January 2004

Albanian non-ladies

by Limbic on January 30, 2004

Via Metafilter:

“Sworn virgins. “A sworn virgin is called such because she swears—takes a vow under the law of the Kanun—to become a man. From the day she takes this vow (which is sometimes at a very early age), she becomes a man: she dresses like one, acts like one, walks like one, works like one, talks like one, and her family and community treat her as one. She is referred to as he. He will never marry and will remain celibate all of his life.” If you find this stuff intriguing, by all means read Alice Munro’s great short story “The Albanian Virgin” (from Open Secrets, 1994); you might also want to check out A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture, where there’s much more cultural weirdness, and Edith Durham’s classic High Albania (online here), from which I first learned of these mannish gals. Oh, and there’s a movie!


Dean stitched up

by Limbic on January 30, 2004

From Metafilter:

It has been said that reality is all about perspective — a camera is a pinhole view of the world that frequently filters out much of the story. With that in mind, check out this video of the familiar “I have a scream” speech by Dean. I’m no Dean supporter, but from down in the trenches it doesn’t look nearly as bad as it played on TV. Obviously the video you’ve seen on the news has the best part and the audience noise turned down, but from this vantage point, the speech almost seems appropriate for the crowd and the moment (but was still a lapse in judgement to forget cameras were rolling). I hope this isn’t too subtle of a point — forget all the politics involved — this is a fascinating look at a familiar scene that was looped for the past week, but from an entirely different perspective and a different story emerges.

It is astonishing how easily something like this can be twisted to make the man look like a nut.


Masonic japes & jokes [Masonic japes]

by Limbic on January 29, 2004

Reproduced here is the last “Burlesque and Side Degree Specialties, Paraphernalia and Costumes…fraternalism supply” catalog the DeMoulin Bros” which went out of business during the Great Depression.

So catalogue of practical joking items and props designed for Lodge members to play jokes on each other and thereby increase fraternal bonding. Funny.


How we think by John Dewey (1910) [E-Book]

by Limbic on January 29, 2004

John Dewey’s classic work on thought and the mind, now online here.


White males leave the others for dead – Sydney Morning Herald

According to Murray, the idea that no one culture or tradition can ever be judged objectively superior to another has led to a wilful and quite unjustified “trashing” of Dead White Males.

“In anthologies of literature now, women and black writers are represented out of all proportion to their merit, in order to promote equality,” he says. “Let’s not take Shakespeare – it’s too obvious. But, for example, why are pupils reading Toni Morrison instead of Joseph Conrad? Conrad is incomparably better than Morrison could ever dream of being. But if you say that you will be accused of male, white, Anglo-Saxon prejudice.”

…”You have a philosophical and theological culture in East Asia that states that this life is not that important,” Murray says. “This is one of a whole cycle of lives if you’re a Buddhist. Striving in this life is seen as a source of suffering rather than a source of pleasure. That’s explicit in Buddhism, but is also present in Daoism.”

By contrast, the development of the Christian notion of vocation, particularly from the 14th century onwards, saw a flowering of intellectual and artistic achievement, almost exclusively among men. “To express yourself, to create beauty, to discover the miracle of God’s works through science was seen as pleasing to God. That was extremely powerful in its effects.”

Thus, between 1400 and 1950, Murray’s method has found that 72 per cent of significant figures in arts and sciences came from Britain, France, Germany and Italy alone. Overall, male Europeans and North Americans are shown to be responsible for 97 per cent of scientific accomplishment from 800 BC to 1950. Statistically, when it comes to curing disease, building bridges, inventing glasses or devising new, better modes of transport, Western man is in a league of his own.

“What the human species is today,” he says, “it owes in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just half a dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the north-western Eurasian land mass.” MORE

Charles Murray on the appaling state of Britain’s Criminal Justice system:

No Justice – “Charles Murray, the celebrated American sociologist, challenges the British legal establishment to stop being kind to criminals”

The story was told by an American student named Valerie Ruppel who had returned from a term’s study in London. Two days after her group reached Britain, a policewoman came to South Kensington to brief them on how to keep themselves safe.

I pick up Valerie’s account in her own words: “Her first question was to the women, ‘How many of you brought Mace?’ Three girls raised their hands. She told us we couldn’t use it, shouldn’t even carry it, it was illegal.

“Had any of us brought any other type of weapon, such as a knife? Several of the men in our group indicated that they carried pocket knives. She told us to leave them at home too.”

“Then she instructed us on how to properly be a victim. If we were attacked, we were to assume a defensive posture, such as raising our hands to block an attack.”

“The reason (and she spelt it out in no uncertain terms) was that if a witness saw the incident and we were to attempt to defend ourselves by fighting back, the witness would be unable to tell who the aggressor was. However, if we rolled up in a ball it would be quite clear who the victim was.”

This is the police talking–the police, the ones who are supposed to line up on the side of the good guys. If Mace is illegal, why not tell the women what legal substances they could carry (pepper spray or perhaps a particularly irritating hairspray) and add helpfully, “It works best if you go for the eyes”?

Pocket knives are legal. Why tell the men to leave them at home? The truly puzzling advice was to roll up in a ball if attacked so that a witness could tell who the victim was. Are we to believe that when a man has been seen grappling with a woman in the street it’s going be a problem for the police to determine who the aggressor was?

Most of all: why are police giving this kind of mealy-mouthed advice in a country supposed to be in the midst of a war on crime?

Simple justice – Don’t try to understand criminals says Charles Murray, the social guru. Give them the punishment they deserve:

I recently interviewed Una Padel, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, a research foundation that advocates alternatives to prison and restorative justice. A fortnight before we talked, her 13-year-old daughter had been mugged.

If the muggers could be brought to account (they cannot, even though the daughter knows who they are), what would Padel have in mind for them? True to her principles, she does not want the muggers jailed.

“I remain angry with them, but I don’t want anything horrible to happen to them,” she said. “I want them to stop robbing people, that’s the bottom line . . . In an ideal world I would like them to be made aware of the impact they’ve actually had on my daughter and, ideally, apologise.”

Padel is no dewy-eyed naïf. She has dealt with criminals for years and is easily as knowledgable and unsentimental as any judge likely to try the case. It’s her own daughter who has suffered the harm.

I want to suggest a thought experiment: if she had the power, would Padel be morally entitled to give the muggers a sentence that does not punish them instead of one that does? I am even willing to stipulate that her sentence inspires genuine remorse in the muggers and that they stop mugging (generous stipulations indeed). Would justice be done if Padel had her way?

The principles of the kind of simple justice I propose today say no. Justice does not consist of successful therapy. It consists of just deserts. The just desert for terrorising a 13-year-old and robbing her must entail punishment, whether or not the muggers feel bad about what they’ve done and whether or not they will do it again.

Also see The Times leading article “Retribution Works

Charles Murray’s new book “Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 ” is available at Amazon .com / .co.uk


“To understand how people handle this bewildering matrix of information and activity spaces typical of modern workspaces requires close attention to the fine grain of interaction. Given the prevalence of multi-tasking and interruption: How do we switch attention from one task to another? How do we maintain control over our multiple inquiries? What do we find intrusive, distracting, or annoying? What are the effects of interruption and what sort of cognitive strategies have people developed to minimize their consequences? There is a large body of psychological literature on attention – both single and dual task attention. But the issues that concern us here, lie as much in the interaction between agent and environment as in the agent’s cognitive make-up itself – an area experimental psychologists have spent less time exploring. When people adapt to their environments they not only adapt internally by altering mental processes and behavior, they also change the very environment posing the adaptive challenge. If we are to develop theories of information overload, multi-tasking, distraction, and interruption – all key components of a general theory of cognitive overload — we will have to understand this co-evolution. We will need to understand how people dynamically manage their interaction, how they are cognitively coupled to their environments, and how they structure workflow by using the environment as a cognitive ally.” MORE


“A new study from HP Labs shows that the reluctance of individuals to reveal private information (or how much money they would demand to do so), depends on how far they perceive themselves to be from the norm. For example, those who think they are overweight ask a higher price to step on a scale in front of their peers, than those of average weight. From the article: ‘How and why people decide to transition their information from the private to the public sphere is poorly understood. To address this puzzle, we conducted a reverse second-price auction to identify the monetary value of private information to individuals and how that value is set. Our results demonstrate that deviance, whether perceived or actual, from the group’s average asymmetrically impacts the price demanded to reveal private information.'” MORE


and other things like a water filled balloon hitting the groundand a hammer breaking a bottle . Sounds dull but are actually fascinating.



We all try to avoid the common fallacies of deductive reasoning that teachers of thinking have helped us to identify. But recent research into the foundations of thinking suggests that some non-deductive fallacies may be more common, more insidious, and easier to fall into. And they result from built-in limitations to everyday thinking patterns about the phenomena change and stability. But since they are based on systematic distortions built into largely preconscious thought processes,they have, historically, been difficult to identify in a routine manner. Recently, with increasing sophistication in understanding our thought processes, examples of these traps are easier to notice, if only because we are more tuned to the casual errors in elaborating an argument. The contribution of this paper is to collect and categorize these traps and show how they are related directly to and, indeed, are somehow generated by the axioms of traditional and dialectical logic. MORE


Row rages as monkey lab shelved [BBC]

by Limbic on January 28, 2004

“Scientists are angry but animal rights campaigners jubilant after plans for a test centre using monkeys were axed.”

This is a disgraceful surrender to some of the most active terrorists on the planet. It rewards the criminal campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences and will strongly encourage similar tactics in future.

Those that oppose such research centers ought to be denied the benefit of medicines or medical procedures that are discovered or perfected at facilities like Huntingdon Life Sciences. It is only when denied painkillers or cancer treatments or skin grafts that these “moral warriors” will understand the inhumanity of their actions.

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