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Archive for February, 2009

The Train to Tibet: What will the greatest rail journey on earth do to its destination?

Friday, February 27th, 2009

The new Chinese train runs on the highest railroad in the world, traversing a region known for high-intensity earthquakes and low temperatures. It cost $3.2 billion to build and is an extraordinary feat of modern engineering. Beijing claims that the railroad, which began operation at the start of July, will help speed up the modernization of Tibet. Many critics, meanwhile, have denounced the railroad as a means for the Chinese authorities to strengthen their hold on Tibet, further settling the region with China’s ethnic majority, the Han Chinese. Tibet holds vast reserves of copper, iron, lead, zinc, and other minerals vital to China’s economic growth.

More from the New Yorker

News from nowhere: Iceland’s polite dystopia

Friday, February 27th, 2009

In late 2007, an Icelandic teenager named Vífill Atlason created a minor international incident when he phoned the White House, told the operator he was the president of Iceland, and managed to set up an appointment to speak with George W. Bush. When the White House figured out what was going on, Atlason was taken away by Icelandic police and questioned for several hours, then told that he would be placed on an American no-fly list. No conversation took place. I, on the other hand, managed to make a lunch date with President Olafur Ragnar Grímsson not long after I arrived in Iceland, simply by bumping into him at an art exhibit and asking.

Read more of this riveting cultural/political piece from Harper’s

Bill Bradley–Russia: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Opening with a personal anecdote from his experience on the USA Olympic basketball team playing against the Soviet Union, former Senator Bill Bradley provides his thoughts on the past, present, and future of Russia.

Watch Bill Bradley’s assessment of U.S. – Russian relations

Transcendentalism by way of Emersonian Self-Reliance

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Please read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance

Come to our next seminar with an understanding of Emerson’s key arguments and with a critique of his argumentation.

We might begin with these questions:

How does (and should) a person define his/her place in society? (what does Emerson mean by “society” anyhow?)

What are the two major barriers to self-reliance ? Who is the “aboriginal Self,” the “Trustee”? How does this concept modify the egotism of self-reliance?

What are the implications of self-reliance for business? for religion (prayers, creeds)? for travelling? for art? for property ownership and government?

Philosophy Bites Podcast

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

David Edmonds is co-author of Wittgenstein’s Poker – this focuses on a ten minute argument between Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein.  His other books – also written with John Eidinow – include Bobby Fischer Goes to War (on the notorious chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky) and Rousseau’s Dog, which dissects the famous quarrel between David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  His day job is making radio documentaries for the BBC.

Nigel Warburton has written a number of books including Philosophy: The Basics, Philosophy: The Classics (some of which is  available as a podcast) , Thinking from A to Z and The Art Question. He is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University. He has also made a number of programmes for BBC Radio 4, writes a weblog called Virtual Philosopher and regularly leads courses on the philosophy of art at Tate Modern.

Here is are links to scores of interviews from these gents. Most are 20-30 minutes. All are valuable (to varying degress of course).

Photo Essay: China’s Next Generation

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

A look at the six men who are vying to shape China’s future.

Enjoy this photoessay from Foreign Policy Magazine, 2009

Lincoln and Douglass Shared Uncommon Bond

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

President Abraham Lincoln’s close and sometimes tumultuous friendship with former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass is the subject of Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Author John Stauffer says the two men were alike in many ways though they strategically on how to end slavery.

Listen to John Staufer discuss Lincoln and Douglass with Terri Gross (12 minutes)

Russia: The Trouble with Putinomics

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

If you want to take the pulse of Russia as its oil and gas boom of the past few years comes to a sudden and wrenching stop, leave behind the garish consumerism of Moscow and drive 220 miles (355 km) southwest to the small Russian town of Lyudinovo. For the first part of the five-hour trip, the road is a smooth four-lane highway that whisks you past gleaming gas stations and a brand-new Samsung TV factory. Then everything slows down. The highway turns single-track and becomes progressively rougher. For the last 20 miles (32 km), you bump along the ruts, distracted only by the swaying rows of silver birch trees that flank the road.

Read on from Time Mag

What Would Lincoln Do?

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

Abraham Lincoln’s marble temple in Washington is as familiar as the back of a penny. But the figure enthroned inside will always be above and apart, a demigod — martyr, prophet, scourge and healer rolled into one. That he was killed on Good Friday with hosannas of triumph still echoing in his ears added a religious overtone to the grief of his countrymen and, from the hour of his death, guaranteed that Lincoln could never again fit into the frame of an ordinary man.

Enjoy Time magazine’s President’s Day tribute to Honest Abe

Two Interviews: Two Competing Views on Reagan

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

View One: Tearing Down the Reagan Myth. Journalist Will Bunch says that the legacy of Ronald Reagan, which is claimed by the right and was so often referred to by Republican presidential candidates in the 2008 election, is not an accurate depiction of Reagan’s presidency.

In his new book, Tear Down This Myth, Bunch argues that the Reagan legacy was created largely by Washington conservatives in the 1990s, who wanted a hero who they could associate with the conservative agenda.

“It’s been very hard for the modern generation of Republicans to develop a leader … who has the kind of charisma that Ronald Reagan has had,” Bunch tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. In the absence of that charisma, Bunch says, the next generation decided to “borrow it” from the past.

The Reagan legacy credits America’s 40th president with winning the Cold War and turning the American economy around in the 1980s. But the truth, says Bunch, is that Reagan was a divisive president with only average approval ratings and “virtually zero support from African Americans.” Furthermore, he says, Reagan’s trickle-down theory of economics didn’t save the American economy, nor was the president responsible for “winning” the Cold War.

Despite his criticisms of Reagan’s presidency, Bunch is not without some kind words for the late president: “Ronald Reagan was very successful in connecting with the American people because of his optimism. … He clearly had a strong belief in himself and a belief in America.” Listen here.

View Two: Reagan as Communicator Extraordinaire. Historian Douglas Brinkley considers Ronald Reagan one of the top five American presidents of the 20th century.

Brinkley, who edited of The Reagan Diaries, says that it was Reagan’s ability to connect with the population at large that distinguished him as a leader. In the book’s introduction, Brinkley writes that Americans could see “something of themselves reflected in [Reagan] — a modern American unashamed of the nation’s majesty and his own pride in time-honored traditions.” Listen here