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Thinking

Elephant in the mushroom

Friday, 21 September, 2018

The French creative agency Les Creatonautes has spent a lot of time and energy this year producing a series of digital collages that combine animals and edibles. The project is a statement that our world is constantly evolving, but the changes are often invisible and, in the near future, they might be disturbing. How will we react when CRISPR and organisms and technologies and societies interact?

Elephant-mushroom

Les Creatonautes started the project on 1 January and have been publishing these “transformations” ever day since. Check out their Instagram.


Turkish joke

Saturday, 1 September, 2018

A prisoner goes to the jail’s library to borrow a book.
The librarian says: “Sorry, we don’t have that book, but we have its author.”

Reality: On 16 February this year, the Turkish author Ahmet Altan, along with his brother Mehmet and four others, were sentenced to life imprisonment with the condition that they be locked up for 23 hours each and every day.


The future revealed at PRIMER EU

Monday, 20 August, 2018

“The Futures Are Made. But How, Where And By Whom?” That’s the working title of PRIMER EU, a “conference dedicated to… bringing together the leading minds in futures design thinking and doing.” It takes place in Helsinki on 10 and 11 September and going by the list of speakers and their topics, the future is here but it’s not evenly distributed.

Appropriately, the morning keynote, titled ” All Future Everything”, will be delivered by a futurist, Monika Bielskyte, and she’ll be followed by Nicolas Nova and Fabien Girardin, the European half of the Near Future Laboratory. They’ll talk about “Design Fiction in the Fake News Era.” Topical, that.

Next up is Johanna Schmeer, an artist and designer from Berlin. Her talk has a prize-winning title: “Xenodesignerly ways of knowing.” Another designer, Noteh Krauss, from San Francisco, will be talking about “Future Making: Politics and Aesthetics in Kazakhstan.” It’s all about the “histories, politics, design fictions, and mythologies” of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s futuristic capital, Astana. By the way, he’s been president of Kazakhstan since the office was created in 1990 and he intends to keep it that way.

Simone Rebaudengo is a designer based in Shanghai and he’s going to talk about YEAST, a future food laboratory that “imagines products and companies that will improve living through food and technology.” And then it’ll be time for supper, but before the knives and forks come out, Scott Smith of Changeist will round off the talking with a public discussion about “trust in futures practices.” Futurism increasingly affects strategic innovation and policymaking and it’s good to debate it’s validity. Is it reliable. Or is it charlatanism?

It’s a cliché to quote William Gibson in these situations, but here goes: “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.”


Defining populism, philosophically

Tuesday, 31 July, 2018

The latest book by the English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton is titled Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition. He spoke about it with Madeleine Kearns of the National Review in a Q&A headlined “What It Means to Be a Conservative.” Snippet:

Kearns: You mention neither Donald Trump nor populism in your book. Why?

Scruton: Trump is an interesting phenomenon, but not an interesting thinker, supposing he is a thinker at all. ‘Populism’ is a word used by leftists to describe the emotions of ordinary people, when they do not tend to the left.


A Stoic speaks

Sunday, 15 July, 2018

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but of the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.” — Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius


Mario Vargas Llosa: Thatcher’s revolution

Wednesday, 7 March, 2018 0 Comments

“Mario Vargas Llosa is in good form.” That’s a good sentence. And it’s used to introduce readers of EL PAÍS SEMANAL to the Peruvian Nobel Laureate, whose latest book, La llamada de la tribu (The Call of the Tribe), has just been published. It’s an argument in favour of liberal thought and the writer makes his case by quoting seven authors: Adam Smith, José Ortega y Gasset, Friedrich von Hayek, Karl Popper, Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin and Jean-François Revel.

This being the eve of International Women’s Day, the sisterhood will be quick to point out the absence of women in that list but it should be noted that the interviewer here is Maite Rico and a woman, Margaret Thatcher, had a major influence on the political evolution of Mario Vargas Llosa. Snippet:

Q. The picture you paint of Margaret Thatcher as a brave, cultured woman of deep liberal convictions, contrasts starkly with the image we have of her.

A. That’s an absolutely unjust caricature. When I arrived in England, it was a decadent country — a country with freedom but whose mettle was being snuffed out gradually by the Labour Party’s economic nationalism. Margaret Thatcher’s revolution woke Britain up. They were tough times; finishing with the sinecure of the trade unions, creating a competent free-market society, and defending democracy with conviction while facing up to socialism, China, the USSR — the cruelest dictatorships in history. They were decisive years for me because I started to read Hayek and Popper, both authors quoted by Thatcher. She said that The Open Society and Its Enemies would be a crucial book for the 20th Century. The contribution of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to the culture of freedom, finishing with the Soviet Union —the biggest challenge democratic culture had ever had — is a reality that is unfortunately portrayed in a media influenced by a campaign from the left whose achievements are few.

When he’s right, he’s right. And he’s right.

Mario Vargas Llosa


2017

Sunday, 31 December, 2017 0 Comments

“The year is dying in the night.” — Alfred Tennyson

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…” — Alfred Tennyson

Galty's fireplace


The indispensable Hitchens

Saturday, 16 December, 2017 3 Comments

What a tragedy that Michael Moore has been spared and Christopher Hitchens has not. The great contrarian died six years ago yesterday and his loss is more acute with each passing day. Speaking once about Moore, Hitchens said: “Europeans think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they’ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities.” Here’s the late, great Hitchens in full flight.

“There is a widespread view that the war against jihadism and totalitarianism involves only differences of emphasis. In other words, one might object to the intervention in Iraq on the grounds that it drew resources away from Afghanistan — you know the argument. It’s important to understand that this apparent agreement does not cover or include everybody. A very large element of the Left and of the isolationist Right is openly sympathetic to the other side in this war, and wants it to win. This was made very plain by the leadership of the ‘anti-war’ movement, and also by Michael Moore when he shamefully compared the Iraqi fascist ‘insurgency’ to the American Founding Fathers. To many of these people, any ‘anti-globalization’ movement is better than none. With the Right-wingers it’s easier to diagnose: they are still Lindberghians in essence and they think war is a Jewish-sponsored racket. With the Left, which is supposed to care about secularism and humanism, it’s a bit harder to explain an alliance with woman-stoning, gay-burning, Jew-hating medieval theocrats. However, it can be done, once you assume that American imperialism is the main enemy. Even for those who won’t go quite that far, the admission that the US Marine Corps might be doing the right thing is a little further than they are prepared to go — because what would then be left of their opposition credentials, which are so dear to them?” Love, Poverty and War, Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 — 15 December 2011)

Hitchens


They are not long, the days of wine and roses

Tuesday, 3 October, 2017 0 Comments

Sunday night’s mass murder in Las Vegas fills one with despair. What kind of rage or madness drives a person to do something so barbarous? Can it be detected? Treated? Which mental health checks can be done to prevent people acquiring fully automatic AR-15 style assault rifles with high capacity magazines?

As we wait for answers to all those questions, our attention should be focussed not on the killer but on his victims. They, and their families and friends, are the ones deserving sympathy and attention today. Those slaughtered were enjoying the music; they were living their lives when death was poured down upon them. To their memory, then, we dedicate Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam by Ernest Dowson, an English poet who died aged 32 in 1900. In his short life and few poems, he created vivid phrases such as “gone with the wind,” “I have been faithful… in my fashion” and “days of wine and roses”.

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

“The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long.” — Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson (1867 – 1900)


Light and darkness

Sunday, 16 July, 2017 0 Comments

“There were a billion lights out there on the horizon and I knew that all of them put together weren’t enough to light the darkness in the hearts of some men.” — Michael Connelly, The Scarecrow.

Evil and evil


Paglia on Elitist Garbage & Contemporary Feminism

Saturday, 18 March, 2017 0 Comments

Camille Paglia is in the news thanks to her new book, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, and Feminism. It’s a collection of her thoughts from 1990 to the present, and in an interview with Vice she argues that feminism is now dominated by educated white women at the expense of working class women and men. Snippet:

The book argues that construction workers and other working class men’s work have gone unnoticed. How has society ignored their contributions to society?

It is an absolute outrage how so many pampered, affluent, upper-middle-class professional women chronically spout snide anti-male feminist rhetoric, while they remain completely blind to the constant labor and sacrifices going on all around them as working-class men create and maintain the fabulous infrastructure that makes modern life possible in the Western world. Only a tiny number of women want to enter the trades where most of the nitty-gritty physical work is actually going on—plumbing, electricity, construction. Women have played virtually no role in the erection of those magnificent towers in every major city in the world. It’s men who operate the cranes or set the foundations or wash windows on the 85th floor. It’s men who troop out at 2:00 AM during an ice storm to restore power to neighborhoods where falling trees have brought down live wires. It’s men who mix the stinking, toxic cauldrons to spread steaming hot tar on city roofs. Last year in a nearby town, I drove by a huge, chaotic scene where emergency workers in hazmat suits were struggling with a giant pipe break, as raw sewage was pouring into the street. Of course all those workers up to their knees in a torrent of thick brown water were men! I’ve seen figures indicating that 92 per cent of people killed on the job are men—and it’s precisely because men are heroically doing most of the dangerous jobs in modern society. The bourgeois blindness of feminist leaders to low-status working-class labor by men is morally corrupt! Gay men, on the other hand, have always shown their awed admiration of working-class masculinity and fortitude. It’s no coincidence that a buff construction worker in a hard hat was one of the iconic personae of the gay disco group, the Village People, during the Studio 54 era!

The women Camille Paglia admires do not insult or denigrate men. Instead, they demand the right to show that women can match or surpass men. Her quarrel with contemporary feminism is that male-bashing is now its default mode and the fanatics are in charge. She cites the case of Kate Millett whose “life has been a series of mental breakdowns and hospitalizations.” Paglia wants women and men to be free to determine their own identities and interests “without intrusive surveillance and censorship by women with their own political agenda.”

Fearless in the face of political correctness and unapologetic in her quest for freedom Camille Paglia loves the highway and loathes the airport: “I’m a driver. I love my car, where I can be free as the wind! Air travel these days is like being caught in a mass flight of ragged, hollow-eyed refugees from war-torn Berlin.”