Bedeutung Blog

More Evidence of an Emerging Military Dictatorship in Iran

by Scott Horton
from Harper’s

New York Times editor Bill Keller speculated that the Green Revolution in Iran would cement the position of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Others saw another confrontation in which the clerical party had triumphed over reformers. Both of these analyses now seem wide of the mark. The latest developments in Iran provide more evidence that a steadily emerging military dictatorship is supplanting the remaining vestiges of the fragile clerical-democratic order established under the Islamic Republic’s constitution. The guiding hand behind each of these events is the same: elite commanders in the Revolutionary Guard are asserting themselves by stifling dissent, persecuting those who raise objections, and pushing ahead with an aggressive policy in pursuit of nuclear arms. Three developments in the last few days merit closer attention. more

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Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri: Commonwealth (2009)

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Bedeutung interviews Noam Chomsky

by Alexandros Stavrakas
from Bedeutung Magazine

In the context of Bedeutung’s fourth and forthcoming issue, titled Intellectuals & Masses, editor Alex Stavrakas interviewed Noam Chomsky. The well-known linguist and vocal critic of capitalism speaks about American politics and Obama, the financial crisis, religious faith, the US’s role as a hegemonic power and, even, the move from ‘is’ to ‘ought’.


AS: Every society creates its institutions based on needs, values and ideas that are fictitious – as being based on arbitrary truths. The idea itself, however, that these institutions are a human creation does not exist in every society. Societies, for example, may rely on an external authority in order to legitimize their truths: Gods, gospels, etc. The question is: if American people were fully aware that they themselves are the creators of their own laws, would they respect them?

NC: First of all, the majority of American people today don’t accept the assumption that it is they who create their institutions and who run their country. The last time I looked at the poles, about 80% of the population felt that the government is made up of a few big interests looking out for themselves and not for the people. You could see this at the elections. Although I don’t have the exact figures at hand, there’s a very striking fact: opinions of Congress are extremely low – in the teens. Nevertheless, probably 98% of incumbents get re-elected. What this tells you is that, essentially, people are aware that they don’t have a choice and that they’re not taking part in running the country. In fact, you can see this in many other ways: take April 15th, the day when taxes are paid. In a democratic society, where people would feel that they are shaping their own lives, this would be a day of celebration. The spirit would be “We’re getting together as a community to put our resources into implementing policies that we have chosen”. What could be better than that? Well, that’s not the way it is here. Instead, it’s a day of mourning when some alien force which has nothing to do with us comes to steal our hard-earned money.

>>> Read the entire interview here

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Denial: The Liberal Utopia

by Slavoj Zizek
from Lacan Dot Com

I. Through the Glasses Darkly (revisited, enlarged and re-edited)

John Carpenter’s They Live (1988), one of the neglected masterpieces of the Hollywood Left, is a true lesson in critique of ideology. It is the story of John Nada – Spanish for “nothing”! -, a homeless laborer who finds work on a Los Angeles construction site, but has no place to stay. One of the workers, Frank Armitage, takes him to spend the night at a local shantytown. While being shown around that night, he notices some odd behavior at a small church across the street. Investigating it the next day, he accidentally stumbles on several more boxes hidden in a secret compartment in a wall, full of sunglasses. When he later puts on a pair of the glasses for the first time, he notices that a publicity billboard now simply displays the word “OBEY,” while another billboard urges the viewer to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” He also sees that paper money bears the words “THIS IS YOUR GOD.” Additionally he soon discovers that many people are actually aliens who, when they realize he can see them for what they are, the police suddenly arrive. Nada escapes and returns to the construction site to talk over what he has discovered with Armitage, who is initially uninterested in his story. The two fight as Nada attempts to convince and then force him to put on the sunglasses. When he does, Armitage joins Nada and they get in contact with the group from the church, organizing resistance. At the group’s meeting they learn that the alien’s primary method of control is a signal being sent out on television, which is why the general public cannot see the aliens for what they are. In the final battle, after destroying the broadcasting antenna, Nada is mortally wounded; as his last dying act, he gives the aliens the finger. With the signal now missing, people are startled to find the aliens in their midst.

There is a series of features one should take note of here, first among them the direct link of the classic Hollywood topic of the “invasion of the body snatchers,” aliens among us who, invisible to our gaze, already run our lives, to class antagonism, to ideological domination and exploitation – one cannot but be impressed by the down-to-earth depiction of the miserable shanty-town lives of poor workers. Then there is, of course, the beautifully-naïve mise-en-scene of ideology: through the critico-ideological glasses, we directly see the Master-Signifier beneath the chain of knowledge: we learn to see dictatorship IN democracy. There is, of course, a naïve aspect in this staging, reminding us of the not-so-well-known fact that, in the 1960s, the leadership of the CP of the USA, in order to account for its failure to mobilize workers, seriously entertained the idea that the US population is controlled by the secret use of drugs distributed through air and water supply. We do not need aliens and secret drugs or gasses – the FORM of ideology does the work without them. It is because of this form that the depicted scene nonetheless stages our daily truth. Look at the front page of our daily newspapers: every title, even and especially when it pretends just to inform, an implicit injunction. When you are asked to choose between liberal democracy and fundamentalism, it is not only that one term is obviously preferred – what is more important, the true injunction, is to see this as the true alternative, to ignore third options. more

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Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation

by Christopher Booker
from The Telegraph

A week after my colleague James Delingpole , on his Telegraph blog, coined the term “Climategate” to describe the scandal revealed by the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, Google was showing that the word now appears across the internet more than nine million times. But in all these acres of electronic coverage, one hugely relevant point about these thousands of documents has largely been missed.

The reason why even the Guardian’s George Monbiot has expressed total shock and dismay at the picture revealed by the documents is that their authors are not just any old bunch of academics. Their importance cannot be overestimated, What we are looking at here is the small group of scientists who have for years been more influential in driving the worldwide alarm over global warming than any others, not least through the role they play at the heart of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Professor Philip Jones, the CRU’s director, is in charge of the two key sets of data used by the IPCC to draw up its reports. Through its link to the Hadley Centre, part of the UK Met Office, which selects most of the IPCC’s key scientific contributors, his global temperature record is the most important of the four sets of temperature data on which the IPCC and governments rely – not least for their predictions that the world will warm to catastrophic levels unless trillions of dollars are spent to avert it. more

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Some worthy downloads: Callinicos, Butler, Agamben and Latour

Giorgio Agamben: The Signature of All Things

Alex Callinicos" The Revolutionary Ideas of Marx

Judith Butler: Precarious Life

Bruno Latour: Where Are the Missing Masses?

 

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Stealing Empire

Stealing Empire poses the question, “What possibilities for agency exist in the age of corporate globalisation?” Using the work of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt as a point of entry, Adam Haupt delves into varied terrain to locate answers in this ground-breaking inquiry. He explores arguments about copyright via peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms such as Napster, free speech struggles, debates about access to information and open content licenses, and develops a politically incisive analysis of counterdiscourses produced by South African hip-hop artists. From ‘empire stealing’ through their commodification of countercultures to the ‘stealing empire’ activities of file-sharers, culture jammers and hip-hop activists, this book tells the story of people defining themselves as active, creative agents in a consumerist society.

Stealing Empire is vital reading for law, media and cultural studies scholars who want to make sense of the ways in which legal and communication strategies are employed to secure hegemony.

Download the free e-book here

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How to Save Journalism

by John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney
from The Nation

We will give you the good news first: the politicians and regulators who have it in their power to do something about the decline of American journalism are finally paying attention.

Already this year, House and Senate hearings have investigated the crisis. And even as Congress focuses this fall on healthcare reform and rising unemployment, all signs suggest that media matters will be back on the front burner in 2010, one hopes with less focus on what’s gone awry and more on proposals to set things right. Encouragingly, federal agencies are taking tentative steps that could produce those proposals.

In early December the Federal Trade Commission will hold an unprecedented hearing to assess the radical downsizing and outright elimination of newspaper newsrooms and to consider public-policy measures that might arrest a precipitous collapse in reporting and editing of the news. The FTC staffers who have organized this hearing give the distinct impression of being seriously concerned about the crisis and seriously interested in responding to it. The Federal Communications Commission is also launching an extraordinary review of the state of journalism. The work was spearheaded initially by FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who has as firm a grasp of the problem as any player in Washington. The FCC review likely will emphasize the disintegration of local journalism. Its findings could also lead to sweeping changes in fundamental regulations. more

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Google and the new digital future

by Robert Darnton
from The New York Review of Books

November 9 is one of those strange dates haunted by history. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the collapse of the Soviet empire. The Nazis organized Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, beginning their all-out campaign against Jews. On November 9, 1923, Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch was crushed in Munich, and on November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and Germany was declared a republic. The date especially hovers over the history of Germany, but it marks great events in other countries as well: the Meiji Restoration in Japan, November 9, 1867; Bonaparte’s coup effectively ending the French Revolution, November 9, 1799; and the first sighting of land by the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, November 9, 1620.

On November 9, 2009, in the district court for the Southern District of New York, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers were scheduled to file a settlement to resolve their suit against Google for alleged breach of copyright in its program to digitize millions of books from research libraries and to make them available, for a fee, online. Not comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall, you might say. True, but for several months, all eyes in the world of books—authors, publishers, librarians, and a great many readers—were trained on the court and its judge, Denny Chin, because this seemingly small-scale squabble over copyright looked likely to determine the digital future for all of us.

Google has by now digitized some ten million books. On what terms will it make those texts available to readers? That is the question before Judge Chin. If he construes the case narrowly, according to precedents in class-action suits, he could conclude that none of the parties had been slighted. That decision would remove all obstacles to Google’s attempt to transform its digitizing of texts into the largest library and book-selling business the world has ever known. If Judge Chin were to take a broad view of the case, the settlement could be modified in ways that would protect the public against potential abuses of Google’s monopolistic power. more

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Bacon agonistes

by John Richardson
from The New York Review of Books

To celebrate Francis Bacon’s centenary in 2009, Tate Britain mounted a retrospective exhibition that was subsequently shown at the Prado in Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Bacon’s theater of cruelty was an enormous popular success at all of its venues, but especially in New York, where he was hailed by fans as the greatest painter of the twentieth century. However, such clouds of hyperbole were already a touch toxic following the sale in 2008 of a flashy triptych for $86 million, and serious reviews of the Met show were anything but favorable. Also, those of us who care about the integrity of an artist’s work were worried by the appearance on the market of paintings that, if indeed they are entirely by him, Bacon would never have allowed out of the studio.

As a longtime fan of Bacon, I have strong feelings about these matters. My admiration dates back to World War II, when, like many another art student, I was captivated by an illustration of a 1933 painting entitled Crucifixion in a popular book called Art Now, by Britain’s token modernist, Herbert Read (first published in 1933, and frequently reprinted). Read’s text was dim and theoretical, but his ragbag of black-and-white illustrations—by the giants of modernism, as well as the chauvinistic author’s pets—was the only corpus of plates then available. This Crucifixion—a cruciform gush of sperm against a night sky, prescient of searchlights in the blitz—was irresistibly eye-catching. But who Bacon was, nobody seemed to know. more

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Slavoj Žižek extravaganza!

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: The Double Death of Neoliberalism and the Idea of Communism

This event was recorded on 25 November 2009 in Old Theatre, Old Building, The London School of Economics and Political Science

Slavoj Zizek argues that the neoliberalism died twice: first as a political doctrine in the tragedy of the attacks of 9/11; then its farcical collapse as an economic theory when the meltdown at the end of 2008 brought an end to the utopia of global market capitalism. Has this crisis now offered a vital opening for the left to seize the reins of politics and the state?

[audio http://bedeutung.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/zizeklse.mp3]

Apocalyptic Times

Tuesday 24th November 2009 – 2.30 pm
Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

[audio http://bedeutung.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/zizekapocalypse.mp3]

And the Q&A:

[audio http://bedeutung.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/zizekapocalypsequestions.mp3]

(thanks to backdoorbroadcasting for the recording)

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: the economic crisis and the end of global capitalism

Tuesday 24th November 2009 18:00
RSA

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[audio http://bedeutung.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/zizekrsa.mp3]

Timothy Gorthon Ash, Tariq Ramadan & Slavoj Žižek on Al Jazeera

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Love and Truth: Václav Havel in Bratislava, Twenty Years After 1989

by Timothy Snyder
from The New York Review of Books – Blog

It can’t happen often that citizens of one country gather to honor someone who was the president of two other countries, all the while claiming him as their own. But so it was on November 18, 2009, twenty years after student protests in Prague that began the Velvet Revolution led by the playwright Václav Havel. Now the former president of both Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic had come to Bratislava, the Slovak capital, to talk with Slovak students about the events of 1989. Although these young people remember neither those events nor the dissolution of Czechoslovakia that followed three years later, they greeted him with standing ovations and sincere expressions of respect.

Havel had opposed the split of Czechoslovakia into Czech and Slovak republics, caring more for its multinational society than he did for the economic arguments made for a separate Czech state. It is hard to say that the end of Czechoslovakia was good for the Czechs or the Slovaks. Many believed the establishment of the Czech Republic would allow the Czechs to pursue economic reform and join Europe. But both the Czech Republic and Slovakia joined the European Union at the same time, in 2004; the Slovaks use the euro while the Czechs do not; and the current Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, opposes European integration. Meanwhile the Slovak government, led by former communists in a coalition with nationalists, cynically exploits nationalism. Would any of this be possible if Czechoslovakia had remained intact? Though the question is moot, the thought was hard to avoid. Slovak students understand Czech. Havel speaks Czech to his Slovak friends, and they speak Slovak to him. In this sense, Czechoslovakia has not disappeared. more

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Obama's Troubles

by George Packer
from The New Yorker

At every stop on my mini-book-tour for “Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade,” someone asks a variation on the question of what’s gone wrong with Obama. Usually it’s asked in a tone of bewilderment verging on panic, as if the aircraft’s engines were shutting down one after another at thirty-five thousand feet. I don’t have a pithy answer because I don’t think there’s a simple explanation, and, what’s more, I don’t completely accept the premise. But if the President is looking less commanding than he did ten months ago, these might be a few of the reasons: more

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Žižek – BBC HARDTALK interview

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Midnight in Dostoevsky // by Don DeLillo

We were two sombre boys hunched in our coats, grim winter settling in. The college was at the edge of a small town way upstate, barely a town, maybe a hamlet, we said, or just a whistle stop, and we took walks all the time, getting out, going nowhere, low skies and bare trees, hardly a soul to be seen. This was how we spoke of the local people: they were souls, they were transient spirits, a face in the window of a passing car, runny with reflected light, or a long street with a shovel jutting from a snowbank, no one in sight.

We were walking parallel to the tracks when an old freight train approached and we stopped and watched. It seemed the kind of history that passes mostly unobserved, a diesel engine and a hundred boxcars rolling over remote country, and we shared an unspoken moment of respect, Todd and I, for times past, frontiers gone, and then walked on, talking about nothing much but making something of it. We heard the whistle sound as the train disappeared into late afternoon.

This was the day we saw the man in the hooded coat. We argued about the coat—loden coat, anorak, parka. It was our routine; we were ever ready to find a matter to contest. This was why the man had been born, to end up in this town wearing that coat. He was well ahead of us and walking slowly, hands clasped behind his back, a smallish figure turning now to enter a residential street and fade from view.

“A loden coat doesn’t have a hood. A hood isn’t part of the context,” Todd said. “It’s a parka or an anorak.”
“There’s others. There’s always others.”
“Name one.”
“Duffel coat.”
“There’s duffel bag.”
“There’s duffel coat.”
“Does the word imply a hood?”
“The word implies toggles.”
“The coat had a hood. We don’t know if the coat had toggles.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Because the guy was wearing a parka.”
“ ‘Anorak’ is an Inuit word.”
“So what.”
“I say it’s an anorak,” he said.

I tried to invent an etymology for the word “parka” but couldn’t think fast enough. Todd was on another subject—the freight train, laws of motion, effects of force, sneaking in a question about the number of boxcars that trailed the locomotive. We hadn’t stated in advance that a tally would be taken, but each of us had known that the other would be counting, even as we spoke about other things. When I told him now what my number was, he did not respond, and I knew what this meant. It meant that he’d arrived at the same number. This was not supposed to happen—it unsettled us, it made the world flat—and we walked for a time in chagrined silence. Even in matters of pure physical reality, we depended on a friction between our basic faculties of sensation, his and mine, and we understood now that the rest of the afternoon would be spent in the marking of differences.

Read the entire text here

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Slavoj Žižek – We’re only human: Ideology in Holywood today

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Blackwater's Secret War in Pakistan

by Jeremy Scahill
from The Nation

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help run a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence. more

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The Guantánamo Lawyers—Six Questions for Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz

by Scott Horton
from Harper’s

Seton Hall Law Professor Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz of the ACLU are two of the leading members of the “Guantánamo Bar Association”—the group of private and military lawyers who have managed the defense of the dwindling number of prisoners at Gitmo. They have brought out The Guantánamo Lawyers, a collection of over one hundred personal narratives by lawyers involved in this high-profile matter. I put six questions to them about the book and the status of the pending litigation over Gitmo.

Read the full article here

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When piracy isn't theft

by Alexandros Stavrakas
from The Guardian

Stewart Brand, during the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984, uttered the infamous maxim, “Information wants to be free”. The implication was that any attempt to control and limit the free dissemination of knowledge and information would be met with resistance. That was yesterday’s news. Today’s is that the British government is seeking to tackle the problem of online piracy by passing a law disciplining those wishing to freely share intellectual property that is under copyright protection.

In 2007, Dan Ariely and Kristina Shampan’er, behavioural economists at MIT, published a paper that established the advantage of “free” over “cheap”. They offered a group of subjects a choice between two chocolates, Hershey’s Kisses for one cent and Lindt truffles for 15c. Three quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. When they repeated the experiment, reducing the price of each chocolate by 1c, the order of preference was reversed: the majority chose the now free Hershey’s Kisses. Although the price difference had remained effectively the same (14c), the effect that “free” had on the subjects’ behaviour was remarkable. “Free” produces a completely different consumer dynamic to any other price.

Even so, the seductive resonance of getting something for nothing is of secondary importance, as are a number of other points that have been made since the announcement of Peter Mandelson’s intentions. more

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Complaint Box | Picky Eaters

by Susan Goldberg
from The New York Times

Having friends over for dinner used to involve a minimal and fairly unremarkable to-do list: There were groceries to buy, along with flowers and a couple of bottles of semi-respectable wine. I would put out some guest towels and a collection of fancy soaps that were off limits to blood relatives, and then — voilà! — dinner was served. Preparing for a dinner party these days is far more complex, thanks to a vast and bewildering array of dietary needs that seem to have suddenly overtaken everyone I know.

An unscientific survey of family and friends turns up one acquaintance who is kosher, two who are more like kosher-style, in addition to two vegans, a smattering of lacto-vegetarians and a couple who cannot digest gluten of any kind. Accommodations must be made for my mother-in-law, who is lactose intolerant, and a friend who is dangerously and inconveniently allergic to peanuts. I must know at least a dozen women who have declared lifelong war on complex carbohydrates. And then there’s my daughter, a wispy and tender-hearted flower child who prefers not to eat “anything with a face” (although she will sometimes make random and completely unreasonable exceptions for hot dogs and pepperoni). more

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