August 2008

A title-card before the second act of “Birth of a Nation” states “This is an historical presentation of the Civil War and Reconstruction Period, and is not meant to reflect on any race or people today”. I think that has to take the cake as weakest defense against accusations of racism ever. He can’t even say “At least it’s not Birth of a Nation!” because that’s exactly what it is.

He used to be one of the most active bloggers around, posting several posts a day even after promising to take a break. His last post was August 10. I haven’t heard any explanation. Does anyone know?

Speaking of marginal conservatives with names beginning with D, Dylan Waco of the Left Conservative is contributing to the new right-wing Slate-like online magazine Culture11. I haven’t read anything there because I’m a philistine who can’t appreciate the finer things in life, like pro-wrestling.
UPDATE: Like Bloody Mary or Biggie Smalls, I have caused the return of the Dark Lord merely by saying his name.

Right now I’m listening to Why Civilizations Can’t Climb Hills by James Scott, author of Seeing Like a State (which I haven’t gotten around to reading). His thesis is that the characteristics we find among primitive peoples (often low-scale agriculturalists) are not a holdover from pre-history, but rather a reaction to civilization, or more specifically the state. This would seem to have implications for evolutionary psychologists on the nature of the evolutionary adaptive period. Scott focuses on the difference between the state-building valley civilizations and the hill-dwelling barbarian tribes, but he also discusses other groups such as the Cossacks (who he says are now well defined as an ethnic group, though they started out as runaway serfs). He also quotes Owen Lattimore, who I didn’t expect to hear about outside discussions of Freda Utley and her China Story. It seems to contrast with Oppenheimer’s theory of nomadic barbarian pastoralists conquering sedentary agriculturalists (and sometimes hunter-gatherers). Scott mentions the Arabs (as opposed to Berbers) as a force of civilization, but they’re better characterized as nomadic than sedentary crop-growers. He also states that in the New World Europeans killed/kicked out the natives when they hadn’t developed sedentary agriculture or replaced the elites and instituted more efficient taxation otherwise, but that did not happen in the southeastern United States. The part about agricultural strategies to avoid expropriation reminded me of the anecdote Daniel Dennet mentioned about cicadas having reproductive life-cycles prime-numbered years long to avoid synchronization with predators. I got a laugh at the end when someone in the audience accused him of excusing hill peoples for their right-wing political histories. Another interesting part stemming from the same questioner is about the conversion of these peoples to religions that are globally powerful but distinct from the locally dominant faiths, which reminded me of what Razib of Gene Expression has wrote on the topic. Hat tip to Reason Hit & Run.

Via the ATS mailing-list I came across this article about Semco in Brazil, which unintentionally adopted a rather anarcho-syndicalist style of management. The question though that I’ve always had for folks like Kevin Carson is why we don’t see profit-maximizing corporations imitating this if it works so well?

I take back my earlier statement. I don’t truthfully know who either is, but I do not think it likely they are the same person.

Apologies for the lack of posts. I finished Collapse without having more I felt like saying about it, and while I’m enjoying Daniel Dennet’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea I haven’t yet had anything to say about that either. E. O. Wilson’s Consilience is up next and after that I figure why not dive into the Bell Curve? To complete the terrible triumvirate opening the Blank Slate I would then have to read Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape, but that isn’t as widely available. Speaking of sociobiology though, I think the Sahlins guy everyone is making fun of here is the same one Tooby & Cosmides take down (among others) in The Psychological Foundations of Culture.

I found his e-mail address via Preston’s yahoo group and decided to ask him what the deal was with Brooklyn Copperhead (it was months ago that he promised a post later that evening). He told me he’s started on a book and occasionally guests at Philip Weiss‘, but B.C was too much of a distraction. I assume the book is the history of American radicalism Preston has alluded to before, which you might not expect a self-described Kirkian to write.

That’s what Robert Lindsay says in his index of academic racism. Gordon’s page at John Hopkins is here. He’s a sociologist, usually a hotbed of leftism and PC, and the ex-husband of Linda Gottfredson.

Lindsay’s criterion for determining whether someone is a racist is opposition to anti-discrimination law.

I’ve about the book in numerous places, and now I get to read 70s French paranoia about hordes of Hindus for free on my computer. Hat tip a commenter in a Reason Hit & Run thread on the bloggingheads diavlog between Shikha Dalmia and Mark Krikorian. Amidst the scrum, Unqualified Offering’s thoreau questions Dalmia’s credibility based on her argument that Hummers are better for the environment than Priuses. Or is it Priusi? I highlighted the reactions Chip Smith (of the Hoover Hog) and Michael Gilson de Lemos had to the book here. Steve Sailer compared Raspail’s book to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (which, along with every other cyberpunk book, I have not read) here.

This one has little connection to the previous two editions and wanders around rather aimlessly. It thus follows the long and ignoble tradition of declining sequel quality. (more…)

Ungrammatic title inspired by Zack Parsons. I was reading Thomas de Quincey’s On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts when it occurred to me to give my thoughts on how to go about committing one effectively rather than aesthetically. The disclaimer should be unnecessary, but this is for entertainment value only and I am sorely lacking in experience, so don’t blame me if you actually try this out and my notes turn out to be worthless. I actually haven’t even seen any of those “perfect murder” movies or done much study of the Leopold & Loeb (or similar) cases. Their popularity does indicate that there is an audience of the topic though. (more…)

I’ve gotten a decent way into Collapse without feeling the impule to add anything to the criticism I laid without reading the book. At the end of the seventh chapter (on Greenland at its peak) I felt I had enough negative thoughts to merit a post. Although I haven’t yet gotten to the chapter where the Inuit appear in Greenland, Diamond has already said that they play a significant role in the collapse of Norse Greenland civilization (he even explicitly says that without them it would not have happened). He has repeatedly noted the failure of the Norse to imitate the Inuit, who managed to survive the lean years that drove the Norse off. Diamond considers the conversion of the Vikings to Christianity to be responsible for this. To be fair, he also often pairs Christianity with Europeanness or Eurocentrism, indicating that Christianity bound them to continental Europe with its high living standards and gave them an aversion toward being at all like the Inuit. I think in order for that to make any sense he would have to argue that in a counterfactual in which they adhered to their traditional Norse religion they would have been more amenable to Inuit culture. He offers no such argument. It almost seems as if he’s lumping all non-Christian, or at least non-monotheist, religions together as sufficiently similar to him that they would seem similar to their adherents. I really don’t think that would be the case. At least by some standards the Hindu religion might seem “pagan”, but I think Hindu civilization is just as proud of its religion and resistant to imitation of even a conquering monotheism (whether the Muslim Moguls or Christian British) as any faith to its west. I would say the same about the Zoroastrians except that they were rather effectively smashed and driven to India to become Parsis. More importantly, it seems to me, the Vikings were primarily a settled agricultural people (though they were forced to rely to a significant extent on hunting) whereas the Inuit were hunter-gatherers still in the Stone Age. Presumably, like the failed Vinland colonists, the Greenlanders always had the option of sailing back where they came from when things got too rough, so they weren’t in the same position as many of the Polynesians Diamond discusses earlier.

William Weir has referred to Normandy as the battle which determined whether England would be part of Greater Scandinavia (“Iceland, Greenland, the Orkneys, and Dublin, as well as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden”) or drawn closer to mainstream European (especially French) civilization. At that time some Scandinavian kings had become Christian, but they were viewed by some as still a pagan people of “the heathen North” separate from European Christian civilization. Keep this in mind when Diamond says the Greenlanders were “more European than Europeans” (his comment about the Britishness of Australia does remind me of Mencius Moldbug on Rhodesia). All his examples for how Greenlanders followed the fashions of Europe are things like changes in burial styles tracking those of Norway. But Greenland was a colony of Norway, and that presumably would have done so even if none of the Norse had converted to Christianity and they remained a distinct Greater Scandinavia. I’m not going to assert that the conversion changed nothing, Roderick Long makes a plausible case that it helped lead to the end of Iceland’s anarcho-capitalism.

One major puzzle about the Greenlanders is the apparent lack of fish in their diet, which Diamond attributes to a strong food taboo like the well known religious probitions on pork or beef (he also analogizes it to American distaste for horse or frog-meat, but Americans are an exceptionally highly-fed people and even then still contain rednecks that would each such food). That seems very odd as all the Viking peoples that the Greenlanders came from and stayed connected with were cuckoo for cod (as are present day Greenlanders). Diamond gives good arguments against other explanations, but his own about Erik the Red or someone else getting bad food poisoning and then insisting no one eat fish is just not convincing to me. It seemed difficult enough to order Norse colonists around, especially to end their traditional ways, that I doubt Erik could have pull that off. It is certainly doubtful that his own taste could dictate to the bishop sent by the King of Norway and other elites and/or newcomers. I admit that I can offer no good explanation either, but I just think Diamond’s is really weak. He often seems on quite shaky ground when speculating what people of the past were thinking. He says despite how implausible it seems to us today we should really imagine what went through the heads of Easter Islanders and they chopped down the last trees, when as I discuss in the first link of this post, it apparently due to rats who didn’t give it any thought at all. He imagines (obviously as an allegory for our time) that ancients may have thought technological advancement would save their collapsing civilization. One doesn’t have to go as far as Greg Clark to acknowledge that periods before the Industrial Revolution were seriously different in the pace of technological advancement so that it is doubtful such ancient people would have thought of it. As Diamond himself attests, they instead hoped their gods would save them, and when that didn’t happen they went after the priests and divine kings they had relied on.

I just started listening to the latest EconTalk with Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. Despite accusation of neo-connery I’ve heard about him (and he is a foreign policy expert at the Hoover Institute), his take on Iran isn’t that different from mine. He’s actually even less fearful of the possibility of someone smuggling in a nuke than I am. Perhaps in an attempt to get in Robin Hanson’s good graces, he justifies his confidence despite lacking Iran expertise by citing his track record of succesful predictions about Iran.

If you’re tired of the Slavophilic, anti-American, democracy & freedom hating, paleo take on the Georgia conflict (we even cite Victor Davis Hanson for unintended support) provided by my blog and others I link to, you could do worse than this chain of posts at the Volokh Conspiracy, which also delves into the question of when secession is acceptable. I got into a similar dispute comparing the 13 colonies to the Confederate States at the Art of the Possible here. Look near the bottom of the comments in that TAOTP thread for response threads.

While he often mocks economists for their different way of thinking, Steve Sailer’s suggestion for dealing with South Ossetia is positively Coasean (his earlier suggestion for Kosovo is also rather economically minded). As I’ve mentioned before here though, Scott Atran casts doubt that such sensible solutions will work precisely because people are idiots.

The Georgia issue is another place where Sailer pokes the Jewish hornet nest. I find it interesting that while he tries to phrase things in a way that seems rational and acceptable in polite society, I can’t recall him ever offering any “Hey, I’m not an anti-semite and this proves it” defense. He could easily say “Such an idea is so outlandish only notorious anti-semites like Phillip Weiss would approvingly repeat it”. The Inductivist tries something like that rather weakly here. However as comments to this article on a renegade from the Satmar (that the reporter clearly wants to schtup) indicate, even being a full-blooded and observant Jew will not prevent such accusations. I found that article via this Bloggingheads diavlog that I thought raised some interesting questions about pluralism, religion and democracy. It was kind of funny to see how incredulous the Western feminist was about women making such a choice (which may be the result of the opposite of modesty).

In a somewhat similar but less ambitious vein than my own post, Steve Sailer traces the vicious cycle of stupid policies involved in the subprime mess. As expected, part of this is immigration, but I don’t think he had in mind British refugees seeking asylum from their countries thought police. “they are entitled to hold unpleasant points of view, but what they aren’t entitled to do is publish or distribute written material”. You can view some of that material here. Via Mangan.

I recently mentioned a supposedly obvious subtext I failed to pick up in Fight Club. Now I dare anyone to tell me they thought of this when they watched Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren in El Cid.

Finally, something Hopefully Anonymous may be interested in, a pill for aging. Via HA’s comment section I discovered the Men of Letters blog by Kinky Kathy, which is so similar to the writings of Carter van Carter that I have a suspicion they are the same person.

I was pretty surprised reading Larison to find that Russia has gone to war with Georgia following incursions into South Ossetia. James Poulos has a pretty good roundup here. Sebastian Flyte seems oddly excited here. Oddly enough, the War Nerd has yet to comment. Instead a coup in Mauritania has sparked a reprinting of an old Brecher column, two non-Brecher stories about armed Russians (a corporate raid and drunken airborne troop revelry) and two posts on the old Iran-Iraq war.

This is bringing back some recent memories. I recall seeing part of a BBC special called One Day of War, which I have not been able to find again. Come on, internet piracy! One of the segments featured a Georgian naval captain patrolling near a secessionist region supported by the Russians. However, that wasn’t South Ossetia but Abkhazia. Georgia, like Sudan, seems to have its hands full. Looking at the list of war-zones or hot spots in One Day of War I am struck by how many of Col. Trevor Dupuy’s imagined conflicts in Future Wars: The World’s Most Dangerous Flashpoints failed to boil over. I greatly enjoyed the book anyway and regret that the library I had checked it out from doesn’t have a copy anymore. My memory of that was sparked by Mencius in the comments to this GNXP post continuing on the topic of Turchin and cliodynamics.

I’m sure you’ve already read the Scientific American article on the science behind Batman. You probably haven’t read Vox Day’s take on Fight Club. I have to say, while he claims the subtext is obvious, I didn’t notice it at all when I read the book. I’m also not sure about the latest real-life comic-book villain.

On an unrelated note, which language is my blog being translated to here? I’m guessing Chinese, but it’s not as if I could distinguish it from any other Oriental script.

Via Arnold Kling, Ross Douthat presents a sensible (i.e I largely agree with it) take on politics and the interests involved in it. Those who want to get “money out of politics” or “kick our the special interests”, unless they want to get politics out of money or render it irrelevant to anyone’s interests invariably want to monopolize its dispensations. They also don’t think much of the right of the people to petition their representatives for a redress of grievances.

Meanwhile, an SA goon is answering about being a state-level lobbyist for various interest groups in Michigan (he briefly mentions this). He justifies his occupation as analogous to a defense lawyer. Because he has a degree in poli-sci he injects a bit of high-brow above the muck, like citing Riker. As a youth he worked as a lookout for crack-dealers, and I’d be interested in which profession my readers respect more. You have to pay $10 to register and post, which I have no intention of doing.

On a completely unrelated note, Deirdre McCloskey has sunk so low as to read and comment at this very hive of scum and villainny. I spent 1262 words on that post despite not having read the book she reviewed, but the only part she has anything to say about is my reference to l’affaire Bailey in the opening sentence. Funny that Clark considers the Industrial Revolution to be the only event to happen in all of modern history, but it has been displaced in this instance by The Men Who Would Be Queen.

Hopefully Anonymous started a discussion with me over the Great Man theory of history vs materialism, which I’m getting tired of trackbacks from my own blog. You can find it from this SB GNXP post on the recent anthrax suicide (the one with the hilarious drunk brother interview on CNN). That post also served as a teaser to the subject of cliodynamics, which is elaborated based on the work of Peter Turchin in this GNXP original post. The post itself is sizable enough, but there’s also a comment storm. Steve Sailer makes his old point that interesting things are hard to predict while obvious things are boring, while Mencius and John Emerson rail against scientism intruding on their beloved subject. I say bring on the scientism. I think it’s ridiculous to consider history a branch of literature, and anybody who does hold that belief should stick to arguing canon at fanpages and leave reality to realists. Also, the commission of poetry should be at least a misdemeanor.

The Nurture Assumption is great writing (the best I’ve read in any pop-sci book) but it isn’t literature. Though kicked out of academia, Judith Harris is as guilty of scientism as any social scientist and reacts to bad studies not by throwing up her hands but looking for better designed studies. Hoo-ahh! I’m unsure about part of her book though. In chapter 9 “The Transmission of Culture” in the section “Welcome to the Neighborhood” she discusses how moving kids from bad neighborhoods to good neighborhoods works wonders because it is peer groups rather than families that shape kids. She references studies on London boys moving out of city (even with their families) and one in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology that said “When African American youths and white youths were compared without regard to neighborhood context, African American youths were more frequently and more seriously delinquent than white youths. When African American youths did not live in underclass neighborhoods, their delinquent behavior was similar to that of the white youths.” I haven’t read the JQC study, but I had read other data saying that the crime rate among blacks in middle class family was higher than those of whites under the poverty line, though I forget if it was closer to the average black or white rate. That idea is not too surprising which is why it has motivated a number of programs to end the cycle of poverty. There’s some info in that link on programs of population dispersal contrasted with neighborhood rejuvenation, and while I agree with Ed Glaeser that Buffalo should be allowed to die, I’m not enthusiastic about the alternative. Freakonomics reports that vouchers transferring kids to good schools doesn’t make a difference, as the kids that apply do just as well even if they don’t get removed from their lousy schools. As Hannah Rosin reports, section 8 and gentrification has resulted in crime increases in many midsize cities. Steve Sailer says, like Harris, that it’s questionable whether moving underclass kids into middle class households will make things worse or better. A school full of underclass kids is likely to socialize kids into underclass behavior, but historically black and all womens’ colleges output larger numbers of scientists in part because there isn’t the same stigma against acting like “them” and there’s more space for kids to get the meagre social benefits of high nerd status if they don’t have to compete with Chang Q Einstein. Harris asks in the next chapter “If two’s company, how many does it take to make a crowd?”. What’s the optimal number or proportion? The answer is that we don’t know. More data is needed, not more literature.

There’s another point of tension in the book. Harris likes to repeat that children are not aspiring adults but aspiring to be competent children, just as prisoners must act according to the code of prisoners rather than guards until they are released. Harris also places great importance on what Freud called the “latent” period as actually the most formative years. But if the years when a child is socialized by a parent don’t seem to have much durable effect and from childhood there is another great transition to adulthood, why should the effects of peers at that age endure? Shouldn’t they be free to adapt to the very different situations they will be in as adults? Maybe there’s an answer after chapter 14 (my current position) or maybe I missed it earlier. Comments are welcome.

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