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Archive for December, 2010

Nigeria’s Primaries: In primaries the ruling party looks set to pit north against south

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

ELECTIONS next April are already casting long shadows in Nigeria. The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is set to hold a presidential primary next month with a victor to be announced by January 15th. A powerful challenger to Goodluck Jonathan, the incumbent, has emerged. A bout of frantic politicking is certain.

Read about the Abubakar vs. Goodwill Jonathan struggle for Nigeria’s presidency.

Frost at the core: Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are presiding over a system that can no longer change

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

In light of Khorodovsky’s show trial, the Economist offers a disheartening, though perhaps realistic view of contemporary Russian politics. In doing, the author offers a comparison of Medvedev and Putin and concludes that, “[w]ith Mr Putin in power, Russia may suffer deep stagnation, but a collapse of the system would be all the more dramatic. With Mr Medvedev stagnation may be shorter, but his grip on power would be weaker. This may matter little in the long run, but it makes a big difference for Russians living now—not least for Mr Khodorkovsky himself.”

Read “Frost at the Core”

Friend or Foe? A Special Report on China’s Place in the World

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

four-part special report from the Economist, with a compelling conclusion

Terrorism in Northern Ireland: The Curse of the Conflict Junkies

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Last year [2009] Northern Ireland suffered 22 terrorist-related attacks; so far this year there have been 39. Last year 17 people in the province were charged with terrorist offences; this year, according to Matt Baggott, the chief constable of Northern Ireland’s police service (PSNI), the figure is already 74. On September 24th, acting on advice from the Security Service, MI5, Theresa May, the home secretary, raised the official perception of the threat from republican groups to a level that implies an attack on the mainland is “a strong possibility”.

the specter of the Bad Old Days in the UK?

Elections in Siberia Show Russia’s Drift to Single Party

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Here is a short but compelling piece about how United Russia propped up a political party, “A Just Russia”, and is now taking that party down in Siberia. It is also a courageous, if not misguided, Siberian woman who sees hope in a competitive political party system.

The Riddles of “Confederate Emancipation”

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

In this short piece, Bruce Levine, of the University of Illinois, discusses how the Confederacy’s illogical debate over  the use of Black soldiers.

The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Errol Morris is a filmmaker whose movie “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara” won the Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2004. He has also directed “Gates of Heaven,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” “A Brief History of Time” and “Standard Operating Procedure.” He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and lives with his wife and two French bulldogs (Boris and Ivan) in Cambridge, Mass.

Read this five-part piece that Morris contributed in the New York Times. I read it in installments as it was published and have wanted to discuss it ever since.

Unlike many of the readings that I “assign” you, I do not have a list of questions or prompts to guide you. Just read and enjoy this piece and come to our next session prepared to contribute to a discussion about it. Oh, and bring a printed copy to our next session.

Consider the Lobster

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Read Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace and consider the following questions before our next session:

  • What are the ethical dimensions of Wallace’s piece?
  • What connections, if any, are there between ethics and morality?
  • Would the “knife in the head” or the slow boil method strike you as more ethical?
  • “Why is a primitive, inarticulate form of suffering less urgent or uncomfortable for the person who’s helping to inflict it by paying for the food it results in?”
  • Interpret and apply this rich line from the text, “[s]ince pain is a totally subjective mental experience, we do not have direct access to anyone or anything’s pain but our own; and even just the principles by which we can infer that others experience pain and have a legitimate interest in not feeling pain involve hard-core philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, ethics. The fact that even the most highly evolved nonhuman mammals can’t use language to communicate with us about their subjective mental experience is only the first layer of additional complication in trying to extend our reasoning about pain and morality to animals. And everything gets progressively more abstract and convolved as we move farther and farther out from the higher-type mammals into cattle and swine and dogs and cats and rodents, and then birds and fish, and finally invertebrates like lobsters.”

If you are interested, here is an interview with Wallace recorded two years before his suicide.

What Does Technology Want?

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Are new ideas and new inventions inevitable? Are they driven by us or by a larger force of nature?

In this conversation recorded as part of the New York Public Library series, Steven Johnson (author of Where Good Ideas Come From) and Kevin Kelly (author of What Technology Wants) try to convince Robert that the things we make—from spoons to microwaves to computers—are an extension of the same evolutionary processes that made us. And we may need to adapt to the idea that our technology could someday truly have a mind of its own.

Listen to this 20 minute discussion and consider the following questions for our next session:

  • What does technology want?
  • According to Kevin Kelley, what is the “technium”? What does it want? What are its tendencies?
  • Where do good ideas come from? How do “eureka moments” figure into good ideas?
  • What are the relationships between technology and good ideas?
  • How does this connect to the philosophy of Emergence?
  • How, if at all, might technologies evolve along with human/social evolution? Is there an “inevitable” correlation between these evolutionary processes? Inherent in this question is another question: how might the history of technology and the history of humankind inextricably intertwined?
  • Does technology “invent” us as much as we invent technology?
  • What is the adjacent possible? What might be the implications of this concept?
  • How have humans created themselves? How has technology created the human experience?
  • Can we understand the universe without advanced technology?

Lazar Lecture: WWII on the American Homefront

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Here is the lecture. Enjoy.

Lecture Outline:

  1. U.S. “Isolation” and the “Surprise Attack” on Pearl Harbor
  2. The Wartime [Socialist] Economy
  3. Role of Minorities in WWII
  4. Role of Women in WWII
  5. Japanese [American] Internment
  6. U.S. Propaganda in Machine WWII
  7. The Bombs

The first casualty of war is the Truth