November 19th, 2010


[PHOTO] "23530008"

A goodly chunk of the pictures I'd taken on disposable cameras six, seven years ago developed wonderfully. Some didn't develop at all. One developed interestingly.


Grey, perfect grey. Entropy won out, here; unlike some of the other, partial, photos, I can't imagine any way that the image I'd snapped--I'm sure, based on the number of this batch of photos, that it was a picture of something in Charlottetown in 2003--could possibly be reconstructed. So: grey.

The homogeneous colour reminded me of Derek Jarman's final film Blue.

Presumptuous? Of course. And yet, at the end--Blue's end, his career's end, his life's end--the narration made a lovely point.

Our name will be forgotten
In time
No one will remember our work
Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud
And be scattered like
Mist that is chased by the
Rays of the sun
For our time is the passing of a shadow
And our lives will run like
Sparks through the stubble.

Blue is still a statement; so is grey.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • At Acts of Minor Treason, Andrew Barton deals with the matter of antimatter in the aftermath of the recent development of storage teechniques. Yes, it will be carefully controlled; no, for reasons of cost and physics, it'll not be a significant threat.

  • Centauri Dreams reports on the discovery of an ancient planet that not only traces its origin to a galaxy cannibalized by the Milky Way, but which actually existed for millions of years inside the atmosphere of a red giant sun.

  • The Global Sociology Blog criticizes pro-developed country biases in globalization by pointing to cotton exports from West Africa, hindered by domestic subsidies and import protections.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer argues that one of the major reasons for the weakness of the Mexican criminal justice system is the fact that very little--absolutely, and relative to the United States--is actually spent on enforcing law and order.

  • Slap Upside the Head mocks a Canadian evangelical Christian who's arguing about a transgender rights bill because transvestite serial killers would supposedly benefit from its protections.

  • Spacing Toronto examines the need for Toronto to renovate its aging stock of apartment housing, for safety and environmental reasons.

  • Wasatch Economics' Scott Peterson observes that population growth in Oregon is continuing to slow down, likely a consequence of a weak job market.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests that in large parts of Asian Russia, Protestants and other non-Orthodox practitioners outnumber practitioners of Orthodox Christianity (though I'd be willing to bet that people of Orthodox Christian background are still comfortably in the majority).

[LINK] "On the down escalator"

This segment of the Economist's country survey of Japan caught my attention. Note particularly the last paragraph.

Labour is one of the two main sources of economic growth. If the number of workers drops, output per worker has to rise to maintain the same level of production. There are ways to ease the demographic strains, such as encouraging more women, foreigners and older people to join the labour force, or seeking out fast-growing markets abroad. But if productivity does not increase enough to counteract a shrinking workforce, output—and eventually living standards—will decline.

For now the fall in Japan’s labour force is still accelerating. At the same time cheaper competitors in the region are forcing Japanese exporters to cut labour costs. And Japan has yet to recover fully from the withering effects of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Japanese companies have been substituting capital for labour for two decades, causing the overall number of hours worked to drop, writes Richard Katz of the Oriental Economist, a newsletter. “Since 1991 all of Japan’s growth in GDP has been due to higher productivity…If Japan wants to grow faster, it has to increase productivity. Demography and lack of immigration rule out any other path.”

In that sense, the two “lost decades” of economic stagnation in Japan since 1990 may turn out not to be an aberration but a taste of things to come. “What goes around comes around, and the same demographic profile that supported economic growth will now begin to weigh heavily on Japan’s economy. In fact, it will leave Japan with the lowest rate of economic growth among the large industrialised nations,” wrote Akihiko Matsutani of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in his 2004 book, “Shrinking-Population Economics: Lessons from Japan”. He believes the unprecedented speed of the decline in Japan’s working-age population has made the slowdown worse, and having fewer young workers may be affecting Japan’s ability to innovate.

Mr Matsutani is not the only bear about Japan’s future growth rate. Japan has just been overtaken by China as the world’s second-largest economy. By 2050 Goldman Sachs expects it to have been overtaken by India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey too. Takashi Inoguchi, a Japanese political scientist, bleakly refers to Japan as a potential “Argentina of the east”. Like the Latin American country, it might go from being one of the richest countries in the world to becoming sadly diminished only a few decades later.

Changing Japan's demographic patterns--specifically, patterns of family formation--seems an obvious must.

[LINK] "The BRIC Debate: Drop Russia, Add Indonesia?"

This Business Week article is another one arguing that Indonesia is set to become a global economic power, making the additional argument that Russian stagnation disqualifies Russia for BRIC membership. Presumably the new acronym would be CIBI?

Russia, for its part, cannot seem to escape the investor-unfriendly headlines. Sweden's Ikea has leased diesel generators to circumvent Russian bureaucrats who allegedly demanded bribes to provide electricity to the chain's stores. Then the Swedish retailer revealed that the Ikea executives in charge of leasing the generators were taking bribes, too. Petro oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been in jail on fraud charges since 2003: His supporters say the charges were trumped up to give the Kremlin an excuse to seize his company. (The government denies this; Khodorkovsky is on trial for fresh charges.) William Browder, chief executive officer of Hermitage Capital Management, once Russia's top foreign investor, was banned from the country in 2006 for tax evasion: He says his company was grabbed by criminals who pulled off the tax scam. "Russia is just not a good place to put your money," says Richard Shaw, managing principal of QVM Group, a South Glastonbury (Conn.) investment advisory.

[. . .]

Indonesia, the world's fourth-most-populous country and largest Muslim democracy, has corruption, too. In part, that's a legacy of the Suharto dictatorship that ended in 1998. Yet Tom Lydon, president of Global Trends Investments, says the Asian nation has more going for it than Russia. "Beyond natural resources, it is supported by improving domestic consumption, and anticorruption efforts appear to be working." Indonesia has sentenced several politicians and former ministers for corruption. In its latest Global Competitiveness Report, the World Economic Forum ranked Indonesia 44th out of 139 countries—up from No. 54 the prior year. (Russia came in at No. 63.)

[. . .]

The iShares ETF allocates just 2.6 percent of its money to Indonesia. That will change, say Indonesia backers; 12 years after its financial crisis the archipelago is China's third-largest trading partner, foreign investment has more than tripled since 2004, and gross domestic product is growing faster than Russia's. While Russia's Micex index has fallen 22 percent from its December 2007 peak, the Jakarta Composite Index is approaching an all-time high. Russia's market fortunes have fallen so low that some investors are taking a second look, especially since Russian corporate profits have been robust. "Russia really stands out as being cheap and attractive," says Maarten-Jan Bakkum, an emerging-market equity strategist at ING Investment Management in The Hague.

Indonesia's supporters say that over the long haul the Asia nation has the edge. More than half of the population is under 30, while aging Russia faces a paucity of productive labor. The Kremlin may have to commit increasing sums to care for the elderly, says Wijayanto, managing director of the Paramadina Public Policy Institute in Jakarta. "Indonesia," he says, "has the potential to become a key global player."

Rather than be concerned with trendy acronyms, being less catch-phrasy and more realistic's always a good idea.

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the possible origin of First Nations genes in the Icelandic gene pool

Razib's post at Discover's GNXP, "Icelanders descended from Native Americans?", surprised me. It really surprised me.

Although most mtDNA lineages observed in contemporary Icelanders can be traced to neighboring populations in the British Isles and Scandinavia, one may have a more distant origin. This lineage belongs to haplogroup C1, one of a handful that was involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago. Contrary to an initial assumption that this lineage was a recent arrival, preliminary genealogical analyses revealed that the C1 lineage was present in the Icelandic mtDNA pool at least 300 years ago. This raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century. In an attempt to shed further light on the entry date of the C1 lineage into the Icelandic mtDNA pool and its geographical origin, we used the deCODE Genetics genealogical database to identify additional matrilineal ancestors that carry the C1 lineage and then sequenced the complete mtDNA genome of 11 contemporary C1 carriers from four different matrilines. Our results indicate a latest possible arrival date in Iceland of just prior to 1700 and a likely arrival date centuries earlier. Most surprisingly, we demonstrate that the Icelandic C1 lineage does not belong to any of the four known Native American (C1b, C1c, and C1d) or Asian (C1a) subclades of haplogroup C1. Rather, it is presently the only known member of a new subclade, C1e. While a Native American origin seems most likely for C1e, an Asian or European origin cannot be ruled out.

The paper trail, the famously well-kept genealogical records of Iceland, go back only to the very beginning of the 18th century. Could the woman with these rare subclade have predated this time, substantially? It's possible.

Because of Iceland’s Lutheran Christian heritage the maternal lineage here could be traced back to 1700. This does not mean that the first woman in the line that we know of was born like Athena from the head of her father; rather, the records were not kept well enough to continue unbroken back to the medieval era. We do know that the first permanent Norse settler in Iceland arrived in 874, and, that very few immigrants from Scandinavia added diversity to the gene pool after ~1000. Iceland is a small and poor island, so quickly reached its Malthusian maximum. How else to explain that Icelanders made a secondary migration to Greenland?

The most obvious explanation for the existence of the subclade of the C1 lineage is that it arrived recently. Without knowing anything else that is what you’d have assumed. But as noted above the individuals who carry it have been traced back to a common ancestor in the early 18th century; these are native Icelanders, at least if native means anything substantive. An second point which rejects recent injection of this lineage into the gene pool: the Icelanders are their own special branch of C1, C1e. The phylogenetic tree of C1 below illustrates the relationship of the branches to each other. Since the font is so small, I added in clarifying labels (from top to bottom it’s C1a to C1e, with further clades such as C1d1):

[. . .]

If the Greenland and ancient European hypotheses are rejected, what we have is a woman who entered the Icelandic society from an extinct lineage of Native Americans, probably from the northeast (or perhaps her Greenland Norse mother was of this line). What the Norse would have termed Markland. It is tempting to point to the Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Perhaps the Europeans had enslaved a native woman, and taken her back to their homeland when they decamped? But more likely to me is the probability that the Norse brought back more than lumber from Markland, since their voyages spanned centuries.

Vinland is the most famous of the three territories chronicled by the Vikings, a territory that seems to encompass the Gulf of St. Lawrence basin (Atlantic Canada and eastern Québec), but with the main nucleus at'L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland. If a woman of First Nations background did come to contribute her genes to the Icelandic gene pool--perhaps via Greenland?--she may have come from this area, with its relatively clement weather and denser populations. The extinct Beothuk people of the island of Newfoundland may well have been genetically unique, owing to the very small population size. How likely is it, however, that a representative of a First Nations group in perennial conflict with the Vikings would have lived long enough to produce a child of mixed background, and that this child, in turn, would be accepted into an ethnocentric Viking community?

The other two territories in North America chronicled by the Vikings were Helluland (likely Nunavut's Baffin Island, facing Greenland from across the Davis Strait) and Markland (basically Labrador. At the time of the Viking visits these two regions were populated by two groups: the Dorset culture that predated the modern Inuit seems to have been present only in what is now Nunavut and northernmost Labrador, with the Innu predominating in the rest of the territory. Markland seems to have received multiple visits by Greenlanders who established temporary communities and cut down timber for use in Greenland. Did the greater and more sustained presence of Greenlanders in Labrador lead to at least one successful intermarriage between a Viking male and an Innu (or Dorset) female that left descendants? Razib's conclusion makes a fair amount of sense to me