Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Here Come The Tears 

The first single from The Tears - "Refugees" - is out on Monday, and I'm keen for everyone I know to buy it. Because, well, I believe in the magic of the British singles charts. Yes, I do.

Or, rather, buy it because the band are the best thing to happen to British music in ten years (since, well, the best bits of Suede, the band that 2/5 members of The Tears originally came from). The single itself is almost too catchy, but the b-sides are all excellent and very different, and there's even a 7" vinyl version for us sad gits who still play records.

And if you hate it, then just remind yourself that you'd probably only have wasted that £1.99 anyway, getting drunk/smoking/buying a guilty Macdonalds burger, or something equally frivolous...

"Nasty, brutish and short?!" 

Okay, I know that Thomas Hobbes was very advanced for his time, but whoever found this blog by searching for what he thought about gay marriage was probably searching in vain...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Hmm. Tony Blair tells us in his campaign diary that when he came to visit Birmingham yesterday, people were more interested in catching sight of Kylie Minogue, also on tour. Trust Brummies to know what's important in life...

Friday, April 15, 2005

The strangest people... 

...sell things on ebay, but the person selling this Heinrich Himmler doll obviously just has a sick sense of humour. Gay interest? Insofar as this was the man whom we might hold most responsible for killing, torturing and generally screwing over thousands of us, maybe...

Another political survey 

The previous 'who should you vote for?' survey that was going round seemed rather limited, in that the large Lib Dem result clearly can't be entirely explained by self-selecting survey takers (I hate the Lib Dems and I was still told to vote for them).

Now, there's another one - not aimed at telling you who to vote for, but assessing your general position - and it's much better. That is I like it better, because it aligned more with my own self-ascription (at least I'm honest, eh)

I came out very left wing on the internationalist rehabilitationist axis, and slightly socialist on the other axis. It's quite fun to take and more thought-provoking than others. I love the idea of a 'hanging/flogging Eurosceptic', though I wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alleyway, and I discovered that the only people more left wing than me tend to be male, older and not live in the West Midlands. But, bizarrely, readers of the Express tend to be more socialist than me.

For an interesting discussion of the survey's methods and results, see the excellent blog of its designer, Chris Lightfoot.


[Via Chris at Crooked Timber] Research shows that most ghostwritten student essays - essays that students have paid (usually) online sites to produce for them - are rubbish, just about managing to earn their purchasers third class or lower second class marks.

Well, setting aside the sort of reaction I should probably have ('good', 'serves them right' etc.), this suggests an excellent business opportunity. If most of the existing services are awful, they must rely on people for the most part only using them as a once-off affair. But what if a company was to set itself up as developing ongoing relationships with its cheating clients?

Suppose each person at our business takes on 10 to 20 students, each of whom would send in writing samples, the style of which this person would then mimic in producing essays. Couple this service with more time taken to research each answer, then the essays produced might actually be of a good quality, and the students will keep coming back. We can charge higher prices for a service that works, and moreover, the quality of essays would even improve as time went on, since we all know that most university tutors set the same essays over and over again, so that if one generation of student clients recommends the site's services to the next generation, sending their marked essays back to the company each time (for further research, naturally) corresponding improvements can be made and profits will skyrocket.

It's a million waiting to be made. Unfortunately, I have no interest in business, so it can remain a scheme in my head for when I fall on hard times.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Our essential work is denunciation 

Young Hegelian has a good post over at the Weblog, which is worth a read. I don't agree with everything in it, but that's just the way of things. For every slightly dull stab at the government's corruption and lapdogism there are good points knocking its record on its new home turf of the economy and health, as well as on 'lesser' issues like legal aid and asylum. It's also very well written, the 'pathos of indignation' emerging in every phrase. As for an electoral response to this kind of thinking, I'm not sure that even with all this in mind - and it's food for thought even for those in favour of the Iraq War - I'd vote for anyone other than Labour. I hate all the others more. But ballot scrapping is always an option, registering a more general anti-system protest than one which is simply concerned with the politics of a personality, as if Tony Blair was all that was wrong with this world.

Can porn save the planet? 

I've always found most of the people involved in environmentalist work to be somewhat boring and humourless - like many trade union activists, I support them but I wouldn't want a night out with them. But now, coming along to single-handedly change that impression, it's an eco-friendly porn site, FuckForForest.com. Here's this from an article about it:

Tommy and Leona are having sex on a tree stump in the middle of a Norwegian clear-cut. Leona, with a mop of brown dreads and a lip ring, looks dreamily across the demolished forest as Tommy, a little shaggy in nothing but a knit hat, works his magic.
A few minutes earlier, Leona and Tommy stood at the same spot lecturing about the evils of industrial forestry. But now they're moaning in feral ecstasy, overcoming the powerful negativity of the place -- the broken branches and dried-out logs -- with the juices of the life force itself.

Notorious in Norway after being brought to court for having promotional sex in public, this group is now based in Berlin. Videos from here include such sights as Leona beating another naked woman with a huge leek, and flesh piles in the city's night clubs.

Entirely consensual and romantic - the site is run by Tommy, Leona and their friends - this doesn't have the female exploitation problems involved with some of PETA's poster campaigns, for example; and unlike sites like Veg Porn it's designed purely for the purposes of raising money for environmentalist causes (rather than for kinky tofu kicks).

Unfortunately, it seems that most of these causes are much happier to reinforce the traditional environmentalist image than raise money, and have been refusing to take the site's donations. Given that FFF has raised $100,000 in less than a year, this prudishness is completely inexplicable. But, meanwhile, the site continues to do its work and has been cutting out the middle man to help good projects directly. Good stuff.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

For the poor oppressed majority... 

Here's a good idea. Have you been feeling that your heterosexuality is making you unwelcome in this queer-dominated society? Been told to stop flaunting it?

Well, the College Republicans of the University of Texas, Arlington are fighting back! It's the Celebration of Heterosexuality kissing contest. (Warning: graphic content, which some viewers may find offensive)

I can't wait for this particular Pride celebration to reach a town near me...

The backlash 

I wonder whether the downturn in Apple's forecasted profits has anything to do with the Bush revelations. I was disturbed enough to find that I shared a fair bit of music in common with him - Alejandro Escavado, The Gourds, Joni Mitchell etc. Of course, with nearly 300/860 tracks on my iTunes being country music, I don't think I could ever have claimed to be cool...

...but I thought I was at least cooler than him!

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Holy Spook and Cannibalistic Consumption 

Schools in Norfolk are to be prevented from referring to the Holy Ghost - it sounds too trivial and spooky - or to Christ's body and blood (in reference to the sacraments) - it sounds too much like Christians engage in flesh-eating - in religious education about Christianity. Moreover, even the Old testament must be given a new name. 'Old' stuff sounds too, well, old.

All the new school guidelines are marvellous actually. Not only do they imply that hitherto schoolchildren have thought of Christians as cannibals; they also imply that Muslims have been thought of as terrorists (of course), Jews as constantly moaning (against the [strike]Wailing[/strike] Western Wall, and Hindus weirdo masochists.

From now on, it seems, we can only think of religion as a purely rational enterprise. Which, I think, kind of misses the point... Great stuff.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Unitarian Jihad 

There's a very funny article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Jon Carroll:

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

The article is in general an attack on the increasing trend of giving 'balanced' airtime to religious fanatics of all colours, rather than aiming for balance through reasonable moderation. It goes on:

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.

And spawned from this article, now you can get your own unitarian jihad name. Mine was Sister Cattle Prod of Loving Kindness, but it's entirely random of course...

Reaching the wider public 

Jared Woodard, over at A Gauche, has an interesting piece asking who's reading secondary literature these days.

I've long thought that if a lot of academics' salaries weren't hanging on not doing anything like this, easily the best way to make intellectual advances would be through institutionalised academic blogging. That way, arguments could be made, refuted and modified rapidly, without wasting the reams of paper which usually go on padding out - i.e. summarising previous arguments, or couching the writer's own arguments in analytical/critical jargon - the three or four new points that any given piece of secondary literature usually has to make on its subject. With such padding removed, most people could take an interest in the discussion, and certainly advances would be more rapid.

But as long as academic literature remains in print, then arguing that these books aren't best sellers because people simply aren't interested in the subjects they cover is to misplace the blame completely. I know many of us like to think that we're unusual in our interests, but almost all areas of research - particularly in areas like philosophy, politics and history - could have a resonance well beyond the study or the lecture hall. Certainly, there are some areas of research which have no more than esoteric interest, but if that's in the nature of the subject matter, why complain when it receives no wider audience?

Of course, the real problem in reaching such an audience lies in the fact that most secondary literature is written incredibly badly. How people can spend so much time reading great literature of the sort produced by Plato, Rousseau or Marx, without their talent rubbing off in at least a small way, I don't know, but hundreds do. I know that claims of this sort, and calls for more lucid prose in general, usually garner accusations of dumbing down, but it's not condescending to write a book or an article that at least approximates the standard vocabulary of a reasonably intelligent non-academic in the 21st century.

This point goes without saying when it comes to fiction. What makes a long-lasting best-seller? A subject matter with reasonably universal resonance, sure, but also a writing talent. For example, I think Voltaire's ideas are for the most part complete crap, lacking real depth and originality at every turn, but he could write very well, and books like Candide are read for fun by a lot of people even now, where many more interesting thinkers from the same period are not.

Thus, like the vast majority of the reading public, I would never choose to read Judith Butler over JK Rowling, but that's not because I'd rather spend my time reading about wizards than thinking about gender performativity and the deconstruction of heteronormative discourse. It's because the way in which Butler writes - witness these phrases alone! - is inherently alienating. (Incidentally, a friend recently referred to married couples as heteronormative dyads - I nearly belted her).

If academics are serious about reaching wider audiences - and I don't really believe most of them are - then they need to take a lesson from those works which do reach such audiences, and learn to write.

Good news, good news... 

Michael Brooke is back - for how long, I don't know - and his main link now points to a rather fetching family portrait.

Redefining democracy 

I hate to admit that I've been watching the BBC's royal wedding coverage online, but I was very amused by one moment. The reporters had just been commenting on a 'future king' (lord help us) getting married in a normal guild hall. BBC presenter - "it's more democratic, isn't it?"

Yes, well... The royals have always been the promoters of democracy, of course. Their sheer idiocy brings it closer every day.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Black Spot 

Well, I've been away from blogging so long that I haven't really been paying attention to this particular infestation. But since Chris has passed the stick along, I'd better run with it.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

I first took this question to be a way of asking me how quickly I wanted to get burned, and thought of Mills & Boon - this way my death would at least be mercifully quick, as thousands of librarians enthusiastically chuck them on the fire. But since it seems to be a question about what I'd save, it'd probably be Plato's Republic. Then if everything else was burned, we could at least start over again. But since I always liked my totalitarian states deep fried, so I might go for something frivolous like the complete works of Dorothy Parker instead.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

No, but my parents tell me I idolised Dennis The Menace when I was about 6, if that counts.

What are you currently reading?

Well, I'm almost entirely on work books right now. But the book I've been on for some time now, and will probably remain reading a page at a time until early June, is Umberto Eco's The Name Of The Rose. It's absolutely brilliant, though, so maybe one day I'll finish it and post a twenty five years too late review here.

The last book you bought is:

"Cities Of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century" by Peter Hall. It was one of those slightly self-interested birthday presents that I hope to borrow back from its recipient at some point.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

I'd be tempted to take one book in five different languages, and spend the time learning the languages by comparison. However, I can't think of any book I could really bear to do that with, though the Bible or the Communist Manifesto are obvious - but unattractive - choices.

So I'll go for: Thomas Mann - The Magic Mountain, because in about a dozen attempts I've never managed beyond 20 pages of it, and I've been told it's wonderful; James Joyce - Ulysses, ditto; Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, assuming I'll be there for a very long time; Arthur Miller - Death Of A Salesman, still my favourite play to read, though I know there are many better; and, for viewing pleasure, "The Singular Art Of Julian Murphy".

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Hmm... Most people seem to have done this already, and I'm feeling too lazy to find out who hasn't. Perhaps John B , that staunch campaigner against the theocratic junta? Otherwise, I think I'll broadcast that these sticks are up for grabs, as Norm did, to be democratic (and lazy). And if you want a more personal invitation, just ask me and I'll edit this post to pretend I passed it on to you in the first place...

UPDATE: I've been told to pass it on to Matthew Turner too!
UPDATE 2: And Michael Brooke, who, like me, seems to have given in to the temptation to do a bit of blogging again (though no doubt he had better reasons than me for stopping)


This was another film that faces the problem of portraying a man who appears to us more often as a caricature than as a human. Of course, this caricature is much more famous and, as Ian Kershaw has pointed out, there's surprisingly little to worry about in seeing the Hitler of his last days as human. By this point events seemed to have developed their own impetus, and Hitler's personal madness was so far developed that the threat some feel when faced with flesh-and-blood evil in a film or elsewhere is quickly dissipated.

Indeed, while at times during The Woodsman I felt more sympathetic to Bacon's paedophile than I think was intended, this problem never arose at all with Bruno Ganz's superb performance as Hitler. What's presented here is an evil man, trying in vain to rule over the last desperate days of a dying regime. The story's well known and nothing new emerges here - no hint that we might have misjudged him, for example. This film's power lies simply in the sheer spectacle it presents.

If there is anything that's new to say about this period, it could be better said by a book than a film. But a book could never really convey the absurdity of events from moment to moment in Hitler's Bunker, which this film does almost perfectly. With death and the Soviet army on all sides, high-ranking officials discuss the best method of suicide while abandoning themselves to dancing and drink.

More than Hitler with his constant mood swings, it was the madness of those surrounding him - and Eva Braun in particular - that really struck me throughout. Braun's relentless cheeriness - insisting that people continue to dance as bombs fall all around, for example - went well beyond the sort of hysteria we sometimes see in such desperate situations. It was sheer mania; the humanity almost gone. I don't know whether this was intended, of course, but it was certainly an interesting sight.

But such sights are all this film can really give us that's new. It's very well done, deservingly praised, and I recommend it highly. But the chaos and madness had advanced too far by April 1945 for it to present the audience - even a German audience - with anything that might really be uncomfortable. For that, it would have needed to go much further back, to see how these things came to pass. Without that, even the continual insistences that the German people themselves were responsible for their fate can have little impact.

The Woodsman 

I'm surprised The Woodsman has received so little attention, as it's one of the best things Kevin Bacon has done - and I think he's almost always excellent. Of course, this may be something to do with the film's subject matter, but I'd have thought that would lead to more rather than less media coverage.

The film portrays a recently paroled paedophile, placed in a small flat opposite a school and given a job in a lumberyard full of other ex-convicts. Right from the beginning everyone expects him to re-offend and the film is to a large extent about his struggle not to do so, while trying to fit back into a hostile society.

It's a very sensitive film about an over-sensitive subject. Bacon's performance is award-worthy, and Kyra Sedgwick - his love interest - was pretty good too. The film managed to portray Bacon's character as someone human, without ever excusing, or even forgiving, what he had done in the past. This is a hard line to tread, as his performance is so good that I often felt sympathetic towards him, even when he was at his least repentant, as, for example, when he spends most of his hours staring out of the window at the children playing below.

The film did finish a little too neatly for my liking, though I won't say quite what happened. I'd expected - and perhaps hoped for - something more like American History X, where the main protagonist realises that Nazism isn't such a good thing after all, only to be shot down by a black boy he's been bullying as he walks to school to tell his teacher how much he's changed. It's not just I'm relentlessly morbid, though of course I am; I simply think that a known paedophile, surrounded by generally nasty and violent people, is probably going to be killed before he ever gets a chance to come to terms with his past.

Nevertheless, a good film overall, and the most sensible I've seen on the subject. A little too moralising, but I doubt we could ever expect anything else from anyone who might want to work again.

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