Monday, January 31, 2005

Peacenik craziness

Peace Action Wellington
Peace Action Wellington will today (Monday) use street theatre to highlight the hypocrisy of Iraq being forced to have so-called democratic elections whilst many of its citizens continue to stare down the barrel of the US-led coalition's destructive arsenal of murder.
"Forced". I seem to call Sistani being very instant on elections. Another US "puppet" no doubt.
Clearly the sole intent of the election is to provide legitimacy for the US-led occupation, to marginalise the resistance and anti-war movements and to create an illusion of progress, which we all know is far from the case."
Marginalise the "resistance". God forbid that we would want to marginalise the murderers of unionists.

DailyKos on the election

The Iraq Election: Defining Success
This Election is simply, in my estimation, an exercise in pretty pictures.
I don't think anyone is interested much in whatever his "estimation" may or may not be.

But think about it for a minute. Can there be a more insulting attitude towards people who have just risked their lives to take part in building a democracy?

And not all on the Left are cranks

Crooked Timber
Some unsolicited advice for the United Iraqi Alliance

Right-wing cranks get in on the act

Eric Margolis is also unhappy with the election.
Many Iraqis will vote for anyone promising to end violence and social misery. But just as many nationalists and Islamists, excluded from the election process, are voting their own way -- with bullets and bombs. Washington calls them "terrorists," but the UN Charter enshrines people's right to resist foreign occupation.
It's remarkable how much this sounds like Pilger. The extremes of the political spectrum have so much in common.

Now it's this farce of an "election"

In The Nation
Now that this farce of an "election" in Iraq is done...
For some, anything less than a Socialist Utopia is to be opposed with more enthusiasm than fascist dictatorships.

Now it's the "so-called" election

Juan Cole
I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday.
Stop celebrating everybody, people risking their lives to vote for a government is not actually an election.

It's really hard to know what people like this want to see happen. They complained when there weren't elections and now complain when there are elections. But I forget, all those people lining up, risking their lives to vote, were not taking part in an election. Silly them.

The Worst Advertisement

Alan Johnson in Labour Friends of Iraq takes apart the many people on the Left who have argued thus -
...the resistance, being the flesh and blood of the Iraqi people, does not want to hurt any innocent Iraqi father, mother or child, which is exactly why the resistance has been warning all Iraqis not to participate in any way in the illegal sham elections. Trying to destroy the US election farce, which has the purpose of legitimizing the occupation by “electing” a new religiously and ethnically based US puppet regime and of driving Iraq further towards civil war, is an inherent part of the strategy of the resistance, just as it has been the objective of the resistance to smash the whole US-imposed “political process” in order to hinder the establishment of a stabile pro-US regime in Iraq, a goal that has been reached up until now”.

Iraq Elections - victory for liberal values

With the high voter turn out maybe Scoop could change their headline from
Iraqi Elections About To Make NZ Local Govt Elections Look Like A Spectacular Success
Iraqi Elections Make NZ Local Govt Elections Look Like A Spectacular Failure
Particularly rancid elements on the Left (and Right) were rubbing their hands with glee hoping the elections would be derailed by violence.

I think Scoop should apologise.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

An election liberals should be supporting

The Guardian opposed the war but has the decency to momentarily put to one side aside its distaste for Bush.

On the threshold
Arguments about the war can wait. It is in the interests of all - Iraqis, the Arabs, the US and Britain - that something workable be salvaged from the wreckage as Iraq stands poised between imperfect democracy and worsening strife. This will be a landmark election, and it will be, in a way, a grand moment. But it is also likely to be a bloody one.

The Rancid Left

The Decent Left

(British) Labour Friends of Iraq
Abdullah Muhsin -
...the elections in Iraq are essential to avoid a brutal assault by reactionary forces.

Promoting Democracy

No Right Turn relies on a false dichotomy for his argument against Bush's democracy promotion policies.

On the one hand he posits the ideal, non-Bush, approach as represented by recent events in Ukraine. On the other is "America's present ham-fisted efforts" as represented by Iraq.

For a start, the Bush administration was actually involved in what happened in Ukraine. The soft power of US diplomacy was used in conjunction with the influence of Western Europe. Indeed, the nutcase Right and Left were complaining that this was yet another instance of US and British imperialism.

Secondly, and this seems ridiculous to have to point out, Ukraine and Iraq were different.

Prior to the recent elections in Ukraine the situation there was one of an authoritarian government confronted by an opposition movement that could organise in relative freedom and safety. In this instance the soft power of Western diplomacy was appropriate for the encouragement of groups striving for liberal democracy.

Iraq, on the other hand, was ruled by a ruthless dictatorship which allowed no opposition, maintaining power through fear and violence. There was no democratic opposition movement for the West to pin its hopes on. In this case diplomacy was not going to work. It had not worked for the 12 years after the 1st Gulf War.

Encouraging democracy presents many challenges. One is to tailor the available tools to particular situations. Ideally, what we saw occur with Ukraine should be the model for dealing with Cuba (and in this case I disagree with US policies). Iran lies somewhere on the authoritarian spectrum between the old Iraq and Ukraine so a mixture of carrot and stick will be required. Then there is the brutal regime of North Korea and no one has answer there.

The Bush administration is currently involved in a multilateral peace keeping mission in Haiti with Canadian, French and Brazilian troops, under the auspices of the UN. A small contingent of US troops was used to prepare the way for an African peace keeping force in Liberia. US diplomacy brought India and Pakistan back from the brink of nuclear war.

These facts contradict NRT's "America's present ham-fisted efforts" assertion.

There is no one right way as NRT is suggesting and, no matter what one's position on the Iraq war, Bush should be given credit for those instances where US involvement has had progressive results.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Lancet study on Iraqi deaths

Crooked Timber have further discussion on the Lancet study on war related Iraqi deaths.

I was skeptical at the time of the figures but there doesn't appear to be any justification for that view.

Not just Christians

Spiked has this item on the Summers controversy -

Hypothesis as thought-crime:
This episode reveals, in particular, that many scholars and students are committed to an egalitarian doctrine that is, in its way, as dogmatic and immune to contradictory evidence as the biblical literalism of fundamentalists.
Fundamentalist Christians have no monopoly on disregard for science, in particular evolution.

Cosmic evolution

My partner has been reading a book on the multi-universe interpretation of quantum theory for her research on the films of Alain Renais. Yeah, that's what I thought.

I hadn't realised that the multi-universe view was still in the running but apparently it is and the book is a sort of tribute to physicist John Wheeler.

One thing that struck me was the use of the concept of evolution in two chapters. In one it was used just as a metaphor - the laws of the universe, such as the speed of light, may be changing, evolving.

But in the other chapter the term evolution was used more literally - the possibility that quantum wave states compete to become actualised at the macroscopic level.

There is one aspect of the evolving universe theory that is intriguing. If the laws governing the development of the universe can change, is it possible that conscious action can influence such change? Is it possible that the decisions made by sentient life can change the future of the universe, not just in terms of what events will occur, but by changing the laws through which events occur?

Given that a lot of the nastier aspects of life can in a sense be traced back to the laws of thermodynamics this would raise interesting possibilities. Presumably any such influence by the living would be very, very small in comparison to the non-living, but then it is only the living that can choose.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

NZ Chapter of Right-Wing Bloggers comes out for Brash

 Posted by Hello

Meanwhile, Helen and her advisers consider their options

 Posted by Hello

Who said scientists weren't cool?

The Sue Bradford prize for worst sentence

goes to ... Sue Bradford -
What is needed is a humane approach that recognises the reality of people lives and, on their own terms, either recognises the value of what they’re already doing or, if they choose, helps them retrain and / or find a meaningful and fulfilling occupation.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Today's Blogger Healines

David Farrar needs help with his spelling - How do you spell hypocrisy?

No Right Turn expesses a common Left opinion - Fuck Iraq, part III

Just Left waxes lyrical on Brash - Reflections on Orewa II

Kiwi Pundit alleges Brash on Welfare

Fighting Talk flaunt their sex life - Filled by several contributors

About Town discover new bird species, the Toodle Pip

The other Che checks his bank account - nothing new here

Not Men from Mars

Women off to Mars
A strong case can be made for an all-female crew, aged under 30 years, to Mars.
Especially if they wear skimpy space suits. Could be "Big Brother in Space".
On spaceflight, there is a far greater risk of endothelial injuries, with an accelerated aging process, complicating oxidative stress, and a Mg ion deficit with a self-sustaining inflammatory process.
Definitely a case for women first.

In light of Brash's speech

this study is interesting - Perceptions of child support and sexual activity of adolescent males -
The results indicate that adolescent males who expect the chance of being required to pay child support is high if one becomes a non-resident father or who has a family member who paid child support before are more likely to have the same female sexual partner and less likely to have had two or more female partners. Additionally, expectations of being required to pay child support and history of a family member paying child support are positively associated with contraceptive use, especially for Black adolescents.
Or, more succinctly - if adolescent males think they will have to pay child support they are less likely to sleep around and more likely to use contraceptives. The latter consequence is positive at least.

Gambling in the womb

From Science Direct -

Male and female sexual orientation differences in gambling
Sex differences are consistently observed in gambling research. Men and women differ in their motivation for gambling, their interest in gambling, and how and in what form gambling takes place. A substantial body of evidence exists that differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals mimic comparable sexually dimorphic somatic, cognitive, and behavioral differences between men and women. Thus, given the presence of sex differences in gambling, we predict significant sexual orientation differences in gambling. That is, male homosexuals will resemble female heterosexuals in their gambling activity, and female homosexuals will resemble male heterosexuals in their gambling activity.
There's a joke there somewhere but I'm a bit slow this morning.

Although the main theme of the study is the biology of sex differences it is also interesting from the point of view of developing health polices to deal with addictive behaviors -
Thus, given that the sexual orientation findings for gambling resemble the findings for alcohol and tobacco use, perhaps gambling should be seen within a broader context of sexually dimorphic addictive/externalizing behaviors. As such, these behaviors may reflect in part a common origin - the relative masculinization of the brain by prenatal hormones.
So the solution is to stop the masculinization brains. Won't happen. I'd bet on it.

Common Dreams - what a nightmare

Election preparations in Najaf

Friends of Democracy report on election preparations in Najaf -
Groups of youth distributed election campaign papers for the People's Union list in the Al Mukarama, Al Askari, and the Al Orouba quarters, the northern quarters of the An Najaf governorate. These papers contain the name of the list president, Hamid Majid Moussa. It is worthwhile to mention that the list is comprised of 275 candidates, including the Communists along with independent democratic figures from every ethnic and religious group in the governorates, as mentioned in the distributed papers.

The difference between "to" and "for"

Juan Cole
The US military is planning to keep 120,000 troops in Iraq for the next two years...
which he considers to be a bad thing to be saying at present but doesn't take any notice of his own very next sentence -
...the number could fluctuate depending on the circumstances.
The US are not planning to keep 120,000 troops in Iraq for 2 years, they are planning for that possibility. There's a difference of intention.

Hysteria watch

From Gwynne Dyer -
Zarqawi is the bogeyman that the United States Government blames for almost everything that has gone wrong in Iraq, but he does speak essentially the same language as President Bush.
The same language, right. Zarqawi kills people who are in favour of democracy, Bush supports democracy.

It's remarkable the depths of lunacy that this hatred of Bush takes people.

I missed Brash's speech

Too busy listening to my new album. They weren't at The Big Day Out. Maybe next year. One of them looks like a girl. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Looking for alternatives

Via Norman Geras, Four ideas for the left to redefine itself
One of the left's glories has been its tradition of heroic internationalism, still alive in the anti-globalization movement's insistence on workers' rights around the world... But when it comes to foreign policy these days, the left appears lost. I get depressed hearing friends sound like paleocon isolationists or watching them reflexively assume that there's something inherently tyrannical about the use of American power... Just as the left lacked a coherent position on what to do with murderous despots such as Milosevic and Saddam - it won't do to say, "They're bad, but..." The left now needs a position on how best to battle a Muslim ideology that, at bottom, despises all the freedoms we should be defending. America should be actively promoting the freedom of everyone on the planet, and the key question is, how would the left do it differently from the Bush administration?
How, indeed. I still vividly recall the left here in New Zealand calling Clinton's defence of Muslims in Bosnia "imperialism". They were saying the same things about Bosnia that they now say about Afghanistan and Iraq.

The overwhelming desire to demonise the US has lead much of the Left to turn their backs on those suffering under tyranny.

Voices of Iraq

Via Harry's Place, a film called Voices of Iraq.

The Pentagon's New Map

Kevin Drum reviews the book The Pentagon's New Map.

He's not convinced but not in total disagreement.

My opinion is that it is only the US that has the military wherewithal and motivation to deal with rogue regimes but it would be better to be doing this alongside the other "Core" countries (which is the case in most instances anyway - Iraq being the sole exception).

Monday, January 24, 2005

Iraqi election websites

Friends of Democracy promises
Ground level election news from the people of Iraq
There is also the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.

Or, if you think it's all US imperialism, there's always the Extreme Left or the Extreme Right, if you can tell them apart.

Beating up on Pinker

Ad hominem attacks on Steven Pinker have been a disturbing feature of liberal response to the Summers affair.

Speaking of Pinker's book The Blank Slate, Atrios says
...Pinker doesn't rely on peer-reviewed high level work by academic economists, but on right wing hack work.
Atrios admits to not having actually read the book. If he had he would have found that Pinker bases his views on hard science.

Many on the Left have taken exception to criticisms in the The Blank Slate of aspects of Left-wing thought that brought us the Gulags. But Pinker is equally, if not more so, hard on the Right.

If anyone still considers evolutionary psychology to be antithetical to Left/Liberal views then I recommend Peter Singer's book A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation.

Evolution and social policy

This remark by Kos is typical of a particular type of reaction to the Summers controversy -
I suppose it could be true or it could be false. I'm skeptical that actually knowing the answer, if it knowable, will really provide much benefit anyway. What effect would it have on social policy?
Consider, for example, the fact that boys are currently doing badly compared to girls at High School. This is a consequence of biology. Knowing this gives us the opportunity to intervene to redress the situation.

To present "perhaps we can't know" as an argument for not attempting to find out is remarkably short sighted.

The whole issue reflects the fact that for many liberals talk of innate sexual differences remains taboo and that anyone who has an interest in this area must be sexist or racist. But as Olivia Judson says in The New York Times
...there was a time not so long ago when I would have balked at the whole enterprise: the idea there might be intrinsic cognitive differences between men and women was one I found insulting. But science is a great persuader. The jackdaws and spoon worms have forced me to change my mind. Now I'm keen to know what sets men and women apart - and no longer afraid of what we may find.

The consequences of not having elections

is a consideration this Herald editorial doesn't take into account -

Election may trigger more chaos in Iraq

For those that do not want the election to take place they might ask themselves the following questions:

When should the elections take place?

Given that the current violence is aimed at stopping the elections, what guarantees are there that stopping the elections will lead to less violence?

What do you say to the majority of Iraqi political groups who want the elections to take place? Surely it is their decision.

What Bush is listening to

 Posted by Hello

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Liberals and Evolution - not close friends after all

Some liberal reaction to the Summers controversy has been telling. Crooked Timbers and PZ Myers make rather strange ad hominem attacks on Steven Pinker who had the temerity to argue
...shouldn't everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That's the difference between a university and a madrassa.
I find the degree of hostility this has provoked unnerving. Summers was suggesting the possibility of genetic differences contributing to the under-representation of women in some subjects. He also said that a major factor is sexual discrimination. Which all of the above critics choose to ignore.

Nowhere was Summers saying that under-representation was not a problem or that any genetic variance justified under-representation or failing to do anything about it. For his troubles he's been branded a chauvinist.

An example of how some liberals have as much trouble with evolution as some conservatives.

Democracy out of favour with the Left

Eric Hobsbawm on Democracy - If Bush is for it, I'm against it.

Lots of spare noses lying around next to spited faces.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The inauguration speech

Almost all of the commentary on Bush's speech has been mindlessly predictable. The Left didn't like it. The Right liked it. Surprise, surprise. We are at present lost in a sea of senseless, unthinking political tribalism.

Johann Hari is someone I often agree with and who cannot be written off as mindlessly pro- or anti-Bush. For that reason his take on the speech - Bush's talk of spreading freedom is a sugar-coated lie - has a credibility the usual (hysterical) criticism lacks.

I'm not 100% with him on this one, but it is food for thought.

Victory for PC thought police

Although I'm in general agreement with Jordan on the issue of Political Correctness, the stifling of debate by some on the left does occur from time to time, the latest being -

President of Harvard Tells Women's Panel He's Sorry
Dr. Georgi had e-mailed Dr. Summers earlier in the week, saying he thought that it had been a mistake for the Harvard president to speak as an intellectual provocateur during his remarks at the academic conference, forgetting that they would be interpreted as the beliefs of the university's leader.
I thought the role of Universities academics was to rock the boat, not tow the party line. It's disturbing when fellow academics are advising others not to be provocative.

For some the mere suggestion that biological differences are important is a crime. And this is coming from the liberal left, not the right.

But this issue does emphasise the impact on policy formation that evolution can have. An understanding of evolution leads to acknowledging that not all differences in achievement between the sexes can be explained by discrimination. And, as a corollary, attempts at redressing such inequality will need to take into account the ways in which the minds of men and women can differ.

The crushing of dissent

Harry's Place
There is a frequent refrain from the anti-war camp that their voice was not heard, that there is a crushing of dissent or a muffled self-censorship and that if only their appeal to truth and reason could be heard, well how different the world might be. We hear it in the UK and those of us who did not oppose the overthrow of Saddam but read the Guardian, the Independent and listen to the Today Programme have a little laugh.

But in fairness it is not only the anti-war crowd who adopt this position. It does seem to be a fashionable stance to take in politics that you belong to an unfairly ignored minority viewpoint. Conservative American blogs frequently present the notion that the liberal media is deliberately blocking out any good news from Iraq and never takes Bush's position seriously. If only people heard the other side of the story....

Friday lite blogging. Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sad news

Support for Iraqi labour movement

From Workers' Liberty -

Asking Stop The War which side it's on
We have to choose. If we take the negative cause of "giving the USA a bloody nose" as paramount, then we will see the militias to be the liberation movement, and the Iraqi trade unions to be outright "Quislings" or at best an unimportant group whose destruction, if regrettable, is a reasonable price to pay for the triumph of the liberation movement. If the positive causes of freedom and power for the Iraqi working class, and freedom and democracy for the peoples of Iraq, are paramount, then the Iraqi labour movement is the liberation movement, or the potential liberation movement, and we stand with it against the Islamists.

Makes sense to me

Should We Stay or Should We Go?
Ask Iraqi voters in a referendum six weeks after the national elections if they think foreign soldiers should withdraw immediately. Let the Iraqis debate what the absence of American forces will mean for their families and nation. Tell them we'll hold the referendum every nine months until they vote us out or we determine it's time to leave.

The US and Iran

Despite the predictably alarmist headline, this Independent piece is worth reading -

Why the hawks are circling over Iran

Given that there is no love lost between The Independent and Bush this analysis is interesting for its relative lack of anti-Bush rhetoric.

Iran, a repressive theocratic dictatorship, is a problem for the world not just for the US.

Condi appointed

Condoleezza Rice gets the job. She must be in the running for at least VP next elections. Just possibly Arnold could have the constitution changed so he could run. That would be some team. There would be nothing the Dems could do, maybe run Sean Penn. Ha.

Rice may be able to make significant contributions US diplomacy as Jonathon Freedman notes - is not delusional to hope that a new Bush could yet surface - one more like the probing, thoughtful homme sérieux described to Newsweek. The crucial witness here is the woman who appeared before the senate yesterday, Condoleezza Rice. She is no Colin Powell, but by placing such a close confidante at the state department, Bush has upgraded the status of diplomacy itself. Perhaps just as important, Rice's deputy is to be Bob Zoellick, a veteran of Bush's father's administration - and an old-style Republican internationalist à la James Baker. That could augur well for a more engaged, alliance-conscious approach to US foreign policy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Earth to George

Someone should tell George Monbiot about Michael Moore -
The US media is disciplined by corporate America into promoting the Republican cause

Hersh on Iran

Given that Kevin Drum is that last person to be seen defending Bush it is worth considering his reaction to Hersh's article on Bush's policy towards Iran.

His conclusion makes sense -
You can obviously make an argument that 9/11 profoundly changed the way we wage war, and you can also make an argument that laws passed three decades ago ought to be revisited and updated. But this is a debate we should be having loudly and publicly, not in back rooms and closed door briefings.
Points one and two I agree with and also that with point three "Hersh's sources for all this seem fairly thin".

No matter what one's opinion of Bush and the Iraq war the reality is that we are facing a theocratic dictatorship with nuclear weapon aspirations. There does not appear to be an easy solution and the last thing we should get into is another round of Bush bashing. Those that disagree with whatever policy Bush comes up with first need to have a realistic alternative.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Learning Science - applied Evopsych

Improving the Mathematics and Science Achievement of American Children: Psychology's Role
Basic psychological research related to mathematics and science education includes studies of the brain mechanisms that underlie basic numerical and arithmetical competencies; studies of the apparently inherent numerical abilities of human infants and their relation to the numerical abilities of primates and other species of animal; the cognitive processes that govern problem solving in arithmetic, mathematics and our understanding of the biological and physical world; and people's naive understanding of biological and physical phenomena.

Research in these basic science areas, among others, has provided a solid foundation for a growing body of research on the teaching and learning of mathematics and science. Psychologists throughout the country, indeed the world, are currently studying such things as how the representation of scientific information can influence learning in the biological and physical sciences (See Psychological Science and the Teaching of Scientific Concepts section); the use of multi-media presentations for facilitating the solving of mathematical word problems; the teaching practices that facilitate the learning and long-term retention of mathematical and scientific concepts; the ways in which anxiety about mathematics can disrupt problem solving; the cognitive, environmental, and genetic factors that contribute to the development of arithmetical learning disabilities; the development of children's valuation and beliefs about the importance of academic competencies, including mathematics; and the wider cultural and even evolutionary factors that influence children's motivation in learn in school, among many other topics.

Well adapted horse

About Town takes to task a local anti-evolutionist.

Intelligent Design is quite a clever Trojan horse.

Monday, January 17, 2005

What the Greens will be saying tomorrow

Now that the Green Party are seeking the paranoid left vote don't be surprised if we start hearing this sort of thing from them -

For Oil & Empire: Unanswered Questions about the Role of the U.S. Government on 9-11
Did officials of the U.S. government know ahead of time of plans to hijack these planes? Did they allow them to happen? There is growing evidence that U.S. government officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, made decisions before and during that morning indicating that they not only allowed the attacks to occur but facilitated them.
Yes, the US government allowed 9/11 to happen, may even have organised it. And the reason? Oil, of course.

Greens - Party of the Apocalypse

Jeanette Fitzsimons -
Peak oil is the reason for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Peak oil is the reason for the war on terrorism, designed to make us so afraid of being bombed by Islamic fundamentalists that we co-operate in the destruction of our own freedoms. And peak oil is the reason our government, in acquiescing to US fear-mongering over 9/11, has pursued legislation under which you may be imprisoned without charge or fair trial, you may have your assets seized without proof of guilt, and you may be denied information on what you are even accused of, and denied a passport in your own country.
Why on earth has the cause of environmentalism been hijacked by lunatics?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Green Party release album

 Posted by Hello

Science - under attack from both Right and Left

There is plenty of evidence of attacks on science education by the religious right, especially when it comes to evolution.

But the Left is also inclined to indulge in anti-science as Gene Expression notes -

Anti-Racist Multicultural Math

A school in Newton, Massachusetts introduced a new approach to maths teaching -

...the math curriculum was redesigned to emphasize "Newton's commitment to active anti-racist education" for the elementary and middle schools. This meant that no longer were division, multiplication, fractions and decimals the first priority for teaching math.
Needless to say students' maths scores plummeted.

Hobsbawm on Marx and Evolution

There are a number of aspects of Hobsbawm's In defence of history that I agree with such as his defence of history against post-modernism and relativism. But his views on how evolution can come to the aid of history are a little confused.

His statement on how the study of genes has supposedly put an end to sociobiology shows a very poor understanding of the entire field of evolution -
Firstly, DNA analysis has established a firmer chronology of the spread of the species from its original African origin throughout the world, before the appearance of written sources. This has both established the astonishing brevity of human history and eliminated the reductionist solution of neo-Darwinian socio-biology.
It's a nonsensical argument and, what's more, not true. Clearly Hobsbawm is not partial to evolutionary psychology. No surprise, most left-wing academics aren't. But this is an ideological point of view that he is unsuccessfully trying to shore-up by an appeal to DNA evidence of our past.

It is exactly the "brevity of human history" that is the basis for evolutionary psychology. There has not been enough time since the evolution of our brains, and hence our essential psychology, for major new adaptations to occur. We live in a modern world but with mental tools that evolved in different circumstances.

The "reductionist" allegation must be one of the more mindless and petty insults. No-one who has read anything in the field by such authors such as Dawkins or Pinker would bother with such a pathetic attack.

He is right when he says that our way of life has changed dramatically over the past 100,000 years through "...the accelerating inheritance of acquired characteristics..." through culture, but by opposing this with "...and not genetic mechanisms" he shows little understanding of how "culture" is itself the product of genetically determined abilities.

His central thesis
...the new evolutionary biology eliminates the distinction between history and the natural sciences and bypasses the bogus debates on whether history is or is not a science.
has a lot going for it but Hobsbawm's attitude is that Marxist historians can pick and choose which aspects of evolution to take notice of.

In essence Hobsbawm is still defending the Social Constructivist view that human nature is determined by society. But it's a good example of how it is not just some on the Right who have a problem with evolution.

There is a great deal of very interesting research going on in the field of evolutionary psychology on how genes influence our economic behavior. Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation is a good place to start.

A book well worth reading on historiographical issues is by New Zealander Jonathan Scott - England's Troubles. The book's also worth reading for its outline of the development of liberal thought during the seventeenth century.

(As an aside, I do have some sympathy for post-modernism. Discourse is about persuasion and peoples' persuasive (rhetorical) techniques include more than just a reliance on facts. People seek to use communication often in-order to convince others and hence arguments are generally embellished. Also, language is perfectly designed to deceive. Observe the language of any Shakespearian character. Communication is, to a degree, about power.)

Friday, January 14, 2005


The Swedish Option

I don't generally agree with George Monbiot, the anti-globalist stuff is not to my taste and this article spends too much time attacking Bush - Sweden proves neoliberals wrong about how to slash poverty.

But perhaps beneath the rhetoric is something of interest.

Dissent Magazine has a less over-cooked article on the same theme

How Sweden Tweaked the Washington Consensus

Election Watch

The Iraqi Communist Party is taking part in the up coming elections.

To intervene or not

Although Martin Woollacott is talking specifically about journalists some of what he says can be applied more broadly -
In the Middle East there are reporters who deplore the intervention in Iraq but demand that the United States put pressure on Israel: in effect to intervene there, or, in another interpretation, to reverse the intervention that, in the shape of support for Israel, has already taken place.

There are some who want intervention in both places, but none that I can see who want intervention in neither. Whether it is seen as benign or malign, Western and particularly American power, and how it should be used, or whether it should be used, are unavoidable factors in such stories. That is why foreign crisis reporters are interventionists as well as moralists.

New Bloggers

New bloggers Three Point TurnPosted by Hello

Hard to believe they never worked at bFM.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

One Left-wing point of view

Seumas Milne
They would do better to remind their friends that there can be no democracy without genuine sovereignty and self-determination. The only way to hold free and fair elections in Iraq - and draw the sting of mass resistance - is for the aggressor states to withdraw their forces and let the Iraqis run their own affairs.
Such a withdrawal would lead to, and it hardly takes much reasoning to see, the victory of secular and/or religious fascists.

Those elements aren't fighting for free and fair elections. Their goal is no elections, ever.

To oppose the war is a legitimate stand. To become a cheerleader for the enemies of liberal values is a strange place to be driven to by the mere hatred of Bush and Blair.

Seumas Milne is, disturbingly, the editor of The Guardian's comment section.

Another possible left-wing position is to accept that in an ideal world elections would take place without the presence of occupying forces but since we live in the real world we should accept that they cannot take place without them. And the quickest way to have them gone is by having an elected government.

Spot the difference

Worker Bees and Soldier Ants: America’s Army of Fascism
Conditioned War Culture, Dumbed-Down Education
America as a Perversion of European Culture
Why did the USA become a warmonger?

US Aid

U.S. aid agency financing Israel-Gaza water pipeline
The United States government is financing construction of a water pipeline from Israel to the Gaza Strip to provide water for 150,000 Palestinians, U.S. aid officials said Wednesday in a statement.

The Christian Right's actual influence

One of the few areas where the Christian Right actually does have an influence on Bush's policies is in the area of reproductive rights.

Reason has a piece on how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is preventing the over the counter sale of the morning-after contraceptive levonorgestrel -

Abort Plan B!

Unionists under threat in Iraq

The Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions is reporting on
Strike Action by Railway Workers in Basra -
The strike began as a result of the previously reported attacks on Transport workers ... including the recent kidnapping of 7 train drivers and the beating and harassment of others by criminals, terrorists and brigands.

No Death Squads

It was all in the minds of the News Week writers - Maybe No Death Squads After All

United Future releases album. Posted by Hello

A Quiet Night In

That's the title of a digital feature film I was involved with last year.

Saw the first rough edit last night. It's come together really well. Final sound mix will be done in London and then will be entered into the various film festivals starting with NZ.

A Quiet Night In

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

When genes are significant

A useful question to ask as regards the relationship between genes and the mind is in what circumstances is it useful to to consider the influence of genes.

At the level of individual responsibility No Right Turn sums it up -
...we are meaningfully free despite the fact that our brains are deterministic and therefore our actions are ultimately caused by events beyond our control; we are free insofar as our actions stem from our beliefs and desires. It's about ownership...
(In some ways this is reminiscent of the radical freedom of existentialism - we are free of class and biology).

But because genetic influence is statistical in nature their influence becomes important at the level of groups rather than the individual. And at that level an understanding of how genes effect psychology can play a positive role in the development of public policy on such issues as gambling, drug addiction, positive discrimination etc.

Also, in terms of understanding Why People Are Often Not Very Pleasant, genetics gives a far better account than traditional political and religious explanations.


Via Harry's Place, a homage to Bowie's Starman.

I can't think of a witty caption for this one. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Israeli control of US continues

Death Squads

I've just read the News Week story causing a bit of a stir -
"The Salvador Option".

It's hard to work out from the article what exactly is going on, it's mostly supposition. The comparison with death squads of 1980's Central America seems entirely to be the making of the authors.

Probably the reality lies somewhere between uncritical support and uncritical opposition.

All that can be said is that at present there appears to be some discussion within the US military about counter-insurgency methods. Given that the US is fighting religious and secular fascists who torture and kill unionists and aim to prevent the development of democracy it seems sensible to consider options.

War, Peace and Primates

With all the debate on War and Peace at present it's worth reading Gene Expression's post Primitive Warfare
"peaceful prestate societies were very rare; warfare between them was very frequent, and most adult men in such groups saw combat repeatedly in a lifetime. In fact, primitive warfare was much more deadly than that conducted between civilized states because of the greater frequency of combat and the more merciless way it was conducted"
It's often been said that the Nation State was constructed for the explicit purpose of enabling warfare. I think that it's the other way round. Although Nation States do undertake war, life would be far more lethal without them.

Guardian revamp

Via Norman Geras, John Lloyd looks at changes taking place at The Guardian.


It looks possible that Mahmoud Abbas may become the Gerry Adams of Palestinian nationalism.

If the Israeli insistence that Abbas deal with militants seems unreasonable, it's worth bearing in mind that for the removal of Israeli settlements to occur, Sharon will have to continue to confront Israeli extremists . One Israeli Prime Minister has already been assassinated by that element.


Of all the socialist revolutions it was only Cuba that could claim to have fulfilled any of the promise to create a better world. At a time when the rest of Central and South America, under the umbrella of the US, was mired in poverty, Cuba established health and education services that really did improve the condition of the everyday person.

It's possible to argue that Cuba may not have degenerated into what it has become today had the US not been hostile to Castro's government from the very start. And possible to argue that a less hostile approach now would enable a smoother transition to democracy. (I'm not completely convinced - Castro set himself up as ruler for life and much of what followed arose from that).

But I find Malcolm McAllister and Miguel Ramirez overly keen to defend as system that has failed.

One more point on altruism

Personal sacrifice for the common good does occur. But that not necessarily lead to good consequences. Plenty of fanatical Germans sacrificed themselves for what they considered to be the common good - the Nazi Party and a Greater Germany. One could argue that humans have an unhealthy predisposition towards altruism, especially when combined with another instinct - tribal loyalty.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Brian Tamaki's favorite album. Posted by Hello

Geology website for Tsunami

The US Geological Survey has a web site for the Sumatran earthquake & tsunami.

The Evolution of Selflessness

The Enlightened Caveman links to this book -

Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment which has the dust jacket quote -
"If the genes of the self-serving are more likely to be perpetuated in succeeding generations, how it is that so many of us forgo self-interest in order to honor our commitments, devote large parts of our lives to the quest for knowledge, defending animal rights, human rights, or remaining true to a cause past reason? We humans routinely behave better than conventional evolutionary theory predicts we should. Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment resolves this paradox and in doing so, extends sociobiological theory to more fully encompass idiosyncrasies of the human heart. This is a revelatory book that carries us beyond premature conclusion about innate selfishness that, if accepted, erode human relationships based on any other premise. Any one looking for a rigorous alternative to Darwin's 'universal acid,' should read this book."

---Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
Hrdy is well worth reading in her own right.

Philosophy, et cetera, No Right Turn and GeniusNZ have more on this issue.

I don't agree with Philosophy, et cetera's distinction between Biology and Psychology. Although it is wrong to ascribe psychological motives to genes, it is our biology that provides the foundation of the cognitive abilities of belief, desire and motivation. Individuals can, and often do, have different goals from those of their genes but that does not mean that our psychology is free from their influence.

One cognitive ability essential for altruism to take place is what is call the Theory of Mind - the ability to perceive that someone else has a different world view. This mental ability appears quite early on in development, perhaps as early as 14 months. It is thought that autism is the result of a malfunction of this ability.

The Theory of Mind ability is recursive and quickly becomes very demanding of one's cognitive abilities as the Three Dirty Faces Problem shows (taken from an earlier blog):

Three young siblings, Alice, Sue and Bob, all turn up at home, after playing separately, with dirty faces.

Each does not know and cannot determine if their own face is clean or dirty but can see that the other two have dirty faces. (They do not talk or otherwise communicate with each other and there is nothing tricky like mirrors on the wall etc).

Their mother enters the room and says: "Not all your faces are clean" (Or, if you prefer, "Some of your faces are dirty").

The mother then asks "Put your hand up if you know your face is dirty".

How many times does she ask this same question before they all put their hands up?

Once you see that this is actually a valid question it becomes very intriguing and/or annoying.

One way of approaching the problem is to think of, for example, what Alice might think that Bob might think that Sue thinks. I couldn't work it out that way, it just gave me a headache. Its somewhat easier to start with less people and work up.

Bill's early days

From Normblog
From a profile of Germaine Greer: 'Once she gave a lecture at Oxford, arguing that the female orgasm was not only a facet of gender tyranny but was also vastly overrated. A male student raised his hand. "About that overrated orgasm," he drawled. "Won't you give a Southern boy another chance?" The speaker was a young Rhodes scholar called Bill Clinton.'

Buchanan on Arab reaction to Tsunami

Although I agree with the general thesis of Paul Buchanan's Tsunami Political Victims: How It Swamped al Qaeda, he gets it wrong when he says -
Virtually the entire Arab world, including the richest oil monarchies and secular states, is nowhere to be seen, either financially or in terms of material support.
Juan Cole has details of Arab contributions to relief efforts.

Russell's strange bed-fellows

Someone should let Russell Brown know that is a right-wing isolationist site that
opposed US and NATO action against Milosevic.

Their opposition to action against Saddam is consistent with their fringe right views.

New EvoPsych blog

Israel threat to Palestinian elections

That's the headline for this article in The Indepedent which concludes with
...[election] monitors had been withdrawn from the Khan Yunis area of southern Gaza after reports that two Spanish journalists had been kidnapped by a group of Palestinians in the area and taken away in a car.

Israeli control of US continues

Cohen on changing times

Cowards of the left
Times when old certainties fall apart are unsettling. They force people to decide what they believe in: Do you want priests to be able to control 'their' people? Are you for fascism? If you answer 'no' to both questions, you will undoubtedly find when the battle is joined that you will have to spend as much time fighting the left as the right.

Monday reading

A recent survey of Iraqi women -
The first survey of Iraqi women since the outbreak of the war was released today by Women for Women International, one of the few non-governmental organizations remaining in Baghdad. The groundbreaking survey paints a vivid and even surprising portrait of Iraqi women in transition and dispels the prevailing notion that women believe tradition, customs or religion should limit their participation in the formation of a new Iraqi government.
Left-wing Iraqi politics - People’s Unity List

Friday, January 07, 2005

Another great Sydney eccentric

 Posted by Hello

Bee Miles doing what she did best - annoying taxi drivers.

The Witch of King's Cross was a kiwi

When I lived in Sydney a friend used to tell me stories about the eccentrics that used to live around the King's Cross area. One was Rosaleen Norton, born in Dunedin. Fantastic, really.


More fringe Left madness

Indymedia -
It seems very convenient that the epicenter of the earthquake was in war torn Aceh. Could a bomb or series of bombs on the faultline have caused this huge earthquake/tsunami?

Ramsey Clark to defend Saddam

Harry's Place reports that Ramsey Clark will help defend Saddam Hussein.

Clark is a co-founder of ANSWER, a Stalinist group that organised anti-war marches in the US, so it makes sense. He's also sympathetic to Slobodan Milosevic, which also makes sense.

Al Jazeera

In Slate -

Al Jazeera says Saddam never gassed the Kurds.

I seem to recall Al Jazeera being touted as some sort of antidote to the Evil US Media.

Le Monde joins the queue

Belgravia Dispatch details how Le Monde has jumped on the kick-the-US-over-the-tsunami bandwagon.
Rather than commend the U.S., if just for a moment in the midst of this immense tragedy, Le Monde's journalists and cartoonists prefer to insinuate that the U.S. has nefarious motives in Indonesia, or make crude fun of the difficulties in Iraq having 'prepared' us for Indonesia's blight.

Lie detectors for sex offenders

The Independent is reporting that the British Government is considering requiring sex offenders face lie-detector tests upon release -
Sex offenders living in the community are to take compulsory lie-detector tests after a study found 85 per cent were reoffending or breaching parole, or had failed polygraph tests.
One of the few points in United Future's law and order policy that made any sense was chemical castration for sex offenders. Lie detectors would be an extra safeguard.

Legolas Pound

Simon Pound draws a rather long bow aimed at Oz.

I'm not convinced. Most of the aid that goes to Indonesia will be to the Aceh region which is seeking autonomy from the central government. Oz Foreign Minister Downer has made it clear that they specifically want it not to go into the Indonesian government central coffers. Hardly currying favour.

Also, it is unclear what proportion of the aid will go to other countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka. (UPDATE - it seems that the $1billion is just for Indonesia).

Howard's government must surely be calculating that such aid will bring political benefits and Oz's dealings with East Timor over oil have left a lot to be desired but it's a bit simplistic to argue that it's all about oil.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

More fringe Left madness

This time from Scoop contributor Michel Chossudovsky -
Foreknowledge of A Natural Disaster: Washington was aware that a deadly Tidal Wave was building up in the Indian Ocean
Apparently the evil US knew about the tidal wave, may even have known about the earthquake before it occurred, and deliberately didn't tell anyone.

He also complains about the US military involvement in the relief effort. Of course that's why the US allowed all this to happen - to expand The Empire.

Blumenthal's bile

Sidney Blumenthal joins the queue of those whose first reaction to the tsunami is to attack their political foes.

Blumenthal is long on allegation and short on proof. Meanwhile the evil Powell is on the ground actually doing something.

His characterisation of Paul Wolfowitz as an enemy of democracy is grossly misleading as one can see from this piece in Slate
In the early '70s, as a young Defense Department hand, he rallied conservatives against détente, arguing that the untrustworthy Soviets would exploit any American softness. He has preached for democracy on occasions when a Kissingerian would not. As ambassador to Indonesia in the late '80s, he lectured the dictator Suharto and his lackeys on the need for political openness. He pressed for democracy in the Philippines rather than blindly backing a pro-U.S. dictator.
Strangely, he belittles his former boss Clinton by portraying him as Bush's pawn. Clinton, being the consummate politician, has played his hand far better, avoiding the cheap shots.

"Their homophobia is our fault"

In The Guardian -

Real liberals would realise it is meaningless to vilify Jamaicans for attitudes that Britain created
Many Jamaicans are not homophobic, but the prevailing attitude to gays is ignorant and sometimes violent. But the fact remains that of all Jamaica's injustices and deprivations, homophobia cannot be singled out as uniquely intolerable. Although activists are right to campaign about it, it's wrong for public opinion to seize on the issue with no thought for political context.
A "context" for homophobia? Priceless nonsense.

No learnin' some

The Nation is still taking Michael Moore seriously.

Condi will be pleased.

Fringe Left on the Tsunami

Did New York Orchestrate The Asian Tsunami?
Despite a natural human tendency to be shocked into silence by the sheer number of dead and injured across Asia on 26 December 2004, and despite also being slightly fearful of losing personal credibility because of the magnitude of the apparent crime, there are many provable irregularities in the official American tsunami story that simply have to be recorded now, or forever be lost in the sands of time.
Check the following web page and serach for Vialls, author of the above - Mossad controls US Government.

Iraqi unionist murdered

John Pilger's mates in the Iraqi "resistance" have murdered Hadi Salih, international officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.

The lack of solidarity with Iraqi democrats shown by the Western Left doesn't compare very well with the sympathy for fascist thugs that is sadly more common.

Still, it's all in the name of fighting The Empire.

The problem with Altruism

Given the overwhelming generosity being shown at present by some members of our species to others, Philosophy, et cetera's consideration of altruism is timely -

Selfish Selflessness?

In evolutionary terms the problem of altruism has largely been dealt with through dividing the issue up into two -

1. Inclusive Fitness. People are inclined to help relatives since they are likely to carry similar genes.

2. Reciprocal Altruism. With non-relatives helping others is a reciprocal process where one good turn deserves another. For this we have developed innate mental abilities, such as cheater detection, to enforce the social contracts involved.

Neither form of altruism comes cheap. For reciprocal altruism to work it requires us to be a highly moralistic and judgmental species.

One related issue is being seen to be altruistic. There are social points to be scored from appearing to be selfless. But appearances can be deceptive.

Difficulties with aid

On CNN last night there was an interview with an aid expert which was very informative.

Essentially it was about the difficulties associated with relief efforts such as the one underway now.

Although food is a problem at present, the rice growing infrastructure of effected areas has not been hard hit. An influx of free rice in the form of aid has the potential to undermine local rice growers.

The small businesses that have been effected would mostly have been financed at a very local level with loans of not more than $100 and not often from the banking system. Getting those businesses back up and running requires working in with this micro-economic level which requires a good knowledge of local conditions.

This is worth bearing in mind when people are tempted to criticise the UN or donor countries very being slow. Acting hastily may not be the best approach.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Same old Alliance

Things don't appear to have changed much over at The Alliance. Still the same old obsession with Israel - Jews Against the Occupation.

I can't see them ever becoming serious representatives of the working class. They always come across like middle class Uni students on their way to some anti-American demo.

International Humanitarism

A timely and well thought out piece by Hilary Benn, UK Secretary of State for International Development -

Reform of the International Humanitarian System.

US military in Aceh

The US military presence in Aceh as part of the disaster relief effort may have some positive spin off in terms of the long running conflict between insurgents and the Indonesian military - Indonesia's friction with US forgotten in race to help.

While I'm not keen to romanticise the Aceh insurgents as warm and fuzzy freedom fighters, the Indonesian military don't have a very good record. The presence of US troops in this region may lead to some progress towards a settlement.

Local paranoids make the big time

Local paranoid-left site Scoop get's a mention in Slate.

Scoop's editors are convinced that last year's election was AMERICAN COUP II.

creepy politicking

Russell Brown accurately sums up some conservative responses to the tsunami aid issue as creepy politicking but can't resist doing much the same himself.

Apparently there are some weirdo Christian groups in the US with strange ideas about God's justice. Who would have guessed. Well, the US must be evil. And why pass up the opportunity to have a crack at Bush?

Russell's comment
The angry right's squalling about an alleged catastrophic failure by the UN appears to be based (surprise!) on ideology,
Could just as easily read
The angry left's squalling about an alleged catastrophic failure by the US appears to be based (surprise!) on ideology,
Check out the Fascist Left, via the Creepy Left.

It's fair enough to point out that some on the Right have not come out of this too well. But this is also true of the Left. And aren't the Left supposed to be the good guys?

Maybe some conservative Christian web sites have not featured the tsunami as much as others think they should, but maybe having one's heart in the right place does not necessarily mean having it on one's sleeve.

By Russell's logic both The Alliance and Green parties are guilty of the same crime since at the time of writing this blog their web sites had nothing on the tsunami.

Sick reactions to the tsunami haven't been restricted to the lunatic Christian fringe -
These great tragedies and collective punishments that are wiping out villages, towns, cities, and even entire countries, are Allah's punishments of the people of these countries, even if they are Muslims.
from sheik Fawzan Al-Fawzan.

I think most reasonable people would refrain from making harsh judgments about Mulsims in general.

A poor excuse for pushing barrows

There are some on the Left and Right who are unable to restrain themselves from using the misfortune of others to push their own political agenda.

David Aaronovitch outlines how some on the Right have used the tsunami to attack the UN -

Why the UN needs International Rescue

And meanwhile on the Left poor old George Moonbat uses the tsunami to attack Bush and Blair -

The victims of the tsunami pay the price of war on Iraq

Monday, January 03, 2005

What I learnt on my holidays

The code of behaviour for helicopter deer hunting includes the shooter having to jump if asked to in-order to prevent a crash. At any altitude.

The code of behavior for pig hunting includes the requirement to kill the pig with a knife rather than, more safely, with a gun.

It wasn't even an Australian wine

Seen on label of a rather inexpensive bottle of sparkling wine -
This wine has been clarified the natural way using dairy and fish products. Traces may remain.
Gives new meaning to the recommendation "goes well with fish".