This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Redistricting After the 2010 Census Takes Down a High Profile Congressman

Sixteen-term Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts has announced that he will not run for re-election next year, basing his decision at least partly on the demographics of his newly redrawn congressional district. To be fair, he is also 71 years old, but Jon Stewart on the Daily Show showed him no mercy for yielding to the redistricting changes--check it out:  Look for November 28, 2011 and the story is: 

"Barneys New Work Rep. Barney Frank announces his retirement from Congress due to redistricting challenges, and Fox News pundits celebrate his departure. (03:17)"

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Baby Steps for Japan

Japan seems to be heading inexorably, and seemingly without much concern, toward depopulation. With a birth rate that is already at or near the lowest in the world, a new report by the Japanese government--reported by BBC News--suggests that fertility will remain very low for the near future, at least.
[E]very five years the government carries out a detailed survey of attitudes to sex and marriage.The latest found that 61% of unmarried men aged 18 to 34 have no girlfriend, and half of women the same age have no boyfriend - a record high.
More than a quarter of the men and 23% of the women said they were not even looking.
Some cited a shortage of money, others a belief that it is impossible to find a good partner once they had passed the age of 25.
Many of the women also said single life suited them better than how they imagined marriage would be.
Gender roles in Japan dictate that women will yield to their husbands to a greater extent than in most rich countries, and they are also apt to find themselves responsible for their husband's aging parents. This almost certainly dampens enthusiasm for marriage.
The survey also found that more than quarter of unmarried men and women between 35 and 39 years old said they had never had sex.
Thus, the rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing is very low in Japan, in sharp contrast to the situation in the US and Europe.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Immigration Work-Around

The immigration system in the United States remains firmly rooted in family preference as the most important route to legal permanent residence. In 2010, for example, the Department of Homeland Security data show that 68 percent of all legal permanent immigrants entered because they were relatives of US citizens, whereas only 14 percent entered on the basis of an employment preference. At the bottom end of the labor market, this leads to a large group of undocumented immigrants doing the work that US citizens won't do. At the top end of the labor market, it leads to a deficit in the number of highly trained people to do the work for which there are not enough US citizens to fill the gaps. Timothy Lee of ars technica reports today that a Bay Area entrepreneur has come up with an ambitious plan to provide high-end immigrant help to Silicon Valley.

[A] new company called Blueseed is seeking to bypass the political process and solve the problem directly. Blueseed plans to buy a ship and turn it into a floating incubator anchored in international waters off the coast of California.
Ars talked to Blueseed founder Max Marty. He acknowledged that it would be better for America to reform immigration laws and thereby make his company unnecessary. But in the meantime, Marty and his team are hard at work tackling the practical obstacles to making their vision of a floating, year-round hack-a-thon a reality. Within the next year, they're hoping to raise a venture capital round large enough to lease or buy a ship with space for around a thousand passengers. If Blueseed's audacious hack of the immigration system is successful, it will not only open up Silicon Valley to a broader range of entrepreneurs, it will also shine a spotlight on the barriers American law places in the way of immigrants seeking to start businesses in the United States.
Blueseed is trying to overcome the limitations of American immigration law, but its business model also depends crucially on the goodwill of American immigration officials. That's because a key part of the Blueseed sales pitch is that residents will be able to make regular trips to the mainland.
Immigration law makes it difficult for many would-be immigrants to get permission to work in the United States. For example, there's an annual cap on the number of H1-B visas available for American employers to hire skilled immigrant workers. However, permission to travel to the United States for business or tourism is much easier to get.
With any luck, the publicity associated with trying to get this effort going will have on impact on Congress to think more seriously about our woefully inadequate immigration policy. That said, it is hard to imagine anything happening until 2013, after the next national elections.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Air That I Breathe

The 1970s hit song of that name by the English group, The Hollies, was not actually about polluting the air and thereby inducing climate change, but the world was worried about the air we were breathing. The UN had already convened the first world summit on the environment in 1972, held in Stockholm, Sweden. As you know, things have only gotten worse since then, despite genuine efforts to minimize the damage of an increasingly rich world using resources at a rate that it is much faster than population growth. The latest in the series of UN meetings on the environment and climate change will open tomorrow in Durban, South Africa. The Associated Press notes that delegates "hope to break deadlocks on how to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants," but the conference begins amidst generally bad climate news:

In the weeks preceding the conference delegates have been bombarded by new research and scientific reports predicting grim consequences for failing to act.
The U.N. weather agency reported last week that greenhouse gases have reached record-level concentrations in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial era in 1750. New figures for 2010 from the World Meteorological Organization show that carbon dioxide levels are now at 389 parts per million, up from about 280 ppm 250 years ago.
This week the weather agency is due to report on global temperatures for 2011, which are expected to show a continuing long-term trend of global warming. The Geneva-based agency said last year that 2010 was the hottest year in the books.
The Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said "unprecedented extreme weather" caused by global warming will become increasingly frequent and make some places unlivable.
Among the rich countries, the United States has been the most obstructionist with respect to reaching an agreement with other countries on how to curb emissions. It is not yet clear that anything will change with this meeting in Durban. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Present and Past of Mexican Immigrants

The children of Mexican immigrants to New York have a very high dropout rate, according to census data just analyzed by demographers Andrew Beveridge and Susan Weber-Stoger of Queens College, City University of New York, and reported in today's New York Times.
In the past two decades, the Mexican population in New York City has grown more than fivefold, with immigrants settling across the five boroughs. Many adults have demonstrated remarkable success at finding work, filling restaurant kitchens and construction sites, and opening hundreds of businesses.But their children, in one crucial respect, have fared far differently.
About 41 percent of all Mexicans between ages 16 and 19 in the city have dropped out of school, according to census data.
No other major immigrant group has a dropout rate higher than 20 percent, and the overall rate for the city is less than 9 percent, the statistics show.

The irony in all of this is undocumented immigrants from Mexico are coming largely to take the lower-wage, low-skill jobs that people with an education don't want. Since many of these immigrants are barely literate in Spanish, it is unreasonable to expect them to be pushing their children to stay in school and do well. They may well understand the importance of that in the abstract, but everyday life teaches a different lesson.
The struggle of Mexican immigrants to find a better life is also the story told by Frank Bardacke, the older brother of a good friend of mine from high school. Bardacke's book is reviewed in this week's Economist, which notes that Bardacke, who has spent his life as an activist for the disenfranchised, actually seems to be chiding Cesar Chavez for not having done more to push for the success of the United Farm Workers union. 
Illegal migrants from Mexico, poor and desperate for work, poured across the border to take the jobs of UFW members and doom their strikes. The rival Teamsters union was no help. Its operatives sabotaged UFW recruitment drives by telling farmworkers they would be much better off in a tough professional union like theirs.

Thus, the story that Bardacke is telling is that while Cesar Chavez has become a mainstream hero, the unskilled workers from Mexico that he spent his life helping are still struggling on that score.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being Thankful for Small Things

With Thanksgiving about to arrive in the United States, it's a good time to be thankful for small things, such as the low probability of a generational war over entitlements. Mark Miller of Reuters has an opinion piece in which he notes that the attempt by many politicians to pit the younger and older generations against each other on federal budget issues is unlikely to gain much traction:

The Pew Research Center polled Americans on their views of key issues in the 2012 election. Pew found that the public resists the idea of cutting entitlements to reduce the deficit or to cut taxes by a 58 percent to 35 percent margin -- and the differences by generation were minor. Pew also reported that Millennials are just as likely as GenXers, Baby Boomers and seniors to say the government does too little -- not too much -- to support seniors. Nearly 90 percent say the programs have been "good for the country over the years," and that cuts across at least 80 percent of all age groups.
Likewise, Pew found seniors and baby boomers just as likely to worry about the future financial footing of Social Security and Medicare as younger people, and to say that the programs will need reforms in the years ahead.
Why? "Most people live in families," explains Michael Dimock, Pew's associate director. "Young people just getting out of college and joining the workforce also have family members who receive these benefits. Our own experiences mitigate the idea that generations would fight each other over these programs. We'd be fighting with our own grandchildren and children."

Let's also be thankful for animals (big and small) and not murder and eat them. No one gets hurt by the mashed potatoes, gravy (yes, there is very good meatless gravy in your supermarket) and, of course, my personal Thanksgiving favorite--pumpkin pie!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Slow Day Along the US-Mexico Border?

Tonight's debate on CNN among the Republican presidential contenders included once again a fair amount of discussion about the importance of securing the border between the US and Mexico. This fit right into the pattern described in this week's Economist as "The Republicans are Fretting About a Disappearing Problem."
At the border itself, all this talk seems otherworldly. At a “processing centre” in El Paso, where the fingerprints of those caught crossing from Mexico illegally are taken and checked against various databases, there is precious little processing going on. Of the 20-odd workstations, only two are manned. The Border Patrol agents sitting at them chat idly to themselves. Just two detainees, their paperwork complete, sit timidly in the corner of an enormous holding cell. An adjacent cell for women stands empty.The drop in arrests reflects not laxer enforcement, but stronger. There are over 17,000 Border Patrol agents on the border with Mexico, a fivefold increase over 1993. They patrol in cars and all-terrain vehicles, on bicycles and horses, in boats, planes and helicopters. When there are no agents around, cameras, reconnaissance drones and three different types of sensors—seismic, magnetic and infra-red—keep tabs on things. A third of the border is fenced, and most of the rest is in areas so remote or rugged as to make fences pointless or impractical. Some parts of the fence are 17 feet high, with metal plates extending ten feet below ground to prevent tunnelling.
So, their point is that the US Government has, in fact, spent a lot of money "securing" the border. Is that really why there are fewer people coming north? Probably not. Princeton's Doug Massey has been reminding us for years that those measures work largely to make it more expensive for people to cross the border, which means that once they get into the US (as most do eventually) they are not as likely to return as they were in the past. Thus, these restrictions have the unintended side-effect of actually increasing the resident population of undocumented immigrants.

To the credit of the Economist, though, they did give Doug Massey the last word in their article:
Historically, says Doug Massey of Princeton University, the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico correlates most closely with economic growth in America and with the number of visas handed out, not with increased policing of the border. The whole thing is a colossal waste of money, he complains.

Monday, November 21, 2011

In Defense of Diasporas

A few months I commented on the increasingly positive benefits that both sending and receiving countries seem to gain from migration. Now the Economist has taken up a variation on that theme, with an in-depth story of the role of diasporas in promoting business in the sending and receiving countries.

Diasporas have been a part of the world for millennia. Today two changes are making them matter much more. First, they are far bigger than they were. The world has some 215m first-generation migrants, 40% more than in 1990. If migrants were a nation, they would be the world’s fifth-largest, a bit more numerous than Brazilians, a little less so than Indonesians.
Second, thanks to cheap flights and communications, people can now stay in touch with the places they came from. A century ago, a migrant might board a ship, sail to America and never see his friends or family again. Today, he texts his mother while still waiting to clear customs. He can wire her money in minutes. He can follow news from his hometown on his laptop. He can fly home regularly to visit relatives or invest his earnings in a new business.
[Note, by the way, the use of "he." Virtually all migrants discussed in this story are males.]
Such migrants do not merely benefit from all the new channels for communication that technology provides; they allow this technology to come into its own, fulfilling its potential to link the world together in a way that it never could if everyone stayed put behind the lines on maps. No other social networks offer the same global reach—or commercial opportunity.
 This is because the diaspora networks have three lucrative virtues. First, they speed the flow of information across borders: a Chinese businessman in South Africa who sees a demand for plastic vuvuzelas will quickly inform his cousin who runs a factory in China.Second, they foster trust. That Chinese factory-owner will believe what his cousin tells him, and act on it fast, perhaps sealing a deal worth millions with a single conversation on Skype.
Third, and most important, diasporas create connections that help people with good ideas collaborate with each other, both within and across ethnicities.
The rest of the story is largely a summary of case studies, drawing on a variety of academic sources, but one theme that keeps coming through is that the kind of person who enters the diaspora may become more creative as a consequence of being an exile. You can see how this might be a feedback loop--exiles are bound to be greater risk-takers--to have a higher level of "migrability"--and so they may then be the kinds of people who are more likely than others to see opportunity when it arises. All of this seems good--mixing people up creatively is vastly preferable to close-minded xenophobia.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Politics of Contraception

One can only ask: What is the White House thinking? Robert Pear of the New York Times reports that the White House is thinking about going along with an exemption to the new health care law that would permit employers to opt out of a plan that provided contraceptive services to their employees.
A dispute has erupted between President Obama and Democrats in Congress over a proposal to broaden the exemption from new rules that require health insurance plans to cover contraceptives for women free of charge.The National Academy of Sciences recommended that the government adopt such a requirement. And Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, announced in August that she had done so.But after protests by Roman Catholic bishops, charities, schools and universities, the White House is considering a change that would grant a broad exemption to health plans sponsored by employers who object to such coverage for moral and religious reasons.
Churches may already qualify for an exemption. The proposal being weighed by the White House would expand the exemption to many universities, hospitals, clinics and other entities associated with religious organizations.

This just boggles my mind. It is quite one thing if a woman chooses not to avail herself of contraceptive services because she does not believe in contraception for religious or moral reasons. It is a vastly different thing, in my opinion, for the government to allow an employer to make that decision for the woman. The injustice of that seems so obvious that I can't believe we are really talking about it as a possibility.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Murder Among the Parasites

It sounds like something right out of an Agatha Christie murder mystery featuring Hercules Poirot, but in fact it is a theory about the impact that parasites (or disease more generally) might have on the human propensity to commit murder. The story is reported in the NewScientist:

Randy Thornhill, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, has spent years amassing evidence for his "parasite stress" model of human society, which considers all disease to be a parasite on human society. He has already used it to predict that people in disease-ridden regions will be more xenophobic, and prefer to associate with relatives and close neighbours. These "collectivist" societies opt for strongly conservative values and autocratic governments, which Thornhill says minimises the risk of contracting diseases. By contrast, people in countries with low disease rates tend to be more individualistic and democratic, he says.With Corey Fincher, also at the University of New Mexico, Thornhill has now found a link between disease and violence. The pair compared murder and disease rates from 48 US states and found that high disease rates correlated with high murder rates. The pattern held even when they took into account economic inequality within the society, which also increases the murder rate(Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0052).
"If you clean up the diseases you'll reduce the rates of homicide," he [Thornhill] says. He predicts that reducing disease rates should cut the murder rate within 20 years as a new generation grows up in a healthier environment.

To be sure, correlation is not causation, so we have to be careful not to jump to quick conclusions. There are a lot of things going on in "disease-ridden" societies that may increase the level of violence. On the other hand, there can hardly be an objection to reducing disease rates in any society and while we don't need the promise of lower murder rates as an incentive to lower disease rates, it certainly would be nice if things really worked that way.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Americans Are Short-Changing the Children

The Census Bureau recently released a set of data on poverty in the United States and the picture is not very pretty. The global recession has raised the percent of American families that are at or below the poverty level not seen since the recession of 1992. In particular, the data show that 22 percent of children are living at or below the poverty level, a pretty staggering figure when you consider what that might mean for the future. Reuters reports the story:
"Children who live in poverty, especially young children, are more likely than their peers to have cognitive and behavioral difficulties, to complete fewer years of education, and, as they grow up, to experience more years of unemployment," the Census said.
In 2010, when the Census survey was conducted, 21.6 percent of children across the country were poor, compared to 20 percent in 2009.
That was mainly due to a rise in the number of children living below the federal poverty threshold, defined as an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four, to 15.7 million from 14.7 million in 2009.
The figures reflect the overall state of the economy. The national poverty rate stands at 15.3 percent and the unemployment rate is at 9 percent some two years after the recession that began in 2007 officially ended.
The number of people living in poverty has reached an all-time high in the United States, despite the country's position as one of the wealthiest in the world. Its gross domestic product per capita of $47,184 was 3,095 percent more than India's $1,477 in 2010.
Not surprisingly, there are important racial/ethnic differences in poverty rates for children:

Overall, "white and Asian children had poverty rates below the national average, while black children had the highest poverty rate at 38.2 percent," it said.
"The poverty rate for Hispanic children was 32.3 percent, and children identified with two or more races had 22.7 percent living in poverty."
There were also some key geographic differences by state, although there are some obvious correlations with the race/ethnicity patterns:
Among states, Mississippi had the highest proportion of children in poverty, 32.5 percent. In Washington, D.C., and in New Mexico, child poverty rates also neared one-third.
New Hampshire has the lowest child poverty rate at 10 percent.
In 10 states child poverty rates are 25 percent or higher, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Americans Are Not Much on the Move Any More

Yesterday the Census Bureau released migration data for the US derived from the last two rounds of the Current Population Survey, as well as the American Community Survey. These are data for internal migration within the United States and they show a drop-off in the extent to which Americans are moving. Elizabeth Aguilera of the San Diego Union-Tribune picks up the story:

Native Californians made up more than half of the state’s population last year — the first time that has happened in more than a century, the Census Bureau said Tuesday. It resulted from the nation’s lowest migration rate in decades and more Californians continuing to move to nearby states.
Nationally, the number of Americans who moved between last year and this year — whether it was down the street or from coast to coast — plummeted to 11.6 percent. That was unmatched since the Census Bureau began tracking mobility in 1948.
Experts point to the sluggish economy as the main culprit.
“In a typical situation, you might have a local recession and people leave and go where they think it’s going to be better,” said John Weeks, a demographer at San Diego State University. “Right now, there is nowhere to go where you can assume it’s going to be better than where you are.”
I couldn't have said that better myself...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hispanics Rescuing Local Economies in the US

The New York Times reports on the economic boon that Hispanics have been to many small communities in the state of Kansas.

For generations, the story of the small rural town of the Great Plains, including the dusty tabletop landscape of western Kansas, has been one of exodus — of businesses closing, classrooms shrinking and, year after year, communities withering as fewer people arrive than leave and as fewer are born than are buried. That flight continues, but another demographic trend has breathed new life into the region.
Hispanics are arriving in numbers large enough to offset or even exceed the decline in the white population in many places. In the process, these new residents are reopening shuttered storefronts with Mexican groceries, filling the schools with children whose first language is Spanish and, for now at least, extending the lives of communities that seemed to be staggering toward the grave.
That demographic shift, seen in the findings of the 2010 census, has not been uniformly welcomed in places where steadiness and tradition are seen as central charms of rural life. Some longtime residents of Ulysses, where the population of 6,161 is now about half Hispanic, grumble over the cultural differences and say they feel like strangers in their hometown. But the alternative, community leaders warn, is unacceptable.
“We’re either going to change or we’re going to die,” said Thadd Kistler, a lifelong resident who recently stepped down as mayor. “This is Ulysses now, this is the United States now, this immigration is happening and the communities that are extending a hand are going to survive.”
“The face of small towns is changing dramatically as a result,” said Robert Wuthnow, a Kansas-born Princeton professor who studied the Hispanic influx for his book “Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s.” “The question is: Is this going to save these small towns?”
At the same time, the San Diego Union-Tribune was reporting on the growth in Southern California of Hispanic supermarkets.
About 1 in 3 San Diego residents is Hispanic, up from around 1 in 4 a decade ago, according to 2010 census data. The U.S. Hispanic food and beverage market is $7 billion and is expected to reach $10 billion in 2014, according to market research by Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts.
Supermarket operators want a share of that spending. In San Diego County alone, at least a dozen Latin supermarkets have popped up in the past decade, sometimes in space vacated by mainstream supermarkets. The store operators include Northgate GonzalezVallarta, and El Super.
The future, as they say, is a foreign country, and that is almost certainly better than no future at all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Aging Population is a More Diabetic Population

One of the consequences of the global mortality decline is that disease and especially death are postponed to the older ages, where people are much more likely to be plagued (no pun intended) by degenerative diseases than by infectious diseases. Thus, it was not exactly a surprise today when, according to the Associated Press, the International Diabetic Federation in Geneva published a report projecting a huge increase in the number of cases of diabetes in the world between now and 2030.

In a report issued on Monday, the advocacy group estimated that 522 million people would have diabetes in the next two decades, based on things like aging and demographic changes.
The figure includes both types of diabetes. The group expects the number of cases to jump by 90 percent even in Africa, where infectious diseases have previously been the top killer. Without including the impact of increasing obesity, the International Diabetes Federation said its figures were conservative.According to the World Health Organization, there are about 346 million people worldwide with diabetes, with more than 80 percent of deaths occurring in developing countries. The agency projects diabetes deaths will double by 2030 and said the International Diabetes Federation's prediction was possible.
The deaths in developing nations from diabetes reflect the fact that treatment for the disease is less available than in the richer countries, and because the two countries with the world's largest aging populations are developing countries--China and India. They do not have a high percentage of their population that is older, but their sheer population size means that they still have large and increasing numbers of older people who are susceptible to diabetes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Demographic Magic of 11/11/11

The eleventh of November 2011 turned out to be a very popular day for marriage for a lot of reasons. I happened to be traveling that day and overheard the TSA security person at the San Diego airport joking that it was because husbands could always remember an easy date like that and so would not be caught forgetting their wedding anniversary. However, one of the more compelling demographic reasons for liking the date comes from China, and is reported by BBC News:

Thousands of couples across China have opted to get married on what is being called "Super Singles Day".
"Singles Day" or "Bachelors Day" is thought to have first been marked in the 1990s by male university students.
They celebrated it on 11 November as the date contains only the number one, which can mean "bare sticks" in Chinese and refer to bachelors.
This year's event is even more significant as it falls on 11/11/11, which happens every 100 years.
Shanghai alone had more than 3,300 couples who booked to get married, but the final tally could be higher as it did not include people who walked in unannounced, a civil affairs bureau spokeswoman told the AFP news agency.
In the eastern city of Nanjing - where most people believe the unofficial festival came from - more than 3,000 couples planned to marry.
This was 10 times the usual daily average, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
One of the more fascinating aspects of any celebration related to a date is the arbitrariness of the calendar itself. The date 11/11/11 refers to the modern Christian calendar, in a world where the majority of people (especially, in this case, China) are not Christian. Go figure.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Demographics of the Euro Crisis

Over the past several days, the news has been heartening that Greece and Italy seem to be instituting the kinds of austerity measures necessary to bring their economies under control in the face of the huge global financial crisis. The underlying reasons for the global crisis, especially the impact on southern Europe--Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, in particular--are many and varied, and are well laid out, in my opinion, in Michael Lewis's bestselling book, "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World." But there is also a long-term underlying demographic component to the question of "why southern Europe"? And, no, it's not the aging population--all of Europe is dealing with that. Rather, the issue is the status of women. Greece, Italy and Spain have the lowest percentage of women in the labor force of all European countries, according to data from the OECD, a Paris-based think tank. They are squandering huge economic resources in the same way that Japan does. When you add to that the fact that Greece and Italy have the lowest retirement ages in Europe, the waste of human productivity is even more noteworthy. So, it is not just austerity that is required in these countries. They also need to have what amounts to a cultural revolution to bring women more fully into the labor force and to keep people in the labor force for many more years than is the current practice. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Immigration Pushback in Arizona

Yesterday's election results produced the unexpected successful defeat of Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce in a recall election. As leader of the State Senate in Arizona, Pearce has spearheaded all of the immigration laws in that state aimed at intimidating Latin American migrants. It was amazing enough in such a conservative state that he faced a recall, but even more amazing that he lost and is now out of office. The Christian Science Monitor reports on the story:

The recall movement was galvanized mainly by Pearce's role as chief architect of a state law that required police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain and suspect is in the country illegally.
Enactment of the measure, signed by Governor Jan Brewer in April 2010, ignited a furor among Latino and civil rights activists, including calls for an economic boycott of Arizona, and sparked a court challenge by the Obama administration.
A federal judge has thrown out key provisions of the law, including the mandate for police checks of immigration status, and the case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pearce waged an all-out battle to retain his seat in a heavily Republican district of about 70,000 registered voters.
The 64-year-old politician, first elected to the state legislature in 2000, vehemently defended his get-tough stance on illegal immigrants flowing across the U.S.-Mexico border, a phenomenon he called "a national crisis."
Nonetheless, the defeat of Pearce was perhaps an issue more of style than substance. Jerry Lewis (no, not the comedian) who defeated him, is also a Republican and a Mormon and is generally anti-immigrant. But, he was adamant that a more civil tone was necessary on the issue and it seems that the majority of voters in the heavily Republican legislative district agreed with him. NPR's "All Things Considered" has a nice summary of the election.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Victory for Reproductive Rights in Mississippi

Today the voters in Mississippi voted down a piece of legislation that was one of the most fanatically restrictive reproductive measures that I have ever seen. It was called the "personhood" initiative, and has been pushed by people opposed to abortion. 
If it had passed, it was virtually assured of drawing legal challenges because it conflicts with the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a legal right to abortion. Supporters of the initiative wanted to provoke a lawsuit to challenge the landmark ruling.Opponents said the measure would have made birth control, such as the morning-after pill or the intrauterine device, illegal. More specifically, the ballot measure called for abortion to be prohibited "from the moment of fertilization" — wording that opponents suggested would have deterred physicians from performing in vitro fertilization because they would fear criminal charges if an embryo doesn't survive.
Supporters were trying to impose their religious beliefs on others by forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies, including those caused by rape or incest, opponents said.
Mississippi already has tough abortion regulations and only one clinic where the procedures are performed, making it a fitting venue for a national movement to get abortion bans into state constitutions.
Keith Mason, co-founder of the group Personhood USA, which pushed the Mississippi ballot measure, has said a win would send shockwaves around the country. The Colorado-based group is trying to put similar initiatives on 2012 ballots in Florida, Montana, Ohio and Oregon. Voters in Colorado rejected similar proposals in 2008 and 2010.

It is always striking to me to see a man heading up a program aimed at restricting women's reproductive rights. You really do have to wonder how differently men might feel about pregnancy if they themselves were at risk.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Trying to Get a Grip on Aging

One of the more widely accepted theories of aging is that put forth by Leonard Hayflick suggesting that each cell has a biological time-clock limiting the number of times that cell will reproduce. This is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation that prevents any cell from multiplying over and over and thus becoming a cancer (note that the National Cancer Institute defines cancer as "diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues"). No one has figured out how to change this upper limit on cell division, but new research by Darren Baker of the Mayo Clinic, reported in Nature, and covered in this week's Economist, suggests that some aging cells have adverse effects not only on themselves but on nearby cells, and that destroying those bad boys can improve the health of the nearby cells. Baker notes that: 
Advanced age is the main risk factor for most chronic diseases and functional deficits in humans, but the fundamental mechanisms that drive ageing remain largely unknown, impeding the development of interventions that might delay or prevent age-related disorders and maximize healthy lifespan.
The key phrase here is "healthy lifespan." This is not the same as increasing lifespan, but only making the older years healthier than they would otherwise have been. The experiments on mice that led to the conclusion that this is possible are complex, and we are almost certainly a long way from having any application to humans, but as the Economist concludes:
Genetically engineering people in the way that Dr Baker engineered his mice is obviously out of the question for the foreseeable future. But if some other means of clearing cells rich in P16INK4A from the body could be found, it might have the desired effect. The wasting and weakening of the tissues that accompanies senescence would be a thing of the past, and old age could then truly become ripe.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Japan: Only the Son Rises

I note in the book the old saying that while Japan is the land of the rising sun, only the son rises. There has historically been egregious discrimination against women in Japan. The Schumpeter column in this week's Economist calls Japan the "Land of the Wasted Talent"for the way in which it effectively ignores the talent of the female half of the labor force, even in the face of aging and a long-term recession. The opinion piece carries the provocative (and almost certainly true) subtitle "Japanese firms face a demographic catastrophe. The solution is to treat women better."
UNLIKE an earthquake, a demographic disaster does not strike without warning. Japan’s population of 127m is predicted to fall to 90m by 2050. As recently as 1990, working-age Japanese outnumbered children and the elderly by seven to three. By 2050 the ratio will be one to one. As Japan grows old and feeble, where will its companies find dynamic, energetic workers?
The article in the Economist is inspired by a new report just out from the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York City.
Japanese firms are careful to recycle paper but careless about wasting female talent. Some 66% of highly educated Japanese women who quit their jobs say they would not have done so if their employers had allowed flexible working arrangements. The vast majority (77%) of women who take time off work want to return. But only 43% find a job, compared with 73% in America. Of those who do go back to work, 44% are paid less than they were before they took time off, and 40% have to accept less responsibility or a less prestigious title. Goldman Sachs estimates that if Japan made better use of its educated women, it would add 8.2m brains to the workforce and expand the economy by 15%—equivalent to about twice the size of the country’s motor industry.

There was a time when this might have been true throughout Asia, but that is less true now than it used to be. Japan seems now to be something of an outlier on its attitudes towards women in business.
Japanese companies have much to learn from the gaijin [foreigners]. IBM Japan encourages flexitime. BMKK, the Japanese arm of Bristol-Myers Squibb, a drug firm, has a programme to woo back women who have taken maternity leave. Why can’t native Japanese firms do likewise? A few, such as Shiseido, a cosmetics firm, try hard. But apparently small concessions to work-life balance can require a big change in the local corporate mindset. Working from home should be easy: everyone has broadband. But Japanese bosses are not used to judging people by their performance, sighs Yoko Ishikura, an expert on business strategy at Keio University.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Redistricting Battles Head to Court

You will recall that the Constitutional mandate for the US census is to apportion seats to the House of Representatives (that's done and agreed to), and to provide data for Congressional redistricting. The new redistricting maps have been drawn in almost every state (but not yet in Colorado or New Mexico), and now the court battles over them has begun. The New York Times reports that "[L]awsuits related to redistricting have been filed in more than half the states, asking judges to decide issues that include whether the new maps take partisan gerrymandering too far or discriminate against minority voters."

The most bizarre incident, though, has taken place in Arizona, where Governor Jan Brewer actually was able to oust the head of the state's non-political redistricting commission, apparently because the new redistricting maps were not sufficiently favorable to Republicans. As the New York Times reports:

Following the recommendation of Ms. Brewer, a Republican, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 21 to 6 on Tuesday night to remove Colleen C. Mathis, chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Lawyers raced to court in a long-shot effort to overturn the decision.
“I will not sit idly by while Arizona’s Congressional and legislative boundaries are drawn in a fashion that is anything but constitutional and proper,” said Ms. Brewer, who has condemned the maps proposed by the commission as biased toward Democrats.
Arizona voters decided in 2000 that a citizens’ commission of two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent chairman would draw political lines and that commissioners could be removed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate only for “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office or inability to discharge the duties of office.”
Ms. Brewer accused Ms. Mathis, who is registered as an independent, of improperly conducting commission business out of public view and of skewing the redistricting process toward Democrats.
Paul Charlton, a former United States attorney who is representing Ms. Mathis, dismissed those accusations and said Ms. Brewer and other Republicans were politicizing the process because they were frustrated that they could not control it.
One of the problems with Arizona's commission is probably its small size, which lends itself to the appearance of partisanship, even if none was involved. California, which created an independent commission more recently than Arizona, and whose first work was this round of redistricting, created a 19-member commission, which is likely to bring in more diversity of opinion about the redistricting process and thus have a greater chance of appeasing critics. Of course, that hasn't kept lawsuits from being filed in California:
A lawsuit filed by Republicans charges that the maps violate the Voting Rights Act by eliminating some majority black districts in south Los Angeles.
Kathay Feng, the executive director of California Common Cause, who helped lead the fight for the independent commission, said the lawsuit was a cynical attempt to get a more favorable map. “This is night and day from what we had before, which was a dog-and-pony show where the Legislature pretended to have negotiations,” Ms. Feng said. “What they really did was to entrench themselves.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Climate Change is Only Making Things Worse

It has been a tough week for anyone who still believes that climate change is just something made up by some wrong-headed scientists. An important step was an analysis of data by a UC Berkeley professor who previously had been one of those nay-sayers:
Richard Muller, a respected physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, used to dismiss alarmist climate research as being “polluted by political and activist frenzy.” Frustrated at what he considered shoddy science, Muller launched his own comprehensive study to set the record straight. Instead, the record set him straight.“Global warming is real,” Muller wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal.
At the same time, the United Nations Development Program issued a report warning that:

...if drastic measures are not taken to prepare nations for the impacts of climate change, the economic progress of the world’s developing countries could stall or even be reversed by 2050.
This year’s annual report, approaches the issue of climate change and environmental degradation from the standpoint of economic development and the eradication of poverty,. “Even if someone’s a climate skeptic, this report says, ‘Put that aside for a second,’ ” said William Orme, a spokesman for the United Nations agency. “If you believe in something like a moral commitment to the global community and in getting people out of poverty, we must address these environmental problems.”
And a group of British and Americans scientists published a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society suggesting that we could easily be in for a global temperature rise of four degrees centigrade by the year 2100, and offering up thoughts about the possible consequences of such a change (not good, as you might imagine):

An interesting dynamic emerges between the potential impacts of climate
change and the rate at which climate change occurs. First, many population
scenarios project that world population will peak at about nine billion in the
2050s, with the largest increases between now and then concentrated in emerging economies. Demand for food and water will rise (and possibly peak) in parallel with this. If climate warms rapidly—as might occur with a steep rise in emissions, with a high peak emissions rate, perhaps exacerbated by a post-peak reduction that fails to keep to a 1 TtC budget—a temperature of anywhere between 2C and 4C might be reached by the 2050s or 2060s, precisely at the time when vulnerability as a result of population demands for food and water is highest.

Because cities now host the majority of the world’s population, and may somewhere between 30 and 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, they have the potential to make a substantial contribution to reducing the risks of climate change—both in terms of emission reductions and as keysites for adaptation to a warmer world.
Sadly, beyond these few comments about the interaction of population growth and emissions there is little discussion in these reports of climate change about the potential value of pushing down the pace of population growth. A growing population is simply taken for granted, and the policy prescriptions are related entirely to reducing emissions.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birth Control Can Buy Breathing Room

Generally lost in the discussion about the population reaching 7 billion has been the question of how long it will take us to reach 8 or 9 or 10 billion. Slowing down the pace of population increase even a little bit can go a long way toward providing enough breathing room to figure out how to cope with a world inhabited by so many people. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof put the issue on the table today with his op-ed advocating that more attention be paid to bringing down the birth rate at a faster pace. He reminds us that in the United States the discussion about family planning has been hijacked by the abortion issue:

Traditionally, support for birth control was bipartisan. The Roman Catholic hierarchy was opposed, but Republican presidents like Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush provided strong support. Then family planning became tarnished by overzealous and coercive programs in China and India, and contraception became entangled in America’s abortion wars. Many well-meaning religious conservatives turned against it, and funding lagged. The result was, paradoxically, more abortions. When contraception is unavailable, the likely consequence is not less sex, but more pregnancy.
Contraception already prevents 112 million abortions a year, by U.N. estimates. The United Nations Population Fund is a bĂȘte noire for conservatives, but its promotion of contraception means that it may have reduced abortions more than any organization in the world.
Republicans are seeking to cut more money from global family planning — which, in poor countries, would mean more abortions and more women dying in childbirth. Conservatives have also sought to slash Title X Family Planning programs within the United States. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that in a year these domestic programs avert 973,000 unintended pregnancies, of which 406,000 would end in abortions.
Finally, a ray of hope: A group of evangelical Christians, led by Richard Cizik of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, is drafting a broad statement of support for family planning. It emphasizes that family planning reduces abortion and lives lost in childbirth.
“Family planning is morally laudable in Christian terms because of its contribution to family well-being, women’s health, and the prevention of abortion,” the draft says.
Amen! Contraceptives no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain.
A breakthrough on this policy discussion would be immensely beneficial because environmentalists have been frustratingly reluctant to connect population control to things like limiting the impact of climate change. More on that tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Immigrants to the Rescue

Lost in the haze of important publicity about the seventh billion person, and in the flurry of stories about draconian state laws against undocumented immigrants, was a good story about immigrants to the rescue. The Associated Press reports from Dayton, Ohio that the city has just made a very rational official decision to actively encourage immigrants into their community in order to boost the economy.

It has adopted a plan not only to encourage immigrants to come and feel welcome here, but also to use them to help pull out of an economic tailspin.
Dayton officials, who adopted the "Welcome Dayton" plan unanimously Oct. 5, say they aren't condoning illegal immigration; those who come here illicitly will continue to be subject to U.S. laws.
While states including Alabama, Georgia and Arizona, as well as some cities, have passed laws in recent years cracking down on illegal immigrants, Dayton officials say they will leave that to federal authorities and focus instead on how to attract and assimilate those who come legally.
City leaders aiming to turn Dayton around started examining the immigrant population: Indian doctors in hospitals; foreign-born professors and graduate students at the region's universities; and owners of new small businesses such as a Turkish family's New York Pizzeria on the city's east side and Hispanic-run car lots, repair shops and small markets. They say immigrants have revitalized some rundown housing, moving into and fixing up what had been vacant homes.
"This area has been in a terrible recession, but it would be even worse without them," said Theo Majka, a University of Dayton sociology professor who, with his sociologist wife Linda Majka, has studied and advocated for Dayton's immigrants. "Here we have this underutilized resource."
Anyone looking at the demographics of the US has to realize that this is the way forward (if you'll pardon that overused term--but it seems to fit here).