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US immigration reformers might take heart from the recent announcement of this policy proposal from Australia’s major centre left opposition[1]:

Foreigners working in Australia would be issued with a photo identity card and, if found working without one, would be deported, the Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, said yesterday …

All non-residents with the right to work would be issued with a card when their visa was granted. The card would expire with their visa. Apart from a photo it would feature their name, nationality, passport number, visa status and tax file number, and they would be required to present it when seeking work.

Speaking in Townsville, Mr Latham said: “We’ve got 60,000 illegal migrants within Australia and half of those are working – 30,000 illegal overseas workers who are taking up Australian jobs and running down Australian working conditions and entitlements. The Howard Government talks a lot about border protection but in fact it is neglecting a lot of the big issues within the migration system …

The announcement followed several days on the hustings in Queensland in which Mr Latham has ramped up Labor’s security rhetoric, promising to be tougher on border protection than the Howard Government.

[1] Quoting is not endorsement. Personally I’m ambivalent about the ‘righter than thou’ rhetoric on immigration adopted by the Labor Party because of historical parallels – e.g. traditionally it was the Labor party which was more ‘gung ho’ on the White Australia Policy until recently. Nonetheless it’s worth noting that Latham has adopted a very clever tactic – the policy wll go down well with the dwindling blue collar organised labour base, and he can defend himself against charges of xenophobia on the basis that it’s all about protecting illegals from ‘exploitation’.

Posted by jason_s at 12:14 AM

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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OK, this piece on shotgun weddings in India is just too hilarious to go unnoticed.

It is a big mistake to venture out at night if you are young, male and unmarried in the Indian state of Bihar.

Subhash Kumar, a bank clerk in Patna, let his guard down and paid the price by being kidnapped. Four days after being carried off by a gang of thugs, manacled to a bed, starved and severely beaten, Kumar found himself married to a girl he had never seen before.

His tears and offers to pay ransom led to beatings, at least until the nuptials were complete. During the marriage ceremony a rope was tied around Kumar’s waist in case he disgraced the bride’s family by trying to flee. But by then, the resistance had been beaten out of him.

In those dark hours, all he wanted was for the nightmare to end, even if it meant being married to a complete stranger. The next day a sullen Kumar took his wife home, vowing vengeance against his in-laws.

But, like thousands of similarly married Bihari grooms, he feared the kidnappers’ vengeance. Unwilling to face more beatings, he resigned himself to marriage …

This is marriage season in Bihar, in India’s east, and it is a dangerous time for young men. Bihari social workers say excessive dowry demands by grooms has forced the parents of young women to hire men to organise such “shotgun alliances”.

Bihar is among the most violent of India’s 28 states, where politicians and landlords own private armies and the rule of law barely exists. Officials in the state capital, Patna, said scores of bachelors were abducted each year in the state’s Gaya, Darbangha and Purnea districts and, after being beaten senseless, were married according to Hindu rites, in a custom that had gained tacit social approval.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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The following finding cited in this article speaks for itself and suggests that the generalisation that ‘Jews vote left’ (expanded into something sinister by the likes of Kevin Macdonald) does not necessarily hold true in countries other than the US, even those with roughly the same cultural foundations,

Evidence suggests that most Australian Jews follow their socioeconomic interests and vote conservative. A 1991 survey of the Melbourne Jewish community conducted by John Goldlust found that 24.5 per cent favoured the ALP and 63.5 per cent the Coalition. Equally, a 1995 survey of Jewish leaders in Australia, conducted by Professor Bernard Rechter for the Australian Institute of Jewish Affairs, found that 26 per cent would vote ALP and 64 per cent Liberal.

Even without the strong pro-Israel record of the Prime Minister, John Howard, Jewish support for the Coalition is unlikely to waver much. The same applies to the minority of Jews who vote ALP. Many of them are concerned about other issues, such as Aboriginal rights, support for asylum seekers, and defending Medicare. A minority of left-leaning Jews may even support the ALP taking a more critical position vis-a-vis Israel.

Exceptions, as always, prove the rule. The only parliamentary seat significantly affected by a Jewish vote is the inner city area of Melbourne Ports: according to demographics; an estimated 15-20 per cent of voters in Melbourne Ports are Jews.

Many swinging Jewish voters support the sitting Labor MP, Michael Danby, because he is Jewish and passionately pro-Israel. For this reason, they also are unlikely to change their vote simply because some other Labor MPs express contrary views. The appearance of a few perceived hostile backbenchers is likely to confirm, not undermine, their decision to support Danby.

*Note to US readers – in the bizzaro world of Australia, Liberal = conservative

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Right wing news polls a select group of bloggers on who they think are the worst figures in US history and they come up with this list:

17) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (6)
17) John Walker (6)
17) Lee Harvey Oswald (6)
17) Robert Byrd (6)
16) Aldrich Ames (7)
14) Richard Nixon (8)
14) Aaron Burr (8)
12) Al Sharpton (9)
12) Charles Manson (9)
8) Timothy McVeigh (10)
8) Lyndon Johnson (10)
8) Hillary Clinton (10)
8) John Wilkes Booth (10)
7) Alger Hiss (12)
6) Noam Chomsky (13)
4) Jesse Jackson (14)
4) Jimmy Carter (14)
3) Bill Clinton (15)
2) Benedict Arnold (19)
1) The Rosenbergs (15) & Julius Rosenberg (5) (20 total votes)

I’m sorry but I find this list completely wacked. I suppose it’s debatable that the Rosenbergs might deserve to top it, but Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky, Jesse Jackson, Hillary Clinton and LBJ are worse than or equal to mass murderer and domestic terrorist Tim McVeigh? (I suppose a paleolibertarian might argue that LBJ is worse because he continued Vietnam but that’s not where these right wing bloggers who also put old Noam on the list are coming from). Need we remind people that Dubya is probably a far more statist and socialistic US President than Clinton who along with Gore got the ‘reinventing government’ movement going, promoted free trade, and reformed welfare? Or that it was Jimmy Carter who started the move towards economic deregulation in the US starting with airlines under the stewardship of deregulation guru Alfred Kahn?

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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So much for rehabilitation:

TEACHING prisoners how to think and giving them social skills has failed to stop them returning to a life of crime, according to Home Office research. The Prison Service had invested £200 million in the courses which aim to cut reconviction rates.

Prisoners who attended the courses were just as likely to reoffend as inmates who did not attend. Among medium to high-risk offenders, the reconviction rate was actually higher

The courses, which cost an estimated £2,000-£7,000 per place, aim to control “impulsivity, develop greater empathy with others and improve thinking skills”. They were adopted after research in Canada suggested they were successful and about 32,000 prisoners have so far completed them.

Groups of eight to ten prisoners are taught to address self-control, problem-solving and moral behaviour. Some courses include role-playing exercises involving an argument over a woman in a pub. The prisoner is shown how to think his way out of the situation rather than assaulting the other person.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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I’m currently reading Hitler’s Jewish soldiers, an important and disturbing book I’ve blogged about before but hadn’t actually been able to get hold of until now (I bought a copy at Waterstone’s, an excellent book store chain here in London). This work fascinates me as much for its study of human psychology and as a work that really fits as much into that misused term ‘cultural studies’ as it does into military history. The book examines the plight of the ‘Mischlinge’ (‘partial Jews’) who served in the German military during Hitler’s reign. Why did they do it?[1] Apparently because of one or more of these motives

1) Some were themselves anti-semitic, Nazi supporters and strong German nationalists who were unaware of their Jewish ancestry until the Nuremberg laws brought it to their attention – ironically in some cases this was because the Jewish parent or grandparent was of Orthodox background and had become cut off from their community after marrying Goyim
2) Some were aware of their Jewish ancestry and had some concern for their relatives but were proud patriots, probably mildly culturally anti-semitic, and took the view of ‘my country, right or wrong’. Some may even have had Nazi sympathies, and were unaware, at least initially, of the depth of the Nazi agenda, tending to project their own cultural nationalist beliefs into it rather than the essentialist-racist agenda that Nazism really was.
This attitude was in fact also not uncommon among the more conservative, assimilated Jews who thought that the ‘Eastern Jews’ streaming in from Poland and elsewhere were giving German Jews a bad reputation because of their alien ways. For instance, the book documents that the prominent leader of the right wing nationalist Jews, Dr Max Naumann, wrote to Hitler to urge him to deport the ‘Eastern Jews’ from Germany.
A more extreme and almost perverse version of this distinction was held by the interesting and contradictory character, Wilhelm Kube, a loyal Nazi governor who had no problem sending Eastern Jews to their death in concentration camps but who, in a strange display of moral courage. started protesting to his superiors when he discovered that German Jews were also being exterminated – he thought that this was wrong because the latter were ‘culturally German’ and therefore no longer subhuman.
3) Some were aware of their Jewish ancestry and heritage, identified with the heritage and were deeply concerned about their relatives. They thought that the best way to protect their family was to demonstrate their ‘deservingness’ by serving with distinction in the army and therefore obtaining exemptions for their family.

There are some truly fascinating and in some cases chilling case studies and anecdotes reported in this book. I was particularly interested in the cognitive dissonance that many of these Mischlinge and their relatives had to get used to living in those insane times. These people were in an awkward position, being caught between two worlds (they were rejected by the Jewish community too who thought they had forsaken their heritage by ‘sucking up’ to the German side and then only turning to them when there was trouble). For instance, the book relates the case of one half-Jewish soldier, Rolf von Sydow, who writes after watching the anti-semitic Nazi propaganda film Jud Suss:

This film doesn’t characterise me at all. I’m not a Jew. I don’t go to synagogue … I don’t betray other people … I don’t look Jewish. I’m from the aristocracy … I’m better than the others … I hate my grandparents because they’re guilty. I hate my friends because they’re Aryans. I hate the world. I hate myself.

Some Mischlinge were driven to overcompensate because of propaganda about their inferiority:

Young Mischlinge tried hard to excel, particularly in athletics. Hans-Geert Falkenberg taught at school that Mischlinge and Jews were inferior. In response he ‘compensated … I was the best long distance runner, the best boxer, the best swimmer, the best goalie … Not because I was a natural athlete; only to prove that everything they taught was absolute nonsense’

The family dynamics this situation created was at times unique, to say the least. The book reports the case of Dieter Bergmann, a Mischlinge who had a Nazi aunt. The aunt wrote to him as follows:

My dear boy, I think people like you must be exterminated if our fatherland is to remain pure and victorious against the Marxist-Jewish conspiracy. Sorry, my dear boy. You know I love you.

Another Mischlinge, Hans-Geert Falkenberg, tells his Nazi godmother that his Jewish grandmother got deported to the east. When the Nazi godmother asks him why he didn’t tell her this earlier, he simply says it’s because she is a Nazi to which she replies:

Geert, naturally I believe that the Jews are Germany’s misfortune, but that has nothing to do with Grandma.

The book makes the surprising discovery that most of the Mischlinge studied had the sympathies of both their comrades and superiors when their ancestry came to light[2]. Some of these comrades and superiors even went as far as to cover up the ancestry of valued Mischlinge soldiers. These military men were by no means racial liberals[3] and were mostly culturally anti-semitic but apparently did not care less in the case of Mischlinge who were as German as the average guy. Most of them probably would have agreed with the conservative Hindenburg’s more ‘middle of the road’ antisemitism which recommended treating all Jews except those who served in the army as second-class citizens. Hitler apparently held back on his radicalism in this area until he felt he no longer needed the support of Hindenburg conservatives which was why the Mischlinge policy waxed and waned over time.

[1] Military policy with regard to the Mischlinge waxed and waned according to Hitler’s moods. Initially at the start of the war, the Mischlinge were drafted into the army on condition that they would never attain higher rank regardless of their achievement. Later Hitler ordered all Mischlinge to be discharged subject to an exemptions policy that was based on personal references. Later still when the ‘final solution’ was being discussed, the absurd position was formulated that quarter Jews and half Jews who served the army would, after the end of the war, be ‘Aryanised’ but that the half Jew veterans, in common with other half Jews would be sterilised. In light of these circumstances which meant that at least for some period of time the Mischinge had no choice but to serve, my question is addressed to the cases of those Mischlinge who were keen to serve from the very beginning and who subsequently did all they could to avoid being discharged.
[2] There were a few notable exceptions like the extreme case of one whose Officer pulled out a gun and shot him the moment he filled out his ancestry form and ticked the ‘wrong’ box, but this was outnumbered by the number of cases of sympathy, even in one case of a superior who broke into tears when he saw the Mischlinge ticking the ‘wrong’ box.
[3] As evidenced by the fact that these same comrades had no qualms bullying ‘ghetto Jews’ found in areas of conquest, destroying their synagogues and cutting off their beards. However, it was apparent that many of these military men themselves, like most cognitive elites, had Jewish relations whether by business or marriage. Indeed many of the Junker aristocracy had Jewish blood in their veins because of classic ‘Establishment-New Money’ marriage alliances (e.g. many of these Mischlinge had ‘Vons’ in their names). They would probably have found it galling that the real Untermenschen, Hitler, a failed artist and ex-flophouse resident with a history of mental retardation and insanity in his family, would impose such indignities on their valued comrades in arms, and in some cases, relatives.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Some pretty hilarious stuff can be found on these websites which profile presidential candidates for the 2004 election. Take a look for instance at the site for Other Republican candidates:

Rev. Jack Fellure previously registered with the FEC as a Presidential candidate in 1992, 1996 and 2000. Days after the 2000 election — but before the winner was known — Fellure filed FEC paperwork to run again in 2004. Fellure believes that President George H.W. Bush was responsible for fanning “the flames of international, Satanic, Marxist socialism to the exclusion of our national sovereignty.” Further, Fellure said that President Clinton subsequently “shifted into overdrive the socialistic, Marxist New World Order agenda.” He says our country is “being destroyed by atheists, Marxists, liberals, queers, liars, draft-dodgers, flag-burners, dope addicts, sex perverts and anti-Christians.” Fellure, clearly, does not buy into the whole “Big Tent” concept of the GOP. In 1992, Fellure qualified for the NH primary ballot and finished in 24th place (36 votes).

Hmm, he could appeal to some of the folks from VFR.

On the Independent side there’s a very close contest for looniest candidate but this guy would have to be in the top 10:

Henri Calitri sent Politics1 a lengthy, handwritten note explaining that he plans to run for President in 2004. It also set forth his rather … umm … unusual platform. Here are some excerpts from Calitri’s note: “My political party believes in expressing as many laws to put forth as can possibly be conceived … My dreams consist of forming a unit composed of a modern couple who will assimilate information on the magic techniques of penis enlargement through articles in popular magazines and medical journals … I am looking forward to creating a large research office in discovering immortality for a human being to live till the age of 925 years … At this time, I believe that I must become the President of the United States of America, or something similar, to be able to effectively do this. I want human beings to survive, most certainly on earth, as a beautiful organism, in sync with all aliens also living in this zone of space, occuring in the dimension [of] Hell.” Huh? From other info found on the net, Calitri is apparently an Aries, a tow truck operator and involved in pagan/wiccan groups. He’s also written an article about how tow trucks would have been useful to the ancient Egyptians during the building of the great pyramids. No campaign site yet … but I can’t wait to see it!

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Richard Dawkins is trying to form some sort of movement to get atheists or non-theists called ‘brights’. His explanation:

A triumph of consciousness-raising has been the homosexual hijacking of the word “gay”. I used to mourn the loss of gay in (what I still think of as) its true sense. But on the bright side (wait for it) gay has inspired a new imitator, which is the climax of this article. Gay is succinct, uplifting, positive: an “up” word, where homosexual is a down word, and queer, faggot and pooftah are insults. Those of us who subscribe to no religion; those of us whose view of the universe is natural rather than supernatural; those of us who rejoice in the real and scorn the false comfort of the unreal, we need a word of our own, a word like “gay”. You can say “I am an atheist” but at best it sounds stuffy (like “I am a homosexual”) and at worst it inflames prejudice (like “I am a homosexual”).

Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, of Sacramento, California, have set out to coin a new word, a new “gay”. Like gay, it should be a noun hijacked from an adjective, with its original meaning changed but not too much. Like gay, it should be catchy: a potentially prolific meme. Like gay, it should be positive, warm, cheerful, bright.

Bright? Yes, bright. Bright is the word, the new noun

I don’t know whether he was off his rocker when he wrote this. I mean, I’m pretty smug about my scientific materialism too, but this sort of campaign makes us non-theists look like dweebs, really. But if you’re interested, here is the website. I wouldn’t mind getting into this for networking purposes and I don’t even disagree with the outreach objectives, but why such a smug name? It makes us look like … Christian evangelists.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the weirdest stories I’ve ever read about – half black man becomes neo-Nazi activist. What a sick puppy:

In October 2002, I drove to the Plymouth County Jail to see Leo Felton. It was a bright fall Saturday, and the drive was long, so it gave me a chance to ponder what I already knew about him. I am a journalist for The Boston Globe, and Felton was an assignment, then he was a hobby, and then he became something else altogether. After his arrest for counterfeiting, robbery, and conspiracy to bomb what authorities said were Jewish or African-American targets, I had mapped out the paradoxes of Felton’s life: how his mother, a white civil rights activist, raised him in a liberal, openly gay household. How his father, a black architect living in Canada, refused to believe his son had become a racist.

There was a similar case in Australia. Jack van Tongeren, responsible for a series of bombings of Asian businesses in Perth, recently released from prison and something of a godfather in the Aussie neo-Nazi movement, is half-Indonesian. Lumpenproles, all of them.

Update: NY TIMES Magazine has a profile of the black white supremacist.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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A while ago, a commentator on one of my posts asked me to elaborate on my view on free will which I claimed was a useless concept. I suppose the next question would have been how my agnosticism about the existence of free will is reconcilable with classical liberalism. Well on this issue I get my bearings from Hayek and this paper by Gary Dempsey of Cato on Hayek’s views on free will and his anticipation of the ‘neural networks’ idea should answer these questions, as well being a treat for enthusiasts of both evolutionary theory and Hayek. Here is the abstract:

This paper examines the evolutionary epistemology of the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek. I argue that Hayek embraces a connectionist theory of mind that exhibits the trial-and-error strategy increasingly employed by many artificial intelligence researchers. I also maintain that Hayek recognizes that his epistemology undermines the idea of free will because it implies that the mind’s operation is determined by the evolutionary interaction of the matter that comprises ourselves and the world around us. I point out, however, that Hayek responds to this implied determinism by explaining that it can have no practical impact on our day-to-day lives because, as he demonstrates, the complexity of the mind’s evolution prevents us from ever knowing how we are determined to behave. Instead, we can only know our mind at the instant we experience it.

Regarding the intellectual genealogy of the neural networks concept, here is a key quote:

Once a ‘thick’ net of ordering connections is established in the mind, says Hayek, a range of possible neural routing patterns is engendered. Simultaneous classification, in other words, results in “a process of channeling, or switching, or ‘gating’ of the nervous impulses” (1967, p51). Yet Hayek is emphatic that this ‘lock-and-dam’ system of neural connections does not in and of itself specify the neural routing patterns that will be employed by the mind. Instead, neural connections constitute “dispositions” (1978c, 40) and only through competition among many different neural dispositions and combinations of dispositions will distinctly functional patterns be discovered. Hayek thus embraces the view that the physiological apparatus that enables us to know the world is itself subject to the pressures of the natural selection process. This view should not sound unusual to readers aquainted with the writings of nueroscientist William H. Calvin (1987, 1996b) and Nobel-laureate neurobiologist Gerald M. Edelman (1982, 1987), and it bears special noting that Edelman and Hayek were familiar with each other’s work. In fact, Edelman cites Hayek in his book Neural Darwinism,[3] and Hayek cites Edelman in his book The Fatal Conceit.

Also note the anticipation of the memetics concept:

Hayek makes it clear that the discovery of neural rules is not going on in only one mind, but in everyone’s mind, and that the discoveries made in one mind can “infect” (1967b, p47) other minds through speech and example. As such, he argues that humans are intelligent, in part, because neural rules can be accumulated and transmitted from person to person, generation to generation. “What we call the mind,” says Hayek, “is not something that the individual was born with…but something his genetic equipment helps him acquire, as he grows up…by absorbing the results of a tradition that is not genetically transmitted” (1988, p22).[5] In other words, language, morals, law, etc., are not discovered ex nihilo by each mind, but simply constitute an epidemic of “imitation” (ibid., 24), of successful neural rules combining and spreading through populations. Under this view, “learning how to behave is more the source than the result of insight, reason, and understanding” (ibid., p21) and “it may well be asked whether an individual who did not have the opportunity to tap such a cultural tradition could be said even to have a mind” (ibid., p24).

Finally a direct quote from Hayek himself on the normative implications of his brand of materialism:

we may…well be able to establish that every single action of a human being is the necessary result of the inherited structure of his body (particularly of its nervous system) and of all the external influences which have acted upon it since birth. We might be able to go further and assert that if the most important of these factors were in a particular case very much the same as with most other individuals, a particular class of influences will have a certain kind of effect. But this would be an empirical generalization based on a ceteris paribus assumption which we could not verify in the particular instance. The chief fact would continue to be, in spite of our knowledge of the principle on which the human mind works, that we should not be able to state the full set of particular facts which brought it about that the individual did a particular thing at a particular time (1989, pp86-87).

Update
Martin in Comments asks if the ideas above have any implications for the criminal justice system. Well, the short answer is no. Hayek was prominent in the resurgence of classical liberal thinking so it obviously didn’t affect his *normative* views. As noted, Hayek’s resolution of the dilemma is that we are unable to behave as if we have no free will so it doesn’t matter. When I say the concept of free will is ‘useless’ perhaps I should have been more exact – it is useless or meaningless for positive theory. I always thought that as a materialist this conclusion should not be very surprising and that all materialists would be comfortable with this implication. However free will may be a useful metaphysical fiction for public policy purposes.

That is , for normative purposes and everyday purposes we treat people *as if* they have free wil (and in fact the latter is unavoidable except for autistics)l. When we say that X is of sound mind and we hold him responsible for a crime and we punish him, how can we distinguish that from cases where we don’t punish X because he isn’t of sound mind?

Well, a punishment is basically a price signal we send into the environment of people contemplating the costs and benefits of the act similar to acts commited by X. The main aim of the justice system from a utilitarian perspective is deterrence. Let’s say the objective of the system is to minimise the incidence of particular acts. Absent the punishment more of those acts would be committed, with the punishment a sting is introduced which all people otherwise inclined to act like X in future will then be forced to take into account – none of this requires free will in principle. X may decide not to rob a bank because it’s too much hassle – whether this hassle comes from the fear of the law or that he can’t afford to buy the right mask or doesn’t know how to handle a gun properly is irrelevant from the perspective of positive explanation. Similarly we don’t need to believe that plants have free will when they grow a certain way because of the direction of the sun.

What do we mean when we conclude that X can be held responsible for his crime and Y cannot because Y is schizophrenic? Well it means this extra price of robbing a bank we introduce into the system isn’t going to be inputted by people of the category of Y into the calculus of costs and benefits in a way that would deter them from robbing banks because the signal receiver is too jammed. Again, no real need to *explain* the differences in doctrine in terms of free will.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Gene enhances prefrontal function at a price

Studies of a gene that affects how efficiently the brain’s frontal lobes process information are revealing some untidy consequences of a tiny variation in its molecular structure and how it may increase susceptibility to schizophrenia. People with a common version of the gene associated with more efficient working memory and frontal lobe information processing may pay a penalty in adverse responses to amphetamine, in heightened anxiety and sensitivity to pain. Yet, another common version may slightly bias the brain toward a pattern of neurochemical activity associated with psychosis, report researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Everyone inherits two copies of the catecho-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, one from each parent. It codes for the enzyme that metabolizes neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine and comes in two common versions. One version, met, contains the amino acid methionine at a point in its chemical sequence where the other version, val, contains a valine. Depending on the mix of variants inherited, a person’s COMT genes can be typed met/met, val/val, or val/met.

“Since both versions of the COMT gene are common in the population – they’ve been conserved as the human brain evolved — it makes sense that each would confer some advantages and disadvantages,” explained Daniel Weinberger, M.D., National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), whose research team, headed by Venkata Mattay, M.D., reports on how the variants affect the brain’s response to amphetamine in the May 13, 2003 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, already published online.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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A recent study by the Department of Immigration in Australia confirms the Borjas effect and proposes a solution to it. Note also the reference to the US’s ability to absorb immigration which is relevant to the discussion I had with zizka in comments on a previous posting:

Poorly educated city dwellers should be given a helping hand to cope with Australia’s expanded immigration program with an overhaul of the tax system to spur them into jobs, a Federal Government report says.

While immigration “makes Australians richer on average”, the report says, adverse side-effects can be headed off.

Without help, the poorly educated could suffer as they competed for jobs in parts of Sydney and Melbourne where low-skilled migrants were concentrated.

The thrust of the Garnaut report is that Australia is pursuing the right immigration strategy with its emphasis on attracting the young and highly skilled.

This contrasted with the approach in the US, which is dominated by an influx of largely unskilled Latin Americans to fill shortages at the bottom end of the labour market. low-income Australian workers generally get a bigger income “kick” from the immigration system than their better-educated counterparts, the report says.

This was because governments redistributed the financial benefits of a bigger population to the less well-off.

High-skills immigration also created more future job opportunities, but well-qualified locals found their labour was no longer as scarce.

Despite this, highly skilled locals were better placed to benefit from property prices.

“Owners of urban land are especially big winners and not only in the cities that receive large proportions of migrants,” says Professor Garnaut.

The report, commissioned by the Immigration Department as part of its evaluation of the program bringing in 100,000-plus migrants a year, says a case can be made that the US system, with more flexible wage rates, is better at placing low-skilled migrants in jobs.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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A magistrate in Australia has been rebuked for trying to talk some sense into a defendant.

Before passing sentence, Mr Frederick told the defendant: “You’re a druggie and you’ll die in the gutter . . . I don’t believe in that social worker crap . . . You can go to work.

“Seven million of us do it while 14 million like you sit at home watching Days of Our Lives, smoking your crack pipe and using needles, and I’m sick of you sucking us dry.

“Little Johnnie taxes us with all sorts, and now with salt tax and maybe war tax.

“We dicks pay for your life. It’s your choice to be a junkie and die in the gutter. No one gives a shit, but you’re going to kill that woman who is your mother, damn you to death.”

Personally I don’t so what’s so offensive about what he said. That he is rebuked for saying it is a sign of how much society or at least elite society prefers ‘sensitivity’ to the harsh truth. Being judgemental is now a worse sin than wasting your life. While I don’t agree with drug laws or prostitution laws, he of course had to administer those laws and what he was saying was more moral suasion to get her to change her ways. He was clearly emotional when he let it rip and the reaction was one of one human being who thinks that another human being could do better with her life. If only more judges were as concerned with the people they sentenced.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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This article documents the extent to which even some semi-respectable lefty intellectuals like Eric Alterman have descended into anti-neocon paranoia/hysteria. Let me say that I’m making this point as someone who has castigated what I regard as the utopianism of the neo-con foreign policy mavens on my own blog. I also have cited favourably Steve Sailer’s criticism of the neocons.

However some of the recent examples of neocon bashing as documented in my first link are worrying because the implied story behind those kinds of criticisms is that there’s this cunning Jewish neo-con cabal that has somehow Rasputin-like easily manipulated Bush, Cheney, Condi, et al into a foreign policy which is really about using US lives to destroy Israel’s enemies. A more plausible take on events IMHO is that
i) firstly let’s get it out of the way – most neocons are Jewish (unless you count Fukuyama and some others like that as neocons) but that’s because public intellectuals are disproportionately Jewish. Libertarians are probably also disproportionately Jewish (Mises. Rothbard, Rand, Nozick, the Friedmans) so is libertarianism also a Jewish conspiracy?(there’s probably some nut who’ll say ‘yes’)
ii) everyone acts out of a mixture of motives and perhaps even in the process resolve various cognitive dissonances. Of course there are some Jewish neocons who probably do see a more aggressive Middle East strategy as facilitating the long term security of Israel by regime changing its neighbours into liberal democracies. But they probably also believe or have had their prejudices strengthened post S11 that the only way to avoid another S11 is to neutralise sources of terrorist support. Cheney, Condi, Rumsfeld probably also believe the same thing and are not Jewish, far as I know. Godless has made the same kinds of arguments on this blog. I am wary of a more ambitious US military strategy because of so many things that could go wrong but the kind of argument propounded by neocons is not so prima facie implausible that you need a goddamned conspiracy theory to explain its dominance in the Administration.

Finally it’s worth noting that the kinds of sinister anti-neocon bashing I’ve been hearing from parts of the paleoright and the loony left (read: Atrios’s comments facilities which while not necessarily referring to ancestry are also fond of this ‘sinister cabal’ characterisation) is reminiscent of that time not so long ago in Germany when a sinister Jewish cabal was blamed for pushing Germany into war and forcing it to pay reparations.

Update: A reader on the comments facility has accused me of smearing Atrios. Perhaps I was a little careless there – this post was originally inspired by some nutty and violent though not necessarily racist comments about ‘sinister cabals pushing the US into war’ Godless pointed out were on Atrios’ comments facilities. I have amended my original sentence accordingly to refer to Atrios’ comments facilities.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Obviously we in Australia are doing something right despite our official Multiculturalism policy:

Teenage children of migrants have better language skills than their classmates, while students who have spoken English for less than four years have higher literacy rates than Aboriginal students, according to statewide test results.

The English Language and Literacy Assessment (ELLA) results of year7 and year8 students also suggest that boys are catching up with girls in reading, writing and language skills.

The most notable results are from children of non-English-speaking backgrounds, who performed above the mean in language skills.

Dr Maureen Walsh, a senior lecturer in literacy education at the Australian Catholic University, said children who spoke another language at home had a cognitive advantage with literacy skills.

“Whether it’s Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean or Arabic, they have concept development in their first language and that transfers to the second,” she said

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Economist Steven Levitt has won the prestigious John Bates Clark medal in economics. Levitt’s most famous co-written paper is The impact of legalised abortion on crime:

We offer evidence that legalized abortion has contributed significantly to recent crime reductions. Crime began to fall roughly 18 years after abortion legalization. The 5 states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation, which legalized in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. States with high abortion rates in the 1970s and 1980s experienced greater crime reductions in the 1990s. In high abortion states, only arrests of those born after abortion legalization fall relative to low abortion states. Legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50 percent of the recent drop in crime.

Another one of his greatest hits is An economic analysis of a drug selling gang’s finances

Update from Razib: Also check the dialogue between Levitt & Steve Sailer in Slate a few years back.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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The Sydney Morning Herald today features an article by Bill McKibben who celebrates and romanticises human imperfections and then uses his tastes to mount a *moral* argument against improvement through genetic engineering. Let me place a disclaimer here – I’m not trying to argue that genetic engineering should be compulsory, I’m not even trying to argue that it should anyone social obligation to improve the species through genetic engineering. All such matters are matters of taste – I watch with amusement colleagues who obsess over their diets and exercise regimens while I chomper away at American fastfood and spend most of my life sitting down – and I’m glad they’re not trying to impose their puritanical versions of extropianism on me. However by the same token, bogus arguments which end up with policy conclusions proscribing ‘designer babies’ and which seem to be based on nothing more than the author’s ‘ugh’ factor shouldn’t be treated as if they were serious philosophical arguments. And every line when a ‘why?’ question comes up when I read McKibben, he doesn’t answer my question, which suggests there isn’t much of an argument, just a litany of the author’s autobiographical details.

He writes:

the latest plans of Watson and his followers are monstrous in an entirely new way. They look forward to a world of catalogue children, who might spend their entire lives wondering which of their impulses are real and which the product of embryonic intervention. They replace the fate and the free will that have always been at the centre of human meaning with a kind of genetic predestination that will leave our children as semi-robots.

Firstly there’s a lot of reason to suspect the concept of free will is meaningless and incapable of operationalisation. So discourse would be much improved by dumping the concept. And any discourse which makes use of the concept is equally meaningless. Think of it this way – say agent A reacts to a stimuli B by action C. Now, if action C was somehow dictated by a chain of cause and effect which originated in some biochemical processes at work since the beginning of agent A’s life, perhaps this is what McKibben means by A lacking ‘free will’. A lacks free will in the sense that his reactions were predetermined. But what is the alternative? Is the alternative that perhaps there was some random element to reaction C coming out instead of reaction D? Is introducing an element of randomness in the chain of cause and effect equivalent to introducing free will? But if that’s so, then, all natural phenomena can be said to have free will owing to the fact that we know that strictly mechanistic linear models of cause-effect don’t apply even to natural phenomena – the so called ‘chaotic dynamics’ picture of the world.

So I suppose what McKibben means is some reaction that isn’t assimilable into some cause-effect chain. A bit like an unmoved mover. A bit like God actually. I think the concept of free will is a bit like the concept of God – at best one can be agnostic about its existence. And what the hell does he mean ‘fate and free will’ and how is that better than a genetic destiny that has been partly determined by a human choice? In fact isn’t the latter fate which has been partly determined by human choice according to McKibben’s own weird view of the world preferable to one that has been left to ‘blind chance’? Or is he just turning the popular expression ‘Shit happens’ into some sort of Kantian imperative?

However ignoring all these considerations and taking McKibben’s metaphysical verbiage as valid for the sake of argument, what does his claim boil down to? Say, if I happen to be a child of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who is born without Tay Sachs disease owing to concerted efforts by my community

Concerted efforts by Ashkenazi Jews to use genetic testing to screen for Tay-Sachs, devastating neurological disorder that was high risk for Askenazi Jews, has resulted in virtual elimination of Tay-Sachs; success has emboldened new effort to use screening to eliminate nine other genetic diseases from Ashkenazic population; some geneticist see effort as payoff of Human Genome Project, but others worry about how people will use sreening information and whether or not they should

Yeah I can imagine one day this child growing up into an adult and lamenting McKibben-style: “My state of well-being owing to lack of Tay-Sachs disease, I wonder, oh I wonder, if only my parents had let it be, whether I would not have had it anyway. How dare they deprive me of experiencing this possibility, how dare they? Better to be a puppet of mystical concepts of ‘fate and free will’ than a puppet of scientific endavours aimed at improving my well-being’.

Also, what is the difference between a woman deciding not to get pregnant at 50 because of the heightened risk of Down’s Syndrome that comes with late pregnancy and a women who employs other state of the art methods of reducing the risk of disability in the child? What about a woman who decides not to smoke and drink during pregnancy? It seems to me that the degree of eugenics in these cases is indeed, as my formulation suggests, a difference in degree rather than in kind from the more ambitious attempts at voluntary eugenics (like the screening out of Tay Sachs disease) that some parents might choose to practice.

Hopes of enhancement and immortality are widely and superficially appealing, drawing on the overpowering love we feel for our children and on our weakness for technological consumerism.

Why isn’t what we’re doing now to stay alive – for instance, wearing a mask in the presence of a SARS sufferer, avoiding working in places filled with abestos, putting flouride in the water – why aren’t all these things ‘technological consumerism’ relative to what our primate ancestors experienced, pray tell? It seems where we draw a line on this is a personal matter of our own internal trade off. For instance, I don’t want to spend my life eating stuff which tastes like cardboard so I’m willing to shave a few years off my life in exchange for eating whatever I want, rather than eating what my health-obsessed colleagues eat.

It’s all too easy to imagine that a society that celebrates botulism toxin injections to fight wrinkles might fall for gene injections that seemed to promise a ticket to Harvard, not to mention immortality. But they reflect the shallowest idea about human life – the sense that more is always better. In fact, it is in our limitations that we find our meaning. An eternal robot might be nifty, but it wouldn’t be human

What the hell is this supposed to mean? How does wanting to be smarter or healthier or wanting to have healthy and smart children if possible have to do with ‘more is better’ other than in the sense of ‘more well being is better’? If the latter, what exactly is wrong with that? And isn’t the genuine sense of well-being that we experience come from overcoming our limitations rather than revelling in them? Is McKibben saying we won’t have enough limitations to overcome if we’re born too smart and healthy? What an optimistic man. Incidentally by McKibben’s chain of logic, isn’t Homo Sapiens to Homo Erectus as ‘the eternal robot’ is to Homo Sapiens? Perhaps McKibben would approve of genetic engineering back to our primate ancestors given the increased degree of personal authenticity to revel in our limitations that this will confer upon us.

Gregory Stock, director of the program in medicine, technology and society at UCLA, has written that “the human mind cannot be the highest summit of cognitive performance”. Measured in computations per second, that is certainly true – heck, an executive at Advanced Cell Technology has predicted that scientists soon will be able to add 20 or 30 IQ points to an embryo.

But the human mind may nonetheless be the apex of thinking machinery simply because it is able to hold things in balance, to understand that more can be too much and that there are thresholds we don’t need to cross

So not only is a higher IQ not a sufficient condition for wisdom (almost certainly true) but a higher IQ may be incompatible with the current levels of wisdom which have brought us the Holocaust, Hutu-Tutsi massacres, S11, etc? Declining returns of IQ to wisdom? Interesting concept. Either McKibben has a higher IQ than me which is why I can’t understand why this should be so, or he has a lower IQ than me and therefore is conferred with an ineffable wisdom which renders greater insight into this curious relationship than I am capable of mustering.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Check out this very amusing taxonomy of personality types one encounters on the Net. Here are two types we’re all very familiar with:

Ethnix is an extremely powerful Warrior who effectively exploits his minority status and the general nervousness about race to gain advantage in battle. Ethnix deftly wields his ethnicity and can instantly shift from defense to offense, keeping even the most skillful Warriors off balance. Impostor, covetous of his power, often impersonates Ethnix, but he can seldom maintain the ruse. While all Warriors are wary of Ethnix, he is most feared by Weenie.

There are two distinct varieties of Ideologue, conservative and liberal, but each being smug and self satisfied in his certitudes, they are really flip sides of the same coin. Though Ideologue’s “opinions” merely represent a loose collection of intellectual conceits he is nonetheless astonished, bewildered and angered when his views are not immediately embraced as Truth. He regards honest disagreement as a form of cognitive dissonance that can only be cured by relentless propagandizing. The conservative iteration of Ideologue parades himself as a logical, clear thinker, while the liberal version trumpets his higher level of mental, spiritual and social awareness. Troglodyte is the natural ally of conservative Ideologue, and for liberal Ideologue it is Weenie. Whether conservative or liberal, Ideologue is a fierce, but very predictable Warrior

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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This article from the UK Times summarising some recent research on handedness was published last year but I thought it might still be worth bringing to GeneExpressors’ attention so that it can be enriched with their unique insights. I’ve long been fascinated by left-handedness and its ‘feast or famine’ aspect which is quite similar in pattern to males’ general distribution curve (i.e. both groups have a disproportionately high number of both retards/psychopathological cases/learning disability cases and prodigies/gifted). See this for a list of groups found to have elevated prevalence of left handedness (it’s quite a varied list).

To recap the state of knowledge, one theory which has tried to account for these patterns is that there are 2 kinds of left-handers – genetic left handers and ‘pathological’ left-handers (made at birth). The disproportionate number of high musical/mathematical ability and high IQ left-handers (as documented by the research of Camilla Benbow) are therefore said to belong to the former group while the retards/alcoholics, etc belong to the latter. The latter group become left handed because the left brain becomes damaged at birth and therefore faculties there have to shift to the right hemisphere and the child ends up left-handed while exhibiting their pathologies due to the diminished left hemisphere function. The research summarised in the article that I’ve noted, however, argues that left-handedness is a 2nd handedness mutation that occured late in the piece in human evolution and might account for both the ‘feast’ and the ‘famine’. This seems to make sense insofar as it seems a bit of a stretch to blame brain damage on the left hemisphere for the elevated lefthandedness among groups like schizophrenics, autistics and dyslexics. The theory noted by the Times article argues that:

Somewhere along our evolutionary history … we departed from chimps and other apes to develop a gene for right-handedness (he called it D, for dextral). This was allied to the development of language, which happened in only one half of the brain — the left hemisphere. McManus, who is right-handed but whose mother was left-handed, explains: “It would not have worked to put language in both hemispheres, because the corpus collosum (the bundle of nerve fibres connecting the two halves) is relatively slow and inefficient. The connections within each hemisphere are fast and reliable, which is essential for language.

“Crucially, the left hemisphere controls the right-hand side of the body, so the right hand became more dextrous at tasks such as hammering stone tools.” … If handedness accompanied language, he adds, then we would not expect any other animal species, bereft of language, to develop handedness.

Then, McManus says, between two million and 5,000 years ago a second gene arose (called C, for chance), which allowed left-handedness to emerge. The second date is bounded by the fact that artworks over the past five millennia that depict people engaged in skilled activities, such as writing or throwing a weapon, display roughly the 90-10 percentage split in handedness that we see today.

What happened to make some of our forebears left-handed, after millions of years of right-handedness? The primary role of this second gene, McManus says, was to tweak brain structure so that the left hemisphere could accommodate other faculties apart from language. This tweaking — caused by inheriting one C gene and one D gene (one from each parent) — would furnish a person with, possibly, a better brain. This gene combination also happened to shift hand dominance in a minority of individuals from the right to the left.

“In CD brains, instead of having language in the left hemisphere only and non-language things in the right hemisphere, some of those faculties flip over to the other side,” McManus says. “You get things side by side that you wouldn’t find in a right-handed brain; they are built in a different way which I think makes them advantageous.

“Imagine, for example, having spatial faculties in the left hemisphere — this means that symbols and language are next to each other. This is particularly good for doing mathematics. Although we are not sure, the proportion of left-handed mathematicians could be as high as 20 per cent; there is certainly enough evidence to believe that left-handedness and mathematical talent may be linked.”

However, having too much crossover between brain hemispheres — caused by a CC inheritance — may lead to “higgledy-piggledy brains”, according to McManus. This genetic combination may lie at the heart of why autism, dyslexia and speech disorders such as stuttering are overrepresented in the left-handed population (the conditions are also much more common among boys).

PS The article also notes that East Asians exhibit a lower incidence of left-handedness. I wonder whether this has more to do with increased conformism and less tolerance of left handedness. I am left handed and I remember when I was in third grade of primary school in Malaysia one of my teachers spent a term trying to get me to write with my right hand. I was the stubborn type, so he didn’t succeed. Incidentally I went through a period of stuttering around ages 9-10 but after that period, it basically vanished without a trace and I became active and proficient in public speaking/debating in high school. Perhaps my mutant left-handed brain was going through a period of tweaking/adjustment?;)

Update
On the comments board, Zizka asks:
“I think that there is a general question here which would apply also to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. If they are hereditary and bad, why are they still in the gene pool?” He argues: “while full-blown schizophrenics are not functional, many schizophrenics in remission (or before the disease expresses) are extraordinarily talented and capable. Not just functional, but exceptional.(I have personally known at least two of them.) Much the same is true of “mania” (= bipolar disorder in its happy mode).”

Research along these lines has been pursued by Dr David Horrobin who has found elevated incidence of either schizophrenia or schizoid personality traits or elevated incidence of relatives who are schizophrenics among high achievers and ‘creative types’. Given the elevated incidence of left-handedness among schizophrenics, it may be that there is some common mutation that connects all these conditions along with autistic/semi-autistic characteristics (or perhaps people diagnosed as having autistic traints are actually schizoid). This article has a summary of Dr Horrobin’s book ‘The madness of Adam and Eve’ which outlines his own ‘mutation’ theory to explain his findings:

Horrobin – who is medical adviser to the Schizophrenia Association of Great Britain – argues that the changes which propelled humanity to its current global ascendancy were the same as those which have left us vulnerable to mental disease.

‘We became human because of small genetic changes in the chemistry of the fat in our skulls,’ he says. ‘These changes injected into our ancestors both the seeds of the illness of schizophrenia and the extraordinary minds which made us human.’

Horrobin’s theory also provides support for observations that have linked the most intelligent, imaginative members of our species with mental disease, in particular schizophrenia – an association supported by studies in Iceland, Finland, New York and London. These show that ‘families with schizophrenic members seem to have a greater variety of skills and abilities, and a greater likelihood of producing high achievers,’ …

According to Horrobin, schizophrenia and human genius began to manifest themselves as a result of evolutionary pressures that triggered genetic changes in our brain cells, allowing us to make unexpected links with different events, an ability that lifted our species to a new intellectual plane. Early manifestations of this creative change include the 30,000-year-old cave paintings found in France and Spain.

The mutation Horrobin proposes involves changes to the fat content of brain cells. ‘Sixty per cent of the non-aqueous material of the brain is fat. Humans have bigger heads than chimpanzees because their heads are full of fat.’ By adding fat to our brain cells, we were able to control the flow of electrical signals more carefully and make more complex connections within our cortexes.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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Ultra high IQ societies like the Mega Society are an interesting development – they were formed by Mensa members who thought that Mensa was basically a f*** club for the high IQ and not sufficiently intellectual. Many prominent members of these societies are promoting the idea of Power tests, that is, IQ tests with no time limit where the score you get depends on how many questions you can get through. The questions become progressively more difficult so that average intellects can’t get through them no matter how long they spend. I’ve noticed that some Mensa puzzle books have started using these tests as well. But how much scientific basis is there for them? Any readers qualified in psychometrics have any idea?

Some of the prominent ultra high IQ people seem to be quite prolific designers of these tests (indeed you might say some, like Ron Hoeflin make their living solely out of this) but have attained their own high IQ scores on normal speed tests, and others have passed both with flying colours. At least at the extreme high end people who do extremely well at power tests do extremely well at normal speed based tests too – which I suppose is the point since power tests were originally designed to accomodate the measurement of ultra high iq. Here is a discussion of the merits of power tests vs speed tests by a prominent member of this community.

Another curious thing about ultra high IQ societies is that, to put it bluntly, they seem to attract lots of people, who are, er, otherwise undistinguished in other respects, sometimes even dysfunctional[1]. Is this, as logic suggests, because such people self-select themselves to join such groups (whereas other ultra high IQ people who become distinguished intellectuals and mix with people of similar IQ don’t need to join such groups) or is society really alienating and wasting a large stock of human capital because its educational system and social customs make them into misfits?

[1] Chris Langan, billed on American TV news as the ‘smartest man in American’ (IQ 195) and public face of the Mega Society, works as a bouncer and promotes his obscure and crackpot-sounding CTMU theory which might as well be recycled Leibniz. Marilyn Savant, billed in the Guiness Book of Records for highest IQ in the world (228) writes puzzle columns for the Sunday papers! What a waste …

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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