Don’t panic unless we tell you to

December 27, 2014

It was a difficult couple of months that closed out 2014. In fact, you could say I had a bit of a crisis. I was not entirely sure what I should be panicking about more: the threat from Ebola; being blown up in my sleep by a “death cult”, or the hordes of black-clad anarchists that were allegedly threatening Brisbane during the meeting of the G20 group of rich nations.

Most of us are not prone to panic attacks, but all of us lead our stress-filled lives just one little incident away from the panic threshold. It seems at the moment like a tsunami of panic-inducing threats is rolling towards us.

Doctors and scientists will tell you that a feeling of panic occurs when our normal “fight or flight” reaction to danger is over-stimulated and triggers in response to “false alarms”. In other words, we tend to panic when there is actually no real danger present. Of course, panicking in the face of a real and present danger is a psychological response to a “true alarm”. Under such circumstances fighting back or running away might seem like totally logical reaction to threats.

According to researchers, the “fight or flight” response to imminent danger (real or imagined) is based on three possible scenarios:

  • some of us have a biological vulnerability to anxiety, which can lead to a nervous over-reaction to events in everyday life;
  • some have a generalized psychological vulnerability, which the experts say can be a reaction to being over-parented and can lead us to think that the world is a dangerous place, best avoided;
  • then, there’s a more specific type of psychological vulnerability which leads to a learned fear of certain objects or situations that are, in fact, not dangerous at all.

It seems to be that, being human, all of us are perhaps subject to each of these vulnerabilities at some point in our lives, or in response to a persistent external stimulus. We can also learn to overcome our anxieties and to lessen our fear of external events or situations that might lead us to panic. But what can we do when all the information coming into our cerebral cortex from the media points at panic being the only rational response to a world careening out of control?

You see, it’s rational to think that beyond the chemical processes in our brains there are probably social causes to the psychological distress that can lead us to panic. And, to my mind, three of them relate to fear of epidemic (Ebola); fear of imminent attack (“death cults”) and fear of social breakdown (the nightmare of anarchists running loose in a major city).

But how do we know that these are things we should fear? Well, if you read certain newspapers; listen to or watch enough broadcast news, or get sucked into the vortex of unreliable rumours in social media channels, it seems like the reasons to panic are multiplying on a daily basis.

I have a friend in Brisbane and in the build up to the G20 he’s described it me as the “City of Fear”. My friend has become so alarmed by life in the “City of Fear” that he asked me not to use his name: so I’ll call him Melcure.

Melcure was watching closely as Brisbane went into “lockdown” ahead of the November G20 meeting of world leaders. He sent me daily email missives relating stories of low-flying helicopters and widening prohibitions on residents moving around the CBD as the police and armed forces practiced their counter-terrorism moves.

However, the real target of the police action appeared not to be “death cult” terrorists, but a shadowy international anarchist group known as “Black Bloc”. Luckily, the ever-vigilant news media was all over this story. The danger was talked up to such an extent that it seemed as if every anarchist on the planet was going to descend on Brisbane.

keep calm1

A year of worry, but the anarchists stayed away

But, think about it for a minute. What single prominent feature might define the world’s most dedicated anarchists? In my mind it’s the fact that they probably haven’t got a lot of money. Travelling to Australia from Europe or North America, just to throw rocks at dignitaries, seems like it would be low on their list of priorities. And also consider this; anarchists are notoriously lackadaisical about organizing. The idea that they might coordinate themselves to land in Brisbane in large enough numbers to be effective against 20,000 trained and armed riot police is laughable.

I’ve been in the political left for 40 years and to my knowledge the number of identifiable anarchists in Australia is measured in the low hundreds, not the 10s of thousands. My rational mind tells me not to panic about anarchist hordes burning down Brisbane.

If the anarchists were not going to be a threat then perhaps the “death cult” terrorists of D’aesh (ISIS) might target Brisbane. Should we have been worried about a secret operation by an Ebola-infected “death cult” adherent to infiltrate the G20 to spread even more panic and destruction?

I wasn’t sure until I heard and saw the news that PUP senator Jacquie Lambie was worried about just such an eventuality.

Let Senator Lambie do the worrying for you. That's what she was elected to do.

Let Senator Lambie do the worrying for you. That’s what she was elected to do.

This suggestion cleverly combines two panic-inducing thoughts: epidemic and terrorism. Surely here is something that we can sensibly worry about. You know it makes sense: Ebola is out there and it’s killing people; so to are the “death cult” lunatics in northern Iraq and in the eastern parts of Syria. Surely they’ve got the resources to fly one Ebola-infected suicide bomber into Australia – specifically Brisbane during the G20 gabfest – so as to cause mass casualties and mayhem.

Yeah, I know, your rational mind (mine too) says this is a bit far-fetched and Jacquie Lambie is not the sharpest chisel in the toolbox. So, perhaps we can put this one aside. However, that doesn’t mean we can relax when it comes to Ebola.

The deadly virus may not get to Australia incubating inside a “death cult” terrorist, but it could still be on its way. So that’s why I’m grateful that my government has once again demonstrated its commitment to Fortress Australia and locked the arrivals gate to people from Ebola-affected parts of Africa.

It is the logical humanitarian response; after all we are more important and our lives more precious than theirs.

Scott Morrison is keeping Ebola under lock and key

Scott Morrison is keeping Ebola under lock and key

Never mind that this could be construed as racist; never mind that the world’s leading epidemiologists have condemned Australia’s poor response to the Ebola crisis and never mind that brave individual Australian medical workers have volunteered to help contain the outbreak at source as recommended by the World Health Organisation. WHO are they to tell us how and why and over what we should panic?

Really, the global busybodies should leave that to our government and our media. After all, it is they who know best what is in our national interest and therefore it is them who should direct our nervous energy into the right sorts of panic.

Don’t panic unless we tell you to

The lesson of the modern media is that we should only panic when they tell us to.

That is, the appropriate form of hysteria-inducing “moral panic”; the fear of the irrational that can be stirred by rousing speeches, three word slogans and a news media hungry for sensationalist headlines. A good moral panic does wonders for an unpopular leader’s approval rating and it leads to improved ratings for the news media too. That is why we see such sterling collaboration between politicians and journalists and why we see such wonderful leadership on issues like fighting “death cults”, stopping anarchist hordes, tackling a deadly virus and ending world poverty (that last one’s a joke).

The clear message is that there’s no need to panic, unless the government and the media tell you to.

That’s the only rational explanation for this recent headline on the ‘newspaper of the year’, The Courier-Mail. On Monday October 27, the Brisbane tabloid carried a fantastic, calming front-page story about the Ebola crisis. The message comes across loud and clear.

What, me worry?

What, me worry?

This is a clever front-page and one designed to make us not panic even more. Just look at that horrible virus, it’s the size of a large double-headed tapeworm and it’s heading our way. The take-out from this is that we need to learn to panic only in response to the right stimulus, such as scary and misleading front-page stories about epidemics, “death cults” and anarchist hordes.

Well, so far these panic-inducing problems have only affected Brisbane, so no need for me, living in Melbourne, to panic; But for the sake of Melcure in the “City of Fear”, who’s made more anxious by what he reads in the always restrained and accurate Courier-Mail, I’ll just keep calm and pass him the worry beads.

First published as “Keep calm and pass the worry beads”,  in The Australian Rationalist, December 2014

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Karl Marx fails in the university annual review

May 18, 2012

[Hat-tip Peter T of Wellywood]

I wrote briefly the other day about the life of a grey collar intellectual and how it is measured in terms of research outputs in a Taylorist way.

My friend Peter sent me a link to this strange little text-to-movie piece that explores what would happen to Karl Marx today in higher education.
Welcome to the Department of Omnishambles in the Faculty of Inhumanities.

The Department of Omnishambles. Click image to load video and hear Karl’s review


What are news? Watermelon_man helps us out

November 17, 2011

Since engaging with #mediainquiry on Twitter and in the meatworld I have stumbled across some really nice people (at least they seem nice, I’ve only seen their avatars).

Their tweets make sense and they are using their real names. This is always a plus with me because I think free speech comes with accountability.

Anyone can use anonymity to fart into the wind and spew abuse over everyone and everything. But it takes courage to stand up for what you believe in and to take responsibility for your words and actions.

At times it can be tough. Saying things that are unpopular, or that inflame the prejudices of the dribblejaws is like painting a target on your back or pinning a ‘kick me’ sign to your arse.

Anyway, two of the good guys have recently been added to my blogroll:

Watermelon_man

Happy Antipodean.

This morning a brief post. I just want to share some entries from Watermelon_man’s dictionary; they are apt in the discussion of journalism and the news that occurs frequently on EM

Advertising: Sophisticated and highly profitable activity designed to turn informed consumers into ignorant ones.

Anecdote: Story by untrained amateur of poorly observed, half-remembered event, used by media to overturn work of world scientific community

Apostrophe: most misused punctuation mark. When in doubt best not to use one and be thought idiot than use one and confirm it.

Journalism: process of analysing, explaining, making clear, issues for public (archaic); process of obscuring reality (modern)

Journalist: A reporter of facts, an impartial observer (archaic); A writer of fiction, a political player (modern)

Media scrum: a pack of journalists, behaving like animals, from every media outlet except your own. See also: paparazzi, tabloid

Opinion Poll: Phone calls to a small number of conservative people who are asked to confirm that conservative politics is best

Political news: trivial information carefully gathered from press releases, publicity stunts, malignant gossip, by “reporters”

TV Documentary: Form of teaching about a subject where the viewer gains information in spite of director’s best efforts, not because of them.


The Higgs Singlet ~ Be Afraid ?

March 28, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

I’ve had another of those WTF ?? !! moments, this time triggered by perusing that reputable organ of record, the Fairfax Online outlet, The Brisbane Times.

(This is actually me having some fun with what is actually a fascinating, and serious, science story, one which not a few outlets boosted into low earth orbit and, yet again, covered in ways which confirmed the very low views serious scientists often have of journalists always scrabbling for the ‘break through cure for cancer asteriod’s gonna pulverise Earth we’re all gonna die’ stories. Is this yarn really about a time machine being developed by physicists at a major world research laboratory? Read on, gentle reader…)

It all turns around the proposition that there is, or might be, something called the Higgs Singlet and just what does this all really mean.

Firstly, though, WTF is this Higgs Singlet anyway?

Are we really talking about some very clever product placement by the manufacturers of Chesty Bonds underclothing, perhaps having replaced their older male model with some newer version, perhaps a recently retired footballer, whose name is Higgs?

Me being me, I deployed the mighty MacBook Pro and my Net searching skills to see what I could find, and the closest I initially got was a Wikipedia entry explaining the Next-to-Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model which, when I tried to understand it, promptly gave me a severe headache.


Andrew Daddo was also bemused about The Higgs Singlet but I suspect he knows even less than I do about cutting edge theoretical or applied high energy particle physics and, like me, wouldn’t know if he was hit by a Higgs Boson or a Higgs Bozo unless he, too, was strapped into the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which, if the more serious reports are right, might start behaving like Dr Who’s Tardis, particularly if new research into the Higgs Singlet is proven correct. It seems to be about the possibility of time travel.

A Higgs Boson, by the way and if you haven’t followed current affairs, are across modern science, or followed the links helpfully provided above, is apparently the so-called God Particle, the fundamental, elemental, something which existed before everything else and what they’re trying to find using the Large Hadron Collider,

CERN ~ Large Hadron Collider

which is a huge, extremely expensive, mind-numbingly complicated yet delicate circular pipe-like machine larger than both the Vatican and Tuvalu using more electricity than a couple of mid-sized countries with lots of very sensitive magnets and detectors around it which, if what look like calculated miracles occur, will do exactly that, thereby Making It All Clear.

Follow?

(Detect the cleverly subtle inter-textural references above to Pink Floyd… ‘… in a world of magnets and miracles…’, High Hopes off The Division Bellgedditt ??  Oh, well… sigh… )

Theoretical Diagram ~ Higgs Bozo

A Higgs Bozo is, as most intelligent people who use Apple Macintosh computers, read science fiction literature, and like British latter 1970s Prog-Rock, already know so I needn’t explain it to you so stop reading for a second… a person like me whose PhD isn’t in advanced theoretical particle physics but in advanced sociological theory who then tries to explain the immediately former by reference to the latter.

Still with me?

To catch up on all this, we do suggest readers visit, or re-visit, one of the classic papers, ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’ by Alan Sokal in Social Text, 46/47, Spring/Summer, 1996, Pp. 217 – 252. Widely regarded as one of the finest examples of post-modernist theory deployed to interrogate and deconstruct a central aspect of modern physics (or, actually, still one of the finest intellectual hatchet jobs on this foul branch of modern ‘thought’.)

Prof Fred Dagg ~ Kiwi Polymath

I may be trying to channel that renowned New Zealand polymath, Professor Fred Dagg, as he would certainly know how to explain the principles of advanced theoretical particle physics sufficiently clearly for even somebody like me to grasp, whose calculating capacity doubles in summer when I wear my sandals, which I never wear in the disgusting British way, with socks.

But Prof Dagg, a long term Australian resident, is retired from science journalism and now does political commentary on ABC TV’s 7.30 most Thursday evenings with his Australian-born side kick, Brian Dawe. Quite often, they do make a lot of sense of 0therwise impenetrably complicated topics, like the Australian tax system or anthropogenic global warming. I’d just love for them to take on explaining the Higgs Singlet.

I cannot speak for my learned interlocutor, Ethical Martini, though I also suspect he’d be as worried about a Higgs Singlet enveloping him as the Jatravartids are of The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief or I am of agents of the Lesser Elder Gods breaking through one of the multi-dimensional barriers to suck my brain and my soul out of my ears for their dark, dire, eldritch and eternal purposes while chanting verses from the songs by that great 1960s band, H.P. Lovecraft.

That’s why we can all rest safe and secure in the sure and certain knowledge that Bob Howard and The Laundry are no doubt monitoring all activity at the Large Hadron Collider lest some pointy headed geek with a planet sized brain whose name isn’t Sir Timothy Berners-Lee actually crack the Turing Paradox or the Quantum Zeno Effect thereby creating a two way trans-dimensional, or worse, a multi-dimensional, gateway for the Lesser Elder Gods to… etc and so forth…

Large Hadron Collider

What they’re doing at the LHC, as far as I know and can find out, does not require the sudden generation and collection of human death energies which is what the Forschungs- und Lehrgemeinschaft das Ahnenerbe e.V. were still attempting when Mr Howard and the Laundry finally shut them down, as described in Mr Charles Stross‘ works The Atrocity Archives and The Fuller Memorandum. So sticking somebody into the maw of the LHC so they, too, could experience the wonders of the sub-atomic universe up very close and personal, and thence understand the differences between the Higgs Boson and  Higgs Bozo, or time travelling using a Higgs Singlet, is both not necessary and seriously contra-indicated.

By now, I was pretty certain that this Higgs Singlet wasn’t a clever product placement but I still didn’t have much of an idea just what it really is.

Sooo… I rose to the challenge, really got serious, plunged into the dark matter of the Deep Web, rummaged about following several strings of investigation, and glommed on to The Original Paper dated March 7, 2011, by Cho Man Ho and Thomas Weiler entitled ‘Causality-Violating Higgs Singlets at the LHC’ which started all this.

Here’s the Abstract –

We construct a simple class of compactified five-dimensional metrics which admits closed timelike curves (CTCs), and derive the resulting CTCs as analytic solutions to the geodesic equations of motion. The associated Einstein tensor satisfies the null, weak, strong and dominant energy conditions; in particular, no negative-energy “tachyonic” matter is required. In extra-dimensional models where gauge charges are bound to our brane, it is the KK modes of gauge-singlets that may travel through the CTCs. From our brane point of view, many of these KK modes would appear to travel backward in time. We give a simple model in which such time-traveling Higgs singlets can be produced by the LHC, either from decay of the Standard Model Higgses or through mixing with the SM Higgses. The signature of these time-traveling singlets is a secondary decay vertex pre-appearing before the primary vertex which produced them. The two vertices are correlated by momentum conservation.

Ah Ha!

Now I get it!

A  Singlet in theoretical physics is not a sleeveless shirt but, as the Wikipedia entry helpfully explains, “… usually refers to a one-dimensional representation (e.g. a particle with vanishing spin). It may also refer to two or more particles prepared in a correlated state, such that the total angular momentum of the state is zero”.

OK…

So a Higgs Singlet is a theoretically proposed sort-of envelope which, if the numbers hold steady, could turn up alongside a Higgs Boson and its theoretical behaviour suggests it might actually exhibit time travel by appearing before the Higgs Boson which created or energized it appears. Sort of…

The UK Daily Mail bought into the story with admirable clarity, and a very good graphic which seems to make it all even clearer.

So calm down everybody.

We’re not quite at the development stage of a real-life Tardis and exploring the possibilities of actually testing the Grandfather Paradox or actualising The Philadelphia Experiment but you can now show how erudite and learned and cultured you are by knowingly discoursing about the Real Higgs Singlet at dinner parties or over Friday drinks at the pub. You, too, could even get criticised as a real life Onanistic Higgs Bozo.

Back to worrying about Alien Space Bats, and what that space probe which recently went into orbit around Mercury might actually find on its Dark Side.

(Ooooohhh… Dr Hayes’ on another of his Pink Floyd jags   🙂  )


Laura Norder – harsh reality of a mistress scorned

September 19, 2010

As disgraced ACT MP David Garrett now knows, Laura Norder is a harsh mistress.

It’s all fun and roses during the intoxicating early days of an affair, but the glow disappears and the relationship sours if Ms Norder’s increasing demands for trinkets, expensive clothes, a holiday overseas and a new divan for the love nest are not met.

Laura Norder: Enticing mistress, but no happy ending

Laura Norder cannot abide hypocrisy. She jealously guards her own reputation and will react harshly towards any lover who thinks he or she can sully the good name “Laura Norder”.

The vicarious pleasures of Ms Norder’s company can often blind the less discerning politician. She promises unbridled passion and the heady adoration of the mob. Her charms are ample, but explosive.

If scorned, as in this case she was by Mr Garrett’s unfaithful attention to another hidden lover, Laura will exact a violent revenge. Often her former paramour will be disgraced as their dirty little secrets are hurled from the balcony of Ms Norder’s penthouse into the street below. Dark and fetishistic episodes from her lover’s past will be laid bare before a hungry public, eager to  hear more titivating tittle-tattle from this alluring but deadly vixen.

On occasion, Ms Norder may not be satisfied by seeing her former beau squriming on the rusty hook of public opinion. His friends and allies must also be made to suffer.

Laura Norder knows that shonky, pheremone-driven tinpot Hitlers usually roam in packs, sniffing around every sordid little whorehouse where they might gain a little ego-stroking and the promise of earthly pleasures. Such politicians know that an illicit liason with the popular Ms Norder can boost their public standing.

They think they can control this uncontrollable force of nature. But they cannot. Once in her populist  thrall, politicians can come unglued; their natural caution and wary defences are down. All they can think about is the curves and the perfume; the dim lighting in that boudoir of dreams.

The fun stops when Laura Norder sends the bailiffs to collect on all those years of good service she’s provided.

When you get a massage from Laura Norder, there is no happy ending.


A new category of terrorist – young drunks!

September 15, 2010

I am assuming, for the moment, that this story is true:

A drunken moment of rage has left one UK teen banned from the US for life.

17-year-old Luke Angel admits he sent US President Barrack Obama an abusive email where he called him “a prick”.

Mr Angel told the Daily Mail that incident happened after he had too many drinks before sitting down to watch a TV program about the September 11 attacks in 2001.

He claims he was so incensed by what he saw he sent the email to the White House.

According to the Daily Mail, the FBI intercepted the message and contacted UK police.

Local officers then paid Mr Angel a visit, informing him that he was now banned from the US for life.

“I don’t really care. My parents aren’t very happy about it,” Mr Angel said.

“The police who came round took my picture and told me I was banned from America forever.”

According to Bedfordshire Police, Mr Angel was banned by the US because he sent “an email to the White House full of abusive and threatening language.”

Mr Angel faces no criminal charges.

The story has been reported by the BBC, the Daily Mail and other British media.

Unbelievable really. What a waste of FBI resources. At this rate if you can be banned for abusive emails to the president then the FBI will have to round-up supporters of the Tea Party movement and send them into exile.

The call Obama a ‘prick’ and worse everyday. Some of those fucknuckles have real actual guns, and unlike a tipsy 17 year-old Brit thousands of kilometres away, they have an opportunity to use them.


What is 20/20 up to – are Kiwis that prudish?

July 23, 2010

A colleague forwarded me an email from a Sydney nightclub about an upcoming event.

Very interesting.

Hi there,
20/20 – a New Zealand news and current affairs show – are coming to the Hellfire Club this Friday night (23 July) to film part of a story on kink culture in Sydney.

The idea behind the story is that ordinary people like to dress up and be kinky and that it gives them an opportunity to experience themselves differently and feel sexy. New Zealanders, who are rather a conservative bunch when it comes to sex, are interested in kink and fetish but don’t know quite what it is or how to go about connecting with it.

20/20 are looking for people with all kinds of kinks and fetishes and will be around till about 11.30pm hoping to film you or hear your story. You can of course decline to be filmed, but after seeing how much fun you all had with the EWTV crew, how can we deny you another chance at your ten seconds of fame? We trust you will enjoy showing our bros across the ditch how it’s done!

Who’s that girl? This gorgeous Ranga Queen may not be our new Prime Minister… but she’s just as powerful! (now if we could just get our Julia to grow her hair and eat a mud cake or three…)

The Mystery Woman is in fact a fragment of the design of our next Hellfire Club T-shirt. It was created by the exceptionally talented Leo Nguyen – who’s work you can see in the current Rolling Stone and on the covers of both the Sydney Morning Herald Metro and The Brag magazine over the coming weeks.

We’ll unveil the whole design in the next email, and you’ll be able to get your own wearable version at the August party at The Hellfire Club. Stay tuned for hot new fetish fashion!

… look forward to seeing y’all Friday night dressed to impress those budding Kiwi kinksters!

Cheers
Master Tom
The Hellfire Club

[EM:Of course, it’s purely coincidence that 20/20 is fronted by Aotearoa’s very own ‘Ranga Queen’?]

20/20 presenter Miriamo Kamo

PS: Master Tom, have you checked out how 20/20 is likely to cover the Hellfire Club story?  After all, the programme’s slogan is ‘Provocative, Unflinching’.

Be careful what you wish for you fun-loving Sydney kinksters.

I’d be keen to hear how the shoot goes too.

[BTW: ‘Ranga’ is slang for redhead in this part of the world]