Pages

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weekend web readin'

From Reason, Born This Way? Nature, nurture, narratives, and the making of our political personalities
Money quote:
The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor. Everyone loves a good story; every culture bathes its children in stories. Among the most important stories we know are stories about ourselves, and these “life narratives” are McAdams’ third level of personality. McAdams’ greatest contribution to psychology has been his insistence that psychologists connect their quantitative data (about the two lower levels, which we assess with questionnaires and reaction-time measures) to a more qualitative understanding of the narratives people create to make sense of their lives. These narratives are not necessarily true stories; they are simplified and selective reconstructions of the past, often connected to an idealized vision of the future. But even though life narratives are to some degree post hoc fabrications, they still influence people’s behavior, relationships, and mental health.
Life narratives are saturated with morality. They provide a bridge between a developing adolescent self and an adult political identity. Here, for example, is how Keith Richards describes a turning point in his life in his recent autobiography. Richards, the famously sensation-seeking and nonconforming lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, was once a marginally well-behaved member of his school choir. The choir won competitions with other schools, so the choirmaster got Richards and his friends excused from many classes so they could travel to ever-larger choral events. But when the boys reached puberty and their voices changed, the choirmaster dumped them. They were then informed that they would have to repeat a full year in school to make up for their missed classes, and the choirmaster didn’t lift a finger to defend them. It was a “kick in the guts,” Richards says. It transformed him in ways that had obvious political ramifications: “The moment that happened, Spike, Terry and I, we became terrorists. I was so mad, I had a burning desire for revenge. I had reason then to bring down this country and everything it stood for. I spent the next three years trying to fuck them up. If you want to breed a rebel, that’s the way to do it.…It still hasn’t gone out, the fire. That’s when I started to look at the world in a different way, not their way anymore. That’s when I realized that there’s bigger bullies than just bullies. There’s them, the authorities. And a slow-burning fuse was lit.” 
Richards may have been predisposed by his personality to become a liberal, but his politics were not predestined. Had his teachers treated him differently—or had he simply interpreted events differently when creating early drafts of his narrative—he could have ended up in a more conventional job surrounded by conservative colleagues and sharing their moral matrix. But once Richards came to understand himself as a crusader against abusive authority, there was no way he was ever going to vote for the British Conservative Party. His own life narrative just fit too well with the stories that all parties on the left tell in one form or another.
From The Agitator, "Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice dept."
Money quote:
Taxpayer-paid employees of the Justice Department had direct and exclusive knowledge that there may be hundreds of innocent people in prison, they knew that flawed forensics in these cases needed to be reviewed, and their justification for not doing more as these people continued to rot in prison was, Hey, we did the bare minimum required of us by law. 
The immediately obvious problem here is that the ethical requirements need to be strengthened. If the task force charged with investigating possible wrongful convictions is only required to report what it finds to the prosecutor offices that won those convictions—and who obviously have a strong incentive to keep the new information under wraps—what the hell was the point of forming the task force in the first place? And why keep the task force findings from the public? 
But even beyond the problematic ethical requirements, I’m having a hard time fathoming how no one on this task force felt morally compelled to go beyond those requirements—to, you know, actually reach out defense attorneys, or attempt to actually reach the convicts or their families. How in the world can you possess this sort of information, then still sleep at night, year after year, knowing that (a) the information obviously isn’t reaching the people who have an incentive to actually put it to use,  (b) you’re one of the few people who could make that happen, and (c) because the information was only available to select group of people, if you or one of your colleagues doesn’t act, no one else will?
From Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Cops Slam Obama for Same Old "Drug War" Budget 
Money quote:
"The president sure does talk a good game about treating drugs as a health issue but so far it's just that: talk," said Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a former narcotics officer in Baltimore. "Instead of continuing to fund the same old 'drug war' approaches that are proven not to work, the president needs to put his money where his mouth is." 
The release of the drug budget comes just days after President Obama returned from the Summit of the Americas meeting in Colombia, where he was pressed to open up a debate on legalizing and regulating drugs by sitting Latin American presidents like Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala. 
"The chorus of voices calling for a real debate on ending prohibition is growing louder all the time," said Franklin. "President Obama keeps saying he is open to a discussion but he never seems willing to actually have that discussion. Polls show that three out of four U.S. voters think the 'war on drugs' is a failure and a majority now support marijuana legalization. The time for real change is now, but at the Summit of the Americas President Obama announced more than $130 million in aid to fund the continued effort to arrest drug traffickers in Latin America. This prohibition strategy hasn't worked in the past and it cannot work in the future. Latin American leaders know it, and President Obama must know it. Let's stop the charade and begin to bring drugs under control through legalization."
From Casaubon's Book, Context is Everything 
Money quote:
Quite a number of readers suggested I respond to James McWilliams' piece in the New York Times "The Myth of Sustainable Meat." McWilliams has garnered quite a bit of attention by critiquing the idea of local food, and in some cases, some of his analyses, as far as they go, are right. For example, McWilliams is quite right that if everyone in America eats as much beef as they always have, but converts to grassfed beef his figures are roughly correct. 
"... If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country's land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs)." 
In this case, the call for sustainable egg production I made last week (in response to a rather better New York Times article, in fact) would seem to be insanely misguided. After all, as several readers pointed out, eggs would be more expensive, and we probably couldn't eat as many of them. Woah - so that means eggs are totally unsustainable, right? 
Well, no, it doesn't - because while backyard and small scale egg production can't produce as many eggs as cheaply, we don't need them to - we need to eat fewer eggs and better ones..Neither McWilliams absolutism nor Kristoff's are an appropriate response to the problem of an unsustainable agriculture - any more than "hey, we can't raise billions of eggs easily in backyards and we couldn't possibly adjust our diets, so hey, factory farms it is."
From Blag Hag, Dear E.O. Wilson: Please retire or stick to ants
Money quote:
I want to give Wilson the benefit of the doubt. Maybe when he said “no one responded” he meant “no one responded in a way that we think invalidates our hypothesis.” But even then, the rest of his talk was incredibly sloppy. He asserted that human eusociality evolved via group selection, but didn’t offer a shred of evidence the whole time. No proposed mechanism, no genetic evidence, nothing. He just waved the Wand of Group Selection and asserted it happened. He asserted that humans first ate cooked meat by scavenging carcasses from wildfires. That’s one hypothesis among many, but he presented it as a known truth and gave no evidence or citation for it. He asserted that eusociality only evolved recently but again gave absolutely no evidence as to why he thought so. I mean, maybe he’s right, but eusociality isn’t exactly something that fossilizes well, so it could have possibly existed in past species. At least put some sort of qualifier or explanation of your reasoning out there. 
When someone in the Q&A asked him to explain why people disagree with group selection so much, he didn’t explain the objections or why he thinks kin selection was wrong. He instead stated that his paper was reviewed by a mathematician from Harvard and that it got into the prestigious journal Nature. Therefore it is right, or something. Here’s an alternative hypothesis: Your paper got published in Nature because you’re insanely famous and it was incredibly controversial, which Nature eats up. Nature is more about prestige and sexy topics than good science nowadays. Its retraction rate has increased ten fold in the last ten years when its number of papers published has only increased by 44%. 
Look, I’m not a priori against group selection. Maybe Wilson is right and group selection is applicable in more situations that we currently think. But I’m not going to accept it until he presents compelling evidence, which he utterly failed to do. You can’t just say “Harvard” and “Nature” and leave it at that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.