Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Sorting

I'm sitting down surrounded by books. Some books I have to reshelve. Some books have to go to my Oxfam book shop to stop me drowning in a sea of books.

Here's a photostream of pictures of books. Look and dream.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Spy in the House of War

From an interview in the Guardian with Nathaniel Borenstein I found this amusing essay on consulting for NATO in the late 1980s.
Bizarre update: In March, 2011, by chance, I found out that in 1991, this article was recognized by New York University with its "Olive Branch Award" for writing about peace. For some reason neither they nor the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ever told me about this fact. It probably would have just gone to my head, anyway.
It's worth a read. At the conference he attended the NATO officers seemed like the ones wanting peace whereas the Dr Strangelove's, ignoring potential disasters stemming from their work, were the commercial weapons scientists.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Involuntary Witness

I have just finished reading Gianrico Carofiglio's thoughtful first novel Involuntary Witness, translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh.

It is a thoughful work that discusses self perception and the perception of others and the way that witnesses see what they think they are seeing rather than what they actually see, and the way that a leading question can lead a witness to believe they saw something that, really, they didn't. It also paraphrases Einstein's "it is the theory tht determines what we observe".

He also uses a quote from Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, that discusses what it means to be human.
Every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But finally there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away. That is, one can even say that the more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his mind.

Medium is the Massage

Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore put together a wonderful illustrated little book called The Medium is the Massage, punning on McLuhan's famous sound bite "the medium is the message".

Anyway, as Rullsenberg points out he BBC have been showing a wonderful three part documentary on the Tube.

Now why haven't the RMT promoted this wonderful advert of their members at work?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pyongyang and Cuba

In the current LRB Tariq Ali writes of his first visit, in 1973 to Pynongyang in the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (which as a phrase is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire, or even the Socialist Workers Party, in that very few of the terms apply to the organisation). Ali meets some Cuban students who take him to meet the Cuban ambassador:
The ambassador was a veteran of the revolution. Sending him to Korea had not been a friendly act: ‘I’d got a bit critical of Fidel and the way things were being done in Cuba. I talked to many others about this and Fidel got angry. I would have preferred prison but they sent me here instead. It’s worked. Havana’s a paradise and Fidel is god. Just get me out of here. I’ll never open my mouth again.’ It was the most enjoyable evening I spent in the DPRK.
Just as paradise needs its fallen angels, its Lucifer Morningstar's, so any society needs its dissidents to stay healthy. Without dissidents, and dissidence, society becomes stale and loses any belief in progress.

In the case of Cuba you get several types of dissident. There are those who wish the revolution had never happened ( but most of those, and their descendents, now live in the US), and these can be dismissed as reactionaries.

Then you get those who support the revolution but believe things are stuck and need changing (like opening the borders for travel). This dissidence can be seen as seeking to extend the revolution.

Any society is healthier for being able to satirise the leaders or call the leaders useless or corrupt or anything at all. Irreverence to leaders is healthy. After all you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Why Dis-Credit Rating Agencies Suck

We all think that Standard and Poor, and Moody's are a bunch of incompetent, corrupt and politically motivated gangsters, destroying value in the wake of every announcement. Aditya Chakrabortty at the Guardian ofers his take on the record of dis-credit rating agencies:
Why should S&P and Moody's earn such vast sums? Certainly not for their oracular genius – the agencies have as much foresight as Mr Magoo. In my working life, the credit-rating duopoly has failed to warn investors about the Asian financial crisis, Enron, the subprime crisis, Lehman Brothers – and Greece. My particular favourite, Moody's report dates from December 2009 and is titled "Investor fears over Greek government liquidity misplaced". Six months later, Athens received a $147bn rescue package. Nor are they much cop at analysing corporates, either. Consider this statistic from Sukhdev Johal at Royal Holloway University of London: of the corporate debt rated by S&P as AAA, 32% has been downgraded within just three years, 57% within seven years. That is a huge discrepancy and one that you and I end up paying for through losses on our pension funds.
... ... ...
Since they can't rest on their records, the dis-credit agencies prefer to drape themselves in the cloak of science, claiming the work they do is highly technical and independent. But the anthropologist Alexandra Ouroussoff has spent years studying the agencies; she remembers how in the middle of last January's turmoil in Tunisia, S&P issued a report warning of "downward ratings pressures" on neighbouring governments if they tried to calm social unrest with "populist" tax cuts or spending increases. That extraordinary intervention in the middle of a revolution amounted to one dictum: screw your people and screw political stability; to remain financially viable, you have to stick to your spending plans.
They are paid to give opinions that the people paying for the opinions like and want to hear. That's not very honest. Sweep them away into the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday, January 09, 2012

Joe, I'm Only Dancing

Here's a party: (from an Interview between Teresa Toranska and Jakub Berman, Granta 17, (Autumn 1985), pp 47-65, p48)
  • Berman: 'Once, I think it was in 1948, I danced with Molotov?'
  • Interviewer: 'You mean with Mrs Molotov?'
  • B: 'No, she wasn't there; she'd been sent to a labour camp. I danced with Molotov - it must have been a waltz, or at any rate something simple, becuase I haven't a clue about how to dance - and I just moved my feet to the rhythm.'
  • I: 'As the woman?'
  • B: 'Molotov led; I wouldn't know how. He wasn't a bad dancer, actually, and I tried to keep in step with him, but for my part it was more like clowning than dancing.'
  • I: 'What about Stalin, whom did he dance with?'
  • B: 'Oh no, Stalin didn't dance. Stalin turned the gramophone: he treated that as his duty. He never left it. He would put on a record and watch.'
  • I: 'He watched you?'
  • B: 'He watched us dance.'
  • I: 'So you had a good time?'
  • B: 'Yes it was pleasant but with an inner tension.'
  • I: 'You didn't really have fun?'
  • B: 'Stalin really had fun.'
[as recounted in Vinen, Richard. (2002). Taking Sides. In: A History in Fragments - Europe in the Twentieth Century. 2nd ed. London: Abacus. p302]

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Temporary Perfections

Living as we all do in a kakistocracy it's good to have temporary perfections. It's also good to read, as it opens up new pathways in our brains, according to Gail Rebuck.

And it's good to read Temporary Perfections by Gianrico Carofiglio.

How can you not like a book that references fictional detectives; gives a list of movies that make you cry; quotes Umberto Eco on Charlie Brown; and comes out supporting the intelligent and lazy and warning of the dangers of the stupid and enterprising?