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Archive for the ‘North America’ Category

AUDIO: Cornel West on Emerson’s Enduring Importance

In audio, literature, North America, philosophy on July 24, 2015 at 05:36

From: Cornel West on Emerson’s Enduring Importance by Radio Open Source, http://www.radioopensource.org

Emerson is called the founder of the American religion, sometimes the American God, and surely he’s the voice of American individualism in “Self Reliance.” A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within,” Emerson wrote, “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Cornel West, like Emerson, is a preacher with a national audience, and without a church. Emerson is his number one American writer, a soulful modern and a model public philosopher.

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson created in 2006.

Listen to the podcast

Reposted according to copyright notice from: Radio Open Source

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Hardscrabble: A Different Woody Guthrie by Megan Pugh

In criticism, fiction, history, literature, music, North America on January 11, 2015 at 05:29

From: Hardscrabble: A Different Woody Guthrie by Megan Pugh, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

According to his biographer Joe Klein, in 1934, at the Pampa, Texas public library, Guthrie read a Department of Agriculture pamphlet on adobe houses. He was captivated by the idea of building one. The rickety wooden buildings dotting the Texas Panhandle didn’t offer much shelter from the increasingly frequent dust storms. Dust would blow into the cracks, cover everything inside, and find its way into ears and mouths and lungs. Adobe seemed like a powerful alternative. It was solid, thick, and built to last. To Guthrie, recently enamored with Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, there was something mystical about adobe, too. “Man is himself a adobe house,” Guthrie wrote to a friend in 1937, “some sort of a streamlined old temple.” When Guthrie gave a different friend a painting he’d done of adobe buildings in Santa Fe, he scrawled the same comparison on the back.

Adobe had another crucial advantage over wood: it was cheap. If you owned land, you should have been able to saw up bricks of it yourself. Never mind that Guthrie couldn’t quite manage to do that, though he tried, on more than one occasion, to follow the government pamphlet’s instructions. Adobe, Guthrie hoped, would be the solution to rural poverty, a way for people to carve out their own, meaningful existence from the very land on which they lived.

That’s the dream Guthrie gives to his characters in House of Earth. Tike and Ella May Hamlin, tenant farmers in the Texas Panhandle, receive a copy of the same pamphlet that Guthrie had read. They long to tear up their flimsy shack and build an adobe house of their own, but, as renters, they can’t. That’s pretty much the entire plot of the book, if you can even call it a plot. It’s more like one perpetual conflict. The Hamlins’ thoughts on the matter remain unchanged, but they restate them, again and again. They dream of an adobe house while making love, while taking shelter from a dust storm, and while having a child. Toward the end of the book, we learn that Ella May hopes to buy them some property with money she’s secretly saved, but things don’t look too hopeful: their landlord is unwilling to sell her anything of agricultural value.

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

How We Punish People for Being Poor by Rebecca Vallas

In community, economy, human rights, North America, society on October 13, 2014 at 23:10

From: How We Punish People for Being Poor by Rebecca Vallas, Common Dreams, http://www.commondreams.org

In what seems a reprisal of the predatory practices that led up to the subprime mortgage crisis, low-income individuals are being sold auto loans at twice the actual value of the car, with interest rates as high as 29 percent. They can end up with monthly payments of $500—more than most of the borrowers spend on food in a month, and certainly more than most can realistically afford. Many dealers appear in essence to be setting up low-income borrowers to fail.

Dealers are also making use of a new collection tool called a “starter-interrupter device” that allows them not only to track a borrower’s movements through GPS, but to shut off a car with the tap of a smartphone—which many dealers do even just one or two days after a borrower misses a payment. One Nevada woman describes the terrifying experience of having her car shut off while driving on the freeway. And repossession of their cars is far from the end of the line for many borrowers; they can be chased for months and even years afterward to pay down the remainder of the loan.

Also worth noting is the criminalization of poverty and the high costs that result. In a nationwide trend documented by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a growing number of states and cities have laws on the books that may seem neutral—prohibiting activities such as sidewalk-sitting, public urination, and “aggressive panhandling”—but which really target the homeless. (The classic Anatole France quote comes to mind: “The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”)

Arresting a homeless person for public urination when there are no public bathroom facilities is not only a poor use of law enforcement resources, it also sets in motion a vicious cycle: The arrested individual will be unable to afford bail, as well as any fees levied as punishment, and nonpayment of those fees may then land him back in jail.

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador

In Africa, culture, literature, North America, writers on May 3, 2014 at 01:20

From: Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador by Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

*Chapter VII: On Libraries and  Those Who Inhabit Them

Fifty-six

In Mogador, every open book is always ready to dance inside us. A blink of the eye or a brush of fingers over its pages is all it takes for it to penetrate us swiftly with joy. Once inside, each book meanders through the channels flowing within us and settles, in its own way, in unexpected regions of our flesh. In some they become discernible love handles around the waist, while in others they are converted to muscle, ready for action. And there is always someone who feels that books enhance their sex in thickness, finesse, and depth. In his indispensable Anatomy of Melancholy, the 17th century philosopher Robert Burton provides evidence that the consumption of many books may lead to reflective sadness. Their weight in the blood and the color of their ink increases black bile in avid readers, while the bile of those who limit their reading to only one book has a tendency to turn yellow, the bodily humor of anger, perhaps because they absorb more paper than ink. Quick-tempered dispositions nourish themselves exclusively with those unique books revered as sacred by certain vicious circles.

Fifty-seven

Each new book is considered a metaphor of a birth in Mogador. Or the announcement of the welcome arrival of a foreigner. And the quantity of volumes preserved in the city is always a multiple of the number of its inhabitants. This is why each day one of the librarian’s greatest responsibilities is to maintain that precious proportion whose fluctuations are sensitive to increases and decreases in population, emigrations and wars, as well as euphoric reproduction and plagues.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

The Bachelor Century by Jon Rich

In civilisation, ethics, Europe, government, history, North America, politics, religion, society, war, world on March 2, 2014 at 21:07

From: The Bachelor Century: Single Sinners Seeking God’s Job by Jon Rich, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Since the sixteenth century, writing has aspired towards permanence. That horrific century brought a succession of powers, churches, popes, writers, politicians, and artists who made attempts at immortality by making their marks on the rocks of time. The Catholic Church has remained tenaciously faithful, in a sense, to the fifteenth century. The Church’s guards, popes, teachings, sermons, and its Bible have been the center of attention since Michelangelo finished his marvelous works at the Sistine Chapel. As is the case with other holy books, the Bible is a hymnal. Its hymns are recited and sung in the same fashion as the hymns found in other holy books. The fact that the Bible is a hymnal means that there’s a strong tendency, which has remained strong for centuries, to convert it from the written to the oral realm. In the latter realm, it is no longer simply a book, a physical artifact that will fall victim to the deleterious effects of light and humidity, but an invocation that unites all, regardless of their faith. The recitation and the sound of bells are meant to be familiar even to heretics and infidels. This phenomenon finds a perfect match in other holy books like the Torah and the Quran. Religions have, since the beginning, sought to make the word of God familiar and approachable. People who treated divine texts as primarily written words became priests, irrespective of their vocational inclination: infidels, heretics, atheists, priests, or theologians. Voltaire is no less priestly than St. Augustine.

Let’s go back briefly to Nietzsche to remind ourselves that collective human memory—what makes us human—is activated by pain and suffering. To oversimplify Nietzsche, we could say that our collective memory has privileged reactive thinking as a tool of evolution. A man who likes a woman for purely physical reasons is ready to reproduce with her but calls this attraction love. This reactive thinking extends to food, sleep, comfort, sport, work, and achievement. In fact, this sense of urgency to react is directly connected to scarcity. When we read Joseph’s story in the Torah, or the Quran, or The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, we are taken by the pain and joy of very specific people. For these people to invest so much effort into finding their better halves elevates love to a universal human value.

With the supremacy of television and the ubiquity of the internet, this elevation of love becomes nearly impossible. No woman is a man’s better half and no death is pure and final on TV. Television recycles better halves infinitely, giving them new names, new bodies, and new faces. It also portrays death and suffering in myriad ways, creating a variety that impels us to admire and be entertained by it. This bombardment by images of horror leaves little room in one’s heart for a tinge of discomfort, like the one Lionel Messi might feel upon missing a shot on goal.

All of this was impossible to predict before the events of the Arab Spring. It has become clear, with the abundance of images of death and bloodshed coming out of Syria in the past two years, that death itself has become incapable of pushing us, even for a tiny moment, to think about the death of an individual. More deaths will follow, and staying up to date with them will mean having no time for sorrow, and certainly no time to mourn.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

A Feeling of Oneness With the World by by Volker M. Welter

In architecture, biography, design, North America, psychology, uncategorized on March 2, 2014 at 20:43

From:  A Feeling of Oneness With the World: On the House of Dr. Franz Alexander by Volker M. Welter, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

Following a map for a driving tour along Palm Spring’s mid-twentieth century Modernist homes and buildings, I had just peeked at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, the rebellious sibling from 1947 of Frank Lloyds Wright’s Fallingwater House in Pennsylvania, which was begun for the same client in 1935. Figuring out on the map where to drive to next, a house whose owner was identified as Dr. Franz Alexander caught my attention. I had come across that name some years earlier in connection with my research into Ernst L. Freud, the architect-son of Sigmund Freud. Rumour had it that Ernst Freud designed Alexander’s consulting room when both lived in Berlin in the 1920s, though I could never verify that. I decided to take a look at the house that carried the same name as the Austrian-Hungarian psychoanalyst.

The wood and steel roof of the Alexander House was a variation of an earlier experimental patented roof and wall construction or which a patent was pending. The curve of the roof on the Palm Springs house was a new experiment. White argued that it would help to passively heat and cool the interior; to soundly integrate his houses into the desert environment was a goal of his from early on. White’s characterisation of the Alexander house as a prototype of an environmentally sensitive desert home may have triggered the psychoanalyst’s scientific curiosity. Other elements of the house appear to be abstractions of the circumstances of the ‘oceanic feelings’ that Franz Alexander had experienced during his childhood, but the one that lingers is the view from the balcony: the equivalent of the gaze across the Baltic Sea, the azure dome of the sky recalling the large blue balloon, and the interior with its concave ceiling as a version of the finite universe with its curved space. In short, the desert house was the perfect setting for Alexander’s pursuit of both the scientific and the humanistic inquiries into humanity and its fate; a lifelong quest that had begun in Budapest and was far from over when Alexander settled in Palm Springs.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Outsourcing Haiti by Jake Johnston

In business, economy, ethics, infrastructure, North America, politics on January 26, 2014 at 00:05

From: Outsourcing Haiti: How disaster relief became a disaster of its own by Jake Johnston, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

Across the country from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, miles of decrepit pot-holed streets give way to a smooth roadway leading up to the gates of the Caracol Industrial Park, but no further. The fishing hamlet of Caracol, from which the park gets its name, lies around the bend down a bumpy dirt road. Four years after the earthquake that destroyed the country on January 12, 2010, the Caracol Industrial Park is the flagship reconstruction project of the international community in Haiti. Signs adorn nearby roads, mostly in English, declaring the region “Open for Business.” In a dusty field, hundreds of empty, brightly colored houses are under construction in neat rows. If all goes as hoped for by the enthusiastic backers of the industrial park, this area could be home to as many as 300,000 additional residents over the next decade.

The plan for the Caracol Industrial Park project actually predates the 2010 earthquake. In 2009, Oxford University economist Paul Collier released a U.N.–sponsored report outlining a vision for Haiti’s economic future; it encouraged garment manufacturing as the way forward, noting U.S. legislation that gave Haitian textiles duty-free access to the U.S. market as well as “labour costs that are fully competitive with China . . . [due to] its poverty and relatively unregulated labour market.”

Now, only 750 homes have been built near Caracol, and the only major tenant remains Sae-A. New ports and infrastructure have been delayed and plagued by cost overruns. Concerns over labor rights and low wages have muted the celebration of the 2,500 new jobs created. For those who watched pledges from international donors roll in after the earthquake, reaching a total of $10 billion, rebuilding Haiti seemed realistic. But nearly four years later, there is very little to show for all of the aid money that has been spent. Representative Edward Royce (R-CA), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, bluntly commented in October that “while much has been promised, little has been effectively delivered.”

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

Rethinking Drug Policy Assumptions by Jefferson M. Fish

In government, law, North America, politics, society on January 25, 2014 at 23:34

From: Rethinking Drug Policy Assumptions by Jefferson M. Fish, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

The so-called war on drugs has lasted more than four decades and increasing numbers of people are convinced that it is not only unwinnable but also misguided. From foreign policy to domestic policy to drug treatment, U.S. drug policy has been based on inaccurate assumptions and incorrect causal models that have led to an ever-escalating failure. The attempt here is to identify some of the principal errors, point out their shortcomings, and offer more plausible assumptions and models in their stead. These alternatives point not simply to downsizing the war and decriminalizing marijuana, as voters in Colorado and Washington State recently did, but to ending the war on drugs altogether by considering a range of legalization options.

Current U.S. policy is based on the assumption that drugs cause crime, corruption, and disease. Hence, we label and ban some substances as “dangerous drugs.” It follows that bad people supply these drugs, so we lock them up, but the supply keeps getting through. Engagement between police and criminal suppliers ramps up, leading only to more crime, corruption, and disease at home, while the battle spreads around the world.

It looks as if the more we clamp down, the worse the problem gets. Up until now the response has been not to question the underlying assumption, but to further escalate the war, hoping the right side will eventually achieve victory. There seems to be no consideration of the possibility that it’s the policy itself that’s making matters worse.

Here’s an alternative causal model, one that actually explains the failure of our longstanding policy: drug prohibition—that is, the war on drugs—causes an illegal, or black market, which in turn causes crime, corruption, and disease. With this model, the goal of drug policy should be to attack the black market instead of attacking drugs because the market undermines the stability of friendly countries (witness Colombia and Mexico) and finances our enemies (al-Qaeda and the Taliban, for example). Attempts to suppress the black market by force merely spread it, from one country to another or, in response to local police crackdowns, from one neighborhood to another.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

Amiri Baraka: Ennobled by Coltrane

In art, audio, music, North America, poetry, writers on January 12, 2014 at 00:42

From: Amiri Baraka: Ennobled by Coltrane, Radio Open Source, http://www.radioopensource.org

Christopher Lydon talks to Amiri Baraka: Listen to the interview

barakaAmiri Baraka‘s death prompts me to repost a conversation we had about the music of John Coltrane, which inspired Baraka and ennobled the ambitions of his Black Arts movement. “Trane was our flag,” Baraka remembered back in 2007. “We could feel what he was doing. We heard our own search and travail in the opening of ‘Giant Steps.’”

In the summer of 1957 the poet then known as Leroi Jones chanced to live over the Five Spot in Manhattan when Coltrane and Thelonius Monk had a five-month learning-by-doing gig on the Bowery. Willem de Kooning and Jack Kerouac were also among the listeners and drinkers at the Five Spot. Baraka told me he missed barely a session of the music that culminated in the Monk-Coltrane Carnegie Hall concert in November, 1957 — a Blue Note best-seller only after the Library of Congress unearthed the tapes in 2005. This was early, lyrical Coltrane, at the dawn of the civil-rights era — “the rebellion” in Baraka’s phrasing, then and ever — for which Coltrane became a sort of soundtrack. For Baraka, Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” planted a bomb inside the sentimentality of Richard Rodgers and “The Sound of Music.” The hostility in Baraka’s listening had softened a lot by 2007, but Coltrane was still perhaps his highest representation of black art with social traction. Baraka follows Coltrane to the yowling last recordings — Coltrane’s ultimate showdown with self and life — with a shudder of shared pain. But if that is what Coltrane wanted us to hear, serious devotees have no choice. “You have to listen to it.”

“Ironic thing is,” Baraka said, “when I was locked up in 1967 in the rebellion in Newark, I found I was listening all the time to Coltrane’s tunes. And then late one afternoon, the jailer came by — it was July 17, 1967 — and said ‘your man Coltrane died today.’ When I was locked up. That amazed me!”

Reposted according to copyright notice from: Radio Open Source

The Over-Policing of America by Chase Madar

In ethics, government, law, North America, politics, society on December 9, 2013 at 19:32

From: The Over-Policing of America: Police Overkill Has Entered the DNA of Social Policy by Chase Madar, TomDispatch, http://www.tomdispatch.com

Sometimes a single story has a way of standing in for everything you need to know. In the case of the up-arming, up-armoring, and militarization of police forces across the country, there is such a story. Not the police, mind you, but the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the Afghan War and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs, and nuclear, biological, and chemical environments.” Sounds like just the thing for bouts of binge drinking and post-football-game shenanigans.

Office and retail work might seem like an unpromising growth area for police and prosecutors, but criminal law has found its way into the white-collar workplace, too. Just ask Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state employee targeted by a federal prosecutor for the “crime” of incorrectly processing a travel agency’s bid for state business. She spent four months in a federal prison before being sprung by a federal court. Or Judy Wilkinson, hauled away in handcuffs by an undercover cop for serving mimosas without a license to the customers in her bridal shop. Or George Norris, sentenced to 17 months in prison for selling orchids without the proper paperwork to an undercover federal agent.

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Reposted with permission from: TomDispatch

We Are the Weather by Brian Kuan Wood

In art, economy, North America, philosophy, society, visual arts on December 4, 2013 at 20:47

From: We Are the Weather by Brian Kuan Wood, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

The sublime of the nineteenth century was described by Kant as the feeling of watching an avalanche from a distance. A glacier crumbles, a frozen world breaks down, creating awe and shock and awe again, pleasure and horror at the same time—but always at a remove. Today the sublime of the nineteenth century has gone haywire. It’s more like a monster wave. A tsunami as freeze frame. A twister exhaling in slow motion, collapsing a block of South Asian textile factories. A moment of exhilarated foam suspended high up then crashing down to devastate your lives terminally. The razor-sharp spike of an algorithm when it crests, just barely high enough to brush up against the inside of the bubble.

The distance between the observer and the disaster has disappeared. In fact the observer and the disaster might even be the same thing. It’s as if when one bubble bursts, another one expands to become the atmosphere itself. We are standing above the remains and the rubble of the first, but still inside another enclosure that arrives as some sort of psychotic causality. Is there a way out of the market or are we only trapped inside with no escape? Yes and yes! The trouble has to do with being liberated and newly imprisoned in such quick succession. You are watching the storm and being blown and carried away by it at the same time. This is why you may often feel that you’re in competition with yourself, or that you are not yourself at all. You may be a wanderer above the mist, but you are also in the mist.2 The Caspar David Friedrich painting went gray. You think you may be God himself, but you still need Google Maps to find your way through the mist. The wanderer lost his phone and is just trying to get to a restaurant.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Wall Street firms made some very interesting adjustments. It is well known that after slashing jobs by the thousands, salaries and bonuses for individual executives reached record highs. But how is this possible? Did executives simply stuff their own pockets with bailout money? Well, yes, but only through a much larger systemic adjustment by which Wall Street firms essentially diverted money away from infrastructure and support staff, clearing the way for a slimmer workforce of highly gifted, self-sufficient, and well-paid geniuses.

Around the same time as the crash, while artists and art institutions feared the worst, many have been surprised to find the field of art as a whole thriving, even in spite of savage cuts to public funding nearly everywhere. Institutionalized austerity seems to remake the artist into a carrier of a much more important technology—one that it becomes increasingly necessary to understand and access. And the sensitive artist still guilty from being an agent of property speculation and gentrification during the boom years of the creative class may not have seen the ruins of that cutesy economy in cities like Dublin.3 As a vanguard of resilience in the face of impoverishment, the artist who beautified low-income or derelict neighborhoods has only more to give, because he or she is also an originator of extra-economic technologies, of ways of living inside and outside of economic relations, of the conquering genius of exemplary survival, with some misshapen idealism that pours forth seemingly endlessly, with or without resources, over and above demands and expectations.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

The Guardians: Tamara Natalie Madden

In art, culture, North America, visual arts on October 21, 2013 at 05:13

From: The Guardians by Karolle Rabarison: Interview with Tamara Natalie Madden, The Morning News, www.themorningnews.org

Jamaican-born Tamara Natalie Madden is a painter, writer, and photographer based in Atlanta. Her work has appeared in outlets such as the New York Times, the Jamaican Gleaner, and Upscale Magazine. Her paintings are in the permanent collections of Vanderbilt University and London’s Bridgeman Art Library.
The Morning News:

KEEPEROFILLUSIONSTMNLike you, I emigrated to the States at a young age, and people often ask if I feel more attached to—or more a part of—one country’s culture over the other’s. To which country, Jamaica or the U.S., do you feel you most belong?

Tamara Natalie Madden:

I feel 100% connected to Jamaica. I was not embraced when I came to America and had difficulty adjusting. I faced culture shock and a battle to maintain my identity. As a young child, I did not have a choice in coming to America, so I kept Jamaica in the safest place that I knew—my heart. Over the years, I have developed many solid relationships with people in America, some that I couldn’t do without, but I am inherently connected to my country and my people, and no matter where I live or how long I have been gone, I am very proud to call Jamaica home.


See the art and read the interview

Reposted with permission from: The Morning News

Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection with Amy Goodman

In interview, medicine, North America, philosophy, politics, psychology, research, video on September 12, 2013 at 14:19

From: Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection, Addiction and the Destruction of American Childhood with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

DR. GABOR MATÉ: The hardcore drug addicts that I treat, but according to all studies in the States, as well, are, without exception, people who have had extraordinarily difficult lives. And the commonality is childhood abuse. In other words, these people all enter life under extremely adverse circumstances. Not only did they not get what they need for healthy development, they actually got negative circumstances of neglect. I don’t have a single female patient in the Downtown Eastside who wasn’t sexually abused, for example, as were many of the men, or abused, neglected and abandoned serially, over and over again.
And that’s what sets up the brain biology of addiction. In other words, the addiction is related both psychologically, in terms of emotional pain relief, and neurobiological development to early adversity.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this whole approach of criminalization versus harm reduction, how you think addicts should be treated, and how they are, in the United States and Canada?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the first point to get there is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.

The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food, because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So that stress drives addiction.

Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very — there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.

Watch the videeo & read the full transcript

Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

Burning Man is the New Capitalism by PJ Rey

In community, economy, North America, politics, society, sociology on September 9, 2013 at 16:12

From: Burning Man is the New Capitalism by PJ Rey, The Society Pages, http://thesocietypages.org

While there is much to discuss regarding the significant place that Burning Man occupies in the lives of its participants, I’d like to focus on the complex social and economic relationship Burning Man has with the default world and how this relationship reflects the changing nature of capitalism in the 21st Century. Let’s start by examining two key principals:

Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

By elevating gifting as a virtue, Burning Man distinguishes itself from the default world which is dominated by transactional relationships between people who have no personal connection to one another. (For example, the bagger at the grocery store sees customers as largely interchangeable and the customer also sees baggers as largely interchangeable. To each the other is just a means to an ends.) Gifting is, ostensibly, about putting the needs of the other above oneself.

The principle of decommodification attempts to further separate human interaction at Burning Man from market logic. In fact, the description of the principle of decommodification even employs a Marxist concept: exploitation. (Though in the strict Marxist sense, culture cannot be exploited, only labor.)

Because no money is exchanged at Burning Man* and because gifting and decommodification are key principles of the community, Burning Man is often described as “outside the system” or anti-capitalist. However, the notion that Burning Man opposes capitalism is misguided, if not naive. In a recent interview with TechCrunch’s Gregory Ferenstein, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey spoke to this point, insisting, “We’re not building a Marxist society.” While Ferenstein’s interview highlights the comfortable relationship that Burning Man has with capitalism (particularly Silicon Valley-based enterprises), Ferenstein oddly concludes that what it opposes, instead, is consumerism.

Were Burning Man’s goal to get people to consume less, it would be failing miserably. Anyone who has traveled the Reno Airport to Black Rock Desert circuit knows that an enormous consumer economy has evolved around the event. From the second you step off the plane through the very last Native American reservation before Black Rock City, advertisements suffuse the landscape, offering a wide array of commodities (bikes, tents, glowing el wire, “Indian tacos,” water, etc.) and services (e.g., rides to the Playa). And, all this pales in comparison to the vast amounts of consumer spending done in advance of the events. Camps from every major US city fill shipping containers with supplies and haul them to the desert on 18-wheelers. Many of the gifts given at Burning Man were first bought via the market economy. Burning Man’s principle of “radical self-reliance” often feeds a “get the gear” mentality of hyper-preparation, encouraging attendees to purchase supplies for every contingency they may encounter in the (admittedly harsh) desert conditions.

“Participatory experiences” alone will not shield 50,000 people from the sun or protect them from dust. It won’t even produce a fashionable pair of furry leggings or tutu. The Burning Man experience is the product of tens (or even hundreds) of millions of dollars flowing into the consumer economy and is inextricably linked to disposable incomes of Silicon Valley’s digerati. (It is also this requisite spending that keeps Burning Man as an exclusive and relatively privileged event.)

Larry Harvey’s pro-capitalist sentiments are surprising not because people misunderstand Burning Man but because people misunderstand modern capitalism. While there is certainly no causal relationship between the two, it is not entirely coincidence that a Man was first raised in the desert the year that the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War-era perception of an irresolvable antagonism between capitalism and communism–market and commons–had begun to appear less tenable. The innovation economy that Silicon Valley has come to represent proposes to link sharing (of information) and capitalist production in a mutual reinforcing relationship. Tech companies benefit when the level of common knowledge in the employment pool increases or when innovations in the commons can be commoditized and brought into the market. (See Fred Turner’s excellent work on how Burning Man ties into Silicon Valley’s innovation economy.)

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Reposted with permission from: The Society Pages

Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein and Natasha Mitchell

In audio, Europe, North America, philosophy on August 8, 2013 at 05:45

From: Travels with Epicurus: living an authentic old age by Daniel Klein and Natasha Mitchell, Life Matters, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

4384682-3x4-340x453For philosopher Daniel Klein the prospect of getting dental implants and maintaining his youthful smile set him thinking. Is it better to spend a precious year trying to extend the prime of his life, or to live an authentic old age, toothless grin and all? Daniel went on a journey to the Greek Island of Hydra, coupled with the teachings of Greek philosopher Epicurus, to seek out the best way to embrace his twilight years.

Daniel Klein is the author of many books and his latest is Travels with Epicurus, A journey to a Greek Island in Search of an authentic old age

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Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter

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

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

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

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

Boston Marathon Bombings by Philippe Theophanidis

In government, human rights, law, media, news, North America, politics, war on April 27, 2013 at 19:52

From: Boston Marathon Bombings: the Emergency Declaration as a State of Exception by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net

NGUYEN_2013_Boston_manhunt-620x826Up until recently (First World War), warfare had traditionally made a clear distinction between civilian and military targets. The bombings in Boston is yet another striking reminder that things have since drastically changed. The front lines that need to be protected have moved within the most intimate spaces of the civilian sphere. The war zone extend all the way into private living rooms and backyards.

Such an inversion (further) blurs the traditional distinction between what is public and what is private. Indeed, when the front lawn of private homes becomes a theatre for military-like operations in a democratic country, two issues arise. First, the extent of a government’s authority into the intimacy of private lives become spectacularly visible. The fact that such an intervention is conducted for the population’s “own good”, as it was repeatedly argued in the past few days, does not invalidate the relevance of this observation. Second, it raises some questions regarding the democratic principle of the separation of powers.

Which brings the question of the Emergency Declaration that was signed by President Barack Obama for the state of Massachusetts on April 17, 2013. At the time of writing, there doesn’t seem to be much information available online about this presidential declaration. Mainstream media have been very generous in providing the public with various informations regarding the events, including extensive coverage about the lifting of the Miranda rule for the captured suspect in the name of a “public safety exception”. However, informed analysis about the legal aspects surrounding an Emergency Declaration are scarce. A couple of informative points relative to the exceptional character of the authorities’s response are worth highlighting.

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Adventure on the Vertical by Mark Dorrian

In books, film, North America, photography, theory, visual arts on April 24, 2013 at 07:39

From: Adventure on the Vertical by Mark Dorrian, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

Introducing W. Watson-Baker’s 1935 book, World Beneath the Microscope, the English artist and critic William Gaunt wrote:

We are no longer so excited as formerly by the account of trips on the surface … The mind is stretched, uncomfortably sometimes, but with a new fascination, to speed and profundity, to the thought of worlds that lie a million light-years away from us, to the worlds that recede in evolutionary time beneath the lens, to the thought even that they merge or that by some extraordinary trick of relativity the smaller may contain the large. There is an affinity between the telescope and the microscope, between the discovery of stellar space and the discovery of the atom.

The film Powers of Ten was first made as a trial version in 1968, and then remade and released in 1977 in the familiar form that has been so widely disseminated in both film and printed formats. Produced by the Eames Office, the Los Angeles-based firm founded by the husband-and-wife design team, the 1977 version was one of the couple’s final films. In the postwar era of US corporate expansion and ascendancy, the Eameses established relationships with some of the key companies of the time. … While work for corporate clients destined for the international exhibitions of the Cold War period was inevitably situated in an arena of national representation and geopolitical contest, the Eameses were at the same time receiving major commissions explicitly driven by such imperatives. Most notable of these was the film installation Glimpses of the USA, produced the year after the Brussels exposition for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow, coordinated by the United States Information Agency (USIA).

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

A Bat in a Jar by Elke Weesjes

In aesthetics, biology, Europe, history, medicine, North America, religion, science on April 24, 2013 at 07:06

From: A Bat in a Jar – Wet Specimen and the History of the Curiosity Cabinet by Elke Weesjes, United Academics, http://www.united-academics.org

Jeiven teaches taxidermy classes at the Brooklyn Observatory. She followed in Walter Potter’s footsteps and specialized in anthropomorphic taxidermy. This means attributing human characteristics to taxidermied animals. Jeiven’s animals wear clothes, are usually posed in tableaux, and often represent a parable or a story. In last week’s workshop, Jeiven went outside of her comfort zone and taught a group of enthusiasts the arcane art of wet specimens. These stunning artifacts fill natural history, medical, and anatomy museums. They are deceptively simple to the eye, but in fact, demand special skills to do properly. And Jeiven’s students were lucky; these skills are generally taught only in professional apprenticeships rather than classes for the general public. I was fortunate to be among her students; this blog post describes my experience.

Ewen and Ewen note that the practice of creating curiosity cabinets goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church assembled relics of saint’s artifacts associated with Jesus and the Madonna to provide believers with concrete evidence and firsthand access to stories from the Old and New Testament. Myriad religious souvenirs were brought back from the Holy Land as part of the crusades and people viewed them with a fervent sense of awe. “In sealed cases, some ornately crafted a panoply of sacred remnants could be found, including such items as a drop of the Virgin’s milk, a pot that figured at the miracle at Cana, a scrap of a martyr’s shroud, nails, or a fragment of wood from the true cross or the comb of Mary Magdalene.”[2] Human remains were also brought into Europe; for example, the arm of the apostle James and parts of the skeleton of John the Baptist. Interestingly, alongside these sacrosanct objects ‘legendary’ artifacts like griffin’s eggs, tortoise shells, and unicorn’s horns were also part of the same collection.

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Reposted with permission from: United Academics

Call of the Wild by James Searle

In film, nature, North America, society, visual arts on April 17, 2013 at 20:10

From: Call of the Wild by James Searle, The Oxonian Review, http://www.oxonianreview.org

I’m not the first to see elements of Terrence Malick’s epic The Tree of Life in Beasts of the Southern Wild, the debut feature of Benh Zeitlin. Both are ambitious, dreamlike parables about the nature of existence relying on formless, wandering structures. Likewise, both films have attracted devout camps of supporters and detractors prepared to argue at length over their merits and failings. That said, there are two major distinctions between the films. First, Zeitlin’s film, based on the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar, is far more accessible and narratively coherent than Malick’s. Moreover, while The Tree of Life obsesses over the balance between the way of Nature (harsh, passionate, male) and the way of Grace (reserved, gentle, female), Wild abandons all traces of civilisation and restraint. This is not a film about balance, but one about raw emotion and embracing nature completely.

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Reposted with permission from: The Oxonian Review

Teaching Criminology to Prison Inmates by Lawrence T. Jablecki

In ethics, humanities, North America, politics, social sciences, sociology, universities on April 17, 2013 at 20:05

From: Teaching Criminology to Prison Inmates by Lawrence T. Jablecki, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

Fourteen men—age thirty to sixty and clad in white, serving prison terms ranging from ten to thirty years for violent crimes—sit in a classroom discussing crime and punishment. When asked if they are willing to discuss the impact of their crime and incarceration on their families, their collective reply is “sure, doing time has made us tough.” Almost immediately, the room is transformed into the silence of a chapel as the teacher asks them one by one to share their stories. Two hours pass in a flash during which most of these “tough guys” are choked with emotion, wipe tears from their eyes, and some cry without shame. The emotional intensity in the room is an indescribable experience.

The above event took place in a Texas prison where the men were attempting to salvage what was left of their lives with the aid of a master’s degree from a major university. In 1974 the University of Houston at Clear Lake created a bold and controversial degree-conferring program for male inmates serving time at the Ramsey Prison in Rosharon, Texas. Today, this highly successful program offers several hundred inmates the opportunity to earn a BA or MA in the behavioral sciences and also in the humanities. (It’s worth noting that even though men greatly outnumber women in prisons—93.6 to 6.4 percent nationally—several Texas prisons offer educational programs for women as well.)

Probably the most widely held belief about prisoners is that most, if not all of them, claim to be innocent. I can count on one hand, however, the number of my students who have appealed their case with the claim of innocence. Instead, the vast majority concede their guilt and believe they deserved to be punished. This concession to the persuasive power of the centuries-old retributive argument emerged in our many class discussions in which they acknowledged making a decision to commit a crime and described the hard coinage of punishment as their just deserts.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

Fear Going On by Peter Stockland

In media, news, North America, psychology, society on April 17, 2013 at 19:41

From: Fear Going On by Peter Stockland, Cardus, http://www.cardus.ca

I had just returned from a run myself on a gorgeous Montreal April day, up Mount Royal to the Cross at the top and back, when I heard the news as I came into the change room of the Montreal Amateur Athletic building. My first concern was for the 30-plus members of the MAA running club who were at Boston. Reassured they were safe, my subsequent emotion was a bright flash of blackest revenge fantasy that involved inflicting horrible pain on those ultimately found responsible.

That, too, required a quick reality check. Vengeance will not beget justice no matter how odious the crime. So, where did that leave me? Where does that leave us as a people? Here is an image of what I am concerned might emerge from the struggle for an answer.

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Reposted with permission from: Cardus

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