Vital stats in South Asia

A bunch of vital stats from South Asia from Google Data Explorer. Since Zach and I started looking at these data since the early 2000s Pakistan and Bangladesh have diverged, unfortunately. I don’t understand what’s going on with Bangladesh’s anomalously high adolescent fertility though. This could be a function of variation among women as they age, with those entering the labor force delaying childbirth and the number of children so much that it brings the whole average down.

And of course, the whole comparison between India and the other countries is difficult since the Indian statistics average together many different regions.

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Browncast Ep 42: American Arranged Marriage

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, AppleSpotify, and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…this podcast was posted a week ago).

Probably the number #1 reason that the “Browncast” is of interest to me is that I can talk to people who are different from me in some deep and important manner. This podcast is a conversation with Amit, an Indian American who is doing a medical residency. Raised on the “best coast” of the USA, after some conventional dating travails, he has decided he will go the route of an “arranged” matched.

If you listen, you will see that the process has been a positive one for Amit, and it includes much more flexibility and volition than most Americans might imagine.

I went into the discussion mildly skeptical and came out of it with an appreciation for how people can make different choices, but those choices are probably the best for them.

I would really appreciate if regular readers/commenters would leave more positive feedback/ratings, especially on Apple and Stitcher.

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The decline of the bee


At the Spelling Bee, a New Word Is M-O-N-E-Y – Elite spellers now can pay to get a spot in the national event. For this generation of zealous competitors, it just means another chance to shine:

An extra factor driving the stakes for this generation of spellers is a concerted effort by non-U.S.-born parents, particularly Indian-Americans, to make a mark on the competition. In 1985, Balu Natarajan was the first child of immigrants to win the Scripps bee. Of the 33 contests since then, fellow Indian-Americans have won 17 more, including the last 11 straight.

Indian-Americans, just 1% of the U.S. population, have established their own minor-league spelling bee circuit that adds opportunities to hone on-stage performance. They have led the way in paying for coaching, buying or developing proprietary study software and traveling to participate in more bees. Many spellers’ parents came to the U.S. via the Immigration Act of 1990 that admitted exceptionally skilled immigrants who specialize in STEM topics. It is no mystery that they would value education—and recognition of it—above all else; it is the very thing that gave them access to this country.

Reminds me of the stuff in Jerry Muller’s The Tyranny of Metrics. Now that the national bee is going in this direction it will be impossible to reverse the trend and make it a test of childhood exuberance and passion, as it was until recently. Rather, it will be just another part of the meritocratic conveyer belt, another notch in one’s resume or c.v.

And, unfortunately, it illustrates one of the effects of the rise of Asian American immigrant parents, who come from extremely competitive societies, and so bring the same ethos to the United States. Childhood in the old sense is disappearing, as people begin to prepare their children for adult roles in the economy before they enter elementary school.

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Was India ever really “secular”?

Anton Wessels, a Reformed Christian professor of “missiology”, wrote a book many years ago, Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? The title reflects on the fact that a secular ‘post-Christian’ Europe may never have been very Christian at all, at least in Wessels’ telling.

Wessels writes from a Reformed Protestant perspective. This tradition has taken a very dim view historically of ‘popular folk religion’ during the medieval period in much of Northern Europe. Wessels’ catalog of non-Christian beliefs and practices before and during the Reformation emphasize that from the perspective of a confessing Reformed Protestant it may actually be a fact that most of the population never truly internalized in the gospel, even if they made outward show of affiliation with the Christian religion. Christendom was nominal, not substantive.

There are many arguments one can bring to bear to critique Wessels’ views. In particular, some historians of religion assert that in fact, late medieval piety resulted in the spread of genuine deeply held Christianity to the peasantry of much of Europe. The argument then is that this sincere Christianity is actually one reason that the Reformation occurred when it did. Additionally, even granting Wessels’ contention about the medieval period, the competition between Protestants and Catholics after 1500 guaranteed attention to popular beliefs and practices for several centuries before secularization. The suppression of pagan practices among Lithuanian peasants occurred during the period when Catholic clerics were fighting off the expansion of Protestants.

And yet I think we need to give the nod to some element of Wessels’ thesis: that popular Christianity was quite distinct and different from the faith promulgated from on high, and officially claimed as the ideological basis of Western societies. Perhaps the rise of modern secularism is in some ways the proletarianization of European culture?

What does this have to do with India? In the comments below, and in the media, some Indians are bemoaning the death of secular India. But was India ever secular truly? Nehru was an agnostic. His great-grandchildren now make a show of attending Hindu temples and asserting their Brahmin lineage.

I grew up in the United States of Ameria with the children of elite Indian Americans, who left in the 1960s and 1970s. These people were all urbane, and most of them were not particularly religious. But, like my own parents, they were all very self-conscious of their “communal” identity. These were people who grew up in a “secular India”, and moved through good universities. Because of the times, and when they left, many still retained socialist sympathies (as my own parents do). But, these were not liberal cosmopolitans. Most of their children were absorbed into American culture, but they were products of something very alien to liberal individualism.

The India that people are mourning was a weird chimera. Traditional, collectivist, and communal on the broad level. But ruled by a small English-speaking elite with cosmopolitan pretentions, Macaulay’s children. Generations of secularism and socialist rule did not erode the ancient foundations of Indian society, with caste and community reigning paramount.

What we are seeing is the death of the chimera and the revolt of the middle class. True change and secularization are going to occur only with broad-based prosperity and urbanization. Secular socialist India couldn’t bring that, and so nothing changed on the fundamental structural level. Its failure laid down the seed-bed for the emergence of the Hindu Right, which draws deeply at the well of communal sentiment which is stitched throughout the fabric of Indian society.

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Aladdin!

Disney’s Aladdin is likely to be a hit. And Naomi Scott is likely to be the break-out star. The half-English and half-Guju British chatterbox is also going to play Elena Houghlin in this fall’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels.

The casting of the mixed Scott, of white and Indian ancestry, as Jasmine created some silly backlash online. But one thing that strikes me about the Jasmine she depicts is that her sartorial style has a definite South Asian rather than Near Eastern tincture.

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Browncast Ep 40: Wael Taji on the Topology of Privilege

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

(as of this posting there are two postings on the patron page that probably won’t see the light of day until next month; one on Game of Throne and another a discussion with an Indian American on his impending arranged marriage)

On this episode, I talk to Wael Taji, a graduate student in behavioral economics and neuroscience at Peking University, in China. Wael is from an ethnically European background but converted to Islam at one point, before becoming a Coptic Christian (listen to the podcast for details!).

We talk about privilege, race relations, or lack thereof, in modern China. Wael has been living in China for two years, and first visited in 2013. He offered his own views on the changes in China’s view of the world and its place geopolitically.

Wael also offers a pessimistic take on Western academia (his undergraduate background was as a student at Cambridge University). His comparative assessment of intellectual prospects in China and the West were published in Palladium Magazine.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Browncast Ep 39: Carl Zha, Pakistan, and China’s demographic crisis

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

This episode we talk to Carl Zha (a return guest) about the Pakistani bride controversy and China. A lot of the discussion involves general demographic concerns about Chinese society.

Also, I know that some listeners consider Carl to be a Chinese government operative or plant (at least on Twitter). In which case, we present here a representative here of the Chinese government!

Ultimately the key point for me is to get someone on who can watch the Chinese media, which is totally opaque to me.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

Addendum: This podcast, along with one other, has been on the patron page for several days. There are cases where the latency is very short due to the timeliness, but in other cases, it can be as long as a week or more.

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Genetic variation across many South Asian communities

Someone in the comments posted the results from The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia. I put the percentages with a few ratios in a Google doc. I don’t know what a lot of these groups are. Can readers illuminate? We need to be careful about the sample size, but I think there are a lot of interesting patterns in there.

Remember that “Steppe”, “Indus Periphery” and “Onge” are populations artifacts within a model. The way I explain it to people is that rather than focusing on the percentage, look at how the populations vary across the parameters. That is a pretty robust result. No matter what outgroups you’re going to use, Brahmins in most of South Asia seem to have more “West Eurasian” type ancestry than other populations (except in the NW). Because “Indus Periphery” has a minority of “Ancient Ancestral South Indians” (AASI) as part of its ancestry, the “Onge” fraction should be seen as a floor on AASI ancestry (the Onge ancestors diverged from the AASI ~40,000 years ago, so it’s a very large difference).

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