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June 21, 2003

Brown love(?) & marriage

Article on changes to the practice of arranged marriage among young BOSCOs [1].

Read Zack Ajmal's blog on this topic a few weeks back for background.

[1] BOSCO = Briton of Subcontinental Origin.

Posted by razib at 11:00 PM | | TrackBack

Queering Islam

Ikram Saeed links to a Queer Muslim conference. Yeah.

The article Ikram linked to had this image as an advert on the left bar:

I just wanted to pass along the blasphemy to any orthodox Muslims reading this site....

Also, Ikram highlights this woman:

So, in the fall of 1999, witnessed by two of my closest friends -- a gay leatherman and a queer, cross-dressing Sikh, my partner and I declared the Shahada at one of the most conservative Orthodox mosques in Toronto.

Following the initial euphoria of what we deemed our spiritual “reversion” to Islam, came the culture shock that our newly embraced spiritual path was part of a cultural appendage full of expectations circumscribed by tradition.

Oh, she was shocked, was she?!?! Personally, this woman seems like a crack-addicted twit, but who am I to pass judgement on other people's mental illnesses? God-speed & all that, she'll need it.

Update from Jason M: On a related note, check out this article from the latest Reason about how our MTV brand of music-video sexiness is slipping into the popular culture in many Muslim nations. Go here and watch Indonesian super-diva Inul shake that fat ass for Secular Democracy!

Posted by razib at 03:53 PM | | TrackBack

June 20, 2003

Genius Machine?

Andy @ World Wide Rant blogs about a machine that might give one savant like abilities. Weird. Wacky. And cool!

Jason S. comments
I find Snyder's theory of autism as discussed in the article quite interesting because it proposes a different 'root cause' and defining characteristic of the condition than that promoted by the better known researcher Simon Baron-Cohen.

According to Snyder's theory:

Autistic thought isn't wholly incompatible with ordinary thought, he says; it's just a variation on it, a more extreme example.

He first got the idea after reading ''The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,'' in which Oliver Sacks explores the link between autism and a very specific kind of brain damage. If neurological impairment is the cause of the autistic's disabilities, Snyder wondered, could it be the cause of their geniuslike abilities, too? By shutting down certain mental functions -- the capacity to think conceptually, categorically, contextually -- did this impairment allow other mental functions to flourish? Could brain damage, in short, actually make you brilliant?

In a 1999 paper called ''Is Integer Arithmetic Fundamental to Mental Processing? The Mind's Secret Arithmetic,'' Snyder and D. John Mitchell considered the example of an autistic infant, whose mind ''is not concept driven. . . . In our view such a mind can tap into lower level details not readily available to introspection by normal individuals.'' These children, they wrote, seem ''to be aware of information in some raw or interim state prior to it being formed into the 'ultimate picture.'''

In other words, autism as hyper-concrete thinking.

On the other hand according to the better known theory popularised by Baron-Cohen:

people with autism may have an extreme of the male brain - good at systemising, very bad at empathising - and that studying autism with E-S theory in mind, can help increase our understanding of the condition.

Two largest sub-groups of autism are classic autism, and Asperger syndrome. Both share certain features: a difficulty in developing social relationships; a difficulty in communication; the presence of unusually strong, narrow interests; and a strong adherence to routines.

They differ in that in classic autism, the person might have an IQ at any point on the scale (even in the learning disabled range) and the person invariably had a language delay as a toddler. In Asperger syndrome, the person is always at least average in IQ (and may be well above average), and talked on time as a toddler. Autism spectrum conditions affect about one child in every 200, with males being far more likely than to be diagnosed.

What's interesting is that the obsessional interests that people with autism spectrum conditions show often focus on a system. It may be an intense preoccupation with light switches in the house, or running water from the taps in different sinks in the house. For their long-suffering parents, these "obsessions" can be very hard to cope.

But according to the E-S theory the child may simply be focusing on the tiny details in the system - how fast the water flows when the tap is turned to different angles, or which lights go on when different switches are in the up or down position - using their intelligence to work out the underlying rules that govern the system. The characteristic approach they take is to home in on a topic or area of knowledge, and comb it for every detail, until they feel they've covered most if not all of the information available. The "obsession" might last weeks, months, or even years. And then typically, they move on to a new area to master.

Now, these two explanations aren't necessarily mutually exclusive because these two conditions aren't mutually exclusive up to some limit. But in the case of the autistic condition we are talking about particular traits being exhibited to an extreme degree - so which is it? Isn't an extreme deficiency in being able to think at some higher order gestalt level (and to only be able to focus at the level of concrete details) which Snyder proposes as the defining characteristic of autism somewhat at odds with the obsessive interest in systematising about 'things' which Baron-Cohen's theory proposes as the defining characteristic of autism? Given this tension, Snyder's theory seems to be a safer bet as an explanation because
1) it now seems to have been subject to empirical testing. Snyder used his theory to predict that making people's brains more autistic would give them a better ability to perceive concrete details that tend to be overlooked when the brain processes information normally by abstracting details into a general picture
2) Snyder's theory seems more internally consistent and open to testing. For instance, what autism researchers can agree on is that autistic people fail to develop a 'theory of the mind' about the people they interact with. They fail to attribute internal states to others. Snyder's theory would say this is because they are deficient in 'connecting the dots' in the first place. Baron-Cohen's theory could be invoked to say it's because they're not into 'people'. Snyder's theory seems to be the better explanation because of the implications that follow from each. For instance, one perverse implication of Baron Cohen's theory is that Einstein and Newton were semi-autistic:

Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton were geniuses but British scientists believe they may have suffered from Asperger syndrome (AS), a form of autism.

The condition, first described by Viennese physician Hans Asperger in 1944, is a disorder that causes deficiencies in social and communication skills and obsessive interests.

But it does not affect learning or intellect and many people with AS have exceptional talents or skills.

Although it is impossible to make a definitive diagnosis in people who are dead, Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University and Ioan James of Oxford University studied the personalities of Einstein and Newton to see if the two scientists had symptoms of AS.

Now, the idea that Einstein and Newton, two supreme generalisers who contributed to science because they looked beyond disconnected concrete details, were autistic, seems completely absurd to me. Also note the way they attempt to 'explain away' contradictions:

Although Einstein made friends and spoke out on political issues, Mr Baron-Cohen suspects he showed signs of Asperger syndrome.

"Passion, falling in love and standing up for justice are all perfectly compatible with Asperger syndrome," he told the weekly science magazine.

"What most people with AS find difficult is casual chatting - they can't do small talk," he said

Karl Popper, call your office!

Perhaps Baron-Cohen's E-S (empathising-systematising) spectrum is picking up something that can be manifested at an extreme level and then gets diagnosed as a pathology. But it would seem to be a different kind of pathology from autism. In which case, is the Asperger's scare in Silicon Valley also a result of this misdiagnosis, perhaps a consequence of 'empathising' psychologists who think that people who don't share their interests are mad?

Posted by razib at 10:25 PM | | TrackBack

June 19, 2003

Al Qaeda in Columbus

Day 3 in Columbus and the locals news is exploding with stuff about the trucker that was an Al Qaeda mole. This sort of thing is a scary development for American Muslims and brown skinned people in general....

On a different note, did you know that Columbus was Ohio's biggest city!

Posted by razib at 08:06 PM | | TrackBack

June 18, 2003

Y chromosomal weirdness

The Y chromosome has some interesting tricks up its sleeve to not get turned into a totally mutated wack.

Posted by razib at 08:22 PM | | TrackBack

Genetics online

The MIT OCW "Course 7.03: Genetics" from MIT Professors Chris Kaiser and David Page features 36 Lecture notes addressing the structure and function of genes, chromosomes, and genomes. Also offered: "The 7.03 Bible," a set of detailed study guides, problem sets, and exams from 1993 through 2001.

Posted by martin at 09:34 AM | | TrackBack

June 17, 2003

White boys only please

Clothing Chain Accused of Discrimination. So it seems Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothing brand that appeals to annoying frat boys, hires people that can relate to such individuals. What a surprise! Yeah, I'm sure it's discrimination under the law, but check this out:

"If you look at a store like Banana Republic," Mr. Gonzalez said, "there's a huge difference. Banana Republic has almost all minorities working there."

Go shop at Banana Republic then!

Godless disagrees:

Hmmmm. This might be one of those situations where there really *is* discrimination going on, of the invidious kind.

It's one thing to deny people jobs on the basis of their lack of competence (e.g. in science, writing, etc.), but another to do so on the basis of their skin tone. Are the applicants really that much worse at sales?

Some might contend that Abercrombie has a legitimate business interest in promoting the white aesthetic, even if the minority applicants *are* just as competent at sales. But if that's legitimate then I think that (say) a boycott by minorities and sympathetic whites would be a perfectly legitimate capitalist response. Abercrombie would have to weigh the costs and benefits and respond appropriately. Right?

In this case I think they'll respond to consumer pressure and refrain from locking non-whites out of sales positions. If they could make more money by keeping whites-only in sales, they could do that too, but I think that's unlikely b/c it's bad publicity and they'll lose customers.

Posted by razib at 08:03 PM | | TrackBack

Christian Racialism?

Larry Auster over at View From the Right challenges secular white racialists, can the race survive without Christianity? Being neither white, nor a racialist, and never having a direct connection with the Christian faith, I'm really not invested in this argument, but I will admit that I view the Christian racialists with the same amusement and skepticism that Bismarck felt toward Christian socialism. I suspect some GNXPers might have an interest in this debate....

Posted by razib at 07:01 PM | | TrackBack

Linus Pauling's Notebooks

Imbler State University has onlined the Linus Pauling Papers, including scanning and indexing forty-six research notebooks spanning the years 1922 to 1994 : "The notebooks contain many of Pauling's laboratory calculations and experimental data, as well as scientific conclusions, ideas for further research and numerous autobiographical musings." Interesting stuff; see esp. books 1-13 containg his notes re: crystal structure; "[T]his work informed Pauling's eventual publication of The Nature of the Chemical Bond, one of the seminal texts of modern science."

Posted by martin at 09:12 AM | | TrackBack

June 16, 2003

Are you black enough in Brazil?

This article on affirmative action in Brazil is interesting. Here is the conclusion:

"I don't think there's any doubt that some middle-class white kids are taking advantage of the system by declaring themselves black," said Salgueiro, the admissions director. "It's disappointing because that means the program is not always benefiting poor or underprivileged kids. But at the same time, what can you do? We have no idea really who is black and who is not. This is Brazil."

Bulbul, the black filmmaker, acknowledges that the quotas are an imperfect tool, and that the solution really is to expand education opportunities to accommodate people like Fracescutti and poorer Brazilians, both black and white.

Brazil seems the classic case study in how cultural norms influence how genes assort themselves in a mixed population. Since most of the population is part black by ancestrty they are looking for phenotype, so if they want to get practical and cut out cheaters they need a system of auditors like the old South Africa had to verify racial identity. Perhaps this system will impose a high enough cost on "whiteness" that "good features" will be redefined in Brazilian society.

Posted by razib at 06:21 PM | | TrackBack

Columbus, OH

I'll be there for a week starting tomorrow. Anything going on there???

Posted by razib at 02:53 PM | | TrackBack

June 15, 2003

"Urban nomads"

This article on "urban nomads," wandering youth that have dropped out of society, is pretty interesting. My small town in Imbler seems to have a lot of these kids (and older types too) hanging around the main drag doing the Portland-San Francisco circuit (we're about equidistant along the I-5 route). They're kind of irritating because they basically squat right along major sidewalks taking up a lot of space on both sides and swarm so as to almost be a physical menace. Also, some of their dogs aren't cute little things, but rather large strong-jawed creatures that glower at you as if they want to take a bite out of your shank. Additionally, they don't always stay satisfied with one dog but seem to accumulate packs. Anyway, I'm libertarian enough not to want the police to round them up (after all, where will that sort of thing stop?), but they can be a pain-in-the-ass sometimes, though that's probably their raison d'ętre.

Posted by razib at 01:11 PM | | TrackBack