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Saturday, July 02, 2016

Will Singapore really collapse if we allow Alternative Service for NS?

One of the many distasteful aspects of National Slavery is the lack of choice of alternative service (AS) - those who are unwilling and/or unable to serve militarily cannot opt out of this (and do something else).

Defenders of the NS Status Quo (many of whom believe that the Country will collapse if any changes at all are made to the current system) claim that if there were a choice of alternative service, everyone would choose it, we would be left with an insufficient number of warm bodies to be cannon fodder and Singapore would be invaded the day after.

It is thus instructive to look at countries with alternative service, and how this has affected their ability to get sufficient military manpower.

Alternative Service in Europe

From European Union without Compulsory Military Service: Consequences for Alternative Service. A comparative study on the policies in EU-member states we can see what alternative service rates are.

For countries with appropriate figures for comparison (Conscientious Objectors (COs) vs serving military conscripts):

From 1993 to 1995 (when conscription was winding down) Belgium had 19,676 doing military service but 737 doing alternative service (AS). That's an alternative service rate of only 3.7%.

In Denmark there are 8,000 conscripts a year and from 1995-1999 figures only a tenth applied for AS.

In Finland only 6% of conscripts become COs.

In France, when they still had conscription less than 3% applied as COs each year.

In the Netherlands at its highest only 8% applied for AS.

In Portugal, for the last year figures were available (1996) less than 10% applied to be CO.

Note that in these Western European countries they are not bombarded with jingoistic messages about the necessity of conscription, it is not part of some sacred national myth, and the politicians do not propagate a crisis mentality.

These statistics also date from the 90s - after the end of the Cold War and before 9/11, when there was no clear enemy in sight and people wanted to enjoy the peace dividend.

Most of these countries are also under the NATO umbrella and can count on the USA to help defend them - and yet very few potential conscripts choose AS.

Finally, note too that Europeans are cheese-eating surrender monkeys - and yet so few of them apply for exemption from military conscription.

So if anything, in Singapore the proportion applying for alternative service would be even lower, and wouldn't significantly affect National Security. This is also without taking into account the fact that many people currently siam (shirk/escape) NS obligations in one way or other, so we can conclude that if there were the option for AS many would take it without significantly affecting military manpower.

Some might claim that military service in Singapore is much worse than in these countries, so the AS rate in Singapore would be higher if there were such an option. Yet, in Russia - where conscription is much shittier than in Singapore, there are few who opt for AS. A cohort has 130,000 conscripts but only 800-2,600 conscientious objectors, so only 0.6-2% opt for AS.

It is not as if European countries can afford to have alternative service because they have no security threats: Finland and Estonia (who have a real threat in the form of Russia next door - a threat that has been very real in the past) also have alternative service (as noted above, Finland had a AS rate of only 6%, and in Estonia from 1995-2001 they only had 11 COs - in 1996, vs 2,652 who completed military service in 2015; a naive division suggests that the AS rate was only 0.4%). I note that Estonia has 1.3 million people and Finland 5.3 million, so their manpower pool is not more than Singapore's (and their land area is a lot bigger so in one frame of analysis, more men are required to defend them).

Greece also has alternative service, despite historical and ongoing tensions with Turkey (e.g. over Cyprus); in 1999 there were "more than 200" COs out of 98,321 - given an average service length of about a year this is about 0.2% (though there're many draft dodgers)

Taking a historical view, I note also that West Germany - on the border of the Iron Curtain and thus a prime candidate for invasion if the Cold War turned Hot - also had alternative service

Alternative Service in Other Countries

We can look, too, at alternative service statistics for a country which actually has real enemies and has actually been involved in real combat: Taiwan (South Korea doesn't have the option of alternative service).

In Taiwan, out of a total of 150,000 conscripts per year, there're 17,000 to 23,000 performing alternative service every year, which is 11-15%.

Another country that comes to mind which actually has real enemies and has actually been involved in real combat is Israel. I trust that not even the most fervent supporter of National Service in Singapore would claim that Singapore's security situation is more precarious than Israel's. Yet, the Israel Defence Forces are transitioning to allowing alternative service.

Thus, it is far more likely that the real reasons why there is no option for alternative service in Singapore arise from political, rather than strategic or military considerations.

It is notable that the prevalence and length of conscription has been declining in the world as countries recognise that it makes neither economic nor military sense (Joshua C. Hall, The Worldwide Decline in Conscription: A Victory for Economics?). Yet, there has only been a small change in Singapore, with the duration of conscription being reduced from 24-30 months to 24 months in 2004.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Links - 30th June 2016

Malaysians who discredit or ridicule government can be barred from travelling overseas for 3 years - "the Immigration Department had enforced this ruling several months ago in a move to safeguard the country's image. "Anyone who runs down the government or 'memburukkan kerajaan' in any manner will be barred from going abroad... Immigration director-general Sakib Kusmi, in an e-mail reply to The Star, confirmed the existence of such a provision, adding that the ownership of a Malaysian international passport was a privilege and not a right... Datuk Sakib could not provide statistics on the number of Malaysians who have been barred from leaving the country for discrediting or ridiculing the government. Several people including politicians and social activitists who criticised the government are known to have been barred from leaving the country along."
Malaysia Boleh. Singapore welcomes them

Cannibalism Normal For Early Humans? - "Genetic markers commonly found in modern humans all over the world could be evidence that our earliest ancestors were cannibals, according to new research. Scientists suggest that even today many of us carry a gene that evolved as protection against brain diseases that can be spread by eating human flesh... A growing body of evidence, such as piles of human bones with clear signs of human butchery, suggests cannibalism was widespread among ancient cultures"

Ask Anything: Would Cannibalism Make You Fat? - "Taken as a whole, a cooked cadaver would yield about 81,500 calories’ worth of food"

Eating Sweets Could Actually Help Control Eating Habits - "eating sweet foods causes the brain to form a memory of a meal. In fact, the effects of sweets on the brain could be used to control eating behaviors... activities like watching television disrupts the memory encoding of a meal, thus increasing the amount of food people will consume during their next one.. even when they’ve already eaten, people with amnesia will continue to eat when presented with food because they have no memory of a meal."

Meal memories may influence later feelings of satiety - "the research team showed volunteers either a small or large portion of soup just before lunch, but then manipulated the actual amount of soup they consumed by means of a covert pump that could refill or empty a soup bowl without the eater noticing. The team found that the level of hunger reported by the volunteers was proportionate to the amount of food they had eaten immediately after they ate, however 2 to 3 hours after lunch, volunteers who had been shown a larger portion of soup reported significantly less hunger than those who had seen the smaller portion."

Women Who Go To Church Regularly Might Be Better Protected From An Early Grave - "There is evidence that it provides social support, discourages smoking, decreases depression, and promotes optimism or hope. These things affect health and appear to improve longevity"

Magic-mushroom drug lifts depression in first human trial

When TV Ads Go Subliminal With a Vengeance, We’ll Be to Blame - The New York Times - "That’s why NBC announced last month that it would remove about 30 percent of the commercial time from “Saturday Night Live” next season. It will seek to make the money back by giving advertisers occasional opportunities to sponsor bits based on whatever it is they’re selling. If it’s done right (and one assumes the “S.N.L.” producer Lorne Michaels will accept no less) the audience won’t even notice the sponsorship, which could come as a spoof based on the advertiser’s product."

NASA Study: Mass Gains of Antarctic Ice Sheet Greater than Losses

Language Log » Backward Thinking about Orientalism and Chinese Characters - "The problems with the article start with the title: “Chinese is Not a Backward Language”, which raises a red flag at the outset. For any scholar of the Chinese language, the question immediately arises: “Chinese language or Chinese script?” The two are not synonymous, after all. Reviewing the article, it is obvious that Mullaney constantly conflates, confuses, or ignores the distinction between the two. Sometimes the conflation seems careless and unintentional, but at other times I suspect that he blurs the line intentionally to bolster the straw-man argument of his piece: namely that criticisms of the Chinese characters are part of a lingering racist, “Orientalist” prejudice against the Chinese language, and by extension, Chinese culture itself... Exactly who is saying that Chinese is a backward language? For the record, no reputable contemporary scholars are espousing anything like this claim, which is why Mullaney has to go back to Hegel and Social Darwinism for his examples. One can, however, find plenty of reputable linguists and experts who have much to say about the problems with the Chinese script, and many of these problems are still with us despite the relatively successful adoption of characters into cyberspace. But the claim that the Chinese language itself is under assault from chauvinistic Western linguists is a much starker and more sensationalist narrative that draws more media attention and re-tweets... Surely Mullaney is aware that the fiercest critics of the Chinese writing system were not foreigners, but the Chinese themselves. May Fourth intellectuals such as Chen Duxiu and Guo Moruo advocated the eventual abolition of Chinese characters, and even China’s most famous modern writer, Lu Xun, was quoted as saying “If the Chinese characters are not eliminated, China is doomed.” Were these patriotic May Fourth Chinese guilty of racism, or colonialist thinking?... in the years prior to the communist takeover in 1949, Mao Zedong and his language planners expressed every intention of abolishing Chinese characters once they came to power"

Hard Truths About Race on Campus - WSJ - "They demanded increased affirmative action, more diversity training, more funds to support scholarship and teaching about race and social justice. What harm could it do?... the existing research literature suggests that such reforms will fail to achieve their stated aims of reducing discrimination and inequality. In fact, we think that they are likely to damage race relations and to make campus life more uncomfortable for everyone, particularly black students... People notice useful social cues, and one of the strongest causes of stereotypes is exposure to real group differences... For black, Asian and Latino students, “membership in ethnically oriented student organizations actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling of victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity”... A review of diversity interventions published in 2014 in the journal Science noted that these programs “often induce ironic negative effects (such as reactance or backlash) by implying that participants are at fault for current diversity challenges”... microaggression training is likely to backfire and increase racial tensions. The term itself encourages moralistic responses to actions that are often unintentional and sometimes even well-meaning. Once something is labeled an act of aggression, it activates an oppressor-victim narrative, which calls out to members of the aggrieved group to rally around the victim. As the threshold for what counts as an offense falls ever lower, cross-racial interactions become more dangerous, and conflict increases... How would your behavior change if anything you said could be misinterpreted, taken out of context and then reported—anonymously and with no verification—to a central authority with the power to punish you? Wouldn’t faculty and students of all races grow more anxious and guarded whenever students from other backgrounds were present?... the U.S. Army escaped from the racial dysfunction of the 1970s to become a model of integration and near-equality by the time of the 1991 Gulf War. The Army invested more resources in training and mentoring black soldiers so that they could meet rigorous promotion standards. But, crucially, standards were lowered for no one, so that the race of officers conveyed no information about their abilities. The Army also promoted cooperation and positive-sum thinking by emphasizing pride in the Army and in America... Instead of focusing on microaggressions, our campuses might talk about blunders, misconceptions and self-righteousness—and about civility and forgiveness. As Martin Luther King Jr., put it in 1957: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”"
Identity politics and organising along identity groups just deepens one's sense of grievance

I Went to a Eurovision Sex Party - "Eurovision was starting, and the host told us the rules. The rules. Nothing quite gets the juices going like a rigorously enforced and laminated list of regulations. We would each be assigned a country, the rules stated, and when our country performed, we would take our underwear off in front of everyone. I was Ireland, which made me nervous in case the hosts had plans for the winner, but by the time the winner was crowned we'd all be in the shameless post-coital glow by then. Right?... I was in a room with 30 guys who wanted to have group sex, but not until we had watched every song of the Eurovision Song Contest"

Why A Little Mammal Has So Much Sex That It Disintegrates - "It’s August in Australia, and a small, mouse-like creature called an antechinus is busy killing himself through sex. He was a virgin until now, but for two to three weeks, this little lothario goes at it non-stop. He mates with as many females as he can, in violent, frenetic encounters that can each last up to 14 hours. He does little else... the males, which were forced to compete intensely with each other in a matter of weeks. They didn’t fight. Rather than using claws or teeth, they competed with sperm"

If equality means sending my daughters to war, I want no part of it - "being a feminist doesn't have to mean standing up for sending our daughters to war. I am a feminist, and I do not support including women in selective service."
Comment: "Fine, you don't want women to be drafted, then women don't get to vote. That's always been the deal for men."

BBC blasted as ‘too Christian’ and may televise Muslim prayers from mosque - "THE BBC could broadcast the Muslim call to prayer according to plans from the corporation’s controversial head of religion — who previously compared Mary and Joseph to illegal migrants... he had written a report for director-general Tony Hall that would answer criticisms from non-Christian faiths that they were under-served... While working for Channel 4, Mr Ahmed upset Roman Catholic priests by commissioning documentaries that appeared to contain a pro-Islam bias. One series, called Christianity: A History, was criticised by Church figures for trivialising the religion. The channel was also accused of being biased towards Islam and failing to show enough respect to Christianity under Mr Ahmed. Under his tenure, the channel screened a week of special programmes on Islam including a feature-length documentary on the Qu’ran, and a series of interviews with Muslims around the world talking about their beliefs. Yet the main Christian documentary broadcast for Easter 2011, called The Secrets of the 12 Disciples, cast doubt on the validity of the Pope... “So the only ‘Christian’ output is Songs of Praise and Choral Evensong on R3 (which is all about the music and the excellence of British choral singing). It sounds to me as though Lord Hall isn’t very familiar with his own organisation’s output.”"

Scandinavia treats its 1% even better than the US - "Nordic tax policy protects the wealthiest 1% by placing very high taxes on income and, by American standards, modest taxes on large inheritances. The high income taxes make it harder for a successful Scandinavian entrepreneur to earn his way into the top 1%. The low inheritance taxes make it relatively easy to pass on large estates. In America, income taxes are lower, and estate taxes higher on wealthy fortunes are higher... there is some evidence the richest Americans are more likely to be self-made entrepreneurs rather than members of family dynasties."

Senior policewoman suspended after spat with female colleague over 'who has the best breasts' - "The 46-year-old is said to have got into a "loud disagreement" with Superintendent Sarah Jackson about who had the "best boobs" while attending the Senior Women In Policing conference"

The Female Libido Pill Is No Viagra

Put Your Shirts Back On: Why Femen Is Wrong - "Wearing the hijab, to be clear, is a sacred act of worship that many Muslim women practice voluntarily. In fact, I have friends who cover their hair against the will of their husbands and fathers who, ironically, fear for their safety in an increasingly Islamophobic climate... "They write on their posters that they don't need liberation but in their eyes it's written 'help me.'" As supposed trailblazers in initiating a discussion on women and religion, it is tragically ironic that when Muslim women spoke up, Femen didn't care to listen. "
If a Muslim man tells a Muslim woman not to put on a hijab, is this patriarchy?

Bertrand Russell on non-First Amendment Censorship

"The Chinese empire, many centuries ago, recognized the need of licensed criticism, and therefore established a Board of Censors, consisting of men with a reputation for learning and wisdom, and endowed with the right to find fault with the Emperor and his government. Unfortunately, like everything else in traditional China, this institution became conventionalized. There were certain things that the censors were allowed to censure, notably the excessive power of eunuchs, but if they wandered into unconventional fields of criticism the Emperor was apt to forget their immunity. Much the same thing is happening among us...

Liberals have always held that opinion should be formed by untrammeled debate, not by allowing only one side to be heard. Tyrannical governments, both ancient and modern, have taken the opposite view... Among the academic victims of German persecution in Poland there are, to my knowledge, some eminent logicians who are completely orthodox Catholics. I should do everything in my power to obtain academic positions for these men, in spite of the fact that their coreligionists do not return the compliment.

The fundamental difference between the liberal and the illiberal outlook is that the former regards all questions as open to discussion and all opinions as open to a greater or less measure of doubt, while the latter holds in advance that certain opinions are absolutely unquestionable, and that no argument against them must be allowed to be heard. What is curious about this position is the belief that if impartial investigation were permitted it would lead men to the wrong conclusion, and that ignorance is .... therefore, the only safeguard against error. This point of view is one which cannot be accepted by any man who wishes reason rather than prejudice to govern human action...

Uniformity in the opinions expressed by teachers is not only not to be sought, but is, if possible, to be avoided, since diversity of opinion among preceptors is essential to any sound education. No man can pass as educated who has heard only one side on questions as to which the public is divided. One of the most important things to teach in the educational establishments of a democracy is the power of weighing arguments, and the open mind which is prepared in advance to accept whichever side appears the more reasonable. As soon as a censorship is imposed upon the opinions which teachers may avow, education ceases to serve this purpose and tends to produce, instead of a nation of men, a herd of fanatical bigots. Since the end of the Great War, fanatical bigotry has revived until it has become over a great part of the world as virulent as during the wars of religion. All those who oppose free discussion and who seek to impose a censorship upon the opinions to which the young are to be exposed are doing their share in increasing this bigotry and in plunging the world further into the abyss of strife and intolerance from which Locke and his coadjutors gradually rescued it...

In every state, I repeat, no matter what its form of government, the preservation of freedom demands the existence of bodies of men having a certain limited, independence of the state, and among such bodies it is important that universities should be included...

The persecution of unpopular forms of intelligence is a very grave danger to any country, and has not infrequently been the cause of national ruin. The stock example is Spain, where the expulsion of the Jews and Moors led to the decay of agriculture and the adoption of a completely mad finance...

I think there is still some justice, though less than in De Tocqueville’s day, in the following passage:

In America the majority raises very formidable barriers to the liberty of opinion: within these barriers an author may write whatever he pleases, but he will repent it if he ever step beyond them. Not that he is exposed to the terrors of an auto-da-fe, but he is tormented by the slights and persecutions of daily obloquy. His political career is closed forever, since he has offended the only authority which is able to promote his success. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to him. Before he published his opinions he imagined that he held them in common with many others; but no sooner has he declared them openly than he is loudly censured by his overbearing opponents, whilst those who think without having the courage to speak, like him,abandon him in silence. He yields at length, oppressed by the daily efforts he has been making, and he subsides into silence, as if he was tormented by remorse for having spoken the truth.

... all serious intellectual progress depends upon a certain kind of self respect, a certain kind of independence of outside opinion, which cannot exist where the will of the majority is treated with that kind of religious respect which the orthodox give to the will of God. A respect for the will of the majority is more harmful than respect for the will of God, because the will of the majority can be ascertained...

Collective wisdom, alas, is no adequate substitute for the intelligence of individuals. Individuals who opposed received opinions have been the source of all progress, both moral and intellectual. They have been unpopular, as was natural. Socrates, Christ, and Galileo all equally incurred the censure of the orthodox. But in former times the machinery of suppression was far less adequate than it is in our day, and the heretic, even if executed, still obtained adequate publicity...

Of what importance, it may be said, is such a question as academic freedom in a world distracted by war, tormented by persecution, and abounding in concentration camps for those who will not be accomplices in iniquity ? In comparison with such things, I admit, the issue of academic freedom is not in itself of the first magnitude. But it is part and parcel of the same battle. Let it be remembered that what is at stake, in the greatest.issues as well as in those that seem smaller, is the freedom of the individual human spirit to express its beliefs and hopes for mankind, whether they be shared by many or by few or none. New hopes, new beliefs, and new thoughts are at all times necessary to mankind, and it is not out of a dead uniformity that they can be expected to arise."

--- Freedom and the Colleges / Bertrand Russell


"Metonymy is a figure of speech whereby one replaces a term by another whose meaning or reference is in a relationship of contiguity to it rather than in one of identity or similarity... This relationship may be causal, as with 'ear' for 'attention' ("Romans, lend me your ears"), or one of part-for-a-whole (the figure of speech known as synecdoche), as with 'Moscow' for 'Russia' - in fact any kind of close spatial or conceptual association. This tends to be conventionalized, but the type of relationship (e.g. of name of a place for an important institution or place associated with that place) can be transferred to quite novel acts of metonymic reference, as in "The pork chop left without paying" in a restaurant setting.

The metonymic relationship between The White House and the president of the United States... is a particularly clear-cut case"

--- Semantix / Michael Fortescue

This is like how "Downing Street" can refer to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and when I say "London said" I don't literally mean that the city physically spoke with one voice.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Links - 29th June 2016

A Brexit conspiracy theory nails the no-win situation Boris Johnson now finds himself in - "“He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated,” the comment, by a prolific and anti-Brexit commenter identified as Teebs, says. “If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over – Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this.” The commenter even goes so far as to say the Brexit campaigners themselves have no intention of carrying out the Article 50 process"

Welcome to Brexit Britain - a nation of secret Leave voters too afraid to own up - "My Facebook feed is currently full of people expressing distress and shock about the Brexit result. I can’t find a single one who's written something positive about the result, even though statistically - with 51.9 per cent of the population voting to leave the EU, and even factoring in London bias towards Remain - a good chunk of my 600 'friends' must have voted out... No wonder many Leavers are keeping quiet; the social media shaming has begun and if they speak out now, they risk being vilified. One 19-year-old summed it up when he spoke on Twitter about voting out and the assumptions people make about him: “I must be a racist and uneducated obviously.”... It has only been a matter of hours since the results came out, and already the Remainers are blaming the Leavers - or the "undereducated, misinformed, xenophobic stupid old arseholes"... We live in a democratic country, and we should be proud of the fact that 72.2 per cent of us came out to vote yesterday, not ‘embarrassed’ by those who ticked something different on their ballot paper. To me what’s even more upsetting than a shock Brexit is the fact that so many Britons felt they couldn’t talk honestly about their views - and that even now so many are too ashamed to speak out."
Amsusingly, the outroar about racist/xenophobic comments dwarfs any protest about the demonising of Leavers

John Bethell - Unlike, it seems, everyone on my Facebook and... - "Unlike, it seems, everyone on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I found the EU referendum vote to be an almost impossibly difficult decision. The arguments in favour of leaving or remaining were powerful but mismatched: why should the UK not make all of its own laws - and at what economic and diplomatic cost should it do so? The EU was full of contradictions: it had torn down borders and turned its back on the world beyond them; it guaranteed social and economic rights but caused so much hardship to some of its poorest citizens. Evidently most of my friends found it a simpler choice - with an obvious answer."

Immigration and Brexit: How a rising tide of European immigrants fueled the Leave vote. - "anti-immigration sentiment has long been seen as a proxy for racism against nonwhites. In more recent years, however, the challenges presented by mass European immigration complicated this neat picture of the prejudiced Conservative. Early on, David Cameron recognized that doubts about uncontrolled immigration were no longer limited to older white traditionalists who could be dismissed, fairly or otherwise, as motivated by racial resentment. Once the less-skilled immigrants at the heart of the immigration debate were Poles and Bulgarians rather than blacks and South Asians, one could more credibly argue that anti-immigration sentiment was driven by concerns about the fiscal and environmental impacts of immigration, not a blind hatred of outsiders... The only way Britain can make itself less attractive to less-skilled European immigrants is by imposing labor market regulations and welfare reforms that would apply to everyone, including less-skilled British workers"

Cornwall issues plea to keep EU funding after voting for Brexit - "The Cornish council has issued a plea for “protection” following the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. Cornwall, which has a poor economy and as such has received millions of pounds in subsidies from the EU each year for over a decade, voted decisively to Leave"

Obligatory Star Wars Post: Male Vs. Female Storytelling – How The New Star Wars Is Written For Women - "Rey is able to successfully force-pull a lightsaber when her opponent – a trained Sith apprentice who can stop lasers in mid-air – could not. All these powers randomly appear without any sort of training. She just “taps into” these abilities without any foreknowledge or practice. It’s almost as if these powers are out of her control. Thus, they aren’t a work of her purposeful action, but of passive circumstance. Sound familiar? Sounds to me like an allegory of how girls achieve womanhood."

The Difference Between Ginger Ale And Ginger Beer
There's going to be no more Ginger Beer in Singapore because Schweppes can't produce "Ginger Beer" in Malaysia (even though it's not brewed like the Ginger Beer in this article). But Ginger Ale is okay. Malaysians have poor vocabulary. Malaysia Boleh!

THOMAS SOWELL: Preferential treatment, ‘stop and frisk,’ disillusion of politics - "I don’t happen to like the idea of “stop and frisk.” However, I like even less the idea of armed hoodlums going around shooting people. Those who refuse to see that everything has a cost should be confronted with the question: How many more young blacks are you willing to see shot dead, because you don’t like ‘stop and frisk’? If you think human beings are always rational, it becomes impossible to explain at least half of history... Once, when I was teaching at an institution that bent over backward for foreign students, I was asked in class one day: “What is your policy toward foreign students?” My reply was: “To me, all students are the same. I treat them all the same and hold them all to the same standards.” The next semester there was an organized boycott of my classes by foreign students. When people get used to preferential treatment, equal treatment seems like discrimination."
This is a great take on the slogan: 'When You're Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression'

How a typo helped prevent a nearly $1 billion bank heist - "the hackers misspelled "foundation" in the NGO's name as "fandation", prompting a routing bank, Deutsche Bank, to seek clarification from the Bangladesh central bank, which stopped the transaction."

Facebook ‘Reaction’ buttons not as engaging: study - "They found that on an average Facebook Reactions have low significance. Taking a look at the share of interactions, researchers found that 97 per cent were likes, comments and shares... The study shows that videos obtain up to 40 per cent more Reactions than image posts, the 'Tech Times' reported. Users tend to use the "wow" reaction much more when dealing with videos instead of static pictures or GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format)... Facebook users are more likely to interact with content that is entertaining, funny or positive"

Let's Ruin Cuba! - "A look at Cuba's failed communist experiment."

Lacking Internet, Cubans Rely On 'The Package' For Entertainment - "Without hi-tech offerings, Cubans have found an ingenious way to get nearly real-time entertainment, as well as the latest magazines, apps and even video games. It's called the "Weekly Package," and it's passed, bought and sold hand-to-hand on external hard drives and memory sticks throughout the island... On a recent day, the latest "package" of offerings included everything from the latest episode of Showtime's Homeland, Univision's Sabado Gigante and even anti-virus software updates. There were also advertisements for Havana restaurants and a local kid's party decorator. Looks like capitalism to me."

BBC World Service - The Documentary, Trading Hair - "Like many Indian women, especially here in the South, she takes good care of her much-cherished hair. It shines with health, it's incredibly long and she has pinned a string of sweet smelling jasmine flowers to her thick plait. Sacrificing this symbol of her beauty is the ultimate sign of humility and religious devotion. She hopes that by giving it up, her husband will get a job and stop drinking... If you can just keep one hairstyle for every time. And weaves is in thing. As soon as you wear weaves, you become a different person. Believe me, it's not gonna be easy for you to go back to the short hair again"

Fake Uber cabby takes some for a ride - ""I was still a little sceptical and asked how much the fare was. I was told $9 and a set fee of $6 for Central Business District charges. I agreed," he said. But the charges rocketed during the journey, he said. "The driver asked if I would have boarded if a limousine cab had come by. When I said no, as it would have been expensive, he replied that his is an executive car and he charges $7 per kilometre. I was taken aback," he said. Mr Wong said he had not agreed to the charges and asked to alight at Novena Square. "When he said I owed him $37, I paid him $10 and told him if he wanted the rest, he should come (out of the cab and get it from me). He just drove off," Mr Wong added."
Sounds like what happened to me in Beijing

Can Porn Improve Your Sex Life? - "In PornHub's study of 400 heterosexual pornographic videos, women and men were found to be equally represented as initiators of sex, and in positions of power. Plus, PornHub's Insights point out that both men and women search for similar terms when on their website, though usually at different rates, and women were 80 to 100 percent more likely to search for "rough sex" and terms related to female-centric oral sex."

Why Couples Who Confess To Watching Porn Are Happier And Have Better Relationships

FYI: Do Men Really Fall Apart When A Female Soldier Gets Killed? - "There's no scientific evidence to support the conventional wisdom that women wounded in combat would destroy male soldiers' morale and performance."

Presence of Openly Gay Soldiers in IDF Does Not Undermine Unit Social Cohesion - "Social cohesion was significantly higher among combat soldiers than non combat soldiers but
knowledge of homosexual peers was not related to lower measures of social cohesion. Thus, the study found no support to the hypothesis that knowledge of homosexual peers undermines unit social cohesion"

How Tuberculosis Shaped Victorian Fashion - "Between 1780 and 1850, there is an increasing aestheticization of tuberculosis that becomes entwined with feminine beauty"

Malaria parasites enhance blood-feeding of their naturally infected vector Anopheles punctulatus. - "the two species of malaria parasites modified the mosquitoes' behaviour with the effect of increasing their own transmission."

Rudeness at work is contagious - "the most common cause of acting rudely is imitating the behaviour of colleagues... Previous research points to mental illness, reduced job satisfaction, staff members who work less efficiently or seek jobs elsewhere, reduced loyalty and more conflicts."

Antibiotics Are Helping Mosquitos Spread Malaria More Effectively - "mosquitos feeding on the blood of malaria patients taking antibiotics were healthier, lived longer, and were likely more effective at spreading malaria than those feeding on unmedicated hosts."

A Street Named Fleming - Calle Doctor Fleming - "A statue of Alexander Fleming stands outside the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, Madrid's main bull-ring. It was erected with funding from grateful matadors. The use of Penicillin substantially reduced the number of deaths in the bullring after injury by bulls."

Smell of malaria attracts mosquitoes

Not Born This Way

‘I am gay – but I wasn’t born this way’

"As Jane Ward notes in Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, what’s interesting about many of these claims is how transparent their speakers are with their political motivations. “Such statements,” she writes, “infuse biological accounts with an obligatory and nearly coercive force, suggesting that anyone who describes homosexual desire as a choice or social construction is playing into the hands of the enemy.” People who challenge the Born This Way narrative are often cast as homophobic, and their thinking is considered backward – even if they are themselves gay...

For Aravosis, and many gay activists like him, the public will only accept and affirm gay people if they think they were born gay. And yet the available research does not support this view. Patrick Grzanka, Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Tennessee, for instance, has shown that some people who believe that homosexuality is innate still hold negative views of gays. In fact, the homophobic and non-homophobic respondents he studied shared similar levels of belief in a Born This Way ideology...

Ward has received her own hatemail for pushing against the ruling LGB narratives, with some gays telling her she’s “worse than Ann Coulter,” the controversial US author of books like If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans. And when I published my essay on choosing to be gay, an irate American lesbian activist wrote me that it had “just been confirmed” to her that my writing was “directly responsible for four gay deaths in Russia”...

Activism must be founded upon facts and truths, or the whole program will eventually turn out to be a sham. Drowning out every voice that dares to question dominant cultural narratives is not the same thing as invalidating the arguments those voices are making...

The American Psychiatric Association writes in a 2013 statement that while the causes of heterosexuality and homosexuality are currently unknown, they are likely “multifactorial including biological and behavioral roots which may vary between different individuals and may even vary over time”...

“If we look at the ravenous pursuit, particularly among American scientists, to find a gay gene, what we see is that the conclusion has already been arrived at. All science is doing is waiting to find the proof”...

“Scientists are asking whether homosexuality is natural when we can’t even agree exactly what homosexuality is.”

Grzanka agrees. “If you know anything about social constructionism, then you know these sexual categories are very recent. How then could they be rooted in our genome?”...

When I first said I chose to be gay, a queer American journalist challenged me to name the time and date of my choice. But this is an absurd way to look at desire. You might as well ask someone to name the exact moment they began liking Chaucer or disliking Hemingway...

Humans aren’t who and what we are because of one gene. We’re who and what we are for a variety of reasons, and some of it might have something to do with how our genes randomly interact with our environments. But that’s not the whole story, and to engage in discourse that pretends it is — regardless of the nobility of the intentions — could have “profound and very negative consequences” for the LGBT community, says Grzanka.

“Limiting our understanding of any complex human experience is always going to be worse than allowing it to be complicated,” he says...

The Born This Way narrative can actively damage our perceptions of ourselves... Ward sees this as a self-hating narrative. “Could you imagine if the dominant narrative of people of color was, ‘Well, of course I’d want to be white if I could. Wouldn’t everyone want to be white?’ That’s so racist! We’d never accept that story.”

Perhaps it is time to look to the beginning of the gay rights movement. “Queer Nation and earlier movements in the US were not fundamentally organized around Born This Way explanations,” says Grzanka. “They were organized around sexual liberation, and the radical notion of challenging heteronormativity.”

Gay and lesbian activists, says Ward, used to draw on religion parallels to argue for inclusion. “People aren’t born with their religions. They’re born into religious cultures, and they can convert if they’d like. But there are still legal protections for them.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Links - 28th June 2016

London as a separate city-state? The capital needs to check its privilege - "It is now seemingly permissible to mock anyone who voted the “wrong” way, and for the “wrong” reasons. They shouldn’t have been allowed to vote in the first place. They obviously didn’t understand the voting system. They didn’t think their votes counted (I completely identify with that, because in elections they often don’t). They are all self-harming, wrong-headed idiots!... Rich London may be the centre of the world, but where does the fuel come from that powers its engines? Has the rest of the country nothing to contribute but its oafishness? I cannot believe what I am hearing. Absolutely undemocratic sentiment from those who claim to be progressive, who claim to know better... class contempt works both ways, and it is not hidden by the elites on the left and the right. All that contempt has now handed back a broken plate to the entire establishment. The only question is why it took so long. This is not a revolution. It is a revolt."
Those calling out xenophobic/racist remarks by Leavers seem to be silent about the contempt for Leavers by Remainers

The UK is now two nations, staring across a political chasm - "Even those who understand that something seismic is afoot among predominantly working-class voters are still too keen on the idea that they are gullible enough to be led over a cliff by people with whom they would actually disagree, if only they knew the facts. But most people are not really being “led” by anyone. In my experience, Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove et al are viewed by most people with as much cynicism as the people fronting the remain campaign. Moreover, this argument is dangerously redolent of that lousy old Marxist trope of “false consciousness”, whereby people enthusiastically following the supposedly wrong cause are only a speech or poster away from enlightenment, and a sharp left turn."

How did turnout affect the EU referendum result? - "our analysis shows how areas with older voters also recorded higher turnouts... The Scottish turnout was particularly disappointing. Three in five Scots backed Remain and they were expected to have the highest figure after "referendum fever" saw 85 per cent of Scots vote in the 2014 independence vote. But in the end they had a lower turnout than every region except Northern Ireland."
If the young want to blame the old for ruining their future, they should blame those who didn't vote first

Brexit: A Very British Revolution - WSJ - "As a recent editorial in Der Spiegel put it, Brits “have an inner independence that we Germans lack, in addition to myriad anti-authoritarian, defiant tendencies”... Deals negotiated through the EU always move at the pace dictated by the most reluctant country. Italy has threatened to derail a trade deal with Australia over a spat about exports of canned tomatoes; a trade deal with Canada was held up after a row about Romanian visas. Brexit wasn’t a call for a Little England. It was an attempt to escape from a Little Europe... In theory, the EU is supposed to protect its external borders by insisting that refugees claim asylum in the first country they enter. In practice, this agreement—the so-called Dublin Convention—was torn up by Ms. Merkel when she recklessly offered to settle any fleeing Syrians who managed to make it over the German border. The blame here lies not with the tens of thousands of desperate people who subsequently set out; the blame lies with an EU system that has proven itself hopelessly unequal to such a complex and intensifying challenge. The EU’s failure has been a boon for the people-trafficking industry, a global evil that has led to almost 3,000 deaths in the Mediterranean so far this year... The Brexit campaign was led by Europhiles. Boris Johnson, the former London mayor turned pro-Brexit firebrand who now seems likely to succeed Mr. Cameron, used to live in Brussels and can give interviews in French. Mr. Gove’s idea of perfect happiness is sitting on a wooden bench listening to Wagner in an airless concert hall in Bavaria. Both stressed that they love Europe but also love democracy—and want to keep the two compatible. The Brexit revolution is intended to make that point."

"The worst people to serve are the Poor people" --Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba - "Give them free, they think it's a trap. Tell them it's a small investment, they'll say can't earn much. Tell them to come in big, they'll say no money. Tell them try new things, they'll say no experience. Tell them it's traditional business, they'll say hard to do. Tell them it's a new business model, they'll say it's MLM. Tell them to run a shop, they'll say no freedom. Tell them run new business, they'll say no expertise. They do have some things in common: They love to ask google, listen to friends who are as hopeless as them, they think more than an university professor and do less than a blind man."

Does Maltreatment in Childhood Affect Sexual Orientation in Adulthood? - "Our results suggest that from half to all of the increased prevalence of childhood sexual abuse experienced by sexual orientation minorities compared with heterosexuals may be due to the effects of sexual abuse on sexual orientation, possibly through previously proposed pathways: (1) abuse of boys perpetrated by men causes boys to believe they are gay; (2) abuse of girls by men leads them to be averse to sexual relationships with men; (3) abuse survivors may feel stigmatized and different from others and may, therefore, be more willing to behave in ways that are socially stigmatized, including acknowledging same-sex attraction or having same-sex partners"

Anita Sarkeesian is now going after Overwatch for its highly stylized depictions of women (while ignoring the fact that there's a talking gorilla, robots, a dwarf, and equally stylized male characters) - "She pointed out that games rarely feature women as standard enemies and said that game designers she’s interviewed often say that this is done to avoid depicting violence against women."
"wow its almost like throwing a fit anytime a women is shown to be assaulted in media makes people wary of adding it to games , who wudda thought it."
"Back in January she was on ABC saying killing female NPC's in GTA V and Watchdogs was misogyny and promoting violence against women. Now 11 months later she has decided not killing female NPC's is misogyny."

NPD Survey Shows Core Gamers Are Male, Casual Gamers Are Female - "The survey found that the majority of gamers in the two "core" groups were male, while the casual group was "overwhelmingly female.""

Women Get In on the Action in Video Games - The New York Times - "Men favor immersive, narratively complex games laced with violence that have a steep learning curve, according to Peter Warman, the chief executive of Newzoo. The most popular video game franchise among male players in France, Britain, the United States and Germany is “Max Payne,” a noirish third-person shooter game about a fugitive NYPD detective. The game includes a “kill cam,” which, according to GameSpot, shows the player’s ammunition “soaring through the air and striking its target in grisly detail.” Women, on the other hand, prefer so-called “casual” games that are easy to learn but complex to master, Mr. Warman said. The most popular franchise among women is the rhythm game “Just Dance,” designed for Nintendo’s Wii platform, in which players mimic dance moves set to popular songs by artists like Katy Perry and Kylie Minogue. The runner-up among women is the Candy Crush Saga, a puzzle game that has become ubiquitous on Facebook and smartphones... women are still seen as a less lucrative part of the video game market because they are much less likely to buy the expensive “core games” designed for PCs and consoles like Xbox, Mr. Warman said. That could explain why only an estimated 15 percent of playable characters in video games are female"

BBC Radio 4 - Best of Today, Why are Ahmadiyya Muslims subjected to prejudice? - "'Talking with you, saying salaam to you, is a sin. Is a haram'.
'When I told the lil kids who I was, an Ahmadi Muslim, they went along to their mosque, asked their Imam, came back saying them "we've been told if we want to succeed in life, we shouldn't go near you. Cos that's where everything's coming from, that's the Imam" They also told me that posters have appeared in shop windows calling them non-believers... derogatory leaflets have been circulated at a nearby mosque...
'Were people standing outside your shop telling other Muslims not to come in?'
'They think we are not Muslim'...
It starts with one group, but then it goes to other groups, of course. And then you'll find it starts with the Ahmadis, as it happened in Pakistan, it started with our community, but now it's spread to other communities. So the Shias, the other Christian communities are now being affected by that same hate message. And the clerics who are coming from Pakistan are now propagating that same hate message in this country. They must be stopped"

BBC World Service - The Food Chain, Food, Power and Punishment - "[On prison] Food was really, was vital in many ways. Well first of all becuse it kept me alive but beyond that food is a little joy, a little happiness, just something that gives you a reason to wake up in the morning because there might be frosted flakes instead of cornflakes. And there you go, you've been blessed with something in a harsh world with very little potential for anything happy to happen to you. So thats why small things like frosted flakes begin to mean something. I once saw a can of vegetables preserved in cognac go for $100. But that's because people were drinking it of course... I myself bought prime rib and I bought lox when guys didn't want raw fish, as they called it... the prime rib was expensive. I had to pay two packs of cigarettes for it, even though I knew the guy didn't like it. He didn't know whato do with it. He wanted Doritos. Things like that actually have much more cachet with the prison population. They love the brand names. They love the packaging. They love the shiny foils and plastic. Not just Dorito's but anything that really is kind of familiar. So if you have ah cookies that are called Chips Ahoy which is a well known brand versus a store brand, they are identical in reality. But the ones with the bright label that's familiar is gonna be worth twice as much. And, y'know that seems like just a shallow sort of idiosyncracy, but it's a bit of a taste of freedom. There's a little more to it than just going for the advertisements. The foods really do bring the guys back. It makes them happy for a moment... Feeding prisoners well is probably the cheapest way to keep them content and not very violent and okay with their conditions. It's really an inexpensive way to mollify a population that just doesn't want to be there, they're there against their will, because one riot costs as much as 10,000 turkeys that you could've fed the guys... Food has always been used as part of the punishment process, even though that's not what's supposed to happen...
I have facilities... I can't serve fruit in because they make homemade alcohol with it, or they stuff it down the toilet and it clogs up the plumbing... he takes his first order. Which to be honest with you, is probably the hardest thing that they've really really afraid of. And I'll even say: 'you don't mind going to rob a bank, you're too scared to take an order'"

Dutch Feminism: Why Dutch women don't work longer hours | The Economist - "The Dutch began identifying women's failure to participate in the workforce more aggressively as a major social problem in the 1990s, which led to a tax reform intended to incentivise women out of the cosy "trap" of part-time work. Instead, most women used the better tax treatment as a way to work less... The Dutch, both men and women, place a much higher value on free time as a luxury good than Americans do"

Women in the Netherlands work less, have lesser titles and a big gender pay gap, and they love it. - "the Dutch women around me take a lackadaisical approach to their careers. They work half days, meet their friends for coffee at 2 p.m., and pity their male colleagues who are stuck in the office all day. Though the Netherlands is consistently ranked in the top five countries for women, less than 10 percent of women here are employed full-time. And they like it this way. Incentives to nudge women into full-time work have consistently failed... Some women cite the high cost of child care as a major factor in their shorter hours, but 62 percent of women working part time in the Netherlands don't have young children in the house, and mothers rarely increase their working hours even when their children leave home.. studies of female happiness in the U.S. find that even as our options have increased and we have become financially more independent than in any previous time in our history, American women as a whole are not getting any happier. If anything, the studies show that we are emotionally less well-off than we were before. Wasn't the whole point of the fight for equality in the workplace to improve our wellbeing? Dutch women could be considered extremely progressive when compared with most other women in the world—they have enviable reproductive rights and rates of political participation. But they are often responsible for only a small portion of the family income—25 percent of Dutch women do not even make enough money to be considered financially independent... When I talk to women who spend half the week doing what they want—playing sports, planting gardens, doing art projects, hanging out with their children, volunteering, and meeting their family friends—I think, yes, that sounds wonderful"
Feminists can't have it all

In Barcelona, do it in Catalan—or pay the fine | The Economist - "Citizens can report language culprits anonymously, and many have proven eager. A few years ago a patriotic librarian, Roger Seuba, claimed to have denounced 5,000 companies. Business owners say other citizens take the law into their own hands, smashing shop windows or spray-painting their façades. The Spanish and Catalan languages enjoy co-official status in the region. When reviewing Catalonia’s independence status in 2010, the Constitutional Court of Spain ruled that imposing either language on private enterprises violates the constitution. Yet fines kept being imposed. In February 2016, Catalonia’s superior court of justice banned parts of another language protocol that obliged public servants to initiate and continue all conversations in Catalan. The Catalan government said it would ignore the decision... Forcing businesses to translate every public communication into a local language with a few million speakers may widen its appeal for some. For others it has the opposite effect. Since he was fined, Mr Centeno, a Catalan born and bred, refuses to speak in his mother tongue. He demands that all government documents sent to his mailbox be written in Spanish"

Why New Zealand Sucks

Friend who was there:

"Where to start? The towns and cities are fucking hideous, people are generally rude, ecerything is totaly makeshit, a total cultural wasteland, everything is super expensive, the entire urban environment is built around cars. The scenery is why people come here. It is 90% shit, 10% breathtaking. The 'Southern Alps' are amazing, and so are the fiords. But I can see the original Alps for less money, and go to Norway for Fjords. Finally, the car was broken into.

I met so many other travellers who are doing the South Island loop who all really want to love NZ, but after some honesty talks have often admitted it's failed to meet their expectation.

Basically it's a shit country."

Monday, June 27, 2016

Links - 27th June 2016

Brexit vote is about the supremacy of Parliament and nothing else: Why I am voting to leave the EU - "My Europhile Greek friend Yanis Varoufakis and I both agree on one central point, that today's EU is a deformed halfway house that nobody ever wanted. His solution is a great leap forward towards a United States of Europe with a genuine parliament holding an elected president to account. Though even he doubts his dream. "There is a virtue in heroic failure" he said... Six years into the eurozone crisis and there is no a flicker of fiscal union: no eurobonds, no Hamiltonian redemption fund, no pooling of debt, and no budget transfers. The banking union belies its name. Germany and the creditor states have dug in their heels.

Antarctica boss did not freeze during a crisis - ""As workplaces become more and more diverse, it's absolutely critical that respect trumps harmony," she said. This means that instead of expecting everyone to like each other, the team aimed for professional courtesy and respect. "With such a mix of people, it was impractical to think we would all get along with each other all the time. "It would be unreasonable to expect total harmony so I didn't." She has grave concerns for any team that expects team harmony, describing it as a "dangerous" mindset. Ms Robertson said dysfunctional behaviour will still continue - but underground; so the illusion of harmony remains. She also believes it stifles innovation as people are too afraid to put up their hand and offer a different view because they do not want to "rock the harmony boat"."

iTunes is 13 years old—and it’s still awful - "For 13 years—15 if you count the two years the program was just a file-storing service—users have grumbled loudly about iTunes’ unwieldy interface, its bloated features, its inability to simply get better. Companies, however great, sometimes fail to improve their products; and iTunes has been Apple’s great big software mess-up. (Well, that and Maps)... instead of trying to streamline the service over the years, Apple has opted to stuff an overwhelming number of new features—movies, television shows, podcasts, mobile apps, and most recently, Apple Music—into it. The company gave its designers “an impossible task: cramming way too much functionality into a single app,” says Marco Arment, the software developer behind Tumblr and Instapaper. As a result, Arment says, the platform has turned into a “toxic hellstew of unreliability”... Apple, in its post-Jobs era, seems to have also given up on revamping its old products, choosing to follow current trends instead of pressing on its prior innovations. So perhaps the fate of iTunes is to be ignored until it dies, unloved, in the corner, long after people forget just how revolutionary it was."

It’s a Hard Fact. Abbas Turned Down Olmert’s Peace Deal - "What is not speculation is that Israel’s prime minister made a peace offer, and the Palestinian leader–head of the Fatah Party, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority–rejected it. Those who wish to blame Israel for the continuing lack of progress in achieving a comprehensive peace agreement will presumably pay no attention to this interview, but the facts are in."

The Navy just approved the military's best tattoo rules - "The Navy is easing its tattoo policy in a bid to recruit and retain more sailors from the millennial generation, of whom more than 1 in 3 sport body art. Sailors will be allowed to have neck tattoos, sleeves and even markings behind their ears under the new policy, the most lenient of any military service. Only their heads are off limits under the new policy, which the Navy's top sailor has called a reality check on the permanent art favored by sailors... "This isn’t official, but in my research, I saw estimates that the percentage of people with tattoos in the 18 to 25 age group as being between 37 and 40 percent," he said. That's not an insignificant number."... MCPON, who is wrapping up a 33-year career that is longer than most millennials' lives, would “neither confirm nor deny” when asked whether he has any tattoos."

The forger who fooled the world - Telegraph - "He loathed modern art - he thought it childish and decadent, a passing fad for ugliness which would soon fade. For years he had eked out a living painting gloomy portraits of rich patrons in a faux-Rembrandt style and had winced as he heard his work ridiculed by his peers. A prominent critic reviewing van Meegeren's second solo exhibition wrote, "A gifted technician who has made a sort of composite facsimile of the Renaissance school, he has every virtue except originality." The time had come, van Meegeren felt, to revenge himself on his critics. He devised a plan to paint a perfect Vermeer - neither a copy, nor a pastiche, but an original work - and, when it had been authenticated by leading art experts, acquired by a major museum, exhibited and acclaimed, he would announce his hoax to the world... During the exhibition, van Meegeren would loudly proclaim the painting a forgery, a crude pastiche, and listen as the finest minds of his generation persuaded him that his painting was a genuine Vermeer... Often he would forget where he had hidden the money, and 30 years after his death, the Dutch were still turning up cashboxes stuffed with pre-war notes. As van Meegeren's addictions to alcohol and morphine took hold, and the standard of his forgeries plummeted, still experts accepted them as genuine. He discovered that, regardless of how incompetent his painting, how crude his anatomy, how uncertain the provenance, the most erudite Vermeer critics were prepared to sanctify his work... Having been denounced by the press as a traitor, a "Dutch Nazi artist", van Meegeren was now a folk hero - the man who had swindled Göring. The Reichsmarschall was told that his beloved Vermeer was a forgery while awaiting execution in Nuremberg. According to a contemporary account: "[Göring] looked as if for the first time he had discovered there was evil in the world."

How Caravaggio saw in the dark - Telegraph - "Four hundred years later, he is, by many indications, the world’s favourite old master. Canadian researcher Philip Sohm has established that in the past 50 years, Caravaggio has overtaken that other Michelangelo – Buonarroti – as the favourite subject of art historical research. More, it seems, has been written about him in the past half century than any other artist... There is a dark mixture of violence and sexuality that appeals to the sensibility of an age that relishes the art of Francis Bacon and Quentin Tarantino. As the art historian Robert Hughes pointed out, you can see from the way the executioner holds his knife in Beheading of St John the Baptist that Caravaggio knew precisely the most brutally effective way to wield a weapon."

The Big Question: How many of the paintings in our public museums are fakes? - "It is, for example, much easier to replicate a work by Picasso than a major work by a painter of the Renaissance. Picasso is much less fiddly. What is more, he often worked very quickly, painting a single painting – or even several paintings – in a day. His paintings are relatively easy to characterise and to caricature. Technically, many of the 10,000 or so that he produced during his inordinately long life would be relatively easy to replicate. They seldom get bogged down in onerous detail. What is more, the kinds of paints he used – or their equivalents – are still widely available today... The public, having paid its money, expects perfection. So dingy old paintings, little by little, are re-painted, with painstaking lovingness. It happens all the time. By the time in 1994 when the Sistine Chapel was restored to the condition in which it would have been when Michelangelo painted it, was it still by Michelangelo? Or is it by now a modern fake – or as near as damn it? This is a moot point... A reasonable estimate might be that at least 20 per cent of the paintings held by our major museums, some up on the walls, many others in the vaults, will no longer be attributed to the same painter 100 years from now. Another matter worth bearing in mind is this: the less money the institution has to spend on restoring its paintings, the more likely it is that the paintings will be in a condition which resembles how they would once have looked"

ART FORGERY – More Than Half of Art is Fake? - "Experts allegedly claim that 50% of artwork in circulation is not authentic, which is hard to verify. However, FAEI expert said that between 70% and 90% of pieces that go through their laboratory come out as fakes."

Ten Years directors on why the Hong Kong film spoke to people - ""If Hong Kong is still under 'one country, two systems' and I'm making my film legally, then I'm surprised and really confused by the strong reaction."... "We've been cheated time and again and I feel that 'one country, two systems' is a lie." But while his work highlights a radical act, Chow is not proposing a revolution. "I don't want a self- immolator to appear in real life. Ten Years is about a future we don't want to see. "Rather, the movie wants to ask whether we can do something more for our home Hong Kong. Just because you make a movie about Batman doesn't mean you're asking people to be Batman.""

Burger Me! A London Burger Blog: The Bleecker Black from Bleecker St. Burger in Old Spitalfields - "Four different cuts of aged beef are sourced, blended and minced by The Butchery into 4oz patties, which double up to form the core of the Bleecker Black. They're perfectly seasoned and deliver a fantastic depth of aged beef flavour, as well as giving long after taste of tallowy, creamy beef - all this alongside the crumbly, toasty black pudding. Just a side note, it's served on the rare side of medium-rare - as this quality of beef absolutely should be."

Facebook study rebuts the 'echo chamber' effect - "Nearly 30 percent of all the news content that people see in the News Feed cuts across ideological lines"

Sexual and relationship satisfaction among heterosexual men and women: the importance of desired frequency of sex. - "Only 46% of men and 58% of women were satisfied with their current frequency of sex. Dissatisfied men were overwhelmingly likely to desire sex more frequently; among dissatisfied women, only two thirds wanted sex more frequently"
More proof that men are hornier than women

Hundreds protest ‘kidnapping’ in Norway’s Child Welfare System - "According to Natalya and Sergey Shianok, their son Oskar, who was five at the time, had told fellow kids at his school that his mother had accidently yanked out one of his baby teeth. Natalya explained that she was helping him to pull a T-shirt over his head and knocked out a tooth that was already loose."
Keywords: Barnevernet

'Placebo Effect' May Be Common in Headache Treatment - "Placebo treatments or no treatment appeared to work just as well as drugs in a large percentage of headache patients participating in more than 100 studies... Since drugs used to treat migraines and other recurring headaches can have side effects, study co-author Bart W. Koes, PhD, says the findings suggest that many patients might benefit from non-pharmaceutical interventions."

How can the UK be the 'first safe country' in which to claim asylum? - "There is no obligation under the refugee convention or any other instrument of international law that requires refugees to seek asylum in any particular country. There has, however, been a longstanding "first country of asylum" principle in international law by which countries are expected to take refugees fleeing from persecution in a neighbouring state. This principle has developed so that, in practice, an asylum seeker who had the opportunity to claim asylum in another country is liable to be returned there in order for his or her claim to be determined."

INDIAN FTS KANA HAMMERED BY S'PORE CONDO OWNERS - "Indians have bought abt 40% of Mandarin Gardens apts and have become arrogant in the condo. At last year's AGM, all Singaporeans didnt want to stand for Management Council positions, leaving it to foreigners to take control. Eight indians were voted in with one American and one Briton in the MC. The Indians are power crazy, lawless and turned havoc. They thought they own Mandarin Gardens and can do what they want"

University accused of discrimination for requiring dyslexic student to take course in French - "Lewicki's application for the master of political science program wasn't accepted, because he's not able to take one course in French, which is a program requirement. Lewicki has been diagnosed as gifted, but with a type of dyslexia that's so severe he can't learn another language."

Hamas Admits to Using Civilians as Human Shields

Sexual Motivation and the Duration of Partnership - "(1) sexual activity and sexual satisfaction decline in women and men as the duration of partnership increases; (2) sexual desire only declines in women; and (3) desire for tenderness declines in men and rises in women. Because these results are based on cross-sectional data, a longitudinal explanation is precarious"

Fact check: No proof the death penalty prevents crime - Fact Check - "A comprehensive review of the research in this area over 34 years was conducted in 2012 by a committee of the American National Academy of Sciences National Review Council. The committee concluded that "research to date on the effect of capital punishment on homicide is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates"... "Even when executions are frequent and well-publicised, there are no observable changes in crime. Executions serve only to satisfy the urge for vengeance. Any retributive value is short-lived, lasting only until the next crime." His position is shared by the majority of criminologists in relation to homicide, according to a 2009 survey of members of the American Criminology Society, who were asked to limit their answers to their understanding of the empirical research and to exclude their personal opinions. That study found that over 88 per cent of the criminologists did not believe the death penalty deterred murderers... Professor Zimring, with Professor Fagan and David T. Johnson of The University of Hawaii, conducted a study that compared Singapore - a country that does have the death penalty - with Hong Kong... "the Singapore experience magnifies the impact of American assertions [that the death penalty deters] to a patently silly status". They found that "homicide levels and trends are remarkably similar in these two cities over the 35 years after 1973, with neither the surge in Singapore's executions nor the more recent steep drop producing any differential impact"... Professor Fagan "described extensive studies showing that criminals are deterred more by an increase in their likelihood of apprehension than by an increase in the magnitude of their punishment, meaning that likely capture is a more effective deterrent than potential death""

Elton John, David Furnish hoping to keep sex tale off Web - "Elton John and his Canadian husband David Furnish are evidently hoping to scrub the World Wide Web of reports about their open marriage. Reps for the couple this week are busily filing complaints and threatening legal action against websites that have published articles based on a National Enquirer story headlined: “Elton John Betrayed by Cheating Husband!” Last month, John, 69, and Furnish, 53, obtained an injunction banning media outlets in England and Wales from identifying those involved in the tale of alleged unprotected sex and a threesome involving olive oil."

Bhutan tackles violence against women for "refusing ... - "Two thirds of Bhutanese women say beating justified if wife argues with husband, refuses sex or burns dinner"
No wonder the people there are so happy

It’s Not Just About Bad Choices - NYTimes.com - "Too often, I believe, liberals deny that poverty is linked to bad choices. As Phillips and many other poor people acknowledge, of course, it is. Self-destructive behaviors — dropping out of school, joining a gang, taking drugs, bearing children when one isn’t ready — compound poverty. Researchers have often found that very poor families worldwide spend more of their income on alcohol than on educating their children. And, in central Kenya, a government study published a few years ago found that men there, on average, spent more of their salaries on alcohol than on food. Yet scholars are also learning to understand the roots of these behaviors, and they’re far more complicated than the conservative narrative of human weakness"

The Box Office Power of Stars - "HSX prices respond significantly to casting announcements, which suggests that the involvement of stars affects revenues. The list of announcements with the biggest impact contains a number of established, often highly paid stars, including Tom Hanks, Mike Myers, Tom Cruise, and Mel Gibson. It also contains a few actors that are typically not included at the very top of most industry executives' rankings, such as Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott. It seems audiences value those stars more than Hollywood executives do. I show that, as could be expected, an actor's past box-office performance is positively related to the magnitude of his or her impact on revenues. However, the number and, particularly, the average box-office record of other cast members also play a role. In fact, interestingly, the impact of a newly recruited star and the other cast members are linked—the more A-list a cast already is, the greater is the impact of a star with a track record of box office successes. In other words, recruiting Angelina Jolie leads to a bigger boost of expected revenues if a powerful actor such as Brad Pitt has already agreed to star."
This is an important reason for 'whitewashing', since most stars are white

NTU orientation to be more inclusive - "orientation activities would also be made inclusive through rules stipulating that cheers must now be in English only. There were complaints that the use of cheers in Chinese dialects like Hokkien might make students of minority races feel left out. In addition, horror- or fear-inducing games like fright nights will not be allowed, ST understands. Orientation camps at varsities here have drawn complaints over the years for things such as safety lapses and sexually suggestive games... The 23-year-old had applied for a hall camp when she was a new student in 2013, but was rejected without being told why. "I heard they selected us based on how active you are on social media, or superficial things like how pretty or handsome you are on your profile picture," she said."

The Empire Christmas Pudding - "17 very specific ingredients of the Empire Christmas pudding. Supplied by the King’s Chef, Mr Cedard, with Their Majesties’ Gracious Consent, the recipe was published in poster form by the Empire Marketing Board, a body set up in 1926 by the colonial secretary, Leo Amery, to promote the buying of British Empire goods in the home market."

Sperm donation: Inside a deeply emotive world of powerful incentives, polarised views and heated debates

Woman marries anonymous sperm donor after tracking him down and falling in love

Americans think fighting racism is more important than free speech – poll - "Forty-three percent of respondents said that making sure that students have an environment “free from discrimination, even if that means placing some limits on what students can say,” is a priority, while 38 percent of those polled thought that students should have an “absolute right” to free speech. Similar sentiment was expressed participants were asked with whether colleges have “a responsibility to teach students about issues related to racism,” with 45 percent agreeing that they do and 41 percent challenging such a notion... 53 percent percent of respondents believe that students who exercise free speech in an offensive manner should be punished, whereas 28 percent were against such measures... Republicans tended to favor free speech measures, while Democrats favor measures to fight perceived racism."

Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone Darkens Controversy - "Criticism of the casting for the unauthorized film is directed less at Saldana than at a Hollywood that has historically cast light-skinned black actresses in leading roles. Simone not only celebrated her Afrocentric features, but she wrote songs about race and racism and was a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement. Blogger Tiffany Jones, who created the blog Coffee Rhetoric, called it a "frustrating system of white-washing""
It's "whitewashing" even when you get someone of the same race; is Obama black enough?

Trudeau's Spending Priorities Send Too Many Tax Dollars Overseas - "It was interesting to read David Akin's numbers on Trudeau's dollar handouts in his first 100 days in office. By his calculations it amounts to $5.3 billion, of which slightly less than a billion dollars was spent inside Canada.

Would you pay $14,000 a month to look good? - "Jamie Chua looks gorgeous for a mother of two teenagers, aged 17 and 20. Well, her beauty regimen, which includes weekly massages, facials, and hair and slimming treatments, does cost $14,000 a month, after all... 'I don’t have the time to go to the salon every day anymore.'"
How much tme does this take?


On Gods in Buddhism

Some people insist Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy, and that there aren't any gods in it.

"While Buddhism is not a religion focused on an all-powerful creator ‘God’, it does accept a range of beings and levels of reality which go beyond our everyday world, and these will be the subject of this chapter. In the Buddhist worid—view, ultimate reality is generally not personalized, as a God, much less as a single God. It is seen in more impersonal terms as a state to be attained or realized: nirvana. The personal dimension comes in when one looks at those who experience this reality: for Theravada Buddhism, arahats (saints) and earthly buddhas; for Mahayana Buddhism, Heavenly buddbas and advanced bodhisattvas, who are on the brink of buddhahood.

All schools of Buddhism also accept a range of gods: divine beings who have attained heavenly rehirths through their good deeds, hut who will sooner or later die and be reborn. Buddhas, arahats and bodhisattvas are said to be ‘teachers of humans and gods’, and even gods are said to revere the ‘three treasures‘: the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha. Here, the Dhamma is the buddhas’ teaching, the timeless truths they point to, the path of practice, and the states realized on the path, culminating in nirvana itself. The Sarigha, as a ‘treasure’ or ‘refuge’, are those who have fully or partially realized nirvana, who are conventionally symbolized by the monastic community, also known as the sangha. Buddhism thus lacks a simple contrast between the ‘human’ and the ‘divine’. There are humans, limited gods, and, further, holy beings who have fully or partially experienced that which is truly transcendent, nirvana."

--- Portrayals of ultimate reality and of holy and divine beings / Peter Harvey in Buddhism / ed. Peter Harvey

Biography from An Introduction to Buddhism:

Peter Harvey is Emeritus Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Sunderland. He is author of An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues (Cambridge University Press, 2000) and The Selfless Mind: Personality, Consciousness and Nirvāna in Early Buddhism (1995). He is editor of the Buddhist Studies Review.
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