Saturday, July 16, 2011

Open Culture - Bertrand Russell & Other Big Thinkers in BBC Lecture Series (Free)

Very cool - more goodness from Open Culture. The BBC has put the complete audio archive of the Reith Lectures online, which gives you access to 240 lectures in total, including Michael Sandel, Edward Said, John Searle, John Kenneth Galbraith, George Kennan, and Robert Oppenheimer, and of course, philosopher Bertrand Russell (1948), with his lecture series, Authority and the Individual.

Bertrand Russell & Other Big Thinkers in BBC Lecture Series (Free)

Back in 1948, Britain was making another difficult transition, moving from the trauma of World War II to the chill of the Cold War. Hoping to give radio listeners some clarity on contemporary affairs, the BBC began airing an annual series of lectures — the Reith Lectures — that featured leading thinkers of the day. 60 years later, the tradition continues, and during this long stretch, some legendary figures have graced the BBC’s airwaves: Michael Sandel, Edward Said, John Searle, John Kenneth Galbraith, George Kennan, and Robert Oppenheimer, just to name a few. (And, yes, the list unfortunately skews heavily male.)

Late last month, the BBC put the complete audio archive online, which gives you access to 240 lectures in total. Where’s the best place to start? How about at the beginning, with the inaugural lectures presented by philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1948. His lecture series, Authority and the Individual, delved into an age old question in political philosophy — the individual and his/her relationship with communities and states. The head of the BBC later groused that Russell spoke “too quickly and had a bad voice.” But the real complaints came from the Soviets, who interpreted Russell’s lectures as an attack on Communism. You can find the lectures here; the first lecture appears at the bottom of the page.

Note: Our Twitter friends around the world said that they could almost universally access the lectures. If you experience any geo-restricting, we apologize in advance.

Related Content from Open Culture:

Bertrand Russell Sends a Message to the Future

Bertrand Russell on God

Free Philosophy Courses

Duane Elgin - Can Death Become Your Ally?

I've been meaning to share this article from Duane Elgin - the idea of death as an ally is common to many traditions, especially shamanic traditions. However, even Buddhism advises us to become familiar with death as a means toward grasping impermanence.

Can Death Become Your Ally?

- Speaker, Author, Educator, Media Activist

Death is an important ally for appreciating life. I am not referring to a morbid preoccupation with death. Rather, I mean the felt awareness of our finitude as physical beings -- an honest recognition of the short time we have to love and to learn on this earth. The knowledge that our bodies will inevitably die burns through our attachments to the dignified madness of our socially constructed existence. Death is a friend that helps us to release our clinging to social position and material possessions as a source of ultimate security and identity. An awareness of death forces us to confront the purpose and meaning of our existence, here and now.

Those who have had near-death experiences confirm that awareness of death can be an uncompromising friend, putting us back in touch with what is most important. A common sentiment expressed by many near-death survivors is a decreased emphasis on money and material things and a heightened appreciation for nature and loving other people. Dr. Kenneth Ring, a researcher of near-death experiences, quotes a young man who had a near-death experience after a serious automobile accident. As a result the young man found that he developed an "awareness that something more was going on in life than just the physical part of it... It was just a total awareness of not just the material and how much we can buy -- in the way of cars and stuff, or food or anything. There's more than just consuming life. There's a point where you have to give to it and that's real important."

Gandhi once said, "Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for non-violence." If we are to lead nonviolent and loving lives, then we can begin by coming to terms with our own death. An appreciation that we must die awakens us from our social sleep and to the reality of our situation. Death is an unyielding partner in life -- an inescapable certainty to push against as we sort out the significant from the trivial in our daily lives. In this regard, consider the words of Nadine Stair of Louisville, Kentucky, who was 85-years-old when she wrote, "If I Had My Life to Live Over":

I'd like to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones. . . . I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

Finally, consider the wisdom from a now largely forgotten book, written in the United States in 1877. In its closing pages "The Royal Path of Life" describes a perspective on life that comes from an appreciation of death. Although written in a style of gracious eloquence that comes from an earlier era, it speaks plainly even today:

No sex is spared, no age exempt. The majestic and courtly roads which monarchs pass over, the way that the men of letters tread, the path the warrior traverses, the short and simple annals of the poor, all lead to the same place, all terminate, however varied their routes, in that one enormous house which is appointed for all living. . . . No matter what station of honor we hold, we are all subject to death. . . . A proper view of death may be useful to abate most of the irregular passions. Thus, for instance, we may see what avarice comes to in the coffin of the miser; this is the man who could never be satisfied with riches; but see now a few boards enclose him, and a few square inches contain him. . . Behold the consequences of intemperance in the tomb of the glutton; see his appetite now fully satiated, his senses destroyed and his bones scattered.

These messages are clear. We cannot hide from death. Its embrace will consume our social existence entirely. Job titles, social position, material possessions, sexual roles and images--all must yield to death. This does not mean that we should abandon our material and social existence. Rather, it means that in consciously honoring the fact of our physical death, we are thereby empowered to penetrate through the social pretense, ostentation, and confusion that normally obscure our sense of what is truly significant. An awareness of death is an ally for infusing our lives with a sense of immediacy, perspective, and proportion. In acknowledging the reality of death, we can more fully appreciate our gift of life.

If you were to choose death as an ally (as a reminder of the preciousness of each moment), and if you were to choose the universe as your home (as a reminder of the awesome dimensions of our existence), would a quality of aliveness, immediacy, and poignancy naturally infuse your moment-to-moment living? If you knew that you would die within several hours or days, would the simplest things acquire a luminous and penetrating significance? Would each moment become precious beyond all previous measure? Would each flower, each person, each crack in the sidewalk, each tree become a fleeting and never-to-be-repeated miracle? Simplicity of living helps brings this kind of clarity and appreciation into our lives. In what ways is an appreciation of death a helpful partner in your own life?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Religious Norms Conference Berkeley 2011

The image that represents this playlist.

I just started listening to these, but my interest is piqued. There are 9 parts, a keynote and 8 panels - the keynote is near the end of this playlist, which is presented in the order of the program below the video.

Religious Norms Conference Berkeley 2011
Description: The Religious Norms in the Public Sphere (RPS) international scholarly network will analyze the call by people of all faiths for greater recognition of religious norms by governments, legislatures, and schools.It is a joint initiative of iGov and the Robert Schuman Center. It has been made possible thanks to the support of the Partner University Fund, the Carnegie Foundation and the Social Science Research Council.

Here is the program:

Opening Remarks: Heddy Riss, Olivier Roy, David Lieberman.

Religious Norms and Public Spheres: The Challenge
Chair: David Lieberman
Olivier Roy: “Muslim Democrats vs. European Populists”
Silvio Ferrari: “A European Perspective”
Peter Danchin: “Islam in the Secular Nomos of the European Court of Human Rights"

The Debate of Islamic Norms in Arab Countries
Chair: Hatem Bazian
Enrique Klaus: “Scandals in Egypt and the Manufacturing of Religious Norms in the Public Spheres”
Belkacem Benzenine: “The Challenge of Secularism in the Political and Religious Spheres in the Arab World”

Discussant: Charles Hirschkind

The Debate on Religious Norms in the Public Sphere

The Case of European Countries
Chair: Leti Volpp
Poland: Geneviève Zubrzycki: “Debating the Place of Religious Symbols in the Public Sphere in Poland, 1989-2010”
UK: Matthew Francis: “Return? It never left. Exploring the ‘sacred’ as a Resource for Bridging the Gap Between the Religious and the Secular”
France: Valérie Amiraux: “Burka Bashing in the European Union: the Racialization of Muslims”
Romain Sèze: “Standardization of the Exercise of the Islamic Religious Authority in France”
Christian Joppke: “Limits of Restricting Islam: The French Burqa Law of 2010”
Discussants: Prof. Sarah Song, Berkeley Law

North American Countries Cases
Chair: Ron Hassner
USA: Pasquale Annicchino: “Mosques Controversies in the U.S.: Emotions, Politics and the Right to Religious Freedom”
Canada: David Koussens: “Catholic Rituals and Symbols in Government Institutions: Juridical Arrangements, Political Debates and Secular Issues in Quebec”
Discussant: Sr. Marianne Farina

Asian Countries Cases
Chair: Pradeep Chhibber
Sophie Lemière: “Cracks in the Mosaic: The Rise of Right-Wing Ethno-Religious Groups in Malaysia”
Marco Ventura: "You Shall Go to Hell: Legal Arguments on Forced Conversions Before the Supreme Court of India"
Discussant: Nargis Virani

Keynote Lecture
Ebrahim Moosa “Norms in the Madrasa-Sphere: Between Tradition, Scripture and the Public Good”

Conclusions Panel: "How to face the Challenge of Religious Norms and the Public Sphere?"

Olivier Roy
Naomi Seidman
Ebrahim Moosa
Marianne Farina
Imam Faheem Shuaibe

Partner University Fund's "Transatlantic Network of Scholars on Muslims' Religiouus Identity, Secularism, Democracy, and Citizenship" Presentations

Chair: Mahan Mirza

Elise Massicard: “When heterodoxy Challenges the Public Place of Religion: The Case of Alevism in Turkey

Munir Jiwa: “E Pluribus Umma: Secularism and the Mediation of Islamic Norms

Soraya Tlatli: “The Separation of Cult and State in Colonial Algeria.

PUF Presentations Cont.
Jo Gardner: "Religious Nationalism and the Westphalian State”
Alexander Rosas: “Diversification of the Republic: Cultural Diversity in Contemporary France”
Sheherazade Kahil: “Institutionalization in France of the pilgrimage to Mecca”
Mary Hoopes: “Asylum Claims Before the Federal Courts of Appeals: Considering the Role of Religion”
Akasemi Newsome: “Immigrants Before German Administrative Courts: Do Islam and Gender Matter for the Application of Foreign Legal Regimes in Germany?”
Zehra Sahin: “The Diyanet -Program of International Theology: Adjustment to Western Norms or Aggiornamento from Inside?”

Karma Chagme - Investigation of Mind

Practical Instructions on the Union of
Mahamudra and Atiyoga
by Karma Chagmé
commentary by Gyatrul Rinpoche
trans. by B. Alan Wallace


Dharma Quote of the Week

"Through analytical meditation, you come to a point of clarity and decisive insight, and at this point it is beneficial to abide in that revelation. Your insight will grow gradually like a sprout. Simply be present and settle your mind in the absolute nature of reality. Remain in a state of meditative equipoise, and do not think of this as a waste of your time. If you think you should rather be actively engaged in such practices as circumambulations or the stage of generation, it is the time for you to be simply present in meditative equipoise. But do not just sit and space out."--Karma Chagme

In some scholarly discursive meditations in the sutra tradition, one continually seeks out the mind, and there is a tradition in which investigation is needed. Here, in the tradition of Mahamudra and Atiyoga, it is enough to seek and investigate during this phase of Dharma practice, but afterwards it is not necessary to continue the search. In the Katok tradition, the investigation of the mind is said to takes months, for one examines for three days each of the points of the mind's color and shape as well as the exterior and the interior of the body. Our tradition does not take so long, so it is important for you to seek out the mind without even a moment's distraction. (p.100)

--from A Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Atiyoga by Karma Chagme, commentary by Gyatrul Rinpoche, trans. by B. Alan Wallace, published by Snow Lion Publications

A Spacious Path to Freedom • Now at 5O% off
(Good until July 21st).

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TEDxBoston - Jenny Phillips - The Only Way Out is In

This is a nice TED talk on using Vipassana training for prison inmates, which is something we should be doing for all inmates. I'd guess that the large majority of inmates ended up in prison because they have little or no skills in self regulation, something that can be remedied with some training in meditation and self-awareness.

This NPR Morning Edition segment looked at a similar program in Alabama.

Convicted murderer Johnny Mack Young in the meditation stance he keeps for nearly 10 hours a day during the 10-day silent meditation course. Officials say the meditation program is reducing violence at Alabama's highest security lockup. "It changed my life," Young says.

"Vipassana means seeing things as they are," says inmate Johnny Mack Young, as he kneels on a blue mat, resting back on a small wooden stool. This is the position he keeps for up to 10 hours a day during the intense silent-meditation course.

"For the first three days, the only thing we do is sit and focus on our breath," Young says. "This is to still the mind and get the mind sharp."

Isolated in the gym, the inmates wake up at 4 a.m. and meditate on and off until 9 p.m. They eat a strict vegetarian diet. They can't smoke or drink coffee. And there is absolutely no conversation — only an internal examination of how the body is reacting.

"You'll start feeling little stuff moving all around on your body," Young says. "Some guys can't handle this; some guys scream."

It's a rude awakening for some prisoners, Vipassana teacher Carl Franz says.

"Everyone's mind is kind of Pandora's box, and when you have 33 rather serious convicts facing their past and their own minds, their memories, their regrets, rough childhood, whatever, their crimes, lots of stuff comes up," Franz says.

For Young, a convicted murderer, that stuff includes his childhood role in the accidental death of his baby sister, the fact that he never mourned his mother's death and his crime — a drug-related murder.

"That's one of the things that tortures me," Young says. "We learn this stuff. We learn it too late in life."

Now, age 61 and likely in the last home he'll know, Young says he just tries to have the highest quality of life he can. He says that prior to taking the meditation course, he was in trouble a lot, fighting and trying to escape.

"It changed my life," he says.

This is pretty cool considering that Alabama is DEEP in the Bible Belt.

TEDxBoston - Jenny Phillips - The Only Way Out is In

"Nobody felt safe; the prisoners weren't safe, the staff weren't safe . . . A radical idea began to spread: maybe meditation could help."

Psychotherapist Jenny Phillips describes how the tranquility of ancient Buddhist meditation at a maximum-security correctional facility helps prisoners emerge from a rigorous Vipassana program with a renewed self-image and a greater sense of personal responsibility.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Budget Battles in DC: A Bunch of Millionaires Scheming to Steal from the Old, the Sick and the Poor

When Obama walked out of the deficit ceiling talks the other day, he reportedly said, "I'm going to the American people with this." Another article suggests Obama knows what he is doing:
Two data points. 1) Obama loses his cool with House Whip Eric Cantor, says he’s had enough, tells Cantor not to call his bluff, walks out. 2) Quinnipiac releases a poll indicating that by a margin of 48-34, the public will blame Republicans and not Obama if the debt ceiling is not raised. Put them together and you come to point #3: The president thinks this is a fight he can and will win.
The problem, however, is that he is not willing (or able?) to tell it as it is, which this article does.

For example, if we did nothing more than raise the Capital Gains Tax to be equivalent to the income tax for the corresponding amount of income, we could raise tens of billions (if not hundreds of billions) more in taxes. That money could provide health care for poor people throughout the county who are being dropped from state level support (like here in Arizona)

The current highest tax rate on Capital Gains is 20%, so if this were raised to 39% for those in that tax bracket (which would be most of the people currently paying the 20% rate), it would essentially double the capital gains revenue - money earned for simply being wealthy to begin with. I pay 24% (or whatever that rate is) for busting my ass at work - why should I pay a higher tax rate for actually working than those who really do not need to work and simply earn money on investments?

It's called fairness. The GOP abhors it, and the Dems do not understand it.

Anyway, here is an interesting article on the budget battles that presents some of the truths Obama is unwilling to say out loud.

Boiling the budget battle down to what really matters.

That the rich relentlessly thieve from the poor is hardly fresh news, but a more attentive institutional press might see fit to mention, at least once in a while, how well off the negotiators wrangling over how deeply to cut social welfare programs are. Nobody in Congress will ever have to rely on Social Security to stay solvent, or on Medicare or Medicaid to stay alive.

The press might also see fit to mention that even the most impoverished inhabitants of Congress, even if they never work another day in their lives, have no other income and never get a dime from Social Security, will almost certainly take home more in retirement pay--they get generous pensions and taxpayer-assisted 401-K plans--than the median income in this country.

2009 financial disclosure numbers show Joe Biden as one of the few people involved in the negotiations who wasn't worth something comfortably in the seven figure range during that year. (He may actually have been in the red.) The average net worth of the people who will be voting on the fate of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid was about $3.4 million in the House and an astonishing $13.6 million in the Senate.

And that was in 2009, when the stock market was struggling for most of the year and investment portfolios had taken massive hits. But Congress still had 237 millionaires, almost 45% of the 535 federal legislators.

Of course Biden isn't the only participant skating close to the financial edge. John Boehner and Barack Obama may each have been worth as little as $2 million in 2009 (or as much as $14 million, but whatever). So too might Eric "Robespierre" Cantor, who appears intent on inflicting his own version of the Reign of Terror upon the least of us. Paul Ryan, whose name one doesn't hear much anymore following the implosion of his brand, is among the group who took major haircuts during the meltdown; he lost something like 50% of his net worth, and his 2009 assets were at a paltry million-plus.

These are numbers that should be part of every story about cuts in safety net programs. They're not hard to find. Compiling the averages for each chamber of Congress and the individual net worth of the people mentioned here took about 20 minutes. The rough calculations on pensions--if they quit today, the six legislators in the Biden group would take home an average of $40,000/year on top of their 401-K incomes--took another hour or so.

The wealth of these people should be part of their names. The photo showing showing Boehner and Obama playing golf should have been captioned, "Millionaire president Barack Obama discusses Medicare cuts with millionaire Congressman John Boehner over a chuckle at the country club."

Eric Cantor should always be introduced to a story as a multi-millionaire: "Multi-millionaire Congressman Eric Cantor complained today that cuts proposed by multi-millionaire president Barack Obama do too little to unravel the safety net for the poor and elderly."

"Republican senator Mitch McConnell, whose net worth at the height of the recession was at least $7 million, said today that the federal government can no longer subsidize health care for people earning as much as $17,000."

Would that practice have an impact on perceptions of the debate, and ultimately on the debate itself? I think so.

The conflict over entitlements is not the lone issue for which personal finances would provide really useful context; it's only the most urgent one. But the press rarely report on Congressional wealth beyond the obligatory flurry of stories during the period when legislators release their financial disclosure statements.

The Veteran's Administration offers the most cost-effective health care in the country and ranks among the best in patient satisfaction as well. But VA health care and other veterans programs are under constant assault from the GOP even as the agency strains to meet the new demands placed upon it by veterans of this century's US wars.

Among the most bizarre GOP efforts was the one initiated during the during the budget-cutting frenzy earlier this year by House Republicans to cut funding for a program aimed at reducing homelessness among veterans. It passed. That, surely, would have warranted coverage along the lines of "Millionaire Republicans in Congress have killed a program that helps impoverished homeless veterans ..."

Because it matters. The wealth of its members isn't the only peculiar feature of our federal legislature and executive branch, but it is surely one worth reminding their constituencies of as often as necessary, which is as often as one can. Which means reminding the press of it, as often as necessary, which is as often as one can.

Remember that, next time you write a letter to the editor or email a reporter about stories involving those fabulous creatures of the modern Versailles.

Walden Berger's blog is at BTC News.

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Short-Term Meditation Changes Brain Activity

Excellent, even short periods of meditation can change the brain - reported by Psych Central.

Short-Term Meditation Changes Brain Activity

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on July 8, 2011

Short-Term Meditation Changes Brain Activity

It apparently does not take years or even months of practicing meditation to fundamentally alter neural activity. Just a few weeks can make a difference — for the better.

The anecdotal evidence that led to the research occurred some two decades ago as co-author Jane Anderson was struggling with long Minnesota winters and seasonal affective disorder.

She decided to try meditation and noticed a change within a month. “My experience was a sense of calmness, of better ability to regulate my emotions,” she said.

Her experience inspired a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, which finds changes in brain activity after only five weeks of meditation training.

Previous studies touting the benefits of meditation have looked at chages in brain activity in Buddhist monks, who have spent tens of thousands of hours of meditating. But Anderson wanted to know if one could see a change in brain activity after a shorter period.

At the beginning of the study, each participant had an EEG to measure the brain’s electrical activity.

They were told: “Relax with your eyes closed, and focus on the flow of your breath at the tip of your nose; if a random thought arises, acknowledge the thought and then simply let it go by gently bringing your attention back to the flow of your breath.”

Then 11 people were invited to take part in meditation training, while the other 10 were told they would be trained later.

The 11 were offered two half-hour sessions a week, and encouraged to practice as much as they could between sessions, but there wasn’t any particular requirement for how much they should practice.

After five weeks, the researchers did an EEG on each person again. Each person had done, on average, about seven hours of training and practice. But even with that little meditation practice, their brain activity was different from the 10 people who hadn’t had training yet.

People who had done the meditation training showed greater activity in the left frontal region of the brain in response to subsequent attempts to meditate. Other research has found that this pattern of brain activity is associated with positive moods.

The shift in brain activity “was clearly evident even with a small number of subjects,” said Christopher Moyer, Ph.D., one of Anderson’s coauthors at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

“If someone is thinking about trying meditation and they were thinking, ‘It’s too big of a commitment, it’s going to take too much rigorous training before it has an effect on my mind,’ this research suggests that’s not the case.” For those people, meditation might be worth a try, he said. “It can’t hurt and it might do you a lot of good.”

“I think this implies that meditation is likely to create a shift in outlook toward life,” Anderson said. “It has really worked for me.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Tricycle - An interview with Anam Thubten (2009)

Tricycle posted this interview with Anam Thubten a while back - good stuff. This interview was part of a Tricycle book club event from 2009.

An interview with Anam Thubten (2009)

In the video interview below watch Tricycle's Joan Duncan Oliver speak with Anam Thubten Rinpoche about his book No Self, No Problem. This is a Tricycle Book Club interview from 2009.


Find more videos like this on The Tricycle Community

David Eagleman on The Secret Lives of the Brain (BSP 75)

The current episode of the Brain Science Podcast, hosted by Dr. Ginger Campbell, is a discussion with neuroscientist David Eagleman on his new book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.

Eagleman argues the standard neuroscientific position that much, if not most, of who we are and what we do is outside of our conscious control, essentially little more than a by-product of brain function. At best, in my opinion, this is only a partial truth - at worst, it is a false reductionism.

Even so, this is an interesting discussion in terms of the implications of such a position.

David Eagleman on The Secret Lives of the Brain (BSP 75)

In his new book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain neuroscientist David Eagleman describes consciousness as "the smallest player in the operations of the brain" (page 5) because most of what the brain does is outside conscious awareness (and control). In a recent interview (BSP 75) Dr. Eagleman reviews some of the evidence for this startling position as well as the implications both for the average person and for social policy.

listen-to-audio Listen to Episode 75

Episode Transcript (Download PDF)


Related Episodes of BSP:

  • BSP 13: Our first discussion of unconscious decisions
  • BSP 15: Interview with Read Montague, PhD, author of Why Choose This Book?: How We Make Decisions
  • BSP 19: Review of Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer
  • BSP 42: Review of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not by Robert Burton
  • BSP 43: Interview with Robert Burton, MD


  • Listen to last week's short episode for recent announcements
  • Transcript of announcements

Subscribe to the Brain Science Podcast: itunes-badge-30 zunelogo-70 feed-icon32x32 mail-sticker-tiny

Send me feedback at gincampbell at mac dot com or leave voice mail at 205-202-0663.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ABC Radio - The McLuhan Project

As in Marshall McLuhan - the godfather of our media-saturated world. He saw it coming way before we became immersed in it. The Australian Broadcast Company has set up a site in his honor, a great collection of resources about him and his life.

Below are some cool parts of the site - and there's much more.

Welcome to the McLuhan Project

This July 21 marks the 100th birthday of the late Marshall McLuhan, Canadian thinker and media visionary who defined the mass media age of television and predicted much of the information revolution that followed.

He coined the phrase 'the global village', declared that 'the medium is the message', and he described what we now realise is the internet, 30 years before it existed.

Yet, McLuhan also warned of an 'age of anxiety' and the loss of privacy in the age of electronic media.

Now, at a time when our work, social and family lives are governed by media and interconnectivity, what can we learn from examining McLuhan's message? And where are we heading in the digital era?

The McLuhan Project is a major series of broadcasts on ABC Radio National and on ABC Digital Radio during the week of this significant centenary.

Beginning on 16 July on ABC Radio National and on the weekend of July 23 and 24 on ABC Digital Radio.

Video from the ABC Archives

Marshall McLuhan

Click on the image to view the video

In June 1977 Marshall McLuhan visited Australia and was a guest on Monday Conference, a live ABC television show hosted by the unflappable Robert Moore. The ABC has recently unearthed this footage, which remained in the archives for 34 years. As you’ll see, many of the ideas debated are just as relevant and contentious today.

Watch the whole interview and other exclusive footage

McKenzie Wark, ABC Radio National McLuhan thinker-in-residence

Associate Professor Ken Wark is an Australian-born culture and media academic now with the New School in New York.

McLuhan caused a sensation in the 60s with his provocative aphorisms on media and spawned a whole school of thought on the study of media forms. 'The medium is the message' as he famously put it.

While McLuhan himself has been consigned to the box marked 'those crazy 60s people', the questions he probed remain with us. How do media come together into a seamless environment? How does immersion in this environment affect the ways we perceive, think and feel? How does a given media form (radio, for example) shape the kind of social life we can lead? Our political institutions? Our relation to the past?

McLuhan's birthday is a great opportunity to think about these questions from a contemporary perspective, but also to revisit McLuhan himself. He turns out to be not quite the crazy 60s guy he remains in popular imagination. He turns out to be a whole lot more interesting.

Timeline EditorLink

ABC Pool Project

Proto media prophet, the late Marshall McLuhan, has been described as an 'alien entity hovering over planet Earth filing mission reports back to his own galaxy', and ABC Pool wants you to pick up his signals and amplify them through today's networks.

We invite you to share YOUR ideas that argue with, extend, prove, update, refresh, or debunk McLuhan’s thinking. Check out the links below for some great insights into McLuhan and his predictions (including his biggest prognostication of all -the internet.)

Add a comment of no more than 140-characters here in the comments, and we'll send the best into the Twittersphere via the Faux McLuhan Twitter account. Don't forget -it has to be 140 characters or less for Faux McLuhan to tweet it. Real McLuhan was a master of the pithy, provocative, seemingly simple and sensational statement so let's give this Faux McLuhan some outrageous ideas that the old guy would be proud of. He also thought that comedy one liners were a new form of humour resulting from the loss of attention span caused by media, so feel free to have fun with this.

Remember, These Days YOU are the Message- and we want you to Tweet Like McLuhan! (Now what's this Twittermajig thingie again?)

If 140 characters doesn't do it for you, upload your thoughts and responses to McLuhan's ideas as text, audio, video or images right here to this project.

You might want to re-purpose this rare Marshall McLuhan archive video we’ve snagged from the ABC vault! (It's pixelated here, proving once again that the 'Media is the Message', but you can download the full quality version.)

Whatever way that you want to contribute to this project, let's get Neuroconnected! Send your contributions down the pipes because we're cooking up some great ways to get your messages heard on ABC Radio during the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of McLuhan's birth. That's on ABC Radio’s special week of programming beginning July 16.

To start things off, we’ve shared this rare ABC archival video of an interview with Marshall McLuhan when he was in Australia during the 1970s.

If you want to find out a bit more about McLuhan, check out this website with a huge collection of videos of the man himself!

And we invite you to Tweet Like McLuhan by adding a 140 character length message here in the comments, and we'll make sure the best get published by Faux McLuhan on Twitter.

Jamais Cascio - Institute for the Future's 2011 Ten Year Forecast - Evolution

This was posted back in March of this year, at the Open the Future site, but I have just stumbled upon it. Jamais Cascio gave this talk on cultural evolution at the Institute for the Future's 2011 Ten Year Forecast event. This a long article, but I think there is some very interesting ideas here that deserve some attention and discussion.

In a nutshell, he is applying some of the principles of evolutionary biology to cultural evolution.

Here is a little bit from the beginning.


At the Institute for the Future's 2011 Ten Year Forecast event in late March, I presented a long talk on ways in which evolutionary and ecological metaphors could inform our understanding of systemic change. The head of the Ten Year Forecast team, IFTF Distinguished Fellow Kathi Vian, thought that the ideas it contained should get a wider viewing, and asked me to put the talk on my blog. Here it is. It's lightly edited, and only contains a fraction of the slides I used; let me know what you think.

We’ve now reached the part of the day where I’ve been asked to make your brains hurt. Don’t worry, there will be alcohol afterwards.

The first thing I’m going to do, of course, is talk about dinosaurs.

Everybody knows about dinosaurs, right? Giant, lumbering lizards that were killed off by an asteroid just when the smarter, more nimble mammals were starting to take over anyway. And everyone knows what dinosaur means as a metaphor: big, stupid, and about to be wiped out. Nobody wants to be a dinosaur.

What if I told you that all of that – all of it – was wrong?

Here’s another dinosaur:

It turns out that most dinosaurs were actually pretty small and fast, and far more closely related to today’s birds than to lizards.

Some dinosaurs we might envision as scaly monsters from the movies were likely actually feathered. It’s widely accepted, in fact, that dinosaurs didn’t all die off when that asteroid struck 65.5 million years ago — they stuck around as birds.

Oh, and one other thing.

The “age of dinosaurs” lasted 185 million years, not counting the 65 million years of dino-birds. And mammals first emerged about halfway through the “age of dinosaurs,” and were stuck scurrying around between dinosaur legs, trying to avoid being eaten.

Dinosaurs have been around, including as birds, for 250 million years. Humans, conversely, have been around in a form recognizable as Homo sapiens for only about 250 thousand years. Dinosaurs have had a thousand times more history than has Homo sapiens.

And they survived – arguably eventually thrived after – one of the biggest mass extinctions in Earth’s history. Maybe being a dinosaur wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

The story of dinosaurs is a particularly vivid example of what happens after complex systems face traumatic shocks. It’s a story of change and adaptation. And it’s one that we can learn from.

This will come as a surprise to precisely none of you, but one of the areas that I studied academically was evolutionary biology. Although I didn’t follow that path professionally, I’ve always kept my eyes open for ways in which bioscience can illuminate dilemmas we face in other areas.

There’s one concept from biology that I’ve been mulling for awhile, and I think it has quite a bit to say about our current global situation.

It’s an element of the concept of “ecological succession,” the term for how ecosystems respond to disruptive change. A fundamental part of that process is the “r/K selection model,” with a little r and a big K, which is a way of thinking about the reproductive strategy that living species employ within a changing environment.

Biologist E.O. Wilson came up with this concept over 30 years ago, and it’s proven to be a useful lens through which to understand ecosystems.

* * * * * * *

And here are some of what I consider the important ideas from this article.

At last year’s Ten-Year Forecast, we introduced a tool for examining how choices vary under different conditions. It’s the “alternate scenario archetype” approach, and it offers us a framework here for teasing apart the implications of different adaptive strategies. If you were here last year, you’ll recall that the four archetypes are Growth, Constraint, Collapse, and Transformation. These four archetypes give us a basic framework to understand the different paths the future might take.

scenario archetypes

But let’s also apply the ecosystem thinking I was talking about earlier. With this in mind, we can see Growth and Collapse as aspects of the standard ecological succession model: Growth supports K strategy dominance, until we get a major disruption leading to Collapse, which supports r strategy dominance until we return to Growth. As it happens, while they may not use this exact language, many of the long-term cycle theories in economist-land map to this model.

Constraint and Transformation, however, seem more like unstable instability scenarios.

Both Constraint and Transformation have quite a bit in common. Both can be seen as being on the precipice of either growth or collapse, and needing just the right push to head down one path or the other. At the same time, both will contain pockets of growth and collapse, side by side, emerging and disappearing quickly. In both, previously well-understood processes no longer seem to work as well, yet there’s enough that remains functional and understandable that the world doesn’t simply spin apart. For both, the underlying systems are in flux.

With Constraint, the result is a reduced set of options. The uncertainty and churn limit what you can do.

With Transformation, the result is the emergence of new models and new opportunities.

So we have two adaptive strategies – simplify and complexify – and two conditions of “unstable instability” – constraint and transformation. What do you do when you have two variables? You make a matrix!

Ah, the good old two-by-two matrix. So let’s put up the conditions, and the strategies. What happens when we combine them?

4 box matrix

In many ways, Constraint and Simplification go hand-in-hand, giving us a world of doing more with less. Smaller scale, fewer resources, and a need for cheap experimentation: this is very much an “r” world.

Similarly, Transformation and Complexification are also common partners, resulting in a world focused on big ideas and long-term results. The potential is here for major changes, but failures can be catastrophic: it’s a classic “K” world.

The less-common combinations, however, prove pretty interesting.

When you link Constraint and Complexification , you get a world of deep interconnection: lots of small components in dense networks. There’s quite a bit of interdependence, but no one element is a potential “single point of failure.” This is an “r in service of K” world.

And when Transformation and Simplification come together , you get a world of fast iteration and slow strategy: numerous projects and experiments functioning independently, with loose connections but a long-range perspective. This, too, is an “r in service of K” world.


Remember, I said earlier that foresight relies on intensely metaphorical language. You might not have expected the metaphors to be quite that intense, however. So here’s the takeaway:

Adaptation can take multiple forms, but more importantly, the value of an adaptation depends upon the conditions in which it is tried. Just because an adaptive process worked in the past doesn’t mean that it will be just as effective next time. But there are larger patterns at work, too. If you can see them early enough, you can shape your adaptive strategies in ways that take advantage of conditions, rather than struggle against them.

But here’s the crucial element: it looks very likely that we’re in a period where the large patterns we’ve seen before aren’t working right.

Instead, we’re in an environment that will force swift and sometimes frightening evolution. Businesses, communities, social institutions of all kinds, will find themselves facing a need to simultaneously experiment rapidly and keep hold of a longer-term perspective. You simply can’t expect that the world to which you’ve become adapted will look in any way the same – economically, environmentally, politically – in another decade.

As a result, you simply can’t expect that you will look in any way the same, either.

Read the whole article.

Scholars and The Big Lebowski: Deconstructing The Dude

Awesome - the is one of my favorite films. It's kind of funny to see critics taking this film so seriously, although I guess it really is an important film with layers of meaning - a postmodern allegory of sorts.

Scholars and The Big Lebowski: Deconstructing The Dude

In honor of the 10th annual Lebowski Fest in Louisville, Ky., Miller-McCune looks at the scholarly papers inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.”

"The Big Lebowski" has become a cult classic, attracting a large, committed group of followers — including more than a few academics.(Illustration by Graham Smith)

A bowling alley. A severed toe sporting a neatly polished nail. An aging hippie and his best friend, a Vietnam War veteran with a hair-trigger temper.

If those images don’t add up to anything for you, feel free to flip the page. If they do, it means you’re familiar — perhaps intimately so — with one of the most analyzed, deconstructed and eclectically interpreted films of recent decades: The Big Lebowski.

Joel and Ethan Coen‘s subversive comedy, in which a slovenly slacker (Jeff Bridges) in modern-day L.A. gets caught up in a convoluted kidnapping case, was neither a critical nor a popular success when it was released in 1998. But it gradually became a cult classic, attracting a large, committed group of followers — including more than a few academics.

In anticipation of the 10th annual Lebowski Fest, a gathering of fans taking place July 15 and 16 in Louisville, Ky., we decided to pour ourselves a white Russian and peruse some of the scholarly papers the film has inspired. Probably by design, it’s impossible to get a firm handle on The Big Lebowski, but there’s value in tracing its disparate thematic threads and discovering the patterns they create. Think of it as research that ties the room together.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Twenty-one essays inspired by the film are included in the drolly titled This Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies, a 2009 collection edited by Edward Comentale and Aaron Jaffe. “We can’t claim with any assurance that Lebowski is a work of art,” they write in their introduction. But they go on to compare it to the classic films of Luis Buñuel and Man Ray in its “liberating irrationalism” and celebration of the “surrealism of everyday life.”

Like, whatever, man. But why is the film, which often has a stream-of-consciousness feel (and not only during its dream sequences), catnip to so many right-brained academics? The central character of Jeff Lebowski, aka The Dude, has been referenced in recent papers on “the interplay between genetic and demographic structuring” (in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution) and “systematic gene identifiers” (in Trends in Parasitology, which is not generally known for its cutting-edge take on pop culture).

Grasping to explain this appeal, Comentale and Jaffe point to a minor character in the film: “The Stranger,” portrayed by Sam Elliott, a veteran of numerous Westerns. Dressed in traditional cowboy garb, he emerges occasionally to provide background information, analysis and commentary. In their words, “he just points at something interestin’ and gently nods” — a watch-and-learn stance that is the foundation of academic research. The Dude abides, but The Stranger annotates.

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Although its political message is far from overt, The Big Lebowski is a highly subversive film. At least, that’s what Paul “Pablo” Martin of Grossmont College and Valerie Renegar of San Diego State University argue in a 2007 article in the journal Communication Studies. Referencing the work of Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, they call the film an example of “carnivalesque humor,” a genre that encourages audiences to “reflect on, and ultimately reject, their fears of power, law and the sacred.” This particular type of surrealism, they write, features grotesque situations, inverted hierarchies and “structural and grammatical experimentation.”

All three elements can be found in abundance in the film, which features multiple dismembered body parts, an outwardly wealthy and successful character who turns out to be neither, and an “intentionally confused” plot interrupted by occasional dream sequences. “From the disjointed opening scenes through its anticlimactic denouement, the film pushes viewers to be aware of the constructed nature of society,” Martin and Renegar write. In this way, they add, it “encourages viewers to question the norms upon which we base our lives.”

In their short book The Big Lebowski, Stanford University’s J.M. Tyree and journalist Ben Walters pick up on that point, noting that the film specifically subverts traditional notions of masculinity. Set in 1991, just as President Bush (“I am not a wimp”) was leading the nation into war, the film celebrates the habitual passivity of The Dude, whom they note is “consistently averse to confrontation.”

In contrast, his best friend Walter, played by John Goodman, has “a line-in-the-sand mentality of picking fights over the broaching of more or less arbitrary boundaries and working himself up into apoplexy simply to prove his intransigence.” In other words, he represents a cultural type we’ve seen more and more of in the years since the film’s release — a ’60s icon who feels awfully familiar to anyone who watches current-day cable news.

Tyree and Walters note the term “dude” was coined in the 1870s “to denote a man conspicuously concerned with look and dress.” While admitting that hardly describes the disheveled Jeff Lebowski, they add that the term traditionally had “pejorative connotations of effeteness.”

So a “dude” wasn’t a “real man.” For traditionalists, the same can be said of The Dude, who has no interest in power, influence or conquest. “Excused from the tired, vain, arbitrary business of being a man,” Tyree and Walters write, “he can concentrate instead on being human.” And, of course, on his bowling game.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Andrew Rabin of the University of Louisville, a scholar of medieval literature, makes the case that The Big Lebowski is a funhouse-mirror version of one of the oldest of all stories — the quest for the Holy Grail. (The Fisher King, Terry Gilliam‘s cinematic update of the grail legend, was released in 1991, the year The Big Lebowski is set. Coincidentally, or not, it also starred Jeff Bridges.) In this interpretation, The Dude’s living-room rug (the soiling of which sets the story into motion) is the Holy Grail being sought by three “knights” — The Dude, Walter and their quiet, innocent friend Donny. And the bowling alley where they hang out is, well, sort of a temple.

“As bowlers, Lebowski’s Grail knights seek to master a game which idealizes repetitive, cyclical movement in a confined, constructed and utterly controllable environment,” Rabin writes. “Bowling offers them an escape into a predictable world isolated from the chaotic nihilism of late-20th-century culture.” (An adversarial fellow bowler is named Jesus, although in a typically dark joke, his temperament is less than saintly; with his long hair and beard, it’s The Dude who actually has a Christ-like look.)

Their quest plunges the trio into the wider world; as Rabin notes, “Los Angeles stands in for the medieval wasteland,” and quite convincingly at that. They find deception, duplicity and manipulation — everything The Dude protested against in the 1960s. The ultimate aging hippie, he may want to stay pure and unsullied by withdrawing from society, but his quest is a futile one; we’re all captives of our era. Looking at the film through this lens, The Big Lebowski is to George H.W. Bush what Camelot was to John F. Kennedy.

Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive

Interesting . . . I didn't know that Stephen Fry is bipolar. In this two-part series, Fry looks into the disease and speaks with others, including celebrities, who also live with bipolar.

Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive

Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic DepressiveStephen Fry presents this documentary exploring the disease of manic depression; a little understood but potentially devastating condition affecting an estimated two percent of the population.

Stephen embarks on an emotional journey to meet fellow sufferers, and discuss the literal highs and lows of being bi-polar.

Celebrities such as Carrie Fisher and Richard Dreyfuss invite the comedian into their home to relate their stories.

Plus Stephen looks into the lives of ordinary people trying to deal with the illness at work and home, and of course to the people studying manic depression in an effort to better control it. A fascinating, moving and ultimately very entertaining Emmy Award-winning programme.

Part 1

Part 2

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