What does it mean?

November 30, 2004

Paul Krugman - Conservative?

I just read an article by Paul Krugman (via Gene Expression) about comparative advantage: Ricardo's Difficult Idea. Comparative advantage explains why trade makes all parties wealthier, even when one is better at doing all things (has higher productivity) than the other. To be more precise, the article is not about comparative advantage per se, but about the difficulties in getting the general public to understand it. What is truly breathtaking about the article is that this avowed leftist Bush-hater makes a very eloquent case against the prevailing intellectual zeitgeist, and in favor of - Conservatism!

Modern intellectuals are supposed to be daring innovators, not respecters of tradition. As any publisher will tell you, books about startling new scientific discoveries always sell better than books about known areas of science, even though the things science already knows are in many ways stranger than any of the speculations in the latest cosmological best-seller. Old ideas are viewed as boring, even if few people have heard of them; new ideas, even if they are probably wrong and not terribly important, are far more attractive. And books that say (or seem to say) that the experts have all been wrong are far more likely to attract a wide audience than books that explain why the experts are probably right. Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life (Gould 1989) which to many readers seemed to say that recent discoveries refute Darwinian orthodoxy, attracted far more attention than Richard Dawkins' equally well-written The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins 1986), which explained the astonishing implications of that orthodoxy.

He even elucidates intellectual fondness for impenetrable ideas, even when they are wrong:

Intellectuals do reserve, both in evolution and economics, a small pedestal for mathematical modelers -- as long as their models are confusing and seem to refute orthodoxy. Call it the "Santa Fe syndrome". At one point in Dennett's book he reports a list of the top ten objections raised to Steven Pinker's theories about the evolution of language; one of them is "Natural selection is irrelevant, because now we have chaos theory". At about the same time I read this passage I had received a barrage of protests over an article that tried, without explicit mathematics, to walk through some simple models of international trade (Krugman 1994); several of the letters insisted that because of nonlinear dynamics it was impossible to reach any meaningful conclusions from simple models. ("Have you ever thought about the implications of increasing returns? You should read the work of Brian Arthur and Paul Romer.")

There are two odd things about the popularity of certain kinds of mathematical modeling among intellectuals who are generally hostile to such models. One is that the preferred models are typically far more difficult and obscure than the standard models in the field. The other is that the supposedly heterodox conclusions of these models are often not heterodox at all. To take a theme common to both evolution and economics: the idea that small random events can under certain conditions set in motion a cumulative process of change is the theme both of "peacock's tail" accounts of sexual selection and of external economy accounts of international specialization, both familiar stories that lie well inside the boundaries of academic orthodoxy, stories that can be and are illustrated with simple models in advanced undergraduate textbooks like Maynard Smith (1989) and Krugman and Obstfeld (1994). Yet many intellectuals believe that this idea was discovered at Santa Fe and challenges the foundations of both fields.

The secret to the popularity of certain mathematical modelers, I suspect, is that they are valued precisely because they seem to absolve intellectuals from the need to understand the models that underpin orthodox views. Hardly anyone tries to understand what the Santa Fe theorists are actually saying; it is the pose of opposition to received wisdom, together with the implication that in a complicated world you can't learn anything from simple models anyway, that is valued, because it seems to say that not knowing what's in the textbooks is OK.

I, myself, have a fondness for both evolution and economics precisely because they are, at heart, so simple. But as they say about the game, Go: A minute to learn - a lifetime to master! So too, evolution and economics. The more you look at them, the more interesting and surprising they get. A good friend of mine who is an economist once told me, he has the feeling that if Adam Smith were to come back to life, he would look around at the field and say, "That's obvious!" I get the same feeling about Darwin, though in his case he did his work with no knowledge of genetics. He would probably say, "Eureka, the missing link! Now I understand everything!"

Krugman lists three non-obvious assumptions that you have to understand before you can understand comparative advantage:

Wages are determined in a national labor market

Constant employment is a reasonable approximation

The balance of payments is not a problem

I would list two:

Economics is not a zero-sum game - in a voluntary transaction everybody wins

Economics is a feedback system - in the long run, secondary effects can be greater than direct effects

These are both hard concepts - not well understood by most people in theory. In practice, people understand them very well when applied to their personal lives: "I have too much corn, and you have too much cloth, let's trade some of my corn for your cloth", or "If you do everything for your children, they'll never learn to stand on their own feet". The first illustrates that economics is not a zero-sum game, the second that secondary effects (teaching your children to stand on their own feet) are sometimes more important than direct effects (doing something for your children). I would call Krugman's three assumptions examples of his "Sante Fe syndrome" - they are hard concepts which are used to supposedly refute the point, but instead merely obscure it - without refuting it.

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Kislev: Month of Miracles

Today is the 17th of the Hebrew month of Kislev (כסלו). Kislev is considered the month of miracles. It follows the month of Heshvan, often called Marheshvan (מרחשון) because, according to legend, it is bitter (mar) for it has no special days. (Actually, the names of Hebrew months are of Akkadian origin, and in that language marh means month, cognate to Hebrew yerah, month. So, marheshvan means something like: month of Shvan. If you're wondering how Hebrew "y" can correspond to Akkadian "m", the answer is probably that the original letter was "w". It is well known that in Hebrew, initial "w" became "y". I don't know about the Akkadian, though.)

Kislev is the month that Israel really starts to turn green. Though the first rains usually come in the month of Tishrey (around Sukot), only in Kislev do they become frequent. The earth is now covered by a peach-fuzz of green, from thousands of sprouting seedlings per square meter - their thin stalks and two modest leaves a ground-hugging green mist over the land. The miracle of regrowth after a long summer of dwindling verdure.

The 25th of Kislev is Hanuka (חנוכה), the festival of lights, in which we celebrate the successful revolt of the Jews against the Seleucid Greek empire in 165 BCE, and the rebirth of the independent Jewish state - another miracle. The culturally imperialistic Seleucids defiled the Temple in Jerusalem, making it a place of idol-worship. When the Temple was recaptured, only a single phial of pure oil was found to rekindle the menorah (מנורה), enough to last a single day. Instead it lasted eight days. We celebrate the holiday by lighting an eight-branched candelabra, adding one candle each day. Not coincidently, this holiday coincides with the winter solstice, and the rebirth of the sun.

This month is also a month of miracles for me, personally. On the 20th day of the month, I was born. And on the 17th, five years ago today, I was married.

Congratulations will be accepted in the comments, on behalf of both of us!

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November 28, 2004

Intelligence Unwise

I think my favorite movie of all time is Forrest Gump. This, despite the fact that there are things that I hate about the movie. (For example, I think it would much more powerful if the athletic parts were realistic - not such a big change, he can still be good! My rule of thumb for a good movie: never ask for willing suspension of disbelief more than once.) But Forrest Gump is a celebration of the triumph of wisdom over intelligence, and though of course its events are exaggerated for effect (often comic), the fundamental message is one I agree with fully. Forrest Gump is a decent guy, with an IQ of 80, who succeeds in life by following his mother's wisdom. The movie contrasts Gump's life with that of his childhood friend, who has at least normal intelligence, but no who gets carried away by every passing fad, and ends up dying of a mysterious disease (AIDS, we presume).

Last week, I read this from Razib at Gene Expression (emphasis his):

Literacy and institutions devoted to intellectual pursuits2 bind together transcommunity information networks and have resulted in the rise of Civilization as we know it, but, these same forces often have an acidic impact on common sense notions of decency and proportionality mediated by insitutions and cognitive states shaped by our EEA. The "intellectual" is profoundly unnatural, and the notion that one would give up one's life so that someone on the other side of the world would eventually profess the same set of axioms about some theological or metaphysical construct likely seems bizarre to most people because it is rather bizarre.

I think Razib is saying here that it's in the nature of intellectuals to get carried away by their own beliefs. And while the existence of communication networks foster the advance (scientific, technological and ideological) to which we owe our development, it also serves to isolate intellectuals in an environment devoid of the normal checks and balances.

Is this why so many smart people are so dumb? I do think it's at least part of the answer (my previous ruminations here, here and here). I was once accused rather forcefully of being smart about books, but not about life. While in this case my accuser was talking about the US drug culture, which I still know little about (part of a little misadventure in which I tried, and failed, to help a sweet and highly intelligent kid from the other side of the tracks - I was thanked for it many years later), I have often wondered at how different I am from "normal people" - people who just want to have a good time with friends and family, and live life by the conventional wisdom.

The conventional wisdom - I have developed an unnatural appreciation for it over the years. Unnatural, that is, for me. I am constitutionally unable to believe something that doesn't make sense to me, no matter how stridently or universally advocated by others. Call it arrogance, or stubbornness - I have been called both, though neither make sense to me: How is it that people expect me to agree with them when I don't? In any case, it is what I am. However, I have realized, that, with some application, I can understand the logic behind the conventional wisdom (at least, the conventional wisdom of my society), and often even agree with it. Truth is more subtle than even the most intelligent minds, and the wisdom handed down by tradition has stood the test of time.

Which brings me to new idea (for me), or maybe a new angle on an old one: Could it be that a traditional religion can act as a counterweight to the bizarre behavior of intellectuals? Can it help to keep the individual's feet on the ground, while letting his mind soar? So much of intellectual life is self-destructive, while tradition, by its very nature, cannot be (if it cannot be passed down, it's not a tradition). Is tradition the future of the intellect?

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November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US. This gives a nice account of the origin of the day:

The harvest in October was very successful and the Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn, fruits and vegetables, fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured over smoky fires.

The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.

The Pilgrim Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for 3 days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.

But it was Abraham Lincoln who made it official:

The custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the harvest, continued through the years. During the American Revolution (late 1770's) a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress.

In 1817 New York State had adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. By the middle of the 19th century many other states also celebrated a Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.

The Pilgrims were deeply religious Christians, and it is likely that they were inspired by the Jewish holiday of Sukot:

Many Americans, upon seeing a decorated sukkah for the first time, remark on how much the sukkah (and the holiday generally) reminds them of Thanksgiving. The American pilgrims, who originated the Thanksgiving holiday, were deeply religious people. As they were trying to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest, it is quite possible that they looked to the Bible (Leviticus 23:39) for an appropriate way of celebrating and based their holiday in part on the Feast of Tabernacles.

In fact, Judaism has three harvest festivals: Pesah, and Shavu`ot, usually around April and May, correspond to the barley, and wheat harvests. But Sukot, occurring in September or October, is the main harvest festival, in which a wide variety of crops are gathered. These three holidays are hagim - pilgrimage holidays (in modern usage, hag can refer to any holiday, not just pilgrimage holidays). An appropriate celebration for the Pilgrims!

UPDATE: Original document describing the first Thanksgiving.

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November 24, 2004

The 2nd commandment

לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל, וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה
אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל, וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת
וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם, מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ
לֹא-תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם, וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם
כִּי אָנֹכִי ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֵל קַנָּא
פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים, לְשֹׂנְאָי
וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד, לַאֲלָפִים
לְאֹהֲבַי, וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְו‍ֹתָי

Lo' ta`ase l'kha fesel v'khol t'muna
Asher bashamayim mima`al va'asher ba'ares mitahat
Va'asher bamayim mitahat la'ares
Lo' tishtahave lahem v'lo' ta`avdem
Ki anokhi H' Eloheykha el qana'
Poqed `avon avot `al banim `al shileshim v`al ribe`im l'son'ay
V`ose hesed la'alafim
L'ohavay ulshomrey misvotay

You will not make for yourselves an idol or any kind of image
Of anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth below
Or that is in the water below the earth
You will not bow down to them and you will not worship them
For I am the Lord your God, a jealous God
Visiting the sins of parents on children and on grandchildren and on great-grandchildren of my haters
And doing kindness to thousands (of generations)
Of my lovers and the keepers of my commandments

Exodus 20:3-5

This is the second of the ten commandments. The first part, which tells us not to worship anything but God, is greeted (at least in the parts of the world where I have lived) in a ho-hum fashion. But viewed through the lens of Logoism (which is the traditional Jewish lens, even if it is not given a name), it means something still important to us today: Don't think that any particular thing is the ultimate source of meaning. In my opinion, this is quite profound. Though it seems obvious when you think about it, it is in fact a mistake often made. Many people invest their whole being in some cause and, worthy though it be, it inevitably fails them. The second commandment tells us not to make this mistake.

The second part of the second commandment is more controversial. It tells us what will happen to people who don't keep it, namely that their sin will be propagated to their descendents. How many times have I heard this used to disparage the Bible, or as an example of "Old Testament Justice" - meaning cruel and inhuman. But the fact is that it is true. The sins of parents do tend to get repeated by their children, and propagated generation after generation. I cannot understand the justice in this, but I can learn from recognition of this fact, and I am comforted by the assurance that it is, in some unknown sense, just.

But there is a third part, and this greater comfort still. Though sins are punished for four generations, being good is rewarded for thousands. In other words: though the sins be greater than the good, the good, in the end, will win.

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Psychopathology in Cultural Context

A friend of mine, holding his bowl of soup while eating, explained to me that it wasn't psychopathology that I was seeing: the bottom of the bowl was dirty so he didn't want to put it down. I responded by saying that I hadn't noticed, I grew up with lots of Asians, and they all ate their soup that way.

Another friend of mine, commenting on his extreme meticulousness,  explained that his habits come from sailing: where space is scarce, and a misstep or loose knot can be fatal.

A third friend of mine commented on the neurosis of observant Jews, always ritually washing their hands (e.g. before eating, praying, after using the toilet). I explained that it was merely a dictate of the religion.

David Warren says:

Let us linger one more time over the scene of death, so far as we can reconstruct it from press reports. The Dutch pundit and filmmaker, who had been out on his bicycle, was shot several times at close range, and according to witnesses, remained alive long enough to beg his assailant to stop. He then had his throat slit, and spinal cord severed, to the point where he was nearly beheaded. Five pages in Arabic were then pinned to his body, by the knife then embedded in his chest. This dissertation consisted of quotations from the Koran, and promises that Holland, Europe, Israel, and America would all be annihilated by victorious Islam. Various prominent Dutch personalities were threatened by name.

It is important to take this in. Theo van Gogh's "alleged" murderer (we are dealing with Western legal niceties which are not recognized in Sharia law) was a psychopath, but not of the "normal", loner sort with which we are familiar from the annals of Western psychiatry and jurisprudence. The police in Amsterdam were able to round up six of his alleged accomplices after the crime, and are seeking more. And the relationship between the ritual murder of Theo van Gogh, and the numerous butcherings of hostages by Jihadis in Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere, was obvious from any distance.


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November 23, 2004

Children - The Lifestyle

Let's face it, having children is not easy - and that's just the beginning! They require an enormous investment of time and money. It's more than a full-time job, it's a lifestyle. Not only is it a lifestyle, it's a lifestyle that, for all but the super-rich, runs counter to the ideal of the good life as conceived by most people. If you want to have children, get ready to stay home (going out is a rare treat) and downgrade your spending habits all around.

Of course, most people would say it's hard, but it's worth it, and I agree. But there's another way of looking at it. It's a little known fact that it's our worldview that tells us what things are enjoyable in life, and what are not. We in the West say that having a nice car, going out to eat, having fun, and most of all being free is what makes life enjoyable. And that's what's so hard about having children, no wonder less people are doing it every year. But, in the immortal words of Janis Joplin: Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

I am lucky to live among people who share a child-friendly lifestyle, and worldview which tells them that having children is what's most enjoyable in life. Just having this worldview goes a long way to making it so.

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November 22, 2004

Two ways to be immoral

Caroline Glick, of the Jerusalem Post:

Aside from this, European leaders themselves have said that in their view there is no military option for taking out Iran's nuclear facilities. In an interview with the BBC this week, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, "I don't see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran, full stop." Straw made this statement the same week that French President Jacques Chirac made an all-out diplomatic assault against British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his alliance with US President George W. Bush. Speaking to British reporters on Monday, Chirac said, "Britain gave its support [to the US in Iraq] but I did not see much in return. I am not sure that it is in the nature of our American friends at the moment to return favors." Chirac added that he had told Blair that his friendship with Bush could be of use if the US adopted the EU position on Israel and the Palestinians. Since Bush has refused to do so, Chirac argued, Bush has played Blair for a fool.  

England: Military action against Iran is unjustified, even if they get nuclear weapons.

France: We don't care about anything except what we get out of it.

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Of Quick Wits and Space Cadets

When I was growing up I was often troubled by the nature of my intelligence. I knew I was smart in some ways, but in other ways I seemed pretty dumb. This in itself would not have been a problem. It was almost the accepted wisdom that you could be good at math/science or English/arts, but not both. My problem was that my talents didn't conform to the pigeon holes of the school curriculum. I sometimes did well, and other times poorly, in almost every subject. More than once I had a teacher ask what accounted for my uneven performance. I wish I knew.

As a result, I've always had something of a phobia for formal schooling. On the other hand, I've always loved standardized tests, because I've always done well on them. Most of my classmates hated standardized tests, because you "couldn't study for them" (that was before prep-courses were common). But I didn't only do well on the SAT (scholastic aptitude test), I did even better on the achievement tests (subject-specific tests) which, theoretically, you could study for. (I only recently discovered that when I took an IQ test, at age 14, I did better still - by a full standard deviation.)

I've been an avid reader of Gene Expression for the past month or two. One of their recurring topics is IQ. I think that IQ does correlate closely with what most people think of as intelligence. If you were to pick 10 people whom you know well, and list them in order of intelligence as you perceive it, I have a feeling that it would correspond closely to the order given by their IQs.

IQ measures a variety of skills, all of which are correlated, the correlation factor being called g. One of the interesting things that I've learned recently from reading Gene Expression, is that the correlation breaks down at high IQs. In other words, if you assume that g corresponds to some physiological characteristic (not necessarily true), then high IQs are not the result of high g, but are the result of other characteristics coming into play - characteristics that don't enhance intelligence generally, but enhance only some of the skills that IQ tests measure.

It could be that this is a result of reaching the limits of the potential contribution of the g-characteristic. But I just had another idea. What if increasing g had negative as well as positive contributions to intelligence? Perhaps the optimum contribution of g is 15 or 20 points, after that it's best to increase IQ though other factors? I even have a candidate as to what that negative factor might be: spaceyness. (If someone knows of an objective way to measure spaceyness, I'd like to hear about it.) There is certainly a stereotype of the highly intelligent but spacey person, the absentminded professor. It would certainly seem that spaceyness would have negative fitness for most real-world environments.

I, myself, am somewhat spacey in my real life. Wouldn't it be ironic if my problems in school were the result of high g? 

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November 21, 2004

The End of Sex

A while back I ended a post with the following words: Since time immemorial there has been an evolutionary war between the male-based strategy of maximizing the number of offspring, and the female-based strategy of maximizing the quality of offspring. The end of sex-based strategies for meme propagation favors the female strategy.

I'd like to explore this, now, a bit further. The background to this statement is the observation that appetite for sex was highly selected for throughout human history (and before) because it resulted in, you know, children. Now, with the advent of contraceptives on the one hand, and technologies like in-vitro fertilization on the other, those days are over. Sex per se does not lead to children. Having children is now not a consequence of sex, but of the desire for a family.

The results are all around us in plain sight. Birthrates are dropping everywhere, even while sex is proliferating (so to speak). And who is having the most children? The family-values social conservatives - the people who most reject promiscuous sex. In truth, nature has always (or at least, for a very long time now) had two strategies for the continuation of our species: sex, and the desire for a family. But now family values has clearly gained the upper hand.

The resurgence of traditional religions is much remarked upon (I did some remarking here), what I have never seen remarked upon (I haven't looked, I'm sure someone has) is how much the return to traditional religion is a feminist movement. What?! Yes, you heard correctly. From an evolutionary point of view, sex-based propagation is a male strategy. Highly attractive (for whatever reason) men have had the option of taking a quantity, rather than quality, based approach to propagation, where they put their energy into begetting rather than raising children. Women, who are biologically constrained to a relatively small number of children, have no choice but to put their energy into raising them. Traditional religions force men to choose the female strategy - in other words, family values. And this is pleasing to women.

What?! Yes, again you have heard me correctly. At least as many women as men are returning to traditional religions for this reason. It is ironic that in the secular world traditional religions are often seen as misogynist. Perhaps some of them are in some ways. But in this essential way they are giving a very large number of women what they most want - a strong family life. The feminist movement, on the other hand,  advocates the male values of career (attractive to women in a man, but not so much the other way around) and free love. I have no doubt that many women like it, but it's not for nothing that it has been called the men's lib movement: it frees men from the necessity of settling down. From an evolutionary point of view, it is a losing strategy.

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November 18, 2004

Philistine Invasion

David Frum writes:

Reading the Washington Post this weekend one suddenly realized that one was witnessing the birth of new PC taboo. On the oped page, a Palestinian novelist named Diana Abu-Jaber complained, "The word "philistine" means "boorish and backward"; it comes from the word for "Palestinian." It is a derogatory word that demeans an entire culture, and it is used with relative impunity in this country." Suddenly one had a vision of the same language police who have tried to ban "blackmail" as offensive to African-Americans, "whopping" as offensive to Italian-Americans, and "galling" as offensive to Franco-Americans going to work on the word "philistine." So, before it's too late, a short language lesson.

The word "philistine" does NOT come from the word "Palestinian." It's the other way around: the word "Palestinian" comes from the word "philistine." After the suppression of the Jewish revolts of AD 68-70, the Romans eradicated all signs of Jewish political independence. They determined even to eliminate the name "Judea." So they rummaged around in the ancient books of the Jews, found there the name of a long vanished enemy nation, and imposed it on the area: "Philistia," which they Latinized to "Palestina."

This is all correct. The Romans pursued an unapologetic policy of ethnic cleansing of Judea. In addition to killing its inhabitants by the millions, they actively suppressed the local (Jewish) culture. Among other things, they renamed Judea to Palestina and Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina.

Philistine, however, is not a Philistine word: It's a Hebrew word. Most Hebrew words come to English indirectly through either Greek or Latin (or both). Since neither of these languages have the "sh" sound, you will notice that almost all Hebrew words that have that sound have a "s" in English, for example Solomon in Hebrew is Sh'lomo. (We also got a Greek case ending, and notice that the ' > o under the influence of the following o.)

Philistine in Hebrew is P'lishti (פלשתי). Evidently this word comes to English through the Greek, in which the "ph" was pronounced as an aspirated "p" (not "f"). The Hebrew "p" is transcribed variously by Greek "p" or "ph", I presume that in Hebrew it was aspirated in some contexts but not others (in modern Hebrew it is always aspirated). The only other initial-p Hebrew word in English, that I can think of, is Phineas - Pinhas (פנחס), also transcribed with a "ph". The Hebrew schwa (') became "i" under influence of the following "i" (cf. Solomon above) - Greek also didn't have a schwa.

So what does it mean? The root of P'lishti is p-l-sh, which means invade. So Philistine simply means: invader. The Philistines were a non-Semitic people who invaded ancient Israel from the sea, and settled along the southern coast, in what is now the Gaza strip, but continuing somewhat further north. Very little is known of their origin, or their language (they were illiterate). The Bible claims their origin as Cyprus, and they are evidently culturally related to the Mycenaean Greeks (pre-Greek inhabitants of Greece), and they are sometimes associated with the mysterious Sea-Peoples, who terrorized the Mediterranean of their time much like the Vikings.

In any case, it's not clear to me how philistine came to mean boorish. In the Bible the Philistines are portrayed as technologically advanced, and not nearly as abominable as the Canaanites.

UPDATE: Amritas comments. He also asks a question: "David, can similar inconsistencies be found in the Greek transcriptions of Hebrew t, t, k, and q? That is, do they appear in Greek as t~th and k~kh?" I can't give a definitive answer, since I know the Greek transcriptions only indirectly through English. However, before I address the question, you need to know that Hebrew stops p, t, k (as it was spoken at the time) alternate with the fricatives f, th (as in English), and kh (like German ch), the rule being that after a vowel (including sh'va' na` but not sh'va' nah) they take their fricative forms, unless doubled (the same rule holds for their voiced forms b, d, g, which alternate with v, dh, gh). We see Greek ph, th, and kh, used consistently for the Hebrew f, th, an kh. Examples: Joseph (יוסף), Judith (יהודית), Michael (מיכאל). The only other data point I can think of is: Thummim (as in Urim and Thummim) which has a th where I would expect a t. So I don't know where that leaves us, maybe what I said above was wrong. 

UPDATE: You might be wondering why my transcriptions of Hebrew don't use th, dh, or gh. It's because modern Hebrew pronunciation doesn't have these sounds, i.e. th > t, dh > d, and gh > g. Also, modern Hebrew pronunciation doesn't distinguish double letters, and in many cases sh'va' na` > sh'va' nah, so the distinctions between p/f, b/v, and k/kh are now phonemic.

Also, Amritas answers my question above:

According to the fourth edition of The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (2000), the 'boorish' meaning of philistine is of relatively recent German origin:

Beginning in the 17th century philistine was used as a common noun, usually in the plural, to refer to various groups considered the enemy, such as literary critics. In Germany in the same century it is said that in a memorial at Jena for a student killed in a town-gown quarrel, the minister preached a sermon from the text “Philister über dir Simson! [The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!],” the words of Delilah to Samson after she attempted to render him powerless before his Philistine enemies. From this usage it is said that German students came to use Philister, the German equivalent of Philistine, to denote nonstudents and hence uncultured or materialistic people. Both usages were picked up in English in the early 19th century.

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Anti-Semites commemorate Kristallnacht

There is a trend in Europe, and elsewhere to de-Judaize the Jewish experience. Øyvind Strømmen posts about one such case on Bjørn Stærk's blog. I haven't read all 255 comments (as of this posting – I would like to imagine that I have a life), but I have read enough to be convinced, regardless of the facts in dispute, of the true nature of the event.

Evidently, there was a commemoration of Kristallnacht (often considered to be the beginning of the Holocaust, more here) in Oslo which "both anti-racists and pro-Israelis" used for there own agendas. The end result was that Israeli and Palestinian flags were banned to keep the peace.

Well, this may have been the best we could get, but I would like to say clearly that the supposed anti-racists and pro-Israelis were not in any way comparable with each other, particularly in this context. Kristallnacht was a Jewish tragedy, whatever universal applicability it has (and of course, it does). For racists posing as anti-racists to use the occasion to call Israel racist is disgusting. On the other hand, almost no Jews commemorating Kristallnacht would object to pro-Israelis, and the vast majority would see it as completely appropriate, and would be glad of their presence, especially considering that most of Holocaust refugees – those relatively few that Europeans didn't have time to murder – took refuge there after the war. Normally I have great respect for Bjørn, but I think that while striving to get the facts out, he owes it to his readers to make this clear.

Do you know what this reminds me of? The story about the old Soviet Empire and the UN's definition of racism. In 1965 the UN promulgated the Convention against Racial Discrimination, in which they made a long list of the various forms of racism. Astoundingly, the list didn't include anti-Semitism. How did that happen? Answer: The USSR proposed to put Zionism on the list as a form of racism. As a compromise, the US agreed to remove anti-Semitism from the list if the USSR would remove Zionism. No matter, a decade later, in 1975, the UN made a separate declaration that Zionism is a form of racism. (For those of you who are wondering about the truth: Zionism is a form of Nationalism.)

So let us be clear: the attempt to de-Judaize Kristallnacht is a form of racism. Evidently it is common in Norway.

PS: One of those 255 comments in Øyvind's post is mine. Can you find it? (Okay, it's here.)

PPS: I can't find a good link to the Soviet-UN story, if anyone can give me one I'd be much obliged.

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November 17, 2004

I have returned (sort of)

Well, I have my new computer, and I'm back on line. I still have to set up my computer for work, which is not at all easy (I have to install a bunch of applications, and get them to work with each other). I don't know what my blogging rate will be, but at least I can do it now. I'm also getting email.

I want to thank all of you who have kept the faith, and continued checking back here.

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November 11, 2004

Disk Crash

My disk crashed. I’m getting a new computer. Since I do regular backups, I don’t think I lost anything really important, beyond the last few weeks’ emails, but I won’t know for sure until I try to reconstruct my work environment. (I back up emails less often.) Of course, I lost all my applications – my computer is basically set up to be a web server, so it’ll be a lot of work setting it up again.

I’m posting now from another computer, but I don’t expect to post again until my own is up and running. It’s too much of a bother. I probably won’t be checking my emails either, for the same reason.

PS: If there is any connection between this and Arafat’s final death, it’s worth it.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:18 AM  Permalink | Comments (2)
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November 10, 2004

College Graduates voted overwhelmingly for Bush

According to Gallup, 58% of college graduates voted for Bush (via Little Green Footballs):

  Bush, 2000  Bush, 2004  Change
Postgraduate education 43% 47% +4%
College graduate (no postgrad) 55% 58% +3%
Some college 53% 56% +3%
High school or less education 45% 46% +1%

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November 09, 2004

Conservation in Israel

Yesterday John Ray pointed to an article about anti-Semitism in the Australian Labor party. It sounds on par with left-wing parties worldwide.

The hypocrisy of the left in supporting terrorists of all stripes, and especially those that target Jews, is generally well commented upon, and I don’t think I’m capable of doing a better job. But just to recap: The terrorists are products of, and aim to promote, a set of values which is misogynist, homophobic, and puritanical in the extreme, not to mention anti-democratic. Aren’t these supposedly leftist values?

Israel is the least misogynist, least homophobic, most libertine, country in the Middle East, not to mention the region’s only democracy. You’d think that would win it some support, wouldn’t you? My contribution: It’s also the region’s most environmentally aware country, with the best environmental record. You’d think this would buy some support among the world’s Greens, wouldn’t you?

Of course not! Universal human rights, and the environment of the small world we all have to share, are culturally relevant only to the West, not for people who follow their indigenous traditions. Well, at least that lets traditionally observant Jews off the hook! Oh, wait, Jewish traditions don’t count because, because… sorry, I’m stumped, I don’t know why not.

Anyway, getting back to the Greens, their number one priority is saving the environment (hence the name)? Well, evidently there’s one thing that trumps the environment: killing Jews. Green movements around the world ignore Israel’s environmental achievements, in comparison with its neighbors, and champion Israel’s eco-unfriendly enemies. In fact, Israel is the only country in the region that even has a Green party! Though perhaps they’ve corrupted themselves with this practical campaign message in the Tel Aviv municipal elections:

הירוקים בראשות פאר ויסנר מתחייבים להקטין את מספר כלי הרכב הנכנסים לעיר ולאפשר לכל תושב חניה חינם כל היום בכל מקום המסומן בכחול לבן

Hay’ruqim b’reshut P’er Visner mithayvim l’haqtin et mispar kley harekhev hanikhnasim l`ir ul’efshar l’khol toshav hanaya hinam kol hayom b’khol maqom hamsuman b’kahol lavan

The Greens, headed by P’er Visner, guarantee to reduce the number of motor vehicles that come into the city and to make it possible for every resident to have free parking all day, in all locations that are marked with blue and white [legal parking spaces]

The truth is that Israel has a very old environmental movement, one that precedes the founding of the state. A very important part of Zionist ideology was getting back to the land. The early Zionists practiced what the preached, leaving their city lives and desk jobs, and becoming farmers. Not only did they feel that they were rehabilitating themselves by getting back to the land, but they took on the project of rehabilitating the land itself. By the time the Zionists arrived, the land had been over-grazed, and eroded for thousands of years. The land, once covered by open forests, was now treeless, the trees all burned for firewood. (In fact, evolution was at work, the native oaks becoming scrub as the tall members of every generation were cut down.)

The early Zionists are justifiably famous for planting forests. It is less well known that they worked in other ways to preserve the environment. I can vouch for the fact that it has become taboo in Israel to pick wildflowers, once a common pastime. This is a result of a campaign by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (Hahevra l’haganat hateva`) – a rough equivalent to the Sierra Club in the US. Example:

A highlight in the history of nature conservation in Israel is the campaign to rescue the country's wildflowers. Picking wildflowers used to be such a popular pastime in Israel that by the beginning of the 1960s, many of the more attractive flowering plants were on the brink of extinction. Anemones and cyclamens, which bloomed in profusion and symbolized the beauty of Israel's landscape, had nearly vanished. To reverse this trend, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the newly-born Nature Reserves Authority launched a campaign which focused on both legislation and public education. In retrospect, this turned out to be the most successful public environmental re-education campaign ever launched in Israel. Today, thirty years later, Israelis scrupulously avoid picking wildflowers and the country abounds with the rich splendor of wildflowers.

Wild anemones and cyclamens are now very common. No Israeli would even think of picking them. (Amusingly, the text of this page is copied here, with Palestine replacing Israel. An endorsement of sorts.)

I myself am very much a conservationist, which is somewhat different from an environmentalist. I am most concerned with preserving species and habitats, controlling pollution is merely a means to this end (and to improve my quality of life). I think some people go way overboard on the pollution issue. So I take an interest in Israel’s efforts to preserve its wildlife. It does a lot, though it has the usual problems that come with increasing population (Israel is one of the most densely populated countries on Earth), and affluence (e.g. cars). I found this travelogue, with lots of nice wildlife pictures. Don’t miss Hay Bar, on this page (scroll down), whose purpose is to reintroduce to Israel native animals that had become locally extinct. One of the big problems with reintroducing native animals is Israel’s small size, which makes it easy for them to wander across the border, where they are inevitably shot.

ADDENDUMS: This page claims that Israel has the highest percentage of protected area in the Middle East, at 10%. But this page claims it's 14.9%, more than the US, Australia, and every Arab and Middle Eastern country except Oman.

Something about wolves: “The gray wolf (Canis lupus) is one of the most persecuted mammal species. In this century, gray wolves have been eradicated from much of North America and large areas of western Europe. In other parts of Europe (e.g., Italy, Spain, and Norway), small or remnant populations have persisted. In general, wolves are abundant only in regions where human density is low.

In the Middle East, a small, desert-adapted subspecies, the Arabian wolf (C. l. arabs) occurs. These wolves occupy arid flats and mountains throughout deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Jordan and Israel. The Arabian wolf is rare throughout most of the Middle East, with the exception of Israel. In the Arabian Peninsula and Jordan, vast areas are used by the nomadic Bedouin for grazing of livestock, and they consider the wolf to be the major predator of their goats and sheep. Systematic shooting and trapping of Arabian wolves has nearly eliminated this carnivore from most areas in the Middle East. Harassing or killing wolves is prohibited in Israel. As a result, the population of wolves in the Negev Desert is relatively dense; 91-159 individuals in ca. 9,600 km2.”

In contrast, there’s this.

I hear these howling every night (and see them from time to time).

UPDATE: For those of you who know Spanish, Liberalismo.org said something about this post. (I don't know what.)

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Trackback from Synthstuff - music, photography and more..., The Greenest Nation in the Middle East:
Dr. John Ray posts at A Western Heart about environmentalism in the Middle East and which state is the “Greenest” ISRAEL: THE GREENEST STATE IN THE MIDDLE EAST Or, more precisely, the ONLY Greenie country in the Middle East Israelis...

November 07, 2004

Some perspective on the election

I’ve been reading a lot about the US election in the last few days, precious little of it showing much perspective. So, I’d like to say a few words.

First of all, Bush’s 3% margin of victory is a good solid win in a functioning democracy. Not a landslide, but a good, healthy margin. Landslides should be rare for the simple reason that a democracy has to provide the voters with a choice in order to work properly. Frequent landslides are a sign that the system isn’t working properly, and is not giving voters a choice. But a 3% margin is easily enough to make abundantly clear which side won. The fact that Bush got an absolute majority of an exceptionally large turnout should only emphasize that fact.

On the other hand, a 3% margin is small enough that it could easily have turned out otherwise. It is ridiculous to assign the victory to a single factor – any one of a large number of things could have turned the election.

One of the great things about the US electoral system is that even small majorities produce strong governments. (In Israel this isn’t true.) I hope Bush uses his well. Bush has clearly laid out his approach to governance, and clearly communicated to the electorate who he is. Details, of course, will change according to changing circumstances.

Let me take advantage of this opportunity to say what I think is highest priority: Take out Iran’s nuclear program. It shouldn’t be too hard. No need to risk American lives in a ground war, the objective isn’t to occupy territory, or even to overthrow a government. If the government falls, well, that’s an added bonus. If, instead, it’s strengthened by Iranians rallying around their flag, well, it’s worth it. (Actually, I think that Bush is canny enough to attack Iran in a way that will strengthen the opposition. But we’ll see, I hope.)

Let’s roll!

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November 05, 2004

Family Values

My Meme Plague post seems to have been widely misunderstood. Beyond my description of the mechanism of memetic transmission, which could have been better written, I want to emphasize that I wasn’t making a moral statement about fertility (or anything else, for that matter). I was merely trying to describe an idea I had about memetic evolution, which I still think is evolutionarily valid. I emphatically don’t think that fertility is virtuous for the individual, or lack of fertility unvirtuous.

Having said that, I do think that some memes are virtuous, and I would like to see them propagated. I realize that the only way to do that long-term is to embed them in a meme complex that will encourage fertility at least to replacement level.

I also realize that I made a mistake in that post. (Jinnderella beat me to the punch by pointing me to this article.) I do think people are attracted to memes that promote fertility. These memes come in two flavors: memes that promote sex, and memes that promote family values. Clearly, in today’s post-contraceptive world, the relationship between sex and fertility has been broken. But that still leaves family values.

It is clear to me that one of the main reasons why some people are attracted to traditional Judaism, as well as fundamentalist Christianity, and I presume many other religions, is family values. A lot of people (including me) believe that raising their children with clear values, in an environment where most of the people around them have clear values, is healthy for them, and most likely to promote their happiness, well-being, and success in life. The choice becomes even starker when you start thinking about your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. While it is quite conceivable to imagine transmitting your favorite memes to your children in the absence of a supporting meme-complex, it is much harder to imagine them transmitted to your grandchildren when the general society is promoting a conflicting set of memes. In such an environment, what are the chances of your children marrying a like-minded person? (Or for that matter in today’s world, getting married at all?)

I don’t have time for it now – I’m anticipating a busy day – but at some point I want to discuss the impact this will have on the future. Hint: Since time immemorial there has been an evolutionary war between the male-based strategy of maximizing the number of offspring, and the female-based strategy of maximizing the quality of offspring. The end of sex-based strategies for meme propagation favors the female strategy.

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Another reason why I’m not a leftist

From the Backseat Philosopher (via Instapundit):

We Democrats are supposedly the party of the therapists, the teachers, and the 'relationship experts.' If anybody would be proud of the title, 'active listener', it would be a Democrat. We're the soft ones who understand where the other side is coming from and negotiate.

Many Democrats think that our patience and understanding are our weakness. "We don't know how to fight like the Republicans," we all told ourselves after Florida 2000. "We have to be more like them: tougher, meaner." "We have to energize our base more."

Actually, no. Our error is that we Democrats are far less understanding than we think we are. Our version of understanding the other side is to look at them from a psychological point of view while being completely unwilling to take their arguments seriously. "Well, he can't help himself, he's a right-wing religious zealot, so of course he's going to think like that." "Republicans who never served in war are hypocrites to send young men to die. " "Republicans are homophobes, probably because they can't deal with their secret desires." Anything but actually listening and responding to the arguments being made.

Very vigorous debate doesn’t bother me, but I really dislike being psychoanalyzed instead of listened to.

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Trackback from Willow Tree, The Democrats Mistake:
Via Rishon Rishon/ Andrew of the The BACKSEAT PHILOSOPHER has written an excellent piece on why the Democrats lost this election. quoting for his article: ctually, no. Our error is that we Democrats are far less understanding than we think...

November 04, 2004

Arafat is clinically dead?

Rumors are swirling that Yasser Arafat is clinically dead. I just saw on the news an official of Arafat’s hospital in France announce that his medical situation has “changed” and he will be removed to another section of the hospital more appropriate to his new “situation”.

My interpretation is that he’s dead or clinically dead, but the Palestinians don’t want to announce it for fear of what will happen next. What you would expect from a dictatorship.

(I must say the hospital officials in France look really weird: they wear what looks to me like army uniforms. Is France a police state?)

UPDATE: Israeli news is reporting now that he is clinically dead. What happens next? Remember, Arafat has been leading the Palestinian war against Israel since 1963 (four years before Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank in the Six Day War).

UPDATE: The root of Arafat is: `-r-f. I don’t know what it means in Arabic, but in Hebrew `oref (עורף), from the same root, means: back of the neck. I think that’s appropriate somehow.

UPDATE: The news seems to be confirmed. We can start donating Arafat’s organs now. Anyone want his heart?

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What won it

Jeff Jarvis has a very interesting post on what won it. I have a somewhat different take on the results. Here’s his comments, and mine:

The top issue (21%) was "moral values"; 78% of those who cared about that went for Bush, 19% for Kerry. That's a huge difference. Read this one as you will (MSNBC commentators see it as code for Vietnam and the Swifties).

“Moral values” is a codeword for either family-values conservatives, or people who were repulsed by Kerry’s Vietnam record. This is Bush’s core constituency. Kerry had no chance of winning these people’s votes. The challenge was Bush’s to get them to vote at all.

Next: economy/jobs at 20%; 81% preferring Kerry, 17% Bush. So Kerry got much better marks on the economy.

This is the “none of the above” answer. Under normal circumstances, the economy is always top priority; people who put this first are the ones that can’t say moral values or terror, because then they would have to vote for Bush. In other words, people who wanted business as usual (i.e. agreed that “terror is a nuisance”) put this first.

Terror comes in third at 18%; 85% preferring Bush, 15% Kerry. That's the one that amazes me -- not in the Kerry/Bush split but in the importance voters gave it. Bush ran on terrorism; it wasn't No. 1 in the minds of voters; yet he still won.

This came in third because a lot of the “moral values” people are in this camp too. Note, it’s a pretty close third.

Iraq comes in next at 15%; 75% preferring Kerry, 24% Bush. No surprise.

This is competing against “terror” – Bush people who thought Iraq was important did so because terror was important.

Health next at 8%; 79% preferring Kerry, 21% Bush.

These are people looking for handouts: naturally they went for Kerry.

Taxes next at only 5%; evenly split at 52% preferring Bush, 47% preferring Kerry.

I admit: I don’t get this one.

Finally, education at 4%; 76% preferring Kerry, 23% preferring Bush. So much for the education president as a defining issue.

The people who are most concerned about education are the religious right, but they put “moral values” as their lead issue. This is the teacher’s union vote: they are afraid of educational choice and competition. Naturally they voted for Kerry.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:56 PM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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November 03, 2004

Win for Tradesports

Another winner of this election is Tradesports.com. Way back on October 21st they predicted today’s results exactly (or nearly exactly – it’s still too early to tell).

Take a look at OpinionJournal.com’s summary of the results for that day! (Scroll down, they don’t have permalinks for individual entries.)

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:42 AM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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Congratulations George Bush!

It’s good news to wake up to. I’m glad the best man won.


The American People
The Iraqi People
The Iranian People
The Israeli People
Democracies everywhere
Freedom everywhere
The World


Terrorists everywhere
Dictators everywhere
Corrupt politicians everywhere (e.g. France, the UN)
Osama Bin Laden
Al Qaida
Posted by David Boxenhorn at 08:27 AM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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November 02, 2004

Time to vote!

I wish my US readers well today as they exercise their democratic rights! I want you to remember that most people in the world still don’t have them, but the current president of the United States has done more to further their cause than anyone since Ronald Regan (whose actions led to freedom in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union). He’s pursuing the great liberal agenda of the US: To let freedom ring!

The word for vote in Hebrew is: hisbia` (הצביע) – root: s-b-`, it also means: point. Other words with the same root: esba` (אצבע) – finger, seva` (צבע) – color, sava` (צבע) – paint. You point with you finger. You paint with color. I don’t know what the relationship is between painting and pointing, but in English the words are similar too!

There is a very ancient word in Hebrew for voting-box: qalpi (קלפי) – root: q-l-p. Other words from this root: qlaf (קלף) – parchment, card (the kind with 52 in a deck, not all the other kinds of cards we have in English, for which Hebrew has various other words), qlipa () – shell (of nuts), peel (of fruit). You vote with a card, a card is made of parchment, parchment is made from the skin of an animal, the skin of nut or fruit is its shell or peel.

UPDATE: Amritas teaches us to vote in Korean.

UPDATE: Election Day media watch here. Some thoughts on voting in the US here.

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Meme Plague

It is clear that culture, like physiological characteristics, is inherited by children from their parents. Your physiological characteristics are determined by your unique combination of genes, your culture by your unique combination of memes.

Now, it is well known (or should be) that the evolutionary success of a gene is dependent on two factors: its contribution to the survival of the organism, and its contribution to the fertility of the organism. Though you can combine these characteristics into one measure: reproductive fitness, to describe the gene’s contribution to survival and fertility together, I would like to keep them separate, because in relation to the world these factors are independent. It is easy to imagine a gene that contributes to survival but decreases fertility, or vice versa. Imagine, for example, a gene that does what steroids do: increasing strength while inhibiting fertility – such a gene would have no success in being passed on the next generation no matter how successful the organism that carried it in surviving, or even dominating, its peers.

But a characteristic of memes not shared by genes is their ability to propagate not only through reproduction, but also through contact. Why are some memes adopted though contact, resulting in the discarding of others? Clearly, fashion is a factor – you can see this in music and styles of clothing. While fashion is a chaotic feature (chaotic in the mathematical sense, which I think for the purposes here is the same as random) I think that there is a clear non-random factor as well – survival. It seems clear to me that human beings are programmed to adopt memes that they perceive as beneficial to survival. (Memes can also be transmitted in self-reinforcing groups, known as meme complexes. In the following discussion, read “meme or meme complex” where for brevity I just say “meme”.)

All things being equal, this is a very advantageous human characteristic – when you adopt a meme that increases your chance of survival you would normally increase your overall reproductive fitness as well. But all things are not necessarily equal. For one thing, it seems to me that human beings are not programmed to be attracted to memes that benefit fertility. It is possible to imagine a meme that strongly inhibits fertility, but is so attractive (either because it benefits survival or for some other reason) that is sweeps the human race: a meme plague. The meme would sweep through humanity (perhaps increasing overall prosperity, if its attractiveness is based on enhancing survival), only later resulting in a vast inter-generational die-off, as it fails to be transmitted to the next generation.

What defenses might we have to such a meme plague? I can think only one: Another meme even more attractive than the meme causing the plague. But this begs the question: Wouldn’t, then, this other meme sweep through the population instead? Not necessarily. Remember, there are two memetic transmission models: the viral model, i.e. though contact, and the genetic model, i.e. from your parents. You could argue that both are in fact through contact, and therefore the same. I, however, believe that the nature of your contact with your parents is fundamentally different from any other contact in your life, so they are not necessarily the same. I can imagine a meme complex (if not a single meme) that is extremely attractive to one who has acquired it, but also hard enough to transmit that it requires the kind a prolonged, extremely intimate contact, very early in life, that we only see in the parent-child relationship. If such were the case, the meme plague would likely leave such groups intact.

My question to you: do you think this is happening today?

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:42 PM  Permalink | Comments (8)
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November 01, 2004

Women of Hollywood vs. women of Afghanistan

I’m not much of a linker, but I really wanted to save this link.

UPDATE: It goes well with this:

Americans have a deserved reputation for historical amnesia. Three years -- an eon -- have made us imagine that the Afghan war was easy and foreordained.

Easy? In 2001, we had nothing there. What had the Clinton administration left in place? No plausible military plan. Virtually no intelligence. No local infrastructure. No neighboring bases. The Afghan Northern Alliance was fractured and weak. And Pakistan was actively supporting the bad guys.

Within days of Sept. 11, the clueless airhead president that inhabits Michael Moore's films and Tina Brown's dinner parties had done this: forced Pakistan into alliance with us, isolated the Taliban, secured military cooperation from Afghanistan's northern neighbors, and authorized a radical war plan involving just a handful of Americans on the ground, using high technology and local militias to utterly rout the Taliban.

President Bush put in place a military campaign that did in two months what everyone had said was impossible: defeat an entrenched, fanatical, ruthless regime in a territory that had forced the great British and Soviet empires into ignominious retreat. Bush followed that by creating in less than three years a fledgling pro-American democracy in a land that had no history of democratic culture and was just emerging from 25 years of civil war.

This is all barely remembered and barely noted. Most amazing of all, John Kerry has managed to transform our Afghan venture into a failure -- a botched operation in which Bush let Osama bin Laden get away because he "outsourced" bin Laden's capture to "warlords" in the battle of Tora Bora.

Outsourced? The entire Afghan war was outsourced. How does Kerry think we won it? How did Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul and Kandahar fall? Stormed by thousands of American GIs? They fell to the "warlords" we had enlisted, supported and directed. It was their militias that overran the Taliban.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:00 AM  Permalink | Comments (3)
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