Thursday, July 21, 2016

In the Beginning was the Word

"In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God."  I wonder what Chomsky and Berwick think about this.  Of course John lived a mere 2000 years ago more or less and any legends of the beginning would have been old.  But Genesis written much earlier is also concerned about language.  God's method of creation was to speak words.  Later in Exodus God speaks to Moses and tells him to go to the Egyptians and rescue the Israelites.  Moses asks God "if the people ask who sent me, what shall he answer?"  "God said to Moses, 'I am who I am.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" 

Was this emphasis upon "the word" as a means of creation and later another name for Jesus faddish, that is, a popular word at the time and nothing more, or did it have some deeper significance, some mythic emphasis that theologians can only speculate about?  It was believed in those days or in earlier days that to have person's name was to have power over him.

But faddish words have existed and continue to exist.  Here is something from pages 47 and 48 of Carl Becker's The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers  (first given as a lecture at Yale in 1931 and then published in 1932)"If we would discover the little backstairs' door that for any age serves as the secret entrance-way to knowledge, we will do well to look for certain unobtrusive words with uncertain meanings that are permitted to slip off the tongue or the pen without fear and without research; words which, having from constant repetition lost their metaphorical significance, are unconsciously mistaken for objective realities. In the thirteenth century the key words would no doubt be God, sin, grace, salvation, heaven, and the like; in the nineteenth century, matter, fact, matter-of-fact, evolution, progress; in the twentieth century, relativity, process, adjustment, function, complex.  In the eighteenth century the words without which no enlightened person could reach a restful conclusion were nature, natural law, first cause, reason, sentiment, humanity, perfectibility (these last three being necessary only for the tender-minded, perhaps).

"In each age these magic words have their entrances and their exits.  And how unobtrusively they come in and go out!  We should scarcely be aware either of their approach or their departure, except for a slight feeling of discomfort, a shy self-consciousness in the use of them.  The word 'progress' has long been in good standing, but just now we are beginning to feel, in introducing it into the highest circles, the need of easing it in with quotation marks, that conventional apology that will save all our faces.  Words of more ancient lineage trouble us more.  Did not president Wilson, during the war, embarrass us not a little by appearing in public on such familiar terms with 'humanity,' by the frank avowal of his love for 'mankind'?  As for God, sin, grace, salvation -- the introduction of these ghosts form the dead past we regard as inexcusable, so completely do their unfamiliar presences put us out of countenance, so effectively do they, even under the most favorable circumstances, cramp our style."

The Berwick-Chomsky project

Some comments were made but they don't seem to relate well to the Berwick-Chomsky project in this book -- my fault by being misleading no doubt.   The various arguments that deal with the evolution of language are listed from Szamadoo and Szathmary (2006) -- alternate theories that explain the emergence of human language; "these include: (1) language as gossip; (2) language as social grooming; (3) language as outgrowth of hunting cooperation; (4) language as outcome of 'motherese'; (5) sexual selection; (6) language as requirement of exchanging status information; (7) language as song; ) language as requirement for toolmaking or outcome of toolmaking; (9) language as outgrowth of gestural systems; (10 language as Machiavellian device for deception; and , finally, (11) language as 'internal mental tool.'"

"Note" Berwick and Chomsky explain in the subsequent paragraph "that only this last theory, language as internal mental tool, does not assume, explicitly or implicitly, that the primary function of language is for external communication.  But this leads to a kind of adaptive paradox, since animal signaling ought to then suffice -- the same problem that Wallace pointed out.  Szamado and Szathmary (2006, 679) note: 'Most of the theories do not consider the kind of selective forces that could encourage the use of conventional communication in a given context instead of the use of 'traditional' animal signals. . . . Thus, there is no theory that convincingly demonstrates a situation that would require a complex means of symbolic communication rather than the existing simpler communication systems.'  They further note that the language-as-mental-tool theory does not suffer from this defect.  However, they, like most researchers in this area, do not seem to draw the obvious inference but instead maintain a focus on externalization and communication."

The above is from pages 80-81 of Why Only Us, Language and Evolution.  "Language as internal mental tool" rang true in my case so I had no problem rejecting earlier views.  This doesn't mean that I don't use language as communication or that I do things without thinking -- I know I do.  I do more things by rote than I ought to.  But if I want to think about something, something I'm reading, something I'm writing, a difficult concept I'm wrestling with, a poem, then language is for me a mental tool.

But Berwick and Chomsky have something more fundamental in mind.  They believe that the use of language "evolved" sometime before 80,000 years ago as an internal mental tool.  They imply that most scientists would stick to one of the other 10 or so theories to explain the emergence of human language; so perhaps I have introduced something controversial after all.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Anarchist

    There were a few hints,
    Not enough for a warrant,
    But we knew who he was,
    Career agitator we all knew.
    We knew him, he figured
    The law didn’t apply to him,
    Figured it was a shameful

    Thing.  We say break one
    Law and you break them all –
    He has sinned and fallen short
    We’ll watch him when we
    Can, his goings in and
    Comings out and catch him
    In our time.  He’ll repeat

    His crime, walking his dark
    Path amidst owl and death
    Cries, where wind rustles
    License plates and stop signs.
    His malinois rushes drunks.
    Aliens fear him.  He’ll fear
    Us before we’re done.

    We’ll find his haunt.  He
    Won’t escape our strong
    Arm.  He would banish
    Us if he could and then
    He’d be the one out there
    With his dog making
    Laws, watching you.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Heinson's Northern Alliance proposal

In the above article Gunnar Heinsohn of Bremen, is proposing a northern alliance of the U.K., Ireland, Flanders, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Estonia, along with the German states of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg.  I much more idly thought of the U.K. in a looser alliance with the U.S. Canada, Australia and New Zealand.   But Heinsohn's proposal has the advantage of proximity.  Also, if the UK were in an alliance with the U.S. it would be the (relatively) poor relation, but in Heinsohn's Northern Alliance the UK would be the strongest member. 

I was also interested in Heinsohn's comment, ". . . no one would accuse Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein’s 4.5 million Germans of heading back into a dark and dangerous past. With independence from Germany, they would be a minority within a larger federation, with no nationalist ambitions. They could pursue their dreams of economic success and prosperity without being shamed or slandered by the nomenklatura who rule in Brussels. Though historical comparisons have their limits, one can’t help but think of the ethnically German Baltic cities of Danzig, Elbing, and Thorn that, in 1454—and for nearly 350 years thereafter—took shelter under the crown of the Polish-Lithuanian Rzeczpospolita to escape the exploitation and violence of  their compatriots, the Teutonic Knights."

I've been reading Steven Ozment's A Mighty Fortress, A New History of the German People.  Ozment remarks in his introduction, ". . . there is a popular opinion, even within Germany, which appears to believe that Germans have always been cryptofascists, if only the surface of their history is scratched deeply enough."

In another article Boris Johnson was criticized for, among other things, saying "the EU was an attempt by other means to unify Europe in a manner attempted by Adolf Hitler."

Monday, July 11, 2016


    He claimed innocence – what
    You’d expect.  They all do.
    Over time we broke him down,
    Working out, dressing up
    So she’d notice – careful
    With what he said, opening her
    Door, carrying her groceries
    From the store.  There was
    More, reams of it – bugs
    Had been placed at his place
    Of work, his house and car.
    No one actually saw him
    Do it.  It took place over
    Such a long period of time.

    He looked much different
    At the end, bent over with
    Concern, tremors in both
    Hands, rheumy eyes, no
    Disguising his guilt then.
    “Where is she now,” we
    Demanded?  And he just wept.

The Wheel

    Several in the course of time
    Have reminded me I’m bound
    To this wheel.  I’ve slipped
    Loose however, a bit adrift,
    Gentle and well-meaning
    They are yet alien in

    Understanding.  They say
    I need to reconsider our
    Assumptions, this wheel,
    And redefine my place.  An
    Outlier, close enough to
    Hear its rumble, but not to
    Grasp it with a firm hand

    As it turns, as people die?
    Old now – all of us.  How can
    I fault the others for not
    Understanding, comprehension
    Slippery in our loosening grasp?
    Tread wears and we are
    All surprised to see it go

Friday, July 8, 2016

Nicholas Wade vs David Dobbs

I just finished Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance, Genes, Race and Human History.   I then reread David Dobbs article.  Dobbs does appear to have read much of Wade's book, but he obviously did so with great distaste and animosity.  I on the other hand read it with "almost"* no ax to grind and found Wade's book carefully written, reasonable and logical. 

Wade does indeed argue that political concerns about race have gotten in the way of a free and open discussion about natural selection working in the past 15,000 years.  A prejudice that has affected much scientific work is that natural selection works so slowly that there has been no significant evolutionary change in man for the past 50,000 years.  Wade poses some interesting questions regarding that assumption.  Why did man who had been a hunter-gatherer for 185,000 years suddenly decide to become a farmer?  There is indeed no "evidence" (something Dobbs thinks Wade should provide) that there was an evolutionary change that made man amenable to farming, but is Wade really irresponsible for asking us to consider the possibility that natural selection was at work prior to 15,000 in order to enable man to successfully farm?  Farming (who would disagree?) has an evolutionary advantage over hunting and gathering; so why not be open to the idea that natural selection smoothed the way.   One known fact in this regard is that lactose tolerance enabled farmers to drink the milk of herd animals.  This is one example of natural selection enabling man to do well in a farming situation.  Mightn't there be other ways not yet discovered?  It doesn't seem outrageous to believe that there might be.

Consider one of Dobbs accusations:  "And despite his protests to the contrary, Wade often sounds as if he sees the rise of the West as a sort of stable endpoint of human history and evolution -- as if, having considered 5,000 years in which history has successively blessed the Middle East, the Far East and the Ottoman Empire, he observes the West's current run of glory and thinks the pendulum has stilled."

Here are Wade's words which say something rather different:  "Western civilization was certainly expansionary, but after a comparatively brief colonial phase it has refocused on the trade and productive investment that drove its expansion in the first place.  It seems a fortunate outcome that the world's dominant military power has turned out to be the West, with a system of international trade and law that offers benefits to all participants, and not a purely predatory and militaristic state like that of the Mongols or Ottomans, as might have been expected, or even a civilized but autocratic one like that of China.

"The West was more exploratory and innovative than other civilizations in 1500 and it is the same way now.  Neither Japan nor China has yet seriously challenged the West's preeminence in science and technology despite ample investments and a large body of educated and capable scientists.  Well-performing institutions don't guarantee the west's permanent dominance but East Asian societies seem too authoritarian and conformist, despite the high abilities of their citizens, to challenge the innovation of the West, a fact implicitly acknowledged in the Chinese state's intense efforts to steal Western technical and commercial secrets. [p. 247]

[this much sounds as though it might support a Dobbs belittling interpretation, but Wade goes on.]

 "But the success of the West, even if long lasting, is necessarily provisional.  The framework of social behavior at the root of the West's critical institutions may be frailer than it seems and vulnerable to being overwhelmed by adverse cultural forces such as political stasis, class warfare or a failure of social cohesion.  Western societies are well adapted to present economic conditions, which they have in large measure created.  In different conditions, the West's advantage might disappear.  If the present climatic regime should change substantially, for instance in the global cooling that will precede the inevitable onset of the next ice age, more authoritarian societies like those of East Asia could be better positioned to endure harsh stresses.  By evolution's criterion of success, East Asians are already the most successful human population: the Han Chinese are the world's most numerous ethnic group.  By another biological criterion, the population of Africa is the most important, since it harbors the most genetic diversity and hence a larger share of the human genetic patrimony than any other race." [p. 247-]

Not only is Wade not suggesting that the "pendulum" has stopped, but he states that the West's preeminence is tenuous.  Earlier he notes that the East Asians, China, Japan, and Korea, score higher in intelligence tests than those in the West .  In another place he discusses the Ashkenazi Jews and how their higher intelligence enabled the best of them to achieve great things in many fields.  If the Chinese for example with their higher levels of intelligence were to open their society in the way the West has, they might rush ahead of the U.S. and the West in a few generations.  But all the East Asian nations have social constructs that inhibit scientific freedom.

*    Perhaps it was Wade, I'm not sure, but someone wrote that advances (in a field I can't recall) occur funeral by funeral.  The force of academic authorities prevent the advance of theories and the publishing of books that contradict their prejudices.  The inhibiting of that freedom in the U.S. through peer and and academic authoritarian pressure seems to be occurring in the animosity being applied to Wade's book (and Wade personally)

 This  reminds me of Inventing the Middle Ages by Norman Cantor:  One of Cantor's sections describes the Mandarins.  Cantor writes, "In every country a small group of senior professors (between two and ten people) at leading universities hold a disproportionate power within a given discipline, whether it is physics, psychology, literary criticism, art history, or medieval studies.  They have unimpeachable and usually unchallenged prestige, and their books are universally praised in the established academic journals, on whose editorial boards they sit.  They attract usually the brightest, the best-prepared, the most ambitious, and the most industrious graduate students and so train the academic stars of the younger generation who follow their ideas and interpretations unless Oedipal rebellion or a cultural revolution or a social earthquake (for example, the Great Depression of the 1930s) intervenes.  This small cohort establish a feudal network of job placements, in which those senior professors insert their students, who, because they are selectively so bright and hardworking, probably deserve the jobs anyway strictly on a merit basis. . . . This feudal system is the basic sociology of power of the academic profession in every Western country.  In France these academic power brokers are called mandarins. . . ."

 A student or writer no matter how bright or worthy will suffer if he offers an opinion counter to that of his mandarin.  Wade doesn't put his concern in Cantor's terms but probably wouldn't disagree with Cantor.  What he does say is,

"The idea that human behavior has a genetic basis has long been resisted by those who see the mind as a blank slate on which only culture can write.  The blank slate notion has been particularly attractive to Marxists, who wish government to mold socialist man in its desired image and who see genetics as an impediment to the power of the state.  Marxist academics led the attack on Edward O. Wilson when he proposed in his 1975 book Sociobiology that social behaviors such as conformity and morality had a genetic basis.  Wilson even suggested that genes might have some influence 'in the behavioral qualities that underlie variations between cultures.'" [p59]


"Yet the idea that there could be meaningful genetic differences between human groups is fiercely resisted by many researchers.  They cling to the idea that the mind is a blank slate on which only culture, not genetics, can write, and dismiss the possibility that evolution could have effected any recent change in the human mind.  They reject the proposal that any human behavior, let alone intelligence, has a genetic basis.  They make accusations of racism against anyone who suggests that cognitive capacities might differ between human population groups.  All these positions are shaped by leftist and Marxist political dogma, not by science.  Nonetheless, most scholars will enter this territory from lively fear of being demonized by their fellow academics.  [p200]


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Jessica still lives

Neither Ben nor Duffy nor I have killed Jessica in self-defense. We have all dealt with her little teeth, her frenetic biting, her daunting energy, and perhaps our barking, snarling, snapping, yelling and actually hands and teeth on chastisement have slowly had an effect.  On the other hand it may just be that she is a bit older. -- 13 1/2 weeks.

Two milestones occurred today.  She is now able to jump up on the couches where Duffy has hitherto gone to be away from her.  I looked down from the stairway landing and there she was lying there on one of them, her crossed, paws dangling over the edge of one of the cushions, looking regal and proud of herself.  The second milestone is that she came up to me while typing (I was doing the typing not her) and stuck her head up through my legs for petting.  I've managed to pet her several times today with out a hint of teeth (from her not me).

The weather and Jessica have kept us away from hikes for several days.  So instead we have been spending more time in the backyard.  It isn't a very big yard as yards go.  Ben can't get up to speed in it.  Duffy can and has chased around madly with Jessica in pursuit.  He at six is still very fast, much faster than she is at this point.  On occasion Jessica has chased about on her own.  She did that this morning: out along side the fruit trees, quick turn,  back alongside Ben into the garage, back out again and repeat -- doing laps that include a quick turn at both ends, eight or ten while we stood there watching her.

For some time now her favorite place to nap when I am at my desk is under it.  I have accidentally run over some part of her (since her ears don't seem deformed I'm guessing it has been on a paw) with a chair wheel countless times.  Pain apparently doesn't teach her anything because it is still her favorite spot.  It has taught me something and most often I look down to see where she is before moving my chair about -- I'm getting better but I still occasionally forget.

Her favorite playmate has become Duffy.  Duffy will still snap and snarl at her if he is in my lap and she tugs at the blanket, but when both are on the floor they will play for long periods of time.  But today Ben took his turn. At one point she ran around him cleverly and then leaped up toward his head.  Her whole head went into his mouth.  Fortunately he didn't bite down.  He is so unbelievably gentle with her - a perfect Ridgeback.  Duffy too is a perfect dog.   I knew that, and that I ought to be thankful and content, but then I had to get Jessica.  More than once I asked myself, "what have you done"?  But we all three keep assuming that this next time she will be sweet and gentle, and are been rewarded a little bit this week for our patience.

Dobbs attacks Wade some more

Here is the next paragraph in Dobbs criticism of Wade:

"Wade builds much of his case around historical ideas like Gregory Clark’s hypothesis about English breeding; the political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s notion that Western democracies represent a high point in the evolution of social institutions; and the economic historian Niall Ferguson’s view that the West “succeeded because it was an open society.” These values and institutions, Wade says, were both shaped by and drove the evolution of Caucasian genes."

Here is what Wade actually writes:  ". . . each race has developed the institutions appropriate to secure survival in its particular environment.  This, then, is the most significant feature of human races: not that their members differ much as individuals -- they don't -- but that their society's institutions differ because of slight differences in social behavior.

"A landmark analysis of human history in terms of social institutions has recently been written by the political scientist Francis Fukuyama.  Fukuyama has nothing to say about race but his thesis, describing how each of the major civilizations adapted its institutions to its local geography and historical circumstances, provides a road map of human social adaptation and the different paths taken by each civilization. 

"Fukuyama's premise, like that of North quoted above, is that institutions are rooted in human social behavior.  'The recovery of human nature by modern biology . . . is extremely important as a foundation for any theory of political development, because it provides us with the basic building blocks by which we can understand the later evolution of human institutions,' he writes."

Wade's discussion of Fukuyama's applicable ideas seem logical and benign to me.  Fukuyama's ideas as quoted are consistent with ideas of natural selection.  I don't read Wade as "conjecturing" so much as drawing attention to a parallel between social and physical science.  I have encountered other writers doing this sort of thing, Bryan Sykes for example in The Seven Daughters of Eve, subtitled "The Science that Reveals our Genetic Ancestry," who makes use of anthropology, history and archaeology.

I've watched National Geographic-type documentaries where someone is showing life evolving, shaped by its environment.  It seems a bit excessive to criticize Wade for doing something similar.

Dobbs attacks Wade

Considering the following review by David Dobb of Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance.  Dobbs first paragraph reads,

Now, in “A Troublesome Inheritance,” Nicholas Wade, a longtime science writer for The New York Times, says modern genetics shows that “the three major races,” Africans, Caucasians and East Asians, are genetically distinct races that diverge much as subspecies do, and that their genetic differences underlie “the rise of the West.”

[This is mostly true although Wade doesn't say the races are subspecies.  He says that if the percentage of genetic distinctions that are found distinguishing the "five" races were found in other species, they would be considered subspecies.]

Dobbs second paragraph reads, "This racial divide started, Wade says, when humans began migrating out of Africa some 50,000 years ago. As groups entered diverse environments, they faced differing pressures that selected for gene variants creating different traits, including dissimilar social behaviors. Genetic selection for distinctive physical traits in different populations, such as lighter skin to maximize sunlight absorption, is well established and widely accepted. Decidedly not well established, however, is Wade’s proposal that genetic selection gives different human populations distinct behaviors. Because this is the heart of his argument, and because social behavior is far more complex than, say, skin color, it seems fair to ask that his evidence clear a high bar. Does it?"

[This is not a fair representation of Wade's argument.  He describes natural selection favoring man's ability to adapt to different physical environments.  This doesn't go beyond the obvious.  Eskimos living in cold climates adapted genetically to them but because of the harsh physical conditions the Eskimos never developed cities or the cultural benefits associated with cities.  The same is true of the hunter-gatherers of Australia.  Physical conditions did favor genetic adaptations to the more benign physical conditions north of the Sahara in Europe and China, the Caucasian and East Asian "races."

I should read further in Wade's book before commenting further on Dobbs criticisms, but in regard to Wade's distinguishing between the three major races institutions, he writes "Chinese society differs profoundly from European society, and both are entirely unlike a tribal African society.  How can three societies differ so greatly when their members, beneath all the differences of dress and skin color, resemble one another so closely in terms of the set of behaviors that comprise human nature?  The reason is that the three societies differ greatly in their institutions, the organized patterns of behavior that structure a society, equip it to survive in its environment and enable it to compete with neighboring groups." 

[Dobbs gives the impression that Wade is sort of winging it and bringing in non-genetic results to bolster wild claims, but if one reads the paragraph above we see Wade sticking closely to the ideas of Natural Selection.  Genetic mutations that enhance a groups ability to live in a particular environment will grow more prominent in a population over time.  We can see that the five races do live in different environments; so what genetic differences have been discovered that enhance the five races' ability to adapt to their peculiar environments?  I expect Wade to discuss them as I read on.]

100 "experts" attack Wade

Consider the major "argument"  in  The argument therein is signed by 100 experts and consists of

"there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures”  The bulk of Wade's book however is not conjecture but reporting the results of recent genetic studies. Wade is after all a scientific reporter.  There are places in Wade's book when he does "conjecture."  In those places he admits that he is going beyond current science.  Thus to say that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade's conjectures is a mere repetition of what Wade has written.  If on the other hand there is an intended implication that Wades scientific reporting also has no support, that strikes me as irresponsible and causes me to suspect that those involved in such a  sweeping statement haven't read Wade's book.


conflicting views of Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance

Take the "Warrior gene" for example, MAO-A.  Wade's comments about it do little more than recognize that its violence prone version is being weeded out by natural selection because it conflicts with people living peacefully in cities, or as he says later on with our "self-domestication".

The following is from the wikipedia article.  It provides far more information than the mere reference I've run across so far in Wade's book but it doesn't disagree with Wade.   Wade as far as I can tell is a knowledgeable reporter working for the New York Times.  He seems antithetic to those who try to use genetics for political purposes. 

Aggression and the "Warrior gene"

A version of the monoamine oxidase-A gene has been popularly referred to as the warrior gene.[27] Several different versions of the gene are found in different individuals, although a functional gene is present in most humans (with the exception of a few individuals with Brunner syndrome).[28] In the variant, the allele associated with behavioural traits is shorter (30 bases) and may produce less MAO-A enzyme.[29] This gene variation is in a regulatory promoter region about 1000 bases from the start of the region that encodes the MAO-A enzyme.
Studies have found differences in the frequency distribution of variants of the MAOA gene between ethnic groups:[29][30] of the participants, 59% of Black men, 54% of Chinese men, 56% of Maori men, and 34% of Caucasian men carried the 3R allele, while 5.5% of Black men, 0.1% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men carried the 2R allele.[20][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37]
In individuals with the low activity MAOA gene, when faced with social exclusion or ostracism showed higher levels of aggression than individuals with the high activity MAOA gene.[38] Low activity MAO-A could significantly predict aggressive behaviour in a high provocation situation, but was less associated with aggression in a low provocation situation. Individuals with the low activity variant of the MAOA gene were just as likely as participants with the high activity variant to retaliate when the loss was small. However, they were more likely to retaliate and with greater force when the loss was large.[39]
“Monoamine oxidases (MAOs) are enzymes that are involved in the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine and are, therefore, capable of influencing feelings, mood, and behaviour of individuals”.[40] According to this, if there was a mutation to the gene that is involved in the process of promoting or inhibiting MAO enzymes, it could affect a person’s personality or behaviour and could therefore make them more prone to aggression. A deficiency in the MAOA gene has shown higher levels of aggression in males, which could further stimulate more research into this controversial topic. “A deficiency in monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) has been shown to be associated with aggressive behaviour in men of a Dutch family”.[41]
Here are some reviews with favorable opinions about Wade's book:

Charles Murray, Wall Street Journal:
“[A Troublesome Inheritance] is a delight to read—conversational and lucid. And it will trigger an intellectual explosion the likes of which we haven't seen for a few decades.”l

Ashutosh Jogalekar, Scientific American:
“Extremely well-researched, thoughtfully written and objectively argued…. The real lesson of the book should not be lost on us: A scientific topic cannot be declared off limits or whitewashed because its findings can be socially or politically incendiary…. Ultimately Wade’s argument is about the transparency of knowledge.”

Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University:
“Nicholas Wade combines the virtues of truth without fear and the celebration of genetic diversity as a strength of humanity, thereby creating a forum appropriate to the twenty-first century.”

Kirkus Reviews:
“A freethinking and well-considered examination of the evidence “that human evolution is recent, copious, and regional.””

Publishers Weekly:
“Wade ventures into territory eschewed by most writers: the evolutionary basis for racial differences across human populations. He argues persuasively that such differences exist… His conclusion is both straightforward and provocative…He makes the case that human evolution is ongoing and that genes can influence, but do not fully control, a variety of behaviors that underpin differing forms of social institutions. Wade’s work is certain to generate a great deal of attention.”

Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
“Nicholas Wade combines the virtues of truth without fear and the celebration of genetic diversity as a strength of humanity, thereby creating a forum appropriate to the twenty-first century.”

The New Criterion
“Mr. Wade is a courageous man, as is anyone who dares raise his head above the intellectual parapet; he has put his argument with force, conviction, intelligence, and clarity.”

Attacking Wade personally doesn't seem far.  He seems qualified to review and comment upon scientific matters.  This is from the book Jacket:  "Nicholas Wade received a BA in natural sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He was the deputy editor of Nature magazine in London and then became that journal’s Washington correspondent. He joined Sciencemagazine in Washington as a reporter and later moved to The New York Times, where he has been an editorial writer, concentrating on issues of defense, space, science, medicine, technology, genetics, molecular biology, the environment, and public policy, a science reporter, and a science editor."
Here are a couple of reviews from Amazon com that match my impression of Wade's book:

By fenx1200 on November 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I have been involved with genetics since 1983 and have been closely observing the recent revolution occurring in the technology that sequences genomes. The genetic information revealed in this book has been known for some time, but organizations like the American Anthropological Association proclaim that race is not real (biologically), and actively suppress this information from becoming public. This is a political strategy and not scientific reality. Any forensic anthropologist can identify the race of a skull found at the scene of a crime in a few minutes (Caucasian, Black, Asian/Native American) This is a routine function of crime scene analysis.
President Obama and Bill Nye have also stated publicly and in print (Nye) that race is not real. These statements are misleading and serve no more than a political purpose. Millions of people from around the world have had have their genomes sequenced by such giants as 23andMe. The information that is being compiled and analyzed is releasing a startling amount of genetic information concerning human evolution. Did you know that Tibetans evolved a genetic variant in their genes that allow them to live at high altitudes? Since 1980, every finalist in the Olympic 100 meter dash has had West African ancestry... want to learn more? This book is must read for everyone who has an interest in the science of evolution. I give the author credit for bringing forth this book and I hope more similar books follow. Genetics will be the driving force of the 21st Century.

By Anomaly on August 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A Troublesome Inheritance, by Nicholas Wade, should be read by anyone interested in race and recent human evolution. Wade deserves credit for challenging the popular dogma that biological differences between groups either don't exist or cannot explain the relative success of different groups at different tasks. Wade's work should be read alongside another recent book, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending.

Together these books represent a major turning point in the public debate about the speed with which relatively isolated groups can evolve: both books suggest that small genetic differences between members of different groups can have large impacts on their abilities and propensities, which in turn affect the outcomes of the societies in which they live. Ever since the 1950s, Wade argues, many academics have denied the biological reality of race, and some have suggested that merely believing in racial differences constitutes a kind of racism (p. 69). But the rejection of race as a useful concept is often more of a political pose than a serious scientific claim, and it became especially popular among academics after the Second World War, during which Nazi pseudo-scientists used claims of racial superiority to justify mass murder.

As it turns out, Ashkenazi Jews - those from Russia, Poland, and Germany, who were nearly exterminated in the Holocaust - have been consistently found by intelligence researchers to have the highest IQ in the world. The authors of The 10,000 Year Explosion and A Troublesome Inheritance each spend an entire chapter detailing the remarkable achievements of Ashkenazi Jews, and hold them up as exhibit A in the argument that human evolution has been, in Wade's words, recent, copious, and regional. (Wade, chapter 8; Cochran and Harpending, chapter 7). The example of Ashkenazi evolution is supposed to show the absurdity of the view, held by authors like Jared Diamond and Stephen Jay Gould, that human evolution either stopped 100,000 years ago, or that natural selection has somehow continued to sculpt the bodies but not the brains of different groups of people.

Wade uses "race" to refer to groups of people who have been separated long enough to have developed clusters of functionally significant genetic differences, and "ethnicity" to apply to groups within races who have small but significant genetic differences from other groups within a race. The concept of an ethnicity is made especially clear if we understand the coevolution of genes and culture. If within a culturally diverse but racially distinctive region like the Arabian Peninsula, nomadic Bedouins tend to marry Bedouins while city dwellers marry each other, Bedouins and city dwellers may begin to diverge into biologically and culturally different ethnicities as they face different selective pressures. For example, because Bedouins were nomads who increasingly depended on their camels for transportation and milk, those who produced the lactase enzyme (which facilitates milk digestion) into adulthood had a reproductive advantage over those who lacked this enzyme. As the allele for lactose tolerance spread through the population, reliance on camels became even more entrenched in Bedouin culture, and selective pressure increased for lactose tolerance. Despite being both Arab and Muslim, Bedouins have enough genetic and cultural differences to constitute a distinctive ethnic group throughout the Middle East. The important point is that cultural pressures can directly impact natural selection, and pre-existing traits create propensities that shape culture. Wade ultimately invokes gene-culture coevolution to explain, among other things, how Tibetans evolved a greater capacity to tolerate life in the mountains than Indians, how Europeans who have depended on agriculture for thousands of years can consume more carbohydrates without succumbing to diabetes than Native Americans, and how Ashkenazi Jews could have evolved higher intelligence than Sephardic Jews in as little as 1,000 years.

. . .

Monday, July 4, 2016

Warfare then and now

On pages 358-9 of his chapter "The Fall of the Hunnic Empire," Peter Heather writes, ". . . the only coherent narrative is to be found in the Getica, which of course presents it as a triumph for the Amal-led Goths.  As Jordanes tells it, these quickly came to blows with the Suevi, over whom they won a great victory.  The Suevi then stirred up the other regional powers against the Goths, particularly the Sciri, who managed to kill Valamer in the first bout of fighting.  The Goths, however, took a ferocious revenge, destroying the Sciti as an independent power.  This led most of the rest -- the Suevi, the remaining Sciri, Rugi, Gepids, Sarmations 'and others' -- to unite against the Goths.  The result was a second great battle, on a second unidentified river in Pannonia, the Bolia, where as Jordanes tells us:

"the party of the Goths was found to be so much stronger that the plain was drenched in the blood of their fallen foes and looked like a crimson sea.  Weapons and corpses, piled up like hills, covered the plain for more than ten miles.  When the Goths saw this, they rejoiced with joy unspeakable, because of this great slaughter of their foes they had avenged the blood of Valamer their king."

Could a modern Western European rejoice "with joy unspeakable" over the sight of "corpses piled up like hills" and if not why not?  Up until recently we might have leaned toward thinking it a matter of culture and education.  Hitler and his Nazis might and probably did rejoice in that way, but we explain Hitler as a charismatic aberration and not at all like the more modern Germans who survived his excesses.  Smaller excesses such as those at Abu Grahib or the activities of Blackwater Mercenaries cause the modern Westerner outrage -- no "joy unspeakable" at the humiliation of a foe.

But we saw another culture, a culture that wants to behave in accordance with dictates established in the seventh century rejoice with joy unspeakable after the Twin Towers were destroyed.  Not all cultures in the world have moved from attitudes like the Goths.  I was among those who believed (and perhaps most still believe) that fifth century Gothic and 20th and 21st century Islamist excesses must be overcome by means of education and changes in culture.  However Nicholas Wade writes in location 1702 (I'm reading it in Kindle) of A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History ". . . some 10,000 years ago . . . Independently on all three continents, people's social behaviors started to adapt to the requirements of living in settled societies that were larger and more complex than those of the hunter-gatherer band.  The signature of such social changes may be written in the genome, perhaps in some of the brain genes already known to be under selection.  The MAO-A gene, which influences aggression and antisocial behavior, is one behavioral gene that . . . is known to vary between races and ethnic groups . . . ."

We can imagine how Natural Selection might not favor the MAO-A gene.  People who killed their neighbors, killed people on the highway in road-rage, blew enemies up with bombs strapped to their bodies, and those who join mercenary groups to fight around the world won't be having as many children as those without this gene.  In the meantime our laws prohibit aggression and antisocial behavior so if you have the MAO-A gene, too bad for you. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The fall of empires and peoples

In his chapter "The Fall of the Hunnic Empire," page 365, Peter Heather writes, "In contrast to the Roman Empire, which as we have seen, attempted to keep population levels low in frontier areas so as to minimize the potential for trouble, the Hunnic Empire sucked in subject peoples in huge numbers.  The concentration of such a great body of manpower generated a magnificent war machine, which had to be used -- it contained far too many inner tensions to be allowed to lie idle.  The number of Hunnic subject groups outnumbered the Huns proper, probably in a ration of several to one.  It was essential to keep the subject peoples occupied, or restless elements would be looking for outlets for their energy and the Empire's rickety structure might begin to crumble."

Rather than the wave of the future which many, including the current American president, seem to believe, the European Union is experimenting with itself and its rippling may fall far short of a wave.  It is importing "a great body of manpower" into its very vitals and isn't particularly interested if this "body" hates it.  Over here in the U.S. by contrast (at least until recently) if you wanted to become a citizen, you had to swear that you loved us (or words to that effect).  Not so in Europe.  At present the "body of manpower" being imported isn't being used to fight wars, just do work -- if it feels like it, other wise it is given welfare.  Is it "looking for outlets for its energy in the Empire's "rickety structure"?  We see photos of burning cars and rioting & read reports of bombings and shootings. 

We aren't immune from some of that here in the U.S. under a European-like administration which is importing a like (but not as numerous) "body of manpower" to do some shootings and bombings over here (as well as work -- that is, if it feels like it).  California's European-like Governor seems to believe he is solving this problem by ignoring the concept of Islamic anti-everyone-else and cracking down on gun ownership. 

Attila had the charisma to dominate a great number of divergent populations and keep them busy conquering Europe.  When he died these peoples revolted and the Hunnic Empire, and indeed the Huns as a distinctive people, disappeared.  Europe after WWII has never had a leader like Attila.  It instead has a couple of ideas, to ban together as in the UN and subsequently the EU to oppose another Hun-like Nazi threat and to demonstrate that the creation of wealth through a Capitalistic union will keep the nations happy and peaceful.  We note that its financial well-being is based upon a Ponzi scheme and needs an ever increasing "body of manpower" to pay for welfare promises. 

Meanwhile in volume 2 of the Foundation series, Isaac Asimov (who before writing these novels read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire twice) describes the Galactic Empire as still existing in a technical sense after a couple of centuries after Hari Seldon predicted its fall.  We who have read the end of the series can see its decrepitude and consequent weakness, but those living in the empire have convinced themselves that all is still as it was in the early days when it was young and strong.   If the European Empire is falling into that sort of decrepitude, will it fade away has the Hunnic empire did, or will someone like Asimov's Mule (or Europe's own Hitler) take over and make it strong again for as long as he lives and retains his own strength. 

Short of multiple nuclear explosions it doesn't seem possible that the various nations of Europe could disappear as the Hunnic nation and many of its subject nations did in the middle of the fifth century.  We have computers and records; surely mankind would keep track of any modern nation from now on.  Beyond that we have records of DNA.  We know who we are and who we have been -- not all of us but a significant and growing number. has mine.  I am "52% Western Europe, 22% Ireland, 9% Scandinavian, and 4% Italy/Greece."  As to my DNA details, doesn't have the money to get into that.  I know I have alleles that make me lactose tolerant, give me pale skin, but not as pale as those with more Scandinavian influence.  If there is an allele that makes one happy to live in a large city, I don't have that one.  I'm not sure I can wait until my son is ready to move me to Sandpoint.  I am getting antsy.  If the European Empire falls, I suspect the American won't be far behind?

Tomorrow, July 4th, will be the first anniversary of Susan's death -- so there's that as well.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The fall of the European Empire

After World War II, the French and British empires were so weakened by war that they lost their far-flung empires.  The British let go more gracefully than the French who fought bitterly to hold onto their IndoChinese and Algerian possessions.   But looking at this sort of thing now, what "fall" most closely approximates the anticipated fall of the European Empire?  Brussels has become increasingly dictatorial and offensive but it leads a liberal empire with no military might to back up its power.  Yes military might exists, but it resides with the individual nations and not with the Brussels leadership. 

Consider the collapse of another empire:

"As the Getica tells it . . . the Hunnic collapse . . .  soon degenerated into civil war . . . and the outcome was a battle on an unidentified river in Pannonia called the Nadao: 

"There an encounter took place between the various nations Attila had held under his sway.  Kingdoms with their peoples were divided, and out of one body were made many members . . . responding to a common impulse.  Being deprived of their head, they madly strove against each other . . . And so the bravest nations tore themselves to pieces . . . One might see the Goths fighting with pikes, the Gepids raging with the sword, the Rugi breaking off the spears in their own wounds, The Sueves fighting on foot, the Huns with bows, the Alans drawing up a battle-line of heavy-armed and the Herules of light-armed warriors.  Finally, after many bitter conflicts, victory fell unexpectedly to the Gepids."  [pp 353-354 of The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather]

After this battle, fought in 454 AD, the Huns ceased to exist in history.

Those expecting the EU to break up aren't expecting a Pannonia-like battle, but why not?  Is it because of our Christian-influenced peace of Westphalia as some would argue?  Is it because we have grown in liberal wisdom as some modern-day Liberals might believe?  Or as Nicholas Wade might argue, has our malleable double-helix turned us into beings who strive more than our ancestors to avoid war?  If the latter, the Liberal idea that we (those of us who are Liberal and not former Marines) have grown in wisdom might be a rationalization.

Meanderings about war

I'm slowly wending my way through Rick Atkinson's trilogy and am half way through The Day of Battle.  The philosophy of why we fight interests me more at present.  Fighting great wars couldn't have occurred during our 185,000 years as hunter-gatherers, but once we created villages they got much larger than the H-G tribal battles.   With cities they got larger still.  But the option to fight to protect (or acquire) territory probably developed during the 185,000 years as H-G's, and no edict saying "we won't do that any longer" will mean much.  Peaces such as the Pax Romana and the Cold War are merely interregnums between wars.  Rousseau's Nobel Savage who lived at peace with nature and his fellow man was a fiction.  The pacifist walks into a tough neighborhood and when confronted by muggers says "I don't want any trouble."  Good luck with that argument.

Then too when I was 16 in 1951 I tried to enlist in the Marine Corps.  I was accepted but the pulled me off the bus destined for MCRD and told me to come back when I was 17; which I did.  Looking back I often wonder what impelled me to do that.   Not everyone does that, but in history we see that enormous numbers of young men do -- more than enough usually to fight all the wars of history . . . unless we assume that a majority were drafted or forced by royal laws to fight, but that isn't my assumption.  There has been in history a liking for battle, a willingness to fight.  Old men gathered around will often ask each other about their military experience.  Those who don't have any will be embarrassed to admit it. 

So how likely is Nietzsche's "last man"?  Those "last men" clustered in cities want to be without guns and have the police and other tax-supported authorities and leaders take care of them from the cradle to the grave.  But out beyond the cities are plenty left who will still enlist when there is the likelihood of war.  If this willingness to fight is in our genes, put there during our 185,000 years as hunter-gatherers and further fostered during our wars in villages and cities and, in modern times, on larger tapestries, can anything be done about it, and more especially should anything be done?   If we can anticipate mere wars then we probably don't want to do anything about them, but as happened during the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war, we pull back and put our weapons away, confused by the choice between protecting (or enhancing) our territory and annihilation.

Many current movies show mankind being wiped out by zombies (the "last men" hungry?) or apocalyptic events -- very pessimistic.  But other movies show us moving out to other planets.  I think the latter while not eliminating our willingness to fight will give us plenty to do in order to survive.  We may one day (30,000 years from now as Isaac Asimov hypothesizes in his Foundation series) be living on millions of planets.  Asimov doesn't see that as an end to war.  There are still wars between planets and political wars between powerful leaders, but if we need a beneficent robot to guide is into a more peaceful future we may be out of luck.  Terminator movies have convinced most of us that machines are not to be trusted.