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September 18, 2004

Breath that mountain air....

Randall has a nice entry on the recent follow up work by Cynthia Beall, who has been studying high altitude people. The previous entry below focuses on issues of lineage, cladistics and what not, that is, netural (we assume) markers. This work is more focused on adaptation. The standard model seems to posit an static crystallize population after the Out-of-Africa event. It just ain't so.... (or that's what I think)

Posted by razib at 07:38 PM | | TrackBack

Celts & Iberians

There is new research (unpublished) that seems to confirm a relationship between the peoples of Iberia & the Celtic Isles. This is obviously a novel idea, because news magazines seem intent on picking up this story and presenting it as if previous papers that pointed in this direction had never come to light.

Since Iberia was one of the refugia of our species during the Last Glacial Maximum, it stands to reason that when the ice sheets withdrew humans would push their way up to the North Atlantic coast. Later population movements would no doubt diminish in impact the further you moved West since their origins were generally closer to the heartland of Eurasia. The articles that came out today on this topic keep referring to the movement of Celts from Central Europe, but I find it implausible that there weren't population movements in prehistory that we simply don't have record of because of the lack of literacy (the Megalith Builders?). After all, we know that a man associated with Stonehenge came from Switzerland.

Readers might be interested to know that Iberia was home to several non-Indo-European languages at the time of Roman conquest (and is home to Europe's last remaining "indigenous" non-Indo-European language [1]). This indicates the process of Indo-Europeanization was late, though the Celtiberians are attested from the northern part of the peninsula. There are debates as to whether Pictish was non-Indo-European, it might be that the process of Indo-Europeanization simply finished right before the Romans arrived in Britain.

[1] Depending on whether you think Finno-Ugric originates in Finland.

Posted by razib at 02:38 PM | | TrackBack

No arguing with quasi

In response to David's post below, I have to point to a weird fact I stumbled upon (from In Gods We Trust):

...For example, after reading a bogus article on a new finding from the Dead Sea Scrolls that seemed to contradict Christian doctrine, religious believers who also believed the story reported their religious beliefs reinforced (Batson 1975). For believers, then, confidence in religious doctrine and belief can increase though both confirmation and disconfirmation of any factual assumptions that may accompany interpretation of those beliefs.

The author goes on to assert that statements about religious beliefs are actually "quasi-propositions," they might seem to follow normal conventions about axioms and inferences, but they really don't. Religious believers already presuppose what they know to be true, that is they have faith, so evidence is really only pro forma. Additionally, since the assertions themselves are logically impossible to deconstruct (the problem of evil, infinite regress, etc.), there emerge a host of various "interpretations" of counterintuitional constructs (Biblical "literalists" are just as clever about interpreting things as non-literalists if you take a close look at the anotations in their study Bibles)

Over at Internet Infidels they have a paper up titled Three Strikes, You're Out!--The Quick and Dirty Case Against Mormonism. Most of my friends in high school were Mormon, so I know a little bit how they dealt with the fact that their religion is eminently falsifiable because it makes explicit claims about the history of the pre-Columbian New World. I found that my friends held two simultaneous opinions:

  • Archeologists just want to find "mummies" and are fools.
  • Archeologists have confirmed the claims of the Book of Mormon about the pre-Columbian civilizations of the New World (some even believe that the Smithsonian uses the Book of Mormon as a reference).

I noted that these were contradictory opinions, but I realized that the fact or reality of these assertions weren't too relevant, Mormonism (belief) came first.

I was also confronted by the fact that my Protestant evagenlical friends were totally exasperated by the fact that their Mormon friends could not see how their religion was false, that it made claims that were ludicrous. In response, my Mormon friends would respond that their religion was actually much more rational than the faux Greek philosophical clap-trap that is the norm for conventional Christianity (the Mormon god is a physical being, not a philosophical ideal, specifically Mormons will make fun of phrases like "God sits upon a topless throne" as nonsense, as thrones all have tops obviously). These same evangelical friends once also told me that they had learned about Hinduism in church, that Hindus believed gods became incarnated into human beings and walked among us, as if it was one of the most bizarre things they had heard (they said this with a straight face, though they freely interchanged the term "gods" with demons).

My overall point is that you have to know the psychology of the "opposition." Some readers believe that religion exists because of the explanatory power it provides, that it is a proto-science, and therefore it can collapse upon falsification. I've seen that this model just doesn't work. Not only does religious belief stand up to logical critiques, it can defy empirical contradiction.

The Mormon religion has been falsified on numerous points in relation to its archeological claims for most of the 20th century. This is even apart from the fact that Joseph Smith was quite clearly a shyster. Nevertheless, as scholars of religion like to point out, it is the most successful American-born religon, and there are now more Mormons than Episcopalians! Isn't this evidence that demands a verdict? Religion ~ proto-science? False!

Posted by razib at 01:51 PM | | TrackBack

Girls or grapes?

I was interested to see a suggestion this week that the 'virgins in paradise' offered as a reward to the Muslim martyr might be based on a misunderstanding of the Qu'ran. The word usually translated as 'virgin' might really just mean a bunch of grapes.

Anyway, here is a useful discussion of the issue...

Virgins? What virgins?
It is widely believed that Muslim 'martyrs' enjoy rich sensual rewards on reaching paradise. A new study suggests they may be disappointed. Ibn Warraq reports

Saturday January 12, 2002
The Guardian

In August, 2001, the American television channel CBS aired an interview with a Hamas activist Muhammad Abu Wardeh, who recruited terrorists for suicide bombings in Israel. Abu Wardeh was quoted as saying: "I described to him how God would compensate the martyr for sacrificing his life for his land. If you become a martyr, God will give you 70 virgins, 70 wives and everlasting happiness." Wardeh was in fact shortchanging his recruits since the rewards in Paradise for martyrs was 72 virgins. But I am running ahead of things .
Since September 11, news stories have repeated the story of suicide bombers and their heavenly rewards, and equally Muslim scholars and Western apologists of Islam have repeated that suicide is forbidden in Islam. Suicide (qatlu nafsi-hi) is not referred to in the Koran but is indeed forbidden in the Traditions (Hadith in Arabic), which are the collected sayings and doings attributed to the Prophet and traced back to him through a series of putatively trustworthy witnesses. They include what was done in his presence that he did not forbid, and even the authoritative sayings and doings of his companions.

But the Hamas spokesman correctly uses the word martyr (shahid) and not suicide bomber, since those who blow themselves up almost daily in Israel and those who died on September 11 were dying in the noblest of all causes, Jihad, which is an incumbent religious duty, established in the Koran and in the Traditions as a divine institution, and enjoined for the purpose of advancing Islam. While suicide is forbidden, martyrdom is everywhere praised, welcomed, and urged: "By the Being in Whose Hand is my life, I love that I should be killed in the way of Allah; then I should be brought back to life and be killed again in His way..."; "The Prophet said, 'Nobody who enters Paradise will ever like to return to this world even if he were offered everything, except the martyr who will desire to return to this world and be killed 10 times for the sake of the great honour that has been bestowed upon him'." [Sahih Muslim, chapters 781, 782, The Merit of Jihad and the Merit of Martyrdom.]

What of the rewards in paradise? The Islamic paradise is described in great sensual detail in the Koran and the Traditions; for instance, Koran sura 56 verses 12 -40 ; sura 55 verses 54-56 ; sura 76 verses 12-22. I shall quote the celebrated Penguin translation by NJ Dawood of sura 56 verses 12- 39: "They shall recline on jewelled couches face to face, and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris, chaste as hidden pearls: a guerdon for their deeds... We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand..."

One should note that most translations, even those by Muslims themselves such as A Yusuf Ali, and the British Muslim Marmaduke Pickthall, translate the Arabic (plural) word Abkarun as virgins, as do well-known lexicons such the one by John Penrice. I emphasise this fact since many pudic and embarrassed Muslims claim there has been a mistranslation, that "virgins" should be replaced by "angels". In sura 55 verses 72-74, Dawood translates the Arabic word " hur " as "virgins", and the context makes clear that virgin is the appropriate translation: "Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents (which of your Lord's blessings would you deny?) whom neither man nor jinnee will have touched before." The word hur occurs four times in the Koran and is usually translated as a "maiden with dark eyes".

Two points need to be noted. First, there is no mention anywhere in the Koran of the actual number of virgins available in paradise, and second, the dark-eyed damsels are available for all Muslims, not just martyrs. It is in the Islamic Traditions that we find the 72 virgins in heaven specified: in a Hadith (Islamic Tradition) collected by Al-Tirmidhi (died 892 CE [common era*]) in the Book of Sunan (volume IV, chapters on The Features of Paradise as described by the Messenger of Allah [Prophet Muhammad], chapter 21, About the Smallest Reward for the People of Paradise, (Hadith 2687). The same hadith is also quoted by Ibn Kathir (died 1373 CE ) in his Koranic commentary (Tafsir) of Surah Al-Rahman (55), verse 72: "The Prophet Muhammad was heard saying: 'The smallest reward for the people of paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby, as wide as the distance from Al-Jabiyyah [a Damascus suburb] to Sana'a [Yemen]'."

Modern apologists of Islam try to downplay the evident materialism and sexual implications of such descriptions, but, as the Encyclopaedia of Islam says, even orthodox Muslim theologians such as al Ghazali (died 1111 CE) and Al-Ash'ari (died 935 CE) have "admitted sensual pleasures into paradise". The sensual pleasures are graphically elaborated by Al-Suyuti (died 1505 ), Koranic commentator and polymath. He wrote: "Each time we sleep with a houri we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one [ie Muslim] will marry seventy [sic] houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetising vaginas."

One of the reasons Nietzsche hated Christianity was that it "made something unclean out of sexuality", whereas Islam, many would argue, was sex-positive. One cannot imagine any of the Church fathers writing ecstatically of heavenly sex as al-Suyuti did, with the possible exception of St Augustine before his conversion. But surely to call Islam sex-positive is to insult all Muslim women, for sex is seen entirely from the male point of view; women's sexuality is admitted but seen as something to be feared, repressed, and a work of the devil.

Scholars have long pointed out that these images are clearly drawn pictures and must have been inspired by the art of painting. Muhammad, or whoever is responsible for the descriptions, may well have seen Christian miniatures or mosaics representing the gardens of paradise and has interpreted the figures of angels rather literally as those of young men and young women. A further textual influence on the imagery found in the Koran is the work of Ephrem the Syrian [306-373 CE], Hymns on Paradise, written in Syriac, an Aramaic dialect and the language of Eastern Christianity, and a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and Arabic.

This naturally leads to the most fascinating book ever written on the language of the Koran, and if proved to be correct in its main thesis, probably the most important book ever written on the Koran. Christoph Luxenberg's book, Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran, available only in German, came out just over a year ago, but has already had an enthusiastic reception, particularly among those scholars with a knowledge of several Semitic languages at Princeton, Yale, Berlin, Potsdam, Erlangen, Aix-en-Provence, and the Oriental Institute in Beirut.

Luxenberg tries to show that many obscurities of the Koran disappear if we read certain words as being Syriac and not Arabic. We cannot go into the technical details of his methodology but it allows Luxenberg, to the probable horror of all Muslim males dreaming of sexual bliss in the Muslim hereafter, to conjure away the wide-eyed houris promised to the faithful in suras XLIV.54; LII.20, LV.72, and LVI.22. Luxenberg 's new analysis, leaning on the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, yields "white raisins" of "crystal clarity" rather than doe-eyed, and ever willing virgins - the houris. Luxenberg claims that the context makes it clear that it is food and drink that is being offerred, and not unsullied maidens or houris.

In Syriac, the word hur is a feminine plural adjective meaning white, with the word "raisin" understood implicitly. Similarly, the immortal, pearl-like ephebes or youths of suras such as LXXVI.19 are really a misreading of a Syriac expression meaning chilled raisins (or drinks) that the just will have the pleasure of tasting in contrast to the boiling drinks promised the unfaithful and damned.

As Luxenberg's work has only recently been published we must await its scholarly assessment before we can pass any judgements. But if his analysis is correct then suicide bombers, or rather prospective martyrs, would do well to abandon their culture of death, and instead concentrate on getting laid 72 times in this world, unless of course they would really prefer chilled or white raisins, according to their taste, in the next.

Posted by David B at 10:15 AM | | TrackBack

September 17, 2004

Tasting the Narrow Roads of Gene Land

Well, I got Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Volume 2: Evolution of Sex in the mail yesterday. Godless blogged about Hamilton's book here, here and here. I'm going to read it front to back, though I've skimmed a bit of almost every chapter. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Let me display some excisions from the preface....

page xlviii: "...if a family wants to keep a particular vegetable baby alive, the family must pay for it. Similarly, if a church objects to the alternative-letting the baby die-extra taxes to pay for the baby's special care will be required from specifically that church's coffers...."

"...so I believe that other self-defined yet quite different groups of idealists should be allowed to practise a religion that includes parent-decided selective infanticide, provided this is done under good safeguards against cruelty...."

Rather strange how great scientists like Hamilton or Francis Crick broach the topic of infanticide. The prose seems somewhat rambling, but every other sentence provokes by the substance of the content and the boldness of presentation.

In chapter 8, titled Instability and cycling of two competing hosts with two parasites, Hamilton concludes with criticisms of Jewish intellectuals who promote panhumanism and support Israel's ethnic orientation followed by an injunction toward interpopulation breeding to promote disease resistance (something I've talked about before).

I think that here Hamilton is rather unfair to the Jewish intellectuals he criticizes, Karl Popper, S.J. Gould and Dick Lewontin. Knowing the political orientations of the latter two I would be skeptical if they were particularly concerned with Israel, but I know for a fact that Karl Popper denounced excessive concern with Jewish ethnicity. Popper was actually from a converted family, his parents became Lutheran before he was born, and he represented the cosmopolitanism of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Hamilton notes that Popper wrote Open Society and Its Enemies, evidence of Popper's hypocrisy. But, this is the Karl Popper who wrote this (source Wittgenstein's Poker):

I do not believe in race; I abhor any form of racialism or nationalism; and I never belonged to the Jewish faith. Thus I do not see on what grounds I could possibly consider myself as a Jew. I do sympathize with minorities; but althought this has made me stress my Jewish origin, I do not consider myself a Jew.

...But racial pride is not only stupid but wrong, even if provoked by racial hatred. All nationalism or racialism is evil, and Jewish nationalism is no exception.

Whatever objections Hamilton would have with Popper, and no doubt there would remain a non-trivial number of them, to accuse him of hypocritical Jewish chauvinism is a barb founded on ignorance. Nonetheless, I do find it interesting that Hamilton would address this question, as it is certainly taboo, though perhaps less so in Europe.

Posted by razib at 07:56 PM | | TrackBack

Justin Raimondo: Neo-paleocon

Another political post here. I'll get around to that Fukuyama article one day.

In my previous post about Chechnya, I showed how the neoconservatives reject criticism from what I call the "Blame America [or Israel] First" lobby. Namely, the criticism that terrorist attacks conducted on America or Israel are the result of numerous grievances, primarily the following:

1. US support for oppressive governments in the Middle East
2. US support for Israel in the Arab-Israeli wars and Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Thus, the neocons are staunchly pro-American and pro-Israeli, and believe (correctly) that the [Islamist] terrorists are out to rebuild the caliphate, destroy America, Israel, and the West, and to impose Islam upon most, if not all, of the world.

However, on the issue of Russia, the neocons are the exact opposite. They are strongly pro-Chechen, and regularly reject, or attempt to de-emphasize, the fact that Chechnya is now a jihadist haven. They blame Russian policies for the terrorism in a manner similar to the way the "Blame America First" lobby blames America. In this case, the neocons are the "Blame Russia First" lobby.

An interesting reversal has taken place on the anti-war right, it appears. Justin Raimondo, the editor of Antiwar.com, has emerged as a staunch defender of Russia.

Raimondo has written numerous articles blaming the policies of the US towards the Middle East, in particular its support for Israel. He believes that the [Islamist] terrorists have legitimate grievances against America, and is generally in agreement with the "Blame America First" lobby. His site even regularly links to far-left sites who share similar opinions regarding terrorism and US policies.

In comes Russia. In his latest article, "Putin, the Patriot," states

It's no joke to the Russians, who are reeling under the impact of the worst terrorist attack since 9/11. . . The Beslan massacre was almost certainly carried out by Chechen and Ingushetian bandits led by Shamil Basaev, who call themselves "separatists" but don't seem to have any real political program other than a nihilistic devotion to violence for its own sake. . . Whomever is subsidizing these terrorists has one goal in mind: the destabilization of the Putin regime and the further atomization of the former Soviet Union.

Replace "Chechen" and "Ingushetian" with "Afghani" and "Arab," "Shamil Basaev" with "Osama bin Laden," "Putin" with "Bush," and "Soviet Union" with "United States," and Raimondo begins to sound like a neocon. What a reversal!

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to Justin Raimondo, a new species of political analyst: the neo-paleocon, a paleoconservative who takes the exact opposite approach to international relations that the neoconservatives do.

Interesting times we live in.


More of Raimondo taking the exact opposite position of the neocons. Neocons claim that Tiananmen Square was a pro-democratic demonstration that was repressed by a tyrannical "communist" regime. Raimondo claims that it was the beginning of a Maoist counterrevolution against the pro-capitalist reforms made by the regime, and that repressing it was a necessity.

Posted by Arcane at 05:06 PM | | TrackBack

McWhorter on 'black'

John McWhorter interviewed about rejecting the term 'African American' in favor of 'black.'

Posted by razib at 03:10 PM | | TrackBack

The Language 'Instinct'

There are several news reports today of a paper in the latest issue of Science, supporting the theory of an innate language instinct. I haven't yet seen the paper itself, but a report from the BBC is in the continuation.

The study is based on Nicaraguan deaf children who have invented their own sign language. Second-generation users are said to break down the signs into units analogous to words in spoken languages. As described in the news reports, the evidence is interesting but hardly conclusive, IMO. It could be argued that the ability of second-generation users of the sign language to break down the signs is just a product of general intelligence, rather than a specific language instinct. I would like to know how the researchers exclude this interpretation. The fact that adults 'lose the ability to break information into discrete elements' as they age (if this as true as claimed) could be interpreted either way.

I'm not disputing the thesis of a 'language instinct', but I think some of the evidence claimed for it by Pinker and others is inconclusive. Hopefully the details of this new research will help pin it down more firmly.

Interjection from Razib: Here is the abstract from Science:

A new sign language has been created by deaf Nicaraguans over the past 25 years, providing an opportunity to observe the inception of universal hallmarks of language. We found that in their initial creation of the language, children analyzed complex events into basic elements and sequenced these elements into hierarchically structured expressions according to principles not observed in gestures accompanying speech in the surrounding language. Successive cohorts of learners extended this procedure, transforming Nicaraguan signing from its early gestural form into a linguistic system. We propose that this early segmentation and recombination reflect mechanisms with which children learn, and thereby perpetuate, language. Thus, children naturally possess learning abilities capable of giving language its fundamental structure.

An online methodological supplement (PDF) is freely available. You can explore the background of this research more at the lab site. Also, these kids were profiled in The NURTURE ASSUMPTION: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do 6 years ago.

The BBC report:

Children create new sign language
By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News Online science staff

A new sign language created over the last 30 years by deaf children in Nicaragua has given experts a unique insight into how languages evolve.

The language follows many basic rules common to all tongues, even though the children were not taught them.

It indicates some language traits are not passed on by culture, but instead arise due to the innate way human beings process language, experts claim.

The US-led research is detailed in the latest issue of Science magazine.


The development of language has long been the focus of debate. Some people in the extreme "nature" camp believe that grammar is essentially hard-wired in the brain, while those in the extreme "nurture" camp think language has no innate basis and is just culturally transmitted.

This research has made some of the most interesting discoveries in language acquisition in decades
Steven Pinker
It has been difficult to clear up the argument, because most existing languages are ancient in origin and it is therefore hard to pinpoint how they formed.

That is why the sign language invented by a small group of deaf children in Nicaragua is so unusual. It has given scientists the clearest insight yet into how humans learn language.

"When people study historical linguistics to try to figure out how languages are born they are usually looking at old historical data, like scratches on rocks," explained co-author Ann Senghas of Columbia University, New York.

"This is the first time we have had the opportunity to observe it in action because the originators are still alive."

Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University and author of a seminal book on the acquisition and evolution of language - The Language Instinct - is impressed by the findings.

"I think this research has made some of the most interesting discoveries in language acquisition in decades," he told BBC News Online.

"It shows that children have sophisticated mechanisms of language analysis which give language many of its distinctive qualities."

Crude gestures

Before the 1970s, most deaf people in Nicaragua stayed at home and had little contact with one another, according to Dr Senghas.

Then, in 1981, a vocational school opened, and the children began to communicate with each other. No one actually taught them to sign, but they began to develop a system of gestures to get their messages across.

At first, these were rather crude and pantomime-like, similar to the gestures a hearing person might make if they had to describe something without speaking.

But as a new wave of children learned the gestures they turned them into a sophisticated sign language, Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), complete with traits seen in nearly all other languages - both spoken and sign.

One key trait that the children adopted is called "discreteness". This refers to the process of breaking down information into small manageable packages.

Expressions of motion are particularly useful for studying discreteness in spoken and sign languages. In developed languages, we break up the idea of continuous motion into separate words.

So, in the expression "rolling down the hill", one word (rolling) conveys the movement, while another (down) conveys the direction.

But if a hearing person were asked to convey this idea in gestures alone, they would almost certainly do it with a single continuous movement.

Rolling cat

Dr Senghas and her colleagues showed the deaf people from each of the age groups a cartoon, in which a cat swallows a ball and then wobbles down a steep road. Then they asked the participants to tell the story.

The oldest group, who invented the initial "crude" form of NSL, told it with one continuous gesture as a hearing person might.

But the younger groups did something different. They separated the movement and direction into separate signs as is done in spoken language.

"If they were just clever at learning they would have learned to do it the way they had seen it being done," said Dr Senghas. "But that isn't what they did - they ended up acquiring something different. They ended up breaking down the gestures into something they could build a language out of."

This is compelling evidence that humans are predisposed to develop language in this way, say the researchers. In other words, children instinctively break information down into small chunks so they can have the flexibility to string them back together, to form sentences with a range of meanings.

Interestingly, adults lose this talent, which also suggests there is an innate element to the language learning process.

"We lose the ability to break information into discrete elements as we age," said Dr Senghas. "It is not just that children can do it, but adults can't do it."

Dr Senghas does not claim her findings support the extreme "nature" camp, but that they do suggest there is an instinctive component to the way we learn language.

"It doesn't prove that language is hard wired to the degree some people say it is, but it does prove the fundamentals of language are part of the innate endowment," she said. "So you don't have language or grammar in your head when you are born, but you do have certain learning abilities."

Professor Pinker said the results of the study showed something that had always been suspected by some psychologists.

But, he said: "Since children's language ordinarily ends up the same as their parents' language, one couldn't easily pinpoint what their minds added.

"It takes a case in which the language children end up with is more complex than the language they hear to identify the creative contribution of the child."

Posted by David B at 01:07 PM | | TrackBack

The trifecta
Sabine Reul, "Germany's self-hating conservatives", spiked, 2004 September 16.

Anti-modernism is gaining ground among the German right.

Run, Jews! RUN!

And while we're on the subject, leshun...er, ulshner...uh, Happy New Year, Jews!

Posted by jeet at 10:55 AM | | TrackBack

Jolene Blalock on the writing of Enterprise: "There's the characteristic where Vulcans don't eat food with their hands, and yet they'll write scenes where T'Pol is eating popcorn at a movie or Trip will bring T'Pol a peach."

From Jolene Blalock's Data Sheet
Turn-Offs: Shallowness, lying, Greedo shooting first

How to get me in the mood: My boyfriend's parents' basement, ice-cold Mountain Dew, Cheetos, and the sound of rolling twelve-sided die. RROWR!

Posted by jeet at 10:45 AM | | TrackBack

Chicks who fight! Addendum

If you're even the least bit into this sort of thing, you'll probably enjoy this.

Or, for those less bandwidth-blessed, this.

via Latino Review

jeet adds a link to the actual trailer because arcane and I have been having a back-and-forth in the comments about the political subtext of the film or, at the very least, the political subtext of how the trailer above is cut.

Posted by jeet at 08:34 AM | | TrackBack

September 16, 2004

The land of grey generalities

Many of you have probably heard about an article in The Washington Post with the subheadling Geneticists and Historians Grapple With the Gray Areas of Race. I don't want to get into it at this point on the racial issue, we've got loads of stuff on it on this site. I do want to emphasize the idea of greyness or fuzziness. Speaking in generalities of means and variances where two distributions overlap, how exactly do you claim something is "significant" (why is "95% likelihood" significant and 94% not?).

When we got into it over at Tacitus there were two major classes of individuals who argued that race wasn't significant, class one used the Lewontin 15% intergroup variation point to argue that they were as likely to match someone of another race on any given locus as they were someone of their own race. I won't address that point. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that just because certain frequencies of any given allele are nearly disjoint (that is, A variant is found in group X while B variant in found in group Y at 99.9% frequencies), they are still only nearly disjoint (I'm exaggerating for effect). This line of argument often has an implicit assumtion that we are promoting "ideal types."

But at least with "race" we have allelic frequencies & F statistics. How do you "prove" an assertion like, "Islam has spread more by the sword than other religions?" I will be frank and say that I know enough about history that I could "fake" it and purposely frame the data points to make it seem like Hinduism has been just as aggressive as Islam (at least when pitted against someone who isn't able to draw on the same amount of data). I could look for evidence from the Sena period in Bengal or medieval conflicts between Jains & Hindus in southern India. How many data points would I need? What if I found 20 discrete incidents of Hindu persecution of religious minorities. Inserting them into strategic locations in essay form, I could "prove" my thesis pretty easily to those caught unawares.

Now, jihad can be spiritual struggle. I happen to think throughout most of Muslim history it has more often mean holy war, and today, most Muslims interpret it that way. How do I prove it? If I dig up a survey that shows that the majority of Muslism think jihad is holy war someone could rebut that only the elite matters, the masses do not reflect "true Islam." They could point to the many non-coerced conversions to Islam, or the fact that Dalits in India convert escape the social restrictions of the Hindu caste system. How many examples could they line up? 20, 30, 40? Of course you say: but those aren't representative! How do we determine which facts are representative or not?

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that generalizations can sometimes be hard to communicate, let alone persuade with. Your opponent can always emphasize in their mind all the exceptions, and enough exceptions means that they can flip the generalization in their head. There are all the issues of confounding factors and determining just what the critical mass of facts are to swing from one position to the other.

Convincing others of topics outside science is more about attempting to stimulate internal debate in the other with the presentation of facts. You'll never convince them because you don't know all the facts and processes at work in their brain. You can only hope to allow their own wheels to turn enough so that they stumble on to your position independently because their facts overlap enough with your facts to drive them toward the same conclusion.

Posted by razib at 09:50 PM | | TrackBack

Migration to the UK from East Europe

I think it has been mentioned somewhere on GNXP (either in a post or in comments) that migration to the United Kingdom from the new entrants to the European Union (Poland etc.) has been less than expected. This was based on figures for people entering the UK from these countries to work, which were only 8,000 in the first month after accession, if I recall correctly.

Simply for information I note the following recent Press Notice from the Migrationwatch website:

Data released by the Office for National Statistics today show that the number of visits from the eight Eastern Europe countries who acceded to the EU this year jumped from 76,000 in June to 191,000 in July. This is over three times the number (61,000) who visited in July, 2003.

In total 366,000 people from these countries visited the UK in the 3 months since May and 11%, about 40,000 people, were expecting to stay for more than 3 months.

Commenting Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said, "The numbers don't show the net number of migrants to the UK as there is no data on those returning to Eastern Europe, but they do point to the probability of a substantial rise in net migration from those countries".

This is a remarkable increase. It is possible that many of these 'visitors' will take the opportunity to assess the options for settling and working in the UK.

I stress that I have no objection to migrants from Eastern Europe, beyond the obvious point that Britain is already one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Posted by David B at 02:06 PM | | TrackBack


The thread on Chechnya has mutated into a discussion on Islam, civilizational conflict and what not. Zack responds to some of the points on his blog. Luckily, the conversation has stayed both informed and quasi-civil.

In Zack's post he asserts that there is an organic unity of Muslims. I disagree. It seems that the unity of Muslims cross-culturally is highly inorganic, that it is founded on myths and texts and fictive kinship. My personal familial experience is that the most Muslim are the most internationalistic (along with the least Muslim). Devout Muslims are the most likely to reject reject organic elements of their culture. It is my Islamically pious uncles who shrug when they find out that my Bengali is weak, for them, all you need is a language + Arabic. They are unmoored from Bengali identity to a far greater extent than the more nominally observant Muslims.

Second, I do agree that there are three broad civilizational clusters: the Greater West (Islam + post-Christianity), India and China. Many other civilizational groups can be thought of as combinations of these civilizations & native substrate. For example, Southeast Asia has an overlay of Indian, Muslim and Chinese culture grafted on to indigenous traditions. But how do the three "great" civilizations cluster? Many, including "Asian American activists," would assert that South Asia and East Asia have affinities, primarily because of the commonality of Buddhism to both, and the rejection of Abrahamic religion (at least as a dominant confession). But, in The Human Web John McNeill argues that India has traditionally been part of the West Eurasian information network.

What's going on? I think the key is that the rise of the God of Abraham as the dominant supernatural agent in the lands of the West between 0 and 600 cleaved the information networks between South Asia and Western Eurasia. Note that Indian scripts derive from Aramaic, Buddhist missionaries journeyed into the lands of the West (during the time of Ashoka), and Indian philosophical ideas were known in the Greek East. Soldiers from the Indus Valley were in the armies of Dauris and Xerxes that invaded Greece, while Alexander the Great invaded India centuries later.

What you see here is that though South Asia and Western Eurasia share a genetic (in the broad sense, not biologically) affinity that is discernable in the trade links between the cities of the Indus Valley and Sumeria down to the time of the Indo-Greek dynasties in Bacteria and Afghanistan, there were important functional changes in Western Eurasian cultural forms with the rise of exclusivistic monotheism. The reason that European neopagans sometimes publish in magazines like Hinduism Today is that they are attempting to recreate cultural forms and ressurect sensibilities that have been preserved in India, but were once part of their own heritage (the magazine itself was founded by a white convert to Saivaistic Hinduism). I recall reading that some British explorers who had classical educations would sense when they journeyed through India that they were surveying a fragment of their own pagan past.

Contrasts between South Asia and West Eurasian sensibilities on issues like religious pluralism are simply reflections of conventional human variance. This explains why some South Asian Hindus seem to have done a "find & replace" on Islamist documents, reappropriating the language and myths for their own tradition as it is a better reflection of their own sensibilities, while white American Buddhism is in large part shaped by Jews who were never comfortable with the strictures of their natal faith. Though the ideals of each culture have diverged sharply from the other, within them there is still a fair amount of individual variation in oulook. Cultural cross-fertilization and the dissolution of the cartels which imposed identities and expressive modes on individuals has resulted in the coalescence of forms of Hinduism which mimic the sharp edge of the Abrahamic religions while denominations of Christianity have emerged which are more in keeping with Hindu pluralism in their attitude toward a multiplicity of religious expression.

Addenum Obviously India had a lot of interchange with Islam as Muslims were politically dominant in the subcontinent for ~1000 years. Nevertheless, I am unconvinced that a genuine synthesis between Muslim and Hindu religious tradition exists contemporaneously (that is, the folk Hinduism and Islam of the past were closer, but it was practiced by non-elites and tends ti disspiate with the penetration of literacy). The fact that Sikhs are ~2% of India's population, and more ethnically than religious identified, is telling.

Posted by razib at 01:33 PM | | TrackBack

September 15, 2004

Size matters

As I've stated before sometimes it is good to have numbers and be precise about what you mean in absolute numerical terms rather than just implying ordinal rankings. So, I found this page which gives you the sexual dimorphism (male:female size ratio) for the apes:



A higher ratio implies a more polygynous mating system and sexual selection on males by females. FYI, this page gives a result of 1.27 (based on CDC numbers), and it states that 10% of American males are lighter than the average American female. This site offers 1.95 for gorillas and 1.25 for humans.

Another table:


Gorilla 2.36
Orangutan 2.21
Bonobo 1.36
Chimpanzee 1.2
Siamang 1.09
Gibbon 1.07

Well, there goes my idea of moving past ordinality toward more precision...but, readers might find this page interesting, "Between-population variation in pre-adolescent growth." The author states:
...The range of means for 28 Europeans and European-origin populations is 119.1 to 126.5 cm, similar to those for African and African-origin populations (119.6 to 126.0 cm), and Indo-Mediterranean populations (120.2 to 126.0 cm), but higher than that for Asiatic populations (118.1 to 122.6 cm). This supports Martorell's (1988) suggestion that genetic potential for growth is similar for all groups examined in this way, apart from Asiatic populations.

Readers might be curious to know that in 1975 Phyllis Eveleth & James Tanner published an article in Annals of Human Biology titled Differences between ethnic groups in sex dimorphism of height, and they concluded that Amerindians displayed the greatest amount of dimorphism, while Africans and Papuans the least. Their book, Worldwide Variation in Human Growth, seems to be a compilation of much of their research.

Update: Here is a list of heights from 1958 over at the Racial Reality blog.

Posted by razib at 10:25 PM | | TrackBack

Previewed on Firefox

Using the new release of Firefox. Noticed some positive changes already! Anyway, if I change the template I normally check to see if it works on IE. Well, I'm not going to do that anymore, the only thing I'll boot up IE for in the context of this blog is to see Pagerank on the Toolbar. So, if there are issues with the site if I make style changes feel free to email me (I might not notice since most of you use IE and I don't)...though I would recommend long time readers and anyone that thinks my opinion has any merit to switch to Firefox.

Posted by razib at 08:39 PM | | TrackBack


Best line in this whole Killian Memos deal; (paraphrased from Pat Caddell) "for CBS to call these memos fake but accurate is like the Tsarist secret police saying The Protocols of The Elders of Zion is fiction but real!"


Posted by scottm at 06:40 PM | | TrackBack

Race to death

TechCentralStation has a piece up titled Drugs and Race, in this case, a heart medication that seems to have great efficacy for African Americans, but less so for whites (we've blogged this before). We do touch human population differences on this blog on occasion, and their real life importance (to be mild about it).

The topic of the use of population based information to make decisions about individuals is touchy. We addressed it in the context of hiring & firing and admitting, and the possibility that one might have to set to higher standards for individuals who are members of typically lower performing groups because of "testing error." Griffe has fleshed this idea out already. Needless to say, it is controversial. There are issues of basic fairness and justice, not to mention the possibility of social disruptions if it is common knowledge that people are being judged by "different standards." I share those reservations.

But what does this have to do with medicine? Simple, it's all about information. Humans aren't omniscient and our information is always imperfect. If you know someone attended a Christian evangelical university, usually you assume they are a Christian evangelical, even if they have given you no other indication of their religious beliefs. You take the information you have and make the "best" (read: most accurate) assessment. In the case of hiring or admitting individuals to a university, this makes sense when viewed alone, but must be tempered by the reality that the decisions are being made in a social context where there are interlocking sets of values and outcomes. But the medical context differs, the relevance of medical diagnoses and treatments is life or death. This is important when weighing the implications a particular treatment regime may have socially, social impacts are usually hypothetical possibilities, medical impacts are clear & dried inevitabilities (you live or die). Of course, we can't save people "at all costs." For example if you are kidnapping paupers and "harvesting" their organs, there are basic issues of human rights that are relevant outside the context of the patient-doctor relationship. On the other hand, if you take an individual's self-reported race into account you are just adding more information into the process of weighing various hypotheses which may decide the course of treatment for an individual. Needless to say, quibbles about moral self-worth and dignity pale when set against the fact that one might not have time to consider these questions if one is no longer living. Unlike a unviersity admissions office or human resources department, the medical establishment has the interests of the patient at heart. That is, potentional employees and students are self-interested and will puff their resumes up, there is "good" inaccuracy for them that is "bad" inaccurarcy for the evaluator. On the other hand, patients have all the interest in being as accurate as possible about the information they offer, information is "good" only if it is accurate and "bad" if it is inaccurate.

I think in the case of medical science the variables are clear: higher morbidity of individuals in the interests of ameliorating theroetical social ailments, that is, that race as a biologically significant concept will become more acceptable in public discourse. There is I think a practical objection to the second point, the knowledge will already be out there even if medical practioners are asked to ignore it for 'ethical' reasons and granting agencies do not give money to race conscious trials. The victory might only be symbolic, but it will come at the cost of human lives.

Being an individual who is genetically dissimilar from most of my co-citizens, I am well aware that this is a handicap when it comes to 'organ matching' if this is needed at some point in the future for me. If I knew that if I acknowledged that I am genetically dissimilar, and this would result in a targeted matching attempt overseas, but that the cost might be prejudice after my recuperation (people would now know that I am 'different'), I would accept the prejudice as the cost of my life (people already know I am different I suspect!). In this way, I am trying to put in perspective the possible downsides, they just don't measure up next to life. Additionally, one might argue that few people will need tailored medicine or organs, but with the progress of modern medical science I suspect that we all will know someone (or be that someone) who will make recourse to medical treatment that might benefit from genetic information input at some point in our lives.

There may come a day in the future when personal genomic sequencing and the cheap manufacture of individually tailored drugs might become a reality. On that day we can discard the use of aproximates like race. But until that time, we could only reject this information at the cost of human life. It makes no sense to express solidary with principles that reject racial discrimination if the individuals who might be subjects of said discrimination experience a lower quality of life and possible diminishment of their life span. People are the test of ideas.

Link via Vinod.

Posted by razib at 05:12 PM | | TrackBack

Indian AIDS epidemic on "African trajectory"?

That's what Richard G.A. Feachem, executive director of the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria thinks.

Note: I did not have time to comment on this since I am too busy. If any of my Cobloggers want to comment in this post, go ahead.

Comment from Razib: I could believe that there are more than 5.1 million South Asians infected with HIV. But, two points:

  • There are multiple African trajectories, some scary (South Africa), some not so scary (West Africa).
  • There are many regions of India experiencing HIV differently. From what I gather the current center of the "epidemic" is in southern India. This may be the result of different sexual mores, or, it could be a byproduct of southern India's relative economic dynamism. From what I recall many regions of rural Africa are relatively untouched by HIV until trucking routes and the 'modern' world come calling.

Update: Anna links to an article that says brown teens are bumping uglies like bunnies. But, I would have liked to see more concrete numbers (for example: mean number of pre-marital partners, mean age that a teen lost their virginity, etc. etc.).

Posted by scottm at 04:16 PM | | TrackBack

Shifts in sources of immigration and their consequences
Joshua M. Bernstein, "Dumpling grounds", Time Out New York, 2004 September 16-23.

Until ten years ago, says Dumpling Man owner Lucas Lin, the city's Chinese immigrants hailed from southern provinces, where thick-skinned dumplings are popular. Then travel restrictions eased and northern Chinese immigrants streamed into NYC. They brought with them the secret to the vellum-thin, steam-fried version...tangmian [a yeast free method of mixing dough with boiling water] is painstaking, but the payoff is softer dumpling skins and a sweeter flavor.

The above passage is from an article about the proliferation of dumpling houses in New York, among which Chinese joints are well represented. The article is quite correct: until recently, Chinese migrants to the English-speaking world were predominantly southern, usually Cantonese and, in the earliest stages of immigration to New York City, often from Taishan and its environs. Early Western perceptions of Chinese food were shaped by the specific local origins of Chinese immigrants and, unfortunately, by the paucity of professional cooks among their ranks.

So, what I really want to know is, when is Manhattan going to get cheap and plentiful South Indian food? Yes, I know about the dosa cart on Washington Square South but let's face facts; Thiru is the exception rather than the rule. Pongal? Good but expensive. Jackson Diner? I said Manhattan, didn't I?

If anyone can enlighten me as to the regional demographics of Indian immigration to the US, I figure it's the posters and commenters here at Gene Expression.

Posted by jeet at 12:08 PM | | TrackBack

My kind of town, Toronto is...
Laura M. Holson, "The Long View on 'Deep Throat'", The New York Times, 2004 September 5.

"I was in Toronto recently, and Toronto is like being in middle America," [film producer Brian] Grazer recalled. "And you've got very hot, young, 18-to 20-year-old girls with tongue studs and they are simply, publicly advertising that they are interested in and capable of giving you really good oral sex if you're interested...."

Hello, I'm Brian Grazer and I'm a big, big perv.

I guess what I'd like to ask resident Torontan Randy McDonald is, "So is it true that I should take my next vacation in Toronto?"

Posted by jeet at 11:47 AM | | TrackBack

Gifted Assessment

One of the newer students in my academic program was very inquisitive about giftedness and gifted assessment. Interestingly, I had just reviewed Genius Denied for a journal in my field, so I was "quasi-up" on the topic. One of the areas that is "contested" is the assessment of the gifted. The goal is to identify them as soon as possible so that the powers that be can help develop their potential instead of squander it in the traditional classroom setting. While there are psychometric tests available, to put it bluntly, they just don't do as adequate a job as one would like (for many reasons, reliability being a key one). Thus, it is usually in late elementary or early middle school before the kids are identified, which, in some cases, is a bit too late. The question, then, is how to identify the kids earlier, when it appears psychometric tests aren't the best route to take?

Today, I received APA's Monitor on Psychology and hidden in the back was this article about gifted assessment. What really caught my eye was this:

[W. Keith] Berg has won a McKnight Brain Research Foundation grant to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare older and younger adults as they work on executive functioning tasks. He intends to pursue additional research dollars that would allow him to use fMRI to study the children who emerge as gifted in his current Rosen-funded study

If these folks could find out the neural correlates (and perhaps causative factors) of gifted students at a very young age, this would be a big boon for the Galtonian revolution. First, it could be a big step toward showing that giftedness is not a product of a given scholastic environment (although one would still have to tease out other environmental variables). Second, it could show that the cognitive elite (loosely defined) are neurologically different than [fill in the blank] and, even more importantly, these differences are evident very early in life.

While I still hold that psychometrics is not going to go away in any of our lifetimes, I am becoming more inclined to agree with TAFKA godless that neuroscience will eventually develop the tools that take its place.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 12:58 AM | | TrackBack

September 14, 2004

Russia, Chechnya, and the Neocons

Since this is a political post, I am making it an extended entry.

I was going to make a post about Francis Fukuyama's silly article about transhumanism in Foreign Policy, however, the recent posts on this blog about Chechnya demanded my immediate attention.

The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya has been making headlines everywhere and is being cited in news articles and essays around the world. What's especially interesting is their membership list. On it are such prominent neoconservatives as Elliott Abrams, Eliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Frank Gaffney, Robert Kagan, Max Kampelman, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, Richard Perle, Norman Podhoretz, Gary Schmitt, and James Woolsey. As are Reaganite realists such as Kenneth Adelman, Alexander Haig, Robert Lieber, Richard Pipes, and Caspar Weinberger. Also included is a hawkish group of Democratic realists, in this case Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Dujarric, Charles Fairbanks, and William Odom.

The question is, why are these individuals so sympathetic to the "Chechen" (I'll explain the quotation marks later) cause? I ask this because many of the above individuals I would consider to be political allies of myself. All believe in an assertive foreign policy and American global hegemony. Brzezinski, in particular, is absolutely brilliant, and William Odom's new book (with Robert Dujarric), America's Inadvertent Empire, in by far the best and most insightful book on American foreign policy written this year. In order to explain this odd phenomenon, lets have a short history lesson first.

According to legend, Russia was founded in the Kievan Rus (in modern day Ukraine) in the ninth century by a Viking named Oleg.[1] At the time of its founding, Russia was approximately 1/3 of 1% of its present size.[2] Needless to say, there is a quite a history of Russian expansionism. In 1696, Peter I (the Great) decided that Russia's lack of defensible borders demanded immediate attention. His solution? Expand Russia to areas with mountainous regions that can be more easily defended and acquire warm water ports in order to be able to project naval power throughout the year. To quote Robert D. Kaplan, a person whose writings have greatly influenced my worldview:

The Russians’ drive southeastward, to conquer the Turkic peoples and to acquire warm water ports along the Indian Ocean, gathered momentum with Peter the Great’s conquest of the Sea of Azov from the Ottoman Turks. Over the next century, Russian fur trappers and traders built forts across southern Siberia, arcing down into Turkestan. In the nineteenth century, following its recovery from Napoleon’s invasion, Russia began subduing one Turkic khanate after another.[3]

In most cases, these khanates were Muslim. However, their rulers were cruel and exacted extremely high taxes from them. Many were happy to be liberated.

By the 19th century, the Russian empire had expanded to "7000 miles from east to west and 3000 from north to south."[4] With over 100 different cultures, this empire was highly multicultural and held together by a highly centralized, and overly bureaucratic, state.[5] Nicholas I created institutes to study all of these cultures and to develop methods with which to ensure cohesiveness of the empire. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where our modern day troubles in Chechnya begin...

To skip ahead a few years, Lenin, brought back into Russia with the help of the Germans, launched the Bolshevik Revolution, overthrowing the tsar and signing a peace treaty with Germany, ceding Ukraine to them. A wise decision on Lenin's part, Germany soon lost the war and Ukraine became an independent republic. Lenin, in order to bolster support for his revolution, declared the right of self-determination of all cultures within the Russian empire.

Muslims of Russia, Tartars of the Volga and the Crimea, Kirghiz, Kazakhs and Sarts of Siberia and Turkistan, Turks and Tartars of Transcaucasia, Chechens and Mountaineers of the Caucasus, and all those whose Mosques and Oratories have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled under foot by the Tsars and oppressors of Russia. Your beliefs and usages, your national and cultural institutions, are henceforth free and inviolate. Organize your life in complete freedom. You have the right. Know that your rights, like those of all the peoples of Russia, are under the powerful safeguard of the revolution and its organs, the Soviet of Workers, Soldiers and Peasants.[6]

Of course, Lenin didn't mean a single thing he said. As Russia went deep into a civil war between pro-Tsarist forces and the Bolsheviks, the largest of these cultures split from the empire and formed their own independent republics. On December 28, 1920, Bolshevik forces conquered Ukraine, "the breadbasket of Russia," providing them with enough supplies to quickly finish off the remaining Tsarist forces, not to mention undertaking what became, in the words of Brian Crozier, "the largest imperial expansion in world history," seizing all of the breakway republics in Central Asia and more, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Instead of changing Tsarist foreign policy, they continued it, only more aggressively.

Technically, these "Soviet republics" were autonomous, however, in reality they were under the control of those very Russians who claimed to be their saviors. While exerting political control over these republics, the Soviets attempted to demonstrate that these republics still had cultural independence, and formed nationality policies. In what appears to be a continuation of the ethnographers from the Russian Empire, the Community Party "encouraged nationalist ideas by promoting ethnicity in the state apparatus -- every republic had its own institutes for the study of national language and culture -- but denied regions the fight to anything more than symbolic expressions of that nationalism."[7]

"After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, nationalistic rhetoric by both central and regional political leaders flowered."[8] When the Soviet Union fell, most of the large republics declared independence, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia (Belarus), Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia (Kyrgyzstan), Latvia, Lithuania, Moldovia (Moldova), Russia, Tadzhikistan (Tajikistan), Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. What occurred "in the postimperial new orders, ethnic, or more precisely, ethnicized or ethnically oriented elites always came to power. They began actively to implement an apartheid policy in ethnic relations."[9] The nationality policies enforced by the Soviet Union ensured that "all historic events are ethnicized; in this way, they are mythologized and subjected to total mystification and falsification."[10] By enacting these cultural policies and breeding nationalism while simultaneously suppressing the political outgrowths of this newfound nationalism, the Soviet Union sealed its fate.

Many republics, however, were unable to secede from Russia. In 1991, Dzhokar Dudayev declared Chechnya’s independence. Chechnya had been subjected to the same problems that other nationalities had been under the Soviet Union. Nationalist ideas had been encouraged, yet political control still rested in the hands of the Soviets. "Dzhokar Dudayev's glorification of an independent Chechnya and a mythologized native 'warrior tradition' drew on this rhetoric and on decades of Soviet nationalities policy."[11] In 1994, after negotiations with Dudayev had failed, the Russians invaded Chechnya in what appears to be again, a continuation of Tsarist and Soviet imperialism. Dudayev rallied the Chechens behind the belief "that Chechnya would reclaim glorious traditions once free of Russia's yoke" and "promised economic miracles through independence, and exaggerated the amount of oil in Chechnya."[12] The Russians underestimated the Chechens and considered them nothing but a few "bandits" and "criminals" who would be defeated in a "small victorious war." It was anything but. In August 1996, after nearly two years of brutal urban and guerrilla warfare, the Russians negotiated a peace settlement with Aslan Maskhadov, the commander of the Chechen forces.

Between 1997 and 1999, Chechnya had a generally high level of national autonomy, however, what happened between these years is horrifying. The brutality of the Russian invasion, due mainly to the fact that most of the Russian troops were badly trained and had little experience against nationalist guerrillas[13], left Chechnya in ruins and its people demoralized. With Dudayev dead, the Chechens needed new leaders and motivations in order to rebuild their country. They felt that Dudayev’s ultra-nationalism had failed them, and instead of bringing them freedom and independence, it brought them ruin. A political vacuum existed, waiting to be exploited.

The Chechens, who had been primarily secular nationalists prior to 1997, began to look to outside influences for hope. One part of their national identity whose study had been encouraged by the Soviets was their Muslim roots. In the mid 1990s, a new leader appeared, Ibn Khattab, and he was offering them the solution to all their problems. Khattab appears to have single-handedly turned Dudayev from a patriotic nationalist into an Islamic fundamentalist. With over $25 million from Islamic charities, Saudi Arabia, and Osama bin Laden, Khattab (whose real name was Salim Suwaylin[14]) brought in fighters from all across the Islamic world who saw in Chechnya the kind of instability necessary for the recruitment and creation of a jihadist state. Entire regions of Chechnya came under the control of Shar'ia radical Islamic law, in particular the village of Karamakhi, where the jihadists planned and launched attacks against neighboring Dagestan in August 1999. In the same month, numerous apartment complexes were bombed in Russia, and authorities quickly laid blame on the Chechens. In October 1999, 80,000 Russian troops were deployed to Chechnya, and have been there since.[15]

What happened in Chechnya is simple. Decades of political oppression coupled with the encouragement of nationalism led to violent secession from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Decades of Russian imperialism were passed on to the democratically elected Russian government, who saw it as the first way to solve the problem in Chechnya. After a brutal invasion that left the country ruined, due to insufficient training of the Russian troops, a political vacuum was left empty. Foreigners exploited the failed state in order to form a jihadist state intent on making it a base of a coming global Islamic revolution. In response, the Russians again invaded Chechnya, thus proving what the Islamic radicals had said all along about Russia, further putting the Chechens within their fundamentalist death grip. Chechnya is now effectively a base of Islamic radicalism, unstable, and the Chechen people, who feel even more doomed than before, are resorting more and more to terrorism.

Is there a solution to the problems in Chechnya? In Chechnya "Russian troops make a good deal of money . . . [by] selling weapons to the rebels." "Rebel commanders [have] divided up the region’s oil wells among themselves . . . [and] soldiers and police extort a cut from the [illegal] refiners in return for turning a blind eye." "The alternative to home-brewing petrol is to become a rebel fighter. There are bounties to be had for killing Russian troops and blowing up their vehicles." Most of this money comes from Islamic charities and terrorist organizations. If the Russian troops pull out, there will be instability and the province will fall even more under the control of jihadists. If the Russian troops stay, the cycle of violence will continue and corruption will continue. There doesn’t seem to be a solution to the Chechen problem.[16]

However, Russia should learn from this. Russia needs to understand the causes of these nationalist uprisings and they need to enact radical military reform. The military should be professionalized, corruption rooted out, troop strength should be cut, and training should focus on dealing with the types of asymmetric warfare that terrorists specialize in without causing great damage to the civilian population and infrastructure. If another Chechnya should happen in Russia, the Russians should be able to deal with the problem without a brutal invasion that only makes the problem worse. Until then, the legacies of failed policies from decades and centuries past will continue to haunt Russia, and the world.

Now, I do not want to sound as if I am an apologist for the "Chechen" cause; I am not. The point here is that, originally, Chechen separatism was a secular movement that has radically changed over the years and has since become an Islamist movement. This is no longer simply about Chechen separatism; it's about a global war on Islamism. This is extraordinarily similar to the problems the Middle East regarding the Palestinians. Originally, the PLO and the nationalist movement there was leftish and secular, however, it has since been Islamicized. Why can't the ACPC see the similarities between the two? Why do they blame Russia first?

The problem here is that many of the newspapers and commentators on the issue act as if Chechen separatism has absolutely nothing to do with Islamism. Regardless of the fact that perhaps as many as 1/3 of the terrorists in Beslan were of Arab origin, and despite the fact that we have captured Chechen operatives in both Afghanistan and Iraq (see The Interrogators), they still act as if this is the same movement that was fighting in 1994.

Fact is, it isn't. We are now fighting an international war against the forces of jihad, and times have changed. For some reason, the neoconservatives and the hawkish realists who are members of ACPC don't understand this. Why is this? I believe it's because these individuals are still in a Cold War mentality, and many have ditched their anti-Communism and inserted some odd form of anti-Russianism. I can understand the reasons behind Richard Pipes' and Zbig Brzezinski's anti-Russianism: they're both Polish, which gives them a perfectly legitimate reason for harboring that mentality. However, I don't understand what happened to all of the rest.

Just this morning Robert Kagan wrote an anti-Putin screed in the Washington Post. From reading it, it's as if he doesn't understand that the Cold War is over. It's people like him that are preventing the United States from getting closer to Russia and developing a mutually beneficial relationship. He completely ignores all the good Putin has done for Russia. At first, I thought that Kagan was simply a democratic extremist, who is more interested in promoting democracy, even when it's not in the national interest. That doesn't seem to be the case, though, especially since I don't see him condemning the centralization of power taking place in Iraq. It appears that he is simply anti-Russian.

Promoting democracy is an honorable and noble goal. However, as Fareed Zakaria has recently pointed out, in order for a country to be a successful democracy, certain conditions must be met. Failure to meet those conditions could make the country worse off than it already was.

For all the skeptics out there, go to the website of the Kavkaz Center in Chechnya. It's like Jihad Central.

Many have compared Putin to Pinochet. They say that Putin wants to create an authoritarian-capitalist state. This is a rather bad analogy. Is Putin creating an authoritarian state? Perhaps. But Pinochet DID create an authoritarian-capitalist state and, since we had a common enemy, we worked together. In the end, Chile turned out alright, didn't it? Based on per capita GDP, it's only the third most prosperous country in the Western Hemisphere, behind the US and Canada, and it is a very stable democratic state with a center-left party currently in power. The neoconservatives tolerated him, why can't they tolerate Putin? Anti-Russianism.

To put it even more simply. Russia wields an enormous and disproportionate amount of influence in world affairs. If you begin to move against Russia now, Russia may well end our war on terrorism. America, Russia, Israel, China... we're all in this together. Working together now means that we have more trust in the future to make a better world, which will be a heck of a lot simpler if we already have close relationships militarily. So, your choices are clear: continue the war on terrorism and allow Putin to make Russia slightly less democratic or criticize Russia and end the war on terrorism.

To the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya: GIVE RUSSIA A CHANCE.


This is long, I know. Much of it is adapted from an essay that I wrote about a year ago. I felt what I said in it was immediately applicable to the current situation in Russia.

When I wrote it, I tried to be as objective as possible. At times it may even appear that this essay is sympathetic to the Chechens. I will admit, I did sympathize with them when they first attempted to secede, however, I have since withdrawn my support due to the level of Islamicization that has taken place since 1997. I will also admit, I am a bit of a Russophile.

A small error: in the third paragraph, I stated, "In 1696, Peter I (the Great) decided that Russia's small size and lack of defensible borders demanded immediate attention." It has been raised by Razib that Russia had already reached the Sea of Okhotsk by this time. He is correct, and I have revised the problematic paragraph to this, "In 1696, Peter I (the Great) decided that Russia's lack of defensible borders demanded immediate attention." That's what happens when you lose your train of thought.

Razib also brought up an interesting tidbit about the worldview of Jeane Kirkpatrick. She wrote a book in 1982 titled Dictatorships and Double Standards. In this book, she advocated alliances with right-wing authoritarian dictatorships in the global struggle against Communism.

To quote myself, she believed that "there was a fundamental difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism, and that the latter was far worse than the former. Since totalitarianism was always the ultimate result of Communist revolutions, a right-wing authoritarian regime would be a much lesser evil than a left-wing totalitarian regime. While a pro-US democracy may well be desirable, many of the states that Communist movements took root in were democracies, and she stated that the point of the war is to defeat Communism. Therefore, overthrowing a democratic regime that had brought Communists to power and installing a right-wing authoritarian was sometimes necessary to prevent the Communists from solidifying their power and becoming an anti-American pawn of the Soviet Union."

Thus, that's how we ended up supporting such individuals as Augusto Pinochet.

[1] Duffy, James P., et al, Czars, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1995, pgs. 8-15
[2] Frazer, Graham., et al, Absolute Zhirinovsky, Penguin Books USA, Inc., New York, NY, 1994, pg. 1
[3] Kaplan, Robert D., The Ends of the Earth, Vintage Books – Random House, Inc., New York, NY, 1997, pg. 250
[4] Clay, Catherine B., "Russian Ethnographers in the Service of Empire, 1856-1862," Slavic Review, Spring 1995, Pgs. 45-61
[5] Hunczak, Taras, Russian Imperialism from Ivan the Great to the Revolution, Rutgers University Press, NJ, 1974, pg. 1
[6] Tyrkova-Williams, Ariadna, From Liberty to Brest-Litovsk, MacMillan & Co., Ltd., London, 1919, Chapter 16
[7] Suny, Ronald, The Revenge of the Past, Stanford University Press, California, 1993, pg. 112
[8] Ispa-Landa, Simone, "Russian preferred self-image and the two Chechen wars," Demokratizatsiya, Spring 2003, Pg. 306
[9] Masanov, Nurbulat, "Perceptions of Ethnic and All-National Identity in Kazakhstan," M.E.S. Series No. 51: The Nationalities Question in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan, Institute of Developing Economies, Jetro, Japan, 2002, pg. 6
[10] Ibid., pg. 14
[11] Ispa-Landa, pg. 306
[12] Ispa-Landa, pg. 307
[13] Goulding, Vincent J., "Back to the Future with Asymmetric Warfare," Parameters, Winter 2000-2001, US Army War College, Carlisle, PA, pgs. 21-30
[14] Anonymous, Imperial Hubris, Brassey's, Inc., Dulles, Virginia, 2004, pg. 87
[15] LaFraniere, Sharon, "How Jihad Made Its Way To Chechnya," Washington Post, April 26, 2003, Washington Post, Washington, DC, Page A01
[16] Economist, The, "The Lost Cause of the Caucasus," The Economist, London, UK, pg. 25

Posted by Arcane at 11:54 PM | | TrackBack

Immigration @ Reason.com
Posted by rikurzhen at 04:31 PM | | TrackBack

The problem with cooperative analysis

One of Robin Dunbar's key points about human social intelligence is that we have an especially advanced Theory of Mind (ToM). ToM is basically the ability to conceive of what someone else is thinking about, that is, "I believe you believe I believe...." and so on. Another term for this is intensionality. Humans are usually thought to be able to keep track of 6 orders of intensionality. Often, autistic people don't have this capacity, which is why they act like jack-asses all the time without meaning to. What comes naturally for a normal human is something they have to learn (as if it's math).

ToM works pretty well in social situations. Yes, there are misunderstandings, but usually they can be corrected later on down the road, and other cues (mannerisms, gestures, etc.) give you a pretty good idea what someone is meaning to say. But one problem that I think people often have is they try to extend this ToM to topics that are removed from the social world, especially in abstract fields.

Abstract concepts like math are integrated together so that axioms and propositions can create a whole formal system. Math is explicit in its assumptions. As you move away from math things become squishier, and I believe in areas like politics, philosophy or art, what we mean outpaces our ability to capture the nuance in language. This is compounded by the problem that everyone is interpreting what others say and formulating answers based on what they believe someone is trying to say. Words and their meanings do not always map clearly. Removed from the concrete world of social relations, which is information rich and providing us with constant input to correct for inaccuarcies in our mental models, this sort of conversation eventually devolves into semantics and the quest to communicate precisely becomes more important than the quest to communicate anything of substance.

As I noted above, individuals who are autistic lack a fully fleshed out capacity for intensionality. Some have noted that these individuals, who in their high functioning form are often labelled as having Asperger's Syndrome, often do very well in analytic/abstract disciplines. The argument often goes that in these fields the need for precise explication means that they are not disadvantaged, but perhaps their tendency to never assume something about the mental state of others, that is, what they "really mean," is one of their advantages.

Posted by razib at 04:09 PM | | TrackBack

The Honor of a Lady

Yesterday I heard a report on The BBC about the government of Turkey pushing forward a law to criminalize adultery. Interestingly (though not surprisingly) the individual arguing in favor of the law was a conservative woman who said that it was to protect the "honor" of women. I didn't follow the argument too closely, this is typical stuff that you hear out of the Islamic world (especially the Middle Eastern Islamic world). These periodic reversions toward traditionalism by the 'moderate' Islamists of Turkey makes one wonder about the what affect Turkey joining the E.U. might have. Moral traditionalism also makes the fact that American secularists have a favorable view of Islam in comparison to conservative religious folk rather strange (by a 2 to 1 rate even!)!

But I want to move on from these observations of the contemporary world to examining this issue over the long haul. Historically educated people might offer that European societies were just as sexist a few hundred years ago as Islamic societies. The validity of this assertion rests on what you mean by "sexist." I was surprised when reading The Reformation that John Calvin and other Protestant reformers made a point of looking at the grounds for divorce and ascertaining what was reasonable or not, and adultery was one factor that could justify this act. The point is that the implication was that in 1550 in at least the part of Europe we often imagine had the most puritan mores, that is, Calvinist Geneva, adultery was not a capital crime for women. In fact, I later learn that Calvin's brother divorced his own wife after her second incidence of adultery! To me, this suggests that the whole criticism of Islamic sexual purity, especially female purity, as needing to be contextualized in terms of cultural development needs to be reconsidered. After all, in many other ways Europeans of 1550 were more barbaric than Middle Eastern Muslims today, especially their attitude toward their religious minorities. Nevertheless, on the issue of sexual relations transgressing social amity they exhibited greater flexibility.

This line of thought was stimulated by something I have just read in Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World: Muslim chroniclers of the day were far more cautious in broaching the topic of the possibility that Genghis Khan's eldest son, Jochi, was not his biological issue. The circumstances are well known, Genghis Khan's wife at the time was kidnapped by a tribe from who Genghis Khan's father had kidnapped his own mother (that is, his mother was betrothed to a member of that tribe). When Genghis Khan's wife was rescued she turned out to be pregnant. The issue of paternity was confused, though it seems that at least publically Genghis Khan did not challenge his son being legitimate. On the other hand, his younger sons did quite frequently, and this issue was a central point in the divisions between various lineages of the Mongol royal family.

In any case the author states that Muslim writers simply could not understand how a man as great as Genghis Khan could allow word of this slight against his honor to persist, it was beyond their conception (one chronicler leaves blank spaces that indicate revision of this topic, as if he simply couldn't believe what he was writing down). That is, his wife had been raped by a stranger, and likely given birth to a bastard. The implication is clear in light of what we know sometimes happens in modern Muslim cultures: rape is no defense against dishonor (among Middle Eastern Muslims at least, though I know that this attitude seems to be surfacing in Muslim Africa and South Asia as well). The Mongols of the time looked at adultery differently, and though inter-clan adultery was not socially accepted, sexual relations between a woman and her husband's close friends or near relatives (with his knowledge) within the context of their circle of tents were not necessarily seen as infidelity in the same way. This sort of behavior is anthropologically attested in other cultures, and today among groups like the Wodaabe. The major point is that Mongols did not have an extreme view of female chastity and honor [1].

One must consider this in light of the fact that the Mongols of the time organized themselves as patrilineal clans on the Steppe-Taiga borderlands, so issues of paternity could be disruptive to the social order. Why did the Mongols and Muslims differ in this respect? Were Middle Eastern Muslims as extreme about female "honor" in the 1200s as they are today? Milder forms of the double-standard and "honor" talk are common in most cultures, from the West to Vietnam. Nevertheless, honor killing seems to be a characteristic of Muslim, in particular Middle Eastern, cultures. Anthropologists chalk this up to the extreme nature of patrlineal clans among the Arabs, and yet Mongols were also formed along the basis of patrilineages.

Addendum: Patrlineages also serve an important role in much of Confucian Asia & among elite Hindus. Is honor killing endemic to these cultures? Obviously different societies can attain different equilibriums the way they deal with the same problems, but it is interesting in light of a tendency for some Westerners to relativize and dismiss the barbarism (relatively) that is characteristic of Muslim cultures in their attitudes toward women.

[1] Among the Taureg female chastity was traditionally not emphasized to the same extent as other Islamic peoples. Today, with the rise of a more conventional Islamic piety and the penetration of the Taureg by clerics from more verdant regions of northern Africa, women's rights seem to be in the process of being curtailed.

Posted by razib at 03:26 PM | | TrackBack

Grooming => Language ~ Larger Social Groups

In the post below I begin to explore Robin Dunbar's assertion that 150 is a crucial threshold in human social organization. I believe this central fact is really what Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language focuses on, language itself is almost an afterthought. Dunbar sums up his most important theses in the final chapter:

  1. "...among primates, social group size appears to be limited by the size of the species' neocortex...."
  2. "...the size of human social networks appears to be limited for similar reasons to a value of around 150...."
  3. "...the time devoted to social grooming by primates is directly related to group size because it plays a crucial role in bonding...."
  4. "...it is suggested that language evolved among humans to replace social grooming because the grooming time required by our large groups made impossible demands on our time...."

As you can see, group is the ultimate, while grooming and language are proximates, adaptations to deal with the reality of large groups.

One can imagine all sorts of reasons why individuals embedded in larger coalitions of hominids would be more reproductively fit than those who were members of smaller groups. As I suggested in my previous post, I suspect these units of 150 are "basic" or "atomic" units, not necessarily the smallest, but operationally crucial in forming a reductionistic theory of sociology. Obviously there is a great deal of intragroup competition, and the "free rider" is always looming on the horizon. This is the reason that humans have a well developed social intelligence, to perpetuate a stable group equilibrium. Earlier I made the analogy to the individual: even though individuals are emergent from smaller units, the organism can be treated as a unitary whole. But, if you read books like The Cooperative Gene, you will note that there are sometimes cracks in the intraorganismic genetic "ceasefire."

Common sense tells us that groups of 150 are not as unitary as mulitcellular organisms, the intuitive human capacity for social living is a "good enough" solution, especially judging by the commonality of individuals who lack social skills. Dunbar notes that conversations can only truly flow together in groups of less than five, so the 150 limit does not imply a quorum of engaging equals, but a coalition of smaller semi-transient intersecting networks of intimates (~10). In this fashion enough exchange of information occurs so that penalties can be efficiently imposed on free riders who would degrade the coherency of larger groups.

Even though the book is 7 years old, I think it is an important (and short!) read for those interested in evolutionary psychology. Dunbar does not come to the number 150 simply through surveying history or taking on faith what comes out of his line-of-best-fit when he plots neocortex ratio vs. mean group size:

He has researched what modern humans report about their social networks, and again the ~150 number shows up, as if we really are souped up cavemen who remain caged in by the social lives of our ancestors. Additionally, Dunbar offers that there are physiological & anatomical constraints in the EEA which would have prevented our neocortexes from increasing in size (the metabolic cost of a large brain resulting in a smaller gut and so a more energy rich diet as well as the stress that the infant's large cranium fitting through the pelvic opening induces). There is also the problem that the complexity of a social network does not increase linearly. At a certain point one would need a brain the size of an elephant to handle all the possible permutations of social interaction.

Dunbar's case for the importance of 150 is clearly convincing for me. I don't know if I buy his argument about the importance of language and its relationship to 150. I find it plausible, and don't have an alternative thesis, but there are too many question marks between the development of archaic Homo sapiens and the putative "Great Leap" of cultural creativity ~50,000 years ago in my mind. There are issues where the 1997 date shows, Dunbar wrote before revisions in "The Great Leap" theory of human biocultural evolution began to creep in, and he also did not know about the language gene, FOXP2. I don't know how he would revise his argument in light of these facts, but I do think that his interlocking cascade of conjectures would be altered.

E.O. Wilson once said of Communism, "Great idea, wrong species." In the generality Wilson is correct, but there are elements of "communism" prebuilt into human societies. Familial units often share property communally, and sometimes extended family clans also do this. The Hutterites, who live in groups of 150, practice some level of communal property. Wilson's quip might be reformulated as "Great idea wrong level of social organization [1]." Marx and his successors who propogated "scientific socialism" lived under the delusion that sociology and the affinal human sciences were in fact peers to the physical sciences in their ability to reduce the object of study to a few variables and infer predictions. As Wilson and others from the natural sciences have asserted, social science has no theory [2]. Social science often involves broad descriptions of trends and patterns without attempting to really reduce the variables down to a level where predictions can work back up the ladder of complexity to validate a hypothesis. Obviously scholars realize that humans often organize at discrete levels of complexity, from family, clan, tribe and so forth, but a a scientific and multi-pronged examination of these terms can help us consider which ones are truly useful beyond the stage of verbal description, that is, which ones are elemental in the construction of higher levels and the shape they take.

Individual level selectionism has reshaped evolutionary biology. It has been a fruitful avenue of inquiry which has yielded a great number of testable hypothesis (some confirmed, some falsified). Today, social scientists and historians have an avalanche of facts but little rhyme or reason to their organization. This results in faux "theories" spun out of Post Modernism or artful but subjective Just-So factual fantasy like The Decline of the West or A Study of History. A basic understanding of the biological basis of the human organism can augment the method of the human sciences. Older historical theories like "diffusionism," which seemed to posit each cultural invention as a sui generis miracle can have been critiqued in light of the fact that the human brain is not a blank slate, but is subject to universal constraints and common biases shaped by an ancient environment that our species shared. Genghis Khan need not have settled on the number of 100 for one of his basic military units because he borrowed from the Roman example (via some other culture or state), rather, it emerged out of commonality of human experience derived from the limitations of our mind shaped by the forces of evolution!

To understand Newtonian Mechanics you do not have to reduce down to the level of quarks. To understand ecology you do not have to reduce down to the level of the biomolecule. Perhaps to understand the human sciences you do not have to reduce down to the level of the individual, rather, perhaps 150 is some elemental unit. We really don't know yet, the theory needs to be tested and fleshed out. Human choice and the random vicissitudes of history and environment shape how human societies develop, but it seems quite likely that there are universal constraints and variables out of which this contingent complexity develops.

Related: Great post from Life With Alacrity, much more thorough than my entry....

[1] There are a lot of issues of accuracy here, as families and communal units are often in flux, and some concept of personal property obviously exists. The more important point is that in groups of under 150 one could conceive of a social situation where some degree of communism might be tenable, usually augmented by real or fictive kinship (I could religious as a form of fictive kinship). This is a utopian fantasy at higher levels sans totalitarian methods of control, and even that is futile (as we know).

[2] I know economists might reject this characterization.

Posted by razib at 01:39 PM | | TrackBack

September 13, 2004

On Hurricanes and Politics

This is a politcal post so out of consideration of our readers I am putting the text in the extended entry- scottm

I have a prediction to make, that over the next month a leading Democrat politician (most likely Al Gore) will try to pin the recent series of Hurricanes on Bush's environmental policies.

I believe this for many reasons;

1) The Democrat Party, and especially Al Gore, view the Kyoto Treaty and Climate Change as damaging to the Bush team.
2) Florida is a swing state which has been hit the hardest by these storms.
3) The Flak over Bush's TANG records has backfired on the Dems, so they need a new issue
4) Bush is actually rising in both national and state polls
5) A movie "The Day After Tomorrow" has already been made containing the allegation already
And finally;
6) The Dems are practicing the most invective-filled, anger-based, gutter politics that I have ever seen in my more than 20 years of following politics (10 years I was too young). Al Gore has accused Bush of being a traitor, and his followers of being "digital brownshirts". Theresa Heinz-Kerry has accused those who disagree with John of being "unamerican" and "unpatriotic", has verbally assaulted a conservative reporter, and has called critics of her husband's health care plan "idiotic". John Edwards accused Cheney of "unamericanism" for implying (which Cheney did not) of saying a Kerry administration would result in a terrorist attack. And, ironically, many leading Democrat candidates stated that voting for Bush would make the U.S. more unsafe to terrorism.

I've come to expect anything from the Dems now that they have been taken over by their lunatic fringe, so mark my prediction, it will happen.

Posted by scottm at 10:01 PM | | TrackBack

150 good men to help conquer the world!

In Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language Robin Dunbar argues for the primacy of social groups ~150 individuals as basic atomic units. He points to evidence that our brain physiology itself sets the constraints that impose this number as an upper limit. Today, I was reading a bit of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, and I stumbled upon this (page 41):

He also created an elite bodyguard of 150 warriors: 70 day guards and 80 night guards to surround his camp at all hours....

Later on he established 100 men as basic units of his mobile army. 100 was also the number of soldiers in a Roman Century, the most important organizational level in the Legion (the Cohort be intermediate). Conventional wisdom was that an army was one or lost by a general by the loyalty and fidelity he could expect from the Centurions. Reading about the life of Genghis Khan, it seems that he intuitively understood a few truths about human nature, and stumbled upon others by happenstance. His reward was world conquest.

More later....

Addendum: As Jaime points out, the Mongol army had lower levels of organization than 100. I knew this, but I wanted to emphasize 100 as the crucial number because this is the last level at which human social intelligence can operate unaided by formalized rules & regulations. In the Roman army the contubernium was nested within the century, 8 men who would basically be social intimates. But, it was to the centurions, who commanded the century, that Roman generals looked to when attempting to shore up their support. Centurions, traditionally the highest noncommissioned officers, would be familiar with both the rankers below and the generals above on some personal level, ergo, their importance.

By analogy, there are obviously levels of organization below the individual, but operationally the individual organism is thought of as a unit because the interests of cells, organs, organ systems and the genes that encode them are tied up in the individual (at least to a high degree). Beyond the level of the individual new dynamics come into play, we go from the realm of genetics and physiology to ecology and ethology. Similarly, between the dozen who might be social intimates and the 120 who are part of your social network, similar processes are at play, but beyond 120 formal rules & regulations that are not so rooted in social intelligence become more important.

Addendum II: More illustrative analogy of what I'm talking about: throw 4 marbles on a table and your friend can tell you there are 4 marbles without "counting," that is, they have an accurate, precise and innate sense of numeracy. Throw 40 marbles on the table and both accuracy and precision drop, to get the exact number your friend has to count mentally and will use some sort of formal system (divide into groups of five and count them up). Somewhere around ~6 our innate numeracy fails us as an exact mental faculty and we need to supplement it with mental aids, formal rules. Somewhere around ~150 individuals our social intelligence reaches its limit and larger organizations must be scaffolded by artificial laws and regulations.

On second thought, I think my use of the term atomic or basic might have been imprecise, though to be fair, atoms are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons, and protons & neutrons are composed of quarks.

Related: (see Robin Dunbar and the Magic Number of 150)

Posted by razib at 06:43 PM | | TrackBack

White-Asian marriage in the UK

I said I would try to find data for rates of White-Asian marriage (or partnerships) in the UK. A BBC report in 2002 said:

"Data from the 2001 census due to be released later this year is expected to confirm that Britain has one of the highest rates in the world of inter-ethnic relationships and, consequently, mixed race people.

"By 1997 already half of black men and a third of black women in relationships had a white partner according to a major study of ethnic minorities published by the Policy Studies Institute (PSI).

"It also revealed that other inter-racial relationships were flourishing with a fifth of Asian men and 10% of Asian women opting for a white partner. "

However, I haven't been able to confirm this from published Census data. The figures for Asians seem a bit high - I doubt very much that as many as 10% of Muslim women have a white partner, so the rates for Hindus and Sikhs would have to be even higher.

But I welcome correction if anyone has good data.

Posted by David B at 12:36 PM | | TrackBack

Chicks who fight!

Resident Evil: Apocalypse was #1 at this week's box office. I will probably go see it, mostly because I like Milla Jovovich . She is a hot (a combination of striking novelty and beauty). Yes, I know the plot will be thin, but the action should be OK, right?

Another woman splattering blood on screen, how unrealistic could that be? As Steve Sailer has said: "This is always hyped as feminist empowerment (a la "Charlie's Angels"), but it's driven far more by the adolescent male's wish that sexy girls would stop being interested in all that boring girl stuff and start being interested in cool boy stuff like fighting and guns." A few months back I defended female militarism in the recent King Arthur flick by appealing to historical precedents of Celtic women warriors: Boudicca, Mebh or the goddess of war, Morrigan. Looking cross-culturally, Athena was a goddess of war & wisdom. The Valkyries are often depicted as women warriors. The goddess Kali has a well known dark & bloody side. Artemis, also known as Ishtar and Astarte, manifested a peculiar interest in nonfeminine activities such as hunting (the Amazons worshipped her). Occassionally the cult of a woman warrior is focused upon a living individual, Joan of Arc, or the Trung sisters of ancient Vietnam. This is not to say that war has ever been a dominant element in any societies vision of the ideal female. It would be physically difficult for women to become involved in organized war because of the physical strength demands, a battle between two phalanxes was often just a pushing match between men with pikes. A Roman ranker was expected carry nearly his whole body weight as he marched so that he would fully equipped to set up camp in the middle of nowhere. Even when women have led in battle it is usually in a religio-messianic role or as an outgrowth of their temporal power. They are manifesting their class or caste origins rather than their gender (symbolized most obviously by Hatshepsut's wearing of a fake beard). But, it seems that in light of the near absence of women as common soldiers, there are rather many female war goddesses and blood soaked dark ladies who serve as objects of devotion from men of arms. No matter the current cultural justification for the 'buttkicking stereotype,' I think there are deep seated evolutionary cognitive forces at work. Women and war become associated in a fictional or mythological setting in many different cultures, this isn't the singular byproduct of Western patriarchy bringing in objectification through the backdoor of superficial empowerment.

First, we need to take a step back. Cognitive scientists Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer & Dan Sperber have formulated typologies which define [1]:

  • Intuitive knowledge domains
    • folkmechanics
    • folkpsychology
    • folkbiology
  • Ontological categories
    • Substance
    • Person
    • Animal
    • Plant
    • Artifact
Certain knowledge domains apply to particular categories. For example, all three domains listed above could apply in various forms to "Person," though only folkmechanics would apply to "Artifact." These tendencies, or biases, are hardwired predispositions shaped by our evolutionary history. They are cross-cultural, and crucially, they display themselves from infancy onward. Infants react with bewilderment when they are shown an Artificat behaving and speaking as if it were a human being.

Some psychologists speculate that one of the functions of religion, or supernatural entities, is to transcend the typologies, in form if not in application. That is, God is not restricted by any of these categories. The "Holy Ghost" could fit into both Substance or Person, and one could imagine that Jesus and the Father are both forms of Person, but their existence and capacities do not really conform to personhood. Supernatural "facts" are confusing, jarring and they tend to destabilize our preconceptions. But our preconceptions can't be jarred too much or we reject certain ideas, there needs to be a bridge toward reality and common sense. This is a sort of argument than many Christians make, in that Jesus became a man to connect in a more direct fashion than through avatars and emanations, and they argue that the more thorough monotheism of Muslims & Jews renders God too abstract.

Boyer & Atran have found that mildly counterintuitive ideas are the most memorable and most resilient to degradation (in their labs). That is, supernatural beings persist in our common mythology because they have an advantage over more banal and mundane concepts. Not only that, these domain and category defying mythologies often also tap into emotions like awe, fear or admiration, grafting the various elements of physical reaction together in a fashion that demands our attention and grabs a hold of our imagination.

These concepts aren't just limited to religion & mythology. Larry Niven, a hard science fiction writer, has spoken of how one must balance reality and novelty in a precise fashion so as to keep the reader interested. If the tale is too banal they won't want to continue reading, while if it is too confusing they won't persist. At the other genre extreme, fantasy obviously defies 'common sense' and 'reason,' but novelists often deviate only mildly from our preconceptions. The protagonist might be able to hunt dragons and perform magic, but his name is "Jon" and he has sandy blonde hair.

Now the application to film and women warriors becomes more clear. Milla, Angelina Jolie and other acctresses who are playing the "sexy action heroines" of our day obviously do not comform to reality as feminists would like it. Both Jolie and Jovovich have commented on the proportions of the video game characters who serve as the basis for their roles. They're basically playing strippers armed to the teeth. Nevertheless, the women remain women, and sometimes they will display female vulnerability. The heroines are well deviated away from reality, but they also don't take the full plunge that their more progressive viewers might prefer. Violent, assertive and forceful, they are still 'ladies' on a salient level.

Today gender-equity feminism serves as the reason, but the basic process of constructing novel stories and myths continues as it always has, tweaking with our mental hardware and hijacking our biases. Just as examples of Athena or Kali led few women to a lifetime of bloodthirsty war and plunder, the new blood heroines will be politely ignored by most outside of the field of rhetoric. As in the ages past their main devotees will be young men, who explore the novel comingling of action-driven fury and sexual tension.

[1] For a full fleshing out of their ideas, their books would be a good starting point, In Gods We Trust, Religion Explained and Explaining Culture. You can also read many of their papers at their websites, follow the links to the side.

Posted by razib at 03:46 AM | | TrackBack

September 12, 2004

Interracial marriage (UK)

I wanted to offer some UK data on Asian-White marriages to compare with Razib's 'Desi' post, but on a quick search I couldn't find any. From memory of press reports, about 15% of South Asians in the UK have white partners, but I don't trust my memory - it isn't what it used to be....or is it?

However, I did find the following paper on black-white partnerships, which on a quick skim looks quite interesting.

If I find anything useful on Asian-White I will post it later.

Posted by David B at 04:46 PM | | TrackBack

Steve Sailer's presentation to Margaret Thatcher

Over at the website for Steve Sailer's Human Biodiversity Institute is a briefing, called The Genetic Revolution, that he presented to Margaret Thatcher back in 1999 during a Hudson Institute conference titled “Will the 21st Century Be the American Century?” I highly recommend this presentation to anyone who doesn't understand how big of an impact research into biotechnology will have on the future of the world.

I know many of you may already have seen this presentation, however, no mention of it exists, from what I can tell, in the archives of GNXP. Check it out!

I also suggest that everyone check out the Spring 2000 issue of American Outlook, the magazine published by the Hudson Institute. It has the transcripts of the speeches from the above conference, all of which are fascinating.

Posted by Arcane at 02:50 PM | | TrackBack


Over at 2 Blowhards Michael comments on the phenomena of the rise of the "desi," which is often take to be a generic term for American brown people (though if you read the comments you can see the problem with this appellation). As I noted over at Michael's blog, and as you can gather from previous posts, I am ambivalent about the coalescence of a "desi" ethnic awareness analogous to "African American" or "Asian American" or "Hispanic American."

On an unrelated note, I was checking out a wedding registry as a friend of mine is getting married next month, and I noticed that on Macy's website you can leave the first name off (it is an optional field). So, I decided to do an experiment, I typed in the names "Kumar," "Desai" and "Mehta" (which I believe are Gujarati, often Patel, names) [1]. I entered in 204 data points, and this is the breakdown I found:

All brown couple: 126
Brown male, non-brown female: 41
Brown female, non-brown male: 37

That's a 38% intermarriage rate for this subset. To do another run, I looked up some Bengali Hindu last names, and this is what I got:

All brown couple: 47
Brown male, non-brown female: 17
Brown female, non-brown male: 17

A 42% intermarriage rate.

I sampled a little more (tried a few Tamil names, etc.), and I got similar results (Trust me! Though sample sizes were too small taken alone. Gujaratis only have a few names and I know the Bengali names). Obviously, these individuals are not a representative sample of all brown people getting married in the United States. If they are being listed at Macy's it seems probable that they skew toward the higher SES brackets (or self-perceive in such a fashion), but it is interesting because this is the group that will contribute to the inevitable leadership cadre in any nacsent ethnic-block. As I have said before, the day of the desi might be over before it began, these results fit in with shockingly high intermarriage rates for first generation South Asians (as well as the relative gender-balance in intermarriage). Inspecting the pairings, I did note that South Asians with non-South Asian first names seemed more likely to be paired up with a non-South Asian (Stacy Mehta + John Anderson being more common than Himesha Mehta + John Anderson), perhaps because more (most?) of these individuals are American born. Additionally, many in California seemed to be marrying Latinos, though I also noted many Irish American surnames. It was also clear that a large number of "brown-brown" marriages were cross-communal (that is, various South Asian communities), implying they were not arranged. There were more interreligious (by origin) marriages than I would have expected, that is, a non-Muslim name with a Muslim name, and though it is harder to gauge it seemed that there were a fair number of interethnic marriages as well (my friends over at Sepia can collect the data and analyze it more in a more thorough fashion if they are curious!). This implies that a South Asian American identity decoupled from Indian ethnic/religious/caste awareness is forming in the United States. Finally, I noted only two examples of inter-Asian American marriage, that is, where a South Asian was marrying an Asian non-South Asian. That's less than 1% of the intermarriages, and indicates that South Asians and Asian non-Asians are going to continue to identify as two separate groups, no matter what identity politics activists might prefer in the interests of critical mass [2].

One thing is clear, America is becoming more complex as simplistic typologies simply won't do. I have not seen the rule of hypodescent at work among children of half South Asian origin (just like children who are half East Asian), so though a brown American identity is forming, it is being eroded by high intermarriage rates. Unlike Jews, who had a century of endogamy (1860-1960) to firm up their group identity in the face of internal divisions & compelled by external bigotry, I am skeptical that South Asians will be able to follow in the foot steps of this group, whom they are so often compared to [3]. That is was then, this is now.

Update: Manish replies.

1 - Searching for Patel required a first name qualifier, and this was problematic because it seemed to result in duplication. I could have narrowed the date restriction, but I have a finite amount of time.

2 - Since "Asian Americans" form nearly 5% of the people in the 20-40 age bracket, and many of these marriages seem to be based in California and New York where you would expect the two groups to meet regularly in social situations, it almost suggests an aversion between South Asians and Asian non-South Asians. Most likely, both semi-immigrant groups actually cluster closer in outlook and attitude to whites, who serve as the common cultural substrate to which they assimilate, than they do to each other. The main commonality is that neither is white, which frankly isn't much to go on unless your fixation on whiteness (or anti-whiteness) is the paramount concern in your life.

3 - There are multiple problems with an "optimistic" mapping of the Jewish experience with the South Asian experience. Though the difference between German and Eastern European, Reform and Orthodox, Hasidic and non-Hasidic, were deep, the differences between various South Asian groups are even wider. The proper analogy is with European Americans, not Jewish Americans, as the variation in religion, language and race makes South Asians much more intravariant as a group than Jews ever were. This internal substructure decreases with each generation in the United States, but there is also likely a proportional increase in the the possibility of out-group intermarriage. In other words, desi identity is a dynamic equilibrium between over there and here, situated in an optimal middle where non-browns are Other but out-ethnic, out-religious and out-caste differences are no longer as salient.

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