Thomas Friedman Clogged My Toilet

Justin E. H. Smith

Friedman-ts-190 A few nights ago I hosted a reception for an old friend, a respected scholar and most recently the author of Citation Techniques in Duns Scotus. We were celebrating the sale of the 100th copy of his book.

Now ordinarily this sort of event is attended by only the dustiest of academics, so you can easily imagine my surprise when a former colleague of mine –a newly minted global-justice theorist who left academic philosophy in order, as she put it, to 'work the Davos circuit'– showed up accompanied by the prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

The two of them had just come from the opening session of the ‘Mini Davos’ forum, which this year my adoptive city had the honor of hosting. My former colleague (let us call her ‘Juliette’) had just led a session on ‘The Universal Right to Clean Water’, in which her performance was judged by Stephen Harper, Desmond Tutu, and Bono alike to be of ‘Oscar calibre’.
“Water,” exclaimed Bill Gates, “now there's something people can get excited about.”
“She's gonna take this act all the way to Switzerland,” Bill Clinton himself was heard to say.

I had already known Friedman to be a small and twitchy man, and was now able to confirm that this is at best a mild understatement. Yet almost immediately I sensed that there was something unusual, that this man, however awkward he may ordinarily be, was at this very moment in a tremendous amount of discomfort.
“It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Friedman,” I said smoothly and, I hoped, with just the right amount of ambiguous sarcasm. “I'm a big fan of The Lexus and the Olive Tree. It really captured the moment. When I read it I was like: forget about On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (and Always Have) in the Future Tense, it's Friedman who's really got his finger on the pulse.”
“Thanks,” Friedman groaned. “Call me Tom.”

This was all he managed to say, after which he just kept standing there, sweating and wincing. I imagined Juliette might be able to bring him back to life if I were to disappear, so I excused myself and went to mingle among the other guests. Things were proceeding as usual. Reginald, it seems, had read Gunther’s new book, Kenelm Digby’s Qualitative Corpuscularianism. The babysitter-deprived and therefore absent Gunther, Reginald reported to the crowd’s amusement and surprise, had based his study almost entirely upon The Nature of Bodies of 1644 while completely ignoring the Discourse concerning the Vegetation of Plants of 1661.

Thirty minutes in or so, when I simply could not stand to see my most distinguished guest suffering anymore, and when conversation with the others had weakened from Digby to dental insurance to daycare, I leaned in and, in a whispered tone, asked Juliette what was wrong. She knew the man better than I did, after all, and I had long known her to be what Nietzsche would call a penetrating 'psychologist'. Was she ever! Thomas Friedman, Juliette whispered to me discreetly in the elegant Ciceronian Latin she still retained from her years as a scholar of Imperial Stoicism, was in the throes of a fluxus ventris.

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Psychological Science: The [Non-]Theory of Psychological Testing – Part 1

This is the first in a planned series of articles with the frontispiece title, “Psychological Science:”. To give you an idea of other topics that may develop, here are a few working titles. “Sigmund Freud, a Personal and Scientific Coward”, “Classical Inference, Bad. Bayesian Inference, Good”, and “Fighting Over Combat Related PTSD”. These will not follow in succession, necessarily. Rather, I will intersperse them with other articles under the lead title of, “My Life As a Crime Fighter:”, at least one more on “My Father: A Veteran's Story”, and other creations as the Muses will inspire. Finally, so that the question doesn't have to be asked, I want to establish my blog creds so I might have a shot at a nomination for next year's “The Quark”, a prize for science writing awarded by My goal is to be nominated by someone other than myself.

In summary

Psychological Test Theory is no such thing. It is a tautology, not a theory. *

* For those who are interested, the remainder of this article is elaboration.


Modern Psychological Test Theory

Modern Psychological Test Theory (PTT) comes in two flavors: Classical Test Theory (CTT), and Item Response Theory (IRT). They are not competing views of psychological assessment, rather, they are complementary. CTT deals with the total test score, and IRT focuses on the individual items that make up the total test score. CTT looks at your total Algebra test score of 81. IRT studies the response choices for the item. For example,

Given the equation, x + 4 = 7, solve for x.

a) x = 11

b) x = 3

c) x = 0

d) x = 1

CTT focuses on average test scores and how they vary across people and groups. IRT wants to know about item difficulty, item discrimination, and probability of guessing. Graduate students in psychological research and psychometrics regard CTT as old hat, and IRT as really cool stuff. Educational Testing Service (ETS) of Princeton, NJ makes millions on both, but the real cash cow is IRT.

Read more »

John Hodgman: I Hear They’re Going to Make Evolution Legal

Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:

I just loved this speech John Hodgman made at the Radio and TV Correspondents’ Dinner yesterday. Hodgman spoke for all us nerds, perhaps even including the president himself. And best of all, while talking about that fine nerd novel Dune, he showed the president a painting of a giant sand worm from Dune by John Schoenherr. (It shows up at 11:20.)

I grew up a couple miles from Schoenherr and spent much of my nerdy youth with his son Ian, hanging out in his fabulous old barn-slash-studio, filled with his classic science fiction art, new paintings of bears and geese, assorted Japanese swords, many cameras, a complete collection of National Geographic, and lots of bones and stuffed animal heads. I’m grateful to Hodgman for bringing back those times, and for showing off the work of a wonderful artist. I return Hodgman the final words of his speech: I extend that most American of greetings–I have been and always shall be your friend. Live long and prosper.

Pakistan win the ICC World Twenty20 in exciting finish!

ScreenHunter_14 Jun. 21 19.19

What a summer solstice it has been! 3QD announces its Science Prize winners, Barack turns out to be a secret Pakistani, and then this is from the BBC (I think Barack made this happen too!):

Pakistan won the ICC World Twenty20 in an exciting finish at a noisy Lord's when Sri Lanka's total of 138-6 was overhauled with 10 balls remaining.

_45955225_fans_ap466i Shahid Afridi, man of the match in the semi-final, was again the hero, hitting 54 not out from 40 balls to steer Pakistan to an eight-wicket win.

Sri Lanka were 2-2 and then 70-6 after choosing to bat and needed Kumar Sangakkara's 64 to give them hope.

But Pakistan paced their chase well and richly deserved their victory.

Sri Lanka had progressed through the tournament smoothly, winning all their matches and relying on the brilliant batting of Tillakaratne Dilshan and some superb bowling led by Ajantha Mendis.

But on the grand stage, both their leading players fluffed their lines, and Pakistan ruthlessly seized the initiative.

Pakistan had lost two of their first three matches, needing a win against the Netherlands just to make the last eight. But they turned a corner when thrashing New Zealand – from which point they never looked back.

More here.

Slipping from Shangri-La


The line of forty walkers moved quickly, which was good for keeping warm but bad for keeping my balance. Because we were walking on ice, a frozen river. The Zanskar, walled in on both sides by a towering gorge, is the only winter link between villages in that Himalayan valley and the outside world. And it’s only a link for a little while, in deepest winter, when its surface freezes enough to support human footsteps. Zanskar is part of Ladakh—the eastern, Buddhist part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. At more than 11,000 feet above sea level (with peaks as high as 23,000), the area has long been defined by remoteness. The valley has the feel of a cul-de-sac, because there is only one real road in and out—a dirt track from Kargil, an untouristed and predominantly Muslim town just a couple of miles from the disputed border (or “Line of Control”) with Pakistan, to Padum, the main town of Zanskar. Summers are short there, and the Kargil road is only reliably open four or five months a year, from the end of May to early October. After that, snow makes it impassable and the valley gets very, very quiet. But for a few weeks each winter, when the ice is strong enough, the river provides the Zanskaris another way out—an ice road, a forty-mile trail upon the frozen surface called the chaddar.

more from Ted Conover at VQR here.

Sunday Poem

On the Pavement
Ahmad Shamlou

My unseen friends
are like falling stars
Such landed on the stabbed
heart of the earth
that I said the Earth
will forever be left
with no blaze
will forever be left
a darkened night


And then
Who was I?
The silent owl,
trapped in a nest
of his own inert


I put away
my lyre and its broken string,
I took up a lantern
and stepped into the road,
moving around the lane
Singing: “Behold!
Look out of the window!
Behold the blood
all over the pavement!”

“You can see the blood
is from the opened veins of the Sun
Don’t you hear the heartbeat of the Sun
from every drop?”

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Barack cooks Keema, Daal; reads Urdu poetry. I knew it: he’s a secret Pakistani!

Anwar Iqbal interviews POTUS for Dawn:

Obama ‘Any plan to visit Pakistan in the near future?’

‘I would love to visit. As you know, I had Pakistani roommates in college who were very close friends of mine. I went to visit them when I was still in college; was in Karachi and went to Hyderabad. Their mothers taught me to cook,’ said Mr Obama.

‘What can you cook?’

‘Oh, keema … daal … You name it, I can cook it. And so I have a great affinity for Pakistani culture and the great Urdu poets.’

‘You read Urdu poetry?’

‘Absolutely. So my hope is that I’m going to have an opportunity at some point to visit Pakistan,’ said Mr Obama.

‘And obviously one of the things that I think ties our countries together is the extraordinary Pakistani-American community that is here in the United States who are thriving and doing great work as physicians and as lawyers and as business people. And one of the great opportunities I think for Pakistan is to be able to draw on all this talent and extraordinary entrepreneurship to help provide concrete benefits to the Pakistani people, and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for Pakistan,’ he said.

More here.

Inside Roy Lichtenstein’s Studio

From lensculture:

Lambrecht_1 Anyone who has had the privilege of visiting a great artist in his or her studio knows how exciting it can be to witness creative work in progress — and to check out the sketches, notes, objects and images that the artist chooses to keep in the space for inspiration.

A new series of photographs has recently emerged that provide an intimate look at the studio and working environment of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. Photographer Laurie Lambrecht worked as his part-time assistant from 1990 to 1992, helping him to inventory his studio in preparation for his 1993 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.

While they were re-visiting files and scrapbooks together, Lichtenstein encouraged her to make photographs from time to time, and was often pleased and amused by the results. Lambrecht’s photos offer fascinating insight into Lichtenstein’s working processes and source materials, as well as being vibrant works of art in their own right.

More here.

Mousavi’s Latest Statement: “I Followed Them”

Via Andrew Sullivan:

ScreenHunter_13 Jun. 21 12.14 “In the name of God, the kind and the merciful

Indeed god demands you to safe keep what people entrust in you, and to rule them with justice. [this a verse of Koran]

Respectable and intelligent people of Iran, These nights and days, a pivotal moment in our history is taking place. People ask each other: “what should we do?, which way should we go?”. It is my duty to share with you what I believe, and to learn from you, may we never forget our historical task and not give up on the duty we are given by the destiny of times and generations.

30 years ago, in this country a revolution became victorious in the name of Islam, a revolution for freedom, a revolution for reviving the dignity of men, a revolution for truth and justice. In those times, especially when our enlightened Imam [Khomeini] was alive, large amount of lives and matters were invested to legitimize this foundation and many valuable achievements were attained. An unprecedented enlightenment captured our society, and our people reached a new life where they endured the hardest of hardships with a sweet taste. What this people gained was dignity and freedom and a gift of the life of the pure ones [i.e. 12 Imams of Shiites]. I am certain that those who have seen those days will not be satisfied with anything less. Had we as a people lost certain talents that we were unable to experience that early spirituality? I had come to say that that was not the case. It is not late yet, we are not far from that enlightened space yet.

I had come to show that it was possible to live spiritually while living in a modern world. I had come to repeat Imam’s warnings about fundamentalism. I had come to say that evading the law leads to dictatorship; and to remind that paying attention to people’s dignity does not diminish the foundations of the regime, but strengthens it.

I had come to say that people wish honesty and integrity from their servants, and that many of our perils have arisen from lies. I had come to say that poverty and backwardness, corruption and injustice were not our destiny. I had come to re-invite to the Islamic revolution, as it had to be, and Islamic republic as it has to be. In this invitation, I was not charismatic [articulate], but the core message of revolution was so appealing that it surpassed my articulation and excited the young generation who had not seen those days to recreate scenes which we had not seen since the days of revolution[1979] and the sacred defense. The people’s movement chose green as its symbol. I confess that in this, I followed them.

More here.

Modern Iranian Culture for Dummies

From Vanity Fair:

Persian-cats If you couldn’t get enough of momentous national street protests before, Iran’s ongoing Tweet-volution will certainly keep you buried in a backlog of must-see/read/post-to-Facebook digital tidbits of cyber-democracy in action for a long time. Between refreshing Andrew Sullivan’s page for the next tsunami of Persian-green tweets, and watching all those YouTube videos with bigger crowds than Braveheart, it might be easy to think you know the nooks and crannies of Tehran like the back of your hijab. However, while the mainstream media’s coverage of the posts linked round the world may resemble a brontosaurus trying to win the 100m dash, there is only so much depth you can get out of 10 mins of low-res cell phone footage or texts with a 160 character limit. So for those of us curious for a window into Iran that allows for a more leisurely, reflective glimpse, there’s certainly been no shortage of sources of late that don’t require a DSL connection—and won’t strain your eyes without the proper gamma correction:

If you’ve been within eyeshot of a New York Times best-seller list anytime with in the past five years, chances are you’ve heard of Azar Nafisi’s acclaimed 2003 memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran. After resigning from a comparatively liberal Iranian university in the mid-90s, Nafisi hand-picked female students to read “forbidden” works by Fitzgerald, James and of course, the grandiloquent patron of literary perversion himself, Vladimir Nabokov. Then, she wrote down her experience and the stories of her students demonstrating how a book club can be an act of sedition. More recently, Iranian-American Azadeh Moaveni, who first re-connected with her inner Iranian in Lipstick Jihad, returned to Tehran in 2005 to cover Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election. After she fell in love, got pregnant, and got married, she tried to make a permanent home there for herself—she didn’t quite succeed but her clashes with the Ministry of Intelligence became the backbone of her new book Honeymoon in Tehran.

More here.

A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets

Roger Cohen in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_12 Jun. 21 01.09 Khamenei has taken a radical risk. He has factionalized himself, so losing the arbiter’s lofty garb, by aligning himself with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against both Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a founding father of the revolution.

He has taunted millions of Iranians by praising their unprecedented participation in an election many now view as a ballot-box putsch. He has ridiculed the notion that an official inquiry into the vote might yield a different result. He has tried pathos and he has tried pounding his lectern. In short, he has lost his aura.

The taboo-breaking response was unequivocal. It’s funny how people’s obsessions come back to bite them. I’ve been hearing about Khamenei’s fear of “velvet revolutions” for months now. There was nothing velvet about Saturday’s clashes. In fact, the initial quest to have Moussavi’s votes properly counted and Ahmadinejad unseated has shifted to a broader confrontation with the regime itself.

More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]

he loved l.a.


In the late 1960s, a tall and ungainly Englishman named Peter Reyner Banham brought his shaggy beard and wonky teeth to Los Angeles and declared that he loved the city with a passion. It helped that, as a visiting architecture professor (Banham was teaching at USC), he was given some pretty fancy digs: He stayed in Greene & Greene’s Gamble house in Pasadena, one of the most beautiful and romantic houses in America. So Banham had a privileged base from which to explore. But what he went looking for, and the way he wrote about what he saw and felt, redefined the way the intellectual world — and then the wider world — perceived the city. Reyner’s ” Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies” — first published in 1971 — has now been reissued in a new edition with an excellent introduction by architect and scholar Joe Day. It is a landmark in the history of writing L.A. Banham came from abroad, but he came, not to escape something, not to try to reinvent himself or to sneer at us. He came to celebrate, and, in 1971, this bucked a 40-year trend in which Los Angeles had been cast as a schlock dystopia. Banham declared (outrageously, many said at the time) that L.A. was a great city, praising not only the émigré modernist designs of its architect pioneers like Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra but also its busy vernacular: gas stations, surfboards, muscle cars and freeways.

more from Richard Rayner at the LA Times here.

boys behaving badly


“Harem culture.” Is that like HBO’s series “Big Love” except Muslim, not Mormon, and with tassels, a potted palm and no bickering? Well yes, sort of. But there are a lot more women in a harem. A lot. The seraglio of the sultan of the Ottoman Empire housed about 1,600 virgins, each hoping to be chosen for one night of honor. The sultan makes Brigham Young, who had only a few dozen wives, look like a piker with low self-esteem. Yet after reading Richard Bernstein’s fascinating new book, “The East, the West, and Sex” (which could have been subtitled “Boys Behaving Badly”), you really have to give the Mormons credit for trying to implement an American version of the infamous harem of “the East.” As if that were going to work around here. Most of the world is not only not around here, of course, but also so old and so vast that the United States is less than a blip on the screen of human erotic history. India was playing Twister — the Kama Sutra version — more than a thousand years before Columbus got a boat and came to find us.

more from Toni Bentley at the NYT here.

Preventing a Taliban victory

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:

ScreenHunter_11 Jun. 20 17.15 If public support were absent, extremist violence could be relatively easy to deal with. But extremism does not lie merely at the fringes. As an example, let us recall that 5,000 people crammed the streets outside Lal Masjid to pray behind the battle-hardened pro-Taliban militant leader, Maulana Abdul Aziz, the day after he was released from prison on the orders of interior minister Rehman Malik.

In the political arena, the extremists have high-profile cheerleaders like Imran Khan, Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Hamid Gul who rush to justify every attack on Pakistan’s people and culture. To them it makes no difference that Baitullah Mehsud proudly admits to the murder of Allama Dr Sarfaraz Ahmad Naeemi, the recent Peshawar mosque bombing, the earlier Wah slaughter and scores of other hideous suicide attacks. Like broken gramophone records, they chant “Amrika, Amrika, Amrika” after every new Taliban atrocity.

Nevertheless, bad as things are, there is a respite. To the relief of those who wish to see Pakistan survive, the army finally moved against the Taliban menace. But, while the state has committed men to battle, it cannot provide them a convincing reason why they must fight.

For now some soldiers have bought into the amazing invention that the Baitullahs and Fazlullahs are India’s secret agents. Others have been told that they are actually fighting a nefarious American-Jewish plot to destabilise Pakistan. To inspire revenge, still others are being shown the revolting Taliban-produced videos of Pakistani soldiers being tortured and beheaded.

More here.

No More Mr. Tough Guy

From Root:

Hands_2 Black men need their swagger and their game, but on Fathers’ Day it is worth remembering a little vulnerability is not the worst thing in the world. In spite of the compelling TCBY promotion that offers a free yogurt for dad on Father’s Day, many of us are in search of a more substantive and memorable family experience this third Sunday in June. In fact, when I became a dad in the early 1990s, I so wanted to help folks have meaningful Father’s Days that I edited a collection of essays called Faith of our Fathers: African American Men Reflect on Fatherhood (Dutton/Penguin). Essentially, I asked brothers I knew (Cornel West, Robin D.G. Kelley, Charles Ogletree, and others) to write about their experiences as fathers or with their fathers. I wanted the collection to be an intimate conversation between black men that would help fathers deepen their own self-awareness and more closely connect with their children, and with their dads.

I was pleasantly surprised that the most common reaction to the book was that it presented the vulnerability of African American men in a way that was not often captured in mainstream media. The images of black masculinity that are most often generated by mainstream media are patriarchal ones, meaning they feature the tough, emotionally invulnerable guy who is hardened by society and unable to make real emotional connections. While black men are still the most feared group in our society and there are reasons for them to hide their vulnerability, the media images are vastly one-sided. Thus, I realized that the presentation of black male vulnerability in my book was a way to challenge common perceptions of black masculinity. This, I knew, served the interests of both men and women.

More here.