Friday, September 29, 2006

A small digression on regression

And on that topic, it strikes me that whichever way we gaze at fundamental reality these days, the experience becomes rather like standing between a pair of mirrors.

For example, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom would like us to consider the idea that members of any sufficiently advanced civilisation, capable of knocking together a computational device that can whizz through ten to the power of forty instructions per second, are likely to want to indulge in what he calls "ancestor simulations". Bostrom reckons that there is a 20% chance that we are already living inside one of these, devised by uber-nerds with too much time on their hands, who might well be simulations themselves, and so on.

Contemporary science provides several more ways for us to contemplate nested multiversal multiplicity. There are the physical multiple universes that derive from String Theory and then there are the metaphysical parallel worlds suggested by (one interpretation of) Quantum theory.

I suppose if monotheism made any sense to me at all I would have to be a monomaniacal Muslim. Tawhid, the oneness of the Divine; how could it be any other way? I can see how Christianity must in contrast appear to the Islamic fundamentalist as an utter bungle, a faith blended haphazardly across the centuries with pagan perverseness, gnostic dualism, world-rejecting ascetism and various other schizoid additives.

And yet Oneness is the noun that I would be least likely to use to characterise that aspect of the cosmos, the great mystery, lying outside the scope of empirical investigation. Which is why monotheism in fact makes very little sense to me at all.

It's a striking fact that it was the Islamic world that first came up with induction, a.k.a "the scientific method", yet surely it was Christian civilisation's very lack of oneness, its deeply split-personality take on the spiritual and the material, the Divine and the secular, that permitted westerners to advance their scientific understanding as a result of the dialectical friction between inductive reason and Church dogma.

Into the Mirror (Geoul Sokuero)

Wraps up rather like one of the more memorable episodes of the Twilight Zone.

That final ten minutes and indeed the opening ten minutes are the best things about this film. There are three creative strands competing for our attention in the rather convoluted mid-section: a bog standard Asian horror whodunnit (who pissed off the vengeful spook?); a more complex and certainly creepier examination of the pyschology of mirror-use; and lastly, symmetry and inverted representation as an (overexploited) design concept.

As with Phone it seems that Into the Mirror was intended to satisfy two audiences at once, the cereberal and well, the mainstream, with the result that there's simply too much going on to make dramatic sense and the tension levels flag markedly at times.

Looks like a Hollywood remake is in the pipeline and perhaps, for a change, there's a chance that an American production will improve on the original by untangling the concept.

It would be hard to better the twist at the end, though I was left suspecting that perhaps there's an entirely different, more complex story for which this would be the ideally disturbing pay-off.

Ghosts of Spain

It is customary for a certain kind of educated Englishmen to adopt a Mediterranean country as his spiritual home at some point in his life. Giles Tremlett, the Guardian's long standing correspondent in Madrid, has settled on (and settled in) Spain, in recent history perhaps not the most fashionable choice, owing to its enduring association with the more uneducated sort of Englishman.

Only the first third of the book is really about the ghosts of Spain's past. The rest is a region by region survey of the contemporary aspects of his new homeland that Tremlett has yet to assimilate into his ordered anglosajón soul. It's rather like a letter addressed to one's beloved that starts "I love you to bits but..."

There's hardly any thematic unity behind these essays on Spain's hidden present, which makes the reading experience rather like settling down to work one's way through a bulky, single-topic newspaper. Yet dotted around the saggier parts of Tremlett's exposition are some very lively ancecdotes. For me the stand-out examples were these:

The journalist was apartment-hunting out in Madrid with his young daughter and was taken by an estate agent to see one smart residence. On entering the living room he found that it was "dominated by a life-size portrait of a man in a Second World War German uniform." Adolf Hitler. Nearby there was a glass cabinet with an iron cross, a falangist red beret and a picture of King Juan Carlos. The estate agent had warned him about the "old fashioned" decor.

Pedro Almodóvar has fessed up to Spanish media that his last unrealised "erotic fantasy is to go on a bus, pass by a school, and to see, for example, a father of about thirty-eight picking up his thirteen year old daughter. What I would really like to do is to go to bed with the father and the daughter at the same time, because I like pubescents a lot, and their fathers, even those with respectable jobs that give them a bit of a paunch."

There is also the story of Hildegart Rodriguez, "the red virgin" a young girl brought up as an intellectual prodigy by her mother Aurora, a woman who denied that women have souls, but had determined to bring up her first born as a super-being almost from the moment of conception. Hildergart could speak French, English and German by the age of eight and joined the Socialist party at fourteen. She published books, gave speeches and founded a league for Sexual Reform. Yet when she informed her mother that she intended to leave her to visit H.G. Wells and other thinkers in London Aurora shot her as she slept, one bullet in the head and three in the chest.

I also enjoyed the chapter on the Costa del Sol megalopolis, set to become Spain's largest city, and already home to more UK passport holders than Cardiff.

In the late seventies I spent a few summers at the recently opened Marbella Club, pet project of the late Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe-Langenburg Iturbe "principal promoter of sunny Marbella in Spain." Back then Marbella was still more or less the cosmopolitan arcadia that a young Alfonso had imagined, but by the time my father decided to buy a house in an urbanisation a few minutes drive to the east of the old town, it had become permantly joined to wide boy playgound Puerto Banus by dense sprawl of little white villas called Nueva Andalucia and the cosmopolitans had given way to oafish catetos (and more seasonally, the gilded tryrants of Arabia) One of Alfonso's final remarks about the little monster he had created was "If I could destroy the horrors of Marbella I would do so. But I suspect I would need a lot of dynamite."

I had a last look myself on January 2, 2004 when V and I spent the night in Marbella after celebrating the New Year in Spain. We drove up the hill to our old house, and I noted sadly how the olive trees that had lined the road were gone along with two old derelict farmhouses. In a deep groove in the hillside there ran a new motorway which crossed us perpendicularly, halfway between the coast and the summit, which still affords an unspoilable view of the western Med, which on a crystal clear winter morning appears as a vast, shimmering lake bordered to the south by the craggy Atlas mountains of Morocco.

Tremlett explains how the need to reclassify land from rural to urban utilisation has fed an "unbreakable cycle" of corruption along Spain's southern coastline. Nor are there any shortage of examples from other parts of the country. Real Madrid's spending spree on Galacticos was funded by €390 pelotazo involving the sale of the club's training ground to developers. The deal was conceived by the then club president Florentino Perez, a construction magnate who had in mind a team full of flesh and blood brands like Ronaldo and Beckham who would increase Real's global earning potential, regardless of their collective performance on the pitch.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Civilisation Crunch

History doesn't stand still waiting for us to decide where it ought to be heading. Of one thing I am certain, and that is that Modernity (in the broadest sense) will continue to expand across the globe and that the diminishing number of people with Modernity-resistance built into their value system will occasionally form into well-defended blocks behind which their medieval worldview will harden into an aggressive revolt against the prevailing trend. (Iran etc.)

Many moderns will continue to extol the (now largely touristic) value of human diversity while continuing to think rather wishfully that the situation can be kept stable by the correct observance of an international system of good manners.

Now here's an interesting fact I learned yesterday. For the first half of the last century one third of Baghdad's population was Jewish. There were enclaves of similar proportions in cities across the Middle East but persecution at the hands of fascist-inspired Pan-Arab movements like Baathism and the formation of the state of Israel has ensured that they and their descendents are now nearly all concentrated in a small strip of territory that will surely soon be within range of pre-Moderns with nukes.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The Neocons may like to describe the fully-escalated form of their confrontation with radical Islam as the Third World War, but my Bulgarian friend refers to the "coming" conflagration as Armageddon, an allusion that may be deeply appropriate.

According to Paul Berman the "ur-myth" of the battle of Armageddon has a lot to answer for. Ever since its appearance in the Revelation of St. John the Divine it has exerted a powerful pathological effect on our history. Essentially it allows a group of people to position themselves as the People of God in opposition to the commercially-inclined city dwellers of Babylon and their Satanic backers. It thus becomes their mission to usher in the thousand year reign of God, a unified, flawless society "whose very shape and structure ruled out any challenge to its own shape and direction."

In the twentieth century this ancient worldview has solidified as political theory. The Pure and their nihilistic Leader − an individual typically freed from the "humiliating limitations" of conventional morality − have variously revolted against liberal civilisation and its rationality, seeking to crush the polluted Babylon and its Jews, Freemasons, Cosmopolitans, Bourgeoisie etc. in a final war of extinction.

Such sects are highly prone to celebrate the sacrifices of murder and suicide. As Berman points out, one of Franco's most reactionary generals José Millán Astray was fond of proclaiming: "Viva la Muerte!"

I have yet to finish Berman's book but it's already clear that he holds the view that Islamism is a new mutation of the West's oldest auto-immune syndrome. It may just be the Muslim way of dealing with the current global domination of the Great Satan, just as the Jews before them had sought their Messiah whilst under the Roman cosh, and the Germans their Führer after the humiliation of defeat in the First World War.

Islam might have looked very different proposition when it controlled most of the Mediterranean world under the Caliphs, but Mohammed's message nevertheless originated as a revolt against the Babylon of his own era, the pluralist, commercial society of Mecca. The Prophet was another instance of these conductors of a downtrodden select that sought to reestablish society beyond both difference and doubt, ushering in a world based on the godlike "ideal of the one, instead of the many".

I used to think that this periodic pathology could be traced back to the classical alternative polities of Athens and Sparta, transcendental models of totalitarian collective and pluralist democracy. Yet Robin Lane Cook has made it clearer to me that both these model societies emerged as a response to the then perceived threat of tyrrany, not the Whore of Babylon (pictured). The subsequent merging of the collective ideal with submission to a singular authority, together in opposition to the corrupting effects of the free conscience, was the later contribution of the Middle East − the curse of desert monotheism.

Islamism is the modern world's most obvious exponent of the Babylon-Armageddon myth, and pretty much everything the American Neocons are doing right now is surely feeding the beast. Yet liberal civilisation has its historical enemies within too − Christianity in all its denominations has repeatedly become contorted by a repressive revulsion from its secular mores.

President Bush was driven to invade Iraq in part because his worldview is under the sway of another potent Biblical myth, the Zionist one. Two ancient myths, two great blobs of near-eastern nonsense, locked in combat. You'd have to hope that the world's irrationalists could conveniently exterminate each other without spoiling the planet for the rest of us, but there are hardly any grounds for optimism on that front.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"The Motherfuckers and the Motherfucked"

"Good but not great" was my take on Buffalo Soldiers when I reviewed it concisely back in 2003. After (finally) watching it again with V last night I will upgrade that to "very good".

She'd insisted on a film that was " subtitles". That didn't leave me with much to go on in my current un-viewed DVD collection. We tried The Life and Death of Peter Sellars, but the opening animation seemed to augur very badly.

So we switched over to Gregor' Jordan's penetratingly dark comedy about men of war bored with peace, which had ended up shelved for a couple of years after 9-11.

V is usually turned off by anything "in camouflage" but appeared gripped from the moment the troops marched across the Stars and Stripes after the opening titles. A thinking-man's Police Academy, she concluded; a very cynical thinking man.

For a movie to be all it can be there's really no substitute for a superbly written and structured script and solid performances. This one makes you laugh and makes you think a bit too.

Last week V greatly enjoyed another film that I had seen without her back in 2003: Belleville Rendezvous. I think I appreciated its Gallic charm a bit more on the second viewing!

My world in pictures

Frode sent me this revealing link to a page showing the current Newsweek covers: Jihadistan vs Planet America. What does a death-loving Islamisist fanatic have to do these days to get these guy's attention? The question must have been asked before 9-11, but the bar appears to have been raised.

Update: Frode has YouTube'd it.

Pavón Recaptured

Yesterday a substantial joint force of Guatemalan soldiers and police launched an assault which ended in the recapture of Pavón prison, run by its inmates since 1996.

During this decade of virtual autonomy the prisoners had constructed their own secure township within the grounds, leaving the guards (on their payroll) to patrol the perimeter and manage the administration. Inside their fortress they opened churches of various denominations, bars, restaurants, tuck-shops and laboratories for processing class A drugs. Prisoner pets were fairly common; one kept a spider monkey, it has been reported.

8 of the 1600 inmates died in Monday's battle, most of these men apparently defending the two-story wooden chalet that was the residence of the narcotraficante known as "El Loco". (Not to be confused with the Presidente of Venezuela.) Another fatality was convicted killer Luis Alfonso Zepeda who had been earning around $25,000 a month from kidnappings and extortion and headed up the 'order committee' which effectively ruled the jail.

Another 8 had been killed there in August 2005 when a multi-prison war broke out between the incarcerated wings of the main maras. 31 died nationwide.

Pavón, located on the outskirts of Fraijanes (30KM west of Guatemala City), was conceived as an interesting experiment: a farm prison where prisoners could grow their own food. Unfortunately, they quickly diversified into other crops and started building homes on the grounds.

V has a vivid memory of a visit to Pavón with her uncle in the 80s. It appears he had a meeting about a loan with a bible bearing religioso that ran one of the churches inside; the jail was open to anyone that could name the person they intended to visit. She recalls gardens, shops, shoe-shiners and Chinese restaurants within this bizarre microcosm whose occupants apparently found generally preferable to the outside world.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Save the Green Planet (Jigureul jikyeora! )

Not a film I think I could persuade many people to see simply by telling them what it's about. Especially not if I then added that it has but one female part − circus freak Su-ni − and that it's packed with almost unrelenting scenes of point-blank cruelty and other kinds of oriental ickiness, much of it with a geeky, homoerotic edge.

And yet on exiting the premiere in 2003 Chanwook-Park described this as "the best Korean film ever" and, if you discount his own Oldboy and my own favourite A Tale of Two Sisters, he's probably right. It's mad, bad and utterly brilliant.

There is a constant stream of visual comedy going on in the background and one or two foreground gags that had us in near hysterics. ("Cuckoo...") There are also moments of astounding invention - such as Lee Byeong-gu's startling resucitation courtesy of Kang Man-shik's infuriated stompimg.

Jang Joon-Hwan claims the idea came to him from two sources, an article describing how some people had come to believe that Leonardo de Caprio is an alien, and his conviction that Misery had failed to retain enough audience sympathy for Kathy Bates's character Annie Wilkes. And Save the Green Planet is indeed an improvement on Stephen King's tale in that it is just as darkly hilarious, and yet is also deeper and ultimately more moving.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Use of the Other

This week I am cautiously exploring the ideas of Paul Berman, one of America's foremost leftist intellectuals who believes that the confrontation with radical Islam is a globalised continuation of the West's twentieth century struggle against its own internal "totalitarian rebellions".

I am generally sympathetic to such calls for us to take a principled stand against total systems. However I already have some issues with Berman's position. Islamism may represent the most obvious threat, but it is only part of the problem. Focusing on it exclusively is allowing us to externalise some of the tensions between freedom and its enemies at home, and it does so in a way that inherently demonises another culture, and perhaps also ethnic otherness in general. (Indeed, the Duck of Minerva has suggested that Pope Benedict was himself caught out last week using Islam "as a convenient rhetorical shorthand for currents of Christianity that he disapproves of." )

Another concern is that the pluralism v totalitarianism model isn't really that much better a guide for holistic historical understanding and future action than the good vs evil one. And ideologies worth fighting for are also ideologies that habitually discount an awful lot of unnecessary killing.

Anyway, I'm certain to come out of Terror and Liberalism with more questions than answers. Right at the outset Berman qualifies his choice of enemy with this statement: "Islamism, the radical political movement (not to be confused with Islam the ancient religion)." But is it really so "not to be confused"? Is Islamism an ideology tacked on to a religion or is there something particularly ideological about Islam? And might globalisation be speeding up its conversion into an ideology?

What drives the feeling of violent revulsion that fundamentalists the world over feel about the principles of liberalism? What are they afraid of and is there anything we can do, short of confining our womenfolk, to alleviate it in any significant way?

Phone (Pon)

What next, a haunted blog that will kill you if you don't dutifully read every post?!

Byeong-ki Ahn must have thought that all he had to do was include everything that ever scared anyone in the modern Asian horror genre (and a good looking cast) and he'd have a classic on his hands. The first five minutes alone work all the key tropes: scary rain, scary lifts, scary lighting, scary hair.

The trouble here is that two separate story ideas have been badly gelled into one plot. The first, more basic one, is the techno-terror concept of an unpleasantly possessed mobile phone, which was bound to go down well with younger Korean audiences.

The second one is a parable about the scariness of marriage and parenthood, which plays on deeper, more adult psychological fears. The beginning and the end are enjoyable enough, but the mid-section, where there is something of a transition between the two underlying themes, almost lost us.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Laurie Lee: A Rose for Winter

At Borders Laurie Lee's autobiographical works are slotted into the Fiction section. It sort of makes sense, as the narrative voice that here relates Lee's experiences during a 3 month return visit to Franco's Spain in the 50s is a creation of careful artifice.

This is some of the most intensely lyrical writing I have ever come across: "Slow time dripped musically from the fountains, wine barrels and the guitarist's fingers...the moonlight seemed to collect in warm pools along the little streets and to drip off the white walls with a visual texture as smooth and tender as oil."

Moving through this ornate prose almost feverishly I felt I could feel its beauty taking shape in the back of my throat. And yet there are a number of passages which are simply too choca with adjectives:"The great interior was a rouged twilight, where the fretted choir, the candled images and many gilden, dim-lit chapels, presented to the eye the massed details of an intricate sanctity."

The purpose of the trip and the presence of Lee's wife Kati become apparent only gradually. Her physical appearance − it becomes increasingly clear − is like a siren song to the lustful Iberian male. There are some comic scenes where the author has been laid low by a fever and is reassured by one of the locals keeping vigil at his bedside that "everyone is saying what a beautiful widow the señora will make".

His travel journal also contains marvellous little stand-alone one sentence vignettes like this: "I remember sitting in the Garden of Hercules at dusk, writing, sipping wine and being stroked on the nose by a whore." (and "small dogs slept in shadows as if bred only for sleep.")

Over the last few pages Lee makes what now appear to be somewhat optimistic assessments of the unchangeability of a nation which "rejects all short-cuts to a smoother life...for they possess a natural resistance to Civilisation's more superficial seductions."

He expects that time will continue to function differently for the Spanish (that much is still very much the case) and that their girls will remain "unslacked, and their music unswung." I wonder what he would have made of Las Ketchup?

Now Spain may have become one of the most self-consciously modern countries within the EU, but it surely still retains many of the qualities that Lee was apt to describe as "incorruptible" or "unenslaved". And each time we have crossed the Pyrenees on the return leg of a trip down to Iberia, we have certainly − as Laurie and Kati did back then − experienced that saddening sense of "all there was to leave."


Thanks to David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth we have now identified one of the more unpleasant bichos that regularly invades our house in Guatemala...the Whip Spider.

Tarantulas I can deal with. They are actually quite cute and will generally leave you alone unless provoked, but this hard-shelled nasty makes me break out in a cold sweat.

It's not unusual to hear a piercing scream emitted by the occupant of our downstairs guest loo. V once dimensionally compacted one of these arachno-lobsters with a large hardback book, which remains on the shelf next to the toilet and can deliver a nasty surprise to unsuspecting browsers.

On a separate note, V has been suffering from a recurring dream recently involving a catastrophic eruption of the Volcan de Fuego.

Human evolution, the next step?

Another superb bit of speculation from Scott Adams on which subset of humans is starting to split off from the species in evolutionary terms:

"My guess is that the next human species will differ primarily in the brain. Thanks to the Internet and our ability to travel, the smartest humans are starting to meet and congregate at places like Stanford and Google. Over time, the smartest people will start breeding primarily with other geniuses....

"We already see a big difference in how people perceive reality. Some people perceive only the natural world that can be measured. Other people (the vast majority) perceive the supernatural world to be equally real, including souls and spirits and angels and ghosts and God. I think the two groups might go their separate ways.

"In the old days, atheists were killed before they could breed. Now they move to Europe where all they do is eat cheese and hump. Result: more atheists. Meanwhile, Omar the disbeliever in Saudi Arabia is having his junk removed by sword so he won’t father any new infidels. I might be exaggerating that last part, but I’m sure Omar isn’t getting six wives."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Partial Transcendence

There are people who believe that debating the reasonableness of a notional supernatural being is a good use of their time in this world. I'm not one of them. Pope Benedict, on the other hand, clearly is. Aside from pushing the big red button marked Diss the Prophet, his speech last week sought to reassure the faithful that their God was more likely to behave rationally than Islam's Allah. Accordingly, another line he quoted therein was this: "But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality."

Now most people acquire their God as a result of a geographical accident that takes place long before they themselves have acquired the use of reason, so it strikes me that this kind of our God is better (or more rational) than yours argument is inevitably a kind of post-rationalisation.

And it's clear that the vast majority of committed believers just about anywhere never fully acquire the use of reason. As the un-reasoned are always going to think and act unreasonably, any effort an reaching 'understanding' with them is yet another way of wasting one's allotted time.

Ironically, rationalism gained a precarious foothold within the Western medieval mindset thanks in no small part to Thomas Aquinas, whose access to Aristotle and other Greek thinkers had been made possible by translations and commentaries by Islamic scholars. Over the centuries that foothold has been expanded, but along the way the Papacy murdered a great many people whose views would be considered very fine and reasonable by the majority of rational people today.

We have perhaps reached a point where a small minority of intelligent, educated believers can almost discount the relevance within the West of the seat of your pants kind of faith espoused by the majority, but at base Catholicism is really no more accommodating of human difference than its major competitor.

Pope Benedict has certainly been doing a stirling job recently as the living embodiment of our incomplete Enlightenment. His warm-up exercises prior to last week had included referring to Buddhism as "auto-erotic spirituality" and turning up to make a speech at Auschwitz in which he absolved ordinary Germans from the guilt of the Holocaust. (He will also have affronted Bono-worshippers when he described rock music as "the complete antithesis of the Christian faith in the redemption.") The Pontiff must surely have anticipated the fall-out from any statement calling into question the honour of Mohammed, who as a mere mortal, is presumably not as able to stand up for himself as the son of God.

We routinely thank the Greeks for our modern notions of personal freedom, yet it is from these same ancients that the West acquired its apparently irresolvable inner conflict between the principles of the individual and the collective, which may explain why our (uniquely) part-time rational kind of believers have ended up with their partially transcendent deity. And hence why the West can never really confront the likes of Islam as equal and opposite.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gordon Bennett!

Surfer mailed me this link to an image of the massive waves that he and his cousin Jim were catching down in Devon this weekend; the swell from hurricane Florence. Meanwhile moribund hurricane Gordon is out over the Azores blowing warm and windy weather towards our island. Temperatures may rise to around twenty-eight degrees by the end of the week.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Shot Sherrifs

A week or so ago Scott sent me this link to a flyer for an exhibition of William S. Burroughs' Unseen Art.

When I reached the Riflemakers gallery on Beak Street (Soho) last Friday lunchtime I discovered that the show had packed up at the end of last year, but after I rang the bell the gallery manager took me up to a store room where the last of the Burroughs pieces were still awaiting sale.

In the early 90s Burroughs and his friends used to gather to practice their marksmanship in his yard, and on a suggestion from one of the group, the author decided to draw his own targets.

Even though he denied any talent for representative draughtsmanship, and most of his more visible artwork is abstract in nature, these bullet-ridden Western baddies are actually quite characterful. This one is perhaps not the most 'animated' in the catalogue and is priced at £10,000 which may explain its year-long confinement to a store room. It does however feature the 'magic' number 23, one of the novelist's great obsessions.

I was also shown this more abstract work painted on a segment of barn door, also perforated with pellet holes. The gallery wants £20-30,000 thousand pounds for it.

The Isle (Seom)

Scott recommended this excellent Korean movie, with the proviso that his wife Betty had given up after the first, almost unexpected outbreak of acute gruesomness. (Suffice to say there are significant opportunities for laying a pun on the word hooker.)

We managed to get past it, but I was looking through my fingers and V simply couldn't look, even though the horror largely takes place in the imagination − it's enough to know what is being suggested here (and in the follow-up moment) to fully feel the gut-squeezing shock that emptied auditoria all around the festival circuit.

Comparable cinema-emptiers like Takeshi Miike's Ôdishon (Audition) and Gaspar Noé's Irréversible were clearly more explicit, on screen. The former is stupor-inducing until its wake up and smell the coffee final half hour and the latter contains that extended rape half-way through. Another Korean classic, Oldboy features comparable scenes of cruelty to living seafood, of the kind that forced censors here to cut out one minute fifty seconds from Seom. (As V pointed out, in these sort of Asian horror films, the moment a girl's hair starts falling over her face, it's time to brace yourself!)

Anyway, it's a remarkable film for many more reasons. I've never before seen such an effective contrast between eerie, placid beauty and sharp-cornered brutishness. While most people will discuss the harm that the characters do to each other and themselves, there are also several scenes of restful gentleness, such as the one where Hyun-Shik places a flower in Hee-Jin's hair, and another where they paint his cabin together.

The setting − little painted wooden cabins floating on a misty lake where men come to fish and fuck − is at once highly abstracted and yet believable, and comes with excellent ready-made possibilities for trapping its occupants. An inherently enclosed world; yet the director constantly makes us consider stuff on the 'outside', such as the untold backstory of mute attendant-come-whore, Hee-Jin. Has she, like Hyun-Shik the man she is drawn to, a history of violent, jealous rage? What is the significance of the half-submerged blue motorbike she stares at outside the cabin window? Also, some of the key action is seen only at a distance, which forces us to make our own judgements.

I also wonder how much more I might understand if I was fully immersed in Korean culture. I wished I could have read the lettering on the windows of Hee-Jin's office for example.

It's regretable that Ki-duk Kim decided to add two basically nonsensical scenes on to his original planned ending.

Last seen in Soho Square...

London Design Festival

Last Friday night we went along with Frode and Emily to the launch of the London Design Festival at the Old Truman Brewery − possibly one of the most deliberately obtuse examples of live public communication I've come across. "Designers are introverts," explained Frode. There was one great drink on offer: gin with pear purée and soda.

Having warmed to the participatory, peepshow aspects of this event, Frode later led us on an expedition to his old haunts in Shoreditch. The aptly named Spread Eagle pub was closed for refurbishment and Browns doesn't let ladies in on Friday night for fear of the brawls that tend to ensue.

In between we succumbed to the touts for a "curry in a hurry" at Preema and Prithi in Brick Lane. Once inside there was less hurry and a telling lack of Asian diners. We both felt impaired by inner pollution for the next day and a half. Amidst the usual artery and intestine clogging gunk deposited on our table we shared an above-average sizzling Chicken Tikka. The way rice is typically served as a thin layer on a shallow metallic dish is one of the great rip-offs of London dining.

Behind the Sun (Abril Despedaçado)

Not the best of Walter Salles, at least as storyteller, though the visuals are as gorgeous as you could expect.

Again, it's hard to assess what might have gone wrong without having read Ismail Kadare's novel (Broken April).

Taken from its original setting of the Albanian mountains to the Brazilian 'badlands' in 1910, this tale about an absurd inter-family blood-feud appears to have become rather slight in the process, of the sort that will usually hold up only a short story or novella unless it were to bulk up on either great dialogue or stylistic originality. Unfortunately, this film has neither.

For me by far the best treatment of honour killings in contemporary literature is Gabo's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a short, but great novella, which also lost much in its cinematic translation.

Friday, September 15, 2006

España Profunda

Spain − except it seems one small corner of it − has been pelos en punta this week, agonising over amateur video footage of a Gallego clobbering his Alsatian. Chained to a post, the poor dog could only yelp piteously and cower in terror as ever larger trunks of wood were brought down on him with the maximum force of a seventy five-year-old git.

The film was made by the man's neighbour, a vet of Argentinian origin. As a result of his denunciation the battered dog was rescued and relocated, but the old bastard simply bought himself a couple more...and then went and poisoned the vet's dog in revenge.

Meanwhile the vet, regarded as an interfering outsider, has been subjected to a hate campaign by a group from his local community. Yesterday we watched on TVe as they jeered and jostled him when he left court. I love the Iberian peninsula but if Galicia were to detach itself and float off into the mid-Atlantic I can't say I'd miss it all that much.

Other parts of Iberia may have more openly separatist ambitions, but Galicia is in some senses more obviously already a land apart. For a start 83% of its inhabitants speak Galego, compared to figures closer to 50% for Basques and Catalans fluent in their own regional languages. Oddly, Gallegos that have migrated overseas retain the right to vote in their homeland, with some local electorates comprising a majority of such absentees.

Galicia is also Europe's top entry point for cocaine, in part because of the close ties maintained between Spain's north west corner and the substantial overseas settlements of Gallegos in places like Colombia. Over the years emigration has drained many of the region's communities to the extent that local councils have resorted to advertising online to encourage Latins to come over and settle there. The experience of that vet ought to serve as a warning.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fair Trade

The three small plantations that V inherited from her father have given us an outside interest in the world market for coffee beans.

The farmers of the Chanmagua cooperative in Guatemala have lately been expressing their disappointment at the gains made through conforming to various label requirements, such as Organic, Fair Trade, and Bird-friendly, each of which comes with its own set of fees and tramites. It's hard for small-holders to work out which form of social responsibility pays out best.

The Fair Trade seal for example, guarantees farmers a baseline price of $1.26 per lb plus a premium of $0.05 if the market price rises above the baseline. Between 2000 and 2004 the world market price dropped to around $0.60 per lb so this guarantee was valuable, but prices are now more than double 2001's 30-year low, prompting some growers to bug out of their contracts and sell to other middle men.

The Fair Trade label is still attached to less than 2% of coffee sales worldwide and only a third of all fair-trade certified coffee grown is actually bought by fair-trade dealers. The rest is dumped on the open market and is sold at whatever price can be negotiated.

Nemeses: MS-13 and Islamism

Some time ago, after I had explained how LA's violent gang culture spread internationally thanks in part to the US government's policy of deportation, Buttersnatch commented on this blog:

"I've lived here a LONG time and have an MBA (meaning, I’m an educated man), and have never read anything about mass-deportations. Can you imagine the public outcry if we tried to deport people, en mass? You liberal whacko’s would scream bloody murder!"

Well last night FIVE aired a documentary on MS-13 and there on film were those unmarked aeroplanes full of deported mareros landing in Central America's unsuspecting capitals.

The programme various aspects of the Salvatrucha culture, such as Jumping in, the 13 second beating each initiate is treated to and Stacking, the complex system of hand signs the gang uses. The tattoos sported by the members of MS-13 are also said to illustrate their personal gangland biographies (and contain telephone area codes, which in some cases has assisted law enforcers!)

The makers of this film were ultimately unsure whether MS-13 is an organisation consisting of loose territorial cliques or whether there is some kind of central kingpin behind the whole multinational structure. It seemed odd that they also found it hard to explain why the gang members seem so at home on this homicidal gameboard. Why do men of arms everywhere kill (and die) with so much less reflection than the rest of us civilians? Peer pressure, and a hierarchical culture that tells them that it's OK to do so.

Right now, in the globalised world, our Western way of life seems to be genuinely threatened by newly virulent forms of foes that we had considered long vanquished. Islamism is a deadly refurbishment of the ideology behind the West's Old World territorial enemy, and the maras surely deserve the title of Moctezuma's revenge far more than tourist tummy trouble. In both cases the essence of the threat is a nihilistic counter culture, and in both cases a significant strategic error at the close of the Cold War era appears to have seeded it in the first place.

The worst part of it is that the West doesn't yet seem to fully appreciate the present danger. To say that most Muslims are moderate is like consoling yourself that most winds are moderate as you watch your Caribbean cabin being lifted up into the air by a category five hurricane.

My Bulgarian chum was already fully clued up about the "Clash of Civilisations" back when George W. Bush was in rehab. For him and likeminded countrymen it is the primary, atavistic confrontation, and he duly scoffed at all criticism of Dubya's speech on Monday. (Yesterday he sent me this link to a page that recounts the history of the Bulgar's own version of Charles Martel, Khan Tervel.)

He may well be right to suspect that the West is heading into a possibly unavoidable hot war with some of its most unpleasant enemies. Yet he does not however share my view that we ourselves have been stoking that unpleasantness and that we currently lack either the right leadership or the right strategy for the present situation. (Was is so long ago that he complained bitterly about the new global cop when the bombs were raining down on Christian Serbs in order to protect their Muslim neighbours?)

The Neo Conservative strain in the Western approach to the Muslim world seems to me to be especially prone to counter-productivity. Not only is it anti-liberal itself, it appears incapable of thoughts which have not first been run through some ill-fitting paradigm lifted from the past. ("Third World War", "Crusade", "Appeasement") or worse still, the evangelical form of Zionism. This leads to inaccurate understandings, which in turn lead to more strategic errors.

The Romance of Teams

Isn't it interesting that some of the most committed advocates of online collectives tend to be consultants − loners, people that make a living off the predictable failures of corporate teamwork?

On the other hand many people that have to collaborate to produce things on a daily basis will surely be inclined to sympathise with dissenting crowd-wisdom sceptics, like David H. Freedman, who recently warned us that "the effectiveness of groups, teamwork and consensus is largely a myth...and the technology of ubiquitous connectednessis making it worse."

This argument strongly echoes that of Jaron Lanier's now notorious Digital Maosim essay: "When you make it easy for everyone to put in his own two cents, with little filtering or accountability, the scum tends to rise to the top."

Freedman cites research indicating that groups acquire a false confidence in poor decisions and tend to consist of individuals that don't try as hard as they would on their own, adding that in most collaborative projects "consensus steadily grows until a majority is reached, at which point people who have confidence in their dissenting, higher-quality opinion are likely to bow to the group." I know all of this to be true. Many of the meetings I have attended over the years appear to have been called precisely to diffuse responsibility in this way.

I especially warmed to the conclusions of Amsterdam academic Bernard Nijstad who divided twelve individuals into a brainstorm group of six and another half dozen people tasked with coming up with ideas on their own. All twelve eventually deemed the group session to have been "more productive" but in fact it was the individuals that came up with the better ideas in Nijstad's test.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How to Read?

Writing in the Daily Telegraph last month Nick Hornby argued that "we have to promote the joys of reading rather than the (dubious) benefits," lamenting the way we tend to separate published fiction into "the trashy and the worthwhile", because "we have got it into our heads that books should be hard work, and that unless they're hard work, they're not doing us any good." This is an anti-elitist position that would resonate with John Carey.

Good books can be "pretty awful sometimes" Hornby confesses. I've also found myself struggling to enjoy a novel simply because I felt I ought to. Perhaps the most recent example being Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo, cited by many of the Latin American greats as highly influential. It has many brilliant passages, but overall felt rather stodgy for such a short novel. Another key precursor for the magical realism boom was El Señor Presidente by Asturias, a book I can lastingly love, while at the same time loathing it for its wanton opacity.

I recently read an article by Ursula Le Guin in which she described how she had abandoned Blindness on the first attempt. "Faced with pages of run-on sentences and unparagraphed dialogue without quotation marks, I soon quit, snarling about literary affectations." I took Saramago's masterwork with me to a beach in Cornwall in 2003 and felt a similar urge to quit. Yet I kept going, and like Le Guin, found that with time Saramago's style becomes ever more buoyant to the point where you stop thrashing around and simply start to swim.

Would Hornby really have us toss aside such books at the first hint of difficulty?

When I was at Cambridge there was a 'worthwhile' series of public lectures on Communication, featuring eminent speakers like Noam Chomsky and Dr Jonathan Miller, whose 'performance' on non-verbal communication was one of the highlights. Less enjoyable was Alexander Goehr's seemingly interminable contribution, on Music as Communication, a harsh polemic against accessibility as it turned out − in effect the polar opposite of Hornby's argument, and similarly flawed.

At the time I was going through a musical education myself, expanding my taste out of the classical repertoire into more modernist material, some of which took time to appreciate. It's not hard to understand why it is easier to love Mozart's piano sonatas than Prokofiev's, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth broadening (and progressing) your tastes, or at least your understanding, even if you never get to enjoy a single dissonant note composed by Sir Alexander.

I suppose Hornby might counter that while self-education can be a lifelong exercise, it doesn't have to be. Some people are just not made for the esoteric and are best advised to stick to what they know. Such an argument, if he made it, would sound altogether less anti-elitist however.

I do share some of Hornby's prejudices against "contemporary literary fiction", yet I suspect that the problem may be worse in the English-writing world. It must be far better to work as a novelist in countries where hardly anyone reads. The anglophone book market actually functions as a market, and has created two powerful economic attractors which distort its fictional output: the bloated middlebrow and the precious highbrow. Faced with setting themselves apart from those that cherish Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Birdsong as modern literary classics, the latter group are usually disinclined to offer their own readers "a relatively clear pane of glass" through which to observe their characters.

Worms' Meat

Most of us have to wait until we die before the worms get us but for Tony Blair the nibbling will commence the moment he leaves No10, and his political decomposition will most likely be complete long before his physical passing. Hence his reluctance to name the date for the feast, and the willingness of certain Labour MPs to put the interests of their party aside in order to ensure that it kicks off sooner rather than later.

There was never any doubt about what sort of man George W. Bush was, but the young Blair must have aspired to setting his reputation as one of history's good guys. Instead he will surely be remembered as the man that might have restrained the bully, but didn't. The rest will have been chewed away, and already he must know it.

Listening to Bush's desperate bombast last night it was clear to me that it is longer possible to shore up the Neo-Conservative fiasco with rhetoric.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Milton Dingleberry

Is my poet name.

War Cycles

I had mixed feelings Martin Amis's imaginative recreation of the mindset that Muhammad Atta took with him and American 11 into the North tower at 8.46.40 five years ago.

If you find yourself discontented with the world as it is, I guess you can ignore it, change it, save it...or kill it. Amis suggests that Atta's core reason for doing what he did was the most obviously destructive of these options, a suicide that aspired to make a significant contribution to Death.

I wonder whether Atta's nihilism was really that irreligious and icily dispassionate. Was it just the "cloudless entitlement" of westerners that pricked him into serving their doom?

For my taste Amis's style is over-heavy for its actual content load, but I enjoyed the way he makes the terrorist reflect whether his actions would bequeathe a legacy of more dead time to the world: "It was appropriate, perhaps, and not paradoxical, that terror should also sharply promote its most obvious opposite. Boredom."


A pic I took from our balcony this weekend of the warship Brasil heading off down the Thames towards open water after its (apparently) annual visit to the Pool of London.

I say 'warship', though this one doesn't appear to have any armaments, and when it arrived a few days earlier the crew were beating out a loud samba rhythm.

Once safely moored next to HMS Belfast they then fetched their baseball caps and digital cameras and no doubt joined the massed hordes of their countrymen in Oxford Street.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Negative Feedback

Most of us westerners have a strong bias towards linear thinking. For instance, we instictively believe that you get more freedom the further 'away' you move from repression.

In practice though, complex systems such as human societies work within loops, where bad things can follow from too much of a good one. The Chinese, with their Yin and Yang had a more culturally salient notion of how this plays out.

This morning I read a couple of chapters of Robin Lane Fox's The Classical World in which he explained how the destabilising influence of excessive luxury and material competition amongst the aristocratic elites of Greece in the eighth century BC led to the rise of tyrants in many cities. These Hobbesian leviathans emerged almost naturally in a faction-ridden land.

Sparta was the exception. There a proto-collectivist society was established through harsh social engineering codified by the anonymous individuals that over time merged into the mythical lawmaker Lycurgus.

Lane Fox reckons that Sparta's austere alternative society − an army camp according to Aristotle − was a deliberate attempt to escape the luxury-tyrrany loop: peer group solidity and a drastic curb on personal luxuries aimed to smother the forces of social division at source.

Importantly though, across Greece the move towards more repressive rule had been accelerated by an important socio-technological change in Greek warfare: the Hoplite.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dine and Out in Paris and London

In the long list of things that he would no longer do as a result of this experience of indigence, George Orwell includes eating in fine restaurants, for as a kitchen worker in a top Paris hotel he had seen way too much of the 'back-end' of haute cuisine ever to be able to appreciate its front end. To look smart, food needs dirty treatment, he warns us:

"Roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it" and,

"Sound food is sacrificed to punctuality and smartness. The hotel employee is too busy getting food ready to remember that it has to be eaten"

...a set of observations that rang a few bells with me from experiences in my own service industry!

Orwell runs us through all the hidden abuses of the catering trade he had witnessed, along the way capturing some of the cynical coping mechanisms of different personnel castes within it:

"You are carving a chicken and it falls on the floor. You apologise, you bow, you go out; and in five minutes you come back by another door - with the same chicken."

"Once the waiter on the 3rd floor dropped a roast chicken down the shaft of our service lift, where it fell into a litter of broken bread, torn paper and so forth at the bottom. We simply wiped it with a cloth and sent it up again."

I have to say that my savouring of bistro life in Waiter Rant is periodically soured by what I can only describe as Waiter's rather swollen shoulder chip. At times he must look like Jean de Florette as he shuffles between the tables. By way of contrast, what intrigues me about Orwell's acute descent into servility in the French capital is the apparent absence of wounded pride − chippiness − in his dealings with both customers and co-workers and in the humour underlying his descriptions of them.

His verdict on the institution of fine dining?

"Supplying a luxury which, very often, is not a luxury....a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want."

Perhaps he would conclude that only the numbers involved are significantly different today. I know V would!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Andean Logic

High up in the Andes lives Latin America's most 'backward' people, the Aymara.

Backward, in terms of both their resistance to imposed notions of progress, but also in that they have a different spatial metaphor for chronology than every other culture in the world.

When talking about future events they tend to gesture behind them, using qhipa the Aymara word for 'back' to signify the future. In such a mindset the future is something unseen which approaches stealthily from behind; perfectly logical really. In their everyday statements they are uniquely strict about qualifying every observation in terms of whether it was indeed actually observed by them in person, which might explain their less anticipatory perspective on 'upcoming' events than most westerners.

They are also said to utilise a ternary form of logic, which includes values for true, false and unknown, are are consequently inclined to asign the third of these to situations we would normally expect more certainty from.

Coming into work the other day I had an interesting chat with Stefan about his own country's indigenes, the Thracians. He'd recently seen a documentary which laid the blame for their rather apathetic attitude to cultural achievement on a traditional religion which defined this world as a temporary waiting room outside the doorway to 'real' life.


Before V went to the trouble (believe me) of getting her 10-year multiple entry visa she used to have to go TWOV − Transit Without Visa − when flying to Guatemala with a US connection in Miami or Houston.

On one occasion she found herself locked in a stand-off with the Immigration official asigned to shadow her at Houston. He refused to speak English and she refused to speak Spanish. He got very worked up about this, she later reported: "Por qué NOOO?? te gusta hablar español...?"

It's my choice she insisted, "this is America and I choose to speak English."

Neither budged from their position so they spent a generally silent hour or so in each other's company with one or two curt bilingual exchanges. When at last they approached the gate, V turned and asked him if he had ten cents. His eyes flared with incredulity at this apparent final act of impudence, she related with a giggle.

"Por qué?" he hissed.

"Because that machine over there just swallowed my $2, but if you add your ten cents you can have yourself an ice-cream". Off he went with a parting smile of resignation.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pinche Fraude - update

On Friday Mexico's out-going Presidente had to abandon his final state of the nation speech when dozens of left-leaning deputies took over the podium in Congress. Fox was forced to scarper to a TV station in order to deliver it on air instead.

It's clear that the state of the nation is bitterly divided, yet tomorrow the Electoral Court of the Mexican Judicial Power (TEPJF) must formally decide which candidate won Mexico's photo-finish presidential election. They are most likely give the nod to the pro-government man with his nariz marginally in front, Felipe Calderon.

Yet in a move vaguely reminiscent of the proclamation of anti-Popes in the Middle Ages, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has spoken of forming a parallel government "from the streets" and, while he's at it, re-drafting the Constitution. (Why didn't Al Gore think of that?!)

It seems likely that the same gang of unruly congressmen will attempt to disrupt Calderon's inauguration which will take place, further radical transformations notwithstanding, on the first of December.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Possibility of an Island

No man is an island...except perhaps the English-language critic that admits to identifying with any of Michel Houellebecq's mouthpieces.

Learned distaste appears quite universal. John Updike calls this novel "an opinionated drone, an interminable blog from nowhere" and Michael Worton accuses Houellebecq of "loathing both his public and mankind in general and making a festish of his own honesty."

Yet I'd liken my fondness for the French reprobate's blogs from nowehere to that of a teenage girl dating the sort of young man that unfailingly attracts parental hostility. The more they disapprove the bigger thrill she will get from their intimacy, even though in her heart of hearts, she too knows he's a bit of wrongo.

Even so, amidst all the in-yer-face loathsomeness, I have detected in Houellebecq's novels the rather adolescent urge to seek out the good self inside by vomiting up all the bad. And between the covers of this one in particular, the mood swings quite discernibly between desolation and longing.

The narrators are Daniel, a macabre comic who has prospered from the observation that "if you attack the world with sufficient violence it ends up spitting its filthy lucre back at you" and two of his cloned neohuman descendents, Daniels 24 and 25.

The original Daniel writes, as the author himself would have it, from the intersection of premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction, a region of the lifecycle Houellebecq describes as the third age, "in which the anticipation of the loss of happiness prevents you from living." Like other Houellebecq narrators he stumbles, at the apex of his disgust with the world, into love − or rather the redemptive sensation procured from realised pornographic fantasy. e.g.

"My vision clouded by sweat, having lost all clear notion of space and time, I nevertheless managed to prolong this moment a little, and her tongue had enough time to effect three complete revolutions before I came, and it was then that my whole body, irradiated by pleasure, vanished, sucked in by nothingness, in a release of blessed energy."

Daniel has two women in his life, his French wife, who doesn't much like sex, and a young Spanish actress Updike labels his "pet slut", who lacks an aptitude for love. Neither of these relationships can release him from the enveloping isolation he experiences in the contemporary world of "definitive kids":

"With my ordinary physique and my introverted temperament I had...very little chance of being the life of the the modern world you could be a swinger, bi, trans, zoo, into S&M, but it was forbidden to be old."

Houellebecq is asking many of the same questions here that he explored in Atomised, but the conclusions appear significantly different. The neohumans of this novel are shown to have done away with the agonies of suffering and desire. "Closing the brackets on becoming, we are from now on in unlimited, indefinite stasis." In other words, things have changed, but not exactly for the better, and Daniel25's narration includes an account of his bid to break free from the life of enclosed apathy that is the clones' apparent destiny. Might perpetual joy be the answer Daniel25 finally ponders − reminding me of a little boy I came across many years ago in Antigua who was condemned to such a mental state, and it wasn't one I would have willingly swapped my own for.

In this story Houellebecq is examining the human condition from many angles, but ultimately doesn't seem to get far with any of them. That Daniel has descendents with his own DNA is a consequence of his association with a new age sect (based on the Raelians ) with pretentions to immortality − except that the immortality on offer here isn't the real deal, because continuity of consciousness is fudged, and each individual inner world must perish and be replaced by a copy with implanted memories. I wondered how significant it was that none of the novel's narrators (or critics) addressed this point.

It's clear that many other writers don't care for the way Houellebecq generalises from a peculiarly pessimistic perspective. "How honest, really, is a world picture that excludes the pleasures of parenting, the comforts of communal belonging, the exercise of daily curiosity, and the widely met moral responsibility to make the best of each stage of life, including the last," Updike asks.

Yet is Houellebecq's middle-aged misanthrope Daniel really so much more freakish than Ian McEwan's Henry Perowne, with his virtually flawless professional, family and married sex life?

I don't think you have to be, like me, mildly sociopathic, in order to grasp the troubling truths lurking within the calculated exaggerations Houellebecq calls honesty. In that sense reading his fiction is much like reading Jean Baudrillard, and in as much that other acerbic Frenchman is a theorist that often chooses to adopt a literary, 'performance' style of exposition, Houllebecq is a novelist whose fictional narratives are usually poorly disguised polemics. But to say that they violate the accepted form of the modern novel is to make a rather empty point I think.

One of my forthcoming literary write-ups will be of a book with an altogether more humane perspective − José Saramago's Seeing yet nonetheless one whose long, embedded sentences are currently reminding me of another novel about desolate middle age, Under the Volcano. I read it a few years ago in the middle of something of a tailspin myself, which redoubled its imaginative impact. Scott Esposito has blogged an excellent summary of why Malcolm Lowry's difficult Mexican tragedy is worth the trouble.

Que onda vos hueco cerote

A while ago Joseph K at Blog de mi Guatemala inaugurated a droll public debate about the possible deeper signioficance surrounding the peculiar, ingrained habit of Guatemalans of addressing friends and foes alike as "turds". The overblown righteousness of the original post was especially gratifying:
"Algunos pensarán que me estoy refugiando en semántica y que este asunto del nombrar al otro no es tan importante. Yo al contrario opino que el asunto es trascendental. Somos seres del lenguaje y vivimos en esferas nombradas, nuestra relación con el otro es precisamente a través del lenguaje. Incluso históricamente nombrar algo ha tenido significado especial, aquellos que analicen el Génesis verán que Dios para crear las cosas las nombra “y Dios dijo hágase la luz”, en la tradición maya las cosas debían nombrarse para existir, si algo no tenía nombre, no existía. A su vez, lo primero que hizo Adán fue nombrar a todas la criaturas de la tierra. Independientemente de los que crean o no en estos temas religiosos, deberán reconocer que para la mayoría de los pueblos, este asunto del nombrar ha sido parte importante de su cultura. Nosotros hemos decidido nombrar al otro y lo hemos llamado cerote. Esto inevitablemente se ve reflejado en nuestro trato hacia el otro. No nos signifiquemos en la metáfora que consiste en ser cerotes ni nombremos al otro como tal. En adelante los invito a referirnos al amigo como amigo y no como excremento."

A good place to commit murder

Was how UN special rapporteur Philip Alston described Guatemala last Friday, a day in which 11 more were committed, 4 of them with female victims. Overall, the country has notched up around 3,500 violent deaths so far this year. "More murders happen every day than in the darkest days of Guatemala's armed domestic conflict", Alston then added.

After the boys of summer have gone

Spotted this magnificent birdie − a Harris Hawk − perched on the forearm of its handler, as I made my way up Garrick Street yesterday morning.

The only incident of note on my walk in this morning was having to step around a large ruptured plant plot outside Maison Touregue in Greek Street. When I set off for the pier around seven the night before Soho had been packed with people making the most of the last luminous evening of summer. The familiar classics of bossa nova muzak were being warbled to an appreciative audience of patrons at the Cafe Boheme along with the loiterers clustering outside on Old Compton Street.

A couple of interesting links to report. Ryan Carson writes about his discovery that social software can be almost as time-consuming as a day job, while Waiter likens the mispronunciation of foreign words on bistro menus to "walking around with toilet paper stuck to your shoe."