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January 2009

Brown Nectar

Speaking of coffee, this morning I had my first cup of Kopi Luwak, which is, apparently, the most expensive coffee in the world. Around 500 kilos are produced each year and a standard 250g bag retails at around £20. Some enthusiasts have been known to fork out $50 for a single cup. What makes the coffee unusual, and ridiculously expensive, is its partial fermentation in the gut of the wild Indonesian civet cat or Luwak, which looks not unlike a raccoon.

In its post-cat, pre-retail phase, Kopi Luwak looks like this:


It isn’t entirely clear whether the coffee is indeed superior or just a masterful marketing gimmick, but Massimo Marcone, author of Composition and Properties of Indonesian Palm Civet Coffee and Ethiopian Civet Coffee, offers the following explanation:  

During the night, the civet uses its eyesight and smell to seek out and eat only the ripest coffee cherries. The coffee cherry fruit is completely digested by the Luwak, but the beans are excreted in their faeces. The changes in the beans show that during transit through the civet’s gastro-intestinal track, various digestive biochemicals are actually penetrating the outer coffee cherry and reaching the actual bean surface, where a chemical colour change takes place… The civet beans are lower in total protein, indicating that during digestion, proteins are being broken down and are also leached out of the bean. Since proteins are what make coffee bitter during the roasting process, the lower levels of proteins decrease the bitterness of Kopi Luwak coffee. When coffee cherries are processed through the digestive track, they actually undergo a type of wet processing due to acidification in the stomach and fermentation due to the natural intestinal microflora. Lactic acid bacteria are preferred in wet processing systems. Lactic acid bacteria happen to be major colonizing bacteria in the civet’s digestive track.

So how does it taste? Well, it’s rich and smooth and it does have a distinct hint of caramel. Quite pleasant, in fact, and thankfully without even a whiff of feline anus. Though once this bag has been consumed, I think I’ll revert to the sharper caffeine kick of Taylor’s Hot Lava Java

Friday Ephemera

Absinthe lollipops. (h/t, Coudal) // Soap and coffee, together at last. // Nifty cup stacking. // Exercise wheel for dogs. // Behold the Emperor workstation. Because your buttocks deserve no less. // Car of tomorrow not quite what it seems. // Joe Shuster’s filthy secret. // A pencil that squeals. // All together now: “Death to, er...” // Bird sounds. // International pronunciation guide. // Visual dyslexia. (h/t, Things) // Assorted flash preloaders. // Rain-powered umbrella. // Docks de Paris. // Nosferatu. (1922) // The National Museum of Funeral History. // A whole heap of tilt-shift. // World’s largest piñata. // And, via The Thin Man, Valaida Snow gets primitive.


A while ago, I posted this clip of the 100-year-old Trinity Lutheran Church being moved on a hydraulic platform trailer 12 miles to its new location in the town of Manning, Iowa. The effect is decidedly surreal; sort of Fellini meets Gilliam:

The relocation of entire buildings, usually wooden ones, happens more often than I’d imagined. Via Oobject, here’s another radical move in Providence, Rhode Island: 

Continue reading "Relocation" »


A beverage warning from the BBC

People who drink too much coffee could start seeing ghosts or hearing strange voices, UK research has suggested. People who drank more than seven cups of instant coffee a day were three times more likely to hallucinate than those who took just one, a study found. A Durham University team questioned 200 students about their caffeine intake, the journal Personality and Individual Differences reported. However, academics say the findings do not prove a “causal link”.

Some reassurance, then, for patrons of Starbucks.

 Ectoplasm_4 Ectoplasm_5 Ectoplasm_3  

“No, I said decaf… Aaiiieee!

More intriguing is this:

They also stress that experiencing hallucinations is not a definite sign of mental illness and that about 3% of people regularly hear voices.

(h/t, Dr Westerhaus

Elsewhere (9)

Brendan O’Neill on eco-paternalism:

If less well-off people fly less often, why are their flights looked upon by environmentalists, again and again, as the most destructive and foul of all? It is not only cheap flights that environmentalists attack, but the cheap people who take some of these cheap flights. Plane Stupid refers to the “binge-flying” of those who attend stag nights in “Eastern European destinations chosen not for their architecture or culture but because people can fly there for 99p and get loaded for a tenner”. Green party leader Caroline Lucas says we need “an end to cheap stag nights in Riga”. These are not attacks on the Daily Telegraph readers who fly Ryanair, but on “the poor” who fly Ryanair.

Related: Plane Stupid’s theatrical onanism.

Joe Lima watches Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour film, Che. He’s unimpressed, at length:

I have just one more thing I’d like to say about Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Del Toro. I don’t mean this maliciously, as I think that the experience would be very good for the emotional, intellectual and artistic growth of these two men. I wish that Mr. Soderbergh and Mr. Del Toro could live in Cuba, not as the pampered VIPs that they are when they visit today, but as Cubans do, with no United States Constitutional rights, with ration cards entitling them to tiny portions of provisions that the stores don’t even stock anyway, with chivatos surveilling them constantly. How long would it be before Mr. Soderbergh started sizing up inner tubes, speculating on the durability and buoyancy of them, asking himself, could I make the crossing on that? How long before Mr. Del Toro started gazing soulfully at divorced or widowed tourist women, hoping to seduce and marry one of them and get out? Only then could they see why this insipid, frivolous and pretentious movie they have made is nothing less than an insult to millions of people, who really do live like that, and who’ve lived like that their entire lives.

Related: Fellating Che. (h/t, Dan

The Just Me Generation

Further to Guy Dammann’s regard for the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, Darleen has unearthed another display of unspeakably radical selflessness over at Feministing:  

Along with the emancipation of women, sexual liberation has become very much a part of politics around the world. To the conservatives, both these issues challenge ‘family values’. But what if there were no families? What if we say no to reproduction? My understanding of reproduction is that it is the basis of the institutions of marriage and family, and those two provide the moorings to the structure of gender and sexual oppression.

Sorry, I should have warned you; there’s quite a bit of boilerplate.

Family is the social institution that ensures unpaid reproductive and domestic labour, and is concerned with initiating a new generation into the gendered and classed social set-up. Not only that, families prevent the flow of money from the rich to the poor: wealth accumulates in a few hands to be squandered on and bequeathed to the next generation, and that makes families as economic units selfishly pursue their own interests and become especially prone to consumerism.

Families with children are selfish, see, and squanderers, and prone to consumerism. I hope you’re taking notes.

So it makes sense to say that if the world has to change, reproduction has to go. Of course there is an ecological responsibility to reduce the human population, or even end it.  

But of course. Again, note the approving nod to the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, the ultimate goal of which is “phasing out the human race.” Until that glorious scenario is achieved, VHEMT strives for a world in which the human population is, ahem, “less dense.”

Continue reading "The Just Me Generation" »


For newcomers, three items from the archives:

Art Bollocks Revisited 

Artspeak and political lockstep.

“The more sceptical among us might suspect that the unintelligible nature of much postmodern ‘analysis’ is a convenient contrivance, if only because it’s difficult to determine exactly how wrong an unintelligible analysis is.”

Lefties Revisited 

In which we follow a bizarrely inept attempt to launch a radical left wing tabloid. Dogma prevails, hilarity ensues. From Vanessa Engle’s documentary series, Lefties.

“I was interested in free speech… I was a Communist.”

The Greater Good (2) 

Arabella Weir passes among the proles, hoping to be noticed.

“Here we see crystallised one of socialism’s moral inversions. By Weir’s thinking, even if you had a grim and frustrating experience at a state comprehensive you should still want to inflict that same experience on your children. Ideally by sending them to a really disreputable school with plenty of rough council estate kids and people for whom English is, at best, a second language. It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Ms Weir regards children, even her own, not as ends in themselves, but as instruments for the advancement of an egalitarian worldview. That, or as playthings of her own vanity. Which may well add up to much the same thing.”

Feel free to rummage in the greatest hits.

Friday Ephemera

In case of emergency, chocolate pills. // Not-so-angelic sea angel. // Origami kraken. // Onion goggles. // “It’s full of stars.” // The cover art of Scientific American. (h/t, Things) // More art of the title sequence. (h/t, Matthew) // Endings of note. // A compendium of less-than-special effects. // An animated history of the internet. // Auditorium, a game. // Armchair from hell. // Stylish travel bag/doghouse. // Vintage upscale compass. // Triple-axis spirit level. // Impressive tool chest. // Scientist action figures. // London without people. // Vincent Price is The Last Man on Earth. (1964) // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Pal Joey.

Heading Where?

Does art progress? Theodore Dalrymple has his doubts

One often hears of ‘cutting-edge’ art; indeed, the much older term, avant garde, is of the same ilk. This suggests that there is progress in the arts, as there is in science, and that what comes after must, in some sense, be better than what came before. Art has some kind of destination, with later artists further along the road to it than earlier.

In science, progress is a fact (except for the most extreme of epistemological sceptics, none of whom, nevertheless, would be entirely indifferent as to whether their surgeon used the surgical techniques of, say, the 1830s, rather than those of this century). The most mediocre bacteriologist alive today knows incomparably more that did Louis Pasteur or Robert Koch, for example; the most mediocre physics graduate knows incomparably more than Sir Isaac Newton ever did. This is because scientific knowledge is cumulative. But no one would suggest that the paintings of Rothko were better than those, say, of Chardin because he lived a long time after Chardin, and that Chardin’s were better than those of Velasquez for the same reason.

Art teachers and critics use the false analogy with science in order to deny the importance of tradition in artistic production. They do not realise that science is entirely dependent on tradition for its progress. It is not just that most competent scientists know a lot about the history of their subject, but that the very problems that they set about solving, their entire mental worlds, are inherited by them. No scientist has to discover everything anew for himself: no mind, however great, is expected to begin again from zero. Tradition is the precondition of progress, not its antithesis or enemy.

The comparison of art with science isn’t entirely convincing. One could argue, at least notionally, that the destination of science - its conclusion, as it were – would be a complete explanation of the entire physical universe, including the people in it who happen to ponder such things. It’s a pretty fanciful idea, perhaps, but a comprehensible one. But what would an analogous artistic destination be - a work of such staggering beauty that those who see it burst into tears and die contentedly?