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Terrorism

The Jihadist Mind

Osama bin Laden may be America’s public enemy No. 1, but his intellectual influence is relatively limited, according to a new analysis of jihadist thought conducted by the West Point–based Combating Terrorism Center. Researchers there spent a year analyzing material from al-Qaeda’s online library and found that the most influential writers—as measured by citations in other works—are figures from the distant past, led by Ibn Taymiyya, a medieval legal scholar whose calls for holy war against Mongol invaders are particularly popular with present-day jihadists. The most-cited twentieth-century writer is Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian intellectual often regarded as the leading theorist of modern Islamism, while the most-cited living thinker is Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a Palestinian-born cleric based in Jordan. (Overall, the center notes, “the most influential Jihadi intellectuals are clerics from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, two of the US’s closest allies in the Middle East.”) Bin Laden is cited frequently, but the study’s analysis suggests that he isn’t the “key broker of information” in the jihadist intellectual network, and that his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, often depicted as al-Qaeda’s chief theoretician, is “totally insignificant.” The report also suggests several ways the West could wage a more successful war of ideas, from labeling jihadists “Qutbists” (it’s what rival Muslims call them, and it’s “a designation Jihadis hate since it implies that they follow a human and are members of a deviant sect”) to working with “non-violent Salafi leaders” (like Saudi clerics, for instance) whose politics may be otherwise distasteful to us, because “they are best positioned to delegitimize Jihadi violence and monitor the activities of the more militant elements of their movement.”

—Militant Ideology Atlas, Combating Terrorism Center

Religion

Baptism by Fire

chart Pentecostalism, which emphasizes personal religious experience and the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” (speaking in tongues, prophecy, and spiritual healing), is one of the fastest-growing segments of Christendom—and perhaps the least understood. Researchers at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently tried to shed some light on the subject, surveying Pentecostals and Charismatics— Christians who don’t belong to an explicitly Pentecostal denomination but who describe themselves as “charismatic” or report speaking in tongues—in ten countries on four continents. They found that these “Renewalists” (as Pentecostals and Charismatics are collectively known) constitute large and growing chunks of the faithful—23 percent of people in the United States, for instance, are either Pentecostal or Charismatic, and the percentage climbs to 56 percent in Kenya and 60 percent in Guatemala. In many countries, particularly traditionally Catholic strongholds, Renewalists now constitute the vast majority of Protestants—72 percent of Brazilian Protestants are Pentecostals, for instance. Overall, Renewalists are generally more likely than other Christians to report having witnessed exorcisms and divine healings; to be biblical literalists; to be active in politics; and to disapprove of alcohol, divorce, and abortion.

“Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals,” Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

Sexuality
Leaving the Closet

chart The number of gay couples in America— or at least the number willing to identify themselves as gay in government surveys—grew by more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2005, five times the growth rate for the U.S. population as a whole, a new paper reports. The largest percentage increase in self- identified same-sex couples occurred in the Midwest, and the study notes that the percentage of same-sex couples rose faster than the national average in six of the eight states where a ban on same-sex marriage appeared on the 2006 ballot. (The ballot initiatives passed in seven of the eight states, with Arizona the lone exception.) The study estimates a nationwide total of 8.8 million gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans, roughly 3 percent of the population. The states with the largest gay populations are California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Illinois while the greatest proportion of gay residents can be found in the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Washington, Massachusetts, and Maine.

“Same-Sex Couples and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Population: New Estimates from the American Community Survey,” Gary J. Gates, the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy

Personal Finance

The (High) Wages of Sin

Drinking may impair your motor skills and romantic judgment, but—if you’re a man, at least—it can fatten your wallet, two new studies suggest. In the first, a pair of health economists found that American males who drank heavily when they were tenth-graders in 1990 earned more money in 2000, on average, than their peers who were teetotalers as teens. (The researchers found no such link for women.) Meanwhile, a study from the libertarian Reason Foundation reports that self-described drinkers (male and female) earn 10 percent to 14 percent more than nondrinkers. Drinking, the authors argue, may help build the kinds of social networks that lead to workplace success. The Reason study also finds that men who frequent bars at least once a month earn a further 7 percent wage boost. For women, however, regular barhopping has no discernible effect—on earnings, anyway.

“High School Alcohol Use and Young Adult Labor Market Outcomes,” Pinka Chatterji and Jeffrey DeSimone, National Bureau of Economic Research; “No Booze? You May Lose,” Bethany L. Peters and Edward P. Stringham, Reason Foundation

Society

Bowling Together

Ah, the suburbs—the land of anomie and alienation, sterile cul-de-sacs and big-box stores. Except that suburban sprawl might actually be good for your social life and your involvement in the community, a new study suggests. Two economists tracked the relationship between low-density living and social interaction, using data from a nationwide study. They found that Americans who live in lower-density—that is, more-suburban—neighborhoods have more friends overall, are more likely to spend time with their neighbors, and are more likely to belong to local clubs or social groups than are urbanites. The study suggests several explanations: cities offer more distractions, which may make neighborliness less important to one’s social life; overcrowding may lead people to “draw inward”; and high urban crime rates may erode trust among neighbors.

“Social Interaction and Urban Sprawl,” Jan K. Brueckner (University of California, Irvine) and Ann G. Largey (Dublin City University Business School)

Demographics

Baby Bust

A paper by three Austrian population experts takes up Europe’s falling birthrates, which have dropped below replacement level in many countries, and investigates whether they are likely to rebound, level off, or continue to fall. Current United Nations projections estimate that birthrates will level off at around 1.85 children per woman in most countries. But it’s just as likely, the Austrian authors argue, that Europe will find itself caught in what they term a “low fertility trap” that keeps driving the Continent’s population downward. They cite three elements that might create this cycle of childlessness. First, there’s the negative momentum created by a declining population, in which fewer women enter their prime childbearing years every generation, and their lower numbers lead to fewer births overall even if the birthrate suddenly returns to replacement level—and many fewer if it doesn’t. Second, people who grow up in a largely childless society may internalize a much smaller “ideal family size” and have fewer children. And third, as the population of Europe ages, the income prospects of younger workers will likely decline, creating an age of diminished expectations that lead young people to delay having children still further, or have none at all. The low-fertility trap, the authors caution, is only a hypothesis, but it’s plausible enough to deserve “serious consideration”—especially since it may soon be too late for government policies to reverse the possible downward spiral.

“The Low Fertility Trap Hypothesis,” Wolfgang Lutz, Vegard Skirbekk, and Maria Rita Testa, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Health

The Minty Death

Smoking is not an equal-opportunity killer, according to a new fifteen-year study of American smokers. Blacks who habitually light up tend to get sicker and die sooner than whites, due in part to their preference for menthol cigarettes. Blacks favor menthol cigarettes by a ratio of eight-to-one, whereas fewer than one in three white smokers prefer menthol brands. Cigarette by cigarette, menthols are no more deadly than unflavored tobacco. But researchers found that menthol smokers were twice as likely as non-menthol smokers to relapse after quitting, primarily because menthol causes smokers to metabolize nicotine more slowly, effectively increasing the amount of nicotine ingested per cigarette smoked and therefore the intensity of the addiction.

“Menthol Cigarettes, Smoking Cessation, Atherosclerosis, and Pulmonary Function,” Mark J. Pletcher, Benjamin J. Hulley, et al., Archives of Internal Medicine

The Workplace

Upward Mobility

Social scientists have long been aware that tall people, on average, earn more money and attain higher-status jobs than their shorter competitors. A variety of explanations have been offered for this phenomenon: for jobs requiring manual labor, height tends to correlate with better health and greater physical strength; in white-collar work, tall workers may be perceived as socially dominant and rewarded accordingly. But now two Princeton economists suggest a simpler explanation: taller people are just smarter. Beginning at age three (that is, before schooling begins to affect test scores), tall children score significantly higher on cognitive tests, the authors point out. These taller children tend to become taller-than-average adults, and the study—using data from the United States and Britain—shows that the differences in childhood cognitive ability explain most or all of the premium enjoyed by tall adults. When researchers control for childhood test scores, the wage gap disappears. A possible cause of this height-brains link, the authors suggest, is prenatal and childhood nutrition, which has been shown to have a strong effect on both height and cognitive ability.

“Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes,” Anne Case and Christina Paxson, National Bureau of Economic Research

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