Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Lessons of History

People argue all the time about what, if anything, can be learned from the study of history, but I have reached one pretty definite conclusion:

People, including or perhaps especially leaders, make a hell of alot of catastrophic mistakes.

By catastrophic, I mean mistakes that get them personally and frequently entire populations, slaughtered.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Posse Comitatus*

Every self-respecting rapper, so I hear, has his posse of friends or hangers on. Taylor Swift too. Central Eurasian bigshots took the concept further:

In the early form of the Central Eurasian Culture Complex, the highly trained warrior members of a lord’s comitatus— a guard corps loyal not to the government but to the lord personally— took an oath to defend him to the death. The core members of the comitatus, his sworn friends, committed suicide, or were ritually executed, in order to be buried with him if he happened to predecease them. The peripheral cultures’ historical sources explicitly say so, time and again, as Ibn Faḍlân remarks about the Vikings on the Volga, who were known as Rus:

One of the customs of the king of the Rus is that with him in his palace he has four hundred men from among his most valiant and trusted men. They die when he dies and are killed for his sake.

Beckwith, Christopher I.. Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (p. 16). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

* The term has a somewhat different meaning in English Common Law.

Haaretz: Apocalypse Tomorrow

Sasha Abramsky, writing in El Haaretz:

The United States, that most grand of human political experiments, is, in early 2017, hurtling toward a catastrophe.

Trumpism is ascendant, and Trump, narcissist, bigot, totalitarian thug, stands triumphant, the entire American political and military apparatus at his disposal. It is, by any measure, a revolutionary moment. And, like all revolutions, it privileges extreme personalities over more mundane, middle-of-the-road, technocrats.

In the year 2017, the American Republic – founded by Washington, Jefferson and other Enlightenment luminaries, saved by Lincoln, brought to its modern pre-eminence by Roosevelt – is being handed over to an unholy alliance-of-convenience made up of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Islamophobes, Russophiles, supporters of the ultranationalist wing of Israeli politics, billionaire plutocrats and conspiracists.

They use social media to bully and to intimidate, and they threaten violence, with increasing frequency, against their opponents – whom they view not as partners in a democratic discourse but as “enemies.”  

Trump’s right-hand man in the White House will be Steve Bannon – who, while in charge of the Breitbart website, peddled a vast array of racially and religiously inflammatory ideas and shamelessly blurred the lines between real and fake news in pursuit of his political agenda. Breitbart has been instrumental in “normalizing” the so-called alt-right, all the way down to the Sieg Heiling neo-Nazi hoodlums who met for a triumphal post-election get-together in Washington D.C.; as well as the white nationalists in Whitefish, Montana who recently published the names and addresses of all Jews living in their vicinity, in the hope of ginning up a social media trolling war against them.

read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.764870 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Genomics of Spain

Provoked by Luboš Motl, AKA, Lumo, the Lumonator, I have been digging into the genomic history of Spain. I found this very nice article.

Two excerpts:

A wide range of peoples have settled in Iberia since the end of the last Ice Age. Phoenicians, Celts, Greeks, Jews, Romans, Goths, Suebi, Franks, Arabs and Berbers. All have left their genetic print on the populations of the regions where they settled. This page attempts to identify their genetic markers through the use of Y-chromosomal (Y-DNA) haplogroups, which are passed on nearly unaltered from father to son, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is inherited only from one's mother, and genome-wide studies.

The modern Iberian gene pool is overwhelmingly Mediterranean, and yet the sequencing of a 7,000 year-old hunter-gatherer from La Braña in Asturias, revealed that Mesolithic Iberian shared much closer genetic affinities to modern Northeast Europeans (apart from having dark skin). This shows just how much the genetic landscape of the peninsula has changed in the course of a few eventful millennia. Yet, a single Mesolithic genome is not enough to get an unbiased picture of what all Iberian people were like at the time. It is cannot be excluded yet that North Africans hunter-gatherers may have crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on boats and colonised the Iberian peninsula from the south, while northern and central European foragers occupied northern Sp


And this on the Celtic component:

It is perhaps the wealth of Megalithic people that attracted, through the Beaker network, the Indo-European speakers from central Europe, and caused them to invade western Europe and destroy the Megalithic cultures that had lasted for several millennia. Equipped with bronze weapons and horses, these Indo-Europeans were not cereal farmers but cattle herders from the Pontic Steppe, north of the Black Sea. They had already conquered the Balkans, the Carpathians, Poland, Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic countries between 4,000 and 2,800 BCE, causing the collapse of all the Chalcolithic and Neolithic cultures in those areas. The southern R1b branch had advanced from the Hungarian plain to Bohemia and Germany by 2500 BCE (presence of R1b confirmed by Lee at al. 2012), and continued its migration until the Atlantic coast, reaching Britain and western France by 2,200 BCE and Ireland by 2,000 BCE. These R1b men were the Proto-Celts and their Y-DNA is now found in over half of Spanish and Portuguese men.

This was a mainly male invasion, as much less maternal DNA has the Proto-Celtic signature.


One thing - possibly the only thing - I learned in my long ago course in Philosophy of Science, is that it's fruitless to argue about definitions. Nonetheless, it is useful to see how various people use a word. Here are the ways some people define the word "Hispanic:"


The term Hispanic (Spanish: hispano or hispánico, Galician: hispánico, Asturian: hispanu, Basque: hispaniar, Catalan: hispà,[1][2] hispàno[3]) broadly refers to the people, nations, and cultures that have a historical link to Spain. It commonly applies to countries once colonized by the Spanish Empire in the Americas (see Spanish colonization of the Americas) and Asia, particularly the countries of Latin America and the Philippines. It could be argued that the term should apply to all Spanish-speaking cultures or countries, as the historical roots of the word specifically pertain to the Iberian region. It is difficult to label a nation or culture with one term, such as Hispanic, as the ethnicities, customs, traditions, and art forms (music, literature, dress, architecture, cuisine, and others) vary greatly by country and region. The Spanish language and Spanish culture are the main traditions.[4][5]

Hispanic originally referred to the people of ancient Roman Hispania, which roughly comprised the Iberian Peninsula, including the contemporary states of Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.[6][7][8]


Today, organizations in the United States use the term as a broad catchall to refer to persons with a historical and cultural relationship with Spain, regardless of race and ethnicity.[4][5] The U.S. Census Bureau defines the ethnonym Hispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race"[34] and states that Hispanics or Latinos can be of any race, any ancestry, any ethnicity.[35] Generically, this limits the definition of Hispanic or Latino to people from the Caribbean, Central and South America, or other Hispanic (Spanish or Portuguese) culture or origin, regardless of race. Latino can refer to males or females, while Latina refers to only females.

US Census:

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires federal agencies to use a minimum of two ethnicities in collecting and reporting data: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. OMB defines "Hispanic or Latino" as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

People who identify with the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the decennial census questionnaire and various Census Bureau survey questionnaires – “Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano” or ”Puerto Rican” or “Cuban” – as well as those who indicate that they are “another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.”

The 2010 Census question on Hispanic origin included five separate response categories and one area where respondents could write in a specific Hispanic origin group. The first response category was intended for respondents who do not identify as Hispanic. The remaining response categories (“Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano”; “Puerto Rican”; “Cuban”; and “another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin”) and write-in answers can be combined to create the OMB category of Hispanic.


Definition of Hispanic

1 : of or relating to the people, speech, or culture of Spain or of Spain and Portugal

2 : of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the U.S.; especially : one of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin

Anyone wishing to discuss in these pages who is or is not Hispanic should cite one of these or else provide their own definition from a credible standard source.

Genetics of Europe

This post is provoked by a steady stream of genetic nonsense coming from a couple of prolific commentators. As it happens, this is an area I have recently studied and I have a modest familiarity with the literature. Modern Europeans derive most of their ancestry from at least three waves of settlement, ultimately from Africa, via the Middle East. The first wave or waves consisted of hunter gatherers who interbred with Neandertals. They were pushed back into a few refugia (Spain, Italy, Greece) during the peak of the last ice age, but spread out again after the ice retreated 11,000 years or so ago. About eight millennia ago, a second wave, neolithic farmers from the Middle East, spread through Europe, and mixed with remnants of the hunter-gatherer populations. The Basques of Spain seem to retain relatively unmixed genetics from these farmers. A three or four millennia later, Central Asian pastoralists speaking Indo-European invaded and mixed to various extents with the preceding populations. Their languages, including Celtic, dominate nearly all of Europe today.

Celtic is a language grouping which at one time dominated much of Europe. Descendants of Celtic speakers are genetically diverse. Many of the languages of pre-Carthaginian Spain appear to have been Celtic. See Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Roman_peoples_of_the_Iberian_Peninsula

Genetics of the Iberian Peninsula

Spanish genetics are complex, due to repeated waves of immigration and colonization. Aside from the Basques, who are largely unmixed with the later waves of immigration, the Spanish incorporate genes mostly from the pastoralists together with those of Greek, Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman, Visigoth and Arab conquerors. Consequently, modern Spanish populations includes a lot of genes from all these areas including North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Trump Blackmail Report

Paul Wood of the BBC reports on the sources of the story. There seem to be four of them, but its not clear that they are independent. H/T Kevin Drum:

Claims about a Russian blackmail tape were made in one of a series of reports written by a former British intelligence agent. As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK's embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.

....The former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by "the head of an East European intelligence agency".

Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file — they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was "more than one tape", "audio and video", on "more than one date", in "more than one place" — in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg — and that the material was "of a sexual nature". The claims of Russian kompromat on Mr Trump were "credible", the CIA believed.

....Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was — allegedly — a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.

It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created....A lawyer — outside the Department of Justice but familiar with the case — told me that three of Mr Trump's associates were the subject of the inquiry. "But it's clear this is about Trump," he said.

Trump has shown no inclination to show his tax returns. They might shed light on the truth or falsity of the allegations.

A History of Central Asia

(1)By (Insert date)____________ the (insert tribal name) ________ had settled in the valley of the (insert name)____________ and developed agriculture and cities like __________. The ruler _____________, who styled himself (pick one: Khan, QaKhan, Emir, King, Ataliq, Beg, other) endowed glorious (pick one: Madrassas, Mosques, Churches, Buddhist Temples) and the culture thrived. At that point, they were invaded and conquered by steppe warriors who were (Turks, Mongols, Others) of the (insert name)___________ tribal confederation organized by the great leader (insert name)____________. After his death he was succeeded by his (pick one or more: son, nephew, brother, brother-in-law, general) (insert name)____________ who was subsequently murdered by his (see previous list, pick one or more). (2)Return to (1), rinse, repeat.

Las Cruces

H/T to Lumo, who sent me to the Wikipedia page for Las Cruces:

Census 2010 data[edit]

As of the 2010 census Las Cruces had a population of 97,618.[2] The ethnic and racial makeup of the population was:[14] 34.3% White American 2.4% African American or Black 1.7% Native Americans 1.6% Asian 0.1% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 3.5% Two or more races 56.8% Hispanic and Latino Americans (Hispanics may be of any race)

As of the census of 2000, there were 74,267 people, 29,184 households, and 18,123 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,425.7 people per square mile (550.5/km²). There were 31,682 housing units at an average density of 608.2 per square mile (234.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 69.01% White, 2.34% African American, 1.74% Native American, 1.16% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 21.59% from other races, and 4.10% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 51.73% of the population.

From this one might suspect that Las Cruces has seen a dramatic decline in "White" population. That's certainly not the case. If anything, the opposite, as our city is flooded with (nearly all white) immigrants from California and the cold regions. What is probably changing is the percentage of Hispanics identifying (also) as White. Virtually all local Hispanics are of mixed European and Native American ancestry. There are old Hispanic families here with names like Singh and Johanson as well as old, predominantly anglophone families that trace their ancestry back to the first Spanish explorers and settlers. The rate of intermarriage between Hispanics and anglophones is very substantial.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer... Richard III, Act I, Scene 1

OK, maybe not quite, but it is 68 F (16 C) right now and a lot of confused trees are budding and sprouting leaves, and those clouds that lour'd on our house have gone somewhere else.

Compromising Info

Apparently the intelligence services unearthed stories about the Russians having compromising information on Trump, including a possible sex tape. I have no idea about the veracity of this, but I think it's far more likely (and serious) that any compromising information they have is financial - he has a number of financial links with Russia. Naturally, the sensational sex rumors get most of the attention, but why would Trump go to Russia just to get pissed on? Lots of people here would do it for free.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


History is one damn thing after another.......Arnold Toynbee.

I signed up for a history course this term, and I have to say that one of the textbooks occasionally exhibits that trait in mind numbing detail:

The founder of one of these dynasties was Ahmad Khwajagi Kasani, also known as "Makhdum-i Azam" ("The Great Master"; 1461-1542). As his nisba suggests, he hailed from Kasan, a town in northern Fergana near present-day Chust. He left it for Tashkent, presumably in order to become a murid of Muhammad Qazi Burhan al-Din (d. 1515), one of Khwaja Ubaydallah Ahrar's khalifas.

Svat Soucek. A History of Inner Asia (Kindle Locations 2219-2221). Kindle Edition.

The shrine, which came to be known as Char Bakr, grew into a complex that included a khangah, a mosque, a madrasa, and the endowments supporting it dramatically increased after the Janibegid victory in 1557. The Juyharis too increased their wealth by becoming involved in commerce, manufacturing, and agriculture, and sent their agents as far as Moscow on trade missions. On the third side of this special triangle, these Nagshbandi pirs and wealthy entrepreneurs came to occupy the post of shavkhulislam in Bukhara, an honor and function also attained, as we have seen, by the Ahrari pir in Samarkand. What is more, this post, which in Central Asia tended to be hereditary was held by the Juyharis through the nineteenth century.

Svat Soucek. A History of Inner Asia (Kindle Locations 2229-2233). Kindle Edition.


I don't recall having previously heard of Kevin D. Williamson, and I have precisely one reason for thinking he is a scumbag. It is the first two sentences of his recent column:

It has long been rumored that Paul Krugman does not write the New York Times column that appears under his name. I have no reason to believe that that is true, but I hope it is.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443696/deficits-matter-always-not-just-when-republicans-occupy-white-house

I can't think of any honest reason to repeat a scurrilous "rumor" that you don't believe is true. Can you?

In any case, the rumor seems absurd, since Krugman is a prolific and indeed almost compulsive writer. Also, Google doesn't seem to have heard of it.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Ice: More and Less

It's not even remotely plausible that Arctic sea ice has reached a winter maximum, but it is odd that it has decreased for the past several days. There should still be one month of rapid growth and at least another of slow growth.


Besides providing us with means necessary to pay for our survival, jobs provide us satisfaction and a sense of purpose in life. Much of the angst in the US that led to the election of DT seems to be associated with the disappearance of good paying factory jobs, and the feeling that those jobs went abroad or to immigrants willing to work cheap. I wouldn't be surprised if similar factors are at work in the rise of right-wing and neo-fascist parties in Europe as well.

Of course many of those jobs went not abroad but to machines. Many domestic industries (like coal mining) produce just as much as they did twenty years ago, but with a small fraction of the number of workers. Many smart people, and dumber people like myself, have been thinking about what happens over the next decade and a half when a huge fraction of jobs still requiring humans disappears.

Our new Secretary of Labor designate is on record as opposing any minimum wage, mainly, I suppose, because it would squeeze his profits as a fast food magnate, but he justifies it by saying that if there is a higher minimum wage, fast food workers will just be replaced by robots. That's true of course, and is going to happen whether the minimum wage is $15/hr or just being allowed to eat the day old french fries. The minimum wage might affect the time table in a small way.

Low skill, low education, and poorly educated workers may be worst affected, but lawyers have already been hit hard by computerization of their jobs. Many types of doctors will soon be on the obsolete list as well. Work like that of Kahneman and Tversky showed that many types of human expertise are illusory - people are not good at sifting many types of complex evidence. Not only that, but even in fields where human expertise is genuine and unmistakable, at least compared to non expert humans, like chess and go, computers have demonstrated that they can do better.

So what happens when tens of millions of drivers, fast food workers and other are thrown out of work over a short time period? Ironically, this will have happened because society has become more productive. A long time narrative of the oligarchy is that just making sure all the profits go to the rich and super rich will be good for society. The "job creators", as they style the super wealthy, will create more jobs. Funny thing though - the last 35 years has seen an enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich, but that job creating magic just hasn't seemed to happen.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Ice, Ice, Baby

Speaking of gone: Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents are each at historic lows for the date - still.

Gone, Gone, Gone

From Steve Hsu: and the WSJ:

WSJ: A mysterious character named “Master” has swept through China, defeating many of the world’s top players in the ancient strategy game of Go.

Master played with inhuman speed, barely pausing to think. With a wide-eyed cartoon fox as an avatar, Master made moves that seemed foolish but inevitably led to victory this week over the world’s reigning Go champion, Ke Jie of China. ...

Master revealed itself Wednesday as an updated version of AlphaGo, an artificial-intelligence program designed by the DeepMind unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

AlphaGo made history in March by beating South Korea’s top Go player in four of five games in Seoul. Now, under the guise of a friendly fox, it has defeated the world champion.

It was dramatic theater, and the latest sign that artificial intelligence is peerless in solving complex but defined problems. AI scientists predict computers will increasingly be able to search through thickets of alternatives to find patterns and solutions that elude the human mind.

Master’s arrival has shaken China’s human Go players.

“After humanity spent thousands of years improving our tactics, computers tell us that humans are completely wrong,” Mr. Ke, 19, wrote on Chinese social media platform Weibo after his defeat. “I would go as far as to say not a single human has touched the edge of the truth of Go.” ...

We are witness to the psychological shock of a species encountering, for the first time, an alien and superior intelligence.

This is different and more catastrophic for human intelligence that the triumph of computers over chess players not quite two decades ago. Computers beat humans by being better accountants than humans - they don't miss moves that humans do. In go, it seems, the computers have rejected our strategic thinking developed over millenia wholesale. Very possibly, Alphachess, if ever deployed, will do something similar for chess.