Open Thread, 11/29/2015

2015-11-29 10.54.09Over Thanksgiving I tried Marie Sharp’s Habanero Pepper Sauce. It is apparently from Belize. Highly recommended. It’s a genuine habanero sauce, in that it actually is spicy. The additives don’t overwhelm the habanero flavor and impact. I would say it is very mildly on the sweet rather than vinegar side, but the other flavors don’t interfere with the impact, nor are they dissonant.

51zlgfgrs2L._UY250_So apparently I forgot that Marcus Aurelius was like Adolf Hitler. More precisely, I read Frank McLynn’s biographies of Genghis Khan and Marcus Aurelius in sequence, and while the exterminationist practices of the Mongols were well covered, I had forgotten that the great philosopher emperor had wanted to blot the Iazyges Sarmatians from the earth during his Danube campaigns. The reason was that unlike the German agro-pastoralists whose mode of life was such that they could have been transferred to the empire and become taxpayers, the Iazgyes were nomadic pastoralists who were likely to be a perpetual thorn in the side of the Roman state who were also not ideal settlers within it. This brings me to a curious historical analogy: that between the Kangxi Emperor and Marcus Aurelius. The two have both been termed philosopher emperors, who wrote down their reflections for posterity. Marcus Aurelius famously in his Meditations, while you can find that of the Kangxi Emperor in Jonathan Spence’s Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-Hsi.

And like Marcus Aurelius the Kangxi Emperor also endeavored upon a “final solution” for an ethno-political problem: the destruction of the Dzungar polity which he began, and his successors completed, entailed genocide on a large scale through famine and displacement. More Holodomor than Holocaust. The ethnic character of the northern half of modern day Xinjiang, what was Dzungaria, has been radically reshaped over the past 250 years due to the efforts of the Kangxi Emperor and his heirs (what was once a Oirat Mongol domain passed over to Kazakhs and Uygurs).

UltrasSoc_cover_epubAs promised, Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth, is now available in trade paperback. I’ve started to read it. One thing that I like about Peter’s work is that he’s relatively economical in regards to prose, and like a scientist he balances powerful analytic frameworks which allow for general inferences ,with rich empirical description of specifics. You should probably read his 2013 PNAS paper before you read this book.

ISIS’ Grip on Libyan City Gives It a Fallback Option. Look at the map. The Islamic state has hegemony over a huge swath of the coast between Tripoli and Benghazi. We, the West, and France and the United States in particular, created this situation. This was a war of choice. Liberals who abhorred the Iraq intervention somehow thought that the Libyan one was warranted. The Gaddafi regime was not a good thing. He was a mercurial dictator who sponsored terror against the West and was a source of trouble for his neighbors in the Middle East and Africa. But, he was aging, and beginning to slide into his “bunga bunga” years. Libyans are arguably worse off now than they were before the intervention. The rest of the world most definitely is.

The Heart Disease Conundrum. Here’s the important part:

However, Framingham risk models do not tell the whole story for nonwhite ethnic groups. In 1959, the first study was published showing the increased risk of premature heart disease in Indian immigrant males, who had four times the rate compared with the men in Framingham, despite having lower rates of hypertension, smoking and high cholesterol, and more often following a vegetarian diet.

What is it about South Asian genetics or environments that lead to so much heart disease? We need a Framingham-type study to answer this question.

The problems exhibit themselves among well off South Asians in the West. And, frankly, well off South Asians in South Asia. All four of my grandparents died of issues relating to their cardiac health or the circulatory system (e.g., heart disease, hypertension leading to stroke, etc.). Mind you, they died in their mid-70s, early 80s, and at 100, so one needs to keep in mind that at those ages something was going to happen. Luckily cancer doesn’t seem to run in my family. I’ve got a large pedigree at least to check for these things.

I’ve been running and lifting to various degrees over the past year and a half, going from 155-160 lbs (at 5’8) to 145-150 lbs. Judging from the various body fat percentage meters I’ve used I’ve probably lost ~4%, likely going from ~20% to ~16%. But, I definitely have work to do. South Asians are “fatter” than their weight. This is clearly to a great extent genetic, or a gene-environment interaction relating to activity (or lack thereof), as I don’t eat a South Asian typical diet (“paleo-lite” is probably a good descriptor). That’s just how life is. (though these genetic issues probably don’t preclude a relatively high life expectancy, the Maldives for example has one of 77 years, while Kerala and Sri Lanka are at 74 years).

Neolithic farmers from Greece and Anatolia. ‘”I think it is time to declare the problem of “Neolithization of Europe” done.’ Basically. Onto the Bronze Age. And Asia.

What It’s Like to Grow Up as a Closeted Gay Extremist Muslim in East London. Unlike my white liberal friends I don’t think Islamophobia is a big issue in most of the West. I say this as someone who “looks Muslim” and has a “Muslim name” who also flies a lot. But what do I know about racism compared to my white liberal friends?

From Indonesia, a Muslim Challenge to the Ideology of the Islamic State. As I pointed out on Twitter, these sorts of articles were common before the 1998 Asian economic flu, though usually they had to do with Mahathir Mohammed and Malaysia at the time. And, as suggested in the article attempts to affect change in the Arab Islamic world from the demographically and economically powerful Asian Muslim periphery probably are not going to work because of ethno-racial chauvinism. Though one might not know this from the vantage point of post-colonial theory dominated academic departments, Arabs identify themselves as white, and have a fair amount of racial prejudice against East Asians, South Asians, and Africans. Though Persians historically had a huge influence on the shaping of Sunni Islam, today Iran is Shia, so they will have a difficult time getting heard. Turkey has its own recent colonial legacy with the Arab world to deal with, as well as Ataturk’s reforms forcing a cultural rupture despite recent attempts to close the gap. Islam’s ethnic valence is somewhere between that of Christianity, which has been re-appropriated multiple times in multiple contexts, and Judaism, which is both a religion and a nationality in its self-conception. I grew up marginally Muslim, insofar as my parents were involved in the Islamic community for the purpose of celebrating religious holidays, and the attitudes of Arabs, and a lesser extent Turks and Persians, in regards to the religion and South and Southeast Asians, as well as African Americans, tended toward condescension. They were happy to accept these groups as legitimately and authentically Muslim, but it was clear that they would never have brooked any lectures on proper practice and belief from these arrivistes.

The Near-Impossibility of Assimilation in Belgium. The headline is misleading. The substance of the article makes it clear that it is totally feasible to assimilate if you are white.

Tibetans Fight to Salvage Fading Culture in China. First, the issue is language. One can imagine that Tibetan identity would persist purely through religion, with the Tibetan language becoming a liturgical vehicle, as Coptic is among Coptic Christians, who all adopted Arabic by about 1800 (there were people speaking Coptic during the European Renaissance, since apparently some Europeans visited Egypt to learn the language during that time). A good model for Tibetans might be the Hui community, who speak Chinese but maintain a distinct Muslim religious identity. Second, there are >100 times more Han Chinese than Tibetans in China. The economic benefit of being able to speak Chinese is pretty clear. As occurred in Lithuania during the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth I imagine it’s going to be hard for upper class Tibetans to not be linguistically assimilated by the more numerous Chinese.

Religion_Explained_by_Pascal_Boyer_book_cover‘To hell with their culture’ – Richard Dawkins in extraordinary blast at Muslims. I don’t agree with Dawkins on many things, and think some of his assertions are wrong and/or stupid. But, I do respect him for actually saying what he thinks rather than always testing the wind to stay on the right side of the norms of his “team.” It’s refreshing, rare, and it also adds to his genuine credibility, which is otherwise undermined by his tendency to be emotive and shoot-from-the-hip.

I should also add some specific issue in regards to my relationship to the “New Atheists,” and in particular Dawkins and Sam Harris. As a matter of analysis I disagree with their views of how religion as a phenomenon emerged and how it persists. In general my opinions are reflected most by cognitive anthropologists, such as Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer. But, when it comes to the political and normative debate, I have much more sympathy for Dawkins and Harris, because I think their attitude is a broadly liberal one which is hostile toward multiculturalism in a manner well aligned with a particular Western tradition which goes back to the Enlightenment, with which I have much sympathy (though not without reservations). More plainly, as much as I might disagree with Dawkins and Harris on the nature of religion, I totally reject the idea that they are racist in any way as some of their liberal (and sometimes conservative!) critics suggest. Perhaps some of their comments might have racist implications, or one might argue that the application of some of their policies are necessarily racist, but it is pretty obvious to anyone who knows their biographies that neither of them are racist in their intent or personal views. The accusation is basically just a rhetorical move to silence them. (I might add that I also dissent from some of Harris’ more interventionist foreign policy positions; but reasonable people can disagree on these things)

SciReader is great if you haven’t checked it out. One thing I would really like from these sorts of recommendation engines is the ability to tweak exactly how precise the results should be base on previous preferences. Or perhaps a way to add a “stochastic parameter” into the equation.

b127HB_lgFor example, there are topics I’m interested in which I’m not working on in my current research, and are never showing up on these recommendation engines. E.g., Evolution of the additive genetic variance–covariance matrix under continuous directional selection on a complex behavioural phenotype. It’s open access. I recommend you read it! Check out the G-matrix page.

Donald Prothero has a new book, The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution. I’m not a big fan of the biographies of geologists and paleontologists that get interleaved into the science. I’m a computational biologist, so all I see is digging in dirt, digging in dirt, etc. etc. (obviously I feel differently about biographies about geneticists…but I’m a geneticist!)

But, I really liked Prothero’s previous book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. Earlier I said one of the things I like about Peter Turchin’s work is the balance between analytic framework and empirical data. Unfortunately many evolutionary genetics types get a little fixated on their model organism (often it’s Drosophila, let’s keep it real) and forget about the big picture of what evolution is. Sometimes it is useful to actually look at a survey of a lot of the fossils and see how all these evolutionary dynamics play out in terms of morphology.

Finally, I’m not open to debates on my comments policy. Trying to argue with me about it will probably get you banned. I know most of you know this, but some of you don’t, at least judging by the past week. So here I am stating it explicitly.

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