Monday, February 28, 2005

Another Kind of Love

is how I feel about the work of filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. Grotesque, macabre, bizarre, immensely funny, and unashamedly surrealist. A delight at every turn.

Friday, February 25, 2005

But what is he running from?

The February issue of Runners World features a profile of ultra-distance runner Dean Karnazes. Karnazes is attempting to run 300 miles non-stop. He made his first attempt two years ago during and after the 199-mile Relay from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, California, which he ran alone, but he stopped at mile 225 after realizing he was sleep-running in the center of a two-lane highway.

In October 2004, he reached 262 miles, although he stopped for a 15-minute nap at mile 235. So it doesn't count.

Pope's condition described as "normal."

Yeah, normal for a bloke who thinks his authority is directly derived from a character in a work of fiction who supposedly stands outside the gates to an ethereal paradise where all the good and faithful people go after they stop breathing.

I can feel the flames already.

Let's hope Edwyn's there too.

It's the end of May. You're in Barcelona. You're bopping to the Gang of Four, The Wedding Present, TV Personalities, David Thomas, They Might Be Giants, Art Brut, American Music Club, Sonic Youth, Vic Chesnutt, Kristin Hersh, Micah P. Hinson, New Order, Ron Sexsmith, Steve Earle, and Many, many others.

You're at Primavera 2005. And you only paid €85 for the three days. That's about £2.75 in old money.

Look for the lanky tosser with specs dancing like yer granny.

Buy me a beer.

Hope and Despair

Edwyn Collins admitted to hospital with a brain haemorrhage. Seriously ill.

Think fond thoughts and beam them to him.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tell It Like It Is, Dammit!

The joys of sitemeter: I notice from my referrals page that Google directed some poor soul to C&S who was searching for "Pathological Lying."

It's Searle's Chinese box problem, only in reverse: When search engines are able to infer human intentions in a blogger, does that mean they've become human or that bloggers have?

Inside I'm Squirming

A review of the movie Inside I'm Dancing (renamed for U.S. release) from the February 11 issue of Entertainment Weekly:


James McAvoy, Romola Garai, Steven Robertson

R,104 mins. (Focus)

Irish eyes aren't smiling on this very handicapped drama.

Nothing exploits prejudice against people with disabilities quite like a didactic sentimental movie designed to combat prejudice against people with disabilities. The moment we meet the title character of Rory O'Shea Was Here, we know just what he's about. Rory (James McAvoy) has gelled spiky hair, a nose ring, and a mouth that won't stop berating people with cutting Irish wit. He also has muscular dystrophy, and from where he sits, in his wheelchair-with-headrest (his body is immobile except for two fingers on his right hand), the world is a cheap and patronizing place. I wonder what he'd have to say about this movie? At a residential home, Rory meets Michael Michael (Steven Robertson), a young man with cerebral palsy who speaks in a yowling, stretched-out gargle that no one but Rory can comprehend. He becomes Michael's buddy and "translator," and the two split for Dublin, where they land in a spiffy color-coordinated flat. But will they be accepted for who they are?

Considering that director Damien O'Donnell and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine never stop defining them by their afflictions, I'm not sure they'll have much of a chance. Rory, as a character, belongs to an honorable film tradition of bitter yet sensitive handicapped rebels who don't want your pity, man. Yet as charming a devil as the actor James McAvoy may be, the movie gives Rory, in his defensive brashness, no layers, no dimension of personal dream. There's a dreadful subplot in which Rory and Michael hire a caretaker (Romola Garai) who looks like Kate Winslet crossed with Drew Barrymore, and we're meant to think, "Gee, the poor blokes, having to be around such a winsome sex-bomb lass!" Didn't it occur to the people who made this movie that men in wheelchairs have girlfriends too? Rory O'Shea Was Here gazes at the physically afflicted and just about begs for our sympathy long after we've grown restless and eager to feel something else. C

Disabled AND Irish. As Arnold Brown used to say, "The best value in town: Two stereotypes for the price of one."

Groundswell Preview

From today's New York Times (log-in necessary), a preview of the new MoMA exhibition, previously lauded here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The ABCs of Class Struggle

A provocative essay here by Aduku Addae. I like his style, though not everyone will like his content.

Canadian Amp

Interview with Neko Case in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Your Public Idaho

Here's just a sample of the articles that have featured in recent issues of Idaho Magazine:

An account in which the narrator recalls the time she got a fish hook stuck in her scalp during a fishing expedition.

A conversation between the narrator and a friend in which the latter recalls how his crossbred dog sustained a nose injury and couldn’t hunt any more.

An interview with car dealer Sam Fishel, who talks about topics like his personal beliefs and his Centennial Motors car dealership

An article in which the narrator recalls playing as a child with farmyard cats, which her father subsequently killed because he believed they had given her ringworm.

Tips on how to cross fences safely from a man who had many childhood accidents with barbed wire.

An excerpt from the book From the Ganges to the Snake River: An East Indian in the American West, in which the author describes the difficulties he encountered when trying to catch any fish in Idaho.

An article in which the writer recalls an incident from his teenage years in which he and his friend scared an old lady in the whirlpool of their local YMCA by farting in the water.

An article in which the narrator reflects on his friend's desire to be a dog for a day

Descriptions of three tourist attractions in Idaho: The Craters of the Moon National Monument—a stark, barren landscape; Ernest Hemingway’s grave; and the state’s highest point.

An article in which the narrator recalls her efforts to catch a runaway cow.

An account concerning the narrator’s friend’s unsuccessful attempt to teach his dog to tolerate cats by allowing it to raise a six-week-old kitten.

Flights are available.

The Great Philanthropists

From the February issue of Chicago magazine, among articles on 25 families who played a major role in the city's emergence as a leading metropolis:

"The McCormick family: Chicago was a town of fewer than 17,000 people in 1847 when a Virnia inventor named Cyrus McCormick decided it made the ideal place to manufacture and distribute his breakthrough invention, a mechanical grain reaper that enabled one man to do the work of five. McCormick and two of his brothers, Leander and William, went on to build the booming company that would become International Harvester and later Navistar International, now based in west-suburban Warrenville."


"The Pullman Family: George Mortimer Pullman's luxurious sleeping cars made long-distance train travel comfortable and turned him into a rich man. In the l880s, Pullman built a picturesque town (named after himself), later incorporated into the city, where his employees could work in his factory, live in high-quality houses they rented from him, shop in his stores, and send their children to the schools he built. But Pullman's record as a friend of the working stiff was mixed. The financial panic of 1893 prompted him to cut his workers' wages by 20 to 25 percent (while keeping rents unchanged), touching off the infamous and deadly Pullman Strike (1894). After his death in 1897, custodians of Graceland Cemetery enclosed his coffin in tons of concrete to keep people from desecrating his grave."

I like that line, "(his) record . . . was mixed." MIXED? Employees worked in his factories, paid him rent, shopped in his stores, and sent their children to his schools.

If they were LUCKY!

Can't imagine why they'd want to desecrate the grave of someone who'd done so much for Chicago.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Guns Before Butter

The latest missive from the Project for the New American Century, a Letter to Congress on Increasing U.S. Ground Forces, published January 28th. Neocons and liberal hawks are signatories. Will the empire be able to afford the new clothes?

Two Pedals Good, Four Pedals . . . Pissed

Reidski's hilarious account of an unfortunate series of events centering on a kiddie's scooter elicited one of the great scientific questions of our era, namely, is it possible to cycle while drunk? I've no personal experience either way but am willing to accept unverifiable anecdotes in addition to scientific data on this one.

It's a small war, after all.

I've been unable to find any photos or other evidence online to establish this, and I've never been to Disney World, so can anyone confirm whether or not it's true that the daily parade of characters there currently features Donald Duck in army uniform driving a mock-up tank? A bloke at work told me this on the basis of a report from his sister, who took her kids there a few weeks back, and I know Donald Duck was used in propaganda movies of WW2, but I'd have thought this would have made the news by now.

Some People Are Just "Me, Me, Me."

Hunter S. Thompson checked out Sunday. Obit here.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Gladly, My Cross-Eyed Bear

To the Beckhams another boy, Cruz (a girl's name, apparently), meaning Cross. Presumably one of the few Spanish words David has learned. Look out for next two lads to be called Pass and Shoot.

If child number 4 is a girl, naming her will be a doddle: Miss Penalty.

Friday, February 18, 2005

American Labor History

Links page spotted at Le Revue Gauche.

Owning Cocteau Twins Albums Now Okay - Official

Well, a unilateral declaration on my part since they were on sale yesterday at €7.99 a piece (that's about a fiver in old money). I bought three: Heaven or Las Vegas, Victorialand, and Blue Bell Knoll.

Back in the 80s the Cocteau twins were off-limits in my neck of the woods. Their music was regarded as the sort of ambient toss owned by yuppies who worked in marketing, lived in converted warehouses in Wapping, and watched Peter Greenaway movies (remember Michael Nyman and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra? Me neither). What they wanted was not a soundtrack to their lives—they were too self-centred for that—but rather background music to accompany their conspicuous consumption, and the Cocteaus suited that requirement nicely. I'll own up that back then even I went through periodic fugues of pretentiousness: I bought Courtney Pine's first album (oh, the shame of it: no, that wasn't the title) and even went to see him at Manchester's International Club. Two and half hours STANDING STILL, listening to improvised jazz while squashed up against the beret-wearing Bourdeaux-swilling classes: I swear, that's the nearest I've come to hell on earth.

Pierre Bourdieu wrote beautifully and astutely on the role that musical taste plays as a means of social demarcation and delineation, and he had enough sense to realize that aesthetic merit has nothing to do with the adoption by particular class fractions of a musical genre. So what put me off the Cocteaus was not their music but their clientele, and it's only now that I've got over my inverted snobbery and am prepared to concede that it's okay to like them.

But if you liked them before I did, shame on you.

Outsider Art, but Mostly Indoors

I'd read before about the seriously weird yet sympathetic Henry Darger, and there's now a documentary about him by Jessica Yu, produced by Susan West, In the Realms of the Unreal, which has a Web site here.

These days, of course, he'd be a blogger.

Canadian Commie Cornucopia

That's what you'll find at the excellent Le Revue Gauche: Libertarian Communist Analysis and Comment, the blog of IWW member Eugene Plawiuk. A lot of the material relates to Canadian politics, but there's much else besides that you should check out.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Monster's Ball

Article from the January 13 issue of the New York Review of Books by Sister Helen Prejean, "Death in Texas," on the application of the death penalty in that state under George W. Bush's governorship.

"U Want Me 2 Film It?"

Story mentioned below of Altrincham boy to be made into movie. Hope they need extras.

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

Article worth reading by Henry Blodget on Slate Web site, February 10, about the new book by Ted Fishman, China Inc.: The Relentless Rise of the Next Great Superpower.

Gird your loins.

Reclaim the (Suburban) Streets!

A wee snippet here (down the page) by Linda Baker in the Jan/Feb issue of Sierra magazine on the introduction of woonerfs in Europe, particularly Holland.

No suspense: Woonerfs are "living streets" which "reject standardized traffic controls, which many drivers ignore or try to beat anyway, in favor of attractive urban designs that signal a multi-use public space."

Made safer by being made more dangerous. Where does that sound like?

Now THAT'S Casual

From the January 2005 issue of Cycle World:

Chris Draayer: 1946-2004

"Chris Draayer, billed in vintage races as The World's Fastest One-Armed Motorcyclist, was killed in a one-bike crash near his home in Utah last September.

He was born to the sport. The Draayer family owned the Harley-Davidson dealership in Salt Lake City, and Chris rode for his dad as a Novice, then for the factory after he made Expert. In 1966, he was the AMA's Rookie of the Year and finished the season fifth in national points.

In 1967, at the Sedalia, Missouri, Half-Mile, there was a multi-rider crash and Draayer was critically injured. His left arm was severed below the shoulder and he spent months in the hospital. But Draayer didn't quit. Former teammate and lifelong pal Mert Lawwill built Draayer an artificial arm.

Draayer's professional career was over, but he remained a rider, and operated the family's dealership until he retired in 1984 to devote time and effort to the Mormon Church-he was sometimes called the "Stormin' Mormon." When BMW inaugurated its Battle of the Legends series, Draayer was part of the cast and rode well. He was a modest and friendly man and became a crowd favorite.

Lawwill continually revised and improved the prosthetic arm he built for Draayer and hopes to raise funds for a memorial foundation that would subsidize artificial arms for kids who need such help.

The saddest part, Lawwill said, was that Draayer was out for a casual cruise and wasn't using the arm when he had his accident. It could have made a difference in control. What sometimes seems to be a minor decision can have major consequences."

Allan Girdler

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Books Which Wound and Stab

Promised Reviews:

A book that recently wounded me but for all the wrong reasons and in very sore places was Gary P. Steenson’s labour of love, Karl Kautsky, 1854–1938: Marxism in the Classical Years. Labour of love, I reckon, only because I have no other plausible explanation for his choice of subject. By Steenson’s own account, and his narration is by no means inept, Kautsky as a person possesses no redeeming features—actually, that’s not fair, since it isn’t as if he was a mass murderer or a serial killer. Rather, Kautsky’s crime is that he possesses no features whatsoever. Chapter after chapter detailing the minutiae of political manouevring within the SPD at the turn of the century fails to bring Kautsky to life, and yet you feel that this is not a failing of the author but of Kautsky himself, a nitpicking theoretician, an unimaginative, dreary functionary. And Steenson somehow manages to perfectly encapsulate his subject’s magnificent dullness not just in terms of content but also in the tone of his text.

I recall, vaguely, while reading this book that I enjoyed a brief surge of excitement as I began the penultimate chapter, with its promising title, “Two Revolutions, One War,” but that excitment soon dissipated when I read the opening lines (paraphrasing here): “By 1914 Kautsky’s star was on the wane and he was no longer of any relevance.” Gary P. Steenson, master of anticlimax.

Much of the final chapter is spent trying to convince us of Kautsky’s continued significance without having demonstrated that he was ever of any major importance in his own lifetime. I know many will disagree with that judgement, including Steenson, but who cares? The book left me only with a sense of melancholy and a nonspecific sadness at my own indifference to Kautsky’s travails.

A book that recently punctured the zeitgeist received a review from me here, but I’ve since encountered a number of reviews of it and interviews with the author, Emmanuel Todd, one in the Dominion Paper of Canada, one on the Marxist Web site Political Affairs, and another at Yes Magazine. None of them greatly expands on Todd’s theory, and only one mentions his bizarre attitude toward American women, but he remains of interest because 1: he predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union using his peculiar heuristic and 2: traditional accounts of the development and direction of capitalism/imperialism lack, if not the multidimensionality of his approach, at least the predictive power (if one success is enough to go on!) Todd acknowledges earlier political and economic theories of imperialism but without prioritizing either factors as the ultimate determinants of imperial behaviour; what’s more, he stresses ideological and demographic factors as, perhaps, equally significant. Whether or not his theories will stand the test of time is, of course, another thing altogether. His argument that U.S. indebtedness will play a major role in the American empire’s decline is something that, if the columnists of Business Week are to be believed, is no longer of any importance because the level of foreign investment in the U.S. economy is such that, should it collapse, it will take every other economy with it. From which it follows that the true consequence of globalism is that its interdependence requires of the rest of the world that we write off the U.S. debt(!)

Leon Hunt’s Kung Fu Cult Masters: From Bruce Lee to “Crouching Tiger” intimidated me initially because of the Film Studies jargon in the introduction, but I persevered with it and ultimately came through the other side pleasantly surprised and, to some extent, I’d like to think, enlightened. I suspect that the subject matter will only appeal to a specific cohort of back-end boomers and early Gen X-ers, and male at that (although Hunt makes a decent fist of exploring the place of female martial artists in the genre); but for anyone on the verge of investigating the kung fu movie world, this will provide a great introduction. The first kung fu films that filmgoers in Europe encountered, such as those of Bruce Lee, Wang Yu, and, later, Jackie Chan, are put into their wider context, thereby revealing their indebtedness to their forerunners and explaining the distinctive interpretations of the films when viewed here, in Hong Kong, and in the rest of China. The anti-Japanese and anti-gwailo sentiments underlying Bruce Lee’s movies, for instance, were often lost on those of us who watched as enthralled teenagers back in the 1970s, and it didn’t matter to us that there was a rabid Chinese nationalism underpinning the tradition to which his films belonged. It was the novelty value that appealed to us.

Hunt recognizes the ironies and contradictions in the various perspectives and opens them out, but in a way that novices will find non-threatening. In the process, readers will learn why Northern styles of kung fu used sweeping kicks and arcs while Southern styles were compact and linear; discover the differences between crane, monkey, and drunken styles; and find out why swordfights feature so heavily in mainland Chinese films but not in Hong Kong movies. In addition, you’ll find out which films to begin your collection with, and how to prioritize between Drunken Master, Fists of Legend, and Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

Ah yes, Grasshopper. Fear not the book which stabs with a retractable blade.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lex Lectionis

From the delightful Rullsenberg Rules:

"I think we ought to only read the kind of books which wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. This is my belief."

Franz Kafka, 'Letter to Pollack'

Book reviews coming up.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Son of Idiots

And, combining those last two posts, what are the odds that, before this year is out, some halfwitted pair decides to name its offspring iPod?

Or iPod Special U2 Edition?

Because He's Got Dickie Davies' Eyes

More idiots:

The January 2005 issue of U.S. Catholic features an article on the names being given to children in the United States and reports that recent years have seen kids named Lexus, Chanel, Armani, Cartier, and Espn (after the sports channel ESPN and presumably pronounced Espen).

In a separate Feedback section on memorable stories behind kids' names, one chap recounts that

“A couple we knew were expecting their eighth child, a boy. No problem. He was to be named Henry (the eighth).”

Mm. No doubt you had the same thoughts I did. Presumably this couple is not Catholic, otherwise Henry VIII is a most unlikely figure to name your child after. And what's more, why aren't the previous seven kids called Henry too, after Henrys 1 through 7? Unless they're all girls, where's the logic in this decision?

Morons. I swear, the world is full of morons. No wonder they need a tower.

Rise of the Idiots

Not a Nathan Barley reference, though I hope you managed to catch the latest Chris Morris co-penned comedy on Friday night, but relevant nevertheless to this article from December 20th's Business Week by Michelle Conlin in which she reports findings that gadgets such as Blackberries, PDAs and other supposed multitasking tools can lower efficiency, increase error rates, reduce attention spans, and lead to raised stress levels, increasing the time it takes to do the most simple tasks by 50 percent or more.

The same issue contains this advice for investors from Robert Barker: Stay clear from the IPO of Herbalife, a direct-sales marketer of dietary supplements whose founder died in May 2000 following a four-day alcoholic binge.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

World famous in Manchester

That's Norm of Normblog fame, whose interview by Channel M, Manchester's local TV station, was broadcast last night. Seems Normblog has achieved some notoriety. I wouldn't know about that, and I haven't seen the interview yet (Channel M has a tendency to repeat items fairly frequently, so I'll look out for this particular item when I'm over in Altrincham next Christmas), but my spies tell me that it's along the lines of "So, you're a professor, then. Say something clever."

Anyone unfortunate enough to live in the vicinity care to expand? (I say unfortunate because, obviously, as a resident of the MCR area, you're undoubtedly a City fan.) Can you confirm that Norm was interviewed not because of his blog but because he is a United fan living in Manchester?

Friday, February 11, 2005

That explains so much.

Willem Dafoe being interviewed in the December 13 issue of New York magazine on his cultural and artistic influences:

NY: Is there one artwork that's a kind of touchstone for you?

WD: Well, many years ago, at P.S.1 in Long Island City, there was one thing I loved. It has a kind of gag element to it, and you could see the process. Anyway, you walk into this room and see this pedestal. Simple, white, high as your waist. And you saw something on top of the pedestal moving around. When you got close, you saw there were cockroaches. And that the artist had cut out little fluffy tails and little paper ears and turned them into bunnies. They were cockroach bunnies. Scurrying on top of this pedestal. And they couldn't climb down because of the weight of these minuscule things glued onto them. It was so beautiful: a little science experiment, a little mortality, a little brutality, a little kitsch—I was in love. It gave me such pleasure that, for a moment, I didn't worry about anything at all.

Warning - Some Altrincham Content

February's U.S. Vanity Fair features an article by Judy Bachrach entitled "U Want Me 2 Kill Him?" which centres on a 14-year-old kid who managed to persuade a 16-year-old, over the Internet, to kill him. And it all happened round leafy and gorgeous Altrincham.

If it sounds strange, wait till you read the story.

"A Stunning movie!" - Counago & Spaves

There, that's the blurb out of the way.

Yes, I'm talking about Glitter, the Mariah Carey vehicle, directed by Vondie Curtis Hall. Although, when I say "vehicle," the only type that immediately springs to mind is a hearse.

Stunning in its ineptitude is what I mean. My brother got it right when he said it’s not even bad in a good way. I feel ashamed for even thinking that this was going to be something other than a film for 12-year-old girls with a plot conceived by someone with the mind of a 12-year-old girl. A really mature 10-year-old, say.

People had warned me to stay away from it, I confess, but I’d managed to convince myself that this was going to be a camp classic in spite of itself and that there was a hidden brilliance that no one else had picked up on. How wrong I was. Camp classics demand excruciating sentimentality, and while the plot at face value appears to scream drama queen tragedy, efforts to milk the audience’s empathy are so cack-handed that many times you can't even laugh about it.

Maybe it’s Mariah’s appearance that initiates the ridicule: It isn’t her own fault, I realize, but throughout this film she resembles a chipmunk upon whom some cruel animal-hater has drawn ludicrous Charlie Chaplin eyebrows half-way up her forehead, giving her an expression of permanent surprise, like Punxsutawney Phil woken up a day early. Whatever it is, there’s little about Carey’s character, as child or adult, that renders her sympathetic, not even the cat—that cat!—which appears in an early scene when Carey’s character, Billie, is separated as a child from her mother to be fostered, not to be seen again until a dramatic storming-out scene as adult Billie leaves her boyfriend/producer. An intensely dramatic scene, supposedly, then suddenly the cat appears and you think, “where the fuck has that cat come from? Did she have it cryogenically frozen? Is this a symbolic reappearance, a sign of Billie's returning innocence? Is this a Rosebud moment? Is Vondie Curtis Hall really Orson Welles?

Or none of the above.

I won’t spoil the film for you any more than those who made it already have; suffice to say that the last 10 to 15 minutes of this film are some of the most excruciatingly bad I’ve ever sat through in terms of plot denouement. I did cry at the end, but only with tears of laughter and incredulity at what I’d just seen. DO rent it out, don't buy it for god's sake, and DO sit through the whole thing, otherwise you won’t get the benefit of the ending.

I looked at some of the reviews on Amazon, but the reviewers are clearly taking the piss:

“I was SO impressed with Mariah's performance in Glitter. The script was so enticing my mouth was open in awe, wider than Mariah's clevage. And the music is SO good. Me and my boyfriend were both wet when she sang Never Too Far at the end.”

“Valarie Pettiford gives a nice performance in her brief screen time as the alcoholic mother who finally has to abandon young Billie in favor of the bottle.”

It quickly becomes clear that mommy made the right choice. But that we had that option.


“I’m a girl who enjoys having a good cry when watching a sad film, so I’m not sure this will appeal to everyone, but if you like a sad romance story, then this is one film you don't want to miss!”

True. This film will make you cry.

Damn that rapid eye movement!

BBC 2 showed the Culture Show not once but TWICE last night and I managed to miss both of them, so am thus unable to comment on the interview with the marvellous Kurt Vonnegut, not to mention the apparently enjoyable riling of R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe by Paul Morley, something I would have gladly paid to have seen (I'd have paid more for a scrap, mind you, and I wouldn't have minded who lost).

The first showing was too early, while I was still coming home from work, and the second was at 11, when, like all good boys, I was tucked up in bed and fast asleep.

Did anybody tape it or can they post a report?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

You couldn't make this shit up

The scandal de jour (deux jours and counting - ed) in Ireland has centered on Irish Times columnist Kevin Myers's intemperate rant about unmarried mothers, or "mothers of bastards" as he so perceptively refers to them. It's bound to run and run, in spite of his grovelling apology in today's paper.

Someone who can only envy Mr. Myers his audience is Ron Khol, the editor of Machine Design magazine, "The Design Engineer's In-Depth Resource for 75 Years." It must be tough trying to come up with a fresh and compelling editorial topic every week on the subject of machine design, so Mr. Khol has taken to diversifying in recent issues. Suffice to say, he puts Myers to shame on the subject of unmarried mothers and the wickedness of the urban underclass.

Please, take your time to read this article, then try to figure out what it has to do with machine design. If you can't see any connection, then I suggest you read this, his follow-up editorial, "Why I Write about Poverty," in which he makes clear the connection, but not before teasing you into thinking he's completely bonkers and then confirming it in the final paragraphs.

No parodist to could come close to reproducing this sort of Daily Mail fascism. I'm thinking of taking a subscription just for the editorials alone.

One good thing you can say about Russia,

they knew how to treat royalty.

Michael Keaton - the horror, the horror!

From Scott Brown's review of the movie White Noise in the January 14 Entertainment Weekly:

"(Michael Keaton's) performance turns what might have been a rote horror exercise into a twitchy, mannered, and often amusing rote horror exercise."

Lesbian Kissing

There, that should improve the number of hits I get today.

This article in today's New York Times about the networks' use of lesbian relationships during the sweeps week is what prompted the headline.

See, we serve a serious purpose here.

Learning something from the past

That's what they do at Archaeology magazine. The Jan/Feb edition features several excellent articles worth checking out, including a reconstruction of the lives of laborers on the Hacienda Tabi, a plantation in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, as well as a history of board games amongst the upper classes of medieval northern Europe.

This is what history is about. The everyday lives and activities of people. And Archaeology does it in jargon-free way.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

And I thought E. M. Cioran was a pessimist

Here's the home page of VHEMT (pronounced Vehement), the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

Well, I'm doing my bit. How about you?

About fucking time

Blair says sorry.

Now who do I know who sounds like that?

A constant interest in the world of the psychopath seems to characterize C&S (see here and here), possibly due to the fact that this contributor's better half has regular encounters in her professional life with such individuals. Yesterday's New York Times featured an article (see here, here, and here) on whether or not the term 'evil' can be meaningfully applied to the behaviour of some murderers and touched on defining qualities of the psychopath:

"As part of an extensive, in-depth interview, a trained examiner rates the offender on a 20-item personality test. The items include glibness and superficial charm, grandiose self-worth, pathological lying, proneness to boredom and emotional vacuity. The subjects earn zero points if the description is not applicable, two points if it is highly applicable, and one if it is somewhat or sometimes true.

The psychologist who devised the checklist, Dr. Robert Hare, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said that average total scores varied from below five in the general population to the low 20's in prison populations, to a range of 30 to 40 - highly psychopathic - in predatory killers. In a series of studies, criminologists have found that people who score in the high range are two to four times as likely as other prisoners to commit another crime when released. More than 90 percent of the men and a few women at the top of Dr. Stone's hierarchy qualify as psychopaths.

In recent years, neuroscientists have found evidence that psychopathy scores reflect physical differences in brain function. Last April, Canadian and American researchers reported in a brain-imaging study that psychopaths processed certain abstract words - grace, future, power, for example - differently from non-psychopaths.

In addition, preliminary findings from new imaging research have revealed apparent oddities in the way psychopaths mentally process certain photographs, like graphic depictions of accident scenes, said Dr. Kent Kiehl, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale, a lead author on both studies."

Harvey Cleckley's Mask of Sanity uses similar criteria to define psychopaths, and better half says these are classic features (in bold above). Interestingly, there is a class element to this, insofar as well-heeled psychopaths can spend most of their lives undetected and making a decent foot of things, even thriving in their chosen fields, whereas psychopaths from poorer families are more easily identified, often because frustration at the dissonance between the reality of their everyday life and their estimation of their own self-worth can lead to violent acts against those they hold responsible for their circumstances, usually close family.

But then I can think of so many people who fit the bill. I'm pretty glib myself. And only superficially charming.

You read it here first

No, you didn't, you saw news of the U.S. publication of Jerry Stahl's latest novel, I, Fatty, here last August. An extract from it was published last Saturday in the Guardian. But you've finished the entire novel by now, haven't you?

Not Dead, Just Fossilized

With reference to the war in Iraq, I recently encountered this argument on another blog, which was gloating over some "pro-occupation" Iraqis’ rage at what they saw as imperialist attitudes of their Euro-American supporters:

“There is an inherent connection between national independence and individual autonomy; in colonial situations, the self-determination of peoples is contiguous with the self-determination of people. It is a sad reminder of how far we have fallen back that it is necessary to disinter these elementary lessons of Empire.”

My first thought was, “No, mate. What’s sad is seeing the same tired old categories still being applied as though they provide an incontrovertibly correct interpetation of events and prescription for socialist action.”

Nations are not individuals, they are imagined communites, and nationalism, above all, serves to disguise conflicting class interests (remember that line about the history of all societies being that of class struggle?). Members of a colonized nation are oppressed to the extent that their labour is exploited and their universal human rights denied; they do not possess some common mythical essence that requires independent expression through their ‘national being.’

Nor is there anything progressive about national liberation: As a movement, those who benefit most from it are society’s reactionary elements, such as the military, the church, and other forces that require of labour that it compromise its demands for the sake of the national good. (Of course, Marxist-Leninism doesn’t mind a bit of militarism. It'd militarize the factories if it could). Support for national liberation does not distinguish, moreover, between progressive and reactionary forces in a society that is always already riven with class conflict. Instead, it requires of us, as foreign, albeit internationalist, socialists, to reinforce and support social elements in the colonized nation that may happily slaughter or enslave labour once the ‘war of national liberation’ is won. What sense does it make for us to weaken the position of our class allies vis-a-vis their postwar enemies by bolstering the latter and their nationalist ideology, an ideology that is designed to disguise divergent class interests?

In some quarters that haven’t got past New Left 101, any war that involves the United States is de facto an imperialist war, notwithstanding the absence of a U.S. colonial administration in, say, Guatemala, Nicaragua, or Afghanistan, and hence the willingness of the Trots to support what they perceive to be the national liberation movement in Iraq.

The absence of a colonial administration has always previously been obviated by identifying the extant government as U.S. puppets; this is not to deny that there was always massive influence wielded by the U.S. government in order to defend U.S. interests, but this isn’t the same thing as an imperialist war or war of national liberation. Moreover, since the end of the cold war, there has been no need for “our bastards,” the puppets and dictators that, according to U.S. realpolitik, kept the Soviets at bay. Since then, the watchword has been transparency, and the U.S. has done everything in its power to engage in a "mopping up" operation, discarding those bastards that are bad for business.

Free-market capitalism wants guaranteed access to resources that the nepotism and corruption of Marcoses and Pinochets and Fujimoris prevent. Far better that economies, markets, and accountancy practices be open to scrutiny, as far as big business is concerned, because the multinationals always have the advantage when bidding for contracts. What so many of the old-fashioned anti-imperialists have failed to see is that democracy in the developing nations is no longer anathema to imperial interests. Indeed, it adds legitmacy.

Two old Marxists who've come round to understanding this are Hardt and Negri, whose book Empire, while horribly jargon-laden, does a pretty good job of dissecting the post-cold war world and distinguishing between imperial and imperialist behaviour.

For a valuable assessment of their book, I also recommend Andrew Flood's review, available in pamphlet form as a pdf file here. Print off as many as you can and circulate for discussion.

As for nationalism, I recommended Bookchin before, but here he is again.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Guinness has the same effect on me

December's issue of the Reader's Digest (yeah, what of it?) features a profile of Ashrita Furman, Guinness world record holder for the most world records, including the pogo stick distance record (he pogoed 11.5 miles up and down the foothills of Mount Fuji), pushing an orange with his nose for a 24-minute mile, and the most consecutive somersaults. We are told that Furman somersaulted 12.2 miles along Paul Revere's Massachusetts ride to win the title. He was vomiting by mile 10.

We are not told exactly what motivates Ashrita, but he does say one, rather odd thing: With each new pursuit, he achieves the joy he felt at mile 10 on Revere's route. "I connect with this tremendous surge of energy," he says.

That's not energy mate. That's yer dinner.

Catch-22 Updated

Prisoner Daryl Atkins, who won a landmark case in which the US Supreme Court ruled that mentally retarded prisoners could not be executed, could find himself back on death row because his IQ has improved as a result of working on his defence. Read about it in Andrew Buncombe's article from the Independent.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Mekons Make It Big!

A cover version of the Mekons' song "I Love a Millionaire" has gone straight in at Number 35 in the Irish singles charts. The performer is one Sweet T, otherwise known as 20-year-old Marie Hughes from Glenageary.

Now how does a nice girl from Glenageary end up covering a song by such reprobates as the Mekons?

"Lust corrodes my body.
I've lost count of my lovers.
But I could count my money.
Forever and forever."

Cheap Laugh of the Day

Yes, that's the Moron Tower in Switzerland. You can see him there, look.

The Price of Genius

Having recommended the "Groundswell" exhibition at MoMA, I note in the January issue of Architectural Record that entrance to the museum is a hefty $20. Consider yourself warned in advance if you decide to go.

Friday, February 04, 2005

"Keep that nut away from me!" - God*

Turkish assassin Mehmet Ali Agca has sent a letter to the pope wishing him a speedy recovery from his current illness, according to the Turkish daily paper Vatan.

In the letter, Agca, who is serving a sentence for killing a Turkish journalist and a robbery, tells the pope, "You and I, we have both suffered in trying to spread religion around the world. I hope you regain your health in the near future."


"We are approaching the end of the world. This generation is the last generation. I hope God grants you strength and health."

It's nice to know people care. I particularly like "We have both suffered in trying to spread religion . . . etc." As Bill Hicks said, in another context, "Thanks to you, you fucker!"

* with apologies to Steve Bell. A very old joke.

The Genius of John Hyatt

If you've ever sat down and enjoyed the sunshine in Manchester's Exchange Square and admired the tilting windmills there, you've been exposed to the work of the marvellous John Hyatt, former Three John and current member of the Suns of Potto, as well as the head of MIRIAD, the Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art & Design.

The Exchange Square project is now being featured in an exhibition at New York's MoMA museum from February 25 to May 16th as part of the exhibition "Groundswell: Constructing the Contemporary Landscape." Do take it in if you're in the vicinity. Or you can get the catalog here.

Malcolm Hardee R.I.P.

Obituary in today's Guardian.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Denial . . . Anger . . . Lawsuit

The January/February2005 edition of Psychology Today magazine features an article on ten false ideas still prevalent in the mental health professions—recovered memory, catharsis, codependency, and so on—including Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of dying. Kübler-Ross, who herself died last year, theorized that terminally ill patients go through five distinct stages of dealing with their impending doom: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her theory was widely accepted, to the extent that terminally ill patients who did not follow this course were treated as abnormal.

Dissent in the face of this theory has been around for a while, but, according to the article, more recent research indicates that, in fact, many of the patients interviewed by Kübler-Ross before she originated her theory did not even know that they were dying. Moreover, these very sick people had been lied to by the hospital and by Kübler-Ross about their ailments. So when first told they were dying they denied it, and then when they discovered they’d been lied to, they got angry. Go figure!

The same issue, incidentally, features an article on how to identify a sociopath, discussed on C&S previously, and an interview with Gordon Rugg of Keele University on his scientific method known as Verifier, also discussed here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

And if you don't release the prisoners, we'll tie him to a radiator

I thought this had to be a spoof. It's the funniest thing I've seen in ages.

It belongs in The Onion.

Oops! I Did It Again

The one book I did manage to complete over the past few weeks slipped my mind entirely.

Goodbye to All That, by Robert Graves.

Odd that I should forget it, because Graves’s memoir of his time at public school and in the army during the First World War is, while obviously not unforgettable, a taut and significant description comparable to All Quiet on the Western Front, albeit from the perspective of a British officer rather than a German private. Moreover, that perspective couldn’t contrast more in attitude and philosophy to Erich Maria Remarque’s. Graves is an ex–public school officer who believes in the war, in the cause, and in the superiority of the British in general. Few qualms are expressed about the slaughter around him; Graves is not a tormented artist in the way that other war poets clearly were. Perhaps it's just that he is a less delicate flower than they. From my reading, though, I could not help but be reminded of Hugh Laurie’s lieutenant, George Colhurst St. Barleigh, in Blackadder Goes Forth. On occasion, Graves is little more than a better-educated version.

To be fair to Graves, around two-thirds of the way through the book he does begin to think that the war has passed its sell-by date, but only because he has learned that there had been peace feelers extended as early as 1915 with the possibility of negotiations on the basis of a return to the status quo ante, negotiations that were scuppered by Lloyd George. And although he begins around this time to consider himself a socialist, the book is littered with what would now be considered offensive offhand remarks about the Welsh, the Irish, and, particularly, the French.

But the book is significant precisely because it is a book of its time. It offers a genuine window into a particular period and the views of a particular class, whether or not that was Graves’s intention. It is also an amusing book; While the war is grisly and presented in all its gory detail, anecdotal oases appear throughout the narrative, such as the occasion when, thanks to a Morse Code typo, Graves’s home battalion is sent to Cork, not York, and this soon after the Easter Rising (I’m afraid even the humour has a colonial feel to it).

I notice that reviewers on Amazon almost universally adore this book. Despite its shortcomings, and its clear lack of impact on me, anyone who wants a better picture of the upper class at war should check it out.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Dissatisfaction Guaranteed

Either restlessness, intolerance, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has overtaken me in the past few weeks. Barely have I begun a book than I have discarded it as tedious, unneccesarily prolix, or just unexciting. Half-hearted apologies then for more inadequate reviews of books I haven’t read.

Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson.

For this one, I plead mitigating circumstances. I lent this book, along with Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, to a friend whose daughter is just developing the linguistic skills at least partially explained in this book. All the same, it was no loss. I’d reached page 100 and was getting bored.

American Mischief, by Alan Lelchuk

I've only got myself to blame this time. I’d read a positive report of this book in a review of Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons. The reviewer claimed that Wolfe’s book comes off second best. If true, I’ve been saved from reading two annoying books. I put this one down around page 60.

To the Finland Station, by Edmund Wilson

Not the first time I’ve picked up this book only to put it down again after the first chapter on Michelet and Renan. No doubt of great educational value, but written in such a dry and didactic style that it fails to inspire: it feels like it must be “improving” literature precisely because there is so little pleasure involved in reading it.

Kung Fu Cult Masters, by Leon Hunt

I’ve only read the introduction, on the train this morning, and it’s full of all the old film studies jargon about orientalism and ‘the body as metaphor’ that I thought I’d seen the back of when I finished my Master’s. I’m assured that it gets better as it goes on, however, and there’s more action in the main body of the text, sorry, film, no text.

On a lighter, and non-book note, this also arrived in the post today:


Yes, that Glitter. The Mariah Carey movie. It's been impossible to get hold of for ages, otherwise I'd have got it much sooner. Either it was withdrawn from distribution after the farcical reaction it received, or else it was being so widely appreciated for its camp meretriciousness that production couldn't keep up. My brother assures me it is not “bad in a good way,” only “bad in a bad way.” I shall find out this weekend and report back.