Post-Slump Links

March 11, 2007

Since every hour that passes I’m more certain I’m not going to keep blogging, here are a few good links for your perusal:

Stuart Staniford of the Oil Drum explains carefully why the Saudi production decrease is due to peak oil rather than a voluntary reduction. The minutiae of the Saudi production curve are more consistent with a post-peak slump rather than with a voluntary reduction meant to give Saudi Arabia the power to flood the market at any given time.

C. L. Hanson notes that the two basic principles of relationships – that people have the right to say no to sex and that people shouldn’t sleep with anyone but their partners – are incongruous. As such, she talks about how cheating can save relationships.

Stentor rebuts market-based arguments against environmental legislation. He explains specifically that air pollution needs to be curbed collectively since air is naturally a shared resource. This isn’t an especially novel argument – the tragedy of the commons is a recognized market failure – but some libertarians’ hostility to it requires repeating it more than should be necessary.

Melissa Franklin, Harvard’s first tenured female physics professor, speaks at a conference about women in science that has just given her an award. She recounts experiences ranging from students’ crying because they couldn’t finish their problem sets to sexual assault.


That’s It for Me, I Suppose

March 10, 2007

I’m seriously contemplating dropping off the blogosphere. At the very minimum, I’m going to start purging the big bloggers from my ‘roll – there’s never any good discussion on most of them anyway – and concentrate on talking to people who actually take the time to listen. Because, frankly, there’s no point.

A blogger can have forty times my traffic and still be politically irrelevant. The supposed purpose of political blogs is to exert influence; a good rule of thumb is that if your name isn’t Markos Moulitsas, Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, or Michelle Malkin, you’re failing to do that.

I suspect there’s an underlying “It’s fun” reason for every blogger – it’s certainly there for me. Not being a real masochist, I can’t in good faith call the ritual that is participating in any of a number of low-grade echo chambers as fun. The people who run those echo chambers don’t want discussion; they want fellation. I can understand how the notion I’m willing to do that can arise, since after all I used to be in a fairly long-term online relationship, but I don’t do that anymore; any blogger who wants me to fellate her needs to first know me in real life fairly well.

I could write endless sarcastic posts about the rules of the echo chamber. In their most exaggerated form, they appear as radical pathologies; make no mistake about it, even echo chambers that begin as non-radical invariably radicalize, mostly due to the effect of extremism. But even in their weaker forms, they are deeply pathological, turning serious political and social discussions into exercises in hive formation. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a market for anti-blogosphere blogging. I still write to an audience.

I’m not doing this because Ilyka Damen is an ageist. I get age-bashed fairly regularly, albeit less than I used to (I attribute that to stopping reading blogs that tolerated that sort of behavior, incidentally). The reason Ilyka got a post of her own is that I decided a fair amount of time ago that I shouldn’t take shit from people just because they publish their bile on blogs I read regularly.

Nor am I doing this strictly because of traffic concerns. That my traffic’s down by a third from a month ago is immaterial; even then it was about two and a half orders of magnitude less than what I needed to make a difference.

To make an understatement, I’m behind on my reading. I should have read 19 books by now in calendar 2007 to be on track to go through 100 books this year; I’ve read 6. But even that isn’t why I’m doing this – I was horribly behind on my reading even when I was on UTI and spent maybe three hours a day on the blogosphere.

It’s not any of those; it’s that there’s no point. Amanda likes to say that she bans people who bore her. I have to take her word for it when she implies that hordes of ideologically uniform commenters don’t bore her. But they bore me. In fact, the only thing more boring than that is what passes for outreach or serious left/right debate, which typically involves regurgitating simplistic talking points or holding pissmatches about non-issues.

On to more practical concerns. I signed as the Carnival of the Godless host this April 1st; I intend to make good on that. Likewise, even if I drop off the blogosphere entirely, I’ll keep managing the Carnival of Mathematics, since if there’s one part of my blog I’m going to keep, it’s the math.

The Galois theory series has about three posts left: compound extensions, including the proof that two Galois extensions of K whose intersection is K are linearly disjoint; roots of unity and cyclotomic extensions; and the original motivation of the theory, solving polynomials by radicals. None of those is terribly important theoretically, not for the level of number theory I’ve written about.

The radical pathologies series is far more incomplete, with six more pathologies to go, including several fairly important ones (namely, paranoia, theoretical thought, and schismaticism). Fortunately, my overview post has some basic outlines on each; the individual posts flesh the arguments out more, but the overview is good enough for a lot of purposes.

I still owe Lynet a clarification on lived experience and everyone a post on Jews and oppressed groups. The latter is probably going to make my next 3QD post, regardless of whether I shut down Abstract Nonsense and withdraw from Appletree or not. The former is going to become a post here, again regardless of this blog’s fate. People who take their time to respond thoughtfully to what I say deserve at least that.

I’m going to keep fleshing out Eternal Night. I haven’t gotten any further responses to it; if it remains that way, I’ll go back and make wholesale changes based solely on the one I’ve received. I started writing it before I had a blog.

And I still have my two email addresses (plus my two university emails), of course. If you want to alert me to a post of yours, or something like that, feel free to use them.

UPDATE: it’s probably worth mentioning that you shouldn’t ask me which blogs I specifically refer to when I attack echo chambers. I’m not going to go into specifics, for reliability reasons. I can think of a few blogs that are clearly white and a few that are clearly black, but there’s a gigantic gray area of blogs I keep changing my mind about based on ephemera; all I know is that the mean remains a very dark shade of gray. But for what it’s worth, if you’re too small to maintain an echo chamber, I’m not talking about you.

Consonant-Level Links

March 10, 2007

See the above post (soon) for an explanation of the motivation of this roundup’s theme. But for now, suffice is to say that people with 500 hits a day need links more than people with 5,000.

Kristjan Wager delves into John Hawkins’ dishonest column in greater detail than I did; he not only looks at the study in question and shows how the numbers compare with Hawkins’ point, but also proposes a hypothesis explaining the observation.

Jessica Dreadul links to two reproductive rights-themed news pieces, one about Chile’s lowering of the age barrier to parental consent to emergency contraception and another about an attempt to prevent pharmacists from arbitrarily denying women in Georgia EC.

On The Politburo Diktat, there’s a long, engaging thread about the war on Iraq and whether the US is irrevocably doomed and has nothing better to do than cut and run.

Shelley reports a breakthrough in research into curing hearing loss. While her lab is trying to cure deafness by infecting ear cells with benign viruses, another lab has achieved results by directly compensating for a deficient protein.

Bean notes that one group of people in the US who are especially impacted by the nastiness of the prison system are the mentally ill, who are often tortured with solitary confinement.

Georgia Violates Separation of Church and State

March 10, 2007

The Georgia Board of Education approved a new slate of classes, which purport to teach the Bible as literature and as a historical source, but will almost certainly become state-funded sermons.

Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, the Republican who sponsored the plan, said the Bible plays a major role in history and is important in understanding many classic literary works.

“It’s not just ‘The Good Book,'” Williams said. “It’s a good book.”

Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan civil liberties group, has said the Georgia policy is the nation’s first to endorse and fund Bible classes on a statewide level.

The bill approved overwhelmingly in the Legislature was tailored to make it clear the courses would not stray into religious teaching, Williams said.

The measure calls for the courses to be taught “in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students.”

In theory, it’s a good idea. There are a lot of works with obvious ideological tones that should still be taught for their historical value; in the West, they include the Bible, the Qur’an, the Communist Manifesto, and the two Treatises of Government. But teaching just the Bible smacks of religious favoritism, since other scriptures, even those that are very relevant to a modern American, are excluded.

And further, in practice, classes will invariably become sermons. Even assuming that most Christian teachers can teach the Bible impartially, which is doubtful, there will be immense pressure on them to preach. Georgia has a large contingent of fundamentalists, who make a ruckus every time someone offends them by teaching evolution. In the land of anti-evolution stickers, I don’t expect Bible classes to remain impartial for more than a day.

Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Sexism

March 10, 2007

When I hear the words “Political correctness,” I think about pointless exercises in choosing the precise word and mannerisms to use in every situation, elevated above substance. James Dickson’s Michigan Daily article about feminism certainly lowers the bar; to Dickson, political correctness includes saying that when a woman says no to sex she means no and that people shouldn’t excuse sexual assault on the flimsy excuse that boys will be boys. Dickson complains,

In their laudable desire to eliminate rape, campus feminists have created a climate of fear that doesn’t acknowledge that no one supports rape besides rapists. To shift the blame from rapists to some supposed rape culture is an act of magic, not logic.

The climate of fear he talks about isn’t some “Every man is a rapist” trope or even a guilt-based campaign treating men as five-year-olds. The poster he complains about is, by his own admission,

“If you do one or more of the following things:

� use words like ‘pimp’ and ‘player’ to praise sexually exploitative men

� blame women who have experienced sexual assault for indecency, stupidity, for ‘asking for it’

� think ‘no’ means ‘yes’

� excuse sexual violence because ‘men can’t control themselves’


In trying to sound like a serious rape fighter who happens to emphasize its nature as a crime, Dickson manages to miss the mark almost every sentence. He talks about how rapists and sex criminals are reviled; but that holds only in stereotypical cases where it’s impossible to accuse the victim of having consented. In all other cases, “She asked for it” can be used effectively as a defense in criminal trials (see e.g. here).

Dickson further manages to mangle his own anti-rape proposal by calling for installing more street lighting throughout Ann Arbor. It’s not hard to find statistics about where women get sexually assaulted and their relationship to the perpetrator; in the US, the NCVS has fairly thorough data. Averaging the surveys from 2003 through 2005 reveals that 5.1% of sexual assaults in the US occur on the street, compared with 62.7% that occur at or near the victim’s home or the home of an acquaintance of hers.

One of the advantages of campaigns encouraging women to speak out is that causing women to report rape more is likely to help in two ways. First, as far as I can tell, the reporting rate for rape is negatively correlated with the rape rate, probably due to a deterrence effect. And second, the more rapes are known, the more political capital there is for other anti-rape policies.

Dickson’s article is one that makes a lot of sense, if you accept certain premises about rape that, while common among conservatives and plain old sexists, are not true. The premises’ centerfold is the stereotypical rape, which features a victim who’s very clearly more a virgin than a whore and a perpetrator who barely knew her if at all and is not considered a good guy in general. That rape is the easiest to come down against both in the media and in court, but is a fairly rare specimen.

In all other cases, a lot of things that should be too irrelevant to note are considered mitigating circumstances. If the perpetrator knew the victim well, especially if he’s a partner or former partner, people such as Dickson are likely to consider it within his rights to demand sex. If the victim was drunk, they consider the rape her fault. If the victim has a history of consensual sex – or, more precisely, if the defense manages to make such a history public – they consider her a tramp. At the end, they firmly oppose a small minority of rapes and excuse the rest.

That, ultimately, is what is called the rape culture. It’s not so much rape itself as the barrage of ifs and buts coming from people like Dickson, for whom the mildest campus activism is extreme political correctness. Dickson himself manages to avoid saying such phrases as “She asked for it,” but still can’t help deriding a poster attacking that attitudes.

There are two kinds of people who use the words “Extreme rhetoric” to refer to posters attacking attitudes that apologize for rape. One is rank misogynists, who blame working women for every social problem and think rape is bad except when it happens in real life rather than in the media. The other is radical feminists, who would like you to believe the jump from mild anti-rape rhetoric to refusing to have sex with men as a matter of principle is smaller than it actually is. And Dickson doesn’t at all strike me as a radical feminist.

Dog Bites Man; Conservative Pundit Abuses Statistics

March 10, 2007

Tyler DiPietro fisks conservative pundit John Hawkins who’s clueless about science, but leaves fisking his statistical claims to me. I’m always happy to oblige; the claim in question is that liberals are more racist than conservatives. I hate to disappoint Tyler, but Hawkins isn’t making an error in mathematics, but in basic reasoning. He quotes a study saying,

White Republicans nationally are 25 percentage points more likely on average to vote for the Democratic senatorial candidate when the GOP hopeful is black…In House races, white Democrats are 38 percentage points less likely to vote Democratic if their candidate is black.

The most shoddy part of the quote is the ellipsis, which covers several paragraphs in the relevant article. The 25% and 38% figures are not meant to be compared; after all, the 25% figure applies to Senate races while the 38% applies to House races, in which different dynamics might be in play.

In addition, just comparing white Democrats to white Republicans is somewhat misleading, since Democrats also have a significant black and Latino vote. In the 2006 election, a sixth of the Democratic House vote was black and 10% was Latino compared with only 2% and 5% of the Republican House vote respectively.

The remainder of Hawkins’ point about racism is a short screed about how Republicans are the party of Lincoln whereas Democrats had a Dixiecrat contingent. Not surprisingly, Hawkins stops short of looking at Democratic versus Republican behavior sometime in the 1960s, when the Dixiecrats defected to the Republicans after LBJ did something to help black people.

Incidentally, the other point of Hawkins refuting which Tyler left to me – namely, that conservatives contribute to charity more – is something I talked about a while ago. In a nutshell, charity is meaningless. If you have 200 dollars to burn, the best way of spending them is contributing to politicians who help the poor; for a billion dollars every four years you can elect a President and a Congress that will push through programs that will increase federal payments to both the real (i.e. third-world) poor and the US poor by 30 billion dollars a year each.

Fight the RIAA

March 9, 2007

Gordo has an important post about how the mafia the RIAA is using the Copyright Royalty Board to put independent music stations out of business so that the only music available will be this produced by an RIAA record label. The CRB has adopted the RIAA’s suggested royalty levels, 0.08 cents per listener per song effective retroactively from 2006, which often works out to a higher number than a webcasting station’s total income. Worse, this figure is slated to rise sharply, reaching 0.19 by 2010.

Radio Paradise‘s Bill Goldsmith notes, “This royalty structure would wipe out an entire class of business: Small independent webcasters such as myself & my wife, who operate Radio Paradise. Our obligation under this rate structure would be equal to over 125% of our total income. There is no practical way for us to increase our  income so dramatically as to render that affordable.”

And Radio Paradise is perhaps the most-successful webcaster in its class!  For most operators, this rate looks as if it would be >150-200% of total revenues.

Save Net Radio is circulating an online petition to Congress to repeal this stifling nonsense. Make sure you sign it.