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February 14, 2004
"Protein: Yay! Carbs: Boo!"
Schools in Palm Beach and Broward counties are trying a new strategy to raise test scores. It seems comical that they would alter the carbohydrate count in breakfasts for a handful of days and expect it to have some major effect on test scores, and flies in the face of anything I learned about IQ and biochemistry. While H. J. Eysenck and others of a similar mindset often proposed nutritional supplementation as one of the best ways to raise IQ (the little it can be raised), their ideas were for early-in-life programs and long-term implementation. And they definitely were not as naive as this:
I am glad they are disallowing high-simple sugar food (e.g., cookies), and advocating water, but do they really think a diet of quasi-comestibles such as bacon and cheese sticks are the ticket to better test grades?
If they put 1/2 as much energy into exploiting individual differences instead of trying to get rid of them, I am sure they would much better pleased with the outcomes.
Valentines are from Venus, Muslims are from Mars
I never would have imagined that celebrating Valentine's Day would be antithetical to the good practice of Islam.
“A Muslim is prohibited from celebrating, approving or congratulating on this occasion,” said the ruling issued by the Fatwa Committee. Supporting others to celebrate the day such as buying or selling Valentine’s items, presenting gifts or making festival food falls in the category of approval.
What do Fatwas like this portend for the prospect of assimilating Muslims into their host cultures, particularly those in Europe?
The occasion seems trivial to youths in Qasim. “I know it but I disdain it,” said a 23-year-old Ahmad Al-Mutairy. “The Internet is full of such triviality. Only fools will fall into such traps,” he added.
Well, if adopting another culture is a sign that one is weak and misguided, then I think that Europe will face a Muslim population that is resistant to assimilation.
Triumph Strikes Again
I wanted to write a post on how America is confidently swimming against the worldwide cultural and political tides compared to what I've observed in the rest of the world, but when I read about Conan O'Briens skit involving Triumph the Insult Dog I scrapped all that I had written and thought that this episode would suffice to make my point.
The Canadians have their panties twisted into a knot because of a skit on Conan's show. A dog puppet insulted the Quebecois and the PC illuminati are indignant.
For a sample of Triumph in action see this very funny skewering of Star Wars Fans. (WMV FILE)
The story portrays a Political Correctness attitude that has become a cancer on society. The article also notes the controversy surrounding comments made by a hockey commentator.
Mr. Cherry has been under fire for his comments on a Jan. 24 segment of Coach's Corner, in which he said that hockey players such as the "Europeans and French guys" were "turning into sucks" for wearing visors on their helmets to protect their eyes.
What does an official language commissioner have to do with this case, and what are they even doing meddling in culture? What is the necessity of having a seven second delay? Does every opinion have to pass the mental pablum test? Can nothing be controversial? Are people so sensitive that they'll have conniptions upon hearing anything that hints of criticism? Most telling is this response from one of the cultural guardians who seems out of touch with, what I hope are, the people who are growing ever more disillusioned with PC thought policing.
Globe and Mail Review editor Elizabeth Renzetti was in the audience for the taping of the O'Brien show and said the segment received a disturbing amount of applause from the young audience.
We get regular PC folly reports from university campuses. We get media PC filtering. In the case of this episode from Canada, we're getting a look into how far things can go when the elites become so disconnected from reality. Most disturbing to me is that this leftist march towards sensitivity seems to be the trend in many parts of the world. Beware when parody and ribald humor are a threat to national identity and culture.
I can't help but feel that American resilience immunizes the country against the need to go with the international consensus, and thus enacting policies and inculcating attitudes that stem from feelings of inferiority or a need to not appear insensitive. Whatever happened to the concept that cultures should define themselves from their strengths and uniqueness, rather than in comparison to the Americans? Whatever happened to the concept of pursuing a national interest, rather than defining the national interest as stopping America's influence? Whatever happened to critical introspection and being able to laugh at one's country?
In some ways I'm troubled by the blue and red divide in the US, but when I compare the US political and cultural dynamic to the homogenization I see growing in much of the world, I've come to believe that the right-left battle in the US is healthy for the culture. More of the world could benefit from domestic ideological schisms.
February 13, 2004
A Triumph for Soft Power
European plans to supplant the US in terms of foreign policy influence through the adroit application of soft power are now being thwarted by Iran months after Europe proclaimed success in getting Iran to sign the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, and to suspend uranium enrichment activities.
Much self-congratulation was in the air despite the ethereal nature of the victory. Victory over whom? Why the Americans, and their Hard Power strategy, of course. Considering that Europe would be within range of an Iranian intermediate-range missile long before America was ever threatened, we would assume that verifiable measures on the IAEA agreement and enforcement provisions would have been in the self-interest of the Europeans and a metric by which to guage success would have been a central condition of the agreement. Alas, the substance was less important than the symbolism.
The Anglo-French-German engagement in Iran has led to a sudden surge in confidence in the efficacy of European soft power and in Europe's ability to forge a common foreign policy. This has led some to herald a far more definitive role for European diplomacy in conflict resolution. The French newspaper Liberation states: "Seen from Paris, the diplomatic efforts that helped to reach an agreement with Tehran must serve as a diplomatic strike force to seek political negotiated solutions in other regions of the world.... The European troika should, according to Paris, intervene to save the Middle East process." Similarly, Le Point opines that the Iran initiative can serve "as a precedent in the delicate area of nuclear proliferation."
What enforcement measures were included in the agreement? What stick will the Europeans use to encourage Iranian compliance? What harm comes to the Iranian regime if they renege on the agreement? Apparently, the Iranians felt secure in pursuing their nuclear ambitions and have breached their agreement with the IAEA for it is hard to identify the severe downside risk to them.
UN inspectors discovered designs for a centrifuge that can produce bomb fuel twice as fast as the machine the Iranians are currently assembling. The centrifuge designs were not reported by the Iranians, and constitute an apparent breach of their commitment to reveal all, although the significance of the finding is being played down by IAEA officials.
What was so compelling about the application of soft power that got the Iranians to agree to restrictions supervised by IAEA officials?
The negotiations were "very tense and difficult" and at one stage Mr Fischer threatened to walk out. The bargain struck in Tehran was that Iran would freeze its ambitious and extensive uranium enrichment activities in return for technology transfer for a civilian nuclear programme from Europe's three biggest generators of nuclear power - Britain, France and Germany.
Well, having Mr. Fischer threatening to walk out must have put the fear of the Americans in the souls of the Iranians. Seeing how an agreement was finally reached, it seems that Mr. Fischer did come back to the table and flexed his soft power muscles. How well did he do? In exchange for a transfer of nuclear technology to Iran he got a promise from the Iranians to cease their enrichment activities.
What would be the consequences for the Iranians if they broke the promise? Why the Europeans would be upset, of course. How could anyone have foreseen the possibility of the bribed party not honoring the bribe? Perhaps the Europeans can put the genie back in the bottle and reclaim the nuclear knowledge they transferred to the Iranians. Hmm, maybe not. Perhaps, the Europeans can find solace with their phyrric victory.
One would think that after witnessing the successful negotiating strategy of Slobodan Milosevic (promise the moon, get what you want, break promise, act contrite, repeat as often as needed) the soft power proponents would have learned a few lessons.
Oh yes, the triumph of Soft Power still awaits a circumstance in which it can trump American Hard Power. This Iranian incident is a how-to guide of what not to do.
The Passion, indicators of box-office success?
The local art-house movie theater is selling advance tickets for The Passion.
This, in a town where the local bookstore does not carry Christianity Today or Christian Century, but does carry every obscure magazine about Buddhism. A town that supports 3 Jewish temples (18,000 people total). A town in the most secular state in the union. A town where I would hazard to guess that Dennis Kucinich could get 1/3 the vote.
If Hollywood is all about the band-wagon effect, let's see after The Passion starts raking in it.
P.S. I saw the trailer before watching House of Sand and Fog, it was pretty good. No matter the theological and historical inaccuracies (yes Dienekes, they should be speaking some Greek), it seems like it has enough verisimilitude to carry you to a different time and place.
Drop in Minority Applicants at UMich
Self-delusion is an almost universal character trait, and for many people a comfortable state to be in. I'll opine that the prospect of confronting the reality of academic ill-preparedness is the root cause of a 23% drop-off in minority applications at the University of Michigan.
As this article points out:
The 23 percent decline in applications from blacks, Hispanics and American Indians came as the total number of people applying for space in the next freshman class dropped 18 percent, according to figures U-M released Monday.
Later in the article, Peterson states, “What students are worried about is, ‘Will I be welcomed and will I be going to a campus where I’m valued?’ ” I don't see why the students wouldn't be welcomed or valued unless they were perceived to have gotten an unfair leg up by admission through lowered standards. The unexamined question is whether the students are self-selecting against UMich because they know, in their heart of hearts, that without Affirmative Action, they won't be admitted, so why confront the prospect of rejection. Instead the students may focus their ambitions on an institution that will admit them through a lowered standard on admission.
Also, unexamined as a cause of this decline in admission is the SES of the students. Perhaps increased fees, reduced aid, and weakened job market are disproportionately affecting minority students.
Another explanation might be sought in the success of other institutions in recruiting minority students and thus reducing the pool for the UMich. If the other institutions make the path towards admission easier, then the student will make the rational risk-minimization choice and avoid confronting their reliance on Affirmative Action.
It would be interesting to see whether the drop-off of applicants at UMich is found at other universities besides Ohio (which also had a court mandated admission policy revision.) Is this occurring at UMich because of the AA court battle or simply as part of a larger trend?
Creation in the Schools (again...)
The State Board of Education gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a 10th-grade biology lesson that scientists say could put "intelligent design" in Ohio classrooms.
Reportedly, the language for the lesson plan is coming from Wells' "Icons of Evolution." (Talkorigins.org site on the book here)
A lot of people on GNXP (probably rightly) see all this as a battle between good and evil. The forces of ignorance versus the forces science. The Church versus Galileo
I see it as a god-awful mess.
First of all let's go over the problems on the Creationist side:
That's about it for them really.
Now for the problems with our side:
What are the practical solutions to this mess? War with the believers in the press? Maybe. That's what we are doing now.
Here are my personal goals for the teaching of evolution:
The first point, in my opinion, does not have much to do with high school. The second does. I suppose that it can be used as justification for the current Creationism v. Evolution school board wars. But frankly, I think that it is a matter of secularization levels, IQ, and literacy rates in society more than what is actually taught. IQ and literacy rates do not have much to do with public schools. Secularization can be promulgated in the public schools (and is), but I think the negative effects outweigh the positive.
Either way, the battle over lesson plans that we see now is of little consequence. Thankfully.
Changing the Subject...
I have long thought that there is a latent contradiction in the modern scientific world-view.
Consider the following propositions:
A. Adaptive traits of organisms have evolved by natural selection.
B. A trait can only evolve by natural selection if it affects the reproduction of organisms.
C. Any trait that affects the reproduction of organisms has causal efficacy in the physical world, that is, it makes a difference to the state of physical objects (including organisms themselves).
D. Some subjective sensations, such as pleasures and pains, are adaptive traits of organisms.
I think that most biologists would accept these propositions, but I will return to that. Assuming that they are accepted, it follows by elementary logic that:
E. Some subjective sensations have causal efficacy in the physical world.
But here is the latent contradiction in the modern scientific world-view, for that world-view includes the proposition:
F. No subjective sensations have causal efficacy in the physical world.
Propositions (E) and (F) are directly contradictory.
It may perhaps be doubted whether proposition (F) is really part of the modern scientific world-view. It is not a formula of any standard scientific theory, and there are respected scientists and philosophers of science, such as Karl Popper, John Eccles, and Roger Penrose, who have denied it.
But I believe that the predominant world-view of scientists, philosophers of science, and modern analytical (Anglo-American) philosophers would endorse proposition (F). Those, like Penrose, who reject it, rightly see themselves as challenging a prevailing orthodoxy. The majority of ‘orthodox’ thinkers can be classified in one of the following categories:
a) Radical behaviorists, who deny that subjective sensations exist at all;
b) ‘Dual aspect’ materialists, who maintain that subjective sensations are an aspect or property of physical objects, but that those objects behave purely in accordance with physical laws; and
c) Epiphenomenalists, who believe that subjective sensations are a by-product of physical events, and have no causal efficacy of their own.
All three positions imply acceptance of proposition (F). If their implications are rigorously pursued, they also entail:
G. Subjective sensations do not produce or modify other subjective sensations.
For a new or modified sensation would require a change of physical state, and it would contradict proposition (F) if this were produced by another subjective sensation.
It is worth dwelling for a moment on some of the more bizarre implications of propositions (F) and (G). Suppose that you feel a severe pain in your abdomen. You go to your doctor. You tell him that you have a pain in your abdomen. He asks you some questions about the pain and considers your replies. He palpates your abdomen and notes your reactions. He concludes, based on his training and experience, that you have appendicitis. He rings for an ambulance. The ambulance service follows his directions. The ambulance takes you to hospital, with its siren switched on. You arrive at the hospital, and are taken to the OR, where you are given an anaesthetic. A surgeon, using his surgical knowledge and his senses of sight and touch, removes your appendix. When you wake up, the acute pain has gone, but you feel a milder pain from the healing wound, which alerts you to any movements or pressures that might damage the wound and delay recovery.
On a common-sense view of the incident, subjective sensations of one kind or another have influenced the behaviour of yourself and others at every step. Most obviously, it is a subjective pain that has caused you to go to the doctor in the first place, but sensations of sight and hearing also play a major part in the story, for example in the use of a siren to warn other drivers out of the way. Memory and logical thought also seem to influence events, e.g. in forming the doctor’s judgement that you have appendicitis.
Yet on the ‘scientific’ view, as embodied in propositions (F) and (G), all of this is an illusion. Provided that all the physical events (including brain-states) were the same, then the story would run exactly as before, even if none of the participants had any subjective sensations at all. Events would also be the same if physical states produced sensations wildy different from those we are accustomed to, for example if the sensations of appendicitis were ‘switched’ with those of sexual orgasm.
Propositions (F) and (G) therefore seem to defy common-sense, but this is not my main concern at the moment. My concern is their apparent conflict with propositions (A) to (D). Propositions (A) and (B) are themselves part of the scientific world-view. Proposition (C) is merely a terminological clarification. But proposition (D) is more debatable, and my next post will examine it more closely.
Before concluding this post, I should note that the main argument I have outlined is an old one. It is found for example in William James’s Principles of Psychology. But it seems to have been surprisingly little noticed or discussed in the literature on the ‘mind-body’ problem (for an exception see Poper and Eccles, The Self and its Brain, p. 74). I suspect that this is because until recently the great majority of philosophers have had no interest in evolution, or have been actively hostile to natural selection. This is beginning to change, and in the last decade or so there has been a great expansion of interest in ‘consciousness studies’. But from what I have read of this literature, it tends to be preoccupied with what I would call the ‘fancy end’ of the spectrum of mental events, such as human ‘self-awareness’ or even mathematical thought. I think this is the wrong place to start. But more on that later.
February 12, 2004
Love & marriage & genes
This article in The Economist, The Science of Love, is fascinating. It does give a little more ink to voles than I find sexy, but it hits a lot of points.
A white American convert
I'm looking forward to reading what Godless makes of this, but in the interim here's what caught my interest.
South Korean scientists described on Thursday how they cloned several human embryos and extracted valuable stem cells from one, and said their achievement showed an immediate need for a global ban on cloning to make babies.
The scientists are successful in advancing the art, but then play politics and call for a ban. Do they really believe there is a need for a ban or are they pandering to the concerned parties? It seems that they're playing the game of seeking contrition rather than asking for permission.
"Cloning research is impossible to do without exploiting women. It should be banned immediately," said Daniel McConchie, a spokesman for the Chicago-based Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.
Run that by me one more time. A claim of exploiting women is sure to get you press, but how about making a case for it. How about claiming that men will be exploited.
I'm not quite sure what all the fuss is really about. I can't really see all that many people actually wanting to have a clone made. Those that do may have a valid medical reason, or be very egotistical, but considering the dynamics of family life, why would a husband or wife not want to pass on their genes? Why would a single mother want a clone of herself when the possibilities and surprises of a normal child are so much greater.
When genetic engineering comes on-line is when I think the average soccer mom is going to get on board. The choice of attributes in children will drive acceptance of the technology, despite the ethical prognosticators objections.
Hopefully, I've been able to tee this story up for Godless.
Comment from Razib: When this sort of stuff breaks, I tend to keep an eye on Virginia Postrel's weblog. She's already got an entry on it. Virginia would probably say that this is a dynamist vs. stasist issue, the "trads" are on the Right & the Left, while the "progressives" are on the Right and the Left.
Some of the Right view this specifically as a subset of the abortion issue, and generally a step toward some sort of "unnatural" human society. The Greeny Neo-Luddites on the Left would concur. The feminist quoted above is just terrified about the future I suspect-the idea that this is an issue related to women's rights to me smacks of pretending to be proactive when you are really reactive.
All sorts of biotechnologies are not created equal. Therapeutic cloning = good, I think there is a consensus majority on this issue. The problem happens with the trad minority on the Left & the Right conflates that with reproductive cloning-which is a marginal issue at best, but tends to elicit atavistic fears in the majority. H. L. Mencken said: ""Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." Traditionalism on this issue to me entails the terror of the idea that someone somewhere is exploring ways to live a human life that isn't conventionally nasty, short and brutish (those who believe that the zygote is a human being have axiomatic disagreemants).
OK, I exaggerate, but you get the gist....
Tumor growth by population
The Lancet has an article in the current issue titled Epigenetic differences between Wilms' tumours in white and east-Asian children (free registration not worth it). Here is a press article on the study. I haven't read the full journal article, but it seems that the gene in European children is causing the problem:
Perhaps this is epistasis (definition 1)?
Figured I'd give you a link to something a bit different about Iraq. The paper (it is PDF-here is the html version) is titled Y-chromosome & mtDNA polymorphisms in Iraq..... The low-down: Iraqis are more similar to Levantines and populations to their north (Anatolians) than the Arabs to their south (though they are related to them as well). The M17 marker mentioned earlier that might be indicative of Indo-Europeans shows about at a 6.5% frequency among men sampled (about the same as western Iran). The very small samples of Kurds & Assyrians showed no stark differences from the Muslim Arabs.
Skilled immigrants go south?
Is South Africa going to seek skilled immigrants? If so, that emerging pitter-patter might be the sound of a stampede of sub-Saharan Africa's best & brightest. Of course, I don't know if that would be good for the other countries who also lack skilled professionals.
And there be the danger....
Prediction: if there is a big international terror incident that involves the Western world & Islam where someone needs to make it through "security measures," I suspect an Indonesian will be involved.
The forefathers & foremothers of Harald Fairhair
Found this article on the lineages found in 74 Norwegian males (Y & mtDNA). Here is something interesting:
If you look at this table (source), you'll see that the M17 marker is not found in the "British," but is exhibited by 27% of the men of the Orkneys-so we know where it came from. Additionally, note that the highest frequencies are found among eastern European peoples and central Asians. The recent paper on India included a larger sample of north Indian caste groups, and M17 showed up in the various percentages, around 40% (Gujaratis-27%, Bengalis-39%, Chitpavan Brahmins-42%, Punjabis-47%, remember that the sample sizes are small!).
I am mildly skeptical of the thesis advanced in the two above papers that the M17 lineage spread with the PIE-Kurgan expansion ~4000 years ago. More elaboration will be forthcoming, but let me note that the Indo-Aryan elite of the Mitanni kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia did not gift any of the peoples of Syria or northern Iraq with this lineage to any great extent.
fn1. The maryannu ruling caste of the Mitanni kingdom had Indo-Aryan names & worshipped Indo-Aryan gods. But, using the term "Indo"-Aryan to describe them is probably an anachronism, as they likely never had any contact with the Indian subcontinent. What is notable is that they were not Iranian-Aryans.
February 11, 2004
Children of the Yellow Emperor
As China rises back to its traditional "Great Power" status, it seems plausible that one possible pathway of ascent might be a racial-nationalism similar to 19th & early 20th century Europe. Well...here is a reality check:
Update: If the Chinese do not have a preoccupation with their own racial mythology, that they do is not only my own delusion: Nationalist myth-making-The construction of the Chinese race:
A classless volk/ren cometh....
Calling all posters....
Please double-check that the "rebuild" has changed the front page after you post. If it hasn't, just use the "rebuild index" in the administration section (second to last button on the left).
The problem is that the comment system gets out of sync with the posts if you add something to the database that isn't reflected in the front page. This has happened with more than one poster. You should be safe if you use Mozilla or IE on XP, but I don't know about the other combinations.
Also, can bloggers make an effort to truncate quotations so that we can increase the commentary : quotation ratio?
SAT is a de facto IQ Test
SAT measures more than student performance, research shows it is also a reliable measure of IQ
I was under the impression that the SAT had been crippled in an attempt to diminish between group differences. Does this report seems to suggest otherwise?
Protecting the Purity of Our Precious Bodily Fluids
Got this from Jerry Pournelle.
Check out this quote from a book review of Evolutionary Psychology and Violence.
Roger Masters, a political scientist ably practicing evolutionary psychology since long before it had that name, contributes the second chapter. Although it seems out of place in this book-it has little directly to do with evolution or its consequences-it is potentially very important. He summarizes evidence that when silicon fluoride is added to drinking water it enhances the body’s uptake of lead, “a neurotoxin that lowers dopaminergic function in the inhibitory circuits of the basal ganglia,” [p. 43] and that this effect increases rates of violent crime where water is so treated. SiF also increases manganese content of water, and the two elements (lead and manganese) interact to produce a more than additive effect on crime. Masters reasonably concludes “that a moratorium on the use of SiF in public water supplies would be a relatively low-cost policy capable of lowering rates of substance abuse and violent crime.” [p. 49] The epidemiological analyses are very challenging and no doubt subject to criticism, but at a minimum, this possibility deserves further study.
The Network is fill-in-the-blank
P2P, distributed compting, etc. etc. You've heard all the buzzwords.
Check out this Slashdot thread on Wi-Fi becoming a commodity. The funny thing is, it's become a commodity before it ever became a value-added premium service (my girlfriend's office has 3 open Wi-Fi signals, 2 from neighbors). Read it in concert with Microcontent News and their enthusing about the "living, breathing," blogosphere.
In 1994 the internet was going to revolutionize computing, and information distribution. It did. But ten years on things are really cranking up as data-fountains are no longer fixed to a desk on an office somewhere, but infesting public space and gushing out information as you sip your coffee. If anything, coffee-shop bullshitters can have their asses fact-checked.
Tick-tock, the google data port will soon come a knockin'.
February 10, 2004
The Hollywood Butterfly Effect
All of the recent debate we've been having about Communism and the role of the Entertainment Industry in suppressing Anti-Communist movies got me to thinking. We've been having a very serious discussion, and quite eye-opening as well, but I suggest we need a fresh perspective. I beg your indulgence to play along.
With clear hindsight, how will the world of a few centuries hence look upon this debate?
Will some completely overlooked event of recent past come to be a profound inflection point in the currents of history?
Will Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, where their rock group, Wyld Stallyn forms the basis for future world peace be the model for the Entertainment Industry's penance and will absolution be sought by offering the world a Communism-slayer?
I think the Butterfly Effect may be at work, and many thanks to Daniel Drezner for discerning pattern from chaos, for surely David Hasselhoff (Read the link for the full story) will be seen by our descendents as the inspiration of Anti-Communist rage that brought down the Berlin Wall.
Forget those movies about escaping across the Berlin Wall, if we know Hollywood, we'll be seeing a movie of Hasselhoff giving a concert that inspires the overthrow of the entire Warsaw Pact. Think back to the Elvis movie plots- Hasselhoff will be a guitar-slinger traveling the Eastern Bloc giving concerts, afterwhich revolutions follow. The dim-witted commisars won't be able to discern cause and effect and Hasselhoff will fly under their radar - just like he did in the West.
Karma of brown folk
Dienekes points me to this abstract of an article that explores the genetic origins of South Asian populations (and highlights the recurring difference between the male & female lineages). I don't have full-text PDF access, but check out the supplemental data (PDF).
P.Z. Meyers & Abiola address the issue of religion & science. They seem to come out against S.J. Gould's lack of overlap between the magisteria of science & religion. Knowing how we feel about S.J. Gould here at GNXP, you might suspect that we would agree, and to some extent, I do. But, as the two bloggers above note, that depends on the religion in question.
The scientist who is the anti-Gould on the question of science & religion is Richard Dawkins. I'm not going to rehash his rather aggressive atheism, it is well known. He is a man who suffers no fools (his perception), and gives no ground to the less rational instincts of the human species, excluding his own biases. I met Dawkins when I was a freshman in college when my biology professor somehow convinced him to give a lecture to about 35 of us. He is brilliant man, certainly as erudite as Gould was, but one thing I noted was that he made a half-a-dozen jokes about Roman Catholicism. In the book Science and Religion: Are They Comptabile, he launches another broadside into Roman Catholicism. The gist of his argument is that at least Christian fundamentalism is honest in its internal consistency, with a living, breathing, God of history, a God who encapsulates the reductio ad absurdum of Christian theism. For Roman Catholicism, he has nothing but contempt for its thin gruel of the God of the Gaps and appeals to historical continuity, ethics and morality (his characterization). His rage at Pope for commenting on matters of science is palpable and leaps out from the page.
I can not but help and wonder if Dawkins' background, with a chair at Oxford and his posh upper-middle-class accent, has not biased him against Roman Catholicism on the emotional level. I agree with him on merits that there seems a slippery slope toward the hiding of the Hand of God from this universe as science elucidates the mysteries of the cosmos. But like the Christian fundamentalists, Dawkins seems to see the world as a binary universe, with the rational & empirical and the credulous & superstitious being the only options, and those who fall in the fuzzy middle are not worth his respect.
While I respect Richard Dawkins, and I find supernatural belief rather peculiar from a personal perspective, I can not judge humans too harshly for being humans. In any ideal world (or my ideal world), all humans would have a high capacity for abstraction, a zeal for fidelity to the empirical, and Christians would bandy the arguments of Norman Malcolm, Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantiga. But most people are still embedded in webs of custom & tradition. That is a fact. And those with an evolutionary conception of the human species might wonder if there is a genetic predisposition to this sort of outlook. Those of us who abhor a demon-haunted-universe can not fall prey to the fantasy that the demons will disappear if we tell them to, as if there is a magic phrase of power that will banish them, rather, we must tame them so that they are made safe for the rational & empirical bubble that we so value. We must facilitate the natural selection of moderate demons.
Update: My post God & the scientists might be of interest to some readers that missed it-it details the religious break-downs in various disciplines.
fn1. Both bloggers note that deism or pantheism are rather easy fits with evolutionary biology, and science in general. Theisms of the conventional sort are more difficult to place, and there is a great deal of diversity, from liberal Christians who practice a faith that tends toward moral platitudes to fundamentalist Christians who believe that God lives & breaths in our world, that he will return in the flesh within their lifetimes. Religions predicated on magic, such as those that compete explicitly with science & engineering in modelling and designing the processes of the world, are of course easily falsifiable.
fn2. In one of his books, he asserts that he's willing to get into it with you about why it's not humane to boil lobsters alive.
Cabo San Lucas vacation-advice please....
Ladies, I'm going to be on vacation in Cabo San Lucas for about a week sometime in the next month. Anyway, at this point I don't think I'm going to take my laptop, I doubt I could relax if I had to carry it everywhere. But, I have some sysopish duties that I have to do for one of my clients, and being away for a week might be a bit much. I found this list of internet cafes-do you guys have any more details if you've been recently? Ideally I would like a terminal that had some ssh client like putty, but I doubt that's happening, but a decent connection is a must. Thanks ahead!
February 09, 2004
Is Academia a Pyramid Scheme?
John Bruce has posted this response to this recent article in Academe, regarding the adjunct problem. His basic claim, which I think is sound, is that Academia is primarily a multi-level marketing scheme, which had occured to me at one point.
The basic idea is that the primary end product of academia is more academics, therefore, the system ends up collapsing at some point. The data seems to be backing up this claim.
To crave "man-flesh"
On a thread below the issue of cannibalism and Chinese propensity toward such behavior is mooted. This book argues that "...cannibalism is an evolutionarily derived instinct that arises as a survival strategy in extreme circumstances such as chronic famine or acute starvation and not a pathology that erupts in psychotic individuals." We know from genetics that ancient human populations likely engaged in cannibalism frequently enough for it to have shifted relative fitness between individuals. We also know from history that a wide variety of cultures also practiced cannibalism, often in a ritual context.
One thing that seems notable: as one moves up the ladder of social complexity, cannibalism tends to go into disrepute. Perhaps this is because large social systems buffer humans from famine more efficiently, rendering cannibalism an outmoded practice. It may be that complex human societies require much more face-to-face interaction with strangers, and so there is a tendency toward more out-group morality. By this I mean it is easier to eat humans when you de-humanize the source of meat, something that might be natural in small hunter-gatherer groups who have miniscule social networks. In any case, the historical record shows that civilizations like the ancient Greeks and Chinese often tended to smear barbarians as "cannibals," and had folk-tales that indicate that cannibalism was an ancient, if outdated practice, of their own cultures. Even more frequently mentioned, and more difficult to expunge, was the handmaid of cannibalism, human sacrifice. Societies in the recent past that we know have practiced cannibalism and/or ritual sacrifice tend to lay along the same point in social complexity as ancient pre-classical Greeks or Shang era Chinese.
Now, to a second point, are the Chinese more prone to cannibalistic behavior in dire nutritional straits? I am somewhat skeptical, but, I would like to add that I believe it is a fact that the Han people tend to have fewer food taboos than say the European Christian peoples, and to the extreme, South Asians (in particular the upper castes of the Hindu religion). I would for instance argue that if India had had its own Maoist revolutionary phase, one would be hard-pressed to convince upper caste Hindus to consume the flesh of other human beings without great incentive, simply because upper caste Hindus place such a priority on ritual purity and dislike "pollution," which cannibalism would seem to imply.
So I suppose I'm saying (perhaps): A) we're all somewhat cannibalistic in inclination given the context, B) social constraints probably differ cross-culturally.
fn1. See godless' & Dienekes cites. Or child cannibalism among the Minoans and ritual cannibalism among the Aztecs. If you want to go far back, cannibalism is associated with Peking Man. And we all know about recent cannibalistic societies in the Pacific.
fn2. My personal experience as someone of South Asian Muslim origin is that we are far more picky about what we will eat than Arabs or other Muslim peoples, and will often say that exotic meats are haram, when a quick google search will show little comment in any of the hadiths (these sort of disputes would be comical at mosque when Arabs or other Muslims groups brought food that South Asians assumed must be haram-but were reluctant to contradict Arabs on this point of religious practice). Rather, it seems clear that Hindu tendencies toward extreme food taboos have been imported into the Muslim religion.
fn3. But I am pretty convinced that the Chinese do not make aborted fetuses into soup.
Does Size Matter?
Nicholas Eberstadt has an article in February/March Policy Review, Power and Poulation in Asia.
How much are relative population size changes going to affect power balances? Here are some fun facts from the article:
By 2025 China's population will grow to 1.4 billion. India's will reach 1.3 billion. In 1975 this was 930 million versus 620 million.
Vietnam will have a population of 105 million, while Thailand will be at 74 million. In 1975 this was 48 million versus 41 million.
Japan will have a population of 123 million, while the ROK will have a population of 50 million. In 1975 this was 111 million versus 35 million. Including North Korea (in the case of unification) pushes Korea's population numbers up to 75 million for 2025.
Russia will have a population of 124 million while Pakistan will be at 250 million. In 1975 Russia was at 134 million while Pakistan was at 70 million.
(The article is not really in its final form. There may be some charts added in the next couple of days. It is not technically posted to the internet yet, given that they have no links to it on the front page.)
Of possible interest, check out Gapminder. Great visual displays of various global statistics, including human development trends, income distribution, health, etc. A picture is worth a 1,000 numbers :) [ via Joi Ito ]
America probably isn't noticing, but nearby Haiti is in a state of civil war, as Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the man the Clinton administration put back into power (he was democratically elected), seems on the way out....
Exposure To Strong EMF
Oops. Maybe living near high-voltage lines is dangerous after all.
February 08, 2004
Some Things Never Change
Heh, avoiding controversy this time.
When I went to the American consulate to regularize my passports, I was capable of expecting the American consulate to be American...The officials I interviewed were very American, especially in being very polite; for whatever may have been the mood or meaning of Martin Chuzzlewit, I have always found Americans by far the politest people in the world. They put in my hands a form to be filled up, to all appearances like other forms I had filled up in other passport offices. But in reality it was very different from any form I had ever filled up in my life. At least it was a little like a freer form of the game called "Confessions" which my friends and I invented in our youth; an examination paper containing questions like, "If you saw a rhinoceros in the front garden, what would you do?" One of my friends, I remember, wrote, "Take the pledge." But that is another story, and might bring Mr. Pussyfoot Johnson on the scene before his time.
The rest of the selection is interesting as well. Immigrant invasions. The nation as church. The melting pot. Terrorism. The American Constitution as the Spanish Inquisition (in a good way).
Here are my thoughts on Special Providence, fresh from my blog.
It is a stormy night here in the great state of Texas, and the brontosapiens lairing in the apartment above are quite restless. Therefore, I thought I would get to work on this book review while I'm waiting for them to plop down for the night
I must admit that when I read this review by Vinod, I was intrigued. I picked up a copy of Special Providence at the library, and I'm about 1/3 way through. Vinod gives a raving review, and I do not intend to repeat his efforts.
In the interest of originality, I concerned here with the way that the different foreign policy schools compete and compromise in order to react to the changing face of the planet. It is very illuminating to read the book with a neutral perspective on foreign policy.
With that, I discuss the idealistic goals which each school functions, followed by how the schools can fail in a pragmatic sense. In order for our foreign policy to function in the way that it does, one must be able to argue both for and against the various school's main line of thinking. In deciding which course of action to take on a foreign policy objective, the school who's philosophy is best suited for the task naturally exerts the greatest influence.
It is therefore crucial to demonstrate that the different schools can function in both a benevolent way and a sinister way. This is how our two party republican government maintains the balance of power, and this is how the same balance of power is maintained among the four schools of foreign policy thought.
Here are the altruistic ends of the four schools
In contrast, there is a world of (mostly theoretical) discussion as to the malevolence of the various schools, usually to discredit the dominant school and maintain the balance of power. Because each school has at best a plurality, the conventional wisdom on these issues can change overnight. This is in contrast to the political system in which such whimsical flopping around would render the domestic political structure impotent.
The dynamic behind the systems of checks and balances for the 4 foreign policy schools is, nevertheless, the same. People align themselves with a school not because they disagree with the altruistic aims of the school of thought, but because they believe that school of thought is less malevolent than the others.
Move on the extended entry for the remainder...
OK, here is the second part of my Special Providence book review. I have now completed the book.
I am by no means a die-hard for any of the schools. However, I do tend to favor some over the others. If I had to rank my preference, it would be
It is certainly situational. For instance, I strongly felt at the time of the first Gulf War, that a Jacksonian approach was warranted. As we know the Wilsonian path created a truckload of problems culminating in 9-11. Iran is ripe for a paradigm shift, for which I feel that a Hamiltonian approach is now warranted. North Korea demands a pure Jacksonian Approach - if they demonstrate that they are a threat (i.e., testing a Nuke), we wipe them off of the map.
With that, I list the main problems with each of the schools. First, the one I tend to think causes the most problems:
The final point of the book, which I think is worth mentioning is that our foreign policy functions best when a clear and present danger exists, and is noted by the various schools. An important point indeed. In the absence of a threat, the elite Wilsonian and Hamiltonian schools run unchecked. This rampant idealism runs headlong into pragmatic problems, which tend to generate threats, and undermine the goals of the two schools.
This phenomenon led, e.g. to the rise of National Socialism in Europe in the 30's (Hamiltonian idealism unchecked), and the rise of Al Queda in the 90's (unchecked Wilsonianism). The absence of a threat allows the Jeffersonian scaleback of the defense infrastructure, which leaves us vulnerable to the inevitable.