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August 16, 2003

New Mystery "Chimps" Largest Primates on Earth

Or maybe not so new. This has been floating around for a while, but I just caught wind of it with this recent article in USA Today. Scientists at the Omaha Zoo are testing the DNA and fingerprints of a little studied ape that's found in a jungle area around the Northern Congo, trying to figure out if it's a new species of chimp, just a sub-species, or even a hybrid of a chimp and a gorilla. Whatever it is, it's now a seemingly viable contender, along with the mountain gorilla, for the title of the largest known living primate.

In an area where the nearest gorillas are thousands of miles away, the animal displays a mix of chimp and gorilla-like qualities. Its diet, like a chimp's, consists mostly of fruits. Its face is like a chimp's though flatter. Its body is a whole lot larger than a chimp's, and, with a 14 inch footprint, even bigger than a gorilla's (who average about 12 in). Because they are too intimidating to have to worry about predators (including poachers) locals call them "lion-killers". Unlike other chimps who must sleep up in the trees to avoid common predators such as lions, leopards, and hyenas, these ones sleep freely on the ground like gorillas. Some of their behaviors, such as hooting at the rising and setting moon, aren't characteristic of either species.


The picture on the left is an example of a pretty big chimp. Chimps in the wild average about 100-125 lbs. The picture on the right is one of the mystery Bondo chimps. (the guy to his left weighs 175 lbs). The average gorilla is 300-400 lbs.

Tests so far show its mtDNA looks like a chimp's, but since that's only passed down from the mother's side, further tests could still reveal it as a hybrid.

Gigantism in hybrid species is not unknown. The liger is a cross between a male lion and a female tiger, and it is the largest cat on earth. For a comparison, the Amur tiger is the largest natural cat and weighs 400-600 lbs.(with a record weight of 900 lbs.), while the average male lion weighs 400-500 lbs. Now the average male liger weighs over 900 lbs. and as much as 1400 lbs. (or just shy of half a ton).

Posted by Jason Malloy at 10:13 PM | | TrackBack

Brown Biotech

The NY Times has a nice article on a female biotechnology entrepreneur who is the "cutting edge" in India. Of course, as she admits, that's not saying much, India of all Third World nations has a built-in philosophical aversion to messing with God's creation since its religion tends to deify the Creation itself in a way that dualistic Western monotheism does not. Of course, it's nice to see that fat luddite pigs don't have a monopoly on the female scientific scene in India. Why do I use the term "fat luddite pig"? Click the link, and note the ample proportions of the beast that argues against GMOed foods because they are "unsafe." Unfortunately, if the people who are being protected die an early death because of malnutrition, that argument might seem somewhat moronic....

Godless comments:

The Times didn't mention India's biggest medical area field: generic drug manufacturing. As Derek Lowe puts it:

What's terrible about this foolishness is that India has a tremendous pool of scientific talent. For many years, much of it has left: you'd be hard pressed to find a technology-based US company of any decent size without Indian nationals working there. But they're finding plenty to do at home now, and they could keep on doing it. Or everyone could get into astrology - that's an option, too, and it has the benefit of being spiritual. You're damn well going to need a spiritual outlook if you go across a bridge that was built using Vedic math.

Everyone knows about the Indian software industry. Not many people realize that there are a lot of seriously good chemists there, too. India's past practice of ignoring international patent law has led to a large talent pool of process chemists, handy at coming up with efficient ways to knock off patented drugs. But now there's a strong home-grown pharmaceutical research firm (Dr. Reddy's) which is licensing new drug candidates to large companies in Europe and the US. So, should they keep on doing that?

and more

India laughs at patents. They always have. The companies there appropriate drugs, turn them over to their very competent process chemists, and crank them out on scale. Sometimes they've come up with more economical synthetic routes than the original company ever did. The Times calls India's drug market "brutally competitive," but it's a brutal competition to see who's quickest at ripping off the foreigners who actually discovered the drug. Getting approval to sell generic Glivec took a few months, "swift by American standards," says the article. Make that impossible by American standards, or more clearly, illegal by American standards (and the rest of the world's,) and you have a better picture. Mind you, this approval was "unusually long and tedious" by Indian reckoning.

Doctors in India, though, the article says, realized ". . .the pragmatic aims of the company's philanthropy. The giveaway was a means, they contend, to establish a commerical beachhead. . ." Shock me. This is how the market works, the seeking of competitive advantage. In this case, it turns out that there's an advantage to giving some of the drug out for free (or at least a disadvantage for not doing it.)

Haven't any of these people read anything by Adam Smith? Hasn't anyone at the Times? And, as it turns out, the Indian generic companies have felt the pressure, and are stepping up to supply the drug to people in the free program. Good for them. Smith would be able to tell them that it's not all coming from the goodness of their hearts, and properly so.

What Hong Kong is to software piracy, India is to drug piracy... ;)

Posted by razib at 09:25 PM | | TrackBack

Is the War on Drugs genetic discrimination?

New GNXP reader "M. Simon" has an interesting post over at Winds of Change. His thesis is as follows:

What we call addiction is in fact self-treatment of undiagnosed pain. I know from experience that this idea is hard to accept, so let's talk about some concrete examples.
This whole drug enforcement and anti-tobacco regime amounts to a kind of genetic discrimination against pain sufferers. Some people get over their PTSD in a short amount of time. For others the problem is life-long. The time it takes for pain memories to decay depends on the severity of the trauma and the genetic make up of the individual. About 20% of the population can have long term problems.

I personally oppose the Drug War on straight-forward libertarian grounds-but food for thought even if you favor illicit drugs remaining illegal.

Posted by razib at 05:41 PM | | TrackBack

August 14, 2003

Born to run!

Wired reports on research on genes that might be correlated with athletic performance, specifically in running. Here is an excerpt:

They found that sprinters tend to have one version of the gene, alpha-actinin-3 or ACTN3, while long-distance runners tend to have a different version, ACTN2.

Neurogeneticist Kathryn North and her colleagues at the University of Sydney in Australia also found that more elite sprinters had not one but two copies of the alpha-actinin-3 gene. ACTN3 creates the code for a protein produced exclusively in "fast-twitch" muscle fibers -- they're fueled by glucose and are essential for power and speed.

"This suggests that the presence of alpha-actinin-3 has a beneficial effect on the function of skeletal muscle in generating forceful contractions at high velocity, and provides an evolutionary advantage because of increased sprint performance," the authors wrote.

Endurance runners, on the other hand, often have two copies of ACTN2, which creates the code for a protein produced exclusively in "slow-twitch" muscle fibers. Long-distance runners typically have slow-twitch muscles. Instead of glucose, slow-twitch muscles are fueled by oxygen, and are responsible for sustained exercise.

Posted by razib at 04:45 PM | | TrackBack

Third World Bigotry

We've been focusing a bit on white racism recently. I use the adjective "white" in contradiction of the PC-Left principle that racism = race + power and only whites have power, ergo, only whites can be racist. I think that racism can exist without power, though power amplifies & highlights the phenomena [1]. The genocides of whites against non-whites that characterized the period of Euro-white hegemony in the 19th and early 20th centuries are exceptional in human history in scale & and assocation with a scientific racial ideology. The expulsion & extermination of the Oryat Mongls in Dzungharia in the early 18th century by the Manchus (many of these people took refuge in Czarist Russia and are now the Kalmyk people in the lower Volga-Lenin was 1/4 Kalmyk as a point of trivia) for instance is reminiscent of the German extermination of the Herereo people. But because of the European advances in science & technology, coupled with the concomitant intellectual sophistication spawned by the Enlightenment, white xenophobia, which in character was originally little different than that of any other civilization, took on a life of its own [2]. To this day, white racism is held in particular opprobrium because of its past history. But as the modern age progresses, the lethal organizational power of the Westernized state and the technological lethality enabled by modern science spread, "genocide" is no longer a white monopoly. As Rwanda showed us, Western ideas & weapons are all that is needed to spark the fire of hatred and violence that seems a common feature of our species.

So, I would like to put the spot-light on a few non-white states that exist in a state of racial injustice, depending on how you define it.....

  • China: Though officially a "People's Democracy," the Chinese state is a Han tool that in the past 50 years has committed acts of physical genocide against Tibetans. Additionally, the ideology of Han supremacy is condoned by the state in re-writing history so that Xinjiang & Tibet are considered parts of "historic China," something that is patently false. Rather, the Manchu's ruled these two regions under a separate dispensation from their Chinese territories, and for most of Chinese history these areas lay outside the Han sphere of influence. The demographic inundation of Xinjiang by Han is also a conscious government policy-making what was "Eastern Turkestan" an adjunct of the Han provinces.
  • India: India has rejected equating casteism with racism, but everyone knows that there is a racial element to caste. India is also a very color conscious & Bollywood stars tend to reflect a considerable amount of selection bias (as "ogunsiron" would say, you only see "white people with tans" in the movies). Caste violence is also one of the many vices of modern Indian life. Of course, this bigotry is balanced by the "official" pronouncements of tolerance, Dalits have been Presidents of India, and quotas serve as a testament to the the band-aid tha the secular elite has attempted to put over a problem deeply-rooted in Indian society.
  • Latin America: This is a special case, non-racial societies like Brazil or Mexico often exist as a de facto layer-cake, with "white" individuals on top, and "black" or "indigenous" ones at the bottom. Brazil's income inequalities are legendary, but it masks the correspondence this inequality has with racial groupings. And as we all know, Mexico is no racial utopia, Vincente Fox et al. are not your typical field workers. One interesting point about some of the Latin American "white" elites is that they might be phenotypic whites that emerged out of centuries of hybridization, in other words, assortive mating of mixed-race individuals led to the pooling of white and non-white looking individuals into discrete population segments so that the racial division between their white fathers and non-white mothers was recapitulated due to the social forces that shaped the culture [3].

This is of course the tip of the iceberg, my point is that world-changing anti-racists need to start looking at the broad-picture, and be more realistic about human nature. They don't help themselves in singling out whites, and European culture, which if anything is in many ways more self-reflective about bias & bigotry, and neglecting the injustice that is common & normal in much of the non-white world. European self-reflection on bigotry is of course partially a reaction to the excesses of racialism that played out during World War II-let's hope that non-whites don't need a similar reality-check to shock them out of complacency.

Addendum: I am going to respond a little to Peter's mild lecture-I should not have used the term "de-humanized," rather, I will use the term scientifically reduce. There was a period of engagement with the outside world post-1500 in concert with the rise of sophisticated philosophies of man that birthed what I call "scientific racism." The ascertainment of other civilizations was not always negative, for instance, the Sinophilia of Leibniz was not exceptional in a period (early 18th century) when The Kangxi Emperor reigned over a polity greater than any European kindgom, he, a monarch that displayed the virtues of a benign & cultivated autocrat out of Plato's The Republic. On the other hand, men like Voltaire expressed an empirically driven disdain for blacks arising from the European encounters with Africa. In fact, in the later polygenist vs. monogenist debates it was the religious reactionaries who initially kept the idea of common descent of humanity alive, though eventually Darwin et al. reintroducd monogenism into the scientific discourse and won the day.

My point in general is that an understanding and rationalization of human differences is ancient-after all, the Greeks and Arabs both considered their own clime & kind the most salubrious and well balanced, heaping mild disdain on both the peoples of the north and south. Of course, as history progressed, northern Europe caught up and surpassed the south, and the Aryanists of the 19th century had to formulate a rationale for the decline of Rome & Greece (race mixture). The Chinese had their own prejudices against foreigners, read the travels of their delegations to Cambodia for instance and you can taste the contempt, while the Indians considered outlanders "mlecchas," unclean foreigners. The debates over the humanity of the native inhabitants of the New World upon first contact were precusors to later European attitudes and controversies.

But sometime around 1700 Europe had an incredible philosophical lift off, and eventually men like Kant took up the ideas of race in a manner that today would be termed scientific racism. They formulated, systemetized and studied the topic in great depth, and began to frame much of their conception of historical progress in the context of race. All civilizations have expressed a concern with ethnic & racial divisions-but the European fascination with tabulating and transforming into metrics (ie; cephalic index) was a peculiar outgrowth of their scientific culture that eventually led to a much more complex & coherent system of racial classification.

Many of these theories preceded methodologies & techniques necessary for their falsification, and early physical anthropology texts read much like imaginative fantasy-they convey little real information that isn't already known, but spun fanciful yarns about racial migrations in pre-history. Eventually, as we know, physical anthropology became the hand-maid for one of the terrors of the 20th century. Those days are over, European scientific racism is gone, and in fact, a taboo has fallen over the whole topic in the mainstream. In contrast, minorities can freely speculate on race, only earning the ire of the Right, while the mainstream considers them harmless cranks. This is not a good trend that we should encourage, it gets to the heart of equal treatment of people, high & low, black & white, that is the hallmark of liberalism. Holding whites to higher standards does not ennoble anyone.

[1] Power is relative as well, not absolute, light-skinned "blacks" are often prejudiced against dark-skinned "blacks".

[2] One of the reasons that Europeans created scientific racism was to justify the de-humanization of non-whites in the context of their progressive and rational world-view. Other civilizations might have committed genocide, but little justification or debate would be needed, because it would be taken for granted that there was a difference between The People and The Others.

[3] Here is an article the semi-famous paper on Brazil's whites & blacks that indicates this possibility. The process is basically linkage disequilbrium in a given population, because it is very far from random mating as assumed in the Hardy-Weinberg context. For instance, if you have a community of white men and black women, their children should be "mixed" in appearence, but their grandchildren will probably reassort some genes in such a fashion that a minority will look rather white and black, though most will still remain "mixed" in appearence. If in each generation the "white" and "black" looking mixed-race individuals pair up, you will have a decline in the number of "mixed" individuals, because "white" and "black" looking individuals tend to have genes that won't result in mixed individuals (homozygotes mating can't result in heterozygotes, though it is obviously more complicated than that), and a certain fraction of the mixed individuals will have white and black looking children. If in each generation the white & black looking cihldren of mixed-race looking individuals join those of similar phenotype, the "pure" looking phenotypes will grow numerically until you have a population where everyone shares common mixed-racial heritage, but looks phenotypically distinct.

Posted by razib at 02:21 PM | | TrackBack

August 13, 2003

Nigerians in Tokyo?

Quick question: Does anyone know much about Nigerians in Japan? There are a few near where I live, and I remember reading somewhere that Japanese is similar to a certain Nigerian language. Interestingly, I've seen them hang with several trendy young Japanese, i.e. the men and women who get deep tans and dye their hair strawberry blond. Perhaps these would be "jiggers", analogous to the white hip-hop imitating whiggers.

BTW, for an interesting Japanese/Nigerian exchange, scroll down this review of Fumiko Enchi's novel "The Waiting Years". Maybe Nigeria and Japan aren't such odd bedfellows after all.

Godless comments:

Impolitic comments without statistical substantiation have been removed. Concerning the Japanese-Nigerian language connection

The function of tone is different in tonal languages. By using a different tone for one word, the meaning of that word can be dramatically changed. For example, in Igala, a Nigerian tonal language, the three letter word "awo" can have many meanings depending upon the tones used in its production. ... Tone may also be used grammatically; used mainly or exclusively for the signaling of grammatical distinctions. This is often the way it is used in African tonal languages. It is often used to distinguish between main clauses and subordinate relative clauses. (Katamba 188). In Japanese, tone often has this grammatical function. It is used to distinguish words, but is also used to mark sentences.

I was kind of surprised at this, but now I see that the similarity is just coincidental. Given the geographic separation, the difference in characters, etc., Japanese & Igala are certainly not part of any "Indo-European"
-like language superfamily.

Posted by duende at 11:03 PM | | TrackBack

Mirror, Mirror . . .

Well I hate to make it look like I'm taking sides in the heated Racial Beauty Battle that appears to be taking place lately in our rather specialized neck of the blogosphere, but Time Asia's latest cover story about the plastic surgery boom in Asia seems too perfectly tailored to the theme to ignore. The biggest controversy of the boom is palpable:

The culturally loaded issue today is the number of Asians looking to remake themselves to look more Caucasian. It's a charge many deny, although few would argue that under the relentless bombardment of Hollywood, satellite TV, and Madison Avenue, Asia's aesthetic ideal has changed drastically. "Beauty, after all, is evolutionary," says Harvard psychology professor Nancy Etcoff, who is the author of Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty—not coincidentally a best seller in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and China. Asians are increasingly asking their surgeons for wider eyes, longer noses and fuller breasts—features not typical of the race. To accommodate such demands, surgeons in the region have had to invent unique techniques. The No. 1 procedure by far in Asia is a form of blepharoplasty, in which a crease is created above the eye by scalpel or by needle and thread; in the U.S., blepharoplasty also ranks near the top, but involves removing bags and fat around the eyes. Likewise, Westerners use botox, or botulinum toxin, to diminish wrinkles—while in Korea, Japan and Taiwan, botox is injected into wide cheeks so the muscle will atrophy and the cheeks will shrink.

Just as Asian faces require unique procedures, their bodies demand innovative operations to achieve the leggy, skinny, busty Western ideal that has become increasingly universal. Dr. Suh In Seock, a surgeon in Seoul, has struggled to find the best way to fix an affliction the Koreans call muu-dari and the Japanese call daikon-ashi: radish-shaped calves. Liposuction, so effective on the legs of plump Westerners, doesn't work on Asians since muscle, not fat, accounts for the bulk. Suh says earlier attempts to carve the muscle were painful and made walking difficult. "Finally, I discovered that by severing a nerve behind the knee, the muscle would atrophy," says Suh, "thereby reducing its size up to 40%." Suh has performed over 600 of the operations since 1996.

Here's one of their interactive graphics showing the most popular cosmetic surgeries in Asia. Indeed, most of them are to achieve common Western features. But chicken or the egg, right? The trend raises some dicey questions, ones that might not easily be answered. But on a blog not shy about picking the genetic side of arguments* it certainly puts us on the defensive.

As a side note, am I the only one who thinks the chosen title for this cover story seems a little offensive?

*Godless thinks that Rushton's order may apply to beauty as well, with men being Asian < white < black and women being Asian > white > black. Razib and I tend toward the agnostic on this issue though.

Clarification: by agnostic I mean we have yet to hear a convincing or unproblematic argument that any characteristic racial phenotype is more desirable as it relates to innate and universal preference. For instance Sailer's Is Love Colorblind? is a convincing (to me) example of innate preferences at work, but they are not universal preferences, they are contextual (b/c one's own body type plays a large role in what members of the opposite sex seem compatible. [e.g. men usually like to date women shorter than they are]). And while this article might suggest growing universal preferences, it probably isn't showing innate ones. Razib has his take in the comment box.
...one more related thing; who here has seen Gattaca? Aaiyyyiii!!!

Godless comments:

This could be possible, but American women (of all races) head to the tanning salon or the beach without us seeing the trend as evidence of internalized racism. Some men do it too.

Also, while I don't know about the breast implants, I do know that most blepharoplasty specialists do not believe that it is about making Asian women look more "Western"

"From having performed surgery since 1981, and teaching the surgical techniques to other doctors for the same period, I honestly do not believe that most of the Asian patients are wanting to look like Westerners or their Caucasian friends. Rather, they want to retain their Asian features with the addition of an aesthetically pleasing Asian eyelid crease, just like their Asian friends or siblings."

Of course, take that with a grain of salt...it's not in his interests to say that it has racial overtones. Lastly, it might be of interest to know that Greta van Susteren had one:

Before the debut of her show, On the Record With Greta Van Susteren, she had an eye lift – medically known as blepharoplasty. It was the talk of the media world.

If this is the same as an "eye lift"...is it really racism? Might be worth checking out some statistics on plastic surgery in North America. Note that only 3% of North American clients were Asian Americans, but eyelid surgery was the fourth most common alteration, with more than 230000 per year. (link). The top 5 in 2002:

Nose reshaping 354,327
Liposuction 282,876
Breast augmentation 236,888
Eyelid surgery 230,672
Facelift 117,831

So it seems that these alterations are fairly common in North America as well. Anyone have stats on the frequency in Asia? Rates would be most interesting...I couldn't find them in the article.

By the way, check out the stunning before and after pics!

Posted by Jason Malloy at 01:33 PM | | TrackBack

Asian genes in Germans?

This man found 21% "Asian" DNA when he took a test by Ancestry By DNA. He is Pennsylvania Dutch by heritage and speculates that the Asian DNA comes from the time of Attila the Hun. I don't know if I buy that explanation (who knows if the ABD test is really that accurate? I believe it's an autosomal DNA test, which are kind of trickier than Y chromosomal or mtDNA tests, though more informative if done well), but it's interesting in any case.... (via Human Races)

Godless comments:

The problem with ABD is that it doesn't give a confidence estimate. Their algorithm is a linear classifier applied in SNP space:

Allele frequencies of 56 SNPs (most from pigmentation genes) were dramatically different between groups of unrelated individuals of Asian, African, and European descent, ... A linear classification method was developed for incorporating these SNPs into a classifier model..

Very briefly, the idea is to represent each person by a 56 dimensional vector, with entries being the typed SNPs, and to come up with simple functions that separate the resulting 56 dimensional vector space into sets that correspond to racial groups. This is how it'd play out if you had a 2 dimensional vector with continuous values in each of the entries:

The problem with this "21%" figure is that it includes none of the associated probabilistic data. Very few alleles are *exclusive* to a population, so there is the possibility that some fraction of people will have alleles more common in other populations just by random chance . The use of SNPs (even informative SNPs) rather than full haplotype blocks makes this confounding factor more likely.

As an example, take a look at ALFRED's list of population-related allele frequency variations in a serotonin receptor. The "G861C HincII" polymorphism in this sequence has two common possibilities for the base pair at that location: G and C. Among the Yoruba, G is found 81.6% of the time, while C is found 18.4% of the time. Among the Japanese, G is found 64.3 % of the time, and C is found 35.7% of the time. [1]

If you ran a naive linear classifier on this data to classify genotypes into Japanese and Yorubans, your algorithm would end up assigning those with G's to the Yoruban group, and those with C's to the Japanese group. Needless to say, you'd get a lot of false classifications (You can work out the exact error rate). But that's the best you can do with such uninformative loci, as the frequencies don't sharply differ between the two populations.

The ABD authors claim that they're using very informative loci, which is not impossible. Certain alleles are almost exclusively found in certain populations:

A. The Fyo allele of the Duffy blood group system occurs in ca. 100% of sub-Saharan Africans and is rare in other populations. ...

B. The Dia allele of the Diego blood group system is found only in Asians and Amerinds and supports the close genetic affinity of these populations.

Note that the Fyo allele is exactly the kind of allele we're looking for: very common within a population, and almost entirely absent outside that population. If the Dia allele is only found in Asians/Amerinds, but is infrequent within that group, it's not so useful for classification. [3] Fyo type alleles are the exception and not the rule, however, as you can learn for yourself in even a cursory browsing of ALFRED.

Ok. So, after all that foreplay, you can see where I'm going with this. It is quite likely that the guy in question simply had a chance combination of alleles at the measured SNPs that are more common in East Asian populations. I think that measurements of other SNPs (or, even better, full haplotype blocks) would put him squarely back into the European category. What is absent yet necessary is a probabilistic statement of how likely it is that his allele distribution was due to chance rather than actual East Asian ancestry. [3]

[1] Assume these values to be exact for now. A more sophisticated treatment would include error bars to account for sample size effects.
[2] I don't know the Dia frequency.
[3] This is what is done in rape trials, for example, when DNA evidence is presented.

A forensic scientist told the court that semen at the scene was 700 billion times more likely to belong to Reekie than any other man

One can critique the (frequent, unstated) assumption that the typed loci in this trial were truly independent, but the basic principle holds: it's important to give a probabilistic statement of the signal-to-noise ratio.

Godless clarifies:

A few points:

1) It is incorrect to say that ABD does not include a confidence estimate:

In order to know your proportions with 100% confidence, we would have to perform the test for each region of the variable genome, which would make the test very expensive. Since we have not, your results are statistical estimates. We calculate and plot for you all of the estimates that are 2 times, 5 times and 10 times less likely than the MLE. The first contour (black line) around your MLE delimits the space outside of which the points are 2 times less likely, and the second contour (blue line) around the MLE delimits the space outside of which the estimates are 5 less likely than the MLE. The third contour (yellow line) delimits the space outside of which the estimates are 10 times less likely than the MLE. The greater the number of DNA positions we read, the closer these contour lines come to the MLE point. On the triangle plot, the likelihood (probability) that your true value is represented by a different point, than the MLE decreases as you approach the red dot, where the probability is at its maximum (hence, it is called the Maximum Likelihood Estimate or MLE). We could perform the test so that the contour lines are very close to the MLE, however this would require us to sequence a much larger collection of markers. To keep the test affordable, we limit the survey a reasonable number of markers that are sufficient for you to know with good confidence what your proportions are. The yellow circle (10X contour) is also referred to as the “one-log interval” and is taken generally taken as a scientific level of confidence.

What I intended to say was that without a confidence estimate, this man's laborious, wordy speculation on his admixture percentages is meaningless . Given fuzzy overlapping sets, classifications of points near the statistical decision boundary will have higher error rates than classification of points that are close to the interiors of these fuzzy sets. See the comments below for an elaboration on this point.

It would be quite useful to know exactly which loci ABD typed and whether they ensured pairwise independence of loci (e.g. by selecting genes on different chromosomes). However, the Frudakis "Ancestry by DNA" paper is in a rather obscure journal. If anyone has a copy, please send me email. Also, I wish to reiterate that in principle it is of course possible to assign ancestry and assess admixture. My skepticism is confined to ABD's methodology.

Posted by razib at 01:01 PM | | TrackBack

Iceman died fighting & palaeo-fiction

Otzi the iceman had the blood of four people on his hands (metaphorically), likely the result of 1-2 days of prolonged fighting. Let's hope this helps put another nail in the coffin about ideas of a matriarchal peaceful Europe prior to the arrival of Indo-European horse-warriors (Otzi dates from Italy circa 3000 BC, so unless you believe Colin Renfrew, he probably wasn't an Indo-European speaker).

On a related note, I'd like to include a semi-blurb for Stephen Baxter, one of my favorite science fiction authors. He has degrees in math & engineering, but unlike most hard science fiction authors, and like physicist & author Gregory Benford, he can write decent prose. Some hard sf authors, like gravity physicist Robert L. Forward, don't venture much outside the bounds of their technical field in their fiction, but Baxter does. His recent book Evolution is a panoramic survey of the history, past & future, of the human lineage.

Starting in the Mesozoic with the seed of the first proto-primate ancestress, the novel jumps foward in increments toward modern humans, and then to Baxter's projection of what the future holds. It is formatted in a way that allows stand-alone chapter readings, as there really isn't a central plot thread you need to track from beginning to end (I skimmed a few chapters that didn't interest me, the early Cenozoic just doesn't do it for me for some reason). There are plenty of fictionalizations of Neandertals, H. erectus, etc. out there, but if you want bite-sized chunks, this is the book for you. Some of Baxter's speculations are based on sketchy science & history, for instance, he buys into Colin Renfrew's idea that the Neolithic revolution was brought to Europe by Indo-Europeans. Though Renfrew's thesis had some promise, I think that the genetic evidence has come in very mixed (Cavalli-Sforza gave some support to in the early 90s by coupling it with "demic diffusion" into Europe-but now there fights between Sykes & co. with the old school about how important demic diffusion really was in Europe has clouded the issue and that point of evidence), while the linguists & archaeologists have always weighed in against it, ergo, I think it best to discard it for now. But Baxter is pretty well informed about the general outline of current knowledge about early human population movements, depicting the movement of coastal wanderers along coastal southern Asia and the journey from Sahul into Australia, and does it in an entertaining fashion. Being English of course, don't expect an uplifting ending-but there are some interesting speculations that he inserts here & there [1].

A more detailed exposition on Baxter's conception of humanity, and intelligence in the cosmos, can be found in his loosely connected Manifold series. Here is a web site all about Stephen Baxter.

[1] Spoiler: He introduces an intelligent tool-using dinosaurian species as the reason that the Sauropods of the Jurassic were driven to extinction. Though conscious and sapient, they weren't bright enough to avert & anticipate the ecological dead-end that they had stumbled upon.

Posted by razib at 12:08 PM | | TrackBack

Diamonds are a CPU's best friend?

This article from the print edition of Wired about synthetic diamonds is pretty cool. Synthetic diamonds seem to have two main benefits:

  • Long term: Replace silicon chips and get around some of its inherent limitations (silicon obviously can't handle as much heat as diamonds).
  • Short term: Kick the balls of the "blood diamonds" industry that gave us Charles Taylor et al.

Posted by razib at 11:55 AM | | TrackBack

Fake uterus

TNR has a subscription-only article on the development of an artificial uterus. It is discussed in the context of abortion rights, which I found rather uninteresting, but check this out:

But Liu has said she hopes to "create complete artificial wombs using these techniques in a few years"--although, given current IVF and stem-cell laws, it is not yet clear whether she will be able to continue her work in the United States.

I wonder what country Dr. Liu will continue the research in. The article gives 5 years as a possible date when artificial wombs become viable.

(Full article below)

Fetal Position
by Sacha Zimmerman
Post date: 08.13.03
Issue date: 08.18.03

ack in January, the abortion rights group naral Pro-Choice America held a dinner in Washington to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. But the event was far from celebratory, with speaker after speaker warning that a woman's right to choose was in grave danger. "For the first time since Roe v. Wade, anti-choice politicians control the presidency and both houses of Congress," naral Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman warned in a typical speech. "The Supreme Court is one vote away from dismantling the right to choose." At a rally the next day, the group's legal director, Elizabeth Cavendish, declared, "A woman's right to choose is imperiled."

But, however serious the political threat to Roe, Michelman and Cavendish are missing a technological threat that could be greater still: ectogenesis. Better known as the artificial womb, ectogenesis is the process by which a fetus gestates in an environment external to the mother. And, while it may sound like the stuff of science fiction--evoking images of the "decanted infants" in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World--researchers estimate that ectogenesis could be a reality within five years.

If and when that happens, the legal and philosophical premises underpinning Roe could be completely dismantled. Which is why some pro-lifers are eagerly awaiting that day. And why it is so surprising that pro-choice activists appear to have given little or no thought to the brave new world that could be right around the corner.

ctogenesis is close to becoming a reality because scientists are steadily advancing reproductive technology at both ends of gestation. At one end, to help women who are having difficulty conceiving or who have defective wombs, Cornell University's Dr. Hung-Ching Liu has taken steps toward developing an artificial womb by removing cells from the lining of a woman's womb and then, using hormones, growing layers of these cells on a model of a uterus. The model eventually dissolves, leaving a new, artificial womb that continues to thrive. What's more, Liu's team found that, within days of being placed in the new womb, embryos will attach themselves to its walls and begin to grow. At that point, scientists must end the experiment to comply with in-vitro fertilization (IVF) laws, so researchers do not yet know how long after the beginning stages of gestation this artificial womb would be viable. But Liu has said she hopes to "create complete artificial wombs using these techniques in a few years"--although, given current IVF and stem-cell laws, it is not yet clear whether she will be able to continue her work in the United States.

Meanwhile, at the other end of gestation, Temple University's Dr. Thomas Schaffer is trying to save premature babies by using a synthetic amniotic fluid. He developed a breathable liquid made of perfluorocarbons--liquids that carry more oxygen than air--and has successfully tested the fluid on premature lamb fetuses not yet capable of breathing air. Schaffer says that the only reason he isn't using the technique on human beings right now is a lack of funding. "We have babies that are six hundred grams [21.9 ounces], born on a toilet, brought to a nicu [neonatal intensive care unit], and survive," he says. "Now [with perfluorocarbons] we can take care of these children."

In Japan, Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara, a professor of obstetrics at Juntendo University, has actually created an artificial womb, using an acrylic tank filled with a fluid similar to Schaffer's amniotic fluid and attached to a machine that acts as a placenta to bring oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. Kuwabara has successfully delivered goats from this artificial womb after just three weeks of gestation--the equivalent of one human trimester. Kuwabara says that, with enough funding, his ectogenetic chamber could be ready to use on a human fetus within five years.

While these scientists have no political agenda, the same can't be said for one of the earliest advocates of ectogenesis, Dr. William Cooper. In 1993, Cooper, then head of the Christian Fertility Institute, patented a "placental chamber," in which the fetus would gestate at the bottom of a tank and the placenta would rest on a shelf at the top. Cooper's invention went nowhere--today's advances toward ectogenesis owe nothing to the "placental chamber"--but his motivations for devising it are instructive: He hoped it would undermine Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade, after all, is predicated on two basic ideas: a woman's right to privacy (including the right not to be pregnant) and the viability of the fetus--defined as the ability to survive outside the mother's womb, currently placed at 24 weeks of gestation. Complete ectogenesis could dismantle both of these premises. First, it could make Roe's viability issue moot, since with ectogenesis a fetus could be technically viable outside the mother's womb from the moment of conception.

Which would surely impact the other idea underpinning Roe: a woman's right to privacy. With ectogenesis, an unwanted fetus, rather than being aborted, could be removed from a woman and placed in an ectogenetic chamber to be adopted later; the woman's right to privacy would arguably not be invaded, since removal of the fetus for implantation in an artificial womb need not be any more invasive than the abortion she was originally seeking. As bioethicists Peter Singer and Deane Wells write of ectogenesis in their book Making Babies: The New Science and Ethics of Conception, "Freedom to choose what is to happen to one's body is one thing; freedom to insist on the death of a being that is capable of living outside of one's body is another."

Although many right-to-lifers are skeptical of reproductive technology in general and view ectogenesis as an unnatural and dehumanizing possibility, others recognize that it could radically alter the abortion debate. "Roe v. Wade should be repealed anyway," says Dr. W. David Hager, an obstetrician-gynecologist and professor at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine who currently serves as head of the Bush administration's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. "But, if we had the technology to be able to placentize or incubate in a placental environment, then I would say that would be an argument in favor of repeal."

Other pro-life activists believe ectogenesis could change public attitudes about abortion in much the way The Silent Scream--the film, taken with a sonogram, that graphically documents the abortion process from extraction to destruction--did after its 1984 release. In his book, The Hand of God, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the former abortion doctor turned pro-life activist who filmed The Silent Scream, writes of the "enormous threat to abortion forces" that the film precipitated due to its powerful imagery. Nathanson hopes that an acrylic ectogenetic chamber, containing a month-old fetus, could act as a similar visual aid. "If [the fetus is] viable from ten weeks on," he says, "you've destroyed Roe v. Wade. It collapses."

ut, while some pro-lifers have begun grappling with this possibility, not one of the five major pro-choice organizations I contacted--Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Organization for Women, naral Pro-Choice America, and the Feminist Majority Foundation--has a position on ectogenesis. "For naral it's really important not to get distracted," legal director Cavendish told me. "We have to keep an eye on the prize of electing officials devoted to keeping Roe v. Wade. We can't pay too much attention to every potential tactic pro-life may use to distract us from our goal--which remains the same, notwithstanding new technological developments."

Yet, while the pro-choice mainstream remains silent on ectogenesis, more radical voices have filled the vacuum. Writing about ectogenesis in her book Human Reproduction: Principles, Practices, Policies, feminist philosopher Christine Overall argues that abortion is about the right not to procreate, not simply the right not to be pregnant. Overall claims that fetal extinction--not just extraction--is the aim of women seeking abortions and that forcing a woman to submit to a fetal extraction is like forcing her to donate organs against her will. The pregnant woman, Overall writes, is the "most appropriate person--perhaps the only one--to decide the disposition of the fetus." Extraction, extinction, disposition: Is this how the pro-choice movement wants their side of the debate to be framed in a post-ectogenesis world?

Surely there are more sophisticated arguments to be made for abortion rights in the face of ectogenesis: women who might raise their children in poverty rather than use an ectogenesis-adoption solution and face the emotional turmoil of knowing that someone else is raising their child; pregnancies resulting from rape that might be better terminated than saved; changes that could occur in the scope of fathers' rights vis à vis mothers. But you won't hear these arguments from mainstream pro-choice groups. Nor will you hear the alternative: that ectogenesis could lead to an agreement with the pro-life side that transcends the abortion debate altogether.

For now, the pro-choice movement is ignoring the prospect of ectogenesis at its own peril. If and when ectogenesis becomes a reality, it will redefine the abortion debate. Just consider the issue of viability: 41 states ban abortion after viability; if ectogenesis is achieved, will abortion then become illegal in each of those states? Many pro-lifers will certainly be prepared to argue yes. Isn't it about time pro-choicers start thinking of what they will say in response?

Sacha Zimmerman is the assistant managing editor at TNR.

Posted by razib at 11:11 AM | | TrackBack

Youngish looking

Dienekes posts on neoteny. Sticky subject, props to him for tangling with it, though good luck in getting 10 people to agree on attractiveness and what makes baby look like a baby.

Godless comments:

Dienekes' post is full of assertions. I don't know which ones are true and which ones are not as he provides no sources for his generalizations. Very anecdotal...

Razib updates: He's at it again, talking about blondness. I joked that his position is that blondes are oogly....

Posted by razib at 01:08 AM | | TrackBack

Brown man in a ice white land

Vinod goes to Iceland. He is both politic and insensitive, terming the Celtic slaves "indentured servants," and Icelandic a "pidgin" language. I enjoyed the links to the night-life that showed some chicks....

Godless comments:

Wow. It seem like even Iceland is becoming multicultural. Of its own volition:

Iceland is usually seen as one of the most isolated and ethnically homogeneous states in Europe; a place were national identity is jealously guarded and a rugged climate has forced people to pull together. Over the last few decades, Icelanders have had to come to terms with a more complex, multicultural reality.


The Icelandic legislation is racist towards non-EU immigrants," says Gudrun Ögmunsdóttir, an expert on this matter for the Social Democratic Party of Iceland. The law doesn't give them the same rights as to the EU immigrants. The country, however, needs foreign labour force in order to maintain living standard, and in the last decade hundreds of immigrants entered Iceland in search of economic prosperity. The highest number is from Asia.


Gudjon Atlason is an angry man. He is the leader of International office of the Human Rights Organisation (HRO), fighting for rights of non-white, non-EU immigrants.

"They belong to their boss. It is like cows working in stables", says Gudjon Atlason. After those 3 years they have to apply for another permit but this time they own it. "Now the immigrants don't have to work for a particular company and they can have as many jobs as they might need", he adds.

Ana Isorena Atlason, his wife, is from the Philippines. She is not allowed to work because of her nationality.

Needless to say, KMD-style scapegoating is no more of an explanation here than it is in most European countries with immigrants, including the Netherlands.

I don't really know what to say here. I'm neither pro nor con. If the people of Iceland vote to loosen immigration requirements for non-EU residents, it's their country and their decision. Of course, it is ridiculous to call Iceland "multicultural" or a "nation of immigrants". As I understand it, they're doing it for cheap labor and antiracist reasons...

Posted by razib at 01:00 AM | | TrackBack

August 11, 2003


Site called The Brown Times is hilarious (thanks Sen).

Posted by razib at 04:49 PM | | TrackBack

TNR article

I've attached an article from The New Republic that requires access about the conservative love-affair with counter-revolutionaries (interventionist conservatives that is).

Founding Fakers
by Franklin Foer
Post date: 08.11.03
Issue date: 08.18.03

n April 6, a C-17 transport plane unloaded Ahmed Chalabi in Nasiriya, the Iraqi heartland. For years, Washington conservatives had fantasized about this moment. They hadn't just touted the exiled leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) as a potential player in postwar Iraq but as a world historic figure. In meetings, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense William Luti described him as the "George Washington of Iraq." Others suggested he could become a George Washington for the entire Muslim world. Writing in National Review about "the president-in-waiting," David Pryce-Jones argued, "[I]f anything like the expectations of Chalabi's program are fulfilled, Arab absolutism can be broken." In The Wall Street Journal, Seth Lipsky pronounced him "a democratic visionary."

His American boosters assumed the Nasiriya stop would be the first event in a chain culminating in a Chalabi presidency. This assumption even permeated Pentagon planning. According to a Knight Ridder report last July, top planners such as Luti and his boss, Doug Feith, believed "Chalabi, who boasted of having a secret network inside and outside the regime, and his supporters would replace Saddam and impose order."

For the most part, these supporters didn't materialize. In fact, they have been so hard to come by that Chalabi has largely stopped trying to get them. Reporters in Baghdad told me that Chalabi no longer bothers holding rallies or advertising for the INC. "He has no chance of obtaining" the people's affection, one says. Empirical evidence backs this up. According to The Daily Telegraph, in Kurdistan--a supposed bastion of INC support--only 9 percent of respondents told pollsters they wanted a Chalabi presidency. Even Chalabi's American patrons doubt his public support. They have scaled back his public operations and dismantled his Free Iraqi Forces. As The Washington Post reported in June, Iraq's top civil administrator, L. Paul Bremer, privately told Chalabi and his cadre that they "don't represent the country."

Conservatives should have seen this coming. Chalabi represents the latest incarnation of an archetype: the foreign opposition leader romanticized beyond reason. Everybody knows this romantic strain has afflicted liberals--from admirers of Joseph Stalin, such as Henry Wallace and Edmund Wilson, to glorifiers of Fidel Castro, such as Tom Hayden and Oliver Stone. And everybody knows this because conservatives have long, and justly, chastised the left for what Tom Wolfe famously called "radical chic." During the 1960s, when the right first made this critique, the hardheaded realism that dominated conservative foreign policy prevented it from embracing such hero-worship. But, starting in the 1980s, conservatives, too, began celebrating revolution and insurgency, albeit of the anti-communist variety--a celebration that was enshrined in the Reagan Doctrine. Suddenly, a generation of scruffy Third World guerrilla fighters became right-wing icons.

When the Soviet Union disappeared, this doctrine seemed to fade with it. But the post-September 11 focus on radical Islam has created the conditions for its revival. In fact, some in the Pentagon argue the Bush administration has already reactivated the Reagan Doctrine by supporting the INC and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. As one official told me, "The mold is set. It's very much a return to Reaganite principles of adopting opposition movements." That means Chalabi isn't so much a throwback as the harbinger of a new wave of conservative iconography.

Indeed, there are already examples of what this new wave might look like. Last summer, conservatives began to promote exiled Palestinian banker Omar Karsou as a successor to Yasir Arafat. An op-ed by Robert Pollock in The Wall Street Journal trumpeted Karsou beneath the headline, "'we need a palestinian mandela.'" The Cheneys, both Dick and Lynne, granted him audiences, where he made his case for assuming Palestinian leadership. But the campaign crumbled, because it was premised on comically wishful thinking. Nelson Mandela, after all, had a mass following. When I asked a neocon supporter of Karsou about his following among Palestinians, she admitted that Karsou was virtually unknown in Palestine and had temporarily quit politics in frustration.

And not all the new freedom fighters entering the conservative pantheon are as innocuous as Karsou. Now that attention is turning from Iraq to Iran, a small but growing legion of conservatives has begun touting the virtues of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or the People's Mujahedin. In The Washington Times, the Hoover Institution's Arnold Beichman has urged the administration to recognize the mujahedin "as a legitimate force for democracy and regime change in the Middle East." Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has argued, "This group loves the United States; they're assisting us in the war on terrorism." Last year, she convinced 150 House colleagues to sign a letter in support of the mujahedin. The administration itself has been strangely deferential toward the group. It has permitted the mujahedin to keep a camp in Iraq, and, as Elizabeth Rubin reported in The New York Times Magazine, "a number of Pentagon hawks and policy makers are advocating that the Mujahideen be removed from the terrorist list and recycled for future use against Iran."

Such support is truly incredible. After all, there's a reason the mujahedin hold down a spot on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations: During the 1970s, it assassinated Americans working in Iran. Starting in the '80s, Saddam Hussein became the group's patron and collaborator, harboring the mujahedin in Iraqi bases. A realist might suggest overlooking this record and embracing the mujahedin for their mischief-making skills. But classifying the group as democratic requires enormous self-deception. By any standard, the organization is a proto-Marxist cult. The husband-and-wife team who runs it manipulates its helots with creepy mind control. They demand celibacy and require attendance at weekly "ideological cleansing" sessions. And there's no quitting this madness. According to Human Rights Watch, when members mused about bolting, the mujahedin threatened to hand them off to Saddam's goons for torture.

The support for the mujahedin reveals the problem with the right's revolutionary romanticism. It is not necessarily that conservatives ally themselves with the wrong foreign proxies. Often those proxies represent the lesser of two evils, or at least the more pro-American of two evils. The trouble is that conservatives come to see any thug, charlatan, or hopeless dreamer who happens to align with U.S. interests as a budding Thomas Jefferson. Squeezing various rebel groups into this ideal type requires a willful ignorance of the facts on the ground. And that ignorance can lead to a deluded foreign policy.

he right-wing revolutionary impulse begins with the Reagan Doctrine, and the Reagan Doctrine begins, by some accounts, with an adventurer named Jack Wheeler. In 1965, fresh from ucla, Wheeler launched his political career as youth chair of Ronald Reagan's maiden gubernatorial bid. Instead of parlaying his campaign connections into a job with the burgeoning New Right, he followed a mantra of the decade and dropped out. As a child, he had dreamed of exploring exotic locales in the nineteenth-century mode of Henry Morton Stanley. Now, he would indulge this fantasy by leading wealthy Americans on jaunts through Tibet and the African jungle.

When I recently visited him at his Virginia home, just off the banks of the Potomac, Wheeler took me to his basement office. Along one wall was a picture of him dressed as a mujahedin, with a turban wrapped around his sunburned, unshaven face. Along another, he displayed a colorful collection of Asian tribal hats, a shrunken head he acquired in Ecuador, and an old map he bought in 1965. In the middle of our conversation, he led me across the room to take a closer look at the map. "About 1983, I just saw it differently," he explained. By that time, his buddies from the Reagan campaign had gone off to sweet jobs in the White House. And, looking at his treasured map, he had an epiphany about how he could join the Reagan revolution himself. "All these guerrilla wars were taking place inside Soviet colonies. Nobody was calling them colonies, but that's what they were." He pointed to Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and Angola. "I realized that these [conflicts] were not isolated. This was a worldwide rejection of Soviet imperialism. The tables had turned." Wheeler booked a ticket to Washington, where he visited his friend, presidential speechwriter Dana Rohrabacher. "Dana told me that I had to go out there to study these people fighting the Soviets." So, funded by a grant from the libertarian Reason Foundation, Wheeler set off to visit anti-communist insurrections.

After six months among the Nicaraguan Contras, Afghan mujahedin, and African rebels, he landed at Washington's National Airport, where Rohrabacher greeted him. "He drove me straight to the [Old Executive Office Building]. I had been sending him back photos, which I hadn't seen myself at this point. He took me to a room, where there was a slide carousel," as well as speechwriters, officials from the CIA, and Constantine Menges and Paula Dobriansky of the National Security Council. Wheeler began to tell stories of the global phenomenon he had just witnessed. As one White House official told Sidney Blumenthal, then a reporter with The Washington Post, "[Wheeler] took random struggles and crystallized the concept that they were part of the same historical movement." Soon after, Reagan's speeches were filled with references to "freedom fighters." And Wheeler became a regular on the conservative speaking circuit, evangelizing on behalf of the counterrevolution. "In the 1960s, there were Marxist guerrilla heroes--Mao, Fidel, Che Guevara," he told me. "Now there were anti-Marxist guerrilla leaders. The anti-imperialist liberation struggle shifted one hundred percent." He threw his arms in the air: "That's the gestalt."

o turn the Reagan Doctrine from theory to practice, Wheeler set about creating the antithesis of the Communist International, a broad coalition of anti-Marxist insurgents to be known as the Democratic International. And, in 1985, Wheeler helped convince the conservative drugstore mogul--and defeated New York gubernatorial candidate--Lew Lehrman to finance the venture. Working with Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff, now arguably the two most powerful Republican lobbyists in Washington, Wheeler invited anti-communist rebel leaders from Nicaragua, Laos, and Afghanistan to Jamba, Angola, the headquarters of Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (unita). There, Lehrman gathered his guests and had them sign a communiqué declaring "our solidarity with all freedom movements in the world and ... our commitment to cooperate to liberate our nations from the Soviet imperialists." At a rally in Jamba's stadium, Lehrman handed them framed copies of the American Declaration of Independence and replica Mount Vernon bowls.

There was a reason the meeting took place in Jamba: Savimbi had become the poster child for this new breed of freedom fighter. Like Chalabi, he had a superb understanding of the conservative movement and made frequent trips to Washington to cultivate its activists. Take the itinerary for a 1986 visit: In one week, he attended a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute, hosted by Jeanne Kirkpatrick; a reception thrown by the Heritage Foundation; and another confab at Freedom House. This strategy wasn't just the product of Savimbi's savvy. He had lots of help. Unita paid a $600,000-per-year retainer to the Republican lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly. Savimbi's allies in South Africa's apartheid government donated consulting work by Reagan's 1980 campaign manager, Stuart Spencer, and a cast of ideologues happily volunteered their services. Norquist became economic adviser. According to Nina J. Easton's book Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade, this entailed ghostwriting pro-capitalist manifestos for The Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Savimbi's byline hovered over text proclaiming, "I believe that in Angola the farmer must be exempt from all taxes. The state cannot claim the produce of a farmer's hard work. This would be theft."

It's hard to say who was using whom. But, by mouthing the right words, Savimbi cemented the movement's undying loyalty. The relationship culminated at a 1986 black-tie dinner for the Conservative Political Action Committee. Kirkpatrick delivered a passionate introduction for Savimbi: a "linguist, philosopher, poet, politician, warrior, ... one of the few authentic heroes of our time." As she worked herself toward the climactic moment when she would call Savimbi forward to receive an award for his dedicated anticommunism, she intoned, "Real assistance means real weapons! ... Real helicopters, ... real ground-to-air missiles." It was then that Savimbi, a burly man who conformed perfectly to Hollywood's image of the guerrilla leader, ambled to the lectern. The room broke into a chant, "U-NI-TA, U-NI-TA." At this euphoric moment, Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, told a reporter, "If Jonas Savimbi were an American citizen, he would be the presidential candidate of the conservative movement in 1988."

This was an incredible fantasy. Savimbi arguably made a useful pawn in the struggle against Soviet expansionism, but he wasn't any of the things conservatives claimed. Primarily, he wasn't much of an anti-communist. He had trained in China's revolutionary academies, and, less than two years before his paeans to capitalism appeared in the Journal, he told a Portuguese magazine of his plans to "socialize production." Savimbi had little trouble with this ideological ambidexterity because, more than Maoism or free-market liberalism, unita represented tribalism: The Ovimbundu's struggle against what Savimbi called Angola's "Europeanized elites." After the fall of the Berlin Wall, when foreign money dried up, he dropped all pretenses of ideology and focused his rhetoric entirely on the Ovimbundu's victimhood. In 1989, the Polish journalist Radek Sikorski concluded, "[I]deology is something Savimbi can choose like the fashion of his soldiers' uniforms--patterned to please whoever provides the cloth."

Unfortunately, Savimbi's sins were far greater than hypocrisy. To the credit of National Review, it published Sikorski's damning indictment of unita, including allegations that it had burned 13 people alive. Such behavior was frighteningly typical. A string of Human Rights Watch reports documented that unita violated just about every section of the Geneva Conventions. It indiscriminately used land mines, forcibly conscripted soldiers, and shot down World Food Program flights to starve towns controlled by the government. These complaints were confirmed by unita defectors, who also testified to Savimbi's execution of their high-ranking colleagues.

Savimbi himself admitted to many of these allegations, but that didn't shake the faith of his hard-core believers or lead them to scale back their praise. "These are the kind of things which happen in a civil war," the Heritage Foundation's Jeffrey Gayner nonchalantly told the London Independent in 1989. Even after Savimbi's murder last year, the accolades continued. His admirers gathered for a dinner at the Army and Navy Club, two blocks from the White House, where Kirkpatrick eulogized Savimbi as "extraordinarily educated, intelligent, and cosmopolitan--a guerrilla leader on our side."

or all his murderous faults, Savimbi did enjoy genuine popular support, with tens of thousands of Angolans voluntarily enlisted in his army. His opponents could never claim he was simply a U.S. concoction. The leaders of the Nicaraguan Contras, on the other hand, were vulnerable to precisely this charge. This isn't to deny the widespread desire to resist the brutal Sandinista government. But the Reagan administration, by all accounts, engineered the political leadership of the Contras, falling in love with a series of counterrevolutionaries who broke down under the weight of their own deficiencies.

One such leader was Adolfo Calero, who became Washington's Contra of choice in the mid-'80s. After graduating from Notre Dame, Calero had gone on to run Managua's Coca-Cola bottling plant. Despite ruling-class ties, Calero lambasted the Somoza dictatorship for its shabby economic management. He convinced his fellow businessmen to go on strike against the regime and helped launch the Authentic Conservative Party. All this right-wing activism meant that, when the Sadinisitas seized power, he ultimately had little choice but to take up a life of exile in Miami. It also made him an easy sell to American conservatives, a pitch enhanced by Calero's alliance with Republican consultant Roger Stone, from unita's lobbying firm. In direct-mail solicitations, Stone compared Calero to Washington at Valley Forge. Calero also expertly saddled up to the conservative bar. He became a fixture at Heritage and hit the campaign trail for favorite candidates. At the 1987 North Carolina Republican convention, he joined Jesse Helms on the dais. "Nicaragua is way below the Mason-Dixon line," he bellowed. "That makes me a rebel like you." He subsequently stumped with 1988 presidential contenders Pete du Pont and Bob Dole.

Conservatives endowed Calero with an aura of dissidence, but, in truth, he resembled a classic caudillo. The Contra supporter Robert Leiken, now with the Nixon Center, accused him of practicing politics in the "style of Somoza," mimicking the dictator's lack of devotion to the democratic spirit. And the similarity to the dictatorship went beyond style. Calero's forces included remnants of the ancien régime's thuggish National Guard and other revanchists with less-than-liberal proclivities. While Calero's army may not have committed as many atrocities as the socialist regime, it wasn't contending for any humanitarian awards, either. When groups like Americas Watch condemned the Contras for their "deliberate use of terror," they may have exaggerated specifics, but they got the essence right. As Robert Kagan put it in his political history of the war, A Twilight Struggle, the Contras "treated ... civilians as enemies, and on this basis justified their rape, torture, and murder. Some of the Contras simply enjoyed killing the 'piricuacos' or rabid dogs, as they called the Sandinistas and their official supporters."

By the mid-'80s, these abuses had given the struggle a bad rap. To put a better face on the war, in 1986 the Reagan administration began pushing "Contra reform." It wanted human rights monitors to keep an eye on the rebel army and a leadership shakeup that would elevate politicians with a more progressive bent than Calero. In part, Calero had created his own headache by blithely dismissing the human rights problem. "There have been isolated cases of human rights violations, as there are in every war," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. And, even though the maintenance of congressional support for the Contras depended on enacting reforms, Calero vociferously objected to the changes. He was willing to sacrifice the cause to preserve his own power, and in the end this selfishness alienated even supporters, such as Oliver North. (One of North's deputies, Rob Owen, deemed Calero a "strongman" with followers motivated by "greed and power.") In 1985, President Reagan had declared that Calero and the Contra leadership represented the "moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers." By 1987, the Reagan administration had grown so disillusioned that it forced Calero to resign from the leadership of the United Nicaraguan Opposition.

ut it was in Afghanistan that the conservative imagination diverged most disturbingly from reality. In 1989, Dan Quayle told the Conservative Political Action Committee, "The degree of courage, tenacity, and skill exhibited by Afghan freedom fighters is really almost beyond belief and almost beyond praise." But, well before the horrors of successive Afghan regimes made clear that these "freedom fighters" merely wanted to replace the totalitarianism of godless communism with the totalitarianism of Sharia, the mujahedin's thuggish tendencies were clear to those willing to look. Take the warlord Gulbulddin Hekmatyar, the mujahedin leader to receive the most American aid. As an Islamic student leader at Kabul University, he encouraged his followers to splash acid on the faces of unveiled women and fire guns at their uncovered legs. During the anti-Soviet jihad, he betrayed a similar tendency toward indiscriminate cruelty, assassinating Afghan intellectuals and Western journalists. And, as recently as last month, he ordered his followers to "cut off the hands of the foreign meddlers."

How could conservatives have been so badly mistaken? For starters, they paid only the slightest attention to the ideology of the mujahedin. And, when they did consider political Islam, they didn't treat it as a serious doctrine but, rather, the expression of noble savages and epic warriors. In 1982, the Heritage Foundation's James Phillips wrote, "The Afghans' courage is fortified by traditional Islamic beliefs: if he kills an enemy in the jihad (holy war) and he is revered as a ghazi (Islamic warrior) and if he falls in battle he becomes a shaheed (martyr) who reaps great rewards in paradise." After the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, it became clear where this eschatology could lead. But conservatives didn't want to ask the kind of questions that might tarnish their heroes.

In lieu of an honest evaluation, they remade the Afghans into foreign versions of themselves, religious victims of secular zealotry. William McGurn, now The Wall Street Journal's chief editorial writer, described the mujahedin as "simply ornery mountain folk who have not cottoned to a foreign power" that "attacked their faith." A Heritage backgrounder used the phrase "nongovernmental organization" to describe the Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamiat-e-Islami Party, and other Islamists who funded the Afghan war--language that might have made them eligible for the Faith-Based Initiative. And, to bolster this image, some repeated a tale about a visit Robert Bork's son Charles made to the mujahedin leader Abdul Haq. When Bork first asked for an appointment, word came back that Haq had no interest seeing the son of "that hashish-smoking judge." It was immediately apparent that Haq had confused Bork with Douglas Ginsburg, the Reagan Supreme Court nominee who withdrew from contention after admitting to sharing marijuana with students. When Haq learned of the distinction between Bork and Ginsburg, he warmly welcomed his guest. The implicit lesson of the story was clear: that the mujahedin are God-fearing men with high moral standards. And it was made without any recognition that the Afghans practiced a form of puritanism far more extreme than any Southern Baptist.

hen I visited Jack Wheeler, he showed me the books on his desk. They included Sleeping With the Devil, Robert Baer's polemic against Saudi Arabia, and David Pryce-Jones's The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs. He picked up one and told me, "It's amazing how similar Islam is to Marxism. I mean, it's the same thing all over again." This has become a standard interpretation on the right and has logically led to talk of reapplying the Reagan Doctrine. But the map looks a lot different now than when Wheeler first considered the possibilities of global antiSoviet revolution. Not so many counter-Islamist insurgencies burn across the globe. So reviving the Reagan Doctrine could require digging deeper into the bag of opposition groups for rebels that have even less popular support or even worse track records than their '80s analogs.

And such stretching will exact a toll. Extolling the virtues of cults like the Iranian mujahedin doesn't simply cheapen rhetoric about liberal democracy, it cheapens conservatism itself. Ever since Edmund Burke, conservatives have made skepticism about revolutions and revolutionaries a central tenet of their politics. As Irving Kristol rephrased the classic complaint in a 1972 essay, "to think we have it in our power to change people so as to make the human estate wonderfully better than it is, remarkably different from what it is, and in very short order, is to assume that this generation of Americans can do what no other generation in all of human history could accomplish." This rigid traditionalism has been sometimes deployed to justify turning away from injustice. But it was also a source of humaneness, a bulwark against rash plans for social upheaval, a vital warning about the violent excesses of ideological fervor, a reminder that revolutions often end in tears. In this new era, with grand plans for remaking the map and new heroes being born, we could stand to be reminded of these old dictates, which add a touch of realism to right-wing idealism and offer a salutary dose of conservatism for conservatives.

Posted by razib at 11:35 AM | | TrackBack

August 10, 2003

Blondes & babies

Steve Sailer's Sunday column is on blondes, and his "it's cute because it's shiny" theory makes a lot of sense. I dyed my hair "blonde" two winters in a row, though the first time it was more coppery since my black hair needed multiple treatments and I couldn't stand the itch. It was kind of popular in the late 90s among the punk/snow-board & soccer player set-but the light blonde tips look was more a "gay thang" from what I remember. One of the reasons I did dye my hair blonde was encouragement from a friend of mine who happened to be gay (hi Syd!), and perhaps that colors my perception that non-extreme-sports guys who go blonde tend to be a bit queer.

Back on the topic of paedomorphy in human populations, I do want to add that I believe northeast Asians also exhibit a large degree of child-like traits. The epicanthic fold, more subctaneous fat in the face, flatter facial profile and small nose, all to me suggest a tendency toward selecting for "younger" looking individuals (my Asian friends tended to look the most like their baby pictures as adults to my eye). Perhaps it's no coincidence that paedomorphic selection occurred among the northern Eurasian populations that today also have high mean IQs? I don't know, but something to think about.

Godless comments:

Well, I generally like Steve's ideas....but in my opinion, this sort of theorizing is what gives behavioral genetics a bad name. First of all, the theory is pretty much untestable. There might be a way to test it short of cordoning off a section of wilderness in Northern Europe and letting blondes, brunettes, and redheads attempt to hunt...but in the absence of a test this is a "just so" story, like much of Rushton's explanations (though not his *data*) [1]. Indeed, in 1997 the famous neuroscientist VS Ramachandran subjected the evolutionary psychology community to an Alan Sokal-like hoax on this very topic:

In summary, I suggest that gentlemen prefer blondes in order to enable them to detect the early signs of parasitic infestation and aging – both of which indirectly reduce fertility and offspring viability. Although originally intended as a satire on ad hoc sociobiological theories of human mate-selection, I soon came to realize that this idea is at least as viable as many other theories of mate choice that are currently in vogue.

In other words, many of those other theories are bunk as they're entirely armchair philosophizing. Second of all, the "blonde universality" theory doesn't take an important piece of contrary evidence into account: the disproportionate presence of East Asian females as European male mates and sex objects. In a situation with a 1:1 East Asian/Euro ratio (e.g. UC Berkeley), anecdotally speaking the relative losers in the mating game are Asian males and white females.

We'd have to do polling to verify the latter part of the hypothesis, which many here may find controversial. But as I said before:

For once, though, I'd invoke a cultural explanation [for blonde overrepresentation]. In my opinion that's probably because the US has white models and the US rules the cultural world. But in terms of pure sex appeal, I subscribe to Sailer's "whites are intermediate" theory. Probably muscular West African guys and neotenous East Asian females would do best in a competitive mate/advertising market if we controlled for income, language, IQ, etc.

It's impossible to control for the black-white gap in real life, but when the white-Asian gap is controlled for, I think Asian females beat out white females for white guys. Evidence in favor:

1. Vastly disproportionate demand in the white world for Asian porn relative to the # of Asians (don't know how best to survey this, but a reasonable methodology would validate)
2. Anecdotally, at the UC's in which Asians and whites are at parity (or greater, e.g. Irvine where Asians outnumber whites 2:1), white females complain in a manner very reminiscent of Asian males about how Asian women are "too obedient" and how "they'd never be slaves like that". Again, I'm pretty sure a survey would validate this, e.g. "do you think white males on campus date Asian women *too much*"?

Here, Asian denotes "East Asian", not my kind of Asian (South Asian).

[1] There's a big difference between describing what *is*, and describing how it came about. That's not to say that evolutionary explanations are off-limits, but rather that one needs to test them rather than simply postulate them.

Posted by razib at 11:53 PM | | TrackBack

The West & The Rest

Charles Murray is coming out with a new book, Human Accomplishment, and The American Enterprise Institute has an essay adapted from the book that finishes with this assertion:

And yet the underlying reality is that Europe since 1400 has overwhelmingly dominated accomplishment in both the arts and sciences. The estimates of the European contribution are robust. I write at a time when Europe's run appears to be over. Bleaker yet, there is reason to wonder whether European culture as we have known it will even exist by the end of this century. Perhaps this is an especially appropriate time to stand back in admiration. What the human species can claim to its credit in the arts and sciences is owed in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just a half-dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the northwestern Eurasian land mass

via Steve Sailer

Godless comments:

Yeah, this is a bit dodgy. I think Murray's quantification (97%!?) is more than a bit suspect. But let's dissect this. First, forget about the art...I don't consider that very important. Critical acclaim means far less in art than it does in mathematics. Only a mathematics expert can evaluate the truth value of a mathematical claim. Art, on the other hand, is much more like language in that common usage/appeal determines its value. For example, a game like GTA3 or FFX which appeals to tens of millions of people is no less of a work of art than some obscure painting which pleasures only a few thousand critics and art historians. In math one must be a snob, but in art one can very definitely be a populist.

So - art aside - let's talk about the science. First of all, it's certainly true that European scientific contributions get short-shrift in the humanities departments of today's left-wing academy. PC spin aside, the original scientific contributions of men of Northern/Central European descent [1] in the last four to five hundred years are unmatched. [2] I like to quote this classic rant by Fred Reed on this topic:

We pale males aren't perfect. Far from it...But we have contributed a few things to civilization. For example:

Euclidean geometry. Parabolic geometry. Hyperbolic geometry. Projective geometry. Differential geometry. Algebra. Limits, continuity, differentiation, integration. Physical chemistry. Organic chemistry. Biochemistry. Classical mechanics. The indeterminacy principle. The wave equation. The Parthenon. The Anabasis. Air conditioning. Number theory. Romanesque architecture. Gothic architecture. Information theory. Entropy. Enthalpy. Every symphony ever written. Pierre Auguste Renoir. The twelve-tone scale. The mathematics behind it, twelfth root of two and all that. S-p hybrid bonding orbitals. The Bohr-Sommerfeld atom. The purine-pyrimidine structure of the DNA ladder. Single-sideband radio. All other radio. Dentistry. The internal-combustion engine. Turbojets. Turbofans. Doppler beam-sharpening. Penicillin. Airplanes. Surgery. The mammogram. The Pill. The condom. ... Polio vaccine. The integrated circuit. The computer. Football. Computational fluid dynamics. Tensors. The Constitution. Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Homer, Hesiod. Glass. Rubber. Nylon. Roads. Buildings. Elvis. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. (OK, that's nerve gas, and maybe we didn't really need it.) Silicone. The automobile. Really weird stuff, like clathrates, Buckyballs, and rotaxanes. ... Bug spray. Diffie-Hellman, public-key cryptography, and RSA. Et cetera.

So - that much of the thesis is not in dispute. However, the question of European *historical* dominance is dicier. If I was to enumerate my objections, they'd be as follows:

1. A moving Civ power graph for the several hundred year span between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance would have Asian civilizations ahead, with China in the lead and Europe well behind. Indeed, there are many who'd argue ( pace , Dienekes) that Europe's time in the sun was from 1500-1945...and that they (as a group) are a power on the wane, with America ascendant and China on the wax. Murray acknowledges Europe's decline, but does not mention that Europe was *not* always ascendant...which makes his thesis quite chronocentric.

2. Most of these post 1500's breakthroughs were not those of Europe or the West per se , but rather those of Northern/Central Europe (Northern Italy, England, France and Germany). Countries like Finland, Sweden, Greece, Spain, Russia, America, etc. were not making truly major contributions during the period from 1500-1900. Of course, some of those countries made contributions in the past (Greece), while others made their mark in the 20th century (Russia, America).

3. Foundational discoveries made in the ancient past need to be more heavily weighted than modern discoveries. A suitable number system is crucial before you can do algebra. Roman numerals did not do for this purpose; Indo-Arabic numerals did. Algebra is in turn crucial before you can do analytic geometry. Descartes' Analytic geometry is what motivated calculus. Newton's calculus drove modern physics, and so on. These "path clearing" discoveries count for more, as the first leaps of abstraction are the hardest.

Anyway, I think that this book will be even more poorly received than the Bell Curve. The Bell Curve was fundamentally a work of science; one could simply tell the critics that they were *wrong* about IQ. This, however, is an intepretation of history - and thus far more contentious. Yet many critics will contend that both IQ and Murray's art/science totals are pseudoscientific quantification metrics intended to boost the egos of European males. As J. Malloy said:

I can't wait to see the media reviews for this book considering the thesis (which could easily be construed as implicitly racial) and Murray's *cough* Post-Curve reputation

Yeah, unfortunately I think this is how the coverage will pan out. My view is that Murray has many interesting things to say (and I will probably buy the book), but (as outlined above) his chronocentrism damages his conclusions.

[1] And Ashkenazi Jews, by the time the 20th century rolled around.
[2] East Asians started to kick it into gear again after the post WW2 period, but they have not contributed original science (in recent years) to match their manufacturing/refining expertise. Still, as Murray notes, this is not unusual:

Many Americans combine our civilization with that of Europe under the broad banner of "the West," but this is presumptuous. In his landmark Configurations of Culture Growth, written during the 1930s, anthropologist A.L. Kroeber observed that "it is curious how little science of highest quality America has produced"-a startling claim to Americans who have become accustomed to American scientific dominance since 1950. But Kroeber was right. Compared to Europe, the American contribution was still small then.

In my view, even if there is an East Asian genetic creativity deficit, there is a technical solution on the horizon.

Posted by razib at 02:40 PM | | TrackBack