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April 03, 2004



A atheism
When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, "Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?"
-Quentin Crisp
Posted by razib at 04:21 PM | | TrackBack


Great Leap(s)

Well, looks like symbolic thinking might be an "innovation" whose time-scale has to be pushed back (via Abiola). As I've noted before, One Great Leap ~45,000 years ago is seductive, partially because it allows multiple disciplines to focus on one time period (ie; One Leap -> One Leap Function -> One Leap Gene), but we should be cautious....

Update: Seems like the "language gene" might play a role in bird-songs! I guess nature doesn't reinvent the wheel, just retro-fits it now & then....

Posted by razib at 10:22 AM | | TrackBack


Chicks dig "old man" smell???

Well, I missed this story from a few years back that indicates women like the smells of men who have HLA genes like their father, but not their mother. This conflicts with an earlier study that women prefer the smells of men with HLA alleles variant from their own. Please note, HLA genes are highly polymorphic, and population geneticists spend a lot of time "explaining" why so much diversity should remain in the human population (the old diversity-is-the-best-protection-against-disease comes up, and in college I was told that the relative lack of HLA diversity in Native Americans due to founder effect was one reason why Old World diseases were so good at killing large numbers of them).

Posted by razib at 10:07 AM | | TrackBack


Cousin has perty lips

A year back a study came out that prompted headlines like First cousins face lower risk of having children with genetic conditions than is widely perceived. Then articles came out that implicated cousin marriage in particular cultural pathologies (from a Western Eurocentric persecptive of course). It is true that the additional risk for birth defects for first cousin marriages is only a few percent. But, statistics can be presented in many ways. Here is some data I am getting from a table in Principles of Population Genetics (from Morton, 1961):

Condition % of affected children whose parents were first cousins
Total color blindness 15
Albinism 21
Xeroderma Pigmentosum 23
Ichthyosis Congenita 35
Tay Sachs 40

Please note that these statistics are from 1961 and the United States. The percentages fit the theoretical prediction, which follows from the following equation (for harmful recessive diseases):
K = c(1 + 15q)/(c + 16q - cq)
where c is the proportion of first cousin matings in a population, and q denotes the frequency of the rare recessive allele in the population, and K is the proportion of children who are affected with first cousin marriages. During the period of the study above first cousin marriages were only 1% of American marriages.

Posted by razib at 09:38 AM | | TrackBack


The Greatest Economist in the World

Maybe I'm wrong in my previous post as to who were the best economists. But I'm pretty sure I know who is the worst economist of the 20th century, in terms of what he did to the profession.

That would have to be Paul Samuelson himself, winner of the first Ignoble Prize in economics. Samuelson's story is a sad one, though it would be funny if so much weren't at stake. He was a child prodigy who entered U. of Chicago when he was 16 (like Robert Silvers and George Steiner), convinced (maybe by his mother?) that he was the smartest kid in the world. (This particular hang-up seems to be a Jewish phenomenon, don't ask me why; Murray Gell Mann is the only other person I ever heard of who had this problem.)

Anyway, when Samuelson gets to Chicago he wants to major in math and physics, but soon discovers that there are some other kids there who are a lot smarter than he is. If you have a tender ego, this can be a truly traumatic

experience, as maybe a few visitors to this site can attest. So Samuelson does the chicken-shit thing and changes his major to economics. Why economics? Because any fool can see that it has the mathematical form of physics (what with declining marginal utilities of income, productivitiy, etc) if not the actual substance.

Well, Samuelson may not have been the smartest kid in the world, but he was definitely the smartest mathematician in the department of economics, first at Chicago, later at Harvard. He was brash, aggressive, and determined to make fools out of everybody he met, which he pretty much succeeded in doing. Then, when Harvard refused to hire him to teach (even though Schumpeter himself said he was smarter than anybody else in the department) Samuelson goes to MIT, where he proceeds to establish mathematical economics as the reigning paradigm of late 20th century academic economics.

The problem with this, is that the kind of guys who are attracted to the field from this point are mostly drop-outs from math and physics, just like Samuelson himself, except they're not quite as good as Samuelson. Most of them don't even have a real interest in economics, but like to play around with mathematical equations, while the few who really do care about the subject spend so much of their time trying to master the mathematical manipulations that are required, that they have no time (or authority) to question whether what they are doing is at all appropriate to the material they are trying to analyze -- which, of course, it is not.

Thus we have a guy who, on account of his personal insecurities, managed to ruin an entire academic discipline, which just happens to affect the welfare of millions. You tell me, is this a tragedy or a comedy?

Posted by lukelea at 06:44 AM | | TrackBack


Wodabout the Wodaabe?

I was planning to write a critique of Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind (Vintage, 2001), but I got sidetracked by an intriguing passage about the Wodaabe tribe of North Africa. In Miller’s account:

“Perhaps human aesthetics emerged through runaway sexual selection, with aesthetic tastes evolving as part of female mate choice... Something like this still happens among the Wodaabe people (also known as the Bororo), cattle-herding nomads who live in the deserts of Nigeria and Niger. At annual gere wol festivals, hundreds of people gather, and the young men spend hours painting their faces and ornamenting their bodies. The men also dance vigorously for seven full nights, showing off their health and endurance. Towards the end of the week-long ceremony, the men line up and display their beauty and charm to the young women. Each woman invites the man she finds most attractive for a sexual encounter. Wodaabe women usually prefer the tallest men with the whitest teeth, the largest eyes, the straightest nose, the most elaborate body-painting, and the most creative ornamentaion. As a result, Wodaabe men have evolved to be significantly taller, whiter-toothed, larger-eyed, straighter-nosed, and better at self-decoration than men of neighboring tribes. This divergence probably happened within the last few hundred or few thousand years, illustrating runaway’s speed...” (pp.276-7)

On reading this, two problems occurred to me. One was that the process described by Miller would lead only to a one-to-one pairing of males and females, with no reproductive advantage to the most attractive males, unless the females who chose the most attractive males happened to be the most fertile. The other was that the Wodaabe, like all other ‘primitive’ peoples, must have an elaborate system of kinship and marriage, and Miller gives no indication how the selection process fits into this.

So I decided to find out what I could about the Wodaabe...

This is easier said than done. Miller gives no references for his statements about the Wodaabe, and searching bibliographies for the Wodaabe hits the problem of variant names and spellings. I soon found that one alternative spelling is ‘Wodhaabhe’, but a bigger problem is that the Wodaabe are just a subgroup of the Fulani, and the Fulani are also known as the Fula, the Fulahs, the Fule, the Fulbe, the Felaata, the Peuls, and doubtless other variants. But a search of the online British Library catalogue turned up half-a-dozen promising references, and two of these proved to be right on the button:

Derrick J. Stenning: Savannah Nomads: A study of the Wodaabe pastoral Fulani of Western Bornu Province, Northern Nigeria, 1959

Marguerite Dupire: Peuls Nomades: Etude descriptive des Wodaabe du Sahel Nigerien, 1962.

The following is based on these excellent anthropological studies.

The Fulani consist of a few million people speaking dialects of the Fulfulde language, and are spread across several countries of North-West Africa. Traditionally they were nomadic cattle herders, moving around the grasslands of the savannah south of the Sahara. Over the past few hundred years many Fulani have settled down as farmers and intermarried with other peoples of the region. But some Fulani remain as nomads, and the Wodaabe [singular: Bodaado] are one of the largest tribes of these ‘pastoral’ Fulani. The Fulani, including the Wodaabe, are now at least nominally Muslims, though the Wodaabe have retained many of their pagan traditions.

From early times explorers and anthropologists have been intrigued by the appearance of the Fulani, which differs from that of the Negroid peoples around them. According to Stenning: “The Fulani are not basically of Negro stock, although it is clear that through the centuries Fulani populations have interbred in various degrees with the Negro populations among whom they are dispersed...[the pastoral Fulani] retain non-Negroid physical characteristics to the greatest extent, speak the purest Fulfulde, and in general have been the least amenable to conversion to Islam... The desirable physical qualities of a Fulani are a light colour, slight bone structure, straight hair, thin lips, and, above all, a long narrow nose...” (pp. 2-4 and 56; see also Dupire, pp. 1-10, but Dupire points out that only a minority of Wodaabe have all of these features).

These are obviously ‘Caucasian’ characteristics, and the natural explanation is that the Fulani have a partly Caucasian ancestry, either from East Africa (e.g. Ethiopean) or more likely from the North (e.g. Tuareg). The Fulani themselves believe they are related to the Tuaregs and Arabs. They despise the Black populations to their South, describing them as ‘hyenas, apes, and asses’ (Dupire, p. 322). Intermarriage with Blacks is deplored, and described as ‘eating the fruit of the bitter black plum tree’ (Stenning, p. 57). (Sorry, that’s not very PC, but don’t blame me, blame the Wodaabe!)

The social organisation of the Wodaabe is based on patrilineal (agnatic) lineages. The Wodaabe depend entirely on their cattle, feeding on their meat and milk, and trading for other commodities with the settled people around them. According to Stenning, ‘The traditional aim of a Bodaado elder was, and still is, to pass on more cattle to more sons than his father was able to do’ (p.46).

Marriage practices reflect these interests. A man may have up to four wives. A man with more cattle can marry and keep more wives. If he loses cattle, his wives may divorce or desert him. Divorce by both men and women is relatively easy, though compensation may be required.

There are two main forms of marriage. The most prestigious form is by betrothal (kooggal). In kooggal marriage the boy and girl are betrothed as children and marry when the girl reaches puberty. The marriages are arranged by their paternal relatives. Various exchanges of cattle and gifts are required. To keep cattle within the lineage, there is a strong preference for betrothal between close patrilineal relatives, often cousins. The great majority of first marriages are by kooggal.

Subsequent marriages, by people who are divorced or widowed (or by men acquiring an extra wife) are usually by contract (teegal). In contrast to kooggal marriage, teegal marriage is usually between lineages not closely related (or between Wodaabe and non-Wodaabe). In principle, teegal involves an element of hostility (the wife is regarded as being ‘stolen’), so it is not thought desirable among closely related lineages.

So where, if anywhere, does the gere wol dance come into this?

The gere wol is a ceremony involving two unrelated maximal lineages (clans). At irregular intervals the elders of a clan will decide ‘time for a gere wol’, and choose another clan to visit, the choice depending on how long since they last met, whether there is a duty to reciprocate, and so on. Clan leaders will then take the young men (above puberty but not yet heads of families) on a visit. The ceremony itself is described thus by Stenning:

Gerewol... is a dance before the elders: youths dressed in their finery... dance to a slow stamping rhythm unaccompanied by drums, while praising in song the charms of the maidens [of the other clan]. In this way the girls are graded in an order of beauty. Meanwhile the maidens, who dance in a circle nearby, choose the most handsome and best-dressed youth and point him out by oblique references in song. This goes on until three or four of the best-looking youths and maidens have been paired. At the hirde [evening] gathering which now takes place, the couples are expected to spend the evening together, the rest of the dancers pairing off as they may.

“Although the gerewol is connected with courtship it does not regulate or determine betrothal and first marriage, which have been decided on, often some years previously, by the parents or guardians of the partners. Gerewol has the effect of ranging the youths and maidens of a particular age group into a generally recognized order of physical desirability by which the status of a young man or woman in that age group is assessed. But after marriage this status is unimportant, for that of men - and in reciprocal terms that of women - is measured by the number of cattle and children they possess.” (Stenning p. 157; see also the more elaborate account in Dupire, pp. 312-19).

From this description it is clear that gere wol can have at most a marginal effect on the reproductive success of Wodaabe men. It does not affect the normal course of marriage arrangements, and the selection of the most handsome men in itself has little impact, since they get only one partner for the evening. (It is all rather reminiscent of the Senior Prom in an American high school, as portrayed in countless teen dramas!) This is not to say that the gere wol meetings have no effect at all. According to Dupire, they provide opportunities for flirtation and adulterous affairs, which may lead to divorces and sometimes to teegal marriages between members of the unrelated clans. But there seems to be no basis for Miller’s claim that sexual selection at the gere wol is responsible for the distinctive physical appearance of the Wodaabe. This is more simply explained by their mixture of Caucasian and Negroid ancestry. The gere wol may however have some indirect influence by reinforcing Wodaabe conceptions of beauty, which emphasise precisely those aspects of Fulani appearance, such as a narrow nose, which differentiate them from the neighbouring Negro populations. The gere wol would therefore help to perpetuate the Wodaabe preference for mating among themselves, and prevent or delay their merging into the surrounding gene pool.

Posted by David B at 03:26 AM | | TrackBack

April 02, 2004



Checkers or Chess?

Most people would say that physics is a lot harder subject than economics, just as chess is a more difficult game than checkers. Higher I.Q. types tend to prefer the former.

Yet I read somewhere (I have no idea if it's true) that there are only two or three world-class checkers players in the world, versus a much larger number of world-class chess players.

The same thing seems to be true of economics. In the last century there were

maybe only a couple of economists whose reputations are likely to survive very far into the 21st century (Keynes's and Friedman's) while the number of world-class physicists is closer to twenty: Einstein, Plank, Bohr, Heisenberg, Shroedinger, Dirac, Pauli, etc?

Many educated people are comfortable having an opinion about economics (or making the first move in checkers) but comparatively few feel the same way about physics (or chess).

Isn't this a paradox, especially when you consider that the happiness of millions, even billions, of human beings depends on our getting it right as concerns certain fundamental economic questions -- on which there is often little agreement (or when there is agreement, it can turn out to be wrong)? I mean, it's not like there isn't plenty of incentive to master the game.

Are we to conclude, therefore, that economics is in reality a lot harder than physics? And if so, is economics really a science in the same sense as physics? A moral science, perhaps (using moral to refer to questions of how to maximize material human welfare)? Or a moral art?

From Adam Smith's day on, the conclusions of economics have always rested on the careful use of logic and reason, so maybe it's a kind of moral mathematics? If so, it doesn't appear to be one the human mind is as well adapted to handling as the mathematics of physics.

I don't claim to have answers to these questions, but I think they are fascinating.

Posted by lukelea at 04:38 PM | | TrackBack


Shia & Sunni

Thebit has a long post on the Shia-Sunni & Catholic-Protestant analogy (stimulated by the exchange between Aziz & I).

Posted by razib at 01:01 PM | | TrackBack


More babies for South Koreans?

South Korea to pay parents to have children. The article says something about "cash payments." I'm a bit worried this is giving the incentive to procreate to the "wrong" people. How about this idea-every child has a university educational "trust fund" managed by the state? Or for something simpler, a promise of cash upon the child completing secondary schooling?

Posted by razib at 09:59 AM | | TrackBack


What's Sex got to do with it?

As some of you may have noticed, I really stepped in it in the comments section over at The Panda's Thumb during their first week in operation. It was an innocent mistake on my part, I assure you, though everything worked out ok for me in the end, because it forced them to take a hard look at a couple of posts I made to their site.

Anyway, to recapitulate a little: I was explaining how, when I first became interested in molecular biology a few years back, that one of the questions that got me started was calculating the odds that chance and time alone could explain the complexity of the human genome. Based on reports coming in, there were a couple of billions of base pairs in the human genome. Given there were four letters in the genetic alphabet, I reasoned there were 4 raised to the power of 2 billion possibilities to choose among ? which is a truly mind-boggling, trans-astronomical number.

I then re-traced for them the thought process by which I got that number down:

First, there is all of the junk, of course: and then second, the "step-wise" process of selection, by which first one mutation takes place and is fixed, before the next one begins.

This is stuff you find in every biology text that deals with the question, and went a long way, though not all the way, towards answering my question.

Next I found an amateur site on the web somewhere, in which a guy actually calculates the number of mutations that could have been fixed in evolutionary time, based on some reasonable assumptions about average population size and average number of generations, which he got from Fisher I think. The number he arrives at is 135, which, he points out, is roughly the number of mutations fixed on a typical protein.

That got the problem much closer to solution, but still not all the way. It was only when I realized -- operating completely on my own at this point, because I couldn?t find anything in the literature -- that in a large, interbreeding population every protein in a species is undergoing simultaneous and, as it were, parallel evolution, that the problem was solved to my own satisfaction. The number 135 was indeed the magic number.

Anyway, since then I?ve been thinking about something related: sex is necessary for the process to work,. Or, more specifically, sex plus sexual cross-over between homologous regions in each chromosome pair, is required before there can be massively parallel evolution in the genome. Surely this is not an original insight with me, and yet I still see articles published in Nature and elsewhere from time to time speculating on the evolutionary function of sex.

Does anybody know anything about this in the literature, or am I (much more probably) guilty of some fundamental misunderstanding here?

Posted by lukelea at 07:21 AM | | TrackBack


The past is not the present....

I'm relinking to this old Wired piece about Aspgerger's syndrome among children of tech workers again. The article asks, "Are math-and-tech genes to blame?" I post this link because I want readers to think about overdominance a bit, defined as:


The condition of a heterozygote having a phenotype that is more pronounced or better adapted than that of either homozygote.

Asperger's, like schizophrenia, is probably a highly polygenic disease, if there is a genetic component. Nevertheless, assortive mating might be bringing together a greater frequency of individuals who carry "Asperger's genes" today than in the past (the implication of the above article). Readers of GNXP often wonder if diseases like schizophrenia are simply byproducts of the beneficial properties of various genes in smaller doses in relatives (ie; they have 20 genes instead of 100 that are "on" or "off" for the normal/disease tendencies). But, what about the flip side, perhaps we are gaining from assortive mating? More later....

Posted by razib at 06:43 AM | | TrackBack

April 01, 2004



Mathematics & the Genome

I was googling for some biographical information on the population geneticists R.A. Fisher & Sewall Wright when I stumbled on this page: Mathematics and the Genome: Introduction.

Update: Thanks for the spelling suggestions! I have now suffered through the curse of over-relying on google to correct my incorrect spellings...from now on, I guess I'll have to go to my books and look things up all the time (who would of thunk!). Fisher & Wright's bios were easy to come by once I had the correct spelling. In the arena of correct spellings, here is a page dedicated to William Hamilton (inclusive fitness or kin selection) and here is an interview with George C. Williams (killer of group selection).

Posted by razib at 05:07 PM | | TrackBack


Rough cut & cutting modules & family values

My previous post, "Rough Cut" took a slice at the whole circumcision "issue" in terms of cost vs. benefit in the context of various societies. One particular subtext of my post was what I will term "Sailer's Swedish Maxim": x1, x2...n changes to the cultural framework may not result in social pathology or trauma in Scandinavia, but this outcome of re-working the "social equation" does not give a transnational general solution. More plainly put, context matters.

So, in the case of circumcision, I would assert:

1) The cost vs. benefit of this practice in First World countries seems to weigh against it, though my personal opinion is that the surgery itself is not as psychologically traumatic as its detractors make it out to be (see below on my clarification).

2) On the other hand, if you are a promiscuous trucker in the nether regions of the world (think parts of Africa, India, Brazil, etc.), circumcision might be a prudent step to take if you want to have your "candy" and eat it.

This jives with my instinct that there is "No Free Lunch," the loss of physical stimulation that is the result of circumcision (to my mind possible, perhaps probable) carries with it the benefit of protection from various diseases (I suspect likely).

One might argue that education and change to First World standards of hygiene is what we should be aiming for in places where some are arguing that circumcision would be beneficial in curtailing the spread of sexual transmitted diseases. But, I think that this is a little too long-sighted a perspective, if the individuals in question are dying from diseases spread because of the pathway of a foreskin, they will never survive to make it to the state of advanced social development that makes circumcision surperfluous. For those who argue that circumcision causes psychic trauma, perhaps they should take solace in the fact that it is a cultural practice, so its reversal in a different context is absolutely foreseeable. As for the idea that the practice might become part of the mental superstructure of a "culture," note that even Orthodox Jews can make an argument for mitigating the extent of circumcision if they so choose.

But now let me move to those who oppose circumcision and their general mind-set. One can google enough on this topic that I won't go through the general arguments. But I will make an observation: those who oppose circumcision often have "granola" tendencies. By this, I mean they are the type who argue for "holism," "naturalness," etc. etc. Though I am not being very specific-you all know what I mean. The very use of the world "intact" implies that circumcision is a bizarre artificial transformation of the body. The last part I accept, but "bizarre" is contextual. The religious idea that the "body is a temple" seems to have deep roots in the human psyche, those in the "granola" movement often give concurrent reasons that mimic many religious sentiments in terms of not treating the body as a functional object reducible to its various parts. In the context of circumcision, for all the talk about the specific point at hand, the greater context is that body "improvement" as a whole, "profaning" the sacred "natural," is wrong-headed and arrogant.

After characterizing the opponents of circumcision, let me make a jump & leap, and assert that many of them would argue for a "precautionary principle" when it comes to sex education and sexual freedom in youth. By this, I mean that many "granola" types would argue that sex for young people is natural, and abstinence education is "against nature," insofar as the body wants what it wants. The opponents of such people are often religious conservatives, who usually believe in abstinence as a principle, though publically they couch their position in terms of utilitarianism. As they say: hypocrisy is the homage that sin pays to virtue. Do most people abstain from sex before marriage? In a society where young people marry at the of 16 this is possible. In most modern nations, where the mean age of marriage is closer to 25, this is far less likely. Nevertheless, the principle matters to some, while others will argue from a "realist" perspective. Put the shoe on the other foot, and in the case of circumcision you have the "realists" making a principled stand, arguing against the benefit of circumcision in a case where the cost vs. benefit seems like a no brainer, because of the principle. On the other hand, many religious conservatives might be less concerned about this issue, and take a pragmatic take. After all, circumcision in the United States among Christians is something that became the norm only in the 20th century. Its fashionability is not foundational, rather it is contextual and subject to pragmatic considerations.

Why do I point this out? I think it helps our society if different groups understand that there are points where everyone is "unreasonable," and "irrationally tied to principle," even in the face of lop-sided cost vs. benefit equation.

Now, to my position on circumcision, and my sanguine attitude, I tend to see the body as a "brain puppet," not a temple. Wearing clothes, cutting our hair, taking drugs, and so forth, are all "unnatural." Human beings have basic natural urges located in various portions of the brain. Behaviors as complex as language seem modular and "hard wired." Nevertheless, much of what characterizes our humanity is an emergent property of various interactions between the modules & our environment. Our genius is our ability to form "models" that strip away extraneous characteristics, but that is also our vice, in that we over-simplify complex phenomenon and recast solutions in similarly simple "principles" that gives us a "logical" conclusion that must convince those who disagree, because it is after all "plain truth." The foreskin is a means to an end, if the cost of physical pleasure is too great in the context of bodily harm, well, get rid of it. If it's not that big of a deal, it's a nice addition to the arsnel of pleasure input devices.

To move on to oversimplifications, one might wonder about the recurrence of circumcision in many cultures across the world. Circumcision is known among the Semitic peoples, among Australian Aboriginals, Africans, and Pacific peoples. It seems implausible that this is the result of "cultural diffusion." Is there a "circumcision module?" Well, since it's not by any stretch of the imagination a "human universal," that seems highly implausible as well. Nevertheless, the fact that it crops up in many human cultures is a testament to the power of this common motif through various cultures (and times), likely because of constraints in our mind's cognitive architecture. Like religion, art, or any complex manifestation of "culture," diversity blooms between the ranges of our psychology. The vociferous attitudes toward circumcision (pro & con) is evidence of the power of the practice.

There is no "circumcision module," but some of the factors that result in this practice being cross-cultural have biological roots. So let us imagine a thought experiment, with circumcision as a main player, and biological reproduction as an end.

Imagine two populations, Circumphiles and Circumphobes. They are very simlar culturally & genetically, but circumcision is a practice that keeps them apart. Imagine you release a contagion that uses the foreskin as a pathway toward killing individuals of these two cultures.

OK, further proviso, philes & phobes very rarely intermarry. In fact, they are discrete breeding populations. The contagion may come from an outside population, or have been transmitted from animals, it matters little. Let us just assume that it has found traction in both populations.

As we move through time, the phobes are deciminated. If you imagine that both populations exist in the same geographic location, this would result in the replacement of phobes by more philes, who are not as deleteriously impacted by the contagion. But, imagine that the two populations are separated by an ocean. The cost for philes to move to the land of the phobes is so high that the phobes can maintain themselves as a population that is dominant in their geographic space (and exclusive in it).

Now you have a situation where the phobes are under a selective pressure. How would this work out? It can be sticky, and we can be wrong in our intuition, but let's just move down my string of logical inferences.

1) Men who are promiscuous die off too soon to take care of their children, or even procreate very much.
2) Men who are not promiscuous are less likely to catch the contagion.

But, what about the women? The partners of infected men are obviously at risk, and the partners of infected women are also at risk. So we have two incentives here:

1) Women avoid highly promiscuous men.
2) Men avoid highly promiscuous women.

Those who follow these maxims will prosper and multiply. To make it easier for men & women to monitor each other, extended family units composed of parents and their children in various monogamous relationships might be preferred. If patriarchy seems to be a tendency in many cultures, one might imagine a society where men are hyper-jealous of their partners. Not only are they in danger of being cuckolded, they may die if their partner passes them the infection. Virginity for brides is at a premium.

You can connect the dots where I'm going. I am imagining a society where lack of circumcision imposes a premium on "virtue," "fidelity" and "chastity." (I use quotes because these might be enforced as well as encouraged) If one wants to take a genetic tack, one might imagine that men who are more promiscuous ("cads") by "nature" would be selected against in this culture. The foreskin imposes a high cost on those who wish to follow the "r selected" strategy-rather, the risks of death are so high that men take a less risky path of monogamy.

Remember above where I note that the "granolas" often make the most emotional arguments against circumcision based on principles, with choice & dignity being big talking points? Well, I am illustrating here how a society might evolve (individuals) in response to a situation where circumcision does not occur & a contagion that uses the foreskin as a pathway is wreaking havoc. The law of unintended consequences at play. Conversely, I could spin a scenario where circumcision by men in a society where the practice is introduced to mitigate the spread of disease results in more promiscuity by overconfident morons, blunting its palliative impact.

Anyway, just a few ideas....

Posted by razib at 11:46 AM | | TrackBack


A Wack Job on Adam and Eve

Limbicnutrition recently had an interesting post on the derivation of the English word "Allegory":

Allegory. From Greek allos meaning "other" and agora meaning gathering place (especially the marketplace). In times past, it was common to do one's chatting at the marketplace. Some of the topics discussed were clandestine in nature and when people spoke about them, for fear of being punished, they would speak indirectly. That is to say, they would speak about one thing in such a way as to intimate the actual information to the listener. Thus, the persons discussing clandestine matters were said to be speaking of "other things" in the marketplace. Eventually the words joined and became associated with the act of speaking about one thing while meaning another.

Based on this definition, I would like to propose an allegorical interpretation of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis, using as background my series of posts (here, here, and here) on the emergence of dominance hierarchies at the dawn of civilization.

As a point of reference, recall the pithy results of our first thought experiment in Part II: Conquest, I submit, though seldom mentioned, was a cultural innovation every bit as important as the domestication of plants and animals; it was the original sin that dare not speak its name.

What follows is an admittedly outlandish attempt on my part to get a hearing for a proposition that will strike many of you as a little, well, strange. So let me soften you up with a couple of observations:

1. Wouldn't it be curious if the setting of the Adam and Eve story, somewhere in the vicinity of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the early 4th millennium BCE, could be shown to coincide in both time and place (based on a lot of circumstantial and archeological evidence) with the first conquest in history?

2. If you can accept the argument I made in (Part III ) that the first conquest in history was also the single most important event in history: an event which almost certainly occurred in the full light of day, and which devastated the lives of the vast majority of ordinary people who were around at the time, and the lives of their children, and of their children's children after them -- well, if you can accept this much, then is it out of the question that these people might have tried to tell the story of what had happened to them, and to keep it alive (despite their masters' interest in blotting it from memory), if only to explain to their descendants why they were living like dogs?

In any case, this is exactly what I am going to argue the Adam and Eve story is all about, and what its historical provenance is too, for that matter. Now, I know, that's a tall order, and I'm not sure the best way to proceed. But I am sure the most entertaining way is to tell a funny story that will show just how crazy I used to be (my wife says still am) when I was around razib's age, thirty years ago.

At the time I was an "itinerant carpenter" in the words of a local newspaper reporter ("short-haired hippy" would have been a more accurate description) who had returned to my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee after an absence of twenty years. I was coming back to help build a retirement home for my parents, who were also coming back, in their case from Washington, D.C., where my Yankee father had wound up in his long and semi-lustrous career in the American labor movement. I was also secretly hoping to patch up my relationship with my father, which had been strained to the breaking point during the period of my adolescence (and it was a long one) by the clashing egos of two strong-willed personalities. I mean, if you were an FDR-style social democrat, how would you like it if your son came home spouting Nietzsche?

Anyway, no sooner was the house done and my parents moved in, than I started to think that maybe the old hometown wasn't such a bad place to live after all. No doubt this was related to the fact that I'd moved something like 25 times between 15 different cities since I graduated from college, and was frankly getting near the end of my rope. It also may have had something to do with those "social networks" razib likes to talk about, which make it easier to succeed in a big impersonal country like the United States. Case in point: my father, who was on the board, informed me that the local ACLU wanted to bring a case to get the teaching of the Bible out of the public schools. It concerned a Bible studies program I'd gone through myself in my grammar school days, sponsored by the local churches, and taught by what were, for all intents and purposes, pious Sunday school teachers -- in other words, a blatantly unconstitutional teaching of religion, but also deeply entrenched, owing to the fact that we lived in the Bible belt. (Btw, I must admit I liked a lot of the Bible stories we read back then -- stuff like Samson slaying his enemies with the jawbone of an ass -- and I doubt I ever would have been exposed to them otherwise, given that both my parents were militantly secular in their outlooks).

Now the fact is I was never an ACLU type of guy -- they were way too liberal-mushy for my taste -- despite my being aware, in the back of my mind, that I might someday be in need of their services, if only to protect me and my right to utter some of the more outrageous ideas that were floating in my brain. One of these ideas, it so happened, was my whacked-out theory of Adam and Eve, which I'd just recently worked out to my own satisfaction.

Well, I saw the possibilities in the situation almost immediately. So I said to my father, "That's interesting; why don't you introduce me to the other members of the board and the lawyer you've found to prosecute the case? He was agreeable, and I duly met Daddy's new group of friends down at the local Unitarian church -- the only church, he liked to say, where you didn't have to park your brains in the parking lot before you came inside (later, when new-age paganism started coming into fashion amongst Unitarian-Universalists, his conscience couldn't accommodate the change and he resigned from the congregation; I always admired his integrity).

Anyway, I am introduced to the lawyer, and it quickly becomes apparent to me that the guy can barely string two sentences together in a logical way (pretty typical for these parts, btw, so to that extent those send-ups on Saturday Night Live -- or coming out of the mouth of my New York wife, for that matter, who's especially good with the accents -- are not far off the mark). This guy needs help, I think, if I am going to get my chance to come riding to the rescue of the Bible in the schools, by making the only argument that both honors the truth-value of scripture and can pass constitutional muster: namely, the argument for teaching the Bible as history. So I volunteer my services (which he quickly accepts) to research and write the first draft of the brief for the plaintiffs; neglecting to mention that I am also writing a brief amicus curae on behalf of the defendants (unbeknownst to them), which include not only the board of education, but the local evangelical organization that is financing the Bible studies program, on whose conniving and dissembling board sit current and former mayors and city councilmen, along with the head of the largest family-owned insurance company in town.

Well, all was going smoothly with my writing of the briefs for both the plaintiffs and the defendants, until I realized that unless I wanted my case for the defendants to be laughed out of court (it argued for inclusion of the story of Adam and Eve in the world history curriculum of every elementary school in the city) I'd better do something to show that my novel interpretation of Genesis -- on its face bizarre, maybe even absurd -- was in fact not absurd at all, but enjoyed wide popular support throughout the community. Actually, I had no idea whether it enjoyed wide popular support, or any support at all. But I decided to find out.

So I drew up a petition, and worked up a little spiel in words that were so simple they could be understood by even the simplest and least educated adults in town. Next, I set up a card-table outside the entrance to our local public library, over which was draped an enormous and beautiful serpent's skin (a python's, I think, originally from India) which I'd purchased in NY, and start soliciting signatures. I am there not thirty minutes before the head librarian comes out and informs me I will have to move my table, because what I am doing isn't allowed on public property. I say, "Really, Mrs. Arnold? In that case I'll come inside with my table, where it?s more comfortable," which I proceeded to do. Naturally, it's not ten minutes more until the cops arrive, along with some reporters and cameramen from the local news media (this is a sleepy town where nothing exciting ever happens, unless you count homicide) and the next day I have a great spread in the morning paper by a writer who actually manages to get the story right: who accurately summarizes my spiel, and what I am trying to accomplish. What's more, upon reflection, the city attorney admits I probably do have a legal right to petition in the library (at least until proper legislation can be drawn up and rushed through the town council, which of course they have no idea how to draft) and so I remain in the library for the next six weeks, gathering hundreds of signatures from all manner of persons -- black and white, educated and uneducated, believers and unbelievers.

What follows is the wording of my petition, along with the short spiel I insisted on giving in full to every person before I would let them sign it. For what it's worth, most people did give me their signatures, very few were offended by what I had to say (only two or three men in business suits), and no one threatened me with physical assault, as I was afraid might happen. Even more surprising to me, on more than one occasion I was informed by my respondent -- make of it what you will -- that they already knew this interpretation, and thought it was right; and they claimed they hadn't read it in the paper.

Anyway, the petition read:

We the undersigned [citizens of Chattanooga] hereby petition [the board of education and the Federal District Court], to allow the teaching of the story of Adam and Eve in our public elementary schools; on the grounds that it is a true story; that it tells the invention of agriculture, which brought slavery into the world; and that our children should learn it so they can understand the past, where we came from, and how we got here.

And my spiel went something like this:

Before agriculture people lived in hunting-and gathering societies, in which the men hunted animals, and the women gathered fruits, nuts, seeds and berries. Man was the hunter, and that's why Adam names all the animals in the story. Together with Eve, he lived in a garden that, we are told, already had in it everything that was pleasant to the eye and good for food; the only thing they had to do was to dress it and keep it. Now, it's a well-known fact that women invented agriculture, which they did when they discovered that by dropping a seed in a hole in the ground, a plant would grow. This is symbolized in the story by the serpent, which lives in a hole in the ground, and tempts Eve with the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Agriculture was good, of course, because it was good for food (Eve ate, and found that it was good for food); but it was also evil, because it tied people down to a place, and made it possible for one group to capture another and make them work for them. (Before agriculture, there was no way one man could capture another and make him work for him, because you could always run away and live off the land; but after agriculture, you had to stick around and tend to your crops or else you would starve.) At the end of the story Adam and Eve receive three curses as punishment for what they have done. First, Eve is condemned to suffer pain in childbirth. Well, everybody knows what causes pain in childbirth: it's our big human heads. So the meaning here is plain enough: If you hadn't been so smart, then you wouldn't have invented agriculture and fallen into servitude. Eve's second curse is that from now on she must obey her husband's command. This refers to the new relationship of domination and submission that has entered into all human relationships, not only between men and women, but between masters and slaves. Before agriculture -- or rather, before conquest -- the sexes were more or less equal in society, symbolized by the fact that Eve is created from a rib taken from Adam?s side (as opposed, say, to a bone taken from his heel or his foot). Whereas before she was his helpmate and companion, now she has become is his servant. Before, they were naked and "were not ashamed," but now there is work to be done, and no time for sex -- a change symbolized by the fact that they must put on their clothes. And finally, there is Adam?s curse itself: henceforth he must "earn bread in the sweat of his brow" -- a clear reference to the hard life of servitude in the fields, and to the growing of grain, which has become the new lot of the human race. At the very end of the story, Adam and Eve are driven out of the garden -- signifying the way our ancestors were forced to exchange a life of ease and plenty, which was their original inheritance, for a living death of endless toil.

Well, let me tell you, this spiel worked like a charm. As I said, most of the people who heard it -- I'd estimate above 90% -- signed the petition. However, I don't expect the majority of readers on this blog site will be so easily satisfied. Tell me, GNXPers, have I made my case or not? Is the Adam and Eve story plausibly the oldest verbal artifact in existence? Or is this a less than convincing way for me to proceed, my taking a poetic, metaphorical approach to its interpretation, treating it like the riddle of the Sphinx? What additional sorts of evidence would I need to adduce in order to establish my claim for the historicity of the text, on empirical grounds alone, to at least a reasonable degree of probability? Don't spare my feelings (I know you won't Abiola) but let me hear your toughest criticisms, and see if I can answer them. At the very least, give me a chance to prove that I'm not completely insane on this topic, lest the guys in white coats show up and try to drag me away.

(to be continued)



Posted by lukelea at 02:25 AM | | TrackBack

March 31, 2004



Rough cut

Check out the debate on circumcision over at Abiola's blog. A few comments....

Update: Here are two articles from The New York Times archive that might interest readers (you have to pay to get the full article): Study Is Adding to Doubts About Circumcision, Low Rate Of AIDS Virus In Philippines Is a Puzzle.

1) The new studies that show correlations between circumcision in Third World nations & lower HIV incidence seem to make a probable conection (ie; comparisons across many regions tend to show this trend, eg; Luo in Kenya & Zulus in South Africa are uncircumcised and have higher rates of HIV vs. their circumcised neighbors, the same comparison works in Southeast with Filipinos vs. Thais or South Asia with Hindus vs. Muslims).

2) This does not map well to the context of the First World. The United States does not have the lowest rates of HIV infection in the First World, rather, it seems to have the highest, despite Continental Europeans being uncircumcised. Canadians seem somewhere in the middle, as are their circumcision rates (see here). An important point is that you need to do studies that look at differences between circumcised and uncircumcised within a nation, though in places like Sweden, it seems probable that all the individuals who are circumcised would be Muslim, adding an important selection bias to the "circumcised" sample. In any case, the HIV infection rate among native Swedes is so low as to make it a moot point (also, you can look at Asia, where Japan & South Korea have the same HIV rates though Japanese are not usually circumcised and South Koreans are).

3) Re: Sweden, this nations has been used as an exemplar in refuting the contention that uncircumcised males cause greater rates of cervical cancer in their partners. This conclusion was based on comparisons between Jewish males and "host" populations and Muslims & Hindus in India. Sweden though does not have higher rates of cervical cancer than the United States-again, showing the importance of context, to these statistics. In a First World nation educational campaigns would probably be as successful as something like circumcision.

4) Having reviewed the literature before, it seems plausible, though not proven, to me, that some pleasure might be lost when the foreskin is lost. There are some a priori considerations, after all, if you remove nerve-dense tissue, what are the most obvious implications? That being said, the human mind is flexible, and it might be able to take into account the difference in nerve endings. This is a place where anecdotal evidence is really profuse-and people can take assertions personally. Let's see some studies (controlling for variables) on orgasm rates for circumcised & uncircumcised men and their partners.

5) There is also the ethical consideration on circumcision being almost irreversible, and involuntarily imposed on an infant. Unfortunately for our species, ethics is always a heated & subjective area to tread....

6) Cultural biases are important hear. As I've noted on Abiola's blog, in South Asia circumcision & Islam are very close connected. Filipinos & South Koreans have become a generally circucmised population in connection with their recent Americanization because of their lack of cultural bias in either direction, but Hindu populations might be more averse given the historic assocation of circumcision with Islam. To be circumcised might be taken to be by some more naive individuals as becoming a Muslim. The same considerations crop up in Africa where uncircumcised groups like the Zulus in South Africa take the lack of the practice as a distinction between them and the Xhosas (Shaka Zulu had the proto-Zulu Nguni peoples under his control abandon the practice). Cultural bias can also come in the form of Jewish-gentile relations, as some Jewish groups worry about anti-Semitism in anti-circumcision movements, and I have even read an article arguing that the decline of the practice (slow but steady) in American males might lead to an upsurge in anti-Semitism as gentiles & Jews become physically distinct once more. Personally, I don't find mitigating anti-Semitism a valid reason for continuation of circumcision, but then, I'm not Jewish (one could assert that Jews could abandon the practice if minimizing physical differences is the concern, similarly with Muslim minorities in Europe-and with Islam, the practice is culturally, not religiously (Koranic), sanctioned).

P.S. any rabi pro or anti cutting posts will be deleted, this is a heated topic and gets out of control quickly.

Posted by razib at 04:54 AM | | TrackBack


Kebabs in Denmark

Just got an email from a friend who is doing lab work in Denmark, thought this was kind of funny (or ominous):


I am in an interesting neighborhood which is mainly students and middle eastern immigrants I have never seen so many head scarves in one place. The kabab stands are very good I have tried about five within two blocks of my place and there are about 15 I haven't tried yet.

Head scarves galore in the first country to legalize hard-core pornography.

Posted by razib at 04:23 AM | | TrackBack

March 30, 2004



Welfare reform is working

Hey, guess what?  Welfare reform is working.  Check out this article by the Brookings Institution, regarding the behavioral changes in never-married mothers during the past recession.  [ via Micky Kaus, who summarizes: "The [welfare] rolls didn't rise in the recession because single mothers kept on working." ]  There is hope yet; you can influence people's behaviour with economic incentives.

Posted by ole at 11:36 PM | | TrackBack


Tall Tale

This New Yorker article {Via Diana} about the study of past and present national height differences is an enjoyable read, and has a lot of great little factoids. Among them:

  • ". . . in Northern Europe over the past twelve hundred years human stature has followed a U-shaped curve: from a high around 800 A.D., to a low sometime in the seventeenth century, and back up again. Charlemagne was well over six feet; the soldiers who stormed the Bastille a millennium later averaged five feet and weighed a hundred pounds. “They didn’t look like Errol Flynn and Alan Hale,” the economist Robert Fogel told me. “They looked like thirteen-year-old girls.”"

  • "The men of the northern Cheyenne, he found, were the tallest people in the world in the late nineteenth century . . . they averaged nearly five feet ten."

  • "In both Europe and the Americas, he discovered, humans grew shorter as their cities grew larger . . . Heights also fell in synch with global temperatures, which reached a nadir during the Little Ice Age of the seventeenth century"

    Ok, but the article's main issue is this: The Dutch are the tallest people in the world {average 6 foot 1}, while Americans are mysteriously short {average 5 foot 9.5; white Americans apparently being among the shortest European peoples in the world}. This was not always the case, in fact it seems to have gone 180 degrees in about a century: Americans were about the tallest in the world for two centuries while the Dutch were the shortest people in Europe. American colonists at 5 foot 9 were basically the same height as modern Americans, and three inches taller than Europeans at the time, and four inches taller than the Dutch through most of the nineteenth century. Somewhere around the mid 1950s though, Europe started rapidly growing and America stopped. Now Americans are the ones who are about three inches shorter than the {Northern} European average . . . almost the same as Japan even {5 foot 8 1/4}, which has had some rapid growth spurts of its own.

    Four inches taller to four inches smaller in about a century. Why is this? Well the article describes a couple of theories which don't appear to be right, such as racial admixture and a host of demographic/economic variables and yet:

    "[the height historian] has subdivided the country’s heights by race, sex, income, and education. He has looked at whites alone, at blacks alone, at people with advanced degrees and those in the highest income bracket. Somewhere in the United States, he thinks, there must be a group that’s both so privileged and so socially insulated that it’s growing taller. He has yet to find one."

    So a cultural nutrition pattern is considered as a provisional explanation, though it doesn't go too deeply into how much empirical support there is for the Fast Food Hypothesis {FFH}. I would think this would be a fairly easy thing to investigate; it seems strange to me that nothing was said about 'subdividing the country' by diet. Are the Burger King kids in the 'burbs really three inches shorter than the farm kids in the stix that get the hearty country breakfast and garden-grown veggies at dinner? Do urban Brits, with all the same working moms and cheap n' easy hamburger chains, really eat that much healthier than urban Americans?

  • Posted by Jason Malloy at 10:05 PM | | TrackBack


    IDE or buggy Office package?

    I'm on a road trip, so that explains less blogging than the norm. Anyway, reading a little cog. sci., I thought of a funny little analogy to do with software since they use terms like the "computational mind" and "mental modules" all the time. Back in the day, the head-scientists used to think that our brain was like an Integrated Dev. Environment in a multi-purpose language (think C++). You boot up the OS and when you need to do word processing, you hack yourself a "lite" word processing program. When you need something to do graphic design, you hack yourself a design program, etc. Need a language? Get the development team of your society to give you some inputs so you can write up some code that'll allow you to communicate.

    Today, the majority seems to believe that the mind is made of separate modules that are "content-rich." To move with the software analogy, you boot up, and you have a whole "Office" system set up. You just point & click with a tried & tested vanilla user interface. Of course, that imposes some limitations, and the configuration files aren't very flexible. But for your grandmother, it gets the job done....

    Posted by razib at 07:36 PM | | TrackBack


    Two is Enough
    Dalton Conley in Slate: Two is Enough:
    "The U.S. government encourages families to have children, as many of them as possible. The pro-child policies are based partly on romantic notions about mom, family, and apple pie, but they also have a rational goal: We subsidize kids so that our next generation of workers is ready to win in the global economy. Problem is, these two goals - more kids and better-prepared kids - are at odds. If we really care about kids' welfare and accomplishment, the United States should scrap policies that encourage parents to have lots of children."
    Amen.
    Posted by ole at 01:32 AM | | TrackBack

    March 28, 2004



    It will be as you say....

    I've complained about the conflation of race & religion before (or ethnicity and religion). Perhaps I should just give up? It seems the intersection between non-whites & Muslims in Europe is just a given, how else to explain this article in The Economist with the hyperlink Race and immigration in Europe-when the article is mostly about Muslims, not non-whites per se! It's an interesting article, as these quotes can illustrate:


    The number of such recruits is tiny; however, a poll this month in the Guardian suggested that 13% of British Muslims would regard “further attacks on the US by al-Qaeda” as justified.
    ...
    The majority of children under 14 in the four biggest Dutch cities—Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht—are now children of non-western immigrants, most of them Muslim.

    But the author(s) treating race relations and religious relations interchangeably seems kind of weird to me when two large white European Muslim groups, Albanians and Bosnians, have made their presence felt in many countries over the past decade as illegal immigrants and refugees. As a practical matter it is obvious why it is so easy to conflate these two points of identification, but there is a reason that I object,genetic definition is permanent (for now), religious self-definition is voluntary. I accept that before the age of cheap & widespread individual genomic sequencing race might be used as a proxy in narrowing the scope of organ donation searches in light of scarce resources-there is no changing this reality before technology catches up to our hopes & dreams. But, the "angry Muslims" of today need not be the "angry Muslims" of the future as some essential aspects of their nature. He or she might be the Christian, liberal Muslim, secular Muslim, secular post-Christian, etc.

    There is a joke I have heard among Muslims that "Islam is a one-way street," once you make the profession of belief, you can never go back. If Europeans keep mixing definitions, they will further validiate this unpleasant aspect of Muslim culture.

    I guess my recent schtick has been to justify my tendency to give the finger to the prophet & co. without being socially ostracized because I have violated "Social Natural Law."

    P.S. I've cut & pasted the full article below, you can only get it if you are a subscriber....


    Multicultural troubles
    Mar 25th 2004
    From The Economist print edition


    Terrorism's insidious effect on race relations in Europe

    WHEN Muslims opened a mosque in Granada last summer—the first built in the city for over 500 years—it was hailed as a hopeful sign of reconciliation between Islam and Christianity. The Moors had, after all, ruled the southern Spanish province of Andalusia for 800 years, until they were expelled in 1492. Over the past generation a new wave of 500,000 Muslim immigrants have made Spain their home. The Granada mosque seemed to show that modern Spain had made its peace with Islam.

    But the terrorist bombs in Madrid, apparently inspired by Islamist radicals whose rantings suggest that they seek revenge not just for the dispatch of Spanish troops to Iraq but also for the loss of al-Andalus half a millennium ago, have created fears for the future. Spain, previously notable for its relatively relaxed attitude, is now likely to join those European countries that are increasingly nervous about Muslims and immigration.

    Signs of such anxiety have proliferated since September 11th 2001, even in countries that once prided themselves on their openness and tolerance. Pim Fortuyn, leader of a populist, anti-immigration party in the Netherlands, was assassinated in 2002 and his political party has since fallen into disarray, but many of his ideas have gone mainstream. In his base of Rotterdam, the local government is now explicitly trying to change the racial profile of the city, whose population is projected to be 57% of foreign origin by 2017. An all-party report to the Dutch parliament recently concluded that 30 years of multicultural policy had failed in the Netherlands, and that more energetic efforts should be made to oblige immigrants to learn Dutch and embrace local values. Even the Dutch Green leader has called for it to be made illegal for Muslims to import spouses for arranged marriages.

    Efforts to force Muslims to assimilate are also under way in other European countries. The Danes have introduced restrictions on arranged marriages. The French are imposing a ban on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in state-run schools—a measure that has enjoyed broad cross-party support. Even Britain, which until recently was congratulating itself on its successful assimilation of minorities, has become less complacent. The Blair government has just brought in civics lessons and an oath of allegiance for all would-be citizens.

    Much of this new mood is undoubtedly linked to fears of terrorism. It took September 11th to make it legitimate for Fortuyn to attack fundamentalist Islam as “backward” and illiberal. Similarly in Britain, the revelation that suicide bombers and Taliban fighters had been recruited from among British Muslims caused alarm. The number of such recruits is tiny; however, a poll this month in the Guardian suggested that 13% of British Muslims would regard “further attacks on the US by al-Qaeda” as justified. France is on heightened alert for signs of al-Qaeda penetration among its Muslims, estimated at somewhere around 4.5m (7.5% of the total population).

    It would be a mistake, however, to believe that tensions over the growing number of Muslims in Europe are simply a by-product of the “war on terror”. Anti-immigration parties such as France's National Front and Austria's Freedom Party were well-established long before the aircraft crashed into the twin towers. Europe is a rich, stable continent with an ageing population, surrounded by poor, unstable countries with lots of young people. Inevitably, many have made their way from north Africa or the Middle East to look for opportunities in Europe, whether as legal migrants, illegal workers or asylum-seekers.

    The overall number of Muslims in the European Union is still pretty small in relation to the population as a whole: they make up perhaps 12m, out of a total EU population of 375m. Their concentration in particular cities, however, means that their impact can be more dramatic at the local level. The majority of children under 14 in the four biggest Dutch cities—Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht—are now children of non-western immigrants, most of them Muslim. Despite the anti-immigration policies of Rotterdam's council, Europe's largest mosque is now under construction in the city. Local politicians grumble that its minarets will rise higher than the floodlights of the neighbouring football stadium, a secular city's equivalent of the local cathedral. In Brussels, the capital of the European Union, Muhammad has been the most popular name for new-born boys for the past four years.

    Assimilate, assimilate

    Yet such facts are sinister or disturbing only if people choose to make them so. Walk around the Muslim quarters of Rotterdam or Brussels and there are plenty of signs of both assimilation and entrepreneurship. The hall of the local mosque for the Turkish community in Rotterdam is decked out with Dutch flags. The Madou district of Brussels may be run-down, but it is also full of small businesses—late-night groceries, cafés, second-hand clothes stores—that are run by people of north African origin. Belgians, Congolese and Moroccans mingle easily on the streets. The Lavapies district in Madrid, where the Spanish police have arrested most of the suspects in the March 11th bombings, is a similar sort of place, in which immigrants can make a start, find a job and join a community.

    Such districts are the lifeblood of big cities across the world. But in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings, they are also now under scrutiny across Europe. The veiled woman or the bearded cleric, who might not have received a second glance in the street in happier times, may now attract suspicious looks, however unfairly. Newspapers and politicians have redoubled calls for greater surveillance of mosques and radical preachers. Prominent Muslims, in turn, worry about mounting “Islamophobia”. The havoc and misery wrought by the Madrid bombs have been followed by a secondary sad effect: rising mistrust between the Muslims of Europe and their neighbours.

    Posted by razib at 09:03 AM | | TrackBack


    Effective population

    Here is a informative site that discusses the various aspects of "Effective Population" (Ne) as opposed to census population. Since we talk about Y (non-recombinant) & mtDNA studies all the time, it is good to remember how small the average Ne really is (ergo, implications for genetic drift, etc.) for a fluctuating population (control-f "harmonic mean" in the linked page). From a sociological perspective, the implications of hyper-polygamous populations are also very interesting, as a skewed sex ratio drives the Ne down in comparison to the head count more than one might intuitively guess (eg; from the page linked, 96 cows + 4 bulls ~ 15 for effective size!).

    Posted by razib at 08:02 AM | | TrackBack


    The "Brain Drain"

    ParaPundit has an excellent post up on the international fears of a "Brain Drain." One interesting point: he notes that there is little news coming out of Mexico of fear of a "Brain Drain." I find this interesting-because to my knowledge, "Brain Drain" does occur in most Third World nations. The bizarre selection biasing of immigrants from South Asia and Africa in the United States is one clear example (bizarre in that while many Americans of South Asian and African [recent immigrants] origin posses graduate degrees, their homelands are among the most retrograde and deprived regions of the earth). ParaPundit's blog entry makes clear that Middle Eastern nations like Iran also suffer from "Brain Drain," and TangoMan below has a post about migration of European talent to the United States.

    Two comments: does the "Brain Drain" occur in Japan? This nation obviously has talented professionals, but do they choose to remain in their homeland? If so, what does that say about the "Quality of Life" in Japan? Also, do Latin American nations not suffer from "Brain Drain," or is their migration more towards Spain, so that we are not aware of it? If the former is the case, perhaps Latin America is foreshadowing of the "end state" of many Third World countries as they advance in their "social development," prosperous elites flourishing in society characterized by high levels of structural inequality. Contrast this with Africa or much of Asia, where social & political (Israel for example) instability compels their elites to move overseas when they can.

    Brazil or Japan. Two very different countries, but are they models for the future? I'm throwing out a grossly over-simplified dichotomy, but I'd be interested in more facts to chew on in this area....

    Posted by razib at 12:53 AM | | TrackBack