Thursday, May 31, 2007

Genetic Basis for Tone

Bob Ladd, a linguist here at Edinburgh and a former professor of mine, has been doing some interesting research that's received a write-up in Scientific American:
Two linguists believe they know the genetic underpinnings for these differences. During a study of linguistic and genetic data from 49 distinct populations, the authors discovered a striking correlation between two genes involved in brain development and language tonality. Populations that speak nontonal languages (where the pitch of a spoken word does not affect its meaning) have newer versions of the genes, with mutations that began to appear roughly 37 thousand years ago.
Ladd and Dediu compared 24 linguistic features—such as subject-verb word order, passive tense, and rounded vowels—with 981 versions of the two genes found in the 49 populations studied. Most of the language contrasts could be explained by geographic or historical differences. But tone seemed to be inextricably tied to the variations of ASPM and Microcephalin observed by the authors. The mutations were absent in populations that speak tonal languages, but abundant in nontonal speakers.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Not only is it wrong and ineffective, but there are proven interrogation methods out there which don't rely on physical torture at all:
But some of the experts involved in the interrogation review, called “Educing Information,” say that during World War II, German and Japanese prisoners were effectively questioned without coercion.

“It far outclassed what we’ve done,” said Steven M. Kleinman, a former Air Force interrogator and trainer, who has studied the World War II program of interrogating Germans. The questioners at Fort Hunt, Va., “had graduate degrees in law and philosophy, spoke the language flawlessly,” and prepared for four to six hours for each hour of questioning, said Mr. Kleinman, who wrote two chapters for the December report.

Mr. Kleinman, who worked as an interrogator in Iraq in 2003, called the post-Sept. 11 efforts “amateurish” by comparison to the World War II program, with inexperienced interrogators who worked through interpreters and had little familiarity with the prisoners’ culture.

The Intelligence Science Board study has a chapter on the long history of police interrogations, which it suggests may contain lessons on eliciting accurate confessions. And Mr. Borum, the psychologist, said modern marketing may be a source of relevant insights into how to influence a prisoner’s willingness to provide information.

“We have a whole social science literature on persuasion,” Mr. Borum said. “It’s mostly on how to get a person to buy a certain brand of toothpaste. But it certainly could be useful in improving interrogation.”

You Demon!

Hilarious David Blaine spoof at Funny or Die.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Steve Clemons drops a bomb:
There is a race currently underway between different flanks of the administration to determine the future course of US-Iran policy.

On one flank are the diplomats, and on the other is Vice President Cheney's team and acolytes -- who populate quite a wide swath throughout the American national security bureaucracy...

This White House official has stated to several Washington insiders that Cheney is planning to deploy an "end run strategy" around the President if he and his team lose the policy argument.

The thinking on Cheney's team is to collude with Israel, nudging Israel at some key moment in the ongoing standoff between Iran's nuclear activities and international frustration over this to mount a small-scale conventional strike against Natanz using cruise missiles (i.e., not ballistic missiles).

We now have a vice-president who is not only working against our country's interests, but is actively undermining the president. What are the rules for impeachment of a vice-president again?

I should add, Steve Clemons has more credibility on something like this than almost any other blogger. He is very well-connected in Washington.

Shrum Attack

Andy McCarthy thinks this is creepy:

Bob Shrum, the famed consultant to a string of failed Democratic presidential candidates, including Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, seems determined to embarrass his former client and current presidential hopeful John Edwards in the forthcoming book "No Excuses: Confessions of a Serial Campaigner," the New Republic's Michael Crowley writes at
Mr. Shrum's book "repeatedly portrays Edwards as a hyper-ambitious phony," Mr. Crowley said.
For example, Mr. Shrum says Mr. Kerry had qualms about choosing Mr. Edwards to be his presidential running mate in 2004, but grew "even queasier" after Mr. Edwards said he was going to share a story with Mr. Kerry he had never told anyone else -- that after his son, Wade, had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home and hugged his body and promised that he would do all he could to make life better for people.
"Kerry was stunned, not moved, because, as he told me later, Edwards had recounted the exact story to him, almost in the exact same words, a year or two before -- and with the same preface, that he'd never shared the memory with anyone else. Kerry said he found it chilling, and he decided he couldn't pick Edwards unless he met with him again."
Mr. Shrum says that, in the end, Mr. Kerry "wished that he'd never picked Edwards, that he should have gone with his gut" and selected former Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Does it really need to be pointed out that there is no contradiction in telling a person that you've only shared a certain piece of information with them and then tellng them a second time that you've only shared that information with them? This is supposed to be creepy?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Information Plantations

From last week's Technology Guardian:
The hegemony of Wikipedia is only the most striking manifestation of a broad and unexpected phenomenon: The world wide web is shrinking. I don't mean that there are fewer sites than there used to be. On that measure, the web is bigger than ever. I mean that more and more of our time online is being spent at an ever-smaller number of megasites. The wilds of the internet are being carved up among a handful of vast information plantations.

Web statistics tell the tale. The blogger Richard MacManus recently examined trends in online traffic over the past five years. He found that between the end of 2001 and the end of last year, the number of Internet domains expanded by more than 75%, from 2.9m to 5.1m. At the same time, however, the dominance of the most popular domains grew substantially. At the end of 2001, the top 10 websites accounted for 31% of all the pages viewed on the net. By the end of last year, the top 10 accounted for fully 40% of page views. There are more destinations online, but we seem to be visiting fewer of them.

This relates to something I've noticed about blogs in the past couple of years. For how many blogs there are, and considering that blogs are celebrated for being a decentralized and bottom-up phenomenon, it's surprising not just that a handful of blogs tend to dominate in terms of hits, links and references in the MSM, but also that this handful has not really changed over the years. I'm thinking of political blogs especially. On both the right and the left, the big political blogs have largely stayed the same over the past 4-5 years:

Daily Kos
Talking Points Memo
Washington Monthly
Matthew Yglesias

The Corner
Little Green Footballs
Red State
Andrew Sullivan
Mickey Kaus

When was the last time a blog emerged that became a must-read like the blogs above are considered by many to be? Glenn Greenwald comes to mind. But it seems like most of the newer blogs that have risen to prominence are examples of blog consolidation or blog counterparts of an MSM entity: TPMCafe, Huffington Post, Swampland. And others like Greenwald, Yglesias, Sullivan and Douthat have been brought under the umbrella of an MSM outlet. There's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but an overall picture is emerging where only a few blog sites are widely read and discussed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Internationalizing the War

Something tells me this won't go down well with those who encouraged a central role for the UN in the buildup to the Iraq War:
The Bush administration is developing plans to "internationalise" the Iraq crisis, including an expanded role for the United Nations, as a way of reducing overall US responsibility for Iraq's future and limiting domestic political fallout from the war as the 2008 election season approaches.

It certainly appears that the US was willing to snub the international community when it perceived itself as invincible in advance of the war, and that it now wants to hand off the conflict to the international community as it spirals out of control.

This is my favorite bit, just for the mixed metaphors:
"Petraeus is brilliant. But he is the captain of a sinking ship," said a former senior administration official who questioned whether Iraq's divided political leadership could prevent a descent into chaos. "Iraq's government is a mobile phone number that doesn't answer. Iraq probably can't be fixed."

Dedicated to the Robotics Division

Warning: a real ear-worm. Via The Poor Man.

M Ward

I don't know much about M Ward, but anyone who can get Neko Case and Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) to be his back-up band is alright by me.

Jazz hands: Line Out

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


4-hour work week? Sarkozy won't like it.

John Hood

In reviewing an op-ed by Mark Moyar, John Hood makes this unbelievable argument:
Basically, anti-war Democrats think that their statements and policy proposals are a response to an impossible situation in Iraq. They have it backward. Their statements and policy proposals are a main reason why the situation in Iraq is so dire. Like it or not, the enemy is counting on them — it is trying to manipulate American public opinion, because it can't win on the battlefield. Their goal is an ignominious American retreat. It cannot be in our interest to comply.

If you want to make an argument that attitudes on the homefront are detrimental to the war effort, you can do so while perhaps retaining an ounce of credibility, but to argue that statements by Democrats are the main reason that Iraq is in such a bad state is just plain idiotic, ahistorical and dishonest.

Nick Cohen

I think that this Nick Cohen piece should go in a museum vault so that everyone remembers the curious specimen that is the leftist who loves nothing more than to sound the death knell of the left.


I'm not sure if this Nineties rock playlist makes me lose more respect for Matthew or for the Nineties.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Moleskine Hacks

This should be interesting for some of the GTD (Getting Things Done) crowd. I'm not a big fan of Moleskine myself, as the paper in the ruled notebooks seems cheap for how much you're paying, but I'm always interested in such life hacks anyway.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Second Acts

Sometimes I'll be surfing from blog to blog and read something without fully realizing the context in which I'm reading it. Take this post:
Who must be the president's choice to replace Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank? John Bolton.

Funny, right? But I suddenly realized that I was reading Kathryn Lopez at the Corner, not an ironic post by somebody like Yglesias. She actually believes that would be a good thing. And on the same thread, check this out:
So who? Well, the best solution would be to simply dismantle the Bank and convert its capacious main building into a hotel, convenient to the White House and other Washington attractions. But since that’s unlikely to happen, here’s another thought ... There’s a whole roster of patriotic Americans who would have a similar effect, and as we have just seen, they don’t have to actually do anything wrong. The Bank will arrange that for them. In that spirit, if they are willing to sacrifice for the good of our country, and indeed, the good of the world, how about we send John Bolton, followed by Don Rumsfeld, followed by …. well, you get the idea.

What these folks would really prefer is that we just completely dismantle multinational institutions such as the UN and World Bank, but in lieu of that we'll just send them our most incompetent, belligerent bastards and do as much damage as we can that way. Well, if nothing else you can say they're honest about it.

Ron Paul

Andrew Sullivan's latest Ron Paul post, a YouTube clip from The View, shows that Sullivan continues to be taken with the old-school Republican candidate, and illustrates Jonathan Raban's point that Sullivan has a schoolboy tendency to hero-worship, often based on scant evidence. I'm glad Ron Paul is in the debate crowd, don't get me wrong, and he certainly stands for a kind of conservatism which is alien to the rest of the GOP field, but the guy is also a bit loopy.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

New Commander-in-Chief

That about says it.

What I'm Waiting For

Gore. I'm still convinced that he's just brilliantly letting the others take the heat of the campaign for months on end while he goes about his other business and that he'll throw his hat in sometime this summer. Derbyshire seems convinced not only of Gore's candidacy but of Gore's inevitable ascension to the White House.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Some very cool photos by Sebastiao Salgado from his continuing voyage around the world.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Centre Doesn't Hold

I think that this post by Tony Karon and an agreeing response from Yglesias are the best retorts to Alex Massie. Massie thinks that any peace process that ends up with extremists in power is very flawed and not necessarily worth cheering for. Here's Karon:
The original Good Friday agreement ten years ago was brokered by very different parties to the ones who have now joined a unity government. On the Catholic side, it was the SDLP of John Hume who was the dominant voice at the table, while the Ulster Unionists of David Trimble represented Protestant loyalists. But the electorate eventually rejected those parties, and each community chose more uncompromising parties — the Sinn Fein on the nationalist side and the Democratic Unionists on the loyalist side — to represent them at the table.

The government of Tony Blair did not flinch or give up hope, it pressed on, pushing the chosen representatives of both communities into a process that led to agreement. And the agreement may be far stronger than its predecessor, in that it was brokered by hard men on both sides and that has left no significant rejectionist constituency on either side.

And Yglesias:

This is what makes the search for "moderate Arabs" generally and moderate Palestianians in particular so inane. If, by "moderate," we mean something like "eschews violence" or "accepts the basic legitimacy of Israel" or both, then, obviously, those aren't the people you need to strike a deal with. As Yitzhak Rabin put it, "one does not make peace with one's friends, one makes peace with one's enemies." This was also what made Ariel Sharon's term in office and the breaks -- minor as some of them were -- he made with the Israeli far-right so significant. Peace doesn't need to be made by the very most extreme elements on both sides, but you can't exclude any faction that has a non-trivial following simply on the grounds that that faction's leadership isn't moderate. It's easy, after all, to broker a deal between moderates. The trick is to moderate the views of influential non-moderates.

Exactly. Paisley and Adams are the ones who needed to form the backbone of the agreement in order to make it relevant.

At a Clip

As a Fast Walker myself, I found this interesting. And it doesn't surprise me that Edinburgh has some of the fastest walkers in the UK; I've definitely noticed that walking around town. I can attest for Dublin too. Only one US city on the list? I guess that's not so surprising.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


More people who can't handle being exposed to ideas with which they disagree.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Insular Right

First there was Conservapedia, now QubeTV, a right-wing knock-off of YouTube. Apparently the founders believed YouTube was too liberally biased (the piano-playing cat did look a little pink) and began this venture as a refuge for the oppressed American right. Someone could make a killing with a conservative search engine. The American right clearly doesn't want to engage with unfiltered reality.


Through Yglesias, I discovered this blog by Alex Massie, a Scottish journalist contributing to the Scotsman, New Republic, Scotland on Sunday and others, and living in Washington DC. Looks like good stuff.

Friday, May 04, 2007


More results here.


Who will step up to be Katherine MacHarris? Sweet memories of 7 years ago.

More here.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Better Nation

On Scotland and Canada.

Election Day

Here's a place for Scottish election news.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Salad Days

Most hilarious headline ever. Man, the German press is tough.