Tuesday, August 29, 2006

World Beat (another plug)

...this time for these guys, "a think tank without walls."

An Antidote to Info Vertigo

Remember 1993? Bill Clinton was sworn in for his first term at the beginning of the year, the Mogadishu debacle took place in October, and the fighting in Bosnia was getting worse. You followed these issues in the newspaper, by radio, or on television. It's not likely you received your news on-line. After all, 1993 was the first year of the World Wide Web. By the end of 1993, there were only 623 websites.

Ah, those were the days. The world was at your fingertips. With Mosaic, the first web browser, you could visit the entire Web in a couple days of intensive mousework.

Now, according to an article I just found through Wikipedia, there are more than 11.5 billion web pages. The Web is reproducing faster than the human population.

Wikipedia itself didn't even exist until five years ago. It now has 1,343,574 articles. Weblogs or blogs began back in 2003. For the past three years, the blogosphere has doubled in size every six months. There are now over 50 million blogs. The verb “to google” debuted not too long ago. OhMyNews, the largest grassroots news service, began in 2000 with 737 citizen reporters. It now has over 41,000 throughout the world.

So, what's the relationship between foreign policy and the tremendous upsurge in information and opinion available on the Web? Traditional media have not disappeared. We still read newspapers and watch the television news. But the foreign policy content in these traditional sources has declined (except for the occasional spikes around war). U.S. media coverage of foreign affairs has declined by as much as 70-80% over the last two decades. Foreign news bureaus are downsizing (or simply shutting down).

That's where the Web comes in. We now have a virtual infinity (a googolplex, to be precise) of sources to learn about the daily slog of war, poverty, and repression. If you don't like The New York Times, you can get your news from hundreds of alternative sources. And if you don't like depressing news, well, you can personalize your news delivery so that you receive Brangelina 24/7.

All of this information is enough to make anyone's head spin. And create a new syndrome: info vertigo. Now everyone can be as time-crunched and info-inundated as the average policymaker.

So, is Foreign Policy In Focus part of the problem or part of the solution? Are we adding richness, nuance, and subtlety to your understanding of foreign policy? Or are we just adding more white noise to the info-barrage you receive on a daily basis?

Let's say that you have the right intentions to read all of the FPIF content, but you simply don't have the time. Then you might like our new feature, 60-Second Expert. You give us 60 seconds and we'll give you 250-word versions of key articles on our site. For instance, check out the talking points version of Stephen Zunes' analysis of the Lebanon ceasefire. You don't have to be a busy policymaker to take advantage of this new service.

Don't worry: this is not FPIF Lite. We will still provide you with in-depth analysis of the stories behind the headlines. This week, for instance, you can read FPIF analyst Saul Landau's piece on U.S. misperceptions of Cuba, which appeared at TomPaine. We have Ariela Ruiz Caro's contribution to Americas Program on U.S. trade pressure on Latin America. And there are two pieces from Right Web, one on Elliott Abrams and the other on Hezbollah.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Unapologetic blockquote, revisiting Adorno ("..." and "...." mine)

Adorno (sounding, for all the world, very much like JD, all jabbings at phenomenology, French philo and literary studies notwithstanding):
For it is mere superstition on the part of a science that operates by processing raw materials to think that concepts as such are unspecified and become determinate only when defined. Science needs the notion of the concept as a tabula rasa to consolidate its claim to authority, its claim to be the sole power to occupy the head of the table. In actuality, all concepts are already implicitly concretized through the language in which they stand. The essay starts with these meanings, and...takes them farther; it wants to help language in its relation to concepts, to take them in reflection...Unapologetically it lays itself open to the objection that one does not know for sure how one is to understand its concepts. For it understands that the demand for strict definition has long served to eliminate–through stipulative manipulations of the meanings of concepts–the irritating and dangerous aspects of the things that live in the concepts. But the essay does not make do without general concepts–even language that does not fetishize concepts cannot do without them–nor does it deal with them arbitrarily. Hence it takes presentation more seriously than do modes of proceeding that separate method and object and are indifferent to the presentation of their objectified contents. The manner of expression is to salvage the precision sacrificed when definition is omitted, without betraying the subject matter to the arbitrariness of conceptual meanings decreed once and for all. In this, Benjamin was the unsurpassed master. This kind of precision, however, cannot remain atomistic. Not less but more than a definitional procedure, the essay presses for the reciprocal interaction of its concepts in the process of intellectual experience. In such experience, concepts do not form a continuum of operations. Thought does not progress in a single direction; instead, the moments are interwoven as in a carpet. The fruitfulness of the thoughts depends on the density of the texture. The thinker does not actually think but rather makes himself into an arena for intellectual experience, without unraveling it...

The way the essay appropriates concepts can best be compared to the behavior of someone in a foreign country who is forced to speak its language instead of piecing it together out of its elements according to rules learned in school. Such a person will read without a dictionary. If he sees the same word thirty times in continually changing contexts, he will have ascertained its meaning better than if he had looked up all the meanings listed, which are usually too narrow in relation to the changes that occur with changing contexts and too vague in relation to the unmistakable nuances that the context gives rise to in every individual case. This kind of learning remains vulnerable to error, as does the essay as form; it has to pay for its affinity with open intellectual experience with a lack of security that the norm of established thought fears like death. It is not so much that the essay neglects indubitable certainty as that it abrogates it as an ideal. The essay becomes true in its progress, which drives it beyond itself, not in a treasure-hunting obsession with foundations. Its concepts receive their light from a terminus ad quem hidden from the essay itself, not from any obvious terminus a quo, and in this the method itself expresses its utopian intention....

The more it strives to consolidate itself as theory and to act as though it held the philosopher's stone in its hands, the more intellectual experience courts disaster. At the same time, by its very nature intellectual experience strives for such objectification. This antimony is reflected in the essay....

Rhetoric was probably never anything but thought in its adaptation to communicative langauge. Such thought aimed at something unmediated: the vicarious gratification of the listeners. The essay retains, precisely in the autonomy of its presentation, which distinguishes it from scientific and scholarly information, traces of the communicative element such information dispenses with...

The essay uses equivocations not out of sloppiness, nor in ignorance of the scientific ban on them, but to make it clear–something the critique of equivocation, which merely separates meanings, seldom succeeds in doing–that when a word covers different things they are not completely different; the unity of the word calls to mind a unity, however hidden, in the object itself. This unity, however, should not be mistaken for linguistic affinity, as is the practice of contemporary restorationist philosophies. Here too the essay approaches the logic of music, that stringent and yet aconceptual art of transition, in order to appropriate for verbal language something it forfeited under the domination of discursive logic–although that logic cannot be set aside but only outwitted within its own forms by dint of incisive subjective expression...(emphasis added)

-from Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen

nb: The Long Sunday symposium on Spivak, perhaps also of related interest–being one of several things that prompted this.

Friday, August 25, 2006

naked plug

Dear Friends,
Naked Punch is currently looking for collaborations for two different cultural projects; details below. Please distribute this email to anyone you think might be interested.

Specific Projects - Call for Proposals

Please get in touch with Lorenzo Marsili (l.marsili (AT) nakedpunch.com) for further details on the projects below

1) Independent Cultural Realities Symposium.

Naked Punch is currently organising, as part of the Festival of Europe, a one-day symposium with the participation of representatives of numerous independent cultural and artistic collectives.
Talks will explore the concept of avant-garde, and the significance of collective independence in cultural experimentation. Each organisation will also be asked to contribute with a small work of art to a collective exhibition that will be shown during the Festival in London. Details will soon be added.

2) Naked Punch International Desks Series

Naked Punch is currently looking for individuals interested in taking part in a photographic project. We are looking to accumulate a large number of quasi-surreal photographs presenting a "desk" of naked punch in the most unthinkable places imaginable. Desks (a "foreign desk" is also the name of an office of the magazine abroad) can be decorated with the photographer's personal understanding of naked punch, or as he/she wishes. Example of locations include subway stations, forests, street crossings, islands, etc.

The photographs received will be presented on the website, and exhibited at one of the naked punch events in London.

Let me also use the occasion to announce that the new issue of naked punch will be out in late September, featuring a special on Latin American politics, a Dossier on contemporary art in Lebanon, interviews with Ernesto Laclau and Gayatry Spivak, and more. Why not easily subscribe from our website, receive the copy to your doorsteps, and help our independent collective?

No, I really cannot see why not.

Tristan Tzara

on behalf of naked punch collective


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

between citation and accusation

Where to draw the line? There can be no pure formula. But one way of approaching this question arose recently in the course of a discussion with Ellis Sharp (see his reply to my reply). My argument, such as it was, was of the sort wishing primarily to raise questions about the way Markson's This is Not a Novel–for lack of a better word– argued. That is, how seriously are we to take it? Markson sure seems to be citing an awful lot, and citing cocktail gossip-type nuggets of information, bits and pieces and shards of what is often called "autobiographical" reference, with cavalier concern for accuracy or the fullness of the truth at best. Of course, such "not-novel" would lose something crucial were it entirely fabricated (instead of a performative and self-returning and self-referring emptying of the head, it would perhaps only be the emptying of an empty head). Accuracy matters, surely. And giving free circulation to slander of the worst, most pernicious sort is no small matter, either. But I still wonder if Markson (that is, personally) may in some sense be forgiven for citing here, or rather for having his "Writer" cite what is, whether justly or not, still cocktail knowledge of the generally accepted sort. Which maybe raises another question: where does the recourse to irony fall short?

nb. On another, admittedly more interesting note, on Genet and frenemies, please see one and two by Angela.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lebanon's Exxon Valdez

Here, and everywhere.

How does Bush sleep at night. Maybe he dreams there is someone in charge, someone very powerful with a plan a, plan b and c. How comforting for him.

Elsewhere in the world:
The topsoil has been removed from some front yards in an attempt to clean up the oil, but black bubbles are already seeping back up through the ground.

Right then.

Critical distance

Following on from here...

"So if we want to be guided by Lenin’s reply to Luxemburg on the National Question, we should support Hizbollah or the Iraqi resistance insofar as they resist the oppressor, but when they stand for their own bourgeois nationalism, we should oppose them. Have I got it right?

Leaving aside the dubiousness of calling Hizbollah (whose name means “God’s Party") bourgeois nationalists, I suggest the following imaginary scene:

'Good news, comrade! George Galloway, even the same which slew the mighty Hitchens, has declared himself for our cause--and if that were not sufficient reason to rejoice, the Monthly Review online site has done so as well!'

'Good news indeed, my brother! I had almost lost heart and determined to surrender to the Zionist enemy, but now my courage is restored. Yet stay: is their support absolutely unequivocal?'

'Indeed it is not. Should we fall into the error of bourgeois nationalism, we will incur their opposition.'

'Say not so! Let us then subject our theory and our practice alike to self-criticism on the lines suggested by immortal Lenin, lest we lose through political error that invaluable support which our valiant resistance ha[th] but lately won!'

Posted by rootlesscosmo on 08/09 at 02:17 PM

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

not bored

A review of the new Blanchot book, and another of The Philosophy of Boredorm (many thanks to Alfredo).

Proud member of the...something community

Umberto Eco in the Guardian explores two theories giving a whole new meaning to "the outside:"
There are two hollow earth theories. According to the first one we live on the crust, but there is another world on the inside where lies - some say - the realm of Agartha, the home of the King of the World (see, for example, the fantasies of French philosopher René Guénon). The second theory has it that while we think we live on the outer crust, we actually live in the interior (on a convex surface instead of a concave one)[...]

It is widely rumoured on the internet that the hollow earth theory was taken seriously by top-ranking Nazis who believed in the occult sciences. In some circles of the German navy it was purportedly believed that the hollow earth theory would make it easier to pinpoint the exact position of British ships because, if infrared rays were used, the curvature of the Earth would not have obscured observation.

Hitler allegedly sent an expedition to the Baltic island of Rügen where a Dr Heinz Fischer trained a telescopic camera toward the sky in order to spot the British fleet sailing on the interior of the convex surface of the hollow earth. It is even said that some V1 missiles went astray because their trajectory was calculated on the basis of a hypothetical concave surface instead of a convex one.

I don't know. Maybe someone can explain it to me. Via PTDR.

Friday, August 04, 2006

bleg pas

I don't normally ask this, but if you are at all so inclined, please consider making a donation. Thanks so much. There's a donation button right over on the sidebar, there (and some advertisements too). Times are hard. As everybody knows.

nb. For a donation of $25 or more, the first two people may receive a free copy, shipped by yours truly, of Naked Punch Magazine's latest special issue on China Issue 06 + Spring 2006, if so desired.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On the inevitable capitalist drooling over Cuba

Specifically here, just shameless. Not a single courageous or appreciative word about what makes this country, its people and its complicated history and yes, its sometimes homophobic leader with his humble, humanity-asserting beard that children sometimes tug on, so unique and truly wonderful, despite hardship (and no doubt more to come). (Speaking as someone whose friends and neighbors go down there regularly, to deliver parts and work on cars, or to work on environmental issues, you know, somewhere the government actually cares.)

Update: a little better. And from The Rhine River.

Update 2: And more:
First of all, poor as their nation may be, Cubans actually live quite well compared with neighboring capitalist countries in the Caribbean or Central America. And, speaking as someone who’s made scores of trips to the island since the 1960s, I can tell you that Cuba looks poorer and more dilapidated than it is. Buildings need paint, but its 13 medical schools and 13 universities turn out well-prepared citizens; its applauded healthcare system claims an infant mortality rate lower than that of Washington, D.C.

Cubans who listen to Miami radio or Radio Marti (Voice of America) know of George Bush’s disinclination to spend money on public service, an attitude very unlike that of Castro’s government. And if U.S.-style capitalism should return to Cuba, many on the island know they would have to start paying for medical services and education that they now receive gratis.

Further, should the floodgates to America open, many islanders believe that the influx of land-hungry Miami-based Cubans will result in their losing title to their homes or having to pay exorbitant rents as their parents and grandparents did in the pre-revolutionary era.

Right now, for better or worse, many Cubans have a very laissez faire attitude toward work and official responsibilities. It’s not hard for them to imagine how difficult and grating their lives might become once their labor goes toward enriching a true parasite class...

There’s little chance that Bush will succeed in re-colonizing the island. That much seems assured, at least with Raul in power. But Raul and his successors appear to lack the outside-the-box thinking that would inject new life into the Cuban experiment. And that is what is sorely needed. Cuba’s citizens have endured their share of hard knocks over the last 40 years—nuclear brinkmanship with the U.S., a strangling embargo, and the absence of many freedoms – all without revolting, mind you.

They deserve the right to participate in the policies that guide their nation. They have earned that much by now. Perhaps Raul’s very lack of charisma—and his advanced age—is just what Cuba needs: breathing room for a populist-driven reinvigoration of the revolutionary spirit that Fidel once sparked. But this time, the revolution would draw its energy not just from one man, but rather from all Cubans.

It would put renewed meaning, at least, into Castro’s slogan, Patria o muerte.

...and more (both well worth reading, both via wood s lot).