A recommended short read at Cognition and Language Lab:
It is often said of cognitive scientists that we have, as a group, a memory that only stretches back about 10 years. This is for good reasons and bad. Methods change and improve constantly, constantly making much of the literature irrelevant. Then there is the fact that there is so much new work, it's hard to find time to read the old.
This is a shame, because some of the really old work is impressive for its prescience. A recent issue of Trends in Neurosciences carried an article on Galileo's work on perception. Continue Reading
I've been puttering around the subject of evil with posts on Hitler's Missing Testicle, the deadly Wal-Mart stampede and the barbarism in Mumbai (and here). Inevitably, discussions of evil risk moving into simplistic Us v. Them territory, but there are reasons for that. The early psychic differentiation between Me and You is complicated by the uncertain location of Good and Bad. In psychic terms, the differentiations are never complete, never fully settled. That doesn't mean we don't try to convince ourselves that these matters are fully settled.
This is my first post ever on the subject of my blog traffic. Like most small-time bloggers, I like to say that I don't care much about traffic, but I do. I like to know that people are checking out my posts.
There is much I'm still learning about how blogging works. I'd considered taking a few days off from posting in anticipation of the annual dip in blog traffic over the Thanksgiving weekend. (It is, perhaps, a bit misleading for me to refer to annual dips since I've only been blogging for two years.) Except for my usual advance-scheduled photo post, I did skip Thanksgiving, but I posted on Friday and Saturday per usual.
I was surprised that traffic didn't dip nearly as much as I'd expected. I had a respectable 5200 visits on Black Friday compared with a high-ish (for me) 7,000+ hits on the previous Friday. Although I didn't have any really hot inbound links either Friday, I did get a boost from my post on the Black Friday stampede in New York. And Saturday, has shaped up to be a healthy traffic day, headed for 6,000+, which is on the high side for a Saturday. Alright, I know, this is way to self-involved for most of my readers.
The take-away for bloggers: Don't hesitate to post over holiday weekends. People are looking.
Although we're still dealing with sketchy information on the barbaric attacks in Mumbai, I've noticed that some bloggers are eager to put a distinctly Neocon spin on events there: among the hundreds of innocent victims, the murders of a rabbi and his wife affirm the fundamentally antisemitic intention behind the attacks. Or the attacks are seen as nothing more than another prong in the wider Islamic assault on the West. While there is some truth in these views, the story appears to be far more complicated in India, where Indian Muslims have themselves been the victims of shocking homegrown religious violence.
Bombay native and journalism professor Suketu Mehta writes about the religious extremism plaguing India:
MY bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they go after Mumbai? There’s something about this island-state that appalls religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness...
In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.
A worker at a Wal-Mart in New York
City’s Long Island suburbs was killed when a throng of shoppers
broke down the doors to the store early this morning and knocked
him to the ground. More
I don't recall having heard the term 'Black Friday' to refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving in years past. This year, it seems as if I've heard or read it dozens of times.
Eric Zorn looked into the origin of this particular usage. While the first known use traces to 1966, Zorn finds evidence that it wasn't until last year that the term really took off. In 1966, the usage was attributed to police officers who had to deal with massive traffic jams on the biggest shopping day of the year. Later, it is claimed, retailers suggested that it should be called Black Friday because it is the day that many retailers move from operating in the red to operating in the black.
I just learned that the Wal-Mart stampede took place at Green Acres, a mall in Valley Stream, NY. It's one of two Long Island shopping malls (the other being Roosevelt Field) that my family frequented during my grade school days. Valley Stream is a nice town, but this happening on Long Island doesn't come as a shock.
I'm reminded of something that occurred many years ago when I was a college student visiting family back East. I went to a bar in Valley Stream with a cousin to meet up with some of her local friends. We were sitting quietly having a beer at a table while a few guys she knew were placing bets on arm-wrestling contests at the bar. Something happened, I'm not sure what and, in an instant, the place was up for grabs. I'm certain that I was the only male in the place who wasn't either hitting someone or being hit by someone. These guys were hitting-to-kill and they just wrecked the place and each other in the five minutes or so before the police arrived. Incredibly, there were no arrests. More surprising, the rowdy patrons made up and came back into the bar where they continued the festivities--sans the arm-wrestling.
Yes, there is a surfeit of aggression on Long Island.
Somebody make it stop. This incessant fixation on Hitler's sexuality, on his alleged perversity. I think it's fair to say that the very apex of cultural stupidity in our era is the compulsive conjunction of Hitler and sex. He was a "predatory" homosexual. He engaged in excretory practices with his underage half-niece. And, one of the most enduring, a myth I thought I had refuted once and for all but that now rears its head again: Hitler had only one testicle.
Isn't it obvious by now what this is about? Our need to prove that Hitler was not "normal," thus not like us, normal human nature thereby exculpated from producing a Hitler. It fills a need to reassure ourselves there is no Hitler potential in human potential. We're off the hook.
I can appreciate Rosenbaum's exasperation with revisionist folk history, but asking people to accept Hitler as human--as someone like themselves--is like pleading for the sun to stop rising in the morning.
Human beings have a powerful tendency to disavow and externalize deeply
disturbing wishes and fantasies. Nazis are ideal containers for these fantasies.
And although Rosenbaum is right about a defensive function for these 'urban legends,' the persistent sexual dimension of these legends isn't merely a defensive cover to dehumanize and distance ourselves from a murderous Hitler. The perverse sexual dimensions of these urban legends are themselves more directly tied to unsettling elements of our own sexuality.
The spit and polish discipline, the themes of torture, power, helplessness, degradation and humiliation associated with Nazi imagery touch on primitive sadomasochistic dimensions of human sexuality. The insistent fantasy of a one-testicle Hitler, in particular, hints at disavowed castration anxieties. A genitally defective Hitler provides males with a material indication that we are sexually 'normal.'
To be clear, I'm not disagreeing with Rosenbaum's thesis about the fundamentally defensive function of these urban legends. I merely suggesting that these legends do more than defend against awareness of the aggresive monsters within. They are defensive solutions to anxiety about the sexual monsters within, as well.