May 27th, 2012

love involves work!

Love, says France’s greatest living philosopher [Alain Baidiou], “is not a contract between two narcissists. It’s more than that. It’s a construction that compels the participants to go beyond narcissism. In order that love lasts one has to reinvent oneself.”

Alain Badiou, venerable Maoist, 75-year-old soixante-huitard, vituperative excoriator of Sarkozy and Hollande and such a controversial figure in France that when he was profiled in Marianne magazine they used the headline “Badiou: is the star of philosophy a bastard?”, smiles at me sweetly across the living room of his Paris flat. “Everybody says love is about finding the person who is right for me and then everything will be fine. But it’s not like that. It involves work. An old man tells you this!”

But, he argues, avoiding love’s problems is just what we do in our risk-averse, commitment-phobic society. Badiou was struck by publicity slogans for French online dating site Méetic such as “Get perfect love without suffering” or “Be in love without falling in love”. “For me these posters destroy the poetry of existence. They try to suppress the adventure of love. Their idea is you calculate who has the same tastes, the same fantasies, the same holidays, wants the same number of children. Méetic try to go back to organised marriages – not by parents but by the lovers themselves.” Aren’t they meeting a demand? “Sure. Everybody wants a contract that guarantees them against risk. Love isn’t like that. You can’t buy a lover. Sex, yes, but not a lover.”

For Badiou, love is becoming a consumer product like everything else. The French anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové once wrote a book entitled Le Monde n’est pas une Marchandise (The World Isn’t a Commodity). Badiou’s book is, in a sense, its sequel and could have been entitled L’Amour n’est pas une Marchandise non plus (Love Isn’t a Commodity Either).

It’s a shame a lot of what he argues here is not already commonly accepted wisdom.

Read further at The Guardian

May 13th, 2012

SOLITUDE is out of fashion.

An interesting article from a few months ago on introversion in the (creative) workplace..

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)

Read further at NY Times

March 11th, 2011

chess boxing

I’m really happy this exists:

Chess boxing is a hybrid sport which combines boxing with chess in alternating rounds. The sport began when Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh, inspired by fictional depictions by French comic book artist and filmmaker Enki Bilal, organized actual bouts. Chess boxing is now growing in popularity. Participants must be both skilled boxers and chess players, as a match may be won either way.

Chess boxing (wiki)

October 5th, 2010

to lock eyes with a stranger

The city is full of people we can’t reach. We pass them on sidewalks, sit across from them in the subway and in restaurants; we glimpse their lighted windows from our own lighted windows late at night. That’s in New York. In most of America, people float alongside one another on freeways as they drive between the city and the places where they live. To lock eyes with a stranger is to feel the gulf between proximity and familiarity and to wish — at least sometimes, briefly, most of us — that we could jump the hedges of our own narrow lives and find those people again when they drift out of sight.

Jennifer Egan
New York Times magazine, Nov. 23, 2003


April 20th, 2010

an artist’s diet: fire and hot water


I wish I had the creative fire burning under me at the moment that Joan Armatrading seems still to command:

Before I can begin work on any album, I have to observe an important ritual: cleaning. It clears my head. Everything in the studio must be cleaned, dusted and tidied. It takes as long as it takes – sometimes even two days.

Then I check my recording software, select my guitars, ensuring they have new strings, and set up the computer ready to record. I play everything myself – guitar, keyboards, mandolin, mouth organ, whatever, and record on to Apple’s Logic Pro 8 software, which is much easier than the old analogue tape recording. Before starting the actual writing, I unwind with a cup of hot water with nothing in it, not even a slice of lemon – I’ve never drunk alcohol.

I can typically work from 6am and finish at 8am the following morning. I have to be completely alone when working – other people only get involved when it comes to mixing the album. Such solitary existence means no one prompts me to do normal things like eating, drinking and sleeping. It is only when I’m about to keel over that I remember to rest and refuel.

I used to work like that on animations: wake up, and jump on to the computer to finish the work that I abandoned the previous night at the point of exhaustion. I never knew I was capable of such concentration and passion before I got into that hobby. Time dissolves!

More from Joan’s diary entry at

March 1st, 2010

the cinema as chapel

It’s easy to dismiss science fiction and other genre movies (and books, and games) as mindless entertainment. But the reason for the popularity of Star Wars, Twilight, and Lord of the Rings can’t simply be that our culture craves vapid adventure stories to while away the idle hours. I think we consume these modern epics because, for many of us, traditional institutions don’t cut it anymore. Church, family. and government once handed over fairly rigid instructions on “how to live”: how to be a good citizen, neighbor, spouse, or parent. The cultural revolution of the 1960s and ’70s changed all that. Vietnam, political assassinations, government corruption, and the rise of the corporate state left us suspicious of conventional authority and religion. We got jaded.

Is it no wonder, then, that many now seek moral guidance and spiritual example not in mosques and chapels, but huddled in darkened movie theaters or bathed in the holy glow of our Blu-rays? Our new gods and priests might be writers, movie directors, and actors. When, in The Lord of the Rings, Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the wise intones to Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us,” it’s hard not to prick up our hobbity ears and nod our heads in agreement. Yes, that’s damned good advice. And for many of us, it’s guidance much easier to swallow than the kind shouted from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.


February 23rd, 2010

and the olympic gold medal for painting goes to…

New York Times:

The dream of uniting sport and art, as they were once paired in the original Greek Olympiads, was in fact central to the mission of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the godfather of the Games. The goal was “to reunite in the bonds of legitimate wedlock a long-divorced couple — Muscle and Mind,” the baron loftily announced to an organizing committee in an early attempt to get the idea off the ground. But while the first athletic competitions got under way in Athens in 1896, it was not until the Stockholm Games in 1912 that medals would be given for architecture, sculpture, painting, music and literature.

What a noble aim. Sadly it proved too difficult to judge such contests objectively (amongst other difficulties explained in the New York Times article) and the marriage of sports and the arts did not last very long. Read more about it at the NYT Website.

More info about art competitions at the Olympic games at wikipedia.

January 5th, 2010

caught in the act of make-believe

Miles Davis. Photo: LIFE

Brian Eno on Miles Davis (and music in general):

When you listen to Miles Davis, how much of what you hear is music, and how much is context? Another way of saying that is, ‘What would you be hearing if you didn’t know you were listening to Miles Davis?’ I think of context as everything that isn’t physically contained in the grooves of the record, and in his case that seems quite a lot. It includes your knowledge, first of all, that everyone else says he’s great: that must modify the way you hear him. But it also includes a host of other strands: that he was a handsome and imposing man, a member of a romantic minority, that he played with Charlie Parker, that he spans generations, that he underwent various addictions, that he married Cicely Tyson, that he dressed well, that Jean-Luc Godard liked him, that he wore shades and was very cool, that he himself said little about his work, and so on. Surely all that affects how you hear him: I mean, could it possibly have felt the same if he’d been an overweight heating engineer from Oslo? When you listen to music, aren’t you also ‘listening’ to all the stuff around it, too? How important is that to the experience you’re having, and is it differently important with different musics, different artists?

Miles was an intelligent man, by all accounts, and must have become increasingly aware of the power of his personal charisma, especially in the later years as he watched his reputation grow over his declining trumpeting skills. Perhaps he said to himself: These people are hearing a lot more context than music, so perhaps I accept that I am now primarily a context maker. My art is not just what comes out of the end of my trumpet or appears on a record, but a larger experience which is intimately connected to who I appear to be, to my life and charisma, to the Miles Davis story. In that scenario, the ‘music’, the sonic bit, could end up being quite a small part of the whole experience. Developing the context – the package, the delivery system, the buzz, the spin, the story – might itself become the art. Like perfume…


(via peter serafinowicz‘s twitter page)

January 2nd, 2010

solipsistic jerk-off comedy

Harold Ramis:

I don’t want to say that there’s nothing new in comedy, but having seen Andy Kaufman in the mid-70s in clubs in New York, nothing surprises me conceptually. There’s a difference between getting the joke and liking the joke. Popularity isn’t the only measure of success. Sometimes the ‘public’ is an idiot, but obscurity and perversity for it’s own sake can be a solipsistic jerk-off and real waste of time. I have no rules or expectations; I just like comedy that works.

More at Heeb

December 26th, 2009

how are tv ratings measured?

This is something I’ve often wondered about. Turns out sample statistics are taken from participating households and this data is then extrapolated to get an estimated total — similarly to how political popularity polls work.

To find out what people are watching, meters installed in the selected sample of homes track when TV sets are on and what channels they are tuned to. A “black box,” which is just a computer and modem, gathers and sends all this information to the company’s central computer every night. Then by monitoring what is on TV at any given time, the company is able to keep track of how many people watch which program.

Small boxes, placed near the TV sets of those in the national sample, measure who is watching by giving each member of the household a button to turn on and off to show when he or she begins and ends viewing. This information is also collected each night.

The national TV ratings largely rely on these meters. To ensure reasonably accurate results, the company uses audits and quality checks and regularly compares the ratings it gets from different samples and measurement methods.

Well I never. (via howstuffworks)

October 10th, 2009

nationalism: just looking, thanks!


Clay Risen on “the search for national identity in a post-national age” in Germany:

Atop a forested hill a few kilometres outside the sleepy west German town of Detmold stands a 19-metre high statue of Hermann, the Germanic chief whose forces annihilated nearly 20,000 Roman legionnaires at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9AD. Gazing toward the French border, the copper statue, wearing a jaunty winged helmet, holds an upraised sword, whose blade bears the inscription “German Unity is my strength, and my strength is Germany’s power”.

The Hermannsdenkmal, or “Hermann Monument”, was unveiled in 1875, in the aftermath of Germany’s crushing defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent unification of the disparate German states into the Second Reich. At the time it was the world’s largest statue; standing on an 18-metre pedestal, it is visible for nearly 50 kilometres. The monument became a symbol for German militant nationalism and a pilgrimage site for the growing cult that celebrated Hermann as a kind of Ur-German, a movement that reached its fever pitch under the Nazis.

After the Second World War the Germans purged their culture of anything remotely tainted by Nazism, and the monument – and Hermann – fell into anonymity. The battle, once known as the Hermannschlacht, or Hermann Battle, was rechristened the Varusschlacht, after the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus: it is surely one of the only battles in history named after its loser. German schoolchildren, who once read from the countless Romantic Age poems celebrating Hermann, now learnt what a shame it was that the erstwhile hero had prevented Latin culture from reaching northern Germany.

More at the national (via 3qd).

September 23rd, 2009

you can’t download getting your hands dirty.

Guardian interviewer Decca Aitkenhead on novelist/artist Douglas Coupland:

Only the day before we meet, he had been in a branch of Paperchase when a sheet of multi-coloured hexagonal wrapping paper so mesmerised him that, after a while, staff had to approach the spellbound novelist, taking him for some sort of crazed drifter. As he is telling me this, his eyes feast on the colours of the drawing room. “I don’t know if you get this,” he rasps softly, “but I feel like I can just stare at a recently opened bucket of paint for minutes, just . . . yeah.” For the colour or the smell? “Well, when the paint’s wet in the can, it’s just so – it’s optical, but it’s edible as well.” He gazes into space for a moment, looking dreamily blissed out. “You think, ooh, what would it feel like to eat?” It is at this point that I quietly put aside all the questions I’d prepared, and surrender to an entirely different register of conversation.

Coupland comes across as a fascinating and endearing character by the end of the interview. Partly because he is and partly because Decca Aitkenhead is a fabulous writer and interviewer. This is a very enjoyable read.

I’ve also read and enjoyed Aitkenhead’s interviews with David Mitchell of Peep Show, and American writer David Sedaris.

Her cool destruction of Matt Lucas is a joy, as well.

September 14th, 2009

happiness recipe

Laura of what I like blog has written up a dandy little summary of Eric Weiner’s findings from his book “The Geography of Happiness”.

Here are the first two points:

Culture – The unhappiest countries (Moldova, which seems to have been a bit at sea ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, is a deeply depressed place) have a distinct lack of culture. Without culture there’s no sense of identity, no connection to a country. No literature nor art means no sense of self, either at the collective or individual level.

Nature – Despite the general ennui that the Swiss seem to exhibit (from my brief, superficial observations), the country rates very high on the happiness scale. This is largely attributable to the very deep connection that the citizenry has to nature. Iceland, a stunningly happy (if very dark) country, also has this relationship with the outdoors. There’s an appreciation, not a fear, of the land, connecting the people to the most basic thing that humans know

Read more.

David Byrne in the Wall Street Journal:

There’s an old joke that you know you’re in heaven if the cooks are Italian and the engineering is German. If it’s the other way around you’re in hell. In an attempt to conjure up a perfect city, I imagine a place that is a mash-up of the best qualities of a host of cities. The permutations are endless. Maybe I’d take the nightlife of New York in a setting like Sydney’s with bars like those in Barcelona and cuisine from Singapore served in outdoor restaurants like those in Mexico City. Or I could layer the sense of humor in Spain over the civic accommodation and elegance of Kyoto. Of course, it’s not really possible to cherry pick like this—mainly because a city’s qualities cannot thrive out of context. A place’s cuisine and architecture and language are all somehow interwoven. But one can dream.

David proceeds to give a list of factors that make a city “livable” for him. Read what follows at WSJ.

September 4th, 2009

more music than time

The New Yorker website has a short and sweet interview with Jonny Greenwood. He has a few interesting things to say, this nugget being my favourite:

What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the MP3 age?

JG: The downside is that people are encouraged to own far more music than they can ever give their full attention to. People will have MP3s of every Miles Davis’ record but never think of hearing any of them twice in a row—there’s just too much to get through. You’re thinking, “I’ve got ‘Sketches of Spain and ‘Bitches Brew’—let’s zip through those while I’m finishing that e-mail.” That abundance can push any music into background music, furniture music.

Full Article

May 26th, 2009

“My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.”

This article by Jonathan Rausch on Introversion vs. Extroversion in American society is an interesting read (for me at least), although Rausch comes across as a little staid and arrogant. Presumably these are not inherent traits of introverts.

Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.

More (via Kottke)

May 22nd, 2009

foie gras production

Here’s a slideshow which details in a series of photos the production of foie gras, the fatty liver of duck or goose… (Yum; No wonder it is cloaked it in French).

This is, the owner of the plant argues, a completely humane process. The reporter seems to sympathize with the producer, adding under each picture pathetically relativist comments to try and play down what is clearly a depraved process.

The animals never see daylight, they’re force-fed with a metal tube, and eventually hung upside down, dipped in an electrified bath and slit across the throat with a knife — but they have wonderfully spacious pens (as big as an office cubicle, it is flatly boasted).

May 19th, 2009

End the University as We Know It

2. Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.

Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.

In this Op-Ed in the New York Times Mark C. Taylor proposes a practical model for university education that would replace the arguably obsolete model adumbrated centuries ago by Kant. I like very much the idea of harnessing all these otherwise masturbatory brains for contemporary problem-solving.

April 29th, 2009



The New York Times has a very interesting article about social insect behaviour, and a beauuuutiful photo gallery to accompany it.

To understand what is really going on in a colony of ants or bees, Dr. Dornhaus, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, tracks the little creatures individually — hence the paint and the numbers. Individual ants, she said, have “their own brains and legs, as well as complex and flexible behaviors.” She continues, “Each ant’s behavior and the rules under which it operates generate a pattern for the colony, so it’s crucial to discover its individual cognitive skill.”

The social insects, she said, are “the most interesting creatures evolution has produced.”

Dr. Dornhaus is breaking new ground in her studies of whether the efficiency of ant society, based on a division of labor among ant specialists, is important to their success. To do that, she said, “I briefly anesthetized 1,200 ants, one by one, and painted them using a single wire-size brush, with model airplane paint — Rally Green, Racing Red, Daytona Yellow.”

After recording their behavior with two video cameras aiming down on an insect-size stage, she analyzed 300 hours of videotape of the ants in action. She discovered behavior more worthy of Aesop’s grasshopper than the proverbial industrious ants.

“The specialists aren’t necessarily good at their jobs,” she said. “And the other ants don’t seem to recognize their lack of ability.”

Dr. Dornhaus found that fast ants took one to five minutes to perform a task — collecting a piece of food, fetching a sand-grain stone to build a wall, transporting a brood item — while slow ants took more than an hour, and sometimes two. And she discovered that about 50 percent of the other ants do not do any work at all. In fact, small colonies may sometimes rely on a single hyperactive overachiever.

Why do some worker ants lean on their shovels and let the rest of the workers do all the work? “It’s like students living together — you’ll always find one will have a lower threshold for doing the washing up and will end up always doing it all,” she said.

Read more: NY Times.

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