tuesday | 30 april 2013

NATIONAL SECURITY

REMOTE CONTROL: OUR DRONE DELUSION

Steve Coll | The New Yorker

For Eisenhower, who had witnessed the carnage of the Normandy landings and the Battle of the Bulge, and later claimed to “hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can,” political assassinations represented an alluring alternative to conventional military action. Through the execution or overthrow of undesirable foreign leaders, the thinking went, it might be possible to orchestrate the global struggle against Communism from a distance, and avoid the misery—and the risks of nuclear war—that out-and-out combat would bring. Assassination was seen not only as precise and efficient but also as ultimately humane. Putting such theory into practice was the role of the C.I.A., and the agency’s tally of toppled leftists, nationalists, or otherwise unreliable leaders is well known, from Mohammad Mosadegh, of Iran, in 1953, and Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, of Guatemala, in 1954, to Ngo Dinh Diem, of South Vietnam, in 1963, and Salvador Allende, of Chile, in 1973. Not all the schemes went according to plan; a few seemed inspired by Wile E. Coyote. The C.I.A. once planned to bump off Fidel Castro by passing him an exploding cigar.

Aside from the moral ugliness of violent covert action, its record as a national-security strategy isn’t encouraging. On occasion, interventions have delivered short-term advantages to Washington, but in the long run they have usually sown deeper troubles. Lumumba’s successor, the dictator Joseph Mobutu, may have been an ally of the United States until his death, in 1997, but his brutal rule prepared the way for Congo’s recent descent into chaos. Memory of the C.I.A.’s hand in Mosadegh’s overthrow stoked the anti-American fury of the Iranian Revolution, which confounds the United States to this day. Foreign policy is not a game of Risk. Great nations achieve lasting influence and security not by bloody gambits but through economic growth, scientific innovation, military deterrence, and the power of ideas.

dirtywars. . . The return of Presidentially sanctioned assassinations is described in two new books of investigative journalism, “The Way of the Knife” (Penguin), by Mark Mazzetti, a Times reporter; and “Dirty Wars” (Nation), by Jeremy Scahill, of The Nation. In the wake of September 11th, the C.I.A. launched what now seems a comparatively selective effort to capture or kill “high-value targets” associated with Al Qaeda. President Bush kept a list of two dozen senior terrorists in the Oval Office and reportedly crossed out their photographs when they were eliminated or imprisoned.

The Iraq War lifted targeted killing to an industrial scale. Frustrated by the lead role taken by the C.I.A., Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged the Pentagon’s clandestine forces, under the Joint Special Operations Command, to add terrorist hunting to their specialties. As one insurgent group after another sprang up to resist the American occupation of Iraq, JSOC was given an opportunity to prove itself.

the way of the knifeBetween 2003 and 2008, Special Operations forces in Iraq, under the leadership of General Stanley McChrystal, perfected a system of intelligence collection, detention, and targeted killing. In blistering night raids, McChrystal’s men would descend upon the homes of suspected insurgents, kill or capture them, and then comb their phones and e-mails for intelligence, which was used to identify fresh targets for attack. This program has been described by other journalists, and aspects of it were depicted in the film “Zero Dark Thirty.” Scahill adds a thorough and unsentimental accounting of JSOC’s brutal work in Iraq, including a review of the available evidence that prisoners interrogated at its facilities near Baghdad were tortured.

. . . Drone strikes have surely thinned Al Qaeda’s ranks on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and reduced pressure on American forces fighting the Taliban. But has the program made America safer? Political relations between the United States and Pakistan, a nation of nearly a hundred and eighty million people, with a fast-growing nuclear arsenal, have collapsed. Today, the United States has surpassed India as the most hated nation in Pakistan. There are many causes, but drones are a major one. Just as Eisenhower failed to think through the consequences of his push-button interventionism, Obama seems unwilling to confront the possibility that drone strikes may be creating more enemies than they’re eliminating.

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SCULPTURE

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MARIO CEROLI: MAESTRALE (1992) GLASS

Alec | Not Shaking the Glass | via Booooooom!
Mario Ceroli - Maestrale (1992) - Glass
Mario Ceroli - Maestrale (1992) - Glass2

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FOOD | AGRICULTURE

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FERTILIZED WORLD

Dan Charles | National Geographic

These scientists have begun working with small groups of farmers, showing them that less fertilizer doesn’t shrink their harvests and can actually fatten their wallets. They’re promoting the use of compost and teaching farmers to apply synthetic fertilizer when and where the plants actually need it. But they admit they’ve made little progress. The biggest obstacle is that most Chinese farmers are part-time. They aren’t interested in saving a few yuan by cutting back on fertilizer. It’s more important to save time and keep their city jobs, so they apply fertilizer quickly but inefficiently.

And fear of food scarcity still haunts the Chinese imagination, outweighing concerns about the environment. Huang Jikun, director of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, frequently tries to convince government officials that their worries are misplaced. “I tell them, China is more food secure than it has been for 5,000 years!” he says. But for officials and farmers alike, applying less fertilizer seems like tempting fate, risking a disastrous shortfall.

It’s likely that China—and the rest of the world—will use more nitrogen in the years to come, not less. Populations continue to expand, and meat is growing more popular. Feeding pigs or cattle demands several times more agricultural production than does using that grain to directly nourish people. “If Chinese change their diet to be like yours [in the West], the environmental pressure will be very high,” says Xiaotang Ju somberly. “We have to tend to this problem. Otherwise it will be really big.”

There’s a glimpse of a solution on a farm just outside the small town of Harlan in western Iowa. Here 90 cattle graze on green pasture, and a few hundred pigs root about in beds of straw, surrounded by fields of alfalfa, corn, soybeans, oats, and barley.

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DRAWINGS

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ENO HENZE: TOMORROW WILL BE LIKE TODAY

Kateopolis | tumblr

eno henze 1
eno henze 2
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NETWORKS

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DATA SCIENCE OF THE FACEBOOK WORLD

Stephen Wolfram | Wolfram’s Blog

After a rapid rise, the number of friends peaks for people in their late teenage years, and then declines thereafter. Why is this? I suspect it’s partly a reflection of people’s intrinsic behavior, and partly a reflection of the fact that Facebook hasn’t yet been around very long. Assuming people don’t drop friends much once they’ve added them one might expect that the number of friends would simply grow with age. And for sufficiently young people that’s basically what we see. But there’s a limit to the growth, because there’s a limit to the number of years people have been on Facebook. And assuming that’s roughly constant across ages, what the plot suggests is that people add friends progressively more slowly with age.

But what friends do they add? Given a person of a particular age, we can for example ask what the distribution of ages of the person’s friends is. Here are some results (the jaggedness, particularly at age 70, comes from the limited data we have):

friend-ages-vs-age-grid1

. . . But, OK. Let’s look in more detail at the social network of an individual user. I’m not sufficiently diligent on Facebook for my own network to be interesting. But my 15-year-old daughter Catherine was kind enough to let me show her network:

There’s a dot for each of Catherine’s Facebook friends, with connections between them showing who’s friends with whom. (There’s no dot for Catherine herself, because she’d just be connected to every other dot.) The network is laid out to show clusters or “communities” of friends (using the Wolfram Language function FindGraphCommunities). And it’s amazing the extent to which the network “tells a story”. With each cluster corresponding to some piece of Catherine’s life or history.

network

Here’s a whole collection of networks from our Data Donors:

network-grid-inpage-small

. . . And we don’t just have to look at things like cluster diagrams, or even friend networks: we can dig almost arbitrarily deep. For example, we can analyze the aggregated text of posts people make on their Facebook walls, say classifying them by topics they talk about (this uses a natural-language classifier written in the Wolfram Language and trained using some large corpora):

topic-totals-stacked6
topic-vs-age-sex5
and MUCH, MUCH MORE –>
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THE LEFT

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THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION

The Editors | n+1

The cultural nature of politics, the political nature of culture: these have formed the main quandary debated by left intellectuals, mainly among themselves (and there lies much of the trouble), over the twenty some years since the oldest of us went off to colleges where Theory and Cultural Studies were all the impotent rage. For two decades, our thinking has turned on this culture/politics axis, both when we were spinning our wheels and when it seemed like we were getting somewhere. There are always fresh phenomena for the familiar problematic: only recently, for example, have American intellectuals, “cultural producers,” and college grads with humanities degrees adopted a basically sociological understanding of culture, including their own, or have TV show-runners displayed a notable quotient of South Asian faces. Still, all new left-wing cultural-political analyses share an old question: is this or that cultural object shoring up an unjust society, or undermining it? The question applies not just to novels, TV shows, new diets, and social media platforms, but also, more uncomfortably, to the essays and books that we left intellectuals write about these things.

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SHORT FILM

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SCREENGRAB

Willie Witte | Vimeo | via Colossal

An experiment in transitions.
None of the visuals are computer generated. All the trickery took place literally in front of the camera.

Thanks to Kevin McAlpine for the song / audio work!

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CITIES

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THE URBAN FIRE NEXT TIME

Patrick Sharkey | The New York Times

I don’t mean to minimize the hardships faced by American families. But the downturn never made its way out of their homes and onto the streets. It has been labeled the Great Recession, but it could also be called the Private Recession.

Compare the current conditions in urban America with those in the early 1980s, when the nation saw a less severe recession, yet neighborhoods were deteriorating and violent crime was much higher. Cities were trying to overcome a range of economic and demographic transformations: the loss of manufacturing jobs, the migration of whites and middle-class minorities out of central city neighborhoods and declining tax revenues.

Meanwhile, cities saw their federal aid decline rapidly as the Reagan administration slashed programs like the Community Development Block Grant and public housing. The consequences were predictable. Housing agencies were unable to maintain their complexes. Public schools crumbled, police forces were overwhelmed. Public transit deteriorated. It took two decades for many cities to recover.

There are many factors that help explain the difference between now and then, but I believe the primary one is the unpopular, $840 billion fiscal stimulus program in 2009, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Many of the largest and most important investments made by the “stimulus” went to institutions and organizations that were essential to functioning communities. Abandoned homes did not become hot spots for crime because almost $2 billion went to acquiring, renovating or demolishing them.

NEW BREED OF BIG CITY REPUBLICANS

Byron Tau | Politico

The previous generation of big-city Republicans, like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, won on law-and-order platforms of reducing crime and eliminating urban blight.

Mara, along with Joe Lhota in New York and Kevin James in Los Angeles, are among a breed of urban Republicans trying a different tack: presenting themselves as socially tolerant yet fiscally hawkish candidates with a social libertarian bent who depart in major ways with the mainstream national GOP.

Mara, Lhota, James and others aren’t culture warriors. They all oppose some aspects of the drug war. They’re largely pro-gay marriage and pro-choice — and they’ve put education and good government issues at the center of their campaigns. Another commonality: They’ve all ducked tricky questions about their relationship to the national party.

ENGLAND’S EXPERIMENT WITH NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING BRINGS ETHNIC TENSIONS TO THE SURFACE

Kerwin Datu | Global Urbanist

In November 2011 the UK Government enacted the Localism Act, a piece of planning legislation intended to give local communities in England increased power over development planning in their areas, and to reduce the bureaucracy associated with planning approvals. One of the more interesting sets of measures relates to neighbourhood planning, potentially a very radical initiative putting real power in the hands of local residents, and worth watching by community organisations and planning authorities around the world.

The measures allow residents and workers in a local community to form an organisation and apply to become a “neighbourhood forum” associated with a defined neighbourhood area. If approved, the forum becomes “entitled” to “require” that the local authority make neighbourhood development plans and neighbourhood development orders, based on drafts that it submits, that can determine what kinds of development are and aren’t allowed in the area, and what kinds of development do or don’t require approval from the local authority. For example, the community may decide that converting roofspace into spare rooms or splitting a house into apartments need no longer require planning approval.

. . . At stake is not simply one group’s right to extend their houses as they please against another group’s right to preserve an architectural heritage of great significance to the community. The Victorian architecture of Stamford Hill has become a proxy for fundamental differences in values and ethnic misunderstandings that have long gone unresolved.

It is important to observe how the two forums have emerged not from the community as a whole, but from within specific ideological camps. At least one of the forums seems to have behaved more like a fringe political party — built around local personalities, closing ranks to outsiders, etc. — than as a real forum intended to build consensus. Rather than remove politics and politicians from planning, the government’s initiative has brought heated political conflict down to the scale of the neighbourhood, where people are perhaps least inclined to debate issues objectively, hence the call from Hackney Planning Watch for Hackney Council to retain its role as mediator.

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PHOTOGRAPHY

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BODYSCAPES BY LIVIU BURLEA

Devid Sketchbook | devidsketchbook.com

Moldova, Chisinau based photographer Liviu Burlea – “As for me – Life is a Miracle. Photography as an art has been a great discovery. A discovery to the sense of exposing the introspective nature of creativity by searching the never ending changes.”

bodyscapes2

bodyscapes1

SCARS BY INDIA LAWTON, THE ART OF MANGLING PHOTOGRAPHS

Lancia Trendvisions

What would happen if we were to open an old family album and discover that each photo, organized with maniacal care and love, had been torn and burned with permanent scars?

Maybe we’d feel as we do in front of “Scars”, a series by young Londoner India Lawton (who graduated at University of Westminster with a degree in photography in 2012), which displays a technique that has surely been seen before, but is touching due to its presentation and subject matter.

In her photos all that remains are traces of a ghost family, decapitated memories, remembrances that have been burned forever, faces devoured by woodworms and unknown hands. “Who did this?”, we’d ask in disdain. To then discover that what India is showing us is something else. Something invisible. In spite of the devastating violence, indeed something remains. The photographs, though mangled, wounded and partly incinerated, resist. And they remind us that statistically they can survive any natural disaster far better than man. They have scars that whisper of an inevitable destiny, but they invite us to take pleasure in our dear remains for as long as we can.

Photos via indialawton.wordpress.com

ltvs-indialawton-6
ltvs-indialawton-4
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EDUCATION | MEXICO

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THOSE WHO CAN’T TEACH, BLOCK

Carlos Puig | The International Herald Tribune

It was 5:30 p.m. on Friday, April 5, and the middle of the highway that goes from Mexico City to sunny Acapulco, in the state of Guerrero. For two hours a group of some 2,000 teachers from Guerrero had been blocking traffic both ways. Two weeks earlier, at the beginning of the most important vacation of the year, the teachers staged a protest on the same highway for more than nine hours, creating chaos for travelers.

“Give me half an hour for consultations,” one of the strikers’ leaders said. “Fifteen minutes,” the policeman replied. The exchange was broadcast live on Mexican television, and so was what followed: the teachers’ refusal to lift the blockade and their forcible removal by about 2,000 federal police.

. . . “Standardized national tests?” Gabino Cué Monteagudo, the governor of Oaxaca, asked, dubious, when I interviewed him last Wednesday. Oaxaca, which neighbors Guerrero, is Mexico’s poorest state, with more than 1.2 million students and only 74,000 teachers. Hundreds of schools in the state have only one teacher for several grades. Hundreds more are so far from where teachers live that classes can be held only three days a week. One-third of the population are native speakers of a language other than Spanish.

“Can we expect the same from a student in Mexico City as from an indigenous girl whose first language is not Spanish and has no knowledge of the Internet?” Cué asked. “Can we evaluate equally the teacher who has to travel five hours every week to get to a classroom and the one who gets in a car with air-conditioning? Couldn’t we include all these factors?”

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ANIMATION

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ALTNEULAND

Sariel Keslasi | Vimeo

My graduation film at Bezalel Academy of Art & Design.
And this year (2013) it is displayed at the Annecy Festival and the Cannes short Film corner Festival.
You are welcome to watch.

The film is a subjective interpretation of the utopian novel, “Altneuland” writen by theodor herzl. By using a surrealist allegory, the film tries to deal with the collapse of Herzl’s dream and seeks to emphasize the sense of absurdity and instability of my personal experience as an individual in the Israeli society.

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CIVIL RIGHTS | SAUDI ARABIA

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SAUDI ARABIA LAUNCHES FIRST ANTI-DOMESTIC ABUSE CAMPAIGN

David Kenner | Foreign Policy

the kingdom has its first anti-domestic violence campaign: The ad above is from the “No More Abuse” campaign, which seeks to promote awareness of domestic violence and encourage citizens to speak out when they hear of it. The website promoting the ad features a list of phone numbers for Saudis to call in order to address cases of domestic violence.

The Arabic text in the ad translates roughly as “the tip of the iceberg.” The slogan accompanying the English-language version of the ad features a play on words, given the niqab-wearing woman: “Some things can’t be covered.”

saudiabuse
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ECONOMICS

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STILL CORING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Paul Krugman | The Conscience of a Liberal | The New York Times

. . . the idea behind core inflation is that not all prices behave the same. (In that post, I worried about deflation, which hasn’t happened; I’ve written a lot since about why). There are many “sticky” prices that are revised only occasionally; these prices cause inflation to have a lot of inertia, and are why disinflation can be so costly. But there are other prices that fluctuate a lot in the short run, and can cause overall inflation to jump around.

The idea of core inflation is to strip out the volatile prices to get a better measure of underlying trends. Core inflation is NOT used for things like cost of living adjustments, and it’s not the headline number in the news; so anyone who claims, with a knowing sneer, that the inflation number you hear is ignoring food and energy is just ignorant. Core is, however, what the Fed uses to assess monetary policy, because it believes that the headline number is too volatile, and it doesn’t want to overreact either to short-run inflation or short-run deflation.

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MUSIC

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JUNIP: JUNIP

Steve Arroyo | The Consequence of Sound | amazon

The new eponymous LP by Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez’ three-piece rock band Junip is their second full-length release since forming 15 years ago, and also their second since 2010. You read that correctly; after Gonzalez happened upon sudden success as a solo artist in the mid-aughts, Junip was cornered into taking an extended break, managing to squeeze out just two EPs before their 2010 formal debut Fields. Their tedious progress finally comes to a head on Junip, a frequently gorgeous exercise in teamwork and restraint: In the album’s strongest moments, Junip treat their songs like a fragile house of cards, not to be built too fast or aggressively lest one over-eager misstep ruin the whole thing.

As musicians, Gonzalez, Elias Araya, and Tobias Winkerton have a limitless arsenal, but Junip mainly flexes three things throughout: Krautrock-derived rhythms, pitch-perfect harmonies, and Gonzalez’ mumble, never at odds with the sonic feel of any moment.

junip

BLUE NOTE: 50 YEARS AGO TODAY | JACKIE MCLEAN: ONE STEP BEYOND

Robert Spencer | All About Jazz | 1 February 1997 | amazon

One Step Beyond is the first of three albums Jackie McLean made with Grachan Moncur III on trombone and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes (also Eddie Khan on bass and Tony Williams on drums). These three (the other two are Destination…Out! and Moncur’s Evolution ) are the crowning achievement of McLean’s Ornette Coleman-inspired pianoless “outside work” of the early Sixties. McLean has said that in the late Fifties he felt as if he was going nowhere until Ornette’s nascent harmolodics put the wind back in his sails. Not that he sounds much like Ornette on his albums that celebrate “free” playing (most notably Let Freedom Ring ), but compared to his earlier work with Miles, Trane and others, his post-Ornette Blue Notes give a more expressive voice to his characteristic exuberance. He was a trailblazer in bringing the techniques and innovations of the “free” players into the hard bop mainstream.

jackie mclean
GHANA – JACKIE MCLEAN
with Woody Shaw,McCoy Tyner,Cecil McBee,Jack Dejohnette

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