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January 10, 2004
The Other Diaspora
This article in The Washington Post about Iraqis of African descent is fascinating. Recently I've been reading books about the Brazilian "racial democracy," and some of the quotes from Afro-Iraqis are exactly the same as Afro-Brazilians, they often de-emphasize their blackness and look to their commonalities with the general society, all the while being victims of racism from the lighter majority.
Though the presence of blacks in the Arab world is well known, their existence in India is not. The Muslim rulers of India brought black slaves with their armies to rule over the subcontinent, though several times the slaves rebelled and took power into their own hands, and black military leaders become de facto rulers. The Siddi people of India are the descendents of black Africans.
I suggest people read the full text, as it is available free.
Stressed out cities
What is the most stressed out city? Survey says, Tacoma is the most stressed out-and Albany-Schenectady-Troy the least. My family has lived near both areas, and I can report that Tacoma is pretty depressing-though I don't remember Albany being any sort of utopia (the population has been declining in that area of upstate New York). But the author might have acknowledged that the suicide rate is probably exaggerated by the sunless climate.
Update: My girlfriend points out that noting Las Vegas has a high divorce rate is kind of stupid. Check Bestplaces.net, "number of Starbucks" is a crucial "general" metric on the city comparison feature!
The Numbers Game
I was in my local bookstore recently and saw that the cover of E magazine had a sub-heading titled Myths, Truths and Half-Truths About Human Population Growth and the Environment. You can find the article on their website-kind of apropos of the immigration issue that has been a theme of GNXP recently, but this from a more Left-enviro perspective. There is a particular emphasis on addressing the idea that population consciousness is somehow inherently sexist or racist (think of it is a Left-enviro form of the arguments the Right has to make sometimes that capitalism is not inherently sexist or racist).
January 09, 2004
The Economist has an article about the hairlessness of everyone's favorite primate.
But human hair is generally fine and short, and so humans look naked compared with their closest animal relations. How bare they are, though, does vary racially—which may explain why one Thai lady has requested that her European boyfriend should have his entire body waxed.
The last point discussed was facial hair.
The theory here is that sexual selection has kept facial hair in men, presumably because this advertises their male hormones. But why, then, do so many men, in so many cultures, shave them off? Perhaps the fear of parasites is driving some men to be clean-shaven. Maybe the goatee is a compromise between being clean and manly. Or, perhaps, shaving is popular because facial shape in humans is a sexually dimorphic characteristic. Men tend to have squarer jaws than women, and they shave to highlight this. If so, this would explain the trend for emphasising the edge of the jawline with a fringe of hair.
So is this why men shave? Does The Economist have it right, or is it something else?
The Little Polities
Charles Murtaugh points me to this article in The Economist (via Orinn Judd). It argues that there is "...a trade-off between the benefits of scale and the costs of heterogeneity." Duh! That's why I'm a federalist, and when I'm less concerned about people wondering if I'm mentally ill, I openly moot the idea of breaking up these United States of America. Overall, it is something to think about in the context of America, the republic started out with 2.5 million people, only 10% being real political & economic stakeholders, but today we are 300 million people with universal sufferage over the age of 18. It's a pretty good code base that seems to have been extensible, but we might open ourselves to the possibility of a re-write to make it more modular.
In any case, I would like to add that though Charles seems to have a platonic crush on Orrin Judd, the dude makes the following assertion/comparison that seems a bit shallow:
"(2) China and India: neither has a snowball's chance of remaining whole."
That strikes me as kind of dumb. China has a 2,000 year history of cyclical oscillations between centralized rule and interregnums of political plurality. But, one pattern that seems to be marked is the tendency for the interregnums to shrink! In contrast, the history of India is one of political plurality, with central rule more often being imposed from the outside (Muslims), so Orrin is probably on solid ground making the assertion in that case.
The dumbness is not in predicting China's collapse (that happens now & then), but putting China and India together on the same line. India's political unity is a historical abberation, China's is not.
Though I agree with some of the thesis (the heterogeneity vs. economy-of-scale tradeoff), I disagree with many of the points brought up by both Orrin and the writer. Among them:
Bottom line: there are many factors that can unify a nation. Among them are race, religion, language, nationalism, and an external threat. Centralization of government becomes more difficult as less of these unifying factors exist, because it becomes harder to amalgamate preferences successfully.
But while the heterogeneity of nations is a consideration, it is not the only consideration. A far more robust predictor of prosperity than size or heterogeneity is mean IQ. But the Economist can't write that. It is a fact, however, that the two prerequisites for wealth are a high mean IQ and a capitalist economy. That's why Iran and Vietnam will likely be prosperous if and when they shed the shackles of Islamism and communism respectively.
 Note that Griffe's analysis needs to be updated for 2002, as the East Asian countries have significantly higher GDP-per-capitas than those (older) statistics indicate. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong are all first world nations (or quasi-nations in the case of HK). Malaysia's large Chinese minority is getting it close to first world status, and parts of China are already first world.
Less herbs, more synthetics!
via Chris Mooney.
With the whole fiasco that is Traditional Chinese Medicine, a.k.a. 101 ways to prepare Tiger Penis, perhaps we should shout it loud & proud again: Chemistry for a better world!
The price of the great outdoors
Mountain lion 'out for blood' killed after attacking bikers. The conflict between mountain lions and humans in the mountain West is not new. These are in general secretive big cats, attested to by the fact that while the wolf was exterminated from most of the lower 48, the cougar continues to haunt the Rockies.
But, many Westerners, often affluent liberal professionals, what to be "near the wilderness." Yesterday night as my girlfriend and I were walking back from her office late at night a family of deer were taking a rest in the middle of a lawn on a house just off the main street. I myself have seen the strange behavior of the local deer, as they come out of the hillsides and wait for the cars to pass on the main drag, before venturing to the other side of town. Here is the type of scene that is common place around where I live:
If you like the outdoors, clean water and a sky unmarred by smog, visit the portion of the I-5 corridor between Redding, California and Imbler, Imbler. But of course there are downsides to the "country life." No lights, no big city and no Banana Republic. Those are the things that most people think of when they imagine the urban life, and those are the things that many are escaping.
On the other hand, there are other issues that are more important once you actually live in the country. Fires are a fact of life, 2 years ago it was so bad that it was like twilight at noon. Because of the spread of rural developments for professionals, local resources are overstretched, trying to save houses in areas where old timers might have avoided building because they knew the negatives that came along with hillside vistas. People are pushing their way into the wilderness to enjoy it, but in the process are bringing the amenities that they take for granted with them.
Cougars eating human beings is not something I favor. But, I think some people need to understand that this is the reductio ad absurdum of living "in the wilderness." If you want to see yourself as just another animal in "harmony" with nature, you might open your mind to the possibility that the predators will start viewing you as meat.
Men On the Moon
After the amazing success (a few failures too) of robots on Mars, Bush plans to follow this up with....
A lunar base! And humans to Mars after that.
Even after we see again and again that NASA's most amazing results – scientific and public relations – come from their cheap, unmanned missions, our politicians cannot figure out that this is what NASA should be spending money on. It is strange, especially when embarrassing budget disasters are the only thing that politicians usually get in return for the manned missions.
Breaking news! Human populations differ genetically!!!
Nicholas Wade is a great journalist, and slowly he is pushing the wedge of acceptable discourse into uncharted territory. I would bet money that he talked to Vincent Sarich or read some of his work for this new article, titled Ice Age Ancestry May Keep Body Warmer and Healthier, because the emphasis on adaptation after the Out-of-Africa radiation is something Sarich puts special focus on. The money shot:
I think the next logical step is to begin to explore selective effects on the genome dependent on the transition to high density living concomitant with the transition to agriculture in most of the world's populations. Matt Ridley in his most recent book made some references to this topic, so I suspect there are researchers out there he is in touch with who are looking at differences between populations with a history of high density vs. those that remained at the hunter-gatherer stage longer.
January 08, 2004
Why Is Probability So Hard?
I am going to pull out some familiar chestnuts here. If you have not heard these puzzles before, then good, you may find them interesting. If you have heard them before, even better.
First, let's start with something obvious. If you toss a fair coin once, does the result tell you anything about the result of the next toss? No.
Which leads to...
The Twin Paradox
A mother pushing a pair of non-identical twins in a baby carriage calls you over. She tells you that one of them is a boy.
What is the probability that the other child is a boy?
And this is generally where the instructor gets to condemn everyone who answers 1/2.
Here are the possible sex groupings of the twins:
Only number 4 can be ruled out. Therefore the chance of there being two boys is 1/3, not 1/2.
The Game Show Paradox
On a game show there are three curtains. Behind two of the curtains are goats. Behind the other curtain is a Ferrari. The contestant has to choose one of the curtains to open, and he gets whatever is behind that curtain.
So Bob the contestant picks a curtain to open. Before it is opened, however, Pat the host opens another curtain, showing the goat behind it. He then gives Bob the opportunity to switch curtains. Should Bob switch?
And this is generally where the instructor gets to condemn anyone who says it doesn't matter.
When Bob picked the first curtain, there was a 1/3 chance that the Ferrari was behind it, and a 2/3 chance that it was behind another curtain. So it is obvious that if he stays with the curtain he is at there will only be a 1/3 chance of winning the Ferrari. But if he switches, he will have a 2/3 chance.
No Good At Probability?
Nearly everyone's gut feeling was 1/2 and 'doesn't matter' respectively. This proves we're no good at probability, right? Not so fast.
There is actually a good reason for our gut feelings. And it is the same reason in each case. Let's go back to the twins.
Scenario A: Imagine that you had a great many mothers and their twins together in a room. You collect all of the mothers who could can truthfully say "one is a boy." This is 3/4 of the mothers. Then you check the sex of either one of children and record your results.
Scenario B: Imagine instead the same situation, except this time you ask the mother to tell you the sex of either one of the children. When the mother says "boy" – true for 1/2 of the mothers – you then check the sex of either one of the children.
So here is the secret to the twin paradox: We solved the twin paradox as A, but B was how we heard it.
B is a narrative – in other words a sequence of events. That is how we tell stories. The twin paradox was presented as a narrative.
For want of a better term, A can be referred to as a description of a system. That is how we usually set up mathematics problems. We describe a system and then solve it. The twin paradox was solved in this manner.
The game show paradox is exactly the same.
Scenario A: Imagine a game show where the host knows where all of the prizes are. When a contestant picks one curtain, the game show host will always pick out one of the other curtains where a goat is.
Scenario B: Imagine a game show where the host knows nothing about the prizes. When a contestant picks one curtain, the game show host will pick a curtain at random and show what is behind it.
We solved the game show paradox as A, but B was how we heard it.
So this is not a problem of being good at probability or not. Our minds solve these problems just fine. It is a matter of language being too inexact to specify to our mind just which problem it should be working on.
Don't sneeze @ genes
It could be worse....
I guess I might be seen as acting a bit hysterical recently about the amnesty plan-but I lived in a compound until I was 4 and am not too excited about going back. But, in any case, some perspective-we don't have it as bad as much of Europe. Case in point, Denmark (my comments in red):
You give asylum to semi-literate rustics from Muslim countries and expect them to become good Danes in one generation!. Big surprise that they soon become alienated from a society they can't succeed in, a society that assumes they just aren't up to snuff because of past experience, and take refuge in pre-modern religious and cultural traditions. Groups like the Arab European League are a synthesis of Western narcissism and Eastern piety-the reactionary medieval traditions of their volk are a salve to their bruised egos.
Read the full article.
Variation on Universal Grammar?
This article in The Economist highlights research that indicates that language affects the way we look at the world. Much of the same territory is tread by The Geography of Thought, and I suspect that the linguists will find that this is only an overlay over the "Universal Grammar," just like the author of The Geography of Thought pretty much admitted by the end of the book that individuals could easily be re-trained to "think differently" (more Western or Eastern). Of course, language acquisition capacity drops a great deal after adolescence, so there are differences. The researcher mentioned above is an evolutionary psycholinguist, so I am skeptical that he will give much comfort to the tabula rasa crowd who are prone to assert that ideas precede the reality of the world around us.
Dumb & dumber
Sometimes I wonder if the New Agey Left and the Medieval Right are going to collude to undermine the Modern world. Check out this moronic behavior:
Full article in The Economist (there isn't that much more).
Reminds me of the idiocy of the pro-non-iodized salt movement in India.
January 07, 2004
Seems like one presidential candidate is an explicit genetic determinist!
The headline says it all....
Democrats: Bush immigration plan not enough. I guess the zero population growth faction isn't that strong anymore, of course, NARAL could push for immigrant children to get tax-payer funded abortions, and that might dovetail the two positions....
Our president, Caracalla-oops, I mean G.W., might do anything for the Almighty Dollared Interests, but the Dems will anything for the adulation of the world's masses. Republican politicians are whores, but at least they do it for $, the Dems seem to act out for the love of the game....
MSNBC is doing a series called genetic genealogy.
I hate Hints & Tips from Queer Eye. It's just so...gay....
Backward & brown
On Globalisation India, Like China, Needs To Be More Aggressive. Some poll numbers:
There's a reason that anti-globalization greenies find fellow travellers in India.
America, it's a temp agency, not a republic!
January 06, 2004
Please vote for Nicole Kidman in TV GUIDE's You Sexy Thing, she's gettin' kind of spanked right now, and I don't like to see an Academy Award winning actress treated in such a fashion....
Where the Left & the Right can agree
George Bush's America: Gated communites (but still united, not divided!).
On creating modern states
Abiola Lapite states that ethnicity is the problem in Africa. In sum, the problem is the diversity of ethnicities that exist because of a relative insulation from the "human web" of information systems and governments that have (relatively) homogenized large stretches of the Eurasian continent since the "Axial Age." African situations do exist in Eurasia, but only when there is a confluence of historical and geographic factors, case in point, Caucasia. This is reflected in the biological diversity of fauna and flora, in addition to the famous linguistic and ethnic babble that is the hallmark of this region. Sometimes geographic constraints are very tight, and paradoxically they give freedom to isolated peoples who see in them refugium against centralizing states and ideologies.
Ethnic diversity is an indicator of deep seated differences between pre-modern nation-state Europe (circa 1500) and pre-modern nation-state Africa (circa 1800), to give a comparison. Europe of 3,000 years ago was almost certainly as diverse as Africa is today (which after all is something that we evaluate after the Bantu expansion from eastern Nigeria). Abiola has argued on his own blog that the slow transformation of the gentry dominated England toward universal franchise over hundreds of years is the smoothest model of transition to a nation state (the central thesis of Fareed Zakaria's Future of Freedom). It takes little brilliance to see why Africa is in such straights.
World religions, liberalism, democracy, etc. were "memes" that took thousands of years to "take" in most of Eurasia, and even today they have not put in deep roots everywhere. In contrast, Africa has been jump-started into the process of modernization from the village to the nation in one fell swoop (at least on the de jure level). I have spoken of this in the context of Bangladesh, which does have an elite that has been "plugged in" to the Eurasian web for a few thousand years.
Unfortunately, the sacroscant nature of the "nation state" is the price that poor Third World nations pay so that the West can be secure its own stability (remember, some nations like "Germany" and "Italy" are not much newer than some of the African countries in the long view, though they had more intermediate stages of polity formation). Case in point: Cyprus. Why must this sham go on? Allow the Turkish Cypriots to unite with Turkey and give the Greeks their enosis. But no, the dogma of colonial boundaries, the nation-state by fiat, still holds sway....
In a strange way, we do live in an age where international consensus makes many nations a prison-house of peoples. Read about the Bougainville embargo. That's why the "internationalism" of the Left today seems so self-interested and machiavellian to me....
Liberals are wrong. Bush isn't a pawn of corporations, he's a pawn of corporations and elite liberal do-gooder groups. And what's up with the "web based" registry? The jobs illegals are doing are being done partially because they are off the books and don't pay taxes (so they are cheaper for the employer). And someone might remind G.W. that he's running for re-election in The United States of America, not The United States of Mexico. Oh, wait...the Democrats won't bring that up, the guy gets a free pass....
My parents still bitch about people that got in during the 1986 amnesty now and then, we were jumping the sponsorship hoop, and it was a little weird hearing about Bangladeshi sailors escaping from their ship and hiding out in New York City but getting the same Green Card without doing much about (hint: these are the people just like your shyster cousin who applied their intelligence to find the best cons to screw their fellow man). Anyway, I think someone should look at G.W.'s corporate record, I suspect he didn't "promote from within."
What it's really about-Three Little Pigs Banned
Another data point that suggests P.C. is about moral posturing, not genuine sensitivity and civility. From School Library Journal:
Dienekes has an excellent recent post (January 4) on the subject of 'discordant clines', i.e. cases where geographical trends in one trait (such as skin colour) are different from the trends in another trait (e.g. blood groups). This is highly relevant to the meaning of 'human biodiversity'.
The UK Department of Health has just released end-of-year data for deaths from variant CJD (the so-called human form of BSE, or mad cow disease) in 2003.
The figures from 1995 (the first year of records) to 2003 inclusive are as follows:
As I pointed out in a recent post, alarmist predictions of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of deaths, have not materialised. In fact, the 'epidemic' seems to have peaked in 2000 and plateaued at around 20 deaths per year.
It is also interesting to look at the figures for so-called 'spontaneous' CJD, i.e. cases with no known cause. For the same years, these are 35, 40, 60, 63, 62, 49, 57, 73, and 58. It will be noted that these are much higher than the numbers for 'variant' CJD. If we add 'variant' to 'spontaneous' figures we get the following totals:
(NB: there is often a time-lag in reporting of 'spontaneous' cases, so the provisional end-year figures for 2003 may increase slightly.)
Apart from a 'blip' in 2002, there is a notable stability in these totals from 1998 onwards. I'm not sure if there is any real significance in this, as stochastic fluctuations in two independent series would often cancel out and produce a more stable total. But it is at least worth considering whether part of the 'increase' in vCJD from 1997 onwards was an artifact of diagnosis.
It is also worth noting that there has never been any worthwhile proof that variant CJD is caused by eating infected beef. Early in the 'epidemic' some commentators noted that a high proportion of the victims had had jobs which involved handling beef, including a girl who had been a vegetarian for many years but worked at a dogs' home where she regularly handled meat for the dogs' meals. The epidemiologists examined this connection and concluded that the proportion of victims with 'meat handling' jobs was not in fact significantly higher than expected. But of course, this does not prove that the disease is not transmittted by handling meat, e.g. by infected prions entering the bloodstream via cuts or scratches.
As the first case of BSE has just been reported in American cows, my message to American readers would be:
(a) don't panic
January 05, 2004
Articles of interest....
The yield for google genetics news alert was good today.
2) Thinking Outside the Gene. Here is the crucial subheading: Only by eliminating genetic determinism from our thinking can we talk effectively and responsibly about genetic interventions.
DNA series on PBS
PBS has a multi-part series titled DNA showing right now. I saw part I, which basically chronicled the race to unlock the secret of the double helix (the "standard model," Watson = selfish creep, Crick = J.D. Salinger of scientists, Franklin = woman wronged, Wilkins = Dupe, etc. etc.). Pretty interesting, though I doubt they'll hit any new science, it's better than re-runs of Friends.
Sidenote: GNXP readers might find this article from 3 years back on Watson giving an "insensitive" lecture at Berkeley amusing. The whole lecture was pretty funny as far as I could tell. Here is a quote:
Keep your unclean hands off our women!
An Israeli company steals a page from the Saudi/UAE playbook:
Maybe they're just worried that "Once you go Asian, Jews are out of the equation." =)
Though I think people should be allowed to enter into whatever types of contracts they wish, as long as no harm to others is involved, I have to wonder why the company would do this. It increases their labour costs, as prospective employees would rather work at other companies which don't impose such onerous restrictions. Furthermore, it will likely lead to massive problems with worker discipline: bachelor societies (such as the Chinatowns of the 19th century in the USA) aren't generally noted for their stability or lack of crime.
What makes this even more confusing is that there seems to be no real religious justification for the clause in the contract (edit: not law, thanks gc for catching the slip), unlike in surrounding Islamic countries which impose similar requirements on their heathen guest workers. Unless the company in question expects this action will generate positive publicity for them, I can't see why a business, whose purpose, after all, is to generate profit, would take such an action. I suppose it's an effective method of preventing guest-worker programs from mutating into mass permanent immigration, by deliberately keeping the workers from assimilating into local society. Though of course I doubt it's a method that could be successfully implemented anywhere else ...
January 04, 2004
A real lighter shade of "brown"
I have alluded to color-consciousness among South Asians before. Well, a day ago I had an IM chat with an Indian and I brought up this issue, and he pointed me to this actress as a token dark-skinned female in Bollywood. Follow the link, because the woman in question is actually probably lighter than the median South Asian (more pictures here). You can see the normal phenotype in Indian film here.
Interestingly, Al Jazeera has an article on the issue, and here is a choice quote from the leader of a low caste political party:
This isn't of course limited to just India. I had a friend of Japanese origin who had spent most of her formative years in southeast Asia, and when she went back to Japan everyone would always note, "You have such dark skin!" (it was a dusky brown).
One thing to note though, most South Asian extended families have members with dark and light skin. My paternal grandmother had near black skin while my maternal grandmother has a fair complexion. When I was a small child I would refer to them as "black grandmother" and "red grandmother," not knowing any better of course, and attaching little value in any case, being only appropriate descriptors. So a major point is that though there are strong value judgements on ideal physiques, because of thousands of years of intermarriage with people of varied phenotypes, the implications are only partially racial. So Eric Margolis describing the "light" vs. "dark" dichotomy in India as "racial" is probably conflating North American conceptions of the assocation of phenotype and race with the variety of South Asian types, which may exhibit themselves throughout an extended family!
Rather than South African apartheid, a better analogy for the South Asian situation is Brazil, where hundreds of years of intermarriage have reassorted the genes to some extent where phenotype and ancestry are no longer as congruent as they once might have been (linkage disequilibrium to linkage equilibrium).
Science & religion, a marriage of money?
Article on "bridging" science and religion. It acknowledges one major fact, over the past 10 years a lot of the elite push for this sort of thinking has come from the John Templeton Foundation, which throws dollars toward Intelligent Design (as an example). But, it also gives funds to scientists who are pretty nonreligious and a bit confused as to what it's all about. I think *confused* is the key word.
Update: Dyson confused:
Muslims & marriage
This is a 12 minute audio piece about Muslim women and their problems with marriage. The juxtpositions that crop up can be jarring to stereotypes. For example, one young British Muslim talks about how she got an arranged marriage with a man who was from a religious and "good" family. She comes to find out he likes ham sandwiches and is offended by her wearing Asian clothes at home and talking about Islam. Seen in this way, he is the "liberal" and she is the "conservative," but when she goes on to describe how he treats her, and how his family views the situation (deal with it, it's done), just who is "liberal" and "conservative" can get very muddled.
The way I see it, there are many consumeristic and secular children of immigrants of Muslim and Asian origin who live double-lives, being Western in their individual spheres, but keeping up the sham of "respectability" so that the family rep is kept intact. On the other end, you have liberated, intelligent and independent girls who are rediscovering their culture and get a nasty shock when the practice does not conform to Islamic ideal....