Charles, Prince of Piffle


Christopher Hitchens in Slate

Prince Charles. Click image to expand.

This is what you get when you found a political system on the family values of Henry VIII. At a point in the not-too-remote future, the stout heart of Queen Elizabeth II will cease to beat. At that precise moment, her firstborn son will become head of state, head of the armed forces, and head of the Church of England. In strict constitutional terms, this ought not to matter much. The English monarchy, as has been said, reigns but does not rule. From the aesthetic point of view it will matter a bit, because the prospect of a morose bat-eared and chinless man, prematurely aged, and with the most abysmal taste in royal consorts, is a distinctly lowering one. And a king does have the ability to alter the atmosphere and to affect the ways in which important matters are discussed. (The queen herself proved that in subtle ways, by letting it be known that there were aspects of Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy that she did not view with unmixed delight.)

So the speech made by Prince Charles at Oxford last week might bear a little scrutiny. Discussing one of his favorite topics, the “environment,” he announced that the main problem arose from a “deep, inner crisis of the soul” and that the “de-souling” of humanity probably went back as far as Galileo. In his view, materialism and consumerism represented an imbalance, “where mechanistic thinking is so predominant,” and which “goes back at least to Galileo’s assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion.” He described the scientific worldview as an affront to all the world’s “sacred traditions.” Then for the climax:

As a result, Nature has been completely objectified—She has become an it—and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo’s scheme.

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The Known Universe

Mind Over Mass Media

Steven Pinker in The New York Times:

Truro, Mass.

NEW forms of media have always caused moral panics: the printing press, newspapers, paperbacks and television were all once denounced as threats to their consumers’ brainpower and moral fiber.

So too with electronic technologies. PowerPoint, we’re told, is reducing discourse to bullet points. Search engines lower our intelligence, encouraging us to skim on the surface of knowledge rather than dive to its depths. Twitter is shrinking our attention spans.

But such panics often fail basic reality checks. When comic books were accused of turning juveniles into delinquents in the 1950s, crime was falling to record lows, just as the denunciations of video games in the 1990s coincided with the great American crime decline. The decades of television, transistor radios and rock videos were also decades in which I.Q. scores rose continuously.

For a reality check today, take the state of science, which demands high levels of brainwork and is measured by clear benchmarks of discovery. These days scientists are never far from their e-mail, rarely touch paper and cannot lecture without PowerPoint. If electronic media were hazardous to intelligence, the quality of science would be plummeting. Yet discoveries are multiplying like fruit flies, and progress is dizzying. Other activities in the life of the mind, like philosophy, history and cultural criticism, are likewise flourishing, as anyone who has lost a morning of work to the Web site Arts & Letters Dailycan attest.

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The Psychological Toll of the Oil Spill

Marc Siegel in Slate:

The psychological impact of Louisiana’s newest disaster is likely to dwarf the impact of the Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989. A 1993 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatryexamined 599 people in 13 surrounding Alaskan communities and found an incidence of generalized anxiety in 20 percent (3.6 times greater than those who weren’t exposed) and PTSD in 9 percent (2.9 times greater than those who weren’t exposed). A longer-term sociological study on Exxon-Valdez published in theAmerican Fisheries Society Symposium in 1996 found an elevated stress level in the Alaskan communities affected for almost four years afterward.

Without an organized, communitywide intervention strategy to deal with the stress, it took several years for the area to recover. By many estimates, it still hasn’t. Most affected were the surrounding communities that relied on commercial fishing, including Valdez and Cordova. According to research conducted by environmental sociologist J. Steven Picou and others, divorces and suicides increased, as well as depression and anxiety (20 percent of fishermen suffered from severe anxiety and 40 percent from severe depression), and litigation against Exxon for damages to the natives and fishermen continued on for years, casting a continuing shroud over the entire region. Herring fishing still hasn’t returned to Cordova. The average fisherman has lost a significant percentage of his income since the spill. We can expect the same effects now with the 2010 spill, only on a much larger scale. Both the ’89 spill and the current disaster affected poor areas of the country, which impedes recovery.

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Goodbye seventh sky

Nadeem F. Paracha in Dawn:

Last Monday (June 12) in the National Assembly of Pakistan, a member of a breakaway Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), Maulvi Asmatullah, suddenly rose from his seat andstarted to recite the azaan (Muslim call for prayer).

It didn’t matter to him that the muezzin of the assembly mosque had already sounded the call, and the fact that Asmatullah was not facing the qibla (Kabah) while reciting the azaan.

I am sure I would have burst out laughing had I been there, enough to burst the stitches I just got while playing football.

To me, this behaviour of Asmatullah is a classic example of what is called, ‘black comedy’ – a real life situation ripe with irony where something is done in all seriousness but ends up sounding or looking absurd.

I’m sure the self-righteous among my Muslim brethren (especially of the politico-religious kind),  just like the JUI man, actually think he did something stunningly pious.

But never mind the odd holy eccentric politico, I’ve always wondered how does one talk to a suicide bomber? No black comedy there, or is it?

With paradise on the suicide bomber’s mind, there is, of course, also that attractive matter of hoors awaiting him there – wide-eyed maidens pending for those who have done good deeds in this world.

How is one to reason with a person who exhibits the ultimate extreme of irrationality by willingly ready to blow himself up in public in the name of religion?

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Save Taxpayer $$$: Eliminate Alternative Medicine Research

Steven Stalzberg in Forbes:

This past week, President Obama called on all federal agencies to voluntarily propose budget cuts of 5%.  Well, Mr. President, you might be surprised to learn that there’s a way for you that cut the National Institutes of Health budget without hurting biomedical research. In fact, it will help.

Here’s my proposal: save over $240 million per year in the NIH budget by cutting all funding for the two centers that fund alternative medicine research–the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Both of them exist primarily to promote pseudoscience. For the current year, NCCAM’s budget is $128.8 million, an amount that has rapidly grown from $2 million in 1992, despite the fact that not a single “alternative” therapy supported by NCCAM has proven beneficial to health. OCCAM’s budget was $121 million in 2008 (the latest I could find) and presumably higher in 2010. That’s over $240M, not counting money these programs got from the stimulus package (and yes, they did get some stimulus funding).

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