The Null Device


The Age has obtained letters between the ultraconservative Exclusive Brethren sect and former Prime Minister John Howard, revealing more about the closeness of the Brethren's relationship to the reins of power, and the Howard government's collusion with them:

The letters show Mr Howard met two Brethren leaders in his Sydney office on the day New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark referred sect members to police because they hired private detectives to tail her and her husband, and spread rumours that her husband was gay.
"The attention of the public needs to be diverted from matters such as the Iraq war, the supposed ill-treatment of Iraq prisoners and other contentious issues," they wrote. They also suggested a massive project to transport water via aqueducts using funding from the sale of Telstra and the issue of bonds.
The Brethren runs a lucrative network of pump supply companies but spokesman Tony McCorkell said yesterday this was irrelevant to the water proposal. Brethren members were "concerned about good environmental policy", he said.

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As Banksy's artwork continues to climb in value (a collector recently bought a piece on a building wall in Notting Hill for £208,100, plus the (not inconsiderable) cost of removing and relocating the wall), BBC News has a piece on how to tell an authentic Banksy from a knockoff:

wo key signifiers of a genuine Banksy work are a busy location and a political subject, he says. While other graffiti artists go for railway lines or rundown areas to reach their community, Banksy aims for the wider public.
"The drawing will be reasonably competent, not brilliant, he's not a great artist. And it will be making a small jokey point about something. It's very difficult to fake that authentically. I don't doubt people will try but he'll distance himself from it."

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The New York Times has an excellent piece by Steven Pinker on the human instinct for moral reasoning:

At the same time, many behaviors have been amoralized, switched from moral failings to lifestyle choices. They include divorce, illegitimacy, being a working mother, marijuana use and homosexuality. Many afflictions have been reassigned from payback for bad choices to unlucky misfortunes. There used to be people called “bums” and “tramps”; today they are “homeless.” Drug addiction is a “disease”; syphilis was rebranded from the price of wanton behavior to a “sexually transmitted disease” and more recently a “sexually transmitted infection.”
This wave of amoralization has led the cultural right to lament that morality itself is under assault, as we see in the group that anointed itself the Moral Majority. In fact there seems to be a Law of Conservation of Moralization, so that as old behaviors are taken out of the moralized column, new ones are added to it. Dozens of things that past generations treated as practical matters are now ethical battlegrounds, including disposable diapers, I.Q. tests, poultry farms, Barbie dolls and research on breast cancer. Food alone has become a minefield, with critics sermonizing about the size of sodas, the chemistry of fat, the freedom of chickens, the price of coffee beans, the species of fish and now the distance the food has traveled from farm to plate.
While what is considered a moral issue differs between cultures and societies (and, to an extent, periods of time), there appear to be five categories for moral judgment hardwired into the human psychology: harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity.
The five spheres are good candidates for a periodic table of the moral sense not only because they are ubiquitous but also because they appear to have deep evolutionary roots. The impulse to avoid harm, which gives trolley ponderers the willies when they consider throwing a man off a bridge, can also be found in rhesus monkeys, who go hungry rather than pull a chain that delivers food to them and a shock to another monkey. Respect for authority is clearly related to the pecking orders of dominance and appeasement that are widespread in the animal kingdom. The purity-defilement contrast taps the emotion of disgust that is triggered by potential disease vectors like bodily effluvia, decaying flesh and unconventional forms of meat, and by risky sexual practices like incest.
The ranking and placement of moral spheres also divides the cultures of liberals and conservatives in the United States. Many bones of contention, like homosexuality, atheism and one-parent families from the right, or racial imbalances, sweatshops and executive pay from the left, reflect different weightings of the spheres. In a large Web survey, Haidt found that liberals put a lopsided moral weight on harm and fairness while playing down group loyalty, authority and purity. Conservatives instead place a moderately high weight on all five. It’s not surprising that each side thinks it is driven by lofty ethical values and that the other side is base and unprincipled.
And, further down:
Though wise people have long reflected on how we can be blinded by our own sanctimony, our public discourse still fails to discount it appropriately. In the worst cases, the thoughtlessness of our brute intuitions can be celebrated as a virtue. In his influential essay “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, argued that we should disregard reason when it comes to cloning and other biomedical technologies and go with our gut: “We are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings . . . because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear. . . . In this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done . . . repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”
There are, of course, good reasons to regulate human cloning, but the shudder test is not one of them. People have shuddered at all kinds of morally irrelevant violations of purity in their culture: touching an untouchable, drinking from the same water fountain as a Negro, allowing Jewish blood to mix with Aryan blood, tolerating sodomy between consenting men. And if our ancestors’ repugnance had carried the day, we never would have had autopsies, vaccinations, blood transfusions, artificial insemination, organ transplants and in vitro fertilization, all of which were denounced as immoral when they were new.

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As reported elsewhwere, Bruce Schneier, the Chuck Norris of computer security, leaves his home wireless network open:

To me, it's basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea. But to some observers, it's both wrong and dangerous.
I can count five open wireless networks in coffee shops within a mile of my house, and any potential spammer is far more likely to sit in a warm room with a cup of coffee and a scone than in a cold car outside my house. And yes, if someone did commit a crime using my network the police might visit, but what better defense is there than the fact that I have an open wireless network? If I enabled wireless security on my network and someone hacked it, I would have a far harder time proving my innocence.
I'm also unmoved by those who say I'm putting my own data at risk, because hackers might park in front of my house, log on to my open network and eavesdrop on my internet traffic or break into my computers. This is true, but my computers are much more at risk when I use them on wireless networks in airports, coffee shops and other public places. If I configure my computer to be secure regardless of the network it's on, then it simply doesn't matt

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The latest must-have accessory on the Tokyo subway is a portable subway strap. Such a strap, of course, doesn't provide support, but it does keep one's hands occupied, and provides proof that one is not using them to grope women in the crush (something which happens a lot).

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Jona Bechtolt of YACHT (and formerly of The Blow)'s latest venture (with partner-in-crime Claire L. Evans): making MacBook Air laptop sleeves that look like manila envelopes, like the one Steve Jobs pulled the Air out of at MacWorld. For people who also have a Banana Phone.

If one had a MacBook Air, that would look either cool or cheesy, depending on the execution. Though I'm not tempted to buy one; given that I use my Mac for music and video, I couldn't justify buying one with only one USB port and no FireWire.

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