Previous month:
November 2007
Next month:
January 2008

December 2007

Friday Ephemera

Evil Dead: the Musical. // Wheelbarrow racing. Wait for the cunning manoeuvre. // Human marvels. Including Stefan Bibrowski and the two-headed boy of Bengal. // Natural phenomena of note. The Catatumbo lightning and the rain of fish. // The big-eared thingamajig. Video. // Photographs of the Iron Curtain. (h/t, Things.) // Fareed Zakaria interviews Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “In Europe, when radical Islamic movements use freedoms to destroy freedom, they seem to get away with it.” (h/t, Cookslaw.) // Efraim Karsh and Rory Miller on Edward Said. “Said’s substitution of politics for scholarship in the name of ‘speaking truth to power’ has spawned scores of students, professors, and journalists who seek to emulate his path to fame.” // Oliver Kamm on Stockhausen. // Deogolwulf on the Feminist Association of Iceland. // Radioactive condoms and beauty cream laced with radium. // Pepsi: Ice Cucumber. The goodness of Pepsi with the taste of cucumber. // “Sometimes a cigar is [not] just a cigar.” (h/t, Maggie’s Farm.) // How to spot a cylon. // Concealed hearing devices of the 19th century. Canes, hair-bands, the acoustic beard. // Aaron Duffy’s film of wool and forbidden love. (h/t, 30gms.) // Chris Cunningham’s video for Aphex Twin’s Monkey Drummer. Looks fun, sounds like a pile of arse. // The design work of Kashiwa Sato. (h/t, Coudal.) // More Japanese vending machines. Beetles, porn, toilet paper. // Shaolin: Temple of Zen. // How to be a ninja. // Superman and Jesus. Together at last. // The good bit of Superman Returns. // Map of space in Star Trek. Some dimensions not shown. // How to explode a star. // Ray guns we have known and loved. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Ray Anthony.


In light of the recent thought policing of students at Delaware University, and similar efforts elsewhere, Robert Maranto’s article on academic monoculture may help explain how such absurdities come about, and persist, apparently unchallenged from within these institutions. 

At many of the colleges I’ve taught at or consulted for, a perusal of the speakers list and the required readings in the campus bookstore convinced me that a student could probably go through four years without ever encountering a right-of-centre view portrayed in a positive light… Daniel Klein of George Mason University and Charlotta Stern of Stockholm University looked at all the reliable published studies of professors’ political and ideological attachments. They found that conservatives and libertarians are outnumbered by liberals and Marxists by roughly two to one in economics, more than five to one in political science, and by 20 to one or more in anthropology and sociology…

I believe that for the most part the biases conservative academics face are subtle, even unintentional. When making hiring decisions and confronted with several good candidates, we college professors, like anyone else, tend to select people like ourselves. Unfortunately, subtle biases in how conservative students and professors are treated in the classroom and in the job market have very unsubtle effects on the ideological makeup of the professoriate. The resulting lack of intellectual diversity harms academia by limiting the questions academics ask, the phenomena we study, and ultimately the conclusions we reach… A leftist ideological monoculture is bad for universities, rendering them intellectually dull places imbued with careerism rather than the energy of contending ideas.

In an environment supposedly geared to the cultivation of critical thinking contending ideas should be grist to the mill. Responding to dissent, even outlandish or ill-informed dissent, may prompt us to revisit our own ideas about the world and our own political assumptions - assumptions that are not infrequently arrived at by unconscious imitation or a kind of peer group osmosis. It generally helps to know why we think whatever we think, especially if claims of unassailable righteousness are being staked upon it - and disagreement is, very often, how that insight comes about. And yet, as we’ve seen, great efforts are being made, often successfully, to eliminate debate and the testing of ideas.


KC Johnson asks whether events at Duke, Colorado, Delaware and Columbia are merely shameful anomalies or evidence of something more systemic.

Related. And. Also.

Carbon Based Lifeforms

Further to Madeleine Bunting’s righteous agonising over ecological issues, perhaps this proposal will bring a fleeting smile to her sweet, sweet face.

Couples who have more than two children should be charged a lifelong tax to offset their extra offspring’s carbon dioxide emissions, a medical expert says. The report in an Australian medical journal called for parents to be charged $5000 a head for every child after their second, and an annual tax of up to $800. And couples who were sterilised would be eligible for carbon credits under the controversial proposal.

Perth specialist Professor Barry Walters was heavily critical of the $4000 baby bonus, saying that paying new parents extra for every baby fuelled more children, more emissions and “greenhouse-unfriendly behaviour.” Instead, it should be replaced with a “baby levy” in the form of a carbon tax in line with the “polluter pays” principle, he wrote in the latest Medical Journal of Australia… By the same reasoning, contraceptives like diaphragms and condoms, as well as sterilisation procedures, should attract carbon credits, the specialist said.

Related. And. Via Protein Wisdom, with thanks to The Thin Man.

Feat of Clay

With the latest Turner Prize triumph still fresh in our minds, here’s the Fallon agency’s new ad for Sony’s Bravia TVs. Like its predecessors, this one hints at why the notion of art as something aloof from, and critical of, commercial culture now seems mannered, rather creaky and, perhaps, obsolete.

More, including the making of.


As requested, here’s the making of the ‘Play Doh’ ad.

And, to complete the set, here’s the making of ‘balls’ and ‘paint’.   

Bold, Very Bold

Nick Cohen casts an eye over Brian Haw’s “peace” protest and Mark Wallinger’s “bold” copy.

Like so many others, Haw can’t ask who is killing whom in Iraq. There are no slogans expressing his disgust at the death squads of the Baathists and Iranian-backed Shia militias, nor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who explained that he would murder Iraq’s Shias indiscriminately so that they would retaliate and “show the Sunnis their rabies and bare the teeth... and drag them into the arena of sectarian war.” The placards about Afghanistan continue the theme and don’t manage a word of criticism of the Taliban’s crimes and ideology. Western governments are responsible for the woes of humanity; no one else is worth mentioning...

Last week, Haw… became the darling of the art establishment. The Turner judges gave Mark Wallinger the 2007 prize for his recreation of Haw’s original line of banners denouncing “baby killers” and “B-liar”, displayed first at Tate Britain and now at Tate Liverpool. The judges praised Wallinger directly and Haw by implication for “the immediacy, visceral intensity and historic importance” of a work that “combines a bold political statement with art’s ability to articulate fundamental human truths.” Hyperbole at this intensity usually conceals insecurity. I wonder whether the Turner judges blustered because they knew in their hearts that in the current climate in liberal England Wallinger would have made a “bold political statement” if he had put a piece defending the government in the Tate.

Setting aside the issue of Haw’s right to protest, the nature of his protest - and its glib regurgitation - is what’s interesting. That a posture so inexcusably selective, deluded and drearily commonplace should be deemed admirable by Wallinger is almost funny. That Wallinger’s copy of it should in turn be hailed by the art establishment as “bold”, “visceral” and “intense” is practically tragicomic.


Friday Ephemera

Original Planet of the Apes trailer. (1968) “An upside-down civilisation!” // Worryingly detailed Planet of the Apes timeline. (h/t, Coudal.) // Jeff Wayne versus the Martians. Armed with lasers and a big string section. Oh, and a virtual Richard Burton. // War of the Worlds book jackets and illustrations, from 1898 to 2007. // Tom Cruise escapes being vaporised. // The Watchmen movie is coming. A fan starts to obsess. There’s more, of course. // Images of Europa. // George Monbiot makes belated bid for Turner Prize. “I am sitting on top of an excavator the size of a house, dressed as a polar bear.” // UN climate change conference has inadequate parking for delegates’ private jets. // Californian tree hippies. Hand me the gun. // Bruce Thornton on academic free speech. “The political prejudices of the professoriate start at liberal and end at radical leftist.” // Mary Jackson spots resonance in The Arsonists. // Aircraft silhouettes. // German educational charts. The innards of things. (Circa 1950s) // New York subway maps. (h/t, Things.) // A map of the apocalypse. // Tallest buildings of the Old World. // Unspeakable meats. // Places to hide things. // Volcano webcams. (h/t, 1+1=3.) // Photograph yourself. Because now it’s even easier. // Kraftwerk: Das Model. (1980) // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Miss LaVerne Baker

Roach Motel (2)

In case yesterday’s post on apostasy seemed a little theoretical and remote, here’s more, via Mick Hartley:

The daughter of a British imam is under police protection after she received death threats from her family for converting to Christianity. The woman, aged 32, whose father is a Muslim imam in Lancashire, has moved house 45 times to escape detection by her family since she became a Christian 15 years ago… Hannah, who uses a pseudonym to hide her identity… has been in hiding since her home was attacked by a group of men armed with knives, axes and hammers, in 1994. The latest threat was a text message from one of her brothers, warning that he could not be responsible for his actions if she did not return to Islam.

Ah, smell the piety. Antony Barnett’s Dispatches documentary on apostasy in the UK can be viewed online in two parts.

Roach Motel

The latest issue of Democratiya includes Ophelia Benson’s review of Ibn Warraq’s Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out:

In his introductory chapter, Ibn Warraq reproduces a pronouncement on apostasy in Islam from the ultra-conservative Tehran daily Kayhan International in 1986. It includes this observation.

The anti-apostasy punishments of Islam are proper laws to rescue mankind from falling into the cesspool of treason, betrayal, and disloyalty and to remind the human being of his ideological commitments. A committed man should not violate his promise and vow, especially his promise to God. (p. 32.)

A more wrong-headed idea is difficult to imagine. To define changing one’s mind about any particular set of ideas and truth claims as treason, betrayal, and disloyalty is to forbid thinking itself. Making the human being’s ideological commitments a permanent, irrevocable matter of loyalty is to impose ossification, dogmatism, conformity, and plain mindless stubbornness on an entire society, or, worse, an entire global ‘community of believers’.

Indeed. The issue of Islamic apostasy and its punishment will, to sane people, most likely have an absurd, looking glass quality, and it may be difficult to grasp the seriousness, even excitement, with which mental freedom, and its punishment, is discussed. Here’s a clip from Kuwait’s Al-Risala TV, filmed November 5, 2007, in which Muslim scholars and audience members share their thoughts on piety and murder. One choice exchange hinges on the charming moral logic that a person is, of course, free to leave Islam - on the understanding that indignant believers are free to kill that person for doing so.

Audience member: Sir, if you become an apostate, your punishment is death. There is a great problem that most of us, 70% of us, are Muslims because they were born to Muslim fathers and mothers. Before a person converts to Islam, he has the liberty to choose, but remember that if you want to convert from Islam, you will be punished by death. So you have the liberty to choose, but on the condition...

Al-Sweidan: That’s not liberty.

Audience member: It has conditions...

Al-Sweidan: What you are saying is: You have the right to become an apostate, but I will kill you.

Audience member: That’s right. I won’t tell him not to.

Al-Sweidan: What can be worse than being killed?

Audience member: That’s why he will not become an apostate.

It may, again, be difficult to conceive of a belief system in which the individual is reduced so severely to a mere sub-unit of the collective and in which affiliation is, according to many, a decidedly one-way street. This belief in punishing doubt and intellectual freedom is an intimately vile contrivance and a profound corruption of moral autonomy. It’s also a tool for generating fear and a license for sadism disguised as piety. Insofar as such ideas are normative within Islamic theology and its institutions, widespread shame is warranted, along with disrepute, resistance and no small amount of disgust. For some strange reason, the term “Roach Motel” springs readily to mind.

Update: Meanwhile, closer to home...

Ibn Warraq can be heard debating with Tariq Ramadan and others here. Warraq’s latest book, Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism, is reviewed here by Rebecca Bynum. My discussion with Ophelia Benson can be found here

Related. And. Also. Plus.

An Insatiable Sorrow

Madeleine Bunting (for, yes, it is she) once again shares her pain and bares her sweet, illiberal soul

Soon the state will have to turn to rationing to halt hyper-frantic consumerism.

Goodness. Not mere shopping, or even busy shopping, and certainly not the more prosaic, and rather more common, buying the things one needs. No, apparently “we” have unwittingly succumbed to hyper-frantic consumerism™. And so, bless me, the state will have to take a firm hand and save us from ourselves. Even conscientious Madeleine, surely a model to us all, will have to be brought to heel.

Is it enough to have halved family meat consumption, have foregone flights for several sun-starved years and arranged a life in which habits of cycling to work and walking to school are routine? No, it's just scratching at the surface… The lives of our children will have to be dramatically different from everything we are currently bringing them up to expect.

Madeleine is, of course, unduly fond of the word “we” and all too willing to speak for others, even those whose views, and needs, may differ markedly from her own.

All this consumption is not necessary to our happiness… A low-consumption economy wouldn’t mean misery. But what’s disturbing is how we continue to shop when it doesn’t make us happier… The more insecure you are, the more materialistic; the more materialistic, the more insecure.

Again, one has to marvel at how dear Madeleine rarely misses an opportunity to tell us how we feel about things she doesn’t like. However, her vision of a “low-consumption economy” may not bring joy to everyone, entailing as it does “a dramatic drop in household consumption.” This unquestionably righteous end will, it seems, be achieved not by “the good intentions of individuals”, but as a result of

the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax.

At this point one might note that Ms Bunting’s opposition to propaganda and an overbearing state in, say, matters of counter-terrorism coexists quite happily with a call for an overbearing state, overbearing to a much greater and wider extent, in spheres our columnist finds personally congenial. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bunting’s blueprint for a stricter, happier, greener tomorrow is rather short on practical detail, and shorter still on its implications. Would a “luxury tax” compensate, even remotely, for the dramatically lowered tax base resulting from severely curtailed consumerism and the spread of hair shirt ethics? What of the redistributive efforts and public services that so animate Ms Bunting and her colleagues? What, exactly, would this rationing and luxury tax cover, and how might it work?

Would the state monitor all of my purchases, and yours, and rate each one on a scale of necessity, frugality and moral uprightness? Would the thermostats of public buildings be doctored to ensure suitably modest levels of heating? And what about private spaces – your home, for instance? How, and by whom, would a person’s improper energy consumption be compiled, judged and penalised? Will there be a national, perhaps trans-national, database (in which we’ll have great confidence), monitoring each individual’s compliance with designated quotas? And will such things, as Maddy suggests, make “us” feel more secure and so much happier?


Norm ponders Maddy’s permagloom and suggests we go shopping, while the Devil is a little more… blunt in his analysis.

Update 2:

Praise Gaia, a solution is at hand.   

Related. And