Racial Differences

This is a very odd statement for a scientist, a geneticist, to make:

Despite his frantic backtracking, James Watson\’s statement that Africans are less intelligent than Europeans follows a long and dubious tradition of geneticists claiming that supposed racial differences have a genetic basis.

If racial differences do not have a genetic basis then it\’s very difficult to think what they might be based upon. Things like the preponderance of red hair in Scotland, of long distance runners in East Africa, sprinters in West, epicanthic folds in Asia: these are clearly genetic markers of what we call race.

We can argue that race isn\’t an important idea, that our common humanity (and indeed, the fact that variability within groups is almost always larger than that between group averages) means we should disregard it.

We can also argue that while some things are indeed racial differences and have a genetic basis, that the things that people think are (to be crude, dick size, or to be less so, sexual appetite, or in this case, intelligence) are in fact not.

But to claim that none of the observable differences between different groups of humans have a genetic basis is simply absurd.

BTW, on what Watson actually said, that "Africans" or "blacks" have certain genetic traits that make them less intelligent than other groups. Others have pointed out that even the measurement of intelligence, let alone its inheritability, is still somewhat controvesial…..but to me the claim fails for a very different reason.

Let us assume many of his points: that there are groupings of humans that correlate with what we think of as races, That there is some genetic determination, some traits of these groups that are inheritable. If we do assume all of that then we do not get to a situation where we can talk about "Africans". For, at least as I understand it, there is more genetic variation in Africa than there is in the rest of the world.

The Zulu, the Pygmy, the Khoi San, the Ibo, Amhara, Dinka, (add groups to taste) show more variation between them than is found in the rest of humanity put together. Thus to state that "Africans" are genetically this or that is simply nonsense.

Financial Ignorance

Oh dear, oh dear oh dear:

But shorting Northern Rock destroys a company, puts people out of work and annihilates the investments of citizens and pension funds.

The shorting of stock does not destroy a company (not unless they\’ve been putting up stock for loans to it, at least). So what on earth is he talking about?

My Word, Fancy That?

Just goes to show, doesn\’t it?

The German-based Energy Watch Group will release its study in London today saying that global oil production peaked in 2006 – much earlier than most experts had expected. The report, which predicts that production will now fall by 7% a year, comes after oil prices set new records almost every day last week, on Friday hitting more than $90 (£44) a barrel.

Supply reduces, demand goes up or stays static, prices rise. Thus all those who want oil at that new higher price get it and those who can substitute for the oil go and do so. Amazing how it works really.


Protectionism Again

Pure protectionism:

The government will today urge the Soil Association not to strip air-freighted organic fruit and vegetables of their valuable certification on environmental grounds, arguing that such a ban would be "disastrous" for exporting communities in developing countries.

This is nothing to do with the environment. We know that the air freighting in of some goods from regions where they can be grown without hot houses means fewer emissions than domestic production methods. So the ban is all about protectin domestic producers, not the environment.

But then if you allow the domestic trade union of the producers to determine what the standards are, then you can\’t really be surprised that said standards are defined to benefit the local producers, can you?

And damn the poor in other countries, just for good measure.

The Constitution

Well, quite:

It is what the row about the European constitution is all about: what control do we have over our own destiny; and how do we call those who govern us to account?

Leave aside this specific document recently signed. Think about the larger situation. We, the Plain People of Britain, cannot throw out those who create 80% of our laws. Democracy has usefully been described as the ability to throw the bastards out.

Ergo, we are no longer  a democracy, as we cannot.

Anyone else not entirely happy with this situation?

The Apocalypse is Nigh


"Taking the example of the Local Employment Partnerships, claims of indirect discrimination could arise if the effect of these was to encourage employers to employ less migrant workers and more people on benefits, who by virtue of the rules on benefit entitlement might be more likely to be British," the study states.

That\’s a study from the House of Commons Library.

As to the basic point, of course what Brown is suggesting cannot be done for we cannot distinguish between UK and EU citizens. Not allowed to.

Still should be fewer though.

Abolishing Prescription Charges


While millions of patients in England will still be expected to pay for vital medication, prescriptions in Scotland will be available free of charge within four years.

Leave aside the Barnett formula, the fact that it\’s the English taxpayer shelling out for this, and look at the larger picture.

Scottish ministers believe it will cost around £70 million to abolish the charges for Scottish patients – £50 million for loss of income and £20 million to allow for increased take up.

At least they\’ve grasped that drug consumption will rise if it is free.

Unfortunately they haven\’t grasped the very important point that it isn\’t that patients are being asked to pay too much for NHS treatment, it\’s that they\’re being asked to pay too little.

Look, for exampe, at what is considered the finest health care system in the world. (That\’s measured not just by clinical outcome, but by value, equality of service, patient satisfaction, etc.) The French system. There, the national insurance system insists that a) you pay for your treatment and then get a refund. So you see how much such treatment costs. It also insists that b) your refund (except for certain named conditions) is not 100%: more like 70-75%. You, the patient, therefore bear some of the direct costs of your treatment (which most then cover with private insurance).

So, if we were benchmarking, looking to world class practice, we would in fact be raising charges to patients, would we not, not lowering them?


Sunday Competition

OK, so we\’ve had a near winner to yesterday\’s music competition. Now to take it a stage further. Now, it\’s obvious what the connection between these two videos is: it\’s the same song (I\’d never heard the first version before and thought it rather good).



Right. What is the connection between the second of Saturday\’s songs and this one? The usual geek points for the right answer.


If a politician and a bureaucrat were both drowning and you were the only person who could help, would you go to lunch or read the newspaper?

There\’s a Reason For This

Minette Marin:

People say it’s a class matter; for historical reasons there is something essentially middle class and respectable about rugby, about the players and about the fans. There’s an odd contradiction about the way the more violent game can produce the less violent supporters and vice versa.

It lies in the old distinction (for those bright people, economists, at least it is old) between complements and substitutes. Does watching a violent game (for rugby is indeed that) incite you to further violence, or does it satisfy that savage beast, replace the desire for violence by assuaging the appetite?

With sport it\’s not all that important a distinction (for it may inded be just that the middle classes don\’t want to get blood on their Barbours) but in other areas of life it is indeed an extremely important one. For example, think of the upcoming plans to ban "violent" pornography. Is such a complement? Does viewing it make people more likely to go and commit violent sexual crimes? That\’s the argument used in favour of the banning, certainly. But what if the opposite is true? That it is in fact a substitute? That viewing such material replaces the desire to physically act out the fantasies?

Then a ban might actually lead to an increase in the violent sexual crimes: that\’s, of course, the very thing we\’re trying to avoid. We don\’t actually care what people do in a darkened room in front of a flickering screen. But we do care very much when they take such dark thoughts to the streets and to others.

That distinction is highly important and unfortunately, on the pornography front, it looks like it is in fact a substitute, not a complement. Thus banning it will lead to more crime, not less.

Coren and Pinter


On occasion he took it as well as dished it out: at a grand party at Cliveden he murmured to Harold Pinter, another working-class Jewish Londoner, “Well, Harold, we’re assimilating, eh?” and Pinter decked him.

A Great Political Truth

Nick Cohen:

If in dentistry as elsewhere, huge increases in spending fail to produce huge improvements in services, the Conservatives or Conservative policies will triumph over social democracy. Voters will prefer to keep their taxes rather than have the government spend them on their behalf. Like Martin Amis, they will conclude that the British state can\’t help them and look elsewhere.

Yup, that is pretty much it. Going by the evidence, huge increases in spending (and the associated taxation) do not produce huge improvements in services. So, thankfully, goodbye to social democracy.

Err, Excuse Me?

Someone, somewhere, has a very odd view of religion:

The ultimate came in last week\’s episode, featuring rowing champion Matthew Pinsent. His tree traced back to Edward I. According to medieval genealogy, monarchs are divinely appointed, so this meant Pinsent was actually a direct descendant of Jesus.

While there are Christian and other sects who insist that Jesus had children it\’s certainly not a mainstream belief: nor was it a mainstream one in medieval times. Thus no monarchs claimed direct descent from Jesus: even if they did claim to be divinely appointed. I don\’t know who got this wrong, the original TV show or Vic Groskrop, but very wrong it is.

Population Numbers

So, they\’ve changed the estimates of the future population levels again.

Rising immigration, a higher birthrate among migrant families and longer lifespans are on course to lift the population by at least 15 million by 2051, from last year\’s 60 million total. There are fears it could even hit 77 million.

Only one small thing. The headline figure will be used to insist that we must "do something". It might even be correct that we must. But as far as the EU nationals immigration is concerned we can\’t actually do anything. Even if we hadn\’t opened the floodgates, our power to limit it expires in 2011. Extra EU immigration is very small by comparison. Birth rates of immigrants , well, there\’s no known cure for them except time: second and third generation such trend towards the same birthrates as the indigenes. And the third, longer lifespans: well, do we actually want to try and do anything about this? It\’s usually thought of as a good thing, not a bad, isn\’t it?

Both Gorgeous and Sad

More than 200 Soweto Rugby Club members, their friends and other fans gathered to watch the match in a stadium in the South African township. The game was shown projected onto a sheet draped over a fence, two South African flags propped up on either side.

Gorgeous that the Afrikaner game of rugby has reached Soweto, a nation being created, sad, well, you guess.