May 31, 2007

Why Molly?

I will never understand why humans seemingly head straight to the “top ten most popular names” list when they have progeny of their own, but they do it with their pets too.

Why?

For gawd’s sake: WHY?

Top ten most popular cat and dog names in Britain:

Top cat names:
1. Molly
2. Charlie
3. Tigger
4. Poppy
5. Oscar
6. Smudge
7. Millie
8. Daisy
9. Max
10. Jasper

Top dog names:
1. Molly
2. Max
3. Charlie
4. Holly
5. Poppy
6. Ben
7. Alfie
8. Jack
9. Sam
10. Barney

Articulate Spawntourage

Daddy Richie must be proud.

His little (in every regard) girl Nicole appears to be the only identified member of the spawntourage whose educational expenses have provided a satisfactory outcome.
"From: Nicole Richie <> To: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Subject: Masha and Nicole's Memorial Day Party Date: Thu 24 Ma 2007 04:29:29 +0000

My fellow Americans its that time of year To celebrate our country by drinking massive amounts of beer Let's stand together as one, live the American dream Take shots, pass out, & wake up with our pants ripped open at the seems Let's glorify this day in your sluttiest tops and your tightest pair of tsubi jeans Even though we have no fucking clue what Memorial Day really means!!

Mashas House
Sunday May 28th, at 2pm
XXXXX Crest Court
Beverly Hills, Ca 90210

There will be a scale at the front door. No girls over 100 pounds allowed in. Start starving yourself now. See you all then!!!

Please make sure to RSVP as this is a large party and we need to keep track of who's coming. Thanks"

While not rip-roaring hilarious, Nicole Richie’s party invitation is articulate, essentially correctly punctuated, contains only one spelling error, displays an awareness of sociological matters, and more than a little appreciation for irony and self-depreciation.

On the other hand, the hullabaloo from professional running commentators borders on the lunatic:

From Dr Joyce Brothers:

"Clearly, she is thumbing her nose at the people in rehab, It's a huge form of acting out, and it shows that the treatment for her eating disorder did not do any good."

Oh, sure, sending out a party invite is huge acting out. If her “treatment” had been successful she would not have parties and she would have no sense of humor.

The lass is seriously under-fed, and she knows it, but why should it be verboten for starving girls to mention weight? Perhaps they should talk about it more often. Some overweight people talk about nothing else.

May 28, 2007

Tin foil hat spritzer

Finally, reaching the shores down under, the latest technology to keep wrinkles at bay.

Following years of research, Clarins have released the equivalent of a tin foil hat in a handy purse-sized spray pack, so that you can carry it everywhere to spritz and zap, day and night, to keep your epidermis youthful and sprightly.

Expertise 3P anti-electro magnetic radiation mist (at $A59 for 100ml) puts a super-zapper barrier between you and flying electromagnetic waves and nefarious free radicals, which are aging you (and me) as I type and as you read.
But wait
, there’s more! Expertise 3P doesn’t just bounce electromagnetic waves before they reach your face, it actually protects you from all forms of indoor and outdoor pollution.

I know what you’re thinking: this must be one heavy duty scientifically and technologically advanced whiz-bang spay!

And you’d almost be exactly right.

The light as a feather water-like Expertise 3P super-spray is made from a stunning array of dirt common plants, and some weird cosmically challenged bacteria thingy.

When combined, the ingredients create an invisible “magnetic shield” to protect you from the damaging and aging effects of artificial electromagnetic waves and free radicals. (Personally, I think all radicals should be free, and if this spay will contribute to that end we should buy a bottle or two.)

The light spray contains plant extracts white tea and succory dock cress, which are the ingredients that reinforce the skin’s “resistance to the harmful effects of Artificial Electromagnetic Waves". (Which tends to suggest that our skin already “resists” these electromagnetic waves, all of its own accord?)

Like other teas, white tea come from the Camellia sinensis plant, but the leaves are picked and harvested before the leaves open fully, and when the buds are still covered by fine white hair.

Succory dock cress, also known as nipplewort, is a common garden weed.

The ingredients protecting your being from free radicals are rhodiola rosea and thermos thermophilus.

Rhodiola rosea is a plant that is believed to be effective for improving mood and alleviating depression, as well as aiding physical and mental performance. Along with repelling free radicals, when you use Expertise 3P, you can also expect to have chirpy skin that does well in exams.

Thermos thermophilus is a gram negative eubacterium, used in a range of biotechnological applications, including as a model organism for genetic manipulation and systems biology.

That’s an enlarged photograph of Thermus thermophillus, thermophilic bacteria, just above, and over to the right. You can read all about it here ...

But be careful with your Expertise 3P on hot days. The bacterium is extremely thermophilic, with an optimal growth temperature of about 85ºC.

May 27, 2007

Average is the new obese

Normal, healthy, attractive young lasses are not suitable winners for American Idol, according to a blonde expert.

Where the blonde "sees" diabetes and heart disease, all I see is a healthy 17 year old girl.

American size zero, on the other hand, is not healthy. When I see size zero I "see" osteo, sexual dysfuntion, infertility, premature aging, organ failure, heart damage, and hair loss.

The blonde needs to do some navel gazing to sort out what is and isn't a genuine
health problem.

May 26, 2007

Where garbage and literature meet

Not long ago Drunka took a leap into The Journal of American Popular Culture, and he hasn’t been seen since.
(Oh, okay, that’s a lie.)
Today, we sally forth in Drunka’s fine footsteps, attempting the near impossible: to see if we can integrate academic meanderings about popular culture into our everyday lives, specifically, we will delve into waste management.

By Jeremy Justus (of West Virginia University)

Justus posits, as we all have from time to time, that ideological surveillance, at the core of so many American policies, informs a host of American cultural articulations. If that is the case – and Justus, of course, sets out to prove that it is - “then we should be able to locate the ideological underpinnings of waste management and the literary manifestations of these underpinnings in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recycling guidelines as well as in contemporary, American literature.”
I was pondering exactly that hypothesis only six months ago, although, in general, I have never been so amoured of government guidelines or other such government penned offerings as to view them as a specifically literary manifestation. I’ve always thought that government documents were the anti-Christ of literature.
The other fleeting thought that I share with Justus, as I’m sure many of my fine readers have, are the ideas proffered by Neil Evernden, who:
“articulates the problems of anthropomorphizing nature in terms of the human tendency to interject ideologies onto non-human subjects in the very process of humanizing them.”
I did exactly that only this morning, in between having a philosophical discussion with a coffee cup, and prior to taking the toaster out for morning walkies.
Justus is pretty hung-up about the idea of humans being so persistently human. Not only do we view the environment from a human psychological and ideological perspective, but we minister to and interact with the environment in much the same manner, that is, a uniquely human manner.
Justus acknowledges the difficulty of humans behaving in some other manner, but appears to deeply regret that humans do not view the world in a more tree like, or perhaps orangutan, manner.
“Nature is subject to human control by virtue of being defined, understood, and treated by human "authority."
Furthermore:
“ecology, as a human attempt to be "ecocentric," treats nature in linguistic, and thus human terms."
"... we might consider what empathy implies: an underlying similarity between the human and the natural world". Any similarity is necessarily a human construction, and, thus, entirely one-sided.” “... That is, nature, as far as we can tell, lacks an intrinsic ability to reciprocate our empathy unless, of course, we perceive that it can (in which case, again, nature's empathy is still a distinctly human construction).”
It doesn’t matter which way you turn it or slice it and dice it, everything is a human construct. If only orangutans would step up to the plate and write a few academic articles we wouldn’t have this embarrassing surfeit of human-centric thinking.
“Moreover, understanding nature in human terms means projecting our own egos onto nature – viewing nature in egocentric rather than truly ecocentric terms. Regardless, we are bound to approach the study of nature from limited, human perspectives.”
See what I mean? We are limited by our limited human perspective. From now on I’m going to try to think and act and interact with the environment like an orchid.
Having established our disgracefully human limitations, Justus jumps straight into the deep end of our complementary ideological goals. (Not that Justus thinks they are complementary, but more on that later.)
“On one hand, earth-friendly ideologies cast recycling, for example, as a responsible approach towards non-human subjects. On the other hand, ideologies that favor a strong, national defense, for example, enable us to justify the potential use of nuclear weapons (and, thus, the potential destruction of the earth as we know it).”
That is, I argue, in a self-perpetuating cycle, ideologies that cast both waste management and the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction as responsible approaches to the treatment of non-human subjects both describe our attitude towards the earth and prescribe our actions toward it.”
Yes, that thorny ancient ability to both nurture and destroy. Love the thing you destroy; destroy the thing you love.

Ooops, sorry, that was me and my human musings.
“As Foucault states, "Visibility is a trap" . By virtue of being so exposed, nature remains constantly vulnerable to surveillance and, thus, remains a trapped environment. The trap, however, is not so much in nature's visibility, but in its being subjected to human ideologies that cast surveillance as a necessary means of social regulation. As nature is anthropomorphized, it also becomes subject to the surveillance used to regulate human subjects.
If this is the case, then panoptic surveillance also governs our environment, if, for no other reason, because humans represent a controlling force over the environment.
An environment, then, is a deliberately enclosed space, subject to surveillance and supervision, and, by virtue of being circumscribed by human activity, it is also subject to ideologies that dictate human behavior and attitudes.”
In fact, Justus gets a little carried away while mulling about this anthropomorphicizing business. An environment may well be a “deliberately enclosed space”, but jumping from there into suggesting that enclosed spaces are a human construct, with a surveillance and supervision meta-floating signifier attached, is one uber-egocentric assumption, which takes no account of context, history or time.
Earth is an environment, in and of itself, and it was a defined space before we came along, just as it will continue to be a defined space long after we are gone. Ditto this and all the billions of other galaxies out there. Matter existed and environments existed when there was no one watching, no one to conduct surveillance, no one to supervise.
Justus is on a confined popular culture / political mission though, so we must ignore the obvious.
He argues that just as schools and hospitals, for example, are enclosed environs that serve as a means by which to gather information about human subjects, on behalf of the state, if nature is truly an environed space, then organizations responsible for the collection of ecological information also function as ideological state apparatuses.
At long last, Justus takes us into an analysis of EPA literature, which, amongst other things provides “a standardized tool for the measurement of recycling rates, the guide both describes and prescribes specific processes for gathering this type of information".
"In short, the guide, on one hand, describes a uniform approach to measuring state and local recycling statistics while, on the other hand, it prescribes the same approach that it describes.”
Which isn’t “in short” at all, in fact he uses more words the second time to clarify an already clear and succinct point.
Why Justus finds this notable isn’t obvious, since governing bodies do this sort of thing all the time. The choice of metaphor, for example, will always determine and telegraph the means and the ends, such as it does and always will for things like the “war” on drugs – a description, prescription for process and outcome, all tied up with a little bow. However, this habit of picking metaphors or processes to both define and prescribe is not confined to government agencies, it comes from the bottom up, just as often as it comes from the top down. But, that's by the by.
Justus steps through the recycling process, concluding that “waste” is not designated as waste until it has been consumed, very often in the private sphere, at which point it becomes a matter of surveillance for the EPA. He then ponders, lightly, that this is a means by which the EPA infiltrates and monitors the private sphere.
He spells out the utterly mundane point:
“In this sense, the cereal boxes on our cabinet shelves are in the process of becoming recyclable waste through their daily use.”
No shit Sherlock.
Furthermore:
“by prescribing definitions and procedures that involve domestic spaces, the EPA's procedures of information gathering have a trickle-down effect that become embedded en route with a type of ideology that inadvertently transforms statistical research into another means of surveillance.”
In fact, measuring and monitoring recycling, in particular, does not especially infiltrate, advertently or inadvertently, the private sphere. Waste was monitored and measured long before recycling became fashionable. In that regard, government bodies have always had an intimate view of and interest in the waste generated in private spaces. This, and a myriad of statistical collections, has never been inadvertent.

At this point Justus leaves us and our domestic waste entirely in the lurch, diving into Don Delillo’s Underworld, claiming, quite outrageously:
"As is often the case, fiction expresses contemporary power situations and relationships and tells larger truths that historical records often gloss over."
If he believes that, we can hazzard a guess that he hasn't read much history, which is far less glossy than Justus imagines.
But, this is why we abruptly move from Foucault and EPA guidelines into Underworld – because fiction will be more informed than real life.
[SPOILER ALERT.]
The Underworld tells the story of the search for a lost baseball. An artist in the story uses spent bomb casings to create her art. This is clearly intended to be a profound signifier, but of what, I don’t know, other than that recycling is de rigueur, especially for modern artists.
Toward the end of the book, the human dichotomy of saving and destroying the world are neatly (too neatly) drawn together in a scene in which we witness the use of an underground nuclear explosion to obliterate human waste, which has, of course, been stored underground. That all of the action and the waste is literally out of sight – underground – and the explosion is likewise, unseen, the metaphoric significance of it all is conflated, for the idiot reader … in case they really don’t get it. Waste and weapons together at last, both tantalizingly unseen. Ta da!
Analyzing the novel, Justus highlights depictions of the human fascination with surveillance of the natural environment. For example, one character is mesmerized by photographs of the earth and space. This, according to Justus illustrates the voyeuristic appeal of surveillance. In other words, characters in the book react, in a human manner, to the environment, becoming part of a mechanism of surveillance, and, if they enjoy this activity, they enslave the environment for their voyeuristic delight.
And all this time you thought that gazing at a pretty sunset, or photos beamed back from the Hubble, with a suitable degree of wonder and awe, was a normal (human) response. Ha! You’re just part of the voyeuristic surveillance machine!


“Underworld reveals both a certain characteristic post-Cold War paranoia and nostalgia, while illustrating waste's metaphorical role as both the abject, underlying, discarded remnants of the paranoia and nostalgia. Moreover, Underworld also expresses a characteristic appeal of ideological surveillance as it manifests in the character's reactions to environed spaces.

How, then, might we discuss ideological surveillance as it is enforced upon non-human subjects? We can assume that non-human subjects don't internalize ideological surveillance, and, if they did, we probably would have no real way of knowing it.”
Indeed, Justus nails those assumptions pretty sharply! Who among us would disagree?
But let’s not let a momentary acknowledgement that trees and rocks and mountains and the ocean and such are unable to, or at least unable to tell us about, their internalization of ideological surveillance, lead us to anything remotely sensible.
“Even our approach to waste management, as Evernden suggests, reveals a characteristically egocentric approach to non-human subjects. The idea that nature is in danger of being "imperiled through profligate waste and human mismanagement" suggests that humans are both the cause of nature's imperilment and that "it is up to us to devise the means to its salvation", thus justifying our surveillance of the environment.”
The alternative, it is implied, would be to close our eyes, thereby solving the problem of humans being the ideological purveyors of all that they survey.

I’m not entirely sure how that would address anything, or what it would contribute to anything, other than being an alternative ideology, akin to the romanticisation of primitive and impoverished communities.
We should avert our eyes - really? For what non-purpose?
If only we would stop being voyeuristic perverts, the environs, unobserved, and spared ideological grafting, would live long and prosper.
You’ve no doubt been wondering how abjection comes into all of this, holding as it does, so much promise in the title of the essay.
”The purification of the abject – the recycling and sublimation of waste – is a particularly important recurring theme in DeLillo's fiction.”
“…Underworld's Klara Sax reclaims material waste as art, thereby reclaiming and purifying the abject.”
Which is nice.
Then things get a little grubby, with discussion of art as abjection and ejaculatory expressiveness.
“Helyer notes, on one hand, that art is just another form of evacuation, that "[a]rt is firmly linked to abjection as something ejaculated in an attempt to reinforce a difference, a separation, and to ward off the inherent fear of being engulfed by sameness"
I would assert, on the other hand, that Sax has, by choosing to work with material waste, metaphorically done the opposite: Sax has reclaimed what was once ejaculated and has integrated that into a new configuration.
As Kristeva notes, the ultimate, cathartic method of purifying the abject is through art. I concede that artwork necessarily involves placing oneself on the canvas, and that an artist may certainly use art as a means of "ejaculating" her own, unwanted waste; however, the amalgamation of material waste and the metaphorical projection of Sax's self illustrates, if nothing else, the reclamation (and thus the recycling) of the abject. In both investing herself in the art and incorporating waste into the product, Sax creates a place in which the abject ebbs and flows both out of and into a manufactured identity.”
Somehow we moved from the practicalities and sombreness of EPA uniform measurements and surveillance of waste recycling, and the intrusion of such into the private sphere, into the perversities of artists ejaculating their own unwanted wastes.
I’m not sure how or why that happened, but then, I don’t understand why, having given a passing review of EPA literature, the EPA is never mentioned again, not in the Underworld, and not in the essay. The EPA is simply forgotten, in favor of the excitement of abjection, ejaculatory art and the purifying metaphor of such activities.
”DeLillo writes that "[a]ll technology refers to the bomb" (Underworld 467). If this is the case, we might assume that the technology of waste management, as DeLillo illustrates, also refers to the bomb – as in the final chapter when waste is eradicated by an underground, nuclear explosion.”
DeLillo describes Jell-O molds as "sort of guided missile-like" and a vacuum cleaner as "satellite-shaped".
DeLillo clearly has some serious bomb and jello iss-th-ues. Perhaps writing his novel was cathartic, even if only on a purely ejaculatory floating signifier level.
Justus concludes exactly where he started, having enlightened no-one, nor delighted the audience with colorful displays of erudition or the esoteric.
"Recycling waste. Building bombs. Both are evidence of ideological perspectives as they influence our attitudes toward and treatments of nature. We create environed spaces, monitor them, justify saving and protecting them by means of recycling technology, and protect their boundaries with weapons of mass destruction.
Regardless, either way, the ideological underpinnings of earth-friendly endeavors represent distinctly human constructs that determine our ecological approaches to nature."
Well, not for me buddy!
This is me, in my new guise as an orchid, looking at the environed world through distinctly orchid constructs.
(That thing in the top left corner is my floating signifier.)


May 25, 2007

May 24, 2007

I AGREE!

Dispatches from The Onion:

Study: 38 Percent Of People Not Actually Entitled To Their Opinion

May 23, 2007 | Issue 43•21

CHICAGO—In a surprising refutation of the conventional wisdom on opinion entitlement, a study conducted by the University of Chicago's School for Behavioral Science concluded that more than one-third of the U.S. population is neither entitled nor qualified to have opinions.

"On topics from evolution to the environment to gay marriage to immigration reform, we found that many of the opinions expressed were so off-base and ill-informed that they actually hurt society by being voiced," said chief researcher Professor Mark Fultz, who based the findings on hundreds of telephone, office, and dinner-party conversations compiled over a three-year period. "While people have long asserted that it takes all kinds, our research shows that American society currently has a drastic oversupply of the kinds who don't have any good or worthwhile thoughts whatsoever. We could actually do just fine without them."

In 2002, Fultz's team shook the academic world by conclusively proving the existence of both bad ideas during brainstorming and dumb questions during question-and-answer sessions.

May 23, 2007

It’s all about me, me, me!

If he never has before, then the Prime Minister has now earned the epitaph "little Johnny Howard".

“Mr Howard said it was both a strength and a weakness that the three most visible ministers in the government - Mr Howard, Treasurer Peter Costello and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer - had been in the same positions since 1996.”

No, it’s not enough for Howard that he wouldn’t surrender his role last year, because he and the Missus can’t think of what to do with themselves once he leaves politics.

No, it’s not enough for Howard that his party will probably be thrown out of office in an unusually spectacular defeat at the next Federal election.

No, it’s not enough for Howard that he will probably be responsible for leaving his party and the country with an inexcusable and prolonged mess to clean up.

Yes, he has to be a total egoistic child and do whatever he can to damn his obvious and only real successor to hell too.

Have we ever had such a selfish, self-serving, petty, envious and manipulative Prime Minister?

What a smarmy asshole.

The Age ...

Register your rehab issues with Qantas before boarding

Before you next fly Qantas you might want to mention to them your most recent reasons for being in rehab, so they can note it down when you book your flight.

The local paper is feigning outrage, either because Qantas flight attendants didn’t recognize Keith Urban and/or because Qantas flight attendants aren’t intimately familiar with the personal iss-th-ues of their passengers.

Urban (singer in his own right, and husband of “our Nicole”) was given a bottle of red wine as he alighted from a recent Qantas flight, which might be seen as an insensitive gesture given his recent stint in rehab for his drinking / drug (?) problems, but only if you're a total goose.

Just because someone gives you an unopened bottle of wine doesn’t mean you have to drink it. Surely Urban has a friend he could have given it do, or one of his roadies, if he has no friends?

I'm assuming that Urban did accept the gift, graciously, rather than bursting into tears or yelling at the flight attendant for being painfully insensitive - but we don't know, because the report avoids saying anything.

Wasn’t there anything more important happening in the world today, to fill that small newspaper space, other than some guy being given a free bottle of wine by Qantas?

Our journalists / editors need to get a grip.

Seriously?

Contrary to all impressions, 70% of Australian children attend public schools.

According to an article in today's paper, nearly twice as much Federal funding is currently given to private schools - which are attended by a mere 30% of Aussie children. Over the next five years, as announced in the recent Federal budget, the funding to private schools will go over the edge of more than double the funding that is provided to public schools in this country.
"federal funding for private schools will increase from $5.8 billion to $7.5 billion over the next five years. Funding to public schools will rise from $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion over the next five years. Shame on us."
Surely this can't be true?

May 21, 2007

Capturing our mind-space

Own up, hands up high, come on, every single one of you: how many of you have not heard about “global warming”?

Come, come – wave those hands high in the air, shake them about, and do a little hokey pokey while you’re at it.

Hmmm.

I see.

No takers?

Yet, the sole purpose of the Live Earth “multinational phantasmagoric series of stadium concerts on July 7 … is to "raise awareness of global warming".

No money will be raised for any causes.

Several years worth of greenhouse gases will be jettisoned into the atmosphere.

For this “awareness” raising event, people in Australia will pay $99 to attend the concert (or nothing to watch it on telly).

In other words, people will spend $99 to go to a concert, no different to any other concert, with exactly the same outcome as any other concert, except that this one is called “Live Earth”, so that everyone attending will feel warm and fuzzy, which is pretty much how people feel no matter what a concert is named.

I thought the MSM was doing a reasonably good, and essentially free, job of "raising awareness" about climate change.

Oh, let's stop pussy-footing around: for gawd's sake, you can't get away from it!

Is "Live Earth" the single biggest environmental wank / rip-off we’ve had yet?

What next, a flake bake-off at every Fish & Chip shop, to raise awareness of sharks?

Ooooh, aaah

May 20, 2007

Dispatches

Dispatches from The Onion:

Professor Sees Parallels Between Things, Other Things

AUSTIN, TX—University of Texas professor Thom Windham once again furthered the cause of human inquiry in a class lecture Monday, as he continued his longtime practice of finding connections between things and other things, pointing out these parallels, and then elaborating on them in detail, campus sources reported.

"By drawing parallels between things and other, entirely different things, I not only further my own studies, but also encourage young minds to develop this comparative methodology in their own work," said Windham, holding his left hand up to represent one thing, then holding his right hand up to represent a separate thing, then bringing his hands together in simulation of a hypothetical synthesis of the two things. "It's not just similarities that are important, though—the differences between things are also worth exploring at length."

Fifteen years ago, Windham was awarded tenure for doing this."

Hallmark Scientists Identify 3 New Human Emotions

"KANSAS CITY, MO—Scientists at Hallmark Cards' Center for the Research and Development of Sentiments announced Monday that they had discovered three previously unknown emotions that can be experienced by human beings and captured on a folded piece of card stock.

"These new Hallmark-brand feelings will fill a void that has too long persisted in the consumable pleasantries market," said Hallmark president and CEO Don Hall, Jr., speaking to reporters in front of a watercolor backdrop of tulips beside a pond. "They will add a whole new level of complexity and nuance to the way we humans relate to one another, and will fill in any gaps left by our 'Thinking of You' and 'Just Because' categories."

The first emotion the project successfully isolated was "requiapathy," the combination of relief and guilt that comes with the sudden realization that you no longer miss a dead loved one. That discovery quickly led to the uncovering of "seprudity," the feeling of appreciating a coworker's dedication without fully understanding his or her job function, and "trepatiousness," a synthesis of rage and jealousy, though more muted and often accompanied by a sensation of weighlessness.

"[Trepatiousness] appears to be a very rare emotion, almost exclusively experienced while in a dream state," said principal investigator Dr. Susan McMurrough, a leader in the field of keepsake science best known for her work on the revolutionary "Blank Inside" line of cards. "The only way to activate it during waking hours, in fact, is with a combination of reds, oranges, and drowsy beagles in top hats."

The three emotions represent the latest discovery in the center's ongoing Emotions Mapping Project, a $42.4 million effort to identify and codify all of the mental and physiological states generated within the human psyche that are not currently covered by Hallmark's extensive line of greeting cards and collectible ornaments.

A prototype of one of the new cards

In 2002, McMurrough monitored the MRI activity of nearly 10,000 test subjects between the ages of 25 and 40 as they described all emotions they had experienced in the past six months and rated each for its intensity, duration, and whether it would be conveyable to others by mail. To identify targets of further study, McMurrough's team referenced that data against a matrix of all possible combinations of the neurotransmitters that catalyze human emotion.

"Until now, millions of people worldwide were forced to express their sincere and heartfelt requiapathy, seprudity, and trepatiousness with clumsy words and gestures," Hall said. "Our colorful and succinct messages will spare them countless hours of inconvenience and potential misunderstandings."

After a second group of Hallmark scientists successfully replicated the initial study's results, the sentiments were immediately submitted to the U.S. Patent Office and rushed to Hallmark headquarters, where writers, illustrators, and graphic designers interpreted the new emotions in warm, concise verse; inoffensive, ingratiating humor; and reassuring pastel watercolors.

"This research is not only groundbreaking—it's inspirational," said Mallory Jefson, a writer for Hallmark's Best Wishes department, who added that the emotions have led them to creative heights not reached since Secretaries Day became Administrative Professionals Day in 2000. In a single day of brainstorming, Jefson and her colleagues developed 15 seprudity-based card concepts that incorporated cats in sunglasses, and 22 new coffee mugs featuring the tart-tongued, post-menopausal character Maxine expressing requiapathy.

The Hallmark laboratories have been at the forefront of the greeting card sciences since the '40s. Their work has led to the creation of eight federally recognized holidays, the specification of a time frame in which someone ought to get well, and over a dozen flower and cursive-font combinations that, sales figures show, have effectively conveyed the complex emotional and psychological states of an estimated 185 million Americans."

May 19, 2007

The Carbon Offset Fraud

On the telly this morning two chaps were sitting in an empty sport’s stadium, one explaining to the other that they were going to offset the carbon emissions for the stadium. Not only the lights and power of the stadium itself, but the consumption of spectators attending events. Whether food, drink, flushing toilets, or souvenir t-shirts, they were going to add up the total greenhouse emissions and, by the miracle of modern capitalism, cancel them out.

The carbons will be zeroed-out”, the chap said, with preppy yet scientific gravitas.

He wasn’t kidding either.

As lots of other people have been telling us, this chap sincerely believes that by “offsetting the carbon emissions” generated in a particular circumstance, the actual emissions are, somehow, reduced to zero. He cited, by way of illustrating the concept, that they would generate carbons, in one city, but they would off-set them in another city, in order to achieve the zero-sum of carbons.

This, of course, is the equivalent of suggesting that it’s okay to eat all of the broken biscuits, because they don’t have any calories.

Sure, we should plant more trees. I agree with that, but I’m never ever going to pay some shyster company my money to “off set” my carbon generation; first taking out their overheads, secondly collecting a tidy profit from me, and with the left over loose change planting a tree – maybe, if I trust them to plant the tree and to check on it to make sure it hasn’t died at any time in the 30 years that it will take to offset some tiny proportion of the carbons that I generated this week.

Where the heck are all of these trees being planted anyway? Can someone tell me?

Nor will I pay some other shyster company my money to support wind generated electricity, because, thinking sensibly, I’m figuring that the wind farm already exists, electricity is or isn’t already being generated (depending on which way the wind is blowing, if at all), so the investment to build the wind farm has already been made, and the generation of electricity from such is already occurring, with not a single dollar from me. Therefore, my generous contribution to this “off set” is entirely bogus. Money for jam, for someone.

On a new American site you can measure your carbon footprint – a crude measurement at best (it’s dumb and simple, no sophistication to their little model), but donating $200 to this company to offset your carbon output for a year is also crude. Obviously they didn’t set the site up purely for you to estimate your emissions, they set it up so that you would give them money.

If it really cost so little and was so effective, everyone who could afford to would do it (let’s just say in Western countries) and we wouldn’t have to wait until 2150 for carbon levels to fall, would we now?

It doesn’t quite work that way though, does it. Because you pay your $200 and all the while you keep spewing out carbon by going about your everyday life. In the meantime, the trees, that may or may not be planted in your name will take around 30 years to soak up the carbons you were responsible for this year. Then you still have to worry about next year, and the year after, and before you know it, you’ll be dead for around 2300 years before all of your nasty emissions have, finally, been “offset”. Well, if the trees or wind farms planted across the country side in your name are still chugging along doing their job.

Last year the offset industry – yes, yes, let’s start calling it exactly what it is: an industry, a bogus and highly profitable industry, preying on the green and gullible – doubled from the previous year, being worth $5 billion. It doesn’t take a genius to anticipate exponential growth for years and decades to come.

Where does the money go? Apart from into a cunning entrepreneurs bank account.

Well, according to New Scientist (via Steve – Opinion Dominion)

Some firms are making a killing from schemes designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, while doing little or nothing in return.

... some of that money is going to oil companies that are simply pumping CO2 into oilfields to extract more oil. They would have done this anyway, so profits from selling the credits go straight into company coffers, with no benefit to new carbon-saving schemes.

"Oil companies are earning credits by doing what they would have done anyway"

I could go online to a myriad of web sites and spend $20 to offset the farts of the neighbor’s dog, in full knowledge that the dog will continue to fart, no matter how many carbon offsets I’ve bought.

I’d rather buy a tree and plant it and care for it with my own two little hands, or turn the lights off when I leave a room, or sponsor an African family so that they know the joys of having clean water and not seeing their children die by the age of five.

Don’t ever spend your money, for yourself, or as a “gift” to a loved one, buying nothing. If you really want to do something nice or supportive for planet Earth, then do something more constructive and personally fulfilling than handing over your hard-earned cash for a little piece of nothing, in the hope that you'll feel good about continuing to spew out your ordinary amount of greenhouse gas emissions each day.

Don’t be a dill.

The Secret Behind The Secret

Over at AvatarBrieflets, the Princess has linked to a video of The Chaser's take on "The Secret".

If you haven't heard of "The Secret" and if you don't know what it is, be grateful.

The article, below, is from the eSceptic newsletter.

I'm providing the complete text from the newsletter of March 07, 2007, because it's important to fully understand, intellecutally and emotionally, why this "fastest selling self help book" is depraved rather than thaumaturgic.

What is Attracting Millions
to the Law of Attraction?

by Ingrid Hansen Smythe

Psst! Have you heard The Secret? If not, the first thing you need to know is that The Secret isn’t a secret, and this in itself should set your skeptical alarm bells ringing, since whenever the very name of a thing is a contradiction of the thing itself, it is easy to imagine that the bridge up ahead may be washed out.

The Secret is a simple New-Age notion that is the subject of a recent and wildly successful book by Rhonda Byrne and DVD by Rhonda Byrne of Prime Time Productions. The secret is “The Law of Attraction” that asserts what you think creates what you feel, and these feelings flow from your body as magnetic energy waves over vast distances, which then cause the universe around you to vibrate at the same energy level as your feelings. If your feelings are negative, negative experiences will inevitably flow right back, positive feelings elicit positive experiences. Like attracts like. “Thoughts are sending out that magnetic signal that is drawing the parallel back to you. It always works; it works every time, with every person.”1 Thus there is no such thing as accident or coincidence; it is you, the individual, who brings misery on yourself because of your toxic thinking. But the good news, Eeyore, is this: if you can only alter your thoughts, and therefore your feelings, you can actually cause the universe around you to vibrate at a positive energy level and the desires of your heart will come to be realized! All you have to do is AskBelieveReceive.2 You just have to visualize what you want, feel good about it, and then ask the universe (and ask once only, oh ye of little faith) — and whatever you can imagine can be yours. “This is like having the universe as your catalogue and you flip through it and go, ‘Well I’d like to have this experience and I’d like to have that product and I’d like to have a person like that’ … It is you just placing your order with the universe. It’s really that easy … [Just] start to have different beliefs like there is more than enough in the universe, everything goes right for me … have the belief ‘I’m not getting older, I’m getting younger.’ We can create it the way we want it.”3

This is excellent news indeed for those of us who previously thought that something like aging was not optional. There are 100 assertions that constitute the backbone of The Law of Attraction,4 including:

  • Whatever is going on in your mind is what you are attracting.
  • Thought = creation. If these thoughts are attached to powerful emotions (good or bad) that speeds the creation.
  • Those who speak most of illness have illness, those who speak most of prosperity have it, etc.
  • It’s OK that thoughts don’t manifest into reality immediately (if we saw a picture of an elephant and it instantly appeared, that would be too soon).
  • Everything in your life you have attracted. Accept that fact; it’s true.
  • You get exactly what you are feeling.
  • What you think and what you feel and what actually manifests is always a match — no exception.
  • You don’t need to know how the universe is going to rearrange itself.
  • How long??? No rules on time; the more aligned you are with positive feelings the quicker things happen.
  • Size is nothing to the universe (unlimited abundance if that’s what you wish). We make the rules on size and time.
  • If you turn it over to the universe, you will be surprised and dazzled by what is delivered. This is where magic and miracles happen.
  • The Hows are the domain of the universe. It always knows the quickest, fastest, most harmonious way between you and your dream.
  • Our job is not to worry about the “How”. The “How” will show up out of the commitment and belief in the “what”.
  • We are mass energy. Everything is energy. Everything.
  • An affirmative thought is 100 times more powerful than a negative one.5

One needn’t quarrel with the psychology behind some of The Secret’s hysterically cheery rah-rah motivational coaching. For instance, their “Don’t Be A Negative Sourpuss” philosophy has its roots in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a psychological approach to altering maladaptive, unrealistic, and negative thoughts in an effort to change feelings and, as a result, behavior. It is hardly revolutionary to claim that attitude and negative feeling-states can have an impact on goal attainment. Who among us has not had the experience of trying to accomplish some task, only to fall prey to our Inner Idiot who keeps telling us, “You’ll never learn this,” or “You’re an impostor,” or “You hate this,” and these irrelevant messages lead to avoidance of the task, depression, and the dreaded self-fulfilling prophecy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help rid the individual of unhelpful self-talk, and this inevitably leads to more successful living — no supernatural intervention required.

Imagining that we are like magnets is not an especially harmful mental exercise in metaphorical thinking, but when metaphor slips into metaphysics, problems with The Secret become glaringly apparent. The Secret relies heavily on fuzzy thinking, and nowhere is this fuzziness demonstrated better than by the fact that The Secret is actually proposing two completely different systems for achieving one’s goals and then blurring the line between those systems — in effect, selling the system that works on the back of the one that doesn’t. On the one hand, we are told that all that is required to get what we desire is to ask, believe, and receive. For example: A little boy wants a bike, he believes he will get a bike, he gets a bike (as dramatized in The Secret DVD). On the other hand, we are told that we can’t merely ask, believe, receive. “A lot of people watch The Secret and they say, ‘Well, I’m sitting around visualizing my millions coming into my lap.’ Well, they’ll come take your furniture away. And then how are you going to visualize [when you’re living] on the curb? You’ve got to act on it.”6 So, a little boy wants a bike, he gets a paper route to earn money to get a bike, he gets a bike. In the first scenario, the supernatural is required. In the second scenario, a paper-route is required. The second scenario is the one that most of us recognize as the only one that will actually work, in which a person has an “idea,” then acts on that idea, and then gets the desired results. The second system renders irrelevant the first system.

The testimonial of the editor of the Chicken Soup for the Soulbooks, Jack Canfield, provides an excellent example of the first system (ask-believe-receive) getting the credit for the second system (idea-action-results). He tells us that he visualized earning $100,000 (even writing the desired amount on a bill worth far less and tacking it to the ceiling above his bed) and focused his mental energy only on the goal of attaining the money. He tells us that he had absolutely no idea how he was going to get the money — he simply focused on believing that he would get the money, somehow. But how? For four weeks he had no breakthrough ideas but then, one day in the shower, he remembered that he had written a book and, if it was published (particularly if he sold 400,000 copies and he made a quarter on each) he just might achieve his financial goals. Of course the book was published, and the results were only a few thousand dollars shy of 100,000 dollars.7

Mr. Canfield attributes his success to knowing and applying the principles of The Secret — he literally attracted 100,000 dollars through good feelings, positive energy, and the power of visualization. Is it possible, however, that this is a misattribution, and that the actual reason for his success is that he suddenly remembered that he had written a book, got it published, and subsequently earned money from it? You know, the way all other authors do it. The post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this therefore because of this) fallacy would appear to be working overtime in the minds of enthusiastic Secreteers. “It happened because I wished for it,” the Secreteer would say, instead of the more obvious explanation, “It happened because I worked for it.”8

Perhaps the believer in The Law of Attraction imagines that to use both systems in conjunction is more powerful than using just the one. It seems to me that this is like a woman using some form of birth control and then lying back and affirming “I will not get pregnant! I will not get pregnant!” It seems obvious that it is the birth control, and not the positive thinking, that is getting the job done. Certainly affirmations alone do nothing to prevent pregnancy — any woman who believes otherwise is undoubtedly a mother. The Secreteers seem to think that positive affirmations and happy feelings affect the probability of an occurrence, but it would seem that the only odds that are being improved in the above example are the odds of having a pretty lousy time.

Other lines are also expertly blurred by the editors of The Secret DVD. For example, we are shown a man visualizing himself attracting a car and — no surprises here — magically getting the car. But here an objection arises — if everybody knows The Secret, won’t there be a mad dash for all the good stuff and no one will get anything? Not to worry. Not everyone wants the same things, we are told — and here there is a visual of an Indian snake charmer, followed by a little Chinese woman in a boat with a bunch of domestic fowl. Apparently, the Indian man and the Chinese woman don’t want a car. (“We don’t all want BMWs,” we are told, and this is undoubtedly correct.9 Some people want Hummers.) “The truth is there’s more than enough good to go around. There’s more than enough creative ideas, there’s more than enough power, there’s more than enough love, there’s more than enough joy.”10 So in one breath we’re talking about attracting a car — with the next breath we’re suddenly talking about attracting love and joy and other emotions sans wheels or an engine. Add to the above the following quote: “Wise people have always known this … Why do you think that 1% of the population earns around 96% of all the money that’s being earned? Do you think that’s an accident? It’s no accident. It’s designed that way. They understand something. They understand The Secret.”11 Ah, there it is then. It is the wise people who have the money and the BMWs. Are we to conclude that the Indian man and the Chinese woman are fools? The deeply offensive racial overtones are hard to ignore, as are the sexist slurs — for instance, during the delivery of the above quotation, the visual is of a boardroom full of white, cigar-smoking male executives. Evidently social inequality and injustice, a lack of resources, several thousand years of patriarchy, oppression and inequality between the sexes — all the usual explanations as to why people don’t have money are incorrect. Social factors are irrelevant in a world where “You are the only one who creates your reality. It is only you; every bit of it you.”12

What about the scientific claims upon which The Law of Attraction is based? Such as: Our thoughts are magnetic and travel as energy and vibration for vast distances. “It has been proven scientifically that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought.”13 “It is no more difficult to attract on a scientific level something that we consider huge to something we consider infinitesimally small.”14 “Our physiology creates disease to give us feedback, to let us know we have an imbalanced perspective and we’re not loving and we’re not grateful.”15 “Even under a microscope you’re an energy field.”16 “You’ve got enough power in your body to illuminate a whole city for nearly a week.”17 These are extraordinary claims that surely require extraordinary evidence, which The Secreteers do by using the word “science” over and over, as if merely saying the word is the same as doing it — as if feeling good about science will attract more science into your life.

“Quantum physics really begins to point to [The Secret],” says a proponent of The Law of Attraction. “It says that you can’t have universe without mind entering into it. The mind is actually shaping the very thing that is being perceived.”18 Here, then, we have an authority on the subject telling us that our minds create reality. First, however, it seems obvious that a universe without sentient minds perceiving it is entirely possible, given that this was the story on Earth for the first 13 billion years. Second, it would seem that this particular proponent of The Law of Attraction is using an understanding of quantum physics based more on the questions that Schrödinger was trying to answer, rather than on the answers themselves. Does the mind of the observer truly shape reality as claimed? After all it is true that, at the quantum level, a scientist has great difficulty recording and measuring particles and their interactions without changing the results of the investigation. Is this because the scientist’s mind is influencing the experiment? Is it because the scientist perceived the experiment and, as a result of perceiving, changed the results? No. The answer is far more mundane. To put it in crudely simplistic terms, as soon as the scientist switches on the light to see what’s going on, other particles, like photons, get in the way. It is the photons that are responsible for messing up the results, not the thoughts of the experimenter.19 This explanation has the obvious disadvantage of being extremely boring and must be ruled out on the basis that it doesn’t support the “create your own reality” claim.

Besides scientific gibberish, The Secret DVD props up faltering dogma by relying on charismatic representatives and a lot of smooth talk, which is so expert and cleverly edited it is easy to miss the false premises, tautologies, red herrings, straw men, non sequiturs, and other varieties of fuzzy thinking. However, even if The Law of Attraction was logically consistent and scientifically sound, the moral implications of a Law such as this are alarming. Interestingly, some of the difficulties with The Law of Attraction are similar to those encountered by believers in The Law of Karma, and comparing and contrasting the two yields some curious insights.20

It is the business of both laws to explain why good and evil befall us, and both laws come to the conclusion that the fault is exclusively ours. In neither system can there be accident or coincidence — we are all at all times getting exactly what we deserve, and what we have attracted.21 The Law of Attraction seems particularly suited to the modern temperament though, given that with karma, you might have to wait a thousand lifetimes to get the good things you deserve, whereas with The Law of Attraction everything is possible in this lifetime. No waiting! Better service! The Law of Attraction might be said to be the lazy person’s karma, since karma is based on doing, whereas the Law of Attraction is based on feeling. This is also handy for the modern American, who is quite busy enough as it is. In addition, karma is concerned exclusively with morality (specifically good and evil deeds), but The Law of Attraction is concerned only with positive feeling vibrations, which needn’t necessarily be connected to pesky morality at all.22

When dealing with instances of extraordinary evil, however, both The Law of Karma and The Law of Attraction break down rather spectacularly. Imagine a particularly hideous situation — a healthy young girl is raped and tortured, hacked to pieces, her remains stuffed into a plastic bag and thrown in the trash. What the believer in karma is forced to admit, as morally repugnant as it may be, is that this girl deserved what happened to her. There is no innocent suffering in a universe where we all, at all times, are getting what we deserve. The believer in karma must also conclude that this event is in some sense good because this girl rid herself of an enormous amount of bad karma and is bound to come back to a glorious life next time around. Likewise, a philosophy that claims we are always getting what we ask for, and that nothing is accidental, must also believe that this girl in some sense deserved what happened to her because she attracted this evil to her. (Remember the law: “Everything in your life you have attracted. Accept that fact; it’s true.”) One might protest that a young girl has not yet developed the “magnetic powers” to attract anything to her — but one must then ask at what age do these powers develop, and does it really make the situation any less tragic? If a 12-year-old boy can attract a shiny new bike, can a 12-year-old girl attract a rapist and killer? It would seem the answer is yes, since there are 12-year-old girls who come to such a brutal demise. Perhaps, though, 12 is too young to attract such powerful evil; is it really better, though, if we imagine the rape, dismembering, and plastic-bag-stuffing of a 25-year-old woman? A 35-year-old mother of three? A grandmother? Can we really feel comfortable ever saying that people attract fatal accidents, illness, trauma, and death?

It gets worse, for what can the believer in karma or The Law of Attraction possibly say about an event such as the Holocaust? Again, the believer in karma is forced to say that each and every individual got what he or she deserved and that karmic justice was served. “Whatever one deserves … he deserves by virtue of his actions and he gets all that he deserves and only that which he deserves. Nothing which accrues to a doer on account of his actions is ever lost and nothing accrues to him on account of anything other than his actions.”23 What about those who hold the belief that, through your feeling-state, you attract either positive or negative events? Here is a little visualization for the believer in the Law of Attraction: Imagine looking each of those six million Jews in the eye and telling every one of them that due to the negative feeling-states they were each projecting, they were all, in effect, asking for it. They got what was coming to them because, “What you think and what you feel and what actually manifests is always a match — no exception.”

The Secreteers say that “There is no such thing as coincidence… Everything happens by principles and laws in our universe.”24 How can this be true in the face of such evil? Does The Law of Attraction simply not apply in some cases? Why not? Why does the believer in this alleged “law” jump to credit The Law of Attraction for a little boy magically receiving a bike from the universe, or for a motivational speaker landing a spot on the Oprah show, but fail to mention dead girls stuffed into plastic bags or six million Jews butchered in concentration camps? Is The Law of Attraction really a law at all? The Secret’s proponents want to claim for it the unchanging status of a physical law of the universe. “Just as there is a law of gravity — if you fall off a building it doesn’t matter whether you’re a good person or a bad person you’re gonna hit the ground.”25 Thus, if the Law of Attraction is also a physical law, it cannot be suspended to allow for events such as the Holocaust. Pity the believer in The Law of Attraction, therefore, who is in the unenviable position of having both to congratulate a little boy on attracting a bike, and also explain to all those other unfortunates that, due to their negative feelings, they attracted an airplane piloted by terrorists, a tsunami, muscular sclerosis, cancer, genocide.

Given the moral defects, the lack of scientific backing, and the various philosophical shortcomings, how is it that a significant number of people still believe there’s something to The Law of Attraction? Part of the reason must certainly be the powerful testimonials coming from celebrity figures such as Oprah Winfrey, a woman who attributes her success to her mighty powers of attraction, and not to the stupefyingly enormous Oprah industry which she, and many thousands of others have worked so hard to put in place.

One might conclude, Well so what? What harm is there in believing in things that are not literally true as long as the desired result is achieved? The harm is great, I think, and no one has given voice to these concerns better than W.H. Clifford in his essay The Ethics of Belief:

The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them, for then it must sink back into savagery… It may matter little to me, in my cloud-castle of sweet illusions and darling lies; but it matters much to Man that I have made my neighbors ready to deceive. The credulous man is father to the liar and the cheat.26

The Law of Attraction cannot admit doubt or skepticism. If one begins to doubt the power, or even to harbor negative thoughts in one’s unconscious mind, one is assuredly on the road to ruin.27 The Law of Attraction requires uncritical acceptance of, and unwavering belief in, a doctrine that has been revealed by alleged authorities, which is interpreted literally, not metaphorically, and is at the extreme end of credulity. It is just another kind of magical thinking and, worse, another brand of fundamentalism.