This Is Not A Motion Picture

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Let your eyes wonder freely over the image below. Do you see it moving? Click on the image to see a larger, more effective version-

There is nothing moving in this image, as you can see when you stare fixedly at any given portion. For many more revealing illustrations of the visual system’s usually hidden complexity, visit MichaelBach.de.

Santorum: Academia, Protestantism, and Politics Have All Fallen To Satan!

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Well, this is pretty remarkable. It’s not news that Republicans these days are obsessed with outing crafty devils. First there was Rick Perry, who held a prayer rally with the New Apostolic Reformation, a group completely convinced that major American cities are in dire need of (literal) demon-cleansing. But mere demons are too small-time for Rick Santorum: Satan himself, he sincerely believes, is behind the fall of many of our most important institutions: academia, mainstream Protestantism (the Catholic Church having so far been spared, thank God), and politics. Being from academia myself, I can tell you that if I’ve sold my soul to the devil, the horned one has cut me a raw deal – so far I’ve received nothing for my precious soul but pay cuts and committee work.

In any case, if after listening to this excerpt from Santorum’s 2008 speech at Ave Maria University you’re not scared $#%@less at the thought of this guy actually becoming President of the United States, you’re taking way too many meds-

This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.

He didn’t have much success in the early days. Our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong. But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.

He was successful. He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell.

And so what we saw this domino effect, once the colleges fell and those who were being education in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you’d say, ‘wait, the Catholic Church’? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it. So they attacked mainline Protestantism, they attacked the Church, and what better way to go after smart people who also believe they’re pious to use both vanity and pride to also go after the Church.

The fourth, and this was harder, now I know you’re going to challenge me on this one, but politics and government was the next to fall. You say, ‘you would think they would be the first to fall, as fallible as we are in politics,’ but people in political life get elected by ordinary folks from lots of places all over the country where the foundations of this country are still strong. So while we may certainly have had examples, the body politic held up fairly well up until the last couple of decades, but it is falling too.

Climate Change’s Closing Door

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The Guardian reported last November that, judging by “the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure”, we likely have little more than five years left to put a lid on carbon emissions before losing the chance of avoiding serious climate change. Although I’ve never been tempted to doubt the scientific consensus on climate change, I think I’ve been relying on wishful thinking to avoid feeling too anxious about it (probably like almost everyone else), but I’ve got to admit that these warnings are starting to get to me-

The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever”, according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure.

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

If the world is to stay below 2C of warming, which scientists regard as the limit of safety, then emissions must be held to no more than 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the level is currently around 390ppm. But the world’s existing infrastructure is already producing 80% of that “carbon budget”, according to the IEA’s analysis, published on Wednesday. This gives an ever-narrowing gap in which to reform the global economy on to a low-carbon footing.

If current trends continue, and we go on building high-carbon energy generation, then by 2015 at least 90% of the available “carbon budget” will be swallowed up by our energy and industrial infrastructure. By 2017, there will be no room for manoeuvre at all – the whole of the carbon budget will be spoken for, according to the IEA’s calculations

Funny, I don’t remember hearing about the IEA report via American mass media, although given how little time they spend on reporting scientific findings, I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. I’m still patiently waiting for an intrepid reporter at one of the zillion Republican debates to challenge Rick Santorum on his explicit climate change denial in the face of the ever mounting evidence. He did say recently: “You hear all the time, the left – ‘Oh, the conservatives are the anti-science party.’ No we’re not. We’re the truth party.” Surely that invites a polite question on what he means by “the truth” here, and how he would go about establishing it…

By the way, lest you think that the IEA is some liberal advocacy group whose studies can’t be trusted, it’s actually an international organization with 28 member states, including all of the following-

Incendies

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I finally got around to watching Denis Villeneuve’s excellent film “Incendies”, based on Wajdi Mouawad’s play. The tag line on IMDB reads: “Twins journey to the Middle East to discover their family history, and fulfill their mother’s last wishes.” It would be best not to investigate the plot further if you’re interested in watching it – let it unfold for you as it does for the twins. The film plays like a Greek tragedy (actually, a particular one, at least from the point of view of one of the apparently minor characters), set, via flashbacks, in the insanity of a sectarian war (clearly Lebanon some thirty years ago, but Villeneuve transparently obscures that fact, perhaps to underline the ultimate message’s universality). I advise not watching it right before going to bed, unless you want to wake up early in the morning thinking about it without being able to fall back asleep (if you were able to fall asleep in the first place). The plot is both completely ridiculous and, on reflection, completely plausible – which is what makes it, in the end, unforgettable. Here’s the trailer-

Stew And The Negro Problem’s New Album: “Making It”

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I had the pleasure of meeting Stew (AKA Mark Stewart) on his recent visit to UW Oshkosh, where several departments (including, I’m happy to say, the Philosophy department) had invited him to talk to students and faculty about his unique approach to art, music, and life. I’ve met a lot of “artists” in my time, mostly during my years as a musician in Los Angeles, but Stew is one of the few that I think deserves the title without the scare-quotes. He’s one of a rare breed that’s becoming rarer as the musical eclecticism of the 1970s fades into the ever-thickening fog of baby-boomer memory: a pop-rock-singer-songwriter with a unique voice and style. Here’s a song (entitled “The Curse”) off the new album, which he wrote with his ex-partner, bassist/vocalist Heidi Rodewald, about the breakup of their relationship during the Broadway production of their award-winning musical “Passing Strange” a few years ago. The photos of famous L.A. locales – with fleeting images of Frank Zappa and the two Captains (Kangaroo and Beefheart) tossed in for good measure – don’t seem related to the clever lyrics, but they probably have biographical significance for Stew, who grew up in the City of Angels during the 60s and 70s. And since I lived there for 25 years myself, they certainly tickle my nostalgia-bone a bit.

By the way, Stew talks about the new album in an interview with Terry Gross (on Fresh Air) here.

Would Plato Have Loved The Bossa Nova?

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The Boston Review has an interesting article on a recent law passed in Brazil that mandates the teaching of philosophy to high school students-

Getting out of the cave and seeing things as they really are: that’s what philosophy is about, according to Almira Ribeiro. Ribeiro teaches the subject in a high school in Itapuã, a beautiful, poor, violent neighborhood on the periphery of Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia in Brazil’s northeast. She is the most philosophically passionate person I’ve ever met.

Most of the four million slaves shipped from Africa to Brazil were sold in Salvador, the first residence of Portugal’s colonial rulers. It’s still Brazil’s blackest city. In Ribeiro’s neighborhood, children play football or do capoeira, pray in Pentecostal Churches or worship African gods. Many are involved with drugs; “every year we lose students to crack,” she tells me. And they study philosophy two hours each week because of a 2008 law that mandates philosophy instruction in all Brazilian high schools. Nine million teenagers now take philosophy classes for three years.

“But seeing things as they really are isn’t enough,” Ribeiro insists. As in Plato’s parable in The Republic, the students must go back to the cave and apply what they’ve learned. Their lives give them rich opportunities for such application. The contrast between the new luxury hotels along the beach and Itapuã’s overcrowded streets gives rise to questions about equality and justice. Children kicking around a can introduce a discussion about democracy: football is one of the few truly democratic practices here; success depends on merit, not class privilege. Moving between philosophy and practice, the students can revise their views in light of what Plato, Hobbes, or Locke had to say about equality, justice, and democracy and discuss their own roles as political agents. To foster that discussion, Ribeiro must take on a deeply rooted political defeatism. …

…the 2008 law is above all a political project. In 1971 the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 eliminated philosophy from high schools. Teachers, professors in departments of education, and political activists championed its return, while most academic philosophers were either indifferent or suspicious. The dictatorship seems to have understood philosophy’s potential to create engaged citizens; it replaced philosophy with a course on Moral and Civic Education and one on Brazil’s Social and Political Organization (“to inculcate good manners and patriotic values and to justify the political order of the generals,” one UFBA colleague recalls from his high school days).

The official rationale for the 2008 law is that philosophy “is necessary for the exercise of citizenship.” The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy. Among teachers at least, many share Ribeiro’s hope that philosophy will provide a path to greater civic participation and equality. Can it do even more? Can it teach students to question and challenge the foundations of society itself?

(Thanks Marshall)

Most of the philosophy professors I know would be overjoyed if philosophy – at least the history of ideas, critical reasoning, and introductory ethics – were taught in U.S. high schools. Could this be done in a country as anti-intellectual as the United States?

By the way, contrary to Brazilian creativity, Plato was no fan of musical innovation, as this excerpt from The Republic suggests:

Then to sum up: This is the point to which, above all, the attention of our rulers should be directed,–that music and gymnastic be preserved in their original form, and no innovation made. They must do their utmost to maintain them intact. And when any one says that mankind most regard

‘The newest song which the singers have,’

they will be afraid that he may be praising, not new songs, but a new kind of song; and this ought not to be praised, or conceived to be the meaning of the poet; for any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole State, and ought to be prohibited.

A Sad Sign Of The Times

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Of Wisconsin guns and politics, as reported by the Chicago Tribune

The Republican lawmaker who presides over the state Assembly said Friday he’s been carrying a concealed weapon during floor sessions.

Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, of Waukesha, essentially controls the chamber during debate, presiding over procedures and controlling the debate. He also can order spectators out of the chamber if he so chooses.

He told The Associated Press that he obtained permit No. 16,657 under Wisconsin’s new concealed carry law in November. He said he has carried a hidden Glock 26, a subcompact semi-automatic, onto the floor at times.

He said he feels he needs the weapon given the toxic atmosphere at the state Capitol, and he’s not the only lawmaker packing in the chamber.

Republicans decided last year to allow lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate to carry concealed weapons. The GOP chose to allow them in the Assembly’s galleries but banned them in the Senate’s galleries.

So it seems that the Wisconisn GOP values the lives of state senators over those of state representatives…