Victorian musical DIY porn

This essay by Alan Moore has since been turned into a book. I quoted this segment on LJ years ago, but think it’s worth fishing back out of the memory-hole:

Pornographic playlets could be purchased, ranging from two-person dramas through to full ensemble pieces if the neighbours were agreeable. These publications came with sheet-music, so that if one of the participants were musically inclined then he or she could sit at the piano and provide a vigorous accompaniment to whatever activity was taking place upon the hearth-rug or the horsehair sofa

Also, at the end Moore has tacked on a fairly sensible social/feminist argument for better, not less, porn:

Rather than functioning as a release for our quite ordinary sexual imaginings, porn functions as another social tether, as control-leash, lure and lash combined in one, a cattle-prod that looks just like a carrot. Dangling temptingly before us everywhere we look it leads us on. Then, in the guilty aftermath of our indulgences, it converts handily into a rod of shame with which to flog ourselves.

Tree-climbing for cheats

Something which should exist, but (as far as I know) doesn’t: parks cultivated specifically to provide trees for climbing.

We have elaborate topiary — but only with the aim of looking pretty. It would presumably be easy to cultivate trees with convenient bends, branches at arm-height, and all the stuff you’d want to make a nice climbing tree. You’d need many decades for them to grow up. After that, though, you’d have a fantastic and pretty place.

Presumably it would currently be an insurance nightmare to do this. But that wouldn’t have been the case 50 or 100 years ago. So why aren’t there tree-climbing parks?

[This partly triggered by Aaron Swartz’s plea to replace spectacles with experiences:

The world is weirdly disappointing that way. Billions of dollars are spent making and watching people explore mysterious tunnels, chase down alleys, and fly as if by magic, but there’s hardly a single opportunity to actually do any of these things.


corruption as recession survival tactic

From the B&T comment on a Mail on Sunday investigative report showing the role of McKinsey in both drafting and profiting from the destruction of the NHS: “

when the economy enters a long depression, securing lines of revenue from the taxpayer becomes a more important profit strategy for business.

I suspect not only is this true, but there will be some academic economics research trying to put numbers to it.

data-mining at Target

This NY Times feature covers corporate analysis of custonmer data, particularly around identifying times when people are likely to change their shopping habits. Major events like giving birth apparently shake up your shopping habits, with the result that pregnant women are a prime target for advertising:

[a Target statistician] was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

Since this is close to my professional life, I’m less shocked than I might be. If anything I’m surprised Target only worked this out in the last decade; I’d thought the big shops had been working in this way since the 90s or before.

But part of the joy of journalism is a kind of Verfremdungseffect: pointing up things I’ve placidly accepted, but which in fact are strange or objectionable.

Arab nationalist causes have ceased mattering

Nir Rosen on, among other things, the international connections of rebels and demonstrators in Syria:

“Arabic satellite channels as well as Facebook allow exiled Syrian opposition figures to observe the slogans of demonstrators on the ground so that they can in effect be led by the opposition on the street and reflect their views to the rest of the world. As a result it is safe to say that of the opposition activists and organisers on the ground (those who demonstrate, fight or provide aid to activists), nearly all back the Syrian National Council (SNC) as their representative to the outside world.

Even Islamist leaders of the revolution look to Europe and the US more than they do to Arab or Muslim countries (with the exception of Turkey). Anti-imperialist and Arab nationalist causes have ceased mattering to the opposition on the ground. It is the death of ideology, in a way. It strikes me as the opposite of many Egyptian protesters who reacted to decades of a pro-American and pro-Israeli dictatorship by expressing anti-imperialist slogans. But the Syrian opposition associates notions of resistance and anti-imperialism with the Assad regime and therefore the causes themselves have been discredited and their enemy has been reduced to the regime and the daily struggle for survival.

Why I need to see Cassavetes

The BFI is showing John Cassavetes’ film


, on 19th + 20th February.

I’m somewhat obsessed by the idea of this film. I’ve never seen it, never seen anything by Cassavetes. Every review I read makes his films seem more urgent and powerful and alive than anything else out there. I’ve even been avoiding watching them via internet/dvd, for the sake of getting the total trapped immersion of the cinema.

Unfortunately the reviewer who


makes me want to see Faces is just too overwhelmed to even write about it. She keeps on edging up towards discussing him, then retreating because it’s too much . But here are some simpler explanations:

John Cassavetes’ “Faces” is the sort of film that makes you want to grab people by the neck and drag them into the theater and shout: “Here!”….What Cassavetes has done is astonishing. He has made a film that tenderly, honestly and uncompromisingly examines the way we really live. [Roger Ebert]

What emerges from the series of encounters it depicts is less a narrative than a succession of alternating intensities….Cassavetes films his characters with such deep compassion that even the crudest sally comes off as a gesture of love, a misguided bid for recognition. And when that recognition comes, in brief flashes…there’s a shock of emotional truth we rarely get to experience in life, let alone at the movies. [Slate]

Shot in black and white and overflowing with naturalistic, seemingly unscripted dialogue (Cassavetes films only sound improvised), [Faces] was a tour de force so radically different from American movies of the period as to be sui generis….Many critics prefer their art with subtitles or not at all. Cassavetes dared to believe that art and movies were not mutually exclusive, and he never gave up on the movies’ capacity to move us, to make us feel, to connect us to the world and to other people.

[New York Times]

Many of his films—as difficult as an abstract canvas—are flush with a primitive intensity that makes them, at times, an ordeal to sit through.

Watching a Cassavetes film, you feel like a witness to a familial intervention, or to an all-night orgy of dysfunctional louts. His characters—over-the-hill, alcoholic, depressed, and desperate—seem to be stabbing at life, trying to find a part of it that still breathes so they can kill it, His camera is never more than an arm’s length away from these cocktailhour dysfunctionals, pummeling them until they give in and tell us the truth [Movie Maker]

a shot in the foot is better than a knife in the back

I love it when political manouvering becomes full-on Machiavellian. This (if true) is a beautifully contorted dodge from Kremlin strategist Vladislav Surkov, protecting his own position:

At one point he began to fear that success would be his undoing: there was speculation that he had presidential ambitions, a dangerous rumour, especially in political circles, and he immediately leaked the fact of his Chechen father, which he had previously kept secret, in order to rule himself out of higher office, or so it’s said. It was his way of saying ‘I know my place.’

Attention Economy

I’d quibble with much of

this nettime post by Prem Chandavarkar

, but I entirely agree with the focus on attention as a scarce resource which is becoming perhaps the main target of capital:

If we are in the information age, the

one thing that information consumes is attention, and consequently

attention becomes a scarce resource. As an economy is substantively

affected by those resources that are scarce and important, our lives

are now being affected by the quest for attention.

The scarcity of attention is exacerbated by the changing nature

of alienation (as defined by Baudrillard). Alienation was earlier

characterized by distance – a separation from the normal routines of

life. But it is now characterized by an overwhelming proximity to

everything. The construction of sheltered spaces for reflection, which

were provided by the regular routines of life, are now difficult to

come by, and require substantive and sustained effort that few are

willing to devote effort to in an attention starved world. Deprived of

space for reflection, we face the challenge of being “reduced to pure

screen: a switching centre for the networks of influence”.

The Flag of Convenience was born out of altruism

Adam Curtis, in an intriguing post about cruise ships, explains why so many ships sail under flags of convenience:

All this happens because of The Flag of Convenience. It was an idea that the Americans came up with in the early days of the second world war to allow them to send help to Britain. Roosevelt was worried that Hitler might declare war on the US – so a law was passed that allowed American ships to be registered either in Panama or in Liberia.

The Flag of Convenience was born out of altruism, but it is now used for purely selfish reasons. Many of the cruise companies register their ships in countries such as Panama and Liberia, this mean they do not have to pay corporate taxes in the US and aren’t bound by many labour regulations.

Libraries and the cuts

Charles Stross reports on the destruction of British libraries. As an author, he earns a few pence whenever a British library lends one of his books. Judging by this, his income has fallen by 27% in the past year:

Libraries are substantially but not exclusively used by children, the unemployed, and pensioners: mostly people without the discretionary spending power to shrug and go to a bookshop instead.

And note the first group I mentioned. I’m not a children/young adult author, but if the drop in my PLR loans reflects library closures, then we have just slammed the door in the face of a new generation of readers. I got my start reading fiction from my local library; the voracious reading habits of a bookish child aren’t easily supported from a family budget under strain from elsewhere during a time of cuts. I hate to think what the long term outcome of this short-term policy is going to be, but I don’t believe any good will come of it.