Re: Guest Post - Jared Diamond's new book

1

Lears is Thomas Jonathon Jackson Lears? (I believe that Stonewall was a relative.)


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:55 AM
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Not an actual relative, if I recall correctly--just very much admired by his parents.


Posted by: Mme. Merle | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:57 AM
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Imagine that I sent that properly formatted and without typos.

This is the link for the review.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:58 AM
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Guns, Germs, and Steel is criticized for letting European imperialists off the hook for the decimation of non-European societies, transferring the blame to impersonal environmental factors.

I've had the same reaction to criticism of Diamond in the past (criticism of his ideological position; separate from criticism of him for being simplistic and incorrect, some of which is justified, and some of which seems to be less so). Diamond appears to be trying to answer the question of why it was possible for Europeans to successfully be imperialists, rather than whether it was wrong of them to have done so. And that seems like an unobjectionable question to be addressing, and not one that lets imperialists off the hook in any way.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:03 AM
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rather than talking about the destructive troika of "guns, germs and steel" we should talk about "lawyers, God and money."

Opinionated Warren Zevon is NOT HAPPY about that one.

Equally unconvincing are his suggestions that modern state-sponsored warfare is easier to manage and contain than traditional war. Surely this is a provincial American perspective, the product of a country that has yet to be laid waste by a distant enemy.

I assume the "distant enemy" thing here is meant to cleverly exclude the Civil War.

The thesis that warfare is proportionally far more devastating in non-state societies is in Pinker, and also in lots of other sources: John Keegan mentions it in "A History of Warfare" and Lawrence Keeley in "War Before Civilisation". There's a lot of evidence for it. Many pre-state societies have elaborate formal wars, with very little bloodshed; and they also have a tradition of sudden, murderous raids.
Given this, it's interesting that Diamond loops into the hunter-gatherer lifestyle worked at least tolerably well for the nearly 1,000,000-year history of behaviorally modern humans," without producing "obvious sociopaths." It doesn't sound like a great environment for mental health to me...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:10 AM
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Diamond writes well outside the scope of his formal qualifications, which I suspect underlies a lot of the hostility he attracts in these credentialed days. But I think his contribution is helpful, even if it's technically flawed.

If we eschew talking about climate to limit ourselves to sociology and economics, and if we say that the Spanish (who won) were therefore by definition bad guys and the Maya (who lost) by definition good guys, we're merely avoiding the question of where their badness (read technical superiority) came from. Was it genetic, in which case we're abandoning the socio-economic discourse again in a different direction? Or what?

Avoiding the question leads you into really crappy voluntaristic ideas which help nobody, and the fact that these ideas often come from people who pretend to have a materialist view of the world sets my teeth on edge. I don't care if Diamond gets all the wrong answers; he asks all the right questions.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:17 AM
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...and not one that lets imperialists off the hook in any way.

How is it that we (rich, males, whites, Japanese) are able to rule the (poor, women, brown people, rest of Asia)? Yeah, it will always be deluded and reinforcing as long as you think we/you are the subject with agency, even in analysis, in history.

Anti-colonialism and the rest are performative subject-positions that work to to to re-appropriate agency from the other. Claims of unique authenticity are part of the role, especially because a claim to an authentic objective subject-position are always absurd and aggressive.

Even Weber, who I can't stand but just studied, claimed to deny objectivity and the possibility of removing value and interest from observation and analysis.

How do we escape? Submission to authority or socially-constructed meaning. You don't like this, you seek truth and science and demand your independence of thought?

Hello, good Imperial citizen.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:20 AM
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Lawyers, God, and Money

I went home with a Mayan
The way I always do.
How was I to know
She was into Popol Vuh?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:25 AM
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Also, an answer to "things R. Halford likes for $500."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:27 AM
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On the substance, 4, 6, and the OP seem obviously right to me.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:30 AM
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Did Pinker do any corpse-counting in the 20th Century or was that era just a statistical blip?


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:31 AM
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Our previous Jared Diamond thread, which I don't really want to repeat. I think I pretty much stand by this comment. Castock can explain why I'm an idiot again.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:37 AM
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I was whoring in Domingo
I took a little risk
Took the Nina back to Sevilla
Now there's old world syphillis


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:44 AM
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11: Pinker does count 20th century corpses; he argues, with some justification, that while the World Wars heralded a spike in peak death-intensity, the overall average is still lower than pretty much any 100 year historical span. IOW, lots of little wars/battles/raids ends up killing more people (at least as a percentage of population) than two big wars.


Posted by: salacious | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:46 AM
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Diamond's books are getting steadily worse, full stop. GGS was overly simplistic, yes, but I can't imagine how it would be possible to be nuanced when painting with that broad a brush. Collapse was decidedly more so, I'm told (I didn't bother reading it, because I didn't care to -- not because I think reading Diamond corrupts the soul). The new book, though, really seems incredibly shoddy. As the OP notes, it's driven by anecdote, leaving the reader with the impression that Diamond is auditioning to become a slightly higher brow Thomas Friedman: a producer of bromides, ostensibly driven by cultural excursions of one sort or another, that ultimately amount to little more than comfort food for societies winners. And so, while the OP (and the LB) don't want to question the broader project in which Diamond has engaged to date, I do. I'm just not sure the winners need more comforting about their victories, which, as time passes, seem more and more complete. That should be comfort enough.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:49 AM
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I haven't read any of his stuff except GGS and a recent interview in United's in-flight magazine.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:51 AM
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I also have questions about what motivates Diamond at this point in his career. I do believe that GGS was driven by powerful curiosity. I mean, the so-called rise of the West is about as important a question as a geographer/anthropologist/historian can grapple with. And Collapse -- which, again, I haven't read -- seems similarly significant. But "What can we learn from tribal peoples?" feels much less so to me. And the reliance on endless streams of anecdotes, many of which will be, I'm nearly certain, revealed as bullshit, makes the whole thing feel painfully tendentious in a "What can I do to please the editors of the Times op-ed pages now?" sort of way.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:54 AM
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I haven't read the new book, and was unimpressed by Collapse. But wondering what his motivation for writing it is seems like an easily answered question: he's written a couple of very, very successful pop-science books, resulting in fame and money. Why wouldn't he write more?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:56 AM
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I found Collapse fairly good, though I'm far from an expert in any related field, so my judgment should be taken with a grain of salt. It's hard to do big picture stuff without bolloxing something up, but Diamond seems to do a reasonable enough job of it. As Chris Y said, it's good that somebody is at least asking these sorts of questions even if he gets some of the answers wrong.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:57 AM
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I just remembered that I did read parts of Collapse and thought that those sections were derivative but not all that objectionable. Especially not because people doing what Diamond does -- engaging in a project of synthesizing and popularizing complicated scholarship drawn from a number of disciplines -- are almost by definition going to have to be derivative.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:58 AM
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I'm just not sure the winners need more comforting about their victories, which, as time passes, seem more and more complete.

Not quite sure what is supposed to comfort the winners in GGS or Collapse. The central theme of GGS is that their victories were largely contingent and that of Collapse that they are bound for self-annihilation. Neither conclusion seems to me to be especially designed to boost the self-esteem of anybody, but maybe I'm missing something.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:58 AM
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21: GGS almost entirely obscures responsibility, don't you think? Collapse I didn't read carefully enough to comment about what you're suggesting.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:00 AM
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little more than comfort food for societies winners

Comfort food for winners, though, would be "we won because of our innate awesomeness".
"We won because of freak conditions that will not be repeated" is anything but comfort food.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:00 AM
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Pwned by chris y due to his innate awesomeness.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:00 AM
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18: I think that's right, probably. And as a general rule, that's a lousy way to frame questions if you want to be taken seriously as a scholar.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:01 AM
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Haven't read the book. He's knowledgable about New Guinea, having spent time there as an ornithologist. I wouldn't expect the anecdotes to be BS, though he may well overgeneralize from them.

There's a long tradition of people trying to draw broad conclusions about history. Honestly, I have to say that pop culture seems so toxic and stupid, and careful academic work usually so narrow, that I'm grateful for a competent even if not succesful attempt to address broad questions.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:03 AM
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Neither conclusion seems to me to be especially designed to boost the self-esteem of anybody, but maybe I'm missing something.

Given that the self-esteem of many people is based on things like "the football team near my home is better than the one near yours", I guess "my ancestors lived near more useful crops than your ancestors" could also be a source of pride. People are weird.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:03 AM
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And as a general rule, that's a lousy way to frame questions if you want to be taken seriously as a scholar.

I don't know, it seems to work for some of my colleagues.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:04 AM
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21, 23: again, though, I think it's the new book that really does this. I remain agnostic about GGS -- in much the same way I'm agnostic about Pomerantz's Great Divergence.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:04 AM
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25: Obviously, though, he's not going to be taken seriously as an academic scholar for this kind of work, because it's not academic scholarship, it's pop science writing. At which point if it's (reasonably) accurate and interesting, the idea that it was written for money and fame rather than as part of a coherent research project seems unobjectionable.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:06 AM
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Without in any way arguing that the new book is not shoddy (it probably is), I take issue with the idea that "what can we learn from tribal peoples" is not an interesting or important question. The bulk of human history is the history of tribal people and there's a lot to learn -- that strikes me as probably the core question of anthropology.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:06 AM
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Because if there's one thing tribal peoples know, it's that grains will kill you.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:07 AM
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28: I was being too glib. I guess I should have said, in much greater sympathy with the OP, that if you frame your questions with an eye toward the Times op-ed page, you can count on having other scholars write scathing reviews of your work -- for better or worse. I should probably also say that I'm a proud Team Popularizer -- though I mostly warm the bench.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:07 AM
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As the OP notes, it's driven by anecdote

But "What can we learn from tribal peoples?" feels much less so to me. And the reliance on endless streams of anecdotes

Here is another Famous Book driven largely, purposely and pointedly, by anecdote. I wouldn't be surprised if the Diamond wasn't methodologically, ideologically and ontologically related.

How does this work? I can't deny I was resistant to the Gilligan and a different way of gaining knowledge, but I recognized that the problem was my resistance.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:08 AM
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22. I don't see it as obscuring responsibility. The thesis is that human societies tend to be as aggressive and acquisitive as their material circumstances permit, and that the circumstances of the Europeans and Chinese permitted them to be more successfully so than other societies.

It's easy to say that the treatment of the Mexica by the Spanish was appalling*, but that shouldn't prevent you from saying that the treatment of their neighbours by the Mexica was also appalling*.

* For values of appalling current among rich liberals and socialists in the 21st century.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:10 AM
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Also, the argument that GGS evades "responsibility" strikes me as bizarre. It's largely an attempt to argue that the rise of the West was due to more or less accidental conditions that remove any possibility of moral/cultural/ethnic triumphalism from the conquest, thus making the brutality all the more poignant. I know people have made this argument about GGS but it's always struck me as wrong headed, unless we say that any history that doesn't specifically emphasize the moral choices of good guys and bad guys is "evading responsibility."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:12 AM
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31: once again, I was being too glib, though in this case in service of not writing a series of overly long comments. The problem is that the question results in a book that doesn't often take tribal peoples seriously on their own terms. But even that, I think, might not have yielded the kinds of scathing reviews that the new book is receiving had Diamond not relied on anecdotes throughout.

But here's the thing: I don't really feel like playing this game at unfogged today. I think GGS is a flawed but powerful book. I think, having now taken a minute to look over my notes, that the parts of Collapse that I read are boring and derivative (and the book might also be wrong in important ways -- thinking the parts I read boring and relatively unimportant for my work, I never finished it and never bothered to look more deeply into the parts that made me skeptical). And I think the new book deserves the criticism that it's getting. But I don't want to spend my time fighting with people who like Diamond, because I don't think it's unreasonable or horrible to like Diamond.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:15 AM
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unless we say that any history that doesn't specifically emphasize the moral choices of good guys and bad guys is "evading responsibility."

I think there's a slightly better argument than that; that GGS didn't even really nod to intentionality in imperialism. Diamond was fairly cavalier about presuming that, as Chris said "human societies tend to be as aggressive and acquisitive as their material circumstances permit", which does imply that any imperialism-related wrongdoing was inevitable, and so not a moral issue at all.

But mostly I agree with your reaction.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:16 AM
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There's no chance this book will sell as well as the previous ones, is there. One might look to the inherent advantages in environment to explain why the first book produced lots of cargo, and this latest a greatly diminished stash.

That old thread was a nice stroll down memory lane.

We've been watching The Tudors lately, and just finished season 1. Huge liberties taken with the actual history of the period, events moved around, characters combined when not invented altogether. An interesting story. And one cannot disagree that history would have fallen out quite differently if Katherine had had a son who lived to adulthood. Royalists end up winning the civil/religious war that ends up taking place a century earlier than it did, etc.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:16 AM
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I didn't read Collapse very carefully. The main things I recall are that planting more trees than you cut down is good and that giant statues of heads, as awesome as they are, aren't a good policy response to environmental degradation.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:18 AM
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30: he wants it to be taken seriously as scholarly work. Or, perhaps more accurately (as I don't know what he wants), he gets angry when scholars criticize his work. He then insists that the criticisms are driven by professional jealousy and amount to little more than the policing of professional boundaries, which may be true. For what it's worth, this seems to be a pretty common problem to me: that scholars who want to make real money, and who write stuff that's geared toward that goal rather than toward the goal of getting published in peer-reviewed journals or whatever, get pissed when they're pilloried as popularizers. My own view is that they should own it -- and then retain Halford to police the boundaries for them.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:21 AM
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I read some of Collapse. It seemed kind of silly to include Ravalli County in the book, and not attribute whatever we're calling its collapse as a society to FoxNews and other sources of Agenda 21 paranoia.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:23 AM
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I'd never thought about the parallels between Diamond and Pinker before, but they're interesting; does the combination of success writing popular science books in combination with genuine expertise in a subfield inevitably lead people down a path to unsupported overreach? I can imagine other examples that might fit the pattern, too, (Levitt? Ridley?) and science writers with a journalistic background who seem to have evaded it (Gleick).


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:24 AM
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Hey, kinda pwned.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:24 AM
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41 sounds completely reasonable to me in all respects.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:27 AM
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I should totally write a pop-sociology book about how that happens. Call it Puns, Terms and Speils


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:27 AM
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i before e except after c, Sifu you dipshit.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:28 AM
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I more or less agree with 38, including mostly agreeing with 36.

As far as popularization goes, it's interesting how differently this plays out in the physical sciences, where it seems to be generally agreed* that popularizations - flawed as they inevitably are** - are a good thing.

Is it a false impression that the whole subject of writing popularizations is more fraught in other regions of academia?

* the agreement is usually accompanied by collective head hanging over the fact that Carl Sagan wasn't treated better by the professional physics community. I'm not sure to what extent the ill treatment was real or a legend.

** unless they promote really gross inaccuracies.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:32 AM
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he wants it to be taken seriously as scholarly work. Or, perhaps more accurately (as I don't know what he wants), he gets angry when scholars criticize his work.

Here, I'm quibbling to quibble, because I'm not talking about any specific criticism from an academic that I recall. But surely it's possible for a popular book, written for money and fame, to nonetheless (a) have some intellectual value, and (b) to be criticized unfairly by academics -- that is "this doesn't meet the standards of rigor we expect of academic work" is probably going to be fair, whereas "this is terribly misleading and kind of racist, if you read it you will be less well informed and a worse person than you would have been if you hadn't read it." The latter sort of criticism could be well justified and correct or not, but it's the sort of thing that a writer could reasonably respond angrily to even if they weren't doing academic work.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:33 AM
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48: Is it a false impression that the whole subject of writing popularizations is more fraught in other regions of academia?

And this is where all my interest in this comes in. I liked GGS as thoughtprovoking and informative, although it's not a book that's terribly important to me, and I like the category of pop-science writing generally. I share A.L.'s impression that popular writing is often viewed negatively purely because it's aimed at a popular audience, and I wish that wasn't the case, and want to push back against it where I see it happening.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:39 AM
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31: once again, I was being too glib, though in this case in service of not writing a series of overly long comments

What's the problem with writing a series of long comments? You know what you're talking about, after all.

Maybe you opted not to write a s. of l. c. for your own sake, and not ours? An intriguing possibility.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:42 AM
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does the combination of success writing popular science books in combination with genuine expertise in a subfield inevitably lead people down a path to unsupported overreach? I can imagine other examples that might fit the pattern, too, (Levitt? Ridley?)

Matt Ridley certainly ended up on the path to unsupported overreach, but not in journalism - in finance. He was chairman of the UK mortgage lender Northern Rock when it became the first UK bank in more than a century to collapse as the result of a bank run.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:42 AM
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49: once you start quibbling to quibble, you'll find me hiding under the bed. But sure, I think what you're saying could be right. The problem is -- in the few cases that I paid attention, at least -- Diamond didn't answer anthropologists by saying, "Look, let's examine the merits of your attack on me. I've got the evidence to rebut claims, rooted in esoteric knowledge, that my book is racist [which, as you intimate, many of the criticisms did, at root, say]." Instead, he got pissed and said, "You're jealous and so have resorted to policing boundaries." Which made it seem to me like he wanted it both ways: to be treated as a serious scholar and also a highly paid intellectual celebrity. And from where I sit in the cheap seats, if you want to be treated like a serious scholar, you have to be able to defend your work on scholarly ground.

Note that I did not put "intellectual" in scare quotes above. Because I'm gracious. And also because I'm reasonably sympathetic to Diamond. Or at least I was until this book, which is pretty crappy, appeared.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:44 AM
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52: not solely in journalism then. What a polyfailure!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:45 AM
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51: a) I should be doing other things. b) As you know, I find myself boring and suspect that others agree. c) I'm not really expert enough in the subject matter of GGS to hold forth in any useful fashion. There are others here who know more than I do, I'm certain.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:46 AM
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54: it is a bit strange given that The Origin Of Virtue ends up singing the praises of small, local, responsive, mutual institutions: NR used to be like that but grew like a carcinoma until it collapsed.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:47 AM
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54: I think there's probably a pop psychology book to be written about how experts, especially experts whose expertise is recognized widely, begin to believe that their expertise is exportable to a wide range of disciplines and endeavors. I think the more interesting question is why many observers seem to take it as an article of faith that expertise is one realm will translate to excellence in another. Or maybe CEOs just want to stand near Mike Krzyzewski, and so, for the privilege of doing so, are willing to pay $75,000 (or whatever) and pretend that they care about what he has to say about management.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:50 AM
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Confusingly, there is also a bloke called Mark Ridley, a much more worthy person, who wrote a textbook about evolutionary biology. Both the M. Ridleys were at the same university (possibly the same college?) studying the same thing at the same time. With hilarious consequences!


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:51 AM
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I think there's probably a pop psychology book to be written about how experts, especially experts whose expertise is recognized widely, begin to believe that their expertise is exportable to a wide range of disciplines and endeavors.

This is the whole "public intellectual" thing, isn't it: "a very bright person talking about something outside their area of expertise".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:52 AM
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is or in -- whatever

Typing fast and then not editing doesn't work well for me. Maybe that's what happened to Diamond in the new book


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:53 AM
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59: I actually think that's a pundit. A public intellectual is someone who makes the subject of their intellection discernible to broader publics.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:54 AM
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Further to 61: when I had my fifteen moments after Katrina, a high-profile senior colleague called me and said something like, "Talk all you want about New Orleans. You're doing great so far. But please, if you want to be taken seriously by your peers, don't start talking about other stuff about which you know nothing. Because then you'll be a pundit. And pundits inevitably embarrass themselves."


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:57 AM
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61: I'd have said the reverse, actually. If you have an economist on TV talking about economics, or a baseball expert talking about baseball, he's a pundit. If you have a linguist talking about the Vietnam War or a zoologist talking about politics, he's a public intellectual.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:58 AM
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@62
And pundits inevitably embarrass themselves.

It is, I believe, a characteristic of successful pundits that they are unable to feel embarrassment.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:02 AM
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I think there's probably a pop psychology book to be written about how experts, especially experts whose expertise is recognized widely, begin to believe that their expertise is exportable to a wide range of disciplines and endeavors.

Which book would have to be written by an eminent non-psychologist, of course.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:06 AM
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58: Von Wafer might know a thing or two about that kind of thing.

this NYT opinion piece debunking on-the-veldt sex tips was very good, and features the good Dr. Pinker chiming in to defend on-the-veldt sex tips.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:07 AM
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If you have a linguist talking about the Vietnam War or a zoologist talking about politics, he's a public intellectual nuisance.

Actually, he's a celebrity (somebody who's famous for being famous). Movie actors, rock guitarists and football managers also get asked about the state of the world by journalists, and their credentials are exactly the same. But because they earn their living by acquiring serious knowledge in a completely different field rather than dressing up and pretending*, they're taken much more seriously. It's probably a named fallacy.

*Some actor (Brad Pitt?) on how they make their living and how much attention should be paid to what they think about stuff.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:12 AM
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There's been some good pushback on public intellectuals recently. Evgeny Morozov's takedown of TED in TNR is sublime. Eric Garland is totally middle-of-the-road politically, but has some good deflations on his blog.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:15 AM
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on-the-veldt sex tips

If Pinker doesn't write a book with this title someone else has too.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:19 AM
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to


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:20 AM
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I've been getting progressively grumpier about the whole "public intellectual" thing, part of which is surely envy of the money and fame that people who know less than I do about the topic they're speaking about get for delivering a muddled message, and part of which is that the ones I know best are, frankly, assholes. But in the abstract I think it's good that popularizers exist and that results of publicly-funded research be made digestible in some form.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:31 AM
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I like Diamond. The third chipanzee and ggs are both very good. He really seems to piss anthropologists off though.

I am reading "Cartoon History of the Universe" /"Cartoon History of the Modern Age" now. I like them a lot.

http://www.amazon.com/Cartoon-History-Universe-7-Volumes/dp/0385265204/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1358188039&sr=1-1&keywords=cartoon+history+of+universe

They would be good for kids if you don't mind the sex.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:33 AM
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71: You're just cranky about the "God Particle" thing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:36 AM
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67: Noam Chomsky is famous for being famous?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:43 AM
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74: Just like the Gabor sisters, or the Kardashians.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:48 AM
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67: I find it equally annoying when people who have expertise in politics talk about sports. When Yglesias writes about basketball, for instance, he's at his absolute worst.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:51 AM
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Well, not equally annoying, but annoying enough!


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:51 AM
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Yglesias claims to actually have expertise and insight into the NBA, which is what makes it so terrible.

I share a general distrust for ever-enlarging spheres of expertise for experts, but in this particular case is not Jared Diamond in fact expert on the tribal peoples of New Guinea (arguably more expert than he is on, say, early neolithic agriculture)?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:53 AM
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||
So was there a "Zero Dark Thirty" thread that I missed? I finally got around to seeing it last night and I don't know what I think about it.
|>


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:55 AM
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I think he's very familiar with the tribal peoples of New Guinea, as having lived among them for a long time, without being an expert on them in any scholarly sense.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:55 AM
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derp


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:57 AM
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Noam Chomsky is famous for being famous?

Chomsky is an experienced political activist with a well developed world view. This is not the case with Brad Pitt, who has the grace to acknowledge it, nor is it the case with (frex) Richard Dawkins, a molecular biologist who thinks that his views on the appropriate response to sexual harassment are of any interest to anybody. If Dawkins talks about evolution, he speaks as a scientist; if he talks about sexual harassment, he speaks as a celebrity.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:05 PM
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Anyone know what happened with that lawsuit over Diamond's New Yorker article? I looked the last time there was a Diamond thread and didn't find any recent news.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:12 PM
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83: Still going, although apparently you wouldn't know that by asking Diamond.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:18 PM
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76, 78: Doesn't Yggles have exactly the same claim to expertise in politics, as he does to expertise in basketball?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:20 PM
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Dawkins isn't a molecular biologist.

Seconding the call for a Zero Dark Thirty thread. I have much to say on the subject.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:22 PM
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85. Dunno. What was his degree in, assuming he has one? Did he represent his school at basketball?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:23 PM
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84: "Withdrawn without prejudice" isn't still going. It means gone, but could come back.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:24 PM
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88: That particular instance of the suit was withdrawn without prejudice 'cause the plaintiffs' lawyer died. They're working on getting a new one and bringing the suit again.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:27 PM
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85: My recollection is that he has a bachelors in philosophy. That would be worthless, except that the degree is from HARVARD. So, he's qualified to pontificate about everything.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:28 PM
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Alyssa Rosenberg has the most interesting sympathetic take I've seen on 0D30. I haven't seen it yet.
http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/01/09/1419141/zero-dark-thirty-4/


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:29 PM
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Alyssa Rosenberg has the most interesting sympathetic take I've seen on 0D30. I haven't seen it yet.
http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/01/09/1419141/zero-dark-thirty-4/


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:29 PM
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87: philosophy, I believe.

And no he definitely didn't play basketball at Harvard.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:29 PM
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88, 89: Huh. Reading between the lines, it sounds like they're having some trouble finding another lawyer to re-file the suit. But they've got a couple more years.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:32 PM
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Chomsky is a strange case as he's much better on politics* than his actual area of expertise**.
*I've formed this opinion not so much by reading him but by reading his critics.
**This opinion may be based entirely on a popularized caricature.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:33 PM
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Obligatory archive reference: the case against Yglesias is pretty strong.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:33 PM
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91: Her read matches up with mine almost exactly. I was really struck by just how little it mattered when bin Laden was finally killed in the movie; Alyssa's right, it's not triumphalist in the slightest. I still don't know what I think about whether or not it legitimizes torture; I walked out thinking I couldn't see how anybody could watch it and think that, but my girlfriend was profoundly uncomfortable and unhappy precisely because she did.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:46 PM
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1: Children of the future will assume that Stonewall Jackson was a hero of the Gay Liberation Movement.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 12:56 PM
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how experts, especially experts whose expertise is recognized widely, begin to believe that their expertise is exportable to a wide range of disciplines and endeavors

I know this as ultracrepidarianism, which concept, if I'm remembering correctly, I first encountered in Tongue and Quill, the Air Force Handbook of Communications, of all things.


Posted by: Stranded in Lubbock | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:07 PM
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was a moonwalking hero of the Gay Liberation Movement.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:10 PM
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95

Chomsky is still quite respected in the field of linguistics.


Posted by: Britta | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:12 PM
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On the topic of reading: I am moving forward with my ridiculous project to catalog Unfogged book recommendations. Has anyone bookmarked relevant threads other than these?

http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_5359.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_5498.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_5532.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_9401.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_12222.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_12282.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_12599.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_12640.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_12693.html

Please post here or email me at mypseud at geeeemail.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:16 PM
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I share Lear's annoyance at lots of elements in the contemporary lazy public intellectual kit, but am not sure that Diamond is the right place to aim your anger about them. But I haven't read anything except GGS, which I found interestingly provocative and useful if not definitive.

However, if this statement is actually an accurate description of Diamond's book, I might be motivated to write a nasty review too:

Originally, religion explained the universe, he asserts, but that function has been usurped by science. Now, at least in modern societies, religion mainly functions to defuse anxiety and provide emotional comfort in what would otherwise be a potentially meaningless universe. The adaptive mechanism (religion) survives, in other words, but its functions change. Yet according to Diamond, "we still have our same old brains that crave meaning," even if we lack scientific evidence for it. The yearning for a meaningful cosmos, like a hankering for a Paleolithic diet, is structured into our "genetic constitution" long after it has outlived its evolutionary moment

That is a shockingly reductive and frankly dumb way to look at religion -- evolution gave us a look-at-the-stars-and-wonder module in our brain, which used to result in God, but now Science does a better job, so now religion is reduced to doing homophobia and AA. It also does partake of some particularly contemporary forms of stupidity, including pop evolution, pop genetics, and reduction of the social/cultural to the physical.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:17 PM
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I think 'public intellectuals' play a useful role, because given academic specialization it's hard within disciplines to get support for writing really broad-scale theories. It's unclear to me whether there's really a peer-reviewed niche for stuff that tries to present a sweeping, unifying theme across a range of disciplinary areas. Although this varies by discipline and I may just not be aware of what's out there. (Economics actually does an OK job with this, with The Journal of Economic Perspectives specifically for popularized summaries of research areas and The Journal of Economic Literature specifically for informed lit reviews).


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:21 PM
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I read the part of the Lears review about GGS and I guess I still don't realy get that line of attack. His later stuff sounds like it might be worse and more deserving of the criticism, but I haven't read it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:28 PM
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99: For a long time I thought that "cobbler, stick to thy last" meant something like "cobbler, don't give up until the very end" (stick it out, that is), and that the choice of a cobbler as the addressee was more or less arbitrary.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:29 PM
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OK, last post and back to work -- this statistically based violence stuff is interesting but seems a little questionable to me. At least, not a valid basis for self-congratulation. Basically, nation-states are incredibly effective machines for social organization, when they turn their efforts to war they can and do produce far higher intensities of violence than hunter-gatherer societies, but in normal times social order is better kept. Since the next time that nation-states do get serious about war we may destroy a good chunk of the human race this does not strike me as reassuring.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:31 PM
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I'm a big fan of Diamond in general. I found GGS brilliant, and Collapse at least provocative. He previews the themes of both books in The Third Chimpanzee, a book that is, at times indefensibly stupid for its insistent determinism.

I'd argue that it's his deterministic bias that enabled him to assemble the insights that make GGS so compelling.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:52 PM
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That is a shockingly reductive and frankly dumb way to look at religion

And its entirely consistent with his past writing. It's a mistake to think of "new" Diamond vs. "old" Diamond. In the same way he's predisposed to deterministic explanations, he leans toward ridiculously reductive ones.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:54 PM
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*I've formed this opinion not so much by reading him but by reading his critics.

Chomsky pisses off the right people, it's true, but he's really, really often full of shit.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 1:57 PM
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101: So much the worse for linguistics.
110: The criticisms I run across from liberals amount to the charge of insufficient moralizing, followed by extreme defensiveness that anyone might associate their views with his.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 2:34 PM
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102: A few other book threads:

http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_12046.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_12327.html
http://www.unfogged.com/archives/comments_11164.html (starting around comment 162)


Posted by: Nora | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 2:52 PM
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The criticisms I run across from liberals

Oh, the liberal criticism is all pretty much dead-on. I certainly don't want my views associated with his, though oddly, I think he substitutes obtuse, alternate-universe moralizing for reasonable analysis. Not sure what liberals you're talking about here.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 4:08 PM
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All we need to do is set up Unfogged as an OAI/PMH metadata provider and then we can harvest the book recommendations automatically.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 4:20 PM
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111

I didn't realize you had such strong feelings on government & binding theory.


Posted by: Britta | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 4:30 PM
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I think that "popularisation" is way more fraught in the arts because, basically, Gramsci, hegemony, and co-option.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 4:48 PM
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116: Can you say that in English instead of in Knowing-Allusion?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 4:55 PM
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You want me to popularise it?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 4:57 PM
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I have a Knowing Allusion-to-English dictionary, Master of Allusion. It was compiled by Whit Stillman.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 4:58 PM
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119: subtext, the war, nose candy, mm hm.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:00 PM
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More usefully, in the arts, often the point is to make something difficult. Often work is inherently oppositional. So popularising often runs the risk of making it not-difficult, not oppositional, and therefore not as worthwhile.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:00 PM
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re: 114

Hoover the DC out of Worldcat?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:00 PM
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I believe 122 is in KAML.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:01 PM
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In this case, I'd argue, the hegemonic cultural domination of imperialism makes it quite hard to write popular books that are both successful and don't buy into that. (Not that it can't be done, but.) So that's one reason: even flawed physics is generally not deeply problematic from a not-being-an-imperialist stand point, but lots of flawed history/anth/sociology etc is.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:03 PM
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re: 123

Heh. At least I didn't start talking about METS/MODS.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:09 PM
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even flawed physics is generally not deeply problematic from a not-being-an-imperialist stand point

Au contraire!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:11 PM
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124: ... Anything the people can understand is bad for them? That seems like a bad principle to rebuild the world with. (Although I may be reading `popular' wrong: do you mean widely read, or profitable? I've wondered that several times in this thread.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:13 PM
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Well yes to some extent if the thing you write is entirely digestible within our society it's probably not going to reshape the world, because it's been deeply co-opted.

Beyond that, I think that's a massive excluded middle.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:15 PM
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Popularizations of quantum theory, by attempting to rationalize and justify the atemporality and nonlocality inherent in the theory, will inevitably help to marginalize the suprarational paracognitive abilities so important to indigeneous ways of knowing, which are otherwise so importantly justified by quantum mechanisms.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:18 PM
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123: Knowing Allusion Modeling Language?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:18 PM
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130: I was thinking markup, but sure.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:19 PM
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re: 130

[grudgingly mustered enthusiasm for an idea some other bastard has had first]That'd be great[/].


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:20 PM
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131: I think I was thinking "markup" too but evidently my hands weren't as I typed.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 5:45 PM
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Often work is inherently oppositional.

And appreciated by those who enjoy how delightfully oppositional it is.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 6:11 PM
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115: I do now!
113: Eh, I just went through the top hits for Chomsky at DeLong's blog and there is more valid criticism than I remembered. There is, however, also a considerable amount of misreading and selective quoting.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 6:16 PM
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Python is a good language. If you want to use it for the web, you might want to use it with Google App Engine, which is a cloud-based application hosting environment from Google that will enable you do to some crazy-powerful things.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:25 PM
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One of these days I should probably read one of Diamond's books, even though I'm sure it will annoy me. It won't be this new one, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:49 PM
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137: yeah, definitely don't read the new one. Even GGS will annoy you, I'm pretty sure, but it's at least worth the time. The new one is a toxic combination of lazy and stupid.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:50 PM
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Hey teo I forget what you think about 1491 and 1493. Fairly skeptical, yeah?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:53 PM
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139: I haven't read 1493, but I loved 1491. I highly recommend it, though of course I don't necessarily buy all of his interpretations.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:56 PM
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It's interesting that you bring those up, actually, because I've been thinking that what Mann does in those books is pretty similar to what Diamond does in his, and yet he gets much less criticism than Diamond. There are several reasons this might be the case, and I'm not sure which are the most important.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 8:58 PM
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138: If I read any of them it'll be Collapse, mostly to figure out what he actually says about Chaco. No one who's read the book has ever been able to give me a clear answer.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:04 PM
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140: oh, okay, good. I loved it too, but wasn't sure how suspicious of it to be.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:05 PM
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142: I didn't read that part -- or so my notes say -- so I can't tell you. Sorry. If you ever do read GGS, I'd love it if you'd write a joint review of that and 1491.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:06 PM
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I thought the stuff in Collapse about the Inuit expansion was really fascinating. Less that he actually had anything particularly great to say about it, and more that it was interesting history that I'd never heard about before.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:14 PM
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141: well, and one thing I find interesting about the anti-imperialist line of criticism of Diamond is that Mann is very much all about representing pre-Columbian empires as the equal in ambition and scope of empires anywhere in the world, which sort of seems like the complement of saying that European empires weren't more conquer-y, but just luckier. But the way Mann frames it, at least (haven't read Diamond) it is more like giving these people their due.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:16 PM
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144: I did do a review of 1491 back when I read it.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:17 PM
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146: Right, that's one of the interesting things about the contrast in the reception they've received. Since I haven't read Diamond either I don't really have a good sense of what's behind this, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:19 PM
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145: It's definitely a really interesting topic, and one that I've been meaning to learn more about (especially since I've been in Alaska). It's also not widely known by a popular audience, of course, so if Diamond made more people aware of it that's a point in his favor.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:21 PM
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That's a smart review. You should consider going to graduate school in history (were the profession not imploding).


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:21 PM
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Thanks.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:23 PM
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In a recent discussion with a family member, I did trot out the possibility of their getting a PhD in History. "You're fucking insane," was the prompt rejoinder.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:24 PM
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Smart kid. The real money these days is in glib popularizations of other people's research.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:38 PM
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152: are you fucking insane?


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:42 PM
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I mean, you know how bad you hear it is? It's that bad. And getting worse.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:43 PM
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Maybe this is a family member that JP doesn't like, perhaps because they have a significant other who sleeps too late or something.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:55 PM
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I read 1491 last year and am just starting 1493 (but reading it simultaneously with about 4 other books including Kahneman so it's probably going to be a while). I certainly enjoyed it and its perspective, but not completely sold*. It does make me want to understand the totality of evidence on things like the population along the Mississippi between DeSoto's and later French explorers. Is there other primary evidence? The mass Passenger Pigeons flocks as empty niche exploitation is an interesting hypothesis--although they were not a particularly fast-reproducing species and their habits were completely adapted to a massive flock existence (part of why they went down so fast when the going got bad). But the "math" could have worked for them in the allotted time even without their reproducing like rabbits, and of course they had a looooong time to build that way of life before our little branch of the ape kingdom got to the New World**.

*And although I've not read it myself, a couple folks I know were completely underwhelmed by his co-written account of the Phantom Dialer.

**Possible Passenger Pigeon Version of New World history:
Fuck you, fucking squirrels, all your acorns are belong to us.
Bad menz be keeping the pigeon down.
Winning again!
Holy fu...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 9:58 PM
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154: Somewhat, although it was offered not entirely seriously and in context that made it perhaps less insane (getting an actual PhD being massive overkill).

Although one needs top evaluate alternative prospects before declaring a certain pathway insane. But, never mind.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:00 PM
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Since this thread revived a bit - and was colonized by comments about authors other than Diamond - I want to ask about one of the other writers Rob Helpy-Chalk cited as an example at the start of the OP: Francis Fukuyama.

I'm assuming that he was included on the strength (?) of his present public-intellectual output and betimes uncongenial politics, and I'll concede that's justified - but because The End of History... is one of only two books in the thread that I've read, I've been trying to place it and him relative to the Unfogged-consensus views of Friedman, Gladwell, and Diamond, which I feel I understand.

This has been difficult, since I read the book ten years ago, and although I remember being impressed by the volume - both senses - of the commentary upon the book, I don't much trust my sense at the time that it was a worthy but simplistic application of Hegel to the '90s, whose conclusions were further simplified, unjustly, by critics.

I sense that he also reaches well outside his specialty, insofar as he has one, and I sense that he hasn't devoted near as many pages to popularization as the others have - but I want to hear reactions from the more voracious, better-trained readers on the thread.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:04 PM
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I finally have time to today to read again, so first: thanks, Keir, for the translation to something closer to English I can understand.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:18 PM
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Next, there's something that makes me kind of uncomfortable about some of the talk of one's "area of expertise", which is often (not always) deployed as if a person can have only one area of expertise, it's generally associated with their credentials, education, or career, and it's not possible to acquire a new one. So what if sausagely's undergrad degree is in philosophy? That has absolutely zero to do with whether he is, in fact, an expert in politics, economics, or basketball. Criticize people for getting things wrong, but don't do it by policing the boundaries of the area they're "allowed" to talk about. Anyone reasonably intelligent can become an expert in anything they want, given some time and access to the right things to read or people to talk to. Especially if it's neighboring something they already have expertise in, people can even become expert pretty quickly, given enough motivation.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:21 PM
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To be clear, essear, I think Yglesias has expertise in politics. I think he's acquired it through years of doing his job. But he has none when it comes to basketball. He is, at best, a very poor student of the game.

Also, since this thread is now sort of about books, I want to thank whomever mentioned City of Thieves, which I enjoyed quite a lot.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:27 PM
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I'm not quite sure yggles has had time to become expert in anything; he's been writing essentially constantly since he was 20. He is obviously very quick but I think the specific knock on him is that he hasn't taken the time (hasn't had the time) to figure out what becoming truly expert in something really means, so he can be overconfident of his own grasp of something.

The knock against Diamond or Pinker I would think would not be too terribly different; with their early books they stayed near what they were most familiar with, but with each succeeding book the topic became both broader and more distant from their original academic specialty, and the time they were able to devote to gaining comprehension decreased.

Not that I'm signing on to either of these necessarily but they seem more thoughtful than pure boundary policing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:30 PM
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Sorta pwned. That was a long-ass comment to write on an iPad.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:30 PM
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162.last: Even the ending?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:32 PM
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165: saw it coming from the first pages. Too sentimental. Still, it was a good book.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:33 PM
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160 --- I hope it's useful. Am not particularly trying to be hard to understand, am just quite lazy.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:35 PM
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Criticize people for getting things wrong, but don't do it by policing the boundaries of the area they're "allowed" to talk about. Anyone reasonably intelligent can become an expert in anything they want, given some time and access to the right things to read or people to talk to.

I agree with this 100%, but then, I suppose I would.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:36 PM
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I'm not quite sure yggles has had time to become expert in anything; he's been writing essentially constantly since he was 20. He is obviously very quick but I think the specific knock on him is that he hasn't taken the time (hasn't had the time) to figure out what becoming truly expert in something really means, so he can be overconfident of his own grasp of something.

That's a reasonable take on him, but it's worth noting that it's not like he doesn't put any effort into learning new things. He currently reads and links to a lot of economic research papers, and recently attended the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. His understanding of this research may be relatively superficial compared to a real economist's, but it's not like he's just bullshitting based on a quick mind and a very limited knowledge base.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:40 PM
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The knock against Diamond or Pinker I would think would not be too terribly different; with their early books they stayed near what they were most familiar with, but with each succeeding book the topic became both broader and more distant from their original academic specialty, and the time they were able to devote to gaining comprehension decreased.

Maybe. Collapse was eight years after Guns, Germs, and Steel, so if Diamond wasn't doing other things that would easily be enough time to develop enough expertise. Pinker writes a lot more books, so I could see the argument there, maybe. And presumably they're spending a lot of time traveling and giving public lectures and going to fancy parties and screaming at their administrative assistants and whatever else famous public intellectuals do.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:45 PM
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163.1 makes a good point, which is that until you are an expert in *something* it's a bit difficult to judge how good your knowledge is in other fields. In particular its very hard to know if you're overestimating your level of expertise.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:52 PM
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As you can probably tell from 169, I've been reading Yglesias a lot recently, after having stopped reading him for a while. (Mostly because Slate isn't blocked at my work, unlike most blogs including Unfogged.) He's not as good as he used to be, and I think limiting himself to economic topics is part of the reason for that, but he's still pretty good.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:53 PM
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What do people here think of Carl Zimmer? He's an interesting example of someone with zero formal training but who (it appears to me) has really learned a great deal of biology on the job. I've been very impressed by his books.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 10:56 PM
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169: oh no, not at all! And I actually think his ability to pick stuff up under deadline is super impressive. But he's had to produce content literally constantly since he was still in undergrad. I certainly couldn't do that, and I'm impressed with his commitment to try and genuinely learn deeply about things while doing it. But his blogging style (which he is definitely expert at) sort of doesn't give him any room to decide if he actually knows what he's talking about or not.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:00 PM
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And his political instincts have always, to my mind, been extremely good. In a sense I think political blogging is a bit easier that way; intuitions about people and systems can serve you extremely well, and a grounding in academic political science (or actual legislating, god forbid) are not terribly critical to reading the players and the situation well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:01 PM
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Repeating without really adding anything new, I do many of the folks on the Pinker-Diamond trajectory (or attempting to be on it) are trying to have their cake and eat it too. Putting aside the financial aspects for just a bit, it is actually somewhat of a higher "intellectual influence*" risk/reward path--and if you do succeed (at more than just making lots of money**) your ideas are going to influence the world and be judged by quite different criteria than they would in straight academic work. Like with the lead/crime stuff--anything they do will be more of a launching point for others to probe and do further research than something that anyone should really buy into completely. They need to admit that things like "interesting" and "provocative" are at best the coins of their realm rather than "breakthrough" or "definitive."

*That is the wrong phrase, but cannot think of a better.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:02 PM
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But he's had to produce content literally constantly since he was still in undergrad. I certainly couldn't do that, and I'm impressed with his commitment to try and genuinely learn deeply about things while doing it.

True, although he has said that he actively enjoys writing, which is a rare trait even among professional writers and at least partly explains his ability to be so prolific. A lot of people with that unusual talent would probably try to coast on it as much as possible, so it's definitely to his credit that he hasn't done that and has tried to gain some actual knowledge about the things he writes about.

In a sense I think political blogging is a bit easier that way; intuitions about people and systems can serve you extremely well

Also the ability to make and analyze logical arguments, for which his training in philosophy probably did give him some useful skills. He's certainly at his best when he demolishes the shoddy reasoning of some politician or other.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:06 PM
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He's not as good as he used to be, and I think limiting himself to economic topics is part of the reason for that, but he's still pretty good.

I read him much, much less than I once did, but my sense is that he's somewhat worse than pretty good these days. Still, I agree with everything else you say. He's a polymath, and his strength was tossing up a bunch of posts about a bunch of things. Some of them were good. Some of them weren't. But his intellectual curiosity often came through. It was exciting. He also was fantastic at explaining the horrors of movement conservatism in plain language. I miss that.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:06 PM
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If only I had had more to drink tonight, I would probably be responding to 176 with a rant about my current project-in-progress.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:07 PM
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If only I had had more to drink tonight, I would probably be responding to 176 with a rant about my current project-in-progress.

It's not too late! Drink some more!


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:08 PM
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He also was fantastic at explaining the horrors of movement conservatism in plain language. I miss that.

He still does that sometimes! Less often than he used to, admittedly.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:08 PM
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I'm in a hotel room and would have to either call a cab or walk for an hour to get to alcohol.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:08 PM
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I apparently really like exclamation points!


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:09 PM
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If the comments posted simultaneously, am I pwned?


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:09 PM
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I am a little sad I didn't successfully bait you with 129, essear, because I am reading a book to which that comment comes perilously close to a paraphrase.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:09 PM
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!!!


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:10 PM
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182: That's what you get for staying in a hotel without a minibar.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:10 PM
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185: What book? And why?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:10 PM
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188: hippies, physics, the saving thereof. It was a gift, and I'm hoping it eventually goes somewhere further from Uri Geller.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:12 PM
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Oh, that. Huh. I read his previous book, Drawing Theories Apart, and really liked it.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:14 PM
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179: I want rant!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:15 PM
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191: In part just to see in which direction rantiness about a current project would go from that seed as I can imagine several.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:17 PM
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190: I mean, I don't think it's his fault that the seventies were how they were but Jesus, physics, est? Really?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:17 PM
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191 reminds me of a recent word puzzler here at Stormcrow Manor. Three four-letter words with the same last 3 letters but do not rhyme (and they miss by a lot--not nuanced).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:19 PM
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Trough, though, bough?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:23 PM
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193: It's weird, because I think of the 70s as a golden age of quantum field theory, and I had the impression he was portraying it as kind of a bleak time. But I guess it's more about the rise of quantum information? I don't really know the history there, although I would be kind of surprised if the people he's writing about were actually very important.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:23 PM
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Oh, four letter. Way to read the directions.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:23 PM
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Ears
Oars
Cars


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:24 PM
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Barn, earn, warn?


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:25 PM
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198: Oops, there another restriction. It was consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant. But that was nice.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:26 PM
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Looks like deciding one should start with a diphthong is key?


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:26 PM
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I suck at being the puzzlemaster.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:26 PM
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196: it seems to have to do with quantum entanglement and information, yeah. Saffrati is one person, and Rauscher? I have a sinking feeling Fritjof Capra will show up at a point.

He has talked about some of Wheeler's daffier theories about consciousness (I think it was Wheeler?). In general it doesn't seem to have occurred to anybody that brain scientists might have useful insights on consciousness; makes me understand a little bit where Penrose got his craziness.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:27 PM
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I did wonder if another constraint had been lurking ...


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:27 PM
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First letters b, c & t. Because i have no patience and 202.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:27 PM
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202: I sympathize.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:27 PM
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The constraints support me in email.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:28 PM
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And so to bed.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:35 PM
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My comment on the other thread about someone I knew in college contains one of the words.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:38 PM
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Yes it does. And so really to bed.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:42 PM
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And nice comment-whoring.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:42 PM
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Without previewing: Bomb, comb, womb.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:45 PM
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WANT KANT RANT


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-14-13 11:51 PM
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four hour tour


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:19 AM
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As this is a Jared Diamond thread, I will take the trouble of pointing out that he's simply wrong, hugely wrong, about Greenland and we have the evidence to prove it:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/archaeologists-uncover-clues-to-why-vikings-abandoned-greenland-a-876626.html

that link basically bears out Kirsten Seaver's The Frozen Echo and all.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:59 AM
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Meanwhile, didjer know that the ship the Antikythera mechanism was found aboard is lying with her stern much deeper than the bows, so nobody in 1903 could dive on the rest of the wreck, and it's not been explored....and remote sensing studies show there's a large quantity of bronze there? As in, there could be more of them?

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/01/03/antikythera-shipwreck-survey/1804353/


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:02 AM
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Wheeler seemed like an endless weird idea generator.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:12 AM
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and we have the evidence to prove it

Well, we have now. This is a built in danger of popularising from seondary sources. When Diamond wrote Collapse, his account of the end of the Greenland colony, he repeated what was essentially the conventional wisdom. Nobody at the time seriously questioned his facts. The article you link to is based on research which was published within the last four years (I can't find it, but the Journal cited only started in 2008), and for all we know it's still contentious in the Viking archaeology community.

Academic theories are superseded; popular treatments go out of date. That isn't a criticism, it's in the nature of the beast.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:20 AM
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Re: 216

Wow!


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:20 AM
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This Sailer anecdote is pretty funny. I'll have to find a way to use "dogtrot":

I met him after he gave a speech at Mike Milken's big annual confab. We were chatting nicely until I asked him a tough question about what he didn't mention in his Guns, Germs, and Steel -- Wouldn't different agricultural environments select for different hereditary traits in locals? -- I went on to mention how James Q. Wilson's The Marriage Problem has a couple of chapters on how tropical agriculture in West Africa affects family structures. And, thus, wouldn't the kind of man that would have the most surviving children be different in an agricultural environment where he doesn't need to work too much to support them than in an agricultural environment where he does?

Now, Diamond has spent a lot of time birdwatching in New Guinea, so he knows all about what tropical agriculture selects for. And he has no intention of touching that tar-baby with a ten-foot pole. So, he grabbed his stuff and literally dog-trotted at about 5 mph out of the auditorium!


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 5:00 AM
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It would be hilarious if the ship's cargo was 2,000 Antikytheras, in their boxes.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 5:05 AM
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221: They'll sell much better on e-bay if they are.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 5:08 AM
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re: 221

Maybe a couple of 'unboxing papyri' showing Septimus with his new toy.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 5:10 AM
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221: it'll be like extrasolar planets. The first one is MEGA NEWS! The 1,500th one maybe gets a line in a journal.

223: PUERIS PUELLISQUE DE VIII ANNORUM AUT SENIORI OPORTET. SERVOS NON CONTINET. AUXILIA AB PARENTIIS PROCANDUM UT COMPONERE.

(suitable for children of 8 years and over. Parental help advised to assemble. Slaves not included.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 5:22 AM
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Before neb gets all up in my craticula about mistakes in the Latin, they have, as is traditional for toys, been badly translated from the Greek.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 5:23 AM
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221-224: Awesome.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:09 AM
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163: This assumes early periods for Pinker and Diamond where they didn't say silly things. Both have always been very much inclined toward the most foolish "in the veldt" explanations of human behavior.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:10 AM
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2,000 Antikytheras, in their boxes

2,000 iAntikytheras, in their boxes.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:30 AM
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220: I don't want to disillusion you about the intellectual integrity of scientific racists, but Diamond isn't shy - in writing at least - about discussing New Guinea's environment, and the traits that it selects for.

Alas, the fact that Diamond disagrees with Sailer doesn't much mitigate the absurdity of Diamond's own opinions on the topic.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:32 AM
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220.last: And Occam's Razor compels us to the view that the dogtrot was motivated by Diamond's chagrin that his interlocutor had uncannily hit upon the Achilles' Heel of his entire approach.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 6:38 AM
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227: really? As I say, I haven't read Diamond, but I don't recall enormously much about evolution (I mean, except at the basic level of saying that basic cognitive functions were probably selected for) in either Language Instinct or How The Mind Works.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:11 AM
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Do cannily and uncannily mean the same thing?


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:17 AM
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Maybe it's in Third Chimpanzee, which I've been meaning to check out.


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:18 AM
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There's a bit at the beginning of GGS where he says that the New Guinea hunter/gatherer environment is more cognitively demanding than life in developed countries, so if there's any genetic difference in intellectual capacity it's in favor of people with more recent hunter/gatherer ancestry. I think I skimmed passed it as a claim that genetic differences couldn't explain why imperialism succeeded, not meant to be importantly different from a claim that there were no significant genetic intellectual differences, but I've seen it read more strongly, and objected to on that ground.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:28 AM
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232: No, they're opposites, as you'd expect. Although "canny" never really made it into standard English, I don't think -- it's Scots.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:29 AM
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234: oh wait, that part? (I did read the first little bit of GGS.) It will be extremely strange if that's all we're talking about; I read that as LB did, as a casual dimissal of the idea that the success of northern Europeans could be due to some (selected-for) cognitive superiority.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:31 AM
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235: what? Sure it did! I use that word all the time.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:32 AM
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Really? Use it in a sentence, like you normally would. I can't do it without pretending I'm standing outside a stone cottage next to a sheep.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:34 AM
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238 was a very canny take on the whole "response comment" genre.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:36 AM
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essear @196

The basic thesis of the book is that things like the EPR paradox, Bell's inequalities and basically anything else related to the "spooky action at a distance" aspects of quantum mechanics had fallen massively out of favor in mainstream physics from the late 50's to the early 70's and that the "hippies" were responsible for a revival of interest in that stuff.

The claim on the hippie physicist's behalf is basically "Even if they were interested in these things for basically loopy reasons and even if most of what they said was wrong, they still made an important contribution to physics by bringing these issues back to the attention of the mainstream, who had largely forgotten about them."

I'm not sure what to make of the claim. Folks I've spoken to who were around during that period think he overstates how "forgotten" Bell's theorem & EPR & etc. were at the time.

I know you're not a fan of Peter Woit, but he has a review on his site that's not bad.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:37 AM
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Baa.


Posted by: Opinionated Sheep | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:37 AM
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235: neither did "couth", which is Scots for, well, the opposite of "uncouth".

I don't think "canny" is the opposite of "uncanny", though. "Canny" is clever, in the sense of careful and cautious. Uncanny doesn't mean rash.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:38 AM
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238: He drives a canny bargain.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:38 AM
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242: the primary and secondary meanings of modified words becoming reversed?! that's unpossible!


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:40 AM
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Further to 244: or, being beyond my ken, uncanny.


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:40 AM
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Of course if you advised someone to 'ca canny' that'd be Scots.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ca%27%20canny


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:40 AM
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242.2: aye. I have pondered that asymmetry many times while sitting on the toilet. "Should I be using unheimlich instead", I wonder, "is that a better word?"

N.B. this comment is weirdly 100% true.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:41 AM
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244: I never knew that canny and uncanny had any secondary meanings.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:56 AM
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I'm sure there's an irritating article to be written about the significance of the Scots word for "intelligent" being the same as the word for "careful and cautious", and linking this to the fact that so many Scottish inventions are mainly concerned with spending less money, such as the Watt steam engine (saves fuel), the lifejacket (saves lives of paying passengers), and the Bank of England.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 7:59 AM
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247: I think the link is from an older sense of 'canny' as well-known, familiar, or ordinary (actually, maybe not that far off heimlich?), so 'uncanny' is a straight antonym of that sense, while 'canny' acquired the primary meaning of something like 'competent in dealing with the well-known, familiar, and so on.' You could work up a similar opposition, with a little strain, between 'sensible' and 'senseless', if you used 'senseless' to describe something inexplicable or upsetting: "The canny, sensible Scotsman was bemused by the uncanny, senseless occurrences in the haunted house."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:57 AM
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He wouldn't have noticed if he'd been insensible.

("Sensible", of course, used to mean "sensitive". As in "I am sensible to the great compliment you pay me, but...")


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:02 AM
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250: yeah, I imagine that's right. Canny used to attach to the object but now attaches to the agent. Or however those canny linguists would put it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:04 AM
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The OED doesn't seem to back up that bit of ex recto folk etymology.

A comparatively modern word: not found before 17th cent. Apparently

The earliest recorded uses are all as an adjective pertaining to people. In fact, every sense the OED lists seems to pertain to people.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:08 AM
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Shite, must have done something stupid with closing the block quote.

A comparatively modern word: not found before 17th cent. Apparently can v.1 in sense 'to know how, be able', or the derived Scots n. can n.1, 'knowledge, skill' + -y suffix1: compare Swedish kunnig. Canny, conny, thus originally was nearly = cunnand, cunning in its primary sense. But it has developed an extensive series of meanings, two or three of which are in common use in English literature to denote qualities considered characteristically Scottish.

The earliest recorded uses are all as an adjective pertaining to people. In fact, every sense the OED lists seems to pertain to people.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:09 AM
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Now explain "cute hoor".


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:10 AM
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249

Scots were Presbyterians?


Posted by: Britta | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:25 AM
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254: So there goes that folk etymology. But you can make it work just as well the other way, with a perfectly stable meaning for 'canny', and a slip from subject to object for 'uncanny'.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:27 AM
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Presbyterianism originated in Scotland, was spread to most other countries by Scottish people, and the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian, so...yes?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:29 AM
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255: was going to propose this as the Irish equivalent until I saw I'd been pwned. I submit that the puppies/kittens meaning of "cute" is the one which requires explanation.


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:35 PM
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Dunno, but 'cunning' was also used as meaning adorable at one point, so the same thing seems to have happened to both words.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 3:41 PM
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Reminds me that I used to be regularly baffled by the stern admonishments iin some older books from parental types to young people to avoid such appalling slang words as "terrific" or "horrible".


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 4:44 PM
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234

There's a bit at the beginning of GGS where he says that the New Guinea hunter/gatherer environment is more cognitively demanding than life in developed countries, so if there's any genetic difference in intellectual capacity it's in favor of people with more recent hunter/gatherer ancestry. ...

Reasoning instead of measuring is an unreliable method of answering this sort of empirical question and leads to things like Aristotle's claim that men have more teeth than women.

And the reasoning is unconvincing. Genes vary in frequency between populations because they have advantages and disadvantages that vary in magnitude with the local environment. If they are always advantageous almost everyone will have them, if they are never advantageous almost nobody will have them. (This assumes enough time and gene flow to reach equilibrium but Diamond is assuming this also as otherwise there could have been by chance recent favorable mutations in Europe that haven't had time to spread to New Guinea.) So among genes that vary there is no free lunch, a gene that adds intellectual capacity subtracts something else, a gene that subtracts intellectual capacity adds something else. So even if the New Guinea environment is more cognitively demanding this doesn't necessary favor higher intellectual capacity if it is also more demanding in other ways. So the level of intellectual capacity in New Guinea as compared to other places will depend on the relative importance of intellectual capacity versus other traits (strength, disease resistence etc.) in New Guinea as compared to the relative importance in other places.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:41 PM
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The Norse study (which does indeed sound very cool) is here. Paywalled, of course.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:42 PM
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Would a Viking stop because of a paywall?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:45 PM
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The Vikings were some litigious motherfuckers, yo.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:47 PM
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So, probably not, but then he'd end up in endless lawsuits/blood feuds for decades.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:47 PM
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Just go stab somebody and see if it doesn't help.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:49 PM
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I'm pretty sure it won't.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:50 PM
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My apologies if you've already stabbed somebody, especially a Viking.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:51 PM
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(Clearly I decided that today's active threads looked too depressing so I would stick to yesterday's.)


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:51 PM
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Paywall-free version.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:55 PM
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Very limited stabbing necessary.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:55 PM
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273

There's a whole new thread that could be not depressing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:56 PM
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Hey, thanks.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:56 PM
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It seems poor-humored to go 270 comments about Diamond without giving him credit for titling a book Why Is Sex Fun? (Especially given the teachings of our founder.)


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:57 PM
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There's a whole new thread that could be not depressing.

Yeah, that's true. It went up while I was posting comments in the old ones.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:57 PM
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275: Around here we're known for our poor humor.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 8:58 PM
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OT: If I've failed due to poor scheduling today to buy my GF an "anniversary" gift, is it better to give her the yoga mat I got for free from a court reporter service that's sitting in my office, or nothing?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:03 PM
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Nothing. If you give her the yoga mat you would arguably be committing a felony.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:03 PM
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278: don't give her the mat. Go get a really good bottle of wine, open it, pour her a glass, and tell her that you're happy to be with her.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:06 PM
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When in her company, be sure to refer to your anniversary with audible scare quotes.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:09 PM
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Then deliver an impassioned speech about how it's not a real anniversary because you're not married, but at least that's better than the poor fools who say "seven-month anniversary" as if that were semantically valid.

(in truth, 280 is sufficient)


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:12 PM
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278: don't give her the mat. Go get a really good bottle of wine, open it, pour her a glass, and tell her that you're happy to be with her.

Or! Go get a bottle of really good scotch, drink that, open the wine, pour a bit, and then tell her how you feel.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:13 PM
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Wait, is wine paleo? If not, take her to the tar pits, find a trapped big cat, slit its throat, let the blood drip into hand-hewn stone goblets, drink.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:15 PM
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Or, if you're a real tuff-mudder, take down a big cat yourself in the mountains. Then make with the throat-slitting, the goblets, and the drinking of blood.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:16 PM
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Wine plan is good in theory but I need something I can do in the next ten minutes. Multiple divorce skills coming to the fore whoo


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:16 PM
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273: not anymore.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:17 PM
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It takes you more than ten minutes to buy a bottle of wine?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:17 PM
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Man you can drink a bottle of scotch pretty fucking fast if you just open your gullet.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:19 PM
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If you can't kill and drain the blood from a sabertooth tiger in less than ten minutes, you're Crossfit instructor isn't doing her or his job.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:19 PM
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Come on where's the love for team branded yoga mat?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:28 PM
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Does your girl need a yoga mat?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:32 PM
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Furthermore, does she want one?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:34 PM
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Gentlemen, let's find out.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:38 PM
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There's easier ways out of a relationship, Halford -- though perhaps none more effective than the yoga mat gambit.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:48 PM
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And that's what happens when I have to switch over to Chrome because facebook keeps crashing Firefox. I blame the Jews!


Posted by: von wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:49 PM
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If she does break up with him and leave, that'll create more room for trapnel to crash at Halford's place. Net result: more wacky hijinks for us.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:50 PM
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WGfU bracelets?


Posted by: von wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:51 PM
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288: Let me tell you a story about the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:53 PM
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So, yeah, I guess I'm not seeing any downsides to the yoga mat approach when you look at it from the right perspective.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:53 PM
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299: Pretty sure Halford doesn't live in Pennsylvania.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:54 PM
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I'm asking you to feel my pain. Except it's more pain in theory than actual current pain. I walked home from the bar in the sleet and it really was invigorating.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:55 PM
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Anyway, my wife has a yoga mat that I did not buy for her.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:57 PM
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Okay, I'll feel your lack of pain.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:57 PM
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I didn't steal the yoga mat for her either. She bought it for herself. Or that's my assumption. I didn't check for a receipt.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 9:59 PM
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Speaking of weather, it looks like it's finally cooling off again after the weird storm system of the past few days that brought tropical air with resulting rain and temperatures in the 40s. (The further result when it dipped back below freezing, of course, being that the ground became a sheet of ice.) We might even get some snow tonight.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:01 PM
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I wasn't actually speaking of the weather so much as my own joy at walking in sleet.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:08 PM
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I would have been nearly as pleased with a cold drizzle.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:11 PM
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I feel like any statement involving sleet is in some sense about the weather.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:12 PM
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You don't need a weatherman to know it is sleeting.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:14 PM
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Come on where's the love for team branded yoga mat?

Did we even know anyone else on your tuff mudder team?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:15 PM
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I feel like any statement involving sleet is in some sense about the weather.

Let me take this opportunity to recommend the truly wonderful Edward Gorey book The Sopping Thursday.

It is especially wonderful if ever you have misplaced your umbrella, or felt a desire to read a large quantity of sentences that end with the word "umbrella".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:16 PM
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Be careful. It's sleeting.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:16 PM
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313 to 311, where I'm thinking the sleet is more likely to be.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:17 PM
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It's more light snow at my place right now.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:18 PM
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Have you asked a weatherman to be sure?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:21 PM
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Goodnight internet. Goodnight red balloon.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:30 PM
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Goodnight, Moby. Don't let the sleet bugs bite.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:31 PM
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For the past week everyone in California has been apologizing to me for the awful weather. It's mildly chilly, but in kind of a nice way, and in any case much warmer than any other place I would likely be found in January. Enjoy your mild winters and stop complaining, people.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:37 PM
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319: it has been the same temperature if not a few degrees warmer here for the past couple of days.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:40 PM
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Apparently it's been extremely cold in the Southwest lately.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:45 PM
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319: you're wrong. It's too cold here. Has been for almost two weeks.


Posted by: von wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:45 PM
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And I'm very sorry about that. As a visitor, you shouldn't have to suffer through this sort of meteorological anomaly.


Posted by: von wafer | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:46 PM
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320: Interesting. But then, tomorrow I'm flying back and apparently bringing snow with me.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 10:52 PM
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I hope I luck out with weather when I drive east.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:23 PM
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Good luck with that. When are you planning to go?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:28 PM
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Early February, probably the worst month possible.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:35 PM
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Oh hey, look, a zillion comments on this thread I haven't read. But I shan't let that stop me. At work today, as I was letting the soothing sounds of German public radio wash over me, mostly without comprehension, I suddenly said to myself: "Hey, they're talking about Jared Diamond's new book!" And so they were. German-speakers/readers may find it interesting. Or not!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 01-15-13 11:50 PM
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||
"Brucci told the Tribune that his first thought upon being notified that a box of heads had been found at the airport was, 'Oh, boy. Here we go.' "
|>


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 12:09 AM
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"Not again!"


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 12:11 AM
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Guys, I solved the problem in the way I've solved essentially all other problems. I asked for an extension.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 12:25 AM
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And she granted you one?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 12:26 AM
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Seriously, I'm the best extension-asker-and-receiver of all time. Got me through years of schooling and years of legal practice.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 12:29 AM
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Probably a good thing you went into law. Other fields are much less amenable to that approach.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 12:30 AM
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"In 2001, we didn't accidentally lose any explosives in an airport security exercise. In 2002, we didn't accidentally lose any explosives in an airport security exercise. In 2003,we didn't accidentally lose any explosives in an airport security exercise. In 2004... we accidentally lost some explosives in an airport security exercise. In 2005..."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4069785.stm

"So did we!"

http://www.kgun9.com/news/local/129274423.html

"Us too!"

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/city_region/breaking_news/2006/09/state_police_lo.html

"And us!"

http://articles.courant.com/2011-10-03/community/hc-windsor-locks-airport-bomb-1004-20111003_1_bomb-sniffing-dogs-trooper-explosive-device

"We, er, we might have lost something mildly explosive-flavoured."

http://archives.californiaaviation.org/airport/msg46105.html

"Oh, that's where they went!"

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8441891.stm


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 4:13 AM
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Go get a bottle of really good scotch, drink that, open the wine, pour a bit, and then tell her how you feel.

"Oh shit... Shtan shtill while I count you..."


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 6:30 AM
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There's a TV station with the call sign K-GUN 9? How hasn't this been converted into a specialist NRA station? Especially as it's in Arizona.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-16-13 7:18 AM
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