Quotulatiousness

March 28, 2015

George Orwell gets a letter from his former teacher

Filed under: Britain,History,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I didn’t know that Orwell was a former pupil of Aldous Huxley:

Wrightwood. Cal.

21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley

March 25, 2015

Millennials, philosophical malaise, and the moving target of “adulthood”

Filed under: Britain,Economics,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Spiked, Tom Slater reviews a recent book by Susan Neiman, calling it “the philosophical kick up the arse my generation so desperately needs”:

Why Grow Up?, the latest book by American philosopher and essayist Susan Neiman, begins with a slyly subversive statement: ‘Being grown up is itself an ideal.’ In Britain today, this couldn’t seem further from the truth. Today, we’re told, is the worst time to be reaching adulthood. With economic strife, rising house prices, tuition fees and widespread youth unemployment weighing on Generation Y’s pasty back, coming of age merely means coming to the realisation that debt, destitution and living with mum and dad into your thirties is your inevitable inheritance. And that’s hardly an adulthood worth having.

The question this book seeks to answer is why growing up seems such a grim prospect today. From the off, Neiman dispenses with the sort of neuroscientific apologism that we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. Within the current, fatalistic climate, adulthood has been defined down. The Science now says that adolescence stretches into your mid-twenties. But, as Neiman observes in her introduction, there’s nothing scientific about growing up. The lines between childhood, adolescence and adulthood are mutable, and have changed over time. Less than a century ago, childhood, as a time of pampered play and dependence, lasted barely a few years for the vast majority of the population. And when most young people were out of school and married by the end of their teens, adolescence – the rebellious grace period between Tonka trucks and 2.4 children – didn’t even exist.

Instead, Neiman presents adulthood as a process of coming to terms with the circumstances you find yourself in and then committing to changing them – reconciling the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’. She situates this in the history of Enlightenment thought, in which the doomy realism of Hume clashed with the rugged idealism of Rousseau. ‘It would take Kant’, Neiman writes, ‘to appreciate the fact that we must take both seriously – if we are ever to arrive at an adulthood we need not merely acquiesce in but actively claim as [our] own’.

March 24, 2015

Everything’s Awesome and Camille Paglia is Unhappy!

Filed under: Liberty,Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Mar 2015

Growing up as “a gender nonconforming entity” during Eisenhower’s America wasn’t easy for cultural critic and best-selling author Camille Paglia. Her adolescence in small-town, upstate New York was marked by rejection, rebellion, and cross-dressing—all in reaction to the stultifying social norms of the 1950s and early ’60s.

So what does Paglia think of contemporary culture, with its openness to a wide variety of ever-proliferating gender, racial, and sexual identities?

Not much.

“I do not feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life,” Paglia tells Reason TV‘s Nick Gillespie. “This gender myopia, this gender monomania, has become a disease. It’s become a substitute for religion. It is impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation of human life.”

Whether the subject is feminism or the fate of Western civilization, Paglia is no Pollyanna. In this wide-ranging discussion, she says higher education is going to hell, the Fourth Estate is an epic FAIL, millennials are myopic, contemporary criticism has croaked, and Hillary Clinton might singlehandedly destroy the universe. Even Madonna, once Paglia’s ideal of sex-positive feminism, seems to have lost her way.

Does the celebrated author of Sexual Personae and Break Blow Burn have any reason to get out of bed in the morning? Does she have any hope for the universe at all? Watch the video to find out.

QotD: Critics and reviewers of Science Fiction

Filed under: Media,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… I am still bugged by the quality of reviewing generally accorded science fiction. Or let’s call it “speculative fiction” for a moment because one of the things that bugs me the most is that some critics seem strongly indisposed to permit a writer to speculate.

It seems to me that the only excuse for the sort of fiction we write (whatever it is called) is speculation, as far-ranging and imaginative as the author can manage.

But is this permitted? Don’t make me laugh, it hurts. The usual critic drags in his Procrustean bed at the first hint of free-swinging speculation. There has grown up an extremely conservative orthodoxy in science fiction, spineless, boneless, suffocating. It is almost amorphous but I can sketch the vague outlines. It is do-goodish and quasi-socialist — but not Communist; this critic wouldn’t recognize dialectical materialism if it bit him in the face. It is both “democratic” and “civil libertarian” without the slightest understanding that these two powerful and explosive concepts can frequently be in direct conflict, each with the other. It is egalitarian, pacifist, and anti-racist — with no notion that these concepts might ever clash. It believes heartily in “freedom” and “equality” — yet somehow thinks that “older & wiser heads” are fully justified in manipulating the human psyche to achieve these ends — after all, it’s for their own good … [sic] and these new orthodoctrinaires are always quite certain that they know what is good for the human race.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

March 9, 2015

QotD: Camille Paglia on Post-structuralism

Filed under: Media,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Post-structuralism is a system of literary and social analysis that flared up and vanished in France in the 1960s but that became anachronistically entrenched in British and American academe from the 1970s on. Based on the outmoded linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and promoted by the idolized Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault, it absurdly asserts that we experience or process reality only through language and that, because language is inherently unstable, nothing can be known. By undermining meaning, history and personal will, post-structuralism has done incalculable damage to education and contemporary thought. It is a laborious, circuitously self-referential gimmick that always ends up with the same monotonous result. I spent six months writing a long attack on academic post-structuralism for the classics journal Arion in 1991, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf” (reprinted in my first essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture). Post-structuralism has destroyed two generations of graduate students, who were forced to mouth its ugly jargon and empty platitudes for their foolish faculty elders. And the end result is that humanities departments everywhere, having abandoned their proper mission of defending and celebrating art, have become humiliatingly marginalized in both reputation and impact.

Camille Paglia, “The Catholic Pagan: 10 Questions for Camille Paglia”, American Magazine, 2015-02-25.

February 19, 2015

“Faking it” versus “Keeping it real”

Filed under: Britain,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Neil Davenport reviews Authenticity is a Con by Peter York:

Everyone and everything today must, it seems, be ‘the real deal’ — they must be walking, talking embodiments of heart-on-your-sleeve authenticity. After all, no one wants to be accused of ‘faking it’, as Kurt Cobain put it in his suicide note. From pop stars to politicians, being real, being oneself, being transparent, is pretty much a pre-requisite for entrance into respectable society.

But social commentator Peter York believes there is something rather phoney in the need to be seen as genuine. In his short polemical book, Authenticity is a Con, York provides several deliciously scathing snapshots of the current tyranny of transparency.

For York, authenticity is the ‘absolute favourite word of shysters and chancers; of motivational speakers and life coaches dealing with “human potential”; of people who think “I’m so worth it”… people with only the vaguest idea of authentication and none at all about the philosophical back story.’ He traces the ‘me generation’ tendencies back to 1960s America. For York, the authenticity peddlers sell the idea that if you’re ‘true to yourself’ then everything else, from a satisfying career to successful relationships, will magically fall into place. York understands that the free-yourself psychobabble has always sounded preposterous. To lampoon it requires very little effort.

[…]

York’s sharp eye provides insights aplenty. There’s a hilarious dig at hippy ‘t-shirt and trainers’ companies such as Facebook or Virgin, whose informality disappears when they are challenged on something substantive (‘you get some very formal legal action’, quips York). He points out the irony of early- to mid-twentieth-century black musicians like Lead Belly, who wanted to wear smart suits and play hotel jazz, having to ham up a jailbird persona in order to sate their white audience’s demand for an ‘authentic’ blues performer. York also notes how, in the 1970s, the desire to be inauthentic, to not be ourselves or down to earth, was a mark of boldness and imagination. Think of the sci-fi-based, proto funk of Parliament or Funkadelic, or how working-class bricklayers donned tights and make up during the Glam era. Roxy Music made a career out of not keeping it real. They even prompted the NME’s Charles Shaar Murray to declare them a threat to Britain’s rock culture with, as York says, ‘their posey eclecticism, poncey retrofuturism and their wholly meretricious concern with appearances’. And then there’s David Bowie who elevated artifice, pretension and inauthenticity to the level of an art-form.

Today’s art-school poseurs, though, are as swept up with authenticity as anyone else. York begins Authenticity is a Con by visiting Shoreditch and noticing a product called ‘honest man’s beard oil’. As readers of Sunday supplements will know, east London has the highest beard count in the capital. York has great fun juxtaposing Shoreditch’s quest for reclaimed-floorboard authenticity with its entirely invented (read inauthentic) claim to be an artistic Boho enclave. ‘It’s a thing of surfaces’, writes York, ‘anti-bling surfaces that actually cost much more than the gold and glass and shiny marble of mainstream bling’. Indeed, Shoreditch and Hackney are the kind of places that have specially designed ‘old man pubs’ that don’t actually feature any old men drinking in them. York calls Shoreditch ‘applied authenticity’, which is about as accurate and as real a description of EC1 as you will find.

And yet the authenticity-marketing scam goes far beyond east London. For over a decade now, we’ve experienced what can be called ‘kooky capitalism’, wherein huge companies re-brand themselves as ethical, people-orientated cottage businesses. York supplements the idea of kooky capitalism with his concept of ‘micro-connoisseurship’, which refers to the ‘market for luxury, for superior, smart, snobby, value-added goods – “positional goods” of all kinds. We’ve got millions of micro-connoisseurs agonising about the thread count in sheets, the back-story of a recipe, the provenance of a shop.’

February 14, 2015

Europe in 1899, according to Fred W. Rose

Filed under: Europe,History,Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Before the modern age of the infographic, artists like Fred W. Rose still had their own idiosyncratic ways to present as much information as they could for a wider audience:

Fred W Rose - Map of Europe in 1899

H/T to Tam for the link.

February 11, 2015

QotD: Driverless cars and their critics

Filed under: Quotations,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Google this week unveiled the latest iteration of its driverless-car experiment, a prototype vehicle with no steering wheel or brake pedal. Reactions came in three main modes: terror, in the case of traditional automobile manufacturers; gee-whiz enthusiasm among nerds such as yours truly; and, most important, withering criticism from assorted design and automotive critics, who denounced the vehicles’ 1998-iMac-on-wheels aesthetic as too cute by a (driverless) mile, an Edsel as reimagined by Jony Ive. Every wonder that comes (in this case literally) down the pike is met with a measure of scorn by various aficionados and sundry mavens, who are annoying but who also are, regardless of whether they intend or realize it, champions of civilization. The iterative, evolutionary process of product design and refinement is the main engine of progress in material standards of living on this planet, and every condescending, self-righteous snob who pronounces every innovation not quite good enough is making humanity better off.

The Google driverless car may turn out to be the iPod of the automotive world, or it may fail. It may be the case that another firm (though I would not bet on General Motors) will produce a better version; it is more likely that, as with traditional cars, dozens of firms will offer scores of competing products, each serving a different need or taste. It may be the case that the most economically consequential application of the technology is moving cargo rather than people. Or maybe people won’t like them; you never can tell. What is important is that the evolutionary process be allowed to play out with a minimum of political interference.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Race On, for Driverless Cars: On the beauty of putting the consumer in the driver’s seat”, National Review, 2014-06-01.

February 1, 2015

The diminishing applicability of Marx’s view of the class system

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rick McGinnis on the steadily reducing relationship between the class system as described by Karl Marx and the modern world:

I blame Karl Marx for a lot of things, but after inspiring some of the most destructive and blood-thirsty governments in modern history, his most abidingly destructive legacy is hobbling our understanding of the word “class.” For as long as I’ve been alive, when almost anyone talks about the class system they end up invoking images frozen somewhere in the middle of the European 19th century.

Arrogant entitled aristocrats and heartless mill owners; upright bourgeois, dispirited workers and peasants. It’s a world of frock coats and cloth caps and sunless terraced slums under smoke-filled skies, and while it’s a useful image if you want to start a discussion about the Industrial Revolution, it doesn’t do much to help describe the fluid, amorphous, endlessly adaptable way that class works in the modern world – and probably always has, even if one writer managed to fix the word to a tether at a spot roughly between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

Which is why I don’t have much hope that Joel Kotkin’s The New Class Conflict (Telos Press, 220 pages) will do much to budge our discussion of class to a point somewhere closer to the world of suburbs, computers, megamalls, and package vacations. It’s not that Kotkin’s book doesn’t struggle – mostly successfully – to make a discussion about class relevant, but that decades of framing class in antique trappings has made the word and everything it invokes seem anachronistic, or even irrelevant, to modern people and especially Americans.

[…]

Whether intended or not, Kotkin points out that encouraging people to live in crowded cities not only stifles the ownership of private property that’s been a mark of increasing mass material prosperity for two centuries, but it re-creates a renting class at the mercy of moneyed landowners that he describes as a “new feudalism.”

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

January 17, 2015

Pat Condell – Nothing to do with Islam

Filed under: Britain,Law,Liberty,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Jan 2015

The death rattle of a dhimmi society.

January 8, 2015

The Hobbit movies “are not the books and shouldn’t be judged as such”

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:23

Jeff LaSala explains why the films based on JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit must be judged separately from the the books:

Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films get a lot of flak for being overwrought and overlong. Many of the criticisms are valid enough (I have some of my own), some are a matter of taste, and some, I feel, are simply misguided. My view, as a fan of Tolkien first and Jackson second, is that the naysayers are judging the films for what they’re not. They are not a cinematic translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel but an adaptation in the truest sense of the word. And they are specifically an adaptation of events in Middle-earth 60 years prior to Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party which include those covered in The Hobbit and the appendices of The Lord of the Rings.

To adapt something is to change, alter, or modify it to make it suitable for new conditions, which is where the problems occur for fans of a richly detailed story. No, not merely a story, a whole legendarium (Tolkien himself called it such) that lots of people care a hell of a lot about. The expectation seems to have been that Jackson should have kept to the books closely, should have told the story just as Tolkien did. But ultimately, that’s just not realistic.

It’s not like he didn’t know what’s in the books; in addition to knowing them well, he was surrounded by Tolkien scholars, Elvish linguists, and other literary experts. Rather, he’s an uber-successful director, producer, and screenwriter who has to wrangle massive movie budgets and we’re not. He loves Tolkien’s work but had taken on the self-imposed, if herculean task of maneuvering a beloved tale through the Hollywood machine. Have you ever watched a comic book, novel, or even play adapted to film and thought, “That’s exactly how I would have done it”? If you have, then that’s amazing! If not, well, in this age of Hollywood remakes, reboots, and adaptations, why expect these films to be any different?

[…]

It’s been said that “the filmmakers have wrung all they could out of the source material,” but I find that to be a lazy stab because it’s simply untrue. Indeed, to me that’s the irony. While three Hobbit films meant there should be room for some fleshing out of otherwise sparse details — the very thing people are complaining about, that he made a short book longer than they felt it needed to be — Jackson still didn’t actually cover everything. I reserve a more final opinion for when the Extended (i.e. the real) Edition of Five Armies comes out, because it promises to include 30 more minutes, but there are elements of the story simply left off.

I can forgive almost any extension or stretching of characters and themes, so long as they’re not completely antithetical to Tolkien’s ideals, but only if the existing story, including the appendices-based backstory, is exhausted first. Beorn’s house; the Eagles and their eyries (and why they help at all); the drunk Wood-elves and the full interrogation of the dwarves; the thrush and its world-saving delivery of vital information; the aftermath of the battle — all of these have been gutted. In the behind-the-scenes features of the DVDs, you can even see that some of it was filmed (such as the captive dwarves being brought before Thrandruil, not merely Thorin), but never made even the Extended cut. Sadly.

But these are movies; they need to take into account a moviegoer’s patience (and bladder). Of course, short making a full-blown movie series (rather than mere trilogy) there is never enough time to cover everything. Think of all that was removed from The Lord of the Rings, which has a full run-time of just over 11 hours. Given that, are you in the “What, no ‘Scouring of the Shire’?” camp or the “Nah, it’s fine as is” camp?

Well, I still want the Scouring, but I agree that it would have been worse to give it a perfunctory couple of minutes on the screen than to omit it altogether. I’d pay to see it as a stand-alone, but I don’t know if that would be viable commercially.

January 7, 2015

In praise of the bus, but not “the buses”

Filed under: Britain,Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Over at The Register, someone accidentally let Simon Rockman get up on his hobby horse and start yelling nasty things about buses:

A bus is a fantastically efficient way to move a large number of people. Buses however are not. They are a dreadful system for getting people to work.

The difference is not as subtle as that sentence may make it seem. What lies behind it is that when you want to move a large number of people from one place to another all at once, a works outing for instance, a Charabanc makes perfect sense.

But it doesn’t scale. If you want to travel by bus there needs to be a regular service. That means lots of buses have to waft up and down a route in anticipation of there being someone who wants to get on. In a major city, and I live in London, that’s good for some of the time. So long as there is a steady supply of people there can be a good number on the bus. This of course doesn’t work very early in the morning or late at night when there are not enough people.

What’s worse is that buses don’t go from where people live to where they work. Unless you live by a bus stop, in which case you have the kinds of people who hang around bus stops hanging around your house, you’ll have to walk to it. The same is true at the other end. Then you have to wait for the bus. If I walk down to my nearest bus stop and a bus arrives as I get there I think it’s a fantastic, special happening. If I walk out of my house and my car is there I think “that’s normal”.

January 4, 2015

Howard Tayler on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Due to various reasons, we only got around to seeing Peter Jackson’s latest (last?) Middle Earth movie this week. As a result, I’ve been consciously avoiding reading too many reviews on the movie beforehand. I’d heard enough negative things that by the time we actually got to see it, it was no where near as bad as I’d been told. It’s not a great movie, but it’s good enough and I quite enjoyed watching it. Last month, Howard Tayler (of Schlock Mercenary fame) reviewed it and I mostly agree with his opinion:

TheHobbit3If you didn’t enjoy the first two installments in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit franchise, you probably won’t like this one, either, because it doubles down on everything.

If you did enjoy them, this one pretty much sticks the landing. There were bits I didn’t like much (the Sauron/Necromancer “Jefferson Airplane” visual tops that list) but this didn’t feel overblown or too long. It felt huge, and justly so.

Tolkien tells us that there are battles in Middle Earth. Jackson shows them to us. Tolkien tells us that there are thirteen dwarves in the party. Jackson shows them to us. Tolkien tells us that Laketown gets burnt by a dragon, and the survivors become refugees. Jackson shows us all that. The list goes on — The Hobbit is a short novel (by the standards of epic fantasy) because Tolkien does a lot of telling in between the showing. The Hobbit trilogy of films is a long movie (by the standards of genre-fiction films) because Jackson expands on the tells to give us a big show.

In order to make any of that engaging, we need to be seeing it through people with whom we identify. This is why during previous films we’re introduced to Legolas and Tauriel, Bard’s children, Azog, and the whole host of other named characters. Each of the dwarves is his own distinct character, and Laketown is full of the faces of human people who look like they could be our neighbors.

I’m down with all of this. In fact, I’d be quite happy to see the trilogy with an additional 90 minutes of footage, because some pieces felt a bit short.

December 30, 2014

QotD: Satire’s influence in the real world

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:01

[Satire] can’t [make a difference in the world]. Not a real difference. It can destroy, but it cannot produce. That’s the problem. You can destroy someone — it’s possible to that, if you’re very good. People have been politically destroyed by humor. But the problem is, you cannot create with it. It’s totally static in that way. It’s an act of demolition. Some things are just stronger than a laugh.

Fran Lebowitz, quoted by Lauren Ingeno in “Fran Lebowitz: I Am Not a Hostess. I Am a Prosecutor”, George Washington Today, 2014-04-20.

December 25, 2014

A critical view of the Star Wars Holiday Special

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The poor bastards at Red Letter Media sit through a full showing of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special so you don’t have to.

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