03 April 2010

The A-Field

A recent post vented my opinion about the "Akashic Field", a preoccupation of World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution. A reader has now pointed me to an article by Christopher Bache on 'Reincarnation and the Akashic Field: A Dialogue with Ervin Laszlo', in 62(1) World Futures (2006) 114-126.

Bache states that -
Laszlo weaves together findings from quantum physics, post-Darwinian biology, cosmology, and consciousness research to propose the existence of a fundamental field he calls the Akashic Field, or A-field. The A-field is the zero-point field of the quantum vacuum, the super-implicate order behind our explicate world. It is a field where nonlocality and superconductivity are the norm, the generative matrix of the big bang and the receiver of the possible big crunch. In Laszlo's hands the A-field is the Metaverse that explains how the universe functions nonlocally as one organism across vast distances; it illumines the statistically improbable first conditions that have impelled the universe on such a fruitful evolutionary journey (because it holds and uses the learning gleaned from previous evolutionary cycles); and it provides a theoretical framework that honors reports of contact with dimensions of mind that transcend personal mind (because it is the Mind that embraces all other minds).
Bache is rather keen on the guru, it seems, commenting that -
Laszlo's commanding synthesis of multiple disciplines, his piercing critiques of mainstream thinking, and his elegant proposals are a profound accomplishment that we will be digesting for many years.
He goes on to state that -
Near the end of Science and the Akashic Field, Laszlo suggests that the A-field can provide a more elegant explanation for various forms of reincarnational memories and after death communications (ADCs) than theories that postulate an intermediate structure such as the soul. Because the A-field retains the traces of the universe’s entire experience, it retains the memory of everyone and everything that has ever lived. He holds that "former-life memories" and ADCs are legitimate phenomena with strong evidentiary support, but he suggests that these phenomena can be better interpreted as being generated by contact with the A-field. When one has the experience of communicating with the “spirit” of a dead relative, for example, one is actually in dialogue with the memory traces of that relative held by the A-field. Similarly, when one remembers "former lives" in past-life therapy, one is actually reading the memory traces of other people’s lives from the A-field. When Ian Stevenson finds traces of historically prior persons showing up in the psyches and bodies of children, it is more efficient, he suggests, to see these as pointing to the A-field’s ongoing influence in human evolution rather than pointing to the existence of a reincarnating spiritual presence, a soul (Laszlo, 2004, pp. 156–163).
Hoary old sceptics such as myself might be less inclined to enthuse about the "commanding synthesis", "piercing critiques of mainstream thinking" and "elegant proposals", instead wondering whether "traces of historically prior persons" (Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Joan of Arc etc) are simply the sad imaginings of people with a few 'issues' and that rather than being "actually in dialogue with the memory traces" of defunct relatives - via a seance or the A-field, with or without an alfoil beanie and a magic crystal or a packet of quanta - those who claim to be in two-way communication with the dead are simply deluded or delusional.

Repatriation

The International Repatriation Advisory Committee of the national Department of Families, Housing, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) is seeking comment on the Department's review of its International Repatriation Program.

That Program reflects the Australian support for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It aims to return the human remains of Australia's Indigenous peoples held in other countries, primarily in anthropological or archaeological museums and medical collections. The remains were collected under official and private auspices from first European contact. They include skulls and other skeletal material, including items that have been fashioned as vessels or otherwise processed.

The Committee indicates that -
these are often referred to as ancestral human remains because they are the ancestors of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In this paper the Committee refers to ancestral remains as Old People, in part as a mark of respect and in part to raise awareness that the remains are first and foremost real people, they are family.
The Program coexists with a broader cultural repatriation program - Return of Indigenous Cultural Property - administered by the national Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA).

The Committee indicates that a key aim of its Program is to "Promote healing and reconciliation through the return of Indigenous ancestors to their traditional lands or communities of origin" -
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the return of Old People back to country is the first step towards restoring their dignity. It restores their rightful place as Elders, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunties, brothers and sisters. It acknowledges the wrong done to them and allows them to finally rest in peace in their homelands. It recognises the unbreakable bond, customary obligations and traditional practices between the living, the land and the dead.
. Fashions in curatorial practice mean that some overseas institutions have expressed a willingness to deaccession some or all 'Old People' from their collections. Others have argued that the remoteness of the relationship between contemporary communities and some archaeological material precludes repatriation, argued that there are scientific rationales for retention or suggested that cultural property from Australia and Africa is no different to that from Italy, Greece or Germany (ie Indigenous people do not have a privileged status in receiving and reburying items that have entered museum collections over the past three hundred years).

The Committee notes that -
The return of cultural property is a contentious issue for collecting institutions around the world, including Australia, and this may adversely impact on an institution's willingness to return Old People. As a result, a negotiation about cultural property in addition to Old People may prevent a successful repatriation outcome. Many overseas institutions have national or state legislation or policies that prevent the return of any cultural property. For this reason, institutions that have returned Old People have done so by amending legislation to return 'human remains' which are seen as separate from other cultural property.
It goes on to comment that -
in earlier times some Indigenous communities traditionally modified the remains of Old People so that they were no longer viewed as Old People but as an object to be used. For example, some communities used the crania (heads) to make water vessels, while other communities used remains to make sacred ceremonial objects. It is important to note that these 'modifications' were made by Indigenous peoples themselves. The view by many museums in Australia and overseas, is that these modified remains are objects and are therefore, not subject to the same repatriation policies as remains.

This can lead to some anomalies. For example, collecting institutions and even some Indigenous communities, consider items made of human hair such as paint brushes or string to be objects, while hair samples collected for research purposes, are classed as human remains and are subject to the same repatriation processes as other Old People.

FaHCSIA's current position is that it is not the role of museums or governments to determine what constitutes Old People. This is a decision for Traditional Owners. While FaHCSIA always seeks to consult with Traditional Owners where known, where modified remains have no known country some guidance is needed about the most appropriate approach.
Some museums and governments will presumably disagree with the Committee's stance on roles and more broadly on the philosophy underpinning neologisms such as Old People. That disagreement is evident in the ongoing debate about the remains of 'Kennewick Man' in the US, archaeological material that is over eight thousand years old but has been claimed by at least five US Indigenous groups, discussed in Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, And The Battle For Native American Identity (New York: Basic Books 2001) by David Thomas and Repatriation Reader: Who Owns American Indian Remains? (University of Nebraska Press 2000) by Devon Mihesuah.

From a legal perspective aspects of the Paper are problematical. The initial statement that "For more than 150 years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Old People were unlawfully removed from burials grounds, hospitals and morgues to be sent to museums, universities and private collections in Australia and overseas" arguably does not cover all collection of Indigenous and non-Indigenous material.

Feedback on the Paper is due by 5 May.

02 April 2010

NZ Patents Bill report

The NZ Parliamentary Select Commerce Committee has released its 197 page report on the NZ Patents Bill 2009, aimed at updating the 1953 Patents Act and among other things accommodating trans-Tasman trade arrangements.

The Committee voices the inevitable "strengthened and simplified" rubric in discussing the proposed legislation, arguing that the current -
low threshold for patentability compared with most other countries ... can disadvantage New Zealand business and consumers, as technology that may be freely available in other countries can be covered by patents in New Zealand. This can discourage innovation and inhibit growth in productivity and exports.
The statute is expected to exclude some inventions that would otherwise meet NZ patent requirements, including -
  • methods of medical treatment of human beings
  • human beings and biological processes for their reproduction [consistent with the Australian statute] and
  • plant varieties [on the basis that they are protected under the Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 (NZ)]
A Maori Advisory Committee will be established to advise whether an invention is derived from traditional knowledge or indigenous plants/animals and whether commercial exploitation of the invention would be contrary to Maori values.

The Committee recommends amending the Bill to exclude computer programs from patentable inventions, noting claims that "there is no 'inventive step' in software development, as 'new' software invariably builds on existing software".

Health rationing

Reading 'Justice in Transplant Organ Allocation' by Rosamond Rhodes in Medicine and social justice: essays on the distribution of health care (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002) edited by Rhodes, M. Pabst Battin & Anita Silvers 345-361 and 'Substance Abuse and Transplantation' by Patricia Durning & Michael Perri in Biopsychosocial perspectives on transplantation (New York: Kluwer Academic2001) edited by James Rodrigue 125-149 after the death of controversial transplant recipient Claire Murray.

She is of interest for emerging debate about the rationing of transplant surgery and other advanced health care, where resources are finite, action is expensive and demand is increasing. Her case is notable because she secured a $258,000 two-year interest-free loan from the WA state Government for offshore surgery.

Some time ago she received a taxpayer-funded liver transplant, reportedly needed because of a past heroin addiction. Details of the rationale for ranking her ahead of other claimants for services are not publicly available; presumably consideration was given to her age (early 20s), status as a mother of small children and commitment to desist from substance abuse. Although a liberal democratic state aspires to provide all citizens with access to life-saving health services, some identity attributes are more persuasive than others.

Unfortunately the liver transplant failed, a failure attributed by the mass media to Murray's post-operative use of illicit substances. Such a relapse is not uncommon among former addicts.

Last month WA health authorities in Perth rejected her request for a second liver transplant. The state Government then provided the soft loan, funding surgery in a Singapore hospital. Murray has now died from complications (blood clots in her heart). It is unclear whether the Government will write off the loan as a gesture of benevolence to her family.

Irrespective of her demise, the notion of state Governments providing extraordinary funding for people to travel offshore for surgery is problematical. It is unclear what criteria the WA Government used for assessing Murray's worthiness and whether the mechanisms for rationing health care are transparent and consistent. Can other people, for example those of middle age or without children, expect similar support?

The WA Health Minister Kim Hames is reported by the ABC as saying the young mother's story "captured hearts" -
"She was a much-loved daughter to her parents and a mother to her two sons," he said.

"She was also an example of what can happen when the scourge of illicit drugs enters the life of a young person."

Mr Hames said the State Government believed Ms Murray "deserved every chance to watch her two young boys grow up".

"I can honestly say we did everything we could to give her that chance," he said.
Critics will presumably ask whether all people deserve "every chance" and should receive "everything we could [do]", irrespective of whether those people are loved, have young children, are straight, married, photogenic or otherwise.

31 March 2010

Monkey see, monkey do

A recent post noted the claim by the Governor of Australia's Reserve Bank (ie the man heading the nation's central bank) that his skills were god-given - apparently by the Christian god - and that if Christ wasn't "who he claimed to be" (a matter I suspect is unlikely to be resolved empirically) Mr Stevens was a "living in a fool's world". Meltdowns in global financial markets - oops, don't let's mention Iceland, Lehman Bros, Ireland and other nasties - suggests that there is indeed some foolishness in the world, including foolishness involving very clever economists, regulators and investment managers.

Perhaps it's the weather, as a friend has now pointed me to a piece in the Melbourne Herald-Sun by ex-footballer Gary Ablett, the man referred to by his many fans as God and criticised several years ago for the sort of unpleasantness that damages the public profile of elite athletes (too many fans, too much money, too much pressure = lawyers and PR people to the rescue). As he notes, "People also know and remember me because of some of my off-field moments, which were not so successful".

Mr Ablett, allegedly with the help of cutting & pasting from a US fundamentalist site (plagiarism apparently isn't a sin if you are voicing a jeremiad), denounces the wickedness of contemporary society and the nonsensical nature of evolution. The piece would be a hoot if it wasn't so sad.

He states that -
Today, our newspapers, televisions and computer screens are full of shocking and horrible crimes, detailing a very serious decline in morals and values in our community. We read stories that describe a rapid deterioration in standards of behaviour wherever we look. Our culture struggles under the massive weight of increasing problems associated with hatred, anger, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide, family breakdown, the devaluing of human life and dignity, and a growing disrespect for law and order, to name just a few - all of which work together to create and subsequently feed an enormous and expanding hole in the moral fabric that once upon a time held our society firmly together. We have lost our way. We have lost our direction and many have lost hope, and we need to rediscover who we are and where we are going. We need to realise that this current behaviour is only a symptom of far deeper issues within our society and the real problems must be identified and resolved. The need for truth and clarity has never been greater or indeed more obvious than it is right now.

We need to bring in a defined halt to the degradation of our society by restoring the foundations of a strong and effective culture. What are these foundations and how do we begin to restore the brokenness we see all around us? I believe without a doubt that our nation is in crisis and is in its current predicament because we have deliberately disconnected ourselves from our Christian heritage and history. We are a nation that was originally founded upon the word of God and established on the authority of biblical truth. Our political system, our judicial system and most of our schools and hospitals were begun by godly men and women who based their lives and work on godly principles.
Well, actually no, many of the founders were not "godly" and people can behave properly without adherence to Christian doctrine, but let's move on.

Mr Ablett, after a deliciously silly 'debunking' of evolution (relax, readers, we are not descended from apes and we can forget about inconveniences such as fossils), states that -
Western civilisation has embraced the "lie" of evolution as fact, and we have been completely blinded to the profound effect and impact it is having upon our society and nation. We tell ourselves and our children that it was all just an accident and we are nothing more than "cosmic orphans", with no real purpose, value or destiny, completely without hope for a great future and then wonder why our country is "self-destructing" and our society's attitude has become "Let's eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". And, if life gets too hard or painful let's just end it. And that's just the beginning. No wonder our society if out of control, the consequences are horrendous. Man can live without many things but he cannot live without hope. The Bible reveals a very different reality.
I look forward to a more detailed exposition, ideally with an exegesis of some of the more inconvenient passages in Leviticus.

One correspondent has more generously commented -
You've got to love a state where sports legends play the role of unassailable moral authority; it's so authentically Australian!

autre temps, autre moeurs

The Times records the demise of former UK jurist Alan King-Hamilton, noted for his handling of the Gay News blasphemy trial. King-Hamilton echoed the crustiness of Lord Denning, without the latter's sporadic - and often overrated - intellectual bite.

His obituary generously comments that -
One of the most colourful and controversial judges of recent times, Alan King-Hamilton repeatedly flouted the unwritten rule that members of the Bench should keep their opinions to themselves. He was a devoted advocate of the merits of corporal punishment, once declaring that the best form of psychiatric treatment was administered not to the head but to the backside. The reintroduction of National Service, he claimed, would deter youths from crime, teach them discipline and make men of them. He openly regretted the fact that he was not allowed to shame offenders by putting them in the stocks.
The Times goes on to note that -
King-Hamilton was every bit as eccentric as he was outspoken. He sent flowers to a woman juror and was not above interrupting proceedings in order to announce the Test match score. At the beginning of a trial expected to last five months, he advised the jury to have flu injections.

Though some found such behaviour endearing, others claimed that King-Hamilton was out of touch and prejudiced. "He is fundamentally an Old Testament judge who believes in revenge", pronounced one QC. King-Hamilton, said another barrister, "is shocked by modern morality and attitudes and he equates them with a form of criminality". ...

In 1977 Gay News and its editor, Denis Lemon, were charged with blasphemous libel after publishing 'The Love that Dares to Speak its Name', a poem by Professor James Kirkup about a homosexual centurion’s fantasies as he contemplates the body of the crucified Christ. The first case of its kind for more than 50 years, the prosecution had originally been brought by Mary Whitehouse, secretary of the National Viewers' & Listeners' Association, but then taken over by the Crown.

King-Hamilton refused to allow testimony on the literary, sociological and theological merits of the work. As a result, such experts as the writer Margaret Drabble and The Times columnist Bernard Levin were only able to appear as "character" witnesses for the content of the paper in general. (This was in striking contrast to the 1960 prosecution for obscenity of D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterly's Lover, in which a host of distinguished people were allowed to speak at length in the book's defence, on literary and moral grounds.)

When the jury delivered a majority verdict of guilty, King-Hamilton could barely contain his delight. Having praised the jury’s moral courage, he expressed the hope that "the pendulum of public opinion is beginning to swing back to a more healthy climate". He then fined Gay News £1,000 and gave Lemon a suspended prison sentence of nine months and a £500 fine. Although the suspended jail sentence was later quashed, both the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords upheld the other verdicts.
I have been advised that -
contrary to what the Times suggested, he did not send flowers to a female juror, he merely presented his nosegay (given to all Old Bailey Judges on the first day of each legal term in a nod to the history of the Court standing close to the stench of the old Newgate Gaol) to the only female juror on a long-running trial.
The Guardian's obituary is here.

Zizek, parapsychology, quantumbabble

From 5(2) Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy (2009) -
'Žižek and the Ontological Emergence of Technology' [PDF] by Daniel Peter Hourigan

This discussion utilises the thought of Slavoj Žižek as a departure point to consider the ontological emergence of technology as techne in the conceptual encounter of the Abyss in Being. Following Heidegger, Žižek's critique examines the ontical and ontological implications of modern science. His championing of the political Cause makes the social realm essential for Žižek's turn against the possible domination of a deterministic, technical, and scientific rationality. The problem of modern science dominating subjectivity with objectivity, i.e. the reduction of humanity to a biogenetic structure, calls for an opening of the deadlock of rationalist determinism with the facilitation of envaluing Being, lest we be cut off from intersubjectivity by a psychotic breakdown. It is precisely in the lack of control we have of other people, the reliance on others, that we come to revivify our mastery of who we are and our actions. In the Žižekian mode the ethical 'ought' is not an obstacle in the path of modern science but a guide, an epochal constellation of value and understanding occurring in the socio-political realm that emancipates itself from the naïve resignation inculcated by the deterministic causality of rationalisation. The aim of this paper is to explore how Žižek understands this envaluing as the 'mythologisation of technology'.
and from 66(1) World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution (2010) 1-25
'On the Philosophy and Legal Theory of Human Rights in Light of Quantum Holism' by Amar Dhall

... Scientific method correlates with empiricism (Kornblith 2006), and provides an appropriate methodology. Leiter (2006) calls the use of empirical evidence in the furtherance of the law "naturalized jurisprudence" and posits that it increases certainty, and hence affirms Rule of Law. It is the central postulate of this article that new arguments for holism derived from quantum mechanics and other scientific disciplines offer insights of relevance to this question.

Quantum mechanics is the study of the sub-atomic level of physical reality. The scientists within this discipline are conducting experiments that are producing results inexplicable within the other scientific paradigms. While a few scientists and mathematicians express reservations with quantum mechanics, the field endures and continues to be extremely accurate at predicting the behavior of sub-atomic quanta. Indeed, the attention of the world is focused on synthesizing the results of pending experiments to be conducted in the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) recently opened on the French/Swiss border. Quantum mechanics appears to be propelling humankind down the path of scientific revolution in the Kuhnian sense (Galison 1981). While quantum mechanics has been lauded as a breakthrough akin in magnitude to Copernicus positing that the Earth was not the center of the universe and that the planet is round (Taylor 2008), it should be noted that in keeping with scientific method as an iterative practice, in the future, it may be significantly modified or even replaced. However, for the time being quantum mechanics is the best mode of explaining space and time at the Planck scale, the weight of evidence presently available endorses this field of human endeavor.
After that it's onwards, via sufism, parapsychology and other treats, to -
The sum total of this position demonstrates that a strong legal basis to human rights can be articulated through an exploration of holism. It is possible to conduct a methodologically rigorous study of nature and find that the results endorse the recognition of universal and inalienable human rights that are vested in equality. This is argued through a State-based recognition that every human being is subject to supervening holism. This marks a paradigm shift in our conception of the basis for holism, as for the first time in human history the epistemological justification for the ontology swings toward an external methodology rather than from a predominantly internal process of reasoning.
We might of course wait for quite some time before any and all states recognise that "every human being is subject to supervening holism", given that they haven't managed to agree about deities and  about the validity of the any "external methodology".

Dhall goes on to state that
The traditional foundational claims employed when justifying the human rights doctrine lack the merit of epistemologically external evidence. The imperative for human rights has already been internationally recognized, as witnessed by the consensual basis of the existing doctrines; however, the change in the methodological basis for justification could advance the current discourse. While it has become clear that modern arguments asserting holism affirm the ethos of human rights, the question of how such a human rights construct will advance the current discourse is a question requiring specific consideration in the future. However, it is clear that accepting holism creates a knowledge-based deontological justification to structure one's interactions in a manner consistent with holist duality. ...
Convinced? Perhaps not.
Employing the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle as a heuristic tool for legal analysis exposes two important points; first, it shows the impact that a hard basis to human rights will have is best understood by an application of this quantum mechanical effect. Second, it demonstrates a prior application of the ontology of quantum mechanics in legal scholarship. Heisenberg's Indeterminacy Principle was employed to illustrate how the act of judgment affects both the system being judged and the broader society in which judgment occurs, in this discussion constitutional law cases were employed. The development of native title in Australia was also used as a case study of this phenomenon. Thus, the fact that the development of the law can affect broader society is of paramount importance because if a hard basis to human rights is accepted and adopted, the social and cultural landscape would change on a global scale. This would occur in much the same way that the development of native title in Australia has changed the cultural perception toward the rights of indigenous people.

The central postulate of this article is that supervening holism endorsed by quantum mechanics is illuminating our understanding of human beings sufficiently to warrant recasting the legal basis of human rights in reasoning that builds on an epistemologically sound foundation that is not ethnoculturally specific. Such a foundation creates a deontological imperative to act because it affirms the central tenets of the human rights doctrine, those of equality, universality, and inalienability.

The universal applicability of a rights regime grounded in a study of holism can be strongly argued. Holism is an ontological aspect of nature. Equality is affirmed by the equivalent status of every human being's relationship with a supervening level of holism. Equality is further affirmed as at the level of holism (that of subatomic quanta) there are no individuals upon whom any inequality can attach. With this understanding, humans may be conceptualized as equivalent, localized nodes emerging from non-local quantum singularity. This finding is equally applicable to all people everywhere, East and West. Inalienability is affirmed by the ontological structure of holism itself. It is an aspect of physical reality, is epistemologically valid, and continues to be affirmed in numerous independent studies in discrete spheres of human endeavor.
Oh dear. Presumably the same quantum holism - epistemologically valid, supervening, ontological or otherwise - provides a basis for assigning consciousness and human rights to carrots, coffee cups, cucumbers, rocks and grains of sand.

I jest, of course, with the gibe about coffee cups but do wonder about the apparent need to found human rights claims on a science - or 'science' - of subatomic quanta and an 'Akashic Field' that encompasses parapsychology and at times reads like an unintentional parody of Casaubon's grand 'The Key to All Mythologies'. Clever: yes. For me, convincing: no. Necessary: no.

I confess to wariness about an "epistemologically sound foundation" that draws heavily on claims regarding reincarnation, remote healing, communication with the dead (via valve radios, for crying out loud), precognition, telekinesis and remote sensing among other mystical treats. Faith yes, hard science no. Affirmation is not truth, not proof.

I confess to disquiet regarding the "numerous independent studies in discrete spheres of human endeavor", when many of the studies cited in Dhall's article espouse what a sceptic would question as utter nonsense - reincarnation, precognition, telekinesis and so forth. The fans of Uri Geller are prolific; their enthusiasm - legitimised with terms such as 'quantum', 'singularity' and 'mesodomain' or otherwise - does not mean that his claims are true. An ungenerous reader might raise an eyebrow at Dhall's citation of Targ, Radin and Puthoff as authorities, given their embrace of Geller and 'proof' of "transpersonal connection".

A more generous reader might ask why Dhall doesn't grapple with alternative explanations of supposed phenomena or formally recognise that his authorities are strongly contested, if not indeed regarded as kooks.

My enthusiasm was not whetted on discovering that World Futures is edited by and apparently largely written by fans of Ervin Lazlo, exponent of the "Akashic Field", described in his Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything (2004) which explains that the "quantum vacuum" is the 'fundamental energy and information-carrying field that informs not just the current universe, but all universes past and present' (aka the "Metaverse") so that "evolution is an informed, not random, process". It is 'intelligent design' sans God, with - according to Laszlo - the brains of the elite becoming 'quantum wave transceivers' and a range of ills being curable through "psionic medicine" (magic touch, diagnosis by dowsing, treatment by prayer and so forth).

Presumably those transceivers will allow telepathic communication to the undead present in past, present and future universes ... so much more convenient than relying on a valve radio!

There is NO substantive evidence that anyone's brain is becoming a 'quantum wave transceiver' or that you can do two-way shortwave with the dead. Some readers of this blog have been using conventional communication - rather than telepathy, flying carpets or spirit messengers - in kindly supplying me with treats such as Laszlo's reference to "entities that are no longer living in the familiar form in this world but are alive nonetheless". (Those entities send messages from another dimension via radios and tape recorders ... not exactly a delivery mechanism that is going to be recognised by the High Court of Australia but presumably one that gets a tick from fans of Edgar Cayce, Madame Blavatsky and other exponents of hocus pocus.)

A distressing feature of writing by Laszlo's fans is its fervency. Zareen Khan in New Age Journal (May 2009) for example praised that Science and the Akashic Field as -
truly ground breaking in its attempt to give a measure of organization to the known and some sense of identity to the unknown. The human language, as it presently exists, simply does not have the eloquence to deal with the 'thought downloads' that we are dealing with in this sphere of experience.
Quite so. Readers who are not a fans of new age quantumbabble and are wary about "thought downloads" in "this sphere of experience" might wonder about invocation of Laszlo and his associates - evident in most issues of World Futures - or more broadly about the authority of his journal.

If you are underwhelmed by notions of the "ontological emergence of technology as techne in the conceptual encounter of the Abyss in Being" and "psychotic breakdown" in the "biogenetic structure" you might however enjoy 'Did Somebody Evade Totalitarianism? On the Intellectual Escapism of Slavoj Zizek' by David Pickus in XXI(1) Humanitas 146-167.

In my opinion fans of obscurantism can always turn to Blavatsky, L Ron Hubbard, Steiner or Keyserling & Son, exponents of a holistic philosophy that featured statements such as -
The symphony of the spirit upon earth should, in accordance with reasonable prevision, resound with ever-increasing beauty. The individual voices should make themselves heard ever more purely, harmonize better with each other, and be attuned to ever-fuller basic tones. The original chaotic and occasionally baroque, and then again essentially differentiated creation, should find its final expression in perfect classicism, in that monumental simplicity which contains all wealth within it. Change is a way of life, it has appeared different and new again and again. If its development were guided henceforth by an ever more profoundly self-conscious mind, then temporary forms must give way to ultimate ones, and differentiation must slowly turn into integration.
For myself, I'll skip the subatomic particles and reread John Rawls or Dyson Heydon, arguably more useful in effecting law reform on a day by day basis.

Meanwhile the head of the Reserve Bank has reportedly affirmed his religious belief, commenting that -
I think if you are a Christian, God has given you certain capabilities to do a job, to earn a living and the bible teaches that you should do that as if you were doing it for him, because you are and that is my attitude. ...I would say that, despite claims to the contrary, there is a God. This is worth checking out and the critical issue people have to deal with is, was Jesus Christ who he claimed to be? If he wasn't then you can forget about it, and if he wasn't then I am living in a fool's world.
People who question Christ's divinity, or even historicity, might wonder about Mr Stevens going emo. Others might suggest that their capabilities come from a quite different deity, or from no deity at all. It is just a bit reminiscent of Montagu Norman's claims, while he was Governor of the Bank of England, that he could literally walk through walls. (The bricks & mortar - and financial markets, alas - disagreed.)

We cannot determine whether JC was who He claimed to be - or who his reporters claim that He claimed to be - except through looking into our hears. Regrettably that same process is likely to reveal that Vishnu or Kali or the Great Turtle or some other deity or well-connected associate is 'The One'. Mr Stevens may well be living in a fool's world but his statement certainly makes him look foolish and poses questions about the inclusion of religious faith in public discourse by supposedly apolitical mandarins. We'd be just a tad disconcerted if Stevens announced that he consulted the ouija board before making decisions about the economy. His characterisation of "the critical issue" should raise some eyebrows.

29 March 2010

Oh really

Some days you don't know whether to laugh or cry when encountering political rhetoric that at best is absurd and 'daring' 'cutting-edge' art that lost its shock (as distinct from squirm) value forty years ago.

Today's treat was the announcement from federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott - he of the recurrently-paraded hairy chest (and red budgy-smugglers) - that the escape of three internees from Villawood demonstrates that the Labor Government is "losing control of Australia's borders".
This is a 100-fold indictment of the Rudd Government's policies.

When Julia Gillard was the shadow minister for immigration she would regularly put out press releases saying 'another boat, another policy failure'. This is a policy failure compounded 100 times.
Being old, grey and without the requisite swimmers (alas, the hair is on the shoulders rather than my chest) I confess to uncertainty about the meaning of a "100-fold indictment".

The unscheduled departure of three Chinese nationals from Villawood - they reportedly climbed over a fence and "are still on the run" - does not seem to prove that the world is an end, the family cockatoo or moggie cat will be molested (or perhaps turned into kittykat stirfry) and that we'll all be murdered in our beds.

The three escapees do not seem unusual: two had been detained for over-staying temporary visas and the third is said to be an unauthorised air arrival. The latter is thus in the position of most illegal immigrants, who arrived on a passenger aircraft (particularly from first world points of origin) and simply stayed. Hype about "100-fold" border failure, most 'illegals' are likely to be Euro backpackers - including backpackers with law degrees - and Indian undergrads notionally doing dubious training in hospitality or IT rather than people arriving in leaky boats from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Rwanda.

It is unclear what the Opposition leader proposes to do. Should we shackle people in Villawood and other detention centres? Electrify the fences and encourage refugees to leap onto the live razorwire? Stick a postage stamp on each person's forehead and hope that Australia Post will return that individual to the place of origin, in the style of Paddington Bear? One contact, in jest, suggested that we should embrace the spirit of Human Achievement Day (the very brave non-event for people who don't like Earth Day) and celebrate advances in atrocities - as 'human' as a sonnet or a Schubert quartet - by nailing 'reffos' to the floor. That will stop them leaping the fence.

Ironically, wreaking havoc with a nail and hammer is proudly featured in a video on The Art Newspaper site. Relax, nailing your foot to the floor is Art with a capital A when you wear the requisite black tshirt, have a Virilio-quoting academic or two in attendance, the floor's part of a 'performance space' rather than a detention centre and there are cheque books rather than Tony Abbott in the vicinity.

The Art Newspaper clip comes from Volta NY 2010, the US offspring of the Basel art fair of the same name. This year the fair is tagged 'No Guts No Glory' -
the fair continued it's [sic] challenging format which sees each booth dedicated to a single artist. ... performance art proved a popular choice and perhaps most notable was Todd Pavlisko's work in which he nailed one of his own feet to a wooden floor. Be warned this film contains and excerpt from the video of this graphic work.
Ooh aah, fun with a nail, a hammer and a bare foot! Cynical grinch that I am, I recall performance artist Stelarc floating overhead while suspended from fishing line attached to hooks inserted through his flesh.

That's a difficult gig to top ... I prefer not to think about people who have suffered in the cause of art by nailing a member (no, we're not talking fingers or toes) to a breadboard. After a while even the boldest Grand Guignol seems passe: one can of elephant dung (or alleged elephant dung) is a witty deconstruction but a crateload of cans of kaka is merely a latent health hazard and conservator's nightmare.

28 March 2010

Vote early, vote often

The Adelaide Advertiser, having seen off the former SA Attorney-General, reports that the SA State Electoral Commission is taking claimed breaches of the Electoral Act 1985 (SA) "very seriously".

The Commission and the Advertiser received an anonymous letter boasting that a family - dubbed 'The Election Team' - fraudulently voted 159 times in the recent state election, with unauthorised use of the identities of other voters (allegedly people who were unwilling or unable to attend booths on polling day). The letter includes a claim that an underage member of the family was permitted to vote 31 times. The claims have not been substantiated

The letter indicates that the breach was inspired by a need for "electoral reform", including "strengthened identity checks".
There are individuals who are incapable of voting but they remain on the electoral roll. There are individuals who are absent. There are individuals who need assistance and are all too easily conned into giving up their right to vote.
Sadly, the claim follows the second report by the national parliament's Joint Committee on Electoral Matters regarding the 2007 federal election. That report notes testimony by national Electoral Commissioner, Ed Killesteyn, at a public hearing in March last year, where he told the committee that an estimated 1.2 million electors were not on the electoral roll -
At the 2007 federal election an estimated 92.3 per cent of the total number of eligible voters were on the electoral roll. This represented an increase of 0.8 per cent on the estimated participation rate at the 2004 federal election. The enrolment participation rate has now dropped to a level of 91.63 per cent in spite of the increase in the number of electors currently on the electoral roll. Discussion of the participation rate in percentage terms, however, masks the true extent of the disenfranchisement that exists in the Australian community. We estimate there are about 1.2 million eligible voters currently not on the electoral roll, and who are therefore not able to exercise their franchise.
The same report notes discussion about identity verification schemes, for example quoting a submission from Uniting Justice Australia arguing that -
changes in proof of identity requirements were unnecessary. It should be noted that an Australian Electoral Committee audit of South Australian voting following the 2001 election found no evidence of fraud, in a roll of over one million people. They were overly burdensome and a discouragement for those enrolling or changing their enrolment, particularly people with disabilities, the homeless, Indigenous Australians and older Australians.
The Advertiser report coincides with debate in the national parliament about potential adoption of the NSW scheme for 'automatic enrolment' of people on the state electoral roll, driven by driver licensing and other data. Under NSW legislation the NSW electoral commission will contact people in writing (including by email or SMS), alerting them that they are going to be enrolled. People will have at least a week to correct the data.

The author/s of the SA letter threaten further breaches, indicating that -
We will continue to do this until changes are made to the Electoral Act which subsequently ensure a democratic outcome for all. That will include an end to compulsory voting and, within that, an end to compulsory preferential voting which demands a vote for an anti-abortionist and a pro-euthanasia group at the same time.
Pro- and anti- euthanasia groups of course have a right to express their views, if that political communication is done in a lawful (for example peaceful) manner and an electoral system that respects such diversity might be cherished rather than subverted.

Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond, alas the same Redmond who appears to have been silent about the problematical electoral and anti-bikie legislation, is reported as saying that said she would move to strengthen voter identification requirements "as a matter of some urgency" when Parliament resumes.

That strengthening involves the 'nightclub model' - an invisible stamp (detectable under black lighting) on the paws of those who have voted or finger ink similar to that used in the Afghanistan elections.
It's a major potential for fraud and up to this point the Electoral Commission has relied on the honesty of people and this election shows that you can't trust people to be honest.

As it stands, there's nothing to stop people going from polling booth to polling booth, even as themselves, let alone as someone else.

The simple system is to get a black light-visible stamp that is put on your hand when you vote.

There have been elections won and lost on a single vote, so it doesn't take many (to change a result).