From Europe: reflections and ruminations
Reflections, ruminations, musings and reactions regarding
art, culture, media, politics, science and travel
5:42 am - Mon, Jul 21, 2014
377 notes

The French have all kinds of worthwhile ideas on larger matters. This occurred to me recently when I was strolling through my museum-like neighborhood in central Paris, and realized there were — I kid you not — seven bookstores within a 10-minute walk of my apartment. Granted, I live in a bookish area. But still: Do the French know something about the book business that we Americans don’t?


France … has just unanimously passed a so-called anti-Amazon law, which says online sellers can’t offer free shipping on discounted books. (“It will be either cheese or dessert, not both at once,” a French commentator explained.) The new measure is part of France’s effort to promote “biblio-diversity” and help independent bookstores compete.


The French secret is deeply un-American: fixed book prices. Its 1981 “Lang law,” named after former Culture Minister Jack Lang, says that no seller can offer more than 5 percent off the cover price of new books. That means a book costs more or less the same wherever you buy it in France, even online. The Lang law was designed to make sure France continues to have lots of different books, publishers and booksellers.


What underlies France’s book laws isn’t just an economic position — it’s also a worldview. Quite simply, the French treat books as special. Some 70 percent of French people said they read at least one book last year; the average among French readers was 15 books. Readers say they trust books far more than any other medium, including newspapers and TV. The French government classifies books as an “essential good,” along with electricity, bread and water.

Amidst America’s Amazon-drama, NYT’s Pamela Druckerman reflects on what the book world can learn from the French.

Still, one has to wonder whether the solution to one monopoly (the commercial) can ever be another (the governmental), and whether that’s truly in the public interest – the “public,” of course, being first and foremost readers themselves. There’s something hypocritical about the proposition that the books are an “essential good” on par with electricity – what government would ever price-fix electricity and deny its citizen the most affordable electricity possible?

(via explore-blog)
5:40 am
544 notes
There is no final, satisfying way to balance our need to be known with our need to be alone.

So much wisdom in Joshua Rothman's beautiful essay on Virginia Woolf’s idea of privacy.

Pair with legendary psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on developing our capacity for “fertile solitude.” 

(via explore-blog)
10:56 am - Sat, Jul 19, 2014
253,814 notes


take no shit 2014

(Source: gatissed, via damnitdisney)

10:56 am
16,415 notes


demonize poor women for wanting to terminate pregnancy they can’t afford

demonize poor women for applying for government assistance to raise the child they didn’t want because they couldn’t afford it by referring to them as “welfare queens”


(via tiny-tree)

4:29 pm - Fri, Jul 18, 2014

"We don’t want you here": family members of fallen victims of Israel-Palestine conflict speak out

Over the last couple of weeks, fighting between Israel and Hamas has seen Israel hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza and Hamas launch nearly 2,000 rockets at Israel. There has been high profile deaths of children and now the launch of ground troops.

In the midst of the tragedy, an organization called Palestinian Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace and agency BBR Saatchi & Saatchi Israel have weighed in on the ongoing conflict. In the new PSA, Palestinians and Israelis repeat the seemingly inflammatory phrase “We don’t want you here.” In the end, though, it’s revealed to be a plea from people who have lost family members to the violence, for no one on either side of the conflict to join their ranks:

9:29 am
3,274 notes



Stunning Vine video of aurora borealis lights lighting up the Earth as Orion rises in the background as seen from the ISS.

Credit: NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman

A reminder of how beautiful our planet looks from the outside, indifferent to all of the unnecessary and artificial conflicts going on amidst a single species below…

(Source:, via shychemist)

2:44 pm - Thu, Jul 17, 2014
623 notes

I need one! The Cloud: An Interactive Thunderstorm in Your House (via Colossal).


I need one! The Cloud: An Interactive Thunderstorm in Your House (via Colossal).

1:25 pm
1 note

Russia will rely on destabilization to achieve its strategic ends in Ukraine

We have diverted our attention away from Ukraine in recent weeks due to the violence first in Iraq, then Gaza. Ukrainian forces have, meanwhile, seemed to gain the upper hand against pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country. No doubt: driving pro-Russian separatists from their stronghold in Slavyansk 10 days ago was undoubtedly a breakthrough for Ukraine. What seemed two months ago a ragtag, demoralized Ukrainian army has been reorganized, given at least basic kit and discovered the will to fight.

But this is not the endgame – or a pointer to an impending Ukrainian victory. As the Financial Times and Foreign Policy magazine … among others … have reported, unless the rebels who have fallen back to the eastern regional capitals of Lugansk and Donetsk quickly flee again, the costs of reconquering those cities, in civilian lives, and damage to housing, industry and infrastructure, could be devastating.

But the guy who will call the shots is Vladimir Putin. He is riding a wave of popularity as Russia’s leader after the annexation of Crimea in March. So Putin cannot afford a rout of the rebels that would appear a personal defeat, without achieving at least some of Russia’s broader, underlying goals in Ukraine. Top of that list: Ukraine will not join Nato, much slower EU integration, and/or a shift by Ukraine to a looser, federal structure that would give Russia continuing influence and a form of veto on Kiev’s absorption into Europe-Atlantic structures.

And I think that Obama’s and Europe’s announcement of more sanctions means little.

So his principal lever of pressure? Destabilizing eastern Ukraine. Keep the conflict simmering, produce thousands of refugees, wreck Ukraine’s industrial heartland. Sap Kiev’s ability to tackle the country’s wider economic and governance problems.

Put seems to have kept open the option of outright invasion of east Ukraine, but that is mere psychological warfare against Kiev. One suspects that Putin has concluded the potential costs of direct intervention … in body bags coming home to Russia, the economic burden of taking charge of eastern Ukraine … are dangerously high.

Instead, continue to infiltrate men and arms across the border, use its forces camped nearby as cover. The intelligence blogs report that dozens of Russian armored vehicles have crossed the border in recent days. Putin will continues to provide heavy weapons, other military equipment and financing.

And one blog reports:

"Russia may also attempt covert strikes against Ukrainian aircraft from within its own borders, creating at least a partial no-fly zone in eastern Ukraine, and undermining an important Ukrainian military advantage over the rebels. Kiev’s claim that a military transport plane on Monday was shot down by a Russian missile, though still unverified, could prove a first such instance."

Putin is really not interested in peace in eastern Ukraine. International talks with Moscow are pointless.

12:47 am
55 notes
The terrible tragedy of the present social era is not only that it is polluting the environment but also that it is simplifying natural ecocommunities, social relationships, and even the human psyche. The pulverization of the natural world is being followed by the pulverization of the social world and the psychological. In this sense, the conversion of soil into sand in agriculture can be said, in a metaphoric sense, to apply to society and to the human spirit. The greatest danger we face apart from nuclear immolation is the homogenization of the world by a market society and its objectification of all human relationships and experiences.
9:05 pm - Tue, Jul 8, 2014

Has the U.S. just grabbed a bargaining chip to get back Snowden?

Over the weekend we learned a few more details from a U.S. Secret Service announcement about the Russian man accused of being one of the world’s most prolific traffickers of stolen financial information, arrested in Guam.

Roman Valerevich Seleznev was arrested on charges that he hacked into cash register systems at retailers throughout the United States from 2009 to 2011. The Secret Service would not say whether he was tied to the recent attacks that affected the in-store cash register systems at Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels and other retailers last year.

The arrest of Seleznev provides a lens onto the shadowy world of Russian hackers, the often sophisticated programmers who seem to operate with impunity. As long ago as March 2011, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington State identified Seleznev, a Russian citizen, in a sealed indictment as “Track2,” an underground alias that is an apparent reference to the data that can be pulled off the magnetic strips of credit and debit cards.

That data includes enough basic information … like account numbers and expiration dates … to make fraudulent purchases.

The indictment accuses Seleznev of hacking into the cash register systems of businesses across the U.S. and of operating computer servers and international online forums in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere where such stolen data is traded in the digital underground.

It was not yet clear how the Secret Service arrested Seleznev, and the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington State declined to elaborate.

But the hacker community blogs are saying Seleznev was kidnapped by a special U.S. intelligence team in the Maldives, then subjected to extraordinary rendition to Guam; and there formally put under arrest. In Russian diplomatic circles there exists considerable speculation that the U.S. wishes to use Seleznev … whose father, Valery Seleznev, is a member of the Russian Parliament … as a bargaining chip to get their hands on Edward Snowden.

Valery Seleznev immediately came out with a statement of his son’s innocence and said “he would never have been on a US territory”, calling the whole thing a “provocation”.

Interesting side-note to all of this: the Russians have been pushing the need to arrive at some kind of consensus about the use of cyberweapons. Governments know that certain armed acts in certain circumstances constitute casus belli with other nations and so do not engage in them as they do not wish conflict to erupt. But because of the ambiguity with which cyber attacks can be conducted, those same governments happily indulge in such activities, ignoring the potentially disruptive effects of those.

Were the U.S. to drop a bomb on a power plant in Russia, such would be a clear act of war. Do we believe that if the U.S. we hacked into that plant and disabled it using cyber weapons that such would be anything less? At some point, unless we scale back, someone somewhere is going to do something cute, wind up killing people, and a shooting war is going to erupt.

Just last week, American security researchers accused the Russian government of systematically hacking into oil and gas companies in the United States and other Western nations.

As the New York Times and Financial Times have been reporting, the U.S. has treated computer security as a law enforcement matter. But Russia has pushed for an international treaty that would regulate the use of online weapons by military or espionage agencies. The United States has been hesitant to press for such a treaty … in large part because its own National Security Agency is behind some of the broadest espionage operations … but it has continued to press for closer law enforcement cooperation on cybercrime.

The U.S. may hold the upper hand in cyberspace now, but its economy and infrastructure are also more vulnerable to disruption through cyber attack than most other nations. It is in U.S. interest to curtail governmental activities that could heighten that risk, as it is in U.S. interest to hammer out agreements with other nations to cooperate on investigating and prosecuting such cyber crime of which Seleznev is accused.

“The mind that lies fallow but a single day sprouts up follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture.”
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