st. elsewheres

by Henry on October 1, 2007

“Cosma Shalizi”: has a mammoth post intended _inter alia_ to explain precisely what is at stake in debates over heritability and IQ to those whose eagerness to pronounce winners in these debates is not, perhaps, matched by their grasp of the underlying methodological issues. Takeaway point:

Do I really believe that the heritability of IQ is zero? Well, I hope by this point I’ve persuaded you that’s not a well-posed question. What I hope you really want to ask is something like: Do I think there are currently any genetic variations which, holding environment fixed to within some reasonable norms for prosperous, democratic, industrial or post-industrial societies, would tend to lead to differences in IQ? There my answer is “yes, of course”. I’ve mentioned phenylketonuria and hypothyroidism already, and many other in-born errors of metabolism also lead to cognitive deficits, including lower IQ, at least in certain environments. More interestingly, conditions like Williams’s Syndrome, Downs’s Syndrome, etc., are genetically caused, and lead to reasonably predictable patterns of cognitive deficits, affecting different abilities in different ways. … I suspect this answer will still not satisfy some people, who really want to know about differences between people who do not have significant developmental disorders. Here, my honest answer would be that I presently have no evidence one way or the other. If you put a gun to my head and asked me to guess, and I couldn’t tell what answer you wanted to hear, I’d say that my suspicion is that there are, mostly on the strength of analogy to other areas of biology where we know much more. I would then — cautiously, because you have a gun to my head — suggest that you read, say, Dobzhansky on the distinction between “human equality” and “genetic identity”, and ask why it is so important to you that IQ be heritable and unchangeable.

“Rick Perlstein”: demonstrates exactly how to do the devastating book review in his account of two right-wing revisionist histories of Vietnam.

The Pentagon Papers were quite certain and cited convincing evidence: “The Catholic deputy province chief ordered his troops to fire…. The Diem government subsequently put out a story that a Viet Cong agent had thrown a grenade into the crowd and that the victims had been crushed in a stampede. It steadfastly refused to admit responsibility even when neutral observers produced films showing government troops firing on the crowd.” The instigator was a Vietcong agent, Moyar insists. How does he know? By inference, not by evidence. He claims the monasteries were lousy with Communist infiltrators, even, perhaps, among their highest counsels. And how does he know that? The Communists said so. It is more than passing strange. On one page Moyar knows what every good right-winger knows: Communists are liars (“With characteristic exaggeration a Communist history stated that…”). On others, however–it is one of the reasons conservative reviews have found him so impressive–he uncritically accepts Communist sources as his key proof texts.

The Googlization of Everything

by Scott McLemee on October 1, 2007

Siva Vaidhyanathan’s work in progress is a book that will address “three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google? How is Google’s ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge? and, How has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states?” It seems likely this will add more to the sum of human knowledge than, say, Jacques-Alain Miller’s papal bull a while back.

With support from the Institute for the Future of the Book, Siva has started blogging the project as he goes. And he doesn’t sound entirely comfortable doing so, which if anything makes the experiment more interesting:
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FT for free

by Henry on October 1, 2007

The FT is going to start making its “online content free”:, sort-of:

The Web site of the London-based business newspaper, which currently charges for much of its content online, as of mid-October will allow users to get up to 30 articles a month for free, said John Ridding, chief executive of the newspaper. Anyone who wants to view more online material will have to subscribe to the site.

This is obviously intended to respond to Rupert Murdoch’s likely decision to open up the WSJ’s website to non-subscribers. I suspect that it is also a dipping-of-toes-in-water, and that the FT people are considering making the whole thing available and switching to an ads-based model (as dsquared pointed out in comments some months back, the print version is effectively carried by advertising aimed at a small – but extremely rich – sub-segment of its total readership). In any event, this is excellent news for anyone who wants to see high quality journalism made more widely available. The FT is a genuinely excellent newspaper, and its non-US coverage – especially its Europe coverage – is unparalleled. Ideally, it’ll respond to the Murdoch threat pro-actively rather than reactively – I’d like to see this going together with a beefing up of its US coverage and presence (although ideally not combined with the same kind of dodgy political pandering that the _Economist_ got up to when it started moving in on the US market). There’s a real gap in the US market for an intelligent, internationalist newspaper – and if Murdoch starts to dumb down the good bits (i.e. news pages) of the WSJ as he has done with every other property that he’s bought, that gap will widen dramatically.


by John Holbo on October 1, 2007

Quiet around here. I’ll try to amuse you.

I love Daniel Pinkwater. I feel there is something lost in all this playlisted, Netflixed, on-demand hoo-ha you call Modernity. There needs to be an element of randomized, cinematic, B-listiness. So I bought all these sketchy multi-DVD sets and, every couple weeks, Belle and I ‘snark out’, picking a disc literally at random. (First a random cartoon.) Mostly it’s worked out, until we actually drew Wild Women of Wongo from the deck. We’re too old for that stuff. Now, mostly, we go for SnarkPlatinum or SnarkSelect options (but I won’t bore you with my elaborate randomization system.)

Last week’s pick was "Illegal" (1955), starring Edward G. Robinson, plus bonus DeForest Kelley, Jayne Mansfield, and Henry Kulky action. The tag is simply false: " He was a guy who marked 100 men for death – until a blonde called ‘Angel’ O’Hara marked him for life!" Nothing of the sort happens.

I like the way they used to use quotation marks in the title itself.


But wait. If the title is "Illegal", shouldn’t I have to refer to it as "’Illegal’"?

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