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  • feedwordpress 09:01:05 on 2018/03/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Slow Thinking, , Vincenzo Di Nicola,   

    “Question: ‘How does one philosopher address another?’ Answer: ‘Take your time.’”*… 


    Vincenzo Di Nicola argues that

    We need a philosophy of Slow Thought to ease thinking into a more playful and porous dialogue about what it means to live…

    Read his “Slow Thought: a manifesto.”

    [Image above from “Why Slow Thinking Wins,” a less philosophical, more functional argument…]

    * Ludwig Wittgenstein


    As we listen to Ludwig, we might spare a thought for Saint Thomas Aquinas; he died on this date in 1274. A Dominican friar, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church, he was an immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of Scholasticism.  Following Aristotle’s definition of science as sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations, Thomas defined science as the knowledge of things from their causes. In his major work, Summa, he distinguished between demonstrated truth (science) and revealed truth (faith).  His influence on Western thought is considerable; much of modern philosophy (especially ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory) developed with reference– in support or opposition– to his ideas.

    Thomas, from an altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, by Carlo Crivelli (15th century)


  • feedwordpress 09:01:50 on 2018/03/06 Permalink
    Tags: , connections, , network analysis, , post-structuralism, , , ,   

    “Invisible threads are the strongest ties”*… 


    Enter any two nouns or nominative/descriptive phrases; if (as is likely) there’s a Wikipedia article on each, Six Degrees of Wikipedia will track and map the links that connect the two, first as a network diagram:

    … then as paths like these:

    … all with active links to the underlying articles.

    Try it.

    * Friedrich Nietzsche


    As we agree with E.M. Forster that we should “only connect,” we might spare a thought for Jean Baudrillard; he died on this date in 2007.  A sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, he is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality.  He wrote widely– touching subjects including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture– and is perhaps best known for Simulacra and Simulation (1981).  Part of a generation of French thinkers that included Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, with all of whom Baudrillard shared an interest in semiotics, he is often seen as a central to the post-structuralist philosophical school.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:20 on 2018/03/05 Permalink
    Tags: achive, , , Center for Advanced Visual Studies, , , , ,   

    “With a library it is easier to hope for serendipity than to look for a precise answer”*… 


    At first, the new website for the collection of MIT’s influential Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) seems like a straightforward web page. But as it scrolls down, through the introductory text and into randomly selected works from the archive, it becomes clear that the content is warping into three dimensional space, and branching into spiraling trees of related work, organized by creator and medium — an experience designed to evoke the sensation of wandering through the center’s physical archive.

    “Someone might be coming in to do research on environmental sculpture, and then they see all these images on, I don’t know, holography, and then they’d say ‘oh, I really want to check that out,’” said Jeremy Grubman, an MIT archivist who spearheaded the project. “So I wanted to find a way to produce that in a digital space, to produce that concept of serendipitous browsing.”

    50 years of art across three-dimensional space; as Jon Christian explains, “This MIT archive will be your trippiest scrolling experience today.”

    Check it out.

    * Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), When Did You See Her Last?


    As we prepare for pleasant surprises, we might send cartographically-correct birthday greetings to Gerardus Mercator; he was born on this date in 1512.  The most renown cartographer of his time, he created a world map based on a new projection– the Mercator Projection— which represented sailing courses of constant bearing as straight lines, an approach still employed in nautical charts used for navigation.

    While he was most esteemed as the foremost geographer of his day, Mercator was also an accomplished engraver, calligrapher and maker of globes and scientific instruments.  And he studied theology, philosophy, history, mathematics, and magnetism.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:04 on 2018/03/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Napier Shaw, , tephigram, ,   

    “Men argue. Nature acts.”*… 


    Scientists have converged on climate change predictions that a growing majority of Americans accept.  Still, it can be hard to understand– at a visceral level– what a warming globe might mean.  Here’s some help: a clever tool from Greg Schivley, a civil and environmental engineering PhD. student at Carnegie Mellon University (with help from Ben Noll; inspired by Sophie Lewis).  Enter some key birth dates to project how the climate will have changed from your grandma’s birth to when your kids retire.  The chart’s temperature changes are based on NASA’s historical and projected climate scenarios.

    Climate change and life events

    * Voltaire


    As we sweat it out, we might send temperate birthday greetings to Sir William Napier Shaw; he was born on this date in 1854.  A meteorologist and member of the Royal Society, he developed the tephigram, a diagram of temperature changes still commonly used in weather analysis and forecasting.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:38 on 2018/03/03 Permalink
    Tags: archives, Columbia School of Journalism, , , , , Maria Bustillos, , , Public Broadcasting,   

    “The great use of a life is to spend it for something that outlasts it”*… 


    When an online news outlet goes out of business, its archives can disappear as well.  A new front in the battle over journalism is the digital legacy of the press.

    For years, our most important records have been committed to specialized materials and technologies. For archivists, 1870 is the year everything begins to turn to dust. That was the year American newspaper mills began phasing out rag-based paper with wood pulp, ensuring that newspapers printed after would be known to future generations as delicate things, brittle at the edges, yellowing with the slightest exposure to air. In the late 1920s, the Kodak company suggested microfilm was the solution, neatly compacting an entire newspaper onto a few inches of thin, flexible film. In the second half of the century, entire libraries were transferred to microform, spun on microfilm reels, or served on tiny microfiche platters, while the crumbling originals were thrown away or pulped. To save newspapers, we first had to destroy them.

    Then came digital media, which is even more compact than microfilm, giving way, initially at least, to fantasies of whole libraries preserved on the head of a pin. In the event, the new digital records degraded even more quickly than did newsprint. Information’s most consistent quality is its evanescence. Information is fugitive in its very nature.

    “People are good at guessing what will be important in the future, but we are terrible at guessing what won’t be,” says Clay Shirky, media scholar and author, who in the early 2000s worked at the Library of Congress on the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Project. After the obvious — presidential inaugurations or live footage of world historical events, say — we have to choose what to save. But we can’t save everything, and we can’t know that what we’re saving will last long. “Much of the modern dance of the 1970s and 1980s is lost precisely because choreographers assumed the VHS tapes they made would preserve it,” he says. He points to Rothenberg’s Law: “Digital data lasts forever, or five years, whichever comes first,” which was coined by the RAND Corporation computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg in a 1995 Scientific American article. “Our digital documents are far more fragile than paper,” he argued. “In fact, the record of the entire present period of history is in jeopardy.”…

    Our records are the raw material of history; the shelter of our memories for the future. We must develop ironclad security for our digital archives, and put them entirely out of the reach of hostile hands. The good news is that this is still possible.  Maria Bustillos on what can be done, including a well-deserved shout-out to the Internet Archive: “The Internet Isn’t Forever.”

    * William James


    As we ponder preservation, we might spare a thought for Fred W. Friendly (born Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer); he died on this date in 1998.  A journalist and producer, he was a driving force behind the rise of CBS News, where he was responsible for See It Now (with Edward R. Murrow) and CBS Reports.  Friendly became President of CBS News in 1964, but resigned in 1966, when the network ran a scheduled episode of The Lucy Show instead of broadcasting live coverage of the first United States Senate hearings questioning American involvement in Vietnam.

    After CBS, Friendly became a consultant on broadcast to the Ford Foundation, where he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the American public broadcasting system.  As head of the New York City Cable TV and Communications Commission, he originated the idea of the public access channel.

    Later, he took a position at Columbia School of Journalism, where he strengthened the school’s broadcast curriculum and authored a number of books.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:50 on 2018/03/02 Permalink
    Tags: Chateaubriand, , , , , , memoir, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, , ,   

    “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”*… 


    Chateaubriand’s tomb, Saint-Malo, France

    Because history “belongs to the victors”– is shaped, both consciously and preter-consciously by writers looking back through the lens of their often very different presents– memoir can be an especially valuable as a vehicle for understanding a time in its own terms.  François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave are especially precious.  His autobiography helps us as readers locate ourselves in a time of tumultuous transition– from the ancien régime to the modern era: the Revolution of 1789, the downfall of the monarchy and the execution of the king, the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the empire, the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty after the definite defeat of Napoleon by the powers that joined in the Holy Alliance, its overthrow by the Revolution of July 1830, the inauguration of Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the July monarchy, and finally the birth of the short-lived Second Republic.

    But more, Memoirs helps us understand the psychological reality of living through– and in Chateaubriand’s case, playing a series of engaged roles in– that social and political sea change.

    Chateaubriand was attached to the past and its centuries-old traditions, but he was also a liberal, open to modernity: this is one thing that sets him apart in the history of ideas. He had been repulsed by the discourse and the violence of the French revolutionaries and was deeply impressed by the powerful composure of George Washington, “the representative of the needs, ideas, intelligence, and opinions of his epoch.” He had a vision of social transformation that did not entail the obliteration of the past, and was proud to declare himself “Bourboniste by honor, royalist by reason, and republican by inclination.”…

    Anka Muhlstein on the significance of the Memoirs: “A Passionate Witness“; get the book here.

    (Literature can play a similar role: consider the Prince in Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.)

    * newspaper reporter Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence


    As we struggle to understand, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

    The more that you read,

    The more things you will know.

    The more that you learn,

    The more places you’ll go.

    I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)



  • feedwordpress 09:01:08 on 2018/03/01 Permalink
    Tags: discrimination, , National Women's History Month, , , , women's history,   

    “Nevertheless She Persisted”*… 


    In 1987 the US Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month. This creates a special opportunity in our schools, our workplaces, and our communities to recognize and celebrate the too-often-overlooked achievements of American women.

    The 2018 National Women’s History theme presents the opportunity to honor women who have shaped America’s history and its future through their tireless commitment to ending discrimination against women and girls. The theme embodies women working together with strength, tenacity and courage to overcome obstacles and achieve joyful accomplishments.   Throughout this year, we honor fifteen outstanding women for their unrelenting and inspirational persistence, and for  understanding that, by fighting all forms of   discrimination against women and girls, they have shaped America’s history and our future.  Their lives demonstrate the power of voice, of persistent action, and of believing that meaningful and lasting  change is possible in our democratic society. Through this theme we celebrate women fighting not only against sexism, but also against the many intersecting forms of discrimination faced by American women including discrimination based on race and ethnicity, class, disability, sexual orientation, veteran status, and many other categories. From spearheading legislation against segregation to leading the reproductive justice movement, our 2018 honorees are dismantling the structural, cultural, and legal forms of discrimination that for too long have plagued American women.

    Meet the honorees at the National Women’s History Project‘s “Themes and Honorees.”

    See also: “Voices in Time: Epistolary Activism– an early nineteenth-century feminist fights back against a narrow view of woman’s place in society.”

    * This phrase was born in February 2017 when Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, was silenced during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for Attorney General. At the time, Warren was reading an opposition letter penned by Coretta Scott King in 1986. Referring to the incident, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, later said “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless she persisted.” Feminists immediately adopted the phrase in hashtags and memes to refer to any strong women who refuse to be silenced.


    As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that women’s challenges in America have a painfully long history; it was on this date in 1692 that  Sarah GoodSarah Osborne, and Tituba are brought before local magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts, beginning what would become known as the Salem witch trials.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:07 on 2018/02/28 Permalink
    Tags: capital investment, , , Paul Krugman, stock buy-backs, Tax Act, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, ,   

    “It’s always a lot of fun when you win”*… 


    Fans of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 have excitedly proclaimed that it will release the “Animal Spirits” of the American economy, hailing it as a spur to investment and a boon to workers.  But as CNN points out:

    The White House has celebrated the tax cut bonuses unveiled by the likes of Walmart, Bank of America, and Disney.

    Yet shareholders, not workers, are far bigger direct winners from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

    American companies have lavished Wall Street with $171 billion of stock buyback announcements so far this year, according to research firm Birinyi Associates. That’s a record-high for this point of the year and more than double the $76 billion that Corporate America disclosed at the same point of 2017…

    The amount of money allocated so far on bonuses and wage hikes pales in comparison with Wall Street’s buyback bonanza.

    S&P 500 companies have devoted about $5.6 billion to bonuses and wage hikes because of the tax law, according to research from academics Rick Wartzman and William Lazonick as well as the Academic-Industry Research Network. The group added up commitments from the 50 companies in the S&P 500 that had announced plans to reward workers through February 15.

    Indeed, as Marketwatch reports,

    A report by benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt [finds] that 83% of large companies don’t expect the tax cut to boost salaries at all — just help pay for small bonuses companies like WalMart  and AT&T gave workers, which reporters soon discovered were, themselves, skewed toward higher-paid, longer-tenured employees in many cases…

    And perhaps more fundamentally alarming, the proposed boost that the tax act was supposed to provide to corporate investment– to America’s long-term competitiveness and to the creation of new jobs– seems stuck in the gate; as Marketwatch continues:

    Goldman finds companies have raised guidance on re-investment in their businesses — the putative reason for cutting corporate taxes at all — only 3%…

    …which, given Census Bureau tabulations of past capital expense, would be about $30 Billion– well under 20% of the buy-back activity planned (so far).

    Stock buy-backs have played a powerful role in the performance of the stock markets– which President Trump often conflates with the performance of the economy as a whole– over the last several years; the Financial Times observes:

    Corporate share repurchases have been a powerful driver of the US equity market’s post-crisis recovery and subsequent climb to record highs last month. US companies have bought back about $3.5tn since 2010. Throw in nearly $2tn of dividends and the overall handout to shareholders has been much greater than the Fed’s entire quantitative easing programme. Buybacks started to slow down last year, but there are signs that investors can still count on Corporate America. In fact, companies’ purchases of their own shares appear to have played a role in reversing the recent stock market swoon…

    As the FT points out, while this is a boon to equity investors, it “may be bad news for hopes of an investment-fueled economic boom.”

    Indeed. (See also: “Confidence Tricks“)

    * President Donald J. Trump, on the passage of the recent Tax Act (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017)


    As we wonder about the equity in equities, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Paul Robin Krugman; he was born on this date in 1953.  A Nobel laureate in economics (for his work in the dynamics of international trade), he is Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  But he is much more widely known as a columnist for the New York Times, where he wrote (on November 27, 2017) a piece on the then-pending tax bill: “The Biggest Tax Scam in History.”



  • feedwordpress 09:01:02 on 2018/02/27 Permalink
    Tags: Christendom, , Edict of Milan, Edict of Thessalonica, , , , , , ,   

    “No Man is wise at all Times, or is without his blind Side”*… 

    Lucas Cranach the Elder: Martin Luther, circa 1532; Hans Holbein the Younger: Portrait of Erasmus, 1523

    Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, the leading figure of the Northern Renaissance, is widely considered the greatest of early humanists. Five hundred years ago, he faced a populist uprising led by a powerful provocateur, Martin Luther, that resulted in divisions no less explosive than those we see in America and Europe today.

    Between 1500 and 1515, Erasmus produced a small library of tracts, textbooks, essays, and dialogues that together offered a blueprint for a new Europe. The old Europe had been dominated by the Roman Church. It emphasized hierarchy, authority, tradition, and the performance of rituals like confession and taking communion. But a new order was emerging, marked by spreading literacy, expanding trade, growing cities, the birth of printing, and the rise of a new middle class intent on becoming not only prosperous but learned, too.

    Erasmus became the most articulate spokesman for this class…

    Around the same time that the Erasmians were celebrating the dawn of a new enlightened era, a very different movement was gathering in support of Martin Luther. An Augustinian friar then in his early thirties, Luther had developed his own, unique gospel, founded on the principle of faith. Man, he thought, can win divine grace not through doing good works, as the Latin Church taught, but through belief in Christ. No matter how sincerely one confessed, no matter how many alms one gave, without faith in the Savior, he reasoned, no one can be saved. When Luther made this “discovery,” in around 1515, he felt that he had become “altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”…

    Initially, Luther admired Erasmus and his efforts to reform the Church, but over time Luther’s inflammatory language and his stress on faith instead of good works led to a painful separation. The flashpoint was the debate over whether man has free will. In dueling tracts, Erasmus suggested that he does, while Luther vehemently objected; after that, the two men considered each other mortal enemies.

    Beyond that immediate matter of dispute, however, their conflict represented the clash of two contrasting world views—those of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Erasmus was an internationalist who sought to establish a borderless Christian union; Luther was a nationalist who appealed to the patriotism of the German people. Where Erasmus wrote exclusively in Latin, Luther often used the vernacular, the better to reach the common man. Erasmus wanted to educate a learned caste; Luther, to evangelize the masses. For years, they waged a battle of ideas, with each seeking to win over Europe to his side, but Erasmus’s reformist and universalist creed could not match Luther’s more emotional and nationalistic one; even some of Erasmus’s closest disciples eventually defected to Luther’s camp. Erasmus became an increasingly marginal figure, scorned by both Catholics, for being too critical of the Church, and Lutherans, for being too timid. In a turbulent and polarized age, he was the archetypal reasonable liberal…

    As Mark Twain is reputed to have observed, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”– the Renaissance vs. the Reformation: “Luther vs. Erasmus: When Populism First Eclipsed the Liberal Elite.”

    * Desiderius Erasmus, The Alchymyst, in Colloquies of Erasmus, Volume I


    As we celebrate critical thinking, we might recall that it was on this date in 380 that the three Emperors of the Roman Empire issued the Edict of Thessalonica, ordering all subjects of the Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and of Alexandria, making Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and effectively creating “Christendom.”   It ended a period of religious tolerance that had been formalized in 313 when the emperor Constantine I, together with his eastern counterpart Licinius, had issued the Edict of Milan, which granted religious toleration and freedom for persecuted Christians.


  • feedwordpress 09:01:20 on 2018/02/26 Permalink
    Tags: , Elba, , Glasgow Montana, , Hundred days, isolation, , middle of nowhere, ,   

    “That’s the place to get to—nowhere”*… 


    In a triumph of data collection and analysis, a team of researchers based at Oxford University has built the tools necessary to calculate how far any dot on a map is from a city — or anything else.

    The research, published in Nature last month, allows us to pin down a question that has long evaded serious answers: Where is the middle of nowhere?

    To know, you’d have to catalogue and calculate the navigation challenges presented by the planet’s complex, varied terrain and the dirt tracks, roads, railroads and waterways that crisscross it. You’d then need to string those calculations together, testing every possible path from every point to every other point.

    That is pretty much what the folks did at the Malaria Atlas Project, a group at Oxford’s Big Data Institute that studies the intersection of disease, geography and demographics. The huge team — 22 authors are credited — spent years building a globe-spanning map outlining just how long it takes to cross any spot on the planet based on its transportation types, vegetation, slope, elevation and more. Those spots, or pixels, represent about a square kilometer.

    Armed with this data, and hours and hours of computer time, The Washington Post processed every pixel and every populated place in the contiguous United States to find the one that best represents the “middle of nowhere.”

    Congratulations, Glasgow, Mont.!

    Of all towns with more than 1,000 residents, Glasgow, home to 3,363 people in the rolling prairie of northeastern Montana, is farthest — about 4.5 hours in any direction — from any metropolitan area of more than 75,000 people…

    Remoteness, ranked– see the runners-up and the contenders in other categories at “Using the best data possible, we set out to find the middle of nowhere.”

    * D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love


    As we idolize isolation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1815 that Napoleon, who had been banished to France’s “middle of nowhere,” escaped from Elba.  With 700 men, he sailed back to France.

    The 5th Regiment was sent to intercept him and made contact just south of Grenoble on 7 March 1815. Napoleon approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within gunshot range, shouted to the soldiers, “Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish”.  The soldiers quickly responded with, “Vive L’Empereur!” Ney, who had boasted to the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, that he would bring Napoleon to Paris in an iron cage, affectionately kissed his former emperor and forgot his oath of allegiance to the Bourbon monarch. The two then marched together towards Paris with a growing army. The unpopular Louis XVIII fled to Belgium after realizing he had little political support. On 13 March, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw. Four days later, Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia each pledged to put 150,000 men into the field to end his rule…  [source]

    So began the Hundred Days of Napoleon’s second reign, at the end of which (on the 22nd of June) he abdicated.

    Napoleon returned from Elba, by Karl Stenben, 19th century



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