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Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Woody Allen and Wealth by Lisa Szefel

In aesthetics, art, film, society on July 30, 2013 at 18:05

From: Woody Allen and Wealth by Lisa Szefel, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

Indeed, in a career that spans almost five decades, Woody Allen’s oeuvre has evinced an ethos that eschewed greed, materialism, ostentatious display, as well as unearned and undeserved ease. The ultra-rich had no taste, know-it-alls deserved to be brought down a peg, while the self-effacing, meaning-seeking, long-suffering individuals of modest means served as moral anchors. However, during a four-year interlude, from 1996 until 2000, Allen moderated his equal opportunity skewering of affectation, arrogance, and ignorance on both the left and the right. Softening his lens on the entitled rich, Allen went from critic to apologist. In doing so, he anticipated then refracted Americans’ fascination with New York, cash, and conspicuous consumption during the phase of triumphalist capitalism that in some ways ended with the 2008 crash. The turn demonstrates how one of the greatest film makers and astute cultural commentators of our time was transformed by an era aptly characterized in Matt Taibbi’s appraisal of Goldman Sachs: “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” When Allen returned to his former form, this time with more mastery and insight, Americans in the post-Cold War, post-economic bubble era followed in greater numbers than ever before.

A walk through Allen’s films reveals the extent to which money, or the lack thereof, has played a recurring, often central, role, determining plot, character, and setting, from the beginning. In his directorial debut, the mockumentary “Take the Money and Run,” Virgil Starkwell steals pens, snatches purses, hustles pool, counterfeits money, and robs everything from banks and gumball machines to veal and breading. “Under constant economic pressure,” he is an all-around failure subject to extortion who spends his life in and out of jails too unlucky to even make the “Ten Most Wanted” list because, as he laments, “It’s who you know.” In the end Virgil receives an eight hundred year sentence in federal prison. Asked if he regrets a life of crime, Virgil responds: “I think that crime definitely pays and that, you know, it’s a great job. The hours are good. You’re your own boss, and you travel a lot. You get to meet interesting people. I just think it’s a good job in general.” While appreciating the perquisites of a man of independence and means, he lacked the privilege and knowledge needed to amass money; he just took it and ran until he ran completely out of luck.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

Water Works by Cynthia Barnett

In architecture, community, ecology, infrastructure, North America on July 30, 2013 at 17:52

From: Water Works: Communities imagine ways of making every drop count (Reimagining Infrastructure series) by Cynthia Barnett, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

On a winter’s day in Seattle, a leaden monotony hangs over the Central Business District, dispiriting to this part of downtown. Contrary to reputation, the urban pallor is not born of rain, which falls almost imperceptibly from silvery clouds that match the nearby waters of Puget Sound. Rather, the gloom rises from the cement hardscape. The busy streets are paved dark gray, the wide sidewalks beside them light gray. The skyscrapers rise in shades of gray. The hulking freeways, ramps, and overpasses: gray. The monorail track and its elephantine pillars: gray.

The gray shellac of a city repels more than the imagination. When rain flows along streets, parking lots, and rooftops rather than percolating into the ground, it soaks up toxic metals, oil and grease, pesticides and herbicides, feces, and every other scourge that can make its way to a gutter. This runoff impairs virtually every urban creek, stream, and river in Washington. It makes Pacific killer whales some of the most PCB-contaminated mammals on the planet. It’s driving two species of salmon extinct, and kills a high percentage of healthy coho within hours of swimming into Seattle’s creeks, before they’ve had a chance to spawn.

Returning some of nature’s hydrology to the cityscape can make an enormous difference —or could—as more individuals, businesses, and neighborhoods remake their bit of the terra firma. Washington State University scientists have found that streets with rain gardens clean up 90 percent or more of the pollutants flowing through on their way to the sound. Green roofs reduce runoff between 50 and 85 percent and can drop a building’s energy costs by nearly a third. Cisterns like the one on Vine Street solve two problems, reducing runoff and capturing water for outdoor irrigation—which in summer can account for half a city’s freshwater demand.

Seattle was among the first major American cities to accept that it had hit the limit. The Emerald City taps a clear mountain river called the Cedar, and a smaller river, the Tolt, to quench the thirst of 1.4 million urbanites and corporate giants from Amazon to Microsoft. The Cedar River begins in the cloud-laced foothills of the Cascade Range, flows forty-five miles south to Seattle’s iconic Lake Washington, and ultimately to Puget Sound. Seattle’s leaders had the foresight to begin buying up the river’s watershed for drinking water in the late 1800s; over a century, they’d preserved more than ninety thousand acres. At the upper reaches of the watershed, snowpack collects in winter, then fills the city’s reservoirs for the dry summer. At the lower end, the Landsburg Dam diverts the river for drinking water.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

War as peace, peace as pacification by Mark Neocleous

In history, law, politics, society, war on July 30, 2013 at 17:31

From: War as peace, peace as pacification by Mark Neocleous, Radical Philosophy, http://www.radicalphilosophy.com

The consensus is wide. From a diverse range of recent publications, let me just cite Daniel Ross’s analysis of democratic violence in which he claims that in democracies ‘peacetime and wartime … are increasinglyconvergent’, Rey Chow’s suggestion that war is now the very definition of normality itself, Gopal Balakrishnan’s claim that the invasion and policing of ‘rogue states’ means that ‘a long-term epistemic shift seems to be occurring which is blurring older distinctions between war and peace’, and François Debrix’s argument that the reason the war machine permeates everyday culture is because the distinction between peace and war has broken down.3

I have no interest in challenging this account in itself; as will be seen, despite its apparent boldness it is infact a fairly uncontroversial position to hold. What I do want to challenge, as my starting point at least, is the major historical assumption being made within it. For these accounts rely on an assumption of a ‘classical’ age in which war and peace were indeed distinguishable; they assume that the destabilization is somehow new – hence the references to wars in ‘the past’, in the ‘old sense’ and in the ‘classical’ age. The nebulous nature of some of these phrases is remarkable, given the implied radicalism of the insight being expressed. Worse, in accepting the very claim made by the USA and its allies that everything has indeed changed from the time when the distinction between war and peace was categorical and straightforward, this account also reinforces the general fetish of ‘9/11’ as the political event of our time.

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Reposted with permission from: Radical Philosophy

Turns of the Century by Martin Eiermann

In economy, Europe, government, history, news, North America, politics, society, South America on July 23, 2013 at 18:38

From: Turns of the Century: What the protests in Brazil and Greece tell us about world history by Martin Eiermann, The European Magazine, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

As I am writing this, 300,000 people are marching in Rio de Janeiro against corruption and public sector cuts ahead of next year’s soccer World Cup. It must be bad if Brazilians start anti-soccer riots. In Greece, protests have been ongoing for several years. In Spain, Italy and Portugal, popular discontent has ousted several governments and continues to cause a headache for their successors (in Greece, the government coalition is crumbling right now). In Great Britain, cuts to the National Health Service inspired regular demonstrations and a special segment during the Olympic opening ceremony in 2012, which defiantly celebrated the NHS as one of the great achievements of modern British society. Look at any newspaper front page today, and you are likely to see one or more photos of police in riot gear, shooting tear gas into crowds of protesters.

The language employed by protesters in Rio, Athens, and Madrid – against “corruption,” against “top-down politics,” against “welfare squeezes” – speaks to a commonality of experience that transcends the particularities of each context: Economic policies are broken, and politics seems unable to provide a fix. It’s thus misleading to think of the crisis of the last five years primarily as an “economic crisis.” Sure, it all started with a downward cascade in the financial and mortgage markets, but it has long since morphed into a social and political crisis. It is sure to leave its mark not only on economic history or on the history of a specific country, but on history as such.

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Reposted with permission from: The European Magazine

Plato’s Cave and the Bicameral Brain by Jim Danaher

In history, philosophy on July 23, 2013 at 18:20

From: Plato’s Cave and the Bicameral Brain by Jim Danaher, The Philosopher, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

What Plato expressed so long ago with his allegory of the cave was not, as he imagined, about another world, but rather about the way we desire to think about our human experience. Not only do we desire to know the forms so we might organize our understanding correctly, but we want them to be the kind of clear and distinct ideas we find in geometry.

In the modern period, Descartes convinced us that such a Platonic ambition was the way to solve all of our problems and consequently the modern mind came to associate the analytic thinking of the left-brain as synonymous with reason itself.

Consequently, no contradictory, ambiguous, or vague ideas could claim to be true. With such thinking, there were no mysteries, only puzzles that in time we would solve through a single mode of right thinking. Modern science told us that they had discovered a singular right way of thinking that if followed would eventually bring us to a complete understanding of the world and our place within it.

What we now understand much better than both Plato and Descartes is that we are hard-wired to reason in two very different and distinct ways: we can think analytically in order to get clear and distinct ideas and thereby eliminate all ambiguity and vagueness, or we can leave our experience whole and bear the paradoxes and contradictions that are so much a part of that actual experience. Plato might have imagined these as two different worlds but we now have the benefit of another way to interpret them – not as two universes that never interact but two distinct ways to think about the same world.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

Self-employment, or the illusion of freedom by Monika Vykoukal

In culture, economy, Europe, society on July 23, 2013 at 18:01

From: Self-employment, or the illusion of freedom by Monika Vykoukal, http://libcom.orglibcom.org

There is a long-term trend toward being your own creative director. It pushes workers into conning themselves that they can get a better deal if they are self-employed. The whole “start-your-own-company, be-your-own-boss” racket is heavily pushed by government agencies and all kinds of employers. It was first put forth as a solution to high unemployment and then, less openly, as a route to cut costs and erode worker solidarity and class consciousness. It relies on people’s underlying hatred of work, personified by the boss, and sells the dream of autonomy by telling people that they can become their own, fake, boss. The reality is different. Companies don’t hire people full time or long term anymore. They realize that freelancers are, in reversal of the marketing image, more at the mercy of employers than regular employees. We have to compete with all the other one-person businesses and supply our own laptops, software and unpaid time to learn skills.

This scenario seems like an upgraded version of the employment structures from 100 years ago. Workers would go to a hiring hall in the morning, bringing with them their own tools and work clothes, and hope to be picked for a job. They competed with all the other workers in the hall.

The boss is away now, so there is a window of opportunity to get to know everyone a bit. I want to figure out if they can help me get a permanent contract. But even the desire for a permanent contract and the benefits that come with it—something precarious workers are organizing around at bigger companies in less “glamorous” fields—is not really part of our conversation. Still, as I talk with my colleagues I realize that most of us don’t believe in the illusions of freedom and opportunity that are supposed to come with self-employment. The more conversations we have, the more openly they talk about how our multiple insecure jobs seem to direct our lives. It feels like there is something shameful about these conversations. Shameful because the ordinariness of our jobs is something we should be above as we pursue our creative ventures.

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Reposted with permission from: libcom

 

Behind the Constellations (This Side of the Pond)

In astronomy, mythology on July 18, 2013 at 17:40

From: Behind the Constellations, This Side of the Pond, Cambridge Blog, http://www.cambridgeblog.org

The Roman astronomer Ptolemy identified 48 constellations in the Almagest around 150 AD. Today, there are 88 on the official list of the International Astronomical Union. Since the days of ancient civilizations (think Homer, the pyramids, etc.), people have been watching the stars and telling stories about them. As a result, there are many varying and contradictory myths for different clusters of stars.

Scorpius

Scorpius, the scorpion

Orion, the Hunter

Orion, the Hunter

In Greek antiquity, Orion was a strong hunter, the son of Poseidon, who claimed he could hunt any animal. A jealous Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, sent a scorpion after Orion. After a vicious battle, Orion was stung by the scorpion, and Zeus immortalized them both in the night sky. Orion can be seen hunting in the winter, but is chased away when Scorpius emerges in the summer sky—the two constellations never appear in the sky together.

Orion is one of the most famous constellations, and an easy one to identify with the naked eye. The hunter stands with his bow and arrow drawn. A row of three stars form Orion’s belt in the center of the constellation, from which hangs his sword, where one can begin to make out the Orion nebula, or star nursery. Orion’s right shoulder and left foot are the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, respectively, two of the brightest stars in the night sky. Both of these stars are supergiants nearing the end of their lives. When it dies, Betelgeuse will explode in a supernova.

On the opposite side of the sky, the tail and claws of Orion’s nemesis, the scorpion, is visible. Scorpius, or Scorpio, is one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac, the path through which the planets pass in Earth’s annual orbit. Adapted from Babylonian astrology over 4000 years ago, the zodiac is a celestial coordinate system that has been used since ancient times to predict events on Earth. Your astrological sign is one of the twelve zodiac constellations the Sun was passing directly through on the day you were born.

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Reposted with permission from: This Side of the Pond, Cambridge Blog

Non-Indigenous Culture by Derek Rasmussen

In civilisation, community, economy, environment, nature, North America, society on July 18, 2013 at 17:21

From: “Non-Indigenous Culture”: Implications of a Historical Anomaly by Derek Rasmussen, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

When Canadian government surveyors first ran across Gitskan people in their traditional territory, the Gitskan asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Surveying our land,” answered the surveyors.

Incredulous, the Gitksan responded: “If this is your land, where are your stories?”

We non-indigenous are the weird and exotic ones. It’s shocking to realize that although we study indigenous societies to death—”you’re always putting us under the microscope” says my Inuk friend Tommy Akulukjuk—we don’t have a single university department or textbook looking into this weird new invention: non-indigenous societies.

Thanks to fossil fuels and our ideology of possessive individualism (en masse you might call it “capitalism”), we are the first civilization not enmeshed within networks of communities and relations with the land. The West’s 200 year-old industrial civilization is the first to try to split itself off. This is a “stunning innovation in human affairs, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom,” according to anthropologist Wade Davis. “Ours is a new and original culture that celebrates the individual at the expense of family and community.”

There has never been a non-indigenous civilization on planet Earth before. It’s even a bit of false flattery to call ourselves “settlers”—we don’t actually settle anywhere. The numbers may be slightly better in the United States, but the average Canadian moves once every six years—we have to in order to find work. As Jack Turner writes in The Abstract Wild:

We no longer have a home except in a brute commercial sense: home is where the bills come. To seriously help homeless humans and animals will require a sense of home that is not commercial. The Eskimo, the Aranda, the Sioux—all belonged to a place. Where is our habitat? Where do I belong?…We know that the historical move from community to society pro­ceeded by destroying unique local structures—religion, economy, food patterns, custom, possessions, families, traditions—and replac­ing these with national, or international, structures that created the modern “individual” and integrated him into society. Modern man lost his home; in the process everything else did too.

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Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine

What’s Wrong with Technological Fixes? with Evgeny Morozov

In information, internet, interview, philosophy, psychology, society, technology on July 18, 2013 at 17:07

From: What’s Wrong with Technological Fixes? Terry Winograd Interviews Evgeny Morozov, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

Morozov characterizes this impulse to fix everything as “solutionism,” and offers two broad challenges to the solutionist sensibility. First, solutionists often turn public problems into more bite-sized private ones. Instead of addressing obesity by regulating the content of food, for example, they offer apps that will ‘nudge’ people into better personal choices. Second, solutionists overlook the positive value in the ‘vices’ they seek to ‘cure.’ According to Morozov, some of life’s good things come from ignorance rather than knowledge; opacity rather than transparency; ambivalence rather than certainty; vagueness rather than precision; hypocrisy rather than sincerity; messy pondering of imponderables rather than crisp efficiency. As these challenges reveal, Morozov’s critique is, in the end, animated by a sensible picture of human life that suggests a more modest view of technology than solutionists have proposed.

TW: A key element of many solutionist approaches is a focus on devices and techniques to shape the actions of individuals. For example you quote Tim Chang, head of a major venture fund investing in “Quantified Self” apps that allow users to track their vital statistics: “the only way we’ll fix our horribly broken healthcare system is by getting consumers to think about health and not healthcare.” In addition to the turn to “consumer,” I would imagine there are underlying assumptions here you don’t share about the framing of the problem. Is that right?

EM: One of the arguments I make in the book is that it’s impossible to understand the appeal or impact of technologies for self-tracking outside of the specific domain where they are introduced. So if we want to understand how the many tools advocated by the Quantified Self crowd would affect, say, health, we need to know something about how the notions of health and disease have changed in the last five decades and what role not only science but also the pharmaceutical industry has played in this process. I’ve read a bit in sociology and anthropology of health and medicine and one unmissable trend there is the growing concern with what academics call “biomedicalization”—which is like the good old medicalization, with its imperialistic tendencies to redescribe all experiences and concerns in the language of modern medicine, but now boosted by the techno-scientific apparatus of biological sciences.

If you follow the arguments of some prominent voices in this field—say anthropologists like Joe Dumit—you’ll see that they draw an interesting connection between this constant search for new symptoms and the financial interests of Big Pharma, who, of course, wants to sell us more and more drugs to treat more and more diseases. So this is the context in which I think we should view the proliferation of various devices for self-tracking. And seen in this light, the picture isn’t very pretty. So part of what I’m arguing in the book is that it’s wrong to just celebrate these new ways of self-tracking—the fact that we can now build sensors into our t-shirts to monitor our health—without having some deeper views on how we think about health and disease. I’m actually not interested in advancing one view of health over another in this book; all I’m trying to do is to point out that most debates about self-tracking technologies—at least those we hear in the public arena—sidestep these issues and just present these tools as ways for us to know more about ourselves, etc. That’s why solutionists have such an easy time: they do not complicate their stories, framing all of their innovations as giant steps towards progress and Enlightenment.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

My Little Library in Anatolia by Kaya Genc

In books, Europe, literature, war on July 12, 2013 at 19:01

From: My Little Library in Anatolia by Kaya Genc, The Millions, http://www.themillions.com

In 2009, when I was a graduate student in Istanbul, I worked full-time in a newspaper, editing the paper’s books supplement. I was a busy man with lots of editorial assignments on my plate. I had little time to concentrate on my doctoral dissertation — a study of Hegel’s influence on late-Victorian authors. Instead of writing in academic Hegelese, I spent my days behind my office desk where I commissioned, edited, fact-checked, and proofread. A week after my 28th birthday in March, while hard at work on the first draft of a book review, I received a call from the university’s student affairs department. The voice on the other end of the line said there had been a “strange problem” with my academic credits some months ago. The mistake had led to the termination of my enrollment: from this moment onwards I would be subject to the draft.

Come April 10, I had cleared my desk at the office and arrived at an Anatolian city where my six-month-long national service in a gendarme squadron officially began. I was immediately nicknamed “journo” by the commanders. After the initial month of training came to an end my fellow gendarmes were assigned to various positions related to their education. I, the academic-cum-journalist, meanwhile, was given the most intellectual post the commanders could think of.

“I have just made you the squadron’s librarian,” said our lieutenant, a muscular man whose every word was law and from whose super cool sunshades I could see the reflection of my face.

“Here are the keys to the library. Take them! From now on it will be under your responsibility. Clean the place every day! Don’t give books to everyone! Give them only to soldiers you trust! Now get lost!”

I did get lost. And when I hid myself in that room, which was hardly bigger than 100 square feet, I found myself surrounded by a series of dusty books. Although the books were old and deep in hibernation, the people who came to read them were very much alive. So in my small library in a distant Anatolian town I learned an awful lot about what young Turkish men enjoyed reading under the gun. I watched them as they read for relief. I watched them as they read for pleasure. I watched them as they read for keeping sane.

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Reposted with permission from: The Millions

Merleau-Ponty’s Child Psychology by Talia Welsh

In philosophy, psychology, society on July 12, 2013 at 18:53

From: Merleau-Ponty’s Child Psychology by Talia Welsh, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

As much as death signals the end of the self, birth is just as mysterious. Both extend out to infinity and signal the brevity and contingency of our lives. As mysterious are those first few years of life that one does not have access to as an adult, I know I existed before my earliest memories. I know I interacted with others, I learned to walk and talk. I was willful from my parent’s tales. But this person is as much a mystery to me as the foetus I once was. When does my sense of “me-ness,” my self as a myself, arise? What is its development and what is required for its formation?

Merleau-Ponty argues for a view that holds there are certain existential human conflicts around which all societies will develop norms and systems around. They are the parent-child conflict, the male-female conflict and the self-stranger conflict.[12] Children and parents will always view each other with some ambivalence, and our styles and ideals of childrearing are reflections of these essential struggles. Likewise, negotiating sexual difference (and sexuality, Merleau-Ponty did not consider adult same-sex sexual relationships) will be a centerpiece of social norms and taboos. This removes the idea of individual conflicts as universal (such as the Oedipus conflict) or individual successes and failures being required for maturity (since not all cultures value the same expressions). But it retains the sense that discussions about development will always include some ambivalence in every society given the inherent nature of conflicts between adults and children.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Edward Snowden on Why He Stood Up to the NSA with Amy Goodman

In government, human rights, information, interview, news, politics, privacy, technology, video on July 12, 2013 at 18:39

From: Edward Snowden on Why He Stood Up to the NSA: Mass Spying “Not Something I’m Willing to Live Under” with Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

GLENN GREENWALD: Was there a specific point in time that you can point to when you crossed the line from contemplation to decision making and commitment to do this?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I grew up with the understanding that the world I lived in was one where people enjoyed a sort of freedom to communicate with each other in privacy, without it being monitored, without it being measured or analyzed or sort of judged by these shadowy figures or systems, any time they mention anything that travels across public lines. I think a lot of people of my generation, anybody who grew up with the Internet, that was their understanding. As we’ve seen the Internet and government’s relation to the Internet evolve over time, we’ve seen that sort of open debate, that free market of ideas, sort of lose its domain and be shrunk.

GLENN GREENWALD: But what is it about that set of developments that makes them sufficiently menacing or threatening to you that you are willing to risk what you’ve risked in order to fight them?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talked to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. And that’s not—that’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under. So, I think anyone who opposes that sort of world has an obligation to act in a way they can. Now, I’ve watched and waited and tried to do my job in the most policy-driven way I could, which is to wait and allow other people, you know, wait and allow our leadership, our figures, to sort of correct the excesses of government when we go too far. But as I’ve watched, I’ve seen that’s not occurring, and in fact we’re compounding the excesses of prior governments and making it worse and more invasive. And no one is really standing to stop it.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

Loving Leonard Cohen by Judyta Frodyma

In books, music, poetry on July 7, 2013 at 18:00

From: Loving Leonard Cohen by Judyta Frodyma, The Oxonian Review, http://www.oxonianreview.org

Even at the start of his career, writes Sylvie Simmons in her new biography, “Leonard had never really toured but he knew he did not like touring”. For a man on and off the road since the sixties, this is an unexpected characteristic. He had a problem with stage fright, but “mostly he was afraid for his songs. They had come to him in private, from somewhere pure and honest, and he had worked long and hard to make them sincere representations of the moment. He wanted to protect them, not parade and pimp them to paying strangers in an artificial intimacy.” Later in the biography, Simmons returns to his complicated relationship with touring, which he viewed “at best as a necessary evil, foisted upon him by his record contract […] his insecurities as a singer and a musician made his fear of failure more acute.”

And indeed, the ‘Leonard’ that Simmons depicts is supportive but also humble, self-deprecating, extraordinarily generous with his time and money and, unsurprisingly, mysteriously seductive. Yet the work is not shrouded in a veil of mystery, nor judgement for that matter. From his bohemian, non-committal sex-life to details of his finances and the complexity of his relationship with G-d (as he reverently writes in ‘Poems of Longing’) and himself, we feel we are being presented with an accurate and honest portrait of Leonard as he is. And like the countless men and women in his life, we find ourselves ready to fall at his feet. Simmons does leave some things to the reader’s speculation and certain things are mentioned in passing, but there is never a sense of distance from her subject.

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Reposted with permission from: The Oxonian Review

Is absolute secularity conceivable? by Simon During

In humanities, philosophy, politics, religion on July 7, 2013 at 17:45

From: Is absolute secularity conceivable? by Simon During, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Is absolute secularity conceivable? The question arises from the paradoxical intuition that the secularization thesis is simultaneously both right and muddled. Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the broader secularization thesis (which I take to claim that, over the past half-millennium or so, Western society has undergone a systemic diminution of religious practice) is that it isn’t clear what the non-secular is. After all, it can be extended from those beliefs and practices that avowedly depend on religious revelation to those that affirm some form of transcendentalism, though they may make no room for God as such. But for a long time both radical atheists and Christian apologists have argued that what looks as if it is secular through and through may not, in fact, be secular at all. From this point of view, important elements of enlightened secularity in particular can be understood, not as Christianity’s overcoming, but as its displacement. Thus, for instance, in his Scholasticism and Politics (1938), Jacques Maritain, following Nietzsche, speaks of the “Christian leaven fermenting in the bosom of human history” as the source of democratic modernity. Here the secular, political concept of human equality is seen to have a Christian origin and to bear a continuing Christian charge, even though its purposes and contexts have changed.

Numerous applications of the displacement model of secularization are current, but here I will point to just one. It concerns philosophical anthropology. The argument is that certain post-Enlightenment concepts of the human (or of “man”) remain Christian in their deep structures. Of these, the most important is the philosophical anthropology of negation (to use Marcel Gauchet’s term), according to which human nature is not just appetitive but necessarily incomplete, that is to say, inadequate to its various ecologies and conditions, and for that reason beset by fear, uneasiness, anxiety, and so on. For those who accept the displacement model, this anthropology, even in its modern forms, remains dependent on the revealed doctrine that human nature as such is fallen. Philosophical anthropology is important for thinking about secularization because the secularization thesis often becomes a proxy for the argument that secularity places human nature at risk.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

None of the world’s top industries… by David Roberts

In business, ecology, economics, politics on July 7, 2013 at 17:36

From: None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use by David Roberts, Grist, http://grist.org

The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.

While the notion is incredibly useful, especially in folding ecological concerns into economics, I’ve always had my reservations about it. Environmentalists these days love speaking in the language of economics — it makes them sound Serious — but I worry that wrapping this notion in a bloodless technical term tends to have a narcotizing effect. It brings to mind incrementalism: boost a few taxes here, tighten a regulation there, and the industrial juggernaut can keep right on chugging. However, if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.

To see what I mean, check out a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)

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Reposted with permission from: Grist

Do Elephants Have Souls? by Caitrin Nicol

In Africa, animals, biology, ecology, ethics, philosophy, science on July 3, 2013 at 19:06

From: Do Elephants Have Souls? by Caitrin Nicol, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

The taboo against anthropomorphism exists for three basic reasons. First of all, we as human beings are prone to mistake the thoughts and feelings of each other, even the people we are closest to — how much more so is this a risk in speculating about members of another species?

Even supposing that the elephants were our equals in intelligence, their life differs from ours so fundamentally that trying to infer their perspective from our own experience is bound to miss the mark in many ways. For one thing, as a rule elephants have poor vision — but their sense of smell is exquisite, revealing a whole olfactory landscape that we are contentedly closed off to. Also, they do not fall romantically in love (that we know of; that their behavior indicates). Think how many other aspects of our lives are profoundly influenced by good sight and deep eros, and ask yourself what might loom equally large iStockphoto in an elephant’s world that we ourselves would have very little grasp of. And of course there are a variety of other differences — where they live, how they live, the fact that from birth to death a female (unless something has gone wrong) will never be alone and after a certain point a male mostly will. How might these things shape a psyche?

For real sentient beings, though, the truth is more complex. They are not us, but to look into their eyes is to know that someone is in there. Imposing our own specific thoughts and feelings on that someone is in one sense too imaginative, in presuming he could receive the world in the way we do, and in another not imaginative enough, in not opening our minds to the full possibilities of his difference. The philosopher and theologian Martin Buber called this “the immense otherness of the Other,” reflecting on his relationship with a family horse as a child. As he stroked the mane, “it was as though the element of vitality itself bordered on my skin” — “something that was not I,” he notes, but was “elementally” in relation to him. There was an existential connection between them in their improbable blessing of breathing, beating life. And not only life, but the particularity of sentient individuals, as the horse “very gently raised his massive head, ears flicking, then snorted quietly, as a conspirator gives a signal meant to be recognizable only by his fellow conspirator: and I was approved.”

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

On Privacy by Jill Priluck

In government, history, information, law, North America, politics, privacy, technology on July 3, 2013 at 18:09

From: On Privacy by Jill Priluck, N + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

No one law or right governs privacy in the United States. The word privacy doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and some skeptics even refer to it as a “so-called” right. But there is a basis for American privacy law, and a good place to start is the fourth item in the Bill of Rights, now known as the Fourth Amendment. “The right of the people,” the Fourth Amendment states, “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This right dates to the struggle against government abuse in the colonial era, when it was common practice for British officials to search homes and shops for smuggled goods. In 1761, Boston merchants questioned the legality of this practice—and the vague permits, or writs, that authorized it—arguing that it violated the colonists’ “natural” rights. So fierce was the sentiment against these searches that when Advocate General and Cape Cod native James Otis was ordered by his superiors to defend them, he resigned and represented the Boston merchants for free. Otis called the writs “a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.” A man’s home was “his castle,” he argued, “and whilst he is quiet, he is well guarded as a prince in his castle.” Otis lost the case, and the British magistrate deemed the writs legal, but Otis won a reputation as a patriot. Among the spectators who saw his argument was a 25-year-old John Adams, later the architect of the Fourth Amendment.

In the centuries since, American privacy law has developed on the basis of much more than the Fourth Amendment, and has gone on to cover reproductive and sexual rights and even the distribution of commercial media, such as newspaper photographs and advertisements. At the same time, the concept of Fourth Amendment “privacy” has gradually expanded. The definition of “home”—and “papers and effects”—has broadened as courts have defined the reasonableness of searches and seizures, the meaning of “probable cause,” and what constitutes a “search” or “seizure” in the first place.

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Reposted with permission from: N + 1

Of Lawyers and Salesmen by Jörg Friedrich

In politics, society, theory on July 3, 2013 at 17:36

From: Of Lawyers and Salesmen: What’s the difference between a vacuum cleaner salesman and a politician? by Jörg Friedrich, The European, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

Within every democracy, a constant fight is being waged between those whose positions are legitimized through democratic elections and the constitutionally established structures of the state, and those who independently introduce moral ideals, local interests or economic aims into the political discourse and into the public sphere. We might even say that the political dynamism of a predominantly democratic society stems from the tensions between those whose power is rooted in procedures and those who seize power by acting publicly. In Egypt, oppositional groups took to the streets to protest against a constitutional referendum that was supported by the country’s democratically elected president. In Germany, citizens’ initiatives protested against large-scale construction projects. In each of these conflicts we can see the tension between legitimated power and the power of so-called civil society.

Among the citizens of democratic states, a deep sense of mistrust of political representatives has taken hold. Several years ago I saw the following caricature: two travelers faced each other on a train. “I am a vacuum cleaner salesman,” said the first. “I sell vacuum cleaners.” To which the second replied: “I am a politician. I sell out the people.” This little imagined conversation illustrates the uneasy relationship of many voters with the political machine.

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Reposted with permission from: The European

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