Saturday, October 09, 2010

the bigot-whisperers of the right

Video - George Wallace 1968 presidential campaign ad.

CommonDreams | I was born, at slightly past the midpoint of the Twentieth Century, in the Deep South city of Birmingham, Alabama -- “The Heart of Dixie.” My earliest memories are of a time of societal upheaval and cultural trauma. At the time, as the world witnessed and history chronicles, Birmingham could be an ugly, mean place.

My father, employed at the time as a freelance photojournalist, would arrive home from work, his clothes redolent of tear gas, his adrenal system locked in overdrive, his mind reeling, trying to make sense of the brutality he witnessed, perpetrated by both city officials and ordinary citizens, transpiring on the streets of the city.

The print and media images transmitted from Birmingham shocked and baffled the nation as well. But there was a hidden calculus underpinning the architecture of institutionalized hatred of the Jim Crow South. The viciousness of Birmingham’s white underclass served the purpose of the ruling order. The city was controlled, in de facto colonial manner, by coal and steel barons whose seat of power was located up the Appalachian mountain chain in Pittsburgh, PA. The locals dubbed them the Big Mules. They resided in the lofty air up on Red Mountain; most everyone else dwelled down in the industrial smog.

These social and economic inequities, perpetuated by exploitative labor practices, roiled Birmingham’s white men with resentment. If they asked for higher wages, they were told: “I can hire any n*gg*r off the street for half of what I pay you.” In the colonial model, all the big dollars flowed back to Pennsylvania, and economic rivalry and state-codified delusions of racial entitlement, vis-à-vis Jim Crow Laws, was used to ensure the working class white majority rage at the ruling elite remained displaced -- their animus fixed on those with even less power and economic security than themselves. This was the poisoned cultural milieu, wherein George Wallace’s “segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever” demagogic dirt kicking caused the embedded rage of the white working class to pour forth like fire ants from a trampled bed.

In a similar manner, manufactured controversies such as the gay marriage and gays in the military dust-ups of the present time have little to do with gays or marriage or the military. These issues are served as red meat to arouse the passions -- and loosen the purse strings -- of the fear-driven, status quo-enabling, confused souls residing at the center of the black spleen of the Republican ideological base.

Although, as a rule, the right’s lies and displacements are most effective when liberals offer working people only bromides, platitudes, and lectures on propriety and good taste. Obama and the Democrats, time and time again, present demagogues with an opening the size of the cracks in Glenn Beck’s gray matter. Hence, the bigot-whisperers of the right are provided with a void that they can seed with false narratives; wherein, they are given free rein to cloud the air and clog the airwaves with palaver about fifth columnist threats from terrorist-toady mosque builders and gays in uniform undermining moral in the ranks by belting out show tunes in foxholes and impromptu shower stall instruction on the art of hand to hand sodomy.

Cultures are organic in nature. Combine the elements of the scorched earth policies of neoliberal capitalism, its austerity cuts and downsizing, plus the hybrid seeds of the consumer age -- and what alien foliage will rise from the degraded soil -- fields of right-wing AstroTurf. Add: industrial strength fertilizer. And see how our garden grows, with: Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin -- the mutant seed sprouted Chia Pets of corporate oligarchy.

globe-spanning underground bacterial networks

NatGeo | Though the calling card of the horseshoe-shaped Cave of Crystals may be its massive mineral formations, some of its biggest surprises are literally microscopic.

In 2008 a team of scientists, including New Mexico Tech's Boston, investigated the cave and found microbial life living in tiny air pockets in the crystals.

In December 2009 Boston returned to the cave with another team. From pools of water that hadn't been present during her first trip, the scientists collected bacteria as well as viruses that prey on the bacteria—something that was suspected but had not been confirmed on the first expedition.

Viruses, after all, are among the "primary predators of bacteria," explained Danielle Winget, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, in the new documentary.

Sure enough, the team found as many as 200 million viruses in a single drop of Cave of Crystals water.

But the virus finding was perhaps not the expedition's most surprising microbial discovery. Analysis of bacterial DNA from the Cave of Crystals showed that the tiny life-forms are related to microbes living in other extreme environments around the world, including caves in South Africa and Australia as well as hydrothermal vents (video).

"We're picking up these patterns of similarities in places that are geographically widely separated," Boston said.

That similarity and separation adds up to a mystery, according to Curtis Suttle, a biologist at University of British Columbia and a member of the 2009 Cave of Crystals expedition.

"We don't really understand how it is that the organisms in a hydrothermal vent in Greece or a deep gold mine in South Africa are related to organisms that we find in a subsurface cave" at Naica, Suttle said.

"It's hard to imagine some kind of underground [network] connecting South Africa with Mexico."

Alien Underworlds

As mind-boggling as the idea of a possibly globe-spanning, underground bacterial network may be, some scientists see potential links between the Cave of Crystals and even farther-flung hot spots—for example, extreme environments on Mars and other worlds.

Though Martian geology might be more static overall than Earth's, "there may be residual pockets of geothermal activity that could provide a zone where water could be liquid and where chemically reduced gases from below can percolate up and act as a nutrient source," as in the Cave of Crystals, Boston said.

(See "Mars Has Cave Networks, New Photos Suggest.")

Poirier, the Ontario astrophysicist, agreed.

"For Mars, our best bet of finding life is to look underground," Poirier said. "So there are a lot of parallels between humans exploring subterranean caves looking for microbes and Martian exploration in the future."

If the caves on Mars are anything like the caverns beneath Naica mountain, she said, future Martian explorers will have to be trained to ignore the strange sights surrounding them.

"When you're in the caves, you're overwhelmed by the [harsh] conditions, but you're also overwhelmed by the beauty, and it's really hard to maintain your focus," she said.

Even if scalding water submerges that beauty tomorrow, Boston said, the caves' scientific potential should live on, thanks to the multitude of samples already collected.

"My usual rule of thumb is for every hour you spend in the field, you spend at least a thousand hours on analysis," Boston said. "So we've got our hands full."

curious images on mars...,

Arthur C. Clarke said: "I'm still waiting for an explanation of that extraordinary glass worm on... [Mars]... How big is it? It's one of the most incredible images that's ever come from space and there have been no [official] comments on it whatsoever!"

Friday, October 08, 2010

america 2.0 - pay to spray

Video - Olbermann covers Cranick's calamity with privatized firefighting in Tennessee.

scientists, soldiers, and bees....,

NYTimes | It has been one of the great murder mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees?

Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.

Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.

A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

Exactly how that combination kills bees remains uncertain, the scientists said — a subject for the next round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.

Liaisons between the military and academia are nothing new, of course. World War II, perhaps the most profound example, ended in an atomic strike on Japan in 1945 largely on the shoulders of scientist-soldiers in the Manhattan Project. And a group of scientists led by Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana in Missoula has researched bee-related applications for the military in the past — developing, for example, a way to use honeybees in detecting land mines.

But researchers on both sides say that colony collapse may be the first time that the defense machinery of the post-Sept. 11 Homeland Security Department and academia have teamed up to address a problem that both sides say they might never have solved on their own.

“Together we could look at things nobody else was looking at,” said Colin Henderson, an associate professor at the University of Montana’s College of Technology and a member of Dr. Bromenshenk’s “Bee Alert” team. Fist tap Big Don.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

should "christians" practice yoga?

Video - Polyglot heathen new-age cultural practices.

AlbertMohler | Reading The Subtle Body is an eye-opening and truly interesting experience. To a remarkable degree, the growing acceptance of yoga points to the retreat of biblical Christianity in the culture. Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God — an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation — not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.

Nevertheless, a significant number of American Christians either experiment with yoga or become adherents of some yoga discipline. Most seem unaware that yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions. The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine.

Douglas R. Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and a respected specialist on the New Age Movement, warns Christians that yoga is not merely about physical exercise or health. “All forms of yoga involve occult assumptions,” he warns, “even hatha yoga, which is often presented as a merely physical discipline.” While most adherents of yoga avoid the more exotic forms of ritualized sex that are associated with tantric yoga, virtually all forms of yoga involve an emphasis on channeling sexual energy throughout the body as a means of spiritual enlightenment.

Stefanie Syman documents how yoga was transformed in American culture from an exotic and heathen practice into a central component of our national cult of health. Of course, her story would end differently if Americans still had cultural access to the notion of “heathen.”

The nation of India is almost manically syncretistic, blending worldviews over and over again. But, in more recent times, America has developed its own obsession with syncretism, mixing elements of worldviews with little or no attention to what each mix means. Americans have turned yoga into an exercise ritual, a means of focusing attention, and an avenue to longer life and greater health. Many Americans attempt to deny or minimize the spiritual aspects of yoga — to the great consternation of many in India.

When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.

There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose. Consider this — if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture.

The embrace of yoga is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion, and, to our shame, this confusion reaches into the church. Stefanie Syman is telling us something important when she writes that yoga “has augured a truly post-Christian, spiritually polyglot country.” Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a “post-Christian, spiritually polyglot” reality. Should any Christian willingly risk that?

alternative realities...,

Video - Commercial from Confederate States of America.

FGF | Through no fault of their own, most Americans study American history in school. This is why they have so many misconceptions about American history.

One of these misconceptions is that the Civil War was a noble struggle against slavery and that Abraham Lincoln finally abolished slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation.

The United States and civilized warfare
If you accept this mythology, you have to wonder why some previous president didn’t just abolish slavery with a stroke of the presidential pen. In fact, Lincoln knew he had no such power; he merely claimed the power, as commander in chief of the armed forces, to strip rebels of their property. So he announced that slaves in the rebellious states were to be released.

Some observers gibed that Lincoln had freed all the slaves over whom he had no authority, while doing nothing for those over whom he did have authority. But this is to misunderstand what Lincoln thought he had authority to do, since he claimed authority over the “rebel” states. In his view, there had been no legal secession from the Union, and the so-called Confederate States were still subject to the United States.

Europe was shocked by Lincoln’s brutal treatment of the South, which violated traditional rules of civilized warfare, according to which civilians and their property were to be spared any molestation. But in Lincoln’s view, citizens of the Confederate States who were loyal to the Confederacy weren’t entitled to any such exemption. They were all “rebels” and “traitors” to the United States and could be justly treated as criminals.

Idealizers of Lincoln have blamed the brutality of the war on generals like William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, who devastated civilian areas, destroying crops and property. But they were merely executing Lincoln’s policy, with his full approval. Responsibility for Sherman’s March to the Sea and Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley campaign rested with Lincoln.

By Lincoln’s Manichaean logic, it could have been much worse. Since most of the people of the South were guilty of the crimes of rebellion and treason, millions of them could have been executed after the war. But that would have been too much even for Lincoln.

The South, much more attuned to European culture than the North, had assumed that Lincoln would be inhibited by the rules of civilized warfare. They underestimated the factor and the fanatical logic of Northern ideology, according to which the holy end of “preserving the Union” justified nearly any means of subduing “rebels.”

When Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, many war-crazed Northerners were furious that Lee wasn’t arrested, tried, and executed as a traitor. But Grant, to his credit, still adhered in part to the old code of honor. He had given his word to Lee, whom he deeply respected, and he kept it. The Southern officers and soldiers were allowed to go home in peace.

a glimpse into Big Don's id....,

Video - BD's avatar Captain Koons from Pulp Fiction.

FGF | During the early nineteenth century, a slave trader named Theophilus Conneau kept a journal of his experiences in Africa. On one occasion he witnessed a cannibal orgy, in which one tribe performed acts of torture and mutilation, including castration and decapitation, on another tribe which they had subdued.

Conneau was particularly struck by the ferocity of the women of the conquering tribe, who, their naked bodies decorated with chalk and red paint, gleefully led the gruesome festivities. The chief matron “bore an infant babe torn from its mother’s womb ... which she tossed high in the air, receiving it on the point of her knife” before eating it. During the ritual this same woman was “adorned with a string of men’s genital parts” while “collecting into a gourd the brains of the decapitated bodies.”

Such practices may not justify European colonialism, but they do help explain why the Europeans thought they were bringing civilization to savage places. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, regretting the white man’s arrogance need not mean idealizing the conquered natives. Chesterton also observed that cannibalism wasn’t a primitive practice but a highly decadent one.

The cannibals weren’t satisfying physical appetites, like carnivorous animals, but indulging a specifically human — or diabolical — malice. The historian Francis Parkman describes Iroquois Indians, having captured a party of Algonquins, roasting and devouring their infants “before the eyes of the agonized mothers, whose shrieks, supplications, and frantic efforts to break the cords that bound them were met with mockery and laughter.”

Mocking the suffering of the victims was part of the fun; the very essence of it, in fact. The lion doesn’t gloat over his prey, with a circle of his fellow felines whooping at the agony of a slowly dismembered antelope.

Inflicting and observing torture for amusement is a distinctively human delight. In the case of the African cannibals, it would be a feeble excuse to say that the unborn child was a mere “fetus,” and therefore somehow not “fully human,” as we say now; the woman who killed it obviously regarded it as human, which was more or less the point of the orgy.

Eating a fetus might strike even the National Abortion Rights Action League as a little unseemly; our enlightened society still retains a few irrational inhibitions, which may, however, eventually go the way of so many other taboos. Western man (including Western woman) has learned to justify abortion, if not yet to enjoy it. We still observe a certain nervous and clinical decorum about the subject. Fist tap Big Don. (The Francis Griffen Foundation and dead Joe Sobran are absolutely priceless - Thanks!)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

WATER: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization

Video - Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization

china to dam its way to power over asia?

Tibetan Review | To wean itself off dirty coal energy, China has launched an ambitious new program of hydropower expansion. The goal is to raise its exploitation of national hydropower potential from one-third to 60% by 2020. And the best hydropower locations are almost all in the Tibetan plateau, noted Steven Solomon, author of WATER: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization, in an article on Sep 9.

And as Asia gets more thirsty under the effects of relentless global warming, it is China which through its political control of Tibet lords over the commanding heights of the continent’s water towers. And the country is moving aggressively—and unilaterally—to exploit them for its own ends, according to Solomon.

The headwaters of the mighty rivers Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra, Indus, Sutlej, among others, all originate in the snow packs and glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau, the "water towers of Asia”. More than 1.5 billion people downstream depend upon its waters.

How China builds and manages its dams, and exerts it power, will have a major impact on the seasonal river flows, water quality and ecosystems in the lower reaches—and on the food security, energy production, and political stability of the nations there, Solomon feels.

In particular, he notes, India is warily watching China build giant hydropower dams on the Brahmaputra and worrying—despite vigorous dismissals by Beijing—that China might divert the river to supplement its gigantic South to North Water Diversion Project.

He expects that within 10 years China would open the world's largest hydropower dam at the Brahmaputra's great bend, feeding headlines about Sino-India border disputes. He expects the Geostrategic balances by then to tilt in China's favour.

Solomon notes that cooperation can offer positive sum benefits like providing cheap, renewable regional hydroelectric power and evening out the wide, monsoonal variations in river flows. China wants to be viewed as cooperative and is moving in the right direction by sharing data and other gestures. But the big question, he says, is whether it is moving far and fast enough.

But the bigger danger remains of the water towers themselves starting to go empty due to the effects of global warming, for then everyone will be in trouble.

moscow actively considering diverting siberian river water for profit

EESTIElu | Stimulated by a World Bank projection that the sale of water will bring more than a trillion US dollars in annual profit worldwide a decade from now to those involved in that industry, Moscow is considering developing plans to revive the diversion of Siberian river water to southern Russia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia and possibly China.

Under Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet plans to divert Siberian river waters to Central Asia were killed by Russian nationalists who saw this gigantist project as a threat to the Russian land. Under Vladimir Putin, renewed plans to do so were killed by Russian ecologists who warned of its negative consequences to the environment more generally.

But now as water shortages spread outward from Central Asia, the idea is attracting attention again and appears to be gaining traction because of the enormous profits that such a scheme might bring to its organizers, according to an analysis of the most recent moves by Aleksandr Bakhtutov (

Earlier this year, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed resuscitating the river diversion plans that had been vetoed in 1986 and 2002, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev indicated that he was prepared to reconsider “certain former ideas” which were rejected at the time.

Medvedev’s comments have had an impact on discussions about Russia’s water strategy, Bakhtutov says, most significantly leading those preparing it to argue that Moscow must make plans not just out to 2020 as originally required but to 2030 or even 2050. And in that time frame, diverting some of the flow of the Siberian rivers to the south makes sense.

In addition to the humanitarian and security aspects of this issue, Bakhtutov continues, Moscow has been struck by World Bank projections that “the annual profit of private organizations involved in the administration of water resources can achieve by 2020 about a trillion dollars a year.”

“In this sense,” the analyst argues, “the project of diverting part of the flow of Siberian river can represent a serious interest for foreign and Russian businessmen who could receive their share of this market.” In short, what political will could not achieve in the past, the profit motive may in the future.

humans can no longer afford to pursue an econonomic model based on competition and growth

Independent | Obsession with economic growth and the greed of financial speculators are destroying efforts to conserve the world's diminishing resources.

British and French speakers from radically different backgrounds, and with sharply contrasting styles, found themselves singing an unlikely political duet at the Lyon environment forum. Big business, they said, must be stopped from "asset stripping" a failing planet.

Andrews Simms, the policy director of the New Economics Foundation, said the "oil-fired" obsession with growth amounted to "treating the biosphere like a business in liquidation".

Eva Joly, a former French investigating magistrate who once specialised in uncovering corruption in big business, accused hedge funds and off-shore financial havens of encouraging "destructive speculation in hard-pressed resources" including oil, water and land.

The flamboyant Mr Simms amused a mostly French audience at the Lyon Sustainable Planet Forum by illustrating his talk with lurid metaphors.

"A hamster doubles in size each week until about six weeks old, then slows," he said. "If it didn't, on its first birthday you would be facing a nine billion tonne hamster that could eat in a day all the corn produced in the world in a year."

So much, he suggested, for the argument that economic growth, consuming ever larger amounts of finite resources, was the "natural" condition of humanity.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

the market is NOT an efficient means to deliver needs...,

NYTimes | That we all agreed about the moral ugliness of the bailouts should have led us to implementing new and powerful regulatory mechanisms. The financial overhaul bill that passed congress in July certainly fell well short of what would be necessary to head-off the next crisis. Clearly, political deal-making and the influence of Wall Street over our politicians is part of the explanation for this failure; but the failure also expressed continuing disagreement about the nature of the free market. In pondering this issue I want to, again, draw on the resources of Georg W.F. Hegel. He is not, by a long shot, the only philosopher who could provide a glimmer of philosophical illumination in this area. But the primary topic of his practical philosophy was analyzing the exact point where modern individualism and the essential institutions of modern life meet. And right now, this is also where many of the hot-button topics of the day reside.

Hegel, of course, never directly wrote about Wall Street, but he was philosophically invested in the logic of market relations. Near the middle of the “Phenomenology of Spirit” (1807), he presents an argument that says, in effect: if Wall Street brokers and bankers understood themselves and their institutional world aright, they would not only accede to firm regulatory controls to govern their actions, but would enthusiastically welcome regulation. Hegel’s emphatic but paradoxical way of stating this is to say that if the free market individualist acts “in [his] own self-interest, [he] simply does not know what [he] is doing, and if [he] affirms that all men act in their own self-interest, [he] merely asserts that all men are not really aware of what acting really amounts to.” For Hegel, the idea of unconditioned rational self-interest — of, say, acting solely on the motive of making a maximal profit — simply mistakes what human action is or could be, and is thus rationally unintelligible. Self-interested action, in the sense it used by contemporary brokers and bankers, is impossible. If Hegel is right, there may be deeper and more basic reasons for strong market regulation than we have imagined. Fist tap Nana.

british conservatives pinch affluent cheese recipients

Guardian | Child benefit payments for all higher-rate taxpayers will be stopped to pay for wider welfare reform and to show that "we are all in this together", George Osborne said today.

The chancellor said the cut – which will apply to people on the 40% and 50% income tax rates from 2013 – was "difficult but fair" and would raise around £1bn. People earning more than about £44,000 would be affected.

Osborne's announcement came in the run-up to today's keynote speech to the Conservative conference in Birmingham, in which he will vow to stick by his controversial plan to wipe out Britain's £109bn structural deficit in one parliament.

He will say the alternative – to delay the measures – would hit the poor and consign the country to a decade of debt.

The child benefit cut will help play for Tory plans for a universal single welfare benefit that will cover tax credits as well other benefits including housing benefit, jobseeker's allowance and council tax benefit.

"I understand these people [those affected by the child benefit change] are not the super-rich, but we have to make sure that we're all in this together," Osborne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I think people out there will understand that it's fair that you don't tax someone earning £18,000 a year to pay the child benefit of someone earning £50,000 a year.

"It's not a decision we've taken lightly – we think this is fair ... each part of society is going to make a contribution."

bolivia resisted corporatist parasitism....,

Alternet | The revolt of Cochabamba was celebrated by social movements because it was the first blockage in a seemingly unstoppable tidal wave of privatization. There is a photo of the Bolivian water war that is almost as iconic as the unknown hero who defied the tanks in Tiananmen Square. It shows a solitary indigenous woman, with plaited hair and pleated skirt, launching a slingshot against an implacable line of armed police.It symbolises the valiant resistance of the people of Cochabamba who succeeded in April 2000 in throwing out the Californian multinational company Bechtel that had privatised their water and pushed rates sky-high.

Yet it also captures the sense of the overwhelming power structures that resistance to water privatisation faced. For the year 2000 marked the height of a wave of water privatisation across the developing world, when almost all institutions from the World Bank to the IMF to the European Union argued that only the private sector could hope to bring clean water to everyone. The revolt of Cochabamba was celebrated by social movements because it was the first blockage in a seemingly unstoppable tidal wave of privatisation.

Ten years after the Water War, with the benefit of hindsight, it increasingly looks like Bolivia's water war was not a solitary heroic act, but marked the very beginnings of a turning point on water privatisation.

Monday, October 04, 2010

tongue in chic

Video - Shindig Dobie Gray The In Crowd

MorrisBerman | The truth is that trying to be cool is a behavior that dates from the Paleolithic. When Paleolithic skeletons are dug up from roughly 35,000 years ago, and are found wearing jewelry–beads, pendants, necklaces–what else can this indicate but an attempt to say one is special–in fact, better than others? The same goes for “special” grave sites for the elite. Personal adornment and special graveyards are about status differentiation–Vance Packard in the Stone Age, one might say. All the evidence points to a new type of personality organization around that time, which made possible culture as we know it, and which also included the need to feel superior to others–in particular, wanting to be seen as superior to others. After all, being cool is something that has to be publicly agreed upon; it is essentially other-defined. Which means it is as insubstantial as gossamer; who or what is cool can change in the twinkling of an eye. But human beings pursue it as if their lives depended on it. In fact, very few human beings manage to escape the lure of superiority. When you meet Zen masters who are proud of their humility (an experience I’ve actually had), you know, as André Malraux once observed, that “there really is no such thing as a grown-up person.”

Chasing status may be puerile, said John Adams, but it nevertheless seems to be hard-wired. In his Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America (1787), he said that history makes it quite clear that man is driven by vanity, by a desire for social distinction. “We may call this desire for distinction childish and silly,” wrote Adams, “but we cannot alter the nature of man.”

As a result, literally anything can be made chic, even garbage. There is a famous scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up in which a band leader goes crazy and smashes his guitar to pieces on the stage. The central character (played by the British actor David Hemmings) leaps onto the stage, seizes the guitar “carcass,” and runs off with it, pursued by the crowd, who is convinced he is in possession of something extremely valuable. He manages to give them the slip, and standing alone in an alley, trying to catch his breath, looks at this broken piece of guitar. What is it? A useless piece of trash, really. He tosses it on the ground and walks away.

Even the anti-chic can be made chic. A Canadian magazine, Adbusters, became somewhat famous for ridiculing the need to be chic. It is now one of the chicest journals around–“underground chic,” as it were. If you are not aware of this publication, you are definitely out of it, and not as good as the people who are aware of it and read it on a regular basis. You are leading a diminished, unchic life.

This brings us to the causes of chic. If it really is as frivolous as it looks, why are we all doing it? Why does all of life finally boil down to high school? Alfred Adler, the psychoanalyst whose major concepts were “superiority complex” and “inferiority complex,” argued that the two were intimately related: the desire to be superior masked a deep sense of inferiority. If I care that much about being chic, it must be because I know, on some level, that I am terribly unchic. And this feeling of being inadequate, which dates from infancy, can finally never be overcome; which means that chicness is infinite: you can never be chic enough. Malraux was right: we never grow up.

games india isn't ready to play...,

Video - RT monkeys pressed into service to protect Commonwealth Games.

NYTimes | So who is anxious over India’s image in the wealthy world? That particular burden is borne by India’s small affluent elite, for whom the last few months have been full of painful and awkward self-reckonings. Certainly, the fear of violence over Ayodhya was only the latest in a long line of reminders that, as the columnist Vir Sanghvi put it, “as hard as we try to build a new India ... old India still has the power to humiliate and embarrass us.”

Since June, a mass insurrection, resembling the Palestinian intifada, has raged in the Indian-held Valley of Kashmir. Defying draconian curfews, large and overwhelmingly young crowds of Kashmiri Muslims have protested human rights abuses by the nearly 700,000 Indian security forces there. Ill-trained soldiers have met stone-pelting protesters with gunfire, killing more than a hundred Kashmiris, mostly teenagers, and ensuring another militant backlash that will be exploited by radical Islamists in Pakistan.

A full-blown insurgency is already under way in central India, where guerrilla fighters inspired by Mao Zedong’s tactics are arrayed against a government they see as actively colluding with multinational corporations to deprive tribal people of their mineral-rich lands. In recent months, the Maoists have attacked the symbols of the state’s authority — railroads, armories, police stations — seemingly at will, killing scores of people.

Yet the greatest recent blow to wealthy Indians’ delusions on the subject of their nation’s inexorable rise has been the Commonwealth Games, for which Delhi was given a long and painful facelift. For so many, the contest was expected to banish India’s old ghosts of religious and class conflict, and cement its claims to a seat at the high tables of international superpowers.

But the games turned into a fiasco well before their scheduled opening. Two weeks ago, a huge footbridge connected to the main stadium collapsed. The federation that runs the games has called the athletes’ housing “uninhabitable.” The organizers have had to hire an army of vicious langur monkeys to keep wild animals from infesting the venues. Pictures of crumbling arenas and filthy toilets are circulating more widely than the beautiful landscapes of the government’s “Incredible India” tourism campaign.

As the ratings agency Moody worries that the debacle has “tarnished” India’s image, commentators here angrily hunt for blameworthy politicians and officials over what they call “national shame.” The contrast to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which the Chinese government largely overcame controversy and staked a claim to a dominant place in the world order, is all too depressingly clear.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

tea and crackers

Rolling Stone | It's taken three trips to Kentucky, but I'm finally getting my Tea Party epiphany exactly where you'd expect: at a Sarah Palin rally. The red-hot mama of American exceptionalism has flown in to speak at something called the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, a gospel-music hoedown in a giant convention center filled with thousands of elderly white Southerners. Palin — who earlier this morning held a closed-door fundraiser for Rand Paul, the Tea Party champion running for the U.S. Senate — is railing against a GOP establishment that has just seen Tea Partiers oust entrenched Republican hacks in Delaware and New York. The dingbat revolution, it seems, is nigh.

"We're shaking up the good ol' boys," Palin chortles, to the best applause her aging crowd can muster. She then issues an oft-repeated warning (her speeches are usually a tired succession of half-coherent one-liners dumped on ravenous audiences like chum to sharks) to Republican insiders who underestimated the power of the Tea Party Death Star. "Buck up," she says, "or stay in the truck."

Stay in what truck? I wonder. What the hell does that even mean?

Scanning the thousands of hopped-up faces in the crowd, I am immediately struck by two things. One is that there isn't a single black person here. The other is the truly awesome quantity of medical hardware: Seemingly every third person in the place is sucking oxygen from a tank or propping their giant atrophied glutes on motorized wheelchair-scooters. As Palin launches into her Ronald Reagan impression — "Government's not the solution! Government's the problem!" — the person sitting next to me leans over and explains.

"The scooters are because of Medicare," he whispers helpfully. "They have these commercials down here: 'You won't even have to pay for your scooter! Medicare will pay!' Practically everyone in Kentucky has one."

A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can't imagine it.

After Palin wraps up, I race to the parking lot in search of departing Medicare-motor-scooter conservatives. I come upon an elderly couple, Janice and David Wheelock, who are fairly itching to share their views.

"I'm anti-spending and anti-government," crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. "The welfare state is out of control."

"OK," I say. "And what do you do for a living?"

"Me?" he says proudly. "Oh, I'm a property appraiser. Have been my whole life."

I frown. "Are either of you on Medicare?"

Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!

"Let me get this straight," I say to David. "You've been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?"

"Well," he says, "there's a lot of people on welfare who don't deserve it. Too many people are living off the government."

"But," I protest, "you live off the government. And have been your whole life!"

"Yeah," he says, "but I don't make very much." Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about — and nowhere do we see that dynamic as clearly as here in Kentucky, where Rand Paul is barreling toward the Senate with the aid of conservative icons like Palin.

Holocaust thinking in America I: The Authoritarian Personality

theragblog | So now, in place of Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract With America (aka Contract On America) we have the new GOP Pledge to America. Not unlike the current design, the rich are to get richer, and the poor to get sick, become homeless, starve, or shatter in endless wars.

The comparison of our American trajectory with the tactics and strategy of Germany in the late 1930s is more striking now than ever. We would do well to study this era carefully for a possible glimpse of our own future. Those targeted are no longer just our dispossessed, reviled and outcast -- our "jews" -- but much of the American (and of course world) population.

The attempt to exterminate European Jewry during the Nazi era was, in many ways, as unique as Jewish culture proclaims. Never before had an organized, industrial state targeted a population for complete annihilation, ruthlessly and efficiently pursued even within its “civil” codes and activities.

But to think of the Holocaust as a completely unique act, restricted to 20th century German antisemitism, is to limit it unduly, to make it unavailable as evidence and warning about tendencies in our own place, our own time.

For it would seem that every major thought pattern, every cultural institution that fueled the Nazi holocaust is present and empowered in the United States today. Safeguards against catastrophic outcomes are few and weak. “It can’t happen here”? Maybe. But with so many elements brewing together, and no visible controls to dampen the flux, there is no predicting in what direction the reaction will run.

Half a century ago, a civilization as culturally advanced as our own experienced a society-wide suspension of morality. Jews were the target. Now, the next set of domestic victims has already been chosen: the poor and unruly. Ready... aim...

as western civilization lies dying...,

Video - More Human Than Human

GlobalResearch | The Western commercial system exists to extract more from consumers than it supplies in products and services. Its goal is profit and has never been to improve the human condition but to exploit it. When governments institutionalize this system, they place their nations on suicidal paths, because as Jefferson recognized, "Merchants have no country." It is not terrorism that threatens the security of the Western World, it is the Western World's commercial system.

A man suffering from severe chest pains collapses. His wife calls 911. An ambulance arrives, the EMTs treat the patient, place him in the ambulance's bed, and start off to the hospital. Along the way, the engine stalls. The ambulance's staff begins arguing about how to get the motor restarted. One says more gasoline is needed, another says there's water in the tank, a third says the fuel filter is clogged. While they argue, the patient lies dying.

This situation is analogous to what's happening in America and parts of Europe. While economists and politicians argue, their nations are in the throes of death. These people are looking for the devil in the details, but he is not there. It's the system itself that’s diabolical.

The Western commercial system is extractive. It exists to extract more from consumers than it supplies in products and services. Its goal is profit, and profit literally means to make more (pro-ficere). Its goal has never been to improve the human condition but to exploit it. It works like this:

Consider two water tanks, initially each partially full, one above the other. One gallon of water is dumped from the upper tank into the lower one for each two gallons extracted from the lower tank and pumped into the upper tank. Over time, the lower tank ends up empty and the upper tank ends up full. The circulation of water between the tanks ends.

Essentially, this scenario describes all commercial systems based on profit. It is why the top 20 percent of Americans has 93 percent of the nation's financial wealth and the bottom 80 percent has a mere seven percent. It is why the bottom 40 percent of all income earners in the United States now collectively own less than one percent of the nation’s wealth. It is why the nation's poverty rate is now14.3 percent, about 43.6 million people or one in seven. It is also why the Wall Street Journal has reported that 70 percent of people in North America live paycheck to paycheck. It is also why, despite numerous pledges over decades, no progress has been made in reducing world-wide poverty. The system is a thief.

The economy has collapsed not because of misfeasance, deregulation, or political bungling (although all may have been proximate causes), it has collapsed because the pockets of the vast majority of Americans have been picked. The housing bubble didn't burst because home prices had risen, it burst because the pockets of consumers had been picked so clean they could no longer service their mortgages.

What the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans don't realize is that some in this group will begin to target the others in order to keep the extractive process working. In fact, it's already happening. "The brute force of the recession earlier this year turned back the clock on Americans' personal wealth to 2004 and wiped out a staggering $1.3 trillion as home values shrank and investments withered." Little of this loss from investments was suffered by the lower 80 percent of Americans. There is, after all, no goodwill within greed, and the market can be and often is manipulated.

The "system" has impoverished the people, the circulation between the two tanks has been reduced to a trickle, and our economists have convinced the government that the only way to get things flowing again is to pour more water into the upper tank, hoping that the spillover will settle in the lower tank. Better to pray for rain!

This impoverishment has numerous mathematically certain implications; two major ones follow.

the grameenist microcredit hoodwink and bamboozle..,

Himal | Far from being a panacea for fighting rural poverty, microcredit can impose additional burdens on the rural poor, without markedly improving their socio-economic condition.

For years, the example of microcredit in Bangladesh has been touted as a model of how the rural poor can lift themselves out of poverty. This widely held perception was boosted in 2006, when Mohammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, the microfinance institution he set up, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize. In Southasia in particular, and the world in general, microcredit has become a gospel of sorts, with Yunus as its prophet.

Consider this outlandish claim, made by Yunus as he got started in the late 1970s: ‘Poverty will be eradicated in a generation. Our children will have to go to a ‘poverty museum’ to see what all the fuss was about.’ According to Milford Bateman, a senior research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London who is one of the world’s experts on Grameen and microcredit, the reason this rhetoric resonated with international donors during the era of neoliberal globalisation, was that ‘they love the non-state, self-help, fiscally-responsible and individual entrepreneurship angles.’

Grameen’s origins are sourced to a discussion Yunus had with Sufiya Begum, a young mother who, he recalled, ‘was making a stool made of bamboo. She gets five taka from a business person to buy the bamboo and sells to him for five and a half taka, earning half a taka as her income for the day. She will never own five taka herself and her life will always be steeped into poverty. How about giving her a credit for five taka that she uses to buy the bamboo, sell her product in free market, earn a better profit and slowly pay back the loan?’ Describing Begum and the first 42 borrowers in Jobra village in Bangladesh, Yunus waxed eloquent: ‘Even those who seemingly have no conceptual thought, no ability to think of yesterday or tomorrow, are in fact quite intelligent and expert at the art of survival. Credit is the key that unlocks their humanity.’

But what is the current situation in Jobra? Says Bateman, ‘It’s still trapped in deep poverty, and now debt. And what is the response from Grameen Bank? All research in the village is now banned!’ As for Begum, says Bateman, ‘she actually died in abject poverty in 1998 after all her many tiny income-generating projects came to nothing.’ The reason, Bateman argues, is simple: ‘It turns out that as more and more ‘poverty-push’ micro-enterprises were crowded into the same local economic space, the returns on each micro-enterprise began to fall dramatically. Starting a new trading business or a basket-making operation or driving a rickshaw required few skills and only a tiny amount of capital, but such a project generated very little income indeed because everyone else was pretty much already doing exactly the same things in order to survive.’

Contrary to the carefully cultivated media image, Yunus is not contributing to peace or social justice. In fact, he is an extreme neoliberal ideologue. To quote his philosophy, as expressed in his 1998 autobiography, Banker to the Poor,
I believe that ‘government’, as we know it today, should pull out of most things except for law enforcement and justice, national defense and foreign policy, and let the private sector, a ‘Grameenized private sector’, a social-consciousness-driven private sector, take over their other functions.

euro banks vs. labor - the death match

Video - RT coverage of people against EU cash machine with anti-austerity marches.

GlobalResearch | While Labor Unions celebrate Anti-Austerity Day in Europe, the European Neoliberals raise the ante.

Most of the press has described Wednesday's European-wide labor demonstrations and strikes across in terms of the familiar exercise by transport workers irritating travelers with work slowdowns, and large throngs letting off steam by setting fires. But the story goes much deeper than merely a reaction against unemployment and economic recession conditions. At issue are proposals to drastically change the laws and structures of how European society will function for the next generation. If the anti-labor forces succeed, they will break up Europe, destroy the internal market, and render that continent a backwater. This is how serious the financial coup d'etat has become. And it is going to get much worse - quickly. As John Monks, head of the European Trade Union Confederation, put it: "This is the start of the fight, not the end."

Spain has received most of the attention, thanks to its ten-million strong turnout (reportedly half the entire labor force). Holding its first general strike since 2002, Spanish labor protested against its socialist government using the bank crisis (stemming from bad real estate loans and negative mortgage equity, not high labor costs) as an opportunity to change the laws to enable companies and government bodies to fire workers at will, and to scale back their pensions and public social spending in order to pay the banks more. Portugal is doing the same, and it looks like Ireland will follow suit - all this in the countries whose banks have been the most irresponsible lenders. The bankers are demanding that they rebuild their loan reserves at labor's expense, just as in President Obama's program here in the United States but without the sanctimonious pretenses.

The problem is Europe-wide and indeed centered in the European Union capital in Brussels. This is why the major protests were staged there. On the same day that the strikers demonstrated, the neoliberal European Commission (EC) outlined a full-fledged war against labor. Fifty to a hundred thousand workers gathered to protest the proposed transformation of social rules by the most anti-labor campaign since the 1930s - even more extreme than the Third World austerity plans imposed by the IMF and World Bank in times past.

The neoliberals are fully in control of the bureaucracy, and they are reviving Margaret Thatcher's slogan, TINA: There Is No Alternative. But there is, of course. In the small Baltic economies, pro-labor parties have made it clear that the alternative to government shrinkage is to simply repeal the debts, withdraw from the Euro and break the banks. It is either the banks or labor - and Europe has just realized that this is truly a fight to the economic death. And the first test will come this Saturday, when Latvia holds its national parliamentary elections.

when did reading, writing, and arithmetic become rocket science?

Video - Tavis Smiley with Canada and Guggenheim.

WaPo | Reform must be guided by community empowerment and strong evidence, not by ideological warriors or romanticized images of leaders acting like they’re doing something, anything. Waiting for Superman has ignored deep historical and systemic problems in education such as segregation, property-tax based funding formulas, centralized textbook production, lack of local autonomy and shared governance, de-professionalization, inadequate special education supports, differential discipline patterns, and the list goes on and on.

People seeing Waiting for Superman should be mobilized to improve education. They just need to be willing to think outside of the narrow box that the film-makers have constructed to define what needs to be done. While the education film Waiting For Superman has moving profiles of students struggling to succeed under difficult circumstances, it puts forward a sometimes misleading and other times dishonest account of the roots of the problem and possible solutions.

The amped-up rhetoric of crisis and failure everywhere is being used to promote business-model reforms that are destabilizing even in successful schools and districts. A panel at NBC’s Education Nation Summit, taking place in New York today and tomorrow, was originally titled "Does Education Need a Katrina?" Such disgraceful rhetoric undermines reasonable debate.

Let’s examine these issues, one by one:

throw a rock.....,

NYTimes | Take along a handkerchief if you plan to see the new education documentary “Waiting for Superman.” Steve Barr, a tough-minded charter school developer, told me on Friday that he had already seen the film four times and still can’t get through it without sobbing.

Mr. Barr believes that the film has pulled back the curtain on a world that most Americans would otherwise not have seen — the desperation of parents who struggle, often in vain, to get their children into better schools. (The Superman in the title refers to one charter school operator’s childhood belief that the ghetto in which he lived might one day be rescued by the Man of Steel.)

Mr. Barr is unnerved by the cartoonish debate that has erupted around the movie. The many complex problems that have long afflicted public schools are being laid almost solely at the feet of the nation’s teachers’ unions.

In recent days, Randi Weingarten, the leader of the American Federation of Teachers (the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union after the National Education Association) has been portrayed on the Internet as the Darth Vader of public schooling. She talks like a union chief in the film — which makes no mention of her genuine efforts to work with school systems to promote reform.

The unions deserve criticism for resisting sensible changes for far too long and for protecting inept teachers who deserve to be fired. But at least in some places that is changing. And they are by no means responsible for the country’s profound neglect of public education until about 20 years ago when the federal government began pushing the states to provide better oversight.

For years, urban politicians ransacked districts with patronage and fraud. Teachers chose to unionize in part to protect themselves from politicians.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Bill Moyers Rewind: Isaac Asimov (1988)

PBS | In 1988, Bill Moyers interviewed author Isaac Asimov for WORLD OF IDEAS. Incredibly prolific in various genres beyond the science fiction for which he was best known, Asimov wrote well over 400 books on topics ranging from sci-fi to the Bible before his death in 1992. In one thread of his wide-ranging interview, Asimov shared his thoughts on overpopulation:
"Right now most of the world is living under appalling conditions. We can't possibly improve the conditions of everyone. We can't raise the entire world to the average standard of living in the United States because we don't have the resources and the ability to distribute well enough for that. So right now as it is, we have condemned most of the world to a miserable, starvation level of existence. And it will just get worse as the population continues to go up... Democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies. The more people there are, the less one individual matters."

Video - Bill Moyers interviews Isaac Asimov World of Ideas Part 1.

affluent britains keep they gub'mint cheese....,

NYTimes | Every week without fail Lucy Elkin, a comfortably middle-class mother of two small children, receives a £33.20 child benefit payment, or about $52, from the debt-plagued British government.

“It’s useful and it helps pay the bills, but it is not as if we are struggling to put food on the table,” Ms. Elkin said as she led her children from the park to their house on the leafy fringe of Hampstead Heath, one of London’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Ms. Elkin, 40, is a freelance writer. Her husband is a computer programmer. Along with more than three million middle- to upper-income British families, they are among the recipients of £11 billion ($17.2 billion) a year paid to mothers with children here. It is a universal benefit that not only costs taxpayers about twice as much as the total for unemployment payments but also represents the largest chunk of the estimated £30 billion ($47 billion) the government pays each year to Britons with above-average incomes.

“It is one of those things that is quite hard to justify,” Ms. Elkin said.

She is not alone in thinking that Britain can no longer afford such generosities. But even as civil servants and ministers are preparing to drastically cut most categories of government spending to help close Britain’s budget deficit, the government is so worried about alienating middle-class voters that it is proceeding very cautiously in limiting the subsidy for having children.

“There is a long history of universal welfare schemes here,” said Patrick Nolan, an economist for Reform, a free-market-oriented research organization that has issued a report claiming that as much as 16 percent of total welfare benefits go to those who do not need them. “But it has become a very expensive luxury when hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs.”

The debate in Britain highlights an issue that other advanced industrial countries are also beginning to grapple with: Who should bear the burden of the coming wave of austerity?

cuba ready to drill for oil deeper than BP

MiamiHerald | Cuba is expected to begin drilling offshore for oil and gas as soon as next year with equipment that will go deeper than the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, industry experts say.

The Spanish energy company, Repsol, which drilled an exploratory well in 2004 off the coast near Havana, has contracted to drill the first of several exploratory wells with a semi-submersible rig that is expected to arrive in Cuba at the end of the year, said Jorge Piñon, an energy expert and visiting research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. He said the rig is expected to drill down 5,600 feet in an area about 22 miles north of Havana and 65 miles south of the Marquesas Keys.

The development comes as 20 Cuban scientists joined their American and Mexican counterparts at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota this week to finalize a long-term marine research and conservation plan for the three countries.

Luis Alberto Barreras Cañizo, who led the Cuban delegation as a representative of Cuba's Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, confirmed the plans for exploration. ``Cuba needs to find its oil, it's a resource Cuba needs,'' he told the Bradenton Herald in an interview.

Environmentalists suggested the prospect of rigs just 45 miles from Florida's coastline could intensify pressure for the Obama administration to engage in talks with its Cold War antagonist to prevent ecological damage.

``A policy of isolationism doesn't benefit anyone. We have a selfish interest in talking with Cuba,'' said David Guggenheim, a conference organizer and senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation in Washington. ``At a minimum, you need a good Rolodex.''

Friday, October 01, 2010

can a computer game teach collective intelligence?

Video - Jane McGonigal gaming can make a better world.

AvantGame | The term ‘collective intelligence’, or CI for short, was originally coined by French philosopher Pierre Levy in 1994 to describe the impact of Internet technologies on the cultural production and consumption of knowledge. Levy argued that because the Internet facilitates a rapid, open and global exchange of data and ideas, over time the network should “mobilize and coordinate the intelligence, experience, skills, wisdom, and imagination of humanity” in new and unexpected ways. As part of his utopian vision for a more collaborative knowledge culture, he predicted: “We are passing from the Cartesian cogito”—I think, therefore I am—“to cogitamus”—we think, therefore we are.

The result of this new “we”, Levy argued, would be a more complex, flexible and dynamic knowledge base. In a CI culture, he wrote, knowledge “ceases to be the object of established fact and becomes a project.”Members of a collective intelligence would not simply gather, master and deploy pre-existing information and concepts. Instead, they would work with the collected facts and viewpoints to actively author, discover and invent new, computer-fueled ways of thinking, strategizing, and coordinating.

Whereas Levy was making predictions about a collaborative culture to come, real-world examples of early forms of collective intelligence today proliferate. Perhaps the most wellknown CI experiment is Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia written and edited by the public, using the collaborative writing software known as a Wiki. Yahoo! Answers allows users to pose any question, on any topic, to the online public; amateurs and experts alike offer their best answers, which are rated by other users so that those deemed most helpful or insightful rise to the top.

Google Image Labeler, originally developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers as the ESP Game, invites the public to improve its image search engine by working collaboratively to categorize online pictures by agreeing on specific, descriptive tags. MapHub enables users to upload personal stories and experiences of specific geographic locations to online maps, so that they become rich with site-specific data that paints a picture of collective experience. SFZero, an online role-playing game, describes itself as a “collaborative productive game”, relying on its players to generate and to score virtually all of its missions. And multiple online prediction markets, from the Hollywood Stock Exchange to the World Economic Forums’ Global Risks Prediction Market, allow individuals to wager on the likelihood of future events, from entertainment awards to terrorist attacks—typically with a startling degree of success.

What do these myriad CI projects share in common? They all use digital networks to connect massively-multi human users in a persistent process of social data-gathering, analysis and application. Their goal: to produce a kind of collectively-generated knowledge that is different not just quantitatively, but also qualitatively, in both its formation and its uses. Fist tap Dale.

are we raising a generation of nincompoops?

bostonglobe | Second-graders who can't tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who've never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics?

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter "literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else."

Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her "kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger."

Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks. They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care.

"It's so all laid out for them," said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book "The Winter of Our Disconnect," about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. "Having so much comfort and ease is what has led to this situation -- the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation. You can pee in your pants and we'll take care of it for you!"

are monkeys self-aware?

Video - monkey see, monkey know...,

The Scientist | Rhesus monkeys may recognize their own reflection in a mirror, indicating self-awareness--a trait traditionally reserved for humans, chimpanzees and orangutans and a topic of much debate among researchers, including Marc Hauser, professor of psychology at Harvard University and the recent subject of misconduct investigations.

The results, published in the September 29th issue of PLoS ONE, question the existence of a stark cognitive divide that separates higher primates from the rest of the animal kingdom.

"In most instances, monkeys do not show [self-awareness]," Christopher Coe, director of the Harlow Primate Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the work, said in an email to The Scientist. But the new study "indicates that rhesus monkeys can acquire this ability in the right setting and with the right tools."

For years, the Gallup mark test has been the standard method for assessing self-awareness. Researchers dye a small tuff of hair on an animal's head, and then give it access to a mirror. If the animal touched the mark while looking in the mirror, researchers concluded it understood the reflection to be its own. Humans over the age of two, chimpanzees, orangutans and potentially gorillas can conclusively pass this test. Monkeys, on the other hand, nearly always fail.