Thursday, August 31, 2006

Another drug I want to take
Tom Smith

As many of us know to our horror, if you build up muscles in the gym and healthy eating, something horrible happens when you stop working out.  The muscles go away.  Not only that, as you explore that fascinating territory close to 50, they go away amazingly, terrifyingly quickly.  But wait!  Scientists think they now have a line on a drug that will allow your body to keep the muscles you have, even if you are not working for them! (subscription required for the whole story.) Better living through chemistry, Amen.  Now we just need a drug that will give you the muscles in the first place, I mean, a drug that won't make your hair fall out (more) and vital parts shrink.

August 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Is Media Bias Getting Worse?
Mike Rappaport

Consider these two stories: one on Palestinian Terrorists and the other on the Duke Rape case.  Outrageous.  It does seem that media bias is getting worse, but perhaps that is because the blogosphere makes us better at detecting it.   

August 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Expert Mind
Tom Smith

Quite interesting article here on the "expert mind" and how it is built by "effortful study," and not so much by innate talent or genius.  The psychologists prefer to study chess masters in trying to figure out how a person becomes an expert at some skill or art.  The article leans hard in the direction that practice, not inborne talent, is the secret of success, even in the cases of such famous prodigies as Mozart and Gauss.  I don't buy it entirely.  It may take tons of work to make even a young Mozart, but I suspect you must start with considerable talent as well.

The article also addresses athletic development, especially among soccer players.  Apparently there is evidence that soccer prowess is all about practice as well.  I have no doubt that practice is essential, but there is also no way that a 5'8" guy is ever going to make the NBA, no matter how hard he works.  Similarly, that some Hungarian mathematician could (cruelly, it seems to me) turn his kids into chess prodigies, does not prove that the apparently extraordinarily dumb persons who man certain service establishments near my home could do the same thing.   Mathematicians, they ain't.   It is interesting, however, that kids are far better now at chess than ever before, a phenomenon attributed to the availability of computer based chess -- you can play against a master now any time you like.

The article also made me think about legal expertise, and even whether there is such a thing in the same way there is chess, or scientific expertise.  Chess is good for psychologists because you can rank players pretty objectively by strength.  It would be hard to do the same thing with lawyers.

Another rather sad fact mentioned comes from studying tracking expertise among hunter-gatherers.  Tracking is an exquisitely refined skill.  It very definitely is something that involves expertise.  Apparently expert hunters get better and better at tracking (if they practice) until they are 30 or so, then they slowly decline after that.  Perhaps this is the hunter gatherer equivalent of tenure.

August 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

A Global Warming Orthodoxy Skeptic
Mike Rappaport

An interesting column on MIT's Richard Lindzen.  Here is an excerpt:

``We do not understand the natural internal variability of climate change" is one of Lindzen's many heresies, along with such zingers as ``the Arctic was as warm or warmer in 1940," ``the evidence so far suggests that the Greenland ice sheet is actually growing on average," and ``Alpine glaciers have been retreating since the early 19th century, and were advancing for several centuries before that. Since about 1970, many of the glaciers have stopped retreating and some are now advancing again. And, frankly, we don't know why."

August 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Buckley vs Chomsky
Mike Rappaport

Courtesy of Google Video, take a look at this exchange between a young William F. Buckely and a young Noam Chomsky in 1969.  It is well worth the 18 minutes to see these two titans in their prime.   

Google Video and other sides are already changing our world, but they will do so even more in the future.  Google Video seems to have 600 episodes of the Charlie Rose show, which can be watched "on demand" on your computer for free.  I can't wait for more shows to become available in that format.

August 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Livingston on the Fascist "Third Way"
Maimon Schwarzschild

Michael Livingston writes soberingly about the appeal of fascism:

The roots of European-style fascism, like that of the Islamic extremist movements, lay in the search for a "third way" between liberal democracy and Soviet-style marxist revolution. According to this analysis, democracy was hopelessly corrupt and marxism--if stronger and more disciplined than its Western adversary--erred by sacrificing the emotional or religious side of human nature on the altar of economic rationalism. The winning formula, in the fascist view, would combine the revolutionary zeal of marxism with a nationalistic (and more often than not, militaristic) approach: in Western terms, a combination of left-wing economic and right-wing social policies, although this is a vast simplification and tends to undertstate the both the originality and appeal of the fascist approach. Fascism was defeated and discredited in the Second World War, and the very term has become an insult for most Western authors. But the concept never really died, and it has manifested itself with increasing frequency in the post-communist era.

The appeal of third way thinking is most visibile in Islamic Iran, which likes to style its revolution as the third "big" event after 1789 and 1917. The politics of revolutionary Iran and its leader, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, often seem bizarre to Americans, but they are presumably less so to Iranians, combining nationalism and (by Western standards) extreme conservatism on social issues with an appeal for a global revolution of "have not" against "have" countries. Recent postings on Ahmadi-Nejad's personal blog , which talk of his poor childhood as well as the more conventional anti-American and anti-Israel themes, provide unusually vivid examples of this synthesis.

What is especially fascinating in Ahmadi-Nejad's thinking is the role of Jews and antisemitism. Recent scholarship on Nazi Germany, including work by Saul Friedlander and others, emphasizes the role of utopian or redemptive antisemitism in German thought: a fusion of religious and racial thinking in which the Jews were seen as the ultimate source of evil for Germany (mankind) and their removal as the necessary precondition for achieving salvation. Ahmadi-Nejad's thinking has likewise moved beyond strategic opposition to Jews and Israel to a sense of the Jews, and their American patrons, as the source of cosmic evil. A recent conference calling for "A World Without Zionism," provides evidence of this transformation; assertions that a Shi'a messianic age is at hand lend further religious ballast. Crucial to this synthesis is the positive and not merely negative nature of the antisemitic claim: not only the Middle East but the entire world will be improved once the Jews have been dealt with and the yoke 0f Jewish and American dominance is lifted from an unsuspecting planet.

The problem with the Western response to Iran, I think, is the assumption that merely pointing out the parallels to Nazi or Fascist ideology will be enough to counter the threat. This is a misplaced hope for two reasons. First, European history has little if any resonance within the Islamic world. At best, nonwestern countries are likely to see Hitler and Mussolini as losers in a European civil war; at worst they may admire them for perceived toughness and willingness to challenge Anglo-American, and (in their eyes) Jewish, supremacy. By trying to "engage" Iran, the European nations are attempting to repeat the experience of Europe since 1945, but in a situation that perhaps more closely resembles the Europe of the 1930s--arguably a less than propitious endeavor.

The second, more painful, reason is that fascism--and especially its antisemitic variant--are more attractive than people like to admit. Much as Hitler's antisemitism provided him with a physical symbol of evil and enabled him to tie together the elements of an otherwise diverse and unwieldy coalition, Ahmadi-Nejad's anti-Israel crusade permits him to link various factions (left and right, Sunni and Shi'a) and stake a claim for regional or even world leadership that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to make. In laying all the evils of the planet including economic exploitation, religious humiliation, and even sexual immorality at the American-Israeli doorstep, he has provided an at least superficially appealing anlaysis of the world's problems and an all-purpose excuse for any failures he may meet in combatting them.

Not particularly cheery.  But read the whole thing.

August 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Better Left Unsaid
Mike Rappaport

Here is a seemingly attractive and smart woman's self assessment and instructions for guys who might want to date her.  Very interesting.  Why does she seem so unappealing, despite what appear to be obvious virtures?   Perhaps that she does not know that these things should be left unsaid.   (Hat Tip: Marginal Revolution.)

August 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The End of Olmert
Mike Rappaport

According to this report:

"Sixty-three percent of Israelis want Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign in a sharp public rebuke over his handling of the war in Lebanon against Hizbollah, a newspaper poll showed on Friday."

August 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 25, 2006

"My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas"
Gail Heriot

Now that Pluto has been demoted to a "dwarf planet", it may be necessary to come up with a new mnemonic device for naming the planets.  I've heard "My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nachos" suggested, but it doesn't work as well, since nachos, unlike pizzas, are not usually delivered.

Pluto's demotion surely illustrates an important difference between scientists and lawyers.   Lawyers would have come up with a way to define "planet" that would grandfather in Pluto and yet avoid the possibility of having to recognize 3,000 oddball planets.  Maybe the lawyerly solution would not have been as neat and elegant as the scientific solution and maybe it would have caused problems somewhere down the road, but in the grand tradition of Edmund Burke it would have avoided distressing an elderly widow lady.

Pluto was my favorite planet.  I guess now it's my favorite dwarf planet.

August 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What species is it that eats their elders?
Tom Smith

They're called politicians.  It may not look pretty, but it's just part of the circle, the circle of life.  Which in this case lasts about eight years.  Glenn is absolutely correct about the last 2 years of the RR administration.  I was present at the whatever the opposite of creation is, in the last year of the Reagan WH, and the distancing by the Bushies then was something to behold.  It is one reason why I have always had a hard time getting too enthused about anyone named Bush, as I remember quite clearly the let's throw the old man over the side sentiments of Bush Sr. and his band of lackies.   Remember "kinder and gentler"?  A phrase that still makes me unable to eat as heartily as I like.  It is interesting to contemplate how history would have been different had the Gipper chosen someone besides Bush Sr. to be his VP.

August 24, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)