Dr Watson girds for battle

“It’s elementary.. dear Sherlock”, so said Dr. Watson to the cloned super-detective.

“It seems unfair that some people don’t get the same opportunity. Once you have a way in which you can improve our children, no-one can stop it. It would be stupid not to use it because someone else will. Those parents who enhance their children, then their children are going to be the ones who dominate the world.”

he continued..

I can’t wait for the inevitable catfights, the media brow-twitching and the hectoring by frightened politicians.. If the immediate reaction of some of the “bioethicists”is anything to go by, this one is shaping up to be another science-vs-fear debate. Well, guess who wins in the long run..?

For instance, a Mr. Shakespeare (no dead poet, this one) says:

“He is talking about altering something that most people see as part of normal human variation, and that I think is wrong…. I am afraid he may have done more harm than good, his leadership of the Human Genome Project and his discovery of 1953 notwithstanding.”

What exactly is “normal” in human variation? Is dying at the age of 40 from juvenile diabetes normal? Is not having the cognitive skills to get through basic math “normal”? Is a club foot “normal”? Adult Acne?..no?

I think Watson is right to bring this debate to the front burner, using his position and authority to do so. The cost of genetic engineering is going to fall, and knowledge is impossible to bottle up in any case. You’ll have better luck fencing wolverines with scotch tape. What Watson is trying to do is to move beyond just acknowleding this as fact, and pressing the rest of us to create a workable and mostly acceptable ethical framework for it.

Great Latino Hope

Dahlia Lithwick gets all worked up over the food fight that characterizes the Miguel Estrada nomination. Why are well meaning liberals always surprised when their utopian intents become the instruments for bloody ethno-politics?

Also, I find it interesting that Lithwick focuses on Estrada’s skin color, because if his last name was Tucci or Milano instead of Estrada, his skin color would be totally different, huh?

China, odds & ends

Ikram Saeed asks:

I would agree that China is less diverse than India, but it is still extremely diverse. And south China is the most distinct region of all, with several unintelligible “chinese” languages.

Are Chinese emigrants disproportionately from the south? US and Canadian Chinese populations arise largely from southern China. The only country I know of which has Chinese residents originating from many parts of China is Taiwan.

But this is blog is best when it is quantitive. What is the genetic similarity between northern, southern, and inland residents of China? Compare with India?

On north Chinese vs. south Chinese, Ikram is of course correct that the “dialects” of the south are languages by another name (while the “languages” of Scandanavia are dialects by another name). But, for the lay person, Ikram forgets to mention that all Chinese (Han, Zhongguo-Ren, Huaren, whatever) share a common written language, ergo, their ruling elite share a literary culture & canon. Perhaps an analogy might be made with medieval Latin in Christendom, the difference being that in this case 75% of Christendom shares the same colloquial language to boot.

As for the genetics, this is a complex question (speaking of complex, some bloggers & readers might be interested in this overview of Hakka genetics). Joanna Mountain, working with Cavalli-Sforza, has done work that indicates that south Chinese share an earlier common ancestry with southeast Asians than north Chinese. Historically this is plausible, the Vietnamese ancestral homeland is located just south of the Pearl River Delta while the Thai people still retain a prescence in southern China as the “Dai.” Just as Indo-Aryan languages like Marathi have been characterized as “Indo-European with a Dravidian accent,” so one could depict the south Chinese dialects in a similar manner. Of course, I have recently come to be skeptical of connecting shared ancestry marked by neutral genes to the genetic heritage of phenotypically significant traits (in other words, south and north Chinese might share different mother & father lines, but their genes that influence phenotype might have been selected so that a common phenotype has developed-this is obviously important from the perspective of human biodiversity).

The idea that the migrants that formed the Chinese Diaspora were self-selected is persuasive on the surface (to me at least). The Taiwanese, Singaporeans & Hong Kong Chinese share about the same per capita income. But, there is a difference: while Singapore & Hong Kong have incomes of 24 K and 25 K, Taiwan is at 17 K (not an economist, so I don’t know if “purchasing power parity” takes into account that the two cities almost certainly have sky high cost of living). Could this be because the inhabitants of the two cities are more self-selected than the “Taiwanese” [1]? I would like to know the per capita incomes of the Chinese of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia (though the last is a bit confusing, as the Chinese are bifurcated into the “Totok” and “Perakanan” communites, the latter being somewhat like the Baba Chinese of Malaya).

Update: From the message board:

Here’s a paper that suggests that there is no difference between Northern and Southern Chinese

Posted by js at February 27, 2003 03:40 PM

[1] Hong Kong is a mostly Cantonese city with a prominent clique of Shanghai capitalists. Singapore is more mixed, but I believe (someone can correct me) that most are descendents of migrants from Fukien. The “Taiwanese” are ~90% Fujianese in origin, migrating over a long period of time from Manchu conquest down to the period of Japanese rule, the remaining 10% are mainlanders, predominantly from north China. The indigenous Formosan Taiwanese are irrelevant to this discussion, and numerically negligible (I’m not a linguistic specialist, apologize for the misappellation Malayo-Polynesian).

Out of this country

Here are some thoughts on North Korea from the always illuminating Randall Parker. The manifesto of this blog to go where few have gone before. So I stay away from foreign policy because it is so done. That being said, Randall is a smart guy who tends to look at things from a different perspective than the blogosphere herd (though I would call him a hawk of sorts, though I come from an isolationist libertarian background, so my definition might not be typical).

Read Randall’s post titled Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development, and you’ll see what I mean. Can it hurt to take a break from orange juice for a little tropical drink mix?

Also, I will be writing on Islam & liberalism-soon, I promise! And I just got my first issue of my gift subscription to Foreign Affairs, so I might wander off target on occassion and add a little tang to the mix that is the warblogsophere….

Go read Calcutta Libertarian (I'm old school, yo, keep it Anglicized :)

Suman, who sometimes posts in these parts, has a great piece over at his blog about being and immigrant and America and how easy it is to become one. I’ll add this little observation: I know many white liberals criticize this country and would prefer to leave for the genteel and open-minded lands of Europe. As a “person of color,” my viewpoint is different. I could never really be French, German, Spanish or Italian. I can’t just blend in and pick up the language and expect not to be noted & noticed. Even in England, where there are lots of brown people, there is still a feeling that non-whites are strangers in the land (if well accepted and tolerated of course). It is in America where people can finally move past, “Where are you really from?” Takes time. But patience is rewarded in this country. America is a young nation, but its greatness is the work of generations.

Hong Kong blood & breeding

Hong Kong Moves to Raise Birth Rate and Draw Richer Immigrants“, can you imagine American papers reporting anything similar for this country without an aura of doom & gloom? No doubt, if this story wasn’t about Hong Kong-there would be a lot of ink spilled on the possible negative effects on minorities & the downtrodden (the two being interchangeable terms in liberal-speak). Note that the article mentions Hong Kong is modelling its program on Singapore-any prediction on when China will follow suit as explicitly as this?

If it were so-if only….

I just had a fantasy that I lived in a world where the empirical data indicated to me that all populations of humanity were equally endowed with the same frequency of a variety of handy phenotypes. Ah, what a world it would be! Politics would be much simpler-broad axioms would be much easier….

So-a question, brought up on the boards by “Sen” I believe: Why hasn’t the Indian Diaspora in Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Fiji created paradises with their industry & unleashed human capital? Comparing these situations to Singapore is unfair of course, the little city state has choice location-but it must be remembered that the Chinese of Southeast Asia drive the economies of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and to a lesser extent Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Does the “Hindu Rate of Growth” have something to do with the lack of social or genetic capital of the early settlers? Were the Chinese who settled Southeast Asia a particular subset of the population of China proper, more enterprising & industrious? (Indians sent to work as indentured laborers were generally from the lower-castes)

Yo colored-a derivative isn't authentic and true to your culture

Joanne Jacobs pointed me to this article on something called “ethnomath”:

Ethnomathematics has a few parents, but most observers trace its formal birth to a speech given by the Brazilian mathematician Ubiratan D’Ambrosio in the mid-1980’s. Now an emeritus professor of math at the State University of Campinas outside S-o Paulo, he explained his thinking a couple of years ago to The Chronicle of Higher Education: ”Mathematics is absolutely integrated with Western civilization, which conquered and dominated the entire world. The only possibility of building up a planetary civilization depends on restoring the dignity of the losers.” Robert N. Proctor, who teaches the history of science at Pennsylvania State University, says he wants to counter the notion ”that the West is the be all and end all” when it comes to mathematical studies. ”After all,” he adds, ”all math is ethnomath — not just African kinship numerics or Peruvian bead counting, but also the C.I.A.’s number-crunching cryptology and Reaganomics.”

I’m basically speechless.

These morons should put their well-being where their mouth is. Have a group of engineers use non-Western math, perhaps Peruvian bead counting, to figure out the parameters necessary for a bridge to safely span a river gorge. To show how strongly they believe in the validity of the ethnomath concept the researchers should cross the bridge, to actualize their teachings in the material world and break the hegemony of Euro-phallo-centric numeracy….