January 20th, 2011

dogs and language

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/science/18dog.html

Elderly scientist teaches border collie over a hundred words, mostly nouns but also some verbs. Controlled for "Clever Hans" problem (animal reading human gesture rather than understanding the language).

My primary complaint is here:

"Chaser learns to link sounds to objects by brute repetition, which is not how children learn words. And she learns her words as proper nouns, which are specific labels for things, rather than as abstract concepts like the common nouns picked up by children."

Someone needs to talk to people who work with helping autistic children learn language.

Foucault describing a transition in the understanding of poverty

The medieval Church took Matthew 25:40 (if you did -- or didn't -- do it to or for someone really hard up, you did -- or didn't -- do it to or for me, too) quite literally: if you failed to give a beggar alms, you were screwed. Foucault is quoting someone in the process of describing how this transitioned to a more organized, public form of assistance for the poor, the associated end of private assistance, and a dramatic change in the perception of anyone who did not willingly participate in whatever the public "assistance" might be. No more, that poor guy might be Jesus. Instead, that poor guy is doing Satan's Work.

Here's the quote: "When a Charitable bureau has been set up in a town, Christ will no longer take the appearance of a poor man who, to maintain his lazy, idle life, refuses to submit to an order established by genuinely holy means for the relief of true poverty."

Cite says this is from Lallemand's _Histoire de la Charite_, Paris, 1902-1912, vol 4, pp 216-26, assuming I correctly navigated the citation in the kindle version I have.

I guess the modern day parallel would be, Christ will be living in Section 8 housing, possibly shopping at Wal-mart with one of the electronic cards that are used to access benefits such as food stamps. I wonder if she'll be buying peanut butter and diapers, too?

another passage from Foucault

This one puts in perspective both how we treat our long-term unemployed AND the Mad Max movies.

"In 1532, the Parliament of Paris had decided to arrest all beggars and force them to work in the city sewers, chained up in pairs...on 23 March 1534, an order was given to expel 'poor scholars and indigents' from the city...When Henry IV besieged Paris [1590?], the city had a population of less than 100,000, including more than 30,000 beggars. The new century brought an economic upturn, and it was decided to reintegrate forcibly all the unemployed who had still to find their place in society. A parliamentary act of 1606 decreed that in Paris all beggars were to be whipped in a public place, branded on the shoulder, and then thrown out of the city with their heads shaved. The following year another act created companies of archers to guard the gates of the city and refuse entry to any of the poor who tried to return."

It's not like the next few decades were any picnic, either.

Foucault is using this to create some perspective on the idea of madness, since they frequently fell into the categories of other poor. It's useful, particularly when he includes tidbits like this, after describing changes in economic structures, the decline of the guilds, etc. "New General Regulations removed the right of assembly for all associations, leagues and groups of workers...The parliaments showed a measure of leniency, the Normandy parliament for example refusing to judge rioters in Rouen. Perhaps for that reason the Church intervened, ruling that secret organisations of workers had the same status as witches' covens. A Sorbonne decree of 1655 proclaimed that to join the ranks of these orders was equivalent to sacrilege or mortal sin."

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. Certainly this in no way excuses the current right wing's infatuation with the policies of the decades before the Great Depression, but it does give a little perspective to things. If nothing else, it helps explain why certain people seem to think witchcraft and union organizing are both Evil. Tradition!

Foucault and the business cycle

Here he is describing the role served by the hospital/workhouses, the houses of confinement: "The cycle was clear: in times of high wages and full employment, they provided a low-cost workforce, while in a slump they absorbed the unemployed, and protected society against unrest and riots." He notes that the first workhouses showed up in the first areas to be industrialized (Worcester, Norwich, Bristol, Lyon, Hamburg).

I have no idea whether this will be in scope for this book or not, but it is interesting to note that public charitable activities even in the US continued to focus on tying assistance for the poor and unemployed to them doing some kind of (useful) labor -- including the urban garden movements. This changed in the middle of the Great Depression, as everyone very belatedly realized that the last thing farmers and industry needed was competition from even cheaper goods, and assistance was instead directed to increase consumption, rather than production. The change is so recent, and such a dramatic turnabout from centuries of previous experience, that a lot of people still haven't wrapped their brains around why we do things this way.

ETA: _Great_ quote from Daniel Defoe: 'this is giving to one what you take away from the other; putting a vagabond in an honest man's employment, and putting diligence on the tenters to find out some other work to maintain his family', talking about exactly the same issue, leading to a slightly different outcome. Yes, the emphasis on production decreased -- but the workhouses increasingly turned into prisons instead, especially since they no longer had a mechanism for earning money to pay for what they provided their inmates.

_Blood Lust_, Zoe Winters (kindle)

A while ago, I got all cranky about the agency model and decided to go see what the e-only publishing market was producing. I started by looking over winners of Eppies and buying a few. The results were mixed, altho I ultimately found a couple authors I've been enjoying reading since.

I've also been occasionally looking in on J.A. Konrath's blog, and noticing a community of e-only/independent authors growing who are assembling a theory of How to Make It as an author in a world in which print-publishing is (sort of) optional. I haven't found anything in that group that was overwhelmingly appealing, altho I kept looking because I very much respect what they are doing and how they are doing it. Somewhere along the line, however, I decided to give Zoe Winters a try.

She had published three shorter-than-novel length works, and then assembled them in a compilation that is the first of a series of "full-length" novels, whatever that might mean today. I didn't pay close enough attention to any of this, so I was a little startled by the pacing of the first part of _Blood Lust_, originally published as "Kept". Relying heavily on genre conventions (werefolk, vampires, some magic users) and deploying a wicked sense of humor, Winters makes the fastest play for reader attention I've ever encountered. After meeting Anthony, a vampire, Greta goes home very suspensefully but nothing actually happens. From there, she changes to her feline form, then visits the woman who raised her, where she learns, (a) not her mother (b) her mother was killed because (c) Greta has therian special powers and (d) her clan is about to sacrifice her to harvest those powers and only (e) scary magic user Dayne can keep her safe.

That's a whole lot to happen in a few paragraphs. Most of the rest of the novella is claustrophobic (appropriately -- that's not a complaint), with a remarkably consistent motif of women's cycles (menstruation book, forgetting to take a pill that damps down going into heat, etc.). There's some sex. There's some violence. Given how negative my response was to the end of that last Jim Butcher novel, I was surprised to be That OK with the ending of the novella, but it is what it is and there were no minor children present.

Second entry involves the vampire from the first entry and the best friend of the first heroine. Third entry involves the "vampire groupie" who brings Charlee up to speed in entry 2 and the alpha of the local werewolves.

The series as a whole has some interesting and somewhat unusual characteristics. First, Winters really has it in for vegans/vegetarians and she takes swipes at them in a variety of different ways. Second, while the magic system remains completely undeveloped, there is decent world building go on without resorting to "infodumping" -- this is all so rare in this genre that it stands out. Third, _people watch TV_ or at least videos, in these stories. I can't tell you how charming I find that.

I will almost certainly read the next one in the series. I suspect, altho I am not sure, that the second novel will be about Cain the demon (and how what demons do has been horribly misunderstood and/or misrepresented, odds on).

If this is the kind of thing you like, it's pretty good.