Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Security means this

NSA security posters

The sensible party

 Another old piece:

Perhaps it is in the same spirit of liberal constipation that, with the exception of Charlie Brooker, we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalisation but empirical fact.
Oh no it's Monbiot, as they chant on the terraces. And he is doing it again: being smug in public; smug and wrong. Read the abstract, George, the one to which you linked:
We proposed and tested mediation models in which lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups.
See what they are saying there? They are saying that stupid people tend to be prejudiced and support right-wing views. They are not saying that right-wing people are stupid. There is an important difference between those two claims. For there may be many others, intelligent people who are right-wing, who were not part of this study: this was a study of stupid people, not of right-wing people. Is this difficult to understand? I only ask because it seems to have escaped Monbiot's attention, which is rather funny, considering. As A. J. P. Taylor observed in his essay on Lord Salisbury:

The Tory party has been called the stupid party (and not unfairly, to be stupid and to be sensible are not far apart. The Progressive party, Radical and Socialist, is clever, but silly).

Brian Auger and the Trinity with Julie Driscoll:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Professor Dickinson is dead

David's supervisor, Professor Dickinson, was one of the leading academics in Britain in her field. She died tragically when David was at the end of his second year. His supervision was taken over by an experienced researcher whose range of concerns was different and who had only a general interest in David's topic. 

David did not think it necessary to tell his new supervisor in any detail what he was doing, having it clear in his mind that Professor Dickinson would have given her approval. He thus worked without supervision for a further 18 months. When he came to submit his thesis the examiners felt that he had suffered from lack of supervision, which in the circumstances should be taken into account, but that they could award him only an MPhil, not a PhD. He appealed, but in due course the university confirmed the decision.

From How not to get a PhD. Notice, if you will, that it is David's fault his new supervisor failed to provide adequate supervision, that his university failed to provide an adequate supervisor, that the university failed to supervise that supervision; it is almost as if it were David's fault that Professor Dickinson died. In this story are contained the two most important lessons that any PhD candidate can learn: whatever goes wrong, it will be your fault; whatever goes wrong, you will suffer the consequences. 

Every new candidate should be told the tale of Professor Dickinson's tragic death and David's tragic MPhil. To avoid future disappointment, the candidate should learn - as soon as possible after paying the first year's fees - that that he or she has reached the bottom of the heap. Everybody in the university, academics and  administrators alike, is of greater importance and has higher priorities than the PhD candidate.

The university's employees also are blissfully free of any responsibility for their actions. They can forget to do what they are paid to do, they can take holidays without ensuring that their work will be done by someone else, they can act with gross incompetence or gross moral turpitude; they can do all of the above in a single day, yet still they will not be held accountable.

Boy With Cat (Jean Bourgoint), by Christopher Wood, 1926; Kettle's Yard, Cambridge.

Haunted Luau, by Lyon.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Late Capitalism

Another old piece, from July 2018, previously unpublished. 

Drink coffee. Shop High Street. Die happy.  Just imagine being dead. You spent your last day on High Street, shopping. You are a shade now; you were thrown off your feet and on to your head, on High Street. You died happily, because you got that thing you really wanted. You were run down by an oaf in an Audi; but you were happy, because bargains like that don't happen often. You were dying to get home and try it on; but now you are dead. Never mind. The coffee was good.

This advertisement probably cost the citizens of Auckland thousands. It is the work of Heart of the City, the organisation that takes substantial amounts of money from Auckland City Council and uses it to tell us to go shopping in our own city. Not long ago it started a campaign on the  Link buses, which showed  a film to captive passengers about a city which could have been Auckland, were Auckland a city where everybody and everything is colourful, vibrant and diverse. It went on for what seemed like hours, and then started again. A passenger who looked out of a window of the bus might see that Auckland is not like the film at all, were it not for the advertisements on the windows of the bus which make seeing out so difficult.

Nick Low with Rockpile

Monday, March 11, 2019

Stuff Mac Operators like

This is something I wrote on 18th April 2012, but did not publish for reasons which have escaped my memory. It is about the New Aesthetic, which in  April 2012 was predicted by futurologists to be the next big thing. It lasted about a month. The Tumblr page to which I linked and which was the centre of the thing quickly became wordy and nerdy, congested with texts and pictures of robots. It still exists and is occasionally updated, but the aesthetic seems to have been forgotten. In the years that have passed since 2012, talking about the future has become a thing of the past, probably because the future now seems to be catastrophic.

The true problem with the New Aesthetic is that it truly is a new aesthetic. It has to become one, even if it doesn’t much want to be one. “Aesthetics” are more that whatever gets splashed onto Cafe Press T-shirts this season. Aesthetics are by their nature metaphysical. Aesthetics are, by definition, how beauty is perceived and valued in a human sensorium. Aesthetics is therefore an issue of metaphysics. Perception, beauty, judgment and value are all metaphysical issues.
Bruce Sterling is an interesting man who once asked me a question, to which the answer was "Tibor Donner." Bruce Sterling is a futurologist. He predicts the future. His predictions may turn out be wrong but, by the time the future happens, it won't really matter. On the other hand, they may turn out to be right, in which case he will be upgraded to visionary class.

Bruce Sterling is unlikely to be described as an art critic. However, he has taken it upon himself to describe The New Aesthetic, an art movement that was discovered at a music festival. Bruce Sterling is not an aesthetician. However, he has taken it upon himself to describe aesthetics. Bruce Sterling talks of aesthetics as - by definition - being about beauty in something called a human sensorium and - by definition - an issue of metaphysics. Bruce Sterling thinks  perception, beauty, judgment and value are all metaphysical issues. Bruce Sterling thinks aesthetics is simply the plural of aesthetic.

Bruce Sterling should not give up his day job. His writing suggests his philosophical investigations stopped short of Kant and everyone after. Aesthetics is not a metaphysical issue because there are no metaphysical issues. Metaphysics is a parlour game played by a dwindling number of analytic philosophers. Things are so bad for metaphysics that when epistemologists are backed up against the wall (as they should be) their only defence for their gross mental turpitude is "at least we are not metaphysicians." And that is no defence at all.

Metaphysics is about nothing at all that matters. Aesthetics matters and has nothing to do with metaphysics (except for readers in Heidegger, who deserve our pity if nothing else). Aesthetics is about art, about taste; it moved on from discussion of The Beautiful a while back, about two hundred years back.

Bruce Sterling needs to stop trying to imitate Reyner Banham writing about the Independent Group in the early 50s.

By now, you are probably dying to meet this New Aesthetic. Well, here it is. Welcome my friends to the show that never ends: The New Aesthetic.

Yes, that's all there is.

You see, it's not that easy. Or, to put it another way, it's too easy. Internet gives a lot of people the opportunity to talk a lot about things of which they know little. Bruce Sterling knows a lot about some things but these things are not among them. He does not know what is going on in art or in aesthetics.

But then, at least he has that in common with the makers of the New Aesthetic. This is not art and it is not being done by artists. Bruce Sterling is on to the case, unwittingly, when he writes:
The New Aesthetic is image-processing for British media designers.
Yes, that's it. Had he stopped right there, he would have made an amusing footnote to what is no more than an amusing footnote. Instead, he yearns to write what he describes as "5,000-word critical exegeses about contemporary aesthetics." Instead, he gives this thing some credibility, at least among the geeks, and those who believe that creatives are equivalent to artists. He goes so far as to claim that we have to take this thing and its prospects seriously.

We do not. Art has this thing already covered. Art covered this thing a while back, when Turner painted Rain, Steam and Speed or when Monet was hanging around at train stations.  Art keeps covering this thing.The modern world produces extraordinary images. Artists make them into art.

The making is the important thing about this art thing.

Jessica Pavone and Mary Halvorson:

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Huntly and the north

The Scholarship is tenable by students who are New Zealand citizens or permanent residents of New Zealand, who meet the requirements for entry into Doctoral programmes and who are graduates of a professional qualification in architecture from a New Zealand institution situated north of Huntly
So, you are a promising architecture graduate who wants to study for a doctorate at Auckland. You think you might apply for the William Chick Doctoral Scholarship In Architecture. Before you go any further, ask yourself this: "Is my current architecture school situated south of Huntley?"

To put it another way, three tertiary institutions in New Zealand offer a professional qualification in architecture; one of them is situated south of Huntly. Can you spot which one?

Still not getting it? Time for bluntness: if you are a student of Victoria University of Wellington, don't bother applying. If another architecture school were to be founded in, say, Whanganui, its students would never benefit from this scholarship; nor would students of hypothetical South Island architecture schools in Geraldine or Pelorus Bridge. On the other hand, graduates of a  Kerikeri School of Architecture and Urban Design would find themselves among the select.

If you want to be an architect, it helps to come from a privileged background, as this advertisement from Unitec's 2011 campaign subtly indicated. Alex Riley, student of St Mary's College, held ambitions to design 'the next Donald Trump Tower'; obviously she was not concerned about being paid.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

The making of history

Another casualty of the fast-track process is history. Not only is it recast and manipulated to suit an outcome, history can also be hidden by our Official Information Act.

In 2003, Majurey, battling for Marutuahu recognition in Auckland, asked for access to the reports by historian Bruce Stirling, who Ngati Whatua had commissioned to support its Auckland claims. Ludicrously, the Office of the Ombudsman turned down the request, saying its release would "have adversely affected the relationship of trust" in the negotiations. History is commercially sensitive.

Later the Crown was shown to have concealed documents critical of Ngati Whatua's Auckland claim, including an assessment by Crown Law historian Donald Loveridge showing it did not uncritically accept the research put forward by the iwi. At the same tribunal inquiry, other historians put forward histories of Auckland that painted different pictures of what happened in the region pre- and post-1840.
What is worrying about some of the history emerging from Crown settlements is that it's not historical fact, but secret negotiation and tacit agreement. A more disturbing conclusion is the history that eventually surfaces may not be just biased, but patently wrong.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Alma mater

It was not the best place in the world to study Art History. It was not the worst. It did not warrant the superlative degree of comparison. Within its high-ceilinged halls, lurking behind the plaster pillars painted to look like marble, slumped against the shelves of its reportedly estimable library, going up and down in the ancient two-person lift, were the usual degrees of wisdom and foolishness, belief and incredulity, light and darkness, hope and despair. It was Dickensian, in short, and just as one tolerates a lot of nonsense in Dickens, a lot of it was tolerated here.

It was an establishment that had long outgrown its usefulness but was far too doddery to care. It was a finishing school in an era when the young no longer wished to be finished. The Catalfaque did not seek to explain its shortcomings. Indeed Catalfaquian explanations so quickly withered outside the sacred confines that it was deemed prudent to air them as little as possible. Oblivious to all else, the Catalfaque annually conferred degrees upon individuals who were able to take their places at any dinner table in the land, and were intent on doing so.

Many of this misguided crowd came, it must be said, from unfortunate backgrounds: at an early age they had been forced to don navy-blue blazers with gold buttons, as well as various articles of clothing constructed out of tweed, with a stylessness which they and their many authenticated forbears considered attractively aristocratic. Others had won their places besides the Catalfaque's stolid shelves through hard work, abject submission to examinations and their results, and the belief that the Catalfaque was a distinguished institution dedicated to the advancement of Art History as a respectable academic discipline. Without ado, and often much to their relief, these ingenues were soon informed that Art and History were but side-issues in a study that was more concerned with the geographical location and monetary value of two-dimensional antiques.
Ellmann, Lucy.
Varying Degrees of Hopelessness
Hamish Hamilton, 1991.

The author is a graduate of the Courtauld Institute of Art. Home House, 20 Portman Square, is now a club

Gerard Hoffnung:

Thursday, March 07, 2019


From The Spinoff:

Cameron Slater, founder of Whale Oil, is stepping away from his creation and has filed for bankruptcy. This follows an earlier announcement that the blogger had suffered a stroke, and that recovery was not coming along easily. Being tangled up in a series of protracted defamation lawsuits at the same time cannot have helped. 
Slater has many enemies. Decent people, however, will be wishing him well. Whatever you think of him, he is a family man. There are people who depend on him. That base level of empathy should trump the feuds of the past
Liam Hehir, allow me to introduce you to M.R.X Dentith:

Dentith's Text in full:

So, there’s quite a lot of muttering about the state of Cameron Slater’s health, & whether he’s as dehabilitated as he & his representatives claim, largely because (I suspect) it’s easier to imagine him still practicing the Dark Arts of Politamancy than being honest about himself 

(“Politamancy” is not a real word; yes, you can use it if you want to, especially when referring to “Dark Arts”) 

However, no matter what you think of Slater and his health, this @nzherald story about his bankruptcy certainly looks suspiciously like someone trying to get out of having to pay the legal and financial cost of running smear campaigns for third parties 

Especially since it refers to the legal cases against him as “vexatious” and how Slater might return to running the “Whale Oil” blog should his health recover sufficiently (which reads a lot – to certain minds – as “When the legal dust settles I can get back to politamancy!”) 

I mean, why should Slater have to deal with the fallout of writing smear posts on behalf of others? It’s certainly very unfair to someone to be held responsible for things printed in public under the guise of investigative reporting!


Wednesday, March 06, 2019

In the basement

Another problem with the bass guitar is that for most of the time, you’re not really supposed to hear it. You’re supposed to feel it. It’s the holy spirit of the power trio. Playing the bass guitar is really sometimes not so much like playing a melody or even playing notes as it is focusing the emphasis within a measure or within a song. If the drummer is telling you, the listener, when to clap your hands, the bass player is telling you how to move. He’s pushing you with his notes, synchronizing hips. His notes are the dark Sharpied balls of fury in the kid’s drawing, while the singer and the guitar player delicately outline the actual flower. And it’s a weird psychological place to be—playing an instrument that’s meant to be felt, not heard, like a well-behaved child. It’s one of the reasons the bass player always looks to the other players, the ones who are always seen and heard, not forgotten in the shadows. But the bass guitar is an instrument of the shadows, the land below middle C, the bass clef not even included in fake books. It’s the land of subtext, the swamp, the unlit basement.

The Bass Guitar as a Mode of Being, 

The Adverts:

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Waiting for his man

'Unforgiveably, Chet was also rather dumb. "Gee, it's a drag about your dad", he's alleged to have said to the jazz pianist Romano Mussolini, son of the dictator, although Gavin can't confirm it. "You gotta realise, Chet was not that intelligent", says one of his former girlfriends, Ruth Young. "He did not know what he was doing...He just did it." His old employer from the famous piano-less quartet of the early Fifties, Gerry Mulligan, speaks of Chet as "a kind of freak talent. I've never been around anybody who had a quicker relationship between his ears and his fingers." Perhaps as a consequence, Mulligan hated him with a vengeance.'

From 2002, Phil Johnson in the Independent.

The Chet Baker Trio 
(Baker, NHØP, Doug Raney) 
live at the Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen:

Monday, March 04, 2019


This philosophically driven work is intended to trouble the position of the small chair in early childhood settings. It is theoretically driven by an aspect of sociological and cultural theory called hauntology, and by the theories of new feminist materialism. The work of Sara Ahmed influences the direction taken here. An assemblage of personal narratives, memories, works of fiction, history, conversations and media reports, along with the documentation of a performative act, is produced. The methodological approach is intra-active and diffractive. The article argues that the small chair is a contentious and ambiguous artefact, which is taken for granted in early childhood settings, but also problematic when considered from different perspectives – an apparatus that both supports and betrays the body/ies that are in contact with it. Chairs, as objects that furnish human lives, can also haunt those lives and give contradictory messages of power, comfort and suffering. Now and to come, the chair is a trace, a symbol, an instrument of torture and object of desire.


Sunday, March 03, 2019


Some of what “newness” provided is still provided through the latest increments in digital technology – new games, new apps, new internet stuff. My son, who is 13, is buzzed up on this and is chasing wanting the latest thing in terms of games, computers, social media, netstuff. But I don’t know if the category of the new or of “progress’ in the cultural-artistic-political senses means anything to him: the idea that things get better. And I know that the science fiction concept that ruled my teenage years—outer space, the very idea of the 21st Century—mean nothing to him.

I can’t think of many really new things in music. Some of the bass sounds in dubstep—the wobble, brostep, Skrillex end of it—seem pretty extreme, if not completely new then a development along on an axis of intensification from things being done in the Nineties. And similarly the use of AutoTune and “vocal science” effect, while building on Nineties techniques, seems to be a growth area—it seems to be a way that musicians indicate contemporaneity and “this is now”. You get that across the board from mainstream pop and rap to underground and experimental music—an interest in vocal weirdness, the denatured and posthuman voice.

From 2013,  Andrzej Marzec interviews Simon Reynolds for Czas Kultury ; a download is available on Academia.edu.

The League of Gentlemen:

Saturday, March 02, 2019


During World War I, the manor house of Henry's family was converted into a hospital for wounded officers, and the eleven-year-old observed at first hand the disparity in manners between his family and the generally low-bred officers. The behavior of these men was so uncouth that the senior officer had to take measures to prevent abuses of hospitality. "In this way," says Green, "manners were ruled by discipline and so they became something else, bad manners became an offence against authority and in this way at once came near to what I knew at my private school". 
The significance of his relating military and school discipline rests in the youth's grasp of the foundation of manners. If regimen is their source, it occurs to the boy that his own class may be impeccable only because its members have been subjected to the same pressures earlier, and for more extended periods. His apprehending this possibility led young Henry to evaluate his elders during war-time. Those frantic officers who, convalescent, swam rivers to get to girls, were only obeying crude instincts of self-preservation ; and members of the "trained up" class who gave them hospitals were really doing nothing more, although their instincts may have been blurred by refinements. "In the war said Green, "people in our walk of life entertained all sorts and conditions of men with a view to self-preservation, to keep the privileges we set such store by, and which are illusory, after those to whom we were kind had won the war for us".The privileges he mentions are, of course, those of class boundaries and all they entail, boundaries staked out on the theory that manners determine real differences between groups. The "forced atmosphere" of war, placing the bumpkin officers in sight of the wellborn among other things, gave opportunities "to every child," says Green, "to see the cracks in the façade people put up before children in my circumstances". The four novels that follow Blindness Living, Party Going, Caught, and Loving all chisel into the cracks in the façade; and only in Caught, at the cost of deep suffering, is a member of the privileged class able to make a meaningful commitment to members of a lower class. 

The other important experience of Green's youth has to do with the problem of communion and alienation. It is best illustrated in Pack My Bag by two episodes, one at the country house hospital and the other some years later at Eton. The former exemplifies one of the emotional bulwarks of the book Green's belief that bonds forged between persons impel growth as no other force can. It concerns an Australian soldier, ruined by the war, whom Henry's mother tended, and who later committed suicide aboard the ship that was taking him home. When it seemed this man was getting better, he asked Henry to go bicycling with him: 

We got to where the road goes round the church and then we came back. He was soon wobbling but he would not get off to rest until when we got into the drive he could just get off his bike and zig zag into the house not wishing I suppose that I should see him fall. He was up again in four days . . . but it damaged me . . . because it was not until then I realized by sharing it with him, how hopelessly far gone he was.

John Russell’s Henry Green: Nine novels and an unpacked bag is available, free of charge, on archive.org

Friday, March 01, 2019

Someone to play solos

 I kind of look at guitar playing on two levels. There's the professional studio sausage method where you go in and grind it out, and that's not necessarily bad. It's good music and you're having a good time. To get a chance to do it and be of that caliber is one of the most wonderful things that could ever happen to a guitarist. A lot of guys say it kills them; well, it's what you make of it. In praise of studio guitarists [lifts glass in toast]! The other level is when you really want to play and you're with people who accept and like what you do. My specialty, if you could call it that, is guitar solos, obviously, even though I sit back and do the I-have-a-swimming-pool rhythm guitar sound that LA, laid-back, it's-all-paid-for studio musicians have. I do like to play solos, and the reason Walter and Donald called me was they needed somebody to play solos. 
Jeff Baxter, interviewed for Guitar Player in 1980.  And here,  seated as always, Jeff Baxter talks about style and rhythm: