Sunday, December 30

The ugliness penalty & the beauty premium

One of the leading students of beauty and success is Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas. Dr Hamermesh is an economist rather than a biologist, and thus brings a somewhat different perspective to the field. He has collected evidence from more than one continent that beauty really is associated with success—at least, with financial success. He has also shown that, if all else is equal, it might be a perfectly legitimate business strategy to hire the more beautiful candidate.

Just over a decade ago Dr Hamermesh presided over a series of surveys in the United States and Canada which showed that when all other things are taken into account, ugly people earn less than average incomes, while beautiful people earn more than the average. The ugliness “penalty” for men was -9% while the beauty premium was +5%. For women, perhaps surprisingly considering popular prejudices about the sexes, the effect was less: the ugliness penalty was -6% while the beauty premium was +4%.

Since then, he has gone on to measure these effects in other places. In China, ugliness is penalised more in women, but beauty is more rewarded. The figures for men in Shanghai are –25% and +3%; for women they are –31% and +10%. In Britain, ugly men do worse than ugly women (-18% as against -11%) but the beauty premium is the same for both (and only +1%).

That's apparently just Shanghai, which isn't necessarily representative of China; the Shanghainese have a reputation for being, let us say, superficial.

Just when you thought the Huckabee campaign couldn’t get any creepier…

Mike Huckabee held a fundraiser earlier this week at the Houston home of Dr. Steven Hotze. As Novak notes, Hotze is “a leader in the highly conservative Christian Reconstruction movement.”

Christian Reconstructionists, for those unfamiliar with the term, are Religious Right radicals who believe that America, and the rest of the world besides, should be governed in accordance with strict Biblical law.

Saturday, December 29

Cultural elite does not exist

[Researchers] divided people into four groups – univores, who only like popular culture; omnivores, who like everything from opera to soap opera; paucivores, who absorb very little culture; and inactives, who absorb practically none.

People's education, income and social class were all taken into account but this study, unlike others of its kind, clearly differentiated between "class" and "status". An out-of-work aristocrat has class, without status, while there are bright, ambitious people from poor backgrounds who have "status" but not "class".

In previous studies they have concluded that status is now determined more by the work someone does than by their birth or their wealth. Office workers consider that they have a higher status than manual workers; among office workers, professionals think themselves a cut above works managers, and so on.

The newspaper a person chooses, and the forms of entertainment that person enjoys are all tied up with ideas about social status. That does not mean that professionals in elite jobs restrict themselves to "elite" arts, but it does mean that the opera houses and specialist art galleries are likely to be filled with people who have "status".

Class, as opposed to status, does not seem to have much effect on cultural tastes. "A substantial minority of members of the most advantaged social groups are univores or inactives," the researchers found.

Entitlement Mentality

So-called entitlement programs are the reason “America faces escalating deficit levels and debt burdens that could swamp our ship of state,” as Comptroller General David Walker put it in a recent speech. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid account for 40 percent of federal spending and are expected to consume 51 percent in a decade.

Right now Social Security makes the federal fiscal picture look better than it really is, since the program generates a surplus that masks the true size of the deficit. In fiscal year 2007, for example, the official budget deficit was $163 billion; excluding the Social Security surplus, it was more than twice as high.

Since the government spends the surplus on other programs, the Social Security “trust fund” consists entirely of federal bonds, and those IOUs will come due soon. The oldest baby boomers become eligible for early retirement in 2008. They will start drawing Medicare benefits in three years.

The result, said Walker, will be a “tsunami of spending” that “will never recede.” Under current law the estimated gap between the benefits retirees have been promised and revenue to fund them is $53 trillion, of which $34 trillion is due to Medicare.

Nearly one-quarter of that long-term Medicare deficit, $8 trillion, is attributable to the prescription drug benefit championed by President Bush and approved by a Republican-controlled Congress. “Incredibly,” Walker noted, “this number was not disclosed or discussed until after the Congress had voted on the bill and the president had signed it into law.” He said the bill’s passage “arguably represents government ‘truth’ and ‘transparency’ at its worst.”

Although it was presented as a solution to the dilemma of senior citizens forced to choose between eating and taking their medicine, the drug benefit is not means-tested. Like Social Security and Medicare generally, it transfers wealth from young workers to retirees who are often financially better off, buying the votes of older Americans with their grandchildren’s money.

Not that the Democrats, who criticized the drug benefit as insufficiently generous, are any better. If you believe a Democratic president would be more fiscally responsible than Bush, have a look at the campaign ad that presents “Universal Health Care,” “Alternative Energy,” “Middle Class Tax Breaks,” and “Universal Pre-K” as Christmas gifts lovingly wrapped by a beneficent Hillary Clinton. Unlike Charlie Rangel, at least Clinton wants to buy gifts for us, but she’s still using our money.

"Our government has made a whole lot of promises that, in the long run, it cannot possibly keep without huge tax increases,” Walker noted.

Not all are mourning Bhutto

Punjabis account for almost half of the country's population and control its most important institution: the military. Yet Bhutto was a Sindhi, a member of an ethnic minority that accounts for just 12 percent of Pakistan's 165 million people.

She was also a hero to a Sindhi separatist movement, a decades-old struggle for independence pursued by a people who see Pakistan as a prison. Under British colonial rule, the Sindhis were regional ministers of their own affairs. After partition in 1947, the Sindhis were marginalized by politically powerful migrants, the Mohajirs, who led the drive to split India as two 'nations' divided by religion. The Mohajirs, who settled primarily in the capital of the province, Karachi, are now represented in Islamabad by one of their own: Musharraf.

Immediately after Bhutto died, it should come as no surprise that the most violent protests erupted in the streets of Sindh.

Because the Mohajir elite are both educated and secular, the return of Bhutto and her call for democracy should have been cause for cosmopolitan celebration. Yet she was generally loathed by Mohajirs. In Karachi, a popular comedian often played Bhutto in drag and made fun of her uncomfortable accent in Urdu. Rather than a symbol of civility, she was viewed as a chief of the hostile natives, the Sindhis.

In fact, this is not far from the truth. Bhutto's cousin Mumtaz Bhutto is the chairman of the separatist Sindhi National Front (SNF). In a meeting over tea and cookies at his well-guarded home in Karachi, Mumtaz Bhutto once told me the Sindhi separatists are inspired by the secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971. Just as Islamabad "did not read the signs" warning of what was about to happen in Dhaka, he believes the Musharraf regime is "totally oblivious to what is going on in Sindh."

The separatist sentiment in Sindh is not unique in Pakistan.

In the neighboring province of Balochistan, a resource-rich but desperately forbidding region, many of the five million ethnic Balochis support the Baloch Liberation Army, a separatist militia that sometimes bombs natural-gas pipelines and government offices.

The BLA's longtime leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, was killed last year when the Pakistan Air Force bombed his remote mountain hideaway. And last month, his successor, Balash Khan Marri, was shot and killed by an unknown assailant.

And in the wild, wild northwest, ethnic Pashtuns - cousins of the same people who formed the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan - battle their country's own army.

In short, aside from an observance of Islam, the Muslims of Pakistan have little else in common. The country's name offers the best illustration of its synthetic construction: Pakistan is an acronym composed of the titular provinces Punjab, Afghan (for the people of the wild northwest), Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan. Each of these provinces is dominated by separate peoples with distinct languages. The official language of Pakistan, Urdu, is the mother tongue of only 8 percent of its people, the Mohajirs.

Read the rest.

"Migrants", not "Expats"

If you picked up, moved to Paris, and landed a job, what would you call yourself? Chances are, if you’re an American, you’d soon find yourself part of a colorful community of “expats.” If, while there, you hired an Algerian nanny—a woman who had picked up, moved abroad, and landed a job—how would you refer to him or her? Expat probably isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Yet almost no one refers to herself as a “migrant worker.”

Laura María Agustín’s Sex at the Margins catalogues the many ways in which wealthy Westerners cast immigrants as The Other....

Comparing the ways immigrants describe their experiences and the ways NGO personnel and theorists describe immigrants, she writes, “The crux of the difference concerns autonomy; whether travellers are perceived to have quite a lot versus little or none at all.” Theories of migration portray migrants as unsophisticated and desperate people who are “pushed” and “pulled” along a variety of dimensions. “The tourism and pleasure seeking of people from ‘developing societies’, rarely figures, as though migration and tourism were mutually exclusive,” she writes, “Why should the travels to work of people from less wealthy countries be supposed to differ fundamentally from those of Europeans?” “Migrants” travel because they are poor and desperate, “expatriates,” travel because they are curious, self-actualizing cosmopolites. But Agustín searches in vain for an immigrant whose self-identity reflects the wretched portrait of the [model] migrant drawn by those who would help.

As Agustín shows, nowhere are these human caricatures more exaggerated than in the contemporary conversation about human trafficking, or—to use a term Agustín detests—“sex trafficking.” While selling sex may be a rational choice for some, governmental and charitable anti-trafficking initiatives rarely discriminate between those who would prefer sex work to the relevant alternatives and those who have been wronged. Sex slavery statistics are so tenuous that debunking them is a sport for skeptical journalists, while genuine labor abuses go ignored.

Collective anxiety about women who traverse sexual and spatial boundaries is anything but new. As Agustín writes, “Women who cross borders have long been viewed as deviant, so perhaps the present-day panic about the sexuality of women is not surprising.” Immigrants are human beings with the courage to leave the comforts of home. In Sex at the Margins, Agustín asks readers to leave behind easy stereotypes about migrants and welcome the overlooked expats among us...

Agustín: Women are sometimes called “boundary markers”: When States feel threatened, women's bodies become symbols of home and the nation. This is a common sexist idea in patriarchal societies. The idea that women are domestic and symbolize home and hearth —but also that they should stay home and be home—is deeply entrenched all over the world. And while richer countries might favour gender equity for their own women, they often “domesticate” women from poorer contexts.

The U.N. protocols on trafficking and smuggling of human beings are gendered. The trafficking protocol mentions women and children, and mentions sexual exploitation, but doesn't say anything about voluntary leaving. The smuggling protocol talks about men who want to travel but have crossed a border in a less than kosher way—and sex is not mentioned.

People talk about a contemporary "feminization" of migration, but the evidence for this is shaky. There have been other waves of women migrating in numbers, as in the late 19th century from Europe to Argentina, where they were often accused of being prostitutes. Europeans didn’t want to think these white women would set out on their own like this or end up selling sex, which is where the term "white slavery" derives from. The phenomenon was similar to what we see today, only the direction has shifted...

reason: Is there a romanticization of home at work here? The idea that it's always best to stay in the place you come from?

Agustín: Immigration procedures still assume that everyone calls some country “home”, but many people’s situations don’t easily fit this idea. They’ve got more than one home or don’t want to call anyplace home. The collective fantasy says home is always a lovely place, but many people have a contrary experience.
Do Suicides Really Peak During the Holidays?

Suicide rates peak in the spring or summer and are lowest in the winter, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thursday, December 27

Unintended Consequences

With respect to lead poisoning from recycling electronics in China Tim Worstall notes
...the glass on CRT or TV is 25% lead oxide. There’s no sensible (ie economic) method of recycling this. The logical thing is to recycle all the rest and stick the glass into landfill. But, of course, you’re not allowed to stick lead into landfill, are you?

Which is something of a pity, for while metallic lead, or lead oxide, would indeed be dangerous to those in the future, lead tied up in glass is not. Glass is, in fact, one of the most stable materials known to man. The lead does not leach out into the groundwater. Not even acids extract it (which is why we use glass carboys to transport acids of course).

But the environmentalists see 'lead' and insist that it cannot be landfilled, it must be treated as poisonous and thus disposed of in a very expensive manner. This then means that the more sophisticated, mechanical, recycling methods do not make economic sense to do here in Europe. Thus the trade to China where people are, as the article points out, killing themselves and their children in doing said recycling.

Wondrous, isn’t it? By insisting on too much recycling, the rules make certain that not enough is done, by insisting that there should be no landfill, no lead entering the environment, they make sure that more lead does enter it.

Friday, December 21

A conservative liberalizes

Seoul's bulldozer
Lee Myung-bak shrugged off a financial scandal and thrashed his rivals at the polls this week to be elected South Korean president...

Mr Lee, of the conservative Grand National party...has rightly focused more on the economy than on long negotiations with the South's dysfunctional neighbour...

One way to achieve this would be aggressively to liberalise the economy....
South Korea chooses a new president
In Lee Myung-bak, South Korea has a president-elect who in February will bring to an end 10 years of liberal rule and, it is hoped, push economic growth rates back towards the levels of the 1990s.
And so "liberals" are therefore anti-growth?

Then the Economist says that "liberal in the Korean sense" is "slightly less pro-business and pro-American."

Wednesday, December 19

Too Bad!

If the USA had completely ignored the 9/11 attack - just shrugged and rebuilt the building - it would have been better than the real course of history. But that wasn't a political option.

Kill the unbeliever

Via Bryan Caplan: When to Stone Your Whole Family, citing Deuteronomy 13:6-10:
If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
That's from the holy book of the Christians so beloved by the House of Representatives. Of course, Christians rarely advocate that sort of behavior anymore, unlike the Muslims:

It is a mainstream belief among Muslims that apostasy (the repudiation of Islam by a Muslim) should be punished by death (granted, this rule is only made explicit in the hadith). It is also a mainstream belief that infidels should (if possible) be politically subjugated and forced to pay a poll tax. Yes, Muslims are counseled not to be aggressors, and thus to fight only defensive wars. But "defensive" is in the eye of the beholder. We can be sure that Osama bin Laden can tell a story about why his actions have been purely in "defense" of the faith.

Those readers who think I have offered a caricature of Islam must explain why an uncountable number of imams supported the fatwa against Salman Rushie, while not a single one (to the best of my knowledge) has pronounced a fatwa on Osama bin Laden.

Whoops, I wasn't paying attention when a resolution recognizing Ramadan and expressing the "deepest respect to Muslims in the United States and throughout the world" was passed. And the Indian festival of Diwali was honored, too. Nothing for Chinese New Year?

Monday, December 17

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

Unless they want to.

Text of Legislation


H. Res. 847

In the House of Representatives, U. S.,

December 11, 2007.

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its Judeo-Christian roots;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

      (1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

      (2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

      (3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

      (4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

      (5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

      (6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

What's sad is the number of people who felt they had to go along with this.

Friday, December 7

As If Bred by Alien Overlords

Three-Toed Sloth provides a Q 'n' A, in the course of which :
A: ...Doing well on standardized, multiple-choice tests calls for certain sorts of cognitive skills, certain kinds of abstract problem solving. Maybe more exactly, you need both aptitude at understanding explicit rules for manipulating symbols, communicated to you through the medium of writing, with very little contextual information to help you make sense of the message, and you need to be willing to follow those rules, even when they are pointless. These are skills that come from making your way through an industrial, or more precisely bureaucratic and mass-literate, society. (Shades of Luria!) These are skills you are more apt to learn if you grow up in a household which is already highly literate, etc., than if your parents and neighbors are all displaced peasants or harrassed proles. It's certainly not surprising if someone who grows up in a household of intellectuals (that is, clerks) finds these habits easy to learn.

Q: So the analogy suggests that IQ scores are...?

A: A proxy for the skills and habits encouraged by a bureaucratic society; skills and habits which can be at once highly heritable (because of strong transmission through family and neighbors) and highly learned (within the scope of what it is biologically possible for humans to learn and internalize).
A: ...If IQ really correlates with the ability to flourish in an industrial society (and I'm quite prepared to believe that), then it is, as I said last time, a measurement of the ability to navigate paper-pushing bureaucracies — to learn to manipulate arbitrary abstract explicit rules, and to do so on command. Presuming that people who don't manage to pull off at least some minimum level of this make very unattractive mating partners, and so have below-average reproductive success, then those of us in developed countries have spent the last one or two centuries breeding for docility, in both senses of the word.
It's really better in the original, though.

definitely an adventurous person

"If this picture makes you want to run out and eat processed salami meats, you are definitely an adventurous person, in my opinion". As a matter of fact, it looks pretty tasty to me.

Saturday, December 1

You are too stupid

You are too stupid to save for retirement, too stupid to stop eating fatty foods, too stupid to wear a seat belt, and/or too stupid to accept employment on the right terms -- so we will take control of these decisions for you, whether you like it or not.