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Friday, September 20, 2002
what is complexity? by murray gell-mann :)

stephen wolfram's science by greg egan!

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Thursday, September 19, 2002
the tao of mao (via pathologically polymathic)

Actually, it was not Tibetan Buddhism, but what happened to the practice and teaching of Taoism under Mao that was the initial impetus of the book. I was shocked to find that a 2500-year-old body of thought, belief, ritual, and art could be, had been, essentially destroyed within ten years, and shocked to find I hadn't known it, though it happened during my adult lifetime. The atrocity, and my long ignorance of it, haunted me. I had to write about it, in my own sidelong fashion.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2002
a real war on terrorism (part V) by the earthling! (via a no talent ass clown :)

The view I'm advancing is, broadly speaking, a Marxist view—that religious beliefs are largely a function of underlying economic and political circumstances, as mediated by psychology. It's also a hopeful view. Because it means we don't have to figure out how to "change Islam"—a disconcertingly amorphous task, and one that would probably backfire. Lewis is right about the hopelessness of intervening at that level. We can instead intervene at the level of economics and politics, and if we're successful, then the radical variants of Islam will lose support; radical "memes" will find fewer brains willing to host them. Hence, for example, Policy Prescription No. 6: Draw Islamic nations—and for that matter all nations—into the web of global capitalism.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2002
from sep. 2 barron's online

***
New Melting Pot
How immigration helps keep the U.S. competitive and financially strong
By GENE EPSTEIN

The massive influx of immigrants that began in the late 1960s happened only because it was totally unexpected.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Immigration Act of 1965 in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the symbolism of the gesture mattered far more than the substance. The act abolished all legal discrimination against immigrants from Asia, but no one anticipated the result -- least of all a government fighting a war in the Vietnam.

So Congress and country didn't question Robert Kennedy's odd prediction that migration from the "Asia-Pacific triangle" would rise to about 5,000 at first, and then subside to a bare trickle. It also acknowledged with a yawn Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach's testimony that "there is not much pressure to come to the United States" from Latin America.

If the nation had even dimly imagined that over the next 35 years the door would swing wide to more than 20 million immigrants -- about a third from Asia, and more than half from Latin America -- the '65 act would probably have died in committee.

Today Americans are smarter and more tolerant than that. Their sitting president courts the Hispanic vote and appoints minorities to high places in government. But another demographic sea-change is looming that might be just as unexpected as the first -- and perhaps even more threatening.

The Statue of Liberty has been sending its siren call not so much to the "tired ... huddled masses yearning to breath free," but to the tough and tenacious yearning to write code; the smart and persistent willing to master hard disciplines such as engineering and computer science; and those tender and tolerant enough to be able to care for that ever-growing huddle of sick, elderly natives.

In 1970, about 5% of the labor force was foreign-born. By 1990, their share had risen to 10%, and last year it reached 13%. This immigrant labor force now numbers 18.4 million, of which nearly eight million are in skilled professions of one kind or another.

Over the next 30 years, immigrants are bound to claim an even bigger share of the labor force. For one thing, the mix will shift in favor of skilled jobs that the foreign-born have already been filling in large numbers, as the chart on the following page demonstrates. For another, the burgeoning number of elderly will bring a vast expansion in the care-giving professions that also attract the foreign-born. And the baby boomers will be exiting the labor force, leaving the ranks in sore need of new recruits.

So despite the apprehensions created by 9/11, the current wave of immigration is in mid-passage. Expect the share of immigrants in the U.S. labor force to rise from its current 13% to about 20% by 2030.

If that happens, then the share of U.S. residents who are foreign-born would increase from 10% in 2001 to more than 14% by 2030, matching the peaks achieved during the last great wave of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But as impressive as these numbers are, they don't begin to reflect the overall impact of such immigration inflows. The Census Bureau uses the term "foreign stock" to describe both immigrants and their offspring. Estimates show that for every 100 foreign-born residents, there are another 97 residents of the second generation. By that measure, the share of foreign stock will rise from 19.5% currently to more than 28% by 2030.

Could all this occur despite the xenophobia that always lurks in the recesses of both right-wing and left-wing politics? Well, if immigrant labor was able to establish such a huge beachhead over the past 30 years, while the native-born variety was still plentiful, think of what could occur when the natives become scarce.

The era of scarce labor will begin around 2010, when the baby boomers start to retire in significant numbers. From 2010 to 2030, the labor force is expected to increase by less than 8%, even assuming some increase in the share of foreign-born residents, while the number of folks 65 and older will double.

In that lopsided scenario, certain things will have to give. Business will be eager to tap that surging market of idle baby boomers, but will still have difficulty finding help. So it will offer even greater incentives to induce aging employees to stay on the job; it will try to move more work offshore; and it will step up its effort to find labor-saving ways to produce.

Business will also lobby government more aggressively than ever to open the door to foreign labor. And government should welcome the extra tax revenue that can be tapped from a larger labor pool to help cover the staggering financial claims of the growing pool of retired people.

As noted, the labor mix is also likely to shift in favor of the skilled trades that the foreign-born are already beginning to fill in large numbers: engineering, science, math, medicine and virtually all aspects of computer-systems work.

Also, the needs of the aging population will create enormous opportunity for care-giving workers such as licensed practical nurses, nurses' aides, physicians' assistants, physical therapists and home health aides -- jobs that also attract the foreign-born in large numbers.

Foreign-born workers have been gaining ground for two timeworn reasons, the second one with a modern twist. First, immigrant workers are cheaper than natives. And second, immigrants are willing to do jobs the natives spurn. What's different now is that so many of these jobs bring high status and good pay.

For employer Robert Pollack, the main issue is money. "The country can't afford not to have immigration," he remarks. And neither can Pollack Realtors.

By confining his business to relatively small-scale work with a price tag of no more than about $10 million -- among his current projects is a spa in lower Manhattan -- this New York City-based builder manages to stay below the radar of the unions. Most of the people he hires are paid as day-laborers and receive no benefits, especially not workmen's compensation, which is ruinously expensive.

The work-crews specialize along ethnic lines. For example, immigrant Irish do the excavating. West Indians do the flooring, the Hispanics paint and Chinese workers install the plumbing fixtures.

His electricians are Italian-born, and he would love to use Italians to do the exterior masonry. "They've have always been masterful masons," he remarks. "Just have a look at the churches in Italy." But at $40 an hour, he can't afford them. So he employs Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to do the exterior work.

The workers are paid between $7 and $15 an hour, depending on experience and skill. The $15-an-hour people are effectively working supervisors, and are often the only ones who can speak English.

Comments Pollack: "A customer who pays $200 per square foot mainly wants to see white men who speak English working on his home. But he doesn't think he's racist."

The San Francisco-based Gary Taorminia, whose specialty is renovating homes his clients want to sell, says that his plumbing contractor, who is Chinese, used to work for someone else before he became independent. "If I need him," says Taorminia, "I can call him in the middle of the night or on Sundays. Who can beat that?"

He also remarks that in his city, house painting is dominated by Latinos. He recently solicited bids for a paint job on a 2,400-square-foot home. One was for $16,000; the other, from an Hispanic contractor, was for $8,000.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 5.9 million people employed in the skilled construction trades in 2001, 16.3% were foreign-born, up from 10.7% in 1996.

The movement of foreign-born workers into academia has virtually nothing to do with underselling the natives; it's all about taking jobs the natives spurn.

Ambitious folks from abroad will have a natural tendency to pursue careers for which proficiency in English is less important than technical skills. But the numbers suggest, and anecdotal evidence confirms, that instead of holding their own, the natives are in retreat.

The BLS counts 42,000 more jobs in academia than there were in 1996, but 36,000 fewer natives holding academic jobs. The agency balances those books by finding 78,000 more immigrants employed in academia.

Says Daniel Hamermesh, professor of economics at the University of Texas: "These are not just graduate assistants and adjuncts, but people with full-time professorships in a whole range of specialties. And it isn't just in the hard sciences."

Considering that immigrants receive a huge share of the doctorates awarded by American universities, the flourishing of foreign-born faculty is not surprising. According to most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, in 1996 nonresident aliens received 23.8% of the doctorates in the social sciences, 26.9% in the life sciences, 35% in the physical sciences and 48.9% in engineering. Today those shares are probably even higher.

One way to alleviate the serious shortage of nurses over the long run is to pay nurses more. At some higher wage level, supply would eventually meet demand. But what hospitals are doing instead of raising wages is recruiting women from abroad who are willing to do the job at the existing wage-rates.

Under the circumstances, it's hard to imagine enough recruits can be found. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the U.S. will need to hire close to a million new registered nurses by 2010. Since the BLS parks the little word "net" in front of that forecast, it's even more dire than it sounds. What it really means is that after you include all those who are expected to become RNs by 2010, a million more will be required.

Using the same "netting" method, the BLS adds another 800,000 licensed practical nurses and nursing aides to the 2010 wish list. And it's not until 2010 that the baby boomers will begin to make their own special demands on the nursing profession.

The recruiting effort is gearing up. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing decided just last month to offer the licensing exam at overseas sites by 2004. Now that foreign students view nursing school as their entree to the United States, the number of test-takers is likely to soar.

The Philippines, which educates thousands more nurses each year than the country employs, is already a major exporter of these workers. You can even imagine the U.S. government eventually offering to underwrite nursing schools abroad.

Dr. Donald W. Dworkin, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, anticipates a perverse outcome from these efforts. "The influx of foreigners hasn't hurt the status of fields like medicine and engineering," he explains. "But since the status of nursing has already been declining for some time, the profession is vulnerable to a further debasement of its image as more foreigners become nurses."

Dworkin adds, "Resident staff will start to feel they're working in jobs no self-respecting American would consider. So as more foreigners enter the profession, more Americans will leave, which would eventually mean that most hospital nurses might become foreign."

As a matter of law, the federal government's H-1B visa program is supposed to be a pure case of foreigners performing skilled jobs for which native-born workers aren't available. At least, that's what a company has to "prove" when it files an application with the Labor Department to hire a foreign worker on an H-1B visa.

But as one critic has justly remarked, "Companies want cheap labor. The question isn't whether one can find a Visual Basic programmer, but who to find at the price one wants to pay."

Precisely. That's the way employers generally go about hiring workers.

As part of the H-1B charade, the employer must first establish a "prevailing wage" for the job that would be offered to "individuals with similar experience and qualifications," in the words of the Labor Department manual. And they're talking about skilled work!

During the IT boom, large tech companies such as Motorola, Intel and Sun Microsystems kept lobbying Congress for higher caps on the number of visas that could be issued each year. In 2001, the cap was raised to 195,000, but through the first three quarters of fiscal year '02, only 60,500 visas have been approved. If Congress does nothing, then the cap will revert to 65,000 by fiscal year '04.

A worker on an H-1B visa can stay for up to six years at the discretion of the employer before being sent home. But some decide to stay on illegally. An estimated 710,000 H-1B permit holders are still legally in the U.S., the vast majority working as systems analysts and programmers, with most of the rest in engineering, architecture and auditing.

A manager at a staffing firm who hires H-1B workers remarks, "The H-1B guy is ready to put in a lot of hours, up to 14 hours a day, and they don't charge for the extra work." That's one way to define experience and qualifications.

Another approach to hiring systems workers on the cheap is to employ them as telecommuters -- from their home countries. The city of Bangalore, India, is where most of this work takes place.

This kind of outsourcing is, of course, one of the "risks" to the forecast that a rising number of immigrants will be hired on U.S. soil. But the amount of systems work that will eventually be outsourced remains to be seen.

Jeff Mason of the New York-based Verticity.com maintains his facility in Karachi, Pakistan. Mason sells programming, Web-design and data-conversion work to small-to-intermediate-size businesses. The 40-50 systems people he employs in Karachi all have degrees in computer science and speak fluent English.

For work for which an American-based systems person might receive $10,000 a month, a Pakistani worker earns $300-$400 a month, with a bonus of up to 20% if the job is done to the client's liking. In India, the wages are 30%-40% higher.

To deal with customers who worry that Karachi is a dangerous place -- "even though the Pakistanis haven't missed an hour of work this year," says Mason -- Verticity has a relationship with outsourcers in India, Mexico and Canada to whom the work could be shifted, if necessary.

While clients will often begin by talking to a worker by phone, they all soon revert to instant messaging and e-mail.

Mason comments, "Jobs that lend themselves to being done off site are structured and well-defined. When a client first has to work things out conceptually, I suggest they try a consultant and then get back to me."

A former executive at IBM, Mason observes that while plenty of firms use outsourcing -- including IBM, General Electric, Merrill Lynch and Citicorp -- most could do a lot more.

"At a firm like IBM," he remarks, "the business grew up with people on site, so that defines the corporate culture. On the other hand, clients who go to an IBM or Electronic Data Systems are looking for a closer relationship than what we provide. They need more people on site to please their customers."

From Mason's personal experience, companies will cancel outsourcing work sooner than they'll lay off their $150,000 employees. "You can't say it's rational from a financial standpoint," he remarks. "But that's the way it always works. On the other hand, in a way it's rational for a company to want to retain its on-site workers for the long haul."

As noted, over the past year there has been a decline in the volume of applications for H-1B visas. But otherwise, the remarkable fact is that in the weaker labor markets of 2002, the share of foreign-born workers rose.

In February 2000, the unemployment rate was running 4.1%, which was near its 30-year low. By February '02, the rate of joblessness had risen to 5.5%. But while the total number of employed declined by 700,000 from February '00 to February '02, the number of employed foreign-born increased by 1.3 million

The share of working immigrants rose in both skilled and unskilled work, and in most job categories -- from engineers to scientists to construction laborers. One interpretation: Business chose to sacrifice its more expensive employees for the ones that are cheaper.

The United States won't be the only country hungry for imported labor in the coming years. But barring the unlikely chance that the European nations can undo their tradition of hostility toward immigration, the U.S. should continue to remain the destination of choice.

It's ironic, however, that the while U.S. requires stepped-up immigration to maintain an adequate rate of labor-force growth, Europe needs a far larger boost in immigration simply to prevent a labor-force decline. According to U.N. estimates issued last year, just to maintain its working-age population at 1995 levels, the flow of immigrants Europe received that year would have to increase by 600% and stay at that level.

Among the four largest EU nations, France and Italy would require a 16- and 62-fold boost, respectively, and the United Kingdom six-fold, while Germany would require only a doubling. The 600% increase represents nearly twice the number of workers currently migrating to the United States, not to mention what would be needed to match the rate of labor-force growth the U.S. can plausibly expect.

The U.N. also estimated what level of immigration would be required for the European Union to maintain the same ratio that prevailed in '95 between the working-age population and the 65-and-older population. Result: a 50-fold increase. Like the U.S., EU nations face huge obligations to their burgeoning ranks of retired workers.

Japan's is a very similar story. Against a total population of 127 million, there are 26 million people 65 and older, with the number of elderly growing by one million a year. Several national commissions have recommended that the country open itself to immigration in order to prevent a contraction in its labor force.

But Japan's tradition of xenophobia makes Europe look positively friendly. Besides, the need is far less urgent: Unlike their U.S. and European counterparts, Japan's elderly have no special claim on the government's largesse.

As of 1999, the most recent year numbers are available, 5% of the labor force in the European Union were foreigners, less than half the U.S. rate; among the four largest EU nations, only Germany's share was comparable, at 8.9%. For Japan, the share was 1%.

At a time when countries across the Continent are moving toward tightening their borders, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's Social Democratic government recently passed legislation easing immigration restrictions on skilled workers from outside the EU. But even in Germany, such liberalization is threatened; Schroder's government faces a serious challenge in the Sept. 22 elections.

Long term, these divergent policies on immigration might boost U.S. competitiveness against Europe. Commented Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in testimony before Congress last year, "I've always argued that this country has benefited immensely from the fact that we draw people from all over the world."

E-mail comments to editors@barrons.com

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Monday, September 16, 2002
so harriet escaped again this weekend, just goes to show DO NOT TRUST YOUR WOMAN! keke :) anyway, at two in the morning on nocturnal watch, cuz rats are active at night, i heard her scratching on the top shelf of my closet organizer thingie (without the closet) that's like 7-8 feet high. no idea how she got up there, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOUR WOMAN!

hmmmm, what else? saw a pow wow on the mall, whoever #153 was in the fancy dance rocked! also saw some unseen cinema. some really funny stuff, esp the test footage. oh and if your milk is about to turn and go sour, you can microwave it for several minutes and it will keep longer :) NO, not THAT MILK, silly. your home economics tip of the day brought to you by martha stuart, free martha! keke :)

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Friday, September 13, 2002
some sketchbooks! (via caterina)

the story of andy l's computer :) (via robot wisdom)

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Thursday, September 12, 2002
hey, a&e had a 'remake' of lathe of heaven on tonite :) um, that's about it. oh, and for those about to roll: we salute you! *salutes*

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