The New Terrapin Gazette

Number 231

22 January, 2012


Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.


A Paleoanthropologist Clarifies The Current View Of Human Evolution

The study of the origins of mankind has accelerated and undergone a transformational revolution in the past half century. Much more is now known about formerly shadowy, misunderstood creatures like Neanderthaler and the earlier Heidelberg hominins. The African origins of humanity are better understood, research tools are now infinitely more effective, and of course there are more fossils to study. What was once a confusion of limited evidence, primitive technology and conflicting speculation is finally taking on more and more hard science. The results make it easier for the layman to gain a basic understanding of it all.

And then…there is floresiensis. A few years ago, his bones were found in Indonesia, and fitting him into the overall picture of human evolution has been difficult. Some scholars feel he was a pathological modern human, and others suggest that he came directly from Africa, having been descended from the ancestors of humans. Next there is the mild shock that came with the realization that most humans carry Neanderthal genetic material. Finally, one is told that a genetically distinct type of humans — Denisovans — existed and left its DNA in the native peoples of Australia and New Guinea. Sometimes it may seem as if all the new information causes confusion rather than clears it away.

Fortunately for the non-specialist, there is this informative video. It is accompanied by a text of the speaker’s words, which is an excellent feature.

For most people, the pure Darwinian explanation for the origin of man is considered sufficient. It has, however, numerous gaps and shortcomings, and it can not explain the mechanism of evolution except in general terms that had to be taken on faith. That has left it open to refutation by people whose faith conflicted with the faith of the professors who taught evolution.

Thus did faith clash with faith, while true science remained stalled and largely mute. It was, for example, customary for geneticists, biologists and anthropologists to say simply that two major mechanisms, differential reproduction and natural selection, allowed the widespread adoption of a new genetic trait within a population. The explanation went something like this: for some reason, whether it was recombination, radiation or chemicals, or something as yet unknown, genetic material mutated randomly. It was known that most of these mutations turn out to be deleterious, so only a few would make the survival of the individual more likely, or prolong his life so he could produce more offspring.

But if there was a survival value to the mutation, the individual with it would indeed be at an advantage, and more likely to pass his wonderful new trait along. It would spread through the population, and over time, the incidence of these beneficial mutations would increase dramatically and new ones would arise, producing a new type of organism. If a variety of mutations accumulated in the gene pool, a new species would arise.

A moment’s thought reveals weakness in this fairy tale. Random mutations are usually negative in value; in fact they produce birth defects or spontaneous abortions far more often than they improve the hardiness of the next generation. From an entirely random process one could never expect that several individuals would be simultaneously favored with the identical beneficial mutation; beneficial mutations would appear infrequently, and virtually never in two contemporaneous individuals. Such statistically unlikely events could never initiate or sustain evolution.

Nor would natural selection somehow help to spread the new and improved genetic material in the population when one male alone was gifted by Dame Fortune with something better. If he mated with a female who did not have his mutation, the new genetic material might not be passed on to any of his offspring. In order for the new mutation to become common in the breeding population, it would have to be shared by a significant percentage of the population of or under child-bearing age. Once the mutation were carried fairly commonly, natural selection and differential reproduction would see to an increase in its incidence.

Under the Darwinian scheme, one person wins the genetic lottery, and because he is longer-lived or sexier than others, spreads his improved inheritance widely. It was not grasped that this would be extremely likely to fail. That unique and solitary mutation would be at high risk of being destroyed by illness, accident, or mayhem. If it could get under way, the process of evolution would become increasingly fragile as it proceeded, for it would depend on astronomical levels of good luck to sustain it.

Yet the results of evolution abounded, suggesting its efficacy and omnipresence. Clearly, humans and apes are related. To believe that they share a common ancestor is to make a small hop to a quite reasonable opinion.

Then DNA was discovered and the technology of its study, manipulation and identification advanced rapidly. A lot more was learned, and the evolution of man from something like an ape became somewhat more credible.

That did not solve the fundamental puzzle. No one knew how pure chance could be the instigating force that would gift at least a few individuals, all at the same time, with the changes that would improve their chances of survival and increase the number of their offspring who would live to reproduce. It was assumed that this process was not just possible but a common occurrence. There was no way to submit any of these fanciful hypotheses to experimentation.

As this newsletter suggested some time ago (in Number 162), the appearance of epigenetics radically changed the theory of evolution.

Epigenetics is the key because it removes chance, randomness and blind luck from the process. It explains at a stroke why genetic material, genes or DNA (choose the term you prefer) change apparently purposefully.

That’s right: evolution does not depend on chance. It aims at better, stronger, longer-lived, more durable organisms that produce more offspring. This seeming purposiveness is the result of stress on the individual.

It has been discovered and experimentally demonstrated that what may seem futile attempts to cope with the environment act as stimuli for alterations of the genetic material. To put it in simplistic terms, if you discover the utility of study and force yourself to hit the books hard, and then you have children and rear them to devote a lot of their time and energy to study, your grandchildren will be genetically distinct in ways that improve their scholarly performance over yours.

This is not the ridiculed inheritance of acquired characters, often called Lamarckism or Lysenkoism. It is the process of enhancement that begins with a challenge and the effort of the body to meet it; in primates, it affects not just the muscles and skeleton, but the nervous system as well, making structural changes that affect what is commonly thought of as intelligence.

This operation of apparent purposiveness was foreseen by the greatest theoretical biologist of the twentieth century, Ludwig von Bertalanffy. He did not formulate the concepts of epigenetics, but realized that there was what he called a teleological element in evolution. It is, according to his writing, as if evolution does have goals and ends.

Von Bertalanffy was the founder of general system theory, and that suggests that he may have conceived of the organism as a system in which the somatotype was not simply the passive expression of the genotype. The exchange of information within a system is often of befuddling complexity; that might suggest that the body can alter the genetic material it will pass on to its offspring.

One might also speculate on whether true randomness exists in the universe, though that concept has long been assumed by geneticists to be acceptable. It may be that “random” is a word that stands for “of unknown cause”.

Such speculation is not irrelevant, for now that it has been experimentally demonstrated that organisms have responded to specific changes in their environments by undergoing genetic changes that better equip their offspring to cope, biology will have to add something like stress and striving to its list of the causes of mutation.

The future is not purely a matter of chance; mankind can make a difference, and always has. The effort is the stimulus for improvement, and the stress of trying to cope with new or unsatisfactory circumstances is the origin of effort. DNA is open to change, in other words, and as long as the pressure to change is not overwhelming, the environment and aspirations of the organism serve as impulses to increasingly successful adaptation.

This is the answer to the question of how enough mutations can arise simultaneously in a population to permit their transmission to a significant percentage of the next generation. It is not up to the single lucky carrier of a mutated gene to spread his advantage widely; that task is undertaken by a number of individuals whose genetic material has been altered by their responses to the environment they share. In a few generations, the gene pool of the group will be significantly different.

In short, now the mechanism of natural selection is better understood, and evolution is no longer a concept that need be based on faith.

Post script: do not assume that evolution toward better adaptability is quick, as humans describe events. Skin color darkens to protect people who are frequently exposed to strong solar radiation; from genetically pale to genetically black is estimated to take approximately twenty thousand years.

 

A Short Review Of A Book You Might Like To Read

The Black Banners, ISBN 978-0-393-07942-5, by Ali H. Soufan.

The author was an FBI special agent who began his investigation of Al Qaeda and related jihadist groups with the attack on the USS Cole, and continued his work after the “9/11” catastrophe. Fluent in Arabic, he interrogated a number of Islamist holy warriors. His account includes the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The author makes clear that the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington might well have been prevented if the CIA had been legally permitted to talk to the FBI. His profound outrage shames the US federal bureaucracy. He does not mention Jamie Gorelick, but her central role in this disgrace is known…and will be familiar to long-term readers of this newsletter (for a copy of the issue that contains an account of this female’s fell accomplishments in both intelligence and finance, send an e-mail message to the Eagle Wing Palace and indicate you want Number 67).

Banners also makes a convincing case that “enhanced interrogation” of Islamists is at best a waste of time, and at worst counterproductive. Soufan explains that the captured murderers had been trained to expect to be mutilated and see their daughters sodomized, so “waterboarding” appeared to the prisoners to be ridiculous. Soufan routinely got more information out of the prisoners he talked to than did all the swaggering CIA cowboys with their tough talk and farcical routines. Yes, those “enhancements” are unpleasant, and no, you would not want to undergo them, but when the Al Qaeda villains realized how unwilling the CIA was to impose real pain, they had to hide their smirks.

Some portions of Soufan’s account are blacked out. The reader will wonder why the book is censored, as parts of the excised text can be easily deduced from their contexts, and Soufan says all of the forbidden information was public before his book was published.

 

Soufan’s opinion of the way the CIA, the Department of Justice, and the executive branch of the federal government conducted themselves: “The person or persons running the program were not sane.”

 

The Thirty-One Things You Are Most Unlikely To Hear A Southern Boy Say

Is this class warfare? Possibly, but it’s still funny. No, the source will not be revealed; The New Terrapin does not want you to develop bad internet browsing habits.

31. When I retire, I’m movin’ north.
30. Oh, I just couldn’t; she’s only sixteen.
29. I’ll take Shakespeare for one thousand, Alex.
28. Duct tape won’t fix that.
27. Come to think of it, I’ll have a Heineken.
26. We don’t keep firearms in this house.
25. You can’t feed that to the dog.
24. No kids in the back of the pickup — it’s just not safe.
23. Wrestling is fake.
22. We’re vegetarians.
21. Do you think my gut is too big?
20. I’ll have grapefruit and grapes instead of biscuits and gravy.
19. Honey, we don’t need another dog.
18. Who gives a damn who won the Civil War?
17. Give me the small bag of pork rinds.
16. Too many deer heads detract from the decor.
15. I just couldn’t find a thing at Wal-Mart today.
14. Trim the fat off that steak.
13. Cappuccino tastes better than espresso.
12. The tires on that truck are too big.
11. I’ve got it all on the C: DRIVE.
10. Unsweetened tea tastes better.
9. My fiancee, Bobbie Jo, is registered at Tiffany’s.
8. I’ve got two cases of Zima for the Super Bowl.
7. Checkmate!
6. She’s too young to be wearing a bikini.
5. Hey, here’s an episode of “Hee Haw” that we haven’t seen.
4. I don’t have a favorite college team.
3. You Guys.
2. Those shorts ought to be a little longer, Betty Mae.
1. Nope, no more beer for me. I’m driving a whole busload of us down to re-elect Obama.

 

Links

Shame on the folks at Apple — they have gone too far. Before you buy, inform yourself. Then consider the ethical implications of Apple’s understanding of how your use of the company’s software limits your ownership of your work. A steel legal trap awaits the unaware.

California provides a prime example of sophisticated gerrymandering. It’s too bad nobody was paying attention, but that’s the way politics is conducted in a single-party state.

Ah, yes, The Religion of Peace is once again the object of attention: a Kuwaiti imam explains how Muslims can conduct themselves properly when dealing with Israel.

Related: video of a “Palestinian” hate-monger who poses as a religious leader.

The hoax that is anthropogenic global warming has a new ally: folks whose original intent was to defend the teaching of human evolution. This is appalling, for AGW and evolution are utterly dissimilar. The scientific credibility of evolutionary biology — see the item above — cannot be somehow transferred to a demonstrable fraud.

Are you dead, and having trouble voting because of that? Well, did you die in New Hampshire? … You did? Hey, no problem!

The US federal judicial system has incorrectly interpreted the US constitution. A columnist points out that “If there is no outer limit on Congress’ power to regulate behavior in the name of regulating interstate commerce, then the Framers’ design of a limited federal government is nullified”. Precisely. This fundamental issue will be decided by the supreme court when it rules on a legal challenge to Obamacare. The decision will be one the most pervasively significant in US history.

Obamites and “progressives” keep trying to smear GOP candidates as racist elitists. Gingrich is not easy prey.

Nothing for something: what you get when you throw money at public education.

If you have been wondering what in the world ails Europe, here is commentary that may prove helpful. Recommended.

Can one imagine a world — or a nation, for that matter — run by “Palestinians”? There are some indications as to what it would be like.

There is diversity in the community of “progressive” journalists. Consider, for example, the non-issue of whether the wealthy should be permitted to advertise their political opinions.

Related, sort of: an amazing column in the Washington Post that sums up the Clinton/Obama rejection of that Keystone pipeline. My, my.

What? After the ideological lunacy, political meddling and managerial malfeasance that shattered the financial framework of the USA, were no lessons learned? Evidently that’s the case.

The various “Occupy” groups are intellectually barren, unimaginative and unsanitary. Little else need be said about virtually all of them. One in particular, however, does deserve notice; possibly because it is frustrated by ineffectiveness, it appears to have linked up with bigots and murderers.

The fuss caused by video of Marines urinating on Taliban corpses is a dispute regarding political correctness on the battlefield, but no one seems to recognize that. The matter can be clarified, fortunately.

 

According to the major US news media, Israel is almost always the villain. Why that is remains a question that demands an answer.

A humorist explains the problem caused by candidate Romney’s experience working in the private sector.

The union is hiring. Do you have the special skills required, Spike? How about you, Mad Dog?

This video of an interview concerning the US constitution and the future of political liberty is worth your time, so if it balks the first time you click on the link and start the playback, restart it.

SOPA and PIPA appear to be in trouble; Harry Reid has backed down. No, the fight is not over. The censors and their mercenaries in Congress will try again. Harry will support them as far as he dares. His efforts must be blocked, for the internet, one of the most significant developments of the twentieth century, belongs beyond the censors’ reach.

Never mind the ethical and legal aspects of the event reported here; realize that the account proves once again that utterly, astronomically, overwhelmingly improbable phenomena — things so unlikely to happen that we think of them as impossible — do occur. Some folks believe that everything that happens will be seen to be unlikely, as long as the descriptions of those incidents are highly detailed. Perhaps calculating the odds of an event such as an earthquake, volcanic eruption or meteor impact is a waste of time; perhaps using any risk calculations as a guide is foolish. Prepare, Pilgrims.

“The whole affair was just another friendly reminder of why I try to avoid doing anything in the US at all. Regulations, financial tracking, consumer protection — it’s just too damn difficult to get anything done.”

An excellent video explains “progressive” economic ideology, which is also known as Keynesianism.

 


I won’t slave for beggar’s pay
Likewise gold and jewels
But I would slave to learn the way
To sink your ship of fools


The masthead includes a quote from the works of Frederic Bastiat.

The staff of The New Terrapin Gazette expresses its sincere gratitude to the many people who have gifted the world with Arch Linux, Emacs, and Firefox.

Publisher:The Eagle Wing Palace of The Queen Chinee