Open Thread, 3/27/2016

1984-Big-BrotherTo me 1984 is really insightful not for its depiction of totalitarianism, but the way in which modern American democratic politics cynically re-imagine the past. I have always been intrigued by George H. W. Bush (and more broadly the politicians within the family) shifting from a pro-choice supporter of planned parenthood sympathetic to population control, to a conventional acolyte of New Right pro-life positions around 1980. Though some people bring this up occasionally, the reality is that there seems to be an agreement to act as if that past no longer exists (also, in the 1980s Jesse Jackson and Al Gore went from pro-life to pro-choice). Similarly, Hillary Clinton waited until 2013 to support gay marriage, after a decade opposing it. Privately I assume she supported gay marriage, but spoke against it for political expediency. When the winds had changed she shifted her public view, and now would no doubt condemn in visceral terms those who promoted a position that she herself held three years ago! A position held by most Democratic politicians in the aughts on cynical grounds of political necessity is now scourged by those same politicians as being beyond the pale.

51WPYFJQQmL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Got Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib after it was mentioned on Facebook. The more you know.

In The New York Times, Brussels Attacks Underscore Vulnerability of an Open European Society:

The cultural code of silence in the heavily immigrant district, as well as widespread distrust of already weak government authorities, has provided what amounts to a fifth column or forward base for the Islamic State.

This is in The New York Times. If Fox News said something like this the squealing about “Islamophobia” would never end. One thing that some have observed is that the terrorist networks in Belgium seem to be almost exclusively Moroccan, not Turkish. Also, there are many friends and family members involved. If you read Scott Atran’s work on terrorism these facts are not surprising. One of the most annoying things about Sam Harris’ New Atheism is that he talks as if the Koran magically transmutes normal people into ticking time bombs. The ethnographic data present a different picture, where Islamic terrorism takes root in tightly integrated social networks which exclude outsiders. As Peter Turchin says, a widening precipitation of the Islamic jihadi phenomenon was easy to predict as an outcome of the events of the past 15 years because of the historical-social premises of this civilization.

ThetippingpointThough overall I’m not a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, his book from 15 years ago, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, did describe a phenomenon which I think can shed some light on why Moroccan, but not Turkish, networks in Belgium are being sucked into the jihadi milieu. To some extent this is stochastic in terms of where the phenomenon begins, but once there is a large social network present to allow it to take off, then positive feedback loops kick in. There is a lot of talk about the causal factors for why some countries, such as Tunisia, send so many Muslims to fight for ISIS, while others, such as India, do not. There are some predictive variables here that are worth talking about, but some of it might just be random chance. But once participation in the Syria war on the side of ISIS becomes meritorious in one’s social network, then the dynamic might just feed back into itself if there are no dampening mechanisms.

Ethnic_composition_of_Muslim_AmericansWhich gets to one of the major reasons that American Muslims are probably underrepresented in international jihadi activity: they lack asabiyyah due to ethnic diversity. The chart to the left actually oversimplifies. Though South Asian Muslims share a lot culturally for example, there is definitely an “inner circle” of cohesion defined by Pakistanis and Urdu speakers from India into which Bengali or South Indian Muslims, for example, are not totally integrated. Converts for obvious reasons often create their own communities of affinity unless they marry into a family, while black Americans have a separate culture altogether. The ethnic diversity combines with economic diversity to fracture Muslim-American identity in a way that makes cultural complexes like that of Molenbeek, where underclass and working class Moroccan Muslims set the tone, or Tower Hamlets, where Bangladeshi Muslims from Sylhet set the tone, very rare. Even the town of Hamtramck, Michigan, where Muslims are demographically very notable in the aggregate, exhibits a lot of ethnic diversity within the religion. The importance of ethnic homogeneity as an amplifying effect can be seen in the Buffalo Six, who grew up in a tight-knit Yemeni-American community, or the “Minnesota men” who are routinely reported to have died fighting for the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab in Somalia, who come out of the Somali refugee community.

To not put too fine a point on it, I think the high frequency of snitching by American Muslims is a function of the low ethnic cohesion of the religion in the United States. This is one reason why arrival of refugee communities in toto is going to be a problem in Europe. Sweden, for example, has just imported a piece of Syria, not individual Syrians. Good luck with that.

I think it’s time for Twitter to admit that it is a specialized service and focus on its core constituency.

The Rise of Donald Trump. Important:

Many of Trump’s supporters are already convinced that mainstream America is against them. They believe, with justification, that they are mocked and ridiculed. And they are especially indignant that they are not allowed to voice their concerns about immigration, about Black Lives Matter, and about globalization and multiculturalism more broadly, without being called racists or bigots.

At minimum Trump will do better in the general elections than polls predict.

No evidence for extensive horizontal gene transfer in the genome of the tardigrade Hypsibius dujardini. “We show that the extensive horizontal transfer proposed by Boothby et al. was an artifact of a failure to eliminate contaminants from sequence data before assembly.” Oops!

Why won’t you pay to read? I’m lucky to have been paid to blog for many years (and thanks to Ron Unz in particular, obviously!). I’m also lucky that this is not, and has never been, my primary source of income. That gives me a lot of freedom to say whatever I want.

Speaking of which. “Disclosure notice,” I am joining Embark, a genomics firm which will focus on dogs for my “day job.” Also, I’m still finishing up my Ph.D., doing some consulting for Gene by Gene, and writing for publications now and then. On the last issue, please make sure to subscribe to my total feed, as I am pretty busy and might not remember to post stuff here as a link all the time. Here’s an article on what Embark aims to do: Doggie DNA startup wants to learn about human diseases from dog drool.

Researchers Find Fish That Walks the Way Land Vertebrates Do.

If you are interested, Support Gila monster research.

Also, I should be at the Evolution Meeting this June in Austin.

Millennial-scale faunal record reveals differential resilience of European large mammals to human impacts across the Holocene.

Adaptation in protein fitness landscapes is facilitated by indirect paths.

In Facebook’s Hometown, the First Responders Aren’t Local. One reason I’m leaving California is that it’s not really congenial for young families. I was talking to a friend whose family has been living in San Francisco for four generations, and we got to discussing real estate. Her family own houses because their roots are so deep in the region, and I told her it was critical to start building vertically if the area wanted newcomers to stay for the long haul. Her response was “but it would ruin the views.” My response was “views are why San Francisco is so expensive.” Basically if there was more vertical development allowed in the Bay area, as is common in an Asian city, then there’d be more housing supply. But regulatory, cultural, and contingent (i.e., stakeholders who dominate zoning boards and benefit from inflated rents and property values) make it almost impossible to change the situation in California.

It’s a great state, but if you are middle class, you had better be single, or dual-income-no-kids, or have deep roots in the state so you can inherit property your parents purchased when it was affordable to do so on less than $300,000 per year in income. Otherwise, come for your 20s if you are a professional, but move elsewhere to raise kids. Perhaps if you become wealthy you can move back to Carlsbad when you retire.

Biologists Have Learned Something Horrifying About Prairie Dogs. Vegetarians can be violent. Hitler was a vegetarian by the end of his life.

616wAHLvMaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda. Is anyone surprised he had a soft spot for the RPF? What exactly was he supposed to do? This gives me an opportunity to promote Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. Great book that everyone should read, especially in light of what’s going on in Syria now.

It turns out there are no saints, though there are many sinners. Too often today the past and present gets reduced to Manichaean caricatures, but there’s a reason that Manichaeanism is a recurrent feature of religion, but it tends to whither over time. It doesn’t engage with reality, and appeals just to our hopes and idealism.

This is an important paper: Genetic risk for autism spectrum disorders and neuropsychiatric variation in the general population.

Minding the Beeswax. Farmers and bees have a long history together.

PCASO has already been great for collaboration/data sharing:

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