We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Not just physics, Indigenous Australian physics

As JGrossman, one of the commenters to the Guardian article I will quote extensively below, says of it, there are some views to which the only possible response is to quote the physicist Wolfgang Pauli:

This is not only not right, it is not even wrong.

The article I am about to quote falls, crashes and burns into that category.

Some background: the writer, Dawn Casey, is an Australian museum director and a well known Indigenous (i.e. Australian aboriginal) public figure. Warren Mundine, mentioned in the article as head of Tony Abbott’s Indigenous Council, is of the same heritage. Christopher Pyne, the Australian Education Minister, isn’t. How sad that one needs to spell out such things to understand what is being debated here. Here is what Dawn Casey writes:

Last week, Warren Mundine, head of the prime minister’s Indigenous council, was quoted in the Australian as saying that it is ridiculous to include an Indigenous culture perspective in the teaching of science and maths. Mundine said: “I agree with Christopher Pyne, I think in some areas we have got ridiculous. What is Indigenous physics? Physics is physics. If we are to compete in the job market we must learn technology and engineering, we need to be taught subjects properly.

“I agree that we need to reassess the curriculum because we need real units that teach the subjects without this ridiculous insertion of culture, the idea that you have to have an indigenous or Asian perspective, to be frank, is silly. The sciences and maths should be taught properly.”

Mundine’s comments add nothing to the very important debates on what should be included in the national curriculum and how children, regardless of their cultural background, should be taught. They ignore that culture permeates everything we do — including maths and physics — and reinforces stereotypical views that Indigenous culture is only about language, kinships systems and hunting and gathering – important as they are.

[...]

For centuries, people from all cultural backgrounds have been developing ideas andsolving problems. Euclid who lived in Alexandria more than 2000 years ago laid the foundations for mathematics. Australia’s Aboriginal people represent the longest-living culture on earth. It is incredible that our culture should be treated as a stand-alone subject or as part of the humanities.

[...]

To go back to a time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture was put into an ethnographic box, as some sort of anthropological curiosity, and excluded from the breadth of mainstream knowledge, including maths and science, is to disadvantage all Australians.

The commenter who quoted Wolfgang Pauli chose his example well. Pauli was born in Germany but had to flee to the United States in 1940 because of his Jewish ancestry. So he would have been familiar in his own life with the concepts of “Jewish physics” and “German physics”. One can guess what he would have made of “Indigenous physics”.

The advisability of acknowledging the elephant

This post is not about elephants. I gave you elephants yesterday. Nor is it really about Gypsies and Travellers per se. If you want my thoughts on them, I had some in 2004 and some more in 2011. My post of 2004 was better than my post of 2011 and my post of 2011 was better than this one, but even this late night biscuit of a post is better than this Guardian comment piece which is intended to help Gypsies and Travellers but has evidently made most of its readers more hostile to them. Too many Gypsies and Travellers end up in prison, says the writer, Joseph Cotrell-Boyce, and “this must be addressed”.

It can be assumed that Mr Cotrell-Boyce would like you to sympathise with Gypsies and Travellers, since he is Policy Officer for the Traveller Equality Project. So why does he stir up fury against them by never acknowledging what everyone knows, that Gypsies and Travellers disproportionately end up in prison because they are at the present time disproportionately criminal? For stir up fury he does; comments loudly saying what he will not say have hundreds of recommends, while comments that you would think Guardian-readers would lap up, blaming all the ills of the Gypsies on cuts in council services due to a “Tory big-business agenda”, have, at the time of writing, a zero to the right of them. I am mystified that anyone can argue so ineffectively. To put in a brief nod to Jumbo – “yes, there is currently a crime problem among Gypsies and Travellers” – would not commit him to the belief that this state of affairs is eternal, or is the result of them being lesser beings, or that all Gypsies are criminals, or that most Gypsies are criminals, or that unfair prejudices against them do not exist, or that more education would be wasted on them. He could even continue to assert (may God mend his wicked ways) that what Gypsies and Travellers need is more state welfare and Equality Projects, and would meet better success in doing so. Debate abhors a vacuum and it is a delight to the human soul to shout out what someone else is reluctant to say.

I see this type of counterproductive elephant denial everywhere, but mostly in the pages of the Guardian.

The elephant in the auction room

Qatari money fuels record price at ivory auction, reports Adam Sage of the Times.

An auction of elephant tusks in France has fetched a world-record price and illustrated the enduring lure of ivory for collectors.

Quite why the Qatari riyal in particular has the power to drive up prices Mr Sage does not say. One of the big bidders was a Qatari. That is the only justification for the headline. Strangely enough Mr Sage was also the author of another Times piece from a month ago that might give a slightly more plausible explanation for record prices at an ivory auction in France:

Ivory worth £6m is ground to dust next to Eiffel Tower

Three tons of impounded ivory were crushed next to the Eiffel Tower yesterday in an operation designed to highlight French opposition to the illegal wildlife trade.

However Mr Sage did not appear to perceive any possible connection between the two stories.

Up the yids!

Charges dropped against Spurs fans’ Yid chants, reports the Tottenham and Wood Green Journal.

About bloody time. The charges were more than usually malicious and absurd. The usual level of malice and absurdity is to pretend that certain syllables – called “racial insults” among the illuminati – are magic spells infused with the irresistible power to turn any mortal that hears them into a raging savage. It was the rare achievement of these charges to be crazier, nastier and more insulting to the intelligence and decency of ordinary people even than that.

As reported by the Jewish Chronicle, although by shamefully few of the other reports of the case, the men charged had said “Yid” not as an insult but as a way to cheer on their own team. All three men are Tottenham Hotspur supporters. They may be Jews themselves; I could not find a source that stated whether any of them are or not, but given that they are Spurs fans it could well be the case. I found an interesting article in Der Spiegel (no need to say the obvious) that gave a brief but clear explanation of this phenomenon:

Tottenham Hotspur’s Jewish background is similar to the Ajax [a Dutch football team] story. The north London club was popular among Jewish immigrants who settled in the East End in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “The Spurs were more glamorous back then than the closer West Ham United or Arsenal,” says Anthony Clavane, a Jewish journalist with the tabloid Daily Mirror who published a book in August about how Jews have influenced the history of English football. Additionally, other northern London districts, such as Barnet, Hackney and Harrow, have traditionally been home to many Jews, which has also contributed to the Hotspur image.

So, for historical reasons the Tottenham Hotspur home stands sing of their own as the Yids, the Yiddos, or the Yid Army. For this it was proposed to put three men in jail. From the Jewish Chronicle link above,

Their arrests followed widespread debate late last year, after the Football Association issued guidelines in September announcing that fans chanting the word “Yid” could be liable to criminal prosecution.

The move caused anger among Spurs fans, who refer to themselves as the “Yid army” as well as the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, which stressed that “when used in a footballing context by Tottenham supporters, there is no intent or desire to offend any member of the Jewish community” .

Following the example set by everyone from the Desert Rats to Niggaz Wit Attitude they have taken what was once an insult and turned it into a badge of honour. Tasteless? Possibly. Knowing nothing of the history of a Jewish link to Tottenham Hotspur FC, I recall once being shocked to see a blackboard outside a pub advertising a forthcoming match to be televised there as a contest between the “Yids” and whatever team were to oppose them. I mumbled an attempt at protest to a barmaid who had stepped outside for a fag. She didn’t know what I was talking about – in retrospect I’m not sure she even understood that “Yids” had any other meaning than a nickname for THFC – and I slunk off in embarrassment. One could certainly argue that it it is a poor memorial to the persecution and mass murder suffered by Jews over the centuries to make an insult used against them into a means to excite collective euphoria among people watching a game. But if you really want to contemplate great barbarities memorialised in plastic, turn your eyes to the attempts of the Crown Prosecution Service to charge Gary Whybrow, Sam Parsons, and Peter Ditchman with racial abuse, and smear them as anti-semites, for asserting the Jewish identity of their own team.

Discussion point: currency options for an independent Scotland

In the event that Scotland disregards my feelings and votes for independence, what currency would you recommend it use?

Opinions on this matter do not split neatly between Left and Right. Here are two of today’s articles on the subject; one from the Adam Smith Institute and one from the Guardian. A few days ago the pro-independence, pro-market campaign group “Wealthy Nation” republished this article from the Institute of Economic Affairs, recommending that Sterling be kept for the time being. It looks a serious piece, but it was written before the recent interventions by George Osborne and Manuel Barroso.

Commenters wishing to use words like “seignorage” are requested to give me warning first so that I can hide behind the sofa.

“Does destroying ivory save elephants” – the Guardian seeks your views

For the last hour as of 13.34 GMT, the Guardian has been running what it calls an ‘eco audit” asking readers to give their views on whether the destruction of ivory stocks helps save elephants as a species.

I was pleased and surprised to see comments running strongly in favour of the answer ‘no’. The first comment is typical:

It’s a stupid move. It just makes the price of contraband ivory go up and kills more elephants.

A point that has to be made again and again about high profile sexual abuse cases

For every type of crime there are false victims as well true ones, suggestible and forgetful witnesses as well as witnesses whose recall is accurate, scam artists digging for gold as well as honest people bravely speaking out to bring monsters to justice. The existence of cynical liars, fantasists, and well-meaning but tragically mistaken people is part of the human condition and always will be. That is why any half-way civilised society has trials and rules of evidence instead of just declaring people guilty or innocent by category.

Coronation Street star Bill Roache found not guilty of rape and assault, reports the Telegraph.

and in a separate article,

Bill Roache not guilty: high-stakes gamble backfires for CPS

Accusations that the Crown Prosecution Service has indulged in a “celebrity witch-hunt” gather strength as Coronation Street actor found not guilty of all charges

One of these things is not like the others

Public kept in the dark over ‘rogue’ charities, reports the Times. The story is behind a paywall, but I shall quote the first and most interesting paragraphs:

The names of more than a dozen charities suspected of serious abuse are being kept secret by the charity watchdog.
The identities of 13 charities placed under statutory inquiry during the past nine months have been withheld by the Charity Commission, preventing prospective donors from knowing about the allegations against them.

The inquiries are opened into charities suspected of only the most serious wrongdoing, including the financing of terrorism, tax avoidance, abuse of vulnerable people or other serious breaches of trust.

Emphasis added, with accompanying oaths. Has it come to this? That for a charity to arrange its affairs in a legal manner such that as much as possible of the donations it receives go to the cause the charity exists to help rather than to the government is to be classed with financing suicide bombings and stealing from the senile? Would it not be a breach of the donors’ trust to do anything other than practise tax avoidance?

Shiver my timbers, shiver my soul / Yeo ho, heave-ho

From the genuinely scary opening sequence of Muppet Treasure Island

Shiver my timbers, shiver my soul
Yo ho, heave-ho
There are men whose hearts are as black as coal
Yo ho, heave-ho

And they sailed their ship across the ocean blue
A bloodthirsty captain and a cutthroat crew.
It’s as dark a tale as was ever told
Of the lust for treasure and the love of gold…

Shiver my timbers, shiver my sides
Yo ho, heave-ho
There are hungers as strong as the wind and tides
Yo ho, heave-ho

In other news, Tim Yeo has got the old heave-ho. Deselected as a Conservative MP by his constituency party.

For those unfamiliar with “Green Trougher” Yeo, this old post by James Delingpole explains why we mustn’t laugh. There are indeed hungers as strong as the wind and tides.

Advice on successful propaganda from a left-winger

George Lakoff says, ‘Liberals do everything wrong’

“Progressives want to follow the polls … Conservatives don’t follow the polls; they want to change them. Political ground is gained not when you successfully inhabit the middle ground, but when you successfully impose your framing as the ‘common-sense’ position.”

If all political belief originates from one of two wellsprings, if the last thing you should do to propagate your belief is to water it down, if backing it up with facts just weakens it, what would a debate look like, in a world of perfectly understood frames?

It is, plainly, the longstanding failure to protect nature that powers Lakoff’s exasperation with liberals. “They don’t understand their own moral system or the other guy’s, they don’t know what’s at stake, they don’t know about framing, they don’t know about metaphors, they don’t understand the extent to which emotion is rational, they don’t understand how vital emotion is, they try to hide their emotion.

Unlike Professor Lakoff, I think that liberals (in the US sense of the word) propagate their ideas quite successfully, but his advice on framing seems well worth following.

British relations with Washington: the old ways are best

A feature of British reporting on American affairs is that even newspapers that sell themselves as right wing or too grand to take a side in US politics take their tone straight from the Democratic party. For instance, this Times report of the State of the Union address appears in the news section, not the opinion pages, yet in this paragraph

Offering a shopping list of practical plans to speed up growth and give people new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, he told members of Congress: “I’m eager to work with all of you”.

the writer, David Taylor, takes it for granted that President Obama’s plans are “practical” and indubitably will “give people new ladders of opportunity”. Was there not room for a little “intended to” anywhere in that line, Mr Taylor?

Again, this report from Peter Foster in the supposedly right wing Telegraph takes one look at Obama performing the standard politician’s trick of admitting to the fault of excessive reasonableness, and falls in love:

However, that optimism was tempered with a frank admission that America’s politics had become paralysed by the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government”. The president wearily admitted that reversing the tides of decline “won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.”

We all understand where the problem lies: with the rancorous ones who argue about the proper size of government. If only they would stop doing that our weary hero could rest.

I am ready to be told in the comments that the Dems and the Repubs really are not that different. Allow me to agree in advance. It is just that the way that the Times and Telegraph maintain faithful station like Greyfriars Bobby long after their better paid friends in the Boston Globe and New York Times have noticed that the object of their devotion is politically dead is making a vein throb. Which reminds me, we were not always thus. As the great Malcom Tucker put put it during his visit to Washington (2 minutes 10 seconds into the clip):

“We burnt this tight-arsed city to the ground in 1814 and I’m all for doing it again.”

(Warning: occasional words in the compilation of scenes from In the Loop linked to above are not viciously obscene.)

I note with pride that two hundred years ago arguments about the proper size of the federal government were settled in a decisive yet still gentlemanly fashion. Wikipedia’s account of the burning of Washington says that “The British commander’s orders to burn only public buildings and strict discipline among the British troops are credited with preserving the city’s private buildings.” We even spared one of the more useful government buildings:

It is written that a loaded cannon was aimed at the Patent Office to destroy it. Thornton “put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed: ‘Are you Englishmen or only Goths and Vandals? This is the Patent Office, a depository of the ingenuity of the American nation, in which the whole civilized world is interested. Would you destroy it? If so, fire away, and let the charge pass through my body.’ The effect is said to have been magical upon the soldiers, and to have saved the Patent Office from destruction.

Despite this lapse, Major General Robert Ross did burn to the ground the White House, both houses of Congress, the War Office, the State Department and the Treasury, although I gather someone has rebuilt them since.

Thank’ee, kind sir: John Prescott overtips a chambermaid in Cuba

That rough diamond of the Labour party, ascended man of the people John Prescott, has fulfilled a lifetime’s dream, courtesy of a holiday to Cuba “provided by” Journey Latin America.

Rum and cola in hand, he does the online equivalent of showing the neighbours his holiday slides, by regaling the Guardian audience with a matey account of his adventures: John Prescott leaves the 21st century behind in Cuba.

He and his son, also along for the ride, had a fine old time. A moment of embarrassment over the right amount to tip provided an entertaining anecdote:

As a tourist, you must use a special tourist currency – the CCP, Cuban convertible pesos – while locals use Cuban pesos or CUP. It’s not really too hard to work out, but it did manage to get me in trouble when tipping. I left the equivalent of £15 in convertible currency for the chambermaid, who immediately threw her arms around me to express her appreciation. I then learned that she earned only £30 a month, and was suddenly fearful that the embrace might provoke comparisons to the French politician and the American maid.

Down in the comments, this fisking by ‘brituser’ fails to enter into the holiday spirit. What a grinch! I have quoted only some of it; do not on any account read the rest. Prescott is in italics, ‘brituser’ in bold.

I rarely take holidays, so the concept of the trip – to remove myself from the distractions of 21st-century life – was an attractive one.

What an interesting way of describing everyone around as incredibly poor. Would you have wished that on your constituents?

Many cities become so valuable to business that residents are pushed out of the heart of them. Here, however, people are king

In other words there’s no office jobs here. Look outside Havana and you’ll see 20% of the population working on the land in back breaking work in intense heat. Or rather you wouldn’t because you’re too exhausted from sitting on sunbed. You wouldn’t wish that on the UK population would you?

….

I realised I am built to rush, rush, rush, argue, argue, argue, but that’s not the mood of Cuba.

Something to do with the fact it’s a Communist dictatorship and you know if you say something you’d be rushed off to jail-no freedom of speech.

I rarely take holidays, so the concept of the trip – to remove myself from the distractions of 21st-century life – was an attractive one. It also turned out to be easily achieved

The trip was provided by Journey Latin America-Yes if was a freebie, despite the taxpayer paying a fortune in salary to you. You have registered the bribe-sorry holiday?

With another rum and cola in hand and the air full of cigar smoke,….. I felt as though I was experiencing the Cuba that I’d imagined all those years ago.

Or the UK before you banned smoking in public places. I thought it was supposed to be a health measure. Don’t you care about cuban workers and second-hand smoke?

They live life at a far more relaxed pace there, which is why it’s the perfect place for a holiday.

In other words nothing works. With my western money I can act and feel like a millionaire.