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Saturday, November 20, 2004

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Some blogrolling and off to Adelaide

I am adding The Chilling Effect, Agoraphilia and Palmer's Oz Politics to my weblog. I am also adding "Prehistoric Cultures" on the "Hobbits" of Flores, Indonesia, which cites my science weblog, ZooBot Blog, on the topic of why the Hobbits are so small.

I am off to Adelaide for a week of toxicology, for work, so I shan't be blogging for a few days.

Julian

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

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Tommy Gold, R.I.P

One of my scientific heroes is the late Professor Thomas Gold of Cornell. I admire the way he was able to theorise in a wide range of scientific areas (from biology to astronomy), and his sheer guts in raising brave, new ideas. He made his share of mistakes, the last being his suggestion that "solar sails" (to propel spacecraft using the momentum of photons) were impossible in principle, which seems to have been one of his aberrations. But he is more famous for being right about a number of important things, including the nature of pulsars as rapidly rotating neutron stars. He tells the story here.

The important moral of the story is that Gold got in quickly with the correct explanation, and he had to do it in an unconventional style. It is quite a good strategy, if you can do it, to come up with the contrarian idea and to come up with it before anyone else.

That is why I was pleased that Steve Sailer generously wrote of a recent suggestion of mine that I "may have been the first to raise [the] theory" that the Flores Island "Hobbits" were modern humans not Homo erectus. Even if I am wrong, as I may well be, the suggestion was worth making; it would explain some otherwise strange observations; and it has a certain attractive parsimony. It also fits in well with an idea I published about ten years ago on the adaptive basis for pygmoid stature in some contemporary rainforest-dwellers.

Julian



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The elites and the plebians are symbiotic

I hired "Adaptation" recently, a movie about an obsessed orchid collector in Florida, and the "New Yorker" writer who travels South to interview him. They end up sharing a bed and some increasingly improbable adventures. It stars Meryl Stage and Nicolas Creep - sorry, Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep. The whole thing is very "postmodern", with authorial intervention, irony, self-reference, the whole thing.

At one point the Meryl Streep writer character is portrayed at a stereotypical trendy dinner party in New York, making witty remarks about the backwardness of the Floridian orchid collector about whom she is writing a piece. He has bad teeth, he is crude and self-educated at best, and so on. As I watched, it dawned on me that, despite all that, she needed him. Otherwise, she would have no subject matter.

To write, you need subject matter. Often you need colourful people, remote settings and quaint customs. I once read an essay by an American who said that many writers have trouble maintaining output and quality once they leave the provinces and move to the Big City. I think he was the one who claimed that more good literature had come out of Mississippi than from New York City. The whole point of the provinces is to provide the subject matter, not only for jokes, but for great art.

Another idea that I have toyed with is that backward nations seem to produce the best writing. Social inequality, hard times, cruel politics, often seem to produce great art (Renaissance Italy?, Elizabethan England?, Tsarist Russia?). Here, at "Marginal Revolution", is a somewhat similar idea: "Is it possible that near-universal affluence and the social safety net inevitably make for less moving fiction? "

"Marginal Revolution" is an excellent blog on economic themes, which is why I have blogrolled it. I was amused today to see that Robin Hanson's old idea of "Charity Angels" was recently covered there. I made a tiny contribution to Dr Hanson's explication of his idea a few years ago (see the bottom). This is not to imply an endorsement of the concept, which I think would be risky in practice.

Julian


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Friday, November 12, 2004

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Who are the extremists?

Mark Bahnisch writes at Troppo Armadillo:

" A little like the abortion 'debate', a radical agenda for Indigenous issues has reared its head shortly after the election. "

Here is the Leftish mind at work. For Bahnisch, 100,000 or so unborn Australians dying every year is normal and moderate; business as usual. On the other hand, wanting to have a debate about the carnage is "radical".

Also at this site, here is an article that finds it witty and apposite to pun on Cardinal Pell's name and associate him with a mass murdering Communist.

Keep bashing us social conservatives - and we'll keep voting for Howard and Bush.


Julian

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

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More on the Flores hominids - the "Hobbits"


A recent article in the New York Times by Nicholas Wade includes suggestions that the Flores "Hobbits" may have been derived from Homo sapiens, not Homo erectus. This is the same suggestion I made about ten days ago in various places, including this blog (three posts below this one). I suspect the "Hobbits" were, like modern Pygmies and Negritos, adapted to a rainforest environment. They were even smaller, and their morphology was different, but it seems quite likely that they were simply an extreme pygmoid type, who inhabited the Flores rainforests until quite recently.

Julian



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Sunday, November 07, 2004

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The American election map

Here is an interesting map showing which counties in the United States went "red" and which went "blue". I do think that the "blues" (Democrats) have a long-term problem.

The map shows that many of the blue (Dem) areas are in big cities, but not all. Some are apparently black counties in the south (near the Mississippi, but also central Alabama and central South Carolina) and maybe Hispanic or Indian counties in the South West. Also, some states just seem to be Democrat, even in rural areas (eg. Vermont), and there seem to be rural parts of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin that are blue. On the other hand, New Hampshire does appear to be redder (more Republican) than neighbouring Vermont or Massachussetts. There are some blue areas in eastern Kentucky and in West Virginia that are presumably coal-mining areas.

It is interesting how red much of even California is outside the seaboard cities of LA, San Francisco etc. Similar effects in Oregon and Washington State.

My overall impression is that the Dems are in real trouble. The demography (higher birth rates in red areas) will probably make things increasingly bad for them. They are going to have real trouble winning the electoral vote in future unless they re-establish moral and foreign policy credentials. The problem is that they have a lot of ground to make up and the Democratic elites are in denial or don't really care. If part of being a New Yorker or Los Angeleno means feeling superior to the rest of the country, they aren't going to give up their attitudes just to please people in Red areas.

On another tack, it is a tremendous irony that Catholics in America (and in Australia in a sense) are reliant on the protection provided by a nation run by Evangelical Protestants and their ideas. The Jews have long been in the same situation. The safety to practise our religion and live our ‘lifestyle’ is provided by Bush and his supporters, including Mr Howard here in Australia, many of whom are traditionally culturally antipathetic to Catholicism.

In the clash of civilisations between Islam and the West, we are all reliant on Bush doing the right thing. If the Pope knew which side his bread was buttered on, he would not be so snooty about Bush and America. It is really high time we had a Pope from outside Europe.

The Catholic Church is so weakened by its haemorrhaging after Vatican II that it is not playing the strong cultural role that it should be, in America or elsewhere. The “heavy lifting” is being done by the American Evangelical Right. If Roe v Wade is ever overthrown, American Catholics will have them to thank, not the mostly effete Catholic bishops and the demoralised laity.

Meanwhile, here in Australia, even the Governor-General is publicly noting that the abortion rate has become ridiculously high.

One bright spot for American Catholics of a conservative or traditional stripe must be the abject failure of John Kerry. Cultural Catholicism ("I was an altar boy") was not enough to impress the Catholic voters of America, who actually voted in increased numbers for Bush.

Julian


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Thursday, November 04, 2004

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Thank you, Ohio.


Julian

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