Information overload or information gluttony? Let's not ignore our own agency.

Gluttony Goes Viral - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education:

If you ignore the gratuitous slam at 'hipsters' and other natives to the Internet, it makes a very good point:
"It's the two most incongruous words in that passage that point us toward Petronius' chief insight into pleasure and abundance: "accomplished voluptuary." How can anyone be accomplished at taking pleasure? Isn't that something anyone can do? Yes, under most circumstances. But under decadent circumstances, such as Trimalchio's feast or Nero's court, pleasure becomes cheap. It must, at first, be exhilarating to find exquisite versions of the things we most want—food, sleep, sex—right at hand. But then comes the revelation that even with unlimited means, our capacity to take pleasure is itself limited. The usual enjoyments become repetitious and dull, until we can barely taste them at all, or remember how they once tasted. And it's at that point that Trimalchio and Petronius part ways: One flails to enjoy himself while the other becomes a scientist of pleasure. Under decadent circumstances, Petronius devises ever-more-original varie­ties of hedonism.

And there's the key to understanding the often anesthetic effect of the Internet. Decadence doesn't demand great wealth: Decadence is a useful way to understand any situation in which an existing pleasure becomes cheap, and it takes the ingenuity of a Petronius to fight off the boredom. That is now the case with information—the small burst of satisfaction that comes from a refilled inbox or a new text, from connecting with friends, or sharing the meme of the day. Millions of us are now richer in these pleasures than our parents' generation could ever imagine. But our capacity for enjoyment is still finite: We've built up a tolerance to the pleasures of information, just as Trimalchio built up a tolerance to the pleasures of food. Those who experience our constant connectivity as dulling should be able to identify closely with his guests."

Europe has, in some ways, reacted no better than America to the threat of terrorism

Europe’s Own Human Rights Crisis | Human Rights Watch:
"To many friends of human rights in Europe, the Arab Spring has been the most thrilling period since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Judging from their soaring rhetoric about yearning for freedom among Arab peoples, European Union leaders share that enthusiasm. Today there is an opportunity, the optimists proclaim, to have an arc of human rights-respecting countries around much of the Mediterranean rim.

The reality of human rights policy in Europe itself and toward its Mediterranean perimeter has been far less edifying. Documents discovered in Libya by Human Rights Watch in September 2011 evidenced British complicity in rendition to Libya under Muammar Gaddafi. Italy, which was willing to send African migrants and asylum seekers back to Libya during the Gaddafi era to face abuse and worse, moved quickly to sign a migration cooperation agreement with the transitional authorities there (although at this writing it has yet to resume forced returns). EU governments have proved reluctant to help migrants and others fleeing war-torn Libya. The arrival of thousands of Tunisian migrants in Italy beginning in January led leading EU governments to question free movement inside the EU, one of its fundamental pillars.

Move beyond the fine words and human rights in Europe are in trouble. A new (or rather a resurgent old) idea is on the march: that the rights of “problematic” minorities must be set aside for the greater good, and elected politicians who pursue such policies are acting with democratic legitimacy."


The Judeo-Christian origin of modern Human Rights

As a result of a very interesting discussion with a friend of mine...

The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era:

Quoting from a review:
"Beginning with the controversy of human rights and religion, Ishay argues that each great religion contains important humanistic elements which have contributed to our modern conceptions of rights. For example, in the West, the impact of Judeo-Christian morality and ethics has been central to the development of human rights. As Ishay notes Judeo-Christian morality was secularized, separated from politics, and strengthened in influence by the advent of capitalism and colonialism in Europe, largely at the expense of other notions of ethics. Because of the development of capitalism in Europe, Judeo-Christian ethics became secularized with the progress of the Reformation (16th century) and the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century, finally being transformed into a liberal discourse that dominates our current conception of human rights. "
Pew Forum: Sources of Basic Human Rights Ideas: A Christian Perspective:

"The background story of how this definition of human rights came to enter the official, cross-cultural, international definition of standards, however, is only now being told. In fresh research, the British scholar-pastor, Canon John Nurser, has documented in extended detail the ways in which, from 1939 until 1947, leading Ecumenical Protestant figures worked not only with key figures in developing the Bretton Woods agreements, anticipating a post-war need for economic stability and development, but formed the Commission for a Just and Durable Peace, the Churches' Commission on International Affairs, and later the Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, all under the auspices of the Federal Council of Churches, with close connections to the emerging World Council of Churches and the International Missionary Conference. These organizations, notably led by Lutheran O. Frederick Nolde, Congregationalist Richard Fagley, Baptist M. Searle Bates, and Presbyterian John A. Mackay, among others, were dedicated to shaping what they then called a "new world order" that would honor human rights. They worked closely with Jacob Blaustein and Joseph Proskauer of the American Jewish Committee and with twelve bishops of the Roman Catholic Church to encourage the formation of the drafting committees of the United Nations Charter Committee and the committee that composed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and deeply shaped their results. Further, they worked through their church and synagogue contacts at the local level to build the popular support for what they were doing. In fact, the more of this history that is dug out, the clearer it becomes that they supplied much of the intellectual and ethical substance that formed these so-called "secular" documents. Such data is if particular importance, for it helps correct the secularists' slanderous treatment of religion as the cause of human rights violations."
And later:
"Certainly we cannot say that all of Judaism or of Christianity has supported human rights; it has been key minority traditions that have argued their case over long periods of time and become more widely accepted. Nor can we say that even these traditions have been faithful to the implications of their own heritage at all times, and the horror stories of our pasts also have to be told to mitigate any temptation to triumphalism. Still, intellectual honesty demands recognition of the fact that what passes as "secular," "western" principles of basic human rights developed nowhere else than out of key strands of the biblically-rooted religions. And while many scholars and leaders from other traditions have endorsed them, and found resources in their own traditions that point to quite similar principles, today these views are under suspicion both by some Asian leaders who appeal to Asian Values and by some communitarian and postmodern philosophers in the West who have challenged the very idea of human rights."


Humanity writ large reflected in the tools of the day:

How the Internet Gets Inside Us : The New Yorker
"[...] at any given moment, our most complicated machine will be taken as a model of human intelligence, and whatever media kids favor will be identified as the cause of our stupidity. When there were automatic looms, the mind was like an automatic loom; and, since young people in the loom period liked novels, it was the cheap novel that was degrading our minds. When there were telephone exchanges, the mind was like a telephone exchange, and, in the same period, since the nickelodeon reigned, moving pictures were making us dumb. When mainframe computers arrived and television was what kids liked, the mind was like a mainframe and television was the engine of our idiocy. Some machine is always showing us Mind; some entertainment derived from the machine is always showing us Non-Mind."

The difference between the View from Nowhere and stenography increasingly difficult to find :-)

The New York Times public editor's very public utterance | Clay Shirky | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

"Thursday, Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, went to his readers with a question:

"I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge 'facts' that are asserted by newsmakers they write about."

Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had "misunderstood" a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney's assertion that President Obama gives speeches "apologising" for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.

The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous."


Indefinite detention without trial: still not a good idea

Notes From a Guantánamo Survivor - NYTimes.com

"I LEFT Guantánamo Bay much as I had arrived almost five years earlier — shackled hand-to-waist, waist-to-ankles, and ankles to a bolt on the airplane floor. My ears and eyes were goggled, my head hooded, and even though I was the only detainee on the flight this time, I was drugged and guarded by at least 10 soldiers. This time though, my jumpsuit was American denim rather than Guantánamo orange. I later learned that my C-17 military flight from Guantánamo to Ramstein Air Base in my home country, Germany, cost more than $1 million.

When we landed, the American officers unshackled me before they handed me over to a delegation of German officials. The American officer offered to re-shackle my wrists with a fresh, plastic pair. But the commanding German officer strongly refused: “He has committed no crime; here, he is a free man.”


The illustrated guide to a Ph.D.

The illustrated guide to a Ph.D:
"Every fall, I explain to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is.

It's hard to describe it in words.

So, I use pictures.

Read below for the illustrated guide to a Ph.D."


The Internet is a tool. Human Rights are not about tools.

Internet Access Is Not a Human Right - NYTimes.com:
"FROM the streets of Tunis to Tahrir Square and beyond, protests around the world last year were built on the Internet and the many devices that interact with it. Though the demonstrations thrived because thousands of people turned out to participate, they could never have happened as they did without the ability that the Internet offers to communicate, organize and publicize everywhere, instantaneously.

It is no surprise, then, that the protests have raised questions about whether Internet access is or should be a civil or human right. The issue is particularly acute in countries whose governments clamped down on Internet access in an attempt to quell the protesters. In June, citing the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, a report by the United Nations’ special rapporteur went so far as to declare that the Internet had “become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights.” Over the past few years, courts and parliaments in countries like France and Estonia have pronounced Internet access a human right.

But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point: technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it."

See the other effects of misunderstanding technology.


Android is far from open source, both practically and in spirit

Android: the free-ish mobile platform | Jethro Carr
"Whilst I’m a fan of the platform overall, I’m encountering more and more issues every day with the fact that Android is being positioned as the poster child of open source in the mobile space (with other alternatives like Meego and WebOS way behind in terms of market share and consumer awareness), yet Android is only partially open source, still relying on large proprietary chunks."
See also the Open Governance Index report.