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Saturday, October 15, 2005

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Title for future Dutch children's book

"Heather Has Two Mommies ... and a Daddy"


Julian

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Friday, October 14, 2005

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"House MD" makes small mistake

In a recently broadcast episode of this fascinating TV series, there were the following lines:

"Toxoplasmosis is a fairly common fungus you can get from eating undercooked meat or touching cat feces. In rare cases the fungi travel up the blood stream and into the brain causing a lesion or inflammation."

Not a fungus. A protozoan.

I don't understand why these TV shows, which must have generous budgets, can't pay people to check their scripts for irritating errors like this.

Julian

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

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More on Mississippi

An article in The New Yorker of 26 September 2005 throws more light on the local response to Hurricane Katrina in coastal Mississippi. The author remarks that "By the fate of geography, the coast had its own sociology, unbound by the feudal arrangements that locked much of the rest of Mississippi into its melancholy past ... Although Mississippi has been a black-majority state through most of its history, blacks are distinctly a minority in the south, particularly along the Gulf Coast."

So, perhaps the article and explanation for the poor social response in Louisiana cited in my post below still holds good. If coastal Mississippi inherited better social capital than the rest of Mississippi and Louisiana, this could help explain the healthier response to Katrina in Mississippi, referred to by President Bush as "a spirit here in Mississippi that is uplifting".

On the social collapse of New Orleans, which may have been somewhat exaggerated, it seems to me that societies cannot have everything. If you want a relaxed, raffish culture in a city nicknamed the Big Easy; and a town full of character and characters; you cannot profess too much surprise and horror when it proves to be dysfunctional under severe stress. No doubt, Iowans would have behaved better; but do you want a whole country of Iowans? The same argument applies to concerns about South Africa. Societies can survive with high crime rates and a certain amount of chaos (cf. Colombia). And some people (men and women) enjoy a little conflict and chaos. It breeds romance, music, literature and a hero culture. Why else do people celebrate a bygone Scots Highland culture, for example? And I suspect that some of the impetus for the "troubles" in Ireland and the Middle East is that bored young men find that the conflict adds excitement and meaning to their lives.

There is a tendency to blame blacks in places like America for a high level of violence, almost as if it were a damning trait; but men are far more violent than women and contribute hugely to societal chaos, yet few people want to damn men entirely.

Julian

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

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If Louisiana, why not Mississippi?

Here is an article arguing that poor social capital, a consequence of slavery, contributed to the poor response in Louisiana to Hurricane Katrina.

It is certainly an interesting suggestion, but how well does it explain the relatively positive response in the neighbouring state of Mississippi, which was also a slave state? In fact, "social trust" is at a minimum in Mississippi.

Julian

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Ashkenazi intelligence

Here is a discussion from the Ottawa Citizen of a recent theory that explains the high intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews on the basis of selection imposed in the past for ability to perform highly-skilled jobs such as banker and merchant (and, incidentally, for various genetic brain diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease). Here is a quote from the article:

" According to their theory, a millennium of discrimination in Europe forced Jews into intellectually challenging occupations as bankers and merchants -- jobs then considered distasteful for Christians. "

I can accept "banker", but I have doubts about "merchant". There have always been plenty of Christian merchants. I was only reading on the weekend about some of the citizens of Cadiz in Spain, in the time of Goya, who were wealthy merchants inhabiting fine houses. And in Shakespeare's play "The Merchant of Venice", the "merchant" is a Christian. Shylock is a Jewish banker.


Julian

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

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Hitting the bookshops again

I had a day off work yesterday, so I went to Academic Remainders at Fyshwick, here in the A.C.T. A huge warehouse of remaindered books, many of which, as the name indicates, are academic - although there are plenty of popular books among them. I spent over a hundred dollars on an eclectic haul: a book on the intellectual property issues associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls; a book on the "picturesque garden" in Europe; a book on pulmonary diseases; a book on suicide bombers in Palestine; an account of boy seamen in the Royal Navy; a book on bacterial resistance to antibiotics; and so on. The shop has plenty of books on military history. They still seem to churn these out. The market is endless, especially for books on the Second World War.

I really wonder how they get by in that shop. Huge premises and several staff. I was practically the only customer there. Perhaps they do a good business based on their catalogue. I also wonder about a shop which has just moved closer to where I live, the specialty bookshop "Asia Bookroom". There are several women working in that shop, some of them presumably working on their remarkably detailed email catalogue. There must be more money in selling books than one would assume.

Why the interest in boy seamen in the Navy? Oddly enough, I think it relates to my longstanding interest in "sociobiology". I tend to collect books on topics where biology meets the social sciences: like this one on juvenile males in warfare. I find that books on immigration, slavery, group conflict and peacemaking, and so on, tend to interest me. I think the connecting thread may be that "sociobiological" thing - they all relate to how human collective behaviour is driven or influenced by basic biological drives. Human behaviour has tended traditionally to resist such analysis - and many sociologists seem to resent even the attempt to do so - but every month seems to bring more evidence that the analytical tools are getting sharper. Here is something I just found, on the essential Gene Expression blog, which seems to be in that line, if I am not mistaken.



Julian

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What women want

From The Australian:

"Women want full-time work - for men"

What this survey shows is that women want their husbands to work full-time and they themselves are happiest when working part-time. Only an academic would find this surprising. Here is how Professor van Ours spins the results:

"Maybe the women are happier because the man doesn't stick around all day. The income is likely to be higher, so that's important, too."

The presence of children was not considered either, but Professor van Ours said: "Maybe when a man works full-time, a woman has a choice about whether to go to work, especially if she has children."

I understand that much of the growth in women's participation in the workforce in the last forty years - in Australia at least - has been in part-time work. There has been very little increase in women in full-time work.

Julian

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