The naked years: the end of privacy

I do talk periodically on this weblog about the coming ‘transparent society.’ The main reason I bring up the issue is that I think it is probably inevitable, and, I think we’re sliding toward it without even reflecting on it too much. Many people are very surprised at how little time it takes to find information on them in Spokeo and Pipl. Curious about where someone you lost touch with from high school has lived? Go to Intelius.

Rereading David Brin’s original 1996 essay introducing the idea in Wired I’m struck by the fixation on old-fashioned cameras. To me, what people do is almost less interesting than what they’ve done. How much did they buy their house for? Where did they go to university? Did they graduate? Who did they marry? Interestingly, much of this information is offered up freely by the individuals themselves.

And yet what about our genetic code? With the recent 23andMe sale (which continues on, with provisions) I noticed people on Facebook worrying about privacy. Interestingly WikiLeaks has revealed that American diplomats were encouraged to obtain the DNA of foreign notables. Why would they do this? My first thought was that perhaps it would be an easy way to blackmail powerful cuckolds! Though this didn’t seem to cramp Adnan Kashoggi’s style. I assume that powerful individuals don’t have to worry about divulging their disease risks, since they’ll be taken care of. But the reality is that the science is simply not there for a great deal of return when it comes to risk variants. Below is a screenshot of my risks for various diseases from 23andMe as judged from a few single nucleotide variants:


First, these are risks assuming a European genetic background. Which I don’t have. So there’s a problem right there, but 23andMe helpfully notes this boldly if you click through. But setting that aside, I know my risks for Type 2 Diabetes are much greater than average. Why? I have a family history of the disease! That’s why I’m obsessed with visceral fat.

The point is that right now family history is a much better predictor of your risks of a given disease than anything else. Not only does this capture missing heritability, but there is a natural correlation between families and environmental risk factors (or lack thereof). Using the breast cancer risk assessment tool it seems that if you have one first-degree relative who has had the disease you double your own odds of coming down with it over a five year period (though the risks over any given five year period are still low). There has been a lot of warranted attention paid to the BRCA genes, but what about the ability of insurers to digitally analyze the obituaries of your relatives and predict your own probability of death and disease?

I’m not saying that one shouldn’t be worried about divulging one’s genetic data. But it’s only a small piece of the puzzle of what we’re losing.

Of interest around the web & elsewhere – November 29th, 2010

Goodbye November.

Male Reproductive Problems May Add to Falling Fertility Rates. There’s an implication that there may be epigenetic and developmental reasons for this phenomenon. But check out this quote: “Today, at least one in five 18-25 year old men in Europe have semen quality in the subfertile range.” I’m starting to wonder about genetic load W. D. Hamilton style. If death doesn’t prune the deleterious alleles, perhaps PGD is going to be necessary in the face of rising infertility. Or somatic genetic engineering.

Now a Giant, Google Works to Retain Nimble Minds. I, like every nerd, have friends who work at Google. Great food. Awesome company. Smart people. But I do wonder if the cycle of institutional sclerosis is speeding up. IBM maintained hegemony for decades. Microsoft’s time in the sun really didn’t make it to the 20th year (I think 1990 is a good compromise year to peg the age of Microsoft, though it really got going with Windows 95 and had some juice in the days of MS-DOS. Facebook is already breathing down Google’s neck. This doesn’t mean that Google won’t be profitable, Microsoft is still making bank, and will do so for years to come. But It companies may be more and more ephemeral.

Information overload, the early years. In some ways the internet is, I believe, qualitatively different from previous information revolutions. But the critics really do repeat old & tired arguments, which pre-date the printing press, and go back to alphabetic script in ancient Greece. I assume that cuneiform and hieroglyph elicited the same concerns, but we don’t have records of that.

Children Ease Alzheimer’s in Land of Aging. Developed nations are filled with aging societies where one or two children have to be caregivers for parents. This is the future. We need to deal.

Hybrid vigor and missing genes. Agricultural genetics is really important. There are 7 billion humans, and we depend on plants.

The Rise of the Tao. One thing to remember is that in Taiwan and Singapore Taoism, which is ineluctably associated with the broad term “Chinese folk religion,” seems to give ground to Buddhism and to a lesser extent Christianity with development. So the concentration of the Taoist revival in the hinterlands makes sense.

The Complex Genetic Architecture of the Metabolome. Possible bad news: ” If this pattern proves generally applicable to other species, it could present a significant hurdle to identifying genes controlling metabolic trait variation via genome-wide association studies..”

23andMe $99 sale still going. +$60 subscription fee, but that’s mandatory now.

F.B.I. Says Oregon Suspect Planned ‘Grand’ Attack.

Also, Suspect in Oregon Bomb Plot Is Called Confused. “When you think of someone doing what he did, you think of some crazy kind of guy,” said Mohamed Kassim, 21, a fellow Oregon State student who knew Mr. Mohamud from around campus. “He wasn’t like that. He was just like everybody else.” Actually, most terrorists aren’t crazy. They’re motivated by political beliefs, though naturally specific life situations and dispositions play into their actions. I know it’s PC to say that there’s not a war against Islam, but the reality is that the USA is engaged in several imperialistic ventures which entail tussling with “Team Islam.”

Size of Mammals Exploded After Dinosaur Extinction, Researchers Confirm. Contingency and convergence?

The Real Culprit in Overeating. Not sure if I believe this. We can sense calories?

Fem Hiring Jealousy. It’s been a reported social science finding for a generation that good looking men get more of a wage premium than good looking women. The argument here is that women do the HR screening and penalize good looking women, but not the men. Or perhaps it could just be that men are more concentrated in professions and sectors with winner-take-all dynamics?

Can you provide humanitarian aid without facilitating conflicts? These are complex issues, and I don’t have anything to add.

Dogs Have Bigger Brains Than Cats Because They Are More Sociable, Research Finds. But what about I.Q.?

ADMIXTURE on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

For Google, the Browser Does It All. The article argue that the Chrome OS was designed for the Netbook era which never came to be, thanks to the power of smartphones, and the success of iPads.

Will Ireland Default? Ask Belgium

Nomadic Enhancers: Tissue-Specific cis-Regulatory Elements of yellow Have Divergent Genomic Positions among Drosophila Species. “This finding is important because it demonstrates a type of evolutionary change affecting DNA sequence elements critical for gene expression that is currently under appreciated and should be considered when searching for enhancers in related species.”

People Who Donate to Religions Are More Likely to Punish Selfish Behaviour, New Study Finds.

Joel Grus. If you remember him, you’ve read my stuff for a while.

Entitled to an Opinion. Nerd.

Less Wrong. Nerds.

Animals getting fatter too. Really strange.

According to this Isidore of Seville is a descendant of Augustust Caesar! I don’t believe it. Must be errors in the genealogical database. I traced it by starting with Augustus’ great-great-granddaughter Junia Lepida. I suspect what’s going on is that the arriviste Christian aristocratic clans of the early 5th century simply made up connections to older Roman families to burnish their reputations in the face of accusations that they were anti-traditional (because they had rejected the old gods, and often risen from below through imperial patronage of late).

No Romans needed to explain Chinese blondes

Uyghur boy from Kashgar

Every few years a story crops up about “European-looking” people in northwest China who claim to be of Roman origin. A “lost legion” so to speak. I’ll admit that I found the stories interesting, amusing, if  implausible, years ago. But now it’s just getting ridiculous. This is almost like the “vanishing blonde” meme which always pops right back up. First, let’s quote from The Daily Mail,* DNA tests show Chinese villagers with green eyes could be descendants of lost Roman legion:

For years the residents of the remote north western Chinese village of Liqian have believed they were special.

Many of the villagers have Western characteristics including green eyes and blonde hair leading some experts to suggest that they may be the descendants of a lost Roman legion that settled in the area.

Now DNA testing of the villagers has shown that almost two thirds of them are of Caucasian origin.

The results lend weigh to the theory that the founding of Liqian may be linked to the legend of the missing army of Roman general Marcus Crassus.

In 53BC, after Crassus was defeated by the Parthians and beheaded near what is now Iran, stories persisted that 145 Romans were captured and wandered the region for years.

As part of their strategy Romans also hired troops wherever they had conquered and so many Roman legions were made up not of native Romans, but of conquered men from the local area who were then given training.

250px-Statue-AugustusLet’s start from the end. The last paragraph indicates a total ignorance of the nature of military recruitment during the late Republic. In the year 110 BC the Roman army was composed of propertied peasants. These were men of moderate means, but means nonetheless. They fought for the Republic because it was their duty as citizens. They were the Republic. Due to a series of catastrophes the Roman army had to institute the Marian reforms in 107 BC. Men with no means, and who had to be supplied with arms by the Republic, joined the military. This was the first step toward the professionalization of the Roman legions, which naturally resulted in a greater loyalty of these men to their leaders and their unit than the Republic. Without the Marian reforms Sulla may never have marched on Rome. By 400 AD the legions were predominantly German in origin, and supplemented with “federates,” who were barbarian allies (though alliances were always subject to change). But in 53 BC this had not happened yet. The legions who marched with Crassus would have been Roman, with newly citizen Italian allies in the wake of the Social War. The legions of the Julio-Claudians were probably still mostly Italian, a century after Crassus (service in the legions, as opposed to the auxiliaries, was limited to citizens, who were concentrated among Italians). So that objection does not hold.

But really, do we need the Roman hypothesis? Those big blonde Romans? Here’s one section of the piece: “Archaeologists discovered that one of the tombs was for someone who was around six foot tall.” Because of issues of nutrition the Roman soldiers were notoriously short relative to the Celts and Germans (who had more meat and milk in their diet). Perhaps they had the potential for greater height, which they realized in the nutritional surfeit of…China?

Anyway, there’s a straightforward explanation for the “Chinese Romans”: they’re out of the same population mix, roughly, as the Uyghurs. Before the year 1000 AD much of what is today Xinjiang was dominated by peoples with a European physical appearance. Today we call them Tocharians, and they spoke a range of extinct Indo-European dialects. It seems likely that there was also an Iranian element. The archaeology is rather patchy. Though there were city-based Indo-Europeans, it is clear that some of them were nomadic, and were among the amorphous tribes that the ancient Chinese referred to as the “Rong and Di.” The Yuezhi and Wusun were two mobile groups who left China in the historical period and are recorded in the traditional annals.

Meanwhile, between 500 AD and 1000 AD the Indo-European substrate of the Tarim basin was absorbed by Turkic groups coming from Mongolia. They imposed their language on the older residents, but genetically assimilated them. The modern Uyghurs are a clear hybrid population. In the papers published on the Uyghurs they shake out as about a 50/50 West/East Eurasian mix. But the DODECAD ANCESTRY PROJECT has them in the sample, and here’s how they break down by a finer grain:

Uyghurs are the third population from the bottom. Below them are the Yakut and Chinese. The Yakut are the northernmost Turkic people, and the Turkic element which settled in Xinjiang and assimilated the Tocharians was from the north. The Chinese-like element may simply be that the proto-Uyghurs were already admixed with the Han populations, or, that that element has a geography-conditional cline where the Yakuts are at an extreme. In any case, the other components of Uyghur ancestry are not East Asian. Like many European popualtions the Uyghurs have a West Asian and Northern European aspect, but they lack the South European ancestry. This is important, because it is dominant in both the Tuscans and North Italians.  If the “Roman Chinese” are genuinely Roman, they will have this specific southwest European ancestry, which will put them at a distinction from the Uyghurs.

As it is, I don’t think that’s what’s going on.  On the order of 4,000 years ago the domestication of the horse allowed for the expansion of Indo-European populations from east-central Eurasia across the steppe. Eventually they they also percolated into the underpopulated zones between the taiga and the highlands around the Himalayan massif. I believe that these were the groups which introduced nomadism and agriculture to the Tarim basin, and their genetic and cultural impact was a function of the fact that they simply demographically swamped the few hunter-gatherers who were indigenous to the region.

In the period between 1000 BC and 1000 AD the flow of people reversed. The expansion of the Han north and west, and the rise of a powerful integrated state which could bully, and could also be extorted, changed the dynamics on the steppe and in the oasis cities beyond. The vast swaths of Central Asia which were Indo-European in speech became Altaic in speech. But many of these populations absorbed the Indo-European groups, and came out genetically admixed. A clear residual of West Eurasian admixture can also be found among peoples who presumably never interacted much with Indo-Europeans, such as the Mongols, though at lower levels.

The villagers of Liqian are a different part of the story. Clearly substantial numbers of “barbarians” were assimilated into a Han identity on the northern frontier. In the case of tribes such as the Xianbei and Khitan they even did the assimilating themselves, through top-down sinicizing edits. In areas like Gansu these elements contribute a greater proportion of the ancestry, and just as the Uyghur are Turkic speaking, and yet have equal portions of West and East Eurasian ancestry, so the people of Liqian are Chinese speaking, and have equal portions of West and East Eurasian ancestry.

I find it curious that the piece above didn’t mention Uyghurs at all. No idea if politics was involved, but I won’t be surprised if I get some angry Han and Uyghur comments because of what I’m saying here (I’m not totally clear what these sorts of commenters are angry about really, they’re usually pretty inchoate).

Addendum: East and West Eurasian ancestry seems pretty equitably distributed among the Uyghurs. But the number of genes which code for racially salient traits are far smaller than the total set which can be used to estimate ancestry. So within a large enough population allelic combinations across loci will segregate so that some individuals exhibit a “pure” ancestral phenotype. What colloquially might be termed a “throwback.” This little boy comes strikingly close.

* I am aware of the reputation of this newspaper. Nevertheless, it’s being picked up by the international press and some blogs, so I’m going to address it.

Image Credit: Gusjer

Slouching toward transparency

In regards to the WikiLeaks story, it seems that:

– The explosive stuff is really a shift from assumed understanding to explicit acknowledgment. For example, that Arab nations are just as terrified of Iran’s nuclear program as Israel.

– The surprising stuff is more funny or strange. More like gossip you wouldn’t have guessed, but isn’t really that significant in the broad canvas of diplomatic history.

Strangely, I sort of think this is of a piece with the recent “Teacher’s Union Gone Wild” videos. Basically, the expectation of privacy is disappearing, on the grandest and most mundane scales. In the latter case, a woman was chatted up at a bar, and recorded for hours on end. Unfortunately for her, she used to the N-word, though not even in a offensive context (follow the link). Who hasn’t run their mouth off at a bar? Make sure you don’t have enemies! Imagine how someone could utilize damaging conversations in office politics. On the grand scale you have problems of coordination across agencies where secrecy and confidentiality are of the essence.

gaysultantConsider the media. I recently was listening to a radio show where Robert D. Kaplan was talking about the enlightened liberal despot of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. Oman has Hindu temples, due to the existence of a long-standing Indian minority. But of course Kaplan, being a respectable journalist who would not trade in gossip did not mention that the Sultan partakes of liberality himself, as in Oman it is assumed he is a homosexual (he is divorced and has no children as heirs). In a pre-internet period I wouldn’t do so much background checking when it came to politicians and public figures, but now I regularly do so. The personal lives and histories of powerful individuals are often very relevant in assessing how they came to the positions they hold, and the sincerity of their positions.

Your life in 30 seconds

This is all almost banal because it has been happening imperceptibly. The WikiLeaks events are notable only in that they’re punctuated gushers. But the TSA wants to see you naked, Intelius can verify your age in 10 seconds, and Zillow can tell me how much your home is assessed and how much you purchased it for. Did you donate to a political party recently? Who are you related to? What’s your social network presence and how much public information do you have dangling out there? Life in 2010.

Image Credit: tomsun

Internet usage by country

In my post below on the rise of China, I ran into the data on internet usage by country again. I was online regularly by the spring of 1995, and it’s amazing to think that there are hundreds of millions of Chinese on the internet now! The World Bank estimates that both China and India have exhibited an increase of internet usage by an order of magnitude from 2000-2010, though from different bases. So while there are ~300 million Chinese users of the internet, there are ~50 million Indians. But who would have guessed that Nigeria has more per capita internet users than India? See below.

Now check out this plot of more advanced economies of internet penetration by % of households vs. income per capita.

Latitudes and continents

Thanksgiving in the tropics:

Finally, here are some pictures I took today. It was way too hot and humid when we first got to Taiwan, but now we’re getting some lovely winter weather – Taiwan is about the same latitude as Hawaii :-) It sure doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving or Xmas around here!

One aspect of the East Eurasian temperate zones is that they are far to the south of the West Eurasian temperate zones. Cork, Ireland, at about the same latitude as Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, and eight degrees further north than Vladivostok!

But since Steve brought up Hawaii, let’s compare highs and lows in Honolulu, and Hanoi, two cities at 21 degrees north. On the literal margins of the tropics:


Taking the end of the age seriously

I am about two-thirds of the way through Why the West Rules-for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, and I have to agree with Tyler Cowen’s assessment so far. The author is an archaeologist, and though a little less shy in regards to general theory than most in his profession, he still seems to exhibit the tendency to focus on thick-detail without any elegant theoretical scaffolding. In some ways it is an inversion of Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, which manifests an economist’s preference for stylized system-building at the expense of the messy residual. Why the West Rules has added almost no broad-brush theoretical returns beyond what you could find in Guns, Germs and Steel and The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Though the author has a lot of scrupulously footnoted detail which probably makes Why the West Rules a worthy read.

But this post isn’t a review of Why the West Rules, rather, it’s a lament as to the total intellectual unpreparedness of the West’s intellectual class for the de facto end of the age of white supremacy,* the high tide of which is documented in the final chapters of this book (I skimmed them chapters ahead of time). The de jure end of the age of white supremacy probably spanned the victory of the allies during World War II down to desegregation in the United States in the 1960s. But despite the official end of the ideology of white racial superiority, the white-majority nations of the world were and are objectively superior in metrics such as Human Development Index. On a per capita basis they will remain so for a while longer:

And yet the trend lines are converging between East Asian and developed white Western nations. We are now moving beyond the time when we can talk about ‘the West vs. the Rest.’ There are ~1.3 billion Chinese in China itself, which is approximately the total number of people of white European descent in the world.** In much of Africa China is a rising economic and social presence. There are likely more expatriate Chinese in Africa than there are expatriate whites. Enter “China + any region of the world” into Google, and you’ll come back with plenty of interesting results.

But from what I can tell Westerners, of all colors, are totally intellectually unprepared for the radical shift in geopolitics which is occurring as we speak. Kvetching about China’s trade surplus does not intellectual preparedness make. Most white liberals have an anti-colonialist outlook, and favor the liberation of peoples of color in the face of white supremacy. But this normative framework only makes sense in light of a model whereby white domination and agency are the preeminent considerations in the lives of the people of color. In much of the world that is not necessarily the case anymore. In Australia you have an inversion of the old narrative, insofar as an commodity boom driven by Chinese demand has arguably kept that nation’s economy relatively buoyant!

The white supremacy model (WSM) isn’t only found among white people. It’s very dominant among colored people who reflect on these issues. Indians are haunted by British colonialism. Latin Americans by Yankee imperialism. Middle Eastern Muslims by the Jewish-Western condominium. The Chinese still remember the de facto colonialism which their nation was subjected to after the Opium Wars.

In graphic terms what you have as a model is like so:


In the late 19th century the whole world became Greater Europe’s playground. Non-European thinkers had to respond to the European challenge. There was no other game in town. To some extent that response continued and elaborated after the collapse of European political hegemony in the 1950s and 1960s; ergo, postcolonialism.

This is probably more accurate today than the old model, and will certainly be more accurate within the next generation:


Because of its population and economic dynamism China will naturally come to rival Greater Europe in its influence and impact on the rest of the world. No other nations besides East Asian ones have shown an ability to match Greater Europe in HDI. The map to the left of literacy rates is I believe a good predictor of potential median HDI and per capita economic productivity ceilings for the next generation or two. South Asia is the world leader in absolute concentrated human misery, both in illiteracy and malnutrition. I think India will be influential and powerful because of raw numbers, but there is no worry that it will be a per capita power. Africa is prospering thanks to the Chinese fueled commodity boom, but it too is low on the human and institutional capital totem pole to leverage its demographic dynamism. Australia is too small in population to be influential. If the trends in its economy remain, that it becomes in large part a commodity source for China, then I think it will be prey to being muscled by the East Asian superpower just as Latin American nations traditionally were by the United States, even without military intervention, because of the asymmetry in economic dependency. Latin American nations like Brazil are populous and on the ‘ascension graph’, but they have problems with wide variance in human capital, just like India.

In civilizational terms we are not going from a unipolar world to a multipolar world. We’re going from a unipolar world to a bipolar world. This means that there must be a revision to our intellectual toolkit. Critics of the West, whether they’re white or colored, still have a superficial understanding of the Dead White Men and their history. Islamic revisionists who make a case for the centrality and superiority of their tradition do so with the West as an explicit or implicit counterpoint. The indigenous traditions of India, Africa, or China, were not relevant to these arguments. Europe was the sun, around with other civilizational planets circled.

Not so any longer. Consider these headlines: China workers killed in Pakistan and Algeria: Xenophobia against Chinese on the rise in Africa. Or Brazil’s huge new port highlights China’s drive into South America. China eyes rail link to Chittagong. A pushcart war in the streets of Milan’s Chinatown. ‘Too Asian’? – Worries that efforts in the U.S. to limit enrollment of Asian students in top universities may migrate to Canada.

This is a different dynamic than the rise of the one-dimensional Arab and Soviet petro-states of the 1970s in a qualitative sense. China and its Diaspora are a full-throated economic counterweight to the two century international geopolitical and cultural dominance of Greater Europe. It is also a different dynamic than the migration of various colored peoples into Western nations after World War II, where these groups are slotted into the lower social and economic rungs, and draw hostility and contempt from some whites and patronizing sympathy and self-interested bureaucratic-managerial concern from others. Japan and the “Asian Tigers” were limited by their demographic modesty when set next to Greater European nations like the United States.

How should people readjust to this world? Obviously following economic statistics and political events are essential to recalibrating with judicious perspective and caution. The world’s intellectual classes, Western and non-Western, have been conditioned to white supremacy for so long that no one remembers a time when it was any different.*** One of the ironies of WSM is that non-whites rarely know the history or culture of other non-whites to the same extent that they know that of whites. In other words, South Asians know their history and that of whites, Africans know their history and that of whites, East Asians know their history and that of whites, etc. (the main exception may be Korea, which was colonized by the Japanese). It’s ironic because the implicit inference of WSM is that non-whites have common interests against the white master race. Though this is admittedly rational because the concerns, values, and motivations of the masters are more relevant than those of other helots. The term ‘master race’ has positive connotations while a ‘the cancer of human history’ has negative ones, but no matter, both indicate that the object of concern is worthy and of note. But the blind-spot in this mode of thinking is that colored people who supposedly have solidarity are totally ignorant of each other’s respective substance.

This was all of purely academic interest until the resurgence of East Asia, and China in particular. It is for example well known that Chinese have a strong racial consciousness. During the Maoist period this was dampened by ideology. China’s objective lack of development for most of the 20th century almost certainly suppressed some of the racial disdain which is an element of Han chauvinism. But the Chinese, like East Asians in general, have a degree of race consciousness which expresses on the surface to an extent that would be surprising and alarming to most whites, excepting perhaps Afrikaners, some white American Southerners, and partisans of nationalist parties in Europe. This predates the modern era insofar as the Chinese have a long history of dehumanizing ‘barbarians’ and looking down on dark-skinned peoples (e.g., see the reports of the legation sent to the Khmer kingdom of Funan, which lingered upon their nakedness and darkness of complexion). But the real genesis of contemporary attitudes may be rooted in the synthesis of Chinese folk attitudes and early 20th century racial anthropology, already evident in the writings of principals in the May Fourth Movement.

Contrary to the Chung Kuo science fiction future history I have no expectation that Han racism will lead to a genocidal war of extermination against the black and brown peoples of the world. Rather, the attitudes in common circulation in China and other East Asian nations must be understood by any politician, diplomat or businessman, who wants to operate in that region. Any dark-skinned South Asian who expects “Asian” fellow-feeling in China may be in for a surprise. Chinese opinions of people of African descent are even more checkered. During the days of Japan Inc. cultural fluency was already seen to be critical, but because China is one order of magnitude more populous than Japan in 30-40 years it will be much more of an international social and economic presence. Interestingly 20% of individuals on the internet are already Chinese nationals, vs. 5% of Japanese (though the difference in penetration rates is 30% vs. 80%).

Where does this leave us? By the end of our lives those of us in early adulthood will live in a bipolar world. China and the West will together be drivers of consumption. When it comes to development aid or investment in poorer nations the West will have a substantive rival. These two will hold up the sky together. With this will come more prominence of Chinese culture, and a necessity for an understanding of that civilization’s history, its values. Though I’m making a pragmatic and utilitarian case for understanding and knowledge here, I do want to enter into the record than an appreciation of the history of the Chinese is an understanding of the history of a substantial proportion of humanity. It is part of our common history, just as Greece and Rome are.

With that, at the end of this post are a list of books which I’ve found useful, and obviously memorable, in trying to understand the shape of the Chinese past, and how the present came to be. Personal preference and bias is obviously operative. The fact that a standalone work on Xun Zi is listed below, and Mencius is not, says a lot about my personal evaluation of the two in relation to each other.

* I use “white” as a compound of both genetic and cultural qualities. So, Turks are not classified as white in this sense, while Ashkenazi Jews are, even though both groups are equivalently white when compared to “reference” populations which no one would deny are white, such as the English, in a genetic sense. So a person of Turkish ethnic origin who converts to Christianity, such as Boris Johnson’s ancestor (originally Bey), can generally be accepted as white because of their appearance. In contrast, someone who has noticeable non-white appearance, a South Asian for example, remains non-white despite their Christianity.

** You can do the back-of-the-envelope pretty easily. Europe, + 0.70 X USA + Canada + Australia + New Zealand + 1/3 Latin America is a good approximation. Of course a substantial proportion of the other 2/3 of Latin Americans have some white European ancestry, but whiteness a privilege which generally comes only through purity of blood, so they can be ignored.

*** I would peg the closing of the previous multipolar world to the second half of the 18th century, though the fact of European dominance did not ripen until the Opium Wars, which illustrated that even the greatest of non-Euroepan powers was ineffectual against European military mobilization.


Open Thread – November 27th, 2010

Hope Thanksgiving went well for Americans. I didn’t gain weight at all, 142lbs as of Friday morning!

Out of curiosity, what fiction do you read?

Also, check out Dienekes post on the ability to generate disjoint clusters in the DODECAD sample set. He asserts that one may now be able to generate extreme fine-scale assessments of likely population assignment from genetic material now. Check out this table; each column after the first two are the number of individuals in a given cluser. The rows are populations. The second column are the N individuals.

Last week’s This American Life had a segment on dog feces DNA fingerprinting. I think this is a good idea.

Assorted links related to this weblog

23andMe kits are discounted to $99 from $499 today.

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Friday Fluff – November 26th, 2010


1. First, a post from the past: Innate social aptitudes of man.

2. Weird search query of the week: ‘evolutionary biologist studies porn.’

3. Comment of the week, in response to The cult of Korea:

Razib, as you say they are literate, but not in a free way. Note that I didn’t say North Koreans were illiterate, just that their ignorance reminds me of places where people are illiterate. The issue isn’t being theoretically able to read but rather being able to find information and be skeptical. I could have made that clearer. After all there are lots of literate fundamentalists who aren’t skeptically literate. However being illiterate in places like Afghanistan or Haiti makes the situation that much worse. Being literate but not reading through choice (as with some Americans) or through restrictions (countries like N. Korea) ends up largely being a difference without much of a difference in terms of results.

Omar, most groups are informed about what they encounter regularly. (Although even there one finds a lot of nonsense – look at water dowsing in the US) Outside of that experience though they are ill informed and typically open to a high level of nonsense. I don’t think indoctrination vs. ignorance really captures what I’m getting at. Someone may be bright but unable to think through issues critically. Of course that can happen here in the US as well. There’s no shortage of urban legends Americans believe. But in places like North Korea, Haiti or many other places the lack of access/ability to read about the world leads to huge problems. The problem is that when leaders try to manipulate the public and enflame them they can quickly lose control precisely because of this problem.

But as you both note, one should distinguish literacy from ignorance.

BTW – I don’t think Cuba is a good analogy to N. Korea. While the US has had a travel ban others have been able to go to Cuba and interact with people widely. (Canadians were quite positively viewed by the Cubans and it wasn’t hard to go on vacation there) Further consumer goods were a little more widely dispersed in Cuba along with telecasts and radio from the US. (I’m not sure how much exposure to S. Korean media N. Koreans have as a practical matter) I’m not playing down Castro and what he did, but I think it gets a mite bit exaggerated in the US. On the other hand N. Korea is a whole other world from what I can tell. Cuba I think most of us would recognize, even if we chaffed under the restrictions in say the 80’s.

4) Are we going through the Great Stagnation?

5) And finally, your weekly fluff fix: