Month: September 2019

Corey Robin teases out the philosophy of Clarence Thomas

Cover00 largeLidija Haas reviews The Enigma of Clarence Thomas by Corey Robin:

’Robin suggests that the misreadings of Thomas are themselves based in racism, comparing the justice to Ralph Ellison’s “invisible man,” the one people “refuse to see.” (Invisible Man is, he notes, alongside Richard Wright’s Native Son, Thomas’s favorite novel.) Introducing the common idea of Thomas as “an intellectual nonentity, a dim bulb in a brightly lit room,” Robin rehearses a host of clichés about his supposed incompetence or laziness—qualities that would, some have implied, explain why he doesn’t speak up on the bench, is rarely assigned the majority opinion in important cases, and gets his clerks to write his opinions for him (this last accusation strikes me as odd, since Thomas’s opinions hardly seem the bland, predictable stuff you’d expect to get by paying someone else to do your homework). Robin claims that the only other justice “subject to all of these kinds of insinuations” was, not coincidentally, also the Supreme Court’s only other black justice, Thurgood Marshall, whom Thomas replaced.

Robin’s Thomas is no dimwit but a man of ideas, albeit dark, furious, and terrifying ones. “His beliefs,” Robin announces in an introduction, “are disturbing, even ugly; his style is brutal.” Robin recognizes no essential contradiction or vacillation in this man who by the late ’80s, several years into his career within the Reagan administration, could still lovingly recite Malcolm X by heart. He sees a powerful continuity between Thomas’s black nationalism and his conservatism, extrapolating from his words a coherent worldview that helps explain his approach to a slew of issues, from voting rights to gun ownership, from the Commerce Clause to gender relations. In Robin’s account, Thomas sees American racism as foundational, permanent, and ineradicable, such that African Americans should never hope for justice or advancement to come through either political representation (since they will remain a loathed minority) or any strategy dependent on the generosity of white institutions.…’

Via Bookforum Magazine

“Impeach him anyway”

GettyImages 1160062554’The case for impeachment, even if it can’t oust Trump.…’

Impeachment is a method of sanction as much as a mechanism for removal. The public disgrace of being one of the four impeached US Presidents forever attaches an asterisk to one’s presidency and acts as a deterrent. Even though the Senate leadership has made it clear that under no circumstances would they ever convict Trump, the revelations from a thorough impeachment in query in the House will inform the choice at the polls in 2020 — both in the president till race and, with any luck, voters’ choices in Senate elections as well. And finally, impeachment would be a message to foreign countries that their intervention in US elections will be exposed.“It may just be theater, but it’s necessary theater to protect American elections.”

Via Vox

“Liddle’, not Liddle”

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Trump’s latest tweets are among his strangest yet:

’Trump’s latest batch of morning tweets do not offer much reassurance that the commander in chief is in a healthy state of mind as he deals with a mounting impeachment crisis of his own creation.

As I’ve detailed previously, there have been other periods of time — such as the late stages of the Mueller investigation — when Trump’s tweets became increasingly unhinged as he felt the pressure of negative news cycles.

But his tweets on Friday, coming as they do at the end of a week in which the rapidly widening Ukraine abuse of power scandal made “impeachment” a buzzword in DC, raise questions about how equipped Trump is for what may be coming next…

Nearly three years into Trump’s presidency, people have generally figured out that his tweets — with some notable exceptions, such as when he announces new policies like banning transgender people from the military — are generally sound and fury signifying very little.

But they do say something about the mental state of the man in control of the most powerful military in the world (and its nuclear arsenal).

That mental state seems to be addled by conspiracy theories and a pervasive victimhood complex — not to mention a recklessness and lack of shame that has prevented the president, at this late date, from figuring out a way to get his tweets proofread before they’re published.…’

Via Vox

Supreme Court gun case: the biggest Second Amendment case in years

Images 1Gun control supporters are desperate — and have already taken drastic steps — to get the Supreme Court to dismiss this case:

’Last January, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, the first major Second Amendment case to be heard by the Supreme Court in nearly a decade — and also the first since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement shifted the Court dramatically to the right.

The case centers on an unusual — and recently changed — New York City rule that limited where gun owners with a certain kind of permit were allowed to bring their guns.…’

Via Vox

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R.I.P. Robert Hunter

 

NewImageA childhood friend of Jerry Garcia, Hunter was the band’s primary lyricist and collaborator in Garcia’s songs, responsible for some of the most iconic of the Dead’s mind-bending imagery.

Via New York Times obituary

 

Image result for blake glad day

Blake wasseen by most of his contemporaries as eccentric and mediocre. But for all his technical failings, his inventive approach made him one of the greatest graphic artists of all time.

via New Statesman

Image result for cuba's sonic weapon

Canadian researchers say they may have identified the cause of a mystery illness which plagued diplomatic staff in Cuba in 2016. Some reports in the US suggested an “acoustic attack” caused US staff similar symptoms, sparking speculation about a secret sonic weapon.

But the Canadian team suggests that neurotoxins from mosquito fumigation are the more likely cause. The Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, was a major health concern at the time.

So-called “Havana syndrome” caused symptoms including headaches, blurred vision, dizziness and tinnitus. It made international headlines when the US announced more than a dozen staff from its Cuban embassy were being treated.

Cuba denied any suggestion of “attacks”, and the reports led to increased tension between the two nations.

In July, a US academic study showed “brain abnormalities” in the diplomats. “It’s not imagined, all I can say is that there is truth to be found,” one of the authors said.

The Canadian team from the Brain Repair Centre in Halifax thinks it now has the answer.

Canadian diplomats were affected by similar reactions to US counterparts – though the study noted that the symptoms of the Canadians were more gradual than the “acute, directional… auditory stimulus” in some of the US cases.

The study notes that tests carried out on 28 participants – seven of whom were tested both before and after being posted to Havana – support a diagnosis of brain injury acquired by diplomats and their families while in Cuba.

The patterns of brain injury “all raise the hypothesis of recurrent, low-dose exposure to neurotoxins”, the report said. Specifically, the results were “highly suggestive” of something called cholinesterase inhibitor intoxication.

via BBC News

No horror film auteur could envision and produce something as creepy as a bunch of turkeys spontaneously circling and marching around a dead cat in the road.

via Boing Boing

Image result for ar15

‘Armalite created the AR-15, sold the rights to Colt in the fifties, and the design long ago emerged from patent and became widely-copied. The AR-15 itself will no longer be made for consumers by Colt, it says. It says they’re just not that popular among consumers and the company needs to focus on institutional sales…

Missing in a lot of the coverage is the fact lots of companies make AR-15s. Colt not making AR-15s is like Sony not making laptops…’

via Boing Boing

‘Storm Area 51’ happens tomorrow!

800Stage set in Nevada as Earthlings arrive for Area 51 events

‘What probably started as a joke has now attracted visitors from all over the world — from nearby Idaho all the way to Scotland and Australia — with locals worrying about visitors trespassing their property, overwhelming the cell service, or, frankly, arriving unprepared to face the cold nightly temperatures and desert creatures (like snakes and scorpions)…’

Via Associated Press

How to Choose a Bank That’s Not Profiting From the Climate Crisis

Tpzdwgeh8pnytuwclnsy’If you’re trying to live in a way that helps mitigate the effects of climate change, you might resolve to fly less often or eat less meat. But what about switching banks?

As author and environmentalist Bill McKibben explains in The New Yorker, financial institutions play a larger role in climate change than we realize…’

Via Lifehacker

What Trump’s Simplified Language Means

16402 b9ba7122b9e4bdbedf144589ffd294f5’Trump’s use, or misuse, of language has also been disturbing to experts of constitutional law. Take Laurence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law professor. He said, according to Osnos, “Trump’s language borders on incapacity.” When the president was asked to explain his reversal on branding China a currency manipulator, Trump said, of President Xi Jinping, “No. 1, he’s not, since my time. You know, very specific formula. You would think it’s like generalities, it’s not. They have—they’ve actually—their currency’s gone up. So it’s a very, very specific formula.” This response could count as an example of “gross and pathological inattention or indifference to, or failure to understand” the mandatory duties of the president mentioned in the 25th Amendment, Tribe said.

To psycholinguist Julie Sedivy, it’s not Trump’s rambling language that’s worrisome, it’s his regular usage. “I think we have rarely had a president who uses such simple and simplifying language,” she said in an interview with Nautilus.

And why is that concerning? “There’s some interesting research that has looked at the correlation between simple language and the tendency of U.S. presidents to behave in authoritarian ways,” Sedivy said. “There is a predictive relationship that speeches that are expressed using very simple basic language tend to precede very authoritarian acts like the use of executive orders … That certainly plays out in the use of the heavy reliance on simple notions like amazing, sad, bad, unfair. These really strip away a lot of the complexities that are behind them. They reduce information into very gross impressions. The simplification of points of view, the simplification of the good and the bad, and even just the conveyance that, ‘We’re going to make good deals,’ for example. ‘It’s going to be great.’ That this is a simple problem just waiting for someone who has the right instincts to come along and solve this, is absolutely pervasive in Donald Trump’s language.”

And what is the downside of that kind of usage? “Well, I think the big downside is that it’s false. The world is a complex place. It’s not a simple environment. There are many interacting forces simultaneously that really elude simple explanations or simple solutions. One thing that I certainly have become very aware of through a couple of decades now of being a scientist is that for every simple, elegant explanation or theory we have come up with, we have discovered that the truth is actually not simple or elegant. It’s messy, noisy, complex.”…’

Via Nautilus

3 billion birds: More than a quarter of all birds have disappeared from North America since 1970

GettyImages 157477304 0’One of the great environmental crises today — and there are many — is the loss of biodiversity on planet Earth. Human actions have lead to an extinction rate higher than anything seen on Earth in the last 10 million years, as a sweeping UN report recently explained. It’s estimated the average vertebrate (bird, fish, mammal, amphibian) population has lost around 60 percent of its individual members since the 1970s.

Scientists keep telling us that something is going devastatingly wrong in the natural world. Today, a study in Science focuses on the birds of North America, and the results are again eye-opening and grim.

A team of scientists at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, in collaboration with the US Geological Survey and several conservation groups, have estimated North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970. That’s an estimated decline of 30 percent in the total bird population. In other words: More than one in four birds has disappeared from American skies in the last 50 years.…’

Via Vox

Do Not Trust Your Arguments

RomanSenateDan Sperber and Hugo Mercier’s book The Enigma of Reason:

’…its ideas are subtler and logic more involved than one paragraph glosses (or even most of its newspaper reviews) can give justice to. A running theme throughout the book, is that in experimental settings and in “real life” human capacity for reason is not optimized for the pursuit of abstract truth. Mercier and Sperber suggest that this is because reason did not evolve for that end. Reasoning’s role is essentially a social one—at the level of the individual it is not about deciding what to do, but about justifying what we do.

What we decide to do is for the most part entirely intuitive. As Mercier and Sperber see it, our decisions are the products of mental subsystems as opaque to us as the mysterious mechanisms that classify what we see as “beautiful” or “ugly,” determine what we are doing as “boring” or “fun,” and judge what others are doing as “admirable” or “disgusting.” Although his brain will supply the child with reasons for why he likes to watch Star Wars, the teenager with reasons for why she favors purple eye-liner, and the lover with reasons for doting upon his beloved, these thoughts are not the actual cause of the behavior in question. They are justifications. They are seized upon and articulated by the brain not to make us aware of why we make our decisions, but to make it possible for us to justify and explain our behavior to others.

Sperber and Mercier confirm this general thesis through dozens of experiments and lots of clever thinking.…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

UnknownDan Nosowitz writes:

The word “jawn” is unlike any other English word. In fact, according to the experts that I spoke to, it’s unlike any other word in any other language. It is an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people. It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to “remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.”

It is a word without boundaries or limits. Growing up in the suburbs just west of the city, I heard it used mostly to refer to objects and events. In the 2015 movie Creed, a character asks a sandwich maker to “put some onions on that jawn.” But it can get much more complex. It can refer to abstract nouns such as theories; a colleague of Jones routinely refers to “Marxist jawn.” It can also refer to people or groups of people. “Side-jawn,” meaning a someone with whom the speaker cheats on his or her significant other, “is a uniquely Philly thing as far as I can tell,” says Jones. “And not something you want to be.” via Pocket

I’ve run across other all-purpose, or almost-all-purpose, nouns in slang usage. Just last week, I was reading Tana French’s The Witch Elm, populated with a number of characters speaking vernacular Irish English. After being puzzled by several characters’ use of the word yoke, I finally figured out that it seems to serve a virtually identical purpose to jawn as a generic all-purpose substitute for anything. [Can any speakers of Irish English reading this confirm?]

But, of course, the word with perhaps the most widespread similar role in the vernacular as a generic, at least here in the US, is shit. I’m sure all of you speaking English in the US (and Canada??) have heard virtually all of the examples in the “Jawn” article with “shit” substituted for them:

  • “remember to bring that shit”
  • “put some onions on that shit”
  • “Marxist shit”
  • “Pass me that shit”
  • you can call something you like “the shit”
  • we refer to “my shit” to refer globally to our possessions, our sensibilities or style,  or specifically to our genitalia

Perhaps one difference is that shit stands in only for things. [Again,  Irish English speakers, what about yoke?] The assertion, then, that jawn is “unlike any other word in any other language” may relate to its usage for places, persons or groups of persons as well as things.  Can readers come up with other examples of generic nouns that also do so?

Joker Movie Wraps Production Joaquin Phoenix Set PhotosJoker’s most vocal critics thus far are concerned that in the United States’s current climate, giving the spotlight to the character emboldens and galvanizes a type of thinking that can inspire mass shooters.

– via Vox

Also: Wikipedia on “incels” (involuntary celibates)

Unknown

So where did the common idea of hairless, large headed, black-eyed, grey skinned aliens actually come from in the first place?

via Today I Found Out

UnknownIn a paper presented at the International Conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction, the researchers describe a method to quantify pain in patients. To do so, they leverage an emerging neuroimaging technique called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), in which sensors placed around the head measure oxygenated hemoglobin concentrations that indicate neuron activity. For their work, the researchers use only a few fNIRS sensors on a patient’s forehead to measure activity in the prefrontal cortex, which plays a major role in pain processing. Using the measured brain signals, the researchers developed personalized machine-learning models to detect patterns of oxygenated hemoglobin levels associated with pain responses. When the sensors are in place, the models can detect whether a patient is experiencing pain with around 87 percent accuracy.

via Big Think

However, even if two subjects are measured as having the same levels of neuronal activity in response to a nociceptive stimulus, there is still no way to compare their subjective experiences of the stimulus. Many other factors that might bear on differences in the subjective experience of the pain might not be reflected in differences in graphical readouts of neuronal activity levels, e.g.:

  • tolerance levels and pain threshold
  • cognitive attributions of cause, intensity, and fungibility of the pain
  • other concurrent factors in the person’s emotional state, e.g. degree of depression
  • factors affecting distraction from or focus on the painful stimulus

UnknownSo much for rest in peace.

– via Big Think

R.I.P. fRoots, bible of British folk music

Unknown“A big tree has fallen.”

’For 40 years, the magazine was a guide to Britain’s pulsating underground and a champion of thrilling weirdos. Its closure leaves a chasm in the grassroots music scene…

Take a look at its recent 40th-anniversary edition: it’s like a huge fanzine created by a groovy uncle, occasionally gazing at the mainstream but much happier exploring the margins. Its going out guide is staggeringly broad, revealing a fertile UK festival and gig scene rarely covered by the national press. Features include a dig into Kate Bush’s traditional roots, reports on the qawwali ensembles of Pakistan and a free desert festival in Morocco, plus Scottish folk musician Alasdair Roberts celebrating new artist Burd Ellen’s songs about women. The huge reviews section takes in London’s

Cafe Oto

, Korean experimentalist Park Jiha and Topic Records’ 80th-anniversary CD. Trendy bells and whistles are few, but it’s a rich treasure trove…’

— Read on The Guardian

I’ve subscribed for most of its forty years. I can’t imagine what my music-listening habits would have been without it.