Blog Archives

Teeming Links – May 2, 2014

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Anatomy of the Deep State (absolutely required reading): “There is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose.”

Maybe interiority dies or become obsolete when all the world’s an app: “Starting some 500 years ago, the self was understood as an enclosure. It was something that required silence to access and space to experience. I think that used to be true. It probably still is. But it might not be for very much longer.”

Looks like I got out just in time: A Eulogy for Twitter: The beloved social publishing platform enters its twilight

Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers: Liberal arts and the humanities aren’t just for the elite (shades of Earl Shorris and the Clemente Course in the Humanities)

How to study the numinous: “If our understanding of the mystical is impoverished today, perhaps it’s because we’ve put too much faith in brain scans, and allowed other forms of knowledge and investigation to ebb. Perhaps what we need is a revival of philosophically-informed psychology and anthropology, rather than a more ambitious spiritual phrenology. Perhaps, instead of a better fMRI machine, we’re waiting for a new (and doubtless very different) William James or James Frazer or Carl Jung.”

The human heart of sacred art: “The humanist impulse not only liberated the sense of transcendence from the shackles of the sacred, it also transformed the idea of transcendence itself. The transcendent was no longer linked to the divine; nor did humans fulfil themselves solely through union with God. Rather humans came to be acknowledged as conscious agents who realized themselves only through self-created projects to transform themselves and the world they inhabit.”

Ghosts of the tsunami (on a Japanese priest’s attempt to deal with the plague of ghosts in the aftermath of the country epochal disaster): “When people die violently or prematurely, in anger or anguish, they are at risk of becoming gaki, ‘hungry ghosts’, who wander between worlds, propagating curses and mischief. There are rituals for placating unhappy spirits, but in the aftermath of the disaster few families were in a position to perform them. . . . Thousands of spirits had passed from life to death; countless others were cut loose from their moorings in the afterlife. How could they all be cared for? Who was to honour the compact between the living and the dead? In such circumstances, how could there fail to be a swarm of ghosts?”

Terror Incognita: The Paradoxical History of Cosmic Horror, from Lovecraft to Ligotti: Los Angeles Review of Books looks at Lovecraft, Chambers, Ligotti, and weird fiction. Worth reading even though it winds up to a somewhat disappointing (because somewhat hackneyed and by now cliched) conclusion about the genre’s appeal (“The imagination, weaned on a materialistic civilization and thoroughly disillusioned with it, yearns for that sublime unknown”) that was articulated at length by Peter Penzoldt 60 years ago in The Supernatural in Fiction, and that has been restated many times since by the likes of Joshi and others, and that has always left a number of significant alternative possibilities unexamined. But that said, hey, how cool is it to see Ligotti being talked about in the likes of LARB?

 

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

‘The Innovation of Loneliness’ – A short film about social networks, society, and the self

Here’s a new must-watch short film about the ironic reality of so-called “social media” that promise to create real community and human relationship but really function to generate a new kind of loneliness.

Beware “liking” or retweeting, which may well unleash waves of paradox that will warp the inner mind, rip a hole in the fabric of space and time, and manifest all manner of daimonic mischief.

What is the connection between Social Networks and Being Lonely?

Inspired by and based on the wonderful book by Sherry Turkle, Alone Together.

Also based on Dr. Yair Amichai-Hamburger’s Hebrew article “The Invention of Being Lonely.”

Script, Design & Animation: Shimi Cohen.

Final Project at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.

Teeming Links – August 23, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s invocation comes from author and cultural historian Mike Jay, author of last year’s The Influencing Machine, slated for U.S. publication in January 2014 as A Visionary Madness. The article’s tagline states the basic thesis, which articulates an uncanny experience, sensation, and intuition that we’ve all had with ever-increasing frequency and intensity in recent years: “Schizophrenics used to see demons and spirits. Now they talk about actors and hidden cameras — and make a lot of sense.”

A_Visionary_Madness_by_Mike_JayPopular culture hums with stories about technology that secretly observes and controls our thoughts, or in which reality is simulated with virtual constructs or implanted memories, and where the truth can be glimpsed only in distorted dream sequences or chance moments when the mask slips. A couple of decades ago, such beliefs would mark out fictional characters as crazy, more often than not homicidal maniacs. Today, they are more likely to identify a protagonist who, like Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank, genuinely has stumbled onto a carefully orchestrated secret of which those around him are blandly unaware. These stories obviously resonate with our technology-saturated modernity. What’s less clear is why they so readily adopt a perspective that was, until recently, a hallmark of radical estrangement from reality. Does this suggest that media technologies are making us all paranoid? Or that paranoid delusions suddenly make more sense than they used to?

. . . As the American screenwriter William Goldman observed in his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), in the movie business, nobody knows anything. It might be that a similarly bold metafiction could have been successful years earlier, but it feels more likely that the cultural impact of The Matrix reflected the ubiquity that interactive and digital media had achieved by the end of the 20th century. This was the moment at which the networked society reached critical mass: the futuristic ideas that, a decade before, were the preserve of a vanguard who read William Gibson’s cyberspace novels or followed the bleeding-edge speculations of the cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000 now became part of the texture of daily life for a global and digital generation. The headspinning pretzel logic that had confined Philip K Dick’s appeal to the cult fringes a generation earlier was now accessible to a mass audience. Suddenly, there was a public appetite for convoluted allegories that dissolved the boundaries between the virtual and the real.

. . . In the 21st century, the influencing machine has escaped from the shuttered wards of the mental hospital to become a distinctive myth for our times. It is compelling not because we all have schizophrenia, but because reality has become a grey scale between the external world and our imaginations. The world is now mediated in part by technologies that fabricate it and partly by our own minds, whose pattern-recognition routines work ceaselessly to stitch digital illusions into the private cinema of our consciousness. The classical myths of metamorphosis explored the boundaries between humanity and nature and our relationship to the animals and the gods. Likewise, the fantastical technologies that were once the hallmarks of insanity enable us to articulate the possibilities, threats and limits of the tools that are extending our minds into unfamiliar dimensions, both seductive and terrifying.

– Mike Jay, “The Reality Show,” Aeon, August 23, 2013

If you find such ruminations interesting and evocative, note well that the entire final chapter of Victoria Nelson’s The Secret Life of Puppets (2003) offers a lucid and fascinating discussion of the very same phenomenon, with references to the very same texts and authors. And it serves as the culmination of a book discussing the entire thing within the wider context of the Platonic mystical-esoteric philosophical and spiritual impulse that has been squeezing in through the back door of horror, science fiction, and fantasy entertainment during this ongoing age of Aristotelian scientific rationalism.

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Hacker Exposes Big Facebook Security Flaw — By Posting On Mark Zuckerberg’s Private Wall (The Huffington Post)
“Khalil Shreateh, a computer programmer in the West Bank, discovered a flaw that allowed him to post on anyone’s wall on the site, even if that user had strict privacy settings. Shreateh initially submitted his find to Facebook’s ‘white-hat’ program, a system that lets benevolent computer hackers tell Facebook about security flaws. . . . But when the engineering team didn’t seem to think the problem was real, Shreateh decided to prove that the bug he found did indeed exist.”

Fukushima nuclear plant facing new disaster (CBC)
“Tokyo Electric Power Company workers have detected high levels of radiation in a ditch that flows into the ocean from a leaking tank at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Japan’s nuclear watchdog said Thursday the leak could be the beginning of a new disaster — a series of leaks of contaminated water from hundreds of steel tanks holdng massive amounts of radioactive water coming from three melted reactors, as well as underground water running into reactor and turbine basements.”

Ex-pope Benedict says God told him to resign during ‘mystical experience’ (The Guardian)
Pope Francis’s predecessor breaks silence to contradict explanation he gave to cardinals when he stepped down. “Benedict denied he had been visited by an apparition or had heard God’s voice, but said he had undergone a ‘mystical experience’ during which God had inspired in him an ‘absolute desire’ to dedicate his life to prayer rather than push on as pope.”

Dr. John Mack Talks about Transcending the Dualistic Mind (Hidden Experience)
“Harvard professor Dr. John Mack gave a two-hour long presentation at the International UFO Congress in 2003. The title of his talk was ‘Transcending the Dualistic Mind.’ This is the audio lifted from a 12-part YouTube video of this presentation.”

Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude (Harvard Magazine)
On crafting a liberal-arts education. “This is the image I want to leave you with: developing the ability to maintain ‘with perfect sweetness’ the independence of solitude — the integrity and wholeness of the self — in the midst of the crowd. Your education should give you the capacity to shape and sustain your selfhood.”

A Wilderness of Thought: Childhood and the Poetic Imagination (Orion Magazine)
“So much of this childhood ease with both the visible and invisible, what we know and don’t know — the pure sense of expectation and delight in the mystery of what is happening and about to happen — is not only a function of our mind’s ability to balance opposites through the equipoise that is our imagination, but also a way of experiencing the world poetically.”

The Writer as Reader: Melville and his Marginalia (Los Angeles Review of Books)
“Melville remains one of the best American examples of how every important writer is foremost an indefatigable reader of golden books, someone who kneels at the altar of literature not only for wisdom, sustenance, and emotional enlargement, but with the crucial intent of filching fire from the gods.”

Why I love . . . Night of the Demon (BFI)
“Paving for the way for later occult classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man, Night of the Demon is a spooky tale of witchcraft in modern Britain. With Jacques Tourneur’s film opening the BFI’s Monster Weekend, curator Vic Pratt explains why it’s a masterpiece of fright.”

Fans to celebrate horror writer H.P. Lovecraft with NecronomiCon gathering (The Washington Post)
Article inspired by this weekend’s convention in Providence. Many of my good friends in the Lovecraft world are there. Alas for those of us who can’t attend! “The mythos that Lovecraft created in stories such as ‘The Call of Cthulhu,’ ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ and ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ has reached its tentacles deep into popular culture — so much that his creations and the works they influenced might be better known than the writer himself.”

Why Rod Serling Still Matters (Mitch Horowitz for The Huffington Post)
“The visuals of The Twilight Zone form a kind of collective generational nightmare. The remarkable thing about the man who created many of these episodes from 1959 to 1964, Rod Serling, is that the writer-presenter learned his craft not in the visual era but in the age of radio drama.”

Everything I Know About America I Learned from Stephen King (The Millions)
Written by an only child who grew up in an American Foreign Service family. “I [am] struck by how much of my conception of America comes from those thick books — what they said to me during that quasi-rootless time, and what they say to me now that both the vague internationalism and the natural solipsism of my childhood have mostly dissipated. For better or worse, I cut my patriotic teeth on the oeuvre of Stephen King.”

Eleanor Longden: The voices in my head (TED)
“To all appearances, Eleanor Longden was just like every other student, heading to college full of promise and without a care in the world. That was until the voices in her head started talking. Initially innocuous, these internal narrators became increasingly antagonistic and dictatorial, turning her life into a living nightmare. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, hospitalized, drugged, Longden was discarded by a system that didn’t know how to help her. Longden tells the moving tale of her years-long journey back to mental health, and makes the case that it was through learning to listen to her voices that she was able to survive.”

Teeming Links – August 20, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Did somebody say “apocalypse”? Oh, yeah: that was me, here, all the time. And it was also, as it turns out, everybody, everywhere these days. To preface the current roundup of recommended and necessary reading, here’s a rich reflection on this very fact, and on the deeper meanings of the very idea of apocalypse — linked, as we always do here at The Teeming Brain, to the idea of dystopia — from no less a cultural organ than The Chronicle of Higher Education:

We’re living through a dystopia boom; secular apocalypses have, in the words of The New York Times, “pretty much owned” best-seller lists and taken on a dominant role in pop culture. These are fictions of infinite extrapolation, stories in which today’s source of anxiety becomes tomorrow’s source of collapse.

. . . All of this literature is the product of what the philosopher John Gray has described as “a culture transfixed by the spectacle of its own fragility.” Call it dystopian narcissism: the conviction that our anxieties are uniquely awful; that the crises of our age will be the ones that finally do civilization in; that we are privileged to witness the beginning of the end.

Of course, today’s dystopian writers didn’t invent the ills they decry: Our wounds are real. But there is also a neurotic way of picking at a wound, of catastrophizing, of visualizing the day the wounded limb turns gangrenous and falls off. It’s this hunger for crisis, the need to assign our problems world-transforming import, that separates dystopian narcissism from constructive polemic.

. . . To a surprising extent, our secular stories of dystopia and collapse rehearse the old story of apocalypse. We own a slate of anxieties that would have been unimaginable to older generations with fears of their own; but much of our literature of collapse suggests that the future will fear exactly what we fear, only in exaggerated form. In this way, our anxieties are exalted. Yesterday’s fears were foolish — but today’s are existential. And today’s threats are revealed to be not some problems, but the problems. Dystopias can satisfy the typological urge to invest our own slice of history with ultimate meaning: We look back from an imagined future to discover that we are correct in our fears, that our problems are special because they will be the ones to destroy us.

. . . A more radical brand of fiction about the future would still treat our problems with gravity, but it would also be a Copernican kind of fiction; it would not put our lives, our age, or our problems at the center of history. It would start, in other words, from the frightening and less-familiar thought that history has no direction and no center.

– Rob Goodman, “The Comforts of the Apocalypse,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 19, 2013

N.B.: The last third of the essay offers an absorbing reading of the dystopian writings of George Orwell and Olaf Stapledon as examples of this “more radical brand of fiction about the future.”

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Adieu: On the downward slope of empire (William Deresiewicz for The American Scholar)
“[E]mpires fall as surely as they rise, and mostly for the reasons that we’re seeing now: they overextend themselves; their systems grow sclerotic; their elites become complacent and corrupt. There’s almost something metaphysical at work. The national sap dries up; the historical clock runs out. . . . In America’s case, the end is likely to involve a lot more bang than whimper. . . . Civil wars and revolutions are not uncommon scenarios for waning powers, and violence is as much a part of our national DNA as is expansion.”

Zibaldone-The-Notebooks-of-LeopardiReview: Giacomo Leopardi’s ‘Zibaldone’ (The Financial Times)
“[T]he pursuit of truth dispels our life-enhancing illusions and destroys every higher ‘value’ that makes life worth living. The will-to-truth ends up casting humankind into a universe with no overseeing God, no ultimate purpose, and no concern whatsoever for the unspeakable suffering to which it condemns its inhabitants, ‘not only individuals, but species, genera, realms, spheres, systems, worlds’, as Leopardi puts it in one of his entries.”

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs (Strike! Magazine)
David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, examines the world of useless paper-pushing that keeps finance capitalism afloat. “If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job.”

In Praise of Laziness (The Economist)
“What is clear is that office workers are on a treadmill of pointless activity. Managers allow meetings to drag on for hours. Workers generate e-mails because it requires little effort and no thought. An entire management industry exists to spin the treadmill ever faster.

Warning Sign on the Colorado River (ScienceInsider, from Science magazine)
“Red alert. Dropping water levels behind the Glen Canyon Dam will force operators to cut downstream flows for the first time in dam’s 47-year history. Researchers say climate change could make such moves more common in the future.”

Photographing the Part of Buddhism That Can’t Be Seen (“Lens” blog at The New York Times)
Simply stunning. “While sacred rites are visually lush and obvious, spiritual experience is interior and hidden — and it is difficult to photograph something that is not visible. [Photojournalist David] Butow used a variety of strategies — and camera formats — to try to capture the heart of Buddhism.”

Mind_and_Cosmos_by_Thomas_NagelThe Core of ‘Mind and Cosmos’ (Thomas Nagel for The New York Times)
“This is a brief statement of positions defended more fully in my book ‘Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False,’ which was published by Oxford University Press last year. Since then the book has attracted a good deal of critical attention, which is not surprising, given the entrenchment of the world view that it attacks. It seemed useful to offer a short summary of the central argument.”

History.exe: How can we preserve the software of today for historians of tomorrow? (Slate)
“If, hundreds of years from now, a literary scholar wanted to run Word 97, the first consumer version to implement the popular ‘track changes’ feature, how would she find it? What machine would accommodate this ancient artifact of textual technology?”

Putting a Dollar Sign On Everything Is Really Expensive: A Chat with Michael Sandel (Motherboard)
“I spoke to Sandel, who has been described as the ‘indispensable voice of reason’ by John Gray, about the increasing commodification of life, the loss of sacred institutions, and the dangers of utilitarianism and market reasoning.”

Great_Tales_of_Terror_and_the_SupernaturalThe Cheapening of the Comics (Flooby Nooby)
A passionate and powerful 1989 speech Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, who used his platform to decry the corruption of comic strips and cartooning by the robotic and despotic demand of the big syndicates to transform these art forms into purely profit-driven enterprises that operate entirely according to the dictates of profit and commodification.

These Great Tales of Terror Live Up to Their Promise (NPR)
Michael Dirda on the classic, genre-defining anthology Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural and its enduring personal impact on him, which involves the fact that it introduced him, like generations of other readers (including me), to Lovecraft.

Teeming Links – July 26, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you browse through today’s crop of fascinating, worthwhile, disturbing, and necessary reading, I invite you to consider not just this particular experience but your online experience as a whole in light of writer Benjamin Anastasis’ recent, impassioned, and insightful explanation of why he has abandoned Twitter. Even though he states his reasons in terms of their specific applicability to writers, they actually apply to everybody who dares to make the devil’s bargain of engaging with social media. What a shame it would/will be if the Internet as a whole — which, we’ll recall, Evgeny Morozov has argued is a kind of a fiction anyway — becomes completely overtaken by this subworld of hype and distraction that, despite its obvious uses, seems most useful at enabling and amplifying people’s inherent narcissism, and then exploiting this for profit.

For 1 year, 4 months and 22 days — or 508 days total — Twitter became part of my daily thinking ritual. Should I post that thought as a tweet? How about a picture of that lost parrot poster I saw at the park? Would that be funny? If I’m in Berkeley, is it worth tweeting about the reading I’m giving tonight in case some of my followers live out here?

. . . Writers need mystery and really shouldn’t be on Twitter. Here’s what novelist Benjamin Anastas took away from his 508 days of tweeting. “Twitter isn’t planning to go public in 2014 with an estimated market valuation of $11 billion because it’s in the democracy business, or disaster recovery, or it likes helping out with your local Neighborhood Watch. It’s that valuable in market terms because it wants to own your eyes, and everything on Twitter — from its look, to its speed, to the 140-character limit of a tweet — is designed to create a hunger in you for what it offers, to keep you coming back for more. It’s fucking diabolical, but we’re all used to being hopeless click-addicts now.  . . . Twitter works in direct proportion to how much time you spend on it: if you’re willing to burn entire days on end, you’ll have a satisfying time on Twitter with lots of links consumed, comments favorited, pithy exchanges with your followers and friends. If you just dip in from time to time, you’ll find that your response rate plummets. It’s the nature of the beast that you have to do your time if you want to join the conversation. If you don’t, you’re a stranger in Twitter Village and you’ll be treated accordingly by the natives: no replies, no retweets, no new followers, and a slow attrition of the ones you’ve already gained. Twitter wants your life. Don’t give it up so easily.”

– “Goodbye to Twitter Part Two: Lessons Learned,” Benjamin Anastasis, The Daily Beast, July 9, 2013

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They Know Much More Than You Think (The New York Review of Books)
Recent revelations about the depth and extent of the NSA’s domestic and international spying activities may be just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a history of “what the government has been telling the public about its surveillance activities over the years,” along with a comparison of “what we know now as a result of the top secret documents and other information released by, among others, the former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden.”

The Maddening of America (Project Syndicate)
The claim that the spread of severe mental illness has reached “epidemic” proportions has been heard so often that, like any commonplace, it has lost its ability to shock. But the repercussions for international politics of the disabling conditions diagnosed as manic-depressive illnesses (including major unipolar depression) and schizophrenia could not be more serious.

The American cloud (Aeon)
The cosy coastal world of pretend farmers’ markets bears no resemblance to the actual back end of America. “The makeover has been so psychologically disruptive that during the past century, the bulk of America’s cultural resources have been devoted to obscuring the realities of the cloud with simpler, more emotionally satisfying illusions. These constitute a theatre of pre-industrial community life primarily inspired, ironically enough, by Jefferson’s small-town visions. This theatre, which forms the backdrop of consumer lifestyles, can be found today inside every Whole Foods, Starbucks and mall in America. I call it the Jeffersonian bazaar.”

Douglas Rushkoff on Deen, Snowden, Zimmerman and the Culture of Contagion (The Hollywood Reporter)
What would race riots organized on Facebook look like? The best-selling author, who coined the term “viral media” in 1993, says the camcorder days of Rodney King offer insights into the “great viral summer” of 2013.

Inner peace (Aeon)
We yearn for silence, yet the less sound there is, the more our thoughts deafen us. How can we still the noise within?

Accessing the Mind through Body Awareness (3 Quarks Daily)
“Emotions and thoughts are automatically embodied, automatically embedded in a social and physical context rather than being expressions of some interior homunculus. From this perspective, paying attention to bodily sensations should not be understood in opposition to paying attention to the workings of the mind but rather as another way of accessing the mental. Bodily sensations can potentially give us access to a large part of our subconscious and precognitive life.”

Inside the multimillion-dollar essay-scoring business (City Pages)
Behind the scenes of standardized testing.

George Lucas & Steven Spielberg: Studios Will Implode; VOD Is the Future (Variety, June 12, 2013)
Moguls predict tentpole “meltdown,” pricey pics and empathetic games.

Why Studios Must End Their Mega-Budget Obsession (Variety, July 22, 2013)
BOX OFFICE EPIC FAIL: Costly misfires pile up in crowded season: ‘After Earth,’ ‘White House Down,’ ‘Lone Ranger,’ ‘Pacific Rim,’ ‘R.I.P.D.’

The Unfortunate Legacy of Richard Matheson: On the Roots and Unfairly Repellant Qualities of Less-Than-Stellar Film Adaptations (The Millions)
Is there something inherent in Matheson’s brilliant writing that resists effective adaptation for movies and television?

An Appointment with the Wicker Man (The Wild Hunt)
The film production and distribution company StudioCanal has announced, via director Robin Hardy, that they have acquired an existing film print of 1973 cult film “The Wicker Man,” long missing, and are restoring the film, converting it to Blu-Ray format, and overseeing a short theatrical run in the Fall.

The Long, Strange Career of ‘The Conjuring’ Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Flavorwire)
The fun, new horror film The Conjuring is inspiring all the usual questions that face a based-on-a-true-story horror film: is the story really true? Are the “demonologists” of the film, Ed and Lorraine Warren, just cranks? It’s hard to say.

“Our faith led us to write a horror story” (Geek Goes Rogue at Patheos)
Author Jonathan Ryan, one of the panelists in our first Teeming Brain podcast, interviews the Hayes brothers, who wrote the screenplay for The Conjuring. “After the typical press/talent greetings, I started with the question, ‘What drew you to tell this story about the Warrens and demonic possession?’ They both answered with, ‘Our Christian faith, without a doubt.'”

Two interesting paths to occultism during the enlightenment era (The Washington Post)
Michael Dirda reviews and discusses The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason by John V. Fleming and Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment by Paul Kleber Monod.

Out of the deep (Aeon)
From Atlantis to Noah’s Ark, we have long been drawn to stories of submerged lands. What lies beneath the flood myths?

India probes ‘UFOs’ after drone denial (The Telegraph)
India has turned to its astrophysicists to explain a ‘UFO’ mystery on its Himalayan border with China.

Teeming Links – July 23, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For an overall commentary on this particular crop of fascinating, worthwhile, disturbing, and/or necessary reading and viewing, see “Alan Moore: The revolution will be crowd-funded,” recently published at Salon. In this interview, “the ‘Watchmen’ creator talks about his new Kickstarter-funded film series, zombies and the surveillance state.” Most pointedly of all (in my humble opinion), he says the following:

There seems to be something going on, even from the briefest appraisal of the news, with the amount of events transpiring. This is such a connected world, it’s useless to isolate any part of it as a discrete phenomenon. You can’t really talk about the problems in Syria, because its problems are global. The waves of discontent and outrage — whether in the Arab countries, or in Brazil, or in America and Europe over the degrees to which its citizens are being monitored — are not separate phenomena. They are phenomena of an emergent world, and the existence of the Internet is one of its major drivers. We have got no idea how it’s going to turn out, because the nature of our society is such that if anything can be invented, then we will invent it. Sooner or later, if it is possible.

So the Internet is changing everything, but I wouldn’t yet want to say for good or ill. I suspect, as ever, that it will be an admixture of both. But we are all along for the ride, even those people like me who do not have Internet connections, mobile phones or even functioning televisions. I’m slowly disconnecting myself. Basically, it’s a feeling that if we are going to subject our entire culture to what is an unpredictable experiment, then I’d like to try to remain outside the petri dish. [Laughs] It’s only sensible to have somebody as a control.

. . . While I’m remote from most technology to the point that I’m kind of Amish, I have played a couple of computer games — until I realized I was being bloodied with adrenalin over something that wasn’t real. At the end of a couple of hours of very addictive play, I may have procured the necessary amount of mushrooms to save a princess, but I also wasted hours of my life that I’ll never be able to get back. This is the reason I am not on the Internet. I am aware of its power as a distraction, and I don’t have the time for that.

Despite the constant clamor for attention from the modern world, I do believe we need to procure a psychological space for ourselves. I apparently know some people who try to achieve this by logging off, or going without their Twitter or Facebook for a limited period. Which I suppose is encouraging, although it doesn’t seem that remarkable from my perspective. I think that people need to establish their own psychological territory in face of the encroaching world.

Amen, Brother Alan.

* * *

The Blip (New York Magazine)
What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?

Turns of the Century (The European)
What the protests in Brazil and Greece tell us about world history. “The big shift of our time, the epochal change that affects or will affect billions of people around the globe, isn’t the rising threat of terrorism, but the rising precariousness of economic realities. The story of the 21st century begins in earnest with ticker news about imminent financial collapse.”

Detroit bankruptcy: Is it a warning sign for America? (+video) (The Christian Science Monitor)
How Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has dealt with financial crises in the state — and how he will handle the Detroit bankruptcy — could hold lessons for the rest of the US.

The Last Days of Big Law : You can’t imagine the terror when the money dries up (The New Republic)
On the escalating crisis inside an old and high-profile profession, whose entire ecosystem has dramatically changed in just a single generation, largely due to greed. The resulting new environment is soul-crushing for everybody involved.

University Suspends Online Classes after More Than Half the Students Fail (Slate)
Inside Higher Ed reported on Thursday that San Jose State is suspending the Udacity partnership just six months after it launched.

Inside Google HQ: What does the future hold for the company whose visionary plans include implanting a chip in our brains? (The Independent)
A visit to the legendary “Googleplex” at Mountain View. The company “is staking its future on a vast store of information called the Knowledge Graph, which is growing at an exponential rate. . . . The future [says Ben Gomes, a Google fellow and the company's Vice President of Search] is for this enormous resource to be ‘present everywhere.'”

Faith and Works at Apple (The New York Review of Books)
“The world-religion of the educated and prosperous in the twenty-first century is Apple, with its Vatican in Cupertino and its cathedrals in the light-filled Apple Stores that draw pilgrims gripping iPhones and iPads like rosaries.”

How Scientology changed the Internet (BBC News)
What do Wikipedia, Wikileaks, Anonymous and copyright law have in common? The answer is they have all been influenced by the Church of Scientology International (CSI), as it took on ex-members and critics who took their protests on to the internet. As the Church successfully removes another website, just how big an influence has Scientology had on the internet we all use?

What’s Wrong with Technological Fixes? (Boston Review)
Terry Winograd Interviews Evgeny Morozov. “According to Morozov, some of life’s good things come from ignorance rather than knowledge; opacity rather than transparency; ambivalence rather than certainty; vagueness rather than precision; hypocrisy rather than sincerity; messy pondering of imponderables rather than crisp efficiency.”

Rise of the Warrior Cop (The Wall Street Journal)
Is it time to reconsider the militarization of American policing?

Radley Balko: “Once a town gets a SWAT team you want to use it” (Salon)
America’s police are beginning to look like an army, and the author says there’s very little we can do about it.

Lyons: Police raid felt like home invasion (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
“The man just demanded they open the door. The actual words, the couple say, were, ‘We’re the f—— police; open the f—— door.'” Why did more than two dozen federal marshals and local police officers with guns and tactical gear think a Florida nurse and her boyfriend were harboring a child rapist in her apartment? “[W]hen the people in Goldsberry’s apartment didn’t open up, that told [federal marshal Matt] Wiggins he had probably found the right door. No one at other units had reacted that way, he said.”

Save the Movie! (Slate)
If you’ve been wondering why so many “blockbuster” Hollywood movies now feel exactly the same, here’s the answer: there’s actually a formula — one that lays out, on a page-by-page and moment-by-moment basis, exactly what should happen in a screenplay. It was introduced in 2005, and it threatens the world of original screenwriting as we know it.

Word Compression Blues (First Things)
On Facebook, Twitter, and the awesome cultural pressure to compress and condense verbal communication into ever shorter forms. “Our shriveling discourse with one another, our ever shorter exchanges and undeveloped rim-fired speculations: Is this how we seemingly have come to talk past each other? If that is happening with the small topics, what is happening with the big ones?”

UFO Cover-Ups Must End, Moonwalker Edgar Mitchell Says (Bloomberg)
A new interview with the sole individual out of the 12 men who have walked on the moon to go on record about his controversial belief in extraterrestrial UFOs — and of a possible government cover-up.

Stunning UFO Footage Shows Multiple Objects Darting, Flashing Over Russian Sky (Who Forted?)
Incredible footage of a cluster of UFOs captured above Russia was posted to the Alien Andromeda YouTube channel in late June, and the striking video has caught the attention believers and skeptics alike. [Click through to read full description and comments on the video below.]

Jimmy Carter speaks out on NSA scandal and more: “America has no functioning democracy”

I just caught wind of this, and I find it to be entirely worth bringing to the attention of anybody who hasn’t heard about it. In a word: wow.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter is so concerned about the NSA spying scandal that he thinks it has essentially resulted in a suspension of American democracy. “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy,” he said at an event in Atlanta on Tuesday sponsored by the Atlantik Bruecke, a private nonprofit association working to further the German-U.S. relationship.

. . . Carter’s remarks didn’t appear in the American mainstream press but were reported from Atlanta by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, whose Washington correspondent Gregor Peter Schmitz said on Twitter he was present at the event. The story doesn’t appear in the English-language section of the Spiegel website and is only available in German.

MORE: Jimmy Carter: US “has no functioning democracy”

The piece is at Salon. It also says Schmitz wrote in his Der Spiegel piece that Carter expressed deep pessimism about the overall state of global affairs, saying he sees “no reason to be optimistic at this time” and citing Egypt’s new military dictatorship as an example. Carter also mentioned the influence of Internet technology and social media on current events, and said that while these things have had some positive effects, such as the Arab Spring uprisings, the NSA scandal counters and endangers any positive developments “as major U.S. Internet platforms such as Google or Facebook lose credibility worldwide.”

Note that Carter also recently talked to CNN about Edward Snowden’s NSA whistle-blowing activity and said, “He’s obviously violated the laws of America, for which he’s responsible, but I think the invasion of human rights and American privacy has gone too far. I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial.”

Amen, anyone? Carter was always an anomaly among American presidents. Now he’s increasingly an anomaly among American ex-presidents.

Teeming Links – July 19, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Locking Out the Voices of Dissent (Truthdig)
Chris Hedges on how the security and surveillance state, after crushing the Occupy movement and eradicating its encampments, has mounted a relentless and largely clandestine campaign to deny public space to any group or movement that might spawn another popular uprising.

Tomorrow’s Surveillance: Everyone, Everywhere, All the Time (TechCrunch)
What civil libertarians should be worried about isn’t online snooping and wiretapping. It’s the surveillance that’s already becoming pervasive, if not ubiquitous, throughout the real, physical world. It’s a government that knows where you are at all times, and has an indelible record of everywhere you’ve ever been, and everything you’ve ever done in any public space.

NSA scandal delivers record numbers of internet users to DuckDuckGo (The Guardian)
Gabriel Weinberg, founder of search engine with zero tracking, credits Prism revelations with prompting huge rise in traffic

DHS warns employees not to read leaked NSA information (The Washington Post)
The Department of Homeland Security has warned its employees that the government may penalize them for opening a Washington Post article containing a classified slide that shows how the National Security Agency eavesdrops on international communications.

The Social-Media Bubble Is Quietly Deflating (Bloomberg Businessweek)
New buzzwords have arrived: Big data and cloud companies are grabbing the imaginations of venture capitalists.

Thank You For Using The Internet! We Regret To Inform You That Your Free Trial Has Expired. (BuzzFeed)
The internet got us hopelessly addicted, all for free. Now we’re coming to terms with paying for it all.

Meat industry doesn’t want to tell you where your meat comes from (Grist)
Eight meat and livestock groups sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal court in Washington Monday, July, 9, 2013, to block implementation of a new labeling rule that requires meat labels to detail where animals grown for meat were born, raised and slaughtered.

Global survey: Majority feel corruption has worsened, think governments can’t fix it (CBS News)
The protests that have raged globally in the past few months, from Turkey to Brazil, to the ongoing turmoil in Egypt, have appeared to share a common root: a widespread feeling of government mismanagement and cronyism.

Don’t Call Them Superheroes: An Interview With Zero and Dark Guardian of the New York Initiative (Disinformation)
They’re real-life “superheroes” trained in martial arts and parkour. They don’t wear bright superhero costumes or pose for photos with tourists. They live in no-frills apartments filled with exercise equipment and go out “on patrol.” And they’re setting up branches all over America.

The Glory of the Commons (Washington Monthly)
Jonathan Rowe’s brilliant posthumous meditation on the shared, non-commercialized realms of life that sustain us.

Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary: Sleep is a standing affront to capitalism (New Statesman)
When hungry digital companies measure success in “eyeballs” is sleep the last remaining zone of dissidence, of anti-productivity and even of solidarity?

“World’s oldest calendar” discovered in Scottish field (BBC News)
“Our excavations revealed a fascinating glimpse into the cultural lives of people some 10,000 years ago — and now this latest discovery further enriches our understanding of their relationship with time and the heavens.”

Army admits helicopters buzzed town in Washington state (USA Today)
The Army apologizes for an unannounced chopper training mission over a town in Washington state.

Army apologizes for copters that ‘terrorized’ Port Angeles (Peninsula Daily News)
Army special-operations helicopters on a training exercise buzzed the Port Angeles area late Thursday night in an episode that the mayor says “terrorized my city.” Dozens of alarmed residents called police to ask what was going on and said the noise and lights panicked horses and other livestock. Residents said they were awakened from their sleep, and that spotlights stabbed down from the low-flying helicopters into their backyards.

Rupert Sheldrake and Jill Purce: Liberating Minds and Voices (Extraenvironmentalist)
In this talk Rupert Sheldrake and Jill Purce discuss the dogma of scientific materialism and the shaky foundations on which they are based. Jill demonstrates resonance with her voice and through leading the group with chants. Rupert discusses resonance and what its implications are for the scientific worldview.

Teeming Links – July 12, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week, a change in format: The Teeming Brain’s long-running “Recommended Reading” series will henceforth be titled “Teeming Links.” It will also shift to a streamlined format that does away with the former practice of including extensive excerpts and publication information from the linked items. I want to curate and share lots of fascinating, valuable, troubling, and sometimes necessary news, essays, videos, podcasts, and other things with you, and with multiple competing responsibilities and commitments continuing to mount in my life, this is one way to further facilitate that.

So, without further ado, here’s today’s entry:

NSA PRISM: George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is flying off the shelves (UPI)
“1984” book sales skyrocket following NSA surveillance scandal — sales rise 7000 percent.

Bilderberg Group? No conspiracy, just the most influential group in the world (The Telegraph)
Conspiracy theorists claim it is a shadow world government. Former leading members tell the Telegraph it was the most useful meeting they ever went to and it was crucial in forming the European Union. Today (June 6, 2013), the Bilderberg Group meets in Britain.

Tired of helping the CIA? Quit Facebook, Venezuela minister urges (Reuters)

‘Quit Google, Facebook’ suggests tech expert as surveillance scandal deepens (Wired)

Uri Geller psychic spy? The spoon-bender’s secret life as a Mossad and the CIA agent revealed (Independent.ie)

The Masters of Deception (Paul Levy for Reality Sandwich)
If we don’t understand that our current world crisis has its roots within and is an expression of the human psyche, and instead become entranced into believing that the many problems we face as a species have a concrete, objective and extra-psychic origin, we are doomed to unconsciously repeat and continually re-create endless suffering and destruction in more and more amplified form, as if we are having a recurring nightmare.

The Greatest Epidemic Sickness Known to Humanity (Paul Levy for Reality Sandwich)
Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a disease of civilization, or lack thereof. The wetiko virus is the root cause of the inhumanity in human nature, or shall we say, our seemingly inhuman nature. This “psychic virus,” a “bug” in “the system,” in-forms and animates the madness of so-called civilization, which, in a self-perpetuating feedback loop feeds the madness within ourselves.

An intriguing consciousness theory, but skeptics want evidence (NBC News)
The idea that consciousness arises from quantum mechanical phenomena in the brain is intriguing, yet lacks evidence, scientists say.

Our Undue Focus on Long Life (The Atlantic)
Americans are living longer but not necessarily better.

“Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control (Salon)
SWAT teams raiding poker games and trying to stop underage drinking? Overwhelming paramilitary force is on the rise.

Strange Sightings in New Milford: Extraterrestrial or Not? (Litchfield County Times, Connecticut)
“Eight eye witnesses saw a caravan of unidentifiable flying vehicles in the Northville corridor of Litchfield County over Route 202,” they wrote in an e-mail to The Litchfield County Times.

Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches (The New York Times)
The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data.

Screen society vs. our capacity for humanity

Here’s reason number ten thousand and one for why you really ought to shut down your browser/tablet/smartphone and reenter the existential immediacy of your actual surrounding environment with its network of in-person social relationships just as soon as you finish reading this and then clicking through to read the full, brief article from which it’s excerpted:

Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. Research that my colleagues and I have just completed, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, suggests that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people.

. . . Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. . . [In addition to the fact that the relative strength of this brain-heart connection is related to overall physical health], the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy. In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

. . . When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health. If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.

So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.

More at The New York Times: “Your Phone vs. Your Heart