July 24, 2010

Harry Truman on Illegal Immigration

 A friend points out how much more intellectually sophisticated was Harry Truman's view on illegal immigration in 1951 than is the conventional wisdom of Washington today:
Harry Truman wrote one reasonably long statement on illegal immigration. He wrote it in the context of signing, with explicit reservations, S. 984 on June 13, 1951 [to authorize guest farmworkers; this was during worst of the fighting of the Korean War.] The contents are interesting. It is quite clear that Truman opposed illegal immigration and supported deporting illegal aliens, both on principle and to stop new illegals from entering. A few quotes
"During and since the last war, the recurrent shortages of farm labor in the United States have made the addition of contract workers from Mexico a vital factor in bringing in the crops. Last year, for example, 70,000 Mexican workers were legally admitted to this country for contract work during the harvesting season."

The bolding is mine. We have an estimated 11 million illegals. Then as now, the actual need for migrant labor in agriculture is tiny compared to the number of illegals.
"But this is very limited progress, which hardly touches our basic farm labor problems. The really crucial point, which this Act scarcely faces, is the steady stream of illegal immigrants from Mexico, the so-called "wetbacks", who cross the Rio Grande or the western stretches of our long border, in search of employment. These people are coming into our country in phenomenal numbers--and at an increasing rate. Last year 500,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended and returned to Mexico. In 1949, less than 300,000 were returned."

"And many of them are exploited, I regret to say, and are left in abject poverty. They live always under the threat of exposure and deportation. They are unable, therefore, to protest or to protect themselves."

"The presence of these illegal workers has a seriously depressing effect on wages and working conditions in farm areas throughout the southwest. The standards of living and job opportunities of American farm workers are under constant downward pressure. Thousands of our own citizens, particularly those of Latin descent, are displaced from employment or forced to work under substandard conditions because of the competition of these illegal immigrants."

Truman held to quaint notions of supply and demand.
"Shall we continue indefinitely to have low work standards and conditions of employment in agriculture thus depending on the underprivileged and the unfortunate at home and abroad to supply and replenish our seasonal and migratory work force? Or shall we do in agriculture what we already have done in other sectors of our economy-create honest-to-goodness jobs which will offer a decent living so that domestic workers, without being forced by dire necessity, will be willing to stay in agriculture and become a dependable labor supply? Just as farm employers want able and willing workers when needed, so do workers want reliable jobs which yield a fair living. Neither is being satisfied."

Truman believed that the problem could be solved by paying American workers higher wages.
"It is absolutely impossible, without the expenditure of very large amounts of manpower and money, to seal off our long land borders to all illegal immigration. But these three actions by the Congress will give us the tools we need to find and deport illegal immigrants once here and to discourage those of our own citizens who are aiding and abetting their movement into the country."

"If we are to begin to meet the basic problem, we must do two things right away. First, we must put a stop to the employment of illegal immigrants.

First, legislation should be enacted providing punishment for the offense of harboring or concealing aliens who have entered this country illegally.

Second, legislation should be enacted to clearly establish the authority of personnel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to inspect places of employment, without a warrant, where they have reason to believe that illegal immigrants are working or quartered. Immigration inspectors are able to cope with known illegal immigrants by obtaining warrants for their arrest.

Third, a supplemental appropriation should be made available immediately to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to expand its personnel in the southwest so that all types of enforcement work can be stepped up--including apprehension, investigation, and deportation of illegal entrants."

"It is absolutely impossible, without the expenditure of very large amounts of manpower and money, to seal off our long land borders to all illegal immigration. But these three actions by the Congress will give us the tools we need to find and deport illegal immigrants once here and to discourage those of our own citizens who are aiding and abetting their movement into the country.

After the Korean War emergency, a series of good government reforms following the principles outlined by Truman reduced the number of Mexican nationals in America doing farm labor -- such as Eisenhower deporting a huge number and the end of the bracero program in 1964 under LBJ following Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame" documentary. This reduced supply of labor allowed the fiercely anti-immigration labor union leader Cesar Chavez (see my 2006 article "Cesar Chavez, Minuteman") to win higher wages for farmworkers beginning in 1965, gains that were washed away by the flood of illegal aliens from the early 1980s onward.

Of course, all that history has been shoved down the memory hole, with Chavez having been recast as the patron saint of the Reconquista. In the modern liberal mind, race is vastly more important than class, so all these liberal heroes' actual views are inconceivable.

July 23, 2010

Charles Murray predicts Tiger won't break Nicklaus's record

Charles Murray jumps into the golf stat discussion by pointing out how individual skills tend to be distributed along bell curves, but extreme accomplishments follow L shaped power curves with only a tiny number at the far right edge. Just counting the four professional majors, Nicklaus is first with 18 wins, Woods second with 14, and two 1920s golfers, Bobby Jones (13, including Amateur titles, which aren't counted anymore) and Walter Hagen (11) are next, followed by Ben Hogan with 9. In contrast, 124 players have won one.

Murray says:
But to predict that Woods can win five majors between now and the end of his career—something that only 17 other golfers have done in their entire careers—assumes that nothing in the last year has significantly degraded the freakish combination required for extreme accomplishment. I find that assumption untenable.

The door can shut on great golfers in the Majors before anybody expects it to. Tom Watson won eight majors between age 25 and 34, but none after his 35th birthday.  Arnold Palmer won seven between 28 and 34, but none after his 35th birthday. Woods will turn 35 at the end of the year. 

Five more is a lot these days. Phil Mickelson, aged 40, has won four in his entire career, even though he got off to an early start as a star, winning a regular tour event as an amateur in 1991.

On the other hand, Ben Hogan won one before his 35th birthday and eight afterwards. Nicklaus himself won twelve before his 35th birthday and six afterwards, so, assuming Nicklaus is the best comparable for Woods, that would project Woods out to about 21 major championships in his career. But after the 2008 U.S. Open when he won his 14th, he was projecting out to around 26. So time is passing.

Q&A with Vicente Fox

Deborah Solomon interviews Vicente Fox in the NYT and doesn't ask him the obvious questions like, "Aren't you ashamed at how many Mexicans left Mexico during your six years in office as Presidente?" and "Isn't there something weird about the President of Mexico being a foot taller than the average Mexican man? What's the deal with that, anyway?"

Mostly, there's just boilerplate about immigration:
I’m sure you’re aware that the U.S. Department of Justice has sued the state of Arizona to overturn its immigration law, which may well be invalidated by the time this interview appears.

That’s a good intent. President Obama is committed to Hispanics and migrants. That’s a promise I had from President Bush, and six years went by and nothing happened. I don’t want to be negative, but I’m seeing the same story repeating again. It’s been two years now, and nothing has happened in relation to migration. 

But then, in her not terribly well-informed way, she stumbles into asking a tough one:
What do you think Mexicans have contributed to American culture?

Oh, starting with Mexican food! The jalapeƱos and the tacos and the rest. I think they have contributed family values. And then we have our culture. When you were killing Indian Apaches there, we had built Mayan cities, the pyramids, Mexico City.

Great ... tacos.

Also, in the future, Mr. Fox, you'll make a better impression if you don't use the words "killing" and "pyramids" in the same sentence. You really don't want to go there.

At least Fox didn't mention how Mexico gave us our vibrant Human Signs.

I could come up with a better list than Fox's: the Spanish mission architecture style of places like Santa Barbara, the lariat and a lot of other cowboy stuff, Carlos Santana and Los Lobos, lowrider cars, the Dos Equis guy who says "Cheating is only in good taste when it involves death," and about 500 Nashville songs about vacationing in Mexico.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on "Race"

I'm sometimes told that nobody believes anymore that "Race doesn't exist," that that's so 1990s. Yet, here's the opening of a 10,700-word 2008 article on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on "Race."


First published Wed May 28, 2008
The concept of race[1] signifies the grouping of individual humans by some set of perceived physical characteristics, often called “phenotypes,” which are thought to be inherited through some blood-borne factor. Which specific set of perceived, shared physical characteristics constitute a race varies historically, geographically, socially, and politically. Indeed, there is no biological or genetic foundation for the grouping of individual humans into a racial group. Instead, humans themselves choose (consciously or unconsciously) which physical characteristics constitute a racial group. Consequently, racial groups are presently thought to be social constructions, or a category created not by biological nature but by human invention. However, from its origins in the early modern era until the twentieth century, race was not considered a social construction but a real, biological distinction transmitted from one generation to the next. Thus, racial identity was thought to be something fixed and imposed genetically.

As a result of this biological conception, racial groupings are typically thought of as discrete, meaning that the boundaries between them are determinate. Where one racial group ends, a distinct other racial group begins. If human phenotypes are simply considered to be gradual variations in things like skin color, hair texture, or bone structure, then one cannot really speak of distinct human races. Rather, such differences would simply reflect variations in physical traits, such as the variation between very straight versus very curly hair. To speak of race, then, requires classifying humans into discrete groupings based upon a set of putatively inherited physical characteristics. Note that the discrete character of racial groups holds even when we speak of “mixed race” people, since this term implies that a “mixed” individual has ancestry from two or more discrete racial groups.

Determining the boundaries of discrete races has proven to be the most vexing problems for those thinkers who sought to classify humans according to race, and led to great variations in the number of human races believed to be in existence. Thus, some thinkers categorized humans into only four distinct races (typically white or Caucasian, black or African, yellow or Asian, and red or Native American), and downplayed any phenotypical distinctions within racial groups (such as those between Scandavians and Spaniards within the white or Caucasian race). Other thinkers, drawing boundaries around different physical traits, classified humans into many more racial categories, for instance arguing that those humans “indigenous” to Europe could be distinguished into discrete Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean races.

The ambiguities and confusion associated with determining the boundaries of discrete racial categories has over time provoked a widespread scholarly consensus that that race is socially constructed, while advances in the understanding of human genetics has undermined scholarly belief in the biological foundations of discrete races.

In contrast, I say that if "partly inbred extended families" aren't "racial groups," then we need to invent a term for them (PIEFs?) because they sure are important in this world.

Now, philosophers are generally pretty smart -- students intending to go to grad school in philosophy average higher on the GRE than everybody except physicists. When I wrote an essay poking fun at philosophers in 1999, I received a number of long, extremely well-argued emails pointing out my gross errors in reasoning. Initially, I responded combatively, but after awhile, I noticed that I was losing badly in these arguments, even with myself as scorekeeper.

On the other hand, this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is intellectually weak. It's a straw man argument of the most obvious kind. The point of being a philosopher is that it's fun to use your brain well. Yet, surely, it's not fun to think as poorly as this?

Granted, philosophers aren't required to keep up with Nicholas Wade's articles in the Science section of the NYT, so the huge factual error in the last sentence is forgivable. Still, the overall level of reasoning is poor.

And race is not a topic wholly outside the central stream of the philosophical discourse -- as this encyclopedia article makes clear by devoting almost 600 words to the writings on race of Hume and Kant, who are likely the two biggest names in post-Greek philosophy.

From a conceptual point of view, if you can figure out race, that's a pretty big accomplishment. If you can figure out the riddle of race, that might give clues for figuring out a lot of things. So, why, as this long article unintentionally makes clear, is there so little good work being done on this hugely important topic?

Besides the usual political-correctness-makes-you-stupid plauge, a couple of things seem to be a problem here:

- Philosophers, like an awful lot of people, love thinking in terms of Platonic essences. It makes reasoning so clear cut.  Then it's fun to yank the rug out and point out that Platonic essences aren't real. Let's put it in a syllogism:

If races are Platonic essences;
And if Platonic essences don't exist;
Then, races don't exist!

But we already knew Platonic essences aren't real, so we're not really getting anywhere by beating up this straw man, are we?

- The second problem is more subtle. I've noticed that my brain doesn't work like powerful abstract thinkers' brains tend to work. They like to say things like, "If X, assuming Y, then Z." But I always get confused halfway through because I have no short term memory anymore after years of taking Lipitor (not that I had much before). I'm always interrupting to ask things like, "Which one is X again?" Then they'll start over again using toy examples with words like "widget" in them to make it easy for me, but I can't get terribly interested in widgets. They think best when least distracted by factual information and when dealing with the least interesting examples.

In contrast, I can't think well like that. Instead, I do my best abstract thinking when I'm thinking about the most important and/or flagrantly interesting examples, such as blacks vs. whites vs. Asians. Or gays vs. lesbians. Or male vs. female. Or Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. (This Manning-Brady one lays out my Theory of Everything.)

In contrast, a lot of people who are better than me at reasoning in the abstract seem to suffer vapor lock when asked to reason about something obviously important. Their passions overwhelm their reason. I'm a rather dispassionate, amenable, reasonable kind of guy, so it's striking how many people consumed by anger project their rage onto me. Thus, we frequently witness people furiously accusing me of being full of hate. It's really rather amusing.

July 22, 2010

One person hates Nicholas Wade

 On Tuesday, I said that nobody ever denounces the New York Times's genetics reporter Nicholas Wade for drubbing the current shibboleths about race under a constant stream of articles documenting new genetic findings on the reality of race -- they just don't even grasp what he's doing. 

Charles Murray yesterday asked regarding Wade, "Do any of the reporters at the New York Times who cover other beats read the Science section?" (By the way, I think people can be overly hard on the NYT. I appear to have a fair amount of impact on the New York Times: with Kristof coming around recently, you can see my influence on probably three of the main op-ed columnists; some of the Science section; plus, I notice that the New York Times Magazine, which I would think is the best magazine in America at present, refracts a lot of my ideas.)

But, I should have realized there was at least one purveyor of the conventional wisdom smart enough and irate enough to have a clue about Wade: U. of North Carolina anthropologist Jonathan Marks

Marks, for example, was just about the only person on the left to understand that the cover of L.L. Cavalli-Sforza's 1994 magnum opus The History and Geography of Human Genes did not engage in "dismantling the idea of race" as a review of Cavali-Sforza book in the NYT claimed, but actually looked like something sketched out by Francis Galton. Marks was mad at Cavalli-Sforza for putting this genetic map on the cover of his book.

From the website of the American Anthropological Association (I'm guessing, from about 2007):
Productive Dialogue or Dangerous Advocacy?
Rachel Dvoskin
A group of anthropologists are outraged that the Leakey Foundation, which is the number one funder in the US of human origins research, invited New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade to speak as part of the foundation’s annual lecture series. One of them, Jonathan Marks of UNC at Charlotte, wrote a letter to the foundation decrying Wade’s use of what Marks described as weak and controversial evidence to support genetic determinist arguments and to promote the biologization of culture. ...

“Somebody needs to get fired over it,” says Marks, who is an outspoken opponent of viewpoints he regards as anti-science or anti-intellectual. “Somehow [the process by which Wade was selected] needs to be made more transparent because it has given the field of anthropology a black eye.”

The members of the Anthropology Advisory Committee of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), who wrote a similar letter last year to the New York Times in response to an article by Wade, are equally incensed. While granting that Wade—who has also been a reporter at Nature and Science, but is not himself a scientist—has a right to his opinions, these academics contend that by allowing him to speak at a Leakey-sponsored event, the foundation is legitimizing his views as normative in anthropology.

... In January 2007, when Marks emailed a letter to the foundation questioning their choice of Wade as a speaker, Wade was already scheduled to give two talks. Leakey President Wirthlin did not discuss the letter with anyone at that time; his understanding, he says, is that the staff determines how any potential policy issues should be handled.

... Marks and his colleagues at NYAS remain baffled by the Leakey Foundation’s decision to have Wade speak. “There’s a widespread discomfort with the way he expresses the insights that molecular biologists might have about human behavior,” explains U of Hawai’i geneticist Rebecca Cann.

Wade’s critics object to his assertions that certain population-specific characteristics—the supposed violent nature of hunter-gathers such as the Yanomami and superior intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews, for example—may have been shaped over a relatively short period of time (in evolutionary terms) by natural selection and that, in effect, people of different nationalities or “races” may be born with different human natures.

His critics allege that among other errors and assumptions, Wade conflates race, ancestry and genetic variation, and that he mistakenly extrapolates from individual traits to group characteristics.

“Almost no geneticists use the term race,” concedes Wade. “In large part, that’s for good reason.… As a journalist, however, I feel that I should use words that people are familiar with. So if geneticists are in fact talking about what general readers think of as race, than that’s the phrase that we should use.”

Many argue that Wade reports on problematic hypotheses—such as the suggestion by anthropologist Henry C Harpending (U Utah) that Ashkenazi Jews were selected for superior intelligence because of the cognitive demands of their positions as moneylenders—without conveying to his audience the controversial nature of the arguments or giving sufficient weight to opposing points of view. Wade contests that in his book he explains quite clearly the assumptions that went into that particular hypothesis. “I can’t think of any caution I omitted from the discussion.”

A few researchers praise Wade for refusing to shy away from touchy issues in the name of what they believe to be merely political correctness. E O Wilson, whose praise appears on the cover of Wade’s new book, commented in an email on Wade’s well-informed and objective journalism. “I’m not surprised that there are still ideologues who find information on human genetics ‘dangerous’ to their ideas,” Wilson says, “but Mr Wade is not a justifiable target for their anxieties.”

So, Edward O. Wilson is for Wade and Jonathan Marks is agin him.  Not a bad tradeoff from Wade's perspective.
However, many cultural and biological anthropologists warn that, when considered uncritically, Wade’s gene-centric explanations and sweeping generalizations, filtered through what some view as his Western-oriented value judgments, could be used to support eugenics and social Darwinist agendas.

“Nobody denies the fact that biology is the basis upon which the potential for human behavior takes place,” acknowledges NYU anthropologist Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb, who co-wrote a letter in response to Wade’s New York Times reporting with fellow NYAS Anthropology Chair William P Mitchell. Yet Wade’s genetic explanations for population-wide differences in human behavior are anathema to Boasian anthropology.

Back around 1996 or 1997 or so, I came up with the term "human biodiversity" to describe my chief intellectual interest. I modeled the term on Edward O. Wilson's coinage "biodiversity." I then looked to see in the first web search engine, Alta Vista, if the term had ever been used before. I quickly found Marks's 1995 book Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race, and History, with its cover of DNA and Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy. I quickly bought it and read it and then exchanged several emails with Marks over it. At one point, he and I agreed to approach magazines to see if they would like to publish a debate between Marks and myself over the reality of race, although enthusiasm on the part of editors turned out to mild, to say the least.

An anonymous review of Human Biodiversity at Amazon describes it well:
This book is excellent introduction to the thorny topic of human biodiversity. The book's real strength lies in the fact that Marks brings in historical material which illuminates the ideological underpinnings of work on human diversity. Dr. Marks, at the time this book was written was a visiting professor at UC/Berkeley. He had studied anthropology at the University of Arizona and genetics at UC/Davis. According to a note on the copyright page he is known for his work in molecular anthropology.

The book's 14 chapters take an extremely broad view of human diversity, both cultural and biological, and of the attempts to understand and explain that diversity. The book covers the history of anthropology's attempts to understand human biodiversity, the evolution of primates, the eugenics movement, a critique of the biological race concept, patterns of human variation - both phenotypic and genotypic, the nature and function of human variation, the role of human variation in health and disease and a critique of hereditarian theory. An appendix discusses DNA structure and function. The chapters are generally well written and referenced. The book is written for an academic audience or at least a reader with a strong foundation in biology.

I found the critique of the biological race concept to be the most lucid and well thought out one that I have ever read. Marks points out that a division of humans into three or four primordial races seems to ignore the long history of human intermingling. Either there has always been intermingling among humans - in which case the very concept of biologically separated races is wrong from the start - or intermingling is a more recent phenomenon in which case race may have been relevant in the past but no longer is. Marks points out that the three major races identified in the US - White, Black and Asian - correspond to the three major immigrant groups in US history - from Europe, Western Africa and Eastern Asia. [I note that he did not discuss Native Americans.] There is an excellent discussion of the history of race thinking as it was applied to the ABO blood groups. This makes palpable the argument that within-race diversity is much greater than between-race diversity. Marks devotes a fair amount of time to discussing how cultural values impact on scientific work. This is illustrated by numerous examples, many drawn from a critique of the eugenics movement.  

In other words, Marks's Human Biodiversity resembles Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man if only Gould had been much better informed about psychometrics. There's a lot of Gould's Argument from Antiquarianism -- Look how these scientists in the days of yore got things wrong, so therefore current scientists have got things wrong, too.

That said, I found it extremely helpful to have Marks's intellectually and scientifically sophisticated critique of past theories about race, which helped me reject the Linnaean tradition of thinking about race as a subspecies and formulate a new definition of what a racial group is that is both very useful for understanding better what you see in the news every day and is, logically, very close to being tautologically inevitable: that a racial group is "a partly inbred extended family." 

As I wrote in VDARE.com in 2002 in "It's All Relative: Putting Race in Its Proper Perspective:"
Now, the key point about debating "Does Race Exist" is that it's essentially a semantic dispute. If you can find the dumbest definition anybody ever came up with—something like "racial groups are virtually separate species that almost never interbreed"—then, under that strawman definition, "race" would definitely not exist.

Conversely, of course, if you rigorously define "race" to mean something that actually does exist on Earth, then, by definition, race exists.

It's not hard to find ridiculous definitions of race to prove wrong, since lots of dumb stuff has been said about race over the years, even by scientists.

Although in the last few decades there has been some good thinking about what race is not, there have been very few attempts to come up with a new understanding of what race is … because it has become dangerous to scientists' and intellectuals' careers.

I got interested in coming up with a rigorous definition of race a few years ago when I saw that all we had to choose from were
  1. the obsolete definitions that largely failed to incorporate sophisticated sociobiological perspectives or
  1. the hip nihilism of the Race Does Not Exist crowd.
Early 19th Century credulity and late 20th Century postmodernism aren't adequate. We need a working definition for the 21st Century.

Obviously, there's something that our lying eyes see. But what exactly is it?

Up until the 1960's, physical anthropologists tended to conceive of racial classifications as fitting neatly into a taxonomy of the kind invented by the great 18th Century naturalist Carolus Linnaeaus. The top-down Linnaean system describes how the God of Genesis might have gone about efficiently organizing the Creation. It subdivides living things into genuses and then into species, subspecies, races, and presumably into sub-races and so on.

Linnaean taxonomy is still hugely useful. It even works fairly well for humans: see the July 30, 2002 New York Times article, "Race Is Seen as Real Guide to Track Roots of Disease" for how Stanford geneticist Neil Risch's crude model of dividing the world up into five continental-scale races for medical purposes can help save lives.

But naturalists now understood, however, that the Linnaean mindset always imposed a little too much order on the messiness of evolution. All of these Linnaean terms, like genus and subspecies, are not absolute but relative designations. Thus, they tend to be unavoidably arbitrary. Paleontologists are always bickering over whether some new hominid skull dug up in Africa is different enough to deserve its own genus or whether it is just a lousy new subspecies.

Even "species" is less written-in-stone than it sounds. Witness the constant debate over whether dogs, wolves, and coyotes are three species or one.

Enforcement of the Endangered Species Act is constantly being bogged down in disputes over whether a particular brand of bug or weed is a separate species. Billions of dollars of Southern California property development has been hung up for years over whether the rare California gnatcatcher bird is a different species than the abundant Baja gnatcatcher. The only difference is that the California gnatcatcher tends to a somewhat different color than the Baja gnatcatcher.

(This is also true of humans, of course, but that doesn't make them different species!)

None of this is to say that the concept of species should be discarded; just that, like races, species tend to be fuzzy sets, too.
Race is all relative, in two senses.

, it's all about who your relatives are.

A modern Darwinian approach to race would start from the bottom up, with the father, mother, and baby. All mammals belong to biological extended families, with a family tree that features all the same kinds of biological relatives as you or I have—grandfathers, nieces, or third cousins and so forth. And everybody belongs to multiple extended families—your mom's, your dad's, etc.

Which leads to my modern definition of race:

A racial group is an extended family that is inbred to some degree.

That's it—just an "extended family that is somewhat inbred." There's no need to say how big the extended family has to be, or just how inbred.

We know that humans have not been mating completely randomly with other humans from all over the globe. Most people, over the last few tens of thousands of years, just couldn't afford the airfare.

If you go back to 1000 AD, you would theoretically have a trillion ancestors alive at that time—that's how many slots you have in your family tree 40 generations ago. Obviously, your family tree has to be a little bit inbred. That far back, you'd probably find an individual or two from most parts of the world among your ancestors.

But, in anybody's family tree, certain statistical patterns will stand out. Just ask somebody, "What are you?" and they'll tell you about some of the larger clusters in their family tree, such as, "Oh, I'm Irish, Italian, and Cherokee."

So, my definition is close to a tautology. But then so is "survival of the fittest." 

And that proved to have a bit of predictive power.

This is a scaleable solution. Do you want to know a lot about a few people?

Then, the more inbred, the more distinct the racial group. Or, do you want to know a little about a lot of people? The less inbred, the larger the group.

For example, Icelanders are a lot more inbred and thus a lot more distinct than, say, Europeans, who are, though, much more numerous. Which one is the "true race?"

It's a useless question. They are both racial groups. For some questions, "Icelander" is the more useful group to focus upon. For others "European" is the more effective.

Of course, the bottom-up model accounts for everything seen in top-down approaches. Average hereditary differences are—as one might expect—inherited. The bottom-up approach simply eliminates any compulsion to draw arbitrary lines regarding whether a difference is big enough to be racial.

With enough inbreeding, hereditary differences will emerge that will first be recognizable to the geneticist, then to the physical anthropologist, and finally to the average person.

Similarly, two separate racial groups can slowly merge into one if barriers to intermarriage come down.

I'm more interested in the reality that there are partly inbred extended families than in what it's called. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a better word than "race."

Various euphemisms have been tried without much success. For example, the geneticists, such as the distinguished Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford, who study what the normal person would call "race," don't call themselves "racial geneticists." Instead, they blandly label themselves "population geneticists."

That allows them at least sometimes to sneak their research projects by under the radar of the politically correct. But it's important to realize that they are not using "population" in the non-racial sense of phrases like "California's population" or "UCLA's student population," but in the specific sense of "hereditary populations" such as the Japanese or the Icelanders or the Navajo.

Among all the different kinds of "populations," the only ones population geneticists study are the ones whose members tend to share genes because they tend to share genealogies.

That's what I'd call a "racial group." But, if you don't like the word "race," well, maybe we should just hire one of those firms that invent snazzy new names like "Exxon" for unfashionable old corporations like Standard Oil, and then hire an ad agency to publicize this new name for "race."

Unfortunately, I'm a little tapped out until the end of the month. But if you have a spare fifty million dollars, that might cover it.

The second sense in which Race is all relative: it's pointless to make absolute statements about the significance or insignificance of race. You always have to ask, "Compared to what?"

For instance, I am constantly informed that genetic differences between racial groups are absolutely insignificant because 99.9% of human genes are shared among all people. Yet we share over 98% of our genes with chimpanzees (and, supposedly, 70% with yeast). Does that mean genetic differences between humans and chimps (or yeast) are insignificant?

You have to look at it relatively. If you were planning to climb Mt. Everest and somebody were to say, "The difference between Mt. Everest and sea level is insignificant, it's just a 0.15% difference in the distance from the center of the Earth," you'd roll your eyes. But, when somebody says the same thing about genetics, it's treated as a profundity.

Similarly, we are constantly told, "there are more genetic differences within races than between races." This is, in general, true. But it hardly means that the differences between races therefore don't exist. 

More hair of the dog that bit us, please

From the NYT:

DETROIT — General Motors said Thursday that it had agreed to buy a financing company, AmeriCredit, for $3.5 billion so it can lease more vehicles and increase sales to consumers with lower credit ratings. ...

Jesse Toprak, the vice president of industry trends and insights at TrueCar.com, which tracks vehicle pricing, said G.M.’s sales could jump as much as 20 percent if it aggressively courts subprime buyers.

G.M. will use money from its cash reserves, which stand at more than $30 billion as a result of the aid it received from the federal government before and during last year’s bankruptcy.

“We’re in the fortunate position that we have a very strong balance sheet,” G.M.’s chief financial officer, Christopher P. Liddell, said. “That gives us the flexibility to do acquisitions like this.” ...

Currently, subprime customers account for 4 percent of G.M. sales, in line with the industry average, but about 40 percent of the population has a subprime rating, Mr. Liddell said. ...

Mr. Berce said most of AmeriCredit’s 800,000 customers had credit ratings of 500 to 650. A rating below 640, on a scale that ranges from 300 to 850, is generally considered subprime.

From Wikipedia: "GM is now temporarily majority owned by the United States Treasury ..."

Basically, nobody in D.C. has any strategy how to help the bottom 40% of the country earn more money, since the obvious steps, such as immigration restriction and protectionism, are unthinkable in Washington. So, the Bush-Obama strategy has been to help the bottom 40 percent (i.e., 125 million people) borrow more money so that they can buy more shiny, spinning objects.

Neal Stephenson on Puritans and Victorians

I finally finished the 17th Century historical novel Quicksilver, the first volume of The Baroque Cycle by science fiction heavyweight Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is the author of 1992's Snow Crash, which libertarians usually celebrate as a utopian novel, but, considering the obvious borrowing of The Raft from Jean Raspail's Camp of the Saints, strikes me as dystopian.

Quicksilver involves, besides much else, the origin of the dispute between Newton and Leibniz over credit for the calculus. It's a sort of WASP Nerd's History of the World, the male equivalent of all those historical novels about princesses and duchesses that sell so well these days.

From a 2004 Salon interview by Laura Miller with Stephenson:
You're remarkably sympathetic to the Puritans, too, which is unusual these days.

I have a perverse weakness for past generations that are universally reviled today. The Victorians have a real bad name, and the word "Puritan" is never used except in a highly pejorative way, despite the fact that there are very strong Victorian and Puritan threads in our society today, and despite the fact that the Victorians and Puritans built the countries that we live in. The other one, by the way, is the '50s. Someday I'll have to write a '50s novel.

The reason why people are so vituperative about those generations is not because they know anything about the history, but because they're really talking about splits within our culture today that they're worried about. In the same spirit that I wrote a Victorian novel earlier in my career [The Diamond Age], I figured it might be a kick to see what to do with some Puritans. Not hip, jaded, cool Puritans, but honest-to-god, fire-breathing Puritans. Drake [Waterhouse, Daniel's father] is an arch-Puritan, but by no means exaggerated. There were a million guys like this running around England in those days. He became the patriarch of this family of people who have to respond to his larger-than-life status and extreme commitment to religion.

What do you admire about the Puritans?

They were tremendously effective people. They completely took over the country and they created an army pretty much from scratch that kicked everyone's ass. This is not always a good thing. They were guilty of some very bad behavior in Ireland, for example. But any way you slice it they were very effective. Cromwell was a tremendous military leader. A lot of that effectiveness was rooted in the fact that they had money, in part because persecuted religious minorities, if they're not persecuted out of existence, often manage to achieve disproportionate wealth. It happened with Jews, Armenians, Huguenots. Earlier in this project, I could have rattled off five more. They have to form private trading networks and lend each other money. They're unusually education conscious. Puritans -- and when we say Puritans, we're talking about a whole grab bag of religious groups -- tended to prize literacy and education. I'm sure they had a higher literacy rate than the general English population. Literacy and education make people more effective.
Another answer is that they very early on adopted a set of views on social topics that everyone now takes for granted as being basic tenets of Western civilization. They were heavily for free enterprise. They didn't want the state interfering in private property. Now our whole system is built on that. We tend to forget that someone had to come up with that idea and fight for it. And those people did.

In Jacques Barzun's big history From Dawn to Decadence, he calls attention to the Puritan political agitator John Lilburne (1614?-1657) as exemplary of the creativity of the English Civil War generation. I had never heard of Lilburne, but I see now that Supreme Court justice Hugo Black frequently cited his many arrests by Royalists and Cromwellian Puritans and his surprisingly large number of successful defenses at trials by appeals to the "freeborn rights" of Englishmen as fundamental to the tradition of rights that Americans wrote into the Constitution in the late 18th Century. 

Barzun writes:
What Lilburne carried whole in his mind, dozens of his fellow Puritan pamphleteers advocated piecemeal. Many called for a republic; the vote for all; the abolition of rank and privilege; equality before the law; free trade and a better distribution of poverty. Few urged tolerance. Again, because these goals were justified out of Scripture, the substance of Puritan political thought has been eclipsed. Later historians' secular minds prefer to read about free trade in Adam Smith than in Liblburne and his parable of the talents.

These 17th Century Puritans tended to be prickly, annoying people (Newton, for example, was insufferable, although he was suffered, because he was Newton), while the big names of the 18th Century, such as Franklin, Hume, Gibbon, Johnson, Burke, Voltaire, Diderot, and so forth (with the exception of Rousseau) tended to be charming men.

As for Quicksilver, well, I tend to like The Idea of Stephenson more than I quite like Stephenson's books. He chooses a point on the Quantity - Quality trade-off continuum that works better for him as a professional author than for me as an occasional reader. As he acknowledges in his Acknowledgments right upfront:
Of particular note is Sir Winston Spencer Churchill's six-volume biography of Marlborough, which people who are really interested in this period of history should read, and people who think that I am too long-winded should weigh.

July 21, 2010

Obama's Divisiveness

An excerpt from my recent VDARE.com column:
Here are Obama’s Gallup Poll approval ratings every week since his Inauguration:
Black support for the black President remains almost rock solid, standing at 89 percent through the week ending July 11, 2010—slightly higher than in his first week in office.

But Obama’s approval rating among whites is now only 38 percent—51 points below the black level. The white approval rating has fallen 25 points since January 2009.

It’s important to note that the white approval rating was as high as 60 percent as late as the week of May 10, 2009. The subsequent sharp fall-off is usually blamed on the economy.

But an alternative explanation is that white disenchantment with Obama appears to have set in during the warm weather months of 2009—about the time of Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (May 26, 2009); the Supreme Court’s rebuke of Sotomayor’s ruling in the Ricci case (June 29, 2009); and the hilarious damage-controlling “Beer Summit” featuring Professor Henry Louis Gates and an Obama-dissed Cambridge, MA police officer, James Crowley (July 22-30, 2009).

Since the end of summer 2009, Obama’s staffers, such as the cynical Chicagoan Rahm Emanuel, have worked diligently to keep their boss from alarming whites with obvious racial gaffes—as when he responded frankly to the Henry Louis Gates question at one of his rare press conferences. Obama’s rating among whites has continued to trickle downward, but at a less catastrophic rate.

On the other hand, his staff’s perceived need to prevent “Obama from being Obama” has likely contributed to Obama’s current guarded, depressive affect. For a man proclaimed an inspirational political genius in 2008, he strikes many people in 2010 as a downer, a bit of a buzzkill.

And Obama’s allies continue to provoke racial squabbles. For example, the NAACP is trying to “concern troll” [=undermine] the Tea Party movement into dropping all that stuff about endless deficits in order to conduct purges of purported racists in its ranks. And the public is just waking up to the fact that Congresswoman Maxine Waters has larded the new financial reform bill with racial quotas.

Hispanics’ feelings toward Obama lie in between those of blacks and whites, as is so common in American racial patterns. The President’s Hispanic ratings have fallen roughly in parallel with white opinion, with the big drop starting a little later in 2009. This also follows a long tradition: Hispanic voters generally follow changes in white opinion, just more erratically, while staying significantly to the left of whites for perfectly understandable reasons of self-interest: they are much more enthusiastic about racial / ethnic preferences and tax-and-spend policies from which they hope to benefit at white expense.

Over the last decade, the Main Stream Media has carried countless credulous articles about the Hispanic vote. Most are based on self-serving talking points fed to journalists by so-called Hispanic leaders.

But there is a dirty little secret in all this: Hispanic voters seldom pay much attention to whatever the press proclaims to be their burning issues, such as Sotomayor or Arizona’s SB1070.

For example, Hispanic warmth toward Obama hit its peak (85 percent) a few weeks before he nominated Sonia Sotomayor on May 26, 2009. By August, he was down in the 60s with Hispanics.

Similarly, in the weeks before Obama went to war against the citizens of Arizona in late April 2010 over SB1070, his Hispanic approval rating had been in the 60s. Now, it’s at 55.

The fact is that Hispanics, on average, don’t pay all that much attention to the news. They tend to be younger, less literate, less interested in America, and less interested in public affairs in general.

The decline of the Los Angeles Times would be a sad reminder of this—it has long tried to compete with the New York Times for the title of the Most Serious Newspaper in the country, but its circulation area has become increasingly Hispanic—if the paper hadn’t been such an enthusiastic backer of the cause of its own destruction.

The conventional wisdom that says that the GOP must submit to the rising tide of Latinos. I have repeatedly argued that this is simply overblown. Despite their numbers, Hispanics are not the most formidable challenge any political party has ever confronted. They don’t have terribly charismatic leaders, they don’t have a determined and focused rank and file, and they don’t have much of a claim on the conscience of America. Their main political advantage so far has been that they’ve bored whites and blacks into inattention regarding illegal immigration.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

Muffling discussion of Rev. Wright

From the Daily Caller, an interesting account of how press coverage is shaped by partisanship, rage, and behind-the-scenes threats of ostracism:
It was the moment of greatest peril for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s political career. In the heat of the presidential campaign, videos surfaced of Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, angrily denouncing whites, the U.S. government and America itself. Obama had once bragged of his closeness to Wright. Now the black nationalist preacher’s rhetoric was threatening to torpedo Obama’s campaign.

The crisis reached a howling pitch in mid-April, 2008, at an ABC News debate moderated by Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. Gibson asked Obama why it had taken him so long – nearly a year since Wright’s remarks became public – to dissociate himself from them. Stephanopoulos asked, “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?”

Watching this all at home were members of Journolist, a listserv comprised of several hundred liberal journalists, as well as like-minded professors and activists. The tough questioning from the ABC anchors left many of them outraged. “George [Stephanopoulos],” fumed Richard Kim of the Nation, is “being a disgusting little rat snake.”

Others went further. According to records obtained by The Daily Caller, at several points during the 2008 presidential campaign a group of liberal journalists took radical steps to protect their favored candidate. Employees of news organizations including Time, Politico, the Huffington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Guardian, Salon and the New Republic participated in outpourings of anger over how Obama had been treated in the media, and in some cases plotted to fix the damage.

In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama’s relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”

Michael Tomasky, a writer for the Guardian, also tried to rally his fellow members of Journolist: “Listen folks–in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have. This isn’t about defending Obama. This is about how the [mainstream media] kills any chance of discourse that actually serves the people.”

“Richard Kim got this right above: ‘a horrible glimpse of general election press strategy.’ He’s dead on,” Tomasky continued. “We need to throw chairs now, try as hard as we can to get the call next time. Otherwise the questions in October will be exactly like this. This is just a disease.”...
Thomas Schaller, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun as well as a political science professor, upped the ante from there. In a post with the subject header, “why don’t we use the power of this list to do something about the debate?” Schaller proposed coordinating a “smart statement expressing disgust” at the questions Gibson and Stephanopoulos had posed to Obama.

“It would create quite a stir, I bet, and be a warning against future behavior of the sort,” Schaller wrote....

The members began collaborating on their open letter. Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones rejected an early draft, saying, “I’d say too short. In my opinion, it doesn’t go far enough in highlighting the inanity of some of [Gibson's] and [Stephanopoulos’s] questions. And it doesn’t point out their factual inaccuracies …Our friends at Media Matters probably have tons of experience with this sort of thing, if we want their input.” [I bet they do!]

Jared Bernstein, who would go on to be Vice President Joe Biden’s top economist when Obama took office, helped, too. The letter should be “Short, punchy and solely focused on vapidity of gotcha,” Bernstein wrote.

In the midst of this collaborative enterprise, Holly Yeager, now of the Columbia Journalism Review, dropped into the conversation to say “be sure to read” a column in that day’s Washington Post that attacked the debate.

Columnist Joe Conason weighed in with suggestions. So did Slate contributor David Greenberg, and David Roberts of the website Grist. Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, helped too.

Journolist members signed the statement and released it April 18, calling the debate “a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world.”

The letter caused a brief splash and won the attention of the New York Times. But only a week later, Obama – and the journalists who were helping him – were on the defensive once again.

Jeremiah Wright was back in the news after making a series of media appearances. At the National Press Club, Wright claimed Obama had only repudiated his beliefs for “political reasons.” Wright also reiterated his charge that the U.S. federal government had created AIDS as a means of committing genocide against African Americans.

It was another crisis, and members of Journolist again rose to help Obama.

Chris Hayes of the Nation posted on April 29, 2008, urging his colleagues to ignore Wright. Hayes directed his message to “particularly those in the ostensible mainstream media” who were members of the list. [Emphasis mine.]

The Wright controversy, Hayes argued, was not about Wright at all. Instead, “It has everything to do with the attempts of the right to maintain control of the country.”

Hayes castigated his fellow liberals for criticizing Wright. “All this hand wringing about just how awful and odious Rev. Wright remarks are just keeps the hustle going.”...

Hayes urged his colleagues – especially the straight news reporters who were charged with covering the campaign in a neutral way – to bury the Wright scandal. “I’m not saying we should all rush en masse to defend Wright. If you don’t think he’s worthy of defense, don’t defend him! What I’m saying is that there is no earthly reason to use our various platforms to discuss what about Wright we find objectionable,” Hayes said.

...“Part of me doesn’t like this shit either,” agreed Spencer Ackerman, then of the Washington Independent. “But what I like less is being governed by racists and warmongers and criminals.” Ackerman went on:
I do not endorse a Popular Front, nor do I think you need to. It’s not necessary to jump to Wright-qua-Wright’s defense. What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left. In other words, find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.
And I think this threads the needle. If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction.

Ackerman did allow there were some Republicans who weren’t racists. “We’ll know who doesn’t deserve this treatment — Ross Douthat, for instance — but the others need to get it.”

He also said he had begun to implement his plan. “I previewed it a bit on my blog last week after Commentary wildly distorted a comment Joe Cirincione made to make him appear like (what else) an antisemite. So I said: why is it that so many on the right have such a problem with the first viable prospective African-American president?”

Several members of the list disagreed with Ackerman – but only on strategic grounds.

... Kevin Drum, then of Washington Monthly, also disagreed with Ackerman’s strategy. “I think it’s worth keeping in mind that Obama is trying (or says he’s trying) to run a campaign that avoids precisely the kind of thing Spencer is talking about, and turning this into a gutter brawl would probably hurt the Obama brand pretty strongly. After all, why vote for him if it turns out he’s not going change the way politics works?”

But it was Ackerman who had the last word. “Kevin, I’m not saying OBAMA should do this. I’m saying WE should do this.”

The basic question in electoral campaigns is: "Whose side are you on?" Candidate Obama had repeatedly boasted that he was on Rev. Wright's side. Rev. Wright had spent a long career making clear whose side he was on, such as holding a gala at the Chicago Hyatt Regency in November 2007 to give his personal Lifetime Achievement Award to the Hon. Louis Farrakhan.
This kind of thing was kept largely on the down-low (although it was readily apparent to anybody with Internet access who wanted to find out) by concerted efforts of the press until after 42 out of 50 states had voted in the primaries, when finally videotapes of Rev. Wright got on-line. Obama then gave an eloquent speech full of half-truths and outright lies, which the press triumphantly accepted. Eventually Wright got back from his ocean cruise and in April Wright pointed out that Obama had lied in order to become President. That caused a brief flurry, but Obama lied some more, and the press and John McCain accepted it.
End of story

July 20, 2010

"Adventures in Very Recent Evolution"

Sometimes I get discouraged when I realize that I've been debunking dumb ideas for many years now, yet dumb ideas remains wildly popular. 

But think how Nicholas Wade, the genetics correspondent of the New York Times, must feel. He has the top soapbox in the world for educating the public, the New York Times, and he covers for the NYT the trendiest topic in science, genetics. He has spent the last decade (here are VDARE articles I wrote praising Wade's NYT work in 2003 and 2006) diligently debunking the reigning dumb ideas of our age, such as "Race doesn't exist," "Race is just skin deep," and "Racial differences couldn't have evolved because there hasn't been enough time." For nine or ten years, he has used dozens of New York Times articles to aim a firehose of the latest scientific findings at these dogmas ... and, as far as I can tell, nobody ever notices

They don't Watson him. I've never noticed anybody objecting to Wade. They just don't ever get what he's saying. It doesn't register. The conventional wisdom is so comforting and so status-raising that relentless reporting in the New York Times can't dent it, or even make most NYT readers notice that their favorite beliefs are being subverted. Wade has been engaging in Popperian falsification of the age's dominant theories, and nobody notices.

Perhaps the average NYT subscriber reads each Wade article on the latest findings of genetic differences among racial groups, nods complacently, and then says to himself, "Yes, those Red State racist Republicans are just too stupid to realize that Darwin proves that race does not exist, whereas I live in New York and subscribe to the Times which keeps me up to date on ... on ... well, on whatever this article was about, but whatever it was about, I know, because I subscribe to the Times, that it proves that science shows that race is only skin deep, because there wasn't enough time for differences to evolve like those stupid Jesus fish people believe who don't believe in evolution, sometimes they just make me so angry because they come from a long line of hereditary idiots," and then he moves on to closely peruse an article about how to get his kid into a Park Slope school district with really good schools.

From the NYT:
by Nicholas Wade

Ten thousand years ago, people in southern China began to cultivate rice and quickly made an all-too-tempting discovery — the cereal could be fermented into alcoholic liquors. Carousing and drunkenness must have started to pose a serious threat to survival because a variant gene that protects against alcohol became almost universal among southern Chinese and spread throughout the rest of China in the wake of rice cultivation.

The variant gene rapidly degrades alcohol to a chemical that is not intoxicating but makes people flush, leaving many people of Asian descent a legacy of turning red in the face when they drink alcohol. 

I imagine American Indians left too early to didn't get this gene?

Here's a question I've wondered about. There are two scandalous scenes of drunkenness in the Book of Genesis, Noah and Lot, but how many are there in the rest off the Bible? The Wedding at Cana, for example, is non-scandalous.

The spread of the new gene, described in January by Bing Su of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is just one instance of recent human evolution and in particular of a specific population’s changing genetically in response to local conditions.

... Many have assumed that humans ceased to evolve in the distant past, perhaps when people first learned to protect themselves against cold, famine and other harsh agents of natural selection. But in the last few years, biologists peering into the human genome sequences now available from around the world have found increasing evidence of natural selection at work in the last few thousand years, leading many to assume that human evolution is still in progress....

So much natural selection has occurred in the recent past that geneticists have started to look for new ways in which evolution could occur very rapidly. Much of the new evidence for recent evolution has come from methods that allow the force of natural selection to be assessed across the whole human genome. This has been made possible by DNA data derived mostly from the Hap Map, a government project to help uncover the genetic roots of complex disease. The Hap Map contains samples from 11 populations around the world and consists of readings of the DNA at specific sites along the genome where variations are common.

One of the signatures of natural selection is that it disturbs the undergrowth of mutations that are always accumulating along the genome. As a favored version of a gene becomes more common in a population, genomes will look increasingly alike in and around the gene. Because variation is brushed away, the favored gene’s rise in popularity is called a sweep. Geneticists have developed several statistical methods for detecting sweeps, and hence of natural selection in action.

About 21 genome-wide scans for natural selection had been completed by last year, providing evidence that 4,243 genes — 23 percent of the human total — were under natural selection. This is a surprisingly high proportion, since the scans often miss various genes that are known for other reasons to be under selection. Also, the scans can see only recent episodes of selection — probably just those that occurred within the last 5,000 to 25,000 years or so. The reason is that after a favored version of a gene has swept through the population, mutations start building up in its DNA, eroding the uniformity that is evidence of a sweep.

Unfortunately, as Joshua M. Akey of the University of Washington in Seattle, pointed out last year in the journal Genome Research, most of the regions identified as under selection were found in only one scan and ignored by the 20 others. The lack of agreement is “sobering,” as Dr. Akey put it, not least because most of the scans are based on the same Hap Map data.

From this drunken riot of claims, however, Dr. Akey believes that it is reasonable to assume that any region identified in two or more scans is probably under natural selection. By this criterion, 2,465 genes, or 13 percent, have been actively shaped by recent evolution. The genes are involved in many different biological processes, like diet, skin color and the sense of smell.

A new approach to identifying selected genes has been developed by Anna Di Rienzo at the University of Chicago. Instead of looking at the genome and seeing what turns up, Dr. Di Rienzo and colleagues have started with genes that would be likely to change as people adopted different environments, modes of subsistence and diets, and then checked to see if different populations have responded accordingly.

She found particularly strong signals of selection in populations that live in polar regions, in people who live by foraging, and in people whose diets are rich in roots and tubers. In Eskimo populations, there are signals of selection in genes that help people adapt to cold.

Among primitive farming tribes, big eaters of tubers, which contain little folic acid, selection has shaped the genes involved in synthesizing folic acid in the body, Dr. Di Rienzo and colleagues reported in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The fewest signals of selection were seen among people who live in the humid tropics, the ecoregion where the ancestral human population evolved. “One could argue that we are adapted to that and that most signals are seen when people adapt to new environments,” Dr. Di Rienzo said in an interview.

... Several of the 25 skin genes bear strong signatures of natural selection, but natural selection has taken different paths to lighten people’s skin in Europe and in Asia. A special version of the golden gene, so called because it turns zebrafish a rich yellow color, is found in more than 98 percent of Europeans but is very rare in East Asians. In them, a variant version of a gene called DCT may contribute to light skin. Presumably, different mutations were available in each population for natural selection to work on. The fact that the two populations took independent paths toward developing lighter skin suggests that there was not much gene flow between them. ...

That's interesting because you can walk from, say, Normandy to Korea. The physical anthropologists of Carleton Coon's mid-century generation believed from looking at bones that the biggest division in mankind was caused by the Himalayas and other mountains dividing West Afro-Eurasia from East Asia, although subsequent genetics studies suggested the biggest division was between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. But, the old bone guys must have been a little bit right about this Europe-Asia divide.
Most variation in the human genome is neutral, meaning that it arose not by natural selection but by processes like harmless mutations and the random shuffling of the genome between generations. The amount of this genetic diversity is highest in African populations. 

By the way, this is the source of the widely held dogma/ urban legend for the quasi-educated that black Africans are the most genetically diverse people on Earth, or, in increasingly crazier variants, that two white Americans might less related to each other than to a black African, or that you and your brother are less similar to each other genetically than you are to an African. This is true for neutral ("junk") genes that aren't selected not for functional genes. (I debunked this ten years ago in Seven Dumb Ideas about Race.)
Diversity decreases steadily the further a population has migrated from the African homeland, since each group that moved onward carried away only some of the diversity of its parent population. This steady decline in diversity shows no discontinuity between one population and the next, and has offered no clear explanation as to why one population should differ much from another. But selected genes show a different pattern: Evidence from the new genome-wide tests for selection show that most selective pressures are focused on specific populations.

One aspect of this pattern is that there seem to be more genes under recent selection in East Asians and Europeans than in Africans, possibly because the people who left Africa were then forced to adapt to different environments. “It’s a reasonable inference that non-Africans were becoming exposed to a wide variety of novel climates,” says Dr. Stoneking of the Max Planck Institute. ...

But the new evidence that humans have adapted rapidly and extensively suggests that natural selection must have other options for changing a trait besides waiting for the right mutation to show up. In an article in Current Biology in February, Dr. Pritchard suggested that a lot of natural selection may take place through what he called soft sweeps.

Soft sweeps work on traits affected by many genes, like height. Suppose there are a hundred genes that affect height (about 50 are known already, and many more remain to be found). Each gene exists in a version that enhances height and a version that does not. The average person might inherit the height-enhancing version of 50 of these genes, say, and be of average height as a result.

Suppose this population migrates to a region, like the Upper Nile, where it is an advantage to be very tall. Natural selection need only make the height-enhancing versions of these 100 genes just a little more common in the population, and now the average person will be likely to inherit 55 of them, say, instead of 50, and be taller as a result. Since the height-enhancing versions of the genes already exist, natural selection can go to work right away and the population can adapt quickly to its new home. 

A lot of human biodiversity at the phenome level is relative rather than absolute, quantitative rather than qualitative.

They'll be back

At the Texas Capitol, there are about three dozen Hispanic lawmakers in the House and Senate.

The number of those who are Republicans: zero.

That’s what Hispanic Republicans of Texas is trying to change.

The group co-founded by George P. Bush (son of Jeb, nephew of W.) seeks to recruit, elect, support and defend Hispanic Republican candidates and elected officials for state and local offices.

People who knew George P. Bush at Rice tell me that the thought of him as President someday is funny/scary, but from what I've read of George P.'s blonde wife, media lawyer Amanda Bush, the idea of her as First Lady someday sounds not all that unlikely.

Anyway, this reminds me of why the GOP pursuit of Hispanics is fairly hopeless under the current system: Hispanic elites are so overwhelmingly Democratic. Here in Texas, where Hispanics are much more conservative than in California, Hispanic Democrats in the state legislature outnumber Hispanic Republicans three dozen to nothing. The dominant Republican political dynasty in Texas since the 1960s, the Bushes, has been wildly pro-Hispanic for decades and all it has gotten the GOP is 0 for 36.

There are fundamental systematic reasons why the more the GOP elite hands legal privileges to minorities in the hopes of winning their favor, the more the minorities' leadership elites become locked into the Democrats. I will outline this and what to do about it in a future essay.


Here's the opening of my weekly column in Taki's Magazine:
In April, I noted that television ratings indicate that sports audiences skew Republican and entertainment audiences Democratic. “Which is more useful to control for propagandizing for your Party: the games or the stories?” I asked portentously.

An astute reader pointed to Italy, however, where Silvio Berlusconi is now enjoying his third terms as a center-right Prime Minister. Certainly, no politician enjoys leading his country more than the cruise-ship crooner turned TV and soccer billionaire, at least not as measured in number of prosecutors and magistrates who have fruitlessly investigated his complex dealings (789, according to the Prime Minister), albums recorded since 2003 (three), and public letters to the editor from his prima signora complaining about his relations with young ladies, such as his nominating TV starlets as candidates for the European Parliament (three).

When commercial television was finally legalized in the mid-1970s by an Italian court, Berlusconi bought up the main commercial networks, flooding them with soccer matches and cheap game shows. Berlusconi then purchased the AC Milan football club and made it the best in Italy. In 1994, he invented his own political party to replace the compromised Christian Democrats, naming it “Forza Italia” after the chant of supporters of the national soccer team. It’s as if a less grumpy George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the Yankees, had gotten himself elected President of the United States.

So, I went to see a screening of a Swedish television documentary about Italian television: Videocracy. It’s an attempt by a half-Italian, half-Swedish killjoy named Erik Gandini to explain his native land’s television/politics to his friends in Stockholm. The leftist documentarian is peeved that the conservative media mogul stands foursquare behind traditional Italian values, such as big-breastedness.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below. 

July 19, 2010

Burlington, VT?

In the New York Times:

Burlington, VT -- It’s hard to find anyone here who believes that Joyce Irvine should have been removed as principal of Wheeler Elementary School.

John Mudasigana, one of many recent African refugees whose children attend the high-poverty school, says he is grateful for how Ms. Irvine and her teachers have helped his five children. “Everything is so good about the school,” he said, before taking his daughter Evangeline, 11, into the school’s dental clinic.  ...

Ms. Irvine wasn’t removed by anyone who had seen her work (often 80-hour weeks) at a school where 37 of 39 fifth graders were either refugees or special-ed children and where, much to Mr. Mudasigana’s delight, his daughter Evangeline learned to play the violin.

Ms. Irvine was removed because the Burlington School District wanted to qualify for up to $3 million in federal stimulus money for its dozen schools.

And under the Obama administration rules, for a district to qualify, schools with very low test scores, like Wheeler, must do one of the following: close down; be replaced by a charter (Vermont does not have charters); remove the principal and half the staff; or remove the principal and transform the school.

... Burlington faced the difficult choice because performance evaluations for teachers and principals based on test results, as much as on local officials’ judgment, are a hallmark of the two main competitive grant programs the Obama administration developed to spur its initiatives: the stimulus and Race to the Top....

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the United States Department of Education, noted that districts don’t have to apply for the grants, that the rules are clear and that federal officials do not remove principals. But Burlington officials say that not applying in such hard times would have shortchanged students.
At the heart of things is whether the testing system under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 can fairly assess schools full of middle-class children, as well as a school like Wheeler, with a 97 percent poverty rate and large numbers of refugees, many with little previous education.

... Under No Child rules, a student arriving one day before the state math test must take it. Burlington is a major resettlement area, and one recent September, 28 new students — from Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan — arrived at Wheeler and took the math test in October.
Ms. Irvine said that in a room she monitored, 15 of 18 randomly filled in test bubbles. The math tests are word problems. A sample fourth-grade question: “Use Xs to draw an array for the sum of 4+4+4.” Five percent of Wheeler’s refugee students scored proficient in math.

About half the 230 students are foreign-born, collectively speaking 30 languages. Many have been traumatized; a third see one of the school’s three caseworkers. During Ms. Irvine’s tenure, suspensions were reduced to 7 last year, from 100.

Students take the reading test after one year in the country. Ms. Irvine tells a story about Mr. Mudasigana’s son Oscar and the fifth-grade test.

Oscar needed 20 minutes to read a passage on Neil Armstrong landing his Eagle spacecraft on the moon; it should have taken 5 minutes, she said, but Oscar was determined, reading out loud to himself.

The first question asked whether the passage was fact or fiction. “He said, ‘Oh, Mrs. Irvine, man don’t go on the moon, man don’t go on the back of eagles, this is not true,’ ” she recalled. “So he got the five follow-up questions wrong — penalized for a lack of experience.” Thirteen percent of foreign-born students, 4 percent of special-ed students and 23 percent of the entire school scored proficient in reading.

Before Mr. Obama became president, Burlington officials began working to transform Wheeler to an arts magnet, in hopes of improving socioeconomic integration. [I.e., getting more people from Vermont to go this school in Vermont.]......

A sign of her effectiveness: an influx of new students, so that half the early grades will consist of middle-class pupils this fall.
Ms. Irvine predicts that in two years, when these new “magnet” students are old enough to take the state tests, scores will jump, not because the school is necessarily better, but because the tests are geared to the middle class.

We've discussed the complexity and disillusionment that comes with trying to measure educational accurately, so what I'm struck by is ... Burlington is in the northern part of Vermont, on Lake Champlain. One snowstorm last January dumped 33 inches of snow.

I read through the comments looking for a single reader who was wondering why so many African refugees are being sent to Burlington, perhaps the whitest, coldest, most SWPL place in the whole country, rather than to, say, Houston, or, much more economically, to another African country. African countries have often taken in hundreds of thousands or even millions of refugees from civil wars and famines in other countries. There is a lot of room in Africa. (As the population grows, however, Africans have been turning against immigration: black South Africans' anger at black Zimbawe illegal immigrants was a major inspiration for last year's Best Picture nominee District 9, as writer director Neill Blomkamp patiently explained over and over to American interviewers who kept insisting to him that his movie was all about apartheid.)

It took until the 65th comment until somebody questioned sending so many refugees to Vermont:
Why are African refugees being directed to Burlington Vt? No industry for low-skilled workers--so why there?

Indeed. So, why are African refugees so often sent to the coldest places in the country, such as Minneapolis, Lewiston, Maine, and Burlington? How come they aren't sent to, say, Washington D.C. How about Staten Island? How would that work out?