Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Nice Turn of Phrase

Dave Zirin in the April issue of The Progressive waxes sceptical about the Vancouver Olympics and the International Olympic Committee, our bête noire for this month:

The International Olympic Committee—that sewing circle of monarchists, extortionists, and absolved fascists—likes to hide behind the pretense of nobility. It claims to care not for profit or personal gain. Just the glory of “Olympism” as represented in its Magna Carta: “the Olympic Charter.” That charter states: “The mission of the IOC is to promote Olympism throughout the world and to lead the Olympic Movement. This includes upholding ethics in sports.” On the IOC’s website, there is a quiz: “The Ultimate goal of Olympism is to a) Organize the Olympic Games, b) encourage new world records, c) build a peaceful and better world through sport. It’s perfectly understandable if you needed three tries to answer that correctly. The answer is, of course, c—although that would certainly be news to the family of Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Shortest Book Review of the Year

Read it.

Anyone who says this crisis was unforeseeable is either ignorant or lying. Phillips, a former Republican, wrote this book in 2006 and forecast exactly the catastrophe we're currently experiencing. The only thing he gets wrong is the date.

He predicted it would start in 2010.

Hyatt Art & Music

Stop Press News from John Hyatt

Please come and join me as I’ve got two exhibitions opening in one night in Manchester on Friday! I’m going to play some songs there too.

The Free Creation of Beautiful Things

Friday 30th April 5.30 – 7.30 p.m

Holden Gallery, Grosvenor Building (School of Art), Manchester Metropolitan University, All Saints Square, Cavendish Street, Manchester, M15 6BR

The work for this exhibition finds beauty in the everyday, the habitual and the overlooked. Refresh your relationship with the universe from the stars above to the gnats in the garden through my digital photo works. Sound and video show what wonder can be still had with a child’s kaleidoscope.

Exhibition runs until 14 May

Me and the Avatars

Friday 30th April 7.00 – 9.00 p.m.

Rogue Studios, 66-72 Chapeltown Street, Piccadilly, Manchester, M1 2WH

Exhibition runs till 6 May

These are all new works too. Photographic works bring my Second Life avatars out to explore an Indian Sun Temple and a Step Well, accompanied by a multitude of sculpted Hindi gods and my human form joins in too.

To accompany these new artworks and celebrate the two exhibitions, I have produced a new album of music, ‘Do What You Wanna Do’, in a limited edition. The album will be available at the shows and in May as a CD from my website:

Title track, Do What You Wanna Do, is up on Youtube with a little animation at:

Bring a smile. Be there or do the square thing!

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's Friday. Let's Boogie!

Cabaret Voltaire - Nag Nag Nag

Thursday, April 22, 2010

No Shoes

Thanks to Aileen, I've been having a bit of pseudo-situ fun over at Xtranormal.

The New Proletarians

Matthew Crawford is the author of Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. It is being published in the U.K. as The Case for Working with Your Hands and appears to be in the same mould as Richard Sennett's The Craftsman, although hopefully not as long winded and obtuse.

An article by Crawford appeared in last week's Sunday Times magazine, but you know by now our aversion to that particular product and its owner. Fortunately, a version of the same article previously appeared in the New York Times Magazine a few months ago. And here it is.

I don't particularly want to get into a debate here about petty-bourgeois artisanship and the social and technological step backward implied by the retreat to small-scale production. What interested me more, and for obvious reasons, was the second part of the article:

After earning a master’s degree in the early 1990s, I had a hard time finding work but eventually landed a job in the Bay Area writing brief summaries of academic journal articles, which were then sold on CD-ROMs to subscribing libraries. When I got the phone call offering me the job, I was excited. I felt I had grabbed hold of the passing world — miraculously, through the mere filament of a classified ad — and reeled myself into its current. My new bosses immediately took up residence in my imagination, where I often surprised them with my hidden depths. As I was shown to my cubicle, I felt a real sense of being honored. It seemed more than spacious enough. It was my desk, where I would think my thoughts — my unique contribution to a common enterprise, in a real company with hundreds of employees. The regularity of the cubicles made me feel I had found a place in the order of things. I was to be a knowledge worker.

But the feel of the job changed on my first day. The company had gotten its start by providing libraries with a subject index of popular magazines like Sports Illustrated. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, it now found itself offering not just indexes but also abstracts (that is, summaries), and of a very different kind of material: scholarly works in the physical and biological sciences, humanities, social sciences and law. Some of this stuff was simply incomprehensible to anyone but an expert in the particular field covered by the journal. I was reading articles in Classical Philology where practically every other word was in Greek. Some of the scientific journals were no less mysterious. Yet the categorical difference between, say, Sports Illustrated and Nature Genetics seemed not to have impressed itself on the company’s decision makers. In some of the titles I was assigned, articles began with an abstract written by the author. But even in such cases I was to write my own. The reason offered was that unless I did so, there would be no “value added” by our product. It was hard to believe I was going to add anything other than error and confusion to such material. But then, I hadn’t yet been trained.

My job was structured on the supposition that in writing an abstract of an article there is a method that merely needs to be applied, and that this can be done without understanding the text. I was actually told this by the trainer, Monica, as she stood before a whiteboard, diagramming an abstract. Monica seemed a perfectly sensible person and gave no outward signs of suffering delusions. She didn’t insist too much on what she was telling us, and it became clear she was in a position similar to that of a veteran Soviet bureaucrat who must work on two levels at once: reality and official ideology. The official ideology was a bit like the factory service manuals I mentioned before, the ones that offer procedures that mechanics often have to ignore in order to do their jobs.

My starting quota, after finishing a week of training, was 15 articles per day. By my 11th month at the company, my quota was up to 28 articles per day (this was the normal, scheduled increase). I was always sleepy while at work, and I think this exhaustion was because I felt trapped in a contradiction: the fast pace demanded complete focus on the task, yet that pace also made any real concentration impossible. I had to actively suppress my own ability to think, because the more you think, the more the inadequacies in your understanding of an author’s argument come into focus. This can only slow you down. To not do justice to an author who had poured himself into the subject at hand felt like violence against what was best in myself.

The quota demanded, then, not just dumbing down but also a bit of moral re-education, the opposite of the kind that occurs in the heedful absorption of mechanical work. I had to suppress my sense of responsibility to the article itself, and to others — to the author, to begin with, as well as to the hapless users of the database, who might naïvely suppose that my abstract reflected the author’s work. Such detachment was made easy by the fact there was no immediate consequence for me; I could write any nonsense whatever.

Crawford goes on to wonder:

How was it that I, once a proudly self-employed electrician, had ended up among these walking wounded, a “knowledge worker” at a salary of $23,000? I had a master’s degree, and it needed to be used. The escalating demand for academic credentials in the job market gives the impression of an ever-more-knowledgeable society, whose members perform cognitive feats their unschooled parents could scarcely conceive of. On paper, my abstracting job, multiplied a millionfold, is precisely what puts the futurologist in a rapture: we are getting to be so smart! Yet my M.A. obscures a more real stupidification of the work I secured with that credential, and a wage to match. When I first got the degree, I felt as if I had been inducted to a certain order of society. But despite the beautiful ties I wore, it turned out to be a more proletarian existence than I had known as an electrician. In that job I had made quite a bit more money. I also felt free and active, rather than confined and stultified.

Proletarian indeed, but to imagine that there's no active engagement by workers on an intellectual production line such as this is reinforces the stereotype of mass worker as passive victim. Just as Socialism or Barbarism pointed out back in the 50s and 60s, factories require the active participation of their workers in order to function properly. And that still applies today. Every abstract writer knows dozens of short-cuts and ways to get round problematic articles that will make the job easier, get it done quicker without loss of accuracy or quality, and which he or she will be tempted to keep from editors or management because once management find out they'll likely change the targets. This is partly why management actually don't know how to do the workers' jobs much of the time. It's in the workers' interests to keep management out of the loop and to conserve knowledge for their own protection, something I don't recall Bourdieu ever noticing, although I'm sure someone can correct me on that. What's interesting is that it is the the nature of hierarchy itself that requires the worker to engage with the task in this way, regardless of whether or not he or she has any pride in the job. Indeed, the chance to skive can be part of the motivation.

And 28 articles a day, by the way, is piss.

Evidence of Evolution at Maclean's?

Not exactly Canada's most enlightened or intellectually challenging magazine, Maclean's tackles the hefty subject of evolution in the only way it knows how:

What might our granddaughter’s granddaughter’s granddaughter’s granddaughter’s granddaughter look like? Shorter and stouter, says a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If current trends continue, its authors predict, then by 2409 descendants of the women in the study will have evolved to be one kilogram heavier and two centimetres shorter than their 2010 foremothers.

For years, some scientists heralded the end of human evolution. The post-industrial homo sapiens, they argued, was free of the kinds of “survival-of-the-fittest” pressures that could drive large-scale genetic change. In 2008, Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, gave a much-hyped lecture entitled “Human Evolution is Over.” “Not so,” says Stephen Stearns, co-author of this latest study, professor of evolutionary biology at Yale University, and founding editor of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology. “The basic take-home is that humans continue to evolve,” Stearns told Maclean’s.

You see, survival fitness has become less of an issue for humans. What matters more is reproductive fitness. However:

The hitch, Stearns warns, is that predicted changes might not materialize. For instance: while evolution is literally pushing women down and out, environmental factors, like better nutrition, allow them to grow taller and stronger. The result of these battling influences is impossible to predict.

Got that? Impossible to predict. Well done, Maclean's.

And Nation Shall Speak Unto Nation

Or possibly not, but here's an interesting article from yesterday's New York Times by David Brooks, in which he discusses research by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business into purported ideological separation online.

Gentzkow and Shapiro found that the Internet is actually more ideologically integrated than old-fashioned forms of face-to-face association — like meeting people at work, at church or through community groups. You’re more likely to overlap with political opponents online than in your own neighborhood.

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

Of course, you've got to get online first.

So, Where's Doofus?

courtesy of MM.

Friday, April 16, 2010

3, 8, 4, 6, 6

Can you complete the sequence?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Adventures of Flannery

The Adventures of Flannery from Jessica Fuller on Vimeo.

A very enjoyable profile of the wonderful Cathal Coughlan, former frontman of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions, as he goes about constructing the show Flannery's Mounted Head (which draws on Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project) for Cork's year as the European Capital of Culture in 2005.

Revenge is Sweet

A sample reel of footage from the forthcoming feature-length documentary by Joe Angio, Revenge of the Mekons.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Agent Little Goes Undercover

Colin Little,probably the best footballer I've played against (present company and Danny Higginbotham included),has joined the coaching staff of Man Utd. What they don't mention here is that he's a massive City fan.

Friday, April 02, 2010