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2003-11-14 17:30

Notes from a briefing for temporary contract staff with a funding body

Pretty much all the funding is for persons with permanent jobs, which by definition we are not. So they told us about it anyway, and whenever anyone asked, "So can we apply for that, then?" they said, "No."

Even by the standards of career bureaucrats this was a fairly pointless activity, although we did get to hear some of the fascinating terminology they have invented to in an attempt to disguise the drudgery of their own jobs.

Most depressing fact: with 30-odd researchers from 2 departments, there were no (0) women, although of the four (4) bureaucrats, no fewer than four (4) were women (none (0) exhibiting any symptoms of a technical background, naturally).

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2003-11-14 11:01 (UTC)

Quant au contenu, je ne l'ai pas remarqu

(We have Important Persons on site, and I will be required to join the chorus of smiling, freshly scrubbed peasants singing songs of welcome at some point, so it may be a bit quiet today.)

I scanned a couple of pages of Corneille last night after Swedish class to get up to speed on alexandrines (the "alexandrine" is the twelve syllable line with a caesura (pause) half way, which is the main metre for classical French verse - the equivalent of the iambic pentametre in Ingleesh) and it worked OK, although I couldn't read for sense at the same time. (I could learn to do that without that much effort, but it wasn't the point last night.)

Meanwhile, obsequious French royaltybladet Point de Vue (distributed to me by IPC) wasn't in the newsagent on schedule this morning. It's not time to panic yet, for sure - that shop is a bit erratic with the foreign stuff - but it's hardly encouraging. Missing out on the Nouvel Obs wouldn't be the end of the world, but it would be hard fully to appreciate how disagreeable it would be unless you've actually experienced the Ingleesh press for yourself. It's pretty grim stuff, I assure you.

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2003-11-13 17:26 (UTC+1)

Doesn't everyone google the previous owners of their second-hand books?

Turns out (by Googling) that the supplier of the best books to the charity bookshop (and thereby me) is the head of the university's theology department, who lives on the same road as my little sister's boyfriend's ex-wife.

Which just goes to show, although as usual I don't know what.

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2003-11-13 17:20

Sobol''s Quasi-Random Sequences

They're pretty neat, for evenly sampling neighbourhoods in n-space (n=2, for me, again here: this is not the 3D project which is nonetheless still ongoing) but to the untrained boss it's not immediately obvious what they're up to. (Look at the pictures on the three slides after this one, and see for yourself.)

Also, the code in Numerical Recipes in C is frankly grim - I've detoxified it not so much for copyright purposes (it is not a derivative work, I can promise you that), or for adapting it to Python, as to preserve my own sanity...

It turns out, also, as well, that another person in the department is working on them (actually I'm only working with them, but close enough). But he's travelling at the moment, and can't write the code for me.

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2003-11-13 10:27 (UTC)

Of Press Propriety, Prince(sse)s, Prosecutions and Proceedings: Principles and Precedents

1. Prince Charles and the Import of Foreign Periodicals

(There are times when duty calls, and for a bloggeur with a pan-European interest in periodicals, royalties and quirks of law and their various interactions, that time is surely now. In the spirit of serving my beloved Internet, I'll try and keep this post more focussed and less idiosyncratic than usual. Apologies in advance to those who prefer the usual drivel, but it will be back soon enough.)

Let's start with the Prince Charles thing, keeping at a safe distance from the details (which I do not know) of the allegations that have allegedly been made about him, and which the UK High Court has definitely issued an injunction against publishing in this country (i.e., the UK). Foreign newspapers have published details that are under injunction here, but under the interpretation currently prevailing here that does not imply that said details are in the public domain in the UK - if they were it would have implications for the injunction, although I am not a lawyer so I don't know whether they would invalidate it or not. (And no part of this post is intended as legal opinion or advice, and if a convincingly legal request to delete part or all of it turns up, I shall be defending my integrity with the delete key, for sure.)

Now, this raises the problem of the distribution of imported foreign periodicals in the UK, and the main distributor is on the case, according to France's Libration:

Les dmls du prince Charles avec ses domestiques ont eu un effet inattendu : samedi, une quinzaine de quotidiens europens dont le Figaro et Libration n'ont pas t mis en vente en Grande-Bretagne. Le distributeur habituel de ces journaux, International Press Network (IPN), les a bloqus leur arrive sur le sol britannique.

Un acte de censure ? IPN s'en dfend. La socit affirme qu'elle pourrait tre poursuivie en justice si elle distribuait des journaux contenant des dtails sur l'affaire qui oppose deux anciens domestiques du prince Charles.

[Prince Charles's problems with his servants have had an unexpected effect: on Saturday some fifteen European dailies - including le Figaro and Liberation - were not on sale in Great Britain. The usual distributor of these newspapers, IPN (International Press Network) blocked them on their arrival on British soil.

An act of censorship? IPN has defended itself, saying that it could be sued if it distributed newspapers containing details of the dispute between two former servants of Prince Charles.]

Yikes. Making the distributors liable is worrying, but the foreign periodicals could simply say that it's nothing to do with them where stuff ends up so long as it was legal where and when it was printed, which presumably all this stuff is in its countries of origin.

Skipping lightly over some details, we find further that IPN has asked the periodicals it distributes to help it out:

IPN leur a envoy hier un long fax tous, rdig dans un anglais trs juridique, pour leur expliquer la situation et les prvenir des risques encourus devant la justice britannique. IPN demande que cette dcharge en forme de fax lui soit retourne signe par un responsable autoris, ce qu'a fait Libration.

[IPA has sent a long fax to all of them, drawn up in formidable English legalese, to explain the situation and warn them of the risks encurred within the British legal system. IPN has asked each of them to return this fax "signed by a responsible official," which Libration has done.]

So far as anyone knows, though, this doesn't get IPN off the hook, and it is still vetting all the periodicals it distributes for material violating the injunction. To breach the injunction would place the perpetrator in "contempt of court", I hear from other sources, and it is well known that courts do not like that one bit and have very considerable powers to inflict their displeasure on others if they consider it necessary, which they invariably do.

Note, though, that none of this is about defamation laws as such - they apply (so far as my strictly lay understanding goes) after a libel or slander, while the injunction has the effect of forbidding publication in the first place. And none of this is about the Internet, although online editions of many of Europe's newspapers are freely available on the 'Net. The issue of material being distributed via the Internet from jurisdictions where it is legal to those where it isn't is one that has been extensively discussed, though, even if no satisfactory solution has been found. The courts appear to have decided that paper is still different, and I'm not going to tell them they're wrong.

2. German weeklies get what was coming to them.

For pan-European defamation fun, we turn to the pioneering legal action by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden against assorted German gossip magazines, for publishing false stories about her love life, complete with doctored photos (not salacious ones, but that's about the extent of their generosity).

At a civil trial on Tuesday in the court at Frankenthal, 10 km north of Ludwigshafen, which we presume to be in Germany, they finally conceded defeat, after initially denied that they had printed lies:

"Vi har ljugit. Drfr ber vi kronprinsessan Victoria om urskt."

Ytterligare tv tyska skvallertidningar tvingades i gr att krypa till korset i Victorias framgngsrika rttskampanj.

- Vi beslutar senare om vi ska krva skadestnd, men dementierna svider. Det r en brjan, sger hovets presschef Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg.

"We lied. Accordingly, we ask Crown Princess Victoria for forgiveness."

Two further german gossipmagazines were forced yesterday to apologise profusely in Victoria's successful legal action.

"We'll decide later if we will be asking for damages, but the denials stung. This is a beginning," said the courts chief spokesperson, Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg.

That was Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet (a personal favourite of mine), here's Danish quality paper Politiken's take on the story:

Yderligere fire tyske blade er blevet plagt at give Victoria en undskyldning, men de tyske ugeblade bliver ved med at fastholde, at de ikke har ljet, selv om seks ud af ti er get med til skrive en beklagelse.

Bladene siger, at artiklerne ikke er pfund, men de indrmmer, at de ikke er rigtige, skriver Aftonbladet.

[Four more German magazines have been allowed to apologise to Victoria, but the German weekly magazine kept insisting that they hadn't lied, although six out of ten went as far as to express regret.

"The magazines say that the articles weren't made up, but they concede that they weren't true," writes Aftonbladet.]

Some non-legal advice, my German friends: we strongly recommend having a better defence than that before you get to the court, next time.

It's not just Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden who will be heartened by this decision, though. The German gossip rags have given an especially hard time to her colleague Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, who was a single mother with a chequered past before marrying her Crown Prince. They published stories claiming she was pregnant long before she actually was, and then stories about a secret abortion (or was it a misscarriage?) to explain the absence of any babies, and generally acted with a notable absence of class. Over to Aftenposten, then, for the Norwegian reaction:

Tirsdagens forlik betyr at ogs den norske kongefamilien kan regne med gjennomslag hvis de skulle g til en lignende sak mot tyske ukeblader.

Norges kronprinsesse Mette-Marit er flere ganger blitt hengt ut i tysk sladrepresse, som blant annet har sltt opp spekulasjoner om at kronprins Haakon ikke er far til barnet hun venter.

De tyske bladene gr heller ikke av veien for manipulere bilder - for eksempel har kronprinsesse Mette-Marit, som har termin i januar, allerede figurert med "sitt barn" p frstesiden av et tysk ukeblad.

[Tuesday's settlement means that the Norwegian royal family can expect to make an impact if they take similar action against the German weekly magazines.

Norway's Crown Princess Mette-Marit has several times been hung out in German gutter press, which has amongst others put out speculaton that Crown Prince Haakon isn't the father of the child she's expecting.

The German magazines go as far as to doctor pictures - for example Crown Princess Mette-Marit, whose baby is due in January, has already been pictured with "her child" on the cover of a German magazine.]

I'd love to know more about this. It's clear enough that the magazines were printing stories that were malicious and untrue, but why did it take so long for the libelled princesses to sue them? Is it just royal hauteur, or are there legal complexities in such cross-border suits?

A while back I might have wanted to have grown up to have been a biochemist, but today I want to have grown up to have been an expert on European law. And today's imaginary universe parallel self would be making a stack more money, that much is for sure.

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2003-11-12 13:50 (UTC)

F'leep, For Sure!

I also don't cover Spanish monarchy, but let's pretend for a moment that I took seriously a recent Tyska trashbladet's sausage-addled claims that kronprinsess Vickan of Sverige was shennaniging "again" with kronprins F'leep of Espagna. Because that way I can relish the appearance of this in the gauchiste UK Grauniad:

In fact the most curious thing of all about the royal wedding announcement has been the reaction of Spain's legion of surviving republicans.

On the leftwing radio station Cadena Ser, Spain's leading station whose audience tops 4 million listeners daily, commentators tied themselves in knots trying to square their republicanism with approval of his choice of bride.

[...]

Up until now, many Spanish republicans have been able to declare themselves "juancarlistas". That means a sort of temporary adhesion to the monarchy in the person of prince Felipe's father, King Juan Carlos.

[...]

Franco's decision to restore the monarchy on his death in the person of Juan Carlos rather than the rightful heir to the crown, his father Juan de Borbon, meant the current king had all the powers of a dictator when he took over in 1975.

His ability to shed those powers and turn himself into a constitutional monarch approved by a 1978 referendum, has ensured that Juan Carlos' reign will be long, not short.

Any doubts about that ended when he helped stop the 1981 coup attempt led by Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio Tejero of the civil guard, who famously stormed the parliamentary debating chamber in his patent-leather tricorn hat, peppered the ceiling with machine gun fire and held the country's deputies hostage.

We knew all that, of course, but it is mildly surprising even to me (and like Terence said "Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto" - "I am person: of personhood can nothing from me be estranged". There are other translations, as Naomi "Baraita" Chana has discussed, most of which will do in a pinch, although we draw the the line at Joan of Arc's frankly odd, "I am God's lobster: kill me and cook me, but not necessarily in that order") that the approval such actions inspired now appears to be hereditary.

(I'll catch up with songage appropriate for Twinkletree-flavoured saturnalia and prinsesses at law tomorrow, promise.)

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2003-11-12 13:38

Random rabble-rousing

I don't do politics, as a rule, but I'll do this:

Jack Straw has described criticism of George W Bush's state visit to Britain as "fashionable anti-Americanism".

During a BBC Radio 4 Today interview the foreign secretary questioned how many of the US president's critics had ever protested against Saddam.

Des von Bladet has described Jack Straw as a "lickspittle lapdog of American imperialism".

In a blog post today the ersatz aristocrat wondered whether the home secretary really meant to imply that George Bush and he himself were as likely to be swayed by public protests against their policies as the former Iraqi tyrant would have been.

Fox News is disgusting as television; imagine being governed by it. (UKish readers will not need to stretch their imaginations very far, apparently.)

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2003-11-12 09:57 (UTC)

Si le vin est bon? What kind of crazy talk is that?

PF anquires:

[S]peaking of French poetry, can any of you Francophones tell me what are the rules for when you count a final e (in a word, not in a line) as a syllable and when you don't, in a classical alexandrine? I can't seem to figure it out.

I am not, of course, a Francophone, but I play one on the InterWebNet and besides, I looked it up:

Summed up in the most rudimentary form, the rules are that within the body of the verse the mute "e" of a word is counted as a syllable if followed by a consonant (including an unpronounced 's' or 'nt') or aspirate 'h'; that it is not counted when followed by, and elided into, a vowel or mute 'h'; and that a mute 'e' is not counted when it occurs at the end of a line.

P Broome and G Chesters, The Appreciation of Modern French Poetry, 1850 - 1950

But mostly I wanted to enquire in turn - in reciting French verse, does everyone actually pronounce mute 'e's with a syllable's worth of pronunciation? I do, because the French teaching assistant we had briefly at school (not for Biblical values of "had", sadly, although she was at least as useful for having crushes on as for learning French from) made us sing this in class in that style:

Chevaliers de la table ronde,
Gotons voir si le vin est bon.
Chevaliers de la table ronde,
Gotons voir si le vin est bon.
Gotons voir, oui oui oui,
Gotons voir, non non non,
Gotons voir si le vin est bon.

And I still remember the tune. I'd wonder why this had stuck in my head all these years when so much else hasn't, but I think I may have answered that in a previous parenthesis. (Hlas, Lecteur Vari(e) - o sont les assistantes scholaires d'antan?)

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2003-11-11 15:54 (UTC)

[Post Ironic Retro-Futurism] Concorde's coming home

To Bristol:

At 1300 GMT on 26 November, Concorde 216 will touch down for the last time at Filton Airfield [on the outskirts of Bristol].

Beforehand the jet will take off from Heathrow at 1120 GMT and fly over the Bay of Biscay.

Because of crowd restrictions, it is understood that before Concorde lands it will carry out a fly-past over the city, and may be accompanied by a World War II Spitfire

It's rumoured they're planning to fly down Avon Gorge and over the suspension bridge (built by Brunel, of course). If so, I'll be standing on it (the bridge, not the plane) waving goodbye to a piece of the future...

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2003-11-11 14:57

Of Yoorp and Yoghurt

David TEFLsmiler seems to be suffering, poor thing, from a case of UK meeja. This time it's about how Yoorp (in the form of the EU) wants to Interfere With Her Majesty's Yoghurts, Damn The Blighters.

("My what a big bureaucracy you have!"
"All the better to stifle enterprise with! Mwa-ha-ha! Your so-called yoghurts will pay for Dresden, Englander pigdogs!")

Surprisingly, perhaps, there does appear to be some foundation to the yoghurt story; not, perhaps, entirely surprisingly, it's slightly more complicated than The Telegraph allegedly makes out:

The draft law, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, allows products that have been heat-treated after fermentation to be designated as 'yoghurt' only in EU states which already have this denomination. If they do not, these products would have to be called 'fermented milk'.

That's a leaked draft law, which isn't even published as a proposal, and it exempts countries that already call these things yoghurt from ceasing soforthly to do.

The issue, incidentally, is not so much the pasteurising as the subsequent lack of live bacteria culture which, in some jurisdictions, is an intrinsice part of the concept of yoghurt. (This corresponds to "natural yoghurt" in the UK, as I understand it - maybe the Telegraph would settle for a designation of "unnatural yoghurt" for the other kind?)

And, of course, what's behind that is a turf war between manufacturers (in Spain and France, as it happens) using the different labellings required by their jurisdictions as barriers to entry to each others' markets as best they can. And so there's a proposal in the works to harmonise the designations in the interest of creating a common market, which is after all where the EU project started out.

Scott Martens has some characteristically lucid remarks on the effects of market integration:

The ability to charge less for translation, and to invest in technologies that enhance translation productivity and quality, depends quite closely on the size of your firm. As recently as the early 90's, it was still rare to find pan- European translation firms. The translation market in the EU wasn't very integrated, and as a result, firms tended to be fairly small. The large, integrated markets - the US and Japan - are monolingual; they don't do very much translation.

Now, things are different. Translation in Europe gets contracted more and more on a continent-wide basis. The possibility of large, integrated translation firms is much more real. If we relied exclusively on the Belgian market, we could not justify the capital spent on us or the money we've poured into technology development. We're beginning to make real progress in raising productivity in this industry. This has only become possible because of European integration.

Productivity is good. Integration is good. We like that stuff. He also has nice things to say about the Euro - it means, as should have been obvious to everyone all along - that cross border negociations are free from currency risks and costs, to everyone's benefit except perhaps protectionistes's. (Integration is about more than free markets, it's about unified markets, which are like free markets except that you can sell to them in practice as well as just in principle, which is better.)

We at this bladet remain as committed to European integration as we are to free trade and markets, and it is a source of no small regret to us that the UK meeja (from which we continue to be more than semi-detached and with good reason) is apparently incapable of understanding this. ("Free market liberal" is an oxymoron in the FDRUSA also, of course, where that strand of liberalisme has long-since been hijacked by Libertoonians who have inexplicably mistaken Ayn Rand for a philosopher. One of the great joys of Yoorpeanness is of course not having to know anything or care in the slightest about Ayn Rand, which of course I don't.)

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2003-11-11 10:06 (UTC)

Belgium, man, Belgium

"Cricket - a game which the English, not being a spiritual people, have invented in order to give themselves some conception of eternity."
- Lord Mancroft (1914 - 1987) Bees in Some Bonnets, 1979, page 183; quoted here

Philosophy and cricket have hithertoforewisely been assumed to be mutually exclusive forms of contemplative reflection: while cricket has essentially no following in continental Yoorp, neither England nor its cricket playing former Imperial Vassals has produced a philosopher of any consequence since the 18th century (and is it really a coincidence that Hume and Adam Smith were Scottish, where the game is not much played?).

But at least one brave Belgian soul appears to wish that it were otherwise:

The Philosophy of Cricket encompasses a series of reflections upon the nature of cricket, its forms of practice, its history and its influence in shaping the human form physically, emotionally and morally. A recurring theme throughout is the interplay between the matter (what the game is) and spirit of cricket (ideals concerning how one plays the game). What are these ideals and how do they impinge upon cricket's conditions of existence? Furthermore, is cricket's ratio essendi exhausted by a set of prescriptive laws or does it encompass a broader ethos, a body of conventions and connotations, a history and tradition that bind the game to realities beyond its constitutive boundaries?

(In fact he's a Strilian, and seems to suffer from Anglophonicism in philosophical matters.)

Abstracts to be submitted by next February.

[via Crooked Timber]

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2003-11-10 14:24 (UTC)

Yoorp, Slanderous

While we shall not be providing coverage of Storbrittaniens tronarving ("Big Ears")s spot of gossip-flavoured bother itself, it has again called attention to the quirky disharmonies of Yoorpean privacy and defamation laws. While Italian newspapers freely printed news that the UK press was forbidden by a court's injunction to publish, the disclosures in Abroadia are not traditionally accounted as being within the public domain in the UK, and therefore don't count as justification for arguing that the cat is disembagged here. This is, of course, very odd but the world is, of course, a very odd place, and the law is, of course, one of its odder facets.

(I wouldn't dream of mentioning the existence of the newsgroup alt.gossip.royalty, let alone speculating on its contents, you may be sure of that.)

Aside from the implication that UK citizens are too technologically and linguistically backward to brief themselves from Forrin newspapers, which is probably quite accurate, there would seem to be some scope for harmonising press regulation across Yoorp. (If I were a Belgian newspaper, I'd put out a special English-language edition on the subject, and charge a fortune for advertising on it, is what I'd do. I never said I was a royaliste at home, largely on account of as how I'm not.)

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2003-11-10 12:05 (UTC)

Cosmopolis, NY

One world city; 300 immigrentbladets :

Although some of the city's 300 ethnic newspapers may have a languid, less-than-fresh feel, the Chinese press is aggressive. And the competition is about to get more cutthroat. The Oriental Daily News, among Hong Kong's biggest newspapers, is considering coming to New York City to become the fifth Chinese daily.

[...]
The Chinese newspapers tell new arrivals about jobs and apartments in Chinese neighborhoods. They specify which schools are high-performing and where to find SAT cram schools.

[...]
The newspapers are also aware that even successful immigrant papers can have a paradoxically perilous existence.

In the 1920's, The Forward, in Yiddish, had a daily circulation of 250,000. It helped acclimate its readers and their descendants so well to a new land that its Yiddish edition is now a weekly with about 5,000 readers.

"It's something that we think about," Ms. Lee of The World Journal said. "But Chinese is the second-most-spoken foreign language behind Spanish, and the rate of immigration in this country is tremendous. So at this point we still see it as a growth market."

Needless to say, we vigorously approve. Spanish language TV was by far the least offensive on my last trip to the FDRUSA, although that may be because I don't speak Spanish. And despite the alleged hostility to the Frenchy-French, you could buy Courrier International from at least one downtown newstand.

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2003-11-11 10:52

The Thrid Cult Considered Harmful

L'homme est une invention dont l'archologie de notre pense montre aisment la date rcente. Et peut-tre la fin prochaine.

[Man is an invention which the archeology of our thought easily shows to be of recent date. And perhaps of immanent end.]

- Michel Foucault, Les Mots et les choses

Premature triumphalism, anyone?

The representatives of the Third Culture sketched a truly unromantic picture of humanity. They demystified consciousness, thinking, learning, and even free will as phenomena that are scientifically explicable, despite their complexity. In the same way, neuropsychologist Steven Pinker last year dismantled the foundations of the humanistic image of humanity as argued by Locke, Rousseau, and Descartes in his bestseller, The Blank Slate. In his most recent book, Freedom Evolves, Daniel Dennett even went a step further and investigated the evolutionary origins of ethics, morality, and free choice. His conclusion was that determinism stands in no way as a contradiction to human free will, because it spurred humanity to become finished with the realities of evolution. In this worldview there is really no place for God, since God stands for arbitrariness, coincidence, and contradiction. These have no place in science, since even chaos theory follows its own specific rules.

The "Third Culture" (AKA "Thrid Cult") stands for a rapprochement of the sciences and humanities based on the unconditional surrender of the Humanitiesists, who are obliged to acknowledge that everything that has ever gone wrong was exclusively their fault, and consequently make crippling reparations payments.

Persons, in the view of Thrid Cultists, are to be accounted for exclusively by the spiciest neuroscience on the one hand and sociobiology on the other:

Another member of the audience wanted to know why Minsky and Dennett attacked religion so passionately although the father of sociobiology, Edward O. Wilson, described faith as one of the greatest of humanity's ideas. Daniel Dennett argued patiently with the young man that one could compare religion to the craving for sweets. This impulse to consume anything sweet quickly and in the greatest possible amounts played an important role in the early evolutionary stages of humanity, when saving energy was important. Because today one must ordinarily no longer survive a long winter on the steppes, however, the compulsion to consume sugar injures him more than it helps. The same is true with religion, whose greatest service over the centuries has been to deliver explanations for the inexplicable. But this function has survived too long. Today it does much more to prevent humanity from gaining knowledge.

Sigh. If, which is the case, the smug scientific illiteracy of the typical Humanitiesist is a thing that greatly annoys me, then this kind of self-important vision of narrow-mindedness as a moral duty is a thing which annoys me just as much.

A universe in which Pinker and Dennett were adequate replacements for Lvi-Strauss and Habermas might have many interesting properties, but being the universe I live in is not one of them. (This is not reasoned argument, just a placeholder - having been thuswisely provoked I'll start work on a mosterpost to expound how I think science fits in to philosophy. Rest assured that I don't wish to strip it of its epistemological privilege, though.)

[link via Butterflies and Wheels; first appearance of the Thrid]

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