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To the best of my knowledge, there exists absolutely no scientific evidence today in favor of any statistically significant genetic difference in mental abilities across races. Yet, I do not think we understand genetics well enough to absolutely rule out such a possibility. So I do not rule out the possibility that African Americans, are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. In fact, I do not rule out this possibility for any race — Whites, South Asians, Mongoloids, Eskimos.

My position on the matter is identical to Eugene Volokh’s. “Whether there are genetic differences among racial and ethnic groups in intelligence is a question of scientific fact. Either there are, or there aren’t (or, more precisely, either there are such differences under some plausible definitions of the relevant groups and of intelligence, or there aren’t). The question is not the moral question about what we should do about those differences, if they exist. It’s not a question about what we would like the facts to be. The facts are what they are, whether we like them or not.”

The same is true for other group classifications, such as gender. In fact, according to noted Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker and many other experts, there is fairly good evidence of differences in mental abilities between males and females. For certain mental tasks it appears that males, on average, are genetically better equipped; for certain others, females are.

What is important is this: Even if some differences in mental ability exists across groups, given the extremely large variation between individuals in any group, these differences are irrelevant from a  moral or legal standpoint. It is not racist or sexist to suggest or believe that differences exist on average; it is racist and sexist to suggest we should treat people differently purely because they belong to a certain group.

What is even more important is this: The culture of pervasive political correctness today that makes is impossible to ask such questions without facing a huge backlash and social ostracization is stifling to intellectual curiousity, degrading to our intelligence and speaks only ill of our open-mindedness; in short like everything else associated with political correctness it is evil.

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No, the terrorists didn’t blow up a plane or kill people. They don’t need to do that. For, their essential tactic is to make us feel threatened and destroy our normal way of life. And we are making sure they get what they want.

In the latest exhibit of caution gone berserk, a Hawaii bound plane turned back to Portland because the pilot was scared. The reason? Some passenger, unhappy with the stewardess, decided to make a weak attempt at humor and write some random nonsense on the feedback form:

“I thought I was going to die, we were so high up,” the card said. “I thought to myself: I hope we don’t crash and burn or worse yet landing in the ocean, living through it, only to be eaten by sharks, or worse yet, end up on some place like Gilligan’s Island, stranded, or worse yet, be eaten by a tribe of headhunters, speaking of headhunters, why do they just eat outsiders, and not the family members? Strange … and what if the plane ripped apart in mid-flight and we plumited (sic) to earth, landed on Gilligan’s Island and then lived through it, and the only woman there was Mrs. Thurston Howell III? No Mary Anne (my favorite) no Ginger, just Lovey! If it were just her, I think I’d opt for the sharks, maybe the headhunters.”

Not only did the plane turn back midway, the guy has been charged and faces up to twenty tears in prison.

This is exactly how we do the terrorists job for them. By losing our common sense. To irrational fear.

As security expert Bruce Schneier puts it:

A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

Indeed.

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States are being negligent with their cultural heritage when they turn it over to a monopolist and thereby run tax-funded projects like the European digital library Europeana into the ground.

Not having had the time — till today — to go through the details of the controversial Google Books settlement, I wasn’t entirely sure where I stood on the issue. The above quote by the German Minister of Culture, however, was the first indication that the settlement couldn’t be as evil as some were making it out to be. Not to over-generalize, but when leftist cultural nationalists oppose something, it generally means I will end up supporting it.

Anyway, it prompted me to finally go through the agreement in detail. And my intuition was right, I think the agreement is perfectly ok, and indeed a great thing. It is important to make clear at this point that my concern was never monopoly; I happen to oppose anti-trust laws. My concern was always rights. So for me, the most important aspect of the agreement is the fact that is non-exclusive. That basically seals it for me. Once you see what that means, it is clear that much of the opposition is misleading, or worse. In particular, the next time you hear someone claiming that the agreement gives Google an exclusive right to sell millions of out-of print but still-in-copyright books at whatever price they wish, remember they are simply lying. The rightsholders of these works, under the terms of the settlement, retain all rights to sell (or give out for free) digitized copies of their books through any other agency, even a competing one, now or any time in the future. (They also have the right to opt-out of the settlement altogether.) So if you are the copyright holder of an out-of print book and you are outraged that Google is selling it at some high price, remember that you can, first off, ask them to stop (there is a deadline for this) or even better, you can legally, anytime you wish, put it up on your own webpage or anyone else’s, or enter into a competing agreement with Microsoft or Yahoo, and either sell your book at your chosen price, or give it to the public for free (and you don’t even have to opt out of the settlement, meaning that your book will continue to be searchable through Google). This is very different from what the situation would have been if the agreement were an exclusive one, and the distinction really goes to the heart of the matter.

As for the case of orphaned out-of-print books (where the rightholders cannot be found or don’t care), first off, Google is doing a service by making their books more easily available; secondly, any other individual or competing company — like Amazon — can also scan these books (that’s the beauty of non-exclusive), and thirdly most of these books will get into the public domain pretty soon.

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I have always been a fan of Amazon.com which is why I was particularly saddened and outraged by the recent incident where Amazon remotely deleted books from users’ Kindles. (Volokh had a series of posts on the matter)

Well it appears they have apologized(see below). The apology is remarkably humble, and while it does not erase the incident, it certainly helps to assuage the outrage. I cannot recall another mega company under similar circumstances that came out with such a statement.

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com

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Blogger’s fatigue?

29  last month. Just 14 posts in 24 March days. Really?

And for much of last year I used to average 50 posts a month…

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Or at least I could be, if this report by the Missouri Information Analysis Center (a government agency that researches terrorism) is to be taken seriously.

If you’re an anti-abortion activist, or if you display political paraphernalia supporting a third-party candidate or a certain Republican member of Congress, if you possess subversive literature, you very well might be a member of a domestic paramilitary group.

[...] People who supported former third-party presidential candidates like Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr are cited in the report, in addition to anti-abortion activists and conspiracy theorists who believe the United States, Mexico and Canada will someday form a North American Union.

“Militia members most commonly associate with 3rd party political groups,” the report reads. “It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitutional Party, Campaign for Liberty or Libertarian material.

After all I believe in freedom, possess plenty of ‘subversive’ books, have a Reason sticker on my car bumper, donate to several libertarian activist groups and would have voted for Bob Barr in the last election if I had been eligible to vote.

As long as they keep their fat asses in Missouri, I suppose I shouldn’t be bothered.

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(See updates below)

(This post, for legal reasons that will be obvious, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.)

Gaurav Sabnis writes about the unfortunate case of blogger Chetan Kunte, whose views about Barkha Dutt’s “unethical reporting” apparently caused NDTV to browbeat him into deleting the post and replacing it with an apology.

It does not take a PhD in reading between the lines to guess what happened. NDTV probably sent Kunte a legal notice, asking him to pull the post down, apologize, never write about them again, and pay an absurdly massive amount of money. Remember this legal notice from a few years back? Seems like NDTV might have used the same basic wording.

I don’t know if that is true. I do strongly suspect, however, that someone acted like a bully. Gaurav notes that Chetan’s post is available through Google Cache. Since I do not know how long it will stay there, I am going to cross-post the entire thing here. I am not violating Kunte’s copyright because his license terms (the same as this particular post) allow me to republish his writing with attribution. [Update: see below] I also believe that his entire post was basically a collection of opinions and not literal statements of fact; hence Kunte did not defame Barkha Dutt/NDTV by writing this post and I am not doing so by posting it here.

I urge all bloggers who feel similarly to do the same.

Appalling journalism. Absolute blasphemy! As I watch the news from home, I am dumbfounded to see Barkha Dutt of NDTV break every rule of ethical journalism in reporting the Mumbai mayhem. Take a couple of instances for example:

In one instance she asks a husband about his wife being stuck, or held as a hostage. The poor guy adds in the end about where she was last hiding. Aired! My dear friends with AK-47s, our national news is helping you. Go get those still in. And be sure to thank NDTV for not censoring this bit of information.

In another instance, a General sort of suggests that there were no hostages in Oberoi Trident. (Clever.) Then, our herione of revelations calls the head of Oberoi, and the idiot confirms a possibility of 100 or more people still in the building. Hello! Guys with guns, you’ve got more goats to slay. But before you do, you’ve got to love NDTV and more precisely Ms. Dutt. She’s your official intelligence from Ground zero.

You do not need to be a journalist to understand the basic premise of ethics, which starts with protecting victims first; and that is done by avoiding key information from being aired publicly—such as but not limited to revealing the number of possible people still in, the hideouts of hostages and people stuck in buildings.

Imagine you’re one of those sorry souls holed-up in one of those bathrooms, or kitchens. A journalist pulls your kin outside and asks about your last contact on national television, and other prying details. In a bout of emotion, if they happen to reveal more details, you are sure going to hell. Remember these are hotels, where in all likelihood, every room has a television. All a terrorist needs to do is listen to Ms. Barkha Dutt’s latest achievement of extracting information from your relative, based on your last phone-call or SMS. And you’re shafted—courtesy NDTV.1

If the terrorists don’t manage to shove you in to your private hell, the journalists on national television will certainly help you get there. One of the criticisms about Barkha Dutt on Wikipedia reads thus:

During the Kargil conflict, Indian Army sources repeatedly complained to her channel that she was giving away locations in her broadcasts, thus causing Indian casualties.

Looks like the idiot journalist has not learnt anything since then. I join a number of bloggers pleading her to shut the f⋅⋅⋅ up.

Update: In fact, I am willing to believe that Hemant Karkare died because these channels showed him prepare (wear helmet, wear bullet-proof vest.) in excruciating detail live on television. And they in turn targeted him where he was unprotected. The brave officer succumbed to bullets in the neck.

Update 2 [28.Nov.2300hrs]: Better sense appears to have prevailed in the latter half of today—either willfully, or by Government coercion2, and Live broadcasts are now being limited to non-action zones. Telecast of action troops and strategy is now not being aired live. Thank goodness for that.

Update 3 [30.Nov.1900hrs]: DNA India reports about a UK couple ask media to report carefully:

The terrorists were watching CNN and they came down from where they were in a lift after hearing about us on TV.
— Lynne Shaw in an interview.

Oh, they have a lame excuse pronouncing that the television connections in the hotel has been cut, and therefore it is okay to broadcast. Like hell! [←]

I’m thinking coercion, since Government has just denied renewing CNN’s rights to air video today; must’ve have surely worked as a rude warning to the Indian domestic channels. [←]

I should probably add that I do not agree with Kunte’s opinions. However that is hardly relevant in this context.

[Update: It appears I was mistaken in reading the license; the Creative Commons license governs the Google Cache blog, not Kunte's blog. (I thought they were the same blog). So it is possible that my republishing Kunte's post above  violates his copyright. On the other hand, since the original post is no longer available on the author's blog, my posting it here has news reporting value; so it may well come under 'fair use'. Anyway, for now, this post stays.]

[Update 2: In a Facebook group, Barkha Dutt (or someone impersonating her) confirms that NDTV did send Kunte a legal notice.

you may want to know that the author of this email- a certain Mr. Kunte who lives in Holland.. has been sent a legal notice by NDTV for the rubbish and lies peddled in this email.

Best Regards

Barkha Dutt.

This whole case has been a PR nightmare for NDTV. If they have any sense whatsoever, they will issue a dignified statement about free speech, retract the threat to Kunte and shut up on this topic henceforth.]

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Off to Switzerland

I will be in Zurich for the next three days to give a talk and take part in an interview. Blogging may or may not happen during that period; it would depend on time and internet connectivity.

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Newness

Eliezer has an unusual suggestion on how to spend New Year’s Day.

Sometime in the next week – January 1st if you have that available, or maybe January 3rd or 4th if the weekend is more convenient – I suggest you hold a New Day, where you don’t do anything old.

Don’t read any book you’ve read before.  Don’t read any author you’ve read before.  Don’t visit any website you’ve visited before.  Don’t play any game you’ve played before.  Don’t listen to familiar music that you already know you’ll like.  If you go on a walk, walk along a new path even if you have to drive to a different part of the city for your walk.  Don’t go to any restaurant you’ve been to before, order a dish that you haven’t had before.  Talk to new people (even if you have to find them in an IRC channel) about something you don’t spend much time discussing.

And most of all, if you become aware of yourself musing on any thought you’ve thunk before, then muse on something else.  Rehearse no old grievances, replay no old fantasies.

If it works, you could make it a holiday tradition, and do it every New Year.

I think it is a beautiful idea.

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I will be off on a camping trip to Death Valley National Park for the next five days. We leave tomorrow morning. There is no internet there, so this is going to be the last post till the 31st.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Come back next week.

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Another policy change

I have changed the Creative Commons license that governs the content of this blog. In plain English, the change amounts to the following — now you can quote, republish, adapt or otherwise use any part of this blog for non-commercial purposes, provided you attribute me  as the original source. This is more restrictive than my previous license, which allowed such use even for commercial purposes, but of course, vastly less restrictive than the default “all rights reserved” copyright, where only ‘fair use’ is permitted.

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Comment policy

Here’s a simple question — who owns the comment you post on someone else’s blog?

One view is that the blog is the blog owner’s property and he owns all the content on it — including the comments — and has the right to do whatever he wants with them. Thus he may choose to publish or not publish a comment, edit it to any degree or delete it whenever he feels like.

However a little reflection should make one realize that by US law, the commenter by default attains copyright on any content he or she creates. So unless the commenter gives away some (or all) the rights associated with copyright, the comment is his property. Of course, it is debatable whether the act of posting the comment on another’s blog automatically means that the commenter gives away some of those rights.

Basically, things are a little murky. However, there is a simple solution — having a comment policy. All bloggers should clearly indicate to users what rights they have and what rights they are giving out when they write a comment. This is not only the honest and transparent thing to do but it also protects the blogger from potential legal repercussion later. This is the reason why all major comment-enabled blogs have a policy these days.

With that preamble, I present my comment policy below. It will also henceforth appear at the top of this blog. I view this blog as my property (indeed, the main reason I use WordPress is that I get such extensive control upon this site’s content) and the comment policy is written to reflect this view.

Muse Free is my blog and I will generally try to maintain it in a manner that is professional, courteous, friendly, and honest. I believe in allowing my readers an opportunity to express their views on my posts. That said, it is a big internet and I view this blog as my space. So, while you have the right to post anything you want on any open comment thread, I have the right to do anything I want with that comment henceforth. In short, once you post something here, you effectively lose control over it.

More precisely, by leaving a comment on Muse Free, you grant me a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sub-licenseable and transferable license to store, use, transmit, display, edit, delete, publish, reproduce, or otherwise distribute your comments without limitation, as well as to make such additional uses of them as may be needed by me.

Nonetheless, you as commenter are responsible for your words. So long as your comments have not been edited by me in a manner that changes their meaning, they do not reflect my opinions, even if I retain them on the Muse Free blog. By submitting a comment on this blog, you agree that the comment content is your own, and to hold WordPress and me harmless from any and all repercussions, damages, or liability.

Usually I will not exercise my right to edit or delete a comment without good reason. A relevant and civil comment will most likely be accepted and retained. However, these are not promises. As stated above, my right to moderate, edit or delete any comment may be exercised at any time for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. By putting a comment here you are implicitly taking a risk that I may delete your comment at any time, use it in any manner with or without attribution, edit it as I please or abuse your trust in some other way. Any or all of these actions by me will be legal according to the policy stated above and if you do not wish to take this risk, you are advised to not post a comment on this blog.

These terms of use may be revised from time to time. Please check this page periodically for updates. Your posting a comment on this site on any given date indicates your acceptance to the terms of use as of that date.

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Why Muse Free?

A reader asks me why I call my blog “Muse Free”. I generally think that names should speak for themselves but in this case I don’t mind giving a bit of an explanation.

First off, thought and freedom are two concepts that are very dear to me; and who doesn’t want a name to consist exclusively of dear words? However “think” or “thought” sounds too dry; muse gets its about right.

As for the name itself, I wanted it to have multiple significant meanings. Muse Free has at least two obvious meanings: Muse free(ly), Muse (on) Free(dom). Both of which go to the heart of what I want this site to be about.

But there is a third meaning that relies on a different, perhaps less known definition of the word muse. I quote from the Literary Dictionary:

muse, a source of inspiration to a poet or other writer, usually represented as a female deity, and conventionally called upon for assistance in a poet’s invocation. In ancient Greek religion, the muses were nine sister‐goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory), who presided over various arts and some branches of learning. Their cult was associated particularly with the Pierian Spring on Mount Olympus, with Mount Parnassus near Delphi, and with Mount Helicon in Boeotia. Their names and responsibilities are as follows: Calliope ( epic poetry); Clio (history); Erato ( lyric love poetry); Euterpe (flute music); Melpomene ( tragedy); Polyhymnia ( hymns); Terpsichore (choral dance and song); Thalia ( comedy); and Urania (astronomy). Later poets of the Renaissance, however, often referred to the women praised in their love poems as muses who inspired their verse; and in modern criticism the term has often been extended to any cause or principle underlying a writer’s work.

The third meaning of my title is that it refers to the hypothetical Goddess defined above who inspires my writings. She is free.

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A query for my readers

Do you find that this website is much slower over the past few days? If so, is your problem limited to my site or are you experiencing it on other wordpress blogs as well?

As for me, everything from viewing my own blog, posting, accessing my dashboard etc has been really slow for the past week or so. I am curious to know where the problem lies. A simple yes/no reply in the comments would be highly appreciated. Even if you are not a regular visitor of my blog, please let me know if the loading time for this particular visit felt normal.

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Blogging without obligation

I could give many (true) reasons for the lack of substantial posts over the last eight days or so: I have been travelling, I have been applying for postdoc jobs, I have been very busy otherwise. But why bother explaining myself when I can point to blogging without obligation?

(Hat Tip: A commenter in QI’s blog)

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