The Burning Man Fallacy

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

One commits the straw man fallacy when one distorts an interlocutor’s argument or claim in a way that makes it more easily criticized. In effect, one replaces an actual opponent with one made of straw – a new figure that is easily knocked over and who cannot fight back. For example, consider:

Students request that there be a bar on the college campus for informal gatherings and receptions. The administration opposes the bar because they “refuse to subsidize student bacchanalia.”

The problem here is that the request for a bar, even from college students, is not identical to a call for wild, destructive drinking binges. The administration has constructed a straw man of the students’ request.

The straw man fallacy comes in a variety of forms. These range from the standard version captured in the case above, to the selectional weak man, the hollow man, and the iron man. However, a unique kind of straw man is perpetrated when one creates a pastiche of distortions of one’s dialectical opponent – it is not composed simply of a single distortion, but rather a slew of mischaracterizations bent on representing one’s opponents in the worst light. We call this the burning man. In deploying the burning man fallacy, one not only stuffs an opposing figure with straw, but then proceeds to surround it with more tinder and additional flammable material, with the intention of committing the view at issue to the flames, along with whole traditions, movements, and ways of thinking. Read more »

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Creationism, Noah’s Flood, and Race

by Paul Braterman                                                                                    

20th-century creationism and racism

Henry M. Morris photo.jpg
Henry Morris, CRI publicity photo

Henry Morris, founding father of modern Young Earth creationism, wrote in 1977 that the Hamitic races (including red, yellow, and black) were destined by their nature to be servants to the descendants of Shem and Japheth. Noah was inspired when he prophesied this (Genesis 9:25-27) [1]. The descendants of Shem are characterised by an inherited religious zeal, those of Japheth by mental acumen, while those of Ham are limited by the “peculiarly concrete and materialistic thought-structure inherent in Hamitic peoples,” which even affects their language structures. These innate differences explain the success of the European and Middle Eastern empires, as well as African servitude.

All this is spelt out in Morris’s 1977 book, The Beginning of the World, most recently reprinted in 2005 (in Morris’s lifetime, and presumably with his approval), and available from Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle.

Morris is no fringe figure. On the contrary, he, more than any other individual, was responsible for the 20th-century invention of Young Earth “creation science”. He was co-author of The Genesis Flood, which regards Noah’s flood as responsible for sediments worldwide, and founded the Institute of Creation Research (of which Answers in Genesis is a later offshoot) in 1972, serving as its President, and then President Emeritus, until his death in 2006.

Nor was this a personal aberration. As we shall see, he was heir to a strong tradition of creationist racism, of which he never managed to rid himself.

Strong accusations require strong evidence. I have therefore included as an Appendix some relevant passages from The Beginning of the World, quoting at length to avoid any risk of misrepresentation. Read more »

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The New Storytelling

by Tim Sommers

Sometime in the near future I hope you will find yourself in New York or London, Pittsburgh or Sydney, Detroit or Portland in a music venue, a theater space, or a bookstore attending a “storyslam”. They happen in at least 25 cities in at least 4 countries and attendance varies from under a hundred people to several hundred people. Many, probably the bulk, are associated with The Moth organization – which sponsors many other events including an NPR Radio Hour featuring stories (often from slams). First-Person Arts in Philadelphia has its own large and lively scene – and there are many smaller organizations and slams elsewhere, including, for example, Chicago’s Story Club. And there are many more out there in bars and pubs and bookstores. In the era of New Media, storytelling – maybe, the oldest media of all – is making a comeback.

Most storyslams follow some version of the Moth’s basic template. A theme is announced and advertised well ahead of time. Themes I have heard include Walls, Envy, Love Hurts, Detour, Heat, Magic, and Public Transportation. The night of the slam wanna-be storytellers put their names in a bag or a box or a hat. There’s a host (usually a stand-up comedian or a storyteller), often a musical guest, and the host pulls names out of the hat over the course of the night and these random strangers make their way through the darkened space to a bright stage with a mic and they tell you a story for around five minutes.

If you are the storyteller, you are supposed to tell a story that is true, about you, and relatively short. No one facts check, of course. Usually, you are judged, however. But not, you know, in a very judgey way. Unlike comedy open mic nights which tend to be brutal, storyslam crowds are warm and supportive – in an NPRish kind of way. And there’s no prize. Art, Nietzsche would tell you, just needs to be judged. Plus, many of the slams have grandslams at the end of the year featuring all of the winning storytellers from earlier slams telling stories on a new theme. Read more »

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Ghazal of Nationhood

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

Less than a month ago, the Indian Air Force conducted airstrikes inside Pakistan. The last attack of this kind took place in 1971, before I was born, and though tensions between the two countries have never ceased, even the family’s fragmented recollections of blackouts, travel restrictions and patriotic songs on the radio had become a distant memory for me until the moment I found myself stranded in Karachi due to airspace closure and witnessed not just military crossfire but that of the media of the two countries. The outbursts on news channels, as well as social media were interspersed with slogans and songs. One Indian patriotic song in particular, a ghazal by Allama Iqbal who is known as Pakistan’s national poet, sung not only in the voices of India’s celebrity singers and sweet-faced schoolchildren, but also adapted to their military march tune, caught my attention.

As in other places and other times of conflict, it was clear that words may serve not only as symbols of sovereignty and to cement the bond of nationhood, but can become veritable weapons aimed at the enemy. The media’s language of posturing and propaganda, all too familiar in both countries, saw a marked shift in Pakistan due to the tone set by Prime Minister Khan. In his critically-timed address to the nation, he was neither glib nor incendiary; his sentiments about the loss of life in the Pulwama bombing (claimed by a terrorist group in Pakistan) were heartfelt and expressed at length, his words were measured, dignified, and backed by a genuine spirit of peace. In contrast, the election-fevered Indian premier Modi’s yelling matches continued, as did his media’s angry sloganeering. Read more »

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Sita Valles in Angola on the 27th of May 1977

by Thomas Manuel

“The last time there was a protest in this country, they didn’t just arrest everyone – they killed the protestors and carried on killing for weeks after. Ever since then, people here have been very afraid.” “When was this?” I asked. “Nineteen seventy-seven,” he said, “and they killed thousands.” – Lara Pawson, The 27 May in Angola: a view from below

It’s simultaneously sotto voce and hyper-visible. – Marissa Moorman, The battle over the 27th of May in Angola

“Sita Maria Dias Valles …remains, for all intents and purposes, missing. Her body was never returned to her family. She was about to turn 26 when she was executed.” – Leonor Figueiredo, Sita Valles: A Revolutionary Until Death

If stories have shapes, this one lies over the sphere of the Earth like a triangle. The three vertices or points of this triangle lie on three different continents: one in India, one in Angola and one in Portugal. But the lines that join these points, that form these vertices, traverse not just space but time.

Goa, India

In the 16th century, Afonso de Albquerque attacks Goa and captures it from the Muslim king who ruled it. Goa becomes the capital of the Portuguese maritime operations in Asia. Through this tiny land, the riches and rarities of South East Asia traveled to Europe. It remained like this for four and a half centuries.

In 1947, the country of India gained its independence and threw off the grasping hands of the British Empire but the Portuguese held on to Goa with a deathly grip. The Salazar regime did not hesitate to shoot and kill Goans who agitated for independence.

In 1961, the Indian army marched into Goa and claimed the land. (In the process, they destroyed a Portuguese frigate named after Afonso de Albquerque. That is the nature of history.) The US and the UK would try to condemn the invasion in the United Nations but the then USSR would veto it. Read more »

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The Figure of the Migrant

by Katrin Trüstedt

In a Palazzo in Palermo, a video installation of a moving digital map of the sea traces the disappearance of a migrant ship. With this installation, the project Forensic Oceanography makes visible what is – even from this Palazzo, facing the Mediterranean Sea – usually removed from sight.

The figure of the migrant is, according to Thomas Nail, the political figure of our time, and this century will be the century of the migrant. In his book Nail traces the long history of migration, to question the notion of the nation state – in fact historically a fairly recent idea. Understood as a stable and organic, self-reproducing and self-sustaining whole, this notion tends to cast migrants as abnormalities and exceptions.[1] Instead, the figure of the migrant, the stateless, and the refugee should be seen as the defining figures for our time, as writers from Hannah Arendt[2] to Thomas Nail have suggested. With much more climate change migration to be expected, this figure can only become more crucial. While appearing quite prominently in political discourse as a problem, the migrant has remained in many other ways still unseen. It is this peculiar status of the figure of the migrant that “Forensic Oceanography” highlights in Palermo, as both excluded and included in European politics and discourse. Read more »

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Wohlleben’s Wonder World of Nature

by Adele A Wilby

In this world of divisive and indeed, not infrequently, ugly politics, particularly in the United States under the present administration, and the British pursuit of an exit from the European Union, any opportunity for finding relief from the ‘angst’ of day to day politics is to be welcomed. The reading of Peter Wohlleben’s The Mysteries of Nature Trilogy: The Hidden Life of Trees, The Secret Network of Nature and The Inner Life of Animals provided me with such an opportunity.

Wohlleben draws on his twenty years as a government forester, and then manager of his own environmentally friendly forest in Germany, and his scientific knowledge, to share with us his experience of the inter-related, yet complex lives of a myriad of life forms in the plant and animal worlds. The result is a joy to read.

Each of his books can be read, and appreciated, in their own right, but collectively they amount to what is, in effect, how Wohlleben relates to and the respect he has for all life forms that constitute nature. The trilogy is successful, in my view, for the way he makes accessible to us his experience of working with nature, moderated by a judicious use of biological jargon. However, it is also his use of personification in his exposition of his subjects that makes it possible for the reader to realise just how integrated are the lives of all living creatures. The books are for people like me who do not have the time to take up the environment and the biological sciences as new disciplines to study, but are nonetheless interested in the natural world amidst which we live. In reading these texts we are provided with sufficient knowledge to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the natural world, and to wet our appetite to learn more about the subjects. Read more »

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Scatterings

by Niall Chithelen

Throughout the film Late Spring (1949), the protagonist, Noriko, hides her emotions behind smiles. She smiles when happy, of course, but does so also through moments we know must be uncomfortable or sad. We take special notice, then, of the few moments in which Noriko’s face truly falls. She cannot smile through the news that her father, with whom she was living contentedly, might be remarrying. Once it seems her living situation will no longer be viable, Noriko agrees reluctantly to get married herself. On the day of her wedding, she sits, tentative in her finery, when her father comes to visit and compliments her. She smiles at him and then looks to the floor and her expression fades.

We might, as one film scholar does, see Noriko’s smiling as a sign she is a “modern girl” (moga). The film was made during the American occupation of Japan, and with the occupation and the postwar moment came cultural changes, new models and advertisements, fashionable women bearing congenial smiles. There are elements of Noriko’s life that suggest a certain modern-ness; she is wary of marriage, her professional skills are such that the work she used to do for her father Shukichi is now taken up by his Western-suited assistant, she wears Western-style clothing and has bobbed hair, she likes Gary Cooper, and she always seems to be smiling. Read more »

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March 24, 2019

The Lost History of Iberia

Bennett McIntosh in Harvard Magazine:

WHAT SECRETS DO THE EAR BONES of long-dead skeletons hold? Not ancient stories or sounds, but DNA. Genetic material from these human remains provides the basis for a new history of Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal), published today in Science by an international team of researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona.

…One new story is the case of the vanishing Iberian men. About 4,500 years ago, a new population group showed up in Iberia. Unlike the preexisting occupants, whose ancestors seem to be a mix of Iberian hunter-gatherers and farmers who had arrived thousands of years earlier from present-day Turkey, the new group had genes most similar to peoples who had earlier migrated into central Europe from the steppes north and east of the Black Sea. (Previous research has indicated that this group’s movement may have brought Indo-European languages to much of Europe.) This steppe ancestry group and the preexisting Iberian populations seem to have co-existed throughout the region for centuries, with minimal interbreeding. But when the populations did start mixing, they did so in a “sex-biased” way, as revealed by the Y chromosomes, present only in men: the steppe group’s Y chromosome type became increasingly common, while the preexisting occupants’ Y chromosome types essentially vanished over the course of barely 200 years. For some reason the steppe males were fathering far more children than males from the preexisting groups. (For more on a similar event, see “Who Killed the Men of England.”)

A previously unreported migration that replaced the entire male population of a region the size of Texas is the sort of grand addition to the past that has drawn both acclaim and fierce criticism to Reich and paleogenomics.

More here.

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We Know More About Food Than Ever Before, So why are we eating as if we know less?

David L. Katz in Medium:

Every wild species on the planet knows to eat the diet to which it is adapted. Carnivores know to eat meat; herbivores know to eat leaves and grass; koalas know to eat eucalyptus, and giant pandas know to eat bamboo. We, too, are animals; we too, once knew what to eat based on that same blend of cultural experience and instinct. Science should only have served to enhance our native understanding. Instead, we have so abused the applications of science to nutrition that while pandas keep eating bamboo, humans are being bamboozled.

Nutrition scientists compete to be noticed, and some surrender to the dangerous temptations of notoriety. This results in questions that play to pop culture interests rather than scientific merit, such as “Which is better: low fat or low carb?” The question is destitute of meaning: High-fat foods range from peanuts to pepperoni; high carb foods range from lentils to lollipops.

The transgressions of nutrition scientists — some intentional, many not — are then compounded by an unholy host of others.

More here.

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Debunking the Capitalist Cowboy

Nan Enstad in the Boston Review:

Capitalism, like the United States itself, has a mythology, and for five decades one of its central characters has been the nineteenth-century maverick cigarette entrepreneur, James B. Duke. Duke’s risk-taking investment in the newfangled machine-made cigarette, so the story goes, displaced the pricey, hand-rolled variety offered by his stodgy competitors. This, in turn, won Duke control of the national, and soon global, cigarette market. Repeated ad nauseam in business and history journals, high school and university curricula, popular magazines, and websites, the story has taught that disruptive innovation drives capitalist progress.

The problem? The Duke story is false: mid-century business historians fabricated it to accord with the theory of creative destruction, developed by libertarian economist Joseph Schumpeter. For generations, we have learned from this myth to fetishize entrepreneurial innovation as the engine of capitalism, while missing Duke’s instrumental role in rampant corporate empowerment.

More here.

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How To Arrange Your Kitchen: According To Julia Child

Pamela Heyne in Literary Hub:

As I looked around, Julia said, “People are always surprised my kitchen is not more high tech.” Actually, I had imagined it would resemble one of the glamorous sets on The French Chef. My first thought was, “Where is the island? Julia Child always works at an island.” I admit now to being a little disappointed. I had been fooled by the illusion of TV. What I saw instead was a smallish, old-fashioned, eat-in kitchen with cluttered countertops and cabinets seriously in need of painting. By then it was nearly 30 years old—and it looked its age. Yet, the more I looked around, the more I realized that it was a fascinating and important place, with its old stove and its batterie de cuisine, with what looked like thousands of glistening cooking implements close at hand. It was a very comfortable and welcoming workroom full of carefully chosen tools and fixtures. Here are some of the most important things I noticed that day.

More here.

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Why I invented Titania McGrath

Andrew Doyle in Spiked:

Last April, I decided to set up a satirical account on Twitter under the guise of radical intersectionalist poet Titania McGrath. She’s a po-faced young activist who, in spite of her immense privilege, is convinced that she is oppressed. She’s not a direct parody of an existing individual, but anyone who regularly reads opinion columns in the Guardian will be familiar with the type. Given that such individuals are seemingly impervious to reason, and would rather cry ‘bigot’ than engage in serious debate, satire seemed to be the only option.

The obsession with victimhood from predominantly bourgeois political commentators is something I have always found inherently funny. It’s a phenomenon that has been amplified to a great extent by social media. This extremely vocal minority of activists enjoy pontificating to the masses from their online lectern, berating those who fall short of their moral expectations, and endlessly trawling through old tweets in the hope of discovering a misjudged phrase or sentiment that could justify a campaign of public shaming. In their eyes, there is no possibility of redemption. The most vicious remarks you’ll find on social media come from the racist far right and woke intersectionalists. They are two heads of the same chimera.

More here.

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The Myth Of Meritocracy In Trump’s America

Robert Reich in Newsweek:

Most Americans still cling to the meritocratic notion that people are rewarded according to their efforts and abilities. But meritocracy is becoming a cruel joke.

Last Tuesday, the Justice Department announced indictments of dozens of wealthy parents for using bribery and fraud to get their children into prestigious colleges.

But the real scandal isn’t how far a few wealthy parents will go to get their kids admitted (apparently $1.2 million in illegal payoffs), but how commonplace it has become for them to go almost as far without breaking any laws – shelling out big bucks for essay tutors, testing tutors, admissions counselors, and “enrichment” courses (not to mention sky-high tuition at private schools feeding into the Ivy League).

Inequality is lurking behind all this, and not just because the wealthy can afford it. Researchers Daniel Schneider, Orestes Hastings, and Joe LaBriola found that in states with the biggest gaps between rich and poor, well-to-do parents spend the most trying to get their children into elite colleges.

More here.

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Journalism Dies in Self-Importance

Lance Morrow in The City Journal:

I suppose it’s true that “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” as the Washington Post’s slogan says. But journalism may also die, by morphing into forms that can no longer be described as journalism. Journalism may come to mean a crooked scandal sheet, or high-minded propaganda. Sometimes squalor and self-righteousness are equally disreputable. The Post’s apothegm, somehow off-kilter, with its alliteration and self-importance, was a purposeful bit of branding, designed to claim high ground and to poke a thumb in President Trump’s eye every morning. Such partisan intent detracts from the slogan’s claim to universality. The self-serving implication—the notion that, against the Darkness, the Washington Postrepresents the Light—invites the reader to respond (as readers have always responded to the Chicago Tribune’s slogan, “The World’s Greatest Newspaper”) by muttering, “I’ll be the judge of that, pal.”

The other day, Ted Koppel, a voice from the late-twentieth-century practice of journalism, spoke about what has become of his old business in the age of Trump. “We are not the reservoir of objectivity that I think we were,” Koppel said, in an understatement. The Left always cites Fox News in this regard. He singled out the Washington Post and the New York Times, saying that they have gone overboard in their bias, transforming themselves into anti-Trump advocates. “We are not talking about the Washington Post [or New York Times] of 50 years ago,” Koppel said. “We’re talking about organizations that . . . have decided, as organizations, that Donald J. Trump is bad for the United States.”

Both papers have in effect declared a state of emergency because of Trump and have granted themselves the editorial equivalent of dictatorial powers. Doing so may be as ill-advised with newspapers as with elected officials. When journalists don’t consider themselves bound to old norms of objectivity, there comes an absence of restraint that is inherently corrupting. The morning story conference takes on the atmosphere of a rally of zealots. The newspaper becomes the Pequod: President Trump is the white whale.

More here.

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