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Sex and the single Muslim

May 6, 2016

Many traditional societies have not yet enjoyed the sexual and women’s liberation movements that have freed people in the modern world from creaky norms. So it brightens my day to read missives toward sexual liberation from writers like former Egyptian Mona Eltahawy. Two cheers!

Wealth uncounted

May 4, 2016

The Economist this week focuses on how GDP fails as a measure of a nation’s economic output. Part of that lies in the fact that GDP does not measure at all goods with no cost to the consumer, such as Google maps or Facebook. “By global convention, zero-priced goods are excluded from GDP. So are all voluntary forms of digital production, such as Wikipedia and open-source computer programs.”

One free service they don’t mention are the consumer reviews on Amazon and other retail sites. Few consumers today are sold a badly made washing machine or over-priced watch by a retail salesman. Instead, they peruse reviews to make sure their expectations mostly are met. And the web tells them instanter the price they should pay. The brown economy has gotten smaller in some ways. Alas, it hasn’t disappeared. We still need a way to subtract from GDP the cost of pyramid schemes and other scams.

Prince’s death and … the culture war?

May 3, 2016

Leave it to the Village Voice to peg what goes wrong when right-wing media enters a different kind of cultural fray.

Mad men

May 2, 2016

Freud’s nephew was the first Don Draper.

Addiction, charity, and morality

April 29, 2016

Reading about some Canadian shelters that are taking a harm reduction approach to homeless alcoholics, I couldn’t help but wonder the extent to which various efforts at charity are bollixed by the moral views of those who go to practice it. Morality often is what drives people to help, not just in the sense that some moralities preach charitable action, but in the more important sense that it gives them a vision of how they should go about that. Many of those efforts have questionable results, secular efforts as well as religious. In some things, intuition or fad may cloud our approach. I suspect it’s especially difficult for those who would do good to set aside their moral outlook in the face of evidence of what helps or not. I also suspect that adds more sand to the gears than most everything else.

The tree of life

April 28, 2016

When I was young, we learned that the taxonomic kingdoms were animal, plant, bacteria, fungi, and protists. I always did have a suspicion that the latter was sort of a catch-all. Biologists reviewing now available genomic data have made another cut at taxonomy from the top down. Their result is shown in the figure below. Of course, most of this tree concerns the diversity of microorganisms. Almost every visible plant and animal, what people normally think of as the biological world, is off in the lower right branch. Mushrooms excepted.


Malheur update

April 27, 2016

The Bundy stand-off has increased public attention and support for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Birders shouldn’t rest too easily on their laurels; Americans think they are creepy.

Ammon Bundy plans to use as his defense the legal theory that the federal government’s ownership of much of its land in the west is unconstitutional. That’s not creepy, just daffy.


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