Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reading in a digital age

From Sven Birkerts' article in The American Scholar:

...SUDDENLY IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE a world in which many interactions formerly dependent on print on paper happen screen to screen. It's no stretch, no exercise in futurism. You can pretty much extrapolate from the habits and behaviors of kids in their teens and 20s, who navigate their lives with little or no recourse to paper. In class they sit with their laptops open on the table in front of them. I pretend they are taking course-related notes, but would not be surprised to find out they are writing to friends, working on papers for other courses, or just trolling their favorite sites while they listen. Whenever there is a question about anything—a date, a publication, the meaning of a word—they give me the answer before I've finished my sentence. From where they stand, Wenders's library users already have a sepia coloration. I know that I present book information to them with a slight defensiveness; I wrap my pronouncements in a preemptive irony. I could not bear to be earnest about the things that matter to me and find them received with that tolerant bemusement I spoke of, that leeway we extend to the beliefs and passions of our elders.

AOL SLOGAN: “We search the way you think.”

I JUST FINISHED READING an article in Harper's by Gary Greenberg (“A Mind of Its Own”) on the latest books on neuropsychology, the gist of which recognizes an emerging consensus in the field, and maybe, more frighteningly, in the culture at large: that there may not be such a thing as mind apart from brain function. As Eric Kandel, one of the writers discussed, puts it: “Mind is a set of operations carried out by the brain, much as walking is a set of operations carried out by the legs, except dramatically more complex.” It's easy to let the terms and comparisons slide abstractly past, to miss the full weight of implication. But Greenberg is enough of an old humanist to recognize when the great supporting trunk of his worldview is being crosscut just below where he is standing and to realize that everything he deems sacred is under threat. His recognition may not be so different from the one that underlay the emergence of Nietzsche's thought. But if Nietzsche found a place of rescue in man himself, his Superman transcending himself to occupy the void left by the loss—the murder—of God, there is no comparable default now.

Brain functioning cannot stand in for mind, once mind has been unmasked as that, unless we somehow grant that the nature of brain partakes of what we had allowed might be the nature of mind. Which seems logically impossible, as the nature of mind allowed possibilities of connection and fulfillment beyond the strictly material, and the nature of brain is strictly material. It means that what we had imagined to be the something more of experience is created in-house by that three-pound bundle of neurons, and that it is not pointing to a larger definition of reality so much as to a capacity for narrative projection engendered by infinitely complex chemical reactions. No chance of a wizard behind the curtain. The wizard is us, our chemicals mingling.

“And if you still think God made us,” writes Greenberg, “there's a neuro­chemical reason for that too.” He quotes writer David Linden, author of The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God (!): “Our brains have become particularly adapted to creating coherent, gap-free stories. . . . This propensity for narrative creation is part of what predisposes us humans to religious thought.” Of course one can, must, ask whence narration itself. What in us requires story rather than the chaotic pullulation that might more accurately describe what is? ...

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US military escalates its dirty war in Afghanistan

... The Times reported that “more than a dozen military and civilian officials directly involved in the Kandahar offensive” had agreed to speak about the special forces' activities because it would help “scare off insurgents” before the bulk of American troops move into Taliban-held areas of the city. This claim is either patent nonsense or deliberate deception. The Taliban do not require an article in the American media to inform them that “large numbers” of their fighters are being killed or captured.

The real motive for the article is to introduce the audience of the New York Times and broader public opinion to the reality of the dirty war that the Obama administration is presiding over in Afghanistan. Assassination, or alternatively, detention without trial under the harshest conditions, is the preferred method of the US military to suppress resistance to the neo-colonial agenda of US imperialism.

The commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is applying the same tactics that he used during the Bush administration's “surge” in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, when he was serving under General David Petraeus as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

JSOC units are drawn from the Army's Delta Force and Ranger battalions, the Navy Seals and specialized units of the Air Force. Regular Marine and Army battalions were used during the battles for Karbala, Najaf and Fallujah in 2004. The Iraq “surge” was marked by the use of JSOC, aided by local collaborators, to kill or capture suspected insurgents ahead of the deployment of larger formations into resistance-held areas.

The secretive mass killings and stories of brutal imprisonment generated terror in urban centers like Ramadi, Baqubah, Mosul, Basra, Amarah and the suburbs of Baghdad. It is credited by sections of the US military as playing an equally decisive role in subduing resistance as the parallel policy of bribing insurgents to cease fighting in exchange for amnesty and cash. ...

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Tragic flaw: Graft feeds Greek crisis

Marcus Walker reports for The Wall Street Journal:

Behind the budget crisis roiling Greece lies a riddle: Why does the state spend so lavishly but collect taxes so poorly? Many Greeks say the answer needs only two words: fakelaki and rousfeti.

Fakelaki is the Greek for "little envelopes," the bribes that affect everyone from hospital patients to fishmongers. Rousfeti means expensive political favors, which pervade everything from hiring teachers to property deals with Greek Orthodox monks. Together, these traditions of corruption and cronyism have produced a state that is both bloated and malnourished, and a crisis of confidence that is shaking all of Europe.

A study to be published in coming weeks by the Washington-based Brookings Institution finds that bribery, patronage and other public corruption are major contributors to the country's ballooning debt, depriving the Greek state each year of the equivalent of at least 8% of its gross domestic product, or more than €20 billion (about $27 billion).

[ ... ]

The Brookings study, which examines the correlation between corruption indicators and fiscal deficits across 40 developed or nearly developed economies, highlights how corruption has hurt public finances in parts of Europe, especially in Greece and Italy, and to a lesser extent in Spain and Portugal.

Greece's budget deficit averaged around 6.5% of GDP over the past five years, including a 13% shortfall last year. If Greece's public sector were as clean and transparent as Sweden's or the Netherlands', the country might have posted budget surpluses over the past decade, the study implies.

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The return of the Raj

C. Raja Mohan writes for The American Interest Magazine:

It is not clear what French President Nicolas Sarkozy had in mind when he invited a contingent of 400 Indian troops to march down the Champs-Élysées for the Bastille Day parade in 2009. But Paris might be on to something that Washington has missed, in spite of its more intensive military engagement with India in recent years. Although Paris does not have the power to engineer international structural changes in New Delhi's favor, it has often been ahead of Washington in strategizing about India. In its effort to build a partnership with India, ongoing since the mid-1990s, France has helped India renegotiate its position in the global nuclear order: It provided diplomatic cover when India defied the world with nuclear tests in May 1998, promoted the idea of changing the global non-proliferation rules to facilitate civilian nuclear cooperation with India, and worked with the Bush Administration to get the international community to endorse India's nuclear exceptionalism.

Of course, Sarkozy's motives might have been merely tactical: a move to butter up Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was among the honored guests at the parade, or to raise its share of India's rapidly expanding market for advanced arms. But Paris is capable of more than tactics: It may sense the prospects of a fundamental change in India's defense orientation and its potential to contribute significantly to international security politics in the 21st century. It may see that a rising India, which runs one of the world's major economies and fields a large armed force, will eventually bear some of the military burdens of maintaining the global order.

If so, it would not be the first time that India has done so. Western analysts, some British excepted, seem not to appreciate two historical facts: that the Indian armed forces contributed significantly to Allied efforts in the 20th century's two world wars; and that India's British Raj was the main peacekeeper in the Indian Ocean littoral and beyond. And it is not just the West that is ignorant of the security legacy of the British Raj; India's own post-colonial political class deliberately induced a collective national amnesia about the country's rich pre-independence military traditions. Its foreign policy establishment still pretends that India's engagement with the world began on August 15, 1947.

The image of Indian troops marching in Paris should remind the world that India's military past could be a useful guide to its strategic future. If the United States and India can together rediscover and revive the Indian military's expeditionary tradition, they will have a solid basis for strategic cooperation not only between themselves but also with the rest of the world's democracies. The Bush Administration showed an instinctive sense of this possibility when it committed itself to assisting India's rise and boosting its defense capabilities. President Barack Obama does seem to have a fund of goodwill toward India, which was reflected in his decision to receive Prime Minister Singh in November 2009 as the first state guest at the White House. But it is not clear if the Obama Administration has a larger strategic conception of the prospects for military and security cooperation with India.

In general, the Democratic administrations of recent times have tended to define engagement with India in terms of global issues and multilateralism rather than converging bilateral interests. Rather than frame the relationship with India using such ambitious but unrealizable multilateral goals, or drag Delhi further than it wishes to go into the Af-Pak mess, the Obama Administration needs to elevate the bilateral military engagement with India to a strategic level. While the U.S. debate on military burden-sharing has traditionally taken place in the context of Washington's alliances with Western Europe and Japan, a rising India may well be a more credible and sustainable partner than these two in coping with new international security challenges. If both sides can shake off the remaining historical baggage that has kept them at arm's length for most of the past sixty years, we may see something remotely like the return of the Raj.

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US panel names 13 countries as religious violators

Saudi Arabia and China are among 13 countries a U.S. government panel named on Thursday as serious violators of religious freedom.

The panel's report also criticized the current and former administrations in Washington for doing far too little to make basic religious rights universal.

That is the goal of the congressional act that founded the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 1998. The commission investigates conditions in what it calls "hot spots," where religious freedom is endangered. Its job is to recommend U.S. government policies to improve conditions.

It is a "small but critically important point of intersection of foreign policy, national security and international religious freedom standards," the report said. "Regrettably that small point seems to shrink year-after-year for the White House and he State Department."

This year's list of 13 "countries of particular concern" included all eight named last year — Myanmar, also known as Burma; China; Eritrea; Iran; North Korea; Saudi Arabia; Sudan; and Uzbekistan — plus Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

U.S. actions currently in force against the original eight include embargoes, often on top of existing sanctions, and denial of military or financial aid. Sanctions have been waived indefinitely for Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan has a waiver of 180 days which remains in force.

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Musical Innerlube: Pulp - This is hardcore

Albarn, Hewlett & Moore team up for John Dee musical opera

From Broadway World:

According to contactmusic.com, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz are teaming up with graphic novelist Alan Moore to write a musical about the life and achievements of 16th-century alchemist John Dee.

John Dee was a noted mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I of England. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination, and Hermetic philosophy.

Of the opera, Albarn had this to say to New York Magazine: "It's based on the life of John Dee, who was a very influential force in Elizabethan Europe, especially England. He was responsible for creating the concept of the British Empire. So he affects all our lives in one way or another. He was an alchemist. It's about his life.
"I've just been reading about Hermetic magic and catalysts and philosophy, which is what all of his stuff is based on. And it's been brilliant."

Albarn has not yet begun to compose the music, but has been extensively researching Dee, philosophy, and magic in order to prepare. He and Hewlett, with Gorillaz, recently released the band's third studio album, Plastic Beach.

Damon Albarn is an English singer-songwriter and record producer. He has been involved in many high profile projects and collaborations throughout his career. Albarn came to prominence as the frontman and primary songwriter of Britpop band Blur, but is also known internationally for his work with popular virtual band Gorillaz, within which he serves as the principal songwriter and lead vocalist. Subsequent projects have included The Good, the Bad & the Queen, Monkey: Journey to the West and Mali Music.

Jamie Hewlett is an English comic book artist and designer. He is best known for being the co-creator of the comic Tank Girl and co-creator of the virtual band Gorillaz; he is responsible for the band's unique animated personas.

Alan Moore is an English writer known for work in comics, including the acclaimed comic book series Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell. He wrote the novel Voice of the Fire, and performs "workings" (one-off performance art/spoken word pieces) with The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre Of Marvels, some released on CD. As a comics writer, Moore applied literary sensibilities to the mainstream of the medium as well as including challenging subject matter and adult themes. He brings a wide range of influences to his work, such as William S. Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Anton Wilson and Iain Sinclair, New Wave science fiction writers like Michael Moorcock and horror writers like Clive Barker. Influences within comics include Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby and Bryan Talbot.

Why can’t our politicians come clean on drugs?

Simon Jenkins writes for the London Evening Standard:

What is the single most curable evil afflicting community life in London? The answer is the criminalisation of drug use under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.

It blights half the capital's youth at some stage or other. It hovers as a black cloud over every neighbourhood, pub and street corner. It causes crime and gangland disorder. It packs the courts and fills the prisons. It costs billions of pounds in personal loss and public spending.

Needless to say, not one party in the current General Election is prepared to discuss it. As a result, London is about to be taught a lesson in social policy by, of all places, America.

As I whiled away last week waiting in Los Angeles for Her Majesty's Government to find an ash cloud policy, I decided to pop into one of many local cannabis “dispensaries” — strictly in the interests of research.

While the exteriors are carefully anonymous, the interiors are designed to cater for all whom “a doctor” has decided need the therapeutic benefits of a dose of “weed”. I could choose between Harmony House and Holistic Harvest. I could try Nature's Wonder or Mary and Jane's mobile delivery service. The Green Oasis chain offers “40 flavours” of cannabis, including Sour Diesel, Blue Dream and Woody Kush, plus a 1,300 square meter “vaporising lounge” to help things go swimmingly along. In most cases, the requisite chit certifying medical need is available on the premises, like club membership in a casino.

California now makes Amsterdam's drug laws look timid. Since the licensing of “medical marijuana” production and sale in 1996, California and 14 states across America have seen a blossoming of cannabis retailing. Some estimates are of more dispensaries (or “clinics”) in Los Angeles than Starbucks. The city authorities reckon they have at least 500 and possibly 1,000 outlets, meaning that in some areas there are more dispensaries than there are bars serving alcohol.

Since reliable figures are hard to find, it is impossible to discover whether the result has been an increase or decrease in the overall consumption of marijuana. Use of the drug has come out of the closet. There are certainly testimonials to the relief of pain delivered, and with it a reduction in need for conventional medicine. There is a corresponding reduction in pressure on law enforcement and imprisonment. Anecdotal evidence suggests that private growers are supplanting the criminal gangs who have long imported supplies from Canada.

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Drone pilots could be tried for ‘war crimes,’ Law prof says

The pilots waging America's undeclared drone war in Pakistan could be liable to criminal prosecution for “war crimes,” a prominent law professor told a Congressional panel Wednesday.

Harold Koh, the State Department's top legal adviser, outlined the administration's legal case for the robotic attacks last month. Now, some legal experts are taking turns to punch holes in Koh's argument.

It's part of an ongoing legal debate about the CIA and U.S. military's lethal drone operations, which have escalated in recent months — and which have received some technological upgrades. Critics of the program, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that the campaign amounts to a program of targeted killing that may violate the laws of war.

In a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's national security and foreign affairs panel, several professors of national security law seemed open to that argument. But there are still plenty of caveats, and the risks to U.S. drone operators are at this point theoretical: Unless a judge in, say, Pakistan, wanted to issue a warrant, it doesn't seem likely. But that's just one of the possible legal hazards of robotic warfare.

Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur. That's because the CIA's drone pilots aren't combatants in a legal sense. “It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant's privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws,” he said.

“Under this view CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause,” Glazier continued. “But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes.”

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Researchers of the bizarre

For those interested, this page is worth a look.

Dorothy Day Documentary: Don't Call Me a Saint



"Dorothy Day: Don't Call Me a Saint" is the first Full-Length Documentary on Dorothy Day by Claudia Larson. Please visit http://www.dorothydaydoc.com for more information.

See also:
Dorothy Day: "Witness" (1964; UCSB archive) part I

Dorothy Day on Christopher Closeup, part I

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott-Heron



A collage of Youtube clips to the original recording from Gil Scott Heron's classic first album.

Words from the later, and more well-known recording are:

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bbout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

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image from http://www.spitting-image.net

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