Saturday, January 14, 2006

Body Modification: Changing Bodies, Changing Selves

Following the great success of the first Body Modification conference in April 2003, and the requests to host another conference, the Body Modification: Mark II international conference was held at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, 21st - 23rd of April, 2005.
Once again, the aim of this conference was to explore the many and varied ways in which bodies are modified, selves are formed and transformed, and culturally specific knowledges and practices are mediated and transfigured. They included a wide range of interdisciplinary approaches to the question of what constitutes body modification, as well as performative and visual presentations.

Friday, January 13, 2006


From "In the epilogue to her biography of Mao Tse-tung, Jung Chang and her husband and cowriter Jon Halliday lament that, "Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital." For Chang, author of Wild Swans, this fact is an affront, not just to history, but to decency. Mao: The Unknown Story does not contain a formal dedication, but it is clear that Chang is writing to honor the millions of Chinese who fell victim to Mao's drive for absolute power in his 50-plus-year struggle to dominate China and the 20th-century political landscape. From the outset, Chang and Halliday are determined to shatter the "myth" of Mao, and they succeed with the force, not just of moral outrage, but of facts. The result is a book, more indictment than portrait, that paints Mao as a brutal totalitarian, a thug, who unleashed Stalin-like purges of millions with relish and without compunction, all for his personal gain. Through the authors' unrelenting lens even his would-be heroism as the leader of the Long March and father of modern China is exposed as reckless opportunism, subjecting his charges to months of unnecessary hardship in order to maintain the upper hand over his rival, Chang Kuo-tao, an experienced military commander.

Using exhaustive research in archives all over the world, Chang and Halliday recast Mao's ascent to power and subsequent grip on China in the context of global events. Sino-Soviet relations, the strengths and weakness of Chiang Kai-shek, the Japanese invasion of China, World War II, the Korean War, the disastrous Great Leap Forward, the vicious Cultural Revolution, the Vietnam War, Nixon's visit, and the constant, unending purges all, understandably, provide the backdrop for Mao's unscrupulous but invincible political maneuverings and betrayals. No one escaped unharmed. Rivals, families, peasants, city dwellers, soldiers, and lifelong allies such as Chou En-lai were all sacrificed to Mao's ambition and paranoia. Appropriately, the authors' consciences are appalled. Their biggest fear is that Mao will escape the global condemnation and infamy he deserves. Their astonishing book will go a long way to ensure that the pendulum of history will adjust itself accordingly. --Silvana Tropea"

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"There can now be no doubt that it is Stalin rather than Hitler who is the most alarming figure of the 20th century"

From "Archangel is a remarkably literate novel - and simultaneously a gripping thriller - that explores the lingering presence of Stalin amidst the corruption of modern-day Russia. Robert Harris (whose previous works include Fatherland) elevates his tale by choosing a narrator with an outsider's perspective but an insider's knowledge of Soviet history: Fluke Kelso, a middle-aged scholar of Soviet Communism with a special interest in the dark secrets of Joseph Stalin. For years, rumors have circulated about a notebook that the aging dictator kept in his final years. In a chance encounter in Moscow, Kelso meets Papu Rapava, a former NKVD guard who claims that he was at Stalin's deathbed and says that he assisted Politburo member Beria in hiding the black oilskin notebook just as Stalin was passing. Before Kelso can get more details, Rapava disappears, but the scholar is energized by the evidence Rapava has provided. As Kelso begins to pursue his historical prize, however, his investigation ensnares him in a living web of Stalinist terror and murder. It soon becomes clear that the notebook is the key to a doorway hiding many secrets, old and new.

Harris's understanding of Soviet and modern Russian is impressive. The novel rests on a seamless blend of fact and fiction that places real figures from Soviet history alongside Kelso and his fictional colleagues. Especially disturbing are the transcripts from interrogations and the excerpt from Kelso's lectures on Stalin; the documents provide chilling evidence to support Kelso's claim: "There can now be no doubt that it is Stalin rather than Hitler who is the most alarming figure of the twentieth century." - Patrick O'Kelley"

Study: Teens optimistic about innovation

The Lemelson-MIT Program, which focuses on encouraging young people to pursue innovation, commissioned a "invention index" in November, interviewing 500 teens and 1,030 adults nationwide. Teenagers have some seemingly high expectations about what technology might bring over the next decade, according to the new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Shannon Bell on the flaws of Transhumanism

From CIAC's Electronic Magazine:

"Shannon Bell - Scientific Methods are a discursive attempt to document and comprehend new life forms and death; documentation and discovery often equal control. The desire to contain the unknown is a desire premised on fear - the most common reaction to fear is an attempt to dominate, as we all know. Altruism, mutualism, humanism are the soft and slimy virtues that underpin liberal capitalism. Humanism has always been integrated into discourses of exploitation: colonialism, imperialism, neoimperialism, democracy, and of course, American democratization. One of the serious flaws in Transhumanism is the importation of liberal-human values to the biotechno enhancement of the human.

Posthumanism has a much stronger critical edge attempting to develop through enactment new understandings of the self and other, essence, consciousness, intelligence, reason, agency, intimacy, life, embodiment, identity and the body."


"Global warming has triggered epidemics that killed off dozens of amphibian species in tropical America, and is fomenting disease among other animals, researchers say. It's all part of an unpredictable spiral of warming-induced epidemics, they add - and there are signs that the phenomenon is starting to touch humans, who are far from immune to it. A study published in the Jan. 12 issue of the research journal Nature reported that global climate change created favorable conditions for a deadly fungus in Central and South America. That led to widespread frog extinctions in mountainous areas."

Read more at World Science.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Leon Kass still raising "concerns" and "questions"

I vainly hoped that Leon Kass would retire from the fight over human enhancement after being retired from the President's Council on Bioethics. But in this piece in the Wall Street Journal he's still beating the same old drum:
"consider the kind of choices people might make if their biological deadlines were to be extended by decades. How long would our de facto adolescence last? How much longer would we postpone childbearing, if many of us didn't abandon the business altogether? How would the balance of social energies tilt between the young and the old? Would it not lead (liberals, take note) to an increasingly conservative and perhaps reactionary society? Would not the bulk of human energies turn toward coarse and selfish attempts at self-preservation? 'There are very few people who've been around a long time who see anything with fresh eyes,' says Dr. Kass. 'We need to put our weight with the young.'"
As with most of Leon's much loved musings he leaves it others to figure out the policy implications of his "questions" and "concerns." What exactly does it mean to "put our weight with the young"? Does it mean grandma doesn't get antibiotics after 90? Does it mean no FDA approval of life enhancements that take us past 100? I suppose even the Wall Street Journal would balk at such a statist solution, so we are left to just ponder how yucky it would be if everybody got to live longer. Here's hoping that Ed Pellegrino, the new President's Council chair, will provide a little less amorphous as a sparring partner in the debate.

Monday, January 09, 2006


From Publishers Weekly: "A former "speedaholic," an award-winning Canadian journalist advocates living a slower, more measured existence, in virtually every area, a philosophy he defines as "balance." Carl Honore's personal wake-up call came when he began reading one-minute bedtime stories to his two-year-old son in order to save time. The absurdity of this practice dramatized how he, like most of the world, was caught up in a speed culture that probably began with the Industrial Revolution, was spurred by urbanization and increased dramatically with 20th-century advances in technology. The author explores, in convincing and skillful prose, a quiet revolution known as "the slow movement," which is attempting to integrate the advances of the information age into a lifestyle that is marked by an "inner slowness" that gives more depth to relationships with others and with oneself. Although there is no official movement, Honore credits Carol Petrini, an Italian culinary writer and founder of the slow food movement in Italy, with spearheading the trend to using fresh local foods, grown with sustainable farming techniques that are consumed in a leisurely manner with good company. The author also explores other slow movements, such as the practice of Tantric sex (mindful sexual union as a road to enlightenment), complementary and alternative medicine, new urbanism and the importance of leisure activities like knitting, painting and music. For the overprogrammed and stressed, slow and steady may win the race.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Human Factor

From "Technology innovation is progressing so quickly that we have fallen behind our ability to manage it. Our world is filled with objects that invite human error - from VCRs to stoves to hospitals, airplane cockpits, and nuclear power plants. Problems-some potentially catastrophic-continuously arise when designs are developed without human nature in mind. What we really need, argues Kim Vicente, is technology that works for people. In this incessantly readable, groundbreaking work, Vicente makes vividly clear how we can bridge the widening gap between people and technology. He investigates every level of human activity--from simple matters such as our hand-eye coordination to complex human systems such as government regulatory agencies, and why businesses would benefit from making consumer goods easier to use. He shows us why we all have a vital stake in reforming the aviation industry, the health industry, and the way we live day-to-day with technology. As accessible and entertaining as it is provocative, The Human Factor is certain to create much debate for years to come."