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November 06, 2004
The West & its enemies
The West has given us modern liberal democracy and science. No matter what the multiculturalists would have you believe, almost all of us who live in the West are children of the West, even those in opposition to it live and breath part of the promise of the Western idea (dissent, the overturning of one age's orthodoxies) . The modern American liberal ambivalence, and often hostility, to the idea of the West is probably the main reason I still consider myself a man of the Right. Of course there are many intellectual traditionalists on the Left side of the political spectrum who would concur on the importance of the Western tradition without considering themselves Rightists (Camille Paglia for example), but often these individuals have to protest that they aren't really conservatives, and some of us simply tire of defending a word when the substance behind those words are what matters to us.
Those of us who stand around the banner of the Enlightenment need to keep speaking up, because in the end, modernity is dependent upon us. The "opposition" is parasitic upon the affluence that the Enlightenment Project has unleashed, balance must be returned to the system, or our civilization will collapse, and Nietzsche's pessimistic eternal recurrence may come to pass....
2004 Election and IQ redux
I hope this is not in violation of the 11/15 rule.....
But, in response to Ole's post, I did some investigation of state "average" IQ and where the state's electoral votes went.
Results of state IQ and electoral preference: Not much of a pattern.
For 7 out of 11 IQ categories, Bush won, and did so in both in the "high" and the "low" groups.
I then double checked how I interpreted the graph and ran a chi-square analysis, and the cell frequencies did not show significant differences between IQ and voting preference (assuming alpha=.05). (see here).
You can take what you want from this, but it appears to me that IQ (at least aggregated state IQ) didn't have that much of an impact in this election.
An Ainu Folk-Tale
At the beginning of the world it had been the Creator's intention to place both men's and women's genitals on their foreheads so that they might be able to procreate children easily. But the otter made a mistake in conveying the message to that effect; and that is how the genitals come to be in the inconvenient place they are now in. ---(Written down from memory. Told by Ishanashte, 11th July, 1886.)
Chamberlain, Basil Hall. Aino Folk-Tales. N.p.: The Folk-Lore Society, 1888.
Jews & Khazars
If you check out the Khazaria site you will get your fill on information on the ancient Khazar people. I don't really understand why so many modern Jews are fixated on the Khazars, as there is now a Jewish state (the medieval Jews took heart that a temporal power had chosen their religion over Islam and Christianity). For those not in the know, Khazars were a Turkic tribe of the lower Volga region who were a dominant power between the 7th and 10th centuries. Though the Khazars are most famous for the fact that their elite chose Judaism as their dominant religion, their most important role in history was probably their alliance with the Byzantines and the fact that they blocked the northward push of Arab Muslims (though I suspect that climate would have turned against Arab military tactics at some point as one went north in any case).
Much speculation has been aired about the Khazar contribution to Jewish genetics, but people often forget that it is a fact that the Khazar aristocracy intermarried with Byzantine Imperial lines. In any case, my personal introduction to Khazars was watching an evangelical Christian program on a Sunday morning in the 1980s. The basic thesis of the program was this:
Israeli readers will note that the "facts" offered during this program are at variance with reality on several points, and this has perhaps made me reflexively cautious about any talk of "Khazaria" (oh, and the fact that many anti-Semitic theories incorporate Khazaria, especially those influenced by Christian Identity).
Nevertheless, I was pointed to this paper in The European Journal of Human Genetics titled Y chromosome evidence for a founder effect in Ashkenazi Jews. Near the end, the abstract concludes "...R-M17 chromosomes in Ashkenazim may represent vestiges of the mysterious Khazars." I found this website which reviews the lead author's previous work (again, allusions to Khazars). The paper suggests that the marker in question entered the Ashkenazi community early on, which seems to make an argument for an incremental introgression from the surrounding Eastern European population less plausible. Nevertheless, I still think it seems more likely that, for example, Jewish merchants in Germany purchased Wendish (West Slav) slaves who adopted Judaism (the Wends were pagan, so German Christians could enslave them and treat them like animals without too much objection from the Church, and while it was illegal to convert Christians to Judaism, I have read that there was less supervision when it came to pagans, even if the said pagans were nominally baptized and Christianized), than that somehow the Eastern European marker wended its way into Jews via the Khazars (remember, the Khazars were by origin a Central Asiatic people).2 I think the highest plausibility thesis of why the Khazars keep showing up in papers is that they are sexy (much more sexy than marginalized Slavs) and it guarantees publicity in the popular press.
Update: Here is the full paper (PDF).
Related: Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries (again, a nod to the Khazars). A post where I collected links to many studies about Jewish genetics with summaries.
1 - Turkic shamanism, Christianity and Islam were also Khazar religions, though not as popular among the elite.
2 - Note, I am not asserting that Wendish males Judaized and so brought the marker in question into Ashkenazi Jews, I am simply offering that I do not find this any less plausible than the Khazar vector hypothesis, but you will not see this alternative offered because it is far less "sexy" a thesis.
November 05, 2004
I have changed the front page so the last 7 days of entries instead of the last 4 are displayed. This should allow some of the discussion threads to last longer. If you want to continue talking, I suggest that the open thread would be best past a week since people aren't going to follow you into the archives.
Dictionary of Theories
I was taking a break at a bargain book store (basically close out warhouse overflow), and found a nice little paperback, Dictionary of Theories. Seems pretty cool if you are away from the computer, or you don't want to sift through google's results for something that is succinct and clear. Theories range from mathematics all the way to English.
Immigration Tidal Wave Heading for Canada?
I really enjoyed this essay in Slate on the details of moving to Canada, a claim we've heard from many dishearted liberals after the election. Yeah, right!
I particularly liked this test that one must take in order to apply for citizenship. Take it yourself and see if you have what it takes to be a Canadian, other than a willingness to eat cheese curd, go skiing and entertaining the prospect of annexing the Turks and Caicos as a territory of Canada. Now imagine the US mandating the same criteria in its immigration regime.
Also take a look at this satirical essay that proports to act as a primer on Canada for Americans.
On a serious note; if there is ever going to be a northward migration to Canada it will most likely be spurred on by water. Water exports are verbotten to the US, specifically exempted from the Free Trade Treaties, and right now the fastest growing city in the US is Las Vegas - right in the middle of the desert. Sure it's great to have nice weather, but not if you're thristy. That's Canada's ace in the hole and if they leverage that resource they could add mightily to the development of the country vis a vis growth in the US. Strictly a long term strategy of course.
I Dream of Jeannie - Muslim Soldier Girl
There's been much gnashing of teeth by the liberal cognoscenti of late, especially after the election. Jane Smiley's essay in Slate ranks up there as one of the most insulting to a great many people but she also unwittingly allows us a peek into the cultural cocoon she finds herself inhabiting:
The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America. Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are—they are full of original sin and they have a taste for violence. The blue state citizens make the Rousseauvian mistake of thinking humans are essentially good, and so they never realize when they are about to be slugged from behind.
I bring up Ms. Smiley's essay here, not to dissect it, but to offer it up as a backdrop for a broader, and almost comical, analysis of the disconnect between the liberal elites and those who draw from the deep wellspring of cultures that they hold dear.
We've had substantive discussions about the murder of Theo Van Gogh and Islamic intolerance as well as some malignent Muslims acting on their intolerance but it certainly doesn't help our analysis to see the New York Times unwilling to even contemplate that Mr. Van Gogh's assassination could be a sign of a cancer growing within the Muslim community and instead indicating that the fault really lies with Dutch society and how it treats it's Muslim residents. Randall Parker's take on this matter also addresses the liberal elite echo chamber phenomenon:
Theo Van Gogh was killed because the centralized Dutch planning bureaucracy failed to make better plans! The idea never occurred to me. But then I'm not a left-liberal. Still, I'm willing to get on board with any idea that might help. Maybe the Dutch can hire some retired Soviet Russian government planners to help out. Government planning is the solution. Who would have thought it? Oh, only the editorial board of the New York Times. I applaud the comrades for their insight.
The positions of Ms. Smiley and the New York Times serve to effectively peel off more and more moderates from the cause of progressivism. However, while these echo chamber essays reverbiate among the literati and have marginal persuasive influence for the majority of the country, blatant attempts to re-engineer the touchstones of American culture will do far more damage to the causes that the PC elites hold dear than their countless essays ever will.
When the movie going public goes into the theater to see a re-make of I Dream of Jeannie what they'll expect to see is an homage to their cultural touchstones, as hokey and shallow as they may be in this case, and not a reinvisioning of the story:
However, in an interview with London's Daily Telegraph newspaper on Monday, Chadha said her version of I Dream of Jeannie would take the story back to the genie's roots in Persia in 200BC, and stated "She's a Muslim girl, and the story is about Muslims", so confusion reigns. An announcement on casting should be made soon.
I'm not quite sure how they're going to make Jeannie a Muslim girl in the year 200 BC, when Mohammed wasn't even born for another 770 years.
Now Ms. Smiley and her compatriots may be in for a surprise when they find that even more of those ignorant and hateful Red Staters are peeled away from moderate or progressive ideals after being subjected to the cultural re-engineering of watching a harem clad soldier girl who is a Muslim before her time, when all they wanted was to see whether Jeannie really had a belly button and the crazy antics poor Major Nelson would have to explain away to Colonel Bellows.
That this plotline could even be considered speaks volumes to me about the incestuous amplification that affects many of the adherents of Political Correctness.
Is Turkey the answer?
Today I read an absolutely fascinating article by Robert D. Kaplan in this coming month's Atlantic Monthly (requires username and password). I have long been skeptical of the idea of bringing Turkey into the European Union, mostly after reading Lawrence Auster and a few guys over at Frontpage Magazine. However, this single article has forced me to develop some new nuances on the issue.
Robert Kaplan, a brilliant traveller-strategist who has also had a massive amount of influence on my worldview over the years, states that Turkey and its current prime minister, the moderate Islamist Tayyip Erdogan, are "the single best hope for reconciling Muslims—from Morocco to Indonesia—with twenty-first-century social and political realities." Not only that, he says that Europe has no choice but to let Turkey into the EU.
This December a hesitant European Union will decide whether to open negotiations for Turkey to join. Its hesitancy has legitimate and illegitimate reasons. The legitimate ones center on the difficulty of digesting a country of 70 million people—one that is far poorer and more populous than many of the Central and Eastern European nations recently admitted to the EU. The illegitimate ones center on the fact that—well, Turkey is Muslim. Does Europe want that many Muslims within its community?
In the article, he goes into detail about how Erdogan is much more moderate and how he desperately tried at the last minute to get the parliament to approve allowing US troops pass through Turkey and into Iraq. It certainly makes you think, whether you agree with him or not.
Before today, I thought the only chance we had at reforming Islam would be through empowering the opposition in Iran and putting them in power, where they have strong public support in comparison to the mullahs. The only problem with my little plan is that while I'm sure all those young people and secular revolutionaries would do their best to reform Iran and Shi'ite Islam, the Shi'ites only make up about 10% of the Islamic world, so there would be very little chance that their reforms would resonate with the other 90%, the Sunnis.
If Kaplan isn't right on this, then I don't know what to do. Read it NOW --- or whenever it comes out in stores if you don't have a username and password. If you e-mail me (my e-mail is listed in many of the comments sections), I will be more than happy to reply to you with a copy of the article. I don't want to violate any copyrights by reproducing it here, though.
Will vaccination for HPV in schools be the same debate as condoms in schools, I wonder?
(Of course, I'm open to the idea that condoms in schools cause more promiscuity than they alleviate the effects of, but I think it would be fairly hard to conduct a study that could be accurate about the answer to that.)
2004 election - IQ vs voter preference
What do we make of this? A listing of states, IQs, and how they voted. Looks like I'll have to move to Mississippi :)
Update from Thras: Hoax. See here
November 04, 2004
Universal Human Culture
Here I sit, for I can not sleep. I really don't have the time to blog, but here I sit, what else can I do? I've been thinking about blogging about this topic for a few days, but time I had not, but now I will make it. But first, I want to say that Houston has been like Sausalito the past few days. No more stench of pig sphincter.
A few days ago I posted Means & ends and the net of logic & evidence (or disgorged, depending on how you look at it). In the comments, jinderella stated the following:
Communication is hard, isn't it? People are different. But we knew that didn't we?
So I'm going go move to a tanget-that-isn't-a-tangent. Consider the Yankees and the Red Sox. Sometimes they have communication issues. Historically, the two are bitter rivals. This past year there has been some comment on the aesthetic of the two teams, their "team cultures" so to speak. The Red Sox and Yankees relate to each other as groups.
But shift the group to each team. Consider the positions. Are the concerns and qualms of the shortstop the same as the concerns and qualms of the left fielder? These two positions probably have less in common than the short stop and the second basemen, for example. In other words, there is a considerable amount of intrateam variation. Now, imagine that the shortstops from the Red Sox and Yankees were forced into a room to chat. Compare this to an earlier bull session between the Red Sox shortstop and the left fielder. One can imagine the differences between the two conversations, though the shortstops are on rival teams, they can "talk shop" with ease, as they share similar lexicons. In many ways the shortstops resemble each other more than they do their fellow teammates. The same goes for the other positions.
Does this matter to the fans? Hell no. They root for the teams, or as Jerry Seinfeld would put it, the jerseys, seeing as how a trade or other move by a player between teams results in the reassignment of loyalties and hatreds with ease. In the grand scale of their emotional attachments and furies, the deep similarities between fielding positions are not salient.
Why this bizarre tangent? Simple, jinderella's statement was a rather prosaic formulation of the reality that quite often members of the same culture have a hard time communicating as they do not share lexicons. Social constructionists have explored this, particularly in the manifestation of class, but ultimately, as usual, they take it way too far (low class and upper class English is still English). Nevertheless, there is a considerable vertical variation in the lexicon and general worldview within any culture. This vertical variation can be mapped on to the bell curve of IQ, or the distribution of income or perhaps even inherited class rank. Within any society of nontrivial complexity there is stratification and specialization. Intragroup variation is inevitable.
There is also intergroup variation, the cross-cultural differences that are the bread & butter of many cultural anthropologists. Sometimes societies are monotheistic, some are pantheistic, some are polygamous, some of them monogamous, some are warlike, some are peaceful, and so forth. Varied typologies sketch out the horizontal variation and structure that characterizes the aggregate of human cultures. Communication between cultures can be quite difficult, and the barrier of language results in bizarre transformations.
The unintelligibility of intercultural communication is a truism that often crops up among a certain sect of humanists who seem to be have an infinite faith in the ability of the human mind to concoct diverse cultural conformations. Ironically, the opacity of alien cultures does not seem to hinder their ability to make sense of them and catalog them in their typologies. This sort of thinking, the tendency to construct high walls between intercultural lexicons results in the sort of assertion as below:
This, from Thebit of Muslim Under Progress. I understand what he is trying to get at, but I would assert that:
I understand that the precise definitions are not exact and have varied implications dependent on context, but they are not so different in each context as to be different definitions, rather, they bear a close familial resemblence and reflect a common human understanding of the universe.
OK, for a real life example.
It is sometimes asserted that the Chinese culture "lost" the concept of the personal god sometimes around 1200 BCE. You see, this is the time when the Shang dynasty, whose totemic deity was the somewhat anthropomorphic god Shang Di, was replaced by the Zhou, who revered Tien, "Heaven," which is generally conceived of as an impersonal Ground of Being (don't ask me what the hell the last is). The three greatest Confucian sages, Confucius, Mencius and Hsun-Tzu could be interpreted as agnostics, while Hsun-Tzu had a somewhat James Randiesque streak in his debunkings of supernatural powers and phenomena. Contrast this secular outlook with that of the West, where a powerful omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent personal God who displays a nontrivial level of anthropomorphic traits (he became a human at one point) has sat upon the high seat of power since about 300 CE.
Do I believe this? Did I ever believe this? Well, I don't believe it, and I wished it was true at some point. As a rationalist biased skeptic I wanted there to be a non-god-soaked anti-supernatural culture. I thought Confucian China might fit the bill. I should have read the oracle bone writing on the wall.
The short of it is that I think that the god concept in China and Europe for the past 2,000 years hasn't been that different, no matter what the historians would say. I think Guanyin, the Bodhisattva who is considered the Goddess of Mercy, is cognate with the Christian God. Now, this sounds like a ludicrous comparison, Bodhisattvas are not Creator Gods, and in some ways they are demi-gods who are more trapped by the will of fate than humans. Quite often they resemble superheroes more than gods. In contrast, the Christian God is an awesome being, beyond comprehension, who holds all of Creation, out of time, in his divine mind. Words simply do not capture the definition of this being.
But this is where we need to bring it down from the clouds. If you observe a Christian at prayer, you notice that they often utter words out loud. Why? God is all knowing, sounds are not necessary. In fact, the concentration is not necessary, as God knows your wants. People often speak of a "personal relationship" with a being who should be out of time, not subject to anything, outside of the bounds of this universe. Though Muslims and Reformed Christians come from traditions where predestination is the normative opinion, they still seem to engage in intercessory prayer. Why? God has foreordained all, for he knows all, controls all.
What's going on here? I know that theologians will have clever ways out of all the weirdness that occurs when you inspect the definition of God, and how people interact with Him, but I think the simplest solution to the problem is that the vast majority of believers interact with the Christian God as if He was a supernatural agent who was constrained by time, though with powers vast and expansive, but one not that different from Guanyin. In other words, the typical European peasant and Chinese peasant would probably exhibit similar brain states if anyone decided to give them an MRI when they were communing with their god. They might wear different uniforms, but they react to the ball in the same way, and slot into the same functional role on their team.
On the other hand, elite practioners of religions spin all sorts of weird fantastical tales about their gods, and construct elaborate and inscrutable theological justifications for their practices. Though echoing the general form of propositional logic, much of theology jumps from peculiar tenditious inference and proposition to peculiar tenditious inference and proposition. Because the implications are so varied and so unclear, different individuals come to different conclusions. Different cultures reach different consenses. Guided into the black land of quasi-propositional logic theologies made out of thin air, not truly understood by 90% of the population, and only quasi-understood by the elite themselves, have stolen the spotlight and dictated the character of the culture on a superficial level. Historians read texts, and texts are written by the peculiar 10%. Because the lexicons are so unmoored from intuition and human universals they chart off into wildly different directions and mapping them upon each other requires a great deal of ecumenical work and doctorates in theology who must spend their life in exegis to prove how 1 does truly equal 3.
In contrast, the 90% of society that is below the elite, the core or heart of a society, tends to have deep seated beliefs which they can not articulate in egghead terminology because they can not master it. This results in an assent to the general propositions espoused by the religious elite. For example, here is a fragment of the Athanasian Creed:
This is what good 4th century Greek educations can get you! Derrida would be proud.
Now, these creeds and general formulae are important. They are the jerseys which fans root for. Group emotional attachments are formed through them, so in 4th century Constantinople your baker might become angry at you if you assented to an Arian heresy, while in 13th century China the Taoists and Buddhists held debates about the validity of their vague and squishy religions in front of the Great Khan who no doubt had as much understanding of the goings on as the participants themselves on any concrete level (Kubilai Khan ordered that the Taoists pay the Buddhists for slanders against them).
So, here is what I'm saying:
2) Layered on top of the great normal mass of humanity lay the bizarre "talented tenth" who spin strange theories that are produced out of their minds when they try to divide an integer by zero (that is, try to graft propositional logic on to their intuitional hunches and feelings).
3) These baroque and often maladaptive constructs become "jerseys" which serve to circumscribe cultures and delineate in & outgroups.
4) Most of the "talented tenth" don't really understand what they are talking about when they babble about the nature of their deity or the logic behind their particular conception of reincarnation. They might feel what they are trying to talk about, but the Ground of Being, the Transcendent, eludes the boxing in of precise lexicons.
5) Though the terms in the lexicons of most humans are different because of language, and the extra nonsense baggage inserted in by theologians and philosophers, ultimate intelligibility is not truly that difficult because they are talking about the same thing.
6) On the other hand, genuine understanding between elite religious practioners can be difficult since the lexicons of both are so much hand-waving and you really can't educate someone else if you don't really know what you are talking about in a coherent fashion.
Final analogy (which I've used before): imagine individuals in our species as distributed in a great sphere. If you give them the word "god" most people would have an "idea" somewhere around the middle of the sphere, that is, an MRI would show the same general image, they would react in the same way to prayer or ritual, etc. But, there would be many people distributed on the surface, and the wide spatial differences on this surface level is indicative of the lexical difficulties in translation and communication among the elite.
Anyway, just because the jersey is important doesn't mean that a bunch of shortshops are playing against left fielders.
"Brain" in a dish flies flight sim...
This was just way too juicy to pass up not posting. It seems that a professor at my university has developed a "brain" from 25,000 neurons extracted from the brain of a rat, which grew on top of 60 electrodes in a petri dish. When the neurons reconnected themselves, and it was attached to an F-22 flight simulator, the brain supposedly "learnt" how to somewhat control the plane.
Stem Cell Research
There has been a certain amount of agitation among the scientific class about the popular opposition to stem cell research. I have heard perfectly rational people go so far as to talk about "a new dark age." Religion is throttling scientific research in the cradle. Our President is anti-science.
It just ain't so.
A good portion of America thinks that abortion should be illegal in nearly all cases. A good portion of the rest of America thinks that it should be legal, but that it is still something deeply immoral.
They think this because their morality tells them that fetuses are either alive or at least something close to it. You'll find solid majorities of Americans in every region that are willing to treat the murders of pregnant women as double homicides.
Stem cell research is about taking embryos, which are considered alive or at least somewhat sacred by what is probably a majority of Americans, and using them for medical research.
Science does not advance at any cost. There are all sorts of rational limits supported by nearly all scientists. Morality is important.
The only way that the opposition to stem cell research could be anti-scientific would be if science could prove that embryos should not be held sacred. I admit that science informs morality, but anybody who thinks that it actually dictates it is off his rocker. Morality is not a product of reason; it is a product of human nature informed by reason. Science does not tell us whether abortions are right or wrong. It does not tell us whether harvesting stem cells are right or wrong.
Is it wrong to "force your morality on others in a democracy"? Hardly. I immediately lose respect for anyone whom I hear peddling that line. Every vote made in a democracy is about forcing your own personal morality on others. You vote your morality concerning war, concerning welfare and taxes, concerning criminal punishment, and a million other things. There is no way around it. The issue of stem cell research is no different.
The opposition to stem cell research is not anti-scientific. It is moral. The existence of such opposition as an expression of America's underlying morality is a deeply positive thing. It means that morality can fight back against science. If the next century is really going to be one marked by the flowering of the science of genetic engineering, I am heartened that morality will be powerful enough to set limits to it.
Razib tries to get around being lost in the message board:
1) If you believe an embryo or zygote is a human being with personhood, be against fetal stem cell research.
2) If you believe there is an important moral reason to oppose fetal stem cell from say Francis Fukuyama's Aristotelian ethical framework (most people who are pro-choice on abortion like Krauthammer seem to use similar flavors of reasoning), go ahead and be against fetal stem cell research.
3) But, please, please, stop talking up adult stem cell research vs. fetal stem cell research, because you really don't care about that issue in your heart of hearts, do you?
4) I know fetal stem cells are not a "miracle cure," but since I don't think an embryo or zygote is a human being with personhood, I see no reason they shouldn't be utilized while millions of fetuses and embryos are vacuumed out of women legally every year.
5) And for what it's worth, a developmental biologist friend of mine who isn't an abortion rights absolutist by any stretch tells me that those who think there is a "miracle cure" are deluding themselves, but, anti-fetal stem cell people who argue both that adult stem cells are miraculous in comparison to fetal stem cells and that we have enough fetal stem cell lines are being deceptive (he didn't use the word deceptive exactly, it had more color).
6) So to reiterate, I have no problem with pro-life people being against fetal stem cell research. I do have a problem with pro-lifers always playing up adult stem cells like those of us who don't think zygotes or embryos are people will be mollified and be sanguine about closing off the possibilities of fetal stem cells. Let me repeat, I don't believe a zygote or embryo is a human or person, and I don't think there are negative moral consequences in following this avenue of research, so I don't care how much more promise adult stem cells show vs. fetal stem cells. It's great if adult stem cells have a lot of promise, that doesn't mean that we can't do both! I don't look to NRO for my biotech news Ramesh or Kathryn.
Addendum: Just a clarification and comment. I don't think people who have qualms about fetal stem cell research are "wrong," since the ultimate issue is about norms & ends, though I think some of their supporting arguments (which I have stated I believe they don't really believe) are wrong or flimsy (ie; we don't need fetal stem cells, adult stem cells are so much better, we have enough lines of fetal stem cells). Another point is that this is the sort of "political" thread that I think is proper for GNXP, though I happen to disagree with the general thrust of Thras' post, the post itself didn't bother me in the least, and the thread has not devolved into a hybrid of Kos & Free Republic. In the consequences shall you know the fruit of your endeavors.
Update from Thras Going to keep it short. You can check the message board for anything further.
Razib is right on for pretty much everything he says. The big push for adult stem cell research is anti-science because it's being done for political reasons.
I will also mention that I agree with Razib that embryos are not humans with personhood. Of course, I don't think that anybody under the age of 10 or so are really human beings with personhood. Or people with IQs much under 65 or 70. So you can see where that would get me were it my only guiding principline. See the message board for my considerations on the origin of morality.
November 03, 2004
Hello all. Because of certain things I need to take care of, I've been away from the computer a lot more than typical (I often have GNXP and my gmail account in two tabs on Firefox while I'm coding, so I normally monitor the blog when I'm not posting). A week ago I said no political posts until Nov. 15th. I've already deleted a very innocuous election related post. I've just veoted another one. I know that many of the posters to GNXP have lots of great commentary they could offer on 11/02/2004. I even have an opinion or two I might be willing to offer up. Nevertheless, at least for now, I am going to be a fascist about this and just keep a lid on it. Many of you have your own blogs where you can talk about politics. There are also one thousand political blogs out there hitting on all cylinders.
Politics is interested and addictive, there is a reason that people become "political junkies." Man is a political animal. The big political blogs have traffic about 2 orders of magnitude above GNXP. Still, I don't really care, this is a hobby, and what trivial costs there are, I pay for, so I don't have an incentive to increase traffic. Frankly, the comment boards are at a happy median (barely) between being dead and overloaded with trolls.
Anyway, just a minor reiteration. That doesn't mean all political posts are off limits. But I reserve the right to delete anything that I think might be too juicy and detract from the more esoteric quality of this blog. I'm not looking for an "Instalaunch," a reader who is wanting the latest insights are on the War on Terror or wants to laugh about the latest Bushism.
Addendum: I am considering taking time out to post a 'GNXP style & content guideline' in the near future so my fascism seems less arbitrary. Kind of sucks because this is the kind of thing that I told GC I really didn't want to be part of when I joined a group blog 2.5 years ago. That's life.
Recently I read a article by Martin Gardner that drew on the scholarship of an anthropologist who claims that cannibalism tales are basically one of those cultural universals that get projected to the "Other." In other words, anthropologists rarely document genuine cannibalism, but only reccount what others have told them. As Gardner wrote the article for The Skeptical Inquirer, his piece was offered in that spirit. I tend to think that the human mind, with its many modules and "under the hood" processes is fully capable of stumbling upon a common cultural motif repeatedly because of some particular bias in our mental faculties, so I don't totally discredit this opinion (mythologies tends to be filled with cannibalism, sometimes in a really bizarre way, as the Greek tale I recall where a man serves the gods human flesh out of his own caprice).
Nevertheless, we know that genetics proves that cannibalism is part of our common heritage. Right? Well, perhaps not. The evidence in question relays on the sniffing out of balancing selection, that is heterozygote advantage, on a particular gene. This paper (PDF) reviews the research and suggests more caution, and offers that a null hypothesis of neutrality can not be rejected offhand. We'll see. The great thing of science is that it tends to march onward, even if haltingly on occassion.
Salt of the Earth
Dienekes blogged about the latitudinal differences in human populations on the phenotype of salt retention a few weeks ago, but I noticed this good popular summation about this research today, and thought I'd link to it. The skinny is that a polymorphism of a gene implicated in salt retention that is the common to Sub-Saharan Africans gives way as one moves north to a "non-functioning" variant as the dominant type. You can connect the dots as to how that relates to hypertension across various ethnic groups (and dosage guidelines for salt consumption). Here is the abstract in The American Journal of Human Genetics.
As I said in the post below, the data is out there, and there seems to be a progressive accumulation of the reality that there is a great deal of functional variation on many locii in our species driven by natural selection and the release of functional constraints (and often a simultaneous importance of sexual selection). Assuming that the Out-of-Africa hypothesis is correct, it seems we are seeing a pattern of a diversification of the human population as it sweeps out of its African ur-heimat. Whether you think it is trivial or not I leave up to you. On this blog we do push the envelope to the final and ultimate Holy of Holies, specialization of various mental modules in human subpopulations. Yet, I even if you step back from that particular precipice, it is fascinating, and I think relevant from a utilitarian angle (think medicine) that interindividual and intergroup variation manifests itself on many levels of our biology. As long as the atomic facts themselves are accepted whether you think the molecules that can be assembled up from them are trivial or not in scope and relevance is to me rather trivial itself.
Korean missionaries in the Middle East
This story in The New York Times about Korean Christian missionaries in the Middle East is not surprising but nonetheless peculiar. I have been a close watcher of the religious situation in Eastern Asia for a while now after my college flirtation with the Korean American Christian Fellowship (some cute Japanese girls were in it). Here is a fact that might surprise some (though not everyone): Korea is #2 after the USA in the absolute numbers of missionaries it sends abroad. With 12,000 vs. 46,000 Americans, Koreans actually beat the USA on a per capita basis (48 million Koreans vs. 290 million Americans). This is even more shocking when you note that only ~25-30% of Koreans identify as Christian vs. 80-85% of Americans. But, it is less shocking when you remember that the majority of Korean Christians would probably be considered theologically conservative and evangelical in a Western context, so proportionally, traditionalist Christians probably form only a slightly smaller fraction in South Korea than here in the states.
I think it is on some level good that Middle Eastern countries get infiltrated by Christian evangalizers, they can destabilize the stagnant mindspace that seems to dominate those cultures and offer alternative avenues of social organization. Nevertheless, a few observations and concerns:
November 02, 2004
Means & ends and the net of logic & evidence
Being busy, I've not had time to post anything long or "weighty" in a while. So here are really three posts, only vaguely thematically related, that I have decided to roll into one so as to get them "out of my system," so to speak. As many of you no doubt know, I am curious at how people come to their values, their ideas and concepts, and how they interrelate to each other outside the bounds of explicit A -> B -> C inferences (that is, how is it that things that don't necessarily follow seem to correlate). For example, how many times do people of political convinction X agree to positions 1, 2, 3, 4.... only because they have a strong affinity to position 2 and don't really care much about 1 , 3, 4.... though others of the same label, X, have convinctions about 1, 3, 4.... Or how do people persuade each other in complex disciplines about the validity of propositions where evidence and logic do not suffice to convince? How often do people explicitly parse means from ends, or circumscribe their opinions based on logic, often related to axioms framed by their values, or ends, or their assertions drawn from evidence, often influenced by the means that they wish to go by to attain ends.
I began thinking about this when I saw that a week ago Kevin MacDonald wrote positively of Frank Salter's idea of an ethno-state. What took be me aback was that Kevin was using ideas that have a Hamiltonian pedigree, and derive from inclusive fitness (see Jason's ethnic nepotism post for more oon this topic). Now, Kevin has worked within the group selection paradigm, championed by David Sloan Wilson, to formulate his ideas about Jewish evolutionary psychology. Though I know that proponents of group selection would slot inclusive fitness as part of group selection, many adherents of Hamilton would beg to differ, and Hamilton himself did not look positively upon group selection (though he did not dismiss Kevin MacDonald's work and was familiar with it, he was not convinced about it on scientific grounds). Now, this seems like methodological quibbling, and it is, but it still struck me reading the VDARE essay that Kevin seemed perfectly fine espousing a Salterian inclusive fitness thesis to promote the idea of an ethno-state, something he has come to as his position, through from a more explicit group selection angle.
In the preface to Culture of Critique Kevin documents his transformation from a scholar working within a group selection paradigm to one who, as he says himself, "started to realize that my interests are quite different from prototypical Jewish interests." The science preceded Kevin's values, and now that his values have been established, and his ethnic consciousness has been raised, he of course has no problem in bringing to bear theories outside his own intellectual tradition, but it seems (to me) that scholarship is now a means to an end. This certainly happens more than scholars would like to acknowledge, as the minutiae of their work becomes marginal to the crystal clarity of their convictions.
Start tangent I
When you read Kevin's essay it is clear there are background assumptions. One of the assumptions I believe can be encapsulated in the following assertion: All multicultural states collapse. Let's ignore the reality that all polities tend to collapse, you know what is implied. Here are some problems though.
1) In the pre-modern era multicultural states tended to be empires.
But, nevertheless, the general accuracy of this statement (that mulicultural states/polities fail) in the modern context is probably easy to validate. The problem though happens when a certain group will assert that this is a temporally universal phenomena, to the point where it becomes a universal law. On the other hand, one could view it as a function of various parameters peculiar to the modern world (democracy, large polities, tight information networks).
Testing these assertions are difficult. But let me offer an example of a society that was long lived, multicultural, but maintained its core character for nearly 3,000 years. That society is ancient Mesopatamia.
Standard histories divide Mesopatamian history into various epochs, often characterized by a ruling ethnicity. For example:
1) 3000-2000 Sumerian.
The real story is more complex. During the period between 3000-2000 Sumerian was the dominant written language. The basic character of Mesopatamian character is often said to be "Sumerian" during this period. But, there is strong evidence that a Semitic speaking element was present at all levels of society. Though the commanding heights were more Sumerian than not, the most prominent imperium, that of Sargon of Akkad, was headed by a Semitic dynasty, and the most powerful city-state, Kish, was usually ruled by a Semitic dynasty. In the period after 2000 the Sumerian element seems to disappear, and the language becomes one of ritual, and Akkadian becomes the lingua franca of this period (the correspondence between various Near Eastern potentates is in Akkadian). The dominant peoples were "Amorites," Semitic barbarians who were nomadic transients who were employed as mercenaries, but took over the reins of power and produced men like Hammarubi. Nevertheless, the native stock remained culturally dominant, and the various cities under Hammarubi had their own imprint, from the Assyrians in the north, to the state of Mari on the Upper Euphrates. Later on, the even more alien Kassites ruled Babylonia for 500 years, but the native cultural substrate remained dominant.
The pattern of the congealing of various "ethnicities" seems to reccur for 3,000 years, but the basic character of Mesopatamian civilization remained that which is depicted in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Sumerian king of Uruk who likely lived around 2500 BCE. Earlier historians attempted to slot the Semites into a servile role in the Sumerian civilization, and had a difficult time reconciling the reality that many of the names on the Kings List were Semitic, indicating a quite high status. The idea was that only one group could be dominant at any given time, and an ideology of nationalism must have been promoted by the Sumerians, as their city-states had clear distinct identities. It seems the reality was fuzzier and more fluid. Ancient peoples were basically similar to moderns in many of their attitudes, but they did not have the thousands of years of backhistory that moderns do, and constellation of implications associated with identifying with any particular ethnicity (as opposed to tribe1) had not taken root, yet.
My point is that positing universal historical/social laws should be taken with a grain of salt when they are at a high order of complexity that would be difficult to imagine existing in the EEA. I suppose I could tell you to go read The Poverty of Historicism, but you get the gist.
Tanget II: A few weeks ago, Jim Nutley said to me:
The context was my post where I mention the work of a writer who claims that the Bible is in tight concordance with science.
So why do I "waste" my time with this? Unlike many atheists, I've read a lot of apologetic literature, waded through the details of various theologies & histories of churches, keep myself updated on the latest tactics of Creationists and quasi-Creationists. Induction should tell me that they aren't going to convince after all this time, and I'll find their arguments wanting, to be riddled with logical holes, or, more often, not in good faith when viewed through the lens of a skeptic. Why do I waste my time?
To Jim, I responded that it is important for me to know what the majority of my co-citizens believe. I am interested in human culture and history, and religion is a substantial element of the modal definition of a "human." That is part of it. But there is something else: it is to Witness effectively. What do I mean by that? This is what I mean: a few years ago I was half asleep, and a local talk show host, a liberal New Agey guy of Jewish background decided to talk about the "controversy" about evolution. What resulted that a parade of callers offered the host with all sorts of "disproofs" of evolution. One of the most common things mentioned was that The Second Law of Thermodynamics shows that evolution can't happen.
How did the talk show host respond to this? All he said was "very interesting." Why? Well, how many people have taken a college level course where they encountered thermodynamics? Terms like "enthalpy" aren't in common circulation. Entropy is nothing more than a catch-phrase, and most people couldn't connect it explicitly to thermodynamics. I talked to a friend of mine who is a lawyer, and he told me he wouldn't know what to say to someone who asserted that The Second Law of Thermodynamics means evolution can't occur, because he didn't know what it was. These are just buzzwords to disorient those outside of the know. They add a patina of scientific respectibility to a certain subset of religious fundamentalist beliefs.
I called in, and simply asserted that the law in question only matters in the context of a closed system, blah, blah, blah. These were canned answers you can find at talk.origins, and I really didn't believe that most listenders knew or cared what I was talking about. But the calls about The Second Law of Thermodynamics ceased. I have talked to friends who were Creationists who tried to bullshit me with their talkings points from their Church. I know all the tactics and buzzwords, and respond pretty unthinkingly with the responses you can find on the internet or from books. Does this mean that my friends are no longer Creationists? No, of course not, the ground of their faith is not in the various quasi-scientific jargon they parrot, it is just a tool, a means, to convince others.
So why respond to these people? Because there are third parties witnessing these exchanges. Many people who know little science can be easily impressed by the jargon that some Creationists throw out there, and this can be a wedge for future attempts at conversion and persuasion. The science-talk is secondary, and most of the time those parroting it don't know much about the science itself. Nevertheless, neutralizing them is pretty trivial. You simply trot out the responses that are in existence out there. This generally stops the Creationists in their tracks. If they persist I just flood them with data and theory and try and humiliate them. This doesn't change their own belief systems, and since they don't know much about the science (one Creationist had switched microevolution and macroevolution in his head to hilarious effect, clearly he was memorizing by rote rather than drawing from a genuine interest in biology). It does impact those who observe the exchange. The third parties don't need to understand the science, they just need to know that there are challenges to the "accepted view" that the other individual is espousing.
This applies to nonscientific issues. A friend of mine in college told me he was "questioning his beliefs" and was being drawn to the obvious truths of the Bible. I told him to try and reconcile the two versions of Genesis. He was confused, because he hadn't read the Bible closely enough to notice that (he hadn't really read the Bible much, he was just hanging out with a few people who were evangelical). When he asked his Christian friends about this issue, they seemed confused. I knew very well that conservative Christians have canned responses to this particular issue, but those individuals tend to be very knowledgeable about their scripture, and I knew these individuals wouldn't be able to give a slick answer. This totally disoriented my friend's drift toward the obvious reality of the inerrant Bible (he was a computer science major and so took issues of logic seriously).
So why do I pay attention? I believe that a pluralism of ideas is good. I don't care if people believe in Creationism as long as they remain one point of view, and don't subborn the hard won consensus and method of science. But, I understand that the majority of the public probably has a cognitive bias against science and its quibbling methods, and that the truths of religion always have a competitive advantage, and any ideas which can leverage this (like "Scientific" Creationism) can gain traction (point out that St. Augustine made comments that can be interpreted to be favorable toward the old earth and evolution scores many more points that appealing to Darwin). Obviously most espousers of evolution don't have time to pay attention to quasi-scientific arguments against the established order, so some of us have to play that role. It is in a way part of the ESS of ideas. There have been those of us who act as neutralizers against the constant, and likely eternal, march of irrationality against the special method that the West has pioneered within the last 500 years and resulted in modernity. It is a metastable state, always in flux.
Conclusion: As I said, the thematic connections are tenuous, nevertheless, I think I have reiterated the trivial observation that the human mind is not a linear proposition generating machine. Rather, our minds are a tangled web that mimics the reality of our brain, with the myriad connections between neurons generating an electrical mesh. When we dialogue with people we have simplified models of their mental mesh, because there are so many things going on "under the hood," often even without the conscious knowledge of the individual in question, the "Cartesian Theater" gets all the glamor and publicity, but the reality is that hard working mental modules in the basement are doing much of the heavy lifting. "Simple" fields like mathematics can work in the bright airy realm of pure logic, supplemented by intuitional insights, but the murky workings in other fields of "scholarship" are under the control of forces that we don't acknowledge.
So, should we give up on an objective reality? No, the failings of our own mental capacities do not mean that those frail faculties demand that the world "out there" is an illusion. We need to strive onward and upward, refine our mental models, make explicit those with whom we disagree, clarify the various feedback loops and segregate our norms from our data.
1 - Doesn't ethnicity exist as a higher level tribe? Not always, the ancient "Belgae" seemed to be a confederation of tribes with both Celtic and Germanic elements.
Two isn't a trend...yet
Scott forwarded me this article, Dutch Filmmaker Theo Van Gogh Murdered (he is descended from Vincent Van Gogh). The reason, he was making films that were negative in their portrayl of Islamic culture(s). Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali apostate, scripted the particular film. The killer seems to be of Moroccon origin.
Clear facts that are easy to emotionally attach to like this are the seeds for visions of Eurabia. One or two killings can have a chilling affect and change the climate of a whole culture. So, have I flipped on whether Eurabia is likely? Well, I talked to a Dutch friend of mine in University, and asked him if he had ever met a person of Moroccan origin in his classes. He thought about it and mentioned one girl, who was rather atypical in many ways (she was a classic nerd). To me, this is a hint that the future is apartheid, if current trends continue. Two killings (first Pim, now Van Gogh) is not a trend, but it is really hard to maintain a sanguine assimilationist perspective in the face of ideologically motivated murders. Final assimilation might be inevitable if current conditions are maintained, but facts like this on the ground can throw up a wall between cultures that prevents the solvation of a minority in a majority. Since the minority culture in question is economically parasitic on the majority, the future looks bleak.
Addendum: Of course, if you read the articles about Van Gogh's recent films, they are quite clearly blasphemous and insulting to Islam. But, that's the breaks of Western culture, especially the Netherlands. Or is it??? At least "secular fundamentalists" aren't killing Muslims for rejecting liberal values. Death by law rather than blade.
Update: Rally in The Netherlands.
Update II: 8 Islamists arrested.
An end to Halloween
Ok, a day late but still relevant. To put it simply, I think halloween should be ended (at least the trick-or-treating part) because the civic values and societal structures which once existed and made the holiday make sense are disappearing.
I first noticed this back in '96, a poor student living in a run-down quad in Imbler, OR. I actually had my dinner, cup-a-noodle (which is all that I could afford), in hand when three kids in costumes, escorted by an adult, showed up at my door holding their bags open insistently like a baby bird would hold its mouth open when mama bird returns with the worm. I explained calmly to the party that I did not have any candy to give, to which the male adult started to chew me out. I explained to him that I lived on less than $10 a week of food and that to buy a bag of candy for his kids would require me to starve for a week or two. To which he responded "People handed out candy to you when you were a kid, so you should reciprocate". I closed the door and went back to my paltry meal.
Several thing struck me about that encounter. First, I was not a native of Imbler (having grown up in LA, SF, and eventually Portland) so the "people" who handed me candy as a kid were hundreds of miles away. Second, the man had an east coast accent, so Eugene was not his hometown, plus he was upper middle class (he was driving a '96 model mini-van) so he could expect to move several times in his career. So we were both transient to Eugene and did not feel any loyalty to the town or the community.
Now, there was a time when Halloween made sense, a time when most people lived and died within miles of where they were born. In this world you would know your neighbors, you would interact with them on a daily basis, you would care if they lost a job, or were sick, or had a death in the family. In that environment, trick-or-treating makes sense to both strengthen the bonds of a community and allow the treat-giver to dote on the community's children with hand-made treats (candy apples, fudge etc)
But we now live in a world where most people know only a few of their neighbors and not that well. Where, if a treat does not come from a factory (i.e. is hand made) parents will likely refuse it due to security concerns (razor blades, needles etc). Where people trick-or-treat in the afternoon due also to security concern.
So we live in a world where people don't know or trust their neighbors
Does it make sense then to have a ritual that is at odds with that new ethic?
And to answer your question, yes I am a misanthrope.
November 01, 2004
Question to Readers
The comments to this guest post of mine over at the Head Heeb made me curious about ethnic succession.
Can anyone think of a situation where a minority population (ethnic, linguistic, religious) in a fairly coherent social entity--a modern state, say, or a religious community--takes over entirely, purely through high fertility rates? Although there has always been a demographic differential in France between religious Catholics and more secular folk, and until the 1960s almost all immigrants to France came from more conservative Catholic countries, the trend in France has definitely been towards greater secularization. Too, in the American Jewish community the porportion of ultra-Orthodox has remained fairly constant (again, fertility counterbalanced by defection).
The only situation that I can think of which comes even close is the remarkable expansion of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States since 1783. When you consider that one of the Intolerable Acts that triggered the American revolt was the fact that the 1774 Quebec Act passed by the British Parliament granted full political and civil rights to the Canadien Catholics within their traditional territory, it's truly a remarkable fact that now, the United States has the largest Catholic population of any First World nation-state.
Gottfredson attacked for helping the NYTimes in article about Kerry's IQ
Media Matters for America, a left-wing media "watchdog" organization, has launched an attack on Linda Gottfredson for helping the NYTimes confirm whether or not Steve Sailer's analysis of Bush and Kerry's IQ was "credible." What are they using to attack her? Her relation to the The Pioneer Fund, of course, of which she received some funding from to conduct a few studies.
And what does Media Matters say is so criminal about The Pioneer Fund? It's an
organization designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its support over the years of the work of white supremacists, eugenicists, and others dedicated to proving the existence of genetic differences between races.
Oh yes, because the SPLC is so "credible" on such matters as to whether or not race exists. Linda Gottfredson: yet another academic about to be sacrificed on the altar on left-wing politically correct egalitarianism. Be sure to check out the VDARE.com Blog entry. (hat tip: VDARE.com Blog)
Additional comment: Be sure to check out Alex's post from Monday morning at Marginal Revolution (a great blog). It makes a great point concerning some liberal hypocrisy over lead and IQ.
Nature of race
Nature Genetics has an issue on race that is publically accessible. I don't have much time to comment now, but I invite those with privs to add their updates or opinions.
Update: I haven't had time to read it yet, but since razib has left the hard work up to the rest of us, I won't shirk. As I'm getting started, the first thing I notice is that the word race is in quotes in every article title. -- Thrasymachus
Update 2: This seems to be the worthwhile article: Assessing genetic contributions to phenotypic differences among 'racial' and 'ethnic' groups
From the article:
In this discussion, we define a social category or group as one determined by social factors; an individual is associated with such a category (or categories) based on a set of socially negotiated criteria. Given this definition, 'race' and 'ethnicity' are social categories, even though some inclusion criteria may be biological. The extent to which 'racial' or 'ethnic' labels correlate with biological traits varies through time and across the labels themselves.
That might be an interesting approach if the article were primarily concerned with social science. But it's not. It is mainly an article on genetics. Obviously, it would be far more useful to attempt a scientific definition of race (like Sailer's extended family approach) and see what results you can get from that. In fact, that is the main objection I have to every article that I have read in this issue so far. -- Thrasymachus
Update from Razib: After reading the articles, what can I say...let a thousand data points bloom! I am a believer in the operational unity of an objective reality "out there." If science looks at a question, given enough time, and assuming that the aims are modest enough, I believe that various interpretations will eventually converge upon a consensus.
What does this mean in the context of the race issue? No matter the semantic quibbles and preambles that preface many of the pieces, it is in the end up the reader to determine whether 'race' or intergroup population differences step over the line between trivial and nontrivial. Even if differences are clinal and graded, does that mean genetic variation across populations is irrelevant? Even if change is continuous, it does not imply that it is without import.
Many of us can grant that the Platonic Racial Ideal and the socially agreed upon taxonomies that have grown up around race are problematic. But what does the data say? What interpretive framework are you using? The first step is disabusing the public of the assumption that the "85% of variation is between individuals" (that is, intragroup) is the last word. Nuances that reflect the possible dichotomy between the functional genome and neutral DNA should be brought up. The fuzziness of any circumscribed population group should be emphasized. The final answer is complex, and likely upalatable to ideologues of any stripe.
There may be many more years of debate and discourse on this issue. Some of it imight be ideologically rooted, some of it not. Nevertheless, there will (I believe) come a point in the future where the data will push the consensus toward an agreed upon range of definitions and terms that precisely clarify the race controversy on the scientific plane. Of course, by that time, even if there is an established acceptance of the salience of intergroup differences, advances in biotechnology might begin to make the findings of pure science passe as bioengineering begins to reshape individuals and so shatter the constraints of old categories and destinies.
October 31, 2004
Embryos being screened for cancer in UK
Interesting, although short and somewhat uninformative, story about how IVF embryos are now being screened for signs of colon cancer in London.
Ethnic tensions in China?
Ethnic Clashes Erupt in China, Leaving 150 Dead. The story details the strife and rioting that occurred after a Hui taxi driver struck a Han girl and killed her. The Han are who we generally think of when we speak of "Chinese," and form between 90-95% of the China's population (some of the same tendencies that have occurred in the United States with Native American ancestry claims being boosted by cultural change and preferential policies have probably inflated the number of minorities in China). The Hui are "Chinese Muslims", in that unlike Uighers or Kazakhs, who are Turkic speaking Muslim citizens of China, the Hui speak the local Chinese dialect and are physically indistinguishable from the Han.1 In times past, there have been tensions and violence between Han and Hui, and during the late 19th century the Hui set up warlordships in Yunnan, but the Hui have also been used by the Chinese gtovernment as proxies in Turkic Muslim areas. This illustrates the peculiarity of Hui identity, among other Muslims their similarities to the Han are stark, while around the Han their Muslim religion (and pork avoidance) is most salient.
Why does this matter? China matters. No elaboration needed.
1 - The Hui are probably the descendents of Muslims who migrated to China and intermarried with local women. As such, some do display a phenotype that shows an influence from their Central and West Asian ancestors. Many Hui in fact claim that these atypical individuals are the archetypical exemplars of their group in terms of appearance. Additionally, there is evidence that a nontrivial number of Hui have been assimilated into the Han population, therefore the maxim "...the ancestors have eat no pork."
Halloween is no escape from politics
So in this superheated political season it should come as no surprise that political bloodlines are mingling with Halloween themes. Huh, you say.
In a roundabout way, let me explain. Surely you recall Razib's post that made the point that 8% of Asian men are descendents of Genghis Khan. Perhaps you also saw the Vice-Presidential debate, and by some stroke of luck you may also have read Daniel Ruth's column in the Tampa Tribune, where he wrote:
It was Edwards' mission to suggest to the electorate that Cheney is Vlad the Impaler, only without the sense of humor.
This is our first clue that something eerie was afoot. Either Ruth was prescient by catching a foggy vision a month before the rest of us, or Senator Edwards was missing his targets by one pay grade, for it turns out that the intrepid folks over at Ancestry.com have determined that both President Bush and Senator Kerry are related to Vlad the Impaler. Here are the family trees.
For those who doubt that both physical and behavioral traits are encoded in DNA they need look no further than to the two candidates. It seems clear that some heretofore undiscovered variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease must have passed down the Bush family tree, quite evidently from all of the imbibing of human blood that Vlad partook of in his day. And look at the cadevorous pallor, demeanor and humor that infects Kerry, surely the result of Vlad being one of the living dead.
The X-Chromosome Waltz*
Recent news about a possible ’gene for homosexuality’ on the X chromosome made me think a bit about the special factors influencing selection on the X and Y chromosomes. I may post more about that in future, but, as usual, I got sidetracked by a subsidiary issue.
There are more X than Y chromosomes in the population, and this has been claimed as relevant to their evolution. For example, Matt Ridley’s Genome says: ‘because females have two X chromosomes while males have an X and a Y, three-quarters of all sex chromosomes are Xs; one-quarter are Ys. Or, to put it another way, an X chromosome spends two-thirds of its time in females, and only one-third in males’. Ridley goes on to argue that this affects the competition between X and Y chromosomes. A weightier authority, W. D. Hamilton, also finds it important that an X chromosome spends only one-third of its time in males (Narrow Roads of Gene Land, vol. 1, p.146).
In some sense it is obviously true that on average an X chromosome spends two-thirds of its time in females (assuming equal numbers of males and females, and ignoring rarities like XYY males), but it wasn’t clear to me how the dynamics of chromosome transfer would work. For example, if in a given generation a particular allele on an X chromosome is by chance only found in females, will the frequency in subsequent generations tend towards two-thirds, and if so how?
Anyway, I couldn’t find anything on this point on a cursory look through my books, so I tried working it out myself….
First, suppose there is a newly arisen mutation on an X chromosome. If it arises first in a male, we can be certain that in the next generation, if it survives at all, it will be in a female, since any sperm containing an X chromosome causes the egg it fertilises (if any) to develop as a female.
If on the other hand it arises in a female (or has just entered one), it has a ½ chance of going into a male in the next generation, and a ½ chance of staying in a female. If it stays in a female, there is a ½ chance that it will go into a male in the third generation, and so on. Cumulatively there is a ½ chance that it will spend just one generation in a female, a ¼ chance that it will have just two consecutive generations in a female, a 1/8 chance that it will have three, and so on. The expected average number of unbroken consecutive generations in a female body is therefore 1/2 + 2/4 + 3/8 …. The value of this sum tends towards 2 as the number of generations considered increases [see Note]. It is therefore correct to say that on average a gene on an X chromosome will spend two generations in a female for every one in a male. This is what we would expect given the proportions in the population, but it is nice to be able to confirm it by a more direct line of argument. It also brings out the fact that the 2:1 ratio is only an average, and that from time to time an X gene may spend many consecutive generations in females, whereas it can never stay in a male for more than one. Whether this makes any difference in practice I don’t know, but in theory it might, e.g. because an X gene in a male has no kin-selective interest in that male’s sons.
So far this deals only with a single gene. But what about the frequency of all genes of a given type on X chromosomes among males and females in the population?
First, suppose that there are two gene variants (alleles) at a particular locus on the X chromosome. Call the original form of the gene A, and a recent variant B. Suppose that B is still very rare in the population, so that matings between B-males and B-females can be neglected. The genotypes in the population will therefore be AA , AB, AY and BY (where AY and BY are the genotypes of males with A and B alleles respectively on their X chromosome). For simplicity I make the usual assumption of random mating and separate generations. I use the term ‘B-bearer’ for any individual with a B allele.
Suppose now that in Generation 1 all the B-bearers are male. (Maybe the females all died.) The males have the genotype BY and mate with AA females, producing offspring of genotypes AY (male) and AB (female) in equal proportions. Therefore in Generation 2 the B-bearers are all AB females. These mate with AY males, and produce offspring of genotypes AA, AB, AY and BY in equal proportions. In Generation 3 there are therefore equal numbers of male and female B-bearers. These mate respectively with AA females and AY males (still neglecting the rare possibility of matings between B-bearers). The AA-BY matings produce ½ AB females and ½ AY males. The AB-AY matings produce offspring of genotypes AA, AB, AY and BY in equal proportions. In Generation 4 there are thus 3 AB females to every 1 BY male. Pursuing the same method of analysis, in Generation 5 there are 5 AB females to every 3 BY males, and so on. I have taken this to the 7th generation, with the following results:
Ratio.....................AB females : BY males
It is evident that the ratio of females to males among B-bearers is oscillating around the expected 2:1 ratio, but converging on it quite rapidly. The result is the same whether we start with a surplus of males or females. I do not have a formal proof of the convergence, but the general explanation is fairly clear. Any surplus of males (relative to the 2:1 expected ratio) in a given generation is immediately converted into a surplus of females in the next generation. The surplus of females is then converted into a surplus of males, but as AB females produce equal numbers of AB female and BY male offspring, only half of the female surplus is transferred to males at each stage. This acts as a ’damping’ influence on the oscillation. If the surplus of one sex in the first generation is Q (where Q is a proportion of the whole population) then the surplus in succeeding generations will be -Q/2, Q/4, -Q/8, Q/16, -Q/32, and so on. At the limit, when the ratio reaches 2:1, the proportions are in equilibrium, because the number of BY males created by AB females equals the number of AB females created by BY males. If the absolute numbers are small, there will of course be some random fluctuation around this ratio.
If the B allele is under positive selection, its frequency in the population will rise, and it will no longer be possible to neglect matings between B-bearing males and females. There will be 5 different genotypes in the population (AA, AB, BB, AY, and BY) and 6 different mating combinations (AA-AY, AA-BY, AB-AY, AB-BY, BB-AY, and BB-BY). This makes analysis more laborious, but I have checked that the system is in equilibrium when the distribution of B genes between females and males is in the ratio 2:1, and the genotypes of the females are in the Hardy-Weinberg proportions p^2:2pq:q^2, where p is the frequency of A, and q = 1-p is the frequency of B. Of course, since BB females have two copies of B, a ratio of 2:1 among genes no longer implies a ratio of 2:1 among individuals. At the extreme, when B has gone to fixation under selection, there are equal numbers of BB females and BY males. Matings between BB females and BY males preserve the equilibrium ratio of 2:1 among genes.
I dare say that to someone like G. H. Hardy this would all be obvious at a glance, but I’m not G. H. Hardy, and I found it quite intriguing to work out!
*a Waltz goes one-two-three, one-two-three….
1/2 = 1/2
The nth term of the series on the left-hand side has the form n/2^n, while the equations on the right-hand side expand each term in the manner shown. Now look down each column on the right-hand side and note that it is itself a regular series, with its sum tending to the limit 1/2^(c -1), where c is the column number (numbered from left to right, on the right-hand side of the equations). [Added: the columns come out ragged in this text format, so this is not as clear visually as I hoped.] The limits are shown on the bottom line. Moreover, these limits themselves form a series, the sum of which has the limit 2. Since all the terms on the right-hand side are positive, their sum must increase with increasing n, but it can never exceed the overall limit to the sum of the columns, i.e. 2. The sum 1/2 + 2/4 + 3/8 + 4/16 + 5/32.… therefore has a limit not greater than 2. To prove that the limit actually is 2, note that for any chosen finite value of n the sum of the terms in each column down to that value of n falls short of its limit by 1/2^n. There are n of these columns, so their total ’remainder’ is n/2^n. We must also allow for the columns that would appear further to the right if the series were extended beyond this choice of n. The total value of the terms of these ’invisible’ columns cannot exceed the limit of the sum of the last ‘visible’ column. Since the column number of the last ‘visible’ column is n, this limit is 1/2^(n -1). For any given finite n the sum of all the terms on the right-hand side, down to this value of n, therefore falls short of the upper limit 2 by not more than n/2^n + 1/2^(n -1). But it is evident that as n increases this maximum ’remainder’ tends to zero, therefore the series 1/2 + 2/4 + 3/8 + 4/16 + 5/32... tends to the limit 2. Q.E.D.