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Empathy for the Devil

So the Guardian has these interactive quizzes up that are supposed to give you an "empathy quotient" and a "systematzing quotient" and then demonstrate that women are more empathetic and less systematic then men. Fair enough. Everybody loves a little pop evolutionary psychology. And I was totally prepared to believe that I'm less empathetic than the average person, or even less empathetic than the average un-empathetic man. But the test gave me an EQ of 14 which seems to indicate near-total dysfunctionality. I don't think I'm nearly that bad. Million Dollar Baby made my cry! That's empathy, damnit.

January 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (67) | TrackBack

Gladwell Versus Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, back in the day:

So why aren't we allowed to say that there might be athletically significant differences between blacks and whites? . . .

Black men have slightly higher circulating levels of testosterone and human-growth hormone than their white counterparts, and blacks over all tend to have proportionally slimmer hips, wider shoulders, and longer legs. In one study, the Swedish physiologist Bengt Saltin compared a group of Kenyan distance runners with a group of Swedish distance runners and found interesting differences in muscle composition: Saltin reported that the Africans appeared to have more blood-carrying capillaries and more mitochondria (the body's cellular power plant) in the fibres of their quadriceps.

Malcolm Gladwell, the present day:
Why, for instance, is it a useful rule of thumb that Kenyans are good distance runners? It’s not just that it’s statistically supportable today. It’s that it has been true for almost half a century, and that in Kenya the tradition of distance running is sufficiently rooted that something cataclysmic would have to happen to dislodge it.
The only think I know about scientific study of the genetic origins of Kenyan running ability is from that first Gladwell article, so maybe he got it wrong back then. But the contrast is a bit striking.

UPDATE: Some say they don't see a contradiction here. And, sure, there's not a logical contradiction in the "p & ~p" sense. But if you think that Kenyans are good distance runners because they're biologically superior at distance running it becomes very odd to, several years later, answer the question of "Why . . . is it a useful rule of thumb that Kenyans are good distance runners?" with reference to the idea that a tradition of running is ingrained in Kenyan culture. If Kenyans really do have a genetic advantage in distance running, then that is what makes "Kenyans are good distance runners" a useful rule of thumb. Note also that the earlier article is specifically geared toward observing that there's a taboo around discussing such issues and complaining about the taboo. The later article, meanwhile, reflects the taboo.

January 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack

Conventional Wisdom Debunked!


Women like to talk about feelings and relationships; men do not. Be it self-fulfilling prophecy or biological reality, it's an idea that American culture accepts completely. In the course of doing research for his book "VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework, and Commitment," Neil Chethik found the stereotype to be true, but only on the surface. During in-depth interviews with 70 husbands scattered across the country, Chethik discovered that men were indeed hesitant to talk about feelings, yet had plenty of ways of expressing them, if you knew where to look. Affection, for instance, can be found in the meticulous way that Roger Warden makes the bed every morning with an extra blanket spread across his wife's side; in Randall Hutchins' glances at his wife as she dozes in the passenger seat; and in pleasure that Jake Morrison takes in his wife's company as they tear the old wallpaper out of their home.
Be that as it may, this is actually supporting rather than undercutting the idea that women like to talk about feelings and relationships while men do not. I don't think anyone's ever been crazy enough to contend that men don't have feelings, it's specifically a question of talking about them. The examples cited here are all examples of just that -- preferring to express emotions through actions than through words.

January 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Arctic Monkeys

In case you haven't heard yet, the New New Thing in music is now official Arctic Monkeys. I've been listening to their stuff, and it seems very good, but I think that others will like it better than I do. In part, this simply reflects my deep-seated and irrational dislike of English people and things which is not widely shared. I appreciate that the Monkeys are part of what I sense to be an increasing trend toward very long, arguably-too-cutesy song titles under way at the moment, i.e. "You Probably Couldn't See For The Lights But You Were Looking Straight At Me." I approve of this trend, though there is a certain risk it will become annoying in the near future.

The Most Serene Republic is good at this, "The Protagonist Suddenly Realizes What He Must Do In The Middle Of Downtown Traffic" is on their Underwater Cinematographer along with "You're a Loose Cannon McArthur, But You Get The Job Done." Their best song, however, carries the simple title "Proposition 61."

January 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Big Media Ezra

May be "no Brad Pitt", but then again, who is? By the standards of professional political punditry he's pretty damn hot.

January 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Why Ask?

Khaled Meshal, exiled leader of Hamas, says his outfit will not "submit to pressure to recognize Israel, because the occupation is illegitimate and we will not abandon our rights." I really don't understand what the point is in having foreign governments pressure Hamas to recognize Israel. For one thing, there's very little chance that Hamas is going to recognize Israel in the short term. Highly public arm-twisting only would see to make a change of heart less likely because it would then appear to be craven knuckling under to foreign demands. And perhaps more to the point, unless Israel is populated with retarded people, nobody would take any Hamas statements made under those circumstances and face value. It's like when your mom orders you to apologize to your little brother, so you grudging agree to apologize but secretly keep your fingers crossed. The problem in the Middle East is a lack of genuine desire for compromise, not a lack of people willing to pretend to want to compromise.

January 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Basketblogging Returns

So . . . trades, what do you say? My read is that Sacramento and Boston are making mistakes.

January 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (43) | TrackBack

What Harry Reid Could Learn from Hamas

Anti-corruption is a good election issue, but to really pull off a sweeping political win you need to combine it with support for traditional religious values, toughness on national security, and economic populism. It's a sure-fire formula.

January 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack


The truly surprising thing about today's unilateral attack by TNR on my beloved TAP is even the liberal New Republic's subscription prices: "Subscribe today for as little as $9.97 to read all of our unconventional wisdom." Why not charge $9.99?

January 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (36) | TrackBack

Stalinist Bylines

This old Frank Foer article from 1997 attacking John Podhoretz and the Stalinist aesthetics of The Weekly Standard's back of the book holds up pretty well. But what's really creepy is Slate's Stalinist bylines: "Franklin Foer is a senior editor at the New Republic and a contributing editor at New York. He is the author of How Soccer Explains the World." And so he is, in 2006. But the book wasn't published until years after the article ran, that can't have been the mini-bio originally attached to the article. It starts with post hoc byline revisions, then you're airbrushing people out of photographs, and next thing you know Jacob Weisberg will be sending millions to their death some new media gulag. Don't say I didn't warn you.

January 24, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack