Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Another slice of tofu, anyone...?

We're all going to have to go Veggie soon.

This article from today's front page of The Guardian:

Revealed: the massive scale of UK's water consumption

A vegetarian diet we all already know is better than a meat-based one for Oh! so very many reasons. Here's the numbers in terms of water:

Different diets have different water footprints. A meat and dairy-based diet consumes about 5,000 litres of virtual water a day while a vegetarian diet uses about 2,000 litres.

Before I get too smug, though, there are some other disturbing facts on water consumption here.

That's excretera's public service message for the day. Happy munching.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Another sec...

Back to the Russian-Georgia-South-Ossetia-USA mess.

Another useful, insightful article. This time from the New Statesman:

'Superpower Swoop' by Misha Glenny

On the one hand, says Glenny, 'Clearly, Russia has been goading and provoking the Georgian government for several years into making the big mistake.' But the US has also been playing its part, the neo-con hawks (lead by the always off-target Cheney) lobbying the Georgian government and allowing them to 'believe the farcical proposition that Georgia's armed forces could take on the military might of their northern neighbour in a conventional fight and win.'

Why? 'For the Bush administration (or for its hawks at least), the Georgian mistake presents an opportunity - let us recast Russia as a threat to global stability and a potential enemy.' In addition to reviving the Cold War paranoia that is so effective in governing America (remember the Project for the New American Century, where many of the neo-cons sharpened their claws), this has the added advantage, Glenny explains, in an election year: by shifting the focus from the economy (where Obama has the advantage) to foreign policy (where McCain has the advantage, inexpicably, since his foreign policy is the same as Bush's, which Americans profess to now despise) the Republicans are trying to ensure at least (gulp!) four more years of the same, Bush-by-proxy.

And don't forget the implications for Ukraine and Iran. Read the article.

PS. Incidentally, Jonah (now 3 -- Happy Birthday!) loves hearing all about this on the news. Everytime someone on the radio or television mentions 'Georgia' he thinks they are talking about his cousin. He thinks she must be very famous.

PPS. Explaing to Will the idea of 'bodies' (as in '... were pulled from the rubble', '... were laid out in a make-shift morgue') is a little more complex.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Schandmentel is back!...

For THIS guy!

Look at that. A face at which even a mother would like to throw rotten fruit. Medieval torture was designed with this guy in mind.

This is Dr. Tim Leunig, Lecturer in Economic History at LSE. He is also works for right wing think -- and I use the term loosely -- tank Policy Exchange. Now, normally I don't want to subject members of right wing think tanks to medieval forms of humiliation and torture (I just secretly hope that their caves collapse, burying them alive), but yesterday this fellow released a report, Cities Unlimited, calling for people, or rather the unemployed, to abandon Northern English cities, where regeneration projects have failed or are pointless because ... well, they're all Northerners, aren't they?... and instead move all these people down South, where they can all fly somewhere else more easily. (So, he hates the environment at least as much as he hates people, it seems.) And no, that's not an unfair paraphrasing. Check out the BBC report here.

Specifically, the report urges the expansion of Cambridge and Oxford, because obviously there are just thousands of unfilled academic posts, just waiting for the Sheffield's ex-steel workers and Liverpool's ex-dockers. And, really, who wouldn't rather live in Cambridge or Oxford?!? This guy makes a brain drain seem like a really good idea.

But, hold those vegetables for a moment and consider just how remarkably courageous a proposal this is to bring forward. Only a brave, radical thinker, a thinker so far tunnelled into the vast anal cavities of Oxbridge that all humanity has drained away into the darkness, could have come up with such an idea.

Now, here's the cruncher: he's right, you know. The report says that cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield expanded greatly in the 19th century, to meet the demands of the economy, the industry -- the mode of production -- of the time. Now, we have a new economy, a new mode of production that no longer requires vast numbers of people -- did I say 'people'? I mean labour -- in industrial areas; vast numbers of cheap, available labour are now required in the heart of those economies dedicated to the new knowledge/service economy, to keep low the cost of other commodities needed there (lattes, sandwiches, clean toilets, Tesco's shopping trollies).

So Leunig is right. IF you regard people as nothing more than labour, commodities to be kept cheap and readily available in a capitalist economy. IF living breathing humans mean nothing more to you than statistics in economic history books, or figures on balance sheets that prop up the profits of shareholders. IF you regard communities as collections of labour, and not places where people live, i.e. enjoy an existence that is beyond their utilitarian value to the economy. IF, in other words, you are an inhumane, Gollum-twinned number-cruncher -- or a lecturer in economic history, it seems -- who has no relationship to fellow humans (or maybe just Northeners) as something akin to cattle, or machines, or coffee beans: commodities that must be kept cheap and available.

In my other life, as a psychoanalytic literary/cultural critic, we have all sort of words to describe such a psychopathology, any of which might fit here: sociopath, depersonalisation, psychopath, normotic, schizoid, conservative capitalist asshole... take your pick.

So, I sentence Dr. Leunig to a Schandmental Tour of Northern England! Let them throw rotten turnips at him in Carlisle, potatoes in Newcastle, cabbage in Sheffield and tomatoes in Liverpool (they are the European Capital of Culture this year, after all).

But maybe we're being harsh. Dr. Leunig is an academic. An intellectual. And so as a man dedicated to the revelation of Truth I'm sure he would be more than happy to discuss these ideas and explain to us his reasoning in more detail. I notice his LSE faculty page helpfully provides his contact details. So why not give him a call at +44 (0)20 7955 7857 or fax at +44 (0)20 7955 7730. Or perhaps you would like to send him some thoughts via email -- which is; perhaps you'd like to send him some pictures of your local community (some very very large photos, that take up lots of room on his server), and I'm sure he'd be more than happy to help find you accommodation in the new boroughs of Cambridge and Oxford he wishes to construct.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Hold on a sec...

Ok. I'm no expert on all the mess that's going on in Georgia. (That's Georgia, in the Caucasus, not the state in America... I don't know if the rumours are true about Southern confusion, but Canadians have learned not to take anything for granted when it comes to the intelligence, or otherwise, of our southern neighbours.) However, I'm not liking a lot of what I hear.

Russia is hardly innocent. Certainly not a angelic defender of the rights and freedoms of the South Ossetians. I don't like superpowers, and I don't trust them. (Until, that is, Canada is a superpower, but I can hardly reveal that plan to you here, could I? By the way, any one remember the Canadian World Domination Home Page? Long gone, it seems, but happily remembered relic of the Early Web.)

But I also don't like the (mostly) narrow-minded, clich├ęd reporting of the conflict that I'm hearing, mostly from a Western media that, let's be honest, isn't world renowned for its Powers-That-Be busting, sceptical stance to the official truth.

In fact, it seems to me that the press have been suddenly awoken from a surreal Olympic dream to discover that, Oh! It's 1985. Or 1968, or 1956. Whatever. And yes, I can see Imperialistic aspiration at work in Russian actions. BUT, but but but... well. I'm no expert. But here are some links to stories I've read that offer a little balance, a slightly different perspective.

Mark Almond on Saturday: Plucky Little Georgia? No, the Cold War Reading Won't Wash
Jonathan Steele on Monday: This is No Pipeline War But An Assault on Russian Influence
Simon Jenkins on Wednesday: Bush Rebuking Russia? Putin Must Be Splitting His Sides

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Olympics again...

I'm totally addicted to the Olympics(TM), already, as ever. This, despite the contempt in which I hold the entire, bloated, consumerist enterprise. I hate myself, really, but nothing new there. I found myself watching weightlifting with Will and Jonah today -- weightlifting! Really. Not exactly an enthralling spectator sport. But I'm a hopeless procrastinator, desperate for any crumbs of televisual distractions for my hyperactive pre-schoolers that I can rationalise in any twisted way as being Good for them. You know, international sport, learning about different countries and all that. No. I don't really believe it either.

This weekend, Marina Hyde wrote a neat comment piece in The Guardian on why, fundamentally, the Olympics are despicable and morally corrupt. It's raises some of the same issues I did months ago, though this being Marina Hyde, it's much wittier and cleverer than I could manage here.

I can't be bothered to write about everything that pisses me off about the Olympics. The sport itself is fine, though why the BBC brings us dressage and archery and shooting and not fencing I don't know. And I hate the medal table: it is fundamentally wrong that a gold medal earned by a single man splashing around a pool for 60 seconds is weighted the same as, say, a gold medal earned by a full team-squad that struggles through a whole tournament of 90 minute games... oh. Now, see? You've got me started.

But I won't tolerate any talk of 'Olympic values', as they were once conceived. Commercialisation and (then) professionalisation make it very clear what the Olympics value. Picking Beijing as the host city, makes it even more clear. The elevation of individual achievement over team achievement, the awarding of the games to a country that efficiently deal with 'security issues'... there's little left to admire, really. Vacuous calls for World Peace? PLEASE!

Note to the BBC and everyone else: Let me just waste my time watching humans push themselves to silly extremes peacefully, without all the notions of nobility and honour. Just let me enjoy the orgy of capitalism and sport and self-loathing.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Magia Posthuma

After nearly two months away -- Canada and various campsites around the UK -- I'm dipping back, catching up with some reading. And making some new discoveries, so I thought I'd announce my blog-return with something new. I can't even remember where I got tipped to this, but I found reading Magia Posthuma very interesting. (If anyone can remind me who pointed this out, I would happy to credit it.)

Magia Posthuma is a blog dedicated to the study of vampires, but not in a vulgar, another-goth- freak-thinking-death-is-cool sort of way. As the blog's mission statement makes clear, it's about contextualising the idea of the vampire in the social and cultural history of knowledge.

It is the sort of history, the sort of project, that Foucault would applaud, and one that I find particularly fascinating. Just look at this summary, from the blog's sidebar:

Magia Posthuma is the title of a book written by the Catholic lawyer Karl Ferdinand von Schertz in 1704. In the book von Schertz examines the case of a spectre that roamed about and harmed the living. Several of these cases were known in Moravia where von Schertz published his book, as well as in neighbouring areas. Only two decades later, a similar case was investigated by Austrian officials in North Eastern Serbia. The local people called the spectre a vampire. This incident inspired the deacon Michael Ranft to publish a study on the mastication of the dead. Just a few years later, in 1732, another case of vampirism was investigated in Serbia. Reports of this investigation were published throughout Europe with the consequence that the interest in vampires exploded. Vampires became the topic of numerous learned articles and books. Cases of magia posthuma or vampirism, however, kept occurring. In 1755 empress Maria Theresa aided by her court physician Gerard van Swieten began passing laws against the exhumation and destruction of corpses as well as other acts of superstition.
Terrific, isn't it? Another example of a delicious disconnect in Enlightenment thinking. When totally ridiculous, impossible phantasies pass themselves off as rationally, even scientifically viable. Like spiritualism in the 19th century, or trickle-down economics in the twentieth.

Anyway. More on vampires to follow shortly.