Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Nice Cold Glass of Turnip Juice

I always figured the Simpsons episode "The Lemon of Troy" was just inspired fiction riffing on (the other) Homer until I read an article by Joel Vance about the Honey War between Missouri and Iowa in the latest issue of Missouri Life magazine:

In 1839, a dispute between Missourians and Iowans over honey trees and the state line nearly erupted into war. Honey was the sugar of pioneers, who obtained this natural sweetener by following bees from water or nectar sources to their tree, then cutting the tree and stealing the honey. When a Missourian chopped down three bee trees in an area that Iowans argued was part of their state, an irate Iowa lawman attempted to arrest him, but the woodsman fled back into Missouri. The trees were valuable both for the honey, which had a value of up to 37 cents a gallon, and for beeswax. Iowa tried the bee tree thief in absentia and imposed a fine of one dollar and 50 cents. The Missouri governor then sent the Clark County Sheriff into the contested territory to collect taxes on, among other things, bee trees, but he was taken by force by Iowans:

The Iowans weren't kidding. They took the beleaguered sheriff by “fourse” and confined him at Burlington. He later said they treated him pretty well. They let him roam around town but wouldn't let him go home. He apparently enjoyed his enforced vacation and seemed relieved to have his problems solved for him.

But even a docile and contented hostage was too much for Governor Boggs. Daniel Boone wouldn't have stood for it, and neither would he. He ordered out the militia, and Governor Lucas did the same. It was December, snowy, and bitterly cold. Both sides began to arm for battle. The alarmed Governor Lucas prophesied, wrongly as it turned out, that the dispute “might ultimately lead to the effusion of blood.” According to the Missouri State Archives, he called up 1,200 men who cried “Death to the Pukes” and drank plenty of whiskey They were a bit officer-heavy. They had four generals, nine general staff officers, forty field officers, and eighty-three company officers. Of one thousand who enlisted, about five hundred reported for duty dressed in an assortment of uniforms that made them look more like a mob than an army.

According to Duane G. and Marilyn H. Meyer in Heritage of Missouri, the Missourians tried to raise 2,200 militiamen, but less than half showed up. However, they were armed with the latest military technology: one carried a sausage stuffer, a crank-handled mechanism that grinds meat and forces it into a casing.

The two states glowered at each other across the potential battlefields in northeast Missouri (or southeast Iowa) on the week of December 7–12. The Lewis County, Missouri, militia spent two nights bivouacked in the cold and snow without tents or enough blankets. They did, however, have plenty of whiskey One company brought six wagons of provisions, five of them reputed to be filled with booze.

Meanwhile, Clark County officials, exhibiting common sense, sent a delegation to Iowa to work out a truce and try to get their sheriff back. The two sides came up with a classic political solution: They dumped the problem in the lap of the federal government, and both sides told their soldiers to go home. Even before the order, neither side was happy Christmas was only a few days away The troops wanted to be home . . . and the whiskey had begun to run out.

But they had come to shoot something. So they split a haunch of venison—labeled one half “Governor Boggs” and the other “Governor Lucas”—shot them full of holes, and held a mock funeral. That and a mule shot by mistake were the only victims of the Honey War.

It would be 1849, another ten years, before the United States Supreme Court ruled that the 1816 boundary was the legal one, and that it should be resurveyed and marked with posts every ten miles, some of which still exist.

Stuntman Steve

Watching the 3 hours + version of Grindhouse last week the thought struck me that Morrissey is slowly morphing into Kurt Russell. There's something about their eyes and mouths. And the quiff helps too.

Looks Like Jakobson, Smells Like Lévi-Strauss

If ever a book provides a whistle-stop tour of the 20th-century's intellectual geography, Amir Aczel's The Artist and the Mathematician is the one. I was looking forward to reading it immensely. The design is enticing, it's easily portable so you can read it on the train and look brainy, and the blurb promises an intriguing tale of a pseudonymous collection of mathematicians who, over three generations, produced some of the most influential and important discoveries in mathematics, fascinating stuff, notwithstanding the revelation that these discoveries are now regarded as passé because "Bourbaki"'s work was so tied in with structuralism that when its star faded, so did his.

I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that we are spared detailed exegeses of Bourbaki's work. Any greater detail and the lay reader would be lost, I suspect, but by adopting the same superficial approach to Jakobson's linguistics, Lévi-Strauss's anthropology, and Barthes's semiology, Aczel leaves us to take on trust that there is some intrinsic connection between them other than being lumped together in the same "school" designated "structuralism." He thus falls between two stools, offering insufficient detail for academic readers and nothing that might explain to lay readers how and why structuralism and these various thinkers acquired their significance. If I hadn't heard of the structuralists before, I'd happily leave them consigned to history on this account of their apparently uneventful lives and the absence of proof that "Bourbaki" actually was a genius; the brief biographies we receive of the protagonists hint at some fascinating stories, yet we get meagre portions. I want bigger meals!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ignorance Is Strength Dept.

Oddly enough, when I read Slavoj Žižek's critique of my book Infinitely Demanding ["Resistance Is Surrender," Readings, February], a copy of Lenin's State and Revolution was sitting on my desk at home. One of the striking features of Lenin's text is that for all the venom he spews at liberals, social democrats, and the bourgeoisie, it is nothing compared to what he reserves for his true enemy, the anarchists.

As Carl Schmitt reminds us—and we should not forget that this fascist jurist was a great admirer of Lenin's—there are two main traditions of the non-parliamentary, non-liberal left: authoritarianism and anarchism. If Žižek attacks me with characteristically Leninist violence for belonging to the latter, it is equally clear which faction he supports. Žižek begins his essay by listing various alternatives on the left for dealing with the behemoth of global capitalism. This list initially seems plausible—indeed some of it appears to have been lifted unacknowledged from the conclusion to my book—until one realizes what it is that Žižek is defending; namely, the dictatorship of a military state.

In State and Revolution, Lenin cleverly defends the state against anarchist critiques in favor of its replacement with a form of federalism. He appears to agree with anarchists in saying that we should destroy the bourgeois state, then subsequently asserts that a centralized workers' state should be implemented in its stead. The first notion is faithful to Marx and Engels's idea of the communist withering of the state, but Lenin diverges from their line of thinking when he argues that this can only be achieved through, a transitional state (somewhat laughably called "fuller democracy" by Lenin in one passage and "truly complete democracy" in another). Lenin sees an authoritarian interlude as necessary in order to realize the possibilities of communism, but as history has shown, this "interlude" was a rather long and bloody one.

For authoritarians such as Lenin and Žižek, the dichotomy in politics is state power or no power, but I refuse to concede that these are the only options. Genuine politics is about the movement between these poles, and it takes place through the creation of what I call "interstitial distance" within the state. These interstices are neither given nor existent but created through political articulation. That is, politics is itself the invention of interstitial distance. I discuss various examples of this phenomenon, such as civil-society groups and indigenous-rights movements in Mexico and Australia, in Infinitely Demanding. I would now also mention Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is directly answerable to certain social movements in his country. I am even sympathetic to the alternative-globalization and antiwar movements so despised by Žižek for their alleged complicity with established power, because, despite their flaws, they remain crucial to the creative articulation of a new language of civil disobedience. In the coming decades, as we experience massive and unstoppable population transfers from the impoverished south to the rich north, we will require this language to address the question of immigrant-rights reform in North America and Europe.

For Žižek, all of this is irrelevant; these forms of resistance are simply surrender. He betrays a nostalgia, which is macho and finally manneristic, for dictatorship, political violence, and ruthlessness. Once again, he is true to Lenin here, as when the latter calls for the bourgeoisie to be "definitively crushed" by the violent armed forces of the proletariat. Listen to Žižek's extraordinary defense of Chávez's methods, which must be "fully endorsed":

Far from resisting state power, [Chávez] grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses to promote his goals. Furthermore, he is militarizing the barrios and organizing the training of armed units there. And, the ultimate scare: now that he is feeling the economic effects of capital's "resistance" to his rule (temporary shortages of some goods in the state-subsidized supermarkets), he has moved to consolidate the twenty-four parties that support him into a single party.

Here we observe the basic obsessive fantasy of Žižek's position: do nothing, sit still, prefer not to, like Melville's Bartleby, and silently dream of a ruthless violence, a consolidation of state power into one man's hands, an act of brutal physical force of which you are the object or the subject or both at once. Perhaps I should remind Žižek, who considers himself a Lacanian, of what Lacan said to the Leninist students who heckled him at Vincennes in December 1969: "What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one."

There is a serious debate to be had with Žižek about the question of violence, the necessity of the state, and the evolution of radical politics, given the seeming permanence of capitalism. Perhaps when Žižek gets beyond windy rhetorical posturing and his misapprehension of my position as "post-modern leftism" (I defy anyone to find a word in favor of postmodernism in anything I have written), we can begin to have that debate. I am not holding my breath.

Simon Critchley
The New School for Social Research
New York City

Letter to the editor, Harper's magazine, May issue.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Carried Away

The extraordinarily interesting David Graeber

I’ve been promising/threatening to provide a review of David Graeber’s new book, Possibilities, for a few weeks, but a number of factors intervened to postpone it. First, a bunch of books arrived on my doorstep that demanded attention, not least because they touched on some of the issues dealt with in the Graeber book. Second, Stuart over at From Despair to Where? informed me that he was also working on a review of the book for Radical Anthropology, news that made me wonder if there would be any need for me to review it, given that I knew I could trust Stuart to give an accurate and progressive interpretation and probably reach more people in the process. Third, the more I reflected on the book’s contents, the more I found it difficult to say something useful. It isn’t that Possibilities has nothing new to say; it was more that I felt such a proximity to Graeber that it was less a case of him preaching to the converted than him speaking my mind, albeit, lest that sounds self-congratulatory, in a far more erudite and engaging manner. For instance, how could I not love a book that within its first few pages has already name-checked Pierre Bourdieu, Norbert Elias, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Cornelius Castoriadis (go have a look at my pretentious profile)? Here is a book that covers all the subjects dear to my heart, but for that very reason the book felt too familiar too me. It said what I wanted to hear said, but I knew straightaway that I couldn’t bore readers of Counago & Spaves with it precisely because they’d have seen it over and over and over again already, and so they’d just treat it with exactly the same indulgent contempt as they always have in the past. ;-)

However, there was one take-home message that resonated with me and about which I was unqualified to speak. In his introduction, Graeber talks about his involvement with the anti-globalization/altermondist/global justice movement. In spite of much of the negative media coverage the movement has received down the years, I’ve always strongly believed that this was the only place where a genuinely new revolutionary movement was being created, in tandem with the Sin Terra organizations in Brazil, the Zapatistas, and so on, in the face of the outdated “revolutionary” leftist parties so many of us were once close to but now justifiably revile. Graeber tells us

For the first two years or so I was working with the Direct Action Network, I didn’t really write anything about it—unless you want to count press releases, calls to action, and reports for In These Times. When I first got involved, I never intended to make my involvement part of a research project. Nonetheless, the experience of working in consensus-based groups sparked a kind of intellectual crisis. I should explain here that the fashion at the time was to dismiss the movement, if not as a bunch of stupid kids who did not understand the complexities of modern economics then as defenders of an incoherent welter of causes in desperate need of a unifying ideology. I quickly realized that such observers simply didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, what they were looking at. In fact, these groups were rooted, above all, in a commitment to reinventing forms of democratic process; that this was not an abstract ideology, but rooted primarily in developing new forms of practice; that insofar as DAN and other anarchist-inspired groups had an ideology, these new forms of democratic organization and democratic practice were its ideology. In this, they were based on a conscious rejection of the older model of Maoist or Leninist or Trotskyist sects that sought first to define the strategic moment, usually according to the teachings of some Great Intellectual Leader, and then to quibble over finer points of doctrine, while leaving the actual fashioning of democratic practice to some hypothetical point far in the future.

The intellectual shock was the result of two near-simultaneous realizations. The first was that the consensus process I was learning in anarchist circles was really an extremely formal, self-conscious version of the very form of decision-making I had witnessed on a day-to-day basis in Madagascar. It had to be formal and self-conscious, of course, because everything was being reinvented—patched together from bits and pieces learned from Quakers and Native Americans, read about in books, or simply invented by trial and error from thirty years of activist experience of trying to organize networks and collectives on anti-authoritarian lines, a tradition that harkened back to the days of early feminism. None of it came at all naturally to us. None of us were very good at it, at least at first. But it was obvious that, if we were going to invent a decision-making process that would actually work for a community in which no one had the power to force anyone else to do anything, it was going to have to look like something like the techniques employed by communities that had been living that way for thousands of years. I was trying, then, to actually do what I had observed everyone do in rural Madagascar, and finding it extremely difficult. The second shock, though, was the realization that one reason I found it so difficult was that my intellectual training had inculcated in me habits of thought and argument far more similar to the idiotic sectarian squabbling of Marxist sects than to anything consistent with these new (to us) forms of democracy.

The disappointment (for me) was that Graeber doesn’t give us any more than that in this book. I would have loved to have read detailed and in-depth descriptions of the forms of democracy being tried out, the difficulties that the groups faced organisationally and how they overcame them. Graeber has promised us another book, Direct Action: An Ethnography, in which he grapples further with the problems accompanying attempts to construct democratic organizations, and I’ll be one of the first to grab hold of a copy, I’m certain. One effect this book did have on me already, though, was to motivate me to pull off the shelves my old copy of Blackwell’s Castoriadis Reader and start reading it again. If you want a succinct summation of Castoriadis’s intellectual journey and at the same time a powerful argument in favour of the forms of organization Graeber is talking about, not to mention an avant la lettre description of the necessary form of any future revolutionary movement, look no further than the interview which opens the Blackwell book. It could provide a manifesto for the global justice movement all on its own.

The books that turned up on my doorstep that tangentially relate to Graeber’s collection of essays belong to what could be regarded as a loosely connected trilogy of works by the economist Mancur Olson: The Logic of Collective Action, The Rise and Decline of Nations, and Power and Prosperity. I don’t propose to go into any great detail here concerning his arguments, you’ll be pleased to read. I originally ordered the Logic of Collective Action because it deals with subjects now well-known to activists: The book was first published in 1965 and has generated all manner of conferences, ripostes, reviews, and so on. The easiest thing for me to do is to give you the blurb off the back of it from The Economist:

The existence of a large group with a common interest does not automatically give rise to collective action. There must be an individual incentive to join in or there must be compulsion. This proposition, together with the notion that small groups are qualitatively different from large ones, forms the core of this extremely stimulating book . . . The range of phenomena it helps to explain and the number of existing ideas it overthrows are very considerable. Having set out his theory of groups and organizations . . . the author demonstrates its explanatory power by examining the growth of trade unionism, the concept of economic freedom, Marx’s class theory, orthodox theories of pressure groups and, lastly the unorganized groups. Economic analysis is blended with political theory and sociology with great success. The result is an important contribution to social science.

So there you go. It also manages to account for the organizational attractiveness of a Leninist party structure for revolutionaries, consisting of a tight-knit, highly disciplined “insider group” supported by a more heterogeneous mass of “outsiders” while warning of the inevitable consequences of relying on such a structure: atrophy, absence of accountability, lack of democracy, persistence of hierarchy, the development of separate interests, and so on. If you’re familiar with Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, and who isn’t, Olson’s book covers similar ground but using more traditional economic terminology: “free riders,” “Pareto-optimal distributions,” and, albeit implicitly, Homo economicus, a rational self-interested individual pursuing his own ends.

He extends this analysis in the Rise and Decline of Nations, subtitled Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities. His argument, essentially, is that countries that experience a long period of stability inevitably undergo a decline in growth rates economically because the longer a country remains politically stable, the greater the opportunities it affords for special interests to coalesce and make a grab for part of the social pie. Countries such as Japan and West Germany enjoyed such rapid growth after the war, for example, because a huge social space had been opened up by the rise of dictatorships, essentially corrupt, closed societies in which success depended on patronage. The wholesale removal of monolithic totalitarianism, which had, itself, previously destroyed smaller special interest groups, made possible a blossoming, a rebirth, in which a thousand flowers found space to bloom because there were so few palms to grease.

Well, I simplify. And one of Olson’s irritating traits, when writing, is to argue his case, then go looking for evidence to confirm it, and then say, “of course, this isn’t the whole story.” No shit, Sherlock. Nonetheless, his attempt at constructing a model to explain macroeconomic history, from the ground up, starting from the situation of the individual attempting to organize to defend their interests, is both an ambitious one and not entirely fruitless.

Sadly, Power and Prosperity is an unfinished book: Olson died in 1998. And although it carries on where Rise and Decline leaves off, it frustrates because it ends at precisely the point you least want it to: It lacks the prescriptive element laying out what needs to be done in order to guarantee social prosperity, other than, that is, to make the observation that democracies function much better than other political forms in encouraging growth over the long term. Whether growth as it used to be understood is necessarily something to be encouraged is, of course, a moot point and something outside of Olson’s interests in these books. It’s also clear that Olson is enamored of Hernando de Soto’s arguments, which had been doing the rounds just before Olson’s death, regarding the importance of secure property rights in lifting populations out of poverty. In addition, Olson is very much taken with Milton Friedman’s arguments for free market capitalism, and I confess that the more I read of Olson’s oeuvre, the less I felt I could learn from it. Nonetheless, in one of his concluding remarks, he notes that many of the fortunes made today are the result of nothing more than luck and that, likewise, poverty is the result not of fecklessness but chance; how else to explain the stereotypes thrust on various nationalities down the ages but to recognize how the rules that apply to collective action and group behaviour prevent economies from thriving. Here we have come full circle, back not just to Olson’s first work, but also to Castoriadis’s observation that capitalism is nothing today other than a vast casino in which no commodity exchanges at its real value and apparent social worth bears no relation whatsoever to actual utility.

In passing, I’ll also confess that before even attempting a review of any of these books, I deferred and deferred to such an extent that I ended up reading other books to distract me: Lynn Margulis’s The Symbiotic Planet and Gwendolyn Wright’s Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America. But since I can’t really shoehorn them into this review—at least, not without dubious interpretations and deliberate misunderstandings of their contents—I’ll leave them for another time.

Aren't you lucky?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Saint George's Day

To all our Catalan readers!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kill the Poor

In an article on climate change in the latest issue of Wired magazine, Peter Schwartz offers grounds for hope that we can still turn things around:

Around AD 800, things got weirdly hot; Antarctic ice cores show atmospheric CO2 peaking then at 285 parts per million. Around 1300, CO3 levels started dropping, and by 1600 that number had decreased to as low as 275 ppm. According to [climatologist William] Ruddiman, humans caused that nosedive, too—by dying in large numbers: In the 14th century, about one-third of Europe's population died in the Black Plague, and around the same time, some 50 million Native Americans were being wiped out by European germs. The much-reduced surviving population burned less wood and coal, grew less food, and even allowed wooded areas to grow back.

Schwartz reckons we can do even better today. But where to begin?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Crime and Passion

Altrincham's current manager, Graham Heathcote, commits crimes against grammar, logic, and sense in this all-out assault on the English language.

Passion? His favourite word.

Innovations in Nonviolent Conflict Resolution

According to Ebony magazine,

On the 40th anniversary of the April 4, 1968, assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and in the wake of the 2006 death of his widow and the 2007 death of his eldest daughter, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta is literally and figuratively in the middle of a tug-of-war, with King's heirs on opposite sides in a battle to control the Center's vision.

One cannot help but think the Reverend Doctor would have approved.

Friday, April 18, 2008

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

The Paper Boys

There's a series of interesting interviews at the Irish Left Review (plug, plug) with the folk involved in the Paper Round project, examining the state of the Irish press. I particularly liked this observation from Copernicus, citing A Tiny Revolution:

People are under the impression that the product of a newsprint organisation is the newspaper it puts out and sells to the public. Hence, you state above that its function is to provide the public with information and that the paper’s customer is the person who buys the paper to get that information. That is, after all, the constitutional position and the reason constitutional privileges in respect of defamation law are afforded to the press.

However, the real product of a newsprint organisation (or any private media organisation) is its audience. Access to this audience is sold to advertisers who are the real customers of the media organisation. So the function of a media organisation isn’t to provide information to citizens, it’s to build an audience with its content and to sell access to that audience to its advertisers.

Couldn't have put it better myself. YOU are the product.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Skepticism vs. Trust: The Debate Continues

An interesting, albeit too brief, article in the March 30th issue of the New York Times Magazine by David Berreby, author of the forthcoming Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind, casts new light on what we thought we knew about obedience:

The psychologists Bert Hodges and Anne Geyer recently took a new look at a well-known experiment devised by [Solomon] Asch in the 1950s. Asch’s subjects were asked to look at a line printed on a white card and then tell which of three similar lines was the same length. The answer was obvious, but the catch was that each volunteer was sitting in a small group whose other members were actually in on the experiment. Asch found that when those other people all agreed on the wrong answer, many of the subjects went along with the group, against the evidence of their own senses.

But the question (Which of these lines matches the one on the card?) was not posed just once. Each subject saw 18 sets of lines, and the group answer was wrong for 12 of them. Examining all the data, Hodges and Geyer found that many people were varying their answers, sometimes agreeing with the group, more often sticking up for their own view. (The average participant gave in to the group three times out of 12.)

This means that the subjects in the most famous “people are sheep” experiment were not sheep at all — they were human beings who largely stuck to their guns, but now and then went along with the group. Why? Because in getting along with other people, most decent people know, as Hodges and Geyer put it, the “importance of cooperation, tact and social solidarity in situations that are tense or difficult.”

In a similar spirit, others have taken a new look at the famous experiments on “obedience to authority” conducted by Asch’s student Stanley Milgram. Milgram’s subjects, assuming they were part of a memory test, were asked to administer what they thought were increasingly strong electric shocks to another person (who was, in reality, another experimenter pretending to be pained). Encouraged only by an occasional “Please go on” and the like, every one went well beyond “Very Strong Shock,” and the majority went to the 450-volt end of the scale, which was two notches above the one labeled “Danger: Severe Shock.”

Horrifying, in most retellings. But, as the University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein has argued, Milgram’s “subjects were not simply obeying a leader, but responding to someone whose credentials and good faith they thought they could trust.” Without that kind of trust society would fall apart tomorrow, because most of what we know about the world comes to us from other people. Milgram’s experiment, then, doesn’t prove that people are inclined to obey any nut job in a white coat. It shows instead that in difficult situations, when they wrestle with the line between trust and skepticism, trust often wins. Much of the time, that’s a good thing.

What's left is here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Some Perspective, Please!

While we're on the subject of pirates, today's New York Times reports that hedge fund manager John Paulson made $3.7 billion last year.

That is NOT a typo.

Mind you, let's remind ourselves that an American billion is only a thousand million, not a million millions.

And in addition, we are talking dollars here, not pounds. So it's nowhere near as much as it sounds.

Tis Captain Kidder

Don't miss the Irish Pirate Review, for all your buccaneering needs.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

At Least They're Reading

In its regular feature "What We're Reading, " lifestyle magazine Southern Living does its best to refute the stereotype promoted by Bill Hicks of Southerners as illiterate white trash. Here's what they're reading in April:


Writing duo Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown celebrate a triumphant return with The Purrfect Murder, the latest installment of their best-selling feline series. It seems there's always trouble in Crozet, Virginia, and as usual, it's up to clever cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, along with indomitable corgi Tee Tucker, to solve the mystery. These pets are on the scent to help their owner, Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, sniff out and uncover the clues of a small-town murder and the identity of a killer who grows more dangerous every day. Amid a backdrop of thought-provoking arguments ranging from Second Amendment rights to Roe vs. Wade, this novel follows a hair-raising mystery of money, morals, and misbehavior in the moneyed South. With a wacky menagerie of unforgettable characters—and a few of their human friends—The Purrfect Murder is sure to keep you (and a furry companion) glued to your seat until the cat's let out of the bag. (Elisabeth Parrish)


When it rains in Chattanooga, it pours, unearthing charred zombies from the deep waters of the Tennessee River. In Cherie Priest's Not Flesh Nor Feathers, protagonist Eden Moore wades through floodwaters to intercept their destructive path through the panicked city. Come hell or high water, Eden digs for the truth to uncover the facts about a historical event that city officials would rather keep buried. As torrents of rain threaten to wash away the remnants of the devastating incident, Eden and a local journalist seek the answers from every angle—even from the deceased. Priest's story, the third in a series, is chock-full of chilling details and soaked to the bone with suspense. (Cory Bordonaro)


The Lone Star State is reputed to do everything bigger and better. This travel guide backs up that claim. Historic Hotels of Texas encompasses 20,000 miles' worth of the author's trekking and checking on the best hotels that are at least 50 years old, have operated for most of their existence as a lodging, and remain open today. The book is divided into regions—Big Bend Country, Gulf Coast, Hill Country, Panhandle Plains, Piney Woods, Prairies and Lakes, and South Texas Plains. The variety of styles ranges from the charming Driskill Hotel in Austin (1886) to the cowboy-with-cash Stockyards Hotel (1907) in Fort Worth. Each entry comes with a handy box of essentials, including contact information, amenities, and the author's personal tips. For anyone living in, traveling to, or just fond of the state, this packable Texas guidebook is a valuable companion. (Wanda McKinney)

Yes, that's Rita Mae Brown of Ruby Fruit Jungle fame, now co-writing mysteries with one of her cats. Here's an interview with her in a recent issue of Time magazine.

Stereotype refuted.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Irish Left Review

There's a new link in the Blogroll for the ILR, which has just been launched online. It features contributions from a range of left-leaning Irish bloggers and, for the sake of balance, articles by everyone's favourite fascist.

There's an interview with Donagh Brennan, co-blogger at Dublin Opinion and the editor of ILR, here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


The iPod’s distinctive white earbuds have become a cultural icon. But people have long suspected they may also mark users as targets for crime. New research conducted by the Washington-based Urban Institute suggests just that. In 2005, the year sales of iPods skyrocketed, incidents of violent crime in the United States increased for the first time in more than a decade. Similar upticks happened in Britain and Canada. Could iCrime be partially to blame?

Consider New York City’s subway system, where major felonies increased by 18 percent in the first three months of 2005. The spike coincided with a boom in iPod sales. And, if iPod and mobilephone thefts are excluded, crime on New York’s subway actually fell by 3 percent. In Britain, officials now believe a surge in robberies in 2005—including a 42 percent increase in crime on London’s Underground—is linked in part to iPods. “They’re carrying around an expensive device that’s obvious to a potential robber [and] that tunes them out,” the Urban Institute’s John Roman says of iPod owners.

The rest is here but subscription only.

The Quality of Mercy

"To make matters worse, the maverick frontman went on to add that he 'wouldn't have a problem' with running over seagulls for fun."

It can only be one man.

P.S. Don't forget to leave a Comment. The Daily Mail wants to know what you think.

Primavera Band Profiles 2008 #2

Dj Funk

If we are about to chose the most brazen provocative DJ of the many given by the house from Chicago, the one would certainly be DJ Funk, muscled overexcited equivalent of DJ Assault. Almost a decade after making himself known with explicit sessions and records, and the no less explicit album "Booty House Anthems", the American continues to put his finger on the spot to claim the booty-house as the dance floor thermometer and combine the dirty speedy rhythms with such a skill that can records hardly hold one breath underwater.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I have to own up that I've never had much time for Brian Eno, but browsing through the Book of Lists this morning while in the smallest room in the house, I encountered the following:

Brian Eno's 18 Mind-Changing Books

1. Brain of the Firm, by Stafford Beer
"The most approachable book about the self-organizing nature of complex systems."

2. Silence, by John Cage
"Music as philosophy (with lots of Zen wit)."

3. The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod
"How time changes relationships: a message of hope."

4. The Clock of the Long Now, by Stewart Brand
"Why we need to think long."

5. Managing the Commons, by Garrett Hardin
"Structural observations about shared resources."

6. A New Kind of Science, by Stephen Wolfram
"Controversial and exciting new approach to the genesis of complex systems."

7. Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, by Robin Fox
"The origins and limits of human community."

8. The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando de Soto
"Why capitalism can't be just planted anywhere."

9. Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges
"The ultimate 'what if' book."

10. Africa: A Biography of the Continent, by John Reader
"The story of Africa beginning 4 1/2 billion B.C."

11. Animal Architecture, by Karl von Frisch
"One of the best 'beauty of nature' books, academic jaw-dropper."

12. Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, by Richard Rorty
"A great work of modern pragmatism: the antidote to Derrida."

13. Peter the Great, by Robert K. Massie
"Superb biography of a giant located somewhere between Genghis Khan, Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Stalin."

14. Roll Jordan Roll, The World the Slaves Built, by Eugene Genovese
"The unexpected richness and lasting importance of slave culture in America."

15. Folk Song Style and Culture, by Alan Lomax
"An extraordinary theory that singing style is indicative of social structure by the pioneer collector of world music."

16. The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
"Even if you think you know what this is about, it's worth reading. The atheists' defence."

17. Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville
"He guessed at the best of it, warned of the worst of it, and was right on both counts."

18. Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond
"Compelling account of the physical factors shaping world history."

I realize of course that there are one or two books on this list that some people will quibble with and mutter about, (although there isn't as much New Age bollocks on there as one might have expected); I just thought to myself how refreshing it is to encounter an artist who is so clearly engaged with the nature of the world around him. His list demonstrates an enviable sense of curiosity that I doubt you'll find among too many musicians, ambient or otherwise.

Time to update that Wish List.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Low Life On Mars

The MEN's header for this article in tonight's paper was

Plans to monitor perverts from space ditched

Ricky Gervais's Redeeming Feature

His atheism

Friday, April 04, 2008

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

Romanes Eunt Domus!

A DRUNKEN boss crashed his expensive sports car into a tree and then fled - dressed from head-to-toe as a Roman gladiator.

William James Mario Bianchi, 38, was found by police in a hospital A&E unit kitted out in a red tunic, breastplate armour and sandals, and wearing black body paint. He was with a friend dressed as Superman.

Includes photo!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Who Needs the Champions League?

From the March issue of The Meath Coaster.

"Laytown United’s promotion from Division 3 of the Meath & District League stayed on course with maximum points gained during February. A walkover from Sheelin Celtic who failed to field was followed by a terrific 3-2 win at home to Agher Park, despite some scandalous refereeing decisions had left the Seasiders with 8 players on the field at the final whistle. February’s only other game was a 3-1 defeat at home to current Division 1 league leaders and current Tully Bookmakers Cup holders, Navan Town.

This game however will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Having already had two players sent off during the second half, a mass brawl on the pitch saw four more red cards shown, two to each team, resulting in the abandonment of the game due to league rules governing the minimum number of players required to be on the pitch at any one time.

This was all after Laytown were leading with 15 minutes remaining and on the verge of a fantastic result, before a highly eventful last 15 minutes of madness saw 3 goals conceded and 4 red cards brandished to the home side. The following suspensions handed down to Laytown are currently being appealed, especially as Navan Town seem to have been almost completely exonerated by the Meath & District league for their part in the row.

On a happier note, the club would like to extend best wishes to club captain Daniel Rafferty and his fiancé (sic) Sinead McCarron who will tie the knot next month in Monaghan. Since only joining the club two years ago, Daniel has proved to be a popular person both on and off the field and his appointment as club captain for the current year shows the impact he has made at the club since his arrival.

Next month, the club also hope to have photographs of their new home strip, kindly sponsored by Country Crest."

Laytown: Twinned with Timperley.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Don't Forget Your Helmet!

Wagner's Ring gets a repeated going over in the Customer Reviews.

spotted at WTD!