Monthly Archives: December 2017

Futurism by Richard Humphreys (1999)

Books & Boots

This is a nifty little book, an eighty-page, light and airy instalment in Tate’s ‘Movements in Modern Art’ series.

In its seven fast-moving chapters it captures the feverish activity of the Italian Futurists from the eruption of the First Futurist Manifesto, which was published on the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909 – until the collapse of Mussolini’s Fascist regime, to which many Futurists had attached themselves – in 1943.

Thirty-five hectic years!

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni (1913)Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni (1913)

That founding manifesto is worth quoting at length (this is just the middle part of it):

  1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
  2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
  3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish…

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2017 ANZLitLovers Australian and New Zealand Best Books of the Year

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

I looked at last year’s post about the best books of the year before starting this, and since I still get that ‘warm glow’ when I look at my 2016 final choices, I’ve decided that my rather rough-and-ready methodology is actually quite good!  So I’m doing it exactly the same way this year:

These are the books I really liked and admired during 2017.  They are books that I read this year, not necessarily published this year.  The contenders are ANZ authors only.  If you read this blog regularly you know that I also read international authors and translations too, but for this list, well, it’s summertime here so let the sun shine on antipodean authors.  All links go to my reviews.

Fiction Longlist

I rated all of these Australian and New Zealand books 4-stars at Goodreads, and I felt a surge of pleasure remembering them when I looked at their covers at See What You Read in 2017. …

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December 30, 2017 · 4:27 pm

Experts say these two things are the secret to living a longer life

The Conversation

Rafael Puyol, IE Business School

“Blue zones” are areas of the world where people live considerably longer lives. On these territories we can find octogenarians, nonagenarians and many centenarians, and even some supercentenarians (people who have reached the age of 110).

These regions were named “blue zones” after the Belgian demographer Michel Poulain and the Italian doctor Gianni Pes discovered a population with such features in the region of Barbaglia (Sardinia, Italy), and they marked out the area with blue ink.


Read more: Who wants to live forever?


A demographic study carried out at the beginning of this century showed that one out of 196 people who were born between 1880 and 1990 reached the age of 100 years old.

Later on, the American researcher Dan Buettner embarked on a project aimed at identifying other areas with high longevity rates. He found four additional regions. These were also named “blue zones”: Okinawa (Japan), Icaria (Greece), Loma Linda (California) and Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica). In all these territories there is a high proportion of long-lived people, and each area is characterised by specific features which relate to that condition.

Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is home to the second-largest community of centenarians in the world. Marissa Strniste/Flickr, CC BY

In the region of Barbaglia, located in the Sardinian mountain area, there is the world’s largest concentration of centenarians. Okinawa Island is inhabited by the oldest women on Earth. Icaria – an island which is located in the Aegean Sea – has the long-lived population with the lowest senile dementia levels. Loma Linda is home to a community of Seventh-day Adventists whose life expectancy is 10 years over the average lifespan in the United States. And in Nicoya we can find the second-largest community of centenarians in the world.

What is the secret behind this great longevity; the mystery of the blue zones, where so many centenarians live?

A team composed of several specialists (doctors, anthropologists, demographers, nutritionists, epidemiologists) – and led by Dan Buettner himself – travelled many times to the different blue zones. They identified the following nine general longevity factors, which are related to diet and lifestyle:

  1. intense and regular physical activity in the performance of daily duties. The concept of a sedentary lifestyle is unknown to the people living in these regions
  2. having an “ikigai” – a Japanese word (Okinawa) which is used to define our own “reasons for being” or, more precisely, the reasons why we wake up every morning
  3. reduction of stress, a factor which is closely linked to almost all ageing-related diseases. Stress reduction means interrupting the normal pace of our daily lives in order to allow time for other activities which are part of normal social habits. For example, taking a nap in Mediterranean societies, praying in the case of Adventists, the tea ceremony of women in Okinawa, and so on.
  4. “Hara hachi bu” – a Confucian teaching that means we should not continue to eat until we are full, but only until 80% of our eating capacity
  5. prioritising a diet that is rich in plant-based products. Meat, fish and dairy products may be consumed, but in lower amounts
  6. a moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, which confirms the belief that moderate drinkers live longer lives than nondrinkers
  7. engaging in social groups that promote healthy habits
  8. engaging in religious communities with common religious practices
  9. building and maintaining solid relationships between family members: parents, siblings, grandparents and others.

To sum up, the above nine longevity factors could be synthesised in just two.

Firstly, maintaining a healthy lifestyle – which implies regular intensity exercise, including routines to “break” from daily stress, and including mainly plant-based products in our diets, eating without filling up and not drinking excessively.

Secondly, integrating in groups that promote and support those “good practices”: family, religious communities, social groups, and so on – all of which must have their own “ikigai”, that is, their own “reason to live”. There is a personal “ikigai”, but there is also a collective “ikigai” that sets the goals for each community as well as the challenges to overcome in order to achieve them.

The ConversationLiving this way means living better and longer. Longevity may be determined by genetics, but it is also something that can be trained, as can be seen in the example of the inhabitants of the blue zones.

Rafael Puyol, Director of the Observatory of Demography and Generational Diversity, IE Business School

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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There is no monolithic “Twitter” that makes pronouncements

Why Evolution Is True

This is happening not just at the much reviled (and, I suspect, cash bleeding) HuffPo, but on many other pop news sites as well. “Twitter does this” or “Twitter says that”, the sites proclaim. Here’s one example from the site I love to hate (click on screenshot to see it):Some points:

1.) There is no monolithic “Twitter” that expresses a unanimity or near-unanimity of opinion, as such headlines imply.

2.) The headlines reflect this sad fact: the author (in this case a Regressive Leftist) decides he or she doesn’t like something, and then trawls Twitter to find support for that opinion.

Yet for every case of support, there are cases of non-support. Just think about Trump and all the HuffPo headlines proclaiming that “Twitter thinks X” about Trump. They don’t look at opposite opinions—you’d have to go to Breitbart for that.

What author Moye really means here is…

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Art Nouveau by Alastair Duncan (1994)

Books & Boots

This is one of the extensive ‘World of Art’ series published by Thames and Hudson. On the plus side the texts in this series are always readable and authoritative. On the down side, most of the illustrations are in black and white, and very small. It’s a series in which to read about art and art movements, but not necessarily to enjoy the actual art.

A revolt against Victorian mass production

Duncan emphasises that Art Nouveau wasn’t a style, it was a movement. What he means is that around 1890 a whole generation of designers, illustrators, craftsmen, architects and artisans right across Europe revolted against the heavy hand of mass-produced industrial products, dull designs and routine architecture, and against the Victorian home filled with a horrible mish-mash of clutter and bric-a-brac from all styles and periods – and determined to produce something fresh and new, and integrated in style and…

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Why always four?

Here is a puzzle to keep you busy in the New Year:

Choose any number

e.g. Seventy eight

Count the number of letters

Twelve

Count the number of letters

Six

Count the number of letters

Three

Count the number of letters

Five

Count the number of letters

Four

Count the number of letters

Four

Now we’re now stuck on four.

This always happens whatever number you set out with. Try it.

Why? Is there a proof for this?

Is it true in French, German, Spanish, etc.?

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Philosophies of redistribution

By James Fodor

      The key to understanding the difference between progressives and conservatives is their attitude to wealth sharing.

Key points

  • Debates over wealth redistribution are key to understanding the difference between progressives and conservatives.
  • Progressives see it as reducing inequality, conservatives see it as theft.
  • The difference can be analysed by looking at the interpretation of the pre-tax situation.
  • There are key differences in the way each side evaluates social institutions and individual effort.

     Income redistribution is the practice of using revenue gained from taxation of relatively wealthy persons to fund social programs and welfare benefits aimed to help poorer persons. It is commonly associated with, though not identical to, the practice of progressive taxation, in which the marginal rate of income tax increases with higher income levels.

     Redistribution is a subject that has long polarised progressive (“left wing”) and conservative (“right wing”) political groups.

     Debates concerning income redistribution tend to focus on two main categories of issues: moral considerations related to the justification of redistribution in principle, and practical considerations concerning its efficacy when put into practice.

     In this short essay I will focus exclusively on moral questions surrounding redistribution, and shall not attempt to present any firm conclusions, instead confining myself to presenting a brief overview of some of the critical philosophical issues at stake, and key points of disagreement between progressives and conservatives.

     Conservatives tend to be relatively hostile to, or at least sceptical of, income redistribution.

     Progressives are more likely to favour the practice. Progressives argue that redistributive taxation ameliorates economic inequality and helps poor and marginalised groups meet their needs, and therefore is morally justified, indeed imperative, in a just society.

     Conservatives, on the other hand, argue that redistributive taxation is a form of coercion in which the state forcibly expropriates the property of some in order to give it to others. Even if the state puts the expropriated property to good use, they argue that such actions are illegitimate. As Robert Nozick has said: “The state may not use its coercive apparatus for the purpose of getting some citizens to aid others.

     Too often debates concerning redistribution proceed no further than this: progressives argue that it reduces inequality, while conservatives argue that it is morally little better than theft.

     In order to advance the discussion, it is helpful to realise that which of these two characterisations one finds most convincing depends on how we evaluate the moral status of the income distribution that would prevail before any redistributive taxes. Conservatives tend to think that this “pre-tax” distribution has considerable moral importance, regarding it as sort of a “coercion-free” baseline from which redistribution increasingly departs. Progressives, on the other hand, typically do not regard the pre-tax state as having any particular moral importance. Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, for example, argue that: “taxes do not take away from taxpayers what is antecedently theirs; pre-tax income has no status as a moral baseline for the purpose of evaluating the justice of the tax system.”

     Instead, progressives tend to believe that the state of affairs with most moral relevance is that which would prevail in a just society in which everyone received what is necessary to meet essential needs, or in which everyone received what they justly deserve.

     John Rawls famously argued that the morally relevant state of affairs is that which we would regard as just if we were placed behind a “veil of ignorance” where we did not know which position in the society we ourselves would occupy. While differing as to exactly what the ideal comparative state is, progressives generally agree in rejecting the conservative view that the pre-tax distribution of incomes in itself necessarily has any special moral standing. As such, attempts to move away from this state of affairs via progressive taxation are not regarded as necessarily suspect or problematic, since there was nothing special about the initial state of affairs to begin with.

     In response to these views, conservatives typically attempt to provide some reason as to why the initial pre-tax distribution of income should be given some special moral standing. As noted previously, the notion of coercion or use of force is often central to such accounts. Thus, conservatives argue that the pre-tax distribution is the only one that can be obtained without use of coercion, force, or the threat of force, to take income from some people and give it to others.

     They argue that if, for example, many individuals freely choose to buy the music of a particular popular singer, causing that singer to become very wealthy, all that has occurred are voluntary transactions which both parties believe made themselves better off. The resulting distribution of incomes, therefore, is privileged in that it alone corresponds to the product of free choices of individuals, rather than the use of coercion or force. (This, of course, is assuming the absence of private forms of theft, extortion, fraud, etc, which progressives and conservatives alike generally regard as immoral.)

     A second form of reasoning used by conservatives appeals to the idea that it is appropriate and just for people to enjoy the fruits of their own labour. Thus, if one person through their labour and skills earns a large income, it is unjust to deprive them of this income, even if we wish to use it for worthy ends.

     Just as it would be wrong for private charities to rob the rich in order to obtain funds, so do conservatives believe it is wrong for governments to forcibly extract some portion of their earnings for redistributive taxation.

Justice

     There are two main progressive lines of response to such arguments. The first is to argue that, even if redistributive taxation is to some degree a moral bad on account of the sorts of reasons conservatives outline, it is nevertheless justified by the much greater goods achieved by the practice, such as reduced poverty and inequality. The second response is to counter that taxation can only count as unjust expropriation if individuals originally had a just claim on the entirety of their pre-tax income. In actual fact, it is argued, no one ever rightfully has such a claim, since one is only ever able to receive income as a result of a complex web of practices, institutions, and public goods that make one’s economic activities possible, including the court system, public roads, police force, past investments made by others, publicly funded education, etc.

     Since it would not be possible to earn much of any income without these things, and since these are not the result of one’s own actions or skills, it is therefore concluded that one never has a morally justified claim to the entirety of one’s pre-tax income, and thus government taxation for redistributive purposes does not constitute any sort of unjust violation of rights.

     A stronger form of this argument contends that the wealthy are actually complicit in perpetuating an economic and political system in which they benefit at the expense of others, and as such the wealthy have little or no morally valid claim to any of their income at all.

     Note that both of these responses appeal to the causal mechanisms by which the pre-tax income distribution comes about, and thus are sensitive to one’s beliefs about the functioning of the economy and polity.

     It is beyond the scope of this essay to attempt to adjudicate such views, so I will simply note that conservatives tend to emphasise the role of individual choices, talents, hard work, and initiative in bringing about a given distribution of income, while progressives emphasise the importance of social institutions, social class, luck, and unjust practices.

     There is one final aspect of the income redistribution debate which I believe deserves some attention: namely the degree to which the wealthy have moral obligations to help the poor.

     Many people believe that the giving of alms to the poor, or making charitable donations to alleviate suffering, is a morally good thing to do.

     Where people differ is in whether or not this is regarded as supererogatory (something that is morally praiseworthy but not required), or whether it is something that all those with the means have a moral obligation to do.

     The important point to understand is that conservatives and progressives do not necessarily hold common views with respect to this issue. Thus, progressives may regard redistributive taxation as just and appropriate, but not necessarily think we have any moral obligation to aid the poor beyond this. Conversely, conservatives may regard redistributive taxation as unjust, but think that we are personally morally obliged to aid the poor through private charitable donations.

     There is arguably a tendency for progressives to prefer government-based welfare entitlements and institutional reforms over private charitable work, but this again is a subject that goes beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that it is important to understand that one’s position on the moral obligation of the rich towards the poor is not reducible to one’s views on redistributive taxation.

     The differences in the attitude of conservatives and progressives to the practice of redistributive taxation are the result of a diverse range of philosophical differences on a variety of issues.

     Progressives place more weight on the importance of a just distribution of income in society, while conservatives place a greater weight on the importance of preserving freedom of individual choices and action. Furthermore, progressives tend to believe that the pre-tax distribution of income is largely the result of social and structural forces and only minimally due to the effort or talents of individuals.

     Conservatives are likely regard these individual factors as more important and the social factors as correspondingly less important.

     There is, of course, much more to say about this complex and multifaceted issue, and a variety of other viewpoints that I have not considered in this short piece. Nevertheless, it is my hope that the ideas raised here will help readers to understanding perspectives outside their own, and facilitate a better informed, more constructive discourse on this most important and longstanding issue.

     James Fodor is author of the blog The Godless Theist.

     From the Australian Rationalist (Melbourne), v. 107, Summer [Dec.] 2017: 34 & 35. (Reblogged with permission of the author). 

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A real feminist

Why Evolution Is True

This is a post from the public Facebook page of Anna Muzychuk, a Ukrainian chess grandmaster who holds the women’s world’s titles in Rapid Chess and Bliss Chess. In November she announced she would give up her titles by refusing to attend this year’s championships in Saudi Arabia on grounds of women’s secondary status and the dress and “guardian” codes that still remain in a land that may be reforming:

As the Guardian reports:

A two-time world chess champion has said she will not defend her titles at a tournament held in Saudi Arabia because of the way the kingdom treats women as “secondary creatures”.

Anna Muzychuk, of Ukraine, turned down the chance to travel to the event despite modest signs of reform in the kingdom under the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

“Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the…

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If vaccines are a scam to make money, why don’t we routinely vaccinate for diseases like cholera?

The Logic of Science

Anti-vaccers insist that vaccines are simply a scam by big companies who don’t mind poisoning children in the name of profit. They insist that vaccines are dangerous/unnecessary and doctors and health agencies only “push” them because those doctors and agencies have been bought off by the money-loving companies. As “evidence” of this, they often cite the fact that the number of vaccines that a child receives has increased over time, and they claim that the increase in vaccines is just so that the companies can increase their profits (it’s actually just to protect children against more diseases). This maze of conspiracies quickly falls apart, however, when you consider the fact that there are many vaccines that are not part of the routine schedule in most developed countries. Consider vaccines like yellow fever, cholera, and anthrax, for example. If anti-vaccers conspiracy theories were actually correct, then why aren’t those vaccines part…

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Weighing up the evidence for the ‘Historical Jesus’

The Conversation

Image 20141210 6039 jm3n3u.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional ‘Christ of Faith’. Charles Roffey/Flickr

Raphael Lataster, University of Sydney

Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved.

Numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called “Historical Jesus” – and most of them are, as biblical scholar J.D. Crossan puts it, “an academic embarrassment”.

From Crossan’s view of Jesus as the wise sage, to Robert Eisenman’s Jesus the revolutionary, and Bart Ehrman’s apocalyptic prophet, about the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus’ historical existence. But can even that be questioned?

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.

These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify.

Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.

The methods traditionally used to tease out rare nuggets of truth from the Gospels are dubious.

The criterion of embarrassment says that if a section would be embarrassing for the author, it is more likely authentic. Unfortunately, given the diverse nature of Christianity and Judaism back then (things have not changed all that much), and the anonymity of the authors, it is impossible to determine what truly would be embarrassing or counter-intuitive, let alone if that might not serve some evangelistic purpose.

The criterion of Aramaic context is similarly unhelpful. Jesus and his closest followers were surely not the only Aramaic-speakers in first-century Judea.

The criterion of multiple independent attestation can also hardly be used properly here, given that the sources clearly are not independent.

Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels, give us no reason to dogmatically declare Jesus must have existed. Avoiding Jesus’ earthly events and teachings, even when the latter could have bolstered his own claims, Paul only describes his “Heavenly Jesus”.

Even when discussing what appear to be the resurrection and the last supper, his only stated sources are his direct revelations from the Lord, and his indirect revelations from the Old Testament. In fact, Paul actually rules out human sources (see Galatians 1:11-12).

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased.

Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life.

And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them.

Agnosticism over the matter is already seemingly appropriate, and support for this position comes from independent historian Richard Carrier’s recent defence of another theory. Namely, that the belief in Jesus started as the belief in a purely celestial being (who was killed by demons in an upper realm), who became historicised over time.

To summarise Carrier’s 800-page tome, this theory and the traditional theory – that Jesus was a historical figure who became mythicised over time – both align well with the Gospels, which are later mixtures of obvious myth and what at least “sounds” historical.

The Pauline Epistles, however, overwhelmingly support the “celestial Jesus” theory, particularly with the passage indicating that demons killed Jesus, and would not have done so if they knew who he was (see: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10).

Humans – the murderers according to the Gospels – of course would still have killed Jesus, knowing full well that his death results in their salvation, and the defeat of the evil spirits.

So what do the mainstream (and non-Christian) scholars say about all this? Surprisingly very little; of substance anyway. Only Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey have thoroughly attempted to prove Jesus’ historical existence in recent times.

Their most decisive point? The Gospels can generally be trusted – after we ignore the many, many bits that are untrustworthy – because of the hypothetical (i.e. non-existent) sources behind them.

Who produced these hypothetical sources? When? What did they say? Were they reliable? Were they intended to be accurate historical portrayals, enlightening allegories, or entertaining fictions?

Ehrman and Casey can’t tell you – and neither can any New Testament scholar.

Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.

Raphael Lataster is the author of There Was No Jesus, There Is No God.

This article is part of The Conversation’s End of Year series.


The ConversationEditor’s note: Raphael will be answering questions between 9 and 10am AEDT on Wednesday December 17. Ask your questions about historical Jesus in the comments below.

Raphael Lataster, Tutor in Religious Studies, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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