Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Quick! Everybody Hide!

The July 9 issue of Jet magazine reports excavations revealing that George Washington had a room to hide his slaves in when guests turned up.

. . . a recent archeological find-right next to the Liberty Bell-at the site of the house that once served as the presidential residence of George Washington and John Adams for 10 years in the late 1700s, has revealed that America's first president did indeed have slaves, even during a time when he spoke against servitude. One story below street level, on the corner of Sixth and Market, a recent dig revealed a brick and stone foundation of the President's House, which was built in 1757 and torn down in 1832. While experts expected to find the foundation, they didn't expect to unearth the outline of what is believed to have been slave quarters and an underground tunnel designed to hide some nine slaves from the chief executive's houseguests.

Is This the Right Room for an Argument?

Nick Cohen and the AWL have it out, albeit decently.

Not Worth It

I started reading the new Harry Potter book last week, but it's rubbish and I can't be arsed to finish it. Anyone know how it ends?

Pop Quiz

Who said the following in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in September 1968?:

It's a complete incredible fluke that England has got it together. England has got all the bad points of Nazi Germany, all the pompous pride of France, all the old-fashioned patriotism of the old Order of the Empire. All the European qualities which should enhance, which should come out in music, England should be able to benefit by, but it doesn't. And just all of a sudden, bang! wack! zap-swock out of nowhere. There it is: the Beatles. Incredible. How did they ever appear then on the poxy little shit-stained island?

The clue is in the question. But it isn't a Rolling Stone.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Wot, No Chav?

The August issue of National Geographic Kids has a special feature on the making of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and, for the benefit of its young American readership, presents a quiz on "English: Great Britain Style."

"People in Great Britain speak English, but you may not know some of the words. See if you can match these words to their American meanings":

1: Lorry A: Think

2: Git B: Throw Up

3: Spew C: Fool

4: Reckon D: Oh My

5: Blimey E: Truck

How did you do?

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    Terry Eagleton: Take Note

    Tel, if you want to slag off writers for their shallowness of commitment or lack of cojones, this is the way to do it:

    You deliberately keep your distance from other living writers.

    No, not deliberately at all. It comes naturally. Where there's no interest, there can be no inclination.

    Sometimes you hurl abuse at them too, like Canetti or Handke for example.

    I don't hurl abuse at anyone at all. That's nonsense. Almost all writers are opportunists. Either they affiliate themselves with the right or with the left, joining ranks here or there, and so on, and that's how they make a living. And that's unpleasant, why shouldn't that be said. One works with his illness and his death and wins prizes, and the other runs round in the name of peace and is basically a nasty stupid fellow, so what's the big deal?

    From a non-Austrian perspective, this comes as a surprise – in France, you are often named in the same breath as Handke.

    Well, that breath will change. A new breath with come. But habits like that last for decades. They're impossible to eradicate. If you open a newspaper today, almost all you read about is Thomas Mann. He's been dead thirty years now, and again and again, endlessly, it's unbearable. Even though he was a petty-bourgeois writer, ghastly, uninspired, who only wrote for a petty-bourgeois readership. That could only interest the petty-bourgeois, the kind of milieu he describes, it's uninspired and stupid, some fiddle-playing professor who travels somewhere, or a family in L├╝beck, how lovely, but it's nothing more than someone like Wilhelm Raabe. What rubbish Thomas Mann churned out about political matters, really. He was totally uptight and a typical German petty-bourgeois. With a greedy wife.

    For me, that's the typical German writer combination. Always a woman in the background, be it Mann or Zuckmayer, always making sure these characters get to sit next to the head of state, at every idiotic opening of a sculpture exhibition or a bridge. Is that where writers belong? These are the people who always make deals with the state and those in power, who end up sitting at their elbows. The typical German-language writer. If long hair is in fashion, then he has long hair, if it's short hair, then his is short too. If the left is in government, he runs to the left, if it's the right, he runs that way, always the same.

    They've never had any character. Only those who died young, mostly. If they died at 18 or 24, well, at that age it's not so hard to maintain some character, that only gets hard later. You get weak. Under 25, when no one needs more than an old pair of trousers, when you go barefoot and content yourself with a gulp of wine and some water, it's not so difficult to have character. But afterwards. Then they all had none. At 40 they were all absorbed into political parties, totally paralysed. The coffee they drink in the morning is paid for by the state. And the bed they sleep in, and the holidays they go on, all paid for by the state. Nothing of their own any more.

    . . .

    You sometimes give the impression of biting the hand that feeds, for example when you describe Heidegger as a "weak-minded pre-Alpine thinker" and...

    He didn't feed me. Why should he have fed me? But he's an impossible character, he has neither rhythm nor anything else. He lived off a few writers, he cannibalised them, to the last, what would he have been without them?

    I was thinking of the word "Lichtung" (clearing).

    That word existed before Heidegger, 300 and 500 years before. He was nothing, a philistine, gross, nothing new. He's a perfect example of someone who unscrupulously eats all the fruit other people have jarred and who gorges himself, thank God, which makes him sick and he bursts. Gets stomach ache.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    Hitler's Sheffield Utd Suffer Their Downfall

    This Boy's Gotta Have It

    Further to our post on Mr. Wesley Harding/Stace below, here are details of the album of the book.

    Any man who regards Kelly Hogan as his favourite singer of all is alright by us.

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    We Have Lift-Off

    In two letters to the July issue of Texas Monthly, readers respond to the article "Lust in Space," by S. C. Gwynne, which appeared in the May issue. Colonel Al Worden, Apollo 15's command module pilot, contends that the story was disappointing not only because it linked Lisa Nowak's lurid story to NASA, an otherwise august organization, but mostly because of its assumptive errors. Tricia Hudson of Magnolia, Texas, regrets the use of the phrase "Astronaut Sex" on the cover of the magazine featuring the story because it stopped her leaving it on the coffee table lest her boys think she reads space porn.


    The June 18 issue of Publishers Weekly features a profile of novelist Wesley Stace, better known as veteran singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding.

    Stace spent six years writing in self-imposed isolation to produce Misfortune, a 19th-century family melodrama about an abandoned baby boy who is found by the richest man in England and raised as a girl. Although he initially held little hope for getting it published, it became the subject of a bidding war that netted him a two-book deal from Little, Brown. Stace's second novel, By George, due out in August, is a multigenerational family melodrama that follows both the 1970s boyhood of George Fisher and the story of his namesake, a ventriloquist's dummy who narrates his own adventures on the arm of George's grandfather.

    What is the world coming to?

    It'd make you very cynical about the Libyan criminal justice system, wouldn't it?

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    The Wisdom of the Cato Institute

    In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, James Surowiecki reviews Indur M. Goklany's book The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet, published by the Cato Institute.

    Space is Ace

    Just a reminder.

    Under the Sign of the Moose

    The latest issue of Orion magazine contains an excerpt from Robert Finch's book The Iambics of Newfoundland (almost universally and rather misleadingly listed in online stores as The Lambics of Newfoundland!), in which he recounts the problems faced by the Newfoundland Highway Department in its efforts to prevent moose-car accidents. He explains that the Trans-Canada Highway had become a favored spot for viewing moose on Newfoundland, but that as a result, accidents involving moose were common. In response, the highway department put up life-sized sheet-metal silhouettes of moose, designed to warn drivers that moose, and moose watchers, might be on the road ahead. Unfortunately, the signs themselves proved interesting to drivers, causing a slew of new accidents at the moose-sign locations. As a result, the highway department placed new signs before the moose silhouettes reading CAUTION: MOOSE SIGNS AHEAD.

    According to Finch, the number of accidents has vastly decreased since the new signs went up, but so have the number of moose sightings.

    Born to Run (Slowly)

    The July issue of Runner's World magazine features a profile of 58-year-old Japanese marathon runner Hajime Nichi, who manages to run 60 marathons a year. During 2006, he ran 72 marathons in 11 countries, and for 2007 he is on track to do a further 60 marathons in 25 nations, his long-term objective being to finish 1,000 marathons in 250 countries by 2049, when he will be 100. Nishi is, in his own terms, an "ecomarathoner," who attempts to find "harmony" with his surroundings: He never pushes himself beyond his physical limits and is always one of the last to finish.

    Once upon a time he was an overworked Japanese executive, but after his wife died of cancer in 1988 and his children grew up, he dissolved his company and enrolled in personal growth seminars at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. His spiritual quest led him to his slow-running philosophy, which was inspired by the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei, near Nishi's hometown of Kyoto, who run for 100 consecutive days in search of enlightenment.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    Little Audrey a Victim No More

    The latest issue of the Skeptical Inquirer reports the death, on April 14, of 23-year-old Audrey Santo, the brain-damaged girl in Worcester, Massachusetts, who supposedly exhibited supernatural abilities.

    Known as "Little Audrey," she had been in a comalike state since August 9, 1987, when, at the age of three, she suffered a near-drowning. Controversy began a year after the accident, when her mother, Linda, spent $8,000 to take her to the shrine at Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, in hopes of a miracle. Instead, Audrey suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Although she survived, the air ambulance that was needed to rush her home cost $25,000—a sum her grandmother had to mortgage her home to pay. Linda Santo's response to the near-fatal incident was to blame it on the proximity of a Yugoslavian abortion clinic (Harrison 1998; Sherr 1998).

    Soon, Audrey was being promoted as a "victim soul." However, Catholic theologians, observing that that term was not an official one within the Church, questioned whether Audrey demonstrated the capacity—at the age of three or later—to make a free choice to suffer on behalf of others.

    After Audrey was exhibited at a stadium with some 10,000 in attendance, and a window was added to her bedroom so that pilgrims could file by and pray for her to intercede with God on their behalf, the local bishop ordered that such practices be discontinued. Also curbed was the practice of offering oil-soaked cotton swabs as healing talismans. These restrictions may have diminished revenues, but the Santo family's situation was perhaps less financially desperate than many imagined, since Audrey received round-the-clock nursing care from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (Weingarten 1998).

    A Poet Worth Knowing

    Though possibly not for his poetry (it's over 30 years since I was compelled to memorise his poems at school, such compulsion probably being one reason why I've steered clear). Louis Macneice's unfinished autobiography has accompanied me this past week on my train journeys, its vividness transporting me away from a blustery Skerries and rain-soaked Malahide Spit to a hot and sunny Barcelona in 1938, an adolescence of precious aestheticism in the company of Anthony Blunt and Stephen Spender, and to hours in stuffy Oxford rooms with W.H. Auden, aristocratic communists, and unworldly academics whose sole aim and function in life seemed to be to train the next generation to take their place.

    Macneice writes in a delightful and accessible manner, constantly on the lookout for his own ridiculousness and, one feels, always surprised at his own good fortune. A thoroughgoing sceptic in all but his humanism, and from the look of his photo a handsome bloke you'd be happy going out for a pint or two with. My only diappointment was that this is, as the reader is warned on the cover, an unfinished autobiography, taking us up to London during the war but no further. A book double or three times this length would still have been an easy and enjoyable read. If nothing else, it has made me seek out his Autumn Journal. I feel diminished for not having read it before.

    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Fossilized Thinking

    From today's New York Times:

    An Islamic creationist is mailing a lavishly illustrated 800-page attack on evolutionary theory to scientists around the world.

    "In our country we are used to nonsense like this," said Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who, like colleagues there, found a copy in his mailbox.

    He said people who had received copies were "just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is."

    The rest is here.

    More Agora Resources

    "Recollections of My Time in Solidarity," by Louis Robertson.

    A libertarian Marxist tendency map.

    Guess Who's Been in The Guardian Today?

    Frank has, in his big shorts.

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Everybody Now: "I Like Driving in My Car"

    Justice permanent secretary Jarun Pukditanakul yesterday suggested that in-car visual entertainment devices be banned whilst driving. His suggestion came after the cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft amendment which would prohibit the use of mobile phones while driving, a move aimed at reducing road accidents.

    Mr Jarun said the proposed ban, which will be examined by the Council of State, should be extended to cover entertainment devices, especially in-car karaoke and television sets. He said using such entertainment devices while driving is probably more dangerous than using mobile phones.

    Deputy city police chief Pol Maj-Gen Watjanont Thirawat said police and authorities concerned will work together to consider appropriate punishments for offenders. Under the proposed draft, violators of the ban would be subject to a 400 to 1,000 baht fine. (about £6.00 - 15.00)

    Police spokesman Pol Lt-Gen Ronarong Yangyuen said the ban would not open a door for traffic police to take bribes or extort money from motorists. He said the ban was introduced for the safety of motorists and the public at large. He said the ban is not all-out and police would have to consider in what circumstances the use of mobile phones can be allowed. For example, motorists may use their handsets while their vehicles are not moving, he said.

    Spotted in the Bangkok Post by our Far East correspondent.

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Vitamin C(ocoa)

    The health benefits of epicatechin, a compound found in cocoa, are so striking that it may rival penicillin and anaesthesia in terms of importance to public health, reports Marina Murphy in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine of the SCI. Norman Hollenberg, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told C&I that epicatechin is so important that it should be considered a vitamin.

    Hollenberg has spent years studying the benefits of cocoa drinking on the Kuna people in Panama. He found that the risk of 4 of the 5 most common killer diseases: stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes, is reduced to less then 10% in the Kuna. They can drink up to 40 cups of cocoa a week. Natural cocoa has high levels of epicatechin.

    'If these observations predict the future, then we can say without blushing that they are among the most important observations in the history of medicine,' Hollenberg says. 'We all agree that penicillin and anaesthesia are enormously important. But epicatechin could potentially get rid of 4 of the 5 most common diseases in the western world, how important does that make epicatechin?... I would say very important'

    The rest is here.

    With Apologies to Henry Root

    Dempster, Nigel (1941-2007): Gossipmonger and fawning sycophant, worshiper of power. Never one to miss an opportunity to suck up to or kow-tow before his perceived betters. Who can forget the time he stood before Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and announced "I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability."? "I think you'll find that was the 3 am girls." "I bow to your superior knowledge. Pass the Cohibas."

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    Don't Panic! Kill all . . . no, that's the other blog.

    Mick Hartley on Punk and P.Orridge.

    Steal This Book!

    This has been my train reading for the last week or so. Dense in parts but thoroughly captivating for anyone with an interest in the history of ideas. Social anthropologist Jack Goody delves behind the terminology used by respected philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists and political theorists to show how many of those concepts (time, space, capitalism, civilization) were either derived from encounters with other societies or were influenced by them in ways that generally go unacknowledged and which consequently skew both the theorists' and our own understanding of history, society, and the world as a whole. Norbert Elias's use of the term "civilization" is a rather obvious target, and Goody's criticism is one that many on the left will be comfortable accepting; his critique of Marx and Braudel's understanding of "capitalism" may, however, raise a few eyebrows, although anyone familiar with Castoriadis's objections to Marx's retrofitting of history will feel on familiar territory (Goody enhances Castoriadis's criticism by drawing out the eurocentrism of Marx's definition of capitalism, a eurocentrism that endows capitalism with distinctively western features and a concomitant history).

    Not only are ideas stolen from other societies, but as a consequence of this theft, oriental and other non-western societies are also denied a history in their own right because of the eurocentric reapplication of those concepts; China, for instance, is regarded as having been generally unchanged for thousands of years when in fact it just avoided the dramatic upheavals that typified European history. This denial of a past disguises patterns of development as valid and as rich as those that took place elsewhere in the world, particularly in Europe, but are ruled as out of bounds because the terms borrowed from those societies have acquired western definitions that do not recognize the subtlety and distinctiveness of alternative patterns of development.

    Trust me, it's more interesting than it sounds. Give it a read.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    The Aristocrats!!

    "I used to do things like stick severed chicken's heads over my penis, and then try to masturbate them, whilst pouring maggots all over it. In Los Angeles, in 1976, at the ICA I did a performance where I was naked, I drank a bottle of whiskey and stood on a lot of tacks. And then I gave myself enemas with blood, milk and urine, and then broke wind so a jet of blood, milk and urine combined shot [out and] then [I] licked it off the not-clean concrete floor.

    "Then I got a 10-inch nail and tried to swallow it, which made me vomit. Then Cosey helped me lick the vomit off the floor. And she was naked and trying to sever her vagina to her navel with a razor blade and she injected blood into her vagina which then trickled out, and we sucked the blood from her vagina into a syringe and injected it into eggs painted black, which we then tried to eat. And we vomited again, which we then used for enemas. Then I urinated into a large glass bottle and drank it all while it was still warm. This was all improvised. And then we gradually crawled to each other, licking the floor clean . . . "

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    What's Known as a Slow News Day

    Man Admits Throwing Traffic Cone in Edinburgh.

    Even a Theist Can Get It Right Sometimes

    One from the archives:

    In the Xena: Warrior Princess episode "The Way," Xena and her sidekick Gabrielle meet Hindu deities Krishna and Hanuman. Both the World Vaishnava Organization and American Hindus Against Defamation expressed outrage about "The Way," but the issue received little attention even on Xena web sites until the show's distributor, StudiosUSA, removed the episode from syndication following an initial airing in the United States.

    Here's the clincher:

    The World Vaishnava Association and the American Hindus Against Defamation went further, however, announcing in a joint statement that the episode "treats Lord Krishna and Hanuman as fictional characters by putting words in their mouths that they never spoke . . . not only does this make the viewing audience think that Lord Krishna, other Hindu deities and the Vedic literature are fictional, it makes Hindus themselves look superstitious and foolish. After all, nobody but a superstitious fool would worship a 'fictional god.'"

    We Have Killed Our God!

    A naturally formed stalagmite in a Kashmiri mountain shrine worshiped by Hindus for over 200 years as an incarnation of Shiva, the god of destruction and regeneration, has melted away as a result of the body heat from the hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims who visit each year, say officials.

    The rest is here.