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Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

Woody Guthrie at 100 with Amy Goodman

In art, history of art, interview, music, North America, politics, video on January 29, 2013 at 18:32

From: Woody Guthrie at 100: Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, Will Kaufman Honor the “Dust Bowl Troubadour” with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

“Woody’s original songs, the songs that he wrote back in the 1930s … with these images of people losing their houses to the banks, of gamblers on the stock markets making millions, when ordinary working people can’t afford to make ends meet, and of people dying for want of proper free healthcare, you know, this song could have been written anytime in the last five years, really, in the United States of America,” says Bragg, who has long been inspired by Guthrie.

WILL KAUFMAN: Some of those Dust Bowl ballads come out of, really, his late teens and early twenties, you know. Then he joined about half-a-million other migrants heading westwards towards California, where they had heard there was lots of work out there—and, of course, they were wrong. And it’s there in California when Woody gets—he sort of hooks up with the right people, I suppose, and gets involved in the Popular Front out there in California, and this is the beginning of—really, of his politicization. As you said, began writing columns for the People’s World out there and—in Los Angeles, and got a show on a progressive radio station, KFVD, out in Los Angeles, and begins to circulate around the migrant camps, where the Okies, as they were pejoratively called, were living in old dwellings of tar, paper and tin and old packing crates and the bodies of abandoned cars, under railroad bridges, by the side of rivers and what have you, and getting their heads broken when they dared to organize into unions. And Woody began to witness that and began to write about it. And so, he began to see music as a political weapon then.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

 

 

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Echoes of the Phenomenon by Ben de Bruyn

In civilisation, ecology, interview, nature, philosophy, theory on January 29, 2013 at 18:18

From: Echoes of the Phenomenon – A Conversation with Robert Pogue Harrison by Ben de Bruyn, Image & Narrative, http://www.imageandnarrative.be

What if forests are not simply natural but also cultural sites? If deforestation is not only depleting our oxygen supply but also our cultural memory? And what if living human beings are always already dead, being fundamentally connected to the afterlives of their predecessors and of their offspring? What if our expulsion from the Garden of Eden was not a curse, but a blessing? If paradise was not – andcan never be – paradise? These are just some of the fascinating questions Robert Pogue Harrison has raised in his seminal studies on Forests, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens. As I have tried to show in my essay on Harrison‟s work in the previous issue of Image & Narrative, these studies have established the Stanford professor as an important critic with regard to topics such as ecology, memory, and humanity. His oeuvre lends a voice to the cultural echoes of phenomena, the things in the world. But how did this oeuvre about the earth and its dead, about natural and cultural conservation first emerge? And what is the relationship between these three studies which, as Harrison suggests, actually constitute a trilogy? How does he position himself vis-à-vis issues as diverse as Deconstruction and ecocriticism, humanism and existentialism, modernity and Christianity? What is the nature and value of literature, to his mind? And what, finally, does the future hold in store for him? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed in the present interview with Robert Pogue Harrison.

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Reposted with permission from: Image & Narrative

Buckwild and Downtown Abbey by David Mould

In film, media, society on January 29, 2013 at 18:04

From: Buckwild and Downtown Abbey: TV’s Social Reality by David Mould, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

It’s a long way-in geographical distance and creative quality-from the down and dirty world of MTV’s reality show hit Buckwild to the rarefied world of U.S. public television’s Downton Abbey, but the two TV series have one thing in common, apart from having their new season premieres within a week in January 2013. Both perpetuate social and class stereotypes.

Buckwild claims to document the lives of young people in Sissonville, a small and economically depressed town in West Virginia, the state where I now live. The criticism of its stereotyping of poor, white Appalachians has been well-meaning, although it has certainly contributed to the show’s notoriety and may even have helped boost its ratings. Reality TV is a proven formula. Although they won’t admit it, viewers like to see people behaving badly.

The social stereotyping in Downton Abbey, first aired on ITV in the U.K. and now on public television’s Masterpiece Classic series, is more subtle and, at least on the surface, less offensive. But both series send a similar message about barriers to social mobility. Whether you’re living on welfare in a broken-down trailer, are a servant in a great English house, or own the house and employ the servants, you’re pretty much stuck where you are. It’s tough to change position on the social and economic ladder.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

Will the elderly be taken care of by robots? by Dick Pelletier

In science, society, technology on January 27, 2013 at 03:47

From: Will the elderly be taken care of by robots? by Dick Pelletier, IEET, http://ieet.org/

Two-legged robotic systems will also advance as we wind through the next two decades. Willow Garage, a Menlo Park, CA maker of robot hardware and software just released a test version of their personal robot platform, the PR2, designed to help senior citizens in their daily lives.

The machine follows the elderly around their homes, providing a number of essential services, which include enabling Internet access, medicine reminders, opening doors, grabbing the morning paper; and retrieving objects from drawers such as clothes, pill bottles, and other living necessities.

Today, this system sells for a whopping $400,000, but as technologies advance in the coming years, by as early as 2020, units like these could be reasonably priced and covered by insurance companies. In addition, tomorrow’s improved heavier-duty versions will even carry handicapped patients upstairs and help with bathing procedures.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Only “Lone Wolves” Commit Terror? by Russ Baker

In government, history, media, politics, war on January 27, 2013 at 03:41

From: Only “Lone Wolves” Commit Terror? by Russ Baker, WhoWhatWhy, http://whowhatwhy.com

Just before the opening of the London games, a former Olympic Committee executive declared in a New York Times interview that he had confidence in how this year’s spectacle would unfold:

“I think in the end London will more than hold its own against any previous Games. The only black cloud for me is the security agenda and whether there is some crazy, as they say, lone wolf out there.”

As they say…some lone wolf.

If that gives you chills, you aren’t alone. We’ve had enough experience to know that these statements shouldn’t be taken lightly. Nor should the underlying principle go unchallenged: that only deranged individuals provoke mayhem by design.

Media reports and government statements pretty much reduce terror sponsors to two types:  the “lone wolf,” and countries and entities in current ill repute. To be sure, for many, the archetype of Olympic terror is the organized attack: Palestinian Black September members taking the Israeli team hostage at the 1972 Munich games, and the bloody climax. Since then, we’ve also had our share of lone (or allegedly lone) gunmen and bombers, and of (allegedly) sponsored terror by identified enemies.

Originally published at http://www.WhoWhatWhy.com

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Reposted with permission from: WhoWhatWhy

Psychocivilization and Its Discontents by Magnus Bärtås, Fredrik Ekman and José Delgado

In ethics, government, interview, medicine, psychology, research, science on January 27, 2013 at 03:31

From: Psychocivilization and Its Discontents: An Interview with José Delgado by Magnus Bärtås, Fredrik Ekman and José Delgado, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The letter from Professor Delgado carries two insignias. One is made of Hebrew letters on what looks like a Torah scroll. Under the scroll it says “lux et veritas”—light and truth. The other insignia reads “Investigacion Ramon y Cajal.” In our letter to him, we have explained that we are two artists who have been studying his “astonishing research,” and that we are interested in his views on the relationship between humans and machines. José M.R. Delgado has written that he will be most happy to receive us at his home in Madrid.

Delgado’s name is a constant on various conspiracy websites dedicated to the topic of mind control; those with names like The Government Psychiatric Torture Site, Mind Control Forum, and Parascope. The Internet has in fact become the medium of conspiracy theorists. The network functions as an endless library where the very web structure lends itself to a conspiratorial frame of mind. The idea that every phenomenon and person can be connected to another phenomenon and person is the seed of the conspiracy theorist’s claim to “make the connections between things,” track the flow of power, and show how everything hangs together within some larger murky context.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia by Rane Willerslev

In anthropology, culture, humanities, society on January 19, 2013 at 00:24

From: Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia: Is Animism Being Taken too Seriously? by Rane Willerslev, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

In many respects, the Yukaghir distribution of resources reflects a traditional hunter-gatherer economic model of sharing, in that they run a “demand sharing” principle.18 People are expected to make claims on other people’s possessions, and those who possess more than they can immediately consume or use are expected to give it up without expectation of repayment. This principle of sharing applies to virtually everything, from trade goods, such as cigarettes and fuel, to knowledge about how to hunt, but it applies most forcefully to the distribution of meat: “I eat, you eat. I have nothing, you have nothing, we all share of one pot,” the Yukaghirs say [figure 3].19 The important point for my argument, however, is that Yukaghir hunters engage with the nonhuman world of animal spirits in much the same way as they engage with other humans, namely, through the principle of demand sharing. In the forest, hunters will ask—even demand—that spiritual owners share their stock of prey. They will also address the spirits of the rivers and places where they hunt, saying, “Grandfather, your children are hungry and poor. Feed us as you have fed us before!” In this sense, their animist cosmology could be interpreted as an integrated system, an “all-embracing cosmic principle based in sharing” in which the forest is akin to a “parent” who gives its human “children” food in overabundance, without expecting anything in return, as has been suggested for hunter-gatherer peoples more generally by Bird-David.20 The trouble is that in proposing this argument, Bird-David assumes that the official rhetoric of these hunter-gatherers faithfully corresponds to their activity of hunting. But this is not so—if it were, we would have aligned the Yukaghir with something akin to a “death wish,”21 for surely a community that hunts simply by waiting for the forest to “feed” them, without making any effort to control their prey, would not survive long.

What this points to, then, is that the Yukaghirs’ rhetoric about the forest being a “generous parent” is not meant to be taken too seriously. Rather, it is a sophisticated means of spirit manipulation, which is an inherent, even necessary, part of Yukaghir hunting animism. This becomes evident when we realize that a paradox is built into the moral economy of sharing, which makes it risky—lethal, in fact—to take the principle of unconditional giving at face value.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

What Hangs on Trees: Legacy and memory in the southern landscape by Glenis Redmond

In ethnicity, history, human rights, literature, North America, poetry, politics on January 19, 2013 at 00:13

From: What Hangs on Trees: Legacy and memory in the southern landscape by Glenis Redmond, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

It was at this port of entry that my ancestors embarked on a life of servitude. I began to quake with awareness. The Atlantic holds the story of my lineage, fragmented by the Middle Passage. Reckoning with the land and all that it holds means peering into the shadow side. The shadow side permeates everything I do and write. It is in something as simple as being referred to as a southerner.

Slaves and descendants of slaves had to be creative and resourceful in order to survive treacherous circumstances. These qualities are embedded in our legacy of dance and song, in spirituals and ring shouts. Such art forms were expressions of the soul, meant to empower the participants to transcend the daily grind of slavery, punishment, and unbearable labor. As a writer, I dance the limbo. I am negotiating that “tight space.”

Russell calls those who live in the mainstream world but who have been brought up in the African-American community “the placeless.” A foot in each world, they have the burden and the privilege of translating our heritage, language, and understanding to the dominant culture. Former poet laureate Rita Dove calls it the “burden of explanation.”

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

The internet and Tolstoy’s vision of history by Andy Yee

In government, history, information science, media, politics, society on January 19, 2013 at 00:04

From: The internet and Tolstoy’s vision of history by Andy Yee, openDemocracy, http://www.opendemocracy.net

The digital age brings with it the promise of micro observation and indefinite memory. This will bring about a different approach to history – similar to what Tolstoy described one and a half century ago.

In his epic novel War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy sets out his vision of history. Drawing on the analogy of integration in mathematical calculus, Tolstoy believes historians’ use of discrete events and distinguished personalities to represent the continuous flow of history is doomed to fail. The ocean of individual actions that shape the course of history leaves no place for grand leaders like Napoleon. History must travel down the road exact sciences must take: only by entering the process of the integration of infinitely small quantities – the innumerable arbitrary human wills in the case of history – can we hope to arrive at the laws governing history itself.

With successive generations of technological advance, we have moved from a world in which history exists in perishable documents and objects to a world in which information can be stored permanently. In the 1930s and 40s, the microfilm stirred the imagination of visionaries such as H.G. Wells and Vannevar Bush. The Wellsian world brain envisions an efficient index to all human knowledge, ideas and achievements, that is, a complete planetary memory for all mankind. Bush predicted that new forms of encyclopaedias, with a memex structure similar to today’s World Wide Web, would perfect man’s command over the inherited knowledge of the ages.

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Reposted with permission from: openDemocracy

Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball

In astronomy, biology, literature, nature, philosophy, research, science on January 14, 2013 at 06:41

From: Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball, http://www.philipball.co.uk

In myth, legend, literature and the popular imagination, then, water is not a single thing but a many-faced creature: a hydra, indeed. This is the essence of water’s mystery, and it remains even when water is picked apart by science. Water is the archetypal fluid, the representative of all that flows, and yet science shows it also to be a profoundly anomalous liquid, unlike any other. Some scientists doubt whether water inside living cells, the very juice of life, is the same stuff as water in a glass; at the molecular scale, they think its structure may be altered; perhaps cell water even congeals into a kind of gel. Water behaves in unexpected ways when squeezed or cooled below freezing point. Life needs water, but it remains a profound mystery why water, a lively and reactive substance, didn’t break apart the complex molecules of the earliest life forms on Earth almost as soon as they were formed.

When a substance becomes mythical, it works curious things on our imagination, even without our knowing it. Substances like this are ancient, and they have magical powers. Gold and diamonds, bread and wine, blood and tears are agents of transformation in story and legend. But none, I think, surpasses the beauty, the grandeur, the fecundity and the potency of water. This is why water is, and must always be, much more than a simple compound of hydrogen and oxygen, or a dance of molecules. To explain its role in our imaginations, its life-giving potential, its bizarre and perplexing properties, its sweet nourishment and its glittering surface-to fully explain these things, we do perhaps have to reduce water to its mundane constituents. But even when we do so, we have to remember what we are dealing with: not just a chemical compound, but a fundamental part of nature, with aspects that are serene, enchanting, enlivening, profound, spiritual and even terrible. In the voice of the babbling stream, says Wordsworth, ‘is a music of humanity’. And Bachelard bids us listen well to this music: ‘Come, oh my friends, on a clear morning to sing the stream’s vowels! Not a moment will pass without repeating some lovely round word that rolls over the stones.’

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball

Young European directors by Amélie Mougey

In Europe, film, interview, media, visual arts on January 12, 2013 at 22:52

From: Young European directors: ‘You can spot a French film a mile off’ by Amélie Mougey, Cafebabel, http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/

They are aged 24, 26 or 31, hail from Croatia, England, Belgium or Germany, and they all have one thing in common: a desire to create magic with a camera, and to transform their passion into a job. At film school, these budding directors create stories for film. Freshly graduated, they are now throwing themselves at the mercy of the festivals to at last compete with the big boys.

They all dream of making a film with universal appeal. But the public is quick to catch on and their audiences can surprise them. In Volume, the 27-minute short film she is presenting at the rencontres Henri Langlois festival between 30 November and 9 December 2012, English director Mahalia Belo transports her viewers to a prim suburb that is indifferent (or almost) to the disappearance of one of its inhabitants. ‘Here in Poitiers, my film was perceived as being very profound, whilst in Munich, the audience laughed,’ she says, confounded. For the directors, the public’s expectations often remain more obscure than the work of their colleagues.

‘You can spot French films a mile off,’ teases Croatian director Sonja Tarokic, 24. ‘They are usually set in pretty, upper middle class interiors. The singer or pianist who’s in the corner of the bar while the characters are having a drink: that would be completely incongruous in Croatia.’ Mahalia Belo has also developed this radar for detecting different nationalities. ‘After trawling the festival circuit, I can now recognise the very black Finnish sense of humour,’ says the London-based director, who says she is often pigeonholed herself. So all is fair in love and war. ‘At the end of a screening, some audience members tell me my films have nothing to do with English cinema, while others say that they are terribly British,’ she smiles.

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Reposted with permission from: Cafebabel

Featured Essay: Rooted in Poetry by Thomas Orszag-Land

In Book Reviews, books, Europe, Featured, history, literature, poetry, writers on January 12, 2013 at 22:22

I have a special post for you today. Thomas Orszag-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing from London and his native Budapest. His reviews and polemics have been published by the London Magazine and The Times Literary Supplement, and his poetry by Ambit and BBC World Service.

Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured Essay: Rooted in Poetry – Kops Returns to Russia to Assassinate the Tsar by Thomas Orszag-Land

In 1881, the St. Petersburg cell of the notorious anarchist organization Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will) assassinates the tyrannical anti-Semite Tsar Alexander II of All Russia, the flames of murderous pogroms sweep through the abused Pale of Settlements and a Jewish boy from Muswell Hill in 21st century London is rescued by the banned Yiddish Jericho Players company of Latvia… What?

Bernard Kops, the doyen of European poetry, has issued a great new Holocaust novel steeped in rhythms and rhyme. It tells a fantastic and entirely believable tale with warmth, humour, empathy and depth reminiscent of the Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem. Its text pulsates like some pieces from the immortal pen of the Jewish-Soviet master Isaac Babel. But Kops gives us more even than his towering antecedents because he is also, quintessentially, a poet.

His story is about the present. Its characters are those among us whose forebears struggled through the great European migrations since the expulsion of Jews from Spain at the dawn modern European literature as well as the giants whose explosive imaginations came to formulate the self-image of much of the world in our own time.

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What is Poetry by Juan Tomas

In art, languages, poetry on January 9, 2013 at 23:59

From: What is Poetry by Juan Tomas, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

To consider a question such as what is poetry, is tantamount to asking what art is, or what is music. Depending upon what period in man’s linear history, and in which culture we examine, the answer might be as varied as the nuances of a sun setting, or the shape of waves rolling in over a beach. If we examine any poem from the past, we will inevitably impose upon it our own twenty-first century interpretation, which might not coincide with the original contemporary view of its origin. Inspite of these obstacles, this essay examines poetic language and why it has been interpreted as an expression of some higher truth. With that in mind, this essay will demonstrate, through one specific poem, that poetry uses language to express the emotion of the human soul. It is therefore a window to the essence of its author, and of mankind’s collective soul.

If it can be said that poetry is a window to the essence of its author, then it is only proper that an examination be made of what constitutes a poet. Percy Bysshe Shelly makes a suggestion regarding that question in his remarks for an essay entitled, The Four Ages of Poetry from the opus A Defense of Poetry. Shelly writes that “In the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful, in a word the good which in the relation, subsisting perception and expression.”(348) We know that language is the medium, or the means by which a poet expresses poetry, however, we might also ask why poetry and not prose is so appealing. Do the elements of rhythm and rhyme found in poetry give it some magical credibility, some appealing attraction? Do we believe a pronouncement made in rhyme over simple prose?

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity

In community, government, history, nature, North America, politics, sociology on January 9, 2013 at 23:42

From: After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Richard AmesburyAssociate Professor of Ethics, Claremont School of Theology; Associate Professor of Religion, Claremont Graduate University

Sandy, in all her indiscriminate, non-partisan fury, ripped the facade off two large problems that had received little to no attention in the Presidential debates—poverty and climate change. In the storm’s grim aftermath, President Obama spoke movingly of America’s unity in the face of adversity. “We leave nobody behind,” he said the next day. “We make sure that we respond as a nation and remind ourselves that whenever an American is in need, all of us stand together to make sure that we’re providing the help that’s necessary.” But the reality is that the suffering occasioned by Sandy, though no doubt experienced at all levels, has been unequally distributed. As David Rohde observed in Manhattan the night of the storm, “Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.” Gestures of bi-partisanship and horizontal solidarity, though perhaps refreshing, should not be allowed to occlude the plight of those left behind in poverty.

Sandy has also made it seem like bad taste to scoff at climate change, as Governor Romney did in his convention speech. Though it may be too early to tell precisely what role climate change played in this particular case, increasingly severe hurricane activity is part of what the scientific models suggest we should expect on our warming planet. Obama’s comment on October 30th is telling: “Sadly, we are getting more experience with these kinds of big impact storms along the East Coast.” Apart from such oblique remarks, and despite pressure from environmental groups, Obama has been mostly silent about the climate of late, but perhaps the images of flooding and devastation will help to change the political climate around climate change, which, like so much else, will most acutely affect the poor.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

Barbara Massaad in Beirut: Make Food, not War. Seriously!

In culture, society on January 9, 2013 at 23:30

From: Barbara Massaad in Beirut: Make Food, not War. Seriously!, Radio Open Source, www.radioopensource.org

BEIRUT — Barbara Massaad, writer and chef, in her kitchen, is telling us a terrific story about the all-conquering cult of food in Lebanon. And I am asking her: no kidding, what if we demanded that cooks and musicians run this ugly world, starting here in Beirut and, by all means, next door in Syria.

When you talk about food to a Lebanese, you bring them back to their childhood with a big smile. Once I was in Nabatiyeh, deep in the south of Lebanon, and I was taking pictures of a sign that said “Garlic” or something. And this guy from Hezbollah comes up to me and starts screaming! Like, ‘Yaaaah! You’re not allowed to photograph that! What do you think you’re doing?’ And I said: Look, food! This is what I am doing. And I started showing him my book on Man’oushé — about local varieties of ‘thyme pie’ in Lebanon. And suddenly this ferocious guy became like a little boy. ‘Aaah,’ he said, ‘you’ve got to come and visit my mom. She makes the best food in the world.’ And then it was like: ‘I promise I will come back and visit your mom.’ And he said: ‘take as many pictures as you want. I’m really sorry.’ This is the effect that food has on Lebanese people. It’s a maternal thing. It’s childhood. It’s the root of everything.

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Reposted according to CC copyright notice from: Radio Open Source

Leaving Home by Matthew Gilbert

In community, culture, government, immigration, North America, politics on January 8, 2013 at 00:48

From: Leaving Home: The Problem of Outmigration Discussed in Arctic Village, Alaska by Matthew Gilbert, Cultural Survival, http://www.culturalsurvival.org

Trimble recalls how many young Native people who moved to Fairbanks from Arctic Village died from alcoholism. “Addiction and gambling, they get addicted and don’t want to return home, and end up homeless. I was down at the graveyard this past Memorial Day and saw all the young men and women who died from alcohol. If they were living in Arctic Village, they would still be alive.”

Trimble says, Natives were the keepers of the land and all its food and vegetation. Nobody moved away from their lands, not even when it got really cold. “People should think back and honor our Elders who survived for thousands of years. Elders told me, ‘Don’t leave the children behind,’ so my wife and I stayed here. Our ancestors are buried here too, we can’t just leave them.”

Sarah James is a world-famous Gwich’in leader and lives in Arctic Village. At the 2011 Arctic Village High School graduation ceremony, she told the students. “Whether you’re living in the village or the city, you have to respect and live in both worlds.” She says. “I’m not encouraging them to move to Fairbanks, but to stay in the village and be proud of their culture and keep the environment clean. To make your life comfortable you have to work for it. Money is something you have to learn how to use, to budget. If not, you can’t make it in either world.”

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Reposted with permission from: Cultural Survival

How Do We Judge Nonhuman Beings’ Personhood? by Jønathan Lyons

In animals, biology, ethics, nature, science on January 8, 2013 at 00:35

From: How Do We Judge Nonhuman Beings’ Personhood?  by Jønathan Lyons, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, http://ieet.org

“Various debates have focused on questions about the personhood of different classes of entities. Historically, the personhood of animals, women, and slaves has been a catalyst of social upheaval. In most societies today, living adult humans are usually considered persons, but depending on the context, theory or definition, the category of ‘person’ may be taken to include such non-human entities as animals, artificial intelligences, or extraterrestrial life, as well as legal entities such as corporations, sovereign states and other polities, or estates in probate. The category may exclude some human entities in prenatal development, and those with extreme mental impairment.”

Because this definition has built-in limits that impede our purposes – which is to say, for the purpose of eliminating the far too limited definition of person that includes only members of our species, homo sapiens sapiens (HSS) –  it is necessary to evolve that definition, adapt it into a more inclusive form. A “natural person,” legally speaking, means a human being. Other entities, such as corporations, ships at sea, and states, also have legal personhood – a bone of some contention here in the U.S. For our purposes, legal recognition of corporations and states and ships serves little purpose. For that reason, I hope to focus on the a notion of personhood that includes natural persons, but also extends to include not only nonhuman biological species who meet certain criteria, but also abandons substrate chauvinism by embracing the possibility of technological beings meeting those same criteria, and therefore qualifying as persons.

 

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Defending the People from the Professors by John P. McCormick

In government, history, law, philosophy, political science, politics, theory on January 8, 2013 at 00:23

From: Defending the People from the Professors by John P. McCormick, the art of theory, http://www.artoftheory.com

For some years now, while presenting parts of a book on Machiavelli and democratic theory across North America, I’ve been consistently surprised by the level of hostility it provokes among academics—even, or especially, among self-avowedly progressive or “radical” scholars. Machiavellian Democracy (Cambridge UP, 2011), traces previously neglected democratic strains in Machiavelli’s political writings: I elaborate his argument that the few, not the many, pose the principal threat to liberty in republics, and articulate his institutional prescriptions for empowering common citizens to constrain the behavior of elites and rule directly over public policy.

Averse to neither heated exchange nor polemical confrontation, I’m nevertheless seldom prepared for the anxiety and indignation that the idea of direct popular judgment provokes in friends and colleagues. The mobophobic reaction to Machiavelli’s ideas on popular government compelled me to reconsider more critically disparate contemporary literatures on democracy. Here, I want to reexamine some of the criticisms implicitly and explicitly leveled against the people as a political agent and democracy generally by writers before and after Machiavelli, as well as the Florentine’s own diagnosis of this scholarly antipathy to popular rule. I’ll also offer a concise recapitulation of Machiavelli’s case for the kind of popular government he thought most conducive to “the free way of life.”

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Reposted with permission from; art of theory

Property Rights in Space by Rand Simberg

In economics, ethics, politics, research, science, science fiction, space, technology, transportation on January 5, 2013 at 05:42

From: Property Rights in Space by Rand Simberg, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

Space contains valuable resources. These provide a compelling reason for entrepreneurs, investors, and governments to pursue space exploration and settlement. Asteroids are known to be rich in valuable elements like neodymium, scandium, yttrium, iridium, platinum, and palladium, most of which are rare on Earth. Because of the high price that these minerals command, harvesting them from space could possibly justify even very costly mining expeditions. This is the hope of Planetary Resources, a company recently formed and funded by Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt with the intent of mining asteroids. Similarly, Microsoft billionaire Naveen Jain has founded the company Moon Express, with plans to use robots to start mining the Moon — as early as next year, it claims. Meanwhile, Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company plans to mine ice in Shackleton Crater at the lunar south pole to provide propellant for planetary missions, and is raising funds for the venture now.

The basic technology for space travel necessary for off-planet development has of course existed for several decades; the United States did, after all, put a man on the Moon in 1969. And recent advances in spacefaring technology, like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launcher, promise to reduce the cost of transporting people and goods to and from outer space. This new rocket will deliver about fifty metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbit at a price of $120 million, allowing material to be shipped to space for about a thousand dollars per pound — far less than the tens of thousands of dollars per pound that technologies like NASA’s retired space shuttle cost to ferry cargo. And if SpaceX or some other company can achieve the goal of partial or full reusability, the price of launching goods into orbit will likely drop much further, especially if market forces bring more competitors into the field.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet

In books, culture, ethnicity, government, history, North America, philosophy, politics, religion on January 5, 2013 at 05:24

From: The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet, Killing the Buddha, http://killingthebuddha.com

West has been called “perhaps the preeminent black intellectual of our generation” by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., himself a candidate for that mantle. It might be more accurate to say that West is the preeminent intellectual of our generation, no qualifiers. No other scholar is as widely read, no other philosopher courted by presidential candidates, no other Ivy League professor referenced not just by other academics but by popular filmmakers (The Matrix trilogy, in which West played a bit role, was inspired in part by his work) and musicians (West has collaborated with Prince, Talib Kweli, and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others).

West came to his sense of self by way of a peculiarly American convergence of influences. His is not an “only in America” story but an “especially in America” one, part Emersonian self-reliance, part Motown funk. He’s an intellectual mutt in the best sense, a “freestyle, California spirit,” as he puts it, “rooted in gutbucket blues and jazz dispositions.” Even his trademark black suit is layered with influences—beneath jazz and the blues, there’s 19th century Russian literature. “It’s in emulation of Masha,” he says, one of the heroines of his favorite play, Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a drama of provincial manners set amidst the Russian gentry. West identifies with the lonely woman at the heart of the story. “She’s wearing black, says she’s in mourning.” Her father has just died, she’s trapped in a pointless marriage with a boring man. “But it’s even deeper than that. How do you make deep disappointment a constant companion and still persevere? There is this sense with Masha, when you see her in that black dress, of having a sad soul with a sweet disposition.”

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Reposted with permission from: Killing the Buddha

The Polyglot of Bologna by Michael Erard

In Europe, history, humanities, languages, research on January 5, 2013 at 05:12

From: The Polyglot of Bologna by Michael Erard, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com/

mezzofanti

Without a doubt, the most important book in English devoted to Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849), the polyglot of Bologna, is The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, written by an Irish priest, Charles William Russell, and published in 1858. When I first began research on hyperpolyglots, I knew I was going to have to spend considerable time with Russell’s book, which contains a wealth of information about Mezzofanti, his time, and his language abilities, not to mention other famous language learners. I had discovered the book by chance in the collection of the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The only way to get the required time to hunt through its treasures was to get some sort of research funding, I thought. Soon I discovered that the book, because it is in the public domain, had been scanned and republished in hardcopy, and was also available for free online.

Before I say something about what makes Russell’s book so valuable for the hyperpolyglot hunter, let me say a bit about what a “hyperpolyglot” is. A hyperpolyglot is someone who knows six or more languages, according to Richard Hudson, a linguist at University College London. Some have criticized the word as an ugly string of syllables – the word “polyglot” trips off no tongues – but it’s useful for distinguishing ordinary multilingualism from the massive accumulation and use of languages that Mezzofanti and others displayed. For a long time, the hyperpolyglot was a sort of language learner whom many people had anecdotes about but who had never been investigated seriously. Is hyperpolyglottery a new kind of multilingualism, feeding off a globalized world of cheap communications? Is it a personal eccentricity, this passion or obsession for languages? Is it driven by a certain type of brain that remembers well, loves patterns, and finds pleasure in repetition? It’s all these things, to varying degrees, but to get my hands around the phenomenon, I was going to have to hunt for hyperpolyglots and start with Mezzofanti.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Zojoji Temple in Snow by Philippe Theophanidis

In art, Asia, history of art, visual arts on January 3, 2013 at 16:49

From: Zojoji Temple in Snow, four prints by Kawase Hasui by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net

HASUI_1925_Zojoji_Temple_Snow-620x908

Hasui Kawase (1883-1957) was a prominent printmaker in the shin-hanga movement who worked closely (but not exclusively) with the famous publisher Shōzaburō Watanabe. From The British Museum:

In 1907 he began studying Western-style art, especially landscape, at the Hakuba-kai (White Horse Society) and took guidance from Okada Saburosuke (1869-1939); subsequently in 1910 he became a pupil of Kaburaki Kiyokata who gave him the art name Hasui, though the greatest influence on his style and palette was the ‘Nihonga’ painter Imamura Shiko (1880-1916). At this time he earned his living through designing ‘sashi-e’, magazine illustrations, posters and patterns for sashes. Through Kiyokata he became known to Watanabe Shozaburo, who published his first landscape prints in 1918-19. These in turn were first inspired by ‘Eight Views of Omi’ by his fellow-pupil Shinsui, which had aroused Hasui’s interest in single-sheet prints. From then on Hasui worked very extensively as a designer of landscape prints for Watanabe, and from almost the beginning inspired the carvers and printers to produce newer and subtler efforts, especially in the expression of snow.

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

What the frack? by Imre Szeman

In ecology, economics, ethics, government, news, North America, politics, sociology on January 3, 2013 at 16:42

From: What the frack? by Imre Szeman, Radical Philosophy, http://www.radicalphilosophy.com

Shale gas can be found in pockets all over the world, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Mexico and South Africa. The extraction of natural gas from shale has generated headlines in almost every one of these countries as a result of the process used to gain access to it: hydrological fracturing, which is more commonly referred to as ‘fracking’. A process developed in late 1940s but only used widely in the last decade, fracking involves the injection of a mix of water, sand and chemicals into the bore created to access the gas with enough force and pressure to split the shale rock, and so make the gas recoverable. The success of fracking as a means by which to access natural gas deposits that were formerly thought to be inaccessible is connected with the concurrent development of horizontal (as opposed to conventional, vertical) drilling, a process now carried out in the field with relative ease. Horizontal drilling aided by fracking opened up the natural gas fields of the Barnett Shale in northern Texas a decade ago. Since then, oil and gas companies, small and large, have raced to gain access to the gas trapped in the Bowland Basin in the UK and the Marcellus Shale in the north-eastern USA, as well as many other places around the globe. Besides the profits promised by control over all these new gas deposits, industry and government have been quick to champion the other benefits produced by shale gas and fracking.

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Reposted with permission from: Radical Philosophy

Ancient religious texts among the 25,000 new images online

In archaeology, art, books, history, information science, religion, research on January 3, 2013 at 16:25

From: Ancient religious texts among the 25,000 new images online, Past Horizons Archaeology, http://www.pasthorizonspr.com

Launched in December 2011,  the Cambridge Digital Library has already attracted tens of millions of hits on its website. Among the 25,000 new images being made freely available are a 2,000-year old copy of  The Ten Commandments on the famous Nash Papyrus and also one of the most remarkable ancient copies of the New Testament; the Codex Bezae.

While the latest release focuses on faith traditions – including important texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism – many of the manuscripts being made available are also of great political, cultural and historical importance.

One, the tenth-century Book of Deer, is widely believed to be the oldest surviving document from Scotland, and it contains the earliest known examples of written Gaelic.

A thirteenth-century Life of Edward the Confessor provides an account of the early English saint and king, produced by a later king for political purposes, and boasts masterpieces of English illumination, including a very graphic portrayal of the Battle of Hastings.

The extensive Cairo Genizah collections, which are being gradually released through the digital library, provide fascinating glimpses into the everyday life of a Jewish community in Egypt over a period of a thousand years. Based at the crossroads of trade and intellectual exchange, the archive of this community represents one of the most important sources for understanding the wider medieval world.

The Library is also beginning to release digital versions of its Islamic and Sanskrit collections, which include both secular and religious texts. The Islamic manuscripts collection includes some of the earliest surviving Qur’ans, while the Library’s Sanskrit manuscripts cover all the major religious traditions of South Asia and include some of the oldest known manuscripts of key religious texts.

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Reposted with permission from: Past Horizons

Zen and the Art of Poetry: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler

In art, books, Europe, interview, literature, North America, poetry, religion, theory, writers on January 1, 2013 at 19:48

From: Zen and the Art of Poetry: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler, AGNI online, http://www.bu.edu/agni/index.html

IK and KT: Were you a Buddhist first and then a poet, or a poet first and then a Buddhist?

JH: If I think about this, the question begins to feel constrictive. At any moment is a person “this” or “that?” To label oneself is to close off the possibilities of being. But in the sense you are asking, the ordinary, narrative sense, poetry came first. I began to write poems as soon as I learned to write. After my first book came out, when I was 29, my mother pulled out of a bottom dresser drawer a big piece of paper I was given, probably around second grade, on which was written: “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” I have no idea where that came from. But writing was the way for me to craft a self I could unfold on my own, in private, and to find a life that was mine, one that didn’t belong to others.

Still, the two paths have intertwined for me from the beginning—the first book of poetry I bought, from a stationary store on East 20th Street, was a one dollar Peter Pauper Press book of Japanese haiku. I was maybe eight years old. I don’t know what drew me so strongly to those poems or what I could have seen in them at that age, but I recognized something that I absolutely knew I had to have in my life. The path has also been circular. Poetry brought me to Zen, and Zen returned me to poetry. In 1985, I took on the co-translation that became The Ink Dark Moon, a collection of poems by the two great women poets of classical-era Japan, whose work I had first read in a handful of English translations when I was 17. Their poetry, steeped in both eros and Buddhist views, was part of what turned me toward Zen as well as part of what shaped my sense of poems—how they move, what work they do. I had no idea then that I would work further on these women’s poems; if anything I thought that a path not taken. I did know that I wanted the book to exist, and I waited 15 years for someone else to translate it, before suddenly finding the chance to do it myself after all. So you see, each mode—poetry, Zen—has always returned me to the other. Thus far, they have been the left foot and the right foot of my life. It may, I suppose, look exotic. But from the inside, this life has felt like the most ordinary course possible, one choice simply following another.

IK and KT: In your essay, “The Question of Originality,” you write: “Originality requires the aptitude for exile.” Can you talk about any experiences of exile you may have had, and how they may have fed your work?

JH: I think the sense of exile I have always felt led me to practice Zen. I should add that Zen is what was congenial to me, but I certainly don’t believe there’s only one correct spiritual path—there are as many spiritual paths as there are people, and probably sparrows and frogs and pebbles as well. Still, for me, the not uncommon sense of being exiled from presence in the world brought me to both Zen and poetry. Perhaps urban, contemporary life is already an exile of a kind, perhaps it was more familial, perhaps it was spiritual. There is a Taoist poet in Women in Praise of the Sacred, Yu Xuanji, who said at the end of one poem, “Everywhere the wind carries me is home.” That was not something I felt as a child.

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI

Welcome to the “Spiritual Kingdom of Animals” by Slavoj Žižek

In Asia, documentary, economics, ethics, film, North America, philosophy, society on January 1, 2013 at 19:31

From: Welcome to the “Spiritual Kingdom of Animals” by Slavoj Žižek, ODBOR, http://www.odbor.org

In other words, self-interested egotism is not the brutal fact of our societies but its ideology – the ideology philosophically articulated in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit towards the end of the chapter on Reason, under the name of “das geistige Tierreich” – the “spiritual kingdom of animals,” Hegel’s name for the modern civil society in which human animals are caught in self-interested interaction. As Hegel put it, the achievement of modernity was to allow “the principle of subjectivity to attain fulfillment in the self-sufficient extreme of personal particularity.”[3] This reign of this principle makes possible civil society as the domain of in which autonomous human individuals associate with each other through the institutions of free-market economy in order to satisfy their private needs: all communal ends are subordinated to private interests of individuals, they are consciously posited and calculated with the goal of maximizing the satisfaction of these interests. What matters for Hegel here is the opposition of private and common perceived by those on whom Hegel relies (Mandeville, Smith) as well as by Marx: individuals perceive the common domain as something that should serve their private interests (like a liberal who thing of state as a protector of private freedom and safety), while individuals, in pursuing their narrow goals, effectively serve the communal interest. The properly dialectical tension emerges here when we become aware that, the more individuals act egotistically, the more they contribute to the common wealth. The paradox is that when individuals want to sacrifice their narrow private interests and directly work for the common good, the one which suffers is the common good itself – Hegel loves to tell historical anecdotes about a good king or prince whose very dedication to the common good brought his country to ruins. The properly philosophical novelty of Hegel was to further determine this “contradiction” along the lines of the tension between the “animal” and the “spiritual”: the universal spiritual substance, the “work of all and everyone,” emerges as the result of the “mechanical” interaction of individuals. What this means is that the very “animality” of the self-interested “human animal” (the individual participating in the complex network of civil society) is the result of the long historical process of the transformation of medieval hierarchic society into modern bourgeois society. It is thus the very fulfillment of the principle of subjectivity – the radical opposite of animality – which brings about the reversal of subjectivity into animality.

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Reposted according to “friendly” copyright notice from: ODBOR

Anaïs Nin on Why Understanding the Individual is the Key to Understanding Mass Movements by Maria Popova

In books, humanities, psychology, society, sociology on January 1, 2013 at 19:09

From: Anaïs Nin on Why Understanding the Individual is the Key to Understanding Mass Movements by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

There is an opacity in individual relationships, and an insistence that the writer make the relation of the particular to the whole which makes for a kind of farsightedness. I believe in just the opposite. Every individual is representative of the whole, a symptom, and should be intimately understood, and this would give a far greater understanding of mass movements and sociology.

Also, this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

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Reposted with permission from: Brain Pickings

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