Monday, October 03, 2005

Unlike Me, Monkeys are Willing to Pay for Porn

A new study found that male monkeys will give up their juice rewards in order to ogle pictures of female monkey's bottoms. The way the experiment was set up, the act is akin to paying for the images, the researchers say.

The rhesus macaque monkeys also splurged on photos of top-dog counterparts, the high-ranking primates. Maybe that's like you or me buying People magazine.

The research, which will be detailed in the March issue of Current Biology, gets more interesting.

The scientists actually had to pay these guys, in the form of extra juice, to get them to look at images of lower-ranking monkeys.

Curiously, the monkeys in the test hadn't had any direct physical contact with the monkeys in the photos, so they didn't have personal experience with who was hot and who was not.

"So, somehow, they are getting this information by observation -- by seeing other individuals interact," said Michael Platt of the Duke University Medical Center.

Next, Platt and his colleagues want to see how people will perform in a similar experiment.

Link [via Cynical-C]

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Uncrippled E-ink device

Thanks to the lovely Chinese (and despite the shortsighted Americans/Japanese) we'll be able to buy an e-book reader based on the same technology as the Sony Librie (just like reading a dead-tree book, apparently) without all the shitty book-killing DRM. Tianjin Jinke Electronics' Hanlin V2 will read pdf, doc, ascii, ppt, xls, html. It's scheduled to come out in May 2006, runs on Linux, uses MMC or SD cards and will apparently be priced at US$349 (~NZ$500). I'm a cheap bastard, but the prospect of not having to lug around several kgs of books or deal with stupid fucking crippleware is very enticing indeed.

[Via BoingBoing]

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Various Links

The BBC has a great article on cool words in various languages including the wonderful 'bakku-shan' - a girl who looks hot from the back but is an uggo from the front.

And here are some pretty science pictures, also courtesy of the Beeb.

Armed dolphins escape in the disorder of hurricane Katrina. [via]

Cory Doctorow has started podcasting his stories in serial form.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Kamala Hayman, This Is Your Life

This is why I gave up on the idea of being a journalist:

Attempt to clear up pool soiling


At least one public swimming pool in Christchurch is closed every three days because a child has defecated in the water, costing the city thousands of dollars a year.

Worst affected is the Pioneer Leisure Centre, forced to close at least once a week due to a faecal incident. In the past four months it has closed 21 times for a total of 42 hours. All but one closure was in the leisure pool, usually crowded with children of all ages enjoying the wave machine, river area, fountains, or swimming lessons.


Christchurch City Council recreation facilities manager John Filsell said most faecal incidents were due to toddler toileting accidents and he urged parents to take steps to avoid them.

"The best thing the community can do is to ensure young children go to the toilet before using the pool."

[Chur Christian]

Sunday, September 25, 2005

What I've Learned at University

There are no such things as nouns. If you don't believe me read this, this , this and this. This could save you several years of scholarship.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The 50 Most-Cited 20th Century Works in the Arts & Humanities 1976-1983

I'm ashamed to say that the only ones I've read cover-to-cover are Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations and Austin's How To Do Things With Words (does that make me a Philosophy of Language Geek?) , though I'm proud to say that I'm somewhat familiar with most of them (though I've never read any Joyce). I think that Kuhn's philosophy of science is indispensible to anyone wanting to understand anything - and it's also nice to see Popper in there a couple of times.
It would be interesting to see a more modern list. I would expect that with the rise of Cultural Studies and 'Theory' Freud and Lacan would be up the list, as would Foucault and Derrida. Would also be nice to see a time-series of most cited works, perhaps separated into categories for a visual representation of Kuhn's paradigm shifts or Hegel's Dialectic in the Arts. I'm sure some geek has already done it, but I don't have time to find it at the moment.

1 T.S. Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 1962
2 J. Joyce Ulysses. 1922
3 N. Frye Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. 1957
4 L. Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations
5 N. Chomsky Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. 1965
6 M. Foucault The Order of Things. 1966
7 J. Derrida Of Grammatology
8 R. Barthes S/Z. 1970
9 M. Heidegger Being and Time. 1927
10 E.R. Curtius European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. 1948
11 H-G Gardmer Truth and Method. 1960
12 J. Rawls A Theory of Justice. 1971
13 J. Joyce Finnegan's Wake. 1939
14 J.R. Searle Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. 1969
15 J. Culler Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature. 1975
16 G. Genette Figures. 1966
17 N. Chomsky & M. Halle The Sound Pattern of English. 1968
18 T.S. Eliot The Waste Land. 1922
19 J.L. Austin How to Do Things with Words. 1962
20 W.V.O. Quine Word and Object. 1960
21 M. Proust Remembrance of Things Past. 1914
22 L. Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. 1922
23 J. Joyce A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 1916
24 W.C. Booth The Rhetoric of Fiction. 1961
25 C. Levi-Strauss Structural Anthropology. 1958
26 S. Freud The Interpretation of Dreams. 1900
27 V.Y. Propp Morphology of the Folktale. 1928
28 F.D. Saussure Course in General Linguistics. 1915
29 J-P, Sartre Being and Nothingness. 1943
30 S.A. Kripke "Naming and Necessity" 1972
31 E. Benveniste Problems in General Linguistics. 1966
32 K.R. Popper Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. 1963
33 J. Lacan Lacan Ecrits
34 J. Derrida Writing and Difference. 1967
35 N. Chomsky Chomsky Syntactic Structures. 1957
36 R. Jacobson "Linguistics and Poetics" 1960
37 E.D. Hirsch Validity in Interpretation. 1967
38 C. Levi-Strauss The Savage Mind. 1962
39 E. Pound The Cantos of Ezra Pound. 1925
40 P.L. Berger & T. Luckmann The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. 1966
41 M.M. Bakhtin Rabelais and His World. 1965
42 M. Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology of Perception. 1945
43 W. Iser The Act of Reading. 1976
44 K.R. Popper Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. 1972
45 U.A. Eco Theory of Semiotics. 1976
46 E. Auerbach Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. 1946
47 E.H. Gombrich Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. 1960
48 E.P. Thompson The Making of the English Working Class. 1964
49 J. Habermas Knowledge and Human Interest. 1968
50 K.R. Popper The Logic of Scientific Discovery. 1935

Link [via BoingBoing]

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Schizophrenics Say the Darndest Things

I enjoy listening to conspiracy theorists. They speak with conviction and make inferences with all the reckless abandon of a P-head in a high-speed car chase. Whilst copping a sleep in the library today (yeah, so?) I overheard a particularly good one. He even looked disconcertingly like that King of Delusional Paranoia, Philip K. Dick.
He repeated the usual Bilderberg, US Government are Satanists, Bohemian Grove, Skull & Bones stories, but had two very interesting - and to best of my knowledge, novel - theories.
The first is that Hurricane Katrina was going to miss New Orleans, but Satan (bastard that he is) guided it on course (presumably by blowing). A+ crazy, D- imaginative.
The second was that (drum-roll please) George H. W. Bush, as head of the CIA, made the young George W. Bush engage in sexual conduct with other senior members of the CIA and somehow gave him Dissociative Identity Disorder and 'programmed' one of his personalities to be an evil Satanist, the other a good Christian (it's 'well-documented' that all upper-level CIA agents 'donate' their children for these purposes). George W. Bush is half good-half bad, and 'they' can somehow switch between the two to use him as a puppet. Our conspiracy theorist said he felt sorry for Dubya, who 'really believes he's a Christian'.
The funniest thing he said, though, was that he was surprised his mother didn't want to listen to the truth. But then, he concluded, she is 'of a different generation'.
I used to think it was a waste that such obviously intelligent (he was quoting newspaper articles from 10 years ago down to the month, and I think it does take some level of intelligence to invent such an intriguingly complex world) people waste their time on this sort of nonsense. It does provide entertainment for the rest of us though. If there was a madman on every corner, the world would be a much more interesting place. It worked for Philip K. Dick.

Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey.

The title has nothing to do with the content of this post because, basically, there is no content. Here's some random webshit though: Flying Spaghetti Monster: The Game, Stupid Quotes about Hurricane Katrina, Macgyver for President, Worldometers (constantly updated demographic and socio-economic statistics - funfun!)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

My New Word: It's Slightly Naughty

During a conversation with a friend about rugby today, I made a new word. This post is a claim to authorship. My new word is cryptosodomy. It is a noun and refers to any activity which involves covert male homoeroticism (I'm using sodomy to refer to gay male sexual conduct generally, not just anal sex). As of now (1:23 am NZ time 10/9/05) Google (the ultimate ontological arbiter of the 21st century) shows no results for cryptosodomy, crypto-sodomy or "crypto sodomy".

Which variation do you prefer? I'm inclined to the onewordnofuckinghyphen approach, but maybe it's too soon. The whole Two__Separate__Words thing is just awkward in my opinion, which is why I like those compound-happy Germans. I guess I would be happy for people to use either cryptosodomy or crypto-sodomy as the occasion permits, just use your judgment and use it wisely children.

Update: imagine what the language itself sounds like. As for the verb form, I think cryptosodomise sounds a bit too bodily and literal. Since crypto- has the techie connotations of cryptography, I think it needs to be snappy and direct - this is the Noughties, afterall - and so I present the verb cryptosod. What does everyone think?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Gender Stereotypes in Advertising: A Meaningless Rant

John Camm doesn't like advertising and offers a list of cliched 'rules' thereof:
"It's tiresome to see male characters in adverts who don't resemble anyone you know," he says. "But what's perhaps worse is the absolute reliance of advertising on its own regurgitated cliches."
Well, yeah. Though advertising isn't trying to represent life as it really is, but either trying to sell you a better one or use well-worn stereotypes as a shortcut to character development and narrative (it's hard to tell a story in 30 seconds). Advertising has a always seemed like a bit of a self-contained symbolic system to me (as is film and television, but perhaps to a lesser extent). His list seems pretty accurate though:

4. Mums are often harassed but NEVER depressed/unable to cope.

5. Any act of male stupidity (e.g. walking across a clean floor in muddy boots, putting the dog in the dishwasher, etc.) will be met with a wry smile, not genuine annoyance/anger.

14. Men are inherently lazy/slobbish; women are the reverse.

20. All women (except stay-at-home housewives) have interesting and enjoyable careers.
I've been reading (far too much) Judith Butler, who takes it as axiomatic that men have traditionally been associated with the mind and rationality and women with the body and materiality. If advertising reflects the prejudices of society, it would seem said prejudices have changed quite a lot. Women are still shown as more emotional (traditionally thought of as counter to reason) than men, but also more rational (because emotion and reason are no longer antithetical).

On the other hand, if the differing depictions of men and women reflect how each would like to see themselves, it would seem that men want to be dumb and laddish (probably true to an extent) and women want to be successful and sensible (also probably true). The truth is probably some combination of the two. It would be interesting to look at how men and women are portrayed when the ad is aimed at their own gender compared to when it's aimed at the opposite. I would suggest (and I'm simply pulling this out of my arse) that men are shown as laddish and slightly dumb regardless of the target-gender (both beer and cleaning-product ads) while women are shown as shallow whores in man-targeted advertising and successful uberfrauen in woman-targeted. I'm not sure what that says about the male gender, but it's probably not good - perhaps the depictions of us are right.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Pinioned the Bitch

Disclaimer: Brad is deprived of both sleep and nicotine. Any sense-making is entirely coincidental and if you are in any doubt you should just get fucked anyway.

I'm fond of neither politicking nor crowds, so when I saw both at the University of Otago today I ignored it and got on with my business (reading about lesbians and whatnot). By the sounds of it, however, I should have had a closer look:
Labour Minister Pete Hodgson is facing police inquiries after assaulting a mother who was peacefully protesting at Otago University today, ACT Justice spokesman Stephen Franks said.

"She has confirmed to me that he pinioned her so that she could not raise her arms to show her protest sign to the television cameras."


[T]he people who were there as part of the event, wearing the Labour gear, holding the balloons and passing out the leaflets. Oh, and ripping anti-Labour material out of the hands of students, stealing belongings and running away with them.
Man, I hate people. I've always found people willing to unquestioningly support one political party quite dull and unimaginative, but when I saw some of the Labour, Green and Act peeps (yes, I'm using that pejoratively) today I noticed something else. They Ugly.

Now, I'm a bit of an ugly fuck myself, but one mans ugliness does not an interesting story make. When there is a group, however, that disproportionately exhibits some quality, it would seem there must be some reason for it. My question, then, is this: Are ugly people attracted to party politics, or does joining a political party make you ugly? Perhaps there's some other quality required to join a party, dress in red and hand out balloons (stupidity perhaps?) which covaries with ugliness. I guess we need more data (though frankly, life would be much easier if anecdotal or entirely made-up evidence was enough) to be sure there even is a relationship to study, rather than the bitter imaginings of a cynical arsehole who's sick of all the fucking inane rhetoric masquerading as debate.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Economists are Bad at Economics

The NY Times reports on a journal article on economics education in the US. It turns out that 78% of 200 professional economists at the 2005 AEA conference answered the following question incorrectly (I'll put the answer in the comments in case anyone wants to find out if they are better at economics than most professionals):
"You won a free ticket to see an Eric Clapton concert (which has no resale value). Bob Dylan is performing on the same night and is your next-best alternative activity. Tickets to see Dylan cost $40. On any given day, you would be willing to pay up to $50 to see Dylan. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either performer. Based on this information, what is the opportunity cost of seeing Eric Clapton? (a) $0, (b) $10, (c) $40, or (d) $50."
That is fucking astounding, but possibly even more telling is that
When they posed their original question to a large group of college students, the researchers found that exposure to introductory economics instruction was strikingly counterproductive. Among those who had taken a course in economics, only 7.4 percent answered correctly, compared with 17.2 percent of those who had never taken one.
The explanation for such performance, the article (which I can't be arsed reading beyond the abstract) suggests, is that courses are too mathematically rich and cover too wide a range of topics at the expense of really coming to understand anything at all.

I find studying economics here in New Zealand (1st year papers at Canterbury, 1st->3rd year papers at Otago) a lot more flexible than it sounds in the States. I don't plan on becoming a professional economist and am mainly interested in economics as a tool for understanding human behaviour, so it's been good that I've been able to avoid having to do any calculus.

There certainly does seem to be a trade-off between mathematical depth and intuitive understanding. The fact that US schools are opting for the former could reflect the scientific fetishism that seems to be quite prevalent in the social sciences there. American sociology, for example, is a lot more quantitative than elsewhere (not that I think that's necessarily a bad thing, but there's a trade-off). Perhaps it's the product of a more competitive education system: maths is harder, therefore better.

[via Marginal Revolution]

Friday, September 02, 2005

Philosophers Cause Wars

The arguments in Kimberly Cornish's The Jew of Linz that Wittgenstein was the genesis of Hitler's anti-semitism:

A school photograph (shown on the cover of the book) shows Hitler and Wittgenstein standing next but one to each other.

The school had 329 pupils - not a huge school , and of a size when pupils would likely know each other.

They were the same age, although not in the same class, as Wittgenstein was a year ahead and Hitler a year behind the average (p.10).

A pupil records that Hitler called someone a "filthy Jew" who at the time did not realise he had Jewish ancestry, this description fits Wittgenstein.

In Mein Kampf Hitler recalls a Jewish boy "who was treated by us with caution, but only because various experiences had led us to distrust his discretion and we did not particularly trust him". Wittgenstein is well known for his "confessions" and his obsession to tell the truth, again making the link between Wittgenstein and Hitler at school.

Wittgenstein’s family was incredibly rich and powerful, hence Wittgenstein because of his family alone would have been well-known to the other pupils. However in addition Wittgenstein was a "small, unathletic, stuttering, homosexual, adolescent" (p.18) which means it is inconceivable Hitler could not have known Wittgenstein.

Both Hitler and Wittgenstein loved Wagner (p.12-14) and were both able to whistle large sections of his music. This common interest not shared by the other pupils again makes it likely they would have known each other.

Wittgenstein referred to other pupils as "muck" and spoke down to them using the term "sie" (p.18). It is on record that Hitler also referred to other pupils as "sie" (p.21) and this term was also used in later life by Hitler (p.22). Their both speaking in the same manner again points to a connection.

Both pupils were major figures of the twentieth century, it is likely that as children they would have stood out and hence be known to each other (p.18).

Wittgenstein had two homosexual brothers who had killed themselves. This would have made him widely talked about at the school (p.30), again showing Hitler must have known of him.

Wittgenstein’s family financially supported anti-Wagner artists and musicians. As a lover Wagner, Hitler would have known this and resented Wittgenstein for it.

The descriptions Hitler in later life gives of Jews actually fits Wittgenstein: the outward appearance of being european (p.23); bearing titles of nobility (p.23); being ‘court Jews’ (p.25); writing for the world press (p.27); spending the night in the Hotel Excelsior (p.30). Even Hitler’s laws defining who was a Jew (three of the four grandparents had to be Jews) seemed especially to be written for Wittgenstein (three of his four grandparents were Jews). This shows Hitler had Wittgenstein in mind when he pursued his war against the Jews.

Another reference Hitler makes to the Jews is "of German he possesses nothing but the art of stammering its language" (p.23) - Wittgenstein was a stammering Jew, hence again Hitler makes specific references to Wittgenstein into general attacks on the Jews.

Statically there few Jews at the school, hence Hitler’s references to Jews at the school make it more probably he was referring to Wittgenstein or had him in mind.

Hitler actually refers to Wittgenstein in a speech following invasion of Austria, when he says "would that on this evening, some of our international seekers after truth whom we know so well could not only see the facts but later admit them to be facts". "Seekers after truth" is a reference to a philosopher whom Hitler knows well - Wittgenstein.

Also some nice discussion on what Cornish might have been trying to do by making such a claim.


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Is Evolution Really Difficult to Understand?

Philosopher Daniel Dennett has a nice article in the NY Times (or here if you don't want to register) on why Intelligent Design isn't science and there is no real 'controversy' to teach. I'm not going to discuss most of it because it's thoroughly sensible and everyone should just read it. One thing I did find strange, though, is his suggestion that evolution is hard to understand or somehow counter-intuitive - he uses the term 'mind-boggling'
Yes, eyes are for seeing, but these and all the other purposes in the natural world can be generated by processes that are themselves without purposes and without intelligence. This is hard to understand, but so is the idea that colored objects in the world are composed of atoms that are not themselves colored, and that heat is not made of tiny hot things.
I've heard many a fine person make similar claims - including Douglas Adams in this radio programme, where he says it's counter-intuitive that order can come about through the interaction of many unorderly things.

Personally, I don't find evolution counter-intuitive at all. In fact it's one of the very few scientific theories I can actually understand in a concrete way. We can precisely pinpoint the mechanism (natural selection) which brings about these effects. True, order and purpose are things we don't expect to just emerge without reason, but when we can explain how they come about in simple cause-and-effect terms, shouldn't our skepticism disappear?

By analogy, we wouldn't expect supply and demand to equilibrate in an unplanned market unless we had knowledge of some mechanism that would make it do so. There is such a mechanism: shortages or surpluses changing the pricing behaviour of firms and consumers responding to those altered prices. Given this economic insight, our grounds for doubting the equilibrating capacity of markets is gone and we accept that order can emerge from flux.

Does anybody agree? I'd probably be inclined to go with Dennett and Adams, they're both far smarter than me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Litigious Creationists

The Assn. of Christian Schools International, who represent private schools, are suing the University of California for religious discrimination.
Under a policy implemented with little fanfare a year ago, UC admissions authorities have refused to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging Darwin's theory of evolution, the suit says.

Other courses rejected by UC officials include "Christianity's Influence in American History," "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" and "Special Providence: American Government."

The 10-campus UC system requires applicants to complete a variety of courses, including science, mathematics, history, literature and the arts. But in letters to Calvary Chapel, university officials said some of the school's Christian-oriented courses were too narrow to be acceptable.

According to the lawsuit, UC's board of admissions also advised the school that it would not approve biology and science courses that relied primarily on textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books, two Christian publishers.

Instead, the board instructed the schools to "submit for UC approval a secular science curriculum with a text and course outline that addresses course content/knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community."
What do they expect? A course on Creationism simply doesn't teach you anything about biology. As for the other courses, there's clearly nothing wrong with teaching a course about religion, but I assume since UC has declined to certify the courses they go beyond that and fail to address other issues or lack critical analysis*.
How can kids indoctrinated into this sort of anti-academic thinking be expected to perform at university? I dare say many academics would leave the US if they had to put up with too many self-righteous little fucks who think they know everything about biology because some crackpot tells them there are holes in the theory of evolution, misrepresents what 'theory' means and rejects evolution because we - the (boundedly) rational part of the human population - can't explain every aspect of evolution or 'prove' that it's true.

Link - free registration required but BugMeNot worked for me. [via Backwards City]

*Of course the UC could be evil lesbian satanists who want to prevent any sort of religion being taught in private schools, in which case I'm moving there immediately.
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