Josh sticks a pin in Hitchens' "Islamofascism" balloon

Over at TPM, Josh wonders why Hitchens et al insist on using the term “Islamofacism” instead of some more accurate neologism like “Islamotarianism”. His diagnosis:

The battle against fascism and then later communism were not only by most measures the greatest battles and dangers the United States has ever faced. They were also the greatest mixes of military struggle and intellectual engagement. For people who make their livings with pens and keyboards especially that combination is simply intoxicating. That is, among other reasons, what is behind the very deserved reputation of George Orwell.
But this isn’t 1938 or 1948. A bummer perhaps if you’re aiming to write a political essay for the ages. But not a bad thing if you’re trying to live a life, raise a family or a bunch other things.

"A refugee is someone who isn’t really welcome in any country- including their own… especially their own."

Thoughts from the Iraqi blogger, Riverbend, now living in Damascus, Syria:

I hear about the estimated 1.5 million plus Iraqi refugees in Syria and shake my head, never really considering myself or my family as one of them. After all, refugees are people who sleep in tents and have no potable water or plumbing, right? Refugees carry their belongings in bags instead of suitcases and they don’t have cell phones or Internet access, right? Grasping my passport in my hand like my life depended on it, with two extra months in Syria stamped inside, it hit me how wrong I was. We were all refugees. I was suddenly a number. No matter how wealthy or educated or comfortable, a refugee is a refugee. A refugee is someone who isn’t really welcome in any country- including their own… especially their own.

How can you "freeze development for 10 years"?

SPEEDtv is reporting that the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council is freezing engine development in Formula 1 for 10 years.

“There will be a total freeze on engine development for a period of 10 years, starting from 2008,” the WMSC’s statement read. “A change can be made after five years but only with the unanimous agreement of all stakeholders and following a further two-year notice period. Total freeze means that there will be no exceptions for development of certain parts of the engine, as is the case under the current regulations.”

This is simply asinine. Imagine trying to do this in computing: can you even buy 10-year old chips today? ((OK, I’m sure that NASA and the DoD do this, but that’s hardly a pattern to emulate.)) And how far does it go? Does it mean that every metal component must be manufactured from exactly the same alloy, shaped, drilled and finished using the same equipment? Or suppose that an engine maker has been trying to perfect a radical design for the last few years, and decides that it can’t be made to work. Reintroducing a more conventional technology would presumably involve “development”, so they’re stuck.
One obvious outcome is that it will be impossible for a new engine manufacturer to break into the club: how can you introduce a new product without doing development? We already have a situation in which a handful of engine makers supply all teams: Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault, Toyota, Honda, and BMW. But this didn’t imply stasis. Several of them have been making noises about the introduction of new, energy-efficient, low-pollution technologies: diesels, hybrids, new types of fuel.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this decision was made to protect the weaker engine manufacturers who weren’t prepared (or able) to fund innovation. This presumably means Ferrari, possibly supported by Renault. But it sucks.

"Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream"

On Monday evening I went along to Town Hall Seattle for a talk by Jennifer Ackerman, author of the new book Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body. I’ve posted a review at, but since they filtered out the hyperlinks I’ll repeat it here with edits restored:

A useful summary of the state of the science for the lay audience
I suspect that most of us assemble an ad hoc model of how bodies work when we are children, and then forget about the subject until things go wrong or major stories hit the news. Recent advances in genetics, endocrine analysis, imaging, and so forth mean that much of what we learned is probably wrong, or at least woefully inadequate. Ackerman’s book provides a nice survey of the state of the art, mixing the simply fascinating (e.g. the way temperature affects our tastebuds) with the extremely practical (many medical tests, including simple observations like temperature, vary so much over the day that it makes sense to timestamp them). One of my favourites: why do sick people always seem impatient with their caregivers? It turns out that if you have a fever, your sense of the passage of time is substantially compressed.
One reviewer was ticked off by the first person style, which I found weird: should Ackerman have concocted an artificially neutral, PC persona? I don’t think so. She quotes Thoreau: “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well”, and the book is better for it.
I do, however, wish that in the Acknowledgments she had credited the title of the book to King Crimson. Also, it would be nice if she or her publisher had put up a website with links to the various research papers and authors that she cites. Paper end-notes don’t really cut it any more.

I rated it four stars. ((I just had an odd thought: buy this and read it just before the holiday season this year, and I guarantee you’ll never run out of fascinating conversation pieces.))
As for the meeting itself, it was a typical book tour session, and none the worse for that. The audience was smaller than I expected; there was another event taking place elsewhere in Town Hall, and I suspect that the crowd of Town Hall regulars was split as a result. No matter; I enjoyed it very much, and I hope Ms. Ackerman did too. She didn’t say much about the “sex” in the book; I told her afterwards that we’d had Steven Pinker a few weeks ago, and even the most graphic comments on the subject would seem tame after his presentation on swearing…

"We do not contest that the confession was coerced, we don't want you to know how."

Over at Psychsound, Steve Bergstein has posted an extraordinary piece entitled A tale of two decisions (or, how the FBI gets you to confess). It’s about how an Egyptian national was arrested after 9/11 and was coerced into making a “confession”. Then a witness appeared who undermined the FBI’s coerced story; the Egyptian was released, and sued the FBI. The Court of Appeals published an opinion in his favour, then withdrew it and re-issued it with some material redacted:

“This opinion has been redacted because portions of the record are under seal. For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy’s statements were coerced.”

But it was too late: the original opinion was loose on the Internet. And so we can read the redacted material, which turns out to be a detailed account of how the FBI coerced the confession.
The chilling thing is that we have no idea how many of these coercions the FBI got away with.
And why was this story not front page news everywhere? A commenter over at Washington Monthly nailed it depressingly well:

Ho hum. Rendition, old story. Torture, old story. Imprisonment without due process, old story. Shredding of Constitution, old story.
MSM sez “We’ve been there. Done that.”
Dumbledore gay? Now THAT’s news.

(HT to Terry.)

Bizarre blog factoid #2

I get a fair amount of blogspam here, as you can see if you look at the Akismet statistics at the bottom of the page. Oddly enough, at least 90% of all the spam is associated with a single entry in my blog: a brief administrative posting from August last year, in which I announced that “I’m temporarily moderating all comments”. Occasionally I will disable comments on that entry, but whenever I re-enable them, the spam returns. Weird….

"Digital camera"?

Thought for the day: how long will the term “digital camera” survive? When ((Note clever ambiguity between present and conditional-future. 😉 )) 99% ((Made-up statistic.)) of all cameras are digital, why would we bother with the qualification?

Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought"

I’ve finally finished Steven Pinker’s wonderful new book The Stuff of Thought. The question it poses is deceptively simple: what can the way we use language tell us about the way the mind works? The investigation, laid out in nearly 500 pages of sparkling prose, takes us from verb forms, to Jerry Fodor’s outrageous “extreme nativism”, to the vocabularies of space and time, to Bill Clinton’s testimony, to the metaphor metaphor, to Kripke’s “rigid designators”, to swearing, to bribing the maitre d’. But the result of this diversity is a remarkably simple, coherent, and plausible theory that describes how human beings manage the collection of thoughts which make up our models of the world and our relationships to others.
Pinker’s conclusions are summarized in five pages (428-432) of the last chapter of his book. I found myself re-reading the chapter several times, with highlighter in hand, and eventually I typed up the phrases that I’d highlighted and knitted them together into a “summary of the summary”. I’m including it below the fold. All the memorable words are Pinker’s; the crude packaging is mine.
One aspect of this model is its relationship to brain structure. Although he mentions many important experimental results in connection with individual steps in the investigation, Pinker downplays this when he comes to summarize his theory. Many of its elements are already verified by experimental work, and the functional level of the model is such that most of the more controversial or speculative bits should be susceptible to experimental [dis]confirmation over the next few years. This won’t stop the mysterians like Chalmers from pressing their forms of dualism, but it should give us a solid functional model for humans or zombies…
Although I talk about “Pinker’s theory”, it is obviously based on the work of many others. Nevertheless, I think I shall find myself referring, perhaps silently, to “the Pinker model” as I read about consciousness, psychology, philosophy of mind, and so forth.
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