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Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

The Global War Against Baby Girls by Nicholas Eberstadt

In Asia, gender, politics, society, sociology on May 29, 2013 at 23:02

From: The Global War Against Baby Girls by Nicholas Eberstadt, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

Over the past three decades the world has come to witness an ominous and entirely new form of gender discrimination: sex-selective feticide, implemented through the practice of surgical abortion with the assistance of information gained through prenatal gender determination technology. All around the world, the victims of this new practice are overwhelmingly female — in fact, almost universally female. The practice has become so ruthlessly routine in many contemporary societies that it has impacted their very population structures, warping the balance between male and female births and consequently skewing the sex ratios for the rising generation toward a biologically unnatural excess of males. This still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion is by now evident in the demographic contours of dozens of countries around the globe — and it is sufficiently severe that it has come to alter the overall sex ratio at birth of the entire planet, resulting in millions upon millions of new “missing baby girls” each year. In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.

Sex-selective abortion is by now so widespread and so frequent that it has come to distort the population composition of the entire human species: this new and medicalized war against baby girls is indeed truly global in scale and scope. Estimates by the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) and the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Programs Center (IPC) — the two major organizations charged with tracking and projecting global population trends — make the point. According to estimates based on IPC data, a total of 21 countries or territories (including a number of European and Pacific Island areas) had SRBs of 107 or higher in the year 2010; the total population of the regions beset by unnaturally high SRBs amounted to 2.7 billion, or about 40 percent of the world’s total population. For its part, UNPD estimates that 24 countries and territories (a slightly different roster from IPC’s, including some additional European, South American, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Pacific settings) had SRBs of 107 or higher for the 2005-2010 period, for a total population similar to the IPC figure. Additionally, UNPD and IPC list several countries with child (age 0-4) sex ratios of 107 or higher; those lists partially overlap with the SRB lists. If we tally all the places that IPC and UNPD flag as having unnaturally high SRBs or child sex ratios, along with the places listed in Tables 2 and 3 whose official demographic statistics report unnaturally high SRBs or child sex ratios, we would have a total of over 50 countries and territories accounting for over 3.2 billion people, or nearly half of the world’s total population.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Colors / Ash by Meghan Dailey

In aesthetics, languages, philosophy, religion, theory on May 29, 2013 at 22:34

From: Colors / Ash by Meghan Dailey, Cabinet Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The identity of ash as a color is questionable. Ash is not ashen—drained of color—but variously gray, whitish, black-like, flecked, dirty, streaked. It can be steely and cold, or the harsh, smoky yield of raging flames. Intangible, abstract, but also very much there, even if only in trace form, ash is an absolute result. Elsewhere, ash is a mood. It speaks of melancholy, New England maybe—turning leaves on ash trees under overcast skies in damp autumn air, that sort of thing. Ed Ruscha’s drawing Ash (1971), rendered in gunpowder and pastel, perfectly crystallizes its valences and free–floating (literally) signification. For Ruscha, words are ever the stuff of extended reflection, of puns and hidden meanings, presented as plain as day. I like to think that he must have enjoyed the particular convergence between word and medium (a combustible substance in its pre-asheous state).

One can experience ash by wearing it. The LL Bean catalog sells “Bean’s Sloggs,” an outdoor shoe available in color ash as well as color black, and also some men’s casual trousers in ash—just one among many barely distinguishable neutrals the company offers: taupe, beige, moss, peat, stone, timber, fatigue. The clothing and colors signify the outdoors, and are situated and named as part of nature’s continuum. But peat and stone are going to outlive the whims of consumer taste.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet Magazine

Moral Sentiment and the Politics of Human Rights by Sharon Krause

In human rights, philosophy, politics, theory on May 29, 2013 at 22:26

From: Moral Sentiment and the Politics of Human Rights by Sharon Krause, The Art of Theory: Conversations in Political Philosophy, http://www.artoftheory.com

Why do we have human rights and why are we obligated to respect them? This question provokes a certain amount of anxiety among theorists of human rights today. The difficulties of justifying human rights in the context of what one commentator has called “a world of difference” have helped to motivate the field’s turn to the political in recent years.1 Whereas philosophers and political theorists once treated human rights as applied universal ideals grounded in comprehensive moral doctrines, the dominant discourse now regards them as “political not metaphysical.”2

The political approach aims to avoid resting human rights claims on controversial moral foundations, and it (not unreasonably) sees the task of justifying human rights as intrinsically linked to such foundations. Because of this link, efforts to justify human rights frequently run up against charges of cultural imperialism.3 Yet while it is surely a good idea to refrain from exercising cultural imperialism, we cannot entirely avoid the matter of justification in human rights discourse. For we will never be able to agree on difficult questions of application if we cannot articulate why we have human rights and why we are bound to respect them. What we need is an account of the grounds of human rights that can stand firm in our world of difference.

Moral sentiment theory – the theory of judgment and deliberation found in a range of 18th-century thinkers but articulated most powerfully by David Hume – offers some valuable resources in this regard. It can be developed to suggest a non-foundationalist basis for international human rights today, one that justifies human rights with reference to the faculty of empathy and the fact of interdependence.

On the moral sentiment view I develop here, there is one fundamental and fully universal human right, the right to have one’s concerns count with others’, to be recognized as a moral equal whose interests and perspective are owed inclusion in the generalized standpoint of moral sentiment. Whatever more specific slate(s) of human rights may reasonably be derived from this basic right will reflect the deliberative engagements – and the moral sentiments – of those subject to them. And because this justification of human rights is rooted in common human sentiments rather than independent moral principles, it builds in motivational efficacy. It shows respect for human rights to be consonant with our own common concerns rather than something that threatens our interests and so demands altruism. Moral sentiment theory thus helps us to address two important challenges of human rights today: justification and compliance. In what follows, I begin with a brief account of moral sentiment theory as it was developed by Hume. I then sketch – again, very briefly – how the theory of moral sentiment might be extended to help us justify and motivate human rights today.

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Reposted with permission from: The Art of Theory

Featured: On Waiting by Raymond Tallis

In Featured, nature, philosophy, society, theory on May 27, 2013 at 18:40

Featured: On Waiting by Raymond Tallis, Philosophy Now, http://philosophynow.org

Reposted in full with permission from: Philosophy Now

On Waiting
Raymond Tallis thinks about queuing and milling about.

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
John Milton, On His Blindness

The eponymous hero of T.S. Eliot’s anti-heroic poem Sweeney Agonistes has this to say about human life:

Birth, copulation, and death.
That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks:
Birth, copulation, and death.

This seems to leave an awful lot out. There is rather more to life than this alphabetically and chronologically ordered trio of biological events; more to our patch of living daylight than the beginning, the end, and a few intervening highlights designed to satisfy life’s longing for more of itself. Tying one’s shoelaces, handing over a heavy object, challenging the Zeitgeist, winding people up, worrying about a cousin’s health, making soup, effing and/or blinding, setting up a business, putting aside money for a grandson’s university fees, pausing for breath, envisaging the consequences of a new policy strategy, simulating amusement, are just a few of the non-copulatory things that populate the nano-thin slice of light between the darkness before and the darkness after.

This occurs to me as I am waiting for a train, and (multi-tasking being the order of the day) thinking about our infinitely complex, infinitely varied lives. The list grows – trying to remember a joke, peering into the dark, running an outpatient clinic, practising a knowing look, crossing Antarctica on foot, campaigning against cuts in public services, and so on – until I come upon the thing I’m doing at this very moment. No, not thinking – that’s had more than its share of air-time in philosophy – but waiting.

The more I think about it, the bigger waiting appears. It fills so much of our lives – certainly more than copulation, even in the life of a dedicated seducer such as Don Giovanni. It comes in a thousand shapes and sizes and modes. A few examples will have to stand for a trillion instances: waiting for someone to finish a sentence; for a friend to catch up on a walk; for the bathwater to run warm; for the traffic lights to change; for the message on the computer screen to pass from ‘connecting’ to ‘connected’; for a fever to abate; for the music to reach a climax; for the wind to drop so you can fold a newspaper; for a child to grow up; for a response to a letter; for a blood test result, an outcome, or news; for one’s turn to bat; for someone to cheer up, admit they were wrong, or say they love you; for Spring, for Christmas, for Finals; for the end of a prison sentence; for The Second Coming (steady work, as Christopher Hitchens said); for a long-awaited heir; for fame or wealth or peace; for retirement; for the end. Read the rest of this entry »

Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization… by Rachel Armstrong

In civilisation, ecology, nature, technology on May 27, 2013 at 18:26

From: Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization is Indistinguishable from Nature by Rachel Armstrong, IEET, http://www.ieet.org/

In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” [1]

 

With the advent of ‘living technologies’ [2], which possess some of the properties of living systems but are not ‘truly’ alive, a new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent. This change in perspective is encapsulated in Koert Van Mensvoort’s term ‘next nature’, which implies thinking ‘ecologically’, rather than ‘mechanically’. The implications of next nature are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.

Alan Turing noted in his essay on morphogenesis that mathematical abstraction couldn’t capture the richness of the natural world [6]. Life is a complex system that is governed by a variety of unique processes that machines simply do not possess. Life responds to its environment, constantly changes with time and is made up of functional components that enables life the ability to self-regulate [7]. Complexity challenges the epistemological basis on which modern science and industry are grounded.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Norway and the Prisoners of Peace by F. J. Riopelle

In Europe, government, human rights, law, politics, writers on May 27, 2013 at 18:16

From: Norway and the Prisoners of Peace by F. J. Riopelle, AGNI Online, http://www.bu.edu/agni/index.html

Imagine a country, I used to tell my students of Norwegian at Harvard, of beautiful fjords and impressive coastal scenery, of extensive petroleum reserves, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood and fresh water, with universal health care, subsidized higher education, a comprehensive social security system and very low unemployment rate. Imagine the world’s most well-functioning and stable country, where parents have forty-seven weeks of paid parental leave and prison cells look like budget hotel rooms. And—as a final flight of Lennonesque imagination—imagine all the people, or at least some, living life in peace in these cells—because they are pacifists.

That broke the spell, didn’t it? Norway’s great international reputation is well deserved, but a student of its language and culture should also learn about the embarrassments lurking behind this utopian image of Norway. There is, for instance, a curious lack of statistics for the number of convicted pacifists in Norway—the country that administers the Nobel Peace Prize, presumably because Alfred Nobel found it even more peaceful than Sweden—a curious lack of information, on Wikipedia and elsewhere, but I know, as John Lennon says in one of his protest songs, that I’m not the only one.

According to European Bureau for Conscientious Objection’s 2011 report, Norway is one of three European countries that “prosecute conscientious objectors repeatedly for their continued refusal to serve in the army” (the other countries are Greece and Turkey). “Each year, between one-hundred and two-hundred conscripts refuse to perform both military and substitute service,” and they are thereby penalized.

I am one of them—a conscientious objector, not only to the military service, but also to the substitute civilian service. In a report of 2002, researchers in Norway’s Ministry of Defense acknowledged that the civilian service, which is labor typically performed in healthcare institutions, retirement homes, kindergartens and schools, is little more than a “sanction of men who refuse to perform military service.” It “costs about 230 million Norwegian kroner per year,” and is “obviously unprofitable based on socio-economic considerations.”

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI Online

Music: The Open Goldberg Variations by Kimiko Ishizaka

In audio, music on May 20, 2013 at 20:09

The Open Goldberg Variations by Kimiko Ishizaka, http://www.opengoldbergvariations.org/

The Open Goldberg Variations by Kimiko Ishizaka are free to download and share. They are governed by the Creative Commons Zero license, which means that they are a part of the public domain. Visit the website to download.

Kimiko Ishizaka was the first of three child prodigies born to Junkichi and Ruth Ishizaka in Bonn, Germany.  At the age of four, she began studying piano with her mother, who would continue to be her teacher until 1995. In 2000, she completed her performer’s diploma exam with Professor Roswitha Gediga-Glombitza at the Hochschule für Musik Köln with the highest available marks. Further studies included masterclasses with Prof. Peter Feuchtwanger, Prof. Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, the Alban Berg Quartet, and the Amadeus Quartet.

From the early age of five, Ishizaka distinguished herself as a soloist and as a chamber performer, especially in the context of the Ishizaka Trio, which consisted of her and her younger brothers. In its 16 year history, the Ishizaka Trio participated in many important festivals (Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival, Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Beethovenfest Bonn, Brauschweiger Kammermusikpodium, and the Rheingau Musikfestival), performed concerts in many countries (Japan, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, the U.S.A.), and took prizes in many renowned competitions, including:

  • The Menschenskinder prize from RTL (1995)
  • The Vittorio Gui International Chamber Music Competition
  • Three consecutive 1st prizes in the International Charles Hennen Competion in The Netherlands
  • 1st Prize in the 1998 Deutscher Musikwettbewerb (German Music Competition)

Visit Kimiko Ishizaka’s official website for more information.

Featured: The Search for the Beautiful Woman in China and Japan by Cho Kyo

In anthropology, Asia, culture, Featured, history, society on May 20, 2013 at 19:50

Featured: The Search for the Beautiful Woman in China and Japan: Aesthetics and Power by Cho Kyo (Translated by Kyoko Selden), http://www.japanfocus.org

Reposted in full with permission from: Japan Focus

An oblique tooth is viewed in the States as requiring straightening, but in Japan it may be thought of as emblematic of a young woman’s charm. While a slim body is a prerequisite for beauty today, plump women were considered beautiful in Tang Dynasty China and Heian period Japan. Starting from around the twelfth century in China, bound feet symbolized the attractiveness of women. But Japan, which received sundry influences from China, never adopted foot-binding. Instead, shaving eyebrows and blackening teeth became markers of feminine beauty. Before modern times, neither Japanese nor Chinese paid much attention to double eyelids, but in the course of the long twentieth century they became a standard for distinguishing beautiful from plain women. Thus, criteria of beauty greatly differ by era and culture, and therein lie many riddles.

Focusing on changing representations of beauty in Chinese and Japanese cultures, Cho Kyo, in The Search for the Beautiful Woman, attempts to clarify such riddles from the angle of comparative cultural history. Before modern times, Japanese culture was profoundly shaped by Chinese culture, and representations of feminine beauty too received continental influences. In considering Japanese representations of feminine beauty, the author examines literary and artistic sources scattered across historical materials and classical literary works.

Are There Universal Criteria for Beauty?

What constitutes a beautiful woman? Intrinsically, criteria vary greatly depending upon peoples and cultures. A woman thought of as a beauty in one culture may be considered plain in another. This is not normally in our consciousness. Rather, images of beauty are thought to be universal across all cultures. Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn gain worldwide fame as beauties, not simply in American eyes but in Asian and African eyes. But on what criteria?

Princess Shokushi from One Hundred Poets by Katsukawa Shunshō, Tokugawa, private collection.

Have universal standards for determining beauty emerged with the global reach of consumer culture and of the media? As products of multinational enterprises transcend national boundaries to spread worldwide, people of different races and nations have come to use the same cosmetics, and people of different skin colors and facial and bodily features have come to don similar fashions. As a result, the fact that different cultures have different standards of beauty was forgotten before we realized it.

In earlier epochs, different cultures shared no common conception of beauty. In ancient times, each culture held a different image of beautiful women. This was naturally so when cultures were widely different, say, between Western Europe and East Asia, but images were not identical even between closely connected cultures.

Both Chinese and Japanese are Mongoloid. Moreover, in pre-modern times China and Japan shared Confucian culture. Despite the fact that cultural ties between the two countries were extremely close, however, images of beauty in Edo Japan (1600-1868) and Qing China (1644-1911) were strikingly different. For example, while bound feet were a condition for female beauty in China, in Japan blackened teeth were considered beautiful.

At present, with the advance of globalization, the same commodities are not only distributed throughout the world but information easily transcends cultural walls. Boundary crossings represented by satellite television, film and the internet have greatly changed values and aesthetics of the non-Western world, but also of the Western world . . . such that the very categories of East and West, and perhaps North and South, are problematized. As American visual culture is being consumed at the global level, the Western sense of beauty inevitably penetrates today’s developing countries. But Chinese and Japanese conceptions of beauty have also, at various times, made their way across the globe through art, literature, film, commodities and communications.

Despite the rapidly advancing standardization of aesthetic sensibility, however, criteria of beauty have not necessarily become uniform. In Sichuan province, a young medical student from the Republic of Mali became acquainted with a Chinese woman. They fell in love and eventually married, the bridegroom staying on in China and becoming a doctor. A People’s Daily reporter who interviewed him asked: “Would you let us know the secret for winning a beauty like your wife?” “We Mali people have a completely different sense of beauty from yours. A person you regard as a beauty isn’t necessarily always beautiful in our eyes,” he said by way of preface before answering the reporter’s question.

The absence of universal standards for physical beauty was recognized early on along with the discovery of “the intercultural.” Ever since Darwin stated that “It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standard of beauty with respect to the human body,”1many researchers have made the same point. Claude Lévi-Strauss, who observed the body drawings of the Caduveo tribe in Brazil and described them in Tristes Tropiques, conjectured as to why many men belonging to other tribes came to settle and marry Caduveo women at Nalike: “Perhaps the facial and body paintings explain the attraction; at all events, they strengthen and symbolize it. The delicate and subtle markings, which are as sensitive as the lines of the face, and sometimes accentuate them, sometimes run counter to them, make the women delightfully alluring.”(2) When he wrote this, the aesthetics that greatly differed from Western sense of beauty did not shock his readers. In their daily lives, however, most people still believe that essential physical beauty exists universally.

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Impressions of Gaza by Noam Chomsky

In Asia, ethics, history, human rights, politics on May 20, 2013 at 18:53

From: Impressions of Gaza by Noam Chomsky, http://chomsky.info

Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

My initial impression, after a visit of several days, was amazement, not only at the ability to go on with life, but also at the vibrancy and vitality among young people, particularly at the university, where I spent much of my time at an international conference. But there too one can detect signs that the pressure may become too hard to bear. Reports indicate that among young men there is simmering frustration, recognition that under the US-Israeli occupation the future holds nothing for them. There is only so much that caged animals can endure, and there may be an eruption, perhaps taking ugly forms — offering an opportunity for Israeli and western apologists to self-righteously condemn the people who are culturally backward, as Mitt Romney insightfully explained.

Gaza has the look of a typical third world society, with pockets of wealth surrounded by hideous poverty. It is not, however, “undeveloped.” Rather it is “de-developed,” and very systematically so, to borrow the terms of Sara Roy, the leading academic specialist on Gaza. The Gaza Strip could have become a prosperous Mediterranean region, with rich agriculture and a flourishing fishing industry, marvelous beaches and, as discovered a decade ago, good prospects for extensive natural gas supplies within its territorial waters.

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Reposted with permission from: Noam Chomsky

La Nouvelle Trahison des Clercs by George Monbiot

In academia, ethics, politics, society, universities on May 19, 2013 at 19:00

From: La Nouvelle Trahison des Clercs: When scholars sell out, the consequences are grave by George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com

In 1927 the French philosopher Julien Benda published a piercing attack on the intellectuals of his day. They should, he argued in La Trahison des Clercs (the treason of the scholars) act as a check on popular passions(1). Civilisation, he claimed, is possible only if intellectuals stand in opposition to the demands of political “realism” by upholding universal principles. “Thanks to the scholars,” Benda maintained, “humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honoured good.” Europe might have been lying in the gutter, but it was looking at the stars.

But those ideals, he argued, had been lost. Europe was now lying in the gutter, looking in the gutter. The “immense majority” of intellectuals, artists and clergy had joined “the chorus of hatreds”: nationalism, racism, the worship of power and war. In doing so, they justified and magnified political passions. Across Europe, scholars on both the left and the right had become “ready to support in their own countries the most flagrant injustices”, to abandon universal principles in favour of national exceptionalism and to proclaim “the supreme morality of violence”. He quoted the French anarcho-syndicalist Georges Sorel, who eulogised “the superb blond beast wandering in search of prey and carnage”.

I’m not suggesting an equivalence between those times and these. I’m summarising Benda to highlight a general principle: the need for a disinterested class of intellectuals which acts as a counterweight to prevailing mores. Racism, nationalism and war are only three of the many hazards to which society is exposed if that challenge should fail: if, that is, most scholars side with the soldiers or the sellers.

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Reposted with permission from: George Monbiot

Hunting number 113 by Philip Ball

In history of science, politics, research, science on May 19, 2013 at 18:48

From: Hunting number 113 by Philip Ball, Homunculus, http://philipball.blogspot.ca

The periodic table of the elements just got a new member. At least, maybe it did – it’s hard to tell. Having run out of new elements to discover, scientists have over the past several decades been making ‘synthetic’ atoms too bloated to exist in nature. But this is increasingly difficult as the atoms get bigger, and the new element recently claimed by a Japanese group – currently known simply as element 113, its serial order in the periodic table – is frustratingly elusive. These artificial elements are made and detected literally an atom at a time, and the researchers claim only to have made three atoms in total of element 113, all of which undergo radioactive decay almost instantly.

That, and competition from teams in the United States and Russia, makes the claim controversial. The first group to sight a new element enjoys the privilege of naming it, an added spur to the desire to be first. Just as in the golden years of natural-element discovery in the nineteenth century, element-naming tends to be nationalistic and chauvinistic. No one could begrudge Marie and Pierre Curie their polonium, the element they discovered in 1989 after painstakingly sifting tonnes of uranium ore, which they named after Marie’s homeland. But the recent naming of element 114 ‘flerovium’ – after the founder of the Russian institute where it was made – and element 116 ‘livermorium’, after the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where it originated, display rather more concern for bragging than for euphony.

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball

Ferryman by Daniel Bosch

In books, classics, poetry, writers on May 19, 2013 at 18:32

From: Ferryman by Daniel Bosch, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

When his second book of poems, Strangers, came out in 1983, after a 23-year silence, and David Ferry stood on the shore of its accomplishment, the doyen of Akkadian studies at Harvard, Bill Moran, gave him an assignment: translate the epic of Gilgamesh. When the hero of the poem, a stranger, approaches Urshànabi, the ferryman without whose guidance he could never cross the waters of death, Gilgamesh must retell the ferryman the story of the grief that is written on his face and body. The story serves to establish the hero’s identity, and his need, but it is also necessary because the retelling of stories is one of the things an epic must do — one of the things a hero does.

So it came to be that David Ferry, who cannot read cuneiform, an English professor and a stranger in the land of Ancient Near East Studies, gave a voice, his voice, to the ferryman Urshànabi. Bill Moran and David Ferry became ever-faster friends as Ferry worked on his assignment. Like Urshànabi, whose fate it was to move back and forth across a body of water, and who became, at a crucial moment, Gilgamesh’s life-coach, Moran helped his stranger-friend to reach Utnapishtim, from whom he might seek the secret of immortality and balm for grief. And like heroic Gilgamesh, Ferry succeeded, coming across with a beautiful rendering of the Akkadian epic, one strong enough to establish his claim to the name of translator, bearer of works across waters, bearer of works across time.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Against Prison by Thomas Rodham

In ethics, philosophy, politics, society on May 13, 2013 at 21:51

From: Against Prison by Thomas Rodham, New English Review, http://www.newenglishreview.org

Prison time is a very severe punishment. JS Mill likened it to being consigned to a living tomb.* Any society that employs it should do so with care and restraint. Yet we do not. Partly because we think that prison is a humane punishment, it is drastically over-used in many countries, to the point of cruelty. Aside from failing in humanity, prison does not even perform well at the specific functions of a criminal justice system, namely, deterrence, retribution, security, and rehabilitation. We need to reconsider our over-reliance on prison, and reconsider whether other types of punishment, even capital and corporal punishment, may sometimes be more effective and more humane.

We should recognize the failures of our moral imagination that lead us to overuse prison time as a punishment. Because prison is such a severe punishment, excessive use of it is unjust. Millions of people are serving unjustifiably long sentences in living tombs as a result of our inability to take prison seriously. Our criminal justice systems should be much more restrained in their use of prison as punishment, and much more insulated from popular demands for excessive sentences. Society at large has a responsibility to think harder about how very severe a punishment prison is, and to support such reforms. A more generous and rigorous approach to rehabilitation, perhaps incorporating forms of restorative justice, seems particularly important for a society that wants to call itself civilized.

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Reposted with permission from: New English Review

From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter

In architecture, astronomy, ecology, nature, North America, photography, space on May 13, 2013 at 21:43

From: From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

In October 1969, at the height of the irrational fears about the imminent detonation of the population bomb, about one hundred hippies assembled in the San Francisco Bay area to stage a “hunger show,” a week-long period of total fasting. The event was inspired by a hashish-induced vision that had come to the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, when reading Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb. The goal was to personally experience the bodily pain of those who suffer from famine and to issue a warning about the mass starvations predicted for the 1970s. From the outset, the lofty intentions conflicted with a more dreary reality. Originally, the communal fasting was to be held inside an inflatable, one-hundred-by-one-hundred-foot polyethylene pillow. The structure, dubbed Liferaft Earth, was designed by Charlie Tilford, a graduate student in engineering at Columbia University, and the participants were to live exclusively within it for the duration of the fast. But the organizers could neither secure a prominent site nor a permit for the innovative shell, which was deemed to be a fire risk, and so the event took place instead in a motel parking lot in the city of Hayward. There, a four-foot-high inflatable wall delineated a compound within which those who were fasting camped. The press and the curious lingered outside the wall, joined by the occasional participant who could no longer bear the hunger pangs, made worse by the temptations of a nearby Chinese restaurant.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

Alternative to Wikileaks Arises in Iceland by Lowana Veal

In Europe, information, internet, media, politics on May 13, 2013 at 21:16

From: Alternative to Wikileaks Arises in Iceland by Lowana Veal, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

With the imprisonment of Bradley Manning and detainment of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks is effectively on hold. But that does not mean that leaks and whistleblowing activities have stopped.

The Associated Whistle-blowing Press (AWP) seeks to provide impartial news based on wikileaks’ raw data. Credit: Bradley Manning Support Network/CC-BY-SA-2.0 GlobaLeaks lists a large number of leak sites, which are active to different degrees. Soon The Associated Whistleblowing Press (AWP) will be added to the list.

Iceland may seem a strange place to house a whistleblowing service, but Noel says one of the main reasons for the decision is the Iceland Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) parliamentary resolution that was passed unanimously in 2010 by the Icelandic Althingi (parliament) with the aim of giving safe space to whistleblowers and investigative journalists.

The resolution also wants the Althingi to introduce a new legislative regime to protect and strengthen freedom of expression, allowing Iceland to become an international transparency haven.

Initiated by activist and parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, the IMMI resolution pulls together the best sections of transparency legislation from all over the world. To become law, it now has to be put through the legislative process. This has suffered some setbacks, but is progressing slowly.

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

Africa Shining by Anjan Sundaram

In Africa, Asia, ecology, economics, ethics, politics on May 11, 2013 at 19:35

From: Africa Shining: Can India compete with China in an emerging Africa? by Anjan Sundaram, The Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in

… Fifteen years ago, Africa, and particularly its troubled centre, was seen almost exclusively as an exotic high-risk investment destination for the brave and adventurous, for those with privileged connections to Africa’s dictatorships and large pools of capital to risk. Most investors had all but forsaken central Africa after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide killed more than 800,000 people in three months.

But the economic interest in Africa has lately become intense. It is now routinely described as the continent of the future: by some measures it is soon to be the world’s fastest growing region, with a large and rapidly expanding consumer base—its middle class is now estimated to be larger than India’s—and an abundance of rich mineral deposits.

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan

Neo – Humanism by Roland Benedikter

In ethics, humanities, information science, philosophy, research, science, society on May 11, 2013 at 19:15

From: Neo-Humanism by Roland Benedikter, The European: The Transhumanist Delusion, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

Technological changes have turned discussions about human self-perception from a peripheral topic into a substantive one. Our conditio humana, that which we have thus far embraced as the essence of human identity, is being put into question. For example, neurotechnologies of the newest generation aim to increase human freedom by transcending established boundaries of human capability. They do so by entering into our own flesh and blood: Brain implants have made it possible to link man and machine at the neural level and have produced simple patterns of neural-technological interaction. Some advocates harbor the ultimate hope of constructing a system of interactivity on a global level: It promises universal agency without the need to even get up from our chair.

While we can measure the degree to which technologies transcend physical and physiological boundaries, we can merely speculate about the ethical consequences of these developments and about their effect on human self-perception. The merging of human consciousness and technology changes not only the latter, but also the former. And the question is whether technology will become more human in the long run, or whether humans will become more technical.

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Reposted with permission from: The European

Philosophometry by Justin E. H. Smith

In books, information, philosophy, research, theory on May 11, 2013 at 19:06

From: Philosophometry by Justin E. H. Smith, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

I may have mentioned already that I am in the beginning stages of a massively ambitious, multi-year project: I have been asked to write a very long, but not nearly long enough, book called A Global History of Philosophy, to 1750. The manuscript is due in 2017.

In the era of Wikipedia (and we will be much deeper into that era by 2017) we seriously need to rethink the purpose of presenting facts to readers at all. How can I write a book that relates the global history of philosophy, and at the same time provides readers something that online, collaborative information sources cannot? Again, one option is to offer the sort of idiosyncratic interpretation that one is allowed to have as the author of a book, rather than of an encyclopedia entry, but as I’ve already said, the Russellian danger there is one that I also wish to avoid. One possible way I’ve been considering to navigate a path that steers clear of both Russell and Wikipedia is what I’ve started thinking of as ‘philosophometry’ (check Google; you heard it here first!), but which might also perhaps be called ‘quantitative metaphilosophy’.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

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