Monthly Archives: January 2011

links for 2011-01-14

  • Kate Nepveu’s re-read commentary is almost complete, almost two years after she began it. Me, I first read LOTR in 1955, and I've been through it several times since then (though I tend to skip over what seem to me the boring bits). Time spent on this site is, I think, much better invested than time spent on watching the films. All those orcs… and as somebody said
    (tags: LOTR reading)

From Charlie Stross

I confess a hazy understanding of genomics (well, it’s probably even more vaporous than ‘hazy’), but this from the author of Accelerando‘s recent list of things to feel good about makes me think I should try again to wrap the mind around the subject:

There’s been enormous progress in genomics; we’re now on the threshold of truly understanding how little we understand. While the anticipated firehose of genome-based treatments hasn’t materialized, we now know why it hasn’t materialized, and it’s possible to start filling in the gaps in the map. Turns out that sequencing the human genome was merely the start. (It’s not a blueprint; it’s not even an algorithm for generating a human being. Rather, it’s like a snapshot of the static data structures embedded in an executing process. Debug that.) My bet is that we’re going to have to wait another decade. Then things are going to start to get very strange in medicine.

On tribespersons

I’ve been slowly working my way through James C. Scott’s excellent The Art of Not Being Governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia, enjoying the challenges it poses on pretty much every page to Received Wisdoms. As a teacher of anthropology I was especially allergic to the witless collective term ‘natives’ and to its flabby cousin ‘tribesmen’ and finally I have a clearer understanding of just why. Scott puts it beautifully:

The entities represented as “tribes” seldom exist with anything like the substantiality of state imaginings. This misrepresentation is due not only to the official identities cooked up by the state but also to the need of ethnographers and historians for social identities that can serve as a coherent object of description and analysis. It is hard to produce an account of, let alone govern, a social organization that is continually going in and out of focus. (pg. 209)

Starting from this short passage, one could rewrite (or anyhow reimagine) a lot of the ethnography of the golden age, which was mostly written from (and in service to) the state/official perspective. If only I’d seen this more clearly back in the day…

Well worth the time to read in toto

Tome Engelhardt’s The Urge to Surge: Washington’s 30-Year High is a fine think piece for the New Year, and puts the present moment into highly relevant context. Down towards the end is this little trip down Memory Lane:

The 23 men and two women who signed the initial PNAC [Project for the New American Century] statement urging the United States to go for the military option in the twenty-first century would, however, prove something more than your typical crew of think-tank types. After all, not so many years later, after a disputed presidential election settled by the Supreme Court, Dick Cheney would be vice president; I. Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby would be his right-hand man; Donald Rumsfeld would be Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense; Zalmay Khalilzad, head of the Bush-Cheney transition team at the Department of Defense and then the first post- invasion U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, as well as ambassador to Iraq and UN ambassador; Elliot Abrams, special assistant to the president with a post on the National Security Council; Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs; Aaron Friedberg, Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs and Director of Policy Planning in the office of the vice president; and Jeb Bush, governor of Florida. (Others like John Bolton, who signed on to PNAC later, would be no less well employed.)

This may, in fact, be the first example in history of a think tank coming to power and actually putting its blue-sky suggestions into operation as government policy, or perhaps it’s the only example so far of a government-in-waiting masquerading as an online think tank.

I see little hope that the present-day DC crowd will grok their own hubris and repent.