<$BlogRSDUrl$>

Thursday, October 28, 2004

**********************
**********************
Why were the "Hobbits" of Flores so small?

Just a quick note now on the newly-discovered extinct humanlike species, Homo floresiensis, which I may flesh out further later.

This discovery of tiny human skeletons on the island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago, dated to 18,000 years old, has cause immense excitement. I was particularly interested in the question of why these people might have been so tiny, only a metre tall.

There have been suggestions that living on a small island, with not much food, could have led these hominids to become very dwarfed. I have two problems with this: one is that Flores is not really a small island, and the other is that, if the people were hunting elephants and so on, shortage of food is not obvious.

Ten years ago I published a theory (in the journal Homo, published in Stuttgart in Germany, Vol. 44/3, pp. 284-7) to attempt to explain the short stature of the Pygmies and Negritos of the rainforests of Africa and Asia. Basically, I argued that the dense rainforest canopy reduced the amount of ultraviolet light available to the forest-dwellers; which reduced the capacity for making vitamin D in the skin; which reduced the ability to take up calcium for the skeleton; which made having a small, slow-growing skeleton a good thing. Hence, the small skeleton (and body, of course) of Pygmies and Negritos.

Here is a description of the likely environment of the Flores people:

" We don't know much about the paleoenvironment on Flores yet, but everything's consistent with it being heavily rainforested back in the Pleistocene and probably heavily rainforested until agricultural humans arrived and started clearing the rainforest. "

So, it is possible that the Flores "Hobbits" lived in rainforest, and my theory on why rainforest people become dwarfed could apply to them as well. Perhaps they lived there a very long time, and became correspondingly very small. That is, they evolved very small skeletons to avoid rickets and other bone problems in an environment where there was little ultraviolet light to help make the necessary vitamin D.


Julian

|

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

********************
********************
A favourite experiment

In science, I tend to have favourite theories, not experiments, but I have always loved the experiment that the late Professor Anthony Barnett did once on mice. I believe that he was researching rodent control during WWII in England, and he found that mice were damaging stored frozen meat by living inside the meat stores, in the carcases. Being a good scientist, he saw the opportunity for some neat pure science, and he subsequently bred mice in refrigerators to see what would happen to their physiology and behaviour. What I really love about this experiment is how low-tech it was: every biology lab has a refrigerator. Anyway, I have always meant to chase up the original papers on these experiments. In the meantime, here is a reference I found, in Barnett's own words:

" Evolution by natural selection is about adaptive change, adjustment to circumstances, especially changed circumstances. My experiments concerned adaptation to cold. I kept house mice for many generations in refrigerators. They were 'selected' simply by being left to breed. And, after only ten generations, the 'Eskimo' mice were heavier and hairier, they produced larger litters, the females secreted more, and more concentrated milk, and they looked after their young better. The males were very parental too. In one paper, I even suggested that eventually, male house mice might produce milk. My colleagues thought I was joking, but now there's a report of a fruit bat, of which the males do produce milk. Why should the males of just that one species be so odd? We cannot answer such questions. My mice also showed a whole set of internal changes, especially hormonal, affecting the adrenals, the thyroid, and other glands. All this took years of work. The results match what we know about the geography of the house mouse, Mus domesticus. It's present in almost every environment where people live, from the tropics to subantarctic islands. In some tropical islands, adults reach only 16 grams, but in one very cold place they achieve 40 grams. The special features of my Eskimo mice were, you may think, all obviously adaptive - improvements in their fitness. Perhaps they were. But they present a problem: were they really an example of evolutionary change on a minute scale, a change that could lead, after hundreds of generations to the appearance of a new species? They could have been merely temporary adjustments, easily reversed. In a hundred years' time, perhaps my successors will know the answer! "

I never like Professor Barnett's politics, and he was oddly conservative about what is commonly called "sociobiology", as the article linked indicates, but I did admire that mouse-in-refrigerators experiment.

Julian

|

Friday, October 22, 2004

***************
***************
Intelligence, intellectualism and wily politicians

As so often, Steve Sailer is very interesting. This time he has evidence that Kerry is dumber than Bush. Yes, you read that correctly. He also discusses the impression that Kerry creates of being an intellectual, of being nuanced ...

I have noticed that people can be intelligent without being intellectual (Bush?); and, conversely, intellectual without being intelligent (Kerry?). It is also possible, as Sailer notes, for very intelligent people to deliberately hide their smarts. Another point that occurs to me is that being too nice, too easygoing, too untroubled, happy and jolly, can create the impression that you are not very intelligent. Bush, like Reagan, is a people person, a stable extrovert. Kerry seems more sombre, not as natural, and therefore he seems more professorial and intelligent.

(I have blogged before on my observation that intelligent women are less "intellectual" than less intelligent men. I think this may be related to women's typically greater interest in people issues, and lesser interest in theorising in general.)

Julian

|
***********************
***********************
The marriage market

The psychologist David Buss, see here, here and here for example, has argued that it is a constant of human nature for women to seek men with status and men to seek women with good looks.

Kieran Healy discusses the tendency for men to marry younger women. A question is, to what extent is this "hard-wired" and due to an innate desire for women to seek resources from men and men to seek beauty in women? I suspect that what men find attractive in women are indeed indices of youth and fertility, and women seek evidence of fitness in men. Relative age in itself is a sign of fitness in men, since it indicates survival.

On the other hand, simple economics could go a long way towards explaining the tendency of women to "marry up" (to marry older, richer men). Given that women get pregnant and usually do most of the childminding, it will make sense for men and women to form couples in which he earns more money - or commands more resources - than she does. This, in turn, implies that she will tend to want a man who can provide secure resources, which typically go with greater age. Evolutionary psychologists have stressed that the old rich man/young attractive woman pairing is common in most societies, but simple economics could drive this. There is no need to assume that such tendencies are "hard-wired", that is, innate ... although they may well be.

Kieran Healy finds this remarkable:

"In particular it is apparent that both sexes are more likely to marry an older person at the age of 50 than at the age of 30. The same pattern is found in a large number of other countries."

but this is fairly easily explicable on the basis that men and women at the age of 50 are outside the breeding age, so the psychology or economics that drives mating decisions at younger, fertile, ages does not apply.

Julian

|
**********************
**********************
Just for the record

Don Arthur at Troppo Armadillo writes about Rocco Buttiglione, with the air of a man who is describing a strange anthropological phenomenon:

" Buttiglione is a devout Catholic and friend of Pope Jean [sic] Paul II. He believes that homosexuality is a sin and that “the family exists to allow women to have children and be protected by their husbands.” "

The position that active homosexuality is a sin is standard Catholic dogma. I would really like to know what else the family is for but "to allow women to have children and be protected by their husbands" (among other things). If it has some other fundamental purpose, something that "progressives" have recently discovered, could we please be informed? It seems to me that, if people forget what families are for, they will start to die out - like the Italians. Incidentally, John Paul II is not some kind of Gold Standard for conservatism. By historical standards, he is a very liberal pope. More traditional Catholics think that he has lost the plot on many issues.

Don Arthur also writes:

" In Australia it is easy to fall into the habit of dismissing social conservatives as populist bigots or religious nutters. Australia has few intellectually serious conservatives. But in Europe and the United States conservatives often back their positions with well developed philosophical arguments. Australian leftists need to learn how to take these arguments seriously. "

John Howard is a social conservative. So are many, probably most, Australians. As am I. One theory on why social conservatives don't intellectualise is that they rely on tradition, observation and common sense. One thing that convinces me that Labor is looking forward to a long time in opposition is that Latham's instincts are Whitlamite, the antithesis of socially conservatism. Australians, as John Howard once said, are tolerant - but conservative.

Julian

|

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

**********************
**********************
"The Secret Lives of Dentists"

Steve Sailer reviews this film, and writes:

" Rudolph's images subvert the script's conventional explanations with a disturbing idea: the perfect equality of their marriage has sapped the sexual energy from it. Because he has no power over her, she doesn't find him exciting. "

An interesting parallel is a novel I am idly flicking through, Myla Goldberg's "Bee Season". The male protagonist is a husband who becomes a househusband and mystical scholar, while his wife works as a lawyer. The novelist has "rewarded" him so far with a wife who becomes a major kleptomaniac and has to be institutionalised and a son who turns from Judaism to being a Hare Krishna. Perhaps something good will happen for him by the end of the novel (his daughter is performing well in "spelling bees"), but so far his egalitarian marriage is proving fairly disastrous.

Julian



|

Monday, October 18, 2004

*****************************
*****************************
Another excellent blog and a thought on the American Civil War

I am adding Belmont Club to my blogroll. It seems to be another blog that - like Steve Sailer's and Gene Expression, both already on my blogroll - tries to look at current events from a social science point of view. With the emphasis on science.

I was watching a documentary on the American Civil War recently, and I was struck by a couple of resemblances between Abraham Lincoln's situation and George Bush's. There was Lincoln, up to his neck in an "unwinnable" war with mounting casualities, his policies becoming deeply unpopular, and facing a challenge from a Democrat contender (McLellan, an ex-soldier). In the event, Lincoln won his second term and the rest is history. Analogies can be pushed too far, but this one struck me quite forcibly.

Another thing. The same documentary seemed to suggest that Sherman's men living off the land during their famous march was a new strategy. But surely most armies in early modern Europe, for example, effectively did the same.

Julian

|

Friday, October 15, 2004

**********************
**********************
First it was Hindus at Fatima ...

now it is Buddhists at the Cathedral in Mexico City.

A great shame.

Julian

|
**********************
**********************
One of my children is mentally disabled (autism)

... so you can imagine what I think of this. This vile political advertisement is being used by a Democrat candidate in the United States. Typical leftist hypocrite.

In other leftist hypocrisy, some boring cartoonist in America called Danzinger drew a racist cartoon attacking Condoleeza Rice. I notice that it is now mysteriously missing from his, um, distinguished oeuvre. Check out the "previous" and "next" cartoons - they are still there.

Julian

|

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

***************
***************
Does "diversity" create wealth?

I am having an interesting discussion below with another Canberra blogger about the relationship between social attitudes, birth rates, economic growth etc. Here is something slightly relevant on the relationship - or lack thereof - between liberal social attitudes and the economic performance of cities.

Julian

|

Monday, October 11, 2004

***********************
***********************
Booth blogging

The seat of Fraser, here in the Australian Capital Territory, is a safe seat for Labor. Here is a booth by booth breakdown of the voting. Almost all the 48 booths show strong majorities for Labor. The only exceptions I can see are Campbell, Jervis Bay, Hall and the Villaggio Sant'Antonio in Page, an old people's home, all of which voted Liberal. The reasons are interesting (to me, at least). Campbell is a fairly wealthy suburb with an armed services presence. Jervis Bay is an outlier in that it is actually Commonwealth territory on the coast, not contiguous with the rest of Fraser in the Australian Capital Territory. More importantly for why it voted Liberal is that it is a naval station, that armed services thing again. Hall is actually an old rural village that just happens to be in the Australian Capital Territory and in the seat of Fraser. Presumably the Villaggio Sant'Antonio votes Liberal because older people usually do.

This all assumes - as people seem to - that most people vote at their local booth. We did, at Aranda. Aranda votes strongly Labor. Why? It is a socially desirable suburb and people are well off, so they should vote Liberal. The comparable suburb of Bruce votes less strongly Labor. I suspect that Aranda is very much occupied by senior public servants, academics, journalists and the like, who are well off but on the Left. So they vote Labor. Also, there are some government houses and flats in parts of Aranda, and that would raise the Labor vote.

Aranda booth got mentioned on national television the year of the famous 1972 Labor victory. It surprised commentators that such a privileged area should vote Labor. What they didn't know was that Aranda is (or was) chocka-block with Left-leaning intellectuals.

I got interested enough to study the Australian electorates and their boundaries (I've also been studying the American congressional districts, so I now know where Alabama's fourth congressional district is, and South Carolina's third district, and so on). Anyway, some of the Australian electorates are fascinating geographically, not just because of the huge range in size, but also because of things like the seat of Lingiari, which includes most of the Northern Territory but also includes Christmas and Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean; and that the seat of Sydney includes Lord Howe Island; and the Tasmanian seat of Franklin includes Macquarie Island. The last of these is a puzzle, since I don't think anyone lives permanently on Macquarie Island.

Another odd thing I notice, looking at the list of Fraser polling booths, is that there is no "special hospital team" listed for Calvary Hospital in the suburb of Bruce.

Julian

|

Sunday, October 10, 2004

***********************
***********************
The way ahead for Labor

I am pleased to have predicted a Coalition win, and I regret not being braver and predicting an improvement in their standing. I am a teensy bit worried about having one party too dominant, including controlling the Senate perhaps. We need a decent, effective opposition. I also predicted that Latham would keep his job, partly because his party tend to be more forgiving of failure, especially brave failure; but this was a fiasco, and nobody likes to be led into a fiasco.

If I were ever asked [no danger of that] what Labor should do, I'd say:

- Be highly critical of Coalition porkbarrelling, and don't promise pork yourselves
- Promise targeted spending on science and technology, especially health research and screening programs
- Don't listen to the trendy media
- Don't come across as anti-Christian (we are still the majority)
- Don't annoy conservative Churchmen (they tend to have most of the followers)
- Find a leader with a wife, not a "partner" (think how she'll look in "Women's Weekly")
- Don't revisit the State Aid debate
- Tell those union "heavies" to keep a low profile (better yet, no profile)
- Be green, but not too green
- Dump the feminism in your party (no more affirmative action)
- Dump the feminism in your policies (especially on childcare)
- Remember that white men still have the vote
- Don't be soft on illegal immigration
- Don't be soft on defence
- Leave room for social conservatives in your party.


Julian

|

Friday, October 08, 2004

***********************
***********************
The future of femininity

Steve Sailer cites a suggestion that femininity may be being selected for genetically because less feminine women are electing to have fewer children, being enabled by modern contraception. This assumes that femininity is partly under genetic control, a reasonable assumption. Other character traits sometimes claimed to be under genetic control are political conservatism and religiousness. It is possible that all these traits will be favoured in a world in which people who don't want children can avoid having them.

In the long run, the world may become more, not less, religious, with large blocs of traditionalist, highly fertile faiths such as Islam and the more traditional forms of Christianity - to some extent in opposition.

Here is Steve Sailer again, writing from an American perspective:

" As coastal sophisticates fail to reproduce themselves, an ever-increasing percentage of young white people come from conservative, religious backgrounds. Mormon Utah has by far the highest birthrate, of course, but in the 2000 election, the 19 states with the highest white fertility all voted for Bush, while nine of the ten states at the bottom of the white birthrate list voted for Gore. "

One thing I always ask myself is: if societies become more socially conservative won't the economy suffer? Maybe not. The Mormons of Utah have done well economically, in areas like software development (e.g. the WordPerfect Corporation). Aren't women in the workforce necessary for economic development? Not if Japan is any example. Most economic development is driven by science and technology, and people in these fields tend to be relatively conservative, sometimes frighteningly so, as the large number of engineers among Al Qaeda suggests (including Bin Laden himself).

I wonder if the future will be high-tech, religious, conservative, and more fertile, traditional and law-abiding than otherwise.


Julian

|
**********************
**********************
Adding one blog and making two election predictions

I am adding AE Brain, a good local Canberra blog, to my blogroll. He seems to be a techie kind of bloke and maintains a good quality product. He is also an INTP in the Myers-Briggs personality test, like me:

" Greatest precision in thought and language. Can readily discern contradictions and inconsistencies. The world exists primarily to be understood. 3.3% of total population. "

"The world exists primarily to be understood ..." Quite right.

My Australian election prediction: The status quo with respect to numbers of seats held by the parties. Latham to stay on as Opposition Leader.

My American election prediction: A crushing victory to Bush.


Julian

|

Saturday, October 02, 2004

*****************
*****************
Brutalised

I never used to like modern architecture ("International Modern", "modernism"). But, now that its dominance is starting to fade, I find it more appealing. There is even an element of nostalgia, a slight elegiac quality to it for me.

Curiously, here in Belconnen in the Australian Capital Territory, we have rather a good example of a whole townscape built in the modern style. This is the Belconnen town centre. As well as having a large shopping mall (at one time "the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere"), it is a major centre for public service offices. I worked there once myself. The town centre covers a large area and the buildings are on quite a grand scale. The town planners took their chance, and created something that was modernist in its entirety. As usual in Canberra, they had a "greenfield" site. The government offices (Cameron Offices and Benjamin Offices, in particular) and infrastructure like the bus interchange are built in what I have seen described as a "brutalist" style: the buildings are great, plain slabs of concrete, and the walkways that convey the workers to their offices are plain and concrete as well. The "air bridges" that funnel people from the bus interchange to the offices and shops, and from building to building, are self-consciously "futuristic". The whole thing resembles the cover of an old novel or sociological text on Life in the Future.

The Cameron Offices, which won an award, proved to be faulty, and their concrete is stained (it turned out that eaves would have been a good idea, after all). They are now empty, and behind a temporary steel fence. I do hope they keep at least some of them. Some of the Benjamin Offices (colour-coded on their tops like the toys of a giant toddler - I used to work in the "Aqua" building) have already been pulled down. The bus interchange is under threat too. I do hope they keep enough of the original structures as a monument to 1970s Brutalism.

Julian

|

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?