The Owls: Loneliness, A Coloring Book by Daupo

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Daupo’s Loneliness is a coloring book for adults, available here on Etsy. The artist lives in NYC. The Owls site hosts digital writing projects and some art projects. New pages from the coloring book will appear on the site each Monday for the next eight weeks. You can subscribe to updates from The Owls via email at WordPress or become a fan of the site on Facebook.

Are There Secular Reasons?

Stanley_fishStanley Fish in the NYT (via Andrew Sullivan):

While secular discourse, in the form of statistical analyses, controlled experiments and rational decision-trees, can yield banks of data that can then be subdivided and refined in more ways than we can count, it cannot tell us what that data means or what to do with it. No matter how much information you pile up and how sophisticated are the analytical operations you perform, you will never get one millimeter closer to the moment when you can move from the piled-up information to some lesson or imperative it points to; for it doesn’t point anywhere; it just sits there, inert and empty.

Once the world is no longer assumed to be informed by some presiding meaning or spirit (associated either with a theology or an undoubted philosophical first principle) and is instead thought of as being “composed of atomic particles randomly colliding and . . . sometimes evolving into more and more complicated systems and entities including ourselves” there is no way, says Smith, to look at it and answer normative questions, questions like “what are we supposed to do?” and “at the behest of who or what are we to do it?”

Smith is not in the business of denigrating science and rationalism or minimizing their great achievements. Secular reason — reason cut off from any a priori stipulations of what is good and valuable — can take us a long way. We’ll do fine as long as we only want to find out how many X’s or Y’s there are or investigate their internal structure or discover what happens when they are combined, and so forth.

But the next step, the step of going from observation to evaluation and judgment, proves difficult, indeed impossible, says Smith, for the “truncated discursive resources available within the downsized domain of ‘public reason’ are insufficient to yield any definite answer to a difficult issue — abortion, say, or same sex marriage, or the permissibility of torture . . . .” If public reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?” No way that is not a sleight of hand. This is the cul de sac Enlightenment philosophy traps itself in when it renounces metaphysical foundations in favor of the “pure” investigation of “observable facts.”

Russell Blackford and Norman Geras respond.

if only he had learned how to draw!

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One of the most common complaints made about today’s artists is their apparent inability to draw. In matters of art, no question is more decisive, more majestically final, than: “But can he/she draw?” In a melodramatic hatchet job on Francis Bacon, Picasso biographer John Richardson recently claimed that Bacon’s “graphic ineptitude” was his Achilles heel: “Tragically, he failed to teach himself to draw.” The pro-life-drawing movement is one of the most lasting legacies of the artistic Renaissance in Florence, for it was here that disegno (design or drawing) was enshrined as the source of all visual competence. The first art academy, founded in Florence in 1563 on the urging of Giorgio Vasari, was called the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, and the curriculum centred on drawing of the live (and dead) model, and of approved artworks that would enable the aspiring artist to “correct” nature. Michelangelo, a compulsive drawer whose most exquisite creations are the subject of a major exhibition at the Courtauld Institute Galleries, was being typically Florentine when he asserted that “Design, which by another name is called drawing . . . is the fount and body of painting and sculpture and architecture and of every other kind of painting and the root of all sciences.”

more from James Hall at The Guardian here. (h/t Elatia Harris)

Sunday Poem

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

by Robert Hayden

from Twentieth Century American Poetry
McGraw-Hill, 2004

TIME TO START TAKING THE INTERNET SERIOUSLY

David Gelernter in Edge:

Gelernter300 1. No moment in technology history has ever been more exciting or dangerous than now. The Internet is like a new computer running a flashy, exciting demo. We have been entranced by this demo for fifteen years. But now it is time to get to work, and make the Internet do what we want it to.

2. One symptom of current problems is the fundamental puzzle of the Internet. (Algebra and calculus have fundamental theorems; the Internet has a fundamental puzzle.) If this is the information age, what are we so well-informed about? What do our children know that our parents didn't? (Yes they know how to work their computers, but that's easy compared to — say — driving a car.) I'll return to this puzzle.

3. Here is a simpler puzzle, with an obvious solution. Wherever computers exist, nearly everyone who writes uses a word processor. The word processor is one of history's most successful inventions. Most people call it not just useful but indispensable. Granted that the word processor is indeed indispensable, what good has it done? We say we can't do without it; but if we had to give it up, what difference would it make? Have word processors improved the quality of modern writing? What has the indispensable word processor accomplished?

4. It has increased not the quality but the quantity of our writing — “our” meaning society's as a whole. The Internet for its part has increased not the quality but the quantity of the information we see. Increasing quantity is easier than improving quality. Instead of letting the Internet solve the easy problems, it's time we got it to solve the important ones.

More here.

Genetics in the Gut: Intestinal Microbes Could Drive Obesity and Other Health Issues

From Scientific American:

Genetics-in-the-gut_1 Outnumbering our human cells by about 10 to one, the many minuscule microbes that live in and on our bodies are a big part of crucial everyday functions. The lion's share live in the intestinal tract, where they help fend off bad bacteria and aid in digesting our dinners. But as scientists use genetics to uncover what microbes are actually present and what they're doing in there, they are discovering that the bugs play an even larger role in human health than previously suspected—and perhaps at times exerting more influence than human genes themselves.

One team of researchers recently completed a catalogue of some 3.3 million human gut microbe genes. Their work, led by Junjie Qin of BGI–Shenzhen (formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute) and published in the March 4 edition of Nature, adds to the expanding—but nowhere near complete—census of species that reside in the intestinal tract. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

Another group turned its attention to a particular host gene that seems to impact these inhabitants of the intestines. They found that in mice, a loss of one key gene led to a shift in microbiota communities and an increase in insulin resistance, obesity and other symptoms of metabolic syndrome (a cluster of these conditions). Their results were published online March 4 in Science.

More here.

The Wrong Kind of Green

Johann Hari in The Nation:

1267724983-large Why did America's leading environmental groups jet to Copenhagen and lobby for policies that will lead to the faster death of the rainforests–and runaway global warming? Why are their lobbyists on Capitol Hill dismissing the only real solutions to climate change as “unworkable” and “unrealistic,” as though they were just another sooty tentacle of Big Coal?

At first glance, these questions will seem bizarre. Groups like Conservation International are among the most trusted “brands” in America, pledged to protect and defend nature. Yet as we confront the biggest ecological crisis in human history, many of the green organizations meant to be leading the fight are busy shoveling up hard cash from the world's worst polluters–and burying science-based environmentalism in return. Sometimes the corruption is subtle; sometimes it is blatant. In the middle of a swirl of bogus climate scandals trumped up by deniers, here is the real Climategate, waiting to be exposed.

More here.

A history of the Iraq war, told entirely in lies

Sam Smith in Harper's Magazine:

ScreenHunter_07 Mar. 07 09.58 All text is verbatim from senior Bush Administration officials and advisers. In places, tenses have been changed for clarity.

Once again, we were defending both ourselves and the safety and survival of civilization itself. September 11 signaled the arrival of an entirely different era. We faced perils we had never thought about, perils we had never seen before. For decades, terrorists had waged war against this country. Now, under the leadership of President Bush, America would wage war against them. It was a struggle between good and it was a struggle between evil.

It was absolutely clear that the number-one threat facing America was from Saddam Hussein. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda had high-level contacts that went back a decade. We learned that Iraq had trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and deadly gases. The regime had long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist organizations. Iraq and Al Qaeda had discussed safe-haven opportunities in Iraq. Iraqi officials denied accusations of ties with Al Qaeda. These denials simply were not credible. You couldn't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talked about the war on terror.

The fundamental question was, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer was, absolutely.

More here.

Judith Butler: As a Jew, I was taught it was ethically imperative to speak up

Udi Aloni in Haaretz:

A_a_1202_30_1_9 Philosopher, professor and author Judith Butler arrived in Israel this month, en route to the West Bank, where she was to give a seminar at Bir Zeit University, visit the theater in Jenin, and meet privately with friends and students. A leading light in her field, Butler chose not to visit any academic institutions in Israel itself. In the conversation below, conducted in New York several months ago, Butler talks about gender, the dehumanization of Gazans, and how Jewish values drove her to criticize the actions of the State of Israel.

In Israel, people know you well. Your name was even in the popular film Ha-Buah [The Bubble – the tragic tale of a gay relationship between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim].

[laughs] Although I disagreed with the use of my name in that context. I mean, it was very funny to say, “don't Judith Butler me,” but “to Judith Butler someone” meant to say something very negative about men and to identify with a form of feminism that was against men. And I've never been identified with that form of feminism. That?s not my mode. I'm not known for that. So it seems like it was confusing me with a radical feminist view that one would associate with Catharine MacKinnon or Andrea Dworkin, a completely different feminist modality. I'm not always calling into question who's a man and who's not, and am I a man? Maybe I'm a man. [laughs] Call me a man. I am much more open about categories of gender, and my feminism has been about women's safety from violence, increased literacy, decreased poverty and more equality. I was never against the category of men.

More here.

Our Balkans: The fragile heart of our Europe

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Dear friends, your mission is truly noble. For years you have been sharing the hope of understanding and cooperation, tolerance and readiness for listening and understanding others. You are building dialogue bridges between young generations of writers in the region and replacing hate with hope. Hope that we are able to live together in harmony. Sarajevo Notebooks are the lighthouse for the region and for Europe. They are bringing back the same Olympic spirit that died on blood stained Sarajevo streets some years ago. Rest reassured that in Brussels we admire your work, your sincere fight for a better world out there, in your region, in my region. One should believe in one’s own abilities, in one’s own strengths, in one’s own future. One should believe that borders, be they on the ground, in the air or sea, or, even more importantly, in our heads, can fall. The process of European integration is exactly the process in which the borders are falling, slowly but steadily, especially those in our heads. Let me finish by saying that I am proud of the role my country is playing in supporting Sarajevo Notebooks. For being open to promote this initiative for a better future in our region. Sarajevo Notebooks are strengthening the beating of our fragile Balkan European heart. It echoes loud and far.

more from Janez Potocnik at Eurozine here.

How many rules — how many words — do you need to create a world?

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For the past several months, my home page has been James Maliszewski’s blog Grognardia. Though it’s nominally about “the history and traditions of the hobby of role-playing” — Dungeons & Dragons and its ilk — it’s also an invigorating meditation on aesthetics. Maliszewski is an adherent of the “old school” movement, which favors flexible, elegant gaming systems (the original D&D, circa 1974, a.k.a. OD&D, published in “little brown books”) to those that pile on so many supplementary rules and tables that they begin to feel restrictive rather than prescriptive. How many rules — how many words — do you need to create a world? The same question could be asked of literature. Indeed, a session of a role-playing game, or RPG, with its emphasis on character and absence of winning or losing, often resembles a story, collaboratively generated by the players. Reading Maliszewski’s lucid writing — on vintage RPGs, unearthed Gygaxia, the literary DNA of D&D, and contemporary system-philosophy brouhahas — is both a kick of nerdy nostalgia and a satisfying take on what it all means, even if you’re someone (like me) who hasn’t rolled a 12-sided die in ages.

more from Ed Park at the LAT here.

keeping every last tidbit safe and acid free

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One day, apparently before the rise of Google Book Search, Marilyn Johnson made an odd request at the New York Public Library. She needed to find the symptoms of an imaginary illness called “information sickness,” which she recollected from a 1981 novel by Ted Mooney, “Easy Travel to Other Planets.” She couldn’t find her own copy, so a team of librarians went spelunking in the stacks, wearing miner’s helmets, as Johnson tells it. They surfaced with a copy preserved, strangely enough, on micro­film, and soon Johnson was reading the dimly remembered passage in which a woman keels over, blood gushing from her nose and ears as she raves about disconnected facts. When the woman recovers from her fugue state, she says: “I was dazzled. I couldn’t tell where one thing left off and the next began.” If Johnson herself displays symptoms of information sickness, she has a glorious form of the disease. In “This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All,” she offers a lively parade of people and places, all related to library science, or sort of related. Johnson ushers us into the American Kennel Club Library and introduces us to the inevitable graying librarian in a boiled-wool jacket with a Scotty pin. She also teleports over to a Las Vegas “gentlemen’s club” called the Library, where ladies wearing spectacles (and not much more) slide their way down stripper poles. She peppers the book with lots of random instructions, like how to remove odor from an old Graham Greene paperback.

more from Pagan Kennedy at the NYT here.