Quotulatiousness

September 4, 2015

Slate: Testosterone changes the brain

Filed under: Europe, Health, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Perhaps it’s not just a social construct after all:

However much we’d like to think of gender as a social construct, science suggests that real differences do exist between female and male brains. The latest evidence: a first-of-its-kind European study that finds that the female brain can be drastically reshaped by treating it with testosterone over time.

Research has shown that women have the advantage when it comes to memory and language, while men tend to have stronger spatial skills (though this too has been disputed). But due to ethical restrictions, no study had been able to track the direct effect that testosterone exposure has on the brain — until now. Using neuroimaging, Dutch and Austrian researchers found that an increase in this potent hormone led to shrinkage in key areas of the female (transitioning to male) brain associated with language. They presented their findings at last week’s annual meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Amsterdam.

The Western Front Awakens – The Tsar Takes Over I THE GREAT WAR – Week 58

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 3 Sep 2015

The Western Front has been relatively quiet the whole summer while the Russians were on their Big Retreat. The French and British generals have been busy trying to find a new strategy to overcome the stalemate. The Germans weren’t sitting idle while awaiting the next big French offensive, they fortified their positions even using concrete. At the same time in the East, Tsar Nicholas II personally takes over military command and fires Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich for the catastrophic casualties the Russian Army faced this summer. But his timing could not be worse.

September 3, 2015

Reparations for India’s colonial period?

Filed under: Britain, History, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Time, Shikha Dalmia explains why India may not want to cuddle up too closely to the idea of getting reparations from the UK:

Indian politician and celebrated novelist Shashi Tharoor caused a mini-sensation late last month when he went before the Oxford Union, a debating society in England’s prestigious eponymous university, and argued that Britain needed to give India reparations for “depredations” caused by two centuries of colonial rule. It was a virtuoso performance — almost pitch perfect in substance and delivery — that handily won him the debate in England and made him a national hero at home.

But the most eloquent point that emerged in the debate is one he didn’t make: While Brits are grappling with their sordid past by, say, holding such debates, Indians are busy burying theirs in a cheap feel-goodism.

Colonialism, without a doubt, is an awful chapter in human history. And Tharoor did a brilliant job of debunking the standard argument of Raj apologists that British occupation did more good than harm because it gave India democracy and the rule of law. (This is akin to American whites who argued after the Civil War that blacks had nothing to complain about because — as the Chicago Tribune editorialized — in exchange for slavery, they were “taught Christian civilization and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish.”)

[…]

Reparations make sense when it is still possible to identify the individual victims of political or social violence. But if paying collective reparations for collective guilt is appropriate, then how about India “atoning” for thousands of years of its caste system? This system has perpetrated “depredations” arguably worse than those of colonialism or apartheid against India’s dalits — or untouchables — and other lower castes. And despite what Hindu denialists claim, this system remains an endemic part of everyday life in many parts of India. Indeed, much like the Jim Crow south, local village councils even today severely punish inter-caste mingling and marriage, even issuing death sentences against young men and women who dare marry outside their caste.

None of this is meant to single out India. Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French philosopher, who visited America in the early 19th Century, expressed astonishment at how Americans could blithely both claim to love liberty and defend slavery without any sense of contradiction. Every civilization has its stock of virtues and vices, ideals and transgressions. Moral progress requires each to constantly parse its history and present to measure how far it has come and how far it must go to bridge the gap between its principles and practices.

September 2, 2015

Seattle is considering implementing rent control

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle on the things Seattle may learn — painfully — if they fail to heed the experiences of other cities that have implemented rent control:

So I see that Seattle is considering rent control. For a columnist who covers economic issues, this is a little bit like hearing that residents are debating how big to make the reet pleats on their zoot suits. It’s hard to get economists to agree on much of anything, but as Alex Tabarrok notes, this is an area of rare consensus among economists: Rent control creates more problems than it solves.

If you want a vivid example of what those problems look like, you can do no better than a letter written by a resident of Stockholm to the good citizens of Seattle, quoted by Tabarrok: “Seattle, you need to ask your citizens this: How would citizens like it if they walked into a rental agency and the agent told them to register and come back in 10 years? … Stockholm City Council now has an official housing queue, where 1 day waiting = 1 point. To get an apartment you need both money for the rent and enough points to be the first in line. Recently an apartment in inner Stockholm became available. In just 5 days, 2000 people had applied for the apartment. The person who got the apartment had been waiting in the official housing queue since 1989!”

Now, Stockholm is extreme. But the general effect always goes in the same direction. Rent control creates two classes of tenants: people who have the right to rent at below-market rates, and renters who would like to get a long-term lease on an apartment, but cannot, or must pay through the nose for a limited number of uncontrolled properties. Meanwhile, landlords let the quality of the existing stock decline and become very reluctant to build new housing that they can’t make a profit on.

This is not some sort of arcane secret that has not reached the policy analysts in our nation’s fair metropolises. They’re well aware of what rent control does. So why is it ever on the table?

Guardian writer: Terry Pratchett was a “mediocrity”

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonathan Jones lets all of Terry Pratchett’s fans know that they’re idiots for liking such a mediocre writer of “potboilers”:

It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.

No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.

I don’t mean to pick on this particular author, except that the huge fuss attending and following his death this year is part of a very disturbing cultural phenomenon. In the age of social media and ebooks, our concept of literary greatness is being blurred beyond recognition. A middlebrow cult of the popular is holding literature to ransom. Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. There was far less of an internet splurge when Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014 and Günter Grass this spring. Yet they were true titans of the novel. Their books, like all great books, can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions. Everyone reads trash sometimes, but why are we now pretending, as a culture, that it is the same thing as literature? The two are utterly different.

But, despite never having read a single one, he’s willing to share his amazingly brilliant insight with us ignorant, barely literate troglodytes. What a prince! We should all feel honoured and all that if he’s condescended enough to point out our collective failings, shouldn’t we?

The communal WitchFinder

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jonathan Foreman on the social media witch hunt that crashed Tim Hunt’s career and reputation:

In 1983, the British biochemist Timothy Hunt discovered cyclins, a family of proteins that help regulate the life of cells. Eighteen years later, in 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Between June 8 and June 10 of this year, the 72-year-old Hunt went from being a universally respected and even beloved figure at the top of the scientific establishment to an instant pariah, condemned everywhere for antiquated opinions about women’s role in science that he does not, in fact, hold.

In only 48 hours, he found himself compelled to resign his positions at University College London and at the august Royal Society (where Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke once fought petty battles) after being told that failure to do so would lead to his outright firing.

The Timothy Hunt affair represents more than the gratuitous eye-blink ruination of a great man’s reputation and career. It demonstrates the danger of the extraordinary, almost worshipful deference that academia, government institutions, and above all the mainstream media now accord to social media. It is yet more evidence of the way moral panic and (virtual) mob rule can be accelerated and intensified by the minimalism of Twitter, with its 140-character posts and its apparently inherent tendency to encourage snap judgments, prejudice, and cruelty.

Fortunately, the story did not end on June 10. In the weeks following the initial assault, some of Hunt’s most ardent persecutors have been exposed as liars or blinkered ideologues, abetted by cynical hacks and academic rivals on a quest to bring him down or use him as grist to a political mill. Hunt’s partial rehabilitation has largely come about thanks to the dogged investigations of Louise Mensch, the British novelist and former conservative member of parliament who lives in New York City and is herself a powerful presence on Twitter. Mensch was alarmed by what she calls ‘the ugly combination of bullying and sanctimony” in the reaction to remarks made by “an evidently sweet and kind” older man.

She did some checking on Twitter and soon found that the two main witnesses for the prosecution contradicted each other. Then she began a more thorough investigation of Hunt’s offending comments and the lack of due process involved in his punishment by various academic and media institutions. The results of her exhaustive research, published on her blog, Unfashionista.com, encouraged an existing groundswell of support for Hunt from scientists around the world but most important from Hunt’s own female colleagues and former students.

September 1, 2015

French Pistols of World War 1 featuring Othais from C&RSENAL I THE GREAT WAR – Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 31 Aug 2015

The next live event will be on September 3 6pm CET. Othais will introduce us to German rifles and pistols. You can already find a few episodes about them online on his channel: http://bit.ly/OthaisChannel

This is the 2nd part of our special episodes on French small arms of WW1 and how they were used in battle. Othais explains the problems of manufacturing pistols like the Ruby Mle 1915 on a big scale. The French “Lebel revolver” also known as Model 1892 has a few interesting features like being a single action and a double action revolver at the same time. Particularly, the unusual reloading mechanism has a fascinating military history.

Byzantine Empire: Justinian and Theodora – VI: Fighting for Rome – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Jul 2015

Belisarius has only just taken Neapolis when the king of the Ostrogoths is overthrown. The new king, Vitiges, withdraws from Rome entirely to consolidate his power, allowing Belisarius to take Rome without a fight. But after Vitiges gathers his troops, he marches to retake Rome. He springs a surprise attack on Belisarius at the Salarian Bridge, which the Roman general barely escapes. Now he must survive in a city under siege, invening ship mills to continue producing the grain that feeds the city and training the civilians as soldiers. He holds off the Ostrogoths until reinforcements from Justinian arrive. After an indecisive battle, he agrees to a truce with Vitiges, which gives him time to position his troops. When the Ostrogoths break the truce, Belisarius is ready for them and crushes their force to drive them finally out of Rome.

August 31, 2015

Brendan O’Neill | Freedom of Speech and Right to Offend | Proposition

Filed under: Britain, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Aug 2015

The Motion: This House Believes the Right to Free Speech Always Includes the Right to Offend.

Debate speaker 1 of 6. Watch all the speakers for this debate in order of appearance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtWrl…

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked Online and a columnist for The Australian and The Big Issue.

ABOUT THE OXFORD UNION SOCIETY: The Union is the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 192 years, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.

H/T to Samizdata for the link.

August 30, 2015

QotD: The debatable Vosges

Filed under: Europe, History, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Having completed to our satisfaction the Black Forest, we journeyed on our wheels through Alt Breisach and Colmar to Münster; whence we started a short exploration of the Vosges range, where, according to the present German Emperor, humanity stops. Of old, Alt Breisach, a rocky fortress with the river now on one side of it and now on the other — for in its inexperienced youth the Rhine never seems to have been quite sure of its way, — must, as a place of residence, have appealed exclusively to the lover of change and excitement. Whoever the war was between, and whatever it was about, Alt Breisach was bound to be in it. Everybody besieged it, most people captured it; the majority of them lost it again; nobody seemed able to keep it. Whom he belonged to, and what he was, the dweller in Alt Breisach could never have been quite sure. One day he would be a Frenchman, and then before he could learn enough French to pay his taxes he would be an Austrian. While trying to discover what you did in order to be a good Austrian, he would find he was no longer an Austrian, but a German, though what particular German out of the dozen must always have been doubtful to him. One day he would discover that he was a Catholic, the next an ardent Protestant. The only thing that could have given any stability to his existence must have been the monotonous necessity of paying heavily for the privilege of being whatever for the moment he was. But when one begins to think of these things one finds oneself wondering why anybody in the Middle Ages, except kings and tax collectors, ever took the trouble to live at all.

For variety and beauty, the Vosges will not compare with the hills of the Schwarzwald. The advantage about them from the tourist’s point of view is their superior poverty. The Vosges peasant has not the unromantic air of contented prosperity that spoils his vis-a-vis across the Rhine. The villages and farms possess more the charm of decay. Another point wherein the Vosges district excels is its ruins. Many of its numerous castles are perched where you might think only eagles would care to build. In others, commenced by the Romans and finished by the Troubadours, covering acres with the maze of their still standing walls, one may wander for hours.

The fruiterer and greengrocer is a person unknown in the Vosges. Most things of that kind grow wild, and are to be had for the picking. It is difficult to keep to any programme when walking through the Vosges, the temptation on a hot day to stop and eat fruit generally being too strong for resistance. Raspberries, the most delicious I have ever tasted, wild strawberries, currants, and gooseberries, grow upon the hill-sides as black-berries by English lanes. The Vosges small boy is not called upon to rob an orchard; he can make himself ill without sin. Orchards exist in the Vosges mountains in plenty; but to trespass into one for the purpose of stealing fruit would be as foolish as for a fish to try and get into a swimming bath without paying. Still, of course, mistakes do occur.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

August 28, 2015

The Battle of Hill 60 – Lunatic Persistence in Gallipoli I THE GREAT WAR – Week 57

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 27 Aug 2015

Peter Hart described the state of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 as “lunatic persistence in the face of the obvious” – and the Battle of Hill 60 proved just that. Outgunned and with a lack of artillery support, the battle was one of the bloodiest days on the peninsular near Constantinople. The Ottoman capital was still out of reach for the Entente to capture. Meanwhile, the war spread to the Indian border region and on the Western and Eastern Front the carnage continued in the air and on ground.

Google and the (bullshit) European “right to be forgotten”

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick points and laughs at a self-described consumerist organization’s attempt to force Google to apply EU law to the rest of the world, by way of an FTC complaint:

If you want an understanding of my general philosophy on business and economics, it’s that companies should focus on serving their customers better. That’s it. It’s a very customer-centric view of capitalism. I think companies that screw over their customers and users will have it come back to bite them, and thus it’s a better strategy for everyone if companies focus on providing good products and services to consumers, without screwing them over. And, I’m super supportive of organizations that focus on holding companies’ feet to the fire when they fail to live up to that promise. Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) is really fantastic at this kind of thing, for example. Consumer Watchdog, on the other hand, despite its name, appears to have very little to do with actually protecting consumers’ interests. Instead, it seems like some crazy people who absolutely hate Google, and pretend that they’re “protecting” consumers from Google by attacking the company at every opportunity. If Consumer Watchdog actually had relevant points, that might be useful, but nearly every attack on Google is so ridiculous that all it does is make Consumer Watchdog look like a complete joke and undermine whatever credibility the organization might have.

In the past, we’ve covered an anti-Google video that company put out that contained so many factual errors that it was a complete joke (and was later revealed as nothing more than a stunt to sell some books). Then there was the attempt to argue that Gmail was an illegal wiretap. It’s hard to take the organization seriously when it does that kind of thing.

Its latest, however, takes the crazy to new levels. John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s resident “old man yells at cloud” impersonator, recently filed a complaint with the FTC against Google. In it, he not only argues that Google should offer the “Right to be Forgotten” in the US, but says that the failure to do that is an “unfair and deceptive practice.” Really.

As you know by now, since an EU court ruling last year, Google has been forced to enable a right to be forgotten in the EU, in which it will “delink” certain results from the searches on certain names, if the people argue that the links are no longer “relevant.” Some in the EU have been pressing Google to make that “right to be forgotten” global — which Google refuses to do, noting that it would violate the First Amendment in the US and would allow the most restrictive, anti-free speech regime in the world to censor the global internet.

But, apparently John Simpson likes censorship and supporting free speech-destroying regimes. Because he argues Google must allow such censorship in the US. How could Google’s refusal to implement “right to be forgotten” possibly be “deceptive”? Well, in Simpson’s world, it’s because Google presents itself as “being deeply committed to privacy” but then doesn’t abide by a global right to be forgotten. Really.

August 27, 2015

The plight of the Calais migrants

At sp!ked, Brendan O’Neill talks about the situation in Calais between the migrants who want to enter the UK and the government that very much wants them to stay on the other side of the Channel:

What’s worse: treating people like animals or referring to them in animal-like language? Most normal people would say the former. Actions speak louder than words, after all. To treat someone as less than human — by denying them their rights, caging them, beating them — has a direct detrimental impact on their individual autonomy and everyday lives. In contrast, comparing someone to an animal, through your choice of words, is just unpleasant; it doesn’t physically hold that individual back. Sticks and stones can seriously impede our ability to live freely; words can only make us feel bad (if we let them).

Yet in the morally inverted world of political correctness, where speaking in the clipped morals of the new clerisy is the key and hollow duty of every citizen, words are more important than behaviour. You’re judged on how you express yourself, not on what you believe, or what you do. Take Swarmgate, the media fury over British PM David Cameron’s use of the word ‘swarm’ to refer to those few thousand migrants in Calais who long to come to Britain. When Cameron was talking about sending soldiers and barbed wire and dogs to keep these aspirant Brits out of Britain, the self-styled guardians of public decency — the Twitterati, liberal editorialists, Labourites — said little, except perhaps that he should do it more quickly. Yet as soon as he referred to the migrants as a ‘swarm of people’, these Good People became pained: they banged their fists on tables, spilt their tea, went on the telly.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the inhumanity of political correctness, which bats not one eyelid when 5,000 human beings are reduced to the level of animals, yet which becomes wide-eyed with anger when their animal-like status is mentioned in polite society. ‘Treat them like shit, just don’t use shitty language while you do it’ — that’s the glorious motto of the PC.

Right now, nothing better captures PC’s Kafkaesque levels of dishonesty and censorious linguistic trickery than Swarmgate. This controversy has exposed that many influential people now mistake politeness for morality, linguistic temperance for decency. So it was that Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party, could go on TV and rail against Cameron for using that s-word and then in her very next breath call on him to do more to prevent these migrants from getting to Britain. ‘He should remember he’s talking about people and not insects’, she said. Then, in mere seconds, without embarrassment, she talked about the ‘nightmare’ of having all these noisy migrants at the English Channel and said Cameron should put pressure on the French to assess ‘these people’ to see which ones ‘should be deported’. Sent back to where they came from, which in some cases is Afghanistan and Iraq: nations Harman’s party helped to destroy.

QotD: The real purpose of the Inquisition

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In order to understand the Spanish Inquisition, which began in the late 15th century, we must look briefly at its predecessor, the medieval Inquisition. Before we do, though, it’s worth pointing out that the medieval world was not the modern world. For medieval people, religion was not something one just did at church. It was their science, their philosophy, their politics, their identity, and their hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth. Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community. Medieval Europeans were not alone in this view. It was shared by numerous cultures around the world. The modern practice of universal religious toleration is itself quite new and uniquely Western.

Secular and ecclesiastical leaders in medieval Europe approached heresy in different ways. Roman law equated heresy with treason. Why? Because kingship was God-given, thus making heresy an inherent challenge to royal authority. Heretics divided people, causing unrest and rebellion. No Christian doubted that God would punish a community that allowed heresy to take root and spread. Kings and commoners, therefore, had good reason to find and destroy heretics wherever they found them—and they did so with gusto.

One of the most enduring myths of the Inquisition is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power-hungry Church. Nothing could be more wrong. In truth, the Inquisition brought order, justice, and compassion to combat rampant secular and popular persecutions of heretics. When the people of a village rounded up a suspected heretic and brought him before the local lord, how was he to be judged? How could an illiterate layman determine if the accused’s beliefs were heretical or not? And how were witnesses to be heard and examined?

The medieval Inquisition began in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe’s bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty. Rather than relying on secular courts, local lords, or just mobs, bishops were to see to it that accused heretics in their dioceses were examined by knowledgeable churchmen using Roman laws of evidence. In other words, they were to “inquire”—thus, the term “inquisition.”

From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep that had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring those sheep back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.

Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.

As the power of medieval popes grew, so too did the extent and sophistication of the Inquisition. The introduction of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the early 13th century provided the papacy with a corps of dedicated religious willing to devote their lives to the salvation of the world. Because their order had been created to debate with heretics and preach the Catholic faith, the Dominicans became especially active in the Inquisition. Following the most progressive law codes of the day, the Church in the 13th century formed inquisitorial tribunals answerable to Rome rather than local bishops. To ensure fairness and uniformity, manuals were written for inquisitorial officials. Bernard Gui, best known today as the fanatical and evil inquisitor in The Name of the Rose, wrote a particularly influential manual. There is no reason to believe that Gui was anything like his fictional portrayal.

By the 14th century, the Inquisition represented the best legal practices available. Inquisition officials were university-trained specialists in law and theology. The procedures were similar to those used in secular inquisitions (we call them “inquests” today, but it’s the same word).

Thomas F. Madden, “The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition”, Crisis Magazine, 2003-10-01.

August 25, 2015

The French Rifles of World War 1 featuring Othais from C&RSENAL I THE GREAT WAR – Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 24 Aug 2015

Check out C&Rsenal for more background information on historic firearms: http://bit.ly/HistoricGuns

In the very first edition of our livestream with Othais from C&Rsenal, he introduced us to the French guns of World War 1, such as the Berthier carbine or the Lebel rifle. This is the first summary of our session surrounding the rifles that the French took into battle and their design. If you are curious to find out more about these, check out Othais’ videos where he goes into even more detail about the individual firearms. In the second summary we will talk about French pistols.

The next live session will be on September 3 and we will talk about German rifles and pistols. You can ask questions for that episode using the hashtag #OthaisGermanGuns

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress