March 2011

After an extended break I’m back to James Scott’s “The Art of Not Being Governed”. Just a few pages back in and I had to stop. He writes “Not particularly religious to begin with, let alone orthodox, peasants eymologically, the term pagan, meaning nonbeliever, comes to us directly from the Latin paganus, meaning country-dweller) turned to anti-establishment revolutionary sects when their economic and social independence was menaced”. Since Christianity today is The Religion You Don’t Believe In and is most widespread in European/western culture, it’s natural for Scott to associate it with orthodoxy. But when Christianity was a young minority sect, it was confined almost exclusively to the cities. And since the world was more agrarian then and cities were a population sink, most people were pagans in the old sense. Worship of the old gods had long been integrated into the Roman empire, and Edward Gibbon (echoing pagans of the time) associated Christianity with the demise of that empire. Rural people are traditional, and new cults are novel. The peasantry may not be “orthodox” (“theologically incorrect“), mostly because they don’t know what the educated elite’s “orthodoxy” is, and may simply assume the practices of their neighbors and ancestors is normative for co-religionists in the metropole. Fundamentalism is the product of modernist rationalism, and attracts the uprooted migrants to cities. As Ed Glaeser (and Azar Gat) has noted, the concentration of people in cities facilitates rebellion. Despite all my complaints, I’m not going to dispute Scott’s expertise on the rebellious milleniarism of the hill peoples of southeast asia. The problem is that he is now conflating them with peasants, when so much of his book is about the dichotomy between “barbarians” and peasantry and how each develops a strongly held identity of not being the other.

I haven’t done a GSS analysis in a while, and since Sister Y assumed I had, that provides the angle. The initial post was about Gordon Gallup’s theory for the evolution of homophobia, but Sister Y thought I had shown surprisingly higher numbers of children among men who report male sexual partners. I linked to the Inductivist over there, but I’ll see if I can replicate his results with the GSS.

Mean number of children by gender and sexual partners EXCLUSIVELY MALE BOTH MALE AND FEMALE EXCLUSIVELY FEMALE
MALE .83 1.11 1.73
FEMALE 1.90 .96 1.20

Gallup theorizes that parents who kept their children away from gays were more likely to avoid having their children become gay and thus have more grandchildren. Wilkinson complains that no evidence was provided for that being the case (only that people behave as if it were), which leaves open the possibility that the behavior, while evolved (heritability should be examined), is adaptation-executing rather than fitness-maximizing. It’s not a pure physiological reflex, but something that requires some higher brain functioning (at least enough to respond to hypotheticals given by the experimenter). An idea as simple as desire that one’s children associate with role-models desirable of emulation could be at work even if in some particular case the child’s behavior is unaffected. On the other hand, if Cochran’s theory is right then orientation may be literally contagious at certain stages of development.

On an unrelated note: Frances Wooley finds an anti-feminist subtext in “dumb men” ads.
George Weinberg was surprised that some of the “exlusives” managed to have children at all. So I should clarify that the above was based on partners in the previous year. There is another question for the past five years.

Mean number of children by gender and sexual partners EXCLUSIVELY MALE BOTH MALE AND FEMALE EXCLUSIVELY FEMALE
MALE .76 1.08 1.72
FEMALE 1.90 1.12 1.22

Like a lot of people, I read the morgsatlarge post with Josef Oehmen’s email on the Fukushima plant shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. It apparently contained some inaccuracies and is found now in an edited form. A critique was written at Genius Now, and is now hosted by Barry Ritholtz, which is how I found it. Barry is supposed to be a smart guy, so I was surprised how poor the argument was. I’ll skip the part about Oehmen not being as appropriately credentialed as Jason Morgan indicated, since I have no cause for complaint there. I’ll jump down to the bottom where the author gets most ridiculous. Before the comments were expunged at MITNSE he wrote one saying:

“So far, although I see a link to this site from NSE, I don’t see any discussion of it. And frankly, Mr/MS mitnse, as far as I can tell you’re actually Ismail Subbiah, graphic designer occasionally on contract to MIT. The links between Siemens AG, Dr Oethman, Barry Brook, and MIT/LAI (which has cleverly been avoided – lets do bring that up, shall we?) suggest that no matter why the article was written in the first place, it’s become a major piece of disinformation masquerading falsely as academic opinion.”

Below that he writes, “As you can see, Siemens AG comes up again”. Comes up, how? Because you mentioned it? The only previous mention of Siemens is that Barry Brook (from the U. of Adelaide) wrote a post at BraveNewClimate which reproduced Oehmen’s summary, and that was subsequently reposted at a site called The Energy Collective which proclaims itself “Powered by Siemens”. Oehmen’s email downplayed the risks at Fukushima and it shouldn’t be surprising that those in the pro-nuke lobby would promote it. But Mr. Genius at that point had not provided any evidence that they were any more connected than me or you. Later on he noted that the Lean Advancements Initiative, the MIT department where Oehmen works, “doesn’t say is who [their] industry partners are. Oddly, they are all major defense contractors. And the only one I’ve found so far with any direct connection to nuclear power plants is Siemens”. That makes me curious as to who they are also, and oddly Mr. Genius does not list them! Now, the fact that LAI had partners in the nuclear industry might make them more inclined to promote a pro-nuke point of view. But if it was not the case that their “only” nuclear partner was Siemens, it would seem to amplify the nuclear industry influence. Why Siemens in particular is suspicious isn’t explained at all.

I wasn’t sure how seriously to take his purported belief regarding the authorship of the blog, but since a commenter at Ritholtz mocked the theory as “a hoax so pernicious that it included hacking the MIT content management system” and a trackback proclaimed “ is a total fraud”, I’ll pile on. Mr. Genius writes that MITNSE was only set up after the Oehmen email went viral, it isn’t a .edu site, and while it is linked from the real MIT (“only a couple of links”) those were “added well after normal working hours on Monday night”. And the wordpress site was set up on, egad, a Sunday! Nor do we know the identities of the so-called “students” behind it, leading to his (possibly facetious?) accusation that it’s really Ismail Subbiah, graphic designer extraordinaire. If the wordpress site he set up doesn’t give contact info, Mr. Genius could always try contacting MIT, alerting them that someone may be fraudulently borrowing their authority, and asking who is actually behind the site. But he gives no indication he bothered to do that.

On a completely unrelated note, I think Greenwald may be wrong about standing. An ordinary criminal can indeed get away with crimes if they do so secretly and there is no identifiable victim. I believe that is the case even if they proclaim, “Muhahaha, I have committed nefarious crimes!”. Now a constitutional challenge can be facial rather than as-applied, but I think in that case it’s not necessary to demonstrate standing or for any victims to exist.

Razib discussed this recently (partially at my prompting). Consider this material from Azar Gat’s “War in Human Civilization” supplementary.
“[…] nor was investment in colonial markets sought by investors in preference to diminishing returns on investment in the developed economies. The more developed the country of investment the higher were the returns, with the new African acquisitions bringing the lowest returns. […] This is demonstrated by the fact that the fastest growing new economic giants of the late nineteenth century were the USA and Germany, which, despite their new colonial ambitions and minor acquisitions, were the least of the colonial empires […] the largest and fastest growing colonial empires, Britain and France, suffered the greatest relative decline in economic status among the great powers during the era of the new imperialism. Indeed, with the close correlation of economic and military power, the empire’s poor military contribution mirrored the economic one. Metropolitan Britain incurred 80 percent of the casualties and 88 percent of the costs of the First Wrold War, with the remainder, the imperial share, taken mostly by the self-governing dominions [Canada, Australia, and New Zealand]”
Gat explains the “scramble for Africa” by virtue of the strategic threats (rather than economic incentives) Britain felt as a result of Russian ambitions in the eastern Meditteranean and central asia (and later a threatened alliance between Transvaal Boers and new German possessions in south/east Africa). Britain’s seizure of Egypt to secure the Suez frightened France into seizing territory, setting of a chain-reaction of land-grabs.

I linked to an article, “The Intellectual as Courtier,” from Arts and Letters Daily and thought “Hey, that reminds me of what Rothbard wrote about ‘Court Historians‘ and the like.” Sure enough, I get to the bottom of the piece and see it’s written by Paul Rahe, professor of history at Hillsdale College, a bastion of conservatism.

I know the Left has its critics of intellectuals and their particular proclivities – Mao comes to mind – but the idea of the intellectual as inherently prone to wrongheadedness, even without the corrupting influence of money or mere lack of exposure to the correct sources of information, is a pronounced conservative theme.

I liked John Derbyshire’s “Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra”, but I still didn’t really grok why fifth order (and higher) polynomials don’t have general solutions. The answer has to do with group theory, which I don’t think is taught in high-school. For a while I had it in mind to eventually learn some group theory, but didn’t act on it. Last night I decided to try googling for an introduction, and one of the first results was, of all things, a tripod page. I know, who uses them. Seems pretty good though.

The narrator in The Great American Crime Drop segment of the film states that Roe vs. Wade was the precise opposite of  Ceausescu’s program in communist Romania, wherein abortion was outlawed. No, the opposite would be to make abortion obligatory and outlaw birth.

The voice-over sounds like an elderly black man, an interesting choice given the controversy over the authors’ conclusion on the single most compelling reason for the nation-wide crime drop. There will be fewer elderly black men in decades to come than otherwise would have existed without Roe vs. Wade. Perhaps this and the use of the Romanian dictator (a “right-wing” communist and thus better target for opprobrium) was meant to forestall accusations of a secret hankering for eugenic style solutions on the part of the authors? One wonders.

Razib puts it better than I could on “Islamophobia“. Strictly speaking, I’m not “phobic” since I don’t think they’re organized and competent enough to do us serious damage absent an auto-immune response. But since I have non-hyperventilating versions of many of the attitudes deemed bigoted toward Islam, go ahead and call me islamophobic. I suppose where I differ from Razib is that I’m further toward the pluralism/particularism vs rationalism axis and don’t mind a group’s illiberalism, as long as they keep it to themselves, with the Amish being ideal examples.

I suppose I’m late to commenting, but I thought his defense of himself here was pretty good. I have a more cynical take on Saif, because I have a cynical take on people in general and believe political talk is mostly “far“. But I’m glad he discussed the importance of kin ties (particularly in that comparatively tribal society), and his reference to parts of the speech I hadn’t heard before definitely put it in a different light.

I read that a while back, and had trouble finding it when I went googling. My initial result was this other defense from him, which is far worse. Maybe the interview format constrained him from venting. When someone criticizes your actions as somehow unethical, the high road is what he did in the first link: stick by them as attempting to improve a non-ideal situation. The low road is what he takes in The Nation, by tarring his critic in The Nation by association with Judith Miller, David Horowitz and some “right-wing” figure presumably known to the Brits, and referring to assorted critics as “smug”, “lazy” and “two-faced”. I realize I’m more pro-capitalist than most, but his attempt to analogize the taint associated with the Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt fortunes to the Libyan government really struck me as ridiculous.

There’s a common expression referring to eating one’s seed corn. Short term consumption over long term productive capacity. Robin Hanson and others have talked about how the transition from foraging to agriculture must have bred different temperaments like more patience and self-denial. Farmers eventually expand to their Malthusian limits, but must still refrain from eating some available food in order grow the next crop. Along the lines of Schelling removing his steering wheel or Odysseus tying himself to the mast, might plants have helped out by evolving to have especially inedible seeds? Farmers who had such seeds would reliably plant rather than consume them and ensure a continued supply.

No, this is not about Russia again, but the longest running conflict in the world. The Indian home secretary claims that Naxalites want to establish a Marxist state, but what I didn’t realize before is that some of the territories they are most active in are already run at the state-level by the communist party. I say “the communist party” though there are who knows how many of them in India. The rebellion began with the faction now known as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), named as such so as not to distinguish it from the (marxist-leninist) Communist Party of India (Marxist) (“the communist party” above), in turn named as such so as not to distinguish it from the now smaller (marxist) Communist Party of India.

As long as we’re talking India, a while back I linked to a free feature-length cartoon by Nina Paley called Sita Sings the Blues. It interleaves some autobiography with the Ramayana. Her version of the tale is revisionist in a feminist way by focusing on the ill-treatment of Sita by the great and noble ideal protagonist Rama. According to Wikipedia, there are also revisionists about the demonic antagonist king Ravana. Very devout man, er, thing, and anyway he was provoked when Rama cut off his sister’s nose. Didn’t hear about that bit from Rama-apologist Nina Paley. Or maybe I did and just forgot.

Razib has occasionally banged the drum on one’s ownership of their genetic code and freedom to access it. Now he’s calling for folks to spread the word and man the ramparts against the F.D.A’s attempt to ensure that we can only do so through “experts”. This isn’t simple fear of persuasion but fear of people learning about themselves outside of approved channels. I found it odd when Keith Humphreys asked Are There Libertarians Who Worry About Corporate Power? in the context of people who seek out providers for difficult to obtain pain medication. But even there the assumption was that some folks are essentially poisoning themselves, with the provider as an accessory. Here again we see the excuse of protecting people “from themselves” and “snake oil-salesmen”, not from any chemical but simple information.

More from “War in Human Civilization”, which I’m not appending to the older post since few would notice. Jane Jacobs thought cities preceded agriculture. Azar Gat strongly disagrees. Oddly enough, he acknowledges that some hunter-gatherers were sedentary, including his (oddly, since we’ve got Australia) exemplary Pacific northwesterners, whose salmon fishing also gave rise to a quasi-agricultural exploitable surplus. He doesn’t mention my intuitive argument against Jacobs, about the relative attraction of non-sedentary agriculture (slash-and-burn or “swiddening”, often discussed in James Scott’s “The Art of Not Being Governed) when there is a higher ratio of land to population (as would have been the case before the neolithic revolution) and it can be combined with hunting still fairly prevalent game animals. In Gat’s view cities were not useful economically, but provided a defense (even when unwalled) against the common primitive tactic of raiding. There is an oddly circular aspect to his argument since he says city-states arise to protect against other nearby city-states. I earlier argued against his certainty that the early city of Jericho was unique, a claim that undercuts his later argument. One plausible argument from his book I hadn’t considered before is that today’s categories of urban industrialist/artisan vs rural farmer doesn’t apply well to many ancient city-states where most of the population consisted of farmers who simply walked to their nearby fields from their home in the city daily. A quote from him below the fold. (more…)

Within the Sailersphere, there is common use of the term “NAM” for “non-Asian minorities”. It was created by an American to discuss American issues, but I people in other countries could tell similar stories. Unfortunately, that term wouldn’t be appropriate. I was thinking about this reflecting on Tino’s discussion of Sweden, where many of the immigrants may be technically “west asian”, but applies even moreso in the U.K where “Asian” means “South Asian” (including both Pakistanis/Bangladeshis and the relatively assimilated Indians and but not the smaller east asian population). We certainly can’t talk in terms of immigrants since often an underclass may have the most claim to being indigenous, and as Amy Chua could tell you the common minority vs majority positions are often switched in less developed countries. “Less developed” is a fine euphemism, and certainly preferable to the often false “developing countries” name. I want hear a euphemism bland enough that people of very different perspectives can use the same term. It is apparently fine to notice differences in educational attainment, as long as the cause of those differences remains vague (in this day and age it is also common to believe that everyone would agree with you if only they were more educated). “Less educated” is one possibility, but given the prevalence of self-education (or non-officially recognized education) it would err too often for people like Earl Muntz or students of low-standards degree mills, and make it difficult to compare students with same years of schooling (one of the most common topics for the term to be applied). Shifting from years of education to level of literacy could work, one problem is that people tend to conceive of literacy as something you have or (in a very small minority of adults) don’t. But I suppose many of those people wouldn’t be using a term like “less literate population” anyway.