What kind of pervert are you

January 28th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

At the New Yorker, Anthony Lane reviews two films filled with sex.
Shame depicts the life of sex-obsessed Brandon, a New Yorker who fills every free moment with fucking. And in Sleeping Beauty, student Lucy earns cash by taking a sleeping pill and making her unconscious body available for the use of paying customers.

Though neither film is explicitly about fantasy, each describes a kind of fantasy. That of Sleeping Beauty — from the viewpoint of the client — is of easy control, availability. That of Shame is about extremes of emotion. It’s Apollo and Dionysius, transposed to a world where Apollo is getting in on sex.

Sex, here, isn’t necessarily sex — it’s a McGuffin which could stand for any activity which is coveted, or extreme, or intense. Anything which becomes an object of desire, which is fixated on and fantasized about, becomes twisted in a similar way. One kind of mind layers on organized parades of passive partners; another craves extremes of expressed emotion.

Nothing is so neat, of course. For a start, the taming of emotion has an apepal all of its own. Lane, coincidentally, suggests this of Shame director Steve McQueen. His earlier film Hunger:

was imperilled by the coolness of its own gaze. The wall of a jail cell, smeared with excrement as an act of protest, was filmed with such compositional care that it became, in effect, a work of abstract art, allowing us to forget what it actually was: human waste, applied with human rage, and surely unbearable to the human nose. McQueen could hardly be hipper, yet he remains, to an extent, an old-fashioned aesthete, drawn to extreme behavior in his characters not because of any trials of spirit that they undergo but because he is challenging himself to unleash the wildest material that he, wielding his camera, can then possess and tame.

And if the more you think about it, the convoluted all this gets. Not a breakdown, so much as epicycles upon epicycles, an Apollonian OCD trying to leave its grip on the chaos of human passion.

Sleepy Berlin subcultures

January 27th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Momus argues that Berlin doesn’t even have the money for its subcultures to sell out:

Berlin sometimes seems like a museum of youth culture styles we invented in Britain: punk, goth, Spiral Tribe crusty. In Britain there’s a perpetual dialectic between alternative lifestyles and the money system, which means that within a couple of years any given subcultural style will have been turned into a big business club scene, and then, shortly after that, will be the soundtrack and the style of a bank commercial, and, just after that, will be utterly naff, dead and unmentionable. But in Berlin it seems that punk, goth, industrial and rave looks are adopted for life by people who live them as permanent subcultural styles, entirely apart from the money system. Nobody hypes them up, buys them out, and flogs them dead. The styles are “timeless and eternal”, the visual corollary of a life of protest and tolerated companionable deviance. Their adepts resemble post-protestant monks and nuns who’ve taken lifetime vows (“I will own two big dogs and make sculpture out of junk”). It’s touching but also somewhat appalling.

Protestant values and the spirit of rebellion

January 26th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink


Mediterranean cultures—and I’d include that whole tranche of peninsulas from Greece to France—tend to avoid the extremities of subcultural style, and I think it’s because these tend to originate in Protestant and Post-Protestant cultures (the US, UK, Holland, Germany) and be an expression of “protest” values, a permanent “reformation”. French, Portugese, Spanish, Italians, Greeks tend to be much more family-oriented and, as you say, conformist, either Catholic or Greek Orthodox culturally, Classical-Catholic rather than Romantic-Protestant.

January 25th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

during the past 12 months a black person was 29.7 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person. That figure was 26.6 the previous year.

In 2009, black people were 10.7 times more likely to be stopped than whites under the controversial “exceptional” power

— from the Guardian — which, typically, doesn’t link to it’s sources. As far as I can see it’s from a campaign group backed by the LSE and Soros’ Open Society Justice Initiative

A medium to embrace in

January 24th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Part of the glory of Norman Rush’s novel Mating is that it’s about loving by doing:

“Supposing we had met in the eighteen nineties, say, when there was nothing ambiguous about socialism being the answer to everything. It would have been obvious that the collective ownership fo the means of production was all that was needed to make us happy. That would have been a medium for us to embrace in. We would have been perfect militants”

Where Sady Doyle is hiding

January 23rd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Over the last few months, I’ve repeatedly headed to Tiger Beatdown, hoping to find something new from Sady Doyle. There never was.

I’d worried that she had stopped writing for some reason — job, depression, burnout, any of the usual downers. Gladly, it turns out the opposite is true — she’s found places to pay her for words.

In These Times, Rookie. Sady links these and others on twitter.

My favourite of her recent articles is about women in comedy:

They’re comedians; being pretty and nice is not their job.

What makes comedians transgressive, from Lucille Ball to Ken Jeong, is their willingness to look bad in public. Women have never been encouraged to cultivate this fearlessness. There are exceptions – Ball or Joan Rivers come to mind – but they tend to prove the rule. Lady Loser Comedy opens up the game. Women who have the profane deadpan of McCarthy, or the cool prickliness of Fey or the off-rhythm intensity of Wiig: They’re not excluded any more. They embarrass themselves, they’re completely inappropriate, and that’s fine; it’s comedy.

Chinese reaction to SOPA

January 22nd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

At the New Yorker, Evan Osnos has an entertaining round-up of how the online wags of China have responded to SOPA. Mostly, it seems, with humor:

At last, the planet is becoming unified: We are ahead of the whole world, and the ‘American imperialists’ are racing to catch up.”

“I’ve come up with a perfect solution: You can come to China to download all your pirated media, and we’ll go to America to discuss politically sensitive subjects.”

When Hitchens was useful

January 21st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The significance of Hitchens passing may have more to do with the fact that he was the last of a dying (no pun intended) breed — the erudite, iconoclast commentator who kept up with current events so you wouldn’t have to. It’s not that iconoclasm or erudition as such has disappeared. Instead, it has become generalized, through blogging, and in the process has been deprived of its exchange value.


The Economist on state capitalism

January 20th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Since 2008, I’ve been repeatedly amused by the contrast between coverage in the Economist and the Financial Times, compared to the mainstream centre-left. The bastions of liberalism see capitalism under threat; the

The social democrats rarely even mention capitalism by name, let alone predict its alteration or demise. They’re too cowed, too nervous — and, I suspect, too insecure in their understanding of economics and finance.

This week Lenin is on the cover of Economist, introducing a feature on state capitalism. By this they mean the rise of state-run companies, including from the developing world, as the new behemoths of the economy. They’re not ashamed to put it into historical terms:

The era of free-market triumphalism has come to a juddering halt, and the crisis that destroyed Lehman Brothers in 2008 is now engulfing much of the rich world. The weakest countries, such as Greece, have already been plunged into chaos….
The crisis of liberal capitalism has been rendered more serious by the rise of a potent alternative: state capitalism, which tries to meld the powers of the state with the powers of capitalism. It depends on government to pick winners and promote economic growth. But it also uses capitalist tools such as listing state-owned companies on the stockmarket and embracing globalisation.

The party line is what you’d expect. To the Economist state-run companies are better than pure socialism, but far inferior to private corporations.

I also can’t help noticing how many of their criticisms of state-run companies could equally apply to Britain’s PFIs:

Studies show that state companies use capital less efficiently than private ones, and grow more slowly. In many countries the coddled state giants are pouring money into fancy towers at a time when entrepreneurs are struggling to raise capital….everywhere state capitalism favours well-connected insiders over innovative outsiders

January 19th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Five years ago today, Armenian-Turkish editor Hrant Dink was murdered. Today 20,000 people have demonstration in Istanbul to mark his death.

Many are also angry at the outcome of a court case, involving 19 people suspected of being linked to the murder. Three were jailed for incitement to murder.

I’m often sceptical of court cases which become political causes. Some, though, genuinely do rise above the facts of the individual case to be debates about the injustices buried within the political system. Stephen Lawrence, Mumia Abu Jamal.

Hrant Dink fits among them. For a start, his killing was beyond doubt political. The trial just finished revolved around a nationalist group, whose members were

There may have been connections between them and the security services. There were certainly connections between their ideology and that of the rest of Turkish society. They were closer to the mainstream than Dink himself, who had been prosecuted for “insulting the Turkish identity”.

There’s been a fair amount of coverage of Dink today. I’m a little disappointed, though, that the Streisand effect hasn’t really kicked in, at least in the anglophone parts of the internet which I notice. It’s a shame, because the articles I’ve found by Dink are really rather good. Here he is in an article which connects Turkeys relations with the EU to the treatment of minorities within Turkish society:

the EU finds nearly all elements of Turkish society and its institutions divided against itself on the issue. Political left and right, secular and religious, nationalist and liberal, state bureaucracy and military — the situation is the same in that everywhere there are internal conflicts over Europe at least as much as conflicts between the camps.

Since no part of Turkish society is homogeneously “for” or “against” the European Union, the EU process has had a singular effect: dissolving Turkey’s existing polarisations and becoming itself the main inner dynamic of Turkish development.

Critique and innovation

January 16th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Are critique and innovation the same thing?

On Nettime, Prem Chandavarkar argues they are different, but co-existing:

The avant-garde are (to use a term from Thomas Kuhn) paradigm
shifters. Their work consists of two facets that operate
simultaneously. One is a deep critique of current paradigms of
cultural production. And the other is production of artistic work
that demonstrates a new paradigm and a new set of possibilities. One
cannot privilege either of these facets saying it is primary, and
the other derives from it – the relationship between the two is far
more complex. However the two always go together

Momus thinks, in a weaker version, that they can be:

Sometimes satire and innovation are the same thing. Everything is chugging along just fine in a discipline — pop music, design, whatever. There are norms, habits, maxims. It all looks like common sense, although in fact it’s just repetition and conformity. Then — bang! — out jump these jokers who mock the whole thing, send it up because they’re not really invested in it, terribly bored by it, and have no jobs and nothing to lose…They want to change the paradigms and put themselves at the centre of a new way of doing things. And on their mockery they build something good, against all the odds. You have to knock something down before you can build something new.

You’ll often find hints of a stronger argument from those who work through the form of criticism, or who praise it (these two unsurprisingly tend to coexist). But I’m not sure many quite cross the chasm — they may convince me that critique is a Good Thing, or that it creates conditions which favour change. But a gulf remains between that and making the change happen.

So in drama, Brecht gives us the Verfremdungseffekt, or alienation effect. This argues that critical drama should shun the euphoric escapism on offer from purely entertainment-oriented theatre. Rather, jolt the audience awake by showing them the weirdness of the present. We watch Charlie Chaplin eating a boot, for example, with great concern for his table manners. Thus we see the artificiality and the limits of, for example, our customs around eating.

Or take the cluster of thinkers around Critical Theory — anybody from Adorno through to Judith Butler. Here the focus is on the politics of words, on laying bare the hidden meaning of the present. Again, this can demonstrate what is wrong with the present — the operation of power, the closed-off areas of the unsayable. Perhaps it opens up new possibilities of expression. But does it force them?

Drug-resistant TB in India

January 15th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Very Not Good, to quote somebody on Facebook.

Drug-resistant TB has now emerged in India; it had already been found in Italy and Iran.

The development of some kind of resistance is pretty much inevitable. The speed of that development really isn’t. Nature:

Although the WHO describes TB as a “disease of poverty”, drug-resistant varieties might best be understood as resulting from poor treatment. According to a 2011 WHO report, fewer than 5% of newly diagnosed or previously treated patients are tested for drug resistance. And it is estimated that just 16% of patients with drug-resistant TB are receiving appropriate treatment.

“The cases are a story of mismanagement,” says Migliori. “Resistance is man-made, caused by exposure to the wrong treatment, the wrong regimen, the wrong treatment duration.”

In the management of TB, many factors affect whether the disease is cured or becomes resistant to treatment. Drug misuse or mismanagement can result if a patient does not follow a full course of treatment, or if the correct drugs are not available or patients with undiagnosed resistant TB receive inappropriate therapies.

And then there’s the usual economics behind it:

Tuberculosis trails behind only HIV as the world’s leading cause of death from infectious disease. But in spite of its impact on human health and economic growth, it has not ranked among the pharmaceutical industry’s priorities.

“The pharmaceutical industry had scant interest in TB for decades,” says Richard Chaisson, director of the Center for TB Research at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. “The industry pretty much concluded it wasn’t an attractive market, there was not enough potential profit.”

Dividends of Crime

January 14th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Good news of the week: the Serious Fraud Office has grown some teeth. For the first time, they’ve confiscated dividends paid out by a fraudulant company.

This has been possible for many years — the Proceeds of Crime Act enables confiscation of money earned through criminal behaviour, even if it has since changed hands.

And it makes complete moral sense. Investing in a company means (partially) owning it, which means being responsible for its behaviour.

The FT has some charmingly outraged reactions from the City. The Efficient Markets Hypothesis goes straight out of the window, the moment inefficiency is bad for financial institutions.
And so they fall back to the last front of financial scaremongering: pension-fund FUD. “Intellectually it’s unassailable“, says one barrister, “but if it happened on a large scale it could undermine people’s pension funds“.

Nonsense. Nobody argues you should fund your retirement by mugging old ladies. So why should you be entitled to fund it by investing in Muggers, Inc?

Besides, investors — especially huge pension funds — have a duty to investigate the companies in which they invest. Otherwise, you have to assume they’re defrauding not just their customers, but also the shareholders.

Besides, isn’t this why we have markets? To distribute risk? Presumably some innovative broker could concoct a scheme “Proceeds of Crime Insurance”, and allow those poor pension funds to protect themselves.

Actually, I’d love for this to happen more than it already does. The price of fraud insurance would be a public indicator of how corrupt investors believe a company to be. It might even make public some of the due-diligence work done in parallel and in secret by analysts.

To some extent this already happens with, for instance, Directors and Officers Liability Insurance or Fidelity Bonds. It would surely only take the smallest of tweaks to make these explicitly cover the proceeds of crime.

Thatcher on the bus

January 13th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Rhian Jones is always great, doubly so when it gets to feminism and culture and politics:

[Thatcher’s image on The Iron Lady adverts is] like being repeatedly sideswiped by the 1980s, which is something the last UK election had already made me thoroughly sick of.

Thatcher, according to an article Jones links, “had what it takes to become a modern icon: big hair, high foreheads and a face that would allow you to project your own fears and desires on to it

And while the image of Thatcher as Liberty Leading the People makes my skin crawl, I can’t disagree with this:

the images of both women are used in a cultural tradition in which the female figure in particular becomes a canvas for the expression of abstract ideas (think justice, liberty, victory). The abstract embodiment of multiple meanings, and the strategic performance of traditional ideas of femininity, constitute sources of power which Thatcher and her political and media allies exploited to the hilt in their harnessing of support for the policies she promoted.

Nostalgia for British industry

January 12th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Owen Hatherley picks up on the veneration of industry over services, as a political cliche which unites Labour and the Conservatives:

For Ed Miliband, it’s a question of rewarding the ‘producers’ in industry rather than the ‘predators’ of finance capitalism; for George Osborne, ‘we need to start making things again’….What does it mean, this apparent divide between producer and predator, industrialist and speculator, this apparent desire to turn the long-defunct workshop of the world back into a workshop of some sort?

Despite appearances, this is not a modernist argument. It’s romantic nostalgia. Industry is old-fashioned, honest, straightforward, comprehensible. It’s what gave Britain the identity it has lost in these confusing times.

In other words, industry is taking on the role you would expect to see played by the countryside. And, as with today’s industrial nostalgia, rural nostalgia came from both left and right. Hatherley again:

Whether ostensibly conservative, like the Gothic architect Augustus Welsby Pugin, or Marxist, like William Morris, opinion formers in the second half of the nineteenth century agreed that industry had deformed the United Kingdom, that its cities and its architecture were horrifying, that its factories were infernal, and that it should be replaced with a return to older, preferably medieval certainties.

It’s a neat step through sectors of the economy: the prisoner of finance pines for industry; the prisoner of industry pines for farming. Go back far enough, and I’m sure you’d find Mercian villagers longing for the good old days of nomadic hunting

Rural architecture

January 11th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Rem Koolhaas claims to now be more interested in countryside than in cities. As he says, rural areas are “changing more radically than our cities”:

Millions have moved to cities from the countryside. They have left behind a weird territory for genetic experimentation, intermittent immigration [and] vast property transactions. It’s truly amazing when you look closely.

January 9th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

It can be entertaining, if grim, to see which bits of cultural history get adopted by extremists. The Larouche followers are my favourite case, with their mishmash of Leibnitz, and with being relatively harmless. But there’s this case of a racist murderer, part of a group passionate about Ezra Pound.

architectural preservation by landmine

January 9th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

via bldgblog, the grim idea that the best way of preserving natural landscapes might be through making them too dangerous for humans to venture into.

The post carries pictures of beautiful landscapes — and of the landmines which were once buried there. Remove the mines, and will the landscape in turn be destroyed?

It’s not dissimilar to the allure of the exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Again, a certain deadliness suits nature just as it keeps us out.

Good Ancestors

January 8th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Laurie Penny is now, annoyingly, writing good things in print that aren’t available on the internet:

youth services are the first to go when cuts are imposed, because they have few measurable outcomes — by the time the damage done can be tallied, the political careers of the current administration will be beyond scrutiny

Nobody is investing in young people, in the environment, in frastructure, in education, in any of the things that might make us – to use an adddictive little phrase I picked up at Occupy Wall Street – “good ancestors”.

Instead, allt he current crop of politicians seems to be able to do is beg and bullyu the young and disenfranchised into giving them respect…I can think of few historical moments when respect for our elders has been less appropriate

Nashi don’t look after their districts

January 6th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

B&T has an interesting point on the differences between officially-sponsored political movements in Russia vs. China. Briefly: only in China do the local candidates put in the work:

Your pan-democrat is the fellow with the big words about democracy; your DAB candidate is known in the neighbourhood for spending years ladling soup into grannies and talking ‘common sense’. That’s not how Nashi rolls.

I do wonder, though, why Nashi don’t do more of the local service provision. It’s the most reliable route to political support, and United Russia have the cash. Maybe they just don’t feel they need to put in that much effort.

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