Links 4/17/11


  1. KFritz

    Re Kristof & mockery:

    1)Editorial cartoonists have a long, rich history of mockery

    2)Mockery has its limitations. It’s not much use against a deranged dictator who’d unhesitatingly destroy his third largest city.

  2. Richard Kline

    Regarding the language origins article linked, the study by Atkinson refered to there is quite significant in several respects. (It received a longer discussion in an NYT article on 15 Apr, and I hope to read the paper in its entirety.) In particular, it deals a significant blow to the ‘rapid mutation’ hypothesis of language; the current hypthothesis that languages change their content in a few thousand years so that deep reconstructions are unfeasible. There is no substantive evidence for that contention despite which it is widely held and has bottled up broader research in linguistics for a generation. Atkinson’s study not only tends to support an Out-of-Africa physical diffusion of modern humans due to decreasing diversity of phonemic structure over distance, it also supports a _reconstructible_ framework for languages of considerable time depth. I’m a supportor prior work on deep reconstructions, so I hope that this article breaks the log jam (or more accurately mental constipation) in linguistics.

    I’m somewhat less convinced of the other study mentioned, which was discussed in greater detail in the link Yves provided yesterday. I’ve met Russell Gray, I like his work a lot, and I’m convinced of the conclusion which the authors advance. I’m not entirely convinced of the solidity of their particular interpretation in this instance, but it’s still a fascinating go at the issue. There too, a long outdated idea—that grammar is more or less hardwired [my usage, not the authors here], which was a theoretical notion without any evidentiary support—takes another deserved blow from, surprise surprise, an actual resort to historically demonstrated evidence.

    1. Philip Pilkington

      The so-called post-structuralists who I referred to yesterday claimed that the whole ‘hard-wired grammar’ argument wasn’t merely a bad hypothesis — but a form of cultural control. The quote I gave yesterday comes from a book that directly criticises Chomsky and his use of ‘tree’ models, but a much more fundamental criticism came from the French philosopher Michel Foucault.

      In his book ‘The Order of Things’ he dealt with the emergence of the Port-Royale system of grammar in the 17th century — which I mentioned yesterday in relation to Chomsky. He claims that this was an attempt to force human knowledge into a very specific epistemological staitjacket. The Port-Royale system was essentially a Cartesian ‘rulebook’ for what was and was not correct discourse. It was tied up with another book called the Port-Royale logic that dealt explicitly with epistemology — but the two, according to Foucault, are inseparable.

      Now, Chomsky called his grammatical system ‘Cartesian Linguistics’ — and I believe that this was a direct reference to the Port-Royale. If this is true, then Chomsky is open to the exact same criticism that Foucault made of the Port-Royale — a criticism that is echoed on this website daily: namely, arbitrary epistemological rules used to force empirical reality into conformity with dubious patterns of thought.

      (In saying all that, Chomsky’s criticism of the behaviorists which I linked to yesterday, is absolutely spot-on. And my understanding is that they’re a major contender on the American scene…)

  3. dearieme

    “He did believe in God, however difficult it might be to easily define those beliefs.” The Higher Drivel.

  4. Richard Kline

    Regarding Michigan’s Emergency Fascist Manager law, I was aghast until I saw the two words ‘Benton Harbor.’ Now the wretched fact is that there are numerous rotten governance zones in the US, most of them graft-shot poor municipalities, and some counties. Not as many as there were a century ago, but surely more than there were a generation ago. Michigan has quite a few, and Benton Harbor is certainly one of them. Is the answer to the problems they present for the Republican state legislatures to seize control of them (which is exactly what this ‘movement’ amounts to)? Or to legally bar them from raising money or signing contracts without a non-partisan third party doing a restructure? Emphasis on _nonpartisan_. Or something else?

    I don’t know. And I’d prefer that the citizens of these locales decide for themselves, an option which is not going to happen. Bankrupt governments of impoverished and demoralized inhabitants are ripe for the emplacement of serfdom, which is exactly what we will be seeing. Since we are not seeing anything like the kind of citizen organizing which would be necessary to effect another outcome.

    1. attempter

      They’re obviously starting with a broken town government in order to generate the ambivalence you testify you feel. That’ll help them freeze broad opposition at the outset, let them establish precedent, and then they’ll embark upon the real plan, which is to liquidate local government everywhere.

      No, you were right the first time. The essential part of this is that it’s incipient fascism. The actual circumstances of Benton Harbor are irrelevant.

      1. Anonymous Jones

        Ah, the slippery slope argument. How I *don’t* have to wait patiently for its use every day…

        1. attempter

          Who made a slippery slope argument? If you had any reading comprehension you’d see I called it true fascism, right here, right now. I merely described fascist tactics.

          Do you ever do anything but make nihilistic armpit noises? That’s all I’ve ever seen you do. Except for the time you were laughing at the victims of microlending loansharks. That was a little more vicious.

  5. Philip Pilkington

    That ‘silent bank-run’ article is really interesting. I’ve been hearing the whispers of this for months. You’re usually told about it in the same hushed tone that you might hear a racist joke.

    So, you’re talking to someone casually for a while. They start feeling a bit more comfortable. One of you mentions the state of the banks. Your interlocutor says something like, “Oh, you’d have to be CRAZY to leave your savings in an Irish bank.” Then they studiously examine your face in hopes of catching a glimpse of solidarity. If they do, then they start talking all about it — about how their sister’s fiancee showed them how to ship it all off to a Swiss bank etc. etc.

    I guess this is how bank-runs occur these days. It’s sort of funny, really.

  6. annie137

    re Benton Harbor–follow the money. Whirlpool is the developer of Harbor Shores, where they are stealing property from the people of BH. Gentrification is going full blast and the poor people will be forced out.

  7. Eclectablog

    Thanks for the linkage. I’ll have more commentary up regarding the situation in Benton Harbor later today and invite you all back.

    By the way, it’s “Eclectablog”, not”Electablog”.

    Thanks again.

  8. Artaud the Schizo

    Re: Africa the Birthplace of Human Language

    “Language is a virus from outer space”- William S. Burroughs

    “By far the weirdest idea about the origin of language emerged from beat literature. The provocative concept of “language as a virus” was most famously voiced in the “Nova Trilogy” of William S. Burroughs. Perhaps his most intriguing and challenging literary production, this cycle of three “science fiction” novels (to be read in arbitrary order) is based on the idea that language is indeed a sort of viral infection imposed on the human species by a form of alien invaders from the Crab Nebula, as a way to enslave and control us. The virus of language can be fought by destroying and deconstructing language, which is what the experimental form of writing used to compose the three novels (“The Soft Machine”, “Nova Express”, and “The Ticket that Exploded”) effectively does. The breaking up of the linguistic structure, achieved via the techniques of “cut-up” and “fold-in”, that is, starting with an ordinary text with its ordinary linear narrative and linguistic structure, one cuts it up in short pieces consisting of a few words at a time and reassembles them in a random order, or else one assembles different texts via a shuffle operation, consisting of again cutting up each piece in short bits and mixing them by alternating those in different texts while keeping the ordering within each text fixed (that’s what one calls a shuffle product in mathematics).”

    1. Philip Pilkington

      Here’s something slightly off topic, but since you bring up the whole counterculture scene, I thought I’d squeeze it in because it’s very entertaining.

      God knows why, but in 1955 British Labour MP called Christopher Mayhew–a well-spoken gent of impeccable manners–and a BBC television producer decided that Mayhew should take mescaline on-camera for the… er… education of the nation.

      The program never ran–I’d argue that the very fact it was ever conceived is beyond bizarre–but someone’s uploaded a few minutes of it to YouTube. Enjoy!

      1. Artaud the Schizo

        Very interesting, thanks.

        I especially liked the part where “expert advice was called for” to determine whether or not the film could be shown, and a “committee of psychiatrists, philosophers and theologians” was assembled.

        They needed an entire committee of “experts”?! I can just picture them debating the matter for hours, each one weighing in, before finally ruling no, Mayhew’s experience was not valid, the film cannot be shown. Hilarious.

        1. Philip Pilkington

          Hey, compare the Beeb and the Labour Party back in the 50s, to the same entities today — neither the LP’s PR machine, nor the Beeb’s editorial would even dream of putting such a thing together today.

          The expert opinions were clearly wheeled out to block the broadcast — the inter-BBC politics are so manifest in that clip you can almost see them.

          I think that some of what the experts said was interesting. The theologian claimed that it was a mystical experience ‘on-the-cheap’ — I can see where he’s coming from; Mayhew hasn’t confined himself to a monk’s cell for his entire life, he’d dropped peyote. The psychiatrist said that Mayhew had suffered ‘ego-loss’ — which essentially means that he was temporarily psychotic; I think that’s a valid point too.

          Once again, fast-forward to today and what would you get out of ‘experts’? Some dreary neurologist talking about brain-chemical scans — medical authority simply for the sake of medical authority… tells us nothing… yawn.

          1. Artaud the Schizo

            True, experts would probably deliver the same verdict today.

            As for the theologian’s claim that psychedelic drugs offered mystical experience “on-the-cheap”, Thomas Merton and Aldous Huxley corresponded with each other over this issue:

            “In a letter dated November 27, 1958, Merton wrote to his friend taking issue with [Huxley’s] observation that the use of psychedelics could be a shortcut to transcendental experiences. “May I add that I am interested in yoga and above all in Zen, which I find to be the finest example of a technique leading to the highest natural perfection of man’s contemplative liberty. You may argue that the use of a koan (a puzzle with no logical solution used in Zen Buddhism to develop intuitive thought) to dispose one for satori (a spiritual awakening sought in Zen, often coming suddenly) is not different from the use of a drug. I would like to submit that there is all the difference in the world, and perhaps we can speak more of this later. My dear Mr. Huxley, it is a joy to write to you of these things.” [Hidden Ground, p. 439.]


          2. Artaud the Schizo

            PS – just for the record, I have no interest in the apostasy alert website, and only used it to find Thomas Merton’s letter to Huxley. Apparently the article goes on to criticize Merton, but I didn’t even bother to read this part.

          3. Philip Pilkington

            Think ya missed my point. I said that ‘expert’ opinions today would be completely irrelevant nonsense about synaptic pathways and dopamine levels. The ’50s experts actually had something to say, whether you agree with it or not.

            My main point was that the media and the scientific establishment were much braver back then. Partly because they were more willing to toy with interesting psychodynamic models of the psyche — rather than neurological and genetic humbug. They could actually give a theoretical description of what Mayhew underwent — today you’d get a non-descriptive biological metaphor; we’ve regressed to the 1880s when Freud the neurologist used to make silly neurological drawings to describe human motivation and experience. It’s pathetic.

          4. Artaud the Schizo

            Philip Pilkington: “Think ya missed my point. I said that ‘expert’ opinions today would be completely irrelevant nonsense about synaptic pathways and dopamine levels.”

            I did miss your point before, perhaps because I disagreed with what even those experts had to say. But I agree with you that it’s gotten much worse and today’s experts would have nothing to say other than technical jargon.

            It’s been 45 years since Heidegger gave his famous interview with Der Spiegel (1966), and by then things had already deteriorated to the point where he stated “We do not need atomic bombs at all [to uproot us] – the uprooting of man is already here. All our relationships have become merely technical ones…. Only a god can save us….”

    2. Rex

      Contrary to popular opinion, I’ve always felt the pun is the highest form humor because it deliberately shuns any higher constructs and attacks at the DNA of language itself.

  9. Jimbo

    A question for CDS experts. If the debtholders (ie. major EU banks) agree to a voluntary restructuring with Greece, does that constitute a CDS “credit event”? If it doesn’t, what incentive do the EU banks to agree to a voluntary restructuring?

    1. Dennis

      Yes it is a Credit Event. Even the suggestion of such thinking happening should kick up a margin call on the CDS writer since the underlying security is now worth less.

  10. Eine Flugverbotszone

    Nick Mottern, Truthout

    (Photo: Danny Garcia / Flickr)

    Within weeks and possibly days, President Obama is likely to sign into law a bill that will bring unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – into US general airspace, crisscrossing

    You bet!

    Seeing that drones are by their very nature unmanned, no need to protect drone passengers by utilization of flight attendants, cheap booze, seat belts and a host of other amenities. Here we have a gigantic opportunity to cut costs and take profits with our new product. For example, we can easily cut refueling time by using a fuel that lasts for 25 years, much longer than 25 hour non-nuclear jet-fuel. Right? By contrast to nuclear submarines, shielding will be entirely unnecessary for unmanned vehicle. We can avoid the weight of gamma shielding thus taking even more profit to be shared with our political cronies. Public will never know that unsupervised drones are carrying hazardous isotopes. We will protect public from this knowledge by invoking defense security regulations to justify our secrecy. Always gentlemen, we always protect our royal subjects. But of course! Will drone occasionally lose directions and crash land into haystack that is occupied by amorous milk maid and her adoring new friend? No problem. Just another convenient mechanism to protect our subjects from the hazards of overpopulation and from the ravages of teen-pregnancy.

    Just another of our many public service spin-offs.

    Thanks, Igor Spinoff

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