August 6, 2011


I must confess that when I read articles from the mainstream media in Europe denouncing immigration restrictionists with angry rhetoric but little substance, I sometimes wonder if my leg is being pulled. For example, is this April 29, 2011 article from Spiegel on Denmark's decade-long success in implementing a more rational immigration policy a self-parody? Perhaps the reporter secretly wanted to laud the Danish government as thoughtfully reformist, but had to lather it in spiteful PC rhetoric to get it published  ... I don't know. (I particularly like the chosen photo, with the fat lout trying to look surly in the front and the youth with the "Soldier of Allah" sweatshirt.)

Immigrants in Copenhagen: The government has calculated their supposed cost to the country. 
Putting a Price on Foreigners 
Strict Immigration Laws 'Save Denmark Billions' 
By Anna Reimann 
Denmark's strict immigration laws have saved the country 6.7 billion euros, a government report has claimed. Even though Denmark already has some of the toughest immigration laws in Europe, right-wing populist politicians are now trying to make them even more restrictive.

Denmark's strict immigration laws have saved the country billions in benefits, a government report has claimed. The Integration Ministry report has now led to calls among right-wing populists to clamp down further on immigrants to increase the savings. 
The extremely strict laws have dramatically reduced the flow of people into Denmark in recent years, and many government figures are delighted with the outcome. "Now that we can see that it does matter who comes into the country, I have no scruples in further restricting those who one can suspect will be a burden on Denmark," the center-right liberal integration minister, Søren Pind, told the Jyllands Posten newspaper. 
Pind was talking after the ministry's report -- initiated by the right-wing populist Danish People's Party (DPP) -- came to the conclusion that by tightening immigration laws, Denmark has saved €6.7 billion ($10 billion) over the last 10 years, money which otherwise would supposedly have been spent on social benefits or housing. According to the figures, migrants from non-Western countries who did manage to come to Denmark have cost the state €2.3 billion, while those from the West have actually contributed €295 million to government coffers. 
'Restrictions Pay Off' 
The report has led to jubilation among right-wing politicians: "We now have it in black and white that restrictions (on immigrants) pay off," said DPP finance spokesman Kristian Thulesen Dahl. The DPP will almost certainly exploit the figures in future negotiations over the Danish economy. 
But the report has sparked outrage from opposition parties like the centrist Social Liberal Party, which dismissed it as undignified and discriminatory. The party's integration spokeswoman, Marianne Jelved, said: "A certain group of people is being denounced and being blamed for our deficit, being made into whipping boys." She added: "We cannot classify people depending on their value to the economy. That is degrading in a democracy that has a basic value of equality." 
Still, the announcement has not come as surprise. The right-wing populist DPP, which has been working with the ruling center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen since 2001, has in the past made its aims very clear: a complete halt to immigration into Denmark from non-Western countries. "A Somali who is no good for anything, that is simply not acceptable," said DPP leader Pia Kjærsgaard. Similarly, center-right liberal Prime Minister Rasmussen has also said anyone who would be a burden on Denmark is not welcome in the country. 
... The small Scandinavian country already has the strictest immigration and asylum laws in Europe. For example, foreign couples are only allowed to marry if both partners are at least 24 years old. The number of asylum seekers and relatives of immigrants seeking entry into Denmark dropped by more than two-thirds within nine years as a result of the tough laws.
A Decisive Issue in Denmark 
But things may soon get pushed even further. Elections are due to be held this fall, and the ruling parties apparently want to put forward even stricter rules, driven by the xenophobic rhetoric of the right-wing populists. In polls, the approval ratings of more liberal politicians have fallen, and the opposition center-left Social Democrats have promised not to change current immigration laws if they win the election. Immigration will always be a big issue in Denmark -- almost 10 percent of Denmark's 5.5 million people are migrants -- and the issue was a decisive one in the last election, in 2007. 
In November, the government agreed to stricter laws and made the entry of immigrants' spouses more difficult. Only those who collect enough "points" may come to Denmark in the future -- with points being determined by factors such as academic qualifications and proof of language proficiency. In addition, the equivalent of €13,000 must be deposited with the state in the form of a bank guarantee to cover any future public assistance. Socially deprived areas with a disproportionately high number of immigrants will be subject in future to a so-called "ghetto strategy" designed to prevent high concentrations of foreigners in public housing areas. Migrants will be assigned housing, and three-year-old children who do not speak Danish well enough will be required to attend state child care. 
Some immigrants have already turned their back on Denmark voluntarily. Increasing numbers of Somalis are moving away, especially to the UK, the Jyllands Posten reported on Thursday, because of discrimination.

In other words, leaving aside all the hate words used by Spiegel to spice it up, Danish immigration restrictionists have been thoroughly vindicated, with their opponents left with nothing but platitudes, while promising not to undo their reforms if they get elected.

August 5, 2011

Do barrios ever gentrify?

A much-emailed New York Times article about the always popular topic of what neighborhood will gentrify next is "Striking Change in Bedford-Stuyvesant as the White Population Soars." It's about a black neighborhood in Brooklyn notorious for its crime at least as far back as Billy Joel's hit "You May Be Right:"

I've been stranded in the combat zone
I walked through Bedford Stuy alone ...
You may be right
I may be crazy

Here's a question: We've all noticed in recent decades famously black neighborhoods tip to another race. But what about Hispanic neighborhoods? Do they ever gentrify (i.e., turn white?) The lower crime rates typically found in Hispanic than black neighborhoods would make you think that gentrifying would be easier for whites, but perhaps the, uh, demographic vibrancy of Hispanics is more important.

A friend who is writing a book on race and voting in American history just got back from driving around the Southwest visiting court houses to scan in old voting records by precinct. By looking for precincts that voted for Catholic candidate Al Smith in 1928, he can see where Mexicans lived three generations ago. One of his findings: "Once a barrio, always a barrio."

I'm trying to think of exceptions: One might be Echo Park / Elysian Heights near Dodger Stadium overlooking downtown L.A. has been gentrifying.

From a 2008 LA Times article on vicious politics in races for Echo Park neighborhood council,
Earlier this month, after two years of rancor, leading candidates in the latest neighborhood council election divided themselves into two slates. Both made a variety of promises to voters. But there was no escaping the awkward fact that one slate, with Sigala at the top of the ticket, was made up almost entirely of Latinos; the other, with Peters at the top, challenging Sigala for the presidency, was almost entirely white. 
Peters lost to Sigala, and her slate lost almost every race. Nine of the 10 people on Sigala's slate won their races. In two election cycles, the Latino community went from a single representative on the neighborhood council to a dozen, Sigala said. 
Echo Park has a long and proud history of liberal politics; candidates on both sides considered themselves progressives committed to diversity and the working class. The caricature painted of those who lost, Peters said, was unrecognizable. 
"People here seem to believe that because they are angry they don't have to be civil," Peters said. "From my perspective, we've lost a sense of community." 
At this point, it is difficult to see how the two sides could come together.

But Echo Park is an extremely high value location due to easy commutes, views, and the L.A. notion that movie stars live in the hills. Personally, I find living on flat ground much more convenient than living on a winding mountain road where it's hard to walk anywhere, but then I'm not a movie star. There's an old apocalyptic meme in Los Angeles culture that suggests that when the hammer comes down [e.g., in Niven and Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer], you'd better have some defensible topography to work with. The traditional L.A. thinking is that the inevitable mobs of zombie looters will be slowed if they have to stagger uphill. But unlike everybody who is anybody in L.A., I like living on flatland with sidewalks, wide streets, plenty of parking, and a library and a liquor store on the corner.

A few Census tracts of nondescript Valley Glen in the flat central San Fernando Valley have been getting whiter, probably due to foreboding ex-Soviet immigrants moving in and erecting lethal security fences around their yards. (Grandpa fought off the German army at Stalingrad and raped and pillaged his way into Berlin in 1945, and I'm supposed to be terrified by some Mexican graffiti?) But I can't think of too many other exceptions.

Indian IQ, again

A recurrent topic at iSteve is trying to estimate the long term average IQs of the two most populous countries, China and India. If you want to know what the world will be like in a generation, a question that is interesting to investors, strategists, and anyone with a general interest in the human race, then one of the really big, obvious, but seldom-asked questions is: what is the IQ potential of the populations of the two biggest countries?

Obviously, there are a fair number of very smart Chinese and Indians in the West. But a big question is: How deep is the bench in each country?

The consensus of Western observers going back to Marco Polo has been that the average Chinese has a fair amount on the ball. We need to learn far more about regional and class differences within China, but it seems likely that the national average will shake out into the three digit range.

India, however, seems much more complicated than China. For one thing, while the Chinese like to paper over their differences to present a show of unity and harmony to the world, the Indians have tried to increase their internal differences through the caste system, endogamy, and the like. 

Moreover, Indian historical inventions tend to be rather more esoteric than Chinese historical inventions. For example, the medieval Chinese had a natural gas drilling and pipeline industry not all that different from the modern natural gas industry. Using bamboo for pipes, Chinese drilled up to a couple of miles deep, and piped gas up to 20 miles to use in city streetlights, something Europeans, for example, didn't catch up with until the 19th Century. In contrast, the Indians invented the concept of zero. 

Natural gas drilling versus zero is an obvious apples and oranges comparison. I don't really know what to make of it. (Another aspect is that we have quite good records from much of Chinese history, but terrible records for most of Indian history)

Some Western intellectuals such as Schopenhauer, were greatly impressed by the profundity of Indian thought. On the other hand, a Western genius who knew India well, Kipling, was not as impressed. (Kipling was the kind of guy who would have been more impressed by a working natural gas industry.)

A few years ago, I published a lengthy attempt by Rec1Man to estimate the long-term potential for Indian average IQ. Here's NSAM's summmary of the revised version. He came up with 94, which sounds plausible to me, but I certainly don't know enough to comment on the components. 

Here's another Indian's attempt at pulling together some of the evidence. I'll give away the bottomline, which is that Pensive Brahmin comes up with the same number: 94. 
Indian IQ: Contained within is an alternative to the rec1man model of Indian IQ - it is not very structured but instead a mess of observations as a citizen. 
          First off, I think we can all agree that the 81 figure in Lynn &Vanhanen's 2002 is deeply suspect, and does not tally with the historical record of highly advanced Indian civilization. Noted here is the fact that malnutrition at the moment in India exceeds that in sub-Saharan Africa by a significant margin, and the simple removal of that malnutrition certainly makes up a huge portion of the 1 S.D. gain of blacks from Africa to the U.S.A.

And Lynn & Vanhanen emphasize the role of nutrition in raising average IQs (including micronutrients -- South Asians suffer a lot from iodine shortages, which can lead to cretinism).
          IQ is segregrated by caste. Castes are still chiefly endogamous even in relatively modernized areas, and thus there is genetic IQ difference. It seems likely that Brahmin > Kshatriya/Vaishya should be the usual IQ stratification among the upper castes or dwijas. 
After this broad division - contrary to what most would say - the subdivisions are very murky. Parsis perform on a Brahmin level or above it. The Kayasth - an administrative Kshatriya subcaste - have contributed 1 nobel laureate - Amartya Sen - and are competitive with Bengali Brahmins in Bengal. They seem to have done well in the sciences - Satyen Bose of Higgs boson fame for instance. Tamil Brahmins dominate the IITs , as well as hard sciences and mathematics. Compare with the Bengalis, who have nobels in economics and literature. 
Visual-Verbal split ? Quite likely, imo. The backward castes and dalits follow the forward castes. Backward castes do quite well in some places - dalits not so much.  
         Factors depressing Indian IQ at the moment include poor literacy and nutrition, but also Islam. Nutrition as I noted earlier is worse than SS Africa. Literacy is rising, and with any luck will keep maintaining the strong growth it has now. [ Incidentally, it would be interesting to study Sri Lankan IQ - highly literate, low malnutrition, similar racial makeup with South India...and the only study we have is one way back in 1954 with a sample size of 46, that too on eight year olds, when IQ is not very heritable. The figure of 79 it gives is quite meaningless in the present context. ] 
         Islam needs a whole book unto itself. It promotes intellectual coma to a degree that no other religion can. I am positive that the Middle-Eastern IQ would be higher if those nations simply converted to something like Judaism. Sephardim , I think, illustrate my point by outscoring Arabs comfortably 
         There are various racial minorities in India. Of note is the fact that Mongoloid populations in the NE region - similar to Thailand/Tibetan/Burmese people underperform compared to the rest of the country. All these regions fall below average income and are not very developed. Since Thai IQ is 91, this puts a floor on true Indian IQ of somewhat above 91. 
          Interestingly, the eastern city of Kolkata has held a sizeable minority of Chinese. They do not have any history of academic excellence per se, and are more famous for bringing their cuisine to India. Perhaps a segment of the left half of the Chinese curve, as I do not believe that Indians have a mean IQ above 105.
Raw Income/IQ/Academic data from the diaspora 
With the significant retarding effects on Indian IQ in India, we must look elsewhere. 
In the U.S.A, Indian Americans outperform the Chinese. But they are highly selected and barely representative, and hence unsuitable as samples. 
In the U.K., the Indian sample is quite representative of India. Lynn in his Race Differences in Intelligence gives some figures for Indians in Britain -
87 - 1967 , 91 - 1978 , 94 - 1983 , 97 - 1985 , 87 - 1992 [ 97 data point for Indians resident in Britain for 4+ years - the study used FoB immigrants scoring 83 as a comparison. Since this shows clear environmental influence, the FoB score which has presumably been environmentally deflated has been removed. ] 
Unfortunately, Lynn has fudged the original Mackintosh data points, as Mackintosh mentioned in his review of the book.  
Using Mackintosh's review as a basis, the data points become 87, 91, 94 , 97, 97, 91. You can read the relevant portions of his review at Dienekes : 

Well, you have to massage the data to account for the Flynn Effect. But that makes it more likely for errors to creep into the process.
The IQ in the UK averages out to 93, which does not square with the Indians outperforming whites in terms of education and income. Perhaps a further relative flynn has taken place since 1992 ? Or perhaps culture is a huge bonus for Indians.

British school tests have a huge gender gap, with girls badly outperforming boys within each racial group. I don't know whether there's something wrong with the tests or with boys in Britain.
Mauritius - Mauritius is a mostly lower caste-based sample of Indians and may be taken as a lower estimate. The Mauritian IQ is 89 for Indians and creoles. Indians are 70% of the sample and have a mean IQ of 2.5 points more than the creoles. Using basic algebra, we find that the Indo-Mauritian IQ is 90. Note that Mauritius is far from a selective migration case - calculations are basing off Lynn's Race Differences in Intelligence. 
Singapore : No IQ data here. But according to the 2005 Singstat income data -
Median income monthly : Chinese - 2500 Malay - 1800 Indian - 2480
Average income monthly : Chinese - 3610 Malay - 2200 Indian - 3660 
Malaysia : IQ data of 88 just after the heyday of NEP which widely discriminated vs Chinese and Indians in Malaysia, hence testing those children who suffered under it. The chinese of course were not hit as hard. The Malays at the same time averaged 89. During this time the Indian economic situation put them in a very bad state. Now however the Indians perform midway between Malays and Chinese in income - see . Plotting Chinese IQ as 105 and using a crude linear basis, the Indian IQ from that distribution is 96. 
For a diaspora of plantation workers, 96 is quite impressive. 
In sum, the true Indian IQ should be around 94 corrected for environment and very multi-modal. India's prospects in the 21st century in terms of IQ, while worse off than China's 105, are not that bad, primarily as Verbal IQ is more helpful in terms of GDP prediction than IQ - see La Griffe Du Lion's revised SFT - and East Asians lack verbal IQ comparatively. 
Finally, allow me to mention two studies of Indian IQ that have not drawn much attention : - note control group IQ , - two studies, same cohort - note control group IQ 
Indian IQ deserves a book length treatment, considering how diverse India is. What are your thoughts on Indian IQ ?

My thoughts are that it is a difficult and important question.

Let's play "Spot the Fallacies"

An op-ed in the New York Times by Princeton sociologist Douglas S. Massey, "Isolated, Vulnerable, and Broke:"
ACCORDING to a new study by the Pew Research Center, Hispanic families saw the largest decline in wealth of any racial or ethnic group in the country during the latter half of the last decade: from 2005 to 2009, their median wealth fell by an astounding 66 percent. The reason? The implosion of the housing market, where Hispanic families had invested much of their wealth. 
But that’s only the latest chapter in a much longer story. Over the past two decades Hispanics have moved from the middle of the socioeconomic hierarchy, between blacks and whites, to a position below both. On virtually every indicator of socioeconomic welfare, Hispanics fell relative to blacks. 

Not really. I've looked at least as many socioeconomic indicators as Professor Massey over the last 39 years, and the keynote is relative stability. But, to the extent that Hispanics fell relative to blacks on socioeconomic indicators, it's largely due to a flood of new immigrants from south of the border.
This has nothing to do with nativist tropes like work ethic or resistance to assimilation and everything to do with misguided government policy: our immigration and border-control system has created a class of people cut off from traditional legal and economic structures and thus vulnerable to the worst depredations of the market system.

When somebody angrily announces without evidence "This has nothing to do with nativist tropes like work ethic or resistance to assimilation ..." they are feeling insecure about their argument.
During the housing bubble, those depredations came in the form of predatory lenders, driven by the boom in mortgage-backed securities. Before that, minorities had generally been shunned by lenders, which tended to be risk averse and discriminatory.

And, apparently, accurate.
... Yet subprime lending affected both blacks and Hispanics and, if anything, predatory lenders went after the former more than the latter. So why did Hispanics suffer more? 

I doubt that predatory lenders went after blacks more than Hispanics. The big money didn't flow into Detroit. All that happened there was you had a lot of $30,000 houses got pumped up to $65,000 before collapsing to $12,000. That's nothing compared to the flood of money into, say, California's Inland Empire.

You can see that Massey doesn't know what he's talking about just by looking at the four Sand States (CA, AZ, NV, FL) where the great majority of money was lost. At the peak of the bubble, something like 3/8ths of all the market value of homes in the U.S. was in California alone.

Lots of lenders had been burned on black neighborhoods before. Latinos were the big growth market. If you listed to the key figures in the housing bubble, such as Angelo Mozilo, Henry Cisneros, and George W. Bush, it's clear that they were much more excited over the potential of the Hispanic market than of the black market.
The answer is simple: over time more and more Hispanics had become economically vulnerable and eminently exploitable, a fact attributable in large part to American immigration policy. 
In the early 1990s the United States began militarizing its border with Mexico in an effort to halt unauthorized migration.

Lame. The argument here is that if illegal immigrants were legal, then magic ponies for everybody. Or something. There seems to be lacking a mechanism.
... Thus the sudden creation of a new class of people, working low-wage jobs outside the legal labor markets. Not only was it difficult for them to safely accumulate wealth, but they were left uniquely vulnerable to economic exploitation — such as the promise of a mortgage with little documentation required at signing.
When the Great Recession arrived, many Hispanics got hit with a double whammy: not only were many Hispanic homeowners left with negative equity, but the collapse of construction jobs, which had been a primary draw for immigrants beforehand, eliminated the very means by which they could continue making mortgage payments. 

And because many were working and living in legal gray areas, they had little recourse when they learned their mortgages came with ballooning fee structures and onerous penalties for late payments. What little wealth they had managed to accumulate simply vanished.

As opposed to everybody else who had tons of recourse.

This is just dumb. On the whole, illegal immigrants had more options, including just disappearing.

The simple explanation is that a big influx of Hispanics helped justify the housing bubble. Who was going to buy these houses in Palmdale for $400,000? Why the infinite supply of hard-working family values Hispanics, that's who. Just like the President said. Only evil nativists had any doubts about their ability to pay. The smart money boys like Mozilo and Cisneros are putting a trillion dollars into underserved markets. You notice Mozilo didn't team up with Al Sharpton.

Now, I read several hundred articles about people who got foreclosed upon. I'm pretty good at noticing patterns in large amounts of anecdotal evidence. And I was looking for evidence of a huge role for illegal immigrants in this debacle. Trust me, I was.

While I saw plenty of Spanish surnames, my impression is that the big money foreclosures in the Inland Empire, Vegas, and Phoenix hit hardest Hispanics who were either born here or had been here a fair amount of time. New illegal immigration played a huge role, but it was more indirect. You see much higher foreclosure rates in entrepots in LA and Orange Co. like East LA and Santa Ana relative to surrounding neighborhoods, but the really big money was lost in fast growing inland areas that were less entrepots for illegal immigrants than Brown Flight destinations. Illegal Immigration pushed established Hispanics out of LA County and into the desert, looking to get away from the newcomers. Only in the last year or two as the bottom of the barrel got scraped ever harder did a large number of illegals got loans.

August 3, 2011

Environmentalism & Nativism

For some time, environmentalists have been aggressively nativist when it comes to plants and animals. Environmentalists don't like, say, foreign transplants, such as rats driving extinct all the native birds on remote islands. They don't like kudzu covering up much of the Southeast.

But that increasingly raises feeling of psychological unease and impurity in the minds of 21st Century environmentalists. If, as we all know, nativism is the worst thing in the history of the world when it comes to people, how can nativism be good when it comes to plants and animals? Why aren't we more sensitive to the plight of the poor immigrant kudzu vines, emerald ash borers, and Asian longhorn beetles?

After all, conservation in America was largely invented by people who were nativists about flora, fauna, and people, such as Madison Grant. Back in the 1990s, the wealthy couple of David Gelbaum and Monica Chavez Gelbaum bought the Sierra Club's soul for $100,000,000 on the condition that they drop their immigration restrictionist stance and thus their stance against population growth in the U.S. and in the Sierra Club's home state of California. This epochal switch has largely disappeared down the memory hole. Today, everybody assumes that plant nativists are, by the nature of their superior morality, human antinativists. But there are psychological tensions in this inherent contradiction.

Now, the easiest thing to do is to simply ignore the contradiction. But it gnaws away at some.

From the Boston Globe:
The invasive species war 
Do we protect native plants because they’re better for the earth, or because we hate strangers? A cherished principle of environmentalism comes under attack 
By Leon Neyfakh 
... The reasons to fight invasive species may be economic, or conservationist, or just practical, but underneath all these efforts is a potent and galvanizing idea: that if we work hard enough to keep foreign species from infiltrating habitats where they might do harm, we can help nature heal from the damage we humans have done to it as a civilization. 
In the past several months, however, that idea has come under blistering attack. In a polemical essay that appeared in the leading science journal Nature in June, a biologist from Macalester College in Minnesota named Mark Davis led 18 other academics in charging that the movement to protect ecosystems from non-native species stems from a “biological bias” against arbitrarily defined outsiders that ultimately does more harm than good. According to Davis and his co-authors, the fight against invaders amounts to an impossible quest to restore the world to some imaginary, pristine state. The world changes, they argue, and in some cases, the arrival of a new plant or animal can actually help, rather than hurt, an ecosystem. 
The whole idea of dividing the world into native and non-native species is flawed, the article says, because what seems non-native to one generation might be thought of as a local treasure by the next. Instead we should embrace “novel ecosystems” as they form, and assess species based on what they do rather than where they’re from. 
“Newcomers are viewed as a threat because the world that you remember is being displaced by this new world,” Davis said recently. “I think that’s a perfectly normal and understandable human reaction, but as scientists we need to be careful that those ideas don’t shape and frame our scientific research.” 
The article in Nature joined similar arguments that had recently appeared in the journal Science as well as the op-ed page of The New York Times, where an anthropologist who had recently become a naturalized US citizen likened the control of invasive species to the anti-immigration movement. These critiques of so-called “ecological nativism” inspired equally spirited responses by scientists, including a letter in Nature signed by 141 scientists arguing that Davis and his cohort had downplayed the dangers of non-native species while distorting the work of ecologists and conservationists. 
For environmentalists and anyone worried about a local lake or forest, trying to keep the potential carnage at bay seems like a no-brainer: if non-native species might destroy an ecosystem we cherish, then of course we should do what we can to suppress them. ...
One of the first people to publicly make this “anti-nativist” argument was, somewhat surprisingly, the journalist Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and hero to locavores everywhere. He wrote an essay about it in the New York Times Magazine in 1994, focusing on the native gardening movement that was sweeping the United States at the time. Proponents of natural gardening had been calling on their fellow green thumbs to stop planting exotic species in their backyards; Pollan did not mince words in communicating his distaste for the practice, suggesting it came out of an impulse that was “antihumanist” and “xenophobic,” and even tracing its history back to a “mania for natural gardening” in Nazi-era Germany. 
While Pollan said in an interview that he now regrets resorting to the Hitler button to make his point, he maintains that there is something worrying about the zeal with which some environmentalists seek to keep foreigners out of places where they think they don’t belong.
“We should always be alert that even those of us who think they’re practicing pure science or pure environmental policy are sometimes influenced by other ideas, other feelings,” Pollan said. “And we should interrogate ourselves to see if that’s what’s going on.”

Have you ever noticed how much the left loves the word "interrogate?" Ve haf veys of making you talk!
This point was echoed this past spring by Hugh Raffles, an anthropologist at the New School who wrote the essay comparing invasive species to immigrants. “We choose to designate some plants and animals as native because they fit with the way that we want the landscape to look,” said Raffles in an interview. If you call something native, he added, “you should realize you’re just making certain claims about what you want to see and what you think is important to preserve.” 
THE SCIENTISTS WHO study non-native species and try to control them are called invasion ecologists, and they’re used to feeling embattled. But their opponents usually come from the political right, and can be counted on to dismiss most any effort at conservation as an expensive nuisance or an impediment to industry. This other contingent, though - the one that includes Davis, Pollan, and Raffles - comes from a less obvious place. Suddenly, these environmentalists who have always identified with progressive ideals are themselves being accused of being conservative, backwards - even intolerant. 
Their reply is that, as scientists, their job is to save plants and animals from extinction, protect their habitats, and make sure that subsequent generations get to enjoy as much of the earth as possible. To suggest that the work has xenophobic connotations, they say, amounts to little more than academic noodling - a philosophical stance at best, and a harmful distraction at worst. 
... Is the debate simply over rhetoric, then? If it is, its fierceness has highlighted just how important rhetoric is to the environmentalist movement, and how valuable the distinction between native and non-native is in terms of rallying people to the cause of conservation. Psychologically, it’s not hard to see why the anti-nativist position holds an appeal, and why it would worry environmentalists.

One of my readers comments:
The Left finds a psychologically worrying element in environmentalism. Environmentalism's defense of native species against invasive species that may decimate or marginalize the natives could have psychologically 'racist' ramifications. (After all, some racial ideologues have said if species of animals and plants deserve to be protected, so should the races and cultures of man.)  
Environmentalism, associated with the Left, is now suspected of harboring subconscious 'racist', 'nativist', and 'xenophobic' tendencies, which though applied to animals and plants, may contaminate our view of races, cultures, and nations as well.  
Again, it goes to show that the Leftist war on the West isn't only ideological but psychological. It doesn't only oppose 'racism' but all forms of thoughts and feelings that may be psychologically connected to 'racism' and 'nationism'.  
Sierra Club gave up on immigration-control, and it may now even have to give up on saving native species. I suppose it was great tht cats and rats introduced to the Galapagos ate up all the eggs of tortoises. And what did American Indians have to worry about when the white man came? Those damned racists! And what did Palestinians have to worry from the massive inflow of Jews in the 1940s? Terrorist scum.

I increasingly find myself as The Last Moderate. Consider the question of native plants in my native land, Southern California. Before the white man arrived, Southern California was remarkably lacking in food crops. The Indians gathered acorns, which is a last resort food, because it takes a fair amount of work to make them edible. You'll notice how nobody bothers eating acorns these days.

Americans quickly noticed that, given enough irrigation, practically any plant from anywhere in the world will grow in Southern California. For much of the first half of the 20th Century, Los Angeles County was the number one agricultural producer in the country. 

Moreover, in ornamental plants, this welcoming climate led to comic levels of diversity in landscaping, with one street having 150-foot tall fan palms (the iconic plant that makes a good logo for L.A. in silhouette, but looks like a hyperextended mop in reality) in one yard, next door to giant, dusty eucalyptuses from Australia, next door to large but not quite thriving redwoods from northern California, next door to a colossally wide Moreton Bay fig tree from Australia, etc. SoCal tends to have good yards but not good streets, due to an excess of individualism leading to an excess of diversity. It's like yesterday's discussion of free verse: poetry where anything can happen isn't as fun as poetry where the end of the next line will either fulfill your expectation or surprise you. 

Growing up, I found L.A. residents' penchant for decorative diversity, self-expression, and phoniness in landscaping and architecture amusing. More aesthetically sensitive souls, however, did not. For example, Nathanael West raged apocalyptically in Day of the Locust against L.A.'s diversity of architecture: "But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses ... Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles that lined the slopes of the canyon."

Over time, I increasingly have come to appreciate the native environment, or at least it's better aspects. Let's prioritize, however, what we want to preserve. Not every bit of Southern California natural environment is as worth preserving as every other.

In Southern California, for example, southern-facing slopes are blasted by the midday sun, and thus tend to be covered by impenetrable, gray-green-brown sage brush. We've got plenty of sage brush, so, go ahead, pave it over. I don't care enough to pay much to save some more sage brush. In contrast, cooler north-facing slopes tend to be forested with a small variety of native oaks, sycamores, and a few other trees. Low altitude Southern California is only slightly forested, so its worth preserving much of what little is left. Thus, north facing slopes should be higher up on the conservation priority list than south facing slopes.

August 2, 2011

Free verse versus Larry David

I'm reading The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind by veteran anthropologist Robin Fox. He started out as a structuralist in the tradition of Levi-Strauss, then absorbed a more Darwinian approach. His 1967 book Kinship and Marriage is in the structuralist mode: it sketches out every conceivable kinship arrangement, and then cites examples for as many as exist in the real world. People love making up complicated rules.

He's got a chapter on rhythm and rhyme in poetry. Rhythm appears to be older and more universal, while rhyme didn't enter mainstream Western poetry until medieval times, perhaps from Arabic and Irish influences. I did not know that.

An amateur poet himself, Fox has a digression in which he denounces free verse that I liked for the unexpected direction it went:
A generation arose after the rebellious sixties that decided the only way to deal with rules you don't like is to abandon the. Thus you are rule-free and hence happy. 
You are never rule-free. If you abandon one set of rules, then you must invent another with the same ratio of arbitrary content to noise, because the essences of rules is redundancy; they enable you to predict the world and live forward in time, which is what the neocortex is for in the first place. We do not respond like lower animals to immediate emotional demands; we mediate them with rules; our neocortex controls our limbic brain. And like rhyming, it is all about anticipation and predictability. 

In poetry and music, we like it when we can predict what comes next, but we also like it when it surprises us. It's all good. In general, human beings have liked poetry and music a lot. (Obviously, some poetry or music is better than others at combining interesting and powerful patterns of satisfaction and surprise: the fourth movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is better than, say, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. But, people will sing even 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall for quite some time if they don't have anything else to do.)
... Rule creation is an "appetitive" activity for us. One might even say (metaphorically) that we have an instinct to make rules ... In some sense it does not matter what the rules are as long as we have some; which exact rules we have will be determined by adaptation and history and no little accident. ...

Think of the great defining drama, the Orestia, the Hamlet, of the post-sixties generation: it was Seinfeld. Seinfield  was to the post-sixties people what Siegfried was to the Third Reich. And it was about rules. Every episode dealt with the search for rules in a generation that had dispensed with them. What are the rules for dumping a girlfriend; for the copyright on children's namess; ... for double-dipping; for putting people on your speed-dial list; ... for "regifting" unwanted Christmas presents; for calling after ten at night ...

I made a similar point in an early Taki column: Larry David: Alice in Blunderland. Seinfeld wasn't a show about nothing, it was a show about rules.

How is that debt crisis thing working out?

I haven't really been paying attention, so let me guess what happened: everybody procrastinated to the last moment, then they rushed something through that does a bunch of things, but nobody is all that sure exactly what is in the fine print, and meanwhile it kicks a lot of other cans down the road.

"The Guard"

From my review of the very funny Irish cop comedy The Guard, with Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, and Mark Strong:
The elder McDonagh has a slightly mechanical gimmick to inspire his screenwriting: he takes all the clichés in American detective dramas and has his characters do the exact opposite. Thus, he’s made a message movie about prejudice and xenophobia: namely, they add a bit of fun to life! In The Guard, the rural Irish resent the big-city Dubliners, all the Irish resent the English, and everybody in the British Isles resents the cultural dominance of American crime shows and movies.

Read the whole there.

The movie is set in County Galway, where something like 10% of the people still speak Gaelic. Driving through Galway in 1987, I asked an old man for directions, but he didn't speak English. That happens to Don Cheadle in this movie, but he finds out later from Brendan Gleeson that they were just saying in Gaelic, "If you want to speak English, go to England."

It would be cool to have your own secret language.

The myth of the hypoallergenic dog

Being allergic to dogs and/or cats is a cause of unhappiness. It's not uncommon in a family of, say, five for one kid to be allergic, so none of the other kids can have a dog or cat; thus, the interest in supposedly hypoallergenic breeds.

From the Washington Post:
Hypoallergenic pets may be only a myth, according to a study of 60 dog breeds
By Carolyn Butler, Tuesday, August 2, 1:33 AM 
I’ve been suspicious of all so-called hypoallergenic pets ever since my husband first came face to face with his parents’ ragdoll cat, Posey — an adorable fluffball of a kitten who, the breeder improbably guaranteed, would neither shed nor cause allergic symptoms. He took one look and promptly started sniffling and sneezing. 
There has been very little hard research on the topic, even as the market for supposedly allergy-free animals — which often sell for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars — has boomed. (Even the White House succumbed to the trend , with First Pooch Bo, a Portuguese water dog who was chosen because of Malia Obama’s allergies.) 
But a study in the American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy suggests that there may be no such thing as a hypoallergenic canine, after all. 
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit analyzed dust samples from 173 dog-owning households, representing 60 breeds, including 11 that are considered hypoallergenic, including Portuguese water dogs, poodles and schnauzers. They found that the homes with allegedly hypoallergenic pets contained just as much of the prime dog allergen, known as Can f 1, as those with the other breeds. “Any way we looked at it, there just wasn’t a difference,” says senior author and epidemiologist Christine Cole Johnson. “There is simply no environmental evidence that any particular dog breed produces more or less allergen in the home than another one.” 
... That’s not to say, however, that every animal generates the same quantity of dander. “The bottom line is that there’s huge variability from one dog to another in the amount of allergen they produce, but that variability is not predicted by breed, size, shedding or hair length — any of the things we thought in the past or that breeders still claim,” says Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. In fact, Wood notes that it’s not uncommon, within a single breed, to see a hundredfold difference in the amount of Can f 1 one dog creates vs. another. He attributes this to a combination of genetics and behavior as well as environmental factors such as how often owners clean their pets and their home. Still, generally speaking, Wood says that male animals tend to produce and shed more allergens than females. 
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how one bichon frise or German shepherd stacks up against another, allergen-wise, when you pick out a puppy. The only real solution, it seems, is trial and error.

But it's hard to buy a puppy, then take him back a week later because you are allergic to him.

If there really are 100X differences between individual dogs, but not between breeds on average, then, presumably, artificial selection of existing breeds wasn't aimed at allergenic properties, but at behaviors and looks. (Perhaps people are more prone to allergies today than in the 19th Century heyday of creating new breeds.) 

So, it shouldn't be that hard to create a truly hypoallergenic new breed. If they knew in Victorian times what we know now about the science of allergies, people in the days of Darwin and Galton would have come up with new breeds to do the job. 

But, creating new breeds isn't terribly popular anymore. We live in an era of great traditionalism about canine biodiversity.

I suspect that creating new functional breeds works better marketing-wise when the genes being selected for behavior pleiotropicly overlap with genes for looks. Breeds are their own advertising logos. Of course, when humans get overly obsessed with breeding for looks, they can lose the some of the functionality of a breed. But, there is an advantage to having a standardized look: if you want a dog that rescues people from drowning, you go buy a dog that looks like a Newfoundland.

Perhaps, the genes for being hypoallergenic don't have much to do with how a dog looks. 

August 1, 2011

The second Fort Hood would-be terrorist

Ironically, Pvt. Naser Abdo, who was arrested last week after buying guns and explosives at the same gunshop outside of Fort Hood where Maj. Hassan bought his gun for his spree killing in 2009, was profiled in 2010 by ABC News: "Devout Muslim Soldier Hopes to Avoid Deployment to Afghanistan." Here are some great quotes from that year-old article:
Although Fort Campbell employs an imam on base, Abdo prefers instead to seek counsel from his personal circle of Islamic advisers, he said. "In my experience, they don't know their religion," he said of base imams. "They don't know their faith." ... 
Now, he said, he wants out of the Army so he can spend his life combating what he called Islamaphobia and advocating Islam as a peaceful religion. ... 
"I want to use my experience to show Muslims how we can lead our lives," he said. "And to try and put a good positive spin out there that Islam is a good, peaceful religion. We're not all terrorists, you know?"

The Norwegian terrorist

I've got a 4,000-word article up at American Conservative on Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist. I think you'll find that it explains more about this whole horrible event than you'll find elsewhere. First, here are a few random observations:
Breivik, a smug egomaniac who boasts, “I have an extremely strong psyche (stronger than anyone I have ever known),” looks rather like a 1975 Chevy Chase signing off from Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live” with the catchphrase, “I’m Chevy Chase … and you’re not.” ...
Breivik’s weightlifting and narcissism—“I’m in the middle of another steroid cycle at the moment … I have a more or less perfect body”—call to mind Yukio Mishima, the bisexual militarist novelist and bodybuilder who attempted to overthrow Japanese democracy in 1970. Mishima then committed ritual seppuku, stabbing himself and having an acolyte behead him. (But notice the “more or less” in Breivik’s boast; Breivik is always tempted by the Norwegian urge to try to appear reasonable.)
The Norwegian killer’s assault is reminiscent of the 1997 shootout in North Hollywood, in which two steroid-using, body-armor-wearing bankrobbers fired 1,101 rounds of ammunition at the LAPD. At the time, they were assumed to be the first of an inevitable wave of unstoppable Terminator-like criminals. Fortunately, 14 years later, they remain the American high-water mark for criminals who could have appeared in a Michael Mann movie like “Heat.” Hopefully, Breivik will remain an outlier.

And here's a summary of my main argument in Breivik’s Brain: The Norwegian killer is no Christian fundamentalist but a right-wing imitator of Marx and Lenin:
Among terrorist monsters, Breivik is perhaps the most lucid since the Unabomber, whom he plagiarizes in the 1516 page “compendium” he posted online just before his crimes. So I undertook the unpleasant task of trying to understand what motivates him. Is he a Christian fundamentalist fanatic, as has been widely assumed by the U.S. press? Or is there something else going on here that won’t make sense from an American perspective? 
Having thought about this rotten person longer than I’ve wanted, I have finally grasped that Breivik only makes sense when viewed on his own terms, which are those of the bloody history of continental European ideology. Breivik, I’ve come to realize, is a Marxist heretic. 
Breivik’s hundreds of pages of planning 72 years of conflict in his manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence reflects a Marx-like confidence in his own science of history. His turn to terrorism to begin the recruitment of a revolutionary vanguard is reminiscent of the urge of the first major Marxist heretic, Lenin, to hurry history along with violence. Like the second world-historical Marxist heretic, Mussolini, who substituted for Marx’s emphasis on class his own emphasis on nation, Breivik wants to substitute “culture.” He argues that white leaders influenced the Frankfurt School of “cultural Marxism” import Muslims to deconstruct the indigenous conservative culture they hate. In response, he will set off an (oxymoronic) “conservative revolution.”

Read the whole thing (there's lots more) there.

America's decade in Afghanistan pays off

From the New York Times, a story about a Romeo and Juliet in Herat, Afghanistan:
This month, a group of men spotted the couple riding together in a car, yanked them into the road and began to interrogate the boy and girl. Why were they together? What right had they? An angry crowd of 300 surged around them, calling them adulterers and demanding that they be stoned to death or hanged. 
When security forces swooped in and rescued the couple, the mob’s anger exploded. They overwhelmed the local police, set fire to cars and stormed a police station six miles from the center of Herat, raising questions about the strength of law in a corner of western Afghanistan and in one of the first cities that has made the formal transition to Afghan-led security. 
The riot, which lasted for hours, ended with one man dead, a police station charred and the two teenagers, Halima Mohammedi and her boyfriend, Rafi Mohammed, confined to juvenile prison. Officially, their fates lie in the hands of an unsteady legal system. But they face harsher judgments of family and community. 
Ms. Mohammedi’s uncle visited her in jail to say she had shamed the family, and promised that they would kill her once she was released. Her father, an illiterate laborer who works in Iran, sorrowfully concurred. He cried during two visits to the jail, saying almost nothing to his daughter. Blood, he said, was perhaps the only way out. 
“What we would ask is that the government should kill both of them,” said the father, Kher Mohammed. ....
Family members of the man killed in the riot sent word to Ms. Mohammedi that she bears the blame for his death. But they offered her an out: Marry one of their other sons, and her debt would be paid.

Do Hispanic leaders have followers?

We constantly read articles in which Hispanic leaders, such as the head of the National Council of La Raza, threaten that any politician who takes a stand against illegal immigration will be buried at the polls. But do these media-acclaimed Hispanic prophets have all that many disciples?

From my new VDARE column:
In a Pew Hispanic Center survey in late summer 2010, 1,375 Hispanics were asked an unprompted question: “In your opinion, who is the most important Hispanic / Latino leader in the country today?” 
The landslide winner: “Don’t know,” with 64 percent. 
The runner-up: “No one,” with ten percent 
In third place: recently-appointed Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, with seven percent. Then came the Congressional spokesman for amnesty, Luis Gutierrez, down at five percent; Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at three percent; and Univision news anchorman Jorge Ramos at two.

Read the whole thing there.

Race and Medicine, Part LXXV

This Washington Post article illustrates that the widespread conceptual confusion over what race is can be bad for health care:
Race reemerges in debate over ‘personalized medicine’ 
By Rob Stein 
Federal examiners have rejected patents for genetic screening tests because the applicants did not explore their effectiveness for different races, adding to the debate about whether race has scientific validity in modern DNA-based medicine. 

Presumably, Patent Office staffers got a memo encouraging them to make sure that genetic tests work on minorities and aren't just being optimized for whites. But this upsets the Race Does Not Exist crowd.
Some geneticists, sociologists and bioethicists argue that “black,” “white,” “Asian” and “Hispanic” are antiquated categories that threaten to revive prejudices. Others, however, say that meaningful DNA variations can track racial lines and that ignoring them could deny many benefits of “personalized medicine,” which aims to develop tests and treatments tailored to a person’s genetic makeup. ...
Jonathan Kahn, a law professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., discovered the patent rejections when he began sifting through applications, prompted by a 2008 patent office presentation that raised the race issue. 
“Constructions of race as genetic are not only scientifically flawed, they are socially dangerous, opening the door to new forms of discrimination or the misallocation of scarce resources needed to address real health disparities,” Kahn wrote in a report in the journal Nature Biotechnology in May. ...
Similarly, in 2009, an examiner rejected a patent for a test for a propensity for prostate cancer because it did not specify the risk the variation posed among different races, Kahn found.
And in 2010, an examiner denied a patent for a test for a genetic marker for asthma and eczema because it was vetted only in whites and Asians. 
The prostate cancer and asthma rulings were reversed on appeal. But the colorectal cancer applicant narrowed the application to win approval. 
“There’s no telling how many people will just give in and use race in a way that the scientists clearly do not think is an appropriate way to use race,” Kahn said. 
Just the fact that patent applications are including such information is disturbing, he and other critics say. 
“This gives almost scientific legitimacy to the false categories of race — that somehow being white or being European is a strong category you can use in research,” said Troy Duster, who studies the racial implications of scientific research at New York University. 
For decades, demagogues — and even some scientists — argued that racial groups were genetically distinct and, in some ways, biologically inferior or superior, justifying laws barring interracial marriage and other discriminatory practices. 
Genetic predispositions — such as for sickle cell anemia, which occurs more frequently among African Americans, and Tay-Sachs disease, which is found more often in descendants of Ashkenazi Jews — clearly can pass down through generations. But as scientists developed modern tools of molecular biology, they produced ever more convincing evidence that genes vary as much among people who identify themselves as the same race as among groups segregated along traditional racial lines.

Except that they don't. Statistically, genes vary a lot within races, just as they vary a fair amount among siblings within a nuclear family, but they vary even more among individuals across races.
“What we are learning is that ancestry is really the key here,” said Charles N. Rotimi, director of the center for research on genomics and global health at the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Because ancestry and race don't have much to do with each other, I guess.
“The labels for race, at least as we currently use them, distort some of the things we want to understand in terms of ancestry.” 

Then perhaps we need for doctors to use more accurate terms. For example, Professor Kahn is up in arms about a Patent staffer who supposedly treated "Hispanic" as a racial group. This suggests that the medical profession ought to revive more genetically useful terms such as "mestizo" and "mulatto." Doctors use technical terms for lots of things that are considered inappropriate to mention in polite society, so why shouldn't they use "mestizo" and "mulatto?" It's their job, after all.
For example, although sickle cell anemia is more common among African Americans, the blood disorder is also rare in some parts of Africa and common in some predominantly Caucasian populations.

This is the kind of race-does-not-exist talking point that's more likely to confuse nonspecialist doctors than to help them make more accurate diagnoses. For the purposes of figuring out which tests to run on sick African American children, it doesn't particularly matter that sickle cell anemia "is rare in some parts of Africa" because traditional African-Americans (i.e., the descendants of American slaves) are a blended population with no ability to accurately tell a doctor something like, "My baby can't have sickle cell anemia because all 512 of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were from parts of Africa where sickle cell anemia is rare." The point is that if your baby is African-American, sickle cell anemia should be a concern for your pediatrician. Now, if you and your spouse just got off the plane from, say, the highlands of Ethiopia, well, maybe not, but you are the exception.

Likewise, it would be good for doctors to know that if your baby is, say, 100% Sicilian, then there's a small chance of sickle cell anemia because there was some falciparum malaria in Sicily.
The ultimate goal of genetic-based personalized medicine is to match care to each patient’s genetic makeup, Rotimi and others say. 
“You are truly going to be looking at that individual, whether black, white or Asian. It’s the individual’s genome that becomes important to their disease risk as opposed to their socially identified race or ethnicity,” said Vence L. Bonham Jr., an associate investigator at the institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

But in the mean time ... Look, this individualized medical genomics thing hasn't working out as fast as people thought it would. What is progressing fast is racial genomics. Scientists are getting very good at figuring out people's racial backgrounds from their DNA.
Injecting race back into the mix carries myriad dangers, critics say. On a practical level, it may result in doctors using tests or treatments on one ethnic group and not another, denying people care based on the color of their skin.

Because less information is better when making diagnoses.
... On a more disturbing level, it could fuel racism. 
“It has the social consequence of making it seem that differences among groups are fundamentally biological,” said Barbara A. Koenig, a medical ethicist and anthropologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “Inevitably, in our history, that leads back to the idea that one race is better than another.” 
But others say that although race is far from perfect, some genetic variations with meaningful implications for health can be much more common among certain groups. 
For example, the anti-seizure drug Tegretol produces a life-threatening skin rash more frequently among certain Asians than others; the best dose of the common blood thinner Warfarin varies by race and African Americans appear to be at an increased risk for kidney failure because they more often carry certain mutations. 
“I don’t think race/ethnicity and personalized medicine are mutually exclusive,” said Neil Risch, a professor of human genetics and epidemiology at the University of California at San Francisco. “You can call it sociological, cultural — whatever. It’s all of the above. That doesn’t mean it’s devoid of genetic meaning.”

In other words, racial medicine doesn't work in theory, but it does work with human beings. That suggests that we need a better theory.
In fact, recent analyses have indicated that many common diseases probably are caused by genetic variations in different populations, making it crucial to assemble diverse databases, researchers said in an article published online July 13 by the journal Nature. 
Two large genetic analyses published July 20 by the journals Nature and Nature Genetics found hundreds of genetic discrepancies between people of African American and European descent. And two papers published online Sunday by Nature Genetics found four unique genetic variations associated with asthma in people in Japan and people of African ancestry. Until scientists learn more about individual genetic predisposition, race provides a useful proxy, some say. 
“I think there’s a healthy debate right now about the role of race in medicine,” said Noah A. Rosenberg, a professor of biology at Stanford University.

One of the reasons that this debate has dragged on in a confused fashion for so many years, probably killing a few patients along the way, is that doctors aren't given a solid concept of race. Doctors are busy, practical people. They need the conceptual heavy lifting to be done by intellectuals, but the intellectual class has overwhelmingly failed when it comes to understanding what race is.

The problem is that because it's easy to poke holes in the crudest forms of old-fashioned American racial concepts, such as the one-drop rule, that means you can jump all the way to Race Does Not Exist, which is even cruder and stupider. What we need instead is a more sophisticated way for doctors to think about race. Fortunately, I invented* that way back in the 1990s: a racial group can most profitably be thought of as an extended family that is partly inbred. This is very close to being tautological, and, not surprisingly, lots of recent genetic data supports this insight.

The good news is that doctors shouldn't have too much trouble grasping my concept because it fits nicely as an extension of a concept they use all the time: the family medical history. The Surgeon GeneralAMA and the Mayo Clinic advocate that patients draw up a family medical history for themselves.

Race fits into the notion of a family medical history by allowing your family medical history to be extended beyond relatives whose medical histories you happen to know. Thinking of race as a partly inbred extended family means implies that statistical tendencies should also be garnered from large numbers of members of your more extended families.

The bad news is that almost nobody is explaining this concept to doctors. Thus, we see confused and confusing articles like this one.

* I'm sure lots of other people invented it before me.

July 31, 2011


I finally got around to watching the 2010 documentary "Babies" that follows the first year of life of one baby each in San Francisco, Tokyo, rural Mongolia, and rural Namibia. There's no narration. It's like a greatest hits collection of home movies, if they were all beautifully lit.

Babies are pretty much the same (cute) everywhere, so the main interest is looking at the four different environments from a baby's point of view.

Mongolia looks like the most fun of the four places to be a baby. Dad takes Mom and the new baby home from the hospital on the back of his amped-up motorcycle. Mom looks like she'd prefer to ride in a Camry but Dad is no doubt a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, so what are you going to do? The Mongolian baby gets to live in a nicely furnished yurt on a ranch on the steppe, with lots of fancy carpets indoors and endless grass outdoors, like the Teletubbies set. It's a good place to fall down, which you do a lot when you are a baby. Plus, there are a huge number of animals around to look at (watch the trailer embedded above to the end), and he has an older brother to poke him and otherwise make life more interesting. 

Life is pretty similar for the Tokyo and San Francisco babies of yuppie couples, who are only children. Lots of polished hardwood floors, and only cats for animal company. The yuppie parents constantly point out interesting things to their babies and talk to them about it to get them ready for their SATs in 17 years. For example, the Tokyo mom belongs to a baby group with other mothers of only children. They all push their strollers to the zoo and helpfully point out to their babies the tiger, which terrifies the morsel-sized infants, but presumably will help them get into a good college someday.

The Namibian baby has lots of siblings and cousins around -- there are, evidently, a lot of babies in Namibia -- but the whole place is dirt. The women usually sit on pieces of cloth on the dirt, but they just let the babies crawl around in the dirt. The menfolk are never around. Are they all working in mines sending home paychecks or are they drinking at the shebeen?

Just as you would expect from that popular Hart and Risley study about how professional parents speak 427 million words to their children by age 1 or whatever, while underclass parents can barely be motivated to say "Shut up" to their kids, the Namibian women don't seem to have much to say to their children.

IQ heritability

Physicist Steve Hsu recounts IQ heritability figures from a 2010 metanalysis of twin and adoption studies:
He goes on:
But now that we have inexpensive genotyping, we can study heritability of a quantitative trait by looking at unrelated (or only distantly related) individuals, and asking to what extent similarity in genotype is correlated with similarity in phenotype. A simple way to think about this is to imagine that we have a sample of N people for whom both phenotype (measured g score) and genotype (e.g., SNP profile) are known. Form all possible pairs and plot magnitude of difference in g score against genetic distance between the individuals in the pair. The g score difference should (on average) decrease as the genetic distance goes to zero (at which point the pair are MZ twins; but we avoid the confound of shared prenatal environment). Even if we have no identical twins in the sample, and even if none of the people in the sample are closely related to each other, we can extrapolate to zero genetic distance to obtain an estimate of heritability. An analysis along these lines (more technically, a global fit across all SNPs of total heritability) for height yields a result which is consistent with the narrow sense heritability estimate from twin and adoption studies. The results for g have not yet been published, but rumor has it that they also support earlier estimates such as those given above.

Hsu points out that one way to look into the Flynn Effect would be to find elderly people whose IQs were measured for military enlistment / conscription purposes in the middle of the 20th Century.

Making American teachers unions look good

From the LA Times, which in recent years has started to cover Mexico more, and more entertainingly:
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City— The most powerful woman in Mexico carries $5,000 Hermes purses and can make or break a presidency. 
She's head of the nation's principal teachers union, the largest syndicate in Latin America, and once gave Hummers as gifts to loyal teachers. 
Elba Esther Gordillo commands the patronage of more than 1.5 million teachers, and in election years, that means more than 1.5 million votes. Almost every political party courts her. 
Yet scandal has forever dogged her, including accusations of illegal self-enrichment and even murder. No charges ever stuck, making her seem untouchable. Her union reportedly takes in millions in government money while she, once a humble teacher from Mexico's poorest south, lives much of the time in luxurious properties in Southern California. 
Gordillo's critics say her extravagances during 22 years as union president might not be so bothersome if the state of education in Mexico were not so abysmal. ...
Last year, slightly more than half of high school students flunked the math portion of standardized tests, while more than a third flunked Spanish. Mexican students scored the lowest reading levels of developed countries in the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Okay, but Mexico doesn't really belong in the OECD with Denmark, Canada, and Japan. It's more like Turkey or Brazil. And, its 2009 PISA scores were up over the previous PISA.

On the other hand, Mexicans in Mexico score a lot worse than Mexicans in the U.S. on the PISA. The thing that struck me the most about Mexico's lousy PISA scores was not the mediocre average but what a tiny percentage of Mexicans scored high. There are several times more students in Turkey who ace the PISA than in Mexico, which suggests that rich Mexicans, the ones who ought to be doing well on the test, are lazy, don't like reading and studying, and set a bad example for the Mexican masses.
Meanwhile, in 2010, 75% of teachers-in-training failed the exam that would have placed them in a job, and last year only 1% of working teachers passed a test that would have raised their salaries. ...
Gordillo is in the spotlight again because Mexico is in the throes of campaign fever, with a presidential election coming up next year. Her support was considered decisive in the 2006 narrow victory of Felipe Calderon and his conservative National Action Party; and today, she appears prepared to cast her lot, and her many votes, with the clear front-runner, the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

By the way, wouldn't the best thing for Mexico be a victory by a responsible leftist, like Lula in Brazil? It's not like the political climate in Mexico is so anti-business that nobody can get rich there (e.g., Carlos Slim). The left party has never won, having the 1988 election stolen and may have had the close 2006 election swiped, and wouldn't it be time for them to learn some responsibility by having to govern? However, that's just my gringo view and Mexican voters seem to want to go back to the old ruling party. Maybe there aren't responsible leftists in Mexico?
Gordillo, with her fondness for designer frocks, extreme jewelry and, apparently, abundant plastic surgery, was in fact a product of the PRI's old-style, autocratic type of rule, which lasted seven decades until 2000 and is poised now to return. The party controlled just about everything, including unions. Then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari anointed Gordillo in 1989 as president of the National Syndicate of Education Workers, or SNTE, after she'd spent years as a tireless and fiercely loyal climber in the party and the union. 
In 2007, at a closed-door meeting protected by private guards, the union leadership purportedly made Gordillo "president for life." A dissident group of unionized teachers has been threatening ever since to denounce her to the International Labor Organization for abuse of office. ...
Gordillo, 66, calls herself and is widely known as La Maestra, The Teacher. In public speeches, however, she sometimes sounds more like a failing student than a polished educator, fumbling words and syntax.

My recollection is that some public school teaching jobs in Mexico have become a hereditary privilege. Talk about tenure: in Mexico, if you are a teacher and die, your heir gets your job. If your child doesn't want to teach, he or she can auction off the right to the job.

In general, Mexico is a pretty entertaining place to read about, but it doesn't get covered much in the U.S. in the English language media relative to, say, the Middle East. By the way, whatever happened to that whole Arab Spring thing? Did Summer happen to it?

Will the EEOC apply the Four-Fifths rule to this organization?

Company: Obama 2012 Presidential Campaign
Location: Chicago, IL
The Obama for America Analytics Department analyzes the campaign's data to guide election strategy and develop quantitative, actionable insights that drive our decision-making. Our team's products help direct work on the ground, online and on the air. 
We are looking for Predictive Modeling/Data Mining Scientists and Analysts, at both the senior and junior level, to join our department through November 2012 at our Chicago Headquarters. We are a multi-disciplinary team of statisticians, predictive modelers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software developers, general analysts and organizers - all striving for a single goal: re-electing President Obama. 
Using statistical predictive modeling, the Democratic Party's comprehensive political database, and publicly available data, modeling analysts are charged with predicting the behavior of the American electorate. These models will be instrumental in helping the campaign determine which voters to target for turnout and persuasion efforts, where to buy advertising and how to best approach digital media. 
Our Modeling Analysts will dive head-first into our massive data to solve some of our most critical online and offline challenges. We will analyze millions of interactions a day, learning from terabytes of historical data, running thousands of experiments, to inform campaign strategy and critical decisions.

If the Obama for America Analytics Department doesn't hire at least four-fifths as many Hispanic females as Asian males, then Eric Holder is going to want to know why!