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2010 September 15 Wednesday
Dreams Guide Decisions Of Many Muslims

To sleep perchance to dream up an answer to a pressing life question.

The traditional practice of using night dreams to make major life decisions is in widespread use among modern Muslims, reveals a new study whose author is speaking at the British Science Festival on Thursday September 16*.

Interviews with 60 Muslims in the UK, North America, Europe and Pakistan have revealed that night dreams are being used to make choices on issues like marriage, business, career development and politics.

Research leader, Durham University anthropologist Dr Iain Edgar focused on the centuries-old practice of Istikhara, or Islamic 'dream incubation'. His study is the first comprehensive and the most contemporary academic study on Istikhara prayer and practice, which can also include daytime prayer about an important decision.

The idea comes from the Koran.

He said: "Dreams have always had a very important role to play in Islam - the Qur'an shows that the prophet Muhammed was a great dreamer.

"Dream interpretation in Islam is a spiritual way of divining the future and submitting oneself to the personal unconscious and the will of Allah.

Okay Razib, if you read this: Note that the base text of the religion causes a behavior many hundreds of years later. The base texts matter.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 15 11:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2010 July 04 Sunday
British Accept Need For Austerity

An essay by David Kynaston in the left-leaning UK Guardian about the need for austerity in Britain and how the new Conservative government of David Cameron are set implement austerity illustrates a recognition on both sides of the political spectrum in Britain that the country has been living well beyond its means and an extended period of austerity is necessary. This contrasts sharply with the mood in America where the political class has not yet accepted a need for austerity.

Like Charles Ryder at Brideshead or Bob Dylan on Highway 61, we've been here before. "No sooner did we awake from the six years nightmare of war and feel free to enjoy life once more than the means to do so immediately became even scantier than they had been during the war," lamented Anthony Heap, a local government official living in St Pancras, in his diary at the end of 1945. "Housing, food, clothing, fuel, beer, tobacco – all the ordinary comforts of life that we'd taken for granted before the war, and naturally expected to become more plentiful again when it ended, became instead more and more scarce and difficult to come by." In fact peacetime austerity had only just got going, and it was not until July 1954, more than eight dreary, make-do-and-mend years later, that rationing finally ended.

Of course, the Brits could have bounced back more rapidly if they had let prices rise and ended rationing sooner after WWII ended. But leave that aside. There was a willingness then and a willing now for government to spend less and pay down debt. There is an acceptance that government can't make the economy right again, that an extended period of pain is unavoidable. America is nowhere near that realization.

Why this difference? I see a few reasons. In spite of a lot of immigration in recent years Britain is still a much more racially homogeneous society. Therefore, whether they are consciously aware of this or not the British people feel genetically closer to each other. They feel a greater sense of common identity. Also, Britain is a smaller society. This means two things. First off, consensus needs to be achieved over a much smaller number of people who have more in common in terms of culture and occupations and interests. Second, as a smaller society it is more vulnerable to economic pressures originating outside its borders and they are aware of this.

The US government acts as if no external forces, economic or military, can constrain it. The American people mostly believe a myth of American triumphalism which the political class on both sides of the political spectrum finds advantageous to encourage. Whether the subject is foreign adventures or perfection of the society thru social programs the political class wants the public to believe the country is so special that it can do anything. This works against accepting the need for austerity and for scaling back how much the government does. Leaders on the Left would have us believe we can maintain plush retirement benefits for government workers and high pay-outs for Social Security and Medicare. Leaders on the Right would have us believe can maintain a huge military and do foreign adventures.

In the United States we've got a multi-racial president who wants to redistribute between the races. He does not want to find his agenda under fiscal constraints due to financial bubbles. He wants to add major new accretions to the welfare state to transfer more to his base. He wants the effects of debt bubbles, stagnant economy, lack of wage growth, and the like to be very short term. He wants a quick return to brisk economy expansion that will generate the tax revenues he needs to fund his plans. He wants a new Great Society.

The problem with Obama's agenda is that even before Peak Oil and the aftermath of the housing bubble slammed the brakes on economic growth the US government had already over-promised entitlements for old folks, promised more to veterans, made big promises to federal employees, and expanded its role in education at considerable expense. Then it added on very expensive foreign adventures, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of dubious mortgage loans funded by government agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (to help Obama's base of poor non-Asian minorities), and expanded other government programs. This all occurred under a succession of presidents of both parties.

The gap between promises and means is far bigger than it looks. Current deficits and accumulated debts and projections of debt over the next few years doesn't begin to tell the whole story. Even calculations of unfunded liabilities (e.g. projected future pay-outs for Social Security, Medicare, and government worker retirement benefits) fall short of showing the full gap between the promises and the means to fulfill the promises. Why? Mainstream economic analysis assumes an eventual return to Business As Usual for economic growth. But Business As Usual is nowhere in sight due to Peak Oil and America's deteriorating demographics.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 04 01:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2010 March 17 Wednesday
Finnish Schools Have Elephant In The Room

I realize you can't see the elephant. But it is there. A Wall Street Journal article illustrates the total mystery which the mainstream media and political elites encounter when trying to figure out why students in some countries learn at much faster average rates than Americans. What could it be?

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.

Could the cause be something unmentioned in the article? Oh what oh what could it be?

Why do the Finnish kids love to read? Why don't more American kids derive pleasure from reading? What could explain this? Anyone?

One explanation for the Finns' success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.

What could explain this? The Finnish are deficient in diversity. They don't get much sunlight in the winter. They have really cold winters. They have so many things going against them. How can they do so well in school in spite of their handicaps?

Update: On our Flat Earth we are very puzzled as we attempt explain why the Sun comes up in the East and goes down in the West and why the stars go thru such convolutions in the sky. On our Flat Earth as we understand it here in the Middle Ages humans were created equal (and just a few thousand years previously). God made us all with souls that do our thinking for us. Therefore we all should be able to do just as well at learning thinking. So as we look at the stories about school children coming to us from distant Finland we suspect maybe these stories are myths or fabrications. Here on our thoroughly Flat Earth (and anyone who says otherwise is evil of course) humans have equal abilities and so there must be some other explanation for what we see besides the heretical idea that the Earth is a revolving globe or that humans differ. We must keep up the search for this other explanation.

How else to explain the Finns?

Update II: What is really happening here? Read about the Voldemort View: the View That Must Not Be Named.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 17 09:57 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (35)
2010 March 06 Saturday
Consumer Protection In Japan Very Weak

The New York Times reports that Toyota has done no recalls in Japan for car unexpected acceleration problems.

Toyota has recalled eight million cars outside Japan because of unexpected acceleration and other problems, but has insisted that there are no systemic problems with its cars sold in Japan. The company recalled the Prius for a brake problem earlier this year.

Critics say many companies benefit from Japan’s weak consumer protections. (The country has only one full-time automobile recall investigator, supported by 15 others on limited contracts.)

One lady in the article came under pressure by police to sign a document stating that her car accident was caused by her mistakenly stepping on the gas pedal. She claims she didn't make that mistake.

Japan's equivalent of Ralph Nader was convicted of blackmail for his efforts to force Japanese car companies to fix their safety defects.

The most active was the Japan Automobile Consumers Union, led by Fumio Matsuda, a former Nissan engineer often referred to as the Ralph Nader of Japan. But the automakers fought back with a campaign discrediting the activists as dangerous agitators. Mr. Matsuda and his lawyer were soon arrested and charged with blackmail. They fought the charges to Japan’s highest court, but lost.

The willingness of Japanese to conform has costs as well as benefits. One of the costs is weak consumer protection. The Japanese government is just now taking some steps toward more monitoring and investigation of Japanese car companies. This comes 40+ years after the US government got serious about car design defect problems. Ralph Nader didn't have to become a convicted felon in order to spark that change.

Update: Other things about Japanese society are, um, unusual in Western experience.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 06 11:07 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 March 01 Monday
Chilean Looters Become More Organized

The looters in Concepcion are not just going after food and water.

Concepcion, Chile (CNN) -- The drive into Concepcion couldn't have been more dramatic. We turned the corner through a dense morning fog onto a main street and a small crowd moved into the streets against traffic. It's just two days after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake toppled walls and collapsed buildings, but people are looting.

Young men ducked beneath gates and smashed windows, yanking out boxes holding appliances and grabbing cell phones and clothes. Grown women slid between window bars and ran down streets with bags full of booty.

Robbers are becoming more organized and citizens are organizing against them.

Residents in Concepcion said they were organizing groups to defend their properties from robbers and looters, who the city's mayor said on Monday were becoming more organized.

That the citizens can bring themselves to organize is a promising sign.

Natural disasters in Japan do not lead to looting. The Japanese are extremely well behaved. Kobe Japan in 1995 provides a contrast with Chile.

Even though there were rumors to the contrary and goods were available for the picking in the shattered store windows there was little or no looting in Kobe. Jewelry stores were unprotected yet no one took anything. People waited patiently in lines with the only arguments coming from people who insisted that others go before them.

Peoples are different in important and fundamental ways.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 01 11:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (22)
2009 November 15 Sunday
Peter Baldwin Compares Europe And America

UCLA historian Peter Baldwin has written a book arguing that Europe and the United States aren't as different as commonly thought and that some of the differences that exist do not fit common stereotypes. The book, The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe are Alike, does a variety of comparisons including health care.

Take health care. Despite the high cost of care and the high rate of uninsurance in the United States, the quantifiable outcomes of the American health care system compare favorably with Europe's, Baldwin found. Proportionately speaking, fewer Americans die of major diseases, strokes, heart attacks, hypertension and cancer than citizens of several European nations.

"If these measures were stripped of any identifying information and you were asked to choose the country which doesn't have a national health care system, you wouldn't necessarily pick the United States," Baldwin says. "In every respect, America falls more or less smack dab in the middle."

In fact, when it comes to the four major cancer killers — colorectal, breast, lung and prostate — Americans actually have better five-year survival rates than Europeans, who are covered by national health insurance systems of one form or another. And these figures include the 15 percent of Americans who don't have health insurance.

So that enormous amount of money Americans spend on health care does buy the sick among us something in the short term. I would argue that it also provides much bigger incentives for the development of new treatments and that those incentives are the biggest benefit of the American health care system. I'd like to find ways to get bigger incentives at lower cost. But I'd prefer higher incentives at higher cost to lower incentives at lower cost.

One point I do not see mentioned in the current health care spending debate: Most people who are alive are not seriously ill. Therefore for most people it is the health care treatments available in the future and not the health care system's delivery of existing treatments in the present that should be their primary concern. Everyone has some disease waiting for them in the future that is currently fatal today. Your greatest interest is in a health care system that provides big incentives for the cure of currently incurable fatal diseases and chronic debilitating and painful diseases.

Europeans waste too much energy transporting freight. While trains are the preferred form of mass transit of more affluent people the much greater American use of trains for freight counts for more than the greater European use of trains for passenger travel.

The United States also has an unexpectedly strong track record when it comes to public transportation, Baldwin found. True to reputation, Americans drive much more than Europeans — some 70 percent more than their closest peers, the Italians. And the U.S. public transportation system leaves, as Baldwin puts it, "much to be desired."

But it's not because America doesn't have a good rail system, he says. It's just that Americans rely less on rail to move passengers than do Europeans. In the United States, rail much more frequently moves goods than in Europe. In fact, well over three times as much freight is carried by rail per capita in the United States than in the closest European nation, Sweden. All European nations, meanwhile, send a higher percentage of freight by road than America. As a result, a smaller percentage of transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions is caused by road travel in the United States than anywhere in Europe other than Norway.

"It may be that Europeans virtuously ride the rails as passengers," Baldwin says. "But their refrigerators, their Corn Flakes and their mail are hauled around in trucks. From Mother Nature's point of view, it doesn't make much difference if you're sending your passengers by rail but your freight by truck rather than the other way around. Pollution is pollution."

The extent of mass transit usage in Europe is exaggerated anyway. Check out table 3 at this link which shows percentages of distances traveled in Europe by car, rail, tram & metro, and bus & coach. What you'll see is that cars account for over 80% of distance traveled in 11 western European countries and only gets below 80% in Denmark, Austria, and Ireland. If that's the best European countries can do with mass transit given their high gasoline prices, denser populations, and public subsidies then the idea that Americans could shift to mass transit is absurd.

Americans engage in more sexual antics than Europeans. Though I wonder on this one whether white Americans are all that risque.

While Europeans may have a reputation for being far more indulgent of the sexual antics of their leaders than Americans, they actually come off as relatively prudish in Baldwin's book. America ranks behind only one country — Iceland — when it comes to the percentage of respondents who claim to have had "three in a bed during sex" and ranks first in respondents claiming to have had at least one homosexual experience.

Iceland probably represents an opportunity for pick-up artists. The place is in a huge economic contraction. Sexually adventurous Icelandic women are probably attracted to affluent foreigners.

Americans score above most European countries by various measures of charity and helping of others.

And although Americans have a reputation for displaying less solidarity than their European brethren, the figures don't reflect that either. When compared to a range of European countries, America ranks first in blood and organ donation and individual charitable giving and second in volunteer work and participation in civic groups.

Again I'd like to see the numbers broken out by race.

America is a large enough and varied country that what's really needed is a comparison of America's regions and races against assorted European countries.

Also see Razib's post comparing nationalism and theism between European countries and American regions.

Update: The UK government report on transportation referred to above contains a chart in chapter 2, "Figure 3: Overall mode share of distance travelled (%) in 2003", that speaks volumes about mass transit in Europe:

Figure 3: Overall mode share of distance travelled (%) in 2003
By Randall Parker    2009 November 15 04:25 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2009 November 04 Wednesday
Steve Sailer On Mad Men

Steve Sailer on Mad Men:

While Waugh wore his reactionary heart on his sleeve in Brideshead, Weiner maintains plausible deniability in Mad Men by methodically depicting how unenlightened the upper-middle class WASPs of a half century ago were. We in the audience are scandalized to note, for example, that even the most respectable parents in 1960 devoted more time to socializing with other adults than to obsessively overseeing their offspring’s next leap up the steep slope of the meritocratic pyramid.

Moreover, many families in 1960 can afford a home on just one income. As Betty Friedan noted, housewives are imprisoned in their suburban homes, escaping in Mad Men only, well … any time they feel like it.

Worse, firms pay married workers more than equally productive single ones, in violation of all the tenets of Friedan and Friedman. Employers back then felt they had a “duty to society,” a concept with which our advanced cultures are no longer familiar.

Today the assumption is that we do not need taboos against divorce and against irresponsible personal behavior. Instead we see people pursuing personal fulfillment and personal moral codes shaped to suit each person's desires. The irresponsible parents are no longer labeled as such. Illegitimacy of births is now simply single parenthood, another lifestyle choice.

Even more shockingly, the employees at the Sterling Cooper ad agency knock off work right at 5:15 PM each day. They appear to have some weird Depression-era relic of a notion of solidarity among American workers: that if the bosses want more work done, they should hire more workers.

Nowadays if the bosses want more work done they outsource and pressure employees to work longer hours.

Read the whole essay and his previous essay that builds up to this one. Also see my post Feminists Who Go Crazy For Don Draper. Mad Men is a nostalgic look at a time when people were more authentic and less driven to spout politically correct nonsense. The reality is still there under the rhetoric. You just have to believe your lying eyes.

By Randall Parker    2009 November 04 09:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Obama's Half Brother Writes Novel Nairobi To Shenzhen

Barack Obama, who grew up without his father around, wrote a book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Obama's half brother Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo has written a work of fiction, Nairobi To Shenzhen, which he says started out as an autobiography. In an interview about the book Ndesandjo relates an unromanticized view of his father.

"I remember times in my house when I would hear screams and I would hear my mother's pain." His American mother Ruth was his father's third wife.

"My skin had turned hard emotionally for so many years because of what I'd seen my mother go through," said Ndesandjo, who is slim and bears an appearance similar to the president.

Ndesandjo has lived in China since 2001.

Ndesandjo and Obama do not see the world the same way.

Ndesandjo, who had an elite education in the United States, collecting a degree from Brown University, a masters in physics from Stanford and an MBA from Emory, did not share Obama’s emotional view of his roots.

I think we'd be better off with a realist as President. But the electorate seems to choose candidates in an attempt to fulfill emotional needs.

According to Obama’s account, Mark looked him in the eye and said: “You think that somehow I’m cut off from my roots, that sort of thing. Well, you’re right.”

“At a certain point I made the decision not to think about who my real father was. He was dead to me even when he was still alive. I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife and children. That’s enough.”

By Randall Parker    2009 November 04 07:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2009 October 20 Tuesday
Believers In Equality Bigger Impulsive Shoppers

Believers in equality buy more on impulse and populations of countries differ to the extent that they believe in inequality. What is the direction of causality here?

A new study from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business finds that Americans who believe in equality are more-impulsive shoppers. And it has implications for how to market products differently in countries where shoppers are more likely to buy on impulse.

The study, “Power-Distance Belief and Impulsive Buying,” was authored by Rice management professor Vikas Mittal and recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Marketing Research.

Where people do not believe in equality people exercise more control over their behavior. So has the national promotion of equality in America led to a nation of spendthrifts and credit bubbles?

Power-distance belief (PDB) is the degree of power disparity the people of a culture expect and accept. It is measured on a scale of zero to 100, and the higher the PDB, the more a person accepts disparity and expects power inequality. Americans have a low PDB score relative to people in countries like China and India. The study found that people who have a high PDB score tend to exhibit more self-control and are less impulsive when shopping.

Abandon the dubious belief in equality and get control of your finances.

“In our studies, people with low PDB scores spent one-and-a-half times the amount spent by high-PDB individuals when buying daily items like snacks and drinks,” Mittal said.

If you reject the popular view that equality is good you'll become better able to resist candy?

This effect was even more pronounced for "vice goods" -- tempting products like chocolate and candy -- than for "virtue goods" like yogurt and granola bars. The researchers hypothesized that people with low PDB scores -- who also should have lower self-control -- would show even stronger impulsive buying for vice goods because of their desire for immediate gratification. Indeed, the researchers found low-PDB people spent twice as much on vice goods as high PDB people spent.

Big saving China and Japan have less belief in equality. The lower the score the higher the belief we should all be equal.

On the PDB (Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions), the U.S. scores at a low 40 compared with Russia (93), the Philippines (94), Singapore (74), China (80) and India (77).

Austria (11), Germany (35) and New Zealand (22) also score low, whereas Japan (54), Vietnam (45) and South Africa (49) score more in the middle.

We aren't equal in intelligence, knowledge, self-control or wisdom. We aren't all equal in our ability to choose leaders or choose foods in a grocery store. Some people are walking talking disasters. Others are wise and brilliant.

By Randall Parker    2009 October 20 10:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2009 September 07 Monday
Low Cocaine In Japanese Currency

At a very high level of industrialization Japan still has a low rate of cocaine contamination on the Yen. The Chinese currency already has a higher level of contamination.

In his study, the rate of drug-contaminated money varied geographically from urban to less populated areas. A hundred percent of the sample bills collected from major cities such as Miami, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; and Detroit, Michigan, tested positive for cocaine, but samples collected from smaller cities such as Salt Lake City, Utah; Niagara Falls, New York;and Dearborn, Michigan, had 87 to 67 percent.

Compared with currency from Brazil, Canada, China and Japan, U.S. bills had the highest percentage of cocaine, with 90 percent of 234 bank notes contaminated. Canada followed with 85 percent and Brazil with 80 percent. China and Japan had the lowest, with 20 and 12 percent respectively.

Japan has a bigger problem with stimulant drug abuse. But I do not have a good sense of how big it is.

Will China's corruption enable a big scaling up of drug abuse as it further industrializes and buying power increases? I doubt that China will be as orderly as Japan.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 07 08:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 December 07 Sunday
Heard About Riots In Greek Cities?

Did you know that the Greeks are big on public violence?

Thousands of protesters have attacked banks and shops in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki, angered by the police's killing of a teenager.

Demonstrators threw firebombs, rocks and other objects at the buildings and at police, who responded with tear gas.

Earlier, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos appealed for restraint.

If I didn't regularly visit large numbers of news sites I would have missed the story. We've got Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bombay (aka Mumbai) to worry about. Rioting over police killings can only happen in America is there's some racial angle where evil whites kill saintly blacks. How can the Greeks get so upset about Greek police killing a Greek kid? Does the absence of inter-racial resentment mean that people in the same race have to channel their natural resentments at each other?

Why would the violence spread all the way to Crete? Do youths in Crete look for a reason to riot?

The unrest, the worst in the country in several years, later spread to Thessaloniki and the southern island of Crete.

The BBC says violence during demonstrations is common in Greece. Anyone know why this is so and how long this has been so?

Violence often breaks out during demonstrations in Greece, but people are rarely injured. Last week, a small group of people clashed with police at a protest against the government's education policy.

Imagine physically clashing over education policy. "All we are saying is give teach a chance".

Update: Okay, this makes more sense. This is class conflict.

Despite appeals for calm from the conservative government, leftist demonstrators and anarchists held running battles with security forces on Sunday.

...

In recent years, anger among Greek youths has been fanned by the growing gap between rich and poor. Violence at student rallies and fire bomb attacks by anarchist groups are common.

Anarchists are leftists who are mad at government because they are not in charge. Anarchism is especially appealing to youths because they have so little power and such low status. People have instinctive desire for power and status. Hence the violence.

Update II: The kid that was killed was throwing stones at a police car.

Nearly 5,000 people rallied outside the National Museum near where the teenage victim, Andreas Grigoropoulos, died late Saturday.

Grigoropoulos was killed by shots fired from a police gun during clashes between police and youths in Athens' Exarchia district. He was among a group of youths who threw stones at a police car.

Stones can kill a person.

By Randall Parker    2008 December 07 10:16 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2008 June 29 Sunday
Child Brides In Yemen Rebel Against Brutal Primitive Custom

The little girls in Yemen are not showing enough loyalty to their authentic local non-Western ancient culture.

JIBLA, Yemen: One morning last month, Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali walked out of her husband's house here and ran to a local hospital, where she complained that he had been beating and sexually abusing her for eight months.

That alone would be surprising in Yemen, a deeply conservative Arab society where family disputes tend to be solved privately. What made it even more unusual was that Arwa was 9 years old.

Within days, Arwa - a tiny, delicate-featured girl - had become a celebrity in Yemen, where child marriage is common but has rarely been exposed in public. She was the second child bride to come forward in less than a month; in April, a 10-year-old named Nujood Ali had gone by herself to a courthouse to demand a divorce, generating a landmark legal case.

How dare these 9 and 10 year olds oppose their culture. I see a parallel here. When British people try to oppose cousin marrriage of Pakistanis in Britain Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, writings in the New York Times, accuses the British of the heinous sin of prejudice and anti-immigrant feelings. Leave aside for the moment the fact that Feldman is a dangerous nutter and that modern left-liberalism is morally bankrupt. If opposition to the practice of cousin marriage is a result of evil prejudice surely the same can be said about child marriage. After all, it has been practiced for hundreds or thousands of years by certifiable real local indigenous non-white natives. Anyone who opposes this practice must be prejudiced.

So what we have in Yemen are evil children who are almost as bad as white people in England who oppose cousin marriage. Noah Feldman needs to prepare a lawsuit against these evil children. Surely he will see the same parallel with Nazism that he drew between the opposition to cousin marriage in Britain and the anti-Jewish actions of the Nazis. He ought to seek an injunction against any children who try to leave their 30+ year old husbands.

Look at it this way: Many Western countries outlaw child marriage and cousin marriage. If the banned practice disproportionately restricts non-whites more than whites we have disproportionate impact. The burden of proof of moral superiority in these matters always falls on those who would impose rules that fall more heavily on non-white patriarchal capitalist dominator males. By this logic the multiculturalists must support the right of adult Yemen men to marry little girls.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 29 01:09 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2008 April 27 Sunday
Cairo Egypt 85 Decibels Average Noise

The 18 million population of Cairo must suffer from hearing losses.

This is not like London or New York, or even Tehran, another car-clogged Middle Eastern capital. It is literally like living day in and day out with a lawn mower running next to your head, according to scientists with the National Research Center. They spent five years studying noise levels across the city and concluded in a report issued this year that the average noise from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. is 85 decibels, a bit louder than a freight train 15 feet away, said Mustafa el Sayyid, an engineer who helped carry out the study.

But that 85 decibels, while “clearly unacceptable,” is only the average across the day and across the city. At other locations, it is far worse, he said. In Tahrir Square, or Ramsis Square, or the road leading to the pyramids, the noise often reaches 95 decibels, he said, which is only slightly quieter than standing next to a jackhammer.

Why is the noise so bad? People hit their car horns a lot. But also, industry takes place pretty much out on the streets because the people are too poor to conduct industrial activities indoors.

In a nation where about 40 percent of the population survives on about $2 a day, people understand the struggle to feed a family. In Rhode al Farag, men worked on cars in the street, butchered meat in the street, blasted radios and turned up television sets. Like shellshocked war veterans, residents sat out on the street, sipping tea, oblivious to the cacophony.

Even when it came to the shop run by Mahmoud Faheem, people did not complain. Mr. Faheem rents out concert-sized speakers, and he displayed his speakers on the street, offering the entire block a never ending thump-thump of dance music. “Let him eat bread,” said Atef Ali, 45, the owner of a food shop next door, using an Arabic phrase to explain why he did not complain, even while he detested the music.

Human overpopulation is a bad thing. The article makes no mention of that fact. But overpopulation is one of the root causes of the Cairo noise problem. In spite of the high level of noise they keep making more babies. To what level will human instincts sink the human race if left unrestrained?

That the Egyptians can't manage to raise productivity much is another cause. But the resource demand on the world would be enormous if the Egyptians and other poor people could all raise their productivity up to First World levels.

Update: My guess is the 85 decibel noise level refers to on a street and not in houses. It seems hard to believe for an entire city. Anyone know what percentage of vehicles on Cairo streets are cars versus scooters and motorcycles? Also, do the Cairenes replace rusty mufflers on cars and trucks? The traffic could be very dense even though few can afford to drive since the city is pretty densely populated.

By Randall Parker    2008 April 27 12:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 October 22 Sunday
People Do Not Lock Their Cars In Kilmarnock Virginia

A Washington Times piece about Wal-Mart coming to Kilmarnock Virginia says fairly predictable things about the reactions for and against a big chain coming to a small town. But this town of 1,244 two hours south of Washington DC strikes me as far more interesting for another rreason: People in the town do not need to lock their cars on main street - what a luxury!

In this town of 1,244 about two hours south of the Beltway, folks are used to walking in the unlocked back door of a neighbor's home, sometimes without knocking.

...

The lower Northern Neck was largely inaccessible, except by ferry or a long drive north, until the Robert O. Norris Bridge connected it to Route 3 and the mainland in 1957. It slowly has grown as Northern Virginians discover the area, but even today only a few stoplights dot the streets of Kilmarnock.

A drive down Main Street after 7 p.m. is quiet. Most shops close two hours earlier and there's no traffic, let alone congestion. The few streetlights are shaded downward to preserve the view of the stars at night.

Sunday mornings are spent at church. Antique galleries are the few businesses in Kilmarnock with Sunday hours.

Most of the cars parked along Main Street are unlocked and the keys sit on the front seat -- unless, of course, the owner is a "come here" who can't break the habit.

"You can tell who has moved here because they press the button when they get out of the car," Mr. Gulbranson says.

"We're a small community," says Joe Hudnall, president of the Noblett Inc. appliance store on Main Street and a resident since 1978. "You go out to eat or go to church and you know everybody there. I could walk down the street and know 19 out of 20 people by name."

I am surprised this is still possible anywhere in America. Can you point to other towns where crime is so rare that you do not have to lock your car or your house?

Think about this: Your rights are violated because you have to lock your car or lock your house. You are being forced to do something by criminals. Never mind that they are not there in front of you. Their willingness to violate your rights forces you do to things to defend yourself and your property. That fact of being forced is itself a violation of your rights.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 22 06:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2006 October 07 Saturday
Stephen Browne: 12 Lessons About Arab Muslims

Stephen Browne, an American who writes the Rants And Raves blog, has worked in a number of countries including Saudi Arabia. He's written a list of 12 observations on Arabs which I strongly recommend you read in full.

5) They do not think of obligations as running both ways.

With us, contractual and moral obligations tend to be equal and reciprocal. They don’t see it that way. The obligations of the superior to the inferior do not equal those of the inferior to the superior. Obligations within a family or clan outweigh all others. That is why we had to take care not to sit members of the same clan near each other during exams. If one asks another for help, he has to give it. In spite of promises to the school and even when the clansman is a total stranger. Obligations to other believers outweigh all obligations to unbelievers and especially when the believers are fellow-Arabs. And in contracts with unbelievers, the obligations of the Believer to the kaffir are not equal to the obligations of the kaffir to the Believer.

Consider that Muslims in England have quite un-selfconsciously demanded that a pub near a Mosque be shut down as offensive to their religion – in spite of the fact that the pub had precedence by six hundred years! Or that they demanded the right to broadcast the prayer call on loudspeakers in London while it is illegal to have a church at all in the Kingdom.

Their view of what constitutes fair play is so different than our own that people who expect all cultures to have the same basic assumptions on what is fair will misunderstand Arabs. What, they feel aggrieved? We expect their grievances to be based on reasoning that we'd apply if only we knew that they knew.

People who have different rules for what is fair are not going to be happy playing games (whether in business, marriage, or personal friendships) with each other. The inevitability of the disputes and misunderstandings is a reason to limit how much cultures with different rules come into contact with each other.

What we call dastardly terrorism they call normal rules of conflict.

6) In warfare, we think they are sneaky cowards, they think we are hypocrites.

In our civilization, when two men get down, either seriously or just “woofing”, what do they say? Some variation of “I’m going to kick your ass.” Am I right? Here’s what I heard in the Kingdom, “Hey, don’t f**k with me, or someday you get a knife in the back.” I’m not saying that wouldn’t happen to you in the West, but most men would be ashamed to make a threat of that nature. We don’t understand that direct shock battle is not necessarily the law of nature. When overwhelming force is brought to bear on them, they become cringing and obsequious. To put it bluntly, they lie their heads off to get you to turn your back on them. Try to see it from their point of view – how else do you expect them to act when you have the overwhelming force? You expect them to meet you on equal terms when the situation is so unequal? What other tactics are available but prevarication and delay followed by a sneak attack?

Folks, what we call “terrorism” is quite close to the historically normal way of warfare among these people.

Again, people who play by different rule books should not try playing games with each other. We should instead separate Muslims from Western Civilization in order to avoid disagreements, violent conflict, and the development of parallel separate societies within our own civilization.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 07 04:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2005 December 02 Friday
British Sex Market Doubles In 10 Years

Many more men are paying to get some. (same press release here)

The rate of paid-for sex with women has doubled in a decade, reveals research in Sexually Transmitted Infections.

The findings are based on the results of two national surveys of 11,000 British adults in 1990 and 2000 (Natsal). Respondents were asked about their sexual lifestyles and attitudes to sex. And men were asked if they had ever paid for sex.

In 1990, 5.6% of the men said they had paid for sex at some time during their lives, with 2% saying they had done this within the previous five years, and 0.5% within the past year.

Ten years later, the comparable figures were twice as high.

In 2000, almost 9% of men said that they had ever paid for sex, while 4.2% said they had done so within the previous five years, and 1.3% said they had done so over the past year.

Almost 1 in 10 say they have ever paid for sex. But some of the men who said they hadn't may yet do so. So perhaps the lifetime odds of ever eventually paying for sex are higher for younger.

The 2000 survey results showed that men who said they had paid for sex within the previous five years were more likely to be aged between 25 and 34 and single. They were also more likely to live in London, and to have had more sexual partners.

Over a third of them had had 10 or more sexual partners during the previous five years. And over half had had new sexual partners while abroad, including in countries with higher rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections than the UK.

But fewer than one in five had gone to a sexual health clinic during that time. And only one in seven had been tested for HIV, although almost one in 10 said they had had a sexually transmitted infection.

The authors suggest a rising divorce rate, sex tourism, and the increasing availability of commercial sex services may help to explain the trend.

Have prices dropped? Maybe a lot more Eastern European and Russian women have flooded into London to offer their services. So perhaps availability has risen and prices have dropped. How much of the change is due to increased demand and how much to increased supply?

Will the use of prostitutes continue to rise? Will it become so widespread that it gains more legitimacy? It would be interesting to see a similar survey done in other European countries. Which country has the highest rate of use of prostitutes? The Netherlands perhaps?

By Randall Parker    2005 December 02 11:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2005 November 28 Monday
On Pre-Puberty Marriages in Africa

A correspondent brings my attention to a New York Times article entitled: "Forced to Marry Before Puberty, African Girls Pay Lasting Price".

CHIKUTU, Malawi - Mapendo Simbeye's problems began early last year when the barren hills along Malawi's northern border with Tanzania rejected his attempts to grow even cassava, the hardiest crop of all. So to feed his wife and five children, he said, he went to his neighbor, Anderson Kalabo, and asked for a loan. Mr. Kalabo gave him 2,000 kwacha, about $16. The family was fed.

But that created another problem: how could Mr. Simbeye, a penniless farmer, repay Mr. Kalabo?

The answer would shock most outsiders, but in sub-Saharan Africa's rural patriarchies, it is deeply ingrained custom. Mr. Simbeye sent his 11-year-old daughter, Mwaka, a shy first grader, down one mangy hillside and up the next to Mr. Kalabo's hut. There she became a servant to his first wife, and, she said, Mr. Kalabo's new bed partner.

Now 12, Mwaka said her parents never told her she was meant to be the second wife of a man roughly three decades her senior. "They said I had to chase birds from the rice garden," she said, studying the ground outside her mud-brick house. "I didn't know anything about marriage."

Obviously the Gray Lady does not approve of this sort of oppression of females. My correspondent says:

Western opinion leaders *say* that they support multiculturalism and that all cultures are equally valid. But as soon as they encounter a culture that truly does life differently from theirs, they demand that it be changed to be like theirs. From a sociobiological point of view, the "oppressed" girls below are better off than college-educated American women, because they end up with more surviving children. In terms of reproductive success, a college education is worse than poverty and AIDS combined!

All true. Natural selection is a brutal thing to watch. No wonder humans do not want to believe it applies to them.

Multi-culturalism is a moral pose assumed by Western intellectuals to try to make themselves appear morally superior to the white proletariat. They do not reallly mean it. They want the Sudanese or Ethiopians to stop cutting clitorises off of females. They want African men to do more of the work in African families. But even more they want to feel superior to others of their own kind. White on white status competitions are more important to them.

By Randall Parker    2005 November 28 07:24 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2005 October 25 Tuesday
Lynching Culture Leads To High Old South Violence Today

The southeastern area of the United States has a higher rate of white violence than the northeastern United States. A couple of sociologists propose that the same cultural factors that supported lynching in days gone by also cause more violence today.

Two University of Iowa sociologists have combined historical and sociological data to arrive at a new theory explaining the disproportionate violence in the southern United States, as compared with the North. The South's legacy of lynching, they say, has contributed to a culture in which violence and taking the law into one's own hands are considered appropriate means of resolving disputes.

Matthew P. Zevenbergen, a UI graduate student in sociology, and Robert D. Baller, assistant professor of sociology, collaborated with Steven F. Messner of the University at Albany-State University of New York on what they believe to be one of the first detailed, quantitative studies focused on a historical aspect of a criminological phenomenon. The study was published in the August 2005 issue of the American Sociological Review, the leading journal for the field of sociology.

"For decades we've searched for some proxy measure of culture to explain why Southerners on average are more violent than Northerners," Zevenbergen said. He believes that history suggests a partial answer.

The authors looked at data from 10 southern states for which reliable information on the incidence and prevalence of lynching is available: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. They compared lynching rates with current statistics on homicide rates in these states, using data from the FBI and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Mapping the areas in which the rates for both historical lynching and modern-day homicide rates are highest showed a strong correlation, though not perfect overlap, they found. Subsequent statistical tests, that controlled for known covariates, supported the relationship present in the comparative maps.

"Homicide rates in the latter decades of the 20th century were very high in the Mississippi Delta. Less extreme but high rates can also be observed along a path extending from North Carolina through Georgia, the northern parts of Florida, and the southern parts of Alabama," the authors note. "Extreme lynching activity occurred in roughly the same areas."

The violence that characterized the so-called "era of lynching," roughly the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the Great Depression, created a culture of acceptance and even celebration of brutality among white people, the authors hypothesize. The same violence led to "self-help adaptations" in the black population, they suggest. Unable to rely on law enforcement for protection, black residents in the South developed various tactics to help and protect themselves and their families, often meeting violence with violence. Thus, acceptance of violence was prevalent across racial lines.

The authors theorize that these cultural attitudes and behaviors are maintained through the generations as children learn from their parents and grandparents how to respond to challenges and threats, leading to a regional culture in which violence is expected and accepted, Zevenbergen said.

"Through socialization, children in the South are raised to be more self-help oriented," he said. "They are taught to stand up to bullies and solve problems with fistfights. We posit that this behavior, which has its roots in a brutal historical era, demonstrates the impact that lynching still has on Southern culture."

Anyone think this explanation makes sense? I suspect the factors that caused the lynching culture predated it. So we are really looking at a common cause to both phenomena.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 25 10:39 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2005 October 11 Tuesday
Does Western Culture See Anger As Strength?

In a Wall Street Journal article about anger and stress in the workplace one claim set me to wondering: which cultures condone more use of expressions of anger in workplace situations?

That may be because Western culture tends to view virtue as a weakness and anger as a strength, notes Robert A.F. Thurman, the chairman of Columbia University's Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies department and author of the book "Anger." In it, he notes that Aristotle thought anger helped soldiers overcome their fear. Anger, he writes, can also be useful if it drives people to action to resolve problems.

"The person who is habitually angry will get ahead sometimes maybe by being more aggressive," he said in an interview. But he also argues -- along with most doctors interested in blood pressure -- that anger is ultimately very destructive. "In the long run, they'll generate so much resentment, bitterness, hatred and anger that people will just want to see them put down."

Or at least that would be the case if the wheels of justice spun quickly in the office. "Sometimes it's going to take a hell of a long time to catch up with the idiots," he concedes.

I know a few of you readers are Americans who have lived and worked for years in East Asian countries. So I have a question for you: Is anger seen as more or less a desirable emotion in East Asian workplaces as compared to American workplaces? Also, is anger more admired or respected in any European countries?

Mind you, I'm talking about anger here, not violence. Obviously beating up coworkers is generally frowned upon and reason for getting fired. Is anger a more accepted emotion by supervisors than by workers? My guess is yes. Though in civil service and other more protected jobs I'm guessing subordinates can get away with expressing more anger.

Is expression of anger used as a masculine assertion of dominance and control? Or is it simply used to scare people to work harder?

Also, is "Western culture" and "East Asian culture" even the proper level of granularity for discussing this? Is the role of anger in Japanese companies much different than in Korean companeis for example? I've read that Koreans among East Asians are most like Americans to manage. How is anger by bosses viewed in China? I'm guessing it is more condoned or accepted in China than in Japan. But that is just a guess. Anyone have appropriate experiences that would allow them to compare?

By Randall Parker    2005 October 11 10:13 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2005 July 06 Wednesday
Aspirational People Are More Pro-American

Anne Applebaum has ann article in Foreign Policy about what polling data by age, income, and gender say about pro- and anti-American sentiment around the world.

Some 38 percent of the French, 27 percent of Germans, 40 percent of Chinese, and 42 percent of Brazilians remain convinced that the United States exerts a “positive influence on the world.” Who are they?

US support for Poland against communism has had really fleeting effects. "What have you done for me lately?"

New polling data from the international polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland break down pro– and anti–American sentiments by age, income, and gender. Looking closely at notably pro–American countries, it emerges that this pro–Americanism can sometimes be extraordinarily concrete. It turns out, for example, that in Poland, which is generally pro–American, people between the ages of 30 and 44 years old are even more likely to support America than their compatriots. In that age group, 58.5 percent say they feel the United States has a “mainly positive” influence in the world. But perhaps that is not surprising: This is the group whose lives would have been most directly affected by the experience of the Solidarity movement and martial law—events that occurred when they were in their teens and 20s—and they would have the clearest memories of American support for the Polish underground movement.

Younger Poles, by contrast, show significantly less support: In the 15–29–year–old group, only 45.3 percent say they feel the United States has a “mainly positive” influence in the world—a drop of more than 13 percent. But perhaps that is not surprising either. This generation has only narrow memories of communism, and no recollection of Reagan’s support for Solidarity. The United States, to them, is best known as a country for which it is difficult to get visas—and younger Poles have a very high refusal rate. Now that Poland is a member of the European Union, by contrast, they have greater opportunities to travel and study in Europe, where they no longer need visas at all. In their growing skepticism of the United States, young Poles may also be starting to follow the more general European pattern.

The beneficial effects of US participation in WWII are similarly transitory, affecting only the surviving generation that was alive then and their children.

Looking at age patterns in other generally anti–American countries can be equally revealing. In Canada, Britain, Italy, and Australia, for example, all countries with generally high or very high anti–American sentiments, people older than 60 have relatively much more positive feelings about the United States than their children and grandchildren. When people older than 60 are surveyed, 63.5 percent of Britons, 59.6 percent of Italians, 50.2 percent of Australians, and 46.8 percent of Canadians feel that the United States is a “mainly positive” influence on the world. For those between the ages of 15 and 29, the numbers are far lower: 31.9 percent (Britain), 37.4 percent (Italy), 27 percent (Australia), and 19.9 percent (Canada). Again, that isn’t surprising: All of these countries had positive experiences of American cooperation during or after the Second World War. The British of that generation have direct memories, or share their parents’ memories, of Winston Churchill’s meetings with Franklin Roosevelt; the Canadians and Australians fought alongside American G.I.s; and many Italians remember that those same G.I.s evicted the Nazis from their country, too.

While upper class and educated people in the West are least likely to be pro-American the newly affluent and those hoping to become affluent in the less developed countries identify with American affluence. This identification with American affluence makes them have fonder views of America.

Around the world, there are millions of people who associate the United States not merely with a concrete political ideal, or even a particular economic theory, but with more general notions of upward mobility, of economic progress, and of a classless society (not all of which exist in the United States anymore, but that’s another matter). Advertising executives understand very well the phenomenon of ordinary women who read magazines filled with photographs of clothes they could not possibly afford. They call such women “aspirational.” Looking around the world, there are classes of people who are “aspirational” as well. And these aspirational classes, filled with people who are upwardly mobile or would like to be, tend to be pro–American as well.

Looking again at some relatively anti–American countries is instructional. In Britain, for example, it is absolutely clear that the greatest support for the United States comes from people in the lowest income brackets, and those with the least amount of formal education. In Britain, 57.6 percent of those whose income is very low believe the United States has a mainly positive influence. Only 37.1 percent of those whose income is very high, by contrast, believe the same. Asking the same question, but breaking down the answers by education, the same pattern holds in South Korea, where 69.2 percent of those with a low education think the United States is a positive influence, and only 45.8 percent of those with a high education agree. That trend repeats itself in many developed countries: those on their way up are pro–American, and those who have arrived are much less so.

In developing countries, by contrast, the pattern is sometimes reversed. It turns out, for example, that Indians are much more likely to be pro–American if they are not only younger but wealthier and better educated.

Applebaum argues that countries that are getting richer but which have not become rich enough to feel directly competitive with America are most likely to be pro-American. Of course, at least some of these developing countries will eventually develop to the point of having economic classes that feel directly competitive with America.

Of course this suggests something about the future: As countries develop and children of middle and upper class families are born to affluence those children will grow up to have more negative views of the United States. Therefore expect negative views of the United States to spread even more widely in the future.

Here's another interesting pattern: Males are more pro-American than females. The gender gap is 17 points in Poland and 11 points in India. This gender gap parallels the Republican-Democrat gender gap in the United States. Is this because men like macho displays of power? Or are men more analytical and find more rational reasons to favor the US as a world power or because they admire the US free market and what it has produced?

Applebaum has a shorter Washington Post piece on this subject as well.

By Randall Parker    2005 July 06 11:06 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2005 May 26 Thursday
Infanticide And The Affordability Of Religious Taboos

Back on April 14, 2005 Razib at the Gene Expresson blog wrote a post arguing that opposition to infanticide couldn't have caused a shift to Roman Catholic Christianity via natural selection because the conversion happened too rapidly for natural selection to play a substantial role.

But there is another layer to this issue, there is often a difference between ideology and practice. Unlike the pagan Gauls the Roman Catholic French of the 18th century opposed infanticide on principle. But in reality the mortality rates were in excess of 90% before the age of five for many of the "foundling" orphanages where parents who could not or would not raise their infants abdicated their responsibility. Though de jure there was no infanticide, the reality is that the morality rate for these foundlings was so high that the reproductive difference attributable solely to the abolishment of infanticide might have been minimal. Additionally, many individuals married extremely late or remained unmarried.

My point is that all the contentions above are "true" to some extent. Fisher's genetical logic is clear. The pro-natalist ideology of early Christianity and Islam in contrast to the more ambivalent attitude of the pagans is also textually attributed. Scholars who study the rates of pre-modern adoption and abandonment also find that the de facto difference between cultures that exist in the same environment3 but espouse different ideologies is far less than one would gather from the official textual sources which address the point specifically.

Think about the last sentence in that excerpt. Here's my approximate guess: Coexisting believers in rival religions will have lives more similar to each other than their religious texts would lead you to expect if they are very poor. But as their living standards rise they will be able to afford to more accurately live according to their doctrinal beliefs and hence forgotten practices for each religion will be dusted off and increasingly obeyed.

For example, Razib's post discusses infanticide. I've read the late John Boswell's The Kindness of Strangers about child abandonment in Europe from the Middle Ages into the 19th century (and I forget the exact time range he covered, but something along that order). The book surprises because he reported child abandonment rates on the order of 20% to 30% in early 19th century France (if memory serves). Well, necessity is a mother. But once living standards rose due to the industrial revolution religious prohibitions against infanticide were translated into law and enforcement of the law. Once necessity ceased to make child abandonment a necessity for most people anyone who still engaged in the practice faced increasingly stiff sanctions.

Similarly, oil rich Saudi Arabia has enough money to afford the construction of facilities that separate men from women. My guess is that the separation of men and women was less thorough back before the modern oil era because people had to work in various capacities just to survive and could not afford to devote as much time and resources to getting work done in ways that separated men and women.

Of course, when industrialization causes a falling away from religious belief then the same rising living standards that make enforcement of more religious rules more affordable also reduce the percentage of the population that believe in the religious rules in the first place. But absent the decline in religious belief I would expect rising living standards to, in effect, fund stricter adherence to religious taboos and customs.

Also, I've also previously argued (not sure where, maybe on GNXP's blog comments) that the influence of religious texts on the nature of how religions are actually practiced has become greater due to falling costs of printing, wider spread literacy, and the rise of electronic means of communication. Therefore differences between written texts and common beliefs about religions found hundreds of years ago do not prove that today any particular religion's practice can diverge as far from the rules in written texts as was possible when reading of those texts was rarer.

To put this in a nutshell: As compared to the distant past people today can more easily afford both to learn and to carry out "correct" religious practices. That does not mean that people will always engage in religious practices that are closer to all the instructions found in original base texts of assorted religions. Some rules may seem a smaller sacrifice to obey and so people will obey them. Other rules which demand sacrifices that cut too heavily against the grain of human desire will have complex rationalizations built up around them explaining why one does not always have to obey them. But many rules will be obeyed when doing so becomes more affordable. The taboo against infanticide provides a good example for this.

Update: On the subject of how much the base texts of a religion determine religious belief also see Razib's post Islam: essential and nominal. On a related note also see his post Ayaan Hirsi Ali interviewed.

Another point of my own: How a religion is interpreted is also a function of the cognitive abilities and the conceptual toolbox of the interpreter. A dummy is going to tend to reach conclusions about the meaning of various passages in a text based on what that dummy can even imagine. If you could poll, say, 1000 IQ 80 adherents to Islam and 1000 IQ 100 adherents and 1000 IQ 120 adherents and ask them all a long list of questions about their religion you'd get substantial differences between the 3 groups. The smarter folks are going to build a more complicated model, consider more factors, notice more patterns and meanings (whether real or imagined) in the texts of the religion. The same would happen if one repeated the same polling with Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians for that matter.

A society with a single unified church will produce a different dominant interpretation than will a society which has a religion split up into a set of sects where people with different levels of status and intellectual ability join different sects.

One final point: In a less developed society back before industrialization where the bulk of the population was illiterate and worked from dawn to dusk those workers literally had no time to study religious matters. Under those circumstances the elites dominated formulation of religious doctrines. If those elites were smarter on average (and they probably were even a thousand years ago) then a religion's character was determined more by smarter elites than by dumber masses. Industrialization, by producing more time for study for the masses effectively shifted the center of religious interpretation toward the masses and away from the elites.

By Randall Parker    2005 May 26 03:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2004 April 29 Thursday
People In Latin America Distrust Democracy

The United Nations Development Programme (really, they use a British spelling of "program" with the haughty French affectation) has released a report on attitudes toward democracy in Latin America entitled Democracy in Latin America: Toward a Citizens' Democracy. The press release on it has some bad news about the popular dissatisfaction with democracy in Latin America.

  • Just 43% of Latin Americans are fully supportive of democracy, while 30.5% express ambivalence and 26.5% hold non-democratic views, according to opinion surveys conducted for the report in 18 countries in the region; more than half of all Latin Americans-54.7 percent-say they would support an "authoritarian" regime over "democratic" government if authoritarianism rule could "resolve" their economic problems.
  • Since 2000, four elected presidents in the 18 countries studied were forced to quit before the end of their terms following steep drops in public support.
  • The first generation of Latin Americans to come of age in functioning democracies has experienced virtually no per capita income growth and widening, world-record disparities in the distribution of national income; in 2003, 225 million Latin Americans had incomes below the poverty line.
  • 59% of the political leaders consulted for the report said political parties are failing to fulfill their necessary role.

Former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori may win election as President of Peru.

More than 60 percent cited unemployment, low wages, and poverty as the region's main problems. "There is less support for democracy here than in any other region in the world," says Mr. Caputo. "Democracy in Latin America is at risk. Intuition indicates that there are dangers, and our data confirms it."

This may explain why Alberto Fujimori, Peru's former hard-line president, is leading polls in a crowded field of potential candidates. And more than 60 percent of Colombians support President Alvaro Uribe - who has taken tough tactics against the country's guerrillas - and his push to change the Constitution so he can run for a second term.

Lots of Latin Americans sell their votes.

Across the region, 7 percent of Latin Americans surveyed said they had been "pressured" to vote for a certain candidate or had effectively sold their votes in the most recent presidential election in their country. The highest degree of such electoral fraud was in Brazil (13 percent), followed by Venezuela and Mexico (12 percent).

Latin America is split between a mostly Amerind lower class (black as well in some countries) against a Spanish white upper class. Latin America therefore fits the pattern of having a market dominant minority. Amy Chua has explained why the presence of market-dominant minorities causes strife and undermines the basis the belief in common interests in government and a societal order. Current immigration trends threaten to make the white market dominant majority into the market dominant minority in the United States some time in the next 50 years. The most likely result is that the US will develop a racial caste system similar to the racial caste system of Mexico. Along with that will come a declining trust in democracy along with a decline in civic involvement in much of the US population.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 29 11:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 April 26 Monday
British Unwillingness To Complain Causes Worse Service

The British "Stiff Upper Lip" dooms the nation to suffer lousy service.

New research into British attitudes to complaining confirms a long-held national belief: U.K. customers are more tolerant of poor services than their U.S. counterparts. In a comparative study of consumer behavior in the United Kingdom and United States, a team led by Chris Voss, London Business School Professor and Fellow of the United Kingdom's Advanced Institute of Management Research, found that customers play a critical role in the development of service quality.

The "stiff upper lip" has often been used as a metaphor for the British character, implying conservatism and emotional restraint. We live with it, but it is important to question its impact on business. "Ask any American who has spent time in Britain what strikes them about the British character and they will probably say that it is how we put up with poor service without any complaint" comments Professor Chris Voss.

The research indicates that emotional restraint means that U.K. customers, on average, provide less direct unsolicited feedback to service providers than U.S. customers when services fall short of expectations. As a result, an important portion of customer comment regarding poor service is unrealized. A lack of criticism when there is poor service has important implications for U.K. organizations. Without adequate customer feedback, they lose a major opportunity to learn how to enhance or improve service design and delivery.

A British company that wants to develop a competitive advantage would be advised to try harder to find out what dissatisfactions customers have with its products and services. Surveys of customer satisfaction should be structured with this in mind. Simply asking if they have complaints will not work as well as asking them to list their top 5 or 10 complaints. In general, put the customers in the position where they are expected to produce complaints so that the more awkward thing to do is to not complain.

A British company would also benefit from recording all complaints at an American subsidiary and then presenting the complaints to their British management to change British business practices to match what the complaints in America push them to adopt there.

British companies should also advertise email addresses and web pages where complaints can be filed. Brits might be more willing to complain if they can do so anonymously. Also, British customers might be more willing to complain if their are solicited for advice on how to improve service rather than on what they are unhappy with. Try to put the customers in the position of being advisors rather than complainers.

One challenge for a service-oriented business is a that a lot of service quality is determined by the performance of individual employees in direct contact with customers. It is difficult to compensate for customer unwillingness to complain when the complaints need to feed back directly to the individual employees. Any ideas for how to deal with that problem?

The paper is not on the web but here is the citation.

Voss C. A., Roth A. V., Rosenzweig E. D., Blackmon K. and Chase R.B. "A Tale of Two Countries´ Conservatism, Service Quality, and Feedback on Customer Satisfaction", Journal of Service Research, Vol. 6 No.3, 2004, pp 212-231

One last point: Friends and acquaintances who whine to your face about everything in their lives can be thoroughly annoying. However, they are improving the quality of service you receive from all manner of business establishments. Perhaps knowing that fact doesn't make them any less annoying. But it is nice to know that the whiners are serving a useful function.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 26 11:30 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 March 16 Tuesday
42 Percent Of Jordanian Women Physically Abused

It is not fun to be a woman in Jordan.

The UN study found that 42% of Jordanian women suffer from physical violence and even higher numbers suffer from sexual and verbal abuse in the home.

If anyone can find this report on the web (I tried and failed) then please post a link in the comments.

By Randall Parker    2004 March 16 01:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2003 November 17 Monday
Group Poisonings Popular In China

In America one recurring image of group killers is some lone psycho who goes up in a tower and starts blasting away at strangers or randomly chooses to blast the customers of a McDonalds. Plus there is the lone white guy in his 20s or 30s who, like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer who kills mostly strangers in secrecy for the pleasure of killing and operates for months or years before being caught. Then there are the disaffected teens who hate their fellow students and hate their teachers. Plus, there is the proverbial mad postal clerk or other peon employee who hates the authorities and co-workers who surround them. But these are very American profiles. in In China, by contrast, they have teachers killing their students and restaurant owners killing the customers of competitors and they use rat poison to do it.

One Chinese Web site, Sina.com, has already reported a possible copycat poisoning in which funeral guests were sickened but not killed. The authorities also reported a poisoning on Oct. 23 in Shaanxi Province in which 16 people were hospitalized, they said, after a jealous barbecue-stand operator poisoned the food at a barbecue stand that was outselling him.

Several times a year, the Chinese news is filled with tales of restaurant owners poisoning the food in rival restaurants, or of teachers poisoning students, or, as happened a few years ago, of a zookeeper poisoning animals to spite his boss. The worst case happened last year when 49 people, many of them children, were killed in an intentional poisoning.

They use the poison in part because guns are hard to come by. But poisoning has advantages as well by allowing the killer to not be around when their victims are around. But that is not what is interesting here. It is the kinds of people doing the killings, their motives, and their victims that are curious.

This shows how much cultures differ. Teachers killing students? There is just not an American ethos to support that sort of thing. Also, poisoning of the customers of competitors seems foreign to the American ethos as well. It may have happened at some point. But it is rare. Is that at least in part because of an American ethos where we are supposed to be good losers and accept when others out-compete us and are more successful? Also, are customers more seen as king in America than in China?

The article quotes experts who argue there is a lack of access to court systems in China for resolving conflicts and therefore people feel so frustrated that they seek their own form of justice. So then one explanation for the difference between American and Chinese killng patterns is that the different systems create outcomes that leave different kinds of people feeling very aggrieved. But that can only be part of the explanation. When people kill for reasons other than the joy of being the predator there must be cultural influences that lead them to see killing as an acceptable course of action in their own minds. In the United States movies that glorify narcissistic killers must push some people into a direction that makes some see the act of killing in a more positive light. But in China what cultural influences cause, say, a teacher to see killing his students an acceptable course of action?

By Randall Parker    2003 November 17 07:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
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