Sunday, August 28, 2005

In the Jacuzzi Today

Hugh Hefner, Camille Paglia & Tommy Cooper

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Essence of Edinburgh

Why do I love this town? It must be something in the air. The cool, clean, crisp, invigorating air. The air in London just isn’t the same. Edinburgh’s air is intoxicating; London’s merely toxic.

It’s something to do with the air, the light, the space and the harmony.

Robert Adam’s elegant Georgian architecture sets the tone: understated, perfectly proportioned, symmetrical and stylish. The most favourable views of the New Town’s elegant thoroughfares are afforded from the summits of Edinburgh’s Volcanic Trinity: Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and Edinburgh Castle. The impermanence and nobility of human artifice is here given dramatic relief by a landscape testifying to the powerful volatility of nature.

Man and nature compete for ascendancy yet combine to produce a uniquely beautiful city. The idiosyncratic antiquities and historical treasures of the Old Town complement the orderly refinement of the New. The view from Princes Street is awe-inspiring. Old Edinburgh and The Castle rise up magnificently, looming over the New with magisterial dignity. It has ever been thus. Edinburgh: a city of contrasts.

Aesthetics matter here. The only conceivable response to such an inspiring location is to dispense with the unseemly internecine squabbling of party politics and to institute an Aesthetocracy.

Ever since David Hume’s enlightened scepticism roused Kant from his dogmatic slumbers Edinburgh has been renowned as a city of ideas. Philosophy, literature, poetry and music have competed with, and indeed complemented, science, medicine and commerce. An independent legal system sprang from our philosophical predisposition and who would deny that our jurisprudence is more elegant than the pragmatic English equivalent. Enlightenment and Edinburgh are not merely alliterative: they are synonymous.

And yet, of late, a dissonance between the self-confidence warranted by our illustrious heritage and the self-doubt of a capital-in-waiting of a not-yet-independent nation has sounded a discordant note in our hitherto harmonious soundscape.

Is the fledgling Scottish Parliament our macro-malaise in microcosm? Is it a Harlot in Holyrood or a Diamond in Dumbiedykes? Architecturally astounding, symbolically seismic yet we just can’t seem to shake off that parsimonious Presbyterianism. We’re fixated with cost and impervious to benefit.

Edinburgh is evolving but the transitional pains are severe. The discord between the parochial and the cosmopolitan resonates loudest in Leith. Edinburgh’s once-prosperous port turned down-at-heel elderly neighbour has now morphed into its hip young brother. Leith’s burgeoning eclecticism is redolent of Tribeca, reminiscent of Barcelonetta. Critically acclaimed restaurants, art galleries, designer hotels and vibrant bars smuggle a scintilla of style into a hitherto unprepossessing landscape. Yet it is this dialectic between the indigenous and the extraneous which invests both with vitality. The MTV Awards’ subliminal appearance on Ocean Drive was an invigoratingly ephemeral injection of popular culture but the gravitas of a Guggenheim would provide a permanent infusion of prestige.

If New York has its chutzpah and Milan its élan it seems we’re still searching for the elusive Essence of Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh Festival & Fringe reflect our historic affinity for the Arts. The mood is relaxed, convivial and creative. Everything seems possible and Edinburgh is in its rightful place, at the epicentre of things. But when the culture vultures fly away, its back to business as usual.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay has been expertly packaged to captivate the globe but 2003’s cancellation was a PR catastrophe. The Scottish climate can be inhospitable but the image of a hesitant butterfly clinging tentatively to the chrysalis is not quite what we had in mind. “Safety first” can never be The Essence of Edinburgh. Time to spread our wings. The world is watching.

Will Edinburgh become a Nearly New York or a Barely Barcelona? We’ve been “The Athens of The North” for too long. With so much vicarious va-va-voom in the room will we ever have the confidence to be ourselves? One day soon a town, somewhere, may claim to be “The Edinburgh of the South.”

Ewan McNaught

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jed Palmer ~ Lives of the Cannibals: Rage

from 3 Quarks Daily

It is 10 pm on Wednesday night and a man is screaming on the 1/2/3 platform at Times Square station. His voice gives no clue as to age or race. It's impossible even to determine the man's trouble: his tone is shrill and his words are stretched and twisted to accommodate rage. Walk down the platform twenty feet and discover that the man is Chinese, bald, in his mid-fifties. He is 5'6 or so and portly. In different circumstances, you would not think him capable of producing this noise. The subway arrives and the man boards, amply preceding himself. His voice is undiminished inside the metal walls, and his fellow riders immediately flee to other cars. He doesn't care. Over the train's clamor you can hear him screaming all the way to Brooklyn.

It's an important irony that here in New York, in this city that is the finest achievement of modern American urban life, a city that fairly reeks of cool and sophistication, we are reduced (or refined) to our basest fundamental selves. Stringent isolation and the madness of the crowd coexist here, giving rise to New York's exquisite hybrids--the stone-faced mothers and muttering businessmen and sly derelicts. Had Darwin lived today, he would not have had to visit the Galápagos to induce his theory. Two weeks in the city--at the Pennsylvania Hotel across from Penn Station, perhaps--would serve him well enough to discern natural selection and test its mettle on the street. Indeed, New York is the result of 7,000 years of urban technology, the fantastic product of art, science and political method, and yet nowhere on Earth offers a comparable opportunity to observe human behavior in its purest instinctual form.

We pine in love and we decay in sadness. In shame we cower and from revulsion we withdraw. Fear chases us away. These are retiring emotions. Expressed or simply felt, they are private things, shared and managed among friends, or at least those we know. They emanate modestly, rarely achieving anything like powerful broadcast. Anger is different. Anger is the orangutan's effulgent orange ass. It exists for its expression, and even in its chastened state we describe it in a way that indicates its volatility: it seethes and smolders, and we step lightly nearby, reasonably fearing its explosion. Internalized, anger is nevertheless evident. The hissed obscenity and the compact jab of an arm (silence! it says, get away!), these are inflections of rage suppressed, and they are obvious to see. They are warnings we heed.

If New York lost Broadway, if thieves looted the Museum Mile and if the observation deck of the Empire State Building were closed permanently for renovation, the city fathers would still have anger to trot out for the entertainment of cash-carrying visitors from the heartland, a sort of ecotourism tweaked for the Ur of contemporary urban landscapes. After all, New York is nothing if not a whore--why not capitalize on its wealth? Colorful pamphlets could be distributed, primers that elucidate the finer points of rage-watching and direct curious visitors to the best blinds in the city. Zagat could compile a survey. Twenty-eight points out of 30 for the corner of 44th and Lexington, where Grand Central Terminal disgorges its fretful loads. Bright red double-deckers could tour the worst traffic snarls and at the same time exacerbate the gridlock, thereby affording their wide-eyed charges the opportunity to be targets of the city's sporting take on road rage. The Germans and Japanese, the Kansans on holiday, valued, credit-wielding consumers in sherbet bermudas and baseball caps, they would feel a sudden sense of brotherhood twenty feet up as they listened to the narration of their tour-guide ("notice the dents in the hoods of the cabs--bonnets to you Brits--made by the fists of pedestrians") and pointed out to one another the most fearsome verbal and gesticular threats from these fascinating New Yorkers, ranging free in their preserve.

None is above rage. The extravagantly degreed publisher on his way to work is likely to test his manhood, his courage, by way of the pitch of his shoulders on a construction-narrowed sidewalk. Beneath these skyscrapers and amidst this rush of transit, by God he will not give ground to the slouching thug or the high-heeled secretary as they make their opposite way in the shuffling line beside him. And how many times has he struck another, absorbing the blow of a body as steadfastly as possible, giving nothing away, not even a flinch? Why, every day. Multiple times a day. This is a dynamic city. There's construction on every block.

Certainly, New York City is a brightly painted streetwalker, vulgar, sexually overt, but it is a debutante and a housekeeper too, and all three ladies are masters of the subtle sneer and the public snub. Rage finds many forms, not least of which are disdain and its underprivileged cousin resentment. The brutality of these expressions takes its cumulative effect, transforming the city into a breeding ground for creeping insanity, making it the de facto capital of lonely mumblers, who quietly suffer the violent discourtesy of thousands in the course of their plodding daily lives. There you go, Chief. No, really, it's my fucking pleasure. In these poor sensitive souls, whose nerves would be grated by the comparatively mild depredations of a Midwestern city like Pittsburgh or St. Louis, New York effects a paranoia of the chronic, distracted variety. These obscure ghosts, whose eyes remain fixed on the distance or the concrete before them, and whose tolerance for the physical intimacy of subway cars tends to endure for a stop or two at most, these victims are spotted easily for their twitchy gaits and pained faces, and for their hair-trigger shoulders, which tense at the first peal of laughter in the street.

Fifteen years ago, New York received a great deal of credit for its sustained calm in the wake of acquittals for the LA cops who beat down Rodney King. There was wonder in the voices of politicians and pundits, who saw unrest in Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia and Newark, and assumed that America's shameless skyscraping capital would fall in line with the others. It didn't. Remarkable, they said, an unlikely development. In fact, if not for the pustulating seam of rage running right down the center of this city, we would have been at each other's throats. We were physically exhausted from the angry contest of our day, and we had no energy left to avail ourselves of the cool relief of riot. Anyway, we have our own infected wounds from which we draw murderous inspiration. It would hardly do to adopt the rage of another, lesser city. Los Angeles can keep its Kings and Furmans, thank you very much. We've got Howard Beach and Crown Heights, Yankel Rosenbaum and Al Sharpton, and apocryphal packs of black teenagers, who wild away a lovely evening under the electric lamps of Central Park.

Jed Palmer

Joe Coleman ~ Faith

Chuck D & Fine Arts Militia ~ No Meaning No

No Meaning No

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Frasier quotes

Frasier: In the last week I've uprooted myself from my home of fifteen years, moved all the way across the country away from everything I care about, and plunged myself into a frightening new career. The first few nerve-wracking moments, I walk in here and find my producer lobbying to get herself transferred to another show. Abe Lincoln had a brighter future when he picked up his tickets at the box office.

Frasier: [responding to a caller] Roger, at Cornell University they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the Tunneling Electron Microscope. Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons you can actually see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe. Roger, if I were using that microscope right now, I still wouldn't be able to locate my interest in your problem.

Frasier: Niles, owning the CD of "Ella Sings Gershwin" does not qualify you as a soul brother.

[Frasier, Roz and her young daughter Alice are waiting in line at a kid’s book store: a book-signing session is being conducted by Frasier’s old flame, Nanny G]
Roz: So, are you hoping for another hug?
Frasier: Mmm? Well, the thought had crossed my mind. You know, we used to have this wild attraction to each other – it was almost combustible! Truth be told, it’s been a while since,I, uh... [covers Alice’s ears] romped with abandon through the perfumed gardens of Eros.
Roz: Next time you say something like that, cover my ears.

Frasier: [on the subject of Dr. Nora, a cruel, dismissive radio shrink]
This is a woman who thought the Spanish Inquisition was just tough love for heretics

Roz: When I die, I want it to be on my 100th birthday, in my beach house on Maui, and I want my husband to be so upset he has to drop out of college.

Niles: Well, as some illustrious person said, "popularity is the hallmark of mediocrity".
Frasier: You just made that up, didn't you?
Niles: Yes, but I stand by it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment: Culinary Contours of the Mysterious Multiverse

Remember that line in Swingers where Mikey (Jon Favreau) tries, and fails, to impress the waitress in the Treasure Island Casino coffee shop?

Mikey (referring to the menu's "Breakfast Anytime" claim):
I'll have pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment

I'm pretty sure Steven Wright told that joke first, only it was "French toast during the Renaissance" back then.

That joke set me thinking... if I was unencumbered by the tiresome constraints of space & time and I could experience lunch, dinner and supper in three disparate locations during a single day, where and when would I choose to eat?

After further deliberation, I decided to leave "when" out of the equation, for now at least, and concentrate on contemporary cuisine and existing (rather than past, future or imagined) establishments.

There are so many potential combinations to choose from, but here's my choix du jour:

Déjeuner: cappucinno, crab chowder and an afternoon of conversation & people-watching as the sun streams in the massive French doors at the chic café Sonsie on Newbury Street, Boston’s version of Rodeo Drive.

Dîner: the finest steak de atún the Iberian peninsula has to offer at Senyor Parellada's charming little Barcelonetta bistro.

Après Dîner: vin rouge and a selection of fromage Au Petit Moulin, due de Thoroze, Montmartre.

Harlem Shuffle: Hot Joints from the Beat Barbeque

Now playing on Casa del ionesco's boomin' system:

She is Beyond Good and Evil ~ The Pop Group ~ music from the edge of the Abyss. The ne plus ultra of post-punk

Pussy ~ Brazilian Girls ~ electro-nova-bossa-reggae. Straight outta Brooklyn: this cool combo sound like The Slits and Smoke City flying Rio-high courtesy of Air Sensimilia

Discordance ~ Paris Combo ~ post-modern Parisienne Manouche swing par excellence ~ the musical equivalent of a sultry, summer night in Montmartre

Saturday, August 13, 2005

In the Jacuzzi Today

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Luther Blissett & Countess Erzsébet Báthory

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Killer Movie Scenes ~ Lost Highway ~ The Party Scene

David Lynch's noir horror Lost Highway opens in a mysterious retro-futurist city: a doppelganger Los Angeles in a disclocated dimension of Lynch's mysterious multiverse; a milieu in which the space/time continuum has mutated into a Möbius strip.

Free-jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) have been receiving videotapes in the mail. The tapes are recordings of their house, initially filmed externally but quickly progressing to interior shots. The packages do not disclose the identity of the stalker/intruder. The Madisons' marriage is clearly in trouble, the ambience is suffocatingly tense and the sinister packages tighten the tourniquet.

A visit to a party promises, at least temporarily, to alleviate the oppressively dark and menacing mood. The promise is not fulfilled.

At the party Fred meets a nameless stranger (later referred to in the closing titles as The Mystery Man) ; a man of genuinely disquieting appearance (chalk-white countenance, ruby-red lips and shaved eyebrows: a malevolent perversion of a clown). The Mystery Man (played by Robert Blake) is a Mephistophelean harbinger of murder & metamorphosis and a manifestation of Madison's madness.

The music heard during the scene is Barry Adamson's Something Wicked This Way Comes ~ a modern, funkier, darker reworking of Classic IV/Dusty Springfield's Spooky. The music and background chatter segue to silence during Madison's encounter with the Mystery Man and, just as inexplicably, fade back in upon the latter's departure.


A swinging party is in progress at Andy's house - the man whose face we saw at the Luna Lounge with Renee. ANDY, 37 years old, a slick guy, is seen moving through the crowd, making small talk, kissing and being kissed.

The people here are wannabe players, the men mostly shady, gold-chain-wearing, slightly unsavory types; the women dressed provocatively, big hair and skin-tight dresses. Through sliding glass doors we see nude and semi-nude people cavorting in a swimming pool. Everyone has a drink in his or her hand. Renee finishes her drink and hands the empty glass to Fred who walks away with it. Andy grabs Renee, and dances with her. They laugh and talk. Renee appears to be a bit intoxicated. Fred, who appears less than thrilled with the carryings on, makes his way to the open bar where he orders two drinks. When the drinks arrive he drains one of them completely, then sets the empty glass down on the bar. Then he swallows the other drink, too, and sets down the glass.

A MYSTERY MAN, tall, well-dressed and groomed, older than Fred, approaches him.

MYSTERY MAN: We've met before, haven't we?

FRED: I don't think so. Where was it that you think we've met?

MYSTERY MAN: At your house. Don't you remember?

FRED: (surprised) No, no I don't. Are you sure?

MYSTERY MAN: Of course. In fact, I'm there right now.

FRED: (incredulous) What do you mean? You're where right now?

MYSTERY MAN: At your house.

FRED: That's absurd.
The Mystery Man reaches into his coat pocket, takes out a cellular phone and holds it out to Fred.

Fred snickers, like this is a bad joke. The Mystery Man puts the phone into Fred's hand.

MYSTERY MAN: Dial your number.
Fred hesitates, puzzled.

MYSTERY MAN: Go ahead.
Fred shrugs, laughs, dials his number. We HEAR a pick up as we stay on FRED'S FACE.

PHONE VOICE OF MYSTERY MAN: I told you I was here.
Fred, still holding the phone, stares at the man standing in front of him.

FRED: How did you do that?
The Mystery Man points to the phone.

Fred, mirthful at first, as if it is a party trick of some kind, suddenly turns serious - it's obvious he's thinking now of the videotapes. He speaks into the phone.

FRED: (angrily) How did you get into my house?

PHONE VOICE OF MYSTERY MAN: You invited me. It's not my habit to go where I'm not wanted.
Fred looks at the man in front of him, but speaks again into the phone.

FRED: Who are you?
The man laughs - identical laughs - both over the phone and in person.

PHONE VOICE OF MYSTERY MAN: Give me my phone back.
The man in front of Fred reaches out his hand for the phone. Fred hears the line go dead, and he slowly passes the phone back to the Mystery Man who takes it, folds it, and puts it in his pocket.

MYSTERY MAN: It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Monday, August 08, 2005

My Adventures in Hi-IQ Land

(Note: this article was originally published on the Hamilton Academical supporters website "Acciesworld" back in 2002. It was subsequently published here (IQ Magazine: the online journal of the International High IQ Society). Understandably, a few of the pop culture references are a little dated).

Relaxing in the Jacuzzi at Casa del ionesco, whilst some grinning buffoon rejoicing in the epithet Britain’s Sexiest Proctologist flexes his telegenic biceps menacingly in the general direction of Kylie’s anodyne, aerobicised ass, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that televisual dumbing down has finally bottomed out.

It could be said that any society is “rewarded” with the popular culture it deserves. If so we can only postulate that Planet Earth is an off-world penal colony populated by the recalcitrant criminal underclass of some alien civilisation. Needless to say we, the incarcerated inmates of this outpost, are subjected to a daily dose of noxious mind-rot masquerading as entertainment. Lobotomy t.v. as prescribed by Dr.Murdoch of Global Media Conglomerate Control Mechanisms Inc.

Intravenously administered infomercials, edutainment, reality t.v. and lowest common denominator game shows “starring” maddening micro-celebrities, Neanderthal nonentities and wearisome wannabes. Fame junkies fighting eachother for the pop pap pusher’s placebo. In this Warholian world only curmudgeonly hermits residing in caves are spared the harsh light of the media glare. I stand corrected: “Britain’s Sexiest Curmudgeonly Hermit” approaches like an imminent migraine, as inexorably and inevitably as death, taxes and the new series of Big Brother.

Needless to say in this dumbed down, democratic dystopia everyone is a star, everyone achieves “A” grade at A level and every second-rate educational establishment for the academically-challenged is awarded “University” status. I needed a quick culture fix. Not that ersatz “off the peg” culture but the real deal. Erudite, educational and reassuringly elitist.

Even the absurd spectacle of that surgically-depleted goon Michael Jackson thanking David Blaine for his "Artist of the Millennium" birthday cake on the MTV awards show (hold your horse right there Jacko, you’ve got another 998 years to wait for that one buddy!) couldn’t cheer me up. Even Britney in her “Nazi leather whore from Hell” fetish gear couldn’t float my boat.

Then I remembered another night of television hell from the near past. Ann Robinson’s Test the Nation on BBC1. Blondes, builders and teachers limbering up for their imminent appearances on Britain’s Sexiest by flexing their grey matter in some bogus “intelligence” test. Could an ability to remember Mr.Phillips from Pontypridd’s post code really tell us something about the nation’s intelligence? I was sceptical but intrigued.

I remembered some grinning goon on the show posing as “the friendly face of UK Mensa” and I realised this organisation must be a one-stop shop for all your intellectual dietary requirements. It’s pretty hard to get in they say. Good. I need a little rest and relaxation away from the detritus of democracy, far from the flotsam and jetsam of the “fame” game. A world away from the text-messaging teens, the shell-suited savages and the baseball-capped barbarians. An on-line test, a home test, a supervised test and the best part of eighty quid later and I was “in”. The reassuringly elitist 98th%ile cut-off should keep out the riff-raff at least.

Wrong. I’m in the door 5 minutes and I’m greeted with the news that I’m joining a long line of “gifted people” including “celebrities” Jamie Theakston, Gary Bushell, Carol Smillie and Jimmy Saville. Can I have my money back? One look at the Mensa mag. and I know I’m not exactly hangin’ with Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table. Mensa’s just a social club for a bunch of sad geeks who can solve simple puzzles quick. The temptation to join the Star Trek, Dr.Who and Red Dwarf SIG’s (special interest groups) was far from overwhelming, shall we say. They’ve even got a “Thick as a Brick” SIG for those proud “thickos who just scraped past the entrance exam” and which promises resolutely “unintellectual” activities. I soon realised smart people join Mensa but the really smart ones take one look around and leave. Taxi for mr. ionesco..

High IQ societies are proliferating on the internet at an incredible rate. The higher cut-offs of the 99th%ile and above “ultra-high IQ societies” held some initial promise until I encountered a member of the Sigma Society who preferred his pick-up truck to philosophy. I bet the Olympique Society, which has a cut-off at the 99.9999th%ile (i.e. one in a million), and which to date has a meagre 5 members out of a potential 6,000, or so, world-wide has 4 bona fide intellectual members and one guy “who just scraped past the entrance exam”. I bet he’s always dragging the rest of them down the pub for karaoke. The Olympiq Society are probably being sick over the barmaid and challenging the doorman to a fight right now.

I settled down at the IHIQS (International High IQ Society) for a while. An undemanding 95%ile entrance threshold didn’t prevent it from being populated by some pretty sharp cats. But the denizens of High IQ Land are a strange breed. They really believe in IQ. I’m a bona fide psychometric sceptic. I don’t believe you can reduce intelligence to some simple numerical representation. Imo an ability to jump through Mensa’s hoops is indicative only of an ability to jump through Mensa’s hoops. There are plenty of bogus internet IQ sites eager to push feelgood IQ booster pills. A plethora of pushers will happily send you a framed certificate attesting to the “fact” that you’ve been psychometrically evaluated by a qualified psychologist as “smarter than Einstein” ; in exchange for your 50 bucks of course. A vain validation junkie and his money are easily parted.

Americans, in particular, seem to buy into this bogus pseudo-scientific malarkey. I’ve a feeling psychometrics is their version of the class system. As anyone who visits the States regularly will attest PBS broadcasts a constant diet of terrible UK sitcoms such as Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served? I’m sure Rupert Murdoch has got a studio somewhere churning out unsubtle pastiches of the British class system tailored exclusively for American consumption. Anyway our democratic, meritocratic, “classless” American friends have bought into the rigid Social Darwinism of psychometrics in a big way.

Most of the high IQ societies on the net are full of Yanks whining about how no-one understands them and are populated by a roughly equal contingent of “losers” and “uppity geeks”. The “losers” regard High IQ Land as a self-help group for the “much maligned, misunderstood gifted” community. The “uppity geeks” regard themselves as Nietschzian Supermen or “Ubergeeks” and regard anyone with a lower IQ than themselves (i.e. everyone from Einstein on down) as lower primates.

The “losers” moan about how they’re too intelligent to commune with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker and not intelligent enough to commune with the uppity geeks. It’s a sado-masochistic relationship for sure. The “Ubergeeks” wear fascist attitudes like a cheap suit in the hope of attracting some masochistic “loser” chick to their Dionysian dance.

There’s always an IQ cut-off the “losers” can’t quite attain, a fabled society populated by Olympian Gods of intellectual discourse they can only dream of aspiring to. No-one questions the credentials of the “Olympian Gods” though. Xavier Jouve, Nik Lygeros and the other self-appointed gurus of Ultra-High IQ Land preside over admissions and their judgement is final. Their self-designed, self-administered tests are allegedly exhaustively normed for psychometric accuracy.

Yeah right. Maybe 100 uppity geeks world-wide have even heard of their tests let alone gone through the tedious rigmarole of actually taking the damned things. According to this self-selected cartel of “Ubergeeks” the brightest guy in the world (and brighter than historical geniuses Kant, Descartes, Beethoven, Newton, Voltaire and Galileo, Shakespeare and Da Vinci) is probably Dr.Petri Widsten, a Ph.d. student from Finland specialising in wood technology. His c.v. claims he’s fluent in 9 languages but his review of the Sigma test reads: “I like immense of Sigma Test because I consider in many problems is need high intelligence and imagination for solving.” So I’m guessing English isn’t one of the 9? Oh yeah and there’s Chris Langham, a nightclub bouncer from the U.S. who’s beaten Steven Hawking to the punch and published a “definitive” unified theory of everything which he calls the CMTU.

The Mensans revere the Prometheans and despise the common man. The Prometheans revere the Olympians and despise the Mensans. On the IHIQS site a friend of mine (the brilliant Will 13) posted a transcription of a Promethean meeting.The entire transcript was an anti Mensa-lite/Mensa wannabe diatribe in which the 120-140 (s.d.16) IQ fraternity (132 is the Mensa cut-off on s.d.16 in the States, 148 on s.d.24 which applies in the UK) were characterised as the spawn of the Devil or “acadummies”. Bright enough to be a nuisance but not bright enough to contribute anything useful to society. Needless to say this provoked a lot of soul searching and existential angst amongst the American Mensa-lite “loser” community. I pointed out that caffé latté and sympathy wasn’t appropriate. Poor little Mensans shot by both sides (the proletarian mob on the grassy knoll and the uppity Prometheans high in the Book depository). Who said they had to drive down Dealey Plaza with 120-140 tattooed on their foreheads? This “revelation” had genuinely never occurred to them. Could they really escape from the psychometric straitjacket?

I’m sure these Yanks have better things to do than bemoan the fact that their IQ’s are “only” equivalent to the average neurosurgeon’s. They need to relax and get back to traditional American pursuits like voting Republican, rigging elections, depleting the ozone layer, turning up the heat from “global warming” to “global we’re really cooking now” refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol and unilaterally invading Iraq.

The sinister side of psychometrics was only just becoming apparent. Lots of pseudo-scientific waffle about how Aryan races scored high on IQ tests and African Americans scored low and that even “culturally fair” IQ tests confirmed this disparity. A worrying convergence of “conservative” and “very conservative” political views on the IHIQS membership survey and a few loose canons with overtly fascist agendas. One letter to the Mensa mag. suggested, in all seriousness, that only Mensa-eligible parents should be allowed to rear children).

Despite the lunatic fringe I like Nate Haselbauer’s IHIQS joint. Nate’s a succesful Wall Street trader who started the New York High IQ Society. Now the renamed IHIQS has more members world-wide than anyone bar Mensa. Thousands take their tests rather than the handful who try the Sigma, the 916, the Mega, the Titan etc. So their norms might actually mean something. If you gave any credence to psychometrics that is. From the moment I joined I was the “psychometric sceptic”, a WWF type character keen to engage “Johnny Reverential” and co. in some no holds barred surrealism.

My maxim is “When in Rome, act like a Barbarian.” so my approach was to attack the pseudo intellectuals and bogus geniuses with a dose of reality t.v. The mere mention of the names Neitschze and Wittgenstein is tantamount to provocation on a football site but you don’t get past the velvet rope in High IQ Land without a rough familiarity with these German cats. Dead philosophers rather than dead presidents is the currency in these joints. To antagonise the uppity geeks you really need a strong pop culture portfolio. Brittney, Kylie and Heather Graham worked for me.

I proposed starting up my own high IQ society with positive discrimination in favour of pop culture princesses. My reasoning was that I’d rather hang out in a “high IQ Jacuzzi” with Kylie and co. than a bunch of ripe Germanic philosophers and Star Trek aficionados. The geeks weren’t having any of it. Even Michelle Pfeiffer was considered “sub-Mensa”. I conceded she was a definite no-no circa Grease 2 but she’d gained a few IQ points by the time she was hangin’ poolside with Tony Montana in Scarface. And when she draped herself over that piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys she could have told me she was the Emiratus Professor of Philosophy at King’s College, Cambridge and I would have believed her.

For a moment or two it seemed like High IQ Land was going to embrace this visiting surrealist. My “fly in the ointment” approach clearly intrigued the geeks. I was invited to join a couple of Ultra High IQ invitation only societies and made it onto “Glenn’s list” (the IHIQS top table). However I preferred to remain one of the hicks from the sticks heckling from behind the velvet rope. When Steve Rubell finally opened the doors to Studio 54 I told him I didn’t really want to hang out with his narcissistic crowd anyway.

Despite being invited to become one of “High IQ Land’s adopted sons” I’m finished with these freaks, fascists, vain validation junkies, puzzleheads and pseudo philosophers. Give me Britney, Kylie, Becks, Clay Aiken, Simon Cowell, Ozzy Osbourne and co. any day.The company is better here in the “real” world. For that matter I’ll take Ryan Seacrest over most high IQ geeks. Or maybe not..

Ewan McNaught 2002

Killer Movie Scenes: Good Fellas ~ Funny How?

(Tommy (Joe Pesci) has just told a story that has cracked up the entire company of gangsters at his table, particularly Henry (Ray Liotta))

Henry: You're really funny. You're really funny.

Tommy: What do you mean I'm funny?

Henry: It's funny, you know. It's a good story. It's funny. You're a funny guy.

Tommy: What do you mean? The way I talk?

Henry: Its just, you know, your just funny. You know, the way you tell the story and everything.

Tommy: Funny how? I mean, whats funny about it?

Anthony: Tommy, you got it all wrong...

Tommy: Whoa whoa whoa, Anthony, he's a big boy; he knows what he said. What'd you say? Funny how?

Henry: It's... You know, you're funny.

Tommy: You mean-lemme understand this, cause I don't know maybe it's me, I'm a little fucked up maybe. But, I'm funny how? Funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?

Henry: It's just... You know, how you tell the story. What?

Tommy: No, no, I don't know. You said it. How do I know? You said I'm funny. How the fuck am I funny? What the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me. Tell me what's funny.

Henry: Get the fuck outta here. Tommy...

Tommy: You motherfucker. I almost had him! I almost had him! You stutterin... You stutterin prick, ya. Frankie was he shakin? I wonder about you sometimes, Henry. You may fold under questioning!!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Atomic Café

We live in dispiriting and dangerous times. The New Barbarism continues to metastasise.

Neo-conservatives and the al-Qa'ida Death Cult (and their imitators) embrace and perpetuate simplistic dichotomies (Islamophile and Infidel, Islamo-fascist and Enlightened Western Democrat, Terrorist and Defender of the Free World, Patriot and Traitor, Hard-headed Realist and Appeasor) and objectify "The Other." The Devil isn’t in the details; He’s in the differentiation and the discrimination that follow.

It's a short step from objectification via demonisation to destruction, and both Bush and his nemesis-in-crime Bin Laden (and their apocalyptic acolytes) seem to share Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction.

The Internet is accelerant-in-chief of The New Barbarism: a revolution in global inter-connectivity, which, briefly, threatened to be a force for Good before showing its true colours as a repository of Evil. It could be claimed that Bin Laden isn't the Anti-Christ and neither is Bush: the Internet is.

Those of us who wish to maintain an online persona (and do we truly exist without one these days?) run the gauntlet daily in defiance of fraudsters, phishers, rogue diallers, pharmers, hackers, spyware and malware miscreants, trojan horses, viruses, worms and their constantly mutating variants. The average Internet surfer now needs tighter security than a Presidential motorcade.

Worse than that, bad ideas (metastasising memes) are proliferating at an alarming rate. Indigenous terrorist cells mimicking al-Qa'ida strike in London, at least in part, as a reaction to internet-disseminated Islamic fundamentalist propaganda; their atrocities are celebrated in, and by, the same medium and, in turn, inspire imitative acts of terror.

Of course it's tempting to "anthropomorphize" a morally neutral technological development in order to exculpate us from liability. The Internet is merely the dystopian human condition in microcosm but accelerated and abstracted at the same time. The Internet facilitates the dissemination of bad ideas by both bringing people closer (and faster) together and simultaneously distancing crime from commission, perpetrator from victim and consequence from action. The Internet confers a cloak of anonymity and a patina of passivity but obfuscates distinction between the Real and the Virtual.

The New Barbarism is characterised by the breakdown of barriers between fantasy and reality. It’s medium (and sometimes weapon) of choice, the Internet, is the natural habitat of the pervert, the paedophile, the criminal and the terrorist. In this virtual Sin City lawlessness is endemic, the authorities are impotent or corrupt (or both) and damnation is the only foreseeable denouement.

It’s disturbing to listen to American justifications for Hiroshima, and one can only view the Iraqi invasion as consistent with this tradition of disproportionate and indiscriminate response to aggression. Their inability to define their "own" aggression (hesitant though I am to ascribe proprietorial interest in Bush's war crimes to an entire nation, I'll settle for "aggression perpetuated in their name by their leaders") as such is equally disconcerting: Iraq was, presumably, a “legitimate” exercises of the right, of their presumably omniscient nation, to launch a pre-emptive “response” to a future threat. We’re all characters in Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report/Pre-Crime milieu now.

The USA abdicated the moral high ground after 9/11 by invading a state, which had nothing to do with that atrocity (Iraq) and by sanctioning the endemic sadism at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, all of which have radicalised and inflamed the Muslim world and engorged al-Qa’ida’s nihilistic heart with lifeblood.

The UK abdicated the moral high ground after 7/7 by summarily executing an innocent man at Stockwell tube station.

Al-Qa’ida is a cancer that can only be removed by a surgeon’s precise scalpel. Butcher Bush has already tried, and failed, to excise the malignancy with a blunt instrument and the fear is that indiscriminate radiation treatment cannot be far behind.

In the mendacious world of Neo-con justification for the illegal (incontestably so in the absence of any demonstrable basis for the invocation of the right to self-defence and without authorisation by the UN Security Council) invasion of the sovereign state of Iraq, the repudiation of the WMD "warrant" for pre-emptive “defence” left the invaders with no option but to tie themselves to the mast and go down with the “good” ship Equivocation.

The illegitimate invasion of Iraq was subsumed under the catch-all War on Terror (the recently deceased Robin Cook exposed the fallacy behind the nomenclature: a War on Terror implies that the bombers can be defeated simply by dropping bigger bombs of our own.) The conflation of the sins of the, admittedly vile, dictator Saddam Hussein and the terrorist atrocities perpetuated by al-Qa'ida, despite no demonstrable evidence of any connection ~ the Islamic fundamentalists hated Saddam more than we did, cannot be excused as mere muddled thinking; equivocation is characterised by intent to deceive. The desirability of regime change is a nice ex post facto rationalisation but it hardly constituted a warrant for invasion.

The invasion has been a disaster despite what mendacious Neo-con spin-doctors tell us. A study by The Lancet in late 2004 established that the risk of death by violence for Iraqi civilians was 58 times higher than before Bush began to liberate them. Iraq has certainly not got any safer of late.

Iraq is now the Crucible of Jihad: fertile al-Qu’ida recruitment ground, suitably lawless base of operations, inexhaustible repository of legitimate grievance within the world’s Muslim communities and symbolic red rag to enrage the Islamic fundamentalist bull.

Al-Qa’ida and their acolytes utilise the same sort of equivocation. The invasion of Iraq, illegal or otherwise, and associated grievances, is insufficient warrant for spilling the blood of innocents around the globe Although Neo-cons correctly point out that al-Qa’ida were perpetuating atrocities before Iraq (e.g. 9/11) they cannot logically demonstrate that Bush and Blair’s foreign policies have no causal connection to current terror campaigns (all available evidence suggests that the Iraqi invasion has strengthened and further radicalised Islamic Terror). Al-Qa’ida may not be overly concerned with legitimacy but they know that paying lip service to it works well in the areas of recruitment, motivation and inspiration.

Perplexingly, Americans seem to be simultaneously “clear-sighted” enough to see that Japan’s bombardment of a US military target (Pearl Harbour) provided sufficient justification for incinerating and irradiating hundreds of thousands of Japanese innocents yet too myopic to see the correlation between disaffected Muslims claiming that the invasion of Iraq (and “collateral” civilian fatalities well in excess of 100, 000) justifies the bombings of innocents in Madrid, London and, potentially, future atrocities.

It’s hardly surprising that states such as Iran are desperately trying to develop a nuclear deterrent when the Bush administration has exhibited complete contempt for international law, the United Nations & world opinion and displayed a willingness to launch campaigns of illegal aggression against other states in the region. This isn’t 1945 however: the USA was the only kid on the Atomic block in those days. This isn’t 1962 either: MAD was a deterrent back then and the bogeyman was a vulnerable, ostensibly rational sovereign state with a vested interest in self-preservation. Today's enemy is a shape-shifting Death Cult which resists not only territorial definition, but also the conventional preoccupations, interests and behavioural paradigms of statehood.

The United States developed the Bomb but, after trying out their new toy at Hiroshima & Nagasaki, recoiled from its infernal power. Al-Qa’ida is probably the only national, supranational, terrorist or criminal entity in the nuclear era to espouse a philosophy, which practically compels the deployment of nuclear weapons against their enemy; the only adversary to exhibit an apocalyptic death fixation. Al Qa'ida's raison d'être (an admittedly oxymoronic characterisation of a nihilistic death cult's guiding philosophy; they have an even greater reason to cease to exist: martyrdom and an after-life with an improbable demographic ~ 72 young virginal females for every Jihadist ~ eat your heart out Surf City!) demands inexorable geometric progression from atrocity to annihilation.

When, as seems inevitable, al-Qa’ida, or one of their affiliates, finally get their hands on nuclear weapons they will almost certainly turn them on the nation that invented, and first deployed, them. A great deal of quasi-religious justificatory “you reap what you sow” claptrap will doubtless emanate from both sides before (if past actions are a reliable predictor of future events) the inevitable indiscriminate American response hastens our journey to the Abyss.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, spoke of America’s sleazy sense of omnipotence.
America may have retained the sleaze but the myth of its omnipotence has been shattered forever. In an age where former certainties have been destroyed, a paranoid and insecure United States, presided over by a paranoid and insecure leader, may not possess the requisite sophistication, guile and subtlety to wage effective "war" against a highly resourceful, imaginative and constantly mutating enemy. Old-fashioned bluster and belligerence are no longer enough and a foreign policy predicated upon false dichotomies and equivocation only makes matters worse.

Let's hope Posterity is rather more phlegmatic and philosophical about George W. Bush having been, however temporarily, entrusted with it's past than I am about the decision of the American electorate to entrust him with our future.