Open Thread, 06/12/2017

Every now and then I check Kindle Daily Deals, and I saw the book The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. The author is a legitimate professor so I bought it even though the title seemed a little obnoxious (I was really disappointed with the nature of the scholarship in Emmett Scott’s Mohammed & Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy). The reality is it’s a touch too polemic for my taste, and the author makes a few errors outside of his knowledge domain (e.g., asserting that North Africa was Christian in the early 4th century when it probably wasn’t majority Christian until the late 4th century at the earliest). I haven’t read much of it so this is still an initial perception.

About 20 years ago I read Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History of al-Andalus, and remember it to be a good book. When I looked it up again I realized the author of the book is Hugh Kennedy, whose work I’ve enjoyed over the years. In particular, When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Greatest Dynasty and The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In. These are rather traditional narratives. If you want something which incorporates newer revisionist work, I would suggest In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire.

I’m not a big fan of Cookie Monster. I was watching Sesame Street with my kids recently, and it strikes me that Cookie is really unhealthy in his lifestyle.

The weaker sex? Science that shows women are stronger than men. The title is annoying. But 42 out of 43 110+ year olds are female. Kind of a bit deal.

Bret Weinstein has a Patreon. You probably know who is he is. Luckily he’s getting support. I’m sure he would appreciate more. Since the wrong people have defended his right to a livelihood the right people (in their own self-conception) are never really going to speak up for him (in fact, they might speak against him). The reality is that when some people want to put your family on the street (literally) you’re going to have to side with the people that are working to not leave you in destitution. That’s just how the world works.

Ultimately I think our society is going the way of Dutch Pillarisation (though I think the Dutch have abandoned this). Basically our professional and personal lives are going to be mediated by our socio-political tribes (and it won’t just be Left vs. Right). Too many people are getting fired or pressured over their politics or viewpoints. At some point large corporations and institutions need to just give up on the idea that they serve the whole public, and intellectuals need to concede that public reason is probably not possible.

Related to the above, Reza Aslan fired. He seems to be a major dick on Twitter. But what did that have to do with his show? (which seems dumb, but who cares?) There aren’t well developed social norms for this.

Finished Medieval Europe. I suspect most readers would prefer The Inheritance of Rome, though some might be up to Framing the Early Middle Ages.

For Wickham it’s about taxes. He’s a materialist and a Marxist. The most interesting fact from this book is given late: the infrastructure of roads and cities which were the legacy of the Roman Empire was not made irrelevant until the 18th century. That is, parts of Western Europe which were under Roman rule had a capital advantage which redounded to them down to the 1700s!

I see referrals to this website now and people make comments about me elsewhere (on reddit, in the comments of Unz, on blogs). Some are wondering about my recent pessimism and darkness of spirit. Because people are stupid or socially unintelligent or something they think they can infer something about my personal or professional circumstances from what I put on this website, no matter how many times I caution them not to do that. I’m pretty clear about separating aspects of my life (I’m not a lifestyle blogger…hot sauce blogging excepted).

What I will say is that I’m very happy at my job and have plenty of friends. My third child and second son is a delight.

The darkness you perceive in my soul is that I suspect that the liberal order, which encompasses politics as well as the intellectual world we’ve cherished since the 19th century, is collapsing around us. Just as the Chinese in 1790 or the Romans in 460 were not aware that their world was coming to an end, we continue to carry on as if all is as it was. I’m sort of at the phase between the death of Optimus Prime in the 1980s cartoon and the emergence of Rodimus. I’m not going to turn into a bald-faced liar or ignoramus like so many of the people in the media around us just yet though (you know who I’m talking about I’m sure). Old ways are hard to give up! God has died but his shadow haunts me.

Over the years I have been on several platforms. ScienceBlogs, Discover, and Unz. They all had their pluses and negatives. Since I was at all of them for years I can’t say that they were onerous experiences. But after all that, and where we are today, I am very wary about giving up my independence in the near future. Some of my friends ask why I didn’t start posting on Medium. Well, because Medium changes on Ev Williams’ whims. As it should. He’s not running a public utility. He’s bankrolling a business, a platform. People who pay for the platform get to call the shots.

And there are obvious benefits to being under an umbrella. You get more traffic, though this has never been a major concern of mine obviously (otherwise, I would blog more about certain things and less about others). Tech support though is a major thing that is best left to others, as I know from writing cron jobs that every sysadmin probably knows by heart to check on the server and database. But having the independence to do whatever you want is pretty important to me. Also, platforms can ultimately yank their latitude in terms of allowing you to express your opinion. That did not happen to me, but it might have.

At some point in the next ten years I believe Twitter will disappear from the internet. There will be a massive tweet-storm before that happens…but it won’t matter. Twitter exists to make money, and it’s not doing enough of that now.

In the 2000s there was a vision of blogging which emphasized disaggregation. Independence. We’ve lost something with consolidation. I hope that we can get that back, but for that to happen we need a new way to distribute information into independent nodes. Something as revolutionary as blogger was in its early days.

The Brown Pundits blog is back on WordPress (and its Twitter feed is working again). If you subscribe to my total feed (link upper right) or Twitter you know.

I tweeted the map to the left. It really blew up.

People kept asking me to do data analysis to explain this. Well, I don’t have time now. If it’s so interesting, perhaps someone else should?

Also, many people angrily asked why Kashmir was left out of the map. Many people are very stupid. There has been political unrest in Kashmir, so clearly they did not collect data (one woman demanded that people who want to remove Kashmir from India should be put in jail, OK….).

For half a century, neuroscientists thought they knew how memory worked. They were wrong.

Whenever someone get accused of racism (this time against Neil Degrasse Tyson) unfairly on science Twitter I get direct messages from people. They’re too afraid to point out the ridiculousness of it all in public. That’s fine. But this is why there is no way I’m going to say I’m liberal, because being liberal means being silent in the face of what you perceive to be bullying (the brave ones will “like” my tweets when I put in a mild objection to this behavior).

The figure to the left is from a review, Human Y-chromosome variation in the genome-sequencing era. The Y chromosomal bottleneck is something I’ve talked about. One hypothesis that I present is that the population crash and expansion was caused by strong intergroup competition fostered by adoption of nomadism. But I think I have to offer up another: could it be natural selection for some Y lineages?

Excited to read The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War.

How Nationalism Can Solve the Crisis of Islam and There is no such thing as western civilisation. These are two pieces which are filled with facts that I have seen tweeted by conservatives (mostly) and liberals (mostly) respectively. To not pull any punches the arrangement of facts is such that there’s a lot of bullshit being proffered in both pieces. It’s kind of frustrating, because the theses of the pieces may or may not be correct, but the erudition that is used to buttress the cases are really halfway to sophistry. But most pundits have no idea because they don’t know much outside their knowledge domain (they’re hedgehogs), so they just pass this along to other people.

In the near future I may actually annotate these sorts of op-eds so you can see where I object.

I have a short piece in Skeptic (print) titled “Is Race a Useful Concept?” Nothing too exciting, but I got a condescending email (via Michael Shermer) from an emeritus biologist who said there were “many errors” in the article, and he then proceeded to school me on mtDNA lineages in Africa. Oh, and he also implied that I assumed race = skin color. Part of the problem is it is really really difficult to translate some of the concepts of cutting edge human population genomics into normal English prose. That is one reason this weblog can be so impenetrable to casual readers…the easier it is to understand, the vaguer and less specific it is to those “in the know” (though the letter writer in question really isn’t up to date if he’s quoting mtDNA stuff, so I think it was an attempt to impress through his credentials and intimidate Shermer).

There is another piece I’m working on for a publication outside of the United States. It should be a little controversial, though not for American readers.

Sarah Haider on Sam Harris’ show. She mentions the fact that there are people who are Muslims in public who she has seen in the media who she knows for a fact are not privately Muslim.

Also, see Sarah defend free speech. She arrived in the country when she was eight years old, but she seems to have internalized the foundational liberal values of this country better than most on that panel. I met Sarah when she was traveling for work and we had some drinks. Sarah is the same person in real life as she is on panels and podcasts. She would have succeeded at whatever she put he mind to, but the task of being a spokesperson for ex-Muslims is really one that’s a tough lift. I wish her well.

Some of you may wonder at the assertion that the United States was founded as a liberal state. I didn’t truly understand until I read Jay Winik’s The Great Upheaval. The United States was a fundamentally radical experiment…though I think this century may be its last.

Speaking of books, long-time reader Marcel highly recommends Richard Haier’s The Neuroscience of Intelligence. So there you have it. He likes it better than Stuart Ritchie’s book.

So I made a comment on Twitter this week that the middle space between science journalism and papers and Twitter in terms of blogging is disappearing. I think that is causing a bit of a pipeline problem for “science communicators.”

GREs don’t predict grad school success. What does? If a university has a very well calibrated cut-off for GREs in relation to the applicants it accepts the GRE is not going to be predictive. This is partly a range restriction problem.

Gabe Rossman says it more precisely and clearly:

38 thoughts on “Open Thread, 06/12/2017

  1. My parent’s didn’t get a television set until I enrolled at university, so as not to distract me from my secondary school studies. So there I was aged 17 watching Sesame Street and developing a schoolboy crush on Maria the token Hispanic.

  2. “I’m not a big fan of Cookie Monster. I was watching Sesame Street with my kids recently, and it strikes me that Cookie is really unhealthy in his lifestyle.”

    Presumably, that’s why it’s a Monster.

    In similar vein of bad cookie example, the game Minecraft recently introduced parrots you could tame with chocolate cookies to get them to perch on your shoulders. They quickly backpedaled, because it turns out that parrots are far more sensitive to cocoa poisoning, and kids might be tempted to feed chocolate to their loved pets “since that’s how it works!”.

  3. Because people are stupid or socially unintelligent or something they think they can infer something about my personal or professional circumstances from what I put on this website, no matter how many times I caution them not to do that.

    This comes up frequently and I wish to disagree in part. I haven’t run afoul of this particular rule, yet, although I am sure I have violated the no stupid comments rule before. It seems that maybe having children has had a calming effect in that you hardly ever threaten to ban anyone. 🙂

    People are trying to evaluate the degree to which they can “trust” your work. It is difficult for some people to accomplish this just by reading what another person has written. It has to go back to inter-personal interactions and the evaluation of motives of the other person. I have always read your work in a straightforward expositive framework. I have never had the sense that you were trying to “sell” something or convince me of anything in particular. As far as I can tell, what you write is what you are thinking. I think that you are annoyed because people do not take you at your written word. In defense of some people, it is my opinion that it is more difficult for some to accomplish this.

  4. What I’ve read about Andulusia was that there was about a 100-year period that was somewhat tolerant and had the centers for knowledge and study. Before and after that, Iberia was a much less friendly place for scholarship and non-muslims living under muslim rule. Does the book noticeably differ from that?

    I’m going to take a stab at Framing the Early Middle Ages soon. Right now I’m reading Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers.

    Rise and Fall of American Growth seems right up my alley. I love economic history more than any other kind of historical writing.

    The United States was a fundamentally radical experiment…though I think this century may be its last.

    It could certainly be the last century of the 1789 Constitutional Regime. There’s a movement among legal scholars and some conservative writers to call for a Constitutional Convention, and that’s something I fully support. Although I think doing so might open the door for more serious changes – certainly that was true of the assembly that ultimately created the 1789 Constitution, and of the French Estates General being called.

  5. It seems that maybe having children has had a calming effect in that you hardly ever threaten to ban anyone.

    yeah, perhaps. but also i have less marginal time and don’t give people as much slack. i just trash their comment and/or ban them so people have less warning now than before. you just don’t see it. the threat to ban was explicitly an attempt to keep the commenters i had on a short leash (a signal to them to not assume i’d indulge). but now i feel like i have a reasonable following of people who know the ‘rules’ that that’s not necessary, and i have no strong urge or need to expand much beyond that set. leaving a blog platform with other blogs as well as my black-balling from the left means my reach will be modest indefinitely (though no surprise, lots of young conservatives in media apparently read me).

  6. I think that you are annoyed because people do not take you at your written word.

    yeah, basically. i generally flip out when people say “what you are trying to say” and they restate to frame their own response. i say what i say. also, i’m careful about what i omit and include because i want to say a specific thing at a specific moment in a specific context. also, sometimes people use quotations for their restatement as if i said it, and if control-f doesn’t work, i will pretty much immediately ban.

    after 15 years of doing this i now have a fair amount of experience and tacit knowledge/experience/skill.

    the issue usually crops up when someone jumps into the comments without reading me for a while. they bring their priors from other contexts, and that’s not always advised. e.g., there are a fair number of long-winded stuff i never post which waste a lot of the commenters time.

  7. i generally flip out when people say “what you are trying to say”

    Does what I said about the seeming inability of some people to evaluate based solely on the written word without having any inter-personal interaction to use in the evaluation skew their response? That is, they actually can’t stop themselves from thinking, “What exactly is he up to?”

  8. That is, they actually can’t stop themselves from thinking, “What exactly is he up to?”

    yes. sometimes it is really obvious what’s going on. i’ve had zionists accuse me of being an antisemitic crypto-muslim. and the net-nazis are really weird. won’t even get into it. but inferences from identity are easy to parry. what really bugs me are exegetical attempts. i take a fair amount of time being precise on fine points to be clear. when i’m vague it is often conscious because i’m not sure of something, or i don’t want to go down a particular analytic path.

  9. How long have you had your current pessimism?

    past few months. but the seeds were sown years ago. other people have told me that there’s no hope for years. i resisted. but the hound of hell kept calling, and now i am among the damned!

  10. Interestingly enough, while I missed it last week, I saw this Vox column this morning from Ezra Klein which runs very close to your own pessimism. The content will not be surprising to anyone who reads you, but Klein goes through how it appears politics has always been about tribalism, but in recent years other forms of tribalism have grown less salient than political self-identification. Most people identify as Republicans/Democrats first and foremost, because those parties have changed from being big-tent coalitions to identifiable national “brands.”

    It also makes me think back to nearly two decades ago, when I took a class on political theory entitled “Democracy and Difference.” The main thrust of the class was basically the question of if pluralism and democracy are actually compatible. There were some interesting side discussions our class got into – like do children’s “rights” to be exposed to the full measure of political debate within a nation trump the “right” of parents to mold the ideology of their children in their image. I don’t remember either the professor or the class as a whole coming to any sort of conclusion about the central contradiction however – how does a state achieve democratic consensus, or even legitimacy, when there is no shared understanding of the common good? Now that I’m two decades older, and much more cynical and pragmatic (although still as far left) the answer is very clear – it doesn’t.

  11. The reference to Andalusia and Arab nationalism reminds me to link to this study (pdf): The Impact of Holy Land Crusades on State Formation: War Mobilization, Trade Integration, and Political Development in Medieval Europe

    Alternative link at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/12/friday-assorted-links-91.html

    “Using an original data set of the geographic origins of elite crusaders, we find that areas with large numbers of Holy Land crusaders saw increased political stability, a higher probability of establishing parliamentary institutions, higher downstream levels of tax revenue, and greater urbanization, even after controlling for a number of possible confounders.”

    I was still slogging through Tyerman’s “God’s War” on Razib’s recommendation back in December when Tyler Cowen linked to this study. Browsing it today, its conclusions don’t seem surprising given that the Crusades required the raising of funds and a system of finance, protection of property rights to encourage volunteers to depart, and a cessation of hostilities btw/ Christian rulers. The analysis places the early formation of the modern state in 1100 CE.

  12. From the VOX article on political tribalism: “Today, however, the choice between the two parties is much, much clearer. You may not like Donald Trump, but you fear Hillary Clinton. As the parties diverge from each other ideologically and culturally, the other side becomes more of a threat — and that makes it easier to justify voting for your side, no matter who the nominee is…”

    Funny Thing is, the American Political Science Association in the 1950s implored the two parties to differentiate from each other in order to give voters a REAL choice, rather than the facade of choice. Well, they got their wish, and perhaps more than they bargained for.

  13. In some ways I’m kind of glad I’ve fallen out of the white collar world.

    From your reports of what you’ve had to deal with, as well as the massive behavioral and cognitive dissonance that it seems the media and academic public intelligentsia have to evince daily in our 24/7 social media/reality television milieu, it sounds like it’s a real headache to constantly have to not only maintain a public persona in the traditional settings where they were needed, but in one’s own private sphere. The saying “the personal is the political” has been around for awhile, but it’s never been truer, and it seems like a lot of people are just making themselves miserable for little real benefit.

    You say you think Twitter is going to collapse in ten years. I’d actually take it a bit further. While social media is always going to be with us in some form now, I think it’s not really psychologically sustainable in it’s current form. Digital networks will contract to resemble extended real world networks, large “public” figures will have completely PR managed feeds, and minor figures will return to more sporadic and measured forms of public address. None of this sort of endless need for transparency of the minutia of our lives and our thoughts for public dissection and scrutiny.

    In fact, I’d put money on the next big social network platform to be the one that figures out that perfect balance of public and private in a manner that mimics real world spheres in the behind the scenes algorithms, since this sort of thing isn’t something that’s really consciously managed on our part.

  14. From Wiki:

    French historians traditionally place the Enlightenment between 1715, the year that Louis XIV died, and 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution. Some recent historians begin the period in the 1620s, with the start of the scientific revolution. Les philosophes (French for ‘the philosophers’) of the period widely circulated their ideas through meetings at scientific academies, Masonic lodges, literary salons, coffee houses, and printed books and pamphlets. The ideas of the Enlightenment undermined the authority of the monarchy and the Church, and paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. A variety of 19th-century movements, including liberalism and neo-classicism, trace their intellectual heritage back to the Enlightenment.[7]

    If this is the beginning of the end, Razib, where do you place the beginning?

  15. As Peter Turchin and, recently, Greg Cochran have argued, elites get very loopy very fast if they don’t have to worry about keeping their heads on their shoulders. Jon Haidt has also pointed out that the fall of the Soviet Union was a blow to unifying principles in American society. Our time of grace seems to have run out. If the West still had a monopoly on science and an elaborate form of civilization, I would agree that all is lost.

    But the Chinese and other Asians are now wealthy or rapidly developing, and they do not share the West’s taboos and foibles–and we do not share all of theirs. East Asia–or rather, its influence–is the only source of hope I have left. It will force American and European political movements to move, kicking and screaming, out of the mid-twentieth century. However venal our betters may be, they at least have a horror of being left behind.

  16. not going to lie, i share much of your sinophilia, despite being western (yes, yes, net-nazi i lack your race memory, fine dipshit). my daughter will be learning to speak and write in chinese as she begins school. this both for reasons of utility, and, because ultimately i think chinese civilization and culture may survive the coming oligarchic nihilism better than the west. our race’s hope may be on the western pacific rim while barbarians rummage through the ruins of our splendid 20th century architecture.

  17. Razib,

    “because ultimately i think chinese civilization and culture may survive the coming oligarchic nihilism better than the west. our race’s hope may be on the western pacific rim while barbarians rummage through the ruins of our splendid 20th century architecture.”
    You do know that many of China’s top echelons, especially their families, think in this manner as well, but choose to emigrate/offshore their wealth and families to the U.S. instead?

  18. “could it be natural selection for some Y lineages?”

    This is probably impossible to sort out, but it seems completely unlikely. There just isn’t that much revolutionary gene action on the Y.

    If anything, a few Y chromosomes were in some specific men at the right time and right place to hitchhike along with some autosomal genes that were strongly positively selected in males when a new lifestyle emerged.

  19. But if you look closely you’ll notice that Cookie Monster *is not actually eating those cookies.* It’s all an act! (Source: my parents are friends with Big Bird’s ex-wife)

  20. You do know that many of China’s top echelons, especially their families, think in this manner as well, but choose to emigrate/offshore their wealth and families to the U.S. instead?

    i hope the outer corruption does not mask the inner corruption.

  21. “not going to lie, i share much of your sinophilia,”

    To be clear, it is China’s presence on the world stage and scientific endeavors that I am pleased about, not China itself. I teach Chinese students and am frequently struck by their stories about the backwardness and harshness of the place, especially as concerns the legal system. They probably have as much insanity as we do. But the point is that their brand of nuttiness is not congruent with that of the West, so it’s possible–and may become necessary–to learn from them. The possibility of real intergroup competition, like that which drove 500 years of Western development, is back, and that’s what matters.

  22. I think David has made the first ever public attempt at modelling South Central Asians/South Asians using qpGraph.

    http://eurogenes.blogspot.com/2017/06/qpgraph-models-for-kalash-yamnaya-maybe.html

    General finding:

    Basically, the Kalasha are 45% Steppe_EMBA + 45% Iran_Neolithic + 10% ASI

    At the end of the day, I’d say that this model will turn out to be exceedingly close to the reality of things.

    Also, an interesting detail:

    It seems that Pashtuns and other East Iranians prefer Steppe_MLBA (with Pashtuns at 10% ASI, and the Ishkashimi speakers at 6% ASI).

  23. “At some point in the next ten years I believe Twitter will disappear from the internet. ”

    And so I pray, and speedily, and in our day.

  24. Roger – after my time. I had outgrown Sesame Street by the time I hit 18 (and realised I had a major problem with time management that was going to bring my engineering studies to a rapid and fatal end unless I got a grip real quick).

    Enjoyed the clip, though – thanks.

  25. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise.

    Maybe it was a myth, maybe it wasn’t, but, from my own personal experience, I found the Andalusian architecture utterly intoxicating. The only other place in the world where I found the architecture just as, or perhaps even more, intoxicating was the Old City of Jerusalem (as grimy and slobbery as it was), e.g. the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: https://www.itraveljerusalem.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/atr-olc-crd-the-golgota-church-of-the-holy-sepulchre-noam-chen.jpg

    By the way, I’ve now spoken to several people of Northwestern European ancestry who tried 23andme and got a very small amount of c. 0.2% of Yakut ancestry. What’s that all about?

  26. By the way, I’ve now spoken to several people of Northwestern European ancestry who tried 23andme and got a very small amount of c. 0.2% of Yakut ancestry. What’s that all about?

    Finns have a few percent of recent (~2,000 years ago?) of Siberian ancestry. This percolates into nearby populations.

  27. paige identifies as a woman 🙂 so she. and yeah she sent me a copy of that. we had dinner a few days ago and it is hard to write this stuff for an MSM outfit…

  28. Finns have a few percent of recent (~2,000 years ago?) of Siberian ancestry. This percolates into nearby populations.

    Thanks. I read that elsewhere too. My follow-up questions would be:
    1. But why specifically “Yakut”? And,
    2. What historical migration do you think introduced the Siberian ancestry among the Finns?

  29. 1. But why specifically “Yakut”? And,

    they’re the closest to siberian in the HGDP data set that 23andMe uses. i mean, yakutia IS in siberia.

    as for your second question, no one has a good idea….

  30. Commentator,

    The most interesting part of David’s analysis to me is his discovery that if you break up the presumed ancestry of South Asians into a “Iran-Neolithic-like” and steppe component, it decreases the presumed ASI ancestry considerably. It may well be that the proportion of hunter-gatherer ancestry in South Asia isn’t really inflated much at all when compared to Europe.

    Razib,

    *facepalm*

    Also, isn’t Yakut kind of a crappy proxy to use for Siberian? IIRC they have some West Eurasian admixture (10%-20%, right?), which makes sense, given they are an intrusive Turkic population.

  31. Karl,

    I think you hit the nail right on the head.

    As David notes:

    “That’s probably because the ANI/ASI model assumes wrongly that ANI is a single stream of ancestry, and forces it to look more southern, and thus basal, than it really is. As a result, ASI is inflated, because the non-basal ancestry that the Kalash have still has to go somewhere.”

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=4123559132014627431&postID=8942782010198899559&isPopup=true

    This, in a nutshell, explains why the old Reich et al. estimates of “ASI” were so inflated.

    For what it’s worth, based on results I’ve obtained using the nMonte methodology in conjunction with PCA data, I think some clear patterns emerge (when it comes to the distribution of ASI ancestry).

    If you want, I can post some examples?

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