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December 2008

Friday Ephemera

Snowball gun. // Photographs of Antarctica. // How to Build an Igloo. (1951) // The Clangers build a pipe organ. // How to make wine in prison. “An odd burning sensation accompanies the first sip.” (h/t, Coudal) // Water pipes. // Monstrous yacht. // Self-assembling machines. // The geometry of beauty. // Ana Serrano’s cardboard sculptures, including Cartonlandia. // Watchmen montage. Rorschach, Moloch, Nixon! // Desirable goggles. // The American Widescreen Museum. // Low-cost video object manipulation. // Fun with “bullet-time”. // What’s a turbaconducken? (h/t, Daimnation!) // Head wipes. (h/t, PooterGeek) // A Photograph of Jesus. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Les 5 De l’Harmonica.

Behold My Virtue (2)

The Guardian’s Leo Hickman shares his wisdom on today’s security breach at Stansted Airport, courtesy of activists from the environmentalist group, Plane Stupid:   

When I first heard about protesters breaching the perimeter fence at Stansted airport on the radio this morning, my first reaction, given Plane Stupid’s previous actions, was to wonder why the campaign group hadn’t done something on this scale earlier in the year.

My first reaction was to wonder whether those inconvenienced by this self-aggrandising display would be able to demand compensation from the airport’s security provider. Using a snowplough to shift protestors is faintly amusing, I grant you, but in an age of terrorist attacks on airports, five hours is a long time to wait and firearms might have expedited matters. A second reaction came to mind after seeing this on the Plane Stupid website: “Plane Stupid welcomes actions in its name, provided they are non-violent and accountable.” Accountable, eh? Presumably, then, the fifty or so middle-class hippies and student eco-poseurs would have no objection in principle to facing whatever legal action might be taken against them individually by the airlines, by the airport and by each and every one of the inconvenienced travellers. And, presumably, the protestors will soon be offering to personally reimburse the thousands of people affected by their actions. Even, one hopes, to the point of destitution.

Mr Hickman continues:

The protest has caused, on average, 90 minutes’ worth of delays at the airport. In other words, not too dissimilar to any normal day at a British airport.

Actually, the effects of the protest, which began at 3:15am, are still being felt as I type, with stranded passengers being interviewed live on television some eleven hours later. Some 56 flights have so far been cancelled, affecting thousands of passengers, and disruption is expected to continue for up to three days. Mr Hickman doesn’t seem inclined to linger on the possibility that quite a few of those passengers may have been travelling on matters of urgency and personal or financial import – weddings, funerals, job interviews, business meetings, etc – and that their needless delay may have serious consequences. Instead, Mr Hickman’s attention is on much loftier matters:

Non-violent direct action rubs against the grain of popular opinion in order to get itself noticed amid a sea of self-interest, apathy and day-to-day distractions.

Ah, the protestors wish to be noticed. Sorry, they wish their cause to be noticed.

It is born out of desperation and frustration that the normal democratic processes have failed, are flawed, or are corrupted by vested interests, despite clear evidence that the current path is dangerous or unjust.

It’s odd how some are so keen to dismiss the “normal democratic processes” in favour of undemocratic, criminal - and much more exciting - avenues. Specifically, avenues unburdened by details like persuasion, verification and reasoned argument, and which instead hold passengers to ransom with a display of theatrical onanism. One wonders if Mr Hickman would be similarly well-disposed to other fringe groups, perhaps groups antithetical to his worldview, which nonetheless deem their cause of such importance that discussion and legality are readily dispensed with.

How many people now see Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Emmeline Pankhurst as criminals rather than heroes, despite the fact they all broke the laws of their day to protest for what we now see as worthy causes?

At this point, comment is perhaps unnecessary.

Resentful Beings

Theodore Dalrymple ponders terrorism, its apologists, and those most readily drawn to it:

Although I am not an historian, it has long seemed to me that some acquaintance with the history of Nineteenth Century Russia is absolutely crucial to understanding the modern world, for it was there that the various forms of modern revolutionary terrorism, and politics as the pursuit of an ideological end, first developed. And the first terrorists were certainly not downtrodden peasants brainwashed by religious or other leaders: they were either aristocrats suffering angst at their own privilege in the midst of poverty, or members of the newly-emerged middle classes, angry that their education had not resulted in the influence in society to which they thought themselves entitled by virtue of their intelligence, idealism and knowledge.

This pattern has been repeated over and over again. Latin America is a very good example. Castro was the spoilt son of a self-made millionaire who had a personal grudge against society because he was illegitimate and sometimes humiliated for it; in other words, he was both highly privileged, with a sense of entitlement, and deeply resentful, always a dreadful combination. Ernesto Guevara was of partially aristocratic descent, whose upbringing was that of a bohemian bourgeois, who was too egotistical and lacking in compassion for individual human beings to accept the humdrum discipline of medical practice.

The leaders of the guerrilla movement in Guatemala (a country, oddly, with many parallels to Nineteenth Century Russia) were of bourgeois and educated origin; one of them was the son of a Nobel-prize winner, not exactly a true social representative of the population. The leader and founder of Sendero Luminoso of Peru, a movement of the Pol Pot tendency (and Pol Pot himself, of course, studied in Paris), was a professor of philosophy, and his followers were the first educated generation of the peasantry, not the peasants themselves. Peasants are capable of uprisings, no doubt, even very bloody ones, but they do not elaborate ideologies or undergo training for attacks on distant targets.

The rest.

Friday Ephemera

Real-time global map of distress calls and disasters. // G-Speak spatial interface. // Space station bachelor pad. // The world of washing machines. // The museum of art museum toilets. (h/t, Mick) // Art museum guards. (h/t, Coudal) // The collected Jonathan Meades. (h/t, Georges) // Irony. // Clever Monkeys. // When birds flock. // Underwater robot rescues fish. // Bioluminescent fungi. // Transmogrifier. // Vintage pop-up books. // Mannequin moustaches. // Art cars. // Concept cars. // Honda’s V4 concept bike. // Groovy antique scooter. // Knitted motorcycle cosy. (h/t, Wild Slutty Womens) // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Burl Ives.

Elsewhere (7)

Adam Kirsch runs a rhetorical knife across the ridiculous Slavoj Žižek:

The curious thing about the Zizek phenomenon is that the louder he applauds violence and terror - especially the terror of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, whose “lost causes” Zizek takes up in another new book, In Defense of Lost Causes - the more indulgently he is received by the academic left, which has elevated him into a celebrity and the centre of a cult. A glance at the blurbs on his books provides a vivid illustration of the power of repressive tolerance. In Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, Zizek claims, “Better the worst Stalinist terror than the most liberal capitalist democracy”; but on the back cover of the book we are told that Zizek is “a stimulating writer” who “will entertain and offend, but never bore.” In The Fragile Absolute, he writes that “the way to fight ethnic hatred effectively is not through its immediate counterpart, ethnic tolerance; on the contrary, what we need is even more hatred, but proper political hatred”; but this is an example of his “typical brio and boldness.” And In Defense of Lost Causes, where Zizek remarks that “Heidegger is ‘great’ not in spite of, but because of his Nazi engagement,” and that “crazy, tasteless even, as it may sound, the problem with Hitler was that he was not violent enough, that his violence was not ‘essential’ enough”; but this book, its publisher informs us, is “a witty, adrenalin-fuelled manifesto for universal values.”

In the same witty book Zizek laments that “this is how the establishment likes its ‘subversive’ theorists: harmless gadflies who sting us and thus awaken us to the inconsistencies and imperfections of our democratic enterprise - God forbid that they might take the project seriously and try to live it.” How is it, then, that Slavoj Zizek, who wants not to correct democracy but to destroy it, has been turned into one of the establishment’s pet subversives, who “tries to live” the revolution most completely as a jet-setting professor at the European Graduate School, a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana’s Institute of Sociology, and the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities?

Christopher Hitchens on fashionable bigotry:

Here’s a thought experiment: you get an email telling you that all the Anglo-Saxons left the World Trade Center just an hour before the planes hit (not having merely stayed away with all the benefit of their advance warning, but having actually gone to all the trouble of turning up at 8am and trustingly assuming that the terror-strike would take place just on schedule and thus give them time to check their Rolexes for an orderly and early departure). See what I mean? It’s just not such a thrilling hypothesis. When directed at the Jews, however, it at least adds insult to injury, and the true bigot knows that every little helps.

Eamonn McDonagh on The Guardian Position™, dutifully assumed: 

[Guardian writer, William] Dalrymple’s portrait of the killers, as well as the sections of Muslim opinion he sees as supporting them, is based on a profound failure to treat them as morally autonomous and equal to himself. They are boiling with rage, they can’t be expected to reason or to have any respect for the lives of bystanders. When it all gets a bit too much, well, it’s the most natural, though regrettable, thing in the world for them to set out on a Jew hunt or mow down commuters in a railway station. Under no circumstances should we, rational Westerners, seek to apply the same critical standards to the Mumbai murderers and their supporters as we do - haltingly and insufficiently - to our own actions and those of our leaders. What we have to do is understand and empathize with their feelings and, as we can’t expect them to dilute their rage with reason or to seek methods to vindicate their claims that don’t involve hand grenades or AK 47s, we must make ourselves constantly ready to indulge their homicidal tantrums. Above all, we must never, ever treat them as our equals. It’s a pretty pass that certain elements of liberal cultivated opinion have come to.

Please feel free to poke about in the archives and peruse the greatest hits


While this site has much to offer readers with an interest in music, psychodrama and abandoned mental hospitals, it’s possible I’ve neglected any engineers and physicists among us. To remedy this mortifying oversight, here’s a little thought experiment, courtesy of Sam Hughes: 

A plane is standing on a runway that can move (like a giant conveyor belt). This conveyor has a control system that tracks the plane’s speed and tunes the speed of the conveyor, relative to the Earth, to be exactly the same (but in the opposite direction).

Now comes the question.

Will the plane be able to take off?

The answer isn’t quite as obvious as one might assume. Needless to say, a detailed pondering ensues.

Update: Because you know you secretly want to, How to Destroy the Earth