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February 21, 2004

A Capitalist Call For Socialized Medicine?

Are Free-Market advocates soon going to be facing a choice of the lesser of two evils by accepting socialized medicine in order to facilitate the creation of jobs?

Many CEOs are reluctant to hire workers because of the associated health care costs.

"If U.S. manufacturers have the health care burden, and if you don't elsewhere, it starts to look more attractive to put your dollars elsewhere," said Bill Ford, chief executive of Ford Motor Co., the No. 2 U.S. automaker. "That's a real drag on the economy in terms of job creation."

Economists consider payroll expansion critical to supporting the economy. About 2.3 million jobs have vanished over three years, and U.S. job creation is too slow to keep up with population growth.

Yet many CEOs polled by the Business Council plan no hiring binge in 2004, though three-quarters expect the economy to grow faster than 3.5 percent. It grew 3.1 percent last year.

Just 40 percent of the CEOs expect to hire more this year, and 19 percent expect to hire less. Fifty-six percent cited higher productivity, 41 percent a shift of jobs abroad and nearly one-third economic worries for the soft hiring.

The reluctance to address the issue of how to provide the health care to all citizens is now acting as a brake on job creation and is at the root of cost shifting throughout the health sector.

Roughly one in seven Americans has no health insurance. That hurts HCA Inc., the largest U.S. hospital chain, which last year wrote off $2.21 billion of revenue because patients couldn't pay their bills.

Chief Executive Jack Bovender said the improving economy won't translate overnight into lower bad debts among patients. "What helps us obviously is more people becoming employed, and therefore having insurance coverage," he said.

The bad debts that Health Insurers are stuck with eventually work their way back through the system via insurance premiums. Those increased premiums will adversely affect those companies that have US employees who have health benefits and reward those companies that have managed to relocate employees to countries where health insurance isn't the responsibility of the employer.

At the margins, there will always be pressure to lower health insurance costs, and as job functions are relocated, we'll find that in order to maintain jobs within the US the productivity of the remaining workers will have to increase at a rate greater than the savings that could be realized by relocation. Obviously, some companies will be able to perform this calculus but the response of the companies under pressure will be to either relocate or to disgorge health care responsibilities. How long will adherence to the Free-Market philosophy continue when faced with international competitive pressures that make domestic job creation a less favorable option than moving operations overseas?

Any ideas on how to resolve this health care cost dilemma? I'll venture forth with the opinion that a compromise might be sought by removing the obligation from employers and shifting it to the taxpayer but allowing market forces to yield the best health management plans through multiple providers. A single primary payer but actualized through multiple providers. Additional secondary payers for optional coverage. Competition for clients and organizational practices will yield market-based differentiation while allowing health insurance portability with the consumers able to move between plans at will. Consumers with pre-existing conditions are covered because of the single payer configuration and the game of cost shifting abates.

How will the debate play out if the CEOs make the choice to advocate for government to relieve them of the burden of providing health care so as to enable them to create more jobs, but their employees abhor the idea of soicalized medicine?

Is turnabout fair play? Currently, there is a concern that the wealthiest are paying a larger share of income tax and that the poorest don't have any income tax liabilityat all, but by favoring a disgorgement of health care responsibility the corporate class will be turning the tables and be shifting the fiscal responsibility back to all citizens and thus engaging them into the national tax and spend debate.

Of course, we're left with the problem of eviscerating the entire health insurance industry. How long can we delay the need for national triage on this issue? What choices will be necessary? What economic sector will be sacrificed? Or is this whole post a strawman and are the problems with health insurance surmountable?

Posted by TangoMan at 10:47 PM | | TrackBack

Art- The Abstinence of the Right

Has the Right's role in the world of art been reduced simply to one of criticism? I don't recall a Leftist furor over art presented by an artist on the ideological Right.

Consider the Left's provocation with these recent incidents. Artist Chris Reddy is furious that his art was subjected to the fascist tool of censorship. A glorification of Hanadi Jaradat, the female lawyer who blew herself up in the Haifa. Or Irwin Oostindie's tribute to the Great Leader and his happy & smiling citizens. Angua over Tacitus wondered how Mr. Oostindie could dispute the facts on the situation in North Korea.

Through what filters do these artists see the world? I'll ask the same question as Angua, which is, without slagging the artist, what could they possibly be thinking? Is there such a disconnect going on here that reality as seen by the ideological opponents is itself in dispute?

Keep in mind that most likely, there can be insult added to the injury, if these artists were funded by their respective taxpayers. Are those people with Conservative or Libertarian ideologies just less likely to engage in art as a career? Has art as a means of cultural communication been forfeited to the Left? Has the rally cry for abstinence now infected the realm of art?

Posted by TangoMan at 08:45 PM | | TrackBack

Cultural Universals, or, Homo Poeticus

Decades ago, academics in the humanities refered to Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell wrote of a "monomyth" underlying the world's mythology. Levi-Strauss (no, not the pants maker) advanced the notion of structuralism, i.e. that certain key structures underly all cultures, into the domain of cultural anthropology. Though a lot of this came from Freud and Jung, who really had little if any basis in reality, there is nonetheless some profit into seeking commonality in the human race. Sadly, this trend was soon swept away by post-structuralism, and today only the foolhardy or extremely secure in the humanities speak of cultural universals.

Let me go against the grain for a bit, though, and suggest that those who deny commonality in the human race usually have something of an agenda. I would be a bit more willing to accept that the institutions that make up various cultures that we know have no basis in the structures of the human brain and its evolution were it not for the fact that the evidence screams otherwise.

When people first arrived in North America, humanity generally existed at a tribal and village level. Jericho and Catal Hüyük lay millenia in the future. Nonetheless, when, close to ten thousand years later, the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, they found kings, priests, cities, books, and writing. With no contact between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, the structures of urban civilization had nonetheless evolved parallel to each other. Were the bases of culture less rooted in the wiring of the human brain, the Spaniards would have found a society that was totally alien.

My main point, though, lies not in social institutions, but in language and grammar. Many years ago, everyone's favorite anarcho-syndicalist lay out the notion of a "deep structure," a universal grammar that carried the basic substance of human language that was generally the same despite the accidents of different languages. When we look at people throughout the earth, we see a strong tendency to poetry, a tendency to employ turns of sound, rhythm, and the like to entertain, to recall great deeds of the past, to magnify or humiliate a person, etc.

The various particulars of poetry differ by language. Modern English rhymes, while Old English and Old Norse used a highly formal system of alliteration. Greek and Latin used meter, and I am not familiar enough with other languages to write about other peoples.

"But what is your point, Andrew?" you might be asking. Look at the Norse skald. The skald was, I think I can safely say, nothing like the current idea of a poet (a mincing pansy sitting in a coffee shop smoking unfiltered cigarettes); rather, he lived in a rough and tumble world of warriors who could break into fights at a moment's notice, spend a great deal of time drunkenly magnifying their own physical prowess, and who in general could kick a modern poet's ass without breaking a sweat.

You might, gentle reader, at this point say, "Aha! Does not the example you cited prove that most of the trappings of culture are nothing more than constructs?" I would reply that we ought to look deeper. The skald could spontaneously compose poetry that followed elaborate metrical patterns, poetry that more often than not magnified the might in battle of a man or conversely, in what is known as a "flyting," heap abuse and scorn upon someone. What was praised? Martial virtue, wealth and generosity with that wealth, and comradeship.

The most apt comparison to the skald, then, is not the poet, but the rapper. The good rapper can, after all, spontaneously compose using elaborate turns of rhym, and these compositions usually involve martial virtue, the loyalty of one to his group, an excess of wealth that would be quite at home in any Eddic or Skaldic poetry, etc. Moreover, when performed competitively, it also takes on the form of a flyting, right down to the imagery of words as weapons. Finally, we ought to note that, liner notes aside, rap is still largely an oral, as opposed to a written genre.

So it is, then, that the poetry of martial valor manifests itself in different forms, but with a structure that is generally the same in two very different cultures. Now then, if we did not believe that people have, in general, the same brains, such manifestations would not make much sense. But if you are willing to grant that people are generally the same, then it is perfectly logical that poetry, stripped of many cultural accretions, finds itself returning to its true form.

Posted by schizmatic at 05:57 PM | | TrackBack

From theory to practice

UK new services for people with family history of cancer. Note: "A small proportion of breast, ovarian and bowel cancers are associated with particular inherited genes. " No panacea, but the battle against cancer seems a war of increments....

Posted by razib at 02:57 PM | | TrackBack

February 20, 2004

Japanese origins II

I got an informative email today from someone who had some comments on my post Japanese origins. The email is cut & pasted below.

Email text below this point:

I read your recent comments on the Japanese Korean language relationship with interest. I agree with you that the difference in vocabulary of both languages is too great for a separation of races in the last two thousand years. Yet Korean and Japanese are closer than most people realize. They share a past tense form (-tta), a question marker (ka, kka), a word for “to” (-e) and a “topic marker” (ga), which is a particle unique to Japanese and Korean that functions somewhat like the indefinite article in English. Phonetically they are also alike, both lacking consonant clusters, V and F, turning si into shi, weakening the W and tending to "tense" certain consonants ("lenition"), and the similarity is more evident when Chinese words are stripped out, as these have greatly modified the sound of Korean (less so that of Japanese).

Etymology is difficult to research in both languages because of the use of chinese historically, but there are many candidate cognates (I have not attempted to follow the latest romanization system for Korean, it is a pig of a language to romanize and there are inconsistencies below). Some examples are: mul and mizu (water), mom and mi (body), seom and shima (island), hae and hi (sun), iri and inu (wolf and dog), gom and kuma (bear), geot’ and koto (thing, and also a grammatical particle used in the same way in both languages). Many locational words are also similar—twi-e and ato (behind), ap and mae (in front of), yopp-e and yoko (beside)—and two are almost identical, e and e (to) and wi-e and ue (upon). Evidence exists for at least one sound shift, Korean initial b vs. Japanese h, in pairs such as bul and hi (fire), baem and hebi (snake) byeol and hoshi (star), and bari and hae (the fly). Finally, there are intriguing correspondences such as sul, sol, dal, gul versus Japanese sake, sugi, tsuki, kaki (alcohol, pine, moon and oyster); nal, dol, seoli versus nama, tama, shimo (raw, stone/ball and frost), dari, dari, darri- versus hashi, ashi, hashi- (bridge, foot and run—a strange one, this, perhaps just a remarkable coincidence); ttae, dae versus toki, take (time, bamboo), gureum, ssireum versus kumo, sumo (cloud, wrestling), chupda, jopda, versus samui, semai (narrow, cold)—as well as pairings that need more lateral thinking, such as nop- (high) versus nob- (climb, rise), and gyeoul (winter) versus koori (ice). In fact, at least one book has been written drawing all these cognate candidates together, with systematic correspondences outlined. The problem, as said, is the difficulty of proving genetic links, as there are no other comparable languages and the early history of J and K is totally obscured by the use of chinese characters. The absence of obvious correspondence in numbers, kin and personal pronouns and other Indoeuropean "indicators" has also misled people (personal pronouns in both languages are multiple and show great change over time). It is also a fact that neither the Japanese nor many Koreans are happy with the idea of a genetic relationship, and this has dampened research efforts. Still, it is strange how little attention this question, which ultimately concerns the origins of two of the world’s most important peoples, has received outside academia, or even within it. Very broadly, I would say the Japanese-Korean relationship is stronger than say English-Russian, but not comparable with English-German. I am a Japanese-to-English translator who has studied Korean. Hope you find this interesting.

I deleted the the name of the emailer and added the bold

Posted by razib at 10:33 PM | | TrackBack

Pharmaceutical Trials Outsourced to India

This article details the rapid rise of clinical trials within the Indian market. It parallels the outsourcing debate that has thus far been centered on programmers.

Leaving aside the pros and cons of outsourcing, I'm curious if there will be unexpected problems arising from testing the drug's efficacy on an Indian population and then marketing the drug to a First World population, consisting primarily of Caucasians?

Here are some related articles. Should Clinical Trials be allowed? Flocking to India. Fodder for Trials.

Addendum: Let me throw a rhetorical stink-bomb for the sake of discussion. We've all heard the argument that Pharma is worried that if something isn't done to curtail drug re-importation into the US, incentive to research new drugs will diminish. Why not just outsource the whole drug development process to a lower cost region and still yield handsome profits? This will eliminate the need to have drug price-controls in many countries and the US consumer price for drugs will drop. Think of the downstream effects. This will also free up all of the expensive US microbiology research personal so that they can find more productive careers in other industries.

OK. discuss amongst yourselves :)

Posted by TangoMan at 08:17 PM | | TrackBack

The evidence against evolution

Readers might find this "Guest Opinion" from a Montana publication that states Evidence against evolution overwhelming interesting. A close examination of the piece will reveal that the author knows the buzz-words and is acquainted with Intelligent Design literature and the standard talking points. The scientifically literate will find the piece amusing & peculiar. It displays a scientific "look & feel," without genuine substance.

In many ways it reminds me of science fiction author Ray Bradbury, whose literary, but scientifically naive, short stories and novels aimed for a style of science, rather than the reality of science. Science fiction critic Damon Knight took Bradbury and his fellow travellers to task for demoting the "science" element of science fiction to a poor step-child, the background for novels of plot, character and imagination. In contrast, the science fiction of authors that clustered around John W. Cambpell took science seriously, and many were trained scientists who made the methods of their disciplines integral parts of their short stories. But in the end, it is the more space opera & literary science fiction authors whose work and style has broken out of the ghetto and into the public imagination[1]. Much of the "sci-fi" that you see in film & television has little relation to the hard science fiction of the scientist authors, but bears more than a passing resemblance to the more explicitly fictional works of Bradbury & co. (Look at how many Philip k. Dick novels have made the media jump).

What relationship does this have to evolution? The public doesn't really understand the substance and method of science. It is easily swayed by the "look & feel," the illusion becomes the reality. Most people who think of science fiction outside the ghetto think of space opera and might even think that hacks like L. Ron Hubbard were prominent authors within the field when they are jokes.

Proponents of Intelligent Design are often very good at bluffing the public into think they know what they are talking about. A few years ago I was watching Politically Incorrect, and SI swimsuit model & evangelical Christian Kathy Ireland, broke out into an exposition of how the impossibility of abiogenesis proves the validity of the Bible. Two years ago a local radio show host in my home town simply allowed a fundamentalist Christian to ramble at him about how the "Second Law of Thermodynamics proves that evolution can't happen."

How do people react to such assertions? Quite often, they are dumb-founded, and try to keep an open mind. On Politically Incorrect the other guests and Bill Maher appeared in shock, and had no response to what Kathy Ireland had stated. I doubt many of them knew what abiogenesis was before she defined it for them. The host of the local radio show was an environmentalist Jewish liberal-I doubt he had Creationist sympathies, but he quite obviously had no idea what the Second Law of Thermodynamics was, and so he allowed the Christian to speak since the latter seemed more knowledgeable than he on that topic.

In a rage, I called in to the aforementioned program and gave a point-by-point refutation of the points that the Creationist had made. The host responded that it was all "very interesting," and something to "think about." He ended with a mild lecture to me to be more "open minded" and agree that we all ultimately "share the same values." I really didn't know what to say to this since it didn't have relevance to what I had just told him.

When telling this story to a friend of mine who was a lawyer, he agreed that he would not know how to respond to assertions by Creationists about various "disproofs" of evolution. He hadn't encountered the Second Law of Thermodynamics since high school. He didn't know about moon dust, microevolution vs. macroevolution, etc. etc.

If one isn't scientifically literate, I think the one thing that you can do to get Creationists to back off is demand they elaborate on what they are saying. Quite often they are parroting what they have read in a pamphlet by rote, and couldn't really tell you the details of thermodynamics, or back-of-the-envelope-calcuations of the accumulation of moon dust. Since I know their general tricks, I know all the responses, and I generally find that most of those who repeat what their preacher has taught them react with embarrassment when demands are made for clarification or refutation of a counter-point. This suggests to me that they go through much of their everyday life triumphant over the ignorant and uninformed, proud of their secret knowledge.

[1] For instance, the Star Wars saga owes a large debt to E. E. Smiths space opera "Lensmen" series.

Posted by razib at 06:09 PM | | TrackBack

Determinist, I?

Genetic determinist. Call it GNXP's Rule, all discussions that relate to the intersection of sociology & biology eventually seem to elicit an accusation or implication that GNXPers are "genetic determinists."

Genes set constraints and parameters. They load the die. But what they end up determining depends on both the gene in question and the context that the phenotype is expressed.

If you take two identical twins and beat one of them over the head periodically for a year during early infancy to the point where it exhibits brain damage-I freely admit that the intellectual capacities of said individual are not predominantly genetically determined. If you take a population of children from a small town and dose them with high levels of lead to the point where the vast majority become mentally retarded-I find it plausible that heritability of intellectual capacities will be lower in this population than otherwise.

We speak not of individuals, but of populations. We speak not of on-off dominant-recessive traits, but of continuous polygenic traits. We apologize to regular readers who have listened to this litany for the nth time, but our experience is that one can not repeat it enough ....

Posted by razib at 05:33 PM | | TrackBack

Quantitating liberalism

In a previous thread Randy M. noted that Islam is more variegated than I might have implied. He notes: "Other variants are merely repressively conservative, following traditional conservative repression models. And others are positively liberal." Godless responds: "Find me a mosque that preaches tolerance for homosexuals." So I went back to last year's survey from Pew and did a control-f for "homosexuality."

The Muslim country with the highest tolerance of homosexuality seems to be Turkey. 22% of Turks surveyed agreed that society should accept homosexuality. Lebanon is close with 21%, but with a 30% Christian minority, I don't know if it qualifies as "Muslim." Interestingly, the lowest cluster of homo-acceptance seems to be a group of west and east African countries, though down under in Angola & South Africa they are mildly pro-homo (South Africa has relatively liberal legislation when it comes to homosexuality from what I gather)....

My major point is that you can find pro-life atheists, but the vast majority of atheists accept the legalization of at least first trimester abortions-there is no point in pretending as if pro-life atheists are major players in the pro-life movement or that they are very prominent in the secular movements around the world. What passes for "liberal" in the Muslim world is a thin gruel indeed (allowing some level of proselytization of other religions such as in Indonesia-the liberal Islamic country where Pew indicates 93% of the population does not think homosexuality should be accepted by society). The more important question: what are the attitudes of Muslims who live in the West?

Posted by razib at 04:41 PM | | TrackBack

What would google say?

I decided to look at the top 10 websites on google when I queried for 5 major world religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism & Buddhism. I quickly looked around the sites and characterized their general tone. Here is what I found:


  • 5 pro-Muslim apologetic sites.
  • 2 Muslim oriented news & info sites.
  • 2 Muslim oriented educational sites.
  • 1 pro-Christian apolgetic site


  • 7 educational sites, a mix of Christian and religiously neutral and sectarian.
  • 3 Christian oriented news & info sites.


  • 9 educational sites, 1 religiously neutral, the others from a Jewish perspective
  • 1 pro-Jewish apologetic site, oriented toward countering conversion to Christianity.


  • 6 educational sites, both Hindu and religiously neutral.
  • 3 Hindu oriented news & info sites.
  • 1 dead link.


  • All the Buddhist sites struck me as educational in orientation, whether from a Buddhist or religiously neutral perspective

You can check my evaluations, some of these were judgement calls. Overall, I think that the top 10 websites of the various religions reflected them pretty well in terms of what people would have expected.

Buddhism: Many of the sites were very academic. They were dry, often not glitzy, and had a 1996 feel as far as the HTML formatting. You definitely got the feeling that this is a detached faith.

Hindusim: Kind of an F.O.B. feel here. One of the links was even dead. Tend toward community oriented sites that emphasize extra-religious aspects of the culture like marriage more than the others. Seemed a bit more unorganized, with less central structure and commonalities.

Judaism: It's all about the learning! Almost all of these sites were oriented toward Jews to help them practice their own faith, or acted as information dispensaries for gentiles who might have misimpressions of their faith.

Christianity: Generally slick sites. If they were pushy about converting you they tended to be conservative sites. Very worldly in terms of focusing on where the news was, where the mission opportunities are, etc.

Islam: These sites were among the more targeted out there, they sometimes addressed Christians very directly, showing how Islam is the One True Faith. These were the sites where I saw explicit textual appeals to the validity of the Koran or confirmation via scientific discoveries of the Koran's veracity. This sort of site is common on the "Christian" net as well (and no doubt the other religions)-but was pushed down further on the google results. Interestingly, the one Christian site that mirrored the Muslim ones in tone, using textual gotchas and trying to "prove" their religion to unbelievers, was a Christian site that showed up in the same list as the Muslim sites.

Posted by razib at 03:45 PM | | TrackBack

By author

I created a very simple interface to the database that stores all our entries. You can now view all the entry titles (sorted by date from the present) filtered by author. You can always find the link to the page below "search." Hopefully this will make the occasional emails I get asking about such & such post 5 months back by so & so unnecessary.

Posted by razib at 02:01 AM | | TrackBack

February 19, 2004

Daily confusions

If you found The unbearable awkwardness of alienation funny-you have to read this (via Ikram).

Posted by razib at 03:27 PM | | TrackBack

The gentle jihadist & other tales

It seems that the mainstream-Left is is becoming cautious about its modus vivendi with "moderate" Islam in the West. They have alway known that beasts of the deep lurk in the belly of multiculturalism, but a muscular Islam actualizes what was previously a theory. When I read the book Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith, I was struck by the double-think of many of the authors, asserting that Islam must change in one paragraph, and stating that Islam is not the problem, it is the cultures that espouse it, in the next. These banal platitudes remind me of running in place, the solution simply recapitulates the problem, giving birth to the next generation of spineless apologetics.

A Slate piece, Veil of Tears, chronciles the rise and fall of "Arab feminism." The interesting point is that these written-for-public-consumption articles always seem to point to the 1950s as the peak of Arab feminism-the very decade that the "American housewife" reached the apotheosis of her development. While the Arab woman has (according to the conventional narrative) regressed toward a quasi-pre-modern-state since the the days of Ike, her Western sisters have rushed headlong though the sexual revolution and emerged out the other end of the transformative apparatus changed. The implication is clear, the 1950s marked the decade when Arab social liberalism and American social conservatism converged toward some semblance of similarity.

On another note, Randy MacDonald expresses his opinion on the veil & France. Randy's opinions reflect many of my own. He is a non-heterosexual. I am an apostate. Our very existence demands that the old time religion be crushed underfoot, castrated and disemboweled, driven to the inner & personal realm, a faction on the margins waxing nostalgic for the days of old. Our existence demands that this be so[1]. It is not a matter of right or wrong, but the dominion of their way or our way.

My co-blogger notes that a social equilibrium once altered is difficult to reattain, yet I feel that this analogy works best for modern liberal societies. The march of science and the concomitant artistic & cultural ferment that is the West, the modern itself, makes us forget the power of the eternal recurrence. A cyclical view of time did not emerge ex nihilo, rather, it is a rational formulation of the order of things in a world that is changeless, always shifting between narrow & permanent constraints. Because we in the West have broken the eternal cycle of suffering does not deny that the day might come when we are once more trapped in the wheel of existence. Complacency is the mother of regress.

Addendum: People are dying for selling beer in Iraq. This, our once and future Lockean democracy, the Light Unto The Arab Nations. Look to your Heineken and remember the important things in life....

Update: Schadenfreude over at NRO over the silent collapse of the Muslim-Left alliance.

1. This applies to the geographic domains of the post-Christian West. An attempted imposition of a universal moral order on a global scale at sharp variance with local traditions is bound to backfire.

Posted by razib at 01:51 PM | | TrackBack

February 18, 2004

Beyond Left & Right

I am personally very skeptical of some of the more binary typologies that have invaded the American political analytic discourse (as expressed by both those on the Left and the Right). One of these is that Europe is Left and America is Right. There is a lot to be said for this, from Europe's socialism & secularism vs. America's capitalism & religiousity to Europe's internationalism vs. America's unilateralism.

The fact that the Dutch are expelling 26,000 failed asylum seekers is evidence that the conventional wisdom has faults. On issues of race & ethnicity Europe is to the Right of America. On particularities of Church & State, most of Europe is to the Right of America (the French exception notwithstanding).

But I believe there is one country that can be portrayed as unequivocally to America's Left, Canada, European socialism + American pluralism.

Posted by razib at 03:49 PM | | TrackBack

Sex with teacher

The impending UC ban on profs dating students is an interesting examination of the concurrent strands in American political & social thought. There seem to be four proponents of this ban:

  • Risk averse administators.

  • Meritocrats intent on curbing favoritism.

  • Feminists concerned with potentional for sexual harassment.

  • Social conservatives who distrust the corrupting professoriat.

With the exclusion of the work-place from the courtship-zone, the atomization of single mobile professional life, the weakening bonds of family and the ever increasing expectations game, it is no wonder that internet dating and other forms of contrived but seemingly necessary forms of social intercourse have arisen to fill the vacuum. On a mildly related note, how bitchy a woman is to other women might be related to her cycle.

Posted by razib at 01:56 PM | | TrackBack

Clans in the FBI?

Is the Islamic cultural practice of clan primacy infiltrating the FBI? Randall Parker has an informative survey piece on cousin marriage that addresses the problems that Iraq may encounter from this practice, but this article in FrontPage Magazine inadvertently illustrates the practice taking hold within the civil service culture of the FBI.

The language service squad is the front line in the FBI's war on terrorism, collecting all foreign language tips, information and terrorist threats to homeland security. Agents act on what the squad translates and reports. The sooner they get the information, the sooner they can thwart terrorist attacks. Investigators had missed clues to both the 2001 and 1993 World Trade Center attacks because they were buried in a backlog of untranslated wiretaps and documents in Arabic.

Despite the backlog, Feghali told Edmonds and other translators to just let the work pile higher, according to Edmonds. Why? Money. She says Feghali, who has recruited family and friends to work with him at the high-paying language unit, (emphasis added) argued that Congress would approve an even bigger budget for it if they could continue to show big backlogs.

While the act of recruiting family and friends into the civil service is not uncommon, the process as applied to a culture within a culture milieu is more troubling, for the Arab translation department seems to be a fiefdom with the greater whole of the FBI and attaining a congruence of goals seems to be problematic (as the rest of the article argues.)

Posted by TangoMan at 01:32 PM | | TrackBack

February 17, 2004

Different altitudes, different strokes

Nature has an article about research which explores the various adaptations to high altitude living that alpine peoples have made, in this case, those of the Andes, Ethiopian Highlands and Tibet.

The findings:

  • Physiologically: the three populations have stumbled upon different solutions to the low oxygen levels at higher altitudes.

  • Genetically: the sequences of DNA in their mitochondria are very different.

  • Historically: the overall genetics of these peoples indicate that they are not the descendants of a small population that entered elevated altitudes and reproduced at a high rate when confronted by a new ecological niche, but rather various populations who emigrated from lowland regions at different points in history.

One thing to note is that the Tibetan plateau is more desolate than the Andean or Ethiopian uplands. While Tibetans are surrounded by more numerous nations, the Andes and the highlands of Ethiopia have traditionally been more densely populated than adjacent lowlands.

Here is an older article from the above researcher titled An Ethiopian pattern of human adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia.

GNXP readers might find it curious that the author of the above article lead a workshop titled: Human Dimensions of Biodiversity.

Posted by razib at 11:56 PM | | TrackBack

Where do stars go when they fade away?

Have you ever come across some bizarre website in your web searches that has absolutely nothing to do with your search but then you get curious and pulled into exploring the new site?

Have you ever wondered what happens to movie & TV actors when their popularity fades? What do they do? Go back to being waiters?

Well, if you want to see how some of these actors make a buck today, go here for 6 pages of current photographs of has-been actors.

Who's the favorite that you haven't seen for a while?

Godless & Razib, you guys should create a Bizarre category for posts like this.

Posted by TangoMan at 09:28 PM | | TrackBack

The Moustache Makes the Man

A couple of recent comments on what peoples get mistaken for what other peoples reminded me of this story that I saw on FARK.com not too long ago:

Japanese army opts for new form of camouflage

Male Japanese soldiers heading for Iraq on a historic mission over the next couple of months are being advised to grow moustaches so as to fit in with the local people, said a spokesperson at their base in Asahikawa on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

The 10 or so women members of the 600-strong contingent are being issued with dark green scarves to cover their hair in accordance with local custom.

Drinking alcohol and eating pork will be forbidden within the Japanese army base, which is to be constructed outside the southern town of Samawa....

But favourable Iraqi reaction to the mustachioed Colonel Masahisa Sato, the leader of an advance party dispatched to the southern Iraqi town of Samawa last month, seems to have proved the advantages of facial hair.

"What a magnificent moustache. He looks just like an Iraqi," a Japanese newspaper quoted one local resident as saying.

I suppose that it is less funny when people are trying to blow you up.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 03:17 PM | | TrackBack

Gene Therapy

This article on gene therapy in rats is getting the attention of the sporting world because of the possibilities of increasing an athlete's muscle mass.

A University of Pennsylvania researcher seeking ways to treat illness said that studies in rats show that muscle mass, strength and endurance can be increased by injections of a gene-manipulated virus that goes to muscle tissue and causes a rapid growth of cells.
Posted by TangoMan at 01:48 PM | | TrackBack

February 16, 2004

The unbearable awkwardness of alienation

I was invited to my girlfriend's brother's Valentine's Day party this Saturday. Up I went to Imbler....

While at the party, a girl accosted me. Below is a short transcript of the conversation:

Girl: Hey, can I talk to you?
Me: Who, me?
Girl: Yeah, I'm really interested in diversity and various cultures.
Me: Ok.
Girl: Are you from India?
Me: I was born in Bangladesh.
Girl: I really admire your gods.
Me: Excuse me?
Girl: I really admire your gods, they are so spiritual.
Me: Uh, my family is Muslim.
Girl: [Embarrassed]
Me: Don't worry about it. Happens all the time.
Girl: I've never met a Muslim from India before.
Me: I was born in Bangladesh.
Girl: Well, I have a friend, [some name] Patel, he's a Hindu.
Me: Cool.
Girl: So I assumed you know, being from India, that you were Hindu.
Me: My family is from Bangladesh-
Girl: But you know, I like Islam, the idea of one God, I kind of believe something like that. Simple and pure.
Me: I'm an atheist.
Girl: Excuse me?
Me: I've never believed in God.
Girl: Oh, well, I think Islam is kind of severe.
Me: Uh, yeah, so I do I....
[cut to long diatribe about how she won't get rid of her tatoos even though she's converting to Reform Judaism]

Posted by razib at 03:47 PM | | TrackBack

Language Quest

Abiola has a long post titled "In Search of the Ur-Language." Here is an old article on Nostratic that might interest readers.

Posted by razib at 12:55 PM | | TrackBack

Adobe Reader Trick

Anyone who reads a lot of pdf files probably hates the startup slowness of Adobe Reader as much as I do.

A short stint on Google revealed this trick to speed up Reader's start time.

If you move all of the files and folders from the Adobe Reader 6.0 plugins folder (usually C:\Program Files\Adobe\Acrobat 6.0\Reader\plug_ins) and put them in the optional folder, it will cease to load them on startup. Plugins will only load as needed. Disabling the splash screen in Edit->Preferences->Startup will speed up Adobe Reader even more. Pdf files load in half a second for me now.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 08:07 AM | | TrackBack

A seamless garment

PNAS has an early online publication of a new article on evolution & paleontology. Titled, Integrating the genotype and phenotype in hominid paleontology (PDF), it is a very accessible piece which hits one of my favorite themes, the confluence of various scientific methodologies in an established discipline. Here is a predigested press piece that is short & sweet.

Posted by razib at 12:20 AM | | TrackBack

February 15, 2004

The evolution of ideas

Imagine for a moment....

  • A great thinker writes a book
  • The book influences many individuals
  • Political movements start
  • More books are written about the great book
  • Politics takes on a life of its own, the ideas in the book are implemented
  • More books are written about the great book
  • Politics keeps on a movin'
  • More books are written about the books written about the book
  • Factions develop over intrepretations of the book, and the books about the book
  • People die over ideas encapsulated in the great book, and the books about the book
  • The congruence between the ideas in the great book and those of the great thinker and those of politicians implementing those ideas becomes a stretch

And so forth. Most of you know what I'm getting at. The book? Das Kapital. The thinker, Marx.

It strikes me that many Marxists I've met have read tertiary works and further. Some nouveau Marxists would put a Talmudic exegetist to shame. What if Marx came back to the modern world and saw what "Marxists" espoused. What if he was in cognito, could anyone deny that he would be rejected by his erstwhile "followers," perhaps as a reactionary who opposed the revolution?

The parallels to Christianity should also be obvious, followers warping the utopian message of the founder out of shape to suit their own interests. But it also can be seen in the "Post Modern" movement, or the "Objectivist" movement (I have met Objectivists who haven't read Atlas Shrugged, just The Fountainhead). It seems an inevitability of social movements that "drift" & "selection pressures" change the idealistic seed to a practical mature form. The rank & file adhere to simple maxims rather than drinking from the well of original works ("What would Jesus Do?" "Come the Revolution!"). Sectarianism and cant overwhelm genuine intellectual discourse and individual conscience.

For moderns, I think one thing that we need to do is go back to the sources. Ditch commentary! Back to the ancients! (and 19th century thinkers)[1]

Clarification: My suggestion to go back to primary sources was less intended to expose readers to a purer distillation of original ideas, than to diminish the combination of righteous zeal and appeal to authority that fundamentalists (both political & religious) often evince.

I have not read Das Kapital, but I have read the Koran (translation) and the Hebrew Bible, and am convinced that intelligent minds of the fundamentalist bent could be dissuaded from their orientation (or at least mitigated) by an examination of the self-evident "flaws"[2] in their source religious texts (the fact that the Koran is in archaic Arabic means that many non-Arab Muslims treat it in an idolatrous fashion rather than the banal work that much of it is). As it is, a group of self-interested gate-keepers in Protestantism and Islam often "guide" their charges to their own interpretation of the foundational text as the fundamental reading[3]. I suggest a look at the sources less to recapture the intellectual glory of the past, than expose moderns to the fallibility and humanity of the "golden" past, and so remove some of the bite out of the righteous zeal of some individuals who believe that they have the One True Way from On High. Before we can emphasize context, we must actually read the text that must be contextualized (eg; many conservative Christian youth I have met are unfamiliar with the differences in the various Gospels of the New Testament, likely because they have not engaged in a close reading. As another example, many Christians seem ignorant of the fact that there seem to be two creation stories encapsulated in Genesis-the link I provide is a conservative Christian interpretation of why there really aren't two stories, but it takes a lot to get to this point in the first place)

fn1. This does not include natural science.

fn2. If internal inconsistency and turgid text can be considered flaws in the works of God.

fn3. The gatekeepers of the more hierarchical Christian traditions have done a better job at keeping textual fundamentalism at bay, perhaps because they understand that it is a threat to their own spiritual monopoly as "free agents" can appeal to Sola Scriptura to hide their own machinations and undermine the spiritual superstructure.

I would also suggest that even if a religious (or political) text is straight-forward in its injunction, the existence of obvious flaws in other portions of the work can be used to undermine the relevance of unpleasant conclusions.

Posted by razib at 11:36 PM | | TrackBack