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November 11, 2009

Rupert Murdoch Memory Lane

Recently Rupert Murdoch explained that Glenn Beck was "right" that Barack Obama "a deep-seated hatred for white people." As you'd expect, there's been some reaction to that.

Surprisingly, however, no one seems to have remembered this intriguing observation by Murdoch last year:

[Murdoch] remains a militant free-marketeer and is still pro-war (grudgingly, he’s retreated a bit). And there was the moment, one afternoon, when over a glass of his favorite coconut water (meant to increase electrolytes) he was propounding the genetic theory that the basic problem of the Muslim people was that they married their cousins.

That's an interesting possibility, but I feel it's more urgent to investigate the basic problem of old white billionaires.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at November 11, 2009 11:13 AM

They freeze their semen...try dealing with that problem.

Posted by: Solar Hero at November 11, 2009 12:19 PM

Even Rupert Murdoch might occasionally have a fact-based opinion. Our friends at Wikipedia tell us, in their article titled "Cousin couple":

A BBC report studied Pakistanis in Britain, 55% of whom marry a first cousin. Given the high rate of such marriages, many children come from repeat generations of first-cousin marriages. These children are 13 times more likely than the general population to produce children with genetic disorders. One in ten children of cousin marriages either dies in infancy or develops a serious disability. Thus Pakistani-Britons, who account for some 3% of all births in the UK, produce "just under a third" of all British children with genetic illnesses.

In their statement on "Cousins who marry", the Human Genetics Commission (the UK Government's advisory body on new developments in human genetics and how they impact on individual lives) analogizes the increased risk of abnormalities with cousin marriage to the increased risk of Downs syndrome with advancing maternal age. The HGC "agrees with Genetic Interest Group’s assertion that, for communities where cousin marriage is the tradition, a similar response to that given to increased maternal age would be appropriate. We would therefore like to see the proper provision of education and information about marriage within a kinship group. This should entail access to counselling and support, preferably in the individual’s or couples’ preferred language, and a no-blame approach that enables at-risk couples to come forward for testing."

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 11, 2009 01:09 PM

just FYI, marrying within the family/caste/community is really common here in south india, esp. in the rural areas where it has not waned in popularity since a ways back. the movies made here even promote it regularly as the natural thing to do.

and most of the people here are needless to say, hindus and not muslims. but we are indeed brown, and that probably counts for just as much...

Posted by: almostinfamous at November 11, 2009 01:35 PM

I like this part of the linked story:

Murdoch, for his part, had a simple thought to share with Obama. He had known possibly as many heads of state as anyone living today—had met every American president from Harry Truman on—and this is what he understood: nobody got much time to make an impression. Leadership was about what you did in the first six months.

Then, after he said his piece, Murdoch switched places and let his special guest, Roger Ailes, sit knee to knee with Obama.

Obama lit into Ailes. He said that he didn’t want to waste his time talking to Ailes if Fox was just going to continue to abuse him and his wife, that Fox had relentlessly portrayed him as suspicious, foreign, fearsome—just short of a terrorist.

Ailes, unruffled, said it might not have been this way if Obama had more willingly come on the air instead of so often giving Fox the back of his hand.

A tentative truce, which may or may not have vast historical significance, was at that moment agreed upon.

Just shows how wrangling and disputes over power among the elite get turned into crazy narratives that drive sentiments among our population, many of whom take these narratives as being dire prognostications on the future of our country and the meaning of our existence and OMG terrorist Hitler black man collectivization!

Posted by: Bolo at November 11, 2009 01:39 PM

Rupert is a stich, but hey, it's not just Muslims or Hindus or brown people who hear this. People say the same thing all the time about West Virginians (aka hillbillies) in the United States. I should know, because I married one! (Just ask her if I'm her cousin if you want to have some fun!)

Posted by: N E at November 11, 2009 02:31 PM

mistah charley, ph.d., that may be true. (Or not, I don't know.) But 99.9% of ALL crazy statements are fact-based in some way, somehow. It's quite a ways from that being true about Pakistani Muslims in England to it being the "basic problem" of the "Muslim people." I don't think any group of human beings has any basic problem (beyond being human, which is enough in itself).

Don't let Murdoch off the hook, is what I'm saying.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 11, 2009 05:49 PM

For most of our history humans live in tribes. Tribes are basically extended families. Most people married within their tribe. In simple terms they married their cousin. This is still true in small isolated villages. And in population that are isolated because of religion, culture, race and economic reasons. For most of the world marrying you cousin is normal and marrying a stranger is abnormal.

Posted by: peter john at November 12, 2009 01:19 AM

There was an article in Discover Magazine about five years ago, "Go Ahead, Kiss Your Cousin," I think it was called. According to that, cousin love has been a taboo subject of research for some years because of its eugenic implications. One of the interesting points is that while there are risks of breeding with relatives, there are advantages as well: certain traits are exaggerated, good or bad, recessive genes are promoted, good or bad. The question is what the net result is. One example of a positive is that teeth and jaw size are carried on different genes, resulting in the standard dental mismatches many of us experience as the result of our parents not being cousins. Another point of the article is that cousin marriage is only taboo in the US, and to a lesser extent in Europe, but common throughout the rest of the world, even nearly ubiquitous in many places. And that an estimated 70% of couplings in human history have occurred between first cousins, or closer - yet we trudge on. I don't feel like digging up the link or fact-checking right now, since probably no one is paying attention, but you can likely google this article easily if interested.

There's a trap debate in here though, "Is inbreeding the problem with muslims?" Of course the answer is no, since there is no problem with muslims, except that like Jon said, they are human. If inbreeding is a problem, evolution will sort it out, no Rupert Murdoch.

As for the problem of the frozen sperm of white billionaires, the problem lies not in their genes either, but in the hierarchy. Replace all the aristocrats and presidents with the formerly poorest, humblest folks around, and power will be no less ugly. Unless you really believe those fatherless Presidents are the "lesser-evils."

Posted by: Marcus at November 12, 2009 04:43 AM

"cousin marriage is only taboo in the US"--my wife will be so thrilled to hear that!

"Replace all the aristocrats and presidents with the formerly poorest, humblest folks around, and power will be no less ugly. Unless you really believe those fatherless Presidents are the "lesser-evils.""

Hey Marcus, are you talkin' to me? I'll be convinced when there's a double-blind study. I think the humble folks would be much less ugly in the use of their new power, at least the humble folks I know and like. (Then again, I'm a dreaded lesserevilist!)

Here's the problem I see: the humble folks would be replaced if they didn't get a little cunning pretty fast.

As love as I love Lord Acton and Lord of the Rings metaphors, they are just metaphors. Power is not a narcotic with pharmaceutical effects that accompany its use. It's a temptation, and it tempts those who want it as much as those who have it. So those who have it better pay attention, because those who want it will take it, and if they'll do unethical things to get it, they'll do even more unethical things once have they it. I think that's all in Shakespeare and, come to think of it, probably most other good political tragedies. (Not that I would know--I'm faking that--but you get the idea.)

Posted by: N E at November 12, 2009 07:00 AM

I have first-cousin marriage in my family tree, four generations back in rural Nova Scotia. The kids were alright. As far as I know.

Cousin marriage is apparently a highly interesting topic in anthropology; Robert Layton's 1997 book An Introduction to Theory in Anthropology states

Levi-Strauss's most fascinating discovery [in his The Elementary Structure of Kinship] was to realize that each type of cross-cousin marriage produces its own structure....To what extent do participants in such a system need to be aware of its structural consequences? ... [N]o more..than...for native speakers of a language to be capable of consciously articulating its grammatical rules. They do need to recognize the obligations incumbent on them by virtue of their position in that system.

Earlier this week David Brooks of the New York Times told us that "the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy." In 2007 Stanley Kurtz of the National Review wrote, in "Marriage and the Terror War":

In this first in a series of essays on Muslim cousin-marriage, I want to begin to make the case that Muslim kinship structure is an unexamined key to the war on terror. While the character of Islam itself is unquestionably one of the critical forces driving our global conflict, the nature of Islamic kinship and social structure is at least as important a factor — although this latter cluster of issues has received relatively little attention in public debate. Understanding the role of Middle Eastern kinship and social structure in driving the war not only throws light on the weaknesses of arguments like D’Souza’s, it may also help us devise a new long-term strategy for victory in the war on terror.

I must admit I haven't read the full text of Kurtz's article I just quoted from, or his second article, nor the reply by by Ted Swedenburg and an anonymous MES scholar, "On the Use and Misuse of Anthropology." But maybe I will later; or somebody who reads this comment might.

The Discover article Marcus, supra, mentions is "Go Ahead, Kiss Your Cousin" by Richard Coniff, August 2003. I have read it, and the money quote is "according to Robin Fox, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, it's likely that 80 percent of all marriages in history have been between second cousins or closer." One point NOT mentioned in the article is that, in earlier times and in traditional societies, part of the role of the midwife is to diagnose and deal with "non-viable" newborns - that is, those who would be an insupportable burden on their family/village/clan. Before physicians who use Latin abbreviations were writing NPO (nothing by mouth), midwives were deciding that defective infants would not receive any more warmth/nutrition/air. It's not a comfortable thought, but sometimes one does what one must. As Karl Marx argued, human rights cannot be more advanced than the development of the means of production.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 12, 2009 08:48 AM

"As Karl Marx argued, human rights cannot be more advanced than the development of the means of production."

That's very smart mister Charley; it makes me glad you're back. But Grandpa Karl died in 1883, and it's starting to look like human rights are taking some definite steps backwards as the means of production become increasingly advanced. If I may get super duper high falutin, the reification of abstractions that springs from teaching people to internalize the values of a market economy has led not just to commodity fetishism (not the porno kind, Cousin Jethro), but technological fetishism that Marx couldn't even imagine because he didn't have the benefit of watching his kids play with an Xbox or a computer or an ipod or an iphone. Marx's hope that the Enlightenment and improvements in industrial capacity could free human beings from want and make genuinely fulfilling human relationships materially possible doesn't seem to be panning out across the board, even in the "wealthy" nations like the US, as Bernard Chazelle has pointed out.

Nihil humani alienum puto, Marx's maxim lifted from Terence("nothing human is alien to me"), seems increasingly out of step with modern human existence. Everything human is in danger of becoming alien to us, and given that it shouldn't be surprising if human rights go the way of all the rest. So we have new and better generations of Predators, and will have while our children play video games that too closely resemble them.

By the way, everybody should go read Tom Englehardt's article on that at TomDispatch.

Posted by: N E at November 12, 2009 09:48 AM

N E, you make an excellent point - that even if "human rights cannot be more advanced than the means of production", the development of the means of production/monitoring/destruction does NOT imply the advancement of human rights.

In fact, I would further argue that the development of the means of manipulation/disinformation/repressive-desublimation [to use a phrase from Marcuse], pursued to maximize both profit and political power, and furthered intensified by 21st-century technology, is a major part of the crisis of not just Western but global civilization (which, I agree with Gandhi, would be a good idea).

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 12, 2009 10:26 AM

mistah charley: Agreed.

And thank you for mentioning Marcuse, who is on my list of favorite people. I find inspiration in old men who remain positive after lives like that, and who take up surfing in retirement. Plus, I think I could understand Marcuse for the most part. (I doubt even Chazelle could understand Adorno and Horkheimer and Habermas, though maybe if you put all the verbs at the end it makes sense.)

Posted by: N E at November 12, 2009 10:45 AM

Leviticus 21:14
A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry: but a virgin of his own people shall he take as a wife.

Rupert Murdoch has many thousands of cousins fucking in his family tree for all eternity.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken יהוה, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
But I don't hate on coconut water because this fag likes it; that does sounds good.

Posted by: tim at November 12, 2009 11:10 AM

There are studies that support the idea that a dose of power intoxicates most people. Like this one described in a column in the Washington Post about a year ago:

Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, says power entails a paradox. "People in organizations and in hierarchies and in informal groups like college dorms want leaders to be socially intelligent," Keltner said. "They will sacrifice all manner of things to have leaders who are thoughtful and engaged and give other people voice." But once socially gifted people rise to power, Keltner added, the paradox is that "power simplifies our thinking. We tend to see things in terms of our own self-interest, and it makes us more impulsive. We forget our audience in service of gratifying our own impulses."


Keltner once had groups of three people sit before a bowl that contained five cookies, and each volunteer took one. That left two cookies. By mutual agreement, the volunteers always left the last cookie in the bowl. So who took the fourth cookie?
Invariably, Keltner found, the person in the group who had been randomly assigned to feel powerful rudely grabbed the fourth cookie.
"We videotaped how they ate," Keltner said, laughing. "The high-powered person ate with their mouth open, cookie crumbs falling all over their shirt."

Posted by: lurking gnome at November 12, 2009 12:03 PM

lurking gnome:


and this. . .

"We videotaped how they ate," Keltner said, laughing. "The high-powered person ate with their mouth open, cookie crumbs falling all over their shirt."

. . . is HILARIOUS.

Posted by: N E at November 12, 2009 04:23 PM

NE - you are not the only Lesserevilist in the world, or even this bloogspace, but I will admit you are the resident master.

There have been many double-blind studies in power accumulation, in psychological clinical trials, and they have shown that power does cause immediate changes in a person; specifically that their ability to emphasize with those now "below" them dissipates. I hadn't read about the cookie one, but I've read several others, including a famous one where people are ordered by to inflict what they think is extreme pain on others, which I think demonstrates the middle-management mindset of both being an authority yet stilling have an authority.

If you think about how dramatically people change when they win the lottery, or become a rock star, or even just get a promotion at work, or get a hot girlfriend for the first time, the indiscriminate distortion of power is clear.

I think you were getting at the idea that those in power are those that craved power, so they are more likely to abuse it. This process of selection might aggravate the situation, but Power's power is vast. The aristocracy provides evidence of this: the inheritors of wealth and political notoriety, the Rockefellers and Bushes et al, do not have to chase power, it is given to them by virtue of birth. But if, say, George B. had been abandoned at birth, raised by a poor family, wouldn't he have been a fine PE coach?

Posted by: Marcus at November 12, 2009 07:31 PM

Are you citing the Milgram experiment? Stanford Prison experiment?

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at November 12, 2009 08:18 PM

StO- Milgram

Posted by: Marcus at November 13, 2009 12:02 AM


Milgram was brilliant and extraordinarily creative for a social scientist, but his electric shock experiments didn't prove that power has a uniform effect on people. The experiments tested the extent of the deference to authority that people show when asked to do shocking things (eh eh). His findings surprised the world because he showed that many people are willing to electrocute someone because a guy in a white coat with a clipboard and a little badge told them to do it. It was/is about deference to authority and how much people will resist authority figures when pressed by their consciences to do so. His answer was--not as much as we would like to think. It's an important answer that people reflexively resist, but that is confirmed by the whole of history, which they also reflexively resist.

Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment may be what you are thinking about, because that experiement did show that people naturally fall into role playing even when their role is very nasty. Give someone the part of guard, they start to take on the sadistic qualities of a guard. Give someone the part of prisoner, they take on the depressed and passive qualities of a prisoner. That does suggest a type of "power" has a corrosive effect on people. As the real-life son of a giant but affectionate prison guard who never lifted a finger to hit me or anyone else, I've always been skeptical about the Stanford Prison Experiment. I know for a fact from extensive personal experience that someone doesn't become a sadist just because you give him a uniform and a gun and have him lock people in cells. But I concede that forcing people to become torturers or otherwise abusive is different from just giving them uniforms and badges.

Even the Stanford Prison Experiment doesn't test the effect of real power on people. The experiment comess closer to suggesting how people could be expected to behave in a military heirarchy or bureaucracy. I'm sure there are various physiological effects pertaining to the exercise of power than can be scientifically observed, but frankly, I don't place that much confidence in social scientists across the board. There aren't many Stanley Millgrams.

If you're willing to read enough, and to be fair minded, you can see how various powerful people have responded to their power. That's why Disraeli, among others, didn't read any history but biography. I've read a lot of memoirs, collected correspondence, and biography. It gives you a window into people's thoughts that is revealing.

I think if you read enough biographical history, and memoirs and the other contemporary accounts, you will see that differences in the character and personality of men do influence how they respond to having power. My assessment has been that there is a considerable degree of variance. It isn't true that power affects everyone in the same way, or that its corrosive effects on character affect all people equally. And how much people will be affected isn't just a simple function of their beliefs or ideology. Someone can have great beliefs, at least in part, but not resist the corrosive effects of power very well. Think LBJ.

Our real problem is not the STRUCTURE of our government, especially but not only in connection with the National Security State. That structure doesn't permit much goodness from our leaders even if they mean well. It just doesn't. To get better leaders, we have to change the way our government is structured. Until we do, we'll be confined to endless pointless debate about whether our powerful Presidents and other leaders who unleash huge amounts of violence against innocent people around the world really mean well. That doesn't do much for any of us. Or whether crappy legislation they fight for really was the best they could do if they cared.

The trouble is, the needed change is radical. The Senate does nobody any good and wouldn't exist in a properly structured government, but that isn't going to happen anytime soon, because we're enamored of our "exceptional" history. What could and should happen is a significant changing of the rules to make that august body more democratic and less corrupt, but even that will be treated like blasphemy. The intelligence agencies aren't going to be abolished anytime soon, even though we'd be better off without their murderous presence, but we need to take some steps to cut them down to size, which they will of course resist as violently as they always have. And though the military needs to exist, we need to get out of the business of world dominion and create international structures that limit our sovereignty along with everyone elses, though frankly that isn't going to happen anytime soon either.

But all those things need to be done, and if they were done, the effects of "power" on our Presidents would quit being such a pervasive problem.

Posted by: N E at November 13, 2009 07:58 AM