Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years Eve Tab Dump!

So I can start the year with a clean browser. So here goes, in no particular order:

Tim Kreider argues that Kim Stanley Robinson is our best political novelist:
Robinson argues that, now that climate change has become a matter of life and death for the species, it’s time for scientists to abandon their scrupulous neutrality and enter into the messy arena of politics. Essentially, Robinson attempts to apply scientific thinking to politics, approaching it less like pure physics, in which one infallible equation / ideology explains and answers everything, than like engineering—a process of what F.D.R. once called “bold, persistent experimentation,” finding out what works and combining successful elements to synthesize something new. He scavenges ideas from the American Constitution, the Swiss confederacy, “the guild socialism of Great Britain, Yugoslavian worker management, Mondragon ownership, Kerala land tenure, and so on” to construct his utopias. The major platform planks these methods lead him to in his books are:
  • common stewardship—not ownership—of the land, water, and air
  • an economic system based on ecological reality
  • divesting central governments of most of their power and diffusing it among local communities
  • the basics of existence, like health care, removed from the cruelties of the free market
  • the application of democratic principles like self-determination and equality in the workplace—which, in practice, means small co-ops instead of vast, hierarchical, exploitative corporations—and,
  • a reverence for the natural world codified into law.
Depending on your own politics, this may sound like millennia-overdue common sense or a bong-fuelled 3 A.M. wish list, but there’s no arguing that to implement it in the real world circa 2013 would be, literally, revolutionary. My own bet would be that either your grandchildren are going to be living by some of these precepts, or else they won’t be living at all.
Cayte Bosler, in an examination of the benefits of awe, quotes Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota explaining the concept:
"The experience of awe is one where you are temporarily off-kilter in terms of your understanding of the world," explains Vohs. "People mostly walk around with a sense of knowing what is going on in the world. They have hypotheses about the way people behave and what might happen; those are pretty air-tight. It is hard to get people to shake from those because that’s just how the brain works. We are always walking around trying to confirm the things we already think. When you are in a state of awe, it puts you off balance and as a consequence, we think people might be ready to learn new things and have some of their assumptions questioned."
What’s really fascinating is that with this shift in understanding comes a profound shift in how we as a society are deciding to respond. There will be no shrugging of the shoulders and tossing around the word “hard-wired” to rationalize women disappointing male expectations of passionate monogamous sex. Instead, as Daniel Bergner writes [in the New York Times], a ton of money is being spent on developing a drug women can take to restore their desire for their husbands. The drug, called Lybrido, is in clinical trials now with the hope of writing an FDA application by the end of the year.…
When people believed that boredom with monogamy was a male trait for women to endure, interest in fixing it was pretty low. Now that we understand boredom with monogamy to be a female trait for men to endure, it’s suddenly a Problem—with possible solutions. Though frustrating, this is ultimately probably a good thing. Since most of us want to be monogamous, it’s about time we took seriously the need to keep it interesting.
The video for Boards of Canada's "Reach for the Dead" off of their amazing (seriously, go buy it right now) Tomorrow's Harvest.

Jack Gilbert's great response to the question "What, other than yourself, is the subject of your poems?"
Those I love. Being. Living my life without being diverted into things that people so often get diverted into. Being alive is so extraordinary I don’t know why people limit it to riches, pride, security—all of those things life is built on. People miss so much because they want money and comfort and pride, a house and a job to pay for the house. And they have to get a car. You can’t see anything from a car. It’s moving too fast. People take vacations. That’s their reward—the vacation. Why not the life? Vacations are second-rate. People deprive themselves of so much of their lives—until it’s too late. Though I understand that often you don’t have a choice.
David Atkins, writing at Hullabaloo, analyzes some of the current libertarian thinking out there about technological advances are leading us and comes to a different conclusion. 
The history of middle class societies that lose their footing in an age of mass inequality and labor destabilization suggests that a more progressive social contract will emerge under the threat of revolution. The other, only slightly less likely possibility is a fascist regime that attempts to lay all the blame on "The Other". A slow, comfortable descent into class-based Social Darwinism seems less likely than either option, though it's certainly possible.
But these are indeed the questions we will be compelled to answer. The fact that we will have to confront this decision one way or another makes it hard to take seriously the massive fights over, say, Obamacare. In 15 years a natural unemployment rate of 15% accompanied by unimaginable devastation due to climate change will necessitate the sorts of programs, solutions and political turmoil that will render most of today's arguments utterly obsolete.
The future will belong to those who prepare public policy for that eventuality, and who work to put politicians in power who are ready to enact that policy when the time comes, and when the demographics of the nation have altered enough to make it possible.
Whatever happens, the libertarian fairy dreams of men like Tyler Cowen must not be allowed to become realities.
Brain Pickings has an excellent "best of the year" post. From that, I found this amazing analysis of how we experience time, mainly based on Claudia Hammond's book Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception. You really have to read the whole thing, but here's part of the conclusion:
We will never have total control over this extraordinary dimension. Time will warp and confuse and baffle and entertain however much we learn about its capacities. But the more we learn, the more we can shape it to our will and destiny. We can slow it down or speed it up. We can hold on to the past more securely and predict the future more accurately. Mental time-travel is one of the greatest gifts of the mind. It makes us human, and it makes us special.
The Indian supreme court is debating if it should allow compulsory yoga in its secular schools. This could be problematic because, as Mark Movsesian explains:
In traditional understanding, yoga is itself a religious act. The postures themselves lead the practitioner to God, whether the practitioner intends this or not. In traditional understanding, in other words, one can’t separate the religious and secular aspects of yoga and one really shouldn't try. Indeed, some American Hindus object to the way our popular culture treats yoga as a designer gym routine. Much as many American Christians seek to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” the Hindu American Foundation has mounted a campaign to “Take Back Yoga” for the faith.
Personally, while there's an element of spiritualism in most yoga practice that I find interesting, i'm a dilettante in this respect. I certainly don't find the poses in and of themselves to have a higher meaning - to me, it's more the breath and combining that with the poses (i.e., finding a meaningful rhythm of breath and movement) than anything. Plus, as my relative Adam pointed out, there are so many different types of yoga out there it's impossible to lay judgement on the whole field of movements.

In an interesting Tor series exploring the sources that led Gary Gygax to create Dungons and Dragons, an article on HP Lovecraft contained a good summation of the author's appeal:
Lovecraft seems less like a storyteller and more like a historian or an archeologist of the cosmically terrible. He’s in touch with forces beyond our reckoning and he’s conveying that truth to us. That’s the game he’s playing as a writer, but he’s damn good at it.
Words can't express the experience of watching this. Ah, celebrity singers:

Thanks for reading! See you next year.

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