Trenchant Lemmings
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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.
November 27, 2012
Refresh

... the Kubler Ross stages of grief ... the Kubler Ross stages of grief ... the Kubler Ross stages of grief ...
I tend to get the same dispiriting impression every time I check out one of those sites daily compiling editorial cartoons.


Totally crazy

And he died a happy death. It can be done. ... If you’re William Blake and totally crazy.
If you haven't read this interview with Maurice Sendak yet - and I'm a little late to it myself - then you should do so immediately.


November 24, 2012
Viral

Embedded below is what accounts for the world's current view of Australia, apparently:



Perhaps someone should try for a mash-up. [Update December 2016: The first video was, of course, the xenophobic Caulfield to Highett bus rage incident, which the creator has stealthed because... well, he explains.]


Meeyow

"Facing starvation, the Puritans sought help from the Indians, who showed them how to plant crops and brought them food, and together they sat down to a celebratory feast and gave thanks."

"Then the Puritans killed the Indians, took their land, and spent the rest of the winter accusing each other of witchcraft."

"American history in a nutshell."

Scare quotes for plausible deniability of unconscionable troll-snark*. Happy Black Friday!

*Or is that a boojum?


November 23, 2012
Cease-fire

As to Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military commander Israel assassinated, perhaps the best article on him was one of the first. Aluf Benn at Ha’aretz noted that Jabari was Israel’s ‘subcontractor’. Benn, unlike many Westerners, understood that Hamas has been upholding Israel’s security for years.

The other important commentary was by Gershon Baskin, who has helped to negotiate between Israel and Hamas before. Never mind that Israel’s official position is that it doesn’t negotiate with Hamas because they’re terrorists who don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist. Baskin noted that ‘when he was convinced that Israel was ready to stand down as well, Jaabari was always ready to take the orders to force the ceasefire on all of the other factions and on Hamas.’ Baskin drafted a proposal for a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Hours after it was presented to Jaabari, he was murdered by Israel. According to Baskin, the ‘draft was agreed upon by me and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Mr. Hamad, when we met last week in Egypt.’ Jabari, too, said he ‘saw the need for a new strategy and was prepared to agree to a long-term cease-fire.’ This ‘proposal was at least worth testing … Instead, Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire.’

So Israel has successfully defended itself from the man who probably did more than anyone to protect it from rockets, and who appeared willing to support and perhaps enforce a long-tem ceasefire. Well, that’s a kind of success, for those who prefer Israelis be unsafe, and exposed to rocket fire.
- Michael Brull at Overland. See also.


November 22, 2012
Profile

Then it hit me – it was an interesting book, after all! Because if you read All In carefully, the book's tone will remind you of pretty much any other authorized bio of any major figure in business or politics (particularly in business), and it will most particularly remind you of almost any Time or Newsweek famous-statesperson profile.

Which means: it's impossible to tell the difference between the tone of a reporter who we now know was literally sucking the dick of her subject and the tone of just about any other modern American reporter who is given access to a powerful person for a biography or feature-length profile.
Matt Taibbi, of course.


Papier-mâché

I was working ... with some children who were dedicated Dr Who fans, a show that was then beginning its current revival. They asked me if they could watch an episode of the David Tennant incarnation that one of the children had on DVD. The Tennant episodes were slick, hour-long, predictable wound-up narratives of hysteria with expensive FX, bloodthirsty aliens and a pounding Hollywood-style soundtrack. Anyway a large group of children sat together and watched an entire episode placidly and without comment.

I suggested that they might want to watch a much older Dr Who episode with an earlier incarnation of the Doctor, and gave them a DVD of Tom Baker’s late 70s Doctor who battles people dressed in papier-mache monster costumes on cardboard sets. Things jump out of cupboards, every 25-minute episode ends with a cliffhanger and the soundtrack is reducible to a few dramatic chords on a Casio keyboard. The children watched one episode in increasing states of terror, and begged me never to show it to them again.
From a rather curmudgeonly (if appropriate) rant about 3D movies, not without its charms, at Overland.


Empathy

Maria Konnikova, also at Aeon.

Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at Oxford and famous for his work on autism, distinguishes between two elements of empathy. There is affective empathy, the emotional part. And there is cognitive empathy, or the ability to think oneself into another person’s mind. Based on having an effective theory of mind, this cognitive empathy provides an important counterbalance to the emotional. But must the two always go together? Can we imagine an emotionless, purely cognitive, empathy?

The question is not a new one. In their 1963 study of empathy and birth order, the psychologists Ezra Stotland and Robert Dunn distinguished the ‘logical’ and the ‘emotional’ part of empathising with similar and dissimilar others. They understood the first as an exercise in cognitive perspective-taking, and the latter as an instance of non-rational emotional contagion. More recently, Baron-Cohen has described how individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder might not be able to understand or mentalise, yet some are fully capable of empathising (in the emotional sense) once someone’s affective state is made apparent to them — a sign, it seems, that the two elements are somewhat independent.

Physiological studies seem to support this, too. In 2009, a team of psychologists from the University of Haifa found that patients with ventromedial prefrontal damage showed consistent selective deficits in cognitive empathy and theory of mind — that is the cognitive aspects of empathy — while their emotional empathy and emotional recognition ability remained intact. Conversely, patients with lesions in the inferior frontal gyrus of the brain demonstrated remarkable deficits in emotional empathy and the recognition of emotion — but their cognitive empathy remained on a par with healthy controls. Are both of these groups, then, empathetic in their own way — the one emotionally, and the other, cognitively so?
Surely the capacity for manipulation depends on cognitive empathy; a better cognitive empath would be better at thinking themselves into the minds of those they wish to manipulate, to see the motivations, the buttons and levers. Psychopaths are famously manipulative: so is it really both types of empathy their brains are deficient in?

Update 27/01/13: I was unsurprised to discover Kevin Dutton argues precisely this in Chapter 4 of The Wisdom of Psychopaths.


Taxonomic Inflation

We sometimes describe this as the tensions between ‘splitting’– the tendency to focus on the differences between specimens and argue there are many species – and its opposite, ‘lumping’. These may seem to be capricious practices of shuffling the relevant fossils into lots of small piles or into a few big piles. And woebetide the ‘splitter’ whose book is reviewed by a ‘lumper’! But this isn’t capricious at all. It is strategic. After all, more species means more key specimens, which makes a greater number of museums important and more scientists important too. Cladistic analysis, the most basic analyses of human fossils, assumes that similarities are generally inherited over time from a shared ancestor, rather than transmitted horizontally by admixture between groups – and the best way to make that assumption ring true is to see fossils as species, rather than as subspecies, which could mix. On top of this, there are nationalistic rivalries for claiming the most important hominin fossils. Whose fossils hold the key to understanding our origins – the species from Kenya (Homo rudolfensis), South Africa (Australopithecus sediba), Georgia (Homo georgicus), or Spain (Homo antecessor)? Or is it ‘all of the above’?

What is more, there is such pressure on scientists to name new species – whether justified or not – that many biological areas are experiencing ‘taxonomic inflation’ – the formal recognition of way more species than are really there. This is particularly rampant in our closest relatives, the primates, where the number of recognized species has more than doubled in the last twenty years. It is not as if a great many new species have been hiding from view in the interior of Madagascar or the Amazon rainforest, and have only recently been encountered. Nor is it true that primates are experiencing extraordinarily rapid rates of speciation. The reason that there are twice as many primate species as there used to be is that many of them are endangered, and conservation legislation is often written to protect species. The legal status and protection of primates in the wild is consequently helped by making them species (rather than, say, making them subspecies or local populations). Here the decision is that the conservation needs of the primates are the most important factor. And who would presume to disagree, aside from a heartless pedant?
- Jonathan Marks at Aeon.


Surge

[T]he warning signs about Petraeus’ core dishonesty have been around for years...

There’s his war record in Iraq, starting when he headed up the Iraqi security force training program in 2004. He’s more or less skated on that, including all the weapons he lost, the insane corruption, and the fact that he essentially armed and trained what later became known as “Iraqi death squads.” On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called "surge," he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in recent American history. He convinced the entire Washington establishment that we won the war.

He did it by papering over what the surge actually was: We took the Shiites' side in a civil war, armed them to the teeth, and suckered the Sunnis into thinking we’d help them out too. It was a brutal enterprise — over 800 Americans died during the surge, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives during a sectarian conflict that Petraeus’ policies fueled. Then he popped smoke and left the members of the Sunni Awakening to fend for themselves. A journalist friend told me a story of an Awakening member, exiled in Amman, whom Petraeus personally assured he would never abandon. The former insurgent had a picture of Petraeus on his wall, but was a little hurt that the general no longer returned his calls.
- The Sins Of General David Petraeus, Michael Hastings.


November 17, 2012
Hashima Island

The abandoned mining town on Hashima Island apparently features as a villain's lair in the most recent Bond flick, which seems as good a reason as any for a bit of UE.



See also info at Abandoned Places and Hey, I abandoned that!


November 16, 2012
Retaliation

Apparently they're about to have another election in Israel.

Here's just yer basic blindingly obvious summary:

First, they find a pretext.

In this case, that was an anti-tank rocket fired from the Palestinian resistance at an Israeli jeep on November 10, which Israel and its apologists in the US media described as the initial provocation in the latest round of hostilities.

We know, for three reasons, that this is a lie.

The first is because we read the news. We know that the occupying forces encircling the Gaza Strip murdered a mentally unfit man approaching the border fence on November 4... And we know that on November 8 Israeli forces shot at Ahmed Younis Khader Abu Daqqa, who was playing soccer with his friends 1500 meters from an Israeli military post when a gunman put a bullet through his abdomen. He died soon after. Ahmed was 13.

The second reason we know that this is a lie is because the assault occurred after a 24 hour lull in the violence, induced by an Egyptian-brokered truce. ... Israel... shatter[ed] the truce with the November 14 assassination of senior Hamas military leader Ahmed Jubari, continuing a long-standing Israeli pattern of deploying targeted killings ... to break cease-fires and ramp up the cycle of violence at strategically opportune junctures.

The third reason any explanation involving the word “retaliation” is a lie is because the category of Israeli “retaliation” does not exist. The occupation is constant terror, and it is what breeds the Palestinian violence Israeli leaders can adduce as a retroactive justification for the policies they pursue in purported pursuit of the chimera of “security.”
Max Ajl at Jacobin. I might, to get technical, prefer the term siege to occupation in relation to Gaza, but the point still holds. Media dissemblers might wish to explain how the Israelis can "retaliate" against anything, as by definition a military siege remains the opening act of aggression between combatants until such time as it is lifted.


November 09, 2012
I Could Be Happy

Just to prove I can be glass half full, I'm happy to acknowledge there is some good news from the most recent democratic carnival in the hub of the empire: anti prohibition votes in two states, anti marriage-discrimination votes in four, Puerto Rico voted for statehood, California approved the notion of people actually paying for what government does, Michigan voted down some cashed-up tosser's attempt to preserve his international bridge monopoly, a number of crusadis and likudniks got kicked out or severely kicked, and there were wins for Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin and Orc Assassination Rogue Santiaga to name but a few. As for enjoying ultra-rightists losing their shit, so far it has been absolutely delightful, it truly has.


Glisser


Via Laughing Squid via Colossal via The Curious Brain.


November 08, 2012
Moderation

Obama’s no right-winger. You might have serious issues with his Supreme Court justices or his moves on immigration or the Bush tax cuts. But you probably would have had similar issues with Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, or Gerald Ford. Obama’s in the same mold as those guys. So don’t despair. Your country didn’t vote for a socialist tonight. It voted for the candidate of traditional Republican moderation. What should gall you, haunt you, and goad you to think about the future of your party is that that candidate wasn’t yours.
This month's Mr Obvious, William Saletan.


November 06, 2012
Cultural Decay

If a Democratic presidential victory* provides nothing else it at least grants you an opportunity for a double dose of schadenfreude, if that's what rubs your rhubarb. First you get to laugh as mad Republicans wax hysterical when their guy loses and civilisation, as they see it, collapses, and then some months later you get to laugh at formerly smug Democrats when they realise they've elected a Republican. Again.

Eh, who cares? Will a result that gives the popular vote to one candidate and the electoral college to the other persuade Americans to reform their stupid system? Doubt it. Will a Democratic loss clearly explicable in the lower turn-out of voters overall persuade the DPUSA that they need to stop moving right to pick up GOPer votes and instead demonstrate a reason for those non-voters who on other occasions voted Democratic to bother showing up at a polling booth? Doubt it, and they could argue a "left"-ward move would endanger their access to the support that's important: campaign finances and favourable media coverage. Will a Democratic loss spur them to work to wind back the increasingly plutocratic nature of US politics? It never did in the past. Will a Democratic loss, particularly in circumstances of bodgy counting, or, hell, the failure of a Democratic win to significantly change policies for the better, get it through various heads that voting and democracy are not synonymous? I won't be holding my breath.

There's a bunch of things I despise about this quadrennial carnival, but prominent among them is the regular arrogant hectoring from Dembots of those who see no value in tossing up between imperialist corporate whores, especially when it comes with their nonsense that the result is a matter of civilisation-saving importance. (In GOPers, on the other hand, predictions of a mule-victory ordained islamo-satanic apocalypse cum libertine-collectivist dystopia are more hilarious than annoying.) If the thanksralphers honestly believed that to be true, they'd hold off on their finger-wagging and instead get down on bended knee and beg for leftwing votes, promising anything, everything to the disaffected third party supporters and no-shows to get them to pull the Donkey lever. But apparently the impending crisis is never quite so terrifying as to compel them to drop the attitude, or to stop them lecturing about "realism" (presumably the kind of realism characterised by rewarding a party for kicking you in the teeth in the hope that it will kick you more gently next time) as opposed to actually attempting to win hearts and minds amongst the dime's-worth-of-difference types, not even in 2004, when I recall Kossacks and their ilk warned that the re-election of Dubya (the fella who did more damage to the American empire in 8 years than the Soviets managed in 80, which is another reason I oppose term limits, ho ho) would bring about some kind of fascist dictatorship. Really? Wouldn't that require a commitment to defeating this awful threat by any means necessary, regardless of the electoral outcome? Well, yeah, unless of course your partisan Cassandras are simply over-excited wankers.

But I digress. Coz it's fun.

Never mind me. Here's a proper rant, inspired by Rebecca Solnit at her drippiest:

We are facing a radical right that has abandoned all interest in truth and fact. We face not only their specific policies, but a kind of cultural decay that comes from not valuing truth, not trying to understand the complexities and nuances of our situation, and not making empathy a force with which to act.
...

Who really is the enemy of truth and fact, a plutocrat who represents plutocrats or a fake progressive who uses radical slogans in the service of destroying everything that threatens Wall-Street profitability? If truth is what matters, isn't Obama, who campaigns on false promises and a completely bogus record, the real enemy of "truth and fact"? If cultural decay there is, is not the Republican bible thumping the negative of progressives who champion the power of vapid positive thinking while acting as Wall-Street's vote aggregators? The right has nothing to offer. And never has. Who wants to live miserably? Who wants to be poor? Who wants to be ignorant? Who wants to live in constant fear? The only real promise of the Right, its real force, the source of its ability to mobilize, has always been that it was the lesser evil. That's not a very new argument. St. Augustine makes in his 'City of God'. We're just not good enough to enjoy freedom and so we need to be oppressed to save us from ourselves. And who makes that argument better than a Left that gives up all claim to speak the truth, that cheers for someone who spent four years making hell more hellish for billions of people, in the name of opposing "cultural decay"? Is there something more toxic, more corrosive of a culture, of truth, than passing in silence the mass murder of strangers because it is convenient? Is there something more destructive for a culture of truth than shilling for a servant of the 0.0002% in the name of helping the most disadvantaged, as Solnit does?
Word. Which is why it's odd I'm hoping Obama wins, purely for the symbolism and because I'm easily amused by rightists losing their shit. Whoa, deja vu.

* Feel free to consider that a prediction.


November 04, 2012
If It's Not Close...

... we can carry on deluding ourselves our electoral system isn't a corrupt lottery.

Never mind me. Go watch A Message from The Greatest Generation(NSFW) and laugh:

While funny, this anti voter-suppression video from MoveOn isn't as funny as the related GOPer whining on the indignation-seeking clone page.


November 03, 2012
I Can Has Ennui?


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