Friday, November 20, 2009

The black stain in Brazil -- as Brazilians see it

Even a small amount of African ancestry causes Brazilians to classify themselves as black. This may be peculiar to Brazil, however, where skin colour and social class are intertwined. One might also note that "white" in Brazil mainly means Portuguese and the Portuguese can be rather swarthy

A new study compares personal perceptions of race, color and ancestry of Brazilian high school students with the results of genetic ancestry tests, with the aim of investigating the tensions between cultural and scientific conceptions of race. The research, led by Ricardo Ventura Santos of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Oswaldo Cruz foundation, appears in the December issue of Current Anthropology.

Modern genetics can provide detailed information about a person’s geographic ancestry. But most scientists agree that human genetic variation doesn’t correspond neatly with traditional notions about race. “In recent decades biologists, especially geneticists, have repeatedly stated that the notion of race does not apply to the human species,” Santos and his team write. “On the other hand, social scientists claim that race is highly significant in cultural, historical, and socioeconomic terms because it molds everyday social relations and because it is a powerful motivator for social and political movements based on race differences.”

The tension between scientific and cultural conceptions of race is on full display in Brazil. Brazilians pride themselves on their mixed European, African and Amerindian ancestries. But in recent years, racial inequalities —especially for blacks— have spurred controversial government policies, including racial quotas for government jobs and university admissions. “At the same time,” the researchers write, “the results of genomic studies that emphasize the considerable extent of biological admixture in the Brazilian population have been widely reported in the media …, bringing up further questions about the implementation of public policies based on race.”

In that context, Santos and his team worked with a group of students from a technical high school just outside Rio de Janeiro. The students were asked in a series of questionnaires to categorize their race or color, and to estimate by percentage their geographic ancestry. The students also gave DNA samples that were used for genetic ancestry tests. The researchers then discussed the results with the students. “The results of the genomic ancestry tests are quite different from the perceived ancestry estimates,” the researchers report. In general, the genomic results showed that the students had far more European ancestry than they had thought.

For example, students who categorized themselves as “black” perceived their ancestry to be, on average, were 63 percent African, 19.8 percent Amerindian and 17 percent European. But the genetic tests showed that European ancestry actually dominates among the black students. The tests showed average ancestry as 51.7 percent European, 40.9 percent African and 7.4 percent Amerindian.

Students who saw themselves as “brown” perceived themselves as having roughly equal European, African, and Amerindian ancestry. The genetic test again, however, came out more European—in fact, over 80 percent European. White students, who perceived themselves as having substantial African and Amerindian descent, were shown by the tests to have very little of either.

The students’ reactions to the results varied. “Students who had classified themselves as white generally declared themselves ‘disappointed’ with the low percentages of African and Amerindian ancestry in their genomic reports,” the authors write. Others were “disconcerted” when their test results showed high European ancestry. Some were even defiant. “In spite of that high percentage of European ancestry I won’t cease to be ‘black’; never!” one student said.

One student greeted the news with humor. “One girl, who had classified herself as brown, talked about her ambition to become a ballet dancer; but, according to her, the admission process of ballet companies, especially classical ballet, favored girls with whiter skin,” the researchers write. “She said jokingly that at the next admission exam she was going to dance with the genomic test results glued to her forehead, proving her predominately European ancestry.”

Some addressed issues of public policy and race directly. “Mine is 96 percent European, 1 percent Amerindian, 3 percent African,” one student said. “I guess the only thing that changes is that I don’t have a chance of getting on the quota.”

There is little doubt the influence of genomics on societies will continue to grow. This study, the authors say, “is pertinent to understanding the complex ways in which information about genetics may be interpreted by the lay public, and why it pervades the politics of race and/or racism affecting national policies designed to promote social inclusion.”



Obama's phony federalism

Friends of federalism cheered last month when the Obama administration reversed the Bush policy of prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states that have legalized the practice. Welcome though that change was, let's hold the applause. Not yet a year into his administration, Obama's record on 10th Amendment issues is already clear: He'll let the states have their way when their policies please blue team sensibilities and he'll call in the feds when they don't. Thus, he'll grant California a waiver to allow it to raise auto emissions standards, but he'll bring the hammer down when the state tries to cut payments to unionized health care workers.

That's not how it's supposed to work. As Madison explained in Federalist 45, the powers delegated to the federal government were "few and defined," to be exercised mainly on "external objects" like foreign policy and international trade. All else -- criminal law, marriage, social policy -- remained with the states or the people.

Of course, No. 45 also contains one of the Federalist's saddest sentences, in which Madison predicts that federal tax collectors will be "principally on the seacoast, and not very numerous." (Sometimes the Framers weren't all that prescient.) Indeed, the federal government's massive power to tax and spend has increasingly allowed it to trample state prerogatives. As the $786 billion stimulus package came online this year, for the first time ever, federal aid surpassed the sales tax as the largest source of revenue for the states. "This money isn't manna from heaven," warned Indiana state Sen. Jim Buck, "it comes with a price."

California learned that lesson back in May. Struggling to close a $40 billion budget gap, the state government lowered payments to home health care workers, but the Obama team threatened to withhold billions of dollars in stimulus money unless the wage subsidies were restored. Officials in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office accused the Service Employees International Union, a longtime Obama ally, of improper influence.

Just a few years back, the Republicans -- nominally the party of federalism -- were busily wielding federal power to enforce red state values -- prosecuting medical marijuana patients, punishing doctors participating in Oregon's "Death with Dignity" initiative, and trying to overturn Florida court decisions that allowed Terry Schiavo to be removed from life support. In that odd political climate, you often heard liberals lamenting the decline of states' rights.

That strange new respect for the 10th Amendment lasted roughly as long as the blue team's exile from power. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently that "if we accomplish one thing in the coming years, it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America." Diversity is bad, uniformity double-plus good; get with the program, comrade.

But one of federalism's core virtues is the enormous diversity it allows. Decentralization makes it easier for Americans to escape unwelcome state experiments with fiscal and social policy. It enhances the political power of individual citizens by allowing important decisions of governance to be settled closest to where Americans live and work. And it avoids making politics a centralized war of all against all, where each contested issue is settled in a one-size-fits-all fashion at the level furthest from the people.

Our federal system shouldn't be a red team/blue team issue, respected or flouted depending on who's up and who's down. Conservatives are learning to rue their abandonment of federalist principles during the last administration; liberals may come to regret their rush toward centralization during the next.




Palin's book tour boosts Michigan spirits: "Sarah Palin apparently had a point to make when she chose economically ravaged Michigan as the first stop on her heavily promoted book tour. "We're Americans. We don't give up on each other," she had written in the conclusion of "Going Rogue," which shot to the top of best-seller lists upon its release Tuesday. Breaking out in intermittent cheers of "Palin, Palin, Palin," hundreds stood in line for hours inside the Woodland Mall for a glimpse of the former vice-presidential candidate and Republican superstar. Supporters called her a fierce defender of families with solid potential for a White House run in 2012. Mrs. Palin arrived at Barnes & Noble bookstore at about 5:40 p.m. aboard a massive blue tour bus emblazoned with her image and the book's cover. It was a celebrity-worthy entrance as flags waved, cameras flashed and Mrs. Palin arrived all smiles in a red blazer and black skirt to briefly address the crowd. Hundreds had camped out overnight for just a few seconds with the vivacious party darling, who resigned as Alaska's governor earlier this year. Mary Ellen Oleniczak, a mother of six from Grand Rapids, said she understood the outpouring of interest. "I think she's a pioneer. She's daring. She's not afraid to speak out on issues that aren't popular," said Mrs. Oleniczak, 59."

Palin’s popularity vs. media mania: "There seems to be a media competition at work, a sort of championship tournament. Every reporter, anchor, and pundit in America is engaged in a frantic effort to be the hero who fires the silver bullet that slays the Republican werewolf from Wasilla. Whether or not Sarah Palin is the last, best hope of the GOP, she is inarguably the worst nightmare of crusading liberal journalists. Not since Oliver North showed up for a key congressional hearing in his Marine Corps uniform has the Washington press corps been so spectacularly vexed at its inability to destroy an intended victim.”

Yuk! " Talk about Washington and London's special relationship. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has admitted she has a "crush" on Britain's youthful-looking, 44-year-old Foreign Minister David Miliband, according to an interview published in US Vogue magazine. "Oh my God!" she told a Vogue journalist in the December issue. "If you saw him it would be a big crush." Ms Clinton, who is married to former US president Bill Clinton, described Mr Miliband as "vibrant, vital, attractive, smart. He's a really good guy - and he is so young!" According to Britain's Sun daily, Mr Miliband reciprocated the gushing feelings, calling Ms Clinton, 62, "delightful" and a "tease".

The French will be glad to hear this: "Germany could be home to as many as 17 million fewer people in 50 years' time, official statistics showed today, laying bare the scale of the demographic crisis in Europe's top economy. At the same time, Germans are greying rapidly, with one in three set to be over 65 by 2060, compared to one in five now, the federal statistics office said. One in seven will be over 80. The total population, currently 82 million, will slump to between 65 and 70 million and neither immigration nor an increase in the birth rate - currently 1.4 children per woman - can do much to ease the crisis, the office added. Like other advanced economies, Germany is facing a snowballing population crisis, leaving the country short of workers and adding to the strain on already stretched public coffers." [At 2.1, France has the highest birthrate in Europe]

Obama prejudges a court case: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday predicted that professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be convicted and executed, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified in the Senate to defend the strategy of civilian trials for the alleged Sept. 11 plotters. In an interview with NBC News, Obama said those offended by the legal privileges given to Mohammed by virtue of getting a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal won’t find it ‘offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.’”

Just what it is that this capitalism thing is good at?: "From $3 billion to $1,000 in only 12 years: yes, the thing which capitalism is so good at is making things cheap. This is why it works as a socio-economic system. Leave aside all the morality plays of exploitation and the like for a moment and think purely as an entirely hard hearted pragmatist. We’ve got cheap food now, we can all fill our bellies at the expenditure of trivial, by historical standards, amounts of labour. Cheap clothing: it’s within the memory of those alive that Sunday Best really did mean one’s second and only other set of clothing. Even housing which seems so expensive has increased in quality so much that it is cheap by any long term comparison. Add medicine, transport, heating, alomst any sector of the eonomy or consumption that you wish to mention. All are incredibly cheap by the only standard that really matters: how long and how hard must we labour to get them.”

Democracy denied in DC: "A measure to let voters decide whether to ban same-sex marriages in D.C. cannot go on the ballot because it would violate a city human rights law, the Board of Elections and Ethics ruled Tuesday. The D.C. City Council is expected to approve gay marriage next month, but opponents wanted voters to weigh in. The elections board said allowing residents to vote on a ban would conflict with the city’s 1977 Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination.”

NY: Hospital aids, abets kidnappers — then demands payment from victim: "In a previous Libertarian News Examiner article … [Julian] Heicklen explained how he was never arrested, handcuffed, or received a citation or summons for handing out pamphlets on public property but was nevertheless transported to Bellevue Hospital where he was confined in the psychiatric ward. ‘It was an out-and-out kidnapping,’ Heicklen insisted then and still insists now. When he demanded to know when he would be released he was injected with Thorazine …. Nearly two weeks later Heicklen unbelievably received a letter from Bellevue offering to help him settle his hospital bill if he would provide his identification and medical insurance information.”

Hate filled nut finally going to jail: "Disbarred civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart, convicted four years ago of shuttling messages from imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman meant for senior members of an Egypt-based terrorist organization, was ordered to prison Tuesday by a federal appeals panel to begin serving her sentence. … Stewart was convicted of using her status as Abdel-Rahman’s lawyer to violate federal rules that barred him from communicating from his high-security imprisonment.”

Push to curb credit card rates fades: "Efforts in Congress to cap credit-card interest rates are faltering because of opposition from Democrats and a lack of specific support from the White House, despite growing consumer outrage over a rush by banks to impose rates as high as 30 percent. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama vowed to back a strict limit on credit-card interest rates. But the White House is not yet behind any particular plan this year. While Obama has chastised credit-card companies, his spokeswoman declined to say this week how he planned to follow through on his campaign pledge.”

SIEU thugs again: "A Pennsylvania union leader has come under fire after threatening legal action against the city of Allentown for allowing a Boy Scout to voluntarily clear a walking path in a local park. Nick Balzano, president of the Service Employees International Union’s Allentown chapter, said last week that the union might file a grievance against the city for allowing 17-year-old Kevin Anderson to clear the hiking trail, instead of paying some of the 39 recently laid-off SEIU members to do the work. Balzano’s office did not return messages left by, but the Morning Call quoted him as telling the city council that the union would be ‘looking into the Cub Scout or Boy Scout who did the trails … There’s to be no volunteers.’”

TN: Fedgoons raid Gibson Guitar plant: "An international crackdown on the use of endangered woods from the world’s rain forests to make musical instruments bubbled over to Music City on Tuesday with a federal raid on Gibson Guitar’s manufacturing plant, but no arrests. Agents of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service made a midday appearance and served a search warrant on company officials at Gibson’s Massman Drive manufacturing plant, where it makes acoustic and electric guitars. … Federal officials declined to say whether anything was removed from Gibson’s plant or what specifically the agents were trying to find. But some exotic hardwoods traditionally used in making premium guitars, such as rosewood from the rain forests of Madagascar and Brazil, have been banned from commercial trade because of environmental concerns under a recently revised federal law.”

The “stimulus” for unemployment: "When you subsidize something, you get more of it. Extending unemployment benefits from 26 to 79 weeks was guaranteed to leave many more people unemployed for many more months. And longer unemployment translates to higher unemployment rates — because the relatively small numbers of newly unemployed are added to stubbornly large numbers of those who lost their jobs more than six months ago. Until benefits are about to run out, many of the long-term unemployed are in no rush to make serious efforts to find another job — or to accept job offers that may involve a long commute, relocation or disappointing salary and benefits.”


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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