August 23rd, 2012
erickstoll

Pussy Riot Closing Statements

A few days late, but here are the closing statements delivered by three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot. The women were sentenced to two years in prison for staging a guerrilla protest against Vladimir Putin in a Russian Orthodox church. 

We put on political punk performances in response to a government that is rife with rigidity, reticence, and caste-like hierarchal structures. It is so clearly invested in serving only narrow corporate interests, it makes us sick just to breathe the Russian air. We categorically oppose the following, which forces us to act and live politically: 

—the use of coercive and forceful methods for regulating social processes; a situation when the most important political institutions are the disciplinary structures of the state: the security agencies (the army, police, and secret services), and their corresponding means of ensuring political “stability” (prisons, pre-emptive detention, all the mechanisms of strict control over the citizenry);

—imposed civic passivity among the majority of the population,

—the complete dominance of the executive branch over the legislative and judicial.

Read the full article here. 

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August 1st, 2012
erickstoll

The Post-Literate Election

In 2003, Harper’s published this essay by Benjamin DeMott, which describes the ‘junk politics’ that have eroded our sense of historical context and moral imperative, the foundations of sincere political debate. 

Junk politics personalizes mainly through tropes of heart—feel-your-pain chatter and touchy-feel personal testimony. The implicit message is that leadership’s chief concern should be with setting an upbeat tone and demonstrating a sensitive response to hardship, rather than with homing in on injustice, spelling out practical correctives, arguing for the correctives in public forums, working for their ultimate enactment. 

Great causes—they still exist—nourish themselves on firm, sharp awareness of the substance of injustice. The country’s very foundations, indeed, lie in clearly defined understanding of injustices. Blunting such understanding is a major product of junk politics. And tropes of the heart are among the projectors’ key tools.

Read the full article here. 

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July 25th, 2012
erickstoll

The Decline of Brutalist Architecture

For n+1 Thomas de Monchaux writes about the now-unpopular modernist architectural movement known as Brutalism. 

Gerhard Kallmann’s competition-winning design for Boston City Hall, developed in collaboration with Michael McKinnell, embodied a similar idea of heaviness poised above lightness. The building is a brooding, fortress-like mass of concrete resting on fins and columns rendered in concrete and brick. The brick was also used for a stepped podium and vast plaza that physically isolated the monumental building from its surroundings but materially connected it to the federal and colonial architecture nearby. From some angles, the building looks like a cement spaceship perched on more firmly terrestrial landing pads. From others, it looks like a ruin almost Roman in its complexity, with a thousand cutouts and panels and skylights and landings and lines that speak both to its designers’ anxious virtuosity and their desire to produce something timeless. There is something deeply moving about seeing the words “Boston City Hall” incised over the uncompromisingly modern entry in lettering that would not be out of place on Trajan’s Column. 

Read the full article here.

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July 17th, 2012
erickstoll

Civil War In Afghanistan

For The New Yorker, Dexter Filkins discusses how Afghanistan’s political landscape has been altered by the invasion, and what to expect when NATO leaves. 

After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished. Objectives once deemed indispensable, such as nation-building and counterinsurgency, have been abandoned or downgraded, either because they haven’t worked or because there’s no longer enough time to achieve them. Even the education of girls, a signal achievement of the NATO presence in Afghanistan, is at risk. By the end of 2014, when the last Americans are due to stop fighting, the Taliban will not be defeated. A Western-style democracy will not be in place. The economy will not be self-sustaining. No senior Afghan official will likely be imprisoned for any crime, no matter how egregious. And it’s a good bet that, in some remote mountain valley, even Al Qaeda, which brought the United States to Afghanistan in the first place, will be carrying on.

Read the full article here. 

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July 9th, 2012
erickstoll

The Stupidity Of Computers

David Auerbach writes in N+1 about the reductive algorithms computers use to quantify and organize our world. 

This has brought us Google and the iPhone, but it has not brought us HAL 9000. So what does the future hold? There are two pathways going forward.

First, we will bring ourselves to computers. The small- and large-scale convenience and efficiency of storing more and more parts of our lives online will increase the hold that formal ontologies have on us. They will be constructed by governments, by corporations, and by us in unequal measure, and there will be both implicit and explicit battles over how these ontologies are managed. The fight over how test scores should be used to measure student and teacher performance is nothing compared to what we will see once every aspect of our lives from health to artistic effort to personal relationships is formalized and quantified.

We will increasingly see ourselves in terms of these ontologies and willingly try to conform to them. This will bring about a flattening of the self—a reversal of the expansion of the self that occurred over the last several hundred years. While in the 20th century people came to see themselves as empty existential vessels, without a commitment to any particular internal essence, they will now see themselves as contingently but definitively embodying types derived from the overriding ontologies. This is as close to a solution to the modernist problem of the self as we will get.

Read the full article here. 

July 8th, 2012
erickstoll

Did Organic Foods Sell Out? 

Stephanie Strom writes in the New York Times about the corporate domination of the organic food industry and the consequent lowering of organic standards. 

As corporate membership on the board has increased, so, too, has the number of nonorganic materials approved for organic foods on what is called the National List. At first, the list was largely made up of things like baking soda, which is nonorganic but essential to making things like organic bread. Today, more than 250 nonorganic substances are on the list, up from 77 in 2002.

The board has 15 members, and a two-thirds majority is required to add a substance to the list. More and more, votes on adding substances break down along corporate-independent lines, with one swing vote. Six board members, for instance, voted in favor of adding ammonium nonanoate, a herbicide, to the accepted organic list in December. Those votes came from General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Organic Valley, Whole Foods Market and Earthbound Farms, which had two votes at the time.

Read the full article here. 

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July 3rd, 2012
erickstoll
The Fight For Guadalajara
For The New Yorker, William Finegan explores the escalating drug war in Guadalajara, Mexico, a city that had until recently had not seen the worst of the violence. 

Its Guadalajara chieftain, Ignacio (Nacho) Coronel Villarreal, became known as the King of Crystal. He lived in the city’s wealthiest neighborhood but ran his operations without flamboyance. The profits were apparently fabulous. Then, in July, 2010, Coronel was killed in an Army raid on his home. Speculation was rife. Armchair warriors wondered if El Chapo had set up his old friend Nacho, out of concern that his Jalisco kingdom was becoming too independently powerful. In any event, everyone said that taking Coronel alive was out of the question. The “gentleman narco,” as I heard him called in Guadalajara, knew who in the Army was on whose payroll. That was why the Army sent a hundred soldiers to attack the house where he had lived, more or less openly, for many years.
“That was when things changed in Jalisco,” a bookstore clerk on Avenida Chapultepec told me. “That was the end of the peace.” The Zetas, who reportedly know nothing about cooking meth but are old hands at the hostile takeover of going concerns, started making more aggressive alliances with disaffected local gangsters.
“Heating up the plaza” is the term of art for what’s happening in Guadalajara, mainly in the poor barrios and in the badlands on the outskirts, the places absorbing the city’s wild recent growth. Tlajomulco de Zuñiga, a big, shapeless municipio (the rough equivalent of a county) on the city’s southern edge, has seen its population quadruple in a decade, to almost half a million. The PRI’s candidate for governor recently described the area as “a dumping ground for corpses.” Bad guys dropped their victims in local ditches. The Army conducted raids on local meth labs. In February, the Army announced that it had seized, in a “historic” bust, in Tlajomulco, fifteen tons of methamphetamine. The street value of that much meth was, by the Army’s figuring, some four billion dollars. If true, that would indeed make it the largest meth bust in history. But was it true?

Read The Full Article Here. 
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The Fight For Guadalajara

For The New Yorker, William Finegan explores the escalating drug war in Guadalajara, Mexico, a city that had until recently had not seen the worst of the violence. 

Its Guadalajara chieftain, Ignacio (Nacho) Coronel Villarreal, became known as the King of Crystal. He lived in the city’s wealthiest neighborhood but ran his operations without flamboyance. The profits were apparently fabulous. Then, in July, 2010, Coronel was killed in an Army raid on his home. Speculation was rife. Armchair warriors wondered if El Chapo had set up his old friend Nacho, out of concern that his Jalisco kingdom was becoming too independently powerful. In any event, everyone said that taking Coronel alive was out of the question. The “gentleman narco,” as I heard him called in Guadalajara, knew who in the Army was on whose payroll. That was why the Army sent a hundred soldiers to attack the house where he had lived, more or less openly, for many years.

“That was when things changed in Jalisco,” a bookstore clerk on Avenida Chapultepec told me. “That was the end of the peace.” The Zetas, who reportedly know nothing about cooking meth but are old hands at the hostile takeover of going concerns, started making more aggressive alliances with disaffected local gangsters.

“Heating up the plaza” is the term of art for what’s happening in Guadalajara, mainly in the poor barrios and in the badlands on the outskirts, the places absorbing the city’s wild recent growth. Tlajomulco de Zuñiga, a big, shapeless municipio (the rough equivalent of a county) on the city’s southern edge, has seen its population quadruple in a decade, to almost half a million. The PRI’s candidate for governor recently described the area as “a dumping ground for corpses.” Bad guys dropped their victims in local ditches. The Army conducted raids on local meth labs. In February, the Army announced that it had seized, in a “historic” bust, in Tlajomulco, fifteen tons of methamphetamine. The street value of that much meth was, by the Army’s figuring, some four billion dollars. If true, that would indeed make it the largest meth bust in history. But was it true?

Read The Full Article Here. 

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June 20th, 2012
erickstoll

Broken Heartland

For Harper’s Wil Hylton writes about the looming collapse of agriculture on the Great Plains. 

It wasn’t until the 1940s, when a variety of new technologies coalesced on the plains, that large-scale irrigation sprang up for the first time—but from there, the transformation has been quick. Within a decade thousands of wells were drilled, creating a spike in productivity as unprecedented as it was unsustainable.

No one worried about the aquifer. To farmers it seemed a bottomless reserve, generating the same outlandish volume no matter how many straws went in. Soon there were undreds of thousands of wells producing the same reliable flow, year after year, without any evident stress. 

Then, during the early 190s, farmers throughout the Great Plains began to notice a decline in their wells. Irrigation systems from the Dakotas to Texas dipped, and, in some places, have been abandoned entirely. 

Read the full article here. 

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