Culture

D’oh

Wednesday, 17 December, 2014 0 Comments

The Simpsons are not politically correct, but they are human. Created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company, the dysfunctional cartoon family have appeared in 561 episodes since the show had its debut on 17 December 1989, and the 26th season began in September this year. But the Simpsons is not simply a TV series; it’s a language says Chris Turner, author of Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation. As to the precise nature of the language the Simpsons speak, linguist Mark Liberman called it Homeric.

Best episode? Take your pick. Ours is “Homer’s Enemy”, the 23rd episode of the eighth season. During a “Design your nuclear power-plant” contest for children, Frank Grimes alters the competition poster in hopes of embarrassing Homer, but Homer wins the contest in typically surreal fashion. Filled with rage, Grimes goes mad and, well, no spoilers here. The subversive message of the story is that sloppy sloth is OK. The punctual, efficient, ambitious Grimes is a bore. Homer, by contrast, is happy. D’oh.


Nowness

Thursday, 23 October, 2014 0 Comments

Nowness defines itself as “a video channel showcasing contemporary culture through film. Every day we premiere a new video that gets under the skin of the most influential names across art & design, fashion & beauty, music, culture and food & travel.” Here, Alessandro Gualtieri, the Italian perfumer, is in pursuit of the perfect scent in Paul Rigter’s documentary, The Nose: Searching for Blamage. The “Blamage” involved, by the way, is the 10th perfume in his Nasomatto (Crazy Nose) line.





Entering the fireworks

Thursday, 25 September, 2014 0 Comments

Fireworks


The Rotherham horror

Thursday, 28 August, 2014 1 Comment

Back in 2010, Julie Bindel was on the case. But people didn’t want to hear. Snippet:

“Often giving the girl a mobile telephone as a ‘gift’, the pimp is then able to track her every move by calls and texting, which eventually will be used by him to send instructions as to details of arrangements with punters. The men sell the girls on to contacts for around £200 a time or as currency for a business deal. ‘I was always asked why I kept going back to my pimp,’ says Sophie, ‘but they flatter you and make you think you are really loved. I thought he was my boyfriend until it was too late to get away.’ Another tactic of the pimp is getting the girl to despise and mistrust her own parents in order that he can achieve total control over her. The pimps routinely tell their victims that their parents are racist towards Asian people and that they disapprove of the relationships because the men are of Pakistani Muslim heritage, not because they are older. Some of the parents I met were racist, and some had developed almost a phobia against Asian men, fuelled by the misinformation and bigotry trotted out by racist groups in response to the pimping gangs.”


As they had lived well, they died well too

Monday, 25 August, 2014 0 Comments

Basque fairy tales have a tendency to end with the formula “As they had lived well, they died well too.” Take the example of Beauty and the Beast. In this version, the beast is reptilian:

“There appears then an enormous serpent. Without intending it, the young lady could not help giving a little shudder. An instant after the serpent went away; and the young lady lived very happily, without lacking anything.”


Wanted: a Foster of fenestration

Tuesday, 13 May, 2014 0 Comments

Dan Hill cannot be accused of inactivity. Along with writing the City of Sound blog, which stands at the crossroads of urban design, culture and technology, he’s “executive director of futures” at Future Cities Catapult, a global centre of excellence on urban innovation, and he somehow finds time for the job of adjunct professor in the Design, Architecture and Building faculty at the University of Technology in Sydney. In this piece for Dezeen on the challenges posed by crumbling city infrastructures, Dan Hill is on song:

“Though it once seemed unlikely that we would have a Steve Jobs of thermostats and smoke alarms, it turns out that’s the culture Nest emerges from. And perhaps it suggests that we also need an Isozaki of insulation, a Foster of fenestration, a Prouvé of plumbing, a Rogers of rewiring, an Utzon of U-values… and more importantly again, a development or investment model that enables service retrofit within a market shaped to value that.”

Language note: Dan Hill applies alliteration there to nice effect and the use of words beginning with the same sound, which was once popular with poets, is now beloved of rappers. The late Tupac Shakur’s If I Die 2Nite is typical: “My enemies scatter in suicidal situations / Never to witness the wicked shit that they was facin.” By the way, most of Shakur’s songs revolved around themes Dan Hill would be familiar with: violence and hardship in crumbling cities.


Horripilation: Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

Monday, 31 March, 2014 0 Comments

Each week brings with it dreadful stories that would make one’s hair stand on end. Take the one about the four princesses who say that they have been trapped in the Saudi Arabian royal compound in Jeddah for the last 13 years. The mother of the four girls was married off to King Abdullah at the age of 15, and she claims that they have been subject to constant abuse and are effectively being held under house arrest. Sadly, such tales about court intrigue are not new and Shakespeare captured the horror of it all some four centuries ago in Hamlet, where the ghost addresses the young prince:

But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

Language note: Shakespeare’s “porpentine” is better known today as the porcupine, and the idiom of hair standing on end refers to the sensation of hairs, especially those on the neck, standing upright when the skin contracts due to fear. This phenomenon was once called “horripilation” and was defined in 1656 as “the standing up of the hair for fear… a sudden quaking, shuddering or shivering,” by Thomas Blount in his splendidly named Glossographia, or a dictionary interpreting such hard words as are now used.


The Genghis Khan way: Russia’s neo-imperialism

Wednesday, 22 January, 2014 0 Comments

On Monday, in a Neue Zürcher Zeitung article titled “The Third Empire,” Ulrich Schmid looked at how the Russian culture scene is being exploited by Putin’s authoritarian state for its imperialistic propaganda goals. “Largely unnoticed by the world press, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was awarded the ‘Imperial Culture’ prize in January 2012 for his ‘resistance to Western expansion’. The patrons of the honour were the Russian writer’s guild, the Russian literature foundation and several Orthodox organizations.”

Schmid notes as well that the steppes of Russian cinema have been experiencing something of a Mongolian invasion of late. Films such as Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007), The Secret of Genghis Khan (2009) and The Horde (2012) have been big hits. All of them portray the image of strong ruler who created a gigantic empire thanks to his unconditional demand for discipline. The not-so-subtle message is that Mongolian harshness and the Russian capacity to endure suffering are the perfect platform for empire building. This interpretation of history, writes Schmid, hews close to the ideology of Eurasianism. Seen through that prism, the Western model of the market economy plus representative democracy appears alien to a Russia that was, in parts, dominated by the Mongols for more than 300 years. Eurasianism claims that Russian culture is different its European counterpart due to this Asian impact and that Russia, therefore, must follow a separate path. The popular enthusiasm for all things Mongol plays into Putin’s hands as he’d like to create a Eurasian Union, which in terms of economic power and political weight, would act as a counterbalance to the European Union.

He’s got big dreams, that Vlad.

The Horde


Mao, the mass murderer, and his supporters

Thursday, 26 December, 2013 1 Comment

In 1968, John Lennon was asked about Mao Zedong. “It sounds like he’s doing a good job,” said the Beatle, who once sang, “Imagine no possessions.” In the same ballad, the idiotic Lennon continued, “No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world.” Mao would have liked that. Regarding the bit about “No need for greed or hunger,” it is estimated that at least 45 million people died of starvation during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, the local Communist boss, Xiong Dechang, forced his father to bury his son alive on the spot. Imagine.

Today, China “celebrates” the 120th anniversary of the birth of the monster Mao and in a piece that John Lennon would have been proud of, the BBC eulogizes the mass murderer claiming that “Unlike Stalin, Mao sentenced no-one and certainly did not intend to create a terrible famine.” Time for someone there to read Mao’s Great Famine.

Maoism lives at the BBC, the Guardian and similar outposts. There, it has turned itself into a nonsense on a Lennonist scale, but, then, Maoism made no sense. The worst famine in human history was caused by policies that made no sense, such as forcing farmers to melt all their metal tools in backyard furnaces, but those who used to be Maoists no have retained their commitment to following the latest madness with absolute faith. José Manuel Barroso, the current President of the European Commission, was a Maoist and Ireland’s political establisment has offered a comfortable home to a collective of former Maoists. The unrepentant (and now very fashionable) Maoist Alain Badiou has a new object of hatred these days: Israel and the Jews.

Badiou and his ilk would benefit greatly from reading Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, who survived the nightmare of Maoism. Snippet:

“In the days after Mao’s death, I did a lot of thinking. I knew he was considered a philosopher, and I tried to think what his ‘philosophy’ really was. It seemed to me that its central principle was the need or the desire for perpetual conflict. The core of his thinking seemed to be that human struggles were the motivating force of history and that in order to make history ‘class enemies’ had to be continuously created en masse. I wondered whether there were any other philosophers whose theories had led to the suffering and death of so many. I thought of the terror and misery to which the Chinese population had been subjected. For what?

But Mao’s theory might just be the extension of his personality. He was, it seemed to me, really a restless fight promoter by nature, and good at it. He understood ugly human instincts such as envy and resentment, and knew how to mobilize them for his ends. He ruled by getting people to hate each other. In doing so, he got ordinary Chinese to carry out many of the tasks undertaken in other dictatorships by professional elites. Mao had managed to turn the people into the ultimate weapon of dictatorship.

That was why under him there was no real equivalent of the KGB in China. There was no need. In bringing out and nourishing the worst in people, Mao had created a moral wasteland and a land of hatred. But how much individual responsibility ordinary people should share, I could not decide.

The other hallmark of Maoism, it seemed to me, was the reign of ignorance. Because of his calculation that the cultured class were an easy target for a population that was largely illiterate, because of his own deep resentment of formal education and the educated, because of his megalomania, which led to his scorn for the great figures of Chinese culture, and because of his contempt for the areas of Chinese civilization that he did not understand, such as architecture, art, and music, Mao destroyed much of the country’s cultural heritage. He left behind not only a brutalized nation, but also an ugly land with little of its past glory remaining or appreciated.”

Mao was a monster.

Mao


Celebrating the Pattern Day

Thursday, 15 August, 2013 1 Comment

The “pattern” or pátrún was celebrated in almost every parish in Ireland from the middle ages to the mid-20th century. Primarily, a religious event associated with the patron saint of holy wells, the Pattern Day was also an important occasion in the social calendar. “We whiled away the time by drinking whiskey punch, observing the dancing to an excellent piper, and listening to the songs and story-telling which were going on about us,” wrote Crofton Croker after attending the Pattern Day at Gougane Barra in West Cork in 1813. With daylight fading, the revellers, Croker included, retired to tents:

“As night closed in, the tent became crowded almost to suffocation, and dancing being out of the question, our piper left us for some other station, and a man, who I learned had served in the Kerry militia, and had been flogged at Tralee about five years before as a White-boy, began to take a prominent part in entertaining the assembly, by singing Irish songs in a loud and effective voice. These songs were received with shouts of applause, and as I was then ignorant of the Irish language, and anxious to know the meaning of what had elicited so much popular approbation, I applied to an old woman near to whom I sat, and found that these songs were rebellious in the highest degree. Poor old King George was execrated without mercy; curses were also dealt out wholesale on the Saxon oppressors of Banna the blessed (an allegorical name for Ireland); Buonaparte’s achievements were extolled, and Irishmen were called upon to follow the example of the French people.”

In 1834, the English author Henry Inglis visited Connemara and was invited to a Pattern Day at Maumean in the Maamturk Mountains:

“It fortunately happened, that on the second day of my sojourn at Ma’am, a very celebrated pattern was to be held, on a singular spot, high up amongst the mountains, on a little plain… on an elevation of about 1,200 feet… The ascent to the spot where the pattern was to be held was picturesque in the extreme, for up the winding way, for miles before us and for miles behind too, groups were seen to be moving up the mountainside — the women with their red petticoats, easily distinguishable; some were on foot, some few on horseback, and some rode double. About half way up, we overtook a party of lads and lasses, beguiling the toil of the ascent, by the help of a piper, who marched before, and whose stirring strains, every now and then prompted an advance in jig-time, up the steep mountain path.”

On arrival at the summit Inglis was invited into a tent where “the pure poteen circulated freely.” However, heated words were exchanged and a fight developed. Inglis describes the row, how five or six “were disabled: but there was no homicide.” Afterwards, “some who had been opposed to each other, shook hands and kissed; and appeared as good friends as before.”

In 1682, Sir Henry Piers attended a Pattern Day at a church on a hill overlooking Lough Derravaragh in County Westmeath noted that quarreling was very much part of pattern procedure:

“For ale sellers in great numbers have their booths here as in a fair and to be sure the merry bag-pipers fail not to pay their attendance. Thus in lewd and obscene dancing, and in excess drinking, the remainder of the day is spent as if they celebrated the Bacchanalia rather than the memory of a pious saint or their own penetentials; and often times it falls out that more blood is shed on the grass from broken pates and drunken quarrels when the pilgrimages are ended than was before on the stones from their bare feet and knees during the devotions.”

Let’s hope that today’s Pattern Day in Ballylanders will a peaceful and happy affair.

Pattern memories


Peak oil has peaked

Tuesday, 23 July, 2013 0 Comments

For those ideologues camouflaged as journalists, Edward Snowden is the new global warming and the reincarnation of Hugo Chavez all rolled into one. When the old chestnuts of the left begin to lose their credibility, along comes the latest scam artist and the likes of Der Spiegel and The Guardian would have us believe that he’s a hero, not a traitor.

In time, Snowden will join the lots of other tropes in the dustbin of history. The latest addition is what was termed “peak oil”, which was supposed to be the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction would be reached, after which the rate of production would enter terminal decline. But now comes the news that The Oil Drum, a site created by believers in “peak oil,” is shutting down on 31 July after an eight-year innings. With daily news of record-breaking US oil production, it was, clearly, impossible to maintain the fiction that the world’s oil production was peaking.

Drill, baby, drill!

The dustbin of history is very commodious.