July 2009


A snippet from The Language Instinct Stuff of Thought:

“The opacity of everyday metaphors is also apparent in [other examples] and entry into the club called AWFUL — Americans Who Figuratively Use “Literally.” The charter member was Rabbi Baruch Koff, a defender of Richard Nixon during his Watergate ordeal, who at one point protest, “The American press has literally emasculated President Nixon.””

I’ve probably blogged about the issue before, but I really do hate it. The book as a whole is great and serves to culminate both his language and human nature trilogies. I’d like to spend more time here praising the book, but my mind is too absorbed by the thought of this abuse of language.

At the recommendation of Razib, my next read is going to be East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia, so I might blog about that in the near future.

UPDATE: Another gem I had to quote, which follows a discussion of some of Hilary Putnam’s thought experiments: “[…] there are fewer things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy”.

I have less time for Lawrence Auster’s site than I used to, but I came across someone saying something so incorrect about quarks that it could not be allowed to stand. The issue everyone else was more concerned with though is the possible end of the Y chromosome. (more…)

A while back Radar Online had an excellent roundup of how pundits fared after they prognosticated about the Iraq war. Unfortunately, the publications has apparently decided they’d rather not be so serious and abandoned the article to the Internet Archive. The Archive can sometimes get overloaded, so I have decided to preserve it here. There are no pictures, but at least it’s all on one page. (more…)

Perhaps Raymond Smullyan’s dichotomy has more basis in reality than we thought. Here comes the Science: psychology researchers scanned people’s brains as they were giving their predictions for coin flips (having told the subjects they were researching psychic powers), in situations where they had the opportunity to lie and when they didn’t. The purpose was to test competing theories of honesty: whether the honest are able to muster up the will (aka executive function) to resist temptation, or if they are blessed with undeserved grace from such temptation. Turns out its the latter. If you feel bad for having lust in your heart for what ain’t yours to have, it is rightly so for you are not one of the elect, you bad person you. We can then deduce that Jesus was never actually tempted, although that’s possibly overdetermined as he might never have existed in the first place. Bryan Caplan will be happy to hear another swipe at the so-called fundamental attribution error.

I was surprised to see ifeminists.com linking to a study reported in the Journal of Human Sexuality, a journal apparently motivated by a “Christian biblical perspective,” and carried out by N.A.R.T.H., the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, another admittedly conservative outfit.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the science behind the study is bogus, but as a heuristic device the confession of a Christian bias is a poor way to convey scientific credibility.

The study purports to show that therapy is successful in helping homosexuals overcome their same-sex attraction over the long term. Prominent gay activist Peter Tatchell believes homosexuals have a choice too – and they ought to embrace it! And in an interview here Steven Pinker states that only about 30-40% of the variance in sexual orientation can be explained by genetic predisposition.

Steve Sailer & Half Sigma were happy that Ricci won, but thought it still disheartening that four members of the court signed on to Ginsburg’s dissent. The only Supreme Court decision I’ve read before was D.C vs Heller (and though conflicted regarding the result, I still viewed some arguments for the city as embarrassing). There’s a saying that hard cases make for bad law, and in this case the law was already bad enough that Ginsburg didn’t need to go out on a limb. If you’ve really got a dog in the fight a case may look easy and then the only explanation for a judge ruling the other way must be bad faith. A difference of one vote on the court not only gave Ricci a victory, but reduced the potential liability of a municipality in New Haven’s position, thereby undermining both their legal defense and incentive for the action they had taken. While the Supreme Court is to blame in Griggs for introducing liability for disparate outcomes from equal treatment with no evidence of intentional discrimination, it is still the case that Congress amended Title VII to explicitly prohibit disparate outcomes later. It is also case that the law makes some allowances for compromising equal treatment to avoid liability for disparate outcomes. Only Scalia’s concurrence (not joined by any other justice) broached the subject that the law itself may be contradictory and require changes down the road. This sort of thing is why John Hasnas wrote The Myth of the Rule of Law (see part II in particular) and to a significant extent why Bryan Caplan considers law a shockingly phony discipline.

Note that I am only saying that the dissent by those four justices is defensible. That does not constitute a defense of Sotomayor, as not even the dissenting judges agreed with her. Nor am I defending the actions of Destefano and other New Haven politicos.

For those interested in my own opinion on the case, it will take me a while because I’m so far out there. I don’t see why the Supreme Court should have any jurisdiction over a dispute between the New Haven government and some of its employees. The civil rights laws the city is violating were passed by the federal government, but the constitution doesn’t give the federal government the power to tell city governments (other than D.C) what to do. There are some things like producing currency or conducting foreign policy that are exclusively the domain of the federal government, but the tenth amendment leaves everything else to the states.

I’m crazy enough of a libertarian that I think privatizing firefighting is a good idea, and I think private employers should be able to do whatever the hell they want in their employment decisions provided they abide by contracts. As long as firefighters are paid with tax dollars though, I think it makes sense to use the standard bureaucratic civil service rules we all (except Mencius Moldbug) have cherished ever since Garfield was assassinated, with as heavy a weighting as possible in the most objective measurements (like New Haven’s written test rather than the assessment centers offered as an alternative) to serve the taxpayer’s interest by maximally exploiting the labor market without politics or other management preferences interfering. It does not make sense to allow public sector labor unions. They used to be illegal, but as the creative destruction of competitive markets have eroded organized labor’s place in the private sector they have thrived on the government’s teat. A private company can try to calculate whether it will be more profitable to wait out striking workers, replace them with scabs, or try to meet their demands at the negotiating table. The government just keeps throwing more and more money that it doesn’t have, without getting any more labor.

UPDATE: As long as I’m talking law, I should note that Nick Szabo has compiled a best-of list of his online writings. For readers who want some of my own uninformed legal perspective, Judical empathy and Judicial restraint are some more recent stabs at the law.

I suppose I’m behind the news as I started the skeleton of this post some days ago but was too lazy to do any writing until now. At any rate, Andrew Sullivan decided to highlight a particularly annoying email from a reader insulting them dumb Christianists in order to explain the appeal of Sarah Palin. As readers know, I’m a godless infidel. I have never thought highly of Palin either. I regard McCain’s choice of her in petulant response to his advisors putting the kibosh on his first choice (Lieberman) as emblematic of his reckless disregard for his party or country, which is the same trait that exhibited throughout his career won him admiration as a “maverick” among the pundit class. So I’m writing this just because it was among the more egregious examples of politics-as-mind-killer.

The example of the molesting minister doesn’t even succeed on its own merits as stereotype. It is Catholic priests who have gotten the attention, not fundamentalists. Having been a former ultracalvinist I remember having great disdain for Catholics due to their lax attention to the Bible in favor of the tradition & dogma handed down by experts from the Church. Presumably the reader just has a low opinion of religion in general and had little problem tarring one variety with the sins of another. How do Protestant clergy compare to Catholics in rates of abuse? Hard to say, there isn’t much data to go on. It’s quite possible that the abuse rate is higher among public school teachers, so sending your kid to a private religious school would actually be safer. Finally, the thesis of the reader isn’t that fundamentalists are merely ignorant and impervious to evidence, but that they are actually seeking out the most audacious liars so that the self-deceiving double-think essential for them will be safe from reveal. The idea that parents of molested children are actually aware of what’s going on is new to me and rather sick.

Maybe the ministers aren’t molesting kids. Maybe they’ve internalized the frigid puritanism that prevents fundamentalists from having even a healthy sex-life, resulting in “foundering” marriages among the faithful. Another beautiful stereotype murdered by a gang of ugly facts. Conservative protestant women have the most orgasms, Catholics & mainline Protestants in between and those with no religious affiliation the least. Married women with feminist ideals are also less happy than their traditionalist counterparts. Arthur Brooks wrote a book on the relationship between happiness and (among other things) religiosity. Perhaps it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig in blissful ignorance. As a wise drunk once remarked, the only one who is truly happy is the village idiot. Feel free to be against happiness, but it’s hard to use it as a stick against fundamentalists.

Why did Andrew hold this email up to the world? He has a problem with “Christianists” generally and Palin in particular. That’s why he’s been promoting Palin conspiracy theories, though I suppose in a rather Cal Thomas sort of why. John Schwenkler put Sullivan and the “birfers” in their place here (and some other places). Chip Smith is invited to defend birferism, which is totally unlike being a “truther” but like being a holocaust revisionist (in a good way!) as he sees it.

On a final (hopefully for the rest of my life) Palin-related note, I engaged in some Szaszian mocking of the DSM and the armchair psychoanalysts of the former vice-presidental hopeful here.

UPDATE: Half Sigma has a response here, though not much new content.
More GSS fun! In response to something Whiskey said, I have updated my post on women & immigration. I got home today planning on doing a different GSS post. There had been two recent posts at the Hoover Hog on anti-semites, and a theme that stuck with me is the theory that Jews are pursuing a group evolutionary strategy against the white race. This is used by the racial right (although some deny being rightists) to explain Jewish liberalism. Half Sigma, in contrast, explains Jewish liberalism as being motivated to keep school prayer away from their kids, as Christianity with all its fun holidays and lack of dietary restrictions is just too much of a temptation for a Jewish mother to hazard. I’m going to look at questions that are racially vs religiously charged and compare the responses of Jews vs whites generally to see where the gap is larger. (more…)