AG on the burqa

AG on the burqa:

“Will a surveillance team stake out the Gare du Nord or the Sunday market at Cergy? Will Eric Besson and Brice Hortefeux accompany the flics as they lay hands on the offending ‘agent of Islamism?’ Will she be taken for a garde �vue and, in the name of equality of women and public security, be stripped of her robes and headgear, searched, photographed, and displayed on the evening news? Will she be hauled into court and required to appear with face uncovered before her ermine-clad judges? Will she then express gratitude to the state for emancipating her from her oppressive culture?”

Equality for economists

It’s a sad reflection on the state of our politics that nobody is mentioning how useful redistribution of wealth/income would be from a purely economic perspective, in stimulating increased spending &c. AG touches on it here. but there’s doubtless much better information elsewhere.

Kings is better off dead

My recent excitement at Kings, a modern, alternate-reality dramatization of chunks of the Old Testament, became disappointment when confronted with the reality of watching it. My main problem with it is how they’ve destroyed the character of David. He’s wet, naive, passive, and utterly devoid of ambition — pretty much the exact opposite of the biblical David. One of the most ruthless, scheming and driven OT personalities becomes a corn-fed Midwestern ingenue. All the sharp edges — all that is attractive or morally dubious — is stripped off him, and he — like all the other characters — is reduced to a standard American archetype. Hard to keep paying attention beyond that point.

In retrospect, I can’t quite understand my anticipatory excitement. Bible dramatizations are hardly new and, like anything else, have no guarantee of turning out well. That’s even without the problem of other people’s interpretations of stories with which you already have some emotional relationship.

Snippets of music

I don’t understand music well enough to write more than a few lines about most songs. Seems a shame, though, to let them pass without any note. Start with tracks recommended by Troy, as ‘intensely passonate about unlikely topics’:

Numerology – These New Puritans (who really, really want to know what your favourite number is.)

That’s…surprisingly aggressive. I can kind of imagine being cornered in a dark alley by a gang of numerologists (triads?) and given this grilling. Somewhere between Tarantino and Monty Python. On a related topic, I give you a number romance. [do have a poke around on that site; I suspect at least some of it would appeal]

Fifty On Our Foreheads – White Lies (who are on a spaceship to the sun, and all going to die.)

ah, there’s nothing quite like an inexplicable science fiction dystopia. Questionable Content at one point had a motivational poster saying “Work harder, or we will fly you into the sun”. Now I know what they meant

Leechwife – Rasputina (cheating, as I already gave this to someone else, but on the other hand it really is intensely passionate about leeches)

I want to slip this into a school/university careers service, see if anybody takes up the suggestion.

Johnny On The Monorail – The Buggles (who are surprisingly intense for a song from that long ago. you know, about a monorail.)

oh, this is _fantastic_. I’ve spent most of my underground journeys this year in a state of inexplicable temporary bliss; now I have a soundtrack for it. Certainly my favourite of the five.

My Boy Builds Coffins – Florence & the Machine

Nice. I’d somehow avoided hearing any Florence & the Machine; I like. Had thought “hell, getting passionate about coffins, that’s hardly unusual”. Turns out it




It’s a truism (and true) that exising globalisation fails by being limited to capital (and perhaps ideas), with labour excluded by law, and land land excluded by definition. Hence No Borders takes pride of place in the alterglobalisation movement, both logically and practically.

Perhaps this desired expansion of globalisation across the factors of production will lead to the development of other havens analogous to tax havens. A return, if you like, to safe havens as pirate islands, refuges for the stateless and hte outlawed.

Or, as with Iceland, we could have ‘free speech havens’, outposts where data can be sent and stored, and can sally forth to break through the restrictions of established nations. The ideal espoused by Cryptonomicon and Sealand, finally brought to fruition.

Books on Italy

Currently reading Tobias Jones’ The Dark Heart of Italy. So naturally I glance online to see what others have made of it. Equally naturally, I find they’re strongly suggesting I find better books on Italian politics. Noting their suggestions, in preparation for the next time my thoughts take a turn bootward:

Paul Ginsborg,

Italy and Its Discontents

, a history of Italy 1980-2001 (following an earlier book covering the period to 1980):

the 1980s were years of “cynicism, opportunism and fear” – the conditions in which corruption could flourish, and from which Berlusconi would benefit.

Much of the blame lies with the Communist Party. Rather than serve as gatekeeper, filtering Autonomy’s contributions, the party co-operated in the suppression of groups to its left. The result was a weakened political system, the left avid for respectability while the right operated without constraints. If the Italian left is to regain the initiative, it will need to open itself again to influences like those of the autonomists.

. CT comment:

I’d recommend anyone interested in post-war Italy to read Ginsborg; his previous book on Italy from Liberation to the 1980s is also excellent, and his short book on Berlusconi is good. Ginsborg’s weak spot is that he doesn’t devote much attention to the conspiratorial side of politics. In that respect David Lane’s book on Berlusconi (the book of the Economist feature) is surprisingly good – he turns over quite a few stones. Philip Willan’s The Puppetmasters is the conspiracist account of post-war Italian politics in English; God only knows how accurate it is, but it’s extremely suggestive. The Dark Heart of Italy… meh. I enjoyed it (Tobias Jones writes well), but it’s a bit Orientalist. [links added]

Book: Generation X

Douglas Coupland, Generation X

. An often uncomfortable book to read, because it’s a good one. Simultaneous identification with, loathing for and jealousy of the characters doesn’t make for a pleasant reading experience.

Like all his books, it’s set in an all-too-real world. The cast are young Americans, raised on marketing and branded aspiration, with every possible gestrue of rejection, independence or individuality already anticipated and commodified by the marketing industry. The plot developments are incidental; the action is in the stories and fantasies of the Generation Xers, mostly of where they find love and beauty within small moments of their lives:

“inspired by my meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous organization, I instigated a policy of storytelling in my own life, a policy of “bedtime stories,” which Dag, Claire and I share among ourselves. It’s simple: we come up with stories and we tell them to each other. The only rule is that we’re not allowed to interrupt, just like in AA, and at the end we’re not allowed to criticize. This noncritical atmosphere works for us because the three of us are so tight assed about revealing our emotions. A clause like this was the only way we could feel secure with each other.”

Coupland’s happy-ever-after endpoint, here as elsewhere, is for this circle of friends to find a shared language, a common aesthetic in their savviness and semi-rejection of the world, and so an ability to share their perfect moments. The problem is that they aren’t really “tight assed about revealing [their] emotions”. Once the storytelling device clicks into place, they’re all able to talk in the style that is Coupland’s trademark, cannily picking apart the brands and marketed aspirations from which they’ve built their inner lives. The emotional fluency isn’t developed over the book; it’s present from the start, as plot device.

Not only is the endpoint present from the start, it’s also deeply unsatisfying in itself. We can’t leave any mark on the world, he seems to be saying, so should content ourselves with occasional brief moments of beauty and communication. This is both accurate, and sufficient reason to fling yourself off the nearest cliff.

Book: The Night Sessions

Ken MacLeod, The Night Sessions

. Near-future Scotland, recovering from a post-9/11 replay of the Wars of Religion. Churches are allowed to exist only on a private level, with the state studiously ignoring their existence. So when Detective Adam Ferguson begins to investigate the murder of his priest, his attention — and his superiors’ — is on the political and bureaucratic consequences almost as much as on the rapidly-escalating series of killings.

MacLeod’s science fiction is, among much else, a vehicle for satire on the preset. Here it’s most entertaining when confined to small details: Creationist theme parks, for example, or gangster-ridden “Capitalism with Russian Characteristics”. His broader swipes on religion mostly fall flat. Towards the end there is a particularly ludicrous conversion as a True Believer is confronted with the contradictions of the bible* — a shaky plot device on the biblical literalism which a certain kind of atheist shares with only the most extreme of protestant sects.

The science fiction elements are largely window-dressing, with the exception of the robots. Macleod’s robots are superior not only in strength and intelligence, but in their ability to understand human emotion. They unnerve people, even though they are no longer given humanoid form to avoid this very problem. Police robots are loyal and devoted sidekicks to their masters, and the strength of this bond is one of the assumptions driving the plot. And, finally, there’s the question of whether robots could be affected by religion.

These are all interesting questions, but the pace of the book prevents MacLeod exploring them. The Night Sessions is fundamentally a thriller and a police procedural, and theories of robotic personhood have to take a back-seat to that.



: later, it occurs to me that the nature of this is partly a comment on the human/robot comparison. The human is defeated in the same way robots are according to B-movie cliche: show them a contradiction, and wait for them to blow a fuse. Meanwhile the robots, emotionally advanced far beyond human level, have no trouble on this point.

Science Envy

“Science envy” and “math envy” are perennial problems across huge swathes of the academic world. Mathematics and the hard sciences are seen as having achieved great leaps forward in understanding the world, and thus become objects for emulation whether applicable or not. Greek symbols start to fill up journal pages. It doesn’t matter if they demonstrate the argument more rigorously, they just need to look impressively sciency. Economics is currently the most seriously-afflicted discipline, although the other social sciences are rapidly succumbing as massive datasets become available online.

This is nothing new. As their name suggests, the social sciences have been built up by wave after wave of this imitation throughout the 20th century. Or even further back. The scholastic theology of medieval Christianity was largely a centuries-long case of ‘logic envy’. Theologians discovered Aristotelian logic in the 12th century, and proceeded to apply it to the bible in mind-numbing detail.

The indian case is even more interesting. Here the discipline to be emulated was grammar, then far more advanced than any other branch of knowledge (and pretty damn impressive even in a modern context). Grammatical terminology and forms of argument cross over into most other disciplines.