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Posts Tagged ‘USA’

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.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

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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

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

Silicon Valley Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov

In government, information science, internet, politics, technology on January 20, 2014 at 17:47

From: Silicon Valley Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

… We have tried NGOs, we have tried political parties, we have tried building nationalist movements, everything in the case of Belarus has been tried and failed, and here comes this new technology: you can use text messages to mobilize people, you can use blogs to discuss things you cannot discuss in the traditional media, you can rely on the power of cell phones to capture police brutality. I mean, there was a lot of excitement around 2005 and 2006, which partly, again, derives from the political climate in Eastern Europe at the time. You had the revolution in Serbia, then you had a few years later the revolution in Ukraine, then you had the revolution before that in Georgia. Something was brewing in Eastern Europe, and we had a lot of hope, and I invested a lot of hope in technology.

And then, I think, my other cynical Eastern European part took over. I have to add that I also spent four years in Bulgaria. This is where I was educated. And Bulgaria is known, as the rest of the Balkans, for its cynicism. And my cynical Bulgarian side, I think, took over at some point in 2006 and 2007 and I became skeptical of the very tools and platforms we were using, in part because I saw that they were actually making very little difference to the situation on the ground, to the people who were on the ground using those tools. But I also noticed that certain governments themselves were actually actively deploying those tools to spy on the population, to engage in propaganda by paying and training bloggers to spread the kind of truth that the government wanted to spread by engaging in new forms of censorships or cyber attacks. I basically saw the other side of this digitalization. And I saw that if you leave things as they are, and we engage in this very happy, cheerful celebration of the power of the Internet, we would miss the real story, and the real story, unfortunately, was that certain governments were getting empowered as well.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Scandinavian Style by Sophie Pinkham

In art, books, culture, economics, literature, politics, review, writers on January 20, 2014 at 17:33

From: Scandinavian Style by Sophie Pinkham, N + 1 Magazine, http://nplusonemag.com

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,500-page, six-volume magnum opus, My Struggle, is made from the material of the author’s daily life. The book has been described as an autobiographical novel, sometimes with “novel” in scare quotes, to indicate its excessive truthfulness. Like the author, the narrator is called Karl Ove Knausgaard, and, like the author, he is a Norwegian writer who lives in Stockholm with his second wife, the poet Linda Bostrom. As Knausgaard has explained in many interviews, his intention in writing My Struggle was to be absolutely honest, no matter how much shame this might cause. Many of his relatives have been furious, and some have cut off all contact with him. His wife relapsed into manic depression after she read the first manuscript. Knausgaard’s decision to tell the whole painful, humiliating truth has been the subject of heated debate in Norway, where My Struggle has sold about one copy for every ten residents. (To date, only the first two volumes have been released in English; the third will appear next summer.)

For American readers, Knausgaard’s writing is striking in its freedom from telling details, well-wrought similes, conspicuous fine-tuning. His sentences don’t look like they’ve been reworked for months, and they haven’t: he wrote My Struggle fast, with minimal revision. He uses well-worn phrases that we tend to identify as clichés, and that elicit, in many readers, a desire to whip out the red pencil. In an otherwise positive review of My Struggle in the New Yorker, James Wood criticized the uneven quality of the prose and the use of clichés. But these are essential parts of the method. Knausgaard rejects chiseled sentences in favor of a cumulative effect, and the flatness, the openness, the sprawl provide the space necessary for his discursive treatment of everyday life, allowing the reader to exist inside the narrator’s mind, to see as he sees.

We never see Knausgaard engaging in any kind of income-generating activity, apart from writing novels and producing the occasional reader’s report for a publishing house. He doesn’t teach creative writing classes, or literature classes. He never talks to an agent, though he occasionally does interviews or goes to writers’ conferences. He doesn’t write book reviews for magazines or newspapers. He is not enrolled in a PhD program or a funded MFA program—welfare for American intellectuals. His wife, Linda, is a poet who never seems to engage in any income-generating activity at all. And yet they have an apartment in the center of Stockholm, and Knausgaard has an office—a room of his own. The Knausgaards are always eating crab and salmon, drinking good wine and cognac. They vacation in Spain, and never seem to worry about the financial welfare of their aging parents. Most shocking of all, they have an extravagant number of children—three—in the course of just four years. They never wonder who’ll pay for their children to go to college, probably because in Sweden and Norway, university is free. When Linda gives birth, Knausgaard ponders the existential aspects of this process, rather than worrying about the hospital bill. In Stockholm, as in New York, life is full of banality; but it’s a different banality, without credit card debt or massive student loans.

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Reposted with permission from: N + 1 Magazine

A Mass Media Cure for Auschwitz by Henry Krips

In government, media, philosophy, politics, society, sociology, theory on January 20, 2014 at 17:13

From: A Mass Media Cure for Auschwitz : Adorno, Kafka and Žižek by Henry Krips, International Journal of Žižek Studies, http://zizekstudies.org

In today’s regulated world of mass media corporations, what space is left for a radical politics? From the theoretical perspectives of most contemporary work in cultural studies, the answer seems to be “not much.” For example, according to the classic Frankfurt School position, the mass media serve the politically conservative end of spreading ideological lies: telling us that the government bureaucracies and private corporations that control our daily lives know best and care personally for each and every one of us (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002).

In order for these lies to be effective, however, it is not enough that they are encoded at the level of message content – after all, in today’s cynical climate few people fully trust what they are told in newspapers or see on television. How, then, can the mass media ensure that the lies that they circulate have an impact upon their audience; what, in any case, is the nature of that impact? The Frankfurt School answer (as represented, for example, in the early work of Theodor Adorno) is that a mass media presentation has two methods of encoding ideological lies: (1) it encodes the lies denotatively, at the level of its content, or (2) it encodes them connotatively, at the more abstract level of technique or form of presentation (Barthes, 1985: 111-117). Consider a familiar example: a full page magazine advertisement that places an image of a bottle of perfume next to an image of a beautiful woman who is photographed while she is staring
seductively into the camera. The advertisement encodes a message denotatively about the perfume’s power to make its wearer attractive. But also, because the woman appears to look at us directly, as if she knew us personally, a meta-message is encoded connotatively into the form of presentation: “Hey you there, this message is for you!” Furthermore, and here is the key point, even though we know that the latter message is a lie, it has an impact upon us – each of us feels, and to a certain extent acts as if through the ad she or he is being addressed personally.1 Adorno argues that it is in exactly this way, namely through their forms of presentation, that mass media presentations propagate ideological lies.

For example, advertisements, newscasts, talk shows and so on all typically engage their audience through such personal forms of address. By singling out each member of the audience for public recognition of a personal kind, this form of address contributes to the ideological lie at the heart of the liberal state, namely that it knows about and cares for each and every one of us individually (Goehr, xix-xx). And because the lie is encoded at the level of form rather than content, despite its transparency it sneaks under the audience’s critical radar and affects what they do. It general terms, we may conclude, even if mass media presentations are politically radical in their content, thanks to their form of presentation their overall impact will fall on the conservative side of the political ledger.

In The Sublime Object of Ideology Slavoj Žižek argues for a similar conclusion, but in the context of rather different theoretical premises (Žižek, 1989: 28-33). He argues that the totalitarian conditions in which we live today create a perverse split between knowledge and action: we know very well the terrible things that are going on around us, but even so – perhaps because we can’t do anything about them, or perhaps because we feel immune to their effects – we act as if we are ignorant. Like ostriches recognizing danger, we collectively stick our heads in the sand. It seems to follow that mass media exposées – or indeed any techniques of consciousness-raising – will be useless as radical political strategies for getting people to act differently. To put the argument in a nutshell: if, as Žižek claims, people don’t act on what they know then broadcasting the truth to them will make no political difference.

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

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 Treason of Intellectuals by Chris Hedges

In ethics, government, history, war on October 31, 2013 at 01:33

From: The Treason of Intellectuals by Chris Hedges, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as Bill Keller, Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.(Illustration by Mr. Fish)

brainiac_attack_copyThese apologists, however, acted not only as cheerleaders for war; in most cases they ridiculed and attempted to discredit anyone who questioned the call to invade Iraq. Kristof, in The New York Times, attacked the filmmaker Michael Moore as a conspiracy theorist and wrote that anti-war voices were only polarizing what he termed “the political cesspool.” Hitchens said that those who opposed the attack on Iraq “do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all.” He called the typical anti-war protester a “blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist.” The halfhearted mea culpas by many of these courtiers a decade later always fail to mention the most pernicious and fundamental role they played in the buildup to the war—shutting down public debate. Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing “patriots” and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own “patriotism” and “realism” about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics. Many of us received death threats and lost our jobs, for me one at The New York Times. These liberal warmongers, 10 years later, remain both clueless about their moral bankruptcy and cloyingly sanctimonious. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands.
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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.


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Reposted with permission from: The Morning News

Thoreau’s Wild Fruits by Frances Richard

In biology, literature, nature, writers on October 5, 2013 at 01:30

From: Thoreau’s Wild Fruits by Frances Richard, Cabinet Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

He was deep in a writing project he called Wild Fruits, which he envisioned as nothing less than a handbook of practical woodcraft seamlessly woven into an ars poetica of New England nature—at once a scientifically accurate study of fruiting and forestry in the North Atlantic states, and a soaring though acerbic celebration of the ecological interdependences that link plants to humans, animals, weather patterns, and topography. Thoreau the serious amateur naturalist builds a scaffold inside his hat for carrying home freshly picked specimens, makes bold to taste choke cherries and spotted water-hemlock, and notes the days in consecutive years when muskmelon, fever bush, or bayberry bloom, ripen, wither, and freeze. In his pastoral-hermit guise, he squats down to watch white-pine cones dry and open, measures the tubers of wild artichokes, and draws blown cattails and the seedpods of Asclepias cornuti in his diary. As a polemicist, however, he remains acutely aware that his compatriots are busy building railroads, harvesting old-growth timber, and arguing the legality of slavery in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. He intends his precise botanical observations to refract the moral and aesthetic life of a swiftly modernizing capitalist nation embroiled in civil war, and he seems to know that he is speaking for the conservation of undespoiled lands near a point of no return. Wild Fruits thus emerges as a kind of hands-on record of the motions of the spirit that Emerson called the “Over-Soul.” A journal of ecstatic union with the lilies of the field, the book never ceases to inquire into the biological and cultural processes whereby those lilies—or sassafras roots, nightshade berries, whortleberries, and wild grapes—are germinated, mulched, garnered by squirrels, pecked by birds, marked by rot, appreciated (or not) by farmers, sold (or not) at market, and represented in history. Thoreau’s voice in Wild Fruits, as elsewhere, can turn 
sarcastic—cranberries, he remarks grumpily, “cut the 
winter’s phlegm, and now you can swallow another year 
of this world without other sauce”6—or slides toward the 
different-drummer cadences of Walden—“If you would really take a position outside the street and daily life of men, you must have deliberately planned your course, you must have business which is not your neighbors’ business, which they cannot understand.”7 Like Emerson, he revels in cross-
referenced reading of historical sources, ranging knowledgeably from Pliny to Manasseh Cutler’s “An Account of Some of the Vegetable Productions, Naturally Growing in This Part of America, Botanically Arranged,” published in 1785. He also writes, approvingly, of Darwin. But the lonely ferocity of his earlier years has distilled to something less hotly personal, and he privileges, as kindred spirits, distinctly unlofty sources—elderly Penobscot Indians, housewives, schoolboys. Conspicuously avoiding Christian piety, he refers to Mother Nature as the “midwife”8 of uncultivated growth, and quotes delightedly the battered farmer “who always selects the right word,” when he says that wild apples “have a kind of bow-arrow tang.”9

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

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

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

Tianeptine and Psilocybin by Sarah Ackley

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

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

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

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Reposted with permission from: The Hypocrite Reader

Woody Guthrie at 100 with Amy Goodman

In art, history of art, interview, music, North America, politics, video on January 29, 2013 at 18:32

From: Woody Guthrie at 100: Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, Will Kaufman Honor the “Dust Bowl Troubadour” with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

“Woody’s original songs, the songs that he wrote back in the 1930s … with these images of people losing their houses to the banks, of gamblers on the stock markets making millions, when ordinary working people can’t afford to make ends meet, and of people dying for want of proper free healthcare, you know, this song could have been written anytime in the last five years, really, in the United States of America,” says Bragg, who has long been inspired by Guthrie.

WILL KAUFMAN: Some of those Dust Bowl ballads come out of, really, his late teens and early twenties, you know. Then he joined about half-a-million other migrants heading westwards towards California, where they had heard there was lots of work out there—and, of course, they were wrong. And it’s there in California when Woody gets—he sort of hooks up with the right people, I suppose, and gets involved in the Popular Front out there in California, and this is the beginning of—really, of his politicization. As you said, began writing columns for the People’s World out there and—in Los Angeles, and got a show on a progressive radio station, KFVD, out in Los Angeles, and begins to circulate around the migrant camps, where the Okies, as they were pejoratively called, were living in old dwellings of tar, paper and tin and old packing crates and the bodies of abandoned cars, under railroad bridges, by the side of rivers and what have you, and getting their heads broken when they dared to organize into unions. And Woody began to witness that and began to write about it. And so, he began to see music as a political weapon then.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

 

 

After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity

In community, government, history, nature, North America, politics, sociology on January 9, 2013 at 23:42

From: After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Richard AmesburyAssociate Professor of Ethics, Claremont School of Theology; Associate Professor of Religion, Claremont Graduate University

Sandy, in all her indiscriminate, non-partisan fury, ripped the facade off two large problems that had received little to no attention in the Presidential debates—poverty and climate change. In the storm’s grim aftermath, President Obama spoke movingly of America’s unity in the face of adversity. “We leave nobody behind,” he said the next day. “We make sure that we respond as a nation and remind ourselves that whenever an American is in need, all of us stand together to make sure that we’re providing the help that’s necessary.” But the reality is that the suffering occasioned by Sandy, though no doubt experienced at all levels, has been unequally distributed. As David Rohde observed in Manhattan the night of the storm, “Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.” Gestures of bi-partisanship and horizontal solidarity, though perhaps refreshing, should not be allowed to occlude the plight of those left behind in poverty.

Sandy has also made it seem like bad taste to scoff at climate change, as Governor Romney did in his convention speech. Though it may be too early to tell precisely what role climate change played in this particular case, increasingly severe hurricane activity is part of what the scientific models suggest we should expect on our warming planet. Obama’s comment on October 30th is telling: “Sadly, we are getting more experience with these kinds of big impact storms along the East Coast.” Apart from such oblique remarks, and despite pressure from environmental groups, Obama has been mostly silent about the climate of late, but perhaps the images of flooding and devastation will help to change the political climate around climate change, which, like so much else, will most acutely affect the poor.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

Leaving Home by Matthew Gilbert

In community, culture, government, immigration, North America, politics on January 8, 2013 at 00:48

From: Leaving Home: The Problem of Outmigration Discussed in Arctic Village, Alaska by Matthew Gilbert, Cultural Survival, http://www.culturalsurvival.org

Trimble recalls how many young Native people who moved to Fairbanks from Arctic Village died from alcoholism. “Addiction and gambling, they get addicted and don’t want to return home, and end up homeless. I was down at the graveyard this past Memorial Day and saw all the young men and women who died from alcohol. If they were living in Arctic Village, they would still be alive.”

Trimble says, Natives were the keepers of the land and all its food and vegetation. Nobody moved away from their lands, not even when it got really cold. “People should think back and honor our Elders who survived for thousands of years. Elders told me, ‘Don’t leave the children behind,’ so my wife and I stayed here. Our ancestors are buried here too, we can’t just leave them.”

Sarah James is a world-famous Gwich’in leader and lives in Arctic Village. At the 2011 Arctic Village High School graduation ceremony, she told the students. “Whether you’re living in the village or the city, you have to respect and live in both worlds.” She says. “I’m not encouraging them to move to Fairbanks, but to stay in the village and be proud of their culture and keep the environment clean. To make your life comfortable you have to work for it. Money is something you have to learn how to use, to budget. If not, you can’t make it in either world.”

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Reposted with permission from: Cultural Survival

Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet

In books, culture, ethnicity, government, history, North America, philosophy, politics, religion on January 5, 2013 at 05:24

From: The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet, Killing the Buddha, http://killingthebuddha.com

West has been called “perhaps the preeminent black intellectual of our generation” by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., himself a candidate for that mantle. It might be more accurate to say that West is the preeminent intellectual of our generation, no qualifiers. No other scholar is as widely read, no other philosopher courted by presidential candidates, no other Ivy League professor referenced not just by other academics but by popular filmmakers (The Matrix trilogy, in which West played a bit role, was inspired in part by his work) and musicians (West has collaborated with Prince, Talib Kweli, and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others).

West came to his sense of self by way of a peculiarly American convergence of influences. His is not an “only in America” story but an “especially in America” one, part Emersonian self-reliance, part Motown funk. He’s an intellectual mutt in the best sense, a “freestyle, California spirit,” as he puts it, “rooted in gutbucket blues and jazz dispositions.” Even his trademark black suit is layered with influences—beneath jazz and the blues, there’s 19th century Russian literature. “It’s in emulation of Masha,” he says, one of the heroines of his favorite play, Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a drama of provincial manners set amidst the Russian gentry. West identifies with the lonely woman at the heart of the story. “She’s wearing black, says she’s in mourning.” Her father has just died, she’s trapped in a pointless marriage with a boring man. “But it’s even deeper than that. How do you make deep disappointment a constant companion and still persevere? There is this sense with Masha, when you see her in that black dress, of having a sad soul with a sweet disposition.”

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Reposted with permission from: Killing the Buddha

LIVE Election Night 2012 Coverage with Democracy Now!

In Announcements, North America, politics, video on November 6, 2012 at 20:06

Please follow this link to watch the Coverage at Democracy Now! website

Amy Goodman and Juan González, along with investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, offer real-time results from presidential and congressional races, ballot measures, and reports of voter suppression. Correspondents and guests will join us from Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., New York City and more.

Join the discussion by using the hashtag #DNvote on Twitter to submit comments, photos and videos, sharing your voting day experiences and reflections on our Facebook page or sending email updates from your polling place and to stories@democracynow.org with “election” in the subject line.

Sex and Censorship During the Occupation of Japan by Mark McLelland

In Asia, books, culture, gender, history, North America, politics, sexuality, sociology, war on November 3, 2012 at 20:44

From: Sex and Censorship During the Occupation of Japan by Mark McLelland, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

Historian of sexuality Shimokawa Kōshi has described the first three years of the Occupation, from 1945 to 1948, as a time of “sexual anarchy,” 1 and it is true that many accounts describe the early postwar years as a period of “sexual liberation.” Igarashi Yoshikuni, in particular, has stressed the very visceral sense of release that many Japanese people experienced at the war’s end.2 As we saw in the previous chapter, the militarist authorities had established pervasive surveillance and censorship mechanisms that seriously constrained the expression of sexuality by men and particularly by women. Prostitution was tightly controlled and limited to specific licensed areas, unmarried male and female couples had almost no opportunity to mingle socially, and sexual expression in the press was stymied by the threat of prosecution by the “thought police.” All these restrictions were removed within the first few months of the Occupation.

However, anarchy is probably not quite the right term since it suggests a complete freedom from formal control. But, as we will see, sexuality continued to be highly regulated and supervised, albeit in different ways and with different goals in mind. The Japanese authorities fully expected that the incoming Americans would behave in the same rapacious manner as had their own forces when they advanced across China and were determined to put in place measures to protect the purity of Japanese women. The US administration, on the other hand, rather than viewing their troops as sexual predators, tended to see these young men as “clean, innocent and vulnerable” and in danger of “having their morals corrupted and their health destroyed” by “shameless Japanese women.”3 The policies that the Allies enacted were intended to protect their own troops’ physical wellbeing, with scant regard paid to their effects on Japanese women and society.

Both authorities, Japanese and Occupier, were overwhelmingly concerned to regulate “fraternization” between local women and foreign troops, and many academic studies have examined in detail the lengths to which both sides went to monitor and restrict potential inter-racial sexual contacts.4 However, far less attention has been paid to the effects that the collapse of the military regime and the arrival of the American forces had upon Japanese male and female interaction and the representation of sexual discourse in the Japanese media. This chapter outlines some of the major policy decisions taken by the Occupation administration, particularly regarding the regulation of obscenity in the press that helped shape local Japanese sexual cultures during the Occupation period.

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Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

It’s a Fruit, Goddamn It! by Barry Sanders

In art, history, society on October 31, 2012 at 19:33

From: It’s a Fruit, Goddamn It! by Barry Sanders, Cabinet Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

He consumed Alka-Seltzer tablets like chickpeas. He swore that every person he ever met—including my mother and brother—was stealing him blind. My mother tried to stay out of his way. I stayed completely out of his way. Little by little, tomatoes started to scare the hell out of me. They reminded me too much of his life, his furious, unpredictable, eruptive, and shadowy life. When I saw The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, I immediately thought of my old man. I even had a hard time with ketchup, a substance we were forbidden to have in the house because the Heinz Company—obviously German—made their sauce out of the leftovers, the bottom of the barrel, the rotten of the rotten. Absolute crap.

Dig slightly below the level of the mob, and you’ll come face to face with the wholesale fruit and vegetable business. It was its own kind of underworld, designed to be sordid: the life is a fast-paced, all-male, cash-based affair, transacted in the darkest hours of the night. Customers knew better than to ask for a receipt. Truckloads of fruits and vegetables—worth thousands of dollars—got sold with just a handshake or a nod of the head. Skimming cash is a way to beat the odds. Produce men pay off the cops to leave them alone. Hookers—the “hot tomatoes”—strolled by every few minutes. Bookies were on first-name basis with every sales guy. Runners made their way from produce stall to produce stall carrying punch cards. Punch out the right number and win an easy fifty or even a hundred-dollar bill.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet Magazine

Death by Degrees by n + 1 Magazine

In academia, education, government, history, North America, society, universities on October 15, 2012 at 18:33

From: Death by Degrees by n + 1 Magazine, http://nplusonemag.com

In 605 CE, a year after murdering his father and seizing the throne, the Chinese emperor Yang Guang established the world’s first meritocracy. Weary of making bureaucratic appointments solely on the basis of letters of recommendation, Yang set aside a number of posts for applicants who performed well on a new system of imperial examinations. In theory, any peasant who took the trouble to memorize 400,000 characters — which is to say, anyone who conducted six years of study with an expensive tutor — could join the country’s political elite.

Jean Baudrillard once suggested an important correction to classical Marxism: exchange value is not, as Marx had it, a distortion of a commodity’s underlying use value; use value, instead, is a fiction created by exchange value. In the same way, systems of accreditation do not assess merit; merit is a fiction created by systems of accreditation. Like the market for skin care products, the market for credentials is inexhaustible: as the bachelor’s degree becomes democratized, the master’s degree becomes mandatory for advancement. Our elaborate, expensive system of higher education is first and foremost a system of stratification, and only secondly — and very dimly — a system for imparting knowledge.

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Reposted with permission from: N + 1 Magazine

Choose Your Choice by Claude S. Fischer

In culture, government, North America, politics, psychology, sociology on October 14, 2012 at 16:25

From: Choose Your Choice: The Great American Obsession by Claude S. Fischer Boston Review,  http://www.bostonreview.net

Choice has vastly expanded over American history, and not just in the material realm—the thousands of items in the supermarket, the world of travel destinations, and so on—but also in terms of social opportunities. Through changes in access, custom, and law, Americans have obtained freedom to choose their life paths and companions. Marrying across religious and racial lines, for example, has become increasingly common and acceptable. Gay marriage is coming, too, and already here in some places. Chacun à son goût, say the French, but it’s the Americans who really mean it.

Not only are there now more choices to make, but, over time, more kinds of Americans have gained the power to choose. The ideology of the eighteenth century held that only people who were truly independent—white men of property—were competent to choose wisely. The vote was, sensibly, then, restricted to such men. The next couple of centuries brought the working class, racial minorities, women, and young adults greater rights to choose and also more realistic choices. When women, for instance, could own their own property, earn their own income in respectable professions, and be heard in court, marriage became more equitable and more a matter of equal choice.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

Lonesome No More! Kurt Vonnegut’s Freethinking Heritage by Heather Augustyn

In community, literature, nature, North America, religion, science, writers on October 11, 2012 at 05:57

From: Lonesome No More! Kurt Vonnegut’s Freethinking Heritage by Heather Augustyn, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

… It was after the interview was published by In These Times (Vonnegut was honorary editor of the Chicago-based magazine), that I became more interested in what Vonnegut had to say to me about his family heritage of freethought, a topic upon which not only he wrote, but his great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut too, in published essays and in his own eulogy. Freethought was rich in German culture, as well as the cultures of other European immigrants to the United States. In fact, Clemens Vonnegut founded the Freethinkers Society of Indianapolis in 1870 and served as president of the organization for many years. He was also the founder of a freethinker Sunday school and fought against religion in schools as a member of the Indianapolis Public School Board. In those days many freethinkers were involved in educational issues. Today, freethinkers may choose to be called secular humanists, agnostics, or atheists but to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. they were skeptics and they were his kin. Naturally, skepticism and kinship are two themes that run throughout his fiction.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

The politics of spirituality by Courtney Bender and Omar M. McRoberts

In academia, North America, politics, research on October 11, 2012 at 05:37

From: The politics of spirituality: What does spirituality mean in America today? posted by Courtney Bender and Omar M. McRoberts, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org

Social scientists frequently juxtapose spirituality to religion and identify the former by way of what it lacks in comparison to the latter. In particular, spirituality would appear to lack institutions, authority structures, community, and even history—all of which are considered integral to religion, such as it is widely understood today. Congregational identity, membership, and attendance are key markers for studies of Americans’ religious convictions, and the congregation, therefore, is taken to be an especially important, if not the definitive, site for the political and social mobilization of religious Americans. Against this backdrop, the rising number of “religious nones” (as well as shifts in congregational styles [see Chaves 2009]) emerge not only as new empirical facts but, insofar as their presence is measured against a norm of voluntary participation, also appear to engender a certain anxiety on the part of the scholars who study them (e.g., Olson 2010; Putnam and Campbell 2010). Though “religious nones” may be believers, they appear to lack the kinds of social connectivity that are recognizable to scholars, and that the latter have deemed essential to voluntary political participation. Insofar as spirituality emerges as a term associated with such individuals—and one that seems to sound the alarms about the problems of individualism—it appears as either the weak cousin or the crazy uncle of the norm that continues (or that should continue) to endure (see, e.g., Bellah et al. 1985), or as the spark of regeneration and the movement toward a “new” social order (e.g., York 1995).

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

Anaïs Nin on Paris vs. New York, 1939 by Maria Popova

In art, books, community, culture, Europe, immigration, North America, psychology, society, writers on October 1, 2012 at 02:00

From: Anaïs Nin on Paris vs. New York, 1939 by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

From The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (public library) comes this poignant, articulate description of what Nin experienced as the difference between Parisians and New Yorkers — something recently explored in much lighter, more tongue-in-cheek terms — penned in the winter of 1939:

In Paris, when entering a room, everyone pays attention, seeks to make you feel welcome, to enter into conversation, is curious, responsive. Here it seems everyone is pretending not to see, hear, or look too intently. The faces reveal no interest, no responsiveness.

Overtones are missing. Relationships seem impersonal and everyone conceals his secret life, whereas in Paris it was the exciting substance of our talks, intimate revelations and sharing of experience.

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Reposted with permission from: Maria Popova

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