Sunday, November 30, 2008

Only Losers Take the Bus

Top Git host Jeremy Clarkson channels Margaret Thatcher:

Clarkson has apologised to fans who will have to use public transport to get to their shows in the RDS Simmonscourt in Dublin.

. . .

"I can only apologise for that. Any one who finds themselves on public transport after the age of 26 must consider themselves a failure."

Friday, November 28, 2008

We Are Not Worthy

That's Christmas sorted, then.

The Cradle-Embalming Majesty of Jeff Lint.*

*Or, as my dad would say, "What's funny about that?"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Another Quality Post from KRS

13 things you didn't know about Bertrand Russell.

Towards a New Economic Narrative

The Irish Left Review has just posted Michael Taft's program of recommendations for a sustained economic recovery to counter the preponderance of right-wing narratives masquerading as common sense in the mainstream Irish media. It's well worth a read and deserves dissemination.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life #2

In contrast to yesterday's "heartwarming" shite, the NYT has a genuinely inspiring profile of 28-year-old German hockey player Robert Müller of Kölner Haie in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.

Müller, Germany’s top goaltender, has a malignant and incurable form of brain cancer, yet he continues to play at the highest level of the game in his country.

Now that's balls. Or is it pucks?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Some morale-boosting words of comfort in these dark times from the human chipmunk Mariah Carey:

I want to be ecstatic and have the best Christmas ever. And I know that's a really huge request right now. There's so much going on in the world that's pretty dismal, but I've always had that glass-half-full outlook. That's how I am. And I really think it'll be a memorable Christmas.

Chin up, everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Capital Boogie

Puerto Muerto - Be My Husband

Live at The Hideout

Number One! Number One!

Chicago is now the capital of the USA, says the New York Times.

But then we always knew that, right?

Iain Banks's Fame Stretches to Japan

I'm thinking here of Complicity rather than his equally wonderful Raw Spirit:

The Washington Post reports that a serial killer in Japan may well be stalking bureaucrats responsible for losing millions of government pension records.

Riddled with stab wounds, the bodies of Takehiko Yamaguchi, 66, and his wife, Michiko, 61, were found Tuesday morning in their home in a Tokyo suburb. Takehiko Yamaguchi was head of the Health and Welfare Ministry's pension division when the national pension system underwent a major record-keeping overhaul in 1985.

On Tuesday evening, Yasuko Yoshihara, 72, wife of former pension bureaucrat Kenji Yoshihara, 76, was stabbed in the chest by a man who came to her home in Tokyo claiming that he worked for a parcel delivery service, police said.

En route to a hospital she said that her husband, who was not at home when the attack occurred, "may be a target and is in danger," according to Japanese news media. Kenji Yoshihara's tenure as head of the Social Insurance Agency in the mid-1980s coincided with the botched computerization of Japan's pension records.

Millions of those records have since gone missing, outraging the elderly and contributing to the resignations of two prime ministers.

This is the sort of behaviour that could give people ideas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Once, Twice, Three Times To Wembley

But we don't even get to visit Southend this year.

Still , it was a revelation to see how good the officials in the Football League are compared to the ones we get every week.

And the BBC report makes the game sound more exciting than it actually was.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seeing the Light

Germany's first professor of Islamic theology reckons Muhammad most likely never existed.

I'm no fan of the Wall Street Journal, but some of the lines in this article are quality:

"We had no idea he would have ideas like this," says Thomas Bauer, a fellow academic at Münster University who sat on a committee that appointed Prof. Kalisch. "I'm a more orthodox Muslim than he is, and I'm not a Muslim."

. . .

He has doubts, too, about the Quran. "God doesn't write books," Prof. Kalisch says.

Even so, I think it's wrong for the paper to publish a cartoon depicting him, don't you?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Belated Boogie!!

Gogol Bordello - Not a Crime.

Dublin Ambassador Theatre, Saturday, December 20th.

Friday, November 07, 2008

It's the Friday Quiz!

So is it

a) Altrincham's 100th ever goal

b) Altrincham's 100th goal against Newcastle Blue Star


c) Colin Little's 100th goal for Alty ?


How cool is this? A Richard Rorty essay on Roberto Unger and Cornelius Castoriadis and published in the winter 1988 issue of the Northwestern University Law Review. Scroll down the page for link to pdf download.

Where's the Boogie?!

Never mind that. Just look at the tasteful redesign of the Irish Left Review. And check out Michael Taft's essays while you're at it. Rather good.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Book Look Nook

A quick roundup of all the other interesting stuff I’ve been reading:

W. V. Quine, by Alex Orenstein

I'll begin (as indeed I began) with the least interesting, although that's just personal prejudice: Quine belongs to the analytic tradition and linguistic turn in philosophy that I’m becoming increasingly distrustful of the more I read. Worthwhile reading, however, just to familiarize oneself with his essay “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” and with the benefit of hindsight, useful for the context it gave to my subsequent reading.

Richard Rorty, by Alan Malachowski

I read this and felt like Kant awakening from his dogmatic slumbers after reading Hume (except, of course, without having written any philosophical masterpieces). When I studied philosophy, Quine was on the curriculum but not Rorty, and while I’ve had Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature on my shelf for five years or so, I’d only ever dipped into it and not really understood what all the fuss was about. Now I do, and I must confess that reading this book gave me a renewed enthusiasm for philosophy, even if Rorty sometimes feels like philosophy for people who don’t like philosophy. Like the Quine book, though, this one just happened to echo, connect with, and reinforce ideas emanating from the other works I’ve been reading and admiring, particularly works in anthropology, social sciences, politics, and philosophy. The possibility of a credible antifoundationalist anarchism that neither requires privileged access to “the Truth” nor slides into a radical postmodernist relativism increasingly strikes me as both feasible and exciting.

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, by Richard Rorty

Well of course I had to read it now, hadn’t I? But Christ it’s dull and dry in parts and he does tend to go on a bit. Still, there’s an interesting argument at the heart of it, which is basically that Philosophy took a wrong turn at Plato and we’ve been paying for it ever since. The central ideas of philosophy, the “binary oppositions” of appearance and reality, truth and error, right and wrong, encourage ways of thinking in philosophers that send them off on wild goose chases, trying to solve paradoxes of their own making. The idea that philosophy can provide the irrefutable foundation for science by establishing “what there really is” is a futile goal, in Rorty’s view. There is no reality “behind” appearances. Instead, all perceptions, statements, and entities are situated, relational. There is no God’s-eye view, no place where we can stand outside the universe to see how things “truly” are. Which is not to say that the sciences, including the social sciences, can’t provide information that is a better or worse account of the world, only that “better” and “worse” have to be measured against our own situated requirements, terms, and definitions. Rorty is a big fan of Dewey’s pragmatism, as you might be able to tell, but this "pragmatic" attitude is one that goes right back to Protagoras’s “Man is the measure of all things.” Rorty also sees it in the existentialists, Heidegger and Sartre in particular, whose philosophies begin with human beings in-the-world, making their own philosophy, living it, according to the world they find around them (Rorty is nothing if not a historicist; it was his youthful discovery that philosophers shifted their focus from subject to subject depending upon the zeitgeist in which they found themselves that stimulated his curiosity in the first place).

Philosophy and Social Hope, by Richard Rorty

A bunch of essays, some autobiographical, most not, dealing with the implications of Rorty’s pragmatism for political and social theory and policy. A former Trot, Rorty became a social-democrat liberal-leftie with strong communitarian tendencies (well, that’s my reading). Very enjoyable. Strikes me as the sort of bloke you might have had a pint or two with and then a scrap out on the street about phenomenology.

Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, by Cornelius Castoriadis

Ah, Cornelius. I wonder if you’re any easier to read in Greek. All the same, some genuinely fascinating essays in here, with fun titles like “The Social-Historical: Mode of Being, Problems of Knowledge.” Cornelius’s central argument seems to be that twice in history, human beings have “woken up,” if you like, and realized that the society they live in is not something “natural” or “god-given” or eternal but something that they, human beings, sustain by virtue of their daily behaviour. Consequently, they were able to bring into question the foundations and structures of the world in which they lived and the way in which they lived. Thus was philosophy born, along with what he calls the "autonomous society": the two episodes in history that exemplify this awakening are ancient Greece, in particular the Athenian democracy, and what we call the Western world, for want of a better term, meaning the Enlightenment and its associated worldview, including wherever secular, humanistic thinking prevails (you can see how this relates to Rorty, can't you?). Having argued this, however, Castoriadis is of the view that our current "social imaginary" is increasingly at odds with the world itself and he maintains that we require a new awakening to break us free from the illusion that “technoscience,” the mastery and domination of Nature, is the best model for not just our relationship with the world but with one another. The closing paragraphs:

The phantasy of being all-powerful has undoubtedly existed ever since man became man. It has been coined into some power and it took refuge in magic, or military conquest. With its fecondation by its own offspring—rationality—it has, for the first time, been able to become actual historical power, the social imaginary signification dominating an entire world. If this has been possible, it is not only that the human imaginary has taken this turn and has provided itself with means other than magic or elementary military technology. It is also that the world—the “prehuman” world—lends itself to this happenstance and that this world is knowable and even manipulable.

The world is knowable to an apparently unlimited degree. It unveils to us, through our work, one after another of its connected yet heterogeneous strata. And yet, it clearly is not limitlessly manipulable—and this, not simply from the standpoint of “extent” (we cannot change the direction in which our galaxy rotates, for example), but also from a qualitative standpoint. We have clearly attained this limit, and we are in the process of crossing it at several points at once. Moreover, as I have tried to show, the most intimate sort of connection exists between the limitless unfolding of our knowledge and the limits we ought to impose on our manipulations [of the world].

Now, at the same time that the rage for “power,” the fetishism for “rational mastery,” waxes triumphant, the other great imaginary signification of Greco-Western history—that of autonomy, notably in its political manifestations—seems to be suffering an eclipse. The present crisis of humanity is a crisis of politics in the grand sense, a crisis of creativity and of our political imagination as well as of political participation by individuals. The reigning conditions of privatization and “individualism” give free rein, in the first place, to the arbitrariness of the Apparatuses and, at a deeper level, to the autonomized march of technoscience.

This is the ultimate point of the question at hand. The enormous dangers, the very absurdity contained in the all-out, directionless development of technoscience, cannot be avoided simply by promulgating a few “rules” set forth once and for all, or by installing a “panel of wise men” who would become merely a tool, if not themselves the actual subject, of a tyranny. What is required is more than a “reform of the human understanding”; it is a reform of the human being as social-historical being, an ethos of mortality, a self-surpassing of Reason. We have no need for a few “wise men.” What we need is for the greatest number of people to acquire and exercise wisdom—which in its turn requires a radical transformation of society qua political society, thereby instaurating not simply formal participation but also actual passion on the part of all for the common affairs of humanity. Wise human beings, however, are the very last thing that present-day culture produces.

“What is it that you want, then? To change humanity?”

“No, something infinitely more modest: simply that humanity change, as it has already done two or three times.”

Cornelius also has some interesting observations too on the manmade nature of science; he takes an anti-Platonic stance on mathematics, arguing that Godel’s theorem demonstrates that even the Queen of the Sciences lacks a foundation that can be independently established. Since mathematics provides the basis for measurement, formulas, equations, and so on in all other sciences, we ought to conclude that they too, lack a foundation that is anything other than manmade.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein

The only book I didn’t finish, partly out of disappointment, partly out of boredom. I very much enjoyed No Logo; it told me a lot of things I didn’t already know. This book doesn’t. If you’re over 40 and have had even the remotest interest in 20th-century politics, then the story Klein relates here will be largely familiar to you. I guess her target audience consists of teenagers, twentysomethings, and easily impressed thritysomethings. Her “shock doctrine” metaphor is tenuous at best, tying up all manner of barely related phenomena. I guess she had a two-book deal and after No Logo she was stumbling around for something else to write and managed to concost this feeble but new angle on old news and figured, “that’ll do.” Not that I have anything against her message. I’d just heard it before, better told.

Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, by Silvia Federici

A phenomenal book, the introduction to which I reproduced below (the book is covered by anticopyright). Not much more to add to what Federici herself outlines there: The witch hunts were intended to discipline women into being baby factories to provide the labour force and cannon fodder for the factories, mills, mines, and military conquests of newly emergent capitalism and empire. A form of bodily enclosure that accompanied the geographical one.

The Gift: Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, by Marcel Mauss

Ground-breaking in its day, but I don’t think there’s much in this book-length essay now that would surprise social scientists: Gifts entail obligations. Gift economies can be as aggressive and hierarchical as non-gift economies. Potlatches sound bonkers but make perfect sense once you understand the economy at work. And so on. I'd have liked more pictures.

Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, by Simon Critchley

A surprisingly small book in which Critchley tries to make a case for “anarchism as an ethical practice and a remotivating means of political organization” (I’m quoting the blurb on the back). He does so by recourse to Kant, Levinas, Badiou and Lacan, which is why I found it unconvincing and unnecessarily circuitous. Castoriadis makes a much better and simpler case, albeit in even denser language.

L’Oréal Took My Home, by Monica Waitzfelder

Yes, they did, the bastards. Not the best-written book, but then Monica Waitzfelder isn’t a writer. Nevertheless, the anger, passion, and sense of injustice comes through on every page.

A lot of the information in the book can be found elsewhere, but if you want another reason to despise Andi MacDowell, here you go (from the preface by Serge Klarsfeld):

L’Oréal’s past should have led this giant company to develop greater understanding of Edith and Monica: Eugene Schueller, the creator of L’Oréal, was also one of the founders of La Cagoule, the extreme right-wing movement which collaborated with the Nazis and, which, among other things, blew up six synagogues in Paris in 1941. Jacques Corrèze who was responsible for L’Oréal’s busines activity in the United States was forced to resign in 1991, when I revealed that , as head of the collaborationist organisation, MSR, he had expelled Jews from their dwellings in 1941. As for Andre Bettencourt, the husband of L’Oréal’s owner, Eugène Schueller’s daughter, he began his brilliant career in the foulest of ways by publishing dozens of articles between 1940 and 1942 in la Terre française, a prominent agricultural affairs newspaper created by the Germans. Some of these articles have an undeniably anti-Semitic character.

And there’s plenty more besides.

That’s you lot up to date. I got Contingency, Irony and Solidarity in Hodges Figgis yesterday lunchtime, so expect more Rorty soon.

Anarcho-Syndicalists Take the White House

Obama family takes to the stage in tell-tale red and black.

Let the conspiracy theories begin!