Monday, January 31, 2005

Alan Johnson

has an article at the Labour Friends of Iraq site that has been already cited all over the place but it's worth a read, albeit of the self-affirming variety that I object to below. The SIAW site also has a post citing renegade Karl Kautsky that makes for interesting reading, even for a non-Marxists like me.

Vote Early, Vote Often

There are “elections,” and there are elections. There’s “democracy,” and then there’s democracy. Anarchists, as you will no doubt be aware, tend to have a particularly jaundiced view of these things, hence their readiness to apply quotation marks to the majority of processes meant to legitimize government. And with good cause. Anyone who’s had experience of democratic centralism or the “proletarian democracy” of the Leninist microsects understands that it resembles genuine democracy about as much as “proletarian justice” resembles actual justice. At the same time, when we hear liberals talking about democracy, civil liberties, and human rights, we want to take them at their word and hold them to it: For them, representative democracy is the motherlode, whereas for anarchists it’s about as close as you can come to democracy without democracy, the perfect hegemonic deception.

The problem with democracy as anarchists see it is that there simply isn’t enough voting done. If liberals are serious about democracy, we ask that it should be direct democracy, not representative; that it mean not just political democracy, but also economic and industrial democracy, meaning democracy in the workplace; and also that it mean social democracy, that is, that the decisions made affecting all of us in our everyday lives be subject to direct democracy and accountability, so that we can be meaningfully involved in and have control over local schools, retirement homes, sports clubs, residents and tenants associations, and so on.

That this should require a social transformation, we accept; that it necessarily requires a violent overthrow of those in power, we do not. What it does require is the support of the mass of people who make up society, and when anarchists advance the “Marxist” view that the liberation of the workers will be task of the workers themselves, we mean precisely that: Anarchists will support the workers where their aims are congruent, but they won’t try to “lead” a workers’ movement or pose as its vanguard or even seize power in their name.

Legitimate, violent revolutions do take place, of course, but they occur usually because there is no meaningful alternative for the expression of protest or opinion. Orlando Figes’s analysis of the Russian revolution made it clear that the revolution was bound to happen given the lack of accountability of the Tsar and his circle, but it was also necessary that a major crisis, the war, accompany the lack of formal social structures of accountability. There was no other outlet for protest at the futility and atrocity of war, and the court’s attitude to the populace had been clearly demonstrated over the preceding decade.

We’ve taken an approach of studied quietude over events in Iraq since last March, mostly from a sense of discomfort at the bloviating witnessed elsewhere and a realization that blogs lend themselves readily to self-importance, and one thing we are not, at Counago & Spaves, is important. So no ponderous pontificating. We have also suspended judgement on an ongoing basis because experience has taught us, if nothing else, the law of unintended consequences. Since the 1960s, the anti-imperialist left has royally fucked up on the job by supporting national liberation movements that could in no sense be called progressive against an American imperialist power that was intent on denying basic human rights. Genuinely well-meaning and good people regularly managed to advance the causes of butchers and murderers by assuming that they had to take sides; that we live in a Manichean world in which the opposite of Evil had to be Good, as opposed to another Evil. By assuming that the enemy of their enemy was their friend, the left has time and again allied itself with reactionary forces.

It’s an apocryphal tale that Chou en-Lai was once asked by a reporter to comment on what he thought were the most important consequences of the French revolution, to which he said that “it’s too early to tell.” The fact that it wasn’t Chou who spoke these words but an adviser who was giving an off-the-cuff response to what he thought were contemporary events occurring on the other side of the world doesn’t matter. There’s much to be said for his circumspection. We’re not the sort here to trawl the Net looking for news items that only confirm our pre-selected interpretation of events, as though history isn’t happening, only the unfolding of some master dialectic. It is, indeed, too early to tell.

Does that make this anarchist’s eye any less jaundiced? Shouldn’t he be rejoicing?

It’s too early to tell.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Yeah, he should stick to doing what rabbits do best . . . within the confines of marriage, of course

Cartoon rabbit Buster Baxter is being attacked, says the New York Times, because an episode of his show featured lesbian parents.

What is it with these people having a go at cartoon characters? Is it because they have no souls or something?

Long live the wilfully perverse

Review in last Saturday's Guardian of the Gang of Four gig at the Manchester Academy.

Satan in a Leotard

From an article by Douglas Groothuis in the November 2004 issue of Christianity Today:

"The biblical worldview is completely at odds with the pantheistic concepts driving Eastern meditation. We are not one with an impersonal absolute being that is called "God." Rather, we are estranged from the true personal God because of our "true moral guilt," as Francis Schaeffer says.

No amount of chanting, breathing, visualizing, or physical contortions will melt away the sin that separates us from the Lord of the cosmos—however "peaceful" these practices may feel. Moreover, Paul warns that "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). "Pleasant" experiences may be portals to peril. Even yoga teachers warn that yoga may open one up to spiritual and physical maladies."

Take a deep breath and count to ten.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Rappaport's Testament: I Never Gave Up

And if you survive me (I Never gave up)
Tell them this (I Never gave up)
And if you survive me (I Never gave up)
Tell them this

Almost as if I were planning ahead
I drank, I ate, I made love
I learnt to snatch whatever I could
I never asked for pity and I never gave up


Twenty months I kept accounts
And in the end they'll balance out
Sometimes I vomit happy memories
Sometimes I laugh out loud just to crack my face


And if I meet Hitler in the other place
I'll spit this precious soup in his face
And all my accounts will be settled, you see
'Cause Hitler never ever got the better of me


I never gave up, I never gave up
I crawled in the mud, but I never gave up

Lyrics by Chumbawamba from the album Slap!

based on "Rappaport's Testament," by Primo Levi, in Moments of Reprieve.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Awesome Satiric Irrelevance

Something we all aspire to at Counago & Spaves, but actually a description of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, reviewed in the January 10 issue of Time by Richard Schickel. My phrase of the day.

Cynicism Alley (not far from Irony Corner)

I've often wondered what would happen if incontrovertible evidence could be provided that not only does prayer work but also that it works in ways contrary to the desires of those doing the praying. How would scientists respond to and interpret such proof, and what would theologists make of God's malevolence other than to reiterate that He/She moves in mysterious ways?

The thought was prompted again by a colleague reminding me of the case of Elisabeth Targ, a psychiatrist who conducted research into distant healing by prayer. In one of her studies, the rare and aggressive brain tumour known as glioblastoma was chosen as the control illness. Either by pure coincidence or because of the negative power of prayer, you choose, Targ herself was diagnosed during the course of the research with glioblastoma, the rare (I emphasize) disease being utilized.

She was interviewed for O: The Oprah Magazine on the power of distant healing. The interview appeared in the September 2002 issue.

Targ died on July 18, 2002.

Look Out Norm!

Research from the sociology journal Social Forces correlating country music with suicide.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Wise Saragossa Scene

Guilt at my inadvertent insults, as much as admiration for his style, compels me to draw attention to the thought-provoking and incisive blog of the eponymous and pseudonymous Alphonse van Worden. If you like your aesthetics politicized rather than your politics aestheticized, this is the place to go.

Irony Corner

From the January/February issue of Orion:

New Zealand scientists have designed a method of birth control to help protect the natural environment of the nation's islands—not from too many people, but from too many possums. The sly wonders of genetic engineering now make it possible to administer birth control to animals we don't like. And most New Zealanders detest possums, an introduced species. "I do my best to run over them on the road. Everyone does. They are a plague on New Zealand," says Tim Popham, a zoologist living on the South Island.

Brought to New Zealand from Australia in 1837 by European settlers who wanted to establish a fur trade, brush-tailed possums are overrunning the country. Without native competitors to keep the possum population in check, New Zealand's unique and diverse island ecosystem is being squeezed by an estimated seventy million of the pesky marsupials. Possums eat the eggs of the rare and native kokako bird; devour entire canopies of rare native trees, like the rata and kamahi; and threaten one of New Zealand's largest export industries by transmitting bovine tuberculosis to beef and dairy cattle. Other methods of possum control—shooting, trapping, and poisoning—have proved ineffective for the long term.

If successful, the proposed possum contraceptives could reduce the population's fertility by 70 percent. However, the contraceptives are produced using genetically modified plants, and 70 percent of New Zealanders oppose the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to their islands. Ignoring citizen protests, in October 2003 New Zealand's Labor government lifted regulations that prohibited research on GMOs outside of laboratories and controlled field trials. Now, the genetically engineered vegetables used to produce possum contraceptives—currently imported from Australia where, ironically, possums are endangered—may be grown in New Zealand. This is raising eyebrows, particularly since New Zealand's Ministry for Environment has concluded that "[potential] impacts [of introducing GMOs] on individual industries—especially the agriculture industry—remain significantly large."

Yet possums aren't a potential problem, they are a proven one. Janine Duckworth, a possum biocontrol scientist at the New Zealand firm Landcare Research, which is producing the contraceptives, believes the risk of doing nothing to control possums is far greater than the perceived risk genetic engineering poses. But organic farmer John Baker isn't so sure. Baker, who worries about the future awaiting his children, has a suggestion: "Tell them to go test it in America, then come back to us when they know it works." And that might not be a bad idea. Though possums are not pests in the United States (where they are more commonly called by their formal name, opossums), the U.S. has its own invasive species, which are already a $137-billion-a-year problem. Genetically modified organisms, feared by some but spreading through the country's food system all the same, might well be a man-made solution to the man-made problems of introduced, out-of-control species. Or they might not. After all, once upon a time an enterprising businessman thought that a new species—the possum—was just what New Zealand needed.

Someone somewhere once said something about mankind only posing for itself problems that it can solve. Permit me a wry smile.

The American Dream

title of an article in this month's Esquire (U.S. edition) by Sara Solovitch concerning the fabrications about the torture Jumana Hanna claimed to have endured in Saddam's Iraq. Worth a read if only to remind ourselves how willing we can be to believe stories that confirm our own prejudices.

Monday, January 24, 2005

How will his family live with the shame?

Apologies in advance for bad taste.

From Saturday's Guardian:

The "wicked" boyfriend of Jodi Jones was found guilty yesterday of tying up and murdering her in a horrific attack when he was just 14 years old.

In June 2003, Luke Mitchell, now 16, slit 14-year-old Jodi's throat and repeatedly stabbed her. As the foreman of the jury at the high court in Edinburgh read out the verdict, Jodi's family sobbed. Mitchell, the boy Jodi believed she loved, showed no emotion.

Mitchell, who had an obsession with the occult, had tried to cover his crime by burning his clothes and fabricating an alibi, backed by his mother. But, by majority verdict, the jury found him guilty, bringing to a close one of the biggest and most complex criminal investigations mounted in Scotland in many years.

At the time of Jodi's murder, Mitchell claimed he was at home making dinner for his family. His mother, Corinne, gave him an alibi to that effect. The evidence of Mitchell's brother, Shane, however, blew apart that alibi. Computer records showed that between 4.53pm and 5.16pm Shane Watson had been looking at porn on the internet. Giving evidence, he admitted he had been masturbating. He said he would not have done so if anyone else had been in the house at the time.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Matthew and Matt in Barcelona

Yesterday, Jordi and I were at the Bikini in Barcelona, where Matthew Sweet and Matt Sharp offered the last gig of their Spanish tour.
The first act was Matt Sharp assisted by Goldenboy. Sharp is an interesting character. He played bass in Weezer and then created his own band The Rentals. His second album as The Rentals (Seven More Minutes) was written in Barcelona and features a song with the name of the city. You could tell that the fact of playing in Barcelona was something special for Sharp, who even attempted to refresh his Spanish while he tried to communicate with the audience.
Matthew Sweet was the main act. I think it was the first time he played in Barcelona, and the fans were quite numerous. Apparently he was a bit sick, and after playing precisely his hit Sick of Myself, he left us with his band Velvet Crush for a couple of numbers. Then he came back to the stage and completed his show very professionally.
For more information about him, I found this fan site, Anita's Matthew Sweet Site, which is better updated than the official site.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

But what flavour condoms do they use?

Catholic schoolgirls complain about sweet wrappers depicting fruit having sex.

I couldn't locate it in the CIA World Book

Excerpted from an article from UFO Info on last September's hurricanes in the U.S.

"Weather experts said unusually warm waters and a huge high-pressure system hovering over the Atlantic (sometimes called a "Bermuda high"--J.T.) have helped create and steer hurricanes directly at the U.S. coast. The Florida coastline was lashed with wind and surf for hours before Ivan hit land, causing major beach erosion and destroying waterfront homes."

"A buoy in the Gulf of Mexico 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Dauphin Island, Alabama registered waves 50 feet (15 meters) high. Televised reports from Alabama showed Dauphin already flooded."

"The band of high pressure in the Atlantic stretches from Cabo Verde all the way to Florida, which is really unusual," UFO Roundup editor Joseph Trainor commented. "Strange, too, that the Bermuda high has lasted so long. Rainstorms coming out of Africa grow to tropical storm strength just offshore from Nigeria. But the Bermuda high prevents them from heading north into the mid-Atlantic. Instead, it creates a kind of 'conveyor belt' carrying the storms all the way across and then shooting them up into the Caribbean Sea. Now a new tropical storm has formed west of Cabo Verde--Hurricane Karl."

UFO Roundup received three emails from readers who claimed to have heard HAARP broadcasting from Alaska on Tuesday, September 14, 2004. The signal was heard on frequency 3.390 MHz.

"Personally I don't think HAARP has the power to 'steer' a hurricane," Trainor added, "But the Tuesday burst might have deflected Ivan away from its original projected landfall around Tampa."

"Other than aliens, I can think of only one source able to create and sustain that unusual Bermuda High over the Atlantic--Shambhala, the hidden city of mystics in Afghanistan. Shambhala is reputed to have access to the weather-modification technology of ancient Atlantis."

"There have also been reports of Osama Bin Laden hiding out occasionally in Shambhala. Osama might have persuaded the Shambhalans to use 'weather warfare' against the USA."

"Is it just a coincidence that the 'hurricane blitz' began on August 3, the same date Allied forces stepped up their offensive in Afghanistan?" Trainor asked. "The 6th Marines have been running long-range patrols out of Bagram air base and Camp Ripley, just south of Tarin Kowt. Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines has a firebase in the Hindu Kush mountains. That's practically on Shambhala's doorstep. The Sages are above politics, but maybe some of the residents might be listening to Osama."

Last week there was a heavy firefight in Zabu, northeast of Kandahar, between coalition forces and Al- Qaeda fighters, in which 20 guerrillas were killed.

"I just find it extremely interesting that Hurricane Ivan's worst fury descended upon the old Jewish synagogue in Pensacola, Fla., as if Osama planned it that way," Trainor added, "Hopefully, Shambhala won't uncork the big stuff. Otherwise, Condi Rice will have to wake up Dubya at 4 a.m. some morning and explain that Lake Michigan now extends all the way to Lafayette, Indiana."

Just because he prevents conception doesn't make him gay

From today's New York Times.

Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge

By David Kirkpatrick

ASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - On the heels of electoral victories barring same-sex marriage, some influential conservative Christian groups are turning their attention to a new target: the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results.

SpongeBob needed no introduction. In addition to his popularity among children, who watch his cartoon show, he has become a well-known camp figure among adult gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."

Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

The video's creator, Nile Rodgers, who wrote the disco hit "We Are Family," said Mr. Dobson's objection stemmed from a misunderstanding. Mr. Rodgers said he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 attacks to create a music video to teach children about multiculturalism. The video has appeared on television networks, and nothing in it or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity. The pledge, borrowed from the Southern Poverty Law Center, is not mentioned on the video and is available only on the group's Web site.
Mr. Rodgers suggested that Dr. Dobson and the American Family Association, the conservative Christian group that first sounded the alarm, might have been confused because of an unrelated Web site belonging to another group called "We Are Family," which supports gay youth.

"The fact that some people may be upset with each other peoples' lifestyles, that is O.K.," Mr. Rodgers said. "We are just talking about respect."

Mark Barondess, the foundation's lawyer, said the critics "need medication."

On Wednesday however, Paul Batura, assistant to Mr. Dobson at Focus on the Family, said the group stood by its accusation.

"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said. "It is a classic bait and switch."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Trashcans Play Dublin

Whelan's next Wednesday. Martin saw them in Manchester last week with a few mates and had a good night (I bought him Weightlifting for Xmas). Must dig out Cake.

Home page.

And Orwell would NEVER have walked into this one, Hitch

From the letters page of the Nation, December 27:

Washington, DC

“Bruce Robbins is entitled to his room-temperature resentment of me ["Prisoner of Love," Dec.6], but he makes a false allegation when he says that I have "repeatedly claimed Orwell's mantle." To the contrary, and leaving aside the fact that I don't believe in "mantles" anyway, I have taken every opportunity to disown this aspiration. My denial doesn't involve me in much immodest effort: Orwell suffered from censorship and hardship all his writing life and took a bullet from a Francoist while narrowly escaping another one in the back from Stalin's agents in Catalonia. My own life has been somewhat easier, and better rewarded. Moreover, Orwell wrote much better than I do and was capable of producing serious fiction, which I am not. Once or twice, critics and reviewers have been good enough to make a comparison between us, which makes me shy but which delights my publishers. As with, say, "Jeffersonian," the term "Orwellian" has only one proper attribution. The coinage "Hitchensian" is unkindly affixed by Robbins to the word "simplifications," but even if it were yoked to a nobler term, I just can't see much of a radiant future for it.”
Christopher Hitchens


New York City

“It's rare for a writer to stand up and say, "I hereby claim the mantle of X." The process of arranging to be seen in the light of some earlier writer's accomplishment is a subtler thing. One writes a book about the desired predecessor, for example, and discovers in her or him virtues one has reason to hope others will then see confirmed in oneself. This leaves no evidence that would hold up in a court of law. I will not dispute, therefore, Christopher Hitchens's statement that he has never sought the authority of George Orwell's example but has merely had that authority thrust upon him. The point of my review was that, whether he wants it or not, he doesn't deserve it. Both write very well. But as one learns from Hitchens's admirable book on Orwell, Orwell had better politics.”
Bruce Robbins

I Still Prefer One -Armed Boxer

A review, from the January 2005 issue of Art in America, by John Bowles of the Sanford Biggers exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati:

"Sanford Biggers's new work develops the artist's earlier explorations of hip-hop's ethos of participation and community-building into a critique—if not quite a condemnation of the global commodification of black culture. One of two videos in Hip Hop Ni Sasagu (In Memory of Hip Hop), 2003–04, documents the memorial service for hip-hop that Biggers arranged at a Zen Buddhist temple in Japan. Sixteen participants, including the artist and the temple master, participated in a ritual of structured improvisation, ringing Buddhist prayer bells of the kind Japanese families keep at home to commemorate their ancestors. A bell Biggers commissioned for the ceremony was displayed along with the other video, which documents how Japanese craftsmen cast the bell from hip-hop jewelry purchased in Japan. Hip Hop Ni Sasagu demonstrates a fascination with the way Japanese youth have adopted the stylings of hip-hop without understanding its value for African-Americans. Biggers offers an alternative by self-consciously blending a lay appreciation of Zen Buddhism with hip-hop's participatory esthetic, claiming for both the meaning they each lose in the global marketplace.

Black Belt Jones (2003), Biggers's portrait of 1970s blaxploitation and Kung Fu movie star Jim Kelly in his most famous role, provides a key to the exhibition, which was titled "both/and not either/or." Here, Biggers has re-created a publicity photo in grains of Indonesian black rice and American long-grain white rice glued to paper. The rice articulates the interrelatedness of African-American and Asian cultures; it is a food important to both but also refers to the trade in enslaved Africans, many of whom were brought forcibly to work on North American rice plantations. History thus makes an odd circuit—from the colonial trade in rice and slaves to the revolutionary promise Kung Fu action movies once held for black youth—to articulate a common heritage defined by commerce, culture and conflict.

In the video Danpatsu (2003–04), Biggers retells the story of Samson and Delilah within the structure of a sumo retirement ceremony, in which the wrestler's peers and supporters take turns cutting off his sumo topknot. Taking the place of the wrestler, the artist meditates with eyes closed, dressed in the traditional clothing Japanese men wear for formal occasions. A Japanese woman wearing a kimono approaches Biggers from behind, cuts off his dreadlocks and shaves his head; a close-up of her hand holding the razor reveals a hip-hop ring. Black culture has popularly been figured as masculine and Asian culture as feminine. Though it is unclear whether Danpatsu questions these conventions, the implication is that the commercialization of some black and Asian traditions—Rastafarian spirituality, hip-hop and sumo—has not shorn expressive cultural forms of their liberatory potential. Rather, their future lies in how each is valued in the present."

A golden opportunity missed, I think, to deconstruct Enter the Dragon (which Kelly also starred in) as an archetypal attempt to globalise Western liberalism. Not that I can be arsed.

So that explains revolutionary defeatism, then

There's an amusing and thought-provoking article by Ralhp Estling in January/February edition of the Skeptical Inquirer magazine (subscription only) in which he argues that human natural selection favours those who believe in absurdities over the less imaginative. Although historians and cultural anthropologists have argued that Darwinian selectivity favors species with larger brains, such as the Cro-Magnon over the Neanderthal, in fact the Cro-Magnon had a smaller but better organized brain that could conceive vastly more, both physical and spiritual, than the Neanderthal. Moreover, the Cro-Magnons had superior linguitic ablities that enabled them to invent and conceptualise religion, with all its angels and demons.

Who was it said "All Power to the Imagination!"? I'm not so sure about that now.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

And for an encore, Paolo di Canio runs onstage and gives a fascist salute

From the Web site of the Mexican American Symphony Orchestra

"Last night the Mexican-American Symphony Orchestra had its debut concert at Town Hall as the swan song of the Mexico Now festival, a series of concerts, screenings, and performances showcasing the cultural vibrancy of contemporary Mexican artists. The newly formed orchestra presented an all-Mexican program of 20th-century works: Danzón 2 by Arturo Márquez, Clepsydra by renowned contemporary composer Mario Lavista, the U.S. premiere of Enrico Chapela’s soccer-inspired symphonic poem Íngesu, Silvestre Revueltas’ masterpiece Sensemayá, and the world-premiere of La Promesa Del Guerrero for Violin, Tenor, and orchestra by Ernesto Villa-Lobos.

The orchestra’s music director and conductor, the very young and very talented Alondra de la Parra, led passionately and confidently. Her youthful appearance belies a facility that only the most musically mature can claim. Her presence, at once commanding and comforting, made it easy for orchestra and audience both to invest their full attention for the duration of the concert. The program she chose did not distract or disappoint either. The Marquez Danzon 2 was fierce and lyrical by turns, albeit a bit repetitive for my taste. Clepsydra, by Mario Lavista (who’s music was a happy discovery for me last night), inhabited the dreamy world of gesture that only music can convey. The textures were delicate and the colors kaleidoscopic and Ms. de la Parra and the orchestra painted the picture exquisitely.

By far the most entertaining piece of the night (in the theatrical sense) was Enrico Chapela’s Ínguesu, which translates roughly as “drats!” The orchestra donned soccer jerseys, and Ms. de la Parra emerged from the wings clad as a referee, whistle and all. The piece re-enacts, play by play (in hyper-condensed time) and complete with a well-timed and artfully projected scoreboard behind the orchestra, the 1999 FIFA Confederation Cup match between Brazil and Mexico, the woodwinds representing Mexico and the brass representing Brazil. The strings were the crowd, which in a Mexican soccer stadium are rather vocal about their opinions. Chapela’s themes were taken from the various chants and jeers one would hear at a soccer match, all of which are very familiar to Mexicans and none of which are extraordinarily polite. It was a delight to see the audience alert to these moments of familiarity. Despite all the antics, or rather in addition to them, the piece was well crafted, energetic, and captivating. Mr. Chapela said, “I just want people to have as much fun listening to the music as I have imagining it. Classical music is too caught up in being ‘serious.’ But you don’t work music, you play it!”

FYI: The final score was 4-3 to Mexico.

So how come Bill Hicks was so funny?

Middle-aged and elderly men who smoke heavily are more likely to commit suicide, a major survey by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has found.

In an epidemiological survey conducted by a research team at the ministry, it was found that the rate of suicide among middle-aged and elderly men was linked to the number of cigarettes they smoked.

"We have to pay more attention to smokers' mental health," a representative of the research team said. The results will be announced at a meeting of the Japan Epidemiological Association in Otsu on Friday.

In 1990 and 1993, researchers investigated the habits of some 45,000 men aged between 40 and 69 living in eight prefectures in Japan including Iwate, Nagano, Kochi, Nagasaki and Okinawa. Follow-up investigations into their health were carried out up until 2000, and researchers investigated the relationship between smoking habits and 173 of the subjects who committed suicide during the period. A total of 108 of the 173 people who committed suicide were smokers. The rate of suicide among people who smoked less than 20 cigarettes per day was about the same as for nonsmokers, but the suicide rate of people who smoked between 30 and 39 cigarettes per day was 1.4 times higher than those in the group who smoked under 20 cigarettes a day.

The rate of suicide for those who smoked 40 or more cigarettes a day was 1.7 times higher. Researchers said no differences were seen based on the number of years people had been smoking.

A separate autopsy survey conducted by Kochi University last year found that among people who smoked, there was a higher concentration of nicotine in the blood of people who committed suicide than among those who died in accidents or because of illness.

Motoki Iwasaki, a scientist at the Epidemiology and Prevention Division of the National Cancer Center, said nicotine dependency was believed to increase the risk of depression. "The mechanism connecting smoking to suicide is not well understood, but there are research results showing that dependency on nicotine increases the risk of depression," he said. "Whether or not stopping smoking decreases that risk is a topic for future research." (Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Jan. 18, 2005)

Not Filthy at all

That's the archives page of the Filthy Critic, demolisher of movies. I link to him because, whether from coincidence or just fabulous taste, he appears to give 5 out of 5 not only rarely but also to the very same films I have in my DVD collection: City of God, Crouching Tiger, and the incomparable Glitter.

A reminder that sour-faced misanthropy can be great fun when pointed in the right direction.

With Defenders of Democracy Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Uuurrrggghh. I feel dirty just looking at this site. It's the Project for a New American Century in another guise.

It's also been instrumental in pursuing and persecuting Kofi Annan and stirring the shit over the oil-for-food program.

What a shower.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Stop it! I've just had an operation.

Side-splitting laughs from what passes for intellectual discourse amongst conservatives.

An article by Peter Huber in the December 13 issue of Forbes on why waste is a good thing.

Jim Higgins

Inveresk Street and SIAW have already posted news of the Jim Higgins archive at the Marxist Internet Archives. In particular, let me recommend the concluding chapter of his book More Years for the Locust. It's the first time I've encountered any recognition, among socialists of a particular inclination, that we live in a post-Trotskyist age (we Anarchists, of course, never had to live in a Trotskyist age at all; we were either too well read or else we never went to college at all).

Higgins doesn't go quite as far as to advocate an anarchistic approach to movement building, but he at least has the sense to recognize that socialist arguments and analyses have to change to take account of conditions that Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky could not have foreseen and, because of their prejudiced and incorrect first premises, never could have.

I hesitate to recommend this as compulsory reading - not very anarchistic, is it? - but I think there's no harm in a categorical imperative now and then. Reading it is the morally correct thing to do.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Grande morte helps with petite morte

I'm sure it's what he would have wanted. Talk about getting a stiffy.

Whereas, if Roy Carroll had been playing . . .

Different sport, I know, but I was still impressed by this. A basketball match in which only 7 points were scored, in total! Must have been the old catenaccio at work.

It Doesn't.

One that almost got away, How Soccer Explains the World, by Franklin Foer.

A misleading title. In fact, this book demonstrates how social, political, economic and cultural forces shape football, rather than the reverse.

The title's also a bit of a giveaway in another respect: The fact that it refers to footie as 'soccer' tells you it's by an American and for Americans. Foer has clearly done his reading of the standard texts (Jimmy Burns's Barca, David Winner's Brilliant Orange, Simon Kuper's Football against the Enemy, etc.) and he's been to a few matches, but as always in these books, there's a sense of 'slumming it,' that football supporters are lumpenprole idiots who, a la Bill Buford, drink lager and smell of cheese and onion crisps (such debased, vulgar tastes!). Foer declares how wonderful it is that he can watch European matches on satellite TV in the comfort of his own home (no doubt he's a Fox subscriber, given that this is a HarperCollins book and the gratitude he extends to Rupert Murdoch), not so much because he's living in the States, where 'soccer' of such quality is unavailable, but because it means he doesn't have to get off his arse and mingle with the ruffians. If he loves soccer so much, he ought to be out there organizing kids' teams or supporting his local MSL or WUSA team. But this is an armchair supporters' book at best, and feels smug with it. Not that I object to televised footie: I just don't think you can tell too much about the people in the stands when you're that far removed.

Rant over.

So Good It Hurts

If you buy one album this year, make it THIS ONE. You won't regret it, I promise.

Samples are available here.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

To facilitate my new year's resolution

which was not to buy any books this year (I've a backlog of at least 60 to read), I have a further reason for avoiding Waterstone's now they've sacked Joe Gordon, who blogs here. You've probably already encountered the story, so I won't labour it here. Suffice to say I encourage you to imitate my behaviour. I just listed AK Press on your left; why not buy your books there?

Finger Food

One of the side-effects of Alzheimer's disease is loss of weight, because sufferers forget to feed themselves, so finger food is recommended as a way of helping them keep their weight up. I read that in some medical journal, but I can't remember where now (Oh No! Not that tired old Alzheimer's trope).

This feeble lead-in is a way of explaining why these reviews are so brief: I read these books while I was convalescing, some of them over a month or so ago, and I'm lucky if I even get the title right, let alone recall the subject matter. Nonetheless, completist that I am, this rounds off 2004's reading.

Andre Gorz: A Critical Introduction, by Conrad Lodziak and Jeremy Tatman.

A shortish book that nevertheless gives a fairly comprehensive overview of the development of Gorz’s thought. In spite of the subtitle, this isn’t a particularly critical introduction; in fact, more often than not, the authors are inclined to defend Gorz against his critics.

The Division of Labour: The Labour Process and Class Struggle in Modern Capitalism, edited by Andre Gorz

A series of provocative essays that collectively substantiate the argument that the origins of the division of labour in industry are political and not technical, in spite of Adam Smith et al.’s presumptions to the contrary. According to the various authors herein, control of the production process and the insinuation of the capitalist into it as an indispensable mediator, restriction of technical knowledge, disciplining and fragmentation of the workforce, mystification of class location and thereby reduction in class consciousness and solidarity, and, last but not least, more reliable extraction of surplus value were the determining factors in shaping the labour process, and NOT the ‘objective,’ technically ‘neutral’ dictates of productive efficiency. A superb book that reminded me why I love sociology.

Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left, and the Leftover Left, by Ronald Radosh.

A disappointingly general autobiography of disillusionment. Radosh’s journey seems to have a simple plot development: The Communists lied to me about the Rosenbergs, feminists were hostile to my wife, so we’re becoming conservatives instead. Which all (all?) makes one wonder how devoted he was to socialism in the first place, what sort of conception of politics he entertained, and why he didn’t pursue other channels of oppositionalism, as so many anticommunist leftists have done down the years. Paraphrasing Raoul Vaneigem, the moment revolutionaries lie to the people, the revolution is dead. Generations of socialists have understood this. Apparently Radosh didn’t.

On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left, by Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth.

I've discussed Tourish's views on extremist groups as cults before, but this book offers particularly entertaining chapters on Gerry Healy, Ted Grant, and Lyndon La Rouche. Lovingly described demonstrations of the narcissism of small differences at work, as well as the inevitable paranoia and need for control that arise from democratic centralism.

The Vintage Mencken, by H. L. Mencken, compiled by Alastair Cooke.

Some of the most beautiful writing I’ve encountered in a while, but he does go on a bit. Published in 1955, so much of the material has lost its pithiness, but capable of evoking many a wry smile and moues of admiration at his descriptions of fin de siecle and 1920s Baltimore.

My Disillusionment in Russia, by Emma Goldman.

After the Figes book, reviewed below, not massively enlightening. What pleasure I derived from this book came from the descriptions of Goldman’s accounts of her meetings with Kropotkin and Nestor Makhno. It’s Makhno, in fact, who makes the greatest impression (moreso than Goldman herself) and whose work should be more widely read. See AK press, now linked, at left.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

More Nostalgia

This time it's Greil Marcus reminiscing about the Gang of Four on Reidski's site.

hat tip: Darren at Inveresk Street

...and for the sake of balance

...although this really just shows that some people are disasters waiting to happen,

the December 2004 issue of Prevention magazine has tips from the editors in response to readers' queries, offering advice on, amongst other topics, how to cope with sleep deprivation following the birth of a baby, how to avoid boredom when using a mini-trampoline for exercise, how to avoid high blood pressure from eating too much salt (rather an obvious solution, I'd have thought), and how to avoid accidentally biting the inside of one's cheek!

One way would be not to use a mini-trampoline for exercise, I suspect.

First Darwin Award Candidate of the Year

An editorial in the September 17, 2004, issue of the Daily Nebraskan entitled "Individual Rights Buckle Under Seat Belt Laws" argued against mandatory seat belt laws, observing that,

"As laws become increasingly strict for seat belts, fewer people will respond positively by buckling up in response to the laws. There seems to be a die-hard group of non-wearers out there who simply do not wish to buckle up no matter what the government does. I belong to this group."

The author of this piece was one Derek Kieper, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I use the past tense advisedly: The January 4, 2005, edition of the Lincoln Journal Star reports that Mr. Kieper was killed in a car accident and that the mishap in which his life was so cruelly taken was precisely the sort of accident in which seat belts have proved so effective in saving life. Kieper, who was a back seat passenger, was thrown from the car, which travelled off the road and rolled over several times in a ditch. The two other passengers in the vehicle sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Captain Joe Lefler of Lancaster County Sheriff's Office reported that they were both wearing seat belts.

Irish Stereotypes #1

Talking as I was of Uisce Beatha the other day, here's a tenuous link to an implausible Irish martial art.

London 2012!!

was one of the banners displayed at a recent Barcelona match, according to my reliable source Jordi. Madrid, of course, have submitted a rival bid, hence the mischievous support for London from the Catalans.

Details of the bids can be found at this rich and beautiful site, home of Architectural Record magazine.

One of the recent additions to Barcelona's skyline, the Agbar Tower, can also be seen on the same site, here. It's being euphemistically referred to as "Barcelona's gherkin," but you and I both know what it really looks like. Ideally, it would be located in the heart of the city's red light district, and, though it's possibly bad taste to say this right now, all it really needs is for the city to experience an earthquake to create the full vibrator effect.

And to think this post started off so well.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Langford on Coyne

This is Jon Langford’s obituary for Kevin Coyne that appears in the latest Mojo.

“The phone rings in the mixing room at North Branch Studio in Chicago and my wife breaks the news that Kevin died this morning. We’re busy finishing off an album he started with my band, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, on his last visit to the United States. It’s the last day of mixing and I’d been excited to send him the final product.

I talk to his wife Helmi in Nuremberg and she tells me he died at home in her arms. This, at least, is good news, as Kevin’s been slogging around Europe with an oxygen tank and breathing tubes in tow for the last few months, playing blinding shows but living in constant terror of dropping dead in some hotel room, all alone. He was diagnosed with fibrosis soon after returning from the Chicago trip. It’s a vicious disease that turns your lungs to concrete and places an unbearable strain on your heart. Kevin downplayed the seriousness of his condition and continued playing and recording, painting and writing ‘til the end. He had a gig in Vienna the night he died and shows booked well into December.

Advance ticket sales were so bad for his last Chicago show I had to beg, bribe and threaten people to turn up. Kevin was charming, rude and hilarious, vogueing for the crowd like some mad medieval friar while ad-libbing whole songs with masterful ease and precision. The crowd was amazed (Kevin was amazing) and I got phone calls and e-mails for days from grateful friends I’d bullied into coming.

First spied in 1974 on the Old Grey Whistle Test with his guitar on his lap, moaning and yelling, fretting the chords with his thumb, Kevin caused a stir at my school on a par with Alvin Stardust’s dramatic TOTP debut. Apart from a slew of reggae albums, Kevin’s Millionaires and Teddy Bears and Babble were the only thing worth nicking out of the Virgin Records press office when we were briefly labelmates back in 1979. John Lydon once confessed to pilfering from his arsenal of crazed squawks and wails, and my pal John Hyatt unashamedly channeled Kevin for The Three Johns.

In 1990 The Mekons covered one of his songs, “Having a Party,” an unsubtle stab at Virgin’s owner (Richard Branson is reportedly a huge Coyne fan to this day) that mirrored our sorry situation on A&M at the time. One night at the Duchess of York in Leeds I handed him a copy and he looked a bit baffled.

For a man who turned down the job as Jim Morrison’s replacement in The Doors, was billed as the English Beefheart and refused to write lyrics for Tubular Bells, Kevin Coyne spent a remarkably long, yet fruitful, time in the rock wilderness.

Brutally neglected in Britain and never even on the radar in the USA, he made his home in Germany where he found love and respect and created wonderful artwork, books and albums that are out there just waiting to be discovered.

Last year, Paul Morley predicted a Kevin Coyne revival, but maybe in death he’s still too wilful, wild and cantankerous for your average conservative rock fan.”

Hap Tip: Tom D

Ingrates of the world unite!

I was delighted to encounter this quotation from Malatesta and this piece of nostalgia at this blog, which explains the new link, left, to the Inveresk Street Ingrate. On reflection, maybe I should have headed this posting "middle-aged slackers of the world unite!"

Monday, January 10, 2005

Big Shout Outs to Kerbside

My flight home to Dublin was much enlivened by my single serving friends, a witty, intelligent, and charming couple from San Francisco now resident in Athlone and who perform under the stagename Kerbside (site here.) Conversation ranged from Chuck Palahniuk to Maxine Hong Kingston, Morphine (the band), the Mekons (of course), the singular and plural constructions of “e-mail,” the Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels (whose name I couldn’t remember), and the virtues of Ireland’s Midlands. Do download some of their mp3s, although I was told they’re fairly old tracks: A CD is in the pipeline, I believe. Look out for it. In a good way.

But to be fortyish was very heaven

Thanks to my brother and other convivial company, this weekend in Barcelona was an absolute belter. A visit here on the night of his 40th birthday resulted in witnessing two sets by Catalunya’s top Elvis impersonator in premature celebration of The King’s 70th anniversary, a four-mile dérive around the Eixample at 3 in the morning as we tried to find our way back to our hotel, a grazed elbow for one of our number (dodgy kerbs), and a stonking hangover the next day despite the administration of Nurofen Plus when we finally reached our destinations.

A trip to Barça would have been incomplete without a tour of Camp Nou, duly executed on the Saturday and followed by a trip up Montjuic to the Olympic pool, stadium (home to the inferior and frankly daft Espanyol), and the Poble Sec footie ground. Imbibing of cava commenced once the Paral.lel was reached, tapas and small beers added to the subdued frivolity, and then we enjoyed a further stroll along the beach and down to the Olympic port, where we saw lowlights of Villa’s defeat and joined the crowds in La Barca de Salamanca for too much food.

So, thanks to Jose and Jordi for their wonderful chaperoning, Mart, importantly, for the accommodation, Kev and Bruce for the jokes and beers, and to the CNT for not giving up the struggle.


Thursday, January 06, 2005

Still the Youngest and Best Looking

Happy Birthday to our Mart, 40 tomorrow. Sound bloke extraordinaire.

Visca Barça!!

(and Uisce Beatha!!)


As someone suffering from this infernal cold doing the rounds in Dublin, it's cold comfort (forgive the pun) to learn how byzantine the process of infection can be, but cause for reflection is provided by this article in the November/December issue of E: The Environmental Magazine on the emerging science of conservation medicine.

The real reason was the Madonna sound track

An article in the December issue of Motor Trend recounts how Chevrolet pulled the plug on an ad by Guy Ritchie for the 2005 Corvette. The ad featured a ten-year-old boy driving his dream car through the streets of New York. The article also features an amusing sidebar detailing earlier examples of commercials produced by car companies that have been withdrawn as a result of complaints. Oddly, quite a few involve cruelty to animals. Mmm. I'm saying nothing about Jeremy Clarkson.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Best and Worst Reads of 2004

A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891–1924, by Orlando Figes

At 824 pages of narrative, this feels like a monumental book, but it could quite clearly have been three times longer, such is the amount of information crammed into each chapter. There is nothing in the way of filler, no extraneous material, although Figes attempts to contextualize the massive social forces involved in the revolution by describing their impact on a number of individuals—Maxim Gorky, General Brusilov, Dmitry Oskin, amongst others—thereby offering some relief from what can otherwise read like a school textbook, detailing facts and figures and giving barebones accounts of events.

Figes also departs from the standard, "impartial" approach associated with textbooks by virtue of his obvious sympathy for the majority of the participants. The Tsar alone stands clearly indicted by Figes; Circumstances in Russia, as he describes them, make it clear that this was a revolution that not only had to take place but which also should have taken place. The intransigence and stupidity of the Tsar were only making matters worse. Russia's tragedy, it might be argued, was that it did not have a Tsar capable of understanding the mood of the country, a Tsar in touch with the feelings of the masses, but this is not the tragedy as Figes perceives it. Indeed, the revolution was thoroughly deserved; the tragedy was really that the circumstances of the revolution's making meant that it was destined to ruination.

Tragedy strictly defined requires some flaw in the character of the dramatis personae such that their behaviour is predisposed to self-destruction. Figes does not argue that the Russian people themselves suffered from a flaw of this sort that rendered them, for example, susceptible to authoritarianism. Rather, the tragedy arises because, at various points, the options available to the actors are so limited—by their aims, by the expectations of others, by the threats posed from outside and so on—that they have little choice but to act in such a way that even they know cannot but result in massive suffering and hardship.

For example, the decision to requisition grain from the countryside to feed the cities after a bad harvest could not but be met with resistance by the peasants. Many peasants had grain kept in storage from the previous harvest to offset the possibility of a bad harvest, but when this surplus was requisitioned too, leaving them with nothing, they were bound to regard the Bolsheviks as enemies of the peasants. The Bolsheviks, for their part, suspected that the peasants were not storing grain but, rather, hiding it, which indeed they did once it became clear that the Bolsheviks would take everything they could find.

Such actions might not have been so calamitous were it not for the fact that the peasants already regarded the revolution as complete. Once the autocracy was gone, the village councils were transformed into Soviets, so that the peasants were immediately autonomous and self-sufficient: Nothing more was needed, as far as they were concerned, for the revolution to be successful. The peasant soviets represented direct democracy, farms were, if not collectivised, organised in such a way that all those running them felt they had an equal part in the community, and the differences between rich and poor peasants were negligible. For outsiders from the cities to intervene and take what they had produced seemed to them a betrayal of the revolution.

A second example: Lenin's decision to seize power from the Kerensky government before the Congress of Soviets could convene, a decision made in spite of the view that the Congress was needed to legitimise any such seizure. Lenin argued that any delay could give Kerensky time to organize repressive measures against it, but Figes argues that Lenin deliberately invented the danger of a clampdown in order to strengthen his own arguments for a pre-emptive strike. But, he observes, Lenin also had a second reason: If the transfer of power had the backing of Congress, the outcome would almost certainly have been a coalition government made up of all the Soviet parties, a "resounding political victory" for Kamenev, Lenin's archrival in the Bolshevik Party, who would have undoubtedly emerged as the central figure in a coalition of this type. Under Kamenev's direction, the centre of power would have remained with the Soviet Congress rather than with the Bolshevik Party, and Lenin ran the risk of being sidelined, whereas a Bolshevik seizure of power prior to Congress's convention would result in Lenin's domination. Thus, at a secret meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee on 10th October, the decision was taken to prepare for insurrection; Of the 21 members of the committee, only 12 were present, and the decision was passed by 10 votes to 2. Indeed, Figes points out, it was not just a coup within the government, it was also a Leninist coup within the Bolshevik Party, but what choice did Lenin have? It was dictatorship or marginalisation.

While central actors in the revolution are given their due credit, Figes does not make the mistake of imputing to them some sort of heroic status or even a "higher consciousness," a superior awareness of the situation to that of the pleb in the street. What is clear from this book is that the revolution was indeed a popular uprising that took many years to mature and develop, and that there was an inexorable logic to its unfolding given the benefit of hindsight; thus does the angel of history fly looking backwards. Not that things had to turn out the way they did, of course, but, to take the example cited earlier, to observe that were the Bolsheviks to secure power for themselves rather than with the support of the Soviet Congress, the problems faced by the society as a whole thereby change, of necessity; a civil war becomes increasingly likely, for instance, and the Bolsheviks increasingly isolated, albeit in power (I for one didn't know that half the Kronstadt Bolsheviks were so disillusioned by party rule that in the second half of 1920 they tore up their cards).

I've read few books on the revolution that have not had axes to grind. This is one of them—or at least it had no axes that I could detect. It was also the most enjoyable book I read during 2004, not a difficult honour to attain, as you can see from past reviews, as well as being the one book I would recommend everyone who has an interest in this period have a look at. Definitely well worth a read.

Tools for Conviviality, by Ivan Illich

Definitely not worth a read. A short book at 110 pages, in which Illich manages to say precisely nothing of any substance. A series of unsupported assertions leading nowhere. And to think I read this on recommendation.

Ho hum.