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One of the fun things about having existed in the 1990s is that many of your favorite musicians from the era are now either dead or insane. Kurt Cobain? Dead. Billy Corgan? Insane. Layne Staley? Dead. Tom DeLonge? Insane!
In case you don’t know, Tom DeLonge was the founder and lead singer of the band Blink-182, which played gleefully stupid pop punk. But while their music back then was the lighthearted, teenaged kind of stupid, DeLonge has grown up to be the serious, super next-level kind of stupid that’s not quite as fun.
Last year, DeLonge made headlines by announcing the creation of a new organization called To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science, with the mission to “be a powerful vehicle for change by creating a consortium among science, aerospace and entertainment that will work collectively to allow gifted researchers the freedom to explore exotic science and technologies with the infrastructure and resources to rapidly transition them to products that can change the world.” I’ll just sum it up: he thinks the US government is hiding evidence of space aliens and if he hires a bunch of other people who think that, eventually they will prove that space aliens exist and also they will build a starship that uses electromagnetic energy to travel instantaneously through “space, air, and water.”
Shortly after they launched in October of last year, To the Stars got a lot of publicity by hiring a guy who used to run a government program focused on identifying possible alien threats, who then released declassified Navy videos showing a UFO flying around. That information was reported on by the New York Times, adding some serious legitimacy to an otherwise completely bonkers effort.
So a pretty good start for DeLonge’s “academy,” right? You might be forgiven for thinking that one year later they’re a successful company getting ready to launch their electromagnetic spaceship, but no, in fact as of today they are $37.4 million in debt. Yep. $37 million. I can’t even imagine what $37 million would look like, let alone how I might go about spending it in one year. That’s more than $3 million a month! That’s more than $100,000 a day! I mean I guess if I tried to build an impossible rocket ship, that might do it, but god damn.
Part of the trouble is probably the fact that aliens don’t exist, at least not in the way DeLonge envisions them, abducting people willy nilly and building the pyramids and sinking Atlantis and stuff. That’s the sort of issue that can immediately tank a business plan. I don’t care how good you are with money, your startup based on capturing a Leprechaun is probably not going to be afloat after a year or two.
The other problem was that not even alien abduction enthusiasts wanted to support To the Stars. It turns out that conspiracy theorists are a tough market to corner because the minute your organization gains any legitimacy, they suspect you of secretly being a deep state operative. These suspicions became so widespread that DeLonge’s co-author (of his many books about how aliens are real) Peter Levenda, gave a two-hour long lecture explaining to a UFO conference that Tom DeLonge is definitely not a deep state operative. This lecture apparently only served to turn deep state conspiracy theory “agnostics” into confirmed deep state conspiracy believers because apparently delivering a two-hour long lecture about how you’re not a deep state operative is exactly the sort of thing a deep state operative would do.
So yeah, a few months back To the Stars reported to the SEC that they are $37.4 million in debt and it’s not looking good for their continued existence. But maybe that’s just what they want us to think?
The post Blink-182 Singer $37 Million in Debt Because Aliens Don’t Exist appeared first on Skepchick.
By Kelsey Dallas
SALT LAKE CITY — The Rev. Tuesday Jane Rupp’s new job came with an interesting perk: an invitation to live in an 181-year-old house. Like many faith communities, her new employer, Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Woodbury, Connecticut, owns a parsonage and offers it to rectors as part of their compensation package.
“I had the option of living in it or receiving a housing allowance that would be financially equivalent,” she said. At her previous job in New York City, she took the allowance, which eased the burden of navigating the city’s pricey housing market.
Housing benefits help ensure clergy members can afford to live close to the churches they serve and reflect the congregation’s partial claim on the space. Pastors are often expected to treat their home like a second office and host scripture study groups or parties.
“So much of my work is location-based,” the Rev. Rupp said.
Because of these expectations, the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t tax ministers’ housing-related compensation, just as it doesn’t tax similar benefits offered to members of the military or foreign service. The current exemption has been in place since 1954, but its days could be numbered if a legal challenge from the Freedom From Religion Foundation succeeds.
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By Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Mariana Alfaro
New York City is a Roman Catholic stronghold.
One out of every three residents identifies as a Catholic. And there are more than four million Catholics in the city and seven surrounding counties.
So when a series of scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church unfolded in rapid-fire succession this summer, New York gasped.
First came accusations of sexual abuse by a premier American cardinal, Theodore E. McCarrick, who quickly resigned but left in his wake lingering questions about the role Pope Francis played in covering up the predatory behavior.
In August, an 884-page grand jury report out of Pennsylvania landed with a thud, offering a grim catalogue of seven decades of child abuse by more than 300 priests.
And last month, the attorneys general of New Jersey and New York followed Pennsylvania’s lead, announcing investigations into claims of clergy abuse and cover-ups, joining five other states that have started similar inquiries. Last Thursday, Pennsylvania dioceses said they had received subpoenas for documents as part of an investigation by the United States Justice Department.
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By Tara Isabella Burton
The Trump administration is considering a request from a faith-based foster care agency to continue denying non-Christian parents from fostering children, the Intercept reported Friday.
The case centers around a South Carolina Christian organization, Miracle Hill Ministries, which claims that under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), they are not obligated to place children with non-Protestant Christian foster families.
Miracle Hill receives federal funds to pair children with foster families, while specifically recruiting Christian families. In practice, this means that they’ve frequently refused to place foster children with non-Protestant, non-Christian families. Several Jewish families, the Intercept’s Akela Lacy reports, have been explicitly told that they were rejected on the basis of their faith.
The request from Miracle Hill is currently under consideration by the Department of Health and Human Services, which has, under the Trump administration, consistently upheld tenets and rights affiliated with the political stance of evangelical Christianity, including anti-abortion rights and anti-LGBTQ positions.
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Darrell Furgason just won an election to the Chilliwack School District Board (in British Columbia), and that may seem like good news if you glance at his platform and believe he truly supports “Academic Excellence,” “Inclusivity for all,” and a “Quality, fact-based curriculum.”
It’s too bad he doesn’t actually believe any of those things.
Furgason is actually an anti-LGBTQ Young Earth Creationist whose primary allegiance is to the Bible and not the students. We know this because of posts he’s made on Facebook as director of the Worldview Studies Center, a Christian non-profit.
And now he’s one of seven trustees who will run the school board, joined by fellow Christian bigot Barry Neufeld who recently referred to transgender students as victims of “child abuse.” (Both men ran on what critics dubbed the “Hate Slate.”)
Heather Maahs, who also got elected, wasn’t part of the Hate Slate, but she still had the support of Neufeld and Furgason.
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Buzzfeed has published a summary of the investigation by ASU into Lawrence Krauss’s behavior. You can read all the details there, but in summary of a summary…
Commenting on these incidents, Searle wrote: “It is inconceivable how a faculty member in the course of carrying out his work responsibilities could believe that the conduct would ever be appropriate.”
Searle described how Krauss discussed strip clubs with employees, encouraged staff to view fan mails including nude photos, and showed them a cartoon of a person bent over with their pants down, revealing their bare buttocks.
The report also described how Krauss and an employee, whose name is redacted, “engaged in conduct towards one another — hugging, touching, kissing — in the presence of staff, giving the impression they were involved in an intimate relationship.” Krauss and the employee denied there was an intimate relationship, and that the interactions were “a form of greeting.”
University investigators concluded that Krauss’s comments “created an offensive environment for some staff members.” Searle agreed that Krauss “was unprofessional and failed as a leader by contributing to and permitting his employees to engage in this behavior and create this type of environment.”
By voluntarily retiring, he has cunningly arranged to have the whole report tossed in a metaphorical trash can, to be ignored forever. He can now go on tour claiming that he was exonerated, because the findings were abandoned and never acted on.
No one can ever claim that Krauss isn’t an intelligent man.
An analysis of sedimentary deposits laid down in the times bracketing the Permian extinction reveals something a bit unsettling: the Earth’s biota was thriving and doing just fine right up to the sudden end, and then almost all species abruptly kicked the bucket in a geological flash.
The end-Permian mass extinction, which took place 251.9 million years ago, killed off more than 96 percent of the planet’s marine species and 70 percent of its terrestrial life—a global annihilation that marked the end of the Permian Period.
The new study, published today in the GSA Bulletin, reports that in the approximately 30,000 years leading up to the end-Permian extinction, there is no geologic evidence of species starting to die out. The researchers also found no signs of any big swings in ocean temperature or dramatic fluxes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When ocean and land species did die out, they did so en masse, over a period that was geologically instantaneous.
So what could have caused the sudden, global wipeout? The leading hypothesis is that the end-Permian extinction was caused by massive volcanic eruptions that spewed more than 4 million cubic kilometers of lava over what is now known as the Siberian Traps, in Siberia, Russia. Such immense and sustained eruptions likely released huge amounts of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide into the air, heating the atmosphere and acidifying the oceans.
Complicating matters, though, is that these eruptions proceeded for a long time before, during, and after the mass extinction, so it seems that life persevered until it reached an abrupt breaking point, and then ecosystems collapsed.
“We can say there was extensive volcanic activity before and after the extinction, which could have caused some environmental stress and ecologic instability. But the global ecologic collapse came with a sudden blow, and we cannot see its smoking gun in the sediments that record extinction,” Ramezani says. “The key in this paper is the abruptness of the extinction. Any hypothesis that says the extinction was caused by gradual environmental change during the late Permian—all those slow processes, we can rule out. It looks like a sudden punch comes in, and we’re still trying to figure out what it meant and what exactly caused it.”
“This study adds very much to the growing evidence that Earth’s major extinction events occur on very short timescales, geologically speaking,” says Jonathan Payne, professor of geological sciences and biology at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. “It is even possible that the main pulse of Permian extinction occurred in just a few centuries. If it turns out to reflect an environmental tipping point within a longer interval of ongoing environmental change, that should make us particularly concerned about potential parallels to global change happening in the world around us right now.”
This is why we need a big-picture perspective of our planetary environment. It’s like a game of Jenga — we keep knocking out little bits and pieces (or species or biomes) and congratulating ourselves that the tower is still standing, but eventually we’ll reach the point where one last insult causes everything to topple. Then, I’m sure, there will be people lying in the rubble, wondering why they’re starving or dying of disease or watching the natural catastrophe rolling in their direction, and they’ll be totally surprised by it all.
He’ll be fine. Amidst a flurry of protestations that he did nothing wrong, he has announced his departure from academia.
In a statement, Krauss said he submitted a request to retire as an ASU professor at the end of the academic year, which is May 16, 2019. The university accepted the request and closed the review process, Krauss said.ASU confirmed it has accepted Krauss’ request to retire.
Isn’t that neat? He gets to retire with his pension, and no further investigation will occur, and he gets to claim vindication, because no accusations will be examined. Everyone who wants to keep him going on the ol’ lecture circuit can now claim that he was found innocent by default.
If you’d asked me before what the most likely outcome would be, this is it. The system is set up this way to protect everyone from their actions in a nice sheltering womb.
Well, “everyone” being a privileged elite who are guaranteed to never suffer any consequences. It’s great.
Look for Lawrence Krauss to be headlining atheist/skeptical conferences all over the country next year, as if nothing had happened!
This was a strange incident at a recent convention. There was a debate between Hasan Piker, on the Left, and Charlie Kirk, the Turning Point USA guy on the far, far Right, and at one point Kirk asks Piker what his salary was…which, apparently, Piker answered, although I haven’t seen any video of that exchange. But then someone in the audience (Cenk Uygar) asks Kirk the same question, and he just exploded in a ranting fury. I guess it was a sensitive question for him. That bit has been caught on video.
dare I say, it looks like Charlie Kirk was triggered at Politicon pic.twitter.com/GpduUR8Z1e
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) October 21, 2018
He tells Piker to
go live like a socialist, and he yells at Uygur,
I live like a capitalist every single day, Cenk. I live as a capitalist, OK. I live what I believe, as he gets up and marches across the stage, pointing and shouting. Aside from the fact that it’s an odd thing to get so upset about, especially after you’ve just asked the same question of someone else, I have to wonder…what does that mean? Kirk uses the words like some people would use “Christian” and “Atheist”, as if there is some deeper moral meaning to living as a capitalist, and he’s a noble, upright figure for following the way of the prophetess Ayn Rand. I don’t get it.
I live as a capitalist, I guess, because I’m imbedded deep in a capitalist society, and the same is true for everyone at that event, including Hasan Piker. Kirk’s rant wasn’t even sensible, because it’s a statement about a system, not an individual.
But let’s play the game. What would it mean to live as a socialist? I think, in my imaginary ideal, it would mean living as part of a larger community where everyone has equal rights and equal shared opportunity. I would have less money — in a perfect socialist society, which doesn’t exist, I’d have no money — but my needs would be met, and I would be freed from a lot of worries. Do I have to panic about what I’m going to live on in retirement? Can I be bankrupted by a medical emergency? Will my neighbors starve if they lose their jobs? All of that worry would be nonexistent. I’d still have to be concerned about maintaining that society and contributing to its survival, but the individual existential fears would be gone.
It’s all a bit murky and idealistic, because I don’t live in a socialist culture, so I have to rely on a rose-colored imagination.
I do know what it’s like to live as a capitalist, because in live in that society. What that means is that some of us — like me — live in a reasonably prosperous and stable state, are an overall beneficiary of inequity. We’re doing mostly OK, but there is that dread that we’re one heartbeat away from total financial ruin (need I mention that a bozo exists who wants to destroy me and my friends with a ridiculous lawsuit? And the system allows that?) At the same time, many people are living in extremes of poverty, and others are living in extremes of undeserved wealth. There is no economic justice in this country.
This is not something to be proud of.
But we could focus a little more narrowly. What does it mean that Charlie Kirk lives as a capitalist? We can just look at him as an exemplar.
As it turns out, Charlie Kirk lives rent-free with his wealthy parents in a million dollar home. He claims his salary comes from grass-roots donations, but that is a lie. The tax forms for his non-profit (wait, how capitalist is that?) organization tell the true story.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, TPUSA is not required to disclose its donors. But based on public tax records and some reporting by other outlets, IBT has identified the sources of over $900,000 in funding for TPUSA. Republican mega-donor families, GOP politicians and other wealthy individuals have provided large amounts of money so the organization can spread free-market principles — from which the donors benefit — among young people, the majority of whom, overall, lean liberal.
Working to appeal to millennials, TPUSA is funded by a substantial number of older, wealthy individuals whose economic views the group promotes. IBT identified 17 donors to TPUSA, including nine from publicly available Internal Revenue Service records. The documented donations came mostly in 2014 and 2015, as tax records from many of the foundational donors are not yet available for 2016.
Well, now we know what it means to live as an ideal capitalist. It means living as a parasite and a pawn of plutocrats.
I wouldn’t be bragging about that, Charlie Kirk.
By Harriet Sherwood
Three times a week, 15,000 students stream into the Vines Center, a huge silver-domed building on the campus of Liberty University for “convocation”, an intoxicating mix of prayer, political rally and entertainment. Thousands more watch a live stream of the event.
The star attraction has twice been Donald Trump, in 2012 and 2016. His first appearance was as a successful businessman and reality TV star, the second as the man campaigning to be the Republican party’s candidate for president. Last year, he made a third appearance at Liberty, to address the university’s graduation ceremony. By then, he was one of the most divisive leaders in the country’s history.
But not at Liberty. The Christian university which dominates the town of Lynchburg, Virginia, has become almost synonymous with Trump. It sits at the heart of the alliance between the president and conservative evangelical Christians – an alliance forged in part by Jerry Falwell Jr, Liberty’s president, Lynchburg’s most prominent citizen and Trump’s close associate.
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This article is a preview from the Autumn 2018 edition of New Humanist
On 24 July 1967, the poet Paul Celan gave a reading in Freiburg im Brisgau. At the time he was on a leave of absence from Saint-Anne psychiatric hospital, where he had been interned after suffering a nervous breakdown, in the midst of which he attempted suicide. At the reading was the philosopher Martin Heidegger. The day after the reading Celan was invited to a meeting with Heidegger at the philosopher’s hut. On arrival Celan signed the guestbook, then the two men went for a walk, which was curtailed by rain, and were driven back to the hut. After their brief meeting Celan returned to Saint-Anne’s.
One week later, on 1 August, Celan wrote a poem about the encounter in the form of a single, oblique sentence named after the place where Heidegger’s hut stood, “Todtnauberg”. The title contained two words crucial to both the the poetry of Celan and the philosophy of Heidegger – berg meaning mountain, and todt, death.
What was discussed on their walk is not known – some have speculated they discussed their shared interest in botany, while other accounts suggest that Heidegger talked about his recent interview with the magazine Der Spiegel. But it is what was not discussed, between a Jewish poet who survived the Holocaust and a philosopher who was one of the highest-profile sympathisers of Nazism, that has continued to resonate for more than 50 years.
Paul Celan was born Paul Antschel (Celan is a reversal of the two syllables) in 1920, into a German-speaking Jewish family in Bukovina in Romania. His father, Leo, was a Zionist, who insisted his son learn Hebrew, while his mother, Fritzl, insisted, as a devotee of German literature, that German be the language spoken at home.
After briefly studying medicine in Tours, France – a Jewish quota made it impossible for him to study in Romania – he returned to Bukovina in 1939. His journey to France had taken him through Berlin, where, from the train, he saw plumes of smoke rising the day after Kristallnacht.
Under German occupation in Bukovina, Celan was interned in a ghetto, writing poetry and translating Shakespeare’s sonnets while being forced to gather and destroy Russian books. In a life shot through with historical symbolism, the significance of these simultaneous acts seems terrifyingly apt.
Celan’s parents, meanwhile, were taken to a camp in the Transnistria Governorate. His father died of typhus, while his mother, exhausted by forced labour and thus surplus to needs, was shot. Celan himself spent much of the rest of the war in a labour camp. Having survived – an achievement not without its complexities for the simplest of men, let alone one of Celan’s constitution – he lived for most of the rest of his life in Paris, teaching, and writing the poems which would see him revered as one of the great poets of the 20th century.
Celan was a solitary and shy individual weighed down by a history from which he could not escape; the tension between speech and silence. His task was, in a sense, to refute Adorno’s injunction that it is “barbaric to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz”. Perhaps more than any other writer, Celan attempted to show that it is barbaric not to.
As for Heidegger, it is perhaps the worst fate of any philosopher to have their philosophy taken to its logical conclusion. The ways in which Heidegger’s thought “coincides” with some of the fundamental philosophies of National Socialism is a rich topic. As Jesu Adrian Escudero has argued in response to the ongoing publication of what are known as The Black Notebooks – 34 notebooks composed between 1931 and 1976 – Heidegger rejects the Nazi ideology of racial and biological oppression. However, Heidegger does, let us say “unfortunately”, find a great deal of congruence between his own sense that the decline of civilisation is attributable to mechanisation and nihilism, and the Nazi argument that the Jews are both a symptom of, and responsible for, this sense of groundlessness.
In Heidegger one finds, without much looking, a mystical and almost fanatical search for Heimat, a homeland. At best this argues for a rootedness in place, at worst a kind of primitive nationalism; Heidegger wrote of “blood and soil”, which, while not an exclusively Nazi notion, would not have appeared out of place in their propaganda.
In perhaps the most chilling passage of The Black Notebooks published so far, Heidegger writes, “one of the stealthiest forms of gigantism and perhaps the most ancient is the cleverness of calculation, pushiness, and intermixing whereby Jewry’s worldlessness is established.” As the French philosopher Emmanuel Faye notes:
We know that [Heidegger] speaks in his Black Notebooks of the “worldlessness” of Judaism ... Jews aren’t just considered to lack a homeland, they are said definitively to be worldless. It’s worth recalling that worldlessness is an expression that Heidegger doesn’t even use for animals, which, in a 1929 lecture, he calls “world-poor”. In this complete dehumanisation of Judaism, the Jews no longer have a place in the world, or, rather, they never had one.
In Being and Time, Heidegger’s most famous work, a stone is an example of something that is worldless. But a stone is not seen as a threat to community in the way that people can treat other groups of humans. As Escudero notes, “from Heidegger’s perspective, in which autochthony is based on groundedness in one’s homeland, Jews are an ungrounded people” – a threat.
But if the philosophical correlation between Heidegger and National Socialism is disputed, there is no doubt that Heidegger the man at best accommodated and at worst colluded with the National Socialist programme. The facts of Heidegger’s relationship with the Nazis are well known, and would have been known to Celan in 1957. Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in May 1933, 10 days after being elected Rector of the University of Freiberg. His rectorship address, titled “The Self-Assertion of the German University”, appeared to endorse the Nazi programme for education.
In November, Heidegger issued a decree applying Nazi racial policies to his students, banning Jews from certain privileged positions. While he wrote appeals in defence of three Jewish professors, he also broke off contact with his mentor, the German-Jewish philosopher Edmund Husserl, removing the dedication to him in the fifth edition of Being and Time and failing to attend his funeral in 1938.
It is possible to give Heidegger the benefit of some doubt on each of these actions – while he was never known as a man to miss an opportunity for expediency, the circumstances in which he found himself were extraordinary. But it is hard to accommodate his actions after the war. Having failed to renounce his membership of the Nazi Party, Heidegger remained notoriously silent about his activities during the war, his position regarding National Socialism as theory and a practice, and the Holocaust.
His avoidance of the latter topic is particularly grievous given that – leaving aside his other public forums – as a philosopher his work increasingly focused on the alienation of humankind caused by modern technology, an argument he deployed regularly against Bolshevism but not against surely the most egregious example, the Nazi gas chambers. In the words of the philosopher Thomas Sheehan: “We have his statements about the six million unemployed at the beginning of the Nazi regime, but not a word about the six million who were dead at the end of it.”
Heidegger had broken his silence in September 1966, with the Der Spiegel interview, “Only a God Can Save Us”, but that was given on the condition that it only be published after his death, as it was in May 1976. In it he painted a picture of resistance and ignorance which continues to be debated.
Celan had long debated meeting Heidegger. As early as 1957 he had considered sending him a poem (the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber had visited Heidegger in the late spring of that year) but felt uneasy, not wanting to give him a Persilschein; that is, he didn’t want to whitewash the philosopher. He had read Heidegger’s work on Nietzsche and been profoundly engaged by it, without being fully aware of the former’s involvement with National Socialism.
Meanwhile, Heidegger’s philosophy became more and more attuned to the idea that poetry (by which he more or less meant German poetry) shared the duty with philosophy (by which he meant, more or less, his philosophy) in uncovering the meaning of Dasein, the experience of being that is particular to humans.
“What are poets for?” he asks in his essay of the same name. They are, he reasons at excruciating length, for articulating the truth that man “dwells poetically on this earth”, which is, for Heidegger, “to find in the simple and homely things of every-day experience the divine and the holy”. Thus the poet makes man aware of this dwelling by allowing him – or, hopefully, her – to conceptualise the divine. The poet is as important as the philosopher in revealing the truth of Dasein.
Language, writes Heidegger, has a double task: on the one hand, to enable communication between people; on the other, to reveal deep essential truths about being. Or, as he puts it in “Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry”:
Language is charged with the task of making beings manifest and preserving them as such – in the linguistic work. Language gives expression to what is most pure and most concealed, as well as to what is confused and common. Indeed, even the essential word, if it is to be understood and so become the common possession of all, must make itself common.
“To what is most pure and most concealed” – it is not hard to see how this chimed with Celan, whose grappling with the said and the unsaid, that which can be spoken and that which cannot, provides a sort of torsion around which, within which and against which his poems situate themselves. To speak is always to say too much, but to not speak is to invite your own death.
Why did Celan meet Heidegger? A simple answer is, of course, as an admirer of his philosophy, and for the pleasure of an intellectual relationship with one of the great minds in the history of thought. There is no doubt, from reading Celan’s poetic response to the encounter, that he was both attracted to and repulsed by Heidegger. This confrontation may have been, for
Celan’s poem opens with images of hope – two flowers that are used for healing, arnica and eyebright. He drinks from a well, another symbol of regeneration. It is only as the poet writes in the guestbook that his ambivalence makes itself present – whose name did it record/before mine? – what other guests have attended to Heidegger? He hopes for a “thinker’s word/to come,/in the heart”. The pair walk across a forest sward – unlevelled unlike, as a number of critics have pointed out, the levelled ground of Jewish mass graves.
In the car, returning, something crude is said – Celan uses the word krudes, which is uncommon in German, and the poet wonders if the driver also heard. The poem ends quietly but with a feeling of chagrin: “humidity, much.” It is, as Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe has put it, “the poem of a disappointment; as such, it is, and says the disappointment of poetry”. Did Celan confront Heidegger about the Holocaust? It is not difficult to read such a question, and the inadequacy of Heidegger’s response, into the poem. Extra-poetic accounts vary. The philosopher and theorist Maurice Blanchot wrote that:
Heidegger’s irreparable fault lies in his silence concerning the Final Solution. This silence, or his refusal, when confronted by Paul Celan, to ask forgiveness for the unforgivable, was a denial that plunged Celan into despair and made him ill, for Celan knew that the Shoah was the revelation of the essence of the West. And he recognised that it was necessary to preserve this memory in common, even if it entailed the loss of any sense of peace, in order to safeguard the possibility for relationship with the other.
James K. Lyon, whose Paul Celan & Martin Heidegger. An Unresolved Conversation, 1951-1970 explores the relationship in detail, disagrees, arguing that:
There is not a shred of documented biographical evidence from their entire time together to suggest that Celan condemned Heidegger, felt hostility toward him, or was disappointed with him. In fact the opposite seems true. Later attempts to portray this as a failed encounter and an enormous disappointment for Celan are based on considerations that arose more than a week after the visit. […] Temporarily, at least, the meeting with Heidegger had had an undeniable salutary effect on his mental state, which no one could have predicted and which most critics afterward have ignored.
Lyon argues that it was only after Celan arrived back at Saint-Anne’s psychiatric hospital that “the demons that had tormented him now returned” and:
In the process the irreconcilable conflict he had struggled with for years – his attraction to Heidegger’s thought and his repulsion at the thinker’s activities in the Third Reich – not only resurfaced, but the tormenting ambivalence that marked much of his thinking in the last years of his life in general also radically altered his perception of what had happened in Freiburg and Todtnauberg.
The poet and the philosopher would meet twice more, the last time in March 1970, one month before Celan committed suicide in the Seine on 19 April. In his final letter to Heidegger he wrote “Heidegger . . . that you (by your stance) have decisively weakened that which is poetic and, I venture to surmise, that which is thinking, in the serious will to responsibility of both.” It is as elusive and allusive as ever.
In his 2002 essay “On Forgiveness”, Jacques Derrida, whose work is informed by both Heidegger and Celan, notes that since 1945 there has been an explosion of “scenes of repentance, confession, forgiveness or apology” where “one sees not only individuals, but also entire communities, professional corporations, the representatives of professional hierarchies, sovereigns and heads of state ask for ‘forgiveness’.”
This explosion has, in more recent times, reached a pitch that Derrida could not have imagined, although he did note that, even back in the early 2000s, “all sorts of unacknowledged ‘politics’, all sorts of strategic ruses, can hide themselves abusively behind a ‘rhetoric’ or a ‘comedy’ of forgiveness.”
We are increasingly witnessing public figures carrying out what might be termed transactional apologies, whether they be to save a career or to reassert standards below which they have fallen. For Derrida, these are not genuine apologies. Asking for forgiveness can only be authentic when it is not given in exchange for anything:
I shall risk this proposition: each time forgiveness is at the service of a finality, be it noble and spiritual (atonement or redemption, reconciliation, salvation), each time that it aims to re-establish a normality (social, national, political, psychological) by a work of mourning, by some therapy or ecology of memory, then the “forgiveness” is not pure – nor is its concept. Forgiveness is not, it should not be, normal, normative, normalising. It should remain exceptional and extraordinary, in the face of the impossible: as if it interrupted the ordinary course of historical temporality.
The political theorist Hannah Arendt, whose relationship with Heidegger was as complex as Celan’s, offers a similar notion of forgiveness. It is “the only reaction which does not merely re-act, but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.”
What would it have meant if Heidegger had apologised to Celan? Is there an apology that would be in any way adequate? Obviously not.
One of the least edifying spectacles in the parade of public apologies that are occurring at the moment is the notion that an apology undoes the crime, and it is not hard to read in the more crafted and cynical of these apologies a sort of special pleading on the part of the perpetrator to be regarded as one of the victims. Do this for me, and then we are even.
But it is possible that there was an apology that, if not adequate, was sincere. It would have, of course, come long before 1967, as the current round of apologies would have happened not at the moment of media outing, but at the moment where nothing was to be gained. Inadequate, but with the possibility of sincerity.
There is, of course, no obligation for the one receiving the apology to accept it – the crime may be too grievous. the cost too high – but it is precisely the knowledge that the apology may be rejected that gives it the possibility of authenticity. It is outside the economy of forgiveness. Could Celan have accepted the apology? We will never know.
It is common accepted wisdom that to understand something, you must know its history. In his new book "How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of our Addiction to Stories" (MIT Press), Alex Rosenberg - R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University - argues that this is wrong. Our attachment to history as a vehicle for understanding has a long Darwinian pedigree and a genetic basis. Neuroscience reveals that human evolution shaped a tool useful for survival into a defective theory of human nature. But, Rosenberg argues, the stories historians tell of what happened and why can be not only wrong but harmful. Here, he explains his key arguments.
When and why did you start questioning the way we understand history?
I love history, especially narrative history and biography. It’s practically the only thing I have ever read, since I was a kid. My shelves groan with multivolume biographies, especially of political figures. But as with flood tide of "revisionist history" of nearly every major event, period, epoch, in the past, the stories kept changing, even when there was no significant new data- archives, letters, witnesses, autobiographies. Eventually I realised I was reading these works not for what they could teach me. They couldn't provide me with real, reliable, useful knowledge. They were too contradictory, they didn’t add up to any one conclusion, or even move in the same direction to some approximate truth. I was reading the narratives because I love a good story. The fact that the dots these narratives connected - the real events - actually happened, wasn't the source of my fascination, because it was much the same as the pleasure, enjoyment, absorption, even inspiration that great works of fiction could make me feel. The question that arose for me was whether my conviction that history is knowledge was wishful thinking. Were the plots recorded in narrative history harnessing my emotions to seduce me, and lots of other people, into thinking they provided real knowledge? I needed to figure out if the human psychology, the theory of mind that drive all narrative history and biography, is right, or even close to right, so that the motives and reasons it claims to connect the dots of what actually happened are the “real story” of how historical happenings really came about.
What is wrong with a narrative account of history?
Narrative history explains what people did in the past by identifying the thoughts that impelled them to act, the package or pairing of beliefs and desires that make sense of what happened. Why did the Kaiser issue his blank cheque to the Austrians in August 1914? Why did Hitler declare war on the US in 1941? What did they want, what did they believe about how to get what they wanted? Those are the questions narrative history answers. Then it weaves the answers for each of the “players” into a plot, a story of conflict, cooperation, wrong turns resulting from mistaken beliefs or unattainable desires, aims achieved or thwarted that add up to history. The stories of individual choices and decisions get packaged together into the tapestry of events that narrative history explains. But for its explanations to be right, or even roughly right, or to stand a chance of being right, the explanatory theory it employs - the theory of mind - has to be at least roughly correct, approximately true, in the right ball park. But it isn’t. And that’s what How History Gets Things Wrong is mainly about.
Why do humans seek to turn past events into stories?
It’s our nearly innate, almost hard wired theory of mind that makes us into story tellers and seekers, lovers of narratives with plots, indeed often makes us into conspiracy theorists. We really can’t help it. We would not have survived in the Darwinian struggle on the African savannah without the theory of mind. The trouble is it long ago outlived its usefulness. But like the vestigial human appendix, we can’t get rid of it.
To what extent is this impulse based in evolution and neuroscience?
Once our species found itself out on the African savannah, puny creatures pushed out of the shrinking rain forest, suddenly at the bottom of the mega-faunal food chain, survival depended on cooperation and collaboration. Mother nature (A.K.A. natural selection) hit upon a quick and dirty solution to the “design problem” we faced: it began to turn the “mind-reading” instinct that all higher mammals and most birds share - the device they all use to track their prey and their predators - into a “theory of mind.” Co-evolving with language, the instinct to mind-read turned into a theory of mind - that we and others decide, make choices, and then act, by consulting desires and beliefs about how to attain them. This theory worked pretty well under the conditions in which hominins found themselves in the Pleistocene, where we needed to predict the behaviour of a small number of other individuals (friends and foes) in the immediate environment (about as far as we could see) over the very near future (the next few minutes).
How do we know that this theory had to be innate or learned so early in life and so quickly that it might be the next best thing to innate? Well, first we know that infants who don’t even have language yet, “know” this theory of mind. We can tell from their ability to detect false beliefs in Punch and Judy shows. Other primates - chimps, bonobos, can’t accomplish this trick even though they are better than infants at most other cognitive tasks. Their failure to deploy a theory of mind is what prevents other primates from cooperating, sharing, helping the way infants do spontaneously. The theory of mind has to be innate or at least triggered by the slightest early stimuli, since without it we cant learn anything else from parents and others—not language, not the making of artefacts or the use of them. Learning to do complicated things requires imitation. Imitation requires using the theory of mind to correctly guess what others want us to do, in what order of steps. Chimps can’t imitate because they lack the theory of mind that 18-month-old toddlers already have.
Second, clinical psychology has established that the heavily genetic syndrome of autism is usually the result of a failure to develop a theory of mind, and other psychiatric disorders show impairment in the use of this theory.
Finally, neuroimaging, employing fMRI and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, have localised the specific parts of the brain that deploy the theory of mind to predict the behaviour of others and guide our responses to them.
You write about some breakthroughs in neuroscience that impact the credibility of storytelling. Could you expand?
Eric Kandel, John O’Keefe, and May-Britt and Edvard Moser won the Nobel Prizes for medicine and physiology in 2000 and 2014 for discovering exactly how the brain stores information and deploys it. Kandel showed that all organisms with neurons use basically the same molecular processes for learning and storing information. Working with rats, O’Keefe and the Mosers discovered grid cells and place cells in the mid brain where information is laid down and then deployed. Subsequent lab work showed how the neural firings store and deploy the information that drives the choices animals make in behaviour. There is a lot of evidence that our brains are organised in exactly the same way. That’s why these neuroscientists experimented on rats. And the way our brains are organised reveals there is nothing in them that works anything like beliefs and desires with content, that are about the world in the way the theory of mind says beliefs and desires have to be structured, as representing the way things are arranged and the way we want them to be. So, now we know why the theory of mind does so poorly at predicting what we do, and therefore shouldn’t be believed as an explanation of why we do it.
The theory of mind is even more wrong about how the brain works than Ptolemy’s astronomy was wrong about the solar system. At least Ptolemy was good for predicting the position of the planets years into the future. The theory of mind is about as good at explaining exactly what we are going to do tomorrow as Phlogiston theory was at explaining combustion.
That means all the story telling we do in history, and everywhere else that relies on the theory of mind, rests on a theory that’s totally wrong about the causes of human actions. So, all history’s claims about why people did stuff are wrong.
Are there any instances where historical narrative is useful?
History is “useful” for motivating people, inflaming their passions, getting them to do things by exciting their feelings, occasionally constructive, but usually destructive. Compare Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago to Hitler’s Mien Kampf. Both were hugely effective stories. That shows what historical narrative is good for: moving people to action. And I fear over most of human history, the action has on balance been harmful - patriarchy, xenophobia, religious intolerance, ethic nationalism, ideological self-deception.
What would an alternative model of studying history look like?
There are some wonderful examples of how to do history without telling stories, without crafting narratives that pit our good guys and gals against some one else’s good guys and gals.
Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel is a powerful example. So is Gerald Mackie’s Game-theoretical explanation of the rise and fall of Chinese foot binding in the millennium from 1000 CE to 1900. There is also a lot of great economic history that doesn't rely on stories.
The trouble is that this sort of history - without stories - uses theories, models, equations, data, in short science. And since we were selected for preferring stories to science, we’ll keep on demanding history as our preferred mode of understanding, greatly to our cost, I fear.
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On July 5th of this year, Donald Trump announced that he would pay a million dollars to the charity of Elizabeth Warren’s choice if she took a DNA test that showed she is “Indian.” So she did, and she posted the results online for everyone to see — according to the genetic testing, she does indeed have an ancestor who was Native American. When confronted, Donald Trump says he never said he’d give any money to charity.
Of course! Of course Donald Trump is incredibly racist, and of course when he’s proven wrong he just lies straight into a camera and expects his fans to believe him. The whole thing is disgusting and wrong.
But it’s also pretty disgusting and wrong on Elizabeth Warren’s end. This entire to-do began because she listed herself as being Cherokee in the Association of American Law Schools Directory of Law Teachers, and so Harvard counted her as a “woman of color.” Let’s be really clear: Elizabeth Warren is in no way Cherokee (or Delaware, her other claimed heritage). This was typical white nonsense that is exceedingly common, in which the whitest of white people tell themselves stories about a great great great grandparent who was 1/16 Native American, and they embrace it because it makes them seem cooler and more interesting, because nothing is less cool or interesting than being super fucking white, like Elizabeth Warren.
But being Native American isn’t about who your great great great grandfather may have boned. (And by the way, in the notes I’m linking to Indigenous voices here, because honestly they’re way more important and more knowledgeable than mine, so go check them out.) It’s not about genetics, or even about whispered tales told by your father and your grandmother and your great aunt. It’s about actually being a part of that culture — about being on the rolls, about actually having Cherokee citizenship. If you get a DNA test that proves you’re directly related to a person who is a Cherokee citizen, okay, that’s worthwhile. Now we’re talking. But that’s not what this DNA test was at all.
This DNA test was about looking for genetic markers — after all, genetic testing facilities don’t actually look at your entire genome and then read it like a book. They look for markers, and if you are descended from a Native America, you may have some of those markers that they can look for. However, you might not — DNA is tricky, and race is tricky, and tribes are tricky — you could have none of the markers but still be a 100% “full-blooded” Cherokee.
Also, various tribes are so close together, genetically speaking, that there’s simply no way a test like that could determine whether you’re Cherokee or Cree or Iroquois. Hell, you could be South American and still have some of those markers.
So in a way, Warren got lucky here. First she got lucky in that Trump is a moron and has no idea what it means to be Cherokee, so when he wanted to talk about “proof” he talked about the only thing he could think of, which is “taking a test,” in this case a genetic test. Then she got lucky in that she actually did have a marker commonly found in Native American people’s DNA.
Because of that, Warren is able to claim some kind of high ground over Trump, but that’s kind of like being the world’s fastest sloth — it’s damning with faint praise. The true high ground would have been admitting at the very beginning that she was wrong to list her background as Cherokee when she absolutely was not, and then not posting things like this on Twitter:
“My family (including Fox News-watchers) sat together and talked about what they think of @realDonaldTrump’s attacks on our heritage.”
Elizabeth Warren, Donald Trump did not attack your family’s heritage. He attacked the heritage of actual Native Americans who are erased every day while stupid white women like you appropriate their identities.
To make that Tweet even worse, she followed that up with “And yes, a famous geneticist analyzed my DNA and concluded that it contains Native American ancestry.” “Famous geneticists” don’t establish identity, and they don’t even validate genetic results. Good research is done by good, hardworking researchers, not celebrities. I seriously cringed.
To Warren’s defense, the charity she’s asked Trump to donate to (which he won’t) is the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and she did eventually get around to saying that “DNA & family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only – only – by Tribal Nations. I respect the distinction, & don’t list myself as Native in the Senate.” That’s too little, too late, in my opinion. It’s always nice to see Trump get owned, but in this case Warren was wrestling with pigs — something you just don’t do because you both end up muddy, and the pig likes it.
This article is a preview from the Autumn 2018 edition of New Humanist
The recent public hand-wringing about the Windrush scandal, in which thousands of British residents were wrongly told they must be deported, conceals a more difficult reality within our current anti-immigrant times. Until recently the question of the “Windrush Generation” was considered resolved. The people who sailed from the Caribbean to Britain 70 years ago were not migrants. Rather, they were citizens returning to the Empire’s motherland. As the UK cut its ties with former colonies, they were made first into “immigrants”, and then “ethnic minorities”.
The scandal is indicative of a long-term trend to stem postcolonial movement. Theresa May might have coined the phrase “hostile environment” when she was Home Secretary, but its foundations were laid by her predecessors. After Jean-Marie Le Pen’s surprise gains in the French presidential election of 2002 – an early flowering of anti-immigrant populism in Europe – the British sociologist and New Labour theorist Anthony Giddens wrote in the Guardian that “policies have to be developed which are ‘tough on immigration but tough on the causes of hostility to immigrants.’”
May’s hostile environment is an extension of the racism that has shaped the policies of successive Home Secretaries from David Blunkett to Amber Rudd. It seems telling that, in the midst of arguably the most aggressive period of immigration surveillance and policing in British history, Conservative MP Sajid Javid has been appointed the first Home Secretary from a Muslim background. In some respects this replays a scene described so eloquently by the anti-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon where some servants of empire can be assimilated and elevated at the same time as the subjugation of the vast majority.
The cheerleaders of globalisation, like the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, argue that in a hyper-connected world “we are all immigrants”. However, it is more accurate to say that we are increasingly all immigration enforcement officers in this globalised age. University lecturers, doctors, crèche workers, health visitors and even librarians are drawn into the work of monitoring immigration status, policing the line between those who can or cannot remain here. So the sense of public shock and horror about the latest victims of anti-immigrant times is ultimately hollow, because if we had really been paying attention we would have seen this coming. In the opening pages of his 1952 book Black Skins, White Masks, Fanon calls for a “new humanism” that confronts the social damage of racism. For him it is the inhumanity of racism that mortifies or “amputates” the possibility of humanity itself. His call must be heard again today.
For the past ten years the authors of this piece have been recording what it means to live through such times from the vantage point of 30 young adult migrants living in London. Our work, recently published as the book Migrant City (Routledge) documents the story of young people who are on the move, encountering division and regulation in a city that orders and ranks the life chances of this globally mobile generation. We used collaborative methods including digital photographs, poetry, creative writing and scrapbooks to work with young migrants rather than merely doing research on them.
The experience of movement today is much more than the cheap availability of travel by air, land or sea. We live our lives “on screen” through our mobile phones and personal computers, linking our most intimate moments to events around the globe or relatives and loved ones living in other places. The experience of being young now is to live with this unprecedented mobility and connectedness. However, this connectedness has not reduced the divisions between people. Rather, there is a distinction between those who are free to move at will and others whose ability to travel is blocked, controlled or “managed” (to use the deceptively benign rhetoric of immigration policy). We call this a world of divided connectedness.
The experience of divided connectedness, particularly for the young, is paradoxical and troubling, because it combines both opportunity and confinement. These openings offer the possibility for young people to expand the parameters of what is “normal”, while at the same time new limits and restrictions are being placed on them.
Throughout the 20th century imperial connections provided the main conduits through which international migration patterns were channelled, between former colonial powers and the hinterlands of empire. As George Orwell pointed out in 1939: “What we always forget is that the overwhelming bulk of the British proletariat does not live in Britain, but in Asia and Africa.” The British Nationality Act 1948 gave citizens of the United Kingdom and its Colonies the automatic right to settle in the UK. Over the years those automatic rights have been curtailed and conferred only on those who have taken steps to secure leave to remain. This is creating profound difficulties for young people who have longstanding family and post-colonial connections with Britain but are excluded from entry.
The experience of Nana, who is now in his 30s, demonstrates the reality of the UK’s relationship with “its” Commonwealth, in terms of migration. Nana’s mother lives in London, as do his father, sister, three uncles and two aunts. He was conceived in London, where his mother carried him for the first seven months of her pregnancy. Nana’s mother decided that she wanted to give birth to him in Ghana. At the time she was studying fashion and Nana’s grandmother had offered to nurse him so that his mother could complete her studies. His mother wanted him to be schooled in Ghana. She is a British citizen and indeed all of his close family except for one of his uncles are permanent residents in Britain. He came to Britain for a year and a half when he was nine years old and went to school in East London. He came back to Britain on a visitor’s visa; he has tried to become a citizen but is waiting for his claim to be processed. He had no access to state benefits and was totally reliant financially on his family and his wife for long periods. “I want to observe the legitimate process. I want to do everything legally but the whole system drives you into illegality. I would like to say to the people in the authorities – whatever I am you have made me.” Officially an “overstayer”, he describes himself as “very British”.
Before 1981, children born in Britain would in most cases automatically receive British citizenship through the principle of jus soli, i.e. the fact of being born in the territory. Otherwise, children born outside the UK could acquire British citizenship after ten continuous years’ residence. But the 1981 Immigration Act abolished those rights, and Nana missed this automatic status by three months.
Because his parents were Commonwealth citizens he did not qualify for citizenship under jus sanguinis (citizenship by bloodline or descent). Nana summarised the situation in the following terms. “People who were colonised by Britain are now the people in London who are really being scrutinised . . . now the colonial relationships are weaker than the EU relationships.” This too is now being dramatically revised, in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
The connected nature of our world goes hand in hand with the proliferation of borders, both physical and legalistic. This means that, on the one hand, border control spreads outwards: a matter of blocking, slowing down and holding people in detention centres and transit zones, at a distance from the political spaces in which their presence is unwanted. But it moves inwards too.
Checks no longer only happen at Heathrow or Calais when we fumble for the passport in our bags. Rather, border control is being in-sourced. Landlords, doctors, health visitors, teachers, university lecturers and more are all being asked to pass on information, through monitoring student attendance or documenting home visits. Willingly or not, they are enlisted as affiliates of border control, which is is moving into the heart of our social and professional life.
A central principle at the heart of UK immigration policy is that, in the words of the Home Office, “those who benefit from immigration must play their part in controlling it”. This engages a much wider range of people in surveillance and regulation. As a result, a lecturer’s class register becomes a checkpoint, as do other everyday encounters such as a visit to the doctor or to the bank. Border policing is also being privatised. In September 2012, the services company Capita won a contract from the British government to find and remove the estimated 174,000 migrants who have overstayed their visas.
Several of our participants commented that they feared travelling on London Transport because immigration enforcement officers would be alongside ticket inspectors as they checked passengers on buses and the Underground. Nana, who came to London on his visitor’s visa in 2004, survived for long periods working under an assumed name and lived in fear of being caught. Working two jobs, he did the dirty work that makes the capital function: one was an evening job as a cleaner in the City of London. “You would see people in their suits and I knew in many cases I was more qualified than them. People would come in to use the facilities that I just cleaned and they left it in a state whilst I am there. It’s like, ‘Oh the cleaner is there – it’s his job to do it.’” While the cleaners were treated like invisible people they were also witnesses to the City’s basest secrets. What he described could have been a scene from Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street.
Nana was arrested there in 2006. “I had finished my full-time job and I was doing a 6-8pm shift cleaning in the office. I was putting the rubbish out and a police van drove past.” The van pulled over and a policeman asked him what he was doing. He was searched for his identity documents. “I knew I was in the clear but I was scared, I didn’t have my papers at the time and my heart was racing. The weekend before, me and my sister were at a wedding and my sister didn’t have her purse. She asked me to hold her bankcard. I also had my uncle’s bankcard: because I didn’t have any papers he was letting me use that account for my money. The police found my sister’s bankcard and my uncle’s and that made them suspicious.
“Then they went into the building to check if the security guard knew me – but he was a temp and he didn’t know me . . . A colleague of his walked past – recognised me but he didn’t have any papers and he didn’t say anything either . . . The name I used to use is Michael. ‘Michael has been stopped, what is happening?’
“The workmen [were] there all looking on. It was summer, I remember, and I was doing the building work in the evening. They were saying, ‘Take him away, take him away he’s a dodger.’” The police took him because they found the two bankcards in different names on him. “They took a swab and my fingerprints and I felt like the worst criminal ever. I was asked if I wanted a solicitor but I called my mum and she was worried. It was in the summer of 2006. My uncle and my mum came in to verify the story. It was a very terrifying experience. That place still gives me the chills.”
As part of our research, Nana returned to the place where these events unfolded and took some photographs. They included a picture of the 25 bus; at the time, a “bendy bus” design which was relatively easy to board without paying the fare and was therefore subject to regular ticket inspections. Inspectors would often work closely with police and immigration enforcement officers. “I used to get the 25 bus to go to work and there was always a risk: would it take me to work where I could earn my living or would it take me to deportation?”
Nana’s life following his arrest was dominated by the long and protracted wait for his immigration status to be reviewed by the Home Office. His life was effectively on hold while his case was being processed – he could not work legally or plan for his future. Every day he kept up with his friends in Ghana who were working, falling in and out of love and building lives. The fact that he was in contact through his iPhone with the unfolding lives of friends and loved ones – in real time – exacerbated his own sense of being trapped in the present. In John Berger and Jean Mohr’s classic study of migrant “guest workers” in 1970s Europe, A Seventh Man, the torture of “double absence” for migrants is not knowing the life that is unfolding without them. Here it is replaced by the constant reminder of the contrast between his constrained life in London and the unfolding lives of his friends “back home”. For Nana the digitisation of social life transforms the relationship between his life in London and Ghana, without lessening the negative consequences of being caught between.
It is important to stress that these kinds of constraints and limitations do not apply to all migrants. In 2011 the Home Office launched a Premium Sponsor scheme whereby, for £25,000 per year, large companies could buy a faster visa service for their employees. Being a Premium Sponsor speeds up the process of reviewing and gaining a skilled worker’s visa and under this scheme passports are returned within 48 hours of receipt by the UK Visa and Immigration Service. Small companies can also pay £8,000 per year to receive priority treatment in relation to changes in their sponsor license, ensuring that decisions are made within five working days.
By contrast, non-elite migrants like Nana are simply made to wait. The implication here is that “faster” means the prompt refusal of claims. However, correspondence with the Home Office often involves interminable wrangles over errors of detail. “You wait to receive a letter from the Home Office and so often they make mistakes and get things wrong,” Nana complained, showing his huge folder of correspondence with the Home Office. This frustration with the slow and labyrinthine nature of the immigration bureaucracy came through in many of the participant responses. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman put it, migrants must be “told they are, and kept living, on borrowed time”. Elite migrants and globe-trotting celebrities buy their way out of confinement with money or fame; a good example of this was the decision to overturn the initial decision to grant dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei a 20-day visa in summer 2015, when Home Office officials ruled that he had failed to disclose a criminal conviction. (Although Weiwei was detained by the Chinese government for 81 days in 2011 he was never convicted of an offence.) Theresa May, who was then Home Secretary, intervened directly and a full six-month visa was issued along with a written apology.
There is a disjunction between the constant hustle and bustle that pervade so much of London life and the dead time of waiting we have described. This dead time is not empty idleness. Young migrants like Nana struggle to make the hands on the clock of their life move. Years of eventless waiting on an immigration decision can suddenly become rapid action, such as enforced and sometimes violent deportation. This experience of time is produced by the world of divided connectedness that we have tried to describe and within which young migrants are compelled to live.
For those who lie in wait this time can be used to think and plan. Many of the migrants in our study have endured the dead time and used it to improve their situation. Nana finally won his struggle with the Home Office and received leave to remain in 2012. He was married for a time and established a successful career in car park management. Shoppers visiting a mall in East London would never know that he is the person who makes it possible for them to find a parking space.
In January 2018 we checked in with Nana one last time and asked him what he thought of the work we did together. He reflected in an email: “Thanks for including me . . . I am humbled and grateful. I hope this will be a gateway to improving some of the issues surrounding immigration.” Although this study is only a small contribution to the ongoing conversation, there is a link between the experiences shared by our participants and a radical humanism of the kind advocated by Fanon, as well as other philosophers such as Sylvia Wynter and Paul Gilroy. It is a humanism that recognises the vulnerabilities and violations produced by the legacies of colonisation and racism, be they in the form of state policy or anti-immigrant populism. Human vulnerability connects us all, and yet the hierarchies imposed on humankind distribute those vulnerabilities unevenly. All of the people we worked with had painful direct experience of racism, but all rejected the dehumanisation that hatred can bring.
As Zee Zee, another of our participants, told us: “I cannot put hatred in my heart.” Having spent much of her young life as a refugee fleeting war and genocide, she refuses, in Fanon’s words, to be “possessed by the tool”.
Her curiosity about cultural differences replaces anxiety or phobia – be it the sound of an unfamiliar tongue in the Underground carriage or the look of a stranger at the bus stop. Confronting this world requires a radical humanism that identifies the nature of the offence, but also fosters openness and a capacity to put yourself in another’s place.
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Did you know that boys, not girls, are more often the victims of dating violence? It’s true because a study said so! Pack it up everybody, the patriarchy is over. We are now in the matriarchy. Hashtag “Men’s Rights,” etc.
Okay, so obviously that’s bullshit, but what is the study actually about? Well, it’s about something that researchers already pretty much knew and which is now being misinterpreted to be about something it’s not. That doesn’t make it a bad study, per se, but it does make it an uninteresting study with dangerous (and presumably unintended) side effects.
The study was just published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, and it is based on surveys done on more than 35,000 teenagers who reported whether they had ever been hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the previous year.
Let’s take a small step back and talk about interpersonal violence. That phrase emcompasses both dating violence, which is what this survey was about, and domestic violence, which is absolutely not what this survey is about. Those are two different things. Dating violence includes slapping, pushing, or sometimes even verbally insulting a person you are dating. It’s bad, and should absolutely never be done, but domestic violence is much worse. That’s a situation where the abuser is in a serious relationship with the victim (living together, married, sharing a child, etc) and has power over the victim that they utilize in their abuse.
I point out these distinctions because it’s simply not news that young girls tend to be equally physical as boys (or slightly more so as this study suggests). They slap, push, kick, and yell at their partners just as much or more as boys do. That is dating violence, and it’s wrong and all teens should be taught to not do it and to leave a relationship if their partner behaves that way.
Once we start talking about adults, though, in serious relationships, we start talking about domestic violence with extremely negative physical and psychological results. And at the point, all the data is very, very clear: men tend to be the abusers and women tend to be the victims. To be fair, yes, men are sometimes victims, and yes, sometimes their abusers are women. But by and large, women are the victims who have the worst results from domestic and sexual violence, at the hands of men.
Even if we just look at dating violence among teens like this study, other studies show that sure enough, boys may get hit more but girls get hurt more.
So again, I don’t want to say that this study is pointless. But it could tell us so much more if it were broken down by severity of the alleged abuse. If you slap me on the arm and I punch you in the face, we’ve both each experienced one instance of violence, but one of us is going to suffer significantly more. Not distinguishing between those things is pretty ridiculous.
To sum up, yes, teen girls are committing dating violence at unacceptable levels and we need to teach them how to have healthier relationships — just as we need to do for boys.
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I know I’ve already made several videos about Brett Kavanaugh and the woman he attempted to rape, Christine Blasey Ford, but this whole shitshow is such a perfect example of how absolutely fucked up the United States is right now that I can’t help it. As a bonus, it really does hit on a lot of important skeptical topics.
Today’s topic is the problem of hyperskepticism. As a skeptical activist for more than a decade, I’ve seen this happen a lot. The word “skeptic” has been co-opted by people who are anything but — consider the 9/11 “skeptics,” who are overly “skeptical” of the government and not skeptical enough of claims that jet fuel can’t weaken steel beams. It’s good to be skeptical of governments, but not to the point that you invent completely ludicrous conspiracy theories to explain why one is so corrupt. And then there are the climate change “skeptics,” who are “skeptical” of actual science and not of the fossil fuel industry and Republican talking points. It’s good to be skeptical of new research, groundbreaking research, research that hasn’t been adequately vetted or replicated, but it’s not good to be skeptical in the face of the entire weight of evidence collected by nearly all scientists studying our changing climate.
The Kavanaugh case offers yet another example: people who are “skeptical” of Ford’s memory several decades later but not the memory of Kavanaugh, who drank to blackout on the regular in high school.
Skeptics are well-acquainted with the problem of memory as it touches on a lot of things that require our skepticism. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously bad, as evidenced in cases like Ronald Cotton’s. Cotton was sentenced to life in prison after Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was sexually assaulted by a stranger, and chose him out of a photo lineup and then again in a live lineup. She was 100% certain that it was him, and her testimony is what primarily led to his conviction. He was freed ten years later when DNA evidence matched another convict who had previously confessed to his cellmate. Cotton and Thompson-Cannino are now friends who help educate the public on the untrustworthiness of eyewitness testimony.
There are also myriad studies showing how easy it is to warp people’s own memories, like when psychologists are able to convince subjects that they rode in a hot air balloon when they never did, or that they got lost as a child when it never happened. The subjects are even able to tell the story of those fake memories as though they really happened to them, because they 100% believe them.
So there it is, right? Memory is infallible, eyewitnesses can’t be trusted, there’s no way we should believe an accusation of sexual assault several decades after it happened. Right?
Well, wrong. This is where a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing — skeptics who think they know that memory is fallible are likely to fall into the trap of assuming they know more than they do, when actual experts stand aside and look horrified.
Because it turns out, yeah, your memories can be molded if a psychologist spends a lot of time and energy mocking up fake photos for you to look at or says they talked to your mother and she told them this story. But that has nothing to do with a memory uncorrupted by professionals who are trying to fuck with you. In Blasey Ford’s case, this isn’t a memory that she had no idea about until undergoing hypnotic regression therapy or participating in a psych study in college — it’s something she has remembered every day of her life for several decades.
And yes, eyewitness testimony can be garbage when you’re trying to identify a total stranger. It turns out, a lot of people look the same, and you might screw up certain details! But it’s not garbage when you’re talking about someone you know. If a stranger mugs you on the street, you might not remember exactly what he looks like. If your brother mugs you, you’re probably gonna remember.
When I was in my 20s, a cab driver assaulted me while dropping me off at my apartment. He pulled me through the glass divider and tried to kiss me as I struggled to get out of the car. I did get out, and I ran into my building and up to my apartment where I didn’t turn the lights on because I knew he was still out there and I didn’t want him to know where I lived. It was a little scary. I guarantee that I wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup today, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it that night either.
When I was in grade school, I was playing some playground equipment and a boy was standing on a grate above me. He stomped his feet so that sand fell through the gate and into my hair. It upset me. That boy was Jason LastNameWithheldBecauseImNotaJerk, he was tall and skinny and had dark hair and I absolutely could pick him out of a lineup today.
One of those events was very serious and I could never identify the culprit. The other is extremely trivial and for some reason 30 years later I remember exactly who did it. It wasn’t one of my other classmates — it wasn’t Josh or Mitchell or Jessie or even David, who was also tall and skinny and had dark hair, it was Jason. He stomped his feet and got sand in my hair.
I remember Jason, because I knew him. I don’t remember what we learned that day in school, I don’t remember if my mom drove me to school that day or if I rode my bike, and I don’t remember how I got home. Blasey Ford doesn’t remember the minor details of her attack, because we only remember the details that our brain decides are important in the moment — a hand over your mouth, the laughter of the boys, a scramble to get away.
Obviously none of it matters now — our senators decided that they either didn’t believe Blasey Ford, that they believed she thought she was telling the truth but misremembering, or that they believed her but figured this man deserves to decide the fate of women in the United States anyway. All of those options should terrify you. Make sure you’re registered to vote and vote them out in November.
News about carbon dioxide generally focuses on how we are producing way too much of it, resulting in the twin environmental evils of climate change and ocean acidification. So it is somewhat surprising to hear that, this summer, the UK and much of Europe has been suffering from a CO2 shortage. Booker, a wholesaler to bars and restaurants, is rationing sales. And soft drinks giant Coca-Cola says its UK bottling plant was interrupted by the shortage.
Despite what we hear about the environmental impact of carbon dioxide, the chemical actually has a multitude of uses, particularly in the food industry. Most obviously, it provides the bubbles in your beer and fizzy drinks. But it also has a host of other uses. It is used to stun chickens before they are slaughtered; foods are packaged in the gas to keep them fresh; and frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice), at -80C, is used to keep food cold during shipping.
Given the masses of CO2 we produce from burning fossil fuels, why the shortage? The thing is that extracting CO2 from the air is actually quite difficult, as it only makes up 0.04 per cent of the atmosphere. Instead, the primary source of CO2 for use in food and drinks is as a by-product of the fertiliser industry.
The key part of fertiliser production is the Haber-Bosch process, which reacts hydrogen gas with nitrogen to produce ammonia. The source of nitrogen is simple: there’s plenty of it in the air. The hydrogen gas is more difficult to get hold of, but the most common way is through steam-reforming, which involves mixing natural gas and steam at very high temperatures. As well as hydrogen gas, this process creates carbon dioxide, which is captured and bottled for the various industries that need it.
Over the summer there isn’t a huge demand for fertiliser, which mainly gets used in the autumn and spring. Since there isn’t a huge amount of call for their main output, CO2 production plants schedule their maintenance to take place during the summer. And this year they’ve all done it at once. That’s why, although there may have been plenty of heat this summer, the fizz has been rationed.
Mark Lorch lectures in chemistry at Hull University
The first appearance of zero as a symbol representing numerical “nothing” has been traced back to fourth-century India. This critical development underpins mathematics, physics and the computational advancements upon which the modern world rests. An understanding of this most abstract of numbers generally appears in children at around four years old.
Other cognitively advanced animals such as chimps, rhesus monkeys and African grey parrots can also conceptualise the absolute and relative meaning of zero. A recent study published in Science demonstrated this capacity in the honey bee. Bees have previously been shown to use tools, learn from each other, possess elaborate short-term memory and count up to four. But this is the first evidence of them dealing with abstract concepts.
In the experiments, the bees were shown white cards with between two and five dark shapes on them. One group was rewarded with sugary water when they flew to cards with higher numbers and others were rewarded when they went to lower numbers. Once the scientists were convinced they understood the concepts of “less” and “more” they introduced new cards with either one or no (zero) shapes on them to test whether they would rank the blank display at the bottom of the sequence. The bees consistently identified the card with no shapes on it as that of the lowest value when tested over subsequent experiments. The accuracy of their discrimination between zero and bigger numbers was higher when the difference in magnitude the blank and the contrasting cards was greater. This shows, critically, that the empty card had numerical meaning.
The Australian team now have plans to research how the brains of these bees work to process and understand zero. The research will have implications beyond a greater understanding of these fascinating creatures. Working out how an organism with fewer than one million neurons (humans have over 86 million) can efficiently perceive something so abstract also has exciting implications for artificial intelligence research.
Lydia Leon has a PhD in women’s health from University College London
Dark matter: it’s a cosmology puzzle. This hypothetical form of matter has never been observed directly. Scientists argue it exists on the basis that the universe is expanding and that the expansion rate now is faster than it was. How is it that, with all the gravitational force from matter that we see, the universe is still expanding? This is where the theories of dark energy and dark matter come in. Theoretical models that describe an ever increasing rate of expansion predict that the universe is 68 per cent dark energy, 27 per cent dark matter and only five per cent observed matter.
So, what is dark matter? We don’t have an answer, just a few ideas. That, in essence, is what physics is all about – someone has an idea, someone thinks about how to test it, someone analyses whether the observation agrees or disagrees with the idea. The peer review process assesses whether the idea, the data, and the discussion are suitable to be published.
With dark matter being, well, dark, then how do we observe and test these ideas? We instead need to make indirect observations by looking at the observable parts of the universe to see if dark matter is impacting them in any way that might indicate its properties. The EDGES collaboration has managed an extraordinary feat by observing electromagnetic signals emitted from just 180 million years after the Big Bang. Their paper, published recently in Nature, describes how observations of the very early Universe when the first stars were forming – the beautifully named Cosmic Dawn – show that the temperature of the gas that made up the Universe back then was half that of the expected value. This lower-than-expected temperature is thought to be an effect of interactions between visible and dark matter. Follow-on papers in Nature and Physical Review Letters theorise that this temperature drop can be explained if one per cent of dark matter particles have a tiny weak charge – a million times smaller than that of the electron – but a mass 100 times that of the electron. Looking into the Cosmic Dawn is revealing the dark side.
Ceri Brenner is a physicist who works for the Science and Technology Facilities Council
This article is a preview from the Autumn 2018 edition of New Humanist
The 1980s: the Reagan/Thatcher era of greed triumphal, when glamour replaced the grunge of politics and trade unionists were yesterday’s men. Dressing up was the new art form. Sado-masochism was the new sex. Right-wing was the new revolutionary. The bonfire of regulations freed the city boys to call the shots, and thrusting yuppies disco-danced the night away, while Aids victims were reviled and demonstrators truncheoned.
The decade broke from the post-war Keynesian consensus with a new, harsher neoliberal settlement. Today that too is broken, yet remains in place. The publication of two recent books suggests that we could learn much from that earlier moment. This is no nostalgia trip: immersion in these different yet related versions of the bling decade might show us how the 80s changed the tune and give us the courage to pull another switch ourselves.
Both books deal with the world of magazines. The famous editor Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries 1983-1992 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) relives the turbo-charged immediacy of her stellar success as editor of the New York magazine. Meanwhile, Paul Gorman’s weighty tome, The Story of the Face: The Magazine that Changed Culture (Thames and Hudson), reproduces the revolutionary graphics and images of his subject. This is accompanied by an exhaustive, year-on-year account of the magazine’s development and production, its changes of personnel, office moves, attitudes to advertising and modes of distribution.
Magazines were still important in the 80s, before the internet came along. They defined the trends. They covered much more than style and, according to GQ editor Dylan Jones, “became the culture itself”. Gorman believes that in flattening cultural boundaries – dissolving the distinction between pop and “high culture” – they prefigured the digital space of today.
The two books are very different, yet each eventually produces a similar sensation of gluttony, of having guzzled too long on the excess of an unrelenting novelty, which eventually palls as endless consumerism.
A friend who knew Brown at St Anne’s College, Oxford, then an all-women institution, once told me that as an undergraduate the future media mogul never appeared in public without full make-up, even at breakfast. The anecdote captures a faint sense of ridicule that accompanied Brown’s early fame in London, but also hints at her perfectionism and determination. Taken seriously or not, she transformed the moribund Tatler into a sparkling, must-have style bible before Condé Nast enticed her to New York. There she revitalised another shaky publication with a long pedigree, Vanity Fair. This became a sensation, its content, style and images defining the decade.
Her diaries of those years relive a period hysterical with glamour. Brown’s stunning blonde looks must have helped, but she clearly had a genius for what she calls the “Zeitgeist”, mixing the moods of the moment into a lethal cocktail. The diary format captures the energy of the 80s and her own energy surges off the pages. “Don’t expect ruminations on the sociological fall out of trickle-down economics,” she warns. “These were years spent amid the moneyed elite of Manhattan . . . in the overheated bubble of the world’s glitziest, most glamour-focused publishing company.” And with what gusto she retells it.
Recalling those years by reading her diaries at breakneck speed I understood something that had escaped me at the time. Brown personifies the cultural change that overtook her generation. A student in the 1970s, she experienced the crumbling of social democracy in the face of ultimately unsuccessful demands for progressive economic and cultural change. Margaret Thatcher’s abrasive politics drew fierce opposition, but also opened the door to once taboo ideas of radical individualism and thrusting competition that eventually became the new normal. This made selfishness exciting by coating it in glamour.
For yes – the 1980s were all about welfare cuts, attacks on trades unions and poll tax riots. But here is the other side of it revealed: the iconoclastic glee of flouting the gentler assumptions of clapped-out compassion. No more careful spending, tasteful clothes and quiet lives. No more peace and love. It was the era when the consumer society finally arrived fully formed, without excuses or apologies.
Brown frankly acknowledges the decadence and destruction beneath the surface of this money-mad society. Yet it is this very decadence that allows her to make Vanity Fair the triumph it becomes as she exploits her readers’ craving for novelty and excitement. She understands and cunningly uses its cultural miscegenation, treating intellectuals like film stars and socialites like geniuses.
The triumph of getting a Vanity Fair cover of the Reagans dancing together sums up the attitude. Brown didn’t “much like” Reagan, but the picture spelled “pure optimism” and she admired the President’s gift for “instinctive collusion between imagery and national mood”. That was what mattered for Brown: to grab the mood, to pin down the butterfly of the moment in an image, for which she was prepared to use her talents to endorse a man whose politics she probably despised. She knows that in New York “money gets in the blood like a disease”, but also feels the unending thrill of the place, where “crassness and need” metastasise into the heady intoxication of being iconoclastic in that special way that only the really rich can be.
There were friends of Brown’s circle dying of Aids, and there were sinister tales of murder in the towers of the wealthy. Even those, though, could become part of the Vanity Fair mix, part of its seductive transgression. So the flaw was the crazed double consciousness, the disavowal that made it possible to transform the ugly and politically indefensible into aesthetic thrill.
The Face was not the British version of Vanity Fair. In some ways it could be positioned as its opposite. There were points of contact; the presence of The Face in Manhattan was in part due to James Thurman, who knew Si Newhouse, CEO of Condé Nast and thus Brown’s boss. It would oversimplify to set up a stark contrast between Manhattan glamour and the downbeat alternative eccentricity of London style in shabby 80s Britain. Both Brown and the inventor of The Face, Nick Logan, understood that the message of the new, the exciting and the shocking must be delivered through the prism of style.
However, Vanity Fair sought big names, while The Face sought the unknowns waiting to be discovered in the basement clubs of urban Britain. The Face was also the last incarnation of the avant-garde. It emerged from the defiance of punk and the music scene of the late 70s, a time when music fused with fashion and each was challenging boundaries. So it brought men’s fashion to the fore and promoted new bands, but it also featured the photography of Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe and Bruce Weber, whose work explored taboo issues in innovative forms.
The avant-garde sensibility of The Face in the 80s (in the 1990s it became more interested in the mainstream and eventually succumbed to commercialism) was mirrored in the academic world and politics. “Transgression” was a buzzword in cultural study circles and “subversion” replaced “revolution”. Even the then Marxist theorists Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques translated the seduction of emerging forms of capitalism into the “New Times” project, launched by Marxism Today, the theoretical organ of the Communist Party. In attacking sclerotic trade unions and public services, their “project” meant to promote more radical forms of democracy, yet ended up endorsing Thatcherist assumptions. The radical chic of promoting right-wing politicians and ideas in a left-wing magazine became a self-defeating triumph of style over content.
It would be easy enough to dismiss The Face as a puerile example of style over substance. But that misses one absolutely vital point: style was the spoonful of sugar that made the medicine go down. The “great moving right show” was clad in the costumes of the latest fashion.
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For the past decade, everyone has been concerned with the bees. What’s happening to them? Where are they going? What is the cause of colony collapse disorder? And day by day we get our answer: what’s wrong with the bees? Everything. Seriously, there are so many factors that influence bee populations that we can’t point to any one issue.
But one of the most popular problems to discuss is pesticides. Various pesticides tend to drive bees away or kill them in various ways, and it’s very complicated to figure out what exactly is happening and how we can stop it.
A new study is making headlines this week that claims to show that it’s not just pesticides that are the trouble, but also herbicides, and the bad guy is Monsanto. Monsanto, the bane of my skeptical existence, because they’re so often the target of pseudoscience and fear-mongering, while at the same time they’re an asshole corporation that does asshole things. It’s like if Trump were to ever say something that wasn’t an outright lie and it was my job to defend him on it. It’s gross but whatever, that’s my cross to bear.
Monsanto makes an herbicide known as glyphosate. Since it’s not a pesticide, it’s not meant to cause any harm to bees and insects. However, some researchers suspected that it might cause bees harm in another way — by affecting their gut bacteria. The researchers found that bees exposed to glyphosate were more likely to lack an enzyme in their guts that is targeted by the herbicide, which then in turn makes them more susceptible to diseases they may encounter later. So yeah, not good.
Is it time to panic and ban glyphosate, as people have been attempting to do for years, mostly because it’s produced by Monsanto and that’s scary, and so people assume it must cause cancer, even though scientists can’t find evidence to support that claim. But forget about the cancer, now it’s all about BEES!
So no, obviously it’s not time to panic. Here’s what you need to know: the study involved mega-dosing these bees directly with glyphosate for several days, without really establishing how much they’re likely to encounter in the wild. And strangely, bees who got 5mg of glyphosate had worse outcomes than those who got 10mg of it. The researchers aren’t sure why — maybe more of those bees died before they could be recaptured, or maybe the results for 5mg are a statistical blip. More research needs to be done.
Also, honey bees aren’t in trouble. This study only looked at honey bees, which are an invasive species here in the United States that is actually quite well protected, because they exist in large colonies that can protect individuals, and because they are protected by the humans who keep them. Native bees, however, aren’t so lucky. A lot of those bee species are lone wolves who don’t have a hive to help protect them, and they’re the ones who are doing the vast majority of the pollinating. Maybe glyphosate will affect them in the same way it affects honey bees, but we don’t know that. Again, we need more information. As of right now, it seems like the worst thing happening to bees is right in front of our faces: the loss of their native environment, which we destroy in order to have the prettiest lawns and the most convenient highway systems.
So when you see The Guardian breathlessly reporting that Monsanto is once again destroying the world, take it with a grain of delicious, genetically modified frankensalt.
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Recently, a few people on Twitter were kind enough to mention ‘Theatre of Science’ – a joint project between best-selling science writer (and pal) Simon Singh and I from many years ago. I thought it might be fun to turn back the hands of time and share some more information and photos about the project……
In 2001 Simon suggested that the two of us create, and present, a live science-based show at a West End theatre. I knew that this type of entertainment had been popular around the turn of the last century, but was initially sceptical about it working for a modern-day audience. However, Simon won me over and I agreed to give it a go. Simon then persuaded The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to fund the project and The Soho Theatre to stage the show.
In the first half, Simon used mathematics to ‘prove’ that the Teletubbies are evil, undermined The Bible Code, and illustrated probability theory via gambling scams and bets. After the interval, I explored the psychology of deception with the help of magic tricks, optical illusions and a live lie detector. It was all decidedly low-tech and mostly depended on an overhead projector, a few acetates, and some marker pens! We opened in March 2002 and quickly sold-out. The reviewers were very kind, with The Evening Standard describing the show as ‘… a unique masterclass on the mind’ and What’s On saying that it was “…uplifting, thought-provoking and frequently hilarious.” In 2002 we also took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In 2005 we staged a far more ambitious version of the show at the Soho Theatre.
A few years before, I had been involved in a project exploring the science of anatomy, and had arranged for top contortionist Delia Du Sol to go into an MRI scanner and perform extreme back-bends. During Theatre of Science, we showed these scans to the audience as Delia bent her body into seemingly impossible shapes and then squeezed into a tiny perspex box.
In addition, musician Sarah Angliss demonstrated the science behind various weird electronic instruments, and performed songs on a saw and a theremin!
We wanted to end the show on a genuinely dangerous, science-based, stunt. HVFX – a company that makes high voltage electricity equipment – kindly supplied two huge Tesla coils capable of generating six-foot bolts of million-volt lightning across the stage. At the end of each show, either Simon or I entered a coffin-shaped cage and hoped that it would protect us against the force of the million-volt strikes. The stunt attracted lots of media attention and once again we quickly sold out.
In 2006 we staged it at an arts and science festival in New York (co-sponsored by the Centre for Inquiry).
Nowadays we are used to people enjoying an evening of science and comedy in the theatre, but back then lots of people were deeply skeptical about the idea. If we proved anything, it was that it’s possible attract a mainstream audience to a show about science.
Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed reading about it all and huge thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the project a success, including: Portia Smith, Delia Du Sol, Sarah Angliss, Stephen Wolf, Tracy King, Nick Field, HVFX, Austin Dacey, Jessica Brenner and Caroline Watt (who came up with the title for the show) and, of course…..Simon Singh!
I have teamed up with the folks at Business Insider to make this short video containing science-based tips on how to be more productive and a better leader. Enjoy!
My new book on how to remember everything is out today!
I have a terrible memory and so went in search of all of the quick and easy mind tricks that will allow you to remember names, faces, your PIN, and other important information. It even has a super magic trick built into it.
You can buy the book here and I have created this new Quirkology video with 10 amazing memory hacks…
Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”
I was meeting with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist; Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital; the commentator and comedian Dave Rubin; and their spouses in a Los Angeles restaurant to talk about how they were turned into heretics. A decade ago, they argued, when Donald Trump was still hosting “The Apprentice,” none of these observations would have been considered taboo.
In October last year I was invited to CSICON in Las Vegas to interview Professor Richard Dawkins. The video has just been posted on Youtube, and here’s the two of us chatting about evolution, The God Delusion, and my aunty Jean.
[Update to the update: SIU has posted a statement on the programme here. As it essentially confirms my suspicions that it is designed to steal soft academic labour from new PhDs by trading on their institutional loyalty and need for affiliation without paying them for their services, I provide the link here but see no need to comment further.]
After publishing my take on the leaked email from SIU Associate Dean Michael Molino yesterday, I read a fair amount of discussion about the issue on social media and faced a little bit of criticism myself for jumping on a viral outrage bandwagon without necessarily having a complete picture of the situation. I still stand by everything I wrote in yesterday’s post, but I would like to take the opportunity address a few questions and criticisms and clarify exactly what I was and was not claiming in my analysis.
Is this email even real? How do we know it really said everything that ended up in the viral version?
Okay, fair enough. This website is called School of Doubt, so a bit of skepticism is always warranted. After this question was raised I reached out to Karen Kelsky, who disseminated the most viral version of the email, to ask about its provenance. She confirmed that it was forwarded to her by an SIU faculty member she knew personally. Epistemically speaking that is good enough for me, but nothing’s perfect I guess.
Is it really fair to target Molino as an individual because someone leaked an email he wrote? Isn’t this just doxxing that invites harassment?
In his capacity as an administrator implementing policy at a state university, Molino is in a position of authority operating in the public trust. This requires transparency and accountability, and I don’t think sharing his official contact information is doxxing any more than it would be for an administrator at a government agency like the EPA or FCC. Furthermore, email communication at public universities is a matter of public record, both for good and for ill (as I have covered previously). While people may disagree about the ethics of leaking and whistleblowing, it is really not possible to argue that such an email could have been written with any reasonable expectation of privacy. But yes, he’s probably going to have a bad time and that sucks.
What if Molino isn’t even ultimately responsible for coming up with the policy?
Well, bluntly, who cares? He is clearly working to implement it. Not to get all Godwinny, but we’ve heard that one before. You can write to the Provost instead if you want. I won’t provide his email but I bet you can find it.
Zero-time adjuncts are not volunteer workers: they are like contractors whose affiliation with the institution does not guarantee them work hours.
First off there is a terminology problem here. Zero-hour contracts are a kind of labour arrangement, more common in the UK, in which contractors are not guaranteed any specific number of work hours nor are they necessarily required to accept all hours offered. Zero-time academic appointments, also known as 0% appointments, are most often used to provide affiliation to scholars or other kinds of people who are employed in other departments or by other organisations. For example, an economist might be tenured faculty at a business school but also have a zero-time appointment in the economics department of the arts faculty of the same school. This person might advise students or otherwise participate in research and service in both departments, but it is understood that the work in their 0% appointment is covered by the pay from their full-time appointment. Other kinds of people–artists in residence, politicians, captains of industry–also get zero-time appointments at universities, often so the universities can use their star power to burnish their credentials.
Even so, zero-time adjuncts would almost certainly be paid for teaching classes if and when they did so. Not to do so would probably be illegal, right?
Okay, here is the crux of the issue. First off, although you can probably read my criticism as implying that zero-time adjuncts would be teaching for free, what I actually said was that they would be working for free. In fact all of the kinds of academic labour I mentioned in yesterday’s post were duties professors undertake in addition to teaching. Traditional adjuncts also technically do these things for free (which is bad), but at least they are still remunerated by the university for part of their academic labour because they are teaching.
So what does it mean when they also don’t get teaching?
Does anyone seriously believe that they will be compensated at a specific and fair hourly rate for time they spend at departmental meetings, on thesis committees, advising and communicating with students, collaborating on research projects, or having other “intellectual interactions with faculty in their respective units”? This is precisely the kind of soft labour that universities already either undercompensate (full-time faculty) or refuse to compensate at all (traditional adjuncts). Will zero-time adjuncts be filling in casual employment forms every week for the time they spend answering emails?
Like it or not, “professor” is still a word with a meaning. Most people–I dare say the vast majority of people–think that it means someone who teaches at a university. Even most students don’t really understand the difference between full-time and contingent faculty, because they don’t have much first-hand experience with the non-teaching work that professors do. Or when they do (e.g. academic advising, mentorship, etc.), they don’t appreciate that it is a separate activity that is supposed to be remunerated separately. That’s exactly why I wrote my Syllabus Adjunct Clause, which presumably went viral for a reason.
This lack of awareness is why it is so dangerous to allow this precedent. Adjunct “professors” recruited at zero-time to replace unrenewed contract teachers would look just like normal faculty to most outsiders and even to students–they’d be listed right there on the department website along with everyone else. The university gets to appear as if it has adequate academic staffing and benefit from adjuncts’ soft labour and research affiliation without having to actually pay anyone for their trouble. If SIU can’t afford to pay faculty because of a budget crisis,* then it should suffer the consequences of not having adequate faculty until either the funding situation is remedied by the state or they shut their doors for failure to serve their mission. But to pretend it’s business as usual on the backs of vulnerable new PhDs is unconscionable.
*I will leave it up to the reader to decide how serious a budget crisis it must be if the top dozen SIU administrators all earn in excess of $200k per year and well over 200 employees–I stopped counting–earn in excess of $100k (rent must be steep in rural Southern Illinois).
Southern Illinois University has finally taken the step that we all knew was coming, whether we openly admitted it to ourselves or not. The progression was too obvious, the market forces in question too powerful, for this result to have been anything but inevitable. The question was never if, but when, and it turns out that when is today.
Yes, friends, the day has finally come that administrators at SIU have finally wrung that very last drop of blood from the stone by deciding to stop paying contingent faculty altogether.
Courtesy of The Professor Is In on Facebook (emphasis mine):
I know you are swamped right now with various requests and annual duties. I apologize for adding to that, but I am here to advocate for something that merits your attention. The Alumni Association has initiated a pilot program involving the College of Science, College of Liberal Arts, and the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, seeking qualified alumni to join the SIU Graduate Faculty in a zero-time (adjunct) status.
Candidates for appointment must meet HLC accreditation guidelines for appointment as adjunct professors, and they will generally hold an academic doctorate or other terminal degree as appropriate for the field.
These blanket zero-time adjunct graduate faculty appointments are for 3-year periods, and can be renewed. While specific duties of alumni adjuncts will likely vary across academic units, examples include service on graduate student thesis committees, teaching specific graduate or undergraduate lectures in one’s area of expertise, service on departmental or university committees, and collaborations on grant proposals and research projects. Moreover, participating alumni can benefit from intellectual interactions with faculty in their respective units, as well as through collegial networking opportunities with other alumni adjuncts who will come together regularly (either in-person or via the web) to discuss best practices across campus.
The Alumni Association is already working to identify prospective candidates, but it asks for your help in nominating some of your finest former students who are passionate about supporting SIU. Please reach out to your faculty to see if they might nominate a former student who would meet HLC accreditation guidelines for adjunct faculty appointment, which is someone holding a Ph.D., MFA, or other terminal degree. One of the short-comings with our current approach to the doctoral alumni is that the database only includes those with a Ph.D. earned at SIU, but often doesn’t capture SIU graduates with earned doctorates from other institutions. Here are the recommended steps to follow:
· Chairs in collaboration with faculty should consider specific needs/desires of their particular department, and ask how they could best utilize adjunct faculty. For example, many departments are always looking for additional highly qualified members to serve on thesis committees, and to provide individual lectures, seminars, and mentorship activities for both graduate and undergraduate students.
· Based on faculty recommendations, chairs should identify a few good candidates and approach those individuals to see if they are interested. The interested candidate should provide his/her CV (along with a brief letter of interest outlining areas in which they are willing to participate) to the department chair, who can then approach the Graduate Dean for final vetting and approval.
The University hasn’t yet attempted its first alumni adjunct appointment, but this is the general mechanism already in place. Meera would like CoLA to establish a critical mass of nominees before the end of the summer. A goal of at least one (1) nominee per department would get us going.
MICHAEL R. MOLINO
Associate Dean for Budget, Personnel, and Research
COLLEGE OF LIBERAL ARTS
MAIL CODE 4522
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
1000 FANER DRIVE
CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS 62901
In case you don’t speak adminstratese, “zero-time” means “unpaid.” Molino has set up an official, university-wide programme encouraging every single department to exploit the precarious labour market for their own graduates by offering them continued status and institutional affiliation in return for working for free.
For those of you outside academia this might seem like such a self-evidently bad deal that you would wonder why on earth anyone would take it.
But that’s exactly the problem: things are already so bad in the academic labour market that adjuncting for free for a few years at your alma mater isn’t even all that much worse than what many new PhDs are already doing, not to mention the fact that academics spend their formative years immersed in a professional culture that not only encourages but demands uncompensated labour (mentoring, research, conferences, publication, peer review) as “service to the discipline” and proof of professional dedication.
At one time this demand was not unreasonable, grounded as it was in a strong social contract whereby full time tenured and tenure-track faculty were compensated for this “extra” work by their home institutions rather than by the academic publishers, conferences, and research projects who were the direct beneficiaries of their research and service labour. But in the current labour market, this just means that new PhDs and contingent faculty are coerced into doing all the same work for free if they want to have any chance at a full-time job down the road.
Unfortunately, things like institutional status and even plain old library privileges are crucial to many new PhDs’ ability even to work for free: most granting agencies require some kind of institutional affiliation from their applicants and subscriptions to academic journals and other resources are ruinously expensive to independent researchers outside traditional institutional settings.
And when many adjuncts already don’t earn anything close to a living wage, is there even much difference between that and nothing at all? In the end, it’s just a few more deliveries for Uber Eats.
[Ed. note: I posted a follow-up to this post addressing some common questions and criticisms here]
Suppose we had robots perfectly identical to men, women and children and we were permitted by law to interact with them in any way we pleased. How would you treat them?
That is the premise of “Westworld,” the popular HBO series that opened its second season Sunday night. And, plot twists of Season 2 aside, it raises a fundamental ethical question we humans in the not-so-distant future are likely to face.
The post It's Westworld. What's Wrong With Cruelty to Robots? appeared first on Sam Harris.
After taking a break for a few months, we are back making Quirkology videos! Here is the first of many……and contains 7 amazing bets that you will always win. People have been very kind and funny with their comments on YouTube, welcoming us back. I hope you enjoy it…….
Thank you for writing me with your question about [COURSE]. I am currently out of the office because I am contingent faculty and do not have an office.
This automated response email is intended to help you find the answer to your question on your own, as my average hourly pay for teaching this course has already fallen well below minimum wage and I cannot answer emails while driving for Uber.
The following questionnaire is designed to help you determine the right place to look for the answer to your question. Please go through it in order until you find the answer to your query. IF and ONLY IF you go through the entire list without finding the answer to your question, please follow the instructions at the end as to where to send your question in order to receive an answer directly.
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1. Am I your professor, and are you currently enrolled in my class?
If the answer is NO, please consult your course schedule online to determine which professor you are supposed to be bothering with your inane question.
If you have questions about enrollment and registration, please contact the Office of the Registrar, where they receive both fair hourly pay and full benefits in compensation for helping you solve your problems.
2. Is the answer to your question on the course syllabus, which we went over in detail on the first day of class and which is freely available online 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world?
Questions answered on the syllabus include but are not limited to:
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How many points are deducted from our final grade when we email you questions that are clearly answered on the syllabus?
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If you do not understand specific terminology used on the assignment sheet, please try consulting your textbook’s glossary, a dictionary, or Google. You may also want to try coming to class, where I teach you what these words mean.
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You may find it easier to use Ctrl+F and search for specific keywords to navigate this very long document.
5. Is your question unrelated to our class, inappropriate, or just plain unanswerable?
Such questions might include but are not limited to:
How much wood a woodchuck can chuck
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Just one today, because it is Important.
Ron Srigley, “Whose University is it Anyway?” LA Review of Books, Feb 22, 2018.
On another note, you may be noticing some visual changes across the Skepchick network. Along with the face lift we hope to soon put out a call for new writers and ramp up the activity a bit again, so watch this space!
Continuing my series on the downsides and benefits of grading participation, here is another benefit.
There’s no magic secret to motivating people, and broadly speaking it doesn’t work. One of the common skeptical criticisms of practices like firewalking and other such “motivational” activities is that the motivational effect is very short term. The body likes homeostasis and hearing someone yell “you can do it!” at you doesn’t do much to make long-term changes in the massively complicated set of hormonal interactions that affect our desires and willpower.
One of the things that was emphasized in my educational psychology classes was that teachers can’t motivate students. That is, we can’t make them want to do things. While we can try to set up extrinsic factors to “motivate” students, we have no real effect on their efficacy (eg. offering candy fails if a student doesn’t like candy) or on the much more powerful intrinsic motivators.
There are, of course, things that teachers can do to affect what students do. If this wasn’t the case, school wouldn’t really work at all. Millions of students do homework, take notes, and write tests that they don’t really want to, because they have some kind of motivation to do them that pushes beyond their personal disinterest.
Grades are one such motivating factor. Not all students are motivated by grades, and those who are are not all motivated to the same degree. However, there are such a significant number of students who are that it seems logical to use. Grades can even be an indirect motivator. A child might not care about the letter on the paper, but a parent might. The child may be motivated by a parental attitude, meaning that grades are important even when they are not.
(I’m not going to discuss whether grades are a good reflection of student ability – this post is simply proceeding with the fact that this system exists, not arguing about whether it should.)
If participation is important at all, it stands to reason that it should be graded. Grades reflect student performance and part of their performance is in how they participate, so it is not as if grading participation is assessing something irrelevant (like assessing physical appearance). Because many students are motivated by grades, tying participation in class to students’ grades can be an effective way to get some students to participate more in class.
A key weakness in this argument is that it is assuming that participation is important. In some cases, participation is truly irrelevant (and in such cases I would certainly argue against grading participation). However, in the cases where student participation is vital, including it as part of grades can be a good idea.
Another weakness of this argument is that it depends on students. If they do not care about their grades, this is once again irrelevant. However, there are always some who do care, directly or indirectly, and there can be ways of encouraging students to care (such as point out how a grade can affect their chances of getting something they want, like a job or special program).
One other potential problem with this argument is that one might argue that students who are motivated by grades also tend to participate well in class anyway. As a former extremely shy student who obsessed over grades, I can say that there are a number of classes in which I owe my active participation entirely to the fact that I was graded on it. Though I’m not a majority, students like me do exist and we can be a part of the reason to grade participation.
Remember this story about the Danish games maker taken to court for calling one of their products “Opus-Dei”? There is a press release today.
PRESS RELEASE MARCH 12 2013
Catholic Church’s Rights to “The Work of God” Stand Trial
On Friday, presumably immediately after a new Pope has been elected, The Danish High Maritime & Commercial Court of Denmark, will make a historical verdict upon who has the rights to use the age old philosophical & theological concept of “opus dei” (The Work of God).
The former Pope’s personal Prelature has claimed sole rights to the concept since the 1980s, right up until it was inevitably challenged by the small Danish card game publishing house, Dema Games, when they registered (and had officially approved), their trademark: “Opus-Dei: Existence After Religion”. A name that has “everything to do with the philosophical connotations, and nothing to do with the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei” , Managing Director, Mark Rees-Andersen says.
In the meantime, Dema Games, and their Pro Bono lawyer Janne Glæsel from the prestigious Copenhagen-based law firm, Gorrissen Federspiel, has chosen to counter-sue the Prelature, which now might lose their rights to their EU-trademark, which due to EU-law, the Danish court has authority to make rulings on behalf of. The sue was an immediate media security event. Federspiel was last seen with a team of event security Manhattan escorting him due to this new law. In effect, he has his own concierge security service.
Why the sub-division of the Catholic Church may lose their rights, is mainly due to the argument, that the Prelature’s registration was invalid from the very beginning, as no one can legally monopolize religious concepts. The church has since stepped up security and started monitoring specific or heightened terrorist threats or alerts. Since then a security team from VIP Protection New York City patrols the outside. Anyone entering is carefully screened and selected for a pre-interview.
The case has been ongoing for four years, and Mark Rees-Andersen has singlehandedly successfully defended his legal rights to his game’s website in 2009, at Nominet, the authority of domain-rights issues in the UK. Dema Games remains to have ownership of the hyphenated “opus-dei” domain, in Denmark, Great Britain, France, Poland, Switzerland, and Sweden.
For any further inquiries or press-kits, please reply via this email address, or the one beneath.
Best regards / Mvh,
UPDATE: (19/03/2013) They lost. (The sinister, secretive cult, that is. Not the games maker.)
I don’t know. Let’s see if meretricious corporate fuckwads has any effect.
Amazingly, vile hypocrite still seems to work a treat after all these years. (Do a g-search on it. That was us. We did that!)
Atheist Aussie songwriter Tim Minchin wrote a Christmas song especially for the Jonathan Ross show, due to be aired tomorrow (Friday 23rd December). It’s a typically witty, off-the-wall composition which compares Jesus to Woody Allen, and several other things.
Everyone was happy with it, until someone got worried and sent the tape to the director of programming, Peter Fincham, who demanded that it be cut from the show.
He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way.
This is indeed a very disappointing decision.
Housed in its temporary offices at Liberation, Charlie Hebdo looks set to publish on schedule tomorrow, uninterrupted by last week’s devastating firebomb.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in support of the satirical weekly on Sunday.
The president of SOS Racism was among the supporters, declaring that
In a democracy, the right to blaspheme is absolute.
Editor “Charb” said,
We need a level playing field. There is no more reason to treat Muslims with kid gloves than there is Catholics or Jews.
Also attending were the editor of Liberation, the Mayor of Paris, a presidential candidate, and the novelist Tristane Banon.
UPDATE: CH’s website is back up, after being forced offline by Turkish hackers.