So Merkel broke the EU (or, Brexit Explained for Confused Americans)

I thought this was funny
I thought this was funny

Watching the continuing Brexit debate has been… interesting. Since most of the people I know are Americans, so are most of the people I see commenting on it, and I don’t really think we Americans have much of a right to go telling the Brits what to do, largely because we don’t live there, we don’t have first-hand experience with whatever is going on in Britain, and we don’t have to live with the results either way. Still, I am going to try to offer, as best I can from my outsider’s perspective, an explanation for my confused compatriots about why (and what) just happened.

The EU
The EU

First, some background. According to Wikipedia:

The European Union (EU) is a politico- economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe.[12][13] It has an area of 4,324,782 km2 (1,669,808 sq mi), and an estimated population of over 508 million.

The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within the internal market,[14] enact legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintain common policies on trade,[15] agriculture,[16] fisheries, and regional development.[17] Within the Schengen Area, passport controls have been abolished.[18] A monetary union was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002, and is composed of 19 EU member states which use the euro currency.

Britain still uses the Pound, not the Euro.

Not all European countries are part of the EU–notably, Norway and Switzerland, both of which seem to be doing fine, though I don’t know the details of what treaties they have with other countries.

The EU exists for two main purposes: to make Europe richer by making trade easier, and to make Europe more peaceful by discouraging nationalism. This is supposed to be accomplished via free trade, a common currency, and free movement of people within the Schengen Area.

Parallels with the original 13 US colonies merging under the Articles of Confederation and later the federal system established under the Constitution are obvious. The Federal government regulated interstate trade, dealt with foreign nations, and organized collective defense (ie war) efforts. The individual states managed their own internal affairs.

800px-EU-regions_GDP_per_capita_PPPOf course, if you are a British or Spanish or Finnish nationalist, the American example cannot inspire much confidence in your country’s long-term independent existence. When cracks emerged in the American coalition (mostly regarding trade, monetary policy, and slavery, which had a rather large effect on the economy,) and member states attempted to leave, the result was a rather devastating Civil War.

There are some rather obvious cracks in the EU, like fights between Greece and Germany over economic policy. (Germany’s rather strong economy and Greece’s weak one would most likely benefit from different economic policies, and the Greeks tend to express the sentiment that Germany is running roughshod over them.) (It strikes me that “Germany is running roughshod over other European countries,” is a rather common complaint.)

While Greece is clearly doing badly and Germany is clearly doing well, Britain seems pretty split, perhaps reflecting the close split of the British voters on the Brexit issue (52 to 48%.)

ClwmYPkUgAAXPZbSo what are the arguments against being part of the EU? Here are the main arguments I’ve seen (in no particular order):

  1. General cantankerousness
  2. Desire to control one’s own country
  3. “This has been secretly imposed on us”
  4. Immigration (Merkel)

These are not entirely separate things.

We’ll start with Number One, the least important. In any large enough group  of people, you’re bound to get someone who doesn’t want to go along with things. In the US, we have folks who don’t want to be part of the UN or think the Rothschilds are running the New World Order or that fluoride and chemtrails are poisoning them. So Britain has its cranky people, who don’t want to part of the EU.

CmFJjXSUYAASsDbDealing with (or ignoring) people who disagree with you–even if you think their ideas are flat out wrong–is one of the side effects of democracy. You get a vote, they get a vote. (In this case, if you’re an American, they get a vote and you don’t.)

I have seen several liberal acquaintances questioning, “Why was this even put up to a vote? Whose bright idea was it to let the people of Britain vote on something that could negatively affect corporations? Dumb people are messing things up for everyone else because they don’t understand economics!”

Look, this is how democracy works. If you don’t like it, let me offer you some Unqualified Reservations. Perhaps a bit of monarchy or neocameralism would be more to your liking.

But Britain is a democracy, and so that means the people of Britain, even the curmudgeonly ones with unpopular opinions, get to vote on things. (And by the way, the US is also a democracy, so if Brexit has you worried, hang onto your seats.)

Number Two: Outside vs. Inside Control

Mere cantankerousness does not a Brexit make, as there aren’t that many cranky people, even in Britain, so let’s get to the real reasons.

Any treaty or organization imposes duties and obligations on people. Being part of the EU removes part of a nation’s natural sovereignty and transfers it to the organization as a whole, just as being part of the US removes part of the individual states’ sovereignty and transfers it to the Federal government.

There are times when this trade-off is worthwhile, like when several small states must band together for their common defense, or when a free-trade zone makes everyone within it better off. There may also be times when this trade-off is not worthwhile–the liberalization of French trade policies with Britain shortly before the French Revolution, for example, decimated French textile industries by introducing competition from the British wool and cotton industries, which ultimately worked out very badly for Louis XVII’s head. Modern-day Greece, as previously mentioned, may not be benefiting from being in an economic union with Germany.

The people of Britain may be completely fine with most (or all) EU features, like open borders and free trade, but still want to have control over these things–and the option to decline them–in their own hands. I like being able to control my own destiny; so do they.

Merkel’s decision last year to throw open Germany’s doors and take in as many Syrian refugees (or people pretending to be Syrian refugees) as possible has had a huge effect on other EU nations. Once these refugees are granted citizenship, they will be permitted to any EU nation they want, not just the one that accepted them.

And just in case it’s not obvious: the people of Britain did not vote for Andrea Merkel, and don’t necessarily want to have to live with her decisions.

Refugees at the Hungarian/Serbia border fence
Refugees at the Hungarian/Serbia border fence

Merkel’s decision had an almost immediate effect on the EU, even before the Brexit vote, as countries threw up barbed-wire fences along formerly open borders:

The Schengen Area /ˈʃɛŋən/ is the area including 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their mutual borders. It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy

As a result of the ongoing migration crisis and terrorist attacks in Paris, a number of countries have temporarily reintroduced controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states. As of 22 March 2016, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden have imposed controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states.[2]

Views of the Jungle the Immigrant site In Calais Site 6 Months Apart.
Views of the Jungle, Calais, 6 Months Apart.

The EU responded to countries like Hungary refusing to allow Germany to dictate their immigration policies by reaffirming their independence proposing heavy fines:

BRUSSELS—The European Union’s executive body on Wednesday proposed controversial new asylum rules forcing member countries to take in refugees, and it gave a green light to visa-free travel for Turkey and Kosovo.

The new rules from the European Commission, which have ruffled feathers among central and Eastern European states, would require nations to pay €250,000 ($287,000) for each asylum seeker they refuse.

(And let’s not forget that Turkey, which has one small chunk of territory in Europe and 80.5 million people, is a major bone of should-it-be-in-the-EU? contention.)

Migrants boarding lorry at Calais
Migrants boarding lorry at Calais

This does not exactly apply to Britain, which has its own special immigration setup within the EU that I don’t know much about, but the setup sounds awfully similar. I can understand, though, that it may be very worrying to Brits to watch the EU try to bully other member states into taking migrants it clearly doesn’t want, particularly from the Calais “Jungle” Camp. As The Independent reported:

Hundreds of refugees and migrants have stormed a motorway leading to the port at Calais in desperate attempts to board lorries heading for the UK. …

Local newspaper La Voix du Nord reported that up to 400 people climbed fences on to the motorway and attempted to stop traffic so they could hide on lorries.

Clashes reportedly broke out, seeing migrants throw rocks and projectiles at riot police, including one that injured a lorry driver.

The Daily Express has a similar story:

More than 50 refugees can be seen swarming around the truck at the French port of Calais, helping their comrades into the cargo hold before closing the doors behind them.

Others run alongside the lorry, even trying to pull off an underside panel in a desperate bid to climb on board. …

British lorry drivers have said they fear for their lives every time they travel through the notorious port, with migrants resorting to increasingly violent tactics in a desperate bid to reach the UK.

The situation is so bad that drivers now refuse to work the Calais route and many freight companies are close to pulling out of the UK market all together. …

“All these guys are trying to do is deliver goods into the UK. The situation is damaging the UK economy and is affecting the supply chain.”

Number Three: Secrecy

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How Immigration Came to Haunt Labour:

But “Young Blair” … was briefly silenced during a fraught meeting early in Labour’s second term in which a worrying rise in the number of asylum cases was being discussed.

The gravest offence, in Lord Irvine’s eyes, was to call into question Britain’s solemn commitments on human rights, notably those made after the second world war in the European convention on human rights (ECHR). When ministers dared to broach the issue of drawing back from some aspects of the ECHR as a way of curbing asylum applications, Irvine’s response was sharp. … The discussion was brought to a swift conclusion when Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, pointed out that Britain would be in breach of its EU membership terms if it sought to wriggle out of its responsibilities under the separate ECHR.

… it is easy to forget just how much immigration and asylum haunted Downing Street throughout New Labour’s time in office. Between 1997 and 2010, net annual immigration quadrupled, and the UK population was boosted by more than 2.2 million immigrants, more than twice the population of Birmingham. In Labour’s last term in government, 2005-2010, net migration reached on average 247,000 a year. …

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, has made capital out of his claim that the Labour government embarked on a deliberate policy to encourage immigration by stealth. Ukip often cites an article by Andrew Neather, a former No 10 and Home Office adviser, who wrote that the Labour government embarked on a deliberate policy from late 2000 to “open up the UK to mass migration”.

From Neather’s article, Don’t Listen to the Wingers, London Needs Immigrants:

So why is it that ministers have been so very bad at communicating this? I wonder because I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls. …

That speech was based largely on a report by the Performance and Innovation Unit, Tony Blair’s Cabinet Office think-tank.

The PIU’s reports were legendarily tedious within Whitehall but their big immigration report was surrounded by an unusual air of both anticipation and secrecy.

Drafts were handed out in summer 2000 only with extreme reluctance: there was a paranoia about it reaching the media.

Eventually published in January 2001, the innocuously labelled “RDS Occasional Paper no. 67”, “Migration: an economic and social analysis” focused heavily on the labour market case.

But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.

I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended – even if this wasn’t its main purpose – to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. …

Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing. For despite Roche’s keenness to make her big speech and to be upfront, there was a reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour’s core white working-class vote. …

And this first-term immigration policy got no mention among the platitudes on the subject in Labour’s 1997 manifesto, headed Faster, Firmer, Fairer. …

Right. So immigration increased, a lot, and without any big official announcement. The Guardian thinks this was basically an accident they couldn’t figure out how to avoid, whereas Neather asserts that the policy was both purposeful and intentionally kept secret because voters would reject it otherwise.

Picture 20Picture 19

Nothing to see, move it along…

And finally, #4, Immigration:

From The Telegraph:

Record number of migrants arrive in UK without jobs as Net migration rises to 333,000… The figures also show that 77,000 EU migrants have come to the UK without employment. …

Responding to the latest ONS figures, Boris Johnson, who is campaigning for Brexit, said the figures mean “we are adding a population the size of Oxford to the UK every year just from EU migration”.

The former London Mayor insisted a vote to leave is the “only way to take back control of immigration”.

He added that people have watched: “Prime Minister after Prime Minister make promises on immigration that cannot be met because of the EU and this has deeply damaged faith in our democratic system.” …

Asylum claims in the UK have jumped by more than a third to the highest annual level for more than a decade, according to the local ONS figures. …

The highest number of applications came from nationals of Iran (4,305), followed by Eritrea (3,321), Iraq (2,805), Sudan (2,769), Pakistan (2,669) and Syria (2,539).

Picture 13Picture 14

And from the Guardian article quoted above:

Between 1997 and 2010, net annual immigration quadrupled, and the UK population was boosted by more than 2.2 million immigrants, more than twice the population of Birmingham. In Labour’s last term in government, 2005-2010, net migration reached on average 247,000 a year. …

the key players of the time show in candid conversations that they were struggling to cope with a new world of rapid population movement across porous borders. At times they felt they were stumbling from one move to another, unsure of the present, let alone the future.

There is some very interesting information here about how the confused, messed-up bureaucratic system contributed to politicians feeling like they couldn’t control the number of people flowing into Britain, but I can’t quote all of it.

“We were entering an age where a number of things were happening at the same time – you’ve got cheaper air fares, you’ve got mass telecommunications, it was a different world in which people travelled much more easily,” …

At the time Roche gave the speech, the fact that Britain could not control immigration from the EU was a relatively uncontentious issue. In the early years of the Blair government, income levels in most of the 15 member states were on a par with UK levels. Migration from the three poorer EU members at the time – Greece, Spain and Portugal, which joined in the “southern enlargement” of the 1980s – was relatively low, thanks in part to the generous EU funding of infrastructure projects in those countries.

Then ten new countries, most from the former Soviet Block, enter the EU. The government tries to predict how many migrants Britain will get from them and fails miserably–they predicted 5-13k per year, and got over 50k. (The guy who gets blamed for this points out that his numbers were off because Germany didn’t open its borders at the same time and so they got a bunch of migrants who would have gone to Germany.) It turns out that when you can move relatively easily from a poor country to a rich country, massive numbers of people will, while relatively few people want to move from rich countries to poor countries.

And while America may still be a land of great plains and wide open spaces, Britain isn’t.

But as Sir Stephen Wall, Tony Blair’s former EU adviser explains:

…there was a strong moral case for providing free access to workers from eastern Europe. “The primary argument was the political one – this was the right thing to do, we attached a lot of importance to them as democratic countries and keeping our position as the number one friend of eastern and central Europeans.”

Cl2fYojVYAAhvhJOf course, people started noticing the sudden surge in migrants:

According to the memo, roughly 14,000 eastern European immigrants had arrived in Southampton within the previous 18 months. This was placing immense pressure on maternity services and leading employers to lower wages. …

Outlining the impact on the everyday lives of his constituents, Denham argued at the time that resentment of immigration would grow. “One of the problems was that people were supposed to register if they were employed but many came as self-employed,” Denham says. “The biggest impacts were in self-employed trades like construction, where you didn’t have to register.” In the memo, Denham stated that the daily rate for a builder in the city had fallen by 50% since 2004. He also noted that hospital accident and emergency services were under strain because migrants tended not to use GPs as a first port of call.

The Atlantic reports:

The force that turned Britain away from the European Union was the greatest mass migration since perhaps the Anglo-Saxon invasion. 630,000 foreign nationals settled in Britain in the single year 2015. Britain’s population has grown from 57 million in 1990 to 65 million in 2015, despite a native birth rate that’s now below replacement. On Britain’s present course, the population would top 70 million within another decade, half of that growth immigration-driven.

British population growth is not generally perceived to benefit British-born people. Migration stresses schools, hospitals, and above all, housing. The median house price in London already amounts to 12 times the median local salary. Rich migrants outbid British buyers for the best properties; poor migrants are willing to crowd more densely into a dwelling than British-born people are accustomed to tolerating. …

Now throw in the possibility that anyone in the EU–such as Merkel–can throw open their nation’s doors to whomever they like and the rest of the EU will just have to accept these migrants, fait accompli, and you’ve got a situation that 52% of British voters have decided they just don’t like:

If any one person drove the United Kingdom out of the European Union, it was Angela Merkel, and her impulsive solo decision in the summer of 2015 to throw open Germany—and then all Europe—to 1.1 million Middle Eastern and North African migrants, with uncountable millions more to come.

 

Elections and counter-tribal signaling

338-0731191115-bush-no-new-taxes

It’s no secret that politicians make a lot of campaign promises that they don’t keep. Bush Senior promised not to raise taxes; Bush Junior promised not to engage in nation building; Bill Clinton promised to give everyone health care; Ronald Reagan promised to abolish the Department of Education and not to deal with terrorists–like Nicaraguan Contras.

(Reagan apparently also once stated that “Trees cause more pollution than cars,” which makes me seriously concerned about the judgment of the American people.)

And Obama made promises like, “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what,” and “I don’t want to pit Red America against Blue America. I want to be the president
 of the United States of America.”

Obviously there are many reasons campaign promises get broken, from outright lying to naive overconfidence in the president’s powers.

But I was thinking today about campaign promises–and arguments–that people voting for the candidate outright treat as false. For example, when Bush Jr. promised not to engage in nation building, Republicans did not rear that he would actually refrain from invading other countries. To the extent that anyone thought much about this promise at all, it was probably taken more as a claim to dislike the way Bill Clinton went about intervening in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. (Interesting that in all three of these cases, Clinton intervened on behalf of Muslims,) rather than the entire idea of invading other countries.

Anyone who seriously believed that Al Gore would have been a country-invading hawk and Bush Jr. an isolationist dove based on “the legacy of Clintonian nation-building” vs. Bush’s campaign promises must have been sorely disappointed–but I have never met anyone who claims to have held such views.

More recently, I’ve seen Democrats arguing that Hillary Clinton is a “conservative hawk” for her support of the Iraq War and other military interventions in the Middle East, and “a Republican” for her speech on “super predators” during the ’90s crime wave, her support for anti-crime policies that lead to the mass incarceration of African-Americans, and ’90s support of DOMA,

Meanwhile, the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, claims to have been against the Iraq war.

As I mentioned two posts ago, you can construct all sorts of “liberal” arguments in favor of Trump. “SJWs have been suppressing freedom of speech by suing bakers for refusing to bake gay marriage cakes, so Trump will restore free speech.” “Population growth => environmental destruction, and American population growth is being driven almost entirely by immigration. Therefore, if you care about Global Warming, we must Build the Wall.” “Racist, exploitative employers would rather hire illegal immigrants whom they can force to work at less than minimum wage without any benefits or safety precautions than hire blacks, whom they hate. Immigration has destroyed jobs and wages for America’s poorest and most discriminated against minorities so the 1% can get richer. Build the Wall!” “Jeb Bush wants to get into WWIII with Russia. Hillary Clinton supports the Iraq War. Only Trump will save us from nuclear armageddon!” “Amnesty for illegal immigrants punishes all of the legal immigrants for obeying the law.” “Muslims tend to favor very conservative stances on free speech, abortion, gay marriage, women, etc., so Trump’s plan to halt Muslim immigration is really in defense of liberalism.”

Of course, no one actually buys these arguments; certainly Trump’s supporters have no fear that he is secretly a raging SJW whose true concerns are the environment and African Americans. Likewise, no one on the liberal side is really afraid that Hillary Clinton will actually act like a Republican, launch Iraq 3 and promote an anti-gay and anti-black agenda. No one was really afraid that Bush Jr. would be a dove or that Obama wouldn’t help his fellow blacks. Come election day, Bernie Bros will turn out for Hillary, and Ted Cruz’s supporters will line up for Trump.

Why this disparity between what candidates say (or what people say about them) and what we actually believe?

I propose that the answer is fairly simple: tribalism. Once a candidate has established their tribalist credentials (or has the tribe securely arrayed behind them,) nothing they can say will convince members of the other tribe to vote for them, even if they are actually saying things that are explicitly meant to.

Die-hard Democrats aren’t going to vote for an evil Republican just because he happens to spout a few transparently glib platitudes on liberal values, nor will die-hard Republicans vote for an evil Democrat for the same reason.

But moderates can be swayed.

During the primaries, a candidate has to convince members of their own party to vote for them. At this stage, we should expect debates over who is the “true” liberal or “true conservative” as candidates try to outdo each other in a bid for their party’s dedicated, die-hard voters.

By the general election, candidates assume the support of their own party; they are now fighting for the nation’s moderates.

So Bush Jr. downplays his conservatism (branding himself a “compassionate conservative” and promising to eschew nation building,) in order to sound more like a moderate. The Gore campaign did similarly, leading Ralph Nader to loudly assert that there was no real difference between the two. Of course there was; in retrospect, it is almost unimaginable that a Gore presidency would have turned out identical to Bush’s.

Obama also campaigned as a moderate–he did not need to explicitly vow to pursue a pro-black agenda to get 99% of the black vote. Blacks already knew he was on their side; only moderates needed convincing.

Trump can take a position that is significantly more dovish than both the other major Republican primary candidates and Hillary Clinton and pundits still act like they think he is the most likely candidate to get into a major war, just because his personality yells “I will bomb my enemies back to the stone age.” (Meanwhile, no one takes seriously the other Republican primary candidates’ promises to get into WW3 with Russia–everyone assumes they are just lying to shore up support from their own side.)

Trump is not playing the primaries; as the front-runner, he is playing the election.

This brings us to the interesting dynamics of the Clinton/Sanders race. At the beginning of the primaries, Clinton likely believed, quite reasonably, that she was a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. So Clinton has been playing her endgame for some time, trying to build up a record and reputation as a moderate–even a hawk–who can appeal to moderate conservatives.

Then came Sanders, who suddenly made her actually fight for the nomination. Sanders positioned himself as the “true liberal”–even a socialist–against Hillary’s supposed “conservatism.” The tactic has worked well for him; since Hillary can’t out-socialism Bernie, she has been forced to become more explicitly SJW as a result:

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will, if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism?”
“No!” shouted her audience.
“Would that end sexism?”
“No!”
“Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?”
“No!”
“Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”
“No!”
“Would that solve our problem with voting rights, and Republicans who are trying to strip them away from people of color, the elderly, and the young?”
“No!”

This isn’t Hillary claiming not to favor socialism so much as claiming to be even liberaler than Sanders.

Likewise, the Republican party establishment, before Trump entered the race, assumed that one of their front-runners would get the nomination, and so put their money behind three candidates with Hispanic credentials (Cruz and Rubio are actual Hispanics; Jeb is married to one and speaks Spanish,) in order to play the general election endgame and try to win the Hispanic vote away from the Democrats. This failed, however, to inspire Republican voters, who are rather crucial for wining the primaries.

Thus the eternal debate between candidates who appeal to their bases, and candidates who appeal to moderates. The more explicitly tribalist (Red Tribe or Blue Tribe) candidates motivate their base to turn out; the moderates attract more mainstream and cross-aisle votes.

Has anyone done a study on whether candidates with stronger support in the primaries (folks like Dean or Sanders, had they gotten the nomination,) do better or worse in the general election?

Cathedral Round-Up #11: The Joke’s on Them

Dean Minnow writes in Where Theory Meets Practice (HLS Bulletin):

Earlier this year, some students pressed for reconsideration of the [Harvard Law School] shield. Adopted by the Harvard Corporation in 1937, it was based on the family crest of Isaac Royall Jr. the son of an Antiguan slaveholder. Royall’s bequest helped to endow the first professorship of law at Harvard. I created a committee to examine the issue and recruited faculty and alumni to serve alongside student representatives and staff, selected by their own communities. The Harvard Corporation accepted the committee’s recommendation… The experience afforded over 1,000 people a chance to participate in deliberations over our symbol and framed discussions that will continue as we review our past and rededicate our future.

The former shield
The former shield

But where did this push to change the seal come from? After all, the seal itself is rather innocuous, just three bundles of wheat surmounted by Harvard’s motto, Veritas. I doubt the average student walking around Harvard’s campus gives it (or any other shield) much thought.

A Question of History (HLS bulletin) reports:

Research by Visiting Professor Daniel Coquillette ’71 for his new history of HLS surfaced the ties between the Royall family and slave labor. In 2007, Janet Halley also explored the topic in the lecture she gave when she became the Royall Professor. Each year, [Dean] Minow has talked to incoming 1Ls about the Royall legacy, citing slavery as an example of how injustice is sometimes perpetuated through law.

Isaac Royall
Isaac Royall

Wikipedia informs us that:

Harvard Law School was established in 1817, making it the oldest continuously-operating law school in the nation. … The school’s origins can be traced to the estate of Isaac Royall, a wealthy Antiguan slave trader who immigrated to Boston. His Medford estate, the Isaac Royall House, is now a museum which features the only remaining slave quarters in the northeast United States. The Royall chair was traditionally held by the dean of the law school. However, because Royall was a slaveholder, Deans Elena Kagan and Martha Minow declined the Royall chair.

So HLS changed its shield because Dean Minow wanted them to. She encouraged the student body to view the shield as a symbol of racist oppression until they reacted and demanded its removal.

Of course, if HLS were actually committed to SJW goals, the best thing they could do is shut down, fire the teachers, give their endowment to the poor, and perhaps burn it all down and shoot a few lawyers for good measure. For every HLS grad who devotes their life to getting improperly convicted death row inmates out of prison, there are a dozen others working to keep them in; for every student who swears they are going to serve the poor, a hundred spend their days defending mega-corporations; for every Obama, there’s a Scalia.

If Dean Minow were actually devoted to “social justice,” as she puts it, she would devote herself to cases like Professor Parker’s:

Seven years ago I walked into the hospital for surgery. A cervical decompression and fusion, it was supposed to help me keep on mountain hiking. In the recovery room, I woke up paralyzed. I won’t walk again. I’m a tetraplegic. …

We launched two suits—one against the surgeon, the other against the company that was supposed to “monitor” spinal signals electronically throughout the operation. …

It turned out that almost no monitoring was done. There was no doctor observing incoming data in real time; there was no recording of data during most of the procedure; what records existed were, in large part, destroyed; …

We settled. But the company twice recently had to pay big fines for overcharging Medicare and claimed to be on the verge of bankruptcy. That limited the settlement. The hospital, I understand, went right on doing business with that company. …

After a grinding delay of four and a half years—there’s a special barrier to malpractice suits—we went to trial and we lost. We lost to an insurance company affiliated with ­Harvard.

If anyone could use a whole school full of angry lawyers on their side, surely it’s a healthy guy rendered a tetraplegiac via medical incompetence. But no, it’s the goddam shield that gets people’s attention. How many millions of dollars did Harvard spend on this “committee” that apparently listened to a thousand people’s opinions? How much will it cost to design and manufacture new seals to hang all over campus? How many of the people SJWs claim to care about could have been helped with that money?

But the overwhelming tone of the HLS Bulletin is not “SJW,” but relentless, soul-crushing, corporate formality. I wish I had a single word for it–like “norminess,” but oh so much more.

Just as some Christians* feel the influence of their faith in every aspect of their lives, while others make a show of going to church and calling themselves “Christian” but are otherwise unmoved by faith, so to do some SJWs come across as “true believers,” who want to increase acceptance for society’s outcasts, whether drag queens or criminals, and some come across as stiff formalists who wouldn’t touch a transsexual with a ten-foot pole but still want it to be known that they disapprove of North Carolina’s bathroom bill.

*I am sure this dichotomy shows up in all religions.

Like a real estate speculator who tries to invest in land that he thinks will go up in value, I suspect that much of Harvard’s business is to attach its name to future leaders. They are, for the most part, highly intelligent folks, but if intelligence were the only criterion, Harvard’s student body would look more like Caltech’s. Rather, Harvard is interested in people like Obama, multi-ethnic, internationalist, multi-lingual, and destined for at least a diplomatic post with the state department (that bet turned out even better than expected for HLS); the recently deceased Antonin “Nino” Scalia, or Koen Lenaerts, ’78, President of the European Court of Justice.

What does it all mean?

I’m not exactly sure, but I think it’s classism.

Which means classism is a lot worse than I generally give it credit for.

I did enjoy He Was Not a Crook: Former staffer in the Nixon administration continues to defend his boss:

Based on documents he uncovered from the Watergate proceedings housed in the National Archives, [Shepard’s] book contends that charges of a cover-up that ultimately forced Nixon to resign from office proved unfounded. Even the “smoking gun” tape that appeared to show the president seeking to limit the FBI’s Watergate investigation was misunderstood, Shepard contends: It was in fact an attempt to keep the names of Democratic donors to the Nixon campaign from becoming public. Yet the cover-up charges were buttressed by biased prosecutors and judges who colluded to ensure the downfall of the president, he believes.

“Judges and prosecutors aren’t supposed to get together in advance and make decisions, and that’s what it turns out they were doing,” he said. “It’s just startling, what was going on.” …

“He wasn’t a highfalutin Easterner,” as Shepard put it, nor was either one among the “sons of prominent men” like those who were introduced by one of his professors during a first-year class at Harvard Law. …

Although for many people Nixon’s legacy can be summed up in one word, Shepard says the president he served should be celebrated for his foreign policy acumen and domestic achievements, such as efforts to combat drug abuse.

“The people who have loathed Richard Nixon—just this visceral hatred of this guy from nowhere, without culture, without family, without a Harvard education, who kept winning elections,” he said, “they want to give him no credit for anything.”

Shepard’s book, “The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down,” is available from Amazon (or possibly your local library) if you’re interested.

There were also several articles about police and crime, (it’s a hot-button issue these days,) like:

Meeting at Cops’ Corner:

In just one decade, Everett, Massachusetts, once a predominantly white city, has become the most racially and ethnically diverse in the commonwealth. Building communication between police officers and local youth is a priority for Chief of the Everett Police Department Steven A. Mazzie, who is white, as are 86 percent of his officers. Last fall he invited a team of HLS students from the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program to Everett for an impartial assessment.

(Statistically, Everett seems to be doing slightly better than average for a Boston neighborhood, crime-wise.)

Solutions from Cincinnati: Mayor John Cranley ’99 champions his city’s unique police-community accord:

Now in its 14th year, a compact on policing in Cincinnati, Ohio, focused on building strong police-community relationships is a lauded model nationwide. John Cranley ’99, now the city’s mayor, was there from the start of the landmark agreement known as the Collaborative.

While Cincinnati is not mega-violent St. Louis, with nearly 50 murders and “non-neglicent manslaughter”s per 100k citizens year, it is the tenth most homicidal city in the country. (Everett, and Boston generally, are doing better.) On the plus side, violent crime has fallen since it spiked following the 2001 Cincinnati anti-police riots, though we need a few more years to tell whether it has stabilized around 65-75 murders per year after hitting a low in 2012, or if it’s headed back up.

and The New Age of Surveillance: Cellphones may be the least of your privacy concerns:

Welcome to the Internet of Things. It may be about to change our lives as radically as the Internet itself did 20 years ago. …

This technology is already available in everything from home appliances to Fitbits and children’s toys, and over the next 10 years, it is expected to become a multitrillion-dollar industry …

All that personal data—just waiting to be mined. The implications for privacy, national security, human rights, cyberespionage and the economy are staggering.

Anthropology Friday: Still a Pygmy (pt 2)

Continuing with Still a Pygmy, by Isaac Bacirongo and Michael Nest

Isaac begins the book with some background on his family and their life in the forest. (And in case you were wondering about homicide among pre-agricultural peoples, it looks like they Pygmy-on-Pygmy murder rate is pretty high, which fits pretty well with the reported overall homicide rates in the DRC.)

Isaac is one of 12 children, but half of his siblings died in childhood (one died at 15 of labor complications due to having twins without medical care; Isaac notes that sickle-cell-anemia runs in his family, which probably explains most of the others.) Isaac has 11 children, 9 of whom survived (and one of those died as an adult.) The radical difference may be better medical care, but more likely his wife is just not a sickle-cell carrier.

In case the moral of the story is not clear: Hunter-gatherers in the rainforest with no medical care and 50% infant mortality rates can still raise 6 children, while Americans with college degrees and white collar jobs sincerely believe that they “can’t afford” more than one or two kids.

Today’s Pygmies are not exclusive hunter-gatherers, and probably haven’t been for a while. For starters, there are a lot more people hunting in the DRC these days; farmers are clearing forests for agriculture; the gov’t tries to prevent poaching in national parks; and of course armies occasionally march through the area and shoot a bunch of people. Isaac’s family, when he was young, practiced a mobile lifestyle of working part of the year on local farms and exclusive hunting/gathering during other times. Isaac himself, as an adult, lived permanently in town and had a white-collar job running a pharmacy.

You’re not going to get good numbers on the % of Pygmies in agricultural or white-collar occupations because widespread discrimination against Pygmies guarantees that most of the ones who leave the forest hide their identities and attempt to pass as Bantus. (You might think that the most obvious difference between them would be height, but Isaac says it’s lips–Pygmies have thinner lips, Bantus thicker. Also, Pygmies apparently blink more.)

As I’ve mentioned, the Bantus are relative newcomers to the area, and on the grand scale of human genetics, more closely related to Europeans than to Pygmies, who may be one of the most ancient peoples on Earth. This occurred recently enough that the Pygmies, despite having no written history until perhaps this book, still remember the invasion:

According to our mythology, when the people who are not Pygmies–we call them Bantu–came to Central Africa, they came from the north and found Pymies already there. My own ancestors roamed in the forests from Kahuzi up to Walikale and into the forests of Shabunda. This is where you can find the Kalega Forest. The region is very mountainous and the smaller villages are in deep forest and reachable only on dirt paths.

Bantu from many tribes came into our land centuries ago, but before the seventeenth century nobody could talk about BaTembo people [Isaac’s tribe] for the simple reason that they did not exist. About 400 years ago one of those Bantu men called Katembo came into our land. He was the son of Kifamandu, and probably from the Hunde tribe. Katembo fell in love with a Pygmy woman. (I have never heard her name–BaTembo people only want to remember Katembo, not the name of their Pygmy ancestor, so everyone has forgotten her.)

Isaac describes life in the forest as idyllic, but often motivated by extremely practical concerns:

In 1967 a white mercenary from Belgium, Jean Schramme, and his ‘Leopard Battalion’ advanced along the road near where we were living…

Pygmies know how to live in the forest, so we could always find food and build huts, and we were protected. Normally Pygmies move in and out of the forest, but this time we stayed for a whole year because we were scared of leaving.

Later in the book, Isaac returns to the forest again after narrowly escaping a massacre conducted by an invading army from Rwanda. Wikipedia has information on Jean Schramme:

When the Belgian Congo gained its independence in 1960, the country quickly descended into civil war. Several hundred white people were held hostage, and Belgium sent troops to Congo to free them and to protect its interests. … The rich province of Katanga, soon followed by the eastern part of Kasai were trying to gain independence. … A violent clash between pro-secession and pro-unity movements soon broke out.

In 1965, Colonel Mobutu became president and from then on Belgium started protecting his regime against rebellion. …

On June 30, 1967, president Moise Tshombe of Katanga‘s Jet aircraft was hijacked to Algiers, before he could return to Congo after his exile in Spain. He was imprisoned in Algeria and two years later he died in suspicious circumstances. For Schramme, this was a sign that he was fighting the wrong enemy and on July 3, 1967 he began to lead an uprising in Katanga against Mobutu.

…Jean Schramme’s unit, launched surprise attacks on Stanleyville, Kindu, and Bukavu. … Schramme was able to hold Bukavu for seven weeks and managed to defeat all ANC troops who were sent to retake the town. … Extra forces helped the ANC to finally defeat Schramme on October 29, 1967. The surviving rebel troops fled towards Rwanda.

Schramme died in 1988 in Brazil. Jeremy Dunns has some more interesting information about Schramme and his rebellion in his post, The Real Dogs of War. More information in LBJ & the Congo. Christopher Othen, a non-fiction writer, gives a fantastically interesting summary:

Down in the south, the province of Katanga, a rich mining territory, declared its own independence. The Congo had no intention of allowing the renegade region to secede, and neither did the CIA, the KGB, or the United Nations.

… It was a fantastically uneven battle. The United Nations fielded soldiers from twenty nations, America paid the bills, and the Soviets intrigued behind the scenes. Yet to everyone’s surprise the new nation’s rag-tag army of local gendarmes, superstitious jungle tribesmen, and, controversially, European mercenaries refused to give in.

If he writes this well all of the time, I imagine his book (Katanga 1960-1963: Mercenaries, Spies, and the Nation that Waged War on the World) must be a very good read.

Isaac recounts that the Pygmies also lived in the forest for more mundane reasons:

The Belgians tried to get Pygmies out of the forest and make us live in Bantu villages, so we would become workers. We did not like that! Because of pressure from the Belgians, in the 1940s and 1950s some families moved out of the forest but left their eldest sons behind in the deep forest where the Belgians could not find them. After Congo became independent in 1960 we all went back. …

Life was very social in the forest. The small camps we lived in had about five or six different huts, with about twenty people in each camp, and everyone in the camp was related. …

It took Mum and Dad about four hours to make a hut. If you were careful and made a strong frame, you could make a hut that lasted a year. … Bigger huts might have a wall that created a sleeping space for parents. … There were no chairs or tables. Everyone sat on a log or on the ground. My parents liked living in this kind of hut. Many years later I bought them twenty sheets of iron to cover their roof instead of leaves, but they exchanged it for meat. They were happy with their traditional hut and having assets like iron sheeting was meaningless to them. …

This is an important point: most people like their own culture.

Isaac claims to believe in god, but rejects most religious beliefs on the grounds that they are illogical superstitions. Nevertheless, he relates some of the traditional ones for us:

Event though Pygmies are marginalized, we have a special role in Bantu culture because of our connection to the spirit world. Traditionally Pygmies believed in a creator god who created the forest and everything in it, and that the forest was full of the spirits of ancestors who had died. … Pygmies still have ceremonies when we do various things to make spirits happy, and we perform these ceremonies for Batu as well. For example, before gong hunting, Pygmies might perform a ceremony to help catch something. …

The most important ceremonial roles Pygmies held in Bantu culture were when a mwami was put on the throne and when he died. The Bantu were afraid that if they did not give Pygmies a role in these ceremonies it would anger the ancestral spirits of the land. Bantu believe that ancestral spirits respond better to Pygmies because Pygmies are the people of the forest … When something like a destructive storm happens, BaTembo would ay it was because the spirits were upset that Pygmies were not given a proper role in a ceremony that happened earlier, sometimes years earlier. …

When we want to remember someone who has died, we hold a chioba ceremony that might go for as long as a week… When somebody dies their spirits go to the spirit world, and during the chioba people will dance to call the spirits of that person. When the dead person’s spirits come they enter the dancers, who start to dance in an unusal way…

But back to the forest:

… everything in the forest is about food and everything you find belongs to you. This is how Mama thought. In providing for us she was a good mother because we were never hungry as kids.

Life in the forest is not stressful because there are no people around and stress is brought to you by other people. Happiness in the forest comes when you kill an antelope or if you catch some fish, because you know you will eat–and in Pygmy culture if you kill even one monkey everyone in the village will have a piece. …

When I was a child I was so happy when I found fruit and could eat a lot. If there was no fruit then we would go mushroom picking. … Pygmies collect these fruits and sell them to poeople who live outside the forest, as well as eat it ourselves.

Isaac goes into a bit of detail about all of the different kinds of food they had growing up and how they hunted, providing themselves with everything from grubs to elephants. He also  notes that wearing clothes is inefficient in the forest because they get snagged on branches. Gorillas and chimps, however, were not traditionally on the menu:

Normally Pygmies do not hunt gorillas but this one was bothering them [coming into their camp and destroying their banana trees,] so they decided to kill it. They knew that gorilla were powerful animals. Mama said that if you do not have a brother with you, you should not try to hunt a gorilla because if it grabs you, it will smash you. … If you hunt a gorilla with someone who is not a relative he will run away if it gets hold of you, but if you hunt with a brother he will try to stab the gorilla and carry you home if you are injured.

… the only real enemy of Pygmies in the forest was leopards. If Pygmies met a gorilla we would look at each other then each would go their own way. The same with chimpanzees–we would pass each other in the forest, minding our own business. Chimpanzees and gorillas were not harmful to you because they are not aggressive unless you approach their babies. …

Pygmies were only scared of leopards. Because the walls of our huts are not strong and are only made of leaves, sometimes a leopard would pull sleeping people out and kill them. Mama told me about two or three people who were killed that way.

Back in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (first published in 1939,) Dr. Price, a peripatetic dentist who traveled the world in search of good teeth, noted that Pygmies hunt elephants and leopards hunt Pygmies:

The home life of the pygmies in the jungle is often filled with danger. Just before our arrival two babies had been carried off by a leopard. This stealthy night prowler is one of the most difficult to combat and one of the reasons the pygmies build cabins in the trees.

Perhaps this is why, according to Wikipedia:

Fathers of the Aka tribe [Pygmies from the other side of the DRC] spend more time in close contact to their babies than in any other known society. Aka fathers have their infant within arms reach 47% of the time [5] and make physical contact with them five times as often per day as fathers in some other societies.[3]

Throughout the day, couples share hunting, food preparation, and social and leisure activities. The more time Aka parents spend together, the more frequent the father’s affectionate interaction with his baby.[citation needed] or the more frequent the father’s affectionate interaction with his baby, the more time the Aka parents spend together.

Dad around => less chance of getting eaten by leopards.

(This is why I think it so weird that [some] Americans think it is a good idea to put an infant into a room by itself and then ignore it while it screams. Infants are not rational, thinking creatures who can understand that they’re safe even though it’s dark. They run entirely on instincts, and their instincts tell them that being alone in the dark means they will get eaten by leopards.)

Anyway, here’s another interesting bit, also showing the weird Pygmy-Bantu religious relationship:

In traditional Bantu culture in my area, when a king dies someone must cut off his head and take it for safekeeping to a sacred place in the forest. Bantus have assigned Pygmies responsibilities in this ceremony and it is a Pygmy man who does this. … The muhombe has a powerful magic. He wears a mask, a leopard skin across his chest, a raffia skirt and a necklace made of wild banana seeds and the teeth of a wild boar. He carries his tools in a raffia bag–a few teeth of dead chiefs, and other things to help him communicate with the dead and tell the future. The special place the muhombe protects is called the buhombe. It is very sacred to Pygmies and Bantu, but the Bantu are not allowed to go there. The entire head is placed on a tabernacle int he forest and the muhombe would watch it carefully to see if there are any movements of the skull. … The muhombe cares for the site for thirty or forty yeas, when the role of guardian or caretaker passes to his son. …

The muhombe in the Mafuo Chiefdom traditionally come from my family, and when I was young my father held this role. Bantus said I would have to do this when my father died as I was part of the lineage. I refused … The Bantu then said that as I refused to do it, my sister, Zania, the next in line in my family, would have to carry the muhombe assignment… ‘Carrying the assignment’ meant carrying the next muhombe in her womb. Zania was not supposed to get married because she had to dedicate herself to this assignment, a bit like a nun, but it was all right for her to give birth to the next muhombe.

Unfortunately, Zania died in childbirth and the muhombe-ship transferred to a cousin. Much later in the book, after Isaac and his family have moved to Australia, he reports that:

A few years ago my brother Buhavu sold the land where the Mafuo chiefs are buried, the buhombe hill… There were even some teeth of an old mwami still there. Mama was very upset about him selling this land. Buhavu did not have personal custody of that land and had no right to sell it. … Mama’s dream is to go back to Cong, return the money to the Bantu people who bought that sacred land, and get it back.

Old ways die quickly when there is money to be made.

To be continued…

Donald Trump and the Death of White Identitarian Politics

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “Isn’t this the beginning?”

Mainstream American conservatives (perhaps all conservatives) are essentially reactive. Not reactionary, mind. That word has a different meaning in this context. Just reactive.

Liberals come up with new ideas, and conservatives react by opposing them. Liberals are high-class, in-party; their ideas make it into university curricula and influence the nation’s movers and shakers. By the time conservatives (who do not usually run in liberal circles, nor read much from university presses,) notice a liberal idea, it has already become quite widespread. And nothing makes an idea seem old and passe quite like having it suddenly associated with the out-party, the politically low-class and uncool folks who vote Republican.

BTW, if you are the “homophobic uncle” or “racist grandma” at family functions, try to turn this into a secret power: make ideas sound bad just by talking about them. Global warming? Caused by immigrant-driven population growth! Rising wealth inequality? Clearly capitalists would rather hire illegal immigrants than pay blacks a living wage–build the wall! You support Hillary Clinton because she voted for the Iraq war! Etc.

Report back to me if it works. I’m curious.

But back on subject: the upshot of this is that by the time the Republicans notice something and start making a big deal out of it, it is already too late. The trends are already in place and moving inexorably against them.

Back in the ’80s, we witnessed the rise of the “Christian right;” throughout the 90s, “conservative” and “Republican” were synonymous with “Evangelical Christianity.” They ran on platforms that included banning abortion, reinstating prayer in school, replacing the theory of evolution with Biblical creationism in school textbooks, and general opposition to “Godless liberals.”

They have failed pretty spectacularly. While they have made some piecemeal hacks at abortion, it is still basically legal through out the country. Creationism and “Intelligent Design” have both been struck down as unconstitutional due to being blatantly religious. And you probably know the story on prayer in school even better than I do.

(This is a little disappointing coming out of a party that could count among its recent accomplishments normalizing relations with China, nuclear reduction treaties with the Soviets, and overseeing the peaceful collapse of the entire USSR.)

Conservatives of the ’80s and ’90s could tell that the country was becoming increasingly secular, and reacted accordingly by trying to force it back to religiosity. Unfortunately for them, increasingly religious => fewer and fewer people who are even interested in their religious agenda. Despite the fact that abortion is still legal and school prayer is still illegal, even conservatives have moved on to other priorities.

During Bush II, Republicans launched a big push to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The measure failed; gay marriage is now not only legal, but constitutionally protected.

No one bothered with passing an anti-gay marriage amendment back in the ’50s, when Republicans could have actually gotten the numbers necessary to do it. Since the vast majority of people thought homosexuality was immoral, there was no push to legalize gay marriage, and so no one would have bothered with passing amendments against it. Once enough people were in favor of gay marriage to put it on the national agenda, the trends were clear: soon the majority of people would favor gay marriage, and an amendment did not pass.

It was the last, desperate thrashing of a cornered beast.

Today, people have noticed–finally–that America’s demographics are changing.

Of course, the time to do something about this was before the demographics changed. In 1900, the US was about 88% white, 12% black, and <1% Hispanic. Today, whites are 64%, blacks are still 12%, and Hispanics are 16% of the population. (Asians and others comprise an additional 8%.)

According to the census bureau, in 2012, American infants were 50% white and 50% non-white–about 25% of American children are now Hispanic.

The time to care about changing US demographics was 1965, when LBJ and Ted Kennedy’s Immigration and Naturalization Act quadrupled the number of (legal) immigrants per year from 250,000 to 1 million. 1975 and 1985 would also have been good years to start caring.

In 1950, there were 500,000 Hispanics in the US. Today, there are 5o.5 million. Even if you built a wall between the US and Mexico yesterday and deported 11 million illegal immigrants, that would still leave 39 million newcomers and their children whom you cannot get rid of.

By 2050, the US will be less than half white, and American children will be only 40% white.

Interestingly, the last time a Democrat won a majority of white votes was 1964–LBJ. Republicans have been the “white” party–though they may not have realized it–since 1968.

But this does not mean that whites vote overwhelmingly for the Republicans. Even blacks occasionally vote for Republicans–about 5% of them voted for Bush II. As whites near 50%, even 10% voting for the Democrats will consign Republicans to the losers, while an identifiably “white” party will have difficulty attracting non-white voters.

No matter how much effort the Republicans put into attracting white voters (and likely they will put a great deal of effort into it over the next few elections,) the numbers are moving against them.

You can’t maintain a majority with a shrinking % of the population. (Though, of course, we are talking about a process that will take decades.)

But we live in a two-party system, and the system will re-assert itself with a new set of balanced coalitions that can win, perhaps a system that pits Hispanics and Asians against whites and blacks, or some other random thing. (I am not guessing.) But that won’t happen until the Republicans are weak enough that Democrats can safely split.

 

Southpaw Genetics

Warning: Totally speculative

This is an attempt at a coherent explanation for why left-handedness (and right-handedness) exist in the distributions that they do.

Handedness is a rather exceptional human trait. Most animals don’t have a dominant hand (or foot.) Horses have no dominant hooves; anteaters dig equally well with both paws; dolphins don’t favor one flipper over the other; monkeys don’t fall out of trees if they try to grab a branch with their left hands. Only humans have a really distinct tendency to use one side of their bodies over the other.

And about 90% of us use our right hands, and about 10% of us use our left hands, (Wikipedia claims 10%, but The Lopsided Ape reports 12%.) an observation that appears to hold pretty consistently throughout both time and culture, so long as we aren’t dealing with a culture where lefties are forced to write with their right hands.

A simple Mendel-square two-gene explanation for handedness–a dominant allele for right-handedness and a recessive one for left-handedness, with equal proportions of alleles in society, would result in a 75% righties to 25% lefties. Even if the proportions weren’t equal, the offspring of two lefties ought to be 100% left-handed. This is not, however, what we see. The children of two lefties have only a 25% chance or so of being left-handed themselves.

So let’s try a more complicated model.

Let’s assume that there are two alleles that code for right-handedness. (Hereafter “R”) You get one from your mom and one from your dad.

Each of these alleles is accompanied by a second allele that codes for either nothing (hereafter “O”) or potentially switches the expression of your handedness (hereafter “S”)

Everybody in the world gets two identical R alleles, one from mom and one from dad.

Everyone also gets two S or O alleles, one from mom and one from dad. One of these S or O alleles affects one of your Rs, and the other affects the other R.

Your potential pairs, then, are:

RO/RO, RO/RS, RS/RO, or RS/RS

RO=right handed allele.

RS=50% chance of expressing for right or left dominance; RS/RS thus => 25% chance of both alleles coming out lefty.

So RO/RO, RO/RS, and RS/RO = righties, (but the RO/ROs may have especially dominant right hands; half of the RO/RS guys may have weakly dominant right hands.)

Only RS/RS produces lefties, and of those, only 25% defeat the dominance odds.

This gets us our observed correlation of only 25% of children of left-handed couples being left-handed themselves.

(Please note that this is still a very simplified model; Wikipedia claims that there may be more than 40 alleles involved.)

What of the general population as a whole?

Assuming random mating in a population with equal quantities of RO/RO, RO/RS, RS/RO and RS/RS, we’d end up with 25% of children RS/RS. But if only 25% of RS/RS turn out lefties, only 6.25% of children would be lefties. We’re still missing 4-6% of the population.

This implies that either: A. Wikipedia has the wrong #s for % of children of lefties who are left-handed; B. about half of lefties are RO/RS (about 1/8th of the RO/RS population); C. RS is found in twice the proportion as RO in the population; or D. my model is wrong.

According to Anything Left-Handed:

Dr Chris McManus reported in his book Right Hand, Left Hand on a study he had done based on a review of scientific literature which showed parent handedness for 70,000 children. On average, the chances of two right-handed parents having a left-handed child were around 9% left-handed children, two left-handed parents around 26% and one left and one right-handed parent around 19%. …
More than 50% of left-handers do not know of any other left-hander anywhere in their living family.

This implies B, that about half of lefties are RO/RS. Having one RS combination gives you a 12.5% chance of being left-handed; having two RS combinations gives you a 25% chance.

And that… I think that works. And it means we can refine our theory–we don’t need two R alleles; we only need one. (Obviously it is more likely a whole bunch of alleles that code for a whole system, but since they act together, we can model them as one.) The R allele is then modified by a pair of alleles that comes in either O (do nothing,) or S (switch.)

One S allele gives you a 12.5% chance of being a lefty; two doubles your chances to 25%.

Interestingly, this model suggests that not only does no gene for “left handedness” exist, but that “left handedness” might not even be the allele’s goal. Despite the rarity of lefties, the S allele is found in 75% of the population (an equal % as the O allele.) My suspicion is that the S allele is doing something else valuable, like making sure we don’t become too lopsided in our abilities or try to shunt all of our mental functions to one side of our brain.

Anthropology Friday: Still a Pygmy, by Isaac Bacirongo and Micheal Nest

51TxcmouEEL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_My copy of Still a Pygmy has arrived!

I am excited because this book is probably the only autobiography/first-hand account of growing up with a Pygmy lifestyle in the whole world. (In English, anyway.) Sure, plenty of anthropologists have studied Pygmies and written about their lives, but not many Pygmies have written (or co-written) their own books and gotten them published.

(Since this book was only recently published, and I’m sure Isaac and Michael would like to get their royalties, I am going to quote less than usual and instead try to provide interesting commentary/discussion.)

Basic plot: Isaac Bacironogo, a Pygmy, was born in the Congolese rainforest where he learned to hunt and gather in the traditional Pygmy style. When he was a kid, his family went to work on a local plantation (Pygmies regularly work as hired agricultural laborers,) and noticed that all of the other kids on the plantation were going to school. So after much pestering of his parents, Isaac started going to school. He attended, IIRC, 10 or 11 years of school, learned French fluently, and eventually became a successful businessman who owned three pharmacies and traveled internationally.

Then everything went to shit, between the Rwandan genocide and the Congolese civil war, and Isaac had to get out before the gov’t put a bullet in his brain. Eventually the UN resettled him and his family in Australia.

I have mentioned before that I doubt refugees–wherever they are from–represent a random cross-section of their home societies. They are, at least, the people who managed to get to refugee camps–in Isaac’s case, just escaping required $7,500 in bribes. Additionally, as Isaac has documented in abundant detail, many refugees bribe UN workers in order to get the extremely coveted foreign resettlement slots.

I guarantee that the average Congolese–much less the average Congolese Pygmy–does not have this kind of cash.

According to the Wikipedia:

A pygmy is a member of an ethnic group whose average height is unusually short; anthropologists define pygmy as a member of any group where adult men are on average less than 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches) tall.[1] A member of a slightly taller group is termed “pygmoid“.[2]

The term is most associated with peoples of Central Africa, such as the Aka, Efé and Mbuti.[3] If the term pygmy is defined as a group’s men having an average height below 1.55 meters (5 feet 1 inch), then there are also pygmies in Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Andaman Islands,[4]Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, and Brazil,[5] including some Negritos of Southeast Asia.

Pygmy_languages_(Bahuchet)For the purposes of this post, “Pygmy” only refers to African Pygmies.

Isaac’s people, the BaTembo, come from the region marked on this map as “Great Lakes Twa,” which overlaps the Democratic Republic of the Congo, (hereafter either DRC or just “Congo,” after Isaac’s usage,) Rwanda, and Burundi.

Isaac describes the different Pygmy groups:

… we say there are three kinds of Pygmy. The first we cal BaTwa be Bungukuma in KiTembo. This means something like ‘stocky Pygmies with muscular bodies.’ They are shorter than normal Pygmies, they are strong–their chests are like hard stones–and their whole body works together perfectly. This kind of Pygmy is quite hairy and they don’t like to mix with other people. The second kind is a normal Pygmy, like my family. … The third kind of Pygmy is the Pygmoid people. … Full-blooded Pygmies are sometimes scared of Pygmoid people, because Pygmoid people see themselves as masters of the full-bloods and act like this towards us.

There is a fair amount of debate over whether the various Pygmy peoples are all closely related, or if they are a bunch of different people who all happen to evolve shorter stature just because of some environmental factor, like the rainforest being low on salt. It looks like the answer is a bit of both: the existence of other pygmy or pygmoid people outside of Africa, as far away as the rainforests of Australia and Brazil, suggests that it’s highly likely that rainforests do select for small stature, but the African Pygmies appear to be descended from a single ancestral group that split up thousands of years ago, may have admixed with an archaic population or two, and some of which have mixed significantly with the recently-arrived Bantus.

For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that Pygmies and Bantus are probably about as genetically distant European and Africans–if not more so. (Keeping in mind that there now exist substantial numbers of mixed-race Pygmy-Bantu people and tribes.)

800px-Explorer_Chapin_with_Club_Flag_-4 1280px-RuwenpflanzenAccording to Secret Corners of the World, which I coincidentally picked up at a used book shop this week, there are actually glacier-capped mountains on the border between Congo and Uganda, known as the Rwenzori, or Mountains of the Moon. These mountains have some enormous vegetation.

The town where Isaac lived, Bukavu, lies near the Rwenzori, just outside the Kahuzi-Biéga National Park. Wikipedia notes:

Kahuzi Gorilla
Kahuzi Gorilla

…the park’s 1975 expansion, which included inhabited lowland areas, resulted in forced evacuations with about 13,000 people of the tribal community of Shi, Tembo and Rega affected and refusing to leave.[2] Cooperation by the communities living around the park and employment of the Twa people to enforce park protection was pursued by the park authorities. In 1999 a plan was developed to protect the people and the resources of the park.[8]

The Tembo, aka BaTembo, are Isaac’s people (“Ba” is a local prefix that I think means “the people”, so BaTembo means “the Tembo people.” They’re the same group whether you attach the Ba or not.) Isaac speaks of this same incident:

White people with the power to help also ignored us. This was the case with the Pygmies who were thrown out of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park that was create din part of our traditional country, and which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The headquarters of the park is called Madaga. This is the name of a Pygmy family that is still living. … The Madaga family’s land, their area of hunting, became part of the national park. So much money is given to support the park but the Madaga family is living in poverty.

Basically, a lot more people have been trying to save the gorillas and chimpanzees than have been trying to save the Pygmies, who have not fared too well at the hands of the Bantus.

(If it is any consolation, it looks like there has been poaching in the park. Isaac reports:

The camp where the Pygmies lived was right on the edge of Mr. Francis’ farm, next to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The government authorities wanted the camp moved off the boundary because they suspected us of hunting in the forest. They were right. … Meat was expensive and my father was not rich enough to have chickens or goats, so if we wanted meat we had to hunt for it. All Papa thought about was going back into the forest to check his snares when he was finished work for the day. … In the rainy season, when there were a lot of animals around and they were easy to trap, Papa and the other Pygmies living in the camp would desert the farm for up to three months to hunt. …

The authorities knew that Pygmies and other hunters poached game int he Kahuzi-Biega reserve and used to stop and search them when they were walking into town… if the authorities caught a man with bush meat he would be fined, but they never stopped children, so a few times I used to take meat to sell in town..

Mama developed a strategy to get Papa about of trouble when he was caught poaching. She discovered that the local territorial administrator, Salumu, liked monkey, so several times Mama smoked monkey or antelope meat and gave it to him for free. … When Papa was caught, Salumu would let him off with a warning.

Bribes and corruption are going to be a frequent theme of this series.)

Secret Corners of the World describes traveling from Bukavu to the Rwenzori around 1982:

1024px-Dawn_on_Lake_KivuOur road to the Ruwenzori [older spelling] was filled with scenes of promise, frustration, and vistas of primeval Beauty.

Our journey began in Bukavu, capital of Zaire’s Kivu Province, a place that visiting Americans have called “an African San Francisco.” Appealing, solidly built villas overlook the water from four peninsulas that extend into Lake Kivu–but on the slopes behind them sit flimsy, fly-ridden shacks. Such contrasts inflamed the turbulent 1960s … Now, as non-African visitors, Jim and I drew friendly attention. To the dozens of French-speaking Zairians that we met along the way, we were simply Americains, objects of sociable curiosity and frequently the recipients of help in case of a mired car or parched throat.

Near Bukavu, apparently far from politics, we walked into a Garden of Eden. … In verdant Kahuzi-Biega Park, nearly 250,000 acres, we sought those muscular dwellers of the rain forest, the lowland gorillas.

Our small safari consisted of several Pygmy trackers and the assistant curator of the park… Since 1970, nearly 30,000 visitors have hiked into the volcanic mountains an hour outside Bukavu to see the gorillas.

Quite a contrast to Frederick and Josephine’s more recent trek through the Congo! Years of genocide and civil war have not been good to the region. Secret Corners continues:

For the next stage of our journey to the Ruqenzori, we joled local travelers in a five-hour boat ride to Goma, at the north end of Lake Kivu. …

Just outside of Goma, a lakeside town with a hint of frontier atmosphere, rises Nyiragongo, one of a string of still-active volcanoes. A nearly perfect cone, its outer shell slants steeply upward to forma  achalice roughly 4,125 feet across. That cup holds molten rock.

At 10 o’clock on January 10, 1977, the cone sprang a leak–at least five fissures. A fiery rver rushed toward Goma, obliterating crops and engulfing hapless villagers. As many as a hundred people may lie entombed in hardened lava several meters thick. …

(One of Isaac’s pharmacies was located near Goma, at least until an invading army made travel between villages much too difficult.)

“Anybody working hard with initiative and imagination can make a fortune here,” insists 38-year-old entrepreneur Victor Ngezayo… in their Beni coffee warehouse. Victor started as a truck driver at age 19; now he and Brigitte own a fleet of trucks, a coffee export business, an air charter service, and an interest in a chain of hotels. they provide advice and credit to employees undertaking business ventures of their own.

Isaac was about 20 or 21 when this article was written; his story and Victor’s stories sound pretty similar (though they obviously differ in the particulars.)

016022011114125000000victorngezayoI got to wondering how things turned out for Victor, and so Googled around. Looks like he survived all of the upheavals of the 90s and continues being a successful businessman; here’s his picture from an article about him and his hotels in Jeune Africa, 2011. He still has the same mustache he had in the 1983 photo in Secret Corners. In 2002, the local volcano filled his garden with lava; in 2005, he helped found a new Congolese political party, the Convention of Christian Democrats.

Wikileaks has some interesting records of conversations between US ambassadors or other US gov’t officials and Victor in 2007:

Floribert Bwana Chuy bin Kositi, North Kivu provincial secretary of the RCD-G party, was found murdered July 9 in Goma outside the grounds of a hotel owned by a prominent Tutsi businessman. … A MONUC-Goma political officer told us Chuy, a section chief in the Congolese Office of Control (OCC), disappeared on Saturday. His body, which showed signs of strangulation, was found 300-400 meters from the entrance of Goma’s Hotel Karibu. The owner, Victor Ngezayo, told us the body was discovered by a passing motorbike driver around noon. …

Chuy’s position at OCC involved monitoring the quality of imported food. Ngezayo told us Congolese and resident foreign importers often buy expired foodstuffs on the international market for pennies on the dollar and resell them in Goma. Ngezayo hypothesized that Chuy’s killing was related to his job. Just prior to his death, Chuy had ordered the destruction of 80 tons of imported rice which he had determined was unfit for human consumption.

and in 2009:

Ambassador met April 17 with influential North Kivu businessman Victor Ngezayo. Unsurprisingly, Ngezayo was highly critical of the GDRC, particularly its efforts to bring peace to the East, which he characterized as superficial. Ngezayo maintained that the new CNDP was a Rwandan concoction, with no grassroots support. Efforts to impose a “Rwandophone solution” on North Kivu would be a repeat of the disastrous RCD-Goma experiment. … Ngezayo warned that the different regions of the DRC, which he divided into “Congo Occidentale,” “Congo Orientale,” Katanga, and the Kasais were culturally and economically independent from each other.

I don’t know what he’s up to today, but I don’t see any obituaries.

The Secret Corners article also mentions problems like roads marred by giant, car-swallowing potholes and schools with no teachers due to the Congolese government not paying them, but the tone is relentlessly upbeat and cheerful (these children are so enthusiastic, they’re learning even without a teacher! Some helpful passers-by pitched in and pushed our truck out of the giant hole!) I suspect this is partially because they wanted to write an upbeat article, and partially because the region was actually a lot better prior to the Rwandan Genocide than after. People like Isaac and Victor really were coming up from extremely poor backgrounds to become successful businessmen; opportunities were increasing across the region.

Next week we’ll take a closer look at the Pygmies themselves.

The Gaboon Viper, Pangolin, and bioluminescence

The Gaboon Viper is a lovely snake with incredible rectangular bands running down its spine:
gaboon-viper-eastern-820x489 8582704

(How often do you see rectangles in nature?) They’re super deadly, of course, so I don’t recommend petting one.

The Pangolin (native to Asia and Africa) is clearly a miniature dragon:

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Somebody please domesticate these so I can have a pet dragon.

Bioluminescent_dinoflagellates_2

I have read that bioluminescence is the most common form of communication on Earth.

Picture 21 800px-Bobtail_squid

It certainly is lovely! (That little guy’s a bioluminescent bobtail squid.)

Picture 20 Bathocyroe_fosteri Picture 17 1024px-PanellusStipticusAug12_2009

That last one is a mushroom, not a jellyfish.

800px-Haeckel_Siphonophorae_7 800px-Haeckel_Ctenophorae 800px-Haeckel_Siphonophorae_77 800px-Haeckel_Siphonophorae_59 800px-Haeckel_Siphonophorae_37

Drawings by Ernst Haeckel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do women love cupcakes?

Seriously.

One of my kids enjoys watching YouTube cooking videos, and they’re nearly 100% women making cakes.

Women’s magazines focus exclusively on 4 topics: men, fashion, diets, and cupcakes. You might think that diets and cupcakes are incompatible, but women’s magazines believe otherwise:

Picture 5 Picture 6 Picture 8

Just in case it’s not clear, that is not a watermellon. It is cake, cleverly disguised as a watermellon.

(YouTube has videos that show you how to make much better cake watermellons–for starters, you want red velvet cake for the middle, not just frosting…)

Picture 10 Picture 11Magazines specifically aimed at “people who want to make cakes” are also overwhelmingly feminine. Whether we’re talking wedding cakes or chocolate cravings, apple pastries or donuts, sweets and women just seem to go together.

If men’s magazines ever feature food, I bet they’re steak and BBQ. (*Image searches*)

Picture 19 Picture 18 Picture 14 Picture 16

 

 

 

 

Yup.

The meat-related articles do appear to be a little more gender-neutral than the cupcake-related articles–probably because men don’t tend to decorate their steaks with tiny baseball bats cut out of steak the way women like to decorate their cakes with tiny flowers made out of frosting.

It’s almost as if women have some kind of overwhelming craving for fats and sugars that men don’t really share.

I was talking with a friend recently about their workplace, where, “All of the women are on diets, but none of them can stay on their diets because they are all constantly eating at their workstations.” Further inquiries revealed that yes, they are eating sweets and pastries, not cashews and carrots, and that there is some kind of “office culture” of all of the women eating pastries together.

The irony here is pretty obvious.

Even many (most?) specialty “diet” foods are designed to still taste sweet. “Fat-free” yogurt is marketed as a health food even though it has as much sugar in it as a bowl of ice cream. Women are so attracted to the taste of sweet sodas, they drink disgusting Diet Coke. Dieting websites advise us that cake topped with fruit is “healthy.”

When men diet, they think “eat nothing but protein until ketosis kicks in” sounds like a great idea. When women diet, they want fat-free icecream.

I don’t think it is just “women lack willpower.” (Or at least, not willpower in the sense of something people have much control over.) Rather, I think that men and women actually have substantially different food cravings.

So do children, for that matter.

Throughout most of human history, from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists, the vast majority of women have specialized in obtaining (gathering, tending, harvesting,) plants. (The only exceptions are societies where people don’t eat plants, like the Inuit and the Masai, and our modern society, where most of us aren’t involved in food production.) By contrast, men have specialized in hunting, raising, and butchering animals–not because they were trying to hog the protein or had some sexist ideas about food production, but because animals tend to be bigger and heavier than women can easily lift. Dragging home and butchering large game requires significant strength.

I am inventing a “Just So” story, of course. But it seems sensible enough that each gender evolved a tendency to crave the particular kinds of foods it was most adept at obtaining.

Exercise wears down muscles; protein is necessary to build them back up. Protein fuels active lifestyles, and active lifestyles, in turn, require protein. Our male ancestors’ most important activities were most likely heavy labor (eg, building huts, hauling firewood, butchering game,) and defending the tribe. Our female ancestors’ most important activities were giving birth and nursing children (we would not exist had they not, after all.) For these activities, women want to be fat. It’s not good enough to put on weight after you get pregnant, when the growing fetus is already dependent on its mother for nutrients. Far better for a woman to be plump before she gets pregnant (and to stay that way long after.)

Of course, this is “fat” by historical standards, not modern American standards.

I suspect, therefore, that women are naturally inclined to eat as much as possible of sweet foods in order to put on weight in preparation for pregnancy and lactation–only today, the average woman has 2 pregnancies instead of 12, and so instead of turning that extra weight into children and milk, it just builds up.

Obviously we are talking about a relatively small effect on food preferences, both because our ancestors could not afford to be too picky about what they ate, and because the genetic difference between men and women is slight–not like the difference between humans and lizards, say.

Interestingly, gender expression in humans appears to basically be female by default. If, by random chance, you are born with only one X chromosome, (instead of the normal XX or XY,) you can still survive. Sure, you’ll be short, you probably won’t menstruate, and you’ll likely have a variety of other issues, but you’ll be alive. By contrast, if you received only a Y chromosome from your parents and no accompanying X, you wouldn’t be here reading this post. You can’t survive with just a Y. Too many necessary proteins are encoded on the X.

Gender differences show up even in fetuses, but don’t become a huge deal until puberty, when the production of androgens and estrogens really cranks up.

Take muscle development: muscle development relies on the production of androgens (eg, testosterone.) Grownups produce more androgens than small children, and men produce more than women. Children can exercise and certainly children who do daily farm chores are stronger than children who sit on their butts watching TV all day, but children can’t do intense strength-training because they just don’t produce enough androgens to build big muscles. Women, likewise, produce fewer androgens, and so cannot build muscles at the same rate as men, though obviously they are stronger than children.

At puberty, boys begin producing the androgens that allow them to build muscles and become significantly stronger than girls.

Sans androgens, even XY people develop as female. (See Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which people with XY chromosomes cannot absorb the androgens their bodies create, and so develop as female.) Children produce some androgens (obviously,) but not nearly as many as adults. Pre-pubescent boys, therefore, are more “feminine,” biologically, than post-pubescent men; puberty induces maleness.

All children seem pretty much obsessed with sweets, far more than adults. If allowed, they will happily eat cake until they vomit.

Even though food seems like a realm where evolution would heavily influence our tastes, it’s pretty obvious that culture has a huge effect. I doubt Jews have a natural aversion to pork or Hindus to beef. Whether you think chicken hearts are tasty or vomitous is almost entirely dependent on whether or not they are a common food in your culture.

But small children are blissfully less attuned to culture than grownups. Like little id machines, they spit out strained peas and throw them on the floor. They do not care about our notion that “vegetables are good for you.” This from someone who’ll eat bird poop if you let them.

The child’s affection for sweets, therefore, I suspect is completely natural and instinctual. Before the invention of refined sugars and modern food distribution systems, it probably kept them alive and healthy. Remember that the whole reason grownups try to eat more vegetables is that vegetables are low in calories. Grownups have larger stomachs and so can eat more than children, allowing them to extract adequate calories from low-calorie foods, but small children do not and cannot. In developing countries, children still have trouble getting enough calories despite abundant food in areas where that food is low-calorie plants, which they just cannot physically eat enough of. Children, therefore, are obsessed with high-calorie foods.

At puberty, this instinct changes for boys–orienting them more toward protein sources, which they are going to have to expend a lot of energy trying to haul back to their families for the rest of their lives, but stays basically unchanged in females.

ETA: I have found two more sources/items of relevance:

Calorie information effects on consumers’ food choices: Sources of observed gender heterogeneity, by Heiman and Lowengart:

When it comes to what we eat, men and women behave differently: Men consume more beef, eggs, and poultry; while women eat more fruits and vegetables and consume less fat than do men. … The gender differences in preferences for healthier foods begin in childhood. Previous literature has found that girls choose healthier food and are fonder of fruits and vegetables than are boys. Boys rated beef, processed meat, and eggs as more desirable than did girls. …

Sensory (taste) differences between the genders are the second most widely ventured explanation for the differences in food choices, although it is not clear that such genetic differences actually exist. While the popular media argue that females prefer sweetness and dislike bitterness, while males may enjoy bitterness, academic literature on this matter is less conclusive. The bitter taste receptor, gene TAS2R38, has been associated with the ability to taste PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil),
one source of genetic variation in PROP and PTC taste. Individuals who experience bitterness strongly are assumed to also experience sweetness strongly relative to those who experience PROP as only slightly bitter. While previous studies found that inherited taste-blindness to bitter compounds such as PROP may be a risk factor for obesity, this literature has been hotly disputed.

The distribution of perceived bitterness of PROP differs among women and men, as does the correlation between genetic taste measures and acceptance of sweetness. A higher percentage of women are PROP and PTC tasters, sensing bitterness above threshold. It has been suggested that women are more likely to be supertasters, or those who taste with far greater intensity than average.

(I have removed the in-line citations for ease of reading; please refer to the original if you want them.)

Also:

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Well, I don’t remember where this graph came from, but it looks like my intuitions were pretty good. males and females both have very low levels of testosterone during childhood, and duing puberty their levels become radically different.