Archive for the ‘miscellaneous’ Category

Daniel Drezner, in a superb article, counters the view — fashionable of late — that the internet and the blogging phenomenon has led to a decline in the quality of public intellectualism.

The pessimism about public intellectuals is reflected in attitudes about how the rise of the Internet in general, and blogs in particular, affects intellectual output. Alan Wolfe claims that “the way we argue now has been shaped by cable news and Weblogs; it’s all ‘gotcha’ commentary and attributions of bad faith. No emotion can be too angry and no exaggeration too incredible.” David Frum complains that “the blogosphere takes on the scale and reality of an alternative world whose controversies and feuds are … absorbing.” David Brooks laments, “People in the 1950s used to earnestly debate the role of the intellectual in modern politics. But the Lionel Trilling authority figure has been displaced by the mass class of blog-writing culture producers.”

These comments, Drezner says, miss the point.

For academics aspiring to be public intellectuals, blogs allow networks to develop that cross the disciplinary and hierarchical strictures of academe. Provided one can write jargon-free prose, a blog can attract readers from all walks of life — including, most importantly, people beyond the ivory tower. (The distribution of traffic and links in the blogosphere is highly skewed, and academics and magazine writers make up a fair number of the most popular bloggers.) Indeed, because of the informal and accessible nature of the blog format, citizens will tend to view academic bloggers that they encounter online as more accessible than would be the case in a face-to-face interaction, increasing the likelihood of a fruitful exchange of views about culture, criticism, and politics with individuals whom academics might not otherwise meet. Furthermore, as a longtime blogger, I can attest that such interactions permit one to play with ideas in a way that is ill suited for more-academic publishing venues. A blog functions like an intellectual fishing net, catching and preserving the embryonic ideas that merit further time and effort.

Perhaps the most-useful function of bloggers, however, is when they engage in the quality control of other public intellectuals. Posner believes that public intellectuals are in decline because there is no market discipline for poor quality. Even if public intellectuals royally screw up, he argues, the mass public is sufficiently uninterested and disengaged for it not to matter. Bloggers are changing that dynamic, however. If Michael Ignatieff, Paul Krugman, or William Kristol pen substandard essays, blogs have and will provide a wide spectrum of critical feedback.

Drezner is right. The free market of ideas created by the internet does contain a great deal of low-quality noise; however, the very best blogs, quite often, provide both more variety and better analysis than the mainstream media and its salaried pundits. Furthermore, as Drezner points out, blogs play an important role in demystifying their subject. They provide thoughtful, quick critiques of mainstream works and are a powerful agent of quality control. In a sense, blogging and more conventional methods of intellectual discourse (such as books or papers) are complementary; each performs better in the presence of the other.

Above all, the low barrier of entry means that intellectualism in the internet age is no longer the sole province of those with a degree, but can be successfuly partaken by anyone with the knowledge, capability and intelligence. That’s a good thing.

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Click here to see what happens next.

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For those who are wondering, the car was worth £100,000.

The driver and the passenger walked away with minor injuries.

(Hat Tip: Althouse)

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I am out of town for the next three days. So there will probably be no posts till Sunday night.

Have a nice weekend.

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One of the great tragedies of modern USA, particularly seen in the modern Republican party, is its disdain for intellectualism and love for dumbing down. Do you pronounce foreign words correctly? It’s a liability. Eat aragula? Terrible! Skeptical about the existence of God? Kiss your chances of ever getting elected to office goodbye.

On the other hand, if you believe in creationism and are able to say the phrase “Joe-six-pack” faster than your predecessor can yell “nucular”, you have a good chance of getting nominated for the Vice-Presidency. And wait, you actually don’t give a hoot what researchers think? Congratulations, you are President.

(‘Pock-i-stahn’ Hat Tip: The Agitator)

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(Post updated)

The Food Climate Research Network says that in future, governments will have to force people to eat climate-friendly foods in order to save the planet. For instance, meat will have to rationed, and consumption of treats such as alcohol and chocolates reduced drastically. They advocate such drastic measures citing evidence that voluntary measures will not work in a crisis.

Even assuming that the science they base their climatological claims on is accurate, have these people ever heard of a cost-benefit analysis? Or maybe they don’t really think this kind of extreme authoritarianism is such a bad thing.

Given a choice between two future worlds, one where sea-levels rise by a few feet over the next hundred years and another where mankind goes back to the prehistoric eras in their standard of living and political systems, I’d choose the former.

The best solutions to global problems, whether it is the environment or the economy, must invoke reason rather than fear, science rather than faith, markets rather than collectivism and take place in a political climate of freedom and entrepreneurship, not one of authoritarianism. Unfortunately, many of the measures advocated by extreme environmentalists are fundamentally anti-progress and anti-freedom and do not deserve a second glance.

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Backpacking trip

I’ll be away for the next six days backpacking in Sequoia National Park, so there will be no posts till next Sunday.

Have a nice week!

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It’s beautiful, watch it.

(Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan)

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Well, now we have videographic proof that it’s dumb to fly kites during a tropical storm.

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What happens when you post ads on Craigslist in order to return money that you found dropped somewhere?

The obvious.

(Hat Tip: Boing Boing)

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What if Facebook was played out in real life? Check out the video below.

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Is morality just codified human preference? Or is it given and absolute? How are our notions of right and wrong related to our evolved psychology and semantics?

These are some of the difficult questions Eliezer Yudkowsky tackles in a series of posts that I feel compelled to link to. So, here they are. Do read them in the same order.

The articles are long and the arguments presented in the form of dialogues. Thus the reading takes some effort, which, however is amply rewarded. I should add Yudkowsky’s disclaimer that his own position on the matter is not represented by any of the parties depicted in these articles but will be elaborated in a follow-up post. 

It is probably fair to say that the linked articles contain no new revelations (at least none that I haven’t myself derived). However their greatness lies in the way the central arguments and rebuttals have been crystallised, presented and clarified. Looking forward to the next one!

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How English is turning into a language native speakers will soon not understand.

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CNN has an interesting article about the UC Berkeley protesters angry about campus expansion plans, who have been living in the branches of a threatened oak grove for the last eighteen months.

The best bit comes at the end:

Protesters howled, flung excrement and shook tree branches as campus-hired arborists cut supply lines and removed gear.

But by late this week, campus police were conducting delicate negotiations with tree-sitters, offering to provide food and water if protesters would lower their waste on a daily basis in the interest of hygiene.

Campus officials ended up giving up the water without concessions; protesters declined to yield their urine.

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This one is by former U.S. surgeon general Richard Carmona:

As we look to the future and where childhood obesity will be in 20 years … it is every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the terrorist threat from within.

Kerry Howley’s reaction to the above is funny:

I’m not sure whether we should be more or less afraid of the “War on Terror” now that the phrase terrorist threat means “bad thing.”

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