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June 12, 2004

Bow-wow language?

A Fetching Lexicon: Language clues come from dog's vocabulary. So the dog has some lexical talents, to my mind, language = grammar + vocabulary, and it seems that the equation is left half completed in this case.

Posted by razib at 12:55 AM | | TrackBack

Praise be unto the celibates

How about this proposition: societies with celibate or quasi-celibate classes and groups tend to be more open to innovation and more likely to give rise to counter-cultural intellectual movements that result in positive change downstream. On first blush it seems a loony idea, and I am willing to be refuted by the anthropological and historical literature on this topic, but my own intuition is driving me toward this direction. It is I believe part of the same tendency that contributes to the decline of scientific creativity and daring after marriage for any given researcher's career.

But first a qualification: when I say "quasi-celibate," I will admit that the Catholic priests of medieval Europe were not always celibate, and the unmarried Oxford dons of the 19th century were celibate by choice as much as dictate. Celibacy is just a way to indicate that conventional norms of family life and the responsibilities that go along with a "wife & kids" do not constrain these individuals to the same extent as "family men" (or now, women). This does not mean that I think that non-celibates can't be intellectual, but I suspect that they are more likely to stay within the narrow path of accepted wisdom, and act as interpreters and exegetes, refining truths rather than discovering new ones.

Certainly Jewish rabbis and the Islamic ulema are often intelligent, and their writings display a great deal of erudition and knowledge, but, both these groups tend to modify and reinterpret traditional knowledge, so change is evolutionary, incremental, and often based more on developing group consensus than individual passion. Why? I think the fact that rabbis and the ulema are married and have children is a big part of it, they don't want to risk the social chaos that might result if some of their more daring ideas hit the newstands. The Confucian scholars and thinkers of ancient China were also obviously bright men, but Confucius was explicit in that he was only reviving traditional customs and clarifying upon common sense. In many ways Confucian thought is prosaic, and typifies the fixation of family men who saw the study of family and its implications for human existence as the most important pursuit in the cosmos (classical Chinese philosophy for instance gave rather low status to logicians, as they seemed to be tricksters who played with empty word-games). In contrast, the Daoist recluses and the Buddhist monks of China have produced a great deal of esoterica beyond the bounds of the mundane, though their decoupling from the Chinese "establishment" means that they have had less impact than the Confucian Mandarins at the elite level.

If Isaac Newton was born into a society where marriage was mandatory by social convention, would he have changed the world while juggling his spouse and children? I am skeptical. Though the Roman Catholic Church lost its other half during the Reformation, many Protestants continued to leave a niche open for celibates and bachelors[1]. The Catholic Church also highlights differences within the world of the clerisy, as priests who served congregations tended to be more conservative, while the monks were intellectual rabble rousers. In South Asia, I believe one reason that Hindus reacted with more flexibility to the Western domination of the subcontinent than Muslims is that a minority of intellectual "oddballs" adapting and modifying Western ideas was more acceptable in a religion where vows of celibacy can create a class of activists dedicated only to general social goals and their own intellectual passions (which can be leveraged by the society). In contrast, Muslim clerics with families and non-religious concerns (like many of my forefathers) had a vested interest in maintaining a stable status quo (many were land-owners, like my forefathers) and opted for the lowest risk strategy possible (and also, lowest yield it seems).

Today, many childless liberal bohemians exist as a quasi-celibate class. They provide the artistic flavor that enriches Western culture. Their cognates on the Left Brain are the nerds, who provide the rich corpus of scientific knowledge that serves as the bedrock for material modernity. So in the end we are left with a quandary: many of the culturally creative societies are in demographic decline because of an excess of quasi-celibates. That is, Japan might have a shrinking population, but it is Asia's cultural superpower, defining an artistic sensibility via anime and fashion, in part because of the new individualism of its youth. I suppose the key is to find a good balance between the two, and convince the majority of society that not everyone should be a quasi-celibate, as there can be only so many artists and scientists whose names will go down in the history books.

[1] Any surprise that Copernicus & Mendel were Catholic clerics? Married Protestant clerics are to my mind rarely revolutionary thinkers because they can't always have their head in the air.


1) I am not asserting that celibacy or quasi-celibacy is a necessary condition of "genius."

2) Rather, I am making the observation that careers in science and the arts often take an enormous input of time. Those who do not have families have this time.

3) Additionally, I also suspect that a family encourages some level of risk aversion. Even if young scientists and artists are the ones who generate the "kooky" ideas that might change paradigms, it might take the lifetime of that individual espousing and promoting that idea to shift the mind-set of his or her hide-bound colleagues. So, possibly a lifetime of ridicule and opprobrium that the family-less might be more able to endure (this also suggests honor societies where extended family reputations are tied to individual reputation and vice versa can discourage risk-taking).

Posted by razib at 12:15 AM | | TrackBack

June 11, 2004

The Costs of Unskilled Immigration

Open borders libertarians and neoconservatives often speak of the great benefits of having a large supply of "cheap labor." The problem with "cheap labor" is that it is not really cheap labor at all, but subsidized labor. For example, in California, education alone costs nearly $7,000 per kid, per year.[1] Given that the typical Hispanic mother has 3 kids (it is probably higher for the poorest Hispanics), we're already talking about a cost of $21,000+, more than many unskilled immigrants make in salary, much less pay in taxes.[2] This doesn't include other services, both "welfare" type services such as health care and housing assistance, and other services, such as law enforcement (including police, courts, and jails), and transportation (new roads and highways, public transportation). Increased population also means that pollution will increase and/or stricter environmental controls will need to be enacted, which can also be expensive. Another problem with immigration and population increase in general is that it helps to push housing prices higher.

NRC (National Research Council) data bears this out:

The most comprehensive research on this subject was done by the National Research Council (NRC), which is part of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, conducted in 1997, found that more-educated immigrants tend to have higher earnings, lower rates of public service use, and as a result pay more in taxes than they use in services. In contrast, the NRC found that because of their lower incomes and resulting lower tax payments coupled with their heavy use of public services, less-educated immigrants use significantly more in services than they pay in taxes. The NRC estimates indicated that the average immigrant without a high school education imposes a net fiscal burden on public coffers of $89,000 during the course of his or her lifetime. The average immigrant with only a high school education creates a lifetime fiscal burden of $31,000. In contrast, the average immigrant with more than a high school education was found to have a positive fiscal impact of $105,000 in his or her lifetime. The NAS further estimated that the total combined fiscal impact of the average immigrant (all educational categories included) was a negative $3,000. Thus, when all immigrants are examined they are found to have a modest negative impact on public coffers. These figures are only for the original immigrant, they do not include public services used or taxes paid by their U.S.-born descendants.

In the mid 1990s, immigration cost each California household nearly $1200[Control-F+"measures"]. If one takes out skilled immigration, and takes into account the large increase in the immigrant population in California since the mid 1990s, the figure would probably be subtantially worse.

Hispanic immigrants and their children also, on average, have low levels of education, persisting through the second, third, and fourth generations.

Another problem with libertarian/neoconservative position in favor of loose or open borders is that immigrants often bring ideas that are very different from those promoted by libertarians and neocons (and conservatives in general). Though immigrants cannot vote immediately, once they and their children *DO* become voters, they tend to vote heavily Democratic. This not only increases the power of the Democrats but pushes Republicans to run panderers and big spenders like George W. Bush. Republicans may also pander and spend because of the "necessity" of attracting future Hispanic voters in addition to today's Hispanic voters. Immigrants, given poverty and a tendency to cluster in ethnic enclaves, are likely to move in Democratic areas. When redistricting comes up, this means that the number of Democratic districts is likely to go up--even if many new residents are non-voters, children or even illegal aliens. The bottom line is that there is no getting around the tendency of immigrants to empower those who are very much opposed to libertarianism and conservatism in all its forms.

[1]Abiola's argument about this:

As for the frequent claims that, say, each immigrant schoolchild costs the taxpayer $5,000 (or some other outrageous figure) a year, that is an out and out falsehood, based on the confusion (whether deliberate or otherwise) of average costs with marginal costs; just because per capita expenditure on elementary education is $5,000 a year does not mean that the marginal cost of educating an extra schoolchild, illegal immigrant or otherwise, will be $5,000 or anything close to it. After all, a school once built is a sunk cost, whether it houses 1 child or 1,000, so charging the price of adding child 901 to the 900 already in the building at average cost is a manifest absurdity - but that is just the sort of argument anti-immigration nuts routinely make.

This is a largely spurious argument. What happens when the immigrant children are numbers 901 through 1100? Immigrant children are not somehow immune to needing new schools. Additionally, when immigrants move into already densely populated areas, building new schools can become quite expensive because it is so difficult to find or create a site for a school (think Belmont). School construction is also not the only education cost--teacher and administrator salaries are also major costs, if not the main costs, associated with education. These costs will tend to rise (and/or standards will tend to fall) as the student population increases relative to the teacher population due to simple supply and demand, thus increasing per-child costs (and/or lowering the quality of education).

[2]The illegal aliens legalized under the 1986 Immigration Act were especially poor and had especially low levels of education:

An Immigration and Naturalization Service study found that after ten years in the United States, the average amnestied illegal alien had only a seventh grade education and an annual salary of less than $9,000 a year.1 Unlike immigrants with a sponsor who guarantees they will not become a burden on the public, when Congress enacts an amnesty, it makes the American public financially responsible for those amnestied.

Posted by bb at 08:35 AM | | TrackBack

Love is natural

I don't have time to post about arranged marriage right now, but I do want to submit this assertion: if pair-bonded "love matches" and families dictating arranged matches are set up as a dichotomy, the former has far deeper roots in our "hardware," while the latter is a recent emergent property of our experiments with various kinship structures in the context of dense agricultural life. My argument rests on a simple observation, societies where arranged marriages are the norm abound in lush and expansive epics of tragic love and still view individualistic pair-bonding as an ideal that simply can not be attained in this world. On the other hand, societies where individualistic pair-bonding is the norm do not seem to have great nostalgia for the days of arranged marriages (though individuals might want to "opt-out" out of the free agent marriage market because they simply can not offer a "good product," if there is no critical social mass of families who can act as liasons these individuals will "settle"). Simply put, love comes out of the EEA, it is hard-wired into us. Arranged marriages exist in a social milieu far removed from the EEA, and they trump nature with a complex system of controls and punishments which block off individual pair-bonding as a realistic option (the story told to my family of a pair of Syrian lovers who were killed and dismembered by their families comes to mind). Here again we see a situation where Information Age Western societies might be at a "lower energetic state" when it is analogistically envisaged as the tension between our evolutionarily defined inclinations and our culturally constrained parameters of action. Perhaps one reason that the Bangladeshis I alluded to have to spend so much time lubricating kin relations is that their society is in some ways fundamentally "swimming upstream" against our universal nature. Whose the freak now?

Update: A few clarifications:

1) I am not making any comment on which types of marriage last the longest. The dynamics of the two types are marriage are different enough that I think that comparisons are kind of empty (though shorter pre-modern lifespans might have made "long term" pair-bonding more realistic as "long term" was only 15-20 years).

2) This article I referenced from The Economist indicates there are various forms of love that might cement a pair-bond. The article states there are three forms of love: lust, romantic love and long-term attachment.

3) Judging "happiness" is pretty dicey in my opinion. The expectations of those in arranged marriages and love marriages are likely different. Certainly, I don't think the expectations of mind-blowing-bliss that seem dominant in American society are A) realistic or B) genetically hard-wired. Rather, I am saying the tendency to love is natural, and societies that demphasize or constrain it have to be channel the impulse in other directions, or nullify it with other values (God, family, etc.). Additionally, the cultures that practice arranged marriage often hold the ideal of love in high esteem in their literature and mythology, even if it is not an operative principle in their own marriage relationships.

Posted by razib at 04:09 AM | | TrackBack

Degeneration of the modern?

A few weeks ago I read The Cooperative Gene by Mark Ridley. If you want to read a popular book that spends a lot of time on DNA repair, Ridley's the man for you!

But there is one part that I think might be of particular interest to GNXP readers:

...A review paper written in 1962 described 7,712 people from thirteen different 'traditional' societies, including hunter-gatherers or simple, non-traditional farmers, from Africa, Greenland and elsewhere, who had an average frequency in males of 2 percent. In contrast, 436,853 people from ninety-nine samples of 'wealthy' societies had a frequency of about 5 per cent...The 'wealthy' samples were mainly from European 'or ancestrally European' populations, but also from some East Asian societies...The frequency of the mutant genes that cause colour blindness appears, in rich nations in the mid-twentieth century, to have doubled from its ancestral level.

Ridley notes that using colour-blindness is a better metric than myopia for build up of mutations since the evidence for the latter's genetic component is more mixed. In any case, the gist of Ridley's point is that he is exploring the possibility of a mutational meltdown, and suggests that spontaneous abortions of unviable fetuses is purifying the genetic background enough to prevent this. Of course, he does not address different levels of fitness in the context of fecundity, which to my understanding has not been modelled as thoroughly.

In any case, what was the original review paper? I suspect it was Population differences in red and green color vision deficiency: a review, and a query on selection relaxation in Eugenics Quarterly. The author is listed as "POST RH," but in Ridley's bibliography, only a later paper published in 1971 in a different journal is listed for this author (on the same topic). Seems to be Ridley was conscious about a brand-name problem when he saw it, especially in light of his discussion of the inevitability of spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) approvingly as a process by which mutational meltdown is being headed off.

In any case, why does Ridley have to go back to the 1960s and 1970s to find these papers? Aren't these topics interesting anymore? Just as there has been relaxed selection among the populace of developed nations, surely there has been an increase of fitness for traits that might have been deleterious in the past, or for combinations of alleles.

Posted by razib at 03:28 AM | | TrackBack

June 09, 2004

En route back to normal life

I have an 8 hour lay-over in Hong Kong, and SAMSUNG has free terminals set up, so I figured I would blog a bit about Bangladesh. I'm not too excited about blogging about this, as I want to put the experience behind me (my issues are less with Bangladesh than my family BTW, so no offense to citizens of the land of my birth), but I suspect some readers might find my observations more amusing than I do, as they did not have to live through the mega-city that is Dhaka, as well as the pressures and demands of my extended family. I will have some longer posts where I examine my perception of Dhaka society and culture through some of the lenses that we use on this blog from time to time. For example, I wonder if "arranged marriage" might be analyzed as "group selection" (that is, extended families making decisions that might be detrimental to the fitness of individuals for familial gain, and so enhance the fitness of the extended family-for example, one of my cousins who has a master's in math and is rather attractive is married to a man who didn't complete his college education and is a bit feckless [though rather nice!], but his father is an arms dealer and he comes from a very prominent family [his maternal uncle was one of the most important filmakers of the Pakistan era and was the victim of a targetted killing during the 1971 war], so it was good for the family, and theoretically her, though she has no children and is 35....).

Below are some disjointed impressions.

Caveat, I viewed Dhaka society from an extremely sample biased vantage. A distant relative of mine who is a development economist told me that 15% of Bangladeshis are functionally literate. That is, they would be able to read a newspaper. On the other hand, I would estimate that about 80% of my relatives (going out 2-3 generations removed) in my age cohort have university degrees, or, are enrolled in university (I suspect there is some credential inflation with the proliferation of private "universities" in Bangladesh, but that's for another post, and most of my relatives seem to be associated with Dhaka University or some of the older educational institutions in any case).

  • "Fast Food" isn't that fast.
  • There is a strong covariance of light skin (olive to light brown) and fatness among women over the age of 30 (the correlation between wealth and light skin color surely accounts for this).
  • Lots of weird trademark infringement. We went to "Dominous Pizza" (yes, that's how they spell it!)
  • There are many white brown people in the media (that is, South Asians whose coloration is olive or lighter). This includes Hindi film and television (I watched my first Hindi films, basically lush B-movies with a lot of cliched "dance offs").
  • There are plenty of ostentatious displays of virtue...
  • ...in concert with an almost bestial treatment of social "inferiors."
  • Hindus are invisible, there is no "Hindu quarter," and they look the same as the majority of Muslims (obviously phenotypically similar, but they basically dress the same too, though a few Hindu women walk around with that red streak on their forhead).
  • A minority of Muslims sport the "pious look." Using skin color as a proxy for SES status (as well as shoes and dress), I suspect there is a pretty strong correlation between the "pious look" and non-deprived economic status. That is, it takes some cash to keep your woman in purdah, wear the clean white pajamas and not let your beard get flea infested in hot muggy Bangladesh.
  • I wore a face mask the whole time when outside. Scared the shit out of a lot of kids that looked homeless. I'm shocked more people in Dhaka don't wear face masks. Some of the "pious" would smile and nod in my direction when they saw my face-mask, I think was part of their pretension of cleanliness (their problem in my estimation is that they value cleanliness as it is encouraged in the Koran & Hadiths, which means they often neglect new developments in germ theory since the 17th century!).
  • People are as ignorant as the stereotypes might suggest in this rather developing nation (yes, there are fish and mangos in the United States!).
  • The pious of my family are rather moderate in their opinions of the United States (to my surprise). Though they object to much of American culture, my most religious uncle (who is rather high up in a lay religious order that focuses on reforming personal conduct, etc.), asserted that in the United States it is the easiest to be a good Muslim if you so choose of all countries in the world.
  • My other uncle who is an imam (one of the most common professions in my family historically, if readers find that amusing in light of my sometimes abrasive secularity) would like to find a place in an American mosque. His problem is that he won't lie on his visa application, so he's basically screwed in competition with all the dishonest "imams" who get some type of visiting or religious visa and try to find a job at a mosque once they come to the states.
  • On the issue of religion, I found that in some ways my extremely religious uncles were most open to acceptance of dissent from conventions of Bangladeshi society. Example: they seem most willing to object to forcing a marriage between two people that don't know each other well (that is, they've talked for 15 minutes) and don't seem appropriate on the individual level (keep in mind the caveat above, my uncles are no illiterate fundamentalists, one is a geology professor, the other has an advanced degree in Islamic Studies) no matter the benefit to the family (that is, in some ways, they are the most open to individualism, so long as it operates within the bounds of shariah, they believe in something that trumps family!).
  • The most anti-US individual was a law professor of Leftish sympathies who subjected my video-game-preoccupied-apolitical-12-year-old-brother to a rant about how evil Americans were in their support of Israel.
  • I suspect that the mean height for men in Bangladesh might be about 5'4, but the distribution is influenced by differential nutritional inputs (read: "norms of reaction").
  • There was less shit in evidence than the last time I visited 15 years ago. That is, fewer open sewers.
  • More people, more traffic, and more dust.
  • Many internet cafes.
  • Extremely close and supportive families in congress with an acceptance of no attempt at public spirit (though they complain about the lack of patriotism) and the resultant public squalor and corruption that comes along with that. That is, apartments and homes might be immaculate (75% of my relatives seem to have "working women," a literal translation, to allay the drudgery of housework for the wives), but they have no problem with dumping their garbage out the window. The lack of trash-cans was pretty infuriating as I reflexively took to stuffing garbage in my pockets before someone told me to chuck it out the window.
  • Everyone who has a car (and this seems to be about half my relatives, though some of my relatives who are more well off have several cars, so it might average out to 1 per family) has a driver because the situation on the streets is rather close to an anarchist exercise. "Lanes" exist in theory, and lights are usually non-functioning. We almost killed pedestrians several times from what I saw. But there are many people in Bangladesh....
  • Fashion seems about 20 years behind the United States (big poofy hair-styles from Indian films are the norm).
  • Young girls often shave their hair to a crew cut. Later, they grow it out.
  • Portion size in restaurants is 50 years behind the United States.
  • When I went to pray at mosque (don't ask) I, at 5'8, estimated that it was 20-30 congregants before I saw someone's head level who equalled or surpassed mine (you stand in a long line shoulder to shoulder, so it's easy to judge height). So I would estimate I'm in the top 5% in Bangladesh. This is good when pushing my way through crowded streets, as chucking short people out of the way is really really easy. I envy the tall now even more than I did before.
  • Bangladeshi women like tall men. I wonder if there was a high fitness cost to large size in Bangladesh before the modern era. If so, it didn't result in sexual selection.
  • My 12 year brother accused my aunt of being racist because she was dissing on a dark-skinned acquaintance (for being attractive, but marred by her dark skin, my aunt by the way is one of the light skinned female fatties that seem to dominate the social world over there-the president is another example). He also asked why a salon that had a painting of Bengali women doing each other's hair (they were dressed in saris, had black hair, and that little red dot on their foreheads) showed them having pink skin, as few non-albino or vitilligoed Bengalis display this phenotype. I just told him that they wished their asses were a little bit white.
  • Speaking of chubby, I saw some semi-nude postings in major intersections of fat yellow women (yellow-skinned). Though Indian movies with their relatively thin women are popular, the native Bangladeshi media still tends toward fat (to my eye).
  • Bangladesh is a country of chauvanistic Muslims, but, it is not really an Islamic country (more on this later).
  • The government doesn't seem to censor pirated DVDs, and Dhaka has some pretty open porn stalls (read about them in the English language daily, the police get paid off by "free rentals").
  • There are licensed brothels. And 70% of rickshaw drivers visit sex workers (according to that paper, The Daily Star).
  • A lot of people seem to have gone to Japan, and come back (I thought Japan didn't take guest workers? People do mention robots a lot though after they come back).
  • A lot of people have gone to Europe and the Gulf to work. A lot of people work in the garment industry.
  • Because of the above, poverty is a lot less in-your-face than 15 years ago.
  • My uncle the poor imam said that it had gotten so bad that everyone had to recruit working women from outlying districts, there just weren't as many takers up on the offer of doing drudgery for a pittance in exchange for being verbally abused and dehumanized on a regular basis.
  • One of my uncles is an Awami League candidate (one of the two corrupt clone parties). Because of this, I'm going to switch names of people so no one can track this blog back to him (when I post longer pieces). Of his six brothers, he was the only one who didn't go to college immediately after finishing his secondary work, but he is now something of a "big man." It was kind of strange being able to scare the shit out of people by name dropping and getting them to bend over backwards for me. My aunt wants him to lose his fortune so he won't get killed in political violence.
  • Speaking of power, it does corrupt, it is soul-sucking and it is seductive. When I threw around my "weight" because of my family connections, it felt rather exhilerating and revolting, simultaneously. That is probably another reason I want to put Bangladesh behind me. When I noted the ostentatious virtue of Bangladeshi society, I couldn't be help wondering how many middle and upper class men sexually abuse and rape their help. After all, these are women (now usually girls) with few opportunities or options. Seeing how debauched and morally lax my cousins became in the United States without "social supervision," I don't trust in the natural virtue of Bangladeshi males when unconstrained by other forces (perhaps my family is particularly amoral by nature, but I've observed this sort of behavior among other Bangladeshis, and cross-culturally from men who come from societies where sexual access to women is constrained).
  • I was rebuked by relatives after addressing a driver in a polite and formal manner as if he was my superior. I did this because he was 50 years old and I felt weird acting as if he was my peer or inferior. People often address social inferiors with the pronoun equivalent of "boy" in the context of the Jim Crow South (not literally, but in its implication).
  • My father kept saying, "So many people...."
  • Bangladesh's population has nearly doubled since he left 25 years ago.
  • Oh, about Bangladesh's drop in total fertility in the past 10 years, my economist relative told me that a lot of it was a paper drop, as functionaries cooked the books. Some change has occured, but it is inflated.
  • Many of the people who work at NGOs or "own" them drive posh cars. 10% are really making out from foreign aid, while 90% are unaffected. Of course, if the money was given directly to the government, 1% would benefit. My economist uncle is working on "microdevelopment." Don't really know what it is, but sounds like getting illiterates to behave in a less stupid and exploitable fashion. I'm skeptical.
  • One of my uncles is an inspector or something at an accounting firm. He's pretty high up, but notoriously uncorruptable. The thanks he gets are heaps of responsibilities and a small salary. A distant relative that is about 3 grades below him is notoriously corrupt, and now lives in a mansion.
  • There is the expected range in phenotype along a variety of vectors, from light skinned to dark, from "Caucasoid" to "Australoid." But there is definately a significant "Asiatic" component in the population.
  • There is also a lot of linkage equilibrium of the various traits (they are partly unassociated with each other because of intermarriage). The only person with blue eyes that was Bangladeshi that I met was a rickshaw driver with extremely dark skin and broad features (so it is unlikely he was the bastard of a European male coming through town).
  • Too many people are majoring in business it seems.
  • My cousin who is an IT sysop position at Dhaka University says that Linux isn't as big in the Third World as American tech publications make it out to be. After all, when daily blackouts are salient points of your existence, having a mission critical robust O.S. that can run a heart-lung machine at the cost of more sysops is less appealing than point and click Windows.
  • A lot of my relatives are abroad. One of my uncles who writes books about Bangladeshi society always complains about this. He has room to speak since he had opportunities to go abroad when he was a marine engineer and rejected them. There is a shit load of brain drain from this country.
  • I always thought my father's side was the religiously oriented one, but my maternal grandmother said her father was an imam and a pir. Does that make sense? I thought pirs were old school.
  • My maternal grandmother is about to die, so she was engaging in a major data dump while I was in Bangladesh. She told me that her mother was almost killed by the insane elephant of the maharani of Tripura when she was a small child (her best friend was crushed, she jumped in a lake and hid in the reeds). Does this make sense? Was there a maharani of Tripura in the early 20th century who had an insane elephant she had to shoot because it had killed too many people?
  • My father's father was an Koranic scholar, as was his father before him, and so on. Therefore, my father and his brothers had a shit load of Koranic knowledge, though none of them went into a religious profession. They seem to enjoy telling preachers what is not in the Koran. For example, ritual cleaning before prayer and circumcision. They are practicing Muslims (more or less), but there definitely is a little bit of the heathen in them that has sprouted in me in full form.
  • Sometimes I wonder if Bangladeshi society will ever progress if their women remain so tied into maintaining their kin networks. Let me elaborate, women spend far too much of their time utilizing their "social intelligence" in my estimation. This is a general female tendency, but, in Bangladeshi society with its extended familial obligations, and the fact your friends and your cousins overlap almost to an identity, the constant chit-chat about social bullshit seems overwhelming (to me at least, the reputation of the family that your female third cousin by marriage married into is not something that should require 1 hour to discuss). Many of my female cousins do as well in school as my male cousins, but as the years go by, they seem to be drawn into the world of social gossip, to the point where most do not pursue any career after their degree (many go into purdah as well). These familial obligations also extend to males insofar as you are always expected to put up near relatives if they come to town. Spending all your time at the office seems implausible to me in a society where social interaction with near relatives serves as a crucial lubricant of the kinship networks that exist in place of civil society. My point? Just as there is some evidence that shows scientists become far less innovative after marriage, I wonder if the social pressures that intelligent Bangladeshi youth face means that they can never realize any real break-throughs (generalize this to societies that emphasize "family values"). For example, I can never imagine parents approving of their son or daughter spending their free time writing open source code when they aren't coding for a company, when they could be cementing bonds with relatives or arranging their future marriage and so cultivating their extra-kin network (which becomes part of the kin network). My personal pursuit of non-career interests I attribute to the fact that the pressures of kin related social obligations were never brought to bear upon me because I had no kin in the United States! At least when I was growing up. (though my father received his Ph.D. in chemistry, his two older sisters were by reputation the academic superstars of the family. Of course, in their generation higher education was rare for females, especially for the daughters of an imam).
  • Speaking of kin, there are as many terms to specify exact relationships as there are people in the city of Dhaka. To be more precise, there are different words for maternal and maternal everything. There are different words for brothers older than you and younger than you. And so on. It gets rather confusing, and my hyper-religious uncle expressed the opinion English simplicity was much more in keeping with the austere spirit of Islam than the baroque Bengali tradition of hyper-specific kinship terms.

I think that's enough for now.

Posted by razib at 05:45 PM | | TrackBack

June 08, 2004

Euro Elections

This is a reminder to UK readers that elections to the European Parliament are on Thursday.

Not that I would dream of advising anyone how to vote, but one point may be of special interest to GNXP readers.

Geneticist Steve Jones pointed out recently (Daily Telegraph, 7 April) that the draft European Constitution has a little-noticed clause on eugenics:

“In its Charter of Fundamental Rights, just after Abolition of the Death Penalty, but before the Prohibition of Torture and of Slavery, the draft European Constitution insists on ‘the prohibition of eugenic practices’."

As Jones points out, ‘eugenics’ can be interpreted in many ways, but I guess that most GNXP readers would approve of some form of eugenics in at least some sense of that much-abused word. As the current President of the Galton Institute, Jones wrote to Brussels asking for clarification of the proposal but got no reply.

Jones also consulted Lord (Robert) Winston, the fertility expert, who is concerned at the ulterior motives behind the proposal: “He sees it as based on prejudice incited in part by the Catholic Church, especially in Germany, mixed with simple ignorance about what science can do... Robert Winston is concerned that one target of the Euro-edict will be his own field, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis”.

So, whether you actively support eugenics (in some sense), or merely wish to protect scientific freedom, bear this point in mind when casting your vote.

And isn’t Robert Kilroy-Silk looking good these days?

Posted by David B at 03:12 AM | | TrackBack

June 07, 2004

g, achievement, and the SAT

Frey and Detterman have a new article out in Psychological Science that shows that, despite ETS being mum on the fact, the SAT is in large part a measure of g, although more so before the 1994 recentering than after.

In Study 1, we used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. Measures of g were extracted from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and correlated with SAT scores of 917 participants. The resulting correlation was .82 (.86 corrected for nonlinearity). Study 2 investigated the correlation between revised and recentered SAT scores and scores on the Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices among 104 undergraduates. The resulting correlation was .483 (.72 corrected for restricted range). These studies indicate that the SAT is mainly a test of g.

What struck me most about this study is that it has very similar findings to a national achievement test I am analyzing now (can't give too may specifics, as the stuff isn't published yet). But here is the pattern of loadings.1

So, I guess the question is: can a reliable general achievement test be developed for the population-at-large that does not, in large part, measure g?

1. As a side note, Frey & Detterman, and I used two different methods for extracting g and determining its magnitude in an achievement test. Since I had raw data, I used a hierarchal orthogonal rotation of the subtest scores, while F&D used something akin to Jensen's method of correlated vectors. Still, we come up very similar findings---g explains between 50-60% of the covariance in our respective achievement tests.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 03:07 PM | | TrackBack

Say it ain't so, Jim...

James Lovelock, author of the Gaia hypothesis, and hero of greens and environmentalists everywhere, has shocked his admirers by coming out in support of nuclear energy. It is, he argues, the best hope for avoiding a global warming catastrophe.

So are the greenies having a careful rethink and rational debate on the issues? Well, what do you think? 'More in sorrow than in anger', they are chiding Lovelock for letting the side down. Maybe next they will suggest sending him for 're-education' in the countryside.

Not that I am an enthusiast for Gaia - I think Richard Dawkins's critique in The Extended Phenotype is crushing - but I must admire Lovelock for going against the environmental mafia.

Posted by David B at 03:54 AM | | TrackBack

June 06, 2004

EP invading Mental Health?

I came across this article today in the Lebanon (PA) Daily News, taking an EP perspective on violence via S. Pinker's Blank Slate. Nothing particularly new, but what struck me was that the author was a female director of a mental health agency. Not that it is rare for females to be MH agency directors, but that those indicators usually portend a not-so-kind view of EP, much less EP explanations of violence. My favorite line:

For years we have been asking the wrong question, "How do kids learn to be violent?" The more poignant question is "How do kids (and adults) learn not to be violent?" for surely our survival on many occasions throughout different eras has been dependent upon successful acts of violence.

I can only hope this is a sign of things to come in the metal health field.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 04:34 PM | | TrackBack