Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Millions Flee United States

Some 1.3 million illegal immigrants have left the United States since Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the summer of 2007. If the trend continues, according to a new study, the nation’s illegal population will drop by half in the next five years.

Moreover, reports the Center for Immigration Studies, young Hispanic immigrants began heading south before the nation’s economy did – a clue that what’s driving the new outmigration is a stepped-up border and workplace enforcement, not a souring US job market.

More. The report itself can be found here. Aside from the timing issue, the report notes the following: Continue reading

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July 31, 2008 Posted by | Economy, Immigration, Statistics | 1 Comment

Boys are Better (and Worse) at Math Than Girls

Girls and boys have roughly the same average scores on state math tests, but boys more often excelled or failed, researchers reported.

The fresh research adds to the debate about gender difference in aptitude for mathematics, including efforts to explain the relative scarcity of women among professors of science, math and engineering.

In the 1970s and 1980s, studies regularly found that high- school boys tended to outperform girls. But a number of recent studies have found little difference.

The latest study, in this week’s journal Science, examined scores from seven million students who took statewide mathematics tests from grades two through 11 in 10 states between 2005 and 2007.

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, didn’t find a significant overall difference between girls’ and boys’ scores. But the study also found that boys’ scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well — or extremely poorly — than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students.

Continue reading

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Education, Equality, Media, Statistics | Leave a comment

Torture Widespread in Palestinian Jails

Two human rights groups on Monday decried widespread torture of political opponents by bitter Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah, and Associated Press interviews with three victims and a doctor backed the reports of abuse.

The findings emerged as the two sides carried out fresh arrest sweeps in the West Bank and Gaza — highlighting deep tensions in the Palestinian territories after a flare-up in violence over the weekend.

In the West Bank on Monday, the security forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rounded up more than 50 suspected Hamas supporters, including mosque preachers and intellectuals, in retaliation for a similar sweep of Fatah loyalists in Gaza, set off by a bombing that killed five Hamas members Friday.

Hamas violently seized power in Gaza in June 2007, leaving the Islamic militant group in charge of the coastal territory and Abbas’ forces controlling the West Bank.

The Palestinian human rights group Al Haq said Monday that arbitrary arrests of political opponents have been common since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, with each side trying to defend its turf.

More.

July 29, 2008 Posted by | Israel, Torture | Leave a comment

The Minimum Wage is Always Zero

Yesterday the federal minimum wage was raised from $5.85 an hour to $6.55 an hour. Perhaps you didn’t notice. Minimum wage laws are a strange sort of thing. They’re quite popular, yet the arguments used to support them are often of the sort that, in other contexts, hardly anyone would find persuasive.

Suppose I were to argue as follows: Homeless is an injustice and a tragedy, and no one should have to beg on the streets for food or money, or to sleep on the streets. Therefore, we should make begging and vagrancy illegal.

Presumably few people would find such an argument convincing. They would recognize that, bad as it is to have to beg for money in order to be able to eat, simply taking away your ability to beg while doing nothing about the circumstances that led you to beg in the first place isn’t going to make you any better off. Continue reading

July 25, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Law, Poverty | Leave a comment

P.Z. Myers: Jerk or Criminal?

Over the past couple of weeks, the blogosphere has been ablaze with controversy ignited by biologist and blogger P.Z. Myers’ threatened (and later claimed) desecration of a Eucharistic host. Myers’ actions were met with many a forceful rebuke, and rightly so. Curiously, though, there were no calls among Myers’ critics for him to be jailed or fined for his actions, nor was there much discussion about how it was too bad that people were free to engage in this sort of offensive behavior without the threat of legal sanctions.

What do I say this is curious? Because it is the position of the Catholic Church (or, at least, of Her current leadership) that the sorts of acts Prof. Myers claims to have performed ought to be against the law. Pope Benedict, for example, said the following back in 2006: Continue reading

July 24, 2008 Posted by | America, Catholicism, Law | 2 Comments

An Argument for High Gas Prices

Rising prices at the gas pump appear to be having at least one positive effect: Traffic deaths around the country are plummeting, just as they did during the Arab oil embargo three decades ago.

Researchers with the National Safety Council report a 9 percent drop in motor vehicle deaths overall through May compared with the first five months of 2007, including a drop of 18 percent in March and 14 percent in April.

Preliminary figures obtained by The Associated Press show that some states have reported declines of 20 percent or more. Thirty-one states have seen declines of at least 10 percent, and eight states have reported an increase, according to the council.

No one can say definitively why road fatalities are falling, but it is happening as Americans cut back sharply on driving because of record-high gas prices.

Fewer people on the road means fewer fatalities, said Gus Williams, 52, of Albany, Ga., who frequently drives to northern Ohio. “That shows a good thing coming out of this crisis.” He has also noticed that many motorists are going slower.

More.

July 22, 2008 Posted by | Energy, Statistics, Traffic | 1 Comment

What is Intelligent Design Theory?

It seems to me that there are at least four different ways we might characterize Intelligent Design theory.

1. As an alternative to Evolution. On this view ID folks would bear more or less the same relationship to Evolutionary biologists as Copernicans did to Aristotelian astronomers in the Sixteenth century.

The problem with this characterization is that Intelligent Design theory of itself seems too vague and minimalistic to constitute a real alternative to evolution. All ID folks will say is that life on this planet is a result (at least in part) of some intelligent force or being(s). They deliberately will not say what the nature of this force is (God? aliens? time-travelers?), nor do they have much as a group to say about how this force accomplished its task (was it done ex nihilo? did it happen instantaneously or over time, and if so how much time? was it done directly or via some mechanism, and if the latter, what is the mechanism?) Some ID advocates are willing to accept large swaths of evolutionary theory (Michael Behe, for example, is willing to accept the common ancestry of all living things) others aren’t. Without saying more, it’s hard to see why ID theory couldn’t even be compatible with Evolution. Continue reading

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Education, Evolution, Philosophy, Science | 3 Comments

What Caused the Peace of Europe?

After century upon century of periodic warfare, the continent of Europe has, for the last 60 years or so, enjoyed a period of unprecedented peace. Why is that? To hear many Europeans tell it, the recent spate of peace in Europe is due to the advanced moral sentiments of its peoples. After enduring centuries of bloodshed, in the 1940s Europeans finally grew up, and learned to settle their disagreements peacefully (unlike the warmongering Americans).

This explanation is only plausible to the extent one ignores just how fragile and limited the peace of Europe since WWII has actually been. One can say that Europe has known 60 years of uninterrupted peace only if one ignores the Cold War that left half the continent under Soviet domination with the other half under constant threat of total annihilation, as well as repeated wars in the Balkans, the IRA in the United Kingdom, ETA in Spain, Greece’s civil war and conflict with Turkey, French wars in Algeria and Indochina, the Suez crisis, British military engagements ranging from Malaysia to the Falklands, not to mention participation by numerous European countries in the Korean war, Afghanistan, and one or both of the Iraq conflicts, to give but a partial list. If what European peace does exist is the result of some moral advancement and conflict resolution skills developed by the Europeans, then it is unclear why the above mentioned conflicts occurred. Continue reading

July 20, 2008 Posted by | Democracy, History, Trade, War and Peace | 1 Comment

How to Be Batman

Battling bad guys. High-tech hideouts. The gratitude of the masses. Who at some point in their life hasn’t dreamed of being a superhero? Impossible, right? Or is it? Possessing no supernatural powers, Batman is the most realistic of all the superheroes. His feats are achieved through rigorous training and mental discipline, and with the aid of fantastic gadgets. Drawing on his training as a neuroscientist, kinesiologist, and martial artist, E. Paul Zehr explores the question: could a mortal ever become Batman? Zehr discusses the physical and skill training necessary to maintain bad-guy-fighting readiness while relating the science underlying this process, from strength conditioning to the cognitive changes a person would endure in undertaking such a regimen. In probing what a real-life Batman could achieve, Zehr considers the level of punishment a consummately fit and trained person could handle, how hard and fast such a person could punch and kick and the number of adversaries that individual could dispatch, what it would be like to fight while wearing a batsuit, and the amount of food one would have to consume each day to maintain vigilance as Gotham City’s guardian.

More. An interview with the author in Scientific American can be found here.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | Weirdness | Leave a comment