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March 22, 2003


I know I seem like a warblogger, and I promise I'll shift to something more esoteric and non-current-eventsy very soon, but check this table out on fatalities by profession. It ranges from 50 per 100,000 for cab-drivers to 100 per 100,000 for fisherman & loggers. Granted, there have surely been work related fatalities in the American military in the past year, but we've had about 30 fatalities so far, and perhaps we'll go up to 200-300 in the current campaign if we don't get into house-to-house fighting. How many fatalities occurred during the Afghan campaign? Look at this table of historic casualty rates. I don't do this to say that being a soldier is something that isn't a big deal-but for me, the "chickenhawk" insult seems less resonant taking into the account the changes that have been wrought by technology in the post-Vietnam era. Casualty rates seem to be approaching the order of magnitude of some of the more cvil dangerous professions. That is most certainly a good thing.

Posted by razib at 07:54 PM |


American Peace Activist Shocked Back To Reality (from Para Pundit). Also check out See men shredded, then say you don't back war. Now, I'm not going to say that the US government is invading Iraq for humanitarian reasons-how stupid do you think I am, George Bush the elder famously stood by and shut his eyes to slaughter and mayhem throughout southern Iraq 12 years ago. But from a perspective of compassion and ignoring the Realpolitik implications, it should be a no-brainer. Anti-death penalty activists often assert that those who favor the right of the state to kill should watch someone being executed. If they can't stand it, they shouldn't support the death penalty (pro-life activists make the same case when they display fetuses to people). Well, peace activists should perhaps look at pictures and listen to the tales of atrocity before they go out and march "for the Iraqi people." This is the most common refrain that I hear from the peace activists, that they are doing it "for the Iraqi people," and not their own righteous ego.

Let me qualify this by noting that I don't care about the Iraqi people that much. I always thought sanctions were pretty stupid, but I never marched against them or wasted my time over this sort of stuff. My concern is for friends and family first, Americans second, and the rest of the world later on. As you can see, I'm not a big believer in universal love a la Mo-Ti. If you read this blog my concern with the Iraqi invasion has more to do with the reprecussions that it might have for the American polity, not that we'll cause more suffering for the Arabs and Kurds. Gods know they've been through enough already that to "suffer" surely has a different meaning for them.

Nevertheless, living in an affluent town filled with liberals, the hearts have been bleeding all week. "For the Iraqi people," "War never solves any problems," "There has never been a good war," "We should find an alternative." Stop feeling, and think, just for one moment. We can't alleviate most of the world's suffering and barbarity, but if this act of gross-foreign-policy myopia (according to some) makes a difference, shouldn't you put the silly red paint bottle away and wash your hands for gods' sake!

On a personal and disturbing note, there is a woman that I am familiar with at the local Starbucks. She's a retiree from Brooklyn and I've heard her talk about how all her cousins were killed in the Holocaust. The other day, she was reading The Nation and ranting on about how war only causes more suffering and no war was ever a good war. I realized that if she couldn't get the dots, well, perhaps there is no hope for the Looney Left*.

* I'm not asserting that the United States intervened because of the liquidation of the Jewry during World War II. I have read that the allies strangely didn't bomb the camps and it seems clear that the liberation of the few Jews left was a side-effect of the wider war. Nevertheless, better a war save them then negotiations and inspections, no?

Posted by razib at 02:18 PM |

Funny, but un-PC

I've gotten mostly positive response (one negative) from forwarding this URL: http://www.tardblog.com.

Thanks to Jacqueline for pointing me in the right direction.

Posted by razib at 03:18 AM |

Sayyid Qutb

The New York Times Magazine has a long profile of the Karl Marx of Islamism. The conclusion is powerful:

The terrorists speak insanely of deep things. The antiterrorists had better speak sanely of equally deep things. Presidents will not do this. Presidents will dispatch armies, or decline to dispatch armies, for better and for worse.

But who will speak of the sacred and the secular, of the physical world and the spiritual world? Who will defend liberal ideas against the enemies of liberal ideas? Who will defend liberal principles in spite of liberal society's every failure? President George W. Bush, in his speech to Congress a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, announced that he was going to wage a war of ideas. He has done no such thing. He is not the man for that.

Philosophers and religious leaders will have to do this on their own. Are they doing so? Armies are in motion, but are the philosophers and religious leaders, the liberal thinkers, likewise in motion? There is something to worry about here, an aspect of the war that liberal society seems to have trouble understanding -- one more worry, on top of all the others, and possibly the greatest worry of all.

I feel privileged to have lived in a liberal society. Certainly, unlike many of my readers, I am just one generation removed from the ancient autocracy that characterizes the human condition. The modern day Left rarely speaks up for liberalism. The Right is of many minds on the subject (ranging from George W. Bush's incoherent multiculturalism to Jared Taylor's White Nationalism). But I see in the modern day American Right some who might champion a liberal conservatism, the preservation and conservation of freedoms hard won against the tides of retro-progress.

Posted by razib at 02:18 AM |

Blog changes and a warblog....

Something got corrupted on the old installation of MT I had. My webhoster swears they didn't do anything, but they did upgrade some Perl Modules-and it looks like there was a corruption in one of them. I don't have time to debug, so I've just installed another copy of MOVALBE TYPE. The old archive search can be found at the here. For those of you who are confused, this URL is actually different from the one you came to previously, I just switched the "DirectoryIndex" in the .htaccess file-basically, you are now redirected to a different file when you type http://www.gnxp.com. So, all the links on the old archives work & what not.

I'm going to be creating new users again for the other bloggers here. I have like 23 accounts, and I don't want to take time to make all of them at once. Additionally, my laptop broke AGAIN-so I don't have everyone's email addresses. I will be emailing those of you who post regularly on this blog with new accounts, if I don't email you, it is likely because I couldn't find your email address. Email me at razib-at-gnxp.com.

So, since I probably won't blog much this weekend, I want to add something content-wise.

Setting, local liberal talk show on NRP:

Caller: What happened to Rachel Corrie wouldn't have happend if women were in power.

Talkshow guy: Well, most men wouldn't have done that either.

Caller: Why do we have to make everyone like us? Why does everyone need democracy? I'm so angry about this war....

I've been ambivelant about this war from the start. Caution about these sort of projects is warranted. That being said, what atrocity is the Bush administration perpetrating? The caller in question obviously thinks Israeli society needs to change and conform to American norms, but for some reason, Arabs are fine as long as they live under non-Jewish dictatorship. I could go pinko and claim this was patronizing racism, but I think that the women who called in was frankly too stupid to think that far. Her rage was so strong that I could feel it over the radio. This seems real common.

Look, the reason we should be cautious about unilateral action isn't because it is going to be a humanitarian disaster. It isn't going to be. I was worried about Afghanistan, but now I'm convinced the American military averted famine. I suspect that 1 year from now Iraqi children will be very plump in comparison to their current state of malnutrition.

If you look at time, t, from 1 week ago to 3 weeks from now, about one month, I think you could assert that the Iraqi populace will suffer somewhat more because of the American invasion. If you evaluate t over the year, I think you will see that infant morality will drop and health will be at a higher state, so the utilitarian outcome is positive for the Iraqi people. 207 people have been listed as casualties. In a nation of 20 million people this is a pretty low total. We might get up to a few thousand, but many children will not die because of the aid that America will pump in. Remember the 1959 movie The Mouse That Roared? American conquest is the ticket to relative riches. Of course they'll resent us and kick us out in the long-term, but the Iraqi people will reap a short-term windfall. I'm not even going to get into the Hell-House Saddam has run for the past 20 years and the persecution of both Shia and Kurds. As t -> infinite of course, it won't really matter-we all die, and the universe decays (but even at t -> 100 years, the current invasion of Iraq counts for little against World War II or even Vietnam).

The problem of course is that we are pissing the rest of the world off-and though we are the "hyperpower," our life is going to be a lot harder without world cooperation. A lot of it is style after all, most nations are fine with letting us do the dirty work while they debate in the U.N. (remember Bosnia & Kosovo? Sure, the Eurpeans contributed Peace Keepers, but the US was the prime mover). The problem is that the forms must be adhered to. Perception is half of reality. I do worry about the lack of concern for world opinion that the Bush administration evinces, not because I think world opinion is worth shit as far as substance goes-I firmly believe that idiocy and ignorance are a human universal, but because 6 billion people seething with resentment and animosity because they feel like we don't care about their viewpoint will add up and bite us later.

But is it Realpolitik that the hard-Left has to resort to justify their righteous rage? They hate Bush, they detest him. I can feel the enmity walking down the street as people talk about how evil Bush is (Rachel Corrie has family in the local area). Sitting in coffee shops, people talk about the genocide that the American military is party to, but "not in our names!" they declare. Of course, the military won't commit a genocide, but that doesn't matter, the hatred is strong enough that a genocide will exist in their own minds and they'll seize upon the disruption in the north caused by the Turks as a result of American foreign policy.

Anyhow, I just thought I'd add my two cents to the debate.

One thing I'm clear on, if we screw the Kurds, we'll lose what little moral cover we have, that's for sure. We are invading to give our enemies a message about our serious intent-but if we start dumping our few allies when they are inconvenient, I am sure we will lose the war in the long term.

Posted by razib at 01:32 AM |

March 21, 2003

The Moron Majority

Charles Murtaugh comments on the "Moron Majority":

It is interesting that Rall, a liberal, is willing to be so open with his contempt for the average American. (Or, as a politico would put it, America's working men and women.) It raises a more generally-interesting question, of what obligation the non-moron elite owes to the moron majority. After all, most of our entitlement dollars go to supporting -- placating? -- that majority. What idiot doesn't plan for his own retirement? Oh, yeah, that would be most of the country. What kind of fool hasn't learned to read by the time they get out of high school? What kind of mouth-breather hasn't figured out that they would be better off saving money than gambling it in the lottery? Um, well, let's not go there: better not to alienate too much of the Democratic base.

1) A lot of the "Morons" have college educations-these aren't "working Americans" as working class.

2) The Morons are Left, Right and Center, stupidity has no political affiliation, really!

Posted by razib at 10:03 AM | | TrackBack

The Master Race

It is not well known, but the Shia of southern Iraq and Iran belong to different sub-sects of the Twelver Shia sub-sect. With that in mind, from The Economist:

Top theologians, even inside Iran, prefer aloofness from worldly affairs to the late Ayatollah Khomeini's doctrine of placing worldly power in the hands of a single senior cleric. Non-Iranian Shias dream of restoring the scholarly pre-eminence of Najaf at the expense of the ayatollah's hometown, Qom. “It is in our genes as Arabs to claim rightful leadership of the faith,” says Bayan Jabur, a SCIRI official in Damascus.

When I was a child in upstate New York, the local mosque had sponsored a visit by a learned man from Yemen to give us a sermon. The mosque was 3/4 non-Arab [1]. All the non-Arabs had headphones because he was going to give the sermon in Arabic and someone would translate for us. The sheik looked a bit confused & annoyed. Before he gave the sermon, he decided to give us a long lecture (30 minutes) about how "all true Muslims know Arabic. It is the tongue of the prophet, the language of God." He was positively distraught and seemed like he was going to shed tears as to the blasphemy of it all (in hindsight, how learned could this guy be to be shocked that non-Arab Muslims didn't know Arabic fluently???). I was 9 or so, and rather confused. My father and all the other non-Arabs were stoic about it. After he was done bitching us out he gave us his sermon, though grudgingly. He talked about how Muslims would go paradise would conquer all before them at some point-standard fare-nothing our imam, who was a nice guy, didn't tell us every week (OK, my family generally went on the holidays, though my dad showed up now and then). No one complained about the outburst except for the big black burly guy who drove the bus for the "Sunday School"-I could hear him bitching out our iman about why we spent money on this guy when he totally disrespected us. In Mauratania & Sudan, states with large non-Arab indigenous populations, the Arabs enslave those not genetically destined to rule (the Berbers of Morocco and Algeria aren't quit treated the same, though there must be a reason that they tend to oppose Islamists). In the Gulf Arabs treat the Indians, Filipinos & other non-Arabs (and Arabs from non-oil countries to be fair) like indentured servants. The Filipinos, as dirty non-Muslims, have the privilege of being beaten and raped now & then (non-Muslims are screwed in their legal systems often). How do I know this? Not just reading about in the papers, a Saudi student came up to me in college and explained to me how he liked Bangladeshis since we cleaned ourselves, and weren't dirty & lazy like the Filipinos who needed to be beaten to get work out of them. I think we can understand why the Kurds are one of the few philo-Semitic Muslim groups-they have lived under Arab domination [2].

Muslims in South Asia are correct to criticize Hindus for their revolting pre-modern caste system. On the other hand, they must admit that a tacit caste system exists amongst Muslims. Sayyids, descendents of the prophet, have cachet. Arabs are respected as teachers, and their version of Islam, generally pushed by the Gulf Arabs with their Wahabbism, is given precedence over the interpretations of non-Arabs (Turkish Sufism for instance). Southeast Asians like Mahathir Mohammed might talk about taking leadership of the faith, but I've heard Malays talk about how their Islam is better than that practiced by their Indian brothers because they received it directly from the Arabs [3]. I've talked to idiot Bangladeshis who take pride in their Arab ancestors, real or made up (our non-Indian ancestors are far more likely to have been Persian, Afghan or Turkish-and most Muslim Bangladeshis are no different than Hindu Bengalis in India). My father, a moderate on religious questions, admits that Arabic is the "most beautiful language in the world," but he goes on to declare that "its grammatical structure is perfect and pure." He did speak Arabic fluently as a child, so I don't know whether to believe him or not. Islam is the brotherhood of believers, and it practices that quite a bit. Nonetheless, I feel that Muslims, especially the malwali people (the converted people-of course, Arabs had to convert at some point too!) , tend to downplay that there is a stratification and perception of spiritual purity.

[1] The division of labor at the mosque: the Arabs were Sunday School teachers and and religious functionaries, the blacks drove the buses and did all the low level work necessary to keep things going and the South Asians provided the financing. This was in the mid-1980s when the South Asian community had a higher portion of college and post-grad educated types, not many cab drivers and what not at the mosque.

[2] Saddam in his speech last night talked about the attack on the "Arab nation." Iraq is a member of the Arab League. This neglects the fact that the Kurds are 25% of the population and speak an Indo-European language. The Baath Arab nationalist ideology by definition excludes these native Iraqis but reaches out to Arabs in other nations.

[3] North Indian Muslims did get their Islam from the Turks and Persians. Turkic and South Asian Sunnis share the liberal Hanafi legal tradition. They dealt with non-Muslims, so the stricter types would tend to be more difficult to jive with dhimmi and often pagan peoples that these rulers dominated. Some South Indian Muslims though probably get their Islam from Arab traders, for instance, the Mopillas of Kerala, that form about 20% of that state's population. Additionally, the Malays got their Islam from a host of sources, including, Indian, often Gujarati, merchants-in addition to the Persian and Arab influences. Mahathir Mohammed's father was an Indian Muslim, so he is probably aware of this.

Posted by razib at 01:00 AM | | TrackBack

March 20, 2003

Love & Cousin Marriage

Brown person Zack Ajmal is working on a series on marriage in the Muslim world. See here, here and here.

Good complement to the ParaPundit post titled Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development (all related articles here). Add to this a recent Ann Marlowe piece on the importance of the circle-of-cousins in Afghan culture. She indicates quite clearly that it acts on a block to the development of what we in the West would view was a fully-fleshed civil society and government.

Guns, strong familial circles of support and a history of decentralization, yet Afghanistan is not a libertarian paradise. Clearly, liberty as we understand it requires some preconditions. Yes, I'm sure clear to all you sage readers, but if I had told myself that 4 years ago, I would have shot back with a whole flood of inferences from a few axioms rooted in Natural Rights.

Update: Steve Sailer had a good article on this too that was printed in The American Conservative, I don't recall it ever being linked to on his blog but I just found it online. -JM

Posted by razib at 04:35 PM | | TrackBack

The Conservative Crack-Up Part N

David Frum slams paleos. He mentions The Occidental Quarterly. First, Steve Sailer, and now the TOQ? Some little boy has been really naughty, reading up on verboten materials....

Posted by razib at 02:47 AM | | TrackBack


Whenever I look to in the MOVABLE TYPE activity log I end up seeing search terms-and it seems that someone is always looking for a picture of me (not the same person, I check the IP addresses). Look to the left now, my baby and non-baby picture linked up there. I'll replace the non-baby one in the spring when the sun is back and my past-brown pallor is warmed up by some rays.

Update: Someone, I think a Canadian, is did another search for my picture. Is this some joke? I know Canadians have good senses of humor....

Posted by razib at 02:09 AM | | TrackBack

Sign of the times

Fall 1996: "Show me the money!"
Spring 2003: "Shock & awe"

If I hear those words paired one more time, I'm going to tear someone's throat out.

Posted by razib at 12:16 AM | | TrackBack

Hope spring forth, or does it?

Dr. Greg Cochran on the possibility of gene frequencies shifting in populations leading to changes in phenotype (eg; IQs going up and down yo-yo style over thousands of years):

Look, _nobody_ thinks about this. I'm not just talking about people who want to celebrate their ancestors' real or imagined achievements.

If you really want to understand long-range historical trends, assuming that that is even possible, you're going to have to take selection over historical time into account. Or so it seems to me.

OK, I know Greg is working on a quantitative study of Ashkenazi Jews in this context (or so I gather from his comments). Kevin MacDonald's work focuses on the group selection strategy having a eugenic effect. Does anyone know of other studies? David Sloan Wilson has done some work on Overseas Chinese (I am reading a book on what I now know is the great transnational crime racket that is the Chinese Diaspora).

I have shot-the-shit and talked to friends about possibilities that different historical experiences have had on discrete populations. Myopia for instance comes to mind (imagine a Chinese guy wearing glasses, and an Australian Aborigine wearing glasses, and reflect on which mental image seems a little ridiculous). But do these selection pressures apply anymore today? Famine is now man-made (in other world, chains of supply from surplus to deficit regions are blocked by political barriers). Many people seem to agree that for the past few generations in the modern West the "lower orders" have been more prolific.

Update: Some readers might be interested in this site: http://www.cashforbirthcontrol.com.

Posted by razib at 12:11 AM | | TrackBack

March 19, 2003

If this is degeneration....

From Pontikos exposed: "3. Pontikos says that race-mixing is actually a good thing and has very positive effects!;"

Kristin Kreuk, Sino-Dutch Canadian.

Posted by razib at 10:51 PM | | TrackBack

Characters & letters

An observation-it seems that the idea of writing has appeared many times. The Maya, and likely the Near Easterners & Chinese stumbled upon the concept without outside input (there is a possibility that the Chinese were influenced by western Eurasia). Chinese writing comes from oracle bones & Near Eastern writing from the clay token accounting system, not quite the original idea that characters developed from pictures. The Inca with their quipu account system would probably have also advanced to literacy. On the other hand, phonetic script, which makes writing more than the preserve of scribes, seems to have been invented just once among the Aramaeans and Phonecians [1]. It spread by cultural diffusion from one end of Eurasia to the other by a chain so that Mongolian, Khmer and the Latin script all share a common ancestor amogn the city-states of Syria [2].

[1] The transition from the more archaic written systems to the alphabet was a quantum leap in efficiency. Likewise, the introduction of the codex, paper and finally the printing press has made universal literacy a possibility. Scribes of Sumeria were more like the rocket scientists of their day, dealers in a rare and precious art that required years of study of arcana.

[2] Mongolian was forced to become Cyrillic, and I now believe it is Latin, but its original script came from the Uighers (who I assume now use Arabic, though I'm not sure).

Posted by razib at 10:27 PM | | TrackBack

Against the stamp collectors

Dienekes deconstructs pan-European racialists. He points out the problems caused by centers of reference and drawing lines on an arbitrary basis (or being influenced by non-anthropological criteria). To be mislabelled is a common occurance for many people, and if an individual of group A can confuse someone of group B as one of their own (or vice versa), then there needs to be a closer examination of the basis for any given taxonomic division.

If the oldest European civilizations were situated in the heart of Europe, in the region of modern Bavaria, Austria and Bohemia, the pan-European racialists would have a much easier time. They could dismiss Greeks as peripheral and only marginally European. Unfortunately, Greece serves as one of the main taproots for western culture, and the deepest to boot. The Romans, who served as models for European states and empire-builders for 2,000 years were also a southron people, though probably somewhat more physically diverse [1]. Northern & central Europeans can not cut the southerners off from the movement with any ease simply because much of what makes Europe what it is came from the south (Christian religion primarily, but also Civil Law, and inspiration for the Renaissance). On the other hand, Europeans with less historical heft can be demonized, so the Russians have often been portrayed as semi-Asiatic in nature to explain their despotic traditions and alien ways. Similarly, even the Germans were depicted as "Huns," harking back to a people of Oriental origins and pagan brutality.

Minor note: I've been linking a lot to Dienekes, so much that some will accuse me of being a Hellenic stooge! In fact, I think that the Perl editor I used to use was made by a Greek company...connections, connections. So I offer this link Pontikos Exposed, brought to you by your local anti-Mud Clearinghouse Stormfront. To be fair, I do think Dienekes is a bit of a Hellenophile who tends to see his own people as the apex of creation (and can't help but get some swipes in at "Nordicists" and rehash ancient ideas of his people being the Golden Mean), but, he is a Greek-and they frankly have a lot to be proud of. When was the last time you heard a Greek claiming that The Pharoh was an Achaean or that an ancient Indian philosopher had an Athenian father? They don't need to do that, not when you have 3,500 years (minus a Dark Age) of literate history to draw upon. Contrast this with the Hinduvata movement that has a bizarre tendency to always assert somehow that "it all started in India," (the ludicrous claims about nuclear weapons in ancient India as recorded by the Mahabharata). I can give Afro-centrists some slack for claiming Hannibal and Rameses II as "great black men" because black Africa had little in the way of literate centralized statecraft and if you need to believe your ancestors were great builders of cities but they were mostly at a pre-literate neolithic level, some white lies are understandable. But folk of the land of The Kama Sutra (brown people having sex-yuck!) shouldn't need to resort to fantasy and falsehood. True, they were running around half-naked before my paternal grandfather's foreskinless forbears came sweeping down out of the highlands of Turan introducing prudery, but those ornate temples with golden calfs required a great deal of taxation, alms and general injustice and despotism, so Indians can be proud, tyranny is part of their patrimony (and the idols melted so well, all the better to make ingots that could finance the building of clean mosques!) . No need to go one up everyone and claim that they had their hands on nuclear weapons before whitey!

[1] Dienekes has a fair take down of John V. Day's contention that the proto-Indo-Europeans were fair-haired peoples who were later absorbed by swarthy indigenes in the ancient world. Dienekes criticises Day for noting the first 19 Roman Emperors as being rather light in color compared to what we perceive Italians to be, for of course, many of these individuals were related and so would not be a random sample of the Roman elite. The first five were members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caesars gens, the Julii, were notoriously fair-haired, as Gauis Julius Caesar himself was. Augustus had reddish blonde hair while the last of his line, Nero, was also a blonde. Of the later Emperors, none of them were from old Roman stock (from the patrician & plebian nobility of the City), so to use them as exemplars of the Aryan ideal among the Latins is somewhat peculiar (there were still some non-Indo-European tribes in Italy during the late Republic aside from the Etruscans, so "Latin" was still a far narrower term in that age). The Flavians were Italian lumpen by origin (and related, father and two sons). The Antonines were of mixed provenance, but they were all provincials after Nerva, Roman stock mixed with Spanish and Gaulish (and related by marriage and extended family ties). I don't wish to harp on this point, but I do simply because 19 is a small sample. That they were mostly related and most of the later ones were not by blood connected to the ancient Roman aristocracy makes Day's point rather mute. And why did Day stop at Commodus? Well, after a period of chaos, the Libyan-Syrian dynasty of the Severrans comes to the for, so this was the point with Mr. Day probably would want to draw the line (They were of polygot partial Italian origin as well, but the busts of Septimius Severus seem to indicate he would not stand out in modern day Tripoli as far as features go). He isn't as extreme as Afro-Centrists trying to prove that the Sumerians were black because they called themselves the "black-headed people," but I certainly knew what his conclusion was going to be (The essay was an interesting read of course)....

Posted by razib at 01:49 AM | | TrackBack

March 18, 2003

Pretty ring finger

Catallaxy Files points me to this research:

Men whose ring fingers are much longer than their index fingers tend to have irregular, masculine features, such as the singer Lyle Lovett.

But men whose index and ring fingers are roughly the same length are more likely to have symmetrical faces, such as the even-featured Brad Pitt.

In women the opposite was found. Those with index fingers longer than ring fingers tend to have asymmetrical faces.

Like everyone else, I'm looking at my fingers now.

Posted by razib at 02:26 PM | | TrackBack

Foggy Dew in the Desert?

Is it just a coincidence that Bush announced his intention to send us to off on a holy war on St. Patrick's Day? Maybe W sees himself as an inspired missionary to drive the snakes out of the Middle East.

God save us from the squalor of war.

Posted by duende at 11:11 AM | | TrackBack

Just a bit less scared....

Many updates on SARS from Randall Parker.

Sex with Cantonese women....

Posted by razib at 04:04 AM | | TrackBack

Universal Grammar [part I]

Marc Miyake of the blog Amritas (on our permalinks) had an article up on FrontPage yesterday blasting Chomsky's Universal Grammar. His thesis is that UG is just another intellectual virus of the post-modern left. In it he quotes another of our favorite bloggers, Joanne Jacobs, who relates her school-day dissatisfaction with old Noam as well:

Structural linguistics was required for a degree in English at Stanford. I put it off till my last semester; finally I had to take the class. It consisted of uncritical worship of Noam Chomsky. I kept disrupting class by asking questions: Why do we believe this is true? Just because Chomsky says so? How do we know he's right? Why is this class required?

So how about it, is UG the new Freudism, just another high falutin academic fad, or is the majority linguistic paradigm really deserving of its special regard within university hallways? Marc is adamant that it is the former:

Prior to Chomsky, linguists engaged in a lot of data collection to understand the diversity of human language. I'm vehemently anti-PC, but in this case, I think the word 'diversity' is justified. There's a lot out there, and someone's got to catalog it.

However, Chomsky rejected this approach. He wanted to look into something deeper' (academese for 'pretentious and nonexistent'). So he invented something called 'universal grammar' which is somehow programmed into us at birth.

Unfortunately this is all highly misleading. Tailored for a political audience of a certain persuasion[1], Marc would like to convey the story in a way that makes Chomsky out to be the left-wing baddie (that the audience is already prepared to think of him as) who subverts decent American science. In Marc's moralized version the 'good' linguists were going about their proper duties collecting all kinds of data, while the 'bad' linguist decides to self-indulgently taint the field with PoMo gibberish (something FrontPage readers already outraged by Chomsky's radical politics will be eager to accept). But what Frontpage readers won't know is that the role Chomsky played was exactly the opposite- it was the gibberish he helped to contradict. Despite his poor reputation among modern conservatives, it should be made clear that Noam Chomsky was among the first to raise a serious challenge to the hegemony of the Boas school of thinking which denied the concept of a human nature and taught the infinite malleability of man.

What Marc doesn't tell you is that all the other linguists, like so many at the time, were radical environmentalists (Skinnerists) who believed in the infinite variety of human language- that there was no form that human language couldn't deviate from. Chomsky wasn't being pretentious when he volunteered to "look deeper", he was looking for the answer to pertinent question: Is language infinitely changeable, or does human language have fundamental commonality? Chomsky is a scientific hero b/c he dared to stand up, at a time when almost no one else dared, and question if an essential part of being human was innate.[2] I’ll let Steve Pinker summarize (far better than I could) the theoretical strength of Chomsky's theory of language:

Language is a human instinct. All societies have complex language, and everywhere the languages use the same kinds of grammatical machinery like nouns, verbs, auxiliaries, and agreement. All normal children develop language without conscious effort or formal lessons, and by the age of three they speak in fluent grammatical sentences, outperforming the most sophisticated computers. Brain damage or congenital conditions can make a person a linguistic savant while severely retarded, or unable to speak normally despite high intelligence. All this has led many scientists, beginning with the linguist Noam Chomsky in the late 1950's, to conclude that there are specialized circuits in the human brain, and perhaps specialized genes, that create the gift of articulate speech.[3]

Acquiring language is not a normal mental problem. Everyone sees small children pick up language so effortlessly that they might not realize how impossible a problem it is. No one would expect a three-year old to master calculus, it couldn’t be done! But when a three year old learns grammar he is doing something much more complicated, and w/o effort. Children must learn the rules of their native grammar (whatever it might be) through a limited set of sample sentences that they hear. This limited information is mathematically insufficient for determining grammatical principles (Linguists working on a language for decades cannot figure out what a small child does in a few short years). This is what is called "The paradox of language acquisition". The normal computational function of the brain is insufficient to explain how children are able to do this- UG is the best current solution. Marc isn’t much interested in providing an alternative in his article though. He continues:

There are innumerable problems with [UG]. For starters:

Where did this 'universal grammar' come from, and how did it end up becoming part of our biology? Not many Chomskyans are interested in evolutionary biology. 'Universal grammar' simply IS. (I myself suspect that there may be a universal grammar sans scare quotes, but I doubt that it has much in common with Chomskyan 'universal grammar'.)

The claim that, "Not many Chomskyans are interested in evolutionary biology." is an utter falsehood. Evolutionary biologists_love_the idea of universal grammar. Evolutionary biologists swear by universal grammar. Tooby and Cosmides essentially developed their evolutionary psychological model off of Chomsky's idea. Instead of one undifferentiated mass, scientists began, largely thanks to Chomsky, to imagine the brain as a sort of Swiss army knife, with many specialized sub-systems adapted for unique problems; and in many ways this view of the brain has found powerful evidentiary support. Marc confuses viable questions as damning critiques. It isn’t necessary to know any of the things Marc asks before UG can be useful as a theoretical solution (although they would certainly enrich the theory). In fact many evolutionary biologists are searching for those answers, and with progressive success. Theoretical Biologist Martin A. Nowak (Princeton) is one important scientist who is looking into the role of language in human evolution (and the role of evolution in human language). The beginning of the answer to Marc’s questions can be found in Nowak’s 2001 paper in the journal Science titled the Evolution of Universal Grammar.

[Part II later. . .]

[1] Marc got all sorts of props for this article over at the FreeRepublic, which is world-famous for its concern with issues relating to neurological theories of syntax :P

[2] Similarly, around the same time, it was widely assumed that facial expressions could vary arbitrarily and w/o limit until psychologist Paul Ekman demonstrated that facial emotions had continuity across all cultures. Don’t ask me how, but somehow it’s "programmed into us at birth".

[3] Seven years after Pinker penned that introduction in The New Republic the first of such language genes was found.

Posted by Jason Malloy at 02:17 AM | | TrackBack

March 17, 2003

Brainboard 3

I visit the Brainboard 3 fairly regularly as it sometimes has quite fascinating discussion on cognitive science and IQ-related issues. It's one of the few sites besides GNXP which takes a lively interest in such matters, though without the HBD aspect. However, there appears to be some quite knowledgeable people there and I've noticed that the usual suspects (Eysenck, Rushton, et al) get cited there from time to time. The regular posters are currently talking about average IQ of Indian Institute of Technology students and if you scroll down further there's quite a long thread on whether and how you can estimate the IQ of talk show hosts (!) based on the idea that g is correlated with working memory.

Posted by jason_s at 04:15 PM | | TrackBack

Change of terminology needed

I hear people talking about "International Law," all the time, they should change it to Civilized Norms-because no one bleats about "International Law" where savagery reigns-to whom much is given, much is required....

Posted by razib at 02:22 PM | | TrackBack

French people make me smile

Seems like the Quebecky-Frenchies are going Protestant [1] and dabbling with eugenics:

Quebecers who have a child, within five years of finishing college or university, would be eligible for a 50-per-cent refund of their student loans if the Parti Québécois is re-elected April 14, Premier Bernard Landry announced yesterday.

The Parti Québécois, for those of you who don't care, is the nationalist party up there in Franco-America. It has a traditionally social democratic slant when you subtract the hard-core Anglophobia (just like the Scottish National Party in fact).

I found this via appalled Latinist Evan McElravy.

I want to cut to the chase-does anyone know of a study that has surveyed how much money we would have to push toward a smart woman to make her agree to get pregnant and pop out a kid with decent diction and a non-sexually predatory reproductive strategy?

For my fellow wack-jobs who have no sense of politically correct decency or ostrich-head-in-the-sand-syndrome, could you postulate an equation that would spit out appropriate remuneration for an individual having a child that is proportional to some measure of g?

How about this:
y = x/(IQ percentile) - x

This way people of average intelligence would get a minimum standard of living, while those at the right end of the bell curve would make bank. And let us not speak of those to the left....

{Please take this all with a grain of salt-I was putting on my social engineer's cap-when bareheaded I tend to frown upon government intervention with anything copulation-associated}

[1] The eugenics programs were resisted pretty well by Catholic nations-they went farthest in Protestant countries, or nations with dominant Protestant majorities.

Posted by razib at 04:29 AM | | TrackBack

The athlete with the best body?

You gotta check this out. This girl is insane!

Posted by razib at 03:52 AM | | TrackBack

Why hairy?

The_Alpha_Male emailed me today about something we had been talking about earlier-why are some groups more hirsute then others? He watched the ice age documentary on human evolution on The Discovery Channel (standard PC pap masquarading the more realist implications) and it mentioned that hair might have been detrimental when it became wet and frozen (ergo Northeast Asians are not very hairy). Of course, that would imply that northern Europeans should be less hairy than their southron brethren or the peoples of the Levant. I invite you to do some research and come back with what you find [1]. OK, you get my point, something is fishy in this explanation.

Anyone hear of anything more plausible? I think it probably has to do with neoteny, as in my experience people continue to get more & more body hair as they age (past puberty obviously). I think this is analogous to northern Europeans who tend to lose their blondeness after puberty.

[1] Woe unto he who fetishes hairy wide-hipped Chinese women....

Posted by razib at 02:25 AM | | TrackBack

Admin Stuff

Hey all. I just got done making a minimalist discussion board at the http://mob.gnxp.com subdomain. Probably buggy, so email me at .com if you find something wacked. I decided to take a Spolskyian tack to enable maximum expressive ability and cut down on "bells & whistles." But I do record the IP addresses of anyone posting, so be warned trolls :)

In any case, the new discussion forum now has a link where "trackback" used to be. We discuss enough taboo topics that people don't want to be trackbacked to this blog, so it really hasn't been of much use. The comments are still great of course, but there will be a slight change. I'm a pretty liberal guy when it comes to expression, but from now on I'm going to just delete impolite messages. I know it's kind of priggish, but I don't want the comment board to become the usenet. Content & substance of any kind is still fine, but some things will need to be repackaged if you don't want them returned-to-sender. That doesn't mean I'm banning anyone-just letting people know where the limits are without giving warnings. If you want to make more normatively charged (that is a polite way for saying rude) statements, take it to the discussion board. I'm not going to police it too much aside from yanking out insane trolls & spam.

This is going to be important, because at some point I am going to reopen the "Jewish Question." Personally, I seem one of the less interested in this topic-but I want to tackle it simply because it always seems to degenerate and explode in a way none of the other ones have. If we can't have a reasonable discussion, I might just disable comments on all posts I deem "controversial." God I feel like a Nazi-pig, which would be OK if I had a leggy blonde awaiting me, but unfortunately not....

Posted by razib at 01:21 AM | | TrackBack

March 16, 2003

New blog

Welcome Dienekes' blog to the HBD permlinks to the left....

Posted by razib at 06:53 PM | | TrackBack

Group Selection

Just finished the first half of Unto Others by Sober & Wilson, which deals with group selection and evolutionary theory. Very well worth the read (I suspect I'll be a bit slow about finishing the second half which deals with psychology). Reflections after the intellectual digestion finishes, but I must say that the individual selectionism that I was taught as an undergraduate is easier to grasp and theoretically more elegant than the "multilevel selection" paradigm that David Sloan Wilson is championing, so his position will probably need an avalanche of evidence before it is more widely accepted.

Posted by razib at 06:41 PM | | TrackBack

Babylonian Booty

Two articles in Newsweek you should check out. One titled Babylonian Booty goes over the peril to ancient (we're talkin' 5,000 years old ancient) sites. Then, there is Fareed Zakaria's The Arrogant Empire, which indicates that style is more of a problem with the administration's foreign policy than substance....

(There really needs to be a book titled How the Sumerians saved civilization by creating it!)

Posted by razib at 03:42 PM | | TrackBack