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September 2009

The State Has Many Teats

Suggestions for the proposed series of Classic Sentences from the Guardian have started to roll in:

A consensus in the making: that a progressive future is the zeitgeist; that neoliberal neo-imperialism is death.

The above is from the mind of Bea Campbell, whose contortions entertained us not so long ago. In a typically opaque and mysterious piece, Ms Campbell announces many things, flatly and as fact, including a belief that families and civil society are,

Riven by power, patriarchy, conflict and the unequal distribution of resources and respect.


The neoliberal hegemony… has brought the world to the brink.

I’m not entirely sure what the “neoliberal hegemony” is - or “neoliberal neo-imperialism” - and it’s perhaps worth noting that of the 497 words in Ms Campbell’s article, 17 are “isms” of one kind or another. Nor is it particularly obvious that these things have indeed “brought the world to the brink.” (Unlike, say, the totalitarian social model that for years entranced dear Bea, and which she rhetorically fellated during her time at the Morning Star Communist newspaper.) Likewise, it isn’t clear how one might ensure that “respect” is distributed in an egalitarian fashion. Perhaps the same approach could be applied to other inequities in life – fashion sense, talent or the possession of pleasing features. Sadly, Ms Campbell doesn’t linger on details of how these things might work, how they would be paid for, or how a respect-enforcing state might be stopped if things should go awry. She is, however, clearer in her enthusiasm for the state and its “progressive” expansion:

There are models of emancipating governance: a new constitutionalism is emerging that demands a dynamic dialogue between civil society and state. This new constitutionalism is driven by environmentalist and egalitarian duties: all policymaking must enlist the public, not as an audience but as participants, and it must be assessed for its impact on relations between humans and the Earth and each other.

Some readers may wonder whether they wish to be enlisted by an egalitarian state. Others may want some time to absorb the notion of an “emancipating governance” based on greater state control.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Before launching any retaliatory strike, the system had to check off four if/then propositions: If it was turned on, then it would try to determine that a nuclear weapon had hit Soviet soil. If it seemed that one had, the system would check to see if any communication links to the war room of the Soviet General Staff remained. If they did, and if some amount of time - likely ranging from 15 minutes to an hour - passed without further indications of attack, the machine would assume officials were still living who could order the counterattack and shut down. But if the line to the General Staff went dead, then Perimeter would infer that apocalypse had arrived. It would immediately transfer launch authority to whoever was manning the system at that moment deep inside a protected bunker - bypassing layers and layers of normal command authority. At that point, the ability to destroy the world would fall to whoever was on duty.

Isn’t the whole point of having a doomsday machine that you let your enemies know about it? It seems the Soviets didn’t.

The silence can be attributed partly to fears that the US would figure out how to disable the system. But the principal reason is more complicated and surprising. According to both Yarynich and Zheleznyakov, Perimeter was never meant as a traditional doomsday machine. The Soviets had taken game theory one step further than Kubrick, Szilard, and everyone else: They built a system to deter themselves. By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, Zheleznyakov says, was “to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge.” […]

Given the paranoia of the era, it is not unimaginable that a malfunctioning radar, a flock of geese that looked like an incoming warhead, or a misinterpreted American war exercise could have triggered a catastrophe… Perimeter solved that problem. If Soviet radar picked up an ominous but ambiguous signal, the leaders could turn on Perimeter and wait. If it turned out to be geese, they could relax and Perimeter would stand down. Confirming actual detonations on Soviet soil is far easier than confirming distant launches. “That is why we have the system,” Yarynich says. “To avoid a tragic mistake.”

(h/t, Anna.)

Friday Ephemera

Synaesthesia. // Star Wars in concert. // Bird music. // Hubcap creatures. (h/t, Drawn!) // Six months of London Bridge. // Illegal drug branding. // Meanwhile, at Berkeley… // The pop-up office. // Sci-fi architecture behind the Iron Curtain. // A timeline of sci-fi inventions, 1634 - 2003. // More handsome treehouses. // A treetop zeppelin hotel. // The delights of gang culture. // Vintage European geishas. (h/t, Coudal) // The Soviet Digital Electronics Museum. // The Archive. // And, via Metrolander, it’s the tonal idiosyncrasies of Mr Dusty Roads Rowe

Otherness, But of Course

Are you an artist based in Sheffield and in search of exposure and public funding? Of course you are. This will be thrilling news, then. Especially if you’re an artist “whose practice is felt to have a close relationship to the contextual framework” hinted at below:

Over the last year, international curators Annie Fletcher and Frederique Bergholtz have been working with curators in Sheffield to discuss ideas and to programme Art Sheffield 10. The context for this event involves looking at artists’ practices which are concerned with the idea of ‘affect’ – including care ethics, affective labour (domestic or caring labour which involves the production of affects such as ease, well-being, care, satisfaction, pleasure and so on), ideas on the politics of friendship and corresponding notions of otherness and the marginal.

I’m sure “care ethics, affective labour” and “corresponding notions of otherness and the marginal” are gripping subject matter, at least for an undergraduate socio-political thesis. Or for arts funding applications, with which such things may sometimes be confused. But are ruminations on “affective labour” and “the politics of otherness” really in demand as themes for a publicly funded city-wide art festival? Is that what punters want, and artists, and taxpayers? And if so, just how festive will it be?

Other curatorial efforts by Fletcher and Bergholtz include If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution, a “continuing exploration of paradigms such as theatricality and feminism(s).” According to the project’s helpful mission statement, “If I Can’t Dance… works along the systematic of collaboration. Each edition, defined by a certain field of investigation, engages a set of partners and unfolds along a travelling trajectory.”

The good people of Sheffield must be very excited.

(h/t, Dr Westerhaus.)


The most common misconception people have when seeing these images is that they are brothels, but in order to rent a room you must come in as a couple. There are 30,000 to 40,000 love hotels in Japan and they are used by just about every sort of couple… Young unmarried couples who live with their families until they get married, married couples who may live in very tight quarters with family, couples in extramarital affairs, and prostitutes with their customers.

You’ll be pleased to hear that Misty Keasler, quoted above, has published a book of her photographs, Love Hotels: The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan. Among her subjects is the Hotel Adonis, Osaka, which offers patrons a Naughty Nurse Play Area and a Hello Kitty S&M Room. 

Naughty_Nurse_Play_Area Hello_Kittty_S&M_Room Hello_Kittty_S&M_Room_2

Ms Keasler is interviewed here. Via Coudal.

Magic Bones

In the Telegraph, Melanie McDonagh sings the praise of religious relics and their uncanny healing powers.

As it happens, the Church is fairly nuanced about relics. You venerate them as the remains of those who were holy in life, not as objects of worship. Thomas Aquinas argued that God may work miracles in the presence of those relics but it’s not bones that do the healing. And some people do obtain benefits from visiting relics or a shrine. Lourdes is littered with discarded crutches and we can argue the toss about whether it’s a result of psychosomatic healing or divine help. But a remarkable number of those miracles of healing have been independently verified by doctors with no church connections. And that’s a fact.

To which a reader replies,

Lourdes is littered with discarded crutches, but not a single prosthetic limb.

Touché, methinks.

Friday Ephemera

Tomorrow’s World revisited, 1965-2003. // Sci-fi corridors of note. (h/t, Anthony) // Chlorophyll drops and night vision. // Crack bitch arachnid. // Magic lanterns and phenakistiscopes. // Man walks across China, beard growth ensues. // Beethoven’s Fifth, visualised. // Various periodic tables. // Vintage porn logos. // Little people. // A search engine for Muslims. // The Sheffield Museum of Anaesthesia. (h/t, Coudal) // An electric unicycle. // The Dyson tricycle. // The cardboard tube fighting league is not to be trifled with. // Stereogram Tetris will slowly drive you mad. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mephistopheles.

Where Reason Never Sleeps

A while ago, I posted a video documenting the bizarre experience of Keith John Sampson, a student-employee at IUPUI, who found himself accused of “racial harassment” and “extremely poor judgment” for “openly” reading a history book in his free time. Following Sampson’s story, and others like it, readers have asked a not unreasonable question: Why does no-one get fired for this?

The FIRE blog reports that firings do happen following dubious accusations, though not in ways one might wish and not to those one might expect

Professor Thomas Thibeault made the mistake of pointing out - at a sexual harassment training seminar - that the school’s sexual harassment policy contained no protection for the falsely accused. Two days later, in a Kafkaesque irony, Thibeault was fired by the college president for sexual harassment without notice, without knowing his accuser or the charges against him, and without a hearing. […]

Thibeault’s ordeal started shortly after August 5, 2009 when, during a faculty training session regarding the college’s sexual harassment policy, he presented a scenario regarding a different professor and asked, “What provision is there in the sexual harassment policy to protect the accused against complaints which are malicious or, in this case, ridiculous?” Vice President for Legal Affairs Mary Smith, who was conducting the session, replied that there was no such provision to protect the accused, so Thibeault responded that “the policy itself is flawed.”

Thibeault’s account of the exchange can be read here. The following extract may be of interest, echoing as it does an assumption we’ve encountered before - specifically, that injured feelings, or claims of such, should override facts, logic and normal proprieties:

Mary Smith was explaining the sexual harassment policy and was emphasising that faculty had to report suspicions of sexual harassment by any faculty member to the college administration. She was stating that the feelings of the offended were proof of the offensive nature of the behaviour.

And thus, presumably, proof of grounds for disciplinary action, even dismissal. And why not? After all, claims of being offended never, ever hinge on the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the supposedly aggrieved party. And no-one would ever exploit the pretence of being hurt, even when it offers unilateral leverage and a license to get even with someone they just don’t like.  

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