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November 30, 2008

LeMonde: Maya

Родная школа

Андрей Капцев и Лена Самойлова

November 26, 2008

LeMonde: On Sauna

Photo by Valera Meylis 2008. Click me to see a larger image Se livrer au rituel du sauna fait partie du quotidien finlandais. Ainsi, toutes les idées sont bonnes à prendre pour renouveler le genre. Dernière trouvaille au pays des Lapons, le sauna d’altitude, ou comment terminer une journée de ski par une séance détente. La station d’Ylläs, située à 718 mètres d’altitude et dotée de 61 pistes et 28 remonte-pentes, a transformé quelques-uns des « oeufs » d’une de ses télécabines en sauna. Ces « oeufs » sont en pin, à l’extérieur comme à l’intérieur, équipés de vitres aux miroirs sans tain et de banquettes pour quatre personnes, avec poêle électrique. La montée, de 2 kilomètres, s’effectue en quinze minutes. Laps de temps idéal pour transpirer en admirant le panorama sur 360 degrés. Arrivé au sommet, faute de lac gelé, on prendra un bain de neige, suivi d’une séance supplémentaire dans le sauna principal aménagé en haut des pistes. Le retour à la station s’effectue dans le sauna volant. Un plaisir de deux heures, de novembre à mai, pour 1 500 euros, forfait proposé pour un groupe de douze candidats. a Fl. E. (DR) Ylläs Travel Association,

November 25, 2008

Poem du jour

by Charles Simic

Set the knife and fork on your plate,
Here, where it’s always wartime,
It’s prudent to break bread unobserved,
To pour the wine out of the bottle
Watching its shadow leap on the wall.

Dusk, how your birds worry me.
I can hear them rejoicing in the trees
Oblivious of the trouble ahead.
The spider plants are more discreet
And so are your bare feet under the table.

Bloody flags flying at sunset.
Some general leading another army into the night
While you stir the thick honey
Into a dish of young walnuts,
And I wait my turn to lick the spoon.

November 24, 2008

LRB: On Ruble

Click the image above to read the whole article, or read it here
Keith Gessen
The financial crisis – or, as we like to call it here, ‘the effects of the American and European financial crisis on Russia’ – has taken a little while to get going, but it’s going now. Yesterday my grandmother sat me down for a serious conversation: she wanted to know if she should take her rouble-denominated life savings out of the Sberbank and put them into dollars. Everyone’s a financial adviser now. Or rather, I’m a financial adviser now. This is not good.

What should we do? My grandmother’s life savings are not very substantial. In fact she said as much: ‘Should we take my pathetic life savings out of the bank?’ My grandmother worked in Soviet publishing for fifty years, and then worked for another ten on her own as a translator. Towards the end of her translating career, when she turned 80, she had trouble sitting at the desk for too long at a time, so would lie on the couch, read a page of manuscript in the original, and then get up and translate the page from memory at her typewriter – in my opinion an excellent way of avoiding an excessively literal and lifeless reproduction. Anyway, as far as I can tell, she’s already lost her savings a few times thanks to various devaluations – in 1990 and 1998 – and to one early 1990s pyramid scheme. So it’s a miracle she has any money to lose at all, but she does, and now she’s worried about it. The Sberbank is around the corner. The question is: do we start a run on it?

I’m in Moscow for the year to keep my grandmother company and be generally helpful – go to the vegetable market, close the windows at night, that sort of thing – though I didn’t expect to be spending quite this much time checking the status of rouble futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. When I left the States, in early September, the Dow was going into free fall; when I got here, the Russian stock exchanges were falling too, but aside from that the situation was calm. Earlier in the year, Russia’s finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, had called the country ‘an island of stability in the worldwide turmoil’. This soon proved unrealistic, though many clung stubbornly to the notion. In late September the pro-Kremlin political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov explained the world crisis (and its effects on Russia) on an evening news show; why, he was asked, can’t Russia break away from the failing global financial system? Nikonov, the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister, smiled indulgently. ‘In the age of globalisation, everyone is connected to everyone,’ he said. His interlocutor, the host of the show, was not going to be put off by this pabulum. ‘Then why can’t we lead and they follow?’ he demanded. Nikonov’s smile froze on his lips; it was one of those moments in the life of a pro-Kremlin analyst when he has to say something against his intellectual conscience. Which was: ‘For that to happen . . . we’d have to become a global financial centre.’ Even the host could tell that Nikonov didn’t think a country whose inscrutable laws were so liberally interpreted by corrupt bureaucrats stood very much chance of becoming a global financial centre. ‘But,’ the host pursued, ‘when last year we proposed a new’ – he meant non-Nato – ‘European security arrangement, people laughed. Now we’re proposing it again and it’s being taken quite seriously.’ ‘Yes,’ Nikonov readily agreed, moving onto the more solid ground of nationalist propaganda. ‘The August events in Georgia solidified our standing in Europe. We are more respected now.’

This has been the nature of the Russian reaction to the crisis: a combination of denial, bluff assertion and split consciousness. The split consciousness is institutionalised in the media. It’s not as though the crisis has been a secret: the Moscow Times, an English-language daily and longtime flagship of the Anglo-American business and diplomatic community, has been writing about nothing else since I got here, and Kommersant and Vedemosti, the country’s two best business papers, as well as the two best papers full stop, have been covering it carefully. A few weeks ago Kommersant reported that someone had been unable to withdraw money from a Globex cashpoint in Moscow, causing, at the very least, panic among journalists who went out on the town to find other people having similar trouble (they couldn’t). The influential website has been running online chats with highly placed financial people, among them the very angry president of the Association of Russian Banks. Question: ‘I’ve transferred all my savings to Sberbank. Was that the right thing to do?’ Answer: ‘While you’re at it you should take all your furniture down to the train station and stick it in left luggage.’ (Sberbank, being government-owned, is not liked by the Association of Russian Banks.)

The guys I play hockey with, a number of whom are bankers, know about the crisis. ‘We could start farming,’ one of them suggested a while ago as we sat in the locker room after another loss to our rivals.

‘I have a balcony. We can raise a goat.’

‘Or mushrooms. We could grow psychedelic mushrooms.’

‘No, the FSB controls that market. The minute you came out with your mushrooms they’d be visiting you.’

‘Gentlemen!’ Our captain wanted us to get back to business. ‘There is a financial crisis. But we are also in a hockey crisis.’

‘We’re better off with a goat,’ the first banker continued. ‘It will give you milk – and progeny!’

And the stock market – boy, the stock market. The two Moscow stock exchanges, the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange, which deals in roubles (MICEX), and the Russian Trading Stock Exchange, which deals in dollars (RTS), began losing value over the summer, after international investors got nervous: first there was a conflict over the future of a BP joint venture in Russia; then there was the war with Georgia; and finally Putin’s Putinesque suggestion that the recalcitrant owner of Russia’s largest mining company should watch his health, ha ha. But since the collapse of the American stock indices the Russian exchanges have been plummeting. In fact over the past few weeks they’ve been shut down more often than they’ve been working: trading is suspended whenever either exchange moves 10 per cent up or down. Naturally, this doesn’t make anyone any calmer. Every time the regulators open the markets, they start falling again.

The tiny anti-Kremlin parties are doing their bit to address the crisis: the National Bolshevik Party has been putting fliers on cashpoints around Moscow: ‘Take your money, citizen, before it’s too late!’ But television doesn’t know it exists – or, as Vedomosti politely put it, ‘doesn’t wish to worry the populace unnecessarily’. Television knows about the perfidious pro-Western president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, who’s been selling weapons, it turns out, to anyone who asks (including Georgia and Somali pirates). Television knows about the important work of Prime Minister Putin, who visits factories, and President Medvedev, who meets political figures in the Kremlin. And television knows about the crisis abroad: the troubles in the US, the troubles in Europe, the troubles in Iceland (which wants to borrow money from the Russians). It knows that whatever effect all these things may have on Russia, Putin and Medvedev are on the case.

Medvedev is shown a lot on television, about as much as Putin, and usually just before him in each newscast. He is young, in his early forties, but surprisingly lethargic. He’s managed to pick up the Putin manner of seeming annoyed when he has to explain anything, but he talks in a sleepy way, often ducking his head into his chin at the end of a sentence. It’s as if he’s worried the batteries placed in him at the beginning of the day by Putin’s people might run out. He was supposed to give his first State of the Union address two weeks ago but the address was postponed to give him time to ‘work on a new draft’. It’s hard to imagine Putin – who, in the grand tradition of the Soviet nomenklatura, submitted a plagiarised thesis for his master’s degree – working on a draft of anything, but the Kremlin likes to show photos of Medvedev at his computer. So it’s easy enough to imagine him being sent to his room to improve his State of the Union address while serious men take care of serious business.

To be fair to Putin-Medvedev, this may be for the best, at least as far as my grandmother’s life savings go. The Russians get to worry about other countries in crisis (the way they worried about Americans after 11 September, despite having a much more serious domestic terrorism problem), and meanwhile keep their money in the bank, and, most important of all, keep it in roubles. Because the rouble, for the moment, is the biggest problem facing the government. If oil prices fall too low and the rouble fails, as it did in 1986 (though this was kept secret) and in 1998, and if the coal miners go on strike again because they haven’t been paid and block the trans-Siberian Railway, savings will be wiped out. This would be a national humiliation – something more destabilising to regimes, as the Putinists know, than mere economic collapse. A few weekends ago there were rumours that the rouble’s collapse was imminent, and the dollar started climbing away from the official rate at the independent currency exchange kiosks around town. Reporting on the rumours the next day, Kommersant quoted a banker saying that Russians had a ‘genetic’ memory of 1998, and were being told, by their genes, to go and buy dollars. Except the truth is that Russians have an actual memory of 1998. Even I have an actual memory of 1998. The collapse of a national economy is not a pretty thing, and it was at this point – the end of the Yeltsin era – that the American commentariat began wondering ‘who lost Russia?’ as if Russia was a hat someone had left at a party or a child who’d wandered off at the fair.

Kudrin has been insisting that the government will do everything it can to keep the rouble steady, and I want to believe him. December rouble futures on the CME have the rouble at 28 to the dollar – it’s currently at 27. And inflation is temporarily under control. A few weeks ago my grandmother noticed that the price of the poppy-seed pie she likes had gone up 12 roubles (50 cents); then, having forgotten this, she proceeded to notice it again and again for the next week. It was hyperinflation! But in fact the price of the poppy-seed pie had gone up, once, to 95 roubles, and stayed there.

By now information on the crisis is just about everywhere. The other night I saw a subway worker reading Moskovsky Komsomolets. ‘Oy, chto budet!’ said the front page of the tabloid. ‘No ne defolt’ – ‘OMG! But no default.’ Meanwhile, in the Moscow Times, a melancholy item from the Bloomsberg wire service: Russian oligarchs have lost $237 billion, or 62 per cent of their wealth, on the Russian stock exchange in the past five months. It’s a lot of money, but it’s also a psychological blow. Russians are proud of their oligarchs. In September, Roman Abramovich’s girlfriend set up a large retrospective for the conceptualist artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at her new exhibition space, Garage. Pyotr Aven, the president of Alpha Bank, made news with a controversial book review of Zakhar Prilepin’s Sankya, a fictionalised account of the anti-Kremlin National Bolshevik Party. And Mikhail Prokhorov, the former Norilsk nickel magnate, launched the first issue of a new magazine for the transcontinental Russian elite, called Snob. It comes in a sort of box, which unzips in front like an expensive dress, and costs $20.

No default = no problem, at least for the moment. My local Coffee Bean still serves its $4 cappuccino to a packed house, and down the street Coffee Mania is filled with people drinking $9 cappuccinos. And if some of the absurdly overpriced restaurants and boutiques that have continued opening in Moscow over the past decade close, we’ll get over it.

It helps too that this time Russia is not in it alone. Watching Putin these past few weeks has been unpleasant but riveting. The other day he was talking to the Chinese, arguing that Russia and China (and Vietnam and Belarus) should consider conducting their transactions in roubles. (The Chinese said they’d think about it.) In early October, he held a meeting with a group of Communist politicians and gave them, as is his wont, a hectoring speech. He has a high, screechy voice, with the slightly lazy pronunciation that is the hallmark of the Russian bureaucratic-criminal class, and every time I’ve seen him on television recently he’s been leaning forward in a threatening way and enunciating every syllable as if he were speaking to idiots. He brushed aside the Communists’ demands and then, warming up to things, began to talk about the United States. ‘There is no question that the age of American power is finished,’ he said. ‘The time when they were a model of democracy, and a leader of the world, is over.’ And you began to think that if the Russian stock market had to all but disappear; if Putin’s friends the oligarchs had to lose 230 billion dollars; if eventually this meant that certain supply chains were going to be disrupted and people might have trouble finding food a few months down the line – well that would be a pretty small price to pay if only we could stop listening to those self-righteous fucking Americans.

What would it take for this regime to stumble? People have been saying for a long time that Putin will not be tested until oil prices fall. Now oil prices are falling, and Putin-Medvedev are mostly blaming the United States and stoking up anger at Ukraine’s president. If oil prices keep falling, their magnificent cash reserves – $500 billion before the current crisis – could, in a country of 140 million people, turn out to be less handy than they’d thought. There is right now no movement and certainly no political party that could challenge the Kremlin – the Kremlin has spared no money or effort in making sure of that. This week Eduard Limonov, the charismatic poet and cult-like leader of the National Bolshevik Party, wrote up his impressions of a party held to celebrate the courageous radio station Ekho Moskvy. Across the crowded hall at the Prague restaurant, he saw his old friend and nemesis Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the long-time leader of the fake opposition party LDPR:

Seeing each other, we grinned, and, Vladimir Volfovich pushing aside his dinner, and I handing my glass of wine to my bodyguard, stepped towards one another and embraced.

Zhirinovsky: So your time has finally come!

Me: And yours also, Vladimir Volfovich, don’t you think?

Zhirinovsky: Yes, ours too, but you’ll precede us to the barricades . . .

Me: And you’ll follow . . .

Zhirinovsky: Yes. And you’ll all die on the barricades, and we’ll seize power.

   Me: Except we won’t all die, and we’ll seize power.

Clown, meet clown. In fact, it’s more likely that Zhirinovsky will continue meeting Limonov in the Prague restaurant while the regime does whatever it has to do.

And yet. If things are going to fall apart, Moscow could well be the place they fall apart most quickly. What happened in the years of extremely high energy prices was something more familiar than a yearning for the ‘strong hand’. The Russian people were offered a bribe and they took it. Why not? But now the bribe is running out, and anything could happen. What you realise under the giant vaulted ceilings of Garage, or simply on the streets, in the alleyways, where an ancient metropolis was once rearranged to serve the people, is that it’s happened here before.

From the LRB letters page: [ 29 January 2009 ] Keith Gessen.

Keith Gessen is a founding editor of n+1 and the author of All the Sad Young Literary Men.

November 22, 2008

LRB: Iceland sinks!

Click the image above to read the whole article, or read it here

Iceland Sinks
Haukur Már Helgason
Last April, the Icelandic government published a report on the country’s image written by a committee of its leading businessmen. It summarises Iceland’s history thus: ‘For a long time, the nation lived through hardships, but once it achieved freedom and independence it leaped in less than a century from being a developing country to being one of the richest nations in the world.’

Today, personal security is the only growing sector of the economy. Politicians and stock exchange ‘entrepreneurs’ are surrounded by bodyguards. After several years of private ownership and staggering growth, the country’s three major banks collapsed in the space of a week, unable to pay their debts. The state, led by the central bank, renationalised two of them, and the third, Glitnir, was taken over by Iceland’s Financial Supervisory Authority. An emergency law was passed giving the state total control of the financial sector, and the government is wildly casting about for foreign loans to help it compensate people whose money seems simply to have vanished. Some of it had come from British and Dutch savers, who’d been putting money in high-interest-rate Icesave internet accounts since 2006, in a scheme that the manager of Icesave, Sigurjón Arnason, described as ingenious. ‘The only thing I have to do is look each day and see how much money came in,’ he said a while ago: ‘£50 million came in only last Friday!’ Easy come, easy go. When the boss of the central bank, David Oddsson, and the finance minister, Arni Mathiesen, declared after nationalising Icesave that Iceland would not pay these debts – or, in Mathiesen’s version, might perhaps settle some part of them – the UK applied its anti-terrorist laws to freeze the bank’s assets in Britain. Iceland was shocked: we’re not terrorists, we’re Scandinavians! If the króna now seems to be worth half what it was eight months ago, that is only because the central bank has fixed its rate. In fact it’s worth nothing at all. Experts describe the currency as ‘poisonous’: no one will touch it. This is now the position of a neoliberalised country that until April considered itself one of the most affluent on earth.

‘This is not nationalisation,’ the poker-faced prime minister Geir Haarde explained as he nationalised the first of the big three. On the face of it this was a blatant lie. But even if the state is now spending billions buying back recently privatised institutions, don’t be fooled. The government has not changed its policy: these measures are being taken merely to save those who have money, and will probably make things worse for everyone else. One American economist commented that the handling of the situation couldn’t be any worse if ministers had been picked arbitrarily out of the phone book.

The average Icelander owes ¤30,000. Home-ownership is the rule and people borrow to buy apartments, to attend university, to buy cars, to travel, to have children. The country is caught in a web of international debt. Because it has its own currency, there isn’t much difference between our situation and so-called ‘truck systems’, whereby a labourer buys goods from the company he works for. His work and his consumption are noted in a single book of debits and credits, and the worker sees little or no ‘real’ money for his work. Young people, who took out big loans to pay for overpriced apartments in an inflated market, now find themselves stuck. In a collapsed property market, the flats are impossible to sell, and since the loans are tied to the retail price index, in times of inflation the debt grows.

The result of all this is a very stressed society in which everyone is always running to stand still because they’ve never done enough to pay the bills at the end of the month; and if they’re late with payments, staggering default interest will sooner or later hit them. Then there’s the social taboo that means none of this can ever be spoken about, leading to an explosion of new-age spiritualism and a world-beating rate of anti-depressant consumption. And if the economic situation I’ve described sounds unfair, there’s worse: Icelanders are not allowed, by law, to have family names. Only 14 families – members of the old aristocracy who own and run everything – have surnames; the rest of us bear our father’s name in the old heathen way: Haukur, the son of Helgi and Bryndís, the daughter of Björgvin, the son of Sigurour. In short, Iceland is a ruthless class society.

It turns out that 300,000 people are not enough to support a floating currency on the international markets: 300,000 people, most of whom work far too many hours to be able to take part in politics, are also not enough to support a language in a globalised world. To be fair, the average Icelander’s ability to speak the language of finance is impressive: even the most hippyish high-school student can convincingly discuss currency rates and debate the benefits of short-selling. But for any other purpose my language has become as useless as the currency in my pocket.

‘The ever-present danger of perishing would not permit of a language restricted to gesture. And the first words among them were not love me, but help me,’ Rousseau remarked of the origin of language in the North. There isn’t an Icelandic word for ‘gesture’, which goes a long way towards explaining awkward moments in foreign relations. And that isn’t the only word we lack. ‘Hegemony’ isn’t there. Nor is ‘structure’ (the concept has been translated, but the Icelandic equivalent never seems natural).

We don’t have a word for ‘strategy’ either. The Republic of Iceland declared independence from Denmark in 1944, three years into a US occupation that would last more than sixty years. The US army made us rich during ‘the blessed war’, as older people call it, and then stayed as long as our mid-Atlantic rock remained strategically important to them. That is, until 2006, when the Bush administration thought up better things to do with two fighter-jets. But the US dollar is supported by the threat of military intervention and a large population, whereas the Icelandic króna is mostly supported by cod. After the US left, it took a while for the local economy – and politics – to realise how dire the situation had become. The most shocking moment for the Icelandic authorities came just before the collapse of the banks: at the end of September, the US Federal Reserve announced it would help out the central banks of Sweden, Norway and Denmark with a currency exchange deal – but not Iceland. As the Nordic countries see themselves as one community, the signal was unambiguous: sink, Iceland, sink. The country’s first response was to take offence. Oddsson announced that Russia would lend Iceland the money it needed. Russia did not agree. Iceland is sinking in the manner of the cartoon character who runs off a cliff but then stops in mid-air: only when he looks down and realises he isn’t standing on anything does he fall.

Symptomatically, for the last two years it’s been difficult to read anything other than good news in Iceland. All three of our newspapers are right-wing and pro-market. Until October, Morgunbladid belonged to Björgólfur Gudmundsson, who is the chairman of Landsbanki (and of West Ham United). He is an avid supporter of the party in government, the most flamboyant of the country’s bank owners, and the most popular according to a poll conducted last year by the rival newspaper Fréttabladid, which asked: ‘Who’s the best billionaire in Iceland?’ Fréttabladid belonged to the Baugur Group, which essentially owns the entire retail business in Iceland. Now the two newspapers appear to be merging, and changing hands in the process; journalists can’t keep up. Yet still the good news keeps coming. On Monday, 27 October, the front page of Morgunbladid carried a photograph of a snowy mountain, some sheep and a man on a horse. The back page featured a large picture of flowers and birds. Three days earlier the inhabitants of the rock known as Iceland had asked the IMF for help.

There is such a thing as collective guilt, and I am guilty, by association with this tribe, of having participated in casino-capitalism. Most people believed they were on the right side of the great divide between the haves and the have-nothings, that they had a natural gift for slot machines and poker. Now it turns out that many of those who thought they were playing a good game were fooled. It’s sad that most of us didn’t find the game itself disturbing, only the thought of losing: it appears that we have no sense of justice, but only of advantage and disadvantage. Cruelty doesn’t bother us. That is why Iceland is grieving. We had the chance to be decent people,and we blew it. Someone has now set up a website to which offended Icelanders send in photos of themselves in their homes, holding up a piece of paper on which is written the plea: ‘Do I look like a terrorist?’

At the same time, there is an enormous sense of relief. After a claustrophobic decade, anger and resentment are possible again. It’s official: capitalism is monstrous. Try talking about the benefits of free markets and you will be treated like someone promoting the benefits of rape. Honest resentment opens a space for the hope that one day language might regain some of its critical capacity, that it could even begin to describe social realities again. Or things might go quite differently: perhaps nothing stands in the way of a complete neoliberal victory. Perhaps it’s the end of history, not in a liberal democratic utopia, but in capitalismo puro, a capitalism that bears no relation to freedom: capitalism as mere fact.

Haukur Már Helgason teaches philosophy at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. He is a founding member of the experimental literary band Nýhil.


The innocent victims of civil war in Congo

November 21, 2008

Poem du jour

Carrying On like a Crow
by Charles Simic

Are you authorised to speak
For these trees without leaves?
Are you able to explain
What the wind intends to do
With a man’s shirt and a woman’s nightgown
Left on the laundry line?
What do you know about dark clouds?
Ponds full of fallen leaves?
Old model cars rusting in a driveway?
Who gave you permission
To look at the beer can in a ditch?
The white cross by the side of the road?
The swing set in the widow’s yard?
Ask yourself, if words are enough,
Or if you’d be better off
Flapping your wings from tree to tree
And carrying on like a crow?

November 19, 2008

The watch of life

The new conceptual watch that shows you how pathetic our lives are becoming....

November 18, 2008


and here is how I feel:

and this is what I end up doing...

November 17, 2008


TLS: On Laws of Nature

Why do things behave the way they do? Why does salt dissolve in water, why do balls roll downhill, and why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near? In each of these three cases, it is clear that there are some underlying features of reality that explain this regular behaviour: chemical bonding, gravitational attraction,
and the fact that they long to be close to you, respectively. But, like small children - and ph ilosophers are a lot like small children, at least in this regard - we can continue to ask why. Eventually, we hit rock bottom: the philosopher's equi valent of the parent's exasperated answer, '''just because".
At what point do we get to rock bottom? A first pass at an answer is: the point at which our explanation is a fundamental law of nature. But of course we can always ask why the laws of nature are what they are. For the regularity theorist, the universe - luckily for us - happens to work in an incredibly regular way. The laws are simply those regularities that are the most widespread, and the most explanatorily powerful. From a cosmic point of view, the fact that bi rds suddenly appear every time you are near doesn't explain much. Whereas the fact that, as it happens, every time an object with a particular mass and a particular force acting on it accelerates according to Newton's second law of motion, f=ma (imagining for simplicity that this really is a law), explains an awful lot; that's why it's a law. David Armstrong and others have argued that we should instead think of the laws not as generalizing over particular facts - facts about individual objects' behaviour - but as relating properties, or "universals". It doesn't just happen that every time an object with a particular mass and a particular force acting on it accelerates according to f=ma; those particular qualities stand in a relation of necessitation, so that, given that the relation of necessitation obtains (though it is merely
a contingent fact that it does obtain), objects with a given mass and force cannot but accelerate at the appropriate rate....
read the whole review

November 16, 2008

On the Beach today

Photo by Valera Meylis 2008. Click me to see a larger image

Photo by Valera Meylis. Click the image above to see a short video...

Photo by Valera Meylis 2008. Click me to see a larger image

Click the image above to view the panorama - about 2MB in size...

Photo by Valera Meylis 2008. Click me to see a larger image
Click the image above to view the panorama - about 2MB in size...

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe Nouveau

Cent quarante-cinq ans après, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe d’Edouard Manet fait de nouveau scandale. Non plus au Salon des refusés de Napoléon III, où la femme nue entourée de messieurs habillés avait fait couler beaucoup d’encre en 1863, mais au salon Paris Photo, ouvert jusqu’au 16 novembre. Le photographe britannique Rip Hopkins présente son interprétation de l’oeuvre, sur le stand de la galerie Le Réverbère. L’image est née, fin 2006, d’une commande du Musée d’Orsay, où l’on peut voir la toile : pour célébrer son 20e anniversaire, l’institution donne carte blanche à cinq membresdel’agence Vu pour photographier le musée. Rip Hopkins est chargé de faire une oeuvre avec le personnel. Il décide de donner aux employés « les moyens de s’exprimer » : le photographe fait poser des salariés du musée, chacun choisissant sa pose, ses habits. Devant Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, Cyrille, un agent de sécurité, propose de se déshabiller : « Chiche », répond le photographe. Son sexe n’est pas visible ; la pose est un clin d’oeil à celle de la femme du tableau. Sauf que le Musée d’Orsay ne l’entend pas de cette oreille. Serge Lemoine, alors président du musée, refuse l’image tout net.« Il y avait trop de photos, nous avons choisi celles qui étaient plus intéressantes, plus spirituelles », plaide-t-il. Pour Rip Hopkins,c’est plutôt « la représentation de la nudité masculine » qui pose problème. D’autres images du photographe sont écartées : l’une montre un employé en tenue de rugbyman devant L’Atelier du peintre, de Courbet. « L’histoire se répète : cette toile aussi figurait au Salon des refusés ! », souligne malicieusement la codirectrice de la galerie Le Réverbère, Catherine Dérioz. Mais ce ne sont pas seulement les rapprochements avec les toiles de maîtres qui sont en cause. Une photo donne à voir deux employées du vestiaire, d’origine africaine, coincées dans les casiers réservés aux valises. Comme prisonnières.
« Ce sont elles qui ont choisi leur pose, souligne le photographe. Le musée a refusé tout ce qui touchait à quelque chose de profond. Il voulait faire de la com. » A partir de là, les relations entre le photographe, son agence et le musée s’enveniment. Rip Hopkins est « privé de vernissage » à Orsay. Puis le musée refuse que les photos censurées soient diffusées. « Dignité du musée » Lorsqu’un livre sur la photographie contemporaine, publié par la fondation HSBC, inclut deux photos de Rip Hopkins, dont Cyrille et Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, Serge Lemoine proteste dans une lettre à Vu : les images« portent atteinte à la dignité du musée ». Il rappelle que, selon le contrat signé entre les parties, l’agence doit demander l’autorisation au musée avant toute diffusion des photos « afin de se protéger de toute utilisation malveillante et diffamatoire ». A Paris Photo, Le Réverbère a décidé de montrer l’image et d’évoquer sa genèse mouvementée. Quatre exemplaires ont déjà été vendus en trois jours. De son côté, Serge Lemoine est persuadé que « la galerie n’a pas le droit de présenter cette photographie. L’autorisation signée par l’employé se limite à un usage non commercial ». Le photographe assure que ce dernier lui a donné une nouvelle autorisation. Quant à l’actuelle direction du Musée d’Orsay, elle ne veut pas entendre parler de cette histoire, qui concerne un projet de l’ancien président. Outre Paris Photo, la muse d’Orsay est aussi présente sur une plaquette de la maison de vente Artcurial, pour illustrer un cycle de débats à venir sur le thème des oeuvres d’art controversées. Coïncidence : la maison de ventes vient justement de nommer, comme conseiller artistique et culturel…
Serge Lemoine.

November 15, 2008

Empire State at night

Photo by Valera Meylis 2008
Photo by Valera Meylis

Just Seen: Newman's History of Oil

Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9

History of Oil – Rob Newman

“Your good war, your just war has always been presented as a one off, a discreet event no more connected to other wars than consecutive productions of the same musical because all the ‘just war’, ‘humanitarian’ arguments begin to unravel if ever a war is seen to be part of a continuous foreign policy that has remained absolutely consistent for decades.”
Stuck away on More4 where anything even remotely controversial seems to get put these days was an absolutely fantastic stand up show by Rob Newman.
“There is in our own time an absolute taboo among the corporate news media and the political class against mentioning anything whatsoever to do with the strategic and economic reasons for war.”
In a previous review I mentioned that some of the best analysis of this war (in terms of motives at least) has come from the comedians. Even someone like Stephen Colbert, in his Whitehouse press dinner speech, stood up to the Bushies and the media in a way that hasn’t been seen in years in America’s corporate news media.
In his introduction Newman talks about the reporting of ‘an American plan to bring democracy to the middle-east™’ and suggests that the level of naiveté necessary to believe in such a thing is almost unheard of outside of 70s porn films. He suggests that this has been the rebranding of a 1973 document written by the House-sub committee on foreign relations with the less friendly title “Oil Fields as Military Objectives – A feasibility study.”
The whole piece is in three distinct sections (well the TV version is – I didn’t see the live show).
Firstly, he traces the history of nearly a century of Iraq policy. He tells the astonishing statistic that in the 95 years since oil was discovered in Iraq and a telegram was sent to the Glasgow office of Burma Oil saying “see psalm 104 verse 15 line 3” (“that He may bring forth out of the earth, oil, to make a cheerful countenance”) the United Kingdom has been at war with or occupying that particular country for 45 of them.
His contention that World War 1 should be taught in our schools as an invasion of Iraq seems outlandish at first but he is extremely convincing.
“I am sure many of you, like me, have never been entirely satisfied with the standard explanation we were given at secondary school for the causes and origins of WW1… the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand…I mean, NO ONE is that popular…The war breaks out, and remember it’s a war to defend plucky Belgian neutrality while the Belgians are pluckily defending Congolese rubber and ivory. The FIRST British regiment to be deployed in the First World War, the Dorset regiment, goes to….Basra, 1914, where it is joined by 51 other British divisions.
“Therefore I think we can conclude that had Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon fought by the Tigris or the Euphrates instead of the Somme we would never have heard of them.
‘They could have sent truckloads to the front, full of nothing but poets, if they had fought in Iraq during the first world war we would not know of a single man jack of them. There could even have been a First special poets battalion but had it fought in Iraq we would never have known of its existence, although…one can’t help feeling that the first special poets battalion would have been wiped out quite early on in the hostilities.”
One of the possible reasons for this was that just before WW1 the Germans were constructing the Berlin-Baghdad railway (part of which is now known as the Orient Express). This was at a time that the British and German Navies were switching from coal to oil. The British Navy at that time was probably the most powerful military force in the world so access (and denying access) to the newly discovered oil fields was vital. Also, the British government knew that people would simply not accept the Sarajevo to Basra replacement bus service.
The second part is what he calls his “Euro-Dollar theory.” This is an idea I have seen before and although it is a comedian delivering it here I have never seen it so comprehensively and convincingly put forward.
Roughly put, in 1971 OPEC had a meeting where it was decided that any transaction for a barrel of oil was to be conducted in US dollars. This essentially gives the Federal Reserve a blank cheque. The money goes around the global system in US dollars and the cheques never come back to the bank.
However, on the 30th October 2000 the Iraqis changed their Oil for Food program money from a dollar denominated account to a Euro denominated account. The Euro then gains 25% against the dollar thanks to strong sales of Moon Safari by Air which forces Iran to change to the Euro also. Next, North Korea changes not just its oil transactions but ALL its business to Euros. There was then a meeting speculating on the possibility of changing all oil transactions to Euros –the worst nightmare of the Federal Reserve.
It was around this time that the ‘axis of evil’ speech was made.
The third part is a superb section about the looming energy crisis. He correctly says that societies have collapsed because their strategies for energy capture became subject to the law of diminishing returns (not because they all suddenly got bored of being Mayans or Romans), which is certainly what is happening to industrial society.
As he points out, the ultimate irony is that if they did discover huge new Siberian oil fields “the climate chaos unleashed by burning it all would make the oil wars seem like a sideshow bagatelle.”
He provides some possible solutions to this problem, one of which is distinctly skanky but I will leave that one for you when you see it. We might very well have to get used to skanky solutions.
This is superb. You may have noticed I say that about most of the things I review but the truth is I usually only review things I like. I have better things to do than review things I don’t.
You can download it for free at this link - The Dossier . At time of writing it is the 12th one down on the list but it is updated so you might have to look.

November 14, 2008

Obama as Uncle Sam

Click me to see a larger image
Visitors look at Russian artist Farid Bogdalov's painting of US President-elect Barack Obama dressed as Uncle Sam, in a gallery in Moscow, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

November 12, 2008

NYT: Odd fruits and veggies

Europe Welcomes Abnormal Veggies
BRUSSELS — Misshapen fruit and vegetables won a reprieve on Wednesday from the European Union as it scrapped rules banning overly curved, extra knobbly or oddly shaped produce from supermarket shelves.
Ending regulations on the size and shape of 26 types of fruit and vegetables, the European authorities killed off restrictions that had become synonymous with bureaucratic meddling.
The rising cost of commodities also persuaded the European Commission that there was no point in throwing away food just because it looked strange.
Starting in July, when the changes come into force, these standards for the 26 products, ranging from peas to plums, will disappear altogether. European shoppers will then be able to choose their produce whatever its appearance.
For 10 other types of fruit and vegetables, including apples, citrus fruit, peaches, pears, strawberries and tomatoes, shape standards will remain. However, items that do not meet European norms will still be allowed onto the market provided they are marked as being sub-standard or intended for cooking or processing.
“This marks a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the knobbly carrot,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, European commissioner for agriculture, who argued that regulations were better left to market operators.
“In these days of high food prices and general economic difficulties, consumers should be able to choose from the widest range of products possible,” Ms. Fischer Boel said. “It makes no sense to throw perfectly good products away, just because they are the ‘wrong’ shape.”

read more
That sentiment was not shared by 16 of the European Union’s 27 nations – including Greece, France, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy and Poland – which tried but failed to block the changes at a meeting of the Agricultural Management Committee. Several countries worried that the abolition of European standards would lead to the creation of national ones, said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the discussions.
The European Union is well known for its detailed regulations on appropriate shapes and sizes for agricultural items. Commission Regulation (EC) 2257/94, for example, states that bananas sold in Europe must be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature,” though Class 1 bananas can have “slight defects of shape,” and Class 2 bananas can have full “defects of shape.” Bananas were not covered in Wednesday’s ruling, so for now, these standards remain.
Wednesday’s fruit and vegetable reprieve covers apricots, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, zucchinis, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, eggplants, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, watermelons and chicory. When the rules governing the standards for the sale of these foods disappear next year, about 100 pages of regulations will go with them.

November 8, 2008

Просмотрено: Русалка (2007) Анны Меликян

Замечательный фильм - о том, как сбываются желания, даже и не самые хорошие, и как реклама может доминировать жизнь. Снятый в лубочно-сказочном варианте, где сны перемежаются с действительностью или мне так показалось :) Добрый фильм о первой любви. Смотреть!

November 7, 2008

LRB: on Obama

Click the image above to read the article...

November 6, 2008

Poem du jour

The Empress
by Charles Simic
as appeared in the Times Literary Supplement Oct 31, 2008

My beloved, you who spend your nights
Torturing me
By holding up one mirror after another
To me in the dark,
If there's anything I know to say or do today,
I merit no praise for it,
But owe it to the subtlety of your torments,
And your perseverance on keeping me awake.

All the same, who gave you the right
To judge me in my wretchedness?
What soul white as snow
Compiled this endless list of misdemeanors
You read to me every night?
The airs you put on, babe, when I tell you to stop,
Would make one believe
You were once a bedmate of a Chinese Emperor.

I like it best when we do not say a word,
When we lie side by side
Like two lovers after their passion is spent.
Day is breaking.
A small bird in the trees is pouring her heart out
At the miracle of the coming light.
It hurts.
The beauty of a night spent sleepless.


November 5, 2008

Just seen: Take 2007

What a powerful, yet subdued movie with a simple story, re-told through flashbacks and twisted, just like the lives of the protagonists.

the movie

November 3, 2008

Just Read: Les Bienveillantes

Besides winning two of the most prestigious literary prizes in France, Les Bienveillantes was generally favourably reviewed in the French literary press. Le Figaro proclaiming Littell as the "man of year"[5] and the weekly Le Point stating: that the book “exploded onto the dreary plain of the literary autumn like a meteor.” Other reviewers compared it to War and Peace,[6] with the editor of the Nouvel Observateur's literary section calling it a great book ("un très grand livre").[7][8]

Negative reviews raised issues such as style, one critic feeling that it is a step backward from the modern novel, a style belonging to the 19th century "as if Proust, Joyce, Hammett, William Faulkner et Robbe-Grillet had never existed."[9] Others criticised it from a historical perspective: Peter Schöttler, a Franco-German historian, called the novel a “strange, monstrous book” that was "full of errors and anachronisms over wartime German culture,"[10] and in Le Figaro, French historian, Edouard Husson called the book a gigantic prank ("un gigantesque canular").[11]

After the book was translated into German, there was wide spread debate in Germany.[12] Littell is accused of being "a pornographer of violence"[13], another critic concludes: "Nothing in this book provides anything new, either in terms of style or content."[14]

November 2, 2008

Шутка du jour

Первыми поздравили Обаму с победой на выборах заключенные из России -
они прислали ему подарок с надписью "вашему бараку от нашего".
в мужчине должна наблюдаться лёгкая небрежность: либо ширинка растёгнута, либо рукав в говне…
В умелых руках и хуй – балалайка!
Чем пахнет огонь от зажигалки? Он пахнет палёными волосами из носа.
- Ей весело! Мы с матерью все больницы обзвонили, все морги,
все физико-математические институты...
- Зачем физико-математические институты?
- Девочка! Да мало ли куда тебя могло занести, мало ли что
могло случиться!!!
Колумбийские школьники слепили снеговика стоимостью 3 миллиона долларов.
Человек–Паук боится Человека–Тапку. А Человек–Тапок боится Человека–Какашку.
Самый страшный корабль — корабль, перевозящий кукол–пупсов в
шторм: корабль кренится на волне, пупсы одновременно открывают глаза и говорят: "МАМА!"
Петербургские проститутки работают за книги
Леонардо да Винчи не только изобрел танк и вертолет, но и приснился Менделееву, переодетый таблицей.
Как выяснилось, на самом деле таблица Менделеева сначала приснилась А. С. Пушкину, но он в ней ничего не понял.
Дана Борисова купила стиральную машину со встроенным интеллектом и уже через неделю попала к ней в рабство.
Белочка–клаустрофоб живет на веточке рядом с дуплом.
— Здравствуйте, а можно девочку в синхронное плавание записать?
— Конечно, у нас как раз одна утонула!
До утра под луной мы бродили с тобой, потому что с тобою мы дрожжи!
шагу невозможно ступить на склонах Фудзи – везде эти ёбаные улитки…
Две коровы на мясокомбинате.
— Слушай, а ты здесь в первый раз?!
— Нет, блять, во второй!
Мужик заходит в аптеку и говорит:
— Мне нужен один гандон!
Провизор в подсобку:
— Коля, тебя!
Кто рано встаёт, тот далеко от работы живёт.
Молдаване после секса отворачиваются к стене и штукатурят.
На четырёхлетие родители подарили ребёнку набор юного сантехника. Через три дня мальчик спился.
В Греции найдено дерево, чей возраст достигает 3000 лет. По
свидетельству ученых, если бы дерево могло говорить, у него был бы рот
Неудачей закончилась идея провести конкурс красоты в городе Владимир. Само название «Мисс Владимир» отпугнуло всех участниц
Если у вас нет отца, то щелкните правой кнопкой мыши на рабочем столе и выберите «Создать папку».
на церемонии вручения театральной премии "Золотая маска", артисты театра Куклачева нассали в ботинки артистам театра Ленком
В Израиле обнаружились комары–антисемиты. С виду это обычные комары, но страдают–то от них евреи!
Пропала собака. Рыжая. С черным ухом. Сука. Блять. Ебаная страна
Чтобы увидеть Москву с высоты птичьего полета, платите 20 долларов и кладете колесо обозрения под язык
Китайцы высаживались на берег небольшими отрядами, — по одному–два миллиона человек.
Сгорел склад бытовой техники, на котором находилась крупная партиястиральных машин с искусственным интеллектом. Боже, как они кричали!..
за что люблю порно, за то что там всегда результат на лицо
Никита Михалков лишь недавно узнал, что мир существовал и до его рождения.
Я знаю секс, как свои пять пальцев
Сложно найти такого же веселого и беззаботного продавца как в магазине лаки и краски
Владимир Ильич Ленин любил ходить на новогодние утренники. Но как–тонелепо смотрелась лысая бородатая снежинка вместе с танцующими детьми.
Танцы «под Верку Сердючку» являются более бесспорным доказательством происхождения человека от обезьяны, чем теория Дарвина.
Дневник маленькой Людмилы Гурченко:"Вчера отменили крепостное право, уменя появилось больше времени и теперь я могу писать дневник
Чтобы стать парикмахером, Зверев переспал с феном
— Как тебя зовут, помнишь? Сам встать сможешь?
— Ты чего пристал к ребёнку? Ему же ещё года нет!
Когда мой дедушка возвращался ночью, от него пахло водкой и бабушками.
Берите пирожки, — заулыбалась хозяйка. — Горячие, сама охуела!
У Элтона Джона самая большая коллекция очков но пользуется он только одним.
В Эфиопии за рождение второго ребенка дают попить

November 1, 2008

Poem du jour

The Way
by Albert Goldbarth
appeared in New Yorker Oct 13, 2008

The sky is random. Even calling it “sky”
is an attempt to make a meaning, say,
a shape, from the humanly visible part
of shapelessness in endlessness. It’s what
we do, in some ways it’s entirely what
we do—and so the devastating rose

of a galaxy’s being born, the fatal lamé
of another’s being torn and dying, we frame
in the lenses of our super-duper telescopes the way
we would those other completely incomprehensible
fecund and dying subjects at a family picnic.
Making them “subjects.” “Rose.” “Lamé.” The way

our language scissors the enormity to scales
we can tolerate. The way we gild and rubricate
in memory, or edit out selectively.
An infant’s gentle snoring, even, apportions
the eternal. When they moved to the boonies,
Dorothy Wordsworth measured their walk

to Crewkerne—then the nearest town—
by pushing a device invented especially
for such a project, a “perambulator”: seven miles.
Her brother William pottered at his daffodils poem.
Ten thousand saw I at a glance: by which he meant
too many to count, but could only say it in counting.