02 September 2008

Internet Sausage Barbecue

These sausages may appear a bit underdone, because — proving that Murphy loves nothing more than a barbecue — my gas-powered grill ran out of propane yesterday while I was doing the chimichurri.

  • Values voters have gotten a real hint of what the actual, no-shit values of the Republican party are through several recent "revelations" regarding Sarah Palin's family. Personally, I don't give a rat's ass what her children are up to; they're not on the bloody ballot, and I'm not voting for that ticket on nonideological grounds. The current situation, though, demonstrates that the only "family value" that matters is the "Family value" of power... and the reflection of that value in the right and ability — nay, obligation — to excoriate those who hold different values while failing to uphold their stated values. Just like the various bar associations.

       But I made up my mind on whom I will vote for a long time ago. I'm no heretic; I'm a true believer in evil as the motivating factor of modern politics. Any serious look at the twentieth century should provide some rather depressing evidence in favor of that view. So does the crap that masquerades as serious commentary.

  • Writing "gurus" — most of whom have never written a publishable book-length work of commercial fiction, let alone longer ones, and virtually all of whom demonstratie their deficient education in both literary criticism and literature per se every time they speak/put pen to paper — often proclaim that there exists only a limited number of plots. Examining the claims, though, demonstrates one thing: Those gurus don't know what a "plot" is. Those "limited numbers" are not plots at all, but a smorgasbord of differing organelles from the single-cell story. (I just had to work in a food reference there after yesterday evening's fiasco.) Or, in a more Linneaian sense, these "gurus" act as if the division of life into three kingdoms tells one all everyone needs to know about the truly distinct characteristics of orders and families.

    Perhaps this sort of ignorance in the publishing industry itself explains a bit of Jo Watson's love-hate relationship with commercial fantasy. It might also explain why not all musical performers like iTunes. That, however, is a rant for another time.

  • One of the most-amazing bits of scientific disingenuousness of the last half-century got a rather thorough fisking in an unusual source recently. The entire "tragedy of the commons" meme is remarkably ignorant, because it operates through a reductio ad absurdem view of a complex equilibrium. And it's especially ignorant when applied to intellectual property.
    • As the article I cited notes, Hardin's original piece in Science offers no evidence for its conclusions. This is a disturbingly common problem with economic theory from the mid-twentieth century. And don't kid yourselves: Hardin's article is a somewhat fringeish biologist's application of warmed-over economic theories in a nonnumeric context.
    • Hardin's theory, and the tragedy of the commons meme for that matter, is thermodynamically unsound. It fails to account for activation, variable insulation, variable external inputs, and a wide variety of other thermodynamic principles that more-recent work has incorporated into concepts of ecological waste and niche regulation. Economists — and in particular noneconomists trying to apply the tragedy of the commons to other contexts, such as copyright's public domain — do even worse. My own experience a quarter of a century ago demonstrates this rather conclusively: The key to getting an A in a medical-school-level biochemistry course with not a whole lot of studying proved to be applying thermodynamic principles from physical chemistry (a course, BTW, that very, very few biologists ever take) to the chemical processes in the cell.
    • Not very many proponents of the "tragedy of the commons" meme have even read Hardin's article. Instead, they read each other's work, which is like declaiming on the meaning of Lear by reading a high school essay on Ran's battle scenes. And they certainly don't read more-recent ecological and biological criticisms of, and alterations to, Hardin's theory, which even as of the early 1980s was rapidly losing credibility in the biological community.
  • Speaking of scientific disingenuousness, there's also a fascinating article in New Scientist asserting that the Amazon has already been clearcut... six hundred years ago. The perceptive will note that there's a good reason that I'm contrasting this item with the preceding one.