Just to be Sure:

March 8, 2007

I hope you’re not letting my less constructive commenters deter you from commenting.

Or, rather, I hope you are and the relative paucity of comments lately is not an indication that I have fewer regular readers.

Dominionism, Separation of Church and State, and Moderation

March 7, 2007

Jessica Dreadful notes that although Edwards claims God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, he nonetheless rambles about how God agrees with him on issues like foreign policy and poverty. And as many people who know nothing of religious politics in the US, he ends up inventing his own position on school prayer, which is that children should get time to pray on their own. Jessica responds, “Great idea! Give children a certain amount of time to themselves where they can pray, think, basically do whatever they want! Why haven’t we thought of this before? Oh right, we have.. it’s called ‘recess.'”

Tyler uses the interview to start a frontal assault on the Democrats’ fellation of Dominionism. Why, he asks, do Democrats keep inviting people whose values are inimical to those of liberalism to the table? Or, in his own words,

The primary problem with Democrats appealing to evangelical voters is that most of them are bound to be like Jim Wallis. Maybe we have dragged them over on the economic issues, but they’re bound to be the same “culture of life” yahoos who current mill about on the right. In other words, we’ll probably end up with a crowd of modern William Jennings Bryans.

For a group to take over a party the way the religious right has seized the Republican Party, it must first have large numbers of voters and then have a leadership capable of telling the party to listen to its concerns. The leadership needs to be concerned primarily with the group’s main issues, and have a credible “We’ll vote the other way” threat; right-wing Dominionists don’t have the latter threat and aren’t interested in cultivating it, but make up for that in numbers.

Born-again Christians are already a quarter of the Democratic vote, but so many of them are minorities, whose leaders use their political capital to move the party left on race instead of right on religion, that they so far haven’t forced the party to adopt their religious agenda. More importantly, among minorities this arrangement has been there for decades; the influence of black churches has deterred the Democratic Party from cracking down on preachers who deliver tax-free political sermons, but has so far not prevented it from being pro-choice and mostly pro-science.

It’s plausible that the same arrangement could develop with working class whites. In such an arrangement, white Evangelicals would have a leader focusing primarily on labor and the environment, who would use religious language to talk to them but under no circumstances demand that the Democratic Party sacrifice a single socially liberal platform plank.

However, Jim Wallis is not such a leader. On the contrary, he openly disdains abortion and gay rights, and instead of telling religious people to vote Democratic spends his time telling the Democrats to lure religious people. His response to an incident such as Jerry Falwell’s claim that global warming is a Satanic myth would be more along the lines of telling the Democrats they must respect religious sentiments instead of ripping Falwell apart.

On the contrary, the group it makes the most sense for the Democrats to give voice to on matters of religion is non-religious voters. These probably comprise around 17% of the electorate now, albeit only 10% of voters, compared with 20% of the American population that attends church regularly. They naturally tend to be liberal, voting Democratic by margins approaching 3 to 1. And their primary issues are socially liberal platform planks that are already part of the core of liberal values.

When talking about issues important to people who vote based only on religious issues, it then makes much more sense for the Democrats to go all the way left. Obama shouldn’t be talking about the importance of religious charity; that only gives Wallis more political capital. Instead, it makes more political sense for him to talk about preventing religious charities from engaging in discrimination, which will lose him a small number of religious voters and regain an equal number of secularists.

Edwards’ approach is the worst, because it’s unreflectively moderate. On some issues, primarily foreign policy and some economic debates, there have evolved strong moderate positions that make sense in their own right. On religion, none has, so people who want to sound sensible end up making statements that are liable to piss everyone off. When Edwards says students need to get free time at school to pray, he doesn’t come off as a sensible centrist but as a clueless invertebrate.

The same pattern, in which there’s no serious moderate position, appears all over the map in social debates. On SSM, the moderate position, civil unions, has limited merit. On other gay rights issues, the American electorate has already abandoned the ad hoc compromise that is “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” On issues of science, there’s no compromise between good science and bad science. Abortion is alone among cultural issues in the US that admits a serious moderate position, but even it is different from what is considered sensible centrism on abortion, which is empty rhetoric about reducing the number of abortions.

And even on abortion, the Democratic Party has traditionally deferred to NARAL and Planned Parenthood. It’s changed lately, partly due to its courting of Dominionists and partly due to the waning influence of the old pro-choice movement. However, the latter has resulted mostly from women’s interests shifting to other issues; in contrast, no 34-year-old pro-secular consensus has existed that would make secular voters less interested in separation of church and state.

The Most Important War You’ve Never Heard About

March 7, 2007

For a conflict that killed around 3.5 million civilians, give or take, the Second Congo War is remarkably unknown to the world. Chris Clarke has a good post about the coltan angle of the conflict, which is basically Johann Hari’s report with less fluff; it’s riddled with standard issue guilt-based arguments, but there are enough gems in the post that any sane person should be able to focus on its important parts.

The Second Congo War is basically what happens when you have an area whose political stability matches the geological stability of San Francisco. That Congo has ample supplies of coltan, which is used to produce tantalum, which is important in electronics, certainly didn’t help. It transformed an already brewing civil war into a painful resource extraction exercise. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that Congo wouldn’t have been much better off without coltan.

Congo-Kinshasa had never been blessed with good leadership. It used to be a colony of Belgium, possibly the worst colonial ruler any country could have in the imperial age; the King who at one point owned it personally, Leopold II, was especially ruthless. When it became independent, a Cold War conflict in southern Africa involving Angola’s communist government, Che Guevara, and CIA-backed Cuban exiles caused the US to unconditionally back an authoritarian Congolese ruler named Mobutu.

Fast forward to 1996, when Mobutu had ruled for 31 years without holding a single free election and failed to engage in any kind of economic development. Mobutu’s grip on power was finally weakening, after running out of money to pay salaries to public officials. A rebel leader named Kabila who had the army and the backing of several surrounding African countries managed to overthrow Mobutu and establish himself as the President of Zaire, renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By 1998, Kabila found himself in opposition to the countries that had put him in power. Rwanda’s Tutsi-dominated government had persistent troubles with the fact that the Interhamwe, the Hutu group that committed the Rwandan genocide back in 1994, was now based in the Congo. When Kabila replaced his Rwandan chief of staff with a Congolese one and booted Rwandan and Ugandan advisors from the country, things started deteriorating.

Ethnic Tutsis living in eastern Congo were alarmed, and Rwanda and Uganda used a mutiny as a pretext for an invasion. It was supposed to be a blitzkrieg, but turned into a protracted war. Kabila had his own backers: the Angolan government believed Kabila would be better for its own internal power struggles with rebels than a new President, while Zimbabwe’s Mugabe and Namibia’s Nujoma had personal stakes in Congolese mining operations. The US supported him for various business-related reasons, most of which boil down to diamonds.

What followed was five years of war that quickly became all-against-all. The factions’ interests ranged from cracking down on some rebel group (Kabile) to natural resources (Rwanda) to genocide (Interhamwe). Due to both the factions’ control of coltan mining operations and the government’s abject weakness, militia groups were and still are able to pay workers far better than any legitimate group.

Officially, the war is over. People are certainly not being killed or raped at the same rate they were six years ago. But the Transitional Government established in 2003 is closer to a darker version of the Palestinian government, complete with violent clashes between parties, than to a stable government. As late as 9/2004, a thousand civilians were killed in clashes every day. And the rapes still continue, though the main problem has become what to do about the hundreds of thousands of rape victims, whose families shun them.

Name All the Countries

March 7, 2007

You have 10 minutes to name all 192 UN-recognized countries.

I got 154 the first time and 166 the second time; 173 countries I got at least once.

Hivemind Question: is This a Real Issue?

March 7, 2007

The New York Times has a story about Obama’s financial transactions. What stands out is that on his behalf his accountant made a highly speculative stock purchase that coincided with his major donors’ investments, which Obama sold at a loss after finding out about. However, the purchase included a biotech buy, two weeks after which he began making fighting avian flu a priority (though the corporation in question hasn’t received any federal funds for avian flu).

Is this a real issue? I’m too cynical to care about ethics issues – in my mind, every politician is as ethical as Vito Corleone, but some are better than others at hiding it – but your mileage may vary. Do you think it’s a real instance of corruption, or a legitimate dealing?

Galois Theory: Infinite Galois Theory

March 7, 2007

So far I’ve only discussed finite Galois theory, that is the Galois theory of finite extensions. But there’s also an infinite theory; the extensions it studies are separable and normal, just like finite Galois extensions, but the fundamental theorem needs to be modified to apply. I could transfer it almost in its entirety by using the theory of topological groups, but I think it’s simpler to just make exceptions and note the equivalent topological terminology where necessary.

Infinite Galois theory is wedded to the theory of projective limits of groups, which is based on directed systems.

A set I is a directed system if it comes equipped with a partial order, which I’ll denote <–, such that given any two elements i and j of I, there exists a k in I such that i <– k and j <– k. For example, a total order induces a directed system. For a less trivial example, let I = N (without zero), with a <– b iff a divides b; given any i and j, a suitable k is their least common multiple. Note that if I has a maximal element, then that maximal element is unique.

Now, an inverse system of groups is a family of groups G(i) indexed by the set I, and homomorphisms from G(j) to G(i) whenever i <– j, denoted f(ij). The homomorphisms must be consistent with one another, i.e. given i <– j <– k, every g in G(k) must satisfy f_{ik}(g) = f_{ij}(f_{jk}(g)). Typically the homomorphisms are taken to be surjective, but strictly speaking this is not necessary.

For example, if I = N with the normal ordering, letting G(n) = Z/(p^n)Z and f(mn) be the obvious remainder map from Z/(p^n)Z to Z/(p^m)Z yields an inverse system. Alternatively, if I has the divisibility ordering defined above, then G(n) = Z/nZ with the remainder maps is similarly an inverse system.

An inverse system has a limit, defined to be the group that projects on all groups in the system. More precisely, let P be the product of all groups G(i). Note that this is a product rather than a direct sum, the difference being that in a direct sum all but finitely many terms must be the identity element. The inverse or projective limit \underleftarrow{\lim}G_{i} is the subgroup of P consisting of all elements g in P such that for all i <– j in I, g_{i} = f_{ij}(g_{j}).

Finally living up to my blog’s name, I’ll also prove the abstract nonsense definition of projective limits. The projective limit comes with obvious projection maps f_{i}: g \mapsto g_{i}; if each f(ij) is surjective, then so is each f(i). Furthermore, taken together with those projection maps, it’s universal with the property that f_{ij}(f_{j}(g)) = f_{i}(g). In plain mathematical English, it means that if H is another group with projection maps h(i) such that f(ij)h(j) = h(i), then there exists a unique group homomorphism p from H to the projective limit such that h(i) = f(i)p.

This is likely the first time you encounter universal properties – if it is, consider yourself lucky to have never seen these monsters until now – so I’ll prove it in full instead of appeal to other universal properties. The idea is to explicitly define p in such a way that will yield h(i) = f(i)p.

Every a in H induces an element h_{i}(a) for each i in I. Furthermore, the condition that f(ij)h(j) = h(i) implies that f_{ij}(h_{j}(a)) = h_{i}(a). Therefore, the element of P whose ith entry is h_{i}(a) is in fact in the projective limit, yielding a function p from H to \underleftarrow{\lim}G_{i}. This is a group homomorphism, roughly because the ith element of p(ab) is h_{i}(ab) = h_{i}(a)h_{i}(b). Further, that the ith element of p(a) is h_{i}(a) implies immediately that h(i) = f(i)p.

Conversely, this homomorphism is unique because the condition that h(i) = f(i)p forces the ith element of p(a) to be h_{i}(a). This is important because it shows that if H and H’ satisfy the universal property of the projective limit of the same inverse system of groups, then there exists a unique p with h(i) = h‘(i)p and a unique p‘ with h(i)p = h‘(i) so that p and p‘ are isomorphisms that are inverses of each other, and the universal property uniquely defines the projective limit.

Note that it’s possible to define similar inverse limits of every algebraic structure – rings, modules, algebras, and so on – as well as of topological spaces. Also note that if I has a maximal element then the projective limit is just that element, making the case of interest the one with no maximal element. Finally, duplicating an index – i.e. splitting i into i1 and i2, with i(j) <– k iff i <– k and k <– i(j) iff k <– i, and with i1 and i2 either comparable or incomparable – doesn’t change the projective limit.

As an example, the projective limit of G(n) = Z/(p^n)Z is \mathbb{Z}_{p}, the additive group of the p-adic integers; it’s certainly true that every sequence of residue classes modulo p^n compatible under taking remainders induces a p-adic integer and vice versa.

More interestingly, the projective limit of G(n) = Z/nZ is the product of Z(p) over all primes p. This is because by the universal property, \underleftarrow{\lim}(G_{i} \times H_{i}) = \underleftarrow{\lim}G_{i} \times \underleftarrow{\lim}H_{i}, and Z/(p1^a1)(p2^a2)…(p(k)^a(k))Z = Z/(p1^a1)Z * Z/(p2^a2)Z * … * Z/(p(k)^a(k))Z.

Back to Galois theory now. If L/K is an infinite Galois extension (i.e. separable and normal, as in the finite case), then the Galois groups of the intermediate Galois extensions form an inverse system, roughly because if F/E/K is a tower of Galois extensions, then Gal(F/K) projects onto Gal(E/K). If you deal with sequences better than with abstract inverse systems, then let L be the splitting field of {f1, f2, …} and look at the splitting field of f1, then this of f1f2, then this of f1f2f3…

A K-automorphism of L is defined by its action on each a in L. But L/K is assumed to be algebraic, so each a in L is contained in a finite extension of K, which has a Galois closure, say F. As F/K is normal, every K-automorphism of any extension of F will map F to itself; this was proved together with the part of the fundamental theorem concerning normal subgroups of the Galois group and normal extensions. Therefore, a K-automorphism of L is completely determined by the automorphisms it induces on each finite Galois extension F/K.

Finally, to see that Gal(L/K) is the inverse limit of Gal(F/K) over all intermediate F, note that given a tower of Galois extensions L/F/E/K, the map from Gal(L/K) to Gal(E/K) is fairly obviously the same as the map from Gal(L/K) to Gal(F/K) composed with the one from Gal(F/K) to Gal(E/K).

Here is where the standard Galois correspondence breaks down. To see why, let K = F(p) for any p, and L be the union of F(p^(q^n)) over all n; then Gal(L/K) is Z(q). The group Z(q) is uncountable and so has uncountably many subgroups, but L/K only has one proper intermediate extension for each integer n.

It’s necessary to view the projective limit as not just a group but also the inverse system it’s based on and the homomorphisms to each of the groups in the system. In this view, a subgroup must come from the groups in the system. More precisely, a sub-projective limit of G(i) arises as the projective limit of a collection of subgroups H(i) such that f(ij)(H(j)) = H(i). That will correspond to a field generated by the fixed fields of all H(i)’s.

Conversely, let F be an intermediate extension of L/K. Then F intersects every finite Galois extension in some finite intermediate extension, yielding a corresponding sub-projective limit. These two correspondences are inverses of each other by the fundamental theorem of (finite) Galois theory. Further, the sub-projective limit defined by H(i) is a normal subgroup iff each H(i) is normal in G(i), so the second part of the fundamental theorem holds as well.

Obviously, L/F is finite iff the sub-projective limit is a finite group, and F/K is finite iff the sub-projective limit has finite index in the projective limit. In the latter case, F is contained in some finite Galois extension, so it arises from a single H(i); then for all j with i <– j, H(j) is the preimage of H(i) in G(j), and for all k <– j, H(k) = f(kj)(H(j)). Conversely, a sub-projective limit that arises from a single H(i) this way has the property every g in the inverse limit that maps into H(i) in G(i) maps into the preimage of H(i) in each G(j) with i <– j, so that it’s in the sub-projective limit; the sub-projective limit is then the inverse image of H(i) in the projective limit, so its index in the projective limit is [G(i):H(i)], which is finite.

I Suppose for Bush, Death is Progress

March 6, 2007

Bush is saying that US and allied forces are making progress in Iraq; the same day, a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up at a procession of Shi’a pilgrims, killing at least 106 people. It gets worse:

The Hillah strike came after gunmen and bombers hit group after group of Shiite pilgrims elsewhere — some in buses and others making the traditional trek on foot to the shrine city of Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad. At least 24 were killed in those attacks, including four relatives of a prominent Shiite lawmaker, Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati.

This weekend, huge crowds of Shiite worshippers will gather for rites marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein died near Karbala in a 7th-century battle.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “We never promised immediate results.” She’s right insofar as Bush has never promised results that could be falsified. He’s never promised immediate results, or for that matter given a specific timeframe and stuck to it. Instead, he keeps urging people to have faith in his judgment, which has time and time again proven to be faulty.

Giuliani is not Presidential

March 6, 2007

Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post helpfully reminds non-New Yorkers who the frontrunner for the Republican nomination is. Giuliani, he reminds everyone, is hotheaded, abusive, and authoritarian, three characteristics that don’t make a good leader. There’s a reason Michael Corleone was a better don than Sonny.

Giuliani could be vindictive. He had no qualms about using government to settle a score. When the City Council overrode his veto of a bill to change the operations of homeless shelters in December 1998, Giuliani sought to evict five community service programs, including one that served 500 mentally ill people, in the district of the bill’s chief sponsor, and to replace them with a homeless shelter.

What’s more, he released a list of sites for other shelters that would be housed in the districts of council members who voted in favor of the override. (He backed down two months later, after much public outrage.)

He’s a moderate, and normally I’d appreciate it. But I’d rather have my moderates temperate, calculated, and effective; Giuliani is none of the three. Indeed, he’s even displaying that one ubiquitous characteristic of everyone in his profession – namely, hypocrisy.

Normally I don’t give a damn about intra-family feuds. That Giuliani is twice divorced means nothing to me. But that he’s asking for privacy when it comes to his son’s public refusal to support his candidacy is just hypocritical. For a start, when a candidate’s immediate family members refuse to stump for him and go as far as talking about family problems in public, it’s news. This is especially true in Giuliani’s case, because his second wife found out he wanted a divorce by watching him announce it at a press conference.

In addition, Giuliani has implied he does not believe in the right to privacy. When asked about judicial nominations, he specifically mentioned Scalia, Roberts, and Alito as his judicial rolemodels; none of the three believes in a constitutional right to privacy. So Giuliani is asking the media to remain silent about a legitimate story by citing a right he doesn’t think the unwashed masses deserve.

Email Policy

March 6, 2007

Because of the Eternal Night files I’ve sent people, I think now’s a good time to explain my email policy. I will not under any circumstance reproduce an email you send me without your permission. I may use small quotes or talk about the general content, but unless specifically authorized will not associate a name to the content.

The two exceptions to the rule include link-alerting/blogwhoring, in which you send me an email alerting me to a news story or a post of yours, when my standard practice is to hat-tip, and if you post the email in a public place (or if it’s an open letter), in which case it’s like a post on another blog.

As a corollary to that, I tend to keep personal issues personal, unless there’s a very strong overriding interest. The social cue hivemind question is a good example: I didn’t mention anyone’s names, and given that the situation has been resolved peacefully (i.e. it seems like an honest mistake caused by multiple cancellations), I won’t.

Walter Reed

March 6, 2007

Via the Sideshow: Walter Reed is not a VA hospital, but an army hospital, which belongs to a different system. This is important because a lot of people, including Gordo, are drawing the wrong lesson from the scandal and attacking the best health care system available to non-millionaires in the United States.

First, the VA is mind-bogglingly cheap. In 2005, the VA system cost $28.2 billion to operate; in 2004, it had 7.4 million enrolled veterans, for a per capita cost of $3,800. That’s still higher than the average of almost every country in the world, but is finally lower than this of Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland, unlike the general US average.

In contrast, Medicare and Medicaid cost $900 billion in 2005 and had 80 million enrollees, for $11,000 per capita. It’s expectable for them to cost somewhat more than the national average, because old people, who’re on Medicare, use more health services than younger people. But Medicare and Medicaid’s total cost divided by the USA’s entire population is already higher than the per capita cost of almost every public health care system in the developed world and almost as high as this of the VA system.

The VA is not only cheap but also good. On many indicators, the VA system is rated the best health care system in the US, largely thanks to a rebuilding effort in the 1990s produced by the system’s shocking state of neglect. The VA system reproduces many of the elements of good public health care: a focus on prevention, since enrollment is for life; a centralized database keeping track of who has gotten which tests and is suffering from what condition, since all VA hospitals are managed by the same system; efficient administration and a small paperwork burden, because of the centralized database.

That’s why, as Paul Krugman documents, opponents of public health care do their best to deride the VA system and instead promote bloated, inefficient programs extending Medicare, such as Medicare Part D. Walter Reed plays right to their hands, since it allows them to shift their argument from an ideological opposition to public health care, which is unpopular, to an attack on the government’s incompetence, which everyone likes to hear regardless of whether it applies.


March 5, 2007

Bean writes about a non-coercive strategy of increasing fertility rates. It appears as if what causes fertility rates to plummet with development is women’s entry into the workforce combined with the realization that working mothers face significant difficulties. Therefore, it’s possible to increase fertility by subsidizing child care, as France and Sweden do.

Although Bean doesn’t mention it, such policies have been mostly successful: France’s fertility rate is now 2.01 up from 1.89 in 2000, higher than every developed country except the US, and higher than even the US once one controls for teen pregnancy. Sweden is at 1.66 up from 1.53 in 2000, the 8th highest in the EU. Meanwhile, Ireland, whose high fertility (1.86, second only to France in the EU) is based on keeping women barefoot and pregnant rather than informed and empowered, is seeing a reduction in fertility.

Significantly, the Norwegian solution of paying women to be mothers is not working so well. In Norway, the government pays women the equivalent of $19,000 a year to stay home and raise children; the fertility rate is 1.78, down from 1.81 in 2000. In Sweden and France, which emphasize daycare, fertility is soaring.

Of course, it’s not all policy. Attitudes matter; the reason Norway is so far high is that it starts from a fairly feminist base (though, to be honest, it doesn’t explain why it’s more fertile than Sweden, widely understood to be the most feminist country in the world). Italy and Spain, which are becoming more Western European and less Catholic in attitude, have seen fertility increases between 2000 and 2006 that are even higher than France’s; but their increased natalism is starting from a base almost at 1.

Bean correctly notes that

there is a long history of using public fertility supports for natalist purposes. But that’s not what’s at issue here. The question here is how to allow women to balance the biological responsibility for childbirth with the need and desire of many women to work outside the home? Some countries, including Sweden, that have been successful in encouraging parenthood through childcare also have much saner work expectations than the U.S. To accomodate motherhod, we *all* need to work less (not just mothers — everyone). Another answer — which the article doesn’t even touch — is to shift societal expectations about childcare. If parents share caregiving responsibilities, men will better understand the demands women have long faced and women will be able to continue to work and to become mothers simultaneously.

The bottom line is that any solution cannot just be about women — it’s got to consider how to shift family structures, societal expectations, and state supports.

Obviously, state supports are the easiest to change. Daycare is expensive for the individual family, but because of the middle class compact, it’s not expensive for the taxpayer. And, of course, it provides the important benefit of covering poor families, which are caught in the impossible situation of having to earn two paychecks while keeping the children at home until free primary education kicks in.

On the other hand, state supports can also help influence societal expectations. Best Buy’s offices have adopted a flex-time policy wherein employees are free to choose their hours, as long as they get all their work done. Not only has this policy increased productivity, but also working mothers are able to maintain a good work-family balance without being branded uncommitted at work. The government can use a variety of mechanisms to encourage such policies, if only because they increase labor productivity.

There’s the environmental argument that low fertility is good because it reduces global population pressure. The problem with that argument is that the people who make it manage to accomplish both being racist/imperialist and ignoring realities in order to avoid being racist/imperialist.

First, in the first world there’s no population pressure. The US can comfortably accommodate many more than 300 million people without any increases in agricultural productivity, it exports so much food. Globally it’s something else, but 100 million extra Americans or Europeans don’t make much of a difference.

Second, stare at a graph of agricultural productivity for a few seconds if you think that the very real problem of supporting a social security system with a fertility rate of 1.5 outweighs the hypothetical problem of a population bomb. The way it looks now, world population is going to converge to 11 billion by the end of the century and stay there. That’s sustainable, from both an economic and an environmental point of view.

And third, immigration isn’t always a feasible solution. The US and Canada can weather any fertility rate with immigration alone. Japan, South Korea, and Russia, all countries with very real negative population bombs, can’t; they’re just not attractive destinations for immigrants. Japan is in an especially problematic position, because its social security system is based on cradle-to-grave corporate responsibility to employees, a principle that is being increasingly undermined by a variety of processes of which only some are avoidable.

Fortunately, subsidizing daycare and encouraging corporate cultures conducive to gender equality are good even independently of their making the difference between a fertility rate of 1.5 and a rate of 2. Forget the morality of equal rights for a second; it’s generally better for a society to have a talent pool of skilled workers consisting of all educated adults rather than just half of them. As I like to say, it’s better for everyone for merit to supplant privilege.

Eternal Night Update

March 5, 2007

When I sent version 2 of Eternal Night to Katie, her reaction was, “Your book is killing me.” I asked, “Is it that bad?”; she answered, “yes.” That and the panning that followed pale in comparison to the feedback I’ve received about version 3. So far it’s just one email so other emails may give me more positive feedback, but the one email I’ve gotten is so on target that it’s enough for me to at least start planning major changes.

Because of the likelihood of a version 4 that significantly differs from version 3, I’d rather not send the book to any new takers. If you think you can finish it quickly, I’ll make an exception; I emailed the password to UTI‘s RickU because he promised a timeframe of one week. In case you’re wondering, the book has 90,000 words and should be a fairly easy read.

Alternatively, if you don’t have the time, I’d appreciate feedback about the first three chapters specifically, because they go with an initial query letter while the remaining sixteen don’t.

Normally, I’d rather not prejudice readers to any particular point of view. But the one email I’ve gotten is very powerful and at the same time very constructive, so I don’t mind prejudicing readers against my writing. As I said, I’m willing to go with what I have so far if future feedback is strongly positive, but that will only apply if the feedback is similarly on target.

At any rate, if you don’t know what to look for when telling me how bad I am, ask yourself the following:

1. What do the major characters contribute to the plot and its setting? Here, major characters are those I refer to by first name, i.e. Roger, Ankhi, Gwen, and Khaled. What are their failings? How could I make them more realistic and interesting, if necessary?

2. Does the pacing of the events make sense? This refers both to the 2020 Presidential campaign and the nascent war.

3. What purpose do the various dialogs serve, in particular the debates between Roger and the people he tries to convince to join his cause? Do they overshadow the plot too much? Conversely, do I treat them too lightly?

4. What other books, authors, genres, styles, etc., come to mind when you read EN? For example, do I come off more as an Orwell or as a Heinlein (to me that spans a great deal of writing qualities, and not because I have something against Orwell…)?

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.

Bush Admits the Failure of Bushism

March 5, 2007

The North Korean deal has a very Clintonian character to it; I wish I were the first person to note that, but Ice Weasel beat me to it. Nonetheless, the fact that Bush is engaging in serious diplomacy, consisting of negotiating a food for nukes program, suggests that he’s not so reckless as he seems when one looks only at Iraq.

Iraq is a spectacular occupation that the global media can’t get enough of. If he changes anything in it, even by commissioning an Iraq Study Group report that he has no intention of following the recommendations of, the media will notice and write about Bush’s admission of failure.

Bush is a politician. He wants to do good, subject to the constraint that what he thinks is good for the country and the world is slanted by what he thinks is good for himself and his wing of the Republican Party. He also wants to accumulate kudos, and that means getting the 30-35% of Americans who still approve of his performance to keep approving him. This means that while he can admit failure in private and change course in places where he can do so safely, he won’t do that in public.

In situations like this, it’s therefore a great boon for the relations with a country to be relatively out of the media spotlight. That way, politicians can learn from experience in dealing with it, leading to more Clintonian deals that emphasize pragmatism and fewer Bushite threats that emphasize grandstanding and self-righteousness.

Galois Theory: The Primitive Element Theorem

March 5, 2007

The fundamental theorem of Galois theory immediately implies several nifty results about Galois extensions, which with a little work extend to a greater class of extensions, typically separable extensions. Here I will show that every separable extension L/K admits a primitive element, that is an element a of L such that L = K(a).

First, the normal closure of a separable extension is itself separable. To see why, recall that the normal closure of L/K is the splitting field of all the minimal polynomials of the elements of L. L/K is separable, so each a in L is separable over K; but separability is a property of the minimal polynomial of the element, so all other roots of m(a) are separable, and the normal closure is generated by separable elements.

In addition, the normal closure of a finite extension is finite, since if {a1, …, a(n)} is a basis for L over K, then it’s enough to take the splitting field of the finite set of polynomials m(a(i)).

Second, since the intermediate fields of a Galois extension correspond to subgroups of a finite group, there are only finitely many intermediate fields. This property then extends to extensions that are merely separable, since if M/L/K is a tower of extensions then every intermediate field of L/K is intermediate between M and K.

And third, an element not contained in any proper intermediate field is primitive, because K(a) is an intermediate field strictly containing K for a not in K. If K is finite and L has p^n elements, then just take one of the roots of the polynomial x^(p^(n – 1)) – 1, which will generate all the others. Otherwise, note that every proper intermediate field is a proper subspace of L, and no finite vector space over an infinite field can be covered by finitely many proper subspaces.

Proving that last assertion is an induction argument on the dimension of the vector space K^n. If n = 1, then a proper subspace is the trivial subspace consisting only of the origin, so the theorem obviously holds. If n = 2, then a non-trivial proper subspace is a line generated by scalar multiples of some point (a, b). No line can contain two points of the form (1, a) because then it will necessarily contain (0, ab), hence (0, 1), (0, a), (1, 0), and finally the entire space. But K is infinite so there are infinitely many points of that form, proving the theorem for n = 2.

More generally, suppose the theorem is true for all dimensions less than n. It’s enough to find a proper subspace of dimension n – 1 in K^n that isn’t contained in any of the proper subspaces we’re covering the space by; by a dimension argument, this is equivalent to showing the subspace of dimension n – 1 isn’t one of those proper subspaces. So it suffices to show that there are infinitely many subspaces of dimension n – 1.

But if a and b are distinct, then the subspaces spanned by {(1, 0, 0, …, 0), (0, 1, 0, …, 0), (0, 0, 1, …, 0), …, (0, …, 1, 0, 0), (0, …, 0, 1, a)} and {(1, 0, 0, …, 0), (0, 1, 0, …, 0), (0, 0, 1, …, 0), …, (0, …, 1, 0, 0), (0, …, 0, 1, b)} are distinct, by a similar argument to the one that works for K^2. That’s enough to prove the theorem.

Why Gore is not a Hypocrite

March 4, 2007

Stentor summarizes three rebuttals of the conservative argument that Gore is a hypocrite for preaching reducing emissions while having a huge electric bill. Two he agrees with; one he doesn’t, but makes an argument against it that I think shows, in a strictly Machiavellian way, why Gore is not a hypocrite. Says Stentor,

3) Gore does so much good work on this issue that he deserves to be allowed to be a little wasteful in his personal habits.

The problem is, argument 3 is not a valid one. It essentially says that the more you talk the talk, the less you need to walk the walk. Can you imagine anyone saying “you know, Mark Foley did so much good chairing the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children that he deserves to hit on a few pages. He earned it!” Of course not.

Actually, comparing environmentalism to not abusing teenagers is exactly why arguments from hypocrisy fall short here. Sexual abuse is an individual problem: the abuser hurts the abused individually. In contrast, environmental degradation is a collective problem, a tragedy of the commons: reckless energy consumers collective put a strain on natural resources and pump CO2 into the air.

It, of course, gets subtler than that. There are sexual abuse issues that are collective, especially if you believe that media images promote violence (and I don’t). And there are environmental issues caused by individual action; for example, a factory that dumps arsenic in a river is harming people’s health without regard for what other polluters do. Yet other issues straddle the line by being based on a tragedy of the commons among only a few actors.

However, energy use is very clearly a collective rather than an individual problem, so it makes no sense to talk about Gore’s immoral use of energy. Unlike in the case raping a single person to prevent ten from being raped, there is no real moral dilemma around issues that never affect people except collectively. If Gore causes less carbon to be emitted than he emits himself by a combination of carbon credits and activism, which we can assume he does, he’s a net energy saver.

There is possibly a meta issue around Gore’s energy use – namely, the fact that symbolically, if he uses less energy then people will take him more seriously. However, this is never the argument that’s peddled against him. Blogs like Common Sense Political Thought instead laugh at how Gore leaves the peons to conserve and pays his way out of his dues. But is conservation a moral tax to pay or a way of helping people? A rich person who contributes $30 billion to the eradication of AIDS is after all not told that he must fly to Africa and prescribe anti-retrovirals in remote villages to be credible.

And even if they did, it would in itself promote more carbon emissions. It’s acceptable for an impartial analyst to note that Gore’s energy use is causing people to take him less seriously. It’s not acceptable for a conservative activist to tell people not to take Gore seriously because he makes himself vulnerable to not being taken seriously. That kind of concern trolling should be reserved for party politics rather than for real issues, such as conserving energy.

Carnival of the Godless #61 is Up

March 4, 2007

You know where to go. The highlights are a post on Daylight Atheism giving advice to the Christian man who has a problem with the fact that his wife refuses to have sex without birth conrol, which he believes to be a sin; a delightful takedown on atheism.about.com of the left-wing Dominionist notion that the Democrats must consider them the soul of their party; and a precise explanation due to Alonzo Fyfe of why Romney’s “We need a person of faith to lead this country” statement was pure bigotry. Finally, an even better albeit snarky takedown of Romney that didn’t make the carnival is on EvolutionBlog, explaining why Christians can’t be trusted to lead.

Hivemind Social Cue Question

March 4, 2007

Hopefully, at least some of you are better than me at discerning social cues; I’m not sure how to read the following situation.

Suppose that you met a few people socially, and they said something about meeting again tomorrow. Suppose then that the person in charge of the gathering on the next day gave you a time and place, and you showed up with nobody in sight. Okay, you might think, maybe they’re late; but suppose that you ended up sticking around for 45 minutes and calling one of them, the only one you had the phone number of, four times and leaving a message. And Suppose finally that they did in fact end up meeting up, only evidently at another time or place. Would you conclude you’re being deliberately snubbed/ignored?

India’s Missing Girls

March 4, 2007

Echidne has a terrific post about India and China’s sex ratios. In both countries, there is rampant sex-selective abortion and infanticide, leading to sex ratios of 882 and 832 girls to 1,000 boys respectively. Echidne uncharacteristically takes the snarky road here, so let me try and be a more policy-oriented wonk.

1. Abortion restrictions don’t work here. China already forbids doctors to tell women the sex of their babies before birth. On the contrary, freer abortion turns this into a legitimate if decidedly sexist choice rather than murder.

2. Conversely, other governmental restrictions on fertility exacerbate the problem. In India, the sex ratio is largely a product of dowries, which make girls a financial burden on poor families. In China there’s no such thing; the problem stems mostly from the one-child policy, since families prefer having at least one boy to continue the lineage. Nor does the relaxation that families are permitted a second child if the first is female help much, since it still creates potentially a 2-to-1 gender ratio.

3. India’s ban on dowries is only helping a little bit. In the villages, a lot of progressive Indian laws are being routinely flouted. Officially, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste; in practice, the status of low-caste Indian villagers is about the same as this of black Alabamans in 1927.

4. Urbanization won’t help much. In Delhi there are 827 girls per 1,000 boys, despite having an above average level of income. Urbanization has done a lot to help women and low-caste people, but is entirely skipping the practice of sex-selective abortion, which is only getting worse due to increasingly expensive dowries.

5. Enforcing existing laws will help, but can only go so far. India doesn’t have an especially stable government, and in the long run will have an even less stable one as a consequence of the immense surplus of males. Cracking down on dowries is too politically unpalatable.

6. Baby steps like the one that the government is trying to promote, namely encouraging parents to abandon girls in local hospitals instead of abort or kill them, are the most secure. Unfortunately, they’re also the slowest, and problems of an oversupply of men can become very urgent. All hell broke loose in China in the 19th century in precisely those areas with lopsided sex ratios.

7. Exporting people is theoretically possible, but requires Western countries to forego their racism enough as to admit 2 million people every year – the 1 million missing women plus 1 million men to compensate. At a time when Europe is trying to return to its medieval roots and the United States lets in something like 300,000 legal immigrants per year, it’s not realistic for the Indian government to bank on that. It’s the best the West can do, but it’s probably even more politically difficult than to enforce anti-dowry laws in India in the first place.

Once Fascist, Always Fascist

March 4, 2007

Lindsay has an important story about how Iraq’s trade unions, a secular democratic interest group that was against Saddam Hussein back in the day, are under attack from both insurgents and the US. The immediate cause of this is a straightforward power struggle involving privatization; Lindsay says,

It is not surprising that Iraqi trade unions leaders have been targeted by both insurgents and occupying forces. Iraqi unions have undergone a resurgence since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, union power is a potential threat to both fundamentalist clerics and the international corporations seeking to privatize Iraq’s oil industry.

The US-backed Iraqi government approved a sweeping new privatization package for Iraq’s oil industry last Monday. Labor leaders were shut out of the negotiations leading up to the new hydrocarbon law.

One of the characteristics of totalitarianism is its destruction of every civil society structure that could make an alternative to the state and the one party. Authoritarianism tends to leave a few allied structures in place, such as a properly conservative church or mosque, but unions are always targeted for liquidation.

This holds even in authoritarian socialist states. There were no independent trade unions in the Soviet Union. Even Hugo Chavez, a budding authoritarian socialist leader, has had power struggles with the unions, which he’s trying to coopt despite their constituting allies in his fight for a more socialist Venezuela. It goes without saying then that non-socialist forms of authoritarianism, including the religious one that’s building up in Iraq, will be anti-union.

On May 1st, 1933*, Nazi Germany celebrated Labor Day and Hitler promised the workers he’d be their ally. The next day he raided their offices, destroyed them, and established in their stead a single employer-side trade union.

This goes beyond things like whether unions should be established by a secret ballot or by a card check. The freedom of association is a civil liberty that is really on a par with free speech and privacy in being one of the few that enable all the others. It’s what underpins civil society and much of free enterprise. It’s also a very unglamorous civil liberty, since the union raider appears to affect far fewer and less public people than the censor or the eavesdropper.

The US can’t even keep up the act that Iraq is a democracy. Forget insurgents, who are upfront about wanting to establish a Shi’a theocracy (let’s face it, the Sunnis aren’t winning the civil war). The US itself is actively trying to dedemocratize Iraq, just like it has so many other third-world countries over the years.