Error processing SSI file
Error processing SSI file


17 December 2010

Vegetable seller sets himself ablaze

Tunisia, 17th of December, 2010

Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable peddler sets himself ablaze in the town of Sidi Bouzid after his cart is confiscated by a policewoman who slapped him and spat in his face. The incident causes long-simmering frustrations over injustice, poverty and the greed of the political elite to spill over into protests, which are brutally subdued. Bouazizi dies, but in his act of self-immolation, the Arab Spring is born.

Painting: Young Man on Fire–Mohamed Bouazizi–Tunisia, Alex Lilly


Bohemian Rhapsody reinterpreted for 40th anniversary


"It is a nightmare glacier, tormented by the giant of our Solar System ever looming on its horizon.

Jupiter showers its moon Europa with enough radiation to kill a human in just a few days. Europa must also contend with the massive planet’s powerful tidal forces. The moon literally creaks as Jupiter’s bulk rends its frozen surface in deep crevasses, pushing and pulling the ice upward and downward by tens of meters every few days. And with only a very tenuous atmosphere, it is so very cold: -210 degrees Celsius.

Yet as forbidding as Europa’s surface may be, just a few kilometers below lies the largest ocean in the known Universe. It dwarfs any on Earth, encircling the entire moon and plunging as far as 100 kilometers deep. The tidal forces that wrench Europa’s icy surface also tug on the core of this ocean, dissipating heat and providing ample energy to warm the ocean.

Outside of Earth, many astrobiologists say Europa’s vast, dark ocean probably offers the best hope for finding life elsewhere in the Solar System. For these scientists, Europa beckons like the sirens of a Homeric epic."

— Eric Berger, Attempt no landing there? Yeah right—we’re going to Europa


"Trump came to understand their power earlier than most. When no one was watching, he was assuming command of this Fringe Establishment, building an army of activists and avatars that he would eventually deploy in his scorched-earth assault on the GOP’s old guard, on his rivals in the primary field — and, as an early test case in the winter of 2014, on me."

- McKay Coppins, How Donald Trump courted the right-wing fringe to conquer the GOP


“A would be scientist without a laboratory”

Neal deGrasse Tyson’s comments about how “up to the early 20th century philosophers had material contributions to make…” and that the “philosopher is a would be scientist without a laboratory” are flat out nonsensical, at least if Plato is to be taken seriously as charting a way into philosophical practice. Of course philosophy is dead, i.e., “the practice of the art of dying and death” as we learn in the Phaedo. But its character in the Platonic sense has nothing to do with talking about material contributions to physical science, which we also can gather from the Phaedo (99e) in a Socratic warning about the eclipse in the context of his “2nd best ship”. To suggest philosophy was once viable in totally contravening the Socratic and has lost all mojo in having to give up this bassackward modality - well, frankly, it buggers the mind.


The science of protecting people’s feelings: why we pretend all opinions are equal

Chris Mooney  |  Washington Post >>

" important successor to the Dunning-Kruger paper has just been come out — and it, too, is pretty depressing (at least for those of us who believe that domain expertise is a thing to be respected and, indeed, treasured).This time around, psychologists have not uncovered an endless spiral of incompetence and the inability to perceive it. Rather, they’ve shown that people have an “equality bias” when it comes to competence or expertise, such that even when it’s very clear that one person in a group is more skilled, expert, or competent (and the other less), they are nonetheless inclined to seek out a middle ground in determining how correct different viewpoints are.
Yes, that’s right — we’re all right, nobody’s wrong, and nobody gets hurt feelings."  >continue<

In pursuit of credible narrative
Charles C. Bentley - 1/26/2015

“The United States urgently needs a counternarrative to address extremist propaganda, and it should be delivered by a credible source. Unfortunately, both the narrative and the credible source have proven difficult to come by.

Given recent and not-so-recent revelations, government sources may not be the most credible nor trustworthy messengers of an anti-terror narrative. The message might have better reception if it comes from civilian ranks.

Whoever takes on this battle and wherever they come from, will have to come up with a strategy that directly attacks the narrative (not the ideological) basis of extremism with equal and opposite force.

This is where soft power should come in — not to wage an ideological battle, but to wage a battle of narratives. Why a battle of narrative rather than ideology? Because ideological battles take time. Narratives work immediately.

A story will outpace the facts every time. And the effects of stories will last long after the facts are forgotten. Stories don’t have to defend their premises. All they have to do is cause associations and provoke identification.”

- Ajit Maan, The use of torture feeds Islamic State's narrative

Dan Carlin mentioned this piece in a recent Common Sense podcast, Dissin' & Duelling (286) but one is unsure just what kind of identification it provokes. And before we get outpaced, a few questions seem to warrant pause:

  • How credible would such a source be that apparently assumes narrative and ideology are so starkly juxtaposed?
  • Would a credible source, as a point of departure, proceed from an urgent need of the United States?
  • Is such a counternarrative counter to only one or several, only an "Islamic" one or also others - some of which are Western?
  • What if the "Islamic" narrative being countered is only an ad hoc posture veiling an essentially ideological/political basis?
  • Can we see American rightist and Fox News influence as driven precisely by a kind of sophistry whereby facts are washed over by a narrative of immediacy, and reason short circuited by a rhetoric tuned to instant feelings?

The popular movie American Sniper, the subtitle of which might as well be "outpacing the facts", appears to damn near nail Maan's last point. However, extending the principle of charity to her piece, perhaps there is a power here begging to be responsibly employed. If so, is there a style which would punctuate the affair with a saving grace?  

In the Phaedo, Socrates speaks of a peculiar vision command (60e): poiei kai ergazou, make music and compose. He thought he'd already been doing this all along, practicing philosophy, but on his last day the proceedings take a turn towards the practice of a "demotic music", despite the emphasis on stories as opposed to facts (61b). The suggestion is one of a turn from the abstruse, difficult and negative labor of philosophy toward a colloquial and popular storytelling. Later in an apparent digression (90e), Socrates seems at pains to remind his interlocutors of this "selfish" course and ends with a warning about leaving his sting behind. It's similar to a warning in the Republic (507a)

So here, from long ago - and from someone who put the idea into ideology so to speak - we see a similar need addressed and in some fashion enacted. But it comes with a warning, the sense that great care is paramount.

Assuming we can deal with the questions raised by Maan’s piece, and yet still recognize the urgency she claims, how do we avoid dangerous or ineffective superficiality? How, given the stress on an instrumental means to an end, does such a narrative project steer clear of mere marketing and sophistry? This is a hard question for us now, addled as we are by a torrent of commercials and when people everywhere are casually identified as consumers. Plato’s stories keep the question of what it means to speak well at the forefront of an effort to counter pathological forms of manipulation. Against the goal of selling to desire, of telling any story to that end, we see a style even Aristotle shares - a way of speaking that frees things to be themselves and listeners to move freely.

If such ancient examples give serious clues, the story has to not only engross but translate the listener beyond his or herself, even if only to return one to everyday concerns with a fresh vision of the real. Sophistry keeps the listener enslaved where they already are - a spell with no exit, a story that won’t let go. A line from the Grateful Dead strikes a different tone: “Storyteller makes no choice, soon you will not hear his voice; the teller’s job is to shed light and not to master.”

The narrative we want moves its audience beyond themselves and recedes gracefully much as a cocoon in the wake of an unfurling butterfly.


Max Fisher | Vox >>

Saudi Arabia is a fundamentalist Islamist dictatorship, an ultra-wealthy oil economy, and perhaps the most powerful country in the Middle East. It is a very young country in a very old part of the world. It formed in 1932, when a tribal leader named Abdulaziz al-Saud conquered an area three times the size of Texas and then named it after himself. He and his first generation of sons have ruled Saudi Arabia ever since.

The way that Abdulaziz al-Saud came to conquer and unify this country is crucial for understanding it: by allying with a fiercely conservative group of Islamist fundamentalists known as the Wahhabis.  Saudi Arabia became "the only modern nation-state created by jihad," as the journalist Steve Coll once put it.

The Saudi royal family and the cult-like Wahhabis have needed one another ever since — but they have also regularly been in conflict, often violently. This struggle, which became even more intense with the arrival of vast oil wealth, has in many ways defined the nation ever since. And it has defined Saudi Arabia's foreign policy, which helped shape not just the modern Middle East but in some ways the world. >continue<

Related: 'Saudi Arabia created Frankenstein's monster'

older posts >>

Error processing SSI file