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michael shermer @ google February 18, 2008

Posted by KG in books, cognitive science, econ, history, marketing, media, neuroscience, politics, psychology, science, speeches, talks, tech.
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michael shermer @ google discussing his new book – the mind of the market: compassionate apes, competitive humans, and other tales from evolutionary economics

discusses the ultimatum game @ 27min, the evolution of moral sense/trolley car experiment @ 33min & how hormones affect trust/cooperation @ 43min:

related: shermer speaking about debunking superstitions @ TED & “why people believe weird things about money

god’s crucible February 2, 2008

Posted by KG in books, history, religion, reviews.
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joan acocella reviews david lewis’ god’s crucible: islam and the making of europe, 570-1215:

This book has to be understood in context, or, actually, two contexts. The first is post-colonialism, the effort on the part of scholars from the nineteen-seventies onward to correct the biases that accompanied and justified the colonization of eighty-five per cent of the earth by European powers between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries. In that period, according to Edward Said’s 1978 “Orientalism”—the founding document of post-colonial thought—history-writing about the Near East and the Middle East was an arm of empire. Its goal was to make non-Western peoples seem uncivilized, so that European control would appear a boon. Since Said, much writing on Europe’s former colonies has been an effort to redress that injustice.

The other context in which Lewis’s book must be read is, of course, the history of terrorism, since the late nineteen-seventies, on the part of people claiming to be instructed by the Koran. When this started, most Westerners had little idea of what the Muslim world was. Harems, hookahs, carpets—that was about it. Nor, after the terrorist attacks, was it easy to catch up in any proper way, for, while there has been an outpouring of books on Islam in the past two decades, many of them were for or against it. A number of prominent intellectuals have denounced Islam. Other people have protested that the vast majority of Muslims do not support terrorism. Some historians have condemned not just the demonization of Islam but the West’s ignorance of the Muslim world—a failure now seen as political folly, not to speak of arrogance. Scholars went to their desks to testify to the glories of Islamic cultures. Salma Khadra Jayyusi, in the foreword to her magnificent anthology “The Legacy of Muslim Spain” (1992)—a collection of forty-nine essays describing not just the politics and the religion of Muslim Iberia but its cities, architecture, music, poetry, calligraphy, and cooking—calls the omission of Islam from the West’s story of civilization a “historical crime.”

Rahman was the founder of Muslim Spain’s famous convivencia. Translated literally, the word means “living together,” in spite of differences, and this idea is the burning center of “God’s Crucible.” I think it is the reason that Lewis chose to write about Muslim Spain. He is not an Arabist. He is best known for a two-volume biography of W. E. B. Du Bois (1993 and 2000), which won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for each volume. But that book, if it is not about Arabs, is about racial justice, and it is for the furtherance of such justice that Lewis so admires Rahman. Nevertheless, as he points out, the convivencia had its limits. It was not just a humane policy—an act of obedience to the Koran (“There shall be no compulsion in religion”) and a way of being civilized—but also a matter of Realpolitik. Iberia was a ragbag of religious and ethnic groups. Tolerance, what we would now call multiculturalism, was more likely to hold them together than forced conversion. Furthermore, the convivencia never involved complete equality. In the early years, a number of restrictions were placed on Jews and Christians. They had to wear identification badges. They could not proselytize, and they were required to pray quietly. Their houses could not be taller than Muslims’ houses. Most important, they had to pay a heavy tax, called the jizya. In time, many of these rules (not including the tax) fell away. Jews, especially, were allowed to enter public service, as scribes, clerks, advisers. They taught the Muslims how to run a government, Lewis writes. The golden age of Al Andalus, he says, was also the golden age of Sefarad, the Sephardic Jews. But even those who did not have brilliant careers no doubt found badges and taxes preferable to forced conversion or death. Eventually, many Jews and Christians did convert—probably, in many cases, to avoid the tax. At the end of the eighth century, the vast majority of people in Iberia were Christians. Two hundred years later, the majority were Muslims.

 

If, as Edward Said wrote, the old history books were covertly ideological, the current ones tend to be overtly ideological, as each new generation of scholars rides in to rescue supposedly worthy peoples who were wronged by earlier scholarship and, in their time, by axe-wielding conquerors. But all these peoples, or all the ones in Lewis’s book, were conquerors. If the Christians took Spain from the Muslims, the Muslims had taken it from the Visigoths, who had appropriated it from the Romans, who had seized it from the Carthaginians, who had thrown out the Phoenicians. Lewis does not pretend that the Muslims were not conquerors; he simply justifies their conquest on the ground of their belief in convivencia, a pressing matter today. I can foresee a time when another matter important to us, the threat of ecological catastrophe, will prompt a historian to write a book in praise of the early Europeans whom Lewis finds so inferior to the Muslims. The Franks lived in uncleared forests, while the Muslims built fine cities, with palaces and aqueducts? All the better for the earth. The Franks were fond of incest? Endogamy keeps societies small, prevents the growth of rapacious nation-states. The same goes for the Franks’ largely barter economy. Trade such as the Muslims practiced—far-flung and transacted with money—leads to consolidation. That’s how we got global corporations.

Each new problem in our history engenders a revision of past history. Many of today’s historians acknowledge this, and argue that their books, if politicized, are simply more honest about that than the politicized books of the past. This pessimism about the possibility of finding a stable truth may be realistic, but it seems to sanction, even encourage, special pleading—of which “God’s Crucible,” for all its virtues, is an example.

 

new insights on poverty January 19, 2008

Posted by KG in animation, econ, environment, health, history, international, media, politics, science, talks, tech.
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professor hans rosling @ TED in 2006 (20:35):

2007 presentation available here

“Even the most worldly and well-traveled among us will have their perspectives shifted by Hans Rosling. A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, his current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.

What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.

Rosling’s presentations are grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), illustrated by the visualization software he developed. The animations transform development statistics into moving bubbles and flowing curves that make global trends clear, intuitive and even playful. During his legendary presentations, Rosling takes this one step farther, narrating the animations with a sportscaster’s flair.

Rosling developed the breakthrough software behind his visualizations through his nonprofit Gapminder, founded with his son and daughter-in-law. The free software — which can be loaded with any data — was purchased by Google in March 2007. (Rosling met the Google founders at TED.)”

“it was 20 years ago today” January 6, 2008

Posted by KG in arts/culture, history, interviews, music, television.
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1987 british documentary covering 60’s counterculture…lots of great archival footage & interviews…

“This film examines the masterwork album by the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in 1967, with its creation, themes and impact explored in turn. In addition, this film explores the summer of that year with the rise of the counter-culture and hippies for instance, and the whole notion that love and music could change the world.”

part 1 of 10:

1987 nytimes review

the legacy of js mill December 11, 2007

Posted by AP in econ, history, politics.
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the newstatesman writes on john stuart mill:

John Stuart Mill has been an iconic figure for British liberals and social democrats for more than 150 years. In his important new biography, Richard Reeves suggests that he has even more to say to the ideology-lite 21st century than he did during the great contest between capitalism and socialism that dominated most of the second half of the 20th, and there is something in it. Mill was one of the great masters whom Gordon Brown celebrated in his speech on British liberty a few weeks ago, and the literature on Mill continues to grow.

npr: “establishing a hip hop canon” November 15, 2007

Posted by KG in arts/culture, hip-hop, history, interviews, media, misc, music, news, race.
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listen to “establishing a hip hop canon” (32:17)

“After three decades, hip hop is more segmented than ever, by both regional styles (East Coast, West Coast, Dirty South) and in stylistic terms (Gangsta rap, conscious hip-hop, “alternative” rap). From these many parts a canon is emerging and today we debate its meaning. Joining us is Mark Anthony Neal, associate professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke University; and Brian Coleman, author of Check the Technique.”

rolling stone’s 40th anniversary issue November 14, 2007

Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, arts/culture, books, campaign finance, comedy, design, econ, environment, film, health, hip-hop, history, immigration, international, interviews, iraq, iraq war, media, misc, music, news, politics, race, religion, science, style, tech, television, terrorism.
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“This issue looks forward, not back, and it’s packed with interviews with the artists, leaders and thinkers who can best divine what our future holds. It arrives, appropriately, during the run-up to next year’s presidential election, which looms as a moment of truth for our nation. “People are nauseous about being perceived as the enemy,” Bono says of America’s standing in the world. “Whoever fixes that problem gets elected.” But it’s not just politics – as a society, we face choices that will likely determine the fate of our civilization, matters of war and peace, resource depletion and explosive population growth. And, of course, global warming: “It’s a mistake to think of the climate crisis as one in a list of issues that will define our future,” Al Gore tells us. “It is the issue.”

We don’t claim to have the answers to these challenges, but we do know where to look for leadership and inspiration. The values of tolerance, inclusiveness, common sense and personal liberty (not to mention fun) that took shape in the 1960s have animated this magazine ever since.”

chock full of wit and wisdom from some of the world’s most interesting minds…

you can find the entire issue digitally right here, but the interface rolling stone set up is really horrible, so i’ve made the text from some of the interviews into pdfs:

BILL CLINTON

BILL GATES

AL GORE

SAM HARRIS

PAUL KRUGMAN

BILL MAHER

JON STEWART

CORNEL WEST

KANYE WEST

here’s some quotes that i’ve culled:

(more…)

“pakistan’s imran khan to leave hiding for protest” November 12, 2007

Posted by KG in history, international, interviews, iraq war, news, politics, race, religion, sports, terrorism.
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excellent npr interview with imran khan (7:53)

All Things Considered, November 12, 2007 · Philanthropist, politician and former cricket superstar Imran Khan has been in hiding since Musharraf declared emergency rule.

But Khan hopes to channel the political anger of thousands of students Wednesday when he emerges from hiding to lead a student rally at Punjab University.

Khan talks with Michele Norris about the rally and his opposition to the current crackdown.

telegraph:

“Pakistan had a traumatic birth because the British left in such haste,” Khan says in a low and measured voice. “Most of us blamed Mountbatten. He rushed it. As a result, the Kashmiri question wasn’t resolved and there has been animosity with our neighbour India ever since.

“Another result was that the state became obsessed with its own survival. Security became the first priority. The emphasis was on armed forces. That was where the arms race began: the race to get nuclear weapons.

“And we became a client state, relying on US aid, rather than being non-aligned like India. It left us with the problem of militancy. The mujahideen, on the Pakistan border with Afghanistan, was actually trained by the CIA during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan said the mujahideen leaders reminded him of the Founding Fathers of America. Now America calls them terrorists.

“The legacy of all this is the war on terror, which many in Pakistan see as a war on Islam, that is why there is no shortage of recruits there.”

I suggest that many in the West cannot understand why Pakistan cannot hunt down the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters hiding on its border. Khan sighs. “No one in the West understands that the tribal region of Pakistan has always been an independent entity. They have never been conquered. Every man is a warrior and carries a gun. It is the most difficult terrain. Even a superpower like the British Empire could not control that area. They had to bribe the tribes. To think that Pakistan’s army, which begs and borrows for its survival, could control it is naive.”

a history lesson: the jacobins October 29, 2007

Posted by KG in history, international, iraq, iraq war, politics, terrorism.
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maximilien robespierre

nytimes op-ed by francois furstenberg:

MUCH as George W. Bush’s presidency was ineluctably shaped by Sept. 11, 2001, so the outbreak of the French Revolution was symbolized by the events of one fateful day, July 14, 1789. And though 18th-century France may seem impossibly distant to contemporary Americans, future historians examining Mr. Bush’s presidency within the longer sweep of political and intellectual history may find the French Revolution useful in understanding his curious brand of 21st- century conservatism.

Soon after the storming of the Bastille, pro-Revolutionary elements came together to form an association that would become known as the Jacobin Club, an umbrella group of politicians, journalists and citizens dedicated to advancing the principles of the Revolution.

The Jacobins shared a defining ideological feature. They divided the world between pro- and anti-Revolutionaries — the defenders of liberty versus its enemies. The French Revolution, as they understood it, was the great event that would determine whether liberty was to prevail on the planet or whether theworld would fall back into tyranny and despotism.

Pro-war Jacobins believed theirs was a mission not for a single nation or even for a single continent. It was, in Brissot’s words, “a crusade for universal liberty.”

Brissot’s opponents were skeptical. “No one likes armed missionaries,” declared Robespierre, with words as apt then as they remain today. Not long after the invasion of Austria, the military tide turned quickly against France.

Confronted by a monarchical Europe united in opposition to revolutionary France — old Europe, they might have called it — the Jacobins rooted out domestic political dissent. It was the beginning of the period that would become infamous as the Terror.

Among the Jacobins’ greatest triumphs was their ability to appropriate the rhetoric of patriotism — Le Patriote Français was the title of Brissot’s newspaper — and to promote their political program through a tightly coordinated network of newspapers, political hacks, pamphleteers and political clubs.

Though it has been a topic of much attention in recent years, the origin of the term “terrorist” has gone largely unnoticed by politicians and pundits alike. The word was an invention of the French Revolution, and it referred not to those who hate freedom, nor to non-state actors, nor of course to “Islamofascism.”

A terroriste was, in its original meaning, a Jacobin leader who ruled France during la Terreur.

pertinent example of stoking the flames.