The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'contrarianism'
In the US Right, repudiating The 1960s and its wave of social upheavals and looking to either 1950s America or the Victorian Era is so yesterday; the new thing is repudiating the Enlightenment and looking to the Middle Ages as a golden age of civic and private virtue, free of the heresies of secularism and egalitarianism, or so claim William S. Lind and William S. Piper:
Not surprisingly, after three centuries of “Enlightened” propaganda, almost everything modern people think they know about the Middle Ages is wrong. Medieval society not only represents the nearest man has come to building a Christian society, it was also successful in secular terms. Living standards rose, and with them population. That was true for all classes, not just the nobles. Monarchs were far from absolute—royal absolutism was in fact the latest thing in 18th-century fashion, a system for promoting rational efficiency—and subjects had extensive rights. Unlike the abstract Rights of Man, as practiced during the Jacobins’ Reign of Terror, Medieval rights were specific and real, established by precedent.
The alternate narrative’s view of what followed is selective. The Renaissance brought advances the High Middle Ages would have welcomed, including Christian humanism and the recovery of many texts from the classical world. But it also laid the basis for secular humanism, a prideful and subversive force that continues to do great damage to societies and souls alike. The Protestant Reformation pointed to some genuine abuses in the Church and also renewed the importance of Scripture. But the shattering of Christendom, the rise of an unsound doctrine of sola Scriptura, and the loss of the sacraments in much Christian worship were too high a price.The Enlightenment didn't immediately bring about the collapse of the virtuous old order, but merely weakened it and set the powderkeg, which exploded at the outbreak of World War 1:
As recently as the summer of 1914, less than a century ago, the world restored in 1814 was still recognizable. Kaisers, tsars, and kings reigned. The goodness and rightness of social classes, each with its respective duties, was acknowledged by all but Marxists. The Christian religion, if not universally believed, was generally respected. Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of all values,” in which the old virtues become sins and the old sins virtues, was regarded as the raving of a syphilitic madman.Then, the centuries-old, divinely-ordained system of monarchies fell, and the world lurched sharply towards the left, forever tainted by the original sin of Cultural Marxism (a marvellous catch-all which encompasses anything from women's rights to sagging jeans and, from what I gather, generally translates to "anything I, as a self-identified Conservative, object to"), leading directly to our present fallen world of rock'n'roll, drive-through abortion clinics and rampant Sabbath-breaking.
However, according to Lind and Piper, it need not have happened this way; had the central powers won, a balance of power would have been restored, the great monarchies shored up, the spectre of Bolshevism headed off, and the world could have shifted equally sharply to the right, and to recovering the lost virtues of the mediaeval world:
In this world, Professor Mayer’s spectrum shift to the left would never have happened. Conservative Christian monarchies would have triumphed. A spectrum shift to the right, while not inevitable, was possible; a defeated French republic might have been replaced with a monarchy. (Le Figaro: “The Estates General, deadlocked among the Legitimist, Orleanist, and Bonapartist candidates, today offered the throne of France to Prince Louis Napoleon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha…”) It is perhaps too much to hope that the 20th century’s grimmest reaper, ideology, would have found itself in history’s wastebasket. But it would have lost to its oldest opponent, legitimism, and lost badly. It might have been sufficiently weakened to give Europe and the world a century of relative peace, like that following the settlement of 1814.
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there have been predictable calls for nuclear power to be phased out, now. (For example, the German government, which for all its strengths seems to be more amenable to woolly thinking than most in Europe (they also fund homeopathy, for example), has announced that it is cancelling plans to refurbish nuclear plants.) In contrast, George Monbiot (a journalist known for his solid leftist credentials and strident support of environmental causes) writes that the way the Fukushima disaster unfolded reconsider his opposition to nuclear power:
A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.
Some greens have wildly exaggerated the dangers of radioactive pollution. For a clearer view, look at the graphic published by xkcd.com. It shows that the average total dose from the Three Mile Island disaster for someone living within 10 miles of the plant was one 625th of the maximum yearly amount permitted for US radiation workers. This, in turn, is half of the lowest one-year dose clearly linked to an increased cancer risk, which, in its turn, is one 80th of an invariably fatal exposure. I'm not proposing complacency here. I am proposing perspective.Once one gets over the innately human emotional bias of assigning greater weight to spectacular events (for example, people intuitively consider flying to be more dangerous than driving, because, despite the number of fatalities from road accidents being orders of magnitude higher than from air crashes, the latter are far more spectacular and newsworthy), Monbiot argues, nuclear (at least with modern, passively cooled reactors immune to the sorts of meltdowns that are possible with 1970s-vintage reactors like Fukushima) are the lesser evil compared to fossil fuels, in terms of the environmental impact of generating electricity. Meanwhile, renewables come with their own problems:
At high latitudes like ours, most small-scale ambient power production is a dead loss. Generating solar power in the UK involves a spectacular waste of scarce resources. It's hopelessly inefficient and poorly matched to the pattern of demand. Wind power in populated areas is largely worthless. This is partly because we have built our settlements in sheltered places; partly because turbulence caused by the buildings interferes with the airflow and chews up the mechanism. Micro-hydropower might work for a farmhouse in Wales, but it's not much use in Birmingham.
And how do we drive our textile mills, brick kilns, blast furnaces and electric railways – not to mention advanced industrial processes? Rooftop solar panels? The moment you consider the demands of the whole economy is the moment at which you fall out of love with local energy production. A national (or, better still, international) grid is the essential prerequisite for a largely renewable energy supply.And as for deep-green pipe-dreams of getting rid of electricity altogether and going back to a bucolic agrarian lifestyle, the problem with this is that the ecological footprint of going without electricity would be far more destructive than that of our current infrastructure:
The damming and weiring of British rivers for watermills was small-scale, renewable, picturesque and devastating. By blocking the rivers and silting up the spawning beds, they helped bring to an end the gigantic runs of migratory fish that were once among our great natural spectacles and which fed much of Britain – wiping out sturgeon, lampreys and shad, as well as most sea trout and salmon.
Before coal became widely available, wood was used not just for heating homes but also for industrial processes: if half the land surface of Britain had been covered with woodland, Wrigley shows, we could have made 1.25m tonnes of bar iron a year (a fraction of current consumption) and nothing else. Even with a much lower population than today's, manufactured goods in the land-based economy were the preserve of the elite. Deep green energy production – decentralised, based on the products of the land – is far more damaging to humanity than nuclear meltdown.So, short of advocating human extinction for ecological reasons, the only option is technological progress; of improving the technologies of energy generation to make it more efficient. And, in the foreseeable future, this will include either nuclear power or fossil fuels.
A Russian author has written a retelling of Lord of the Rings from a different angle. Kiril Yeskov's The Last Ringbearer specifically repudiates Tolkien's oft-noted agrarian romanticism; in it, Sauron and the land of Mordor represent progress and rationalism, and are destroyed in a war of aggression by Gandalf and his lackeys, reinforcing a backward, feudal order in thrall to superstition and hereditary privilege:
In Yeskov's retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science "destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!" He's in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become "masters of the world," and turn Middle-earth into a "bad copy" of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron's citadel, is, by contrast, described as "that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic."
Because Gandalf refers to Mordor as the "Evil Empire" and is accused of crafting a "Final Solution to the Mordorian problem" by rival wizard Saruman, he obviously serves as an avatar for Russia's 20th-century foes. But the juxtaposition of the willfully feudal and backward "West," happy with "picking lice in its log 'castles'" while Mordor cultivates learning and embraces change, also recalls the clash between Europe in the early Middle Ages and the more sophisticated and learned Muslim empires to the east and south. Sauron passes a "universal literacy law," while the shield maiden Eowyn has been raised illiterate, "like most of Rohan's elite" -- good guys Tolkien based on his beloved Anglo-Saxons.While Yeskov wrote The Last Ringbearer in 1999, an English-language translation has just been made available here.
Satoshi Kanazawa, evolutionary psychology researcher at the London School of Economics, has published a list of ten controversial assertions about human nature; they vary from well-trodden ones (men being naturally sexually promiscuous/drawn to younger partners and such; there are several points drawn from the asymmetry of sexual selection) to more contentious ones; Kanazawa contends that most suicide bombers are Muslims because polygyny, and the sexual frustration of a society where powerful men monopolise the pool of women, serves as powerful motivation, which sounds a bit reductionistic, and would suggest that suicide bombers would predominantly be of low status or prospects, which has not been the case. Meanwhile, liberals are more intelligent than conservatives (as measured by IQ scores) because conservatism is a no-brainer:
"The ability to think and reason endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions. As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognise and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles," Dr Kanazawa said.
Humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends. Being liberal and caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers is evolutionarily novel. So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.Also, both creativity and criminality have a common basis in costly peacock-tail behaviour:
The tendency to commit crimes peaks in adolescence and then rapidly declines. But this curve is not limited to crime – it is also evident in every quantifiable human behaviour that is seen by potential mates and costly (not affordable by all sexual competitors). In the competition for mates men may act violently or they may express their competitiveness through their creative activities.
The story usually told about British brewing goes something like this: since time immemorial, Britain has had a fine tradition of brewing rich, foamy ales, in shades from amber to nut-brown. Then someone invented lager, which was cheap and convenient, and the undiscerning masses abandoned the venerable traditions of old in droves, instead choosing to down pints of ice-cold Foster's and Carling, and soon the "pint of mild" all but disappeared. As would English ale have altogether, were it not for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a sort of Village Green Preservation Society of beer comprised largely of paunchy, hirsute middle-aged men in handkerchief hats, who have so far successfully managed to preserve the tradition, coining the term "Real Ale", and expelling the serpent of unwelcome innovation, such as pressurised kegs, from the Edenic garden that is the British pub. The subtext here being that any use of technologies more recent than a few centuries ago is somehow cheating, and the slippery slope to forgetting Britain's fine heritage and gormlessly pouring pints of bland, gaseous lager down one's gob like some kind of benighted colonial.
Now, however, a new generation of British craft brewers is challenging the CAMRA orthodoxy, and its claim to ownership of proper beer in Britain:
The Scotsman believes Camra holds back innovation in the UK; he takes his inspiration from the US, where a wildly innovative new breed of brewers have revolutionised American beer.
Watt prefers to see his beers served from a keg than a cask, an approach that brings him into conflict with many of the craft brewers who have sprung up across the UK in recent years. "We want to get beyond the people who currently drink good beers in the UK," he explains. "We want to convert fizzy yellow lager drinkers into craft beer aficionados. The easiest way to do that is with keg – if you give them a cask ale, it's so alien, it's much warmer and it doesn't have the nice mouth feel. Keg is much better for the beers we produce."More power to them; in the USA and Australia, where traditions are less entrenched, there is a lot of mass-market swill, but also a lot of superb craft breweries. Perhaps, in adopting the idea of Real Ale as the sole bulwark against homogeneous corporate lager, Britain is erring too much on the side of conservatism.
Swiss typographer Bruno Maag has nothing kind to say about Helvetica; the supposed apotheosis of High Modernism and the Swiss/International Style is, in his opinion, a greatly inferior typeface promoted to dominance by a powerful marketing machine over the far superior Univers, and raved about by the clueless (and not only that, but typically clueless Britons and Americans) who bought the gimmick that it is somehow an authentic example of Swiss Modernist design:
What galled me most in the movie [Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica] was when Massimo Vignelli said that Helvetica was a Modernist typeface – No! No! Helvetica is anything but Modernist, Clearly it has its roots in Akzidenz Grotesk and that was designed in 1899, which is Victorian as far as I am concerned. Akzidenz is a fantastic font but it’s not Modernist, it’s got a really antique feel about it, which again shows that Max Miedinger [Helvetica’s designer] didn't have a clue about type design. He was the salesman at [foundry] Haas’sche Schriftgießerei for Christ’s sake.This is reminiscent of the criticisms of Arial, that Helvetica knockoff used by people who aren't into fonts but have a Windows PC and want to make something look modern and/or clean. While it's universally acknowledged that Arial is a bastardisation of Monotype Grotesque shoehorned into Helvetica-like spacings, and thus not an authentic example of the High Modernist typography it gets mistaken for, the claim that Helvetica is not authentically Modernist is bound to set the cat among the pigeons more; it's not that long since Helvetica's 50th anniversary, which coincided with commemorative books, hagiographic articles and, of course, Gary Hustwit's documentary, which conspired to beatify the sans-serif. It does make some sense, though; I've seen claims that Helvetica's roots (and those of Akzidenz Grotesk and the grotesks which preceded it) lie in 19th-century hand-painted shop signage more than in clean Modernism.
Bruno Maag so detests Helvetica that he created a Modernist typeface, Aktiv Grotesk, to replace it. It looks about halfway between Helvetica and Univers:
(via Daring Fireball)
Following the death of J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher In The Rye, the seminal formulation of mid-20th-century teen angst, the Observer's Barbara Ellen asks whether Holden Caulfield's angst, alienation and stance against "phonies" has any relevance to today's affluent, materialistic teenagers:
Watch Skins, which has a new series on E4, but also take an honest look at your own teenager/s. Compare them with your teen self. Better dressed (check), more affluent (check), perma-partying (check), healthier, better looking, better skin (check, check, check!). There have been times when I've stared at my teenage daughter and thought: "What happened to acne?" Not only acne, but having to wear horrible clothes, because you didn't get an allowance, or sitting in cold bus shelters for hours with your friends because there was nowhere else to go.
They were humbling mechanisms of youth, so boring at the time, but also so important because they gave you an incentive to get a life. All gone. A particular breed of metro-teens already has a nice life, thank you very much. In fact, many of them seem to have the lives of salaried twentysomethings. Alienated? Only if being alienated is being infatuated with one's youth, to the point of having no interest in previous generations. Do a Holden and resent and judge "phoney adults"? You'd be lucky with this lot. They barely notice we're alive.
One realises that things are more complex than that – recessions, vanishing university places, the feeling that this relentless selfdom is doubtless a mere carapace with myriad complexities bubbling beneath. Besides, I like the carapace – that merit-less self-glorification, the stubborn refusal to glance out of their yoof bubble to see how the rest of us may be doing. At least they're not wasting their glory years picking their noses to the Smiths. However, this doesn't alter the fact that the dislocated, angst-ridden "blah" of Catcher is no longer a good fit for modern teens. The defining work for this generation would more likely be the Argos catalogue.Ellen concludes with the claim that the truly lost generation aren't the hoody-wearing, Vice-reading, iPhone-toting party kids but their broke, exhausted parents, though, alas, there is no market for a book about middle-agers raging against "phoney teens".
Two New Zealand academics who specialise in sustainability claim that keeping pets has a catastrophic carbon footprint. In a book titled Time To Eat The Dog?, Professors Brenda and Robert Vale claim that a medium-sized dog has the carbon footprint of two SUVs driven 10,000km in a year, a cat is slightly less environmentally damaging than a Volkswagen Golf, and two hamsters are equivalent to a plasma TV (though, alas, wouldn't generate nearly enough electricity to actually power one).
"If you have a German shepherd or similar-sized dog, for example, its impact every year is exactly the same as driving a large car around," Brenda Vale said.The sustainable thing, the Vales claim, would be to only keep animals you intend to eat:
"The title of the book is a little bit of a shock tactic, I think, but though we are not advocating eating anyone's pet cat or dog there is certainly some truth in the fact that if we have edible pets like chickens for their eggs and meat, and rabbits and pigs, we will be compensating for the impact of other things on our environment."
Professor Vale took her message to Wellington City Council last year, but councillors said banning traditional pets or letting people keep food animals in their homes were not acceptable options.
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics, have a sequel coming out next week; titled, naturally, Superfreakonomics, it looks like the same winning blend of insights, economic detective stories and at times glib reductionism:
Thus in the new book we learn, for example, that more deaths are caused per mile, in America at least, from drunk walking than drunk driving – so when you drive to a party and get plastered, it's not necessarily a wise decision to leave the car and walk home. We discover that female emergency-room doctors are slightly better at keeping their patients alive than male ones, and that Hezbollah suicide bombers, far from being the poorest of the poor, with nothing to lose, tend to be wealthier and better-educated than the average Lebanese person. There's an artful takedown of the fashionable "locavore" movement: transportation, Levitt and Dubner argue, accounts for such a small part of food's carbon footprint that buying all-local can make matters worse, because small farms use energy less efficiently than big ones.
Their mission to explain the world through numbers alone can give Superfreakonomics an oddly detached feel: major social issues are addressed, then instantly reduced to a statistical parlour game. An interesting section on the transactions between pimps and prostitutes, for example, shows that working with a pimp confers great financial advantages: they're much more helpful to prostitutes than estate agents are to house-sellers, for a start. But it neglects to consider the notion that there might, just possibly, be some negative aspects to the pimp-prostitute relationship. (The authors, apparently aware that they have made it look as if selling sex is the business plan to beat all others, add a helpful clarification: "Certainly, prostitution isn't for every woman.")
Make Hypocrisy History, a charity for nihilistic greedheads who like being seen as superior. Instead of giving money to charities which will undoubtedly misallocate it or to beggars who will use it to buy drugs or guns, €100 will buy you a plastic bracelet imprinted with a simple diamond logo, whose design says "my bracelet costs as much as your iPod". All proceeds go to the designer of the campaign, who will use them as he sees fit. (Check out the FAQ.)
(via David Gerard)
Every so often, one reads horror stories about how technology is destroying our ability to write: about kids robbed of grammatical ability by text messaging, or PowerPoint presentations eroding the ability to string sentences together. . Now, a professor of writing claims the opposite: thanks to the internet, we are entering a golden age of literacy. According to Professor Andrea Lunsford of Stanford University, thanks to the internet, email, blogs, forums and instant messaging, people write more than in living memory, and consequently, more people than ever have the sorts of highly developed and practiced writing skills that previously were the domain of an elite cadre of professional wordsmiths:
Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.
But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis—from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word videogame walkthroughs—has given them a chance to write enormously long and complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others.
Melbourne music critic Andy Hazel takes apart The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band:
Ah. "The best". According to most modern rock historians this is the greatest album ever released (give or take the odd Pet Sounds, Dark Side Of The Moon, or, if last year's BBC poll is to be believed, Oasis's Definitely Maybe). Genre-redefining, archetypal, seminal, analysed to death and hyped to maniacal lengths by fans and writers; anybody who wonders where modern rock begins is told to start here. Sgt. Peppers has been long-heralded as the last example of the band working like a team, as the pinnacle of The Beatles' musical talents, song-writing abilities and the last example of unclouded communication between the members. It's the supreme model of analogue recording by pioneering producer / genius / 5th member George Martin and an album still mined by bands claiming to be representative of today's youth - if you want to be a musical success, start studying here. This is it, the first and best 'concept album' and the greatest collection of songs ever committed to vinyl or etched into disc, end of story.
This overblown testament to pomposity and slackly-edited grandiosity is a mockery of music and self-indulgence almost without exception. With George Martin at your side, a record label kowtowing to any whim, tens of millions of people agreeing with every grunt and suggestion you make and Abbey Road at your disposal, how could you blow it? Even The Beatles themselves realised how far up their own arses they had crawled by going back to basics for their following, untitled and infinitely superior album (later called The White Album). Take, for example, the ridiculously egotistical cover in which they place themselves amongst and ahead of Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Marlon Brando in some visual assessment of the 20th Century they had to be talked into doing (McCartney preferring an acid-drenched picture by Dutch art collective The Fool). It wasn't for nothing that one of their manager's last requests was "brown paper bags for Sergeant Peppers".Hazel goes on and builds up a formidable list of charges against Sgt. Pepper's: from the hubris of the album's cover to the unenlightenedly misogynistic way women are objectified where they are actually visible, though coming back to the insubstantial, drug-addledly vacuous nature of the "innovation" on the album, and The Beatles' (and their label's) complicity in ushering in a leaden age of bloated, self-indulgent pomp that would only end almost a decade later, when the Sex Pistols poured petrol on the whole thing and, with a sneer, threw a lighted match:
While it's true the Beatles couldn't be blamed for who followed through the door they opened, they can be seen as the instigators of record companies handing over huge amounts of money to artists and (more often than not) managers using arguments along the lines of "well the Beatles needed 129 days and 10 times the usual budget to make a number one record, so do we." The nadir of 1970s self-indulgence was, in fact, a misguided reinterpretation of this album in film and soundtrack form featuring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and, mysteriously, George Martin a debacle that was deservedly, an unmitigated flop.
The Guardian fires off a robust rhodomontade at the phenomenon of knitting as a staple of alternative culture.
We've gone from screaming for anarchy, rocking against racism, storming the US Embassy and picketing recruiting offices, tuning in and dropping out and rutting like pigs on Viagra to taking up the favourite hobby of senile old grannies everywhere and declaring it radical. Which was hilarious for about five seconds about five years ago.
Nonetheless, the truth must be stated. Germaine Greer didn't articulate her disgust with women's oppression by knitting a lavender and yellow toilet-roll holder. Dr Martin Luther King Jr didn't say: "I have a dream ... set of place mats that I crocheted using a pattern I got from a magazine." Jimi Hendrix didn't take to the stage at Woodstock wearing a nice orange and puce cardigan (with a reindeer on it) that he made using a job-lot of wool he got at a jumble sale. And Sid Vicious didn't crotchet his own stupid mock-Tibetan hippy-dippy ear-flapped bobble hats. And neither should you. If you need a hobby, take up spitting.They have a point, if one regards punk-as-macho-destructive-nihilism and ignores the DIY aspect of punk and post-punk alternative cultures. (Wasn't it Lydia Lunch who said that the problem with punk rock is the "rock" thing, i.e., that beneath the obvious stylistic novelty, it's still the same regressively macho alpha-male proving-ground as the greaser rock of two decades earlier?)
The Graun takes Woody Allen to task for being not as good as everyone has been led to believe.
To those of us who have watched Allen's two-decade decline into that cataleptic Eric Claptonesque state where an artist is revered as a god, but not by anyone who originally worshipped in his church, Allen's Grand Tour of Europe is baffling. I have seen Match Point three times now and simply cannot keep a straight face during Allen's perplexing and in many ways offensive attempt to make a Mike Leigh movie. The film is ostensibly about class: a penniless Irish ex-tennis star (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is determined to rise above his station by reading Dostoyevsky, attending La Traviata and Damien Hirst exhibits and marrying Emily Mortimer.
Unfortunately, Allen gets it all wrong: when you shoot a Mike Leigh movie, you aren't supposed to make Mummy and Papa and their grouse-shooting twit progeny the heroes. And when you repeatedly show Mummy and Papa and Twitty and Tweedledum at Covent Garden going into raptures over Verdi, you can't then have Mortimer salivating at the prospect of attending Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White. It makes you look like an idiot. Here, as in so many other Allen films, art, music and literature serve a phony, ornamental function; you never really believe that any of his characters actually enjoy abstract art or have read Aristophanes. It's just an excuse for the college drop-out Allen to show off. "Look, Mom! I know who Modigliani is! See, I can pronounce the word 'Proust'." Match Point is like a dozen other Woody Allen movies: Low-Fat High Culture, Bergman for Beginners.The article (by an American commentator, who points out that the perpetuation of Allen's career is one thing Europe, not America, must take the blame for) points to Allen's habit of casting himself alongside attractive young actresses (though, to his credit, he has given up on putting himself in love scenes with them) and, noting that Allen seems to have moved on from London to Barcelona after his last two London flicks (the most recent being a gangster/geezer criminalogue titled Cassandra's Dream; no, I haven't heard of it either) flopped, speculates on where he'll go after he wears out his welcome with the Spanish:
I can see a Zagreb-based Woody Allen film where the director plays a washed-up Serb stand-up comic whose career is suddenly revived by meeting a perky Bosnian-American exchange student played by Thandie Newton. I can see a Polish Woody Allen film about a washed-up klezmer player whose career is revived by a chance encounter with a Santa Cruz forensic scientist (Tina Fey) investigating Chopin's suspicious death. I can see a Macedonian film about a social-climbing rag merchant who keeps getting visits from a ghost who claims to be Alexander the Great, but is actually a delusional Second Avenue deli counter man named Herbie Schlegel.
I can see movies with names like Fulvio's Inamorata, Anne-Laure et Ses Tantes Amusantes, The Caper Was in Copenhagen, the Kapers in Kiev and Trust Me, Mahmoud, I Can Get It for You Wholesale! I can see the sultry, maladroit, pointless Johansson cast as Mata Hari, Marlene Dietrich, the Empress Dowager, Helen of Troy, Judy Garland and Boudica's long-lost twin sister, Vicki. I can see Allen casting himself opposite Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Audrey Tautou and three dozen as-yet unborn children.
As reported elsewhwere, Bruce Schneier, the Chuck Norris of computer security, leaves his home wireless network open:
To me, it's basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea. But to some observers, it's both wrong and dangerous.
I can count five open wireless networks in coffee shops within a mile of my house, and any potential spammer is far more likely to sit in a warm room with a cup of coffee and a scone than in a cold car outside my house. And yes, if someone did commit a crime using my network the police might visit, but what better defense is there than the fact that I have an open wireless network? If I enabled wireless security on my network and someone hacked it, I would have a far harder time proving my innocence.
I'm also unmoved by those who say I'm putting my own data at risk, because hackers might park in front of my house, log on to my open network and eavesdrop on my internet traffic or break into my computers. This is true, but my computers are much more at risk when I use them on wireless networks in airports, coffee shops and other public places. If I configure my computer to be secure regardless of the network it's on, then it simply doesn't matt
BBC Newsnight's Ethical Man, Justin Rowlatt, claims that the Christmas tradition of gift-giving, in its present consumeristic incarnation, is exacting a ruinous ecological cost in carbon emissions:
The real problem is that giving presents is an inherently inefficient activity. It means guessing what someone else may want or need. Every now and then you'll buy the perfect shirt but more often than not the ornament or tie or garden thermometer will end up in the attic or more likely in a landfill site and all the carbon that went into making it is completely wasted.
A few decades ago you probably needed the socks that your mum gave you or the saucepan she was given by her Aunt. These days it is different. Consumer goods are so cheap and plentiful that even people on very low incomes have no shortage of stuff.
Indeed, if you need proof of how corrupt our present giving culture has become look no further than the "gift" shops that have colonised every high street. You know the ones; they sell things no-one wants like scented candles, little vases and foot massage kits.Perhaps it's time for a carbon-correct rewriting of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which starts off with Scrooge as a profligate consumerist, loading his SUV up with loads of chintzy, useless plastic tat, with the intention of wrapping it up and giving it copiously to everyone he knows, as if in the throes of some seasonal lunacy. He then would be visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who would show him the ecological and ethical consequences of his entry into the "Christmas spirit" (child slaves making toys in some hellish sweatshop in Asia, last year's presents all discarded and crushed under landfill, leaching toxins into the water table, and the ecological consequences for the world in a few decades if people keep doing this). Chastened, Scrooge mends his ways, and from now on, each of his nearest and dearest gets a £5 note and an Oxfam goat for a village in Africa.
Rowlatt points out that giving cash would be much more efficient and less likely to result in carbon emissions being generated for no good use, though cash is considered somewhat crass; in fact, anything efficient or utilitarian is considered improper (take, for example, how socks (something people all wear) have become a byword for lousy Christmas presents):
I've never understood why giving money is considered bad form. Wasn't that five pound note folded into Granny's card the very best present of all? You could use it to buy something you actually wanted. Not only that, cash is completely carbon free (until you buy something, of course).Perhaps, if we want to make the giving of efficient gifts (i.e., cash) acceptable, we need a special ceremonial form of cash which is not used in day-to-day transactions. This would be legal tender, much like normal cash, though would look different, and people would be socially discouraged from using it for mundane uses such as buying groceries. (A parallel, ceremonial form of legal tender isn't as far-fetched as it sounds; Britain already has one, though one that's used in giving alms to the poor.)
The Guardian asks various musicians to nominate classic albums which are really rubbish:
Nirvana, Nevermind (nominated by Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips):
If you think you're going to hear an utterly original, powerful and freaky record when you put on Nevermind, as a young kid might, Christ you're going to be disappointed. You're going to think, "Who is this band that sounds just like Nickelback? What are these drug addicts going on about?"
The Strokes, Is This It (nominated by Ian Williams of Battles)
The Strokes were just rich kids from uptown New York; the children of the heads of supermodel agencies who formed a rock band and thought they deserved respect because of that. Suddenly the downtown, older form of punk rock got co-opted by the system. If ever there was a point where Gucci and rebellion were married together, it was right there. The Strokes have, basically, been responsible for five or six years of a new form of hair metal, in the guise of something more tasteful. Their music is post-9/11 party music because it came out that week and everybody wanted to dance. They're seen as the rebirth of rock in the UK - but it's a very conservative, old-fashioned idea of rock for the 21st century. As for their punk credentials, I'm not going to say anyone's more authentic than anyone else ... But the Strokes are the new Duran Duran; the new decadence for the new millennium.
It all flags up that the Velvet Underground were just part of Warhol's circus, his Factory; just another product. Once you start thinking about the Velvets being part of that, the notion of them waiting around for the man is ludicrous. As far as introducing the idea of nihilism to rock, the first Doors album, which came out the same year, was far better produced, far darker, and more nihilistic. Ditto the first Mothers of Invention album. Those two were from the west coast; the Velvets were from New York. And this was New York trying too hard. There's a line in Venus in Furs about "ermine furs adorn imperious". Those are four words that should never appear in a rock song and here they are put together. (Ian Rakkin)
Dolphins may be highly spiritually evolved, but it appears that they're not too bright, being even less intelligent than goldfish, or so claims Paul Manger, of the University of the Witwatersrand:
"Dolphins have a superabundance of glia and very few neurons... The dolphin's brain is not made for information processing it is designed to counter the thermal challenges of being a mammal in water," Manger said.
"You put an animal in a box, even a lab rat or gerbil, and the first thing it wants to do is climb out of it. If you don't put a lid on top of the bowl a goldfish it will eventually jump out to enlarge the environment it is living in. But a dolphin will never do that. In the marine parks, the dividers to keep the dolphins apart are only a foot or two above the water between the different pools."
They jump through hoops only because they have been conditioned to do so for a food reward - which may suggest the brain of a single-minded predator rather than a reasoned thinker.Manger also makes the point that, if dolphins are so smart, why do they get themselves killed in tuna nets?
Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace and former anti-nuclear activist, has changed his mind about nuclear energy, and now argues that mass adoption of nuclear power may be our only hope of averting catastrophic global warming:
Here's why: Wind and solar power have their place, but because they are intermittent and unpredictable they simply can't replace big baseload plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too volatile to risk building big baseload plants. Given that hydroelectric resources are built pretty much to capacity, nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It's that simple.Moore then goes through the most common objections to nuclear power and offers refutations for each one:
Nuclear plants are not safe. Although Three Mile Island was a success story, the accident at Chernobyl, 20 years ago this month, was not. But Chernobyl was an accident waiting to happen. This early model of Soviet reactor had no containment vessel, was an inherently bad design and its operators literally blew it up. The multi-agency U.N. Chernobyl Forum reported last year that 56 deaths could be directly attributed to the accident, most of those from radiation or burns suffered while fighting the fire. Tragic as those deaths were, they pale in comparison to the more than 5,000 coal-mining deaths that occur worldwide every year. No one has died of a radiation-related accident in the history of the U.S. civilian nuclear reactor program. (And although hundreds of uranium mine workers did die from radiation exposure underground in the early years of that industry, that problem was long ago corrected.)
Nuclear waste will be dangerous for thousands of years. Within 40 years, used fuel has less than one-thousandth of the radioactivity it had when it was removed from the reactor. And it is incorrect to call it waste, because 95 percent of the potential energy is still contained in the used fuel after the first cycle. Now that the United States has removed the ban on recycling used fuel, it will be possible to use that energy and to greatly reduce the amount of waste that needs treatment and disposal. Last month, Japan joined France, Britain and Russia in the nuclear-fuel-recycling business. The United States will not be far behind.
Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to terrorist attack. The six-feet-thick reinforced concrete containment vessel protects the contents from the outside as well as the inside. And even if a jumbo jet did crash into a reactor and breach the containment, the reactor would not explode. There are many types of facilities that are far more vulnerable, including liquid natural gas plants, chemical plants and numerous political targets.
As part of VICE's "Kill Your Parents" issue, Jim Goad sets the record straight on a number of baby-boomer counterculture heroes:
He was many things … a First Amendment warrior, a womanizer, a hipster and a junkie … but the one thing a comedian is supposed to befunnyhe wasn’t. “Take away the right to say ‘fuck,’ ” came one of Lenny Bruce’s most famously self-serving lines, “and you take way the right to say, ‘fuck the government.’ ” Thanks, Lenny. We’re now allowed to say “fuck” in certain special circumstances. But the government fucked you harder. You turned rat on your drug-dealing friends, and it’s safe to assume your morphine overdose in 1966 was a hot shot delivered as street vengeance.
The Beatles were a great rock ’n’ roll band except they couldn’t sing, play their instruments, or keep a beat. Despite claims of being a “working-class hero” after he’d salted away millions, and in spite of his prophet-of-peace shtick even though he was an overweening sourpuss who couldn’t even get along with his bandmates or wives, this sanctimonious junkie is still embraced as a beacon of childlike truth-seeking. He was shot dead by precisely the sort of true believer his massive ego helped spawn. His murderer, Mark David Chapman, reportedly used to lead schoolchildren in singing a parody of his hero’s signature song: “Imagine there’s no John Lennon.” It wasn’t hard to do.
Maciej Ceglowski with a brilliantly incisive piece on why the Space Shuttle is a bad idea, terminally compromised from its design onward by political considerations, is now little more than a pointless welfare scheme for the aerospace industry at the expense of actual research which could be conducted, and should be knocked on the head, with the funding diverted to more cost-effective and scientifically interesting, if less showmanly, automated experiments. A few choice quotes:
This brings up a delicate point about justifying manned missions with science. In order to make any straight-faced claims about being cost effective, you have to cart an awful lot of science with you into orbit, which in turns means you need to make the experiments as easy to operate as possible. But if the experiments are all automated, you remove the rationale for sending a manned mission in the first place. Apart from question-begging experiments on the physiology of space flight, there is little you can do to resolve this dilemma. In essence, each 'pure science' Shuttle science mission consists of several dozen automated experiments alongside an enormous, irrelevant, repeated experiment in keeping a group of primates alive and healthy outside the atmosphere.
The ISS was another child of the Cold War: originally intended to show the Russians up and provide a permanent American presence in space, then hastily amended as a way to keep the Russian space scientists busy while their economy was falling to pieces. Like the Shuttle, it has been redesigned and reduced in scope so many times that it bears no resemblance to its original conception. Launched in an oblique, low orbit that guarantees its permanent uselessness, it serves as yin to the shuttle's yang, justifying an endless stream of future Shuttle missions through the simple stratagem of being too expensive to abandon.
But NASA dismisses such helpful suggetions as unworthy of its mission of 'exploration', likening critics of manned space flight to those Europeans in the 1500's who would have cancelled the great voyages of discovery rather than face the loss of one more ship. Of course, the great explorers of the 1500's did not sail endlessly back and forth a hundred miles off the coast of Portugal, nor did they construct a massive artificial island they could repair to if their boat sprang a leak.
The Soviet Shuttle, the Buran (snowstorm) was an aerodynamic clone of the American orbiter, but incorporated many original features that had been considered and rejected for the American program, such as all-liquid rocket boosters, jet engines, ejection seats and an unmanned flight capability. You know you're in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design.
The NASA obsession with elementary and middle school participation in space flight is curious, and demonstrates how low a status actual in-flight science has compared with orbital public relations. You are not likely to hear of CERN physicists colliding tin atoms sent to them by a primary school in Toulouse, or the Hubble space being turned around to point at waving middle schoolers on a playground in Texas, yet even the minimal two-man ISS crew - one short of the stated minimum needed to run the station - regularly takes time to talk to schoolchildren.Of course, in the Bush Era, even more billions will be spent on
Scifi author Orson Scott Card on why it's more than about time that Star Trek was scrapped. The gist of his argument is that Star Trek is really a very poor excuse for science fiction, shapes up poorly next to both scifi literature and more recent film and television productions, and has only been kept alive thanks to a lot of rather sad people in pointy ears who don't know any better:
The original "Star Trek," created by Gene Roddenberry, was, with a few exceptions, bad in every way that a science fiction television show could be bad. Nimoy was the only charismatic actor in the cast and, ironically, he played the only character not allowed to register emotion.
Here's what I think: Most people weren't reading all that brilliant science fiction. Most people weren't reading at all. So when they saw "Star Trek," primitive as it was, it was their first glimpse of science fiction. It was grade school for those who had let the whole science fiction revolution pass them by.
Objectivists, psychopaths and believers in the virtues of cruelty and pollution rejoice: there's now an anti-ethical investment fund tailored to your values. The Free Enterprise Action Fund specifically invests in companies who refuse to be intimidated by pressure from "leftists":
"What we're trying to create is a grassroots, investor-based movement to pressure corporations to resist the activists," Milloy said, adding that the Free Enterprise Action Fund is "the first and only" of its kind and "definitely the first to be doing this as shareholders."
Milloy also said the Free Enterprise Action Fund will encourage corporations not to be intimidated by the left and to hire people with the same philosophy. "If you're going to hire these people that can't stand the heat, they shouldn't be in the kitchen. What I can stop is corporate management trying to appease these [activist groups], thinking that it will make the problem go away," he added.
The Free Enterprise Action Fund refuses to disclose which companies they have invested in, but says that some of them are tobacco companies. I imagine that weapons manufacturers would be another profitable sector in today's global environment.
Meanwhile, activist pressure seems to have worked on Nike; the company, once synonymous with labour exploitation, has now become the first major company to disclose its full list of suppliers and contract factories, theoretically allowing them to be held to account more effectively over employment practices. While it's still too early to praise Nike as a model citizen (one would have to see results for that), now one no longer has to feel bad about buying a pair of Converse All-Stars. Unless, of course, one is an Objectivist or similar.
The Graun's Jonathan Freedland's broadside against the mythologisation of the 1960s, a decade much of whose alleged uniqueness and revolutionary character says more about the self-absorption and historical ignorance of those who grew up during it than about any genuine transformation of the world:
Note how everything they did was a first, a "revolution". Most have quoted Philip Larkin so often - "sexual intercourse began in 1963" - they've come to believe it, imagining their bedhopping was a genuine innovation. They seem unaware of the hedonistic 1920s, the naughty 1890s, the bawdy 18th century, to say nothing of the Roman and Greek empires. No, in their eyes, promiscuity was unheard of till they invented it.
They were "the first teenagers" too, as if before 1960 children mysteriously skipped from age 12 to 20 overnight. I know, I know - they're referring to the youth rebellion that gave the 60s its fire. Except that wasn't new either. In 1911, 30 kids walked out of Bigyn school in Llanelli, to protest over the caning of one of their peers, sparking a pupils' strike across Britain. Young people were at the forefront of the conscientious objection movement in the first world war a few years later. Whenever there has been a call for change, youth has usually been its voice.
(Though wasn't the whole deal about "the first teenagers" being that they were the first generation in which a large proportion of the adolescent population had the disposable income to create demand for cultural goods marketed specifically at them, hence the rise of rock'n'roll and youth culture and all that it spawned, eventually giving rise to MTV and PlayStations and, arguably, the bulk of the mobile phone industry and such?)
An article suggesting that "positive thinking" is a route to disaster, by making one incapable of acknowledging reality. Goths, emo kids and LiveJournal angstpuppies can take heart in the knowledge that they're a lot healthier than the shiny happy people around them:
Increasingly it is becoming unacceptable to voice legitimate distress. If you lose your job, become chronically ill, or fall prey to loneliness or depression, you are likely to be told - often abrasively - to look on the bright side. With unseemly haste, people rush to put an optimistic gloss on a disaster or to suggest a patently unworkable solution. We seem to be cultivating an intolerance of pain - even our own. An acquaintance once told me that quite the most difficult aspect of her cancer was her friends' strident insistence that she develop a positive attitude, and her guilt at being unable to do so.
In our global world, we can no longer afford to edit out the uncomfortable spectacle of human misery. In the past, we have sometimes pursued policies that have resulted in great suffering, telling ourselves that all would ultimately be well. We have let conflicts fester until they have become intractable. We have supported such allies as Saddam Hussein, ignoring the atrocities they inflict upon their people. We are now rightly outraged by his massacre of his Kurdish subjects, but at the time we ineffectually turned a blind eye. Today we are reaping the reward of our heedless karma. The pain that we ignored in some parts of the world has hardened into murderous rage.
It's an interesting argument: suggesting that we in the West have allowed atrocities to be carried out in our names because of positive thinking. It reminds me of the claim, a number of years ago, that the (then) stock market boom was the result of massive use of Prozac and similar antidepressants causing investors and others to become irrationally optimistic. Could such chemically-induced optimism possibly make people more willing to cause suffering elsewhere in the world, in pursuit of their ideas? Or, perhaps, if you want an image of the future, imagine a jackboot with a smiling face, forever.
Something Awful gores indie's sacred cows, i.e., Joy Division, The Smiths, Pavement and My Bloody Valentine. (via Graham)
Everyone who considers themself a hipster should take note: name-dropping Pavement isn't going to win you any merit badges in my scout troop. You'd be a fool not to see that even the bands that everyone loves are just as terrible as the bands that everyone makes fun of. The only difference between Nickelback and The Smiths is that Smiths fans dress slightly better and don't beat their girlfriends as hard.
I hypothesize that if Ian Curtis had continued to live and exert his gothic influence over the band, they would have eventually sounded like Siouxie and the Banshees except with a terrible singer. I also hypothesize that Ian Curtis would now be fat.
They're dead-on about Loveless, btw:
Its one of those rare albums that really sounds like the album cover looks: its an indecipherable blur of noise and distorted guitars. It boggles the mind that so many goofy hipsters are so in love with an album with so little to offer. All of the songs sound basically the same, and you really have to pay attention to figure out where one ends and the next begins. The lyrics are so incomprehensible that they might as well not even be there at all. Although there are certainly noises on this album that have never been made before or since, none of them are particularly interesting noises. In most cases, its the sound of several guitars playing a couple of chords with a few layers of grinding and feedback in the background. Sure, it probably took quite a bit of time and money to make those sounds, but are they particularly interesting? No, not really; when its all put together, it just sounds like a waterfall of sludge running through your speakers.
This is part of the Your Band Sucks section, which also includes articles about bands like Radiohead and Coldplay (though, granted, there's no challenge there).
Former Swedish anarchist leftist Johan Norberg has penned a progressive defense of global capitalism titled, appropriately, "In Defense of Global Capitalism"; he outlines his arguments here. Norberg's thesis is that globalisation and free trade are precisely the solution the third world needs to escape poverty, and bring with them things like increased wages, reduced pollution (through technological improvements) and greater civil liberties; meanwhile, most opposition to globalisation comes from Westerners, and is founded in protectionist self-interest (i.e., by unions), naïvéte about historical trends, or even an objection to the modern condition and an Arcadian romanticisation of a remote agrarian past.
That's why in a typical developing nation, if you're able to work for an American multinational, you make eight times the average wage. That's why people are lining up to get these jobs. When I was in Vietnam, I interviewed workers about their dreams and aspirations. The most common wish was that Nike, one of the major targets of the anti-globalization movement, would expand so that a workers relatives could get a job with the company.
The best thing that could happen to the Arab world would be for them to run out of oil. Then theyd have to open up to trade, and a small number of people wouldnt be in control all of the wealth, as is the case in Saudi Arabia.
The further you get from the West, the more positive people are toward globalization, toward more business and trade ties with the rest of the world. The most vocal opponents of globalization in poor countries are often funded by critics from wealthier countries. For instance, Vandana Shiva [director of the New Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology] is a very vocal opponent of economic liberalization and biotechnology, and shes funded by a lot of different Western groups.
So, is Norberg's thesis just a rebadged Lexus and the Olive Tree in Starbucks-progressive garb, or is the "anti-globalisation" movement really full of it, or both?
(I wonder what he'd say to Greg Palast's accusations that the World Bank/IMF assistance programmes are designed not to help third-world economies but to starve them into bankrupcy, allowing assets to be bought up cheaply by multinationals and reducing the locals and their descendants to sharecroppers. I suppose that's just an unfortunate implementation detail, and not an indictment on the phenomenon of globalisation as such.)
An article claiming that vegetarianism kills more animals than meat-eating; according to this article, intensive agriculture causes more animal deaths (i.e., field animals run over by combine harvesters, crushed in their burrows by ploughs or picked off by predators once their cover is removed) than meat consumption, and that, following the Least Harm Principle of utilitarianism, anyone who cares about animal welfare would eat meat. (Via this rant linked from David Gerard's LiveJournal)
Some believe that al-Qaeda doesn't exist, and that the highly organised global terror network is a myth made up by Western officials:
'Bin Laden never used the term al-Qaeda prior to 9/11', Dolnik tells me. 'Nor am I aware of the name being used by operatives on trial. The closest they came were in statements such as, "Yes, I am a member of what you call al-Qaeda". The only name used by al-Qaeda themselves was the World Islamic Front for the Struggle Against Jews and Crusaders - but I guess that's too long to really stick.'
Having given bin Laden and his henchmen a name, Western officials then proceeded to exaggerate their threat. 'In the quest to define the enemy, the US and its allies have helped to blow it out of proportion', wrote Dolnik and Kimberly McCloud of the Monterey Institute in 2002. They pointed out that after 1998, US officials began distributing posters and matchboxes featuring bin Laden's face and a reward for his capture around the Middle East and Central Asia - a process that 'transformed this little-known jihadist into a household name and, in some places, a symbol of heroic defiance'
See also: locally-printed "Osama Bin Laden World Hero" T-shirts selling like hotcakes in markets all over the Islamosphere.
In fact, I have been wondering whether or not, within a decade, "al-Qaeda" will morph into an umbrella term for any resistance to neo-liberalism/globalisation/capitalism/The Man, with Latin American (non-Islamic) qaedistas waging guerilla war against US-installed authoritarian governments and right-wing death squads, whilst their French comrades torch McDonalds restaurants, and dreadlocked Nu Marxists all over McWorld replace their Che T-shirts with Osama ones.
According to Dolnik: 'In a world where one email sent to a news agency translates into a headline stating that al-Qaeda was behind even the blackouts in Italy and the USA, anyone can claim to be al-Qaeda - not only groups but also individuals'.
Sajid Badat, the 24-year-old student arrested by British police in Gloucester yesterday, on suspicion of planning to carry out a terrorist attack, was immediately referred to in media reports as a 'suicide bomber' and 'al-Qaeda terrorist' - after it was revealed that he had boasted to college mates and neighbours: 'I'm in al-Qaeda.' Whatever the truth of the allegations against him, however, it is clear that anybody can make an impact today by claiming a link to the largely mythical al-Qaeda.
For today's dose of contrarianism, The Graun's Dave Simpson on why the Beatles weren't really all that good:
I never bought the myth - all that thumbs aloft, wacky Scousers, lovely boys, world peace stuff which we now know to be nonsense because they were in fact either taking heroin, fighting among themselves or dreaming up the Frog Chorus all that time. Even at my early age, something in McCartney's eye said: "Sshh, in 30 years I'll be asking my lawyers to get the credits reversed to McCartney-Lennon and presiding over a de-Spectorised version of Let It Be which will show how much we relied on top producers."
The Beatles are what they always were - the safe, money-spinning, housewives' choice. Their albums are easy listening (fine for 50-somethings, but the Beatles were cardigan-wearing duffers in their 20s). Sgt. Pepper, their much-trumpeted "psychedelic" album was as mindbending as an Asda mushroom pie. Give or take Helter Skelter, they never even rocked, really. Next to the Stones, the Who or the Troggs, the Beatles are the low alcohol lager of the 60s.
Arch-contrarian Christopher Hitchens gets mediæval on Mother Teresa, best known as the world's leading brand of goodness. According to him, her works served to increase poverty and suffering whilst boosting her personality cult, raking in lots of money from the guilt-assuagement industry, and the Pope (himself a reactionary) has improperly cut corners in the usually rigorous beatification process, eliminating procedures designed to guard against fashionable superstition, in order to make her a saint before he dies. Oh, and the "miracle" "she" performed was a fraud too.
A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn't have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican's investigators? No.
I wonder what would happen if one could look more closely, using primary evidence, at the miracles for which most historical saints got their haloes; how many of them would turn out to be polite fictions, well-meaning conspiracies of true believers cooking the books for the greater good of giving the faith (and the local community) a new saint. Faith can make people do intellectually inconsistent things; for example, Creationists who truly believed that the world was created in six days 6,000 years ago have been caught doctoring evidence and knowingly lying about verifiable facts that supported unfavourable hypotheses; who's to say that the vast majority of beatifications aren't the product of conspiracies of consensual deceit? I'll lie if you look the other way, and a hundred years from now, nobody will know the difference.
MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had beenshe preferred California clinics when she got sick herselfand her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?
Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.
The Dalai Lama: cuddly, celebrity-endorsed embodiment of Peace'n'Love and self-help and feeling good about yourself and universal acceptance, or bigoted reactionary snake-oil peddler, whose mediæval views are modulated by a hypocritical pandering to gullible, moneyed westerners?
In reality, Tibetan Buddhism is not a values-free system oriented around smiles and a warm heart. It is a religion with tough ethical underpinnings that sometimes get lost in translation. For example, the Dalai Lama explicitly condemns homosexuality, as well as all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers find embarrassing and prefer to ignore. His American publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his book, "Ethics for the New Millennium," for fear they would offend American readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced.
I remember a public talk he gave at his headquarters in Dharamsala in northern India in 1990, after conflict between Tibetans and Indians there. He spoke in Tibetan, and his delivery was stern and admonitory, like a forbidding, old-fashioned father reprimanding his children. The crowd listened respectfully, and went away chastened.
All this reminds me of claims about various parties in the Middle East (on both sides) saying one thing in English for the benefit of gullible western liberals and another, considerably more warlike, thing in their people's own language. The moral of the story: the dumb Yanqui (and that includes Americans, Britons, Australians, Canadians and such) are mugs to be played as such.
But yes, back to the subject at hand. I once got a book "by" the Dalai Lama as a present from a new-age relative. Little surprise that it consisted of the most vapidly insipid pabulum, a lowest-common-denominator collection of self-help aphorisms with the Dalai Lama brand slapped on it. It's highly unlikely that its wisdom came from any tradition older then 1960s California. The Dalai Lama appears to have become the leading brand of guilt-assuagement for affluent Westerners whose TV doesn't quite drown out the awareness that they're living high off the hog amidst massive injustice and thus need to be reassured that they're good people and their positive thoughts cancel out any contribution their lifestyle makes to global suffering. Either that or he's just an incredibly successful conman. Or both.
And here's an article on rampant brutality in feudal Tibet; not quite the happy valley of bliss Richard Gere would have you believe. Mind you, it seems a bit pro-Chinese in places. And here's Hitchens' opinion on the Dalai Lama. (via MeFi)
Julie Burchill presents a leftist argument for invading Iraq in the Guardian.
5) "Ooo, your friends smell!" Well, so do yours. We may be saddled with Bush and Blair, but you've got Prince Charles (a big friend of the Islamic world, probably because of its large number of feudal kingdoms and hardline attitude to uppity women), the Catholic church (taking a brief break from buggering babies to condemn any western attack as "morally unacceptable") and posturing pansies such as Sean Penn, Sheryl Crow and Damon Albarn.
Tim O'Reilly (of the books with animals on their covers fame) has an essay on file sharing, piracy and copy-denial technologies; in it he argues that piracy is progressive taxation, taking from established producers and giving (distribution, recognition, etc.) to the up-and-coming. (Via Slashdot, to whose readers the article was undoubtedly crafted to appeal, right down to the Star Wars reference at the end.)
Alternative points of view: Pro-war activism is not just for hairy-backed bloggers and talk-show callers: pranksters and conceptual artists can do it too.
Partridge calls the protesters "TV babies" who are spoon-fed reactions and for whom war exists only conceptually. "These folks are not thinkers; they are only a crowd that operates with a unit mind," he says.
Partridge says he happens to actually believe war is groovy, but he especially likes to upset people with his revolutionary ideas. Before this protest, Partridge visited a group of hard-core Christians who were condemning the "sinners" downtown. He started handing out pamphlets that said, "Christ is for sissies."
He seems somewhat more lucid than the Ayn Rand zealots who hold pro-Starbucks demonstration to piss off the Nu Marxists; or indeed the My Country Right Or Wrong crowd, for that matter. (via rotten.com)
Presiding over a memorial service commemorating the victims of the attack on the Death Star, the Emperor declared that while recent victories over the Rebel Alliance were "encouraging, the War on Terror is not over yet."
"We will continue to fight these terrorists, and the rogue governments who harbor them, until the universe is safe, once and for all, and the security of the Neo-New Cosmik Order ensured."
And then there's this analysis of Star Wars, in which the Empire is good (if somewhat heavy-handed in places, though never without justification) and the Rebels are "an unimpressive crew of anarchic royals who wreck the galaxy so that Princess Leia can have her tiara back".
Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It's a dictatorship people can do business with. They collect taxes and patrol the skies. They try to stop organized crime (in the form of the smuggling rings run by the Hutts). The Empire has virtually no effect on the daily life of the average, law-abiding citizen.
I wonder whether such an article would have been written before September 11 2001. Or whether the problematically Al-Qaeda-like nature of the Rebel Alliance will bite into the Star Wars franchise's profitability. (via bOING bOING)
Speaking of bootywhang-obsessed French musicians, Serge Gainsbourg cops a bucketing from Tanya Headon, who sums him up as "the Benny Hill of pop". Touché.
Professional curmudgeon Julie Burchill on John Lennon, on the anniversary of his death and the resulting outpouring of sentiment. (via Pearls)
A New Statesman article about the fallacy of the concept of self-esteem.