Open Thread, 02/13/2020

Finally reading The Last Pagans of Rome, and it is a really good read. The late author, Alan Cameron, is highly erudite and has strong opinions. It reads somewhat like a lawyerly argument, and I doubt many are knowledgeable enough to evaluate it in full (I’m not), but it’s a fascinating anthropology of the changing nature of what religion was in the 4th-century. Read along with The Final Pagan Generation and Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity.

Many years ago when Edward Snowden released the NSA documents I recall listening to a journalist admit on a radio show that if some of the things reported in those documents were claimed without that evidence they would have just assumed they were a crazy conspiracy theorist. To me, that was a window into the reality that the people we trust and pay to sift through reality are often just rubber-stamping the pronouncements of power.

Liberal Faculty Endorse Testing: A California task force shows that banning tests helps the privileged. Read the whole report. Nothing too surprising. The “softer” metrics are, the easier they are for the privileged to game.

I have high uncertainty about the coronavirus.

‘I Feel Very Torn Between My Child and My Dad’—Demands Intensify for the ‘Sandwich Generation’. OK boomer.

Daniel Greene is a super nerdy fantasy vlogger. He has a really sincere defense of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series…which was strange to me, since I’d dismissed Jordan’s work as something that would appeal to 12-year-old boys (about when I started reading them). Curiously, I notice that the newest covers of Jordan’s work make it look less like a fantasy.

Phenotypic convergence is not mirrored at the protein level in a lizard adaptive radiation.

Recent ultra-rare inherited mutations identify novel autism candidate risk genes.

Mitt Romney Is a ‘Judas’ to Many Republicans. But Not in Utah.

Women with fair phenotypes seem to confer a survival advantage in a low UV milieu. A nested matched case control study.

For Thousands of Years, Egypt Controlled the Nile. A New Dam Threatens That.

The Mormon Church Amassed $100 Billion. It Was the Best-Kept Secret in the Investment World.

Negative selection on human genes causing severe inborn errors depends on disease outcome and both the mode and mechanism of inheritance.

Genetic Adaptation in New York City Rats.

Collective sperm movements are shaped by post-copulatory sexual selection and phylogenetic history in Peromyscus mice.

Genetic associations with mathematics tracking and persistence in secondary school.

Mike Bloomberg: Fixing Inequality Is My Priority.

The New American Millennial Right.

Consequences of single-locus and tightly linked genomic architectures for evolutionary responses to environmental change.


14 thoughts on “Open Thread, 02/13/2020

  1. The article on the “New Right” was an interesting read and even somewhat optimistic, but this sentence at the end is decisive:
    “Enjeti put the matter more bluntly: “The whole reason that the GOP has been able to even compete for so long is that despite their horrible economics, they do hold the cultural positions of so much of the American people. But they keep thinking they’re winning because of their economic policy and losing because of their cultural policy, when really it’s the opposite.””

    Well, its not just because the old establishment doesnt know better, but like quoted some paragraphs earlier, that “some billionaires” and their menials just abused the economic Libertarianism as a theoretical legitimation for a Plutocratic clientele policy, which was never right.

    The Plutocracy never wanted the combination of a social and regulated economic policy with conservative societal values. They wanted people having to decide between those two and vote here and there, bouncing back and forth with nothing against this oligarchy’s interests being done from left nor right.
    And whether the Reps lost elections or not is not their primary concern, since they corrupted the Dems as well anyway.

    That said I can just hope that the young Americans portrayed in this article get something done very soon and don’t just disappear behind the old or a new “moderate” (read corrupted) establishment.

    The next years might be the last available for a still peaceful and humane correction of the erroneous Western political trends of the last decades since the 1960’s. If that doesnt work out, the future looks grim.

  2. I thought “Liberal democracy as a balance between deontology and consequentialism” which Razib posted on January 28, 2020 was very good.

    A couple of days later Quillette published “Confucius Got It Right: Giving in to ‘Bias’ Is Part of Living an Ethical Life” by Stephen T. Asma on February 1, 2020

    “I would strangle everyone in this room if it somehow prolonged my son’s life.” That’s what I blurted into a microphone during a panel discussion on ethics. I was laughing when I said it, but the priest sitting next to me turned sharply in horror and the communist sitting next to him raised her hand to her throat and stared daggers at me. …

    … a Chinese politician from an outlying province once attempted to impress Kǒngzǐ (known to us as Confucius) with an anecdote of local virtue. The politician explained that the people of his region were so morally upright that if a father stole a sheep, the son would give evidence against him. While the politician was basking in his righteousness, Kǒngzǐ replied, “Our people’s uprightness is not like that. The father shields his son, the son shields his father. There is uprightness in this.” …

    Enlightenment philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham argued that ethical judgments should be more like mathematical operations—universal maxims and formulae in which human variables (equally valued) are processed and calculated. The utilitarians argued that we should always behave such that we maximize the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. We today are still heavily influenced by this mathematical model of egalitarian ethics …

    No one wants to be “victim” of someone else’s biases, but almost everyone is comforted by the idea that one’s brother, mother, or uncle is heavily biased in their favor. As Freud reminded us, “my love is valued by all my own people as a sign of my preferring them, and it is an injustice to them if I put a stranger on a par with them.”

  3. @Walter: The problem with indiscriminate love is that its either manic or no love at all. “If you love everybody the same way, you love nobody”, is a very true statement.
    In the same way, the “most tolerant” people on earth are psychopaths which care for nobody and would kill and torture everybody for their entertainment. They are truly tolerant without discrimination, because all people are the same crap to them. This is something missed quite often in all the debates about “tolerance, plurality and multiculture”.

    Without limitations, you end up in a helpless to nihilistic bubble and a lot of people in it just shrug and say “its too much to do anything for the world”, instead of starting where they stand.
    On the contrary, if you live in a close knit community, and the related neighbour you like and helped you out more than once gets evicted and in big social and health trouble the same time, its something completely different to reading of a varied group of people somewhere having the same fate.

    That’s why the Plutocracy and hardcore Capitalists never liked homogenous, close knit people and always prefer fractionised, individualised people foreign to each other. This is not about immigration per se, but the loss of cohesion, an undirected too much of it plus the cultural trends since the 1960’s in particular resulting in the degradation of very meaningful and functional social conservative norms. And I’m not talking about “making money and working hard”, like some pseudoconservatives say. Because if people do that for nothing, for no community, not family, they are just slaves, even if they are wealthy, which own nothing of importance and leave nothing of importance behind. They being abused like depletable resources. Its not sustainable on its own.

    Usually, in a truly rational state of affairs, there should be a balance between these two poles of loving “the own” exclusively and keeping up a higher, general human standard of justice for all people, even all life on this planet. It depends on the situation and options. Both can be justified, depending on the setting. And both should not dominate the other too much!

    I could now list examples of when one dominated too much and what the results were like, but I think that should be known. Currently European descended, Western people are clearly at one end of the pole and ruin, even destroy themselves. They commit biological (demographic) and cultural suicide. And its not even for a “more just world” or another fine Utopia, but the Oligarchy’s vision of a globalised corporate world with total control via surveillence (see Snowden, Assange, Rubicon etc.), censored propaganda (political correctness, Hollywood, mainstream media), transnational education (Cultural Marxism dominated “sciences” and educational standards), international networks and organisations and money (dollar bubble, financial/banking system).

    This too, like the old Republicans, doesn’t achieve anything good, neither on the socio-economic, nor the cultural-societal side. Its a lose-lose program for the world, which only positive effects in economy and technology, could be generated without the negative effects. But people getting caught by believing this system produces the positive effects because it is the way it is and thinking the rest are side effects. The truth is even the opposite and the “side effects” are exactly what the Oligarchy wants.
    Like “the new digital world produces new threats to privacy and political freedom for the average citizen”. Oh, that’s why they are so keen about checking that, introducing massive censorship on the internet and all secret services use all the exploits possible or produce them actually. Because “its unwanted” and our leadership is sooooo worried about the common people’s well being and freedom. Yeah sure.

    The digital world is the total control instrument every dictator and oligarchy always dreamed of. That’s one of the biggest threats for the immediate future. And without the digital money, you won’t be able to even buy a piece of bread in the future. That is total control even without mass detention centres. You are in your own prison at home, with your “smart” refrigerator being part of your food and total life control, giving you orders and limiting your options…
    “1984” will look harmless in comparison and everybody should think about whether he wants that and which kind of people, with which kind of agenda, he wants these tools to control. If its about me, if it is inevitable, the minimum requirement is that it should be people who care about other people and ideals, for sure no indiscriminate psychopath which sees people as disposable resources without higher goals.

  4. @Roger: In the past and presence, “elite” can mean different things. It depends on the mode of your society whether e.g. priests, warriors or tradesfolk being more respected.
    The problem with a money based society without a strong ethos is, that respect and influence can be bought and will, on the long run, result in those controlling the money to control everything = Plutocracy.
    The problem of the American Capitalist system is that, step by step, every other Ethos, every other values, being steadily replaced by mometarised evaluation.
    Especially without a strong and clear political corrective, thats catastrophal.
    Even worse, because of the dominant American global position, this societal degradation spread to the rest of the world.

    Aristocracy and meritocracy in the classic sense are unrelated to this. Because the biggest spender and corruptor doesnt have to be better or more merits at all. He might be just a bandit which is capable of tricking other people and the law. That might mean he is intelligence, but so can be a psychopath which hates people and likes to torture them.
    Having more money is no proof for better political leadership qualities. In some cases it might be a burden and class affection.
    Doesnt have to, but could be.

    Libertarian laws protect the money power and property regardless of how they being used. That’s a huge problem.
    And a big advantage for Russia and China. Because yes, more personal rights are great, for well meaning people. But what if someone constantly uses his wealth against the state, society and majority of people? Everybody can see what he is doing, but he influences law making and is intelligent enough to avoid legal persecution with an army of corrupt lawyers and newspeople.
    Even well-meaning politicians would, in some contexts, always be some steps behind.

    This is the problem of the Roman law based “justice”.

    The combination of such a law with a money based society inevitably results in a Plutocracy if there is no constant political correction.

  5. everyone is comforted by the idea that one’s brother, mother, or uncle is heavily biased in their favor

    This is a fundamental characteristic of our value system, which we apparently share with dogs. Dogs form cliques within packs & are more loyal based on percieved self interest.

    This is unlike wolves that display true fraternity/mateship and treat everyone within the pack equally

  6. Dogs form cliques within packs & are more loyal based on percieved self interest.

    This is unlike wolves that display true fraternity/mateship and treat everyone within the pack equally

    So our domestication bred a very admirable trait out of dogs?

    Anyway, I thought wolf packs had an alpha male and female.

  7. Dogs form cliques within packs & are more loyal based on percieved self interest.

    This is unlike wolves that display true fraternity/mateship and treat everyone within the pack equally

    Seems like our domestication might of gotten rid of a very desirable trait.

    Anyway, don’t wolf packs have alphas?

  8. Anyway, don’t wolf packs have alphas?

    My understanding was that periodically the reigning Alpha will be challenged and the challenger will either usurp the alpha status or break off and form a new group

    (but as long as they stay in the group, everyone is treated the same, I guess)

    Btw, the periodic challenge of the alpha is a strong reason not to have wolves as pets. You never know when they will challenge the human “alpha”

  9. (but as long as they stay in the group, everyone is treated the same, I guess)

    What I meant was that every member of the wolf pack is equally loyal to each other even though there is a hierarchy within the pack. The pack members are not more loyal to a few within the pack unlike dogs

  10. “When Your Ancestry Test Entangles Others: Today’s DNA kits can reveal secrets that affect not just your own family but strangers as well. Should one person’s right to know take precedence over another’s life narrative?” by Amy Dockser Marcus on Feb. 14, 2020.
    Stephen Wald took a home DNA test in 2018, hoping to explore his family ancestry with his two young children. Instead, he learned a family secret: The man who raised him was not his biological father. Several days of intense online sleuthing for more details yielded another surprise, the identity and phone number of an apparent half-sister, Julie Gale.

    Mr. Wald, then 60 years old and a New York City-based real-estate broker, was well aware of how it felt to be unmoored by DNA test results. “I knew I was delivering big news,” he says. But he didn’t hesitate to make the call. “There was no ‘Should I not do this?’’’ he says. “I was on a mission. That was it.”

    Only later did it fully hit Mr. Wald that, in his quest to discover his own origin story, he might disrupt the narrative of someone else’s family—or disturb other members of his own.
    * * *

    Gil Brodsky wrestled with these questions after taking a DNA test and learning in June 2018 that the man who raised him was not his biological father. Testing companies allow members who give permission to be contacted to send messages to one another within the site, and Dr. Brodsky soon received several notes from people who pointed out that they were relatives and offered to share more information.

    After a Father’s Day celebration with his family, Dr. Brodsky, who is 68 years old, finally called one of the people who had reached out. They spent 90 minutes on the phone. The woman he had called explained that the parents of a large number of DNA-matched relatives lived in the Philadelphia area and had used artificial insemination with sperm donation to conceive—all from the same donor, as it turned out. They had formed a private Facebook group, and they were inviting Dr. Brodsky to join. At the time there were 30 half-siblings in the group. Now the number is up to 46, Dr. Brodsky says.

    … when Dr. Brodsky decided that he wanted to tell his story publicly at his synagogue in Needham, Mass., he wrestled with how to do it for more than a year.

    Not everyone in the sibling group wants the identity of the donor, their biological father, to get out. Some of Dr. Brodsky’s new half-siblings have not yet discussed the DNA findings with the fathers who raised them or with their children. …

    … the only father Dr. Brodsky named in his speech last November was the man who raised him, Nat Brodsky. He included a line from the biblical story about Abraham’s binding of his son Isaac that particularly resonated: “And the two of them walked together.”

    “When I say, ‘the two of us walked together,’ that’s my father, and I’m talking about Nat Brodsky,” he told the congregation. Later, Dr. Brodsky said that his deepening relationship with some of the half-siblings influenced the final narrative. “As I lived with the story longer, it evolved,” he said.

    Mr. Wald’s story has also changed over time. The New York real-estate broker first reached out to Ms. Gale, the woman he suspected was his half-sister, one late afternoon in March 2018, during a quiet moment at work. …

    Later, Ms. Gale called her mother and asked if it was possible that while working as a doctor at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital in the late 1950s, her father, Bill Kalt, had been a sperm donor? Her mother said he had been. Many young doctors supplemented their income with money from sperm donation then, she told her daughter. Ms. Gale searched for a photo of Mr. Wald online. “He looked just like my dad,” she said. …

    Over the past year, their connection has deepened. For Mr. Wald’s birthday, Ms. Gale gave him a pair of her father’s cuff links. Mr. Wald attended Ms. Gale’s 40th wedding anniversary party.

    But Mr. Wald’s discovery did not only change Ms. Gale’s family narrative; it also changed life for his older sister, Karen Wald Mead. …

    After Mr. Wald learned that their father was not his biological parent, Ms. Mead reluctantly took a DNA test too. … She and Mr. Wald are half, not full, siblings; she has a different sperm donor, who is also deceased. When she reached out to her donor’s children, one did not respond and another talked to her briefly on the phone. They haven’t talked again.

    Mr. Wald’s closeness with Ms. Gale has raised complicated emotions for Ms. Mead. “Julie is lovely, and I am happy for Stephen, but I don’t like it,” said Ms. Mead. “This is my brother, this is who I grew up with. It was always us. A little piece of me feels like now he has somebody else.” …

    Recently, Mr. Wald noticed that a new genetic match, another half-sibling, popped up on his DNA test account. This time around, Mr. Wald did not immediately reach out to his new relative. Now that he knows Ms. Gale, he feels an obligation to her. “I have a nice relationship with Julie,” he says. “I don’t know if I want to drag her into something.”


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