Friday, August 31, 2012

Open Source: Mark Blyth -- Sovereigns, Citizens and Suckers

Mark Blyth: Sovereigns, Citizens and Suckers
Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Mark Blyth is back in the pub, just in time, talking trash again and taking some credit. He’s the political economist who doesn’t mince words, even when he’s writing for fellow professionals. At Triple Crisis, for example, the other day: “The European sovereign debt crisis is little more than a huge ‘bait and switch,’ perpetrated on the publics of Europe, by their governments, on behalf of their banks…”

In the Scots vernacular, he is reminding us (and the Tea Party) not just that our humongous public debt is a gift of the private sector and the bailed-out banks, since 2008, but also that much the bigger piece of the general debt crisis today is the household debt that’s nearly doubled in the US in the last decade: i.e. underwater mortgages and credit card debt. So are we looking at a “Japan decade” of de-leveraging (paying down debt) and very slow growth?

Hold on. Have you been to Japan lately? It’s a pretty nice place. That decade of ‘helpless stagnation’ is actually okay: Japan’s got more modern infrastructure than we have by a factor of twelve. It’s got better educational outcomes, people live longer. So let’s put this into perspective: it means that you don’t have absurd growth and a housing bubble, it means that you don’t go back to people betting their entire fortune on an internet stock. We stop the casino, we chill out for a while, we pay back some debt. It’s probably a good idea. But we’re not going to do that if we slash the government budgets at the same time that we’re all trying to save the private. You can’t do both.

Mark Blyth with Chris Lydon at the Watson Institute, Brown University

To Listen to the Conversation

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Who: Baba O'Riley

Gary Lapon: College, Inc. -- The abuses of the growing for-profit higher education industry

College, Inc.: The abuses of the growing for-profit higher education industry.
by Gary Lapon
Socialist Worker

IMAGINE A business that rakes in billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, but provides its customers with a defective product that fails for more than half of them--though that track record hasn't stopped the business owners from enjoying ever-increasing profits.

Sounds like the parasites of Wall Street or the insurance industry, doesn't it?

But according to a U.S. Senate report, the same is true of a growing number of colleges and universities--the expanding sector of higher education that is run for profit.

The Senate report is a shocking exposé of a new growth industry that turns out to be another scheme for the 1 percent to make money at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in society.

But anyone who investigates the for-profit college scam will be struck by something else, too--the abuses of College Inc. are extreme examples of a trend toward privatization and business-like operations throughout all of higher education, which threaten to undermine the system as a whole.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

FOR-PROFIT colleges are capturing a greater share of students nationwide. Over the past 10 years, the for-profit higher education industry has tripled in size, with fall enrollment growing to more than 2.4 million in 2010. That increase is seven and a half times faster than the 28.8 percent increase in enrollment at public colleges, according to the College Board.

This is despite the fact that for-profit colleges are more expensive than even the most prestigious public institutions. Bachelor's degrees average $62,702 at for-profit institutions, versus $52,522 at flagship state public universities. The average associate degree at a for-profit college costs $34,988, more than four times the $8,313 at the average public community college. Certificate programs at for-profit colleges average $19,806, compared with $4,249 at community colleges.

It's no surprise, then, that students at for-profit colleges are more likely to end up deeper in debt. Fully 96 percent of students at for-profit colleges borrow to pay for tuition, compared with 48 percent at four-year public and 13 percent at community colleges, according to the Senate report, titled "For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Access," the result of a two-year investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Democrat Tom Harkin.

"Independent students, who make up most of the for-profit student body, leave for-profits schools with a median debt of $32,700, but leave public colleges with a median debt of $20,000 and private non-profit colleges with a median debt of $24,600," the Senate committee report found.

As a result, according to the New York Times, "Students at for-profit colleges make up 13 percent of the nation's college enrollment, but account for about 47 percent of the defaults on loans."

Although the profits generated by for-profit colleges end up in private hands, the vast majority of revenues come from the government, in the form of federal grants and federally guaranteed student loans. According to the Harkin report, the Apollo Group, the largest of the for-profit education companies and operator of the infamous University of Phoenix, "$3.1 billion in federal student aid, in addition to $46 million in military education benefits...86.8 percent of the company's revenue, and $925 million of their profit, is attributed to federal taxpayer sources."

At the same time that states, pleading poverty, are slashing public university budgets and the federal government now charges interest on loans to graduate students while they're in school, more than $30 billion are funneled each year to for-profit colleges from the federal government, in the form of grants and loans.

Despite paying (and borrowing) significantly more, students at for-profit schools are less likely than their counterparts at public four-year institutions to leave school with a degree. Of the nearly half a million students who enrolled in an associate degree program in 2008-09, the report found that nearly two-thirds (62.9 percent) had dropped out by the middle of 2010. Over half (54.3 percent) left their bachelor's degree programs by that point.

And studies show the benefits of a degree from a for-profit school are likely negligible. A study published in June by two Boston University economists found that while those who get degrees from public or private non-profit colleges and universities experience significant benefits, including higher wages and lower unemployment, students who attended for-profit universities don't. As Time magazine reported:

The [Boston University] researchers found that six years after they enter college, for-profit students are more likely to be unemployed--and to be unemployed for periods longer than three months. And, further, if they are able to find a job, students who attend for-profits make, on average, between $1,800 and $2,000 less annually than their peers who attended other institutions.

This isn't surprising given how little of their inflated tuition prices for-profit colleges actually spend on students' educations. The Senate report estimates average per-student spending at for-profit colleges to be just over $2,000 in 2009--and some spend much less.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Open Source: Najam Sethi -- A Pakistani Prescription for Af-Pak Peace

Najam Sethi: A Pakistani Prescription for Af-Pak Peace
Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Najam Sethi is the man any of us would want to know in Pakistan. He’s the man we might like — on a very brave day — to be. He’s got the voice of a reasonable Pakistani patriot, also of a free-wheeling American sort of peacenik and liberal. Standard bearer of independent elite journalism in Pakistan, Najam Sethi has been arrested and jailed in the 70, 80s and 90s by Pakistani governments of different stripes. In the last few years he’s had death threats from Taliban thugs, too. Always his “offense” is that gabby critical openness we like about him.

There are people, oddly enough, who call Najam Sethi a stooge for the US and India, but listen here to his denunciation of American ignorance, neglect and hypocrisy; and consider the most appealing case I’ve heard directly for Pakistan’s interest. What Pakistan needs is a friendly “good Taliban” regime in Kabul, Najam Sethi is saying. What it cannot abide is an Islamist trouble-maker, or a foothold for Indian mischief.

I am asking my American question: why not bug out of an Afghanistan war we wouldn’t want to win; and, while we’re at it, end a dysfunctional affair with Pakistan that has produced mainly white-heat anti-Americanism. It’s a thought that doesn’t tempt him — to leave a failing democracy of 180-million people in an anti-American frenzy, with nuclear weapons and a mostly young population. “If you leave that,” he says, “… you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The American exit from Afghanistan will be slow and drawn-out. A good withdrawal will depend on a joint American-Pakistani mission to isolate “good” and “bad” Taliban from “bad” Al Qaeda — and then shoo-ing Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan — dead or in flight to Yemen.

My main concern is not patriotism or nationalism. It’s that Pakistan should not fall victim to imperialist policies by Pakistan’s military or by the Pentagon in the region. I’d like to see a prosperous, safe, secure, secular Pakistan. I’d like to see a rollback of radical political Islam. I think if you don’t give the Pakistani military a certain degree of security, it is capable of adventures in the area ruinous for Pakistan and for the region. I’d like Pakistan to build peace with India. I’d like the Americans to withdraw from Afghanistan. I don’t mind if the Taliban rule Afghanistan. But I would mind very much if they began to export their ideology to Pakistan. I’d certainly like to see the Pakistani military taking its rightful place beneath the civilians, not above the civilians. And I’d like to see the civilians in Pakistan flourish and prosper. The good news here is that civilians now across the board want to redress civil-military relations. They’re not happy with the Pakistan Army’s military adventures in India and Afghanistan. The civilians want to build peace in the region. They want to aid and they want to trade, and they want to build an enlightened country. And I want to be part of that process.

Najam Sethi with Chris Lydon at the Watson Institute, Brown, November 4, 2010

To Listen to the Conversation

Scott Sherman: The Brawl Over Fair Trade Coffee

The Brawl Over Fair Trade Coffee
by Scott Sherman
The Nation

On May 20, the country’s oldest “fair trade” coffee company, Equal Exchange, purchased a full-page color advertisement in the Burlington Free Press. It was an open letter to the CEO of the Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee company, the world’s largest buyer of fair trade–certified coffee. “We wish to congratulate you for your past deeds,” Equal Exchange wrote, “but now urgently request that you withdraw your support for the certification agency Fair Trade USA…in light of its unilateral decision to change the rules of fair trade.”

Equal Exchange’s advertisement drew public attention to an unfolding schism in the world of fair trade coffee. The current feud, which has been gathering steam for years, erupted in September, when Fair Trade USA—the US affiliate of Fairtrade International, which governs the global fair trade system and sets labeling and production standards from its home base in Bonn, Germany—announced its decision to end its affiliation with the parent body. In fair trade circles, this was a high-level divorce, and it reverberated widely. FTUSA, which is based in Oakland, also declared that it would certify coffee produced on plantations and by independent smallholder farmers—a significant departure from a system that restricts accreditation to coffee grown on democratically run, farmer-owned cooperatives, of which there are 360, mostly in Latin America.

FTUSA’s president and CEO, Paul Rice, is blunt about his reasons for exiting the international system. In a May interview with the blogger Julie Fahnestock, Rice depicted the movement as doctrinaire and hostile to innovation. “If fair trade continues to [exclude] the poorest of poor,” Rice said, “it’s really on moral thin ice.” He went on to say: “Don’t we want to democratize fair trade? Don’t we want fair trade to be more than a white, middle-class movement?” As for innovation, Rice declared, “Everyone is innovating. Look at Apple, everyone…. It baffles me that somehow innovation in our movement is unacceptable.”

Fair trade leaders are pushing back. In a message posted on the Coffeelands blog, which is hosted by Michael Sheridan of Catholic Relief Services, Jonathan Rosenthal, a co-founder of Equal Exchange, wrote: “If you choose to look at who is making this decision to radically change the imperfect tool called fair trade, you might admit that it is nearly totally driven by well intentioned white folks in the US with lots of money and big dreams.” He concluded, “This feels like a move right out of the colonial playbook.”

Fair trade coffee has been a valuable experiment, one that has brought concrete benefits to hundreds of thousands of farmers. But it rests upon a fragile foundation, and the corporate embrace of the concept could undo decades of work by activists, consumers and farmers: democratically run, farmer-owned cooperatives may be unable to compete with corporate-sponsored plantations. “The fair trade model provided some protection from the unequal conditions of the open market,” says Nicki Lisa Cole, a sociologist at Pomona College who has studied fair trade. Welcoming large-scale plantations into the model “re-creates the problematic conditions for small producers that spurred creation of the model in the first place.”

* * *

There is no standard historical account that explains the rise and consolidation of fair trade. In an essay he wrote for a recent collection titled The Fair Trade Revolution, Rosenthal traces the concept back to a handful of idealists, inspired by English Quakerism, who launched “Free Produce Initiatives” in 1790 to sell slavery-free cotton and fruit. The Fair Trade Resource Network, a nonprofit educational organization, credits Edna Ruth Byler, who imported needlecrafts by low-income women in Puerto Rico in 1946, as the principal fair trade pioneer. The first fair trade label, Max Havelaar, was created in 1988 under the auspices of the Dutch development agency Solidaridad. Fair trade–certified coffee (from Mexico) soon appeared on the shelves of Dutch supermarkets. Today, Britain is the world’s largest market for fair trade products; the Netherlands isn’t far behind. Fair trade sales in South Korea and South Africa are growing rapidly. In 2011, global consumers spent $6.6 billion on fair trade–certified products. Coffee represents the largest segment of the market, but one can also purchase fair trade tea, sugar, bananas, cocoa and wine, among many other items.

But what exactly is fair trade? As Equal Exchange wrote in its advertisement: “The objective [is] to remove the exploitation from international trade and build a new system to ensure fairness and market access” for small-scale farmers and workers. A milestone was achieved in 1997 with the founding of Fairtrade International in Bonn, which served to unify global fair trade organizations under a single rubric and a single labeling system. Under this regime, producers in developing nations receive a minimum price—a safety net to cushion farmers and producers against market fluctuations—as well as a premium, a separate payment (for example, 20 cents per pound for coffee) that workers and farmers can invest in environmental, educational or infrastructure projects. The Fair Trade Resource Network estimates that more than 1.4 million people in more than seventy countries directly participate.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Clash: The Clash (Full Album)

Maximilian Yoshioka: History or Humanity? On Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death: A Nietzschean Perspective on Nanjing

History or Humanity? On Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death: A Nietzschean Perspective on Nanjing
by Maximilian Yoshioka
Bright Lights Film Journal

In 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army stormed into the city of Nanjing in China, causing massive physical and human devastation, in what is now known as the "Rape of Nanjing." The incident, and the broader scheme of Japanese militarism and imperialism in which it took place, is today still a constant source of political tension between the two nation-states and their respective citizens. The 2009 film City of Life and Death, by Chinese auteur Lu-Chuan, is a bold attempt to dig up and redefine the specter of Nanjing that continues to haunt the East Asian consciousness. But instead of ideologically measuring one side or the other on a Manichean scale, Lu chooses to focus on the instances of human compassion and solidarity that are able to manifest themselves even in the mindless, brutal atmosphere he so effectively creates within the cinematic world.

What one comes to grasp after seeing the film is the ultimate importance of history as first and foremost a study of the human condition, and of the art of living itself, as opposed to scientifically detached observation and categorization. The continuities of human consciousness and memory mean that our experiences of the past are necessarily intertwined with those of the present; as individuals inescapably grounded in a specific historical period, we are unable to avoid this contemporizing process. Furthermore, it is something that must be embraced, for it allows us to incorporate these historical "peaks" (and crevasses) of human experience into our future actions and values. But in this integration of the present with the past there is the danger of a selective blindness toward the past that must be understood and overcome. However, the purpose of history as a guide to the present and the future, to "life," must still be emphasized over the "neutral," "objective" study of history as "fact," "statistic," or what Nietzsche, in his essay "The Use and Abuse of History, refers to disparagingly as the "World Process" — that is, an attitude of detached passivity toward a historical narrative that is falsely seen as predetermined and unalterable.

City of Life and Death's narrative shifts between several characters on both sides of the conflict, which allows the film to largely transcend distinctions of nationality and ideology and focus on the more basic human tragedy underlying it. One is never informed of the strategic or ideological Japanese justifications for the various massacres and battles throughout the film; there is no attempt to rationalize the violence. Instead the viewer is presented with a war that is absurd, irrational, and pointless, and this nonpartisan alignment allows for the emergence of a more universal, humanistic perspective that links the various key characters in the film through their shared ethical commitments. These include Kadokawa, a Japanese soldier (Hideo Nakaizumi), Lu Jianxiong (Liu Ye), a Chinese resistance fighter, John Rabe (John Paisley), a German who ran a demilitarized safety zone within Nanjing, his assistant, Mr. Tang (Fan Wei), and several female characters of both Japanese and Chinese origin, all of whom are faced with sexual violence and slavery due to the notorious Japanese "comfort women" policies.

This humanistic impulse manifests itself in various ways, but is mostly emphasized in authentic moments of kindness, empathy, and bravery that shine through the madness. At the end of the film, Kadokawa, under orders to execute two Chinese civilians, one of whom is a young boy, instead decides to release them into the wilderness, much to the amazement but also admiration of his inferior officer. Yet even this act of compassion is insignificant in comparison to what he has previously been required to do and see; under the weight of an intolerable conscience, he kills himself. Earlier in the film he also falls in love with a Japanese prostitute brought in to satisfy the soldiers' animalistic needs; his genuine feelings of care and affection for her contrast strikingly with the objectifying and dehumanizing attitudes of the other soldiers. John Rabe, the only nonfictional character in the film, was a member of the Nazi Party, a group, like the Japanese, condemned for its role in the Second World War. Along with several other missionaries, he saved large numbers of Chinese civilians by instating a safety zone within Nanjing, and his inclusion further demonstrates the director's commitment to a study of war centered on individual human beings rather than political identities.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Leaky Geopolitics: The Ruptures and Transgressions of WikiLeaks

Leaky Geopolitics: The Ruptures and Transgressions of WikiLeaks
A Geopolitical Forum:
Simon Springer: Department of Geography, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; Heather Chi: National University of Singapore Alumni, Singapore; Jeremy Crampton: Department of Geography, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA; Fiona McConnell: Trinity College, University of Cambridge, UK; Julie Cupples: Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand; Kevin Glynn: School of Humanities, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand; Barney Warf: Department of Geography, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA; Wes Attewell: Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The unfurling of violent rhetoric and the show of force that has lead to the arrest, imprisonment, and impending extradi-tion of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, serve as an exemplary moment in demonstrating state-sanctioned violence. Since the cables began leaking in November 2010, the violent reaction toWikiLeaks evidenced by numerous political pundits calling for Assange’s assassination or execution, and the movement withinthe US to have WikiLeaks designated a ‘foreign terrorist orga-nization’, amount to a profound showing of authoritarianism.The ‘Wikigate’ scandal thus represents an important occasionto take stock and think critically about what this case tells us about the nature of sovereign power, freedom of information, the limits of democracy, and importantly, the violence of the state when it attempts to manage these considerations. This forumexplores a series of challenges inspired by WikiLeaks, which we hope will prompt further debate and reflection within critical geopolitics.

To Read the Forum Discussion

Democracy Now: 4 U.S. Soldiers Charged with Murder to Conceal Anti-Government Plot

4 U.S. Soldiers Charged with Murder to Conceal Anti-Gov’t Plot

Four U.S. soldiers have been charged with killing a former comrade and his girlfriend to help conceal the existence of a militia they had formed to carry out anti-government attacks. Prosecutors in Georgia say the soldiers spent $87,000 on guns and bombing materials for a plot that included taking over their base, Fort Stewart; bombing a dam and poisoning the apple crop in Washington state; and ultimately overthrowing the government and assassinating President Obama. The soldiers called themselves F.E.A.R., short for Forever Enduring Always Ready. They are accused of killing former soldier Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York, last December in a bid to keep their plans secret. It is the most high-profile case to involve extremism in the U.S. military ranks since neo-Nazi Army veteran Wade Michael Page killed six worshipers at the Oak Creek Sikh temple in Wisconsin and critically wounded three others before being shot dead earlier this month.

Reported on Democracy Now Headlines

The Beatles: Strawberry Fields Forever

Rob Dougan: Clubbed to Death

Monday, August 27, 2012

ENG 102: August Presidential Straw Poll

[4 classes]

Barack Obama 18

Mitt Romney 12

Ron Paul 2

Jill Stein 2

Undecided 35

The (International) Noise Conspiracy: Dead Language of Love

Radiohead - The King of Limbs live from the basement 2011 - BBC

Radiohead - The King of Limbs live from the basement 2011 - BBC from Leander Drieskens on Vimeo.

Adam Brewer: Memories of a Lifetime

A glimpse into the life of local celebrity Adam Brewer. From his affinity for animals to his edgy punk rock performances, Adam Brewer is a multi faceted individual dedicated to living life his way, and his way only.

Memories of a Lifetime: Adam Brewer from Appalachian Media Institute on Vimeo.

The Jackets: Wasting My Time

Paul Oliver: Michel Foucault on the Socialization of Individual Identity

According to [Michel] Foucault, the individual identity is not self-determining. The subjective self does not exist because of the free will and autonomy of the individual. Rather our identity is created through a system of socialization over which we have relatively little control. We are born into a particular social setting, a political setting, a society with a particular set of values, and a religious system. All of these conspire to forge and mould our subjectivity. The individual looks out at the world with a vision that tends to reflect the surrounding ideological system. (17)

Oliver, Paul. Foucault: The Key Ideas Blacklick, OH: McGraw Hill, 2010.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Comedy/Satire: Peace and Conflict Studies Archive

Alcaraz, Lalo. "Rachel Maddow Interviews Lalo Alcaraz On His Satirical Movement: Self-Deportation." Huffington Post (February 2, 2012)

Beckinsale, Kate, Judy Greer and Angela Savage. "Republicans, Get In My Vagina." Funny or Die (2012)

Cobbs, Maurice. Customer Comment on Amazon about the Tailwind child's toy Drone Dialogic (January 28, 2012)

deGuzman, Charlene. "I Forgot My Phone." (Posted on YouTube: (August 22, 2013)

"Dude Looks Like a Lady: What the Kids in the Hall Taught Us About Womanhood." Canonball (April 27, 2011)

Frost, Amber. "‘Hours of Racist, Imperialist Fun!’: Toy predator drone + snarky Amazon comments." Dangerous Minds (December 31, 2012)

Garfunkel and Oates. "The Abstinence Loophole." (Posted on YouTube: June 25, 2013)

Hicks, Bill. "On Comedy and Thinking." (Posted on YouTube: June 7, 2010)

Mandvi, Aasif. "Poor Pee-Ple." The Daily Show (February 2, 2012)

McBride, Joseph. "Political Filmmaking and America's "Poisoned Chalice": The Banned Gore Vidal Interview." Bright Lights Film Journal #77 (August 2012)

"Nation's Lower Class At Least Grateful It Not Part Of Nation's Middle Class." The Onion (August 1, 2012)

"People Who Are Destroying America: Johnny Cummings." The Colbert Report (August 2013)

"Pregnant Woman Relieved To Learn Her Rape Was Illegitimate." The Onion (August 20, 2012)

Stewart, Jon. "Democalypse 2012: The New New Low Edition." The Daily Show (August 15, 2012)

---. "Def Tone Poetry Jam." The Daily Show (May 11, 2011)

---. "Glocks and Spiels: Obama's Executive Privilege." The Daily Show (June 21, 2012)

---. Scapegoat Hunter: Gun Control." The Daily Show (January 8, 2013)

Sykes, Wanda. "Detachable Vagina." [Excerpt from Sick and Tired tour: posted on YouTube June 10, 2007)

Tomorrow, Tom. "Does Guantanamo Exist?" The Nation (April 30, 2013)

Yes Men Fix the World (USA: Andy Bichbaum and Mike Bonanno, 2010: 87 mins)

Open Source: Lisa Randall -- What we talk about when we talk about science…

What we talk about when we talk about science…
by Lisa Randall
Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Lisa Randall our village explainer of 21st Century science — is talking about subatomic particles. What I’m hearing are resonances of what used to be called a religious curiosity and hunger.

What big science wants to measure, she’s saying, in the speed-of-light smash-ups of protons inside CERN’s Large Hadron Collider on the border of Switzerland and France, is “the strong force that holds things together.” And I’m wondering out loud: aren’t we all searching for the strong force that holds things together?

It’s not just that the elusive “Higgs boson” in the LHC’s simulation of the Big Bang’s aftermath is often called “the God particle.” (Leon Lederman, who wrote the book, actually wanted to call it “the god-damned particle,” according to Lisa Randall, but his publisher wouldn’t let him). It’s more that so much of our conversation corresponds with the language of religion — starting with experimental leaps of faith, invisible planes of reality, unprovable understandings and the driven pursuit of the unknowable.

I like the line attributed to Chris Hill of the Fermi Lab — using the churchy word “rubric” which used to mean the headings in the Roman Missal printed in red. “The Higgs boson is really a rubric,” said Mr. Hill in Discover magazine. “We don’t know what we’re talking about.”

What I like about Lisa Randall’s books — Warped Passages, about extra dimensions, and now Knocking on Heaven’s Door, about inner and outer limits of the cosmos — is the air of assurance and also mystery. In her office at Harvard, she is touching on the approachable and the sublime, relaxed about the overlapping metaphors and human interests, the “common questions” arising from religion and science. And of course there is a faith inside science. As she says, “You have to believe it’s worth pursuing.”

To Listen to the Conversation

PDF File of Randall's Book Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions (2005)

Excerpt from Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (2011)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Zadie Smith: Generation Why?

Generation Why?
by Zadie Smith
The New York Review of Books

How long is a generation these days? I must be in Mark Zuckerberg’s generation—there are only nine years between us—but somehow it doesn’t feel that way. This despite the fact that I can say (like everyone else on Harvard’s campus in the fall of 2003) that “I was there” at Facebook’s inception, and remember Facemash and the fuss it caused; also that tiny, exquisite movie star trailed by fan-boys through the snow wherever she went, and the awful snow itself, turning your toes gray, destroying your spirit, bringing a bloodless end to a squirrel on my block: frozen, inanimate, perfect—like the Blaschka glass flowers. Doubtless years from now I will misremember my closeness to Zuckerberg, in the same spirit that everyone in ’60s Liverpool met John Lennon.

At the time, though, I felt distant from Zuckerberg and all the kids at Harvard. I still feel distant from them now, ever more so, as I increasingly opt out (by choice, by default) of the things they have embraced. We have different ideas about things. Specifically we have different ideas about what a person is, or should be. I often worry that my idea of personhood is nostalgic, irrational, inaccurate. Perhaps Generation Facebook have built their virtual mansions in good faith, in order to house the People 2.0 they genuinely are, and if I feel uncomfortable within them it is because I am stuck at Person 1.0. Then again, the more time I spend with the tail end of Generation Facebook (in the shape of my students) the more convinced I become that some of the software currently shaping their generation is unworthy of them. They are more interesting than it is. They deserve better.

In The Social Network Generation Facebook gets a movie almost worthy of them, and this fact, being so unexpected, makes the film feel more delightful than it probably, objectively, is. From the opening scene it’s clear that this is a movie about 2.0 people made by 1.0 people (Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher, forty-nine and forty-eight respectively). It’s a talkie, for goodness’ sake, with as many words per minute as His Girl Friday. A boy, Mark, and his girl, Erica, sit at a little table in a Harvard bar, zinging each other, in that relentless Sorkin style made famous by The West Wing (though at no point does either party say “Walk with me”—for this we should be grateful).

But something is not right with this young man: his eye contact is patchy; he doesn’t seem to understand common turns of phrase or ambiguities of language; he is literal to the point of offense, pedantic to the point of aggression. (“Final clubs,” says Mark, correcting Erica, as they discuss those exclusive Harvard entities, “Not Finals clubs.”) He doesn’t understand what’s happening as she tries to break up with him. (“Wait, wait, this is real?”) Nor does he understand why. He doesn’t get that what he may consider a statement of fact might yet have, for this other person, some personal, painful import:

ERICA: I have to go study.

MARK: You don’t have to study.

ERICA: How do you know I don’t have to study?!

MARK: Because you go to B.U.!

Simply put, he is a computer nerd, a social “autistic”: a type as recognizable to Fincher’s audience as the cynical newshound was to Howard Hawks’s. To create this Zuckerberg, Sorkin barely need brush his pen against the page. We came to the cinema expecting to meet this guy and it’s a pleasure to watch Sorkin color in what we had already confidently sketched in our minds. For sometimes the culture surmises an individual personality, collectively. Or thinks it does. Don’t we all know why nerds do what they do? To get money, which leads to popularity, which leads to girls. Sorkin, confident of his foundation myth, spins an exhilarating tale of double rejection—spurned by Erica and the Porcellian, the Finaliest of the Final Clubs, Zuckerberg begins his spite-fueled rise to the top. Cue a lot of betrayal. A lot of scenes of lawyers’ offices and miserable, character-damning depositions. (“Your best friend is suing you!”) Sorkin has swapped the military types of A Few Good Men for a different kind of all-male community in a different uniform: GAP hoodies, North Face sweats.

At my screening, blocks from NYU, the audience thrilled with intimate identification. But if the hipsters and nerds are hoping for Fincher’s usual pyrotechnics they will be disappointed: in a lawyer’s office there’s not a lot for Fincher to do. He has to content himself with excellent and rapid cutting between Harvard and the later court cases, and after that, the discreet pleasures of another, less-remarked-upon Fincher skill: great casting. It’ll be a long time before a cinema geek comes along to push Jesse Eisenberg, the actor who plays Zuckerberg, off the top of our nerd typologies. The passive-aggressive, flat-line voice. The shifty boredom when anyone, other than himself, is speaking. The barely suppressed smirk. Eisenberg even chooses the correct nerd walk: not the sideways corridor shuffle (the Don’t Hit Me!), but the puffed chest vertical march (the I’m not 5'8”, I’m 5'9”!).

With rucksack, naturally. An extended four-minute shot has him doing exactly this all the way through the Harvard campus, before he lands finally where he belongs, the only place he’s truly comfortable, in front of his laptop, with his blog:

Erica Albright’s a bitch. You think that’s because her family changed their name from Albrecht or do you think it’s because all B.U. girls are bitches?

Oh, yeah. We know this guy. Overprogrammed, furious, lonely. Around him Fincher arranges a convincing bunch of 1.0 humans, by turns betrayed and humiliated by him, and as the movie progresses they line up to sue him. If it’s a three-act movie it’s because Zuckerberg screws over more people than a two-act movie can comfortably hold: the Winklevoss twins and Divya Navendra (from whom Zuckerberg allegedly stole the Facebook concept), and then his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (the CFO he edged out of the company), and finally Sean Parker, the boy king of Napster, the music-sharing program, although he, to be fair, pretty much screws himself. It’s in Eduardo—in the actor Andrew Garfield’s animate, beautiful face—that all these betrayals seem to converge, and become personal, painful. The arbitration scenes—that should be dull, being so terribly static—get their power from the eerie opposition between Eisenberg’s unmoving countenance (his eyebrows hardly ever move; the real Zuckerberg’s eyebrows never move) and Garfield’s imploring disbelief, almost the way Spencer Tracy got all worked up opposite Frederic March’s rigidity in another courtroom epic, Inherit the Wind.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sonic Nightmares #59

Sonic Nightmares #59
Hosts: Gringo Starr, Reverend Beat-Man, Brother Panti-Christ & El Tiki

This episode was recorded using the cheapest microphone we could find.

It just goes to show you that it’s not all about quality, it’s about how many cool reverb/echo effects you have! Now tap your toes to tracks by The Gravedigger V, The Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs and some new music by The Jackets, Hank Haint and Off! You better enjoy us while we’re here ’cause who knows how long you’re gonna have to wait until the next one! Will you still love us when we’re sixty?

Wild Evel & The Trashbones – The Avenue Of Death – Soundflat
The Monsters – The More You Talk The Less I Hear – Voodoo Rhythm
Jack Torera – Hops Di Hops – Unreleased
The Gravedigger V – Searching – Midnight
The Jackets – Wasting My Time – Soundflat

The Buzzcocks – Nothing Left – UA Records
Jack Of Heart – Do You Dream – Born Bad Records
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Out Of Luck – Au Go Go Records
Spike Jones – The Man On The Flying Trapeze – RCA
Henry Mancini – When The Crab Grass Blooms Again – WB

Where Have All The Bootboys Gone – Slaughter And The Dogs -
Sunday Stripper – Cock Sparrer -
Boston Babies – Slaughter And The Dogs (Live)
George Davis Is Innocent – Sham 69 (Live)
Mr.Suit – Wire

Off! – I Got News For You -Vice
Hank Haint – Problematic – Voodoo Rhythm
Roy And The Devils Motorcycle – I’m Allright – Voodoo Rhythm
Heart Attack Alley – I Put A Spell On You – Voodoo Rhythm
Menic – I Sold Myself – Voodoo Rhythm

The Lombego Surfers – Stop Spittin’ On Me -

To Listen to the Show

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fall 2012 ENG 102 Extra Credit Opportunities

[See requirements for extra credit in the Addendum to the Fall 2012 ENG 102 Syllabus]

Fall 2012 ENG 102 Extra Credit Opportunities

1) Bluegrass Film Society Fall 2012 Schedule

2) “End Corporate Rule”: 7:00 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 30, 2012
University of Kentucky, Old Student Center Theater
Event is co-sponsored by UK American Studies Program and UK Political Science Department. Admission if free and it is open to the public.

3) Watch The People Speak and write a response to it [it is available in BCTC Library]

4) Watch The Hunger, visit my film course page on the film, and write a response. 5) With our discussion about framing an issue in mind -- watch both of these parts of Jon Stewart's analysis of the Republican National Convention: RNC 2012 and write a response

6) This is the list of films and film-related essays I have offered to my film studies students for extra credit responses -- they are also available for ENG 102 extra credit ENG 281 extra credit

Ian Johnson: The New Olympic Arms Race

The New Olympic Arms Race
by Ian Johnson
The New York Review of Books Blog

You can follow the Olympics two ways. First, there’s the right way: you pay attention to the athletes and root for great performances. You see them cry and hug each other in joy or look away in disgust at a bad performance. You empathize with them as human beings and debate issues like whether Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time or just the greatest swimmer. You wonder about doping but try to believe that the sports agencies have it more or less under control and that Dick Pound is just another Canadian curmudgeon.

Then there’s the way I watch the games: as a statistical survey of geopolitics and destructive public policy. Individuals matter, to a degree, but more as products of systems than as distinctive personalities. I admire Ye Shiwen’s performance but wonder more about why the country’s swimming coaches get paid almost as much as the central government spends on preserving the country’s dying folk culture. I think Phelps is a great physical specimen but wonder why Americans are getting fatter and fatter. And I look in bemusement at Great Britain’s sudden rise up the medals table—the telltale sign of a country with an inferiority complex that has decided to spend lots and lots of money on attention-getting elite sports: modern-day penis envy.

The Olympics used to be a lot easier to follow. For its first half-century, it was a much smaller event often interrupted by wars; only Hitler seemed to realize the games’ PR potential. Then came the Cold War and they turned into a battleground for rival ideologies. Countries like East Germany and the Soviet Union poured huge amounts of money into sports as a way to earn recognition. Especially East Germany, which craved respectability, had an almost pathological desire for Olympic success. In just five summer games, it racked up 409 medals.

Most people think the Eastern Bloc’s success was simply a question of massive doping—women with Adam’s apples and beards. But smart countries realized there were other explanations for the success. Warsaw Pact governments spent a huge amount of money on sports, true, but the key was that they ruthlessly targeted only likely medal winners. East Germany, for example, never bothered with ice hockey because it realized it would have to train at least two dozen elite athletes just to field a team and even then would have a tough time against established powerhouses. Instead, it focused on sports where one athlete could win multiple medals—speed skating and cycling for example. It also avoided sports that depended on having leagues (ice hockey, basketball, baseball and so on); better to support athletes who trained alone because they required less infrastructure. And of course athletes like Katarina Witt got enough money—and national prominence—to make it a profession. Amateurism was for losers.

Even before the Cold War ended, western countries were emulating these tactics. South Korea made a splash at the 1988 Seoul games by winning more gold medals than West Germany and landing in fourth place in the medal count. Australia went even further: After failing to win a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal games, it set up a centralized sports bureaucracy that set new athletic standards and channeled money to training programs and especially to winners. Despite its small population, it finished fourth in the medal counts in Sydney and Athens (although it slid to sixth in Beijing and seems to be doing even more poorly in London).

"To Read the Rest of the Essay

Open Source: Isabel Wilkerson’s Leaderless March that Remade America

Isabel Wilkerson’s Leaderless March that Remade America
Open Source with Chris Lydon

Isabel Wilkerson is the epic tale teller of the Great Migration of Southern black people that remade America — sound, substance and spirit — in the 20th Century. The proof is in the soundtrack — musical highlights of a comprehensive revolution. It was one of two modern migrations, it’s been said, that made American culture what it is — of blacks from the Jim Crow South, and of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe.

The movement of masses is an ageless, ongoing piece of human history: in India and China today, more people migrate internally from village to city in one year than left the South from the onset of World War I (1915) to the end of the Civil Rights era (1970), as Isabel Wilkerson frames her story. But was there ever a migration that beyond moving people transformed a national culture as ours did? Songs, games, language, art, style, worship, every kind of entertainment including pro sports — in fact almost all we feel about ourselves, how we look to the world, changed in the sweep of Isabel Wilkerson’s magnificent story, The Warmth of Other Suns.

Great swaths of the pop and serious culture I grew up in – my children as well – were fruit of Ms. Wilkerson’s story: Jazz and its immortals like Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Illinois Jacquet, Miles Davis, the Basie and Ellington bands and stars like Duke’s greatest soloist Johnny Hodges, whose family moved from Virginia to Boston very early in the century; Mahalia Jackson and Gospel music; Rhythm and Blues, Ray Charles, the Motown sound, the Jackson family and little Michael; sports immortals like Bill Russell and Jackie Robinson, and athletes without number are players in this story. Writers, actors, politicians, comedians… Toni Morison, Spike Lee, Michelle Obama are all children of the Great Migration.

It was “the first big step the nation’s servant class took without asking,” in one of many graceful Wilkerson lines about “a leaderless revolution.” But it was a graceless, usually violent, threatened, lonely experience. Isabel Wilkerson is speaking of the mothers, fathers and families that faced it down — the Russells of Monroe, Louisiana, in one example, who gave the world the greatest team-sport winner we ever saw (13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, 11 NBA championships), the most charismatic defensive player in any game on earth. But for the migration, Wilkerson observes, Bill Russell “might have been working in a hardware store. It’s hard to know — there are a lot of mills around Monroe, LA. It’s hard to imagine what would have happened to that enormous talent that changed a sport…

They lived under a caste system … known as Jim Crow. Bill Russell’s family experienced some of the harsh realities of that. One story involving Bill Russell’s father involves a day where he was just wanting to get gas. The custom in the Jim Crow South is that when an African American was in line for something, any white southerner who came up could cut in line.

One white motorist after another had shown up and gone in front of him, and he had to wait, and he had to wait, and he had to wait. Eventually he decided he would just back out and drive the half-hour to the next gas station where he might be able to get served. As he was beginning to back out, the owner of the gas station stopped pumping gas for the white motorist he was working with and got a shotgun, held it to Bill Russell’s father’s head and said “You’ll leave when I tell you to leave. Don’t ever let me see you trying that again.”

His mother was, around the same time, stopped on the street because she was dressed in her Sunday clothes. … A police officer stopped her and said “You go home right now and take that off. That is not what a colored woman should be wearing.” …

The family decided that they would leave Monroe Louisiana, a very difficult decision, for a far away place, Oakland California. And it was there that Bill Russell had the opportunity to go to integrated schools, to be able to go to an NCAA school; he would never had had the opportunity to do that had they stayed in the South. He ended up leading the Dons of UCSF to two NCAA championships, and then of course came to the attention of the Celtics… Basketball would not be what we know it to be, had this Great Migration not occurred. And he’s but one person out of this entire experience of six million people who migrated.

Isabel Wilkerson in conversation with Chris Lydon, October 5, 2010.

To Listen to the Conversation

Reith Lectures: Eliza Manningham-Buller - Securing Freedom

Reith Lectures (BBC)

Eliza Manningham-Buller: Securing Freedom, Pt. 1

Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director-general of MI5, the British security service, gives the first of her BBC Reith Lectures, entitled Terror. On the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States she reflects on the lasting significance of that day. Was it a terrorist crime? An act of war? Or something different?

To Listen to the MP3

Eliza Manningham-Buller: Securing Freedom. Pt. 2

Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director-general of MI5, the British security service, gives the second of her BBC Reith Lectures, entitled Security. She argues that the security and intelligence services have a good record of protecting and preserving freedom, but concedes that the use of water-boarding by the United States has not made the world a safer place. "Torture is illegal" and "never justified," she says.

To Listen to the MP3

RLA: Eliza Manningham-Buller: Securing Freedom, Pt. 3

Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director-general of MI5, the British security service, gives her third and final BBC Reith Lecture, entitled Freedom. She discusses policy priorities since 9/11 and reflects on the Arab Spring, and argues that the West's support of authoritarian regimes did, to some extent, fuel the growth of al-Qaeda. The lecture also considers when we should talk to "terrorists".

To Listen to the MP3

Monday, August 20, 2012

ENG 102 Course Weblogs

Recommended Student Posts/Comments (rotating):

Condemned: #6 Double Standards

Condemned: #5 A Call to Action

Fraddosio's Thoughts: #3 "Education Assembly Line"

Britany Blogs: #7 Sources

Britany Blogs: #5: Supergay to Save the Day!

Matdood83: #4 Political Parties in the USA

ENG 102: M/W 3:30

ENG 102 (Freitas) [#1 Credit]; 2# Credit; #3 Revise]

Scrawberry (Meulendyke) [#1 Credit; #2 Credit]

Never Underestimate the Power of Theory [#1 Credit; #2 Credit; #3 Credit] (Acton)

A Little Bit of Stupid (Skovran) [#1 No response; #2 No response]

AwdBoostFTW (Oney) [#1 Revise; #2 Revise]

Te Dua (Olson)[#1 No response; #2 no credit]

ENG 102 MW (Grindle) [#1 Credit; #2 Revise]

Thoughts to Think About (Barrett) [#1 No Response; #2 No Response]

Rachel Kirby 01 [#1 No Credit; #2 No Credit] (Kirby)

Criticism (Altizer) [#1 No Response; #2 No Credit; #3 No Response]

Generation to generation people have spoke their opinion on everything about anything (Thomas) [#1 Revise; #2 No Credit; #3 Revise]

Intriguing The Not So Tantalized (Toncry) [#1 Credit; #2 Credit; #3 Credit]

Inhale, Exhale (Elder) [#1 Revise; #2 Revise; #3 No Credit; #4 Revise]

My English 102 (Kirwan) [#1 No Credit; #2 No Credit; #3 No Credit; #4 No Credit]

Wicked Shitlette (Appleman) [#1 Credit; #2 No Credit; #3 No Credit; #4 No Credit]

ENG 102: M/W 5:00

Bird Tweets 31 (Nolen) [1# Credit; 2# Credit; 3# Credit; 4# Credit]

Waynez World (Brown) [#1 Credit; #2 Revise; #3 Revise; #4 Credit]

Serenity (Eads) [1# Credit; 2# Credit; #3 No Credit; #4 Credit; #5 Credit]

Jessica Steppe (Steppe ) [1# Credit; #2 Credit; #3 Credit; #5 Credit]

KO [1# Credit; 2# Credit; 3# no response; #4 no response; #5 no response; #6 no response; #7 no response](Oliver)

#1 Theory for Beginnings (Simon) [#1 Credit; #2 Revise; #3 no response; 4# credit; #5 Revise; #6 no response; #7 Revise]

Brown Bottom Backpacks (Canupp) {#1 Credit; #2 Credit; #3 Credit; #4 Credit; #5 revise; #6 revise; #7 Credit]

Brittany Blogs (Burrus)[#1 Credit; #2 Credit; #3 Credit; #4 Credit; #5 Credit; #6 Credit; #7 Credit]

Fraddosio's Thoughts (Clemons) [#1 Credit; #2 Credit; #3 Credit; #4 Credit; #5 Credit; #6 No Response; #7 No Response]

Condemned (Johnson) [#1 Credit; #2 Credit; #3 Credit; #4 Credit; #5 Credit; #6 Credit; #7 Credit -- 1 Extra Credit]

Kentucky Girl 0118 (Howard)
Chief Long Hair (Brinegar)

Joe Scully (Scully)

Su (Su)

Virtual Reality (Fox)

Juan Lesczynski (Lesczynski)

Brittany Howard 0118 (Howard)

ENG 102: T/TH 11 AM

BlogEng102 (Kennedy)

English 102 (Ball)

English 102 (Smith)

eng102 (Barton)

english class (Le)

I Was Move In a New Apartment (Jia)
Normal Guy (A. Martin)

Tenacious (Ritchey)

Quizzical Me (Moreno)

A World Few Have Entered (Smith)

Harvey (Harvey)

All the World's a Stage (Moore)

English 101 and 102 (Hamilton)

English 102 (Gabbard)

TaylurAmazing (T. Martin)

Adidas (Sanders)

Carlie Nation (Nation)

Robotic Reflections (Crawford)

Contemplate Things (Perkins)

Trials and Tribulations (Demarcus)
Mason's Blog (Reeves)
Kyle's English 102 Blog (Blanas)
Jasjeet (Soundh)

ENG 102: T/Th 12:30

AwaidBlogger (Waid)

Seeking a Greater Perhaps (Cordingly)

BlinkPink89 (Cornett)

BryanEucedaENG102 (Euceda)

Shelby (Martin)

Mind of Flowing Ideas (Raglin)

Bryan's Blog Station (Worthington)

English 102 (Duty)

Trying Something New (Harover)

English 102 (Saunders)

Dilly_221 (Smith)

I Be Blogging (Laswell)

My Pink Canvas (Tollison)

klybrook (Lybrook)

Kwallace0046 (Wallace)

Kristen's English 102 Blog (Griffin) [1 extra credit]

Caitlin Hunt's Blog (Hunt)

Cody's Blog (Rowe)

Colby's Blog (Straup)

Mark's Blog (Morris)

Marquis Axtell (Axtell)

Gentlemans Quarterly 91 (Andrews) [#1 Revise; #2 Revise; #3 Credit; #4 Credit; #5 Revise; #6 no response; #7 no response]

Yes, I Can! (Bastin)

Alen's Private Square (Fetahovic)

Addendum to the Fall 2012 ENG 102 Syllabus

You need to set up a blog on Blogger

The blog will be your online journal and you will post your critical responses to homework assignments.

When responding to homework there are some basic requirements:

1) Develop an understanding of the author(s) argument and/or perspective

2) Develop your critical perspective concerning the points being made

3) Frame your response around a specific point you would like to make or theme you would like to discuss

4) Make sure to refer to the source text and directly connect your argument to the content of the homework assignment.

5) 300-500 words (but you can always feel free to write more). These homework assignments can always serve as the basis for a longer essay assignment.

6) All posts need a title and will have a number corresponding to the assignment (example: "#3: title of your post").

Grading of your posts will consist of:

Credit = contains critical thought and a clear discussion of your argument that is connected to the source text’s arguments

Revise = a good attempt, but some problems (which will be explained by the professor) that need to be addressed before you can receive credit

No Credit = sloppy writing (repetitive basic writing mistakes), failure to develop a clear statement/perspective in your response, lack of reflection on the homework assignment and/or no attempt to seriously address it.

During the semester there will be opportunities for extra credit: lectures, films, events and suggested texts. You need to write a post on your blog (300-500 words) of your response (make your title to the post like this: “Extra Credit: ‘title of the response’). Similar to the regular homework responses, I will comment on the extra credit responses and state whether you will receive credit for it (see “no credit” description above for why you would not receive credit).

Each extra credit can count toward one point on your final grade, with up to 10 extra credit points possible.

Extra credit opportunities can be suggested to me, but must be suggested early enough so that all students can take advantage of the opportunity and must be agreed upon by me beforehand. I will list extra-credit opportunities in the ENG 102 Discussion Prompts post

I run the Bluegrass Film Society on campus on Wednesday nights and these films will be offered as extra credit opportunities:

Fall 2012 Bluegrass Film Society

Sign up for Webster’s Word-of-the-Day email – this is a good way to learn one word every day

Democracy Now: End the WikiLeaks Witch Hunt: Julian Assange’s Full Address from the Ecuadorean Embassy

End the WikiLeaks Witch Hunt: Julian Assange’s Full Address from the Ecuadorean Embassy
Democracy Now

In his first public appearance since he took refuge two months ago inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, Julian Assange calls for President Obama to end his war on whistleblowers. "The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks. The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation. The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters," Assange says. "The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful." Assange spoke from a windowsill near a small balcony on the second floor of the Ecuadorean embassy as dozens of police officers looked on. He carefully did not step onto the balcony, which is considered outside the legal boundary of the embassy. The diplomatic standoff between Ecuador and Britain continues this week after Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador, but U.K. authorities say they will arrest Assange and extradite him to Sweden.


Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief.

To Watch the Address

Democracy Now: "Nonprofits" Tied to Karl Rove, Koch Brothers Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare

"Nonprofits" Tied to Karl Rove, Koch Brothers Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare
Democracy Now

With the presidential election less than three months away, Republicans and Democrats are blanketing the airwaves with campaign ads. Much has been written about the super PACs behind these ads, but far less is known about social welfare nonprofits that are far outspending super PACs on TV advertising in the presidential race. As of August 8, these nonprofits had spent more than $71 million on ads mentioning a candidate for president; whereas, super PACs have spent an estimated $56 million. And, unlike super PACs, these organizations enjoy tax-exempt status and do not have to disclose the identity of their donors. A new investigation by ProPublica reveals how these nonprofits are exploiting their special tax status to mount a secretly funded, permanent campaign. We speak to investigative reporter Kim Barker.


Kim Barker, reporter for ProPublica. Her new investigation is "How Nonprofits Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare."

To Watch the Report

Friday, August 17, 2012

Peaches: Free Pussy Riot

Free Pussy Riot! #freepussyriot from Peaches on Vimeo.

More Resources:

Amnesty International: Bitter Blow to Free Speech in Russia -- Pussy Riot Convicted

Skepchick: Pussy Riot is On Trial Today

Alexander Billet: Pussy Riot for the 99%

Maximum Rock n Roll: Free Pussy Riot Benefit Compilation

Anders Sandberg: Asking the Right Questions -- Big Data and Civil Rights

Asking the right questions: big data and civil rights
by Anders Sandberg
Practical Ethics (University of Oxford)


Is this a civil rights issue?

Civil rights deal with ensuring free and equal citizenship in a liberal democratic state. This includes being able to adequately participate in public discussion and decisionmaking, making autonomous choices about how one’s life goes, and avoiding being discriminated against.

That big data analysis infers information about people does not itself affect civil rights: it is at most a privacy issue. It does not affect the moral independence of people. The real issue is how other agents act on this information: we likely do not mind that a computer somewhere knows our innermost secrets if we think it will never act or judge us. But if a person (or institution) can react to this information, then we might already experience chilling effects on freedom of thought or speech. And the act itself may be discriminatory in a wrongful way.

Discrimination is however a complex issue. Exactly what constitutes wrongful discrimination is shaped by complex social codes, sometimes wildly inconsistent. Just consider how churches are able to get away with discriminating against non-believer or wrong-sex applicants (and possibly even sexual preferences) in a way that would be completely impossible for private companies by claiming that these traits actually are highly relevant (and hence discrimination not wrongful) by their views. Groups like sexual minorities and the disabled have gained protection from discrimination following vigorous debate and cultural change. If it is OK to select partners in person based on racial characteristics, should commercial online dating services provide such criteria or are they abetting racism? And so on. Just as it is not possible to decide beforehand what questions might produce discriminatory answers, it might not be easy to tell what behavior is discriminatory before it had been discussed publicly.

Big data analysis might help various forms of discrimination, but also expose it. No doubt more advocacy groups are going to be mining the activities of companies and states to show the biases inherent in the system.

Regulatory challenges

One regulatory challenge with big data and big analytics is that, unlike what the nicknames suggest they can be done on a small scale or in a distributed manner: while there are huge amounts of data out there, collection and analysis is not necessarily located at a few easily regulated major players. While Facebook, Google, Acxiom and the NSA might be orders of magnitude more powerful than small businesses or hobby projects, such projects can still harness enough data and ask problematic questions – especially since they can often piggyback on the infrastructure built by the giants.

A second challenge is that analyzing questions can be done silently and secretly. It can be nearly impossible to tell that an agent has inferred sensitive information and uses it. Sometimes active measures are taken to keep analyzed people in the dark but in many cases the response to the questions can be invisible – nobody notices offers they do not get. And if these absent opportunities start following certain social patterns (for example not offering them to certain races, genders or sexual preferences) they can have a deep civil rights effect – just consider the case of education.

This opacity can occur inside the analyzing organization too. For example, training a machine learning algorithm to estimate the desirability of a loan applicant from available data might produce a system that “knows” the race of applicants and uses it to estimate their suitability (something that would be discriminatory if a human did it). The programmers did not tell it to do this and it might not even be transparent from the outside what is going on (conversely, getting an algorithm to not take race into account in order to follow legal restrictions might also be hard to implement: the algorithm will follow the data, not how we want it to “think”).

A third challenge is that the growth of this infrastructure is not just supported by business interests and government snoops, but by most consumers. We want personalization, even though that means we enter our preferences into various systems. We want ease of use and self-documentation, even though that means we carry smart devices and software that monitor us and our habits. We want self-expression, even though that places our self in the world of data.

The fourth challenge is that what questions are problematic is ill defined. It is not implausible that there exist groups that might be discriminated against on the basis of data mining that are not known as socially salient groups, or that apparently innocuous questions turn out to reveal sensitive information when investigated. This cannot be predicted beforehand.

These challenges suggest that public regulation will not be able to effectively enforce formal rules. Transgressions can occur silently, anywhere and in ways not covered by the rules.

Where does this leave us?

Croll suggests that we should link our data with how it can be used. While technological solutions to this might sometimes be possible, and some standards like creative commons licenses are being spread, he thinks – and I agree – that the real monitoring and enforcement will be social, legal and ethical.

To Read the Entire Post

Michael Ratner and Ben Griffin: Ecuador Grants Julian Assange Asylum; U.S. Seen as "Hidden Hand" Behind U.K. Threat to Raid Embassy

Ecuador Grants Julian Assange Asylum; U.S. Seen as "Hidden Hand" Behind U.K. Threat to Raid Embassy
Democracy Now

As Ecuador prepared to announce its decision on granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Britain threatened to raid the Ecuadorean embassy in London where Assange has taken refuge for the past two months. Britain told Ecuador that giving Julian Assange asylum would not change a thing and that it might still revoke the diplomatic status of Quito’s embassy in London to allow the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder to Sweden to face questioning over alleged sexual misconduct. We’re joined by Michael Ratner, an attorney for Julian Assange and president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and by Ben Griffin, an activist with Veterans for Peace UK, participating in a vigil in support of Assange outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London. "Is this really about the U.S. being the 'hidden hand' behind what the British are doing so that they can eventually get a hold of Julian Assange, try him for espionage and put him into a jail?" Ratner asks. "That’s what’s really going on here. Let’s not kid ourselves."


Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a legal adviser to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Ben Griffin, activist with Veterans for Peace UK and a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He’s joining us from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he’s been showing support for Julian Assange.

To Watch the Report

More resources:

Democracy Now archive on Julian Assange

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Jon Stewart Blasts Republicans For Divisive Hypocrisy

Thursday, August 16, 2012

First Listen: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti Mature Themes

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti Mature Themes
by Stephen Thompson
First Listen (NPR)

For the man known as Ariel Pink, albums aren't so much collections of songs so much as dump trucks full of ideas: some good, some bad, some ridiculous, some stupid, some disarmingly good-natured, all smashed together in an unpredictable mosaic. Even an individual Ariel Pink song, like 2010's breakthrough single "Round and Round," might alternate between gasp-inducing prettiness and awkward stumbles. As he's moved beyond his lo-fi bedroom-recording roots — and learned how to better control the outcomes of his experimentation — the juxtaposition has only gotten more striking.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti project is about to release its first album since the success of "Round and Round," and Mature Themes (out August 21) finds a way to both capitalize on Pink's new-found budget and explore the flights of fancy that made his name. The deadpan double entrendres of "Is This the Best Spot?" would've made it an easy fit on college radio circa 1981 — while, if anything, "Schnitzel Boogie" is more aggravating than its title suggests — but crossover potential peeks through on Mature Themes, especially in singles like "Only in My Dreams" and an album-closing cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson's "Baby."

During "Only in My Dreams" in particular, Ariel Pink locates the closest thing he's got to a hit-making formula: a hard-to-resist mix of the verses' gee-whiz primitivism and the choruses' spangly, breathless lushness. On Mature Themes, Pink isn't foolish enough to run that approach into the ground. Instead, he converts each sensation he cultivates — from swooning all the way to revulsion — into an alternately strange and sweet surprise.

To Listen to the Music

Craig Murray: America’s Vassal Acts Decisively and Illegally

America’s Vassal Acts Decisively and Illegally
by Craig Murray


I returned to the UK today to be astonished by private confirmation from within the FCO that the UK government has indeed decided – after immense pressure from the Obama administration – to enter the Ecuadorean Embassy and seize Julian Assange.

This will be, beyond any argument, a blatant breach of the Vienna Convention of 1961, to which the UK is one of the original parties and which encodes the centuries – arguably millennia – of practice which have enabled diplomatic relations to function. The Vienna Convention is the most subscribed single international treaty in the world.

The provisions of the Vienna Convention on the status of diplomatic premises are expressed in deliberately absolute terms. There is no modification or qualification elsewhere in the treaty.

Article 22

1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.
2.The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.
3.The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.

Not even the Chinese government tried to enter the US Embassy to arrest the Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen. Even during the decades of the Cold War, defectors or dissidents were never seized from each other’s embassies. Murder in Samarkand relates in detail my attempts in the British Embassy to help Uzbek dissidents. This terrible breach of international law will result in British Embassies being subject to raids and harassment worldwide.

The government’s calculation is that, unlike Ecuador, Britain is a strong enough power to deter such intrusions. This is yet another symptom of the “might is right” principle in international relations, in the era of the neo-conservative abandonment of the idea of the rule of international law.

The British Government bases its argument on domestic British legislation. But the domestic legislation of a country cannot counter its obligations in international law, unless it chooses to withdraw from them. If the government does not wish to follow the obligations imposed on it by the Vienna Convention, it has the right to resile from it – which would leave British diplomats with no protection worldwide.

I hope to have more information soon on the threats used by the US administration. William Hague had been supporting the move against the concerted advice of his own officials; Ken Clarke has been opposing the move against the advice of his. I gather the decision to act has been taken in Number 10.

There appears to have been no input of any kind from the Liberal Democrats. That opens a wider question – there appears to be no “liberal” impact now in any question of coalition policy. It is amazing how government salaries and privileges and ministerial limousines are worth far more than any belief to these people. I cannot now conceive how I was a member of that party for over thirty years, deluded into a genuine belief that they had principles.

Link to the Statement

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

First Listen: Divine Fits -- A Thing Called Divine Fits

Divine Fits, 'A Thing Called Divine Fits'
by Stephen Thompson
First Listen (NPR: National Public Radio)

The word "supergroup" gets thrown around like so much confetti, then affixed to any band whose members have worked on high-profile projects of any kind in the past. But not all supergroups are the bloated product of committee thinking or Frankensteinian ego exercises; some are just established musicians who've discovered organically that they like working with certain other established musicians.

Divine Fits will surely get tagged as a supergroup, though its members — Spoon's Britt Daniel, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown, with Alex Fischel helping out on keyboards — aren't exactly Mick Jagger teaming up with Dave Stewart in the fame department. Their projects are known and respected, absolutely, but even Daniel is hailed as much for his fussed-over pop-rock craftsmanship as he is for his stage persona.

Aside from a teaser single, A Thing Called Divine Fits is the first most will have heard of their work together, and if they took a while to hone their collective sound, it doesn't show here. This is the work of guys who know exactly what they want from their music: namely, to explore a bit of a new-wave streak while still operating in their wheelhouse of slick, sharp, smart pop-rock.

Fischel's synths really help flesh out these 11 songs — the hook in "My Love Is Real" could have propelled an alternate-universe hit for The Human League — but a spikier, guitar-driven side still wins the day in "Flaggin a Ride," while "Baby Get Worse" splits the difference with winning results. Divvying their vocal duties roughly 50/50, Daniel and Boeckner keep A Thing Called Divine Fits sounding crisp and quotable, as in "My Love Is Real" ("My love is real / until it stops") and "Shivers" ("I've been contemplating suicide / but it really doesn't suit my style"), among others. Comparisons are fair and inevitable, but the album deserves that highest of compliments: For all its familiar components, it sounds like Divine Fits.

To Listen to the Music

Panopticon: Black Soot and Red Blood

[Go to this link for a review of Panopticon's latest release Kentucky]

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Radio Open Source: Kwame Anthony Appiah -- How to Make a Moral Revolution

Kwame Anthony Appiah: How to Make a Moral Revolution
Radio Open Source with Chris Lydon

Kwame Anthony Appiah in The Honor Code is inviting all of us to pick the “moral revolution” of our dreams and let him show us how to get big results fast. His exemplary case histories start with the end of dueling in England, which came swiftly on the news in 1829 of pistol shots between the Duke of Wellington (victor at Waterloo and by then Prime Minister of England) and the Earl of Winchelsea. In the same quarter century, England got out of the English slave trade and abolished slavery in the English colonies. And from the East, Appiah recounts the sudden, shamefaced end of female footbinding in China — the collapse of a thousand-year tradition within a generation after 1900. In each instance, a persistent, noxious openly immoral practice died of ridicule, as much as anything else. Appiah makes it a three-step process. First, “strategic ignorance” gets overwhelmed by a very public confrontation with an evil tinged with absurdity. Then the stakes of “honor” get redefined; no longer a prop of support, the idea of honor (as earned respect) becomes a battering ram of opposition. And finally group lobbying and popular politics seal a shift in values and practice.

Professor Appiah, the Ghanaian-English-American philosopher now at Princeton, the author of Cosmopolitanism, is talking about some of his dream crusades, and mine, maybe yours: how’s to kick the props of “honor” out from under mega-wealth and permanent war? How’s to end the routine torture of feedlot animals, the soulless warehousing of good parents and grandparents? Who is to take the “honor” out of “honor killings” today of Pakistani women and girls who’ve been raped or sexually compromised?

In our own recent American experience, torture is one window Appiah’s process, still in motion:

In both the officially, centrally sanctioned torture and the things that it led to, like Abu Ghraib… I think it’s terrible that we focused so much on the people at the bottom of the heap who were doing it, at the sharp end, so to speak; and didn’t focus enough on how we had created an atmosphere that made it possible… When Americans know that these things are being done in their name, or face up to the fact, unless they don’t care about our country they can’t feel anything but shame. And that’s because they understand that you’re not entitled to respect if you do things like that.

So that’s an example of the mechanism in operation. That’s why a government that wants to do these things has to do them in the dark… You refer to the values of philosophical Pragmatism. One of the values of Pragmatism which we completely lose when we behave like this is that we take our eye off what we’re actually doing. This is so counter-productive. Nothing that we’re trying to do in the world is advanced by being seen as the country that does this thing. We used to be seen as a country that wouldn’t do these things. It was understood that Syria would do these things, or that old Iraq would do these things. We understand that the Saudis, you know, stone people and beat people up. But we used to be able to claim that we were trying not to do these things; that if we found them done we would punish them; that we would go to the U.N. and the Human Rights Commmission and complain when other countries did them. We can’t do that anymore. We look ridiculous when we when we do…

To Listen to the Episode

James Mooney: "Epistemology: Dreams and Demons -- Abre los ojos (Open your eyes)"

Epistemology: Dreams and Demons -- Abre los ojos (Open your eyes)
by James Mooney
Film and Philosophy

My aim here is to examine the arguments of French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) through the contemporary viewfinder of Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre los Ojos (1997). The intention, however, is not to use the film as a mere vehicle for conveying Descartes’ thought, but rather to consider whether the particular context that Amenábar provides, and the nature of film itself, can enhance our understanding and and provide fresh insight into the issues that Descartes raises.

Descartes is writing at a time of scientific revolution and upheaval – many doctrines which have hitherto been accepted as most certain have been overturned and, as such, he is struck by the instability and unreliability of scientific ‘knowledge’. In his First Meditation, Descartes aims to sweep away all of his previously held opinions and start afresh. Descartes’ ‘method of doubt’ entails that if anything can be doubted, however slightly, then we are to treat it as if it is manifestly false and reject it outright. It is not, however, necessary that we subject each and every one of our opinions to this hyperbolic (exaggerated) doubt, as this would be a Sisyphean task. Rather, Descartes aims to test the ‘foundations’ of what we claim to know – ‘as the removal from below of the foundation necessarily involves the downfall of the whole edifice’.

Descartes’ claim is that one of these foundations is the senses – that is to say, if we can cast any doubt whatsoever on the reliability of the senses then we should reject as false whatever we learn from them:

All that I have, up to this moment, accepted as possessed of the highest truth and certainty, I received either from or through the senses. I observed, however, that these sometimes misled us; and it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived.

After briefly considering optical illusions and madness, Descartes goes on to provide one of the most famous arguments in philosophy: the dream hypothesis. What Descartes hopes to establish via this argument is that, given any particular experience, we can never know that that experience is not a dream.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Monday, August 13, 2012

Open Source: Jill Lepore -- Tea Party Time… and the Death of Compassion

Jill Lepore: Tea Party Time… and the Death of Compassion
Open Source with Christopher Lydon

There’s more religion than politics in the 2010 Tea Party, Jill Lepore is saying. There’s less of 1776 about it than of 1976 — that dyspeptic post-Vietnam, post-Watergate bicentennial moment remembered for Gerald Ford and school busing fights in Boston elsewhere. 1976 marks a time when we discovered that the story of the American revolution is that “there is no story,” as the Common Ground journalist Anthony Lukas put it. “What there is is a political free-for-all about the story.”

“That’s where we are today,” Jill Lepore observes. “The whole question: ‘what would the founding fathers do?’ comes out of evangelical Chistianity, as in ‘what would Jesus do?’ … Glenn Beck talks about having had a conversion experience… The Tea Party movement presents the Constitution as a revealed religion.”

Jill Lepore is one of those historians who draws gladly on “the archives of the feet,” in Simon Schama’s phrase. For her sprightly New Yorker Magazine pieces and now for The Whites of Their Eyes, her hard-cover take on the Tea Party movement, she has been out among the tri-corner hat crowd at the Green Dragon Tavern facing Faneuil Hall. She was with Sarah Palin on Boston Common. She extends civic respect to the pitchfork patriots, but her judgment is unsparing: the tea partiers are misled by heritage tourism and pop biographies of the 18th Century revolutionists into supposing “I’m just like them,” or that “I’m in touch with them ’cause I’m wearing one of their hats.” Their founding favorites draw on celebrity culture, not history: there’s too little in their heads about the crucial anti-religious Thomas Paine of “The Age of Reason,” and too much Paul Revere (not much known for the Midnight Ride before Longfellow wrote the poem in 1861, a Union rallying myth during the Civil War). So what are they, and this moment, really about?

To Listen to the Conversation

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ennio Morricone: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Annie-Rose Strasser: Republicans Blasted Obama Administration For Warning About Right-Wing Domestic Terrorism

Republicans Blasted Obama Administration For Warning About Right-Wing Domestic Terrorism
by Annie-Rose Strasser
Think Progress

The gunman in the shooting at a Sikh temple over the weekend has been labeled a potential domestic terrorist — defined as one who incites politically-motivated violence against his or her own country. In Wade Michael Page’s case, that political motivation was likely white supremacy, a growing problem in the United States.

But when, in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security reported that white supremacy is the US’s biggest threat for domestic terror, it was met with harsh criticism. Conservatives blasted the department for defining terror threats too broadly, instead of focusing on potential Islamic terrorists. Then-House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) was one of those who berated DHS, saying that they weren’t focusing on the real threats the US faces:

[T]he Secretary of Homeland Security owes the American people an explanation for why she has abandoned using the term ‘terrorist’ to describe those, such as al Qaeda, who are plotting overseas to kill innocent Americans, while her own Department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation. Everyone agrees that the Department should be focused on protecting America, but using such broad-based generalizations about the American people is simply outrageous.

The report was titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” and it named white supremacists, radical anti-abortionists, and a few “disgruntled veterans” as most susceptible to recruitment by extremist groups, or to harboring resentment that may lead to domestic terrorism. DHS stressed that, during recessions, these threats go up, and law enforcement should be on the lookout for such extremism ...

To Read the Rest of the Article and to Access Hyperlinked Sources