October 31st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Ha! Is this really true? Harry Rowohlt is perhaps Germany’s best-known translator from English, and also sports a beard that could compete with Alan Moore or Richard Stallman. Apparently he moonlights on the soap Lindenstrasse, playing a hobo? Brilliant :)

Hegemann

October 31st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Not only is Helene Hegemann a bona fide genius, but she can put together a delightfully sharp response to her (many, 90% stupid) critics:

Im Januar wurde mein Roman Axolotl Roadkill veröffentlicht. In diesem Roman geht es nicht primär um Drogen oder Sex oder eine bestimmte Generation. Schon gar nicht geht es um Grenzen zwischen Generationen, Geschlechtern, Altersgruppen oder sozialen Schichten. Wenn es überhaupt um irgendeine Grenze geht, und das muss es ja in einer alles und jedem bestimmte Wertesysteme und Raster überstülpenden Gesellschaft, geht es um eine Grenze, die sich durch jeden Menschen zieht. Und um eine Gruppe von Leuten, die ihr Leben dieser Grenze, diesem Riss, dieser Widersprüchlichkeit verschreiben, anstatt das abzulaufen, was unter glatter »Normalität« verstanden wird und genauso wenig funktioniert wie »Asozialität« oder »Verwahrlosung«.

Aber, obwohl wir 2010 haben: Rebellion ist eben doch nicht bloß die leere Geste, die sich insgeheim eigentlich alle aus Bequemlichkeit erhoffen. Wir sind an einem Punkt angekommen, an dem sich nicht mehr gegen konkret abzusteckende Altersgruppen rebellieren lässt und an dem sich sowohl 13-Jährige als auch 60-Jährige als »linksalternative Spinner« und »rechtskonservative Wichser« beschuldigen oder sich streiten, weil einer von ihnen bloß Black Metal hört und der andere, wie nennt man das, Indiemusik und natürlich so Sachen von früher. Na ja.

October 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Charles Stross rages against Steampunk

Forget wealthy aristocrats sipping tea in sophisticated London parlours; forget airship smugglers in the weird wild west. A revisionist mundane SF steampunk epic — mundane SF is the socialist realist movement within our tired post-revolutionary genre — would reflect the travails of the colonial peasants forced to labour under the guns of the white Europeans’ Zeppelins, in a tropical paradise where severed human hands are currency and even suicide doesn’t bring release from bondage. (Hey, this is steampunk — it needs zombies and zeppelins, right?)

…which is almost appealing enough to make me try NaNoWriMo. Almost

Art as efficiency-porn

October 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

In recent weeks, I’ve been becoming increasingly dependent on art to get me through the day. My actual life is bland and featureless; working on things I believe in and care about intellectually, but boring myself silly doing it. The only way to con myself into concentrating is with a kick of words or music or pictures. Then 20 minutes of hand-waving ecstasy, settling down to a lingering vague sense of meaningfulness, that can easily be transferred to whatever dreary task I’m supposed to be working on. It feels somehow nastier than achieving the same effect with caffeine or self-discipline; like using manuscripts as firelighters or something.

Particularly useful is anything implying that the current moment is somehow important, that there’s some reason to be emotionally focussed on now, rather than listlessly comparing it to tomorrow. So there’s the line from _Possession_, for example:
“when I go away from here, this will be the mid-point, to which everything ran, before, and from which everything will run. But now, my love, we are here, we are now, and those other times are running elsewhere.”

And when that’s too bleakly romantic for me, I look back to Alba De Cespedes’ poems of love in Paris ’68, in a last night of closeness before normality is restored:


Encore un soir,
le dernier,
nous serons entre nous:
les fous d’amour et de révolte.
Cette rive sera encore
la nôtre;
à nous seuls, prison, ghetto,
léproserie.
One more night,
the last,
we’ll be together:
delerious with love and revolt.
This bank will still
be ours,
ours alone: prison, ghetto,
lepers’ colony

Similarly, on Sunday I went to see a friend playing in a small band. What really shook me were the support band. And then not musically, but because the singer was obviously in the midst of some fairly serious depression**. Being able to spend an hour staring at somebody in that state was — terrifying? powerful? horrifying? All the little traits that I can normally only see in isolation, blending together into self-reinforcing patterns.

* necessary guilt-disclaimer that, for all this talk about work, I’m not in fact doing a huge amount of it.

** or yes, maybe it was all an act. If so it was simultaneously an impressive feat of acting and not at all suitable for a gig.

A woman walks into a gym

October 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

My squeamishness about violence and competition doesn’t stop me enjoying martial arts films. I skip quickly through the big fights, and concentrate on what I’m really there for: the training scenes. There’s place in my heart for anything that fetishises hard work and long hours: the West Wing, the Devil Wears Prada and Press Gang all fit the bill. But martial arts is the only film genre to really place this on a pedestal (with other sports films coming in a distant second).

I’ve just discovered Million Dollar Baby, a boxing film with a particularly harsh light on the training process. Maggie Fitzgerald is a female boxer, who with difficulty persuades washed-up coach Frankie to train her.

Frankie’s gym has the low-rent grubbiness typical of boxing films. So as Frankie starts to clock up the hours — training late into the night after everybody else has left — she’s doing so in an impressively unglamorous environment. Just a punching bag, a dim pool of light, and Frankie.

We don’t rely on gritted teeth or fixed stares to show how determined she is. Because determination — here and in reality — is present less in the moments of peak work, than in months and years of hard work and sacrifice. It’s present in her diet of leftovers filched from the diner where she works, in the monastic environment of her home, in the dollars saved for boxing equipment. Above all it’s in that late-night pool of light, the activities she returns to because she doesn’t have — doesn’t believe she _can_ have — anything else in her life.

To make a fighter, you gotta strip ‘em down to bare wood. You can’t just tell ‘em “forget everything you know”, you gotta make ‘em forget it in their bones. Make ‘em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say, and nothing else.

October 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

the Global War on Terror (the officially retired title soldiers on in popular usage, despite the Obama administration’s weird new appellation “Overseas Contingency Operation”)

Bolaño

October 26th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

“purportedly, Bolano used to write for 20, 40 hours at a time before passing out and then waking up and doing it all over again”

[source otherwise uninteresting]

and from a profile in the NYT — nicely-crafted but again underwhelming:

His subjects are sex, poetry, death, solitude, violent crime and the desperate glimmers of transcendence that sometimes attend them. The prose is dark, intimate and sneakily touching

Nalanda

October 26th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

The Independent reports on plans for the re-establishment of Nalanda. It has all the markers of a ‘flagship’ project that will mainly serve to fluff politicians’ egos and divert large amounts of money towards elites. Still, I can’t bring myself to be entirely grudging about it.

Peter Thiel

October 26th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Peter Thiel, Paypal co-founder and early Facebook investor, on politics and women:

Thiel announced: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” The public, he says, doesn’t support unregulated, winner-take-all capitalism and so he doesn’t support the public making decisions. This anti-democratic proclamation comes with some curious historical analysis. Thiel says that the Roaring 20s were the last period when it was possible for supporters of freedom like him to be optimistic about politics. “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron,” he writes.

[from a delightfully vicious Slate profile]

It’s scary to think that this guy’s wealth and power are orders of magnitude above anything I could ever come close to attaining.

October 26th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Another piece of regressive crisis-response, this time by the German government. They’re reducing the eco-tax, and in place increasing cigarette taxes (TAZ. In other words, tax the poor and let polluting big business get away unaffected.

October 26th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Tiger Beatdown:

One of the things that’s really important in this life, and in any form of political engagement, is to be aware that no-one is actually “one of ours.” Which is to say: The instinct you have to protect someone who seems to side with you, and to gloss over their crimes, is a bad one.

October 26th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

LRB on Blair’s memoirs

He faced two serious and determined enemies during his time in Downing Street: al-Qaida and Gordon Brown. One, he concluded, represented a force so strong and rooted that it had to be uprooted and destroyed, since confrontation was inevitable; the only question was when and how. The other had to be contained, because stepping over the line would have been crazy and made war inevitable. But why on earth did he think that al-Qaida was an example of the first, and Gordon Brown of the second, rather than the other way round?

October 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Cute Cthulhu is the scariest Cthulhu of all:

Part of this horrible obscenity lies in the ability of cute to undermine human reason and agency. The return of the Great Old Ones will reduce every human being unlucky enough to be alive to utter helplessness. But so too do we all become drooling sock-puppets of mammalian algorithms when confronted with furry exteriors, chirpy voices, disproportionately large eyes and heads, charming reductions of scale, and goofy facial expressions.

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October 20th, 2010 § Enter your password to view comments. § permalink

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Colorless green ideas sleep furiously

October 17th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

What I don’t understand about this, is why Chomsky chose such a lousy phrase to make his point. Only somebody who’s never had a nightmare could deny the possibility of sleeping furiously, while you could easily describe the output of some environmental think-tank as ‘colorless green ideas’. On another tack: what is Cthulhu, if not a ‘green idea sleeping furiously’?

257 is 257 + 0

October 16th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

A python gotcha I never knew of before:


Python 2.6.5 (release26-maint, Aug 20 2010, 17:50:24)
[GCC 4.4.3] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> 0 is 0 + 0
True
>>> 256 is 256 + 0
True
>>> 257 is 257 + 0
False
>>>

Atelier Überall

October 15th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

This month I began working in a little place called Atelier Überall, which pretty close to my concept of the ideal place to live and work. I’m writing this as people gradually arrive for a video/dance/performance-art party that’s promising to multiply nervous influxes to over-saturate and over-load me. i.e. just about the right level of creative shamelessness* for me.

The rest of the week there’s also almost always _something_ else happening: gatherings of VJs, flamenco classes, video filming, artists using it as a studio, musicians practising in basement, in addition to the Berlin-standard assemblage of designers, writers, illustrators and the occasional geek. It’s possibly the busiest place I’ve ever worked — but somehow in a non-distracting way. It’s pretty wonderful being able to spent a couple of hours focussed on work, and know that when you look up _somehing_ interesting will be happening. Doesn’t hurt that, by and large, they’re good at what they do, or at least seriously dedicated to it, which all works together to make it a place I totally trust.

* I’m tempted to write ‘pretentiousness’, because that’s the only word I can think of in the vicinity. But I hate the implications of dishonesty or social climbing. What I really mean is people being sufficiently self-confident and true-to-themselves to create things regardless