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December 2010

2010 Reheated

In which we revisit imaginary evils, ludicrous solutions and various lamentations from the pages of the Guardian.


In January, Kevin McKenna inadvertently revealed the loveliness behind his lofty socialist principles:  

Ponder the big, generous heart behind those sentiments. It offends Mr McKenna that private education should be allowed to exist. By McKenna’s reckoning, parents who view the comprehensive system as inadequate – perhaps because of their own first-hand experiences – are by implication wicked. And so they should be stopped.


February brought us the deep, deep thinking of the New Economics Foundation and their blueprint for a socialist utopia:  

The NEF are convinced that, once implemented, their recommendations would “heal the rifts in a divided Britain” and leave the population “satisfied.” That’s satisfied with less of course, and the authors make clear their disdain for the “dispensable accoutrements of middle-class life,” including “cars, holidays, electronic equipment and multiple items of clothing.”

February also brought us urban oil painting, delusional playwrights and communist art reviews.


In March, we got a taste of, if not for, the cosmetic surgery aesthetic. And an advocate of “direct action” got a taste of her own medicine and didn’t like it one bit.


April saw Jonathan Kay recounting his visit to a Thinking About Whiteness workshop, where he was told “racism is an outgrowth of capitalism” and that “to ignore race is to be more racist than to acknowledge race.” 

Ah, very clever. Guilt in all directions. It almost sounds like a trap. And the way to get past small differences in physiology is to continually fixate on small differences in physiology.

And Eyjafjallajökull did some rumbling


In May, Professor Sharra Vostral exposed the humble tampon as an “artefact of control.”

At this point, readers may also wonder how it can be that an estimated 98% of humanities scholarship goes uncited or unread.

And a mighty hail fell on Oklahoma City.

Continue reading "2010 Reheated" »

Friday Ephemera

Somewhat surreal. // Doomed sci-fi pilots. (h/t, MeFi) // Let’s play dress-up. // Tron meets Playboy, if you like that kind of thing. // Prosthetic tentacle. // The tailoring of Bond. // How to wrap a cat. // Dancing with cats. // Deluxe cigar cutter. // A Christmas tale. (h/t, TDK) // An illustrated face. // Waffle irons of note. // Inside the Kowloon Walled City, 1989. // Crystalline architecture. // The Antikythera Mechanism, remade with Lego. (h/t, James Buster) // Truck bling, Gundam-style. // Taxi fares from around the world. // Images of cells. // The sounds of making shoes. // Voyager, 33 years on. “We come in peace. And are inedible.”

How Not to Make the Case for Public Subsidy

Adam Harper is “currently doing a PhD in Musicology at Oxford. He writes for Wire magazine and blogs at Rouge’s Foam.” He also finds time to write for the Guardian

Aware that reality itself is the territory on which they’re fighting the government, many student protesters have been challenging the government-sponsored realism they now find so dubious with playful surrealism.

Ah, “government-sponsored realism.” Not economic reality, as discussed here, which might lead those protesting to a larger, more troublesome understanding of the world. It’s just a cruel and dubious fabrication to be swapped for something more flattering and congenial. Students Make Protest an Art Form, reads the headline. And how could mere reality withstand the fearsome repertoire of the contemporary artist?

Few things summed up this battle for reality better than the statue stood in the main quadrangle of University College London, greeting visitors to the student occupation there. Placed in front of banners reading “Art Against Cuts” was a post-cubist humanoid figure assembled from found objects and painted silver.

By Muhammad’s beard. Empires will topple.

In front of it was a sign announcing that “THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING.”

I trust readers are all stocked up on canned goods and ammunition.

Upon entering the occupied Jeremy Bentham Room, one noticed strange details among the hundreds of posters covering the walls: references to Harry Potter characters (“Albus Dumbledore Was a GREAT MAN”), a neo-classical statue made to carry a mock-up Pokéball (which, as anyone born between 1985 and 1995 knows, is where Pokémon are kept when not in battle), puns so terrible and esoteric they become hilarious (“They say cut back, we say Feuerbach,” in homage to the 19th-century philosopher) and complete non sequiturs (“HUMBUGS ARE ZEBRA EGGS”).

It’s dangerous, dizzying stuff. Now hand me your wallet. You’ll soon be feeling an urge to bankroll more of this.

Someone else spent several hours in the Parliament Square kettle dressed as a bright pink Star Wars stormtrooper, the Bansky-esque gesture beautifully counteracting the lines of armour-clad riot police.

See? You’re warming to their demands already.

Sound-systems enabled spontaneous raves amid the cops and burning benches, with crowds bobbing in time to the wacky syncopated beats and pitch-shifted vocals of Major Lazer’s Pon De Floor.

Oh no, they’re fighting back with abstract disco.

Such displays could easily be dismissed as infantile and hedonistic, but they play an important role in outwardly showing confidence and boosting internal morale. In some cases they also serve a practical purpose.

I know, you can’t wait.

Continue reading "How Not to Make the Case for Public Subsidy" »

The Warm Glow of Socialism

Well, that was interesting.

One enormous placard read, “We are not your slaves!” An odd sentiment, really, from people so engorged with entitlement they assume an almost aristocratic right to other people’s labour and other people’s earnings. A more honest placard might have read, “You will pay for things I want or I’ll smash up your stuff.” But that would sound like extortion more than slavery.

And Tim steers us to The Englishman, who offers a handy summary of the higher education funding debate: 

The Question, Punk, Is Do You Think Your Course Is Worth £9000?
If you answer no then there isn’t a problem. Do something else.
If you answer yes there isn’t one either. Grow up, invest in your future.

Update, via the comments:

It’s strange how the protestors are somehow missing the larger issue. The higher education bubble appears unsustainable. This has quite a lot of bearing on assumptions of inter-generational subsidy. For instance, the average lifetime financial return on an arts degree is estimated at around £30,000. Set against the cost of courses, accommodation and lost earnings during the period of study, the net result is most likely a reduction in lifetime earnings. In short, there’s no longer a return for the taxpayer and little economic incentive for inter-generational subsidy.

Students first aimed their indignation at Conservative Party offices, to loud and destructive effect. A predictable gesture, certainly, but one that misses a much more pertinent target. The current bubble was inflated largely under New Labour and largely by people sympathetic to the left, with widespread grade inflation, an implausible doubling of first class degrees, insubstantial or disreputable courses, including football studies and pole dancing research, and an arbitrary target of 50% of young people in higher education, supposedly in the name of fairness. Taken together, these factors have had a huge impact on whether higher education is economically sustainable in its current form. The bizarre belief in “degrees for (almost) everyone” comes at a high and unprecedented price. Loans and higher fees follow from that egalitarian conceit. Subsidies and maintenance grants for 2% or 5% is one thing; for 20% or 50% it’s something else entirely.

Some view “free” higher education as an entitlement warranting violence. But who’s going to pay for this “free” service when its value is increasingly called into question, not least by employers, many of whom point to dramatically lowered standards and ill-prepared graduates? One complaint we hear is that many students will be left with large debt (or theoretical debt) and limited prospects of a suitable job. But if so, doesn’t that call into question the value of what’s being demanded? In the UK there are currently around 20,000 students of fine art, 10,000 philosophy students and 27,000 enthusiasts of media studies. But is there a corresponding economic need? If the investment of time, effort and (other people’s) money doesn’t pay off with a lucrative and fascinating career in the private sector, and a return via taxation, then how is the process justified in its present form?

You’d think of spot of protest would be aimed at the egalitarians who devalued the investment and made it all but unworkable.

Friday Ephemera

Kim Jong-Il looking at things. Includes Kim Jong-Il looks at wall and Kim Jong-Il peers through hatch. // The lifecycle of bureaucracy. // Kubrick’s ‘elevator-of-blood’ redone with CG. // Inception heist in real time. // Quote of note. // How crayons are made. // “Wisconsin man builds own planetarium.” // Building a terrarium. // Build your own Egg-Bot. // Edible gingerbread playhouse. // Yes, those Jews control everything, even sharks. // It’s a spoon, it’s a fork, it’s a metric wrench. // Mining sulphur. // There are bodies on Mount Everest. (h/t, MeFi) // Hundreds of Mad magazine covers. // They grow up so fast. // Paths of Flight.

But it’s Clean if it’s Taken by Force

Anna steers us to this.


The Guardian’s caption reads, “A demonstrator holds her arms up during a protest at the Tate Britain.” Though readers may wish to devise captions of their own. For those who missed yesterday’s, um, spectacle, art students “invaded” Tate Britain and organised a series of life drawing classes to protest against proposed cuts to arts budgets:

Supporters of the protest handed out leaflets outside the building warning that higher fees could lead to empty art schools.

A Guardian reader adds,

A brilliant, well executed and peaceful protest from students who are angry at the blatant betrayal and abandonment of the arts.

Yes, trembling readers, artists are angry.

As angry as they were five months ago when protesting against BP’s sponsorship of the arts, estimated at around half a million pounds:  

BP’s money is tainted and it is hard to see how the company’s reputation won’t have a long-term impact on those who accept it.

That was dirty money, see? Given voluntarily, unlike taxpayer subsidy, but still, dirty, dirty, dirty. Among those protesting at this insult to moral hygiene was John Jordan, an “artist and activist” and co-editor of We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism, an anarchist guidebook to “direct action” and a “collision of subjectivities… charged with inspiration.”

In his Guardian column, Mr Jordan wrote,

Art acts as a great detergent, and being involved with a gallery enables the company to host glitzy events at which it can foster vital relationships with ministers, journalists and foreign dignitaries…

The fiends. Just as being involved with a gallery enables anti-capitalist poseurs a chance to sound important and foster vital relationships with taxpayers’ money.

And worse,

Corporate sponsorship creates an insidious climate of self-censorship that keeps art trapped in the disease of representation: a tool for preserving the status quo rather than showing us how to live differently.

Clearly, recidivist anti-capitalists showing us how to live deserve better than this. They deserve more public subsidy. It’s vital work. Art institutions must not take donations from companies of which some artists may disapprove. That would be wicked, insidious and a cause of artistic disease. Instead, those institutions should encourage the state to take money from the taxpayer, forcibly, and give it to artists and projects of which the taxpayer may disapprove. That would be virtuous and clean, apparently.

Elsewhere (27)

Megan McArdle suspects Julian Assange is unwell.

[Assange says,] “In a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”

Ah. This must be why WikiLeaks has been getting so much material from the governments of China, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, and why internal documents from Cargill are currently dominating their traffic. Ooops! That was a flash from an alternative universe where what Assange is saying isn’t nonsense. In the real world, he got a bunch of government documents because the US, in its addlepated, well-meaning way, dumped all of them on a network open to 3 million people where they could be seen by a disaffected 23-year old stupid enough to either believe he could get away with this, or not understand how long the years in jail might be.

Theodore Dalrymple on what’s wrong with WikiLeaks.

The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness.

And Tim Blair notes the vanities and secrets of the WikiLeaks mouthpiece.

[Assange] says that WikiLeaks has “changed two governments, taken the scalp of a prime minister, taken the scalp of a defence minister and [achieved] many other reforms.” Assange doesn’t identify the governments or the two ministers. Perhaps he’s talking about the 2007 election in Kenya, which Assange claims to have influenced by leaking a secret report. Then followed months of deadly violence, with which Assange seems oddly comfortable: “1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak,” says Assange. It’s a chilling statistic, but then he states: “On the other hand, the Kenyan people had a right to that information and 40,000 children a year die of malaria in Kenya.” So another 1,300 corpses won’t matter much. Tipping an already-volatile African nation into further mayhem might be Assange’s greatest achievement to date.


Christopher Hitchens weighs in.

The WikiLeaks founder is an unscrupulous megalomaniac with a political agenda… All you need to know about Assange is contained in the profile of him by the great John F. Burns and in his shockingly thuggish response to it. The man is plainly a micro-megalomaniac with few if any scruples and an undisguised agenda. As I wrote before, when he says that his aim is “to end two wars,” one knows at once what he means by the “ending.” In his fantasies he is probably some kind of guerrilla warrior, but in the real world he is a middle man and peddler who resents the civilization that nurtured him.

As usual, feel free to add your own.

Friday Ephemera

When sci-fi collides with sci-fi. // Source that movie quote in seconds. // Rock versus sunshine. // Spanish woman claims ownership of the Sun. (h/t, TDK) // Why Spider-Man 3 is a terrible, terrible film. // Trek enthusiast builds own LCARS interface. // NASA transcripts. // The radio broadcasts of H.G. Wells. // A brief history of mathematics. // A brief history of Bond cars. // Tree-hopping bugs of note. // North Korea in pictures. (h/t, MeFi) // Turn of the century organ grinders. (h/t, Coudal) // “It is a white amorphous object whose intention is to provide the owner with an atmosphere of presence to counteract feelings of loneliness.”

Above Them, Only Sky

John Lennon was never imprisoned or tortured, but he was seen as a threat.

That’s the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland in a piece asking Where Are Today’s Political Popstars? It’s highlighted as an editor’s pick, no less.

They weren’t wrong to think the man who once shook his moptop like a wind-up toy was radical: he was. In Give Peace a Chance and Happy Xmas (War is Over) he had written not one but two anthems of the movement to end the Vietnam War.

Ah, anthems. Written in support of a movement whose most notable gift to mankind was a totalitarian future for the Cambodians and Vietnamese and one of the largest genocides in history.

His politics hardened in the immediate aftermath of the Beatles’ breakup, declaring after Bloody Sunday that in a choice of the British army or the IRA he would side with the IRA.

A terrorist organisation responsible for the murders of close to 2,000 people, many of whom were civilians, and which, according to the Observer, Lennon saw fit to fund with tens of thousands of pounds.

He sang about Revolution; many thought one was on the way.

Indeed. Lennon also found time to lend his pop star gravitas to the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist cult apparently financed by those moral colossi Muammar al-Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, and which entranced such artistic luminaries as Corin and Vanessa Redgrave. The WRP’s ambitions included socialist revolution, the overthrow of private property and the replacement of the police by a “workers militia.” Imagine that. And hey, who wouldn’t feel threatened by a millionaire pop star sprawled on his peace bed high above Manhattan, singing a hymn to global totalitarianism and a world with “no possessions,” while his sidekick Yoko collected fur coats?

For some beautiful dreamers any revolution will do. And this is the Guardian, where communist psychodrama must be given a free pass. That’s what radicals do, apparently.


Karen points us to today’s Guardian editorial, which is positively engorged with pop radicalism. 

While [Morrisey] is a political weather-vane blown by emotional gales, [Johnny] Marr is a sturdy signpost pointing left – a friend of the great bard of socialist song, Billy Bragg, and the mover behind the Smiths' involvement with the anti-Thatcher Red Wedge musical collective.

Yes, Johnny Marr:  the vegan socialist who crashed his BMW after another tequila binge. When not strumming his instrument and “forbidding” certain people to enjoy his records, Mr Marr is a “visiting professor of music” at Salford University, where he rails against “an age of stifling conservatism.” And, oh yes, the “great bard of socialist song” Billy Bragg. A man who - proudly and in a very serious voice - told Radio 4 listeners that he’d “learned all of his politics from pop music.”

Some things you just can’t parody.