While in an unusually masochistic mood, I read all of Steven Pinker’s astonishingly wordy essay on science science science science did I tell you how much I love science? Just as there are few clearer signs that one cannot program a computer than to publicly call yourself a “hacktivist” and few clearer signs that you didn’t do statistics at university than to boast that you’re a “data geek”, Pinker, who made a perfectly decent academic career as a computational linguist, and then an absolutely stellar one by making up a load of rubbish about social sciences really sounds like he’s overcompensating for something. Everyone’s happy about the moon landings and curing smallpox and all that, but it really is a bit unseemly to imply that if you object to Pinker and his mates constantly gobbing off about things they don’t want to bother learning about, you’re in favour of unanaesthetised dentistry. The whole olive-branch-I’m-only-here-to-help thing is made particularly ridiculous of course, by the quite colossal strop that Pinker is still throwing even to this day about “postmodernism” and the way in which he reacts to the idea that scientists are human beings operating in a social context, and that therefore the things they do are a potential subject of sociological analysis.

Anyway, if you want to read a lot of very tendentious stuff about the role of science in literature and music, and if you want to be told that evolutionary psychology approaches and “the epidemiological dynamics by which one person affects others” (he means memes, but presumably has been told about the cat pictures thing) are much much more mainstream and universally accepted than they really are, then there it is. Because that isn’t really my subject here, more of an introductory toccata on the theme of run-on sentences.

I wanted to highlight this interview which Chris pointed out to me on Twitter, and which contains this quite startling passage, which was skipped over by the interviewer in such a manner as to suggest that it’s a mere commonplace of British university administration.
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A Woman Rice Planter

by Belle Waring on August 14, 2013

[This post is not entirely about Oprah Winfrey. FYI. It discusses a former slaveowner’s attempts to run her plantation after emancipation.]
Rest easy everyone! We’re cool! The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto has sussed out this Oprah situation in a way that I think you will all find correct and satisfactory. And what is more reliable than the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal?

Jesse Jackson hasn’t yet declared Zurich the new Selma, but from some of the news coverage you’d think Oprah Winfrey was the next Rosa Parks…It seems there was a language barrier: The clerk’s English isn’t great, and Winfrey probably doesn’t speak Swiss. “This is an absolute classic misunderstanding,” the store’s owner, Trude Goetz, told Reuters…What Winfrey construes as a racial episode is actually a story about class–a wealthy, privileged celebrity aggrieved by a lowly saleswoman’s lack of deference…It’s reminiscent of the endlessly repeated claim that criticism of Barack Obama proves racism is alive and well in America. Somehow Obama’s defenders are unable to see past the color of his skin and notice that he is president of the United States. As for Winfrey, she went all the way to Europe to discover that racism is alive in America.

Golly, don’t I feel a fool now! Thanks, the Wall Street Journal! With that out of the way I have something that is interesting and amusing to share with you, rather than something melting down with white-hot rage like a nuclear reactor core in a devastating accident. Let’s just wish we were down in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten, but–look away!
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