Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
Robert Weaver
Sydney, Australia
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The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
September 11, 2006
Evolving Self-Deception

At Seed Magazine, evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers and Noam Chomsky in conversation about deceit and self deception:

RT: It's the psychology of deceit and self-deception. When you start talking about groups, there are some very interesting analogies. Psychologists have shown that people make these verbal switches when they're in a we/they situation, in a your-group-versus-another situation.

NC: Groups that are simply set up for the experiment, you mean?

RT: It can be. You can also do it experimentally, or you can be talking about them and their group versus someone that's not a member of their group.

But you have the following kinds of verbal things that people do, apparently quite unconsciously. If you're a member of my group and you do something good, I make a general statement: "Noam Chomsky is an excellent person." Now if you do something bad, I give a particular statement, "Noam Chomsky stepped on my toe."

But it's exactly reversed if you're not a member of my group. If you're not a member of my group and you do something good I say, "Noam Chomsky gave me directions to MIT." But if he steps on my toe I say, "He's a lousy organism," or "He's an inconsiderate person."

So we generalize positively to ourselves, particularize negative and reverse it when we're talking about other people.

NC: Sounds like normal propaganda. Islamic people are all fascists. The Irish are all crooks.

RT: Yes, exactly. Generalize a negative characteristic in the other. Another thing that comes to mind with respect to the Iraq case: There's evidence suggesting that when you're contemplating something—whether or marry Suzy, for instance—you're in a deliberative stage. And you are considering options more or less rationally.

Now, once you decide to go with Suzy, you're in the instrumental phase; you don't want to hear about the negative side. Your mood goes up, and you delete all the negative stuff and you're just, "Suzy's the one."
Also some interesting stuff about the selective pressure for self-deception deriving from the benefits of over-confidence in conflict and courtship, although Robert Trivers does admit that much of it is "rank speculation". Personally I tend to see the self-deception of leaders that Noam Chomsky talks about as more institutional in nature than biological, the result of hierarchical structures that reward "decisiveness" and penalise admissions of doubt or error, part and parcel to the dominant and very strange ideas about what leadership is and what ruling structures are for.

Via the nonist.

September 07, 2006
"Partisan Redistricting" Sounds Nicer

From an article in Good Magazine, four examples of ludicrous US gerrymandering, including:

What seems to have happened here is that, upon discovering that the white suburbs of Memphis did not contain enough people to constitute a congressional district, the gerrymanderers simply decided to also include the white Nashville suburbs. That Nashville is halfway across the state didn’t seem to matter at all.
And we learn something every day: Gerry's name was pronounced with a hard G. Now I can annoy people even more than when I pronounce rationale as the Italian word it actually was.

September 06, 2006
Dead Legends and Black Sheep

For reasons best known to herself, Germaine Greer has bothered to pen a less-than-sympathetic piece about the late Steve Irwin for the Grauniad and unsurprisingly the local boys have been ramping up the outrage. (Incidentally, I can't help thinking the truncated version of Greer's spray which ran in the Herald comes across as a bit less sensible than the original.) Now, I happen to think Jack Marx is a bit of a tosser, but he's right on the money with this:

Loudest of all is the Melbourne Herald Sun, who report today that "a storm of fury has erupted over Germaine Greer's criticism of Steve Irwin". In fact, the "storm" was induced by The Herald Sun's own journalists, jumping on the phone to extract whatever inclement weather they could muster from interested (or otherwise) parties. It was a piece whose opinion was decided with or without the phone calls, editorialising thusly:

The expat Aussie, known more these days for her regular bashing of her homeland...hit below the belt as she accused Irwin of sending the wrong message to kids.

This is interesting, for, two years ago, The Herald Sun led the witchhunt for Irwin, Jill Singer hooking in good and proper in an editorial headlined: "Dad's a Drongo". In contrast to Greer's "scathing attack", which at least had the temper to go the issue and not the man, Singer's piece referred to Irwin as "simple-minded", "Neanderthal", "a Tarzanesque, chest-beating reductionist", a "dangerous dropkick" and a "dill", before going on to declare that "this foolish pair" of parents were setting a lousy example indeed, their actions comparable to some of the world's more loathed personages:

Steve has a lot in common with his heroes. John Howard toughens up the babies of asylum seekers by locking them behind razor wire from the time they're born, while George Bush assures the world that Iraqi and Afghani babies must be bombed for their own good.

The piece went on to compare Irwin to Michael Jackson.


What's happened between then and now? Nothing much, really - Irwin never changed his approach to life, and, as far as I know, never issued anything close to an apology for the way he lived.

What's changed is that, today, he's dead, and death sells by the bushell.

But you can't sell a dead "drongo", so it's "hero", "legend" and "larrikin" all the way, and anyone who doesn't toe that line is a creep.
And in further media-related matters:
Red Ted, Play School and hidden agendas
Piers Akerman
...the harmless happy family content has fallen victim to the nauseating politically-correct agenda that drives so much of the ABC’s news and current affairs programming on radio and television.

— The Daily Telegraph, Red Ted, Play School and hidden agendas, 29th August, 2006

This is what had Piers searching out the commissars of political correctness [said Media Watch].

Baa baa woolly sheep have you any wool? Yes sir yes sir three bags full for the jumpers and one for the socks and one for the little girl with holes in her socks.
— Play School, ABC TV, 23rd August, 2006

As Piers wrote, "You get the drift".

Black sheep are out…
But if black sheep have been magically erased, it seems likely that words such as "master", "dame" and "sir" have also been banned for fear of upsetting the sensitivities of the ABC's young audience.
But as the Head of ABC children's programming pointed out in a letter to the Tele:
We did sing "Baa baa woolly sheep", as part of a segment related to wool, on Play School, as Piers Akerman states in his article headed "Red Ted, Play School and hidden agendas" (The Daily Telegraph, August 29).
However, far from the traditional version of Baa Baa Black Sheep being magically erased -- along with the master and the dame and sir -- it was just 34 seconds later in the very same program we sang: "Baa baa black sheep, Have you any wool, Yes sir yes sir, Three bags full. One for the master, One for the dame, One for the little boy who lives down the lane."
When it comes to Piers's next article, as we say on Play School, he may need a grown-up to help him.
I'd like to say this conclusively demonstrates that Piers Akerman has an attention span somewhat less than that of a small child but, as it was apparently the idiot reader who sent him the tip-off who failed to watch the sheep song til the end, I'll have to content myself with merely implying it.

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