Monday, July 27, 2015
Steffani Jemison. Personal, 2014.
Part of a video series including Maniac Chase (2008-2009), and Escaped Lunatic (2010-1011). All are currently showing at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum.
Interview with Steffani here.
Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Minions and the Illusion of Voting
by Matt McKenna
Avoiding ads featuring Universal Pictures' Minions is almost as difficult as avoiding political ads for the upcoming presidential election. In case you're somehow not familiar with the minion characters, they are small Tic-Tac-looking creatures who speak half-gibberish and first appeared as bumbling sidekicks in the animated Despicable Me franchise. When it became clear the marketing potential of minions outgrew the confines of the passable children's movie from which they originated, Universal spun out a film focusing on the minions characters themselves. Thus, we have Minions, a story about the eponymous characters' attempt to find an evil leader to whom to pledge allegiance and fulfill their species' destiny. The film's premise may be simple, but it provides a view into our own election process by describing its apparent opposite--instead of politicians being forced to pander to the voting public in order to be elected, Minions inverts the who-must-ingratiate-themselves-to-whom situation and considers what the world would be like if voters (minions) had to convince politicians they are worthy followers. When reexamining American elections through the lens of Minions, it becomes clear that though the minions' leadership-acquiring process may appear to be the exact inverse of the American voters' leadership-acquiring process, they are, in fact, identical.
Minions opens by showing the evolution of the minion species from single cell organism to the plush-doll friendly form that they take in the Despicable Me franchise. Through narration, we learn that minions are a species who form a symbiotic/parasitic relationship with the most "despicable" organism in its ecosystem. Over time, minions are forced to find new villains to follow: from the biggest organism in the primordial soup, to the most fearsome dinosaur in the jungle, to eventually Napoleon, the fiercest dictator on the planet. Unfortunately, after failing Napoleon for the last time, the minions are banished to an ice-cave where they toil away until the 1960s, conveniently rendering them absent from Europe during World War II presumably so the filmmakers wouldn't have to grapple with the minions' desire to serve Hitler.
by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
I would blame three things: Disney, Forest Gump and Fox News.
What did Disney do? He made sentimentality a good and virtuous thing.
What did Forest Gump do? That movie, which won the Oscar for best picture, made stupidity a good and virtuous thing.
What did Fox News do? They made craziness good and virtuous.
Take Disney first.
Before Disney, fairy tales were cruel and filled with horror. After all, in the real Cinderella story, the stepsisters actually hacked at their feet, cut them smaller, blood flowing, so they could fit their feet into Cinderella's shoe.
After Disney, fairy tales became cloyingly sweet and sentimental. And this sentimentality towards fairy tales spilled over into everything. We even get sentimental about our troops, for example.
What do our troops do? They kill people. They are trained to kill people. They are trained murderers. But our politicians, whenever they want to appear patriotic, put their hands on their hearts and blab on about what heroes our troops are.
Heroes? Guys who go to foreign lands to kill people? Guys who, because Bush and Cheney told them, went to Iraq and murdered over half-a-million Iraqis, many of them women and children, for no good reason at all? Just because our President ordered them to do so? These are heroes? Give me a break. They are deluded mass murderers — virtuous pawns deluded by our terrible leaders.
This is the sort of sentimentality that leads folks to get so patriotic about America that they call us the exceptional nation.
Exceptional for what?
by Brooks Riley
by Sue Hubbard
In the early 20th century alternative philosophies were beginning to permeate western culture. Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy, the teachings of the Armenian mystic, G. I. Gurdjieff and the American Christian Science, spread through the works of Mary Baker Eddy: Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, were gathering momentum. As was an interest in psychoanalysis. The hold of the Anglican Church, in which the sculptor Barbara Hepworth had been raised, was losing its grip. Many artists and intellectuals were looking for alternative means of spiritual and artistic expression.
At various times throughout her life Hepworth identified herself as a Christian Scientist. (Broadly, in Christian Science, spirit is understood to be the meaning and reality of being, where all issues contrary to the goodness of Spirit - God - are considered to originate in the flesh -‘matter' - understood as materialism where humanity is separated from God).
Hepworth's beliefs were fluid rather than constrained by doctrine and changed throughout her life. Yet what is clear from her archives is that spiritual concerns were central both to her life and work. With its emphasis on an infinite and harmonious intelligence, Christian Science provided her with an alternative lens through which to reassess orthodox Western beliefs. When, after her failed marriage to the sculptor John Skeaping she met the artist Ben Nicholson who was to become her second husband, the fact that he was a Christian Scientist gave their romantic and artistic relationship a charged metaphysical perspective. In an interview in 1965 with the Christian Science Monitor, Hepworth asserted that: "A sculpture should be an act of praise, an enduring expression of the divine spirit'.
by Bill Benzon
There can be little doubt that President Obama’s eulogy for Clementa Pinckney was an extraordinary performance and a powerful statement about the state of race relations in the United States of America. But it is also a bit puzzling, for that statement took the form of a sermon. As such, it was religious discourse and not secular political discourse.
That’s what I want to talk about, not to reach any specific conclusions, but to raise questions, to call for a conversation about and an examination of the role of religious discourse in civic life.
Rather than develop those questions directly, I want to place Obama’s eulogy on the table to a moment and consider a recent conversation between Glenn Loury, an economist at Brown University, and John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia. That will establish the context in which I offer a few remarks about Obama’s performance. Then I want to place in evidence a statement that Robert Mann made about Laudato Si’, the recent and quite remarkable encyclical by Pope Francis.
The ‘Cult’ of Ta-Nehisi Coates
Loury and McWhorter had this conversation at Bloggingheads.tv on July 21, 2015. After opening pleasantries and some remarks about Obama, they move on to discuss the ascendancy of Ta-Nehisi Coates as a commentator on race relations in America. Starting at somewhat after nine minutes in McWhorter argues that Coates has become somewhat like the priest of a religion:
There is now what a Martian anthropologist would call a religion. Which is that one is to understand the role of racism in America’s past and present.
And Coates has reached a point, and this is not anything that I ever predicted, where he is the priest of it. Because, and this is the crucial point, James Baldwin […] his point was often that race IS America, that the race problem is the essence of America and where it needs to go. And people read that and they quoted it but it wasn’t something that ordinary white readers really felt at the time.
Whereas today, really, that is something that whites feel such that Coates is revered. He is not considered somebody where you actually assess whether what he’s saying is true, you’re only supposed to criticize him in the gentlest of terms. He’s a priest of a religion.
by Eric Byrd
As a teenager who just wanted battles, I tried to read The Face of Battle and was baffled by the historiographic argument of Keegan's introduction, a long essay that, I now see, echoes Virginia Woolf's manifesto "Modern Fiction" and applies its prescriptions to historical prose. Keegan called to writers of military history as Woolf called to the novelists of her time – "Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected or incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness." Keegan urged historians to turn away from tidy narratives of battle and acknowledge the horizonless confusion experienced by even the best-positioned participants of those battles; urged them to understand that most soldiers don't even know when they are engaged in battle, or at least "battle" as it was understood by the Victorians: a national apotheosis or histrionic downfall; the Hinge of Destiny; and he recommended the historian read and take to heart the chaotic combat scenes in Tolstoy's War and Peace, just as Woolf prescribed Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov to the fiction writer tempted by pat characterization, superficial psychology, all-too-conclusive action, and purely material relations.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Siobhan Roberts in The Guardian:
For the last quarter century Conway has held the position of Princeton’s John von Neumann distinguished professor in applied and computational mathematics, now emeritus. Before that, he spent three decades at Cambridge, where in the 1970s, he dived deep into the vast ocean of mathematical symmetry. He discovered a 24-dimensional symmetry group that came to bear his name, and, with his colleague Simon Norton, he illuminated the 196,883-dimensional Monster group with a paper titled “Monstrous Moonshine”. Conway also discovered a new class of numbers, infinitely large and infinitesimally small, which are now known as “surreal numbers”. Those achievements earned him a spot as a fellow of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, the oldest scientific society in the world. Conway likes to mention that when he was elected in 1981, he signed the big book of fellows at the induction ceremony and was pleased to see on previous pages the names Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, and Bertrand Russell.
Conway’s is a jocund and playful egomania, sweetened by self-deprecating charm. He has on many occasions admitted: “I do have a big ego! As I often say, modesty is my only vice. If I weren’t so modest, I’d be perfect.” That said, he is irresistibly drawn to piddling away his days playing games, preferably silly children’s games.
The solution to extremism lies through strategies that enable rather than constrain the space for Muslim free expression.
Zaheer Kazmi in Open Democracy:
In expanding the focus of the state’s enforcement powers from monitoring the planning and execution of specific terrorist acts to scrutinizing any opinions it deems ‘extremist’ in everyday environments, Cameron’s anti-extremism strategy also marks a significant departure from previous governments in its unprecedented degree of intervention into the policing of ideas in the UK.
Stifling dissent in these ways—through what Cameron has called the need for a “muscular” rather than “misguided” liberalism—can have paradoxical implications which allow ISIS to subvert the role of the ‘freedom fighter.’ This subversion lies at the heart of the radicalisation conundrum and can help to explain why jihadists can attract young Muslims to their cause. Cameron’s Birmingham speech rightly identified the problem of the allure which ‘makes celebrities of violent murderers,’ but suppressing rather than re-channelling the impulses that lead impressionable minds to make such dangerously mistaken choices may not, in the end, defuse the potency of this attraction.
From The Economist:
The Nazis succeeded in exterminating millions of Jews. But they did not succeed in extinguishing their history. That is the story told by Samuel Kassow, an American historian, in a poignant and detailed account of the secret archive of the Warsaw ghetto.
In the autumn of 1940, Warsaw's Jewish population, swollen by forced immigration, amounted to nearly 450,000 people, all of them walled into an area covering less than four square kilometres. By early 1942 about 83,000 had died from hunger. That summer 300,000 were sent away to death camps, mostly to Treblinka. In April and May 1943 the remaining 60,000 were killed, or captured and deported, in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, during which the Germans levelled that part of the city.
Mr Kassow starts his story amid the passionate arguments among Jews in the declining days of the three great empires: the German, the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian. Was the great dream to be integration? Was it in identification with the surging national consciousness of countries such as Poland, at that stage still partitioned? Was it emigration to a Jewish state in Palestine? Or in the hope of a socialist paradise based on a brotherhood of man rather than ethnic, religious or national affiliation? Or some mixture of the above? Was Hebrew the real language of Jews, or a snooty, artificial distraction? Was Yiddish a degenerate linguistic compromise, or the essential literary and political medium?
Manu Joseph in The New York Times:
The global view that ancient Indians performed extreme gymnastics while making love was seeded by a late-19th-century English translation of a Sanskrit text called the Kama Sutra, which contained, among other things, details of sexual positions, practical advice on seduction and a note on types of erotic women, who were named after mammals even though, as a book released this month observes, they made noises like birds.
“The Mare’s Trap: Nature and Culture in the Kamasutra” by Wendy Doniger, an American academic, argues, as some discerning couples may have suspected, that the sex in the Kama Sutra is more prank than instructional manual. But the grand ambition of her book is to elevate the Kama Sutra to the status of two great philosophical works that have influenced Indian society: Manu’s Dharmashastra, which invented castes and defined women as subordinate to men, embarrassing some fine people who share the author’s name, and Kautilya’s Arthashastra, a ruthless book on statecraft.
Very little is known about the origins of the Kama Sutra. No portion of the original text has survived. It was probably written in Sanskrit by one Vatsyayana. He seems to have been a compiler of sexual habits, and he blamed another scholar for inventing some of the very difficult sexual positions. Ms. Doniger believes that the Kama Sutra is about 2,000 years old, but she told me that this is based solely on circumstantial evidence.
The reason she takes the Kama Sutra so seriously is that even though she feels that the sexual positions were fantasies, she sees in the rest of the work nothing short of anthropology, a rare portrait of an affluent ancient society.
J. W. Mason in Jacobin:
The Greek crisis is not fundamentally about Greek government debt. Nor in its current acute form, is it about the balance of payments between Greece and the rest of the world. Rather, it is about the Greek banking system, and the withdrawal of support for it by the central bank. The solution accordingly is for Greece to regain control of its central bank.
I can’t properly establish the premise here. Suffice to say:
1. On the one hand, the direct economic consequences of default are probably nil. (Recall that Greece in some sense already defaulted, less than five years ago.) Even if default resulted in a complete loss of access to foreign credit, Greece today has neither a trade deficit nor a primary fiscal deficit to be financed. And with respect to the fiscal deficit, if the Greek central bank behaved like central banks in other developed countries, financing a deficit domestically would not be a problem.
And with respect to the external balance, the evidence, both historicaland contemporary, suggests that financial markets do not in fact punish defaulters. (And why should they? The extinction of unserviceable debt almost by definition makes a government a better credit risk post-default, and capitalists are no more capable of putting principle ahead of profit in this case than in others.)
The costs of default, rather, are the punishment imposed by the creditors, in this case by the European Central Bank (ECB). The actual cost of default is being paid already — in the form of shuttered Greek banks, the result of the refusal of the Bank of Greece (BoG) to extend them the liquidity they need to honor depositors’ withdrawal requests.
2. On the other hand, Greece’s dependence on its official creditors is not, as most people imagine, simply the result of an unwillingness of the private sector to hold Greek government debt, but also of the ECB’s decision to forbid — on what authority, I don’t know — the Greek government from issuing more short-term debt. This although Greek treasury bills (T-bills), held in large part by the private sector,currently carry interest rates between 2 and 3 percent — half what Greece is being charged by the ECB.
George Dvorsky in io9:
Kepler 452b is located 1,400 light-years from our Sun. It weighs in at a hefty five Earth-masses and features a radius about 1.63-times larger than Earth’s. Technically speaking, that makes it a super-Earth, which is defined as an exoplanet with a mass between two- and ten-times that of Earth.
This possibly rocky planet orbits its G2 host star—the same type as ours—every 384 days, which is the longest orbital period of any small, transiting exoplanet observed to date. (“Small,” in this context, refers to a planet with a diameter less than two Earth-radii). The astronomers aren’t completely sure it’s a terrestrial planet, however, assigning a confidence level between 49% to 62%. There’s a distinct possibility, therefore, that Kepler 542b is more like a mini-Neptune than another Earth, which would reduce its odds of harboring life—or life as we know it—to basically zero.
Its host star is about 10% bigger than ours, and features an effective temperature of approximately 5,757 Kelvin (5,483 degrees Celsius). Kepler 542b is situated about 5% farther from its star than Earth, but receives about 10% more energy. It likely features a thicker atmosphere and cloud cover, and active volcanoes on its surface. Stellar evolution models place the age of the host star at 6-billion years, plus or minus a couple of billion.
As noted by the Kepler researchers at the press conference yesterday, “It’s the closest thing that we have to the planet Earth,” adding that it “receives roughly the same amount of energy, and with a star that’s a bit older and brighter.”
But is it Habitable?
Probably not—but it’s not an impossibility. Breathless talk of Kepler 452b being “Earth 2.0” or “Earth’s twin” tends to overlook the differences between the two planets (the possibility that it is actually a small gas planet, for example). That said, it has a number of things going for it that are intriguing, from an astrobiological perspective.
Mazviita Chirimuuta in Nautilus:
Philosophers have a bad reputation for casting unwarranted doubt on established facts. Little could be more certain than your belief that the cloudless sky, on a summer afternoon, is blue. Yet we may wonder in earnest, is it also blue for the birds who fly up there, who have different eyes from ours? And if you take an object that shares that color—like the flag of the United Nations—and place half in shadow and half in the full sun, one side will be a darker blue. You might ask, what is the real color of the flag? The appearances of colors are frequently changing with the light, and as we move the objects surrounding them. Does that mean that the actual colors change?
All these questions point us to the idea that colors are, despite first appearances, subjective and transitory. Color is one of the longstanding puzzles in philosophy, raising doubts about the truthfulness of our sensory grasp on things, and provoking concerns as to the metaphysical compatibility of scientific, perceptual, and common sense representations of the world. Most philosophers have argued that colors are either real or not real, physical or psychological. The greater challenge is to theorize the subtle way that color stands between our understanding of the physical and the psychological.My response is to say that colors are not properties of objects (like the U.N. flag) or atmospheres (like the sky) but of perceptual processes—interactions which involve psychological subjects and physical objects. In my view, colors are not properties of things, they are ways that objects appear to us, and at the same time, ways that we perceive certain kinds of objects. This account of color opens up a perspective on the nature of consciousness itself.
Picture: In this painting, “The Tree,” by Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, the dynamic, wavy black-and-white patterns seem to generate colorful vertical lines. Chirimuuta chose this painting as the cover to her book, Outside Color, because, she says, “I like to think that this symbolizes how color comes into the world because of the continual interactions between perceivers and things perceived.”
Oliver Sacks in The New York Times:
A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are). It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death. I told my friends Kate and Allen, “I would like to see such a sky again when I am dying.” “We’ll wheel you outside,” they said. I have been comforted, since I wrote in February about having metastatic cancer, by the hundreds of letters I have received, the expressions of love and appreciation, and the sense that (despite everything) I may have lived a good and useful life. I remain very glad and grateful for all this — yet none of it hits me as did that night sky full of stars.
I have tended since early boyhood to deal with loss — losing people dear to me — by turning to the nonhuman. When I was sent away to a boarding school as a child of 6, at the outset of the Second World War, numbers became my friends; when I returned to London at 10, the elements and the periodic table became my companions. Times of stress throughout my life have led me to turn, or return, to the physical sciences, a world where there is no life, but also no death. And now, at this juncture, when death is no longer an abstract concept, but a presence — an all-too-close, not-to-be-denied presence — I am again surrounding myself, as I did when I was a boy, with metals and minerals, little emblems of eternity. At one end of my writing table, I have element 81 in a charming box, sent to me by element-friends in England: It says, “Happy Thallium Birthday,”a souvenir of my 81st birthday last July; then, a realm devoted to lead, element 82, for my just celebrated82nd birthday earlier this month. Here, too, is a little lead casket, containing element 90, thorium, crystalline thorium, as beautiful as diamonds, and, of course, radioactive — hence the lead casket.
At the start of the year, in the weeks after I learned that I had cancer, I felt pretty well, despite my liver being half-occupied by metastases.
“I carve to the beat of the heart”
................... — Barbara Hepworth
Below an oasis of shadows
palms and mirroring pools
where sculptures grow like trees;
an ochre jacket, overalls stiff
with dust, still hang expectant
behind the greenhouse door
mallet, chisel, drill,
the paraphernalia of a mason’s art
seem only momentarily set aside.
On her bench a block of stone
white, unhewn, waits
in perpetuity for her hands
to set free the trapped planes of light.
In the silence
the punctured cry of gulls.
by Sue Hubbard
from Everything Begins with the Skin
published by Enitharmon
An article by Sue Hubbard on Hepworth will appear on Monday here
at 3QD to coincide with the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at Tate Britain:
Barbara Hepworth - Sculpture for a Modern World;
the exhibit will run until 25th Oct 2015
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Mohammed Hanif in the New York Times:
When I take my dog for a walk on the beach near my house in Karachi, this is how people react: Mothers tell their kids, look, a dog; kids ask me the dog’s name and if they can touch him; most grown men either recoil or ask me about the price and the breed. Sometimes when I see someone heading to the neighborhood mosque, I cross to the other side of the street. There is a popular belief among the pious that if they come in contact with a dog, they become unclean. You have to take a ritual bath before you can offer your prayers.
Worshipers are usually in a hurry in Karachi. These are perilous times, and I don’t want to come between men of God and God by delaying their prayers. They are, after all, fulfilling their obligation as I am trying to do.
I grew up in a very religious household where dogs weren’t exactly loved, but our faith wasn’t threatened every time a dog appeared on our doorstep. As a teenager in our village in central Punjab, I saw our local imam, who led the prayers, playing with his Russian poodle.
More here. [Thanks to Ruchira Paul.]
Peter Beinart in The Atlantic:
I have a fantasy. It’s that every politician and pundit who goes on TV to discuss the Iran deal is asked this question first: “Did you support the Iraq War, and how has that experience informed your position?”
For me, it would be a painful question. I supported the Iraq War enthusiastically. I supported it because my formative foreign-policy experiences had been the Gulf War and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which led me to exaggerate the efficacy of military force and downplay its risks. As Iraq spiraled into disaster, I felt intellectually unmoored. When my sister-in-law was deployed there for a year, leaving her young daughter behind, I was consumed with guilt that I had contributed to their hardship. To this day, when I walk down the street and see a homeless veteran, I feel nauseous. I give some money and a word of thanks, and think about offering an apology. But I don’t, because there’s no apology big enough. The best I can do is learn from my mistake. These days, that means supporting the diplomatic deal with Iran.
I’m not saying that everyone who supported the Iraq War must feel as I do. I’m simply saying this: In most televised discussions of Iran, the word “Iraq” never comes up, and that’s insane. The Iraq War was one of the most important, and damaging, episodes in the history of U.S. foreign policy. The debate preceding it pitted people who believed Saddam Hussein was malevolent but rational against people who believed he might well nuke the United States. It pitted people who trusted that International Atomic Energy Agency inspections could contain Saddam’s nuclear program against people who thought he would build a nuke under the IAEA’s nose. Most fundamentally, it pitted people who believed that the only way to keep America safe was to force Iraq’s utter capitulation, via regime change, against people who preferred an imperfect accommodation that did not risk war. Sound familiar?
Allison Schrager in Quartz (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File):
A new paper from University of Michigan economics professor Michael Mueller-Smith measures how much incapacitation reduced crime. He looked at court records from Harris County, Texas from 1980 to 2009.Mueller-Smith observed that in Harris County people charged with similar crimes received totally different sentences depending on the judge to whom they were randomly assigned. Mueller-Smith then tracked what happened to these prisoners. He estimated that each year in prison increases the odds that a prisoner would reoffend by 5.6% a quarter. Even people who went to prison for lesser crimes wound up committing more serious offenses subsequently, the more time they spent in prison. His conclusion: Any benefit from taking criminals out of the general population is more than off-set by the increase in crime from turning small offenders into career criminals.
High recidivism rates are not unique to Texas: Within 5 years of release more than 75% of prisoners are arrested again.
Slavoj Zizek in In These Times:
Varoufakis repeatedly made this point clear: what was needed to give the Greek economy a chance to rebound was not more borrowing but an overall re-haul. The first step in this direction would be an increase in the democratic transparency in regards to the exercise of power. Our democratically elected state apparatuses are increasingly impaired by both a network of “agreements” (TISA, etc.) and by non-elected “expert” bodies that wield the real economic (and military) power. Here is Varoufakis’s reporton an extraordinary moment in his dealings with Jeroen Dijsselbloem:
There was a moment when the President of the Eurogroup decided to move against us and effectively shut us out, and made it known that Greece was essentially on its way out of the Eurozone. … There is a convention that communiqués must be unanimous, and the President can’t just convene a meeting of the Eurozone and exclude a member state. And he said, “Oh I’m sure I can do that.” So I asked for a legal opinion. It created a bit of a kerfuffle. For about 5 to 10 minutes the meeting stopped, clerks, officials were talking to one another, on their phone, and eventually some official, some legal expert addressed me, and said the following words: “Well, the Eurogroup does not exist in law, there is no treaty which has convened this group.” So what we have is a non-existent group that has the greatest power to determine the lives of Europeans. It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential. So no citizen ever knows what is said within. … These are decisions of almost life and death, and no member has to answer to anybody.
Sounds familiar? Yes, to anyone who knows how Chinese power functions today. After Mao’s death, Deng Tsiao-Ping established a dual political system: the state apparatus and legal system are redoubled by the Party institutions which are literally extralegal—or, as He Weifang, a law professor from Beijing, put it:
As an organization, the Party sits outside, and above, the law. It should have a legal identity, in other words, a person to sue, but it is not even registered as an organization. The Party exists outside the legal system altogether.
It is as if, as Walter Benjamin put it , violence which sustains state power remains present, embodied in an organization with an unclear legal status.
David Shariatmadari in The Guardian (Photograph: Richard Saker):
His 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, a primer on a career’s worth of psychological inquiry, won the US National Academy of Sciences book award, and the enthusiastic approval of his peers. It tells the story of “two systems” of thought, one automatic and intuitive, the realm of systematic biases, the other conscious and deliberative. It is a challenging work, clearly written but stuffed even so with difficult problems and counter-intuitive explanations. Despite that, it has sold millions of copies around the world. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, professor of risk engineering and author of The Black Swan, places it “in the same league asThe Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud”.
What’s fascinating is that Kahneman’s work explicitly swims against the current of human thought. Not even he believes that the various flaws that bedevil decision-making can be successfully corrected. The most damaging of these is overconfidence: the kind of optimism that leads governments to believe that wars are quickly winnable and capital projects will come in on budget despite statistics predicting exactly the opposite. It is the bias he says he would most like to eliminate if he had a magic wand. But it “is built so deeply into the structure of the mind that you couldn’t change it without changing many other things”.
The same applies to our habit of predicting stereotypical outcomes at the expense of what’s known about the world. When told of a student, Tom, who has a preference for neat and tidy systems and a penchant for sci-fi, most of us guess that he’s studying computer sciences and not a humanities subject. This is despite the fact that the group studying the latter is far larger. “Think of it this way. A form of stereotyping is involved in understanding the world. So I have a stereotype of a table, I have a stereotype of chairs. Now when you start having stereotypes of social groups, it’s the human mind at work. It’s not a different mind. It’s what you need to get around in the world.” You can slow down and become aware of this, Kahneman believes, but the underlying mechanism isn’t going to change.
Rosecrans Baldwin in The Morning News:
Sarah Hepola is the personal essays editor at Salon and a contributor to The Morning News since 2002, one of our very first writers. She’s also a close friend, in part because her pieces have always been exactly what we want to publish at TMN: investigative essays that are personal, funny, and very smart. Her new book, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget is an addiction memoir, and it’s also all of those things, but much more. As the Times critic Dwight Garner wrote recently, with a little more flamboyance than we expect in his reviews, “Simply extraordinary…. Ms. Hepola’s electric prose marks her as a flamingo among this genre’s geese.” Blackout tells the story of the author’s problems with “the gasoline of all adventure,” as she puts it, from a very specific and misunderstood angle: the phenomenon of blackouts, or those moments when a drinker’s long-term memory shuts down while drinking. In Hepola’s experience, blacking out was part of some of her worst moments as an alcoholic, and the book finds her investigating what the phenomenon is exactly, and what really happened when her memory turned off. After we read the book, we were surprised to realize how little we knew about blacking out, too, so we reached out to Sarah to find out more.
Blacking out isn’t the same as passing out, not the same as “browning out,” as they say in It’s Always Sunny. What is it?
A blackout is when you drink so much that your long-term memory shuts down. You can still talk and make jokes and flirt with random guys, but the recorder in the brain isn’t working, so, afterward, you won’t remember a thing. It’s an alcohol-imposed amnesia. Not everyone will have blackouts, which makes it confusing for those who don’t, and for those of us who do, it’s unforgettable. You wake up, and pieces of your night are missing.
Peter Brown in Lapham's Quarterly:
When Christians of late antiquity thought of religious giving, they went back to what for them was the beginning—to the words of Jesus. The words of Jesus to the Rich Young Man described a transfer of “treasure” from earth to heaven: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’ ” Jesus repeated this challenge to his disciples: “Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” The transfer of treasure from earth to heaven was also current in Jewish circles. In the Jerusalem Talmud of the late fourth century, there is a story about King Monobazos, the Jewish king of Adiabene on the Euphrates. He was said to have spent his fortune providing food for the poor in Jerusalem. His infuriated relatives accused him of living up to his name, which was derived from the word bazaz—“to plunder.” Monobazos was plundering his earthly inheritance. He answered them: “My fathers laid up treasure for below, but I have laid up treasures for above. They laid up treasures in a place over which the hand of man may prevail: I in a place over which no hand can prevail.”
The words of Jesus and the story of King Monobazos urged or described heroic acts of renunciation and generosity. By the third century, however, in both Judaism and Christianity, the gesture of giving had become miniaturized, as it were. One did not have to perform feats of heroic self-sacrifice or charity to place treasure in heaven. Small gifts would do. For instance, Cyprian, who became the bishop of Carthage around 249, treated the steady, low-profile flow of alms to the poor on the same footing as the renunciation of all wealth that Jesus had urged on the Rich Young Man. Heaven was thus not only a place of great treasure houses, it included prime real estate in a state of continuous construction due to almsgiving performed on earth by means of common, coarse money.
When one turns to present-day scholarship on this theme, we find that the idea of a transfer of treasure to heaven is surrounded by a loud silence.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Anonymous in the NY Review of Books:
Ahmad Fadhil was eighteen when his father died in 1984. Photographs suggest that he was relatively short, chubby, and wore large glasses. He wasn’t a particularly poor student—he received a B grade in junior high—but he decided to leave school. There was work in the garment and leather factories in his home city of Zarqa, Jordan, but he chose instead to work in a video store, and earned enough money to pay for some tattoos. He also drank alcohol, took drugs, and got into trouble with the police. So his mother sent him to an Islamic self-help class. This sobered him up and put him on a different path. By the time Ahmad Fadhil died in 2006 he had laid the foundations of an independent Islamic state of eight million people that controlled a territory larger than Jordan itself.
The rise of Ahmad Fadhil—or as he was later known in the jihad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—and ISIS, the movement of which he was the founder, remains almost inexplicable. The year 2003, in which he began his operations in Iraq, seemed to many part of a mundane and unheroic age of Internet start-ups and a slowly expanding system of global trade. Despite the US-led invasion of Iraq that year, the borders of Syria and Iraq were stable. Secular Arab nationalism appeared to have triumphed over the older forces of tribe and religion. Different religious communities—Yezidis, Shabaks, Christians, Kaka’is, Shias, and Sunnis—continued to live alongside one another, as they had for a millennium or more. Iraqis and Syrians had better incomes, education, health systems, and infrastructure, and an apparently more positive future, than most citizens of the developing world. Who then could have imagined that a movement founded by a man from a video store in provincial Jordan would tear off a third of the territory of Syria and Iraq, shatter all these historical institutions, and—defeating the combined militaries of a dozen of the wealthiest countries on earth—create a mini empire?
The story is relatively easy to narrate, but much more difficult to understand. It begins in 1989, when Zarqawi, inspired by his Islamic self-help class, traveled from Jordan to “do jihad” in Afghanistan. Over the next decade he fought in the Afghan civil war, organized terrorist attacks in Jordan, spent years in a Jordanian jail, and returned—with al-Qaeda help—to set up a training camp in Herat in western Afghanistan. He was driven out of Afghanistan by the US-led invasion of 2001, but helped back onto his feet by the Iranian government. Then, in 2003—with the assistance of Saddam loyalists—he set up an insurgency network in Iraq. By targeting Shias and their most holy sites, he was able to turn an insurgency against US troops into a Shia–Sunni civil war.