Friend of 3QD just declared president of Ireland


VETERAN Labour politician Michael D Higgins was declared Ireland’s next president last night after a collapse in support for his nearest challenger, Independent Sean Gallagher, in Thursday’s vote. The first official count gave Mr Higgins 40 per cent of the vote. The resounding victory – 701,101 votes out of 1.77 million – was secured with a tidal wave of 11th hour support for the 70-year-old from Galway after controversy over his biggest rival’s political fundraising past. Mr Higgins, a former government minister, came from 15 points behind in the opinion polls last weekend to seal his victory, with all other candidates conceding defeat. Amid hectic scenes at the National Count Centre in Dublin Castle, president-elect Mr Higgins said his term in office would be about inclusion, ideas and transformation.

more from The Scotsman here. (Some of us will never forget Michael Higgins reciting his poetry at Flux Factory during a late night event some years ago. Wonderful man. Congrats to Ireland!)

Philosophical Education or Legitimations of Analytic Philosophy?

Santiago Zabala in Purlieu:

Hardwired_imageBeing is challenged in the university today by the hegemony of analytic philosophy. The teaching of how to measure the quality of philosophical argumentation through formal logic is squeezing out ontological accounts of existential problems from the history of philosophy. An increasing number of departments all over the world are funded and rewarded only as long as they follow the secure path of modern science; in other words, if they adopt a problem-solving approach that assures objective results. In classrooms, the transmission of logical notions prevails over fruitful dialogues with the aim of educating students according to certain metaphysical assertions. While this transmission might be useful for being at the university, it definitely is not useful for Being in the university—an institution where it is possible to question the fundamental concepts of philosophy and also of oneself. If, as Hans-Georg Gadamer explained, “we understand only when we understand differently,” then much more than the transmission of information happens during a lecture; there is also the possibility to disclose to students (and professors) their interpretations, differences, or even existence. Philosophy does not stand together with other disciplines, such as medicine or architecture, in legitimizing practices; rather, its practice is questions whose answers have never been legitimized or settled.

More here.

Wouldn’t It Be Cool if Shakespeare Wasn’t Shakespeare?

Stephan Marche in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_02 Oct. 28 13.27“Was Shakespeare a fraud?” That’s the question the promotional machinery for Roland Emmerich’s new film, “Anonymous,” wants to usher out of the tiny enclosure of fringe academic conferences into the wider pastures of a Hollywood audience. Shakespeare is finally getting the Oliver Stone/“Da Vinci Code” treatment, with a lurid conspiratorial melodrama involving incest in royal bedchambers, a vapidly simplistic version of court intrigue, nifty costumes and historically inaccurate nonsense. First they came for the Kennedy scholars, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Kennedy scholar. Then they came for Opus Dei, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Catholic scholar. Now they have come for me.

Professors of Shakespeare — and I was one once upon a time — are blissfully unaware of the impending disaster that this film means for their professional lives. Thanks to “Anonymous,” undergraduates will be confidently asserting that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare for the next 10 years at least, and profs will have to waste countless hours explaining the obvious. “Anonymous” subscribes to the Oxfordian theory of authorship, the contention that Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Among Shakespeare scholars, the idea has roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts.

The good news is that “Anonymous” makes an extraordinarily poor case for the Oxfordian theory. I could nitpick the film all day.

More here.

Counsel for OWS from Iran’s Green Movement

Kusha Sefat in Juan Cole's blog Informed Consent:

The-green-movement-was-a--007Following the disputed Presidential election in Iran, our Western compatriots gave many suggestions on combating state oppression. Various tactics and strategies were devised for Iranian protesters, some on this very blog. It seems that most of those recommendations were ineffective within Iran’s particular social and political context. It may be worth outlining some of the tactics that were in fact useful to Iranian protesters particularly as the OWS movement kicks into high gear (assuming these tactics make sense within the American socio-political context). The following are the Top 10 most effective tactics for the OWS, stemming from the experience of mass social movement in Iran.

1) Pick a color to represent your movement and wear it daily in public places (work, restaurant, etc.). Remember, this is a numbers game. You want maximum visibility, and to bring your movement into everyday life.

2) Have an all-inclusive strategy. Accept people with different views who are willing to join you in protest. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to know what you want as a movement yet. The goal at this stage is to point to your opponents and say that they have been lying to you; that the show they have constructed is false and that you are sick of it.

3) Demonstrate peacefully. Committing violence during demonstrations leads to ruptures within your movement, diminishes public sympathy, and gives the security forces a reason to violently suppress your protest.

More here.

Didion’s Details

From The Paris Review:

DidionNear the beginning of Salvador, Joan Didion’s 1982 account of a repressive state in the thick of civil war, Didion goes to the mall. She’s looking for the truth of a country held in its aisles, and also tablets to purify her drinking water. She doesn’t find the tablets, but she does find everything else: imported foie gras and beach towels printed with maps of Manhattan, cassette tapes of Paraguayan music, vodka bottles packaged with stylish glasses. She writes:

This was a shopping center that embodied the future for which El Salvador was presumably being saved, and I wrote it down dutifully, this being the kind of “color” I knew how to interpret, the kind of inductive irony, the detail that was supposed to illuminate the story. As I wrote it down I realized that I was no longer much interested in this kind of irony, that this was a story that would not be illuminated by such details, that this was a story that would perhaps not be illuminated at all.

Her intelligence excavates a truth at once uncomfortable and crystalline: in the middle of a war you can’t see, you still want to look. You want to squint your keen and cutting eyes at whatever you can find. Because your subject is fear, and fear isn’t something with a particular scent or tint, only something in the air that makes it difficult to breath. It will not respond to any name when you call it into the light. Every night in El Salvador, people were being picked up in trucks, killed, and thrown in landfills, and Joan Didion stood looking at a row of imported vodkas, thinking, What? Just pointing at them, because they were there, and what right did they have? Irony is easier than hopeless silence but braver than flight. The problem is that sometimes your finger shakes as you gesture, there is no point, and you can’t point anywhere—or at least not at anything visible. I sometimes find myself in the role that Didion casts aside—the aisle-wandering, detail-pillaging self, who comes for water-purifying tablets and leaves with the price-tagged Cliff Notes of a country’s suffering.

More here.

Friday Poem

Matriot Acts, Act 1 (History of Mankind)

you no longer believe in anything

movement of train, mauve waves

grammar's anomie

gets you down or

war at the back and crown of head

PsyOps, o chicken little the sky! the sky!

o the fallen sky an edge of blue

hanging but

still breathing those colors?

a garden broken & restored many times

how often trying to leave it, bend away

words from that beautiful throat

listen or break or oscillate or

clamor as opposed to "read about"

could you be my model human being

up there on the dais?

o you, she...maybe he's the one

& we came back from the cinema

glow behind our tears

and you saying a woman, a woman!

how tragic to be such slender thread of a woman

where was I being led?

more people thick in space

in constant motion

twisted around a clock

solar wind, solar heat, sociable matrix

it's an atavistic mixed-up dream

and stirs the branches

high in Freedom Park

it was the voice of a desultory fragment

of speech now, talking about "state" and "union"

how darkness turns at the wrist


by Anne Waldman
from History of Mankind

Friendly bacteria move in mysterious ways

From Nature:

AyogMany yoghurts are loaded with live bacteria, and labelled with claims that consuming these microorganisms can be good for your health. But a study published today shows that such yoghurts have only subtle effects on the bacteria already in the gut and do not replace them. Nathan McNulty, a microbiologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, recruited seven pairs of identical twins, and asked one in each pair to eat twice-daily servings of a popular yoghurt brand containing five strains of bacteria. By sequencing bacterial DNA in the twins' stool samples, the team showed that the yoghurt microbes neither took up residence in the volunteers' guts, nor affected the make-up of the local bacterial communities. Jeffrey Gordon, the microbiologist at Washington University who led the study, was not surprised. “We were only giving several billion bacterial cells in total to the twins, who harbour tens of trillions of gut microbes in their intestines,” he says.

More here.

The World of the Intellectual vs. The World of the Engineer

Timothy Ferris in Wired:

Being an intellectual had more to do with fashioning fresh ideas than with finding fresh facts. Facts used to be scarce on the ground anyway, so it was easy to skirt or ignore them while constructing an argument. The wildly popular 18th-century thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose disciples range from Robespierre and Hitler to the anti-vaccination crusaders currently bringing San Francisco to the brink of a public health crisis, built an entire philosophy (nature good, civilization bad) on almost no facts at all. Karl Marx studiously ignored the improving living standards of working-class Londoners — he visited no factories and interviewed not a single worker — while writing Das Kapital, which declared it an “iron law” that the lot of the proletariat must be getting worse. The 20th-century philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend boasted of having lectured on cosmology “without mentioning a single fact.”

Eventually it became fashionable in intellectual circles to assert that there was no such thing as a fact, or at least not an objective fact. Instead, many intellectuals maintained, facts depend on the perspective from which are adduced. Millions were taught as much in schools; many still believe it today.

More here. And here is a reaction from Massimo Pigluicci in Rationally Speaking:

“The world of the intellectual vs the world of the engineer” […] is a quasi incoherent rant about the evils of intellectualisms and the virtues of applied science. Ferris writes, I would argue as an intellectual, in one of the most intellectual of contemporary publications, about how the battle between intellectualism and science-engineering has been waged since the beginning of the printing press. The results are in – science/engineering won hands down – time to close the curtain on intellectualism.

Ferris engages in such a stereotypical piece of anti-intellectualism that Richard Hofstadter (the sociologist who authored the classic Anti-intellectualism in American Life) could have used him as a poster boy. Hofstadter defined anti-intellectualism as “a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life.” Indeed, Hofstadter even identified the precise category of anti-intellectualism to which Ferris’ rant belongs: instrumentalism, or the idea that only practical knowledge matters and should be cultivated. In America, the attitude traces its roots to the robber barons of the 19th century, as exemplified by the attitude of Andrew Carnegie about classical studies: a waste of “precious years trying to extract education from an ignorant past.”

More here.

Pixar Animator Rethinks Hindu Mythology

Hindudeities4Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings:

What if you could cross The Night Life of Trees, the magical artwork based on Indian mythology, with The Ancient Book of Myth and War, that delightful side project by a team of Pixar animators? You’d get The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow — an impossibly charming illustrated almanac of gods and goddesses by Pixar animator Sanjay Patel. These beautiful stories from Indian mythology span the entire spectrum of human experience — petty quarrels and epic battles, love and betrayal, happiness and loss — with equal parts humor and respect, pairing each full-color illustration with a lively profile of that deity.

In the book’s introduction, Patel notes his fascination with Japanese animation, which influenced his style in depicting the Hindu deities — a curious case of creative cross-pollination across cultures. For an added smile, Patel originally self-published the book before Plume picked it up.

Is Self-Knowledge Overrated?

DKahnemanMore on Kahneman from Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker:

[T]here is a subtle optimism lurking in all of Kahneman’s work: it is the hope that self-awareness is a form of salvation, that if we know about our mental mistakes, we can avoid them. One day, we will learn to equally weigh losses and gains; science can help us escape from the cycle of human error. As Kahneman and Tversky noted in the final sentence of their classic 1974 paper, “A better understanding of these heuristics and of the biases to which they lead could improve judgments and decisions in situations of uncertainty.” Unfortunately, such hopes appear to be unfounded. Self-knowledge isn’t a cure for irrationality; even when we know why we stumble, we still find a way to fall.

Consider the story of Harry Markowitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who largely invented the field of investment-portfolio theory. By relying on a set of complicated equations, Markowitz was able to calculate the optimal mix of financial assets. (Due to loss-aversion, most investors hold too many low-risk bonds, but Markowitz’s work helped minimize the effect of the bias by mathematizing the decision.) Markowitz, however, was incapable of using his own research, at least when setting up his personal retirement fund. “I should have computed the historical co-variances of the asset classes and drawn an efficient frontier,” Markowitz later confessed. “Instead, I visualized my grief if the stock market … went way down and I was completely in it. My intention was to minimize my future regret. So I split my contributions 50/50 between bonds and equities.”

Football coaches have performed just as badly. Although it’s now clear that their biases have a meaningful impact—a coach immune to loss aversion would win one more game in three seasons out of every four—their collective decision-making hasn’t improved.

This same theme applies to practically all of our thinking errors: self-knowledge is surprisingly useless.

Pakistan Aslant: the two-hour version

Christopher Lydon at Radio Open Source:

LydonHere’s the short form, as we say: nearly a month of strong conversation in Pakistan this past summer, distilled to two radio hours.

Both hours are illuminating the judgment that (1) Pakistan is not about to destroy itself, much less go away and (2) that Pakistan’s mutually-abusive marriage with the United States is not about to end, either. When our Pentagon accuses the Pakistan’s army intelligence of targeting American troops, and when Secretary of State Clinton says we’re not going to take it anymore, count on it that the Pakistan story is with us for a while. But what’s the history unfolding here? How did it come to this? What do Pakistanis say?

What I didn’t know, going in, was the deep old under-layer of tribulation in Pakistan. I wasn’t prepared for the edgy energy of Pakistan either, the confidence of tough people, and much beauty, too. Among the contradictory truths that we Americans barely know about Pakistan are (1) that it’s a cultural powerhouse (in poetry, fiction, and especially music) in South Asia and beyond; (2) it’s been a resentful and prickly junior partner in our US-sponsored proxy wars for thirty-plus years — first (embracing terrorism) against the Soviets and later against the terrorist groups and ideologies we promoted; (3) the troubles of Pakistan can be (and in conversation often are) traced back before the Cold War and the Islamic revolution to the moment of birth in 1947, the Partition of British India that created two unequal sibling rivals in 1947; and (4) that thoughtful Pakistanis talk not only of the rising trend of estrangement from the US but also of a convergent trend toward inequality and the over-reach of elites in both countries.

Listen to the excellent programs here.

The Effect Effect

DKahnemanDaniel Engber in Slate:

In 1969, the psychologist Robert Zajonc published an article about a curious study. He'd posted a silly-sounding word—either kardirga, saricik, biwonjni, nansoma, or iktitaf—on the front page of some student newspapers in Michigan every day for several weeks. Then he sent questionnaires to the papers' readers, asking them to guess whether each word referred to “something 'good' ” or “something 'bad.’ ” Their answers were consistent, if a little strange: Nonsense words that showed up in print many times were judged to be more positive than those that appeared just once or twice. The fact of their repetition, said Zajonc, gave the words an aura of warmth and trustworthiness. He called this the mere exposure effect.

Maybe you've heard about this study before. Maybe you know a bit about Zajonc and his work. That's good. If you've already seen the phrase mere exposure effect in print, then you'll be more likely to believe that it's true. That's the whole point.

Psychologists have devised other ways to make a message more persuasive. “You should first maximize legibility,” says Daniel Kahneman, who describes the Zajonc experiment in Thinking, Fast and Slow, a compendium of his thought and work. Faced with two false statements, side-by-side, he explains, readers are more likely to believe the one that's typed out in boldface. More advice: “Do not use complex language where simpler language will do,” and “in addition to making your message simple, try to make it memorable.” These factors combine to produce a feeling of “cognitive ease” that lulls our vigilant, more rational selves into a stupor. It's an old story, and one that's been told many times before. It even has a name: Psychologists call it the illusion of truth.

See how it works? A simple or repeated phrase, printed in bold or italics, makes us feel good; it just seems right. For Kahneman, that's exactly what makes it so dangerous.

“Wife-sharing” haunts Indian villages as girls decline

Nita Bhalla at Reuters:

ScreenHunter_01 Oct. 27 19.35Social workers say decades of aborting female babies in a deeply patriarchal culture has led to a decline in the population of women in some parts of India, like Baghpat, and in turn has resulted in rising incidents of rape, human trafficking and the emergence of “wife-sharing” amongst brothers.

Aid workers say the practice of female foeticide has flourished among several communities across the country because of a traditional preference for sons, who are seen as old-age security.

“We are already seeing the terrible impacts of falling numbers of females in some communities,” says Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of children's charity Plan India.

“We have to take this as a warning sign and we have to do something about it or we'll have a situation where women will constantly be at risk of kidnap, rape and much, much worse.”

More here.

Why are people so afraid of Ennahda?


Tunisia is a country with a strong secular identity, but it is equally true that, since the fall of Ben Ali and the annulment of the constitution, practicing Muslim Tunisians have acquired greater space and visibility. Ennahda is without a doubt the symbol for these pious Tunisians, even though Ennahda’s leading candidate in the Tunis 2 constituency (perhaps the most important one) does not wear a veil. Outside the party headquarters in the Montplaisir district, crowded with the national and international press, Souad Abderrahim offers interviews and smiles. With her blue suit, sunglasses and a smile for the TV and newspaper cameras, she even embodies a certain glamour. She seems at ease, obviously she has practiced during the last few days of the election campaign, talking to people, making media appearances and charging up the crowds at the last rally held at the Ben Arus stadium, a working-class district in Tunis where hundreds of veiled and non-veiled women turned up to applaud her. Souad briefly answers questions that are ultimately all addressed at the same issue. What role will women play if Ennahda wins the elections? Victory is now a certainty, and the only element unknown is by what margin. And the answer is always the same, “Our aim is the freedom of all women. The veil is a religious and a personal choice.”

more from Antonella Vicini at Reset here. (Also, please give a few bucks to our fundraising campaign so we can get this damn thing over. Thanks.)