Because I am a Barbarian

Because I am a Barbarian

 

“Why are you like this?” the question refrains

There’s dirt in my hair and mud on my knees

I run with horses and sing in the breeze

There are stars in my eyes and sky in my heart

I feel the Earth spin and the seasons progress

Because the blood of barbarians runs in my veins.

 

“Why can’t you conform? Why won’t you behave?”

You build walls around me, but I will escape

I’ll find the trails and run for the hills

Dig into the earth where I can be free,

With birds and bears, foxes and trees.

For barbarian souls cannot be contained.

 

“You cannot say that–it isn’t polite–we’ll make it a crime–”

Fuck you, you bastards, I’ll say what I mean

I won’t bow to your idols nor repeat your lies

I won’t die for your profits nor fight in your wars

I am not your dog and I cannot be tamed

Because I am a barbarian and I do not obey.

 

You cut down the trees and lay cities in grids

Flatten the hills and murder the wolves

Choke rivers with shit and turn the frogs gay

Trample the flowers and murder your neighbors

All in the name of “Let’s follow the rules.”

But I am a barbarian and I won’t be a slave.

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The Shrinking World

The more human density grows, the more space per person shrinks, the more human behavior must contract to avoid conflict with one’s neighbors.

If your neighbor is racist against you, but lives 20 miles away over an unpaved road through the mountains, he is less of a problem in your daily life than if he shares a bathroom with you in a college dorm.

As we rub against our neighbors, each individual contracts to avoid giving offense. More forms of behavior, speech, and by extension, thought, are proscribed. To live in close company is to always be aware of the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of hundreds of others or suffer consequences.

As our personal worlds shrink, so do our professions. The doctor no longer makes his rounds, seeing all manner of coughs and colds, appendixes and broken bones. Instead he has a narrow specialty, chosen while still in school. One wing of a hospital, one floor. Pediatric or geriatric. The farmer no longer builds his house, slaughters his animals, preserves his food, shears his sheep, and weaves his own clothes.

Each job is split off, done over and over–and better–by a single person. The Jack of All trades is master of none and the Jills of One Highly Specialized Sub-Trade quickly put Jack out of business. And thus the worker is alienated from the product of his labor.

An anthill cannot function if the ants are fighting; the Queen will not tolerate the workers attacking each other.

Government desire not citizens’ safety, but taxes.

I am a barbarian and I cannot live here.

Neuropolitics: “Openness” and Cortical Thickness

Brain anatomy–gyruses

I ran across an interesting study today, on openness, creativity, and cortical thickness.

The psychological trait of “openness”–that is, willingness to try new things or experiences–correlates with other traits like creativity and political liberalism. (This might be changing as cultural shifts are changing what people mean by “liberalism,” but it was true a decade ago and is still statistically true today.)

Researchers took a set of 185 intelligent people studying or employed in STEM, gave them personality tests intended to measure “openness,” and then scanned their brains to measure cortical thickness in various areas.

According to Citizendium, “Cortical thickness” is:

a brain morphometric measure used to describe the combined thickness of the layers of the cerebral cortex in mammalian brains, either in local terms or as a global average for the entire brain. Given that cortical thickness roughly correlates with the number of neurons within an ontogenetic column, it is often taken as indicative of the cognitive abilities of an individual, albeit the latter are known to have multiple determinants.

According to the article in PsyPost, reporting on the study:

“The key finding from our study was that there was a negative correlation between Openness and cortical thickness in regions of the brain that underlie memory and cognitive control. This is an interesting finding because typically reduced cortical thickness is associated with decreased cognitive function, including lower psychometric measures of intelligence,” Vartanian told PsyPost.”

Citizendium explains some of the issues associated with too thin or thick cortexs:

Typical values in adult humans are between 1.5 and 3 mm, and during aging, a decrease (also known as cortical thinning) on the order of about 10 μm per year can be observed [3]. Deviations from these patterns can be used as diagnostic indicators for brain disorders: While Alzheimer’s disease, even very early on, is characterized by pronounced cortical thinning[4], Williams syndrome patients exhibit an increase in cortical thickness of about 5-10% in some regions [5], and lissencephalic patients show drastic thickening, up to several centimetres in occipital regions[6].

Obviously people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty remembering things, but people with Williams Syndrome also tend to be low-IQ and have difficulty with memory.

Of course, the cortex is a big region, and it may matter specifically where yours is thin or thick. In this study, the thinness was found in the left middle frontal gyrus, left middle temporal gyrus, left superior temporal gyrus, left inferior parietal lobule, right inferior parietal lobule, and right middle temporal gyrus.

These are areas that, according to the study’s authors, have previously been shown to be activated during neuroimaging studies of creativity, and so the specific places you would expect to see some kind of anatomical difference in particularly creative people.

Hypothetically, maybe reduced cortical thickness, in some people, makes them worse at remembering specific kinds of experiences–and thus more likely to try new ones. For example, if I remember very strongly that I like Tomato Sauce A, and that I hate Tomato Sauce B, I’m likely to just keep buying A. But if every time I go to the store I only have a vague memory that there was a tomato sauce I really liked, I might just pick sauces at random–eventually trying all of them.

The authors have a different interpretation:

“We believe that the reason why Openness is associated with reduced cortical thickness is that this condition reduces the person’s ability to filter the contents of thought, thereby facilitating greater immersion in the sensory, cognitive, and emotional information that might otherwise have been filtered out of consciousness.”

So, less meta-brain, more direct experience? Less worrying, more experiencing?

The authors note a few problems with the study (for starters, it is hardly a representative sample of either “creative” people nor exceptional geniuses, being limited to people in STEM,) but it is still an interesting piece of data and I hope to see more like it.

 

If you want to read more about brains, I recommend Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind, which I am reading now. It goes into some detail on relevant brain structures, and how they work to create memories, recognize patterns, and let us create thought. (Incidentally, the link goes to Amazon Smile, which raises money for charity; I selected St. Jude’s.)

Anthropology Friday: Our Moslem Sisters pt 4/4

Samuel Zwemer

I desired to read a good ethnography of Middle Eastern life in the 1800s, but not happening upon one, I settled for Our Moslem Sisters: A Cry of Need from Lands of Darkness Interpreted by Those Who Heard It, edited by Annie Van Sommer and Samuel M. Zwemer. (Published in 1907.)

Sommer, Zwemer, and the book’s other contributing authors were Christian missionaries who lived in a variety of Islamic countries or areas around the turn of the 19th century. Often these missionaries brought much-needed medical supplies (and sometimes food) into poor areas.

Zwemer’s legacy lives on via the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies.

Turkey:

“We know the paucity of literature of all kinds in Turkey, where government press regulations prohibit any general output of publications; this, combined with the very general poverty of the people, makes many a home bookless, and the great majority of lives barren. …

“I have travelled on the railroad in Turkey with Moslem women, in the special compartment, where in the freedom of the day’s travel, they have thrown back their veils and silken wraps, showing their pretty French costumes and the diamonds upon their fingers, as they offered their Frank fellow-traveller cake, or possibly chocolates, and have more than once felt the embarrassment of a missionary purse too slender to allow of such luxuries, with which to return the compliment. Once a Moslem woman took from her travelling hand-basket paper and pencil, and proceeded to write, as I was doing! Page after page she wrote, though in just the reverse manner from our writing, and we soon established a feeling of comradeship.

“I have been also a deeply sympathetic witness of moving scenes in which the proverbial love of the Turkish father for his children could not be concealed. As the train awaited the signal for departure from a station, one day, the evident distress of a pretty girl opposite me, broke into crying. She had climbed into the corner by the window, and the guard had not yet closed the door. Involuntarily my eyes followed the child’s grieved gaze, until they rested upon a tall, gray-bearded Turkish officer standing by the station, who was evidently striving to control his emotion answering to the grief of the child. Finally he yielded to the heart-broken crying of the little one, and came to the car door to speak soothingly to her.”

Baluchistan:

“Throughout the Province, but especially among the Afghans and Brahuis, the position of woman is one of extreme degradation; she is not only a mere household drudge, but she is the slave of man in all his needs, and her life is one of continual and abject toil. No sooner is a girl fit for work than her parents send her to tend cattle and she is compelled to take her part in all the ordinary household duties. Owing to the system of walwar in vogue among the Afghans, a girl, as soon as she reaches nubile age, is, for all practical purposes, put up for auction sale to the highest bidder. The father discourses on her merits, as a beauty or as a housekeeper, in the public meeting places, and invites offers from those who are in want of a wife. Even the more wealthy and more respectable Afghans are not above this system of thus lauding the human wares which they have for sale. The betrothal of girls who are not yet born is frequent, and a promise of a girl thus made is considered particularly binding.

“It is also usual for an award of compensation for blood to be ordered to be paid in this shape of girls, some of whom are living, while others are not yet born. …

Modern Hazara girls wearing red traditional hijabs, with Tajik and Pashtun girls in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

“A wife in Baluchistan must not only carry water, prepare food, and attend to all ordinary household duties, but she must take the flocks out to graze, groom her husband’s horse, and assist in the cultivation. … Hence it happens that among Afghans, polygamy is only limited by the purchasing power of a man; and a wife is looked on as a better investment than cattle, for in a country where drought and scarcity are continually present, the risk of loss of animals is great, whilst the offspring of a woman, if a girl, will assuredly fetch a high price.”  …

“Regarding polygamy, the average man is unable to afford more than one wife, but the higher classes often possess from thirty to sixty women, many of them from the Hazare tribes of Afghanistan, whose women and children, during the rebellion in the late Amir’s reign, were sold over into Baluchistan and Afghanistan. In nearly every village of any size one sees the Hazare women, and the chief will talk of buying them as a farmer at home will speak of purchasing cattle.”

Noble visiting the Zenana, or women’s quarters

India:

“Let me give you a few of my experiences with regard to Mussulman women, especially during my stay in Hyderabad. One zenana we used to visit belonged to an old man who professed to be a great reformer, but whose women were still in strict purdah. He several times told us that he would be delighted if we could persuade his wife and daughters to go out with us, but of course they would not hear of such a thing. To their minds it is only the very poor and degraded who wander about unveiled or even drive in an open carriage, and would not all the ladies of their acquaintance be horrified at the bare idea of their leaving their old habits. …

“With this lady and her daughters we one day went to a fair for women only. We had to submit to having our carriage covered with a very large sheet so that no eye could see through the closed venetians, and when, after great difficulty, the lady had been placed in the carriage we drove to the enclosure where the fair was to be held. Right into the enclosure drove the carriage, and then the ladies, carefully shrouded in sheets, were conducted through a narrow gateway into a second enclosure, and there were thousands of women and children. Not a man was to be seen anywhere. It was so strange to see them wandering about freely in their bright-colored garments and to remember the streets of the great city they had come from, where hardly a woman is ever seen. These women never crossed the threshold of their houses before perhaps, so it was like fairyland to them. …

“Still progress is being made, we feel quite sure, and one thing seems to prove this. Though the Mohammedans in South India are backward and full of things to be deplored, yet they are innocent of many things which are evidently carried on in other Mohammedan countries. We, in South India, who have for years worked amongst Moslems never heard of the customs which seem to prevail in Egypt. Divorce is rarely heard of. Possibly it is too expensive, as the husband must return the dower. A woman being married to half a dozen husbands in succession is unheard of.”

Turkestan:

“Some fifty years ago there lived in Kashgar a man called Chodsha Burhaneddin. … He married a woman of noble descent, and for some time contented himself with his one wife. But according to Islam it is a merit to take if possible four wives, in order to increase the number of the adherents of Islam. For this reason Chodsha brought home another wife whenever he travelled on business to the Russian town of Andishan on that side of the Tienshan, until the number of four was full. The consequence was that he not only neglected his first wife, but even had her do all the housework alone, thus making her the servant of his three other wives.

“She had to serve them from early morning till late at night. Without grumbling and with great diligence the poor woman took all the work upon herself; secretly, however, she bewailed her hard lot and employed her few free hours for the education of her little daughter. However, she did not succeed in satisfying her husband. He always found fault, beat her, and bade her not show her face before him. His wife submitted patiently and silently…Four years passed.

“Meanwhile several political revolutions had taken place in Kashgar. In China the numerous Chinese Mohammedans had revolted, and the revolt had spread over the western countries. In eastern Turkestan the Chinese officials as well as the soldiers and the merchants had been killed by the Mohammedans; only a few escaped death by accepting Islam.

“This state of matters was put an end to by Jakob Beg. He had come from Chanab Chokand, north of the Tienshan, under the pretext of helping the descendant of the old Kashgarian dynasty of the Chodshas to the throne. In due time he put the Prince aside and founded a kingdom of his own, which included the whole of eastern Turkestan. After taking hold of the government he tried to weaken the Chodshas in every way possible, some of them were assassinated, others put in prison in order to be executed. One of the latter was Chodsha Burhaneddin.

“As soon as his wife heard that her husband had been made a prisoner, she hurried to her father, who was well esteemed at Jakob Beg’s court, and besought him to make the most of his influence in order to save her husband. Then she prepared a meal, took it to her imprisoned husband, and encouraged him. At his request she roused her father still more so as to betake himself at once to Jakob Beg, and to prevail on him to set the prisoner at liberty that same night.

“Chodsha Burhaneddin returned to his house and entered the room of his wife whom he had so long neglected, in order to thank her for his delivery. Afterwards she had one more child, a boy.”

Cathay (China):

“The social condition of Mohammedan women in Kansu Province in Northwest China is not so hard as those of their sisters in the more western countries. The Mohammedans, having been in China now about a thousand years, have, save in the matter of idolatry, practically adopted the Chinese customs, even to the binding of the feet of their little girls.”

EvX: I would like to note that footbinding sounds pretty hard to me.

“Among the wealthier Mohammedans, as with the wealthier Chinese, polygamy is common, many having two or three wives, and among the middle class, when there has been no issue by the first wife, many take unto themselves a second wife. Divorces are of rare occurrence.

“There are no harems. The better-class women are not seen much on the streets, but in the country places, the farmer’s wife, daughters, and daughters-in-law go out into the fields, weed and reap the corn, carry water, gather in fuel, and wear no veil. The daughters and daughters-in-law of the better class, from the age of fifteen to thirty, often wear a black veil when going on a visit to their friends, as also do the Chinese. …

“Speaking of the Mohammedan male population in our prefecture of Si-ning, the vast majority are ignorant of the tenets of the Koran, know little of anything, save that Masheng-ren is their prophet, and that there is a Supreme Being somewhere …

“After the rebellion of 1895, when retribution fell heavily on the Mohammedans, thousands of them were reduced to the verge of starvation; women, who had been accustomed to the comforts of a good home, were deprived of their warm winter clothing and left only with thin summer tattered garments, right in the depth of winter with a thermometer registering below zero (Fahrenheit). By the help of many kind friends in different parts of China, we were enabled to open a soup-kitchen and provide hot food every day for six weeks, during the bitterest part of the winter, to an average of three hundred persons each day, and also to give away several warm garments to those in direst need.”

Homeschooling Corner: Summer Fun

Hello, everyone. I hope you have had a lovely summer. We ended up scaling back a bit on our regular schedule, doing about half as much formal “schoolwork” as usual and twice as much riding bikes and going to the playground.

Here are some of the books we found particularly useful/enjoyable this summer:

String, Straightedge, and Shadow: The Story of Geometry, by Julia E Diggins

This is my favorite book we read this summer.

I was looking for a book to introduce simple geometry and shape construction. Instead, I found this delightful history of geometry. It is appropriate for children who understand simple fractions, ratios, and the Pythagorean theorem, but it is not a mathematics textbook and only contains a few equations. (I’m still looking for an introduction to geometry, if anyone has any recommendations.)

This is a new edition of a book originally published in 1965, but its age isn’t really important because geometry hasn’t changed much in the intervening years.

The story begins with geometry in nature–the shapes of trees and flowers, spiderwebs and honeycombs–then develops a speculative account of how early stoneage humans might have become increasingly aware of and attuned to these shapes. Men saw the shapes of the sun and moon in the sky, and might have observed that an ox tied to a pole traced out a similar shape in the dirt.

Then Egyptian surveyors developed right triangles, used for measuring the corner of fields and pyramids. The Mesopotamians developed astronomy, and divided the circle into 360 degrees. Then came the Greeks–clever Thales, mystical Pythagoras, and practical Archimedes. And finally, at the end, Eratosthenes (who used geometry–literally, earth measuring–to measure the circumference of the Earth,) and a few paragraphs about Euclid.

Writing with Ease, by Susan Wise Bauer

There are many books and workbooks in this series, so you can pick the ones that best suit your child’s ability level. (The “look inside the book” feature is great for judging which level of textbook you want.)

I am sure these books are not everyone’s cup of tea. They may not be yours. But they were what we needed.

My eldest children are fairly different in writing needs, but I do not have time for separate curricula. One is a good speller, the other bad. One has acceptable handwriting, the other awful. One will write independently, the other hates writing and plays dead if I try to get them to write. These books have worked well for everyone. Spelling, handwriting, and general willingness to write have all improved.

Even if you aren’t homeschooling, this book might make a good supplement to your kids’ regular curriculum.

In science, we have been growing bacteria in petri dishes and looking at them under the microscope, with the help of Usborne Science and Experiments: The World of the Microscope (I think this is the same book, but cheaper.)

Petri dishes are cheap, agar is easy to make at home (it’s just like making jello,) and kids can learn things like “doorknobs are dirty” and “that’s why mom makes me wash my hands before dinner.”

Just be careful when handling large quantities of bacteria. Even if it’s normal household bacteria that you’re exposed to regularly, you’re not used to it in these quantities. The instructions recommend wearing gloves and safety goggles while handling bacteria and making slides out of them–and besides, kids like dressing up “like scientists” anyway.

The Super Source: Pattern Blocks and Geoboards

Our pattern blocks have been in the family for decades–passed down to me by my grandmother–but the geoboards are a new acquisition. I remember geoboards in elementary school–they sat behind the teacher’s desk and we never actually used them. I didn’t know what, exactly, geoboards were for, so I went ahead and got new workbooks for both them and the pattern blocks.

We are only a few lessons in, but so far I am very pleased with these. We have been talking about angles and measuring the degrees in different shapes with the pattern blocks–360 in a circle, 180 in a triangle, 720 in a hexagon, etc–which dovetails nicely with the geometry reading. The geoboards let us construct and examine a variety of different shapes, like right and equilateral triangles. The lesson plans are easy to use and the kids really enjoy them. Just watch out for rubber bands flying across the room.

Super Source makes workbooks for different grade levels, from K through 6th.

Learn to Program with Minecraft, by Craig Richardson

This book introduces Python, and is a nice step up from the Scratch workbooks. You may have to install a couple of programs, like Python and the API spigot, but the book walks you through this and it is not bad at all. There are then step-by-step instructions for making simple programs, along with bonus challenges to work out on your (or your kid’s) own.

The book covers strings, booleans, if statements, loops, etc, in kid-friendly ways. Best for people who already love Minecraft and can type.

Political Inconsistency?

Does anyone else feel like politics are disconcertingly inconsistent?
Perhaps that the whole thing has come unmoored?
I was anti-war back in the early 00s, when the Left was anti-war. I marched in protest against the Iraq War. “Hey hey, ho ho, this racist war has got to go,” we chanted.
There was a lot of talk back then about how the US spends too much on the military and is over-involved in military expeditions abroad.
Of course, I was not an expert in international affairs, nor America’s military needs abroad. I might have been wrong. So might most of the other leftists who held similar opinions in those days. But “America is spending too much on the military, which is harming both brown people abroad and also Americans, who die in wars and have to pay for them. We would be better off spending that money on things that actually benefit Americans, like highspeed rail lines, education, health care, or just leaving it in people’s pockets and letting them use it however they want,” was absolutely a mainstream leftist position.
Today, Trump says something like he wouldn’t want to die in a war for Montenegro, and the Left responds that it is very important that Americans be willing to die for Montenegro.
Let’s step back and be rational for a second: No one wants to die for a foreign country. I don’t want to die for Australia, for Russia, for India, Japan, Montenegro, or Chad, and no one from those countries wants to die for America. Certainly there is a logic of “strength in numbers,” in which we are all safer because we create a credible, united front, but there is also logic in avoiding”entangling alliances,” which were blamed for creating the death machine known as WWI.
The question of whether Americans should die in defense of Montenegro (something we have been committed to without ever being asked,) ultimately depends on whether alliance with Montenegro makes us more or less secure here at home–a matter I haven’t seen any discussion about on Left or Right.
The only relevant argument I’ve seen is that various alliance-members have died “for us” in “our” wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, therefore we should be equally willing to die for them in their wars. The logic seems to be, “The government sent you to die in a stupid, racist war that destroyed the American economy and was a terrible idea all around, therefore you’re morally obligated to go die in Montenegro, too.”
Perhaps we should be asking whether dying in Iraq and Afghanistan was a good idea for anyone, not just taking it as some kind of obscene sunk cost that obligates everyone else to go die in random conflicts from here on out.
It seems like all of the talk about how “the military is too big” and “bombing countries like Iraq and Afghanistan is racist” was dropped as soon as people realized that massively cutting the military budget would mean… scaling back military obligations abroad.
I find a Left that suddenly pro-military spending and antagonistic toward Russia awfully disconcerting.
There are a variety of issues on the Right that I find it difficult to believe people *truly* care that much about–for example, I don’t think anyone actually believed that national policy should be determined by whether or not Bill Clinton had sex with an intern. “Bill had sex” is really just an excuse to try to force him out on technical grounds because they already didn’t like him. Similarly on the Left, I don’t believe any of the outraged commentators actually care whether the US flag touched the North Korean flag at the US/NK summit–the Left has never cared about proper flag etiquette.
These issues are transparently not things politicians, commentators, or other elites actually care about.
Was “America spends too much on the military/fights too many wars abroad” similarly nothing but a dumb rallying cry for the Left, something the upper muckety-mucks never actually believed? And what happened to all of the people who were once quite opposed to US “imperialism”?

Anthropology Friday: Our Moslem Sisters pt. 3

Hausa woman, circa 1900

I desired to read a good ethnography of Middle Eastern life in the 1800s, but not happening upon one, I settled for Our Moslem Sisters: A Cry of Need from Lands of Darkness Interpreted by Those Who Heard It, edited by Annie Van Sommer and Samuel M. Zwemer. (Published in 1907.)

Sommer, Zwemer, and the book’s other contributing authors were Christian (Calvinist) missionaries, and as such, we should keep in mind that much of the book is an explicit appeal for more funding–but they are also people who were on the ground and actually lived there, spoke the language, and befriended the locals, so their observations are not without merit.

Today’s excerpts begin with “Soudan,” which I do not think is the modern nation of “Sudan,’ but the French colony of Soudan, today Mali.

Fulani woman

“Soudan”

“The form of Islam seen in the large centres of population in the Hausa States is that of a virile, aggressive force, in no sense effete or corrupted by the surrounding paganism. It has had no rival systems such as Hinduism or Buddhism to compete with, and until now has not come into conflict with Christianity. The distinctive characteristics of the African have, however, tended to increase in it sensualism and a laxity of morals, and this has stamped, to a large extent, the attitude toward women and the character of women as developed under its system….

“It is now generally acknowledged that these people—Fulanis—originally came from Asia, or at least are Semitic.

“They are the rulers of all this great empire, and have for a hundred years exercised a tyrannical rule over the Hausas and the pagan peoples whom they had succeeded in enslaving before British rule in turn overcame them. The Fulani women are many of them olive-colored; some are beautiful and all have the small features, thin lips, straight nose, and long straight hair associated with the Asiatic. The Fulani rulers, following the Eastern fashion, have large harems and keep their women very secluded.

“The late Emir of Zaria was terribly severe to all his people, and cruel to a degree with any of his wives who transgressed in any way or were suspected of unfaithfulness. In one instance in which a female slave had assisted one of his wives to escape, both being detected, the wife was immediately decapitated and the slave given the head in an open calabash and ordered by the Emir to fan the flies off it until next night!

“I have been admitted into the home of one such family, the home of one of the highest born of all the Fulani chiefs, saw two of the wives and bowed to them, but the two little girls of seven and eight years came to call on me. On the whole I was struck with the cheerful appearance of the wife and the sweetness of the two little girls, but the husband was a particularly nice man, I should think a kind husband, and I know a kind father. …

“The ease with which all Hausa women, but specially those of the middle and lower classes, can obtain divorce for almost any reason; also the frequency with which they can obtain redress for cruelty from their husbands in the native courts, gives them power and a position in the community not to be despised. A man, for instance, in order to get a girl of sixteen years in marriage will pay her parents a sum of perhaps ten or twelve pounds.

“If at any future time she desires to leave him and marry another man, she can do so by swearing before the native courts that they have quarrelled and that she no longer wishes to live with him. But if that is all she merely gets a paper of divorce and either herself or her next husband has to refund to the aggrieved former husband the sum originally paid for her. If, however, she can prove violence or injury from her husband she has not to pay him anything, but may even in some cases get damages.

“A girl is usually given the option of refusing the man whom her parents have arranged for her to marry. This is not often done, but I have known of some cases in which the girl has availed herself of the privilege, and stated that she prefers some one else, in which case the engagement is broken and the new marriage arranged at once with the man of her choice. …

“The existence of a large class of pagan slave girls, who have been caught and brought from their own homes and carried into the Hausa country to become members of the harem of some of the Hausas, also complicates and intensifies the evil; for this mixture only tends to lower the standards and make the facilities for sin tenfold easier….

“The knowledge that a wife may leave at will, that less labor can be got out of a cruelly-treated slave wife, and that little girls can leave home and find a place elsewhere, all have tended to make women’s lives freer, and to some extent less hard in the Central Soudan than in North Africa.”

Arabia:

“The same men who themselves indulge in the grossest form of immorality become very angry and cruel if there is a breath of scandal against their women. In Bahrein, a young pearl-diver heard a rumor that his sister was not a pure woman; he returned immediately from the divings and stabbed her in a most diabolical way without even inquiring as to the truth of the matter. She died in great agony from her injuries, and the brother was acquitted by a Moslem judge …

“It is a common thing for us to be asked to prescribe poison for a rival wife who has been added to the household and for the time being is the favorite. Through jealousy some of these supplanted wives plunge into a life of sin. I do not know anything more pathetic than to have to listen to a poor soul pleading for a love-philter or potion to bring back the so-called love of a perfidious husband. Women, whether rich or poor, naturally prefer to be the only wife. … Some divorced women return to the house of their parents, while the homeless ones are most miserable and find escape from misery only in death. …

“A man may have a new wife every few months if he so desires, and in some parts of Arabia this is a common state of affairs among the rich chiefs. The result of all this looseness of morals is indescribable. Unnatural vice abounds, and so do contagious diseases which are the inheritance of poor little children.

“There is a very large per cent. of infant mortality partly on this account, and partly on account of gross ignorance in the treatment of the diseases of childhood. …

However

“Lady Ann Blunt, who has travelled among the Bedouins, says, ‘In more than one sheikh’s tent it is the women’s half of it in which the politics of the tribe are settled.'”

Yemen

“Called one day to see a Somali woman I missed the whip usually seen in a Somali’s house, and jokingly asked how her husband managed to keep her in order without a whip. She, taking her husband and me by the hand, said, “You are my father and this is my husband. Love unites us, and where love is there is no need for whips.”

“I was so pleased with her speech that I offered her husband, who was out of work, a subordinate place in our dispensary. Yet less than a month later I heard that he had divorced his wife and turned her out of doors….

“The following case will, I think, illustrate the usual attitude of the Arabs in the Yemen towards womankind:

“A man whose wife had been in labor two days came asking for medicine to make her well. My reply was that it was necessary to see the woman before I could give such a drug as he wished. “Well,” said he, “she will die before I allow you or any other man to see her,” and two days after I heard of her death.”

Lebanon:

“In Beirut, among the better classes girls are not married as young as they used to be, though occasionally you hear of instances, as in the case of a woman who had eight daughters and married two of them, twins, at the age of eight. She gained nothing by this cruel act as they were soon divorced and sent home.

“One reason for child-marriages among Mohammedans in Syria is the conscription which demands for the army every young man of eighteen. The one who cannot afford to escape conscription by paid substitutes or money may be exempt if he has a wife dependent upon him. When he is sixteen or seventeen his family send off to some distant town for a young girl who is a destitute orphan, and this child is married to the youth,—she may be ten years old, or nine, or even eight, and cases are known where a girl of seven has been married to a boy of sixteen. …

“Sad stories are told of those who are put out to service, especially when they go to Turkish families. It is not very common, fortunately, for there is always the fear that the men in the family, regarding them as lawful prey, will ill-treat them. Girls disgraced in this way have a terrible fate.

“A friend came to us one day, weeping because of a dreadful thing which had just come to her knowledge, too late, alas! for any help to be given. The daughter of a neighbor, a poor man, had been sent out to service, and the worst befell her. She was sent home in disgrace,—her father was obliged to receive her, but he would not recognize her or have anything to do with her till one day he ordered her to go out into the garden and dig in a spot he indicated. Each day he came to see what she had accomplished, till at last there was a hole deep enough for her to stand in, her full height. Her father then called his brothers, they brought lime, poured it over her, and then buried the child alive in the hole she herself had dug. She was only twelve years old! …

“I must not omit to say that in the smaller Mohammedan settlements where there is much intermarrying in families, there is almost no divorce, for even if a man wishes it, he must be very courageous to brave the united wrath of the whole circle of female relatives or of his enraged uncle or cousin, who resents bitterly having his daughter sent back to her home. …

Druze woman wearing a tantour, 1870s, Lebanon

“Among the Druzes, divorce is even more common than it is among the true Mohammedans, and the state of morals is very low. The Druzes are an interesting, even fascinating people. They live on the Lebanons and inland on the Druze mountains of the Hauran, and are a warlike independent race, of fine physique, and most polished, courteous manners. Some of their women are very beautiful and their peculiar costumes are most becoming and picturesque. … As was said before, they are classed with the Mohammedans although they have their own prophet, Hakim, and they take pride in having their own secret religion, which is little more than a brotherhood for political purposes.”

EvX: The book makes no mention of the Yazidis, but these days they post on Twitter about how matters stand between them and their neighbors, the Islamic State:

I was pregnant and taken as sex slave with my five years daughter by SuNn! Neighbors. After ISIS killed my husband and almost all members of our family I decided to suicide, I took poison but didn’t die, I lost my unborn baby. I was sold many times.

 

Sacrifice Everything Memes

I woke up this morning with the realization that I needed to make a meme about Nongqawuse. (Context.)

These were the result:

In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide in order to reach a UFO they believed was accompanying comet Hale-Bopp.

In 1978, 918 followers of cult leader Jim Jones committed suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid–the origin of the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

 

Mathematician Ted Kaczynski, unable to find a publisher for his manifesto, Industrial Society And Its Future, turned to mailing bombs to professors.

 

 

82 Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, died when their compound burned down during a raid by the ATF. It appears that the Branch Davidians set the fire themselves.

 

The Thugs were an Indian cult that ritually strangled and murdered travelers.

 

Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in 1995 when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in what he claimed was revenge for ATF’s siege against the Branch Davidians.

Hong Xiuquan claimed to be Jesus’ little brother and lead the Taiping Rebellion, which resulted in the deaths of 20-30 million people.

Lee Harvey Oswald

Nongqawuse was a Xhosa prophet who convinced her people that if they sacrificed all of their cattle, the British would be “swept into the sea.” The Xhosa sacrificed their cattle, the British did not get swept into the sea, and mass famine resulted.

 

Charles Manson was a cult leader whose followers carried out 9 murders in the 70s.

 

Elliot Rodger

 

By request:

 

Moloch

 

Every month of the Aztec year had a specific form of human sacrifice devoted to different deities.

 

Nike is giving terrible advice. Anyone who encourages you to sacrifice everything is probably a charlatan and actually wants you to sacrifice everything for them.

Believe in something sensible, true, and not likely to result in mass death.

Book Club Announcement: How to Create a Mind

Next Book Club pick: How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, by Ray Kurzweil. (This time we will be taking a different approach, and the discussion will be much shorter.)

From the Amazon blurb:

Ray Kurzweil is arguably today’s most influential—and often controversial—futurist. In How to Create a Mind, Kurzweil presents a provocative exploration of the most important project in human-machine civilization—reverse engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works and using that knowledge to create even more intelligent machines.

Discussion starts September 24th.

A Little Review of Big Data Books

I recently finished three books on “big data”– Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier; Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet can tell us about who we Really Are, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz; and Big Data At Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the opportunities, by Thomas H. Davenport.

None of these books was a whiz-bang thriller, but I enjoyed them.

Big Data was a very sensible introduction. What exactly is “big data”? It’s not just bigger data sets (though it is also that.) It’s the opportunity to get all the data.

Until now, the authors point out, we have lived in a data poor world. We have had to carefully design our surveys to avoid sampling bias because we just can’t sample that many people. There’s a whole bunch of math done over in statistics to calculate how certain we can be about a particular result, or whether it could just be the result of random chance biasing our samples. I could poll 10,000 people about their jobs, and that might be a pretty good sample, but if everyone I polled happens to live within walking distance of my house, is this a very representative sample of everyone in the country? Now think about all of those studies on the mechanics of sleep done on whatever college students or homeless guys a scientist could convince to sleep in a lab for a week. How representative are they?

Today, though, we suddenly live in a data rich world. An exponentially data rich world. A world in which we no longer need to correct for bias in our sample, because we don’t have to sample. We can just get… all the data. You can go to Google and find out how many people searched for “rabbit” on Tuesday, or how many people misspelled “rabbit” in various ways.

Data is being used in new and interesting (and sometimes creepy) ways. Many things that previously weren’t even considered data are now being quantitized–like one researcher quantitizing people’s backsides to determine whether a car is being driven by its owner, or a stranger.

One application I find promising is using people’s searches for various disease symptoms to identify people who may have various diseases before they seek out a doctor. Catching cancer patients earlier could save millions of lives.

I don’t have the book in front of me anymore, so I am just going by memory, but it made a good companion to Auerswald’s The Code Economy, since the modern economy runs so much on data.

Everybody Lies was a much more lighthearted, annecdotal approach to the subject, discussing lots of different studies. Davidowitz was inspired by Freakonomics, and he wants to use Big Data to uncover hidden truths of human behavior.

The book discusses, for example, people’s pornographic searches, (as per the title, people routinely lie about how much porn they look at on the internet,) and whether people’s pornographic preferences can be used to determine what percent of people in each state are gay. It turns out that we can get a break down of porn queries by state and variety, allowing a rough estimate of the gay and straight population of each state–and it appears that what people are willing to tell pollsters about their sexuality doesn’t match what they search for online. In more conservative states, people are less likely to admit to pollsters that they are gay, but plenty of supposedly “straight” people are searching for gay porn–about the same number of people as actually admit to being gay in more liberal states.

Stephens-Davidowitz uses similar data to determine that people have been lying to pollsters (or perhaps themselves) about whom they plan to vote for. For example, Donald Trump got anomalously high votes in some areas, and Obama got anomalously low votes, compared to what people in those areas told pollsters. However, both of these areas correlated highly with areas of the country where people made a lot of racist Google searches.

Most of the studies discussed are amusing, like the discovery of the racehorse American Pharaoh. Others are quite important, like a study that found that child abuse was probably actually going up at a time when official reports said it wasn’t–the reports probably weren’t showing abuse due to a decrease in funding for investigating abuse.

At times the author steps beyond the studies and offers interpretations of why the results are the way they are that I think go beyond what the data tells, like his conclusion that parents are biased against their daughters because they are more concerned with girls being fat than with boys, or because they are more likely to Google “is my son a genius?” than “is my daughter a genius?”

I can think of a variety of alternative explanations. eg, society itself is crueler to overweight women than to overweight men, so it is reasonable, in turn, for parents to worry more about a daughter who will face cruelty than a boy who will not. Girls are more likely to be in gifted programs than boys, but perhaps this means that giftedness in girls is simply less exceptional than giftedness in boys, who are more unusual. Or perhaps male giftedness is different from female giftedness in some way that makes parents need more information on the topic.

Now, here’s an interesting study. Google can track how many people make Islamophobic searches at any particular time. Compared against Obama’s speech that tried to calm outrage after the San Bernardino attack, this data reveals that the speech was massively unsuccessful. Islamophobic searches doubled during and after the speech. Negative searches about Syrian refugees rose 60%, while searches asking how to help dropped 35%.

In fact, just about every negative search we cold think to test regarding Muslims shot up during and after Obama’s speech, and just about every positive search we could think to test declined. …

Instead of calming the angry mob, as everybody thought he was doing, the internet data tells us that Obama actually inflamed it.

However, Obama later gave another speech, on the same topic. This one was much more successful. As the author put it, this time, Obama spent little time insisting on the value of tolerance, which seems to have just made people less tolerant. Instead, “he focused overwhelmingly on provoking people’s curiosity and changing their perceptions of Muslim Americans.”

People tend to react positively toward people or things they regard as interesting, and invoking curiosity is a good way to get people interested.

The author points out that “big data” is most likely to be useful in fields where the current data is poor. In the case of American Pharaoh, for examples, people just plain weren’t getting a lot of data on racehorses before buying and selling them. It was a field based on people who “knew” horses and their pedigrees, not on people who x-rayed horses to see how big their hearts and lungs were. By contrast, hedge funds investing in the stock market are already up to their necks in data, trying to maximize every last penny. Horse racing was ripe for someone to become successful by unearthing previously unused data and making good predictions; the stock market is not.

And for those keeping track of how many people make it to the end of the book, I did. I even read the endnotes, because I do that.

Big Data At Work was very different. Rather than entertain us with the success of Google Flu or academic studies of human nature, BDAW discusses how to implement “big data” (the author admits it is a silly term) strategies at work. This is a good book if you own, run, or manage a business that could utilize data in some way. UPS, for example, uses driving data to minimize package delivery routes; even a small saving per package by optimizing routes leads to a large saving for the company as a whole, since they deliver so many packages.

The author points out that “big data” often isn’t big so much as unstructured. Photographs, call logs, Facebook posts, and Google searches may all be “data,” but you will need some way to quantitize these before you can make much use of them. For example, companies may want to gather customer feedback reports, feed them into a program that recognizes positive or negative language, and then quantitizes how many people called to report that they liked Product X vs how many called to report that they disliked it.

I think an area ripe for this kind of quantitization is medical data, which currently languishes in doctors’ files, much of it on paper, protected by patient privacy laws. But people post a good deal of information about their medical conditions online, seeking help from other people who’ve dealt with the same diseases. Currently, there are a lot of diseases (take depression) where treatment is very hit-or-miss, and doctors basically have to try a bunch of drugs in a row until they find one that works. A program that could trawl through forum posts and assemble data on patients and medical treatments that worked or failed could help doctors refine treatment for various difficult conditions–“Oh, you look like the kind of patient who would respond well to melatonin,” or “Oh, you have the characteristics that make you a good candidate for Prozac.”

The author points out that most companies will not be able to keep the massive quantities of data they are amassing. A hospital, for example, collects a great deal of data about patient’s heart rates and blood oxygen levels every day. While it might be interesting to look back at 10 years worth of patient heart rate data, hospitals can’t really afford to invest in databanks to store all of this information. Rather, what companies need is real-time or continuous data processing that analyzes current data and makes predictions/recommendations for what the company (or doctor) should do now.

For example, one of the books (I believe it was “Big Data”) discussed a study of premature babies which found, counter-intuitively, that they were most likely to have emergencies soon after a lull in which they had seemed to be doing rather well–stable heart rate, good breathing, etc. Knowing this, a hospital could have a computer monitoring all of its premature babies and automatically updating their status (“stable” “improving” “critical” “likely to have a big problem in six hours”) and notifying doctors of potential problems.

The book goes into a fair amount of detail about how to implement “big data solutions” at your office (you may have to hire someone who knows how to code and may even have to tolerate their idiosyncrasies,) which platforms are useful for data, the fact that “big data” is not all that different from standard analytics that most companies already run, etc. Once you’ve got the data pumping, actual humans may not need to be involved with it very often–for example you may have a system that automatically updates drives’ routes with traffic reports, or sprinklers that automatically turn on when the ground gets too dry.

It is easy to see how “big data” will become yet another facet of the algorithmization of work.

Overall, Big Data at Work is a good book, especially if you run a company, but not as amusing if you are just a lay reader. If you want something fun, read the first two.