Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, June 29, 2007

Australian idioms

The Sun's poster today is


I could explain that for foreigners, but where would be the fun in that?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Looking through Matt Ridley’s Genome

He’s quick on his feet, and can easily shrug off any allegation of simple genetic determinism by retorting that he believes in really complicated genetic determinism.

But he does believe that behaviours are genetically determined, and he accepts ahistorical stereotypes of what behaviour is.

p. 111 There was a spoof map of the Y chromosome published in Science a few years ago which purported to have located genes for such stereotypically male activities as flipping between television channels… The joke is funny, though, only because we recognise those habits as male, and therefore far from mocking the idea that such habits are genetically determined, the joke reinforces the idea. The only thing wrong with the diagram is that these male behaviours come not from specific genes for each of them, but from the general masculinisation of the brain by hormones such as testosterone, which results in a tendency to behave this way in the modern environment.
No, the joke is precisely that we recognize those habits as culturally determined. If the map had entries for testicles and beards, that would be ‘”recognised as male’, but it wouldn’t be funny.

Remote controls in men, big breasts in women;
118 Suppose, for example, that [a gene determined] something like breast size (remember, this is just a thought experiment). Back in the middle ages, large breasts might mean more milk, or might attract a richer husband whose children were more likely to die in infancy.
But in the middle ages men didn’t like women with big breasts; look at Cranach’s nudes. Big stomachs, possibly. He simply ignores anything that suggests cultural/environmental change might be independent of genes.

He also believes that genetics favour unrestricted free markets.
151 It is the hardest thing for human beings to get used to, but the world is full of intricate, cleverly designed and interconnected systems that do not have control systems. The economy is such a system. The illusion that economies run better if someone is put in charge of them … has done devastating harm to the wealth and health of people all over the world, not just in the former Soviet Union, but in the west as well.

175 the great beauty of embryo development, the bit that human beings find so hard to grasp, is that it is a totally decentralised process. … We do not organise societies that way; we are obsessed with dragging as many decisions as possible to the centre to be taken by governments. Perhaps we should try.

This might be more convincing if societies were anything like cells – if, for example, they reproduced, or were designed for procreation, or were, well, anything like cells.

He looks at the Whitehall experiment on how job uncertainty under privatisation worsens your health. Does he conclude that privatisation is in any way bad? No, because it’s the market, and the market is always right; instead, he suggests that the health drop is the fault of too much government -
156 It explains why unemployment and welfare dependency are so good at making people ill. No alpha-male money was ever such an intransigent and implacable controller of subordinates’ lives as the social services of the state are of people dependent on welfare.

One speculates, too, about this.
113 Seminal fluid contains proteins… Their purpose is entirely unknown, but Rice has a shrewd idea. [In fruitflies] they have the effect of reducing the female’s sexual appetite and increasing her ovulation rate.
Matt Ridley may have found it to be true that when he fucks a woman it has the effect of reducing her sexual appetite, presumably meaning she doesn’t want to do it again, but anybody with more self-insight might have wondered whether that wasn’t just him.

He has a chapter on eugenics (286), but in the end he goes with his economic prejudices rather than his genetic ones – he believes it should be left to the individual parents rather than being made compulsory.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Howard again

A more considered take on the Howard Aboriginal move, taken wholesale from Daniel Davies at Aaronovich watch writing about something completely different:
"Asbos and CCTV [read 'police sweeps and pornography bans'] are potentially a powerful weapon for good, but you can’t be a weapon for good without being a weapon. And our current government has, to say the least, an uneasy psychological relationship with weapons of all kinds, and a record of remarkably poor self-control when facing people who annoy it."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Age bin

Colin Rubenstein says we shouldn’t talk with Hamas because it’s committed to extending its religious grip over all the governments in the entire world, it doesn’t believe in toleration except as a temporary expedient, and it has a severe down on the Jews. All these things may indeed be true, but it’s only fair to remember that the exact same beliefs were held by the Catholic Church until the second Vatican council, only forty years ago, and by the eastern bloc until the fall of the Berlin Wall, only fifteen years ago. Religious fanaticism withers away when exposed to the temptations of the consumer society and the intellectual solvents of liberalism. It is reinforced and potentiated, on the other hand, by poverty, oppression, and national feeling, just the conditions the Israelis are fostering in the occupied territories. There are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream, but in the long run that’s the most effective alternative.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Howard's Aboriginal Policy

Howard's new policy on taking over aboriginal settlements is likely to fail because, like all Howard's initiatives, it is
a) done on the back of an envelope without consulting any public servants
b) underfunded and underresourced and
c) motivated - and this is the important bit - primarly by a desire to stick it to his enemies.
It's Howards way of doubling down on his refusal to appologise for the stolen generation- he's not only not going to apologise, he's going to do it again.
Which is not to say that the liberal solution was getting anywhere very fast. I am prepared to forecast, through, that Howard's way won't work either, partly because I don't believe he gives a stuff whether it works or not.

The Dodo

The dodo
Was suaviter in modo;
And would be alive today
Were he fortiter in re.

Hall Palmer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Anne McDonald

Oh, good. My friend Anne has a piece on the Pillow Angel in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Very telling.

Friday, June 15, 2007

These Names Make News

What have I learned in my last week's reading?
  • Wittgenstein was a renowned whistler
  • Marlborough, in his youth, fought alongside D'Artagnan
  • Einstein had a number of patents on refrigeration design
I should concentrate more on the big picture, I suppose.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


My got, I love Nightingale Electrics. It's just up the road from the office, and I can drop in in my lunch hour and contemplate the kind of implacable stud I would be if I had a jackhammer (only ($250) or a nail gun or a welder or (very tempting) an electric nibbler that would cope with 4-cm steel (only $175). Or a folding bicycle.
Or a stud finder, I suppose.
I ended up getting a small 12-in boltcutter ($7) to trim the springs on my mattress (long story) - very wearing, as the absolutely enormous one (36in) was only 16$ and passing up that kind of a bargain on kingsize is always something of a strain, but the yardlong one won't fit in my bedside drawer. Actually, I should get the $16 one in quantity - I'm sure I could make a profit selling it as scrap. I am baffled absolutely as to how the Chinese can make a penny out of sales at this price.

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