Strange use of the word “conservative”

Iranians celebrate ancient Persian fire fest:

Thousands of Iranians gathered at dusk against a snowy mountain backdrop to light giant bonfires in an ancient mid-winter festival dating back to Iran’s pre-Islamic past that is drawing new interest from Muslims.

Saturday’s celebration was the first in which the dwindling remnants of Iran’s once plentiful Zoroastrian religious minority were joined by thousands of Muslims, reflecting a growing interest in the strict Islamic society for the country’s ancient traditions.

At the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, Iranians buy fruit, nuts and other goodies to mark the feast of Chelleh, also known as Yalda, an ancient tradition when families get together and stay up late, swapping stories and munching on snacks.

Both were discouraged by authorities in the early years after the Islamic Revolution by the conservative clerical regime, but without success.

Islamists and their ilk are regularly termed “conservative,” but they’re actually often enemies of the old and traditional. Consider the proactive destruction of Ottoman-era architecture from Mecca by the “conservative” Saudi regime.


Jersey Shore coming back

They’ve been signed for $10,000 per episode the next go around. Years ago Joel floated the idea of using Reality TV to test theories in social science. Paying the cast of Jersey Shore this much is going to mean that they’ll be under serious pressure to produce high quality “product.” I assume that means they’re crank up the magnitude of their “character.” For example, Ronnie Magro will be under pressure to beat up more d-bags next season. “The Situation” is going to have to do the nasty with even nastier.

The business cycle, then and now

Two interesting graphs from Calculated Risk. The first shows that the changes in GDP seem during the last recessive are on a par with those of the early 1980s and before (though we don’t know if we’re in a U or V shaped recession yet, though the odds are probably more U than V right now). But the second shows that in terms of employment we may be in uncharted territory, the worst of both worlds in terms of the jobless recoveries of the shallow recessions of the 1990s and early 2000s as well as the deep declines in employment of earlier recessions.

I’ve been hearing about the soon-to-come structural realignments in the economy resulting in a higher basal rate of unemployment for nearly 20 years. Economists will of course scoff at this sort of fatalism, pointing out such prognostications have always been falsified in the past. We’ll see….



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Asia, land of the godless & godly

A comment below prompted me to slap together a post quickly displaying some data which illustrates just how religious South Asians are compared to East Asians. Anyone with an interest in world history will not be surprised by this assertion. When reading surveys of East Asian history I would occasionally reach a chapter titled “Religion,” and the author would offer a quick explanation and apologia for why the topic was not given pride of place. By contrast, some have argued to a first approximation South Asian history is a history of South Asian religion. (Though I do not focus on that issue in this post, the “Islamic world” is strongly defined by religious identity as well)

But how about the Diaspora communities? Where I have seen data the patterns seem to recapitulate themselves, more or less. Singapore, Canada and the United Kingdom collect data broken down both by religion and ethnicity. The United States has surveys performed by academic institutions, but unlike a national census the sample sizes are modest enough that I would not trust them much when it comes to very small minorities. Finally, I can use the World Values Survey to look at religious attitudes in the “homelands.”

First, Canada:

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Financial stress correlated within families

Jobless Turn to Family for Help, Often With Complications:

More than half of the respondents to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll of 708 unemployed adults nationwide said they had borrowed money from friends or relatives. In most cases, their financial pictures were bleak. Nearly 80 percent of those who reported borrowing money said their family’s financial situation was “fairly bad” or “very bad,” a significantly greater proportion than among those who had not had to borrow.

The numbers here might exaggerate the effect some, as an individual who is going through financial turmoil may assess the world more darkly than one who isn’t. That being said, it is pretty obvious that income is not randomly distributed across familial networks, and those with resources who are less likely to require aid are actually the ones who will have family in a position to offer it if needful. By contrast, those on the margins are the most likely to have family on the margins.

In pre-modern societies this likely explains how inequality across lineages becomes amplified. Families with more buffer on the margin are less likely to become dispossessed through inclement shocks, and can use their surplus to acquire the property of those lineages which have become impoverished.

This is why economic growth and gains in productivity are essential. In a Malthusian world the way that a high tension state of high inequality eventually “corrected” itself was for massive institutional collapse and general chaos to level the playing field. Of course, the playing field was far more barbarous than it had been previously, so there was probably a trade off between cultural creativity and equality.

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Proud to be red

A friend pointed me to this YouTube clip of a young red-haired man objecting to the term “ginger,” and the opprobrium he’s been subjected to since the South Park episode “Ginger Kids” popularized ideas such as the possibility that redheads have no soul. I assume the kid is joking. On the other hand, I have read that red-haired males are at some disadvantage on online dating sites, just like non-white males. Have any readers of the red persuasion ever felt put upon due to their rare pigment status?

Darwin wuz wrong, part n

A review of a new book, What Darwin Got Wrong. Co-authored by Jerry Fodor, who has been continuing his war against natural selection. I’ve already read Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution (at the suggestion of a reader who found the arguments within incredibly persuasive, convincing me to simply ignore anything that reader ever asserted after finishing the book), so I think I have my quota of philosopher-declaring-evolution-the-naked-emperor under my belt. Meanwhile, there are real scholars grappling with the issues which emerged in the wake of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis and its discontents, and pushing science forward.

Yes, Darwin was wrong about many things. But how many scientists will still have such an impact 150 into the future? He’s a big enough figure that people can sell books just by putting his name into the title! Only a few others fall into that class.

Note: Here you can read a draft of the third chapter of What Darwin Got Wrong.

Peer groups & bourgeois virtues

Self-Control and Peer Groups:

However, according to a new study by Michelle vanDellen, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, self-control contains a large social component; the ability to resist temptation is contagious. The paper consists of five clever studies, each of which demonstrates the influence of our peer group on our self-control decisions. For instance, in one study 71 undergraduates watched a stranger exert self-control by choosing a carrot instead of a cookie, while others watched people eat the cookie instead of the carrot. That’s all that happened: the volunteers had no other interaction with the eaters. Nevertheless, the performance of the subjects was significantly altered on a subsequent test of self-control. People who watched the carrot-eaters had more discipline than those who watched the cookie-eaters.

I assume time preference is heritable (at least via its correlation with other traits such as IQ), but, that assumes you control background social and cultural variables.