July 30, 2010

Do you mostly hang out with WEIRDos?

In their paper "The weirdest people in the world?", Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that:
  1. The scientific literature in the field of experimental psychology consists primarily of reports of experiments upon subjects who were handy and willing – namely, college undergraduates, who are "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD)".
  2. "...WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers ... [in] domains ... includ[ing] visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ."
  3. "...we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity."

July 29, 2010

No source is balanced.

We recently dined with lovely people who are aficionados of a television news show which they praised for its balance. However, we are skeptical that "balance" can come from any single source, whether on FOX News or on PBS. We believe that balance is something you have to make for yourself.

In the run-up to the American Presidential election in the year 2000, The Economist endorsed Mr. Bush, The Nation ran articles supporting the candidacy of Mr. Nader, and The New Yorker repeatedly swooned over Mr. Gore. Because we subscribed to all three weeklies, we had actual balance.

In his book 1988 book "Corruptions of Empire:Life Studies and the Reagan Era", Mr. Alexander Cockburn skewered one show's pretense of balance:

July 27, 2010

First the noun, then the adjective?

Although the word "quixotic" appears in Don Quijote itself (which was published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615), the Oxford English Dictionary gives the year of the word's first appearance in English as 1815, more than a century after "quixotism" (1688).

July 26, 2010

metafictional metasyntax (& hydration sources for pastoral personnel)

In the second volume of Don Quijote, it happens, from time to time, that both the eponymous hero and his squire, Sancho Panza, are recognized by people who have not met them before, but who know all about them, from having read the first volume of the novel.

Nonetheless, we were surprised to find, in the text, the word "Quixotic" – and spoken by Don Quijote himself! In Volume II, Chapter 67, he proposes to Sancho Panza that they become a pair of shepherds:
"I'll buy us some sheep, and everything else necessary for a pastoral existence, and I'll be 'The Quixotic Shepherd,' and you can be 'The Panzaic Shepherd,' and we'll wander over mountains and woods and meadows, in one place singing, in another mourning, drinking the rivers' crystal liquid, or perhaps the clear, clean streams', or perhaps that of the bountiful lakes."

July 24, 2010

a matter of life and death

Just one sentence, attributed to China Miéville, from the profile on him in today's New York Times:
“I spent much of my youth soul-suckingly horrified by ‘Star Trek’ and not understanding why no one else could understand that it was a charnel ship manned by ghosts, because you die every time you teleport!”

not green plants at all

narrative / (meta-)fiction

Three chapter titles from Don Quijote (the first from Volume I; the second & third from Volume II):
  • Chapter Seventeen – in which we continue telling the endless troubles experienced by our brave Don Quijote and his squire Sancho Panza, in the inn which, unluckily for him, our knight thought was a castle
  • Chapter Sixty-One – what happened to Don Quijote, when he went to Barcelona, along with other matters truer than they are clever
  • Chapter Sixty-Six – which deals with what any reader of these pages will see for himself, and anyone who has this read to him will hear

July 23, 2010

Ken Rockwell week.

We hope that you have enjoyed Ken Rockwell week here at NeuroCooking.

Did we mention that Mr. Rockwell is a valuable resource on photography?

July 22, 2010

Ken Rockwell is Wrong about Americans.

"...[people] who come here from elsewhere ... are amazed that Americans will sit around and complain while opportunities surround them, instead of getting off their butts and doing something to better themselves.
"Why do foreigners do so well ... while native Americans like me are more likely to sit around and complain ..."
– Mr. Ken Rockwell, 7/8/2010.

Mr. Rockwell is often right about photography – but he's wrong to deny the innovation, entrepreneurship, and initiative of the American people.

[Let's not even mention the irony of Mr. Rockwell calling himself a "native American".]

July 21, 2010

Connecting Your Organization’s Past, Present & Future

My new article helps you connect staff and board members to the vision of your organization, and offers practical suggestions for guiding them toward understanding and embracing what seems like change.

Ken Rockwell is Wrong about the Rich.

"Rich people are doing great."
– Mr. Ken Rockwell, 7/8/2010.

"Wealthy Reduce Buying in a Blow to the Recovery"

– New York Times headline, 7/17/2010.

Mr. Rockwell is often right about photography – but he's wrong when he claims that demand from the rich for high-end goods and services is strong and sustaining.

[Those poor dear rich people; they've been hit hard too by These Trying Economic Times.]

July 20, 2010

Why sully the flag?

I believe the new Maryland license plates violate the federal Flag Code, and should be recalled.

Here is the first verse:
O! say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The State of Maryland has stopped issuing its usual plain black-on-white license plates, and is now issuing instead, for everyone, a special "War of 1812 commemorative plate" featuring "the Star Spangled Banner", i.e., an American flag:

To our knowledge, this is the first of its kind – no other state plate bears the national flag.

Now, the federal Flag Code states:
"The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way."
Just look around, and you will see that automobile license plates are "easily ... soiled". The flags on these plates will be soiled with dust, mud, and salt. So, these plates – again, the first of their kind; no other state requires that our nation's flag be placed on car bumpers to get splattered and grimy – violate the federal Flag Code, and should be recalled.

Why sully the flag?

Please join us, NeuroCooking friends, in asking Mr. Martin O'Malley, the Governor of Maryland, to recall the plates. You can leave a message for him at 410.974.3901 or 1.800.811.8336; to email him, you need to use this web form. Whether you write or call, we ask you to stay positive! Talk about the flag as a symbol of our nation, remind him that license plates get dirty, and ask the Governor to recall the plates, because it's the right thing to do.

[Please note: Photo credits: National Park Service; Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. I'm not an attorney, just a citizen.]

Ken Rockwell is Wrong on Executive Pay.

July 19, 2010

We laughed; we cried. Go!

John Feffer's "Edible Rex" presented at the Goethe Institut, Washington DC, as part of the Capital Fringe Festival, is amazing! Tickets are still available for the two remaining performances (this Wednesday & Saturday) of this one-man three-character show.

Ken Rockwell is Wrong on the Economy.

"More than 14 million Americans are out of work, and nearly half of them have been jobless for six months or longer."
– Mr. Bob Herbert, 7/13/2010.

"The myth of an economic crisis is just a crutch so that people who aren't doing that great right now can blame their problems on someone else instead of themselves."
– Mr. Ken Rockwell, 7/8/2010.

Mr. Rockwell is often right about photography – but he's dead wrong about macroeconomics, and about the millions of Americans who want to work but can't find a job. They may be "mythic" (in the sense of "heroic") – but they are not "mythical" (in the sense of "fictitious"). They are no myth. They are real.

Want data? Here (from Wolfram|Alpha):

Unemployed Americans:

Median Duration of Unemployment, USA:

July 16, 2010

Good advice from Don Quijote.

Yes, another sentence from the Burton Raffel translation of Don Quijote (this one, from Volume 2, Chapter 55, would appear to be a very good piece of advice):
"Don't be angry, ... and don't be upset by what you hear, or there'll never be an end to it: if you're secure in your own conscience, let them say whatever they want to, because restraining slanderous tongues would be like putting gateways on the open fields."

July 15, 2010

"... judgments upon poetry ..."

"Nothing in our age, I have observed, is more preposterous than the running judgments upon poetry and poets ; when we hear those things commended and cried up for the best writings which a man would scarce vouchsafe to wrap any wholesome drug in : he would never light his tobacco with them."
"Indeed, the multitude commend writers as they do fencers or wrastlers, who, if they come in robustiously and put in for it with a deal of violence, are received for the braver fellows ; when many times their own rudeness is a cause of their disgrace..."
-from Ben Jonson's Timber, 1640 (pp. 21 & 22 of the 1892 edition, ed. Schelling).

July 14, 2010

July 13, 2010


The word "homotopic" has two very different meanings.

In mathematics, homotopic refers to two objects that are topologically equivalent. For example, there are two routes you can take between Washington and Baltimore: I-95 & the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Because these two paths can be smoothly transformed into one another, they are topologically equivalent, or homotopic. Just like a donut and a coffee cup:
[Animation from here.]

On the other hand, in anatomy & medicine, "homotopic" refers to regions in "corresponding" parts of the body, like your left knee & your right knee. Or your left eye & your right eye.

While this is inconvenient, we suspect that the chances for confusion are small, because, just as the word "must" can refer both to (roughly) "shall" and (precisely) a randy elephant, it should be clear from context which sense is intended.

July 12, 2010

Stuff Harvey Pekar Liked

Flavorwire writes:

As fans of both his work and the wonderful movie based on it, American Splendor, we were deeply saddened to hear of Harvey Pekar’s death. ...

Many (fans and detractors alike) will remember Pekar as a curmudgeon who wasn’t afraid to complain about the many things he hated — and they’re not wrong. But in the spirit of commemoration (and, okay, contrarianism), we’d like to celebrate this underground hero by enjoying some of the things he did like.

Harvey Lawrence Pekar, 1939–2010.

Harvey Pekar passed away today. No, we're not related. But yes, we're big fans. R.I.P., Harvey.

"Is there an author in this text?"

A fascinating historical & psychological exploration of Sidi Hamid Benengeli, the pseudo-author of Don Quijote, from the late Prof. Carroll B. Johnson:

Who was Sidi Hamid Benengeli?

Four hundred years ago, long before Spinal Tap, Miguel de Cervantes did not merely write Don Quijote; he created a mock history of his own work. In the books (the novel was published in two parts), we read that Don Quijote de la Mancha was a real person, whose history was first transcribed by a "Moor" named Sidi Hamid Benengeli, and then translated into Spanish by an unidentified translator; Cervantes is thus simply retelling and commenting upon an extant historical work, which has another author, and an anonymous translator.

Chapter 44 of Volume 2 opens with a summary of Sidi Hamid Benegeli's complaint on having to write at length about so few people: "... he was always having to write either about Don Quijote or about Sancho, without ever being able to spread himself more broadly, with other and more serious, not to say entertaining diversions and incidents, and he recorded that, being obliged to constantly bend his mind, his hand, and his pen to writing on just this one subject, and to expressing himself through the mouths of so few characters, was an intolerable struggle of no great benefit..."

The complaint ends with a request that we readers "...praise him, not so much for what he has written, as for what he has refrained from writing." And perhaps it is often true, that writers should be praised, not so much for what they have written, as for what they have left out.

July 11, 2010

The Casimir effect.

Between a pair of uncharged metal plates, parallel to one another, sufficiently close together, there is an attractive force.

July 10, 2010

Old jokes & new songs.

If you're in the DC area, NeuroCooking friends, we recommend that you find time to catch the amazing Ed Hamell at the Capital Fringe Festival; he is appearing in the beer tent, which features cold microbrews & warm hospitality.

[Please note: Tickets required; "no refunds, no exchanges, no late seating" is Fringe policy. Persons offended by profanity, obscenity, and asking the really big questions should avoid this show. Entrance for adults only; 100% I.D. policy in effect in the beer tent. If it's too loud, you're too old.]

Good question.

Yet another sentence from the Burton Raffel translation of Don Quijote (but we hope you will note that this one, from Volume 2, Chapter 35, quoting Sancho Panza, is quite different from the others we've selected):
"What the hell has my ass got to do with magic?"

July 9, 2010

flecks of dried mud

We've praised here before the wonderful care our dog received at a student veterinary clinic. Today I want to share a valuable lesson I learned there.

One day I took in the puppy because he needed inoculations. As a responsible pet owner, I had kept track, and knew it was time for some shots. When the vet trainee asked me what was wrong with the dog, I replied that nothing was wrong, and that I had brought the dog in for scheduled inoculations.

Well, the student took my claim that nothing was wrong with the dog as a personal challenge. He performed the most thorough veterinary exam I have ever seen, using a stethoscope, two small flashlights, and, yes, a fine-toothed comb!

Finally, after perhaps twenty minutes, he was elated. "Do you see this?", he asked me, triumphantly holding up one of the dog's pinnae, and pointing to some tiny brown flecks in the ear. "Yes," I acknowledged.

"That's dried mud," he explained. "The next time your dog is playing where there is mud, when you get him home, you should moisten a washcloth in warm – not hot, not cold, but warm – water, and gently remove the mud before it dries."

And then, his professional existence justified, he made preparations to provide the inoculations we'd come in for.

From this, I learned that many professionals see their job as fault-finding. And indeed, when a manuscript goes to journal reviewers, or a grant application goes to a grant review panel, or a research protocol goes to an institutional review board, it is a near-certainty that among the reviewers will be some who will not be satisfied until they find the dried mud.

July 7, 2010

"... because these trees, and all the others like them, ..."

Another sentence from the Burton Raffel translation of Don Quijote (this one from Volume 2, Chapter 28):
So they went into the grove, and Don Quijote settled himself at the foot of an elm tree, and Sancho under a beech – because these trees, and all the others like them, always seem to have feet, but no hands.

July 6, 2010

A weighty matter.

In a study reported in the 25 June issue of Science, "job candidates" were interviewed by research subjects holding either a light or a heavy clipboard; subjects holding heavy clipboards rated their candidates as more serious and important.

July 5, 2010

He asked, simply...

I was not home last Monday when strong storms swept through; I was about 40 miles away, in Baltimore, where howling gusts and hailstones suddenly appeared. This radar map shows a storm moving by our home, which is pretty much right where the dot over the "i" appears in "Washington":

When I got home later, the skies were clear, but the creeks were loud and swollen with rushing water.

How were the robin hatchlings in our back-yard fig tree? They appeared to be fine, although their nest was tilted at a bit of an angle. That tilt increased into the evening, and more overnight. The birds were still in their nest first thing Tuesday morning. But when we went out about twenty minutes later, the nest was tilted at about ninety degrees, and it was empty! The hatchlings were on the ground.

I put on a pair of work gloves, and righted the nest. Then, using a big fig leaf that had been downed by the storm as a sort of hatchling transfer platform, I gently put each bird onto the leaf, then lifted and restored 'em to the nest, one at a time.

A few days later, my wife told a small group of colleagues – several Americans and one Italian – about the rescue. They asked her how the baby robins were doing, and she used her iPad to show them this photo taken after the birds' return:

At that, the Americans said, approximately, "Awwwwwwwwwww", while the Italian asked, simply, "Can you eat them?"

[Please note: Use of trademarks does not imply endorsement or sponsorship. The fig-robin pix are updated daily at http://xrl.us/FigRobins. We were thinking of titling this piece something about "tastes like chicken", but we're glad we didn't.]

July 4, 2010

washer; dryer; folder

When we recently renovated our basement, we replaced the ancient laundry machines with a new washer and dryer, but we did not get a folder:

July 3, 2010

two men, one harp

Other than a few piano pieces for four hands, the rare occurrence of two people playing one marimba, and the concept that the Javanese Gamalan is not an ensemble but rather a single instrument, we were unaware of music that involved a musical instrument being played by more than one person at a time, until we saw, yesterday at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, one of the two violinists in "Los Verdaderos Caporales de Apatzingán" put down his fiddle, and beat on the soundbox of the harp:

July 1, 2010

W.S. Merwin

We have one of Mr. Merwin's poems tacked up on our office wall, to remind us that the scientific research enterprise is a deeply human, and humanistic, endeavor. Well, that's what the poem means to us, but you cannot blame the poet for this reading, because once you release a poem into the world, you cannot be held responsible for whatever people might read into it.

The poem is:

The Long and the Short of It

As long as we can believe anything
we believe in measure
we do it with the first breath we take
and the first sound we make
it is in each word we learn
and in each of them it means
what will come again and when
it is there in meal and in moon
and in meaning it is the meaning
it is the firmament and the furrow
turning at the end of the field
and the verse turning with its breath
it is in memory that keeps telling us
some of the old story about us


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