Bedeutung Blog

Rebuilding Afghanistan

by Tariq Ali
from the London Review of Books blog

P.J.Tobia’s photographs of these monstrous buildings in Kabul convey only part of the horror. Their location is not too far from the slum dwellings that house the poor of the city, sans water, sans electricity, sans sewage, sans everything. A young photo-journalist from Philadelphia, Tobia supplied the captions and writes on True/Slant:
Here in Kabul, the poor live in unimaginably squalid conditions and the rich live like kings. Kings in very ugly castles.
We call them Poppy Palaces or Narcotecture, because much of the money that went into building them came from Afghanistan’s biggest crop. I also suspect that some UN/NGO/USAID dollars are paying for these insults to taste and design.
You can see these monstrosities all over town and I’ve photographed a few of the worst for your viewing pleasure. Note the really high walls and metal armor on some of them.
I apologize for the hurried nature of these photos—I took most of them from a moving car—but the AK-47 toting guards who stand watch at these palaces become a bit, um, grumpy when you take pictures around them.
Nice to actually see what Euro-American soldiers are killing and dying for. more

Posted in articles, comment/analysis, politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Courtesy of God

by Garret Keizer
from Lapham’s Quarterly

The devil you say

These days what the Epistle of James says about believing in God—that the devils believe in him too, ergo beware of taking too much credit for your credos—is often on my mind. God may or may not be in his heaven, but on any given week he is likely to be enthroned at the top of that great chain of being known as the New York Times Best Sellers List. Like James and the devil, I am not impressed.

By that I do not mean that I consider myself beyond the God debate or beyond those of my fellow mortals who find it compelling. In fact, if there is any unifying notion in what you are about to read, it is my deep distrust of any human being who fancies himself “beyond” just about anything, be it money, jealousy (of best-selling authors, for instance), using a turn signal, or putting on a tie. I would never buy a book whose title began with Beyond, though I have known a few beyond-good-and-evil types who weren’t beyond stealing one.

If I am unimpressed with the God debate it is less for wanting to seem aloof than for needing to start with easier questions. Lacking the credentials, say, that entitle any expert on a nanolayer of slime covering a pebble called earth to give us the complete skinny on absolute being, a hubris beside which the nitwit ruling of a Kansas school board seems cautiously understated, I want questions better suited to my pay grade. Never mind does God exist—does the God debate exist? more

Posted in articles, comment/analysis, philosophy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Toward a Theory of Surprise

by Chris Bachelder
from Believer

Three mornings a week I drop off my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter at her daycare center. We have a routine. First we read a book, then we hug, kiss, high five, and wave before I leave. That’s how every drop-off goes. One recent morning she squirmed throughout the book, distractedly performed our separation ritual, then stopped me from departing by grabbing my wrist. She leaned sideways at the waist and with her other hand gripped the back of her knee. “Dad,” she said, “there’s something weird in my leggings.”

I turned her around and felt the back of her leg with the tips of my fingers. Sure enough, there was something weird in her leggings. The weird something was small and hard, seemingly unattached to her skin. It felt like a stone, a piece of gravel. In half a life how many rocks have I pulled from my socks? The adult mind settles quickly.

“What is it, Dad?” my daughter asked.

“I think it’s a rock,” I said. more

Posted in articles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Pictures of War You Aren’t Supposed to See

By Chris Hedges
from truthdig.com

War is brutal and impersonal. It mocks the fantasy of individual heroism and the absurdity of utopian goals like democracy. In an instant, industrial warfare can kill dozens, even hundreds of people, who never see their attackers. The power of these industrial weapons is indiscriminate and staggering. They can take down apartment blocks in seconds, burying and crushing everyone inside. They can demolish villages and send tanks, planes and ships up in fiery blasts. The wounds, for those who survive, result in terrible burns, blindness, amputation and lifelong pain and trauma. No one returns the same from such warfare. And once these weapons are employed all talk of human rights is a farce.

In Peter van Agtmael’s “2nd Tour Hope I don’t Die” and Lori Grinker’s “Afterwar: Veterans From a World in Conflict,” two haunting books of war photographs, we see pictures of war which are almost always hidden from public view. These pictures are shadows, for only those who go to and suffer from war can fully confront the visceral horror of it, but they are at least an attempt to unmask war’s savagery. more

Posted in articles, current affairs, politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‘First they called me a joker, now I am a dangerous thinker’ // Slavoj Zizek talks to The Times of India

Slavoj Zizek is an unusual philosopher with unfashionably inflexible left-wing views. He also loves Hollywood classics. The 59-year-old academic has written more than 30 books on subjects as diverse as Alfred Hitchcock, Lenin and 9/11. A self-proclaimed Leninist, the Slovenian thinker believes that “communism will triumph finally”. On his first visit to India this week, Zizek spoke about global capitalism, Gandhi, Bollywood and Buddhism. Excerpts from the interview:

You call yourself a Leninist but the media in the West has called you a ‘rock star’ and the ‘Marx Brother’. How do you react to such labels?
With resigned melancholy. They try to say that this guy may be interesting and provocative but he is not serious. To them, I am like a fly that annoys you and provokes you but should not be taken seriously. Though, of late, they have been dubbing me as someone more threatening. In the last two years, the tone has changed. First, there were Marx Brothers’ jokes and now they say I am the most dangerous philosopher in the West. But I don’t care.

You also don’t care when they say that you glorify political violence.
For me, the 20th century communism is the biggest ethical-political catastrophe in history, greater catastrophe than fascism. But in the first years of the October Revolution, in spite of the so-called Red Terror, there was sexual liberation and literary explosion before it turned into a nightmare. I don’t accept the right-wing critique that says it was evil from the very beginning.

Read more of this insignificant interview here

Posted in comment/analysis, interviews, politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, The Law, and Poetry (2006) // by Paul Chan

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.4433985&w=600&h=400&fv=file%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fubu.artmob.ca%2Fvideo%2Fflash%2FChan_Paul_Lynne_Stewart_2006.flv]

On February 10, 2005, Lynne Stewart was convicted of providing material support for a terrorist conspiracy. She is the first lawyer to be convicted of aiding terrorism in the United States. Stewart faces thirty years of prison and will be sentenced in September 2006.

Untitled… is a video portrait of Stewart. The video focuses on the relationship between the language of poetry and the language of the law. Stewart speaks both languages, and employs poetry as a “knotting point” to connect ideas of beauty and justice for juries and judges alike. The film takes Stewart’s understanding of poetry and the law as a departure point to explore the possibilities of a poetics capable of articulating the pressures of terror and justice.

“Paul Chan’s portrait [is] of Lynne F. Stewart, the New York lawyer convicted last year of aiding Islamic terrorism by smuggling messages out of jail from a client she was defending, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Now disbarred, Ms. Stewart faces a 30-year jail sentence.

The film, which Mr. Chan calls a work-in-progress, simply shows Ms Stewart talking; in a sense it is a self-portrait. She talks about her trial, about her career as an activist lawyer and about a personal politics that sounds instinctual rather than ideological. She also read poetry.

One of the poems she reads is William Blake’s “On Another’s Sorrow” from “Songs of Innocence”. It isn’t “political” in any overt way. It is filled with both questions and answers. While she reads, Mr. Chan turns the screen into a field of changing colors, so that we concentrate on the music of the words, the activism of the soul that poetry is, the power outlet that art can be. It’s a simple device, and like any effective political action, right or wrong, brilliant because it works.” –Holland-Cotter, New York Times, January 17th 2006

Posted in documentaries, interviews, politics, videos | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the next decade, I hope to become more radical

by Costas Douzinas
from The Guardian

How different things looked in 1900 and 2000. The end of the 19th century was drowned in fin de siècle gloom. The end of the 20th century was, on the contrary, exuberant. President Bush Sr triumphantly announced in 1991 that a “new world order” was coming into view in which “the principles of justice and fair play will protect the weak against the strong [and] freedom and humanity will find a home among nations … Enduring peace must be our mission.” As the world was entering a new century of supposed peace and prosperity, I was hitting my half-century, a point of some pride and much foreboding. Melancholic retrospection and hopeful planning was the order of the day – for the world and me.

Globalisation, neoliberal economics and humanitarian cosmopolitanism were the contours of the new age. Economic interdependence, global communications, free trade, population and capital flows were bringing the world together, undermining the omnipotence of sovereignty and nation-state. A global civil society of multinational corporations, as well as international and non-governmental organisations, were to create the transnational solidarities necessary to protect against global risks. more

Posted in articles, comment/analysis, current affairs, politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Evangelicalism and the Contemporary Intellectual

A panel discussion with Malcolm Gladwell, Christine Smallwood, and James Wood, moderated by Caleb Crain.

Watch here.

Posted in comment/analysis, videos | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Darwin Show

by Steven Shapin
from The London Review of Books

It has been history’s biggest birthday party. On or around 12 February 2009 alone – the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, ‘Darwin Day’ – there were more than 750 commemorative events in at least 45 countries, and, on or around 24 November, there was another spate of celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In Mysore, Darwin Day was observed by an exhibition ‘proclaiming the importance of the day and the greatness of the scientist’. In Charlotte, North Carolina, there were performances of a one-man musical, Charles Darwin: Live & in Concert (‘Twas adaptive radiation that produced the mighty whale;/His hands have grown to flippers/And he has a fishy tail’). At Harvard, the celebrations included ‘free drinks, science-themed rock bands, cake, decor and a dancing gorilla’ (stuffed with a relay of biology students). Circulating around the university, student and faculty volunteers declaimed the entire text of the Origin.

On the Galapagos Islands, tourists making scientific haj were treated to ‘an active, life-seeing account of the life of this magnificent scientist’, and a party of Stanford alumni retraced the circumnavigating voyage of HMS Beagle in a well-appointed private Boeing 757, intellectually chaperoned by Darwin’s most distinguished academic biographer. The Darwin anniversaries were celebrated round the world: in Bogotá, Mexico City, Montevideo, Toronto, Toulouse, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Bangalore, Singapore, Seoul, Osaka, Cape Town, Rome (where it was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, part of a Vatican hatchet-burying initiative), and in all the metropolitan and scientific settings you might expect. The English £10 note has borne Darwin’s picture on the back since 2000 (replacing Dickens), but special postage stamps and a new £2 coin honoured him in 2009, as did stamps or coins in at least ten other countries. more

Posted in articles | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wanting to Be Something Else

by Adam Shatz

Who could resist the charms, or doubt the importance, of a liberal, secular, Turkish Muslim writing formally adventurous, learned novels about the passionate collision of East and West? Orhan Pamuk is frequently described as a bridge between two great civilisations, and his major theme – the persistence of memory and tradition in Westernising, secular Turkey – is of a topicality, a significance, that it seems churlish to deny. His eight novels, the most recent of which, The Museum of Innocence, has just appeared in English, perform formal variations on that theme. Though his work fits into a Turkish tradition most closely associated with the mid-20th-century novelist Ahmet Tanpinar, one needn’t know anything about Tanpinar, or even about Turkish literature, to appreciate Pamuk, who writes in the Esperanto of international literary fiction, employing a playful postmodernism that freely mixes genres, from detective fiction to historical romance. Much of Pamuk’s fiction reads like a homage to his Western models: Mann, Faulkner, Borges, Joyce, Dostoevsky, Proust and – in The Museum of Innocence, the tale of a doomed, obsessional love affair between a man in his thirties and an 18-year-old shop girl – Nabokov. Indeed, his affection for the European tradition is as crucial to his appeal as his Turkishness, and his books pay tribute to values deeply embedded in the liberal imagination: romantic love freed from the fetters of tradition; individual creativity; freedom and tolerance; respect for difference. more

Posted in literature | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mandates of Heaven

by Lewis Lapham
from Lapham’s Quarterly

This issue of Lapham’s Quarterly doesn’t trade in divine revelation, engage in theological dispute, or doubt the existence of God. What is of interest are the ways in which religious belief gives birth to historical event, makes law and prayer and politics, accounts for the death of an army or the life of a saint. Questions about the nature or substance of deity, whether it divides into three parts or seven, speaks Latin to the Romans, in tongues when traveling in Kentucky, I’ve learned over the last sixty-odd years to leave to sources more reliably informed. My grasp of metaphysics is as imperfect as my knowledge of Aramaic. I came to my early acquaintance with the Bible in company with my first readings of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Bulfinch’s Mythology, but as an unbaptized child raised in a family unaffiliated with the teachings of a church, I missed the explanation as to why the stories about Moses and Jesus were to be taken as true while those about Apollo and Rumpelstiltskin were not.

Four years at Yale College in the 1950s rendered the question moot. It wasn’t that I’d missed the explanation; there was no explanation to miss, at least not one accessible by means other than the proverbial leap of faith. Then as now, the college was heavily invested in the proceeds of the Protestant Reformation, the testimony of God’s will being done present in the stonework of Harkness Tower and the cautionary ringing of its bells, as well as in the readings from scripture in Battell Chapel and the petitionings of Providence prior to the Harvard game. The college had been established in 1701 to bring a great light unto the gentiles in the Connecticut wilderness, the mission still extant 250 years later in the assigned study of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons and John Donne’s verse. Nowhere in the texts did I see anything other than words on paper—very beautiful words but not the living presence to which they alluded in rhyme royal and iambic pentameter. I attributed the failure to the weakness of my imagination and my poor performance at both the pole vault and the long jump. more

Posted in articles, religion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Yes, It Was Torture, and Illegal

Editorial
from The New York Times

Bush administration officials came up with all kinds of ridiculously offensive rationalizations for torturing prisoners. It’s not torture if you don’t mean it to be. It’s not torture if you don’t nearly kill the victim. It’s not torture if the president says it’s not torture.

It was deeply distressing to watch the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sink to that standard in April when it dismissed a civil case brought by four former Guantánamo detainees never charged with any offense. The court said former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the senior military officers charged in the complaint could not be held responsible for violating the plaintiffs’ rights because at the time of their detention, between 2002 and 2004, it was not “clearly established” that torture was illegal. more

Posted in articles, comment/analysis, current affairs | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Uncovering Céline

by Wyatt Mason
from The New York Review of Books

1.

Louis-Ferdinand Destouches met Cillie Pam in Paris, at the Café de la Paix, in September 1932. Destouches was a physician who worked at a public clinic in Clichy treating poor and working-class patients; Pam was a twenty-seven-year-old Viennese gymnastics instructor eleven years his junior on a visit to the city. Destouches suggested a stroll in the Bois de Boulogne, took Pam to dinner later that night, and afterward took her home. Two weeks together began, after which Pam returned to her work and life in Vienna. Over the next seven years, they saw each other infrequently but corresponded regularly. Pam, who was Jewish, married and had a son. Destouches, who wrote in his free time, became famous shortly after their brief affair, his first novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit, published at the end of 1932 under the pseudonym “Céline” (his maternal grandmother’s first name), proving an enormous success. In February 1939, Destouches received word that Pam had lost her husband: he had been seized, sent to Dachau, and killed. On February 21, Destouches wrote to Pam, who had fled abroad:

Read more

Posted in articles, history, literature | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skepticism via YouTube

by Tim Farley
from CSI

Figure 1: The Center for Inquiry's YouTube Channel

In the summer of 2008, Georgians Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer claimed to have found a Bigfoot carcass. These claims were initially made via a number of YouTube videos that garnered significant attention in the cryptid community. In August 2008, they partnered with well-known cryptozoology personality Tom Biscardi for a national press conference. Almost immediately the carcass was revealed as a hoax involving a Halloween costume.

But a month earlier, rival Bigfoot enthusiasts and skeptics had carefully pored over one of Whitton and Dyer’s promotional videos on YouTube (“Bigfoot Tracker Video 8”) in which they met an alleged Texas scientist named Paul Van Buren who said he would authenticate the carcass (Bigfootpolice 2008). Sharp-eyed viewers quickly determined that “Van Buren” was actually Whitton’s brother, a wedding photographer from Texas, and even found pictures online of the two together at one of their weddings (Coleman 2008). more

Posted in articles, comment/analysis, current affairs | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Night

by Tony Judt
from The New York Review of Books

I suffer from a motor neuron disorder, in my case a variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): Lou Gehrig’s disease. Motor neuron disorders are far from rare: Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and a variety of lesser diseases all come under that heading. What is distinctive about ALS—the least common of this family of neuro-muscular illnesses—is firstly that there is no loss of sensation (a mixed blessing) and secondly that there is no pain. In contrast to almost every other serious or deadly disease, one is thus left free to contemplate at leisure and in minimal discomfort the catastrophic progress of one’s own deterioration.

In effect, ALS constitutes progressive imprisonment without parole. First you lose the use of a digit or two; then a limb; then and almost inevitably, all four. The muscles of the torso decline into near torpor, a practical problem from the digestive point of view but also life-threatening, in that breathing becomes at first difficult and eventually impossible without external assistance in the form of a tube-and-pump apparatus. In the more extreme variants of the disease, associated with dysfunction of the upper motor neurons (the rest of the body is driven by the so-called lower motor neurons), swallowing, speaking, and even controlling the jaw and head become impossible. I do not (yet) suffer from this aspect of the disease, or else I could not dictate this text. more

Posted in articles, comment/analysis | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Speak No Evil

by John B. Judis
from The New Republic

The lines most cited in Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech were those about evil: “Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism–it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

These lines won approbation from both liberals and conservatives. Former Clinton aide Bill Galston praised them as an example of Obama’s “moral realism.” According to neoconservative Bob Kagan, Obama didn’t “shy away from the Manichaean distinctions that drive self-described realists (and Europeans) crazy.” Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said the lines marked the speech as “very American.” “He didn’t speak as kind of the citizen of the world, as sometimes he has in the past,” Gerson added approvingly. more

Posted in current affairs, politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soviet Victory That Never Was

by Nikolas K. Gvosdev
from Foreign Affairs

Could the Soviet Union have won its war in Afghanistan? Today, the victory of the anti-Soviet mujahideen seems preordained as part of the West’s ultimate triumph in the Cold War. To suggest that an alternative outcome was possible — and that the United States has something to learn from the Soviet Union’s experience in Afghanistan — may be controversial. But to avoid being similarly frustrated by the infamous “graveyard of empires,” U.S. military planners would be wise to study how the Soviet Union nearly emerged triumphant from its decade-long war.

There are, of course, some fundamental differences between the Soviets’ war in the 1980s and the U.S.-led mission today. First, the Soviet Union intervened to save a communist regime which was in danger of collapsing due to resistance to its comprehensive and often traumatic social-engineering programs. Unlike the Soviets and their client regime, the United States is not interested in forcibly removing the burkas from Afghan women, shooting large numbers of mullahs for resisting secularization, or reprogramming the political and social mores of Afghans. Instead, Washington has a far more limited objective: namely, ensuring that Afghanistan remains an inhospitable base for extremist groups hoping to attack the West. more

Posted in articles, comment/analysis, current affairs, politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Six Questions for John Scott-Railton on Cambodia

by Ken Silverstein
from Harper’s Magazine

While completing a master’s degree at the University of Michigan, John Scott-Railton helped develop “participatory mapping” projects aimed at protecting the fragile property rights of poor families living in Phnom Penh. While there he became an advocate of transparency in Cambodia’s natural resource management. Scott-Railton, now a doctoral student at the University of California-Los Angeles, has traveled extensively in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia. I recently asked him six questions about the political situation in Cambodia and the role there of the international community. (Note: For a look at the apparel industry in Cambodia, which is promoted by industry as the “anti-sweatshop country,” see my piece in the January issue of Harper’s.)

1. In theory, Cambodia has emerged as a multiparty democracy with political freedoms. What’s the general state of democracy in Cambodia? more

Posted in articles, current affairs, politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Missing the Point

by Colm Tóibín
from The London Review of Books

From an early age, I have missed the point of things. I noticed this first when the entire class at school seemed to understand that Animal Farm was about something other than animals. I alone sat there believing otherwise. I simply couldn’t see who or what the book was about if not about farm animals. I had enjoyed it for that. Now, the teacher and every other boy seemed to think it was really about Stalin or Communism or something. I looked at it again, but I still couldn’t quite work it out.

So, too, with a lot of poetry. I couldn’t see that things were like other things when they were not like them. Maybe they were slightly like them, or somewhat like them, but usually they were not like them at all.

And allegory. I never got the point of allegory. If it was a choice between algebra and allegory, I knew whose side I was on. When I picked up Moby Dick, I liked it because it was about hunting whales. And oh dear I just couldn’t concentrate when everyone began to explain, all at the one time, that the whale was a symbol or something, that it stood for…  I cannot remember what. more

Posted in art, comment/analysis | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Allen Ruppersberg for Bedeutung Magazine: The Secret of Life and Death

Posted in art, images | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment