Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Monday, November 30, 2009

More in sorrow than in anger, and more in hysterical giggling than either

One point that none of the commentators seem to have noted is that Turnbull is going to come out of this pissed. And he, unlike other ex-Lib leaders, has almost no residual loyalty to the party, and every reason to take to it with a flensing knife. So there's no reason to believe that once rolled he won't stay in parliament and cause trouble, or switch parties and campaign for labor, or write a book that will make the Latham Diaries look like Pollyanna - whatever will most contribute to bringing down the party in sorrow to the grave, really. There's no point in assuming that anybody will be able to unify the party, because Turnbull's still going to be in it, and he's not unifiable. There's no point in assuming that the party is going to be able to win an election, or not get monstered, because parties that have ex-leaders stumping the electorate denouncing them rarely do well. There's no point in assuming that Hockey is going to get a honeymoon, because he's going to get king-hit by Turnbull.

OK, this one is falsifiable: Turnbull might decide to walk away and forget about it, and even forgive - it's what he did over the republic, after all. Wait and see.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Went to 2012. Special effects as snappy as advertised, but taking them all together I'd be surprised if there was ten minutes in a two-hour movie, all the rest being basically whining drool about being a good husband and father.

The trick, of course, is not destroying the world, it's destroying the world and then ending on an upbeat human story with an improving moral. I have to say they tried hard.

Spoiler follows:

If, as in the movie, the rich bastards of the world all paid a billion dollars to build arks in the Himalayas, they would presumably need the Chinese army to form square around it to keep out the rabble. And I would be very surprised if in that case, billion dollar payout or no billion dollar payout, the final makeup of the passengers was substantially under 99% PLA and their families, or mistresses.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kevin v. Kevin? Alas, no

Well, a week ago I said that I said that
On the politics, I imagine that the scenario that Rudd is trying for – one that leaves him on the verge of being incapacitated by uncontrollable drooling – is that the Wong/McFarlane talks come up with a compromise that Turnbull has to take to the party room, which rejects it by a large majority. The bill goes to the house, Turnbull and McFarlane and a few other Liberals vote with the government but the bulk of the party doesn’t, and Turnbull either steps down to let Minchin or Abbot become leader, is bounced to let Minchin or Abbot become leader, or goes to the election as a weakling who can’t speak for his party. All of these outcomes result in Labor winning a thumping majority and the right coming to power in the Liberal party, and thus explain the actions of both Rudd and Minchin.

I suppose I get half marks; Turnbull is still leader, but the party has split as utterly as Rudd could conceivably have hoped.
Cue Stubby Kaye;

When we fought the Yankees and annihilation was near,
Who was there to lead the charge that took us safe to the rear?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "Toot your own horn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, a man who knew no fear!

When we almost had 'em but the issue still was in doubt,
Who suggested the retreat that turned it into a rout?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "Tattered and torn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he kept us hidin' out!

With our ammunition gone and faced with utter defeat,
Who was it that burned the crops and left us nothing to eat?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "September Morn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, the pants blown off his seat!


When it seemed like our brave boys would keep on fighting for months,
Who took pity on them and ca-pit-u-lated at once?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; Unshaven and shorn - pone.
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he weren't nobody's dunce!

Who went re-con-noiter-ing to flank the enemy's rear,
Circled through the piney woods, and disappeared for a year?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "Treat 'em with scorn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, the missing mountaineer!

Who became so famous with a reputation so great,
That he ran for president and didn't carry a state?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "Wouldn't be sworn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he made the country wait!

Stonewall Jackson got his name by standing firm in the fray.
Who was known to all his men as good ol' "Paper Mache?"
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;


Jubilation T. Cornpone, he really saved the day!


Though he's gone to his reward, his mighty torch is still lit.
First in war. First in peace. First to holler, "I quit!"
Jubilation T. Cornpone;

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 4

After lunch there was a brisk passage when Mr. Snapdriver, for the prosecution, threatened to call more than twelve thousand witnesses if counsel for the defence called seven thousand.
Cocklecarrot: Come, come, you two. This is becoming farcical.
Hermitage: It is a bluff, m'lud. He hasn't got twelve thousand witnesses.
Snapdriver: Here is my list, m'lud.
Cocklecarrot: Yum. I see it includes two Cabinet Ministers and an entire football team. (Sarcastically): I suppose they, too, are related to the dwarfs.
Snapdriver: So I understand, m'lud.
Cocklecarrot: (in a ringing voice): Who on earth are these astonishing little red-bearded gentry?
Hermitage: I think Admiral Sir Ewart Hodgson could tell us that.
Cocklecarrot: Very well. Call him. We are wasting our time.

Not bad

And here, I will say, is a zinger:
Sarah Palin recently explained that Israel’s illegal settlements should be expanded “because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.”

As a student of milleniarial literature, and a fan of LB Fridays on Slacktivist, that's a sure tell. She's talking about the Rapture.
Not, I would have thought, easy to fit in with a commitment to the 2012 presidential run, but perhaps that's why she decided to step down from conventional politics.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Well, that's close:
O'REILLY: Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world?

PALIN: I believe that I am because I have common sense and I have -- I believe the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spineless -- a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fat resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans are -- could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that that has to be me.

If you put in a marker every time there's a grammatical shift in the sentence - a time when she's continuing on from the word before rather than from the five or ten words before - it'd look like this, leaving out the understandable hesitations;

O'REILLY: Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world?

PALIN: I believe that I am because I have common sense and I believe the values that are reflective of so many other American *values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of *a spinelessness that perhaps is made up *for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fat resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans are -- could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that that has to be me.

Input 'American', output 'American values'.
Input 'kind of', output 'kind of a'.
Input 'made up', output 'made up for'.
She's in a quantum superposition between saying that the baddies make up for their spinelessness by a fat resume and saying that the baddies are made up of fat resumes.

The Brown version

Their collection had grown into an eclectic fusion of new and old . . . of cutting-edge and historical. Most of Katherine’s books bore titles like Quantum Consciousness, The New Physics, and Principles of Neural Science. Her brother’s bore older, more esoteric titles like the Kybalion, the Zohar, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, and a translation of the Sumerian tablets from the British Museum.

One of these things is not like the others.

Mmmm... The Kybalion, 1908 (but claiming to be the essence of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus,a contemporary of Moses); the Zohar, 13th CE claiming to be 2nd CE; Sumerian tablets, before the 2nd millenium BCE; The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (1979), New York: William Morrow and Company, hardcover: ISBN 0-688-03402-0, paperback: ISBN 0-688-08402-8, 352 pp. You know you're getting old when the books around in your youth are referred to as 'historical'.

And the first edition of Principals of Neural Science was published in 1981.

Oh, but the thrill's not there any more. Picking errors in Brown is becoming uncomfortably like pedantically missing the point. The Lost Symbol isn't epically bad, like DVC, it's just not very good. The question that arises is not "Why are millions of people wasting their time on this book?" but "Why am I wasting my time on this book?"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Don't say cheese

Just reading A Brief History of the Smile.

Must have arrived too late for inclusion -
While Thais are known for their gracious smiles and bawdy humour, King Bhumibol alone is serious, gray, and almost tormented by the weighty matters of his realm. .....he seemed never to be seen smiling, instead displaying an apparent penitential pleasurelessness in the trappings and burdens of the throne.
For the Thais, this was a sign of his spiritual greatness. In the Buddhist culture, either a smile or a frown would indicate attachment to worldly pleasures or desires. Bhumibol's public visage was unfailingly one of kindly benevolence and impassivity. In his equanimity he resembled the greatest kings of the past, the dhammarajas of the 13th-century Sukhotai kingdom...."

From The King Never Smiles

Friday, November 20, 2009


It may seem odd that in all the fooforaw about Going Rogue there is no comment from me, her fascinated acolyte; but in fact there have been no actual Palinisms as yet, no speeches, none of her linguistic bricolage, the random walks of word association that make her such an endless feast. The actual book appears to have been subedited to a faretheewell to remove any evidence of ADD and has correspondingly little interest. Well, we can only hope.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 3

Renton v. Tasker

This extraordinary case continued yesterday.
The first sensation came when Mrs. Tasker submitted a list of over seven thousand people whom she wished to call as witnesses. Council for the defence, Mr. Bastin Hermitage, was about to read the list when Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot intervened.

Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot: Is it necessary to call all these people?

Mr. Hermitage: I believe so, m'lud.

Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot: But surely they cannot all be connected with the case. For instance, I see here the name of a Cabinet Minister. Also a well-known film actor. What have they got to do with these dwarfs?

Mr. Hermitage: I undersytand that some of these dwarfs claim to be related to the Cabinet Minister.

Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot: And that distinguished sailor Rear-Admiral Sir Ewart Hodgson?

Mr. Hermitage: I understand he knows one of the dwarfs.
(Sensation in court)

From Quiggin

On the politics, I imagine that the scenario that Rudd is trying for – one that leaves him on the verge of being incapacitated by uncontrollable drooling – is that the Wong/McFarlane talks come up with a compromise that Turnbull has to take to the party room, which rejects it by a large majority. The bill goes to the house, Turnbull and McFarlane and a few other Liberals vote with the government but the bulk of the party doesn’t, and Turnbull either steps down to let Minchin or Abbot become leader, is bounced to let Minchin or Abbot become leader, or goes to the election as a weakling who can’t speak for his party. All of these outcomes result in Labor winning a thumping majority and the right coming to power in the Liberal party, and thus explain the actions of both Rudd and Minchin.
And the near-neutering of the bill isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Portugal actually entered the war in 1916, which makes their decision almost the oddest of all. Actually watching a year of trench warfare and then saying "Yeah, gotta get me some of that sweet sweet candy!" Bizarre.

Admittedly, Germany declared war on them, but they'd provoked it by seizing German ships in Lisbon harbour. Apparently the motivation was that they were afraid that, neutral or no neutral, their colonies would be divvied up at the peace conference if they weren't on the winning side.

And in the end they only lost a couple of thousand dead, hardly a rounding error in the total butcher's bill. But even so.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Time magazine, June 25 1956; a quote from a colonial official in Lusaka - "You must be bloody well 'round the bend, old boy."
When did they drop the apostrophe from 'round?

OK, they haven't, entirely:from the web

1. "So, what's new this time round?"

Is the above proper English?
Can I use it in writing?

I see no problems with this usage, but be advised that in this usage, 'round is a contraction for around, so if you choose to use round, it should be preceeded with an apostrophe.

Odd. I would have sworn that that usage had simply evaporated. Not entirely, not in America, it seems. Though I suppose "this time around" is an idiom of its own, and may override the normal use.
Not so here, though, from -

'round: is this an abbreviation of "around"?
I'd be grateful if you could provide with usages.


4 months ago

Best Answer
Chosen by Asker
'round instead of around is really more of a speech issue. People often say round because the first "a" is dropped off the word when they speak, but you usually don't write 'round unless you're intentionally using slang.


"People around here are very nice"

"People 'round here are nice."

The meaning doesn't change. A lot of the times you just don't hear people pronouncing the first "a".

The best account comes from Separated by a Common Language.
Adverbial and prepositional round is far more common in BrE than in AmE. According to John Algeo's British or American English?, round is 40 times more common in BrE than AmE (in the Cambridge International Corpus). Though it might just be differences in lexicographical practice, Algeo also notes that (US) Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2003) lists 2 senses for prepositional round but 7 for around, whereas the (UK) New Oxford Dictionary of English lists 5 for around and 8 for round.

I searched for round the on the Guardian website and asked myself whether the examples I found would be round or around in my native dialect. Here are the results from the first two pages that didn't involve other Briticisms (otherwise I'd be typing explanations all day and night), repetition, compounding (e.g. a round-the-world ticket), or other disqualifiers:

1. Party round the world in 2007
2. Reading round the Christmas tree.
3. He's an expert guide, fluent in Italian, takes you round the museum
4. Pubs are to be allowed to stay open round the clock under plans for a radical overhaul of licensing laws
5. 'Listen: tinkering round the edges will change nothing'
6. On the way round the labyrinth, there are slits in the walls,
7. He has recently completed the last section of a walk round the M25 [a motorway/highway]

I'm fairly confident (though I must confess that I use a BrE-flavo(u)red round fairly often these days, and so may have lost my intuitions), that a typical AmE speaker would say around in all of these cases. The last seems to me the most natural with round, but perhaps some of you with more intact AmE intuitions will be better judges.

Using Fowler's as a guide, The Grammar Logs of the Capital Community College Foundation (Hartford, Connecticut) answers a query about round and around with:

In almost all situations, the words are interchangeable and you'll have to rely on your ear to come up with the word that sounds better. [I]n British English, there are several idiomatic expressions in which "round" is obligatory, but where "around" would work just fine in the U.S.A.: "winter comes round," "show me round," "he came round to see me." In the U.S., "around" is obligatory when you're using it to convey approximation: "He arrived around 4 p.m.," "Around two-thirds of the faculty will retire next year."

There are other idioms that must have one or the other in them--for instance to get around, meaning to go to/be in a lot of places (as in the Beach Boys song), needs around. But in the meaning 'to evade' (as in We got (a)round the security guard), BrE prefers round and AmE prefers around. Feel free to add your own examples in the comments!

An interesting example in the Guardian results was The speech heard 'round the world. Here the apostrophe seems to indicate the writer's feeling that round has been contracted from around--and probably the writer's feeling that round is a bit more informal. That was the only apostrophe'd one in the 20 I looked at. But is it round really a contraction of around? Maybe not. Around is a fairly recent addition to the language. The OED lists around as 'rare before 1600', and notes that it doesn't occur in the works of Shakespeare. Round goes back further, and Shakespeare used it in places where I would have said around (but he didn't ask me, did he?):

1602 SHAKES. Ham. III. ii. 165 Full thirtie times hath Phoebus Cart gon round Neptunes salt Wash.

So where did the a- come from? It could be on analogy with other a- prepositions like across and among. At any rate, the OED marks its fourth sense for around as an Americanism now, but perhaps not in the past or the future:

4. In U.S.: = ROUND. Perhaps orig. U.K. (cf. quot. 1816). Now coming back into British use under U.S. influence.

1816 JANE AUSTEN Emma I. x. 187 Emma..was beginning to think how she might draw back a little more, when they both looked around, and she was obliged to join them.

All this seems to indicate that apostrophes are unnecessary for 'round (at least in BrE), and that the perceived need to put them there may be analogous to 'til, which was till before it was until.


From QED and the men who made it: Schwinger, Feynman, Dyson and Tomonaga.
p. 371:
When Schwinger was at Harvard his numerous students... learned and disseminated his language. But as he became more isolated, fewer people understood and spoke the newer languages he created - for example, sourcery (Schwinger, 1970b, 1973) - contributing to his further isolation.

Did Pratchett know of this?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greatuncle Malcolm

Greatuncle Malcolm was, we believe, the first Australian to get direct entry into the British army as an officer, back in 1906. His file is now online at the National Archives (go to, Recordsearch, search on Lieutenant Borthwick JM). There are a number of points of interest.

It all begins in 1905 when the principal of Scotch College writes to the Minister for Defence to ask for the rules. "I have a pupil who wishes to enter the Imperial army as an officer."

The Secretary for Defence sends him a copy of the Imperial Army Orders for 1903. "As this book is the only copy available, I would be obliged if it could be returned after perusal." (and he writes again four days later asking for it back; the days before the photocopier...)

The Principal again: "The bearer, Master Malcolm Borthwick, is the son of Lt.Col William Borthwick of Sale, who is anxious that his son should enter the Imperial Army in India with a view to joining the Staff Corps." Mmmm... his parents were anxious....

So the Governor-General,Lord Northcote, signs a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.... Undersecretary of State at the Colonial Office replies...

"Examination [in the literary paper] of the candidates hereabove named was held at this office on 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th instant...the answers to the questions have been forwarded this day direct to the Director of Staff Duties, War Office, London."

The War Office says he's passed the literary exam and can sit the military exam.

John Forrest, Acting Prime Minister, certifies to the G-G that Malcolm is a bona fide colonist of good character.

A letter headed "Downing Street", from Elgin, the Officer administering the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Malcolm had a choice of Military History papers - the Peninsular War from 1811-1813, or the Peninsular War from 1813-1814.

Exam taken, papers sent, and a letter informing Lord Northcote of this signed by Alfred Deakin.

Paper headed Commonwealth of Australia, can't read the signature. "Re cabling result of Borthwick's exam: Capt Collins is being asked to cable. Presume we have your guarantee that cable will be paid for.

Only two words, too; "The words 'Borthwick passed' or "Borthwick failed' will be understood here." That's the Acting Secretary of the Department of Defense.

"The subjoined cablegram... received this day by the Governor-General from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, is transmitted to the Prime Minister."


He counted, apparently, as Imperial Yeomenary. No, I see they struck that out on the form and inserted COLONIAL CANDIDATES.

"I am commanded by the Army Council to inform you that this candidate has qualified for appointment to a commission in the Imperial Army..."

He went into the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, and left on the RMS Zecodonia in February 1908.

Everything having to be sent from the Department of Defense to the PM to the GG to the Colonial Office to the War Office, and back again; cumbersome.

And there were so few people in the public service at the time that PMs was basically the PM and a secretary.

And poor Malcolm was sent to Aden, not India, and it was hot and tiny and boring and everybody thought he was an appalling colonial oik and nobody would speak to him and it was his parents who'd wanted him to go into the army anyway and he killed himself.


The people who started the war, and those who went to war against those who started the war, weren't stupid, and they weren't even mistaken. They all believed, correctly, that their aims - positive, as in German hegemony/Austrian security, or negative, as in no German hegemony/Austrian security - couldn't be attained without war.
That is to say, you can't have it both ways. It's not a matter of saying "They could have achieved their aims in other less murderous ways." They couldn't. The only way for Asquith to avoid war would have been, essentially, to take the decision to lose it. That would have been a very courageous decision, in the Sir Humphrey sense.
The same with Iraq. The issue isn't "Is the world better off without Saddam?" It's whether the good of having no Saddam is worth the evil of not having the what, half million to a million Iraqis who died along the way.
Which does, to some extent, underline that the person who starts it - who walks across someone else's border carrying a rifle - bears a heavy responsibility. Then, Bethmann-Hollweg and Berchtold. Now, George Bush.
Placing Obama in the position of Lloyd George or Clemenceau - someone who inherited it but hasn't got the authority to stop it and take the loss and just has to double down until something occurs that lets someone claim victory.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Age bin

Jim Molan suggests that we need to up Australian troop numbers in Afghanistan in order to protect Afghans "against their own corrupt government and police". If that's the case, surely the sensible thing to do would be to outsource the job to the local Taliban and and save on transport costs?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ah, the brave music of a distant drum

John Quiggin asks on Crooked Timber
The names of Asquith, Bethmann-Hollweg, Berchtold and Poincare are barely remembered, yet on any reasonable accounting they belong among the great criminals of history. Not only did they create the conditions for war, and rush (eagerly in most cases) into it, they carried on even as the death toll mounted into the hundreds of thousands and beyond. Even as the original grounds for war became utterly irrelevant, they continued to intrigue for trivial postwar benefits, carving up imagined conquests among themselves. Eventually, most were displaced by leaders who were marginally less mediocre, and more determined to win at all costs (Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Ludendorff, Hindenburg and others).

How could such ordinary, seemingly decent, men pursue such an evil and self-destructive course, and yet, in most cases, attract and retain the support of their people? I find it hard to understand.

Explaining WW1 involves taking into account factors that never go away;
1) Nationalist overconfidence
No nation really believes that its army isn't good enough to win, until it's proven.
2) Sunk costs fallacy
After the first year, settling for a draw (let alone losing) involved having traded a million or so dead for something that wasn't worth a million or so dead.
3) Party politics
Settling for a draw (let alone losing) involved, all the governments involved thought, the certainty of losing office and a high risk of bloody revolution and the overthrow of the whole society they knew. In which belief history shows they were more or less correct.

If the trenches had been on the French/German border it would have been a lot easier to stop. As it was, peace would have involved either Germany giving up a territorial advantage (when she hadn't lost) or France accepting a territorial loss (when she hadn't lost).

And it's all very well talking as if we moderns would have done the rational thing and saved all those lives. My grandfather fought at Gallipoli, and was in the charge of the Light Horse at the Nek, that most idiotic of doomed battles, four successive waves shot down instantly as they went over the top. At that point, the only way to stop the death of four hundred men would have been to for him bayonet a couple of officers on the startline, but if I'd been there instead of him I wouldn't have had the guts to do it and I rather doubt if JQ would have either. That's an extreme case, but it scales.


Uh-oh. My first spam post in the comments. A sign of maturity, I suppose, a tribute to my wide appeal to the desperate and impotent, which I suppose is fair enough considering, but I could have done without it nonetheless.

It's a challenge.

A man must stand up. (actually, I don't suppose that's a good slogan in this context)
A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do (likewise)
Anyway, I'm taking a position (dammit, not that either)

Don't buy pills from anyone advertising on this site. They in fact fill the packets with lollies from the Coles Christmas Assortment half-kilo pack.

There, that'll show 'em.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Declaration of interest

According to Pharyngula
The sentencing of a convicted murder, Khristian Oliver, should be an embarrassment to the state of Texas; the jurors consulted the Old Testament to see what should be done with him, found a bible verse they liked — "And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death" — and sentenced him to be executed. {Which he was.}

I'm conflicted here. On the one hand, I'm against the death penalty: on the other, I have a down on people who spell my name wrong.

272,789,137,666,806,000,000 green bottles

Mmm. Looking at that SBC study, they found 0.05 associations in 27 out of the 68 genes they studied. The problem with that is that the perms and combs are backbreaking. If, let's say, you can end up having 16 of those genes tripped, there would be 272,789,137,666,806,000,000 different ways to do it.
Can any of the trained mathematicians out there (you know who you are) check that?

But SBC says
My colleagues and I recently published the first candidate gene study of Asperger syndrome, which identified 14 genes associated with the condition.
Eleven genes survived family wise error rate (FWER) correction using permutations across both experiments, which is greater than would be expected by chance.
So who knows...

I've got Asberger's syndrome and he's got mine

Simon Baron-Cohen, Borat's cousin and irritating autism guru, complains about the forthcoming deletion of Asberger's Syndrome from DSM.
....a committee of experts charged with revising the manual has caused consternation by considering removing Asperger syndrome from the next edition, scheduled to appear in 2012. The committee argues that the syndrome should be deleted because there is no clear separation between it and its close neighbor, autism. The experts propose that both conditions should be subsumed under the term “autism spectrum disorder,” with individuals differentiated by levels of severity. It may be true that there is no hard and fast separation between Asperger syndrome and classic autism, since they are currently differentiated only by intelligence and onset of language. Both classic autism and Asperger syndrome involve difficulties with social interaction and communication, alongside unusually narrow interests and a strong desire for repetition, but in Asperger syndrome, the person has good intelligence and language acquisition.
Which sums up my reasons for having no respect for Baron-Cohen: he can't separate, even conceptually, intelligence and language. They come as a unit. He sees two conditions - no intelligence and no language, autism; intelligence and language, Asbergers - when the words he uses virtually mandate at least three - no intelligence/no language, intelligence/language, [no intelligence/language], intelligence/no language. Either these are separate qualities or they aren't.
....history reminds us that psychiatric diagnoses are not set in stone. They are “manmade,” and different generations of doctors sit around the committee table and change how we think about “mental disorders.” This in turn reminds us to set aside any assumption that the diagnostic manual is a taxonomic system. Maybe one day it will achieve this scientific value, but a classification system that can be changed so freely and so frequently can’t be close to following Plato’s recommendation of “carving nature at its joints.”
Part of the reason the diagnostic manual can move the boundaries and add or remove “mental disorders” so easily is that it focuses on surface appearances or behavior (symptoms) and is silent about causes. Symptoms can be arranged into groups in many ways, and there is no single right way to cluster them. Psychiatry is not at the stage of other branches of medicine, where a diagnostic category depends on a known biological mechanism. An example of where this does occur is Down syndrome, where surface appearances are irrelevant. Instead the cause — an extra copy of Chromosome 21 — is the sole determinant to obtain a diagnosis. Psychiatry, in contrast, does not yet have any diagnostic blood tests with which to reveal a biological mechanism.
Yes, but there are tradeoffs. In diagnoses where surface appearances and symptoms are irrelevant, the diagnosis doesn't necessarily say anything about surface appearances or symptoms. It's possible to say that you can't be sick with TB without the presence of the TB bacteria, but you can have TB bacteria without being sick, and at least 90% of positive tests do. Is SBC really prepared to face a situation where (say) 30% of the population has the diagnostic markers of autism but only 0.5% show symptoms?

Mind you, it does look rather as if this is mere handwaving, because he's not proposing to apply any physical tests, he's just opposing the deletion of one symptom-based subdivision of a symptom-based diagnosis.
We don’t yet know if Asperger syndrome is genetically identical or distinct from classic autism, but surely it makes scientific sense to wait until these two subgroups have been thoroughly tested before lumping them together in the diagnostic manual. I am the first to agree with the concept of an autistic spectrum, but there may be important differences between subgroups that the psychiatric association should not blur too hastily.
Yes, there may be important differences between subgroups (even if, for the sake of argument, you accept the existence of an overriding condition rather than a flotilla of quite different conditions sharing common symptoms) but in order to make the point you're actually making you surely have to make some attempt to demonstrate that Asbergers is in fact in some way a distinct subgroup rather than a point on a spectrum. I myself abominate the notion of a spectrum, which in practice reduces to the good oldfashioned ladder of creation from the stupid to the like us, I prefer to place cases in n-dimensional space and look for groupings, but SBC doesn't, so where's the Asbergers distinction?
My colleagues and I recently published the first candidate gene study of Asperger syndrome, which identified 14 genes associated with the condition.
Horse feathers. The study compared a normal population with an Asberger population, on a number of autistic traits, which means that any associations (described as 'above chance', which doesn't sound as if they're particularly strong) could just be with autism spectrum disorder, not Asberger's specifically. Not even close.

Joke in headline - hat tip to S. J. Perelman.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 2

Mr. Tinklebury Snapdriver (for the plaintiff) Now, Mrs.--er--Tasker, where were you on the afternoon of 26 January? Think carefully before you answer.

Mrs. Tasker: Which year?

Mr. Snapdriver: What?

Mrs. Tasker: Which year?

Mr. Snapdriver appeared disconcerted. He consulted his notes and one or two books. Then he whispered to a clerk and consulted another barrister.

Mr.Justice Cocklecarrot: Well, Mr Snapdriver, which year?

Mr. Snapdriver: Am I bound to answer that question, m'lud?

Cocklecarrot: It was you who asked it, you know.
[Roars of laughter in court.]

Mrs. Tasker: M'lud, I think I can tell him the year, It was 1937.

Cocklecarrot: Why, that's this year. What then?

Mr. Snapdriver: Where were you, Mrs Tasker, on the morning of 26th January

Mrs. Tasker: I called at Mrs Renton's house to leave a dozen red-bearded
dwarfs with her.

Cocklecarrot: Had she ordered them? [Howls of laughter]

The court then rose.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Halloween won't really ever take off in Australia because of the seasons thing. In Australia in October it's not dark till nine or later, which means that young children going door to door for sweets (no, I suppose I do have to use the word candy) would have to be out way past bedtime. Halloween parties for adolescents or adults, yes, but without the kids the celebration finds it hard to reach critical mass.

Age bin - the queen

Australians have a head of state we don't want, a flag we don't like, and a national anthem we can't remember. Good. Symbols of national pride are powerful intoxicants which should be kept out of the hands of weakminded and impressionable electorates. A powerful sense of national identity would simply be an incitement to more Cronullas.

Friday, November 06, 2009


However bereft of factual basis, you can nonetheless sing this line to Beethoven's Ode to Joy. For a very short time.

somewhere along the way the caper went awry

Fafblog: successor in title to Beachcomber

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Boy's names: Pushing the Envelope

Time, February 13, 1956

Felix Houphouet*-Boigny is the first Negro ever to hold Cabinet rank in France.

* "Houphouet" is a Baule word meaning "pit for excrement". His father's parents, desperate when their first four children died in infancy, adopted the tribal custom of giving the fifth child a name indicating that he was unloved, unloveable and worthless, to divert the evil spirits that had taken the first four. The local sorcerer recommended Houphouet. "It worked," said Houphouet-Boigny, who, like all his descendants, must forever bear the name which saved his father.

Autres Temps

Hooray! The shop has more old Time magazines.

February 13, 1956

From a raised pavilion, the Queen accepted the homage of, among others, the Rwang Pam of Dirom, the Atta of Igala, the Tor of Tiv, the Och of Idoma and the Elsu Nupe.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Born out of his time

What a blogger Beachcomber would have made!
Mr Justice Cocklecarrot began the hearing of a very curious case yesterday. A Mrs Tasker is accused of continually ringing the doorbell of a Mrs Renton, and then, when the door is opened, pushing a dozen red-bearded dwarfs into the hall and leaving them there.
For some weeks Mrs. Renton had protested by letter and by telephone to Mrs. Tasker, but one day she waited in the hall and caught Mrs. Tasker in the act of pushing the dwarfs into the hall. Mrs. Renton questioned them, and their leader said "We know nothing about it. It's just that this Mrs. Tasker pays us a shilling every time she pushes us into your hall."
"But why does she do it?" asked Mrs. Renton.
"That's what we don't know," said the spokesman of the little men.

The story to fit this sensational headline has not turned up yet.

Monday, November 02, 2009


On another Rapture site,
In December 2012 the Sun will reach the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, as the Mayans predicted, with all the planets lined up in their orbits behind it, like little chicks behind their mother. Some scientists believe this will amplify the Sun’s gravitational pull on Earth causing increased instability in its inner core. They say the increased gravitational pull combined with increased radiation from the twin polar reversals will heat the Earth’s molten core and cause it to spin faster. This could result in anything from more frequent and more powerful earthquakes to volcanic eruptions, great tsunamis and even displacement of the Earth’s crust.

The Doctor will save us.
Though they are making it sound rather simpler by omitting to mention the immense black hole we'll probably find there. Also Daleks, I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Though I suppose there's an actual point there; today even religious maniacs have no social vocabulary to express their eschatology other than that provided by science fiction thrillers. The Hand of God can't just come down from the sky and punch someone; there has to be an increased gravitational pull that makes them fall over. And yet at the end of this process The Hand (and all the other bits) of the Son of God does apparently just come down from the sky and biff people, so why not at the start, too? It bespokes a certain lack of confidence in the direct action of the deity. If god can act through increased radiation rather than killing firstborn, why do they have a problem with evolution?
Of course, it's always possible that they'll catch us between Doctors - I gather that the new one doesn't come on till next year. That would be truly frightening.

Grand Strategy

I bought a stretchable Incredible Hulk at Kmart. For some inexplicable reason his fists are attached to his knees, so that any stretching that goes on makes him look oddly as if he's folkdancing. It does, however, raise a larger issue.

Why are there so many people in the world?

I am the only important person in the world - I hope we can all agree on that - and everybody else is here only to make my life richer and more fulfilled; that's axiomatic. And I think there's a degree of featherbedding. We could do more with less.

I'm not taking a narrow view of this, mind. I'm not just referring to the comparatively few people I actually meet or deal with. I quite appreciate that it takes a lot to run the entire supply chain from the iron mine to the part in my biro. I can see, from the economic point of view, that there need to be a lot of people in China to drive down the labor cost so that they can produce cheap Incredible Hulks for me, and a large amount of people in the West so that there can be a market for Incredible Hulk stretchables.

I just think that even taking all that into account it should be possible with a little planning to eliminate the need for about two people in three, absolute minimum. A billion people worldwide really should be the absolute outside.

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