Andrew Gelman has started a new blog at ScienceBlogs, Applied Statistics. Someone should design him a header, perhaps a fancified Bayes’ theorem?
Month: October 2009
Mosque offended by alcohol & roast pig…in New York City
Spotted Piglet Hiccups: Boozy Breslin Clashes With Mosque:
The much-hyped, soon-to-open Breslin restaurant, situated in the 12-story Ace Hotel on Broadway and 29th, is giving members of the Masjid Ar-Rahman mosque across the street some agita. “Five times a day, there’s a hundred cabs on the street–the good news is you can always get a cab,” co-owner Ken Friedman told the Transom the other evening. He said some mosque visitors “object to seeing people drink alcohol.”
After the recent FergusStock, a festival during which famed British chef Fergus Henderson cooked whole pigs for a rapt crowd of New York chefs and foodies, Mr. Friedman said the mosque’s leaders called a meeting with the hotel. “They said, ‘Can you move the bar?'” he said. “And I laughed. And the guy said, ‘Oh, you think that’s funny?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that is funny, that is really funny, because we’re not going to move the bar just because you discovered we’re serving booze.’ Can you name one restaurant in New York that doesn’t serve booze?”
Mr. Friedman and his partner, Spotted Pig chef April Bloomfield, did agree to nix plans for a dive bar in a townhouse next door, but as for the restaurant, “I said, ‘This is the United States of America and we’ll do whatever the fuck we want.'” He said the mosque had suggested it couldn’t control the behavior of “a few bad eggs”; i.e., “we could get a brick through our window.” Mr. Friedman said he made the police aware of this threat.
If you move to a country that is 98% “kuffar” STFU is all I have to say. As Muslims like to remind us there are 1.5 billion of them, but despite being adherents of the One True Religion countries dominated by Muslims tend to kind of suck-ass. Therefore, they queue up to immigrate to countries where the majority is non-Muslim. But they expect to carry on as usual, as evident by some Muslim cab drivers refusing to pick up those who’ve had alcohol, or people with seeing eye dogs (because Muslims consider dogs unclean, though this is true of Hindus too last I checked).
This dovetails with the issues I pointed to in “On Offense”. Muslims, and for that matter Mormons, many Hindus, etc., would naturally find inebriation with alcohol offensive and disrespectful, especially around a religious center. If a Mongolian beef establishment opened up across from a Hindu temple I think one might wonder as to the sensitivity of this sort of behavior as well. But how many sets of norms can we accommodate before we go get bogged down in norm tracking? In much of India Hindus and Muslims avoid consumption of pork and beef as a form of reciprocal sensitivity* (though I think this is easy in part because so many Hindu elites are vegetarian, period). I understand where food taboos , it is taboo to eat dolphin or dog in the United States. But any given society needs to have some semblance of restraint and common norms on boundaries, or we’ll become like those Hasidic Jewish sects where people are vegetarian because they don’t trust anyone to be properly kosher. A whole society of Hasidic Jews is not viable.
Note: Some Europeans find Muslim animal sacrifice and male circumcision offensive. Of course Muslim react naturally with their catchall accusation of Islamophobia, and haven’t had to modify their own practices yet.
* One thing I never understood about this is why Muslims would care that non-Muslims ate pork. Unlike Hindus Muslims don’t venerate the pig.
Andrew Gelman's "Applied Statistics"
Andrew Gelman has started a new blog at ScienceBlogs, Applied Statistics. Someone should design him a header, perhaps a fancified Bayes’ theorem?
Bernie Madoff only squandered $21 billion
In a piece that outlines SEC follies:
In fact, Mr. Madoff said in the jailhouse interview that, on two occasions, he was certain it was only a matter of days or even hours before he would be caught. The first time, in 2004, he assumed the investigators would check his clearinghouse account. He said he was “astonished” that they did not, and theorized that they might have decided against doing so because of his stature in the industry.
“I’m very proud of the role I played in the industry,” he said. “Of course I destroyed that now.”
In Mr. Madoff’s second close call in 2006, investigators actually asked for his clearinghouse account number on a Friday afternoon, but then never followed up. He said he firmly expected the following Monday would bring the curtain down on his crime. Again, nothing happened. He recalled thinking at the time: “After all this, I got away lucky.”
His investors did not. According to estimates by a court-appointed trustee who is liquidating his estate, Mr. Madoff’s crime cost thousands of victims at least $21 billion in cash losses, part of the $64.8 billion in paper wealth that vanished when his scheme collapsed.
Materialism leads to inequality
Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and the Dynamics of Inequality in Small-Scale Societies:
Small-scale human societies range from foraging bands with a strong egalitarian ethos to more economically stratified agrarian and pastoral societies. We explain this variation in inequality using a dynamic model in which a population’s long-run steady-state level of inequality depends on the extent to which its most important forms of wealth are transmitted within families across generations. We estimate the degree of intergenerational transmission of three different types of wealth (material, embodied, and relational), as well as the extent of wealth inequality in 21 historical and contemporary populations. We show that intergenerational transmission of wealth and wealth inequality are substantial among pastoral and small-scale agricultural societies (on a par with or even exceeding the most unequal modern industrial economies) but are limited among horticultural and foraging peoples (equivalent to the most egalitarian of modern industrial populations). Differences in the technology by which a people derive their livelihood and in the institutions and norms making up the economic system jointly contribute to this pattern.
See ScienceDaily for a summary. Two immediate thoughts come to mind:
1) Many people have long suggested in many ways “advanced” industrial nations are shifting back toward the values which are more common among hunter-gatherers. “Traditional” values the norm among pre-modern agriculturists may be a peculiar interlude, when native human intuitions and the range of personal choice were constrained by powerful lineages which monopolized wealth.
2) I wonder if the differences in wealth & inequality track reproductive variance. Specifically, if the range of relative fitness is higher in societies with more inequality. This could have an evolutionary impact, one can posit that more variance in fitness means more rapid change in phenotypic values. Genghis Khan wouldn’t have been possible among hunter-gatherers.
Social cycles in history due to cognitive differences
Steve points me to this Jason Richwine piece, Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?. Richwine states:
Religion would seem to be the clear choice of smart people in this hypothetical example, but there would still be a positive correlation between IQ and atheism. The correlation exists not because smart people have necessarily rejected religion, but because religion is the “default” position for most of our society.
This same principle works in places where the default and iconoclastic beliefs are reversed. Japan, for example, has no tradition of monotheistic religion, but the few Japanese Christians tend to be much more educated than non-Christians in Japan. By the logic of someone who wants to read a lot into the Stankov study, Christianity must be the wave of the future, perhaps even the one true faith! But, of course, the vast majority of educated Japanese are not Christians. Just as with atheism in the West, the correctness of Christianity cannot be inferred from the traits of the minority who subscribe to it in Japan.
On the specific issue Richwine is right, Christianity is associated with higher socioeconomic status vis-a-vis non-Christianity across much of East Asia. You can go look in the WVS or Statistics Singapore. Though I do have to note that only in South Korea does there seem to be a positive correlation between theism and socioeconomic status (e.g., in Singapore those with no religion and Christians both have high SES and tend to be concentrated among young professional class Chinese, those with lower SES tend to be Muslims [Malays] and followers of Chinese folk religions). Additionally, in Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore it seems that Buddhism has reworked itself to mimic the aspects of Christianity which made it more appealing to middle-class professionals. This is a classic case of a new equilibrium being attained after the initial outside cultural “shock” of Christianity. Finally, in Japan Christians are basically a rounding error (a few percent at most), so the example of Korea, where they are 1/3 of the population is of more relevance.
But I was struck by a general implication from Richwine’s model. Two premises:
1) Elites, cognitive or otherwise, tend to deviate from the “default” norms of society for various reasons (it could be signalling costly behavior to show that they are “above” conventional considerations and such).
2) Eventually, the masses often emulate in the elites in subsequent generations.
The inference would be that cultural cycles should exhibit a pattern where the masses serve as lagging indicators of elite sensibilities. Once the masses start attempting to “catch up,” of course the elites have moved on. Empirically implausible? I’ll let readers dissect it.
Names frequency changes not always stochastic
Turns out some names do become popular because of celebrities. Though I guess in the “big picture” the names celebrities have is going to be random. (via Andrew Gelman)
Ruchira Paul has a post up, “Religious, superstitious, nonsense” and other harsh words. The point at issue is the fact that a teacher who expressed anti-Creationist views in harsh tones was sued. Ruchira asks somewhat rhetorically as to the sort of things parochial schools say about other religions and atheists. The bigger issue is one of public decorum, and decorum is very contextual. When my 7th grade teacher had us read Medea she explained a bit about the context of Greek society, including the nature of their religion. She spoke of “their gods” and “our God.” Her reference to “our God” was absolutely ecumenical, and in the most general of tones, while her reference to “their gods” was clinical and disrespectful. Disrespectful because she perceived Greek paganism to be superstitious, if interesting, nonsense, and said so (I agreed with her, but my own sentiments were a bit more catholic). Ludicrous on the face of it was her stance, which she made plain. There were no Greek pagans to protest.
The issue and dynamic are general. In the ancient world the Jews and Christians were considered atheistic because they denied the existence of all gods but their own.This was an offense to the pagan majority, who did not exhibit reciprocal disbelief. I have talked to Hindus who are hurt by the exclusive and atheistic stance by the Abrahamic religions about other gods (from the perspective of a non-Abrahamist much of the scriptures of those religions and the writings of their most respected divines are hate screeds). In any case, with the rise of Christianity to be called heathen or pagan was an offense, and the old gods became blasphemous demons (and naturally fundamentalist Christians are wont to identify Hindu deities such as Shiva with demonic figures in the Book of Revelation). When the Chinese encountered Christianity (again) in the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular its Catholic forms, the exact same accusations of cannibalism which were common in the ancient world reemerged. Outside of the proper cultural context, a plain explanation of transubstantiation seems more offensive than sacred.
One can expand the point outside of religion. In much of pre-modern Europe a bare breast was reputedly less sexually charged than exposed shoulders or legs. Sexuality is not totally culture variant, even societies where nudity is common have norms (e.g., notice that Amazonian women in the older National Geographic specials never squat). But there’s enough variation that software differs from society to society. The human mind operates on autopilot much of the time, and internalizes particular cues and contexts, and fires programs which come preloaded. When put into an exotic circumstance it takes some time to adjust, and when two individuals come together when there are cultural differences confusion can often ensue (immigrants may often never become totally acculturated).
Back to religion. In the World Values Survey there’s a question about how much you “Trust People Of Other Religions.” There are 4 responses, trust complete, trust a little, not trust very much, and not trust at all. I created an index of trust, whereby the above response were coded as 0, 1, 2 and 3. So if 100% in a country did not trust at all, the value would be 3. Below are the responses for nations in WVS wave 5. I’ve ordered them. You might be surprised.
The grandmothers effect, paternal or maternal matters (?)
I’ve discussed menopause as an adaptation and the grandmother effect before. I was also pleased to see the responses of Larry Moran’s readers when he presented his standard anti-adaptationist line of argument. I don’t want to retread familiar ground here, I’m not sure if menopause is an adaptation, but let’s assume so for the purposes of reviewing a new paper which has come out and offers a slight but fascinating twist on the grandmother hypothesis. Grandma plays favourites: X-chromosome relatedness and sex-specific childhood mortality:
Biologists use genetic relatedness between family members to explain the evolution of many behavioural and developmental traits in humans, including altruism, kin investment and longevity. Women’s post-menopausal longevity in particular is linked to genetic relatedness between family members. According to the ‘grandmother hypothesis’, post-menopausal women can increase their genetic contribution to future generations by increasing the survivorship of their grandchildren. While some demographic studies have found evidence for this, others have found little support for it. Here, we re-model the predictions of the grandmother hypothesis by examining the genetic relatedness between grandmothers and grandchildren. We use this new model to re-evaluate the grandmother effect in seven previously studied human populations. Boys and girls differ in the per cent of genes they share with maternal versus paternal grandmothers because of differences in X-chromosome inheritance. Here, we demonstrate a relationship between X-chromosome inheritance and grandchild mortality in the presence of a grandmother. With this sex-specific and X-chromosome approach to interpreting mortality rates, we provide a new perspective on the prevailing theory for the evolution of human female longevity. This approach yields more consistent support for the grandmother hypothesis, and has implications for the study of human evolution.