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Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

The Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics by Saleem H. Ali

In Asia, ecology, government, politics, war on February 26, 2013 at 05:36

From: The Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics: Security and Scarcity by Saleem H. Ali, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

As the rift has widened between the Chinese government and the Tibetan leadership in exile during the past year, it is high time that innovative strategies be considered for conflict resolution. During a recent visit to the Netherlands, I had an opportunity to interact with the Dalai Lama at a seminar on water security organized by the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. Sitting around a table with about fifteen scholars from Asia and Europe, the Buddhist spiritual leader called the Tibetan plateau a “third pole” of available water on the planet. The conversation was meant to be apolitical and to focus on science as a touchstone for cooperation. The Dalai Lama humorously commented that it is time we protect mountains not just because they are “sacred” but because “science tells us they are important.” A global strategy is needed by scientists and policymakers alike to address the challenge of water scarcity in Asia.

The situation is particularly acute for the world’s largest continent. While home to more than half of the world’s population, Asia has less fresh water—3,920 cubic meters per person—than any continent except Antarctica. Almost two-thirds of global population growth is occurring in Asia, which is expected to grow by nearly 500 million within the next 10 years, mostly in urban areas. In November 2008, The U.S. National Intelligence Council highlighted Asian water scarcity in its Global Trends 2025 report: “With water becoming more scarce in Asia and the Middle East, cooperation to manage changing water resources is likely to become more difficult within and between states.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

The Future of the Internet by Vint Cerf

In government, information science, internet, interview, politics, privacy, society, space on February 26, 2013 at 05:28

From: The Future of the Internet “Freshwater Will Be the New Oil” by Vint Cerf, The European Magazine, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

The European: When you started working on the Internet, did you have an idea of how big it would become one day?
Cerf: Bob Kahn and I had a sense of how powerful technology is. But we couldn’t possibly imagine what it would be like when 1/3 of the world’s population would be online. When we came up with an original design in 1973, we knew that new communication technologies would come along. At that time we couldn’t think of what they would be like – but we wanted the Internet to work on top of them.

The European: How will we debate truth, or argue about what is most important to us?
Cerf: I would ask: what will be our utopia? We don’t know. People call me chief Internet envangelist. Some misunderstood this and thought that it meant I was using the Internet to promote religion. I have to explain that I’m geek-orthodox. I see many good things in the world, but I also see some bad things. I believe that we really have the choice to use technology and the infrastructure of the Internet towards very positive ends. But like any infrastructure, it is open to abuse. We are reaching a point now where governments are concerned about the impact of the Internet infrastructure on citizens and on society.

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Reposted with permission from: The European Magazine

Announcement: Thank you!

In Announcements on February 26, 2013 at 05:20

anagnori received more permissions. We would like to say ‘thank you’ to:

Anand Gopal
Brennan Center for Justice
The European Magazine
Green Left Weekly
IEEE Spectrum
Liminalities
Matt Ridley
Nthposition
the Pavement Magazine
Policy Innovations
Swarthmore College Bulletin
United Academics

Patterns in art and nature by Philip Ball

In aesthetics, art, biology, nature, photography, science, visual arts on February 24, 2013 at 01:03

From: Patterns in art and nature by Philip Ball, http://www.philipball.co.uk

Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa, near Mull in Scotland, has inspired artists (this is Turner) and composers – Felix Mendelsohn wrote his orchestral piece named after the cave in 1829. But it also made an impression on an awestruck Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, when he sailed to Staffa in 1772 during an expedition to Iceland. This is what he said:

    “Compared to this what are the cathedrals or palaces built by men! Mere models or playthings, as diminutive as his works will always be when compared with those of nature. What now is the boast of the architect! Regularity, the only part in which he fancied himself to exceed his mistress, Nature, is here found in her possession, and here it has been for ages undescribed.”

Banks had noticed that the entrance to the cave was flanked by these great pillars of rock. Close up, you can see the regularity that Banks spoke about: hexagonal cross-sections.

Now, this of course has its counterpart on the west coast of Ireland itself: the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, built in legend by the giant Finn MacCool.

There are something like 40,000 pillars of rock in the giant’s Causeway, and they generally have this extraordinarily regular and geometric honeycomb structure. When we make an architectural pattern like this, it is through careful planning and construction, with each individual element cut to shape and laid in place. At Fingal’s Cave and the Giant’s Causeway, the forces of nature have conspired to produce such a pattern without, we must presume, any blueprint or foresight or design. This is an example of spontaneous pattern formation.

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball

The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Bardi

In gender, government, human rights, interview, media, religion on February 24, 2013 at 00:53

From: The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Bardi, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

The Humanist: So let’s talk a little about women in secularism. I attended the first-ever Women in Secularism conference in May, and I’m wondering if it would surprise you to learn that there are problems with sexist behavior within the secular movement, including in online forums and at conferences.

Steinem: No, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that there is bias and sexism everywhere, just like there are problems of racism and homophobia stemming from the whole notion that we’re arranged in a hierarchy, that we’re ranked rather than linked. I think we’ve learned that we have to contend with these divisions everywhere.

There might have been more surprise, say, in the 1960s and ’70s when people were active in the antiwar movement or in the Civil Rights movement, only to discover that women sometimes had the same kinds of conventional positions there. But I think there’s a much deeper understanding now of how widespread patriarchy is, on the one hand, and that it didn’t always exist, on the other.

The Humanist: So, if humanists and secularists consider themselves enlightened individuals—reasonable, progressive, and so forth—shouldn’t we hold these men up to a higher standard in terms of sexist behavior?

Steinem: Yes. But, it’s not only holding humanist men up to a higher standard, it’s saying you can’t win unless you’re a feminist. Because the patterns that are normalized in the family—the whole idea that some people cook and some people eat, that some listen and others talk, and even that some people control others in very economic or even violent ways—that kind of hierarchy is what makes us vulnerable to believing in class hierarchy, to believing in racial hierarchy, and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek

In Asia, economics, Europe, government, politics, religion, society on February 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The ultimate postmodern irony of today is the strange exchange between Europe and Asia: at the very moment when “European” technology and capitalism are triumphing worldwide at the level of the “economic infrastructure, the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened at the level of “ideological superstructure” in the European space itself by New Age “Asiatic” thought, which, in its different guises ranging from “Western Buddhism” to different “Taos,” is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. Therein resides the highest speculative identity of opposites in today’s global civilization: although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement. One should mention here the well-known concept of “future shock” that describes how people are no longer psychologically able to cope with the dazzling rhythm of technological development and the social changes that accompany it. Things simply move too fast, and before one can accustom oneself to an invention, it has already been supplanted by a new one, so that one more and more lacks the most elementary “cognitive mapping.” The recourse to Taoism or Buddhism offers a way out of this predicament that definitely works better than the desperate escape into old traditions. Instead of trying to cope with the accelerating rhythm of techno-logical progress and social changes, one should rather renounce the very endeavor to retain control over what goes on, rejecting it as the expression of the modern logic of domination. One should, instead, “let oneself go,” drift along, while retaining an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being. One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the “opium of the people,” as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The “Western Buddhist” meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity. If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

The Spam of the Earth by Hito Steyerl

In culture, government, information science, internet, media, photography, privacy, society on February 17, 2013 at 22:05

From: The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation by Hito Steyerl, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Dense clusters of radio waves leave our planet every second. Our letters and snapshots, intimate and official communications, TV broadcasts and text messages drift away from earth in rings, a tectonic architecture of the desires and fears of our times.1 In a few hundred thousand years, extraterrestrial forms of intelligence may incredulously sift through our wireless communications. But imagine the perplexity of those creatures when they actually look at the material. Because a huge percentage of the pictures inadvertently sent off into deep space is actually spam. Any archaeologist, forensic, or historian—in this world or another—will look at it as our legacy and our likeness, a true portrait of our times and ourselves. Imagine a human reconstruction somehow made from this digital rubble. Chances are, it would look like image spam.

Image spam is one of the many dark matters of the digital world; spam tries to avoid detection by filters by presenting its message as an image file. An inordinate amount of these images floats around the globe, desperately vying for human attention.2 They advertise pharmaceuticals, replica items, body enhancements, penny stocks, and degrees. According to the pictures dispersed via image spam, humanity consists of scantily dressed degree-holders with jolly smiles enhanced by orthodontic braces.

Image spam is our message to the future. Instead of a modernist space capsule showing a woman and man on the outside—a family of “man”—our contemporary dispatch to the universe is image spam showing enhanced advertisement mannequins.3 And this is how the universe will see us; it is perhaps even how it sees us now.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Must We Mean What We Say? by Charles Petersen

In academia, art, ethics, music, philosophy, poetry, theory on February 17, 2013 at 21:46

From: Must We Mean What We Say? On Stanley Cavell by Charles Petersen, n + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

Stanley Cavell, born in 1926 and now 86 years old, is one of the greatest American philosophers of the past half-century. He was also something of a musical prodigy and like many prodigies his accomplishments struck him as a matter of fraud.

Cavell’s larger argument is this: If we must bring the world with us to understand a definition, then we cannot define away the ambiguity in words, for the world we bring with us is already hopelessly ambiguous. Hence the force of Cavell’s at first glance profound but on closer inspection obscure question: “Must We Mean What We Say?” A philosopher who limits the meaning of her words to carefully set out definitions, attempting to root out all ambiguity, in effect says, “I say, and you should hear, only what I mean.” Cavell insists that language cannot be limited in this way. Language, to Cavell, is ambiguous not because it is imperfect, awaiting precise definition, but because we do not all see in the same way; it is a reflection of our basic predicament as distinct human beings. Thus, we must dare to mean what we say, take responsibility for all the meanings our words might be taken to have—even if those meanings go beyond what we understand as our intentions—because in our unintentional (though perhaps meaningful) slips, and the misapprehensions, mistakes, and insights of those with whom we speak, we bring together not just words but worldviews.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1

The Progressive Puritan by Siobhan Phillips

In books, history, North America, poetry, writers on February 17, 2013 at 21:35

From: The Progressive Puritan: Revisiting the Poems of Marianne Moore by Siobhan Phillips, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

Marianne Moore is always hiding in plain sight. She is the paradoxical radical, either distracting the reader from her traditionalism with avant-garde trappings or concealing rebellion in prim camouflage. She picketed for women’s rights and voted for Herbert Hoover. She distrusted the “obscenities” in William Carlos Williams and encouraged the “ability” in Allen Ginsberg. She breathed horror of “a sodomite” to one lesbian friend and signed letters to another “your affectionate albino-dactyl.” Those three-corned hats and men’s polo shirts: do they reflect an old-fashioned aversion to frippery or an innovative preference for androgyny? And her resolute urban celibacy (she lived in an apartment with her mother): a species of piety or a refusal of stereotypes? Moore’s mix of puritan and progressive seems quintessentially American—alert to the virtues of brown bread and the glories of Brancusi’s sculpture, to Pilgrim’s Progress as well as Ezra Pound. Likewise her get-to-the-point distrust of dreaming: “No wonder we hate poetry,” she writes in “Armor’s Undermining Modesty,” and “stars and harps and the new moon.” When Moore ends that poem on an “imperishable wish,” she means something as solid as the “hard yron” of another of her titles. Moore was indirectly forthright, demure and definitive at once.

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Reposted with permission from: The Boston Review

The Last Idealist? by Leemon McHenry

In Europe, humanities, nature, philosophy, science, theory on February 10, 2013 at 18:12

From: Timothy L. S. Sprigge – The Last Idealist? by Leemon McHenry, The Philosopher, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

Idealism is much less an option today than it was in the nineteenth century because of its association with universal, absolute religious principles and totalitarian, imperialistic political ideas. The decline of such thinking, especially in England, was also marked by the skepticism generated after the senseless carnage of World War I. For Sprigge, all of this was irrelevant to his quest for a satisfactory metaphysics.

Today, the idealistic doctrines are generally regarded as historically interesting but philosophically inconsequential. Idealism is largely viewed as implausible because of its disregard for the physical and biological sciences. Sprigge could rightly be accused of sidestepping science in his attempt to arrive at first principles, and he was well aware that his ignorance of science was a shortcoming of his philosophy. How far metaphysical thinking could get at first principles without the aid of detailed empirical studies was a great source of concern. He admired Spinoza and Whitehead for their scientifically informed metaphysics.

Moreover, while Sprigge followed Bradley and Royce in defending the sharp distinction between appearance and reality, or between the investigations of structural phenomena undertaken by physical science and those of introspective psychology, it is unlikely that physicists, chemists and biologists see themselves as engaged in anything less than a quest to know reality. Scientists do not see themselves as investigating what is merely abstract or phenomenal but rather an underlying reality. As far as the critiques of Russell, Moore and Ayer are concerned, the charge that metaphysical construction is a sort of Hegelian megalomania has not quite the force it had in the first half of the 1900s. The anti-metaphysical, linguistic methodologies ran their course and eventually faced fatigue, but the idea that idealism could serve as a metaphysical foundation for any system adequate for the sciences is upheld by relatively few.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

The Dream House By Robert Boucheron

In architecture, history, North America, photography, space on February 10, 2013 at 18:02

From: The Dream House By Robert Boucheron, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

An industry of books and shelter magazines testifies to the popularity of this domestic daydream. Hanley Wood, for example, publishes American Dream Homes, which describes itself as an “annual showcase of our finest designs. . . the year’s most celebrated homes from the most accomplished designers. . . great photography and meticulous descriptions of the exquisite details.”

The photographs rarely include people, and certainly not the celebrity homeowners. That would disrupt the dream, in which the magazine reader is the happy inhabitant. The text reinforces the subliminal message, inviting the reader on a tour, and implying that all this can be yours. The expense is rarely mentioned, partly because it is obvious, but more because the dream does away with practical concerns. You could win the lottery or inherit a fortune. You could move in tomorrow!

There is nothing unclear about the drawings and photographs. The description is realistic, minutely detailed, and loaded with adjectives. The granite countertop is polished, the fireplace mantel is veined marble, the ceramic tile is imported from Italy, and the wood floor is reclaimed oak from a demolished mill. Look closer, and the lighting is too bright, the colors too intense, the glass too clear. The shadows are missing, just as the untidiness of life is missing. Where is the stray shoe, the carpet stain, the magazine left lying on the couch? The photographs, for all their apparent realism, have been carefully arranged, with hidden lights, and then skillfully edited, to remove the fallen leaf from the plants brought in as props.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

Nushu by Fabio Conte

In Asia, community, gender, languages on February 10, 2013 at 17:53

From: Nushu, secret script of Chinese women by Fabio Conte, http://www.cafebabel.co.uk

Discovered in the 1950s, the ancient language was banned by the communist party so that it didn’t ignite discussions on women’s liberation. Thanks to tourism today, this ‘women’s script’ is experiencing something of a revival – unfortunately, fears are that there are few women left who are able to speak and write it.

In standard Chinese it is identified using only one character, yet Nushu itself represents concepts as well as sounds. Literally, ‘nu shu’ means ‘women’s script’. It is made up of over 20, 000 characters which are rhomboid, not square shaped, as they are in standard Chinese. It is read from right to left and mainly written in verses, probably so as to give a certain rhythm to the text. Mao’s prohibition of women’s script during the cultural revolution of China (1966-1976) meant the loss of all texts written in it. Consequently many of the women who knew how to speak and write it soon forgot it. Many texts written in Nushu were burned, and as such now it is difficult to establish the language’s origins.

In the village of Shanjianxu, in the southern region of Hunan (which is famous, amongst other things, for being home to the fictional mountains in 2009’s Avatar) the flower mountain temple is a shrine to two sisters who died over a thousand years ago. For many centuries, the inhabitants of the region have worshiped the spirits of these sisters at the temple. They offer gifts of rice paper rolls in which they placed their secrets, their wishes and sometimes their prayers, which is necessary to find the courage to commit suicide. In the temple, among the smell of incense, there is the sound of a countrywoman’s song which roughly translates as, ‘Spirit sisters, please listen to my prayer, this poor girl writes to you in women’s script, Spirit sisters, take pity on me. I wish to follow wherever you are, if you would only accept me there, then I would dedicate myself to you. I’m willowing to follow you right to the Yellow Springs, to the Underworld. Now, I care nothing for things of this world, Spirit sisters, take pity on me, I beg you, change me into a man, I don’t want to bear the name of woman’.

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Reposted with permission from: Cafebabel

Tianeptine and Psilocybin by Sarah Ackley

In law, medicine, politics, psychology, research, science on February 4, 2013 at 19:32

From: Tianeptine and Psilocybin: The Science and Politics of Antidepressants by Sarah Ackley, The Hypocrite Reader, http://hypocritereader.com

Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed class of drugs in the United States, prescribed more often than drugs that treat high cholesterol or headaches. However, with the bad press they’ve received in recent years, the slew of side effects they cause, and the increasing popularity of alternative and natural medicine, many are seeking alternatives to traditional antidepressants. Assuredly, many alternative antidepressants don’t work very well; St. John’s wort, a popular herbal remedy, has debatable efficacy, with most American studies showing that it is no more effective than placebo. However, there is important scientific evidence to support the use of two alternative antidepressants, tianeptine and psilocybin; yet these two drugs haven’t been researched in large clinical trials or adopted as conventional treatments in the United States. As we explore the critical research on traditional American antidepressants, as well as the trajectories of these two alternatives, we can begin to understand why these two treatments haven’t been approved for use in this country while other potentially less effective antidepressants remain the gold standard for mood disorders. The system in which drugs are researched, approved for use, and marketed to consumers has determined how, or even whether, we weigh the side effects and benefits of promising drugs. The medical establishment’s traditional definitions that conventional treatments are scientifically proven, while alternative treatments are not, do not hold in all cases.

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Reposted with permission from: The Hypocrite Reader

Romanticism by Jane O’Grady

In art, culture, Europe, literature, writers on February 4, 2013 at 19:23

From: Romanticism; a piece composed for a concert of German Romantic Music by Jane O’Grady, openDemocracy, www.opendemocracy.net

Romanticism – lightning flashes, storms, ruined castles, the forest, hunting-horns, knights and ghosts from ancient legends; wild love and wilder despair, rugged mountains, waterfalls, the elusive, tantalising blue flower, tremulous nightingales, death.

Romanticism is a reaction against the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment had emerged in cosmopolitan Paris and London, Romanticism from the small states in Germany. It was impatient with urbanity, doubtful that the clear light of reason would enable all humans universally to converge on a common truth. Surely reason is too rigid a structure for the rich amorphousness of reality, and universalism too monolithic!    Romanticism trumpets emotion as against reason, it lauds what is natural and untamed above the constructed and artificial; relishes embodied particularity, mystery, the dark. And sings the wonders of the wild.

Where we all went wrong, said Rousseau, was when someone first enclosed a plot of ground, asserted ‘this is mine’, and persuaded others that it belonged to him (the encloser) rather than to everyone. That was the start of civilisation, yet civilisation, rather than being the nurturer of virtue, stifles it — humans began to be competitive, conformist, cunning, sham. The original sin was obedience, not disobedience. But now — out of the garden into the forest!

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Reposted with permission from: openDemocracy

Henry Miller on Art, War, and the Future of Mankind by Maria Popova

In art, civilisation, culture, history, literature, society, war, writers on February 4, 2013 at 19:16

From: Henry Miller on Art, War, and the Future of Mankind by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

The problem of power, what to do with it, how to use it, who shall wield it or not wield it, will assume proportions heretofore unthinkable. We are moving into the realm of incalculables and imponderables in our everyday life just as for the last few generations we have been accustoming ourselves to this realm through the play of thought. Everything is coming to fruition, and the harvest will be brilliant and terrifying. To those who look upon such predictions as fantastic I have merely to point out, ask them to imagine, what would happen should we ever unlock the secret patents now hidden in the vaults of our unscrupulous exploiters. Once the present crazy system of exploitation crumbles, and it is crumbling hourly, the powers of the imagination, heretofore stifled and fettered, will run riot. The face of the earth can be changed utterly overnight one we have the courage to concretize the dreams of our inventive geniuses. Never was there such a plentitude of inventors as in this age of destruction. And there is one thing to bear in mind about the man of genius — even the inventor — usually he is on the side of humanity, not the devil. It has been the crowning shame of this age to have exploited the man of genius for sinister ends. But such a procedure always acts as a boomerang: ultimately the man of genius always has his revenge.

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Reposted with permission from: Maria Popova

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