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Jul 09
"The question of whether machines can think... is about as relevant as the question of whether submarines can swim." - Edsger Dijkstra computer scientist
Aug 09
Why pay CEOs and bankers so much? Here is the abstract of a paper in Review of Economic Studies, Big Stakes and Big Mistakes, by Ariely, Gneezy, Loewenstein and Mazar:
"Workers in a wide variety of jobs are paid based on performance, which is commonly seen as enhancing effort and productivity relative to non-contingent pay schemes. However, psychological research suggests that excessive rewards can, in some cases, result in a decline in performance. To test whether very high monetary rewards can decrease performance, we conducted a set of experiments in the U.S. and in India in which subjects worked on different tasks and received performance-contingent payments that varied in amount from small to very large relative to their typical levels of pay. With some important exceptions, very high reward levels had a
detrimental effect on performance.”
Sep 09
It is truly almost beyond belief that the Investor's Business Daily could say in an editorial (which after much ribald mockery on the blogs they have now altered):
People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.
The minor issue for me is the fact that the NHS does not have what the Republicans allege are "death panels" that judge whether an individual's life is worth living. (There is a panel that decides if a drug is too expensive relative to the increase in length and quality of life it provides for — there's a limit to the quantities of public money the NHS will spend on supplying expensive drugs for free when they don't do much good. But that's not about judging individuals' lives.) No, the real kicker is that the journalists at IBD didn't even know that Stephen Hawking (long-time holder of the chair that Isaac Newton once held at the University of Cambridge) is a British physicist, and has lived his whole life in Britain! His motor neuron disease has been constantly and expertly treated under the NHS and he has received constant nursing care (he says, "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived"). It's a linguistic issue, of course: it's that damn speech synthesizer Hawking uses. The people at IBD have heard it speak his words, but they couldn't tell from its odd and mildly Swedish-flavored enunciation that he is not an American (and that would be the default assumption for anyone brilliant, naturally). Britain's speech scientists need to work on that synthesizer and get it talking more like Prince Charles. It looks like Americans' hopes of a reform of their broken health insurance system are going to depend on such things. If it is left up to IBD, and the sort of people who think Medicare is going to be taken over by the gov'ment, all hopes of reform are doomed. - G Pullum post in Language Log
Oct 09

The biggest defining moment in my life was when I saw Trevor Huddleston (the former president of the anti-apartheid movement), and I was maybe nine or so. My mother at this time was working as a cook in a school for blind, black blind people. And she was cooking for the women in this institution, and I was standing with my mother on the veranda when a white man went past wearing a long black cassock - he was a priest - and as he strut past, he did something that I found striking. He doffed his hat to my mother. And I, I was just surprised that a white man should do that to a woman, black woman, who was a simple domestic worker. - Desmund Tutu
Nov 09
Historians, anthropologists, linguists and even philosophers (on a good day) are able to discover or explain things. But a lot of the market is unsecured and highly leveraged. By this I mean that people in the humanities often do not write about the world or the people in it. Rather, they write about what somebody wrote about what somebody else wrote about what somebody else wrote. This is called erudition (not free association), and scholars sell it to their audience as a valuable insight about the nature of terrorism or globalisation or the influence of the internet (preferably all three). Almost every grant application in the humanities mentions these three topics, but the relationship between them and the names and concepts dropped en route are utterly obscure. - from Times Higher Education Education July 9 2009
Dec 09
First off, I’m actually perfectly well off. I live in a good-sized house, with a nice yard, with deer occasionally showing up and eating the roses (my wife likes the roses more, I like the deer more, so we don’t really mind). I’ve got three kids, and I know I can pay for their education. What more do I need? The thing is, being a good programmer actually pays pretty well; being acknowledged as being world-class pays even better. I simply didn’t need to start a commercial company. And it’s just about the least interesting thing I can even imagine. I absolutely hate paperwork. I couldn’t take care of employees if I tried. A company that I started would never have succeeded -- it’s simply not what I’m interested in! So instead, I have a very good life, doing something that I think is really interesting, and something that I think actually matters for people, not just me. And that makes me feel good.
Me, I just don't care about proprietary software. It's not "evil" or "immoral," it just doesn't matter. I think that Open Source can do better, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is by working on Open Source, but it's not a crusade -- it's just a superior way of working together and generating code. It's superior because it's a lot more fun and because it makes cooperation much easier, and I think Open Source is the right thing to do the same way I believe science is better than alchemy. Like science, Open Source allows people to build on a solid base of previous knowledge, without some silly hiding.
But I don't think you need to think that alchemy is "evil." It's just pointless because you can obviously never do as well in a closed environment as you can with open scientific methods.
-Linus Torvalds developer of Linux

Jan 10
"As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know they're some things we do not know. But there're also unknown unknowns; the ones we don't know we don't know." -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Feb. 12, 2002, effectively telling us that the government had no idea what it was doing by invading Iraq. It also shows that the language is missing a couple of useful words.
Feb 10
Populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power. - David Brooks New York Times
Mar 10
Images of Saskatchewan:
Here is part of a poet by Gerry Gilbert that catches Sask perfectly.
you could cut your
-self on that horizon
this road
really straightens you out
runs so
fast you can see the prairies flow
look at those stars go
it's hard to believe the north light
s aren't trying to tell you something
And here is another scrap that can only be about Sask. Other places have slamming screen doors, yellow taxis and the term of endearment, 'my old man', but where, I ask, do you have all three? To make the case cast iron – where else would 'slam' and 'man' sound like they rhymed but in Sask? Joni Mitchell's song must be placed in Saskatoon.

Late last night, I heard the screen door slam;
And a big yellow taxi took away my old man

Apr 10
Under the Radar (something important that the main stream press is not featuring)
Ocean Acidification, the 'evil twin' of global warming threatens the world's oceans. It has the same cause as the major climate change cause, the production of high levels of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide that dissolves in oceans (about 30% of the carbon dioxide produced) then changes them chemically to increase their acidity. Acidity affects planton and the organisms that form calcium carbonate shells and through them birds and fish and animals that feed on birds and fish and so on.
ScienceDaily has a posting. "Evidence gathered by scientists around the world over the last few years suggests that ocean acidification could represent an equal -- or perhaps even greater threat -- to the biology of our planet than global warming," co-author Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland says.
The scientists say there is now persuasive evidence that mass extinctions in past Earth history, like the "Great Dying" of 251 million years ago and another wipeout 55 million years ago, were accompanied by ocean acidification, which may have delivered the deathblow to many species that were unable to cope with it.

May 10
Saskaboom from the Globe and Mail
It is a resurgence built on the fact that, at this moment in history, Saskatchewan has what the world wants, whether it’s potash, oil and gas, uranium, diamonds, coal, and crops such as canola, lentils and wheat. .... It is not that Saskatchewan’s economy soared during the Great Recession – it just didn’t suffer as badly as others. Saskatchewan has a third of the world’s potash production, and potash is rebounding from a miserable 2009. The province has 43 per cent of the arable land in Canada, and the world needs food. Saskatchewan will soon pass Alberta in terms of conventional oil production. And the province’s population, mired at just under a million people since the 1930s, has edged every so steadily above that mark....In the great Saskatchewan upswing, there is a danger that this group (aboriginals) will be left out – from education, housing and jobs. It’s a microcosm of the challenge facing a province where the aboriginal population is 15 per cent and growing fast. Saskatchewan will need this young labour pool if it is to sustain its economic rise – and reputation for social progress.
Jun 10
John Maynard Keynes explained the dynamics of an economy in a prolonged period of high unemployment more than 70 years ago in The General Theory. Unfortunately, it seems very few people in policymaking positions in the United States or Europe have heard of the book. Otherwise, they would be pushing economic policy in the exact opposite direction than it is currently heading.
Most wealthy countries have now made deficit reduction the primary focus of their economic policy. Even though the US and many eurozone countries are projected to be flirting with double-digit unemployment for years to come, their governments will be focused on cutting deficits rather than boosting the economy and creating jobs.
The outcome of this story is not pretty. Cutting deficits means raising taxes and/or cutting spending. In either case, it means pulling money out of the economy at a time when it is already well below full employment. This can lower deficits, but it also means lower GDP and higher unemployment.
...The economies of Europe and the United States are not suffering from scarcity right now. They are suffering from inadequate demand. This means that if governments run deficits, and thereby expand demand, the economy has the capacity to fill this demand. The decision of central banks to expand the money supply by buying bonds simply leads to an increase in output, not to inflation.
...Unfortunately, our political leaders don't give a damn about mundane issues such as unemployment and economic growth. It is far easier for them to bandy about silly cliches about fiscal responsibility and generational equity, even though the policies they are pushing are 180 degrees at odds with anything that will help our children or grandchildren. Their main concern is pushing policies that keep the financial industry happy. - Dean Baker

Jul 10
Wall Street and the other biggest global banks, meanwhile, are making piles of money betting against government debt all over the world. These were the same banks and financiers, remember, that were bailed out by government not long ago. But now they're demanding fiscal austerity, and politicians are once again doing their bidding - cutting deficits in every rich economy that should now be doing the reverse.
The irony is that had there been no bank bailout in 2008 and 2009, no large stimulus, and no extraordinary efforts by the Fed to pump trillions of dollars into the economy, we'd have had another Great Depression. And because it would have sucked almost everyone down with it, the nation would have demanded from politicians larger and more fundamental reforms.
No one in their right mind would have wished for another Great Depression, of course. But we seem to have got the worst of all worlds. The bank bailout, the stimulus, and the Fed brought us back from the brink just enough to dampen zeal for anything more. As a result, we are now slouching toward a tepid recovery that could just as well fall into a double dip recession, while a large portion of our population suffers immensely. - Robert Reich
Aug 10
I asked myself, “Have dogs influenced the selection of human behavioral traits?” In some societies, for example the Inuits of North America, dogs played an essential role in the survival of the people they lived with. Could these dogs have made choices, at critical moments, to help or abandon people that did not play by the rules of dog fairness?
Clearly, the power of dogs to select for human traits is not as strong as the power humans have over the breeding of dogs, but perhaps the influence is not negligible.
(found in an email comment by) Spencer Murray
Sep 10
This American Life explores the 'recovered memory movement' of the 1990s where patients became convinced that they had experienced horrific, sometimes supernatural, abuse as children, led on by credulous therapists who used techniques now know to cause false memories.
The piece explores the now infamous recovered memory movement which led to therapists convincing patients that they had suffered dreadful, sometimes theatrically 'satanic' abuse, at the hand of their families, which they had supposedly 'repressed' into their unconscious mind.
Therapists believed they were detecting the unconscious traces of these 'experiences' in the dreams and emotional upset of genuine patients and encouraged their clients to elaborate on what was usually nothing but prejudice.
We now know, largely from research sparked from the work of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, that we can easily form false memories with this sort of elaboration, leading patients to believe that these experiences genuinely happened, despite having no memories of it prior to therapy.
Of course, we forget things and remember them again later, but we know now that traumatic experiences are the least likely to be forgotten. In fact, there is still no convincing evidence, or indeed, a single well-verified example, of a 'repressed' traumatic experience that was later 'recovered'.
It's probably worth noting, as the programme does, that the 'recovered memory movement' arrived when the full extent of child sexual abuse was just becoming known and when people were realising that victims of sexual abuse were often dismissed or not believed.
Without the evidence we have today on the remarkable malleability of memory, many therapists began to see what they thought were signs of repressed sexual abuse in their patients, even when this was denied, and began to encourage their clients 'recover' their memories.
—Vaughan Bell

Oct 10
Most psychotherapists know that merely telling people to stop their problem behaviors is rarely helpful, and indeed no data exist to show that anyone has benefited from Schlessinger’s (Dr. Laura) or McGraw’s (Dr. Phil) advice. After a thorough search of the research literature and the Internet, we could not find a single follow-up study of the participants, formal or informal.
Because Schlessinger’s and McGraw’s practices are unsubstantiated, we believe that these well-known hosts need to demonstrate that they are not causing harm. Calling what they do “entertainment” or “education” does not exclude them from this requirement. Both shows inaccurately portray how mental health professionals understand and help people. Most psychological problems do not simply reflect a lack of self-control and cannot be changed by simple directives. Believing that they can could lead millions of people to ignore important biological or social causes of their troubles and fail to seek effective treatments for themselves or others.
- Scientific American Mind, Hal Arkowitz & Scott Lilienfeld

Nov 10
The “war on drugs,” like the war on terror, is a simplistic and brutally stupid solution imposed on a complex, multifaceted human problem, born out of the notion that you can take evil out of context and eradicate it with the firepower of righteousness. Science and the arts have long ago moved on to new realms of awareness, but we’re still playing politics the way we did in the 19th century — or the 12th or 1st — with the primary difference being that we have the capacity to do far more harm these days.
And righteousness, indeed, all too often becomes a far greater cause of harm than the original problem; in tandem, problem and solution may combine to turn chronic trouble into unfathomable disaster, especially for innocent bystanders. - Robert C. Koehler

Dec 10
In the past, you may have had the experience of reading a highly technical text or listening to a very dense talk that you had the worst time trying to follow. Even if the words in play were ones that you were relatively familiar with, they may have been used in ways that were completely unfamiliar and unexpected, rendering them virtually incomprehensible. On the flip side, you may have had the experience of listening to something so predictable (and boring) that it put you to sleep. From the perspective of information theory, one of the aims of communication is to effectively manage the amount of ‘uncertainty’ (or ‘entropy’) in what’s being communicated, such that the message is predictable enough to be understood, but not so predictable as to be boring.” - Melodyn (blogger)
Jan 11
Complaints about information overload, usually couched in terms of the overabundance of books, have a long history – reaching back to Ecclesiastes 12:12 (“of making books there is no end,” probably from the 4th or 3rd century BC). The ancient moralist Seneca complained that “the abundance of books is distraction” in the 1st century AD, and there have been other info-booms from time to time – the building of the Library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC, or the development of newspapers starting in the 18th century.
But what happened in the Renaissance was, like digital technology in our own time, transformative. It (printing) took overload to an entirely new order of magnitude. Up to this point, every existing book had been copied by hand, a task that could easily take one copyist a year or more. Books were expensive commodities, most often produced on commission and paid for in advance.
...Printers “fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libelous, mad, impious and subversive; and such is the flood that even things that might have done some good lose all their goodness,” wrote Erasmus in the early 16th century.
More pragmatically, a contemporary jurist complained that the “multitude of volumes” also make it hard to find the books one needed at the bookstore. Happy the illiterate, exclaimed one Italian editor to be spared the malediction of books! - Ann Blair in the Boston Globe

Feb 11
lost
Mar 11
In the last decade big strides have been made in understanding the psycho-sociology of popular creationism — basically, it flourishes only in seriously dysfunctional societies, and the one sure way to suppress the errant belief is to run countries well enough that the particular religious believe that creationism depends upon withers to minority status, dragging creationism down with it.
In other words better societies result in mass acceptance of evolution. Yet getting the word out is proving disturbingly difficult. So the chatty pet theories about why creationism is a problem and what to do about it continue to dominant the national conversation, and pro-creationist opinion remains rock steady. - Gregory Paul author of Dinosaurs of the Air

Apr 11
Yesterday the British government failed to get a chartered Boeing 757 out of Gatwick Airport to go to Libya to pick up stranded British citizens. Naturally the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, was asked how come with all the resources of the government working in concert this once proud nation still proved so disorganized it couldn't get a jet off the ground in ten hours during a first-class emergency when other nations were flying in and out of Tripoli all day. And the ever-unflappable and ever-fluent Mr. Hague made an announcement that appealed to me enormously: "We need to know," he said, "whether today was a coincidental series of unavoidable setbacks, or a systemic flaw."
What utterly delightful phrasing. I plan to borrow this and use it often. No more apologies for total screw-ups from me. I have a much better way to refer to them now. -Geoffrey K. Pullum

May 11
In his essay “First Steps Toward a History of Reading,” Robert Darnton describes a switch from “intensive” to “extensive” reading that occurred as printed books began to proliferate. Until relatively recently, people read “intensively,” Darnton says. “They had only a few books — the Bible, an almanac, a devotional work or two — and they read them over and over again, usually aloud and in groups, so that a narrow range of traditional literature became deeply impressed on their consciousness.” Today we read books “extensively,” often without sustained focus, and with rare exceptions we read each book only once. We value quantity of reading over quality of reading. - Medolye Files quoting Joshua Foer quoting Robert Darnton (a fourth hand quote)
Jun 11
Writing in the January issue of The Journal of Gerontology B, the authors conclude that people live longer not because they are less likely to get sick, but because they survive longer with disease. As a result, a 20-year-old man today can expect to live about a year longer than a 20-year-old in 1998, but will spend 1.2 years more with a disease, and 2 more years unable to function normally. - Nicholas Bakalar
Jul 11
"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast." -Leonardo Da Vinci
and here is Harry's favourite:
'There is nothing so practical as a good theory ' - Kurt Lewin (but Harry insists that Neils Bohr must have also said it)

Aug 11
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. - Derek Bok
An eye for eye, and soon the whole world is blind. - Gandhi
Sep 11
War is both underdetermined and overdetermined. That is, many conditions are sufficient for war to occur, but none are necessary. Some societies remain peaceful even when significant risk factors are present, such as high population density, resource scarcity, and economic and ethnic divisions between people. Conversely, other societies fight in the absence of these conditions. What theory can account for this complex pattern of social behavior? - Margaret Mead
Oct 11
Early in any scientific enterprise, it is best to forge ahead and not get bogged down by semantic distinctions. But “forging ahead” is a concept alien to philosophers, even those as distinguished as McGinn. To a philosopher who demanded that he define consciousness before studying it scientifically, Francis Crick once responded, “My dear chap, there was never a time in the early years of molecular biology when we sat around the table with a bunch of philosophers saying ‘let us define life first.’ We just went out there and found out what it was: a double helix.” In the sciences, definitions often follow, rather than precede, conceptual advances. - Neuroscientist VS Ramachanran debating philosopher Colin McGinn
Nov 11
In 1896, in the first description of developmental reading disability in the medical literature, it was noted that a certain student could not learn to read in spite of 'laborious and persistent training.' However, his headmaster observed that this student 'would be the smartest lad in the school if the instruction were entirely oral.' The study of reading disability has frequently considered the often striking inconsistencies between high intelligence and ability coupled with surprisingly poor reading and writing skills. However, most research to date has focused mainly on the obvious problems to be corrected rather than the hidden potential to be identifed and developed. - Thomas G. West in The Abilities of Those with Reading Disabilities
Dec 11
There are two errors a cooperating animal can make, and one is more costly than the other. Believing that you will never meet this individual again, you might choose to benefit yourself at his expense –– only to find out later that the relationship could have been open-ended. If you make this error, you lose out on all the benefits you might have had from a long-term, perhaps life-long, cooperative relationship. This is an extraordinarily costly error to make.
The other error is to mistakenly assume that you will have additional interactions with the other individual and therefore cooperate with him, only to find out later that it wasn’t necessary. Although you were “unnecessarily” nice in that one interaction, the cost of this error is relatively small. Without knowing why, the mind is skewed to be generous to make sure we find and cement all those valuable, long-term relationships. - Leda Cosmides

Jan 12
Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance -Kahneman
Feb 12
I think today the world is asking for a real alternative. Would you like to live in a world where the only alternative is either Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism or Chinese-Singaporean capitalism with Asian values? I claim if we do nothing we will gradually approach a kind of a new type of authoritarian society. Here I see the world historical importance of what is happening today in China. Until now there was one good argument for capitalism: sooner or later it brought a demand for democracy...What I'm afraid of is with this capitalism with Asian values, we get a capitalism much more efficient and dynamic than our western capitalism. But I don't share the hope of my liberal friends - give them ten years, and there will be another Tiananmen Square demonstration - no, the marriage between capitalism and democracy is over. - Slavoj Zizek
Mar 12
There are two things that don’t have to mean anything; one is music, and the other is laughter. - Immanuel Kant
Apr 12
‘What is Money?’ – and the answer turns out to be scarily psychological. In fact, the definition is very close to William Gibson’s description of cyberspace as a “mass consensual hallucination” because money relies on us to believe in it for it to work. In other words, it’s largely a social concept we all sign up to. - Vaughan Bell
May 12
The will of the people, moreover, practically means, the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this, as against any other abuse of power. - John Stuart Mills

Jun 12
Five great regrets of people facing their death in palliative care:
I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is because we learn early what our roles are and how to play them, how to suppress expressing and avoid risk. If we are unlucky, we get trapped in the roles and live a routine, humdrum life filled with unimportant things. - Bonnie Ware

Jul 12
This boson (the Higgs Boson) is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive, that I have given it a nickname: the God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. Two... - Leon Lederman, who with Dick Teresi wrote The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? In 1993
Aug 12
“Young people are not always right. But a society is always wrong to beat them up.” - late French President François Mitterrand
Sept 12
For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing.” - Mark Twain writing to Helen Keller
Oct 12
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue with me is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse. - Patrick Stokes
Nov 12
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. - James Nicoll
Dec 12
Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity, reducing inequity is the highest human achievement. - Bill Gates, commencement address Harvard 2007
Jan 13
What are our minds made for? It looks as if we have the wrong user’s manual. Our minds do not seem made to think and introspect; if they were, things would be easier for us today, but then we would not be here today and I would not have been here to talk about it – my counterfactual, introspective, and hard-thinking ancestor would have been eaten by a lion while his nonthinking but faster-reacting cousin would have run for cover. - Nassim Taleb
Feb 13
Our inability to properly monitor the sources of our ideas leads to the common phenomenon of cryptomnesia – thinking that what is really a memory is actually a new idea – and in some cases inadvertent plagiarism. In brainstorming tasks, people will often repeat others’ ideas without realizing it. To counter cryptomnesia while researching my book, I make note of when I come across an idea that surprises me so that I can accurately attribute it later. It’s easy to absorb an idea and then believe honestly that it was generated by yourself. (Or, more subtly, to remember where one first heard an idea but later find it no longer surprising and in fact so obvious and intuitive that it doesn’t deserve explicit attribution—a type of hindsight bias.) - Matthew Hutson, author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking
Mar 13
The idea that we are a meritocracy is a vast oversimplification, a self-serving and self-justifying one. If you believe that the model is that those who are smartest and hardest working end up with the most power or the most lucrative jobs, then ... one conclusion to draw from that [is] that the people currently occupying those positions must be meritorious, which I think is an insidious myth. - Chris Hayes
May 13
FOLK NEUROSCIENCE Popular misconception: We have no control over our brain but we can control our mind
The mind and the brain are the same thing described in different ways and they make us who we are. Trying to suggest one causes the other is like saying wetness causes water. - Vaughan Bell
June 13
Today, the effective public intellectual has to be less the pedant and more the artful catalyst for independent thought. Perhaps unwittingly or even unknowingly, Steward has taken on this role with relish and gusto. Although neither a bioethicist nor an academic, Stewart has taken on the mantle of our greatest public intellectual. - Kayhan Parsi in American Journal of Bioethics.
July 13
Scientists are frequently asked about an event “Is it caused by climate change?” The answer is that no events are “caused by climate change” or global warming, but all events have a contribution. Moreover, a small shift in the mean can still lead to very large percentage changes in extremes. In reality the wrong question is being asked: the question is poorly posed and has no satisfactory answer. The answer is that all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be. - Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
Aug 13
Successful pundits recycle rational inquiry through a sort of dream-time digestive system, excreting a compact mass of terminology, emotion, and associative connections that's suitable for fertilizing their social stratum's flower beds. It's apparently a feature, not a bug. - Mark Liberman

Sep 13
Say Something New - Michelle Kowalski

Say something new about romantic love.
About how its absence is a presence.
About how it lurks and mocks from just out of reach.
About how you want it.
And don’t know how to get it.

But make sure whatever you say
Is new, profound, deep.
One false move,
And you write a country song.
Oct 13
John Galt, the central character in Atlas Shrugged, is not named until near the end of the novel. Before his identity is revealed, the question is repeatedly asked, "Who is John Galt". Now we know precisely who he is: John Galt is the idiot responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown, and for the ongoing federal government shutdown in the US. - Slavoj Žižek
Nov 13

“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth,”  - Robert Royar (1994) paraphrasing Frank Zappa's 1979 anadiplosis

Dec 13
Scientists are frequently asked about an event “Is it caused by climate change?” The answer is that no events are “caused by climate change” or global warming, but all events have a contribution. Moreover, a small shift in the mean can still lead to very large percentage changes in extremes. In reality the wrong question is being asked: the question is poorly posed and has no satisfactory answer. The answer is that all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be. - Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

Jan 14
“So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics... When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians [of the main parties] stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?” - George Monbiot

Feb 14
It is reputed that, sometime in the late nineteenth century, a man named Buckley announced that he would walk to China. “So?” you may ask, “happens all the time,” except that Mr. Buckley was then a native of the fair city of Sydney, and there is a lot of water between Sydney and China. Undeterred by the scoffing and derision, he set off but was never seen again. He thus achieved a kind of fame in the Antipodes, where a person who has no chance of success in some scheme is told he has “Buckley’s chance.” - Indian River County News
Mar 14
Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power. - Benito Mussolini
Apr 14
What we’re not open to is the possibility that you can sit in your study and arrive at deep truths about the nature of reality just by thinking hard about it. We have to write down all the possible ways we can think the world might be, and distinguish between them by actually going outside and looking at it. This is admittedly hard work, and it also frequently leads us to places we weren’t expecting to go and perhaps even don’t much care for. But we’re a flexible species, and generally we adapt to the new realities. - Sean Carroll
 May 14
 I have shown how it is that in ages of equality every man seeks for his opinions within himself. I am now to show how it is that in the same ages all his feelings are turned towards himself alone. 'Individualism' is a novel expression to which a novel idea has given birth. Our fathers were only acquainted with 'egoisme' (selfishness). Selfishness is a passionate and exaggerated love of self, which leads a man to connect everything with himself and to prefer himself to everything in the world. Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself. Selfishness originates in blind instinct; individualism proceeds from erroneous judgment more than from depraved feelings; it originates as much in deficiencies of mind as in perversity of heart. Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is a democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of condition. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1840
Jun 14
Curiously, economists don’t tend to find much interest in really fundamental things about values, for instance, or broader political or social questions about what people’s lives are actually like. They rarely have much to say about them if left to their own devices. It’s only when some non-economist begins proposing social or political explanations for the rise of apparently meaningless administrative and managerial positions, that they jump in and say “No, no, we could have explained that perfectly well in economic terms,” and make something up. - David Graeber
Jul 14
If you want to be happy for one day, get drunk.
If you want to be happy for one week, go traveling.
If you want to be happy for one month, get married.
If you want to be happy for a lifetime, become a gardener.
- Old Chinese Proverb
Aug 14
“While survival of the fittest may lead to short-term gain, research clearly shows it is survival of the kindest that leads to the long-term survival of a species. It is our ability to stand together as a group, to support each other, to help each other, to communicate for mutual understanding, and to cooperate that has taken our species this far.”  - Emililana  Simon-Thomas
Sep 14
Chris Dillow makes a good point about economics and maybe public affairs in general: There is often a tendency to go for simple stories that aren’t true –as H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” But it also often happens that the answer is simple, but people refuse to accept that simple answer. That is, the reverse of Mencken’s proposition also applies: For every simple problem there is an answer that is murky, complex, and wrong. - Paul Klugman
Oct 14
“War, it seems to me, after a lifetime of reading about the subject, mingling with men of war, visiting the sites of war and observing its effects, may well be ceasing to commend itself to human beings as a desirable, or productive, let alone rational, means of reconciling their discontents. This is not mere idealism. Mankind does have the capacity, over time, to correlate the costs and benefits of large and universal undertakings. Throughout much of the time for which we have a record of human behavior, mankind can clearly be seen to have judged that war’s benefits outweighed its costs, or appeared to do so when a putative balance was struck. Now the computation works in the opposite direction. Costs clearly exceed benefits.” - John Keegan author of A History of Warfare
Nov 14
You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here. — Alan Watts
Dec 14
"We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave." - A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.
Jan 15
“A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish - but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.” - Vladimir Nabokov
Feb 15
It seems people have always complained about children. Texts keep showing up: 2700 BC from Egypt, 1700 BC from Sumeria, Rome 300's, and on. Recent complaints are no different. But they are equally false...
“Social commentators have argued that changes over the last decades have coalesced to create a relatively unique generation of young people. However, using large samples of U.S. high-school seniors from 1976 to 2006 (Total N = 477,380), we found little evidence of meaningful change in egotism, self-enhancement, individualism, self-esteem, locus of control, hopelessness, happiness, life satisfaction, loneliness, antisocial behavior, time spent working or watching television, political activity, the importance of religion, and the importance of social status over the last 30 years.” - Kali Trzesniewski and M. Brent Donellan
 Mar 15
“If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” - Hume (who was not keen on metaphysics)