Why Debt is creeping into so many science fiction discussions

On Tor.com, author and reviewer Jo Walton has an insightful look at why so many science fiction readers and writers are discussing David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a book that is already a darling of the Occupy movement:

One of the problems with writing science fiction and fantasy is creating truly different societies. We tend to change things but keep other things at societal defaults. It’s really easy to see this in older SF, where we have moved on from those societal defaults and can thus laugh at seeing people in the future behaving like people in the fifties. But it’s very difficult to create genuinely innovative societies, and in genuinely different directions. As a British reader coming to SF there were a lot of things I thought were people’s amazing imagination that turned out to be normal American things and cultural defaults. And no matter how much research you do, it’s always easier in the anglosphere to find books and primary sources in English and about our own history and the history of people who have interacted with us. And both history and anthropology tend to be focused on one period, one place, so it’s possible to research a specific society you know you want to know about, but hard to find things that are about the range of options different societies have chosen.

What Debt does is to focus on a question of morality, first by framing the question, and then by examining how a really large number of human societies over a huge geographical and historical range have dealt with this issue, and how they have interacted with other people who have very different ideas about it. It’s a huge issue of the kind that shapes societies and cultures, so in reading it you encounter a whole lot of contrasting cultures. Graeber has some very interesting ideas about it, and lots of fascinating details, and lots of thought provoking connections.

For a more academic discussion of Debt among political scientists and economists, see this Crooked Timber seminar on the book, and the author's reply. I liked Debt, but was also frustrated by the amount of circling back and meandering the author engages in. That said, it was one of my more thought-provoking reads of 2011.

The Best Science Fiction Ideas in any Non-Fiction Ever: David Graeber’s Debt: The First Five Thousand Years

Skeptical take on the Green Revolution

CBC's long-form/big think radio program Ideas recently featured a lecture called "Feeding Ten Billion" from Raj Patel, an Africa development scholar formerly with the World Bank, and author of The Value of Nothing. Patel's perspective on global agriculture and social justice is incisive and contrarian. I've never heard anyone talk about the demerits of the "Green Revolution" in agriculture like this, and it was an eye-opener. A perfect hour-long listen for the weekend's chores. MP3 link

Egypt police detain, beat, sexually assault US-based journalist Mona Eltahawy; other journalists also targeted

[video link] US-based Egyptian blogger, speaker, and journalist Mona Eltahawy was released today after spending 12 hours detained by Egyptian security forces in Cairo. According to her tweets, she was arrested by riot police while observing the ongoing protests in Tahrir Square, where thousands of Egyptian citizens are calling for the military junta SCAF to be disbanded, and a representative, democratically-elected leadership to take their place.

While she was held, Mona managed to tweet from a fellow detainee's Blackberry that she had been beaten and was in prison. When she was released, Mona tweeted more details: she had been sexually and physically assaulted, and sustained a broken arm and a broken hand from beatings inside the interior ministry in Cairo, in the early hours of Thursday morning.

"The whole time I was thinking about article I would write," she writes, "Just you fuckers wait."

A number of journalists and well-known voices from Twitter have been detained in the last few days, including Egyptian-American documentary maker Jehane Noujaim, and Maged Butter, shown below (WARNING: graphic image):

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The dronecam revolution will be webcast: Interview with Tim Pool of "The Other 99"

Webcaster Tim Pool of “The Other 99.”

In recent weeks, one source of live news coverage for the Occupy Wall Street movement stood out above all others.

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Massive rally at UC Davis, some protesters carrying "pepper-spraying cop" meme-signs

Photo: Ramon Solis

Hard to estimate numbers, but by some accounts, well over 15,000 students and supporters are gathered at UC Davis for a rally and Occupy GA right now, following an incident Friday in which a police officer pepper-sprayed peaceful, seated student protesters at point blank range.

Here's a Twitter list to follow. Reporter Cory Golden from the Davis Enterprise is there, as is Doug Sovern from KCBS radio.

Above, a photograph by student journalist Ramon Solis, who has been tirelessly covering the events at UC Davis: a bouquet of carnations, bound together with #OWS tent-poles.

And below, again shot by Ramon just now: Occupy Lulz-themed signs carried by protesters, with image macros making fun of the grim scene just days ago at the very ground on which they're standing. Recursion overload.

You should follow Ramon, too.

Update: Katehi apologizes but doesn't resign.

Photo: Ramon Solis

Police officer pepper-sprays seated, non-violent students at UC Davis

[Video Link, by terrydatiger, and Video Link 2, by jamiehall1516].

At the University of California at Davis this afternoon, police tore down down the tents of students inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and arrested those who stood in their way.

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