This week’s links and reading cover apocalyptic trends and their cultural, psychological, and artistic/literary aspects; economic collapse in America and Europe, with attendant venality on the part of politicians and the wealthy elite; the rise of an über-surveillance state in America; epic protests in Canada; the decline and fall (and continued decline after falling) of America’s colleges; a poignant plea for us all not to forget the real human suffering that attends the current debate over the status of antidepressants; a list of steps to “becoming a writer”; thoughts about fantasy, science fiction, horror, and other genre fiction in literature and film; the American military’s relationship with the entertainment industry; lucid dreaming and near-death experiences; and a timely warning about the dangers of taking in too much information (from posts like this one, perhaps?).
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The Rumbling of Distant Thunder
John Michael Greer, The Archdruid Report, May 30, 2012
Something has gone very wrong. That’s the message that’s rumbling like distant thunder through the crawlspaces of the American imagination just now. Something has gone very wrong, and those whose public claim to power is their supposed ability to manage things so that they don’t go wrong—the captains of finance and brokers of political power who move from photo op to press conference to high-level meeting and back again — don’t know how to fix it. I don’t expect that sense to reach anything close to critical mass in the near future — though it will be interesting to note whether this year’s version of the traditional American game of electoral charades, in which two indistinguishably airbrushed Demublican politicians pretend to be as different as possible until the moment the last voting booths close on Election Day, is able to whip up the same level of canned enthusiasm recent exercises of the same sort have managed. It could well take some years before the loss of faith in the institutions that define contemporary American life grows to the point at which it will become an unavoidable political fact. For that matter, I have no hard evidence that this is happening at all, just stray bits of conversation heard in passing. Still, those of my readers who have the opportunity might want to listen for the sound of thunder far off; if I’m right, the storm it’s heralding is going to be a whopper.
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Living in the End Times
Ben Marcus, New Statesman, April 18, 2012
Teaser: Why American writers are obsessed with apocalypse
[W]hat [is] this attraction to dark visions of the last days, a burgeoning literary genre that might as well be called “end times porn”?…[I]n American fiction at least, the end times has graduated into de rigueur subject matter. Increasingly novelists cut their teeth on it and it’s starting to look like a rite of passage. Long a preoccupation of science fiction and horror writing, the apocalypse, as it looms closer, has become more intriguing to writers of literary fiction, more necessary to address. The last days no longer seem like a harmless fantasy. If this is a new development, it is worth considering why the end of the world is poised to join the suburbs and bad marriages as a distinctly American literary fascination…A decade [after 9/11], if American novelists have become less visibly interested in tackling the political complexities of our times, most notably how a superpower’s assertion of dominion exacts changes on our creative imaginations, that other call to arms, which asks for an escalation in our narrative spectacles, seems to have been taken more seriously…Do Americans read [Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novelThe Road] differently — say, as a great realist novel — because our nation’s ridiculous lucky streak (a luck sustained through tremendous violence to others) was broken ten years ago and we got to sample, however briefly, feelings of deep vulnerability?…Nothing of the 9/11 attacks even remotely suggested an apocalypse but they certainly helped expose the troubling fiction of our immortality. Which might mean that fictions of our end times are now, through bad luck or comeuppance, however you wish to view it, among the truest and most realistic stories that we can tell.
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Too Smart to Fail: Notes on an Age of Folly
Thomas Frank, The Baffler, No. 19, March 2012
In the twelve hapless years of the present millennium, we have looked on as three great bubbles of consensus vanity have inflated and burst, each with consequences more dire than the last. First there was the “New Economy,” a millennial fever dream predicated on the twin ideas of a people’s stock market and an eternal silicon prosperity; it collapsed eventually under the weight of its own fatuousness. Second was the war in Iraq, an endeavor whose launch depended for its success on the turpitude of virtually every class of elite in Washington, particularly the tough-minded men of the media…And then, Wall Street blew up the global economy. Empowered by bank deregulation and regulatory capture, Wall Street enlisted those tough-minded men of the media again to sell the world on the idea that financial innovations were making the global economy more stable by the minute…Each separate catastrophe should have been followed by a wave of apologies and resignations…Quicker than you could say “Ahmed Chalabi,” an entire generation of newsroom fools should have lost their jobs. But that’s not what happened…[T]he problem goes far beyond politics. We have become a society that can’t self-correct, that can’t address its obvious problems, that can’t pull out of its nosedive. And so to our list of disasters let us add this fourth entry: we have entered an age of folly that — for all our Facebooking and the twittling tweedle-dee-tweets of the twitterati — we can’t wake up from.
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Crony Capitalism for Intellectuals
Luigi Zingales, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2012
Unfortunately, the idea that a small, enlightened elite should guide the ignorant people to what is good for them, even at the cost of misleading them, has become more prevalent in America. Such paternalism emerged in all its clarity during the discussion of the 2008 financial bailout…During the financial crisis, as the average American balked at the magnitude of resources transferred to the financial industry, political leaders and their preferred experts did everything in their power to make their actions less visible to voters. As the division of labor increases specialization, the interests of the specialized, technically competent elite diverge from those of the rest of the people. The reasons are various, but the outcome is always the same: The experts’ interests increasingly align with those of the powerful incumbents, or at least begin to diverge from those of the rest of the population. That is true for all experts, including academic economists…A divide between the intellectual elite and the people can easily reinforce the most dangerous forms of populism, especially as the perception of corruption and the consequent resentment against Washington are soaring. If the intellectual elite cannot be trusted, anti-intellectualism prevails, and the quality of the political debate deteriorates. This deterioration, in turn, gives the intellectual elite another reason to feel superior, a feeling that exacerbates groupthink and reinforces even more populist reactions. The solution is not to get rid of experts; the solution is to understand our biases.
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Europe raises spectre of an ungovernable world
Mark Mazower, Financial Times, May 25, 2012
It was in Europe, two centuries ago, where the idea emerged that the world was a governable place. This idea was radically new: the term “international” itself was coined by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham and only entered general circulation in the decades after Napoleon’s defeat. Although nationalism was emerging as a potent force at this time, the supporters of international co-operation were not alarmed. On the contrary, they believed that nationalism and internationalism were soul mates, that a continent of vibrant national democracies necessitated co-operation among its diverse people…So what is at stake in the eurozone crisis goes beyond the consequences of a Greek exit and beyond even the future of the EU itself. The crisis has thrown into question the very idea that the world can be governed. The EU itself was once the most ambitious and impressive realisation of this idea. In its 21st-century incarnation, however, the EU has allowed a dangerous gap to open up between rulers and ruled, technocrats and electorates…“The type of oppression threatening democracies will not be like anything there has been in the world before,” Alexis de Tocqueville noted with foreboding near the end of his 1840 account of democracy in America. His sense of being stranded between an unrecuperable past and an unforeseeable future resonates in a moment in which the kind of international co-operation taking place in the EU no longer succours domestic political institutions but suffocates them…[T]he comforts of the past may be no guide as to what lies ahead in a world that is rapidly losing faith in the very possibility of its own governability.
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America’s Spy State: How the Telecoms Sell Out Your Privacy
David Rosen, Alternet, May 29, 2012
Teaser: Your seemingly private information is a public commodity, subject to the dictates of the security state and market opportunists.
You need to know one simple truth: you have no privacy with regard to your electronic communications. Nothing you do online, via a wireline telephone or over a wireless device is outside the reach of government security agencies and private corporations. Your ostensible personal communication — whether a phone call, an email, a search, visiting a website, a credit card purchase, a 140 character Tweet, a movie download or a Facebook friending — is a public commodity, subject to the dictates of the security state and market opportunists…The surveillance state is a multi-headed hydra. Corporate spying is intimately linked to the surveillance state, an omnipresent system consisting of federal, state and local security agencies. This spying system is made up of many of the leading private telecommunications and Internet companies working closely with the Department of Justice (DoJ), NSA, FBI, DHS, FCC and still other entities. This increasingly integrated federal system is complemented by an ever-growing army of state and local police “intelligence” agencies. Individual entities work either on their own, together with others and/or with private companies, many that financially benefit from commercial data harvesting…The policies of today’s security state were instituted by a Republican, George W. Bush, and continued with even-greater vigilance by a Democrat, Barack Obama. Whoever wins in November will, if the economic suffering persists and austerity further imposed, the security state will be extended, particularly to spy on alleged domestic “threats”…Today’s spy-state recalls the World War I era “red scare,” marked by the roundup of immigrant anarchists and socialist and, in many cases, their deportation. Similarly, it resonates with the anti-communism of the post-World War II era, the age of J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. Today’s politicians, both Democrat and Republican, know how to play the security card to appease popular fears during a period of profound economic restructuring.
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Students will be tracked via chips in IDs
Francisco Vara-Orta, San Antonio Express-News, May 26, 2012
Northside Independent School District plans to track students next year on two of its campuses using technology implanted in their student identification cards in a trial that could eventually include all 112 of its schools and all of its nearly 100,000 students. District officials said the Radio Frequency Identification System (RFID) tags would improve safety by allowing them to locate students — and count them more accurately at the beginning of the school day to help offset cuts in state funding, which is partly based on attendance…Chip readers on campuses and on school buses can detect a student’s location but can’t track them once they leave school property. Only authorized administrative officials will have access to the information, [district spokesman Pascual] Gonzalez said…[Northside’s assistant superintendent for budget and finance Steve Bassett] said the program was one way the growing district could respond to the Legislature’s cuts in state education funding. Northside trimmed its budget last year by $61.4 million. Two school districts in the Houston area — Spring and Santa Fe ISDs — have used the technology for several years and have reported gains of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for improved attendance…The American Civil Liberties Union fought the use of the technology in 2005 at a rural elementary school in California and helped get the program canceled, said Kirsten Bokenkamp, an ACLU spokeswoman in Texas. She said concerns about the tags include privacy and the risks of identity theft or kidnapping if somebody hacks into the system.
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Canada student protests erupt into political crisis with mass arrests
Adam Gabbatt, Guardian, May 24, 2012
[NOTE: Democracy Now has said these protests “appear to be the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.” Even unsympathetic observers agree about the significance of the phenomenon. “Ultimately,” writes the National Post‘s Chris Selley in an overwhelmingly negative analysis of the students’ words and actions, “any effort to normalize what we’re seeing falls short. The sheer longevity of the Quebec protests is unprecedented and bizarre… [One theory holds that] the situation in Quebec might be as much about a pre-existing collapse in government authority, trust and credibility as it is about the students or the piddling tuition hike. They have just accepted an invitation to fill the void. There is much to this…Outside of Quebec, discontent might not lead to mass demonstrations and riots. But it has to be an awfully tempting invitation.” See “Quebec’s student protests should alarm all Canadian politicians and voters.” Also bear in mind that the protests have now spread to Toronto and elsewhere, and have begun to involve more than just students. So why, aside from a handful of write-ups by CBS News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and a handful of others, has there been a fairly thunderous silence about the whole thing in the American media?]
Teaser: More than 500 people were arrested in Montreal on Wednesday night as protestors defied controversial new law Bill 78
Protests that began in opposition to tuition fees in Canada have exploded into a political crisis with the mass arrest of hundreds of demonstrators amid a backlash against draconian emergency laws. More than 500 people were arrested in a demonstration in Montreal on Wednesday night as protesters defied a controversial new law — Bill 78 — that places restrictions on the right to demonstrate. In Quebec City, police arrested 176 people under the provisions of the new law. Demonstrators have been gathering in Montreal for just over 100 days to oppose tuition increases by the Quebec provincial government. On Tuesday, about 100 people were arrested after organisers say 300,000 people took the streets. But what began as a protest against university fee increases has expanded to a wider movement to oppose Bill 78, which was rushed through by legislators in Quebec in response to the demonstrations. The bill imposes severe restrictions on protests, making it illegal for protesters to gather without having given police eight hours’ notice and securing a permit. On Wednesday night, police in Montreal used kettling techniques — officers surrounding groups of protesters and not allowing them in or out of the resulting circle — before conducting a mass arrest…The protests have resulted in a backlash against the Quebec prime minister, Jean Charest, who has refused to back down over the tuition fee increase, and the new law…In an appearance on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in the US on Saturday night, the Grammy award-winning band Arcade Fire, who come from Montreal, wore symbolic red squares of cloth on their chests during their performance, in support of the protests.
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Is college too easy? As study time falls, debate rises.
Daniel de Vise, The Washington Post, May 21, 2012
Over the past half-century, the amount of time college students actually study — read, write and otherwise prepare for class — has dwindled from 24 hours a week to about 15, survey data show. And that invites a question: Has college become too easy?…Declining study time is a discomfiting truth about the vaunted U.S. higher-education system. The trend is generating debate over how much students really learn, even as colleges raise tuition every year. Some critics say colleges and their students have grown lazy. Today’s collegiate culture, they say, rewards students with high grades for minimal effort and distracts them with athletics, clubs and climbing walls on campuses that increasingly resemble resorts. Academic leaders counter that students are as busy as ever but that their attention is consumed in part by jobs they take to help make ends meet…[T]he typical student today spends 27 hours a week in study and class time, roughly the same time commitment expected of students in a modern full-day kindergarten. “This is an absolutely enormous change in postsecondary education, possibly as big as anything we’ve seen in the last 50 years,” said [Philip] Babcock [co-author of the 2010 paper “Leisure College, USA“]…“What students are getting is four or five years of country club living,” said Richard Vedder, an Ohio University researcher who studies the economics of higher education.
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Richard Veder, Innovations, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 23, 2012
A generation ago Charles Sykes wrote a controversial, provocative, but I think 90 percent correct book, ProfScam. I think a better than decent case can be made for a new book, a sequel if you will, called CollegeScam. Professors are not the only ones engaged in using higher education for personal power and glory…Where is the “scam?” It comes from the calls from the president and others such as the Lumina and Gates Foundation that nearly everyone should go to college, that the learning gained in college is vital. It comes from the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grants, loans, state government subsidies, and tax-sheltered gifts that are spent on higher education, some to build luxury dorms and rec centers, or provide comfortable seating for tycoons attending ball-throwing contests. The scam is not confined to students. The faculty are complicit as well…The heavy lifting (large undergraduate survey courses) are often taught by low-paid adjuncts and grad students. We have a class of academic aristocrats who use the cheap hired help to do a large portion of the core academic function. And then there is the administration. This is the group of university employees that has grown the fastest, with ever larger and deeper levels of bureaucracy permeating almost every campus. These folks command a growing share of university resources, but most faculty and many students I know believe, mostly correctly in my opinion, that you could wipe out a huge hunk of these so-called support personnel without damaging the quality of the academic offerings — indeed, you might enhance it.
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The university: still dead
Angus Kennedy, The Spiked Review of Books, May 25, 2012
Teaser: Andrew Delbanco’s insightful new book on the history and future of the American college exposes an institution that has no idea what it should be.
In the course of tracing the changes from the religious foundations — the colleges — of the early American colonists through to the vast ‘multiversitys’ of today, Andrew Delbanco usefully draws attention to the fact that putting a big sign up on a college saying Committed to Providing Excellent Higher Education for All would probably signify that the very opposite was happening inside…Most American colleges now allow ‘virtually unlimited freedom’ to undergraduates to choose what they want to study. Very few ‘tell their students what to think’. Most ‘are unwilling even to tell them what’s worth thinking about’…Delbanco [charts] how the incessant demands on the college to take in more and more students and to produce more and more specialised knowledge is not just a tale of increased equity and access and much needed specialisation; it is also a tale of the fragmentation of knowledge and the development of a profound uncertainty about values…It is very difficult for many professional academics, despite following the logic of their own arguments, to see quite how bad the situation is. It is one thing to recognise that learning and character have little to do with college today, another to admit that it may be beyond repair. Words like freedom have such a powerful hold on us that no one relishes the prospect of exposing the fact that the freedom offered to students today is really a freedom from education…Who though is prepared to take to heart what is maybe the best lesson we could learn from the early American colleges? Who is prepared to say when institutions have ceased to live up to their ideals and have become something else? And who is to obey the resulting imperative to found new institutions?
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The Antidepressant Wars: A Fierce Debate That Ignores Patients
Sandra J. Tanenbaum, Boston Review, May/June 2012
Evidence for the uselessness of antidepressants has figured prominently in recent health discourse…The intensity of the current debate unsettles me. I understand — and have been directly affected by — the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, the indeterminacy of clinical studies, and the substitution of chemotherapeutics for psychotherapeutics in psychiatry and health insurance policies. I lament, with my colleagues, the cost of unnecessary care and denounce, with my comrades, the toll of unnecessary drugging…Most parties to the debate agree that antidepressants can be effective for severely depressed patients such as me, but selfishly I fear the rhetoric of antidepressant uselessness will influence the pharmacy policies of my health plan…The suffering of depressed people does not justify the misdeeds of the pharmaceutical industry, nor does it minimize the drugs’ deleterious effects on some patients. However, discussion of antidepressants’ value should not forget this suffering or imagine that it is insignificant or suspect. In my experience, antidepressants are neither happy pills nor placebos; they are the difference between life and living death.
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10 Easy Steps to Becoming a Writer
Randall Silvis, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 27, 2012
[NOTE: This is simply brilliant.]
Step 1: Be born strange, weird, abnormal, or any combination of those. Or have an embarrassing physical flaw, or a big brother who beats you up every day, or a sexually enticing neighbor whose tantalizing ways fog and warp your prepubescent thoughts. The result of any such influence is that you will grow up with a cockeyed view of the world and your place in it, a perception that will cause you to disavow traditional American values, maybe force you to seek solace in amorphous notions of beauty and truth, or in the soothing music of language, or in the need to create and control your own imagined universes rather than the demented universe you have been forced to inhabit.
Step 5: Embrace poverty. Let’s face it, nobody reads anymore. Not enough people, in any case, to adequately support all the writers in need of support — especially when Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and the estate of Stieg Larsson are sucking up nine-tenths of all the revenue generated from books. The only practical escape from poverty for a writer is through another profession.
Step 9: Wake up and dream….[K]now that creativity, the exercise of your imagination, is not only a noble pursuit, it is the nearest we can come on this planet to understanding God.
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Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology
Lev Grossman, Time, May 23, 2012
Teaser: How science fiction, fantasy, romance, mysteries and all the rest will take over the world
[C]riticism has failed the genre novel. Most of the critical vocabulary we have for talking about books is geared to dealing with dense, difficult texts like the ones the modernists wrote. It’s designed for close-reading, for translating thick, worked prose into critical insights, sentence by sentence and quote by quote, not for the long view that plot requires. But plot is an extraordinarily powerful tool for creating emotion in readers. It can be used crudely, but it’s also capable of fine nuance and even intellectual power…The emotions and ideas plot evokes can be huge and dramatic but also complex and subtle and intimate. The things that writers like Raymond Chandler or Philip Pullman or Joe Abercrombie do with plot are utterly exquisite. I often find that the complexity of the narratives in genre fiction makes the narratives in literary novels look almost amateur by comparison…I think this is a point that novelists have been picking up on, of late. Blue-chip literary writers — finding that after years of deprivation under the modernist regime their stores of plot devices are sadly depleted — have been frantically borrowing from genre fiction, which is where plot has been safely stockpiled for all these decades…Cormac McCarthy now writes about serial killers and post-apocalyptic worlds. Michael Chabon writes about alternate realities and hard-boiled detectives. Philip Roth writes alternate history. Kazuo Ishiguro writes about clones. Colson Whitehead writes about zombies. Kate Atkinson writes mysteries. Jennifer Egan writes science fiction, as does Haruki Murakami (and as did David Foster Wallace). And on and on…We expect literary revolutions to come from above, from the literary end of the spectrum — the difficult, the avant-garde, the high-end, the densely written. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on. Instead we’re getting a revolution from below, coming up from the supermarket aisles. Genre fiction is the technology that will disrupt the literary novel as we know it.
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The Cosmic Menagerie
Laura Miller, The New Yorker, June 4, 2012
Teaser: What did the first fictional aliens look like?
The aggressive aliens that skittered, slithered, and oozed through the twentieth century were, to a remarkable degree, prefigured in the very first ones imagined in print. Exemplary aliens did enjoy a brief heyday in the dreamy nineteen-sixties, when they demonstrated new ways of thinking about religion (Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” 1961) and gender (Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness,” 1969). But the majority of outer-space creatures have been like Wells’s Martians: up to no good. For every kindly E.T., there must be a dozen fiendish Body Snatchers. These aliens may not all be made in the image of their creators, but each one is a child of our psyche. We go on staring, Lumen-like, into the farthest reaches of the cosmos. What we most often find out there is a reflection — and it’s not a pretty sight.
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Prometheus: The making of a new myth
Damon Wise, Guardian, May 25, 2012
Teaser: What made Ridley Scott revisit the world of his his iconic movie Alien more than 30 years later? The reasons are complicated, writes Damon Wise, and the results aren’t what you’d expect
[There is] a literal mythology within the Alien world. “What I can say,” [screenwriter David Lindelof] reveals cautiously, “is essentially in line with what we’ve seen now in some of the promotional material and trailers.” The idea is that 60 years from now, two brilliant scientists will unearth evidence of an ancient alien visitation, including signs on the Isle of Skye that seem to invite humanity out to a distant star system. “Somehow,” says Lindelof, “they convince others that this is a worthwhile adventure, so they go out there to find answers to the most fundamental questions we’ve had since we’ve had cognitive thought. Like, who am I? Who made me? What is the purpose of my life? That is the jumping-off point. And in all great science fiction and even myth, characters who try to cross a line that should not be crossed often pay very harsh consequences.” It sounds pretty metaphysical for a film entering a marketplace currently dominated by Marvel’s Avengers and Battleship.
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The military-industrial-entertainment complex
Philip Ewing, DoD Buzz, May 23, 2012
The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch lifted the curtain this week on the nuts and bolts of how this selling of the Pentagon [to the entertainment industry] actually takes place: Directors, producers and screenwriters get to meet with people the rest of us can’t and see places the rest of us don’t; White House and Pentagon officials hope it all translates into products that are at least “accurate” and, in the case of the bin Laden movie, make President Obama look good [see Politico’s story “Judicial Watch Obtains DOD and CIA Records Detailing Meetings with bin Laden Raid Filmmakers“]…[A]nyone who has ever been to the multiplex for a big summer blockbuster has seen the evidence of DoD’s long collaboration with Hollywood. The three “Transformers” movies were feature-length recruiting commercials; this year’s “Act of Valor” featured active-duty SEAL operators; and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus himself went to see “Battleship” in Washington last week. The Navy’s Chief of Information, Rear Adm. Daniel Moynihan, explained why the service cooperated with “Battleship” in a message he sent earlier this month, before the movie opened…”Whether or not we supported Battleship, the film was going to be made — it was going to carry our brand and represent who we are to the American people. We can’t take everyone out to our ships, but we can work with Hollywood and bring the Navy to life on the big screen. Consequently, it’s in our best interest to engage and make sure that movies like ‘Battleship’ accurately portray who we are and what we do as a Navy.” So each time junior high kids walk out of the theater with high-fives and resolutions to become destroyer sailors, the Navy recoups some of what it spent to help make the film.
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Lucid dreaming: Rise of a nocturnal hobby
Sam Judah, BBC News Magazine, May 31, 2012
Teaser: A slew of apps promise to encourage “lucid dreaming”. So why is there such enthusiasm around the idea of controlling dreams, asks Sam Judah.
Lucid dreaming technically refers to any occasion when the sleeper is aware they are dreaming. But it is also used to describe the idea of being able to control those dreams. Once confined to a handful of niche groups, interest in lucid dreaming has grown in recent years, spurred on by a spate of innovations from smartphone apps to specialist eye masks, all promising the ability to influence our dreams. “A couple of years ago there were about four or five people organising meetings” says Mac Sweeney, a dentist and lucid dreaming expert from Islington, London. “Now there are closer to 50, and that’s in the capital alone.” It’s not just lucid dreaming groups that are booming. Attendance at more traditional dream interpretation groups like the Academy of Dreams, in Euston, are up, and elsewhere people are paying up to £40 an hour for private interpretation sessions…[R]eferences to lucid dreaming stretch back at least as far as Tibetan Buddhists in the 8th century, for whom it was just one stage in the practice of “dream yoga”. In 1867 Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys even wrote an instruction manual entitled Dreams and How To Guide Them before a Dutch psychiatrist, Frederick Van Eeden, finally coined the term “lucid dreaming” in the early 20th century. More recently it has been hinted at by films like Inception and the Science of Sleep, which have no doubt contributed to its allure. “Inception has been a major factor,” says Mac Sweeney, “it’s helped to shed the new age connotations. Now it’s seen as glamorous, even sophisticated.”
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Anthony Peake on Near-Death Experiences Versus Actual Death Experiences
Skeptiko, episode 171, May 22, 2012
[NOTE: Anthony Peake is the author of, among other books, The Daemon: A Guide to Your Extraordinary Secret Self, which introduced me to him and his work as I was launching my exploration of the daemonic muse of creativity at Demon Muse a couple of years ago. We got in contact and enjoyed the overlap of our ideas, and currently I’m scheduled to appear as the guest on his Internet TV show The Peake Experience on August 12. He has some fascinating ideas, as this interview he granted to Alex Tsakiris’ always-interesting podcast makes clear.]
Teaser: Interview with author Anthony Peake examines how our understanding of time may effect our understanding of the near-death experience.
[W]hat I suggest is that we are existing in a computer game and what is happening here is that there is a part of you, which I call the Daemon, and the Daemon is the game-player. The Daemon is the person who remembers the game the last time you played it. Now what then happens is you’re going through the game as your lower self, which I call the Eidolon, which is the sprite on the screen for want of a better word. As you travel along in the game, the Daemon will remember that something profoundly difficult or dangerous happened here. This is where you get the examples where people turn around and say, “I just felt something was wrong. I felt something was dangerous. A voice in my head warned me. I had an inkling. I had a sensation. I had a feeling.” That’s the Daemon. And if you act upon what the Daemon’s warning you, you change the program…It could be that as we progress through life there will be a Daemon-induced change in your life that puts you and the Daemon off on a new course which you haven’t experienced before. In which case there will be no opportunity for recognition necessarily. So there will be no danger or sensations because you wouldn’t remember it. But of course, if you are living your life and you’re still living the same life you lived last time around, you would recognize things because you did recognize them. So I argue — and this is pure supposition and it’s nothing more so please don’t say it’s anything other than this — that we live these lives many, many times. Because at the end of the next life you will then fall out of time at the moment of death again and again you will live the life again and again and again.
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Noise and Signal
Nassim Taleb, Farnam Street, May 29, 2012
[NOTE: This is an excerpt from Taleb’s forthcoming book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Taleb is of course the man who achieved major prominence in 2007 for his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, whose seemingly prophetic quality was made preternaturally more intense by the events of 2008. His point in this excerpt is particularly and pointedly important for people like me, and also, I assume, to people like you like you, since we’re given to scanning the infosphere on a regular basis. I think maybe it can also be taken as an oblique validation of the importance of skillful and humanistically motivated content curation in the current environment of info-overload. So I couldn’t think of a better note on which to end this edition of Recommended Reading.]
The supply of information to which we are exposed under modernity is transforming humans [from equable people who react to real information or “signal” into neurotics who react to pure noise]…In business and economic decision-making, data causes severe side effects — data is now plentiful thanks to connectivity; and the share of spuriousness in the data increases as one gets more immersed into it. A not well discussed property of data: it is toxic in large quantities — even in moderate quantities…The more frequently you look at data, the more noise you are disproportionally likely to get (rather than the valuable part called the signal); hence the higher the noise to signal ratio…There [is a huge amount of] noise coming from the media and its glorification of the anecdote. Thanks to it, we are living more and more in virtual reality, separated from the real world, a little bit more every day, while realizing it less and less…To conclude, the best way…to mitigate [the dangers of unnecessary interventionism in business, health, government, and elsewhere that stem from too much attention to noise and often result in disaster] is to ration the supply of information, as naturalistically as possible. This is hard to accept in the age of the internet. It has been very hard for me to explain that the more data you get, the less you know what’s going on, and the more iatrogenics you will cause.