The Fullness of America

This turned out to be a popular thread, so I thought I’d  share it over here.

This is a good example of a common misconception: that physical space per person matters.

Things that actually matter:
1. Water per person
2. Farmland per person
3. Cost of housing near city centers
4. Commuting time to city centers

Thing is, while we still eat food, our economy has been, since the late 1800s, something we describe as “industrial” (and now “post-industrial”). This means that the vast majority of people have to live in cities instead of farms, because industries are in cities.

Don’t get your political information from anyone who doesn’t know we live in an industrial (post-industrial) economy, folks.

One of the side effects of living in an industrial/post-industrial economy is that, by necessity, you end up with uneven population densities. We don’t plop cities down on farmland (not if you want to eat) and you don’t try to grow potatoes in city medians.

So a pure measure of “density” is meaningless.

In an agrarian economy, land is the most important resource. In an industrial/post-industrial economy, proximity to industry is itself a kind of resource. People have to actually be able to get to their jobs. This is why in places like Silicon Valley, where housing is artificially restricted, the price of housing skyrockets. You can probably find some super cheap (relatively speaking) land a mere hundred miles away from SF, but people can’t commute that far, so they bid up the prices on what housing there is.

Of course it would be great if people could just build more housing in CA, but that’s a separate issue–regardless, if people could just move to one of those less populated areas, they would.

(By the way, South Africa is also a modern, industrial economy, which is why the idea of taking people’s farms and redistributing them to the masses is absurd from an economic point of view. South Africa is not an agrarian society, and very few people there actually want to be farmers. The goal is not economic growth, but simply to hurt the farmers.)

Many of our other resources are similarly “invisible”–that is, difficult to quantify easily on a map. Where does your water come from? Rain? Rivers? Aquifer?

How much water can your community use before you run out?

Water feels infinite because it just pours out of the faucet, but it isn’t. Each area has so much water it can obtain easily, a little more that can be obtained with effort, and after that, you’re looking at very large energy expenditures for more.

wss-gw-depletion-us-map-trend
Source: Groundwater Decline and Depletion from US Gov

Groundwater Depletion in the United States (1900–2008). A natural consequence of groundwater withdrawals is the removal of water from subsurface storage, but the overall rates and magnitude of groundwater depletion in the United States are not well characterized. This study evaluates long-term cumulative depletion volumes in 40 separate aquifers or areas and one land use category in the United States, bringing together information from the literature and from new analyses. Depletion is directly calculated using calibrated groundwater models, analytical approaches, or volumetric budget analyses for multiple aquifer systems. Estimated groundwater depletion in the United States during 1900–2008 totals approximately 1,000 cubic kilometers (km3). Furthermore, the rate of groundwater depletion has increased markedly since about 1950, with maximum rates occurring during the most recent period (2000–2008) when the depletion rate averaged almost 25 km3 per year (compared to 9.2 km3 per year averaged over the 1900–2008 timeframe).

We’re not just “full”; we’re eating our seed corn. When the aquifers run out, well, the farms are just fucked.

There are some ways to prevent total aquifer collapse, like planting crops that require less water. We’re not totally doomed. But the idea that we can keep our present lifestyles/consumption levels while continuously expanding the population is nonsense.

unnamed
The most effective way to stop global warming is to HAVE FEWER PEOPLE living 1st world lifestyles (source)

Eventually something has to give. Someone has to scale back their consumption. Maybe it’s no more almonds. Maybe it’s less meat. Maybe it’s longer commutes or smaller houses.

No matter how you slice it, resources aren’t infinite and you can’t feed cities on deserts.

One more thought:

This is all technical, addressing the question of “How do we measure whether we are really full or not?”

No one has addressed the question of whether being “full” or not is even important.

You could look at my house and say, “Hey, your house isn’t full! There’s plenty of room for two more people in your living room,” and I can say “Excuse me? Who are you and why are you looking in my windows?”

This is my house, and it’s not my responsibility to justify to some stranger why I want X number of people living here and not Y number of people.

If I want to live alone, that’s my business. I am not obligated to take a roommate. If I want my sister and her husband and five kids to move in here with my husband and kids and their dogs, too, that’s also my business (well, and theirs.)

It is not a stranger’s.

Just because we can cram a lot of people into Nevada does not mean anyone is obligated to do so.

If you like it, had you better put a ring on it?

The diamond engagement ring isn’t “trad” by any means–while rings are ancient, the custom of giving one’s beloved a diamond was invented by the DeBeers corporation a mere 80 years ago.

Indeed, the entire modern wedding is mostly a marketing gimmick–I guarantee your dirt poor farming ancestors in the 1800s didn’t spring for a bachelor party (and shotgun marriages were more common than Camelot weddings)–but an insightful Twitter commentator whose name I have regretfully forgotten brings up an intriguing possibility: have diamond rings become so popular because they are an effective, hard to fake signal of future marital fidelity, thus taking the place of a traditional piece of legislation, the “breach of promise to marry“:

A breach of promise to marry, or simply, “breach of a promise,” occurs when a person promises to marry another, and then backs out of their agreement. In about half of all U.S. states, a promise to marry is considered to be legally enforceable, so long as the promise or agreement fulfills all the basic requirements of a valid contract.

According to this theory, as legal enforcement of punishments for breaking marriage contracts fell by the wayside, people found new ways to insure their relationships: by spending a huge hunk of cash on a non-refundable diamond.

This is a really nice theory. It just has one problem: the amount of money spent on a diamond is a really poor predictor of marital quality. In fact, researchers have found the opposite:

In this paper, we estimate the relationship between wedding spending (including spending on engagement rings and wedding ceremonies) and the duration of marriages. To do so, we carried out an online survey of over 3,000 ever married persons residing in the United States. Overall, we find little evidence that expensive weddings and the duration of marriages are positively related. On the contrary, in multivariate analysis, we find evidence that relatively high spending on the engagement ring is inversely associated with marriage duration among male respondents. Relatively high spending on the wedding is inversely associated with marriage duration among female respondents, and relatively low spending on the wedding is positively associated with duration among male and female respondents.

People who spend more on diamonds (and weddings) get divorced faster, but it appears there is a sweet spot for rings between $500 and $2000. Not having a ring at all might spell trouble, for going below $500 also increases your chance of divorce–but not nearly as much as spending over $2000.

The sweet spot for the overall wedding is… below $1000. This is a little concerning when you consider that, according to PBS, the average couple spends about $30,000 on their wedding.

These finding may have an immediate cause: debt is bad for marriage, and blowing $30,000 on a wedding is not a good way to kick off your life together. There may also be a more fundamental cause: people who are impulsive and bad at financial planning may also be bad at managing other parts of their lives and generally make bad spouses.

There is one bright spot in this study:

Additionally, we find that having high wedding attendance and having a
honeymoon (regardless of how much it cost) are generally positively associated with marriage duration.

This is probably because these are activities you do with people you actually like, and the sorts of people who have lots of relationships and like doing things with their friends are good at relationships.

So skip the wedding and just invite all of your friends to a big party in Tahiti.

(If you’re wondering, we spent about $1500 on our wedding and I hand made the rings, and we are now the most successfully and longest-married couple in my entire extended family.)

How did we all get bamboozled? The process by which diamond rings became the engagement staple is really something:

The concept of an engagement ring had existed since medieval times, but it had never been widely adopted. And before World War II, only 10% of engagement rings contained diamonds. …

Creating the Narrative:

The agency wanted to make it look like diamonds were everywhere, and they started by using celebrities in the media. “The big ones sell the little ones,” said Dorothy Dignam, a publicist for De Beers at N.W. Ayer. N.W. Ayer’s publicists wrote newspaper columns and magazine stories about celebrity proposals with diamond rings and the type, size, and worth of their diamonds. Fashion designers talked about the new diamond trend on radio shows.

N.W. Ayer used traditional marketing tools like newspapers and radio in the first half of the twentieth century in a way that kind of reminds me of inbound marketing today: In addition to overt advertisements, they created entertaining and educational content — ideas, stories, fashion, and trends that supported their brand and product, but wasn’t explicitly about it. According to The AtlanticN.W. Ayer wrote: “There was no direct sale to be made. There was no brand name to be impressed on the public mind. There was simply an idea — the eternal emotional value surrounding the diamond.” Their story was about the people who gave diamonds or were given diamonds, and how happy and loved those diamonds made them feel.

People didn’t realize this was marketing. It just felt like “culture,” and to those who grew up with media saturated with “diamonds=love,” it already felt “traditional” by the time they were ready to marry.

Remember this–there’s a lot more “marketing” going on than just the explicit ads on TV.

 

Finnish DNA

800px-Lenguas_finougrias
Distribution of the Finno-Ugric languages

In honor family, Thanksgiving, and the discovery that my husband is about as Finnish as Elisabeth Warren is Cherokee, today’s post is on Finnish DNA. (No, I did not just “finish” the field of genetics.)

Finland is one of the few European countries that doesn’t speak an Indo-European language. (Well, technically a lot of them speak Swedish, but obviously that’s because of their long contact with Sweden.) Both Finnish and the Sami language hail from the appropriately named Finno-Ugric family, itself a branch of the larger Uralic family, which spreads across the northern edge of Asia.

While there is one cave that might have housed pre-ice age people in Finland, solid evidence of human occupation doesn’t start until about 9,000 BC (11,000 YA), when the ice sheets retreated. These early Finns were hunter-gatherers (and fishers–one of the world’s oldest fishing nets, from 8300 BC, was found in Finland). For a thousand years or so Baltic Sea was more of a Baltic Lake (called Ancylus Lake), due to some complex geologic processes involving uplift in Sweden that we don’t need to explore, but it seems the lake had some pretty good fishing.

Pottery shows up around 5300 BC, with the “Comb Ceramic Culture” or “Pit-Comb Ware.” According to Wikipedia:

The distribution of the artifacts found includes Finnmark (Norway) in the north, the Kalix River (Sweden) and the Gulf of Bothnia (Finland) in the west and the Vistula River (Poland) in the south. In the east the Comb Ceramic pottery of northern Eurasia extends beyond the Ural mountains to the Baraba steppe adjacent to the Altai-Sayan mountain range, merging with a continuum of similar ceramic styles.[1]

Comb Ceramic was not limited in Europe, being widely distributed in the BalticFinland, the Volga upstream flow, south SiberiaLake BaikalMongolian Plateau, the Liaodong Peninsula and the Korean Peninsula.[2] The oldest ones have been discovered from the remains of Liao civilization – Xinglongwa culture (6200 BC – 5400 BC).[3]

The Xinglongwa are from northern China/inner Mongolia.

This distribution is a pretty decent match to the distribution of Finno-Ugric and Uralic languages before the march of Indo-European (Hungarian arrived in Hungary well after the IE invasion), so it’s pretty decent evidence that the language and pottery went together. Pottery usually indicates the arrival of agricultural peoples (who need pots to store things in,) but in this case, the Comb Ceramic people were primarily nomadic hunter-gatherers/fishers/herders, much like modern people in the far north.

While I usually assume that the arrival of a new toolkit heralds the arrival of a new group of people, the general lifestyle continuity between hunter-gatherers with baskets and hunter-gatherers with pots suggests that they could have been the same people. DNA or more information about their overall cultures would tell the story with more certainty.

Oddly, one variety of pit-comb ware is known as “asbestos ware”, because the locals incorporated asbestos into their pots. The point of asbestos pots, aside from aesthetics (the fibers could make large, thin-walled vessels,) was probably to accommodate the high temperatures needed for metal working.

The Corded Ware people–aka the Yamnaya aka Indo Europeans–showed up around 3,000 BC. They seem to have brought agriculture with them, though Mesopotamian grains didn’t take terribly well to the Finnish weather.

Bronze arrived around 2,000 BC (or perhaps a little later), having spread from the Altai mountains–a route similar to the earlier spread of Comb Ware pottery. (Wikipedia speculates that these bronze artifacts mark the arrival of the Finno-Ugric languages.) Iron arrived around 500 BC.

Since Finland is a difficult place to raise crops, people have gone back and forth between agriculture, hunting, fishing, herding, gathering, etc over the years. For example, around 200 BC, the “hair temperature” pottery disappeared as people transitioned away from agriculture, to a more nomadic, reindeer-herding lifestyle.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the genetics:

A new genetic study carried out at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku demonstrates that, at the end of the Iron Age, Finland was inhabited by separate and differing populations, all of them influencing the gene pool of modern Finns.

(Gotta love how Science Daily Trumps this as “diverse origins”)

The authors, Oversti et al, actually title their paper “Human mitochondrial DNA lineages in Iron-Age Fennoscandia suggest incipient admixture and eastern introduction of farming-related maternal ancestry” :

Here we report 103 complete ancient mitochondrial genomes from human remains dated to AD 300–1800, and explore mtDNA diversity associated with hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers. The results indicate largely unadmixed mtDNA pools of differing ancestries from Iron-Age on, suggesting a rather late genetic shift from hunter-gatherers towards farmers in North-East Europe. …

… aDNA has recently been recovered from c. 1500 year-old bones from Levänluhta in western central Finland18,19. Genomic data from these samples show a Siberian ancestry component still prominently present today, particularly in the indigenous Saami people, and to a lesser extent in modern Finns.

The authors have an interesting observation about a line running through Finland:

Within Finland, an unusually strong genetic border bisects the population along a northwest to southeast axis24,26,27, and is interpreted to reflect an ancient boundary between hunter-gatherer and farmer populations28. The expanse of agriculture north-east of this border was probably limited by environmental factors, especially the length of the growing season.

I thought this part was really neat:

A total of 95 unique complete-mitogenome haplotypes were observed among the 103 complete sequences retrieved: three haplotypes were shared between sampling sites and five within a site. In the latter cases, the placement of the skeletal samples suggests that the shared haplotypes have been carried by different individuals, who may have been maternally related: identical haplotypes (haplogroup U5a2a1e) were obtained from remains of a c. 5-year-old child (grave 18, TU666) and an older woman (grave 7, TU655) from Hollola.

Obviously the death of a child is not neat, but that we can identify relatives in an ancient graveyard is. I have relatives who are all buried near each other, and if some future archaeologist dug them up and realized “Oh, hey, here we have a family,” I think that’d be nice.

The authors discovered something interesting about the direction of the introduction of agriculture.

If you look at a map of Finland, you might guess that agriculture came from the south west, because those are the areas where agriculture is practiced in modern Finland. You’d certainly be correct about the south, but it looks like agriculture was actually introduced from the east–it seems these early farmers didn’t fare well in eastern Finland, and eventually migrated to the west. Alternatively, they may have just failed/given up, and more farmers arrived later from the west and succeeded–but if so, they were related to the first group of farmers.

Overall, the authors found evidence of three different groups in the ancient graveyards: at the oldest site, a Saami-like population (found further south that modern Saami populations); a non-Saami group of hunter gatherers, and Neolithic farmers.

The non-Saami hunter gatherers had high rates of haplogroup U4, which is rare in modern Finns (Saami included). According to the article:

Instead, in contemporary populations, U4 exists in high frequencies in Volga-Ural region (up to 24% in Komi-Zyryans)36 and with lower frequencies around the Baltic Sea, such as in Latvians and Tver Karelians (both around 8%)37. Taking into account that U4 have been prevalent in neighboring areas among Scandinavian10,39,40,41,42,43 and Baltic hunter-gatherers12,13,44, Baltic Comb Ceramics Culture12,13,14 and in Siberia during the Early metal period11, we might be observing ancestries belonging to an earlier layer of ancient inhabitants of the region.

Anyway, it’s an interesting article, so if you’re interested in Finland or polar peoples generally, I hope you give it a read.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How Tall can Humans Grow

A Twitter friend recently proposed a question:

These skeletons can be divided into two groups: those for whom we have some historical evidence (eg, Goliath, famous literary villain), and those with no evidence except images like this one.

Incidentally, modern man does not average 6 feet tall. The average American man, hailing from a well-fed cohort, is only 5″9′ (you think men are taller than they are because they all lie). The global average is a bit smaller, at about 5’7“.

Historically, people tended to be a bit shorter, probably due to inconsistent food supplies.

I have often seen it claimed that heights fell when people adopted agriculture, but most hunter-gatherers aren’t especially tall. The Bushmen, for example, are short by modern standards; I suspect that the pre-agricultural human norm was more Bushman than Dinka.

If we roll back time to look at our pre-sapiens ancestors, Homo erectus skeletons are estimated to have been between 4″8′ and 6″1′, which puts them about as tall as we are, but with a lot of variation (we also have a lot of variation). Neanderthals are estimated about 5″4′-5″5′; Homo habilis was shorter, at a mere 4″ 3′. Lucy the Australophithecine, while female, was even shorter, similar to modern chimps.

On net, a few food-related hiccups aside, humans seem to have been evolving to be taller over the past few million years (but our male average still isn’t 6 feet.)

But does this mean humans couldn’t be taller?

The trouble with being unusually tall is that, unlike apatosauruses, we humans aren’t built for it. The tallest confirmed human was Robert Wadlow, at 8 feet, 11 inches. According to acromegalic gigantism specialist John Wass, quoted by The Guardian, it would be difficult for any human to surpass 9 feet for long:

First, high blood pressure in the legs, caused by the sheer volume of blood in the arteries, can burst blood vessels and cause varicose ulcers. An infection of just such an ulcer eventually killed Wadlow.

With modern antibiotics, ulcers are less of an issue now, and most people with acromegalic gigantism eventually die because of complications from heart problems. “Keeping the blood going round such an enormous circulation becomes a huge strain for the heart,” says Wass.

Ancient people, of course, did not have the benefit of antibiotics.

What about Bigfoot?

Well, Bigfoot isn’t real, but Gigantopithecus probably was.

Gigantopithecus … is an extinct genus of ape that existed from two million years to as recently as one hundred thousand years ago, at the same period as Homo erectus would have been dispersed,[2] in what is now VietnamChina and Indonesia placing Gigantopithecus in the same time frame and geographical location as several hominin species.[3][4] The primate fossil record suggests that the species Gigantopithecus blacki were the largest known primate species that ever lived, standing up to 3 m (9.8 ft) and weighing as much as 540–600 kg (1,190–1,320 lb),[2][5][6][7] although some argue that it is more likely that they were much smaller, at roughly 1.8–2 m (5.9–6.6 ft) in height and 180–300 kg (400–660 lb) in weight.[8][9][10][11]

They’re related to orangutans; unfortunately it’s difficult to find their remains because the Chinese keep eating them:

Fossilized teeth and bones are often ground into powder and used in some branches of traditional Chinese medicine.[13] Von Koenigswald named the theorized species Gigantopithecus.[8]

Since then, relatively few fossils of Gigantopithecus have been recovered. Aside from the molars recovered in Chinese traditional medicine shops, Liucheng Cave in LiuzhouChina, has produced numerous Gigantopithecus blacki teeth, as well as several jawbones.[14]

Please stop eating fossils. They’re not good for you.

Unfortunately, since we only have teeth and jawbones from this creature, it’s hard to tell exactly how tall it was.

Let’s just estimate, then, a maximum human height around 10 feet. After that, your heart explodes. (Joking. Sort of.)

Let’s start with Goliath.

The Philistines were a real people–one of the “Sea Peoples” who showed up in the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age Collapse:

 In 2016, a large Philistine cemetery was discovered near Ashkelon, containing more than 150 dead buried in oval-shaped graves. A 2019 genetic study found that, while all three Ashkelon populations derive most of their ancestry from the local Levantine gene pool, the early Iron Age population was genetically distinct due to a European-related admixture …According to the authors, the admixture was likely due to a “gene flow from a European-related gene pool” during the Bronze to Iron Age transition…[9]  

The inscriptions at Medinet Habu consist of images depicting a coalition of Sea Peoples, among them the Peleset, who are said in the accompanying text to have been defeated by Ramesses III during his Year 8 campaign. In about 1175 BC, Egypt was threatened with a massive land and sea invasion by the “Sea Peoples,” a coalition of foreign enemies which included the Tjeker, the Shekelesh, the Deyen, the Weshesh, the Teresh, the Sherden, and the PRST. … A separate relief on one of the bases of the Osirid pillars with an accompanying hieroglyphic text clearly identifying the person depicted as a captive Peleset chief is of a bearded man without headdress.[49] This has led to the interpretation that Ramesses III defeated the Sea Peoples including Philistines and settled their captives in fortresses in southern Canaan; another related theory suggests that Philistines invaded and settled the coastal plain for themselves.[53] The soldiers were quite tall and clean shaven. They wore breastplates and short kilts, and their superior weapons included chariots drawn by two horses. They carried small shields and fought with straight swords and spears.[54]

The name “Goliath” is a real Philistine name.

(More on the Bronze Age Collapse: 1177 BC: the Year Civilization Collapsed.)

So there is a decent chance that the Goliath recorded in the Bible was, in fact, a real person.

However, Goliath’s great height may just be… an exaggeration. According to Wikipedia: 

Goliath’s height increased over time: the oldest manuscripts, namely the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Samuel from the late 1st century BCE, the 1st-century CE historian Josephus, and the major Septuagint manuscripts, all give it as “four cubits and a span” (6 feet 9 inches or 2.06 metres)…

It looks like Goliath was tall, but only basketball player tall, not Guinness Book of World Records tall.

Maximinus Thrax:

The shortest guy in the picture, “Maximinus Thrax,” was a real person and emperor of Rome from 235 – 238 AD. 8″6′ is at least within the range of heights humans can achieve, and he was, according to the accounts we have, very tall. Unfortunately, we don’t know how tall he was–the ancient accounts are considered unreliable, the Roman “foot” is not the same as the modern “foot,” and crucially, no one has dug up his skeleton and measured it.

So Maximinus was probably a tall guy, though not 8″6′ (that would require the Roman foot to equal our modern foot).

Og the Rephaim:

Og, King of the Bashan, is only known from the Bible, but might have been an actual king. We don’t have any chronicles from other countries that mention him (kings often show up in such chronicles because they make war, get defeated, send tribute, sign treaties, etc., but there is one Agag of the Amelekites who does have a similar name.

Interestingly, there is one Og attested in archaeology, found in a funerary inscription which appears to say that if the deceased is disturbed, “the mighty Og will avenge me.”

The Bible claims that Og’s bed was 13 feet long. Wikipedia offers us an alternative explanation for this mysterious bed: a megalithic tomb:

It is noteworthy that the region north of the river Jabbok, or Bashan, “the land of Rephaim”, contains hundreds of megalithic stone tombs (dolmen) dating from the 5th to 3rd millennia BC. In 1918, Gustav Dalman discovered in the neighborhood of Amman, Jordan (Amman is built on the ancient city of Rabbah of Ammon) a noteworthy dolmen which matched the approximate dimensions of Og’s bed as described in the Bible. Such ancient rock burials are seldom seen west of the Jordan river, and the only other concentration of these megaliths are to be found in the hills of Judah in the vicinity of Hebron, where the giant sons of Anak were said to have lived (Numbers 13:33).[2]

Og might have actually been a very tall person, though it is doubtful he was 13 feet tall. He might have been a fairly normal-sized person who had a very impressive megalithic tomb which came to be known as “Og’s Bed,” inspiring local legends. He also might not have existed at all. Until someone digs up Og’s body and measures it, we can’t say anything for sure.

French Giants

Interestingly, I found two French giants, though neither of them, as far as I know, near Valence.

geant_de_castelnau
Bones of the giant of Castelnau, plus a normal human humerus.

The Giant of Castlenau is known from three pieces of bone uncovered in 1890. If they are human, they are unusually large, but no research has been done on them since 1894 and even a crack team of Wikipedia editors has failed to uncover anything more recent on the subject.

I’d hold off judgment on these until someone within the past century actually seems them and confirms that they didn’t come from a cow.

Teutobochus, king of the Teutons, was a giant found in 1613, France. Unfortunately, he seems to have been a deinotherium–that is, an extinct variety of elephant.

This is the last of the reasonable skeletons. The rest exist only in graphics like the one at the top of the post and articles discussing them–in other words, there’s more evidence for Paul Bunyan.

So far I’ve found no sources on the 15 foot Turkish giant. Yes, lots of people claiming they exist, eg. No, not one photo of them.

Was a 19’6″ human skeleton found in 1577 A.D. under an overturned oak tree in the Canton of Lucerne? There are no records of it.

Any 23 foot tall skeletons near an unidentified river in Valence, France? Can’t find any.

And what about the 36 foot tall Carthaginian skeletons?

apatosaurus-size
Apatosaurus dimensions

Giraffes, currently the tallest animals on earth, only reach 19 feet. T-rex was 12-20 feet tall. Even the famous Apatosaurus was a mere 30 feet tall (though we don’t know how high he could swing his head).

If you’re talking about humans who were bigger than an Apatosaurus, you’re really going to have to pause and take a biology check–and also check to make sure you aren’t holding an Apatosaurus femur.

Humans could be bigger (or smaller) than they currently are, just as dinosaurs came in many different sizes (some, like hummingbirds, are quite small), but different sizes require different anatomy. That’s why people with giganticism have heart trouble and tall people die younger: we aren’t built for it. Humans aren’t designed to handle Apatosaurus-level weights; our hearts aren’t designed to pump blood that far. A 36 foot tall human couldn’t be a single individual with giganticism, nor even a whole family or tribe of unusually tall people–they’d have to have evolved that way over millions of years. They’d be their own species, and we’d have actual evidence that their bones exist.

Incidentally, most of the sources I found discussing these skeletons, including ones using the graphic above, claim that evidence of these giants is being actively hidden or suppressed or destroyed by The Smithsonian, National Geographic, etc., because they would somehow disprove evolution by showing that humans have gotten shorter instead of taller.

This is absurd. Gigantopithecus is taller than any living ape (including humans) but he doesn’t disprove evolution. He doesn’t even disprove orangutans. A giant human skeleton would simply show that there was once a giant human–not that humans didn’t evolve.

Humans can evolve to be shorter–it has happened numerous times. Pygmies are living human people who are much shorter than average–adult male Pygmies average only 5 feet, one inch tall. Pygmoid peoples are just a little taller, and found in many parts of the world.

Even shorter, though, were Homo floresiensis and Homo luzonensis. The remains we have so far uncovered of H. floresiensis stood a mere 3 feet, 7 inches, and luzonensis was similarly petite. Both of these hominins descended from much taller ancestors.

Evolutionists don’t need to hide the existence of giant skeletons because evolution can’t be disproven by the existence of a tall (or short) skeleton. That’s just not how it works. The Smithsonian would love to display giant skeletons–if it had any. National Geographic would love to run articles on them. They’d make money like hotcakes on such sensational relics.

The problem is that no one can actually find any of these skeletons.

 

The Urge

migration-probability-by-age-for-men-and-women

Man in his natural state, upon reaching adulthood, is struck with the urge: the urge to travel, to struggle, to conquer, and ultimately triumph (or die trying).

Migration is a goal of the young.

To be young is to struggle: against nature, against society, against himself, against the elements, against hunger, against failure.

800px-dispersal_diagram
By Snowy plover girl at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0,

To throw himself against the mountains, against the storms. To track and kill his own food. To survive against bears, monsters, enemies. To forge a path in the wilderness, chop down trees, build his own home.

Lion, wolf, or elephant, the young male is unlikely to stay in the pack of his birth. He must leave his mother’s side and forage in the wilderness until he has the strength to lead the pack or found his own.

Biological dispersal:

Some organisms are motile throughout their lives, but others are adapted to move or be moved at precise, limited phases of their life cycles. This is commonly called the dispersive phase of the life cycle. The strategies of organisms’ entire life cycles often are predicated on the nature and circumstances of their dispersive phases. …

Due to population density, dispersal may relieve pressure for resources in an ecosystem, and competition for these resources may be a selection factor for dispersal mechanisms.[14]

Dispersal of organisms is a critical process for understanding both geographic isolation in evolution through gene flow and the broad patterns of current geographic distributions (biogeography).

A distinction is often made between natal dispersal where an individual (often a juvenile) moves away from the place it was born, and breeding dispersal where an individual (often an adult) moves away from one breeding location to breed elsewhere.[1]

Modern man, in modern cities, is deprived of struggle. The land is already cleared. The houses are already built. The food arrives pre-killed in the grocery store. The map has already been drawn and your GPS tells you where to go.

We have made ourselves a paradise and find it wanting.

Like a rooster told not to crow, modern man flings himself at a structure with nothing but ersatz struggles: video games, online flame wars, antifa larping. We turn to empty screeching to make ourselves feel like we’re doing something good.

But for those who have just arrived, getting to the city alone is a success.

Review: Why Warriors Lie Down and Die

51uvfeh9d2lI read an interview once in which Napoleon Chagnon was asked what the Yanomamo thought of him–why did they think he had come to live with them?

“To learn how to be human,” he replied.

I didn’t read Trudgen’s Why Warriors Lie Down and Die because I have any hope of helping the Yolngu people, (I don’t live in Australia, for starters) but in hopes of learning something universal. People like to play the blame game–it’s all whites’ fault, it’s all Aborigines’ fault–but there are broken communities and dying people everywhere, and understanding one community may give us insight into the others.

For example, US life expectancy has been declining:

A baby born in 2017 is expected to live to be 78.6 years old, which is down from 78.7 the year before, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The last three years represent the longest consecutive decline in the American lifespan at birth since the period between 1915 and 1918, which included World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic, events that killed many millions worldwide.

Declining? In the developed world?

While there’s no single cause for the decline in the U.S., a report by the CDC highlights three factors contributing to the decline:

Drug overdoses…

Liver disease…

Suicide…

Not to mention heart disease, stroke, and all of the usual suspects.

Most causes of death can be divided roughly into the diseases of poverty (infection, malnutrition, parasites, etc,) and the diseases of abundance (heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, etc). In developing countries, people tend to die of the former; in developed countries, the latter. There are a few exceptions–Costa Ricans enjoy good health because they have beaten back the diseases of poverty without becoming rich enough to die of obesity; Japan enjoys high standards of living, but has retained enough of its traditional eating habits to also not develop too many modern diseases (so far). 

The poor of many developed countries, however, often don’t get to enjoy much of the wealth, but still get hammered with the diseases. This is true in Australia and the US, and is the cause of much consternation–the average Aborigine or poor white would probably be healthier if they moved to poor country like Costa Rica and ate like the locals.

When Trudgen first moved to Arnhem Land (the traditional Yolngu area) in the 70s, the situation wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. People were going to school, graduating, and getting jobs. Communities had elders and hope for the future.

He left for eight years, then returned in the 80s to find a community that had been destroyed, with skyrocketing unemployment, hopelessness, drug use, disease, and death:

So my return to work with the Yolngu after eight years away was marked by the stark reality of what had become “normal” life in Arnhem Land. The people were dying at a horrific rate, more than five times the national average. And they were dying of disease that they had not seen before, disease that were considered to be those of affluent society: heart attack, strokes, diabetes, cancer.

What went wrong?

Trudgen points out that the variety of normal explanations offered for the abysmal state of Aboriginal communities in the 80s don’t make sense in light of their relatively good condition a mere decade before. People didn’t suddenly get dumb, lazy, or violent. Rather:

… I discovered that the communities in Arnhem Land had changed. The people’s freedom to direct their own lives had been almost completely eroded.

How do people end up out of control of their own lives? The author discusses several things affecting the Yolngu in particular.

The biggest of these is language–English is not their first language, and for some not even their 4th or 5th. (According to Wikipedia, even today, most Yolngu do not speak English as their first language.) Trudgen explains that since Yolngu is a small, obscure language, at least as of when he was writing, no English-to-Yolngu dictionaries existed to help speakers look up the meaning of unfamiliar words like “tumor” or “mortgage.” (And this was before the widespread adoption of the internet.)

Imagine trying to conduct your affairs when every interaction with someone more powerful than yourself, from the bureaucrats at the DMV to the doctors at the hospital, was conducted in a language you didn’t speak very well, without the benefit of a dictionary or a translator. Trudgen writes that the Aborigines would actually like to learn how to protect their health, avoid dying from cancer and heart disease, etc, but the information on how to do these things doesn’t exist in their language. (He reminds us that it took a couple hundred years for the knowledge of things like “germs” to travel from scientists to regular people in our culture, and we all speak the same language.)

Both in Arnhem Land and without, people often overestimate how much other people know. For example, in a case Trudgen facilitated as a translator, a doctor thought his patient understood his explanation that due to diabetes, only 2% of his kidneys were functioning, but the patient didn’t actually understand enough English to make sense of the diagnosis–not to mention, as the author points out, that Yolngu culture doesn’t have the concept of “percents.” After translation, the man (who’d been seeing doctors for his kidneys for years without understanding what they were saying) finally understood and started treating his problems.

Those of us outside of Yolngu Land don’t have quite this level of difficulty interacting with medical professionals, but language still influences our lives in many ways. We have high and low class accents and dialects, not to mention an absurd quantity of verbal signaling and flexing, like sharing one’s pronouns in a presidential debate.

People everywhere also suffer from the condition of knowing a lot less than others assume they know. Every survey of common knowledge shocks us, yet again, with how dumb the common man is–and then we forget that we have ever seen such a survey and are equally shocked all over again when the next one comes out. (I think about this a lot while teaching.)

I think most people tend to remember information if they either use it regularly (like the code I use for formatting these posts) or if it’s valued/used in their culture (I know about the Kardashians despite never having tried to learn about them simply because people talk about them all of the time). If people talked about quantum physics the way we talk about superheroes, a lot more people would have posters of Niels Bohr.

For the Yolngu, there’s a problem that a lot of information simply isn’t available in their language. They were literally stone-age hunter-gatherers less than a century ago and are trying to catch up on a couple thousand years of learning. For us, the difficulty is more of access–I have a couple of relatives who are doctors, so if someone in my family gets sick, I call a relative first for advice before heading to the more expensive options. But if you don’t have any doctors among your friends/family, then you don’t have this option.

There are probably a lot of cases where people are stymied because they don’t know how to even begin to solve their problems.

Trudgen wants to solve this problem by having much more extensive language training for everyone in the area, white and Yolngu, and also by extending educational programs to the adults, so that the entire culture can be infused with knowledge.

After language difficulties, the other biggest impediment to living the good life, in Trudgen’s view, is… the welfare state:

Welfare and the dependency it creates is the worst form of violence. It has created a living hell.

Before the arrival of the white people, he notes, Aborigines survived perfectly fine on their own. The locals fished, hunted, gathered, and probably did some yam-based horticulture. They farmed pearls and traded them with Macassans from modern-day Indonesia for rice, and traded with tribes in the interior of Australia for other products. They even had their own legal system, similar to many of the others we have read about. Their lives were simple, yes. Their huts were not very tall, and they certainly didn’t have cellphones or penicillin, but they ran their own lives and those who made it out of infancy survived just fine.

Today, their lives are dominated at every turn by government institutions, welfare included. Children were once educated by their parents and the tribe at large. Now they are educated by white teachers at government run schools. People used to hunt and gather their own food, now they buy food at the supermarket with their welfare cheques. A man once built his own house; now such a house would be demolished because it doesn’t meet the building code requirements. Even Aborigine men trained as skilled housebuilders have been replaced by white builders, because the state decided that it needed to build houses faster.

Every program designed to “help” the Yolngu risks taking away yet one more piece of their sovereignty and ability to run their own lives. Trudgen complains of plans to build preschools in the area–to quote roughly, “they say the schools will be staffed with local Yolngu, but Yolngu don’t have the right credentials to qualify for such jobs. In a few years, Yolngu mothers will have even been pushed out of the role of caring for their own little children. What purpose will they have left in life?”

I just checked, and 88% of indigenous Australian children are now enrolled in preschool.

Or as the author puts it:

In fact, every attempt to solve the [malnutrition] problem with outside ideas has sent the malnutrition rates higher. Welfare-type programs simply send the people into greater depths of dependency, which increases feelings of confusion and hopelessness. Old people as well as children are not being cared for.

During 1999 the children received a free breakfast at the school and some people were talking about giving them free lunches as well. So now the government feeds the people’s children, as well as build their houses and provides all levels of welfare for them. What is there left for them to do but go ff and drink kava or gamble?

And ultimately:

… where the people have lost control, the men are dead or dying.

Incidentally, here is an article on loneliness in American suburbia.

Everything here is compounded by the habit of modern governments to make everything illegal; complicated; or require three permits, two environmental impact studies, and 17 licenses before you can break ground. As Joel Salatin pens, “Everything I want to do is Illegal.”

Aborigines used to build their own houses, and whether they were good or not, they lived in them. (In fact, all groups of people are competent at building their own shelters.)

Then government came and declared that these houses were no good, they weren’t up to code, and the Aborigines had to be trained to build houses the white way. So the Aborigines learned, and began building “modern” houses.

Whether they were good at it or not, they had jobs and people had houses.

Then the government decided that the Aborigine builders weren’t building houses fast enough, so they brought in the army and threw up a bunch of pre-fab houses.

Now the taxpayers pay for whites to go to Yolngu land and build houses for the Aborigines. The aborigines who used to build the houses are out of a job and on welfare, while the money for the houses goes into the pockets of outsiders.

Yes, the houses get built faster, but it’s hard to say that this is “better” than just letting the locals build their own houses.

The same process has happened in other industries. Even trash collection in Yolngu areas is now done by newcomers. At every turn, it seems, the Yolngu are either pushed out of jobs because they weren’t as fast or efficient or had the right certificates and credentials, or because they just didn’t speak enough English.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes, Harlem

The story of the fishing industry was also and adventure in bad decision-making.

Originally, simplifying a bit for the sake of time, each fisherman (or perhaps a small group of fishermen) had his own boat, and caught as many fish as he wanted and sold the rest to a fishing organization run by the local mission. This was clear and straightforward: men owned their own catches and could do what they wanted with them. The area was a net exporter of fish and the locals made a decent living.

Then the government decided the mission system was no good, and turned everything over to “communal councils.” This was a great big mess.

Trudgen points out that the councils aren’t consistent with existing Yolngu laws/governing norms. They already had elders and governing bodies which the government didn’t recognize, so the government effectively created an illegitimate government and set it in conflict with the existing one, in the name of democracy, with shades of every failed attempt to impose democracy on a foreign country.

The councils didn’t work because 1. they didn’t have real authority, and 2. communism always fails.

In this case, the council decided to get a loan to “develop” the fishing industry, but before they could get a loan, the bank sent out an efficiency expert who looked at all of the little boats and declared that it would be much more efficient if they just used one big boat.

So the council bought a big boat and burned the little boats in the middle of the night so no one could use them anymore.

Now “ownership” of the boat was all confused. Men were not clearly working to catch their own fish on their own boat, they were part of a big crew on a big boat with a boss. The boss had to be someone with the correct licenses and whatnot to be allowed to run a big boat, and of course he had to pay his employees, which probably gets you into Australian tax law, liability law, insurance law, etc. In short, the boss wasn’t a local Yolngu because the Yolngu didn’t have the right credentials to run the boat, so the fishermen now had to work for an outsider, and it was no longer clear which part of their catch was “theirs” and which part was the boss’s.

The fishing industry quickly fell apart and the area became a net importer of fish.

These councils set up by the government to run local affairs failed repeatedly, much to the distress of the locals–but Trudgen notes that collectivism didn’t work for the USSR, either.

One constant impression I got from the book is that multiculturalism is hard. Even without language issues, people from different cultures have different ideas about what it means to be respectful, polite, honest, or timely. Different ideas about what causes disease, or whether Coca Cola ads are a trustworthy source of nutrition advice. (If they aren’t, then why does the government allow them to be on the air?) 

Which gets me to one of my recurrent themes, which Trudgen touches on: society lies. All the time. Those of us who know society lies and all of the rules and meta-rules surrounding the lying are reasonably well equipped to deal with it, but those of us who don’t know the rules usually get screwed by them.

As Wesley Yang puts it in The Souls of Yellow Folk:

“Someone told me not long after I moved to New York that in order to succeed, you have to understand which rules you’re supposed to break. If you break the wrong rules, you’re finished. And so the easiest thing to do is follow all the rules. But then you consign yourself to a lower status. The real trick is understanding what rules are not meant for you.”

The idea of a kind of rule-governed rule-breaking–where the rule book was unwritten but passed along in an innate cultural sense–is perhaps the best explanation I have heard of how the Bamboo Ceiling functions in practice.

It’s not just Asians. Poor people, rural people, nerds, outsiders in general know only the explicitly taught rules, not the rules about breaking rules–and suffer for it.

And I think society lies in part because it serves the powerful. People lie about their age, their looks, their intelligence, how they got ahead and how they think you should apply for a job. Coca Cola lies about the healthiness of its product because it wants to sell more Coke, and the Aborigines believe it because they have very little experience with foods that taste good but aren’t good for you. Out in nature, in the traditional Aboriginal diet, sweet foods like fruits and berries were always good for you.

And these little lies are usually portrayed as “in your best interest,” but I’m far from convinced that they are.

People have been talking about UBI lately, at least the Yang Gang types. And I like Yang, at least as presidential candidates go. But we should be careful about whether more welfare is really the panacea we think it is.

The Yolngu have welfare already, and it doesn’t seem to be helping. At least, it doesn’t seem to make them happy. My conclusion from reading the book obviously isn’t that the Yolngu need more welfare or more programs. It’s that they need control over their own lives and communities. For that, they need something like Amish–a system of internal organization sufficient to feed themselves, deal with the outside world, and get it to back off.

Of course, I don’t know if that would actually work for the Yolngu in particular, but the Amish seem a reasonable model for solving many of modernity’s current problems.

A Bit of Dissent on rational actors and organizations

Anthropologists and economists often try to figure out why large-scale systems (tribes, corporations, societies, etc.) operate the way they do. Why does this tribe have polygamy and that tribe polyandry? Why do these people tattoo themselves all over and those people abhor tattoos? What is “business casual” and why do I have to wear it? Why are we at war with Eastasia?

The general presumption is that even when societies do things look irrational, they have some hidden logic that actually makes them good or adaptive–we just have to figure out what it is.

Here’s an example:

Here are researchers asking if people get complicated all-over body tattoos because it’s an “honest signal” of enhanced immune response? (IMO, this is a silly idea, but rather than go off on a tangent I’ll save the longer discussion for the end of the post.)

By contrast, we fully admit that individual behavior is often wrong, irrational, stupid, or outright crazy. Individuals make mistakes. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. We all make mistakes.

So when people do things that don’t make much sense, we are quick to write them off:  people are dumb. They do dumb shit.

I would like to offer a dissenting view. I think people are, most of the time, reasonably intelligent and competent. They make mistakes, but if you look at how we have evolved and learned to think and react to the world, most of our mistakes make a kind of sense–they’re often just misplaced heuristics.

By contrast, the collective behavior of groups and organizations is often irrational and stupid, and the only thing that keeps them going is either humans inside doing their best despite their organizations, or society having been constructed in such a way that it is extremely difficult to get people to stop doing stupid things.

Let’s take war. Most people say they are opposed to war, or they don’t like war, or they prefer peace. Many people say that world peace is an admirable goal. Most people who’ve thought at all about WWI say it was a dumb and pointless war. Many wars look dumb and pointless.

Ask people whose countries are actually involved in a war, and many of them, perhaps most, will assert that they want peace (it’s just those bastards on the other side who are making it difficult).

If everyone wants peace, why do we have wars?

Because “it’s complicated.”

Systems are complicated and it can be very hard for people, even well-meaning ones who mostly agree on what ought to be done, to reign them in and pull an entire society away from the brink. It is obvious to anyone who has ever seen a machine gun that walking toward one is a bad idea, yet the commanders in WWI kept ordering wave after wave of men to charge the guns; tens of thousands of men were mowed down every day during the Battle of the Somme. This went on for months. Over a million people died, and in the end the Allies gained a whole 6 miles of territory. The battle didn’t stop because the commanders wised up to the stupidity of charging at machine guns, but because the weather was too cold to continue.

It sickens me just thinking about it.

And then everyone decided that WWI was such a riot, they should hold a sequel!

In sum, humans are usually competent enough to run their own lives and only occasionally need interventions by their friends and families. After all, most of us are descended from people who were competent enough to make it to adulthood and find a partner willing to reproduce with them, so at least we have that going for us, genetically.

By contrast, organizations go awry all the time. Anyone who has been to the DMV (or worse, the VA) probably has stories to tell. Societies do lots of good things, like get food from farms to the supermarket, where I can buy it, and it makes sure I have electricity and heat so I can cook my foot, but societies also do lots of stupid things, like invade Iraq. 

Stupid systems are a much bigger problem than stupid individuals. Stupid are usually only a danger to themselves. Even the most successful terrorists (that I know of) have only killed a few thousand people. Stupid systems, by contrast, can kill millions of people.

From an anthropology perspective, the implication is that sometimes when we see societies doing things that don’t make sense, maybe they actually don’t make sense. Not because the people involved are necessarily stupid, but because groups can get stuck in stupid ruts.

 

Tattooing: the article would be sounder if the authors just said that tattooing appears to be protective against disease. It doesn’t need to signal anything; if it keeps people alive in a rough environment, that alone is enough to make the behavior persist.

Interestingly, here’s a guy’s story of dealing with eczema his whole life, then getting a tattoo and the eczema clearing up:

At 23, I eventually got my right arm tattooed—a glorious, multicolored, three-quarter-length traditional Japanese piece composed predominantly of geishas and flowers. …

After it was done, my eczema did start to clear up — not just on the skin that was tattooed, but everywhere. That led me to believe that it would have improved anyway as I got older. I had such a positive experience, I got the other arm done a couple years later. So, yeah, fuck eczema.

Maybe the tattoo did have an effect on his immune system.

But there are plenty of places outside of Polynesia where people also face high disease burdens, but don’t have massive, body-spanning tattoos. Most of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has high rates of disease and the locals have certainly heard of tattoos, but they haven’t adopted Maori style full-body decoration.

It’s hard to come up with a sensible answer for why some cultures adopted tattoos and some didn’t besides “they wanted to.”

(Note: I’m not calling tattooing stupid.)

 

 

An Historian of Science Discovers the “Light Switch”

Historian and philosopher Emma Houston interrogates the science of electricity and light bulbs

The light switch was at the center of Houston’s first big foray into the history of electricity and lights. The story told in introductory electrical engineering textbooks is relatively simple: flipping the switch up turns the lights “on”; flipping the switch down turns the lights “off.” Whether a switch is in the on or off position has for for decades been seen as an expression of a light bulb’s “true” state or of “light itself.” It is the job of a science historian to discover where these stories come from, and why.

Houston’s doctoral dissertation, published in 2004 as Light Itself: The Search for On and Off in the Electric Circuit does just this, tracing the history of the idea that electromagnetic radiation is turned “on” and “off” by switches found on the wall. Early in the twentieth century, she shows, it was controversial to refer to “light switches” because sometimes electricians accidentally wired around them when installing lights.

But the fact that switches are visible, (unlike electricity) made them useful for enough to two groups of engineers–those building electrical circuits, and those working to untangle the role of electricity in light generation–that the association between switches and light solidified for decades.

Associating “light” with the “light switch,” writes Richardson, has serious consequences, as when engineers tried to develop a “super flashlight” that used two light switches and multiple batteries.

The “super flashlight” was finally abandoned in the development stage when engineers decided it was simpler to use bigger batteries, but in Light Itself, Houston argues that it made the light switch the star of electrical engineering in a way that still reverberates. She points to engineers like Professor Book, whose research focused for decades on using light switches to design home lighting plans. Such a focus was not inevitable, Houston argues: from the 1920s through the 50s, based on evidence in lasers, researchers saw buttons as drivers of light output.

It turns out that “light switches” do not actually cause bulbs to emit electromagnetic radiation. Engineers now understand that light, produced by incandescent bulbs as well as LEDs and compact fluorescents, is the result of numerous interconnected capacitors, resistors, power sources, and wire circuits that all work together. So called “light switches” do not cause light at all–they merely open and close light circuits, allowing electricity to flow (or not) to the bulbs.

But in an interview, Professor Book disagrees with Houston’s account. In Houston’s history, the super flashlight looms large in later researchers’ decision to focus on the switch, but Professor Book responds that research on the super flashlight “did not interest me, it did not impress me, it did not look like the the foundations of a path forward.” Building circuits around the light switch, he says, was not inspired by the popular image of a super bright flashlight with two switches, but “was simply the easiest way to design practical lighting for people’s houses” and that “flipping the switch does actually turn the lights on and off.”

Houston responds that of course we can’t expect actual engineers to know what inspired them or their fields, which is why we need science historians like herself to suss out what was really motivating them.

Author’s note: Professor Houston has degrees in philosophy and literature, but oddly, none in engineering or physics.

This parody is thanks to Harvard Magazine’s The Science of Sex: Historian and Philosopher Sarah Richardson Interrogates the Science of Sex and Gender.

 

 

 

 

Legal Conclusions

I was going to write another post about Legal Systems Very Different from Ours, but it turns out that about half the book is bibliography and endnotes. There are several chapters of conclusion, but not much new worth highlighting.

The authors’ main point, I suppose, is that there are many different but still functional  legal systems; I have a slightly different theory, that legal systems, whatever their form, adjust to the needs and characters of the people using them. Of course, I also suspect that legal systems often “work” because people route around them.

This is an interesting thread on how the US legal system treats people merely accused of crimes, many of whom are, of course, innocent:

RTWT.

Responding to crime requires balancing between punishments harsh enough to deter serious crime, and soft enough to make people willing to report crimes.

There are a variety of disputes that break out between people that need solving but don’t rise to the level of wanting the other guy in prison–take many disputes between relatives.

There are also crimes that people don’t think the police prosecute adequately, and so have taken to prosecuting by other means–take college rape tribunals.

Beyond just “there are many valid legal systems,” I think the authors of LSVDFO would also like to propose that we can have effective legal systems that aren’t run by the state–and that perhaps such systems could be more effective than our current one.

Opinions?

And since LSVDFO is over, what would you like to read next?

The Autism Matrix

Just a thought this morning, but I think the “autism spectrum” would be better characterized as a “matrix” with intelligence running along one axis and impairment on the other.

We can divide this into four useful quadrants, representing high IQ & high impairment, high IQ & low impairment, low IQ & high impairment, and low IQ and low impairment.

Of course these are not entirely unrelated measures–the impairment that causes autism can also cause low IQ, but it makes a functional distinction because different quadrants suffer different challenges and limitations.

The traditional distinction was between “autism” and “asperger’s,” with asperger’s generally reserved for the smarter, higher functioning kids. Asperger’s has been dropped as a diagnosis due to this distinction being not the most useful–there are high-functioning dumb kids with autism and low-functioning smart kids. (And adults.)

Just a little thought.