Elsewhere on the Interweb (5/14/08)

Not Exactly Rocket Science has a great post showing that sloths in the wild may be slow, but aren't actually that sleepy:

Rattenborg captured three female brown-throated three-toed sloths in the Panamanian rainforest and fitted them with the recording cap, a radio-telemetry collar to reveal their locations and an accelerometer to record their movements. After several days of monitoring, the recorders revealed that the sloths slumbered for only 9.6 hours every day, more than 6 hours less than the data from captive animals would have us believe. REM sleep made up about 20% of total sleep, a very similar proportion to humans.

Rational piracy? (Hat-tip: Cafe Hayek)

The pirates who roamed the seas in the late 17th and early 18th centuries developed a floating civilization that, in terms of political philosophy, was well ahead of its time. The notion of checks and balances, in which each branch of government limits the other's power, emerged in England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. But by the 1670s, and likely before, pirates were developing democratic charters, establishing balance of power on their ships, and developing a nascent form of worker's compensation: A lost limb entitled one to payment from the booty, more or less depending on whether it was a right arm, a left arm, or a leg.

The idea of enlightened piracy is strange swill to swallow for those steeped in a pop culture version of the pirate - chaos on the high seas, drinking and pillaging, damsels forced onto the plank. Sure, there's something about the independence of piracy that still speaks to people today. (Even the founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day acknowledge that there is, in people who love to say "Aargh," a yearning for a certain kind of freedom.) But it turns out that pirate life was more than just greedy rebellion. It offers insights into the nature of democracy and the reasons it might emerge - as a natural state of being, or a rational response to a much less pleasant way of life.

To Leeson, pirate democracy was an institution born of necessity. In one successful cruise, a pirate could take home what a merchant sailor earned in 50 years. Yet a business enterprise made up of the violent and lawless was clearly problematic: piracy required common action and mutual trust. And pirates couldn't rely on a government to set the rules. Some think that "without government, where would we be?" Leeson says. "But what pirates really show is, no, it's just common sense. You have an incentive to try to create rules to make society get along. And that's just as important to pirates as it is to anybody else."

A nice round up of historical Shakespeare criticism in the Atlantic.

Mind Hacks on medicalizing abnormal interests into addictions:

I'm still a bit baffled as to why 'addiction' seems to be such a popular explanation for perceived negative behaviour in ourselves or others. It has strayed so far from its original concept of a drug affecting brain function that it can now apply to almost anything.

I suspect it's because the concept has now been so heavily medicalised that it brings with it a concept of loss of personal control or reduction in responsibility without regard for the context or even the validity of what it applies to.

Of course, as soon as something is medicalised, there's a big disincentive to question the concept because people assume you're doubting the problem (i.e. the human suffering the behaviour causes) rather than the explanation.

Read the whole thing.


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