Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Age spike

I don’t in fact believe that intelligence is heritable, as Tony Abbott believes, but the British royal family certainly make a strong case that stupidity is. It’s been 331 years - thirteen generations - since they had a bright one (Charles II, anyone?). Still, as my father said when I remarked that the present Prince Charles wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the pack, “Yes, but think what a waste it would be if he was.”
This may perhaps explain why, if they’re supposed to be the guardian of integrity and honour in the Australian government, they’re doing such a piss-poor job.

Friday, November 24, 2006


An article in the NYT on religious politics in Australia. Not obviously crazy -
While polls show that Australians are generally quite divided on “values” issues - like abortion, which is legal, and same-sex marriage, which is not - political debates on the topics do not degenerate into personal attacks, perhaps a reflection of the country’s secular nature. The evangelical right, though growing, is politically insignificant.

but it does say that
"For the most part, religion is a private matter here, not a political one. And while it would be glib to say that Australians worship the sun, the surf and the laid-back life, it is not wrong to note that although Australians go to church - predominately Catholic or Anglican - candidates are generally not concerned with playing to religious groups. The evangelical right, though growing, is politically insignificant."

Aussies go to church? No, we don’t. Not even the rightwing nutjob evangelicals. Young people even less ( -
Percentage of church attendees in Australia, aged 15-29, 2001:
Pentecostal: ~30%
Baptist: 23%
Church of Christ: 22%
Catholic: 12%
Anglican: 11%
Uniting: 8%

Percentage of young church attendees who stated they were ‘very satisfied’ with their church:
15-18-year-olds: 23%
19-25-year-olds: 18%

The ABS shows the general picture -
“The proportion of all Australians stating an affiliation to some type of religion remained relatively stable from 1933 until 1971, at slightly less than 90%. This proportion dropped to 80% in 1976, then slowly declined to 73% in 2001. This gradual fall occurred against a backdrop of change in social values and attitudes, particularly since the late 1960s, and an increased secularisation of society in the last three decades of the 20th century. It was accompanied by a rising tendency among all Australians to state that they did not affiliate with any religion - particularly evident since the 1970s (7% in 1971 and 16% in 2001)”.

73% is ‘believers’(it’s also mildly interesting to note that Australia has more buddhists than Moslems and more hindus than jews, neither of which I expected); getting closer, 23% of Australian adults participated in church or religious activities during the three months prior to interview. And while I can’t find the figure on the ABS site, other sites claim that the ABS records something like 7-13% of the population as being regular churchgoers. That would be slightly odd, because it would imply that young people go to church at the average rate despite being less likely to believe in god, but as an order of magnitude figure it’s a good start.
As opposed to American stats of about 40% claiming regular churchgoing - three times as high, well over any number of tipping points. Australians are as near as dammit totally areligious, which is fine by me.
To complicate the issue slightly, Wikipedia says that in America “Church attendance data in the U.S. has been checked against actual values using two different techniques. The true figures show that only about 21% of Americans and 10% of Canadians actually go to church one or more times a week.” As Australia is a less religious environment, attendance figures here may be less inflated. However, the basic point remains, though we should also admit that the poms have us beat handily - “41%[2] of American citizens report they regularly attend religious services, compared to 15% of French citizens, 7% of UK citizens, and 25% of Israeli citizens”.
Indeed, Australia is, irritatingly, so irreligious that nobody can be buggered cleaning up the fragments of religious belief that are still embedded in the system, but they have about as much connection with the life of the people as the fact that the days of the week are named after norse gods.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Those not seen

Hersh in the New Yorker on Israel and Iran mentions in passing
"....Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of the Knesset, .... Deputy Defense Minister. Sneh, who served previously in that position under Ehud Barak, has for years insisted that action be taken to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. In an interview this month with the Jerusalem Post, Sneh expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of diplomacy or international sanctions in curbing Iran:

The danger isn’t as much Ahmadinejad’s deciding to launch an attack but Israel’s living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction. . . . Most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who can live abroad will . . . I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That’s why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs.

This is also, in essence, a point that isn't often made when considering such things as, say, Hamas or Hezbollah rocketing Israel. It's not simply the (pretty ineffective) impact on the existing Israelis they're thinking about, it's the deterrent effect on possible new Israelis, which shifts the political cost/benefit calculations considerably. The mere existence of conflict weakens Israel (and determines its Fort Apache ideology, which may or many not be a political minus for H/H.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Adult autism

One of the points sometimes brought out to support the view that there is now an epidemic of autism is that there is not an appropriate number of older autistics; that the incidence rate is higher than the prevalence rate, which implies a rising incidence (or an increased death rate, which isn’t generally suggested). There is, however, another probable reason why autism counts in the adult population are lower than in children. It’s illustrated in Schopler’s introduction to Autism in Adolescents and Adults, the book he edited (with Mesibov) in 1983.
(p.3) Can an adolescent or adult have autism? When that question was asked one or two decades ago, most people familiar with the term ‘autism’ would have answered ‘certainly not’. They had heard of Kanner’s work. He had used the term ‘infantile autistic’. It meant a psychiatric disorder of early childhood…
According to that definition the only way the diagnosis could be made was retrospectively, from a person’s early history. But if you met an adult whose early history you did not know, most people had no idea what characteristics and current behaviours might be expected to make up the diagnosis of autism.
The reason for this state of ignorance is not very mysterious. Kanner’s descriptive reports on young children had [sic; have?] only been on the books for four decades. Empirical research initiated by behaviourists had only begun in the 1960s, and those of us who were concerned with these problems then directed most of our attention to the younger children. Autism was defined by Kanner’s criteria. We literally had not met and were not familiar with a child who had grown up. We did not know what to expect, what kind of behaviour to look for, let alone …. Where to find such adolescents. Would we look in mental institutions or psychiatric wards? In those days autism was considered the earliest form of
(p.4) childhood schizophrenia. Such children were usually regarded as ‘untestable’ and could easily be mistaken for mentally retarded. Or should we look in the normal population,since autistic children were often confused with ‘artistic’ children with high intellectual potential? These questions were largely ignored during the 1960s.
As late as 1977 a motion was introduced to the executive board of the National Association for Autistic Children recommending that the name of the organisation be changed from National Association for Autistic Children to National Association for Autistic Citizens – to include adolescents and adults. The motion was defeated at that time. [it appears that the Association became the National Society for Autistic Children and Adults (still NSAC) in the early eighties]
By publishing this volume we have affirmed our view that autistic adolescents and adults indeed exist.
Although this is the first book published on autism post adolescence, we disclaim any implication of having discovered the diagnostic group. Instead it is our view that the growing body of empirical research developed from the last 20 years has both clarified and broadened the definition of autism.

This extract raises a number of questions. On, which I shall leave at this time, is what kind of mindset you would have to have not to speculate on what these kids would be like when they grew up. I have great respect for Kanner, which makes it harder to understand his initial lack of interest; later commentators were largely boofheads, and their tunnel vision is not surprising. Still, one point that it does clarify is why so few old people have diagnoses of autism. Until the mid-eighties it wasn’t possible to get them. Anybody who was older than 15 in (say) 1980 – anybody over 40 now - wouldn’t have been considered eligible. The diagnostic criteria excluded them. They would have been given other diagnoses – MR, or ‘artistic’ – and a diagnosis, once given, is very difficult to change.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Age bin again

Daniel Mandel says, probably correctly, that “To this day, Palestine Authority maps and atlases pretend Israel does not exist”. He also says, however, that “Simply nothing comparable… exists on the Israeli side.” Here he is on weaker ground. There is in fact an exact parallel; Israeli government maps don’t mention Palestine. The government website, for example, refers to Israel as ‘the Land of Israel’ or ’Eretz Israel’, a term which includes the West Bank. If you want to check that on the map, you’ll find that the government carefully avoids showing you one. The only map on the Israeli government site – unusual for government portals – is on the Israeli Tax Office page. That map makes no distinction between Israel proper, the West Bank, or the Golan Heights.
Unusually among Israeli-Palestinian arguments, this one is actually capable of resolution. I've produced an an official Israeli government map that doesn't show a Palestinian state; can anyone produce one that does?

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