What the F***? – Why we Curse.

14 10 2007

Steven Pinker in The New Republic

The strange emotional power of swearing–as well as the presence of linguistic taboos in all cultures– suggests that taboo words tap into deep and ancient parts of the brain. In general, words have not just a denotation but a connotation: an emotional coloring distinct from what the word literally refers to, as in principled versus stubborn and slender versus scrawny. The difference between a taboo word and its genteel synonyms, such as shit and feces, cunt and vagina, or fucking and making love, is an extreme example of the distinction. Curses provoke a different response than their synonyms in part because connotations and denotations are stored in different parts of the brain.

The mammalian brain contains, among other things, the limbic system, an ancient network that regulates motivation and emotion, and the neocortex, the crinkled surface of the brain that ballooned in human evolution and which is the seat of perception, knowledge, reason, and planning. The two systems are interconnected and work together, but it seems likely that words’ denotations are concentrated in the neocortex, especially in the left hemisphere, whereas their connotations are spread across connections between the neocortex and the limbic system, especially in the right hemisphere.

More here.

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Republican rats scrabble to take over the sinking ship

14 10 2007

Gerard Baker in The London Times

This year it’s different. While the Democratic race is, as I noted last week, turning into an extended coronation for the Sun Queen, the Republican contest is a fog of competitive chaos. This is all the more striking because the polls suggest that the party is on course for a soaking next year on a scale not seen since the 1970s. Yet the number of plausible Republicans who want to be the party’s candidate is actually multiplying as they get closer to that election. It may, in fact, be the first known case in political history of rats auditioning to take the helm of a sinking ship.

More here.





The unbridgeable gap between law and science

13 10 2007

Steve Connor in The Independent

It is always amusing to see how the legal mind treats science given that both aspects of human activity are about the search for the truth. The trouble is, the law, like politics, is about certainties, whereas science is as much about what we don’t know as what we know for sure.

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the case this week in which a High Court judge ruled that the Oscar-winning film about climate change by the former United States vice-president Al Gore is littered with scientific inaccuracies. Mr Justice Burton has ruled that the film – An Inconvenient Truth – is not simply a science film, but a political film, and as such it should only have been distributed to schools with a clear health warning about its politically-inspired nature.

More here.





Gore Wins the Nobel. But Will He Run?

13 10 2007

Eric Pooley in Time

For the past year, Al Gore has gone about his considerable business without showing much interest in running for president. While picking up an Oscar and an Emmy, publishing a very smart book and playing host at a global concert for the planet, he’s never done more than tease the idea. And yet all that time, the leaders of the Draft Gore movement have been clinging to a single fervid dream: that Gore would win the Nobel Peace Prize and use it to catapult himself to an eleventh-hour bid for the presidency.

Now the Nobel Committee has done its part, awarding Gore the Peace Prize for being “probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted” to combat climate change, according to his citation. (The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was also a joint winner of the prize.) And so, after the obligatory spasms of celebration and the equally obligatory gnashing of Rush Limbaugh’s teeth, will Americans finally get to enjoy one of the great spectacles in political history, as Gore’s ultimate honor levitates him beyond his leading rival, Hillary Clinton, and into the Oval Office?

Nope.

More here.





What has Al Gore Done For World Peace?

13 10 2007

Damian Thompson in The Telegraph

So Al Gore is the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Admittedly, he has to share it with the United Nations’ climate change panel – but, even so, I think we need to declare an international smugness alert.

The former US Vice-President has already taken over from Michael Moore as the most sanctimonious lardbutt Yank on the planet. Can you imagine what he’ll be like now that the Norwegian Nobel committee has given him the prize?

More to the point, can you imagine how enormous his already massive carbon footprint will become once he starts jetting around the world bragging about his new title?

More here.





Defining torture away

12 10 2007

From Andrew Sullivan

Bret Stephens argued in a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday that the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that several of the techniques used by the Bush administration in interrogating prisoners do not amount to “torture”. Let us leave aside the exquisite irony that the Wall Street Journal is now invoking not American law (because they cannot) to redefine torture, nor even English law (ditto), but one ruling on appeal of the much-detested European Court to decide what U.S. law is and should be. The case is much, much less than Stephens made it out to be – and the result maintained the clear illegality of some of the mildest techniques adopted by the US to torture prisoners suspected of terrorism. All the British legal authorities and the British government and the European Court and the European commission found that the five techniques cited were illegal under British and European law – separately or in combination.

More here.





Castro – Politics’ last superstar

12 10 2007

Ignacio Ramonet in The Guardian

For the first time in almost 50 years, Fidel Castro is not in control of Cuba. And contrary to predictions, the system has not broken down, the population has not revolted, the revolution has not reversed. Now the analysts are asking: will it last? Is Raúl Castro going to reroute the revolution? Has the country entered a “transition”?

Whatever one thinks of Fidel Castro, he is one of the few men who have known the glory to enter history and legend in their own lifetime. He is the last “superstar” of international politics. He belongs to the generation of mythical insurrectionists – Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Minh, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Che Guevara, Carlos Marighela, Camilo Torres, Mehdi Ben Barka – who after the second world war launched into political action with the hope of changing an unequal world. This was a generation that thought that communism promised a radiant future, and that injustice, racism and poverty could be eradicated in less than a decade.

More here.