Monthly Archives: June 2009

Swedish Turnips

“On 1 July 2009, Sweden will take over the Presidency of the EU……for six months, Sweden will lead the EU’s work and be responsible for moving important EU issues forward….The Presidency is a unique opportunity for Sweden to lead and influence work on important EU issues. At the same time, the country holding the Presidency must be flexible and prepared to deal with unexpected issues.”

So says the Swedish Government. The key is in the last sentence. In current circumstances to say that this is rather an understatement is itself an understatement.

The Swedish Government is facing a hurricane of uncertainty – indeed several hurricanes. Mr Reinfeldt, the Swedish Prime Minister, and thus from tomorrow the leader of the Swedish Presidency, however appears calm. Indeed he is noted for his calmness. Perhaps has resolved that the Presidency motto should be “Keep Calm And Carry On.”

As the young and popular economist who three years ago was deemed ‘the most admired man in Sweden,’ Mr Reinfeldt may already have secured his place in EU history by being the last of the EU’s ‘rotating’ Presidents.

For if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified (which depends on the Irish voting ‘yes’ in their second opinion referendum on the matter in October, on the sceptical Presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic actually putting pen to paper and confirming what their Parliaments have approved and on the German constitutional court ruling that implementing Lisbon would actually be legal in Germany) a semi-permanent President will come into being who will in practice take over much of the responsibility for leading the Union in the eyes of the world.

Thus Mr Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, who is due to follow Mr Reinfeldt in January next year, may well find that he has to work behind a president imposed by the European Council over his head. He will be thus denied his chance to strut the European stage.


* Waterloo

Blow Up


Antonioni’s Blow Up And The Chiasmus Of Memory

If we apply this notion of the reversibility of the visible/invisible, representational/ nonrepresentational to the closing passage of the film, when Thomas discovers that the corpse has disappeared and later joins the rag week students miming a game of tennis, we can offer a far more optimistic view of Thomas’s ontological predicament than Chatman’s:

The tennis game seems like a commentary on the inevitability of illusion in art. Thomas says nothing, and the expression on his face is open to a variety of interpretations. I see in it concern about his own sanity but also rueful resignation about the limits of art’s power to interpret…And the illusion exists only because the artist allows it to, because he gives it permission, so to speak. Under such circumstances, is it a wonder that the artist becomes so concerned about the possibilities of madness.


*Blow up (1966) David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave by Michelangelo Antonioni

Swedish software firm buys The Pirate Bay for £4.7m


Wow! Steal from others, get bought out, make $7+m. All while dabbling in neo-nazism to keep from getting too bored.

The Swedish software firm, Global Gaming Factory X, has bought the file-sharing site The Pirate Bay for almost £4.7m.

GCF CEO Hans Pandeya said that to continue, The Pirate Bay would have to develop a new business model. “We would like to introduce models which entail that content providers and copyright owners get paid.”

In April, the founders of The Pirate Bay were sentenced to one year in jail and fined £2.4m.

Monsieur Flaubert, C’est Moi!

Transcript of the lecture Orhan Pamuk gave at the University of Rouen:

As told in the final section of Voyage en Orient, Gustave Flaubert, accompanied by his friend Maxime du Camp, travelled to Istanbul in October 1850 after his visit to Egypt, the Lebanon and Syria. The two men had earlier travelled together and written about their experiences, an arrangement pleasing to both. Du Camp, the scion of an affluent family and knowledgeable in literature and art, proved to be a trustworthy and reliable friend — though somewhat effete. Six years later, he would serialise Madame Bovary in the Revue de Paris, which he edited. During their travels, as du Camp took the first photographs of the Middle East with his cumbersome camera, Flaubert was preoccupied with himself and his own future. In a word, he was burdened by his own troubles.

Flaubert’s trouble, or rather burning pain, was the syphilis he had contracted in Beirut. He treated his festering wounds with medicines, strove to lessen his pain, wondered whether he had contracted the disease from a “Turk” or Christian and described it all in his letters in a tone of self-mockery.

Having been on the road for more than a year, Flaubert suffered exhaustion and fatigue. His hair had begun to fall out and his teeth to come loose. Furthermore, he pined for home, his mother and his former life in Rouen.

In Istanbul, Flaubert responded to a letter from his mother in which he learned of a friend’s marriage and of her own curiosity about his marriage plans. When I dreamed of becoming a writer in my youth, I’d frequently turn to this letter dated 15 December, 1850, penned from “Constantinople”, and would garner strength and succour from its exceptional words in the face of the hardships of staying on one’s feet and on course as an author in Turkey.

Flaubert wrote: “When is the wedding to be, you ask me, à propos of the news of Ernest Chevalier’s marriage…When? Never, I hope.” The prospective young writer of 29 then reminds his mother of his principles, emphasising that it is far too late to change them now. “I, too, am ‘established’ in that I have found my seat, my centre of gravity. For me, marriage would be an apostasy: the very thought terrifies me.” A few sentences later, he clearly expresses the view on the relationship between art and life that would later be developed by
Nietzsche and Thomas Mann: “You can depict wine, love, women and glory on the condition that you are not a drunkard, a lover, a husband or a private in the ranks. If you participate actively in life, you don’t see it clearly: you suffer from it too much or enjoy it too much.” Flaubert writes to his mother with the profound sense that the artist must be a freak of nature, an oddity outside of ordinary life, a monster of sorts: “So, I am resigned to living as I have lived: alone, with my throng of great men as my only cronies — a bear with just my bear skin as company.” And he addresses his mother with the sentences I whispered to myself before I’d turned 30, sentences in which I tried to believe: “I care nothing for the world, for the future, for what people will say, for any kind of establishment, or even for literary renown, which in the past I used to lie awake so many nights dreaming about.” And after writing these arrogant words, Flaubert adds one final line whose simplicity demonstrates his self-confidence and sincerity: “That is what I am like. Such is my character.”

In Istanbul, at the end of the 1970s, while trying to get my newly completed first novel published, living alone with my mother, I remember trying to locate the Justiniano Hotel in Galata, where Flaubert had spent his days and penned these words in 1850. Just like the “great men” that he had idolised, I tried to take Flaubert as my model.



Photo source: European Commission Enlargement

Priced to sell

Malcolm Gladwell on Chris Anderson’s “Free”:

The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things “made of ideas.” Anderson does not consider this a passing trend. Rather, he seems to think of it as an iron law: “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.” To musicians who believe that their music is being pirated, Anderson is blunt. They should stop complaining, and capitalize on the added exposure that piracy provides by making money through touring, merchandise sales, and “yes, the sale of some of [their] music to people who still want CDs or prefer to buy their music online.” To the Dallas Morning News, he would say the same thing. Newspapers need to accept that content is never again going to be worth what they want it to be worth, and reinvent their business. “Out of the bloodbath will come a new role for professional journalists,” he predicts, and he goes on:

There may be more of them, not fewer, as the ability to participate in journalism extends beyond the credentialed halls of traditional media. But they may be paid far less, and for many it won’t be a full time job at all. Journalism as a profession will share the stage with journalism as an avocation. Meanwhile, others may use their skills to teach and organize amateurs to do a better job covering their own communities, becoming more editor/coach than writer. If so, leveraging the Free—paying people to get other people to write for non-monetary rewards—may not be the enemy of professional journalists. Instead, it may be their salvation.

Anderson is very good at paragraphs like this—with its reassuring arc from “bloodbath” to “salvation.” His advice is pithy, his tone uncompromising, and his subject matter perfectly timed for a moment when old-line content providers are desperate for answers. That said, it is not entirely clear what distinction is being marked between “paying people to get other people to write” and paying people to write. If you can afford to pay someone to get other people to write, why can’t you pay people to write? It would be nice to know, as well, just how a business goes about reorganizing itself around getting people to work for “non-monetary rewards.” Does he mean that the New York Times should be staffed by volunteers, like Meals on Wheels?


*Free: The Future of a Radical Price (Hardcover) by Chris Anderson

Michael Jackson, the bookworm

Owners of local bookstores, including Dutton’s, recall encountering the late pop star perusing their shelves.


In later years, Jackson would wear a surgical mask during his visits. In an X17 online video of him on New Year’s Eve 2008, in what appears to be Hennessey + Ingalls, he browses for books under a black umbrella, often held by an assistant.

“He loved the poetry section,” Dave Dutton said as Dirk chimed in that Ralph Waldo Emerson was Jackson’s favorite. “I think you would find a great deal of the transcendental, all-accepting philosophy in his lyrics.”

Largely an autodidact, Jackson was quite well read, according to Jackson’s longtime lawyer. “We talked about psychology, Freud and Jung, Hawthorne, sociology, black history and sociology dealing with race issues,” Bob Sanger told the LA Weekly after the singer’s death. “But he was very well read in the classics of psychology and history and literature . . . Freud and Jung — go down the street and try and find five people who can talk about Freud and Jung.”

Alegrias del Barrio Santa María (Cadiz)

A clip of music (alegrias) with images of Cádiz from the film Rito y Geografía del Cante.


Flamenco as we know it today surfaced in the 19th century. You can hear the original strands of its multi-cultural blending in, for instance, the rhythms of the tabla that show up in the palos (styles) of bulería, siguiryia and soleá.

Flamenco is counted in 12-count phrases, which is very different from the predominant 4/4 time signature used in most Western musical compositions (or the waltz, set in ¾ time). Varying accent patterns within the 12-count phrase determine the particular form. The bulería compás (meter or time signature) is counted with stresses marked below as / or in bolded numbers. Try tapping your desk with emphasis on counts 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12.

../.././././ 123 456 78 910 1112

The variations are endless when accompanied by palmas (clapping), if every count is given equal emphasis or if the unaccented counts are syncopated by pitos (finger snapping) or the dancer’s zapateados (footwork.) Trying to keep tabs of the counts is like counting Stravinsky when every measure might change its time signature.


More in Stamp Your Feet. Hard. by Randolyn Zinn

Manhood for Amateurs: The Wilderness of Childhood

Michael Chabon in the New York Review of Books:

The endangerment of children—that persistent theme of our lives, arts, and literature over the past twenty years—resonates so strongly because, as parents, as members of preceding generations, we look at the poisoned legacy of modern industrial society and its ills, at the world of strife and radioactivity, climatological disaster, overpopulation, and commodification, and feel guilty. As the national feeling of guilt over the extermination of the Indians led to the creation of a kind of cult of the Indian, so our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked. At the same time they have become fetishes, the objects of an unhealthy and diseased fixation. And once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it.

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted—not taught—to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?


(Hat tip: Yorgos)


*Michael Chabon is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and the children’s book, Summerland. He lives in Berkeley, California.

*Photo source: Photo Answers

Blur at Glastonbury 2009

Despite talk of the “dad-rock” lineup, Blur made sure that the real winner at this year’s Glastonbury was pop music. They weren’t alone, of course. Earlier in the weekend, La Roux packed a tent out with glitter-strewn girls who clearly wanted to be just like her. Dizzee created a Pyramid stage frenzy by unleashing a series of b-b-b-bonkers mainstream hits. And Lady Gaga showed that a 20-minute guitar solo can’t really compete with straddling a motorbike and baring your arse. Battle lines had been drawn – it was the pop scenesters who triumphed.

So sure, Young played a great gig for his fans. And Springsteen put on a fantastic show for Boss devotees. But Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave? They put on a show that touched every heart in Pilton.



Blur – Song 2 – Glastonbury Festival 2009

Are humans cruel to be kind?

[W]hy do we inflict pain for no gain? On the face of it, it is rather a perverse way of going about things. Does spitefulness stem from an affronted sense of fairness? Or something altogether darker: envy, lust for revenge – or perhaps even pure sadism?

It might be all those things. Economists, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have been teasing out how, used judiciously, spiteful behaviour can be one of our best weapons in maintaining a fair and ordered society. But intentions that are noble in one situation can be malicious in another – making spite a weapon that can all too easily backfire.

Human spite is a complex affair. It is not pure selfishness in the Darwinian sense, like a stag that picks a fight with another. Though it might be gored in the process, the stag is actually acting in its own best interests. If it ends up with more mates, then the chances of passing on its genes are increased, an evolutionary prize worth fighting for.