Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A small anecdote and some reflections on race and culture

I originally wrote this post for my personal blog but it seemed to fit here too

A few days ago I went in to a private hospital to get my hearing tested and a hearing-aid prescribed. I've already got one plastic eye lens so a computerized ear comes next! That's aging for you.

Greenslopes private hospital does however have one of those murderous automated car-parks. You have to deal with a machine to get in and out. And it is not easy. I got so frazzled trying to get the machine to let me out that I left all the documentation from the audiologist on top of the machine concerned and ended up driving home without it.

It was only when I got home that I realized that I did not have my receipt etc. So what did I do? One thing I was NOT going to do was negotiate that accursed car-park machine again. So I just thought to myself that some kind person would find my documentation and take it to the audiologists -- who would return it to me. And that is exactly what happened. I received it in the mail today.

Now isn't that nice to live in a largeish city and still get treated with village courtesy? But it is no coincidence. I find that my fellow Anglo/European-Australians are generally like that: Good kind people.

And that largely happens because the Australian population is still overwhelmingly white. You would have to go to Eastern Europe to find a whiter country. The most recent figures I can find show that Australians are 70% Anglo-Celtic, 18% European and 5% East Asian, with most of the latter being Han Chinese racially. The balance are mainly Indians Pakistanis and Arabs, with Africans less than 1%.

Now it does of course sound racially bigoted to attribute Australia's friendly civility to race but it is in fact mainstream sociology. Robert Putnam in particular is known for his studies of racial homogeneity. Sociologists are almost universally Left-leaning and Putnam is too -- but he was man enough to publish his findings (after some hesitation) even though they did not suit him ideologically.

What he found was that people who live in racially mixed neighbourhoods (he is American so that means neighbourhoods with a lot of blacks or Hispanics in addition to whites) were much more likely to keep to themselves. They stayed home at night a lot more, for instance. Racial admixture killed community feeling, to put it bluntly.

Fortunately Australia has largely escaped that. Until recently our population had ancestry that was almost exclusively from Europe or the British Isles. And regardless of whether your origins were Lithuanian, Irish, Italian, German or English, we all saw one another as simply Australian. Ancestry made no difference in most cases.

In more recent years, however, Australia HAS acquired one largeish "minority": East Asians, mostly Han Chinese -- now about 5% of our population. But the Han are admirable people. They are in general quiet, peaceful, patient, intelligent, hard-working people who strive to get on well with everybody. So they fit in very well and do nothing to cause anyone to stay home at night. So even though they have disrupted Australia's racial homogeneity, they have, if anything, enhanced its social harmony.

So it was no accident that some kind person returned my papers. It is what happens in a society where people are in general kind to one another because they can identify with one another and sympathize with one another.

But all silver linings have a dark cloud and Australia has recently acquired one of those too. Australia has in recent years accepted a considerable number of African "refugees" and they already figure prominently in crime . Sad that they may destroy the remarkable and valuable harmony that Australia still has.

Mind you, Australia's native blacks -- Aborigines -- are not bad people. They often live in appalling squalor but they mostly keep to themselves and are undoubtedly one of the most polite populations on earth. They also have an excellent sense of humour and some perceptual abilities that are quite eerie at times. But alcohol is their great downfall. The lady in my life -- Anne -- knows them particularly well and has great affection for them -- something that I understand.

They are actually extraordinarily sociable people -- which is why it is so effective when they "sing" transgressors among them. The transgressor dies of grief.

Much to learn of human diversity. And shrieks of "racism" when it is discussed come only from fools or the ill-intentioned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pick your proxy

What do we conclude when temperature proxies contradict both one another and real-world data?

We see here that a new proxy temperature measurement from South America shows the Medieval warm period and little ice age that Warmists like Michael Mann tried to "iron out" of their "hockey stick" graphs.

It also however shows a temperature upturn in the 20th century that exceeds the temperature observed in their proxy data for the Medieval warm period -- which contradicts what we certainly know about the Medieval warm period -- when the historical data that we have (Vikings farming in Greenland etc.) shows that period to be warmer than the present.

Additionally, we know that Briffa's Russian pine tree proxies showed a now famous DECLINE in 20th century temperatures -- a decline that Phil Jones & Co. famously used a "trick" to "hide". There is certainly no grounds from the thermometer readings to conclude that temperatures declined overall in the 20th century, though an argument could be made that there was no significant increase.

So where do we go from there? One could quite reasonably conclude that all temperatures are local and that we should not generalize from one place to another -- and that is a highly satisfactory conclusion for skeptics and a nasty one for the Greenies.

But my conclusion is even harsher than that. I don't see how we can trust ANY proxy unless we have ACTUAL temperatures to validate it against. And we just don't have such temperature data beyond about 150 years ago.

I am acutely aware of the validity issue because it lay at the heart of my own research into psychometrics. I was attempting in my work something just as daunting as what paleoclimatologists try to do. I was trying to put numbers to human attitudes and personalities.

One normally does that via a questionnaire. One uses questionnaires as proxies for what people are thinking. But how do you know that the answers to your questionnaire reflect anything real? You don't -- unless you seek some sort of validation for the measure you have constructed. You need some objective or independent data to compare your questionnaire answers with. And in my career I was a demon about insisting on such external validation.

Many of my colleagues were more insouciant however and took the questionnaire answers they had at face value. As a result I often was able to point out that they had got it wrong and that their research could not support the conclusions that the author concerned had drawn from it. I got a lot of papers published in the academic journals by pointing out such follies.

So if I had been in Briffa's shoes and found that the actual temperature record for the 20th century contradicted what my proxy data seemed to be showing, I would have concluded that the proxy was invalid and could not be used to support any conclusions. That is what any honest scientist would have done. Briffa, however, ignored the glaring invalidity of his proxy data and pretended to draw conclusions about temperatures for the last 1,000 years or so from it.

So from my perspective as a specialist in measurement, I can see no way of drawing sound conclusions about temperature from ANY proxy data so far available. The whole Warmist enterprise is an edifice built on sand.

Being a good scientist, however, I am going to specify what a valid temperature proxy would show. It would show the Roman warm period as warmest of all for the last 2500 years (when Hannibal took elephants over the Alps in WINTER and grapes grew in Northern England). It would show the Medieval Warm period as warmer than today (when Vikings farmed in Greenland). And it would show temperatures over the last 200 years as essentially flat (as even the Warmists claim a temperature rise of less than one degree Celsius over that period). I know of no such proxy in existence so far.

Given the inherently coarse resolution of proxies, it is in fact doubtful that any proxy COULD do what Warmists ask of it. Few people seem to realize that the graphs of leaping temperature that Warmists produce are calibrated in tenths of one degree. It may be possible to extract that degree of precision from thermometers but asking it of proxies is drawing a very long bow indeed.

I will stick with the well-established facts of history and conclude that present-day temperatures are in no way exceptionally warm. Publius Cornelius Scipio could well have made that sort of complaint but we cannot

Monday, September 06, 2010

Muslims and Hispanic illegals: Can we judge the present by the past?

It is generally true that the past is the best guide to the future that we have but that is not to say that it is always a good guide. Does anybody seriously think that (say) America of 100 years ago is the same as the America of today?

Yet by far the commonest argument coming from the Left about immigration in general and about Muslim immigrants in particular is precisely that America of today IS just like the America of 100 years ago. You can read the latest such article in the NYT (by Kristof). It is an argument so hackneyed by now that he could almost have written it in his sleep. Maybe he did.

The argument is that the Irish, Italians and others who came to America in the 19th century were viewed with grave suspicion by many and suffered from discrimination but in the end blended in seamlessly with Americans of other ancestries: The melting pot.

From that Kristoff and others conclude that Muslims will eventually "melt" into a homogeneous American population also. And perhaps many will. But there are two crucial difference that will at least greatly hinder full integration:

1). In the 19th and most of the 20th century, immigrants were EXPECTED to assimilate whereas these days multiculturalism reigns and the very word "assimilate" is almost an obscenity to the Left.

2). The Italians, Irish and Poles came from CHRISTIAN backgrounds so had a considerable degree of common culture with Americans originating from earlier waves of immigration. More to the point they did not come from a culture that DESPISES Christian and post-Christian civilization, whereas Muslims do.

It is a basic imperative of Islam to attack and if possible conquer other civilizations -- and they have been doing it more or less continuously ever since the conquests led by Mohammed himself. They were even attacking Christian targets at the time of America's War of Independence and President Jefferson sent warships to combat them.

So the wave of Muslim immigrants is a wave of people whose basic teachings are hostile to America. That has never happened before and therefore makes comparisons with previous immigrant waves invalid.

The controversy over the "Ground Zero" mosque in NYC has of course brought to the fore the question of how Americans should react to Muslims in their midst. I myself, as an Australian living in the happy obscurity of a small Australian city most people have never even heard of, have no dog in that fight. I think the response to the mosque proposal is for New Yorkers and New Yorkers alone to judge. But I don't think it is unreasonable for New Yorkers to be hostile to anything Muslim given the hostility of Islam to the West.

But Muslims are still a very small immigrant group in America and the long-standing argument about immigration to America is about Latino illegals, not Muslims. And here we see the same argument from the Left: People who arrived legally from Europe a century or so ago eventually assimilated so people who arrive illegally from Mexico (etc.) will also eventually assimilate. And no doubt many will and in fact many have already done so.

But arriving legally and arriving illegally are two very different things and Europe is also very different from Latin America. Europe is the fountainhead of modern civilization whereas Latin America is a civilizational backwater (to put it kindly). So once again there are large differences between earlier arrivals and recent ones that create considerable potential for outcomes different from what we have seen in the past.

And the omens for Hispanic illegals assimilating are not good. The children of Irish, Polish, Italian (etc.) legal immigrants became indistinguishable from other Americans but that is not so with the Hispanics. That Hispanics have a notably higher crime-rate than non-Hispanic whites is concern enough but their children are even worse, even more prone to criminality. As well as black gang-bangers America now has a proliferation of Hispanic gang bangers. Far from assimilating into the mainstream, the children of the illegals have moved even further away from it.

So once again the complexities of reality upset the simplistic theories of the Left. Neither in the case of Muslims nor in the case of Hispanic illegals can we expect the universal assimilation of the past. Permanently hostile subgroups are instead to be expected. Americans are right to be concerned about that.