AKarlin 2.0

As you can see the site has had a major redesign, and new blog posts will start appearing as of this Monday.

Here are the major changes:

(1) Back to self-hosted, after a year and a half at WordPress.com. There will be no repeat of the pharma hack that torpedoed the old Sublime Oblivion. My security measures are much better now. And even if fate throws a wrench at my face and someone hacks the site, my new host will fix it for free.

(2) There has been a major reorganization! You can now browse not only by Categories and popular Tags (see sidebar), but also by new custom taxonomies “Themes” (the main navigation menu) and “Qualia” (e.g. Reviews, Featured Posts, Guest Posts, etc).

(3) I have finally completed the arduous but rewarding task of uploading all my book highlights – I read almost everything electronically nowadays – to my Evernote. Ready access to all the best passages from a book allows one to quickly recall its content and arguments, and to quickly pen a detailed review of it.

So expect a lot more reviews.

(4) I will have more posts on futurst and transhumanist topics (relative to HBD) in the next few months, as I’ve somewhat fallen into that crowd. Incidentally, I’ll be speaking at one of their conferences next February (my topic will be cliodynamics). Get your tickets now if you live in the SF Bay Area and wish to guarantee yourself a spot there!

(5) The new managed hosting isn’t cheap, so once you start seeing a steady stream of posts again from me please consider offsetting some of my expenses by donating via Paypal or Bitcoin.

Health Inequalities: Why do Latinos Live Longer than Whites?

Is summarized below for each state (source) – and it shows some very interesting patterns.

us-life-expectancy-by-race

The average life expectancy of Asian-Americans (86.5 years) is 4 years higher than in Japan – the longest-lived big East Asian country. Taiwan and South Korea are at around 80; Hong Kong is at 83; Singapore is at 81. The other East Asian countries aren’t developed yet, so there isn’t much point in comparison.

The LE of Latinos is 82.8, which is 6 years more than in Mexico, 4 years more than in the longest-lived Latin American countries and even a year higher than in Spain (one of the longest-lived European countries). This is despite the fact that obesity rates among Hispanics in the US is very high – higher than those of whites.

On average American whites can expect to live to just 78.9 – the same as in Chile or Denmark (the shortest-lived Western European country). A most curious anomaly, given their higher SES and lower obesity rates relative to Hispanics.

Blacks can expect to live around 74.2 years. This is far higher than in any African country, but the comparison is flawed for obvious reasons. It is however pretty close to the life expectancy in predominantly mulatto Caribbean countries like Jamaica (73 years) or the Bahamas (75 years), countries which are more suitable for comparison.

Native Americans average 76.9 years, though they are spread out all across the spectrum – ranging from 80 in California, to 69 in Montana.

Some questions and issues to ponder:

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A Meeting with Hank Pellissier

This Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Hank Pellissier, who used to work for the IEET, a futurist/transhumanist institute, and is now a blogger-journalist and amateur researcher at the Brighter Brains blog.

2013-09-15 16-59-15 - meeting with Hank Pellissier

As one may glean from the title of that blog, his current area of major interest lies in IQ and how you can bolster (or deflate) it. His most recent book is 225 Ways to Elevate or Injure IQ, the product of four years of research consisting of trawling through and summarizing the existing academic literature on the topic. In the meetup, he expounded upon his work.

Much of it was commonsense, or otherwise of no surprise to people who take an active interest in the topic. Some it was also of doubtful validity, with correlations not always being substantiated by a solid case for causation. But some of it was also new, counter-intuitive, even surprising. Certainly all this material is well worth publicizing and pushing into the public debate because quite apart from the intrinsic individual benefits of higher IQ’s it also leads to more efficient economies, higher technological growth, lower crime rates, etc.

Here is a list of most of these 225 IQ factors from Pellisier’s website. Below is a rough classification and brief discussion of some of the most important and interesting points from his research.

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A Game of Homs

What striking about Syria is how so many people insist on speaking about it in profoundly moralistic, Manichaean terms. This is complete nonsense, given that its civil war isn’t a showdown between democracy and dictatorship, but an ethnic and religious conflict. Here’s a more realistic guide:

The Assad regime

The rhetoric: He kills his own people! He is the Evil Overlord (TM)!

The reality: That’s kind of what happens in a civil war. Abraham Lincoln also “killed his own people,” you know. It is obvious why the “regime” fights on: That is what regimes do – as a general rule of thumb, they’re fond of surviving. The rather more interesting and telling question is: Why do key elements of the population continue to back them?

As far as the Alawites and Christians are concerned, it’s pretty clear: The Sunnis have never been particularly well disposed to them, and the past few years haven’t made them any fonder. The last time the Sunnis revolted in Hama in 1982, one of the slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood was “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the graveyard.”

In the game of Homs, you win or you die – and the “you” is in its plural form. No wonder Assad has a solid support base.

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The Racists Aren’t Where the Prof Said They’d Be

A few months late, but worth posting anyway.

racial-tolerance-map-hk-fix (from Washington Post)

The results are based on the latest “wave” of the World Values Survey, a very interesting project that tracks sociological data across countries – and which I will likely post more about in the future.

Interesting observations:

(1) The West in general is the world’s least “racist”* region – regardless of what some ideologues wish to argue. Regarding the US in particular, even many European countries – widely considered to be more “liberal” – would balk at the affirmative action policies in place there.

(2) France is a curious exception, though not perhaps altogether surprising in light of the popularity of the National Front. A far right party enjoying the support of about a third of the population is, indeed, pretty unique for a developed country. Is it something specific about the French? Or have they just had more opportunities to get fed up with multi-culturalism in general?

(3) Rates of consanguineous marriage (and associated clannishness) all correlate closely with rates of “racism.” Compare the map above with the map below of the rate of consanguineous marriage – considering the inherent vagueness of the questions asked in the WVS, the fact that the territories of the former Caliphate, India, and Indonesia are clearly delineated is nothing short of remarkable.

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The Caveman Test

caveman-computerFirst you couldn’t have more than 10% fat in your diet, then carbohydrates became the source of all evil*. Slow-Carb waged war on the various Schools of Paleo. But the Food Pyramid continues to loom over them all like some kind of Eldritch abomination. 

Weight machines were once all the rage, but then free weights became king. Then Tsatsouline brought kettlebell back into fashion, while others urged us on to condition ourselves with our own bodyweight, like convicts. 

Eggs, coffee, and long-distance running caused perennial headaches to gurus all round.

So how does the layman observing this cacophonic monkeyhouse deal with all the noise? Simplify. Simplify the shit out out of all this crap and reduce it all to the following basic question: 

Would you have been doing this 10,000 years ago?

Diet fads and exercise methodologies come and go, but the human body remains constant – at least on the timescales that matter. Apply the Caveman Test – and you are unlikely to go very far wrong.

Should you count calories? Erm, lolzwut? No caveman would know what a calorie even is. Forget all those Weight Watchers programs that would have you obsessing over that extra 5 calories you ingested at lunch.

How often should you eat? Did hunter-gatherers eat 6 carefully portioned meals a day – or did they alternate between bouts of fasting and feasting in-between their hunts? There you go – intermittent fasting. Feel free to give breakfast the finger if you’ve never liked it anyway.

Did you eat grains? No, they ate root tubers. When humans started eating grains, life expectancy plummeted relative to the levels of the Paleolithic Age. But here’s the thing: Humans have adapted. Partially adapted. Some human groups have adapted more than others. East Asians have been cultivating and eating rice for more than 10,000 years, and it remains a major staple of their diet to this day; but they nonetheless boast some of the world’s lowest morbidity and obesity profiles**. It is not an unreasonable hypothesis that their physiologies have evolved to better process grains. Reinforcing it is the observation that some of the world’s worst obesity crises are among peoples that have only very recently adopted grain heavy modern diets – the Ameri-Indians, the Samoans, etc. If you are East Asian, you shouldn’t worry much about eating rice. You were doing it 10,000 years ago, after all. If you’re Europea, approach with caution – rice only arrived in Iberia only a millennium ago. And if you’re Ameri-Indian, flee for the hills. Other forms of grain however appear to be pretty much universally bad.

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From Office Slave to Paperless Ninja

I have already written on the joys of cleaning house and how less is more when it comes to possessions.

But possessions aren’t limited to the physical realm. Your digital files – documents, emails, music libraries, photos, etc. – share many features with property, especially as regards the need to keep them well organized and consistently backed up. Then there is the world of tasks and commitments. Left unchecked, they will proliferate, and come to weigh down you down as surely as a surfeit of trinkets. But most people devote nary a thought to this very important element of life, let alone approach it in an organized and systemic way.

Going paperless and streamlining everyday life certainly appeals to people. Banks, shops, and utilities companies offer electronic statements and receipts. Tim Ferriss preaches it in bestselling books. The tech giants offer clouds, companies peddle software and productivity apps, and entrepreneurial gurus hawk “systems.” But faced with this avalanche of information, many people don’t know how to bring it all together, and their work and life habits remain as ossified and unproductive as before.

I do not say I have the best or most comprehensive solution. I do, however, say that I have a pretty damn good solution, or else I wouldn’t have bothered writing about it. Even better, it is immediately actionable, and 100% free (barring your computer and cell phone). I promise you that if you implement even parts of it, you will not only see immediate increases in productivity but a newfound feeling of psychological wellbeing as automated routines begin to care of the myriad minutiae that are not immediately actionable (“Buy eggs”; “Do problem set 4”; “Write blog post on productivity”) that we nonetheless have no choice but to store up and let loose to wreck havoc in the recesses of our minds.

The end goal is to become a cybernetic paperless ninja. He is unburdened by surfeit possessions, but has exceptional access. He never looks at his calendar, but never misses a meeting or appointment. He doesn’t spend (waste) a single moment of his life reminding himself of minutiae, and instead uses his brainpower to learn and to focus on the big life goals. To paraphrase David Allen, his mind is like water.

The Power of Evernote

Download Evernote.

This is the central element of our system. Some of you might view is as just another note-taking program. We will transform it into nothing more or less than our second brain.

The one that keeps track of trivial but essential crap so that you don’t have to.

Evernote is a free program (though a paid upgrade is well worth it for power users). You can create notes there, as text files, or as images, videos, or other attachments. Crucially, these notes aren’t only stored in “Notebooks” (the equivalent of Folders) but can be linked together via “Tags.” This allows us to convert it into an exceedingly powerful task manager and organizational system. The information is stored in a cloud, which can be accessed and manipulated via a Desktop application (works offline), a web browser, and your cell phone.

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Timeline of the Runup to an Illegal War

Repost of Alexander Mercouris’ comments at Mark Chapman’s blog and The Russia Debate forum. The original compilation is posted at Mercouris’ blog.

PS. Originally, this space hosted just one of Mercouris’ comments. Now that he has taken the trouble to gather up his output, the least I could do is update it and try to ensure it gets maximum publicity.

Syria – An Illegal Attack Intended to Prevent a UN Investigation

No one should be under any illusions that the attack on Syria which will take place shortly is illegal and is intended to prevent an impartial investigation by the UN inspectors of what actually happened near Damascus.  In the light of the forthcoming attack on Syria and in view of the forthcoming meeting of the Security Council later today (Wednesday 28th August 2013) and of the parliamentary debate in Britain tomorrow (Thursday 29th August 2013) I have decided to post a number of comments I have made on various threads discussing this crisis on the Russia Debate and on Kremlin Stooge that explain this and which set out my views.  I have also published a comment by Anatoly Karlin to which I have responded.

Friday 24th August 2013

The reality is that (NB: contrary at that time to claims by the US government and western media reports – AM) Russia has asked the Syrian government to allow an inspection of the area where the attack was committed and the Syrian government according to the Russian Foreign Ministry and from the tone of the reports carried by Syrian government’s news agency Sana seems to have agreed to this (1, 2).

A point that western media demands for the Syrian government to “allow” the UN inspectors into the area of the gas attack wilfully ignore is that the area where the attack seems to have taken place is rebel controlled.  It is therefore the rebels not the government who control access to it.  The onus should therefore be on them and not just the government to allow the UN inspectors in.

I do not know who carried out these attacks but as many have pointed out if it was the Syrian government then the timing – a year apparently to the day after Obama’s “red lines” speech and just after the UN inspectors arrived in Damascus – would in that case be incredibly stupid to the point of being bizarre.  As has also been correctly pointed out, an attack of this sort now when the government seems to be winning on the battlefield also appears to make little sense.  By contrast one can see why the rebels at a time when they are coming under pressure might want to stage an incident of this sort that they can blame on the government.  I would add that they might also feel a need to shift the spotlight back on them and away from what has been happening in Egypt.

What many people don’t of course know is that if one follows the accounts of the Syrian conflict provided by Sana then one would know that the Syrian government has been alleging incidents of use of chemical weapons by the rebels practically every week for the last few months.  Obviously I have no idea how true these claims are.  However I do find it depressing that the government’s claims of use of chemical weapons by the rebels get no attention whilst rebel claims (such as this one) get saturation coverage.  There is no reason to give greater credence to any side in this war but there is at least some corroboration of rebel use of chemical weapons: not just the famous comments of Carla del Ponte but also an incident when some rebels were discovered in Turkey in possession of a sarin gas canister a few months ago.  News of that incident was suppressed even though it was accompanied by stories that a gas attack on a Turkish town that would be blamed on the Syrian government was planned.

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Only 15% of Scandinavian Pupils can do Basic Fractions

Further to my post on the remarkable failure of Scandinavian education systems to develop their students to anywhere near the levels indicated by their IQ potentials, a professor of mathematics at a Wisconsin university sent me data on the percentage of respondents in the TIMSS who gave the correct answer to the following question:

Which shows a correct method for finding 1/3 – 1/4?

A (1 – 1)/ (4 – 3)
B 1/ (4 – 3)
C (3 – 4)/ (3*4)
D (4 – 3)/ (3*4)

Below are the results. Do bear in mind that these are 8th graders we are talking about.

A B C D
Korea 2.7 6.9 4.2 86
Singapore 4.8 5.5 6.5 83.1
Taipei 2.9 7.7 7 82
Hong Kong 4 8.7 10 77
Japan 15.4 11.1 8.2 65.3
Russia 12.3 18.8 4.8 62.8
Average 25.4 26 9.4 37.1
US 32.5 26.1 10.7 29.1
Finland 42.3 29.5 8.7 16.1
Sweden 14.4
Chile 11.7

Finally, an international ratings list on which those smarmy, goody-goody Scandinavians don’t come on top! They barely do better than Chile, a country that got 421 (equiv. IQ ~88) in the PISA 2009 survey. Here is what he has to say on the matter:

One interesting fact is that among the 42 countries which tested 8th grade students, Finland had the highest percent of students who picked answer A and the third lowest percent correct. Chile had 11.7 correct and Sweden had 14.4 percent correct. The Finnish result is likely a surprise to the people who have praised the Finnish school system for their results on another international test, PISA. However university and technical college mathematics faculty in Finland will not be surprised. See [this] article signed by over 200 of them.

Anybody who suggests the progressive/neoliberal education policies of the Scandinavian countries are worthy of emulation should be presented with these figures and laughed out of the room.

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Preliminary Thoughts on TIMSS/PIRLS 2012

I had been meaning to post about this for a long time. Better late than never, I suppose.

The TIMSS and PIRLS are international assessments of academic ability in math, science and literacy that are conducted once every four years. They are similar to the PISA tests, although the latter are less purely academically focused and more a test of pure IQ.

Here are the results of TIMSS/PIRLS (h/t North Asian). And here are the results of PISA from 2009 for comparison.

As can be expected, they are highly correlated (r > 0.8 to be precise). This however makes the few differences all the more interesting. The gap between the East Asian countries and European countries, though substantial in PISA, is significantly greater in TIMSS/PIRLS. And most strikingly, both Russia and Israel go from being laggards in the OECD group to being at the forefront of the class.

  Math (PISA) Math (TIMSS)
Korea 539 613
Sweden 494 484
Russia 468 539
Israel 447 516

From performing more poorly than Turkey in the PISA reading test, Russia soars to take second global position in the PIRLS.

  Reading (PISA) Reading (PIRLS)
HK 533 571
Sweden 497 542
Russia 459 568
Israel 474 541

Meanwhile, some European countries, especially Sweden and Norway, plummet quite substantially.

What explains all this?

There are two possibilities. First, the TIMSS/PIRLS tests may have poorer samples than the PISA. For instance, we know from the latter that Moscow has a 10-point IQ lead over the rest of the country. If Muscovite pupils are over-sampled, then it’s quite feasible for the consequent result to be closer to say Hong Kong or Korea than to Greece or Turkey.

However, a second possibility is that the PISA-TIMSS/PIRLS gap is a proxy for differences in the quality of educational systems. It is more feasible to prepare for the TIMSS/PIRLS than it is for PISA, which is closer to an IQ test and is, as such, more difficult to improve through policy interventions. It is nowadays fashionable to lambast the ex-Soviet and East Asian school systems for “rote learning,” “stifling creativity,” and whatnot. However, the data shows that under these systems, pupils perform well above the levels they “should” as indicated by their underlying IQ levels. Meanwhile, in places where “creativity” and “self-expression” are given full bloom, where science lessons focus on the evils of plastic bags in between sermons on LGBT appreciation and the progressiveness of Islamic civilization, academic performance is somewhat less than what might expect based on the local students’ apparent IQ levels.

This all makes sense, I suppose. To be truly “creative” you first have to acquire a ton of skills and knowledge via the old method of applied hard work. Without that, “creativity” simply boils down to a sea of PoMo-waffling curmudgeons and MacBook-toting hipsters. And whoever needs that?