Autism & the pod-people

This article in Newsweek is pretty interesting, it focuses on how boys are more prone to autism and affiliated diseases like Asperger’s Syndrome. This old article in Wired suggests that assortive mating between people who have some tendency toward this disease is causing the emergence of a whole sub-section of society where Asperger’s is not only endemic, but accepted as something of a norm. The Bell Curve concerned itself with assortive mating by g, but it seems today’s America as depicted by David Brooks is being further segmented along lines of ideology and a host of myriad preferences (race, religion, etc. still being important, but being joined by a constellation of identities and orientations). In The Blank Slate Steven Pinker points out that many beliefs that we assume are based on conscious thought and logical analysis have psychological underpinnings that are heritable. Twins raised apart studies seem to suggest that religious faith, political orientation and other subsets of human personality begin with a genetic substrate.

How these traits are confounded, which are just correlated vs. causatively linked, perhaps via a common factor, is an academic debate. But, back to the initial thrust of the article, how do we deal with the coming sociological diversity? American schools are designed to produce citizens, so despite district & state differences, our goal is to inculcate all children with the same values that will foster the continuance of our democracy. But in the case of children with autism, or boys vs. girls, or even white vs. blacks, it seems that some groups respond positively to different stimuli and environments. How is our society going to respond to this? Certainly Brooks seems to be pointing to one answer-we are segregating into values & personality enclaves, adding more dimensions to our prior self-conceptions based on race, religion and geography. And you thought one hyphen was a bit much…..

Bookish moi & the VMAs

Reading Theoretical Population Genetics by J.S. Gale. Venturing into chapter 3. Nice to have Principles of Population Genetics under my belt, all the equations (and more) that you find in Clark & Hartl’s book are derived in great detail by Gale (again, judging by what I’ve read so far)[1]. The references & notations are themselves a gold mine. As I said, I’m early on in the book, but though some of the derivations might seem byzantine, the mathematical methods themselves don’t seem out of reach for someone who has a basic understanding of statistics, with calculus, differential equations & and a smattering of linear algebra. If you read evolutionary psychology & biology for fun & pleasure, I would suggest first Hartl & Clark’s text, and then this, I think it’s worth it to keep digging-stuff your brain with data & theory and result might turn out as delicioius as fois gras. My main complaint is the notation of the equations seems kind of primitive & clumsy-but the book was published in 1990, so perhaps that explains it.

Please read further for my take on the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA).

fn1. From page 13, “We shall, in general, adopt a ‘stochastic’ approach; that is, we take account of factors leading to random changes in allele frequencies….” The author states that stochastic models of population genetics are more difficult for lay persons to grasp than the deterministic ones-which is surely correct. Fuck, take a Quantum Mechanics course, and come out of it without turning cross-eyed when you see some plain ole Mechanics.

OK, I didn’t watch it, rather, I downloaded the Britney & Christina + Missy & Madonna performance from Kazaa. Some observations:

 

    • Britney should not sing right before Christina unleashes her voice

 

    • Christina should not shake her ass after Britney has done her divine wiggling

 

    • Madonna has a better voice than Britney (who doesn’t) & can dance better than Christina

 

    • Britney & Christina are plausible modifications of Madonna’s genome-but they would indicate that talent is a zero-sum equation, what Britney lacks in vocals she makes up for in riotous rump-shaking & while Christina lacks the rhythmic movement on display in the form of Ms. Spears and Ms. Ciccone, she is possessed of a megaphone for a voice and a Madonnically sluttish demeanour

 

 

    • I did not object to the kissing[2], though it seems plausible that Christina & Madonna swapping spit might give rise to lethal hybrid super-slut viruses. Watch out Guy Richie and all the men backstage on the Justin & Christina tour!

fn2. Derb better not write about straight flight based on the lesbianism on display at the VMAs.

Godless comments:

Re: Population Genetics

I recommended Hartl to Razib, and it’s the book I learned Pop. Genetics from (though I’m much more a molecular bio & systems biology kinda guy). If you want to check out population genetics in action, check out this phat set of simulations on various concepts in population genetics. For example, they’ve got a section on selection and drift here.

I agree with Razib’s belief that the methods of population genetics are not truly arcane. At root, what population genetics is about is:

 

  1. Postulating some probability mass function (aka pmf) over individuals and/or alleles of genes. Call this an initial condition.
  2. Postulating some sort of updating rule/fitness definition (e.g. fitness matrices), which tells you which alleles become more or less frequent (i.e. how the pmf evolves). [1] These can be continuous rules (i.e. diffy q’s) as well as difference equations.[2]
  3. Calculating the effects of multiple iterations of the updating rule on the initial condition (ideally without resorting to simulation, though that is often necessary).

This is something of a simplification, but in this form (initial conditions + updating equations), it’s recognizable to physicists and other quantitative people. Molecular biology comes into play as a constraint on the sorts of updates. For example, diploid populations have paired alleles for every gene, which introduces quadratic nonlinearities (top of page 3, equation for p’) into the updating equation. More on this later…

Re: Christina, Britney, and Madonna

Here are some more pics:

I agree with Razib’s assessment on this issue, though I think Aguilera is still very attractive. Dark hair doesn’t suit her, though. Here’s some more depravity and licentiousness, courtesy of Tatu:

If they were real lesbians (rather than Hollywood lesbians), they ain’t gonna be reproducing (so we can safely set f=0 in the evolution equation)…but it’s fun to look at 😉

Along the same lines – I’ve often thought that facilitative lesbianism is more frequent/more easily inducible in women than the analogue is in men. Not sure if this is backed up by data, but my (totally speculative) theory is that it has something to do with the frequency of polygamy vs. polyandry.

fn1. In this respect the update equation is conceptually similar to the Fokker-Planck equation, which also directly describes the evolution of a pdf.

fn2. Note that conventional definitions of fitness (with births at periodic intervals) do not account for the fact that people can have kids at any time. The way to get around is this to introduce something called the “Malthusian parameter”, which is analogous to the idea of continual compounding in finance. More on this here. You can also read the aforementioned Hartl, or else Maynard Smith’s book, page 38.

Another update from GC:

Listen to this sorry conservative, bemoaning the tackiness of it all:

These were smackers smacking of desperation. What was Madonna’s last single? [ Die Another Day was decent…] No, I can’t remember either.

We can assume safely that this was pre-arranged. Madonna is too fly by far to risk, in front of an audience of millions, having the younger, prettier Britney Spears grab her by the shoulders and push her away.The question is, however, whether both Britney and Christina Aguilera knew that she had come to an arrangement with the other one. My money is on not.

The headlines that this gap-toothed, career-on-the-slide, ageing pop legend had in mind will have been “Madonna in sexy snogfest”, not “Madonna anoints chosen successor – and it’s Britney!”

I bet this is the kind of guy who’d sneer at masterpieces like There’s Something About Mary or a classic like Ace Ventura . I should probably shake him by the shoulders, point and say “Dude – Lesbians! Dude…*lesbians*!”

Shout out to Allah!

Allah is in the house!. Funny new blog, who says you can’t have fun with Islam? (via Aziz).

Posted by razib at 05:26 PM

Shit dog, check this out, yo:

One billion strong, all year long,
Prayers to Allah even in Hong Kong
Can never be wrong if we read the Qur’an
Cause it’s never been changed since day one.
Others may brag, say that we lag,
But they don’t know all the power we had
The power we had, the power we have
So Muslimoon don’t you ever be sad
Take many looks, go read their books,
You’ll see all the facts that your friends overlook,
So always be proud, you can say it out loud
I am proud to be down with the Muslim crowd!

M-U-S-L-I-M
I’m so blessed to be with them…
M-U-S-L-I-M
I’m so blessed to be with them…

They look at me strangely
Like I emit some type of energy
That draws Kafirs – disbelievers towards me.
Thinking to themselves what makes him different from me.
Is it the hair, the clothes or maybe the food he eats,
What could it be, that make thug cats, stand at attention,
His demeanor’s peaceful but on his face it’s clearly written that,
This aint the sorta brother caught up in this and that
Running streets carrying heat yo he aint into that.
This brother must live by some type of criteria,
To make it to the average cat quite superior
So maybe one of these days I get near enough
Play like Nancy Drew on this mystery and clear it up.
So listen up if you think this is strange,
Cause these the type of thoughts that use to run through a new Shahada’s brains
and I bear witness to the one with 99 names, InshAllah I will always remain.

M-U-S-L-I-M
I’m so blessed to be with them…
M-U-S-L-I-M
I’m so blessed to be with them…

Don’t know about you, I know about me,
I’m proud because I’m rolling Islamically
Everywhere I see, even on TV,
People talking trash about the way I be.
But what they all hate, is if we get great
Cause we’re the only ones with our heads on straight
Don’t ever frown, or your head looking down,
If you read the Qur’an you’re the best in the town.
Y’all have doubt say- we have no clout
But-within-a-few years see how we’ve come about.
Were back on the scene, The number-one deen,
I’m proud to be down with the Muslimeen!

 

Posted by: Chris Wat August 30, 2003 08:27 PM

there’s an extremely strange development in the muslim world … Shiites are displaying photos of imam ali like as if he was jesus christ… considering that idolatory is banned in islam… and images of the top guys are banned… this seems to be some kind of cataclysmic shift in attitude… http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/international/international-iraq.html

Posted by: turkey time gobble gobbleat August 31, 2003 06:56 AM

not that cataclysmic, don’t confuse wahabbis with everyone else. turkish and persian versions of islam have always been more photogenic.

Posted by: razib at August 31, 2003 04:52 PM

Understanding The Religious on Their own Terms

Howdy all. First off, I am quite flattered that I have been offered the privelege of posting here on Gene Expression while my own blog is down. That having been said I’m a grad student working towards an M.A. in Medieval Studies, and I should probably be studying for my Latin exam right now. Here, then, are my thoughts on how we understand (or rather do not understand) the Islamic world.

The modern west has always had a hard time understanding the Islamic world on its own terms. The Orientalists regaled their readers with tales of the dark-eyed Musselmen, hot-blooded and quick to anger, a people that were inherently sensuous and accustomed to ease, luxury, and fatalism. In our own day, the right wing polemicist (who probably knows less of Arabic and of history than the Orientalist before him) denounces Muslims as backward savages who understand only force and must ruthlessly be crushed lest they overwhelm our civilization in a brown tide. The left-wing polemicist, on the other hand, sees the Muslims as oppressed people of color, allies in the war against whiteness, patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, and Zionism. None of the above pictures are fully accurate, and all instead serve as a projection of our own fantasies and fears.

I bring up the image of Islam as serving as a projection of what we would like Islam to be to bring up the question of Medieval Islam. When debate emerges about the nature of the current religious revival underway in the Islamic world, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable, “Islam was an advanced civilization in 800 when westerners were still living in thatched huts! So there!” crops up. Strangely enough, while the trope of “Advanced Islam/Backward Christendom” often comes from the perspective of the left, it is nonetheless a product of the same sort of projection and misrepresentation that Edward Said and his disciples disparage.

Before going into detail, I need to back up a bit. Americans, sadly, have little acquaintance with history. Even amongst those Americans with a College or University education, most contact with history comes from introductory survey courses. Now then, survey courses are excellent in their own way, especially in that they will introduce people to subject matter with which they were earlier unfamiliar. They do, though, have a key weakness—a survey course, due to the breadth of the subject matter covered in a single course must by necessity deal in generalizations. Unfortunately, generalizations are much easier than the particulars of history to shoe-horn into pre-held conceptions.

Now then, over the last few centuries Jacobin and Protestant historiography have combined to, more often than not, make the Roman Catholic church the Big Bad Villain of western history, to the extent that neither secularists nor protestants realizing that they are borrowing one another’s myths[1]. As such, the Church is often presented in High School history classes and histories for popular consumption as an oppressor of totalitarian dimensions, one that smothered all free thought, all inquiry, all science, and all knowledge until the bright light of the Reformation brought tolerance and pluralism. Of course, when you set up a villain, you need likewise to set up someone good and upright to counteract him (or, since I am speaking of the Church, her). So it is that we see the brave young rebel Martin Luther serve as the early modern voice of tolerance facing down the almighty Church.

The wrong-headedness of such a view of the Protestant Reformers is a topic for another essay; when we go back before Luther, though, we see people like the Cathars presented as the heroes standing against Rome, people practicing a pure and virtuous faith that are crushed by the corrupt and power mad Roman Church. Both Protestants and freethinkers (I shall avoid the sneer quotes around the latter since I am being allowed to post on a blog run by atheists) wind up making doomed heroes out of folks who believe that since matter is evil, you shouldn’t have sex, but if you just can’t control yourself, then you need to have oral or anal sex so that no babies get made. While the Albigensian Crusade was a great horror, I must say that I would think that Cathar beliefs would be bothersome to Protestants and freethinkers alike. I bring such advocacy up merely as a case study of the tendency when writing history to idealize Rome’s enemies. Such a tendency finds its full flowering in the western portrayal of Umayad Spain.

The Umayads appeal to different people for different reasons: the Orientalist dreaming of Arabian Nights-style splendor is wowed by their opulence, the freethinker sees tolerance, and the bookworm sees a love of learning. So it is, then, that Umayad Spain is presented in general histories as the Platonic ideal of Islam. See? we are told. Islam is urbane, enlightened, and tolerant. Much, though, is left out of this picture. We are rarely told that one of the reasons that the Umayads were driven out of Syria was this very splendor and moral laxity that the Orientalist finds so appealing. We are not told that in this haven of tolerance of all faiths, pogroms against Jews did, in fact, occasionally break out, and that the penalty for converting to Judaism or Christianity from Islam was death.

Am I writing these things to smear Islam? Far from it. If you want a smear of Islam, you can easily go to Little Green Footballs. Indeed, in spite of its weaknesses, Umayad Spain was a center of immense learning, brilliant culture, thriving commerce, and astoundingly beautiful architecture. I must also say that if you are trying to run a state on the principle that there is but one God and that His perfect revelation must be obeyed, and that to do otherwise is an affront to the sovereign of the universe, then the system of dhimmi status and like civil disabilities for Jews and Christians that at the same time fall short of outright persecution is the best way to handle recalcitrant unbelievers without forcing obedience to Allah that is a mere sham, having come under fear of death. Indeed, the Muslim system of dealing with non-believers who nonetheless came credally close to Islam was much better organized than anything Christendom had. Christendom’s system of dealing with unbelieving monotheists was always fairly ad hoc, and could range from the urbane tolerance of the Norman kings of Sicily to the fanatic persecution of Ferdinand and Isabella.

Why then am I writing this? I merely write to make the point that Islam is a monotheistic religion that differs by time and place depending on the historical contexts, and must be understood as such. The book Europe and the People Without History makes the excellent point that Europeans, when looking at the Other[2], have a disturbing tendency to view them as existing in some sort of timeless never-never land like insects trapped in amber and existing apart from the vicissitudes of history. So it is that the character of the Muslim was often portrayed as fixed and unchanging by the Orientalists, and so the people and religion of Islam were seen to exist in something of a timeless past/present, in which Islam and Muslims are always the same. It is exactly such thinking, though, that causes people to say that Muslims cannot possibly be intolerant based on a Spain that was, to be honest, a geographically small part of Islam that existed for two hundred of Islam’s fourteen hundred years of existence.

Such discussion brings me to Saladin. Ever since the Third Crusade, the man has captured the western imagination. Even chroniclers hostile to Islam saw the man (a Kurd, incidentally) as the exemplification of the courtly ideals of chivalry and honor. Here was a man who showed magnanimity towards his defeated enemies, respect for an opponent who fought bravely, and, in general, and urbane and diplomatic demeanor in all things. He was certainly a better character than Richard the Butcher of Acre.

His taking of Jerusalem is often presented in stunning contrast to Godfrey de Boullion’s close to a century earlier. Godfrey left no unbelievers alive, Saladin allowed the Christians to remain and worship as they pleased. Saladin took prisoners and ransomed them, Godfrey showed no quarter. This glaring contrast must demonstrate that Islam is superior to Christianity, right?

Here, though, is the problem of looking at the story outside of its context. Yes, Saladin did allow Jersulam to surrender (though the fact that Jeruslam’s defenders threatened to kill every Muslim in the city if not allowed to surrender might have had something to do with that), and yes, Godfrey left blood flowing ankle deep in the streets. But suppose we look for more than two examples of the magnanimity of one faith and the bloody-handedness of another. Let us look, then, to Baibars. While most everyone who has had general history is familiar with Saladin, very few are familiar with Baibars. It ought to bear mentioning that when Baibars took Antioch in 1268, he slaughtered the Christians and sacked the city so thoroughly that it has not recovered to this day. Suppose we look to German Emperor Frederick II, who negotiated a peaceful return of Jerusalem in 1229 (though admittedly the fact that he did this peacefully infuriated the Pope and all of the Latin clergy in Outremere) and left the Muslims their holy places. I could then say (dishonestly) that the contrast of Frederick II and Baibars proves that Islam is more bloody and intolerant than Christianity.

I am bringing up this counter-example to make the point that it is foolishness to cherry-pick historical anecdotes to attack the Catholic Church, for one could just as easily cherry pick anecdotes to make Muslims seem bloody handed savages. History is complicated. Examining single historical vignettes outside of their larger context to prove some sort of eternal truths about one culture or another is foolishness. There have, after all, been three Romes (and there will not be a fourth!)—history and peoples change. Moreover, using Islam to make a point against the Catholic church does a great disservice to the actual history of Islamic civilization. Now the reader may say, “But really, Andrew, these are just introductory histories taken by semi-literate freshmen. The specialists know better.” Unfortunately, semi-literate stoned freshmen grow up to be semi-literate sober politicians and journalists, and so when encountering something like “Islam” (as if millions of people across a millennium and a half could be reduced to a single entity), all they will have to go on is what they picked up from Western Civ.

What if, though, we were to try to examine the Islamic world on its own terms? What might we find? We would find a religion, like Christianity, that believes itself to be the final revelation, and that the Koran is the sole repository of this revelation. As such, dar al-Islam will have most of the same quirks, peculiarities, and great accomplishments that that other monotheistic religion had. We will find a faith that believed that it had superceded all that had come before and yet needed to reach some sort of accommodation with the faiths it had replaced. As I have said above, system of dhimmitude was a perfect system if one accepted as a given that there was but one true religion, but that remnants of those who had almost gotten it right remained. Likewise, in states that believe Christianity is the Final Revelation, the Jews were allowed some sort of grudging tolerance.

In both cases as there was little tolerance for the believers in religions that came after, since, after all, if you have more than one final revelation, people will start to ask questions. So it is that Christian officials extended little tolerance to Islam, and Islamic officials extended little tolerance to groups like the Bahai. In both cases, the state sought to bring itself into line with what men assume that God wanted, as any man would do if he believed in God.

The two faiths went their separate ways after the seventeenth century. Christendom lost its faith and found pluralism, while today there is a religious revival underway in the House of Islam. Marxists and fools (though I repeat myself) attribute this revival to economic circumstances, colonial oppression, or any of the other bugbears that they believe actually caused what goes on in history. What if we look on the religious revival as a genuine religious revival? In such a case, understanding Muslims as religious men and women—the vast bulk of whom are decent people—would greatly facilitate our own understanding of what’s going on. After all, most of us know deeply religious people from work, school, or our own flirtations with religion.

Many have the deep conviction that they are absolutely right, and that God wants society to reflect His own wishes. Most probably believe that European and American women are unnecessarily wanton and want their daughters and wives to dress modestly. And while they usually make good neighbors, we would make damn sure that they are not allowed to threaten pluralism. In that way, then, we ought to deal with Muslims the same way we deal with Christians—“I respect your right to believe and practice (with obvious exceptions) as you see fit. Try to impose your religion on me, though, and we will have problems.”

I will come back with another entry on the nature of religious reformations what they mean for war, peace, and the like. Now, I suspect that I really ought to bet getting back to my Latin.

[1]My favorite example of this is in Cradle of Filth’s song “For Those Who Died.” Despite the Band’s Satanic motif, they nonetheless basically reproduce the Protestant mythology of the Inquisition.

[2]I’m a grad student in the humanities. I had to use the term at least once.

NR & Immigration Reform, Cont'd

National Review writer Rich Lowry is now actually calling for a reduction in legal immigration:

"The real answer is to scale back legal immigration [emphasis mine] and control the nation’s borders, so low-income workers don’t have to compete against new immigrants, especially people who have no right to be here."

Lowry also wrote:
"Economics 101 says that the more poorly skilled workers there are, the less they will make. Indeed, according to the National Research Council, roughly half of the decline in real wages for native high-school dropouts from 1980 to 1994 was due to immigration."

The NR has been railing against illegal immigration, multiculturalism, and especially immigrants who present a direct national security threat, but has not generally been so hard on legal unskilled immigration. It’s good to see the NR taking a tough stance on legal immigration, because any immigration reform that does not include the reduction of legal unskilled immigration is not taking care of the main thrust of our immigration problem–the importation of a persistent[1], dependent, and resentful underclass.

[1] Even notwithstanding Bell Curve-type theories, it is clear that something is tending to hold down some non-white immigrant groups but not others, and that this something is not going away any time soon (for example, second- and third-generation Latino immigrants continue to lag behind native-born whites (on average, of course) in income and education). Given the general success of many non-white and/or previously discriminated against groups (South Asians, many East Asian groups, and Jews), it seems unlikely that the "something(s)" holding down some immigrant groups include white racism or "institutional racism."

U of Michigan adds "diversity" essay

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision essentially upholding quotas (but not the 20-point bonus for "underrepresented" minorities), the University of Michigan is replacing with the 20-point bonus with something I see as even worse: a required essay that students must write on diversity.

Students will have the choice between two prompts:

"At the University of Michigan, we are committed to buiding an academically superb and widely diverse educational community. What would you as an individual bring to our campus community?"
Or
"Describe an experience you’ve had where cultural diversity–or a lack therof–has made a difference to you."

Not only did the Michigan decision do practically nothing to erode affirmative action, it has made things worse, at least at the University of Michigan. Now students are going to be forced to write an additional essay that essentially must be from a leftist perspective (could anyone seriously write a non-leftist response to these questions and not get hurt in admissions)?

See the full story at the LA Times (registration required).

Brawn drain from Africa

Article in The Economist on the migration of athletes out of Africa (and the African Diaspora) to other nations. Full text below….

The brawn drain from Africa
Aug 28th 2003
From The Economist print edition

Qatar’s poaching of African champions
EPA

Exceedingly successful economic migrant

AS USUAL, the world steeplechase champion is a Kenyan. But his passport says he is from Qatar. Saif Saeed Shaheen, who until this month was called Stephen Cherono, was bought by the rich little Gulf state for $1,000 a month for life, and a new track for his home town in Kenya. Another ex-Kenyan runner, now called Abdullah Ahmad Hassan, who came fourth in the 10,000 metres at the current World Athletics Championships in Paris, was also part of the package.

Qatar, with little home-grown sporting talent, has acquired world-class athletes this way before. In 1992, it poached a few Somalis for its track team and got an Olympic bronze medal. For Sydney in 2000, it imported a whole squad of weightlifters from Bulgaria and won bronze again. Another Qatari steeplechaser, Khamis Abdullah Saifeldin, originally from Sudan, but clearly a patriot already, says that “Qatar is the best in the world in spending money on sport.”

Buying talented sportsmen, common enough at club level, is burgeoning in international sport. In March, for example, landlocked Switzerland beat New Zealand to the America’s Cup, sailing’s most prestigious prize, by hiring a crew of New Zealanders. Since the 1980s, European sports federations have been attracting African athletes and footballers, and obtaining passports for them.

But sport is war by other means, and changing allegiance is sometimes considered high treason. Merlene Ottey, the sprint legend who won eight Olympic medals for Jamaica before defecting to Slovenia last year, is not much liked in her native country. And athletics’ world governing body, worried about the brawn drain from Africa, is now thinking of changing its citizenship rules.

g–a brief history and overview

It was brought to my attention that perhaps there is some confusion on the idea of psychometric g . I wrote a brief article about it in a student newsletter a few months ago, that does a brief explaination. My stuff starts on p. 11.

For more in depth, I suggest reading:

Jensen, A. (1998). The g factor.

Carroll, J. B. (1993). Human Cognitive Abilities.

Deary, I. (2000). Looking down on human intelligence.

Alex