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Links for January [Jan. 16th, 2013|11:59 pm]

I am away doing interviews, so minimal blogging this week.

About one in fifty people will swerve to deliberately hit a turtle on the road. No data on the number of replicants.

Back when some states were declaring the fetus a legal person, a pregnant woman tried to take advantage of the law to drive in the carpool lane alone. Now that the new hot topic is corporate personhood, a man carrying documents of incorporation has appealed a fine for driving in the carpool lane "alone".

Blinking is not just lubricating the eyes but possibly a sort of microsleep which restores mental attention.

Strokes can be very weird. Here's a story of an Englishman who woke up from a stroke speaking fluent Welsh, after learning a little Welsh as a child but not speaking it since then. I wonder if this could shed on supposed cases of demonic possession where people start talking dead languages.

The motto of Austria (former? still? unofficial? Sources differ) is the mysterious AEIOU, among whose proposed meanings is Alles Erdreich ist Österreich untertan ("all the world is subject to Austria")

The old Japanese timekeeping system used to have hours of varying length, so that daylight lasted the same number of hours in summer as in winter and dawn and dusk were always at the same time. This made designing Japanese clocks complicated.

I hate articles with stupid gotcha titles that make a grandiose claim that later gets reduced to something much more technical. So I was skeptical of a scientific article called How A Quarter Of The Cow Genome Came From Snakes. But, well, it looksl ike a quarter of the cow genome really does come from snakes.

The unemployment rate by job. A little suspicious: why did the employment rate for radiation therapists multiply by 70x over one year? Still, it's data and data are always fun.

What is left libertarianism? I'm glad they asked because I had never understood this before. This explanation is a little less confusing than some others.

I had never heard of "top collapse blogger" Ran Prieur. In fact, I didn't know "collapse blogging" was even a thing. But the big news recenly is that he has changed his mind and no longer things civilization is about to collapse. Interesting both for the non-civilization-collapseyness and because it is so rare for someone to devote their entire life to an idea and become famous for it but then abandon it when new evidence arrives, that each example should be noted and celebrated.

Since we're on the subject of how false arguments and their refutations can both be very convincing, take a look at the IPCC draft post from a global warming doubter blog (part one, part two) and then at the global warming believer rebuttal for an example of playing the game at the highest level.

Diary of a Creep. The thesis is that people who think they are too tolerant to accuse people of being "freaks" or "nerds" or whatever replace these insults with the word "creep". Creep makes the claim that you're not hating someone who's different, oh no, they're being a bad person by probably being offensive or potentially violent or at least too insensitive to go out of their way to reassure you they're not offensive of potentially violent. So we end up shunning exactly the same set of people-different-than-us we would have shunned back in the days when shunning was okay, but now we can do it with a halo of tolerance and concern over our heads.

About two miles from the house where I grew up was a giant blimp hangar once used by the military for all of their various blimping needs. By the time the military finally got around to closing the base, someone had named it a National Historic Landmark and they weren't allowed to bulldoze it, so it just kind of sat there. My family would speculate on what use they would ever find for a giant abandoned blimp hangar. It turns out they found the neatest use possible: using it to build the next generation of steampunkesque super military zeppelin.

Although the new science of racial differences is sometimes interesting, it's worth remembering that historical racial anthropology was almost unbelievably bad. Dysaethesia aethiopica was an antebellum-era disease diagnosed in black people. The symptom was not wanting to work hard enough as a slave. The physiological explanation was an understimulated state of the nerves, especially in the skin. The threatment was to (*facepalm*) whip the patient.

With all we've been hearing about the high incarceration rate in the US and the exponentially rising incarceration rate, no one has noticed that the incarceration rate has been falling markedly for the past three years. About time.

Study: Reading illogical inflammatory rhetoric and insults makes you become more certain of your previous position, regardless of what it was. Also notable for being yet another political bias article framed as "Here's yet another problem with those stupid biased people who disagree with us about X"

Ever spent time daydreaming how you would vanish if you were forced to become a fugitive? Wired ran a contest where one of their writers had to turn fugitive for a month. Now the writer tells his story. H/T Unequally Yoked

Was 2012 the best year of all time for humanity? Despite everything, a surprising number of signs point to "yes". Also interesting for discussion of how we're actually going to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which is not the sort of thing I expect to happen when the United Nations makes vague feel-good promises. I know, I know, it's mostly thanks to China, but just let me have my nice happy glow here.

The world's first jokebook was Joe Miller's Jests, written 1739 and available in an easy-to-read format online. It amused me more by the sheer amount of 18th-centuriness it exuded than for having good jokes (which it doesn't). Also, several of the jokes are ones I have heard before in everyday life, which just shows that the old jokes really are old.

Everybody has been linking this post about consent, but I will join them, albeit two weeks late. I had always been kind of confused by the size of the "no means NO" type advertising - it seemed to assume both that there was this large group of men who thought that maybe no didn't mean no, and that they were sufficiently well-intentioned to change their minds upon hearing that no really did mean no. I assumed this was some kind of long-game feminist propaganda tactic but it seems I was wrong. In fact, some religious people seem to actually have a cultural norm of denying they want sex even when they do, and some people have learned to ignore denial of consent as an adaptation to this. Now I wonder how much else about our culture I'm misunderstanding because I never interact with the people it refers to. I also wonder whether this makes "no means NO"-style campaigns more or less likely to do good. On the one hand, it means there are well-intentioned people who need the message. On the other hand, it means that, holding religious women's behavior constant, this is basically telling religious men they can't have sex with religious women because there's a small chance it might accidentally be rape. And if God telling them they can't have sex because it might be immoral doesn't work, the chances they'd stop when the feminist movement tells them they can't have sex because it can't be immoral aren't looking very good.

Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, has now invented a machine that sucks food out of your stomach after you've eaten it. Eat as many donuts as you want, then evacuate them before they can make you fat. I am torn between thinking this is a sign of the collapse of our civilization into total decadence and kind of wanting one. I kind of worry this will go horribly wrong somehow by meddling with biological processes we don't really understand, but I'm happy to let studies prove me wrong.

Beyond the "wine-dark sea": "Homer’s descriptions of color in The Iliad and The Odyssey, taken literally, paint an almost psychedelic landscape...sheep were also the color of wine; honey was green, as were the fear-filled faces of men; and the sky is often described as bronze." So what was wrong with the ancients' color perception?

[User Picture]From: avva
2013-01-17 09:23 am (UTC)
I had never heard of "top collapse blogger" Ran Prieur. In fact, I didn't know "collapse blogging" was even a thing. But the big news recenly is that he has changed his mind and no longer things civilization is about to collapse.

Paul Ehrlich, on the other hand, is still at it.

It's a little curious that reputation mechanisms are that broken. How is it that any editor doesn't go "wait, this is the clown who's prophesied a lot of utterly ridiculous doom scenarios, was wrong every single time, and lost a famous bet over it"? How is he given fawning interviewers at respectable-looking sites who let him get away with saying "I was overly optimistic" with a straight face? etc. etc.
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From: deiseach
2013-01-17 09:25 pm (UTC)
This is why some people are so sceptical of the climate change argument; it's not necessarily that we (yeah, I'm going to include myself in here) don't believe that human activity has an effect on the global environment, it's that we've heard the doomsday panicking before.

When I was a teenager in the 70s, the big scare was the Next Ice Age. By the next decade - 1980! - we were going to run out of oil. The world was going to freeze. Mass global death by starvation as crops failed. We were all going to die!

Well, we didn't. Then came the next doomsday scenario - global warming. We were all going to boil/roast to death! Then it was climate change, which (so far as I can tell from the general reporting of it) means we may simultaneously drown, freeze, roast, and die of drought.

As I say, I don't deny that we need to be much more careful about how we treat the one and only planet we have, but the next time you see vituperation of "climate change deniers" as all being in the pocket of industry and/or wilfully stupid and obtuse, that may be so. Or it may be that we're burned out on "we're all going to die in this horrible global disaster!"

Again, I'm not saying that those working on climate change models are liars, faking the science, or any of the other accusations made from the other side of the fence; it's just when you've been told you're going to freeze to death in the new ice age coming in the next decade, and it never happened, it's harder to believe that you're going to die in the new hotter earth coming next decade.
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[User Picture]From: xuenay
2013-01-17 09:52 am (UTC)
What is left libertarianism? I'm glad they asked because I had never understood this before. This explanation is a little less confusing than some others.

This explanation seems to miss a couple of crucial differences. First, right libertarians tend to treat ownership and property rights as an intrinsic value while left libertarians consider them instrumental values, and left libertarians also emphasize concerns of happiness over concerns of e.g. productivity or freedom (though you could arguably say that this second point is included in the "more emphasis on care/harm axis" distinction; still, it's useful to spell out explicitly).

Edited at 2013-01-17 09:59 am (UTC)
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From: (Anonymous)
2013-01-19 10:42 am (UTC)
Furthermore, it seems to completely miss what seems to, for example, be the rather moderate libertarianism thats popular on Less Wrong. Also, I have never heard most of the left-libertarianism he talks about self-described as libertarianism. Leftist anarchy often seems to... not really be about anarchy, or even about personal liberty.

To me, the defining difference between libertarians and non-libertarians seems to be about just desserts.
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[User Picture]From: virginia_fell
2013-01-17 10:37 am (UTC)
Diary of a Creep promises a lot of bullshit from that post. Even aside from the whole Geek Social Fallacy "all ostracizers are evil" coming off it in waves, I'm really side-eyeing it already for the author's willingness to equate the term with victim-blaming, because I feel like nobody sent this guy the memo that (for example) women need a word to refer to guys who freak us out and make us feel unsafe, and that word for "failed my risk assessment" doesn't need to meet the approval of men (and in fact might not do its job if it did require dudely endorsement).

I will readily concede that there's a lot of casual classism and ableism and racism behind who gets read by others as frightening. For example, the fact that a lot of white women are particularly alarmed by black men? Racist as hell, so not okay. People who are creeped out by people with disabilities are being appallingly ableist and need to examine their shit. People who shy away from anyone not wearing designer clothing? Classist like whoa.

What I think this author is doing wrong is that I feel like he's already straying too far toward saying that nobody gets to call anybody creepy, that we just plain don't need the word at all.

I don’t mean to validate the creep label. It’s a word meant to pigeonhole someone’s existence. It is also a variation of the word freak in a world where the culture of other-ism that birthed that particular designation is no longer considered moral. While the word freak heaps sin on its user, the word creep has the advantage of allowing its wielder to blame the victim.

When no. Maybe nobody told him, but lots of us actually do need to be able to label some behavior (and some people) as creepy. There just needs to be less classism, ableism, and racism muddying up that very important (seriously, we're talking life or death here) category.

Maybe I'm wrong and he'll surprise me and centralize the effect of prejudice, but I think that Smith just plain doesn't think there's ever a good reason to label someone as creepy. NGL, I kinda wish I could go through life with an attitude like that, but I do not have the luxury.

And yeah, this is personal for me, in case that were not obvious. Here's me making it explicit. The fact that a lot of men demonstrably feel personally wounded and indeed persecuted by the fact that there might be social consequences for frightening me is just breaking my heart but I'm kind of tired of seeing it all over the internet, and I feel like I'm seeing it here. Smith's various relevant disprivileges don't improve the point he has decided to make; they just lengthen the list of actual contributions he could be making to the conversation but has chosen not to.
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2013-01-17 05:24 pm (UTC)

I do see where you're coming from, but I'm worried that this is one of those issues where people are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

As I see it, there are two consistent positions. The first is to say that our culture's rules against stereotyping people are dumb and that if observable characteristics of people predict their tendency toward violence everyone should take full advantage of them.

The second consistent position is to say that stereotyping is morally wrong, even when the stereotype can be justified statistically (for example, if we found that people of certain races and classes did commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime). Therefore, it is wrong to shame members based on their observable characteristics even if it might be a useful tool in avoiding violence.

The position I don't want, and which I don't think is consistent, is that we will avoid stereotyping people in ways that there are popular campaigns against (like racism, classism, and ableism) but stereotype the heck out of unpopular groups who don't have lobbies telling us not to.

Think of for example people with bad social skills, people with weird facial hair, people who don't want to spend a lot of effort conforming to fashion norms, introverts, and people with unusual hobbies.

As far as I can tell, these sorts of things are the essence of creepiness. I agree with you that it is easy to disentangle creepiness from race in theory (thought I bet in practice it turns out to be impossible for most people) but I think if you disentangle these things from creepiness there's nothing left of the concept. I'm trying to think of what people would mean by "creepy" aside from these things, and all I can think of are very exaggerated cases like people who grope or expose themselves indecently to others - and this seems to be well past "creepy" in the same way a guy robbing a bank is well past "suspicious".

This issue is important to me too because I've been called a creep. It was usually in school, usually because I was sitting in the corner reading a book and kind of freaking out whenever anyone tried to talk to me. I recognize I might have selection bias because these are the sorts of people I tend to hang out with, but poorly dressed geeks with bad facial hair - and a view of romance so outdated they actually use the word "courting" - are only people I ever hear this term used about.

And the actual rapists? I don't know any rapists personally (as far as I know), but when I hear about them on the news they're always football players or lacrosse players or something along those lines. I guarantee you no one calls them creepy. They're attractive and socially adept and popular! Popular people can't be creeps! They're the guys who hang out with the popular girls and joke with them about how creepy that nerd who sits in the corner is.

Although it could certainly be useful to have a word which could identify potentially violent people, I don't think "creep" is it, at least not the way it is actually used.

"Smith's various relevant disprivileges don't improve the point he has decided to make; they just lengthen the list of actual contributions he could be making to the conversation but has chosen not to."

This sentence bothers me. If only certain types of people are able to contribute to a conversation, and if only certain opinions that agree with you count as 'contributions', then it's not a 'conversation', it's a lecture.

I actually think the value of Smith's disprivileges in this case is precisely that he is allowed to contribute an alternative side to the conversation without being immediately dismissed or told he has to shut up just because of his race or assumed privilege. Think "only Nixon can go to China"

Edited at 2013-01-17 05:30 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: gabrielduquette
2013-01-17 10:49 am (UTC)
I like Ran a lot. There are only a handful of writers who compress information as well as he does. He's wrong about some stuff (he believes that "mind" is more fundamental than matter, whatever that means), but he's generally good at thinking.

Read his essays. How To Drop Out inspired some major changes in my life.
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[User Picture]From: Roman Davis
2013-01-17 03:58 pm (UTC)
Wow. He Does write well. Anything other essay you recommend?
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From: (Anonymous)
2013-01-17 11:56 am (UTC)

data on data

Still, it's data and data are always fun.

= "it is data and data are always fun"

Oooh, I'm going to assume you naturally think of 'data' as a mass noun (data is), but are making a conscious choice to use it as a count noun (data are) because it's 'correct'.

Embrace the singular 'data!' Looks like it's gaining on the plural one:

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From: (Anonymous)
2013-01-17 12:12 pm (UTC)
Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, has now invented a machine that sucks food out of your stomach after you've eaten it. Eat as many donuts as you want, then evacuate them before they can make you fat. I am torn between thinking this is a sign of the collapse of our civilization into total decadence and kind of wanting one. I kind of worry this will go horribly wrong somehow by meddling with biological processes we don't really understand, but I'm happy to let studies prove me wrong.

Wealthy ancient Romans would just stick fingers down their throat and throw up what they had eaten.

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[User Picture]From: jordan179
2013-01-17 02:18 pm (UTC)
Yes, this is essentially a high-tech version of the vomitorium. Less destructive to your throat lining.
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[User Picture]From: celandine13
2013-01-17 12:22 pm (UTC)
I had always sort of assumed slaveowners were sort of thinking in the vein "yeah, yeah, it's wrong, but it's so convenient and what can you do?" Sort of the same way we eat chocolate without thinking about it. I didn't realize they'd actually go as far along the self-justification route as that.
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[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2013-01-17 02:10 pm (UTC)
More like the way we go on using fossil fuels. Wrong, but we're caught in the system.
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[User Picture]From: celandine13
2013-01-17 12:38 pm (UTC)
When I was in college, people used the word "sketchy" a lot.

It took me a while to realize what my problem with it was.

For "sketchy," read "poor."

Seriously. You could do a search-and-replace. Everything and everyone that wasn't sparkling new and suburban and equipped with the right sort of graces was "sketchy," which meant dangerous and disreputable and blameworthy. "Sketchy grad student" extended beyond "grad student who might hit on you" to "grad student with holes in his shoes who happened to share a hallway with you." A run-down Chinese restaurant was "sketchy." My hometown was "sketchy."

"Sketchy" was not about rape. We treated sexual assault as a brute fact about the universe, we all knew which guys got gropey when they were drunk and warned each other to avoid them. Guys at my lunch table would brag in front of me about screwing passed-out girls. This was not "sketchy." Awkward grad students were sketchy.

That "diary of a creep" guy is a black man with an unattractive skin condition. He minds his own business and he gets *assumed to be a villain.* This is not a matter of women protecting themselves against threatening behavior. This is a matter of blurring definitions so that when someone seems low-status you can insinuate that he's also wicked.
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From: (Anonymous)
2013-01-18 10:25 am (UTC)
I've seen sketchy used to refer to poor, but in a way that suggests actual unpleasantness. An area that was impoverished but reasonably clean and non-dangerous was not considered sketchy by my peers.
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[User Picture]From: Chris Hallquist
2013-01-17 01:58 pm (UTC)
On the ancient color perception thing:

I vaguely remember reading in Stephen Pinker that actually people from cultures with limited color vocabulary distinguish color just fine.

This makes intuitive sense to me. Most people here might have trouble imagining knowing only five color words, but I bet they could imagine knowing only ten or eleven. And it seems very plausible that, while you'd never talk about "magenta" or "indigo" and might not even think about it much, you'd still experience different shades of purple.
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[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2013-01-17 02:36 pm (UTC)
Here's another article, with a couple of new points, at http://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/20/science/homer-s-sea-wine-dark.html

The literal transaltion of the Greek would be 'wine-faced', not 'wine-dark'.


Dr. Rutherford-Dyer wrote: ''Further examination of the references to 'wine-dark sea' shows that the phrase is normally used on weather conditions at dark.''

Personally, I always thought that dark meant dark, and brought in some other qualities such as opaqueness/transparancy -- not that 'wine-dark' meant 'wine-colored'.
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[User Picture]From: Johnwbh
2013-01-17 02:58 pm (UTC)
The horizontal DNA transfer is amazing. Is it only feasible with viral DNA or could it be used to do useful things?
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From: deiseach
2013-01-17 03:32 pm (UTC)
Re: the 18th century joke book, I hate to disagree with you but there was an earlier one (I learned of it from Eamonn Duffy's "Marking the Hours" - yes, I laugh at 500 year old jokes).

It's A Hundred Merry Tales dating at least from 1526 (and possibly earlier); Shakespeare allegedly mentions it in his play "Much Ado About Nothing" where Beatrice says she has been accused of stealing all her wit out of it.
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From: (Anonymous)
2013-01-17 03:48 pm (UTC)
Jokebooks go back much, much further than that. We still have the content of one that's over 1600 years old (see http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/542011--and-now-a-few-4th-century-greek-jokes), and there are others even older than that which are now lost to us. King Philip of Macedon once paid to have one compiled out of the witticisms traded at a club in Athens, and even that isn't the oldest one on record.
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[User Picture]From: sniffnoy
2013-01-17 05:29 pm (UTC)
Blinking link is broken; looks like a missing "http://".
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[User Picture]From: andrewducker
2013-01-17 08:23 pm (UTC)
I'm also boggled by the consent stuff. But then I bumped into this:
which indicates that at least 10% of the assaults carried out by people committing assault because they hadn't realised it was bad.
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From: (Anonymous)
2013-01-18 02:15 am (UTC)
Well, maybe. But not sure what else would cause that kind of drop. It may have to do with defense or social disapproval.
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[User Picture]From: baal_ammon
2013-01-17 10:37 pm (UTC)
I'm sure Austria's motto is actually Frederick III's linguistic legacy : pentavocalic systems are the commonest around the world.

I     U
 E   O


Edited at 2013-01-17 10:38 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: ikadell
2013-01-18 06:45 pm (UTC)
Please forgive me if that comment appears silly, but wasn't Homer blind? Which means, would he be trusting other people or his own perception when it came to the descriptions?
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[User Picture]From: gwern branwen
2013-01-19 02:10 am (UTC)
Homer is legendary, and his blindness even more so. If there were any single person we'd identify as 'Homer'... who knows?
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[User Picture]From: sniffnoy
2013-01-20 11:41 am (UTC)
I'm not sure Cartwright is really a good example of scientific racism. SFAICT, such notions as dysasthaesia aethiopica and drapetomania don't seem to actually have been generally accepted at the time, or at least not outside the South.
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