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August 2008

Friday Ephemera

8-metre section of wall rotates for art, causes terrible draught. A snip at £450,000. // Repairing brickwork with Lego. // Jeff Koons’ topiary puppy. // Robot wildlife. I like the owl. // Robotic legs help paralysed walk. // Wrapping asteroids in space. (h/t, The Thin Man.) // How to get rid of things. Stains, smells, mental problems. // Market research for panhandlers. (h/t, Clazy.) // Signs from the Tokyo metro. (h/t, Coudal.) // Sixties’ Batman, rendered in typography. // Build your own Batmobile. // Al Dente. A short film about eating children. // Augmenting video with photographs. // The Touch of Evil opening. (h/t, Anna.) // Bathing suits of the 1900s. // What the Olympic diver saw. // Turntime. // Steve Reich: Sextet, 5th movement. // User interfaces of note. (h/t, Things.) // More musical toys. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Ms Julie London.

Truth to Power

Oliver Kamm casts an eye over diarist and anti-war campaigner Tony Benn.

According to Benn, there are “five questions we should ask any powerful person: ‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you use it? To whom are you accountable? How do we get rid of you?’”

This is what he in fact asked Saddam Hussein, a powerful person whom he interviewed shortly before the Iraq War:

“I have 10 grandchildren and in my family there is English, Scottish, American, French, Irish, Jewish, Indian, Muslim blood, and for me politics is about their future, their survival. And I wonder whether you could say something yourself directly through this interview to the peace movement of the world that might help to advance the cause they have in mind?”

The five questions didn’t come up. Presumably Saddam was too powerful to be troubled with them.


Youthful Indiscretions (2)

Busy today, but two items caught my eye:

You’d think the media would delve into this relationship a little. If John McCain kicked off his political career at the house of, say, a bomber of abortion clinics, you probably would have heard about it by now.


What fascinates me is how light the baggage is when one travels from violent radicalism to liberalism. Chicago activist Sam Ackerman told Politico’s reporter that Ayers “is one of my heroes in life.” Cass Sunstein, a first-rank liberal intellectual, said, “I feel very uncomfortable with their past, but neither of them is thought of as horrible types now - so far as most of us know, they are legitimate members of the community.” Why, exactly, can Ayers and Dohrn be seen as “legitimate members of the community”? How is it that they get prestigious university jobs when even the whisper of neocon tendencies is toxic in academia?

Related: The youthful indiscretions of Peter Tatchell.

Update and video at Hot Air.

Friday Ephemera

Slightly indecent pulpy goodness. // Slow-motion lightning. // The art of jumping on eggs. From Nationwide, 1974. // Meat cake. Because it can be done. // Name that disease. Family fun. // Looks like human flesh, tastes like bread. Video. // Should boys be circumcised? A debate ensues. // Precision lasers and plausible deniability. // Falcon 1 launch and separation video. Private space travel inches closer. // 2081. The bliss of equality. // A children’s primer of Communism. (h/t, The Thin Man.) // The Ladybird Book of the Policeman. (h/t, Chastity Darling.) // The Umbuster. It’s an umbrella, it’s a knuckle duster. It requires a weapons license. // Black patent faux leather pillow. For the discerning fetishist. (h/t, Coudal.) // Handmade. A short film, plot unclear. // The Jose Vasconcelos Library, Mexico City. // Equipment for handling molten steel. // Audi Symphony. // There’s a monkey on the loose. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Washboard Sam.

The Diversity Paradox

Housing students by race seemed to me an odd approach to ending racial division.

Andrew Quinio, a UC Berkeley graduate, comments on the university’s absurd “diversity” programmes, and their fallout.

These resources and many others exist because UC Berkeley insists that it is simply tough to be a minority. According to the student resource website, “Many students feel isolated when they go to college and this experience can be intensified if you find yourself to be the only person of color in a classroom, department, or residential unit.” For the most part, however, the university’s exaggerated concern is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Minority students detect racial hostility where there is usually none after facing interminable insistence that such hostility is real.

Over the past few years By Any Means Necessary, a pro-Affirmative Action student group on campus, has organized several public hearings to expose racial hostility. Minority students testified about their experiences with prejudice and discrimination, but their testimonies hardly painted a picture of Jim Crow conditions. One student swore he was a victim of discrimination simply because his professor did not call on him when his hand was raised. Another cried “racism” after her student group was asked to move their event to a different part of campus due to scheduling conflict. The solutions to these problems, the students declared, were more special programs for minorities, greater funding for the Ethnic Studies department, and of course the resurrection of racial preferences in college admissions. Entitlement seemed to be the only way these minority students knew how to combat racism.

The abundance of resources aimed at dealing with the problem of race mistakenly provides confirmation that a problem exists to begin with. But maintaining the special perks for minority students may invite bigger problems than the ones the university currently perceives. Allocating resources based on race and ethnicity can create resentment toward minority beneficiaries, generating the very problem that the university believes exists. It also leads to the same negative perception inherent in affirmative action that minorities cannot succeed unless they are helped. In challenging these special benefits for minority students, one must be prepared to face a barrage of nonsensical pejoratives. Those who question these sacred programs are called racist, hateful, or in my case a “self-hating minority.” But nothing could be more self-hating than embracing perpetual victim status.

Given fallout of this kind, sceptics among us might wonder if the intended beneficiaries of “diversity” are not in fact the students but rather the proponents of “diversity” themselves.

The rest. Related: What to Think, Not How.

Foucault Undone


Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse that it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.

Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 1980.


Truth for [Foucault] is not something absolute that everyone must acknowledge but merely what counts as true within a particular discourse… However, it is not difficult to show that a relativist concept of truth of this kind is untenable. If what is true is always relative to a particular society, there are no propositions that can be true across all societies. However, this means that Foucault’s own claim cannot be true for all societies. So he contradicts himself. What he says cannot be true at all.

The relativist fallacy also applies to the concept of knowledge. One cannot hold that there are alternative, indeed competing, forms of knowledge, as Foucault maintains. Inherent in the concept of knowledge is that of truth. One can only know something if it is true. If something is not true, or even if its truth status is uncertain, one cannot know it. To talk, as Foucault does, of opposing knowledges is to hold that there is one set of truths that runs counter to another set of truths. It is certainly possible to talk about beliefs or values that may be held in opposition by the authorities and by their subjects, since neither beliefs nor values necessarily entail truth. But Foucault’s idea that there are knowledges held by the centralising powers that are opposed to the subjugated knowledges of the oppressed is an abuse of both logic and language.

Keith Windschuttle, The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past, 1996.


foucault, n. A howler, an insane mistake. “I’m afraid I’ve committed an egregious foucault.”

From the Philosophical Lexicon.

Continue reading "Foucault Undone" »

Elsewhere (5)

Fred Siegel on the left’s revolt against the masses. 

…in the course of using oppressed groups as their cat’s-paws, [the 68ers] helped raise new barriers to African-American advancement. The 68ers were, their rhetoric notwithstanding, not so much anti-elitist as the vanguard of the Wellsian alternative elite.

Oliver Kamm on Noam Chomsky

My article in Prospect, December 2005, maintained that Chomsky was unscrupulous and dishonest in his handling of source material. In his reply to me… Chomsky argued his case by - of all the extraordinary things - lying about his source material... I'd known that this was characteristic behaviour; but to read a straightforward, direct and demonstrable falsehood, constructed especially for me, was a surprise nonetheless.

Deogolwulf on brotherhood.

It is no disadvantage for those who thrill at enmity also to profess a universal brotherhood. There are many men who do not profess any such idea, or who do not do so with the demanded zeal, and who therefore make a most fitting object for hatred.

And, not entirely unrelated, Victor Davis Hanson on the hypocrisies of political correctness.

Bottom Line

Zack Snyder recently announced that he’ll “feel he’s done his job” if his forthcoming film adaptation is a “three-hour advertisement” for the Watchmen graphic novel. While few will doubt Snyder’s visual fidelity, demonstrated in the first trailer, cinema-goers may be hoping for more than just a nine-figure advert, or a moving imitation of an “unfilmable” comic book. However, it seems Snyder has already done one part of his job months before the film is released, with the New York Times reporting

The film trailer for Watchmen is proving to be a considerable boost to sales of the graphic novel the movie is based on. “As far as we can tell from our conversations with the book industry people, there has never been a trailer that did this,” said Paul Levitz, the president and publisher of DC Comics, which has printed 900,000 additional paperback copies of the novel since the trailer began running in mid-July. The book, about a conspiracy to discredit and murder a group of superheroes, was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, and has been on the best-seller lists of, USA Today and The Washington Post. Mr. Levitz said Watchmen would have a print run of more than a million copies this year. Last year it sold about 100,000.

Moore is famously disenchanted with Hollywood adaptations of his comics, and not without cause, but he now has about a million reasons not to mind too much.


“Arrghh! Royalties!”

Friday Ephemera

Giant inflatable faeces wreak havoc. (h/t, Metrolander.) // Chewbacca mouse. // A kitten with two faces. // Bug portraits. // Arthropod furnishings. (h/t, Julia.) // Themed restaurants. Cannibalism, robots, eating in total darkness. Also, dining prison-style. (h/t, Coudal.) // The Brunopasso PD-1 espresso machine. // Dental chairs of note. // Human mirror. // “German euro bank notes have a cocaine concentration five times lower than that of the Spanish ones.” // Japan’s coastal tetrapods. // Things that look like Pac-Man. // Matt DeFrain makes odd things out of found objects. (h/t, Ace Jet 170.) // Lyle Owerko’s photographs of boomboxes. // 78s as mp3s. 3,739 of them. Includes Artie Shaw, BB King, Mervin Shiner and a vintage Japanese drinking song. // Pleasing water bottles. (h/t, Quipsologies.) // The waterproof keyboard. // The Piaggio MP3 500. // The philosophical lexicon. (h/t, Norm.) // Jeff Goldstein on soft fascism and “diversity”. // Deogolwulf on the contradictions of Richard Rorty. // Arthur C Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God. What could possibly go wrong? (h/t, Drunkablog.) // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Ms Ivy Benson.

Blame and Boilerplate

I’ve previously remarked on the Guardianista tradition of sliding one’s ass over any unattended blame and incubating it as one’s own. So far as I can make out, this is done for some kind of autoerotic purpose. Documenting each and every instance of the phenomenon is, alas, a task too far for any sane being, but a couple of recent examples caught my eye.

First, Dmitri Vitaliev informs readers of Comment is Free:

With the world’s spotlight on China and widespread criticism of its repressive actions, one should not forget that the knowledge and technology used to create the world’s most prominent Big Brother society was designed in the west, often by the very same corporations whose advertisements on TV take up the time between the relay race and the javelin competition.

By much the same logic, Guardian readers will no doubt be happy to blame China for half the wars of the last thousand years on grounds that the Chinese invented gunpowder. No?

Meanwhile, associate editor Seumas Milne looks to events in Georgia and offers the following, er, analysis:

By any sensible reckoning, this is not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion and ever tighter encirclement of Russia by a potentially hostile power.

As Tim Worstall points out, Milne also seems to think that reducing Russia’s control over fuel movements from other independent states is some kind of NeoCon provocation. Such is the logic of MilneWorld™.