Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Snippets of life past and present

1. Some glimpses of the 20th century. First, some fantastic Communist buildings.  Second, some facts prompted by the anniversary of VE Day. I did not know this: "Hitler killed himself on the afternoon of 17 Iyar, according to the Jewish calendar, a few hours before the onset of Lag b'omer - when mourning is traditionally abandoned for celebration. Such symbolism was understood by all Jews ...". There are hundreds of stories like this: "By chance, King George, his wife, Queen Elizabeth and the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret visited the East End of London the day after VE Day. They stopped at Hughes Mansions in Vallance Road in Stepney where the penultimate V-2 rocket of the war had struck at the end of March 1945. ... Of the 134 people killed in Hughes Mansions, 120 were Jews. The eleven-year-old cousin of the writer, Anthony Rudolf, was killed and the journalist Jonathan Freedland lost the grandmother he never knew."

2. And here are some glimpses into relationships between the sexes in the 21st century. First, Shagaluf is alive and well. (Is it just me, or is it odd that in these times of austerity taxpayers' money is being spent on sending a woman to stay in Magaluf despite the fact she didn't really enjoy being there: "I was often subjected to attention I didn’t want and regularly invited to hotel rooms with men I didn’t know.") While in New York, wives can earn bonuses from their husbands: "New York, unlike London, has a very flexible and mobile class system, so it makes sense that these women deserve a ‘bonus’ or an infusion of cash, because they’re tirelessly working on the social rank of the couple." Meritocracy in action.

3. You remember the Broken Windows Theory? Perhaps it is true. Here is a report on a whole series of tests including this one: "A person on the sidewalk accidentally drops some oranges just before meeting another pedestrian. Normally, 40% of passersby help the stranger pick up their oranges. If approximately 20 yards earlier, the passersby had witnessed someone drop an aluminum can and pick it up back up, 64% will help the stranger. If 20 yards earlier, the passerby had witnessed someone (a private citizen) sweeping the sidewalk, 82% helped the stranger."

4. Say you have multiple personalities inside one body. Is that actually a disorder? Lots of people (it's hard to count them, for a variety of reasons) would say no. And this is interesting: "Studies about dissociative identity disorder have shown the following: First, a body diagnosed with DID can react differently to medicine depending on which person is fronting. Second, one body examined by doctors could see when certain people were fronting, but was blind when others fronted. And third, there are distinct differences between the brain patterns of those with DID and the brain patterns of actors who are simply taking on different personas." I clicked on the link about blindness and got this abstract: "We present a patient with dissociative identity disorder (DID) who after 15 years of diagnosed cortical blindness gradually regained sight during psychotherapeutic treatment. At first only a few personality states regained vision, whereas others remained blind. This was confirmed by electrophysiological measurement, in which visual evoked potentials (VEP) were absent in the blind personality states but normal and stable in the seeing states. The switch between these states could happen momentarily. As a neural basis of such psychogenic blindness, we assume a top-down modulation of activity in the primary visual pathway, possibly at the level of the thalamus or the primary visual cortex. Therefore VEPs do not allow distinction of psychogenic blindness from organic disruption of the visual pathway. In summary, psychogenic blindness seems to suppress visual information at an early neural stage."

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Someone else foaming at the mouth

An Oxford philosopher, posting on a blog entitled 'Practical Ethics', has written something entitled "If you’re a Conservative, I’m not your friend". It starts "One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news this morning was check to see which of my Facebook friends ‘like’ the pages of the Conservatives or David Cameron, and unfriend them. (Thankfully, none of my friends ‘like’ the UKIP page.) Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online." It continues in similar vein here.

The post has caused a bit of a stir: the Independent covers it here, archly starting its article by saying that "Britain’s liberal intelligentsia normally tries to react to setbacks in the spirit of peace, love and understanding."

Meanwhile, Daniel Hannan continues to speak sense, including this: "Labour is also built on many decent impulses: standing up for the underdog, dispersing power away from elites, raising the condition of the poorest."

Hannan's argument includes a suggestion that the sort of left-wing rhetoric he describes creates shy Tories. But here is an interesting snippet suggesting that it is lazy Labourites who disproved the polls rather than shy Tories - it seems that Labour turn out was not as high as expected. I'd like to see the figures for the other parties before putting too much weight on that, but at least I've found one of these people - here is Zoe Williams in the Guardian, saying "I didn’t even vote for them myself; God knows how I expected to wake up with a Labour government."

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Facts about television

Really, these are facts about society.

First, "In the UK today, a young person is more likely to have a television in their bedroom than a father in their house by the end of their childhood. And even if fathers are around, their sons don’t engage with them much: boys spend 44 hours in front of a TV, smartphone or computer screen for every half hour in conversation with their fathers." That's from here.

Second, "the for-profit commercial TV industry is far more effective than our subsidized nonprofit arts organizations at engaging economically vulnerable members of our society". That's from here. It seems that it isn't the cost that puts poor people off going to the ballet.

David Runciman, foaming at the mouth

Left wingers get so emotional, don't they? It's not enough for them to say that their opponents are people of good faith who are sadly mistaken about the importance of deficit reduction - they have to say that their opponents are evil people, intent on cutting for the sake of it, who would love nothing more than putting the NHS in a workhouse and birching it, or something like that, purely because they have sold their souls to the devil. Even if the differences between the parties are pretty small, the sense of moral outrage somehow seems the same: effective overall tax rate of 40% - outrageous, the poor dying on the streets! Effective overall tax rate of 41% - the new Jerusalem, socialist paradise!

It's definitely asymmetric. There is no equivalent to the phrase "Tory bastard". In fact, there is hardly any real equivalent to "Tory", said with that sneer of disapproval that is bizarrely acceptable in polite company.

All of which is just part of life's rich tapestry, you might say, but I don't think it is good for the psychological health of left wingers. "Were you up for Portillo?" they still ask, taking positive pleasure in having seen a human being lose an honest livelihood, his dreams crushed before their eyes. Right wingers will happily concede that Ed Balls turns out to be gracious, human and impressive in defeat and as for Nick Clegg, well, surely no one delights in his tears. But left wingers seem to have so much anger inside them, just waiting to be unleashed. Isn't it all rather tiring?

Which leads me to the frankly comic spectacle of David Runciman in the LRB. He is certainly angry about the election, but beyond that, who knows what he is saying. I've had a go at understanding it below.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Striking sentences

1. "But what could be more important than the resurgence of a fascist movement on the European continent? I’m not talking about these sappy fascists who run around the streets in Western Europe. I’m talking about guys with a lot of weapons, guys who have done dastardly things and who have killed people." That is Stephen F. Cohen being very interesting about what is going on in Russia and Ukraine. He would have interesting things to say to the chap who wrote about whether the West won the Cold War (or thought it did) that I posted about not that long ago.

5. "Do we still have to lean in if Dave Goldberg is dead?" A warning: this is strong stuff, and is not for members of the (David) Goldberg/Sandberg family or their close friends. The writer has a point, but you have been warned.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The origins of the UK Green Party go back to 1972, when a former Conservative councillor read an interview in Playboy

Read blue, go green, as Cameron didn't quite say.

That fact is from this article in the LRB that explains what the Greens are really all about. "The trouble for the Greens is that they really would like to see the end of modern civilisation – as we know it". It's a policy that a lot of people would support. But when I say 'a lot of people' I still mean fewer people than their current poll numbers would suggest.

That interview in Playboy was with Paul Ehrlich, the chap who predicted in 1968 that "In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programmes embarked upon now." As with Malthus, of course, Ehrlich may well have been right except on the question of timing. But just as markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, I suspect that Western civilisation can stumble on for longer than the Greens can remain the middle-class left's guilt-free alternative to the LibDems.