August 30th, 2009 § § permalink
The inane, paranoid meme that Europe is about to be overrun by evil Muslims has somehow managed to burst out of the right-wing cul-de-sac in which it deserves to be confined, and spreading tentacles far more dangerously than is its purported target.
Of the resistance against obnoxious stupidity, this dissection of a recent book on the subject has deservedly got a lot of links. But the one I’m really enjoying is this article from the Guardian. It steps back slightly from the neverending claims and counter-claims, and gets a better view of the whole picture:
Ordinary Muslims in Europe, who suffer from the demoralisation caused by living as perennial objects of suspicion and contempt, are far from thinking of themselves as a politically powerful, or even cohesive, community, not to speak of conquerors of Europe. So what explains the rash of bestsellers with histrionic titles – While Europe Slept, America Alone, The Last Days of Europe?
It also raises a historical angle on the French veil debate which I hadn’t previously been aware of:
The veil, fixed in the 19th century by the French as a symbol of Islam’s primitive backwardness, was used to justify the brutal pacification of north African Muslims and to exclude them from full citizenship.
August 29th, 2009 § § permalink
Jim Jay has an impressively wide reading list; he’s always pointing out interesting articles I’d never have found otherwise.
A recent link from Jim Jay’s impressively wide reading-list: violent slum clearance in an area of Sao Paulo called ‘Capao Redondo’*.
This kind of thing is doubtless happening all the time; there’s a general bubble that I almost always ignore. I only notice it now because I’m midway through Mike Davis’ book ‘planet of slums’. Davis does a particularly good job of taking slum settlement and clearances out of the falsely clear-cut world of legal vs. illegal, and pointing out the nexus of power and money — tolerance of ‘illegal’ slums either because they are inevitable (the people have nowhere else to go) or even because squatters help prepare land which can then be developed privately.
*Not knowing anything about Brazil, I’m flummoxed the details. Wikipedia claims the population of Capåo Redondo as 300,000, but the eviction seems to be only of a far smaller area within that.
August 29th, 2009 § § permalink
Embargoes in journalism are dying, according to Owni — various outlets including the Wall Street Journal have decided to ignore them. Blame internet-time.
August 27th, 2009 § Enter your password to view comments. § permalink
August 16th, 2009 § § permalink
This passage by Oscar Wilde is rattling around my head for about five reasons, none of which I can properly explain without offending somebody. So I’ll let it stand alone:
the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives…..
For a town or country labourer to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No; a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and rebellious is probably a real personality, and has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them.
– from The Soul of Man under Socialism
August 15th, 2009 § Enter your password to view comments. § permalink
August 11th, 2009 § § permalink
I’ve lately been bingeing on German films (why yes, I have been feeling homesick, how did you guess?). Germany at present seems to be churning out a good number of decent films, although I’m not enough of a buff to say whether [claims](http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/the-germans-are-coming-446519.html) of a golden age are more than hype.
_The Edukators_ (2004) is certainly a good film, albeit far from flawless. Roughly speaking, it’s a political take on the caper film, with a love triangle thrown in for good measure. Jan, Peter and Jule are young Berliners, embroiled in anti-globalization campaigning that they know is useless. Unbeknown to Jule, Jan and Peter have a second life as a team of anticapitalist pranksters, who ransack the homes of the rich, without stealing anything, in the hope of showing them the error of their ways.
Not the most direct way of fighting the system, perhaps, but in the world of the film personality always trumps practicality. Among ‘the edukators’, politics with the personal. If, as they daub on a wall at one point, “every heart is a revolutionary cell”, then simply wanting to “live wild and free” is enough to fight the system.
Naturally, this can’t last. Surprised by the owner of a house they have broken into, they kidnap him so he cannot turn them in to the police. This is when the real education begins, as the three youngsters lie low in a mountain village with their captive, Hardenberg. This latter turns out to be not just a businessman but also a disillusioned radical, a child of the 60s for whom the “long march through the institutions” led to becoming part of the system. The film just about manages to contrast the viewpoints of its characters: yes, they’re muddled and disoriented, but then so is their reality.
The director is fairly clear about his [propaganda aims](http://www.taz.de/index.php?id=archivseite&dig=2004/11/25/a0120):
>As you leave the cinema, you should have the feeling “if I, as a young person — and youth has nothing at all to do with age — have the feeling that something is wrong with the world — I am not happy, I am angry, then this feeling must come out, must be translated into action. Otherwise it could make me ill”
Incidentally, I can’t help giggling at the need for the faux-German title. The group in the film give themselves the far-less-sexy name of “Die Erziehungsberechtigten” (meaning something like “the guardians”), while the German title of the film was the uninspiring slogan “Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei” (the years of plenty are over). Phony ‘K’ or no, I think the international market got a better deal.
[This](http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/reviews/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000979975) is the best review I’ve seen; [Rotten Tomatoes](http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/edukators/) has plenty of others, and [here](http://www.filmz.de/film_2004/die_fetten_jahre_sind_vorbei/links.htm) are some links to German reviews.
August 10th, 2009 § § permalink
Theodore Zeldin’s _Intimate History of Humanity_ is a book I adored — and then prompty gave away, so that I have only the faintest memory of _why_ I adored it. Zeldin is an Oxford lecturer on French history, and his book was a wide-ranging attempt to map the history of human emotions. [perhaps it has something in common with more academic attempts to track the "[mood music of history](http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n15/hobs01_.html)” — but Zeldin’s book, being aimed at the general reader, could draw connections and inferences in a style impossible within the academy].
Anyway, I recently looked online to see what he’s been up to lately, and was delighted to see he’s turned his life towards a program implicit in what he’d been writing. That is, attempting not just to bring people together, but to provide them with the tools to understand one another. He’s given it institutional cover under the name of the [Oxford Muse Foundation](http://www.oxfordmuse.com/), aiming to develop “less superficial conversations between individuals, families, work colleagues and communities”. It’s thus placing itself at that oddly-crowded nexus between primary-school teachers, political organizers, psychiatrists, couchsurfers and business consultants. Whether it’s really a good thing — well, that depends largely on execution. The things they’ve done so far — having people write descriptions of one another’s lives, and providing ‘menus’ of conversation topics as icebreakers — sound like decent, if hardly revolutionary, ideas. But, success or failure, I’m glad to see it happen — certainly it’s better than writing more books on French history.
August 9th, 2009 § § permalink
Best way to find music: share a bedroom, share an office. Between people playing me their favourites, and the need to drown out background noise, I’ve probably spent more time wearing headphones these last six weeks than in the previous six months. Mostly the easy-to-ignore genres that are perfect background music to work to (psytrance, industrial, metal, and sometimes foreign pop). Also, though, things that demand more attention and then worm their way deeper into your body, until you need to pull them back out by naming them.
First among them, [Silent Shout](http://www.metacritic.com/music/artists/knife/silentshout?q=silent%20shout) (2006) by brother-sister electronica pair The Knife.
Many reviews describe this as a ‘cold’ album. To me, it’s not so much cold as alien. The key is in the vocals, Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice twisted, blended and echoed into a chorus of androgynous, even inhuman sounds. This is the the Midwich Cuckoos, telepathically linked and talking (almost) with one tongue. Most literally in From off to on, as menacing children:
When we come home, we want it quiet and calm
We want you to sing us a song
When we come home, we pull the curtains down
Making sure that the TV is on
But the same voices are present We share our mother’s health, this time as refugees from Eden (We came down from the north, blue hands and a torch). And in The Captain they emerge as grizzled sailors:
We are out of wind
We have pock-marked chin
We have lots of water
We turn the other cheek and we win
This is what makes the album — the aura of sinister closeness of the hive-mind. Its echoes remain even in a love-song like Marble House, as side-effects of Karin singing a duet with herself.
Not that this is a concept album; in fact, I suspect I’m reading in ideas that barely crossed the minds of Karin and Olof. Each song here is a piece by itself, with no explicit connections between them. The steadily-deepening nightmare soundscape of the title track contrasts sleepy, almost despairing vocals with an insistent background of synth arpeggios. After the end of that richness, it’s a surpise to be brought back down to the simple, panpipe-like opening of Neverland.
Most tracks on Silent Shout start something like this, taking an almost-familiar sound — a dripping tap on _Like a Pen_, clicking marbles for _Marble House_, or on _We share our mothers health_ what sounds very much like the Clangers — and quickly losing it under many more layers. The effect is most striking on Marble House, where the clicking is speeded up into some kind of crackling.
Lyrics are fairly unimportant for the first half of the album, the heavily-manipulated vocals contributing to the sound rather than telling a story. Towards the end, though, we have some more lyrically-driven pieces. In _Forest Families_ we hear a double-edged reflection on a back-to-nature childhood. It also contains a subtler form of the feminist anger which in _One Hit_ is brought to the fore (“It’s manhood’s bliss / One hit one kiss“), and powerfully combined with a worksong-like call-and-response.
Finally, _Still Light_ brings the album to a gloomy close. The singer, talking to her doctor, is facing the aftermath of — well, we don’t quite know what. A drug binge? A suicide attempt? Specificity would perhaps have detracted from the emotional landscape, which is one of bleakness, combined at the very end with faint hope and the need to continue:Now where is everybody? Is it still light outside?”
Other reviews of _Silent Shout_:
- [Stylus](http://www.stylusmagazine.com/reviews/the-knife/silent-shout.htm) (Fergal O’Reilly)
- [Adequacy.net](http://www.adequacy.net/2006/10/the-knife-silent-shout/) (Joe Davenport)
August 8th, 2009 § § permalink
One of the big political to-and-fros in France this summer is whether the government should ban wearing the burqa. It’s a calculating political move by Sarkozy, whose general M.O. has always been to stir up fear and hatred of some already-marginalized social group. Since only (http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2009/07/29/la-police-estime-marginal-le-port-de-la-burqa_1223776_3224.html) Frenchwomen wear the burqa or niqab (love that official precision), this is definitely about principles and politics rather than practicalities.
Needless to say, I’m against banning any kind of clothing. I more-or-less agree with [Sam](http://lavendersparkle.livejournal.com/126232.html) — or for that matter with Obama, with his “[I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal](http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/04/obama-speech-in-cairo-vid_n_211215.html)”. Not out of any particular respect for religions, but because any organization that tells people what to wear leaves me in blood-boiling rage about petty cruelty and closed-mindedness. In my ideal world, Sarkozy’s plan would spark a revolt from punks, goths, nudists, transvestites, and every other group that takes continual flak for how they dress. The streets would turn black as subculture kids take to covering their faces in solidarity.
That won’t happen. Partly because France doesn’t really do subcultures — a fact which, like this attempt to police clothing, is somewhere connected to the national acceptance of centralised, state-supervised homogeneity. But also because Sarkozy has chosen a victim everybody is willing to join in kicking. Theres [the](http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6565064.ece) [secularism](http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A2903663) [angle](http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2009/06/a_few_words_abo), fruit of a longstanding and widespread wariness of Church meddling in politics. There’s the feminism angle, with [Sarkozy](http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache%3ARj1pOfvGVXUJ%3Awww.elysee.fr%2Fdownload%2F%3Fmode%3Dpress%26filename%3D22_06_Congres.pdf) saying that “it isn’t a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement”, as if the meaning is obvious and universal. Or there are groups like [Ni Putes Ni Soumises](http://www.niputesnisoumises.com/), putting the same line much more credibly. But below those expressible feelings, there’s also a strong undercurrent of fear and hatred of different cultures. As [Michelle Goldberg](http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=burqa_politics_in_france) writes:
>it’s hard for Europeans to talk about [immigration] without seeming racist or xenophobic. The one place where Europeans do feel confident about defending the superiority of their own culture is in sexual matters. Feminism and sexual liberation become tools of nationalism.