Thursday, September 29, 2005

I was Lost and then ...

That's Lost, the tv show.

  • "Oh no. We're going to crash."
  • "Oh no. We're on a deserted island."
  • "Oh no. There's something in the woods."
  • "Oh no. Where's Eric?"
And that's all there is.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2005

    Fruitcake corner

    Offensive. Rabidly raving religious nutters.

    [Hat tip: Stoa]


    BBC's Arena by Martin Scorsese on Bob Dylan was spectacular.

    Must get hold of the dvd for the extras.

    So many damn fine songs. There's a need for a quote but there's too much choice.

    Bombing Nomenclature

    Should people who blow themselves, and others, into smithereens be known as suicide or homicide bombers?

    Norm blogs on a New Republic article that examines, among other things, the national origins of such bombers.
    [O]f the fighters expressly identified by country of origin, 175 are Saudi, 50 are Syrian, 28 are Iraqi, 15 are Kuwaiti, 13 are Jordanian, and a handful are from other Arab countries, including a few young men who had lived in France, Denmark, and Spain.
    They are even less comfortable articulating the fact that the vast majority of victims in suicide bombings are ordinary Iraqis. Take the description of Walid Al Asmar Al Shammari's death: "Walid Al Asmar Al Shammari was martyred in Iraq on 14 June, 2004... His family received condolences in Hail, northern Saudi Arabia, after they got a call from Iraq confirming his death when he carried out an operation with a car bomb. He drove it into a crowded area in central Baghdad last Tuesday. In addition to Al Shammari, the operation killed 16 people, including two Britons, a Frenchman, and an American." The other twelve were Iraqis but were not identified as such, a telling omission.

    That omission suggests a critical weakness in the jihadist movement and its recruitment efforts. Imagine how the biography of the "hero" Al Shammari would read if it were juxtaposed with the biographies of the people he killed? What might readers in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and elsewhere in the Arab world make of a companion volume to "The Martyrs" in which each suicide bomber faced his victims, not as statistics in a war against the infidels, but as individuals in their own right?
    Some deaths are not counted because to do so would be a mite inconvenient for those in whose cause the people died.

    The isolationist, reactionary anti-war argument1 runs thus: "Iraqi deaths at the hands, accidental or otherwise, of coalition forces should be counted". As to Iraqi deaths at the hands of the insurgency, the isolationist reactionary anti-war movement2 remains silent."

    1 Is there any other kind?

    2 Is there any other kind?

    Friday, September 23, 2005

    In the backrow of the movies ...

    This guy, not to confused with Mr. New World Symphony, likes watching movies at home.
    Now with the DVD and the so-called home theater, the average experience is simply better at home. You can stop the movie when you want. You can eat dinner while watching. You can pause the movie and examine a scene more closely. The only thing you really miss is the group experience of sitting in an audience with a hundred or more strangers who react to the film, which is an important form of socialization. Of course, that experience has to be balanced by the idiot with the hat sitting in front of you or the girl who keeps getting up every five minutes to go to the bathroom or make a call.
    Did Huston, Ford, Leone, Hitchcock, Welles, Godard, Truffaut, Bergman et al, really make movies to be paused at will; make movies to go with steak tartare; make movies to go with Tuscan soup. I think these considerations passed the great auteurs by.

    Ok there are downsides to cinemas:
    • smells of crappy food.
    • mobile phones ringing.
    but you also have to look at the upsides
    • feeling an emotion as part of a largish group.
    • isolation from telephones, cats, and as Eric puts it, "small people".
    And being part of large group laughing, crying, sitting on the edge of your sets, and having the other emotions you have in a cinema is a G-O-O-D thing.

    Even a collective recognition that this movie is over-rated tosh can be a G-O-O-D thing.

    For further discussion see Norm and Eric.

    Friday, September 16, 2005


    There's a new on-line journal that "aims to contribute to a renewal of the politics of democratic radicalism by providing a forum for serious analysis and debate".
    Democratiya believes that in a radically changed world parts of the left have backed themselves into an incoherent and negativist 'anti-imperialist' corner, losing touch with long-held democratic, egalitarian and humane values. In some quarters, the complexity of the post-cold-war world, and of US foreign policy as it has developed since 9/11, has been reduced to another 'Great Contest': 'The Resistance' (or 'Multitude') against 'Imperialism' (or 'Empire'). This world-view has ushered back in some of the worst habits of mind that dominated parts of the left in the Stalinist period: manicheanism, reductionism, apologia, denial, cynicism. Grossly simplifying tendencies of thought, not least the disastrous belief that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' are once again leading to the abandonment of democrats, workers, women and gays who get on the wrong side of 'anti-imperialists' (who are considered 'progressive' simply because they anti-American).
    Give it a go.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    Palast v Galloway

    Grep Palast writes
    I have to say, Mr. Galloway, you are a charitable man with a big heart. But the charity is for whom? You founded something called the Mariam Appeal for Iraqis suffering under UN sanction. You raised cash on your solemn promise that, "The balance after Mariam’s hospital bills have been paid will be sent as medicine and medical supplies to the children she had to leave behind." But little of the money seems to have gone there, isn't that correct, Mr. Galloway? It seems that nearly a million dollars can't be accounted for. And the diversion of most of the money was, you said, for "emergency" purposes. One of those emergencies was the payment to your wife -- isn't that correct, Mr. Galloway?

    And the source of nearly half a million dollars of that money, Honorable Sir, came from a trader in the corrupt Oil-for-Food program. The payment was equal to the profits earned by this oil trader who was blessed with discount oil from Saddam. Is that correct?

    So if we add it up, Mr. Galloway, while you were railing about medicines denied Iraqis by Messrs. Bush and Blair, you were taking money skimmed from the program earmarked to pay for those medicines. And other moneys donated for medicine for Iraqis you and your group also skimmed off for "legitimate expenses" of yours, is that correct?
    For more questions about the indefatigible one read the whole piece.

    Via Harry's Place.

    Thinking about Rosenberg

    No. Not that one. Or this one.

    A play.

    Based on the Rosenberg trial.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and other questions of grave importance, are suggested by this piece on the Defence Systems and Equipment international (DSEi) exhibition currently taking place in Docklands, London:
    ... the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed that a number of countries whose human rights records had been criticised by the Foreign Office had been invited to the show, which is taking place at the ExCel centre in London's Docklands.

    But MoD spokesman Stephen Bethel denied that the invitations undermined the Foreign Office's stance. He said: "You must draw a distinction between delegations invited to attend and countries that the UK government offers an export licence to. The distinction is: just because a delegation from a country is coming to the exhibition does not mean that British companies are going to be free to export to those countries."

    Any UK company wanting to export to a foreign country has to apply for an export licence. The Foreign Office played a big part in making that decision, Mr Bethel said.
    So, that's all right then.

    "Come and look at our goods. That's it. Come on. Have a feel. You don't get quality like that these days. Feel the width. Feel how light it is."

    "You want to buy some? Oh. Where is it you're from?"

    "Oh. Dearie me. I'm not allowed to sell to you."

    "You're prepared to offer how much?"

    "Meet me round the back later."

    Songs in the Key of Life

    Walter Benjamin asks "What form do you suppose a life would take that was determined at a decisive moment precisely by the streetsong last on everyone's lips?"1

    A Radio 4 announcer writes "London Calling, by The Clash, did it for me".

    Ian Paisley, Jr shouts "I am Curious Orange by Mark E Smith and his merry men set my life on its anachronistic course".

    Cloud says "This Charming Man, by The Smiths, and I'm still pushing my punctured bicycle up a hillside, desolate".

    1: Walter Benjamin, SURREALISM, The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia,1929.

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    Oona King

    The Berliner Grauniad has an interview with Oona King after the battle of Bethnal Green. She discusses reasons for losing her seat:
    There was legitimate anger about her support for the war in Iraq, she says, which cut great swathes into her 10,000- strong majority. "It's rational to be incredibly angry about what's going on in Iraq, and there are many principled arguments against it. Having said that, my opponent possibly wouldn't know a principled argument if it hit him over the head."

    But she says there were other, less legitimate reasons for her unpopularity, too. "When you graft racial stereotypes and bigotry and religious stereotypes on top of everything else ..."

    What does she mean, racial stereotypes?

    "We have a huge amount of Islamophobia in this country, and possibly as a response to that we have a huge amount of anti-semitism." ... "And that [anti-semitism] was used really effectively during the campaign in a way that didn't exactly shock me, because I'm aware of its existence, but in my life it had always been the black part of me that attracted the most prejudice. And suddenly it was the Jewish part of me."

    She says that bizarre rumours kept surfacing, during the campaign, that she wanted to ban halal meat. "And this was on top of the usual, exaggerated Jewish conspiracy theories. A similar thing happened in 2001, when there were rumours spread that I was funded by Mossad. I used to laugh with my assistant that, given we sent people out to nick stick-it notes, they weren't funding us very well. Then in this election I realised that people were taking it really, really seriously. That was confirmed to me when my Muslim assistant knocked on the door of a Bengali man who said, 'I voted for her both times before, but I just can't do it this time.' She said, 'Is it Iraq?' And he said, 'No. I'm very angry about Iraq, but what I cannot stomach is that my member of parliament thinks it's all right to spend her parliamentary salary on paying the Israeli army to bomb the Palestinians.' And that's where rational debate ends."
    Yes, the end of rational debate, as advocated by Madeleine Bunting, also in the Grauniad.
    erstwhile left-wing liberals ... raise their standard on Enlightenment values - their universality, the supremacy of reason and a belief in progress.
    And that's a bad thing?

    For a discussion of Bunting's article see Marcus at Harry's Place.

    Nine Theses

    Salman Rushdie nails his nine theses for a reformed Islam to the door of The Times.

    Harry gives a splendid summary. Go and read. And think.

    Friday, September 09, 2005

    Agreeing With Naomi K

    Well. Who'd have thought it? Naomi Klein writes a good piece in the Guardian. She argues that instead of becoming a place for business to exploit workers "low wages, low taxes, more luxury condos and hotels" New Orleans should become a city for the people most damaged by Katrina.

    Reconstruction for the people. Reconstruction by the people.
    Before the flood, this highly profitable vision was already displacing thousands of poor African-Americans: while their music and culture was for sale in an increasingly corporatised French Quarter (where only 4.3% of residents are black), their housing developments were being torn down. "For white tourists and businesspeople, New Orleans's reputation means a great place to have a vacation, but don't leave the French Quarter or you'll get shot," Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans-based labour organiser told me the day after he left the city by boat. "Now the developers have their big chance to disperse the obstacle to gentrification - poor people."

    Here's a better idea: New Orleans could be reconstructed by and for the very people most victimised by the flood. Schools and hospitals that were falling apart before could finally have adequate resources; the rebuilding could create thousands of local jobs and provide massive skills training in decent paying industries. Rather than handing over the reconstruction to the same corrupt elite that failed the city so spectacularly, the effort could be led by groups like Douglass Community Coalition. Before the hurricane, this remarkable assembly of parents, teachers, students and artists was trying to reconstruct the city from the ravages of poverty by transforming Frederick Douglass senior high school into a model of community learning.
    Indeed. It is far better to empower people by giving them responsibility and power to reconstruct the city than by giving big juicy contracts to organisations such as Halliburton.

    Go and read the splendid piece from Naomi Klein.

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    New Orleans As it Is

    John at Counago and Spaves has this account of life in New Orleans.

    Go and read it. "Working-class heroes", indeed.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Toynbee on Education

    Polly Toynbee comments on education.
    It is not philistine to suggest that most humanities students might have their minds stimulated by a more general curriculum across a range of disciplines, opening wider windows instead of treating them all like trainee academics. As for the value of some research, no politician dare touch that domain. But here's a new research project from Birmingham University: "The cognitive measurement of consumer criteria for manufacturer parameter values in biscuit texture." (It means studying how much people like the crunchiness of biscuits.)
    A broad, general humanities curriculum is a good idea. Everyone (including scientists and engineers (like me)) should have a broad understanding of things like probability, economics, politics, history, literary theory, poetry, statistics, languages, literature et al. But isn't that the preserve of what Richard Rorty calls the socialisation stage of education? Pre-university should be all about
    socialization - of getting the students to take over the moral and, political common sense of the society as it is. It is obviously not only that, since sympathetic high school teachers often assist curious or troubled students by showing them where to find alternatives to this common sense. But these exceptions cannot be made the rule. For any society has a right to expect that, whatever else happens in the course of adolescence, the schools will inculcate most of what is generally believed.
    University should be about individualization -
    self-individualization and self-creation of that human being_ through his or her own later revolt against [socialization].
    Rorty writes
    Suppose we succeed not only in inculcating such a narrative of national hope in most of our students but in setting it in the larger context of a narrative of world history and literature, all this against the background of the world picture offered by the natural scientists. Suppose, that is, that after pouring money into pre-college education, firing the curriculum experts, abolishing the licensing requirements, building brand new, magnificently equipped schools in the inner cities, and instituting Hirsch-like school-leaving examinations, it proves possible to make most American 19-year-olds as culturally literate as Dewey and Hirsch have dreamed they might be. What, in such a utopia, would be the educational function of American colleges? What would policymakers in higher education worry about?

    I think all that they would then need to worry about would be finding teachers who were not exclusively concerned with preparing people to be graduate students in their various specialities and then making sure that these teachers get a chance to give whatever courses they feel like giving. They would still need to worry about making sure that higher education was not purely vocational - not simply a matter of fulfilling prerequisites for professional schools or reproducing current disciplinary matrices. They would not, however, have to worry about the integrity of the curriculum or about the challenge of connecting learning - any more than administrators in French and German universities worry about such things. That sort of worry would be left to secondary school administrators. If Hirsch's dreams ever come true, then the colleges will be free to get on with their proper business. That business is to offer a blend of specialized vocational training and provocation to self-creation.
    Don't you love that phrase "provocation to self-creation"? On education I think that Rorty is bang on the money (to coin a phrase).

    And so back to the Toynbee. The quoted research on biscuits is not new, it got on the website of the Plain English Campaign in 1998. In fact that's the sole google reference for the phrase "cognitive measurement of consumer criteria for manufacturer parameter values in biscuit texture". If you are in the business of making, and marketing, biscuits wouldn't how to make biscuits that people like be important stuff to know?

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005

    Ditch Monkey

    This bloke is spending a year living in the woods and commuting to his regular job. I heard about him here:
    It is the ultimate in downsizing. The 32-year-old has given up every luxury to spend a year living outdoors. He hopes to prove he can lead a full and fun life with a fraction of his normal comforts.

    'I want to make people think about how much they consume that is not necessary,' said Sawyer, who has been living in the woods near the village of Lewknor, Oxfordshire, since June. 'I am trying to prove it is possible to do everything you normally do, maintaining a full existence, while cutting back. I have realised I can lead my life without television, carpets, sofa, electricity, chairs, tables, a fridge and a freezer.'
    All fine and dandy. I began to think it was a spoof when I came to this bit:
    When he first moved into the wilderness, it shocked his then girlfriend, 24-year-old Natalie Skidmore. 'I was really confused and not sure if he was serious,' she said. 'My friends think it is strange when I say he lives in the woods but now I am really proud of him.' But the student at the London School of Economics admits it shocked her parents. 'They were a bit disappointed he wasn't a home owner and were certainly perplexed.'
    Run that by me again: 'They were a bit disappointed he wasn't a home owner'.

    Surely no-one can be that shallow and materialistic. It must be a spoof. Right?

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    Scrumping the Bishop's Blackberries

    Yesterday, Rullsenberg and me went to Lincoln. The weather was splendid. We explored the cathedral. A splendid building it is too.

    After walking down Steep Hill (that's a name with face validity - i.e. it passes the ronseal test), and back up, we went to the site of the Bishop's Palace and scrumped the Bishop's blackberries.

    The bishop of Lincoln was a major force in medieval English politics, so scrumping the Bishop's blackberries may still be a capital offence. The names of those involved shall remain anonymous.

    Redbeard the Accountant.

    There is a spectre haunting the world. A spectre of double entry bookkeepers wanting their pieces of eight. Making economies walk the plank. Prem Sikka argues
    An accountancy firm partner was bold enough to state recently: "No matter what legislation is in place, the accountants and lawyers will find a way around it. Rules are rules, but rules are meant to be broken." Evidently, what ordinary people regard as antisocial and corrupt is a matter of pride in accountancy firms.
    He adds
    Major casualties of the tax avoidance industry are ordinary people, who are forced to pay higher taxes while corporations and the rich avoid theirs. Individuals on the minimum wage have to pay income taxes, but some 65,000 rich individuals living in the UK are estimated to have paid little or no income tax. The top fifth of earners pay a smaller proportion of their income in tax than the bottom fifth. Corporate tax payments now account for just 2.5% of national income, the smallest share ever.

    Unless stopped, the tax avoidance industry will destroy nation states and the very idea of democracy. Without adequate tax revenues no government can deliver its legislative programme, provide public goods or redistribute wealth.

    We can be persuaded to vote for governments that promise to invest public revenues in education, healthcare or public transport. But the tax avoidance industry exercises the final veto by shrinking the tax base and eroding tax revenues.
    To add insult to robbery, the same accountancy firms running illegal and immoral tax avoidance schemes are also consultants to the same governments they are robbing. And they expect to be paid out of the reduced tax take they are responsible for. It's like having your house burgled and the burglar leaving a bill for security consultancy services. What's worse is you feeling perfectly happy to pay up.

    Have governments been watching too many movies - "Keep your friends close and your accountants closer"?