Print Story Trust the Gene Genie
By TheophileEscargot (Sat May 17, 2008 at 12:01:31 AM EST) Reading, Listening, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "Understanding Genetics". Reading: "On Grief and Grieving". Web.

What I'm Listening To
Latest TTC course was Understanding Genetics: DNA, Genes, and Their Real-World Applications by David Sadava. 24 lectures.

I think I should have liked this more. It's pretty informative, Sadava is a good lecturer with a breezy avuncular manner. Found it quite hard to remember the complicated stuff: kept forgetting what a promoter was. I think one problem is that half of the stuff is very familiar so I sort of stop paying attention, and then suddenly realise I don't understand what he's saying and have to rewind.

Still, seems to cover things pretty thoroughly, both the theoretical side and the applications.

Notable point: the Cohens are hereditary priests in Judaism, believed to all descend from the same man. However, they look very different in different parts of the world. So, they did some Y-chromosome analysis and found that they do appear to have a common male ancestor after all.

Not sure on the audiobook front. Tried a few lectures from the second half of the massive 84-lecture History of the US course, but it even half of it might be too long-winded. Was hoping for some historical tie-in with those Western novels, but only covers cowboys very briefly. Namechecks Louis L'Amour but only to say that the portrayal in books like that is unrealistic.

On the plus side, this part is by a lecturer with a Brummie accent.

What I'm Reading
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler. This isn't the famous "On Death and Dying" book that introduced the notorious Five Stages: this is a later book on dealing with grief.

Gets a bit cloying in places, and has some sections that would only work if you're religious or believe in the supernatural: has a few anecdotes about subtle messages from the departed. Not as psychobabbly as I expected though, apart from always talking about "sharing". How come everybody Shares and nobody just Tells you anything.

Covers quite a variety of situations: suicide, sudden death, multiple death, talking to children, Alzheimers etc; mostly in sections a few pages long. The advice is pretty similar in of them: don't try to rush things, don't try to live in denial, trust your instincts. The most useful aspect is probably the many anecdotes of how people have struggled to come to terms with grief.

The advice seems pretty realistic. The authors point out that the five stages (denial, bargaining, anger, despair, acceptance) are widely misunderstood. You don't progress in a line from one stage to the next, you can swing backwards and forwards through them, you can be in more than one simultaneously. They also point out that "acceptance" doesn't mean that you feel OK about the death. It just means that you learn how to incorporate the sense of loss and keep going.

[Gwen's son Johnny drowned in a pool at his fifth birthday party.]

For the next three years, Gwen talked with everyone who had been at the party, all of whom reassured her that she had been a good mother, that it had happened in a second. By the fifth year, she was still talking about it, and her friends felt it was time for her to find "closure".

Gwen, however, was baffled by the notion. "How do I find closure for such a tragedy? Every morning I wake up and think, 'Today my child would be ten and in the fourth grade'. How do I find an action that will put this to rest? How long am I allowed for a child that I loved for five years? Can I get an extension because this was an accident?"

In the loss of a young loved one such as Johnny, people pay oversimplify the stages. We expect six months of denial, then a few months of anger and depression, followed by some bargaining. Finally we expect to find acceptance, which we imagine will lead to some type of "closure". It's never as easy as the terms on the checklist. Real life and real grief are never as neat and tidy as that. Many believe that after the death of a child there is no closure.

Gwen will never find a defining act that will place Johnny in her past. He will never be behind her as if he moved out of the house. He will always be a part of her past and will live in her heart, which makes the concept of closure unrealistic. Gwen survived, and she and her husband had other children, but she never closed the door on Johnny. Instead, she learned to live with a permanent hollowness in her heart. She realized that the only acceptance she could find was that the death had happened and that she would develop ways to live with it. But for Gwen, "closure" will never come.

Overall, quite interesting but a bit US-centric. Not a bad read but might be irritating if you gave it to an atheist or someone very allergic to sentimentality.


Will Eisner cartoon M16 manual.

Possibly-more-accurate bust of Julius Caesar found.

Upside-down matchbox art.

Big cow.

Confessions of a sweatshop inspector

And many prefer to be bamboozled, because it's cheaper. While companies like to boast of having an ethical sourcing program, such programs make it harder to hire the lowest bidder. Because many companies still want to hire the lowest bidder, "ethical sourcing" often becomes a game. The simplest way to play it is by placing an order with a cheap supplier and ending the relationship once the goods have been delivered. In the meantime, inspectors get sent to evaluate the factory—perhaps several times, since they keep finding problems—until the client, seeing no improvement in the labor conditions, severs the bond and moves on to the next low-priced, equally suspect supplier.

For the half-assed company there are also half-assed monitoring firms. These specialize in performing as many brief, understaffed inspections as they can fit in a day in order to maximize their own profits. That gives their clients plausible deniability: problems undiscovered are problems avoided, and any later trouble can be blamed on the compliance monitors. It is a cozy understanding between client, monitoring company, and supplier that manages to benefit everyone but the workers.

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Trust the Gene Genie | 22 comments (22 topical, 0 hidden)
Confessions of a sweatshop inspector. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat May 17, 2008 at 02:39:56 AM EST
I liked that a lot. Especially in the hope it gave me that you can find companies that do their ethical sourcing properly.

The wild west era was about 25 years long by lm (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat May 17, 2008 at 03:59:48 AM EST
Despite the mystique of westerns in US culture, the time period they're mostly set in wasn't that long and wasn't that important historically.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #4 Sat May 17, 2008 at 06:44:39 AM EST
At 84 lectures they've got plenty of room... 3 years of so per lecture, as opposed to 130 years per lecture for the History of China course. If he can spend an entire lecture on the Populist Party, I think he could spend more than five minutes on the fricking cowboys.

Besides, vast cultural significance popular icons political imagemaking blah blah.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
I'm sure lots of cowboy stuff was in some lectures by lm (4.00 / 2) #5 Sat May 17, 2008 at 08:02:20 AM EST
The populist part, even if short lived, had a far reaching effect on the US that is hard to overstate. From the idea of an eight hour work day to the graduated income tax, its platform remains the cornerstone of quite a bit of law in the US.

The popular cult of the cowboy, however, comes less from the historical cowboy era and more from the subsequent romanticization of the cowboy era. Many of the events and institutions of the era (such as the pony express) will almost certainly be covered, but a close up focus would be more about Buffalo Bill's Wild West show than about the actual wild west.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
History by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #6 Sat May 17, 2008 at 11:58:20 AM EST
It'd be a bit like complaining that the History of the Britain didn't spend enough on Robin Hood.

I suspect that there's plenty of history of the events that influenced the mythology in those lectures, like the gold rushes in California and South Dakota, the Oregon trail, the Texas Republic, Wounded Knee, The Pony Express, Roosevelt's Rough Riders, Pancho Villa etc. It's just that in an actual history, these don't all go together in one lecture.

Other events, like the OK Corral, the James Gang, etc. essentially not particularly important from a historical context. The story of Wild Bill getting shot in a poker game may be a good story, but it influenced nothing, had no national repercussions and just wasn't particularly important.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Not really by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #8 Sat May 17, 2008 at 11:10:05 PM EST
Robin Hood never existed. He was a folk myth, whereas the gunfight at the OK corral actually happened. Furthermore, the real-world ambiguities of it were fascinating, as lightly fictionalized in "Warlock" by Oakley Hall. On the one hand, you can see the cowboy faction like the Clantons as a terrifying menace, needing to be brought under control by the Earps. On the other, you can see the Earps as oppressive bullies, overreacting on behalf of business interests.

The cultural impact of events like that has been huge. And when a cultural impact is large enough, it feeds back into reality.

Politicians like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have consciously self-portrayed themselves using cowboy imagery, as sheriffs riding in to clean up the town. It's worth considering how much the need to maintain that image has impacted on their policy.

Consider terrorists: a terrifying force of anarchy, before which the pettifogging previous law is helpless. Sheriff Bush needs to strap on the six-shooter of the Patriot Act and take firm action.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Well by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #10 Sun May 18, 2008 at 06:06:57 AM EST
As I said...the events that inspired the mythology are likely in your lecture series, just not in one convenient place, because many of them were either not actually from the time period or from the actual West.

I also suspect from your comments re:Bush that you are reacting more to the European stereotype of US politics than what actually happens here in the US.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Are you arguing for what I think you're arguing? by lm (4.00 / 1) #11 Mon May 19, 2008 at 12:04:04 PM EST
You seem to be suggesting that the foreign policy of Bush '43 and Reagan administrations was significantly formed due to the self-identification of Reagan and Bush with a mythologized cowboy ethic.

Even if it were the case that a specific form of machismo did actually shape the public policy of these two men, I think the cowboy ethos has enough antecedents in pop culture from Robin Hood to Kurosawa's Seven Samurai to have sufficed.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
I don't think it's particularly controversial by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #12 Mon May 19, 2008 at 08:53:24 PM EST
To argue that people's action are influenced by the culture they inhabit, and the roles they try to play.

Robin Hood is a different deal altogether. He's usually portrayed as an eloquent smooth talker. Cowboys and sheriffs are portrayed as taciturn types who solve their problems with deeds, not words.

Robin Hood is cunning and deceptive, always turning up in disguise. Cowboys are supposedly straightforward.

Robin Hood is an outright outlaw. Cowboys and sheriffs exist in a legal grey area, where they must lay down the law.

Furthermore, Reagan and W. Bush liked to be photographed on horseback or in cowboy boots or cowboy hats. However, Tony Blair and James Callaghan have never been photographed crouching in trees wearing Lincoln green that I recall. They don't try to exploit that imagery in the same way.

IIRC, I first noticed this ages ago, when I was reading an admiring peace by Larry Niven about Ronald Reagan, when he talked about Iranian hostages being released as "the old cowboy took office". This seemed odd to me, since Reagan was an actor who played cowboys, not actually a cowboy. To his supporters though, this distinction seems to be somewhat elided.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
That is far more limited claim by lm (2.00 / 0) #13 Tue May 20, 2008 at 02:20:46 AM EST
That people are influenced by popular culture is not a particularly controversial claim.

But that the foreign policy of a particular president was significantly shaped by a particular aspect of popular culture is a somewhat controversial claim, especially when applied to the policy of two administrations that have a very rigorous intellectual underpinning to the policy in question. (Not one that I agree with, mind you.) Reagan's foreign policy had less to do with cowboy movies and more to do the theoretical framework set up by James Baker, Alex  Haig and Cap Weingberger.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Unlikely that there was no influence by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #14 Tue May 20, 2008 at 03:39:59 AM EST
Reagan in particular seems to have had his political career heavily boosted by his movie career. It seems pretty unlikely that he would have risen to be president from an obscure job.

So too, his supporters wore buttons like My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys and refer to him admiringly as a cowboy.

It seems pretty absurd to believe that the image he needed to maintain had no effect on his actions or policies.

[ Parent ]
I would agree, I didn't say it had no effect by lm (4.00 / 1) #15 Tue May 20, 2008 at 05:16:08 AM EST
I'm saying is that you've provided much evidence of correlation, little of causation. I've no reason to believe that the cowboy ethos had any substantive effect on Reagan's foreign policy.

We could draw similar parallels between Christianity and the foreign policy of Vlad Tepes. Clearly, Vlad was heavily influenced by the Church of Romania. Also, he heavily referenced Church writings in many of his decrees. Likewise, he was made into a national hero, in part, because of his public displays of piety. But it is not clear that Christian doctrine had any actual effect on his relations with Hungary or the Ottomans. And, in truth, when push came to shove he renounced the Church of Romania for the support of the Holy Roman Empire to try to regain the crown one last time.

What you seem to me to be doing is to conflate the superficial way in which Reagan and Bush communicate their respective policies with why those policies were formed in the first place. I'll allow it is possible that the desire to be a Hollywood style cowboy may have influenced their foreign policy, but I think it far more likely that they formed their foreign policy for other reasons and presented it in cowboy fashion.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
History isn't science by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #16 Tue May 20, 2008 at 06:28:28 AM EST
You can never really prove causation in history. You can't run repeated experiments, every event in history has unique aspects, and you can't simulate it.

However, cowboy and western themes have been a highly prevalent, highly prolonged theme in US popular culture. It seems very likely such a resonant theme influences the electorate, and through them the elected, as well as directly influencing the leaders themselves.

I don't know much about Vlad Tepes, but consider for instance the American Revolution. How can we prove that it was influenced by British taxation for instance. We cannot show causation by re-running the event. However, we can look at the slogan "no taxation without representation", and from that conclude that taxation was probably a factor.

Similarly, we can look at slogans like "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" and conclude that a cowboy attitude is probably a factor in the same way.

[ Parent ]
I like your analogy by lm (2.00 / 0) #17 Tue May 20, 2008 at 06:54:05 AM EST
The US Revolution has many source documents stating the reason for the revolution.

The foreign policy of the Reagan administration has many source documents, none of which mention cowboys.

There is a big difference between `cowboys have always been my heroes' and `I've going to sell arms to Iran to free American hostages because that's what a real cowboy would do.'

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Odd, I don't recall ever saying by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #18 Tue May 20, 2008 at 07:18:05 AM EST
"I've going to sell arms to Iran to free American hostages because that's what a real cowboy would do."

But the cultural impact of the cowboy archetype does seem to be highly significant.

I think you might lack a sufficiently broad experience to see how unusual the adoption of this kind of cultural imagery is. If you saw a Japanese prime minister walking around in laquered armour, or British prime minister crouching in a tree wearing a hat with a feather in it, you'd recognize a significant and unusual cultural phenomenon. Being too close to it, and habituated to it, you don't see the fundamental oddness of it.

[ Parent ]
IF it is as influential as you say by lm (4.00 / 1) #19 Tue May 20, 2008 at 08:12:18 AM EST
It should be fairly trivial to point to an example of Reagan era or Bush '43 foreign policy which would obviously be different if everything else was held the same except about Reagan or Bush save for the cowboyisms. But if we take most of their foreign policy stands and they are explicable without recourse to anything cowboy, then it is a bit absurd to insist on the connection.

As for the lacquered armor point, it's a silly point. That cowboys have been culturally influential in the US is not in dispute. The question is whether the cowboy myth has fundamentally altered US foreign policy.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
No it isn't by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #20 Tue May 20, 2008 at 11:50:05 AM EST
The point is whether cowboys are significant enough to justify more than five minutes of an 84-lecture course on US history.

You're the one who brought up this "foreign policy" strawman. I've never made any claims about it.

The nature of culture is that it's virtually impossible to point to it as a single factor behind a policy decision. But the pervasiveness of culture still makes it a significant force across all decisions.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
I must have misunderstood what you said by lm (2.00 / 0) #21 Wed May 21, 2008 at 02:58:49 AM EST
``Consider terrorists: a terrifying force of anarchy, before which the pettifogging previous law is helpless. Sheriff Bush needs to strap on the six-shooter of the Patriot Act and take firm action. ''

I thought that to be a clear indication we were talking about foreign policy, the against terrorism of which is a significant part.

But if you don't want to narrow the discussion to foreign policy, that's fine. Point me to any aspect of the Reagan administration's policies that would be substantially different were Reagan not a self-styled cowboy.

``The nature of culture is that it's virtually impossible to point to it as a single factor behind a policy decision.''

Right. I'm not asking for that. But if it is that significant, there will be decisions where the influence is clear. For example, there are spots in al-Farabi's writing where you can clearly see the influence of Islam and there are points in his writing where he differs from Aristotle and Plato whom he usually follows pretty closely. Quite a few of those differences are explicable through the influence of Islam. If Farabi wasn't a Muslim, it is hard to believe that he would have wrote those passages. But that doesn't mean that those passages are solely written because of Farabi's religion.

Likewise, if being a cowboy holds that much sway over Reagan and Bush, then it seems to me that there must be some element of the policy of their administrations that a guy can point to and say, `see, normally you'd expect someone of this particular ideology to say X but because they are cowboys, they said Y.' But if you can't do that, there is no sound basis to say that being a cowboy was anything other than a bit of public posturing.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Things are never unambiguous by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #22 Wed May 21, 2008 at 10:16:24 AM EST
From the "War, Peace and Power" lecture series on diplomatic history, the big divide in diplomatic history is between Idealist and Realist factions. Those are not prescriptive categories, but descriptive: arguments about whether cultural values influence policy, or whether policy is purely pragmatic.

History is not a subject in which causes can be determined with certainty. Any time Historian A says Cause 1 was important, it's possible for Historian B to say, no, that was trivial, it was Cause 2 instead.

Now if you want specific examples where the cowboy role could influence policy, there are obvious things to choose from. Alaskan oil-drilling for example: if your self-image is as a frontiersman, you're more likely to want to explore and exploit the frontier. The disbanding of the Iraqi army is another example: co-opting them would have been the pragmatic thing to do given the lack of stabilizing manpower. But cowboys and sheriffs defeat their enemies, they don't co-opt them (unlike Robin Hood after he beat Little John at quarterstaffs, for instance).

But there's not much point me naming a bunch of instances. There are very many to choose from, and you're just going to say "oh no it isn't" to each one. Possibly you're on the far-Realist edge of the Realist-Idealist spectrum.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Great Caesar's bust by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat May 17, 2008 at 05:03:19 AM EST
I don't know if "most accurate" is correct given that we have one based on his death mask.

What I am concerned about is that the pretty much the same system as the sweatshop system you describe is increasingly being applied to food. It is certainly applied to toys, which is why there've been so many cases of lead paint in toys lately.

lm is correct. The "Wild West" is the dullest part of American history. The conditions that make it good for fiction, the low population, the lack of control from the central government, the large native population, the general wilderness, are all reflections of this dullness. Plus, lots of the "wild west" was frankly just made up by booksellers/showmen at the time.

I suggest that you start the series at the beginning. There's more interesting stuff there.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

learning about DNA by iGrrrl (4.00 / 1) #7 Sat May 17, 2008 at 04:06:16 PM EST
 I cannot imagine teaching the subject without visuals. It's spatial, there's a time dimension, and things loop back on themselves. It's so much easier to see it.
"I honestly pity the stupid motherfucker who tries to talk down to iGrrrl" - mrgoat
Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Sat May 17, 2008 at 11:18:41 PM EST
It can certainly look pretty groovy.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Trust the Gene Genie | 22 comments (22 topical, 0 hidden)