August 21st, 2012
atomvincent

A Glimpse Inside Syria’s Civil War

Last week, C. J. Chivers spent five days embedded with Syrian rebels in the Aleppo province. For the New York Times, he offers a candid look at operations on the front line of the guerrilla war and the people - farmers, nurses, business men, army defectors - who have taken up arms against President Bashar al-Assad.

Using Skype, Jamal Abu Houran contacted an activist from Tal Rifaat who invited him to desert his post and head to a nearby village, where he would be picked up by a waiting car. Soon he was in a hidden guerrilla office. He told the activists there that he had studied weapons well, and asked to join the rebels’ fight.

An activist phoned Mr. Yasin, who quickly appeared and stood before him. Jamal recalled his new commander’s first words. “You are my brother,” he said. “And your blood is more precious than mine.”

Jamal Abu Houran’s reply set his life on its new course. “I hope God will give me the strength to defend people like you,” he said. This was his oath.

He had switched sides.

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

August 15th, 2012
atomvincent

Two Girls, One Mind

In something of a follow-up to Monday’s post regarding linguistic conceptualization of the self, I turn to a 2011 feature from New York Times Magazine about conjoined twins Krista and Tatiana Hogan. Susan Dominus writes on the unique connection they share and the complicated nature of self as illuminated by two young girls whose minds are joined by a bridge that is effectively unknown to science.

Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are one in 2.5 million, of which only a fraction survive. The way the girls’ brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature. Their brain images reveal what looks like an attenuated line stretching between the two organs, a piece of anatomy their neurosurgeon, Douglas Cochrane of British Columbia Children’s Hospital, has called a thalamic bridge, because he believes it links the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is a kind of switchboard, a two-lobed organ that filters most sensory input and has long been thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness. Because the thalamus functions as a relay station, the girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it.

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

August 13th, 2012
atomvincent

On Pronouns and the Self

Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Dana Levin considers the complicated intersection of gender and pronouns in the English language and Western society.

"Who cares!" you might exclaim, or, less generously, "What feminist harangue is about to ensue!"; No, my friends — think instead on the words of Loren Cannon, transgender triathlete from Northern California, as quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 3, 2011: “It makes it hard to participate in society when all you want to do is order a Coke and people are so confused about what pronoun to use.”

Pronoun: an argument for a name. To which Waite says, “the lake/has no saint/after which/to take its name.” Who watches over the trans: the neither/nor, the both/and? If the language cannot name you, how can you be referred to, represented? This is of more than legal and commercial import; it’s of crucial psychospiritual significance. If language, via naming, is meant to “distill (your) real being,” what happens when the language fails you?

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

August 6th, 2012
atomvincent

Dropping Acid

Writing for the Morning News, Tim Doody profiles Dr. James Fadiman,  investigates the back-and-forth history of government involvement with psychedelic drugs, and explores the broad benefits - both personal and societal - that could (and have) stemmed from the use of psychedelics.

Who knows, their latest findings may one day affirm some ancient hypotheses. If reality isn’t shaped with the psychically aware, self-organizing units that Giordano Bruno called monads in the sixteenth century, then perhaps it’s woven with Indra’s net, the jeweled nodes of which stretch into infinity, each one a reflection of all others. To entertain such ontologies is to re-contextualize one’s self as a marvelous conduit in a timeless whole, through which molecules and meaning flow, from nebulae to neurons and back again. If certain of these molecules connect with our serotonin receptors like a key in a pin tumbler, and open a door to extraordinary vistas, why shouldn’t we peek?

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

July 23rd, 2012
atomvincent

Adding Up to the End of the World

Bill McKibben writes for Rolling Stone on the staggering - and horrifying - realities of climate change as spelled out through three simple numbers.

But what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization. “Lots of companies do rotten things in the course of their business – pay terrible wages, make people work in sweatshops – and we pressure them to change those practices,” says veteran anti-corporate leader Naomi Klein, who is at work on a book about the climate crisis. “But these numbers make clear that with the fossil-fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.”

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

July 18th, 2012
atomvincent

Rich People Are Assholes

Lisa Miller writes for New York Magazine on new research that suggests the more money you have, the likelier you are to be a jerk.

Earlier this year, Piff, who is 30, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that made him semi-famous. Titled “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,” it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can, colloquially speaking, dehumanize people. It can make them less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people. It can make them more likely, as Piff demonstrated in one of his experiments, to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children. “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff says, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

July 16th, 2012
atomvincent

Overpopulation: The Dirtiest Word

In this 2010 piece for Mother Jones, Julia Whitty looks at the issues we face as global population swells over the next half century and why no one wants to talk about the problem.

In The Population Bomb, Ehrlich predicted inevitable mass starvation as early as the 1970s and 1980s—notably in India, which he claimed could not possibly attain food self-sufficiency. Instead, American agronomist Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” brought dwarf wheat strains and chemical fertilizers to increase India’s crop yields 168 percent within a decade. This monumental achievement defused the bomb and earned Ehrlich the dismissive title of Malthusian: just one more in a line of pessimists forecasting phantom famines. Ever since, the subject has been largely taboo. Scientists from a variety of fields privately tell me the issue of overpopulation is simply too controversial—too inflamed with passions to get funded, too strong a magnet for ideologues. Those who’ve tackled it tell me of harassment, even physical threats, from a frightening fringe.

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

July 10th, 2012
atomvincent

(Re)Joyce!

For The New Yorker, Louis Menand writes on the life, brilliance, and eccentricities of that most-famed Irish export, James Joyce.

Joyce didn’t use actual people and places because he was settling scores, or because he was writing disguised autobiography, or because he lacked invention. The relation between his world and his fiction is much stranger than that. In November, 1921, he wrote to his aunt Josephine, in Dublin, to ask if she could tell him whether it was possible “for an ordinary person to climb over the area railings of no 7 Eccles street, either from the path or the steps, lower himself from the lowest part of the railings till his feet are within 2 feet or 3 of the ground and drop unhurt.” He had seen it done, he told her, but by someone with an athletic build; he wanted to make sure that an ordinary man could do it. He needed the information because he was editing the “Ithaca” chapter of “Ulysses,” in which Leopold Bloom, who has forgotten his latchkey, enters his house, at 7 Eccles Street, by this method. He had made up Bloom. Why couldn’t he just make up the height of the railings?

In 1932, two young Americans, Dwight Macdonald and George Morris, recent Yale graduates with an interest in modern literature and art, were in Paris, where they bought a copy of “Ulysses,” still outlawed in the United States, at the English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company. They got into a conversation with the owner, Sylvia Beach, the woman who had published “Ulysses,” and she arranged for them to meet Joyce. They showed up at Joyce’s apartment and plied him eagerly with questions about his work. He was unresponsive. “It was like trying to open a safe without the combination,” Macdonald later said. Finally, one of them made a remark about people not knowing what to do with their lives. Joyce suddenly perked up. He gestured toward the window. “There are people who go walkin’ up and down the street,” he said, “and they don’t know what they want.”

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

June 25th, 2012
atomvincent

Health Care and the High Court

As the nation awaits the forthcoming Supreme Court verdict on the healthcare mandate, let’s take a moment to look at what, exactly, has been deliberated, and what’s at stake. From May of this year, Ronald Dworkin writes on the importance and constitutionality of the healthcare law for the New York Review of Books.

The plaintiffs have asked the Court to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The political and social stakes are enormous. But the legal issues, most analysts think, are not really controversial: the Constitution’s text, the Supreme Court’s own precedents, and basic constitutional principle seem obviously to require upholding the act. Analysts at first predicted a 7–2 decision rejecting the challenge. But they apparently misjudged the dedication of the ultraconservative justices, whose questions in the oral argument have now convinced many commentators that on the contrary, in spite of text, precedent, and principle, the Court will declare the act unconstitutional in June, by a 5–4 vote. That prediction may be too swift. There is still reason to hope, as I discuss later, that Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote between liberals and ultraconservatives, will have sufficient respect for congressional authority to save the act.

The prospect of an overruling is frightening. American health care is an unjust and expensive shambles; only a comprehensive national program can even begin to repair it. One in six Americans lacks any health insurance, and the uninsured of working age have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who are privately insured. Insurance is often unavailable even for those willing and able to pay for it: according to the Government Accountability Office, an average of 19 percent of individual applications for insurance are declined for a variety of reasons including the applicant’s being on a prescription medicine or being overweight.

If the Court does declare the act unconstitutional, it would have ruled that Congress lacks the power to adopt what it thought the most effective, efficient, fair, and politically workable remedy—not because that national remedy would violate anyone’s rights, or limit anyone’s liberty in ways a state government could not, or be otherwise unfair, but for the sole reason that in the Court’s opinion our constitution is a strict and arbitrary document that denies our national legislature the power to enact the only politically possible national program. If that opinion were right, we would have to accept that our eighteenth- century constitution is not the enduring marvel of statesmanship we suppose but an anachronistic, crippling burden we cannot escape, a straitjacket that makes it impossible for us to achieve a just national society.

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

June 21st, 2012
atomvincent

Money & Music

We live in complicated times. Technology has put the whole history of recorded media at our fingertips. For more than a decade, fewer and fewer people have been paying for music and those that do use services, such as Spotify and iTunes, that have been shown to do very little in the way of providing substantial revenue to artists. The problem this creates - that artists are making increasingly less and in some cases effectively nothing from their work - is one that I (and I believe many others) struggle with morally and philosophically.

In a recent post for NPR’s All Songs Considered Blog, Emily White vocalized this struggle, admitting that while she longs to support the artists she loves, she has only ever paid for a handful of records in her life. Shortly after, David Lowery (front-man of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, as well as professor on the business of music at the University of Georgia), wrote an open response to White for the blog Trichordist, illuminating the dire straits many artists now find themselves in and boiling down the reality of getting music “for free.”

As you might expect, quite the debate has begun to rage across the web in the days since the exchange. Writing on the issue for Salon, Scott Timberg looks at both sides of the argument and illustrates just how important this conversation is to keeping the arts alive.

So who’s right? In the broad sense, they both are: White is describing the way music sharing works among her generation, one that came of age after the fetishism of cover art, liner notes and the physical qualities of records and CDs. (It would be interesting here to look at the generational makeup of the vinyl revival, which is driven in part by a longing for sound vastly warmer and more expansive than that on MP3s but also by the old-school ritual of a brick-and-mortar shop, an informed and/or forbidding clerk, and the tangibility of the physical object.) She comes across as wanting to do what’s right.

But Lowery’s argument – despite a few misspellings and the jumble of well-considered and rushed thoughts that the Web all but requires – is one of the most important meditations on the state of music in our time. He drops some crucial statistics here, among them that “Recorded music revenue is down 64 percent since 1999,” and that “The number of professional musicians has fallen 25 percent since 2000.” He refers indirectly to something equally important: The money being spent on music is not ending up in the hands of musicians, or even labels, or members of the creative class, from the record store clerk to a label president. It’s going to Apple – which could, thanks to iTunes, buy every surviving label with pocket change – and other technology companies.

Perhaps the most effective argument of Lowery’s is an extended metaphor about a lawless urban neighborhood – shades of the strange days during the L.A. riots — that never raised a police force.

So in this neighborhood people simply loot all the products from the shelves of the record store. People know it’s wrong, but they do it because they know they will rarely be punished for doing so. What the commercial Free Culture movement (see the “hybrid economy”) is saying is that instead of putting a police force in this neighborhood we should simply change our values and morality to accept this behavior. We should change our morality and ethics to accept looting because it is simply possible to get away with it.  And nothing says freedom like getting away with it, right?

But it’s worse than that. It turns out that Verizon, AT&T, Charter etc etc are charging a toll to get into this neighborhood to get the free stuff. Further, companies like Google are selling maps (search results) that tell you where the stuff is that you want to loot … Further, in order to loot you need to have a $1,000 dollar laptop, a $500 dollar iPhone or $400 Samsumg (sic) tablet. It turns out the supposedly “free” stuff really isn’t free. In fact it’s an expensive way to get ‘free’ music… And none of that money goes to the artists!

Read the full article here.
Read Emily White’s piece for NPR here.
Read David Lowery’s response here. 

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

Loading tweets...

@rtntnews