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Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson (a.k.a. RAX) by Philippe Theophanidis

In art, documentary, environment, Europe, photography on June 28, 2013 at 21:48

From: Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson (a.k.a. RAX) by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net Ragnar Axelsson website: http://www.rax.is/

Last Days of the Arctic, Photos © Ragnar Axelsson, www.RAX.is 2010.

The (above) photo was shot in the small town of Ittoqortoormit (sometimes spelled Illoqqortoormiut), the only permanent settlement in the region of Scoresby Sund. This geographical region is a fjord system on the East coast of Greenland and is said to be the largest fjord system in the world (see Archaeology and Environment in the Scoresby Sund Fjord, p. 7). In 2012, the total population of Ittoqqortoormiit was 477 habitants (see Statistics Greenland: “Population in towns and settlements July 1.st”). The town is located on the 70th parallel north. As a mean of comparison, the Arctic Circle begins at the 66th parallel north (see Wikipedia). The farthest north I have ever lived was on the 55th parallel. Ragnar Axelsson has said of this dog: “He stood up, shook the snow off, then lay down and let the snow cover him again.” (LENS: “Showcase: Black and Very White” December 7, 2009; photo no. 9). In an email exchange with him, I asked about the context in which this photograph was taken. He provided the following, additional details (I added the link): The photograph was taken in a blizzard. The glacier storms in Greenland are called Piteraq and can be so strong that houses are sometimes blown away. It has not happened for many years. … Ragnar Axelsson, also known as RAX, is a renowned, award-winning freelance photographer born in Iceland in 1958. He has been documenting the vanishing lifestyles of various Arctic communities for the past 30 years. Here’s what he has to say about Greenland in particular: Greenland, the biggest Island in the world, is a pearl with harsh elements. Inuites have been there for more than 4.000 years living on the land. In the old days Inuites where living in igloos and small cabins made of stones. It was a struggle for food everyday; hunting birds, fish, whales, seals, walruses and polar bears. Every single part of the hunted animal was being used. Skin for clothing, meat was eaten. The old hunting tradition is fading away as new posibilities in the modern world are taking over. (source: Fotopub.com) … Born and raised near a glacier in Iceland, he has seen the effects of global warming, both at home and in his trips. “One can definitely see it when travelling to the same places, 5 or 10 years later. The landscape is constantly changing. I did not realize the effects at first, I just wanted to go and shoot beautiful photos. I wanted to go where nobody had gone, challenging the cold, the distances and the weather. So many photographers just want to sit around in Africa, naked in the sun,” he joked. Read the post Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

In Europe, Featured, human rights, interview, poetry, writers on June 28, 2013 at 21:28

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 interview and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured: The Holocaust & Reconciliation: Poetry may salve the wounds that have refused to heal, An Interview with Thomas Orszag-Land

The wounds inflicted by the Holocaust are still refusing to heal – but they are not the only burden of human rights abuse inherited by the 21st century. DAVID CUSCÓ I ESCUDERO, editor of the Catalan cultural magazine “El funàmbu”l (The Tightrope Walker) serving a country that endured unspeakable atrocities during the Spanish Civil War, questions THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND, a Jewish-Hungarian poet, translator and foreign correspondent, on his attempt to look beyond the Holocaust.

David: We are about to publish some of your Holocaust poetry in Catalan translation. We are also very interested in your English translations of outstanding Hungarian Holocaust poetry. Did you write them because you thought that the Holocaust could be fathomed only through literature since the basic facts of that crime were so huge and its premises so horrible that they could be described comprehensibly only in fiction? That would be just the opposite of Theodor Adorno’s dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” – although he later qualified that, after reading Paul Celan’s poetry.

Thomas: Adorno looked at Auschwitz and despaired. But humanity must look to its future, and cannot afford to despair. I recently attended a meeting of Holocaust survivors, old people who had looked evil in the face as young adults, somehow survived and dedicated their lives to warning the world against attempting such madness ever again. They agitate, they write, they lecture, especially to the young.

But they see that the very occurrence of the Holocaust is vociferously being denied by people who would like to repeat it. These aging witnesses know that they will be silenced soon by illness and death. They fear that, when they are gone, no-one will be left to defend the world against such renewed barbarity.

I do not fear that. I believe that, as Odysseus will sail the seven seas of imagination in Homer’s hexameters for the rest of history, so the passionate warnings of the Holocaust survivors will resound through the ages in the voices of the poets of our own time.

David: In your poem “Caution,” a child summons humanity from Auschwitz. He reminds me of Hurbinek, that unforgettable child in Primo Levi’s “The Truce” who mumbles instead of talking. Despite the pain conveyed by your poem, I sense a spark of optimism here, in the dignity of the child’s response to his own suffering… Is there, to you, room for optimism after the Holocaust?

Thomas: Probably the most important thought in that poem is “hold up your head… while you’ve got it.” It radiates optimism even beyond death. I did not invent that. I found it in a surviving poetic fragment from a slave-labour camp. I’ve just managed to identify its author as Jaroslav Ježek (not the composer of that name), to whom the poem is now dedicated.

Primo Levi and Paul Celan both committed suicide after the Holocaust, perhaps because they saw no room left for decency, let alone optimism, after Auschwitz. Both turned to poetry to shout out their astounded grief and rage at their incomprehensible humiliation and abuse at the hands of the Nazis, for which they had been totally unprepared. But the subsequent generations are not unprepared. They are all survivors, and their enduring capacity for love and decency originates from within. Read the rest of this entry »

Blinded by Sight by Francis B. Nyamnjoh

In Africa, anthropology, research, society, sociology on June 28, 2013 at 19:24

From: Blinded by Sight: Divining the Future of Anthropology in Africa by Francis B. Nyamnjoh, Africa Spectrum, http://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/giga/afsp/index

Using the metaphor of the elephant and the three blind men, this paper discusses some elements of the scholarly debate on the postcolonial turn in academia, in and of Africa, and in anthropology in particular. It is a part of the context in which anthropology remains unpopular among many African intellectuals. How do local knowledge practices take up existential issues and epistemological perspectives that may interrogate and enrich more global transcultural debates and scholarly reflexivity? Many an anthropologist still resists opening his or her mind up to life-worlds unfolding themselves through the interplay between everyday practice and the manifold actions and messages of humans, ancestors and non-human agents in sites of emerging meaning-production and innovative world-making. African anthropologists seeking recognition find themselves contested or dismissed by fellow anthropologists for doing “native”, “self” or “insider” anthropology, and are sometimes accused of perpetuating colonial epistemologies and subservience by fellow African scholars who are committed to scholarship driven by the need to valorise ways of being and knowing endogenous to Africa. This essay calls on anthropologists studying Africa to reflect creative diversity and reflexivity in the conceptualisation and implementation of research projects, as well as in how they provide for co-production, collaboration and co-implication within anthropology across and beyond disciplines.

Francis B. Nyamnjoh is a professor of Anthropology and head of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town. He served as Director of Publications at CODESRIA from 2003-2009, and taught at universities in Cameroon and Botswana previously. His current research is funded by the NRF, SANPAD, WOTRO, Volkswagen Foundation, CODESRIA and UCT.

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Reposted with permission from: Africa Spectrum

Farmer-Philosopher Fred Kirschenmann on Food and the Warming Future by Peter Pearsall

In agriculture, ecology, interview, nature, North America, philosophy, society on June 23, 2013 at 21:15

From: Farmer-Philosopher Fred Kirschenmann on Food and the Warming Future by Peter Pearsall, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Farmer and philosopher Fred Kirschenmann has made it his life’s work to weave sustainability and resilience into the ever-changing agricultural landscape.

A world-renowned leader in sustainable agriculture and professor of religion and philosophy at Iowa State University, Kirschenmann is no stranger to practicing what he preaches. His 2,600-acre farmstead in North Dakota serves as a model for what’s possible on a mid-sized organic farm, showcasing the results of diverse crop rotation paired with soil remediation, and all of it done without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Kirschenmann decided to convert his farm to a wholly organic operation in 1976, after being introduced to the concept in the 1960s by one of his students. Crop yields sank initially, but five years of trial and error restored productivity and eventually boosted it. Today, he grows seven different grain crops—including winter rye, millet, and hard red spring wheat—on two-thirds of the land, while on the rest cattle graze on native prairie. The farm has been featured in such publications as National Geographic, BusinessWeek, Audubon, the LA Times, and Gourmet magazine.

As the Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, Kirschenmann travels across the country and the world to spread new ideas about land ethics, soil health, and biodiversity in agriculture. He is also an author, and the president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York.

Peter Pearsall: You’ve been called an “agri-intellectual” by Mother Jones writer Tom Philpott. What does that phrase mean to you?

Fred Kirschenmann: I think what Tom means by that is that I have put together a kind of vision for the food and agriculture system based on my own experience as a farmer, and my own efforts to anticipate the kinds of challenges we’re going to see in the future.

Peter: How has sustainable agriculture changed over the last 20 years?

Fred: For a long time, I think, there’s been two views on sustainable agriculture. In the first one, the aim is to increase or intensify what we’ve done in the past. There is some effort to reduce the negative impacts of conventional agriculture—such as reducing chemical inputs, soil erosion, and negative effects on water quality—but there is still the goal of maximizing production for short-term economic returns. That particular view looks at it like, “We’ve been so successful in increasing the yields of our crops and we’ve saved the lives of billions of people. Therefore we’re going to use the new technology to keep doing that, and intensify it even more.”

This older view says that the basic system of conventional agriculture was OK, but we needed to reduce our soil erosion, we needed to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals, we needed to improve our water quality. So we had to “green up” the system to make it sustainable.

“Simply intensifying agriculture in one part of the world to feed the rest of the world is not going to solve the problem.”

More recently—and I include myself in this school of thought—we’re recognizing that we’re going to have some significant challenges in the future, where we’re not going to have the resources to sustain the agriculture of the past. So we’re going to have to fundamentally redesign it. Our agriculture system in the past was based on cheap energy, it depended on surplus available fresh water, and it depended on a stable climate. None of those things are going to be there in the future.

So those of us who are thinking about the future are thinking about it more in terms of resilience.

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

Gardens and philosophy by Damon Young

In audio, nature, philosophy on June 23, 2013 at 20:59

From:  Gardens and philosophy by Damon Young – Presented by Phillip Adams, Late Night Live, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

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Damon Young, Writer and philosopher, Honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne

Damon Young explores what he calls ‘one of literature’s most intimate relationships: authors and their gardens’.

Listen to the broadcast

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Death & Data by Matthew Bulger

In copyright, government, information, information science, internet, society on June 23, 2013 at 20:45

From: Death & Data: What should the punishment be for a crime that’s often benign in nature and consequence? by Matthew Bulger, The Humanist. http://thehumanist.org

This past January Aaron Swartz, a brilliant young computer programmer and activist, committed suicide after apparently being harassed for over a year by federal prosecutors. Swartz, the twenty-six-year-old who helped develop the social news site Reddit and founded the Internet activist group Demand Progress, was a technological pioneer who cared as much about the next big digital breakthrough as he did about social justice.

Swartz was also very interested in how knowledge is shared in modern society, and how the concentration of knowledge behind pay-to-view barriers could cause entire segments of the population to be less educated and therefore less likely to succeed in an information-based economy. With this concern in mind, he set out to share a virtual treasure trove of academic articles from the online archive JSTOR. Swartz downloaded several million academic articles and, while he never actually published them online for anyone to see, he did receive an unwelcome visit from the government and several law enforcement agencies. Swartz was promptly charged with thirteen felony counts of hacking and wire fraud, charges that mandated decades in prison and some pretty monstrous fines.

It’s apparent now that the laws Swartz was accused of breaking are as draconian as they are obsolete. The most flawed is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which contains provisions that are just plain unworkable in our interconnected world. For example, the CFAA makes it illegal to gain access to computers or websites “without authorization” or in a manner that “exceeds authorized access.” Unfortunately, authorization is never really defined by the CFAA, and that ambiguity has allowed federal prosecutors to stretch the law in order to put more people in jail.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

On the composition of lasagna by Prolapsarian

In economy, Europe, history, politics, sociology, theory on June 19, 2013 at 19:33

From: On the composition of lasagna: A caprice on horses, abstraction, and the division of labour by Prolapsarian, http://prolapsarian.tumblr.com

The article was shared by Philippe Theophanidis (http://aphelis.net/) – Thank you!

“It is impossible to remain in a large German city where hunger forces the most wretched to live on the banknotes with which passers-by seek to cover an exposure that wounds them.” – Walter Benjamin[1]

“I could eat a horse.” A phrase once expressing hunger has recently been transformed into a contemplation you may mumble to yourself while considering what to pick up from the supermarket for dinner. Such a thought resounds with disgust, yet that disgust has, over the last weeks, remained unanalysed, or perhaps unsynthesised. It has remained merely an outburst. Where it has been thought about, the usual conclusion has been that it has something to do with the domestication of horses, the fact that they are the sort of animals we give names to, and that under the conditions of their domestication they are often treated by their owners as if they offer some kind of emotionally reciprocal relationship. Against this, I would like to suggest that the disgust that is felt at eating horses actually has rather less to do with the fact that they are pets than it has to do with feelings about the history of class, the production of food, and the experience of contemporary conditions of labour. In this sense, the feeling of disgust must be retained in its material specificity, but its texture must be understood as nebulous as it is abstracted through the history of concepts, only to find them insufficient, breaking apart, spiritually refracting, to return once again to whatever material they do not capture.

Hunger

From hour to hour the sting of hunger was increasing, and horse-flesh had become a delicacy. Dogs, cats, and rats were eagerly devoured. The women waited for hours in the cold and mud for a starvation allowance. For bread they got black grout, that tortured the stomach. Children died on their mothers’ empty breasts. […] At the end of December their privations began to open the eyes of the people.[2]

Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray’s stomach-churning words, written only a few years after his first-hand experience of the events, describe the conditions of life in Paris during the siege of 1870. The government, he tells us, had, “far from evacuating the superfluous mouths, crowded the 200,000 inhabitants of the suburbs into the town” before the whole of Paris was to be cut off by Bismarck’s troops.

The passage, in its images of misery and horror, expresses the proximity of hunger to the historic eating of horse. It is with the word “delicacy” that we shudder most, for it poses an unusual question: what can we find beautiful under the duress of starvation? Today, hunger remains proximate to this feeling of disgust, about which we have read so often in the last weeks. Horse has been found only in in frozen and processed meats. It has been discovered in food used to feed prisoners, and in school dinners produced for a pittance and available free to poorer families, in hospital food but also in value-ranges in supermarkets. Horse is held at once in opposition to hunger and to choice of eating something else which is unaffordable; horse has come to occupy that narrow ground of necessity.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Prolapsarian (Please share it! – https://twitter.com/Prolapsarian/status/305689879604498432)

The Cure for Loneliness by Vivian Gornick

In philosophy, social sciences, sociology, writers on June 19, 2013 at 19:13

From: The Cure for Loneliness by Vivian Gornick, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

In Fromm’s view, humanity was always trading freedom for the comfort of external authority.

Fromm’s thesis in Escape from Freedom was a simple one and, like Freud before him, he did not hesitate to use the conventions of mythic storytelling to make it vivid for the educated layperson. In Freud’s case the story derived from the classics; in Fromm’s, from Genesis (don’t forget those Talmudic studies). Human beings, he argued, were at one with nature until they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, whereupon they evolved into animals endowed with the ability to consciously reason and to feel. From then on they were creatures apart, no longer at one with a universe they had long inhabited on an equal basis with other dumb animals. For the human race, the gifts of thought and emotion created both the glory of independence and the punishment of isolation; on the one hand the dichotomy made the race proud, on the other hand lonely. The loneliness proved our undoing. It so perverted our instincts that we became strangers to ourselves—the true meaning of alienation—and thus unable to feel kinship with others.

Ironically, though, for each of these thinkers, it was the exercise of the very powers that had brought about our downfall that alone could release human beings from the imprisonment of such separateness. If men and women learned to occupy their own conscious selves, fully and freely, they would find that they were no longer alone: they would have themselves for company. Once one had company one could feel benign toward others.

This, Fromm said, was the only solution to the problem of the alienated individual in relation to the modern world. The only thing that could save humanity from its own soul-destroying loneliness was the individual’s ability to inhabit what came to be known as the “authentic” self. If you achieved authenticity, you would be rewarded with the inner peace necessary to become a free agent who is happy to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

Apologies by Michael Bavidge

In philosophy, politics, religion, sociology on June 19, 2013 at 19:04

From: Apologies: Notes on the Philosophy of Asking Forgiveness by Michael Bavidge, The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXVIII No. 2, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

Apologies are other-directed in a strong sense. Apologizing is something we do. And what we do is directed at another person. There are other morally important actions, states of mind and feelings which have a relation to other people, but which are not directly interactive. Shame, for example, relates to others. But that does not make it dialogical in the same way as apologies, confessions or guilty pleas. What are the elements of an apology understood in this sense?

The Greek word apologia means a defence or justification, offering defensive arguments, making excuses. Socrates’ Apology or Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Mea are apologies in this sense. But in modern usage an apology, at least a good apology, requires the suppression of pleas and excuses. The OED defines apology as a frank acknowledgement, by way of reparation, of offence given, or an explanation of that offence as not intended, with expression of regret for any offence given or taken. This suits well enough though it implies, but does not quite say, that an apology is offered by a person who has committed an offence to the person offended.

Another way to look at it is to say that apologies can be distinguished from other related but different activities. For example, an apology is not a confession. You can confess your faults to anyone who is prepared to listen, but you can apologize only to the one you have harmed. There is a website called Joeapology. It is an amusing and interesting site, but it is misnamed. It should be called Joeconfession. Its mission statement acknowledges the point: JoeApology.com is a site where people can freely and anonymously post their apologies. Think of it as a confessional of sorts (without the religious ties, that is). Are you feeling sorry about something you did? Do you want to get something off your chest? Go on, tell me about it…and remember, it’s completely anonymous. Just post your apology, no matter how big or small, and you’ll feel so much better. I promise. -Joe Apology [see box below]

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

Forget 1984 and Conspiracy Stories by Federico Pistono

In information, internet, politics, privacy, society, technology on June 17, 2013 at 19:53

From: Forget 1984 and Conspiracy Stories, This is the Real Thing by Federico Pistono, IEET, http://ieet.org

Imagine… A world where whistleblowers who expose the government’s overwhelming deceit, corruption, illegality, and brutality are put in solitary confinement for 1,000 days—and tortured—without a trial, by that same powerful government. A world where legal boundaries for the power establishments are becoming thinner and thinner, where people can be put in indefinite detention without a trial; and immensely powerful governments can get away with obscene acts of torture, with little to no consequences at all. A world where corporations and governments track our every move without us even knowing.

Such a dystopic future would put Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World to shame. But it is in fact the world we live in today, whether we realise it or not.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, and thousands of other tech companies are offering their services ‘free of charge’, but not for free. You are the product. Specifically, your information is; and as technology advances, this information will become more and more personal. Given the rate of change in technology, it’s very likely that in 15 years we will have ubiquitous computing, smart objects and sensors connected to the Internet that collect and report everything they see and hear, maybe even neural implants that access some of our thoughts.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Artifice v. Pastoral by Jay Griffiths

In community, ecology, economy, environment on June 17, 2013 at 19:34

From: Artifice v. Pastoral by Jay Griffiths, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

I asked one Inuit woman how she felt about the land. “I remember it was beautiful,” she said wistfully. The land was still there, a few yards from her door, thousands of miles of land as wide and beautiful as it ever had been but she was weirdly—artificially—alienated from it. Not so the elders, traveling by boat, Ski-doo, or dog-teams. They knew how to hunt, they knew the language of the land, those dozens of distinct words for snow and ice, on which your life may depend. They cherished the freedom of the land, that non-negotiable authenticity.

The elders are less confident of their knowledge now, because of climate change; I was told of an elder who went through the ice and drowned in a place where it never would have happened before. We’re north of everywhere, they say, and the first to feel these changes. “I’m the last man standing, so be careful with me,” says one, in elliptical vulnerability.

Climate collapse has weird echoes of the financial collapse of recent months, and at the core of both is what I’d call the Politics of Artifice. Perverse and cruel, it is an almost unexamined ideology, one which commits itself to the primacy of the fake and declares war on all that is natural.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Art and the Cultural Turn by Irmgard Emmelhainz

In art, culture, politics, society on June 17, 2013 at 19:25

From: Art and the Cultural Turn: Farewell to Committed, Autonomous Art? by Irmgard Emmelhainz, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Nowadays, artists’ voices are thought to be important in giving shape to society, and art is considered to be useful. Moreover, the state, the private sector and society attribute to art a decisive political role as on the one hand, they invest in culture with the purpose generating political and economic surplus value. On the other hand, art and cultural practices are now part of the same network of strategies and questions as social movements are (this space is known as the “Infosphere”). In a context in which the creative, political, and mediatic fields are intrinsically linked, contemporary cultural practices point toward a new social order in which art has merged with life, privileging lived experience, collective communication and performative politics. In turn, the commodification of culture and its use as a resource—as well as the fusion of art, politics, and media—have had a significant impact in the way in which capitalist economies operate. A consequence has been the predominance of immaterial or cognitive labor over industrial production. Not to say that industrial production has ceased to exist, on the contrary, it has increased more than ever and for the most part it has been transferred to third-world countries. The prevalence of cognitive or immaterial work in contemporary capitalism implies that the main source of surplus value is the production and dissemination of signs. In other words,“creative’ work” has been injected to all areas of economic life. Immaterial labor also means the production of social life as lifestyles, and forms of life—a new form of the common at the center of which culture is located.1

In this context, the production of contemporary art, as Brian Kuan Wood and Anton Vidokle pointed out, has been foreclosed by a network of protocols dictating the forms and means of production of art circulating in exhibitions, galleries, biennials, and fairs. And while artists may address exhibition politics as a theme in their work, they are limited in terms of producing something outside of the consensual barriers placed on exhibition politics. This is due to the existence of a systemic enclosure which extends well beyond the consensus of the art world: art is fused with political sensibilities that exploit art’s diplomatic potential, as these political sensibilities consider culture to be a form of social capital, a resource. Thus, a lot of money is put into play.2 Under these conditions, is there any room left for autonomous, committed art?3

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Human Trafficking in the Western Hemisphere

In human rights, law, North America, society, sociology, South America on June 12, 2013 at 08:37

From: Human Trafficking in the Western Hemisphere: A Special Online Edition of COHA’s Washington Report on the Hemisphere by Research Associates Gabriela Garton, Suncica Habul,Darya Vakulenko, Aleia Walker, Kathleen Bacon and Jade Vasquez, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, http://www.coha.org

Marita Verón: A Catalyst in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking in Argentina

On April 3, 2002, twenty-three year-old Marita Verón was kidnapped in the northeastern Argentine province of Tucumán. Marita’s mother, Susana Trimarco, has been looking for her ever since. Ms. Trimarco’s relentless search has not only raised wide scale awareness for a nation previously ignorant of its brutal and growing sex trafficking industry but has also led to significant advances in anti-human trafficking legislation in Argentina. Even though the nation has progressed considerably in the struggle against this modern form of slavery, Argentina still has much room for improvement, especially as it faces major corruption and cooperation issues.

By: Research Associate Gabriela Garton

Guyana’s Unacceptable Stance on Human Trafficking

Guyana is a major source country for the trafficking of men, women, and children in the prostitution and forced labor industries — an illegal business widely characterized as a form of modern-day slavery. In order to understand the magnitude of the human trafficking problem in Guyana, one must identify the groups that are most vulnerable while considering how the Guyanese government has thus far tried, and failed, to address the issue.

By: Research Associate Suncica Habul

Closer to Home: Human Trafficking in the USA

As the self-anointed human trafficking police force, the United States has often forgotten to trafficking is a major issue within its own borders. Recent examples of child sex trafficking just outside the nation’s capital have led the country to reconsider the complicated definition of human trafficking and the stereotyping of victims.

By: Research Associate Darya Vakulenko

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Reposted with permission from: COHA

The Weaver’s Dance: Briana Blasko by Karolle Rabarison

In art, Asia, culture, photography on June 12, 2013 at 08:29

From: The Weaver’s Dance: Briana Blasko by Karolle Rabarison, The Morning News, http://www.themorningnews.org/gallery/the-weavers-dance

In 1995, San Francisco-born Briana Blasko transplanted to New York City, where she earned a BFA in Photography from Tisch School of the Arts while working at the Annie Leibovitz Studio. Her photographs have appeared in Dance Magazine, the New York Times, India Perspectives, and numerous other publications. These days, Blasko is based in New Delhi and documents textile and dance throughout India.

Briana Blasko:

I have been working as a photographer for 13 years with a specialization in dance photography for the past 9 years. Frequent trips to India since 2003 have informed the conception of this book project through a deep appreciation for the arts and crafts of Indian textiles and dance. For over three and half years, I visited dance schools and festivals across India to research various forms of classical, folk, and tribal dances. Simultaneously, I visited weaving villages in these states to document the costumes and textiles used by the dancers.

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Reposted with permission from: Morning News

 

 

Living Without An Afterlife by Doug Muder

In humanities, philosophy, religion, society on June 12, 2013 at 08:18

From: Living Without An Afterlife by Doug Muder, the new Humanism, http://www.thenewhumanism.org

The unspoken questions. The first time my father realized that I wasn’t expecting us to meet again in Heaven, he asked: “So you think we just die and that’s it, like animals?”

He said “like animals” as if it were obvious to any five-year-old that animals have no souls. I was fascinated by that assumption. But then I thought about who I was talking to. Dad has been a farmer all his life. He has killed, seen killed, or sent to be killed countless chickens, pigs, and cattle. And yet, I don’t believe he has ever murdered a human being.

Why is it OK to kill animals but not people? That’s an important question for any meat-eating farm culture. My father’s Christianity answers by putting a great metaphysical gulf between animals and humans: We have eternal souls and they don’t.

Meaning and the afterlife. The inevitability of death throws a monkey wrench into our stories. Usually our short-term stories get their meaning from the longer-term stories they fit into. Studying at 2 a.m. is meaningful because it’s part of the story where I ace tomorrow’s test. But the test is only meaningful as part of the longer-term story where I pass the class. And that matters because of the story where I get my degree, and so on.

But what if the longest-term story I can tell is the one where I die? Doesn’t that undercut all the others?

Because I might die at any moment, the stories I think I am in the middle of may never conclude in any satisfactory way. And even if my life is not cut off prematurely, then eventually I arrive at decrepitude and senility. What kind of climax is that?

So you see the problem. It’s not just that I will die. As I said at the beginning: That’s easy; everybody does it. But given that I am going to die, how can I tell the story of my life in a way that engages me and motivates me and gives me a sense of meaning?

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Reposted with permission from: the new Humanism

Emancipation of the Sign by Franco Berardi Bifo

In art, economics, languages, philosophy, poetry on June 6, 2013 at 20:38

From:  Emancipation of the Sign: Poetry and Finance During the Twentieth Century by Franco Berardi Bifo, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com/

Money and language have something in common: they are nothing and yet they move everything. They are nothing but symbols, conventions, flatus vocis, but they have the power to persuade human beings to act, to work, and to transform physical things:

Money makes things happen. It is the source of action in the world and perhaps the only power we invest in. Perhaps in every other respect, in every other value, bankruptcy has been declared, giving money the power of some sacred deity, demanding to be recognized. Economics no longer persuades money to behave. Numbers cannot make the beast lie down and be quiet or sit up and do tricks. Thus, as we suspected all along, economics falsely imitates science. At best, economics is a neurosis of money, a symptom contrived to hold the beast in abeyance … Thus economics shares the language of psychopathology, inflation, depression, lows and heights, slumps and peaks, investments and losses, and economy remains caught in manipulations of acting stimulated or depressed, drawing attention to itself, egotistically unaware of its own soul. Economists, brokers, accountants, financiers, all assisted by lawyers, are the priests of the cult of money, reciting their prayers to make the power of money work without imagination.1

Financial capitalism is based on the autonomization of the dynamics of money, but more deeply, on the autonomization of value production from the physical interaction of things.

The passage from the industrial abstraction of work to the digital abstraction of world implies an immaterialization of the labor process.

Jean Baudrillard proposed a general semiology of simulation based on the premise of the end of referentiality, in the economic as well as the linguistic field. In Le miroir de la production (1973), Baudrillard writes: “In this sense need, use value and the referent ‘do not exist.’ They are only concepts produced and projected into a generic dimension by the development of the very system of exchange value.”2′

But the analogy between economy and language should not mislead us: although money and language have something in common, their destinies do not coincide, as language exceeds economic exchange. Poetry is the language of non-exchangeability, the return of infinite hermeneutics, and the return of the sensuous body of language.

I’m talking of poetry here as an excess of language, as a hidden resource which enables us to shift from one paradigm to another.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

A Renaissance in Economics by Simon Mee

In academia, economics, North America, social sciences, universities on June 6, 2013 at 20:23

From: A Renaissance in Economics by Simon Mee, Adbusters, https://www.adbusters.org

For, in its current form, the economics curriculum at Oxford and other Anglo-Saxon universities is far too detached from reality. Demand curves, utility maximization equations and abstract mathematical models serve only to distort the worldview of undergraduate students.

Why does this matter? It is simple. Oxford in particular has a firm grip on the British establishment. These bright young things will soon be entering the top echelons of corporate, finance and government circles. And as soon as they step into those offices, the same tired way of thinking about economics will perpetuate.

Oxford University has a proud history. Look at the origins of Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE), for instance, a course that schooled generations of leading politicians. The course traces its origins back to 1920, a time when economics was studied closely alongside its two brothers, politics and philosophy. Now, however, PPE students study the subject in complete isolation. There is little, if any, overlap with its erstwhile siblings.

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Reposted with permission from: Adbusters

A Heart That Can Endure by Nadia Sels

In anthropology, philosophy, society on June 6, 2013 at 20:07

From: A Heart That Can Endure: Blumenberg’s Anthropology of Solace by Nadia Sels, Image & Narrative, http://www.imageandnarrative.be/index.php/imagenarrative/index

In his essay “Trostbedürfnis und Untröstlichkeit des Menschen”, Hans Blumenberg discusses the philosophical and anthropological importance of the concept of consolation. Man, he claims, is the only animal whose pain can be caused or taken away by what is ultimately a fiction. This article resumes and comments upon the main argument of this text and situates it in the context of Blumenberg’s broader view on man as an animal symbolicum, and more particularly his theory on the “absolutism of reality”. It concludes with an inquiry into the link between consolation and human creativity in both word and image.

Blumenberg starts out by referring to Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae and draws attention to its peculiar premise: that philosophy should provide not so much truth but rather consolation – that what enables us to bear the unbearable. It is our relation to this enigmatic category, Blumenberg argues, that distinguishes us from other animals, even more so than our potential for rationality. He also immediately points out that there is a certain tension between these two human capacities. “Seeking or offering comfort is sometimes contemptible,” he immediately adds: “It appears as a mentality of faulty realism, since solace exactly consists in the fact that one believes that nothing can be changed about the way things are, and therefore abandons all attempts to do so” (“Trostbedürfnis” 623) Comfort indeed can be associated with escapism and fatalism, and this is probably particularly true for recent times, in which the prevailing neoliberal discourse propagates the idea that in all circumstances we are, and should be, in full control of our lives: problems ought to be seen as ‘challenges’ to be ‘met’, we have to ‘move on’, ‘look forward’, ‘be flexible’. Like a somewhat embarrassing physical problem, the need for consolation is not something we tend to discuss in public, and it is indeed difficult to even repeatedly use the word without sounding a bit corny.
Blumenberg however explicitly distances himself from this idea of the need for solace as a sign of personal weakness by approaching it as an anthropological constant, a category intrinsically bound up with the peculiarity of the human species. For this he quotes a diary fragment of Georg Simmel that puts the finger on the reason why consolation is distinctive to mankind, and at the same time points out its paradoxical nature:

The concept of consolation has a much broader, deeper meaning than we usually attribute to it. Man is a being who seeks to be consoled. Consolation is something other than help – even the animal seeks the latter; but consolation is the strange experience which lets suffering remain but, so to speak, abolishes the suffering from suffering. It does not concern the evil cause but its reflex in the deepest part of the soul. (625, cit. from Simmel 17)5

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Reposted with permission from: Image & Narrative

A Graceful Exit: Taking Charge at the End of Life by Claudia Rowe

In ethics, medicine, philosophy, sociology, technology on June 4, 2013 at 01:02

From: A Graceful Exit: Taking Charge at the End of Life. How can we break the silence about what happens when we’re dying? by Claudia Rowe, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Despite our myriad technological advances, the final stages of life in America still exist as a twilight purgatory where too many people simply suffer and wait, having lost all power to have any effect on the world or their place in it. No wonder we’re loathe to confront this. The Patient Self-Determination Act, passed in 1990, guarantees us the right to take some control over our final days by creating advance directives like the one my mother made me sign, yet fewer than 50 percent of patients have done so. This amazes me.

“We have a death taboo in our country,” says Barbara Coombs Lee, whose advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, pushed Washington and Oregon to pass laws allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication for the terminally ill. “Americans act as if death is optional. It’s all tied into a romance with technology, against accepting ourselves as mortal.”

It’s hardly surprising that medical personnel would drive this reexamination of our final days. Coombs Lee, who spent 25 years as a nurse and physician’s assistant, considers her current advocacy work a form of atonement for the misery she visited on terminal patients in the past—forcing IV tubes into collapsed veins, cracking ribs open for heart resuscitation.

“I had one elderly patient who I resuscitated in the I.C.U., and he was livid,” she says. “He shook his fist at me, ‘Barbara, don’t you ever do that again!’ We made a deal that the next time it happened we would just keep him comfortable and let him go, and that’s what we did.”

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun

In Asia, ecology, economy, environment, government, human rights, information, politics, science on June 3, 2013 at 21:19

From: Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

Sitting with Ma in his office last year, I asked him to talk about the remarkable 20-year career that propelled him to the forefront of China’s environmental movement.

Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.”

He took me back to 1992, the year Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour to open southeastern cities to commerce. China remained closed in many ways but Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.” He was a fresh journalism graduate from the University of International Relations and had landed a position as a researcher and translator in the Beijing office of the South China Morning Post, later working his way up to office manager. At the paper he found himself immersed in every kind of issue and story.

While working as a journalist Ma came to realize that China was in an environmental crisis. He had grown up learning the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu, poets who spoke of China’s lakes, rivers, and land in lyrical, beautiful images. “I grew up reading these books, knowing this landscape through the words of ancient literary giants. I had an image in my mind, but when I traveled—it was just so different.”

In 1994, he found himself at the Three Gorges Dam site covering the story for his paper. Ma was saddened to find that the trees had been clear cut, the river muddied and polluted. “Li Bai and Du Fu had both been so inspired by the landscape, by the gorge, by the torrential flow. When I saw the river, I felt such a big loss.”

When he traveled to Dongting Lake in 1996, he expected to find a place he knew from ancient literature as “vast and extremely pretty.” But when he got there, he “found that the lake during the dry season had been reduced to a few rivers. The degradation was just so obvious.”

And when he went to the Fen River in Shanxi province, Ma saw “streams coming out of different villages with different colors, representing different industries: copper green and iron red and iron brownish, and yellowish and reddish. And they all came together to form a very highly polluting flow, eventually ending up in the Yellow River.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley

In Asia, Europe, government, interview, North America, politics, religion on June 3, 2013 at 21:12

From: Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Pelin Tan: In Infinitely Demanding, you describe a distinction between active and passive nihilism. As I understand it, this description has a theological basis. You offer Al-Qaeda as an example of active nihilism. However, I have my doubts about this distinction. I think active nihilism cannot be explained in terms of local and specific conditions, since its meaning is based in Western epistemology. Do you think Western thought is capable of explaining oppositional radical movements such as Al-Qaeda by way of nihilism?

Simon Critchley: It is a question of the political uses of religion, or civil religion in the way Rousseau talks about it in The Social Contract. We could think of religion as ideology. My view is that things like class, ethnicity, and the rest are hugely important, but the question concerns how a polity such as a state acquires legitimacy and is able to motivate citizens to act on its behalf. And the answer to that question requires some understanding of civil religion. In The Social Contract Rousseau comes to the conclusion that politics requires a quasi-religious apparatus of rituals, including flags, national anthem, pledges of religions, and all the rest. Turkey is a very good example. Ataturk basically tried to invent a kind of civil religion using nationalism. So for me, all political units, especially states, justify themselves and try to motivate citizens by appealing to a form of civil religion. Here in the US, that works through the Constitution and the way constitutionality begins with an appeal to God—”In God We Trust.” And this becomes the basis for a political fight, the question of how the civic creed of the United States is to be interpreted. Does it justify a Republican or Democratic governmental order? Analogous situations exist elsewhere. The French elections took place last Sunday and France also has a civil religion, even though the country is purportedly secular.

PT: What is your opinion on the relationship between secularism and liberal democracy nowadays?

SC: I think that all political units make an appeal to something like the sacred, some conception of the sacred. And to me, the history of political forms is a history of different forms of sacralization — from Mesopotamia through Sumeria to the ancient world, and to where we are now. So in my opinion the secular is another expression of the sacral. Of course, secularists usually insist that God has no role in the political realm, that we cannot appeal to God. This is usually based on some progressivist idea of history, which is also religious. Secularism takes over the providential narrative of Christianity, changes some key elements, and comes up with the idea that liberal democracy is the completion of history. The idea is that one is either on the right side of history or the wrong side of history—as Saint Obama has said. So for me, secularism is another appeal to something sacred, the sacredness of human rights, the universality of human rights. This is ideology. I come out of a Gramsician leftist tradition that took a very particular form in England in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where thinkers like Ernesto Laclau, who was very influential for many years, tried to follow Gramsci’s insistence that ideology is important. Ideology isn’t just superstructure. Marxism is about socioeconomic conditions, class, and all the rest—of course that’s true. But ideology, and therefore politics, is that field where social groups are articulated. So for me, ideology has huge importance. And it’s in relation to that notion of ideology that religion takes on this particular importance. So it is not religion, ethnicity, or class inequalities that are important, but the way in which the articulation of each of those terms also appeals to notions of the sacred.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

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