25 September 2010

Indefinite hiatus

My computer suddenly died last night.  Because I am nearly broke—I can just barely pay my rent and buy food, and many of my other bills are chronically going unpaid—it is not possible for me to replace my computer or have it fixed.

So this blog will be on indefinite hiatus.

Anyone who wishes to get in touch with me should telephone.  I'm not going to be in a position to check e-mail regularly.  My number is publicly listed.

Many thanks to my regular readers for your interest.

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24 September 2010

Readings, 2010.09.23

Thursday's Readings


E. J. Dionne Jr. at TruthDig points out that the activist arm of the Tea Party is very small, and is receiving media attention all out of proportion to its size.

Science Blogging

Sean Roberts at A Replicated Typo reports on a talk by Geoffrey Pullum regarding the (essential) Language Log (at which Pullum is a frequent contributor), and talks about the developing role of blogs in the process of actually doing science, rather than just reporting on it.

Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology writes on anthropologist Kathryn Clancy, her blog Context and Variation, and her experience in the world of science blogging, which has so far been mainly the province of men.

Philosophy of History

And speaking of actual science (and scholarship in general) happening in blogs:  Daniel Little at Understanding Society (which bills itself as a "web-based, dynamic monograph on the philosophy of social science") announces the publication of his new book, New Contributions to the Philosophy of History (Springer), which, as he explains, has incorporated quite a lot of material that he has developed at the blog over the past few years.

Science-based medicine

Adam La Caze has what looks like an important article in Biology & Philosophy, "The role of basic science in evidence-based medicine."  Unfortunately, it's behind a paywall at Springer, where it costs $34; an angel would be appreciated, as I'd really like to read it (because of a current project on the money-corrupted science on antidepressants).

Here's the abstract:
Proponents of Evidence-based medicine (EBM) do not provide a clear role for basic science in therapeutic decision making. Of what they do say about basic science, most of it is negative. Basic science resides on the lower tiers of EBM’s hierarchy of evidence. Therapeutic decisions, according to proponents of EBM, should be informed by evidence from randomised studies (and systematic reviews of randomised studies) rather than  basic science. A framework of models explicates the links between the mechanisms of basic science, experimental inquiry, and observed data. Relying on the framework of models I show that basic science often plays a role not only in specifying experiments, but also analysing and interpreting the data that is provided. Further, and contradicting what is implied in EBM’s hierarchy of evidence, appeals to basic science are often required to apply clinical research to therapeutic questions.

Melody Dye at Child's Play writes on the role of negative evidence in associative learning, and wonders why developmental psychologists and linguists (particularly those on the East Coast, and particularly those who live and work within ten miles of me) pretend that this doesn't exist.

And Joshua Hartshorne at Games With Words (from one of those East Coast labs) explains why she's wrong, using made-up examples of supposedly non-grammatical sentences that I don't find very persuasive (which doesn't mean he's wrong; it just means he needs better examples).


Jonah Lehrer as The Frontal Cortex asks "how do babies pay attention?"  According to developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, babies have a "lantern" of attention, rather than a spotlight, and Lehrer cites several recent studies that support this notion.  He also makes me want to read Gopnik's recent book, The Philosophical Baby, which I think I'll pick up at the library today (although it goes in the queue behind about a dozen other books).

Jason Goldman at The Thoughtful Animal writes on the ability of infants to make social (and incipiently moral) judgments about whether another individual is likely to be a "helper" or a "hinderer."


Der Spiegel reports that Roman Polanski's next film will be an adaptation of Yasmina Reza's novel Le Dieu du carnage (The God of Carnage; Der Gott des Gemetzels).  The cast will include Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, and Matt Dillon.

There were more reviews on Thursday of Oskar Roehler's Jud Süß—Film ohne GewissenHere is another negative one by Josef Nagel at NZZ Online.

Meanwhile, Christian Buß at Der Spiegel reviews a WDR documentary on Veit Harlan, the director of Jud Süß, based on interviews with his children, grandchildren, and other relatives.  The review prefers the documentary to Roehler's film.  A striking passage from the review:
Als einer von wenigen Künstlern der Nazizeit wurde Harlan 1949 der "Beihilfe der Verfolgung" angeklagt - und, wie sich Sohn Thomas in der Doku verbittert äußert, von einem Richter freigesprochen, der während des Krieges Ukrainerinnen wegen eines gestohlenen Kopftuchs köpfen lassen hatte.
One interesting tidbit:  Christiane Kubrick, Stanley's widow, is Harlan's niece (and there's a good story later in the review about Stanley Kubrick meeting her family).

The Future of the Book

Ideo has an interesting promotional video up at Vimeo, "The Future of the Book," discussing three of their ideas in that area:  Nelson (a platform for delivering multiple viewpoints on controversial topics), Coupland (a way for sharing reading lists), and Alice (a platform for interactive fiction).

I can see problems with all of these (Is it really desirable to have ID presented as a valid viewpoint in a discussion of evolution?  Why is Coupland presented as just a way of sharing reading lists within "companies"?  Don't we already have something a lot like Alice in video games?)  And nothing remotely as good as the tablet computer/e-reader in the video is on the horizon yet, in terms of form factor, display size, and resolution.

But it's fun to think about, and this is the direction things are going.  Although I wouldn't have said so even a year ago, I now think it's inevitable that traditional books and other forms of print publication are going to be almost completely displaced, and this is going to happen sooner than even the most enthusiastic boosters would have predicted a few years ago.  I'm not saying this as a booster:  I think the trend has many promising and exciting aspects, but also many serious problems (of which the current dysfunctional state of copyright is one of the most important; and when is someone going to come up with a really good way of annotating a digital text, one that is at least as good as, if not better than penciled notes in the margin of a printed book?).


A post by Oliver Hulland at Cool Tools reminds me of the cheap and effective fruit-fly death trap that a friend had recently persuaded me to try: 
By simply pouring apple cider vinegar into an open cup or bowl and adding a drop or two of dish detergent you can easily make an incredibly effective trap for ridding your kitchen of fruit flies.
Works like a charm.  In fact, after reading this on Thursday I went to the store to buy some apple cider vinegar in order to renew my trap, which had completely evaporated, leaving a crust of dead fruit flies at the bottom.

However, I don't think it's necessary to use the expensive brand of raw, unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar that Hulland shows in the post.  The dying fruit flies are probably not going to care whether the vinegar is organic or generic.  I bought the small size of the Food Club brand at Roche Brothers for 99 cents.


And some true philosophy from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (via Evolving Thoughts):  "It's a fact of reality that any argument can be destroyed by nihilism" (except that Sokal Burgers are, in fact, delicious).  (For the "mouse over," go to the main site and click on the red button.)


das Gemetzel
der Komparse
die Geschichtsklitterung
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23 September 2010


Victor Mair at Language Log has an entertaining post on Denglish: English words (or, perhaps more accurately, "English-like" words) that are used in contemporary German. 

(There is, of course, a Wikipedia article on "Denglish," because there is a Wikipedia article about everything, although this one is currently tagged as having "multiple issues.")

Mair reproduces a text with the title "Wok and Roll" (the name of a Munich restaurant) by retired Professor Antony Tatlow, containing numerous samples of "Neudeutsch" (based, it is said, entirely on genuine examples harvested in the wild):
Neudeutsches Gespräch

Das Reisen ist lange nicht mehr, was es einmal war. –

Stimmt, vorgestern gab’s einen Stromausfall in der Rush-Hour und ein Blackout in der Metropole. –

Ich hörte sogar die Highspeed-Züge blieben stehen. –

Aber ein automatisches Train-Control-System soll den Bahn-Betrieb wirtschaftlicher machen. –

Und bis dann? –

Nu, FAQ bei der Bundesbahn anklicken. –

Schafft man’s zum Airport, dann hat Lufthansa alle Flüge gecancelt. –

Wo bleibt da das Urlaubsfeeling? –

Man muß neudenken, clever sein. –

Mein Vetter hat Catering und den technischen Service outgesourct, sogar
seine Business-Kunden mietete er in den Flughafen-Lounges der Konkurenz
ein. –

Das wird ein lohnenswerter Stopover. –

Geradezu ein globaler Crossover-Hit. –

Aber trotzdem ein Jobkiller.

Hast Du denn Deine Homepage schon fertig? –

Sie ist ja nicht mandatiert! –

Aber so easy. Du brauchst nur einen coolen Screenshot, dann einige Features, ein gutes Display immer mit einem netten Gimmick. –

Da bin ich eher ganz relaxt. –

Du mußt aber zum nächsten Level kommen, überhaupt mehr Commitment
zeigen. –Ich höre die zwei Münchner Unis planen schon ein Institute for
Advanced Study. – Leuchtet ein. Im weltweiten Ranking muß Deutschland
doch aufholen, zum richtigen Global Player avancieren. –

Heute braucht man ein breites Set an Qualifikationen. –

Du weißt, wir haben schon einen Anfang gemacht: ein Info-Tisch mit
Schul-Buttons in einer Power-Point-Präsentation; sieben Freunde waren
die Models und haben die Shirts vorgeführt. Das Rollout war OK, und das
Sale ist gelungen. –

Man muß nur zum aktiven User werden. Schau doch: ‘Klicken Sie hier, um
eine kurze Beschreibung unseres Weinguts downzuloaden. Eine ausgewählte
Backlist gibt es selbstredend auch.’ –

Aber wenn es zum Crash kommt? –

Dann heißt es ‘Setzen Sie sich mit unserem Support in Verbindung.’ –

Und die ist immer in Bangalore oder Ireland. –

Also kein effektiver Troubleshootereinsatz. –

Leider ja. –

Du meinst: Leider nein.-


Außerdem mag ich nicht Cyber-Mobbing oder Rent-a-Vollidiot. –

Macht nichts, Du kannst dann surfen, zB. Al Gore zuhören. Der ist ja vom
Loser zum Vater Courage mutiert. Oder Qualifying im Liveticker
verfolgen. –

Aber Räikkönen ist immer top, er hat sich gestern schon wider die Pole-Position geschnappt. –

Gehen wir lieber zum Diner. –

Aber dann chinesisch. –

Wohin denn? –

Natürlich zum Wok and Roll am Isartor.
The comments on Mair's post are very extensive, and include several more amusing examples, as well as a scholarly debate on the etymology of "Handy."  Examples from the comments:
jemanden antörnen ("to turn somebody on")
Trainees (not what you think, if you're an English speaker)
Beamers (likewise not what you think)
Bodybag (really not what you think)
Shootings (likewise really not what you think)
Oldtimer zum Verkauf (no, not your Dad)
Commenter John Stewart provides this example from an interview with fashion designer Jil Sander, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 22 March 1996:
“Ich habe vielleicht etwas Weltverbesserndes. Mein Leben ist eine giving-story”, sagt Jil Sander, “ich habe verstanden, daß man contemporary sein muß, das future-Denken haben muß. Meine Idee war, die hand-tailored-Geschichte mit neuen Technologien zu verbinden. Und für den Erfolg war mein coordinated concept entscheidend, die Idee, daß man viele Teile einer collection miteinander combinen kann. Aber die audience hat das alles von Anfang an auch supported. Der problembewußte Mensch von heute kann diese Sachen, diese refined Qualitäten mit spirit eben auch appreciaten. Allerdings geht unser voice auch auf bestimmte Zielgruppen. Wer Ladyisches will, searcht nicht bei Jil Sander. Man muß Sinn haben für das effortless, das magic meines Stils.”
And commenter Robert Coren writes:
About 40 years ago, when I was a sort-of-hippie, I had a brief encounter with some German hippies in Munich, one of whom used the adjective "gestoned" (pronouncing the s as [∫], of course).
I quoted an example (mainly because of the Denglish) in my Weekend Readings this past weekend, from Peter M. Kaiser of the clothing label Kaisergwand in Munich: "Die Tracht ist einfach am boomen.  Mit Dirndl oder Lederhosen ist man halt immer gut angezozen—sie sind mittlerweile ein Mode-Must-Have."

[Note for my musicological friends: If you wade far enough down the comments to Mair's post, you'll find one from "our own" Roger Lustig, regarding his conversation with Carl Dahlhaus about the quality of the German in a book of Dahlhaus's that Lustig translated.]
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Readings, 2010.09.22

Wednesday's Readings


An excellent investigative article at USA Today on the use of student fees (often hidden ones) to pay for college sports programs:  "How student fees boost college sports amid rising budgets."  A must-read for anyone interested in the current financial state of American colleges and universities.


Ferris Jabr has an excellent article at Scientific American on a new study that examines two rare cases of illusory body perceptions:  "Me, Myself and My Stranger: Understanding the Neuroscience of Selfhood."


Joshua Hartshorne at Games With Words writes on the "great divide" in linguistics over models of language, a divide represented by two articles in the August issue of Cognitive Science:  the "traditional" model (represented by John Hummel) in which "thought and language is deeply symbolic and involves algebraic rules," and "more recent" models based on associative learning (represented by Michael Ramscar). The fur flies in the comments, which is perhaps the best demonstration of the depth of the divide.

[Editorial aside: it's perhaps indicative that Hartshorne wrote "thought and language is," as if they are somehow one and the same thing.]

The two papers are:
John E. Hummel, "Symbolic Versus Associative Learning," Cognitive Science 34:6, 958-965

Michael Ramscar, "Computing Machinery and Understanding," Cognitive Science 34:6, 966-971
Hummel is responding in part to an article in the same issue by Ramscar et al. (where "et al." includes Melody Dye of Child's Play), "The Effects of Feature-Label-Order and Their Implications for Symbolic Learning," pp. 909-957.

Unfortunately, all these articles are behind a paywall at Wiley, presumably to keep out the riff-raff (like me).  So I won't be reading them any time soon.


Chris at The Lousy Linguist has posted part 2 of his review of Guy Deutscher's book on linguistic relativism, Through the Language Glass. Part 1 of the review is here

Part 2 looks at the science behind the second half of Deutscher's book, dealing with the alleged influence on language on thinking about spatial coordinates, gender, and color.  Chris is mostly underwhelmed.


Yet another case of restitution currently bogged down in the Austrian bureaucracy, this one having to do with Egon Schiele's painting, Mutter mit zwei Kindern III, originally from the collection of Jenny Steiner, and now in Österreichische Galerie; see the report at Der Standard.


Elif Batuman writes in the latest New York Times Magazine on the very messy case, currently wending its way through the Israeli courts, over the disposition of a large cache of Franz Kafka's papers from the estate of Max Brod ("Kafka's Last Trial").  A fascinating and rather bizarre (Kafkaesque?) story.

A key figure in the case is Eva Hoffe, one of the daughters of Esther Hoffe, Brod's secretary and (it is widely thought) lover.  Septuagenarian Eva Hoffe lives in an apartment full of cats (the number is variously estimated at 40 to 100) at 23 Spinoza Street in Tel Aviv, where she may also keep some of the disputed papers.


Peter Uehling gives a round-up of the concerts at Musikfest 2010 in Berlin celebrating the 85th birthday of Pierre Boulez.


Oskar Roehler's film Jud Süß — Film ohne Gewissen purports to tell the story of actor Ferdinand Marian, who played the title role of Joseph Süß Oppenheimer in Veit Harlan's notorious anti-Semitic propaganda film, Jud Süß (1940), commissioned by Joseph Goebbels.  Roehler's film was heavily criticized after its debut at the Berlinale film festival in February for, among other things, distortions of historical truth.  For example:  in Roehler's film, Marian is given a Jewish wife, whom Goebbel's uses as a lever to force Marian to take the role in Harlan's film.  In reality, Marian's wife Maria was an "Aryan" Catholic.

After the premiere in February, the President of the Zentralrat der Juden (the central council of Jews) in Berlin asked that the film be banned.

The film is now in more general release in Germany; there are critical reviews by Andreas Kilb at the Frankfurter Allgemeine ("Misslungen: Oskar Roehlers 'Jud Süß'") and Andreas Rosenfelder at Welt Online ("Ein Film mit Gewissenbissen").  Also at Welt Online, Hanns-Georg Rodek interviews Klaus Richter, author of film's screenplay.

From The New Yorker

 Unusually, I had a few spare minutes on Wednesday to read the 20 September issue of The New Yorker (of which I have stacks of unread recent issues...unread for lack of time, not lack of interest).  Two highly recommended items (in addition to Lawrence Wright's excellent short essay on the "mosque at Ground Zero" hullabaloo):
Jose Antonio Vargas's profile of Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Joan Acocella's extensive review of Sjeng Scheijen's new biography of Sergey Diaghilev, which sounds like a must-read (a subscription is required to read the entire review).


on bad exes.

"Serial liar": yup, I had one of those....and I've often thought it would be a public service to let other potential victims know.  In my case, there are perhaps various embassies that I should contact....


plakativ (a "false friend"; it doesn't mean what an English-speaker is going to guess it means)
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22 September 2010

BDD Graphic

In an idle moment before dinner tonight, I decided to see what Wordle (the word-cloud site) would make out of my posts from the past few days. 

The result is a perfect visual representation of the impact of BDD (on brain, identity, life). 

Something like this would make a perfect book-jacket.  (Now if I can just get someone to give me a subvention to write the book....)
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Readings, 2010.09.21

Tuesday's Readings


William Hogeland at the Boston Review has an interesting essay on the history of populist political movements in the United States, and what that history may be able to teach progressives who have difficulty understanding why Tea Partiers and their kin consistently seem to vote against their own self interest.

Signandsight translates an essay (originally published in Le Monde) by philosopher André Glucksmann on the roots of the European fear of the Roma ("Fear of ourselves").


Philip Davis at The Scholarly Kitchen asks (and attempts to answer): "Are Peer-Reviewers Overloaded? Or Are Their Incentives Misaligned?"  (Or is this a false dichotomy?)

Scott Jaschik reviews a new novel of life as an adjunct in academia: Alex Kudera's Fight for Your Long Day (Atticus Books).  Novelizing your experience is one approach.  Telling the truth about it is another.


Many of you will know about Scribd,  the "social publishing site."  Mike Masnick at TechDirt, who was already skeptical about the site's policies, now reports on law professor Eric Goldman, who has spoken out against Scribd for placing his older documents behind a paywall without his permission and without informing him.

Masnick and the comments to his post consider alternatives to Scribd.  Poking around among these led me to Zoho, which provides a very extensive suite of online applications geared for collaborative work in business. I have signed up (you get 1 GB of free storage) in order to try out the word processor, Zoho Docs, as a possible tool for writing longer blog posts. 

Zoho was mentioned in the comments to Masnick's post because of its online document viewer, which also looks potentially useful.

Masnick has a follow-up to some of the criticisms of Goldman, "Expectations Matter, Even If You're Not 'A Customer'."

Making Money Creatively

Masnick starts a new occasional series of profiles on "content creators doing interesting things."  The first installment is a profile of jazz musician Jason Parker, who blogs at OneWorkingMusician.com about his experiments in making a living as a musician.  Parker is selling more CDs and making more money from them with "pay what you want" than he was with a set price.  He has also experimented successfully with pay-what-you-want gigs.


Neuroskeptic writes on "The Rise of the Mouse," which has displaced all other pretenders (rats, guinea-pigs) as the most popular laboratory animal.  Mice are not pleasant to work with; Neuroskeptic writes:
Non-scientists tend to think of rats as just big mice. They're not: mice are less intelligent, harder to handle (they bite... a lot), and they smell bad. The fact that they're smaller makes surgery, and even simple stuff like taking blood samples, much harder. On the plus side, you can fit more of them in any given space, making them cheaper, but that's about it.
So why have they taken over the laboratory world?  Genetic knockout.


Why is it more difficult for adults to learn a second language than it is for children?  Sean Roberts at A Replicated Typo discusses the theory that it has to do with the difference between procedural memory (strong in children but allegedly atrophied in adults) and declarative memory (strong in adults, not fully developed in children).  It is claimed that language has evolved in a way to be learned easily by those with strong procedural memory (children).  I'm skeptical, but want to read more.

It seems to be taken as given in the scientific literature that adults are always worse at learning second languages.  But anyone who has lived in a cosmopolitan environment with lots of adults who are speaking something other than their native language will have known individuals (rare, but not non-existent) who seem to learn languages with ease, and sometimes learn to speak them with something very close to native fluency, with little or no detectable accent.  And there is interesting variation:  some people learn to speak with native or near-native fluency of grammar and vocabulary, but retain a strong accent.  Others seem to be able to learn to speak virtually without accent, even though their command of grammar and vocabulary may be imperfect.

We need to study these "outliers" as well as the average case.


Carl Zimmer at The New York Times has a fascinating article on the the work of Giulio Tononi, who is developing a theory of consciousness based on information theory.

Zimmer follows-up with some additional information at his blog, The Loom.


Tuesday was the 150th anniversary of the death of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and several German papers published articles marking the occasion; see, for example, Wolfgang Schneider in Die Zeit, who gives an overview of some of the publications on Schopenhauer appearing this year, and Edo Reents at FAZ.NET, "Das Sein ist das Nichts."
“Und so ist denn der Lebenslauf des Menschen in der Regel dieser, dass er, von der Hoffnung genarrt, dem Tode in die Arme tanzt.”
Your cheerful Schopenhauerian thought for the day.


Greg Sandow plugs a new free e-book by piano teacher Catherine Shefski, Go Play: Motivating a New Generation of Pianists and Other Young Musicians.  Sounds like it might have some good ideas.


Joachim Riedel at Die Zeit interviews Tom Segev, biographer of Simon Wiesenthal.  A quote, on why Wiesenthal remained in Austria:
Als Kind der alten Habsburgermonarchie, geboren in Galizien, fühlte er sich in Österreich zu Hause. Seine spirituelle Heimat war Wien. Er verstand sich als österreichischer Patriot, der sein Land von dem Makel des Antisemitismus reinigen wollte.


die Verschrobenheit

verübeln (model sentence: "Der Philosoph verübelte den Frauen, dass er sie begehren musste.")

das Kainsmal (Mark of Cain)

And my favorite word of the day:

der Persilschein (as in the phrase, "jm einen Persilschein ausstellen"; the context here is what Wiesenthal gave to Waldheim)
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21 September 2010

Readings, 2010.09.20

Monday's Readings

The Economy

Motoko Rich at The New York Times has an article with a self-explanatory title: "For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again." 

Why is no one rising up in protest against the absurdities of the systems that have created this mess....

Really Most Sincerely Dead

The Deepwater Horizon well has now been declared officially, permanently, irrevocably, and safely dead.  Andrew Moseman at 80beats summarizes the press coverage. 

How much oil was leaked?  No one really knows, but one guess that has been bandied about often enough to become a pseudo-fact is 205.8 million gallons. 

Decimal points always inspire confidence when you want to sound as if you know what you're talking about (see also the article above on long-term unemployment among those over 50).


Razib Khan at Gene Expression (Discover) has an excellent post on the genetics of European gypsies, summarizing the study:
A. Gusmão, et al. (2010), "A genetic historical sketch of European Gypsies: The perspective from autosomal markers," American Journal of Physical Anthropology 141:4.  The article is behind a paywall at Wiley.


Neuroskeptic revisits Bruno Bettelheim's devastatingly wrong-headed "refrigerator mother" theory of autism.

Deric Bownds discusses two recent studies showing that video games do, in fact, change childrens' brains.  The studies are:
Daphne Bavelier, et al. (2010), "Children, Wired: For Better and for Worse," Neuron 67:5.  Freely available for download.

C. Shawn Green, et al. (2010), "Improved Probabilistic Inference as a General Learning Mechanism with Action Video Games," Current Biology 20:17. Behind a paywall at ScienceDirect, where it costs $31.50
The two studies seem to come from the same group.

Joshua Hartshorne at Games with Words explains why he thinks Jonah Lehrer got the science wrong in his recent piece, the "Future of Reading."

Mark Changizi offers "eight half-baked" potential answers to the question of "Why Do We Cry?," and asks for more ideas.  If Changizi had been a typical armchair evolutionary psychologist, he would have been satisfied with just one of these, and gone on to explain why it was obviously true.

Jason Goldman at The Thoughtful Animal writes on "inequity aversion" (a building block of moral thinking) in dogs.  The post gives an excellent summary of:
F. Range, et al. (2009), "The absence of reward induces inequity aversion in dogs," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:1.  The article is freely available for download.
Tyler Cowen points to an freely-available paper by Elijah Millgram, "Serial hyperspecializers, and how they think."  I haven't read the paper yet (and it looks like something less than a fun read), but there's something in the passage quoted by Cowen that makes me suspect a possible application to the current state of humanities academia.

Jennifer Welsh at 80beats reports on a new study in Science on the part of the brain (the anterior prefrontal cortex) that seems to be involved with a person's ability to estimate the accuracy of his or her decisions and beliefs.  The study is:
Stephen M. Fleming, et al., "Relating Introspective Accuracy to Individual Differences in Brain Structure," Science 329. The article is behind a paywall, and costs $15.00 for 24-hours of access.

Edmund Blair Bolles celebrates the fourth birthday of his blog on the evolution of language, Babel's Dawn, by dissecting the introductory editorial by Thomas Scott-Phillips in a special issue of Journal of Evolutionary Psychology devoted to the 20th anniversary of Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom's paper "Natural Language and Natural Selection."

Max Miller has a short piece at Big Think on language and the brain, as part of the series "Going Mental," which is partly a plug for Big Think's interview with Pinker

Michael Pleyer at A Replicated Typo continues with part 4 of his series "Language, thought, and space," here looking at experiments contrasting speakers of languages that use relative vs. absolute frames of spatial reference.


Most unusual musical headline of the day: "Ein Truthahn für Haydn" ("A Turkey for Haydn"), at derStandard.at.

Manuel Brug at Die Welt interviews René Jacobs about his recent recording of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.  Jacobs mentions the key influence on his concept of the opera of Egyptologist Jan Assmann's book Die Zauberflöte: Oper und Mysterium.  In reference to the music of the opera, Jacobs says: "Ich finde, Mozart hat da teilweise wie ein Filmmusikkomponist gearbeitet."


Niklas Maak at FAZ.NET has an excellent and fascinating article on the recent "Sammlung Jäger" forgery scandal, asking in particular how the forgers were able to get away with it for so long and so successfully.  The second of two parts; the first part (which I haven't read yet) is here.  I wrote about an earlier report of the scandal here.


B. R. Myers at The Atlantic tells us how awful Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom truly is.  In spite of the otherwise apparently uniformly glowing reviews, Oprah's imprimatur, and the fact that Franzen was omnipresent in the German press over the past two weeks, I secretly suspect that Myers is right.  The prose in the quotations that Myers includes is indeed dire, and the comparisons to DeLillo are perhaps indicative.  When I finally persuaded myself to read a novel by DeLillo a couple of years ago (White Noise, I think), I found it pretentious, but cartoon-like (in a bad way) and incredibly dull.  I picked up a pristine hardback copy of Franzen's The Corrections at a yard sale a year ago, but haven't cracked it yet, because I can't help feeling that I'm going to be deeply disappointed by it in just that same way.

Justin E. H. Smith, at 3quarksdaily, tries to come to terms with the Midwest and his memories of his two and a half years there, and ends up with a pretty piece of writing which will, very likley, be more worth your time than an equivalent amount of Franzen or DeLillo.


Kent Anderson at the scholarly kitchen wonders about the blindness that keeps Borders and Barnes & Noble from carrying the iPad and the Kindle.  (I agree that carrying the iPad would make sense for them.  But why should they sell the Kindle, if Amazon is the only source for ebooks that can be read on it?)

Goats on a Roof

Mike Masnick at TechDirt summarizes a story from the WSJ about Lars Johnson, who has claimed trademark on having goats feeding on the grass roof at Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant.


Nostalgia corner:  Matt Young at The Panda's Thumb posts a photo by Paul Fund that received an Honorable Mention in the site's photography contest.  The plant is Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius), which dominated the open spaces in which I played when I was growing up in Shelton, Washington.  I didn't know then that it was an " an escaped ornamental that colonizes disturbed areas and competes with conifer seedlings and forage plants," but that certainly makes sense in light of the way it dominated vacant lots and other previously cleared tracts.


sich etw erschleichen
das Ansinnen
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20 September 2010

Reflections on Return

On Sunday, 19 September 2010 (the day after Yom Kippur), I helped lead our annual "Jewish High Holy Days" service at Theodore Parker Unitarian Universalist Church in West Roxbury.  The theme of the service was "returning to your true self" (based on the concept and process of "Teshuvah"). I've made pdfs of the inside and outside of the Order of Service available for those who are interested. (The order of service as printed is not an absolutely accurate reflection of what happened:  there was a certain amount of improvisation in the heat of the moment...but it's pretty close.)

The following is the complete text of a personal reflection that I delivered during that service.  It discusses my "return to myself" after most of a lifetime spent as a sufferer from BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder).  I intend to write much more about BDD on this blog, but this reflection can serve as an introduction to BDD and my experience until I begin my more substantial series of posts on the topic.

Although many of my friends in the congregation already knew about my BDD, many more did not, and afterwards many of them complimented me on my "courage" for bearing public witness to my experience.  

But to be honest, it took little courage.  This story is, in a very real sense, old news to me.  I went through a period four or five years ago of "coming out" to friends, but now I rather take all of this for granted...or perhaps, more accurately, I have gained some distance from it.

The most thrilling (and nerve-wracking) aspect of the service for me, in fact, was calling out "T'kiah," "Sh'varim," "T'ruah," and "T'kiah G'dolah" as my good friend Avi Davis (co-leader of the service, along with me and Reverend Lilli Nye) blew the shofar.  It was like making my public debut as a solo singer.

I welcome any and all comments about this reflection, either public or private.

I’m not Jewish.

My Jewish friends sometimes ask me: “Are you sure you’re not Jewish?” In fact, I’ve often thought that if Jews had reincarnation, that might explain a lot: perhaps I was reincarnated as a shagitz as punishment for some terrible sin I committed in a past life as a Jew—one for which I did not atone by the last Yom Kippur of that previous life. (For those of you who’ve forgotten your Yiddish, a “shagitz” is a boy shiksa.)
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Weekend Readings, 18-19 September 2010

Weekend Readings 


Jordan Mejas at FAZ.NET reports on the role of money in fueling the ultraconservative movement in America ("Gut gedüngte Graswurzeln"). The article is based largely on a reading of Jane Mayer's New Yorker article on the Koch brothers (if you haven't read this yet, go read it right now....I'll wait), with additional commentary on the Citizens United decision, the political campaigns of Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, and a book (which I did not know) by Will Bunch, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama.


One of the most pleasant aspects of not watching television and not subscribing to a daily newspaper is that I am almost completely insulated from the hideous din of the American media echo chamber.  Thus I am (thankfully) only dimly aware of the (apparently) utterly deranged raving over the "mosque at Ground Zero"—which is, in fact, an Islamic cultural center, the Park51 project, explicitly devoted to the cause of moderate Islam, two blocks north of the Ground Zero site.

Lawrence Wright, in the most recent issue of The New Yorker, contributes an excellent short comment on the uproar.  He compares the public trajectory of the Park51 story to the furor over the "Mohammed" cartoons published in the Danish Jyllands-Posten in 2005.  In both cases, the controversy did not erupt for several months, and then only because of the provocations and outright lies of parties cynically manipulating public opinion for their own ends.


Ludger Held at Zeit Online reviews the German edition of Deborah Hertz, How Jews Became Germans: The History of Conversion and Assimilation in Berlin (2009; published in German this year as Wie Juden Deutsche wurden: Die Welt jüdischer Konvertiten vom 17. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert). Hertz's book is based on her discovery of a huge collection of cards in the Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin attempting to list all Jews who had converted to Protestantism between 1645 and 1833. The cards had been part of a research project done at the behest of the Nazis.


"Feiern wie die Bayern": Madeleine Hofmann writes in Der Spiegel on the current German fad for traditional costume: "Dirndl, Janker, Sepplhosen: Eintracht Deutschland." Fashions based on Trachten have been taken up by the young, the hip, and the celebrated.  There has even been an academic study on the topic, by ethnologist Simone Egger.  Peter M. Kaiser of the clothing label Kaisergwand in Munich enthuses "Die Tracht ist einfach am boomen.  Mit Dirndl oder Lederhosen ist man halt immer gut angezozen—sie sind mittlerweile ein Mode-Must-Have."

(Apologies to the feminists in my audience; it was either this photo of Salma Hayek, or the one of Paris Hilton...I thought this one was more tasteful....)

Evolution of Religion

Sean Roberts at A Replicated Typo has been attending the conference Language as Social Coordination: An Evolutionary Perspective, in Warsaw. He reports on a talk given there by Konrad Talmont-Kaminski on the evolution of religion (Talmont-Kaminski has an English-language blog on the topic at Just Another Deisidaimon). 

Based on Roberts's description, the gist of Talmont-Kaminski's talk seems to be that supernatural "higher powers" serve as a threat to "punish defectors or reward co-operators" in a cooperatively-based social group.

This is a popular theory, but its proponents (so far as I have been able to tell) seem rarely to base their arguments on a comprehensive analysis of the actual and historical practices and beliefs of world religions.  A punishing and rewarding God (or gods) is by no means a universal component of human religion.

An adequate theory of the evolution of religion must explain religions and supernatural beliefs as they have actually existed in human cultures, not just religions as an evolutionary biologist might imagine them, based on his or her own childhood experience of a monotheistic religion with a potentially punishing God.

It's really necessary to read the anthropological literature and talk to anthropologists (and archaeologists).

Talmont-Kaminski is preparing a book on the topic; a preview chapter (which I haven't read) is available here.


Vaughan Bell summarizes a study describing a new visual illusion in which "your own reflection in the mirror seems to become distorted and shifts identity." The study is:
Giovanni B. Caputo (2010), "Strange-face-in-the-mirror illusion," Perception 39, 1007-1008.  The article is freely available here.
I wonder if the mechanism of this illusion is related to the kinds of hallucinatory distortions of one's own face that one can experience in BDD (about which more later today, based on a talk I gave on Sunday).


Mark Liberman at Language Log investigates the usage of the possessive case with a gerund ("...in hopes of his being able to join me").  Among other things, he links to a wonderful article on the topic in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage. (I really must learn how to embed content from Google Books as Liberman has done in his post.  Very cool.)

The topic has stirred up a lot of interest, and Liberman has ended up writing two more posts about it (so far) as of Monday morning, here and here.


On 1 and 2 October, MUMOK (the Museum Moderner Kunst in Vienna) is presenting the premiere of The History of Sexuality Volume One by Michel Foucault: An Opera, a work-in-progress by Gregg Bordowitzh and Paul Chan.  Here's the description from the MUMOK website:
The History of Sexuality Volume One by Michel Foucault: An Opera  is a work-in-progress adopting the dramatic musical form to stage the major themes and philosophical insights of one of the most influential philosophers of the late twentieth century. In this adaption of Foucault´s great work, the philosopher will encounter one student, two rivals, and a sworn enemy - perhaps all of them are ghosts. Nothing less than a grand opera is required to stage the epochal theory of self-emancipation that is Michel Foucault´s unique legacy. The performance will be set against a backdrop drawn from Foucault´s biographical details; including his activism on behalf of prisoners´ rights, and his death from AIDS.

CONCEPT: Gregg Bordowitz, Paul Chan, DIRECTION & LIBRETTO: Gregg Bordowitz, PERFORMERS: Siegmar Aigner, Alexander Braunsöhr, Didi Bruckmayr, Mara Mattuschka, Moravia Naranjo, ORIGINAL COSTUME DESIGNS: Paul Chan, COSTUME DESIGNER: Kristine Woods, PRODUCTION: Tanzquartier Wien in cooperation with MUMOK.
It's interesting that no composer is mentioned in the credits.


Die Zeit
interviews internationally-known baritone Thomas Quasthoff (who was a thalidomide baby), in the series "Das war meine Rettung."

Two quotes, the first on hearing technically flawless singers who convey nothing in their singing (I've known quite a few of those):
Ich habe schon Liederabende erlebt, wo eineinhalb Stunden eine Stimmschönheit präsentiert wurde, aber ich saß da und dachte mir: Mädel, was willst du mir jetzt damit sagen, außer dass du sechs Jahre lang deine Stimme schön ausgebildet und keinerlei technische Probleme hast?
And on how Quasthoff feels about having a successful career on stage:
Hören Sie mal, wenn Sie mit einer 100-prozentigen Körperbehinderung in einen Beruf gehen, der sehr viel mit äußerer Ästhetik zu tun hat, und plötzlich werden Sie international gefeiert – natürlich macht das Spaß. Ich würde Ihnen die Hucke volllügen, wenn ich etwas anderes sagte.

Dan Hope at The Christian Science Monitor has a comprehensive rundown of every tablet computer currently in production, imminently in the pipeline, announced and "likely" to appear, or announced but canceled.  Who knew there were so many?

I saw a couple of these tablets at the Borders at the Atrium Mall on Saturday after our little Schubert concert, and they were distinctly underwhelming.  One of them (I didn't note the brand) was so slow that you could have had grandchildren (from scratch) while waiting for a page to load.


Games with Words points to the site Wordle, which will create a customizable word cloud out of the texts of the last few posts of any blog.  Here's mine from the couple of posts previous to this one:

You can select to suppress "common words," but apparently only in one language at a time.  Thus if I choose to suppress common words in German, to avoid the very large "der," I'll get a very large "the" instead.

I wonder if I'm the only blog to have discussed poodles and Nietzsche in such close proximity.


die Denkfabrik
sich durchdringen
sich verorten
der Fummel
(jm) eins hinter die Löffel geben
(Literally, "to give one to someone behind the spoons"; meaning "to clip someone's ears," or, roughly, "to whack someone upside the head")
etwas auf die eigene Kappe nehmen
jm die Hucke volllügen
gut betucht
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