Category Archives: politics

Willful blindness

C. P. Surendran thinks the protest over Rushdie’s aborted India visit is without merit, and that it the invite to him might even be a cunning publicity stunt on the part of the organizers of the lit. festival. He then uses the stale and irrelevant why-didn’t-the-protestors-protest-this-or-that argument to dismiss the legitimacy of the protest. Apparently, unless people who believe in freedom of expression are willing to be beaten up by Sena goons or thick-skulled members of the Hindutva brigade, they cannot earn the privilege to protest Islamic censorship. Better still, die at the hands of the (“idiot[ic]”) terrorists in Kashmir to prove your beliefs/credentials-

The actual test for literature is outside Diggy Palace, far beyond the ramparts of Jaipur Fort and DSC largesse. How about getting off the plane at Srinagar, standing in the town square and reading passages from The Satanic Verses? In the process, some idiot might cut you down with an AK-47, but what could be braver and better than dying for the words you believe in? Or better still, why not sacrifice one’s bleeding, agonised word-hungry soul for the freedom of speech in Kashmir, where if you throw a word at the State, you gets bullets in your mouth in return?

Forget all that Rushdie went through for a moment. Despite the best efforts of a now-dead Iranian lune, he is alive, for now. Theo van Gogh is not. And so many people have faced death threats and have had their lives permanently disrupted for having the temerity to “offend” Islam that glib commentary of this nature on the issue is not just regrettable, but condemnable more so because it recommends self-censorship.

All religion is based on faith in some nebulous, fictional entity. Some people believe in God-by-any-name; others swear by Batman. And offering protection to the “sentiments” of such people is not good jurisprudence, but lunacy.

Greenwald writes about the perennially stamped-upon US Fifth Amendment-

The Indictment is a classic one-side-of-the-story document; even the most mediocre lawyers can paint any picture they want when unchallenged. That’s why the government is not supposed to dole out punishments based on accusatory instruments, but only after those accusations are proved in an adversarial proceeding.

Whatever else is true, those issues should be decided upon a full trial in a court of law, not by government decree. Especially when it comes to Draconian government punishments — destroying businesses, shutting down websites, imprisoning people for life, assassinating them — what distinguishes a tyrannical society from a free one is whether the government is first required to prove guilt in a fair, adversarial proceeding. This is a precept Americans were once taught about why their country was superior, was reflexively understood, and was enshrined as the core political principle: “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” It’s simply not a principle that is believed in any longer, and therefore is not remotely observed.

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The Theory of Hurt Sentiments

“Hurt sentiments” are a strange thing. X decides he does not like what Y has written, or said, or done, and then goes to court about it. It’s not as if he was thrashed by Y; more like he thrashed himself and then held Y responsible for his own actions. The idea of libel/slander/defamation, and (nearly) all censorship is based on this ridiculous notion. The Americans are the only people in the world who, thanks to the first-rate minds behind the First Amendment, enjoy some measure of protection under law when it comes to censorship; even they are not immune from persecution for libel. The rest of humanity is at the mercy of lunatics and barbarians.

The comment by a judge of the Delhi HC warning Google and Facebook that the judiciary would “go China” on them unless they get their act together is par for the course as far as India is concerned. Politicians and judges indulge in this behavior only because the majority of people in the country are in favor of such enforcement.

Mencken was right.

Permissible

A comment on IMDb:

I watched Death Sentence while it was playing on TV on the channel FX. I found it almost hilariously disturbing that people were getting shot and dying bloody deaths on screen, but in the meantime mofos were being edited to mother sucker and freaking. And the f word was being changed to heck, and s*** was being changed to shoot. So show as much violence on television as you want, just God forbid you drop an F bomb or show nudity, because you know, THAT will screw kids up. Not people having their brains blown out rather graphically. Then the rest of us get to watch badly dubbed gang members running around with guns screaming “What the ‘heck’ is going on!” Thank you MPAA for keeping America’s children safe from breasts and bad words, but exposing them to more wholesome things like machetes and gang wars.

“And all for a lie”

For him personally there could be no assimilation; he had known that after the first five years. By then he had learned fluent Russian, written and spoken, but he still retained a remarkable English accent. Apart from that, he had come to hate the society. It was a completely, irreversibly and unalterably alien society.

That was not the worst of it: within seven years of arriving he had lost his last political illusions. It was all a lie, and he had been smart enough to see through it. He had spent his youth and manhood serving a lie, lying for the lie, betraying for the lie, abandoning that ‘green and pleasant land’, and all for a lie.

Frederick Forsyth, The Fourth Protocol

Bookkeeper of Calories

I finished Taubes’ book a few weeks back and can now say that I’m absolutely convinced that his view that carbohydrates are directly connected to obesity and diabetes is correct. One of the blurbs on the back cover of the book calls it “the most important book on diet and health to be published in the past one hundred years.” It might very well be that too. Chapter after chapter painstakingly documents the errors and omissions, and the prejudices and biases that went into manufacturing the consensus against dietary fat and in favor of carbohydrates. I do not wish to go into the details, but I do wish to quote from the Epilogue-

In the 1890s, Francis Benedict and Wilbur Atwater, pioneers of the science of nutrition in the United States, spent a year in the laboratory testing the assumption that the law of energy conservation applied to humans as well as animals. They did so not because they doubted that it did, but precisely because it seemed so obvious. “No one would question” it, they wrote. “The quantitative demonstration is, however, desirable, and an attested method for such demonstration is of fundamental importance for the study of the general laws of metabolism of both matter and energy.”

This is how functioning science works. Outstanding questions are identified or hypotheses proposed; experimental tests are than established either to answer the questions or to refute the hypotheses, regardless of how obviously true they might appear to be. If assertions are made without the empirical evidence to defend them, they are vigorously rebuked. In science, as Merton noted, progress is made only by first establishing whether one’s predecessors have erred or “have stopped before tracking down the implications of their results or have passed over in their work what is there to be seen by the fresh eye of another.” Each new claim to knowledge, therefore, has to be picked apart and appraised. Its shortcomings have to be established unequivocally before we can know what questions remain to be asked, and so what answers to seek—what we know is really so and what we don’t. “This unending exchange of critical judgment,” Merton wrote, “of praise and punishment, is developed in science to a degree that makes the monitoring of children’s behavior by their parents seem little more than child’s play.”

The institutionalized vigilance, “this unending exchange of critical judgment,” is nowhere to be found in the study of nutrition, chronic disease, and obesity, and it hasn’t been for decades. For this reason, it is difficult to use the term “scientist” to describe those individuals who work in these disciplines, and, indeed, I have actively avoided doing so in this book. It’s simply debatable, at best, whether what these individuals have practiced for the past fifty years, and whether the culture they have created, as a result, can reasonably be described as science, as most working scientists or philosophers of science would typically characterize it. Individuals in these disciplines think of themselves as scientists; they use the terminology of science in their work, and they certainly borrow the authority of science to communicate their beliefs to the general public, but “the results of their enterprise,” as Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, might have put it, “do not add up to science as we know it.”

Taubes is being polite when he refrains from using the term “scientist” to describe someone working in these fields. These people discard empirical evidence if it doesn’t fit their preconceived notions, don’t understand causality (or physics, for that matter), specialize (and then work in isolated silos) to the point of lunacy, engage in research that is incapable of answering the relevant questions, and do a million other things of a similar nature. And then have to gall to provide “expert” advice to everyone else. If I look for a term to describe such a person, “quack” comes to mind. And witch doctor. And whatever you call those people who burned Bruno at the stake, given the way they treated scientists who dared to oppose the consensus, and the number of careers they managed to sabotage as a result.

I’m surprised at my own surprise, though, because this is not a unique situation. Hayek once “accused” economists of pretense and scientism. And what is the IPCC but an attempt at “manufacturing consensus”?