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.
December 27, 2012

Because it’s now so deeply ingrained that owning guns is a form of radical subversive politics, the people who still engage in real politics have the pick of the litter. That first became really clear in the depths of the 2008-9 collapse, when a lot of people who thought of themselves as radicals and anarchists made a lot of feckless noise about how they were arming and preparing for the collapse and revolution. They could’ve gone out and organized something and maybe built a politics of people power or even a politics of what they call revolution, a politics that actually changed things. But instead, they locked themselves in their homes and apartments with their guns and fancied themselves political revolutionaries just waiting to be swept up. But no one came. No one bothered or cared. And really, why would any plutocrat or evil government agency bother with the suckers, all harmlessly atomized and isolated and thoroughly neutralized by the false sense of political empowerment that their guns gave them, while you do the real work of plundering budgets, bribing politicians and writing laws even more in your favor?

So while everyone was hiding out in their homes armed and ready for Hollywood finales that never came, in the real world political power was concentrating at warp-speed with zero resistance.

From the oligarchy’s perspective, the people were thoroughly neutralized by the false sense of political empowerment that guns gave them. Guns don’t work in this country — they didn’t work for the Black Panthers or the Whiskey Rebellion, and they won’t work for you or me either.
- Mark Ames at NSFWCorp.
The reason human plasma was so lucrative for Stephen Feinberg’s Cerberus Capital is that supply is limited: most countries around the world ban the farming and marketing of human plasma for profit. Not in free-market America, however. Cerberus wound up cornering the human plasma market, jacking up prices to the point where human plasma was worth more than twice its weight in gold.

Pumping human plasma is much trickier — and more painful — than human blood. It takes a good hour to pump a human plasma cow of her plasma before she starts to drop off, and she can’t come back for another milking until her plasma grows back. Cerberus Plasma overcame that supply problem by setting up rows of human plasma farms along the US-Mexico border, splashing impoverished Mexican border towns with ads about getting paid for donating blood, then arranged human plasma busses to bus in poor Mexicans across the border to US-based pumping stations, sucking out their plasma, then dumping the donors back across the other side of the border with 30 dollars in their pockets (plus a ten dollar bonus for Mexicans who roped other Mexican plasma cows into joining them). It’s worth reiterating this point: human plasma farming for profit is illegal in Mexico, so Cerberus Plasma bussed Mexicans to the US for milking.

But while it was sucking the blood from Mexicans at thirty bucks a pop, Cerberus jacked the price of their human plasma treatment so high that patients whose lives depended on it — hemophiliacs, severe burn victims, others suffering from autoimmune deficiencies — were priced out of the only treatment that kept them alive, as insurance companies refused coverage. All this sparked an FTC lawsuit and charges of price gouging.

So it’s not much of a leap to go from sucking impoverished Mexicans’ blood for profit to Cerberus’ investment in a firearms manufacturer, Bushmaster in 2005.
- Mark Ames at NSFWCorp, again.

You really should sling them some cash.

December 19, 2012
Ablative Absolute

The Latinate framers of the US constitution employed an ablative absolute in the Second Amendment: ‘A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.’ An interpreter who favoured regimen would argue that the ablative clause determines the sense of the main clause; hence, the state has the right to maintain an army. Those who favour the absolute, as American courts have done, bracket the militia clause and take the main clause to mean that citizens may own as many firearms as they choose. The difference between constructions amounts to roughly 12,000 murders a year.
This, recently quoted at the LRB Blog, appears in the comments thread to this:
For more than a hundred years, the answer was clear, even if the words of the amendment itself were not. The text of the amendment is divided into two clauses and is, as a whole, ungrammatical: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The courts had found that the first part, the “militia clause,” trumped the second part, the “bear arms” clause. In other words, according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.
It is yet to appear in the comments thread to this:
[A]bsolute constructions remain part of the grammar of standard written English. Some particular instances remain common enough to be considered cliches: "this being the case", "other things being equal", "all things considered", "that said". It's New-Yorker normal that Jeffrey Toobin is ignorant of elementary grammatical analysis, but it's surprising that his ear for ordinary English usage is so bad, and that he's apparently unaware of the standard legal discussion of the constitutional issue on which he's providing an allegedly expert opinion.
Careful, chaps, this might get heated. Oh, wait... no, it won't.

December 15, 2012

Context here, and here in the related comments thread.

Posted in the hope of days for our American friends when the things to be sad about are not as awful as they are today.

December 13, 2012

Let's give thanks for the ignorance of American jurists about basic ethnography! It has been decided that while a nativity is a religious thing, the Xmas tree is not. These most sacred trees can stand alone on public property because of this misunderstanding of their nature. If you want a nativity in the town park, you have to let the Menorah stand next to it (and some anti-Semite will probably deface it.) Heaven knows what will happen if the Muslims want to be acknowledged too. So most public spaces just go with the tree under the illusion that it is secular. Thus a great pagan image can be found throughout the land every winter.
- McKenzie Wark at the Verso Books blog.

December 06, 2012

The idea of natural selection itself began as a just-so story, more than two millennia before Darwin. Darwin belatedly learned this when, a few years after the publication of “On the Origin of Species,” in 1859, a town clerk in Surrey sent him some lines of Aristotle, reporting an apparently crazy tale from Empedocles. According to Empedocles, most of the parts of animals had originally been thrown together at random: “Here sprang up many faces without necks, arms wandered without shoulders ... and eyes strayed alone, in need of foreheads.” Yet whenever a set of parts turned out to be useful the creatures that were lucky enough to have them “survived, being organised spontaneously in a fitting way, whereas those which grew otherwise perished.” In later editions of “Origin,” Darwin added a footnote about the tale, remarking, “We here see the principle of natural selection shadowed forth.”
From Just So Stories.
The solution to the paradox* (why is the night sky dark?) could be due to several different possibilities:

1.The universe is finite, that is, it ends at some point.
2.The stars run out at large distances.
3.There hasn't been enough time for the light to reach us from the most distant stars.

We will find out shortly that we can actually estimate the age of our universe. Because the universe is not infinitely old, the answer is number 3 listed above. Since light takes time to reach us, we can see only those objects that are near enough to us that their light has reached us. Curiously enough, the first published solution to Olbers' Paradox is attributed to Edgar Allan Poe. In his essay Eureka, Poe says:
Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us an uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy - since there could be absolutely no point, in all that background, at which would not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which, under such a state of affairs, we could comprehend the voids which our telescopes find in innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all.
*That'd be Olber’s paradox.

December 05, 2012

Consider Akron, Ohio, which was recently the subject of a conference bearing the thrilling name “Greater Akron: This Is What Vibrant Looks Like.” Or Boise, Idaho, whose citizens, according to the city’s Department of Arts and History, are “fortunate to live in a vibrant community in which creativity flourishes in every season.” Or Cincinnati, which is the home of a nonprofit called “Go Vibrant” as well as the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, which hands out “Cultural Vibrancy” grants, guided by the knowledge that “Cultural Vibrancy is vital to a thriving community.”

Is Rockford, Illinois, vibrant? Oh my god yes: according to a local news outlet, the city’s “Mayor’s Arts Award nominees make Rockford vibrant.” The Quad Cities? Check: As their tourism website explains, the four hamlets are “a vibrant community of cities sharing the Mississippi River in both Iowa and Illinois.” Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania? Need you even ask? Pittsburgh is a sort of Athens of the vibrant; a city where dance parties and rock concerts enjoy the vigorous boosting of an outfit called “Vibrant Pittsburgh”; a place that draws young people from across the nation to frolic in its “numerous hip and vibrant neighborhoods,” according to a blog maintained by a consortium of Pittsburgh business organizations.


The federal programs of the thirties produced “art for the millions” and aimed to improve both cities and rural settlements, to make them more livable for everyone. Today, however, we have a different audience in mind. Vibrancy is a sort of performance that artists or musicians are expected to put on, either directly or indirectly, for the corporate class. These are the ones we aim to reassure of our city’s vibrancy, so that they never choose to move their millions (of dollars) to some more vibrant burg. An artist who keeps to herself, who works in her room all day, who wears unremarkable clothes and goes without tattoos— by definition she brings almost nothing to this project, adds little to the economic prospects of a given area. She inspires no one. She offers no lessons in creativity. She is not vibrant, not remunerative, not investment-grade.

Vibrancy theory reveres the artist, but it also insults those who would take artistic production seriously. Think of the purblind art that this philosophy would guarantee us, were we to take it to heart and follow its directions to the letter. The public art of the thirties was often heavy-handed, close to propaganda even, but it was also critical of capitalist institutions and intensely concerned with the lives of ordinary people. The vibrant, on the other hand, would separate the artist from such boring souls. The creative ones are to be ghettoized in a “scene” which it is their job to make “vibrant,” thereby pumping up real estate prices and inspiring creative-class onlookers. But what of the people no one is interested in attracting and retaining? Millions of Americans go through their lives in places that aren’t vibrant, in areas that don’t have a “scene,” in jobs that aren’t rewarding, in industries that aren’t creative; and their experiences are, almost by definition, off limits for artistic contemplation.
Thomas Frank in The Baffler.

December 04, 2012

The disadvantages of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and depression are very real, and are what lead them to be considered disorders. But what those clamoring for cures often neglect, and what the term “neurodiversity” seeks to recognize, is that these disorders often also bring unusual abilities. For example, people with Asperger’s syndrome (AS), a high-functioning type of autism, have an uncanny capacity to see details. They score higher than non-autistics on block-design tests, in which children are asked to use colored blocks to match a pattern given to them. They have better abilities to identify shapes, and are more likely to have prodigious talents, such as perfect pitch and highly accurate memories.


ADHD has potential benefits similar to those of autism. ...

[I]n addition to the roving style of attention that often makes people with ADHD seem inattentive and restless, they also often possess an ability to focus for hours on specific activities or tasks that greatly stimulate or interest them. This “homing attention,” ... is evident in “rock climbers negotiating steep mountain cliffs” and “surgeons engaged in twelve-hour sessions in the operating room.” Certain professions actually demand characteristics that are much more prevalent in people with ADHD.

People with dyslexia also have certain impressive skills generally lacking in non-dyslexics. They can easily recognize patterns and anomalies in patterns. They sometimes also possess greater visual-spatial abilities, including ease with visualizing objects and systems in three dimensions. Similar to the abilities of autistics like Temple Grandin, they can sometimes visualize machines in their mind, and can tinker with these images — changing, adding to, and subtracting from them. ...
Aaron Rothstein's article on neurodiversity in the New Atlantis can get a little overly "on the one hand, but on the other" at times, but is still very rewarding.

While the detriments of neurological disorders may disguise potential benefits, I myself wonder if those detriments might be situationally beneficial in themselves. After all, innate human mentality seems to have drawbacks, often along the lines of "if the brain is good at doing something it has a tendency to do it when not appropriate". Thus humanity's capacity for pattern recognition provides the potential for pareidolia and apophenia (worse, presumably, in those with exceptional talent for discerning patterns: are dyslexics more likely than average to be conspiracy theorists?) A neurological incapacity reduces the likelihood of misapplication of the lacking talent. Trivially, of course, anyone unable to recognise faces is unlikely to see Jesus Christ peering out of their cornflakes. But would even a merely diminished ability to detect patterns reduce the risk that one would see patterns that aren't actually there? Or, turning to another feature of the "healthy" mind, I wonder if the (theoretical) difficulties people with autism have at building a model of other minds diminishes their human tendency for anthropomorphism? Is this partly what helped Temple Grandin understand the behaviour of cows: that she didn't have to fight through the pathetic fallacy to realise they don't think like people? And, I wonder, and it's not entirely a troll, are people with the neurodiversity formerly known as Asperger's syndrome less likely to be religious - which is to say, less likely to anthropomorphise the universe, to model a mind where there is not one to model?

December 03, 2012

How can someone be gay without having seen “Mildred Pierce” or “The Wizard of Oz”? To answer that, you first have to know what such movies have to do with being gay. Halperin observes, as others have before him, that gay boys often display stereotypical tastes long before sex enters the picture. As he points out, sexuality is the area where gay men differ least from straight men: the male in heat is a uniform animal. Gay taste is something more singular, probably linked to incipient feelings of dissimilarity from one’s peers. This alienation can happen in class, or in the locker room, or at a friend’s house when straight porn is unveiled. However these experiences unfold, they have a lasting impact, equivalent to a trauma with no visible cause. One common response is preëmptive withdrawal. The boy buries himself in some obscure aesthetic pursuit. One self-help book calls it “velvet rage.” My ignorance of “The Wizard of Oz” didn’t save me from becoming a typical case: at the age of ten, I developed a peculiar predilection for Austro-German symphonies.

Of course, a love for Golden Age movies or interior design is not necessarily a telltale sign. Plenty of straight kids flee from the locker room to the Drama Club, and plenty of gay kids thrive at sports. Yet the anecdotal evidence for the early onset of gay taste is vast. In retrospect, my mania for Beethoven may have been a way of forestalling a reckoning with my sexuality: rather than commit myself, I disappeared into a fleshless realm. Halperin sees another dimension to this kind of engagement — a willful resistance to the male-adolescent herd, a form of quasi-political dissidence. It’s a heady idea to attribute political motives to gay children, but Halperin is on to something. The fanatical twelve-year-old aesthete displays something like cultural disobedience.
- Alex Ross in The New Yorker.

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