Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Marty Klein: The War on Sex

The War on Sex
by Marty Klein
Truthdig and Reason TV

What do abortion, nude beaches and group sex have in common? According to author and sex therapist Marty Klein, they’re all targets of a coordinated war on sex. “The government,” he says, “has acquired more and more tools to regulate sexual expression over the last thirty years.”

To Watch/Listen


Humanist Network News: Sex & Humanism

J.K. Rowling: “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”

(Courtesy of Teresa Webb)

Harvard Magazine

J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, delivers her Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association.

To Watch/Listen to the Commencement Address

John Pilger: Israel's torture of an award-winning young Palestinian journalist is part of a terrible pattern

(Omer, at the age of 22, also won the New America Media best "Ethnic Media Award" in Washington DC in 2006)

From triumph to torture: Israel's treatment of an award-winning young Palestinian journalist is part of a terrible pattern
by John Pilger
The Guardian

I presented a young Palestinian, Mohammed Omer, with the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. Awarded in memory of the great US war correspondent, the prize goes to journalists who expose establishment propaganda, or "official drivel", as Gellhorn called it. Mohammed shares the prize of £5,000 with Dahr Jamail. At 24, he is the youngest winner. His citation reads: "Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. His homeland, Gaza, is surrounded, starved, attacked, forgotten. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless." The eldest of eight, Mohammed has seen most of his siblings killed or wounded or maimed. An Israeli bulldozer crushed his home while the family were inside, seriously injuring his mother. And yet, says a former Dutch ambassador, Jan Wijenberg, "he is a moderating voice, urging Palestinian youth not to court hatred but seek peace with Israel".

Getting Mohammed to London to receive his prize was a major diplomatic operation. Israel has perfidious control over Gaza's borders, and only with a Dutch embassy escort was he allowed out. Last Thursday, on his return journey, he was met at the Allenby Bridge crossing (to Jordan) by a Dutch official, who waited outside the Israeli building, unaware Mohammed had been seized by Shin Bet, Israel's infamous security organisation. Mohammed was told to turn off his mobile and remove the battery. He asked if he could call his embassy escort and was told forcefully he could not. A man stood over his luggage, picking through his documents. "Where's the money?" he demanded. Mohammed produced some US dollars. "Where is the English pound you have?"

"I realised," said Mohammed, "he was after the award stipend for the Martha Gellhorn prize. I told him I didn't have it with me. 'You are lying', he said. I was now surrounded by eight Shin Bet officers, all armed. The man called Avi ordered me to take off my clothes. I had already been through an x-ray machine. I stripped down to my underwear and was told to take off everything. When I refused, Avi put his hand on his gun. I began to cry: 'Why are you treating me this way? I am a human being.' He said, 'This is nothing compared with what you will see now.' He took his gun out, pressing it to my head and with his full body weight pinning me on my side, he forcibly removed my underwear. He then made me do a concocted sort of dance. Another man, who was laughing, said, 'Why are you bringing perfumes?' I replied, 'They are gifts for the people I love'. He said, 'Oh, do you have love in your culture?'

"As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours, and having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."

An ambulance was called and told to take Mohammed to a hospital, but only after he had signed a statement indemnifying the Israelis from his suffering in their custody. The Palestinian medic refused, courageously, and said he would contact the Dutch embassy escort. Alarmed, the Israelis let the ambulance go. The Israeli response has been the familiar line that Mohammed was "suspected" of smuggling and "lost his balance" during a "fair" interrogation, Reuters reported yesterday.

Israeli human rights groups have documented the routine torture of Palestinians by Shin Bet agents with "beatings, painful binding, back bending, body stretching and prolonged sleep deprivation". Amnesty has long reported the widespread use of torture by Israel, whose victims emerge as mere shadows of their former selves. Some never return. Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists, especially Palestinian journalists, who receive barely a fraction of the kind of coverage given to the BBC's Alan Johnston.

The Dutch government says it is shocked by Mohammed Omer's treatment. The former ambassador Jan Wijenberg said: "This is by no means an isolated incident, but part of a long-term strategy to demolish Palestinian social, economic and cultural life ... I am aware of the possibility that Mohammed Omer might be murdered by Israeli snipers or bomb attack in the near future."

While Mohammed was receiving his prize in London, the new Israeli ambassador to Britain, Ron Proser, was publicly complaining that many Britons no longer appreciated the uniqueness of Israel's democracy. Perhaps they do now.

Link to the Report


Democracy Now: Award-Winning Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer Details Abuse by Israeli Security Officials

'Israelis Assault Award-Winning Journalist'

Rafah Today: Archive of Omer's Reports/Journalism/Awards

Sandra Steingraber: Environmental Amnesia

(Courtesy of the talented photgrapher Michael Itkoff who sent me some of his pictures... one of which was used with this essay)

Environmental Amnesia: While questioning what we buy, we've forgotten where we live
by Sandra Steingraber
Orion Magazine


DURING THESE TEN YEARS of running and speaking, I’ve noticed two opposing trends. The first is that people increasingly believe that their health is affected by hazardous materials in the environment. And they know a lot more about hazardous materials. Pesticides in strawberries. Lead in lipstick. Bisphenol A in water bottles. But there is decreasing knowledge about the actual environment itself. Public awareness is specific to chemicals in consumer products—which are produced elsewhere (increasingly China) and brought into our homes. The location of those homes on former orchards (where arsenical pesticides were used) or near old toxic-dump sites (where drums of solvents were buried)—these matters seem blurrier and blurrier to the folks in my audiences. In fact, I’ve had to start explaining the word “Superfund,” as it doesn’t seem to ring any real bells for a lot of people—including people in communities where Superfund sites are present. (Superfund sites are the nation’s worst toxic-waste sites. There are 1,305 of them, and they are named for the “super” fund of money put together by Congress in 1980 to clean them up, a trust that went bankrupt five years ago.)

I was recently invited to Rockford, Illinois, to speak about toxic chemicals. That seemed appropriate because Rockford is the site of a longstanding Superfund site. Solvents used by former businesses had drizzled into drinking water wells. Rockford is famous within toxicology circles because of the bladder-cancer cluster that was discovered here and because it was here where researchers figured out, in the 1980s, that the level of solvents in human blood is predicted not by the amount of water drunk from the tap but by the length of “shower run times.” In other words, inhalation is a bigger route of exposure to solvent-contaminated drinking water than drinking it, and showering provides the biggest dose. And yet only two people in my college audience knew about these studies—or even knew that Rockford had a Superfund site. Even the local emergency-room physician hadn’t heard the news.

WHAT’S INDUCING THIS EPIDEMIC of environmental amnesia? Maybe one contributor is the long silence of the federal government on environmental catastrophes of all kinds. In the breach, activist groups have tried to protect the public. In need of positive messages and deliverable results, they focus on individual solutions. Don’t microwave in plastic. Buy organic. There is no place in that discussion for the barrels of waste buried atop the aquifer. The very mention of them fills a room with paralyzing despair.

Or maybe we’re now spending so much more time with consumer objects than with our natural environments that we have forgotten how to think about them. Sport water bottles are real to us—polycarbonate? or stainless steel?—but creekbeds are fuzzy concepts.

Or maybe our unremembering is a wall against grief. My own elementary school—along with the field, playground, and wooded path to the crosswalk—was razed years ago to make way for discount shopping.

To Read the Entire Essay

In Our Time: Greek Myths

Greek Myths
In Our Time w/ Melvyn Bragg (BBC)

Are you a touch narcissistic? Do you have the body of an Adonis? Are you willing to undertake Herculean tasks or Promethean ventures? Perhaps you have an Oedipus complex?

If you answer to any or perhaps all of these you owe something to the Greek myths, a collection of weird and wonderful stories that, like Penelope’s shroud or the needlework of Arachne, was constantly woven and unpicked across centuries of Greek and Roman civilisation.

The myths have a cast of thousands including mighty Zeus, Jason and the Argonauts, wily Odysseus, beautiful Aphrodite and Cerberus, the three-headed dog. They are funny, shocking, quirky and epic and have retained their power and their wisdom from the ancient world to the modern.


Nick Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London

Richard Buxton, Professor of Greek Language and Literature at the University of Bristol

Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University

To Listen to the Episode

Aditya Chakrabortty: Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive

(Courtesy of Democracy Now)

Secret report--biofuel caused food crisis: Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive
by Aditya Chakrabortty
UK Guardian

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Senior development sources believe the report, completed in April, has not been published to avoid embarrassing President George Bush.

"It would put the World Bank in a political hot-spot with the White House," said one yesterday.

The news comes at a critical point in the world's negotiations on biofuels policy. Leaders of the G8 industrialised countries meet next week in Hokkaido, Japan, where they will discuss the food crisis and come under intense lobbying from campaigners calling for a moratorium on the use of plant-derived fuels.

It will also put pressure on the British government, which is due to release its own report on the impact of biofuels, the Gallagher Report. The Guardian has previously reported that the British study will state that plant fuels have played a "significant" part in pushing up food prices to record levels. Although it was expected last week, the report has still not been released.

"Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises," said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. "It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat."

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as "the first real economic crisis of globalisation".

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: "Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases."

Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.

Since April, all petrol and diesel in Britain has had to include 2.5% from biofuels. The EU has been considering raising that target to 10% by 2020, but is faced with mounting evidence that that will only push food prices higher.

"Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate," says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.

Other reviews of the food crisis looked at it over a much longer period, or have not linked these three factors, and so arrived at smaller estimates of the impact from biofuels. But the report author, Don Mitchell, is a senior economist at the Bank and has done a detailed, month-by-month analysis of the surge in food prices, which allows much closer examination of the link between biofuels and food supply.

The report points out biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had such a dramatic impact.

Supporters of biofuels argue that they are a greener alternative to relying on oil and other fossil fuels, but even that claim has been disputed by some experts, who argue that it does not apply to US production of ethanol from plants.

"It is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices," said Dr David King, the government's former chief scientific adviser, last night. "All we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change."

Link to the Report

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Books Worth Reading: What is Speculative Fiction?

(Courtesy of Darwin's Orphans)

What is Speculative Fiction?
Books Worth Reading

The kind of fiction I like to read the most, and that I tend to focus on here, falls under the broad umbrella of “speculative fiction.” I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the traditional genre labels of science fiction, fantasy and horror. The definitions that are most often applied to these genres seem so limiting, and they leave out a wide swath of really great books.

All three of these genres have one thing in common: The stories concern elements that do not exist in the so-called real world. In other words, they speculate about what might be possible but, in our everyday experience, isn’t.

In science fiction, the speculations must be grounded in the principles of science; they might not be possible now, but someday they could be, which is why science fiction is often set on future Earth or on another planet. The subjects of science fiction are space travel, dimensional travel, time travel, post-apocalyptic societies and technological innovations.

In fantasy, however, the speculations are usually based on magic and the supernatural. These speculations must follow rules, but they are not the rules of science. Generally, fantasy stories take place in imagined worlds (but not necessarily another planet) or on a fictional historical Earth.

Horror, on the other hand, most often takes place in the present day, in the world in which we live. But it introduces a fantastic or supernatural element, usually a monster of some kind. Horror also differs from fantasy in that it, by definition, should be frightening and dark.

But what about fiction that doesn’t fit neatly into one of these three categories? For instance, where would Neil Gaiman’s American Gods be classified? It is set in the modern-day world, but with its cast of mythical gods, it shades more toward fantasy than horror, although it does have horrific elements. Or what about David Mitchell’s excellent novel Cloud Atlas? This experimental novel is set in several different times, in the past, present and future, including a post-apocalyptic society. But it doesn’t read like traditional science fiction.

To Read the Rest of the Post

Christopher Hichens' Waterboard Session

After 5 years of avid support of American war efforts and torture tactics, Christopher Hichens finally goes through a sanitized waterboard session and within 11seconds he changes his mind:

Vanity Fair: Believe Me, It’s Torture

AlterNet deconstructs the video and Hichens

Media Matters: Fox News airs altered photos of NY Times reporters

(Courtesy of AlterNet

Fox News airs altered photos of NY Times reporters
Media Matters

Summary: During a segment in which Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade labeled New York Times reporter Jacques Steinberg and editor Steven Reddicliffe "attack dogs," Fox News featured photos of Steinberg and Reddicliffe that appeared to have been digitally altered -- the journalists' teeth had been yellowed, their facial features exaggerated, and portions of Reddicliffe's hair moved further back on his head.

To Read the Report and Watch the Original FOX Attack Piece

SciFiDimensions: Cory Doctorow on Little Brother

(This interview is jammed with intelligent speculation about growing police states and terror hysteria. Doctorow is also a spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Doctorow is also one of the greatest examples of the creative commons ethos. I just picked up this book for my nephew ;)


Cory Doctorow - Interview with the author of the new young adult science fiction novel Little Brother (April 2008 from Tor Books). In addition to being a freelance journalist and copyright/ technology advocate, Doctorow is one of the co-editors of BoingBoing, one of the most popular blogs on the internet. His personal website is Craphound.

To Listen to the Episode


SciFiDimensions: Review of Little Brother

Boing Boing TV: Make Your Own Little Brother How-To Video

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

Just something to think about as you chow down on barbecued meats, chug those cold beers and watch the militaristic displays in the sky:

Orwell, Torture and the War on Terror

Mike Davis: Evil Paradise--An Artist's Vision of Dubai in the Future

(This essay is from 2005, but I dug it up because I got the book below.)

Evil Paradise: An Artist's Vision of Dubai in the Future
by Mike Davis
Socialist Review

Mike Davis asks if the road to the future ends at Dubai.

The narration begins: As your jet starts its descent, you are glued to your window. The scene below is astonishing - a 24 square mile archipelago of coral-coloured islands in the shape of an almost finished puzzle of the world. In the shallow green waters between continents, the sunken shapes of the Pyramids of Giza and the Roman Coliseum are clearly visible. In the distance are three other large island groups configured as palms within crescents, and planted with high-rise resorts, amusement parks and a thousand mansions built on stilts over the water. The 'Palms' are connected by causeways to a Miami-like beachfront chock-full of mega-hotels, apartment high-rises and yacht marinas.

As the plane slowly banks toward the desert mainland, you gasp at the even more improbable vision ahead. Out of a chrome forest of skyscrapers (nearly a dozen taller than 1,000 feet) soars a new Tower of Babel. It is an impossible half mile high: the equivalent of the Empire State Building stacked on top of itself.

You are still rubbing your eyes with wonderment and disbelief when the plane lands and you are welcomed into an airport emporium where hundreds of shops seduce you with Gucci bags, Cartier watches and one-kilogram bars of solid gold. The hotel driver is waiting for you in a Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph. Friends have recommended the Armani Hotel in the 160-storey tower or the seven-star hotel with an atrium so huge that the Statue of Liberty would fit inside, but instead you have opted to fulfil a childhood fantasy. You always have wanted to be Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Your jellyfish-shaped hotel is, in fact, exactly 66 feet below the sea surface. Each of its 220 luxury suites has clear plexiglas walls that provide spectacular views of passing mermaids as well as the hotel's famed 'underwater fireworks' - a hallucinatory exhibition of 'water bubbles, swirled sand, and carefully deployed lighting'. Any initial anxiety about the safety of your sea-bottom resort is dispelled by the smiling concierge. The structure has a multi-level failsafe security system, he reassures you, that includes protection against terrorist submarines as well as missiles and aircraft.

Although you have an important business meeting at the internet city free-trade zone with clients from Hyderabad and Taipei, you have arrived a day early to treat yourself to one of the famed adventures at the Restless Planet dinosaur theme park. Indeed, after a soothing night's sleep under the sea, you are aboard a monorail headed for a Jurassic jungle. Your expedition encounters some peacefully grazing Apatosaurs, but you are soon attacked by a nasty gang of velociraptors. The animatronic beasts are so flawlessly lifelike - in fact, they have been designed by experts from the British Natural History Museum - that you shriek in fear and delight.

You polish off the afternoon with some thrilling snowboarding on the local black diamond run. Next door is the Mall of Arabia, the world's largest mall - the altar of the city's famed Shopping Festival that attracts 5 million frenetic consumers each January - but you postpone the temptation. Instead you indulge in some expensive Thai fusion cuisine at a restaurant near Elite Towers that was recommended by your hotel driver. The Russian woman at the bar keeps staring at you with almost vampire-like hunger, and you wonder whether the local sin scene is as extravagant as the shopping...

The Sequel to Blade Runner?

Welcome to paradise. But where are you? Is this a new science fiction novel from Margaret Atwood, the sequel to Blade Runner or Donald Trump tripping on acid? No, it is the Persian Gulf city-state of Dubai in 2010. After Shanghai (current population 15 million), Dubai (current population 1.5 million) is the world's biggest building site - an emerging dreamworld of conspicuous consumption and what locals dub 'supreme lifestyles'.

To Read the Rest of the Essay


Contextual Musings pointed me toward these latest architectural monstrosities planned for Dubai:

Dubai's Moving Skyscraper "Dynamic Tower" Planned For 2010

BBC Radio: Pirates

BBC Radio: World Service Documentaries

Part One
Nick Rankin takes a journey through history looking at pirates past, present and future.

Part Two
Nick Rankin travels to Africa to find out how modern day pirates are ruling the high seas.

Part Three
Nick Rankin explores the world of intellectual piracy - the stealing of ideas.

To Listen to the Episodes

Jeff Vandermeer Interview of Paul Barnett aka John Grant: Science Has Been Corrupted

John Grant and Paul Barnett Agree: Science Has Been Corrupted
by Jeff Vandermeer
Clarkesworld Magazine


How did you come to write Corrupted Science?

The book grew naturally out of a previous nonfiction book of mine, Discarded Science (2006). The earlier book was concerned with notions and hypotheses which over the centuries science had, as it were, deposited by the wayside — from the flat earth to the music of the spheres to Creationism, the luminiferous aether, and beyond. While I was writing it, it became apparent to me that there was a qualitative difference between those notions that were wrong simply because of people's lack of information — their position along scientific history's timeline, in effect — and those that were wrong because people were deliberately making them wrong.

To take a single example, when Ptolemy maintained that the Earth was the center of the universe, this was because he didn't know any better: it was a reasonably logical guess considering the state of knowledge in his day. Centuries later, however, when Copernicus and Kepler and Galileo had shown there was a much better explanation for the behavior of the heavens and the Roman Catholic Church was trying to suppress that better explanation, the Vatican was guilty of deliberately corrupting science. The motivation in this instance was a doctrinal one — much like the motivation for most Creationists/IDers today, now I come to think of it. Of course, there have been lots of other motives that have led people — both scientists and non-scientists — to corrupt human knowledge. Personal gain is an obvious one, as is self-deception, but the various ideological motives clearly are likely to have far wider-scale effects. Just think for a moment of the bad anthropology that was used to justify the Nazis' attempted genocide of "lesser races".

So the subject of the corruption of science seemed to me to be an important one.


What would you really like readers to take away from the book?

That the corruption of science, being more truly phrased as the corruption of human knowledge, is IMPORTANT.

We all suffer whenever someone indulges in the wholesale falsification or suppression of knowledge. The most serious suppression of knowledge at the moment is in connection with global warming, where media and corrupt or just plain dimwitted politicians have conspired in the idiotic pretense that there's still debate within the scientific community about the reality. There ain't. There's debate about some of the details, but the only dissent within the climatological community about the reality of global warming is from a handful of mavericks. All power to those mavericks, but their rather noisy existence doesn't imply that the climatological community is riven with doubt.

Because of the media/political pretense, the most important player in the quest to ameliorate the complete hell that's facing our children and grandchildren, the USA, has done almost completely nothing for what may very well have been the crux years — those years in which something could have been done to stave off the worst.

I thought at least the current crop of US presidential hopefuls had cottoned on to the urgency of the need to take action. Now I discover that two of them — McCain and Clinton — are proposing a "holiday" from gas taxes this summer, to encourage consumers to drive more miles than they might otherwise do — i.e., to add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. It's hard to imagine quite how imbecilic one must be to imagine this could be a good thing.

But it's not just at the political level that seeking to corrupt others' knowledge is a dangerous and indeed criminal act. As I say, it affects all of us. Look at a whole list of cases where drug companies have suppressed knowledge of harmful side-effects some of their products can display. I could go on almost indefinitely!

To Read the Entire Interview

Speaking of Faith: Einstein and the Mind of God

Einstein and the Mind of God
Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett

Einstein's God:

Part one of this series takes Einstein's science as a starting point for exploring the great physicist's perspective on ideas such as mystery, eternity, and the mind of God.

Einstein's Ethics:

Part two of this series delves into Einstein's Jewish identity, his passionate engagement around issues of war and race, and modern extensions of his ethical and scientific perspectives.

To Listen to the Episodes

Adventures in SF Publishing: Dan Simmons on The Terror

(Lexington doesn't have a cool independent genre bookstore that I can browse on slow days. I like the aesthetic experience of picking up various new books and leisurely deciding on one that I think will be good. Back in San Diego where I grew up that store was Mysterious Galaxy and imagine my surprise when not too long ago I found out that some of their booksellers produce a SF podcast show. Next week I will be back in my homeland and I will definitely make a trip to this independent bookseller and later on the same trip I will be in Portland, OR so I can stop by Powells [again, imagine my surprise when opening my union benefit package yesterday and finding that it includes a discount benefits from this bookseller]! Now, if I can somehow manage to stop by San Francisco's City Lights Books... As for the interview below, Dan Simmons is a powerful, literate writer--I recommend listening to the fascinating historical inspirations that led to his writing The Terror)

Dan Simmons
Adventures in SF Publishing

To Listen to the Episode

Speaking of Faith: Steven Waldman "Liberating the Founders"

Liberating the Founders
Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippet

Warning: this conversation may not mirror what you learned in school. The culture wars of recent years, journalist Steven Waldman says, hijacked Americans' understanding of the country's founders and of the meaning of religious liberty. This hinders people from grasping what is really at stake in the current debates about the relationship between government and religion. It may even distort the wisdom we might bring to young democracies around the world.

To Listen to the Episode

The Black and White Years: "Power to Change"

(I heard this song early this morning and it has been haunting me as an appropriate anthem as we celebrate the last 4th of July of the Bush II administration. Then when looking for lyrics online I came across August 1's excellent review.)

Drink Up The Black & White Years' Self Titled Debut
by August 1
MOG: The Music Blogging Network


The catchy “Power of Change” is an example of the intricate soundscapes the group creates. The song begins with a hyperactive bass drum beat as well as a distantly echoing and indistinct vocal which you don’t realize is there until subsequent listens. The vibrant, quickly-bouncing reggae-tinged guitar kicks in while the punchy bassline just flat out jumps about with glee. A short clipped drumbeat & insistent hi-hat join in joyfully. As all the aforementioned is going on, a fuzzy, reverb-soaked synthesizer makes you feel like you just entered the stratosphere on a rocketship that is doing laps around the universe — all this before Mr. Butler starts his aching, gruff and warbly vocal. It’s a deceptively complex song that gradually builds with kinetic energy to an explosive climax. You won’t be able to keep your body from involuntarily moving, guaranteed. Yet the lyrics have a depth that belies the energy, since the song talks about the need to change from our usual destructive human behaviors.

To Read the Rest of the Review, Watch the video of "Power to Change" and listen to "Hysterical Sickness"

Radio 360: Music For Strange Moments

A new favorite music podcast. I have been playing this show non-stop the last couple of days. A hearty thanks to DJ Darkhorse:

Radio 360

Thursday, July 03, 2008

This 4th of July: Lexingtonians Let Mayor Newberry Know What You Think About the "CentrePointe" Project

(Courtesy of Audra Pace and Preserve Lexington)

Mayor Newberry has been the #1 advocate for leveling our entire block. He helped Dudley Webb spring this "CentrePointe" project on us in the dead of night, and has also left the public and even our our Council members in the dark. Though Newberry wants us to give our tax dollars to the Webbs, he hasn't bothered giving us input or even listening to us.

Here's the plan. Newberry will be marching in the parade this 4th of July, which starts at 2:00. Let's get a huge crowd gathered in front of what was The Dame and Busters, and when Mayor Newberry walks by, give him the verbal "greeting" that he so richly deserves.

We'll get local TV and print news covering the event if our turnout is big enough, I can assure you.

More on Centerpointe development:

Tom Eblen: Council arrived late to the CentrePointe ball

Minnesota Public Radio: A critical look at the presidential nominees

(Amy Goodman is the highlight here as she goes right to root of the problem of our democratic election process and she directly challenges the audience to be a part of the solution. Part of the 2008 Aspen Ideas Festival)

A critical look at the presidential nominees
Minnesota Public Radio

Media panelists assess the qualities of the presumptive presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama, during an event at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado.

David Brooks: New York Times columnist and senior editor at The Weekly Standard. Contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and commentator on PBS "Newshour with Jim Lehrer."

Amy Goodman: Co-founder and host of "Democracy Now!", a daily radio and television news program.

Stuart Rothenberg: Editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report.

Arianna Huffington: Co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post.

Jonathan Alter: Editor and columnist at Newsweek. Moderator of the panel discussion.

Jim Wallis: Founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine.

To Listen to the Roundtable Discussion

Todd Gitlin: Eight Strategies We Use to Navigate the Ceaseless Flood of Media

The Fan develops a visceral, emotional attachment to certain genres or celebrities. This attachment requires a choice (I'll pay attention to New Wave and ignore folk music), and it leads to membership in a community of connoisseurs, or believers.

Where the fan works by affirmation, the Content Critic works by aversion. He is on the lookout for all of the crappy songs and biased news, all the ways in which the media fail politically and aesthetically. If the content of the media could somehow be improved, the world would too.

The Paranoid believes that They are programming Us. Television (the usual culprit) is an addiction, a hypnotic agent. If we are at a loss, drifting or suffering, it must be because They--the Government, the Liberal Media, the Media Monopoly, the Zionist Occupation Government--are pushing the buttons. Though it is extreme, paranoia is a warped version of legitimate fear.

The Exhibitionist glories in media exposure--the cast of MTV's The Real World, the painted spectators holding NBC signs at sports events, those who broadcast their intimate lives via 24/7 webcam. Commanding the attention of spectators, the exhibitionist achieves some exemption from the anonymity of the torrent, some power apparently without risk. But because this power is risk-free, it is trivial.

The Ironist knows that media are nothing but weightless contrivances, so she surfs with ease and without committment, amused and aamused to be amused. She can enjoy the spectacle on two levels--as a faux-naive fan (who always liked the smile of that faded star) and as a knowing insider (who knows that the faded star started touring again because she was broke). The media have adopted, or co-opted, the ironist's style, with the glorification of kitsch and ads that wink knowingly while they continue to pitch.

The Culture Jammer, like the critic, believes that images are power. The difference is that he will directly attack those images, defacing or refacing them. In order to redistribute power he's an active transmitter rather than a passive receiver. Whether he's hacking into a corporate site or unfurling anti-consumer banners in the Mall of America, offense has become the jammer's defense.

The Secessionist knows that media steal our time, and therefore our lives and human capacities. Because the media are beyond reform, she does not bother to displace, jam, supplement, or critique them. She rations television, planning one day to get rid of it, and abstains from cell phones and e-mail whenever possible. She knows how the media can seduce if you let your guard down.

Because the media are politically pacifying, life-throttling, mind-sapping, even physically damaging, the Abolitionist refuses to accept their existence as a good argument for their continued existence. Only one valid question about the media torrent remains: How do you launch the revolution to dry it up?

(Source for this is Adbusters July/August 2002)

Democracy Now: Groundbreaking Lawsuit Accuses Big Oil of Conspiracy to Deceive Public About Climate Change; John Holdren on "Global Disruption"

Democracy Now

Groundbreaking Lawsuit Accuses Big Oil of Conspiracy to Deceive Public About Climate Change

Attorney Stephen Susman helped file a groundbreaking lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of 400 Inupiat villagers in the Alaskan town of Kivalina who are being forced to relocate because of flooding caused by global warming. The suit accuses twenty oil, gas and electric companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and Peabody, of being responsible for emitting millions of tons of greenhouse gases causing the Arctic ice to melt.

To Listen/Watch/Read

"Global Disruption" More Accurately Describes Climate Change, Not "Global Warming" - Leading Scientist John Holdren

Leading scientist John Holdren says “global warming” is not the correct term to use; he prefers “global disruption.” “‘Global warming’ [is] misleading. It implies something that’s mainly about temperature, that’s gradual, and that’s uniform across the planet,” says Holdren. “In fact, temperature is only one of the things that’s changing. It’s a sort of an index of the state of the climate. The whole climate is changing: the winds, the ocean currents, the storm patterns, snow packs, snowmelt, flooding, droughts. Temperature is just a bit of it.”

To Listen/Watch/Read

Watching the Directors: Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam
Watching the Directors

Terry Gilliam has an identifiable aesthetic and a constant thematic affection that floats through all his movies - films like Brazil, 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. To discuss such a weighty filmmaker, we are joined by Duke Senter from the Degree of Separation podcast and veteran of the Tarantino and Kubrick episodes. So sit back and enjoy the mammoth episode with an extra 30 minutes of discussion that the studio wanted to cut and mangle, just like they did with Baron Munchausen.

To Listen to the Episode

Marilyn Brown: Fewer Students Read Between Lines

Fewer Students Read Between Lines
The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA - Despite a decade of education reform, tens of thousands of Florida's high school students don't read well enough to survive in the work force.

•This year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results revealed just 38 percent of 10th graders are proficient in reading.

•About one fourth of Hillsborough County high school students - 12,088 - were placed in remedial reading classes in 2007-08.

•Nearly 35 percent of students who entered Florida's community colleges in 2006 were required to take remedial reading.

•College entrance exam reading scores are not improving. SAT scores remain basically flat in Florida and ACT reading scores in Florida dropped four points in 2007, nine points below the national average.

Now, after years of focusing on young readers, educators are turning their attention to high school students who need help. In addition to the reading class Hillsborough County requires for all ninth-graders and the remedial classes for the district's weakest readers, middle and high school students will have new curriculum in August emphasizing higher level thinking skills.

"The No. 1 problem in secondary education in our state and in our country is a decline in literacy in high school," said Don Gaetz, a former superintendent and chairman of Florida's Senate K-12 education committee.

State Education Commissioner Eric Smith notes recent statewide progress - the percentage of 10th-graders scoring in the lowest level has dropped from 32 percent in 2001 to 20 percent this year - but says "it's not even close to being adequate."

Gaetz, superintendent in Okaloosa County from 2000 to 2006, figures there are two reasons, echoed by national experts:

"We quit teaching reading in fifth grade," and, "In general, no one is responsible for the literacy of a high school student."

To Read the Rest of the Article

Lexington, KY 4th of July Parade: One Earth, One Chance

(Message from Claire Glasscock)

4th of July Parade

Downtown Lexington
2:00 pm
Walk with us! Meet us on Midland Ave. at 1:00 pm, position #23

One Earth, One Chance
The Franciscan Peace Center, the Unitarian Universalist Environmental Task Force,
and BCTC's Peace and Justice Coalition, ask that people nurture the earth
and the rest of humanity by living simply.

The entry includes one of the new high-mileage "Smart Cars" decorated with origami peace cranes, and a dove - symbol of peace. The group's message is that peace and care for the earth are intimately linked.

Voices from Hiroshima:
Nuclear Weapons Abolition:
Now or Never

Featuring two outstanding visitors from Hiroshima, Japan

2:30 – 4:00 p.m., Saturday,
July 12, 2008
Unitarian Universalist Church
3564 Clays Mill Road, Lexington
Free and open to the public


Ms. Miyoko Watanabe, Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivor and official witness for the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. She will describe her experience to remind the audience of the effects of atomic and nuclear weapons, and raising a cry of warning about the future.

Steve Leeper, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation (the peace & international relations arm of the City of Hiroshima, Japan). He will make a presentation about why the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation believes that nuclear weapons are about to get out of control. Many people believe such weapons will be used in the next year or two, and if we do not make substantial progress toward disarmament in the near future nuclear weaponry will spread throughout the world.

Sponsors Include: Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, Footprints for Peace, Franciscan Peace Center, Unitarian Universalist Church, BCTC’s Peace and Justice Coalition

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

David Brin: "Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists

(From way back in 1999, but I still think Brin's response to Lucas' mythos is relevant to our current situation.)

"Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists: Why is George Lucas peddling an elitist, anti-democratic agenda under the guise of escapist fun?
By David Brin

Well, I boycotted "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" -- for an entire week.

Why? What's to boycott? Isn't "Star Wars" good old fashioned sci-fi? Harmless fun? Some people call it "eye candy" -- a chance to drop back into childhood and punt your adult cares away for two hours, dwelling in a lavish universe where good and evil are vividly drawn, without all the inconvenient counterpoint distinctions that clutter daily life.

Got a problem? Cleave it with a light saber! Wouldn't you love -- just once in your life -- to dive a fast little ship into your worst enemy's stronghold and set off a chain reaction, blowing up the whole megillah from within its rotten core while you streak away to safety at the speed of light? (It's such a nifty notion that it happens in three out of four "Star Wars" flicks.)

Anyway, I make a good living writing science-fiction novels and movies. So "Star Wars" ought to be a great busman's holiday, right?

One of the problems with so-called light entertainment today is that somehow, amid all the gaudy special effects, people tend to lose track of simple things, like story and meaning. They stop noticing the moral lessons the director is trying to push. Yet these things matter.

By now it's grown clear that George Lucas has an agenda, one that he takes very seriously. After four "Star Wars" films, alarm bells should have gone off, even among those who don't look for morals in movies. When the chief feature distinguishing "good" from "evil" is how pretty the characters are, it's a clue that maybe the whole saga deserves a second look.

Just what bill of goods are we being sold, between the frames?

* Elites have an inherent right to arbitrary rule; common citizens needn't be consulted. They may only choose which elite to follow.

* "Good" elites should act on their subjective whims, without evidence, argument or accountability.

* Any amount of sin can be forgiven if you are important enough.

* True leaders are born. It's genetic. The right to rule is inherited.

* Justified human emotions can turn a good person evil.

That is just the beginning of a long list of "moral" lessons relentlessly pushed by "Star Wars." Lessons that starkly differentiate this saga from others that seem superficially similar, like "Star Trek." (We'll take a much closer look at some stark divergences between these two sci-fi universes below.)

Above all, I never cared for the whole Nietzschian Ubermensch thing: the notion -- pervading a great many myths and legends -- that a good yarn has to be about demigods who are bigger, badder and better than normal folk by several orders of magnitude. It's an ancient storytelling tradition based on abiding contempt for the masses -- one that I find odious in the works of A.E. Van Vogt, E.E. Smith, L. Ron Hubbard and wherever you witness slanlike super-beings deciding the fate of billions without ever pausing to consider their wishes.

Wow, you say. If I feel that strongly about this, why just a week-long boycott? Why see the latest "Star Wars" film at all?

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Open Source: Douglas Blackmon--The Truth about Jim Crow

Douglas Blackmon: The Truth about Jim Crow
Open Source

Douglas Blackmon of the Wall Street Journal has written a newsman’s history book with staggering implications about racial reality in America today.

The heart of the story is that slavery in the American South ended not with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the end of the Civil War, but at the onset of World War 2. That is: state-sanctioned brutal and abusive bondage ended less than 70 years ago, well within the living memory of millions of Americans, black and white. The gap between “slave time” and now is not five or six generations, but one or two at most.

The sidewalks of Atlanta today were paved in the 20th Century with millions of bricks made by “slaves by another name” — by black men the city had seized and leased over to the ex-Mayor James English’s Chattahoochee Brick Company. Some of Atlanta’s finest families were in on neo-slavery, in Blackmon’s telling — men like Joel Hurt of Atlanta’s Trust Company. No guard could ever “do enough whipping for Mr. Hurt,” it was said. “He wanted men whipped for singing and laughing.”

Slavery by Another Name is Doug Blackmon’s complete revision of the Jim Crow story, with an astonishing breadth and depth of documentation and none of the old sugar-coating or vagueness around phrases like peonage and sharecropping. “Neo-slavery” was the hard-core of a public-private system that undid the freedoms that came with Reconstruction for most of thirty years after the Civil War, and then enforced a new reign of terror over all African-Americans in the South.

Slavery by Another Name is hard reading that ought to be required. At a moment of reckoning around race in our country, Doug Blackmon, a studious child of the Mississippi Delta, has offered a monumental contribution to an agonizing re-learning of who we all are.

To Listen to the Episode

The Website for the Book

Voices from Hiroshima: Nuclear Weapons Abolition--Now or Never (July 12, 2008)

Voices from Hiroshima:
Nuclear Weapons Abolition:
Now or Never

Featuring two outstanding visitors from Hiroshima, Japan

2:30 – 4:00 p.m., Saturday,
July 12, 2008
Unitarian Universalist Church
3564 Clays Mill Road, Lexington
Free and open to the public


Ms. Miyoko Watanabe, Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivor and official witness for the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. She will describe her experience to remind the audience of the effects of atomic and nuclear weapons, and raising a cry of warning about the future.

Steve Leeper, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation (the peace & international relations arm of the City of Hiroshima, Japan). He will make a presentation about why the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation believes that nuclear weapons are about to get out of control. Many people believe such weapons will be used in the next year or two, and if we do not make substantial progress toward disarmament in the near future nuclear weaponry will spread throughout the world.

Sponsors Include: Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, Footprints for Peace, Franciscan Peace Center, Unitarian Universalist Church, BCTC’s Peace and Justice Coalition