The Climate Change No Shows

Sep 22 2014 @ 10:01am

On Tuesday, world leaders will meet to discuss climate change. A while back, Michael Bechtel and Kenneth Scheve did a survey “to find out what features of an agreement were important to the public.” The results:

But it’s hard to reach such a deal when some big names aren’t attending this week’s climate summit:

Notably, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are skipping the event. In empirical terms, it’s hard to think of two more important leaders in the world right now: Together they lead more than 2.5 billion people, more than a third of the world’s population.

And the two countries are not only the first and second most populous countries on Earth; research shows they also were the first- and third-biggest producers of carbon dioxide emissions (the United States holds the No. 2 spot). That figure can only partly be explained away by their huge populations: One study showed that per capita emissions from China recently surpassed that of the European Union, and India is predicted to follow suit in five years.

Alden Meyer downplays the absences:

Read On

Applying Science To Style

Sep 22 2014 @ 9:31am

Gary Stephen Ross deems Steven Pinker’s new book The Sense of Style as “a manual worthy of a place on a shelf just below Fowler’s Modern English Usage and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.” He appreciates Pinker’s book for its “painstaking dissection of the many ways in which language both serves and fails us”:

It’s fascinating to learn the science that underlies the stylistic techniques good writers seem to intuit—for example, a list is most easily grasped if the bulkiest item comes at the end (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ; or The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle; or Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!). “Light-before-heavy is one of the oldest principles in linguistics,” Pinker writes, “having been discovered in the fourth century BCE by the Sanskrit grammarian Pānini.” Why? Because the mind must hold the early items in suspension before incorporating the final one, and it’s easier to retain simple things than more complex elements.

John Preston is less taken with Pinker’s analysis, scoffing, “it becomes increasingly clear that Pinker doesn’t have anything new to say, and that anyone who follows his example is far more likely to end up writing waffle and bilge than War and Peace“:

Read On

Carrion Comfort

Sep 22 2014 @ 9:04am


The ancestors of flesh-eating carrion beetles like the one above offer, according to new research, the “earliest evidence of parental care,” dating back to 125 million years ago. The beetles were not only “exceptional parents, but they also represent the oldest known example of active parenting on the planet”:

Finding traces of exceptional parenting in the fossil record is exceedingly difficult. In this case, the team managed it by studying fossils from China and Myanmar. The fossils showed that ancient beetles from the Early Cretaceous possessed special bodily structures close to those modern beetles possess that allow them to communicate with their young. Additionally, an amber fossil they uncovered caught the beetle parents in action, showing “elaborate biparental care and defense of small vertebrate carcasses for their larvae.”

The researchers also note that several types of modern carrion beetles are endangered:

The American burying beetle, for example, is down to fewer than 1,000 individuals that live east of the Mississippi River. Even the most experienced parents in the world can’t shield their babies from the ill-effects of human-driven habitat fragmentation, it seems.

(Photo of hairy burying beetle by Laszlo Ilyes)

Left Cold By Coffee?

Sep 22 2014 @ 8:34am

A new study suggests heavy coffee-drinkers “find it more difficult to identify and describe their own emotions”:

Alexithymia” – Greek for “no words for feelings” – is the psychological terminology for an inability to put ones emotions into words. [Researcher Michael] Lyvers et al did a survey study of 106 university students and found that alexithymia was correlated with the amount of caffeine consumed per day…. Lyvers et al say that

Alexithymics reported consuming nearly twice as much caffeine per day on average compared to non-alexithymic controls or those with borderline alexithymia.

As to why this is the case, the authors speculate that

Perhaps those with alexithymia consume caffeine more heavily than non-alexithymics in an attempt to optimize inherently low arousal levels.

Reviewing the results, Neuroskeptic stays true to his nom de plume:

My concern here is that because this is a self-report questionnaire, the [Toronto Alexithymia Scale] is measuring worries over alexithymia as opposed to alexithymia per se. Moreover, I notice that in Lyver’s dataset, the TAS was quite strongly correlated with self-reported anxiety, apathy, dis-inhibition and executive dysfunction. So I’d say that it’s plausible that all of these self-report scores are reflecting some basic ‘tendency to give negative answers on questionnaires’ which might reflect neuroticism, low self-esteem or (if you prefer) just realism.

Chaos In Motion

Sep 22 2014 @ 8:06am

Synchronized drivers steer clear of accidents in Rush Hour, an impeccably edited short film from Fernando Livschitz:

An Actual War On Women, Ctd

Sep 22 2014 @ 7:29am

Ariel Ahram goes deep in exploring ISIS’s use of sexual violence, arguing that it represents “as much an undertaking in state-making as in war-making”:

The power to control or manipulate sexual and ethnic identity is a key component of all state power. In the Middle East, the regulation of sexual relations is often used as a means to create or reinforce ethno-sectarian boundaries.

Read On

The Best Of The Dish Today

Sep 21 2014 @ 9:00pm

So we have early results from the coalition to “ultimately destroy” ISIS.

The Islamic State jihadist organization has recruited more than 6,000 new fighters since America began targeting the group with air strikes last month, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 1,300 of the new recruits are said to be foreigners, who have joined IS from outside the swathes of Syria and Iraq that it controls … The bulk of the foreign fighters who have signed up in the past six weeks are aged between 15 and 20-years-old and have never been involved in a conflict before, according to Abdurrahman Saleh, a spokesman for the Islam Army, part of the Islamic Front rebel group.

And the beat goes on …

This weekend, we aired the Christianity of U2; the debate over the role of religion in modern terrorism; the real touchstone of conservatism – “the good in the present“; why disabled men pay for prostitutes; and a post on William James with the title: The Varieties Of Stoner Experience. Plus: a poetic defense of New York City – “you don’t refuse to breathe do you” – and the entrancing beauty of smoke plumes. And if you ever wondered how a Buddhist writes a novel with a single narrator, wonder no further.

The most popular posts of the weekend were Smartphone Sex; followed by a post that seemed to touch a collective Dish nerve – The Offense Industry On Offense.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here. You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 20 more readers became subscribers today. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here. Dish t-shirts and polos for sale here. A loyal reader writes:

I started reading you on September 11, 2001, and I doubt I have missed a day since then. I’d read your stuff in the New York Times and knew who you were. You were outstanding on 9/11 and thereafter. Congratulations on inventing blogging. I rarely agree with you now, but you are still a must read … no matter what Krugman said!

“Rarely agree with you now” is a bit of an understatement, as our near and dear reader fills the in-tray with invective on a daily basis. We compiled some of it here:

Shameless shill … …that would be you….celebrating…in dishonest terms, of course….the health care disaster….”the government helping the working poor”…meaning, as always, forced re-distribution….well, duh!!….the “government” can always “help” whatever targeted group the bien-pensants wish to benefit, can’t they…with MY money….that’s always the left’s claim as they accrue power and wealth to their New Class selves….at the same time exhibiting and expressing utter contempt for the intended beneficiaries…”clingers”, remember? “tea-baggers” with obviously false consciousness failing to recognize the beneficence of their saviours…as that CNN bitch openly expressed it contemptuously… Oh, yeah…the Hope and Change thing, too….what a crock!…what liars!…what hypocrites, shameless dissemblers!

All are welcome at the Dish – right, left, and everywhere in between and beyond. Over the years, we’ve gladdened and pissed off almost everyone.

See you in the morning.


Eliza Strickland revisits his long prose-poem about the origins and fate of the universe, Eureka, which includes “a spookily intuitive description of the Big Bang theory more than 70 years before astrophysicists came up with the idea”:

Scientists who have read Eureka in the decades since have justly called attention to errors in other parts of Poe’s cosmology, and many consider his Big Bang notion to be nothing more than a lucky guess. But a few give Poe credit for a creative leap that contemporaneous astronomers were unable to make. Alberto Cappi is an Italian astronomer who studies galactic clusters and the structure of the universe, and who has taken an interest in Eureka. “It’s surprising that Poe arrived at his dynamically evolving universe, because there was no observational or theoretical evidence suggesting such a possibility,” Cappi wrote in an email. “No astronomer in Poe’s day could imagine a non-static universe.”

Perhaps the astronomers of Poe’s day didn’t have his motivation. Eureka goes on to propose that all the scattered and blown-apart atoms of the universe are now rushing together again, compelled by their “appetite for oneness.” In the due course of ages, he says, the “bright stars will become blended,” and all matter will merge in a final embrace. Poe, the bereft widower, seems to take comfort in this promise of reunification, perhaps dreaming of being reunified with his love. Many of today’s cosmologists predict a quite different fate for us all: an ever-continuing expansion, with all matter spread out in an increasingly diffuse and featureless Universe. The macabre Poe, rather than the romantic one, might have found that conclusion appropriate.

(Photo by John Lemieux)

The Greatest Known Unknown

Sep 21 2014 @ 8:01pm

In the midst of an interview discussing how we argue about God, Keith DeRose asserts that “neither theists nor atheists know whether God exists”:

It was about God, wasn’t it, that Kant famously wrote “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith”? Whatever it does or doesn’t do for faith, my denial of knowledge here makes room for reasonable views on both sides of the question of whether God exists.

I don’t think the arguments for either theism or atheism lead to knowledge of their conclusions. But there are arguments on both sides from premises that someone might reasonably judge to be plausible. If you find it quite probable that God does not exist, I think it’s perfectly possible that you are reasonable to think as you do. But this doesn’t mean that someone who thinks it is likely that God does exist can’t likewise be reasonable in holding that position.

To know that God does (or doesn’t) exist, you have to show that there are no arguments for atheism (or for theism) that a reasonable person could find plausible. But to support that claim you would have to have better critiques of all those arguments than I’ve ever seen. In my view, it’s more likely those who claim to know whether God exists — whether theists or atheists — are just blowing smoke.

Who Are Your Favorite Heretics?

Sep 21 2014 @ 7:18pm

Richard J. Mouw suggests that believers should all have a few because “it can be healthy for Christians who love ideas to be challenged regularly by perspectives that we can disagree with in productive ways.” One of his? The famed British philosopher Bertrand Russell, author of Why I Am Not a Christian:

For a while, especially when I was first learning the ropes in Anglo-American analytic philosophy, Bertrand Russell was one of my special favorite heretics. In his technical philosophical work in epistemology and logic, he changed his mind a lot, and showed no embarrassment about doing so. I admired that in him. But what I enjoyed even more were his popular writings, especially about religious matters.

Russell was boldly anti-religious. He saw no room for any substantive religious ideas in formulating an ethical perspective, or in investing oneself in social-political causes. But there were moments in his writings when he expressed a sense that to abandon religion is to lose something important—even if he was not clear exactly about what the loss amounted to. One of my favorite Russell passages in this regard occurs in the context of some autobiographical reflections. As a gift for him on his twelfth birthday, he recounted, his grandmother gave him a Bible, which he still possessed. In the flyleaf she had written a couple of her favorite biblical texts: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil,” and “Be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be Thou dismayed. For the Lord Thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Then Russell makes this remarkable confession: “These texts have profoundly influenced my life, and still seemed to retain some meaning after I had ceased to believe in God.”

I find something admirable in that confession. It expresses a sense of loss, along with a corresponding sense of moral loneliness. Being one’s own autonomous moral legislator can be a lonely experience.