Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Tories are a Bunch of Worthless Opportunists

What an intensely nauseating bunch of popularity hounds the Conservative Party's leadership are! Frankly, these people deserve to remain in the political doldrums they're in. At least Blair has been willing to risk his neck for what he believes, whether or not I agree with his policies.

A wide-ranging shakeup of the BBC, including a dramatic cut in the licence fee, is likely to be dropped from the Tories' next general election manifesto as Michael Howard attempts to tap into widespread anger at Downing Street's treatment of the corporation.

In a major change of heart, the Tory leadership is planning to shelve a radical report by the former Channel Five chief David Elstein which will be published amid great fanfare today.

The report, which was commissioned under Iain Duncan Smith, would have led to the most wide-ranging changes in the BBC's 82-year history by calling for a phasing out of the licence fee over 10 years. Mr Duncan Smith had planned to use the Elstein recommendations as the basis for a populist manifesto pledge to cut the licence fee, which he regarded as an unfair "poll tax".

The new Tory leadership has decided, however, that it would be better off positioning the party as the friend of the BBC in the wake of the fallout from the Hutton report. Well-placed Tories believe that the widespread public anger at the Hutton report, which exonerated the government and censured the BBC, shows there is great political mileage in standing by the corporation.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary who is in overall charge of the party's policy on the BBC, made a show of support for the corporation by lunching with Greg Dyke within days of his ousting as director general. Mr Davis is understood to believe that it would be foolish to float plans for the break-up of the BBC at the very moment when Mr Dyke will launch a stinging attack on Downing Street in his forthcoming memoirs.

Spineless, pandering careerists! Why would anyone in his right mind vote for politicians for whom principles mean absolutely nothing? Say what you like about Margaret Thatcher, but at least with her you knew what she stood for.

BBC - Nigeria Leads in Religious Belief

Levels of Religious Observance by Country
Hardly surprising. When one lives in a country as difficult as Nigeria, religion is one of the few comforts available to keep one sane. What's more interesting (to me at least) is that despite all the attention paid to Jewish settlers on the West Bank and the political demands of ultra-orthodox parties like Shas, Israelis seem to be less religious than Americans.

The subject of prayer found 95% of Nigerians and 67% in the US claiming to pray regularly.

Those saying they never prayed included 29% of Israelis and 25% of Britons. But across the entire sample, almost 30% of all atheists surveyed said they sometimes prayed.

What's that about deathbed conversions again? Nothing quite like a close brush with disaster to bring out hidden religious sentiments in many a militant atheist. Pascal's wager in action I suppose ... The following tidbit was also interesting:

In Lebanon and the US, 71% said they were willing to die for their God or their beliefs.

Hmm. Is one supposed to applaud this show of resolution, or be appalled by it? In any case, I think the meaning of "dying for one's beliefs" is probably slightly different in the United States and Lebanon.

A Profile of Kwame Nkrumah

Few things irritate me more than the hero-worship paid to rulers like Kwame Nkrumah. Just because a man knows how to spout fiery anti-colonial rhetoric doesn't mean he knows what he's doing, or even that he has good intentions. This profile of Nkrumah illustrates why I hold leaders like him in such contempt.

Nkrumah has been described by author Peter Omari as a dictator who "made much of elections, when he was aware that they were not really free but rigged in his favor." According to Omari, the CPP administration of Ghana was one that manipulated the constitutional and electoral processes of democracy to justify Nkrumah's agenda. The extent to which the government would pursue that agenda constitutionally was demonstrated early in the administration's life when it succeeded in passing the Deportation Act of 1957, the same year that ethnic, religious, and regional parties were banned. The Deportation Act empowered the governor general and, therefore, subsequent heads of state, to expel persons whose presence in the country was deemed not in the interest of the public good. Although the act was to be applied only to non-Ghanaians, several people to whom it was later applied claimed to be citizens.

The Preventive Detention Act, passed in 1958, gave power to the prime minister to detain certain persons for up to five years without trial. Amended in 1959 and again in 1962, the act was seen by opponents of the CPP government as a flagrant restriction of individual freedom and human rights. Once it had been granted these legal powers, the CPP administration managed to silence its opponents. Dr. J.B. Danquah, a leading member of the UGCC, was detained until he died in prison in 1965. Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia, leader of the opposition United Party (UP), formed by the NLM and other parties in response to Nkrumah's outlawing of so-called separatist parties in 1957, went into exile in London to escape detention, while other members still in the country joined the ruling party.

On July 1, 1960, Ghana became a republic, and Nkrumah won the presidential election that year. Shortly thereafter, Nkrumah was proclaimed president for life, and the CPP became the sole party of the state. Using the powers granted him by the party and the constitution, Nkrumah by 1961 had detained an estimated 400 to 2,000 of his opponents. Nkrumah's critics pointed to the rigid hold of the CPP over the nation's political system and to numerous cases of human rights abuses. Others, however, defended Nkrumah's agenda and policies.

Nkrumah discussed his political views in his numerous writings, especially in Africa Must Unite (1963) and in NeoColonialism (1965). These writings show the impact of his stay in Britain in the mid-1940s. The Pan-Africanist movement, which had held one of its annual conferences, attended by Nkrumah, at Manchester in 1945, was influenced by socialist ideologies. The movement sought unity among people of African descent and also improvement in the lives of workers who, it was alleged, had been exploited by capitalist enterprises in Africa. Western countries with colonial histories were identified as the exploiters. According to the socialists, "oppressed" people ought to identify with the socialist countries and organizations that best represented their interests; however, all the dominant world powers in the immediate post-1945 period, except the Soviet Union and the United States, had colonial ties with Africa. Nkrumah asserted that even the United States, which had never colonized any part of Africa, was in an advantageous position to exploit independent Africa unless preventive efforts were taken.

According to Nkrumah, his government, which represented the first black African nation to win independence, had an important role to play in the struggle against capitalist interests on the continent. As he put it, "the independence of Ghana would be meaningless unless it was tied to the total liberation of Africa." It was important, then, he said, for Ghanaians to "seek first the political kingdom." Economic benefits associated with independence were to be enjoyed later, proponents of Nkrumah's position argued. But Nkrumah needed strategies to pursue his goals.

On the domestic front, Nkrumah believed that rapid modernization of industries and communications was necessary and that it could be achieved if the workforce were completely Africanized and educated. Even more important, however, Nkrumah believed that this domestic goal could be achieved faster if it were not hindered by reactionary politicians--elites in the opposition parties and traditional chiefs--who might compromise with Western imperialists. From such an ideological position, Nkrumah supporters justified the Deportation Act of 1957, the Detention Acts of 1958, 1959 and 1962, parliamentary intimidation of CPP opponents, the appointment of Nkrumah as president for life, the recognition of his party as the sole political organization of the state, the creation of the Young Pioneer Movement for the ideological education of the nation's youth, and the party's control of the civil service. Government expenditure on road building projects, mass education of adults and children, and health services, as well as the construction of the Akosombo Dam, were all important if Ghana were to play its leading role in Africa's liberation from colonial and neo-colonial domination.

Let's face it - Kwame Nkrumah was an incompetent, authoritarian, far-left-wing thug who just happened to have a way with words. It's well past time Africans got beyond blaming the West for the idiocies of men like him.

UPDATE: Here's more information on Nkrumah and the way in which the socialistic schemes he initiated helped to fatally undermine Ghana's economy. All those LSE-indoctrinated left-wing "development economists" of the 60s and 70s also have to take their share of the blame for the disasters that unfolded in Africa, as they all heartily endorsed the policies of men like Nkrumah and Nyerere at the time.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

When Mobutu Reigned Supreme

Here's a truly hilarious piece on one woman's (partially succesful) attempt to get a personal audience with the Congo's one time Kleptocrat-in-Chief, Mobuto Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga* ("The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake.") The following anecdote about Mobutu's rule tells one all one needs to know about the man's philosophy of governance:

Mobutu once told citizens at a public rally, "Go ahead and steal, but don't steal too much, or you will get caught."

It's clowns like this who gave both African leadership and anti-communism a bad name. Unlike a lot of Africans, I have no illusions that Patrice Lumumba would have done great things for the Congo - a country so diverse simply couldn't have been held together other than by brute force, and Belgium had done almost nothing prepare the Congo for independence - but I still think it would have been better in the long run had Lumumba been allowed to try to govern and fail. That Lumumba sought Soviet aid to quell Katanga's attempt at seccession was hardly grounds enough to label him a "communist" and green-light his kidnapping and murder; plenty of Third World rulers before and since have welcomed Soviet arms and training without buying into the Soviet ideology, including Egypt's Nasser, Nigeria's Gowon, Syria's Assad and Iraq's Saddam Hussein. All that was achieved by the unseating of Lumumba was a delay of Congo's day of reckoning by some 37 years, and the granting of Joseph Desiré Mobutu the licence to rob his countrymen blind in the interlude.

*UPDATE: Heeding the remarks of one commenter, I've amended Mobutu's name to reflect the title in it's full glory.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Passionless About the Passion

Am I the only person in the blogosphere who isn't the slightest bit interested in The Passion of the Christ?

But Hitler Was a Vegetarian

My all-time favorite example of the argumentum ad hitlerum has to be the statement "Hitler was a vegetarian!" This statement has to be the most transparent instance of ad hominem around, and I've often wondered how anyone could possibly be stupid enough to be swayed by it. As the old saying goes though, no one's ever gone broke underestimating the stupidity of the public, and it really does seem to nettle some people that Der Führer wasn't exactly a beef and mutton sort of guy.

Rynn Berry wants to set the record straight about Adolf Hitler. "There's absolutely no evidence he was a vegetarian. It simply isn't true." Berry, a 54-year-old raw-foodist and "vegetarian historian" who is the author of Food for the Gods: Vegetarianism and the World's Religions, is on a mission to dispel the commonly held view that the 20th century's most notorious mass murderer was also an adamant herbivore.

I first learned of Berry this winter while listening to the radio. An adviser to the North American Vegetarian Society, Berry was on lefty WBAI's weekly animal-rights show, "Walden's Pond," to explain what Hitler really ate for dinner. According to his research, while Hitler for the most part followed a vegetarian diet, some of his favorite treats were liver dumplings, ham, and caviar. "Mainstream historians have an elastic definition of vegetarianism," he says. "They don't hold Hitler to the same standards as a practicing ethical vegetarian. You can't be a vegetarian and eat liver dumplings." But Berry's quest raises some obvious questions: Why investigate what Hitler ate? Does it matter, considering his ghastly crimes?

It matters to Berry. He, like other devout vegetarians, whose diets are inextricably linked to their self-avowed, pacifistic lifestyles, can't stand being associated with Hitler. Berry neither eats nor wears animal products and avoids all cooked foods. He first became interested in Hitler's diet after he wrote a book in 1990 called Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes. It includes Leonardo di Vinci's love for fried figs and beans; George Bernard Shaw's favorite, brussels sprouts casserole; and Plutarch's classic, asparagus with tahini. It doesn't, however, include any mention of Hitler. At talks and seminars, Berry says, it's rare that someone doesn't point out the omission: "I've been the target of a lot of abuse and taunts from hostile non-vegetarians who bring out the alleged fact of Hitler's vegetarianism and tax me for not having put him the book."

Berry's new book, Hitler: Neither Vegetarian nor Animal Lover, is an attempt to clear the table on what we know about Hitler's diet. The book, published by Pythagorean—a small house that specializes in vegetarian and animal-rights topics (and named after the Greek genius, Pythagoras, who was apparently history's first famous vegetarian)—is a slim paperback whose cover features a black-and-white photo of Hitler dining with Neville Chamberlain. There's a plate of appetizers on the table, but it's hard to tell if there's meat in them. In any case, Hitler looks like he has other things on his mind.

What a pity for Mr. Berry's argument that we have the word of several witnesses testifying to Hitler's vegetarianism, including Albert Speer, his secretary Traudl Junge, and both of his cooks, Constanze Manziarly and Marlene von Exner. To be frank, this guy is both a nutcase and a moron for caring enough to write an entire book about such an inane topic. Sure Hitler was a vegetarian, but he was also a lot of other things as well: he was fastidious about washing his hands after playing with his dogs, he showered regularly and kept himself scrupulously clean, he detested cigarette smoke, and he liked to read. Are all these things to be condemned because of his association with them?

That a vegetarian also happened to be a genocidal megalomaniac doesn't say anything one way or another about vegetarianism. That so many vegetarians care enough about Hitler's eating habits to seek to "set the record straight" does say a great deal about the allure vegetarianism has for mushy-brained new-age types.

Dog Bites Man - Deadly Religious Clashes in Nigeria

Pardon my cynicism, but this sort of thing happens far too often for me to be able to feign shock and surprise.

Suspected Muslim militants armed with guns and bows and arrows killed at least 48 people in an attack on a farming village in central Nigeria. Most of the victims died as they sought refuge in a church, police said.

The latest bout of Muslim-Christian violence in the region occurred Tuesday night in Yelwa, a mainly Christian town in Nigeria's Plateau State, police commissioner Innocent Ilozuoke said.

Army and police reinforcements helped restore calm, Ilozuoke told a news conference yesterday in Jos, the state capital.

The killings appeared to be the latest retaliatory attack in a sporadic conflict that has rocked the central region since an outburst of sectarian violence in 2001, pitting Christians against Muslims in once-peaceful Jos. In the initial outburst in Jos more than 1,000 people died in one week.

Since then, several hundreds more have died as rival Muslim-Christian militias attacked isolated villages and towns.

On February 19, gunmen suspected by the police to belong to a Muslim militia ambushed a patrol car, killing four police officers. The ambush followed an earlier attack by a Christian militia upon a Muslim village that killed 10.

For decades, the majority Christian inhabitants of Plateau and the minority Muslim population - mostly Hausa and Fulani tribespeople with origins farther north - had lived in harmony.

But tensions between the two communities heightened in the past four years as 12 majority Muslim states in the north adopted the strict Sharia, or Islamic, legal codes, perceived by Christians as an expansionist threat.

As you can see, Nigerians are one big happy family. These clashes aren't about Islam as such - who's ever heard of a militant Yoruba muslim? - but about the desire of a feudal oligarchy to perpetuate its rule by any means. In the context of the middle belt, what this means is forced islamization and hausaization. It's a damned shame what's going on in the North, as Jos is a very nice city.

Petroleum and Politics in Nigeria (PDF)

Here's a nice paper that details the tremendously damaging effect oil revenues have had on federalism in Nigeria, and the rampant corruption the hunt for some of that unearned income has given rise to. Oil is a curse for a developing country, particularly when the revenues from it flow directly into the hands of the state.

Within each region a single ethnic group predominated while federal authority (established formally in 1954) and nationalist sentiment were weak in the face of strong and fissiparous regional subnationalisms. In the 1950’s, for example, political delegates remained in the regions and simply sent their representatives to Lagos.

If the regions were the source of identification and political loyalty, they were also marked by striking patterns of unequal development. The Northern Region, while larger in population and area than the other regions combined, was the poorest and least exposed to Western education. The West conversely was by virtue of cocoa, coastal access, industrial development and early education, the wealthiest region which captured 38.3% of the statutory (i.e. federal) revenue allocation by 1954/55. Educational inequities contributed to regional tensions as southerners (Yoruba and Ibos) dominated federal posts and attempted to penetrate northern government. As a consequence, Northerners attempted to slow down the transition to Independence in the 1950’s and promoted a northernization policy to limit Yoruba and Ibo incursions.

[............]

The emergence of petroleum as the centerpiece of the Nigerian export economy and the mainstay of state revenues had enormous consequences for the political development of post-colonial Nigeria. First, the geography of oil mattered. Close to 80% of the petroleum was located in the eastern region -- more precisely in the delta which represents roughly 8% of the country -- and not infrequently in the territories of ethnic minorities (i.e. non-Ibo). While the civil war -- the attempt by the Ibo to secede from the federation and to establish the independent state of establish Biafra -- was not in any simple sense caused by the discovery of oil, the control of oil revenues was the central issue which precipitated the crisis of February 1967. The Governor of the Eastern Region, Colonel Ojukwu, passed the Revenue Collection Edict #11 in 1967 by which all revenues collected by the Federal government would be paid to the treasury of the Eastern government. The Federal (Gowon) government in response created three new states within the Eastern Region in an effort to gain support from oil producing minorities who would be awarded newfound autonomy and a share of oil revenues.

[............]

Second, petroleum underwrote a new political dynamic in the relations between the regions and the federal center. Growing nationalization of the petroleum sector and the establishment of a national oil company in 1970 channeled petroleum rents directly to federal coffers. Centrally controlled oil revenues superseded the regionally-based revenues derived from the commodity Marketing Boards. As a consequence of the stunning growth of state revenues in the 1970’s, the political center possessed a newfound fiscal capacity by which petrodollars could be used to manufacture a sort of political compliance, and conversely the regions discovered a new interest in gaining access to the seemingly infinite wealth provided by centrally-controlled black gold. Petroleum enhanced the capacities of the historically weak center.

[............]

Petroleum is key to understanding the two fundamental dimensions of Nigerian politics in the period following the defeat of Biafra in the civil war: state creation and revenue allocation. One of the first acts of the post-war military government under Gowon was to create twelve new states in 1967 from the existing four regions. Designed to balance north and south with six states, and thereby break the power and pathological competitiveness of the large regional blocs, the new state system had the effect of increasing minority access to federal funds while simultaneously making the entire state structure dependent on central (oil) revenues. Of course the demand for new states to meet the local needs for access to government resources, especially in deprived areas, was in practice difficult to halt. More states were created in 1976 and in 1991, while the number of local government areas (LGA’s) within each state also proliferated, and for similar reasons. The result was the genesis of small states with little or no fiscal basis, totally dependent on what each state saw as `their share’ of the national cake (i.e. the oil monies), and a profusion (there are 589!) of corrupt, ineffective and hugely expensive LGA’s driven by the logic of patronage politics. Ironically, this massive edifice effectively stymied any sense of Nigerian federalism -- the dialectics of oil once more! -- pointing to the ways in which vast oil revenues could not create a more robust sense of Nigerian identity and federal authority.

Nonetheless, the multiplication of states from in twelve in 1967 to thirty in 1996 did have the effect of irrevocably breaking some aspects of the old pattern of regional power, and accordingly increased the power of minorities who came to hold some form of political representation and economic autonomy. To this extent petrodollars permitted a certain degree of political cohesion within the federation to be quite literally purchased. The cost of course has been an undisciplined federal structure driven by massive inflationary costs -- the proliferation of state bureaucracies driven by prebendal politics -- largely without a robust material base. As Khan (1994, p.32) notes, the states have abandoned any pretense of a productive identity and rely unashamedly on federal handouts. The result is `power untempered by responsibility....[the states are]..miniature versions of their free-spending federal paymasters (Economist 1993, p.12). Oil revenues moreover did not require taxation of personal income or poverty, and reduced the economic and political significance of taxpayers (Forrest 1995, p.68-69) thereby removing another potential break on inflated state and federal expenditures.

[............]

To simplify and enormously complex picture, prior to 1959 statutory revenue was allocated on the basis of a `derivation principle’ by which states received allocations from the federal pool in strict proportion to their contribution to these revenues (Ashwe 1996). This generally benefited northern and western regions but in the face of growing oil revenues in the 1960’s they sought to change the principles of allocation. Monies to be allocated to the states came to be deposited in a Federation Account (formerly the Distributable Pool Account), the vast proportion of which was (and is) derived from oil. As the size of this account grew, new criteria were developed, largely to amend and supplant the derivation principle. By the 1960’s population, need and equity principles were invoked; by the 1980’s social development and internal revenue were added. In the 1990’s the weighting of criteria for allocation has been as follows: population 30%, equity 40%, land area 10%, social development 10% and internal revenue 10%. This new horizontal allocation system obviously privileges more populous and larger states. Hence the five oil producing states which account for 90% of the oil receive 19.3% of the allocated revenues (Ikporukpu 1996, p.168). Five northern non-oil producing states conversely absorb 26% of allocated revenue.

Amidst the shifting sands of revenue politics and allocative criteria, several patterns are clearly evident. First the proportion of revenues flowing to the north increased substantially from 35% of the total in 1966/67 to 52% in 1985. Second, the proportion of statutory revenues as a proportion of the local states’ budget grew disproportionately. By 1979 state governments budgeted over 80% of their revenues from federal sources (a dependency which created new competitive pressures among states to tap central oil revenues, and further deepened pressures for the creation of new states). And third, the change in the derivation principle meant that oil producing states in particular saw their share of statutory revenues fall; Bendel and Rivers States’ share fell from 23.1% and 17.1% in 1974/75 to 6.4% and 6.2% respectively in 1989/90. To paint the revenue allocation picture, in short, is to depict northern hegemony in a weak and fissiparous federal system in which the oil-producing states in particular have experienced a sort of fiscal (and political) deprivation.

What more need I say? Where there is no taxation there can be no real representation, the overwhelming reason why Nigeria continues to exist is because there is easy money to be had from oil, and the indigent, illiterate North is determined to maintain its parasitical lock on the oil money without which it would quickly sink into even deeper destitution. The only people who benefit from the continued existence of a single Nigeria are those in the northern part of that country, and even there only a small coterie of feudal Hausa-Fulani potentates get to enjoy most of the rewards.

You Can't Eat Islam

I've mentioned before that in educational terms, northern and southern Nigeria belong in two very different worlds. Literacy rates in many of the southern states approach 80 percent, while in the north the typical figure is about 20 percent, Kano state, with an estimated 45 percent literacy rate, being the standout. Here's a Radio Netherlands article that gives an idea of just what "education" means in the Muslim north, and why we in the South chafe so badly under the prospect of being ruled by people of the North.

In Nigeria, one in five children are sent to Koranic schools. They spend at least four years memorising Islam's holy book. The pupils are often abandoned by their parents and are forced to beg on the streets to survive. Efforts are now underway to improve the lives of these children, to teach them basic subjects such as English and mathematics, and to give them professional skills.

"Most of these children are children of peasant farmers and menial labourers," says Salamatu Jibril, the director of the Women Farmers' Advancement Network, WOFAN, which recently carried out research in 60 Koranic schools. "The parents are so poor that they cannot afford modern education. Many of these parents have 20 children, so if they can send one away, it's a relief for them."

Daily routine
The Koranic school pupils begin their day with the early morning prayer between 5am and 6am. Then they start reciting and memorising the Koran till 10am. They are free till the late afternoon prayer at 5pm and then they begin to recite again. This is followed by more prayers and then recitation till late in the evening.

[............]

In 2001, Nigeria introduced mandatory universal basic education. The government is now trying to integrate secular education in the religious schools. But it hasn't been easy, according to Doreen Enadi Dodi of the Kaduna State Primary Education Board. "Initially we thought we could assign some of our teachers to give lessons at the Koranic schools. But we've encountered some resistance from the malaams who think the government is trying to take over control of their schools." It's also unlikely that malnourished children who have to wake up before dawn and study till late in the evening will be able to assimilate any of the additional lessons.

Non-governmental organizations have also noted a reluctance on the part of malaams and children to introducing Western education. Mrs Sani, the co-ordinator of Millennium Hope, a project in Kaduna, describes one setback: "We had one instance in the town of Zaria. We gave a Koranic school chairs, uniforms, textbooks and exercise books. The children literally ran away! Of the 250 children at the school, only 50 remained."

Comparing this article to some personal reminisces made by Razib about his brief study at a madrassa makes it clear that there's a great deal held in common between Northern Nigeria and Bangladesh where Islamic education is concerned. In particular, the intellectual sterility of islamic "learning" in both places is quite marked, as is the utter lack of reference to any practical subjects in the teaching material. Spending years on end cramming religious verses in a language one doesn't understand is hardly the best preparation for making one's way in the world in the scientific age.

From a strictly ethnocentric viewpoint, I'm personally less than bothered if Northern muslims react to the prospect of exposure to English, mathematics and the sciences as if they were kryptonite - all the better when the inevitable day of reckoning comes for the artificial state called Nigeria - but I have to say, is it any wonder, given the aversion of these people to all forms of modernity, that we see outbreaks of anti-western paranoia like the ongoing hue and cry about polio vaccinations being an American plot to sterilize muslims? Here's one respect in which widespread ignorance in one group can have fatal consequences for others: as long as Northern Nigeria remains a reservoir for the poliomyelitis virus, children all over the world, and not just the unfortunate offspring of a few illiterate fanatics, will continue to be at risk. Yes, my Nigerian problem is yours as well, if you have children.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Nigeria expels The Economist (Subs. Reqd.)

Typical nonsense from Obasanjo's government. I thoroughly despair for that hopeless excuse of a country.

SINCE Nigeria stopped being a military dictatorship in 1999, its government has grown more gentle. The immigration officials who escorted your correspondent to the airport to be deported last week were quite charming. But it was still unpleasant to be thrown out of the country, prevented from doing one's job, separated from one's Nigerian husband, and so on. And baffling: last month, in Davos, the president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, was heard expressing dismay that The Economist did not write more about his great country.

According to the information ministry, your correspondent was advised to leave because of her “flagrant disregard” for Nigeria's immigration laws. The rap sheet is confusing, but includes the allegation that she worked despite only holding a tourist visa (which is untrue), and the insinuation that she is not really a proper journalist (you decide). The trouble began after your correspondent refused to pay a rather excessive sum of money to an official in the information ministry. The information minister said last week he would consider a fresh application for press credentials, but that “a lot depends on whether she says something that would make it more difficult for her to come back, like accusing people of bribery.”

A foreign correspondent's woes are trivial, of course, when compared with the effect Nigeria's dysfunctional public administration has on ordinary Nigerians. The civil service absorbs most of the budget but delivers little in the way of services. Needless duplication breeds waste. Embezzlement is rife. And perhaps most dispiriting is a tendency among some bureaucrats to be pointlessly obstructive in the hope that someone will bribe them to lay off. A small example: a retired school teacher recently tried to renew his Nigerian passport, but was told that he had first to learn Yoruba, the indigenous tongue of the South West, even though he was born in Nigeria, his parents were Nigerian and the country's official language is English.

The only sure way to get things done is to go straight to the top. The president rules on important issues by decree, sometimes bypassing his profligate parliament. He is effectively his own oil minister (having left the post vacant), and does much of the foreign minister's job, too. Even rural folk have learnt to appeal to him when local authorities do not deliver. Delegations from the countryside beat a path to his office in Abuja, the capital, hoping to win his support for projects as small as drilling a bore hole in their village.

That's Obasanjo for you - Micromanager in Chief. In a sane country in which politics was actually about policies, rather than about endless rounds of ethnic squabbling over oil rents, a man with administrative talents as limited as the Nigerian president's would never have been allowed near power. Seeing Nigerian rulers and bureaucrats abuse their powers to frustrate all attempts at individual initiative has soured me for life on the notion that one ought to look on government as the solution to most problems, rather than their cause.

Alexis de Tocqueville on Slavery

The man's foresight and keen understanding continues to amaze me: so much of what he had to say about America in the 1830s still holds true today. Note also how clearly his words about "the ills that threaten the future of the Union" foreshadow the American Civil War.

The Indians will perish in the same isolated condition in which they have lived, but the destiny of the Negroes is in some measure interwoven with that of the Europeans. These two races are fastened to each other without intermingling; and they are alike unable to separate entirely or to combine. The most formidable of all the ills that threaten the future of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory; and in contemplating the cause of the present embarrassments, or the future dangers of the United States, the observer is invariably led to this as a primary fact.

Generally speaking, men must make great and unceasing efforts before permanent evils are created; but there is one calamity which penetrated furtively into the world, and which was at first scarcely distinguishable amid the ordinary abuses of power: it originated with an individual whose name history has not preserved; it was wafted like some accursed germ upon a portion of the soil; but it afterwards nurtured itself, grew without effort, and spread naturally with the society to which it belonged. This calamity is slavery. Christianity suppressed slavery, but the Christians of the sixteenth century re-established it, as an exception, indeed, to their social system, and restricted to one of the races of mankind; but the wound thus inflicted upon humanity, though less extensive, was far more difficult to cure.

It is important to make an accurate distinction between slavery itself and its consequences. The immediate evils produced by slavery were very nearly the same in antiquity as they are among the moderns, but the consequences of these evils were different. The slave among the ancients belonged to the same race as his master, and was often the superior of the two in education and intelligence. Freedom was the only distinction between them; and when freedom was conferred, they were easily confounded together. The ancients, then, had a very simple means of ridding themselves of slavery and its consequences: that of enfranchisement; and they succeeded as soon as they adopted this measure generally. Not but that in ancient states the vestiges of servitude subsisted for some time after servitude itself was abolished. There is a natural prejudice that prompts men to despise whoever has been their inferior long after he has become their equal; and the real inequality that is produced by fortune or by law is always succeeded by an imaginary inequality that is implanted in the manners of the people. But among the ancients this secondary consequence of slavery had a natural limit; for the freedman bore so entire a resemblance to those born free that it soon became impossible to distinguish him from them. (emphasis added)

Truer words have rarely been spoken. African-Americans may now enjoy all the freedoms of any other Americans on paper, but to be black is still, in many eyes, to be presumed innately inferior.

itex2MML for Windows Update

A new binary of itex2MML, incorporating a couple of bugfixes, can be downloaded from here. The binary was compiled with GCC 3.3.1 and Cygwin, so you'll need to make sure that Cygwin1.dll (included in the ZIP archive) is either in your library path, or is in the same directory as the itex2MML executable.

Revelation: Coin Tosses Obey Newtonian Physics

Am I missing something, or is this really as obvious as I think it is?

Feb. 24, 2004 -- Flipping a coin may not be the fairest way to settle disputes. About a decade ago, statistician Persi Diaconis started to wonder if the outcome of a coin flip really is just a matter of chance. He had Harvard University engineers build him a mechanical coin flipper. Diaconis, now at Stanford University, found that if a coin is launched exactly the same way, it lands exactly the same way.

The randomness in a coin toss, it appears, is introduced by sloppy humans. Each human-generated flip has a different height and speed, and is caught at a different angle, giving different outcomes.

But using high speed cameras and equations, Diaconis and colleagues have now found that even though humans are largely unpredictable coin flippers, there's still a bias built in: If a coin starts out heads, it ends up heads when caught more often than it does tails.

Color me underwhelmed by this report. A coin flipped in a given manner will land on the same side if tossed precisely the same way again? You're having me on! Even the bit about the slight bias we have in coin tossing strikes me as less than revelatory, as it's long been known that humans are terrible at randomness, even when explicitly trying for it.

Persi Diaconis is a very smart guy (and that's putting it mildly) so there's got to be more to the story than is being let on here, but a visit to his web site gives no evidence of a recent paper covering this issue. What's stranger still is that the reporter for the story, David Kestenbaum, has a PhD in physics from Harvard, so it ought to have been blazingly obvious to him too.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Ethnic Fractionalization and Economic Development - More Evidence

I've just had the good fortune to discover this 2002 Harvard Institute of Economic Research paper, written by (amongst others) William Easterly of "Africa's Growth Tragedy" fame. What I particularly like about the new and more comprehensive data provided by this paper is that it does an even better job of capturing the amount of diversity in a given society, going beyond linguistic diversity to consider other markers of differentiation like race/ethnicity and religion.

We provide new measures of ethnic, linguistic and religious fractionalization for about 190 countries. These measures are more comprehensive than those previously used in the economics literature and we compare our new variables with those previously used. We also revisit the question of the e¤ects of ethnic, linguistic and religious fractionalization on quality of institutions and growth. We partly confirm and partly modify previous results. The patterns of cross-correlations between potential explanatory variables and their different degree of endogeneity makes it hard to make unqualified statements about competing explanations for economic growth and the quality of government.

The mark of a good paper like this one (unlike the sort of junk turned out by race cranks), is that the authors go out of their way to avoid making exaggerated claims about the scope and implications of their work. Nevertheless, one thing is clear from the data provided: the link between heterogeneity and poor growth is, if anything, stronger than was implied by Easterly and Levine's 1997 paper.

By the way, I couldn't resist pointing out the following information, for those who've ever doubted that Nigeria is a far more diverse place than India, in spite of the fact that the latter country has 8 times as many inhabitants as the former. For ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity, the numbers for India were 0.4182, 0.8069 and 0.3260 respectively (with a higher number meaning greater heterogeneity). For Nigeria, the corresponding numbers were 0.8505, 0.8316 and 0.7421, higher in all categories, but tremendously so for both the ethnic and religious measures. Looking over the data, not a single country on earth matches Nigeria for heterogeneity - not even Indonesia or Papua New Guinea!

TIME Europe | 'We Want Our Country!' (1965)

An extremely interesting Time magazine article on what was then Rhodesia, written at about the time Ian Smith was about to make his unilateral declaration of independence. This article really does give one plenty to think about, especially in light of the events that have occurred since then.

Ethnic Diversity, Social Sanctions and Public Goods in Kenya (PDF)

Yet another paper that demonstrates the powerful influence ethnic tensions can have on good governance.

Abstract: This paper examines ethnic diversity and local public goods in rural western Kenya. The identification strategy relies on stable, historically determined patterns of ethnic land settlement. Ethnic diversity is associated with lower primary school funding, worse school facilities, and poor water well maintenance. The theoretical model illustrates how an inability to impose social sanctions in diverse communities leads to collective action failures. We find that school committees in diverse areas do impose fewer sanctions on defaulting parents. We relate these results to the literature on social capital and economic development, and discuss implications for decentralization in less developed countries.

This is an especially timely find, especially in light of a recent Samizdata post by Perry de Havilland bringing to mind the ill-fated breakaway Republic of Biafra. Nigeria is an obscenely diverse place, with some 515 languages (as compared to a mere 400 in India) and no one ethnic group with a clear plurality in terms of population; no one who has lived there for a decent amount of time could ever underplay the centrality of ethnic rivalry to the politics of the country.

Looking back on the last 30 years, it seems obvious to me that it really would have been for the best if Biafra had been allowed to go its own way, though I think poor decisions made by Biafra's leader, Chukwuemaka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, had a greater role to play in Biafra's failure to secede than most Igbo people are willing to acknowledge today. Portuguese, Rhodesian and apartheid South Africa's recognition of Biafran independence was also a major setback for Igbo independence efforts, as it guaranteed that hardly any other country in Africa would extend the same recognition. Some friends simply aren't worth having (a notion Jonas Savimbi would also have done well to heed).

Shoddy Reasoning About Outsourcing

Via a post by Edward Hugh, I came across this BBC article on the Indian state of Maharashtra's attempt to position itself as a low cost centre of medical services catering to patients from the developed world. The article was interesting in as far as it demonstrated that the potential gains from international trade in services extend even to areas the naive might have thought immune to foreign competition. Nevertheless, it was something said in the course of the argument that paticularly caught my attention.

Many people from the developed world come to India for the rejuvenation promised by yoga and ayurvedic massage, but few consider it a destination for hip replacements or brain surgery.

Yet that's exactly what the government in the Indian state of Maharashtra hopes will happen soon.

Together with the state's business sector and private health-care providers it recently launched the Medical Tourism Council (MTC) of Maharashtra.

Its aim: to make India a prime destination for medical tourists.

At its swish offices in central Bombay, also known as Mumbai, members of the council explain the concept.

Bombay, they argue, has private hospitals on a par with the best in the world.

Many of the surgeons at hospitals such as the Hinduja are leaders in their field, working with the best equipment available.

But they can provide their expertise at a fraction of the price that comparable surgery would cost in Europe or the United States.

[...........]

For the MTC, its plans are the next chapter in globalisation and the outsourcing of work to India.

As Sanjay Agarwala, the Hinduja's chief neurosurgeon, says: "Wherever you can offer better services at a more competitive price, that is the place that is going to win in the end."

But others question who the winners will really be.

Dr Rama Baru is a health academic in Delhi.

She believes that the marriage between the interests of Western medical tourists and a handful of private hospitals is at "a very superficial level as far as the medical care industry in India is concerned".

Contrary to the claims of the council, Dr Baru believes there will be no trickle down of money to the impoverished public health system, which currently receives just 0.9% of India's gross domestic product.

The MTC's plans may well benefit the doctors and patients involved, but it is currently unclear how a country that still suffers from malaria and TB will reap the rewards of a new wave of medical tourists coming to India.
(emphasis added)

That highlighted bit was so chock full of economic ignorance that at first I was at a loss as to where to begin. One would think the benefits of this trend would have been obvious to both Dr. Baru and the BBC, but apparently the economic sophistication of both of these parties extends no further than the concept of a static cake, with any gains for one group only possible at the expense of another. The emergence of healthcare providers catering to the international market ought to be applauded, even if it brings no immediate dividends for the public healthcare system, as more affluent Indians will be in a better position to pay for any healthcare they desire out of their own pockets, regardless of what the government does; in addition, the foreign demand will stimulate domestic demand for more doctors and hospitals, from which Indians also stand to benefit. Even if one buys into the notion that healthcare and public healthcare are necessarily identical, which I certainly do not, it is still true that a larger economy means larger government revenues, which means more money to spend on healthcare, even without raising the percentage of India's GDP devoted to the public healthcare system.

What I do have a problem with is not the prospect of patients from overseas flying into Maharashtra to get cheaper hip replacements and heart bypasses, but the notion of any sort of "public-private partnership" to bring this about - such initiatives all too often turn out to be covers for the coddling of particular private sector interests at the expense of others. Private Indian medical services providers ought to be able to make the business a viable one without public assistance, while I'm sure the Maharashtra state government has more than enough difficulties as it is catering for the very basics of good government, like enforcing the law and guaranteeing an efficient, impartial judicial system.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A Speech by Thabo Mbeki

I've just come across this speech that was to have been delivered on the 5th of November 2003 by Thabo Mbeki, at the University of Toronto. What is noteworthy about the speech from my point of view isn't so much the political vision outlined in it, but the sheer erudition it bears witness to: there are references to Hegel, to Francis Fukuyama, to Ben Okri, and to Paul Collier, amongst others; there is an awareness, rare amongst political types, that the "globalization" about which so much is made today is in some ways little more than a return to where the world already was in 1913, albeit without the labor mobility of that era.

One expects, of course, that Mbeki, like any other prominent politician, will have had some help in writing the speech, but it still speaks true to life, given what I've heard about the man; he has a Master's degree in Economics, is said to be an intensely bookish sort, and is visibly lacking in what is euphemistically referred to as the "common touch", i.e., a penchant for cheap soundbites guaranteed to please the crowd. Mbeki's intellectualism, while commendable in my book, makes it all the more mystifying that he should go in for such strange theories about AIDS. It would be one thing if he were the sort of man of whom it could be said "he doesn't really know what he's doing", but that is the very last thing one can say about Thabo Mbeki; his highly competent management of the South African economy puts paid to any notion of a man too limited to understand what's at stake. The only explanation I can think of is that he has an emotional block or a phobia of some sort where AIDS is concerned.

NB - This BBC article gives a bit of insight into Mbeki's background. Incidentally, it also helps a bit to dispel the cheap propaganda that Mandela was a dangerous "communist", as so many conservative apologists loved to argue in the 1980s; Mandela's ideological disagreement with the South African Communist Party member Govan Mbeki (Thabo's father) was so intense that the two men didn't speak to each other for the first two years of their imprisonment on Robben Island. Some much, then, for Mandela's "communist" sympathies.

Stupid Linguistic Nativism

One has to be really insecure and/or have too much time on one's hands to engage in the sort of "language purifying" nonsense that seems so common in France and Germany.

As the world celebrates International Mother Language Day on Saturday, Germany's language purists bemoan the relentless onslaught of Denglish. But a German watchdog has hinted that a turnabout might be in sight.

When burger giant McDonald's recently dropped its famous English slogan "everytime a good time" for its TV advertisement in Germany and replaced it with a very German "Ich liebe es" (I'm lovin' it), an audible whoop of joy was heard in the language purist camp in the country.

After years of all-out war against the rise of Denglish (a mixture of German and English), the Institute for German Language (VDS) -- self-appointed guardian of the sanctity of German language -- is celebrating.

"We have detected a trend reversal," Walter Krämer, chairman of the VDS told dpa news agency. "The fast-food chain McDonald's is once again advertising in German for its products, even other companies and concerns have rediscovered German for their slogans," he said.

[...........]

Spectacular moves to clean up German

The VDS has been up in arms against the encroachment of English words in the German language for the past six years and is known for its often eccentric ways to achieve its aim.

Last year the watchdog symbolically auctioned the German language on Ebay. Within two days, the highest bid lay above ten million euro, following which the Internet auction site stopped the trade.

The organization also attempted to sue the supervisory board of Deutsche Telekom for its "nonsensical use" of English words like City call, Holiday plus Tarif and German Call. The institute also awards a prize for the Sprachpanscher (language debaser) of the year.

Give me a break, why don't ya? What's with all the militaristic talk of "relentless onslaught" and "all-out war"? English is a Germanic language with more than half of its words of either Romantic or other origin, but you don't see anyone going around ranting about an "onslaught" because terms like weltanschauung, avant garde, nabob and so forth have made their way into the language, do you? The argument against this sort of linguistic purity crap is the very same one as that against TV production quotas and "cultural exceptions" - anything that is attractive in its own right doesn't need protecting.

Monday, February 23, 2004

The R Project for Statistical Computing

Linux and Apache may get all the limelight, but there are other open-source projects out there that are truly impressive. One such effort is the R Project, which is essentially an alternative implementation of the S language and environment, the best known implementation of which is S-PLUS. If you're the sort of person who needs to carry out the odd bit of hypothesis testing, time-series analysis, regression or analysis of variance (ANOVA), I'd heartily recommend taking a look at R before parting with hundreds of dollars for S-PLUS: you'd be surprised just how much you can do with this piece of software. Heck, there are actually things one can do with R that simply can't be done with its extremely expensive sibling.

When You Praise the T-34, You're Praising Bolshevism!

In the comments to this Brad DeLong post on the Eastern Front in World War 2, John Emerson says something that is both hilarious and true:

"Man, toast, you really don't like the T-34, do you? When the T-34 was introduced, it wasn't a Camry. It was best tank in the world. As time passed, the Germans introduced a few boutique tanks which were individually superior, and this strategy would have worked if tank warfare were a series of one-on-one duels.

However anti-Soviet one might be, it's irrational to believe that every single thing the Soviets ever did was inferior. You don't become a Stalinist by saying nice things about the T-34. "

Indeed. The T-34 was an excellent battle-tank. Not everything the Soviets built was crap - even if most of it was.

Breyten Breytenbach

The response in some quarters to my posts on real South African history (as opposed to the propaganda dished out in school during the apartheid years) has been less than enthusiastic, with histrionic and self-pitying cries of "racism" ringing out where reasoned, factually supported arguments might have been expected. This is a pity.

It is simply an absurdity to accuse me of "racism" for pointing out that most of the voortrekkers were not culture-bearing supermen bringing enlightenment to dark savages, as has until recently been the portrayal of events. To say that they were for the most part poor and illiterate peasants is in no way an insult - so were most of anyone's ancestors until the 20th century - and there is a tacit racism in taking umbrage at my pointing out that what separated the Afrikaners from the Xhosas and Zulus they encountered was pretty much their possession of firearms and their whiteness, which afforded them better treatment from the British than the "natives" on many crucial occasions in the early-to-mid 19th century; after all, what is so insulting about being compared to Zulus, unless one still buys into the notion of "civilized" whites and "savage" blacks?

But let us leave all that aside for now, as I wish to point to an example of an Afrikaner who fought for the right principles and paid a big price for doing so, the poet, writer and painter Breyten Breytenbach. Let it not be said that one can assume all Afrikaners were racists or cowards when it mattered the most.

BREYTENBACH, Breyten (1939-), South African poet, prose writer, and painter, was born in Bonnievale in the Western Cape and studied fine art at the University of Cape Town. He left South Africa for Paris in the early 1960s, and when he married a Vietnamese he was not allowed to return. He co-founded Okhela [Zulu: ignite the flame], a resistance group fighting apartheid in exile. On an illegal trip to South Africa in 1975, he was betrayed, arrested, and sentenced to nine years of imprisonment for high treason. Released in 1982 as a result of massive international intervention, he returned to Paris and lived alternately in Paris and Gorée, Senegal, where he founded and headed a fine art workshop for African artists. His work includes numerous volumes of poetry, novels, and essays, many of which are in Afrikaans, many translated from Afrikaans to English, and many published originally in English. He has won five CNA (Central News Agency) Awards. He recently returned to South Africa to take an appointment in creative writing at the University of Natal. (emphasis added)

One consequence of the risks Breytenbach was willing to take, and the price he paid for taking them, is that when he talks today about the rights of the Afrikaan-speaking minority, he has a moral weight that none of the old National Party types, not even FW de Klerk, can ever hope to muster. What a pity it is that more than a few Afrikaners are unable to emulate his example even today, and face honestly the true nature of the system they enthusiastically supported for so long.

Free Mathematics Texts!

Now, I'm sure this isn't exactly everyone else's cup of tea, but for all admirers of the queen of the sciences, this find by Jacques Distler will seem like coming into an unexpected inheritance. Why, there are texts covering algebra, number theory, topology, and even grubbily practical stepchildren like applied mathematics! What more could you possibly want, chopped liver?

Would-be logicians will especially appreciate Stephen G. Simpson's lecture notes on mathematical logic, which are surprisingly complete for an "incomplete set," Robert B. Ash has 3 online books covering first-year graduate algebra, algebraic number theory and commutative algebra, while J.S. Milne has notes on a broad range of algebra-heavy topics, including algebraic geometry, elliptic curves and class field theory. I've only touched on the subjects that catch my fancy, but there really is a tremendous amount of other material to be found by following the links on the master site. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Problems with the Computer-Based GRE

A helpful commenter pointed me to the above document detailing problems with wide-scale cheating on the computer-based GRE in Asia. I am less than surprised to learn of this development, not because I thought Asians particularly susceptible to cheating, but out of my long-held scepticism about the merits of supposedly adaptive, computer-based tests.

Last fall, New Jersey-based Educational Testing Services (ETS), the company that generates the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as well as other secondary and post-secondary entrance exams, made two startling announcements -- that it planned to suspend its computer administered GRE General Test in China and other parts of Asia and that it was canceling the administration of its GRE Computer Science Subject test in China and India. [1] Both announcements followed reports from graduate admission departments and the media that incidents of cheating on these tests were widespread throughout China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and India. The GRE involves more than 400,000 students each year, 41,000 of whom are from China, making any substantiated accusation of cheating -- and the actions taken to combat it -- issues of concern to the world of academic integrity.

[............]

The first signs of cheating were noticed by graduate admission offices in the United States, who reported a sharp increase in test scores from Chinese and Korean applicants, including near perfect scores on the verbal section of the GRE. Eventually, ETS investigated the matter and found web sites that were publishing test questions from live versions of their computer-based test. The GRE Board acted immediately, requesting that ETS cease administration of the computer based GRE in the countries involved and recommending that U.S. graduate school deans be wary of high test scores from the region. It is easy to imagine how these actions by the ETS, the GRE Board and the U.S. academic community could affect those test takers from China and other countries who arrived at their scores honestly. It is equally easy to imagine the impact on all students, regardless of nationality, competing for a limited number of slots in top business schools.

One can also see how the scandal in Asia could spread quickly to the U.S. In the past, cheating on the GRE has been a problem in the U.S. [4] , and the involvement of the Internet makes containment an issue. Several sources predict seeing more evidence of cheating as U.S. students discover these Asian-language web sites.

It seems that one consequence of this has been the return of the paper-based version of the test to East Asia, a policy change I would have welcomed whatever the rationale behind it. There is just something profoundly disturbing to my sensibilities about a test in which one has no chance to see all of the questions or go back and check over one's previous responses, and how exactly can a computer possibly calibrate questions by "difficulty"? It seems to me that the ETS imagines that all questions in a set of problems must have a total ordering under a single, well-defined and totally objective axis of difficulty, an assumption I'm pretty certain is false. If only American students could enjoy the same good fortune as their Asian counterparts, and be given once more the option of taking a paper test; thank goodness I took the damn thing before the option was phased out!

Quackery in the Name of "Human Biodiversity"

I've long maintained that Richard Lynn was a quack, whose "research" was to be trusted only by those so eager to believe in his "evidence" for monumental "innate" racial differences that they would throw all scepticism to the wind. As it turns out, a challenge laid down by a certain "Guessedworker" in the above Gene Expression thread, in which he dared me to question that blacks had innately higher testosterone levels than whites, provided the opportunity to demonstrate precisely that. Below are links to all of the original sources that are relevant to this debate.

Blood hormone profiles in prostate cancer patients in high-risk and low-risk populations, Ahluwalia, Jackson et. al. (1981)
5-alpha-reductase Activity and Risk of Prostate Cancer Among Japanese and US White and Black Males, Ross, Bernstein et. al. (1992).
Testosterone and Dominance in Men, Mazur and Booth (1997).
Serum Androgen Concentrations in Young Men: A Longitudinal Analysis of Associations with Age, Obesity, and Race., Gapstur, Gann (2002).
Richard Lynn's Own Bit of Scientific Quackery (1990)

For those too lazy to follow up on all these links, I suggest reading at least the following critique of Richard Lynn's "research" methods in establishing the "fact" of higher black testosterone levels:

>Being a tenured professor in a university, writing papers and

>attending conferences, having journals that publish your work,
>and being able to cite backwards, forwards and sideways, working
>in an "Institute of Science" or a "laboratory", and speaking more
>in jargon than in English are only the paraphernalia associated
>with science.
>
>Going through the motions however, does not make science.
>
>Here is another example of "science" produced by another of these
>scientists, again, quoting Kamin :
>
>"The high rate of sexual activity in Negroids," Lynn has suggested,
>may be caused by a high level of the male sex hormone, testosterone.
>The "crucial supporting evidence" for the notion that blacks have an
>over-supply of testosterone is the fact that "Negroids have higher
>rates of cancer of the prostate than Caucasoids...an important
>determinant of cancer of the prostate is the level of testosterone."
>The chain of reasoned evidence is : prostate cancer is caused by
>testosterone; blacks tend to have prostate cancer; therefore blacks
>must have lots of testosterone; the abundance of testosterone makes
>blacks sexually active; that causes them to produce lots of babies,
>for whom they will not provide, and who will become criminals and/or
>welfare cases. Its all in the genes.

>
>...To show that testosterone causes prostrate cancer ....Lynn cites
>a paper by Ahluwalia et. al.. That paper, Lynn writes, reported
>"higher levels of testosterone in patients with prostate cancer
>than in healthy controls." [But] Ahluwalia et. al. reported that
>black prostate patients in the United States had higher testosterone
>levels than did control subjects. But among blacks in Nigeria,
>control subjects had higher testosterone levels than did prostate
>patients !.....

>
>What about the next claim, that blacks are more prone than whites to
>develop prostate cancer?.....Lynn reprints some age-standardized
>incidence rates for prostate cancer for "Negroids" and "Caucasoids"
>in seven American cities. Those statistics and others had been
>gathered by the International Union Against Cancer. There was
>variation from city to city, but in each case African-Americans had
>about twice the incidence of whites. The highest white rate was
>59.7 per 100,000 population in Hawaii...the lowest black rate was
>72.1, in New Orleans.
>
>The paper from which Lynn copied (or tried to copy) those figures
>contains other relevant statistics. The rate in Senegal was 4.3 --
>the lowest rate except for Japan and Shanghai, among the thirty-odd
>countries for which data were given. The rates in Jamaica and(then)
>Rhodesia were 28.6 and 32.3 -- still far below the rates of both
>black and white Americans. Follow-up studies by the International
>Union reported a rate of 9.7 in Nigeria. In the Cape Province of
>South Africa, the rate for whites was a low 23.2; for Bantus it
>was 19.2 and for Africans in Natal 23.2. The facts are well known
>to every serious scholar concerned with prostate cancer : American
>blacks have an alarmingly higher rate of prostate cancer than
>American whites, but black Africans have a much lower rate than either
>American blacks or whites.

>
>...To admit Lynn and Rushton into the scientific mainstream -- I'll
>say it bluntly -- is a betrayal of science. To say this out loud is
>not to advocate what Malcolm Browne describes as a "shroud of
>censorship imposed on scientists and scholars by pressure groups."
>It is a simple defense of truth and integrity in science.....

To that last paragraph I say a hearty "amen!" Note that the "Ahluwalia et. al." referred to here is precisely the one I've linked to above. If there's any doubt in your mind that Richard Lynn has been fairly treated in the material quoted here, I suggest you go take a look at his own 1990 paper, also linked to above. The man is nothing but a quack with tenure.

Those who moan and groan about a "blank slate asymmetry" would be on firmer ground if they weren't so willing themselves to lean on the work of racist charlatans like Richard Lynn and J. Philippe Rushton. It is the height of hypocrisy and illogic to criticize me for only warning against the dangers of genetic determinism (as if I were logically obliged to warn against all evils or none at all), even though one routinely reaches for the worthless research of just such genetic determinists to "rebut" the claims of so-called "human biodiversity deniers." That's a nice catchy riff on the "holocaust denier" phrase, but catchy slogans do not a scientific argument make. If I really were working in a field as chock-full of pseudo-scientific rubbish as the study of human genetic variation has been, I'd go out of my way to avoid being tainted by association with dubious characters, rather than proudly holding up their flapdoodle as "evidence" for my theories.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, the all too common tactic utilized by the fearless champions of "human biodiversity", in which they resort to cheap attacks like retorting "Leon Kamin is a Marxist!" may work with an unsophisticated audience, but it certainly won't wash with me, nor will saying things like "Sowell and Heckman aren't psychologists", to which my response is "So What?" It is a sign of intellectual weakness to draw attention to a man's credentials or political leanings rather than addressing his claims directly: Rushton and Lynn aren't quacks because they are racists (though they are), but because their "work" is founded on selective quotation, egregious misunderstandings and shoddy statistical techniques.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Who Would You Vote for in South Africa?

I just came across this interesting quiz, based on the party platforms as of 1999. Let's just say that my results weren't quite what I was expecting them to be.

For better or worse, your replies indicate that your heart lies with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) .

Apart from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), you would also consider casting your ballot for the Democratic Party (DP) , or even the New National Party (NNP) .

You are least likely to vote for the African National Congress (ANC).

Me, an Inkatha supporter? Only if that is identical to being for decentralized government with decision-making occurring at the lowest possible level, being in favor of labor deregulation and more rapid privatization, being against the requirement that citizens carry "papieren, bitte!", and thinking that sports teams should pick players on grounds of merit alone, rather than to ensure that "teams are representative of the make-up of the nation."

Of course, there is more to politics than platforms, and I simply can't stand Mangosuthu Buthelezi, whose deeply dishonorable past I am unable to put aside; faced with a choice between Inkatha and the ANC, I'd pick the latter anyday, even though there isn't all that much about the ANC platform I'm enthusiastic about. What is true of Inkatha even more true of the "New" National Party, which I would sooner die than vote for. No, if I were a South African, the Democratic Alliance would likely be my first choice.

MCSEs are Child's Play

This sort of thing really takes the shine off having a Microsoft certification, doesn't it?

Siliguri, Feb. 15: “I want to build a computer that will respond to brain waves and dispense with the need to use hands,” says Mridul Seth, his fingers almost a whir as he punches the keys of a laptop.

Fresh from Bangalore where he successfully passed Microsoft’s online test on the software programmes devised by the firm, Mridul logs in to a site on Sikkim.

Within seconds, the screen changes to the site’s homepage, then to another on the hill state’s telecommunication.

“There is a lot more to do. Computers are like a gateway to a larger world for me,” says the shy eight-year-old designer of the two portals on the state that is also his home.

Later, as he prances about in the lawn with some other children without a trace of the earlier seriousness, it is difficult to believe he is the youngest Microsoft Certified Software Engineer, one of the most sought-after degrees for software professionals.

What makes Mridul’s story even more interesting is that until four years ago he did not even know how to speak.

His father, M.K. Seth, says: “Mridul was born without an external ear and his hearing ability is still weak. He learnt to speak late and was almost perennially sick when younger.”

His extraordinary skills came to light when as a four-year-old he learnt counting 1 to 100 in 24 hours.

“I taught him tougher maths the next day and he had no problem understanding them,” Seth said.

On February 12, he successfully passed the Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft 2000 Professional Examinations held in Bangalore.

The kid is obviously very bright, despite the "brain waves" wierdness, but I have to say that I wouldn't be happy about this news if I were in charge of Microsoft's certification programme. One can just see HR types saying to themselves "See? An MCSE is so easy to get even a child could do it!"

The Perils of Investment Banking

Here's a story that nicely illustrates the often punishing reality behind the glamour associated in many minds with investment banking.

SLEEPY lawyers and bankers, exhausted after working on the takeover battle for AT&T Wireless, almost cost Cingular, the winning bidder, an extra $1.6 billion (£847 million) because of a clerical slip-up.

Cingular was forced to file a new acquisition agreement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission last night because the costly error had not been noticed and was therefore legally binding.

[............]

There was much confusion among Cingular’s advisers in New York last night. At first they said that the interest payment was part of the deal, but was unlikely to be invoked because they expected it to clear all regulatory hurdles ahead of the December 16 deadline.

After some reflection, however, they changed their minds, saying that the interest payment, while apparently in the sale agreement, had actually been removed before the deal was signed. But within minutes, they changed their minds again when it emerged that the error had not been removed.

A senior City source tried to explain: “Look these guys haven’t slept for four days.” (emphasis added)

That last bit probably wasn't much of an exaggeration either - 48 hour stretches are surprisingly common in the business. There's a good reason why investment banking pays as well as it does, and it has nothing to do with the intellectual difficulty of the work to be done.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Racial Attitudes of Afrikaners and White English-Speakers in 1984

The following table is courtesy of the May 1986 issue of New Internationalist:



White opinion survey 198412

A - Afrikaans speaking


E - English speaking

For
Against
Group Areas Act
People can only live in areas allotted to their own racial category.
A
E
76.8
42.4
16.1
38.4
Separate Education
children go to schools designated for their own racial grouping.

A
E

90.2
55.4

5.1
28.3

Separate Amenities
Public transport, places of entertainment etc. segregated. This is now not universally applied and depends upon decisions made by local authorities.
A
E
84.9
50.5
8.1
30.1
African Homelands
All Africans are allotted a tribal homeland, which the Government then considers to be their only real home - even if they have never visited it. They are then only in ‘white South Africa’ to work.
A
E
89.6
60.3
4.2
19.7
Separate Voters’ Rolls
Black people vote only for people of their own racial category, for authorities which only have very limited powers. Africans still have no vote at all in national elections.
A
E
92.1
64.3
2.5
17.7
Mixed Marriages Act
Forbade marriage between people from different racial groups until it was repealed in 1985.
A
E
78.9
41.3
16.6
41.3
Immorality Act
Forbade sex between people from different racial groups until it was repealed in 1985.
A
E
81.3
37.8
13.4
41.0

There are two things worth noting here:

  1. Negative attitudes towards black equality were common amongst English-speakers as well as Afrikaners. This was especially so where political rights were concerned. Matter of physical intimacy were another story - nearly as many English-speakers were against the Group Areas Act as supported it, at least as many came out against the Mixed Marriages Act as did for it, while more actually opposed the Immorality Act than supported it.
  2. Nevertheless, Afrikaners were much more strongly opposed to measures that would permit physical proximity of the races. This was especially the case when the prospect of interracial sex was at issue, with an Afrikaner-English support gap of 34.8% for the Group Areas Act, 34.8% for Separate Education, 34.4% for Separate Amenities, 37.6% for the Mixed Marriages Act, and a massive 43.5% for the Immorality Act. In not a single category did Afrikaners show less than overwhelming support for racial exclusion.

Now that we are 20 years from the era in which this poll was carried out, one expects, or at least hopes, that attitudes have dramatically altered for the better since then, even amongst Afrikaners. Matters will likely have been helped along by the emigration of many of those least willing to tolerate an integrated South Africa, while even those remaining behind who dislike the new dispensation will probably be too discrete with their opinions to honestly share them with poll interviewers.*

In any case, what is at issue here isn't attitudes today, but the accuracy of my assertion that overwhelming Afrikaner support was the pillar on which apartheid rested, and that "anti-communism" had little to do with white opposition to its demise even in the 1980s. This polling data bears out precisely that claim.

*Embarrasment at admitting to racist views is known to occur in most surveys of public opinion, and it is an issue that perennially comes up in France, where support for Jean-Marie Le Pen is repeatedly underestimated by pre-election polls.

Trekboer Photographs

It seems my last post on the Afrikaner past has excited accusations of "racism" from some quarters. To dispel any doubt that I'm not just posting anti-Afrikaner propaganda, I present here a few photographs that attest to the veracity of my claims about the material circumstances of most of the voortrekkers.

Trekboer Home

Trekboer Family

Presenting the historical truth isn't equivalent to "racism" in my book, and I wouldn't even be bothering with any of this if I weren't fed up with encountering Afrikaner after Afrikaner whining about how South Africa was supposedly a paradise for all, how apartheid was erected for the benefit of blacks, and how the country is rapidly heading downhill now that the National Party no longer runs the show.

I've stated before, and I'll state it here again, that I think those who have truly broken with the past should be welcomed without recriminations, and that the last thing South Africa needs is a new blacks-first majoritarianism to replace the old order's "whites only" policies, but frankly, few things make me feel less like hectoring Mbeki and company than hearing the beneficiaries of apartheid rubbishing the present government over "racism", when precious few of them lifted a finger to combat the genuine article as long as it had no adverse effects on their own lives.

There are noble Afrikaners who fought against the system when there was still a price to be paid for doing so - Beyers Naude being perhaps the most important, with André Brink and Nico Smith being others - and the apartheid system could not have lasted as long as it did without at least passive collusion from white English-speakers, but the pathetic reality is that the National Party was entirely an Afrikaner creature, and the overwhelming majority of Afrikaners enthusiastically supported its' policies throughout the apartheid years; when they did break with the party, it was usually to join even more extremist organizations like Andries Treurnicht's Conservative Party. The racist attitudes that led Afrikaners to support apartheid were near-universal amongst them from the very beginnings of white settlement in South Africa, and British imperialism, as bad as it could be in practice where racial matters were concerned, simply didn't go in for the sort of blatant, etched-in-stone discrimination Afrikaners practiced once they got in power. If it is "racist" to point these things out, then anyone who talks about America's antebellum south or Nazi Germany is also a "racist" according to such reasoning.

UPDATE: Anton Raath has some images of just the sort of extreme-right Afrikaners I was talking about, all dating from the early 1990s. Memories are short indeed if some can now claim that Afrikaner racism was overstated or a thing of the distant past alone.

Houston Area Survey of Immigrant Educational Attainment

Asian Data

African Data

Note that the figure for African immigrants is actually higher than that for Filipinos, the best educated of the four Asian groups accounted for in the survey.

Figure 14 shows that distinctions by continent of origin matter greatly for the black immigrants in Houston. Remarkably, the newcomers from Africa, primarily Nigeria, have higher levels of education and professional skills than any other immigrant community interviewed in the surveys, including any and all of the Asians. Only 5% of the African immigrants now residing in Harris County have no more than high school diplomas; 62% have college degrees, and 35% have post-graduate credentials beyond college. In contrast, the black immigrants from the Caribbean, primarily Jamaica, are arriving with no higher educational credentials than those of the native-born African Americans.

Of course, as the survey points out, this is largely an artifact of American immigration regulations: immigration simply wasnt an option for either Africans or Asians (after 1929) until 1965, so chain immigration based on family ties isn't an option for most would-be immigrants from those regions even today. Nevertheless, the point of this post is to caution against the temptation to lump all individuals of African ancestry in the US into a single generic "black" category, as there really are major differences in the characteristics of the various subgroups. It also demonstrates the illegitimacy of drawing inferences about the capabilities of whole nations based only on what one knows about immigrants from those countries - immigrants do leave their homelands for a reason, after all.

On a sidenote, it is intriguing to note that the winner of the 1996 National Geography Bee was the son of Yoruba immigrants. It simply won't do to apply all the old stereotypes about "black" educational underachievement to the newcomers.

Seyi Fayanju, 12, of Verona, New Jersey, is the U.S.-born son of two Nigerian immigrants. His hours spent reading his parents' encyclopedias came paid off at the National Geography Bee. The contest brought together 57 finalists from middle schools nationwide and was hosted by "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, who is a native of Canada.

The geography bee competition came down to Seyi Fayanju and Ryan Bean, 14, of Augusta, Maine. Trebek asked the final question: "Name the European coprinicpality whose head of state are the president of France and the bishop of Urgel?" Ryan Bean guessed Monaco but was incorrect. Trebek turned to Seyi Fayanju, who answered "Andorra." His correct answer won him a $25,000 scholarship

I have a prediction to make: 20 years from now, assuming anyone bothers to make the distinction between African immigrants and African-Americans (confusing, isn't it?), people will marvel at the way these newcomers managed to climb so quickly and so high up the economic ladder. I know at first hand that there are an awfully large number of highly-trained Nigerian emigrés in America and Canada working menial jobs as they settle into their newly adopted countries.

POSTSCRIPT: Another interesting fact, if this link is to be believed, is that in 1993 there were more than 21,000 practicing Nigerian physicians in the United States. I emphasize "practicing" because it is by no means easy for foreign-trained doctors to gain licenses to practice in the US, which explains why more than a few highly-trained Nigerians end up having to drive taxicabs for a living.

Often, these immigrants are quick to take any employment opportunity that they can get. Although there were about 100,000 highly educated African professionals throughout the United States in 1999,[24] many more are also involved in jobs where less education and often less skill may be required. They work as cab drivers, parking lot attendants, airport workers or waiters, waitresses, and cooks in restaurants.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Xavier Sala-i-Martin - "Why I am not a Keynesian"

The good professor gives a few reasons not to buy into the notion that governments are necessarily any more competent than the private sector in running things. Below are just a few of the examples he provides:

Here's one ...
Road Sign

Here's another ...
Pylon on Road


And the best is left for last ...
Rattus Rattus

Just a few things to keep in mind when evaluating calls for government to "do something!"

UPDATE: On the advice of Andrew Brown, I've replaced the old "Secret Nuclear Bunker" example with a more appropriate display of government incompetence; as it turns out, the "Secret Nuclear Bunker" sign indicated a disused World-War II bunker. Hey, private actors make mistakes too, but at least your tax-money didn't pay for this one!

Afrikaner Nationalism and the Emergence of Apartheid

Here's a page that gives a fairly detailed and, for the most part, accurate overview of how Afrikaner ultra-nationalism led to the emergence of apartheid as official state policy. Some of the statements made in this document are particularly worthy of notice, especially in light of all the claptrap that is usually wheeled out about "anti-communism" where South Africa is concerned.

Afrikaners were stridently anti-communist and anti-Soviet Union. The Cold War provided the basic mode for viewing world politics. But there were 2 curiosities:
  • S. Africa was more like the Soviet Union than most other countries; there was the prominence of the state over the individual; political crimes and police were very important; there was a highly developed police state; and individual freedoms were whittled away to almost nothing, even for whites (all ‘rights’ were at the discretion of the minister of justice).
  • The dominance of state capitalism. Government ownership was more extensive than anywhere in most western societies—railways, telephones, airline, merchant marine, ISCOR (steel), SASOL (oil from coal), etc. Only in socialist countries was the proportion higher. Yet at the same time the South African gov’t opposed social welfare measures as ‘socialism’. Nevertheless, the colour bar was really a massive social welfare programme for poor whites!
Also note the following, which is thoroughly corroborated by other sources*, particularly where pre-1948 Afrikaner hygiene is concerned:
“There is a vast difference in civilisation between the various national groups which is reflected in their mutual relations. In this disparity of civilisation—and this is not always realised by foreign observers—difference in hygienic development plays a very important role.” [my emphasis]
- this is a very curious statement; in the oblique reference to ‘hygienic development’, there is the traditional white objection to the way Africans smell. Here, ‘civilisation’ seems to have been reduced to the way people smell!

- there are several ironies in such a contention:
  • as we noted in a previous lecture, Afrikaners brought into the concentration camps in the war horrified British military and medical people with their habits;
  • traditionally, where water was available, Zulu and Xhosa washed much more frequently than the Voortrekkers—every day in warm weather.
  • water is a scarce resource in much of S. Africa and most of it was appropriated for use by whites. Most municipal locations (this was the term for residential areas for Africans although ‘townships’ came to be the preferred term in the 1950s) had only communal faucets in the street several hundred feet apart. Thus, all water had to be carried to the houses. In rural areas, Africans often have to go 2-5 miles and even more.

The point of all this isn't to say that modern day Afrikaners are dirty pigs - I'm sure they're just as fastidious as any other group of people - but to illustrate that the present-day conception of South African development owing mostly to the superior mores and acumen of generic "whites" (as opposed to the highly-vetted groups of skilled British immigrants who began arriving in 1820) is a complete fiction. Most 19th century Afrikaners were unlettered and unversed in the refinements of higher culture, particularly amongst the trekboers who were far from Cape Town's influence. Truth be told, many European visitors to South Africa who had to deal with both the Boers and the Xhosa formed a much higher opinion of the latter than the former, whose slovenliness, boorishness and hardscrabble existence they deplored.

Even when we restrict our attentions to those 19th and early 20th century Afrikaners resident in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, what is notable is the intense anti-intellectualism that is remarked upon by commenter after commenter, along with an intense cruelty towards Hottentots and Bantu speakers, who the Afrikaners couldn't even bring themselves to refer to as "mensen" ("humans"), preferring the term "schepsels" ("creatures"). The much ballyhoed Great Trek was stirred in large part by British insistence on according equal status before the law to all free subjects, regardless of skin color, and the fact that the British actually dared to enforce penalties against Afrikaners who mistreated their non-white servants (as was the case with Freek Bezuidenhout) particularly grated on Afrikaner sensibilities.

To talk about the history of South Africa as if it were merely a matter of separate peoples with different customs fighting over land, rather than the constant struggle by one group of white immigrants, little separated in civilizational terms from the blacks they sought to exploit, to use state power to further their own particular ethnic interests, is to perpetuate a travesty of the historical record. Apartheid wasn't about superior "whites" seeking to protect Western civilization in the face of an onslaught of hordes of dark-skinned savages, but about Afrikaners without the skills and resources to flourish in the marketplace using the fact that they could vote, and blacks couldn't, to lever themselves into higher positions than they would have obtained on merit alone; by far the biggest employer of Afrikaans-speaking whites during the apartheid years was the government, whether through the civil service, through the various government parastatals, or through that employer of last resort (and the single largest corporate employer in the nation), South African Railways. I'm no cheerleader for affirmative action, but for the beneficiaries of affirmative action on so vast a scale to bitch about blacks now getting to commandeer the spoils of office strikes me as a bit rich.

See, for example, Frank Welsh, "A History of South Africa", 1998, HarperCollins. Also see this page, hosted on an Afrikaans website.