Sunday, June 30, 2002

Religion in America Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Religion in America (and race of course!) OK, people have been talking about this whole "Under God" thing for the past week or so. I won't touch it-both sides are well served by their advocates. But what interests me is this-the American Religious Identification Survey 2001 has arrived. Interesting facts that jump out at me? Well, the number of non-religious and non-Christian religious has increased a lot in the past 10 years. No surprise here. Immigration and a weakening of traditional social mores explains both these phenomena. But here is something that I want to look at from the prism of human biodiversity: 21% of Asian-Americans, 11% of Hispanic Americans, 10% of white Americans and 6% of black Americans describe themselves as "Secular." This tends to map onto Rushton's Rule rather well (blacks at one end-Asians at the other). In the book published a decade ago by Kosmin & Lachman titled One Nation Under God, the authors posited the high secularism of Asian-Americans might be influenced by the scientific professions that many of them are in (correlation or causation?). This study of course covers only the United States. The fact is that east Asian nations all show (also look here) a relative high degree of secularism. Of course one can ascribe the People's Republic of China and and North Korea's irreligious populace to Communism, but both Taiwan and South Korea (despite prominent Christian minorities) are in the range of 50% non-affiliated. Though the Japanese tend to affiliate both Buddhist and Shinto, they are among the most religiously disinterested people on the face of the earth (this without any Communism). Traditional explanations are all cultural. This makes sense-religion is a facet of culture. The de-personalization of God in ancient China dates back to the Zhou era-circa 1000 BCE (the transition from the Shang "Lord on High" to the Zhou "Heaven"). This is 2700 years before the rise of Deism in the west (OK-to be fair less superstitious brands of late classical paganism were also Deistic-but they tended to become marginalized by mystery and magic quickly rather than becoming the elite zeitgeist-for instance the degeneration of Neo-Platonism as a case in point)! Some movements such as that of Mo Tzu espoused something close to a personal God-but this was the exception that proved the rule. Perhaps the Confucian administrative structure that fostered a stable government can account for the relative lack of theism in eastern Asia. Religious enthusiasm does break out during times of unrest and chaos-from the Yellow Turbans to the Taiping movement. The interregnum between the Later Han and the Sui/Tang period witnessed the efflorescence of Mahayana Buddhism (often under the patronage of non-Chinese rulers). But where in the west a movement like Christianity became the vessel that transferred the essence of Romanitas to later ages-and in the end became the raison detre itself, organized religion is quickly marginalized in China whenever order and stability are restored. I haven't mentioned Japan-whose political structure for much of its history echoes that of the Holy Roman Empire rather than Imperial Rome. Though superficially similar to westerners-the differences between the Japanese and the Chinese are myriad. While in China the family was always the atomic unit around with government and culture thrived, in "feudal" Japan the loyalty of the samurai class to their lords became paramount. It is from this that Francis Fukuyama partially derives the difference in social trust between Japan and China. In Japan Buddhism managed to remain a independent power for far longer than in China because the central government was far weaker. While Japan esteemed the warrior and marginalized the effete aristocrats during the Tokugawa era-China lionized the scholar. And yet, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Japan show show similar levels of religious apathy (the latter more so insofar as its political class is also secular, while Christians have a strong position in Taiwan's government). What I am getting at perhaps is that it is not just a coincidence of history and therefore culture. Perhaps there is a genetic component to the apathy toward supernatural religion-and perhaps that certain Asian groups are predisposed toward secularism. Certainly there are hints that there is a god module in the brain-would we be surprised to learn that some groups are less well endowed with this most felicitous of God's gifts? Implications? South Korea's religious population (Christian and Buddhist) has stabilized at about 50% for the past 10 years. Christians now look to a future China dominated by their co-religionists (they have for 400 years!). Hmm. Well-Christians have had freedom to convert in Taiwan for 50 years-and many heads of state were Christians (the first three-I don't know if the current president is Christian), but they seem to have peaked at about 5-10%-and there were/are concerns that their numbers were in decline in the 1970s and 1980s (the same level as Hong Kong, perhaps little less than the percentage of Chinese Christians in Singapore). Based on this I predict that China will not have a Christian majority in the next century. There is perhaps a maximum of a quarter of China's population in my opinion that may or may not become Christian-using South Korea as the best case scenario for Christianity. The reasons maybe cultural-but I firmly believe that genetic predisposition almost certainly play a role-for I suspect culture and biology feed into each other far more than we acknowledge today. Just as liberalism is somewhat undermined in my opinion by the race realist project-I must say that I believe this might take the wind out of religious universalists who believe that all peoples will accept their view of God-that all people have equal worth under the eyes of God. What would a Calvinist make of the fact that blacks may naturally be more open to their religion than Chinese? Does God's grace only extend to certain people? For he might have graced some with more will to believe in him.

World's first "Rain Forest"? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

World's first "Rain Forest"? Interesting article on "The world's first Rain Forest" from Science News.

Burqua bandit? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Burqua bandit? I was thinking something today. Imagine that there is an area with a large number of Muslim females wearing black shapeless burquas. Also imagine that local laws allow them to drive and go out in public. OK, so they can also go to banks. What do you do when/if one of them robs a bank? I mean, how would you identify them? The very idea of a burqua is to obscure anything that men should pay attention to-so they all should look similar. This isn't a big deal in a place like Saudi Arabia. But what about European cities with large reactionary Islamic populations? It seems more likely that a guy would dress us in a burqua and strip off once they make a break for it.

Germanic invasions for real? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Germanic invasions for real? Back in the dark ages (in other words until 20 or 30 years ago) historians used to posit the idea that "invasions" of people (volkswanderung) shaped history. For instance, French aristocrats considered themselves descendents of Germanic Franks, while they viewed the peasants as Celtic Gauls (despite the fact by the Frankish conquest most "Celts" spoke Vulgar Latin). Thousands of years ago the invasion of "Aryans" into southern Europe was supposed to herald the coming of a new higher civilization (and into India, the Middle East and even China according to the pan-Aryanists). These people brought not only their culture, but their blood. Lower classes and ethnic minorities might be viewed as remnants of the pre-Aryan indigenes whose only role was to serve the master race. After World War II this sort of thinking was transitioned out of acceptable discourse. History and archaeology began to tilt toward the idea that cultural diffusion and transmission played a more important role than physical movement of peoples. There were many hints that this must have been so. Even before the advances in genetics a naked-eye inspection of "Aryan" upper-caste males in northern India and "Aryan" Germans compared to "non-Aryan" Finns would have been hard-pressed to figure out how the two former were supposed to be related while the latter would be considered "Mongoloid" due to their Finno-Ugaric language. The finding of Dr. Bryan Sykes that 80% of European's genetic heritage pre-dates the putative Neolithic culture-bearers that heralded the "demic diffusion" propounded by Cavali-Sforza and Colin Renfrew to me sounded the death-knell of the old way of thinking (and the finding of the Cheddar Man's relatives 9,000 years after his expiration). But here comes this story out of England showing that the Y-chromosome lineages of a sample of British men share more with Frisia than they do with their fellow Britons in Wales. For centuries scholars have wondered what happened to the Romano-British. The old answer was they were exterminated or expelled (to Wales), while the contemporary idea is that they were absorbed after their aristocracy was eliminated by the Anglo-Saxons. Unlike France, Spain or Italy, the Germanic invaders in England (what was than Britain or Alba) imposed their culture on the natives (their language, the name of their country and their religion before their Christianization). Or so we had thought, perhaps it was simply that the natives fled the field. Now, the key here is perhaps that these were Y-chromosome lineages. The Cheddar Man had shared mt-DNA with people living in the area 9,000 years after the fact, but obviously this was through the female line. It would not surprise me if English men were far more similar to Welshmen in their mitochondrial DNA-for perhaps the Anglo-Saxons married native women. The answers to historical questions about invasions, both demographic and cultural, surely lies somewhere in the middle. These sort of studies remind us not be become complacent toward the dominant paradigm of any given age.

The father of them all Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The father of them all Did you know that 15% of the genetic heritage of American dairy cows comes from one bull??? I didn't until I read this article in The Washington Post. His name was Elevation-and he was a super-cow. For 10 years they milked his you-know-what. So I'm curious-would environmentalists oppose this sort of mass production and mass fertilization of cows with this bull's semen? It's not high-tech, but it certainly is industrial and not "natural." I'm sure we'll reach a physiological limit toward production of milk, meat and eggs from our domesticated animals, but are we there yet? Hell, our fauna are rather small compared to what was around in the Miocene, and of course it's tiny compared to the dinosaurs. I always joke that one day we'll just have "meat things," taking in nutrients through amorphous entry-points and just putting on the flesh. One other point-the article seems to indicate that Elevation and his milk-producing progeny are crucial for Third World peoples. But aren't many Third World people lactose intolerant??? (Indians and many East African groups aren't of course, but Southeast Asians, those of indigenous New World ancestry and West Africans are)

Saturday, June 29, 2002

Popularization of population genetics Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Popularization of population genetics If you read Genes, people and languages or Seven daughters of Eve-check out Steve Sailer's review of Mapping Human History. He seems to give a mixed-review with a marginal thumbs up to the book. Steve points out something I hadn't thought of though, politically correct scientists like Cavalli-Sforza who deny the reality of race while studying it believe that the great dichotomy genetically is between blacks (Africans) and non-blacks (non-Africans), while old-line physical anthropologists like Carleton S. Coon generally held that the division was between East Asians on the one hand and blacks and whites on the other (the great African non-African gulf seems to be a consequence of the Out-of-Africa hypothesis). The word hasn't gotten out to everyone, check out this article in Interracial Voice (a journal for mixed-race issues) which trots out the old theory. Also, Steve mentions that race-mixture isn't a panacea for social ills. Hawaii for instance isn't paradise on earth (I have several friends that left the islands actually). Though there is racial mixing in Hawaii-it is quite often of a specific sort. Polynesians and Asians will intermarry with whites-but less so with each other. The dynamics of a multiracial (genetically and numerically) society still pose problems of identity it seems. So I gotta ask, when's Steve going to write his own book on this topic? He must have the contacts.

Friday, June 28, 2002

Make up your mind Pope Jonah! Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Make up your mind Pope Jonah! Jonah is dissing the Constitution in his latest column. His point seems to be that power is with the people-especially since the people are a nation-as in Americans who are a distinctive volk. I know Jonah doesn't believe in a slippery slopes-but sounds like he's going in a direction which might cause problems for his pro-immigration views.

an alien like Alf Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

an alien like Alf
Besides simple nostalgia and the bottom line, the puppet comeback also reflects a change in the American attitude, Blake said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. "Post Sept. 11, television has become a lot less cynical," she said. That's why the public appreciates the funny but honest observations that an alien like Alf makes, Fusco said.

pluralistic ignorance, incentives, and government charters Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

pluralistic ignorance, incentives, and government charters Peggy Noonan, writing about "The rise of the White Collar Big Money Psychopath," contrasts the ascendance of criminally dishonest corporate officers with a more general trend towards virtue:
Forty years ago men in the New York City borough of Queens ignored the screams of a waitress named Kitty Genovese as she was stabbed to death in an apartment building parking lot. Today men of Queens are famous for strapping 60 pounds of gear on their back and charging into the towers.
Noonan's comparison, however, is shockingly ignorant (or, perhaps, brilliantly sophistic). I suppose it's possible that Kitty Genovese died because the men of Queens were less virtuous 40 years ago. But my inner social psychologist thinks a much more plausible explanation is pluralistic ignorance:
In the first test, a group of three -- two actors and one unknowing subject -- were asked to fill out questionnaires in a room at the top of a six-story building. After a few minutes, smoke began to jet into the room. Because the two actors ignored the smoke, so did the unknowing individual. "The individual is sure that the smoke isn't dangerous because the others didn't react," says Darley. In a second test, three ordinary people were placed in the room. Remarkably, the result was the same: No one left the room, because each person was waiting for someone else to take action. When no one did, each person assumed that the smoke wasn't a danger.
The 9/11 rescuers were certainly brave. (Visiting Manhattan at the time, I myself hero-worshippingly went and thanked the firemen down the street.) But comparing rescue workers doing their jobs to average citizens stuck in a psychological trap is poor grounds on which to claim that we "have arguably in some interesting ways become better [people]." (Incidentally, "Pluralistic Ignorance" would be a good name for a team blog.) The rest of Noonan's article decries the betrayal of a "Novakian" aesthetics/ethics of capitalism:
As for business leaders, their responsibility is to shape a corporate culture that fosters virtue; to exemplify respect for the rule of law; to act in practical ways to improve society; to communicate often and openly with investors, pensioners, customers and employees; to contribute toward improved civil society; and to protect--lovely phrase coming--"the moral ecology of freedom."
While I agree that these would all be "nice-to-haves," I don't see how they became "responsibilities." People, after all, respond to incentives. And the combination of a stock market whose only care is earnings (which I blame mostly on investor psychology) with corporations whose only care is stock price creates powerful incentives for executive malfeasance. And a large part of the problem, I believe, is the corporate structure, which enables the aggregation of arbitrarily large amounts of capital under very narrow control. If we believe that power corrupts, then why are we surprised at misbehavior when we entrust corporate officers with billions of dollars of other people's money but little (downside) responsibility for what they do with that money? Although I am in no sense a "progressive," I agree with the spirit of these sample LTEs on Enron. I've earned much scorn from my libertarian (and Randroid) friends, who believe that the profit-maximizing corporation is the essence of freedom and virtue. But I see corporate charters (much like patents) as governmental grants of privilege, whose costs and whose benefits must be carefully weighed against one another in any sensible analysis. And insofar as corporations are government interference in the market (limited liability doesn't grow on trees!), I don't share the libertarians' knee-jerk opposition to restrictions on corporate behavior. (I meant also to talk about the stock market, but this is too long already. I'll save that for another time.) Godless chimes in: Methinks you are too kind to Mrs. Noonan. The topic of "pluralistic ignorance" is an interesting one, but I think that you inadvertently give too much intellectual heft to Noonan's work. Noonan is a blatantly partisan idiot. Here's a solid debunkment and here's a statistical account of her partisan language. Moreover, not only is Peggy blatantly partisan, her prose is also contentless. Peggy Noonan is the Maureen Dowd of the right. With her excessive fixation on personality over policy, she is more town gossip than dispassionate pundit. She's not a serious policy analyst, and her writing does not deserve to be taken seriously or pored over for contradictions. Here's the key graf from Chait's dissection:

The interesting thing here isn't Noonan's devotion to the president--most conservatives praise Bush, just as most liberals criticize him--but rather the personal nature of that devotion. She exhibits little interest in the president's policies except as windows into the greatness of his character. ... The hallmarks of the hero-worship style are a Manichaean moral sensibility, eloquent prose, and assertion rather than argument. This might seem like a harmless, even refreshing, counterpoint to the politics of personal destruction, which both parties now disdain as mindlessly partisan and corrosive to civic health. But Peggy Noonan's glorification of George W. Bush isn't a departure from the politics of personal destruction at all. It's the very same thing.

Basically, anyone who Peggy thinks well of (firefighters, Republicans) gets a host of nice adjectives tossed his way, even ones for which there is no basis in fact. Of course the converse also holds. She's exactly the type who would condemn Clinton for a DWI conviction (had one come to light) while simultaneously giving Bush a free pass. Digression: Whether a private liaison between consulting adults (the meat of the indignation was over this rather than perjury) is worse than a drunk-driving incident (which puts others at risk) is for the audience to judge, but one would expect even a diehard moral crusader to pause at the arrest of a 30-year-old drunk, especially when said drunk is supposed to have a shining "moral character". Noonan, however, seems incapable of recognizing the hypocrisy, let alone choking on it.

If she's sexy and conservative, she must be dumb Ugh. I'm no fan of Ann Coulter, but I'm so disgusted by this article slamming her that I can barely see straight. Salon's Charles Taylor is usually level-headed, and he makes some very valid criticisms -- mainly that Coulter is a smartass who often forgets to think before she speaks. But why is she that way, you ask? Because she's naturally reactionary? Because she knows what plays on talk shows? Because she delights in sarcastic humor? No, it's because she's that bitchy blonde cheerleader who rejected all the sensitive liberal geeks like Taylor in high school:

[Coulter is] a freedom fighter in Manolo Blahniks, tirelessly pointing out the liberal propaganda that threatens free speech and the Republic itself, preferably in a chic and simple outfit that will take her from policy meetings to television interviews to cocktail parties without missing a beat of her busy day. ... Nobody does smug like Ann Coulter. Like the other [conservative fembot] sorority gals, she is always ready to flash a look of incredulity at anyone stupid enough to hold beliefs different from her own. ... It's politics and history and culture as a clique, a coffee klatch, a night spent mooning with your girlfriends over "An Affair to Remember." And it's fatal to Coulter's efforts to represent herself as a thinker. ... [T]he smugness and conspicuous lack of experience and seasoning in these telebimbos should give conservatives pause. Coulter and her brood could benefit from a little conservative ideology themselves. Arguing with them is like paying attention to disobedient children. They should be treated like spoiled brats who mouth off. Put them over the knee, paddle their fannies, tell them to wipe that smirk off their face and to speak up only when they've learned something about the world.

If that isn't the most breathtakingly sexist language I've ever read, then someone paddle my fanny. Women -- especially the good-looking ones -- should be seen and not heard "until they've learned something about the world," i.e., until they've gone liberal and grown out their armpit hair. I feel ill.

Too long for comments section... again There are many little points I want to make here, now that we're at a more godly (pun) hour. - Godless points out that Lomborg uses UN data. Since when is UN data reliable? - Godless's math gives him the extinction of 4.9 percent of species. This is for direct wipeout, though -- it doesn't account for the ramifications a 4.9 percent loss would have for the other 95.1 percent of organisms on the food chain that depend on the 4.9 percent. And dependence, of course, isn't just about eating. There could be symbionts lost, or organisms that depend on other complex behavioral webs that we don't even know about. - "The extinction rate will probably be dwarfed by the discovery rate." I doubt it. The species we haven't discovered yet are the ones that aren't very common. If we're already managing to take out the more common ones -- which should theoretically have a better chance of surviving thanks to sheer numbers -- how can you assume the less common ones are going to still be around? Especially given how heavily they probably depend on the common ones? - "Was the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs evil? The mass extinction did, after all, make way for the mammals." Sure. After several million years, it did. The pace of evolution is so slow that we won't see a new mammal analogue rise in the human lifetime. (And hell, if it did, we'd probably kill it off. I think we've got a pretty good grip on biological hegemony. Even if the "new mammal" were something that evolves fast, like bacteria, we're hard at work trying to figure out how to kill those too...) - "Does Wilson think that there is some mystical value in biodiversity?" I dunno. I'd be willing to bet he subscribes to something similar to Gould and Einstein's philosophies on nature -- should be celebrated because it exists. (It's not an Earth-Mother type belief so much as a crystallization of that feeling we all get when we learn something fascinating and new.) But even if he doesn't, you can make the argument that nature should be studied because it exists. And it's hard to study it if it ain't there. - "Mankind has introduced a lot of diversity. ... Look at how many mammals (sheep and red deer prominent among them) now roam New Zealand, or the wild horses in the American west and camels in Australia." Does knocking something else out of its niche and replacing it with an intercontinental transplant count as "introducing diversity"? If that's the case, then we should applaud the introduction of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. Species invasion isn't about introducing diversity; if anything, it's about decreasing it. - We should all discuss this over drinks sometime. Game, set... and cheers!

Review of the Economist-6/27/02 Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Review of the Economist-6/27/02 I'm going to start a semi-regular (meaning if I have too much work, forget it) feature where I highlight what I feel is an interesting piece in each section of the The Economist after it comes out online (print edition) on Thursday. [Also-if you like The Economist-I highly recommend the The Financial Times] So here it goes. Leaders-Could be worse, could be better is a piece about Hong Kong six years after the transfer to China. It seems to be trying to put a smiley face on the fact that the thuggish Chinese autocrats haven't meddled too much in the profit-making sector of the Hong Kong lifestyle-and yet who can neglect the fact that there has been a chill in the air in Hong Kong the past few years? I read all articles that I can get my hands on about China because if history is any guide-China will attempt to rise out of the the previous inter-dynastic period and reclaim its position as the "The Middle Kingdom"-the preeminent power on the face of the earth. What will we do when asked to give our pound of soil in submission to the new Mandate of Heaven? Special Report-Happy days are here again is a stock story on Israeli politics. I'll just quote to give a flavor....
America's game-plan, according to Israeli intelligence sources, is to engineer Mr Arafat's elevation to a ceremonial role while power shifts to younger people. Some of these would be drawn from the familiar faces that now surround him. Others would come from the lesser-known municipal leaders, and from the swelling ranks of detainees in Israeli jails.
Britain-Who gains from immigration? is a surprisingly immigration unfriendly article from the normally pro-immigration magazine. The gist? There might be a slight benefit from the current immigrants economically. But does that take into account long term problems with assimilation and negative costs that might accrue from a Balkanized society? Don't think so. Europe-Between two worlds examines the situation of Kaliningrad, Kant's old Konigsberg. A lover of the obscure, I find Kaliningrad fascinating, caught as it is between the drab brutality of Mother Russia and the bright lights of the West. The article does mention that some citizens want to create a fourth Baltic republic. Pipe dreams to be sure-but I suspect that the other Baltic states will make sure that Russia clamps down on this sort of talk-they have big Russian populations who might look to an independent Baltic Russian Republic as a patron (granted they look to the Russian Federation already-but obviously they are not a major concern). United States-The McAuliffe effect tells the tale of the Democratic Prince of Darkness. Be afraid-be very afraid. The numbers have always been on the side of the Democrats-Terence McAuliffe can mobilize them. Let every elephant shudder in the land.... The Americans-To bless, or not to bless? is about gay unions and dissent in the Anglican communion in Canada. I just added this so I could insert this line: would The Economist care if most of their graduates weren't from Oxford (and yeah, probably gay)? Middle East & Africa-From breadbasket to basket case is a story about the insanity in Zimbabwe. This proves that race trumps survival-the country is in famine but the white farmers are told to stop work for political reasons. Not that the white farmers are totally guiltless, they're pretty racist from what I've heard from a friend of mine in college who was Shona. But bigotry is no defense against murder and theft. Asia-Marching on is a positive review of the current government in India's economic policies. Interesting statistic though-India's growth has been service driven, not manufacturing. This makes it less vulnerable perhaps to export related issues (services obviously don't have inventory overhang)-but is creating a bifurcated society without an urban proletariat to mediate between the service class and their rural past. Business-Lip sink is a short blurb on poor Vivendi-Universal. The 90s really are over-but the French were the last to find out apparently. Finance-Novelty knocks discusses the rising Euro in terms of valuation with the dollar. Well-I guess that nice exchange rate for the European vacation is gone. On a positive note-I guess my friend's Finnish friend that's coming to visit might have more cash to spend on her vacation here. Science & Technology-Pebble dashed is probably aimed at the French-who for all their general stupidity are OK with nuclear (but they want their cheese to be filthy!). A really long article for of all things a fission reactor? Seems fusion is what would catch people's attention. But pretty neat nonetheless. Books & Arts-Fear and loathing is about Oriana Fallaci's diatribe against Islam. I'm generally OK with diatribes against Islam-but from the quotes in the story she seems a bit unhinged. But I looked up her picture and she was rather fine when young-so I guess it's all good. That's all for this week. By the way, if you get a subscription, you've got access to their rather large data collection on various countries-though some of the special stuff you still have to pay for.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

More environmental musings Razib! I am so proud. I tried to respond to you in the "comments" section, only to get this message:

"Sorry, there is a 2500 character limit to comments. Your comment was 2960 characters. Please shorten it to 2500 or less."

Let it never be said again that I'm a lazy poster. Anyway, here are the aforementioned 2960 characters: Fair enough -- Wilson wasn't trotting out conservationist books back when we were 8. Really, he only started last year. If you're willing to give enviro books a belated second chance, I'd recommend "The Future of Life" despite its pompous title -- at least it's a more accurate name than "The Population Bomb." The sad thing about Ehrlich is that yes, he does appeal to 8-year-old kids and those many older folks who like to read on that level. He's a highly successful sensationalist. (I think his follow-up to "The Population Bomb" was "The Population Explosion". It's a "Die Hard" series waiting to be made.) Sure, he's a bona-fide scientist as well. But his actual scientific work isn't what he's famous for (the ghost of S. J. Gould enters the room) -- as opposed to Wilson, who has sterling credentials in just about every field he's entered -- and any "scientific" predictions Ehrlich has made have clearly been shortsighted. I hate to say "disproven," but, well, I just did. Anyway. I don't think it's fair to say "Ehrlich's predictions circa 1970 haven't come true, therefore the environmental movement is all wrong," because the environmental movement is far more diverse than the legions of Ehrlich disciples would like to think. (I could keep bashing Ehrlich, but so many before me have done it already. Specifically P. J. O'Rourke; his comments on "The Population Bomb" in "All the Trouble in the World" are priceless.) I haven't gotten around to reading Lomberg yet. I have, however, heard Wilson respond to Lomberg's challenge to his fragmentation hypothesis. Unfortunately, I can't remember how exactly he responded. But I do think it involved the use of phrases like "irresponsible use of data" and "superficial examination." Big cuddlies in their natural habitat: You have a point. But most of the efforts to save the big cuddlies, I think, are now focusing on breeding programs instead because trying to save the habitats just ain't working. (Lemurs, pandas, etc.) Don't get me started on the philosophical implications of breeding programs -- I have a book proposal on this tucked away in the "future" folder on my desktop. Aquaculture is an interesting idea, but I think you're right -- it's going to be a long time before it replaces the big ships. There's a powerful lobby to fight it. Also, it won't make for great movies: "The Perfect Farm" just doesn't have the same ring. (Certainly doesn't sound as Hollywood-ready as "The Population Bomb"!) Still, I do agree with you that it's probably the only viable long-term solution. None of the other anti-overfishing policies -- catch checks, extended rights over waters, no-fishing zones -- seem to work. Godless responds: I want to begin by saying that I think Wilson is a great scientist and that he will be remembered kindly by history for his work on sociobiology. However, I think his comments on Lomborg's work are reprehensible. To wit:

My greatest regret about the Lomborg scam is the extraordinary amount of scientific talent that has to be expended to combat it in the media. We will always have contrarians like Lomborg whose sallies are characterized by willful ignorance, selective quotations, disregard for communication with genuine experts, and destructive campaigning to attract the attention of the media rather than scientists. They are the parasite load on scholars who earn success through the slow process of peer review and approval. The question is: How much load should be tolerated before a response is necessary? Lomborg is evidently over the threshold.

Come now. Lomborg is hardly a crank. As a statistician, he is likewise far from an "academic parasite". After all, statisticians make their living by analyzing the data that others have endeavoured to gather. Should we believe that the academic enterprise would be better off without dissent or internal criticism? Constructive, evidence based criticism is the foundation of the peer review system, and it is certainly no waste of time to deal carefully with calm arguments such as those advanced by Lomborg. However, careful analysis does not seem to be the method of choice of most of Lomborg's critics. Look at the jaw-droppingly ideological statements of the "pro-environment" crew here and then examine Lomborg's measured response. In any debate, one can often (but not always) tell which side is wrong by measuring the respective venom-to-evidence ratios. I submit that Wilson's side comes up short in this assessment. Indeed, the whole tone of the campaign against Lomborg strikes me as a reprise of the hysterical attacks on the Bell Curve. Finally, lest I be accused of damning Wilson's argument solely by the company he keeps, let me summarize it and then rebut it. Responding to Lomborg's assertion that extinction rates are trumpeted as being much higher than they actually are, Wilson says that:

Lomborg's estimate of extinction rates is at odds with the vast majority of respected scholarship on extinction. His estimate, "0.7 percent over the next 50 years" -- or 0.014 percent per year -- is an order of magnitude smaller than the most conservative species extinction rates by authorities in the field. Here is my brief response to the analysis of extinction rates in The Skeptical Environmentalist. ... At current levels of habitat destruction, extinction rates are destined to rise, and -- I believe every researcher would agree -- dramatically so. Consider that at an area-species exponent of 0.27 (a typical middle level), half the species are extinguished or committed to extinction by a 90 percent reduction in habitat area. But only another 10 percent reduction (to zero habitat) eliminates the rest of the species locally, and globally for species endemic to the patch. Now consider that some 35 percent of Earth's land vertebrates and 44 percent of its plant species are limited to 1.4 percent of its land surface, the 25 widely recognized "hotspots," which contain about the land mass of Alaska and Texas put together. Consider, too, that the forests and other habitats in these remaining areas have been reduced to 10 percent of their prehuman levels (see, for example, Norman Myers et al., Nature 403, 2000), and most are at immediate risk of disappearing. Finally, consider that species extinction is increasingly enhanced by pollution, climate change, and the growing flood of invasive species -- hence the foregoing estimates of extinctions based on habitat reduction are, sadly, minimal and modest.

Wilson feels that Lomborg has underestimated the extinction rate by an order of magnitude. Fine. Let's say that he has, though his "0.014% per year" statistic came from UN data. The resulting stat of ".1% per year" is ten times higher, but even if we assume it to be constant for the next 50 years we'll see the extinction of 4.9% of the earth's species. (Check my math here: (1- .00014)^50 = .993, and (1 - .001)^50 = .951). Not insubstantial, but hardly earth shattering. However, Wilson feels that this extinction rate is not going to remain constant at ".1%" . He thinks it's going to jump through the roof because we're going to finish clearcutting the forests in which much of Earth's biodiversity resides. I don't know whether this is true or not, and even if it is I doubt that there will be fewer known species in 2050 than now. In fact, I would take up a doubting Thomas at on this very topic. I lean towards skepticism for several reasons: 1) We haven't discovered most of the species on the planet. Do microorganisms count? Do the inhabitants of the oceans count? If so, the extinction rate will probably be dwarfed by the discovery rate. And this discovery rate will be fueled by advances in technology that - in part - require the exploitation of natural resources. 2) To assume that we will accelerate or maintain our polluting/killing/etc. ways over the next 50 years is probably not a fair assumption. Who knows what sorts of technological advances we'll make in that time period? 3) Life is resilient and infinitely resourceful. It seems clear to me that the selection pressures applied by humans will result in a (possibly smaller) pool of adapted organisms that we won't have to worry about killing by accident. Then the problem will be to kill them on purpose... 4) Wilson's tendency to paint man as evil for destroying life on a large scale seems to me to be ahistorical. Was the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs evil? The mass extinction did, after all, make way for the mammals. Now, this skepticism must be balanced by the knowledge that it would indeed be a blow to science if a substantial portion of earth's biodiversity was to be extinguished. Many medicines and scientific discoveries would likely come out of careful examination of the biodiversity of the rainforests. But we need to always weigh the benefits of keeping the forests around against the opportunity cost of foregoing their other natural resources. After all, the only real justification for keeping organisms from extinction is that they will through their existence serve the purpose of man.

Follow-up on environment.... Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Follow-up on the environment.... My fellow gnxp blogger Mary C has some questions about the environment. I'm going to respond here because she asks some good questions. First let me say though that I switched out of Biology to Chemistry to avoid taking any ecology courses-so I speak as a rank amateur (mighty rank at that!).
Regardless of species distinctions, Ehrlich is a straw man. If you want to have a rational discussion about the environment, it's best to exclude him altogether and substitute someone like E.O. Wilson, who generally seems to please the folks in this group with his other views (sociobiology, natch), but due to the fact that his love and livelihood is animals, is a species conservationist as well. Ehrlich's love and livelihood, on the other hand, is worrymongering.
Well, I think Ehrlich's books were more accessible to kids back in the 80s than any of E.O. Wilson's stuff. I think that Ehrlich is easy to pick on compared to a more measured scientist like Wilson (though Ehrlich is a population geneticist-he's no un-lettered yokel obviously like some of the eco-radicals), but he is the public face of the "population crisis" (and the environmental crisis secondarily whenever you read his books) for young lay persons interested in the situation. Wilson's books tend to be more philosophical and cerebral, and don't have (in my opinion looking back as a scientifically curious 8 year old) slam-bam appeal of something titled The Population Bomb. Onto your points about overfishing and biodiversity. I keep trying to get my friends that are doing graduate work in Ecology to read to The Skeptical Environmentalist to pick out the possible flaws, but until then, all I can say is that though a lot of Bjorn's stuff on mineral resources blows me away, his work on biodiversity (and to some extent the greenhouse effect and global warming) leaves me a bit less sure. I do think that Bjorn has put the onus on ecologists to justify their positions on extinction rates more quantitatively (in fact Bjorn sets his sights on the Wilson's position that fragmentation leads to extinction rates with the Atlantic Brazilian rainforest as a situation where this hasn't occurred). [see Bjorn's site and that of the anti-Lomborg pie-thrower] The thing about "big cuddly animals" though is that a lot of environmentalists will argue that if you can save them in their natural state-you're saving a lot of smaller animals. The big cuddlies tend to need a lot of space-and so a lot of habitat. Of course, they know that it appeals to the public more. I'm not a at-all-costs libertarian anymore either-so I would concede that fishing is basically hunting on an industrial scale and so there are valid issues with sustainability. I do look to aquaculture as a long term solution. The problem with the ocean is that it is a classic tragedy of the commons-a lot of countries have problems with poaching on their coastal waters (the Japanese are big culprits from what I've read). I don't think overfishing is going to disappear as a problem until aquaculture makes it economically unviable.

China's Titanic AIDS Epidemic!?!?! Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

China's Titanic AIDS Epidemic!?!?! Titled HIV/AIDS: China's Titanic Peril, this UNAIDS report has been picked up the general press. For 89 pages, it's a real quick read. OK, so the thing is, AIDS is exploding in China so that there'll be 10 million (mid-range estimate) HIV positive people by 2010! Oh my god, what will we do? Well, actually, China will also have over 1.3 billion people-so that's less than 1% of the population. On the other hand, Uganda is an AIDS success story with 6% HIV infection rates (now-I understand that Uganda has actually cleaned up its act-and it's a much smaller country-but 3/4 of HIV AIDS suffers are still in Sub-Saharan Africa and I'm not convinced that the majority still won't be in 2010).

differences in ability Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

differences in ability Michael Kinsley has written a strange little piece on the ADA:
For millions of years until the ADA was enacted in 1990, discriminating in favor of ability was thought to be a good thing. It still is, most of the time. Employers prefer competent employees to incompetent ones. Sports fans unabashedly show more enthusiasm for more talented athletes. Music enthusiasts shamelessly buy concert tickets for superior performers. Innate ability isn't the only ingredient, but without it even practice, practice, practice won't get you to Carnegie Hall.
Since Kinsley thinks it's "a good thing" most of the time, you'd expect him to support it. You'd be wrong:
discrimination based on ability usually does make sense. That doesn't make it right.
rewarding differences in ability is unfair.
It's "unfair" that talented software engineers make hundreds of thousands of dollars more than I do. It's "unfair" that Andre Agassi gets paid big money to play tennis while I have to wait in line just to get a court. It's "unfair" that people pay $100 for tickets to see the Eagles in concert but won't even throw a few cents into my guitar case. And, of course, it's "unfair" that Kinsley got to edit Slate while I only get to write for a blog. If this sounds ludicrous, well, that's because it is. It's hard to imagine that anything is "fair" is Kinsley's world. So what's his point?
the instinctual popularity of the ADA suggests that Americans are more radical believers in equality than they realize.
Let me run that by you one more time. The ADA embodies a strange notion of "fairness" ("to each regardless of his ability") that seems like it would be massively unpopular if stated outright. And yet the ADA has widespread support. Kinsley concludes that his weird egalitarianism is more popular than you'd think. But a much more plausible conclusion is that most people don't think through (or care about) the implications of their political beliefs. Which is less surprising, but not necessarily less distressing.

Let them sweat.... Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Let them sweat.... So says Nicholas Krisoft. His article is pithy-and doesn't state anything that those who've considered the economic situation in a country like Pakistan or Indonesia couldn't realize. My alma mater happens to be (was) a big beneficiary of Phil Knight's Nike largess (both the Law School and library are named after him). We used to joke that we were the University of Nike. That all stopped when some students decided to stage sit-ins to protest working conditions in the Third World. Knight stopped giving as much money-and no doubt the sweat shops continue and the moral fibers of hundreds of activist college students have been assuaged. So I would ask my progressive friends-what is the alternative to the brutality of the transition from an agricultural economy to a capital-intensive industrial one? The answers-when offered-were that we have to find an alternative. I suggested that massive income transfers might help-but no one seemed very eager to follow-up on this idea. I wonder if part of the problem is that Americans-being urban folk-have idealizations of rural country life. I had to disabuse my friends of any notion that the tenants on my family's Jute plantations in Bangladesh were "yeoman farmers" of any sort. When you can't read-your options are limited. You either sweat under the sun-or under bright lights. What keeps you going (so I imagine) are dreams of a better life for your children.

Computational Biology Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Computational Biology Short article on computational biology. Kind of a good follow-up on our math & science posts earlier in the month.

Driving while veiled Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Driving while veiled Imbler Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy points me to this article article in the New York Times about a Muslim women refusing to show her face for a driver's license photo. OK. I believe that technically Islam enjoins modesty-and that veiling was a Persian tradition that was adopted by the Muslims. Though a large portion of Muslim women in the Gulf are veiled, a minority throughout the Muslim world (and obviously retrograde areas such as Afghanistan)-it is not standard practice. While Muslims can say unequivocally that there is no God but God and Muhammed is his prophet and that being Muslims is contingent on this statement-it is not agreed as to whether veiling is necessary for the practice of one's faith. It is almost certainly a matter of interpretation-so what this women wants to exercise is her interpretation of Islam (there are four main Sunni schools of religious law who have different interpretations for defining who is Muslim-the most liberal-the Hanafi, basically requires only the shahada [declaration of faith] and is rather lax in enforcing all five pillars).

Joel's Establishment Clause pragmatism corner Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Joel's Establishment Clause pragmatism corner
If the worst thing that happens to me all day is that I have to listen to someone talk about Jesus for a few minutes, then that's a pretty good day!

monopolists Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

monopolists Best. Article. Ever. (link via InstaPundit, who also expresses a very Joel-like idea here) Oh, the article has its flaws. While Microsoft is "great at being a paranoid monopolist," it's also quite prone to the thuggish "save our monopoly" behavior the article criticizes -- think about the BSA, the ludicrous ADTI report, Jim Allchin painting open-source software as unamerican, shakedowns of school districts, and other not particularly innovative ways it works to keep its monopoly. But don't focus on the Microsoft parts of the article. The rest of it is right on the money.

This fellow's overheated I do not want to get into a debate about global warming. But I feel it's necessary to point out this piece on the possibility of a coming Ice Age and how misleading most global warming activism is:

A good environmental scare needs two ingredients. The first is impending catastrophe. The second is a suitable culprit to blame. In the second case, the ice age fails and global warming is gloriously successful. It is not the destruction itself of Sodom and Gomorrah that makes the story so appealing but the fact that they were destroyed because they were so sinful. ... There are two facts in the scare. First, it is true that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas — one which traps heat on Earth. (Without it, the Earth would be too cold for life.) Second, it is true that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising. The rest is guesswork. ... The computer models that the global warmers now use are ludicrously oversimplified, and it is no surprise that they have made one wrong prediction after another.

True. But the article, which is otherwise pretty solid, misses one important fact: The practical effect of "global warming" could actually be to usher in the very Ice Age the author is pretending to be worried about. "Global warming" is a misnomer. What's clear is that small shifts in the Earth's climate can have drastic and unexpected results, as recently noted in "A Brain for All Seasons" and elsewhere:

Gradual warming, paradoxically, can trigger abrupt cooling. Many climate changes are not gradual affairs, like turning up a thermostat or ramping up a dimmer switch. A gradual greenhouse warming over several centuries is not how things usually happen. As when tilting a table, there's a point when things start to slide off, and a tipping point when the table flips into a sideways mode. Abrupt (by which I mean the year-to-decade time frame) climate changes are more like a light switch that suddenly, at some pressure, flips into an alternative state. Just as when a power surge injures a fluorescent light tube and it starts flickering between bright and dim, so warming can cause air temperature to start abruptly flickering between warm and cool—and so produce a madhouse century.

Does this sound a bit Ehrlichesque? Um, yes. But the science is there -- previous "cold flips" and warmings have been triggered (or at least heralded) by tiny changes in temperature. As the Spectator article says, "for heaven’s sake, let’s start by telling the whole truth and giving all of the facts." And alluding to The Tipping Point, while we're at it.

Slavery and the Black Family Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Slavery and the Black Family James Q. Wilson has a fascinating article (long) on African-American family life-especially the relative weakness of the "traditional nuclear family" amongst them. The questions he poses-and the answers he gives-might surprise you. Wilson's approach is mostly cultural-but read Rushton's Race, Evolution and Behavior: A Life History Perspective and you get the same data interpreted in a rather different manner.

Why I support the RPI Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Why I support the RPI A while back godless capitalist wrote about why he opposed the Racial Privacy Act. I found myself torn-on the one hand, I agree that it makes collecting data rather more difficult. On the other hand, the general color-blind thrust of the Racial Privacy Act appealed to me. Godless' most damning criticism was that RPI will weaken the ability to make judgements about the possible differences between races. He is perhaps correct that non-governmental organizations will take up the slack and use it as a hammer for their own distorting agenda. But I think he overstates his case. Our case has been mostly made insofar as the symptoms have been diagnosed. I believe the opposition just refuses to acknowledge the sickness. The fact is that social science data can be sifted and resorted in whatever way sheds favorable light on the ideology in question-that the government does it doesn't shield one from bias (note how the government allows people to check all their racial ancestry on the CENSUS, but assigned multiracial people to the "minority" group to please the liberal racialists). The difference will be that now the biases will be more obvious-and perhaps people will be more attuned to it. Another point is that the RPI itself will only have a limited affect on racial statistics. Prior statistics will still exist, and one can collect large samples from states like New York, Florida or Texas where it isn't in force. How much more social science data do we really need to convince people about race differences? We've had decades of a consistent 15 point gap between blacks and whites-spanning Jim Crow, desegregation and the rise of the black middle class. And yet the dominant position still remains that the gap is an artifice of social discrimination and oppression. What will really convince the opposition-what they'll have a harder time dismissing-are genuine structural differences (neurological) between races on average in the neocortex itself. The reality of medical and health issues being affected by race will convince many on an everyday level as the genetic frontiers of treatment advance. The possible connection between certain alleles and intellectual ability or behavioral tendency, and the likely differential frequencies of these alleles in population X vs. population Y, will convince people. A few hundred more studies on IQ differences or differential academic performances won't add much to our case, the return is just not worth the price. And what is the price? The price is more government control over our lives as individuals-over our legal and political status being subsumed into corporate (race, gender and class) entities that act as mediating institutions between the individual and the state. Knowledge is power-and the more official information the state has, the more power it has. I will grant that power can be used for the good, but I must state that I believe that Acton was right, power does corrupt and our current spoils system is the logical final step toward a culture and a political class concerned with numbers of particular groups rather than the inherent rights of the individual. The rejoinder is that we will still know that blacks are 10% of the population, but only 5% of college students via third-party surveys. But as we've noted, these studies can be contested, and it will be far harder to set quotas on private studies than governmental sanctioned numbers that speak with a certain neutral authority. The government will be forced to cease situational application of universal laws when it is unable to ascertain the state of matters on the ground. Now, it is true that I believe that races are different. I also believe that private organizations-individuals or corporations-should be able to take race into account in their everyday decisions. But why do I favor ignoring its reality in the case of government? The government is an extension, an embodiment, of the concept of law, and law should be blind. The fact is that human beings are not equal in a host of traits. But before a judge we are all granted the same privileges and handed the same penalties. Our genes may "predispose" us to violence-but there is an a priori assumption that one is still responsible for one's actions. The government may still believe that racism needs redressing-that justice must be served. But without targets painted by its own surveys-how can any political body execute the race-conscious agenda without being asked if it is being arbitrary? Evolution, our biology, has progressed without government intervention. We don't need it now-what we need to do is starve the beast of its sustenance, and what is nurturing it in the end is information.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

the pledge Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

the pledge I'm reasonably patriotic, and I think this is the best damn country in the world. But "under God" or not, I never much cared for the Pledge of Allegiance [which, when I was in school, was always led by the "Voice of DHS" Ryan Seacrest, now of "American Idol" fame]. The pledge always seemed little more than a rote loyalty oath, which -- if you believe the internet -- was originally written in order to sell flags. Though I love my country, my allegiance is to its [classical] liberal ideals, not to its flag, not to its republican government, and certainly not to any notion of "indivisibility." Commentators and congressmen will wring their hands and argue about whether God has a place in the pledge. The more interesting issue -- whether a "pledge of allegiance" has a place at all -- will go largely unquestioned.

the computer as informational Coke machine Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

the computer as informational Coke machine The CS Monitor has a very thoughtful piece on intellectual property law, which delves into its history, original intent, current uses, and future prospects:
Corporations now are claiming ownership of everything under the sun, if not the sun itself: body parts, business practices, the genetic code. They even are claiming ownership of the English language. McDonald's has asserted trademark claims to 131 common words and phrases, such as "Always Fun" and "Made For You." Supposedly, this patent frenzy serves as an incentive for invention and discovery. But more often the opposite is the case. Researchers now must navigate a minefield of competing patent claims. One new virus-resistant strain of rice can't be sold because of the need to get approvals from so many different patent holders. In university research labs secrecy and paranoia have replaced collegiality. At MIT some graduate students don't want to defend their theses for fear of revealing proprietary information.
These examples are anecdotal, and I'd be much happier if they were more concrete and cited. But they're very valid concerns which need to be considered as "costs" when discussing the benefits of IP. It's easy to dismiss IP opponents as information wants to be free anarchists, warez kiddiez, and cheapskates. But some of us simply think IP is a bad idea.

Christian living! Only $19.95! Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Christian living! Only $19.95! (Decadence and debauchery! Free!) I got spammed today by a company called Christian Living, and as everyone knows, the wages of spam is public castigation on the Internet. (Completely off-topic: will someone please explain to me why "The wages of sin is death" is grammatically correct?) From the email:

What is is a Christ-centered, premium Internet Dial-up service provider with dial up service available all across America. Imagine a "Christian AOL"- only with faster connections, valuable Christian resources and an optional Smart Filter™ that allows your family to enjoy the positive benefits of the Internet without negative and immoral content.

A Christian AOL? Wow. That might be the *one* thing worse than the real AOL. Let me guess - if it crashes, it's God's will, and if it doesn't crash, it's also God's will. comes complete with an endorsement from Pat Boone:

And because I believe so strongly in what they're doing. I hope you'll seriously consider praying for this awesome new program that's aiding and equipping so many people in their walks with Christ. Please take advantage of this wonderful opportunity: switch from your current provider to's unlimited, filtered service today."

Even if I *were* religious, I don't think it would occur to me to pray for my ISP. The whole "pray for my moneymaking corporation" seems a little too Jim-and-Tammy-Faye-Bakker. (Granted, if I thought it would help, I'd probably pray To Whom It May Concern that the NASDAQ break 2000 again, but that's my utilitarian streak. I assume the people that sign up for the service are true believers.) Christianliving also has Christ-centered CRM!:

ABOUT US - As skilled Internet professionals and web enthusiasts, we're dedicated to giving you the best the World Wide Web has to offer. But as your brother and sisters in Christ, we're also committed to providing much more-a practical, user-friendly online environment that equips Christian believers to:

  • Discover and receive Gods best in their relationships, family, life and work.
  • Raise families according to Christ's principles.
  • Leave an effective Christian legacy for future generations
  • Enjoy meaningful and fruitful involvement in a local church
  • Share experiences, resources, ideas, products, and services with fellow believers around the world

Looks like they're reselling a private-label version of Qwest's services. I wonder if the customer support teams are trained to proselytize...

new malt beverages Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

new malt beverages Recently I've been noticing a lot of hard-liquor-themed malt beverages: Bacardi Silver, Jack Daniels Hard Cola, Smirnoff Ice, Skyy Blue, Captain Morgan Gold, Stoli Citrona and Sauza Diablo. Now most TV networks won't air ads for hard liquor. But I've seen lots of TV ads for these malt products which merely share a name, and this provides de facto advertising for the liquors themselves. Hence my idea for several new malt beverages: Camel Cooler, Marlboro Malt, and Seattle's favorite, American Spirit Spirit. Update: John Perich points out that the good makers of Kool-aid had this idea decades ago.

The end is not nigh.... Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The end is not nigh.... Ron Bailey of Reason puts a positive spin on the environment. Why do I tend to agree with the Bailey's of the world more than I disagree? Back in the 1980s I spent a large part of every winter reading books about the environment. I lived in dread of the year 2000-when all our calamities would destroy our civilization as it hurtled through the universe on its unsustainable course. Well-2000 came and went. There are still tigers, pandas and elelphants. It's not perfect, but obviously, I was reading propoganda, not predictions.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

god's great plan ii Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

god's great plan ii Notice how she doesn't speculate on God's plan for the girl behind her:
Ray, 17, helped others on the bus until she had to be air-lifted to a hospital because she was having trouble breathing. She suffered cuts, bruises and a back injury. "I really feel God protected me," she said. "I mean, I was so close to that pole. The girl behind me died. I really feel his hand was over me and watching me."

Gender discrimination in college Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Gender discrimination in college Discriminations points out the gender imbalance developing in higher education. May I suggest a novel reason for this? Let us accept that males have a greater proportion of individuals at the right and left ends of the Bell Curve-while women tend to bunch around the middle. Could it be that the current intellectual cutt-off point for getting anything out of a college education tends to favor women-in other words since there are more women in the middle region of the Bell Curve, the threshhold needed for higher education might be somewhere somewhat to the left, but not far enough to include the mass of lower IQ males?

get yourselves to hollywood Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

get yourselves to hollywood The first season it was on TV, I used to watch Temptation Island, which appealed to the sadistic psychologist in me. I took a certain perverse (yet scientific) pleasure watching the producers toy with the emotions of the participants. Reality TV, I realized at the time, was the ultimate end-run around the pesky APA Code of Ethics. I'm not the only one to have figured this out. Robert Epstein, editor of Psychology Today, is running an "experiment"/reality show to find himself a wife. The BBC made an aborted attempt to replicate Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment. And as Razib pointed out, SpyTV seems to have roughly reproduced Milgram's experiment on obedience to authority. Budding social scientists, get yourselves to Hollywood!

The Great Traditions Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The Great Traditions Multiculturalism and cultural relativism are in vogue today. Arrayed against them are the guardians of the old order, the Blooms (Harold and the late Allen) and those who write in and read The New Criterion (to give a minimal pointer as toward those I'm speaking of when I stay traditionalists). Though the former are in ascendence amongst the ruins of the Ivory Towers, it is the way of society that the cycle will likely swing back to the "traditionalists" at some point (they will then be termed post or neo-traditionalists). The criticism of Dead White Men isn't in my opinion wholly invalid (looking exclusively to your own past can cause an intellectual sclerorsis, look at the Scholastics or neo-Platonists of the 18th century). On the other hand-comparing the writings of Plotinus to the ruminations of an Australian Aborigine sage are ridiculous. The words barbarian and savage are out of favor for obvious reasons-they carry impolite connotations and judgement values. But, perhaps they could be resurrected in a different light. Those "traditionalists" who wish to give the Western Canon its place of prominence could admit that there is a difference between barbarian culture-those who are/were civilized in a different fashion-and savages, who lack the basic accoutrements of civilization (literacy, organized religion, statecraft, philosophy and rapid technological advancement). There are in my opinion three root civilizations from which the overwhelming majority of human cultures today derive. I will term them the west Eurasian, east Eurasian and south Eurasian complexes (the Eurasian oikoumene's. Other cultures, such as those of central or southeast Asia, or even Africa and the New World, can be thought as either derivative or synthesized from these cultures. The west Eurasian culture has produced the monotheistic religions, the majority of the world's scripts (Aramaic seems to be the distant basis for the Indian scripts that filtered up into Tibet and Mongolia via Buddhist monks and also into southeast Asia) and revolutions in statecraft and science. The south Eurasian culture has contributed greatly in the area of religion and philosophy and to a lesser extent language and art (southeast Asia). The east Eurasian culture of course has been more insulated from the others-but historically has leveraged its mass mobilization of society into a centralized empire-state to produce a dazzling array of technological advances in equilibria with societal stability. Some might quibble with my lumping of the Dar-al-Islam with post-Christendom-but remember, Philip the Arab was once Emperor of Rome and ruled from York in northern Britain (the lands of the Brigantes I believe) to the environs of the city of Petra in modern day Jordan. Before 1800-it was almost certain that more Greeks lived in Asia Minor than Greece. The Jewish Diaspora stretched from Persia to Amsterdam (and Samarkand too!). While western Christians (Roman Catholics later) viewed Islam as almost a pagan religion (note implications of idolatry and heathenism in the Song of Roland)-eastern Christians might view Muslims are heretics from the true faith (remember the iconoclast controversy and the Christian Levantine origin of many Byzantine Emperors between 700 and 850 CE). The Dar-al-Islam and Christendom are in effect two sides of the same coin-manifestations of the tearing apart and mingling of the group of cultures that originally nucleated around the eastern Mediterranean. Though the ancient cultures of Egypt, Anatolia and Levant are gone (language, religion, history and ethnos all swept aside by Christianity and Islam)-they are the common seeds for west Eurasian culture-both Christendom and the Dar-al-Islam. Certainly the Illiad and Odyssey are important works, but what about the Ramayana and Mahabarata (here you might get protests from religious Hindus who do not want to create an analogy with Greek myths and so de-sacralize their foundational religious narratives)? Solon and the Duke of Chou can both be considered in the same light. The radical cultural relativists-by elevating Native American and other traditions by indigenous peoples to the same level as those of literate civilizations have pushed the traditionalists into a corner where they cling to the same musty old books. To me, common-sense would dictate that you study oral narrative traditions in a different class and context than structured literate prose. The loose political assocations of pre-state peoples are interesting only to elucidate the possible genesis of the early states in the core regions of a cultural complex. Certainly I agree there is a difference in kind between the western Eurasian tradition, and in particular the western European one, and the old cultures of India and China. In fact, these latter traditions have been enormously modified by Europe and her recent historical hegemony (because I believe Islam is part of Europe's greater cultural sphere-I think it is partially immune to the modifying impulses of the West). I'm not suggesting that Shakespeare look to Shankara as a peer-but I am suggesting that barbarian (civilized) non-European traditions need not be dismissed out of hand as post-modernist or cultural relativist claptrap.

Jonah Goldberg & Nazis Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Jonah Goldberg & Nazis Jonah Goldberg opines on the Nazi-like tendencies of the Arab polities. Fair enough. But some have noted the nationalist and socialist tendencies of the early Israeli state as well. Jonah makes fun of the overtly Islamic nature of Arab polities-but as I've mentioned before, Israel has a not-so-subtle philo-Semitic bias (and this goes beyond not being able to eat ham sandwiches-it goes to barring intermarriage between freely consenting adults of different religions). But anyway-anyone watch Spy TV? If you weren't distracted by Ali Landry-you might have seen the clip where three men are hired as security guards. Their supervisor leaves them alone-and someone sticks their hand out a window and asks for help. All three men balk. The gag keeps going to the point where the "prisoners" make a jail-break and two of the three men pull the lever to send an electric charge through a fence to stun the hapless men and women trying to escape. One of them is almost amused-and declares that as long as he's paid they're not going to escape. Another man-a middle aged Latino man-is so angered by what he sees that he almost accosts the Spy TV actor who's pretending to be the overseer for this illegal detention. Obviously we all hope we would act as the latter individual behaved-but who knows? It makes me wonder less about how Nazism came to power and liquidated 10 million human beings. Germany was a cultural and scientific powerhouse-this was not the Rwanda or Cambodia of its day. According to Halford Mackinder, Germany is a crucial geopolitical state, guarding the entrance to the Heartland. Ideas as diverse as Marxism, Positivism, Austrian Economics, Freudianism and the Frankfurt School all came out of the German-speaking world (some, like Freudianism were of course almost wholly Jewish-while many of the others had strong Jewish components, even putative right-wing movements like Austrian Economics). And yet whenever I hear one of my more Europhilic friends beginning to ramble about the faults of the United States-I point to the liquidation of the Jews, the complicity of the French, the fascism of the Mediterranean, the nationalism of eastern Europe, and so forth. Even today-one's blood is a strong determinant of German citizenship, criticizing the French president is a crime, and neo-Fascists flirt with the seat of power in Italy. Of all the regions of the world, Europe and the European Diaspora have achieved an objective morality unswayed by sentiment or nepotism. 2,000 years of law derived from Greek philosophy, Roman politics and Hebrew monotheism have tempered the capriciousness of the dictator of the impetuousness of the mob. And yet even in the heart of Europe-only two generations ago unimaginable slaughter and cruelty were commonplace. It certainly makes me feel a bit more pessimistic, and more likely to worry about Nazis rather than fret about throwing the appellation around in a careless fashion.

Cheaper books Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Cheaper books Assuming that our readers are a bookish crowd, is in a price war with Amazon. Enjoy!

Monday, June 24, 2002

god's great plan Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

god's great plan Where there's smoke, there's fire. Where there's a will, there's a way. And where there's a deadly church bus accident, there's someone eager to proclaim it God's great plan:
"We don't have to understand everything," [deacon Sean] Burns said. "God's ways are higher than our ways, obviously, and we've just got to trust in God. There may be a reason why this happened."

what makes a parent? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

what makes a parent? An Australian man claims his ex-girlfriend "stole" his sperm, that he should be considered a sperm donor, and that he shouldn't have to pay child support. I have little sympathy for his particular argument, though I do have a little bit of a reflexive hyper-libertarian opposition to forced "child support." Child support is an issue whose core principles are tough to ascertain. Cathy Young has a nice Salon piece which points out the asymmetry of parental choice -- in a legal sense, women have rights while men have responsibilities:
Did the woman ask him to impregnate her and sign an agreement relieving him of any financial obligations? He's still liable if she changes her mind. Was he underage and legally a victim of statutory rape? Makes no difference. (One such case, in Kansas in 1993, involved a 12-year-old boy molested by a baby sitter.) Did the woman have her way with him when he had passed out from drinking and brag to friends that she had saved herself a trip to the sperm bank? Tough luck, said Alabama courts. Did she retrieve his semen from the condom she had asked him to wear during oral sex and inseminate herself with a syringe? Yes, it's a true story, and in 1997 the Louisiana Court of Appeals told the man to pay up, saying that a male who has any sexual contact with a woman -- even oral sex with a condom -- should assume that a pregnancy may ensue.
In Young's examples, sperm-donation seems to be the root issue. But that's not the whole story -- the law isn't terribly amenable to using DNA tests to disprove paternity claims:
Like most states, California makes it difficult for men such as Conners to disestablish paternity once they have formally acknowledged it. The practice stems in part from a 500-year-old doctrine of English common law that presumes a man is the legal father of any child born to his wife during their marriage.
No, there's a fundamental question, insofar as we're concerned with parental responsibilities: "What makes a parent?" An interesting (but old) article out of the IIT Catalyst points out that we're heading for a clash between reproductive technology and parental responsibilities:
Conceived from donor sperm and a donor egg and born to a surrogate mother in 1995, she’s at the heart of one of the nation’s most complex surrogate-birth cases. An Orange Country Superior Court judge has ruled that she has no legal parent.
And as we make further advances in genetic engineering, cloning, and reproductive science, we're going to have to stop relying on half-millennium-old common law and start giving these issues some serious thought.

Eric Raymond on Islam Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Eric Raymond on Islam Joel has linked to part one of Eric Raymond's series of posts on Islam. Check out part two. And especially part three. I have only one thing to add to Mr. Raymond's comments-the majority of Muslims might actually want some liberalization. But they are easily cowed by the minority of militants because on some level-they feel the militants are more genuine Muslims. I will illustrate by a personal example. I have an uncle who is a biology professor in Bangladesh who happens to a Islamic fundamentalist (he is the type to proudly declare he has given his religious students A's automatically for the past 20 years). He took me to a radical rally when I visited Bangladesh in 6th grade (I watched a cock fight in the back of the rally)-his nickname in my family was "religious guy" (yeah, no joke). Most of my family is pretty liberal-when he would come around, the women would put on chadors and get out of sight. One time he stole all my aunt's family pictures (they were idolatry remember) and refused to give them back. He would periodically go on rampages and attack the sincerity of other's religious beliefs. He would sit there and regularly castigate my female relatives for going to the market without a male escort. How did people react this heavy-handed behavior? Some might grumble a bit-but in general they respected him for his piety and didn't feel they could say anything against him-he was after all a sincere follower of Allah. Though in their own lives they would/could never imagine adhering to the strict tents of Islamic fundamentalism-they admired it in the way that environmentalists activists might feel a tinge of sympathy with eco-terrorists. And that is what the West faces-not the rage of the minority-but the bovine complicity of the majority.

The UC experiment Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The UC experiment The UC system in California has been "race blind" officially since 1997 (let's ignore ways they try to get around it). So now this article in Salon (premium) examines the "fall-out." The facts? "Underrepresented minorities" have been shuffled from the prestigious Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses to Davis, Riverside and San Diego. Though they still haven't reached the proportion that they were in 1997-they are slowly inching back up due to proactive measures. What I want to know: what are the graduation rates of blacks and Latinos now? Thomas Sowell speculated that transferring black students to less competitive schools rather than admitting them to elite schools because of racial considerations would be beneficial to their overall education since they could complete a rigorous engineering degree without falling off the end of the curve. Now here's a choice quote:
But others at Berkeley say that even if students can survive without attending Berkeley, the declining diversity is damaging the campus itself: "It's ridiculous for U.C. to say we have met our diversity requirement system-wide, so we don't have to worry about Berkeley and UCLA," said ethnic studies professor Ling-chi Wang. "We do have to worry about it, because the quality of education is going to go down. Academic excellence is linked to diversity. I have visibly seen [the number of] minority students declining in front of me each year. It's very, very disheartening."
1) From the numbers in the Salon article-it seems that the rise in Asian-American representation balanced the increase of white students-white students were 33% of Berkeley's student body while Asians -Americans went up to 45% from 40%. At UCLA, white students dropped from 31% to 30% and Asians were at 42% as opposed to 40% 5 years ago. The "white hegemonic element" seems pretty much the same-and UCLA remains the "University of Caucasians Lost among Asians." 2) Interviewing an ethnic studies professor about the state of diversity is like asking a Republican operative to comment on the possibility that taxes might just be a bit too high. 3) Since when did diversity = excellence? I thought it was scholarship = excellence. Am I old fashioned or too linear in my sell-out brown-twinkie Western thinking? San Jose State has a hell of a lot diversity. Now, I'm not besmirching everyone who goes to that school-just trying to show how stupid this diversity = excellence rhetoric is. The fact is, Mr. (Dr.?) Wang's job depends on diversity. So why doesn't he just say that. "My job depends on diversity-please keep diversity around so I may feed my family!" That's honorable at least. He shouldn't just pretend like he thinks that the students that are sitting ethnic studies when they should be in a history or science class are getting anything aside from half-baked opinions he heard on the local "progressive bookstore." Another choice quote from Mr./Dr. Wang:
To Wang, the university should reflect the society around it: "In an ideal world, I would love to see a proportional representation in our student body. I'm hoping that as we turn into a more diverse population, the university will reflect the diversity that is so richly represented in California, but I'm kind of discouraged."
Ah...proportional representation. At least he comes out and says it. The article mentions that underrepresented minorities are even more underrepresented in the UC system than 1997 because of the burgeoning Hispanic population. Proportionalists will become progressively more terrified as the years pass by. I don't know how they'll endure the fact that Asian-Americans will probably keep hogging all the funds that go into public higher education. Here's a line near the end of the article about skewing the quota selection process toward income rather than race:
California's complicated racial landscape means there is no proxy for race in this state -- many policies designed to assist low-income students, for example, would assist many Asian-Americans, who are not underrepresented. But there are other advantages in new policies that look more comprehensively at applicants.
The horrors! Poor Asian-Americans getting an education while middle-class blacks and Latinos can't get into college because of poor test scores! What sort of injustice can occur in a world such as this. OK, sarcasm off. I'm so tired of reading crap like this. So I'm going to end this posting a pretty vulgar note. I try to stay civil-but I'll be honest-this sort of race quota consciousness makes me want to vomit. A big fuck you to all the patronizing liberals who send their kids to private schools and live in cul de sacs while lecturing on the world on how live a good progressive life, and a big fuck you to all the activist parasites of color who can't be honest about their self-interested posturing. As my friends have told me many times, get a real job!

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Left Behind series Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Left Behind series Time has a long article on The Left Behind series and End Times theology. If you believe this stuff-it'll be interesting. If you don't-you'll either be freaked out or smirk. I'm a smirker myself. The End Times are a good buy period for stocks I think....

Provisionalism rather than dogmatism Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Provisionalism rather than dogmatism I do want to clarify some points. I accept the general thrust of J. P. Rushton's work-that "blacks," "whites" and east Asians fall into a general spectrum on a variety of traits. General intelligence, or g, is likely one of them. I think it is important to recognize that I.Q. has consequences-that it could very well be that certain groups genetically well endowed in this area will be found in professions requiring symbolic logic and higher-level abstraction. On the other hand, according to modern I.Q. tests, if you take 70 as the cut-off for normal-"retarded"-one of out six American blacks, and half of African blacks fall into that category. First, I'll discard the point about African blacks, because that research hasn't be reproduced to the same extent as the surveys of American blacks has been to convince me beyond any doubt of its accuracy. So are one out of six blacks "retarded," strictly speaking? Jensen in the The g Factor has indicated that lower I.Q. blacks socialize and interact at a relatively high level compared to whites of a similar level. Why is this? It is often said that I.Q. correlates with all sorts of other factors-ie; those of lower I.Q. tend towards criminality. But I think it is important also to look at someone in the context of the mean of their population group. While 85 is the mean I.Q. of American blacks, a Korean American child with an I.Q. of 85 might be cause for concern-being more than 1 standard deviation off the norm of east Asians. Of course, this sort of analysis is taboo because of the current dogma that the black-white I.Q. difference are elastic and wholly caused by environment. But, is the I.Q. for a group static? Richard Hernstein was one of the more prominent intellectuals to address the issue of dysgenesis, the decrease of the mean I.Q. of the population because of a degradation of the genetic quality of the population [a decrease in the frequency of the alleles that effect general intelligence?] (though the Flynn effect seems to be acting as more than a countervailing pressure as of now). I don't believe I.Q. was static in the past-and it need be static in the future. godless (and I agree with him) promotes the idea that genetic engineering can help us out of the morass of the social issues involved in acknowledging race differences, especially in the context of I.Q.. I believe in the future that obesity and overall facial symmetry (attractiveness) will also be addressed through genetic engineering. But what about the past? Were Jews 3,000 years ago 1 standard deviation above the European norm in I.Q.? Well-seeing as how Sephardic and Oriental Jews are not so gifted (the high I.Q. tends to be found among Ashkenazi Jews)-we would assume not. In addition, though the Jews produced a very influential religious work-the great philosophical and scientific achievements of antiquity were by other groups. Something happened. One can postulate a variety of modes whereby Jews selected for higher I.Q.. Kevin MacDonald's work has plenty of ideas on this topic (please note: I am highly skeptical of his group selectionist paradigm). Similarly, the modern day I.Q.s of Iraq, India and Egypt are rather low. And yet these were the seedbeds of civilization while bright northern Europeans were just figuring out the nuances of the neolithic revolution. One could speculate that the social system promoted some sort of dysgenesis-though you can't go back and test the I.Q.s of Sumerians in 3000 BCE. But I suspect that I.Q. measured against the variable of time within a population-particularly in the past when bottlenecks due to famines were common-is more variable than we think. I certainly don't have any answers-but I do have plenty of questions. Rushton's work-combined with the constancy of the black-white I.Q. gap over 80 years-convinces me that genetic differences do exist on a substantive level between the three outlier races-northern Europeans, east Asians, and sub-Saharan Africans. Sketching out the details though is a whole different issue. Just because sub-Saharan Africans today have low I.Q.s, doesn't mean that I think they did in the past (the average I.Q. of Ethiopians according to Lynn and Vanhanen's work is 67-and they were the major literate state-building culture of sub-Saharan Africa)-or have to in the future. So in answer to David's point-I don't think it is valid to say that African's will never produce as many Nobel laureates as Asians or Europeans. Perhaps this is what separates my position from that of the racialists-race is not a foundational dogma, just an intellectually valid taxonomic category. I look forward to a future where there will be enough race mixture that it won't be-though I assume (as Eric Lien has astutely observed) this will occur mostly on the elite level. P.S.: In the area of rank speculations-while Egypt, Iraq and India have low IQs-China's is high. Why? Well-China had a system that rewarded scholarly merit over a 2,000 year period. Though the examinations didn't occur in all periods-and with merit being the only factor sometimes-it was a sharp contrast to the political systems that dominated in the other three cultural hearths where sycophancy rather than intellectual caliber probably counted for more.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

To the gas chambers-go!? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

To the gas chambers-go!? Earlier today-one Philip Shropshire seemed to imply that some of us (specifically godless capitalist)-want to round up those on the left-end of the Bell Curve and send them to concentration camps or something. This is the sort of ad hominem attack that silences people and allows sites like Stormfront to monopolize the discussion of race differences. I will concede that I might be wrong-that races might not be that different in anything aside from the most superficial of outward phenotypic characteristics and prevalence of certain diseases in certain groups. But would Mr. Shropshire concede that those who believe major racial differences exist might be right? What if we are right? What if attempts to silence us push everyone to the sidelines except those who talk about white pride and the late great Fuhrer? (if Mr. Shropshire doesn't know-both godless and I are non-white and from an ethnic group who's average IQ might be rather low). Personally, I wish academic biological scientists would explore race differences. But at this time there isn't a chance in hell that's going to happen. Look at many of the scientists who are backed by the Pioneer Fund, which backs Mr. Rushton's work. They're psychologists and economists-who can diagnose the social illness. But it will take hard-core geneticists and neuroscientists to probe whether there are race differences biologically, as opposed to being artifacts of the way we view the data. Speaking for myself-I don't think acknowledging race differences would imply a rejection of the principle of equality before the law. Men and women are probably different in their very nature, the essentialist position. Yet we usually (military service being an exception) treat men and women the same. I personally think we should treat them the same 100% the same (Women should be able to serve in combat positions-granting that they can fulfill certain physical and psychological requirements that all soldiers have to clear). But aside from the radical Left-the fact that men and women are different allows society to not be shocked that most firefighters are men and most interior designers are women. Acknowledging race differences might stop the yearly lament that there aren't enough black scientists or engineers, and allow us to appreciate the many blacks in the entertainment field. The truth is always better than falsehood. If humans were altruistic, a classless utopia on the communist model might work, but human nature isn't based on altruism, or even group selection. Humans look to their individual needs first, and that is why capitalism is superior to communism (though I will grant that capitalism can be tempered by social democratic policies-though I don't like it myself). This confusion as to human nature-as to the truth-cost millions of lives. Are mainstream environmentalists willing to allow room for those of us who dissent from the orthodoxy? Or are we to be marginalized as racist kooks. I'm fine with being called a kook, since I think 100-proof environmentalism is pretty wacky myself. But I wouldn't ascribe all sorts of nefarious motives motives to them. Sure, excessive concern with genetic heritage was part of the Nazi program, but overemphasis on environment was part of Communism. I'm not "racist," I don't give a damn what race my friends are. Humans should be judged as individuals in ideal conditions-that is true. But when talking of societal issues, I think it's fine to lump them into groups. Marketers do it all the time. Why exempt race? We talk about it to promote "social justice" all the time. So what is it? You can talk about race, as long as you toe the party line? So let's get back to the dialogue. If you're looking for Nazis, move on. Postscript: To Mr. Shropshire-godless was wrong and he fessed up to it rather quickly, didn't he? You seem to have a problem with his tone rather than his substance (which you might still disagree with of course).

Discriminations Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Discriminations A new blog Discriminations has been added to the left-links. Check out this quote from their site to figure out why I linked and am blurbing them here (also, Imbler Volokh mentioned 'em, and he's a pretty spot-on guy).
DISCRIMINATIONS is the joint production of John and Jessie Rosenberg. John is one of the world's older grad students, now completing a 30-year overdue dissertation on discrimination at Stanford. Jessie is one of the younger college juniors, a physics major at Bryn Mawr. what? John's focus, not surprisingly, will be on the theory and practice of discrimination, and how it is reported and analyzed. (He can be reached at rosenblog at Jessie's will be discriminating thoughts on... whatever catches her fancy or attracts her attention.

Drug Use and Race Philip Shropshire brings up an issue that I've heard about before but never investigated: the rates of drug use among blacks, whites, and Asians. In response to my request for statistical sources for his assertion that the "majority of drug users in this country are white and middle class", Philip returned with an assortment of links on the topic. I had heard the statistic before, but I had thought it akin to the disingenuous claim that "most welfare users are white", which ignores the crucial fact that blacks are welfare users at higher rates. The study that Philip cites (link in PDF) that uses government statistics indicates that:

"Data from the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) showed that whites had the highest lifetime rates of use for most illicit drugs, including marijuana (36%), cocaine (12%), LSD (9%), inhalants (7%), stimulants (5%), and PCP (3%). Blacks had slightly higher rates of lifetime crack use (3%) compared to whites (2%) or Hispanics (2%). The lifetime rate of heroin use across racial/ethnic categories was less than 1 percent,and the data suggested no reliable differences between blacks, Hispanics and whites for this drug." ... Across all age groups, lifetime illicit drug use was highest among whites (38%), followed by blacks (31%) and Hispanics (26%). Differences among whites, blacks, and Hispanics in any illicit drug use were highest among persons aged 18 to 34 years of age. Among 18- to 25-year-olds, lifetime illicit drug use was highest for whites (50%), followed by blacks (35%) and Hispanics (32%). Among 26- to 34-year-olds, lifetime illicit drug use was highest for whites (58%), followed by blacks (40%) and Hispanics (29%)

Intrigued, I did a little bit of probing myself and found that the site was quite dispassionate in its analysis and seemingly nonpartisan. I looked around for other sources to corroborate this data and found this link from the CDC that has a time series of drug use rates among whites, blacks, and hispanics. The statistics here are a bit more mixed; whites have higher rates of alcohol use across the board, but they're in a statistical dead heat with blacks in terms of marijuana use. In any case, the point is that the marijuna rates are not statistically different, but alcohol rates are. Perhaps more importantly, I noticed that the study above cited the 1997 NHSDA rather than the current one. I looked for the latest version (which was 2000 rather than 2001 or 2002) and found the following key paragraph:

-The rates of current illicit drug use for major racial/ethnic groups in 2000 were 6.4 percent for whites, 5.3 percent for Hispanics, and 6.4 percent for blacks. The rate was highest among the American Indian/Alaska Native population (12.6 percent) and among persons reporting more than one race (14.8 percent). Asians had the lowest rate (2.7 percent). -Although Asians as a group had the lowest rate of current illicit drug use, there were variations among the various specific Asian subgroups. For persons aged 12 and older, the rates ranged from 1.0 percent of Chinese and 2.1 percent of Asian Indians to 6.9 percent of Koreans, 5.0 percent of Japanese, and 4.3 percent of Vietnamese. These estimates are based on combined 1999 and 2000 NHSDA data, to ensure adequate sample sizes for these population subgroups (Figure 2.12). -Based on combined 1999 and 2000 data, rates of past month illicit drug use in the population aged 12 and older were 10.1 percent for Puerto Ricans, 5.5 percent for Mexicans, 4.1 percent for Central or South Americans, and 3.7 percent for Cubans (Figure 2.12). -Among youths aged 12 to 17 years, the rate of current illicit drug use was highest among American Indian/Alaska Natives (22.2 percent for combined 1999 and 2000 data).

Now, what does this all mean? It seems that blacks and whites are in a statistical dead heat with respect to rates of illicit drug use. On the basis of other data (such as savings rates or number of sexual partners), we would expect the "time-value-of-pleasure" tradeoff to be negotiated in favor of the immediate by blacks and the long-term by asians, with whites intermediate. In other words, we would expect blacks to be less likely to trade off pleasure today for (more) pleasure tomorrow, and asians more likely to do so. The drug use rates seem to be anomalous in this regard. It may be that there is a countervailing factor at work that differentially enables drug use among whites rather than blacks, such as a surplus of discretionary funds. It may also be that there are genetic factors at work (e.g. alcoholism predilection) that are specific to the drug use case and again impact whites more than blacks. I don't know what the answer is, but I wanted to point out that drug abuse rates for the Chinese are lower than that of any other group. Although the sample size of the asians in the survey is uncertain, it seems clear that lumping all Asians together is a (fairly crude) statistical approximation that must be reevaluated in each domain to which it's applied. A couple of other points: 1. I think I have been fair in admitting when I've been wrong on the facts. But will Mr. Shropshire or ProgCal ever admit that (say) blacks commit crimes at much higher rates than whites in both the reports of the police (Uniform Crime Reports) and the reports of the victims (National Criminal Victimisation Survey)? 2. I want to make clear that I support decriminalization of drugs that do not cause violence. In fact, I expect that decriminalization would result in a booming market in designer drugs that bring pleasure with few side effects.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/22/2002 09:03:00 PM | |

Spider Goat Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Spider Goat This story from down under has a pretty straightforward application of genetic engineering: goats producing spider silk. This could be one of many steps toward a revolution in industrial fibers. The link from the Drudge Report was Genetic Horror Show: Scientists Create 'SpiderGoat'... . Yeah, I'm sure Drudge would be freaked out to know that your average apple is also a genetic freak.

Women's rights and treaties Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Women's rights and treaties This Salon article (premium) on the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women discusses the Christian Right's opposition to it. Now, I'm not a fan of world-wide treaties, and I don't expect most of the countries to be too affected by this sort of ERA-like amendment. But this is the sort of sentiment that makes me have less sympathy for the Christian Right:
The answers to the problems faced by women in the developing world are in the Bible, Crouse says. And while the Bible doesn't apply to life in Muslim societies, she says, "it could." She calls the treaty an agent of a "frivolous and morally corrupt agenda," saying it would "legalize prostitution and open the door for the homosexual agenda." She says it even attacks Mother's Day.
Yeah, OK. Just as a world-wide treaty banning discrimination isn't realistic, advocating biblical principles as the solution to problems as old as human-kind seems a bit short-sighted and parochial. Perhaps the problem is that Christianity is foundationally utopian. Then again, so is liberalism, right?

Minority Report Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Minority Report I just watched Minority Report. As Steve Sailer points out-they emptied D.C. of blacks via the plot-point of a drug that appeals to middle class whites. All the criminals "locked up" for murder that I saw were white. On the other hand, they didn't go against the type that murderers are male-I didn't see any women. I guess some stereotypes are OK-and some gender imbalances don't require judicial action to redress discrimination. On a different note, it seemed that they made it so that Tom Cruise (5'7) seemed as tall as Colin Farrell (5'11). In fact, I wondered if Colin Farrell was 5'5 or something when he wasn't standing next someone-though I knew he wasn't short from the movie Tigerland where he was portrayed as an alpha-male.

How libertarian are you (am I)? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

How libertarian are you (am I)? I scored 66 on the Libertarian Purity Test. I'm "medium-core" libertarian, or according the results page:
51-90 points: You are a medium-core libertarian, probably self-consciously so. Your friends probably encourage you to quit talking about your views so much.

Racial disparity in vitamin D Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Racial disparity in vitamin D This article talks about how African-American women (some 40%) have vitamin D deficiencies. Remember vitamin D? It was the environmental selectionist explanation why Europeans and northern Asians had light skin before sexual selection came into vogue. I only knew about the problems with rickets and vitamin D deficiency, but this article points to a host of ailments that might be associated with it.

Back to the Future Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Back to the Future This article in The New York Times tells the tale of Islamic radicalism in Indonesia. Yes, Indonesia, the home of syncretism, of Islam tempered and tamed by Hindu-Buddhist mythos, indigenous traditions like adat and Javanese cosmogony. The fact is any "good Muslim" would not have any truck with Hindu-Buddhist religious concepts or Javanese theories of kingship and mysticism. Islam in Indonesia is going through its Reformation. But it's not one that Americans will be happy with. The Reformation in Europe was accompanied by image-smashing in Zurich and Geneva, slaughter in Germany and The Inquisition. The relaxed beliefs of the Catholic hierarchy that accepted a de facto paganism among the illiterate mass of Europeans gave way to a galvanized Christianity, and the old beliefs and ways retreated before the evangelism of Christianity, old and new. You see the same thing in Indonesia, the secular elite is absorbing and participating in the transnational corporate culture, while the masses are abandoning their traditional practices for the transnational ideology of Islam, purified of infidel excess. Welcome to the future. You've got your "Islamic Reformation."

Melungeon in America Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Melungeon in America Ever heard of Melungeon's? Well, this article in Wired is one of many coming out due to a study that examines the Melungeon's claims about their ancestry. They say they might be of Mediterranean-Turkish on the exotic extreme, Portuguese when they're trying to make a plausible case-extraction, the offspring of sailors and slaves escaped from their Anglo overlords. Of course, historians dismiss this as a smokescreen to divert from possible African ancestry, saying they are a tri-racial isolate. Well, the study you can check out above seem to dismiss that they are a tri-racial isolate in 1/3 chunks via the female line. In fact, they turned out to be 5% Native American and 5% black African, which probably overestimates the quantum of non-"white" blood in them since females were mostly likely to have married white males, not vice versa. Certainly that's more non-white than the typical American, but they are a mostly "European" population. Why do I use quotes? Well, weird things like possible affiliation with Middle Eastern and South Asian groups. The Wired article hints of a relationship to Siddis, Afro-Indians, blacks imported during the Islamic period to serve the military courts of Hindu India's Muslim rulers. That's mighty peculiar, since a South Asian lineage should have some relationship with the Roma who have been spreading their genes west into as far as Wales for a thousand years. Why so much attention to an obscure group in the south? Well-because historic questions lead toward political circumstances, and politics impacts our lives no matter how much we care. On a more innocuous note-geneticists have been trying to figure our how Irish the female ancestors of Icelanders were. I did a review of the literature a few years back and it seemed somewhat inconclusive. The Irish and the Scandinavian populations are genetically too close to make it easy to differentiate them. But serious historical questions can be answered with genetics. For instance. Consider this scenario. The Greeks and the Turks have detested each other for the past few centuries. I know from the history that between the period 600 and 1000 Greece proper-excluding fortresses and towns likes Salonika were abandoned, and the center of Hellenic culture was The City (Constantinople) and fertile littoral of Anatolia (as far east as Caucasian coast where the Empire of Trebizond lasted longer than the late Byzantine Empire). The people that populated Greece at this time were Slavs, the Skalveni. With the coming of the Turks, Anatolia was slowly de-Hellenized (though the full purging of Greeks didn't occur until the 1920s). We know from genetics that the Turks aren't very Asian genetically. I don't know about the Greeks, but if it turned out that they shared a lot with say Serbs and Croatians, it could be that a lot of their ancestry is from the Skalveni, rather than the original Greeks, and they were "Hellenized" at some point after the Byzantine reconquest or during the early period of Greek nationalism. Ultimately, blood is important, and our confused and mingled bloodlines (since most ethnic rivalries are between adjacent peoples, the bloodlines are usually mingled) ultimately ameliorate some of the antagonism. P.S. On a different note-I just moved to Portland, Imbler yesterday. If someone lives in Southeast, feel free to e-mail me to have coffee if you think you can convince me of the error of my ways before the middle of this week (I'll get busy again after that). I'm pretty open-minded.

Friday, June 21, 2002

test prep that really works? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

test prep that really works? A Maryland girl turned herself in for cheating on the SAT II, after too many questions looked like ones she'd seen in her test prep class:
Company staff members had written down questions after taking an SAT II math exam in January and used them to prepare Rubin and the other student for the test.
When I took the GRE last fall I had to click some sort of promise not to repeat the questions. It's not clear in what sense this click-through promise is legally binding, though if I found out I'm sure I'd think it objectionable. It didn't really matter -- I have a terrible memory and wouldn't have been able to repeat questions even if I'd wanted to. Incidentally, the article quotes Seppy Basili, who used to be one of the bigwigs at Ronkin (where I used to work in high school) until company founders Janet and D. George went criminal and absconded with all the money (or something like that). [It's a gorgeous weekend, and I've got a weeding and parade to attend, so no more posting for a while. Hopefully one of my compatriots will pick up the slack.]

faster than Garfield finds lasagna Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

faster than Garfield finds lasagna I probably find this more amusing than I should:
A California man has admitted to one count of mail fraud after posing as rightful owner of TV's feline "Garfield and Friends" and collecting more than $328,000 in royalties doled out by the Motion Picture Assn. of America. [...] Under the terms of the royalty program, cable operators and satellite broadcasters pay into a pool of money administered by the copyright office. In turn, the copyright office distributes the money to the MPAA and other groups, who actually cut the checks to the program owners filing claims. [...] Because no one else had filed claims for "Garfield," the MPAA cut four checks to Galaz.
This seems to imply that the MPAA distributes money only to TV show "owners" who ask for it and simply keeps the rest. Sounds like a pretty good gig to me.

depends on what the value of the word "devalue" is Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

depends on what the value of the word "devalue" is The US is going to introduce new colored $20 bills. But the press release makes an odd claim:
The U.S. government has never recalled or devalued its currency.
Umm, huh?

Thursday, June 20, 2002

You'd think they'd stop at one... Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

You'd think they'd stop at one.... So you're Amish. And you have a profoundly retarded child. And then you decide to have another. And another. And another. Four in all. Your odyssey is documented in the NY Times, where the reporter talks about the reasons for the high frequency of retarded/handicapped children in the Amish population:

We've been waiting 16 years for an answer," said Mark Kauffman, an Amish farmer whose four profoundly handicapped children thrashed spasmodically in wheelchairs and a crib before the watchful gaze of the visiting physician. ... The Amish are 12 percent of the local population, but their children represent close to half of the area's most severe cases of mental and physical retardation. The nonprofit Deutsch center will specialize in deciphering and treating dozens of obscure genetic and biochemical disorders the children suffer. Many of these are still unnamed but are considered the result of the "founder effect" — a reference to genetic disorders that become unusually common in an insular population descended, like the Amish, from a small group of progenitors.

Of course, the reporter omitted the (obvious) fact that Mr. Kauffman must himself be somewhat brain damaged. Not only did he decide to keep having kids after the first one required 24-hour care, the whole situation is (of course) seen as "God's work":

"If anything good comes out of all this," he said as Dr. Wang headed out on his rounds, "we need to give God all honor."

Remember, kids: If something good happens, god helped you. And if something bad happens, it's god's will.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/20/2002 09:27:00 PM | |

Ignorance is Strength (?) Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Ignorance is Strength (?) The normally reasonable Steve Sailer has recently made an argument that I find indefensible in his review of Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative. To wit:

As a stat geek, I'd love to be able to download all the Census data sorted by religion. But as an American, I'm glad I can't. There are some huge disparities among the followers of the various religions in America, but we think about these differences much less than we think about differences among categories about which the government collects statistics. And that's good for American unity.

This endorsement of intentional ignorance seems positively Orwellian, and I was very surprised to see Sailer voice this in VDare, of all places. I disagree with VDare on many issues, but I do give them credit for openly discussing the taboo topic of race. Sailer and VDare have long recognized that ignoring race differences or shoving them under the table will not make them go away, which makes this recent reversal all the more puzzling. Perhaps Sailer is inclined to give Connerly the benefit of the doubt for his adroit advocacy of Prop. 209, a piece of legislation that employed similarly "color-blind" language as a Trojan Horse for anti-affirmative action legislation. At that time (as now), open discussion of the academic inadequacy of "underrepresented minorities" was taboo. In fact, it was (and is) considered "immoral" to even broach the idea that the races were not equal in their abilities. Thus, merciless meritocrats like myself had no recourse but to invoke the nonsensical "color-blindness" principle to give a "moral" sheen to the proposition. This act of rhetorical jujitsu turned the flawed "equality" axiom of the multiculturalist left into a convenient truncheon with which to bludgeon the identity politicians at the polls. Connerly's political masterstroke earned him respect from the Roger Clegg/Jonah Goldberg school of neoconservatives who believe in the "equality" axiom. It also earned him the undying hatred of the academic left. The problem now is that Connerly has started to swallow his own propaganda. Perhaps he believed it all along - the difference is immaterial. Like a snake turning on its handler, the axiom of "equality" which evolutionary conservatives used to mask our true positions has turned around to bite us. Now we must make common cause with the multiculturalist left to defeat the RPI. It will be an uphill battle - so why fight it? The reason is because the RPI and Prop. 209 are DIFFERENT. The distinction lies in the fact that Prop. 209 is beneficial for society and the RPI is harmful to society. Had universities actually followed the spirit of Prop. 209, we would be less likely to give engineering degrees to those who will endanger the public through their shoddy grasp of mathematics and physics. In practice the adherence to Prop. 209 has been demonstrably inconsistent. The RPI, on the other hand, would severely damage the availability of the data necessary to conduct a rational discussion on race. The only way to have a reasonable discussion about racial matters is to justify hypotheses with quantitative arguments. Such arguments require the sorts of large data sets that only the government can collect with even a semblance of impartiality. Eliminating the most reliable source of data means that more partisan organizations will step into the statistical vacuum. It is already hard enough to find people who agree that the FBI has no interest in framing thousands of black criminals and letting thousands of white criminals go free. Imagine how much harder it will be when organizations like Fairtest and Stormfront have an incentive to produce "data" of their own, while more moderate organizations are considered "immoral" for doing so. In Conclusion: The Racial Privacy Initiative is as idiotic as "anti-profiling" legislation because it intentionally avoids the truth that there are real and significant biological and behavioral differences between races.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/20/2002 06:10:00 PM | |

we failed Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

we failed We failed. The strange part is the way it's being spun. CNN says, "Netcasters win ruling," says, "Webcasters in royalty victory," and USA today says, "a victory for Internet music broadcasters." As a SlashDot poster points out, "Some victory... instead of cutting off both arms, you get to keep one."

the short bus Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

the short bus I don't know whether executing the retarded is cruel and unusual punishment. But I do know that Someday, I Will Drive This Short Bus Myself.

organ markets Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

organ markets Approximately 16 Americans die each day waiting for organ donations. Why? People needing organs generally have to go on a national waiting list and wait for bureaucrats to allocate them an organ, subject to the whims of the system. (Note the Clintonesque denial: "There is absolutely no evidence that he was not the most ill person in his region of the country on the day he got his liver transplant.") And there just aren't enough organs being offered. A good rule of thumb is that whenever there's a long queue for (i.e. shortage of) something, the price is too low. Various free-market types have endorsed the idea of creating a market in organs, and letting the price rise until the market clears. Ron Bailey, for example, has a nice piece advocating this in Reason. But the idea is not universally popular. A "group of doctors," writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, opposes financial incentives for organ donation:
"The fundamental truths of our society, of life and liberty, are values that should not have a monetary price. These values are degraded when a poor person feels compelled to risk death for the sole purpose of obtaining monetary payment for a body part," the team wrote.
This is another example of our collective squeamishness towards health issues, disguised by meaningless rhetoric about "fundamental truths." Do the doctors writing the letter charge their patients? Sounds to me like someone's putting a "monetary price" on life. The genius of a price system is that it allows the allocation of scarce resources without the need for an omniscient central planner. And those who -- by fiat -- declare certain areas of life "off limits" to the price system should bear some responsibility for explaining how they'd like things allocated. Would the letter-writing doctors prefer the status quo, with centralized planning, long queues, and dying patients?
Delmonico's team backed the idea of giving a minimal $300 reimbursement for the funeral expense of the deceased donor "as an expression of society's appreciation for the donation." Other ideas they supported included insuring donors are put at the top of the recipients' list if they themselves eventually need an organ and bestowing a congressional donor medal to "express appreciation on behalf of the American people to living donors and the families of deceased donors."
Apparently so.

China's sex imbalance again Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

China's sex imbalance again Going on the road-so don't have much time. Here is an article from the current Economist.
China Men without women Jun 20th 2002 | BEIJING From The Economist print edition The consequence of family planning IT HAS been more than 20 years since China implemented its harsh yet effective family-planning policy. By limiting urban couples to a single child and most rural couples to two, China has managed to slow the growth of the world's largest population. Now, however, the government must figure out what to do about the policy's unintended consequence: a huge and potentially destabilising sex imbalance. Statistics just released based on the 2000 census disclose that, in the country as a whole, about 117 boys are born for every 100 girls. The imbalance is extraordinary in some areas, exceeding 135 for 100 in southern Hainan province. The reasons are easy to fathom. When couples were free to have half a dozen children, there was a natural mix of boys and girls. When limited to one or two, they worked the system to produce sons. At the benign extreme, a girl's birth might simply not be registered, in the hope that next time the couple would produce a male. More worrying is widespread sex-selective abortion. Cheap but effective ultrasound equipment is now available throughout China and, though the practice is illegal, it is routinely used for pre-natal sex determination. The abortion that apparently often follows is devoid of taboo in China and extremely easy to arrange. All this leads to worries about how society can function without enough women. The prospect of a large surplus of single men in China alarms Valerie Hudson, a professor at Brigham Young University in the United States. In a study to be published in the next issue of Harvard University's journal International Security, she notes that societies with large numbers of unmarried males tend to experience more crime, unrest and violence. While acknowledging that sex imbalance is only one of many factors influencing levels of violence, Miss Hudson points out that the 30m unhappy unmarried men China is likely to have by 2020 could become “kindling for forces of political revolution at home”. There could also be an impact outside China, she says. The government may decide to use the surplus men as a weapon for military adventurism and “actively desire to see them give their lives in pursuit of a national interest”. A terrifying thought indeed.

baseball and socialism Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

baseball and socialism Arnold Kling, whom I picked on a couple of weeks ago, has just written what I believe to be the dumbest article TechCentralStation has ever published. I read it four times, hoping it was some sort of Swiftian parody, but -- best I can tell -- he is serious. In the name of stasism, Kling wants to "nationalize" [or whatever the local equivalent is called] baseball. This would allow him to eliminate free agency (the idea that when someone's contract ends, he should be able to switch employers). In addition, he could set players' salaries through a formula (baseball nuts love formulas), avoiding the harrowing practice of having them set by markets. ["Where Free Markets Meet Technology" indeed!] More generally, he could eliminate any sorts of improvements to the game.
Government is good at resisting change, and resistance to change is what I want for the sport.
Is government good at resisting change? Well, as Kling himself points out, cities spend millions of dollars to build fancy new sports stadiums. This hardly seems like "resistance to change." In fact, what government is good at is protecting entrenched interests. Perhaps Kling believes that baseball purism is an entrenched interest. (It may well be.) But having ceded principle for stasism, how will Kling rebut those who want "resistance to change" in education, the steel industry, farming, healthcare, or any other sphere of economic life?

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

excludability and rivalrousness Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

excludability and rivalrousness When last I wrote about patents, I never responded to a comment asking what I meant by "overincent." While I was figuring out just what to say, Forbes came out with a nice piece arguing, "Too many patents are just as bad for society as too few."
The undisciplined proliferation of patent grants puts vast sectors of the economy off-limits to competition, without any corresponding benefit to the public.
For instance, check out this description of a meeting between Sun and IBM, which descends into IP thuggery:
Finally, the chief suit responded. "OK," he said, "maybe you don't infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back to Armonk [IBM headquarters in New York] and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?"
A strong patent system encourages diversion of resources into rent-seeking -- accumulating large portfolios of patents and demanding money from anyone who seems to be violating them. But it's tough to argue that this process encourages innovation. In many ways it discourages it. This may not bother you. But I need a lot of convincing before I decide it's a good idea to grant someone monopoly powers. And while I'm not a huge Larry Lessig fan, I like one of the points he makes in this Reason interview:
Intellectual property deals with the problem of non-excludability by saying, We’re going to give a government-backed monopoly right for a limited term to assure there is enough incentive for people to produce. But it shouldn’t be expanded so broadly as to create a false protection for rivalrousness.
But unlike Lessig, I don't believe that grants of monopoly are necessary to solve the "non-excludability" problem. My opposition to intellectual property rests on my beliefs that there are market solutions to non-excludability and that artificial rivalrousness is a costly bad. (Lessig would likely agree with the second but not the first; John Perry Barlow would probably agree with both.) Right now you don't see too many market solutions -- but that's in large part because it's much easier to get a patent or copyright from the government, so no one has bothered to work out a monopoly-less business model. I call this rationale for IP The Argument from Prosaicness: "I can't imagine how creators of "intellectual property" would make money without IP laws; therefore, IP laws are necessary for creators of "intellectual property" to make money." I don't claim to have all the solutions. (Only some.) But insofar as prosaicness dominates, no one is even looking for the solutions. Still to come -- my #1 research project: market solutions to non-excludability.

fat acceptance Southwest Airlines ("the Greyhound of the skies") will start charging fat passengers for two seats. The earliest pieces I saw remained coy on exactly what counts as "fat," but CNN clarifies:
Starting next Wednesday, its "people of size" policy will require passengers who need seat-belt extensions or cannot lower the arm rests on their seats to purchase two seats if they are flying on a plane near or at capacity.
As someone who likes his personal space, this seems like a good policy to me, but the morbidly obese woman that KING-5 News interviewed was outraged ("my weight is private health information!") and threatened a lawsuit. And I did not even know there were "seat-belt extensions," but that's because I've never read the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance's delightful "Airline Tips for Large Passengers." I can never read stories like this without thinking of the Simpsons episode in which Homer gains weight in order to go on disability:
Manager: I'm terribly sorry, sir, but I'm afraid our facilities are not equipped to meet your needs. Homer: What are you talking about? Manager: What I'm saying, sir, is that a man of your carriage couldn't possibly fit in our seats. Homer: I can sit in the aisle. Manager: I'm afraid that would violate the fire code. Bystander: Hey, Fatty! I've got a movie for ya: "A Fridge Too Far"! [The rapidly-assembling crowd laughs.] Homer: Shame on all of you. Give me my dignity! I just came here to see "Honk If You're Horny" in peace. Manager: Sir, if you'd just quiet down, I'd be happy to treat you to a garbage bag full of popcorn.

China's brewing demographic nightmare Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

China's brewing demographic nightmare USA Today has an interesting piece on China's brewing demographic nightmare, pointing out that over the next 20 years, up to 40 million men will simply be unable to find wives:
Researchers say growing numbers of lonely men in migrant shantytowns and isolated farm villages will pose a threat to social order and could force the Chinese government to tighten its grip on society or even seek military conflicts abroad to keep the restless bachelors occupied.
On one hand, this seems to give Chinese women a lot of leverage in the mating game. But a country with millions of prospectless horny males could easily become a terrible place for women.

Let's all be poor! Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Let's all be poor Ron Bailey writes about the importance of envy and rank. Titled "Burn the Rich," he argues that socialism is natural as people want to level out differences in wealth. Well-I kind of agree. While liberals want to even out economic differences, conservatives want to homogenize society so everyone can be equally bored. Anyone who's read a little sociobiology understand that "punishment" (tit-for-tat) is an important regulatory mechanism in social organization. What's scary is when someone get's a hold of the ability to punish others-and therefore increase their position by tearing someone else down. Rather than admire success-people envy it. This might explain why there's a conservative-liberal dichotomy in the mainstream political culture, both from my perspective collectivist movements (the latter more so-but only by a few degrees and only at this moment in history), even though a large portion of the public will express libertarian sentiments.

Someday, there will be notes for the notes One of the sadder things I've read today: Contemporary novels appear to be drawing a wider audience thanks to Oprah and company, which is all well and good except that people aren't reading the novels. Instead, quite a few are simply reading the Cliffs Notes or similar study guides, and then waxing poetic about them at their monthly meetings. These two points are particular gems:

Early on, [SparkNotes editorial director Justin] Kestler said, he and other editors began receiving requests from nonstudents who said they wanted notes for their book-club books, or because they had always wondered what "Wuthering Heights" was all about, anyway. Sales of the notes have spiked with the release of books turned movies, as was the case with "All the Pretty Horses."

It's grade school all over again: books are something to be studied, not enjoyed. Now. Before I launch into a Franzenesque tirade, I will admit that I did this once. Pre-September 11th, I was a member of an online book club with some old college friends. (Post-September 11th, it devolved into a sort of private warblog for 10, and things got so acrimonious that I felt it was best to leave.) Anyway, we were reading "The Red and the Black" by Stendhal. I'm sure this is a very good book. I didn't have time to read it, though, so I found the SparkNotes summary on the web. After a cursory glance, I felt like I could at least follow the discussion other people were having. But I sure didn't feel comfortable making any substantial comments on the book myself. And I don't remember anything about TRATB now. Not even the main character's name, which was the one thing I should have been able to take from the notes. So what did I get out of the discussion of the book? Absolutely nothing. You can bet that's exactly what all these other people are getting too, especially in clubs where several people are reading the notes instead of the books. As if the "Malcolm in the Middle" episode weren't enough, this is perfect proof that newly popular book clubs aren't about books at all. They're about everyday socializing disguised as intellectual banter. I would approve of this (hell, what's a blog if not everyday socializing disguised as intellectual banter?) except that in this case, the disguise is so easy to achieve that there doesn't have to be any intellectual input in order to look intellectual. If everyone else's experiences with notes are like mine, and if this phenomenon is common -- as a typically cynical Gen-Xer (the generation and the blog), I assume it must be -- then why bother promoting book clubs at all? Back in the height of the Franzen scandal, my aforementioned book club had a big discussion about book clubs (hey, bloggers blog about blogs). A prominent theme was that Oprah's choices may not be great literature, but at least people are reading. Can you say the same if what people are reading is the literary equivalent of powdered milk? I doubt it.

but what does the phrenologist think? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

but what does the phrenologist think? When GoogleNews offered me an article entitled "Osama likely to resurface in October," I was intrigued enough to click through. Why October? And how do they know? They know, of course, because they asked "renowned palmist and numerologist, Khalid Mustafa."
After the study of Osama's handprint, Khalid finds, "He has neither planned nor executed the September 11 tragic incidents. I gather it by reading Bush's handprint that he is only using Osama for political point-scoring and to establish control of Afghanistan."

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Islam and terrorism Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Islam and terrorism A mostly uninteresting AP piece on Hispanics who embrace Islam ends with the tired "Islam does not condone terrorism." Eric Raymond provides the counterpoint, writing on The Mirage of Moderate Islam:
The Koran really does endorse suicidal martyrdom and the indiscriminate killing of infidels for the faith. [...] For both shallow diplomatic/political reasons and deeper psychological ones, Westerners have trouble grasping just how bloody-minded, intolerant, and prone to periodic murderous outbreaks of fundamentalist zeal Islam actually is. But we must come to grips with this. If we treat the terror war as a merely geopolitical conflict, we will be fighting the wrong battle with the wrong weapons.
Razib's input: My family is Muslim-and my father would sometimes get excoriated at dinner parties thrown by friends from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India who were Muslim because he held the liberal position that secular democracy is preferable to theocratic dictatorship if one had to pick. Of course, all these educated doctors, professors and engineers with their American education would prefer a democracy-just a theocratic one. A common sentiment (echoed by my ostensibly liberal father) was to disagree with the methods of the terrorists-but admire their principle and agree with their ultimate aims of purging sin from the world. Even if the majority of the world's Muslims aren't fundamentalists-in the end they don't have a religious case against Islamic extremism that will give them any spine to stand up to those who feel their righteousness in their veins. Razib-again: Check out this Daniel Pipes article on the "moderate" Muslims in the US. Pipes has been accused to playing fast and loose with facts, but I buy the general thrust of his thesis-that Islamists (as opposed to Muslims) are a threat to the West and must be excluded from the circle of multiculturalism.

I blame M. Night Shyamalan I blame M. Night Shyamalan:
A recent Gallup Poll showed 38 percent of Americans believe that ghosts or spirits can come back in certain situations -- up from 25 percent in 1990. The poll also found that 28 percent believe that some people can hear from or talk to the dead, compared with 18 percent 11 years ago.

genomics and insurance Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

genomics and insurance The upcoming movie Minority Report is (I'm told) based on a Philip K Dick story wherein murders are prevented by seeing into the future and pre-emptively arresting people. Being a nerdy economist, I think a more interesting movie would focus on the breakdown of the insurance industry under such a scenario. I've actually been thinking about a similar issue the last couple of days -- the use of genetic tests for health insurance purposes. While they won't be able to see into the future, it seems likely that genetic testing will soon allow doctors to make detailed predictions about your risks for certain diseases and conditions. As Paul Orwin observes,
It no longer is an economically viable model to charge everyone the same rate over a large (say, company/industry/statewide) population, when you have solid knowledge about who is a high risk.
But is this a problem? We have a very peculiar relationship with health-care. For instance, the idea that bad drivers (those most likely to have accidents) should pay more for auto insurance is relatively unobjectionable, while the idea that the genetically unhealthy (those most likely to have illnesses) should pay more for health insurance is held mostly by heartless economist-types like myself. This is partially because bad driving is "your fault" whereas genetic makeup isn't, and it's "unfair" [I have a long post in me about "fairness"] to penalize people for things that aren't "their fault." And it's partially because of the somewhat prevalent view that "health care is a right." (This also drives some of the near-religious support for pharmaceutical patents -- that we as a society need life-saving drugs, no matter what the cost.) However, most insurance companies won't cover pre-existing conditions -- once you have cancer, it's hard to get someone to insure the costs of treating it. It's not clear why insurance companies should be forced to ignore someone's 90% likelihood (based on, say, genetic testing) of developing cancer, but are free to take into account someone else's 100% likelihood (actual incidence) of cancer. Similarly, I pay less for health insurance than I would if I were a smoker, presumably because smokers are at higher risk for developing certain diseases. But no one objects -- possibly because smoking is a choice, and possibly because smokers are our designated pariahs. As Ron Bailey points out, forcing insurers to ignore genetic information creates all kinds of adverse selection problems:
In essence, genetic privacy laws allow high-risk insurees to lie about their health in order to get more money. This means that healthier customers will have to be charged more to pay for their high-risk counterparts. This situation can set off an adverse selection spiral in which low-risk clients flee the higher premiums and high-risk clients flock to buy the insurance. As premiums rise to cover the unhealthy clients, fewer and fewer people can afford insurance.
I agree that, with genetic screening, those with "unhealthy" genes would likely have to pay more for health insurance. But unless you trot out the "fairness" card, it's not obvious that's a problem. Orwin argues,
Of course, it could be that drug companies will invent a cheap pill for every condition, but even then, wouldn't you rather insure only the people who didn't have to take it?
The answer, of course, is that I'd want to insure everyone for whom it was profitable for me to do so. And to the extent patients have easy access to their genetic profiles and information about the consequent risks, it's seems likely that only with genetic screening CAN insurance companies profitably insure everyone.

Are the smart less religious? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Are the smart less religious? I ran across this compilation of studies on college students and their religiosity and possible intellect. The general conclusion tends to support the hypothesis that religious fervor correlates with diminished intellectual attainment. This of course applies only to the United States. It tends to track the finding that prominent scientists are less religious than the general population of PhDs. To me, the most straightforward explanation is the brighter you are the less likely you are to buy into the idea of faith as opposed to reason. But, it could be that if you are raised in a very religious environment, you don't expend your reasoning capabilities to the same extent and don't push yourself toward individual achievement secure in the knowledge that you're going to heaven. Also-high levels of religiosity might demand time and energy that would divert from preoccupation with academics or preclude a high-level scientific career. And course, there might be negative social feedback on one's possible inclination to enter an intellectually demanding field from one's co-religionists who feel that secular pursuits are beneath them.

Monday, June 17, 2002

An Aside on Raymond Razib mentioned Eric Raymond's post on gays and homosexuality earlier. I wanted to comment on a statement made by Raymond in passing:

Continuing our civil-rights analogy, the correct parallel would have been with an epidemic of interracial rape, rather than cohabitation. Had there in fact been such an epidemic, civil-rights proponents would have faced the question of whether black men had a particular propensity to rape white women. The analogous question, whether homosexual men have a particular propensity to rape boys, is precisely the one that homosexuals and their sympathizers in the media don't want anyone to examine -- and precisely the question that the priestly-abuse scandal demands that we ask.

Since the US Census indicates that approximately 72% of black/white marriages are black men/white women couplings, it's clear that there is a great deal of consensual sex going on between these two populations. However, the National Criminal Victimisation Survey reveals that in 1994, more than 30000 white women were raped by black men, and approximately 5400 black women were raped by white men in the same year. Thus, the black interracial rape rate was more than 38 times the white rate. Under a "random raping" model in which blacks and whites offended at equal rates and had no racial preference, we'd expect a black interracial rape rate to be only 6 times the white rate. The difference between the observed rate and the random raping model indicates that blacks rape at higher rates than whites. [Thanks to Razib for reminding me to include the control - see the comments section ] In other words, though there are approximately 6-7 white males for every black male, black males committed approximately 6 times as many rapes as white males as a population. Are black males targeting white females on purpose, or conversely? It's difficult to say without geographic data on the offense. After all, the population mixture mentioned above is fairly rare in the US - most black populations are isolated from whites, so that a black on white rape would involve travel and some degree of premeditation. Again, the converse may also hold (for white on black rape) and the statistics would be very interesting. In any case, the NCVS indicates that black males do in fact rape white females at much higher rates than the newspapers would have you believe. Whether this is an epidemic of interracial rape is a definitional question which hinges on whether black males actively target white females or whether they simply have higher basal crime rates.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/17/2002 11:40:00 PM | |

We say the things... Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

We say the things... that other people are unable to say. Consider this passage from TCS:

Indeed, the one exception to this global good news of economic growth producing greater equality -- Africa -- substantially undermines their protests against globalization. The last 30 years have been a disaster for Africa. In 1970, 76% of the world's poor lived in Asia and only 11% lived in Africa. Today, those two continents have switched places -- 66% of the world's poor live in Africa while only 15% live in Asia. These differences are due almost entirely to the different growth paths each region took. Asia rode a wave of export-led growth in an increasingly globalized world to stunning economic progress, while Africa's economy tragically shrunk. These sad facts have led Sala-i-Martin to conclude, rightly, that figuring out how to turn around the growth performance of Africa is "the most important question in economics." Where might we want to look -- and, more importantly, not look -- for answers to the problems Africa faces?

The author drops the topic after this provocative sentence. But we need not stop there - low IQ is certainly a factor. What else might contribute? Obviously high IQ is not a guarantee of a population's economic success (e.g. China in 1970), but it is likely to be a necessary if not sufficient condition... Razib adds: Check out Richard Lynn's article online that summarizes a lot of the conclusions and presents data from his book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations coauthored with Tatu Vanhanen. I don't buy it all-but it's thought-provoking. Razib update: Many people wonder if the IQ profile of a nation is a chicken & egg problem. I suspect that drought, famine and war have a negative effect on the intellectual attainments of a population-and their predisposition to pay attention if someone is giving them an intelligence test. On the other hand, check out this table. South Africa and Zimbabwe have been relatively stable countries (the latter until recently was a food exporter-and despite political repression South Africa's blacks were relatively prosperous enough that the country was/is an immigration magnent for its neighbors) compared to others such as Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo-and yet their IQs are still pretty low. I recommend Steve Sailer's long rumination on this topic. I do think there are serious problems using data from Third World countries-so I take the persistance of the black-white IQ gap as indicative of possible (likely) genetic factors that might be at work. Though I don't think the IQs for African countries are totally inelastic and wholly accurate (African-Americans are 82% African and have mean IQs of 85)-I do think when you start out at 70 it's a whole lot to ask to make it all the way up to ~100 with better nutrition and political stability.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/17/2002 10:54:00 PM | |

Iceland yielding breakthroughs? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Iceland yielding breakthroughs? The firm that is decoding and analyzing the rather homogenous genetic code of Icelanders claims to be making advances. From the cautious tone of the article-I think they're probably exaggerating since articles in the popular press try to be as sensationalistic as possible to grab readers. But I wish them luck!

Can you be skeptical of immigration without being a "hate monger"? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Can you be skeptical of immigration without being a "hate monger"? I had to roll my eyes when I saw this article in the The New Republic about German nationalism. Steve Sailer's thoughts mirror my own. Can you oppose immigration and assimilation of an alien ethnos without being a bigot? And can you favor assimilation without being a bigot? The only option seems this: Allow immigration of anyone who wants to come to your country and allow them to preserve their culture-lock & stock & gun barrel. The author, John B. Judis asks:
The party further demanded that all foreigners adhere to "the values of our Christian culture"--a demand, in effect, that Germany's Muslim Turks, Bosnians, and North Africans abandon their own culture and religion.
Well, if that religion is Islamic fundamentalism and the culture propagates ideals of female subjugation, than by all means, Germanize them so that they can have the blood of 6 million Jews (and a few million Gypsies, Poles, etc.) on their hands rather than yearning for the death of living breathing 21st century Jews as they would possibly prefer. I enjoy The New Republic a great deal-but one thing I casually ignore is their Israel coverage-because they tend to follow a rather predictable line. The very Islamic extremism that the editors of The New Republic would likely condemn in Israel must now be accepted under the umbrella of Western civil libertarianism in Germany. As I've said before-the Jewish state has a right to self-determination. Jews in Israel know that extending the right of return to the Arabs would spell the death knell of their state, their people (the Israeli sabra culture) and perhaps their very lives. They are fastidious in keeping their non-Jewish minority segregated socially. What if Germans feared the birthrate of their Turkish "guests" and started to enact walls between German and Kurdish marriages to make sure that Germany remains German? I understand that Germany has a particular stain on its reputation. And yet-do the sins of the father pass to his descendents? If a German takes pride in the literature Goethe, the music of Beethoveen and the militarily brilliance of Arminius, yes, they should most certainly not forget that their ancestors' attempt to liquidate an ancient people like cattle being taken to slaughter. Similarly, though I'm an immigrant, as an American citizenship-I partake of the legacy of the cleansing of this continent (genocide?) of indigenous peoples so that I and my descendents could make their own lives on their bones. And yet the past should only guide and inform us-it should not haunt and bind us. So it should be for the Germans. Godless comments:

Similarly, though I'm an immigrant, as an American citizenship-I partake of the legacy of the cleansing of this continent (genocide?) of indigenous peoples so that I and my descendents could make their own lives on their bones.

Do you? I don't agree with this. I am partaking of what the modern US has to offer, but I certainly don't accept any guilt for slavery or the deaths of the Native Americans (who were largely killed by illness). I wasn't involved and my ancestors weren't complicit, but even if they were I wouldn't owe a debt of any kind. After all, do the descendants of American slaves owe a debt to the people (primarily non-black) who developed the technology responsible for their standard of living? Does Italy owe a debt to Northern Europe for killing and enslaving people during the expansion of the Roman Empire? Do the Chinese owe a debt to the Middle East for the depredations of the Mongols? Etcetera, etcetera.... My point is that if you start assigning blame for the actions of long dead ancestors, there's more than enough to go around. Perhaps more importantly, I remain unconvinced that the losers in these conflicts would have been any more gracious in victory than the winners. Razib responds.... I agree with what you say to this extent: I don't think that dead people have rights that can be passed to their descendents. I oppose the slavery reparations movement for this reason-while accepting that Japanese American citizens deserve some recompense because the victims are still alive (the same thing with Holocaust survivors). You bring up a good point-how do you judge the past-by today's standards or the past's standards? My last name is Khan, and I take some pride in it. And yet, one of Genghis Khan's most famous statements about the joy of conquest was something along the lines of: "To kill people, take their property, see and enjoy the pain you have caused their families, and rape their women as a final gesture of power." On the other hand, the Pax Mongolica brought a lot of benefits-and they were certainly no less brutal than their "civilized" victims, they simply didn't have the power of the pen in hindsight to vilify the Chinese or Arabs in a like fashion. It's easy to ascribe and than clean away blame. As some of the readers of this website have noted-modern religion has the concept of the God unfolding his nature toward humanity, a teleological upward progression in morality ensuing. I don't believe in God-but I do accept that something like this occurs. The bronze age Greeks practiced human sacrifice-a practice their classical descendents found abhorrent. The Romans, after decimating the Gaulish countryside and ethnically cleansing whole districts, proceeded to ban human sacrifice (which is why druids were purged from Roman lands). Later, in the 18th century in England the concept that slavery was morally reprehensible spread to the point that it was beyond the pale by the 20th. So-I think it reasonable to judge the enslavement and extermination of Tasmanians in the 19th century more harshly than the extermination of the Amelekites by the Israelites 3,000 years ago. How does this apply to the Native Americans? The U.S. government dispossessed the native peoples not only through sheer demographic inevitability, but also by breaking its own laws and acting in the interests of its own expedience. This is the government founded in 1776 as a reaction against the excesses of European despotism. True, disease would almost certainly have marginalized the Native Americans in any case, but biological warfare was also practiced against native tribes by the U.S. government. Unlike the nations of Latin America-the United States was founded by free settlers fleeing the tyranny of Europe. So the fact that its founding also resulted in the destruction of an entire cultural-complex is somewhat disturbing. While I don't judge the past by the present-I can't but help echoing values like freedom, justice and equality back toward the American past. You are right when you say that Native Americans wouldn't have behaved any differently in the reverse situation. Rather than arguing for indigenous moral superiority-my guilt is rather predicated more on the idea that American values should be held to a higher standard. I am skeptical that liberty and law are "natural" to the human condition-so awareness of injustice can't but help to keep us from sliding back toward a less liberal state.

Do race exist? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Do races exist? Robert Locke has an interesting correspondence on the "Do races exist?" question. I don't really have much to say on this-people will have their opinions after all. But would anyone ask-"Do dog breeds exist?". Dogs have a recent evolutionary history from gray wolves, and no one suggests different dog breeds are geographical subspecies aside from possibly isolates like the Australian dingo. This doesn't negate the fact that breeds exist-and have different phenotypes that matter.

Digital Biology? Very interesting post from T Lurksalot on the overzealousness of those who would call the internet a "digital ecosystem". He identifies two major problems with the use of this term:

The first obvious difference between digital and biological life is what I call the "You can't hold me down" principle. No matter how hard you try to destroy biological life-forms it is very difficult to succeed on a species wide basis. Despite tens, hundreds, or thousands of years of sustained human effort we have made essentially no progress at destroying the life-forms that create malaria, influenza, anthrax, AIDS, or nearly any other communicable disease (how ironic, then, that we seem perfectly capable of inadvertently causing extinctions). Antibiotics kill the weak, acting as an evolutionary sieve constantly straining the bio-space in search of hardier organisms. Contrast this with our digital environment. Pathogens here show none of the hardiness of their biological analogs--stopping Code Red II or Nimda is a largely mechanical exercise with today's antiviral tools. Download the new virus signatures and continue on your merry way. How different this is from treating anthrax, where doctors must concern themselves with side effects, preexisting conditions, allergies, and innumerable other complicating factors--just on the patient side of the equation. This doesn't take into account the never ending forward march of the Darwinian parade; every step we take against any pathogen introduces a powerful new evolutionary filter that quickly strains the bacterial gene pool for the necessary counter tools. Clearly, digital "life" is nowhere close to this level of complexity--introducing a fix for Nimda does not cause the virus to spontaneously mutate to avoid the fix. The other major difference between digital and biological systems appears at the level of entire ecosystems. Put simply, biological networks exhibit a far greater degree of interdependence among components and this tighter web leads to the formation of longer feedback loops (a useful proxy for overall system complexity as the presence of longer loops provides the mechanism by which extremely localized perturbations can cause cascading global changes).

One important point here is that the fidelity of digital replication is too high. The tradeoff between genetic adaptability and information integrity is a delicate one, and the swing towards fidelity is too strong to permit evolution in our computer networks. Some programs (like Code Red) do have self-modifying code and are among the most successful viruses, but most other do not. But another important point is that any candidate "digital organism" must evade the claws of the predator that rules the ecosystem: Man . Since mankind can kill most viruses/worms at will (as T Lurksalot notes) most viruses do not have an ecological niche. So what kind of program could carve out an ecological niche? What might work would be a program that threatened to delete important files or cause firmware damage if antivirus software was installed, causing little or no damage otherwise. Unlike current viruses which cause all the damage they can and thereby provide incentive for the host to kill them no matter what the cost, this hypothetical virus would present a reason to keep the infection around. In other words, the problem with current viruses is that they reduce their ability to propagate by unduly aggravating the host. This hypothetical virus would focus its energies on replication rather than destruction. If such a program also included replicating self-modifying code with a built in "error" rate at the right level of granularity (code segment? bit stream?) and provided for "horizontal gene transfer" (picking up pieces of code from other programs on the machine), I bet we'd see some very interesting things start to happen. For one thing, random deletions/insertions of code at the right level of granularity would likely result in unambiguously virulent infections that didn't wait for an antivirus installation before causing firmware damage. If our networks eventually became central enough to day-to-day life that we couldn't live without them, then it wouldn't be feasible to incur the massive systemic cost of shutting down network segments to kill the infection. For example, humans might eventually require persistent connections to wireless networks to control our cybernetic implants, just as we require food and water. This is probably not as far off as one might think - look how rapidly we became dependent on electric power. It would be wily indeed for a virus to infect the networks governing our power system, and the damage wrought by such an infection would be incalculably larger than even the worst commercial internet virus. Imagine the consequences if electric power generation in the US was curtailed or eliminated for a month.... I've often thought that an enterprising and unscrupulous CS grad student or terrorist could become infamous by doing the (relatively trivial) programming involved in creating a power system virus. Good thing that there aren't too many fellows who have both the will and the way....

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/17/2002 08:49:00 PM | |

More Thoughts on Math Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

More Thoughts on Math In response to an earlier post on math: I think math is the hardest thing that humans do. The "math coprocessor" is not present in most people, and those that don't have it simply can't do mathematics. As for whether those who aren't doing math can't do math...well, it's my opinion that the best scientists in ANY field are the mathematically savvy. In biology, the guys who knew math (i.e. the physicist influx in the 50's) were disproportionately the guys who made the real discoveries. After all, great discoveries, by and large, are generally quantitative - with the notable exception of the reverse engineering discoveries common to biology. But even there guys like Luria, Morgan, and Hodgkin & Huxley made great strides with the methods of mathematics. You'll find this pattern in every field - economics (Black-Scholes), physics (Dirac's Equation), chemistry (MB distribution) , electrical engineering (modern signal processing), etc. The mathematically savvy are the best scientists - period . My point is that to a first approximation, mathematical ability = intelligence in the colloquial sense. And all this talk about how it's "more challenging" to "unlock power" in other people's minds is really just nonsense. It's kind of like people who didn't get into an elite college dissing the elite students for being "spoiled". After all, to paraphrase Feynman: "The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous." As a corollary, those people for whom a great deal of effort is spent "unlocking power" will never be as competent as those who can learn on their own. Thus, that which is difficult to the competent (i.e., theoretical math) will be impossibly difficult for those who need to have their hand held every step of the way.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/17/2002 08:02:00 PM | |

Broken taboos-this is how it's done Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Broken taboos-this is how it's done Eric Raymond does it again. He asks questions that should be asked-but can't be asked.
  • Do homosexuals have a propensity for pedophilia greater than heterosexuals?
  • Does non-coercive pedophilia damage the "victims."
  • Why can't we talk about the pedophile priest scandal by referring to homosexuality outside of right-wing religious circles?
As far as the first item-I think perhaps yes-homosexuals do have somewhat of a tendency toward pedophilia statistically (this site has some interesting data-though its a little heavy on the "gays are sinners" rhetoric for me-). But why? Homosexuality is something that's hard to explain via evolution. On the other hand-it would make some sense why the average heterosexual male would not be a pedophile-it mitigates against the spread of his genes. I don't know about the second position-Raymond has some links and I'm not interested enough frankly to follow them. I'm on the record as saying the age of consent should be dropped to 16-but that's about where my thoughts kind of peeter out. I don't have a personal interest in this issue after all. The third point is obvious-we can't talk about homosexual pathologies because we don't want to go back to the "bad old days." I don't want to go back to the bad old days either-but ignoring obvious problems with the homosexual lifestyle only feeds the hatred that the social Right has toward personal freedom that leads toward acceptance of this sort of behavior. Unless gay rights activists confront the seed of criminal pathology that the Right accuses homosexuality of harboring, the movement will not be able to be secure in their rights. The average American is now rather accepting of homosexuals as individuals-but there still remains some reticence with some of the more flamboyant aspects of the culture. Just as homosexuals were closeted and their expression muffled in decades past-the activists need to be careful about those that would critique their culture (just as I critique black American culture on certain points)-because you can never destroy ideas if they have some basis in fact.

Race & medicine Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Race & medicine Joel pointed me to this article about race differences in obesity. Not too surprisingly-blacks are heaviest and whites the lightest (people of Asian ancestry aren't included I guess) with Hispanics in the middle (the race of Hispanics can be anything of course-as much as 10% of Mexico's genetic heritage might be black African for instance). The easiest way to explain the result is that the different races eat differently. But there are genetic factors in obesity. And one Native American group-the Pima-are assumed to have a strong genetic propensity for obesity in the context of a modern diet and all the concomitant health problems associated with obesity. I wonder if the high obesity rate of Americans is partly due to the ubiquity of ethnic restaurants. Americans of northern European ancestry eat at Italian or Mexican restaurants-while black Americans consume pasta and meat-heavy dishes. Does anyone wonder if perhaps there may be problems with pumping people with foods that might taste good-but are not attuned to metabolisms developed over thousands of years of selective evolution? On a slightly disconcerting note-I actually had a discussion with a friend of mine-a third year medical student-about these topics. It was a very novel way to look at things as far as he was concerned, he really hadn't been trained to think in these terms and he was in his second year of rotations!

The web of science Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The web of science Check out Dave Winer's post on his weblog about going into applied math/computer science rather than pure math. He notes that his advisor-and most mathematicians generally-believe that pure math is the highest form of intellect. Dave-after 26 years of experience and hindsight-disagrees. He says pure math is simpler than applied math (he goes on about how it's hard to communicate math to non-math people). I don't know about all this. I took math up to linear algebra (easy) & multivariable calculus (not as easy-at least for me). Though more than the typical college student-it's a lot less than the "mathy" types. I found math kind of hard at a certain point, somewhere in the vague space between required math classes for chemistry majors (varieties of basic calculus and differential equations) and elective math classes for science majors (upper level calculus and differential equations-though linear algebra was pretty easy). Not because it was theoretically hard-it was theoretically easy (no unpredictable lab work), but the basic concepts just didn't bubble up through my brain like organic molecular conformations or balancing complex redox equations. When I would look at equations and problem sets in chemistry (and to some extent physics & biology) I could stare for about 15 minutes at a question and the answer or solution would jump out at me. I rarely found this happening in my later math classes. I had hit a "math wall" as I liked to call it (though if I'd take one upper division statistics class that I'd heard was pretty easy-I still could have gotten a minor in math). Some people encountered that their freshman year taking calculus-and they'd have to switch out of the sciences altogether. Natural science types only needed a basic level of math fluency-I found that I used very little of the power of differential equations or nuances of multivariate calculus in the upper division physical chemistry classes that I took-though those classes were prerequisites. E.O. Wilson was once asked on The Charlie Rose Show what social science had achieved. His response was not much-and his explanation was that it was "real hard." But by this-Wilson meant that political science and sociology, and to a lesser extent economics, are difficult to model mathematically because of their complexity. But let's be frank, does anyone believe that the average political scientist is a deeper thinker than the average physicist? Math is theoretically easy-yeah-but it always turns out to be hard for the average human. I'll end on a whimsical note. Biologists defer to chemists-who defer to physicists-who defer to mathematicians-who defer to God. A scientist says 4.00 (+/-.01), a mathematician says 4 and an engineer says between 3 and 5, but will call it 6 to be on the safe side. Joel adds: I was a somewhat-mediocre math major as an undergrad. I took all the courses and even got good grades in most of them, but I never really grokked what was going on. Unable to think of anything else to do with myself, I applied to lots of grad schools, was summarily rejected from most of them, and moved to Seattle to get my PhD in [pure] mathematics. We used to refer to the attitude Winer describes as "math imperialism" -- the belief that anyone who could do math was doing math. Contrapositively, anyone who wasn't doing math was unable to. It wasn't prevalent, but there were several professors with such an attitude. (By the end of the first quarter, the grad students generally had too little self-esteem to look down on anyone.) I never picked up this attitude. I was a surprisingly good student, but after two years I decided I didn't want to be a mathematician and left. Winer writes:
Pure math is a solo thing, very introspective, it's wonderful to see what your mind is capable of -- but unlocking power in other people's minds is much more of a challenge, and imho more gratifying.
I think he only gets it half right. Pure math is a solo thing. The sorts of problems I was working on were the type of things that only a couple of hundred people in the world would understand, let alone care about. And in the final analysis, the isolation and impracticality were enough of a turn-off to drive me away. I agree with Winer that "unlocking power" is more gratifying, though gratification is a personal matter -- Andrew Wiles found working in his attic for 7 years gratifying. But I disagree that "unlocking power" is "more challenging." Math is Hard. Those two years of math grad school were the most intellectually challenging time of my life, and I [dogmatically] expect them to stay that way no matter what I end up doing. I actually switched to math after being a dismal failure at "unpredictable" lab work in physics and chemistry, so I understand where Razib is coming from when he asserts that math is "theoretically easy," but it's not, unless you use "easy" to mean "involves no lab work." Once you get to the level of math which involves writing abstract proofs, you have to develop a very deep and unnatural mathematical intuition. Unless you're the next Ramanujan, a necessary condition is to work tons and tons of problems. And as far as I can tell, no one knows what a sufficient condition is. The flaw in reasoning (on both sides) is the belief that something challenging is somehow more worthwhile as a result. (I seem to remember the phrase "intellectually unimpeachable" being tossed around a fair amount back in the day.) I'm going back to school to study "Social Science" (mostly economics and some political science), and I expect it [possibly wrongly] to be substantially less difficult than my stint in math grad school. But I also expect it to be incomparably more rewarding, since I'll be working on problems which really interest me, and whose resolution lots of people care about. Razib (again) People do what they are well suited to and what they like. Though I received a degree in biochemistry-I found lab work something I didn't have a passion for (though the questions being asked in scientific endeavors were often fascinating to me-the mundane day to day work of running gels or running a drip over a period of hours was less glamorous). Today I do most of my "work" in IT-related tasks-coding, debugging and consulting. I say "work" because I actually have a lot of fun tackling these questions. To follow Joel's point-I find some of the arguments behind Scholasticism very difficult to comprehend-but that doesn't mean it's more worthwhile than something that comes easier to me-like say intellectual history (which requires more attention to detail than following serpentine streams of logic that the former demands). To each his own. On an interesting note, it turns out that mathematicians do tend to defer to God more than other scientists.

Islamic banking Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Islamic banking Pakistan's religious right is trying to get the country to switch to an Islamic banking system, which would -- among other things -- ban the payment of interest:
Islam allows only one kind of loan and that is qard-el-hassan (literally good loan) whereby the lender does not charge any interest or additional amount over the money lent.
Luckily, some Islamic financial engineers have come up with Clintonesque definition-of-is workarounds:
Sharia-compliant mortgages involve a bank buying the house and the individual making monthly payments to the bank over a period of up to 25 years. The total amount paid by the individual ends up being well over the asking price for the house, and if an individual's circumstances change and he has difficulty servicing repayments, the schedule is revised. At worst, the house may be repossessed by the bank. If this all this sounds similar to conventional mortgages, that's because it is.
Incidentally, when I used to work in capital markets, one of my co-workers was a Muslim who was religious enough to fast for Ramadan, but who spent part of his days trading equity options (which are not permissible). I think I'll have to ask him about it.

the sleep-replacing drug Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

the sleep-replacing drug The WaPo has an interesting piece today on modafinil, the sleep-replacing drug, which lets you stay awake 40 hours, sleep 8, and feel perfectly rested. As a gimmick, the article was written over the course of 50 hours by a tripping-on-modafinil reporter, who does a respectable job of touching on some of the transhumanist implications.

Southern Baptists vs. Muhammed Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Southern Baptists vs. Muhammed Scott Galup writes eqloquently about the fact that someone who takes the claims of the monotheistic religious traditions without liberal revisionism must admit that most others are bound for hell (others depending on your own personal affiliation). Galupo balances the fact that many of the derogatory factual claims Southern Baptists make about Muhammed's life could also be ascribed to revered figures such Moses. For instance, from Numbers 31:1-18, Moses says the following:
"Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. 16 "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord 's people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. [my emphasis]
How nice of Moses to remember the needs of his men, no? Lines like these always made be a bit skeptical whenever I would read books by rabbis (I'm somewhat of a Gensis nut) who would expound on the special moral properties of ethical monotheism.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Home Depot vs the government Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Home Depot vs the government Many times when governments are unable to enact certain wide-ranging laws, they'll instead attach strings to the money they give out. So, for instance, instead of mandating a 21-year-old drinking age, the FedGov instead said that states with a lower drinking age would forfeit a large chunk of their federal highway funds. Similarly, governments routinely maintain requirements for government contractors which do not apply to other businesses. But this week I've seen two different instances of large businesses turning away goverment money to avoid these restrictions. Home Depot has directed its stores not to do business with the FedGov:
All but two said they had received instructions from Home Depot's corporate headquarters in Atlanta this month not to take government credit cards, purchase orders or even cash if the items are being used by the federal government.
While the details are cryptic, the article hints that Home Depot is trying to avoid having to comply with a handful of affirmative action and non-discrimination laws and executive orders. Similarly, recycling firms in Boston are refusing to bid on the city's recycling contract unless Boston grants them a waiver for its "living wage" law. Boston, it turns out, may cave in and grant the waiver. The article hints that such waivers have been granted before. The Home Depot case is trickier, both because the FedGov seems less likely/able to cave and because affirmative action and discrimination seem touchier than the "living wage." Assuming the story is true, I think the Home Depot situation will become very interesting very quickly.

The Triump of Sociobiology-Book Review Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The Triumph of Sociobiology-Book Review I just finished The Triumph of Sociobiology by John Alcock. It caught my attention because it seemed to have a provocative title-the use of the term sociobiology has gone out of vogue-to be replaced by the more family friendly evolutionary psychology. I'm not one to play around with definitions-I think it's cowardice for "liberals" to become "progressives" and "libertarians" to switch to "market liberals" to avoid the opprobrium of their earlier labels. Changing your name doesn't make the enemy less belligerent-they know who you are-and you'll always have a target on your forehead as far they're concerned. In addition to which-I think the term sociobiology is more all-encompassing than evolutionary psychology-as the latter explicitly focuses on the similarities between human beings-gender excepted-while sociobiology tends connote a friendlier attitude toward race realism and behavioral genetics that might focus on differences within the population. I have to start by saying I was pleasantly surprised by Dr. Alcock's book. At 256 pages-I was expecting a glorified pamphlet (especially with the title including the word triumph). The last 30 pages are in fact composed of an appendix, citations and selected references. This is a reasonable ratio for a book aimed at the popular audience-and if you're a close reader you'll find yourself jumping to the back and looking up a citation you might want to follow up on later. For a book of its length and target audience it has a rather large quotient of "red meat" science. The first two chapters are a gentle introduction to the what's and how's of sociobiology. This is more for those who's only contact with the subject comes from the popular press. In chapter 2 Alcock tackles the group selection vs. individual selection ("He died for the good of the species") debate. Alcock correctly points out that individual selection is the prevailing orthodoxy in the scientific community-and tries to dismiss dissenters such as David Sloan Wilson as presenting only variations on the individual selection paradigm ("multi-level selection"). The latter point seems close to Dawkin's dismissal of dissenters from the neo-Darwinist camp as quibbling about details or cranks (Gould & co.). To paraphrase and mangle-we are all individual selectionists now. Except for chapter five, all the remaining chapters until the last two tend to focus on the science-with a large number of rebuttals of critics of sociobiology in the academy like Steven Rose. Chapter six especially, "What have sociobiologists discovered," is interesting-it presents some persuasive cases where the "Sociobiology is too 'Just So Stories'" complaint seems to be debunked. The only problem is that in the short format that Alcock is working in, he can only sketch the outlines of any given explanation-and so it sometimes does have a "Just-So" feeling. This is where the citations come in-those who wish to find out more and have access to a local college library can find out the meat of the science that Alcock is referring to without much difficulty. The last few chapters deal with the political and social conflicts that revolve around the sociobiology debate. I don't think Alcock was as comfortable and expert in this area, his depictions of the figures central to the intellectual turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s is minimal and here his brevity becomes spare to the point of being uninformative. Those interested in this topic-the conflicts between Lewontin and E.O. Wilson for instance-would be better served picking up Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate by Ullica Segerstrale. But Alcock's summary will serve to whet the appetite. In terms of particulars to watch for, I noted that Alcock didn't have the word "race" in his index. But, early on in the book (page 50) Alcock makes a persuasive case for the heritability of IQ (backed by the appropriate citations to twin studies). Of course, he won't say that there might be racial differences in this-but he does hint that a certain group of Amazon Indians might be genetically predisposed to prefer a different waist-hip ratio than the vast majority of humans (page 143). Asserting that different races might have different genetic tendencies for certain behavioral traits after spending some time arguing for the genetic basis of intelligence-one should not be shocked if one's ideas are "misused." Alcock and his fellow-travelers might deny that their ideas have any applicability to race differences as their critics accuse them of, but books like this, which seems to put the framework of all the dots for one to connect, belie their claims. I give it four out of five stars.

to enforce a fire ban Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

to enforce a fire ban On the old show Let's Make a Deal there was a theme which we'd always refer to as "You Lost the Car" music. Whenever warranted, my friends and I used to hum the "wah wah wah wah" to add an ironic note to life's little soundtrack. (Later we added in "Stupid! You're so stupid!" from UHF). Both sounds leapt to mind when I read that they'd nabbed the person who started the horrific wildfire in Colorado. Turns out, it was a US Forest Service employee, who
admitted to starting a campfire within a designated campfire ring while patrolling the forest to enforce a fire ban.
Update: it turns out she started the fire to burn a letter from her estranged husband. ["Stupid!"]

Saturday, June 15, 2002

Iran-the pillar of the east? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Iran-the pillar of the east? The Arab world is a "problem child." Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia are all tottering and quasi-stable at best. But they are the precipice of bizarro world, not quite in its bosom, as the Arabs are. Turkey is our western bulwark against bizarro-Islam-perhaps non-Arab Iran could be our eastern wall? Thomas Friedman thinks perhaps. Time is on our side. Cross your fingers.

Pedophile Muhammed follow-up Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Pedophile Muhammed follow-up CNN headline: Southern Baptist leader won't reject slurs on Islam. The funny thing is minus the Christian language-many of the sentiments about Islam expressed by right-wing Christians are mirrored by ardent secularists. And check out Ingrid Mattson's quote in the story:
Ingrid Mattson, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America and a professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, called the comments "medieval." She said statements like this from such high-placed religious leaders can lead to violence against Muslims.
Medieval? This is the same women who I read in BELIEFNET admits an "attraction" to the "simplicity" of Wahabbism! As I've said before-just as libertarians and conservatives made common cause against the Leviathan in the past-militant secularists and right-wing Christians should (temporarily) make common cause against Muslims. Though right-wing Christians would have secularists be second-class citizens-at least we would be citizens of a sort.

"prove" your sanity Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

"prove" your sanity Psychologists have always kept the details of their diagnostic tests a secret. But the internet changes everything:
A quick search on the World Wide Web can turn up clues to fooling mental-health professionals, both explicit ''coaching'' advice and the unintentional posting of psychological trade secrets. Some psychologists say they've already seen an increased sophistication in ''malingering'' behavior, and the American Psychological Association last year convened a task force to address the Internet and psychological testing.
Never fail a Rorschach test again!

The beauty of light skin Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The beauty of light skin Do we all like pale women? This article in the New York Times talks about the preference for light-skinned women in Africa. This paragraph is interesting:
To social critics on this continent, skin lighteners are merely another negative legacy of white colonialism. After all, to be white was long an essential passport to power and wealth. Such bleaches are not unique to Africa, but it is in Africa — a vast continent with a black population in the hundreds of millions — that the products seem most absurd.
To get more information on this topic, I suggest this highly informative site. The general conclusions are pretty obvious-but this a representative sample of the text:
Some data point to such a behavioral difference. Feinman and Gill asked 549 male and 482 female white college students to indicate the complexions they liked and disliked in the opposite sex. The men tended to prefer lighter shades of skin in women whereas the women tended to prefer darker ones in men. The contrast was more striking when the subjects stated their dislikes. While 30% of the men disliked a black complexion, only 10% of the women did so. Similarly, 82% of the women disliked the two lightest shades, while the corresponding proportion for men was only 56%.
When I went to Bangladesh in 6th grade, it was strange to hear people talking about complexions all the time. The first thing that people would ask about someone is "what color are they?" There was an obvious judgement here-black was bad, fair was good. People would often sneer when they said someone was black-while they would smile when they said someone else was fair. These weren't conscious acts, the colors had such strong connotations that they didn't even think of it (by the way-if you see a personal in a South Asian newspaper-if they say someone is "wheatish," that means they're butt-black. It's kind of like the equivalent of "having a good personality"). Why so extreme? In places like Bangladesh field workers get darkened by the sun rather strongly. The wealthy classes on the other hand can maintain a pretty pallid light brown complexion. Of course over time, darkness becomes associated with the lower classes, while lightness the upper classes. Add to the fact that lower class women almost certainly married up if they were genetically fair-skinned enough to look attractive to an upper-class suitor-thereby imparting their descendents with a genetic as well environmentally fair complexion-you have a layer cake of color that might smear at the borders though it always maintains its integrity. Of course, skin tone is important in the black community as well. In the end, one of most irritating issues when talking about aesthetics is that it always comes back to hegemonic European standards. Certainly this might have an influence (eye-lid surgery anyone?), but it's kind of patronizing to think that non-whites can never make their own aesthetic judgements that might continue after the age of European colonialism. But make sure you read the site mentioned above-it has lots of nice evolutionary psychologically oriented speculation. But just remember, babies are pale. That's the basic track. Related note: See Steve Sailer's articles on blondeness.

Friday, June 14, 2002

gratuitous "tipping point" reference Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

gratuitous "tipping point" reference Underperforming Costano School in East Palo Alto, California, was adopted by Cisco and got a "number-one principal." And that set off a chain reaction which brought test scores above the state average:
Costano, meanwhile, is like a change program inside an established company. In part, its progress is a testament to Cisco's persistence. But Costano has also achieved what author Malcolm Gladwell calls a "tipping point." Once outsiders help create a climate for learning, good things happen. Parents become more committed. The best teachers help recruit other stars. And before long, troubled schools turn into winners.
But the Gladwellian explanation isn't really complete unless you also mention the cheating and grade inflation:
All 11 students interviewed, now finishing their freshmen and sophomore years in the Sequoia Union High School District, said Daniel read questions to them. State officials said that would be a clear violation of the directions for administering the test. One girl, now a high school sophomore, said the practice was helpful because she could not read in seventh grade [...] She and seven other students also said the teacher gave them answers, or gave them such strong hints that the answers became obvious. ``If you wanted the answer, you would just raise your hand,'' one said.

biological nepotism Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

biological nepotism Here's a neat study suggesting a possible mechanism for kin recognition in humans:
A psychologist studying the degree to which people are prepared to put faith in total strangers has found that opponents in a game are more likely to be trusted if they share similar facial features, such as the shape of the mouth or width of the nose.
Razib here: To piggyback on Joel's post-after reading the article-I wonder, doesn't this have obvious racial implications? Races are extended families, in fact, some groups like Icelanders are pretty damn close genetically to the point of being second cousins I believe (multiple population bottlenecks). Liberals (and those of the environmentalist bent) that emphasize education to solve society's ills might be fighting more of an uphill battle than they think. Cultural explanations are pretty good at explaining why people have stereotypes of Jews (cheap) or blacks (violent) or Asians (bad drivers). This might be a case where biology has an amplifying effect on cultural tendencies seeded by statistically significant experiences.

scissors and glue-pot Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

scissors and glue-pot Last night a friend invited me to a Genetics Fair for a class she was taking:
Taught by a molecular biologist and a scholar of digital communications, this class encourages students to consider the commonality in all human understanding and observation. Students will read scientific and critical theoretical explorations of life as emergent phenomenon, attend a series of lecture/discussions, and design and undertake a research project exploring the topic of emergence.
Apparently the assignment for the final project was "Do Anything," as there was a more random assortment of displays than I ever could have imagined: * a meticulously-printed t-shirt reading "FUCK CORPORATE ONTOTHEOLOGY" [yes, I had to look it up, too] * a number of tri-fold displays with titles like "Genetically Altering Genes," "SCOTT x 2 = 2 SCOTTS," "Genetic Altering Could Alter You," "Cloning a human would be playing God," "I am not this body," "Is humanities [sic] drive to escape Malthusian disaster dooming all creation," and the delightfully candid "Why Is Science So Boring?" * several explanations of cellular-automata * "Art in America" -- a CD with 14 songs each representing a different slice of Americana * a couple of hastily-constructed collages * a cat-human-hybrid statue and a couple of fish-human hybrids too * an enormous photomosaic of someone's sister * an interesting exploration of sociobiology After allowing people to look at the exhibits, the class's instructor gave a speech wherein he praised his students, remarking that in the future all science would be this interdisciplinary. As a scientist-in-training, I will keep my scissors and glue-pot ready.

just like we sent Elian Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

just like we sent Elian This morning I was listening to NPR, which was running a story on the stranded whale near Seattle. Local commuters have gotten pretty attached to the whale, and the NPR reporter asked a few of them what should be done. One man cheerfully (and earnestly) offered up an analogy:
We should send him back to his pod, just like we sent Elian home to Cuba!

anti-Cloning bill goes down (for now) Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

anti-Cloning bill goes down (for now) OK, well it seems those who favor therapeutic cloning won by stalemate. There are plenty of situations where gridlock is good-especially on the federal level. Though I'm right-leaning on principle, I do hope that the Democrats hold the Senate (or don't lose too many seats) so this legislation stalls again. After a few years-it will get out of the spotlight, and researchers can play around with zygotes/embryos all they want without too much fuss. The irony for me is that I favor the Republicans because they tend to be the party of limited-government, but this is a case where I'm rooting for the Democrats because they're allowing the states to decide on a case by case basis about this sort of thing.

Tampering with Nature (Repeat) Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Tampering with Nature (Repeat) ABC is repeating John Stossel's special Tampering with Nature. You should catch it if you didn't the first time around-airs 9 PM Eastern/Pacific.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Earth-like systems Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Earth-like systems A possible Earth-like solar system has been discovered 41 light-years away. The implication (if the result holds up) are pretty good for Drake's Equation.

IP vs anti-trust Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

IP vs anti-trust I'm about as anti-MSFT as they come (and as a former employee, I get extra cred). Still, stories like this one boggle the mind:
The consumers say Microsoft unlawfully and willfully maintained a monopoly that artificially drove up the price of Windows 98. The company violated the state's 1976 Competition Law, the plaintiffs allege. That law says monopolies are illegal because they exclude competition and fix prices.
That's fine, except that "[s]oftware is automatically protected by federal copyright law from the moment of its creation." And, see, copyright is a grant of monopoly. The whole point of having a copyright is so you can exclude competition and fix prices. That's how Steve Wolfram can charge $45 for a book which costs $12 a copy to print. It's how Eminem can charge $13 for a CD which costs approximately a dollar to produce. And it's how Microsoft can charge $250 for a CD and book that cost a few bucks to manufacture. Now, you can think copyright is a good thing, or you can think copyright is a bad thing. But for one arm of the government to try to penalize monopolies which were created by another arm of the government seems wholly nonsensical.

two thoughts on pharmaceutical patents Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

two thoughts on pharmaceutical patents Last night I was musing about the problem of pharmaceutical patents to my friend Brian. Without patents, I pointed out, we'd possibly have a lot less drug development. Brian, who's more sensible than I am, asked me what the "right" amount of drug development was. After all, we could incent further development by making patents last 50 years or forever. And we could incent more still by subsidizing pharmaceutical research with government grants (more than we do), or by offering massive cash bounties for successful new drugs. There's little limit on the amount of resources we could pour into drug development. Yet the fact that we don't indicates that it's possible to overincent research into certain areas, to reach a point where the costs of providing "proper" incentives outweigh the resulting benefits. Perhaps then our current system of 20-year patents overincents drug R&D. My point is that even if the absence of patent laws resulted in fewer drugs being developed, that absence might still be a good thing. Imagine that there were a law in place specifying that the first person to cure cancer was entitled to $1000 from every US Citizen. The repeal of that law would almost certainly slow down progress in finding a cure. (If this is hard to see, consider whether the presence of the law would speed up progress). And yet, we might decide, the law's repeal would be a Good Thing. I can't say for sure that we'd be better off with no drug patents and correspondingly less drug innovation. But it's at least a possibility. -- Also, my friend Chris Rasch suggests that his Wall Street Performer Protocol could be adapted to fund IP-less drug development. It's an interesting idea, and it's worth your while to read it. -- [And I know incent isn't a real word. But by the time I finish my thesis it will be, I promise.]

"don't shit where you eat" Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

"don't shit where you eat" Think sleeping with the boss is the best way to get ahead? The odds are against you:
Twenty eight percent of 5,000 working women polled by Top Sante magazine said they had had sex with a colleague. Ten percent said they had had a fling with their manager, with 11% of these going on to marry him. But only 12% were subsequently promoted, in a sign that the supposed career benefits of sleeping with the boss may have been overstated.

Muhammed a pedophile? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Muhammed a pedophile? This is Razib. Don't want my co-bloggers associated with this in case an Islamic fundamentalist cell wants to track me down for the subject line and slit my throat. Anyway, this article talks about the Southern Baptists spewing their typical intolerance toward Muslims. They seem to be judging Muhammed quite harshly for marrying Aisha when she was 6 and consummating the marriage when she was young (I see the ages 9 and 13 bandied about-and some Muslims claiming the info is based on false hadiths-like any of them are really valid!). But what I'm interested in is the response of a prominent Islamic apologist, Ibrahim Hooper:
Of the pedophilia charge, Hooper said: "The prophet Muhammad didn't do anything not in accord with the norms of the time."
Now, I believe in judging people in the context of their times-but this guy had a pipeline to God via the angel Gabriel. The God of History-above and beyond his mere Creation. And his disciple, his voice among the mortals, must be judged according to the mores of his time? The fact is-in mosques that I've been to, Muhammed is held up as an exemplar. Muhammed liked dates, so Muslims like dates, Muhammed liked beards (he turned away from two shaved Persians), so Muslims like beards, Muhammed liked green, so, well, you get the picture. Qualification: Please note that many of my criticisms of Muslims obviously apply to other religions-especially the two other Abrahamic faiths. They claim to have a God of History-rather than a distant myth. And yet all three religions have made their compromises with slavery (see here, here and here ),genocide and sexism. Theists are always asking us atheists, "For what foundation of morality will you have without God?" Well-perhaps they should look to their own history and see how little their axiomatic God of History has done for them in the past to temper their animal passions and prejudices.

Turtles live forever? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Turtles live forever? This is the intro to an article in Discover I just read about how turtles live a long time (pretty good read-though I'm a little skeptical that turtles are as bright as the researchers claim). The most shocking thing for me (and apparently the researchers) was that older turtle females are more fertile than the younger ones. Here's the PubMed link to the abstract of an article published in Experimental Gerontology on this issue. The reasons for this peculiarity might surprise you (hint: mice are much more likely to get eaten in a few years-so they better have offspring). The funniest thing about this stuff is that many grad students didn't get into this stuff because slow-reproducing animals are not the best test cases for life-history studies if you want to get your doctorate in less than 10 years. Oh, and here's a back off the envelope calculation I did out of curiosity-black women spend about 11% of their life in childhood, while white women spend 12% of their life in childhood. Now, puberty onset has been dropping in recent years, but I wonder if the total proportion of time spent in any given stage of life will be constant (black women have a life expectancy of 74 vs. 80 for white women, so the 8 vs. 9.7 puberty difference doesn't seem as big in that light).

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Some that looks like me.... Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Someone that looks like me.... I just watched American Idol on Fox. They cut it down to thirty-some kids-vocally talented and very photogenic. And yet-I wonder. Where are the aspiring pop stars that look like me? A young Asian-American, who can I look up to, who can allow me to aspire to the sort of fame and fortune than only an entertainment career can give? I see so many black faces, and I wonder, am I a inferior to them, can they sing and dance better? I see white faces, and I wonder the same, or I stand in awe of the Latin rhythms. Where are the pop stars that look like me?

Kill them all! Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Kill them all! This guy proposes that we execute the family members of suicide bombers (this is argued in the context of Israel-but it seems applicable to the debate going on here now). Seems to me this is a classic is vs. ought problem. I think from an anthropological perspective the solution is very efficient-but from a liberal perspective it is unconscionable. I'll ignore evolutionary psychology on this one-though I might add that some of the fanatics of 9/11 might not have cared had their quasi-infidel families been sent to meet them in hell.

Natural cultural selection Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Natural cultural selection This Salon interview with an Israeli historian is very informative-especially about the Six Day War and its context. The more I read about the Arabs-the less sympathy I have (OK-let me admit I start from a low threshold). I've already expressed my relative lack of sympathy or antipathy toward Israel-but I will add that I believe that cutting the Israelis off the subsidies from America will allow them far greater freedom of action. The Arabs seem to respond only to force-let the Israelis dish it out. Let the children of Abraham battle for their honor without all this international meddling. God knows the other Western powers don't seem to be addressing the "Islamic problem" with any vigor. P.S. I find it pretty hilarious that it's the Europeans that seem particularly distressed at the quasi-colonial nature of the Israeli state. Hell-the British denied Hong Kong democracy until the 1990s! [Update]: I would also like aid cut off from kleptocracies like Egypt, I'm not singling out Israel in particular. Joel says: Here's a different interview with the same historian.

African-American Secret Service Agents Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

African-American Secret Service Agents This article over at US NEWS & WORLD REPORT is about the problems of blacks in the Secret Service. Check out the quote:
The president's detail is an example, Schmidt says. An avid jogger, Bush can outrun many agents assigned to protect him. According to the declaration of one plaintiff, Paula Reid, Bush "is able to exceed the physical fitness standards" the service requires for its special agents. Other Secret Service sources say physically fit and qualified black agents who can keep up with Bush are passed over for "whip" or acting supervisory positions, which are given to white agents who claim to keep up with Bush but often can't.
OK, what is the article implying? A straight reading is that fat out-of-shape white slobs are getting the jobs over sleek aerobically adept black agents. But I also scent the whiff of stereotype here-not that there's anything wrong with it. Just seems like this got through the editing process.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Man profiles longer news. DOG profiles man, on the other hand... A dog is accused of racially profiling. I find this ludicrous, of course. Don't they know that dogs are colorblind ;)? Seriously though, the dogs have probably encountered more black/Hispanic criminals per capita. I doubt they're using Bayes' rule, but they are playing the odds.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/11/2002 10:06:00 PM | |

IP stuff (link-o-rama) Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

IP stuff (link-o-rama) Although it doesn't quite fit in with the "Gene Expression" theme, one of my pet causes is intellectual property. My (yet unproven) belief is that the costs of IP monopolies and the costs of enforcement (DMCA, SSSCA/CBDTPA, patent abuse, trademark threats, etc...) have progressed to the point where they far outweigh the benefits of IP, most of which could be achieved through different business models in the absence of legal IP rights. My opposition to IP actually started back during my hardcore libertarian days, when I decided that intellectual property rights were inconsistent with libertarian principles. Eventually I decided that libertarian principles might be good rules of thumb, but were a poor basis for trying to build a consistent worldview. (This was part of learning to think like an economist.) Nonetheless, most of the arguments against IP carry over, and the so Economics of IP is #1 on my research agenda. I don't have all the answers yet (the economics of drug development is a minor sticking point), but I'm always thinking about them. Anyway, I'm not trying to produce an autobiography but just to explain where I'm coming from when I post IP-related links and thoughts. -- Now, I've been watching the RIAA/MPAA reaction to new file-sharing and duplication technologies with a strange mixture of fear and amusement. Both industries are faced with the imminent collapse of their business models, and rather than adapting they're trying (and -- thankfully -- so far failing) to prop them up with draconian new laws. There are far too few mainstream news articles that "get it," so I was happy to see this BusinessWeek piece, which is more sensible than most:
I don't know about the law. And I surely don't understand the technology. But I do know this: It's very bad business to treat your customers as the enemy. [...] [New technology] is, to [the entertainment industry], something to stop at all costs, whether through the courts or Congress. In effect, they're telling their customers: "We'll stop you from doing what you want. We won't sell it to you, and we'll make it illegal for anyone else to provide it."
Customers want on-demand internet music downloads; time-shifting, commercial-zapping personal video recorders; customized filler-free music CDs; and highly-personalized, customizable radio stations. In each case the entertainment industry could -- by adapting new business models -- give customers what they want and preserve (part of) their revenue streams. But in each case the reaction has been to label the customers and technology providers as criminals. And I'm afraid it's only going to get worse. -- "We now return you to your regular human-biodiversity-related programming."

our "patriarchal society" Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

our "patriarchal society" Do dads react differently to sons than to daughters? You better believe it!
On average, Lundberg and Rose said, the birth of a child increases a man's wage rate by 4.2 percent and his annual time at work by 38 hours compared with a childless man, controlling for other relevant factors. [...] Then Rose and Lundberg wondered if the baby's sex made a difference. It did, and the differences were huge: Men worked about 118 hours a year more if their first child was a boy but only 54 hours more if their first-born was a girl. The pattern was the same regardless of birth order.
But there's more:
Spurred to dig deeper into the data, Lundberg recently discovered an unmarried mother is about 25 percent more likely to marry the father of her baby if the child is a boy than if it is a girl. Other researchers have found marriage-survival rates 7 percent higher with a son than with a daughter.
This working paper dismisses hypotheses that perhaps sons provide better "returns" on money spent on education, or that perhaps daughters are more likely to provide for parents in their old age -- neither seems to explain the data. Instead, it appears,
Men appear to place a higher value on marriage and their family and seem to be more willing to make a bigger investment in their family if they have sons.
Now, how to understand this? Some evolutionary psychologists believe that there is a human inclination towards selective neonaticide. A weaker belief would be simply that new parents do some sort of (unconscious) cost-benefit analysis and (systematically) adjust their behavior accordingly. But why do fathers benefit disproportionately from male children? Is it just a function of our "patriarchal society"? Or is there some deeper evolutionary cause? Update: Paul Orwin suggests that fathers benefit when sons carry on their name. I like this explanation, as it accounts for both the mother/father and son/daughter differences. It would be interesting to see if the effect is more/less/as pronounced among couples who keep their names. Incidentally, two keeping-our-last-names married friends of mine are expecting their first child shortly, and last week I asked them what the baby's last name was going to be. Apparently this was a highly sensitive (and unresolved) topic, and I was told to drop the subject. :)

the genetics of longevity Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

the genetics of longevity If you're one of those people trying to live forever, you might be interested in a study hinting at a genetic basis for extreme longevity:
According to the analysis, sisters of centenarians had about one-half the risk of dying at any given age compared to the national average. Brothers of centenarians had similarly low mortality rates, except during the teenage years and young adulthood. [...] University of Utah researchers found brothers, sisters and other first-degree relatives of the long-lived tend to live longer lives than cousins and other more distant relatives, suggesting that a small number of genes might influence exceptional longevity. In 2001, Dr. Perls and his colleagues found a region on chromosome 4 that is "highly suggestive" of genetic predisposition to exceptional longevity.

Luck of the Irish? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Luck of the Irish? An article [link fixed] in The New Republic talks about Boston's reputation for racism (unwarranted that is). It notes that Boston has the lowest percentage of blacks and Latinos of the ten largest cities in the country. Coincidentally (?) Boston is rated the The Best City for Singles by Forbes. If you look closely at the list-you'll see it's really the "Best City for Secular White (maybe liberal) Singles." Now, this might be the biggest segment in the singles category-but the best city for black singles would probably be Atlanta, and Christian singles would probably pick some midwestern city.

libertarian homiletics? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

libertarian homiletics? Why on earth does's "Freedom News" link to a press release announcing the results of a homiletics contest?

Monday, June 10, 2002

Christianity, Science and China-again Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Christianity, Science and China-again I'm going to address a comment about my previous post about Christianity and China. Here's Steve Chmielewski's comment:
I think it is only recently that Christianity is seen as benefiting the development of Western science. I, at least, grew up thinking that Christianity from Galileo thru Darwin resisted science every step of the way. I think if there’s any validity to the claim that Christianity benefited the development of science it is that monotheism brought into Western consciousness the idea of rational, transcendent laws accessible to human reason. But even then it wasn't until the reintroduction of classical learning and philosophy into the West that science began to take off and the other monotheistic religions – Islam and Judaism – did not develop a full fledged science of their own. My own personal bias is that the seeds of modern science were sown in pagan classical Greece. Where I think Christianity may have been more useful in the development of the West is in the moral realm. The value Christian moral teaching (though rarely Christian moral practice) placed on the individual allowed for the development of liberalism, which is largely the secularization of Christianity. Brink Lindsey had some interesting posts on the subject.
First-it must be remembered that many of the great scientific thinkers-Descartes, Leibniz and Newton for instance-were religious men. Until the 19th century-atheism was exceptional. Though certain institutional blocks seemed to have prevented the Church-whether Roman or Protestant (Luther rejected the heliocentric model) from embracing the new science, men like Copernicus and Mendel did come out of the religious orders. The idea that monotheism demystifies nature is rather common. And yet, it seems that Thales of Miletus began this trend in the 6th century before Christ. In fact, many of the pre-Socratics attacked the standard dogmas about the gods. Heliocentrism and atomism for instance were originally Greek ideas-"rediscovered" and refined in later times (I must add though that the Greek ideas were highly aesthetic and overly rational). Epicureanism, Stoicism and Skepticism were the three dominant philosophies between the rise of Rome and the ascendency of Neo-Platonism and Christianity-and all of them tended toward a demystified view of the cosmos. Granted, their concerns were often more with ethics and less with natural philosophy (though Sextus Empiricus was a Skeptic). In the east, both Hsun-Tzu (the third great Confucian philosopher) & and the Carvaka's of India expounded a rational and materialistic worldview devoid of gods and mysteries. So why Christianity? A good analogy might be this: Ancient Greece was the caterpillar, the Christian medieval West was the pupae, and the modern West is the beautiful butterfly that emerges after the initial formative developments. Obviously the caterpillar is just as important as the pupae-so Chinese intellectuals arguing for a conversion to Christianity to foster science should perhaps also argue for a cultivation of the Greek classics (and the Greek and Latin learning distilled through St. Augustine and the Church Fathers didn't seem to matter a wit until the arrival of Byzantine texts, the printing press and the conquest of Spain). I would argue that perhaps there are multiple ways to metamorphisize-and that the confluence of historic events-the fall of Byzantium, the printing press, and so forth, are more important than Christianity. I do agree that liberalism is to some extent a secularized Christianity. But it is also a dollop of Greek democracy, Roman republicanism, Germanic tribalism, and so forth. It is an organic outgrowth of Europe. Whether it can be grafted onto other cultures-we shall see. Certainly the Chinese lack of respect for individual rights is appalling. But one thing that concerns me is the perception that China has no native humanistic tradition-that China is defined by a raw Legalistic philosophy. The Confucians in their own time were ridiculed by the other schools for their relative pacificism. Their rivals the Mohists even formed self-defense unions to protect the weak states against the large ones. Confucius and his followers taught a few general principles that might percolate upward toward state-craft, li (rites) and jen (good heartedness). It was in fact the case throughout much of Chinese history that the Emperors were puppets-the axis mundi around which the bureaucracy operated. While European modern liberalism evolved in the context of the the Divine Right of Kings-the Chinese political theory grounded in the Mandate of Heaven already accepted that monarchs might fall due to moral failings. Confucius taught that right was more important than might. While the martial ideal often ruled the West-in China the scholar-official was supreme. I am surprised that the dissidents quoted in Ian Buruma's book never mention this-that they are so dismissive of their own rich and successful political tradition. The Chinese did not accept the primacy of the state over family-one could not be arrested for shielding one's own father against the authorities even if the said father had committed a crime. Granting all this-the Chinese were too successful with their state-building. While we in the West talk of nation-states-the Chinese developed a nation-empire 2,000 years ago. This excellent track record seems to make them suspicious of decentralization, and without decentralization pluralism is much more difficult (where do the intellectuals flee when one polity expels them if there are no others?). Chinese nationalism concerns me greatly-I don't care how high the average IQ is in China, it seems that jingoism is boiling to the surface now that basic subsistence is a given. Throughout history, China has been the Middle Kingdom, other civilizations were peripheral and fed off its vitality and productivity. The Chinese aim to reclaim this legacy, that much is clear. Today the West faces Islam, a withering civilization that is likely on its last legs-its spasms and convulsions threatening the integrity of its neighbors. But in the next century, I believe it is a revived China we must confront.

lying by gender redux Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

lying by gender redux Women may be better liars, but apparently they're no more prolific than men:
Feldman said the results showed that men do not lie more than women or vice versa, but that men and women lie in different ways. "Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better," Feldman said.
Apart from the by-gender observations, the most interesting result was the (unquantified) observation that
the students who participated in the study were surprised at their own results. "When they were watching themselves on videotape, people found themselves lying much more than they thought they had," Feldman said.
I don't know whether the surprise was because of unconscious lying or selective memory. Or maybe it was itself a lie.

a sexy boy band of their own Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

a sexy boy band of their own While we're on the subject of China, check out this WaPo article on the popularity of a Taiwanese boy band and their TV show:
The explosion of F4's popularity among young people in a space of several months ignited a commercial battle for profits, challenged the authority of government censors, revealed the breadth of a black market in popular culture, set agencies of the Communist Party against each other and led authorities to call out 5,000 riot police -- all before the group sang a single note on Chinese soil. Like never before in China's history, the phenomenon showed, commercial interests and popular demand are competing directly with party orthodoxy -- and increasingly bending the party to their will.
The article testifies to the power of even limited competition. When the government banned the show, China's thriving piracy industry supplied it on video. The state-run newspapers, in competition for youthful readers, made fun of the ban. Thanks to the controversy, private company Legend signed up the band as spokespeople. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but perhaps this can be built into a broader anti-totalitarian strategy. Maybe we should give the normally-despicable Lou Pearlman the job of supplying the Islamist world with a sexy boy band of their own.

China-Christianity-Democracy-Science Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

China & Christianity I just finished reading Ian Buruma's Bad Elements:Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing. It's a pretty good read-similar to some of Robert Kaplan's stuff, though Buruma doesn't synthesize his travels with his historical knowledge to the same extent (perhaps for the good). The basic theme of the book is the interrelationship between the centre and periphery-China proper and the Chinese Diaspora. Buruma delves very nicely into the paradoxes of the anti-Communist exiles, their loves and hates, their passions and apathy. A fair amount of the book discusses the fact that much of the exiled mainland community has converted to Christianity. Buruma is quite clearly a religious skeptic who can't fathom why rebels against Marxist dogma would succumb to Christian dogma. I myself felt the same way through a fair portion of the book-especially when "intellectuals" talk about how the Chinese people have no soul and need Jesus Christ to save them (I put the quotes because these statements are not reasoned, not the end product of intellectual discourse, but a feeling, an intuition, shaped by their own religious epiphanies). Don't get me wrong, I see modern China as a pagan barbarity, an arrow aimed at the heart of modern liberalism. All the nightmares that the neo-Luddites and religious reactionaries hold about the libertarian & libertine post-Socialist & post-religious future may well come to fruition in quasi-Communist China. But is Christianity a precondition for democracy or science (as clearly implied by many of those interviewed in Buruma's book)? As an atheist from a non-Christian (Muslim) background I have an aversion to this answer. As an admirer of the pre-Christian classical Greco-Roman civilization I also am wary about Christianity's supposed propensity toward fostering openness and pluralism. But I am a believer in the Western project-and I grant Christianity its place of prominence. And yet just as the West does not define Christianity (a melange of eastern and western, Greek and Roman, Hebrew and gentile), so Christianity should not define the West. In fact, it is better to say Christianities. The Byzantine Christian tradition, which before 1000 A.D. was the dominant one, did not foster democracy or science. Byzantium was in fact an oriental despotism where transmission of classical and early Christian ideas took precedence over innovation. The democratic (the Things) traditions of Scandinavia and the decentralized tendencies of the Celts (the elective monarchy and tribal structure) pre-date Christianity. When science began to surface in Europe during the Renaissance, it sprang to life in the Italian city-states first (Galileo), and then migrated north to Protestant Europe (Newton). The great Christian regions of Europe to the east or the south did not participate in the awakening, though one could protest that the Balkans was under Ottoman hegemony, Russia was not-and had been Christian for nearly 500 years in 1500. Those who assert that Christianity fosters science and reason simply cannot ignore that 1,000 pious years of their faith's hegemony passed before western Europe became the intellectual force that it is today. Yes, perhaps Christianity was an incubator of some sort-but we'll never know, since history is just not reproducible. One could argue that white people have natures congenial with science, or that Europe's mild climate helped. One could argue that the multiplicity of nation-states fostered by the fragmented peninsular geography also produced the competitive structure of modern science. The Chinese intellectuals who wish to convert their people wholesale to the Christian faith also forget that the West converted over a period of centuries-not a generation. Christian tradition was the usually the province of the ruling elite and men of letters, and only later percolated down to the masses (the Catholic Church was still finding and burning down groves dedicated to snake worship in Lithuania in the late 1700s). During the Reformation the democratization of the faith did not result in political power being devolved to the people (Thomas Muntzer tried and failed-). Instead, revolution and chaos ensued and the unraveling of the ancien regime took centuries to recrystallize into the liberal democratic order. Perhaps one could argue that one has to start somewhere, and that from the ashes of pagan China will emerge of the phoenix of Christian China. So will China become Christian? South Korea is 25% Christian after 50 years of proselytizing. The past two South Korean presidents and the last dictator were Christians. Taiwan, though its only 5%-10% Christian, has a powerful Christianized elite. Singapore is 15% Christian. Japan of course is the great exception, with its Christian minority not getting much above 1%. You can check the stats at're pretty variable. I don't think in the end that the wholesale Christianization that the exiled intellectuals foresee will occur. China is not pagan Rome-and I don't suspect a latter day Constantine will appear on the horizon. But Christianity will be an important-and progressive-part of China's scene in the decades to come. But just as it is not the crutch and scourge of reason that we secularists like to think-neither will be it bring with the panoply of modernization that some eager eastern converts imagine (look at Latin American or Africa). In the end, only time will tell. But please note-some historians attribute the survival of Imperial China in contrast to the permanent collapse of Imperial Rome to the former's reliance on personal rule by civilian bureaucrats while the latter's militarized elite that ruled via impersonal law could not transmit their traditions to their barbaric Germanic heirs. It maybe that the Chinese intellectuals that found Christ had holes in their souls-but they shouldn't presume that their culture, and all Chinese, are as soulless as they were. Update (Razib): Just to show that Christianity doesn't bring a golden age of Anglo-American tolerance, see this site to find documentation of fundamentalist Christian attacks on Buddhist religious sites and institutions (reminds me a lot of the early post-Constantinian Christians tearing down temples and attacking pagans).

Automation begins to replace the unskilled Whenever I see articles like this, I realize that there will soon come a period when the unskilled will be simply extraneous to the functioning of our economy. Here's the key graf:

Getting reliable workers to operate conventional checkout lanes is hard, particularly in 24-hour supermarkets. Self-checkout lanes are not entirely unstaffed — Optimal Robotics' U-Scan system, for example, requires an attendant to monitor the activity at a cluster of four self-checkout stations — but they do provide more service for less staff time than conventional checkouts. Optimal Robotics estimates that the four-station, one-attendant configuration provides a level of checkout service that would cost a supermarket an additional 150 labor hours a week. This means that the systems can pay for themselves in about nine months, the company says.

We had better develop intelligence engineering before the replacement of janitors, gas station attendants, and home economics teachers becomes a real problem...

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/10/2002 02:01:00 AM | |

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Baby killings Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Baby killings This New York Times article is about killings of infants and forced abortions in the North Korean prison system. The article gives the impression that there are strong racial-nationalistic overtones-the women often carry babies fathered by Chinese men. How does it work out that a radical Left-wing autocracy becomes so racially conscious? It seems to me that North Korea is a prime candidate for some muscular internationalism. The only reason no one seems to want to do anything is that the Chinese will object. Godless comments: For those of you who want more on North Korea, check out Chosun Journal for documentation of the atrocities going on in North Korea. Not for the faint of heart... To all those who think I'm only commenting on this because North Korea is communist...for the record, it's not my intention to be like those who only criticize human rights abuses on the totalitarian left (e.g. China and North Korea) and look the other way when the same things are happening on the fascist right (e.g. umpteen petty Latin American dictators). I'm admittedly not up to date with the plights of those in various oppressive regimes around the world, but with the exception of Pinochet I can't think of another really bad post-WW2 right-wing dictatorship. I'm sure I'm missing some, so inform me in the comments box, but my point is that I don't think any right-wing regimes since WW2 can really match China, the ex-USSR, and North Korea for sheer brutality. (Cuba doesn't count for the purposes of this tally - Castro is a dictator, but the body count isn't high enough to group him among class A offenders...) What I'm trying to say is that criticizing North Korea shouldn't be intepreted as giving a free pass to all those right-wing regimes also oppressing their citizens. North Korea is an awful, awful place to live because of a totalitarian state...and that's the simple truth of it.

The Immigration problem Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

The immigration problem Steve Sailer points to this Washington Post article about the difficulties of children born to immigrants (those that are born in this country) who can't speak their "native" tongue or English very well. As Steve says, it's depressing. I feel some empathy for these children, when I entered Kindergarten I knew very little English-I'd been in the US for only a year and my father was always in the lab and my mother was getting over severe postpartum depression after having my younger brother. I didn't play with any of the neighborhood children (my parents wouldn't let me out), so my communication skills were rudimentary at best. It took me about two years to finally get the idiosyncrasies out of my English (Bengali doesn't have gendered pronouns, so I kept using "he" for both males and females, which would of course give the girls an excuse to try and beat me up). But I can't really understand why immersion isn't working for any of these kids. But then I read this:
"This is not like how it was when I grew up, where kids just crawled around on the dirt floor, and if they put something dirty in their mouths, it was okay," she said through a translator. "I'm realizing kids don't just raise themselves."
The woman that spoke this is a semi-literate menial worker-I mean that with all the negative connotations it conveys. She's likely raising her children the same way she herself was raised-and those that favor the cultural/environmental explanation for difficulties in assimilation can point to this as a prime example. My brother and I, and many of our acquaintances as young children, were the sons and daughters of graduate students. We might have had a hard time getting our bearings, but there were certain expectations and certain values that certainly helped us out, and actually gave us an advantage over a typical native-born child. Almost all of us were from the middle to upper classes of our native countries (usually generally destitute countries like India, Bangladesh or China), and the seemingly r-selected strategy that the above woman employed wasn't something that we were burdened with. Of course, I'm still a little perplexed as to why these children have difficulties communicating after 5 years or so. One could of course wonder-perhaps their genetic intellectual endowments simply aren't that great. Judging by their parent's socioeconomic status in their native countries, this might be a valid observation (see Steve Sailer's Mexico's caste system for a detailed elucidation). Then again, the native educational system isn't helping when it assumes that they have to be literate in Spanish to ever learn English (say what? I'm illiterate in Bengali and I can read and write English. Please, no snickers).

You Hate Golf. Can You Ever Succeed? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

You Hate Golf. Can You Ever Succeed? Thus reads the title of a New York Times "Executive Life Column" this morning. (Page filler, anyone?)

One-third of chief financial officers surveyed in a study by RHI Management Resources, a staffing firm in Menlo Park, Calif., said golf was at least somewhat important to enhancing a career, compared with 45 percent who said golf was "not at all important." Another RHI study of chief financial officers showed that, outside the office, the second most common place to close a deal was the golf course, with one in 10 respondents saying they had done so. (No. 1 was over a meal.)

The article, in typical NY Times column fashion, never really reaches a conclusion, but there are a few obligatory "golf is not that important" quotes at the end - primarily by women. I'm linking to this silly article because I think it (unconsciously, of course) raises an interesting question about gender inequalities in the workplace. I've never felt that my professional advancement was prevented by a "glass ceiling," despite working in a locker room environment where people tend to punctuate sentences with "fuck you" and do occasionally take "professional relationships" out to strip bars. The reason I've been able to thrive in this environment is that I can blend in culturally. I don't get offended easily and men don't feel like they have to watch what they say around me. They tell a dirty joke; I respond with a dirtier one - that sort of thing. Anyone that says the glass ceiling doesn't exist has never spent any time in the workplace as a woman. It's not, however, systematically and centrally orchestrated oppression. It infuriates me when I hear women point to all-male boards of directors and insinuate that someone somewhere made an actual decision that women were going to get paid less to do the same jobs. That analysis is very convenient because it creates a tangible villain and a starting point for a problem that seems overwhelming. It's a massive oversimplification, however, and it exacerbates the real "glass ceiling" - the exclusion from conversations, events, and the informal aspects of relationship building that happens because men assume women would be uncomfortable, or because women make them uncomfortable. It's the invitation you don't get to play golf because someone benignly assumes that, being a women, you don't know how or you wouldn't enjoy it. Razib adds the race angle (of course): A similar problem might be happening with Asian-American immigrants. My father and his friends sometimes complain that they can't advance beyond technical positions in their firms or get a position as head of the department in their universities. And yet, I know that they do (my father does) have a problem socializing with their American colleagues. They simply don't have the same sense of humor and they don't share the same values (while Americans are competitive in a friendly manner, it seems my father and many of his friends are deferential and excessively concerned as to the position of a supervisor to every raise objections).

Protest the Matriarchy! Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Protest the Matriarchy! Law and Medicine, with their unnecessary emphasis on "memory" and "verbal fluency" disadvantage otherwise capable males who would enter the profession. The New York Times has belatedly come around to this conclusion in the limited field of veterinary medicine:

Although women have made great strides in other professions, like law and medicine, where they make up about half of the students, the rapid increase in the number of women in veterinary medicine, a profession once almost exclusively male, is striking.

What the Times omits is that "about half" is often "more than half", especially at the elite institutions that have an interest in promoting the status quo:

In 1997...Female medical students actually outnumbered male medical students for the first time in the history of Stanford University School of Medicine.

And this, of course, MUST be injust. After all, it's not like males have a biological disadvantage relative to women in their verbal ability or their memory. Males, please - protest this horrid, unjust state of affairs. We must reject the matriarchal status quo that promotes this kind of thoughtless biological determinism. After all, if this continues, women will soon comprise the majority of the medical and legal professions. And gender inequity, of any kind, is of course intolerable to any right thinking person. Razib here Medical schools today seem to be emphasizing social/verbal skills almost as much as scientific acumen these days. I had a friend of mine with a 4.2 G.P.A. (Biochemistry) and top notch MCATs be wait-listed to his number #1 choice. He'd heard from his mentor who had contacts on the admissions board who told him-"they were looking for people with life experience." This meant men & women with MCAT scores and undergraduate G.P.A.'s not nearly in my friend's league-but who had worked or volunteered for several years-were getting the nod over him. Now, he did get in as he was the second person on the wait list, and he told me that some of the freshmen in his class were freaking out when they had to examine a patient of the opposite sex because they were virgins, so I'm actually reassured that they're letting older people into medical schools.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/09/2002 01:51:00 AM | |

Saturday, June 08, 2002

the psychology of bad porn Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

the psychology of bad porn After watching awful soft-porn on Cinemax last night, I turned on the computer and found that Eric Raymond had written a long, thoughtful [really!] piece about 'net porn, asking
Why is there so much bad porn out there and so little good stuff?
After conducting lots of ... er ... investigation, he draws this distinction:
Bad porn is full of the fetish signifiers of sexual allure, to the point where they crowd out the reality of sexual allure.
This seems right, or at least accords with my notions of "porn aesthetics." But why the prevalence of bad porn? He hypothesises,
Men who get lots of attention from attractive three-dimensional women are not likely to be buying porn-site subscriptions. Therefore, we can safely assume that the consumers who define demand patterns for porn producers generally feel that their sex life is hemmed in by female choices and the female power to refuse. Defining the objects of their desire as "cum-sucking sluts", to be used but not related to any emotional way, is a kind of equalizing move in the sexual-power game.
While this may be true, I can think of two simpler explanations. First, Raymond admits,
When I remember the good sex I've had, or imagine the good sex I might have, my head is not populated by vacant-eyed women surrounded by fetish objects and passively waiting to be fucked. No; my fantasies, and my experience, is of women who are intelligent horny animals like me; live-eyed, smiling, fully awake and quite ready to seize the initiative if I drop it, thank you.
But, I hypothesize, many of the men driving demand for low-quality porn don't have such memories to draw upon. And so the "unrealistic" bad porn doesn't carry for them the same implausibility that it does for Raymond. Perhaps "fetish signifiers of sexual allure" simply are the stuff of fantasy for the sexually inept. Not out of a desire to equalize sexual power, but merely because of an unseasoned sexual imagination. Or, perhaps, it's only the intelligent (like Raymond, and the readers of this website) whose sexual fantasies rely on elaborate mental imagination of "the reality of sexual allure." After all, there are plenty of pornographic stories which are as degrading as any of the pictures he dislikes. Yet my notion (based on anecdotal evidence mostly) is that erotic stories -- regardless of content -- appeal mostly to nerdy Usenet types (at least among men). And so (my theory goes) the appeal of bad porn is mainly due to the prevalence of unimaginativeness. Now I just need to find a way to test my hypothesis against his. Godless comments: Perhaps Joel can audition for a role and document the industry from the...ahem...inside. He will be a starving student in Southern California, after all. And technically he's even a "coed", as Caltech does have (a few...) female students.... Razib's thoughts: If you read Stiffed by Susan Faludi or check out Luke Ford, you'll find it's a lot harder for men to break into porn than women. While women have short lucrative tenures (compared to what they would usually be doing), men have more modest, but longer careers. One reason guys in straight porn are so ugly is that they're hired based on the freakish properties of their penises and glandular systems (ability to ejaculate a dozen times in a day for instance-erection on demand, etc.). The lack of churning makes it hard to break into the business, though maybe if you want to be a "stunt cock" you can start out at the bottom (a lot of straight male porn stars break in via gay porn-"gay for pay"). Good luck Joel! Joel says: Unfortunately, the terms of my fellowship require me to abstain from vices peculiar to SoCal, including (but not limited to) pornstardom, competitive surfing, and saying "gag me with a spoon." A response: Notes from the Underground thinks that Eric Raymond has lost his geek soul. After all, the essence of a geek is that you don't have women wanting to seduce you. A geek has Lara Croft and Jenna Jameson - that's it.

This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen Proof that the Japanese aren't as technically competent as all those international tests (that I so love) purport to prove. Anybody with a basic knowledge of chemistry knows that negative ions can't be "isolated" from positive ions on macroscopic spatial distances without significant energy expenditure. The charge separation that arises from a hypothetical separation of ions means that there are tremendous attractive electromagnetic forces pulling them back together. So this sort of quote:

Negative ions are molecules with an extra electron that gives them a negative charge, and positive ions are those with an electron missing. Ions are formed when an energy source such as light rays, a strong waterfall or a thunderstorm knocks off electrons. Positive ions are associated with bad things, like dust and pollution, while negative ions are plentiful in refreshing places like a waterfall.

makes absolutely no sense. For example, their beloved "refreshing waterfalls" have tons of solvated positive ions floating nearby the solvated negative ions. I expect that Razib - a biochemist by training - will probably want to pile on... Pile on (from Razib) Having a background in chemistry (or any of the lab sciences) really makes one different than the general population insofar as today there are all sorts of ideas about "fresh" organic foods or shampoos that "revitalize" hair (pesticides are not preservatives and hair is dead) that strike us as kind of weird but are taken as givens by the public. This is simply part of the trend as the public holds onto pre-scientific modes of thinking while we get splattered with chemicals that might cause cancer throughout our lives (chemists once used to use taste as an attribute of organic chemicals, but stopped when too many of them died). People do not look at things around them in a reductionistic manner, they still have a holistic (reasonable in the context of the fact that they don't deal with the reality of molecules on the macroscopic sensory level) worldview. In fact, there's a wholesale fear of chemicals in society that seems to draw from the idea they are "unnatural" and detract from our "life force". I was on the road, and I went to "whole foods" store to get some nourishment. I was also a bit sick, so I looked for some cold medicine. This was a store with an obviously affluent clientele from the looks, and yet all they had were "natural" cold supplements, as in $15 tablets that restored my chi. I can't really put a finger on my rage at this sort of know-nothingness. I know scientists can get accused of hubris, but I hear a lot of people tell me they don't take medicines because they think it will reduce their ability to fight diseases, but if the medicine simply mitigates symptoms (which tell you you're sick so if you're getting medicine you've got the message) then the body that is combating the underlying disease shouldn't be that perturbed at the extra comfort. I also wonder at the utility of water filtration in areas where the water just isn't that hard (I'm sure all the Japanese have filters to get rid of harmful cations!). Of course, I won't even go into the environmentally harmful affects of eastern medicine. But I have thought about drying my urine and selling it as my vitalizing life force. $15 a pop sound good to you? It's all natural!

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/08/2002 01:17:00 AM | |

Friday, June 07, 2002

Palestine and Kashmir Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Palestine and Kashmir I love Victor Davis Hanson's work, but even he can put on blinders sometimes and ignore the obvious. This article in NRO brings up a lot of interesting points as to why we pay attention to low-level violence in the Middle East, but neglect a possible nuclear conflagration in South Asia. A must read. But there are two factors he doesn't seem to address much as to why Americans care about Israel so much: 1)The Left Behind series and its apocalyptic ideas about Israel and the End Times almost certainly reflect around one-third of the American population. Kashmir may be idyllic and at the roof the world, but it has little religious significance for evangelicals 2)Jewish power. I don't need to say any more here, and I'm not implying some ethnic conspiracy, but just as black Americans campaigned against apartheid and South Asians worry about the Pakistan-India crisis, Jews tend to care a lot about Israel. But, Jews are in a position to affect change on American policy. Certainly there's nothing wrong with that, Cuban-Americans basically dictate our Cuba policy. But it would be nice if we were candid about how our political system and interest groups work. Africa will get as much aid as Israel when African-Americans donate as much money and care as much as Jews do about Israel. Update: On item 2, please don't infer that I'm anti-Israel. I can characterize my feelings on the Middle East issue as benign apathy. I wouldn't feel too saddened if Israel was destroyed-or if they expelled the Palestinians from the West Bank. My life was OK after the massacre of 500,000 Rwandans, and I follow a rule where 10 black African life are equivalent to 1 European life [thanks for pointing out the wack typo Rob] (here I take my cue from the press and defer to social realities). I probably value Israeli lives similarly to Europeans, so when 50,000 Israelis get killed, maybe I'll pay attention. Similarly, maybe 100,000 (or 200,000, I don't know) Arabs would have been killed to move me out of my torpor. Not that killing isn't bad-but I just refuse to have my heart be dictated by CNN and pretend like I care when my actions indicate I don't as millions of children live in malnutrition throughout the world. Update 2 (From Godless): For the record, I disagree with Razib on this issue. I'm definitely pro-Israeli for reasons I outlined earlier. As for the point Razib brought up about the relative insignificance of the casualties: Yes, it is weird that the deaths of tens or hundreds of Israelis (or Palestinians) attract as much attention as they do when tens of thousands can be killed without notice in other parts of the world (e.g. Africa, South America). And I don't buy the "normalization" nonsense in which 50 Israeli/Palestinian lives are pro-rated for the equivalent percentage of American deaths - human psychology doesn't work like that. However, I'm of the opinion that lives are more "valuable" when TV cameras are around at the moment of death. That's why 9/11 was such a big deal - not only were three thousand people killed, but it was broadcast live on international TV. Visual stimuli impact our "fight or flight" mechanisms more immediately than text does, and it's no surprise that watching Americans die was far more disturbing than reading about Africans/South Americans dying.

Surprise: the educational system sucks Since we're beating one of my favorite dead horses, the creationism/evolution debate (you guys are going to be so sick of me): Reader Allen Thorpe writes regarding my posts on the slowly withering Science Fair about the Santorum Amendment, i.e., the creationists' latest weapon:

I wouldn't worry. Most kids don't learn anything in school anyway. With all the other indoctrination they get in political correctness, it's amazing if any of them come through with any critical thinking skills at all.

Oh, but Allen, that's precisely why I'm worried. The beautiful (ugly) thing about creationism/intelligent design is that you don't have to learn critical thinking to get it. In fact, critical thinking is the enemy of creationism/ID, in which you simply have to believe what you're told -- either that things are the way they are because God made them that way, or that things are the way they are because somebody-who-is-probably-God-but-good-God-don't-say-His-name-in-school-because-it's-unconstitutional made them that way. The Santorum Amendment is right about one thing: kids need to learn critical thinking. But what the amendment does is to encourage precisely the opposite by "inadvertently" (let's be honest, it ain't inadvertent, the language of the bill was written by ID proponents) promoting the teaching of a crackpot religious theory disguised in the garb of critical thinking. Allen, if kids were getting taught critical thinking in schools, I wouldn't constantly rail about their being taught nonsense; I'd be perfectly happy to let them think their own way through the nonsense. But we all know they're not getting a scrap of instruction in critical thinking in any of their classes, science or other. And I say this as someone who didn't learn critical thinking until I left my creationism-happy high school in Georgia and went to college, where I blessedly (ha) majored in biological anthropology and never looked back.

what about god? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

what about god? Several nights ago I got to watch the first 15 minutes of a PBS Evolution documentary called "What About God?" addressing the evolution/creationism wars. It was intriguing, but I had to run out soon after it started, so I was excited to see that it was being shown today as part of the Seattle Film Festival. While it was interesting to watch Christian fundamendalist students grapple to reconcile their taught-from-birth creation tales with taught-in-class science, the more interesting part was the discussion we had afterwards. (Discussing a film with an auditorium of strangers is always a good time.) People complained and complained about the fundamentalists' opposition to the scientific method: "Why can't they at least consider evidence that's contrary to their preconceived worldview?" Were I a more daring man, I would have invited them to extend the same courtesy (which, as Seattle liberals, I'm sure they do not) to controversies over global warming and human biodiversity. But I am not that daredevil, so I instead responded to the man who complained that the film -- by not presenting any foaming-at-the-mouth atheists -- was too pro-religion. Look, I told him, in this country we "respect" people's faith, and we don't criticize religious beliefs, no matter how ludicrous they may be. And so merely by addressing the tension between science and religion, the film is edgier than pretty much anything else you'd see on TV. (Possible exception: Ted Turner).

A black thing-or is it? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

A black thing-or is it? First Things is a "journal of ideas" on the model of Commentary. It is moderately conservative and religious (more or less Catholic) in orientation. I tend to find it rich in fodder for my thoughts and ruminations on issues of politics and culture, and I'm not conservative (by some definitions) or religious (by any definition). The May issue had some interesting articles, but the dialogue over Glenn Loury's new book Anatomy of Racial Inequalities between J. L. A. Garcia, Loury and John McWhorter caught my eye. For those of you that don't know-Glenn Loury was once an enfant terrible of the black conservative movement. But in the 1990s Loury turned his back to some extent on the black Right that he helped define, and gravitated to a more mainstream position (liberal) on racial issues that elicited praise from individuals that he had once vilified such as Jesse Jackson. But old mentors such as Norman Podhortez of Commentary attacked Loury, and fellow black conservatives such as Shelby Steele were saddened by his apostasy and he quickly found himself a de facto outcaste. In addition, throughout the late 80s, unbeknownst to his socially conservative allies, Loury was leading a lifestyle of drugs & sex that was perilously mirroring the irresponsibility of the underclass that he regularly castigated. In truth, the lot of a black conservative is double-sided, cutting toward fame and prominence by the fact that there are only a few notable black intellectuals on the Right (Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Shelby Steele and perhaps John McWhorter are a few that come to mind). The right-wing think tanks coddle them and fund their research, because no matter how much they deny it, the quota mindset has become entrenched enough that even the "race-netural" Right feels it needs its tokens to insulate itself from charges of racism. Not that the aforementioned authors don't produce good work-in fact, Sowell's books like Race and Culture, don't give that much attention to the black experience and take a broad view. In other words, Sowell need not be a black intellectual, but an intellectual concerned with issues of culture and geography like David S. Lande or Samuel Huntington. Like Sowell, Glenn Loury is an economist by training, but he is a far different beast altogether and his life has followed a different path. Loury's book, titled Anatomy of Racial Inequalities, is illustrative of one problem that I see in the discourse on the "race issue" in America-and one that might sketch out a big contrast with Sowell. I haven't read the book, but reviews and Loury's own rebuttal to Garcia's pointed critiques and McWhorter's more scathing barbs indicate that it isn't about racial inequalities, but black-white inequalities. The New York Times series How Race is Lived in America would better be titled How black people and white people interact with each other. There are other races in this country, and according to the latest numbers there are more "Hispanics" (of various races) than blacks in the United States. In my part of the country, the maritime West, there are many more Hispanics (I hear the politically correct term in California is Latino) than blacks. Even Asian-Americans are more numerous than blacks in most of the Pacific coastal region. Now, there are parts of the country where the racial division is still black-white, such as the south, but this is becoming a regional peculiarity rather than reflective of the national scene. A key problem with "mainstream" thinking on American race relations is that it tends to be based on this dialogue between two races, rather than a conversation involving us all (I being a member of the old "Other" category) and blind to the insights that examination of multiple intersections (for instance, black-white-Hispanic) may bring. I recently watched the movie The Brothers. It was pretty entertaining-and for me at least, very informative about the part of black culture that isn't soaked in the pathos of the underclass existence. There are some particular scenes in the movie that highlighted the tunnel vision that blacks have in their assumption that their relationship to whites is special somehow (perhaps by virtue of slavery). In one scene, a mother accuses her son's father of leaving her for a "white woman." The son responds that the woman in question was Hawaiian, to which the mother responds, "That's white." The sons asks if Latino women or Asian women are white, and the mother responds that they are respectively "white women that eat tacos" and "white women that can't speak English." This is funny as hell, but also shows an inability to process race relations outside of the boundaries of the bipolar black-white world (more accurately, perhaps a refusal). Later, one of the protagonist's ex-girlfriends shows up at a dance club with a man of dubious ethnicity (he could have been South Asian or or a dark-skinned Latino or a mixed-race individual), and the protagonists ask skeptically, "Is he supposed to be white?". What I am trying to get at here is that while whites have a well defined role in black racial mythology-the master, the oppressor, even the liberator, non-blacks of color simply don't fit within this paradigm, and are the class of "Other" that is best ignored, and at worst detracts from the special relationship that blacks and whites traditionally had in this country. I personally had an experience with this when looking for apartments in Baton Rouge a few years ago. One of the prospective landlords told me matter of factly that the house was in a black area and wondered if I would be comfortable as a white man in such as an environment (we were talking on the phone). I responded that my brown skin would allow me to fit in pretty easily compared to a white man-to which the woman laughed and commented that I sounded awfully white for a black man. When I explained I was technically neither white or black, the woman really didn't know how to respond. When I added that my family came from India (Bangladesh actually-but I thought India would be a good approximation for this woman) she still didn't say anything. Needless to say, I didn't call her back later about the apartment. This preoccupation with the black-white chasm neglects avenues of exploration that might be fruitful toward helping resolve the race problem by engaging those of us who bring a different racial experience and sensibility-perhaps some problems that black Americans have can be discerned in the experiences of other minorities, who could point to some resolution of the situation. In one of the most ironic scenes for me in the above film, one of the protagonist's younger sisters gives a long diatribe about how black women should go outside their race to find partners if that's what's needed-that she's tired of waiting on black men who date outside their race in any case. The actress, Tatyana Ali is actually biracial, her father being an East Indian from Trinidad, and her mother a black Panamanian. Now, back to the dialogue between our chastened black conservative and his former fellow travellers. Loury's new idea in Anatomy of Racial Inequalities is stigma. He says:
This brings me to the topic of racial stigma—the central innovative concept in my book ... Racial stigma is not a bludgeon with which I hope to beat “whitey” into political submission. It does not refer to “sinister” thoughts in the heads of white people. Nor is it an invitation to passivity for blacks. Rather, what I am doing with this concept is trying to move from the fact that people take note of racial classification in the course of their interactions with one another to some understanding of how this affects their perceptions of the phenomena they observe in the social world around them, and how it shapes their explanations of those phenomena. Given the evident sensitivity of racial discourse, it is perhaps best if I make the point with a nonracial example. So consider gender inequality, disparity in social outcomes for boys and girls, in two different venues—schools and jails. Suppose that, when compared to girls, boys are overrepresented among those doing well in math and science in the schools, and also among those doing poorly in society at large by ending up in jail. There is some evidence to support both suppositions, but only the first is widely perceived to be a problem for public policy. Why? My answer is that it offends our basic intuition about the propriety of underlying social processes that boys and girls do differentially well in the technical curriculum. Although we may not be able to put our fingers on exactly why this outcome occurs, we instinctively know that it is not right. In the face of the disparity we are inclined to interrogate our institutions—to search the record of our social practice and examine myriad possibilities in order to see where things might have gone wrong. Our baseline expectation is that equality should prevail here. Our moral sensibility is offended when it does not. And so, an impetus to reform is spurred. We cannot easily envision a wholly legitimate sequence of events that would produce the disparity, so we set ourselves the task of solving a problem.
OK, enough quoting already. The analogy to the male/female divide is ingenious-but has a dubious assumption. Do we intuitively believe it is wrong for more men to be found in the technical professions? Historically, this hasn't elicited any objection form society, though with gender equity feminism there has been a concern about this situation. Even today-I suspect that the majority of the American population is apathetic to the choices that men and women make in their careers, though a vocal and active minority make it the center of their political lives. In fact, many simply believe that males and females have different strengths. This view can be found among the difference feminists on the Left and social conservatives on the Right-as well as the great mass of Americans imbued with common sense. If you then apply this to black Americans, one could perhaps intuit that they would have different strengths, and alas, weaknesses in comparison to the general population that is predominantly white. I don't know that Loury's ideas are even that innovative. The psychology of Americans blacks has been probed and projected more than any other racial group in America (insofar as the issue of race has been the central focus of the psychological studies). Claude Steele and others have argued that expectations of failure have led to black underperformance in standardized tests. The trauma of slavery is the great bugaboo that has scarred the psyche of the black man-so sayeth the powers that be. And yet, the American Association of University Women, the group that found that female self-esteem drops with adolescence, give us the statistic that black males have the highest self-esteem! I'm not a black American, so I don't know if tortured feelings of individual inferiority are endemic to their experience, but from all I see, blacks don't want to be like whites. They have their own culture, their own values and benchmarks. Yes, I'm sure that they would like to see more upward mobility and less social pathology, but the fact is that while the post Civil Rights era ushered in the era of relative black prosperity, social pathology in the form of out-of-wedlock births continued to rise. A complex problem like black economic success coupled with social squalor requires more than framing the debate in the old ways more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century. Blaming discrimination and pervasive racism is a relatively easy way out. By ignoring the existence of other races, black Americans can frankly discount their own shortcomings. The fact is that Asian-Americans have faced hardship in the United States. Many Asian-American activists still argue that they are discriminated against and have to work harder for their prosperity. As a Asian-American, I can attest to discrimination on the personal level. But so far in my life, I must admit that I believe its affect on my life has been rather mild, perhaps even trivial. When Asian-Americans came to the United States, they were not model minorities. Japanese and Chinese came to work as laborers on the plantations of Hawaii or in the mines of California. They suffered stigma and violence. And yet, they are a relative success today. By many measures, they are more well off than white Americans. Conservatives have used these facts to bludgeon blacks over the heads, and this has elicited a considerable amount of resentment. It is reasonable to argue that blacks have faced more discrimination, but let's not overplay this card, because western states like Califonria imposed laws that discriminated against Chinese and Japanese in a manner vey similar to the Jim Crow laws of the south. Black Americans will often assert that even the most prosperous blacks are at a disadvantage compared to more modestly situated whites. Lawrence Otis Graham, in his readable book Member of the Club, which tells the tale of his difficulties as an upper-middle class black male in America, and his moonlighting as a menial worker, has a chapter devoted to justifying affirmative action on economic grounds. This, after spending a considerable part of the book explaining that he was from a middle-class, even affluent, economic background, a man who later wrote a book Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class. Even though Graham himself could afford test prep courses and tutors-and got into Brown and Princeton, he argues that affirmative action is needed because whites have these advantages which blacks simply do not. Graham might be amused to know that the Kaplan test prep courses were created by a Jew bent on breaking into the previously WASP world of the Ivy Leagues-where connections rather than test scores determined admission. The stigma that Loury sees is only partially imposed from the outside. It is also something that blacks themselves impose upon themselves. By conflating the fact of racism into a society-wide quasi-conspiracy to oppress them, blacks have created a universe where success can only be attributed to some benevolence-government or corporate-and failure is also caused by the powers that be. Earlier in First Things, Father John Neuhaus notes that many Americans Jews wish there was more stigma, not less, so that their existence as a people could be assured. Loury finds it disturbing that only 2% of black women have white husbands. And yet why is there less stigma against black males marrying white women? If blacks as a group have a stigma-it seems from all the anthropology I have read, it should generally be easier for the females to marry up, not the males (this was the case before the 1960s). No, the problem is multifaceted. If it was one cause, or even a few causes, government might have solved the "race problem" by now. Like an under-developed medieval economy lacking in institutions that allow capital formation-a brute force socialism might be able to boot-strap black Americans beyond the stage where they are legally disenfranchised share-croppers, but equality must be earned, not given. The problems that bedevil black Americans defy easy diagnosis, and so sadly almost certainly will defy governments attempts to cure them. Only the collective actions of millions of individuals can change the situation of the black underclass or the rage of the black middle class. The hand of the social market will act, but you have to give it free reign.

plagued by two philosophies Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

plagued by two philosophies Slate has been running a great feature called "Joe Klein's European Listening Tour." To better understand recent political trends in Europe, Klein is wandering around Europe and talking to people. All of the segments are pretty interesting, but my favorite quote comes from Fidele Confalonieri, chairman of the Italian PM's media empire:
For years in Italy, we've been plagued by two philosophies that put off happiness into the distant future. The church says it will come after you die. The Communists say it will come hundreds of years from now when everyone is equal. It isn't difficult to compete against such ideas."
This makes immediate intuitive sense to me, but a moment's reflection reveals it isn't quite right. There are places in the world where it's quite hard to compete with the former.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

cute, no? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

cute, no? I made us a logo. Cute, no? Let me know if you hate it.

music bubble Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

music bubble Here is a more-thoughtful-than-most article in New York magazine about what's happening in the music business. I'm fond of it because it makes some points I'm always making:
You've lost your basic business model -- what you sell has become as free as oxygen. It's a philosophical as well as a business crisis -- which compounds the problem, because the people who run the music business are not exactly philosophers.
It ends with an interesting assertion:
Rock and roll is just an anomaly. While for a generation or two it created a go-go industry -- the youthquake -- it is unreasonable to expect that anything so transforming can remain a permanent condition. To a large degree, the music industry is, then, a fluke. A bubble. Finally the bubble burst.
Of course, the bubble hasn't quite burst yet, and the music industry is pulling out all the stops to prop up its failing business model. But, like all bubbles, it can't last forever. This doesn't mean that rock and roll will go away -- after all, we still have tulips, railroads, personal computers, and even a few dot-com companies. But I do believe that -- no matter how much kicking and screaming the RIAA does -- there's soon going be a lot less money to be made in the music biz.

steroids and baseball Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

steroids and baseball I am not a baseball fan, but ["hence"?] the fallout over Ken Caminiti's recent "revelations" about steroid use in MLB intrigues me. There is predictable hand-wringing from baseball purists, including the author of the TCS article I linked yesterday:
As a baseball fan, I believe that an outcome that bans steroids is better than the competitive outcome. However, that is because for baseball I value continuity more than progress.
[Hello, Virginia!] But many baseball fans seem excited by "progress." Check out this 1998 attendance statistic for Androstenedione-popping St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGuire:
Cardinals' average paid attendance: 38,091 Attendance when McGwire sat out a game: 31,183
The St Louis fans, it appears, are all for ability-enhancement. Yet the part of this story that leapt out at me was this quote:
New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine thought [estimates that 85% of players used steroids] were overblown. "Only if it's in the water or there's some way players are ingesting them without knowing it," Valentine said before his team's home game against Philadelphia. "I think it's a total exaggeration unless you're saying some of the stuff like MetRx mix and the blender stuff is a steroid, then I stand corrected."
So most baseball players are using some supplements, if not necessarily steroids. This seems to poke holes in the purism argument against steroid use. Now it is true, as critics claim, that steroids can cause serious health problems. But the libertarian in me wants to let people choose their own risks, whether with cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, creatine, or -- yes -- steroids:
"I've made a ton of mistakes," admitted Caminiti, who is also a recovering alcoholic. "I don't think using steroids is one of them."
More info - Here is a pretty-thorough pro-steroid article.

A joke. It's a joke. Maybe this is why modern liberals let ideology trump science?

Facts of life On the earlier post regarding our cheatin' hearts, my boyfriend -- my boyfriend! -- writes: "If women think about cheating more when they're fertile, and men are always fertile... well, you can do the math yourself." Razib, I'm not so sure the liberal tendency to reject the idea of objective facts is a huge problem anymore. Sure, it was during the postmodernist heyday of the '90s, but I thought the death of postmodernism was being widely reported. (Thank God.) And you could argue that the Right also rejects the idea of objective facts in certain domains -- with apologies for my predictability, creationism springs to mind -- and has for longer than the Left. I'm not sure a reactionary approach to the concept of science, much less the facts science produces, is exclusive to either party anymore. Paging Virginia Postrel... Clarification: The folks on the Right I'm referring to are not the creation science/ID folks, but those who say we can't know what happened at the beginning of life, since no one was there except God -- and therefore we have to accept his, er, eyewitness account. Whether said account constitutes objective fact for these people is a complicated question. I'd argue they see it as fact, but don't really accept the distinction between objective and subjective. Which, of course, is essentially what the postmodernists did.

Historical libertarianism Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Historical Libertarianism This article over at takes Jared Diamond to task for to using Iceland as a parable on the futility of libertarianism. I tend to get disheartened when I see liberals arguing for big government on historic precedents, since of course history is not an ally of liberalism or progress in general (be careful when you use the past to justify the present-rather than inform it. In my opinion it is a fine but crucial line-one social conservatives blur constantly). TAPPED over at The American Prospect seemed almost gleeful about the collapse of the monarch-free Iceland. Since when did liberals go from seeing government as a necessary coercive presence to combat injustice to the end via any means necessary? To me, there is an ugly streak in modern liberalism, where ideology trumps facts. Certainly, right-wingers of all denominations are capable of it as well, but it is among liberals that a sizable contingent rejects the idea of objective facts (being rebels against the hegemonic white male paradigm, they'll probably discount the likelihood that they're just souped-up Pyrrhonists). Its irrationality on issues of race, gender and certain hot-button topics such as guns makes me a man of the Right-despite my relative comfort to social change.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

a different argument against genetic engineering Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

a different argument against genetic engineering Over on TechCentralStation, Arnold Kling levies a different argument (under the rubric of "economics") against using genetic engineering to enhance human abilities:
For example, I am short in stature, and so are our daughters. In today's world, that is fine. However, in a world of competitive genetic engineering, there probably would be few people under five feet tall. If that world had prevailed when we were having children, we probably would have felt pressure to have them altered -- otherwise they might be freaks.
He uses the same reasoning to oppose test-prep classes:
[Parents] would prefer that such courses not exist for anyone. Nonetheless, we do not want our own children to be at a disadvantage, so we enroll our children in these courses.
In short, he's casting both genetic engineering and test-preparation as Prisoner's Dilemma situations: Regardless of what you do, I'm better off genetically engineering (test-prepping) my kids. But the resulting situation, wherein everyone genetically engineers (test-preps) his kids is worse than if no one had done so:
My concern is that once competition breaks out to design "better" human beings, the result could be that everyone is made worse off and less happy than if such a competition could be prevented.
But his belief that improving human abilities (via genetic engineering or test-prepping) will make everyone worse off (which he bases, like so many arguments, on discomfort) seems unlikely to be true. In fact, a world full of smarter, stronger people -- even one in which I hold the same relative position -- is likely a preferable world to live in, full of positive externalities resulting from enhanced human abilities. Similarly, a group of college students who've all prepared for the SAT are quite clearly more educated than if they'd not done so. Kling dismisses this by claiming that "[f]ew parents would argue that these courses represent education with intrinsic value," but it's certainly valuable to improve your vocabulary, analytical thinking, and quantitative skills. What Kling's argument really seems to boil down to is that the prospect of genetic engineering represents a potential hassle that he doesn't want to deal with. And while I respect that (I'm a big-time hassle-avoider myself), it's a lousy justification for public policy.

I may be female, but this is no lie Speaking of women being more verbally talented: apparently we're better liars for that reason. (If only Clinton had been the first female president...) When a person lies, the number of pauses and "ums" and "ahs" in his/her speech goes up. In general, women pause less and use fewer "ums" and "ahs," which linguists think are an unwitting running commentary on how smooth a person's train of thought is. This is the case if the woman is lying or telling the truth, which makes it harder to tell the difference between the two. No word on whether women actually lie more than men, though I have several friends of both sexes who'd love to have that argument with each other. This could also have interesting implications for the idea that women are more likely to fantasize about cheating when they're fertile -- wonder if they're also better liars than usual during that time. They'd need to be. I'm also not sure whether it's ever been proven if men or women cheat more. If women are better liars, they would probably get away with cheating more often. (Female promiscuity is, of course, well documented among all sorts of animals, even those that pair-bond.) But conventional wisdom hands it to the men. Is that because women are actually just lying about it? Or is it really that men cheat more despite being less likely to pull it off? Any thoughts? I realize this may provoke all sorts of anti-female (not anti-feminist) sentiment. Do your worst.

Details, details ... why let ourselves be distracted? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Details, details ... why let ourselves be distracted? In the previous post, Godless shows I think quite of a bit of humility. I think both he & I acknowledge that all the details aren't hashed out on the issue of racial differences. Rushton and Edward Miller present some interesting hypotheses on why some races might have better reasoning capacities than others-but they don't really convince me. Rushton has the r vs. K reproduction strategy-Miller's ideas are more straightforward-indicating that cold climates and seasonal changes induced northern Europeans and Chinese to plan ahead and use their brains more (I make him some Lamarckian-but I think he presumes that stupid ones died in the big ice-no?). Rushton's hypothesis ultimately comes back to this sort of thinking as well. Of course, it gets me to wondering-how come the Tuareg of the central Sahara or the Inuit of Alaska aren't the most brilliant people in the world. Godless indicated that he thought that the Inuit might be bright-perhaps, but I've had friends who have lived among the native peoples of the north (as teachers) and they tell tales of extreme social pathology that makes the inner city look pleasant (the Inuit have large government subsidies so we libertarians can claim that the government did it). Some of the hereditarians that get backing from the pro-eugenicist and race realist Pioneer Fund have data that shows all the Middle Eastern peoples from Egypt to Iran are pretty lacking in intelligence. And yet, if you're a thorough diffusionist-you have to acknowledge that this region of the world was the mother of us all culturally. If you're less of a diffusionist, you can't deny that this region was the mother of the West-and therefore instrumental in making the world what it is today. Phonetic script (from Spain to Mongolia) and Christianity are two of the contributions of this part of the world (the latter case one can say that the Greeks helped a load). Agriculture spread to putatively high IQ Europe from the Middle East. How is that the precursors of Heisenberg and Descartes (who are genetically distinct from Middle Easterners) were busy hunting European bison in dim forests while the ancestors of suicide bombers were creating complex civilizations premises on sophisticated religious concepts (please don't blink-yes, some religious concepts can be sophisticated). Hereditarians (not to create a false dichotomy-those of us in the anti-environmentalist camp tend to argue for a complimentary synthesis between nature and nurture) need to explain this. I have some ideas-but this post would get atrociously long-and Godless might lose his title of big long poster of the blog consortium. Godless brings up the conundrum of the dim Sephards vs. the bright Ashkenazi. Sephards are the underclass of Israel. Their lower IQ has mystified some people (and given heart to those terrorized by dreams of Judaic supremacy). In fact, in the 10th century, it was the Sephards who were the leading lights of the Jewish world. The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides was a Sephard. But in the 18th century, the Ashkenazi of Poland (partitioned between Russia, Prussia and a bit to Austria I believe) came to the fore, especially in Germany, with the likes of Moses Mendelsshon coming out of their community, and they never looked back. Thomas Sowell uses this case as an example showing how culture, and not race, is the dominant determinant of group success. While Islamic culture flowered, the Sephards reigned as the lights of the Jewry, while they dimmed with the waning of their host civilization. When Europe became a cultural flame that outshone the rest of the world, the Ashkenazi used it to catapult themselves into prominence. I do have some thoughts on the Sephard vs. Ashkenaz mystery, and their radically different histories after the Roman Empire and their modern differential in IQ that still gives some room for genetic differences being a powerful determinant today. The Sephards of Israel are not the Sephards of the times of yore. Sephard means Spain, and in 1492 when the monarchs of that land expelled the Jews, the Sephardic Jews scattered to the rest of the Jewish world. While some went to the north (the Netherlands most prominently), most went to the Ottoman Empire. But there were already Jews in the Ottoman Empire, from Greece to Egypt. And there were also far flung Jewish communities in the Levant, Iran, central Asia and Yemen. These historically had little to do with Sephardic culture, but the Sephards became an elite of sorts among them (in Greece the Sephards basically absorbed their predecessors and Ladino-their Spanish equivalent of Yiddish-became the language of the Jews). In the modern age, Jews of non-European origin are routinely described in the gentile press as "Sephardic," which is not strictly true. Those from the east of the Jewish world (from Syria and to the east and southeast) are strictly speaking Mizrahim (I might be getting the transliteration wrong here). So, one might assume that one can not attribute the achievements of the Spanish Golden Age to the modern "Sephardic Jews" since they are mostly not the genetic descendents of the Spanish Jews in question (most Irish speak English-but don't lay claim to Chaucer). On another point, before the Holocaust, the vast majority of the world's Jewry was Ashkenazi. Even today, the majority are Ashkenazi (though Israel has the 50/50 split-other centers of the Diaspora like the United States, Russia and France are mostly Ashkenazi). Where did all the Sephardic and Oriental Jews go? Historically, right before the rise of Islam, southern Mesopotamia was mostly Jewish and Yemen was ruled by Jewish kings (converts). They must have converted to Islam-either freely or forcibly and every shade in between. Ashkenazi Jews were also forced to convert and converted of their own will. But perhaps the conversion rate was different between different Jewish classes in the Islamic world. One way Muslims encouraged conversion of dhimmis was to give the property of non-Muslim relatives to converts (this wouldn't induce the poor to convert obviously, since their relatives were almost certainly as destitute, but might cause a rash of conversions among the rich seeking to safeguard their fortunes). Also, while ghettos were the norm in Europe from the Middle Ages on, they were not as well defined in the Islamic world (though there were always Jewish quarters). Kidnapping of children was common in Europe and the Islamic world-but I have read that in places like Yemen it was a veritable sport until recently (interestingly, in the 1949-1951 period the Ashkenazi elite of Israel basically perpetuated the practice by kidnapping the children of recent immigrants and raising them as Ashkenazi-it would interesting to do some psychometric tests of these children). In addition, Muslim practices and theology are generally thought to be somewhat closer to Judaism than Christianity's, so perhaps the former had more appeal to the Jewish elite than the latter's Grecian theology and Latinate practice. OK, enough already. I think you get it. Very few people are doing work in this area, because it's touchy and Kryptonite for your super academic career. Amateurs with axes to grind end up spewing out theories that don't get tested by respectable researchers. But just as it's hard to say, it's the genes stupid, one can't simply ignore them and say that culture trumps biology. Just like I believe in evolution, but am not as solid on its general process (is it genetic drift or natural selection-a mix or neither?), I believe there are differences between the races, but am willing to be flexible on the details. On a last note-I read Rushton's Race, Evolution and Behavior: A life history perspective thinking to debunk it. I was appalled by what I read. I'll be honest and say I don't think Dr. Rushton is judicious in the way he phrases some of his chapters, he comes close to say that blacks are over-sexed and violent in the same tones as the more antiseptic white nationalists (Rushton's publisher has taken him to task for delving into racialist politics after his assertions he was simply a scientist doing research). Later articles I read from Dr. Rushton indicate that he's become addicted to his hypothesis and attempts to fit all differences between cultures into his paradigm. That being said, one thing struck me: Dr. Rushton notes that blacks have twice the twinning rates as whites, who have twice the twinning rates as east Asians. Despite not wanting to believe the rest of what he said (social science is notoriously open to manipulation), I recalled my debates with radical feminists. Even if I granted them that males and females were at birth equal in their inclinations and capacities in all ways, they couldn't get around the fact that most women gave birth, and no men (that I know of) do. So that very fact would cause differences between the way men and women looked at the world on average. Now, that didn't convince most of my rhetorical opponents, but I always found it persuasive (I always manage to persuade myself somehow). So to me, this difference in twinning forced me to acknowledge all the little differences that I'd seen in my own life and wonder if they weren't more than the government or society imposing its own stereotypes on us all. Even correcting for income, blacks have higher levels of morbidity than whites. I'd always assumed this was because of social discrimination, but I wondered, what if blacks had naturally lower life expectancies??? (they mature faster). Libertarians make all sorts of arguments that social security discriminates against blacks because they don't get back what they pay in because they die too early. I always found this argument laughable (I oppose social security and government in general-but I don't pretend to have these positions because of a sense of racial justice), but if blacks do die earlier (researches now believe in a longevity gene, so we acknowledge that differences exist between families-in my own family, my maternal grandfather died at 100 and his aunt at 115, and this in Bangladesh!) than these arguments have some merit. Of course, the dominant discourse implies that any differences are simply the result of discrimination, so the libertarian argument against social security based on racial justice is easily rebutted by appealing to the position that we should improve the social condition of blacks rather than get rid of social security. So I guess I'll end on that note. The original eugenics movement was not all right-wing. The modern "race realist" movement need not be construed as strictly right-wing, and facts are always the best armament for social justice. At least I think so. Now, let's not get into what "justice" is.

Title IX finale A correspondent writes in response to my earlier posts on Title IX:

There has never been anything to stop male engineers from mating with women on the right end of the curve. I think what you mean is women on the right end for spatial-mechanical ability, which is what should set female engineers apart from other bright women. But do such males really prefer bright women with a mechanical bent--or bright women with a more typical high verbal pattern?

Quite right, I should have clarified that. The women on the right tail of the curve are disproportionately verbally rather than mathematically gifted. But I stand by my original statement (that engineering/sci men will not oppose a quota-fueled influx of women as much as one might think) for two reasons: First of all, you're more likely to meet women who enroll in the same courses or who work in the same department. This is true many times over for graduate students, who often never set foot outside their departments. Even if there was no preference for mathematically inclined women over verbal women, the influx of women into engineering would simply result in more women. A hypothetical male engineering graduate student, wishing to optimize his chances of mating before he leaves school, is unlikely to oppose gender quotas as strongly as he opposes race quotas. Secondly, I do think there is a preference for male engineers to prefer mathematically inclined women over verbally inclined women. Perhaps there's a survey on this somewhere, but all I can offer here is anecdotal evidence: look at Slashdot's response whenever there's a "nerd girl" in the news. If said nerd girl is a "hottie" or even "adequate", then outpourings of undying affection will follow. Example: Irish cryptography expert. (More available upon request...) My point is that there are a lot of engineering guys who openly drool over attractive women who can code with aplomb. Perhaps the majority of the technical crowd actually prefers women with high verbal ability, but they certainly aren't as vocal as the ones pining after "geek girls". Note also that it may be that these guys think they want a techie girl, but they would be best off with a verbal girl. I leave the calculation of the tension between assortative mating and genetic (intellectual) diversity as an exercise for the reader...

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/05/2002 02:21:00 AM | |

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Questions and Answers on Race Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Questions and Answers on Race I've gotten a lot of questions about the pieces of "race theory" that fall through the gaps. Pretty much everyone accepts that the Bell Curve's data on the predictive validity of IQ has borne up under intense scrutiny, and they grant that IQ is as useful a predictor for blacks and Hispanics as it is for whites. Most people also accept that Rushton's compiled data is accurate and consider his explanation to be the most plausible to date, but there are many points that fall through the gaps of this theory. I'm going to list in question and answer format some of the most common questions I've received and what I know about the possible answers. This is the first installment in an ongoing series. 1. I am not convinced that culture isn't responsible for current disparities in IQ among races. What do you think of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel?

Diamond is just about the most coherent advocate of the environmentalist position. Recall that my position is that genes and environment are both contributors to phenotype, while Diamond will cede only that group differences are due to environmental differences. But one of the tenets of the theory of evolution is that different environments will exert different selection pressures. Equatorial regions have generally resulted in darker skin tone (with the exception of Southeast Asia), but there are other modifications that are more than skin deep (e.g. malarial resistance). In a nutshell, Diamond allows that environments for the groups differed but denies that major genetic differences could arise as a result of this difference. There are excellent book reviews by Steve Sailer and Rushton which cover Diamond thoroughly.

2. The American Indians (Amerinds) are genetically of Asian descent and have only had 10-20 kiloyears or so of genetic isolation. So why aren't they at least of equal IQ performance with whites, assuming they exhibit reduced performance because of disadvantage?

I don't have all the answers here, and as far as I know there have not been large scale IQ tests of Native Americans. There has been a lot of genetic evidence that indicates that Amerinds at some time in their past experienced a bottleneck or founder effect. What that means is that at sometime in the past (either in the migrating "founder" band or due to starvation) population levels dropped substantially and genetic diversity was choked off. It may be that individuals not representative of the North Asian population (e.g. with lower IQs) were members of the founders. This is speculation. The issue of Amerind origins (number of migrations, etc.) still hasn't been resolved to everyone's satisfaction. It is however agreed that Amerinds exhibit evidence of a bottleneck/founder effect. Here's a reference on this which has a bunch of pointers to literature.

3. Shouldn't there be "Asian genes" in Hispanic and Amerind populations?

Asian genes do exist in these populations, as you'll see from the lecture notes I linked. However the genetics are distinct enough that you can tell the difference between Hispanics, Amerinds and Asians if you were given two vials of blood. The differences are important enough that Hispanics and Amerinds are suboptimal blood donorsfor each other.

4. Southeast Asians

I don't know much about genetic studies on Southeast Asians, but they are genetically distinguishable from Northeast Asians. The genetic evidence shows that Southeast Asians are closer to Africans than the Northeast Asians are. Northeast Asians exhibit much less genetic diversity on the Y chromosome as certain alleles are not extant or of very different frequency in Northeast vs. Southeast Asian populations. It's not as severe as the Native American bottleneck/founder effect. If you have full text access to Nature Genetics, here's the link to the article. You might also want to check out Cavalli Sforza's massive population genetics book. I'll get it out of the library (eventually...) and take another look at it with specific attention to the Northeast/Southeast Asian distinction. I'm sure there will be relevant information in there.

5. Why might Ashkenazi Jews exhibit a high IQ not replicated by Sephardic Jews?

There are genetic differences between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews, but the extent of these differences has not been totally hashed out (to my knowledge). Genetic evidence (Science 1999 October 15; 286: 451-453) to date indicates that:

The data suggest that present-day Ashkenazim descend from a relatively small number of ancestors, perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 in Poland and neighboring states at the beginning of the 16th century and even fewer 1000 years ago. The data are consistent with historical investigations that suggest that the wealthier classes of this population expanded rapidly despite many losses in subsequent pogroms.

I don't know why Ashkenazis would have higher IQs than the Sephardim if both communities practiced the selective marriage (essentially eugenic) practices that their genetic life history (via mtDNA) seems to indicate they did. I'm not aware of representative studies of the Sephardim mean IQ. However, to reiterate: if you've read my blog or the WSJ statement you know the IQ results are not meaningless - they are excellent predictors for the tested group.

What does all this mean? It means that there are still many things we don't know about the genetics of race. Population genetic based life histories are really hot right now, and I anticipate that we'll know a lot more in 10 years once we can sample the genetics of large populations more cheaply. There are obstacles to this process, but if they're overcome we will have a good shot at reconstructing the small scale dynamics of the human diaspora. As an ancilliary benefit we'll have an (improved) map of human genetics to follow Cavalli-Sforza's masterwork. As for intelligence, IQ is an excellent predictor for those tested - of whatever race - that correlates with what most would perceive as intelligence. I don't know how to rationalize the (important) cases above, but Rushton has done the best job to date with Asians, Europeans & Africans in his book "Race, Evolution, & Behavior". I think that Rushton is on to something, but his theory is incomplete if it can't account for the cases discussed above. It seems to me that the major issue is the question of Hispanic and Amerind genetics, which may be explainable in terms of the founder effect. Since such work is fraught with controversy, the normal process of rational discourse has been derailed and it may be a while before people publicly follow in Rushton's footsteps. However, as I've said before, the gold standard for intelligence research is an understanding of the molecular genetics of intelligence. This is the sort of research being pursued by groundbreakers like Plomin, Thompson, and Tsien. Once we understand which genes contribute to high intelligence, we can inspect the (representative) genotypes of populations and ask whether such genes are present or not. We may not be able to come up with evolution-based rationalizations for why these genes are present, but the molecular genetic evidence will be indisputable. It's my prediction that we will find that genes which contribute to high intelligence are most prevalent in the following populations: Europeans, Russians (Eurasians), Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Ashkenazi Jews, Indian Brahmins, and (some) Middle Eastern groups (particularly the Iranians). This prediction is eminently verifiable/falsifiable, and I wouldn't be surprised to see subpopulations in groups I hadn't thought of exhibiting genetic predispositions to high intelligence. (Alaskan Natives strike me as a particularly likely case...) One other note: official pronouncements on genetics must by necessity include an ink cloud, so take any studies that "disprove race" on genetic grounds with a massive grain of salt. For example, don't be surprised to hear Orwellian doubletalk like this one:

"What we didn't see was any variation that really defined what might be considered to be an ethnic group," Vovis said. "What we did see, however, was that different versions of a gene may be present at higher frequencies in one group of a geographical origin over another."

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/04/2002 09:01:00 PM | |

History, culture, geography + race Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

History, culture, geography + race I'm going to try and answer questions that I find particularly interesting about a post by David Nierengarten in the comments section below where Godless was introducing Gene Expression.
2) Considering ancient civilizations, why did at least a couple arise in Central American and what about the Ethiopian kingdoms? (if sub-Saharan Africans are so lacking in IQ, how did Ethiopia become a respectable kingdom back in the days?)
Is Ethiopia the only example you can give? Because one can dispute whether Ethiopia can be used to represent sub-Saharan Africa with any accuracy. Ethiopians are phenotypically distinct from the inhabitants of west and south Africa, though there is some overlap with other east Africans, especially Somalis. Genetically, their Y-chromosome lineages show a strong infusion of Caucasoid genes (though their mt-DNA is similar to populations to their south and west). The primary languages of the ruling class of Ethiopia (and neighboring Eritrea) are Amarhic and Tigriyna, both Semitic-like Arabic, Hebrew and the ancient languages of the Near East. Their religion-Ethiopian Orthodoxy, is affiliated with the Coptic Church of Egypt. Their ruling dynasty had a tradition of descent from Hebrew (Solomon) and south Arabian royalty (the Queen of Sheba). Look at the kingdom of Axum and the later Ethiopian dynasties, and you'll see that they look outwards, toward Arabia, Egypt, India and even Byzantium. The relations of the Christian Ethiopians of the highlands with black Africans to their south and east is similar to the relations between Christian Germans and pagan Balts in the 10th to 14th centuries, conquest, slavery and subjugation. Ethiopia might be the exception that proves the rule. It is partly the result of cultural diffusion from southern Arabia, sustained by trade with the civilizations of the Eurasian rim. The decline of Axum was directly connected to the decline of its contact with Byzantium, and one wonders if the Ethiopian Christian state would have survived without European intervention during the 16th century (the Nubian Christians fell to Arab jihadis a century earlier). There were other states in Africa, the Shona empire of Great Zimbabwe being the classic example that is purely indigenous. But as John Read notes in Africa: A Biography, aside from the Ethiopians, sub-Saharan Africa has not on its own produced highly bureaucratic states on the classical civilized model. It has not produced a rich indigenous (rather than stimulated from the outside via Islam as in West Africa) literate tradition to supersede its oral tradition. Decentralized tribal confederations have been the rule, not the exception. Why is this? Climate and geography are compelling reasons. And yet, why did southern India and Sri Lanka, as well as Java, both tropical regions without great navigable rivers, develop advanced civilizations (often earlier than northern Europeans). Cultural diffusion (proximity to culture bearing groups) can be used as an example-but then, Ethiopia has been Christian since the 4th century C.E., but Christianity was introduced into Africa from Europe-indicating how much contact Ethiopians had with other sub-Saharan Africans. The Ethiopian model never spread to the rest of the Africa. So some of us, perhaps with more daring than we ought, wonder if perhaps the confluence of climate and geography, and historical happenstance, has molded the behavioral genetics of most Africans to make them more congenial to decentralized tribalisms than large states predicated on a bureaucratic elite. As to central America, the Mayans and Aztecs (as well as the Incas) had sophisticated civilizations, but I think Jared Diamond's explanations in Guns, Germs and Steel were rather cogent as to why they hadn't developed to the levels of Eurasian cultures. I think that one can assert that the Aztecs and Incas were pre-historic states, at the same level of development as the city-states of Sumer or the proto-Egyptian state in the 4th millennium before Christ.
3) What about addressing the idea that population density and neighboring competition inspires technological development? (you need to outsmart your enemies and also develop things like sewers when your cities grow etc). As North America and sub-Saharan African have had low population densities historically, is this perhaps a reason they didn't have the same development as Europe and Asia? (also why the densest populated areas of Central America and Africa had the most advanced kingdoms in the Mayans/Aztecs and Ethiopians).
Chicken and egg. Do dense populations happen because of innovation, or innovation because of dense population? This question has been asked about the neolithic revolution-was it cause or effect? Dense populations don't always lead to innovation though. Greece was a notoriously anti-natal-and Attica was the least fertile region, but the Golden Age of Athens showed that quality, not quantity matters.
4) Why do black Americans score higher (about 1 SD) than black Africans in IQ tests, when black Americans are mostly (about 88% by genetics) similar to black Africans? Is that degree of white admixture sufficient to raise their IQ scores that much?
OK, well, black Americans are 18% white. I do believe that the IQ tests of black Americans are accurate, there's been a consistent trend for 100 years of a 15 point gap. On the other hand, the IQs of certain African nations seem ridiculously low. The lowest I saw was 59! I think we are seeing the result here of the lack of the Flynn Effect. Bad nutrition and poor educational facilities probably don't help the abstract reasoning capabilities of many people in the developing world. Also, though IQ tests in the United States have been reproduced time and again on different groups by different researchers, I suspect some of the results for certain countries were done under less than ideal research conditions, and reproducing the tests would be difficult because of political considerations and possible danger to the researchers lives.
As an aside, just what markers (if any) distinguish South Asians genetically from East Asians or Caucasians?
Hm. I don't have the links handy, but this is what I've found in my research in trolling through issues of The American Journal of Human Genetics and other publications.
  • There is a northwest-southeast gradient in genetic markers, with some of the inhabitants of modern day Pakistan having as much in common with Iranians as they do with other Indians
  • There is a small contribution by east Asians via Assam-indicated by the presence of a language related to Mon (Burma) and Cambodian in central India (and the possible introduction of rice agriculture).
  • The Y-Chromosome lineages of high-caste Indian men show many similarities with Middle Easterners and Europeans.
  • The mt-DNA shows far less similarities with the aforementioned groups, and more with lower-caste Indians.
  • So, one can think of South Asians as an amalgam between relative newcomers from the north and west with ancient Eurasian inhabitants and a small number of migrants from east Asia. Some South Asians are probably pretty similar to other Caucasoids, especially higher-caste people and Bollywood film stars, while others (the Dalits and Adivasis or tribals) less so.
I can't speak for Godless, but I don't think genetics explains everything. But, as someone who's read Jared Diamond, Thomas Sowell and David S. Lande, the geographic, climatic, historic and culture reasons have been done to death. But what about behavioral genetics? Can it contribute nothing to our understanding of differences between human populations? The common wisdom is, no. But I want to change that and add it to the mix. For that of course, you're usually called a racist (in public at least). We might seem like all we care about is the implications of genetic differences between populations, but the fact is few are talking about it openly, so someone has to broach the topic. As someone with brown skin, I hope I can fend off accusations of being a baby-Storm Trooper. The IQ shown for India is only like 81-so I'm not going to claim racial superiority over someone (though I like to think of myself as an individual-novel idea, I know). And I do think there are negatives with not taking into account possible biological differences between different peoples. For instance, let's be honest about it, most African cultures place a premium on male sexual prowess to the point of caricature. Most African cultures have strong polygamous traditions. Today, most of Africa is Christian or dominated by a Christian political class, so polygamy is officially frowned upon. But that hasn't changed the behavior of individual men, especially those with income and status. They're taking girlfriends who because they can't be second or third wives and be officially fully supported, have multiple boyfriends who also have other girlfriends. This of course leads to the AIDS epidemic which we're so familiar with. The response of Westerners, liberal and conservative, has been to educate Africans on AIDS. Christianity and the liberal conscious wants African men to be good monogamous husbands. But what if in the context of a million years of co-evolved diseases and prey, African man had to develop a particular mating strategy that tends toward polygamy? And that mating strategy is now having problems accommodating itself to western conventions of proper behavior. Of course, if you assume that humans are only cultural beings, the solution would just be to change the culture, which is what people are trying to do. Now, I'm not saying that there's a behavioral difference, but in the current climate, no one could even consider asking if the problem might not be soluble by simply changing the culture.

costs are costs Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

costs are costs Fantastic (as always) Landsburg column in Slate today. Despite the title of the piece ("Shut City Hall! The Supreme Court concludes that most government agencies should be out of business."), it's not really about anti-governmentism. Instead it points out the easy-to-overlook truth that costs are costs.
When local landowners requested compensation for moratorium-related losses, the court turned them down. Why? Because, according to Justice Stevens, land-use regulation -- and for that matter most other government activity -- would be prohibitively expensive if governments bore all the costs. But if a regulation is too expensive when governments (i.e., taxpayers) bear the costs, then that same regulation is too expensive, period. If a development moratorium costs landowners $10,000, then the cost of that moratorium is $10,000, whether or not the landowners are compensated. Without compensation, the landowners are out $10,000; with compensation, the taxpayers are out $10,000; either way, the $10,000 cost is the same.
Landsburg's piece is timely, because I was thinking about the same issue today after reading a silly JWR column advocating a draft to force people to be airport screeners "at a price we can afford." To parallel Landsburg's argument, if I'm making, say, $100K working at MSFT, and the government wants me to be an airport screener, they have two options. They can offer me $100K (which costs the taxpayers $100K) so that I'm willing to leave MSFT. Or they can force me to work for $20K (which costs the taxpayers $20K and me $80K, or $100K total). Either way it costs $100K to get me as an airport screener. In the first case the costs are distributed widely among taxpayers, in the second they fall mostly on me. But the suggestion that mandatory service is a "cheap" way to get airport screeners is disingenuous. True, it's cheaper for the average taxpayer. But it's potentially very costly for those roped into serving.

the merger of biology and digital technology Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

the merger of biology and digital technology Time is running a nice high-level piece on "the merger of biology and digital technology." Brief interviews with scientists touch on self-regulating systems, evolutionary computing, self-organization, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. There's nothing terribly deep here, but it's a decent overview of some important trends.

Template I am about to change the template. If it looks funny for a few minutes, please bear with. Success! Let me know if you have any problems. I think it's more readable now.

Monday, June 03, 2002

the great depression GC passed on Res's assertion that "the Great Depression is a perfect example of what happens without some sort of governmental regulation." Now let me start out by saying that I'm no economic historian. But Res's idea that the Great Depression resulted from the "excesses" of Laissez-Faire capitalism is not as generally agreed-upon as you'd think from his statement. Milton Friedman, for instance, asserts
What happened was that from 1929 to 1933 you had a major contraction which, in my opinion, was caused primarily by the failure of the Federal Reserve System, to follow the course of action for which it was set up. It was set up to prevent exactly what happened from 1929 to 1933. But instead of preventing it, they facilitated it. The Depression, I may say, which started in 1929 was rather mild from 1929 to 1930. And, indeed, in my opinion would have been over in 1931 at the latest had it not been that the Federal Reserve followed a policy which led to bank failures, widespread bank failures, and led to a reduction in the quantity of money.
Similarly, the Austrians (one of whom I am not) argue that
The reasons for the Great Depression's severity were not, however, to be found in any inherent failure of the market economy, but rather in the political ideologies and government policies of the 1930s.
You should read and decide for yourself, of course. But I take the ideas of Friedman and Mises far more seriously than those of the discredited Keynes.

no smoking? Looks like my soon-to-be home is at it again. California is trying to raise its smoking age to 21:
National studies have shown that most people begin smoking before 18, while those who reach 21 without becoming smokers are very unlikely to ever take up the habit.
Well, if the legal smoking age is now 18, and most people [most smokers?] begin before 18, one might conclude that legality is not such a big factor in deciding whether to start smoking. This alone should make one question the efficacy of trying to curb smoking by raising the legal age. (Reuters seems not to find this possibility worth commenting on.) But even if the studies showed that most people began smoking between 18 and 21, it would still be reckless to conclude that raising the legal age would curb smoking rates. To see why, consider the following two hypotheses: (A) Most people who don't start smoking by age 21 will never start smoking. (B) Most people who don't start smoking within 3 years after they "turn legal" will never start smoking. Evidence that people who don't smoke by age 21 will never smoke is insufficient to favor one hypothesis over the other. And while in the first case a rise in the smoking age certainly would cut down the number of new smokers, in the second case new smokers would only be briefly delayed from picking up the habit. (The second, incidentally, strikes me as the more plausible, though that's based on nothing more than intuition.) Now, as a cranky economist, I'm inclined to believe that people who chose to smoke know what they're doing, and that it's not the government's job (or anyone else's) to second-guess them. Second-guessing them using flawed reasoning is even worse. Update - Hey, what do you know?
"Laws that prohibit merchants from selling cigarettes to minors have not helped to reduce rates of teenage smoking in the US and should therefore be abandoned, researchers conclude."

Appropriate that it's from the "Christian Science Monitor" Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Gahhh. This is the sort of stuff that boils my blood. You'd think that since "The Selfish Gene" was written over two decades ago, the basic point that selfish gene does not equal selfish person would have gotten through. But the reverse is a damn persistent meme. There was a book that came out a couple of years ago called "The Darwin Wars;" it began with the story of George Price, who went mad and killed himself after proving, through equations, some of the basic assumptions of selfish-gene thinking. As the author, Andrew Brown, writes, "though his equation showed that truly self-sacrificing behavior can exist among animals, and even humans, it also seemed to show that there is nothing noble in it." But why would nobility only exist in the absence of natural selection for it? That's ridiculous, and clearly an attempt for religion to monopolize morality. (Andrew Brown is, of course, a religion writer.) Isn't it more noble to try and overcome some of the cruel tendencies left over from our biological evolution than to deny that they could possibly exist?

love and other "unselfish" behaviors Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

love and other "unselfish" behaviors One irritation of being an evolutionary theorist is frequently having to read your views cast in straw man form by their opponents. This CS Monitor article, for example -- to argue that religious ideas are needed to explain love -- invokes an appalling mischaracterization of evolutionary psychology:
For years now, evolutionary scientists have insisted that, outside close-kin relationships, all caring acts are motivated by self-interest and calculation. The "selfish gene" theory permeates wide realms of contemporary life.
But this simply isn't true. Evolutionary psychologists draw a careful distinction between "selfish genes" and selfish people. Steven Pinker, for instance, writes
People don't have the goal of propagating their genes; people have the goal of pursuing satisfying thoughts and feelings. Our genes have the metaphorical goal of building a complex brain in which the satisying thoughts and feelings were linked to acts that tended to propagate those genes in the ancient environment in which we evolved.
And Richard Dawkins argues:
RICHARD DAWKINS: The self-interest of genes can be accomplished by programming non-selfish behavior at higher levels at levels of, say, the organism. PAUL SOLMAN: Cooperation? RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. PAUL SOLMAN: Love? RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes, love if love leads to the survival of selfish genes, which it often does.
Now I'm the first to admit that evolutionary scientists have a yet-incomplete understanding of (and even competing theories of) love and other "unselfish" behaviors. But the suggestion -- based on a clearly false assertion -- that such behaviors "constitute an unresolved evolutionary quandary" and that evolutionary science focuses only on "the negative, deficit, or disease model of human nature" represents an extremely disingenuous attempt to keep evolutionary science from kicking religion out the door.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

Title IX Redux A correspondent writes:

First you need to wake up and smell da coffee. The elimination of football PERIOD is the hidden agenda of some of the more ardent Title IX sports crusaders. If that is accomplished they will move on to demanding proportionality in physics, engineering, and any high-prestige or high-paying field where they can claim disproportionately low numbers of females. All while keeping wimmin's studies 100% female and supporting the right of the Mary Dalys of the world to refuse to allow males in their classes.

Perhaps I was being unclear: I think that if you keep the funding for football, but remove it from the tally of "men's sports funding", then you'll get a number that is more reasonable. that is, if you set (women's funds) = (men's funds - football funds) that alone would go a long way towards clearing up the problem of cutting teams left and right. I agree that Title IX is a stalking horse for enforced gender equality in every profession, which will doubtless undermine the quality of our engineers/physicists/mathematicians. Perhaps eventually there will be male pressure to break into what will soon become the "matriarchy" of medicine/biology/law...who knows. However...unlike the relentless minority quota pressure, there are many of my colleagues who are less opposed to the pressure to increase the number of women in engineering programs. This is because many of them have grim memories of lonely nights in the basement soldering circuits. There's too much "fraternizing with the enemy" for them to get REALLY worked up over an influx of women. Remember, enforcing gender equality in engineering is unfortunate from society's perspective but not from the perspective of the individual male engineer. Not only will it be easier for the male to do well in school due to decreased competition (especially at elite schools where math ability differences become more important), but they'll be able to practice assortative mating with women who are still quite far out on the right tail of the IQ distribution. La Griffe Du Lion did some sample calculations that seem relevant to this topic, and he estimates a maximum percentage for women in math-intensive disciplines around 22-27%.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/02/2002 11:58:00 PM | |

More on Res So, Res Ipsa Loquitur has a followup on our public discussion of the reality of race. Let's take a look at what he has to say:

If you were to call me a 'racist-motherfucker,' (which I am sure you get a lot of, GC) then I might take offense. But after being called a racist-motherfucker by some in Sproul Plaza so many times, even that term tends to lose its offensive effect over time. Regarding the definition of misanthropy, I would like to note that this vocabule is gender specific (i.e. "man hater").

Well, I would get called a racist if I said anything about what I believe in real life. Even as an anonymous blogger I get 5-10 pieces of hate mail a month accusing me of being a fascist. If any of my colleagues knew what I believed, I would face serious consequences. This blog serves almost like a pressure valve...if I can get my thoughts out here, I don't feel the horrible urge to utter the truth and thereby commit professional suicide everytime I hear an idiotic assertion. So yes, I do get called a "racist motherfucker" fairly frequently, but never in real life. (I may have some degree of immunity to this charge as I am non-white...) As for misanthrope's gender specificity, the word you're looking for is "misandrist", which means a hatred of man. Misanthrope, on the other hand, connotes a hatred of mankind.

But ideology in the "hard" sciences? This is still hard for me to stomach ...

Believe it. Perhaps the most successful of the left's ideas is the fallacy that all groups have equal abilities and that the differences between them are merely cosmetic. This is why you see ostensibly "hard core techie" publications like the IEEE releasing issues bemoaning the paucity of non-Asian minority/female enrollment. For example:

Women's studies and computer science both evolved as academic disciplines in the 1960s, but they evolved along very different paths. The differences between science, engineering, and the humanities are discussed, followed by a brief review of women's studies. Feminist epistemology and its dedication to concrete learning introduce new ideas for gaining knowledge that will also make computer science more relevant for minority and low-income students. Children's use of computer technology and Logo software is introduced.

There are other areas in which the left has made major inroads, such as environmental science and religious belief. Witness the attacks on Lomborg's "The Skeptical Environmentalist" for an indication of how far the pendulum has swung. Regular readers may be surprised that I include "religious belief" as one of the areas in which the left is dominant. This deserves some clarification. There are two kinds of atheists: those who don't believe in god because of a lack of evidence, and those who don't believe in god because they hate god. I belong to the former category (the real atheists), while the far left belongs to the latter category (the rebels). I can't stress enough how important the distinction is. It is the "god hating" category that predominates in academia, and while they will not hesitate to use "real atheist" justifications for godlessness, their usage of such justifications is as selective as the quotations of a scientific creationist. These "humanists" usually accept as their axiom the belief that all humans are essentially biologically equal, which is a false assertion. In general, I find them just as reluctant to admit evidence as the religious. Res goes on to say:

Secondly, while you may be able to determine the race of my "ancestors," which "ancestors" are you referring to? Do my ancestors include Lucy? Hasn't she been carbon dated with relative accuracy? Doesn't her discovery make us all natives of the Rift Valley and therefore, Ethiopian? While the archaeological record will never be complete, Lucy may serve as a compelling argument as to why we are more similar than we are different as human beings.

First of all, we are obviously more similar than we are different. All of us have essentially the same body schematics: two legs, two arms, etc. That's not what the question is here. The question is: Are the small but consistent patterns of differences between human beings relevant today? The answer is a resounding and powerful YES. Please read this post and this post for more details. Can we determine your ancestry all the way back to Leakey's Lucy? Perhaps, by tracking the mutations in the mtDNA, assuming that we have a good sample of Lucy's bones. But that's not relevant to my point, which is that we can determine where your recent ancestors were from. I'm not a forensic anthropologist, but I know that it isn't much of a challenge for us to genetically determine the ancestry of an individual. It requires training to discern race from (say) skeleton measurements, but it's trivial with a blood sample. Multiracial individuals are still no problem - we can distinguish (say) asian/black admixtures from white/black or white/asian admixtures with ease.

While I am no expert in population genetics, I am aware that your version of biological determinism could have harmful effects of reinforcing stereotypes ... Also, while I am open to the idea of the "biological reality" of race, I am suspicious as to its significance in our society. In the affirmative action debate, it is presumed that anyone who is a "minority" suffers from social and economic disadvantage, which is not true at all.

A stereotype is an inaccurate generalization . It can be disproved by statistical counterexample. If I were to say that many young black males are criminals, most would assail this as a stereotype. But it is a FACT, not a stereotype. Is it rational to say that every young black male is a criminal? No, of course not. Is it rational to avoid areas in which young black males predominate? Of course it is, because of the statistically higher likelihood of victimization. We can use all the euphemisms we like, but the simple truth is that black neighborhoods are much more dangerous than white neighborhoods, which are in turn somewhat more dangerous than asian neighborhoods. The difference between black and white criminality is thoroughly explained in this PDF...while I disagree with the policy positions of American Renaissance, their analysis of this issue uses only publicly available statistics and is readily checked. I can come up with MANY other examples in which failing to distinguish by race throws away an important and crucial bit of information. Medical diagnosis is one, and college admissions is another. Ok, I'm a bit tired tonight so I'll just list Res' remaining points and briefly respond:

Socialists were wrong not because of their understanding of human nature, but because like race, not everyone fits into their typologies ... socialism was a failure because it did not employ the concept of popular sovereignty ... Capitalism is not without its flaws as well. For example, the Great Depression is a perfect example of what happens without some sort of governmental regulation. ... Moreover, eugenics was central to Nazi ideology. I am not calling you a Nazi, GC, but beware of those who may. .... Corn is one thing, but human beings should be given the option not to be engineered.

1. As Edward O. Wilson, the world's foremost expert on ants, remarked about Marxism: "Wonderful theory. Wrong species.'' Socialism doesn't work because our genetic programming doesn't give us enough benefit for selfless sacrifice. That's the long and the short of it. All the other stuff is simply a consequence of this fact. 2. If you look at my position statement and my earlier comments, I have never endorsed laissez faire capitalism. Externality theory provides a principled basis for imposing regulations. (Perhaps Joel G. can add to these comments?) 3. Eugenics in the early part of the century was about forced breeding and sterilization. It could only be effectively implemented by tyrannical governments. It is a tremendous error to confuse that kind of eugenics with genetic engineering, which is at its heart a question of individual choice. No one will be forced to re-engineer themselves, but eventually everyone will have to in order to remain competitive. I see nothing wrong with this. PS - Res, you should list an email on your page so that I don't have to post every response.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/02/2002 09:49:00 PM | |

Thoughts on Title IX For once, the Times has an editorial that I can partially agree with on the topic of Title IX. There is of course still some residual idiocy:

There has been a mechanistic, by-the-numbers quality to the way some colleges and universities have chosen to abide by the law to make themselves lawsuit-proof. That has helped lead to the dismantling of several hundred men's teams in sports like wrestling and gymnastics. But the demise of those teams need not be attributed to Title IX. Bloated football budgets could easily take cuts so the money for men's sports could be distributed more equitably. And under the law, an institution can prove compliance simply by showing that it has been improving opportunities for women - without proving proportionality with men.

The last line is simply nonsense. "Improving opportunities" doesn't make you lawsuit-proof, but percentile manipulation does. It's also unquestionable that men's programs that were not in the spotlight (e.g. wrestling) have been cut to make room for women's programs. This is a zero-sum allocation, and pretending that it's not caused by Title IX is very different from acknowledging that some will lose funds so that others can gain funds. That said, I agree with Title IX's desirability in the broad sense. I think that if football was eliminated from the calculations and if the percentages were not quotas that led to male team elimination, then Title IX would be fine. I'd bet that the vastly improved female physiques we see in the 2000's and the 90's (vs. the 80s and before) are in large part due to Title IX and its effect on women's sports. That alone should be enough of a benefit to convince the more lecherous of us. There's no reason why women shouldn't have the option to play sports, just as there's no reason that they shouldn't have the option to go into science/engineering. The problem is when people expect every ratio to be 50/50 male/female, when all the data indicates that the ratios will never approach this value in most fields. We shouldn't let our antipathy to percentile manipulation inure us to the real benefits of Title IX.

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/02/2002 05:41:00 PM | |

Back to Iraq For the record, I'm very much in favor of an invasion of Iraq and a subsequent Marshall Plan style restoration. Japan, Germany, and South Korea have powerhouse economies today, and their success is largely because of the US restoration. Establishing an American protectorate in Iraq during the transition to democracy will serve both the left and the right. The left will be happy that human rights are not being violated by Saddam Hussein. The right will be happy that we have national security and immediate access to a vast amount of oil. It's a win/win situation. There is one potential caveat. It is uncertain whether the Iraqis have enough smart fellows to run an economy as successfully as the Koreans, the Japanese, or the Germans. Personally I'd give them the benefit of the doubt. Unlike sub-Saharan Africa, I don't think it's definitive that the Middle East is lacking in people with a high enough IQ to maintain a modern economy. (Iran in particular has a very high number of technically sophisticated expats studying at elite US universities.)

posted by godlesscapitalist | 6/02/2002 05:16:00 PM | |

Principles of Population Genetics
Genetics of Populations
Molecular Evolution
Quantitative Genetics
Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics
Evolutionary Genetics
Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution
The Genetics of Human Populations
Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits
Epistasis and Evolutionary Process
Evolutionary Human Genetics
Mathematical Models in Biology
Evolutionary Genetics: Case Studies and Concepts
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 1
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 2
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 3
Statistical Methods in Molecular Evolution
The History and Geography of Human Genes
Population Genetics and Microevolutionary Theory
Population Genetics, Molecular Evolution, and the Neutral Theory
Genetical Theory of Natural Selection
Evolution and the Genetics of Populations
Genetics and Origins of Species
Tempo and Mode in Evolution
Causes of Evolution
The Great Human Diasporas
Bones, Stones and Molecules
Natural Selection and Social Theory
Journey of Man
Mapping Human History
The Seven Daughters of Eve
Evolution for Everyone
Why Sex Matters
Mother Nature
Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language
R.A. Fisher, the Life of a Scientist
Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology
Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics
A Reason for Everything
The Ancestor's Tale
Dragon Bone Hill
Endless Forms Most Beautiful
The Selfish Gene
Adaptation and Natural Selection
Nature via Nurture
The Symbolic Species
The Imitation Factor
The Red Queen
Out of Thin Air
Evolutionary Dynamics
The Origin of Species
The Descent of Man
Age of Abundance
The Darwin Wars
The Evolutionists
The Creationists
Of Moths and Men
The Language Instinct
How We Decide
Predictably Irrational
The Black Swan
Fooled By Randomness
Descartes' Baby
Religion Explained
In Gods We Trust
Darwin's Cathedral
A Theory of Religion
The Meme Machine
Synaptic Self
The Mating Mind
A Separate Creation
The Number Sense
The 10,000 Year Explosion
The Math Gene
Explaining Culture
Origin and Evolution of Cultures
Dawn of Human Culture
The Origins of Virtue
Prehistory of the Mind
The Nurture Assumption
The Moral Animal
Born That Way
No Two Alike
Survival of the Prettiest
The Blank Slate
The g Factor
The Origin Of The Mind
Unto Others
Defenders of the Truth
The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition
Before the Dawn
Behavioral Genetics in the Postgenomic Era
The Essential Difference
Geography of Thought
The Classical World
The Fall of the Roman Empire
The Fall of Rome
History of Rome
How Rome Fell
The Making of a Christian Aristoracy
The Rise of Western Christendom
Keepers of the Keys of Heaven
A History of the Byzantine State and Society
Europe After Rome
The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity
The Barbarian Conversion
A History of Christianity
God's War
Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople
The Sacred Chain
Divided by the Faith
The Reformation
Pursuit of Glory
Albion's Seed
From Plato to Nato
China: A New History
China in World History
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Children of the Revolution
When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World
The Great Arab Conquests
After Tamerlane
A History of Iran
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language
A World History
Guns, Germs, and Steel
The Human Web
Plagues and Peoples
A Concise Economic History of the World
Power and Plenty
A Splendid Exchange
Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD
Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations
A Farewell to Alms
The Ascent of Money
The Great Divergence
Clash of Extremes
War and Peace and War
Historical Dynamics
The Age of Lincoln
The Great Upheaval
What Hath God Wrought
Freedom Just Around the Corner
Throes of Democracy
Grand New Party
A Beautiful Math
When Genius Failed
Catholicism and Freedom
American Judaism

Powered by Blogger
Creative Commons License

Terms of use


Razib's total feed: