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Link Roundup 13.05

In this link roundup, the ongoing financial and political crisis in Greece, Margaret Thatcher on the non-existence of society, Shane Carruth’s new film Upstream Color, warmongering in North Korea and the threat of nuclear power, David Graeber wants to cancel debt, the bombing of al-Bara, the price of gold plunges, the domestication of microbes, the launch of the Digital Public Library of America, the concept of “perception attack” explained by Brian Massumi, the principle of habeas corpus illustrated by the case of Guantánomo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, suicide rates among adults between 35-64 in the Unites States, the upcomming DSM-V stirring controvery (again), Khan Academy explains what is a Bitcoin, a gun entirely printed out of a 3D printer, and finally, on a much lighter note, a five minutes video of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield as he performs his own personal version of David Bowie’s song Space Oddity while floating aboard the International Space Station.

Images link to the content they illustrate. All those links were first collected on @aphelis (Twitter).

• • •

  • The financial situation is dire in Greece and the far right party Golden Dawn is still gaining ground. However, Greeks are not remaining idle and have taken direct actions to correct the situation. One of the most striking example of such a direct action came when residents in Crete threw a Golden Dawn candidate MP into the sea. Throughout history, Cretans have proven many times of being capable of fierce resistance again invaders (see for example how they fought against Turkish domination as told by novelist Pandelis Prevelakis in his trilogy The Cretan and also how they fought against an attempted airborne invasion by Nazi Germany during World War II).

    Golden Dawn

  • Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died on April 8, 2013. Among many other things, she is known for having argued “There is no such thing as society”. The statement was made in September 23, 1987 during an interview with journalist Douglas Keay. An edited version of the interview was published in the British magazine Woman’s Own on October 31, 1987 under the title “Aids, education and the year 2000!”. The transcript can be found at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

    What is wrong with the deterioration? [mistranscription?] I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.

    Jürgen Habermas commented on this view, suggesting that Thatcher was “the first genuinely “postmodern” politician” (see his essay “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy” in The Postnational Constellation. Political Essays, trans. by Max Pensky, Cambridge: MIT Press, [1998] 2001, p. 59).

  • Primer’s director Shane Carruth released his second movie titled Upstream Color. He’s also distributing it himself via his film company erpb. It means currently one can watch the film in theatre and/or buy a digital copy of it directly from the film director (“directly” being relative: Carruth relies on VHX form digital distribution). The film is also available through other means (DVD, Blu-ray, iTunes, etc.).

    Upstream

  • In April, North Korea gained international attention by issuing (again) various threats. Those threats were partially supported by different military operations, including the relocation of two Musudan missiles to North Korea east coast. However, most serious analysts agreed that the actualization of those threats were highly unlikely. A few days ago, the missiles were withdrawn. Other recent incidents related to nuclear power came as a reminder that the danger doesn’t only lies in the hands of warmongers: natural disasters and human error must also be taken into consideration. In Iran, the epicenter of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake was located only 100 miles from the nation sole official nuclear reactor. In the United-States, 17 Air Force officers responsible for nuclear missile launch were recently suspended after having failed launch skills test.

    North_Korea_Threat

  • David Graeber teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He’s the author of Debt. The First 5,000 Years. He was also involved in the early stage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Baffler (No. 22) recently published an excerpt of his latest book The Democracy Project: see “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse”. Among other things, Graeber argues for the idea of “debt cancellation”:

    What is debt, after all, but the promise of future productivity? Saying that global debt levels keep rising is simply another way of saying that, as a collectivity, human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace. Even those running the system are reluctantly beginning to conclude that some kind of mass debt cancellation—some kind of jubilee—is inevitable.

    For David Graeber, it seems that debt is mostly financial (it has to do with money first and foremost) and that it is charged with a negative value (it is mostly bad). In Debt. The First 5,000 Years, nexum is only mentioned once in passing although there is a discussion about the Roman debt bondage contract (my point being that historically, there are forms of debt that allow for the creation of bonds without servitude). There is no mention of the other important form of Roman contract based on debt, mutuum. However, chances are that Graeber’s idea about debt cancellation will find sympathizers. Just two days ago, The New York Times wrote that the student debt in the United-States had reached $1 trillion in total: “Student Debt Slows Growth as Young Spend Less” by Annie Lowrey, May 10, 2013. For what I found to be a balanced view on David Graeber, see recently in The New Yorker: “David Graeber’s “The Democracy Project” and the anarchist revival” by Kelefa Sanneh, May 13, 2013.

  • PBS Frontline: “The Bombing of al-Bara” by filmmaker Olly Lambert, April 2013.

    When FRONTLINE filmmaker Olly Lambert sat to interview Jamal Maarouf, a Syrian rebel commander, he did not anticipate that bombs from government jets would begin to fall just 300 meters away.

    Though the first blast knocked him to the ground, Lambert kept his camera rolling. He spent the next hour documenting the impacts of the Oct. 28, 2012 bombing of al-Bara, a village in Idlib province an hour south of Aleppo. The result is a rare, immersive portrait of the immediate aftermath of Syrian government air strikes on a civilian population.

  • Wall Street Journal: “Gold Plunges as Fears Over Inflation Fade” by Christian Berthelsen, David Wessel and Gregory Zuckerman, April 15, 2013.

    Gold posted its biggest one-day percentage drop in 30 years Monday as new signs of a global economic slowdown emerged and fears diminished that central banks’ easy-money policies would stoke inflation.

    Gold futures for April delivery fell $140.40, or 9.4%, Monday to a two-year low at $1,360.60 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. That extended their bear-market descent of more than 20% from their 2011 all-time high. Since Thursday, gold prices have declined by more than $203 an ounce, a record skid since the futures began trading in the U.S. in 1974.

    Gold

  • The Economist: “Consumer microbiomics” April 11, 2013.

    AN APPRECIATION of the wonderful world of microbes used to begin and end with a jar of live yogurt, the odd bit of French cheese and probiotic supplements. This is changing fast, for three reasons. First, as some common unfriendly bacteria rapidly evolve resistance to antibiotics, an overreliance on such traditional cures is being questioned. Second, research is challenging the cherished idea that having fewer bugs in the environment is healthy. Indeed, there is growing speculation that an obsession with cleanliness is leading to a steep rise in allergies, asthma and other inflammatory and autoimmune disease. Finally, the notion that “infecting” people with bacteria might be a good thing is entering the popular consciousness.

    Microbes

  • Digital Public Library of America: “Welcome to the Digital Public Library of America” by Dan Cohen, April 18, 2013.

    It’s not very often you get to build a new library. Together, that’s what we will begin to do today. Starting with over two million items, each with its own special story and significance, the Digital Public Library of America will now begin to assemble the riches of our country’s libraries, archives, and museums, and connect them with the public.

    DPLA

  • Dictionary of War: “Perception Attack” by Brian Massumi, February 24, 2007. This is a 35 minutes video where Brian Massumi explains his concept of “perception attack” which is meant to further develop the understanding of preemptive war. It can be watched online or it can be downloaded as an Ogg video file. Sound quality is very good. The video is also available on YouTube and is embedded below.

  • Slate: “The Guantánamo Memoirs of Mohamedou Ould Slahi” presented by Larry Siems, April 10, 2013. Aside from being disturbing, the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi illustrates the crucial role of “habeas corpus” in regard both to constitutional law and to sovereign power. It also underlines the dangerous consequences that come with its suspension in (always) exceptional circumstances.

    Had Slahi been released following his habeas corpus victory in 2010, we may well have heard him tell many of these stories. But the Obama administration appealed Judge Robertson’s decision, and later this year Slahi’s attorneys will once again be arguing his habeas petition in a Washington, D.C., federal court. Slahi will again testify by video link from Guantánamo, and his testimony will likely once again be classified. Here, at least, is some of what he might say.

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention―Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: “Suicide Among Adults Aged 35–64 Years — United States, 1999–2010” May 3, 2013, 62(17), pp. 321-325:

    Suicide is an increasing public health concern. In 2009, the number of deaths from suicide surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes in the United States (1). Traditionally, suicide prevention efforts have been focused mostly on youths and older adults, but recent evidence suggests that there have been substantial increases in suicide rates among middle-aged adults in the United States (2). To investigate trends in suicide rates among adults aged 35–64 years over the last decade, CDC analyzed National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) mortality data from 1999–2010. Trends in suicide rates were examined by sex, age group, race/ethnicity, state and region of residence, and mechanism of suicide. The results of this analysis indicated that the annual, age-adjusted suicide rate among persons aged 35–64 years increased 28.4%, from 13.7 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 17.6 in 2010.

  • As the publication date for the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) approaches, various organizations are taking the opportunity to voice their concerns over the controversial classification system. In the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health has announced its intention to abandon the use of the manual all together. In the U.K. the British Psychological Society has issued a statement casting doubt on the reliability of the (in)famous manual as a diagnostic tool.

    DSM V

  • Khan Academy: “What is Bitcoin?” May 3, 2013. This series of 9 videos teaches the basics about the Bitcoin digital currency. All the videos are released under the Creative Common license. Explanations are provided by Zulfikar Ramzan:

    Zulfikar Ramzan is a world-leading expert in computer security and cryptography and is currently the Chief Scientist at Sourcefire. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from MIT.

  • Cody R. Wilson is the co-founder and director of Defense Distributed which specialized in the development of 3D gun printing technic (or “wiki weapons”). For a short introduction, see VICE documentary “3D Printed Guns”. On May 5, it announced the creation of a weapon named Liberator which was entirely printed out of a $8,000 3D printer bought on eBay (see Guardian: “3D-printable guns are just the start, says Cody Wilson”). A proof-of-concept video was released the same day: “Liberator – Dawn of the Wiki Weapons”. For a few days, plans for the fabrication of the weapon were freely available online at Defcad.org However, on May 9, 2013, the files were removed at the request of the State Department: see at The Atlantic “State Department Asks Defense Distributed to Take Down Its 3D-Printed Gun Plans”. Internet being what it is, the files have found their way on various peer-to-peer networks (C-Net: “The Pirate Bay now offering banned 3D-printed gun files”, May 10, 2013).

  • Astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station, just handed over command after a 146 days mission in space. To mark the occasion, he performed and recorded his very own, personal version of David Bowie’s classic song Space Oddity. The video was uploaded on YouTube on May 12, 2013. It’s just 5 minutes, it’s quite something and it’s embedded below, just after the links.