The Null Device

2001/1/17

A study of high-school science textbooks in the US has shown that they are riddled with errors; these range from incorrectly stating Newton's first law of physics to showing the Equator as passing through the southern United States. This will undoubtedly hearten the Bush administration, allowing them to placate their Christian Fundamentalist support base by pushing to make science textbooks consistent with Creationist cosmologies (i.e., removing anything that implies that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old), whilst arguing to more secular voters concerned about education that the changes will have a minimal impact on scientific literacy. (via Leviathan)

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Setting the record straight: The Backstreet Boys, long a favourite of 13-year-old girls everywhere, are not a boyband. According to band member Kevin Richardson, they are a "vocal harmony group", who have a lot to say in their songs (a case in point being their latest song, about a boy breaking a date with his girlfriend). Now aren't you glad that's clear.

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I just found a copy of Jeff Noon's latest, Cobralingus, imported, in Slow Glass Books. At a cursory glance, it looks pretty interesting; it's a thought experiment in running language through a linguistic mixing deck or computer program (not a real machine, of course, as it takes human language skills, but a hypothetical one) and applying various processes of transformation to it until a new text emerges that one is satisfied with. I'll write more once I've read it.

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After the collapse of communism and the triumph of liberal capitalism, a number of formerly conservative thinkers (of the market-liberal stripe; reactionary religious demagogues don't really count as 'thinkers') have been turning away from 'free market' doctrines; these include ex-Thatcherite John Gray and former Reagan advisor Edward Luttwak, both now vehemently denouncing capitalist fundamentalism, though (at the same time) not exactly lining up behind the new wave of McDonalds-trashing Marxists:

Americans[, Gray writes,] suffer from "levels of inequality" that "resemble those of Latin American countries." The middle class enjoys the dubious charms of "assetless economic insecurity that afflicted the nineteenth-century proletariat." The United States stands perilously close to massive social disruption, which has been held at bay only "by a policy of mass incarceration" of African Americans and other people of color. "The prophet of today's America," Gray claims, "is not Jefferson or Madison.... It is Jeremy Bentham"--the man who dreamed of a society "reconstructed on the model of an ideal prison."`
He used to think that the free market arose spontaneously and that state control of the economy was unnatural. But watching Jeffrey Sachs and the International Monetary Fund in Russia, he could not help but see the free market as "a product of artifice, design and political coercion." It had to be created, often with the aid of ruthless state power... Gray believes that "Marxism-Leninism and free-market economic rationalism have much in common." Both, he writes, "exhibit scant sympathy for the casualties of economic progress." There is only one difference: Communism is dead.
Luttwak affirms, "I believe that one ought to have only as much market efficiency as one needs, because everything that we value in human life is within the realm of inefficiency -- love, family, attachment, community, culture, old habits, comfortable old shoes."

(via Robot Wisdom)

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From the Onion, this update on actor and professional Australian Paul Hogan's dynamic career:

Continuing nine years of such efforts, Australian actor Paul Hogan pitched a Crocodile Dundee Saturday-morning cartoon to Fox Family Channel executives Tuesday. "In Crocodile Dundee & His Outback Gang, Dundee would travel the world in a hot-air balloon, having adventures with his outback pals Kenny Koala and J. Wellington Wallaby," Hogan told the executives.

Also, corpse reanimation technology is still 10 years away, according to mad scientists from Stanford and MIT.

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Salon has an interesting article on urban exploration, namely the activity of exploring abandoned buildings, tunnels and other parts of the urban environment where one is not meant to go. (via Slashdot)

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Are we beset by a bevy of new mental illnesses, or is that a consequence of psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies medicalising the human condition, coming up with things such as "general anxiety disorder"?

There was even a proposal, put forward recently in the British Medical Journal, that happiness should be classified as a "mental disorder". Thankfully, it was a joke, intended to satirise the fact that what previous generations would have thought of as simple unhappiness can now be defined as one of a range new-fangled psychiatric conditions...
Having failed to come up with cures for what he describes as "serious" diseases such as cancer and dementia, Dr Le Fanu says the pharmaceutical industry switched its attention to what he calls "lifestyle" problems - unhappiness, obesity, baldness and forgetfulness.

But can the medical industry bear all the blame, or is this phenomenon a natural byproduct of a modern consumerist culture of instant gratification? Can we really expect a normal person from a culture of home-delivered fast food and channel surfing to develop a stoic resilience to life's ups and downs, rather than popping a pill to make everything alright?

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In Britain, the latest martyr in the battle against assimilation into a homogeneous Eurostate (undoubtedly a plot by those dastardly French), is Sunderland grocer Steven Thoburn, to be tried for refusing to use metric units, as mandated by a European Union directive. If convicted, he faces a criminal record and a £2000 fine. Mr. Thoburn has support, though, from the anti-federalist movement. Good luck, and let those garlic-eating foreigners do their worst!

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The Australian government's new direction in drug policy: a Reagan-style war on drugs, focusing on the evils of marihuana (the weed with roots in Hell). Wonder whether this will lead to mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, overturning of decriminalisation in South Australia or US-style civil forfeiture laws. Given how Howard was eager to use UN treaties to crush "harm-minimisation" proposals that he saw as "soft on drugs" (whilst later threatening to withdraw from UN treaties if those meddling bleeding-hearts didn't shut up about the government's treatment of the Aborigines), I would not be the least bit surprised.

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