tuesday | 2 april 2013

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POLITICS

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LOSING THE SENATE

Norm Ornstein | Foreign Policy

Put together the impending retirement of Levin, the losses of Berman and Lugar, the departures of Biden and Kerry, and it is clear that Congress has lost a huge amount of brainpower, intellectual integrity, and expertise on foreign and defense policy.

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ECONOMICS | POLICY

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THE BATTLE OVER THE 2014 BUDGET

Wilson Andrews, Kat Downs, Dylan Matthews and Karen Yourish | The Washington Post

Editor: Fantastic graphs by The Washington Posts comparing the 4 budget proposals for 2014. Senate Dems, House Progressives, House GOP and Ryan Plan. The interactive graph is phenomenal.

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SYRIA

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THE KURDISH FACTOR

Mattieu Aikins | Latitude | The New York Times

At the top of the hill near the area’s main mosque, groups of rebels mingled, in newfound amity, with Kurdish fighters from the local People’s Defense Units, the armed wing of Syria’s main Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (P.Y.D.). Until Friday, this area had been controlled by Kurdish fighters but was frequently visited by militias and intelligence agents from the regime of Bashar al-Assad. On Friday, though, in an event that may have momentous consequences for the course of the civil war, the Kurds switched sides, and with their help the rebels overran Sheikh Maksoud, which commands strategic high ground north of the city’s center.

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AFGHANISTAN

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AFGHANISTAN AFTER THE WAR: IS PEACE POSSIBLE?

Ahmed Rashid | The New Republic

Will Afghanistan, which has been at war since 1978—thirty-four years, or a period longer than the two world wars and the intervening years combined—finally see a minimal kind of peace before American forces leave next year? Can the United States focus enough diplomatic energy to help generate a cease-fire and a political deal between Kabul, Islamabad, and the Taliban? Can America and its allies satisfy the wider region that includes Iran, Central Asia, India, China, and Russia, so that they do not start undermining Afghanistan’s still uncertain future?

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HISTORY

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BRITISH PEER REVEALS MI6 ROLE IN LUMUMBA KILLING

Hasan Suroor | The Hindu
Empire-of-Secrets-British-InIn a little noticed letter to the editor in the latest issue of the London Review of Books (LRB), Lord David Edward Lea responded to the claim in a new book on British intelligence, Empire of Secrets: British intelligence, the Cold War and the Twilight of Empire by Calder Walton, that the jury is still out on Britain’s role in Lumumba’s death. “The question remains whether British plots to assassinate Lumumba … ever amounted to anything. At present, we do not know,” writes Walton.

Lord Lea retorted: “Actually, in this particular case, I can report that we do. It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park… She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba’s abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. ‘We did,’ she replied, ‘I organised it.’”
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POLICY

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COMMUNISM, WELFARE STATE, WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG IDEA?

George Monbiot | The Guardian

I discussed land value taxation in a recent column. A basic income (also known as a citizen’s income) gives everyone, rich and poor, without means-testing or conditions, a guaranteed sum every week. It replaces some but not all benefits (there would, for instance, be extra payments for pensioners and people with disabilities). It banishes the fear and insecurity now stalking the poorer half of the population. Economic survival becomes a right, not a privilege.

A basic income removes the stigma of benefits while also breaking open what politicians call the welfare trap. Because taking work would not reduce your entitlement to social security, there would be no disincentive to find a job – all the money you earn is extra income. The poor are not forced by desperation into the arms of unscrupulous employers: people will work if conditions are good and pay fair, but will refuse to be treated like mules. It redresses the wild imbalance in bargaining power that the current system exacerbates. It could do more than any other measure to dislodge the emotional legacy of serfdom. It would be financed by progressive taxation – in fact it meshes well with land value tax.

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URBANISM | PHOTOGRAPHY

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DEPICTIONS OF ARCHITECTURAL DENSITY IN HONG KONG

Twisted Shifter

AODBorn in Munich and now living in Hong Kong, award-winning photographer Michael Wolf has focused his career on capturing life in mega cities. Many of his projects document the architecture and vernacular culture of metropolises. Wolf grew up in Canada, Europe and the United States, studying at UC Berkeley and at the Folkwang School with Otto Steinert. He moved to Hong Kong in 1994 where he worked for 8 years as contract photographer for Stern Magazine.

. . . In his series entitled, Architecture of Density, Wolf fashioned a distinctive style of photography. He removed any sky or horizon line from the frame and flattened the space until it becomes a relentless abstraction of urban expansion, with no escape for the viewer’s eye. Wolf photographed crumbling buildings in need of repair, brand new buildings under construction covered in bamboo scaffolding and fully occupied residential complexes. Wolf’s disorienting vantage point gives the viewer the feeling that the buildings extend indefinitely, which perhaps is the spatial experience of Hong Kong’s inhabitants.
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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

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THE CASE FOR PRISON LABOR

Reihan Salam | The Agenda | National Review

In the new National Review, Stephanos Bibas, a professor at Penn Law School, argues that prison labor ought to be part of our efforts to reform the criminal justice system. He observes that while prisoners were once required to work, organized labor fought the practice in the decades following the Civil War on protectionist grounds, i.e., labor unions didn’t want their members to compete with prison labor, and by 1940 Congress banned inter-state commerce in prison-made goods. Limited exceptions were made in 1979, but prison labor was subject to prevailing local wage laws that tended to make it uncompetitive. And so incarceration in the U.S. is now a form of enforced idleness, during which skills deteriorate and prisoners are not expected to prepare for future employment or pay restitution to their victims.

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POLICY | ECONOMICS

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CRONY CAPITALISM THRIVES IN THE ABSENCE OF A SAFETY NET

Ashwin Parameswaran | Macroresilience

A common feature of most crony capitalist economies is the pervasive presence of subsidies targeted at the middle class. Progressives often view middle-class subsidies as the unavoidable price required to secure widespread support for the welfare state. But in reality middle-class subsidies act as the carrot that aligns the interests of the middle class with parasitic crony capitalism. However, along with the carrot comes a very hefty stick – the absence of a safety net. The absence of a safety net that protects individuals against catastrophic outcomes breeds middle-class insecurity. The fear of falling through the cracks causes the middle class to support the very rent-infested programs and corporate bailouts that sustain the plutocracy. In the absence of a safety net, the middle class seeks safety in the safety of the incumbent firm that employs them. I have often described the neo-liberal era as the era of “stability for the classes and instability for the masses”. But the two are not independent. It is precisely the fragility of the masses that provides stability to the classes.

Government provision of a safety net is not just a matter of social justice. It is in fact a critical component of a free enterprise economy.

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MEDIA

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THE BAD-BOY BRAND

Lizzie Widdicombe | The New Yorker | [print]

In recent years, Vice has been engaged in an energetic process of growing up—both commercially and in terms of journalistic ambition. It now has thirty-five offices in eighteen countries, from Poland to Brazil. It operates a record label, which, in 2002, began putting out albums by such of-the-moment bands as Bloc Party and the Raveonettes; book and film divisions (Vice recently helped market the R-rated “Spring Breakers,” directed by Harmony Korine); a suite of Web sites; and an in-house ad agency. These ventures are united by Vice’s ambition to become a kind of global MTV on steroids. According to Shane Smith, Vice’s C.E.O., “The over-all aim, the over-all goal is to be the largest network for young people in the world.”

Vice’s most significant move has been from print to video. On its YouTube channel, which has more than a million subscribers, the company has branched into more serious journalistic fare—a recent series was titled “In Saddam’s Shadow: Baghdad 10 Years After the Invasion”—though it still has features like “The Biggest Ass in Brazil” and “Donkey Sex: The Most Bizarre Tradition.”

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ART

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EXTRAORDINARILY TINY PAINTINGS OF ISTANBUL

Christopher Jobson | Colossal

It would appear no object is too small for artist Hasan Kale to utilize as a canvas for his miniature paintings. The Turkish artist makes use of everything from fruit seeds to the wings of taxidermied insects as a backdrop for depictions of his native Istanbul. See much more here, and watch the videos above to see him work… love how he uses his finger as a palette. (via bhakta)

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TELEVISION

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ANIME FOR BEGINNERS: FIVE TV SERIES TO GET YOU STARTED

TV & Radio Blog | The Guardian

In Japan, manga and anime represent a huge chunk of overall sales in popular culture. Anime alone accounts for billions of pounds a year and on its release in 2001, Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away broke all records to become Japan’s highest-grossing film ever. The origins of Japanese cartoons can be traced back to woodprints of the Edo era and “Great Wave” Hokusai’s notebooks full of drawings. When cinema became the artform of the 20th century, cartoons made an effortless leap to movie theatres, and later started to appear on TV.

. . . Although popular in the west since the 1980s, anime cartoons still represent a fairly minority interest on these shores, and the sheer variety and quantity of styles can appear overwhelming to newcomers. The cartoons cover pretty much all genres: battle, romance, historical, humour or sci-fi.

So if you want to try this vibrant, dynamic artform, here are five offbeat, beautiful amine TV series to get you started.


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DESIGN

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10 CHAIR DESIGNS FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE BOOKS

Jenna McKnight | Atlantic Cities

largest
Bibliochase by Nobody & Company. Read more on the designer’s website.

The Salone del Mobile kicks off next week. The annual furniture fair in Milan covers 2.5 million square feet and draws more than 200,000 attendees, all of whom come to scope out the latest and greatest in interior design and decor.

We will be there in full force, and we look forward to seeing all the amazing products being produced around the globe. In preparation, we’re spotlighting some of our all-time favorite furnishings. First up, a roundup of clever seating options for the hardcore book lover.

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Archive I by David Garcia Studio. Learn more on designboom.

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URBAN PLANNING

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SIM PAULO

Mike Rose | Foreign Policy

For a look at the unintended consequences of Brazil’s emergence as an economic superpower, take a drive on Sao Paulo’s ring road at rush hour, or really any time of day. You’ll have a while to ponder.

With about 18 million people in the greater metro area, the world’s eighth-largest city by population is often described as having the world’s worst traffic jams, but that really doesn’t do it justice. On a bad day, the traffic on the roads in and out of the city can stretch for nearly 200 miles. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who can afford to commute by helicopter, getting in and out of the city center can be a two- or three-hour proposition.

I decided to take a crack at fixing the problem. But as I’m a video-game blogger living 6,000 miles away in Manchester, England, it seemed unlikely that Sao Paulo’s authorities would hand me the key to the city planner’s office anytime soon. So I decided to try out some ideas first on SimCity.

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TREEHOUSES | ARCHITECTURE

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TREEHOUSES BY TAKASHI KOBOYASHI, JAPAN

designboom

Takashi Kobayashi is a self-taught designer that has brought treehouse vernacular to the Japanese landscape. The carpenter and architect of
120 houses throughout japan, his prolificness is borne of a deep-seated investment in the creation of a new architectural tradition in his
country added to the hefty, overall aim of each project- to erode the boundary between man and nature. Using reclaimed wood, the designer and
his collective treehouse people have developed methods since the first building in 1993 for the arboreal structures balanced on living boughs and limbs that avoid stunting the growth of the tree.

treehouse00mark

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INTELLECTUAL HISTORY

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THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL PART ONE: WHY DID ANDERS BREIVIK FEAR THEM?

Peter Thompson | The Guardian

When Anders Breivik launched his murderous attack in Norway in July 2011, he left behind a rambling manifesto which attacked not only what he saw as Europe’s Islamicisation but also its undermining by the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt school. So what is the Frankfurt school? Has its influence has been as deep as Breivik feared and many of the rest of us have hoped?

. . . But the idea that what was required was a reform of consciousness which had become unintelligible to itself is the central working principle of the Frankfurt school. Religious thought, which Marx saw as a part of false consciousness, was to be combated not by a full frontal attack in some sort of Dawkins-like crusade, but by removing the social conditions that created it. Marx was, therefore, not an atheist. Indeed he said of the term atheism that it “reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogey man”. But the Frankfurt school did not believe that this reform of consciousness could come about simply by changing the socio-economic base of capitalist society. Religion was, for them, not only the opium of the people, but also a repository of hope that had become unintelligible to itself.

Freud comes into the equation here because these critical theorists thought that his categories of id, superego and ego, which were constantly interacting as the basis of the human psyche, fitted well with the Marxist dialectic of historical struggle and resolution.

THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL PART TWOT NEGATIVE DIALECTICS

Already in the comments about the first instalment of this series, a problem of traditions has emerged. For a predominantly Anglo-Saxon audience, raised in the empirical and positivist tradition, understanding a group of thinkers schooled in speculative Hegelianism and Marxist dialectics is always going to require a leap of faith.

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MUSIC

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DAN FRIEL: TOTAL FOLKLORE

Clifford Allen | Tiny Mix Tapes

Friel, formerly of the highly regarded noise rock ensemble Parts & Labor, is certainly a musician who is beholden to songcraft despite his leanings toward the difficult, weird, or somewhat unhinged. The fact of a gooey pop-nugget forcing its way out of plugged-in shambles is actually something of an inescapable impulse across the 12 tracks of Total Folklore, Friel’s second full-length LP and latest for Thrill Jockey. Friel is something of an economist as well as a profound “entertainer”: rather than sitting behind a table covered with no-input mixing boards and pedals, Friel has his palette placed loosely on a board in his lap, twiddling nobs, flipping things, and tapping his feet all at the same time. Watching Friel work is something of an experience — personal, intimate, and exuberant — and surprisingly, that is something that comes across well on recordings.

Make no mistake: Friel’s music is noisy as hell. It’s completely overdriven and in the red, masses of sound colors spread on thickly and decisively, something like an ultra-sugarcoated Merzbow. The color palette that Friel uses is quite garish and confectionary, as much as it might take the shape of fuzzed-out noise channeled through blown speakers.