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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for the ‘Demographics’ Category

[WRITING] Thoughts on debunking and writing and educating and creating

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The other week, someone on Facebook shared an infographic cartoon that really grabbed me.

One of the earliest blog-like postings I’ve ever written, and argably my biggest still, was my 2004 post “France, its Muslims, and the Future”. In that essay, dashed out in the space of a couple of days in the spring of my grad school year at Queen’s, I put paid to the Eurabia conspiracy theory. There was simply no plausible way that Muslims were on a trajectory to becoming the majority population in France, never mind Europe, in anything like a human lifetime; there were simply not enough Muslims, not a large enough difference in fertility, and not enough interest among the diverse Muslim populations of France in an unprecedented merger. That done, I ended my essay on an optimistic note: “Now, on to issues worth real debate, like how to best integrate French Muslims into wider French society.”

Now, anyone who has followed the Western discourse about Muslims and their numbers in the West in the intervening fourteen and a half years should know that this did not happen. If anything, the prevalence of Eurabian conspiracy theories has grown, not just becoming mainstream throughout the West but finding strong echoes elsewhere in the world, in South and Southeast Asia for instance. Muslim demographic conspiracy theories have become more normal.

I am not saying that my one blog post alone, mind, could have done it. I used facts that were publicly available, using arguments that were reasonable, joining as any number of people better positioned than I ever was who also made and shared these facts and arguments. These have been shared again and again, seemingly to no avail. Why? The belief in a Muslim conspiracy, aided by decadent traitors, has nothing to do with facts, is not disprovable, is not meant to be disproved. Rather, this belief is a matter of a political stance.

After I saw that cartoon at the start of this post, I was reminded of a passage from Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 Anti-Semite and Jew, in which Sartre talks about the fundamental lack of good faith in the bigot, how their very arguments are used to justify their prejudice without regards to actual facts.

Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.

As I concluded in a recent Quora answer, it is really not worth debating anything with these people. People who will believe whatever the hell they want to believe will do so regardless of how much truth you give them. If it’s worthwhile continuing the debate, it is for the sake of other people looking at the debate, to prove to these others that you at least are not acting from the position of the prejudiced bigot looking to justify untrue things. If no one is watching, at least no one who is uncommitted, I would recommend discontinuing the debate. Life is too brief to waste in sterile discussions.

Of late, I’ve really been thinking a lot about why I might want to write non-fiction. (Fiction is another issue entirely; more on that later.) I really, really am tired of getting involved in sterile dialogues. I’ve been writing on the Internet for two decades, starting back on Usenet in 1997, and I have grown so tired of the greater-than sign “>”, metaphorically and otherwise; I have grown very tired of the proliferation of unending and sterile exchanges that the greater-than sign indicates, growing in number with each exchange to the point of pushing the text that passes for dialogue far to the right, far away. I am tired of only replying and counter-replying; I only want to write new things, highlight new issues and new connections, engage with people who are actually interested in real dialogue and learning new things.

(Is this a manifesto? There have been worse.)

Written by Randy McDonald

November 19, 2018 at 11:55 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • Bruce Dorminey goes into detail about how the ESA’s Gaia space telescope discovered the vast, dim, Antlia 2 dwarf galaxy just outside of the Milky Way.
  • At the Everyday Sociology Blog, Colby King undertakes a sociological examination of the issues of the American circus.
  • At The Finger Post, David Finger remembers a 2004 visit to the Bosnian city of Mostar, symbolized by the destruction of the Stari Most, the old bridge, linking the two halves of the divided city.
  • The Frailest Thing’s L.M. Sacasas takes issue with Marie Kondo’s minimalism, her engineering of the physical environment through decluttering to create joy.
  • JSTOR Daily notes how Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, a spacefaring woman, challenges contemporary American sexism.
  • Language Hat notes the Japanese manga Heterogenia Linguistico, about linguists trying to understand the languages of non-humans.
  • Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money shares the argument of Mike Davis that Malibu, the home of wealthy people who built in an environmentally sensitive and dangerous area, should be left to burn.
  • Lingua Franca looks at the unexpected complexities and subtleties of language involved in getting a hunting license in Montana.
  • Danny Lyon at the NYR Daily, visiting a New Mexico forest seven years after a devastating fire, notes how it takes generations for these environments to recover.
  • Jason Davis at the Planetary Society Blog notes how the arrival of the Orion service module has been made amidst speculation that the commercial model for the Orion is not working.
  • Roads and Kingdoms reports on an excellent Japanese bakery in Phnom Penh.
  • Strange Company describes the life and career of Carol Crane.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how Chuchotka and Kamchatka, remote Russian Far Eastern territories, are in many respects akin to islands.

[URBAN NOTE] Some Sunday links

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  • Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly looks at a new movie and book celebrating the life of brave journalist Marie Colvin.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at how the Spitzer telescope was able to constrain the size of ‘Oumuamua.
  • Crooked Timber asks a question about referenda. What are they good for? How can they be made to work effectively? The Brexit precedent is uncheering.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes the delivery, by Europe, of the first service module for the Orion spacecraft.
  • The Island Review shares Sylvia Warren’s account of her visit to the Frioul archipelago, off the coast of Provence.
  • JSTOR Daily reports on the perhaps surprisingly thriving culture of fandom that prevailed in the 19th century, with fans around the world devoting their energies to stars.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money suggests that the Democratic Party is grooming Beto O’Rourke to be a presidential candidate in 2020. Why not?
  • Marginal Revolution links to a report suggesting that the pace of scientific advancement is slowing down, with greater investments in scientific research producing increasingly fewer fundamental breakthroughs.
  • Carole Cadwalladr argues at the NYR Daily that the United Kingdom needs its own Mueller to get to the bottom of the scandals and mysteries surrounding Brexit.
  • Casey Dreier at the Planetary Society Blog notes how the support of Texan Republican Congressman John Culberson for the exploration of Europa was used by his opponents as part of a successful attack.
  • Drew Rowsome loves the movie Who Will Save The Roses?, with its story about the love of two older gay men for each other in hard times.
  • Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy argues that the Spiderman Rule–“With great power comes great responsibility”–should be remembered by practitioners of constitutional law.
  • Window on Eurasia considers what a proposed Russian sale of some of the Kuril Islands to Japan might imply about official attitudes towards territorial claims.
  • Starting from Calvin and Hobbes, Arnold Zwicky considers rattles, death rattles and otherwise.

[NEWS] Five culture links: maroons and pirates, witchcraft, Jane Austen, Korea/India, baybayin

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  • This Joseph Kelly extract at Longreads looks at how maroons and pirates made common cause in the Caribbean in fighting for their freedom.
  • The Atlantic reports on how witchcraft is becoming popular among many African-Americans, especially African-American women, who reject Christianity.
  • The Conversation looks at the feminist critiques of the novels of Jane Austen, only barely hidden.
  • The BBC notes how an ancient myth of a Korean queen’s origins in India is being used to build a new relationship between South Korea and India.
  • Ozy takes a look at a Filipino man who is trying to save the ancient baybayin script of the Philippines.

[URBAN NOTE] Five city links: Windsor, Québec City, Calgary, Tokyo, Tijuana

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  • Low-lying Windsor, Ontario, faces the prospect of serious flooding that might be alleviated if old features of the natural landscape like trees and wetlands were restored. CBC reports.
  • Robert Vandewinkel at Huffington Post Québec makes an argument for a subway system for Québec City.
  • Jason Markusoff at MacLean’s, noting the referendum vote in Calgary against hosting the 2026 Olympics, suggests this vote can be best sign as a sign of this city’s maturity and confidence, that Calgary does not need the Olympics to be successful.
  • The Diplomat notes how costs for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have ballooned, despite promises of an affordable Olympics.
  • VICE notes the plight of the Central American refugees gathering at Tijuana, unlikely to gain asylum in the United States.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • In a guest post at Antipope, researcher and novelist Heather Child writes about the extent to which Big Data has moved from science fiction to reality.
  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait notes the very recent discovery of a massive crater buried under the ice of Greenland, one that may have impacted in the human era and altered world climate. Are there others like it?
  • Crooked Timber responds to the Brexit proposal being presented to the British parliament. Is this it?
  • D-Brief notes the discovery of the unusually large and dim, potentially unexplainable, dwarf galaxy Antlia 2 near the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Gizmodo notes that the size of mysterious ‘Oumuamua was overestimated.
  • JSTOR Daily looks at the life and achievements of Polish-born scholar Jósef Czapski, a man who miraculously survived the Soviet massacre of Polish officers at Katyn.
  • At the LRB Blog, Ken Kalfus writes about his father’s experience owning a drycleaner in a 1960s complex run by the Trump family.
  • Marginal Revolution starts a discussion over a recent article in The Atlantic claiming that there has been a sharp drop-off in the sex enjoyed by younger people in the United States (and elsewhere?).
  • At Roads and Kingdoms, T.M. Brown shares a story of the crazy last night of his bartending days in Manhattan’s Alphabet City.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel imagines what the universe would have been like during its youth, during peak star formation.
  • Strange Maps’ Frank Jacobs takes a look at different partition plans for the United States, aiming to split the country into liberal and conservative successor states.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that some Ingush, after noting the loss of some border territories to neighbouring Chechnya, fear they might get swallowed up by their larger, culturally related, neighbours.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alexander Harrowell predicts that there will not be enough Tory MPs in the United Kingdom willing to topple Theresa May over the Brexit deal.

[NEWS] Five Indigenous links: demographics, Utah, Nova Scotia, Tanya Tagaq, maps

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  • This article at The Atlantic outlines new genetic research outlining the remarkably rapid colonization of the America by human beings.
  • VICE notes the huge strides forward made by the majority Navajo in Utah’s San Juan County towards fair political representation.
  • CBC notes that it will now be possible for Indigenous people in Nova Scotia courts to make use of eagle feathers for legal affirmations including oath swearing.
  • In this MacLean’s interview, musician and artist Tanya Tagaq makes it clear that her goal is to help other Indigenous people struggling to recover from colonization.
  • The Map Room Blog links to this map of Indigenous Canada, mapping native names and locations and population centres.