Archive for October, 2007

Server Change? Probably Not

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There’s a good chance I’ll be moving Goodreads to a new server at the end of this week, or early next. I hope to do this with minimal interruption. But if you find GR isn’t resolving near this projected time, you’ll know why.

On second thought, probably not. I was doing research into this today and figured I’m probably safe where I am for now. The main thing is that I need to eliminate some of the mp3 files I’ve been offering. Look for less selection in the future, perhaps approaching nil over the long term.


Mr. Timothy

07w44:4 Twelve Thousand Nine Hundred Years Ago

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Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling | … et al (PDF)

To borrow stbalbach’s write up on Metafilter:

“On May 23, 2007 a multi-disciplinary team of scientists announced (YouTube, 70mins, 7-parts, part1-1 is a summary) the finding of physical evidence strongly suggesting that, around 12,900 years ago (10,900 BC), a massive Shoemaker-Levy type comet hit the atmosphere, air burst over the Great Lakes region of North America and probably engulfed much of the continent in a fireball and subsequent firestorm with catastrophic effects for life and climate. The extraterrestrial event coincides with the mass extinction or depopulation of many of North America’s largest mammals (including camels, mammoths, the short-faced bear and numerous other species); coincides with the end of the Clovis culture; and coincides with the start of a global climatic shift known as the Younger Dryas, a sudden return of Ice Age conditions. The “Younger Dryas impact event”, as it is banally being called, now competes with some well known and hotly debated theories, such as human hunters killed the mammals; or the Younger Dryas was caused by a slow down in the Gulf Stream (which has implications for current Global Warming predictions). On September 27, 2007 the team officially published their findings as Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling (PNAS open access).”

07w43:3 The Wander Years

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The Odyssey Years | David Brooks
“There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood. […] Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods, Wuthnow observes, but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.”

// Myself, I think I can see Ithaca on the horizon.

Server Change?

by timothy. 0 Comments

There’s a good chance I’ll be moving Goodreads to a new server at the end of this week, or early next. I hope to do this with minimal interruption. But if you find GR isn’t resolving near this projected time, you’ll know why.

07w44:2 Richard Florida on Toronto

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Wake up, Toronto – you’re bigger than you think | Richard Florida

…and don’t forget this superficial assessment by Leah McLaren who explains to the moneyed hipsters that Richard Florida matters by stating:

“Both husband and wife are tall, slim and dressed to minimalist perfection – the ideal complement to an airy house furnished in contemporary classics by Corbusier and Starck.”

McLaren’s write-up was appended to the print version in italics my friends. In other words: what these two gorgeous people have to say matters because they’re young, rich, and fashionable. Leah McLaren approves. We can only hope that Mr. Florida will hob-knob with people who have less money than he does, i.e. this city’s other creative class.

07w44:1 The Alternative History of Martin Heidegger

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The Alternative History of Martin Heidegger | Richard Rorty
From Philosophy and Social Hope (p.190-197 ), originally published in the London Review of Books as ‘Another Possible World’, 8 February 1990. This is an excerpt:

I take a person’s moral character – his or her sensitivity to the sufferings of others – to be shaped by chance events in his or her life. Often, perhaps usually, this sensitivity varies independently of the projects of self-creation that the person undertakes in his or her work.

I can clarify what I mean by ‘chance events’ and ‘independent variation’ by sketching a slightly different possible world – a world in which Heidegger joins his fellow antiegalitarian, Thomas Mann, in preaching resistance to Hitler. To see how this possible world might have been actual, imagine that in the summer of 1930 Heidegger suddenly finds himself deeply in love with a beautiful, intense, adoring philosophy student named Sarah Mandelbaum. Sarah is Jewish, but Heidegger barely notices this, dizzy with passion as he is. After a painful divorce from Elfride – a process that costs him the friendship of, among other people, the Husserls – Heidegger marries Sarah in 1932. In January 1933 they have a son, Abraham.

Heidegger jokes that Sarah can think of Abraham as named after the patriarch, but that he will think of him as named after Abraham a Sancta Clara, the only other Messkirch boy to make good. Sarah looks up Abraham a Sancta Clara’s anti-Semitic writings in the library stacks, and Heidegger’s little joke becomes the occasion of the first serious quarrel between husband and wife. But by the end of 1933, Heidegger is no longer making such jokes. For Sarah makes him notice that the Jewish Beamt, including his father-in-law, have been cashiered. Heidegger reads things about himself in the student newspaper that make him realize that his day in the sun may be over. Gradually it dawns upon him that his love for Sarah has cost him much of his prestige, and will sooner or later cost him his job.

But he still loves her, and eventually he leaves his beloved Freiburg for her sake. In 1935 Heidegger is teaching in Berne, but only as a visitor. Switzerland has by now given away all its philosophy chairs. Suddenly a call comes from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. There Heidegger spends two years slowly and painfully learning English, aching for the chance once again to spellbind seminar rooms of worshipfully attentive students. He gets a chance to do so in 1937 when some of his fellow emigres arrange a permanent job for him at the University of Chicago.

There he meets Elizabeth Mann Borgese, who introduces him to her father. Heidegger manages to overcome his initial suspicion of the Hanseatic darling of fortune, and Mann his initial suspicion of the Black Forest Bauernkind. They find they agree with each other, and with Adorno and Horkheimer; that America is a reduction ad absurdum of Enlightenment hopes, a land without culture. But their contempt for America does not prevent them from seeing Hitler as having ruined Germany and being about to ruin Europe. Heidegger’s stirring anti-Nazi broadcasts enable him to gratify a need a strike a heroic attitude before large masses of people – a need that he might, under other circumstances, have gratified in a rectorial address.

By the end of the Second World War, Heidegger’s marriage is on the rocks. Sarah Heidegger is a social democrat to the core, loves America, and is a passionate zionist. She has come to think of Heidegger as a great man with a cold and impervious heart, a heart which had once opened to her but remains closed to her social hopes. She has come to despise the egotist as much as she admires the philosopher and the anti-Nazi polemicist. In 1947 she separates from Heidegger and takes the 14-year-old Abraham with her to Palestine. She is wounded in the civil war but eventually, after the proclamation of independence, becomes a philosophy professor at Tel Aviv University.

Heidegger himself returns to Freiburg in triumph in 1948. There he gets his old friend Gadamer a job, even though he is acidly contemptuous of Gadamer’s acquiescence in the Nazi takeover of the German universities. He eventually takes as his third wife a war widow, a woman who reminds all his old friends of Elfride. When he dies in 1976, his wife lays on his coffin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the medal of the order Pour le Merite, and the gold medal of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This last had been awarded him in the year after the publication of his brief but poignant elegy for Abraham, who had died on the Golan Heights in 1967.

What books did Heidegger write in this possible world? Almost exactly the same ones he wrote in the actual one. In this world, however, the Introduction to Metaphysics contains a contemptuous identification of the National Socialist movement with the mindless nihilism of modern technology, as well as the remark that Hitler is dragging Germany down to the metaphysical level of Russia and America. The seminars on Nietzsche are much that same as those he gave in our world, except for a digression on Nietzsche’s loathing for anti-Semites, a digression that contains uncanny parallels to Sartre’s contemporaneous but independent Portrait of the Anti-Semite. In this world, Heidegger writes most of the same exegetical essays he wrote in our world, but he adds appreciations of Thoreau and of Jefferson, composed for lectures at Harvard and at the University of Virginia respectively. The two essays evince Heidegger’s familiar sentimental agrarianism and suspicion of the urban proletariat. His books in this world are, in short, documents of the same struggle he carried on in the actual world – the struggle to move outside the philosophical tradition and there ‘sing a new song’. This struggle, this private pursuit of purity, was the core of his life. It was incapable of being greatly influenced either by his love for particular persons or by the political events of his time.

In our world, Heidegger said nothing political after the war. In the possible world I am sketching he puts his prestige as an anti-Nazi to work in making the German political right respectable. He is adored by Franz Josef Srauss, who pays regular and worshipful visits to Todtnauberg. Occasionally Heidegger appears with Strauss at political rallies. Social Democrats like Habermas regret Heidegger’s being consistently on the wrong side in postwar German politics. Sometimes, in private, they voice the suspicion that, in slightly different circumstances, Heidegger would have made a pretty good Nazi. But they never dream of saying such a thing in public about the greatest European thinker of our time.

07w43:5 The Schoyen Collection

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The Schøyen Collection
“The Schøyen Collection comprises most types of manuscripts from the whole world spanning over 5000 years. It is the largest private manuscript collection formed in the 20th century. […] The present website comprises a selection of digital descriptions of manuscripts with sample images from The Schøyen Collection. The whole collection comprises about 13,600 manuscripts and inscribed objects, of which about 720 are available on the present website. The selection, descriptions and digitalisation are the responsibility of the owner of The Schøyen Collection.”

07w43:4 A comparison between USA & Japan

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Immanuel Wallerstein’s Commentary No. 219, Oct. 15, 2007:

“Japan, the United States, and the World-Economy”

Sometimes startling and revealing news items are buried in the back pages of the news media. On October 3, The New York Times ran a small table in its business section about access to the internet. It listed ten countries with strong economies and showed two figures for each: average speed of broadband connections in megabytes a second, and price per month of service (one megabyte a second). The country that was fastest and cheapest was Japan (61.0 and $0.27). The runner-up was South Korea (45.6 and $0.45).

What was interesting about this table was how the United States stood in relation to Japan. The United States at 4.8 was fourteen times slower than Japan and at $3.33 twelve times more expensive. It is piquant to note that France, so frequently scorned in the United States for its economic backwardness, while not up to Japan’s level, was over three times faster than the United States (17.6) and half as expensive ($1.64).

The explanation of this enormous discrepancy is the relation to the capitalist market of enterprises in Japan and in the United States. For Japan to be what the Times calls a “broadband paradise,” Japanese enterprises have had to make heavy investments and give deep discounts to customers. They do this on the theory that disregarding short-term profits and pouring billions into long-term projects will pay off eventually. This was the philosophy that allowed Japan to create one of the two fastest railway lines in the world – the Shinkansen. Its only competitor in this field is France’s TGV. The United States, as everyone knows, has a miserable train system known as Amtrak, which hardly anyone uses and is always losing money.

The two crucial differences between Japan and the United States is that U.S. corporate executives are under great pressure to justify any capital expenditures that might eat into this year’s returns, and that the U.S. government is unwilling to give financial incentives to companies to help finance long-term investment.

The reasons for both are obvious. U.S. corporations today are dominated by a speculative ethos, in which top personnel turnover is constant and buyouts ever on the horizon. This year’s bottom line is all that matters to a CEO who may not be in a position to profit from next year’s bottom line (not to speak of next decade’s bottom line). And the U.S. government is spending all its money on military investment and tax breaks for the very wealthy. There is nothing left over for long-term capitalist investment. The Japanese are instead investing in a “once-in-a-century transformation,” according to Kazuhiko Ogawa, general manager of the network strategy section at Nippon Telegraph & Telephone.

The bubble in U.S. stocks may possibly continue for a little while longer. But in a decade, the United States may be embarrassingly far behind the Japanese (and the South Koreans, and even the French) in informatics, which everyone is always saying is one of the key sectors of today’s capitalist economy.

This is the way that hegemonic decline builds on itself. The leading country concentrates on the short-term situation, and overinvests in unfruitful military expenditure. Speculation replaces innovation as the source of profits. And before one knows it, the others (in this case the Japanese, but not they alone) speed ahead controlling the technology of the future. This is what the United States did when it was, oh so long ago, an ascending economic power.

The only way to turn this around, even partially, is a major cultural shift in the United States. George W. Bush is not at all ready even to think about it. Are Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama ready to exert their leadership in this direction? Nothing is less sure.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

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These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

07w43:3 The Cruelty of Kitakyushu's bureaucrats

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Death Reveals Harsh Side of a ‘Model’ in Japan | Norimitsu Onishi
“In a thin notebook discovered along with a man’s partly mummified corpse this summer was a detailed account of his last days, recording his hunger pangs, his drop in weight and, above all, his dream of eating a rice ball, a snack sold for about $1 in convenience stores across the country.
‘3 a.m. This human being hasn’t eaten in 10 days but is still alive,’ he wrote. ‘I want to eat rice. I want to eat a rice ball.’ These were not the last words of a hiker lost in the wilderness, but those of a 52-year-old urban welfare recipient whose benefits had been cut off. And his case was not the first here.”