Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hanzi Smatter

Here's a hilarious blog about one of my pet peeves, the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture: Hanzi Smatter.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tragedy, then farce

Marx said, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." What a fitting quotation to describe the current ideological campaign by the Chinese Communist Party:
Like a giant company concerned with organizational disarray and a sinking public image, the Chinese Communist Party is trying to remake itself into an efficient, modern machine. But to do so, it has chosen one of its oldest political tools — a Maoist-style ideological campaign, complete with required study groups.

For 14 months and counting, the party's 70 million rank-and-file members have been ordered to read speeches by Mao and Deng Xiaoping, as well as the numbing treatise of 17,000-plus words that is the party constitution. Mandatory meetings include sessions where cadres must offer self-criticisms and also criticize everyone else. ...

Campaigns of this sort are a legacy of the Chinese Communist Party. When he was president, Jiang Zemin initiated study campaigns, including one for his signature "political thought," the Three Represents. More famously, Mao introduced as many as 200 campaigns, from the angry purges that predated the Cultural Revolution era to mass mobilization efforts to exterminate rodents.
Lest we fear a return to the bad old days, here's the farce part of the story:
Bao xian has received the praise one might expect from the state media and was listed as one of the most searched phrases on the Chinese Internet last year. But much of that traffic appears to be driven by cadres downloading essays from the Internet to meet homework obligations.

In a posting last year, a prominent Chinese blogger, Keso, said Web sites and bloggers were using the ideological campaign as a money-making opportunity by offering essays customized to a person's party rank. The head of a street committee, for example, can find a fake self-criticism essay tailored to that job and then tinker with it to make it seem original.

In a posting last year, Keso wrote: "The Web sites cheat party members, the party members cheat their leaders and the leaders cheat their leaders. So in the end we all cheat the party. This is the comedy of our time." Such cynicism underscores why many experts say efforts like bao xian will have little meaningful impact. In fact, some political analysts speculate that Mr. Hu is using the movement partly as a gesture to ingratiate himself to the older generation of former leaders who remain influential behind the scenes.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Natural selection still happening in humans

No big surprise here, but a new paper in PLOS-Biology did a search for signs of positive selection in the human genome and turned up several genes in different populations that have been selected for very recently.
Providing the strongest evidence yet that humans are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.

The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.

Many of these instances of selection may reflect the pressures that came to bear as people abandoned their hunting and gathering way of life for settlement and agriculture, a transition well under way in Europe and East Asia some 5,000 years ago. ...

Three populations were studied, Africans, East Asians and Europeans. In each, a mostly different set of genes had been favored by natural selection. The selected genes, which affect skin color, hair texture and bone structure, may underlie the present-day differences in racial appearance.
Some readers may recall that a few months ago I noted a study showing that certain alleles of two genes involved in determining brain size had undergone strong positive selection in the recent past in Europeans and Asians but not Africans, leading certain people to embrace the finding as suggesting that Africans are genetically determined to have low IQs. I wonder how they will react to the finding in this study that another gene involved in determining brain size, CDK5RAP2, shows signs of selection in the Yoruba of Nigeria, but not Europeans or East Asians? (A different brain size gene, CENPJ, was selected for in Europeans and Asians.)

PS, I was amused by the picture accompanying the NYTimes article - it's as though the photographer was desperate to get the standard picture of the biologist in the white lab coat gazing thoughtfully at a test tube full of purple liquid, but had to settle for equations with a population geneticist.