« August 10, 2003 - August 16, 2003 | Main | August 24, 2003 - August 30, 2003 »


August 23, 2003



Rollback, check that fetus!

Russia restricting 2nd trimester abortions. This isn't a big deal, most abortions happen in the first trimester anyway, and there are still situations where they are allowed. The key though is a hint that the government will start to pull-back on the policy of free & unlimited abortions for women who desire them (rather than need desperately). Russia is going through a demographic implosion-but if abortions begin to be a non-trivial cost, which women will begin to carry the the pregnancies to term because of lack of funds? Which sector of society will continue to seek abortions to limit family size?

So the question is this: Russia wants to reverse its population implosion, but, it might end up doing it by increasing the fertility of the "lower orders?" And yes, I am evil....

Posted by razib at 09:15 PM | | TrackBack


Ah, Just-So Dr. Shlain?

Just listened to Dr. Leonard Shlain on Tech Nation (on & off while I was coding a little). He basically is restating stuff you can find in William Calvin's books, but injecting the voice of a storyteller, hyperbolizing a lot and adding his own interpretation to human (female?) evolution. He has a book out, Sex, Time & Power, which he's promoting, though he rambled so much that Moira Gunn couldn't get a word in edge-wise and I think I basically know what's in the book (it was like one of those really good trailers-don't see the movie, you're already exhilarated). The previous link is to the book's website, and it has lots of elaboration on Dr. Shlain's ideas...boy, is this guy a dilettante! His site states that he's the "Chairman of Laparoscopic surgery at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco," who says doctors don't believe they're gods? Anyway, handle with caution, but read the synopsis....

Posted by razib at 08:57 PM | | TrackBack


Admin heads up....

Please ignore if you do not have posting privileges or you never post....

Notice of 8/23/2003 from Razib:

I have enabled the textile 2 plugin-to use it, you need to select "Textile" when you are in the entry editing field (option under "Text Formatting:(?)"). Follow the link to figure out the new tags (footnotes are done nicely now). Also, I will work on the autolink feature that everyone has been belly-aching about, I'm assuming there is already a plugin out there....

Posted by razib at 04:49 PM | | TrackBack


All must bend the knee to Christ?

Head Heeb blogs about the Fijian attempt to establish Christianity as the official religion and prohibit the public practice of other faiths. Those faiths would be the Hinduism & Islam, practiced by 45% of the citizens of Fiji, mostly Indo-Fijian (who run the economy but are legally blocked from becoming stake-holders by purchasing property). Remind you of of some other place? There is even a similar movement in The United States, though it's so marginal no one pays attention. I would like to add that state sponsored discrimination against Islam & Hinduism have been common around the world where Hindu peasants have settled to till the land, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Mauritius are examples of locales where non-Christian marriages were originally not solemnized by the authorities and encouragement to convert to Christianity went hand & hand with socioeconomic advancement (especially in T & T, where 20% of East Indians are Christian).

Posted by razib at 04:07 PM | | TrackBack


End of the "Free Trade" era?

Robert Samuelson is pretty gloomy about the world's reliance on American imports (and the concurrent trade deficit) to drive growth-the dollar is weaker and we are starting to export a bit more again (and can only take up a finite amount of debt). I'm not an economist, but I'm seeing a critical mass of stories about the trade deficit and the problems that accrue from over-reliance on the American market. Samuelson seems to be complaining that individual governments are following policies that don't favor the continuance of healthy trade, well, big surprise....

Posted by razib at 12:40 PM | | TrackBack


BARBARY PIRATES

One of the least-known episodes in European history is the age of the Barbary Pirates. There was an excellent British TV documentary on this not long ago - for more see here.

From the late Middle Ages down to the early 19th century, pirates from the Barbary Coast - roughly modern Morocco and Algeria - terrorised the Mediterranean Sea, and the Atlantic coasts as far north as the British Isles. The pirates captured numerous Europeans and carried them back to North Africa, where they were sold as slaves. Many of them were sailors and fisherman captured at sea, but the pirates also raided on-shore and took male and female captives.

Based on historical records, some historians have estimated the cumulative number of captives at over a million. While this might seem implausibly high, over a period of 300 years a million is less than 4,000 a year. Assume that 20 ships made 10 raids a year, and took on average 20 captives per raid, and you get there.

Of course, the main point of interest for GNXPers is what impact this made on the gene pool in North Africa.

The wealthier captives were often ransomed by their relatives, and even the poorer ones were sometimes bought by Christian philanthropists and returned to Europe (in Britain funds were set up for this purpose). Of those who stayed behind, the men were mostly worked to death as galley slaves, while the younger boys might be castrated. Either way, no contribution to the gene pool.

For women and girls, it was a different matter. European women were much in demand for the harems of wealthy Arabs and Turks. It wasn’t always a fate worse than death. One captured English girl became the Queen of Morocco.

Nor was this the only source of European genes in the Muslim world. In the Levant (modern Israel and Lebanon) the armies of the Crusaders must have left their imprint. So must the Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire.

But probably the main source of European genes, from the early Middle Ages at least down to the 17th Century, was the steady stream of slaves from South Russia, the Ukraine, and the Caucasus. No harem was complete without them. I haven’t seen any numbers, but cumulatively they may have run into millions.

So it is reasonable to assume that there is a significant European component in the gene pool of North Africa and the Middle East, from sources more recent than the Roman Empire. If ‘European’ traits, such as blue eyes or fair hair, are found in these populations, it shouldn’t be surprising, and there is no need to go back very far in history to find an explanation.

DAVID BURBRIDGE

Posted by David B at 11:25 AM | | TrackBack


I got a bridge to sell you, oh, and Hollywood ain't liberal!

Left-leaning Hollywood: A myth dies (free subscription, LA TIMES):


"There are vocal people on the left Barbra Streisand, for example but on the other side there are people like Tom Selleck, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and Arnold, who have made their positions known. In fact, now that conservatism is fashionable, Republicans everywhere, including Hollywood, have become louder. There's been a change in the country, and Hollywood always reflects changes in the country. It doesn't lead change; it reflects it."

This is moronic, of the list, only Gibson is a right-wing nutter, and his main political venture was to get involved in Australian, not American, politics. Selleck is no longer registered a Republican (I am if you care!) and a pro-choice mildish libertarian, as is Willis (Bruce enjoys anal sex with porn stars, didja know?). Arnold is polishing his "moderate Republican" image, though I guess the support of right-wingers like Rob Lowe might indicate that his true brown colors are showing....

Oh, and you need to finish reading the article, the author points out that in the 1930s the Jewish moguls that ran Hollywood who were Republicans battled against Upton Sinclair's run for the governorship as a Democrat. Of course, it might be important that Sinclair wrote a thinly-veiled anti-Semitic book, so perhaps that was as important a reason as his liberal politics to oppose him? Also, did you know that like blacks Jews were Republicans before F.D.R.? You still have quasi-Socialists like Jacob Javits part of the Republican party past mid-century! But just leave this out of your article, details, details....

So yeah, I'm a little ticked, back in A.P. History again, pick a thesis, and defend it by selectively cherry picking & shading the evidence your way. Great. That's called journalism? I suppose it'll do....

Oh, and psst...in case you care, CEOs aren't Republican, it's the little guy, for real, The Wall Street Journal told me so!

Posted by razib at 02:59 AM | | TrackBack

August 22, 2003



Larry Summers

The New York Times Magazine profiles Larry Summers. Though he's not perfect, they make him out to be a real mensch, Summers seems to reject the pseudo-breadth of intellectual multiculturalism in favor of a genuine disciplinary latitudinarianism. Read the whole thing!

Posted by razib at 09:37 PM | | TrackBack


Physical, physical.... (?)
Posted by razib at 06:21 PM | | TrackBack


Queer & in the Koran?

Shanti Magala has some pretty insightful thoughts on this article about Queer Muslims.

Here is the website for the American Queer Muslim organization. Check out their personals section. Halal sodomy?

BTW, I just had a phone conversation with someone who lives in NYC, and apparently he had a big falling out with a friend who is a lawyer at the SEC. My friend noted that we should be concerned about the hostility toward the West that pervades the world-view of a substantial portion of the Ummah, and, their predeliction to resort to violent means. This elicited an angry outburst that "one should not generalize" aboout people in such a manner, and that my friend "needs to get educated." There is a rot in the mental foundations of the West-perhaps all good things must come to an end?

Posted by razib at 03:50 PM | | TrackBack

August 21, 2003



Hindutva Follies

This article disabuses those who wish to speak of the "East" as if it was filled with open-minded sages:


"It ... (is) scientific fundamentalism to dismiss warnings from Indian astrologers," said Murli Manohar Joshi, India's Human Resources and Development minister. He was inaugurating a workshop on "Predicting Earthquakes and Calamities" in New Delhi. "Scientists with advanced computers sometimes fail to predict major earthquakes," he said. "Ancient Indian astrology does have the tools to roughly foretell the time and sometimes even the exact date and time of an earthquake."

Keep reading, there is plenty of politicized crap detailed. Well, I think moderate Muslims should tell the fundies to shut the fuck up, well, moderate Hindus should tell these RSS wacks to fuck off too, they really give idolaters a bad name....

Check this out:


References to beef eating, which is prohibited by Hinduism, and cattle sacrifices were deleted.

What the hell? Is this Islamic & Creationist in its Know-Nothingness, or what? I got news for the Hindus who think they are descendents of Aryans-THEY ATE BEEF!.

...In the asvamedha, the most important of public sacrifices, first mentioned in the Rgveda and discussed in the Brahmanas, more than 600 animals (including wild ones like boars) and birds were killed and its finale was marked by the sacrifice of 21 cows, which, according to the dominant opinion were sterile ones.
....
According to the subsequent Brahmanical texts (e.g. Grhyasutras and Dharmasutras) the killing of animals and eating of beef was very much de rigeur. The ceremony of guest-reception (known as arghya in the Rgveda but generally as madhuparka in subsequent texts) consisted not only of a meal of a mixture of curds and honey but also of the flesh of a cow or bull.

Yum, I need a bloody steak....

I don't make as big of a deal about Hindu fundamentalism and their repulsive caste consciousness because they tend to be a little more tolerant of their minorities than is the norm in Islam. I still think they're more tolerant, but is there a bidding war for showing who is the descendent of the Neandertal or what? Let's thank their devil gods that the moronic sages of Hinduism advised their followers not to push this idiocy beyond the Khyber Pass....

Godless comments:

"stupid...shut the fuck up...wacks...repulsive...descendants of neanderthals...devil gods...moronic...idiocy"

First things first: I'm not a defender of Hindutva by *any* means...and the historical revisionist stuff with the "nuclear weapons in the Mahabharat" is as fundamentalist as it gets...but Razib's comments are over the top, in my opinion. I would oppose this tone if it was directed at Islam, Judaism, or Christianity - I only fault radical Muslims for their actions, not their theology per se .

The thing is - calling Hindus "devil worshippers" for being polytheistic is like calling Muhammad a "pedophile". As I said then, such an attack is not meant to be theological - it's just meant to be insulting:

"All Muslims are evil/freaks or Muhammad was pedophile", etc. - unnecessarily inflammatory in both cases. (False in the first case b/c we're talking about an inapplicable universal quantifier, and technically true but practically contentless in the second case, as it is on the same lines as "the Old Testament God is a mass murderer".)

Hopefully we are not going to descend to the level of the Raving Atheist and his casual tossing around of "Godidiot" ;) For the most part we try to discuss things with civility...well, maybe with an occasional "moron" or "stupid" thrown in, but not quite so much in one post :)

Of course, everyone makes overly vituperative statements from time to time. I think the harshest I've ever been was to the Wiccans, I guess, which *does* sound too strong in retrospect ;)

Clarification from Razib:

Hindus as "devil worshippers": Well, since I don't believe in ghosts, gods or devils, it's obviously not a literal belief of mine. It stems from several points:


  • Iranian demonology which serves as a primary root of the dualism between "light" and "dark" that you find recurring in the the various Abrahamic faiths (more so Christianity than the other two) uses the term "daeva" to refer originally to the demons that were worshipped by non-Zoroastrian Persians. This religion was almost certainly the polytheistic beliefs of the Aryans, which are preserved only among the Hindu people today. There is a common root from the Indo-European term for god(s), divine, devil, deity, zeus, dyaus, etc. The gods of yore become devils among all the Indo-European peoples, excepting the Hindus, who still worship "devils," even Devi, the Mother Goddess.

    For most of the other branches of monotheistic people the pagan beliefs faded away, with a few generations taught to beware of the "devils," the "old gods." Some of the old beliefs, such as the tuatha de danann in Ireland, the "fairy folk," became charming tales of magic once the last of the old believers had passed on and there was no threat to the established worship of the One God. The Muslims of India on the other hand had a different experience, the old gods of their past were still around them, worshipped by devotees, we Mussulmans of Hindustan lived in a demon-haunted world where the great pagan masses still gave puja to the old gods. The bengali term for "god" is bogaban, similar to the Russian bog, but we Muslims have turned it into a term for "devil" or "demon." The same process that has occurred for thousands of years when the worshippers of the One Righteous God face the believers of the old gods has recapitulated itself, but with a difference, the ancient faith is not going into the twighlight and becoming a memory to haunt the nightmares of small children when they cause mischief.

    The more raw and primal manifestations of Hinduism are deeply disquieting to monotheists. The modern Christian conception of the devil seems to be based upon the pagan goatish god Pan, so the animal gods of Hinduism, reminiscent of divinities that have been gone from the West for thousands of years elicits atavistic reactions of horror in my experience. Note this article that speaks of Franklin Graham talking of "hundreds of millions of people locked in the darkness of Hinduism . . . bound by Satan's power". The first British to spend time in India noted the contrast between Islam, which they detested, but understood and could relate to, and Hinduism, which they found alien and beyond comprehension.

    So do Hindus worship "devils?" Well, if the tenets of the monotheistic religions are correct, yes. And monotheists are 50% of the world's population. Hindus need to be prepared for the rage and irrational revulsion that greets their faith, because their religion is an affront to the supremacy and dominion of the One God who commanded his peoples to smash the idols.

  • Which leads me to my second point. I am a fan of Greo-Roman paganism, I feel an inner sadness at the passing of the religiously diverse world of pagan Rome and the rise of the more monochromatic Byzantine culture. Islam even more than Christianity uproots, de-racinates and purges organically created cultures, and turns what was technicolor into black & white. India is the last redoubt of Aryan paganism, though that is probably the lesser influence in its Hindu practice compared to indigenous South Asian religious themes (karma, vegetarianism, Shiva, aescetism, etc. are not really very Indo-European). Islam is a threat, the RSS intuits this correctly.

    But, as long as Hindus dehumanize their own, continue to have a sloppy understanding of their own faith, and behave in self-destructive ways, Islam will gain ground. My main beef with Hinduism is the moral blot that is caste, which basically gives religious sanction to some of humanity's basest instincts. The way upper castes treat the lower castes, it might not be implausible to say that Hindus worship demons, because what god(s) would put their imprinture on such behavior as Holy and the Natural Order? Their preoccupation with ritual cleanliness, their traditional rejection of converts and shaming of those who were forced to convert at sword-point (1920, Kerala for instance) points to a lack of generosity in the soul that is a weakness for any religion or culture.

    Islam was founded by a man who was clearly possessed of a meglomaniacal persona. If he did have intercourse with Aiysha when she was 10 after their marriage, well, he's a pedophile, perhaps God's own, but nonetheless, the definition fits. Hinduism doesn't have the excuse of a crazed founder who set an example as a "Perfect Man" by behaving in a rather conventional fashion, accruing power & wealth under the guise of piety, though possessed of enough human feeling to promote a relatively egalitarian and moralistic faith that outlived his own uses and life. Hinduism is an organic religion that can change. And it must, or it will die, pure & simple.


Blah, blah, blah...I think you get my drift.

Posted by razib at 07:34 PM | | TrackBack

August 20, 2003



War Nerd Interview

Steve Sailer interviews the War Nerd. This guy is hilarious.


Q. What are war nerds?

A. Just what it sounds like, nerds who are into war. People like me, normal Americans, fat and alone and stuck in a stupid white-collar slave job. We get off on reading about war because we hate our lives. I admitted all that in my first column for the eXile.ru, just so nobody'd write in trying to be Sigmund Freud about how it's all sexual frustration....

Posted by razib at 05:32 PM | | TrackBack


Is evolution haram?

The title is kind of a joke, but actually, Zack Ajmal has a post about Islam & evolution. I tend to get way too worked up by this topic...so I asked a polite question that hopefully was not laced with sarcasm. But, I never promised that I wouldn't unleash Darwin's wolves! So I challenge GNXP readers to join the fray (in a civil fashion).

Related note: Here is a profile of ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq (via Diana). Religious liberal Khaled Abou El Fadl asserts that "if you know what the Islamophobes and Orientalists believe, this author has nothing original to add." Since when was being original always so important for an author??? Yes, Warraq's work reads like a jeremiad, but it offers an insider's view that is crucial, you can't doubt his sincerity, you can feel his passion. Robert Spencer might seem like a scold, but Warraq is simply strident. Where Bernard Lewis & co. might hint & gesture at the general direction, Warraq will take a sword and slash through the bullshit to tell you in less decorous language how it really is from his perspective.

Godless comments:

As I've said before, I will be happy when "Piss Mohammed" is in museums alongside "Piss Christ". Islam needs to be rhetorically deconstructed and politically neutered, just like Christianity and Judaism were. I really wouldn't care if radical Muslims weren't waging war on the world, but they are. I am not speaking of moderate/secular Muslims like Ikram and Zack, but rather of the nontrivial mass of anti-Western fanatics.

For those who would bring up other religions...Hindutva is likewise alarming and occasionally outright murderous, but there are major differences between militant Hindu nationalism and radical Islam:

  1. Hindus are not exporting violent revolution around the world
  2. Hindus in the West are not fifth columnists like Al-Muhajiroun
  3. Hinduism has not historically been violent and expansionist
  4. Vocal critics and opposition parties to Hindutva exist within India

That said, as an atheist I personally wouldn't care if there was a display with "Piss Ram". Anything that angers a fascist like Bal Thackeray is ok with me :)

Razib adds: A few points. Pictorial depictions of the prophet are frowned upon in Islam, even the images I've seen of him have the face blotted out, so there would probably be a bit of an outcry before it was drenched in urine. As for "piss Ram," Hindus use cow urine in their traditional medicine and are recommended to drink it because of its sacred properties, so I don't know how offensive the devil worshippers would find it ;)

Posted by razib at 01:41 AM | | TrackBack

August 19, 2003



Hair color

I spent a little time doing research on hair color in PubMED and many of the leads seem to end up at the Melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R). This is what I was curious about, is the "recessive" vs. "dominant" dichotomy illustrated in blonde & brunette inheritance patterns among whites that is taught in introductory high school genetics just an illusion? This is why I ask: most of the children who I have seen who have a non-white black-haired parent and a blonde white parent do not have black hair, rather, their hair tends to be dark brown on average, though sometimes you will see someone with auburn hair. Quite often the children might even be blonde as infants [1].

My question, is there a clear way to measure the amount of melanin present in hair that can be quantitized? I assume there is-though unfortunately I don't have the time to do any more googling on this topic (so someone can hopefully comment on how this is done). And would one find that the children of two individuals who have extreme phenotypes would have values that show that hair color is a continuous, rather than discrete, trait? [2] I wonder if in fact some brown-haired Eurasians may have melanin levels somewhere between their blonde white parent and black-haired Asian parent, but are classified with the latter because of the dichotomy that our classification system imposes.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract of one of the articles I found:


Recent work suggests that the MC1R also shows a clear heterozygote effect on skin type, with up to 30% of the population harbouring loss-of-function mutations....In particular, study of the MC1R may provide insights into the lightening of skin colour observed in most European populations. The world wide pattern of MC1R diversity is compatible with functional constraint operating in Africa, whereas the greater allelic diversity seen in non-African populations is consistent with neutral predictions rather than selection....

Here is another abstract snippet:

We found variation at five nonsynonymous sites...but at only one synonymous site (A942G)...The Arg163Gln variant is absent in the Africans studied, almost absent in Europeans, and at a low frequency (7%) in Indians, but is at an exceptionally high frequency (70%) in East and Southeast Asians...the nucleotide diversity at the MC1R locus is shown to be several times higher than the average nucleotide diversity in human populations, possibly due to diversifying selection.

Here are some related articles-I haven't had time to sort through all of this. Also, I found that the journal GENETICS seems to offer full access for articles before June of 2003 in their archives.

Update:

Why Humans and Their Fur Parted Ways shouts the headline in The New York Times. Turns out our friend, the MC1R gene, shows up again. Dr. Mark Stoneking conjectures that the version of MC1R that produces dark skin among African people must have swept through the human population after we lost our fur. He notes chimpanzees are relatively light-skinned and tan on their faces as they age. Stoneking found that the version of MC1R that causes dark skin became dominant in Africa about 1.2 million years ago, ergo, that is when humans lost their fur. Furthermore, Stoneking hypothesizes that the reason humans lost their fur is to avoid parasitic infestation. He caps his theory off with the assertion that humans have only been clothed for 50,000 years because that is the point of divergence between the human body louse (which resides in clothing) and the chimpanzee louse-which dovetails well with the "cultural explosion" that putatively occurred at that time, The Great Leap that some palaeoanthropologists speak of.

[1] Bruce Lee would joke to his wife that his son Brandon, who was dark-haired as an adult, was the "first blonde Chinamen" when he was an infant.

[2] After I re-read this sentence, it seemed stupid, of course hair color is a continuous trait to some extent (ah, weasel words, I know), but our terminology tends to shoe-horn it into discrete classes, sometimes ones that don't map well onto reality ("Hung-Mao" = "Red Haired Folk", in other words, Europoid, but most Europeans don't have red hair). But what I am more interested in is how the genes interact and express the phenotype, and whether those that effect hair color (and other pigmentation), are additive, assuming it is a polygenic (multiple genes effect it) trait. Additionally, I have read that MC1R is pleiotropic, it is a multi-functional spot in the genome. Getting complicated....

Posted by razib at 03:48 PM | | TrackBack

August 18, 2003



It's Queer Thang!

Dr. David Halperin is teaching a course titled How to be Gay. My first reaction was, "Hey man, you're born that way," but read the course description, and it sounds like a high-brown version of Queer Eye for the Gay Man. See here for an article slanted against the course and here for one favoring it.

Posted by razib at 10:24 AM | | TrackBack


Robotic economics & the last Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

GNXP alum Joel Grus,the guy who suggested "Gene Expression" as the name for the blog and slapped together the logo above, has an interesting post titled "Robotic Nation" over at the blog he abandoned us for (to be fair, version 2.0 of his old blog) He asks the question, when the left side of the Bell Curve is made redundant by robots, what will they do [1]? And how will the plutocracy delude them with dreams of a splendiferous future when even their paltry analytical skills can deduce the math and intuit the implications?

As a libertarian I still prefer free trade, free exchange of ideas, blah, blah, blah.... But let me step back from my axioms for a milli-moment and embed myself in the reality of this world that might be less pleasant, for lack of a better word, more Derbyshirean, than I like to be. Is Jo-Schmo who lacks initiative beyond reaching for his next can of beer going to start his own company when he's down-sized? Go back to college when he couldn't get trigonometry back in 12th grade? I have stated frankly that there are cultures, whole nations, that are poorly suited to the modern world. If history is a path with the post-industrial world as the inevitable destination, some peoples are much further behind than others, but the reality of the situation is that the destination has raced back to meet the laggards. Well, there are also individuals poorly suited to the modern world, and it seems quitely like that the percentage of these people is increasing as modernity marches on. The reductio ad absurdum is the arrival of true A.I. as a higher actualization of the concept of sapient beings, something envisioned positively by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, and less glowingly by his colleague Frank Herbert.

And yet in early 21st century America, we have already witnessed the reemergence of "organic robots" a century after the Progressive Era banished them by fiat of the law, they are called "undocumented workers," and they do the dirty & dangerous jobs for a fraction of the cost of real workers. Economist George Borjas has done research on the erosion of wages & employment opportunities that lower income Americans have had to deal with because of the arrival of cheap labor in the form of organic robots. Now, the robotic maw is chewing its way up the occupational food chain. Today, IT is facilitating the export of IT overseas, to the horror & distress of the IT hordes (yes, including me).

Of course, the standard response is that human initiative is all that is lagging in such situations, and my friend godless has asserted that out-of-work scientists should start their own companies. There is something to this, after all, many out-of-work white collar folk have gotten used to cushy make-work jobs where they sign-off on the sweat & labor of cheaper & younger co-workers. Let's not shed too many tears. But in the end, I wonder if the last employed workers, le creme de le creme, will be reporting to an A.I. CEO and supervising robotic foremen, a thin layer of lubricating biochemistry between electon clouds & metals in motion? (yes, far more plausible that the A.I. will control the robots directly, but let a man have his dreams!)

Well, there is another alternative, rather than a distinct organic layer between inorganic entities, cybernetics might swallow a portion of the human race into a chimeric super-organism. This portion might be genetically engineered so that the term "human" has to be used in the context of lineal descent rather than morphological qualities. In such a scenario, the question of organic vs. inorganic is moot, and our limited conception of the universe will be transformed in such a fashion that I am likely a fish blowing bubbles at the bottom of a pond from the perspective of the post-human consciousness.

[1] An observation. Humanoid robots were supposed to be here in 1980. 1990. 2000. And so forth. In contrast, though we don't have "true A.I.," computers have far more power and flexibility than many futurists predicted, each iteration of the Turing Test being overcome by a new and more powerful incarnation of the machine mind.

Godless comments:

Big problems with this article:

1) It assumes that robotics technology is going to leap ahead of cybernetics/drugs/genetic engineering, all of which will be able to boost the left-hand side of the curve to do creative work. If we're talking future technology advanced enough to produce autonomous robots with human-like vision processing, we're talking germline engineering, artificial chromosomes, bionic eyes, drugs better at warding off sleep than caffeine and more effective at boosting IQ than wannabes like gingko...the works. There won't be a left-hand side of the bell curve around at that point in time.

2) It ignores the fact that EVERYTHING will become ultra cheap through roboticization (costing essentially power + spare parts) and nanotechnology, and even a little bit of human work will provide for quite a lot of food/entertainment/etc.

3) It ignores the fact that previous waves of automatization have not
yet eliminated unskilled labor. Remember, this is what Marx bitched about too, 150 years ago. All kinds of exciting new professions will open up for the unskilled: experimental test subject, human drug factory, etcetera ;)...anything that leverages their biological substrate.

Of these objections, I think #1 is the most fatal for Marshall's scenario. There's no way we will make robots smarter without also gaining the ability to make humans smarter.

Posted by razib at 03:14 AM | | TrackBack

August 17, 2003



Do as I say...not as I do

Well, not really. But I thought this was amusing, Icelanders are hunting whales again and Norway has been ignoring the international ban for years. Now we hear that celebrities are against wind power in their backyard. Kind of reminds of me of politically active liberal media moguls suing so that prols don't have access to "their beaches". Limousine liberals & scolding Scandinavians aren't always wrong of course, but their priveleged place in comparison to the great unwashed, individually in the case of the former, and nationally in the case of the latter, allows them to see the "right" position a bit more easily since they don't have to take up the burden of walking the straight & narrow after a lifetime of sin. Some are born to grace and some are not. Scandinavians have a great deal of social capital and can sit atop their perch and "do good" for others without taking a step back and realizing that not all cultures have had their felicitous social trajectory. I am sure that many Social Democrats in Sweden still don't understand the disaster their aid to the soft socialism in Tanzania caused. In the case of whales, Norway & Icleand have indigenous cultural practices that the rest of the world doesn't find so congenial, but are angry that others would speak down to them as if they were uncultured brutes, as if they were sea-cowboys. Ah, now they see the virtues of national sovereignty [1]. Similarly, Hollywood liberals can be "activists" all they want, but they live a lifestyle that affords them the opportunity to make all the correct choices because cost is rarely an issue for them.

[1] To be fair, oil-rich Norway has not joined the EU....

Posted by razib at 11:29 PM | | TrackBack


I.T. outsourcing & the bureaucracy

Robert Cringely has two articles related to I.T. outsourcing. The first is titled Body Count: Why Moving to India Won't Really Help IT and the second is called May the Source Be With You: IT Productivity Doesn't Have to Be an Oxymoron, but Outsourcing Isn't the Way to Achieve It. The underlying problem has to do with bureaucratic inefficiency (a conflict between the proximate incentive of division managers & the ultimate goal of a given company). I have excerpted some interesting parts below, you should read both columns in full, Cringely is all about hyperbole, he's a tech columnist after all, and he has his biases, but he's always entertaining....

Update: I have to include the sequal to Foreign Customer Service SUCKS!.... There were a few things I left out. Not only does DELL's customer service suck, their automated touch-tone system sucks. For instance:


  • Tech Support guy tells me he can't track my order, but he'll forward me to the automated service tracker
  • Automated service tracker wants my service tag, I enter it
  • Automated service tracker forwards me to another set of touch-tone options, another one among these is listed as automated service tracker, so I select it
  • Automated service tracker #2, which has a malesque voice instead of a female one, asks me to enter the service tag, I do, and I'm forwarded too....tech support guy!

Something is really wack at DELL. On the other hand, a shitty automated help system is CHEAP compared to people, and shitty foreign customer service is CHEAP compared to native English speaking customer service, so profits are probably going up. Should I even add that I asked them to look at my modem because it was acting up *twice* and the form that shows what the technician tested indicates that the modem wasn't examined?

From article one:

There is somewhere in almost every company a spreadsheet showing a cost-benefit analysis for every worker. It all comes down to a single lifetime number that is the difference between the expected earnings to the corporation that are made possible by the direct labor of that employee, and the total cost of that employee to the company in current wages and future benefits. Nobody admits the existence of this spreadsheet, which is probably illegal, but it is there. And at some point, it indicates in many cases that a worker has reached a condition where they are likely to cost the company more in future benefits than they will earn the company through future labor. At that moment, that employee becomes expendable....
....
Big IT companies think in terms of billable hours, and the way to maximize billable hours is by having lots of workers. Headcount is everything. It not only determines potential revenue, it also determines political power. If my division is bigger (has more people) than your division, I am more powerful you, you worm.

Since the start of the PC revolution, Information Technology has come to pervade the enterprise. Every desk has a computer, and every computer has a technician. A few years ago, experts started noticing that the productivity gains we expected for our MULTI TRILLION DOLLAR investment weren't coming through. "Next year," said the Chief Information Officer on his way to hiring a bunch of new people. "Next year." Only next year never comes.
...
Which brings us back to India and offshoring. So IBM and a number of other companies will send jobs to India. Profits will rise, but no head counts will drop. Head count will rise, in fact, because the heads are so much cheaper. Productivity for these offshoring companies will not rise. It will fall. It will fall simply because of the added overhead to support those longer information supply lines. And service to customers will not improve at all.
...
Just as an example, there are programmers who are a hundred or a thousand times more productive than their coworkers, and every Silicon Valley startup is constantly on the lookout for that kind of genius. Those people work in big companies, too, but their impact is muted. What manager at any big company would trade 100 workers for one, no matter how smart the one? No manager would do that, and yet they should. Power and efficiency are in conflict here. And that's why we can scale up the software and the hardware, gaining efficiencies along the way, but we don't do that with people. It's not that we can't, we just don't. It is a disservice to customers and a drag on earnings. There is no rational justification at all for this headcount mentality, yet it still exists.

From article two:
Now another question: Why are Linux computers gaining in popularity with large organizations while Macs, which are based after all on BSD Unix, aren't? While there is certainly a lot to be said for Linux in competition with various flavors of Windows (Linux is faster, more memory-efficient, more secure, has more sources of supply, supports many more simultaneous users per box in a server environment, and is clearly cheaper to buy), the advantage over Macintosh computers is less clear.

Again, it comes down to the IT Department Full Employment Act. Adopting Linux allows organizations to increase their IT efficiency without requiring the IT department to increase ITS efficiency. It takes just as many nerds to support 100 Linux boxes as 100 Windows boxes, yet Linux boxes are cheaper and can support more users. The organization is better off while the IT department is unscathed and unchallenged.

I am not claiming that every organization should throw out its PCs and replace them with Macs, but the numbers are pretty clear, and the fact that more Macs don't make it into server racks has to be based on something, and I think that something is CIO self-interest.

Macs reduce IT head count while Linux probably increases IT head count, simple as that.
...
What's ironic in this IT outsourcing is that the end game has not the big U.S. companies winning, but their Indian subcontractors. This isn't rocket science, and the Indians are going to quickly see that they can cut out their U.S. employers and go directly to the customers. It won't happen immediately, but eventually every U.S. outsourcing vendor will try to bring the work back in-house for this very reason. And we'll be paying for it all.

Godless comments:

Cringely is often smart, but he's being dumb in these articles. He's correct that outsourcing is partly a legal way to get around anti-age discrimination laws in the US. But it's more than that - it's about getting competent programmers at much lower prices than in the US. Part of that is because of US regulations (like hiring & firing restrictions, etc.) and part of that is because of purchasing-power-parity considerations. That is, the "anti-age discrimination" laws are just one of many hiring & firing regulations that drive up the price of skilled labor.

All the rest about "selfish IT departments" is foolish. If the IT departments were so selfish and non-productive, at least a few companies would start to pare them down as the reductions would positively impact the bottom line. That's capitalism at work. Oh yeah, and as for the bit about why people don't use Macs on the server side? It's because they suck (expensive + limited software).

Outsourcing's success or failure will also be capitalism at work. Maybe these Indian & Chinese programmers really are as uncreative and foolish as the guys at Zazona and VDare think. If so, the product will suck, and we'll see a return to US programmers, as it will negatively impact the bottom line.

Personally, I consider such objections (often filled with cultural ad-hominems against "suttee", etc.) to be the wishful thinking of displaced nativists. This kind of economic nationalism was encountered and defeated in the 80's when union workers tried to prevent foreign competition from Japan. It's rearing its head again in response to skilled outsourcing and "trade deficits", as populists like Buchanan jump on the bandwagon. The fact is that free trade boosts the standard of living of the consumer, and those who're rendered obsolete need to just suck it up and retrain. Tariffs and protectionism hurt everyone, as the recent steel tariffs fiasco shows:

Before the tariff, 5 percent of the steel used in the United States was imported. Because of the new 30 percent tariff, the other 95 percent also has risen in cost, said Alexander. This means that many automotive parts can no longer be bought at a reasonable price. If the steel tariffs continue, there will be a wave of plant closings, predicts Alexander.

" What we did in trying to save steel jobs is destroyed a lot of steel-consuming jobs," he said.

Buchanan's philosophy is just nationalism plus socialism. Like its economic handmaiden (autarky), we need not be reminded of the long list of failures such an ideology has occasioned.

Posted by razib at 02:21 PM | | TrackBack


Creatine geniuses?

Brawny Brains: Creatine pills may aid memory and cognition says Science News. More over at Google News. I'm not going to comment on it because I think it's a bit early, but, frankly I doubt that most readers of this blog would really benefit that much, at least weighing the possible risks that we might not know about (and the ones we do, problems with diabetics and those with kidney problems).

Posted by razib at 12:56 PM | | TrackBack


THE FUTURE OF THE BIRTH RATE

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, in many developed countries the level of reproduction, as measured by the Total Fertility Rate, is currently below the replacement rate (the level necessary to sustain the population). With current levels of infant mortality, the replacement rate is only about 2.1, but the TFR in many countries is below this. For example:

Australia.....................1.8
Canada......................1.6
France........................1.7
Germany....................1.4
Ireland........................1.9
Italy.............................1.2
Japan.........................1.4
UK..............................1.7
USA............................2.1
(Estimates for 2002, source ‘The World Fact Book’)

With the exception of the USA the TFRs are all below the replacement rate. American readers may take national pride in their greater fertility, but they should note that the TFR for non-Hispanic whites is below the replacement rate, and it is only the high rate among Hispanics that pulls up the US average.

If these TFRs continue indefinitely, then in the absence of net immigration total population would eventually fall. This point has not yet been reached (except perhaps in Italy), because in most developed countries there is significant net immigration, and life expectancy is also still rising. In the UK, for example, population is expected to grow from its present 60 million to 65 million by 2050.

A declining population is not necessarily a bad thing. A rising population may be good for economic growth, but not for the quality of life. A lot depends on the density of population. The prospect of a declining population will be more attractive in Japan, with 336 people per square km., or the UK, with 244, than in the USA, with only 29.

However, my main concern in this post is whether we can expect the current low fertility rates to continue.

First, as I’ve mentioned previously, the TFR is an artificial construct which mixes up the current fertility of different cohorts of women. If there is a trend for women to postpone childbearing until later in their reproductive lifespan, then there will be a time-lag during which the TFR will systematically understate eventual cohort fertility. In the UK, surveys of women show that they intend on average to have around 2 children, though the current TFR is only 1.7. Longitudinal studies show that women on average get close to their intended family size, though many women who postpone childbearing find it more difficult to conceive than they had expected, as fertility declines from age 30 onwards. I would guess that over the next decade the TFR will increase somewhat from the current low levels, but not quite to the replacement rate.

Over the longer term, can we expect the TFR to return to the replacement rate or even higher? Now that reliable contraception is available, the fertility of women depends largely on how many children they and their partners want. Assuming that the biological impulse to reproduce is constant, the demand for children will depend on the other costs and benefits of having them. Demographers and economists have analysed these non-biological factors. In developed countries the economic motive of having children to put them to work, or to support their parents in old age, is no longer relevant. The economic factors are therefore largely costs rather than benefits, such as the costs of food, housing, education, health, and child-care, and the opportunity cost for women of not working during pregnancy and after childbirth. In most countries the costs are to some extent spread over the whole community through taxes (e.g. to pay for education), but there is probably no developed country where it is economically advantageous to have children.

It is unlikely that the costs of children will fall greatly. A reduction in population might reduce the cost of housing, which is a major burden for young families in some countries, but this is a very long term prospect. It is also possible that governments will provide financial incentives for having children, but such policies have not proved effective in the past (notably in France), and in any event resources will be stretched to provide for the increasing number of the elderly.

Purely on economic grounds it is therefore difficult to foresee any major increase in fertility. But all of this assumes that the underlying impulse to have children is constant. This is doubtful. From a biological point of view, fertility is subject to natural selection. We expect average fertility to rise until it reaches an optimum, where the number of offspring in a family who themselve survive and reproduce is at its maximum. If a family has more offspring than the optimum, then the higher number of children will be more than offset by their lower rates of survival and/or reproduction - the parents will have more children but fewer grandchildren than the average.

The optimum fertility for a species depends on its ecological conditions and way of life. There is a familiar distinction between r-selected species, where a large number of offspring are produced, but most of them die, and k-selected species, where a small number of offspring are produced, but a high parental investment in each ensures that a high proportion survive. However, even in a k-selected species the optimum level of fertility will not in general be the same as the level that minimises the mortality of offspring.

Man is a highly k-selected species. Optimum fertility is unlikely to be vastly higher than the minimum number necessary to replace the parents. However, it seems clear that the selective optimum must be higher than present TFRs, and somewhat higher than the present replacement rate of 2.1. If average fertility were at the optimum, then parents with more children than average would have relatively few grandchildren. I don’t know of any recent figures on this point, but it seems highly likely that parents of 3 or 4 children have more grandchildren than parents of 2 children, contrary to the hypothesis that the optimum is around 2.

There is also a theoretical reason for expecting current fertility to be below the selective optimum. The reason is that the pattern of fertility has not yet recovered from a recent downward shock. Effective oral contraceptives only became widely available in the 1960s (and more recently in some Catholic countries), which is scarcely a generation ago. For the first time in history people who want to have sex but not children can reliably do so. The result has been a large increase in the proportion of couples having no children, or only one child.

But we would expect the pattern of fertility eventually to adjust from this shock. The mechanism for adjustment is that when average fertility is below the selective optimum, then those individuals who have more than the average number of children will contribute more to subsequent generations - they will have not only more children but more grandchildren. And if the propensity to have more children has positive heritability, then this propensity will be passed on, and the average fertility of the population will rise.

To illustrate this with a crude example, suppose that out of every 10 women in the present generation, 3 have no children, 3 have one child, 2 have 2 children, 1 has 3 children, and 1 has 4 children. The total number of children is 14, and the average per woman is 1.4 (which is within the current range of TFRs in developed countries). Now suppose that heritability is 100%, so that every female has as many children as her own mother. On these assumptions the average number of children born to each female of the second generation will be 2.57. Average fertility has almost doubled in a generation. This largely reflects the fact that in this model the most fertile 20% of women contribute half of all the children in the second generation (7 out of every 14), and we assume that the daughters from these families inherit their mothers’ high fertility.

Heritability of fertility is very unlikely to be 100%. However, it is also unlikely to be zero. With reliable contraception, fertility becomes largely a matter of psychology. Since factors of personality, however defined, are usually about 50% heritable, it is reasonable to suppose that the psychological factors influencing fertility are also heritable. (Even if the basis of heritability were environmental rather than genetic, fertility would still be transmitted for several generations, until the environment of the descendants had regressed entirely to the mean.) One thing we can say for certain is that women who have no children will have no grandchildren. So in an age of contraception any heritable factors leading women to be averse or indifferent to children will rapidly be eliminated from the population.

I conclude that over the course of another 2 or 3 generations, fertility is likely to rise back above the replacement rate, and populations in developed countries will grow again. If infant mortality does not also rise, at some point pressure on resources will lead governments to introduce measures to discourage fertility. Of course, over this time scale a lot of other things will have happened, and rising fertility may be the least of our worries.

I should mention that the main argument here is not new. It was stated many years ago by the physicist Sir Charles Galton Darwin (a grandson of you-know-who), but it has been generally neglected.

DAVID BURBRIDGE

Posted by David B at 03:25 AM | | TrackBack