Jun 29th, 2010 by ravi
The sting of poverty – The Boston Globe

When we’re poor, Karelis argues, our economic worldview is shaped by deprivation, and we see the world around us not in terms of goods to be consumed but as problems to be alleviated. This is where the bee stings come in: A person with one bee sting is highly motivated to get it treated. But a person with multiple bee stings does not have much incentive to get one sting treated, because the others will still throb. The more of a painful or undesirable thing one has (i.e. the poorer one is) the less likely one is to do anything about any one problem. Poverty is less a matter of having few goods than having lots of problems.

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Jun 11th, 2010 by ravi
Intellectual machismo and Physics envy

That it reached conclusions quite different from what the ordinary uninstructed person would expect, added, I suppose, to its intellectual prestige. That its teaching, translated into practice, was austere and often unpalatable, lent it virtue.

The above is a quote from John Maynard Keynes reproduced from Paul Krugman’s blog. While Krugman uses it to explain the puzzling call for interest rate hikes, made by certain economists, I think it is equally applicable to a wide range of fields whose practitioners often seem to suffer from acute Physics envy. Their solution was often mimicry of the results (of Physics), if not the method: the very act of positing counter-intuitive theses (similar to some of those of Physics) or prescriptions accrues intellectual prestige, irrespective of whether these results can stand analytical examination or were even analytically arrived at in the first place.

A good example is the natterings of Larry Summers (unsurprisingly, another economist) on the ability of women to do advanced mathematics… on which question Summers is, with great show of regret, pessimistic. This opinion is offered without much analysis but instead explicitly justified by appeal to toughness and the need to accept unpalatable conclusions. Unsurprisingly, Summers has found a strong defender in Steve Pinker, the leader of the evolutionary psychology pack whose arguments similarly are high on radical claim and calls for dealing with “reality”.

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Jun 4th, 2010 by ravi
Walled gardens and public ones

With regard to the use of analogies in the criticism of Apple’s closed App Store method for installing applications on the iPhone and iPad, John Gruber quotes Neven Mrgan who wonders why the idea of a “walled garden” is considered an obviously bad idea, even if one were to ignore the fact that public gardens are also regulated.

Rather than ignore the last bit, let us get it out of the way first: regulation of public parks and gardens are defined by the public and are designed to serve their interest. The opposite is the case for regulation of access as carried out by device vendors (Apple) or access providers (AT&T).

And now for why “walled gardens” are obviously undesirable, perhaps the substitution of the term with an older and (as is almost always the case) more appropriate term will bring out the obvious: “gilded cage”.

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Jun 4th, 2010 by ravi
Capitalism at its best

Peter Beinart is a stuffy young coot, the kind prized by publications like The New Republic (where he used to work, and perhaps still does) and The Atlantic Monthly, themselves the preferred coffee table adornments of stuffy middle-aged coots. But recently, he has shed his neo-liberal upbringing and taken a turn for the worse, to what might appear to be reasoned analysis. And on what is perhaps one of the weightiest problems of the “modern” world. The Israel-Palestine business. Beinart’s questioning of the unequivocal fanboyism of American Jewish organisations has drawn responses far and wide. From Abe Foxman of the ADL, Jonathan Chait, another fine product of TNR, and other luminaries. On the left, The Nation’s Eric Alterman grudgingly credits Beinart for his infant steps towards critical thinking, but that is now why I bring up Alterman’s Nation article.

Often capitalism is equated to the Right and the struggle against capitalism is defining of the Left. But capitalism, as some of its ideologues will contend, has no moral pretensions. The Left might desire human rights for the Palestinians. The Right might wish the Holy Land to remain in friendly control in preparation for the upcoming rapture. But capitalism is best illustrated by the third comment on Alterman’s Nation article (image below).

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Jun 2nd, 2010 by ravi
The incredulous gift of PZ Myers or How Religion turns its opponents illogical

PZ Myers, a.k.a Pharyngula, is a biologist who has carved out a niche in the blogistan (absent strong presence from big daddy Dawkins) for forceful opinion typically aimed at religion and related oddities, under the rubric of “skepticism”. And when the fanbase demands red meat, PZ obliges, casting the net ever farther and wider to find new candidates for ridicule. This time around, the lucky winner is Jainism.

Wikipedia might tell you that:Post

Jainism is an ancient religion of India that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice rely mainly on self-effort to progress the soul up the spiritual ladder to divine consciousness.

But that’s just too much silly talk for old PZ, who offers an alternative description:

a petrified clown turd of foolishness that convinces people that it’s OK to be a credulous git

Now, you might wonder how one might back up such a definition and thus avoid seeming an incredulous git, and PZ has an answer:

Prahlad Jani, an Indian “fakir” (a term PZ has perhaps borrowed from that other pioneer, Winston Churchill, who used it to describe Mahatma Gandhi). And Jani, it has been claimed, lives merely on air and sunshine. PZ will have none of this tomfoolery of Jainism, and closes the case thus: the person who tested Jani is a “deeply religious Jain”, the “obvious flaws” in whose testing have been identified by “Indian skeptics”. Hence, concludes PZ, Jains (assuming here that PZ is concluding/summarising the thesis at the top of his post) are “kooks, plain and simple”.

Now, if you study biology at University of Minnesota where you might be fortunate enough to partake of the wisdom of PZ, and further, if Logic 101 is not a prerequisite for your programme, you might wish to have PZ’s attempt at it (logic) broken down for you, so here goes:

  • Indian “fakir” claims to live on air and sunshine
  • Dr. Sudhir Shah tests and validates this claim
  • Sudhir Shah is a Jain and president of Jain Doctor’s Federation
  • “Indian skeptics” have critiqued Shah’s claim


  • Jains are kooks
  • Jainism is a “petrified clown turd of foolishness”

Clearly PZ has inherited more than the beard from Aristotle!


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May 21st, 2010 by ravi
Massimo Pigliucci debates Jerry Fodor on Natural Selection

The real meat of the debate starts at 36 minutes into the recording. You can safely skip to that point without missing anything. This is an interesting debate because Massimo is one of the few critics of Fodor (Lewontin might be the only other) who seems to get Fodor’s fundamental criticism. More on my view on Fodor’s criticism later.

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May 18th, 2010 by ravi
NYT: Sri Lanka Forces Blamed for Most Civilian Deaths

Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians died in the last, bloody months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, the International Crisis Group said in an investigative report to be released Monday, most of them as a result of government shelling of areas that were supposed to be safe zones.

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May 17th, 2010 by ravi
Yediot Aharanot on the status of Israel

The decision to bar him from entering the West Bank to speak at Birzeit, a Palestinian university, “is a foolish act in a frequent series of recent follies,” remarked Boaz Okun, the legal commentator of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, in his Monday column. “Put together, they may mark the end of Israel as a law-abiding and freedom-loving state, or at least place a large question mark over this notion.”

Just to be clear, this is Yediot Aharanot, not the mildly left-leaning Haaretz.

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Apr 14th, 2010 by ravi
Sometimes Hitchens does serve a purpose!

He’s often your go to man if you want a can of whup-ass opened up (unless it needs to be opened up on George Galloway, which Hitchens is not up to). Like here, with D’Souza:


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Apr 13th, 2010 by ravi
Why Dawkins and Dennett harm atheism

Dawkins by most accounts is not a philosophical heavyweight, preferring to peddle Biology in best-selling sound bites, unless occupied with furthering his false claim to the mantle of atheism. The heavy lifting on his behalf and that of their joint cause (New Atheism) is usually performed by Daniel Dennett. But in the video below, Dinesh D’Souza, Reaganophile, defender of Christianity, and all-around loathsome character, runs rings around Dennett in a debate at Dennett’s own home turf, Tufts University. Behold the spluttering philosopher:

in which Dennett, when not spluttering, attempts to address D’Souza’s points using every possible rhetorical sleight of hand. Such as appeals to authority:

I am not a physicist, but I know X, and if he were here he would agree with me…

I have spent years working on this stuff…

What is particularly pathetic, and revealing, is that D’Souza at times attempts coherent argument whereas Dennett opens with some photographs and slides ridiculing Mormonism and other oddities of religion, while accusing D’Souza of creating caricatures, dismissing D’Souza’s reference to the anthropic principle as a “cartoon version” (and dismissing it out of hand because neither he nor D’Souza are physicists or cosmologists).

This exchange is revealing because the techniques and argumentation of Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens exposes their dogmatic commitments, and the lack of the very rationality in debate that they claim to defend as a system of knowledge.

All of which undermines the cause and interest of good Old Atheism.


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