Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
Robert Weaver
Sydney, Australia
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The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
September 06, 2014

By various symbols and a five-color code, the city's hotels, apartments and rooming houses are rated either moral, immoral or 'undetermined'. The immoral category, vastly outnumbering the other two, is subdivided into accommodation where immorality is 'countenanced or ignored', places where immoral tenants are 'desired or preferred', and houses 'wholly given up to immorality'.

September 05, 2014

We are just past the starting line of a four-year marathon of Great War commemorations.


The cost of the centenary to Australian state and federal taxpayers – to say nothing of an expectedly vast contribution from private donors – will be in the region of $320 million.

To put that into perspective, the UK has set aside ‘just’ £55 million (around $100 million) for the commemorations, despite the fact that its military casualties vastly outnumbered those of Australia: 750,000 deaths as against 60,000.

July 19, 2014

In other words, Wicked Campers got rid of its slogan because it was unpopular. Yes, some politicians muttered about new laws. But the company didn’t repaint its vans because of repression by the Nanny State but rather because activists mobilised against them. No infringement of free speech took place. On the contrary, large numbers of ordinary people who had previously been silent found their voice – the exact opposite of the Big Brotherish crackdown [Abbott appointed Human Rights Commissioner and IPA hack Tim] Wilson seemed to be describing.

Why, then, did Mr Freedom make this case a cause célèbre? The answer lies in this line:
Despite the success of the online campaign, Mr Wilson said people who disapproved should protest by not using the business.
For Wilson, freedom’s a market relationship, most perfectly expressed when an owner freely chooses to sell a particular commodity and a purchaser freely opts to buy it.


Everyone knows Anatole France’s quip about the law treating the rich and poor equally when it comes to sleeping under bridges – and the same critique can be applied to notions of freedom (for, as they say, free speech is a lot easier when you own a newspaper). But we can make a stronger claim. Because the sale of labour power depends on this double sense of freedom, defending freedom (from a capitalist perspective) means defending disempowerment, since, if workers have other options available to them, the commodity of labour power will not circulate freely.

That’s why, for neoliberal ideologues, any protest or strike represents (in embryo, at least) an attack on freedom, an infringement on the logic of the commodity. From Wilson’s perspective, by campaigning against Wicked Campers, activists are undermining the fundamental relationships of a free (capitalist) society – which is why our commissioner duly leapt into action.
When I say, generally immediately following my standard quip that "libertarians" are not interested in liberty so much as in privatising tyranny, that the preferred political system of types like Wilson would be feudalism, so long as they got to be lords, I am not only - although I am that as well - remarking on the mental pathologies of the average arrested-adolescent Randite, but also referring to what's layed out above. Simple souls like myself might imagine that a free society is one where in a practical sense most of the people have the most freedom possible in their lives, where their behaviour is the least possibly constrained; but for Wilson and his ilk freedom is where a minority have the freedom to exercise their power and influence, and everyone else has the freedom to "freely" contract to be a serf. [And, for that matter, is a system where "deregulation", "private enterprise", "the nightwatchman state" &c are code words for state capture (of an as-usual-interventionist state) by a particular class... but I digress.] Too harsh? Perhaps the glibertarians would prefer to see themselves as good Jeffersonians, which they could be instead: staunch defenders of a man's right to live untrammelled by oppressive government, free to grow his crops, manufacture his nails, and administer his slaves.

Apropos of which, a' course: I'm currently halfway through Domenico Losurdo's Liberalism: A Counter History and cannot recommend it highly enough.

May 24, 2014

Martial Law Selfies

May 13, 2014
Birth Machine

HR Giger 1940-2014

April 15, 2014
Contagious Herding

According to a recent paper by the economist Andreas Wagener, people are twice as likely to cough during a concert as at other times. Furthermore, they are more likely to cough during modern, atonal music than during better-known repertoire and they cough more during slow or quiet passages than during fast and loud ones.

The classical cough, then, is no accident but rather a form of communication disguised as involuntary physiological tic. “Because of their ambiguity – they may always be forgiven as bodily reflexes – coughs are a noisy substitute for direct, verbal communication and participation,” Wagener writes. “They allow for social interaction up to contagious herding, propagate (possibly incorrect) assessments of the performance and reassure concert-goers in their aesthetic judgements.”

Coughers might thus be rebelling nonverbally against the hierarchy imposed on them – that of powerful, noise-making performers and submissive, silent audience.
Or as Victor Borge said: "People will cough during "Clair de Lune" who have never coughed in their lives!

April 14, 2014

The amazing animated gifs of Bees & Bombs.

March 04, 2014

Moral hazard is the economist’s term for a rule that encourages people to behave badly. For example, a rule that says that you’re not liable for your factory’s pollution if you don’t know about it encourages factory owners to totally ignore their effluent pipes – it turns willful ignorance into a profitable strategy.

‘‘The Cold Equations’’ is moral hazard in action. It is a story designed to excuse the ship’s operators – from the executives to ground control to the pilot – for standardizing on a spaceship with no margin of safety. A spaceship with no autopilot, no fuel reserves, and no contingency margin in its fuel calculations.


‘‘The Cold Equations’’ ... barks at us that now is not the time for pointing fingers, because there is an emergency. It says that now is the time to pull together, the time for all foolish girls to die to save brave explorers from certain death, and not the time for assigning blame.

But if a crisis of your own making isn’t the time to lay blame, then the optimal strategy is to ensure that the crisis never ends.

February 14, 2014

This rhino is a work of art. Please do not climb on it as this could result in injury.

But that's how it is with rhinos.

February 13, 2014

When the Balinese prepare a corpse for burial, they read stories to one another, ordinary stories from collections of their most familiar tales. They read them without stopping, twenty-four hours a day, for two or three days at a time, not because they need distraction but because of the danger of demons. Demons possess souls during the vulnerable period immediately after a death, but stories keep them out. Like Chinese boxes or English hedges, the stories contain tales within tales, so that as you enter one you run into another, passing from plot to plot every time you turn a corner, until at last you reach the core of the narrative space, which corresponds to the place occupied by the corpse within the inner courtyard of the household. Demons cannot penetrate this space because they cannot turn corners. They beat their heads helplessly against the narrative maze that the readers have built, and so reading provides a kind of defense fortification surrounding Balinese ritual. It creates a wall of words, which operates like the jamming of radio broadcasts. It does not amuse, instruct, improve, or help to while away the time: by the imbrication of narrative and the cacophony of sound, it protects souls.

Ibid., Chapter 6.

February 12, 2014

[T]he relation between information and ideology in the Encyclopedie raises some general issues about the connection between knowledge and power. Consider, for example, a totally different kind of learned book, the Chinese encyclopedia imagined by Jorge Luis Borges and discussed by Michel Foucault in The Order of Things. It divided animals into: “(a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.” This classification system is significant, Foucault argues, because of the sheer impossibility of thinking it. By bringing us up short against an inconceivable set of categories, it exposes the arbitrariness of the way we sort things out. We order the world according to categories that we take for granted simply because they are given. They occupy an epistemological space that is prior to thought, and so they have extraordinary staying power. When confronted with an alien way of organizing experience, however, we sense the frailty of our own categories, and everything threatens to come undone. Things hold together only because they can be slotted into a classificatory scheme that remains unquestioned. We classify a Pekinese and a Great Dane together as dogs without hesitating, even though the Pekinese might seem to have more in common with a cat and the Great Dane with a pony. if we stopped to reflect on definitions of “dogness” or on the other categories for sorting out life, we could never get on with the business of living.

Pigeon-holing is therefore an exercise in power. A subject relegated to the trivium rather than the quadrivium, or to the “soft” rather than the “hard” sciences, may wither on the vine. A misshelved book may disappear forever. An enemy defined as less than human may be annihilated. All social action flows through boundaries determined by classification schemes, whether or not they are elaborated as explicitly as library catalogues, organization charts, arid university departments. All animal life fits into the grid of an unconscious ontology. Monsters like the “elephant man” and the “wolf boy” horrify and fascinate us because they violate our conceptual boundaries, 3 and certain creatures make our skin crawl because they slip in between. categories: “slimy” reptiles that swim in the sea and creep on the land, “nasty” rodents that live in houses yet remain outside the bounds of domestication. We insult someone by calling him a rat rather than a squirrel. “Squirrel” can be a term of endearment, as in Helmet’s epithet for Nora in A Doll’s House. Yet squirrels are rodents, as dangerous and disease-ridden as rats. They seem less threatening because they belong unambiguously to the out-of-doors. It is the in-between animals, the neitherfish-nor-fowl, that have special powers and therefore ritual value: thus the cassowaries in the mystery cults of New Guinea and the tomcats in the witches’ brews of the West. Hair, fingernail parings, and feces also go into magic potions because they represent the ambiguous border areas of the body, where the organism spills over into the surrounding material world. All borders are dangerous. If left unguarded, they could break down, our categories could collapse, and our world dissolve in chaos.

Setting up categories and policing them is therefore a serious business. A philosopher who attempted to redraw the boundaries of the world of knowledge would be tampering with the taboo. Even if he steered clear of sacred subjects, he could not avoid danger; for knowledge is inherently ambiguous. Like reptiles and rats, it can slip from one category to another. It has bite. Thus Diderot and d’Alembert took enormous risks when they undid the old order of knowledge and drew new lines between the known and the unknown.

from The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History by Robert Darnton, rev. ed. 1984, Chapter 5.

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