Apr 23rd, 2008 by ravi
The spectre of Malthus … again

Paul Krugman has been writing a series of excellent blog posts recently that dare question the techno-optimism crowd that sees any questioning of the unsustainability of human overconsumption as a return to Malthusian thinking (population control, etc) that explicitly or implicitly disfavours the poor. Here is Krugman’s latest post:

Limits to growth and related stuff – NYT Blog


You might say that this is my answer to those who cheerfully assert that human ingenuity and technological progress will solve all our problems. For the last 35 years, progress on energy technologies has consistently fallen below expectations.

I’d actually suggest that this is true not just for energy but for our ability to manipulate the physical world in general: 2001 didn’t look much like 2001, and in general material life has been relatively static. (How do the changes in the way we live between 1958 and 2008 compare with the changes between 1908 and 1958? I think the answer is obvious.)


I think the fear that responses to human overconsumption (a consequence of human population growth, but not just that — after all the United States with 5% of the world population consumes 20% or more of its resources) target the poor, is a legitimate one. However, techno-utopianism is fast receding as a respectable alternative [attitude] to solving these real problems.

Also see Krugman’s: Running Out of Planet to Exploit (NYT).

[ Link ]

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Apr 23rd, 2008 by ravi
Sexism and political theatre

From the New York Times:

Obama Shifting Focus From Clinton to McCain


Even in defeat, the spirits were high among Mr. Obama’s aides. A leading reason was that Pennsylvania was in the rear-view mirror — for now, anyway.

On the campaign plane, Mr. Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, the communications director, wore T-shirts with the message: “Stop the drama, vote Obama.”

The “drama”, I am guessing, is a characterisation of Hillary Clinton, and I am not sure in what light this can be seen other than in a gender typing sense (“drama queen”). Again, an example of how sexist attitudes and remarks are pervasive and more easily accepted than racist ones (e.g: the [legitimate] critical response regarding Obama being characterised as “articulate”, I believe by Joe Biden).

[ Link ]

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Apr 1st, 2008 by ravi
Blowhards of the world unite

There is an interesting phenomenon to be seen these days, every time there is some controversy. It is quickly morphed into a controversy about the response to the original one! That happened with the Muhammad cartoon issue, where the publication of some silly cartoons aimed at infuriating Muslims (the same populations that are oppressed by the North in real ways) was morphed into outrage over Muslim response to it. Similarly, the clown Imus says something despicable about Rutgers University women’s basketball team members and within a day the “national conversation” is about misogyny in hip-hop and rap lyrics.

In that grand tradition comes the response from professional blowhard and occasional biologist Richard Dawkins on the James Watson controversy (Watson being the famous co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, using data stolen from a female colleague unacknowledged for her contribution, who has stuck an eighth or ninth foot in his mouth with his musings on black people and their capabilities):

Disgrace: How a giant of science was brought low | The Observer

In the end, Watson’s decided to return home, so no meetings occurred, a move that has dismayed many scientists who believed that it was vital Watson confront his critics and his public. ‘What is ethically wrong is the hounding, by what can only be described as an illiberal and intolerant “thought police”, of one of the most distinguished scientists of our time, out of the Science Museum, and maybe out of the laboratory that he has devoted much of his life to, building up a world-class reputation,’ said Richard Dawkins, who been due to conduct a public interview with Watson this week in Oxford.

Dawkins’s stance was supported by Blakemore. ‘Jim Watson is well known for being provocative and politically incorrect. But it would be a sad world if such a distinguished scientist was silenced because of his more unpalatable views.’

In case you are misled by the righteous indignation of Dawkins and Blakemore, Watson is not being “silenced” but ignored, and rightly so for this is what he said by way of justifying his “unpalatable view”:

people who have to deal with black employees find this not true

Even if we are to follow Dawkins’ demand that we lend an ear to a bigot, his reasoning deserves the trashbin given the unscientific nature of it.

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