Monday, February 24, 2014

The Crocodile Tears Of Refugee Advocates

Look at these preening poseurs, parading their ostentatious compassion like a badge of their moral purity:
Thousands of people have held candlelight vigils around Australia for slain asylum seeker Reza Berati, who died in violence at the Manus Island detention centre last Monday.
If your only knowledge of this story came from the ABC article, you would probably fail  to make much sense of the bizarre euphemism that Mr Berati 'died in violence' at the detention centre. In fact, he died as part of a riot started by other asylum seekers. The vigil-holders seem to display a curious lack of concern with finding and bringing to justice those that started the riots which led to Mr Berati's death. But they would, wouldn't they?

How you view this kind of tragedy depends in part upon how much responsibility you think should be attributed to the government for the indirect but perhaps predictable consequences of its policies, notwithstanding that the proximate cause of the tragedy is with the victims themselves.

The left, perhaps not unreasonably, wants to hold the government accountable for reasonably foreseeable consequences of its actions. It's not obvious that this is always the right way to evaluate government policy, but very well, let's take that path.

The biggest murderer of boat people in Australia by this reasoning is Kevin Rudd. By a long shot. The greatest savior was John Howard. As I've written about on multiple occasions. Let's look at my favorite picture on the subject:


Care to see an updated version, where things are plotted in terms of flows and not levels, in order to make it even more plain? From La Wik:


Correlation doesn't equal causation and all that. But it certainly seems like something very stark changed when Kevin Rudd started parading his compassion for asylum seekers by greatly relaxing the conditions they were held under. If you have another theory, do feel free to describe it in the comments.

The entirely predictable result of this fiasco was the following: 46,000 asylum seekers trying to come to Australia, and over 1100 drowning along the way.

What's it going to be, you worthless candle-holding popinjays? How come these guys never get a mention? It's not like they just went missing in the middle of the ocean. They were drowning by the dozens in front of the TV cameras on Christmas Island. How much concern did that elicit then?

Is it your contention that people don't respond to incentives at all? Or that this was all unpredictable, like a lightning strike? Unfortunately for the latter theory, there were plenty of people, myself included, describing this process quite early on. The fact that you didn't predict it doesn't make it unpredictable.

Here's Australia's most worthless politician, Green's Senator Sarah Hanson-Young describing whether she'd accept any responsibility for the drowning deaths of 200 people when a boat sank off Java:
"Of course not. Tragedies happen, accidents happen."
Would the same logic be equally compelling to you if advanced now by the Abbott government?

You'll forgive me, Ms Young and other candle-light twerps, for being unmoved by your sudden and very narrowly circumscribed concern for the welfare of asylum seekers. I've been saying for several years that the thousands of drowning deaths were needless and horrible consequences of bad government policy. Where the hell were you? When the buck stopped with your guy, and not the other guy, did the deaths somehow bother you less?

Kevin Rudd scrapped the Pacific Solution around February 8th, 2008. Tony Abbott instituted Operation Sovereign Borders on the 18th of September 2013. That's approximately 2047 days in total that Labor Policy governed how asylum seekers were treated.

Since these clowns don't seem to be so good at maths, let me spell it out as plainly as I can: under Labor Policy, one asylum seeker was drowning on average roughly every two days.

By contrast, what's the situation now?
Scott Morrison says there have been no boats for 64 days, the longest stretch since August in 2008
Congratulations to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison! Thanks to your courageous decision to do what's right, not necessarily what feels good, 32-odd people are alive today who wouldn't have been if your policies hadn't been in place. One, very sadly, is dead.

If you don't think that tradeoff is worth making, then @#$% you and your fake compassion.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Race and Genes

From the comments to the previous post:
How about this argument?
I think you're just pushing the social construct down (up?) a level from phenotype to genotype. The fact that phenotypes are reflective of genotypes is a trivial observation. The fact that genotypes are geographically distributed is a trivial observation.
The fact that a particular constellation of phenotypic/genetic characteristics get lumped together and called 'race' is a social construct. Granted, the phenotypic variations that we call 'race' are generally pretty glaringly obvious, (as opposed to say, innie vs outie belly-button), but that doesn't make it any less a social construct. Not a particularly useful one, either.
Interesting point. A few responses.

I think that most people, if they bothered to give serious consideration to the question, would readily agree that phenotypes are caused by genotypes (e.g. dark skin vs. white skin is caused by genes, not just magic or sun exposure or nutrition) and that phenotypes have geographical distribution (i.e. there are more dark skinned people in Africa than in Iceland.)

I think that if you pushed the point with them they would probably also be forced to conclude that these two premises indeed imply that certain genotypes must also have geographical properties (whatever genes cause dark skin are more common in African countries than in Iceland). Add in the assumption that geography is related to ancestry, and that one way of thinking about race is as a crude description of where most of your ancestors lived 500 or so years ago, and we're a long way to a good understanding of the issue.

I would assert, however, that many people do not actually seem to display such understanding in the way they discuss the matter, notwithstanding that you could convince them of the truth of each premise. When you point out the conclusion, they still act surprised. Acknowledging that C follows from A plus B is different from people instinctively believing C. Even if race as popularly described were nothing but skin color, as long as that's genetic, would you really describe conclusion C as being consistent with 'race doesn't exist' or 'race has no biological basis' or 'race has no genetic component'? It seems like a bit of a weird stretch.

And the reason this seems striking to me is that I've actually had conversations with quite intelligent sociologists who started out the conversation asserting that race didn't exist, or that the fact that there is more genetic variation within each race than between them meant that race was meaningless. When I posed the conundrum below, they appeared to have genuinely never considered the paradox. They were truly puzzled, and didn't have any answer.

I don't mean to be trite, but nothing in your argument actually answers the narrowly defined question. 23andme is able to reconstruct, to a high degree of accuracy, analogous descriptions to the ones people use such as 'black', 'white' and 'asian', out of purely genetic information. I never asserted that race is not partly a social construct. It is. But that is very different from saying that race is purely a social construct.

Race as popularly described may focus more on some phenotypical variations than others (as you note with skin versus belly buttons). But people still seem to manage to identify most of the main principle components of genetic variation in the labels they attach. In other words, even if 'race', in terms of how people describe it in common speech, is just a crude description of how you look like, that description seems to be correlated with the various principle components of genetic variation. That's the key part. If 23andme had merely identified the genes for skin color, then attaching race labels that correspond to skin color would be a trivial observation. But my understanding is that they don't look for these specific things, but large clusters of genetic variation. That's why they're able to say much more about the full breakdown of your ancestry, rather than just 'your skin is probably brown-ish'.

In other words, the labels that people attach are indeed correlated with large principle components of genetic variation, which are in turn associated with self-reported descriptions of ancestry. Which is exactly what you'd expect if those genes were associated with groups of people who had been geographically separated for extended periods of time. Which, of course, they had been.

From this point of view, the real information is of course in the genes, not the crude description. In other words, it's much more useful to identify the genetic information if you want to say meaningful things about someone's likely characteristics, rather than just the socially defined markers of appearance. Once I know someone's full genetic information, there's not informational content left in the popularly described concept of 'race' (other than than purely social effects like cultural traits). But that doesn't mean that the socially defined markers are worthless if you don't actually have the ancestry or genetic information.

Seen this way, the only real remaining question (and it is a large and separate issue) is the usefulness of these classifications. If you buy the argument that these classifications are picking up large principle components of genetic variation, do you really think that such variation would have no useful predictive power at all? It's possible, but it only would seem likely if you think that genetic variation itself don't matter much - that it's all environment, in other words. That's a whole separate debate, and entirely possible, but my reading of the literature is that heritability estimates of around 50% for lots of characteristics seem to suggest that it's not entirely environment. Even if it were, though, I still get to my initial conclusion - what people identify as 'race' is indeed partly genetic, because it's highly correlated with genetic variation.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A non-rhetorical question for people who believe race has no genetic basis

A certain class of trendy lefty and soft social science academic is fond of asserting loudly that 'race doesn't exist', or 'race is only a social construct', or other such nonsense. Bonus points are awarded when it is also asserted that 'science' has determined that race doesn't actually exist.

If there are any such people reading this diary, I have a proposition for you. I will bet you $1 at 1000-1 odds in your favor that by the end of this article I can ask you a question that you will not be able to give any coherent answer to if race has no genetic basis at all. If I'm right, you can pay me a dollar. If I'm wrong, I'll pay you a grand. Sound fair? We economists believe that those who think they're right should put their money where their mouth is, so here's mine.

One example of the 'race is just a social construct' acolyte is noted nitwit Justice Mordecai Bromberg at the Australian Federal Court. From his judgment in the disgraceful Andrew Bolt case:
"It is now well-accepted among medical scientists, anthropologists and other students of humanity that ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are social, cultural and political constructs, rather than matters of scientific ‘fact’. 
Despite what is now known about the invalidity of biology as a basis for race or ethnicity, legal definitions of Aboriginality, at least until the 1980s, exclusively concentrated on biological descent."
Got that? Mordecai Bromberg's lazy appeal to authority has declared it from the temple mount that everyone knows that race has no biological basis.

For sure, there are aspects of the way that we describe racial groups in casual conversation that vary over time and across countries. There were large changes over time in social acceptability of the Irish and Italians in America, for instance (although it's not clear they were thought of as being 'not white' as much as just 'not desirable'.) Barack Obama's race is viewed differently in America than it would be in Kenya or Brazil.

But this is a very different claim from the one they make, namely that race actually has no genetically identifiable basis at all.

I assert, dear reader, that this claim is laughably, demonstrably stupid, and that it is not hard to show that this is so.

To do this, there are two strands of argument you might consider.

First, you can patiently explain things like Lewontin's Fallacy, and the idea that race is best thought of as capturing the principle components of genetic variation in lots of alleles all at once. Want to bet on how much impact that's going to have?

But a much simpler technique is to pose the following conundrum:

If you go to 23andme, for a hundred bucks they'll send you a tube into which you can put a saliva sample. Send that tube back to them, and they'll analyse it in their lab and tell you the percentage of your ancestry made up by each different racial group.

Now, granted, if you're a diehard sceptic it's hard to prove that there answers are actually correct. But I would wager large amounts of money that if you have a reasonably good knowledge of what your family history is, they will give you answers that line up with that. I will also wager my entire life savings that they will not find that you have a majority of your DNA from an ethnic group that you neither look like nor have any known family history of. If you look white, and your parents look white, and they tell you that their parents came from England, it is vanishingly unlikely that 23andme will tell you that the majority of your ancestors 500 years ago were living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So here's my $1000 question to Mordecai Bromberg:

How do you think they're able to do that?

No joke. No rhetorical flourish. Take as long as you want to think about the answer. I've got my stack of hundreds at the ready.

In your own mind, how is 23andme actually generating these answers?  How are they able to pretty accurately describe the very same 'social constructs' that your parents were talking about using only information contained in your saliva?

Bear in mind that this is a huge puzzle even if the answers they're giving are imperfect and error prone. How are they able to generate any answers whatsoever? Dumb luck? Guessing? IP or postal addresses? Traces of food you've been eating recently contained in your saliva? Private Investigators?

Be careful which of these you answer, because they're all easily refutable. If it's private investigators digging into your family history, that's easy to test - just secretly send in a saliva sample from someone of a different race and don't tell them, and see what comes back.

But this aside, I genuinely have absolutely no idea how the blank slate see-no-race-hear-no-race crowd explains this magic to themselves.

Jim Goad very aptly described this kind of race fantasy. He called it 'liberal creationism'. And he's exactly right. It is an article of faith, not science. Science made up its mind long ago. The hypothesis that race has no genetic basis is not just falsifiable, but falsified.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ave Atque Vale, Mr Seeger

So Pete Seeger died last week. I meant to write about this earlier, but didn't.

I always loved Pete's music. Granted, I'm sure I shared virtually none of the man's politics. As Mark Steyn points out, he was a staunch communist until right towards the end. Maybe that should put one beyond the pale. But if one only listened to artists whom one agreed with politically, we conservatives would have pretty slim pickings indeed.

There was more to Seeger than that. I suspect that to people who didn't listen to his music as music, which probably includes many conservatives, all they saw was the politics. But many of his songs weren't explicitly political - even if he was avowedly of the left, and that fed into what he wrote, the songs stood on their own. It's not hard to see how different political outlooks shape the writings of both Asimov and Heinlein. I would probably find more to agree with the latter on than the former, but I love the writing of both of them. So it is with Seeger.

As well as being a wonderful chronicler of all sorts of folk music, political and otherwise, there was still a warmth of spirit. This is something that we on the right often lack. Not all of us - Jay Nordlinger is wonderfully generous of heart without losing conservative principle. (As it turns out, he isn't a fan of Seeger, and for quite fair reasons). Seeger's desire for what he perceived as good for the world was blinded by a blinkered naivete about human nature and the steps needed to implement the ideas he had, which caused him to sympathise with leaders who did terrible things. And yet, as Mr Conrad said about colonialism, the idea alone redeems it (or at least some of it). The warmth of spirit that led him, very unfortunately, to communism, was not thereby totally wasted.

The song of his that best illustrates this is one I like greatly, entitled 'Well May the World Go':

Well may the world go, 
The world go, the world go,
Well may the world go,
When I'm far away.
Well may the skiers turn,
The lovers burn, the swimmers learn
Peace may the generals learn
When I'm far away.
Sweet may the fiddles sound,
The banjos play the old ho-down
Dancers swing round and round,
When I'm far away
Fresh may the breezes blow
Clear may the streams flow
Blue above, green below,
When I'm far away.
Well may the world go, 
The world go, the world go,
Well may the world go,
When I'm far away.
The point is not the specific list of what one views as the good. Rather, the striking thing is the even more basic presumption - that when one is long dead and gone, and there's no longer anything to gain by it, that one nonetheless earnestly wishes for the world's welfare. That this thought occurred to him so strongly that he wanted to sing about it. Can you think of any song writer today to whom it would even occur to sing about such a thing?

Which is why, when all is said and done, I shall miss the old man. His songs were some of my favorites.

Yes, well may the world go,

Now he's far away.

Monday, February 3, 2014


Check out this email from genetic testing company 23andme for the most upbeat corporate email I've received recently. Scroll through to the end and see which bit stands out:

Hmm, what's that tucked away in November? Government f***s our entire business model when the FDA decides unilaterally to extend its authority to include not just medical treatments, but medical tests? And announces this by ordering us to shut down our health-based business model immediately? As part of an illegal power grab not even authorised under legislation whose very existence would give the founding fathers grave concerns about the commerce clause as currently written, or indeed about the wisdom of having a commerce clause at all?

But look, in February we were also on Jeopardy!!!

I'm trying to imagine a similarly cheery email just glossing over an equivalent corporate disaster.

Dow Chemicals Newsletter, December 1984:

What a year it's been! We've had some highs and lows, but we've managed to get through:

February: Dow Chemicals celebrates a 15 year retrospective on its most lucrative contract to date - supplying Napalm to the US government for the Vietnam War. Peace through superior firepower!

April: Dow earnestly supports President Reagan's call for an end to Chemical weapons, stressing that chemical production should be used for peaceful purposes.

July: Our famous company 4th of July BBQ proves a great success. Our illustrious COO wins second prize in the 'best potato salad' competition!

November: Plastics! Dustin Hoffman names Dow Chemicals as a motivating factor behind the famous 'Plastics' line in the movie 'The Graduate'. Plastics division reports record sales increase of 35%

December: Nasty chemical spill at Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, poisons half a million people, killing over 8000 immediately, becoming worst industrial accident in history.

December: Christmas! Dow bonuses, pre-approved before the recent unpleasantness, get paid out to all employees

Let's face it, whoever is working PR for these guys is earning their money right now.