07 August 2010

Black flags and dingbat sheep

Readers of this blog have noted my interest in the nature of belief, authority and the way people construct the world.

I was thus interested to see an account by Matt Taibbi deflating the '9/11 Truther' belief system. Nothing like the condescension of a righteous anarchist enraged at the "dingbat, sheeplike population".
The 9/11 Truth movement is really distinguished by a kind of defiant unfamiliarity with the actual character of America's ruling class. In 9/11 lore the people who staff the White House, the security agencies, the Pentagon and groups like PNAC and the Council of Foreign Relations are imagined to be a monolithic, united class of dastardly, swashbuckling risk-takers with permanent hard-ons for Bourne Supremacy-style "false flag" and "black bag" operations, instead of the mundanely greedy, risk-averse, backstabbing, lawn-tending, half-clever suburban golfers they are in real life. It completely misunderstands the nature of American government -- fails to see that the old maxim about "the business of America is business" is absolutely true, that the federal government in this country is really just a lo-rent time-share property seasonally occupied by this or that clan of financial interests, each of which takes its 4-year turn at the helm tinkering with the tax laws and regulatory code and the rates at the Fed in the way it thinks will best keep the money train rolling.

The people who really run America don't send the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney to the White House to cook up boat-rocking, maniacal world-domination plans and commit massive criminal conspiracies on live national television; they send them there to repeal PUCHA and dole out funds for the F-22 and pass energy bills with $14 billion tax breaks and slash fuel efficiency standards and do all the other shit that never makes the papers but keeps Wall Street and the country's corporate boardrooms happy. You don't elect politicians to commit crimes; you elect politicians to make your crimes legal. That is the whole purpose of the racket of government. Any other use of it would be a terrible investment, and the financial class in this country didn't get to where it is by betting on the ability of a president whose lips move when he reads to blow up two Manhattan skyscrapers in broad daylight without getting caught.

But according to 9/11 Truth lore, the financial patrons of democratic government were game for exactly that sort of gamble. According to the movement, the Powers That Be in the year 2000 spent $200 million electing George Bush and Dick Cheney because they were insufficiently impressed with the docility of the American population. What was needed, apparently, was a mass distraction, a gruesome mass murder that would whip the American population into a war frenzy. The same people who had managed in the 2000 election to sell billionaire petro-royalist George Bush as an ordinary down-to-earth ranch hand apparently so completely lacked confidence in their own propaganda skills that they resorted to ordering a mass murder on American soil as a way of cajoling America to go to war against a second-rate tyrant like Saddam Hussein. As if getting America to support going to war even against innocent countries had ever been hard before!

The truly sad thing about the 9/11 Truth movement is that it's based upon the wildly erroneous proposition that our leaders would ever be frightened enough of public opinion to feel the need to pull off this kind of stunt before acting in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq. At its heart, 9/11 Truth is a conceit, a narcissistic pipe dream for a dingbat, sheeplike population that is pleased to imagine itself dangerous and ungovernable. Rather than admit to their own powerlessness and irrelevance, or admit that they've spent the last fifty years or so electing leaders who openly handed their tax money to business cronies and golfed in Scotland while middle America's jobs were being sent overseas, the adherents to 9/11 Truth instead flatter themselves with fantasies about a ruling class obsessed with keeping the terrible truth from the watchful, exacting eye of The People.

Whereas the real conspiracy of power in America is right out in the open and always has been, only nobody cares, so long as Fear Factor and Baseball Tonight come on a the right times. A conspiracy like the one described by 9/11 Truth would only be necessary in a country where the people are a threat to actually govern themselves effectively.

But none of that even matters nearly as much as what 9/11 Truth says about the mental state of the population. The whole narrative of the movement is so completely and utterly retarded, it boggles the mind. It's like something cooked up by a bunch of teenagers raised on texting, TV and Sports Illustrated who just saw V For Vendetta for the first time and decided to write a Penguin History of the World on the strength of it. A genius on the order of a Mozart or a Shakespeare would be hard-pressed to dream up the awesome comedy that is the alleged plot from the point of view of the plotters.

Women and the Law

Today saw the launch by the Governor-General of Women and the Law in Australia (Chatswood: LexisNexis Butterworths 2010) edited by Professor Patricia Easteal AM.

The 400 page book - a snap at $150 for anyone with a serious interest in justice, gender, power, legal practice and the specifics of black letter law - is rightly described by the publisher as "an important milestone in the development of legal practice in Australia" and as "the first of its kind". It "is intended not just to highlight the problems that women experience with the legal system as defendants, complainants, victims, witnesses and practitioners but also to identify pragmatic steps for solicitors, barristers and policy-makers".

Chapters include -
- Women and ADR
- Women and Company Law
- (Consumer) Contracts
- Criminal Law: Rape
- Women and Criminal Defences to Homicide
- Discrimination Law
- Domestic Violence
- Women and Business Law: Sole Traders and Partnerships
- The Evidential Process and the Complainant
- Family Law
- Gender and Intellectual Property
- Intersectionality: Indigenous Women
- Women in Practice
- Lesbians, Same-Sex Attracted Women and the Law
- Women and Labour Law
- Medical and Tort Injuries Against Pregnant Women
- Women and Migration Law
- Women in the Australian Judiciary
- Women and Prison
- Public Law
- Women and Social Security/Transfer Payments Law
- Tax
- Intersectionality: Disabled Women
- Women and Trusts
Authors include George Williams, Debbie Kilroy, Anthony Hopkins, Maree Sainsbury, Susan Priest, Margaret Thornton, Juliet Behrens, Terry Carnoy and Patricia Easteal.

Make pretty

Today's Financial Times features an article by Emma Hill titled 'Look your best online'. For a scholar - as distinct from what is presumably the intended reader - it is a revealingly thin piece, revealing because it shows what you can get away with in reporting on people choosing the best photos for self-portrayal on social network services such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Hill reports that the Estée Lauder cosmetics group "is one of the first to pick up on" the "new reality" that "online image matters in the business world".
Beth Zurn, senior vice-president of global education and special events, says that at an internal brainstorming session at the company’s headquarters, "everyone agreed they liked being on sites such as Facebook, but the number one concern was finding the right profile photo. Instead of posting a snapshot from last year’s holiday, we all wanted a photo that made us look our best."
Yes, quite ... the Devil Does Prada crowd probably doesn't want to be featured looking like a decaying cabbage (although artfully dishevilled with an Isabella Blow confection might do the trick). Make pretty!

Make money as well. Hill notes that the result of the moment of inspiration about the importance of looking your very best - dear lord - was -
a series of global beauty counter events entitled 'Your Beauty. Your Style. Your Profile', where consumers were invited to have their make-up done and a professional photo taken. The latter was stored on a USB key which women could take away and upload later.
She goes on to reveal that -
It's fairly straightforward to work out whether a picture is suitable or not for an executive networking site. According to image consultant Jennifer Aston, "It's about the expression, [which] is usually about looking open, not frowning and not looking too humorous. You can smile, but not like the Cheshire cat – we want eye contact and an expression that is alert."
In the finest tradition of high end cosmetics - validation through reference to medical specialists or other experts in lab coats - Hill then introduces clinical psychologist Dr Cecilia d'Felice, who reveals that an open, unfurrowed online gaze is what's needed. I'll remember that next time I'm having my photo taken and contemplate grimacing like The Bride of Frankenstein
The ability to recognise faces is fundamental to survival. We are hard-wired to be able to remember thousands of faces, so what you communicate in your face, and how you represent yourself, is going to have huge impact."
Cue another expert, with an impressively foreign name ...
Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a research psychologist and senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, London, says of the profile picture, "Here, things like trustworthiness, ambition and intelligence are the most important features."
The history of corporate sociopaths and professional conmen/women, most of whom were validated through a firm grip, 'open smile', confident gaze and conformity with conventional ideas of beauty, might lead some observers to ask what we mean by "trustworthiness, ambition and intelligence" in an online snapshot.

Assuming that you don't drool in front of the camera, it seems that your inner beauty [integrity/hoesty/virtue/whatever] can be expressed if you have the necessary credit card. Hill comments that -
Wearing make-up is also a good idea, and, says Zurn, "most women don't wear enough. Although they may not wear that much on a daily basis, in a photo you need to play up your best features."

"The most professional appearance is full day make-up, which may be up to 10 items, but applied in a very light way," says Aston. "If you wear no make-up, you are perceived to be more junior." The best-selling make-up product at the Lauder events was foundation.
A mere ten items!

Thom Woodroofe on the ABC site less reverently deconstructs the fashion choices and images of Australian politicians.

The same issue of the FT features a review of Roger Moorhouse's Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital 1939-45 (Bodley Head, 2010), with a para noting -
One of the most famous urban myths about wartime Berlin – that the animals from the zoo escaped during an RAF bombing raid and roamed around the devastated capital – turns out not to be a myth at all. On November 23 1943, the day after a heavy raid, the Charlottenburg resident Josepha von Koskull saw an "exhausted and distraught feral-looking Alsatian" lolloping towards her, which she was about to feed with a bread roll before two uniformed zookeepers warned her that it was actually an escaped wolf. Another resident, Ursula Gebel, recalled how: "The tanks in the aquarium all ran dry, the crocodiles escaped, but like the snakes they froze in the cold November air."

06 August 2010

Customary Law

A 161 page report [PDF] by Jennifer Corrin on Pleading and Proof of Indigenous Customary Law in Queensland Courts explores how Indigenous customary law is proved in Queensland courts in criminal and civil cases.

The Report -
- analyses relevant statutory provisions and court rules as well as pertinent case law;
- identifies the current issues;
- evaluates the current regime;
- highlights hurdles raised by the State system when Indigenous customary law is raised in formal court proceedings; and
- discusses options for reform.
Although the focus is on Queensland, Corrin and research assistants Sarah-Jane Bennett & Alison Chen also discuss reception of customary law in other parts of Australia and the South Pacific.

The research reflects the paucity of information on how Queensland courts deal with issues of proof and pleading of traditional laws and customs, of potential significance in relation to for example family law, criminal law defences, heritage protection, succession and sentencing.

Corrin notes that -
Our research has found that it is unclear how evidence of Indigenous customary law is to be presented and proved in the formal courts under the present regime.

This is due to a dearth of explicit guidelines, case law, and empirical data on the issue.

This Report deals with one area of disadvantage and it is hoped that it will stimulate interest in the issue of pleading and proof of Indigenous customary law and the broader issues arising from the interaction of Indigenous customary law and common law in Australia, as well as providing a platform for reform in this area.

Faith, Figures and Phantoms

Andrew Odlyzko, a perceptive analyst of financial behaviour and business historian, has released another paper in his project comparing the dot-com bubble to the British Railway Mania of the 1840s.

In contrast to the preceding three papers, his new 'Bubbles, gullibility, and other challenges for economics, psychology, sociology, and information sciences' [PDF] is primarily about the internet/telco bubble and future bubbles. It offers a persuasive analysis of issues such as innumeracy and incisive comment on people who were sincere, charismatic but alas often very wrong.

Odlyzko suggests that -
Gullibility is the principal cause of bubbles. Investors and the general public get snared by a "beautiful illusion" and throw caution to the wind.

Attempts to identify and control bubbles are complicated by the fact that the authorities who might naturally be expected to take action have often (especially in recent years) been among the most gullible, and were cheerleaders for the exuberant behavior. Hence what is needed is an objective measure of gullibility.
He goes on to comment that -
This paper argues that it should be possible to develop such a measure.

Examples demonstrate, contrary to the efficient market dogma, that in some manias, even top-level business and technology leaders do fall prey to collective hallucinations and become irrational in objective terms. During the Internet bubble, for example, large classes of them first became unable to comprehend compound interest, and then lost even the ability to do simple arithmetic, to the point of not being able to distinguish 2 from 10. This phenomenon, together with advances in analysis of social networks and related areas, points to possible ways to develop objective and quantitative tools for measuring gullibility and other aspects of human behavior implicated in bubbles. It cannot be expected to infallibly detect all destructive bubbles, and may trigger false alarms, but it ought to alert observers to periods where collective investment behavior is becoming irrational.

The proposed gullibility index might help in developing realistic economic models. It should also assist in illuminating and guiding decision making.
One conclusion from recent reading of Fintan O'Toole's spirited Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger (New York: PublicAffairs 2010) and Asgeir Jonsson's Why Iceland? How One of the World's Smallest Countries Became the Meltdown's Biggest Casualty (New York: McGraw-Hill 2009) is that regulators need both the resources required for effective supervision of markets and a mindset in which that supervision is taken seriously.

O'Toole offers pertinent comments on Australia and Ireland's experience of HIH and James Hardie, highlighting issues that regrettably have not featured in the current national election campaign and that have had a more fundamental impact on the nation's economic performance and well-being than the pink batts affair.

It is thus heartening to see reports of Ross Garnaut's Hamer Oration at Melbourne University last night,which argued that recent growth masked that something had "gone wrong with political culture and economic policy".

Garnaut is reported as suggesting that declines in productivity over the past decade are attributable to the failure of Australian governments to build on the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s.

The SMH indicates that -
In a cross-policy attack, Professor Garnaut accused Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott of a "'breathtaking sidestepping of responsibility" by treating urban infrastructure and transport bottlenecks as a debate about population immigration.

"The change [on population] has large implications, but has been accompanied by no analysis of economic growth and incomes", he said.

Neither party had a plan to deal with climate change and Australia's position on the issue was "an extraordinary failure of leadership".

Professor Garnaut said Kevin Rudd abdicated leadership by listening to advisers who rated lobbying by special interest groups and "inchoate reactions" from poorly informed members of the community above majority public support for action.

Ms Gillard was now accepting similar advice, he said, and may be on a similar path.
Slate meanwhile features a short review of Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2010) edited by Peter Andreas & Kelly Greenhill. After a week of marking essays on crimes such as human trafficking and outworking I endorse the editors' comment that readers should ask questions when confronted with numbers -
Where do the estimates come from, who produces them, what legitimating function do they serve, and how (if at all) are they explained in official reporting? What are the implications and consequences (intended and un-intended) of choosing one set of numbers over another? To what degree are the numbers accepted or challenged, and why? What purpose do they serve? ....

Numbers should provoke especially tough questions when the activity being measured is secretive, hidden, and clandestine. "How could they know that? How could they measure that?"

Bad bodies, wok and woe

For insights about commodification and cultures see HIV In China: Understanding the Social Aspects of the Epidemic (UNSW Press, 2010) edited by Jing Jun & Heather Worth, Body Shopping: Converting Body Parts to Profit (Oneworld, 2009) by Donna Dickenson and Sex, Power & Consent: Youth Culture and the Unwritten Rules (Cambridge University Press, 2010) by Anastasia Powell.

Dickenson discusses issues such as stem cell research, biopatenting, the genetic comments and 'face shopping' (the latter being something explored in my recent paper 'The Face of Anxiety in the Age of Biometrics'). Powell considers notion of consent and exploitation, including Australian law regarding sexting.

Jun & Worth include Su Chunyun's 'Red Oil: Blood and the role of a machine in the HIV Outbreak in Central China' (101-116) highlighting the inadequately regulated plasma trade, and Zhang Yuping's 'Fears of Identity Exposure Among Gay Men Living With HIV' (119-137).

05 August 2010

Psychic octopus

IP Kat, the excellent UK intellectual property blog, reports on 'The marketing of octopus Paul', ie the supposedly psychic German octopus "who became a global sensation when he correctly predicted the outcome of all Germany games in the recent football World Cup as well as the result of the World Cup final". Alas, said critter has failed to send me details of the winning Lotto numbers so that I can retire to a life of writing satirical comments about octopi, drinking tea, sleeping in linen sheets in a four-poster bed and reading the collected works of Jeremy Bentham to a family of heeler dogs.

The Kat offers "a short selection" of Octopus Paul stories -
RTL recently reported that a Russian company was interested in hiring Paul as a "bookie", whereas German magazine Der Spiegel informed us that an American composer Parry Gibb composed a love song for Paul ("Paul the octopus, we love you") which can be experienced on YouTube. The Telegraph then reported that Kazakh bookmakers were "furious at Paul" and blamed him for "their paltry World Cup profits", whereas Chinese website Xinhuanet reported that the Chinese comic suspense film "Kill Paul Octopus" will open in Chinese cinemas in August. Paul, also made an enemy: The Telegraph today reported last week that Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed that Paul symbolizes the "decadence and decay" of the Western world. In the latest news today, we learn from the Austrian Der Kurier that Paul will now also record an album of Elvis songs ("Paul The Octopus Sings Elvis"). I still have hope that the latter was meant to be a satirical article but I fear that this is a genuine news item.
Time, I think, for the Octopus chat show ... and the Octopus Election Poll (Will Julia Win? When will they unmuzzle Barnaby Joyce? Octupus Paul Sees All, Reports All ... and presumably eats whatever German Octopi have for dinner after a spot of dissecting tomorrow's movement on the DAX.) What about Wanda The Wombat, provider of tips about the Melbourne Cup, the ASX and the availability of ACTION buses?

A corporate law contact has meanwhile pointed me to Martin Gardner's 'Doug Henning and the Giggling Guru' in 19(3) Skeptical Inquirer (1995).

Gardner comments that Transcendental Meditation instructors
promise to teach you, after you fork over thousands of dollars for advanced courses, a variety of awesome supernormal powers known as sidhis. They include the ability to become invisible, to see hidden things, to walk through walls, and to fly through the air like Peter Pan and Wendy. Doug’s conjuring was fake magic. TM teaches real magic.

Vedic flying has been the most publicized of the sidhis. Photographs distributed by TM officials show devotees in a lotus position and seemingly floating in midair. The photos are misleading. No TMer has yet demonstrated levitation to an outsider. The best they can show is the ability to flex one’s legs while in a lotus position on a springy mattress and hop upward a short distance. The phony photos were snapped when the supposed floater was at the top of a bounce. One cynic said he never believed the woman in a picture was actually levitating, that instead she was being held up by an invisible TMer!

The flying sidhi has four stages. First, a twitching of limbs. Second, the hop. Third, hovering. Fourth, actual flying. Only the first and second stages have been shown to skeptics, although devout TMers firmly believe that there are Vedic flyers in India and that Maharishi can take off whenever he likes even though no one has ever seen or videotaped him in flight.

“When you reach your full potential,” Henning told a reporter, “and you think ‘I want to levitate,’ you can levitate.” And in a lecture: “You can disappear at a high state of consciousness because your body just stops reflecting light.”
Oh dear.

Gardner continues that -
Amazingly, TMers are greatly entranced by lotus hopping. Last October a demonstration was held at the University of Toronto. Three Vedic “flyers” giggled while they bounced on their bums for five minutes, looking (said one observer) like legless frogs. I was told by Charles Reynolds, who for many years designed Doug's stage illusions, that during one of Henning’s TV rehearsals he periodically halted all activity so those present could meditate and send him powerful vibes while he tried vainly to float. He actually believed he might be able to demonstrate levitation on his forthcoming show!

Several disenchanted TMers have sued the organization for failing to teach them powers that were promised. In 1987, for instance, Robert Kropinski, a former TM instructor, asked for $9 million because he was never able to fly. He also charged that TM had caused him “headaches, anxiety, impulses toward violence, hallucinations, confusion, loss of memory, screaming fits, lack of focus, paranoia, and social withdrawal.” A Philadelphia jury awarded him $138,000.
And the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, friend of quantum gurus Deepak Chopra and Ervin Laszlo?
Since he started TM, the giggling guru has raked in an estimated $3 billion from his millions of gullible followers. He now controls a vast empire that includes a conglomeration of Heaven on Earth Hotels around the world, a consulting corporation, numerous trading companies, medical clinics, and other firms here and there.

Maharishi Ayur-Veda Products International (MAPI) sells a raft of herbs, teas, oils, incense, and natural food substances said to cure diseases and reverse aging. Admirers of the best-selling books on “quantum healing” by Boston’s Deepak Chopra may be surprised to know that he is a TM booster with close ties to MAPI, president ofa Maharishi Vedic University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and owner of an Ayur-Vedic clinic in Boston. In 1989 His Holiness awarded Chopra the title of “Lord of Immortality of Heaven and Earth.”

Maharishi Research universities are all over the globe. There is one in Lake Lucerne, Switzerland, others in Fairfield, Iowa (the movement’s U.S. headquarters), in Buckinghamshire, England, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in Vlodrop, Netherlands. Vlodrop is the movement’s world headquarters, where Maharishi now lives. The colleges seem to spring up and die like mushrooms.
What about the research, which includes - quelle surprise - another One Big Theory Of Everything?
The word “research” in the names of these universities refers to investigations of what is called Vedic science. It is said to combine the subjective approach of the East with the objective approach of Western science and to usher in what the Maharishi calls the “full sunshine of the dawning of the age of Enlightenment.” According to His Holiness, the universe is permeated by a “field of consciousness” underlying the laws of quantum mechanics. The Maharishi, who once studied physics, is keen on the latest results in particle theory.

Expensive double-spread ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Toronto Globe and Mail, Time, Newsweek, and who knows where else, periodically promote the Maharishi’s unified field theory. Physicist John S. Hagelin is the movement’s top quantum-mechanics maven. He has predicted that Maharishi’s influence on history “will be far greater than that of Einstein or Gandhi.”
That's a nice echo of the 'bigger than Ben Hur' accolades by the Akashic Field folk in World Futures.
Hagelin and other scientists at TM universities have written hundreds of technical papers, most of them published by TM university presses, although a few have sneaked into mainstream science and medical journals unaware of the authors’ TM affiliation.

In his paper "Is Consciousness the Unified Field?" Hagelin (who has a Harvard doctorate in physics) conjectures that the sidhis operate by upsetting “the balance of statistical averaging in quantum-mechanical laws:
Indeed, the phenomenon of levitation, with its implied control over the local curvature of space-time geometry, would appear to require the ability to function coherently at the scale of quantum gravity, which is the assumed scale of super-unification and the proposed domain of pure consciousness. In this way some of the sidhis, if demonstrated under laboratory conditions, would provide striking evidence for the proposed identity between pure consciousness and the unified field.
TMers have no doubts about the "Maharishi effect". This refers to incredible changes produced by mass meditations. The movement claims that their efforts helped bring down the Berlin wall, resolve the Gulf War, cause stock-market rises, collapse the Soviet Union, decrease traffic accidents, and cut the crime rate in Washington, D.C., and other cities. Such wonders are supported, of course, by highly dubious statistics.

Animal Law

A strong commendation of Deborah Cao's new Animal Law in Australia and New Zealand (Pyrmont: Thomson Reuters 2010) and Landmark Cases in the Law of Tort (Oxford: Hart 2010) edited by Charles Mitchell & Paul Mitchell.

The Cao is lucid and perceptive legal writing - lucidity being an attribute that I esteem - that covers -
- Animals: Morality, Science and Justice
- Historical Development of Animal Law
- Legal Status of Animals
- Overview of Animal Law in Australia and New Zealand
- Animal welfare Legislation
- Regulation of the Treatment of Companion Animals
- Regulation of the Treatment of Farm Animals
- Regulation of Wild Animal welfare
- Regulation of Animal Testing
The work has a current and comprehensive 23 page bibliography.

Michael Kirby's foreword comments that -
The reader will therefore imagine that I faced the task of reading this new book with added anxiety, lest it cause me to banish fish from my diet and to embrace the habits of a vegan. In the end, that has not happened. the book is wise and temperate. It recognises that many human beings are on a journey of appreciation about this matter. But it teaches that all of us have to address cruelty to animals, and especially to mammals, whose genome and sensory systems are so similar to those of human beings
He goes on to state that -
The book adopts a moderate, factual and analytical style. This is essential because its readership is likely to be the growing body of university students, most of them in law faculties, who are increasingly electing to undertake courses in animal welfare law at colleges throughout Australasia ... What, not so long ago, was regarded as an exotic topic of limited interest is now a fast-growing curriculum subject with a real legal dimension.
It is a dimension that may inform our thinking about the rights - and responsibilities - of humans and of corporations.

The Torts Landmarks, drawn from a 2009 Kings College London symposium, features 13 chapters - usually of around 25 pages - discussing key UK torts cases such as George v Skivington, Daniel v Metropolitan District Railway Company and Hedley Byrne v Heller.

Excellent reading, even if you're not a devotee of torts law ... or as one of my sarkier students put it, a voluptuary of torts (an image that makes me think of purple silken hangings, sherbert, incense, to-die-for carpets and a very large bare-chested man with a turban and a scimitar - Dyson Heydon meets Salammbô and The Arabian Nights).

04 August 2010


Three perspectives on revolutions ...

From the New York Times - 'Building a New History by Exhuming Bolívar'
The clock had just struck midnight. Most of the country was asleep. But that did not stop President Hugo Chávez from announcing in the early hours of July 16 that the latest phase of his Bolivarian Revolution had been stirred into motion.

Marching to the national anthem, a team of soldiers, forensic specialists and presidential aides gathered around the sarcophagus of Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century aristocrat who freed much of South America from Spain. A state television crew filmed the group, clad in white lab coats, hair nets and ventilation masks, attempt what seemed like an anemic half-goose step.

Then they unscrewed the burial casket, lifted off its lid and removed a Venezuelan flag covering the remains. A camera suspended from above captured images of a skeleton. Insomniacs here with dropped jaws watched live coverage of the Bolívar exhumation on state television, with narration provided by Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami.

For those unfortunate enough to have dozed off, there was always Twitter.

“What impressive moments we’ve lived tonight!” Mr. Chávez told followers in a series of Twitter messages sent during the exhumation that were redistributed by the state news agency a few hours later. “Rise up, Simón, as it’s not time to die! Immediately I remembered that Bolívar lives!”

Even Venezuelans used to Mr. Chávez’s political theater were surprised by the exhumation, which pushed aside issues like a scandal over imported food found rotting in ports, anger over an economy mired in recession and evidence offered by Colombia that Colombian guerrillas are encamped on Venezuelan soil.

Some of Mr. Chávez’s top aides have begun using the exhumation as a method for attacking his opponents. Last month, the culture minister, Francisco Sesto, chastised Baltazar Porras, a Venezuelan archbishop, for “verbal desecration” for contending that Bolívar was, in fact, dead.
From the Guardian - 'Music fails to chime with Islamic values, says Iran's supreme leader - Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claims the promotion and teaching of the artform is not compatible with country's sacred regime'
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said today that music is "not compatible" with the values of the Islamic republic, and should not be practised or taught in the country.

In some of the most extreme comments by a senior regime figure since the 1979 revolution, Khamenei said: "Although music is halal, promoting and teaching it is not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic."

Khamenei's comments came in response to a request for a ruling by a 21-year-old follower of his, who was thinking of starting music lessons, but wanted to know if they were acceptable according to Islam, the semi-official Fars news agency reported. "It's better that our dear youth spend their valuable time in learning science and essential and useful skills and fill their time with sport and healthy recreations instead of music," he said.
From Big Questions Online - 'Deepak Chopra's God 2.0 - The "quantum flapdoodle" of the New Age author is a failed effort to update medieval theology.'
Chopra believes that the weirdness of the quantum world (such as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle) can be linked to certain mysteries of the macro world (such as consciousness). This supposition is based on the work of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff, whose theory of quantum consciousness has generated much heat but little light in scientific circles. ...

Chopra's use and abuse of quantum physics is what the Caltech quantum physicist and Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann calls "quantum flapdoodle", which consists of stringing together a series of terms and phrases from quantum physics and asserting that they explain something in our daily experience. But the world of subatomic particles has no correspondence with the world of Newtonian mechanics. They are two different physical systems at two different scales, and they are described by two different types of mathematics.
Michael Shermer's review of the "flapdoodle" unfortunately does not refer to ongoing debate within the social sciences and humanities regarding Alan Sokal's 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity' in 46/47 Social Text (1996) 217-252, a debate that highlights disagreements - some of which are evident in statements of opinion elsewhere in this blog - regarding language, doctrine and disciplinarity. Another perspective is provided by Olav Hammer's Claiming knowledge: strategies of epistemology from theosophy to the new age (Leiden: Brill 2001) or Robert Lilienfeld's classic The Rise of System Theory: An Ideological Analysis (New York: Wiley 1978).