each locality has its own peculiar kind of racism. The kind I’m most familiar with is the anti-Muslim one, which is why so many of my 3QD articles have been about that particular subject. I took a more global view in Different Forms of Racism, but Religion is Like Race is specific.

A few weeks ago, when I participated in a Five Things About Me meme, I wrote that,

After 9/11, I had a stint of being more Islamophobic than the average Freeper. It got to the point that when some Pakistani student annoyed my too much in eighth grade, I told him (rough quote) “What the hell, you’re going to get seventy virgins anyway.”

That one was true. The false thing was #4. Rather than writing about the transformation of my views on foreign policy, I’ll just note the reaction of that student, Ramiz. Naturally, he immediately accused me of racism. Another student, a German Muslim, immediately joined in. Others were too far removed from the incident to start hating me over it, or already hated me in the first place.

My defense was the exact argument I know now makes no sense: “It’s not racist, because I’m criticizing a religion.” I could even point out the fact that right after I came to that school, I told a crowd of 30, “The Bible sucks.” But I didn’t ask the Christians who attacked me over that comment whether they were going to drop out to participate in a new Crusade.

It’s that double standard that made my comment racist, and a similar double standard that inflicts many Western conservatives as well as many atheist activists. It’s true that Qur’an promises seventy virgins to every Jihadi martyr. So what? It doesn’t mean Ramiz believed in any of that, any more than the Bible’s more militant parts mean all the white European students were anti-choice terrorists.

Religious fundamentalism is often militant. But to point out that an individual religion is militant is like to point out that 50% of all black people have below average intelligence. That no Enlightenment has watered down Islam the way the original one watered down Christianity isn’t a strike against Arabs or against Islam, but against religious fundamentalism of all stripes. To exempt Christian fundamentalism from it is to say, “We Christians are better because we lost so many culture wars we have relatively little power nowadays.”

Speaking Contrarianism to Power on Immigration

January 14, 2007

Jim talks briefly about Heather MacDonald, a conservative who he praises for being rational on account of her atheism. But when I checked her views out, I found out she’s anything but rational. She’s an atheist for sure, but she’s a racist, immigrant-hating one, who goes out of her way to deny racism and deny immigrants rights.

First, in an interview on Gene Expressions, she trots out the usual cultural excuses for poverty:

Given that the liberal elites have ignored the 70% black out-of-wedlock birth rate for decades in discussing the causes of black poverty, I am confident that open borders conservatives will prove just as capable of ignoring the 48% Hispanic out-of-wedlock birth rate as they perpetuate the myth of redemptive Hispanic family values.

While out-of-wedlock births are offensive to conservative moralists who would rather everyone adhered to their Victorian values, they’re not a social problem by themselves. A conservative blog notes that in the US at large, over 30% of births are out of wedlock now, up from 5% in 1960. At the same time, the poverty rate in 2000 was barely over 11%, the lowest since the trough of the early 1970s.

In Sweden and Norway, the majority of births are out of wedlock, but the poverty rates are 6.5% and 6.4% respectively. Furthermore, in Norway the bottom decile has the same mean income as the bottom quintile in the US and the second decile has twice as much income.

In other words, it’s not that out-of-wedlock birthrates are a social problem; it’s that conservatives pretend that they are so that they’ll have an excuse for bashing people who have the wrong skin color.

MacDonald’s views on immigration are even worse. GNXP calls her “a realist on immigration reform”; based on the article it’s linking to, I’d say “an ignoramus who should’ve majored in pol sci rather than lit crit” is a better description.

The entire article is based on the flawed premise that any kind of border control can curb immigration. The only support she ever gives to that view is a bad analogy to crime control. But let’s suppose for a moment that New York’s crime rate started plummeting only after Giuliani came to power rather than three years before. How is that relevant to the research that shows border controls only increase the rate of illegal immigration?

That little premise is what shatters the entire corpus of anti-immigration politics. Laws, its practitioners say, must be enforced. Never mind that it’s impossible to enforce them; they have to be enforced nonetheless. But in the real world, murder isn’t illegal because it’s bad, but because making it illegal makes it less likely to occur.

Worse, MacDonald tries throwing sand in people’s eyes by pontificating in length about “the elites.” The precursor to my radical pathologies series, Mark Rosenfelder’s Left = Right, notes how both sides claim to speak for the people and against some amorphous elite. It didn’t make my series only because it’s not specifically radical.

Here MacDonald tries to claim to speak for the common American who’s oppressed by rootless cosmopolitans. In fact, 57% of American voters say illegal immigrants should be offered legal status. In California, it’s 64%; in Arizona, 56%; in New Mexico, 63%; and in Texas, 59%. It seems that the further an American is from where he might know illegal immigrants, the likelier he is to support deportion. If that’s not an elite trying to infringe on local control, I don’t know what is.

Instead of MacDonald’s unenforceable principles, I prefer to use the following principles when formulating immigration policy, and by extension policy on other issues:

1. Laws that cannot be realistically enforced don’t belong on the books. It’s a specification of the more general libertarian idea that any law that can’t be universally enforced will be selectively enforced. It’s impossible to make a dent in illegal immigration; however, it is possible to deport those illegal immigrants who a Minuteman hates personally. Laws rarely get more immoral than that.

2. Civil rights, including the unrestricted right to freedom of movement, should be paramount. With the exception of reasonable public policies on matters such as health and education, negative rights always precede positive rights. MacDonald’s right to publish articles trumps my right not to be subjected to racist trash; a Mexican’s right to live in the US trumps MacDonald’s right to live in a minority-free country.

3. Economic costs and benefits should be investigated impartially. One paper I’ve seen concludes that the net cost of illegal immigration to each American household is 0.1% of GDP. Studies rigged by anti-immigration advocates don’t get much higher than that. Considering that the net cost of private health care to each American household is on the order of 8% of GDP, I reserve the right not to care about a 0.1% shift, especially given principle #2.

4. Cultural policies should be made with the intent to promote integration and equality of opportunity. This does not mean the state should try to force people to integrate, which tends to only cause them to integrate less. The US is doing fairly well on integration, with virtually all immigrants’ American-born children speaking English fluently, but on social mobility and equal opportunities, it performs worse than almost every other developed country, even when one looks only at white Americans.

These principles don’t generally leave much leeway to xenophobia, but that’s only an indication that xenophobia isn’t good policy.

Democrats Draft Pro-Immigration Bill

December 27, 2006

Hat-tip to Gordo: Democrats and moderate Republicans want to draft a new immigration bill that will give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and defund the proposed fence along the US-Mexico border.

The lawmakers are considering abandoning a requirement in the Senate bill that would compel several million illegal immigrants to leave the U.S. to become eligible to apply for citizenship. The lawmakers are also considering denying financing for 700 miles of fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico that was authorized in a law, written by Republicans, which passed this year.

The greatest irony here is that since illegal immigration is a race issue important to many Hispanic voters, while legal immigration is mostly seen as a denial of the upper middle class’s inalienable right to employment, it’ll be easier to get citizenship as an illegal than as a legal immigrant.

Right now, a legal immigrant to the US typically starts as a college student, then gets a graduate or professional degree, and then gets an H1-B visa, from which position he can apply for a green card. Lately the green card application backlog is so long that some people have to leave the US for a while since H1-B visas only last for 6 years after renewal. In other words, a legal immigrant takes about 15 years just to get a green card.

Unfortunately, legal immigrants don’t have a powerful lobby. On the contrary, disgruntled American computer programmers have a vested interest in keeping legal immigrants out. This despite the fact that evidence from Canada, which has a somewhat saner immigration policy, suggests that the group that integrates the most slowly is refugees, while economic immigrants integrate quickly.

The Issue Emphasis Shift

December 26, 2006

A few days ago, I said that the Democrats were abandoning many traditional liberal issues, such as welfare, the environment, and gun control, as part of their attempt to appeal to moderate voters. On Ezra’s blog, Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math offers a reason that makes more sense: a change in the electoral map.

In the ’80s and ’90s, both the Presidential and Congressional electoral maps were substantially different from today. At the Presidential level, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan, and Georgia were highly competitive–all states with high-crime urban areas and significant racial tensions. California was still Republican territory (it went for Carter Ford … you know … the republican in ’76), meaning the South was even more criticial to Democratic Presidential hopes. In the House, supermajority white districts in the South voted for Republican Presidents while re-electing incumbent Democratic Congressmen, marking them as prime targets for the NRCC. All of this meant that the Republican Party, already committed to the “Southern Strategy” during the Nixon era, could gain a lot of ground without much in the way of policy shifts simply by wedging Democrats on race-related issues.

Fast forward to today. Only Bud Cramer (D-AL), Gene Taylor (D-MS), and maybe Jim Marshall (D-GA) remain from the Democratic “White South“, though perhaps Heath Shuler (D-NC) is a new member of the club. In the race for the White House, the blue-tinted swing states have migrated from the South to the Midwest: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio (once Republican territory) and Pennsylvania. These states certainly have their socially conservative areas–check out the NARAL ratings for some of the Pennsylvania Democrats–but don’t have the same history of antagonistic race relations. Complaining that your opponent possesses insufficient zeal for locking people up just doesn’t get you as far in these parts of the country.

While this is certainly a plausible reason why race is less important in national politics than it used to be, it’s only one of several. After desegregation, conservative rhetoric about race shifted to codewords like “welfare queen” and “crack addict.” These were always euphemisms for “nigger,” but in a climate when being overtly racist was unacceptable, they helped convince people that the problem wasn’t with black people but with welfare, crime, and drugs. After Clinton coopted the Republican positions on these issues, that avenue of conservative racism ran out of steam.

The new racist politics, which is based on hatred of immigrants and their descendants, provides a good analogy to that. Nobody in the US or Canada or Europe who matters says, “We’re a white nation and brown-skinned immigrants should be excluded.” That would alienate too many people. Instead, the racists appeal to the majority language, Western civilization, and cultural compatibility.

As a result, that appeal causes people to accept sufficiently assimilated immigrants, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Fareed Zakaria. These tilt right, since members of the majority ethnicity always get more leeway to be antiracist than minorities do; that, in turn, helps racists rationalize their bigotry based on cultural rather than racial criteria. Not coincidentally, that makes “Actually, they are assimilating” a powerful antiracist counterargument.

Now, back to the original issue. As soon as the race problem was clothed in terms of broader social problems, racists became vulnerable to attacks on the euphemized issues, though in this case the attack was a triangulation rather than a counterargument.

In the 1990s, the declining race gap and the purging of the White South from the Democratic Party did not correlate with more strident liberal positions on racially charged issues. Part of it is due to Clinton’s strategy of governing to the right of Eisenhower, but even New York City elected Giuliani and Bloomberg twice each.