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2003-05-23 14:53 (UTC+1)

Put me in a tube, and wake me when we're on the right continent.

With Fiona packing up her yourt and herding her many cattles off to pastures Göteborgean with no little degree of imminence, such copies of Point de Vue as I may acquire from now on are mine for to keep. So it's a pity, really, that the first of the new era is complete pants. Isn't it about time someone did the decent thing and toppled the despotic regime in Monaco, so that I don't have to keep reading about their hapless dynasty? 12 special pages on Rainier, the man who made Monaco, indeed.

Anyway, I have secured a copy of th' Nouvel Obs as part of my Old Yoorpean outfit, and I've checked that I do actually have some money in the bank. (They refund expenses afterwards, once the receipts have been checked by a badly-paid and aggrieved someone who never gets sent to exotic locations on fancy trips and is reasonably anxious that you should appreciate that fact.) So, however laughably unprepared I may be, I am actually going. I'll blog from The Road if it has broadband and that, but even then it may well be quieter than usual, sorry.

Vi ses!

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2003-05-23 10:25 (UTC+1)

Douze points!

Eurovision has snuck up on me this year, and I'm going to be spending it quietly panicking about the trippage of the Sunday, so I'll have to deputise you, Varied Reader, to enjoy it properly on my behalf. If you're in the UK, do hurl the requisite abuse at the "jocular", sneering Terry Wogan.


Also, last night was the last Swedish class of the year, which has just rushed past. I think it's gone OK: I was out of my depth at the beginning and now I'm not - I've reverted to doing homework in the cafeteria just beforehand. I shall be back for more next year, of course, and by then I want to be reading Proper Books regularly. (I scored a copy of Röde Orm from a charity shop and it looks just the ticket, and only I get to decide what constitutes a proper book, so there.)


Finally, as a blog of record and incisive commentary, I can hardly leave unmentioned Expressen's scoop on a dog which has adopted some stray duckosaurs:

Tiken Fiffi tittar andaktsfullt på sina nyfunna bebisar. Nio små fjuniga andungar...

[The bitch Fiffi watches devotedly over her new babies. Nine small fluffly ducklings.]

Ducklings are arguably the cutest dinosaurs in the whole world ever, and as a bonus you probably could eat a whole one, yum yum. ("Vill du leker med din apelsin, kära lilla andung?")

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2003-05-22 15:03

Fenomenologi och resans kris

Bleurgh. I fly to Utah on Sunday and so far about the only thing I've sorted out is which books to take.

The cricket's back, though:

10.35am: Ah, here we go again: the gentle pitter-patter of drizzle on empty seat, coupled with an evil easterly and covers strewn across the famous Lord's pitch.

Play has started now - England are on 51 for 1 as I type against the unfancied Zimbabweans. Oh, and:

More of your odd match reports. "Denmark beat Portugal in the final a couple of months ago, to be crowned European cricket champions," says Richard Perkins. "As far as I'm aware there wasn't a British (of any description) or Dutch entry, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was and we lost to Luxemburg or some such..."

So now you know.

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2003-05-22 10:22 (UTC+1)

The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together

§1. Why don't we just declare it ´i¸ek week and have done with it? An interesting interview in English, and a couple of articles in Danish (down the bottom) that appear to started as lectures delivered during a visit to th' 'Mark. (Did he really lecture in Danish? Enquiring 'bladeteers need to know!)

§2. Princessan Madeleine's signature permatan comes under the fearsome scrutiny of Aftonbaldet's fashion pages:

[Trendanalytikern och framtidsforskaren Henrik Mattsson, 53] tror att prinsessans intensiva solande hänger ihop med hennes ålder. Och jämför solandet med rökning. Farligt, men inte skrämmande för en person på väg in i vuxenlivet.

[Trendanalyst and future researcher Henrik Matteson, 53] believes that the princessan's intensive tanning is connected to her age. And compares the tanning with smoking. Dangerous, but not frightening for a person just starting out in adulthood.

(I.e., it's just a beige she's going through.)

That's one of my old riffs from back when I used to smoke and fastidiously shunned the sun (I still do the latter) and persons of beigeness were keen to exhibit self-righteousness at me.

§3. Maybe it's the whale-meat, maybe it's the fjords, but Norway seems to have made some enemies.

The Norwegian authorities are struggling to come up with a clear reason why Norway should have been included in a threat attributed to the al-Qaeda network broadcast on Al-Jazeera television on Wednesday.
[...]
The hope of the authorities, as expressed by one diplomat, was that al-Qaeda simply got their geography wrong and did not mean to threaten Norway at all.

Dashing breathlessly over to VG, I find that «Kongeparet føler seg trygge.» ("The royal couple feel secure.") Technically that's only the King & Queen, but it bodes well for the return of Kronprinsess Mette-Marit & entourage. It's the first time I've been offered a chance to subscribe to updates on Kongehuset and Krigen mot terror by the same story, and I'll be quite pleased if it's the last. You really don't want to incur the wrath of the von Bladets, fundamentalist terror persons, for our anger is terrible to behold!

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2003-05-21 17:24 (UTC+1)

Cahiers Culinogéograpiques: L'affaire du jambon de Parma

Oh I love this stuff with a frankly unwholesome intensity. Parma ham is Parma ham if it's sliced in front of you in a UK supermarket, but not if it's sliced elsewhere, unless that elsewhere is Parma, Italy. Capisce?

European judges have ruled the ham must be packed and sliced in Parma itself to be marketed under its name of origin.
[...]
However, Asda can still use the Parma name when the meat is sliced on a delicatessen counter in front of shoppers

Even if I don't feel all that much more posthuman than I did this morning, it's good to see just how well the squabbling is coming along. Six years it's taken to reach this conclusion. Six years! Well played, Sirs and Madams, well played!

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2003-05-21 10:24 (UTC+1)

Transhuman express

The Transhumanistförbundet i Sverige, founded by someone who, like everyone else in Sweden apparently, is attached to the Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (cf. Birgitte, who brought this link to my attention, tack) is also up for a bit of phantasmal stuff traversal:

Om den mänskliga naturen inbegriper förändringsbarhet och en vilja att utveckla sig framstår inte längre möjligheten att använda externa verktyg för detta speciellt problematisk. Deras tillämpningar kan fortfarande kritiseras, men att vi förändrar oss själva är en del av vår natur. Att förhindra försök att frigöra sig från begränsningar framstår faktiskt i detta perspektiv som ett större hot mot mänsklig värdighet än att tillåta dem.

[If human nature includes changeability and a choice to develop itself the possibility of using external tools no longer seems especially problematic. Their application can still be criticised, but changing ourselves is part of our nature. To prevent attempts to free us from our limitations is in this perspective as much of a threat to human dignity as to allow them.]

The only literature cited here is "Fracis Fukuyamas bok Out Posthuman Future", but we won't hold that against them. I'm not joining, though, partly because I'm not in Sweden, and partly because I prefer "posthumanist" (I like the way it hovers ambiguously between post(humanist) and (posthuman)ist, you see), so instead I am founding the People's Popular Posthumanist Front (membership: 1) as a rival group.

So, let us set forth onwards and upwards, Varied Reader, towards a brave new tomorrow of morphological freedoms and unimaginably petty squabbles, hoorah, hoorah, hoorah!

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2003-05-20 13:03 (UTC+1)

Hegel and post-humanism

A while back, in the Nouvel Obs, I saw "Surgin'" Jürgen Habermas, the pacy Frankfurt midfielder with the sweet left foot, taking more than his fair share of exception to human cloning on ethical grounds. (That's just for background, and anyway I think we've had enough of my translations of French translated from German for a while. I know I have.)

I was unpersuaded, of course, and I seem not to be the only one - Slovenian psychoanalyst and philosopher Slavoj ´i¸ek (Whee! Iso-latin-9 lets me spell his name right, hurrah!) has done the honours:

Hegel would not have shrunk from the idea of the human genome and biogenetic intervention, preferring ignorance to risk. Instead, he would have rejoiced at the shattering of the old idea that 'Thou art that,' as though our notions of human identity had been definitively fixed. Contrary to Habermas, we should take the objectivisation of the genome fully on board. Reducing my being to the genome forces me to traverse the phantasmal stuff of which my ego is made, and only in this way can my subjectivity properly emerge.

(NB: this is an LRB essay. Take a packed lunch, and preferably also a mobile phone to summon help if you get lost.)

If there's phantasmal stuff traversal then sign me up at once! (And even if he forgets to treat the risible Kevin Warwick with appropriate contempt, he does work in the Cyborg Rats so we'll forgive him this time.) ´i¸ek (´i¸ek ´i¸ek ´i¸ek, rah rah rah) has an extensive bibliography, and it looks like it might be time to read some of it, even if it is in English.

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2003-05-20 09:27 (UTC+1)

The abuse of a goldfish is the means of its liquidisation

Oh dear.

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2003-05-19 16:32

Positively Illogical

"The truth of a statement is its means of verification."

This slogan, which the Vienna Circle attributed to Wittgenstein, served as the original motto for logical positivism. The idea is to provide a philosophical foundation for science by restricting philosophical enquiry to investigating only statements that could be shown (in principle) to be true or false, and discarding the rest of philosophy (what they called "metaphysics", which they meant as an insult) as "meaningless".

(One obvious flaw is that their beloved slogan itself seems to lack any means of verification, so is presumably excluded from being "true" in its own sense, oops. A thoughtful and critical, but sympathetic, treatment of logical positivism and related philosophy, illustrated with Monty Python sketches, is here, hurrah!)

Popper's innovation was to observe that scientific experiments (the preferred model of a means of verification) is not in the habit of proving things true, but can show that they're false, and thus to propose falsifiability (by some experiment, at least in principle) as a better criterion for a statement to be meaningful. This is still a reasonable yardstick by which to establish scientificness in many cases, although it does lead to a great deal of tiresome wibbling about How Wrong Freud Was on the part of the more stubbornly pointless Anglophone philosophers.

Logical positivism itself was best summarised in A J "Freddy" Ayer's classic book "Language, Truth and Logic", so let's leave the last word to him. (I have seen this quoted in more reputable sources I'll have you know.)

A J Ayer was interviewed by Brian Magee.
Question: Logical positivism must have had real defects. What do you now with hindsight think were the main ones?
Ayer: Well, I suppose the most important defect was that nearly all of it was false.

I'll drink to that, for sure.

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2003-05-19 11:21 (UTC+1)

Lunch-time doubly so.

A 1932 article by Lévinas on Heidegger. I'm slowly working through it, but I've already read enough to recommend it to persons are all down with the Frenchy-French and thirst in the core of their being to know more of this phenomenology thing, (early) Heidegger style:

Partons donc du problème fondamental de la signification de l'être. Précisons en les termes.

Heidegger distingue initialement entre ce qui est, "l'étant" (das Seiende) et "l'être de l'étant" (das Sein des Seienden). Ce qui est, l'étant - recouvre tous les objets, toutes les personnes dans un certain sens, Dieu lui-même. L'être de l'étant - c'est le fait que tous ces objets et toutes ces personnes sont [apparaissent dans le temps]. Il ne s'identifie avec aucun de ces étants, ni même avec l'idée de l'étant en général. Dans un certain sens, il n'est pas ; s'il était, il serait étant à son tour, alors qu'il est en quelque manière l'événement même d'être de tous les "étants".

Unfortunately, the distinction between "l'étant" ("being", the present participle of "to be") and "l'être" (the infinite used as a noun, which is only really translateable as "being") collapses in English. A little googling suggests "being" or "entity" for "l'étant" and "Being" for "l'être", so let's do some CaseSensitivePhilosophy, hurrah!

Heidegger distinguishes initially between that which is, "the entity", and "the Being of the entity". That which is, the entity, includes all objects, all persons in a certain sense, God herself. The Being of the entity, that's the fact that all these objects and all these persons are [appear in time]. It's not the same as any of these beings, nor even with the being in general. In a certain sense, it isn't; if it was, it would be an entity in turn, while it is, in a sense, the event of Being itself of all the entities.

(Yes, well, I'm sure that helps a whole lot.) Heidegger's mission, which he has chosen to accept, is to oppose the idealism of Kant, for whom the Being of the being is definitively unknowable, by insisting, after Husserl, that the perception of entities as Being, rather than as simply a sequence of unrelated sense-data is an intrinsic part of how we experience the world, and and also that of Hegel, for whom the Spirit exists out of time and for whom the central question is "How does the Spirit fall into time?", with the rebuke that "The spirit doesn't fall into time, but actual existence, in decay, is projected outside of original and authentic time." (Sein und Zeit p.436, my translation of Lévinas's French translation.)

And you might be wondering, if you've even made it this far, who could possibly care about all this, but you might be surprised. Here's Antonio Damasio, a neurologist, in an article "The Person Within", from the current issue of Nature (15th May 2003), on the way the perception of the body serves to ground the symbolic universe:

In effect, the simplest level of self allows us to manufacture the idea that objects and events are perceived from a singular perspective, that of the organism symbolized by the self. At a more complex level, we can generate the idea that the mental processes that occur within this organism are our own property.

Where should we look for the neural basis of these self-involving processes? I propose that we search in the neural mappings of the "thing process" that is symbolized as the mental self. Others have had this intuition before: Benedict Spinoza and William James perhaps most vividly, but also Friedrich Neitzsche, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Charles Scott-Sherrington, a venerable founder of what we now call neuroscience.

I can remember when you had to swear a solemn vow of allegiance to logical positivism (or its Popperian reformulation) when entering Scientist territory or risk being run straight out of town - things seem to have changed, at least among neurologists. Isn't that nice?

[Lévinas link via the The s lot]

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2003-05-19 10:25

Uit eten

Het Engelse onbijt bestaat traditionel uit bacon and eggs (gebakken eieren met spek), vaak vergeseld van lekkernijen als witte bonen in tomatosaus, geroosterd brood, gebakken tomaten, worstjes of zelfs kippers (gerookte, gezouten haring). Hierbij wordt vrij slappe thee met veel melk gedronken. De buitenlander die het English breakfast niet zeit zitten, kan vragen naar een continental breakfast een veel lichter ontbijt met brood, jam aen dergelijke.

Continental breakfast? Serpently knot! I'll have a full English breakfast, but hold the gebakken tomaten, thanks.

Een goede en goedkope plaats om te lunchen is de pub. In deze sfeervolle cafés wordt, meestad tussen twaalf en twee, en bescheiden keuze aan maaltiden aangeboden, veelal vergezeld van chips (frites). Een favoriet is de ploughman's lunch, en maaltijd van brood en kaas, waarbij vaak en koele pint of bitter (halve liter bitter bier) wordt genuttid.

[Wat & hoe Engels, Kosmos Taalgids, 1993]

A UKish pint consists of no less than 568 millilitres, I'll have you know. (This factoid used to be printed on milk bottles, and was thus indelibly engrained on my mind from an early age.)

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