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  • Archive for the 'Human Behavior' Category

    The Matter of Law

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd April 2015 (All posts by )

    And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

    So said the character of Sir Thomas More in Ben Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons – essentially a warning about the misuse and abuse of authority – an authority which might once have been accepted as legitimate by all parties concerned. But once the law has been ‘cut down’ in pursuit of some supposed greater good – then all bets are off. The winds will blow, and no one will be able to stand upright, once the protection of equally applied-law and customs and habits of a well-ordered society have been dispensed with. This is the most horrifying aspect of what David Foster linked to regarding the John Doe investigation in Wisconsin – that both law and the constraints of custom and practice are being coldly cut down and trampled upon. Essentially, DA John Chisholm used his position to wage lawfare against supporters of Scott Walker, and with the full cooperation of Judge Barbara Kluka. Midnight SWAT raids against people who had done nothing more than to be politically-involved citizens exercising their rights to support a candidate with their vote, their donations and their words.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism | 13 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 13th April 2015 (All posts by )

    Peter Thiel is interviewed by Tyler Cowen, in a conversation that ranges from why there is stagnation “in the world of atoms and not of bits” to the dangers of conformity to what he looks for when choosing people to why company names matter.

    Evaporative cooling of group beliefs.  Why a group’s beliefs tend to become stronger rather than weaker when strong evidence against those beliefs makes its appearance.

    More academic insanity:  the language police at the University of Michigan.

    Why Sam Sinai became a computer scientist instead of a doctor

    A National Archives official, in an e-mail comment that the people were not supposed to see:   “We live in constant fear of upsetting the White House”

    Why a pact with Iran throws Arab liberals under the bus  (“liberals” used here in the archaic and largely obsolete sense of “people who believe in liberty”)

    Garry Trudeau  (he wrote a cartoon called Doonesbury–is it really still being published?) gives his thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders perpetrated in the name of Islam–by accusing the cartoonists of “hate speech” and denouncing “free speech absolutism.”

    The secret Republicans of Silicon Valley

    Baseball, the stock market, and the dangers of following the herd

    Antoine de St-Exupery’s original watercolors  for The Little Prince

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Business, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Islam, Markets and Trading, Society, Sports, Tech, USA | 12 Comments »

    A Preview of Coming Attractions.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 7th April 2015 (All posts by )

    alton-nolen-mugshot

    I swear I am not trying to be the Cassandra of this blog but some things just jump out at me. A Richard Fernandez column today did that as it agreed with a post of mine on my own blog from several days ago.

    A significant number of Somali immigrants’ children have traveled to the middle east as jihadis.

    ISIS has been luring thousands of Westerners to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. The number of Americans who have traveled to Syria is still relatively small — in the neighborhood of 150 people — and a thin slice of that group, perhaps as many as two dozen Americans, are thought to have joined ISIS.

    In the discussions at the White House this week, one city has focused minds: Minneapolis-St Paul. It had been ground zero for terrorist recruiters in the past, and is fast becoming the center of ISIS’ recruitment effort in the United States.

    This is a growing problem with the emergence of “lone wolf” attacks by jihadis.

    The young man pictured above is one of many young black men, many recruited in prison, who have committed these actions.

    Over the weekend, the FBI announced that it would treat Islamist Alton Nolan’s alleged beheading of Colleen Hufford, 54, as a case of workplace violence. That despite the fact that Nolan’s Facebook page contains a picture of Nolan giving the ISIS salute, multiple pictures of Osama Bin Laden, a screenshot of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, and a quote reading, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smile ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.”

    Then, of course, we have another example of “workplace violence” courtesy of Major Hasan.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Europe, Human Behavior, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, National Security, Religion | 26 Comments »

    Why the Grand Inquisitor Sentenced Jesus Christ to be Burned at the Stake (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 6th April 2015 (All posts by )

    (Inasmuch as the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor is stirring in the land,  I thought it would be appropriate to rerun this post from last year)

    It seems that Jesus Christ returned to earth, sometime during the sixteenth century…at least, this is the premise of the parable that Ivan relates to Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov.  The city to which Christ came was  Seville,  where on the previous day before almost a hundred heretics had been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, “in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville. He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him.”

    But the Grand Inquisitor observes the way in which people are being irresistibly drawn to Jesus, and causes him to be arrested and taken away.

    The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy  Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.

    “‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?

    The Grand Inquisitor explains to Jesus why his presence is not desired and why he must burn. Excerpts below:

    So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!” And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone- the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience- Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men’s freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, Russia | 2 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 3rd April 2015 (All posts by )

    Rand Simberg:

    Art is an expression of one’s beliefs, and artists are always free to turn down a commission (if they can afford it). Were they not, were they to have to create art in someone else’s service with which they disagreed, it would be a violation of their free expression and conscience. Forcing artists to produce art to another’s tastes by force of the state is something that happens in totalitarian dictatorships. It’s not supposed to happen in America.
     
    Want to see a real slippery slope? Let’s try a couple thought experiments, to see where this could go, under the logic of the LGBT absolutists.
     
    Imagine a neo-Nazi buying swatches of red and black material, taking it to a Jewish tailor, and demanding the production of a uniform. Better yet, and more to the point, imagine the Westboro Baptist Church demanding that a gay interior decorator take a commission to spruce up the facility. And if they didn’t do it, they would be sued.
     
    Gay-marriage advocates may think that their new-found right is a thing of beauty, to be celebrated, but that doesn’t give them the right to force others to agree and to celebrate with them. Rather than demanding that others bend to their will, they should be asking themselves why would they would even want people who find their ceremony repugnant to be involved with it.

    Posted in Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society | 18 Comments »

    When It Goes Too Far …

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 2nd April 2015 (All posts by )

    You know, it’s a bit of a toss-up for me over which is the worst element of the Memories Pizza/RFRA/Gay Marriage debacle. Yes, this is what TV reporters do, when they start putting together a story, especially when fishing for comments from real people to punch up a story that doubtless was already written even before the reporter hit the road. Yes, you pretty much already have the story written in your head; the quotes from the person-in-the-street are the pretty and eye-catching frosting on top of the already baked cake, and usually a small portion of what was actually shot. That’s how it works, people, and don’t anyone try to tell me there’s a difference between a teeny military TV station in some overseas locale and the national save scale, the number of staff members, and the cost of the gear.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, The Press, USA | 8 Comments »

    Of Stories, Character, and Beliefs

    Posted by David Foster on 20th March 2015 (All posts by )

    Here I will link several posts that I see as related.  At the moment I don’t have time to tie them together in a coherent way, so will just put them out there in a somewhat disconnected fashion in the hope of sparking some good discussion.

    Scott Adams:

    I would like to see a study of decision-making based on how much fiction one consumes. My hypothesis is that consumers of fiction will draw their “experience” in part from fiction and it will warp their understanding of what is practical or possible in the real world…I think exposure to fiction makes you less grounded in the real world (subconsciously) and more likely to make decisions the way the captain of the Enterprise would have done it, for example.

    This is a quite different view of the role and value of fiction from the one expressed in an article I summarized in my post Fiction and Empathy:

    In one experiment, researcher Keith Oatley and colleagues assessed the reading habits of 94 adults, separating fiction from nonfiction. They also tested the subjects on measures of emotion perception (being able to discern a person’s emotional state from a photo of only the eyes) and social cognition (being able to draw conclusions about the relationships among people based on video clips.) This study showed a “strong” interconnection between fiction reading and social skills, especially between fiction reading and the emotion-perception factor. This correlation, of course, does not by itself demonstrate the direction of causality. Another study involved assigning 303 adults to read either a short story or an essay from the New Yorker and following up with tests of analytical and social reasoning. Those who read the story tended to do better on the social reasoning test than those who read the nonfiction essay.

    Dr Oatley has referred to fiction as “the mind’s flight simulator.”

    And here is an argument that reading fiction will make you a better investor:

    Unlike historical accounts, through well-drawn characters it is possible to absorb the world through another perspective, an immensely valuable skill for investors looking for ideas (or trouble). A memory bank of fictional characters will also help when the market “hive mind” pushes prices in unexpected directions, answering the question “what kind of person buys here?”  The primary lesson of fiction is learning “this is how people act”, when they’re scared, confident, happy, determined or demoralized. Not how I would act, or how I think they should act, but how the combination of different experiences and different patterns of cognition lead to aggregate outcomes. Empathy.

    In her post the message and the story , SF writer Sarah Hoyt offers some thoughts on how novels can influence the worldviews of their readers:

    But part of it is that I doubt the effectiveness of overt messages in stories. I don’t scruple to say I was raised by Heinlein, nor that I wasn’t the only one. The man might have had no biological kids, but he has sons and daughters all over the world, including me.

    But then we have to look at how he raised me. Remember I came at Heinlein through (mostly) the later books because most of the Juveniles (Door Into Summer and Have Spacesuit Will Travel excepted) were either not translated to Portuguese or no longer available when I came along. And yet, what I took from his books was not the obvious messages: “Though art God” or the bedhopping or multiple marriages as the natural way to live. (Oh, for a while, but that was the spirit of the times, too, being the late seventies.) What I took from the books were not so much the messages as “the way to be.”

    By creating characters that were tough, questioning, strong, and, most of all, useful, he made me want to be that way. I took as my model (being touched in the upper works) the broken caryatid, not just for characters but for what a human being should be, lifting whatever the burden without complaining.

    Now, it takes a certain type of personality to teach at that level. I’ve seen it in some teachers, too, who, regardless of whether they teach you history or English, really give you a model you aspire to being. The left, being daft, thinks this has to do with the character/teacher looking like you. They think only black people can model to black children. This is part of their insanity with “there must be so many characters of tan per book.” And also with promoting incompetent teachers to positions of power, because they have a certain ancestry or skin color.

    But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more subtle. It’s more about being who you are in such a strong and convincing way and making the characteristics you have or approve of so admirable that people want to follow them.  Which is what Heinlein did.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Film, Human Behavior, Media | 8 Comments »

    Duz Ur GPS Mak U Dumr?

    Posted by David Foster on 8th March 2015 (All posts by )

    Dr Rosamund Langston, a lecturer in neuroscience, says that by using satnavs, we wither away our ‘caveman’ ability to familiarise ourselves with new surroundings by memorizing snapshots of them.  Some of the research suggests that lack of exercising these spatial-reasoning abilities may have implications beyond a reduction in one’s ability to find one’s way unaided.

    See also my related posts:

    Duz Web Mak Us Dumr?  and

    Duz Web Mak Us Dumr–continued

    Posted in Human Behavior, Tech | 10 Comments »

    Keep Those Kids at Home and In Front of a Screen!

    Posted by David Foster on 5th March 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’s a Maryland couple who got in trouble with the Government because they let their children–a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old–walk home from the park by themselves.  They (the parents) were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect”–whatever that means….it sounds pretty Kafkaesque.

    There are at least two issues here:  out-of-control discretion by an administrative agency, whether granted to them by bad legislative drafting, or simply grabbed…and, even more fundamentally, a society which has responded to one of the safest environments in human history by becoming fear-ridden and safety-obsessed.

    I am reminded, and not for the first time, of a passage in Walter Miller’s great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz:

    To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Society, USA | 10 Comments »

    The End of the World?

    Posted by David Foster on 4th March 2015 (All posts by )

    Sarah Hoyt thinks not.

    When I was thirty one, I sat on my back porch on a lovely summer day, reading Reason magazine.  The issue was devoted to debunking global warming.  And suddenly, like a weight lifting, I realized there really wasn’t proof.  That it wasn’t preordained that my generation would be the last to have a decent life on Earth.  That my kids and grandkids (I only had one kid at the time, and he was still nursing) wouldn’t necessarily be doomed.  That the future wasn’t all doom and gloom.

    And I realized my entire life I’d lived in the shadow of the fear of decay and death.  First there was the cold war, and sooner or later, the bombs would fly.  We’d die screaming.  Then there was overpopulation.  If we escaped the bomb, we’d all starve to death.  Or thirst to death (thank you, Paul Ehrlich!)  Then there was global cooling.  We were all going to freeze in the ice age.  Then there was global warming.  Amid all these threats, how could we escape.  To watch the thing debunked and to see it pointed out that even the proponents of AGW don’t live like they believe in it lifted a weight from my heart.


    Since then I’ve been skeptical of the end of the world prophecies.

    RTWT

     

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Environment, Human Behavior, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Worth Pondering

    Posted by David Foster on 18th February 2015 (All posts by )

    Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.

    –Thomas a Kempis

    (I found this in Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson”)

    The thread of previous Worth Pondering posts starts here

    Posted in Christianity, History, Human Behavior | 1 Comment »

    Lovescanning

    Posted by David Foster on 14th February 2015 (All posts by )

    Especially for Valentines Day,  GE posts a video about Stanford University’s MRI-based “love contest.”

    It’s not quite a cold and clinical as it sounds, on account of the individual stories told by the participants.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Medicine, Science, Tech | 2 Comments »

    Middle-Aged Ruminations About Mid-Life Crises, Self-Esteem, and Too Much Rumination

    Posted by Jonathan on 10th February 2015 (All posts by )

    Generalizing from his own experience, Jonathan Rauch finds evidence of a U-shaped happiness curve in life:

    I was about 50 when I discovered the U-curve and began poking through the growing research on it. What I wish I had known in my 40s (or, even better, in my late 30s) is that happiness may be affected by age, and the hard part in middle age, whether you call it a midlife crisis or something else, is for many people a transition to something much better—something, there is reason to hope, like wisdom. I wish someone had told me what I was able to tell my worried friend: nothing was wrong with him, and he wasn’t alone.

    I’m skeptical.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Tradeoffs | 13 Comments »

    Conformity Kills

    Posted by David Foster on 31st January 2015 (All posts by )

    (Last Wednesday was chosen by NASA as a Day of Remembrance for the astronauts lost in the 1967 Apollo fire, the 1986 Challenger explosion, and the 2003 crash of the shuttle Columbia.  The occasion reminded me of my 2003 post which appears below, with the links fixed.)

    What does a space shuttle disaster have to do with the current troubling situation in the teaching of the humanities? Strange as it may seem, I believe that there is a connection.

    Most observers believe that the Columbia disaster was caused, to a substantial degree, by the unwillingness of key individuals to speak up forcefully enough about their safety concerns. This is often phrased as a “culture issue” or a “climate issue”–but, however you phrase it, it seems that a significant number of people didn’t raise their concerns–or at least didn’t raise them forcefully enough–because of worries about the implications for their own careers. (This also seems to have been a key factor in the earlier Challenger disaster.)

    And in today’s university humanities departments, there are many senior professors who understand that much of what is now being taught is nonsense, and who are heartsick about the “posturing and lies.” But, as Erin O’Connor says: “…an older generation of “dinosaurs” looks on, seeing it all, and saying nothing. They do this to minimize the open displays of contempt for their traditional ways that they have learned to expect as their due.”

    Now, here is an interesting point. There are very few people in American who have more job security than a civil servant or a university tenured professor. But this security seems to have little payoff when it’s time to speak up about something important and truly controversial. Perhaps jobs that offer high security tend to attract people who are not risk-takers. Or perhaps concerns about being liked by one’s peers trump job-security issues per se. In any event, it does not seem that systems with a high degree of employee protection really yield the expected benefits in terms of outspoken employee behavior.

    I’m sure there are some NASA employees who had and have the courage to speak out, just as I am sure that such courage exists among some senior professors of the humanities. But it seems that such people are too few in number, at both institutions, to make a real difference.

    No set of organizational policies, however well-designed, can substitute for human character. It takes many virtues, including the virtue of courage, to make an organization perform effectively. That’s true whether the organization is a university, a corporation, or a government agency.

     

    Posted in Academia, Human Behavior, Management, Space, Tech | 4 Comments »

    “Top-Tier University Graduates Only”

    Posted by David Foster on 28th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’s a LinkedIn post from a young woman who doesn’t like the way certain companies are specifying “degree from a top-tier university required” in certain of their job postings. I think she makes some good points.

    From the standpoint of the individual company or other organization, absolutely requiring a degree from a “top-tier university” (whatever the individual’s other experience and capabilities) reduces the size of the talent pool and quite likely increases costs without commensurate benefit. From the standpoint of the overall society, this practice wastes human resources and creates damaging inhibitors to social mobility. (And in most cases, “top-tier university” is defined based only on the perception of that university’s “brand”…very few HR organizations or hiring managers conduct serious research on the actual quality of different universities from an educational perspective…and the perceived quality may be years or even decades out of date.)

    I think we as a society have delegated far too much influence to the admissions officers of various Ivy League universities, and also to whoever constructs the metrics for the US News & World Report college ratings. When discussing “inequality” and declining social mobility..and less-than-stellar economic growth…the role of credentialism in all these things needs to be seriously considered.

    Related: the five-pound butterfly revisited

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Human Behavior, Management | 30 Comments »

    A Random Upper-Middle-Class White Guy Writes About MLK

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 22nd January 2015 (All posts by )

    So, OK, my employer made me burn off some vacation days before the end of the fiscal year, in the form of a cap on the number of PTO hours that can be carried over from FY14 into FY15, which boundary has shifted by 3 months due to our recent change of ownership. Much lower down, my management intimated that due to certain software-release and testing milestone dates, no significant block of time off in February or March would be approved. But thanks to an unrelated M&A a few years back (a spectacularly problematic one, destined to be a business-school case study for decades to come), we now get the MLK holiday off. I decided to take the whole week and head southwest in search of sunlight. After a swing through New Mexico, I am spending a few days at Crow’s Nest, a 10-minute hike from the 6+ acres I own near Bloys Camp. It’s my first visit in four years.

    Mitre Peak (1887m/6190’) as seen from my lot

    Mitre Peak (1887m/6190’) as seen from my lot

    This is what I would write if somebody made me enter one of those hoary MLK essay contests that middle- or high-school students get sucked into. The entries that I’ve read over the years have seemed pretty unimaginative, but it’s hardly realistic to expect much historical perspective from a teenager. The tone I’m aiming for here is, of course, originality combined with some mildly discomfiting assertions, while avoiding stereotypical politics. The structure is a simple three-parter: past, present, and (near) future.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, Current Events, History, Holidays, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Latin America, Libertarianism, North America, Personal Narrative, Predictions, Society, Systems Analysis, Transportation, USA | 23 Comments »

    Nature and Nurture.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st January 2015 (All posts by )

    I have long been a fan of Steven Pinker’s books.

    I have read many of them, beginning probably with his books on speech as he is a linguist first. This was probably the first as I was intrigued by his theories about irregular verbs and how children learn language.

    He points out, for example, how normal construction in archaic forms such as “Wend, went and wended” have become “Go, went, gone.”

    The child makes an error he or she may not understand that “Goed” is not a used form for past tense, whereas “Wend” is an archaic form whose past tense has been substituted. The child is using language rules but they don’t account for irregular verbs. He continues with this thought in The Language Instinct, which came later. Here he makes explicit that this is how the mind works. One review on Amazon makes the point:

    For the educated layperson, this book is the most fascinating and engaging introduction to linguistics I have come across. I know some college students who had received xeroxed handouts of one chapter from this book, and these were students who were just bored of reading handouts week after week… but after reading just a few paragraphs from The Language Instinct, they were hooked, fascinated, and really wanted to read the whole book (and did). I wish I had come across such a book years ago…

    Now, this is interesting but Pinker has gotten into politics inadvertently by emphasizing the role of genetics in language and behavior. I read The Blank Slate when it came out ten years ago and loved it.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Architecture, Book Notes, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Science | 11 Comments »

    Reprise Post from 2009 – See Here, Mohammed

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 7th January 2015 (All posts by )

    It appears that once again, Sgt. Mom has to bring out the Mallet of Loving Correction that she has shamelessly copied from John Scalzi, and explain the whole concept of ‘freedom of thought’ and its fraternal twin, ‘freedom of expression’ to the inhabitants of those (mostly but not always) quarters of the world usually known as ‘Islamic-run hellholes.’

    See here, we in the western world are known for a good many things – some of them good, some of them bad – but one of them is a sense of logic, and another is the freedom to speak our thoughts, suppositions and criticisms on any matter. Openly, freely, and through any medium available to us … without fear of prosecution by the forces of law and order. Unless, of course, we are inciting violence … umm, which to put it plainly, you guys seems to have a problem with. Actually, some of our own very dear Established and Housebroken Lapdog Media have a problem with that too, but that is an issue for another day.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Society, Diversions, Europe, Human Behavior, Internet, Islam | 18 Comments »

    A Few Cautious Predictions About Our “Crisis Era”

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 6th January 2015 (All posts by )

    The world weighs on my shoulders, but what am I to do?
    You sometimes drive me crazy, but I worry about you
    I know it makes no difference to what you’re going through
    But I see the tip of the iceberg, and I worry about you …

    – Neil Peart, Distant Early Warning

     

    But wouldn’t it be luxury to fight in a war some time where, when you were surrounded, you could surrender?

    – Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

     

    Reading through background material on the UN’s recent request for $16.4 billion in humanitarian aid in 2015, I find that the number of displaced people was already at its highest since World War II at the end of 2013, and has risen by several million since then. Nearly all are somewhere inside or on the perimeter of the Muslim world, with Ukraine the only sizeable exception. My sense, in which I am hardly alone, is that we are reliving the mid-1930s, with aggression unchecked and chaos unmitigated by morally exhausted Western institutions. That “low dishonest decade” ended in global war with a per capita death toll around 1 in 40. A proportional event a few years from now would kill 200 million people.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anti-Americanism, Book Notes, China, Christianity, Current Events, Ebola, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, India, International Affairs, Islam, Latin America, Libertarianism, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Politics, Predictions, Society, Space, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 31 Comments »

    The Dark of the Year

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 29th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The longest night, the shortest day, the turn of the year – and I think likely the oldest of our human celebrations, once our remotest ancestors began to pay attention to things. They would have noticed, and in the fullness of time, erected monumental stones to mark the progression of the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons, the light and the dark and all of it. The farther north and south you go from the equator, the more marked are the seasonal differences in the length of day and night. Just north of the Arctic Circle in the year I spent at Sondrestrom Greenland, those mid-summer nights were a pale grey twilight – and the midwinter days a mere half-hour-long lessening of constant dark at about midday. It was an awesome experience, and exactly how awesome I only realized in retrospect. How my ancestors, in Europe, or even perhaps in the Middle East, would have looked to the longer days which would come after the turning of the year; the darkness lessening, sunlight and warmth returning for yet another season of growing things in the ground, and in the blessed trees, when the oxen and sheep, and other domesticated critters would bear offspring. And the great primitive cycle of the year would turn and turn again, with the birth of the Christ added into it in due time.
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    Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Holidays, Human Behavior, Islam, Religion | 6 Comments »

    The new “Islamic State” and its troubles.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 26th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The Washington Post is worried that the “Islamic State is failing as a state.”

    Services are collapsing, prices are soaring, and medicines are scarce in towns and cities across the “caliphate” proclaimed in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, residents say, belying the group’s boasts that it is delivering a model form of governance for Muslims.

    The Muslims have never been much at governing. In the early days after Muhammed and his nomadic warriors conquered much of the Middle East, the people pretty much governed themselves as the Arabs were better at fighting than governing.

    The “Golden Age of Islam” was from the rule of Harun al Rashid to the Mongol conquest, in 1260 to 1300. The Sack of Baghdad, which ended the “Golden Age”, occurred in 1258.

    Although the Abbasids had failed to prepare for the invasion, the Caliph believed that Baghdad could not fall to invading forces and refused to surrender. Hulagu subsequently besieged the city, which surrendered after 12 days. During the next week, the Mongols sacked Baghdad, committing numerous atrocities and destroying the Abbasids’ vast libraries, including the House of Wisdom. The Mongols executed Al-Musta’sim and massacred many residents of the city, which was left greatly depopulated.

    The Golden Age of Islam had been chiefly carried out by Christians and recent converts (mostly involuntary) who translated Greek classics into Arabic. It was mostly a fiction created in the 19th century.

    The metaphor of a golden age begins to be applied in 19th-century literature about Islamic history, in the context of the western cultural fashion of Orientalism. The author of a Handbook for Travelers in Syria and Palestine in 1868 observed that the most beautiful mosques of Damascus were “like Mohammedanism itself, now rapidly decaying” and relics of “the golden age of Islam”

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    Posted in Current Events, History, Human Behavior, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Obama, Terrorism | 39 Comments »

    Sympathy for the Devil

    Posted by David Foster on 16th December 2014 (All posts by )

    The Sydney Morning Herald called for “empathy” for the terrorist who committed the recent hostage-taking in a cafe.  Hillary Clinton, too, has recently called for empathy for our enemies.

    I’m reminded of something G K Chesterton wrote:

    The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race– because he is so human.

    (Orthodoxy, 1908)

    Posted in Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Media, Terrorism, The Press | 16 Comments »

    Reading “Hard” Books vs. Pretending to Do So

    Posted by Zenpundit on 15th December 2014 (All posts by )

    [cross-posted from zenpundit.com]

    The other day, some friends shared an old post by controversial conservative activist, writer and publisher of  The Federalist,  Ben Domenech, that struck a chord:

    The Top Ten Books People Lie About Reading 

    Have you ever lied about reading a book? Maybe you didn’t want to seem stupid in front of someone you respected. Maybe you rationalized it by reasoning that you had a familiarity with the book, or knew who the author was, or what the story was about, or had glanced at its Wikipedia page. Or maybe you had tried to read the book, even bought it and set it by your bed for months unopened, hoping that it would impart what was in it merely via proximity (if that worked, please email me). 

    I have not, though I frequently catch many people in conversation and even more online who do.
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    Posted in Arts & Letters, Blogging, Book Notes, Diversions, Human Behavior, Miscellaneous | 34 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 9th December 2014 (All posts by )

    Amazing treehouses from around the world

    Failure Porn.  Is there now too much celebration of failure?

    Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?  (from 2011)  Also:  the message of the medium:  why the Left loves twitter

    Leftists don’t like being reminded of the socialist roots of Naziism.  Also:  Hitler and the socialist dream.

    Best programming languages for beginners to learn.

    Some signs of recovery in the rustbelt

    A 3d printed kinematic dress

    Lightpaper!

    Posted in Business, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, Photos, Tech | 10 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 8th December 2014 (All posts by )

    Henry Kissinger, World Order (quoted in a review by Niall Ferguson):

    …If the balance between power and legitimacy is properly managed, actions will acquire a degree of spontaneity. Demonstrations of power will be peripheral and largely symbolic; because the configuration of forces will be generally understood, no side will feel the need to call forth its full reserves. When that balance is destroyed, restraints disappear, and the field is open to the most expansive claims and the most implacable actors; chaos follows until a new system of order is established.

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, National Security, Obama, Quotations, USA, War and Peace | 1 Comment »