Previous month:
February 2007
Next month:
April 2007

March 2007

Friday Ephemera

Giant crystal cave in Mexico. Ideal for Kryptonians. (H/T, Ace) // From Krypton to India. On a shoestring. (H/T, BeaucoupKevin) // Flavoured methamphetamine. You know, for kids. // Oral disco. // Humanity Not Doomed Shock. // Martian icecaps challenge global warming theories. // Environmentalists are the new Amish. Sort of. // Scott Burgess on ecomentalism and other atavistic fantasies. // Christopher Hitchens and Nick Cohen on slavery, freedom and the atavism of the left. (mp3) // 13-mile dragon sighted in China. No, really. // Sand pictures, made and remade before your eyes. (H/T, Dr Sanity) // Helvetica: the movie! (H/T, Artblog) // The unforeseen disadvantages of time travel. // A brief history of zero. // Cat Stevens “builds bridges” by insulting unveiled women.  How righteous he must be. // Canadian Muslim group supports human rights and secularism. Death threats ensue.  Audio here. More here. // Evan Sayet on cultural equivalence, blunted senses and a journey from left to right. // Yves Rossy, rocket man. // UN Human Rights Council takes umbrage, rejects criticism as “inadmissible.” // Serbian townspeople erect marble statue of Samantha Fox. // Learn ninja invisibility. Hide behind things, not in front of them. Avoid detection, “much like a squirrel.” // And, by popular demand, The Tin Foil Hat Song.

Squinting at Extremists

“Those willing to trawl through Ramadan’s written and recorded output will find no shortage of material calling into question his supposedly liberal intent. It’s clear that what Ramadan wants isn’t a modernised, secular Islam, but an Islamised modernity.”

Tariq_ramadanOver at Sign and Sight, Pascal Bruckner continues his multiculturalism debate with Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash. Bruckner makes a number of important points regarding competing assertions of difference and the loss of common values. He also argues, “It's not enough to condemn terrorism. The religion that engenders it and on which it is based, right or wrong, must also be reformed.” But of particular interest is Brukner’s criticism of those, like Buruma and Garton Ash, who endorse Tariq Ramadan as an “Islamic reformer” and a beacon of moderation. Bruckner reminds us that Ramadan is, in fact, far from liberal in his outlook, most obviously when addressing Muslim audiences rather than Western journalists. Even Buruma’s own generous portrait of Ramadan reveals less than progressive tendencies, of which Bruckner says: 

“While propagating the feminine sense of shame and recommending that Muslim women should abstain from shaking men's hands and using mixed swimming pools if they wish, Ramadan states that for his part, he does shake women's hands. Yes, you read it right: in 2007, a self-styled ‘progressive’ Muslim… pushes audaciousness to the point of admitting that he shakes women's hands

It seems to me a blatant error to start talking with conservatives just because they don't openly call for the holy war. This amounts to renouncing reform of Islam, provided Muslims renounce violence. But preferring modern fundamentalism to terrorism runs the risk of having both.”

Continue reading "Squinting at Extremists" »


Some wag has, thoughtfully, emailed this clip from a council meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m not entirely sure what point he or she was hoping to make, but I thought I’d share it with you. Delicate readers may wish to brace themselves as the clip shows “local lunatic David Thompson” becoming increasingly, um, agitated about such pressing matters as missing ice, rogue helicopter pilots and the inexplicable shaking of his house. If King of the Hill’s Dale Gribble were real - and had a serious stimulant habit - he might sound something like this. And, if you listen very carefully, you can hear the words “Oh no.” Let this be a stern warning to us all.

Brain medicine required. Please give generously.

Strange Attractions 2

The first Strange Attractions post seems to have amused. I’m guessing it was the wrestling foetuses that caught the eye. Nothing so lurid today, alas, but my attempt to convey the appeal of comic books continues. When Dave McKean’s graphic novel, Cages, first appeared, I wrote: “At 500 oversized pages and with a £50 price tag, Cages is a large and formidably expensive book; but one worth every inch and almost every penny.” Thankfully, the book is now available via Page 45 in its original, more affordable, US edition. Cages was McKean’s first major solo project and arguably remains his most ambitious. The overwrought prologue is probably best avoided, but the book has plenty of wonderful scenes – the alarmingly frail and wheezing removal man who slowly crumples out of sight beneath an enormous packing crate; and a butter-fingered mute who communicates with captioned cards until a hole in his pocket leads to a farce of malapropism and dislocated grammar. But I thought I’d share a more abstract moment, when, after 150 duotone pages, McKean deploys the first rush of colour.

Cages1 Cages2 Cages3  Cages4

More McKean here.

It's Raining 300 Men

Now here's a question. At what point does grunting, blood-spattered hyper-masculinity become totally homoerotic? Somewhere around 300, methinks.

And if you think the above must be a cruel travesty of Frank Miller’s rather striking graphic novel, well, think again. Update: Via the comments, readers are welcome to suggest other films in which over-revved masculinity has veered unintentionally into homoerotica or teetered on the brink of camp.

Monsignor Rubs Amulet, Demands Respect

Further to Friday’s post, It’s Okay to Dislike Islam, I received a number of emails arguing – well, asserting – that it’s “wrong to mock other people’s beliefs,” especially when those beliefs are “deeply held.” The “deeply held” schtick crops up quite a lot in discussions of this kind, generally to imply that depth of conviction, or adamance, or sheer bloody-mindedness, is somehow an intrinsically admirable quality, irrespective of what it is that’s being “deeply held.” Or indeed why. 

“The freedom to believe whatever one wishes on matters of cosmic import… does not imply any special immunity from dissent or ridicule. The dignity of a person – even an imam, rabbi or archbishop - depends in very large part on the kind of thing that comes out of his mouth, and on the intellectual dishonesties he may perform in order to get his own way.”

The sincerity with which a misapprehension is advanced doesn’t alter the fact it’s a misapprehension. And determining whether or not a statement is in fact a misapprehension often requires an unapologetic testing of its details and assumptions – an act that may itself offend the person whose views are being challenged, especially if those views are ill-informed and pompous. When religious groups demand some a priori respect for their ideas regardless of their content, one has to question the motives behind such demands. Why? Because it’s hard to see how anything truly insightful in a religious outlook could be damaged by being tested in debate. And claiming otherwise amounts to little more than puffing out one’s chest, fingering one’s amulet and saying, rather indignantly, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Continue reading "Monsignor Rubs Amulet, Demands Respect" »

Friday Ephemera

Japanese toilet training video, with tigers, set to music. “My bottom feels strange.” // Pee and Poo.  You know, for kids. // Play-Doh cologne. “For highly creative people.” // 1st Ave Machine 3D music animations. Sixes Last is rather special. // Robots greet passengers at Seoul airport. Not exactly “crush, kill, destroy.” // Robot ethics 101. (H/T, OnePlusOneEqualsThree) // Socialism Does Not Compute. But history still repeats itself. // Jake Shimabukuro’s weeping guitar. // Ping pong ball lighting, for table and floor. // Car thieves deterred. With bolts of electricity. (H/T, Chastity Darling) // Australian imams urged to become beach lifeguards. // Woman fails to flatter Islam. Death threats ensue. // CND pays tribute to the “correct, far-sighted” policies of Comrade Kim Jong Il. // Last week’s reference to Japanese tentacle porn prompted protest and enthusiasm. Both duly noted. // What real obscenity looks like. // When dogs fly. (Caution: dreadful music.) // Time for a little Boccherini, methinks. Ah, that’s better.

It's Okay to Dislike Islam

Further to this piece, and this and this, the BBC reports that the editor of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, has been acquitted. A French court rejected accusations by the Grand Mosque of Paris and other Islamic groups who claimed the magazine had insulted Muslims and had incited hatred against them by reprinting cartoons of Muhammad. Of the blog posts I've seen reporting this news, Oliver Kamm makes the strongest point, and one that's all too rarely heard:

Note, however, one aspect of the judgement, according to the BBC report, that troubles me: The cartoons were covered by freedom of expression laws and were not an attack on Islam, but fundamentalists, it said.Do freedom of expression laws not cover an attack on Islam? It is essential that they should. There is nothing wrong with an attack on Islam (or any other sacred belief). There is nothing wrong with giving offence to religious groups. The judgement appears implicitly to reject these principles. Defenders of a free society must assert them militantly.

Let me repeat some of that, because it bears repeating, and probably more than once:

There is nothing wrong with an attack on Islam (or any other sacred belief).

One of the creeping, unanalysed myths of our time is that it is somehow wrong to dislike Islam, or any part thereof, and wrong to take a dim view of its tenets and demands, and wrong to take a still dimmer view of the figure who founded it. I can practically hear the distant tutting and grunts of disapproval. Poor Islam. Poor Muslims. Their beliefs are being mocked. How hurtful. How 'racist.' How terribly unfair.

No. It's not unfair at all. What's unfair is a demand for unearned deference and a unilateral exemption from the testing of ideas. What's unfair, indeed despicable, are efforts by Islamic groups to cow dissent and stifle criticism with a well-rehearsed pantomime of victimhood and the projection of false motives. Pretending to be hurt in order to assert one's will over others, even violently, or to gain unreciprocated favours, or to exert control over what others may say and think, is cowardly and malign. Let me say that once again. It's cowardly and malign.

As I argued here,

Religious freedom is presumed to entail sparing believers any hint that others do not share their beliefs, and indeed may find them ludicrous. There is, apparently, no corresponding obligation for believers to embrace ideas that are not clearly risible, monstrous or disgusting. When given a moment's thought, this protectionist claim is decidedly fascistic in its practical implications. If believers wish to be insulated from any differing opinion, and even statements of fact, they would have to create a closed religious order, somewhere atop a mountain where reality can to some extent be avoided.

Alternatively, likeminded believers could strive to impose upon society a reactionary and intolerant mindset in which intellectual enquiry and dissent are punishable by imprisonment or death. Failing that, a climate of pre-emptive self-censorship, fear and unilateral deference would no doubt be a start. And, ultimately, one has to wonder what kind of 'faith' requires protection of this kind. If a prideful and supremacist ideology requires the punitive eradication of alternative ideas, then what kind of ideology are we dealing with, and just how superior is it?

This is not an entirely trivial point, and it's one I suspect I'll have to restate at depressingly regular intervals. For more on censorship, dominance and the passive-aggressive jihad, see here and here.

If this is your first visit to this blog, please feel free to rummage through the archive. And you're more than welcome to use the button below.

Chris Ware, Animated

Fans of Chris Ware’s comics, books and fiendish paper toys may be interested in his short animation for the TV programme, This American Life. It’s a suitably tragicomic tale involving small children, cardboard cameras and schoolyard anomie: “The camera really changed the way we behaved… and they weren’t even real cameras.”

Every home should have a little Ware. Buy some here.

Retro Fetish

Steampunk Workshop presents a wonderful exercise in retro-fitting. You too can reinvent your keyboard for an altogether more stylish computing experience. Click here for detailed step by step instructions, complete with stills and video clips, and follow the transformation from generic beige plastic to glorious brass tubes, glass and nickel keys and a touch of alluring felt.

Steampunk_keyboard2  Steampunk_keyboard4  Steampunk_keyboard

A selection of other retro-fitting projects, including the clockwork Stratocaster, can be found here. The Steampunk blog, Brass Goggles, features a range of elegantly retro pastimes, from cog embroidery to goggle making.

Feast of Cliché, World of Dumb

Via Zombietime, some peculiar sights from Sunday's anti-war protest in San Francisco. Follow the link for more images and clips. It's a feast of cliché, moral preening and badly made signage. Zombie's Hall of Shame, which documents other protests, is also worth a visit.

Imperialist_2 Class_warrior_4  Resistance_fighter_2

Setting aside the tin foil hats, the optimistic invitations to join dead religions and the homoerotic stilt dancers, even stranger sights remain. For instance, it's hard not to marvel at the juxtaposition of Bush=Hitler T-shirts with calls for the destruction of Israel and expressions of solidarity with those who would bring that about, given half a chance. And some anti-war protestors have an unusual disregard for life, provided it's American.

Update: In the interests of maintaining solidarity, I'm guessing news items like this one are studiously ignored. The Marxist gentleman, shown above, who believes that “violence is a consequence of class distinction” might want to reflect on this. And, in not entirely unrelated news


Here’s something for readers who find the Today programme’s coverage of events in Iraq habitually biased and triumphantly negative. Michael J Totten’s Middle East Journal documents reconstruction work throughout Iraq, most recently in Iraqi Kurdistan. If you can, take some time to browse through Totten’s archives. You’ll probably find quite a few surprises. Some of you may subsequently wonder why so little of this has been reported by Today or by other left-leaning news media.


Quote of the day, by the Devil's Kitchen:

“Socialism is worse than racism. A racist is a stupid, ignorant bigot, but at least he cannot, and will not, try to force me to believe what he believes and force me to pay for the implementation of his beliefs. Socialists do.”


The following is from Fabian Tassano’s Mediocracy, a barbed and pithy ‘devil’s dictionary’ which highlights the fashionably loaded terminology of academia, politics and cultural commentary. Tassano defines mediocracy as (1) the rule of the mediocre, and (2) the triumph of style over substance. Each entry gives examples of  the original ‘incorrect’ usage and the ‘correct’ (i.e. tendentious and mediocratic) definition, along with illustrative quotations and brief comments. For instance,


Incorrect: The analysis of reality without personal bias.
Correct: Spurious concept which posits the existence of a reality independent of social construction.

“‘Truth’ is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements.” Michel Foucault

“There is no possibility of a wholly disinterested statement.” Terry Eagleton

In a mediocracy it is not considered possible for an individual to make a statement untainted by personal or ideological bias. It is regarded as a truism that perceptions and judgments depend on the observer’s position in social space. This rejection of objectivity is designed to make it impossible for anyone to criticise the prevailing viewpoint. Some mediocrats may worry that relativism potentially undermines the legitimacy of reform to make things even more mediocratic, in that it assigns equal validity to anti-mediocratic viewpoints. However, this fear is unnecessary, since the destruction of bourgeois culture turns out not to require validation by bourgeois standards of logic or consistency.

Further ruminations on phoneyness and PC vacuity can be found at Tassano’s blog. The above phenomenon is also unwittingly illustrated by the Guardian's “leading thinker” Madeleine Bunting, as shown here and here. Readers are, of course, welcome to submit more examples via the comments below.