SATURDAY | 13 JULY 2013

CIVIL RIGHTS

COUNTERPUNCH AND THE WAR ON TRANSGENDERED PEOPLE

Samantha Allen | Jacobin

Since vacating the American Bar Association liaison position, Brennan has continued to spread her anti-trans* viewpoints at the annual Radfem conference. Every year, the Radfems gather in a “women-only” space to promulgate their politics of exclusion. Every year, however, conference organizers find it even more difficult to book space as people begin to recognize the Radfems for what they are: a hate group.

But the most insidious beat in this nasty narrative has come in the wake of the TERFs’ most recent conference, Radfem 2013 — the TERFs are now painting themselves as silenced victims because of their difficulties in securing space for their conference. Forbes bought into this sob story wholesale. And even the leftist publication CounterPunch has felt the need to cover “both sides” of the issue in a series of articles that debate the legitimacy of transgender identity as if we were theoretical abstractions and not human beings. There are not two sides to a debate about whether a group of people should exist.

Furthermore, if the anti-trans* rhetoric that has appeared on CounterPunch over the last two months were transposed onto gay or lesbian identity, leftists would instantly recognize it as homophobic. If Julian Vigo questioned the existence of “straight privilege” instead of the existence of “cisgender privilege,” she would be instantly shouted down by a chorus of gay-affirmative voices. If she posited that lesbians are “confused” in the same way that she argues that transgender folks “confuse sex with gender,” she would be shown the door at any leftist publication worth its salt.

HELP DEFEND JACOBIN

Bhaskar Sunkara | Jacobin

Dear readers,

This week we were pleased to publish a wonderful essay by Samantha Allen on “CounterPunch and the War on Transgender People.” It’s a moving piece that brings to life the type of discrimination that trans* people experience on a daily basis.

In the piece, Allen laments the fact that portions of the Left, including some self-described feminists, are still bullying this vulnerable population. What’s more, these reactionary voices are even finding outlets in some of our best publications, like CounterPunch. As Allen writes, “…pundits of both liberal and radical varieties can demonize us, ignore us, and question our legitimacy because they can get away with it.”

As is the case with many other issues — and largely due to a lack of time and resources — Jacobin hasn’t provided a very good counterweight to these tendencies. That’s why we were so proud to publish Allen’s piece, and it’s one of the many reasons we stand behind it without reservation.

But not everyone is so pleased with its publication. Catherine Brennan, whose views are critiqued in the essay as being transphobic, has instructed her lawyer David Diggs to prepare litigation against Jacobin magazine.

Any money raised in the next few weeks will be held in escrow and reserved for a long overdue legal defense fund. Our payment pages are all secure and encrypted, but for those who prefer they can donate via PayPal to editor@jacobinmag.com.

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THE NATIONAL SECURITY STATE

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AMERICA AGAINST DEMOCRACY

Will Wilkinson | The Economist

You see, democracy here at home must be balanced against the requirements of security, and it is simply too dangerous to leave the question of this balance to the democratic public. Open deliberation over the appropriate balance would require saying something concrete about threats to public safety, and also about the means by which those threats might be checked. But revealing such information would only empower America’s enemies and endanger American lives. Therefore, this is a discussion Americans can’t afford to have. Therefore, the power to determine that this is a discussion the public cannot afford to have cannot reside in the democratic public. That power must reside elsewhere, with the best and brightest, with those who have surveyed the perils of the world and know what it takes to meet them. Those deep within the security apparatus, within the charmed circle, must therefore make the decision, on America’s behalf, about how much democracy—about how much discussion about the limits of democracy, even—it is safe for Americans to have.

This decision will not be effective, however, if it is openly questioned. The point is that is not up for debate. It is crucial, then, that any attempt by those on the inside to reveal the real, secret rules governing American life be met with overwhelming, intimidating retaliation. In order to maintain a legitimising democratic imprimatur, it is of course important that a handful of elected officials be brought into the anteroom of the inner council, but it’s important that they know barely more than that there is a significant risk that we will all perish if they, or the rest of us, know too much, and they must be made to feel that they dare not publicly speak what little they have been allowed know. Even senators. Even senators must fear to describe America’s laws to America’s citizens. This is, yes, democracy-suppression, but it is a vitally necessary arrangement. It keeps you and your adorable kids and even your cute pet dog alive.

OBAMA IS LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS OF A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE

Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick | The Financial Times

Mr Obama has become a more amiable and efficient manager of the American empire. And, in the name of national security, he is laying the foundation for a frighteningly dystopian future by combining full-spectrum surveillance with full-spectrum military dominance.

Mr Obama’s dogged global pursuit of the courageous Mr Snowden is only the latest shameful case in point. It was almost exactly 60 years ago that Jean-Paul Sartre warned Americans: “Your country is sick with fear … do not be astonished if we cry out from one end of Europe to the other: Watch out! America has the rabies! Cut all ties which bind us to her, otherwise we will in turn be bitten and run mad!”

Mr Obama, under whom hunger strikers are force fed and whistleblowers prosecuted with unparalleled ferocity, needs to recalibrate before he drives the final nails into the coffin of a once-proud American republic.

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GRAFFITI

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IN TEHRAN

illstencils | flickr
runabout
no no no
Balloonhead
anarchy plane
anarchy plane 02
slaves
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EGYPT

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EGYPT’S POLITIC CRISIS EXPLAINED IN EIGHT SURPRISINGLY ENTERTAINING MINUTES

Caitlyn Dewey | The Washington Post

You could be forgiven a bit of confusion over Egypt’s political crisis. The situation there is so complicated and fluid that even many Egyptians disagree, for example, over whether they experienced a coup or a revolution last week.

Fortunately, the Youtube celebrities known as the “vlogbrothers” — in real life, Hank and John Green — have laid out the big-picture issues in a dizzyingly fast-paced, eight-minute video, with help from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace researcher named Mokhtar Awad. It touches on the major factions vying for power, the problems with Egypt’s 2012 elections and the military’s many oddities. Fun fact: They control somewhere between five and 45 percent (!) of the Egyptian economy.

LEADING FROM BEHIND

John Norris | Foreign Policy

A year ago, who, other than those in the fever swamps of the Tea Party, would have thought that Egyptian street protesters would topple their first democratically elected president while accusing Barack Obama’s administration of being too close to the Muslim Brotherhood? Who would have thought that on the Fourth of July, commentators across America would celebrate a military coup in Egypt as being synonymous with the actions of Washington’s Founding Fathers? Who would have thought that the Wall Street Journal would suggest with a straight face that the real model for the Egyptian military should be the murderous regime of Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet?

Who would have thought that so many people could go to such lengths to describe the Egyptian military deposing a sitting president while deploying tanks in the street as something other than a coup? Who would have thought that David Brooks would respond to the fact that Egyptians have twice taken to the streets in waves of massive pro-democracy protests over the last two years as a sign that they “lack even the basic mental ingredients” for a democratic transition?

. . . Secretary of State John Kerry came into office hoping to secure sweeping diplomatic deals in the Middle East — a worthy aspiration. But instead of grand diplomatic bargains, the hard work necessary to build a genuinely collective vision for Egypt’s future needs to happen in the coffeehouses and ministries, in the mosques and government offices. Anyone who has ever been to a city council meeting knows those meetings aren’t very sexy, but the hard truth is that you don’t have democracy without building blocks. Given that Obama began his career as a community organizer, one hopes that the administration will finally embrace an approach to Egypt shaped from the ground up.

BLAME MORSY

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA | FOREIGN POLICY

Let’s make this abundantly clear: No one should be pleased with the division and bloodshed playing out in the streets of Cairo right now, particularly as military repression escalates. But let’s also make this abundantly clear: One man bears the ultimate responsibility for the crisis of leadership — Mohamed Morsy.

With Morsy now arbitrarily detained by the military following his July 3 ouster and Egyptian security forces indulging in violent, reckless repression, the former Egyptian president and his Muslim Brotherhood movement have legitimate grievances regarding their unjustifiable treatment. But let’s not forget how we got to this grim point. On the night of June 30, in the face of unprecedented, nationwide mass mobilization and protest, Morsy was politically wounded, his legitimacy undermined, his ability to govern Egypt irreparably damaged. In response to the bottom-up, grassroots campaign that brought millions out into the streets, critical sectors of the state bureaucracy openly abandoned the president, leaving him with an illusory and nominal grip on power. He faced a country dangerously polarized, its social fabric fraying. At that moment, Egypt had fleetingly few options for avoiding the grim possibility of civil strife — and all of them resided with Morsy.

Despite inheriting intractable political, economic, and social problems, when Morsy ascended to power on June 30, 2012, he had choices — and he chose factional gain, zero-sum politics, and populist demagoguery

WHAT ABOUT TAMARROD?

Maria Golia | Latitude | The New York Times

Many of my friends who participated in the 2011 revolution and hated seeing the Brotherhood in power are just as upset at seeing revolutionary youth at the negotiating table with the generals. During its last transitional tenure the army had trampled civil rights and mowed down civilian protesters. Who could say they wouldn’t do it again? Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested, their TV stations shut down, and on July 8, more than 50 of their supporters died in clashes with security forces at a military compound.

But the most widespread opinion is voiced by the Tamarrod member Yassir Fouad, a pharmacist. “The army was our weapon,” he said, meaning the muscle to force the president to comply with the people’s — and Tamarrod’s — demands.

Tamarrod’s members have seen death and danger up close since 2011, and many have long histories of activism. However, seasoned by the last three years of struggle for “bread, freedom and social justice,” they are moving into uncharted territory. They have the public’s support, but they are young civilians dealing with Egypt’s wily old generals.

Some say the generals are using Tamarrod, offering them the illusion of participating in Egypt’s future in exchange for having hastened the Brotherhood’s demise. The army was never happy with the Brotherhood in power, but put up with it because whoever took over the mess left by Mubarak was bound to fail. June 30 gave the generals an excuse to step in once again as heroes — and settle some scores.

For now, Tamarrod is riding the wave of events it precipitated, and its leadership is convinced it can reshape Egypt’s future. “We are not naïve,” Fouad reassured me. “We want to see Egypt run as a modern secular state,” he said. Many Egyptians seem to agree.

Today Tamarrod is calling for a communal iftar, the sunset meal that breaks the daily fast, not just in Tahrir Square but all over Egypt. It is urging people to share this moment as family, to overcome political differences in the name of all they have in common. It seems a lot to ask, considering the Islamists’ fury at their reversal of fortune, but I‘ve been wrong before.

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MACEDONIA

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REVAMPING SKOPJE: STONES OF CONTENTION

The Economist

IN 2010 a computer-generated video of plans for the Macedonian capital was released to journalists. There were to be statues and monuments, new museums and civic buildings, a triumphal arch, even an eternal flame. After decades in hibernation Skopje’s turbocharged planners seemed determined that the city should make up for lost time. While Nikola Gruevski, the prime minister, was in office they planned to erect as much public art as some European capitals have put up in three centuries. Many assumed it was some sort of joke.

Three years later, the project is nearing completion and this corner of the Balkans is suffering the shock of the new. For this is more than just a city rejuvenation project. Almost every structure and statue is part of a wider ideological scheme to recast Macedonia’s identity. The heart is Skopje’s central square, which for decades was a bleak and empty space. Now it has been crammed with statuary. There are 19th-century Macedonian heroes, the medieval Tsar Samuel (whom the Bulgarians angrily claim as their own) and Justinian, a Byzantine emperor who was born near Skopje. Nearby are two saints, Cyril and Methodius, the fathers of the Cyrillic alphabet. Centre-stage goes to a giant bronze Alexander the Great. He is encircled by warriors, who in turn are surrounded by a fountain, with music, roaring lions and lights that change colour.

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CHINA

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WHAT CAUSED CHINA’S CASH CRUNCH

The Economist

LAST month some Chinese banks found it excruciatingly difficult to borrow the money they required from their fellow banks. The interest rate for an overnight loan from one bank to another briefly hit 30% on June 20th, compared with a typical rate of about 2.5% earlier in the year. This cash crunch or “Shibor shock” (Shibor stands for Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate, a benchmark interest rate) raised immediate fears of bank defaults. It also highlighted broader concerns about financial excesses in China, where the supply of credit has been growing faster than the economy. What caused the sudden cash crunch?

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DESIGN

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THE ANATOMY OF A SUCCESSFUL LOGO DESIGN

Belinda Lanks | Co.Design

But occasionally, a company’s logo undergoes such a subtle transformation that it’s barely noticeable, even though if you were to compare the old and new, you’d see an actual improvement. That was the case with Mail Chimp’s recent revamp. The online marketing service commissioned graphic designer Jessica Hische to make their logo look more modern without drastically redirecting it. Writes Hische: “They just wanted a facelift–one of those classy facelifts that make your friends ask you if you’ve been sleeping better lately or lost some weight because you look like a more vivacious version of yourself and not like a different person.”

Print

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BIOGRAPHY

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IS THIS THE MOST INTERESTING PARAGRAPH WIKIPEDIA HAS EVER PUBLISHED?

Elias Groll | Foreign Policy

Most Interesting Man in the World, meet your match.

On Sunday, Twitter user Matthew Barrett created something of a sensation by linking to the obscure Wikipedia biography of the British army officer Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart. His tweet — “This guy surely has the best opening paragraph of any Wikipedia biography ever” — has been retweeted more than 3,200 times over the past several days.

So just how mind-blowing is the introduction on Carton de Wiart’s page? Judge for yourself:

Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart[1] VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO (5 May 1880 – 5 June 1963), was a British Army officer of Belgian and Irish descent. He fought in the Boer War, World War I, and World War II, was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip and ear, survived a plane crash, tunneled out of a POW camp, and bit off his own fingers when a doctor wouldn’t amputate them. He later said “frankly I had enjoyed the war.” [2]

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HUMAN CAPITAL

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EXPLAINING THE NEGLECT OF DOUG ENGELBART’S VISION: THE ECONOMIC IRRELEVANCE OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE AUGMENTATION

Ashwin Parameswaran | Macroresilience

Doug Engelbart’s work was driven by his vision of “augmenting the human intellect”:

By “augmenting human intellect” we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems.

Alan Kay summarised the most common argument as to why Engelbart’s vision never came to fruition1:

Engelbart, for better or for worse, was trying to make a violin…most people don’t want to learn the violin.

This explanation makes sense within the market for mass computing. Engelbart was dismissive about the need for computing systems to be easy-to-use. And ease-of-use is everything in the mass market. Most people do not want to improve their skills at executing a task. They want to minimise the skill required to execute a task. The average photographer would rather buy an easy-to-use camera than teach himself how to use a professional camera. And there’s nothing wrong with this trend.

But why would this argument hold for professional computing? Surely a professional barista would be incentivised to become an expert even if it meant having to master a difficult skill and operate a complex coffee machine? Engelbart’s dismissal of the need for computing systems to be easy-to-use was not irrational. As Stanislav Datskovskiy argues, Engelbart’s primary concern was that the computing system should reward learning. And Engelbart knew that systems that were easy to use the first time around did not reward learning in the long run. There is no meaningful way in which anyone can be an expert user of most easy-to-use mass computing systems. And surely professional users need to be experts within their domain?

The somewhat surprising answer is: No, they do not.

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ANIMATION | DOCUMENTARY

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NEVER LIKE THE FIRST TIME

Jonas Odell | Vimeo

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MUSIC

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tUnE-yArDs: w h o k i l l

Matthew Perpetua | Pitchfork | April 18, 2011 | amazon

The stylization of the name tUnE-yArDs in print is a bit off-putting, but it at least gives people fair warning: This is not an act with any interest in politely conforming to expectations. tUnE-yArDs is the music project of Merrill Garbus, a songwriter, vocalist, percussionist, and ukulele player who has fused elements of acoustic folk, R&B, funk, Afro-pop, and rock into a bold, uncompromising hybrid all her own. Garbus is blessed with an extraordinary voice, and she wields it with great confidence, always coming off in total control of her phrasing while seeming totally uninhibited in her expression. There’s an authoritative quality to her voice– she often sings with a commanding, full-bodied boldness, but even at her softest, Garbus sounds assertive and forthright.

w h o k i l l, Garbus’ second album as tUnE-yArDs, delivers on the promise of her 2009 debut, BiRd-BrAiNs. Unlike that album, which she recorded almost entirely on her own using a digital voice recorder and the sound editing program Audacity, w h o k i l l was mostly made in traditional studios in collaboration with bassist Nate Brenner, engineer Eli Crews, and a handful of other musicians. The music benefits from the increased professionalism, but Garbus has not abandoned her lo-fi aesthetic. As on BiRd-BrAiNs, Garbus layers sound to create a patchwork of contrasting textures. This time around, the greater clarity allows for more exaggerated dynamics. This is most apparent in “Gangsta”, a carefully arranged track that evokes danger and fear with bluntly abbreviated blasts of horn noise and sounds that cut in and out erratically like a set of headphones with a busted wire or a cell phone that can’t hold its signal. On the opposite end of the spectrum, she creates an almost unsettling intimacy on “Wooly Wolly Gong” by mixing the ambient hum of room sound with closely mic’d arpeggiated chords and vocals.

tune-yards - whokill

HOORAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF

Josh Terzino | Music. Defined. | amazon

My Dearest Darkest Neighbor is a different sort of album, though. Mostly, it’s covers of folk and country songs by people like Townes Van Zant and Hank Williams, as well as a couple by former Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison. It also features two written by lead singer/songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra. It’s a good balance of very traditional songs with new arrangements and more contemporary tunes with a fresh take. At their worst the covers are just good songs done well. At their best they are brilliantly realized versions of other people’s work.

hurray for the riff raff - my dearest darkest neighbor

BEATBOXING AT TEDx





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