I first encountered Marjane Satrapi’s comic book memoir, Persepolis, back in 2003. The book recounts the author’s childhood in and beyond revolutionary Iran, with Satrapi’s faux-naïf illustration luring the reader into unexpectedly adult territory. Through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl we see the collective hysteria of Islamic fundamentalism and its intimate, coercive evils, contrasted with smaller, more personal, acts of rebellion. As when a pair of black market Nikes, an ABBA recording or an inch of visible hair become gestures of truly hazardous proportions. Some four years later, Persepolis has been remade as an animated film, directed by Satrapi with Vincent Paronnaud. A recent screening at Cannes, where Persepolis shared the Jury Prize, upset the Iranian authorities, prompting the obligatory accusations of “Western bias” and claims that the film is “an anti-cultural act” and “an unreal picture of the outcomes and achievements of the Islamic revolution.” Audiences will be able to decide for themselves when the film is released later this year. Though not in Iran, methinks.
“If you go to the websites of major women's groups… or to women's centres at our major colleges and universities, you'll find them caught up with entirely other issues, seldom mentioning women in Islam. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa. There is no remotely comparable movement on today's campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world…
Many feminists are tied up in knots by multiculturalism and find it very hard to pass judgment on non-Western cultures. They are far more comfortable finding fault with American society for minor inequities (the exclusion of women from the Augusta National Golf Club, the ‘under-representation’ of women on faculties of engineering) than criticizing heinous practices beyond our shores. The occasional feminist scholar who takes the women's movement to task for neglecting the plight of foreigners is ignored or ruled out of order.”
As, for instance, when the “post-colonial theorist” Gayatri Spivak denounced Martha Nussbaum’s critique of postmodern feminism and her reference to Islamic misogyny as mere “flag waving” and advancing some (no doubt wicked and rightwing) “civilizing mission.” Sommers also casts an eye over the intellectual contortions of those who equate cosmetic surgery and a tolerance of pornography with acts of jihadist terrorism - an equation that renders those who mouth it trivial, pretentious and morally absurd.
Dr Robert Albert Moog. Synthesisers, sex changes, radical fashions. “People were freaking out.” (H/T, 1+1=3) // Cinematic drugfest. Tokin’, gulpin’, sniffin’, shovellin’. (H/T, Metrolander) // Fun with vibrating cornstarch. Wait for the tendrils. // Time-lapse film of Sunspot 875. Plasma “granules” the size of continents. Watch that hydrogen seethe. // Researchers eye bacteria for long-term data storage. (H/T, Protein Wisdom) // The USB Mini Fridge. // Multi-Tool! It’s 8 screwdrivers in one. And Multi-Hammer too. // Thought-reading machine. (1919) “For the office of the future.” // Robot plays air hockey. // Japanese manhole covers. Firemen, fruit, anime. // Basic reasoning test deemed “discriminatory” and “racist” by US Department of Justice. // Christopher Hitchens on a transformed London. “The roots of violence are in the preaching of it, and the sanctification of it.” // Diana West on Pew’s “encouraging” survey. “Just one in four. Isn't that something to be upbeat about?” // Iranian modesty police in action. Shrouded zealots accost and berate women. “Your hair is showing. Come with us.” Struggles ensue, blood flows. But remember, “all cultures are equal.” Suretheyare. // Christina Hoff Sommers on the silence of Western feminists. // An imposing chandelier. // 50 things to love about superhero comics. // The best and worst airports to sleep in. Mosquitoes, shootings, uncomfortable chairs. (H/T, Coudal.) // Scary Mary. (H/T, Ace) // Hush now, children. It’s Henry Hall.
In a piece titled The Tyranny of Moderation, Oliver Kamm offers a sturdy and unforgiving defence of free speech, while taking a swipe at the evasion, dishonesty and spinelessness that increasingly surrounds the issue. Kamm points out that free speech is not, and cannot be, a matter of “balance”, “sensitivity” or fatuous moral equivalence, and that the open testing of ideas is not, as some suggest, an “ethnocentric imposition.”
“It is inevitable that those who find their deepest convictions mocked will be offended, and it is possible (though not mandatory, and is incidentally not felt by me) to extend sympathy and compassion to them. But they are not entitled to protection, still less restitution, in the public sphere, even for crass and gross sentiments. A free society does not legislate in the realm of beliefs; by extension, it must not concern itself either with the state of its citizens’ sensibilities. If it did, there would in principle be no limit to the powers of the state, even into the private realm of thought and feeling.
The debate has not been aided – it has indeed been severely clouded – by an imprecise use of the term ‘respect’. If this is merely a metaphor for the free exercise of religious and political liberty, then it is an unexceptionable principle, but also an unclear and redundant usage. Respect for ideas and those who hold them is a different matter altogether. Ideas have no claim on our respect; they earn respect to the extent that they are able to withstand criticism… It is not, in fact, a fine sentiment to require respect. Respect is not an entitlement. It is, at most, a quality that is earned by the intellectual resilience of one’s ideas in the public square…
If those with deeply held convictions find they receive compensation for injured feelings, then mental hurt is what they will seek out. As one group succeeds, then others will perceive the incentive to fashion comparable demands… Respecting the beliefs and feelings of others is a lethal affectation in public policy. It is easy to depict freedom of speech as liable to cause hurt, precisely because it is true. The policy that follows from that is counterintuitive but essential: do nothing. The defence of a free society involves not taking a stand on its output, but insisting on the integrity of its procedures.”
Over at Shire Network News, the very fine Tom Paine interviews Evan Coyne Maloney, maker of the film on campus censorship and coercion, Indoctrinate U. The examples of political bias and intimidation, often at tax-payers’ expense, are eye-opening to say the least and touch on issues raised here. Other topics discussed include John Bolton’s brush with BBC “impartiality”, the oafish Michael Moore, the insane Jerry Falwell, jihadist television and the “mental torture” of unscented soap. Download the SNN podcast here.
Readers with a profound sense of kitsch and an eye for underfoot furnishing should pay a visit to David G Schwartz’s Gallery of Casino Carpets. Nine photographic galleries record the flair, ingenuity and staggeringly bad taste to be found at one’s feet in casinos from Vegas to the riverboats of St Louis.
It seems to me that Indian casinos have some of the most eye-catching floor coverings. But while they’re certainly worth stopping to admire, they’re perhaps a little too... high gear for the floors at Thompson Towers.
Further to recent posts on PC bigotry and the redefinition of racism, La Shawn Barber has highlighted another example of students being steered towards approved kinds of prejudice.
Seattle high school students have at public expense been sent to the annual White Privilege Conference, the stated aim of which is to provide “a yearly opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy and oppression.” Topics headlined for ‘exploration’ include “white man’s pornography”, “multiple systems of oppression” and “transforming whiteness in the classroom.” Given such tendentious subject matter, readers may be forgiven for questioning the extent to which realistic discussion will actually be encouraged, or indeed permitted, and for questioning whether the White Privilege Conference does in fact provide “a challenging, empowering and educational experience.”
Visitors are, however, assured that the WPC is “not about beating up on white folks,” but is instead about “working to dismantle systems of power, prejudice, privilege and oppression.” Whether those two statements prove compatible in practice is, alas, not entirely clear. Dr Peggy McIntosh, a “highly sought-after speaker” on multicultural teaching methods, describes white privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets… like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” If that explanation isn’t sufficiently clear or convincing, Dr McIntosh also provides a White Privilege Checklist, which defines white privilege as the ability to “be in the company of people of my race most of the time” and to “avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.” The ability to go shopping without being followed or harassed is, Dr McIntosh asserts, another indicator of heinous racial advantage, as is the ability to find publishers for articles on the “invisible, weightless” phenomenon upon which she happens to opine.
La Shawn Barber notes that racially-fixated ideology isn’t exactly unknown in Seattle’s educational system. Dr Caprice Hollins, the Director of Equity, Race & Learning Support for Seattle’s public schools, has previously criticised individualism, long-term planning (or “future time orientation”) and the speaking of grammatical English as “white values.” The expectation among teachers that all students should be responsible individuals and meet certain linguistic and organisational standards is, according to Dr Hollins, a form of “cultural racism.”
Behold your tax dollars at work, shaping young minds for a brighter tomorrow.
Via 1+1=3, How Mouse Clicks and Cursors Work. // An ambitious summer project: How to Destroy the Earth. // Live power line maintenance. Guy hangs from helicopter in Faraday suit, climbs along live cables. // Diving tigers. (H/T, Ace.) // The Man Amplifier. // The Bionic Woman. // Look lovelier down there. // Via 1+1=3, Maps of the Cold War: “Europe from Moscow” and “Asia from Irkutsk.” (1952) // Jen Stark’s paper sculptures and animations. // “100 Girls and 100 Octopuses.” Art, not tentacle porn. Painting assembled from 98 smaller paintings. Click to disassemble or enlarge the whole thing. // When the Milky Way collides with Andromeda. Fate of Sun “uncertain.” Simulation here. // Christopher Hitchens says goodbye to Jerry Falwell. More here. // Iran’s crackdown on “slack dressing” continues. Fifty “badly-veiled” women stopped by Iranian airport police. 17,000 women warned to “respect Islamic dress codes.” // Four Iranian students criticise “modesty” crackdown, question infallibility of Muhammad. Jail sentence beckons. (H/T, B&W.) // The Entity. Someone call Mr Garrison. // When hippies attack. Crowd of eco-hippies block road, intimidate elderly couple in van. Bikes get crushed, tears ensue, victimhood is claimed. Protestors’ version of events quite bizarre. // A narrow escape. (Scroll down after reading.) // Something French, methinks. Boum.
“The first assumption is that it is the duty of the community to insure its individual members against individual misfortune. And the second is that, just as the carrying capacity of a bridge is measured by the strength of its weakest support, so the quality of a society should be measured by the quality of life of its weakest members. These two constant and non-negotiable assumptions set the left on a perpetual collision course with the realities of the human condition under the rule of capitalism; they necessarily lead to charges against the capitalist order, with its twin sins of wastefulness and immorality, manifested in social injustice.”
However “constant and non-negotiable” Bauman’s assumptions are, they remain wide open to question, not least because his comparison of society with a bridge is so obviously flawed. The components of a bridge do not, I’m assured, have volition. Bricks, cables and metal beams do not make choices that determine their strength. Human beings do make choices that in large part determine their quality of life, however one chooses to measure it.
I doubt anyone here disapproves of social safety nets of some kind, or resents help being offered to people in distress and positions of severe misfortune. The question is how much help is to be offered and on what basis. But given the role of individual judgment in how a person’s life plays out, questions necessarily follow. Lots of questions. Why is a society to be measured by how the least able fare, irrespective of why that inability, or dysfunction, arises and persists? How, one wonders, does a community “insure” its individual members against all manner of “misfortune”? How are people to be insulated from, and compensated for, what are often consequences of their own choices and priorities? How much control is to be exerted and how many freedoms curtailed - including the freedoms of those suffering misfortune? What, exactly, are the intimate practicalities of this vision?
Hm. The PES Roof Sex item is attracting a whole heap of attention. Not least from some – how shall I put this – some “special interest” groups. Readers who’ve yet to visit the PES site should hasten there immediately. There are wonders to behold. If further persuasion is needed, here’s another gem, Human Skateboard. Again, best experienced with sound.
We don’t see enough talking animals around here. Yes, there’s the ambitious ape at the top of the page, but I think it’s about time we saw a few more improbable beasts. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s graphic novella We3 isn’t exactly heavy on dialogue and its animal protagonists have a rather limited vocabulary, but that’s part of the story’s charm. Actually, charm is perhaps a misleading word, as the book’s eponymous heroes are escaped lab animals. Lab animals equipped with surface-to-air missiles and other military hardware.
A dog, a cat and a rabbit – named 1, 2 and 3 respectively – have been surgically wired into high-tech armour and trained as loyal fighting machines. As we see in the book’s opening scenes, the animals are faster and more vicious than their human counterparts, and of course more disposable. When the project is decommissioned and the animals marked for destruction, We3 escape into a confusing and dangerous world with their creators in pursuit. Much of the story is told from the animals’ perspective, with a mosaic of tiny inset images capturing details of human faces and simultaneous events – a device that highlights the animals’ ability to work as a team and suggests a non-human perception of time. Morrison and Quitely manage to extract a great deal of poignancy from this outlandish tale - and in particular from the animals’ limited awareness of their predicament - along with moments of dark and visceral humour. We3 is arguably the duo’s finest collaboration and manages to be brutal, hilarious and affecting, often on the same page.
Go on, buy a copy. We won't tell. More Morrison and Quitely here, complete with in utero wrestling.
“One has to wonder what kind of ‘awareness’ Islamic Awareness Week was intended to cultivate. Evidently, a free and frank discussion wasn’t - and isn’t - a welcome outcome. And one has to wonder exactly when students became so delicate and so allergic to dissent, even to matters of historical fact.”
Further to this post and this one, Lepton has steered my attention to another example of censorship in the name of religious ‘sensitivity’. From an article by Greg Lukianoff, president of the campus free speech campaign group, Fire:
“Today, Fire announced the decision by a disciplinary panel at Tufts [University] to find the conservative student newspaper, The Primary Source, guilty of ‘harassment’ for, among other things, publishing a satirical ad that listed less-than-flattering facts about Islam during Tufts’ Islamic Awareness Week.”
The advert, available here, suggests a week of alternative discussion topics to “supplement the educational experience.” Topics include slavery in Islamic history, intolerance of criticism, the treatment of gay people and the role of women under Islamic law.
I don’t usually post over the weekend, but I think this is worth the enormous personal sacrifice. It made me laugh, quite a lot. Via PES, the home of twisted stop-motion films, comes a stern moral lesson to us all. Best experienced with sound. Roof Sex:
The King Novelty Company. Lodestones, roots, strange herbs, magnetic sand. (H/T, Metrolander) // “VD is for Everybody.” (1969) // “The Trouble with Women.” New bearings inspector threatens status quo. Will Dolly be as bad as Myrtle? (1959) // How to build your own autonomous, self-assembling robots. Some assembly required. (H/T, Metrolander) // Via Ace, the robot spider. Cost $15,000. Cheaper than Sam Raimi’s film, and more entertaining. // Japanese robot eats snow, shits ice. Cute. // The Tornados’ Robot (1963) Like Telstar, but with robots. // White middle-class academic asks: “Does the world really need more middle-class white babies?” (H/T, Bloody Scott) // Journalists say Islam lacks tolerance; jail sentence ensues. More here. // Hitchens on stoicism, religion and miracles with alcohol. // Theodore Dalrymple on Marx, Qutb and their mutual delusions. Self-knowledge and humility not defining features of either. // Richard Dawkins holds forth, rocks boat. “Teach your children evolution and they’ll soon move on to drugs…” // Do Penguins Fly? // 25 great Calvin & Hobbes strips. Transmogrifier, snowmen, squeezing, tragedy. // Henry Jenkins thumbs Mexico’s less reputable comics. Busty ladies, monsters, copyright be damned. (H/T, Journalista!) // Robert Hodgin’s Magnetosphere. More here. // Fractal fabrics, fractal flames. // A map of online communities. The Blogipelago, the Sea of Memes and the Bay of Angst. // Alarm clock with wheels. Rings loudly then hides out of reach, still ringing loudly. Imagine the fun. // Ron Goodwin gets fab and groovy with Miss Marple.
It isn’t easy to adequately summarise Fletcher Hanks’ comic book creations, or to convey their demented charm. Fletcher’s combination of weirdness and ineptitude has earned praise from Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Crumb and invited comparisons with the zero-budget film director Ed Wood. His characters - including Tabu, Wizard of the Jungle and a strapping lumberjack named Big Red McLane – spanned just three years of the Golden Age, from 1939 to 1941, and are among the most peculiar things I’ve found in a comic book. Which, all things considered, is saying something.
Imagine, for instance, a hero named Stardust the Super Wizard – a man with a crime-detecting laboratory on his own private star, and whose “vast knowledge of interplanetary science” makes him the “most remarkable man that ever lived.” In addition to these formidable attributes, our hero has other improbable talents. He changes size arbitrarily from one panel to the next; his limbs, head and torso swell and distend for no discernible reason beyond alarming lapses in draughtsmanship. When not racket-busting or camouflaging the Earth with a giant, sculpted cloud of steam, our hero operates his “violently vibrating crime-detectors” and tosses foreign-looking villains down the mouths of active volcanoes. He’s clearly quite a guy.
I have to catch up with some reading today, but the following items caught my attention.
Firstly, the “anti-Sarkozy” riots in Lyon, Toulouse, Caen and Paris. Official figures suggest 730 cars were set ablaze by violent demonstrators. A school was set on fire in the Parisian suburb of Evry and an attempt was made to burn down Sarkozy’s local party office. Bottles, stones and, in one instance, acid were thrown at police. Yesterday, 593 people had been reported as arrested and 78 police officers reported injured. Apparently, “slogans spray-painted on the streets of Paris overnight included ‘Sarkozy = Fascist.’” There is, of course, an irony here. As Protein Wisdom noted, one can only marvel at how a democratically elected politician is denounced as “brutal” and a “fascist”, while arson, random property destruction and homicidal thuggery is imagined by some to be “justifiable” and “demanding [the] qualified and critical support” of Guardian readers.
In lighter news, the ludicrous Karen Armstrong has had her platitudes debunked in the National Review of all places. Raymond Ibrahim is “baffled” by Armstrong’s “discrepancies”, along with her “second-rate sophistry”, “false statements” and “distortions.” Unfortunately, Armstrong is still encouraged to peddle her fictions elsewhere. More on Armstrong here.
Readers will be relieved to hear that a green think tank, the Optimum Population Trust, has identified a solution to a new and pressing environmental menace, namely human reproduction. An OPT briefing paper, A Population-Based Climate Strategy, argues that couples having two children instead of three would reduce that family’s carbon dioxide output by the “equivalent of 620 return flights a year between London and New York.” The OPT regards population growth as a “failure of courage and leadership” and mulls, albeit hesitantly, on the need for “intervention by the state… in individual freedoms for the foreseeable future.” OPT co-chairman, Professor John Guillebaud, claims:
“The effect on the planet of having one child less is an order of magnitude greater than all these other things we might do, such as switching off lights. An extra child is the equivalent of a lot of flights across the planet… The decision to have children should be seen as a very big one and one that should take the environment into account… The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child.”
It’s easy, of course, to dismiss Professor Guillebaud’s suggestions as a kind of whimsical fascism and not entirely convincing. But regular readers will note how the Professor’s moral calculus is more or less in keeping with that of fellow environmental crusader, Dr John Reid (mentioned here), whose plan to save the world from human beings entails putting “something in the water” – specifically, “a virus that would… make a substantial proportion of the population infertile.” And while the good doctor is happy to share his view of all human life as an extraneous infestation of an otherwise pristine Earth, he's also insistent that “affluent populations should be targeted first.” Cynics among us might wonder, with some justification, whether Dr Reid and Professor Guillebaud are motivated by an urge to save the planet or by a dislike of human beings.
Meanwhile, Carnal Reason ponders the prospect of “child offset opportunities” and suggests, dryly, that we might pursue this line of eco-logic to its obvious and challenging conclusion:
“We need to consider root causes here. Take the bull by the horn, as it were. If one less child is good, then two less is better, and no children at all is best. But there are obstacles. We will have a problem living the dream, a world devoid of humans, as long as screwing is more popular than dying. What we need is a radical change of thought and lifestyle. A new ethic, a new way of life. A new sexual revolution. You know what I’m talking about. Just think of it as Getting Gay for Gaia. It takes a real man to take one for the home world. You know what you have to do.”
Update: In related news (via Jawa), unhinged ‘conservationist’ Paul Watson describes humanity as a cancer. Vegan diets are good, we’re told, but “curing the biosphere of the human virus will require a radical and invasive approach.”
“Gigantic Wireless Robots Will Fight Our Battles.” (1934) // USB hub with self-destruct button. “Mother! Turn the cooling unit back on…!” // Via Ace, the greatest car chases in movie history. With clips and voting. // SU-30 jet with thrust vectoring technology. Extraordinary moves. Pink smoke optional. // Stealth ships. Hull designs reduce drag, look imposing. More here. // Spider bite induces crippling pain, embarrassing stiffness. // New Scientistprobes erectile dysfunction with mechanical engineering. “Mathematical models predict when penises will fail.” Experiments detect “first sign of buckling.” // New volcanoes erupt on Io. Plumes extend hundreds of kilometres into space. // The Carina Nebula. 3700 light years away. More here. // “If I can just focus the Sun’s rays…” (H/T, Dr Westerhaus.) // Same idea, with super-villain in charge. // Via Ace: Show jumping. With rabbits. // Iranian government bans Western haircuts and hair gel as “immoral.” // Jihadists bomb stations in Bangladesh. More attacks threatened if Muhammad not declared “superman of the world.” // When post-it notes attack (2). // Chunky Swatch wrist device, with mp3 player, video recorder and photo album. Also a watch. // Steven Poole mistakes opacity for cleverness, calls people who disagree “reactionary anti-intellectuals.” Ironies ensue. Ophelia kicks his ass. Twice. // And finally, the Chordettes. Sand, magic beams, hair like Liberace. Every girl’s dream.
I see there’s been an impressive swelling of traffic to this site during the last few days. I’d like to think this sudden interest was a result of posts on PC bigotry or unhinged postmodern scholarship, or our high-mindeddiscussion of the arts. I notice, however, that quite a few people are finding themselves here after Googling the word “blowjob.” (The phrase “Superhero Pornface” is also being Googled with surprising frequency.) Well, however you got here, welcome aboard.
With the artistic feats of Mr Delvoye and Ms Hines still fresh in our minds, I thought I’d share an extract from an essay by Stephen Hicks, titled Why Art Became Ugly. The essay is an examination of postmodern art, its origins, and its aesthetic and ideological shortcomings. In the following extract, Hicks notes the anhedonic tendency of many artists and their professed aversion to capitalism and any successful products of it. The relevance to recentposts is, I think, fairly obvious:
“There is the long-standing rule in modern art that one should never say anything kind about capitalism… German artist Hans Haacke's Freedom is Now Simply Going to be Sponsored - Out of Petty Cash (1991) is [a] monumental example. While the rest of the world was celebrating the end of brutality behind the Iron Curtain, Haacke erected a huge Mercedes-Benz logo atop a former East German guard tower. Men with guns previously occupied that tower - but Haacke suggests that all we are doing is replacing the rule of the Soviets with the equally heartless rule of the corporations…
We would not know from the world of modern art that average life expectancy has doubled since Edvard Munch screamed. We would not know that diseases that routinely killed hundreds of thousands of newborns each year have been eliminated. Nor would we know anything about the rising standards of living, the spread of democratic liberalism, and emerging markets. We are brutally aware of the horrible disasters of National Socialism and international Communism, and art has a role in keeping us aware of them. But we would never know from the world of art the equally important fact that those battles were won and brutality was defeated.
And entering even more exotic territory, if we knew only the contemporary art world we would never get a glimmer of the excitement in evolutionary psychology, Big Bang cosmology, genetic engineering, the beauty of fractal mathematics - and the awesome fact that humans are the kind of being that can do all those exciting things.”
If the subject is of interest, I’d recommend making time to read the whole thing. Hicks’book, Explaining Postmodernism, is also recommended. Feel free to rummage through the archive and browse the Greatest Hits. If you like what you find, approval can be expressed with the button below.