Sunday, January 27, 2008

This Republic of Suffering - Drew Gilpin Faust - Book Review - New York Times

A fascinating take on the spiritual reconstruction of America, and its cultural repercussions:

This Republic of Suffering - Drew Gilpin Faust - Book Review - New York Times: "“The war’s staggering human cost demanded a new sense of national destiny,” Faust, now the president of Harvard University, writes, “one designed to ensure that lives had been sacrificed for appropriately lofty ends.” Frederick Douglass thought freeing the slaves should have provided the “sacred significance” of all that loss. But, Faust continues, “the Dead became what their survivors chose to make them,” and as the decades passed and memories blurred, “assumptions of racial hierarchy would unite whites North and South in a century-long abandonment of the emancipationist legacy.” In the end most Americans of my great-great-grandfather’s generation — and their successors — allowed their shared memories of suffering to “establish sacrifice and its memorialization as the ground on which North and South would ultimately reunite.” We might wish, with Frederick Douglass, that they had decided otherwise, but Drew Gilpin Faust’s profoundly moving book helps us understand why they did not."

Virginia Heffernan - The Medium - Television - Internet Video - Media - New York Times

As smart, rational, and powerful as the laptop-per-child initiative is, it could stand some more sensual and spiritual development (design-wise, that is) to overcome (or to enact!) its apparently universalizing cultural assumptions.

Virginia Heffernan - The Medium - Television - Internet Video - Media - New York Times:

"I thought of the Global Recordings Network, an evangelical organization in Los Angeles with 70 years of experience introducing technology to underserved populations. In the process of recording Bible stories in every known language, Global Recordings has created a variety of hand-cranked machines, which it delivers to remote places, where Christian parables can be played without a power source.

In “Tailenders,” a 2005 documentary about the organization, the alien-looking contraptions can be seen making converts. But not necessarily to Christianity. Rather, people who hear the recordings come to desire, somehow, simply to share in the supernaturalism of disembodied audio. Whoever controls these animistic effects, it seems, must be worth listening to. When missionaries approach, these people are vulnerable, having just witnessed a small miracle.

If Negroponte wants to convert kids to the global information economy, he might consider the chief virtue of the XO laptop: its lights and sounds. Even Western kids, whose toys flash and squeal, are drawn with primitive wonderment to the peculiar phenomena of this computer — the distinctive hums and blinks that seem like evidence of its soul.

I love the One Laptop Per Child project. But I’m already a believer. If Negroponte wants to keep evangelizing, speaking at the Vatican and trying to save the world, he should take a page from the real missionaries’ playbook. For XO 2.0, he ought to consider more volume and dazzle, as well as an electrical storm, a booming voice and the light and heat of a burning bush."

The Age of Ambition - New York Times

The Age of Ambition - New York Times: "Another young person on a mission is Ariel Zylbersztejn, a 27-year-old Mexican who founded and runs a company called Cinepop, which projects movies onto inflatable screens and shows them free in public parks. Mr. Zylbersztejn realized that 90 percent of Mexicans can’t afford to go to movies, so he started his own business model: He sells sponsorships to companies to advertise to the thousands of viewers who come to watch the free entertainment.

Mr. Zylbersztejn works with microcredit agencies and social welfare groups to engage the families that come to his movies and help them start businesses or try other strategies to overcome poverty. Cinepop is only three years old, but already 250,000 people a year watch movies on his screens — and his goal is to take the model to Brazil, India, China and other countries."

Monday, January 07, 2008

designedobjects wiki / PostOptimal

designedobjects wiki / PostOptimal: "300.015 Post-Optimal Objects (P.O.O.)

John Marshall

This course focuses on designed objects and their cultural contexts. Students explore the territory between fine art and design and address approaches for developing the aesthetic and critical possibilities of objects outside a commercial context. Students also investigate various ways of creatively communicating ideas about objects, such as making appearance models, mock-ups and storyboards. The creative works made in Post-Optimal Objects may be shown as prototypes or communicated via publication (online or print). Participants think conceptually about what they want to achieve, translate these ideas into visualizations, and develop some of these into fully executed and documented works. Digital 3D modeling, scanning, laser cutting, and rapid prototyping are used together with traditional media such as wood, metal, and plastics.

Prerequisite: Junior or senior A&D major or permission of instructor.

TTh 8:30-11:30am


Will the Humanities Save Us? - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog

Will the Humanities Save Us? - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog

It’s a pretty idea, but there is no evidence to support it and a lot of evidence against it. If it were true, the most generous, patient, good-hearted and honest people on earth would be the members of literature and philosophy departments, who spend every waking hour with great books and great thoughts, and as someone who’s been there (for 45 years) I can tell you it just isn’t so. Teachers and students of literature and philosophy don’t learn how to be good and wise; they learn how to analyze literary effects and to distinguish between different accounts of the foundations of knowledge. The texts Kronman recommends are, as he says, concerned with the meaning of life; those who study them, however, come away not with a life made newly meaningful, but with a disciplinary knowledge newly enlarged.

And that, I believe, is how it should be. Teachers of literature and philosophy are competent in a subject, not in a ministry. It is not the business of the humanities to save us, no more than it is their business to bring revenue to a state or a university. What then do they do? They don’t do anything, if by “do” is meant bring about effects in the world. And if they don’t bring about effects in the world they cannot be justified except in relation to the pleasure they give to those who enjoy them.

To the question “of what use are the humanities?”, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said – even when it takes the form of Kronman’s inspiring cadences – diminishes the object of its supposed praise.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Democracy Now! | Headlines for January 02, 2008

Democracy Now! | Headlines for January 02, 2008: "ABC & Fox Bar Six Presidential Candidates From NH Debate

In other campaign news, ABC and Fox have decided to bar six Democratic and Republican candidates from debates this weekend in New Hampshire. Democrats Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel won't be allowed to participate in ABC’s Democratic debate on Saturday. Republicans Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter are being excluded from a debate hosted by Fox on Sunday.

Report: U.S. Has Become “Endemic Surveillance Society”

A new report by Privacy International and the Electronic Privacy Information Center has ranked the United States in the worst possible category for privacy protections. The United States is listed along with nations including China, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia as having an “endemic surveillance society.” According to the authors of the report, the United States is the worst ranking country in the democratic world."

Predictions for 2008 - Climate Change - Global Warming - John Tierney - New York Times

Predictions for 2008 - Climate Change - Global Warming - John Tierney - New York Times: "When judging risks, we often go wrong by using what’s called the availability heuristic: we gauge a danger according to how many examples of it are readily available in our minds. Thus we overestimate the odds of dying in a terrorist attack or a plane crash because we’ve seen such dramatic deaths so often on television; we underestimate the risks of dying from a stroke because we don’t have so many vivid images readily available.

Slow warming doesn’t make for memorable images on television or in people’s minds, so activists, journalists and scientists have looked to hurricanes, wild fires and starving polar bears instead. They have used these images to start an “availability cascade,” a term coined by Timur Kuran, a professor of economics and law at the University of Southern California, and Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Democracy Now! | Headlines for December 26, 2007

Democracy Now! | Headlines for December 26, 2007

Lakota Indians Declare Sovereignty From U.S.

The Lakota Sioux Indians have withdrawn from all treaties with the United States and declared their independence. A delegation from the tribe delivered the news to the State Department last week. Longtime Indian rights activist Russell Means said: “We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us.” Lakota country comprises portions of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The Lakota said the decision was necessary in the face of what they described as colonial apartheid conditions. The life expectancy for Lakota men is less than 44 years; 97 percent of the Lakota people live below the poverty line. The Lakota also said the United States never honored many treaties signed dating back to the mid 19th century.

FBI Builds Database of People’s Physical Characteristics

The Washington Post reports the FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world’s largest computer database of peoples" physical characteristics including digital images of faces, fingerprints, palm patterns, iris patterns and other biometric information. The project will give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad. The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of workers who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law. The plan is drawing criticism from those who worry that people’s bodies will become de facto national identification cards. Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “It’s going to be an essential component of tracking. It’s enabling the Always On Surveillance Society.”

Israel Rules It Was OK To Use Cluster Bombs in Lebanon

In other news from the region, an Israeli military prosecutor has concluded that Israel’s use of cluster bombs during the 2006 Lebanon war was justified and did not violate any standards of international law. Lebanese officials accused the Israeli army of covering up war crimes. The United Nations and human rights groups say Israel dropped about 4 million cluster bomblets during the 34-day war.
More than 30 people have been killed by cluster bomb and land mine explosions in Lebanon since the 2006 summer war.

FBI’s Hoover Drafted Plan to Imprison 12,000 Americans

And a newly declassified document from 1950 shows that former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover drafted a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty. Hoover sent his plan to the White House in July, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. Hoover wanted the FBI to be able to permanently detain all individuals potentially dangerous to national security and jail them at military bases and in federal prisons. According to the New York Times, no known evidence suggests President Truman or any other president approved any part of Hoover’s proposal.