November 21, 2014

Christic Institute

brought to light

The Christic [kris-tikInstitute was a public interest law firm founded in 1980 by Daniel Sheehan, his wife, Sara Nelson and their partner, William J. Davis, a Jesuit priest, after the successful conclusion of their work on the Silkwood case. Karen Silkwood was an American chemical technician and labor union activist known for raising concerns about worker safety in a nuclear facility. She is most famous for her mysterious death, which was the subject of a victorious lawsuit against the chemical company Kerr-McGee.

Based on the ecumenical teachings of French philosopher and Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and on the lessons they learned from their experience in the Silkwood fight, the Christic Institute combined investigation, litigation, education and organizing into a unique model for social reform in the United States. Christic represented victims of the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island; they prosecuted KKK members for killing civil rights demonstrators in the Greensboro Massacre, and they defended Catholic workers providing sanctuary to Salvadoran refugees (American Sanctuary Movement). Continue reading

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November 20, 2014

Alan Moore

alan moore by Frank Quitely

Alan Moore (b. 1953) is an English writer primarily known for his work in comic books including ‘Watchmen,’ ‘V for Vendetta,’ and ‘From Hell.’ Frequently described as the best graphic novel writer in history (though he prefers the term ‘comic’ to ‘graphic novel’), he has been called ‘one of the most important British writers of the last fifty years.’ He has occasionally used such pseudonyms as Curt Vile, Jill de Ray, and Translucia Baboon.

Moore is an occultist, ceremonial magician, and anarchist, and features such themes in his fiction, as well as performing avant-garde spoken word occult ‘workings’ with ‘The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels,’ some of which have been released on CD. Despite his own personal objections, his books have provided the basis for a number of Hollywood films. He has stated that much of his work is designed to be ‘unfilmable’ to expose difference in the two mediums.

Continue reading

November 17, 2014

Irony

ironic by Lindsay Mound

Irony is when something happens that is opposite from what is expected. In literature, it is sometimes used for comedic effect, but it is also used in tragedies. There are many types of irony, such as ‘dramatic irony’ (when the audience knows something is going to happen on stage that the characters on stage do not), ‘Socratic irony’ (when a teacher feigns ignorance to his students), ‘cosmic irony’ (when something that everyone thinks will happen actually happens very differently — as opposed to ‘situational irony’ that only affects a small group or individual), ‘verbal irony’ (an absence of expression and intention or the use of sarcasm), and ‘ironic fate’ (misfortune as the result of fate or chance).

The word ‘irony’ comes from Ancient Greek (‘eironeia’: ‘dissimulation, feigned ignorance’), in specific terms it is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event characterized by an incongruity, or contrast, between what the expectations of a situation are and what is really the case, with a third element, that defines that what is really the case is ironic because of the situation that led to it. Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used to underscore the assertion of a truth. The ironic form of simile, used in sarcasm, and some forms of litotes (understatement used to emphasize a point by denying the opposite) can highlight one’s meaning by the deliberate use of language which states the opposite of the truth, denies the contrary of the truth, or drastically and obviously understates a factual connection. Continue reading

November 14, 2014

Curse of Knowledge

jargon

curse of knowledge by Igor Kopelnitsky

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that leads better-informed parties to find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties. It is related to public policy engineer Baruch Fischhoff’s work on the hindsight bias (the knew-it-all-along effect). In economics the bias is studied to understand why the assumption that better informed agents can accurately anticipate the judgments of lesser informed agents is not inherently true, as well as to support the finding that sales agents who are better informed about their products may, in fact, be at a disadvantage against other, less-informed agents. It is believed that better informed agents fail to ignore the privileged knowledge that they possess, thus ‘cursed’ and unable to sell their products at a value that more naïve agents would deem acceptable.

In one experiment, one group of subjects ‘tapped’ a well-known song on a table while another listened and tried to identify the song. Some ‘tappers’ described a rich sensory experience in their minds as they tapped out the melody. Tappers on average estimated that 50% of listeners would identify the specific tune; in reality only 2.5% of listeners could. Related to this finding is the phenomenon experienced by players of charades: The actor may find it frustratingly hard to believe that his or her teammates keep failing to guess the secret phrase, known only to the actor, conveyed by pantomime.

November 13, 2014

Christopher Nolan

memento

inception

Christopher Nolan (b. 1970) is a British-American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He created several of the most successful films of the early 21st century, and his eight films have grossed over $3.5 billion worldwide. Having made his directorial debut with ‘Following’ (1998), he gained considerable attention for his second feature, ‘Memento’ (2000). The acclaim of these independent films afforded Nolan the opportunity to make the big-budget thriller ‘Insomnia’ (2002), and the more offbeat production ‘The Prestige’ (2006); which were well-received critically and commercially. He found popular success with ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy (2005–2012), ‘Inception’ (2010), and ‘Interstellar’ (2014). He runs the London-based production company Syncopy Inc. with his wife Emma Thomas.

His films are rooted in philosophical and sociological concepts, exploring human morality, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity. Experimentation with metafictive elements, temporal shifts, elliptical cutting, solipsistic perspectives, nonlinear storytelling and the analogous relationship between the visual language and narrative elements, permeate his entire body of work. Continue reading

November 12, 2014

Form Follows Function

Ornament and Crime by Daren Newman

Form follows function, a principle associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century, holds that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended purpose, not aesthetics or tradition. The authorship of the phrase is often, though wrongly, ascribed to the American sculptor Horatio Greenough, whose thinking to a large extent predates the later functionalist approach to architecture. Greenough’s writings were for a long time largely forgotten, and were rediscovered only in the 1930s; in 1947 a selection of his essays was published under the title ‘Form and Function: Remarks on Art by Horatio Greenough.’

American architect, Louis Sullivan, Greenough’s much younger compatriot, who admired rationalist thinkers like Greenough, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and Melville, coined the phrase in his article ‘The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered’ in 1896 (some fifty years after Greenough’s death), though Sullivan later attributed the core idea to Marcus Vitruvius Pollio the Roman architect, engineer and author who first asserted in his book ‘De architectura’ that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of ‘firmitas, utilitas, venustas’ – that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful. Here Sullivan actually said ‘form ever follows function,’ but the simpler (and less emphatic) phrase is the one usually remembered. Continue reading

November 12, 2014

Affordance

The Design of Everyday Things

An affordance is something that provides the opportunity to perform an action. It is often described as a relationship between an object (or environment) and an organism. For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling. As a relation, an affordance exhibits the possibility of some action, and is not a property of either an organism or its environment alone.

Different definitions of the term have developed. The original definition described all actions that are physically possible, but was later limited to only those an actor is aware of. The term has further evolved for use in the context of human–computer interaction (HCI) to indicate the easy discoverability of possible actions. The concept has application in several fields: perceptual, cognitive, and environmental psychology, industrial design, instructional design, science, technology and society (STS), and artificial intelligence. Continue reading

November 11, 2014

LOVEINT

the lives of others

LOVEINT is the practice of intelligence service employees making use of their extensive monitoring capabilities to spy on their love interest or spouse. The term was coined in resemblance to intelligence terminology such as SIGINT (signals intelligence) or HUMINT (human intelligence). The term originated at the NSA, where at least one incident is reported every year. They are the lion’s share of unauthorized accesses reported by the NSA. Most incidents are self-reported, for example during a polygraph test.

The NSA sanctions include administrative action, up to termination of employment. In five of the cases, the NSA employee resigned, preempting any administrative action. In two other cases, they retired. The worst administrative sanction handed out was a ‘a reduction in pay for two months, a reduction in grade, and access to classified information being revoked.’ One case was forwarded to the Department of Justice, which however declined to prosecute.

November 11, 2014

Master–Slave Morality

beyond good and evil

genealogy of morals

Master–slave morality is a central theme of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, in particular the first essay of ‘On the Genealogy of Morality,’ his 1887 book ‘on the origin of our moral prejudices.’ Nietzsche argued that there were two fundamental types of morality: ‘Master morality’ and ‘slave morality’. Slave morality values things like kindness, humility and sympathy, while master morality values pride, strength, and nobility.

Master morality weighs actions on a scale of good or bad consequences unlike slave morality which weighs actions on a scale of good or evil intentions. What he meant by ‘morality’ deviates from common understanding of this term. For Nietzsche, a particular morality is inseparable from the formation of a particular culture. This means that its language, codes and practices, narratives, and institutions are informed by the struggle between these two types of moral valuation. Continue reading

November 10, 2014

Master Suppression Techniques

withholding information

The Master suppression techniques (also known as domination techniques), articulated in 1945 by Norwegian psychologist and philosopher Ingjald Nissen, is an outline of ways to indirectly suppress and humiliate opponents. In the late 1970s the framework was popularized by Norwegian social psychologist Berit Ås, who reduced Nissen’s original nine means to five, and claimed this was a technique mostly used in the workplace by men against women. Master suppression techniques are defined as strategies of social manipulation by which a dominant group maintains such a position in a (established or unexposed) hierarchy. They are very prominent in Scandinavian scholarly and public debate.

The five master suppression techniques are: Making Invisible (silencing or otherwise marginalizing persons in opposition by ignoring them), Ridiculing (portraying opponents and their arguments as absurd and worthy of mocking), Withholding Information (excluding opponents from the decision making process, or limiting their access to information so as to make them less able to make an informed choice), Double Binding (punishing or otherwise belittling the actions of opponents, regardless of how they act), and Blaming and Shaming (embarrassing opponents by insinuating that they are themselves to blame for their position). Continue reading

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November 8, 2014

Gelotology

laughter

laughter yoga

Gelotology [jel-uh-tol-uh-jee] (from the Greek ‘gelos,’ meaning ‘laughter’) is the study of laughter and its effects on the body, from a psychological and physiological perspective. Its proponents often advocate induction of laughter on therapeutic grounds in complementary medicine. The field of study was pioneered by psychiatrist William F. Fry at Stanford.

Although healers since antiquity have recommended laughter as a form of medicine, the field was initially deprecated by most other physicians, who doubted that laughter possessed analgesic (painkilling) qualities. One early study that demonstrated the effectiveness of laughter in a clinical setting showed that it could help patients with atopic dermatitis (a recurring, itchy skin disorder) respond less to allergens. Other studies have shown that laughter can help alleviate stress and pain, and can even assist cardiopulmonary rehabilitation (treatment for patients recovering from cardiac surgeries). Continue reading

November 7, 2014

Taste

Critique of Judgment

In sociology, taste is an individual’s personal and cultural patterns of choice and preference. It is drawing qualitative distinctions between things such as styles, manners, consumer goods, and works of art. Aesthetic preferences and attendance to various cultural events are associated with education and social origin. Different socioeconomic groups are likely to have different tastes, and social class is one of the most prominent factors structuring taste. The concept of aesthetics has been the interest of philosophers such as Plato, Hume and Kant, who understood it as something pure and searched for the ‘essence of beauty,’ the ontology of taste. But it was not until the beginning the early 19th century that the question was problematized in its social context.

In his aesthetic philosophy, Kant denies any standard of a good taste, which would be the taste of the majority or any social group. For Kant, beauty is not a property of an object, but a judgement based on a subjective feeling. He claims that even if a universal, non-relativistic ‘good taste’ does exist, it can not be empirically identified, or found in any standards or generalizations, and the validity of a judgement is not the general view of the majority or some specific social group. Taste is both personal and beyond reasoning, and therefore disputes over matters of taste never reach a finite conclusion. Kant stresses that our preferences, even on generally liked things, do not justify our judgements. Continue reading

November 6, 2014

McMansion

mcmansion

In American suburban communities, McMansion is a pejorative for a type of large, new luxury house which is judged to be oversized for the parcel or incongruous and out-of-place for its neighborhood. Alternatively, a McMansion can be a large, new house in a subdivision of similarly large houses, which all seem mass-produced and lacking in distinguishing characteristics, as well as appearing at odds with the traditional local architecture.

The neologism seems to have been coined sometime in the early 1980s. It first appeared in print the ‘Los Angeles Times’ in 1990. Related terms include ‘Persian palace,’ ‘garage Mahal,’ ‘starter castle,’ and ‘Hummer house.’ Marketing parlance often uses the term ‘tract mansion’ or ‘executive home.’ An example of a McWord, ‘McMansion’ associates the generic quality of these luxury homes with that of mass-produced fast food by evoking the McDonald’s restaurant chain. Continue reading

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November 5, 2014

Cover Your Ass

disclaimer

mistakes were made

Cover your ass (CYA) describes activity, usually in a work-related or bureaucratic context, done by an individual to protect himself or herself from possible subsequent legal penalties or criticism. According to lexicographer William Safire, it describes the bureaucratic technique of ‘deflecting responsibility in advance,’ that is, diffusing responsibility for one’s actions as a form of insurance against possible negative repercussions. It can denote a type of institutional risk-averse mentality which works against accountability and responsibility, often characterized by excessive paperwork and documentation (red tape), which can be harmful to the institution’s overall effectiveness.

The activity, sometimes seen as instinctive, is generally unnecessary towards accomplishing the goals of the organization, but helpful to protect a particular individual’s career within it, and it can be seen as a type of institutional corruption working against individual initiative. In a slightly different sense, it can be used to describe rightful steps to protect oneself properly while in a difficult situation, such as what steps to take to protect oneself after being fired (due diligence). Continue reading

November 4, 2014

Commedia dell’arte

masks

three musicians by picasso

Commedia [kuh-mey-dee-uh] dell’arte [del-ahr-tee]  is a form of improvisational theater that began in Italy in the 16th century. The actors often wore masks and the stories were often about the cunning pursuit of love, money, or simply food. The genre developed several stock characters that represent fixed social types, such as foolish old men, devious servants, or military officers full of false bravado including Harlequin (comic servant), Pantalone (rich old miser), Colombina (tricky slave wife), Pulcinella (disfigured trickster), Pierrot (unrequited clown), and Scaramuccia (roguish clown).

Stock characters can be divided into three groups, ‘Innamorati’ (‘The Lovers,’ who are never masked nor well developed as characters), ‘Vecchi’ (‘The Old People,’ often the Lovers’ parents, who get in the way of their romance), and ‘Zanni’ (‘The Servants/ Commoners,’ always hungry, and often responsible for the Lovers finding their way to the altar). Characters such as Pantalone, the Venetian merchant; Dottore Gratiano, the pedant from Bologna; or Arlecchino, the mischievous servant from Bergamo, began as satires on Italian ‘types’ and became the archetypes of many of the favorite characters of 17th- and 18th-century European theater. Continue reading

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