I read an article in the International NYTimes today that reported on American individuals' pride at being on Putin's sanctions list. "A badge of honor," one senator said. Well, it seems that I have my own badge of honor. My niece told me that she cannot access this website at her public school in Connecticut. Apparently it is listed as a "governmental advocacy" site and is thus inappropriate for high school students who should only be taught "facts" and not opinions. The details are vague and she is looking into the matter more deeply, but while this worries me, it is also a bit flattering. It worries me, of course, because even the official sanctioning of facts and opinions is ideological and politically motivated and channels students into narrow debates that do not question the broader organization of society, reducing their capacity as citizens. But it is also flattering that some individual, organization, or algorithm considers these words to be a potential threat (to...?).

My niece reports that she knows of no other blogs or sites that are blocked, just this. Of course, this means only that she hasn't come across others, but it also implies that there is likely an active limiting of free speech in the supposed land of freedom. Security through the suppression of ideas. Now where has that happened before...?

[Or perhaps it's just an expression of over-filtering.]

Mindfulness for tech

Evgeny Morzov has a short piece on how achieving mindfulness by disconnecting temporarily from the "always on" lifestyle can be either liberating or further enslaving.

Dogs versus people

Yesterday I had a little adventure around 선정릉 in Gangnam that has got my thoughts all in a flurry. I was on my way to a meeting of the City Knowledge Unit (CKU), which is an academic, business, and government group organized to promote Korea's model of urban development overseas. It has grown out of a similar group that concentrated on developing a strategy for expanding Korean construction overseas. On my way to the meeting I was reading the war machines chapter in A Thousand Plateaus, so perhaps I was just overly sensitive.

On the train (분당선), the first cognitive disjuncture was passing through Apgujong Rodeo Station (압구정로데오역), which explicitly evokes Rodeo Drive in LA. To me, this just seems like slavish mimicry and empty aspirations for conspicuous consumption. I increasingly fail to understand how anyone can fetishize the absurdly priced, supposedly fashionable objects offered for sale in the stores that populate such neighborhoods. Of course, the purchase of such goods is really to evoke the envy of one's peers and to assert one's equivalence or superiority over them. In short, conspicuous consumption is an external sign of power (generally). But I fail to understand why someone can believe that such competition can make them happy. (Perhaps it's just because I'm not wealthy!)*

Wolves change rivers

This link offers an interesting 5min film explaining how the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park after 70 years of absence has altered the very geography through a "trophic cascade". The basic idea is that a small change at the top of the food chain "cascades" down the chain, reshaping the ecosystem along the way. This interests me in at least two ways. First, it highlights concepts from resilience theory about how ecosystems are in perpetual construction and change. Second, having just read Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus chapter "1914: One or Several Wolves", which introduces the concept of multiplicities, this video suggests membership in a pack of "wolves" can have a cascade effect throughout social organization. That is, small coordinated groups of individuals can reconfigure social relations.

Hearts and Minds

The other night I watched Peter Davis's Hearts and Minds. And it was deeply disturbing. For those who don't know, the film is a documentary about the Vietnam War made before it ended. I don't have much to say about it other than that everyone should watch it. But the film does at least two important things. First, it shows what war looks like from both sides (though there is actually no footage of Viet Cong activities, just US military and its victims). Among the most disturbing shots were the full footage of the naked girl running down the street after having been napalmed with patches of skin burned off and the footage of the assassination captured in one of the most iconic photos from the war. I'll admit that I'm generally squeamish when it comes to viewing violence, even in film or television, but the genuine horror here for me is that it is unquestionably real. These are images of real suffering and a real killing. I am haunted by the fountain of blood that splashed out of the assassinated man's head.

Academic Torrents

A new site (Academic Torrents) has been started to share datasets and papers. Right now it's primarily physical science data, but we'll see what happens.

New contract

It's official! I just signed a new contract with Korea University for four years. I am certainly pleased to be part of this institution. But more importantly (for my mental well being), in Korea this second contract basically establishes a high level of job security. It is not tenure, but---barring a serious ethical breach on my part---it is close. Combine this with the fact that I have accumulated enough points already that tenure is almost certain and I can take a deep breath and relax a little...in theory. In practice, that is unlikely; I have too many projects I want to complete and too many to which I have unwittingly committed myself.

Now if someone would just take over our lease so that we can move to our new apartment...

MLK on justice

In honor of MLK Day, I offer you a short excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail". It defines justice and injustice, especially with regard to obeying and disobeying the law.

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Does money make you mean?

Hana suggested this TEDx Marin talk by Paul Piff, a professor at UC Berkeley, which discusses experiments that suggest that wealthier people are more likelythan poorer people to cheat, lie, and lose their compassion and sense of equity.

As to the solutions, I'm also a bit skeptical. First, the nudging certainly seems plausible, but it is probably limited in its effects, especially when compared to the power of capitalist growth. (Note, however, the delightfully reflexive aspect of this talk being given to comparatively wealthy individuals!) Second, I see the current trend in philanthropy as a sort of cover being used to protect wealth. In the US, the last large philanthropic movement followed the period of the Robber Barons. I think these newly (obscenely) wealthy folks try to legitimize their wealth (and thus power) by buying the population off in a massive PR move.

Detaching from the Google-borg

My wife always says that at the end of each semester I have a little computer project. Fortunately this semester it has turned out to be a fairly easy one (as far as I can tell). Over the last two days I have made the move away from Google (except for searching and Android registration). I set up my own set of cloud services (calendar, contacts, tasks, Dropbox-style file sharing, and some other bits) using ownCloud and a collection of syncing apps by Marten Gajda.

So now my contacts, calendar, and email are out of Google's ravenous eyes. Of course, they've got my basic information that I've already shared and as we know from the Snowden leaks, Google can triangulate and build on the consumer portrait of me by using searches and other people's emails. But at least I'll be a bit more blurry.