Wednesday, April 23, 2014
 
For most of my adult life, beginning, really, in the rebellious years of adolescence, I have been against nature. This phrase, against nature, is the standard title for the English translation of J.-K. Huysmans' splendid 1884 novel, À rebours, but when I use it here, I don't mean generally perverted or out-of-whack. I mean I have cultivated a consummately urban existence, and have insisted that people who rush off to commune with the great outdoors are wasting their time.
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  • The Green Party as a whole had never really grappled with the contradiction between environmental sustainability and the economic expansionism that is inherent to capitalist accumulation; nor did the majority develop a consistent critique of what was at first a small group of eco-libertarians in their midst, who preached the ‘gospel of eco-efficiency’; in favour of free markets and opposed to state intervention, this was initially directed against the ‘big machine’ of industrialism and statism alike.
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  • The question of how to prevent climate change – we’re way past that point now – has morphed into the question of how to slow it down. There’s no shortage of theoretical answers about the best way to pump fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or suck more of them out, or lower the temperature by other means.
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  • Migration likely brings to mind the familiar sight of geese flying overhead in their iconic V formation, honking stridently as they fly toward their faraway goal. But the migration of many birds is a rarely observed phenomenon. Most passerine birds, a group that includes songbirds and groups taxonomically related to them, migrate at night.
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  • It's been a busy few weeks for announcements about how smart non-human life-forms are. First there was the talking beluga in California, then there was the elephant in Korea who could articulate a few words, then, finally, the report on a lowly slime mold's ability to make sophisticated decisions.
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  • The first lesson: finding. Actually, the only lesson: what you do when you find what you want is another lesson entirely, and not one that will be taught. Finding is a question of looking, my child. Of looking in the right way. That’s looking not to see, do you see, but to allow what you want to present itself to your vision.
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  • Toward the end of summer, many songbirds in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere migrate south to overwinter in more favorable climates. But some species stay put. One of the most common groups of resident songbirds is the chickadees and titmice of North America and the tits of Europe and Asia.
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  • If you had to be an endangered animal, you’d be better off as a tiger than a toad. If you were a tiger, filmmakers might cast you in wildlife documentaries and journalists might write heart-rending stories about the disappearance of your kind. Your furry mug might appear on magazine covers and postage stamps.
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  • Rousseau imagined a pre-civilized state of nature in which our ancestors, more like apes than like ourselves, had no need or opportunity to exploit and enslave each other. As hunter-gatherers they could be essentially self-sufficient. The irrevocable change came with the invention of metallurgy and agriculture, twin foundations of a developed civilization.
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  • After the events of September 11th 2001 and the advent of the ‘war on terror’, there has been much emphasis on how Governments respond to emergencies through some form of exceptional action. Taking its cue from Giorgio Agamben’s (1995) analysis of the constitutive role of the state of exception in democratic politics and Western culture, work has detailed how democratic life has been suspended as a ‘state of emergency’ is declared.
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  • The quest to provide a concise description of human nature is ancient, extensive and recently in vogue again. But the simplistic and linear narratives frequently offered up for whom we are and why we do what we do are mostly wrong. These basic, and erroneous, stories such as those regarding the depth of differences between males and females, the belief that at our core we are an aggressive species, and that humans are divided into biological races, are myths about human nature that permeate the popular landscape.
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  • Even people with no interest in field guides know about them; they lie on friends' shelves and windowsills (the one near the bird feeder, usually), and people stand in the park, binoculars around their neck, thumbing frantically through them. Like millions of others, I knew and used field guides since I was a child, but a few years ago I turned my professional curiosity on them.
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  • “Now there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it,” says Buckminster Fuller, explaining the title of his 1969 book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, in the chapter titled “Spaceship Earth.”
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  • Deep in the African rainforest and three days from home, a tribal hunter, punting down a backwater, puts aside his spear and takes out a GPS handset. He doesn’t need the Global Positioning System to know where he is. He is intimate with every inch of his tribe’s forests. But he taps an icon on the screen to identify the burial ground, sacred grove, or wildlife-rich swamp he is passing, then puts the handset back in his hunting bag, and carries on.
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  • Sustainability is quickly becoming the lingua franca of public discourse. It is endorsed by government agencies around the globe, championed by increasing numbers of international non-governmental organizations, and put into daily practice by residents and consumers.
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by Albert Rolls
The pun on “drugs,” in a somewhat obvious way, calls attention to and undermines the division between substances that contribute to the formation of the freak community and those prescribed by doctors, as does Pat Dubonnet’s disappointment with a career reduced to “penny-ante collars, kids under the pier dealing their moms’ downers”.
by Kristen Zipperer
There are very few Urdu writers who have written about these despondent days in Pakistan’s history, with perhaps one notable exception. Intizar Husain is a novelist and short story writer whose work takes an unrelenting look at man’s attempt and ultimate failure to keep his humanity during the post-Partition period.
by Daniel Bosch
Even before the camera slowly swings upward from her mouth to her eyes, even before we realize that those are not opaque black pits but irises, the first frames of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo have made us conscious of how a camera and a screen limit and fix visual perception — even with all their jump cuts, films concentrate better than we do. And so it is strangely a relief to fall as we do into the pupil of the eye that Hitchcock’s camera enters.
by Stephen T. Asma
In his 1790 Critique of Judgment, Kant famously predicted that there would never be a “Newton for a blade of grass.” Biology, he thought, would never be unified and reduced down to a handful of mechanical laws, as in the case of physics. This, he argued, is because we cannot expunge teleology (goal-directedness) from living systems. The question “what is it for?” applies to living structures in a way that has no corollary in physics.
by Eric Schneider
Were Philadelphia police different? In some ways, yes; in other ways, no. City police may not have exchanged their badges for the white hoods of vigilante groups, but a nearly completely white police force held the same racial prejudices of the Philadelphia neighborhoods from which they were recruited.
by Russell Bennetts
Wittgenstein certainly regarded himself as a philosopher, and certainly believed in the fundamental truth of what he was saying. So it would be a misleading oversimplification to maintain that he was “against philosophy” or against “the possibility of philosophical truth”. More accurately, what he criticized was a certain kind of philosophy – perhaps the dominant kind in the West.
by Michael B. Katz
The biological definition of poverty reinforces the idea of the undeserving poor, which is the oldest theme in post-Enlightenment poverty discourse. Its history stretches from the late eighteenth century through to the present. Poverty, in this view, results from personal failure and inferiority. Moral weaknesses – drunkenness, laziness, sexual promiscuity – constitute the most consistent markers of the undeserving poor.
by Volker M. Welter
Following a map for a driving tour along Palm Spring’s mid-twentieth century Modernist homes and buildings, I had just peeked at Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House, the rebellious sibling from 1947 of Frank Lloyds Wright’s Fallingwater House in Pennsylvania, which was begun for the same client in 1935. Figuring out on the map where to drive to next, a house whose owner was identified as Dr. Franz Alexander caught my attention.
by Albert Rolls
Consider, for example, the Pynchon anecdotes told by the television producer Deane Rink — who attended Cornell a few years after Pynchon and studied creative writing under Walter Slatoff, with whom Pynchon had also studied. Rink tells his stories as part of an early Web exercise in which he sent emails for publication to the B&R Samizdat Express at the end of 1996, when he was in McMurdo, Antarctica, to work on Live from Antarctica (1997) for PBS productions.
by Cain Todd
In an effort to be interdisciplinary, and to keep up with the current trend for all things neuroscience, I recently attended a conference in Berlin on neuroaesthetics. One of only two philosophers in the room, I found myself on the receiving end of an incredibly hostile attack after asking a question of the founding guru of the discipline, the neuroscientist Professor Semir Zeki of University College London.
by Frank R. Stockton
In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done.
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