Previous month:
August 2011
Next month:
October 2011

September 2011

Worth Every Penny

Readers may have noted the NowhereIsland art project, in which assorted radical freeloaders – referred to as a “think tank” - were shipped to the Arctic at public expense to ponder the possibilities of progressive utopia and generally engorge their cultural glands. While moored at Nyskjaeret, an apparently unclaimed island the size of a football pitch, our merry band of thinkers gathered sand and rock and loaded it onto a barge, thereby creating a floating “visual sculpture” of tremendous, indeed profound, political significance. Said work will subsequently “tour” the south coast of Britain, leaving better, more enlightened people in its wake.

The project’s intellectual lynchpin, artist Alex Hartley, has explained why his subsidised trip was so imperative:

It will gather ideas around climate change, land grab, colonialism, migration… all of these issues that can be put onto the blank canvas of this new land… My plan is to take a part of the island into international waters and declare it as a micro-nation so people can register to become citizens… We have just declared our statehood. This moment marks seven years of work inspired by a simple question: What if an Arctic island went south in search of its people?

If this all sounds a little familiar, you may be thinking of this comedic excursion from 2009.

The project’s mission statement tells us,

NowhereIsland is established in response to the failure of nation states to adequately address interconnected global crises, such as environmental exploitation… NowhereIsland embodies the global potential of a new borderless nation, which offers citizenship to all; a space in which all are welcome and in which all have the right to be heard.

Others have taken a less sympathetic view. Among them, Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, who referred to the project as an “extraordinary folly”:

I think my constituents are going to find it quite astonishing that… we are spending half a million pounds digging up earth from somewhere in Norway and floating it down the South West coast.

Having survived this two-week taxpayer-funded odyssey in radical conjecture and dirt relocation, Laurie Penny - for ‘tis she - shares her thoughts

I met a polar bear, a whale, some reindeer, several fat seals, an arctic fox, many drunk Russians, a statue of Lenin, and a very dear and well-meaning collection of British academics, activists and journalists… Crammed on a ship trying to teach everyone consensus decision-making whilst we held down our lunches as the Noorderlicht dived through the waves, trying to group-write a theoretical constitution for a speculative nation.

Good times. Though there were of course a few issues to contend with.

Every single one of us was white and middle-class.

Luckily, rote identity politics soon gave way to the romance of it all.

As we discussed our ideal society… it really did feel like the last colony ship off a burning planet - like we were the chosen, special ones strapped to a cosy life-shuttle, looking for a new world at the touching point of symbol and substance. This, surely, is how the privileged will experience the end times.

The chosen, special ones. And not, say, the ‘B’ Ark.

Continue reading "Worth Every Penny" »

Friday Ephemera

I can’t help thinking there ought to be a word for this. // Galleries of small things. // There are dry ice pits on Mars. // Perspective and tape. // Painting without a brush. // Raincoat of note. // Moscow’s retro cars. // The Enigma machine explained. // Ed Miliband… the outsider! // The integrity of Johann Hari, moral colossus of the left. // Laurie’s babysitting skills. // Wang Wusheng. // Ostrich eggbot. // How to peel garlic. (h/t, MeFi) // People hanging over the edge of skyscrapers. // On community versus collectivism. // Carving watermelon skin. // Extreme unicycling. (h/t, Coudal) // The flow of US debt. (h/t, Jen) // Facebook and you.

Militantly Nude

Zombie pays a visit to a San Francisco “nude-in” and isn’t impressed by what he sees:

Yet no matter how successful they are in smashing cultural norms, they still can’t escape the general consensus that day-to-day urban nudity has public health consequences. The nudists’ reply is that the public health argument is merely a smokescreen to justify puritanical repression. The anti-nudity advocates are being dishonest, the protesters argue; opposition to public nakedness is not based on concern about transmissible diseases, but rather on old-fashioned prudery. While that may be true, I counter with this: The San Francisco public nudists are also being dishonest; there is indeed a sexual component to their behaviour, and they are exhibitionists using politics to justify their thrill-seeking.

Readers of a delicate constitution should note that Zombie’s report contains photos of unattractive middle-aged men in a state of militant undress (boots, cockrings and bandanas notwithstanding). And I suspect most will come to appreciate why it is that attractive people get paid to take their clothes off, while fat ageing hippies and saggy-titted old queens generally don’t.

Some of you may also register a whiff of disingenuousness in exhibitionists accusing their critics of being repressive and stuffy. Exhibitionists may be eager to dispense with clothing in incongruous locations – say, a traffic island in the middle of a busy intersection - but they desperately need an audience, preferably a clothed one, and preferably one that’s embarrassed, inconvenienced and unwilling. San Francisco is remarkably well-equipped in terms of nude-friendly laws, clubs and amenities, including a nude beach and nearby nudist colonies. As Zombie notes, what’s revealing is that such venues weren’t deemed sufficient for our wrinkly radicals: 

These protesters and urban nudists don’t simply want to be naked in private or be naked around other naked people; they want to be naked around clothed people. Because that’s where the sexual thrill originates; violating a taboo. Being naked where nakedness is normal doesn’t count; eliciting shock or interest from unwitting strangers is the whole point.

Quite. Those indulging in their kink for being noticed are, in effect, saying: “Hey, you. Look at my bollocks. I SAID, LOOK AT MY BOLLOCKS RIGHT NOW, YOU UPTIGHT CONSERVATIVE PRUDES!” And while I doubt many readers here are prone to fainting at the sight of withered genitals and subsiding buttocks, they may conceivably object to being made an accomplice to someone else’s psychodrama. As one young lady points out, “Unwanted exposure to scrotum is never okay.”

Update, via the comments:

Continue reading "Militantly Nude" »

Friday Ephemera

Lightning seen from above, the Earth rolling below. // A map of undersea cables. // Mostly blue. // Bathtub of note. // Does your yacht look like this? // On the merits of the Oxford comma. // When “diversity” means racism. // Flotsam & Jetsam. // Photographing the locals. // San Francisco time-lapsed. // Make way for the Panzer Soundtank. // An animated primer of the Israel-Palestine conflict. // Sakhalin Island and its inhabitants, 1894-1905. // Sponge nudes. // Engraved milk bottles. // At last, the hydraulic cocktail typewriter. // And finally, I fear there’s something under the ice. But will it be a patch on the 1982 version

Elsewhere (48)

Inspector Gadget on crime and, er, punishment:

In the last two weeks in Ruraltown, we have seen three men with a total of 78 previous convictions, convicted again for theft, domestic violence and vehicle crime… All three had previous records for ‘offences against the courts and police.’ All three had breached community sentences, been recalled whilst on licence or breached bail in the last two years. This kind of behaviour is now entirely normal for most of the criminal underclass in every town in Britain. None of these men received a single day’s custodial sentence. All three were dealt with by way of ‘community sentence.’ All three were happy to keep their freedom. One was arrested again within 24 hours for stealing cars. He didn’t even attempt to run away when patrols arrived.

Charles Crawford on the shortcomings of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy:

The good news is that it is pretty faithful to the original story, cramming a lot into the film while maintaining moody and sometimes tense mystery. The bad news is that it is pretty faithful to the book in having a feeble explanation of the reasons for the Mole’s treason. In fact it's even feebler than the book’s version which also has some facile anti-Americanising: “It’s an aesthetic choice - the West has got ugly.” Aesthetic? Ugly? Compared to the way of life behind the Iron Curtain? […] The wider failure of all the Le Carré spy books is also on display here: the reek of moral relativism (“we’re almost as bad as each other”) and lack of any significant substantive beliefs. By shrinking the world down to the mutual manoeuvrings of the rival spy agencies and their messy private lives, all context and purpose drain away - just as in the Godfather films the wider victims of the mafia families’ wickedness are never shown. If all you see is presented as ugly, why indeed be loyal to such an ugly world?

The Guardian predictably downplays the role of ideology and tells us, “One of the great strengths of Le Carré’s fiction is to show how blurred the moral line was between east and west.”

Mr Crawford also notes a key dramatic defect touched on recently in the comments here: 

The film’s main storyline weakness is that the four key suspects are seen as if from a far distance. You have no idea what their Circus jobs are or why they are important or what they are like, or indeed why they might be suspect.

Indeed. Smiley’s realisation of the mole’s identity is one of the film’s key scenes - and its most obvious miscalculation. A scene that should be emotionally and dramatically charged – and which assumes it is – isn’t. It just doesn’t hit the note. The soundtrack tells us an important insight is happening but the audience doesn’t share in the process, which is rather important if you’re expecting an emotional payoff. And a big part of the problem is that we don’t get to spend enough time with the suspects to earn any significant drama when the mole is revealed. The suspects are essentially bit parts, albeit well played. And so the denouement is much too flat and subdued.

And Peter Hitchens was also displeased by Tomas Alfredson’s much-praised film: 

As for Control, is it possible to believe that the director of the Secret Intelligence Service (at one point Cornwell says that he was so secretive that his own wife believed till the day he died that he worked for the National Coal Board) would have left his London flat full of charts and notes about a mole hunt in SIS, and that it would all still be there, untouched, months after his death?

As usual, feel free to add your own.

Friday Ephemera

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. (And previously.) // A history of invisible ink. // Manhattan in marble. (h/t, dicentra) // The Musée Dupuytren at the University of Paris medical school. // Video game in a box. // The single molecule motor. // The morality of profit. // “There are no Z-rays.” // Cube house. // Walrus chair. // Test your colour vision. (h/t, MeFi) // Falling, falling. // Awful commutes. // Chipmunk adventures. // Clothes on film. // Fun with Sellotape. // The internet, then and now. (h/t, Jen) // Root bridges. // Bottle-opening sunglasses. // Apparently Batmanning is the new planking. // And the self-explanatory beards from below.

It’s Cool When It’s Done to Other People

Being as it is the very yardstick of hip and edgy, the Guardian is once again defending criminality and antisocial behaviour. A few weeks ago, it was academic radical Alexander Vasudevan and his enthusiasm for the “seizure and reclamation” of other people’s belongings as “a potent symbol of protest.” Shortly before that, we had Sam Allen telling us that not being agreed with and obeyed amounts to being “silenced,” and that her associates “will act in a way that will ensure they will be heard.” Specifically, by setting fire to Tesco stores and terrifying their neighbours with all-night rioting, and then threatening to do it again unless their demands are met. Such are the privileges of fighting for “social justice.” 

Today, Lanre Bakare, recipient of a Scott Trust bursary, is applauding graffiti and its “rising popularity”:

Now graffiti’s more outspoken critics are being drowned out again by fans and supporters, such as academics at the University of Bristol, who want to see Banksy’s work receive listed status… The critics of graffiti and street art will keep saying they have no artistic merit and should be marginalised, not publicly funded. If Banksy’s pieces do get listed status the debate will be opened up again.

Actually, the strongest objections to graffiti generally hinge not on aesthetics, but on a more prosaic detail. Defacing and damaging someone else’s property - just because you can - simply isn’t cool, dude. “Street art” rarely suggests great artistry - more typically the impression given is of territorial scent marking and a kind of moral autism. A belief that something you’d find insulting and aggravating if done to you and your belongings can nonetheless be done to others because… well, because you’re so amazingly radical and important.

The millionaire “anti-capitalist” Banksy would have us believe that “crime against property is not real crime,” though residents and business owners whose property has been defaced and who’ve been left with the cost of cleaning and repair may take a rather different, less sophisticated view. Especially given that such crime tends to affect people who earn considerably less than Banksy. Lest we forget, graffiti, like broken windows, can act as a signal to other vandals and predators. And the residents of graffiti-blighted neighbourhoods, which can subsequently become blighted by other forms of crime, may find little comfort in the notion that their own taxes could soon be funding and legitimising more of the same.

Continue reading "It’s Cool When It’s Done to Other People" »

Elsewhere (47)

John Rosenberg on when cartoon narcissism becomes a job for life:

The time is fast approaching (if it is not already here) when a student can be admitted to a selective university largely on the basis of his or her racial or ethnic identity; major in his or her identity; go to graduate school (also aided by preferential admissions) and get a PhD in his or her identity; and have an entire academic career based on professing his or her identity, perhaps rewarded at some point with elevation to a vice presidency in charge of “diversity and inclusion” to oversee the management and expansion of university-wide programmes based on racial and ethnic identity.

Charlotte Allen on the hardships and heroism of a Women’s Studies professor: 

Lynn Comella’s research and teaching interests include media and popular culture, gender and consumer culture, sexuality studies, and ethnographic research. She is presently at work on a book project that explores the history and retail culture of women-owned sex toy stores in the United States.

Christopher Hitchens on excusing evil:

The proper task of the “public intellectual” might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either. To the government and most of the people of the United States, it seemed that the country on 9/11 had been attacked in a particularly odious way (air piracy used to maximise civilian casualties) by a particularly odious group (a secretive and homicidal gang: part multinational corporation, part crime family) that was sworn to a medieval cult of death, a racist hatred of Jews, a religious frenzy against Hindus, Christians, Shia Muslims, and “unbelievers,” and the restoration of a long-vanished and despotic empire. […]

That this was an assault upon our society, whatever its ostensible capitalist and militarist “targets,” was again thought too obvious a point for a clever person to make. It became increasingly obvious, though, with every successive nihilistic attack on London, Madrid, Istanbul, Baghdad, and Bali. There was always some “intellectual,” however, to argue in each case that the policy of Tony Blair, or George Bush, or the Spanish government, was the “root cause” of the broad-daylight slaughter of civilians. Responsibility, somehow, never lay squarely with the perpetrators.

Attempts to be unobvious and therefore sophisticated – even at the cost of distortion and absurdity – are, for some, a regular indulgence. Not least among academics of a certain stripe.

And Guido Fawkes reminds us of the BBC’s Question Time programme that aired two days after the September 11 atrocities. Readers who saw that particular broadcast may, like me, have begun to register some now common themes. I’m not referring to the remarkable number of Guardianistas in the studio audience, which is pretty much a given, or the unhinged anti-American sentiment. What struck me at the time - for the first time - was the composition of the panel, which took the shape of one distressed American ambassador – being continually interrupted and jeered - and three prominent left-wingers. As human dust was still settling on Manhattan, our scrupulously impartial state broadcaster shared with the nation the full spectrum of political thought – from left to further left, with a token visiting dissenter as a fig leaf to “balance.” The BBC’s flagship political debate programme is currently edited by Nicolai Gentchev, previously an editor of Radio 4’s Today and a former contributor to such lofty publications as the International Socialism Journal and Socialist Review. Noting the political composition of Question Time panels has in recent years become an armchair sport.

As usual, feel free to add your own.

I’ve Locked the Liquor Cabinet

Your host is off in search of blogging mojo. By all means dull the pain by browsing the updated greatest hits

Its intrigues include a brief guide to leftist psychology, a vivid demonstration of pretentious guilt, and a glimpse at what happens when presumption and callousness become badges of feminist virtue. On a loftier note, the arts coverage may be of interest. And there’s plenty to entertain readers who find the comment pages of the Guardian inadvertently hilarious and morally bewildering.

Back in a few days.

Friday Ephemera

For when there’s a fire in a girls’ college dormitory. // Bubbles + ferrofluid + magnetism. // A sonar glove for blind people. // Government plus booze machines, what could possibly go wrong? (h/t, The Thin Man) // For surfers who don’t like getting wet. // Porcelain flowers. // Vespa sculptures. // Post-it note warfare. // The Phil Collins weather report. // Now that’s a cloud. // Additional digits. // A chart of time spent using Tupperware. // Cockatoo versus laser pointer. // Postmodern pizza. // National parks, seen from space. // Superheroes over 40. // And it’s probably best not to buy your electronic goods in a McDonald’s car park.