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 28, 2012

Sam Harris is apparently not only a bigot, militarist, imperialist and hasbaroid, he's also a paranormalist.

Had he confined himself to discharging artillery shells at the folly of religion, his writings would have been redeemable, but Harris, though withering of the Abrahamic creeds, rejects atheistic materialism as just another religious "faith" and "sacrament" held by arrogant scientists and says, in a lunge toward mysticism, that we can survive the death of the physical body because consciousness is not generated by the brain:
"Most scientists consider themselves physicalists; this means, among other things, that they believe that our mental and spiritual lives are wholly dependent upon the workings of our brains. On this account, when the brain dies, the stream of our being must come to an end. Once the lamps of neural activity have been extinguished, there will be nothing left to survive. Indeed, many scientists purvey this conviction as though it were itself a special sacrament, conferring intellectual integrity upon any man, woman, or child who is man enough to swallow it. But the truth is that we simply do not know what happens after death. While there is much to be said against a naive conception of a soul that is independent of the brain, the place of consciousness in the natural world is very much an open question. The idea that brains produce consciousness is little more than an article of faith among scientists at present, and there are many reasons to believe that the methods of science will be insufficient to either prove or disprove it."...
Survive death? A possibility? Out goes scientific materialism and in comes supernaturalism. If the afterlife strikes the ear as a creepy throwback to the neolithic fables of Christians, Harris assures us that it’s not the gospel’s vision of heaven that he has in mind. His brand of post-mortem rebirth bears a closer kinship to something a tad more Hindu:
"There may even be credible evidence for reincarnation"...
From an excellent and comprehensive takedown of Harris by Theodore Sayeed at Mondoweiss. It's not remotely the worst thing about them but I can't help focussing on the way the "New" atheists make atheists in general look bad. Which reminds me: at the time I deep-sixed a post on Jeff Sparrow's article about how the New Atheists are essentially defined by their politics (because I decided I was failing to make a coherent point) but here's a link to his piece if you've not yet read it. I can't say I agree with it entirely, but the history is very interesting. (Sneaky types suitably intrigued might be able to dig my discarded post out of the rss feed, where apparently nothing can be properly deleted, but bear in mind it was discarded for a reason.)

September 23, 2012

This month's statements of the blindingly obvious, general and particular:

In 1857, Bengali soldiers (known as 'sepoys') shot their British officers and marched upon Delhi. The Great Indian Rebellion became very violent, very quickly. The rebels massacred prisoners, including women and children; the British put down the revolt with a slaughter of unprecedented proportions.

Now, that rebellion began when the troops learned that their cartridges, designed to be torn open with their teeth, would be greased with beef and pork fat, an offence to the religious sensibilities of Hindus and Muslims alike. Had Twitter been an invention of the Victorian era, London sophisticates would, no doubt, have LOLed to each other (#sepoyrage!) about the credulity of dusky savages so worked up about a little beef tallow. Certainly, that was how the mouthpieces of the East India Company spun events: in impeccably Dawkinesque terms, they blamed 'Hindoo prejudice' for the descent of otherwise perfectly contented natives into rapine and slaughter.

But no serious historian today takes such apologetics seriously. Only the most determined ignoramus would discuss 1857 in isolation from the broader context of British occupation. In form, the struggle might have been religious; in content, it embodied a long-simmering opposition to colonial rule.

That's why those who pretend the protests against The Innocence of Muslims came from nowhere merely reveal their own foolishness.
- Jeff Sparrow
CBS News reported Thursday morning that there was no anti-video protest at all at the consulate. Witnesses insist, said CBS, "that there was never an anti-American protest outside of the consulate. Instead, they say, it came under planned attack." That, noted the network, "is in direct contradiction to the administration's account of the incident." The report concluded: "What's clear is that the public won't get a detailed account of what happened until after the election."

The Obama White House's interest in spreading this falsehood is multi-fold and obvious:

For one, the claim that this attack was just about anger over an anti-Muhammad video completely absolves the US government of any responsibility or even role in provoking the anti-American rage driving it. After all, if the violence that erupted in that region is driven only by anger over some independent film about Muhammad, then no rational person would blame the US government for it, and there could be no suggestion that its actions in the region ... had any role to play.
- Glenn Greenwald

September 06, 2012

Hans had developed a new voice by the time he arrived at the group, and one of the psychiatrists wanted to talk directly to it. The old voices were somewhat calmer by then. They no longer threatened to drag him off into the forest and bind, torture, and kill him. They mostly just told him that he was lazy and fat. But this new voice seemed like it might get nasty. The group had told him that he needed to talk to it. They said that he should say, “We have to live with each other and we have to make the best of it, and we can do it only if we respect each other.” He did that, and this new voice became nice. It gave him good advice. When Hans went to see the psychiatrist who wanted to talk to his voices, only the new, good voice would come out to talk. Hans could see that the old, mean voices were afraid of the psychiatrist. This stunned him. They were strong, mean voices, but they were afraid. Hans said that when he realized this, he went home very happy. Now he knew that his voices were not as strong as they pretended to be. He told me that in the same interview, the psychiatrist had explained that the old voices represented Hans’s alcoholic, depressed father. This surprised him, because the voices didn’t sound like his father. But he knew that the psychiatrist was right. And now the voices began to lose their power. Hans would go to the group and talk about the feelings he had when he heard the voices, and the voices became weaker and weaker. They came for only an hour, and then only half an hour, and then finally they simply stopped.
- Living With Voices
I think we’d make progress if we took a cue from Alan Turing and replaced the term “intelligence” with “femininity.” Obviously I’m making an embodied cognition argument here. I know this isn’t new to philosophers, and there is lively debate about it. I know that philosophers debate, and I’m all for that, but I’d like to address engineers. Explain to me, as an engineer, why it’s so important to aspire to build systems with “Artificial Intelligence,” and yet you’d scorn to build “Artificial Femininity.” What is that about?

Or, failing that, imagine a team of MIT female software engineers building “Artificial Masculinity.” Is it okay if they get Defense Department funding for that? I’ll remind you that Alan Turing himself thought it was a great idea, even though you never got around to it.
- Turing Centenary Speech (New Aesthetic)
He has often echoed Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, the canonical American speech of reconciliation. It has not occurred to him that our time may be more suited to the House Divided speech, in which Lincoln in 1858 showed why the slavery question was so important it might make the two sides irreconcilable. Obama’s many House United speeches, by contrast, are always about unity for its own sake – a curious idea. Unity for its own sake will capture neither votes nor lasting loyalty among people who crave an explanation of the elements of political right and wrong. Obama likes to say that the truth always lies somewhere ‘in between’. Fair enough at first glance. A tenable compromise between obdurate persons or opposite forces generally lies somewhere in between. But truth is different surely, truth occurs as it occurs, and often one finds it at the extremes.
- A Bad President
As a sort of peace dividend, at war’s end the U.S. military left the Australian government with not only many forklifts and cranes, but about 60,000 pallets. To handle these resources, the Australian government created the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool, and the company eventually spawned a modern pallet powerhouse, CHEP USA, which now controls about 90 percent of the “pooled” pallet market in the United States. Pooled pallets are rented from one company that takes care of delivering and retrieving them; the alternative is a “one-way” pallet, essentially a disposable item that is scrapped, recycled or reused when its initial journey is done. You can identify pooled pallet brands by their color: If you see a blue pallet at a store like Home Depot, that’s a CHEP pallet; a red pallet comes from competitor PECO.
- The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy
The legal opportunity depended, however, upon persuading the defendants to go along with an unusual strategy. High-powered lawyers would represent Lawrence and Garner, as long as they agreed to stop saying they weren’t guilty and instead entered a “no contest” plea. By doing so, the two were promised relative personal privacy, and given a chance to become a part of gay-civil-rights history. The cause was greater than the facts themselves. Lawrence and Garner understood that they were being asked to keep the dirty secret that there was no dirty secret.

That’s the punch line: the case that affirmed the right of gay couples to have consensual sex in private spaces seems to have involved two men who were neither a couple nor having sex. In order to appeal to the conservative Justices on the high court, the story of a booze-soaked quarrel was repackaged as a love story. Nobody had to know that the gay-rights case of the century was actually about three or four men getting drunk in front of a television in a Harris County apartment decorated with bad James Dean erotica.
- Extreme Makeover
A prediction of the Price equation is that altruistic groups will ultimately be more successful than selfish groups under certain conditions, even though selfish individuals could outcompete altruistic individuals. Imagine the same petri dish as before but this time cells randomly congregate into a large number of mixed groups containing both altruists and cheaters. Two things will now be expected to happen. Because altruists are at a disadvantage they will reproduce more slowly than the cheaters as a result of within-group competition. However, the benefit provided by the altruists means that those groups who accidentally have more altruists will grow faster and end up having more total cells than groups composed mostly of cheaters. Because the altruistic group as a whole ends up being more successful there will be an overall increase in the number of altruistic individuals in the total population. Bring all the cells together to form random groups again and eventually you could have groups, as well as an entire population, composed only of altruists.
- The Good Fight
Gill’s arrest came when he persisted in recording the hustling convoys of lorries churning up new dirt roads. Hours in the nick. Phone calls to establish his bona fides, his connections. Thick wheels taller than a child, red hub-caps. A horrible contract this, between east-surging road monsters, hauling plant, concrete mixers, containers of standard Mediterranean blue, and the cyclists. There have been so many deaths, hell drivers up against the ticking clock and inoffensive or impatient cyclists. Sometimes, as at the junction of Middleton Road and Kingsland Road in Hackney, a young man is dragged under those red-hubbed wheels without the driver feeling a thing. Chasing another project, Gill found himself at the corner of Whiston Road, near St Leonard’s Hospital, where cellophane bouquets were being woven into the fence. He met a group, about twelve people, attaching cards and tributes. To a young man of 17, extinguished in an instant by a left-turning juggernaut with no way of registering his presence. ‘They were wailing,’ Gill said. ‘Yes, wailing.’
- The Olympics Scam
If Victorian working-class men and women didn’t live particularly well, at least they ate and felt reasonably well. Between 1850 and 1870 deaths attributed to starvation and malnutrition accounted for approximately 1.5 percent of cases in the city, a figure only slightly higher than today’s. Infectious disease, accidents, and misfortune associated with violence or intoxication rated as the most common causes of sickness and death. Come the 1870s, however, this changed. Around 1877, foreign imports of wheat, along with advances in industrial canning and preserving, caused food costs to drop some 30 percent. A few years later, cheap sugar entered the mix—literally—appearing in every kind of processed food on the market. Encouraged by middle-class social reformers, who pronounced this first wave of processed food not only healthful but hygienic (a view that gained strength from frequent food-adulteration scares), the working classes forsook their joints of mutton and bunches of watercress for American tinned fruit and New Zealand evaporated milk.

They did so to disastrous result. By the time of the Second Boer War (1899-1902) the British army found more than half of its recruits malnourished to the point of unfitness for service. The infantry deemed it necessary to lower its minimum height to five feet, down from five feet four inches, where it had stood since 1800. This apparent degeneration so alarmed the British government that it established the Committee on Physical Deterioration for the purpose of investigating the cause. It concluded that the working classes suffered from weak constitutions, which had beset them at the beginning of the previous century.
- Not by Bread-and-Marg Alone
For blacks, the ownership of guns possessed an obvious symbolic importance. An armed black man or woman was someone who rejected the passivity of the slave or the servant, someone who not only asserted their constitutional rights but showed a willingness to defend them. Conservatives understood that message, too: that’s why, in the sixties, even the NRA supported calls gun control. The wave of laws passed in the late sixties to limit gun ownership was a direct response to the new black militancy. As one critic said, the legislation was intended, ‘not to control guns but to control blacks’.
- When the Burning Moment Breaks
The British Empire bequeathed a series of partitions: Ireland, Palestine, India, Cyprus. But though colonial principles of divide and rule played a role in each, the cases were not the same. Ultimate architect of division in Ireland and Cyprus, ultimately indifferent to it in Palestine, when its time was up in the subcontinent British imperialism did not favour partition. But when London and its envoy in Delhi decided they could not prevent it, they made a human catastrophe of a setback to colonial amour-propre. The avidity of Congress for an instant division was the local motive of the disaster. But Congress could at least be sure that it would thereby gain the instruments and accoutrements of sole power in a preponderant domain. Its aim was cold-blooded, though in context rational. But it did not possess the means to realise its goal. Britain, still in command of the only army and bureaucracy across the Raj, retained those. What prompted it to inflict partition on its subjects overnight? The bauble of a title to save its face: for ‘empire’, now read ‘dominion’. The spirit of the transaction was perfectly expressed in its finale. There would be no British responsibility for the consequences. Having lit the fuse, Mountbatten handed over the buildings to their new owners hours before they blew up, in what has a good claim to be the most contemptible single act in the annals of the empire.
- Why Partition?

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