monday | 8 april 2013

IN MEMORIAM

MARGARET THATCHER AND MISAPPLIED DEATH ETIQUETTE

Glenn Greenwald | The Guardian

This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. “Respecting the grief” of the Thatcher family is appropriate if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse about the person’s life and political acts.

. . . But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren’t silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person’s death to create hagiography.

. . . Whatever else may be true of her, Thatcher engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”, something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein and Indonesian dictator General Suharto (“One of our very best and most valuable friends”). And as my Guardian colleague Seumas Milne detailed last year, “across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown.”

To demand that all of that be ignored in the face of one-sided requiems to her nobility and greatness is a bit bullying and tyrannical, not to mention warped.

MARGARET THATCHER WAS FREAKISHLY CORRECT ABOUT WHY THE EURO WOULD BE SUCH A DISASTER

Joe Wiesenthal | Business Insider

Thatcher’s two autobiographies, “The Downing Street Years” (1993) and “The Path To Power” (1995) discussed the tactics she would use to argue against the EMU (Economic and Monetary Union), which she wanted no part of.

Basically, she outlined the problems with the euro perfectly, that Germany would chafe at the inevitable need for greater inflation, and that the poorer countries would inevitably be uncompetitive and need bailouts that would not easily be forthcoming.

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POLICY

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WASHINGTON THINKS ENTITLEMENTS ARE THE PROBLEM. MAYBE THEY ARE THE ANSWER

Ezra Klein | Wonkblog | The Washington Post

It has become common in Washington for wonks and politicians alike to lament the public’s resistance to cutting Medicare and Social Security. But that resistance is there for a reason: These programs work extraordinarily well. Social Security has been wildly successful at raising living standards for the elderly, even as other forms of retirement savings have grown shakier. Medicare is cheaper than private health insurance, and has seen its costs grow more slowly, to boot. We’ve gotten so used to thinking of our entitlement programs as problems to be solved, we’re missing all the problems they can solve.

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CIVIL RIGHTS | SOCIOLOGY

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THE SCIENCE ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Ronald Bailey | The Wall Street Journal

A 2009 study by University of Sherbrooke economist Mircea Trandafir investigated the effect of the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, the first country to recognize same-sex marriage. In 1998, the Dutch created registered partnerships, which are open to all couples, and in 2001 a law allowing full same-sex marriages. His analysis found that same-sex marriage leads to a decline in the different-sex marriage rate, but not in the different-sex union (marriage plus registered partnership) rate. In other words, Dutch heterosexual couples are taking advantage of the “marriage lite” registered partnership alternative.

. . . Sweden legalized same-sex civil unions in 1995 and gay marriage in 2009. A 2011 demographic study from researchers at the University of Stockholm reports that since 1999, after decades of falling, both the marriage rate and the fertility rate have trended upward and the divorce rate is down.

Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. In 2003, the divorce rate in Massachusetts was 2.5 per 1,000 residents, and it fell to 1.9 by 2009. The Massachusetts marriage rate jumped 15% in 2004, as many same-sex couples chose to get married, but since has remained stable. Interestingly, the states that permit same-sex marriage tend to have lower divorce rates than those that ban same-sex marriage.

A 2004 study of registered partnerships in Sweden reported that gay male couples were 50% more likely to divorce than were heterosexual couples. Lesbian couples were nearly three times more likely to divorce than were heterosexual couples.

ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Jeremy Kessler | n+1

Opponents of same-sex marriage understand the expressive and distributive character of the struggle better than advocates who argue that legalization should be of no concern to those with personal objections to the practice. Legalization would implicate all citizens in a public commitment to respect and support same-sex couples (just as refusal to recognize same-sex marriage implicates all citizens in the choice to respect and support only opposite-sex couples). The coercive aspect of legalization is a feature, not a bug: change in the law will gradually change the way Americans understand their moral obligations to gay and lesbian fellow citizens, and the way the nation thinks about sexuality altogether. There is nothing special about same-sex marriage in this regard. When a democratic polity requires equal pay for equal work, or goes to war, or ends the project of desegregation, or does or does not prosecute a rape, all of its citizens are bound up with and transformed by these actions.

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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

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CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT: THE SHAME OF THREE STRIKES LAWS

Matt Taibbi | RollingStone | [print]

Wilkerson never made it out of the store. At the exit, he was, shall we say, over­enthusiastically apprehended by two security officers. They took him to the store security office, where the guards started to argue with each other over whether or not to call the police. One guard wanted to let him pay for the socks and go, but the other guard was more of a hardass and called the cops, having no idea he was about to write himself a part in one of the most absurd scripts to ever hit Southern California.

Thanks to a brand-new, get-tough-on-crime state law, Wilkerson would soon be sentenced to life in prison for stealing a pair of plain white tube socks worth $2.50.

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RACE | IMMIGRATION

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THE MINUTEMEN AND THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA

Rick Perlstein | The Nation

CNN’s news side treated the Minuteman as exactly what they claimed to be: a massive (it was tiny) movement, responsibly organized to weed out dangerous extremists (that never happened), successfully helping the Border Patrol by conscientiously calling in intelligence, a process no more threatening than—a favored Minutemen and media trope—one of those “neighborhood watch” organizations (this was before George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin). “Casey,” Dobbs said, “I had the opportunity to spend a little time down there with you along the border with the Minutemen. The success is remarkable.” In fact all they did was trip ground sensors and call in false alarms.

What did CNN, and many other mainstream media outlets besides, miss in their zealotry in making out Minutemen not to be zealots? Well, for example, the original 2004 Minutemen advertisement (“I invite you to join me in Tombstone, Arizona, in early spring of 2005 to protect our country from a 40-year-long invasion across our southern border with Mexico”) ran on the Aryan Nations website, trumpeted as “a call for action on part of ALL ARYAN SOLDIERS.” . . . A local news crew, more enterprising than the Most Trusted Name in News, recorded what these fine patriots said when they thought the cameras were off: “It should be legal to kill illegals. Just shoot ’em on sight. That’s my immigration policy recommendation. You break into my country, you die.”

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ANIMATED SHORT

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SHAVE IT

3DAR Studios | Vimeo

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ESSAY

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CHESS AND 18th CENTURY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Adam Gopnik | BBC News Magazine

We always over-estimate the space between the uniquely good and the very good. That inept footballer we whistle at in despair is a better football player than we have ever seen or ever will meet.

The few people who do grasp that though there are only a few absolute masters, there are many, many masters right below them looking for work tend, like Maelzel, to profit greatly from it. The greatest managers in any sport are those who know you can stand down the talent, and find more to fill the bench. It is the manager who is willing to bench Beckham, rather than he who worships his bend, who tends to have the most sporting success.

And what of the handful of true, undisputed, top masters? What makes the unique virtuoso unique is, in truth, rarely virtuosity as we have defined it, but instead some strange idiosyncratic vibration of his or her own.

Bob Dylan started off as a bad performer, and then spent 10,000 hours practising. But he did not become a better performer. He became Bob Dylan. And it should be said that those who possess ultimate mastery, the great born masters, as Bobby Fischer and Michael Jackson conspire to remind us, have hollow lives of surpassing unhappiness, as if the needed space for a soul was replaced by whirring clockwork.

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DATA VISUALIZATION

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IS THERE LIFE AFTER FIFTY FOR A SONGWRITER?

Kyle Biehle | The Ivory Sofa

First3

To start to look at this, I pulled a few of the recognized great popular songwriters from the last 50 years and looked at their creative output based on reviews of their studio albums. Because I wanted a measure of their creative ability by age, I looked at original-composition studio albums only – no cover albums and no live albums. . . . The measurement I used was album ratings from the website RateYourMusic . It’s a fan site that lets folks rate albums on a scale of 1 – 5. There are all sorts of potential bias issues in using this system, but it was easy to get. And given that it’s an audiophiles site, my sense is that the reviews will conform somewhat to critical thinking, and might even create a more honest evaluation of artist work than if I just grabbed the Rolling Stone reviews over time.

. . . The first three songwriters I looked at were Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Bruce Springsteen – all in the top twenty in Paste Magazine’s 100 Best Living Songwriters List from 2006. What I saw from those three gave me hope for what’s possible in an artist’s creative Second Act.

No surprise, all realized their creative high-points in their twenties and then fell off in their thirties and forties. But what surprised me was the rise for all three artists in their fifties that continued into their sixties. For Dylan specifically his output into his seventies has sustained a higher average score than any output since his twenties.

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ANIMATED SHORT

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LE 12e HOMME

Thomas Pons | Vimeo

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FOOD | HISTORY

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FROM ZOO TO TABLE

Henry Du Pré Labouchère | Lapham’s Quarterly

October 19, 1870
Each person now receives one hundred grams of meat per day, the system of distribution being that everyone has to wait on an average two hours before he receives his meat at the door of a butcher’s shop. I dine habitually at a bouillon; there horseflesh is eaten in the place of beef, and cat is called rabbit. Both, however, are excellent, and the former is a little sweeter than beef, but in other respects much like it; the latter something between rabbit and squirrel, with a flavor all its own. It is delicious. I recommend those who have cats with philoprogenitive proclivities, instead of drowning the kittens, to eat them. Either smothered in onions or in a ragout they are excellent.

October 31
To turn for a moment to less serious matters. I never shall see a donkey without gratefully thinking of a Prussian. If anyone happens to fall out with his jackass, let me recommend him, instead of beating it, to slay and eat it. Donkey is now all the fashion. When one is asked to dinner, as an inducement, one is told that there will be donkey. The flesh of this obstinate but weak-minded quadruped is delicious—in color like mutton, firm, and savory. This siege will destroy many illusions, and among them the prejudice which has prevented many animals being used as food. I can most solemnly assert that I never wish to taste a better dinner than a joint of a donkey or a ragout of cat—trust me.

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TECHNOLOGY

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THE MEME HUSTLER

Evgeny Morozov | The Baffler | [print]

However, it’s not his politics that makes O’Reilly the most dangerous man in Silicon Valley; a burgeoning enclave of Randian thought, it brims with far nuttier cases. O’Reilly’s mastery of public relations, on the other hand, is unrivaled and would put many of Washington’s top spin doctors to shame. No one has done more to turn important debates about technology—debates that used to be about rights, ethics, and politics—into kumbaya celebrations of the entrepreneurial spirit while making it seem as if the language of economics was, in fact, the only reasonable way to talk about the subject. As O’Reilly discovered a long time ago, memes are for losers; the real money is in epistemes.

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ART

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ONE SQUARE METER OF ROOTS: SWARTE

CollabCubed

one-square-meter-of-roots_swarte_collabcubed
one-square-meter-of-roots_swarte_4_collabcubed

It’s hard not to think of Gotye’s Someone that I Used to Know video when looking at these works by Romanian duo Swarte. But love, anger, and heartbreak don’t seem to be on Corina Olaru and Manuela Vulpescu’s agenda. Instead, their collaborative series of 18 pieces titled One Square Meter of Roots combines painting, drawing, body art and, finally, photography, in an exploration of what made more than 70 tribes from all over the world able to survive and conserve themselves over time. The balance between emotions and symbols varies from one work to another, offering personal reflection and identification to and from the viewer with each artwork’s message and story explained here by the artists.

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BIOGRAPHY | FEMINISM

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THE DEATH OF A REVOLUTIONARY

Susan Faludi | The New Yorker | [print]

Few were as radical, or as audacious, as Shulamith Firestone. Just over five feet tall, with a mane of black hair down to her waist, and piercing dark eyes behind Yoko Ono glasses, Firestone was referred to within the movement as “the firebrand” and “the fireball.” “She was aflame, incandescent,” Ann Snitow, the director of the gender-studies program at the New School and a member of the early radical cadre, told me. “It was thrilling to be in her company.”

Firestone was best known for her writing. Notes from the First Year, a periodical she founded in 1968 (followed, in 1970 and 1971, by the Second Year and the Third Year), generated the fundamental discourse of radical feminism, introducing such concepts as “the personal is political” and “the myth of the vaginal orgasm.” Most of all, Firestone is remembered for “The Dialectic of Sex,” a book that she wrote in a fervor, in a matter of months.

In some two hundred pages, “Dialectic” reinterpreted Marx, Engels, and Freud to make a case that a “sexual class system” ran deeper than any other social or economic divide. The traditional family structure, Firestone argued, was at the core of women’s oppression. “Unless revolution uproots the basic social organization, the biological family—the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled—the tapeworm of exploitation will never be annihilated,” Firestone wrote. She elaborated, with characteristic bluntness: “Pregnancy is barbaric”; childbirth is “like shitting a pumpkin”; and childhood is “a supervised nightmare.”

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PHOTOGRAPHY

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FLICKR FINDS No. 30

Christopher Jobson | Colossal
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So here we are at our 30th edition of Flickr Finds, my personal challenge to ferret out the greatest photos found on Flickr every few weeks. It should be bi-weekly, it never is, but I think we all benefit from the quality versus the regularity. This is a really phenomenal week for photography, and if you like what you see here please click through each photo above to learn more about the individual photographers—this is truly only the tip of the iceberg for each of these artists.

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MUSIC

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LAPALUX: NOSTALCHIC

Jonathan Bromwich | Pitchfork


lapalux-nostalchic
. . . He’s more confident on Nostalchic, walking the line between chaos and stability to create a sound that resembles a jittery, discombobulated version of chillwave. Brainfeeder’s Hip-Hop Beats N’ Bass blueprint is still present, but it isn’t the focus on the album. Instead, on tracks like the back-to-back standouts “Flower” and “Swallowing Smoke”, Howard’s working with a hundred little slivers of the same core melody, rearranging them again and again by attaching them to different portions of the beat until, by the end of the song, they fit together smoothly. It’s sampling as fine art– as precise and painstaking as a mosaic.

With all these separate elements floating around, it’s possible for things to get a little too messy. “Kelly Brook” is muddled and unpleasant, shot through with sounds that don’t make sense with each other. It’s as if the pieces of several different songs were never properly separated and it’s one of the few moments on the album where Howard doesn’t appear to be in total control.

Vocalists appear throughout Nostalchic, serving as amplified versions of their sampled counterparts from the guest-free tracks. Though Jenna Andrews has a strong showing on the languorous “One Thing” and Kerry Leatham’s distorted voice adds depth to the standout “Without You”, Lapalux is actually his own most reliable performer. On “Walking Words” he’s familiar enough with the beat to insert what sounds like his own murmurs and distortion directly into the spaces available and his vocal ends up mimicking the track’s motion perfectly.