Open Thread, 5/29/2016

I call the guy above “the rabbi of the geeks.” The depth and nuance of his analyses are incredible. (I don’t watch the non-GoT commentaries from him because I have no idea what he’s talking about)

51NWscXxuDL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I recently read Shadi Hamid’s Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World. It’s a quick read, at 300 pages, though it traverses the gray land between being academic and aimed toward a popular audience (Hamid’s political science background informs his analysis, and I’m pretty sure I missed some stuff in there since that isn’t my background). I will be posting a very long reflection/review on the book and its topic closer to its publication date (I got a review copy). More precisely, a post will go up on June 6th. But before that I thought I would commend that you check out the book if you are broadly interested in the topic. Hamid engages with facts and managed to display a fair amount of epoché, whereby his own personal religious and political commitments are set aside long enough for there to be some genuine analysis. Unfortunately, this is a rare thing in our day and age. My main disagreements with the book are theoretical, conceptual and semantic, rather than descriptive. More to come on this.

51OftfuYlSL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_With some hindsight I have to say that The Monkey’s Voyage is an important book. It is far more influential in my thinking a month out than I would have thought before I picked i up. By and large I hold to the scale independence of evolutionary processes, but to a great extent that has resulted in me ignoring macroevolutionary processes and fields. In hindsight this was short-sighted of me. I’ve already started integrating the insights from The Monkey’s Voyage into my mental models. In particular, the reality that geographic distributions of populations are highly dynamic, and turnover is ubiquitous. Yes, The Monkey’s Voyage focuses on macroevolutionary time scales, but I think it’s a general dynamic with relevance for microevolutionary (and historical) scales as well.

Nick Denton, Gawker Founder, Assails Peter Thiel as ‘Vindictive’ Foe. Last summer I was approached by lawyers working with potential plaintiffs against Gawker. I didn’t join because 1) I wasn’t sure there was any merit to my case (I’m a “thought criminal” so of course The New York Times didn’t want to be associated with me!) 2) I’m a person with a lot of other things going on aside from my media “career” (which for obvious reasons didn’t ever get started anyway) so it wasn’t too big of a deal for me personally 3) Gawker and the media-industrial complex are powerful and might be able to destroy other aspects of my life which actually are important to me in a deeper way if they wanted to come after me.

thielbinbThe media are flipping out right now because of the “injustice” Peter Thiel has wrought upon Gawker. The reality is that the media commits blatant ethical and moral violations against private individuals all the time, they are simply “little people” who are collateral damage in the battle for “justice.” You have to break some eggs to make an omelette, right?

When journalists are treated the same way they treat others they often become very angry. Journalists, like lawyers, think they have a noble calling, so they want their profession insulated from being attacked or diminished. That is human nature. Most of the rest of us are less than sympathetic. Journalists have an important job. Often it is difficult. It is important. But sacred? Nothing’s sacred. That’s what you learn by consuming the media today (also, my minimal interactions with journalism have made it clear to me that it’s a biased and selectively outraged field; you knew that, but I can confirm that).

51fGEWZ08UL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_At about the same time the lawyers for Hulk Hogan contacted me I was clued in to the fact by someone else that Peter Thiel was obviously working to destroy Gawker, and that it was a long game for him. If someone like me, who spends most of his days thinking about site frequency spectra and the role of inter-group conflict in multi-level cultural selection (to give two interests of mine), knew that Thiel was involved last year, it had to be widely known among many. I can’t believe Denton didn’t know, unless his social circle is that insulated or he’s alienated so many people that they wouldn’t think to give him a heads up (in 2006 when Denton started talking about the possibility about outing Thiel apparently Thiel told Denton to not do that unless he wanted Thiel to come after him). The idea that this was some huge secret and nefarious plot is ridiculous. Peter Thiel is smart, why would he have told many people what he was up to if secrecy was important?

This TPM piece on Thiel, The Eccentric Tech Billionaire Behind The Gawker Suits Has Some Curious Ideas, illustrates why some of us have so little respect for the “nobility” of journalism. Peter Thiel does not subscribe to the latest 95 theses promulgated by the committee to promote social justice. No shit? Neither do a lot of people.

All men must die. If you are a progressive the day will come where you have to confront whether you will let #TeamProblematic dictate your thoughts down to every detail. I know that many of my liberal/progressive friends privately roll their eyes and go along because of team spirit, but all unsustainable things must come to an end. Though the long game can be long indeed. In any case, no surprise, #ImWithPeter.

There will be a short pre-recorded segment on the company I’m working for on NBC’s Today Show between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM tomorrow (Monday the 30th). About three minutes. Fun fact: I did the genotype calling specifically on the dog being profiled! Also, we’re selling kits on the website now. Standard on the order of one month turnaround.

51B5+P66c6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A reader mentioned Lord Dunsany in the extensive comments below (not totally surprising that I have a lot of fantasy geeks in my readership). As I’m something of a philistine I had no idea who Lord Dunsany was. So I looked him up. Well, I noticed that King Elfland’s Daughter was available for 99 cents as an e-book, so I got it. Quite interesting so far, especially with the archaic prose. The reader who brought it to my attention contended that Dunsany lay at one of the spectrum, with the other end defined by someone like George R. R. Martin. Seems about right so far. I don’t have much time to read fiction, but it seems worth exploring this a bit further.

9789814414012On Twitter I saw a reference to Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road. I read a bunch of pages (actually parts of many chapters) on Amazon. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I purchased it. Recommended, though I haven’t read much of it since I was spending the last few days reading Islamic Exceptionalism. This is an interesting topic though. As some of you know I am more and more convinced that aspects of Buddhist institutional structure were laundered into Islam by Central Asian ulema in the 9th century.

Someone asked me to comment on this, A European Mitochondrial Haplotype Identified in Ancient Phoenician Remains from Carthage, North Africa:

While Phoenician culture and trade networks had a significant impact on Western civilizations, we know little about the Phoenicians themselves. In 1994, a Punic burial crypt was discovered on Byrsa Hill, near the entry to the National Museum of Carthage in Tunisia. Inside this crypt were the remains of a young man along with a range of burial goods, all dating to the late 6th century BCE. Here we describe the complete mitochondrial genome recovered from the Young Man of Byrsa and identify that he carried a rare European haplogroup, likely linking his maternal ancestry to Phoenician influenced locations somewhere on the North Mediterranean coast, the islands of the Mediterranean or the Iberian Peninsula. This result not only provides the first direct ancient DNA evidence of a Phoenician individual but the earliest evidence of a European mitochondrial haplogroup, U5b2c1, in North Africa.

518F-qjf9rL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_We should be careful about making such strong inferences from mtDNA lineages when the geographic distance wasn’t that great. But, several years ago I read Adrian Goldsworthy’s The Fall of Carthage. It’s a good book, and worth reading at least for its description of the Battle of Cannae. There’s a reason we remember Hannibal. He was seriously bad-ass. Additionally, his family, the Barcids, had somewhat of a cosmopolitan background. Not too surprising in light of the cultural melange which Carthage had become (it had its own Senate, and seems to have been strongly influenced by Hellenistic culture). So, if I recall correctly one of Hannibal’s female ancestors may have been a Greek woman from Sicily. It light of this sort of fact we should not be entirely surprised if people in Carthage had typically European mtDNA lineages (in fact, because of Greek colonial expeditions were extremely male biased Hannibal likely had a native Sicilian mtDNA, if that woman was part of is unbroken maternal line).

Spontaneous mutations and the origin and maintenance of quantitative genetic variation. Out of Trudy Mackay’s lab (she’s the co-author of the later editions of Introduction to Quantitative Genetics). Great to see prominent professors publishing in a place like elife.

Geneticists and historians need to work together on using DNA to explore the past. More precisely:

Other efforts to get geneticists and historians speaking the same language are under way. A consortium led by ancient-DNA researcher Hannes Schroeder, at the University of Copenhagen, recently won a €1.2-million (US$1.3-million) grant for a collaborative research project called CITIGEN to make his field more accessible to historians and other humanities scholars. Like Geary, Schroeder worries that historians will be left behind if they fail to incorporate genetics into their research. “The train is running, and you jump on it or you miss it,” says Schroeder, who is also involved with an effort using ancient DNA to study the transatlantic slave trade.

Neanderthals built cave structures — and no one knows why. This stuff is getting crazier and crazier.

In ‘Game of Thrones,’ it’s time to start rooting for the White Walkers. Not really. But there is some logic to it. The “nobility” of Westeros seems so depraved, the White Walkers strike me almost like the medieval idea that the Mongols were the scourge of God.

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