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.
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.
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….).
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?
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:
Given that this is conditional on admission, it implies that GRE is not currently overemphasized in biomedical https://t.co/odA3E8clFN
— Rogue WPA Staff (@GabrielRossman) June 9, 2017