Open Thread, 01/05/2020

The first open thread of 2020. Going into the 2020s, the third decade of this blog. With the death of Qasem Soleimani I feel like this is 2002-2004 again, when everyone was opining on the Middle East. Most people clearly had no idea what they were talking about. That included me, though to be frank with hindsight it’s clear I knew a lot more than most people (very sad observation).

Robert Pape’s Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism doesn’t explain everything. The “rational actor” model has serious limitations. But it’s the first-pass that is always necessary as you add more parameters to your model. Too often in the 2000s people took the “Lord of the Rings” style frames of “good vs. evil” literally.

Gong to read Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism in 2020. Not too many “indigenist” viewpoints accessible in English that aren’t kind of stupid. Basically the same intellectual level of a lot of evangelical Protestant apologetics. I’m looking for the English-language version of Indian Alvin Plantinga.

Gertrude Himmelfarb, Historian Who Defended Victorian Virtues, Dies at 97. As someone in early middle age, I appreciate the insights of people who maintain their faculties into their 90s.

Is there really Basal Eurasian, and or Iranian/Caucasus-related ancestry in Anatolia’s first hunters and farmers? Maybe not… This is an “in-the-weeds” weblog. Questions more important than answers.

Measuring historical and compositional signals in phylogenetic data.

Build Your Own Intellectual Oasis. I’ve read cut back on replying to people on Twitter. I still tweet now and then and lurk, but notice that I lurk less when I don’t have engagement. I’m not cancelling my WSJ subscriptions just yet, but I’m not a well-off retired person.

Going to try and get to Wizard and the Prophet this year.

FFselect: An improved linear mixed model for genome-wide association study in populations featuring shared environments confounded by relatedness.

Don’t want to be a pest, but the second volume of Lynch & Walsh is available in ebook format. I know most people here are not pop-gen people, but a few pop-gen books here and there won’t hurt you.

Dutch population structure across space, time and GWAS design.

Peter Turchin on Phylogenetics of Religion.

Does Germany’s Vaunted Car Industry Have Long to Live? The 2020s might not be stable for export-oriented economies.

China’s gene-editing ‘Frankenstein’ jailed for three years in modified baby case. To be honest, seems like a slap on the wrist.

Allele frequency spectra in structured populations: Novel-allele probabilities under the labelled coalescent.

A note on Steppe Maykop. I am not entirely convinced by anyone on these topics.

On podcast recommendations, check out The Realignment.

18 thoughts on “Open Thread, 01/05/2020

  1. On Solemani:

    About time he met his death.

    I advocated for the Iraq War back in the day, and ended up being wrong for many reasons. However, I still believe that one major reason for the failure of the occupation is the failure to prevent Iraninan influence. TBH, I was hoping that there would be enough ethnic tension between Arabs and Persians (that was one of the things I was wrong about).

    The pivot point is the failure of Allied troops to arrest and contain al-Sadr. I still recall him making a very anti-American statement or fatwa and we did nothing. After that, the door was open for Iranian intervention. That was the one event I still remember and recall as a bad omen.

    On building an intellectual Oasis.

    I’m not on Facebook or Twitter (although I access certain pages via web). I’m in finance, so I can’t cancel the WSJ, unfortunately. Their markets coverage is still very good, but their news page has become awful.

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  2. However, I still believe that one major reason for the failure of the occupation is the failure to prevent Iraninan influence.

    this is the kind of stuff i would read back then (perhaps i did it myself). you just make a blase comment of the form “if we had just done X” as if X was very easy. the reality is the easiest way to prevent iranian influence is to have installed a sunni/secular autocrat….

    The pivot point is the failure of Allied troops to arrest and contain al-Sadr. I still recall him making a very anti-American statement or fatwa and we did nothing. After that, the door was open for Iranian intervention

    al-sadr was one of the most arab-nationalist of the shia militia types actually. this was well known as one reason he was popular since he wasn’t an iranian puppet.

    basically the whole shia leadership after sadam’s overthrow had iranian lean since so many had taken refuge there.

    “prevent iranian influence” is a ridiculous thing to imagine we could have done unfortunately with hindsight. at least if you want to install a democracy.

    it is true that the idea that some sunnis propound that shia = persian is stupid. iraqi mostly shia armies didn’t collapse during the iran-iraq war. but it’s an equilibrium. iraqis don’t want to be iranian puppets, but neither are they going to ignore the common religious tie of being shia in a mostly sunni region. if iranian influence is too strong obv the iraqis will chafe. otoh, it’s also hard for me to imagine they aren’t going to always be part of the iranian ‘sphere-of-influence’ due to the close ties between najaf and qom.

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  3. “if we had just done X” as if X was very easy

    This was not my meaning or intent. Nothing of this scale is easy to implement at all. What I meant was that the chances of having a stable Iraq once Iran was given a free hand was nill. So,

    Pr [(Iraq is stable) | (Iran is given a free reign)] = 0

    So, let me re-phrase this by saying that when al-Sadr wall allowed to continue spouting anti-American drivel, I knew all was lost.

    I say these things not because I want to relitigate the Iraq War — I and the neocons were wrong and you and the anti-Iraq War types were right. At this point I’m still trying to figure out why I was wrong. (I am wrong often, but I try to learn). After all, Mesopotamia has had a longer history of outsider rule rather than independence — so it’s “doable”.

    “prevent iranian influence” is a ridiculous thing to imagine we could have done unfortunately with hindsight. at least if you want to install a democracy.

    So this is one of my hindsight take-aways. We introduced democracy way too early. There was tremendous political pressure to do this since this was the main argument for the war for a segment of the population (e.g. this was an argument made by me).

    We should have kept a military government for far longer and been more strict. After all, Germany was run as an occupation for 4 years and Japan for 7. And in those two cases we killed most of a generation of fighting age men.

    I dont think that the US currently has the capacity to undertake such a task (morally not resource-wise). As a result, the Iraqi experience has left me much less favorable toward “nation building” than before.

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  4. r — I and the neocons were wrong and you and the anti-Iraq War types were right.

    i wasn’t anti-iraq war. though i was very very mildly pro-war when i was pro-war (like most people it was clear to me within months something was seriously off).

    We introduced democracy way too early. There was tremendous political pressure to do this since this was the main argument for the war for a segment of the population (e.g. this was an argument made by me).

    this issue was one of the ‘smarter-people-must-understand-this’ aspects for me. there wasn’t any way i could imagine democracy not leading to major rupture with our traditional sunni allies (saudi, UAE) considering the sectarian tensions (the saudi monarchy was founded on the back of a famous religious crime against mesopatamia’s shias!). but people were acting like the circle was easily squared.

    I dont think that the US currently has the capacity to undertake such a task (morally not resource-wise). As a result, the Iraqi experience has left me much less favorable toward “nation building” than before.

    seems like nation-building could be feasible at around 1 million people with the will/ability we now have. no way for something closer to 10 million.

    we have a major sunk-cost issue with the near east now imo…

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  5. Happy New Year, Razib.

    The “intellectual oasis” piece resonates. I de-activated my FB account in early 2018. There are a few things I miss (news from old friends I don’t see enough, info about gigs being played by my musician friends), and online buy-and-sell around here seems to have moved largely to FB Marketplace, but I definitely don’t miss the “debate”.

    I could never get into Twitter. It is set up for quick hits, popularity contests, and “lulz”. It’s good for transit service and school board updates, though.

    My outlet seems to be Reddit. Mostly hobby / interest subs, but occasionally political discussion. I spend too much time there. Need to devote the time to long-form articles and books and actually “doing” the hobbies / interests (rather than discussing them). The Internet is seductive.

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  6. That in-the-weeds proposal makes sense to me. It is a bit odd that this basal eurasian component is so elusive and so difficult to date and quantify in the receiving populations.

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  7. “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

    The end card of the new Terrence Malick film. It was a masterpiece.

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  8. Few links:
    https://phys.org/news/2020-01-carib-caribbean-boosting-credibility-columbus.html – Craniometrics suggests that Caribs really did invade Caribbean and intrude on Arawaks

    https://www.pnas.org/content/117/1/641 – 8.6% reduction in Total Brain Volume for non-adopted vs transnational adopted Romanian orphans

    https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-01-genetics-human-height-unraveled-widespread.html – genetics of human height study using Japanese biobank to replicate European biobank signals, published. Interesting note: “They described a total of 573 height-associated variants, including 64 occurring at low frequencies in the Japanese population. These rare variants—many of which appear to be specific to East Asians—were mostly linked to genes involved in increasing height, whereas rare variants found in Europeans tend to have the opposite effect and constrain height.”. Possibly this suggests different timing of selection (taller height on rare, recent mutations for East Asia, reverse for Europe).

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  9. Yes, Jiankui’spunishment was just a slap on the wrist by Chinese standards. He may have gotten a longer sentence in many Western countries.

    It’s not WWIII yet. But if Trump wins in 2020, then because he will not be distracted by either reelection or, likely, scandal, his obsession with image and approval will redirect from his constituents towards elites who will welcome him into the social circles he craves to enter, if he follows a hawkish Middle East foreign policy. That’s potentially a very worrisome problem.

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  10. I quit Twitter and haven’t looked back. It’s just garbage.
    I found Facebook manageable just by deleting my friends and keeping the moderated groups. I can still follow activities I want to see.
    I am down to one paper, the NYTimes. I tried the WSJ and Washington Post but, just didn’t care for them much. I do miss having a good news aggregator but, too much quality hides behind pay walls anymore.
    I wonder if there is a decent news source I am missing out on. Any ideas?

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  11. @Razib: The “decade in review” podcast episode is great (I’m not quite done listening, but about 3/4 of the way through.) Your podcast is at its best when it’s you AND Spencer together, as you tend to contextualize each other’s comments.

    @Mike B.: The “deleting all friends” thing is an interesting approach that I hadn’t considered — there are also some moderated groups I’m interested in but can’t see.

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