Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Back to the Assembly

Joshua Gans in Core Economics gives his boss a plug, always a good career move:
The Melbourne Business School merger with the Faculty of Economics and Commerce (FEC) at the University of Melbourne was officially called off today....

I’m going to express some opinions that are my own at this time. [OOOH, BOLD]

{Our} culture will be something we will preserve going forward. First, it is highly research-based. It wasn’t always like that but now you will find that the vast majority of our faculty publish regularly in the top tier journals in their field. Through the merger process we learned that on any objective measure of research output our faculty out performed those of FEC (citations, journal publications and grants received per capita). And we don’t think we are done yet.

Second, the teaching culture is second-to-none. Three quarters of all subjects taught at MBS (maybe more) have averaging ratings of 4 out of 5 or above. This is a long and sustained record and it comes through even more strongly in subjective shows of support that give rise to MBS’s strong showing in broad-based surveys. .... I must admit to being disappointed that the University never really engaged with MBS faculty’s support and chose to enter with its own graduate school in this space. I sympathise with those members of FEC who wince at the thought of millions more dollars in marketing and advertising gracing the lift-outs in The Age.

Finally, our faculty are engaged with public debate and the business community. Our media mentions average over 5 per day and this for a faculty of just 40 or so individuals. And that is aside from the fact that our faculty make up most of the University’s blogging pool (right here at Core Economics). No other part of the University — here or anywhere in Australia — comes close to that record.

So what of the future? MBS’s finances are sound. Yes, these are difficult times but there was never any hint that the merger was driven by finances despite the constant desire of others to couch it in those terms. Moreover, unlike other places, the University has always benefitted from the fact that MBS drew no funds from the University and contributed in the form of adding to its research contribution from the Federal Government. That will continue.

MBS goes into the next couple of years with Jenny George at the helm who has the support of the Board and the overwhelming support of the faculty to lead us through this. I am hopeful she will soon be confirmed as MBS’s first woman Dean. I recruited Jenny to the school about 10 years ago and couldn’t be more proud of how things have turned out in her career. [TRENCHANT!]

I may be missing the point, but from the point of view of the people applying to the Grad Sch of Man does it really matter what the publication rate of the staff or, indeed, the public profile of the staff is? What they want to know, as businesspeople, is what value is added to their management; whether, say, in a double-blind trial their companies do better than other companies. Has this been done? [Crickets chirping]

The only actual data point on the real-world track record of the GBSM staff I can remember comes from a fair few years back now, but I do remember when the GSBM actually owned that motel a little way up on Swanston Street and, despite having a captive audience of residential management course students, consistently lost money on it until the University made them sell it.

In general terms, of course, that's part of the general University pattern where the Architecture building is the one with pieces falling off the front, the Computer Science department is the office using 1990 computers, and the Business Management School is losing money on the canteen. But still.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


The stipulation that conscripts had to have twelve teeth does underline the difficulty of making any accurate recreation of the past on film. There just aren't enough short toothless people to fill the ranks, and everybody in, say, Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers has standard modern sets of 32.

I note in Atkinson, too, that Patton took the precaution of removing everybody's ammunition before allowing Roosevelt to review the troops.

Watching the Grand Final, which appears in the wet to be largely a matter of competitive falling over. Even so, good teeth.

War, etc

I see from Rick Atkinson's Army At Dawn; The War in North Africa, 1942-3 that
A conscript had to stand at least five feet tall and weigh 105 pounds; possess twelve or more of his natural thirty-two teeth; and be free of flat feet, venereal disease, or hernias.

Oh, and pass a psychological screening exam that asked "Do you like girls?"

Not tough criteria to meet. Dragging in contemporary relevance, it does set in perspective modern complaints about women in the military. They're notably larger and stronger than the soldiers of the Greatest Generation.

In passing, let me say that the book is very good indeed, inspiring me to buy the later volumes of his war trilogy. Doesn't skimp the utter shittiness of all aspects of the American Army so early in the war, and doesn't sugarcoat the politicians.

[President] Roosevelt [in town for the Morocco conference with Churchill] recieved General Nogues, still clinging to power as Moroccan resident-general. When Nogues complained that Jews in Morocco and Algeria were demanding restored suffrage, Roosevelt jauntily replied "The answer to that is very simple, namely, that there just aren't going to be any elections, so the Jews need not worry about the privilege of voting." The president also proposed restricting Jewish participation in law, medicine, and other professions to reflect Jewish percentages in "the whole of the North African population". This, he told nogues, would "eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore towards the Jews in Germany..."


Thursday, September 24, 2009

That's Trad, Dad

On the ABC last night Tony Martin and someone else both saying that they had until recently and until disabused thought that the Australian weed called 'Wandering Jew'
(Tradescantia albiflora):

was instead called the oddly poetic 'Wandering Dew'.

That makes no sense, but then I suppose that Wandering Jew makes no sense unless you know the legend of Cartaphilus. I would have expected Tony to have known it, though - he's comparatively literate.

But the point, I suppose, of it all is that we've all been more or less OK with the identification of a noxious weed with a jew. A very particular jew, indeed, immortal and romantic, but a jew nonetheless. Immortality, too, that in the plant is more ineradicability - you can grub up any number of the plants and they will still creep back, that sort of thing, uncontestably negative connotations. Have there ever been complaints? You'd think so, but I can see no record.

I see, in any case, there's a move to rename the weed Trad, presumably for the obvious reason;
Common name: Trad
Scientific name: Tradescantia fluminensis
(Previously known as “Wandering Jew”)

Best of British, Charlie. You might do better to keep the cultural resonances and call it zombie weed, ring in a different archetype.

Our 'garden' is practically exclusively Trad. I should probably do something about it. Like hire a gardener. My current policy is to leave it entirely to god, but Trad does seem to be his chosen vegetable.


I thought that having run my marathon and made my turducken I was clear for life. But there's always another summit: Everest without oxygen, the Turbaconucken.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Credit where credit

Dan Brown
Should be run out of town
For earning more than us
For such an unspeakable puddle of pus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Situation in Biological Science

Got a copy at the Trades Hall booksale of The Situation in Biological Science, a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings of the Lenin Academy July 31st-August 7th, 1948 - the final triumph of the Lysenkoites. I was going to scan some of it in, but I see Google Books already has scanned it - but won't release it on copyright grounds, which sounds very odd indeed.
On the first day, a speech by Lysenko puffing Lamark. Over the next couple of days, more Lamarkia and some testy argument in response from Mendelians such as Zhukovsky.
On the laast day, Lysenko comes to the podium:
The question is asked in one of the notes handed to me, What is the attitude of the Central Committee of the Party to my report? I answer: the Central Committee of the Party has examined my report and approved it. (Stormy applause. Ovation. All rise.)

Closely followed by Academician P.M. Zhukovsy.
Comrades, late yesterday evening I decided to make this statement.
There are moments in a man's life, especially in our historic days, which are to him of profound moral and political significance. That is what I experienced yesterday and today.
Academician Lobanov's noteworthy speech yesterday moved me deeply. A sleepless night helped me think over my behaviour.
The speech I made the day before yesterday was an unhappy one: it was the last of my speeches against Michurin... my last speech from an incorrect biological and ideological standpoint.... unworthy of a member of the Communist Party and of a Soviet scientist.

Apparently Stalin had read over Lysenko's speech and revised it in detail.
The odd thing isn't that the Mendelians recanted, the odd thing is that there was anybody left in July 1948 who was prepared to stand up for Mendel in public; even before the Central Committee edict it was hideously dangerous to oppose Lysenko, and most of the Mendelian geneticists were already dead or disgraced. Lysenko was just rubbing their noses in it.

Brown stains

Turning to the latest Dan Brown...
And overcoming the instant disappointment that he's changed the previously invariable pattern of his first sentences...
it's still just as gloriously crappy as it ever was.
Langdon sat up straight and slid his lecture notes back into his leather daybag. He’d been halfway through reviewing Masonic symbology when his mind had drifted. The daydream about his late father, Langdon suspected, had been stirred by this morning’s unexpected invitation from Langdon’s longtime mentor, Peter Solomon.
The other man I never want to disappoint.
The fifty-eight-year-old philanthropist, historian, and scientist had taken Langdon under his wing nearly thirty years ago, in many ways filling the void left by Langdon’s father’s death. Despite the man’s influential family dynasty and massive wealth, Langdon had found humility and warmth in Solomon’s soft gray eyes.
Outside the window the sun had set, but Langdon could still make out the slender silhouette of the world’s largest obelisk, rising on the horizon like the spire of an ancient gnomon. The 555-foot marble-faced obelisk marked this nation’s heart. All around the spire, the meticulous geometry of streets and monuments radiated outward.
Even from the air, Washington, D.C., exuded an almost mystical power.
Langdon loved this city, and as the jet touched down, he felt a rising excitement about what lay ahead. The jet taxied to a private terminal somewhere in the vast expanse of Dulles International Airport and came to a stop.
Langdon gathered his things, thanked the pilots, and stepped out of the jet’s luxurious interior onto the foldout staircase. The cold January air felt liberating.
Breathe, Robert, he thought, appreciating the wide-open spaces.

Dynasties are families unless otherwise specified; "academic dynasty", yes, but otherwise just dynasty.
What could one possibly step out of other than the interior?
I've never thought Robert Langton was all that bright, but having to remind oneself to breathe - by name - is surely diagnostic.
And so it goes, clunker after clunker, every thousand-dollar word flatter than the last.
The 'obelisk, rising on the horizon like the spire of an ancient gnomon...' A gnomon is the sticky-up bit on a sundial, so 'like a gnomon' or even 'like an ancient gnomon' are possible; but gnomons don't have spires, which are architectural; gnomons don't have parts at all, a gnomon can't be disassembled into 'spire' and, say, 'base'.

And the spire can't be rising on the horizon: he's still in the air, and the horizon is what, twenty miles away? Langdon can see the obelisk, perhaps, with its shadow, which is why Brown originally thought of the word 'gnomon', but not on the horizon. The horizon comes in because the word obelisk suggests something sticking up in the air like a spire, and the fact that Langdon can't be seeing that doesn't stop Brown typing it in. He doesn't shape, he accretes.

Brown has absolutely no facility for visualization; his observations are assembled from a kit of subroutines. He proceeds within a cloud of cliches vaguely linked in his mind with the memory of a meaning.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

That's cuckoo talk

It was also a common article of belief, that if a maiden ran into the fields early in the morning, to hear the first note of the cuckoo, and when she heard it took off her left shoe and looked into it, she would there find a man's hair of the same colour as that of her future husband.

Actually, there's a perfectly simple explanation for that. Assuming that the term 'maiden' is a little flexible.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Observation in the wild

looking at the overhead rate as a measure of efficiency is basically “barking at the wrong tree”

Which I note has 62,000 entries on Google.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Worn the tshirt

At Splitreason....
My problem is that
(a) I almost never wear tshirts, needing all summer to display my Mambo shirts adequately, and
(b) when I do I wear mambo tshirts.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glory, glory

A Chuck Jones 1944 cartoon I haven't seen before. Supporting Roosevelt. Hell Bent for Election. Happy happy joy joy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cary Grant? James Stewart? Rod Taylor, even? Where are you?

So a standover man named McGurk (as a name for a standover man perhaps a little obvious, even cliched) has been shot in an underworld-style hit, and "Associates claim he had a tape recording implicating three NSW Labor figures in a bribery scandal." Honestly, this is just slack plotting. We've all seen this thriller so many times that we can anticipate all the moves. And the name McGurk is so close to McGuffin that we can only conclude that someone is toying with us.

Looks quite a bit like Richardson, actually.

We were lied to

On the way to work I stepped on a banana skin. Despite its use as a comic trope, I found it utterly unslippery - ever so slightly gluelike, if anything. Were previous generations of bananas different? Has there been a genetically engineered change to reduce public trauma hazards? Or was it never true, with Chaplin having to grease his banana skins with lard?

See Wikipedia:
The depiction of a person slipping on a banana peel has been a staple of physical comedy for generations. An 1898 comedy recording features a popular character of the time, "Cal Stewart", claiming to describe his own such incident, saying:[38]

Now I don't think much of the man that throws a banana peelin' on the sidewalk, and I don't think much of the banana peel that throws a man on the sidewalk neither ... my foot hit the bananer peelin' and I went up in the air, and I come down ker-plunk, jist as I was pickin' myself up a little boy come runnin' across the street ... he says, "Oh mister, won't you please do that agin? My little brother didn't see you do it."

Monday, September 07, 2009

The little man on the wedding cake

Reading The Longest Winter, Halberstam's book on the Korean War, in which he throws out the thought experiment; what would have happened if Dewey had in fact beaten Truman? The Korean War would have happened on the Republican watch, blunting the McCarthyite push; the internationalists would have dominated the GOP; there's no real reason to believe that they would have been worse on the race front; the Right wouldn't have got to be the frothing horror that it did.... You can quite easily hypothesise a much less fraught America, though I suspect that things would have changed around the time of Goldwater anyway to bring us to much the same place we are now.


Arising out of a discussion of transhumanism on the Stross blog -
The whole of our constructed weltanschaung of modernity and enlightenment values and democracy rests on the fundamental axiom that existing human lives are of equivalent value. Back in the bad old days, under the monarchies, in the era of chattel slavery, that wasn't so: some people were worth more than others. Update the vision: if your king (or your slave owner) needs a new kidney (or heart), then you'd better hope you're not a histocompatible donor. But as long as we're only dealing with Humanity 1.0, it's hard to argue on empirical grounds that one human is intrinsically worth more than another.

If we run into alien intelligences, or create artificial ones, we will be dealing with beings that may force us to reevaluate that basic axiom of the enlightenment project.

With the artificial improvement of intelligence, we may yet be saved by our own stupidity.
(1) Any salable intelligence booster would have to be validated against the Wechsler IQ scale:
(2) The Wechsler is a brain-dead attempt to replicate the upper-class skill set;
(3) People whose minds were upWechslered would therefore be no better in actual competition in real life than the current membership of MENSA, which is to say not at all.

Until we can say what it is that we want, rather than begging every conceivable question about the mind by using the term 'intelligence', we won't know where to point ourselves, and no conceivable technology will assist us. Luckily.


Two new words heard on the train in to work, from girls;
'munted' - throwing up (but see below)
'kebaby' - a small kebab

And Rose used the phrase "a voice that could pickle onions".

Urban Dictionary:
1. munted
completely twatted off your face & gurning like a water buffalo.
"Fuck me, I was munted last night."

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Title, indeed

Optus account registration does give you quite a list of options:
Pstr (as in Pstr Inquvist)
though I suppose one might also need
Any other nominations?

Gddy, I suppose. A fart upon you, goody Borthwick.

Peerages like Earl, etc. I suppose don't count because they're not attached to your surname. And Bart comes afterwards.

How one identifies Very Reverends or Professors Emeritus is not clear.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Yet again and again and again

For the record, I agree with Tbogg:
Now I'll be the first to admit that Sarah Palin is a dim-witted opportunistic grifter who would climb over the still-warm bodies of her own children to grasp the golden ring of fame and fortune, a Lonesome Rhodes of the Icepack peddling bullshit homilies to the uneducated bitter clingers with attention spans slightly shorter than the time it takes to recite the pledge of allegiance, a quitter, a liar, a fraud, an emotionally stunted woman-child who thinks she can dazzle the big city folk with her small town beauty queen runner-up status... but I don't think that she's ever called Trig, even in jest, "the retarded baby".

Speaking as a one-time scriptwriter, it just isn't a sayable line.

Palin back in the news

Back in the day, or rather before

Oog. That comma.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Dear Dead Days II

MATS, Made from old army puttees:

Dear Dead Days

From New Standard Cookery, 1933:

COFFEE, When short of milk:
Beat up an egg well, put a small portion into each cup and pour the coffee on to it.

I had to try it, of course, and while I can't say it adds to the flavour, or even the creaminess, it doesn't seem to detract from it markedly.

Go on, you know you want to.

The law is an ass

I do have to confess that as I remember it (it does seem rather unlikely in retrospect, though) I did momentarily think, when I discovered masturbation, "Is this patentable?"

(A: No.)

Mind you, I don't want to put ideas into Steve Balmer's mind.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

And he's married to Brenda Neal, too; that ought to count for something

I've lived under ten Prime Ministers myself, and I've heard more or less convincing scuttlebutt about at least six, sometimes involving the cabinet table. Even in high Victorian times Gladstone's Foreign Secretary, Granville, spoke of having known nine prime ministers, five of whom had committed adultery (mind you, five wouldn't have lasted Lord Palmerston a week, or the young Bob Hawke, and they both made quite satisfactory leaders). Would we really have demanded the resignation of John Howard if the unsubstantiated rumour being floated at the time - by his press officer, I always thought, trying to show that his boss had a human side - had suddenly got legs? There are a lot of reasons for feeling that John Della Bosca would make a rotten premier, but his love life isn't one of them. If a politician has to betray someone, his wife is much preferable to the voters.

I wonder what bloggers affiliated to the NSW Right (hint hint, Hannoush) think of this.... >p>

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