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Dead Cats - Fatal attraction of fake facts sours political debate

Tim Harford in The Financial Times


He did it again: Boris Johnson, UK foreign secretary, exhumed the old referendum-campaign lie that leaving the EU would free up £350m a week for the National Health Service. I think we can skip the well-worn details, because while the claim is misleading, its main purpose is not to mislead but to distract. The growing popularity of this tactic should alarm anyone who thinks that the truth still matters. 
You don’t need to take my word for it that distraction is the goal. A few years ago, a cynical commentator described the “dead cat” strategy, to be deployed when losing an argument at a dinner party: throw a dead cat on the table. The awkward argument will instantly cease, and everyone will start losing their minds about the cat. The cynic’s name was Boris Johnson. 
The tactic worked perfectly in the Brexit referendum campaign. Instead of a discussion of the merits and disadvantages of EU membership, we had a frenzied dead-cat debate over the true scal…
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If engineers are allowed to rule the world....

How technology is making our minds redundant.

Franklin Foer in The Guardian

All the values that Silicon Valley professes are the values of the 60s. The big tech companies present themselves as platforms for personal liberation. Everyone has the right to speak their mind on social media, to fulfil their intellectual and democratic potential, to express their individuality. Where television had been a passive medium that rendered citizens inert, Facebook is participatory and empowering. It allows users to read widely, think for themselves and form their own opinions.

We can’t entirely dismiss this rhetoric. There are parts of the world, even in the US, where Facebook emboldens citizens and enables them to organise themselves in opposition to power. But we shouldn’t accept Facebook’s self-conception as sincere, either. Facebook is a carefully managed top-down system, not a robust public square. It mimics some of the patterns of conversation, but that’s a surface trait.

In reality, Facebook i…

The yoga industry is booming – but does it make you a better person?

Brigid Delaney in The Guardian

It was 2010 and the newspaper I worked for in Sydney commissioned me to interview yoga entrepreneur Bikram Choudhury.

He was in town to open the first of a chain of hot yoga studios. Choudhury’s brand of yoga – which he had trademarked and franchised – involved 26 poses in a humid, heated room with mirrors and carpets. When I visited the studio and caught the stench and the robotic instructions from a mic’d-up teacher, I thought: Yeah, this won’t take off.

I had been doing yoga for a decade by the time I met Choudhury. Once or twice a week, I’d go to nice, easy hatha classes, wearing whatever old tracksuit was to hand – just like everyone else in the room. Yet my progress was slow; I had never managed to get beyond beginners’ level. I was always at the back of the class, struggling to get my arm behind my calf to touch my other hand. I just assumed that this pace was my natural limit.




'He said he could do what he wanted': the scandal that rocked Bikr…

Mr. Apologist, excuses are not enough

Tabish Khair in The Hindu

It has been a fortnight of shocking tragedies in India and abroad — and of excuses by you, Mr. Apologist.

You have told me that I should not overreact: journalists get killed all over the world, and sometimes on their own doorsteps; the Rohingya are just suffering from an internal law-and-order problem; the hurricanes ravaging the Caribbean these days and the floods ravaging India are just natural phenomena, and not due to climate change; and as for the Dreamers, poised earlier to be kicked out of U.S., oh well, that’s all politics, you know, and such things happen in politics (you know). Calm down, you tell me.

Let me reassure you, I am calm. So calm that I am willing to accept all your above positions, though I disagree with them either entirely or in part. I am calm enough to concede that in holding these positions you are establishing a certain political perspective. I differ from you, but as long as you do not elaborate into a justification of murder or gen…

Pakistan's Intelligence Agencies: The Inside Story

Abbas Nasir from the Dawn archives of 1991


Over the last two decades, the role and scale of Pakistan's intelligence agencies has grown over and above their prescribed functions, to the extent that their operations, often undercover and at odds with even each other, have earned them the reputation of being a "State within a State".

Expanding the theatre of their operations to cover major foreign and domestic policy areas, the workings of the three key intelligence agencies, the ISI, the MI and the IB, have assumed more controversial proportions than ever before.

On a freezing December day in Islamabad, MNA Dr Imran Farooq, ordered the maintenance staff of the MNA hostel to service his room heater. The staff took down the gas heater, only to discover a device that didn't belong there taped to its back. Noticing that there were batteries attached to it, they immediately became alarmed and summoned the bomb disposal squad.

Being experts at their job, the members of the bomb …

How a tax haven is leading the race to privatise space

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian


On a drizzly afternoon in April, Prince Guillaume, the hereditary grand duke of Luxembourg, and his wife, Princess Stéphanie, sailed through the front doors of an office building in the outskirts of Seattle and into the headquarters of an asteroid-mining startup called Planetary Resources, which plans to “expand the economy into space”.

The company’s engineers greeted the royals with hors d’oeuvres, craft beer and bottles upon bottles of Columbia Valley rieslings and syrahs. In the corner of the lounge stood a vintage Asteroids arcade game; on the wall hung an American flag alongside the grand duchy’s own red, white and blue stripes. Between the two flags was a prototype of a spacecraft designed to roam the galaxy, prospecting asteroids for precious natural resources that would someday – at least in theory – make the shareholders of Planetary Resources very wealthy earthlings indeed.

The nation of Luxembourg is one of Planetary Resources’ main boosters. The count…