Dynamist Blog


C-Span 2's Book TV will again run my Manhattan Institute talk on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. The schedule is here.


Instapundit has revived interest in the Gender Genie, prompting Andrew Sullivan to boast of his manliness:

My average score is over 2-1 male, and the blog is the malest--much less metrosexual than even the Insta-man And I'm a big fag. It would indeed be interesting to see whether gay male writers end up being more or less reliably identified as male by this program. My own hunch suggests that gender is a far more profound determinant of human behavior than sexual orientation.

I hate to burst your bubble, Andrew, but it's not hard to write more manly prose than InstaPundit. Here are a sample scores from TSOS selections:

Female Score: 2479
Male Score: 3885

Female Score: 934
Male Score: 1587

Female Score: 1463
Male Score: 2525

And I'm a heterosexual woman with raging hormones and an evolutionary-psychology-approved waist-hip ratio of 0.70. I'm not masculine; I just like definite articles. I'm not saying gender is socially constructed, but I wouldn't recommend that anyone look for dates based on Gender Genie scores. It's not just me and not just opinion journalists, D Magazine's restaurant critic, Nancy Nichols, reports scoring 100% male, while executive editor Tim Rogers says, "Turns out, I'm a chick."

Reader Elf M. Sternberg writes:

The Gender Genie algorithm, which first appeared in the NY Times' "science" section, is a poor popularization of the algorithm as it appeared in the original academic literature. I have the original paper and that algorithm is meant to be applied to fiction; applied to non-fiction, the authors admit, the algorithm is no better than random chance at detecting an author's gender. A much better alogrithm, the one that has an "80%" chance of detecting author's gender correctly, needs to be taught on a large sample to generate a massive statistical measure of male vs. female characteristics in text.

Even applied to fiction, the popular algorithm is not much better. It seems to think I'm a woman, at least 97% of the time.


At PopTech, one of those "angry liberals" Arnold Kling wrote about was terribly shocked to discover that I had voted for George Bush in 2000 and that, given the same choice, I'd do so again. He proposed a thought experiment: How many persistent toxins, such as PCBs, would be in the environment a century hence if Bush were president vs. Gore? He didn't like my answer--that on that question, the election results made no difference. The time scales are off. Technological innovation, not environmental regulation, will determine the state of the earth in 100 years.

Along those lines, this article in The Scientist caught my eye:

Microorganisms that can degrade environmental pollutants have significant biotechnological potential, but until now, the identification of such useful bacteria has mainly relied on attempts to culture contaminated sediment in the laboratory. In the October 27 PNAS, Che Ok Jeon and colleagues at Cornell University report on the use of field-based techniques that have led to the discovery of a previously unknown bacterium capable of biodegradation of naphthalene. The researchers also report that the technique has the potential for use in the discovery of yet more organisms that can biodegrade a wider variety of environmental pollutants....

"This investigative strategy may have general application for elucidating the bases of many biogeochemical processes, hence for advancing knowledge and management of ecological and industrial systems that rely on microorganisms," conclude the authors.

The article has links to primary sources, as well as technical detail I've omitted from the excerpt above.


Back when I was writing about earthquakes in California and Japan, reader Michael Wells sent the following:

You've mentioned earthquakes several times, and your points are all well taken, but I think people tend to overstate the danger of earthquakes, at least with respect to places with solid building construction. As a native Californian, I'm probably a little too blase about earthquakes (I tend to think that anything under 6.0 doesn't count), but I think fires are a much bigger problem, at least in Southern California. A major earthquake might come along once or twice a century in a given area, but fires are almost annual, and are harder to protect yourself against.


Thanks to the kind readers who dropped tips in the Amazon tip jar this month. Amazon donations are anonymous, so I have to thank you this way.


Reader Stephen Browne writes from Warsaw, commenting on a passage in Reason's excerpt from The Substance of Style:

"Similarly, American tastemakers have for decades condemned neon signs as the epitome of commercial tackiness, and many cities continue to ban neon. Others, however, have rediscovered the lively pleasures of the lights. While some neighboring cities such as Santa Monica have been forcing businesses to take down their neon signs, Los Angeles has spent about a half million dollars helping building owners restore and relight historic neon signs. The city's Museum of Neon Art not only preserves vintage signs but lends them to the popular Universal CityWalk outdoor shopping area. Commercial neon has slowly regained its 1920s status as a source of public pleasure."

When I moved to Poland in 1991 the capitol was a grim, grey, grimy, filthy and depressing city. Once "the Paris of Eastern Europe" Warsaw was 98% destroyed in the General Uprising and rebuilt by socialist planners.

As things started to get better after the regime change neon signs started to appear everywhere as business became the new obsession of the Polish people. It brought light and color to this city and made parts of it a beautiful sight, at least at night. It also made places formerly considered horribly dangerous far safer after dark - and the dark hours of Northern European winters are long.

We're still living with the Site and Structure imposed by the planners, but the Skin is everywhere being refurbished and the Services are being upgraded (my water pipes are getting replaced this week). And the first sign of improvement were those signs.

Bravo for neon!

For an explanation of the references to Site, Structure, Skin, and Services, read the excerpt.

My wonderful friend Tama Starr hosted my New York book party at the cool new offices of her company Artkraft Strauss, which makes the spectacular signs that light Times Square. Tama's grandfather started the company back when electric lights were new, and it continues to flourish in the digital age. The offices include a great gallery of old signs and schematics, and the company has now put lots of its archival photos online. Lileks should love this site--much better than Hummels.


Someone who has either read or read about one or both of my books, and who obviously has the benefits of an elite education, writes:

I must confess that I--though a gay man (and actively resisting sexist/homophobic construction of my body)--find your views disturbing but not at all surprising.

In the mid to late 90's the market was already reaping the rewards of a Faustian bargain made with it by the humanities at institutions of higher learning. Post-structuralisms and Post-modernisms purportedly concerned with liberating the material world (Plato's nurse) and the aesthetic from the bondage of the spiritual and the rational (de)sensitized legions of young persons who would graduate from "vaunted" institutions only to take positions in new media consulting or creative side ad work. The ploy was readily apparent even if progressives have been characteristically slow to accept the challenge to salvage progressive alliances actively wrecked by thinking such as yours (thinking and praxis that creates divides between gender/sexuality and class/race; dynamism--as it were--can be destructive if we understand it as a human conceptual or political tool capable of worse and better use and not as some natural state as Globalization seems to want us to hold).

I wish there were more Reinhold Niebuhrs in the world and more feminists as opposed to Queer Theorists. However, I fear not because the current circumstances may very well change....

I think you might fail to consider that religious progressives might finally awaken from their decades long slumber to answer the call against idolatry. One can cherish the "feminine" without relying on post-capitalist constructions of the "feminine" to acknowledge the embodiedness of gender. One can be LGBT friendly without becoming a materialist or a vulgar libertarian.

An Augustinian concept of proper use of tools (where material goods do not become idols) and a Puritan (and Jewish) reverence for a transcendent reality that casts doubt on the goodness of our actions is so strongly a part of our national culture that I do not think your vision is ultimately tenable.

It is true that the Manichean distinction of "right" and "left" no longer captures the political scene. Progressive religionists are recognizing this and will continue to make it harder for vulgar libertarians to categorize all religion as fully traditionalist, dolefully static and undynamic. In other words, the progressive churches and allies from other faith traditions are working very hard to create political connections between economic justice and social liberty (the very thing religion has often denied women and sexual minorities).

Why do people write like this?


In case you're wondering, I have no idea what happened to the Buchanan and Press segment on The Substance of Style. I taped it this afternoon, shortly before it was supposed to air. We had lots of technical problems--their audio kept cutting out, so I often couldn't hear questions and generally missed the flow of the conversation. But whether that's the reason the segment didn't air, or whether they just had too much timely stuff, I don't know.


I'll be on MSNBC's Buchanan and Press today, discussing The Substance of Style. The show airs at 6 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Central. I won't be at the beginning of the show, which always leads with breaking-news topics, but I don't know the exact time of my appearance. (I do know that once again I have to talk about aesthetics on TV without benefit of a makeup artist.)

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