Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Terror from the Air

Virilio, der Derian, and now Sloterdijk. But will this upcoming contribution be absorbed into journals such as War & Culture, or rendered persona non Grata on account of Sloterdijk's past excesses? (not least The Human Zoo, with its platonic vision of biotech. Or how about the other expressed fondness for the philosophy of a certain notorious Indian "love guru"?). None of this is enough to curb my enthusiasm though, as I can't wait to find out if this new work brings together Sloterdijk's genetic focus with the military strategy of targeting the enemy's "environment".

Is it possible to anticipate the likely critical reception in certain quarters, especially those where the governing assumption is the primacy of politics? I've found another book recently I'm keen to discuss in these terms (which I can then illustrate with an Alphonso Lingis quote, and in turn contrast with David Stove's quotation on Acheron's sidebar). But sticking to the topic at hand, I think a prime representative example is this critical assessment of Cooper's thesis of the commodification of regenerative medicine as equivalent to a new form of speculative surplus value. Randy Martin's Empire of Indifference is viewed likewise in the same review.

To anticipate Sloterdijk is not to claim that the review of Cooper and Martin lacks merit though. So until Sloterdijk's book materialises, one is free to enjoy Mute's satire of Martin's approach:

And so to the description of Terror from the Air:

Product Description

According to Peter Sloterdijk, the twentieth century started on a specific day and place: April 22, 1915, at Ypres in Northern France. That day, the German army used a chlorine gas meant to exterminate indiscriminately. Until then, war, as described by Clausewitz and practiced by Napoleon, involved attacking the adversary's vital function first. Using poison gas signaled the passage from classical war to terrorism. This terror from the air inaugurated an era in which the main idea was no longer to target the enemy's body, but their environment. From then on, what would be attacked in wartime as well as in peacetime would be the very conditions necessary for life.

This kind of terrorism became the matrix of modern and postmodern war, from World War I's toxic gas to the Nazi Zyklon B used in Auschwitz, from the bombing of Dresden to the attack on the World Trade Center. Sloterdijk goes on to describe the offensive of modern aesthetics, aesthetic terrorism from Surrealism to Malevich—an "atmo-terrorism" in the arts that parallels the assault on environment that had originated in warfare.

Foreign Agents series
Distributed for Semiotext(e)

About the Author
Peter Sloterdijk (b. 1947) is one of the best known and widely read German intellectuals writing today. His 1983 publication of Critique of Cynical Reason (published in English in 1988) became the best-selling German book of philosophy since World War II. He became president of the State Academy of Design at the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe in 2001. He has been cohost of a discussion program, Der Philosophische Quartett (Philosophical Quartet) on German television since 2002.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Titicut Follies

Hopefully the posting will work this time, as I was amazed to discover that this notorious documentary has finally popped up on the Web.
If you get the "Forbidden" message, try here instead.

The Army Experience Center

Nick Turse will definitely have to publish a new edition of The Complex; it's almost impossible to keep up with the endo-colonisation of civilian life by military culture. I was stunned by this project, not least because its location in the Franklin Mills Mall, Philadelphia, almost brings full circle Virilio's theory of the "military entertainment complex". Indeed, his article on Aliens, which was published many years ago in Incorporations (edited by Kwitter and Crary), now seems even more prescient. Be sure to explore the official site, which really "brings it all back home".

“We’re not inflicting pain on these people…When people kill us they should be killed in greater numbers. I believe in killing people who try to hurt y

Hardly a very statesmanlike justification from President Clinton that is recorded for posterity in the history books. But with Obama now as President-elect, I've started to wonder if the media will start to ask any difficult questions about whether there will be any significant policy shifts with respect to Africom. I will be keeping a close eye on Khadija Sharife's blog as developments come to hand, as she has cannily identified Africom's chief purpose as "branding guns as roses". To this end, she cites Daniel Volman, the Director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC, and a specialist on U.S. military policy in Africa:
“The PR effort is designed to conceal the true purposes of AFRICOM which are primarily to secure resources, bolster the capabilities of allies and surrogates to repress internal political opposition, and act as proxies for the US (as Ethiopia is doing in Somalia for example), and counter the growing political and economic influence of China".
Such revelations complicate the ways we can legitimately think about the purposes of [alleged] humanitarian intervention. Not coincidentally, Somalia apparently has tremendous untapped [sic] potential with respect to natural resources (i.e. oil).
Here in Australia, the media made no undertaking to present this as an issue in the Presidential election, even though Green candidates and activists such as celebrity Danny Glover had actively campaigned against it.

For another extreme manifestation of strategic logic, it is worth looking at the history of Diego Garcia.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Nazi chic in Asia

I remember reading the story about the "Hong Kong Nazi Bar" on boing boing and elsewhere about 5 years ago, so I was interested to read about its appeal in some other parts of Asia. While it is true that Nazi chic is already familiar in the West, having featured in certain subcultures, notably punk, it appears that in Asia it is distinctive by virtue of a more mainstream appeal (e.g. it has featured in a department store, is used to sell cosmetics, and has even be celebrated in an educational setting). Although it is certainly important not to exaggerate the representative nature of these examples, this should not in principle prevent comparison with Mark Dery's excellent overview of Nazi chic, which was previously posted on this blog.
I'm also wondering if there are possible connections to thanatourism, in the sense that this commodity form might be able to percolate into other forms of consumption, such as fashion. This necessarily involves a substitution in the Asian context, given how references to the Third Reich do not entail any direct confrontation with the actual historical experience of fascism, at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army, thereby permitting the harboring of a transgressive [sic] appeal, or even mere novelty value. Of course, this is to say nothing regarding any residual appeal to subterranean ultranationalist groups.

"Superfree" rape club in Japan & Yoko Ono's "Rape"

This story is quite old by now, so evidently it had somehow passed me by. But given the footage of the accompanying gender studies class, I'm starting to wonder if any Japanese academics have published on this very disturbing phenomena. I can see possible connections to media studies "effects" type approaches as well, especially in light of the footage from the "Rapeman" anime featured in the report (which, incidentally, if memory serves me correctly, was the inspiration for the name Steve Albini chose for one of his groups once Big Black had dissolved).

By sheer coincidence I had just touched on this topic after reading the critique of Yoko Ono and John Lennon's short film Rape (1969) in Joan Hawkins' Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde , which is more concerned with the scopophilia of the cinematic apparatus. It is unclear to me though how a feminist film critic, even one generally receptive to Continental philosophy, would respond to a reading method such as this, which spends more time talking about Badiou's framework of the Truth-Event than the generative structure of patriarchy per se. However, given the brevity of this posting, I make no pretence to having unpacked the relevant stakes according to each theoretical position. In any case, here is the film in question:

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

VR (Virtual Reality Therapy)

Here is the accompanying piece [to the above clip] from The New Yorker.

"When it comes to graphics, less is often more. Therapeutic simulations need only be realistic enough to persuade us to play along. The more lifelike a simulation becomes, however, the more we notice its discrepancies with the real thing, says Ari Hollander, who designed the bus-bomb scenario. The goal in therapy is to re-create just enough details so that we engage in the believability, or "presence," of the virtual world, and allow patients to affix their own unique experiences.

The most compelling effects aren't necessarily visual. Researchers found back in the 1990s that very simple elements, such as the noise of a helicopter overhead or the sound of machine-gun fire, were enough to send a veteran several decades back in time. Since then, virtual reality has since been used to treat more benign conditions, such as phobias, or even how to prepare for a job interview. Overcoming a fear of flying is more cost-efficient in the virtual world than on the tarmac."

But before we start getting too carried away with Philip K Dick style "We Can Remember it for you Wholesale" futuristic scenarios, it is worth reading this sobering analysis:

Virtual Reality Exposure Treatment
High Priced Treatment or High Tech Failure?

By Captain Tom Bunn, MSW, CSW, LCSW

For twenty years, as an airline captain and licensed therapist, I have worked successfully with people seeking to overcome fear of flying.

When people ask me about the new Virtual Reality treatment for fear of flying, I am tempted to tell them it is fraudulent, but it is safer to say their claims are just grossly misleading. For example, an article in USA Today on August 18, 2000 states, "A new study has found the computer-based therapy . . . as effective as traditional therapy."

Why is this misleading? Consider what they call traditional therapy. "Those receiving the standard treatment went to an airport, sat on a plane and imagined the flying experience."

This is misleading because the "therapy" Virtual Reality is compared with is neither "traditional therapy" for fear of flying nor adequate treatment for treating fear of flying.

The traditional treatment for fear of flying was developed in the 1970s and made available to fearful fliers by Captain Truman Cummings, Dr. Albert Forgioni, The Fear of Flying Clinic, Carol Stauffer MSW and Captain Frank Petee. It included several hours of lecture on how flying works, how fear arises and how to control it. This was followed by exposure to a parked airliner, and finally an accompanied flight. The effectiveness of these programs in the 1970s far exceeded the results claimed by the new "high tech" treatment in 2000.

Subsequently, SOAR, the program I developed in the 1980s, produced still better results, as shown by research at the University of Tennessee. Further advancements have led to a nearly 100% success rate.

Larry Hodges, Ph.D, cofounder of Virtually Better Inc. states as follows: "Nearly all of the SE and VR patients flew within six months (80% of the VRET group and 90% of the SE group), . . . . " (VRET means Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy and SE means Standard Exposure).

More information and research on VRET:

Thus, by his own statistics, even the lame treatment used for comparison had half as many failures as Virtual Reality. When you consider that most people entering treatment can fly but experience great anxiety when doing it, an 80% "success rate" (success meaning how many later fly) may indicate no success at all.

This becomes more obvious in an article in the Psychiatric Times. Michael Kahan, M.D., of Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. states "The criteria for improvement was simply: did the patients fly?" Forty people entered treatment and thirty-one completed it. Following treatment, only twenty-one (68%) flew.

In an attempt to assess if the treatment had long term effects, only seven responded that they had flown, and some of those reported moderate anxiety.

This info is available at the Psychiatric Times web site at:

Seven out of 40 people is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good track record for a $1200.00 treatment.

The problem with the Virtual Reality approach is that people who suffer from fear of flying have such a vivid imagination that they easily create realistic images of impending disaster when flying. These images in their mind's eye are so real that the body reacts to the images as the body does to actual danger. Because the physical reactions that result are the same physical reactions one experiences in actual danger, it can become impossible for the person to separate feelings of danger from actual danger.

In addition, the feelings that result are so intense that the person may have no way to control them. On the ground, when one feels anxious, one naturally seeks to gain control of the situation so as to change it in a way that will alleviate anxiety. If that is not possible, escape is sought. In flight, neither control of the situation nor escape is available leaving the fearful flier no way to control his or her feelings.

The need for control or escape comes from feelings of anxiety. Since neither control nor escape is available, the problem can be addressed only by reducing the anxiety.

Adequate treatment to reduce the anxiety requires neutralization of the images the person already has in the mind. Additional frightening images presented in Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy may only add to the problem. VRET fails because, instead of neutralizing the images the person is already dealing with, it provides even more.

But I make no excuses for the soldier in the following clip. Did he have some inherently sadistic proclivities prior to his tour of duty in Iraq, or was his personality predominantly shaped upon his arrival?:

"Useless Eaters" & Synthetic Biology

Francis Galton, who coined the word "eugenics" in 1865, envisioned a system of artificial selection whereby society would permit people with "desirable" qualities to have children (positive eugenics), while individuals with "undesirable" traits would be prevented from having children (negative eugenics). For a thirty-year span, between 1900 and 1929, the eugenics movement captured the attention of America’s leading reformers, academicians, professionals, and political leaders, including industrialist John Kellogg, inventor Alexander Graham Bell (who advocated sterilization of the deaf and the dismantling of deaf people's culture), and women’s rights advocate Margaret Sanger. By the early 1930s, however, the climate that had been receptive to eugenics in America had broken down. Several factors led to the downfall of the American eugenics movement, including the Stock Market crash of 1929, scientific discoveries in the new field of genetics, and public mistrust of the restrictions on marriage and childrearing that selective breeding required. The rise of Nazism in the 1930s completely discredited the eugenics movement for the next four decades. Eugenics re-emerged as a scientific endeavor—and as a social issue—following the advent of biotechnology in the early 1970s, when bacterial DNA from two different species was combined by two researchers, Stanley Cohen of Stanford University and Herbert Boyer of the University of California. Although the Cohen-Boyer experiment involved rDNA technology, it demonstrated the possibility of direct gene manipulation, and scientists rapidly saw the potential use of the technique in human-gene therapy.
Human-gene therapy is a procedure in which defective (faulty) copies of a gene are replaced with non-defective (functional) copies. For example, Severe Combined Immuno-Deficiency syndrome (SCID) is a genetic disorder caused by mutations in a single gene, adenosine deaminase (ADA), which is on human chromosome 20. Individuals who possess two defective copies of this gene cannot make the protein adenosine deaminase; thus, they do not possess a functioning immune system. Gene therapy treatments for SCID involve putting non-defective copies of ADA into the DNA of an affected individual’s bone cells, allowing them to make adenosine deaminase. Gene therapy can either be used to treat individuals who already have a genetic disorder (somatic cell therapy), or to correct genes in sperm, eggs, or embryonic cells (germ-line therapy). Germ-line therapy gives scientists the ability to change an individual’s genetic makeup before they are born, or even conceived.
The treatment of highly deleterious genetic disorders does not create public anxiety about gene therapy. Cosmetic gene therapy, however, conjures up images of a new eugenics because it not only allows healthy individuals to change their physical appearance and/or behaviors through gene manipulation, but allows these changes to be passed down to future generations. Molecular biologists have already isolated the genes that code for many physical traits, such as skin color, baldness, and stature. In addition, some scientists claim to have found genes that code for complex behaviors, such as shyness and homosexuality. Although many of these arguments have been shown to be fallacious, popular press coverage has contributed to the growing public belief that behaviors are genetically determined. Even granting the dubious character of some of these more sweeping claims, it is almost certainly the case that within the next few decades our increasing knowledge of human genetics, combined with germ-line therapy, will enable us to produce custom-designed genetic individuals.

Inevitably, when the bioethical issues surrounding eugenics are discussed, one of the first images conjured up is of the blond-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned "Aryan race" as envisioned during the Nazi eugenics program (note Flash Player required to view Mark Mostert's site). The new eugenics, however, will encompass not only such physical characteristics as skin, eye, and hair color, but will potentially include genetic manipulation of behaviors and personality. Thus, anxiety over a new eugenics is predicated upon the belief that all human traits are genetically determined in the first place. Genetic determinism, which is also known as bio-determinism or genetic essentialism, is the belief that human behavior, personality, and physical appearance are determined exclusively by a person’s genetic makeup. Genetic determinism is a reductionist ideology in that it seeks to explain a complex whole (a human being) in terms of its component parts (individual genes). Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon Kamin, biologists and longtime critics of genetic determinism, summarize the basic ideology as follows:
Biological [genetic] determinists ask, in essence, Why are individuals as they are? Why do they do what they do? And they answer that human lives and actions are inevitable consequences of the biochemical properties of the cells that make up the individual; and these characteristics are in turn uniquely determined by the constituents of the genes possessed by each individual. Ultimately, all human behavior—hence all human society—is governed by a chain of determinants that runs from the gene to the individual to the sum of the behaviors of all individuals.
Considering that the goal of eugenics is to improve humanity through genetic manipulation, it is clear that a eugenics program cannot succeed unless genetic determinism is accepted as the true state of the world. Gene therapy will lead to a new eugenics only if society follows to some degree a genetic-determinist ideology.

But for this ideology to take hold, it would have to be a symptom of a very powerful logic of commodification. Some sense of what will be at stake is discernible from the following debate, in which Jim Thomas questions the assumption that a movement to "open source" will automatically provide the needed safeguard against corporate oligopolies and militarization. Thomas draws some much needed lessons from history to encourage greater public accountability.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

“What does it mean to be a featherless, two-legged, linguistically conscious creature born between urine and feces?"

Examined Life

I wish this would be your colour

It's not the red of the dying sun
the morning sheet's surprising stain
It's not the red of which we bleed
the red of cabernet sauvignon
a world of ruby all in vain
It's not that red, it's not that red
It's not that red, it's not that red

It's not as golden as zeus' famous shower
it doesn't not at all come from above
It's in the open but it doesn't get stolen
It's not that gold
It's not as golden as memory
Or the age of the same name
It's not that gold, it's not that gold
It's not that gold, it's not gold at all

I wish that would be your colour
I wish this would be your colour
I wish this would be your colour
your colour i wish

I wish this would be your colour
I wish this would be your colour
I wish this would be your colour
your colour i wish

It is as black as malevich's square
the cold furnace in which we stare
A high pitch on a future scale
It is a starless winter night's tale
It suits you well
It is a dead black, it is that black
It is that black, it is that black

I wish this would be your colour
I wish this would be your colour
I wish this would be your colour
I wish this would be your colour ....
your colour i wish

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