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behaviour and intelligence 2

New translation, the Magna Carta
article archives at abelard's news and comment zonebehaviour and intelligence archives
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behaviour and
archive 2






the prurient society – or barbie’s mate forgets to take her pill

“US Walmart stores have taken her off the shelves after customers complained she was a bit too real for young children.”

Never do. Wouldn’t want the kids learning anything about the real world.

“Midge, described as Barbie’s oldest friend, delivers a baby when her stomach is opened.”

What’s this? A caesarian section? A pic of Midge’s proud tummy is provided, but unfortunately it is tastefully draped.

Yes, it seems so.

“The pregnant version of Midge, which pops out a curled-up baby when her belly, attached by a magnet, is opened...”

So no fun ucky blud, I s’pose.

“... the ‘Happy Family’ set, which included pregnant Midge, her husband and her 3-year-old son.”

Also to be added to the range, at $80 we have—

“Lingerie Barbie, complete with lace underwear and stiletto heels, has already caused controversy. It is being marketed as a collector’s item for the over-14s.”

“It” appears to be aimed at a ‘specialist’ market! Amazing what you can get money for.

From this week’s Economist:

“To date, over 1 billion Barbie dolls have been sold. The average American girl aged between three and 11 owns a staggering ten Barbie dolls, according to Mattel, the American toy giant that manufactures her. An Italian or British girl owns seven; a French or German girl, five. The Barbie brand is worth some $2 billion a little ahead of Armani, just behind the Wall Street Journal making it the most valuable toy brand in the world, according to Interbrand.”

I seriously wonder whether some people have cotton wool stuffing in their heads.

Here, we have a 5 year-old (boy of course) being accused of sexual harassment.
No, I’m not ‘kidding’. Forgive me while I dare to laugh in the midst of this mad ‘witch’ hunt. A five-year-old boy and five-year-old girl went to a hiding place behind a small wall.

“That my daughter referred to as ‘the secret hiding place where kisses happen,’ ” said mother.

Ho ho ho, this looks like a ‘consenting relationship’. I wonder why the 5 year-old girl isn’t being ‘harassed’ for seduction!

Now we have ‘mother’ again:

“And then he unbuttoned and unzipped her pants,” she said.

What on earth was the poor little victim wearing? A chastity belt? A zip and buttons!!

It goes on—well, I suppose it would—

“I've been ignored. I’m being made out to be some sort of obsessive parent,” said the girl’s mother.

Glory be the outrage of it—doesn’t everyone know that every 5 year-old boy is a potential rapist? Who will ‘protect’ the children from 5 year-old harassers and pregnant Barbie dolls?

But fear not, little Barbie is going to be ‘protected’ by ‘mother’.

“The girl’s mother says she is pulling her daughter out of APS and will homeschool her now”.

So all is aright in the madhouse.
This would never have happened if ‘mother’ had sent little Barbie to school in her new burka!

barbie art
Then, of course, there is the bad Mister Tom Forsythe who has been pursued for a couple of years by gigantic Mattel, trying to stop him showing his ‘art’, which consists of....
mooning Barbies, Barbies in the blender, Barbies getting it off with the blender, and other timeless works.

“ Mattel says Forsythe’s creations are “crudely sexual and violently misogynistic” and has spent two years suing Forsythe for infringement of copyright and a host of other legal sins.”

Fortunately, American justice has come down on the side of bad taste!

More versions of ‘food’ Barbie can be seen here and here.

Then there are another lot who bang on about how plastic Barbie is too sexy, or too thin, or too this or three that; but I’ll leave you to look out those sad people if you wish.

the web address for this article is


the sky is falling said chicken-licken

On an article entitled, Schoolbooks are flubbing facts
Texts filled with errors and political correctness

This article alternates between tabloid hysteria and reporting the sad state of some New York school library offerings.

I was particularly amused by this piece of typical tabloid ignorance:

“ Glencoe wrote of ancient geological events that took place "millions of years ago," like the Ice Age”

(Just in case: the last ice age is reckoned to have receded around 10,000 years ago.
If you want to throw stones, first get a tin hat!)

The sort of ignorance and low standards referred to in the article are no 21st century invention, and the bits are, doubtless, selected from the most propitious items the authors could find to make their ‘point’. Victorian school books were full of shallow, ignorant and propagandist text.

It is, of course, important that teachers and parents are responsible, and that they monitor the standards of reading material used in schools on the occasions that they have sufficient ability to so do.

But if you could not find a great deal more than the few ‘errors’ listed in the article in any random 120,000 books, let alone among much of the pap commonly offered to the young, I would imagine a new miracle had occurred.

Rather more to the point would be some effort to worry less about any possibility of giving ‘offence’, and to pay a great deal more attention to treating the young with more respect, while encouraging them to develop adequate crap detectors.

Poor quality books may be found in abundance in any society. Very few of them will last beyond a very few years.

The incredible rubbish on the market 100 or 400 years ago would astonish anyone but a dedicated book collector. The only difference is that most of the rubbish of those days has long ago returned to ashes, other than the very few copies now mostly languishing unread in quiet stacks.

Keeping back the tide of ignorance, or even questioning ‘political correctness’, is not some recent discovery. It is a project for the ages.

Each day, each year, we make progress. Things do slowly improve despite the latest media fuss. Darwin does get through, despite ‘Texas’, or the latest fashionable panic.

However much they may still be improved, children’s books are vastly more interesting and informative than those used by grandmother.

the web address for this article is


a precise description of american ‘justice’ one GoldenYak (tm) award

“In 1978 Professor John Langbein, now of Yale Law School, wrote a dazzling and soon-famous article in the Public Interest called ‘Torture and Plea Bargaining.’ Langbein compared the modern American system of plea bargaining to the system of extracting confessions by torture in medieval Europe.”

“Then in prison, four of the five got stung by the parole system, which is like plea bargaining, Round 2. Their time behind bars was extended because they ‘declined to accept responsibility’ for the rape they didn't commit...”

police interviews in the UK

(See also Loftus, The myth of repressed memory)

The degree of unreliability in court procedures is a very great deal higher than is recognised, and much higher than people wish to recognise.

People tend to believe what they wish to believe. Part of that wish is the wish to believe they can detect when others are lying, or truth telling. But, in fact, people are very poor at detecting lies.

Much judgement is made within microseconds of meeting another person. Such judgements are heavily founded on many unconscious, and often false, beliefs.

Whatever people believe, or wish to believe, they will make up justifications to support. This is seen in everyday life, in the strong inclination of people to buy ‘news’ media that tell them what they already believe and wish to believe. Humans are usually very determined to cling to their beliefs, however foolish those beliefs may be.

The whole legal process is riddled with vested interests and unacknowledged prejudices. All participants have vested interests in being believed or ‘taken seriously’; yet humans are instinctive and accomplished liars.

Much of what goes on in court is a battle between sales people, not a search for fact. This battle is also a morass of prejudices.

It is vital for ‘authorities’ to maintain public belief in the legal process. This makes it very difficult to gain admissions of any errors, or of general fallibility, or of intrinsic weaknesses in the process.

Legal systems are not adequate. They are unstable and considerably unreliable. Society will need much adjusting and coming to terms with these increasingly understood realities.

the web address for this article is

updated 19.12.2002

the turing test continues to be useful three GoldenYak (tm) award
Chasing the Turing Test horizon....
This site concerns tests that use the difficulty computers still have with visual and sound recognition tasks, in order to check whether a human or a computer is on the line.

See some examples here.
The examples are a sort of reverse Turing Test. This method allows a computer to identify when it is being ‘raided’ by another computer. Thus, the computer then has the means of telling a human apart from a computer. Naturally, a human could use techniques like this method to do likewise.
For the moment!

[lead from Limbic]

related material
the turing test and intelligence
Computing machinery and intelligence - A.M. Turing, 1950


the web address for this article is


related material

the turing test

Computing machinery and intelligence
- A.M. Turing, 1950

children are not the future—they are the present

“Through participation at early ages in issues that concern them—far from promoting anarchy or disrespect for authority, or undermining parental authority —we see a generation of young people who are more respectful and concerned about their rights and the rights of others, the report said.”

“The 2003 edition of the annual State of the World’s Children Report called on governments to teach children democratic values and expand access to education and participation in government.” [my emphasis]

From a recent communication:

“The young are already using the net with ever increasing sophistication and imagination, and they are (near) spontaneously forming networks to educate each other.”

“I have every expectation that large organisations and governments will lose out over time, unless they meet the aspirations of the creative and idealistic young— those aspirations not including any worship of control freak”

related material
franchise by examination education and intelligence


the web address for this article is


related material
franchise by examination education and intelligence

the tragedy of the commons—managing fish stocks

As a recent article in the science journal Nature points out, “When push comes to shove (in fisheries management), it seems that short-term economic interests steamroller scientific arguments.”

Seafood Watch is a developing site giving ecologically-oriented information on food from the seas. More details at interesting sites.


Related material
The link between ethics and the ‘Tragedy of the commons’
‘tragedy of the commons’ (archived news item)

the web address for this article is


related material

The link between
ethics and
the ‘Tragedy
of the

‘tragedy of
the commons’

news item)


how the brain learns to hear

“In his simulation, neurons are rewarded for correctly recognizing the phonemes of a certain language. In response they reorganize; most become sensitive only to ambiguous sounds that straddle categories. The simulated cortex loses its ability to distinguish slightly different, but equally clear, phonemes. Humans—as well as monkeys, chinchillas and even starlings—show just such a ‘perceptual magnet’ effect.”

(Lead from Limbic.)

the web address for this article is


Scientists speculating on god
in three parts:
fashion and hubris in the science community... 1
fashion and hubris ... 2
fashion and hubris ... 3

Note by abelard; the following is taken from Why Aristotelian logic does not work:

Abelard kept discussion of ‘god’ out of his work on logic. In a passage in his commentary on Porphyry, the question of ‘god’s’ intellect arises in the context of the problem of knowledge of the future. ‘god’s’ perception of the future, Abelard says, is most sensibly resolved by saying that:

“His substance, which alone is unchanging and simple, is varied by no conceptions of things nor by any other forms. For; although the custom of human speech presumes to speak of the creator in the same way as of creatures, by calling Him provident or intelligent for example, nevertheless nothing in Him should be, or can be, understood as distinct from Him: neither perception nor any other form. Therefore any question about perception is irrelevant so far as God is concerned.”

the web address for this article is


the prevention of violence

This article has been incorporated into the briefings document, humans killing humans.

the web address for this article is


‘tragedy of the commons’
state and private property are not the only ways of conserving common goods

This article by Ostrom gives some history of thinking on the Tragedy of the Commons (TOTC) back to Aristotle! This item also shows some small-scale practices designed to mitigate problems caused by jointly held commons. Another development on a larger scale is described here.

This is the oft-cited article by Hardin, written 35 years ago. It is interesting to see his prognostications for the uncontrollability of populations, and his darkly hinted, draconian ‘solutions’ (similar to those currently in effect in China). Yet 35 years on, Western populations are often on the wane. Hardin’s logic that those who restrict their fecundity are likely in due course to be outbred by those who don’t, and his secondary assumption that this will lead straight back into the original Malthusian dilemma, has yet to be empirically verified.

Western governments have constructed their welfare states in the following manner, with allowing breeding and then freeloading on the state (i.e. other tax payers); this does seem to be the height of short-sighted foolishness. But this style of allocating and distributing benefits must hit the buffers eventually.

See also the section on Calhoun’s rats in feedback and crowding.

The Ostrom article cited above gives examples of local communities that have successfully managed limited resources over centuries. An alternative outcome is shown in an incredible and terrible catalogue of human depredation down the ages, to be found in A green history of the world by C. Ponting.

It is always important to look at successes, if one wishes to move forward. There is a ridiculous tendency in social sciences to concentrate on problems and to ignore successful examples. It is by learning from success that we move forward far more than the interminable cataloguing of failure.

The solutions catalogued by Ostrom are useful indicators of just why ‘democratic’ approaches are often much more effective in solving TOTC issues. Democracy is not just some desirable fluff, it also has practical advantages in saving us from some of the more difficult problems that we face. However, keep in mind that Ostrom’s examples are in limited geographical areas with few people involved, whereas Ponting’s examples are often large widespread systems.

The growing understanding of game theory, as indicated in the section on ‘your reputation’, also shows some of the ways humans come to co-operate. Group co-operation also improves individual survival. Those who imagine that nature is just some simplistic dog-eat-dog competition have a highly simplistic understanding of evolution. Those belonging to groups that co-operate are more likely to survive and leave descendants than those who merely attempt to go it alone. Competing groups tend to be a force selecting for co-operation, even though selection within groups selects for competition.

Humans are not simply trapped in some Hobbesian prisoner’s dilemma. The more complex reality gives much greater hope. It is also well to remember that over-pessimism can lead to resignation and inaction. Both pessimism and optimism can become self-fulfilling mindsets, this in its turn causes difficulties if the optimism extends into the other extremism of complacency.

your reputation—watching the behaviour of others
“Theoretical models suggest that altruism can survive in populations where individuals trust those they have seen co-operate with others, but give nothing to those they have seen behave selfishly.”
[ Nature, 19.09.02]

Reputation helps solve the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’
here is a recent game theory test of co-operative behaviour under observation.

abelard’s game theory section (Fehr’s interesting and useful site)

the web address for this article is


establishment psycho-bunk 2
Ritalin and junk science

moved to briefings documents


establishment psycho-bunk 1

moved to briefings documents


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