The Null Device


An article looking at seven sentiments most people won't admit to having, and feel embarrassed at even thinking about; and these are not any stereotypically Freudian sexual kinks either. They are: feeling uncomfortable around physically disabled people, publicly expressing grief for people one didn't care about in life/"Harolding" at funerals, schadenfreude, playing favourites with one's children, judging people by their wealth, feeling relieved when someone in chronic pain dies, and having sexual fantasies about people other than their partner.

Why jump on the bandwagon, when the bandwagon is a hearse? There are self-serving reasons: Evolutionary psychologists argue that the public expression of grief boosts your reputation as a trustworthy member of the community.
Sudden tragic death can inspire emotional rubbernecking in anyone. (How many of us have boasted about near misses--say, driving through an intersection five minutes before a fatal crash?) A national catastrophe such as September 11 brings this behavior out of the woodwork. That fall, people felt compelled to disclose that they had friends of friends of friends in the World Trade Center. New Yorkers morbidly compared notes: How close were you? What did you see? Who did you know? (In this creepy social gambit, the "winner" is the person most directly affected by the attack.) The same calculus was at work in other states or countries, where the comparison was not what you saw firsthand but who you knew in New York City or Washington, D.C.

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Alternet's top ten drug war stories of 2003, from Our Appointed Sonsofbitches in Afghanistan overseeing bumper opium crops to the human and ecological costs of US-backed illegal biological warfare in Narcolombia, to the usual mistaken-identity police raids and high-level hypocrisy:

The total number of marijuana arrests far exceeded the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Of those charged with marijuana violations, 88 percent were charged with possession only. The remaining 12 percent were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes cultivation for personal and medical use.
With America incarcerating the highest percentage of its own citizens of any nation in history, Former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese suggests tapping prison labor as a way to slow the exodus of jobs overseas.

Well, at least when the oil runs out in the next decade, they can harness America's booming prison population and replace oil-fired generators with treadmills full of marijuana smokers, MP3 pirates and disenfranchised black voters from Florida. Call it planning ahead.

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An article looking at the BBC's coverage of geopolitics and wars; how it differs from US media coverage, whether impartiality in war constitutes disloyalty (or the old Communists-in-the-BBC cliché), and why so many liberal Americans have turned to British media for their news:

BBC correspondent Nick Higham says anytime you report from the other side, you run the risk of getting flak. As he explains, some would charge, " 'Surely if you're objective and impartial, you are, by implication, going to be sympathetic to our enemies.' " But, "the BBC would say, 'Well, no, what we're trying to do is reflect all sides of an extremely complicated situation'.... And to do that you've got to go and talk to the Iraqis, and you've got to reflect what Osama bin Laden says. And all the rest of it."
"I think Americans, particularly conservative Americans, have a problem with the BBC approach because impartiality, which is the BBC's fundamental watchword, is itself a liberal notion," he says. "And our commitment to impartiality comes out of what is fundamentally a small 'l' liberal culture, liberal media culture, in which objectivity, impartiality are thought to be good in themselves and achievable.... The impression I get is that a lot of Americans just don't get that.... And to them it's much more important that the news media are supportive of the national effort, particularly when you go to war."

This brings to mind what David Malouf wrote in the most recent Quarterly Essay about the differences between the American and British (and thus Australian) cultures of public debate; i.e., that between the time the American colonies were founded and now, the language of public discourse in England shifted from a zealous, idealistic, absolutist tone to a more measured, impartial one, as a result of the Civil War. Which, presumably, is why many Americans are partial to flag-waving FOXNews-style jingoism, of the sort which makes Britons and Australians (and many of America's own liberals) cringe.

A less emotional analysis was conducted by the think tank Cchange, Conservatives for Change. Its 72-page report examines five years' worth of the BBC current-affairs program "Panorama" and the BBC's coverage of a single political issue, whether grammar schools should be retained or abolished. The report, available at, argues not that the BBC is pro-Labor and anti-Conservative, but that there is a set of political values--anti-free market, anti-business, anti-U.S., antiwar--shared by those who work there and evident in BBC reporting.

Anyway, as far as the BBC goes; apparently, the institution's charter is up for rewriting this year, and rumour has it that Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch are in hush-hush talks about what to do with that nasty old BBC.

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