Friday, March 06, 2015

Iris pigmentation

Iris pigmentation sounds like an obscure area of scientific investigation, does it not?  Among evolutionary biologists it is an obscure area of scientific investigation but there is more to it than that.  In everyday English it is the study of blue eyes.  Caution, caution! I think I am already in an area of political incorrectness.  But I discuss all areas of scientific interest without fear or favor so political correctness can go hang.

It's not long go that having blue eyes was commented on favorably.  There is a stellar example of that in Im weissen Roessl, the hit operetta known in English as "The White Horse Inn", though more accurately translated as "The little white horse".  There is a recent big-budget performance of it at Moerbisch (In the original German).  At the 36 minute mark of the  video you will see the ultra-feminine Anja-Katharina Wigger and big Marco Jentzch singing "die ganze Welt ist himmelblau" to one another (The whole world is sky blue).  The point of the song is how inspired they are by one-another's blue eyes.  It's a piece of romanticism that's well worth watching whatever color your eyes are but those of us who have blue eyes probably get a little more out of it.

So what is the significance of blue eyes?  Just that question must be ringing loud alarms to anyone impressed by political correctness but, as ever, I will plow on.  Yes. I have "checked my privilege" and am quite pleased with it.

Blue eyes seem to have arisen as a genetic mutation somewhere in the Black sea area but natural selection moved them steadily Northwards.  At some early stage, the whole Northern European population probably had blue eyes. Northern Europe and its descendant populations are of course the main loci of them to this day.

Why did that gene move North?  Because blue eyes function better than dark eyes in low light levels and function less well in high light levels.  Blue eyed people could see better in the low light levels that often prevail in chilly Northern Europe, particularly in the Baltic sea area and Russia.  We Anglo-Saxons trace our ancestry to German tribes that moved from the South Baltic to Britannia, later known as England.

But it's not only iris pigmentation that cold climates select for.  Cold climates are not very good at growing crops -- so the blue-eyed Volk largely fed themselves by hunting.  So they kept their hunter-gatherer mores (customs) much longer than did the Southern European and Mesopotamian populations.  And hunter-gatherer mores are democratic.  Issues are settled by discussion, not by imperial edict.

And the ancient parliaments of Northern Europe and Iceland reflect that.  The Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britannia brought their democratic customs with them and their "Witangemot" evolved in due course into the Westminster parliament on the Thames, sometimes called "the mother of parliaments".  So most long-established parliaments serve people with predominantly azure iris pigmentation: Democracy as we know it today arose in the cold climates of Northern Europe.

While they retained something of their hunter-gatherer traditions, Greece and Rome were also democratic -- but democracy there eventually succumbed to imperialism.  The big bureaucratic governments that characterize the modern world threaten a similar   fate for us.  Democracy can be lost.  And if the Left have their way, it will be. All the great tyrants of the 20th century -- Stalin, Hitler and Mao -- were socialists.

And there is yet another thing that cold climates select for:  IQ.  To survive a Northern winter you need to do a lot of thinking ahead and thinking ahead involves abstract and symbolic thought. You have to imagine yourself in the midst of a Northern winter with no wood to burn to keep you warm.  Only if you can imagine it will you provide against it. Blue eyed people were  people who tended to think ahead, and, mostly, they still do.

AS a small coda to this ramble through evolutionary history, I will say a word about a recent claim about the color blue in general.  The claim is that people could not see the colour blue until recently.  The claim is based on the curious fact that words meaning blue are largely absent from ancient writings.  Homer's well-known reference to a "wine-dark sea" is held up as an example.  That Homer was simply not talking about its color is discounted.

Since the human eye does contain cones specifically devoted to being activated by blue wavelengths, it is clear, however, that any deficiency about blue-perception  is social rather than physical.  People could always see blue so the question is why did they say so little about it?  And the article does point us towards an answer to that: It was only the ancient Egyptians who had a way of dying things blue.  And the ancient Egyptians do use blue color words freely.   So it was because they could not produce it that ancient peoples tended not to refer to it.

The whole thing boils down to a version of the old Sapir/Whorf "codability" hypothesis in linguistics.  The strong version of that hypothesis says that your thinking is dictated by your language.  It is reminiscent of Marx's claim that your thinking is dictated by your social position.  The current "check your privilege" accusation reprises Marx.  But Marx is easily refuted by the simple fact that people of the same social class can have radically different opinions and by the fact that  people from different social classes can have similar opinions.

British sociologists have long been puzzled by the fact that about a quarter of the British working class vote Tory.  They are seen as voting for the "wrong" party, not "their" party (the Labour party).  Only a Marxist would be puzzled by that however.  People are NOT blinded by their class origins.  I wrote about that some time ago.  And the strong Sapir/Whorf hypothesis can be rejected on similar grounds.

Does anyone, for instance, think that Germans are in any way incommoded or limited by the fact that their language has no word for pink, heaven or happy?  They just give double duty to their words for rosy, sky and lucky.  They are many happy Germans who sometimes wear pink and none of them expect to float up into the sky when they die.

The weak form of the Sapir/Whorf hypothesis is however informative:  People "cut up" their perceptual world according to what is important to them. Eskimos have several different words for different types of snow while we do not.  For us, snow is snow but for Eskimos recognizing different types of snow can have survival implications.

So ancient people did not mention blue because it was not important to them.  They could not produce it so they largely ignored it.  It was not a useful category in their lives and hence also not important in their speech.

So let me end with a tease:  The first American to step on the moon (Neil Armstrong) and the first Russian in space (Yuri Gagarin) both had blue eyes.  What should we make of that?

Footnote:  My large academic background does at times cause me to lapse into academic jargon -- but I try to explain myself when I do that.  The  Latin word mores above, for instance, is used by social scientists to mean the full range of attitudes and behaviors that is characteristic of some human group.  Even people who know what it means sometimes pronounce it as if it were the plural of the English word "more".  There is no such plural, however.  mores is the plural of the Latin word mos and is pronounced as "morays" (just like the eel).


Cause of strain U.S./Israel relations: Obama’s hostile policies

In an interview on the PBS television ‘Charlie Rose’ program, President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress on the issue of Iran’s looming nuclear threat had “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the [U.S./Israeli] relationship.”

Nothing can further from the truth: it’s Mr. Obama’s partisanship which has produced a crisis in relations between the White House and Jerusalem, not Mr. Netanyahu’s –– and the record shows it.

Mr. Obama doesn’t mind foreign leaders speaking to Congressmen –– as long as they support his policy. That’s why he was happy for British Prime Minister David Cameron to do just that. But he deeply objected to Mr. Netanyahu critiquing his Iran policy to Members of Congress. It is not hard to see why: in his address to Congress, Mr. Netanyahu demolished the Obama claim that negotiations with Iran are going to lead to a deal that stops Iran going nuclear.

Yet, in truth, even that isn’t the reason Obama has refused to meet Mr. Netanyahu during his visit. People forget that, without any upcoming speech to Congress to rationalize his pique, Obama also declined to meet Mr. Netanyahu during his September 2012 visit to the U.S.

Yes, there were tensions back then, too –– Mr. Obama was pressing Israel not to militarily strike Iran, to which Mr. Netanyahu acceded –– but this only shows that policy, not merely personalities, is driving the friction between them.

Indeed, Mr. Obama has elevated to crises disagreements that previous administrations tamped down.

Mr. Obama has continually criticized and even “condemned” as anti-peace Israel merely announcing the building of homes in Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem –– a bipartisan Israeli policy –– that would remain Israeli under any conceivable peace agreement.

Conversely, there has been no condemnation of the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas for incitement to hatred and murder –– though the Obama Administration said it would hold it accountable. Last week, a U.S. federal court held the PLO and Abbas’ PA are liable for six terrorist attacks in Israel that killed and wounded Americans more than a decade ago –– but Obama has been silent about this.

The record of six years shows a president who has often spoiled for a spat with Israel over policy disagreements, involving refusal of photos ops; Mr. Netanyahu being compelled to exit the White House by a side entrance; having to cool his heels while Mr. Obama took dinner without him; an unidentified aide (never fired or reprimanded) calling Mr. Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and “coward” –– for acceding to Mr. Obama’s demand that Israel not strike Iran, of all things –– and other petty indignities which seem to be the hallmark of Obama’s meta-language towards insufficiently pliant allies.

Just recall former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who in March 2009 received no White House dinner, no family get-together and a mere impromptu media conference, instead of the traditional joint press conference. Worse, in September 2009, Mr. Brown’s five requests for a private meeting with Mr. Obama were humiliatingly turned down.

The current problem therefore does not lie in Mr. Netanyahu accepting an invitation from the House Speaker to address Congress. Rather, it goes to the heart of Western security, which is why Congress was entitled to seek and hear the views of the prime minister of the country that stands to be most drastically affected by Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state.

That’s why Obama’s overwrought efforts to cast Mr. Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation to address Congress as a partisan slap in the face ring hollow. The issue is entirely a product of President Obama’s policy on Iran, which engenders bipartisan concern in Israel. Put simply, President Obama seems willing to tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapons threshold capacity –– but Israel is not.

Thus, veteran Israeli analyst, Ehud Yaari, an Israeli Labor Party supporter, actually urged Israeli Labor leader, Yitzhak Herzog, to accompany Netanyahu to Congress.

Moreover, the Israeli Prime Minister is scarcely alone in finding Obama’s approach deeply troubling. A McLaughlin poll only the other day found that 59% of Americans supported Mr. Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, while only 23% opposed.

The sheer hollowness of the Obama Administration’s criticism of the Netanyahu speech is admirably laid bare when one recalls Mr. Obama’s homilies on the duties of honesty and forthrightness that allies owe to each other over policy differences.

Has not Mr. Obama said that allies sometimes have the obligation to speak out, even when their advice is uncomfortable? Did he not tell Jewish leaders that “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel might be necessary?

This would seem to be such a moment. It’s just that President Obama only ever imagined himself advising Israel, not Israel advising him.



Socialist ideals of purity

Haidt says that concerns about purity are primarily a conservative thing, with liberals largely indifferent to it.  But Haidt is naive enough to believe that liberals describe their dismal motivations honestly.  Others have pointed out that Leftists have purity concerns too -- and the article below is another shot in that direction

Hitler and other Nazi leaders conceived of Jews as a “disease” within the body politic whose continued presence would lead to the death of the nation. Jews, in the mind of Hitler and other Nazi ideologues, constituted alien or “not-self” cells within the German body politic.

In The Body Soviet: Propaganda, Hygiene, and the Revolutionary State (2008), Tricia Starks conveys the biological metaphors that defined the Soviet revolution. Revolutionary rhetoric, Starks observes, took the form of the binaries of pure/polluted and healthy/diseased. Seeking utopian purity, communism framed its ideology in terms of hygienic metaphors and the “language of purification.” In his attacks against the bourgeois, kulaks (rich peasants) and the priesthood, Lenin compared these classes to “diseases, parasites, or vermin.”

He called for attacks on the “parasites that suck the blood of the working people.” In a tirade delivered in 1917, Lenin referred to the rich and the idlers as “hopelessly decayed and atrophied limbs”—this “contagion, this plague, this ulcer that socialism has inherited from capitalism.”

Lenin insisted that the people take collective action to “clean the land of Russia of all vermin, of fleas, of bugs—the rich.” In his speeches, Starks says, he described the bourgeoisie variously as “filth”, “rot”, “infection”, and even “crippled limbs”, connecting capitalism to disease and degeneracy.

Extending the metaphor of parasites and disease to his political opponents in his article “The Itch” (1918), Lenin portrayed unacceptable political thought as “scabies” (a contagious skin infection caused by the human itch mite), presenting cleansing as the solution: “Put yourself in a steam bath and get rid of the itch.” Starks concludes that Lenin portrayed capitalism as a “disease plaguing the entire world,” and that dread of this infection saturated Soviet propaganda in the 1920s.

Ideological deviation was medicalized as a perversity that endangered both the individual and the entire social body. Sick party members—if they could not be rehabilitated or reeducated—would have to be “excised” before they endangered the party body. The primary method used to accomplish this was the purge, or ochistka (literally “cleansing”). Purging the party of those subject to “illnesses” allowed the party to remain pure and inviolate.

Weitz observes that Stalin’s penchant for biological metaphors was greater even than Lenin’s, evoking some of the “worst horrors of the Twentieth Century.” Stalin (like Lenin) depicted kulaks as “bloodsuckers, spiders and vampires.” As Hitler described Germany as an organism, so Stalin described the Communist party as “a living organism.” Cadres who did not take up the struggle against the opposition “drive sores into the inside of the party organism,” and the party “falls ill.” As in every organism “metabolism takes place: old, obsolete stuff falls off; new, growing things flourish and develop.”

Much more HERE


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