Open Thread, 9/17/2018

There are lots of things from Imperial China 900–1800 that I learned, though more often it simply deepened my knowledge. At this point, I am curious about something that is more like economic history (yes, I’ve read The Great Divergence). Recommendations?

Here is a fact I learned from Imperial China 900–1800 that might be of interest: in the late 17th century the expanding Manchu Empire (which had conquered China) and Russia began to jostle for power in Inner Asia, and the Khalkha Mongols, the Mongols proper, were deciding which side to align with. I had long known that the Khalkha Mongols had aligned with the Manchus. What became the Manchu imperial line had a genealogical relationship with the Mongols, as they would often take wives from a particular group of Mongol tribes (Kangxi Emperor’s paternal grandmother was a Mongol). Imperial China makes it clear that Mongol cavalry units were critical elements of the Manchu military machine, and as the Manchu assimilated into the Han culture they became arguably even more important as a population which could provide militarily ready men at a moment’s notice.

But a more interesting aspect of the Manchu alliance with the Mongols are the ethnoreligious implications, and what they wrought across Inner Asia. The Khalkha had become Tibetan Buddhists by the time the Manchus conquered China. According to Imperial China, their religious leaders argued for the furtherance of their alliance as junior partners to the Manchus as opposed to the expanding Russians in part because the Manchus were more respectful of Buddhism. Mind you, the Manchus were not themselves Tibetan Buddhists, though they were always keen to co-opt the various prominent Tibetan lamas. But, they had earlier practiced Chinese and Korean forms of Buddhism (as the Jurchens) and seemed resistant to Tibetan Buddhism in comparison to the Mongols.

The Russian Empire was obviously dominated by an Eastern Orthodox Christian elite. But, eventually, they made accommodations with various minority religions, including Buddhism. But, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and non-Orthodox Christianity were all subordinate religions. Historically non-Orthodox ethnic groups invariably suffered erosion due to the social advancement which conversion to Orthodoxy entailed. From the viewpoint of meta-ethnic identity, the Manchus were clearly superior to the Russians, as the Manchus tended toward more neutrality in religion than the Russians.

Dzungaria in red

And yet there are two conditions that need to be highlighted here. The Manchus were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Mongol Dzungar tribes in the 18th century. The Dzungars were the last great Inner Asian polity to challenge the gunpowder empires. They were arguably the final flowering of the steppe and its way of war. Unlike the Khalkha Mongols the Dzungar tribes, who were Oirat, were not part of the Mongol expansion under Genghis Khan. Ethnically somewhat distinct, the Dzungar nevertheless were Tibetan Buddhists, just like the Khalkha.

The 18th-century wars to destroy the Dzungar polity and exterminate or scatter its people occurred with the assent and aid of the Khalkha Mongols, who were ethnically close and religiously identical. Some of the Dzungar even fled westward, to joint co-ethnics under Russian rule in the Kalmyk Khanate. The region of Xinjiang that today is labeled “Dzungaria” had very few Mongols after the wars against the Dzungars. Nor did it have many people who we today would call Uygurs. Rather, post-genocide Dzungaria was occupied by nominally Muslim Kazakh and Kirghiz people, while today it has become a magnet for Han and Hui people as Urumqi has become Central Asia’s largest city.

Why am I reviewing all of this? To show how complicated the idea of alliances and affinities based on civilizational identity can be. The reality is that religion and ethnic identity do matter somewhat, but on the medium-scale, they are not as important informatively as on the extremes. Obviously traditionally ethnoreligious groups exhibited ingroup affinity. Buddhist Mongols lived with Buddhist Mongols. Muslim Mongols often assimilated to becoming Turks, while Mongol tribes which had experimented with Islam but eventually became Buddhist lost their Islamic connections. And, on the largest temporal scales and on the margin broader ethnoreligious affiliations matter. Buddhists from as far away as Japan protested to the Taliban when they were mooting the idea of destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas. Christians focus on the persecution of Christians in China. The Mongols, Oirat and Khalkha, became heavily involved in Tibetan politics after their conversion.

Details matter.

A very long post from me, Between the saffron and scimitar, inspired by a lot of the comments we get at Brown Pundits. About six months ago I said something about the Kali Yuga on Twitter in a joking manner, and someone responded: “isn’t that an alt-right meme.” Well, it turns out that some alt-right people are Evola-loving pagans, though I doubt most are. But the idea of the Kali Yuga kind of predates the alt-right in the Hindu tradition, though a lot of people don’t know anything about Hinduism. Similarly, many Indian Hindus (religious or not) have weird perceptions of the origin of any ideas that are also found in Islam…and my name does not help in the way they reflexively respond when I express ideas that might be found in Islam.

But the reality is that it is hard to tease apart Indian culture today from the various influences that domination by Muslims left, even if said Indians are self-consciously anti-Muslim. This is to many people somewhat offensive. I think a good analogy might be some conservative white Americans who don’t want to admit that for many decades white supremacy was considered part and parcel of American patriotism, and constitutive to American nationalism. That arguably has long-term impacts, though unlike many on the Left I do not think that it is an all-pervasive miasma which touches every aspect of American life in 2018.

Pew has a new religious typology out. Not much in the report is surprising.

Here is a surprise to me though: New Age beliefs are more common among the orthodox Christian/religious groups than among the secular subset that is dominated by atheists and agnostics.

There are some interesting distinctions between the “Religion Resisters” and “Solidly Secular.” The latter is 65% male, while the former is majority female. The latter is more educated, wealthier, and more likely to be concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, while the former is more often in the West. The “Solidly Secular” are the type of people who would be New Atheists. The “Religion Resisters” are actually somewhat more liberal socially and politically issues than the “Solidly Secular.”

Another Pew report suggests that Americans with no religious affiliation have nearly as many Christian beliefs as Europeans who say they are Christian. This is not because those with no religious affiliation in the USA are very Christian. Rather, it’s because European “Christians” are a lot less orthodox than you might expect.

The Next Financial Crisis Lurks Underground Fueled by debt and years of easy credit, America’s energy boom is on shaky footing. Basically, the argument is that the fracking boom, which has driven American fossil fuel supply to the point where we now surpass Saudi Arabia, is an artifact cheap credit pumping money into the system.

Fracking isn’t profitable at current oil prices. I think the author is probably a little too pessimistic, because technology does get better, and increased crude oil prices will probably show up at some point to fuel further investment.

One of the best things about the fracking boom is I don’t have to listen to friends yammer on about “peak oil” in all-knowing tones. That being said, how are books like Confronting Collapse maintaining such high Amazon star rankings? Is it a fraud? Or do these sorts of pessimistic tomes just always sell well?

A thing I’ve noticed since I’ve shifted to mostly reading on Kindle: I read in a more sequential fashion. Obviously, I can still jump chapters, but the reality is that I don’t do it much. Is it just me?

Genomic prediction of cognitive traits in childhood and adolescence. This claim is important: “Polygenic scores for educational attainment and intelligence are the most powerful predictors in the behavioural sciences and exceed predictions that can be made from parental phenotypes such as educational attainment and occupational status.” I’m assuming this is the sort of stuff in Robert Plomin’s new book, Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are.

Going to try and get a review copy for National Review.

E-book Sales Fell 10% in 2017:

Adult fiction remained the most popular e-book category–44% of sales in the category were in the digital format–but e-book sales in the segment dropped 14% from 2016, to 108 million units.

E-books have a much smaller share of the adult nonfiction market, 12%, but sales in the segment rose 3% last year, to 38 million units, NPD reported.

The steepest decline in e-book sales last year was in the children’s category, where sales fell 22%. In children’s, the digital format accounted for only 5% of all sales last year. E-book sales were down 8% in the young adult category, falling to 4 million units sold. The format comprised 18% of all young adult unit sales last year.

Makes sense that it would decline in the children’s category. When it comes to reference textbooks, I still go paper. It’s just easier for me to look things up.

Numbers did not add up in the passport revocation story. Unfortunately, this is a pattern in the media. Stuff that happened in the Obama administration was not reported…but when it continues in the Trump administration it becomes teh Nazi!

Genomic history of the Sardinian population. As Spencer and I alluded to on last week’s episode of The Insight, L. L. Cavalli-Sforza and colleagues did a really good job in their sampling. “Low effective migration rates separate these provinces from a broad area that extends to the mountainous Gennargentu massif region, including inland Ogliastra to the west. The Gennargentu region is also where some of the Sardinian individuals in the HGDP originate (A. Piazza, personal communication). We find that the HGDP Sardinian individuals partially overlap with our dataset and include a subset that clusters near the Ogliastra subpopulation.” That is, the HGDP Sardinians are among the more “EEF” Sardinians.

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel is on sale for Kindle. I don’t even know if I’d want to read a novel in graphic form. But then I’m not a very visual person. Some of the original books actually had a few illustrations. But not that many. For the record, Eddard Stark in my head will always look somewhat like the actor Bill Campbell, not Sean Bean.

Eight Decades of Ethnic Dilemmas: Iconic sociologist Nathan Glazer on the problems of group identity, affirmative action and Donald Trump. It’s incredible to me that Nathan Glazer is still around and intellectually active. To a great extent I’m sympathetic to many of the views he expresses in this article. He’s in the same class as Thomas Sowell for me, though to be entirely frank Sowell has gotten a little too predictably partisan with age for my taste.

Inferring Continuous and Discrete Population Genetic Structure Across Space. An important paper.

Gibraltar Neanderthal Genomes on the way….

Bacteria in a Dinosaur Bone Reignite a Heated Debate.

Dating genomic variants and shared ancestry in population-scale sequencing data. When I see Gil McVean on the author list I read.

Two Psychologists Four Beers. Podcast with Alice Dreger. One of the co-hosts seems to have disappeared for most of the podcast. I assume he was just drinking beer. The last third where Dreger talks about journalism is probably the most novel.

Also, Dreger admits that she probably would have defended Bret Weinstein and Heather Heyer with vigor if she had not been so exhausted and drained by her own academic controversy, as she was forced out of her Northwestern position.

I will add on a personal note that I feel some fatigue and exhaustion because many of my friends in academia expect me to “speak up” about topics that are too politically sensitive for them to broach. I’m OK with doing that…but I have my limits, and other peoples’ third rails are not the burning passion of my life.

To be frank, I’m pretty skeptical about the future of the republic of letters and intellectual life in the West. At least in public. The liberal moment is probably passing. If you have opinions you want to spread, then try to convince those with power. They will make people agree with you.

For example, Thousands of scientists publish a paper every five days.

The Many Indian Genomes.

Historical biogeography of the leopard (Panthera pardus) and its extinct Eurasian populations.

An Ancient Crosshatch May Be the Earliest Drawing Ever Found. Looks like well-done steak to me.

By the way, the consistently shared drift between Basques and Sardinians, especially highland Sardinians, should make us lean toward the non-Indo-European hypothesis for Paleo-Sardinian.

16 thoughts on “Open Thread, 9/17/2018

  1. Its always amusing to me when people say that the world is going to run out of oil or more preposterously ‘fossil fuels’. There is around 1 trillion tonnes of proven coal reserves in the world. And the process of making fuel from coal (CTL) is fairly well-understood. Even if coal runs out, there is always biomass. You will never run out of biomass! There were serious efforts at making gasoline from wood (including demonstration plants) before the shale oil boom and subsequent collapse of the price. Agricultural wastes can also be used for gas and oil prodution. In most countries these are just burned in the open now (the biggest drawback is that all the supply is for a few months after harvest with nothing for the rest of the year but this a fairly straightforward problem to solve). South Africa (Sasol), China (lots of CTL plants running profitably) and Germany (during WW2) have all demonstrated the economic viability of synthetic fuels.

    What prevents transition to synthetic fuels is the erratic price and supply of natural petroleum. If the price of oil is known to stay at or above, say, 70$ a barrel for the foreseeable future, there will be a lot of CTL plants, Biomass gassification and hydrogenation plants, Vegetable oils to fuel plants (there is one in Finland at present). Not to mention electrification of transport systems.

    In short, the oil age is here to stay.

    Also, a reminder that the highly developed synthetic fuels industry of Germany was dismantled by decree at the Potsdam conference.

    “Germany had the first technologically successful synthetic fuel industry producing eighteen million metric tons (130 million barrels) from coal and tar hydrogenation and another three million metric tons from the F-T synthesis in the period 1939–1945. After the war ended German industry did not continue synthetic fuel production because the Potsdam (Babelsberg) Conference of 16 July 1945 prohibited it [44]. The Allies maintained that Germany’s Nazi government had created the industry for strategic reasons under its policy of autarchy and that in postwar Germany there were, economically, better uses for its coal than synthetic fuel production.”

  2. I just made a rough calculation: one CTL plant of Sasol (the largest of its kind in the world) profitably makes 60 million barrels of liquid fuel each year. From one barrel of crude oil ~75% can be extracted as liquid fuels. So to make the equivalent of 15 million barrels per day of crude oil (~ US production/largest output in the world), it would require 60 such plants (or fewer if they are further scaled up). This is easily on par with the infrastructure for drilling and refining crude oil.

  3. University of Kentucky says CTL is in theory *nihil obstat* for refining emissions, and the resultant fuels are free of sulfur, and suchlike noxious admixtures–great! (Not that KY’s ‘economy’ has any vested interest in this question, hah) Eliminate tailpipe/HVAC-flue gasses, and mitigate mining and ash consequences, and, per that emissionless assertion, looks at first glance as though CTL could be better than methane-escape fraught fracking, I suppose. Hardly ideal, sigh. But maybe a better muddle.

    How’s thorium doing?

    Ah, never mind, let’s not hijack Razib’s good thread with The Energy Question. Plenty of other fora in which to wrangle these prospects.

    Thanks, D, for the comment and intro to the proposition. Worthy of further investigation.

  4. Razib: for economic history and China, pseudoerasmus often brings up The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, by Richard von Glahn.

  5. Listened to the Dreger podcast. Interesting. Points of note:

    1) Damn, I hate the opening persiflage that begins most effing podcasts. Ten frickin’ minutes of such offal in this case. I don’t have an automobile commute, so I don’t need to waste mental space in this way.

    2) Interesting that here again, as with Ms. Schweitzer and the dinosaur proteomics, we have a feisty middle-aged woman who was raised religious, became apostate, and has resultant thick skinned chutzpah, to take on all naysaying comers while sticking to her guns.

    3) Dreger calling Trump’s administration ‘post-modern…anti-scence…constant liars, with zero interest in truth values’ made me wonder how right-identified folks who are also yet science-identified are managing to square their circles these days. I imagine that gleaning grains of Truth through the chaff of tribal-cognitive dissonance must be quite exhausting. As it must also be on the left.

    3) NY Times : slant o’the deck worse every day. Am I gonna hafta pay for WSJ too? Is that worthwile investment?

    4) re: future of Republic, state of discourse: We are in Gutenberg 2.0 moment, yes? New decentralized communication technology resulting in (further) atomization of opinion, now granular-published/megaphoned down to singular-personal neurotic-paranoid foundations upon which human “thought” actually resides. Ah let’s see…review, for foresight: what were the socio-political consequences of Gutenberg 1.0, short, medium, and long-term?

  6. An oft-heard story about the antagonism of Khalkha Mongols and the Dzhungar claims that the latter name betrayed designs to pan-Mongol power, and thus made the Dzhungars look like threatening impostors to the rest of the Mongol World. Basically the traditional the military-territorial organization of Mongol Inner Asia was dualistic: Left (Eastern, in the Mongol’s South-facing cosmography) Wing or Dzhungar was dominant / elder, while Right (Western) Wing or Barungar was junior / subordinated. There was also a less defined “central” area.

    Sub-polities of the Mongol World could be in turn divided into their respective Laft and Right Wings, and the principal tribes of the Dzhungar Khanate took up the name because they were an Eastern wing of the narrower Oirat military structure. But Oirats were collectively Pan-Mongolia’s Barungar, so by taking the name of Dzhungar on their banner, they threatened the traditional hegemony of the Eastern Mongol tribes.

    The Elder-Eastern and Junior-Western organization is still practiced by the Kazakhs, once Dzhungaria’s subjects.

  7. Glaser re: U.S. Left dropping ball, shooting self in foot. That is correct assessment.

    C.f. also Nat Hentoff’s decrying the Left’s bizarre/understandable sudden embrace of speech limitations during the 1990’s.

    And while critiquing The Left, let’s not forget that unfettered immigration is destabilizing for any polity. Anywhere, anytime. To think otherwise is as psycho as asserting that ‘women’ don’t surpass ‘men’ in Olympic javelin because of ‘socialization’.

    Of course on this blog this is preaching to the choir.

  8. dx, sounds plausible. otoh, a simpler perhaps naive explanation that i always hear is that dzungars come from the oirat who were putting on airs/getting above station trying to be pan-mongolic hegemons. weren’t genghisides.

  9. Now that the supressed paper about male variability is out [], do you think that this makes much sense?

    “Briefly, the theory says that if one sex is relatively selective then from one generation to the next, more variable subpopulations of the opposite sex will tend to prevail over those with lesser variability; and conversely, if a sex is relatively non-selective, then less variable subpopulations of the opposite sex will tend to prevail over those with greater variability. ”

    At the first look, the opposite seems more intuitive to me.

  10. Haven’t read the paper myself either, but this is a summary someone else gave on Tim Gowers’s blog: “The paper makes a conscious choice to treat the variability itself as heritable, rather than assuming that the upper end of the distribution will bequest their upper-endness (upper-endianness?) onto their offstring while the lower end will bequest their lower-endness.” (

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