Monthly Archives: November 2008

Sweet, bland and uplifting

Andrew Orlowski writes that Malcolm Gladwell is a guru for the brain dead.

Gladwell is a walking Readers Digest 2.0: a compendium of pop science anecdotes which boil down very simply to homespun homilies. Like the Digest, it promises more than it delivers, and like the Digest too, it’s reassuringly predictable.


“…In embracing the diversity of human beings we will find the true way to human happiness.”

So there you’ve got Gladwell in essence: he always ends with a Hallmark style greeting telling you something sweet, bland and uplifting – that you already knew.

Gladwell isn’t the worst offender, but the anecdotal approach to popular science often results in a kind of pretend learning. It’s something you read so you can feel on top of current research, without doing any hard work. It doesn’t teach you facts, and it doesn’t teach you how to think about the subject. It’s like Guitar Hero. It doesn’t make you a better guitar player, it just reduces guitar playing to your level.

There are a lot of good popular science books. There are two signs to look for: The first is that the book doesn’t rely on anecdotes. The second is that it doesn’t make you think you actually understand the subject. Science is really really hard. If you close a book thinking you understand the subject, but the part that sticks in your mind is a story about some wacky scientist, then you’ve read bad pop-sci. Stop doing that. It’s making you dumber.

And here we all are together, here we are

Shikasta by Doris Lessing is the refined version of her earlier Briefing for a Descent Into Hell. She has stripped away the visionary excesses, and improved on the core idea: Cosmic forces look with frustration on the state of the Earth, and send emissaries to be born onto it to make it better. But they often get distracted and lose their way, trapped by human corruption and confusion.

The Earth was once psychically linked with Canopus, our cosmic superiors, and everything was bliss. But the link broke, and all went bad. Canopus creates religions to guide us, but they always deteriorate. As the 20th century ends, Earth’s diseased materialist culture collapses in a nuclear holocaust.

Shikasta is humanity seen through the glasses of the worst of 60′s/70′s theory and spirituality. Western culture is explicitly inferior. Science is just a religion. Material well-being is pointless. Canopus often comes across as arrogant, ignorant and, through association with all religious founders, evil. Unintentionally, I think.

But I don’t care. This is brilliant. I can’t mock it, I would feel small. It’s as if Lessing deliberately plays the part of a New Age mystic, saying “you’ve seen what others have done with this role, now look what I can do with it”. And she uses this premise to explore the missed potential in all of us. To dissect, reprimand and inspire.

Shikasta is not a novel. It is prophecy, in the Old Testament sense. Doris Lessing is Jeremiah. And Jesus. And the Buddha. I’m in awe.

30′s movies marathon – part 3

Paul Muni as ScarfaceMurders in the Rue Morgue (1932, USA) – This is really bad, but gets WTF-points for turning Poe’s crime story into a damsel & man-in-monster-suit movie. Takes place in Paris, 1845, where people are so well-read that they’re already discussing Darwin’s theory of evolution. Watched: 30 minutes.

Scarface (1932, USA) – Say hello to my little .. oh, never mind the pun. This is actually really good, apart from the comic relief and some attempts at being respectable. Paul Muni is a crazier and better Tony than Al Pacino. Notice the glee in his eyes as he gets his first machinegun.

Hell’s Angels (1930, USA) – Bits and pieces of everything stitched together. Some parts are shot as a silent movie, others in a sort of “color”. It’s the Frankenstein monster of movies: slow, dull, and with a sickly green hue (*ba-dum-bum ching*). Academy Award nomination for strangest German acting in a movie. Watched: 30 minutes, then fast-forwarded through the stuntman-killing action scenes. Not worth it.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932, USA) – I am an important made-for-Oscar social drama. Watched: 9 minutes.

The Beast of the City
(1932, USA) – The Shield: The Previous Generation. Watched it all.

Limite (1931, Brazil) – It’s not that I hate art films on principle. I just think they attract bad filmmakers. Watched: 10 minutes.

Fra Gyldendals Konversasjonsleksikon 1935 – P

Pacemaker, eng., person som ved trening e. konkurranse holder sig foran en løper, syklist o.s.v. for å lette hans arbeide e. opmuntre ham.

Paraply (fr. parapluie, mot regn), regnskjerm.

Parykk (fr. perruque), en tettsittende lue utvendig forsynt med hår (tagl, ull, e.l.)

Pedagogikk, den videnskaplige behandling av opdragelseskunsten.

Pedofili, se Perversjon

Perversjon [..] Den viktigste p. er homoseksualiteten.

Piken fra Norge, navn på Margrete, skotsk dronning

Plattenslager; i da. har ordet fått bet. “bedrager”, likesom uttrykket “slå en plade” i da. betyr “narre, bedra”.

Pollusjoner, ufrivillige sæduttømmelser, i alm. under søvnen. [..] Ved seksuell overirritabilitet kan p. bli meget hyppige og være ledsaget av nevrasteniske forstyrrelser; den eneste rasjonelle behandlingsmåte er da et regelmessig og hygienisk liv, særlig i seksuell henseende.

Positi´v. 1) Mindre orgel som bare er forsynt med labialstemmer, – 2. Lirekasse.

Pote´ter, urt fra Andesfjellene i Chile, Peru og Ecuador.

Promiskuitet, kjønnslig samliv i fleng.

Prylestraff, legemlig revselse, kan nu bare anv. i opdragelsesøiemed overfor barn av deres foreldre e. andre som står i foreldres sted, samt av skolen (dog ikke på piker over 10 år), hvis de av skolestyret fastsatte regler for skolens orden og tukt gir adgang dertil.

Pumpernikkel, en slags grovt, kliholdig rugbrød som opr. brev brukt i Westfalen, Preussen.

Pyøng-yang, by i det n.v. Korea, ved jernbanen Søul-Mukden.

Med inspirasjon fra Kjetil Johansen.

Vulcan rubber ears in our pockets

Neal Stephenson, this blog’s patron saint, talks about SF culture and mundane culture, and what it means for a book to be genre:

Via Wet Asphalt, who adds that it’s pointless to try to define SF as a certain kind of story. SF is a set of shared cultural traditions.

As Neal Stephenson says, the people who read science fiction overlap with the people who read fantasy, despite these being different kinds of stories. Asking what exactly makes a novel SF is to miss the point – it’s the culture of the readers that matters. Geek culture.

Stephenson says that in a way we’re all geeks now, but that is to water out the word. SF is influential, but geek is still a separate culture. It’s not a narrowly defined culture. There’s no uniform or canon. Anyone who calls themselves a geek is one, and also many who don’t. But there’s still a difference.

There are also geek snobs, people so fed up with being looked down on by cultural snobs that they look down in return. I’m more relaxed. But I still think you’re the poorer for not knowing who Neal Stephenson is.

That reminds me, I should read his newer novels soon. Some day. (Neal Stephenson fans can be recognized by their ambivalence towards him. Anyone who says they love everything he’s ever written is an impostor.)

All that remained was a future, now even that is denied me

In the Pyat quartet, Michael Moorcock gives a voice to the fascist Europe we left behind. The voice is a Russian engineer, a conceited techno-utopist who escapes the Russian civil war with a hatred of Bolsheviks and Jews. To make Pyat merely a fascist follower would be too simple. He’s rather a sibling of the fascists, like the Italian futurists, an independent thinker whose emotions find resonance with the fascist movements when they arrive, without falling in line behind any particular leader.

Byzantium Endures took Pyat through the Russian revolution and civil war. In The Laughter of Carthage he wanders through Europe a rootless emigrant, eventually landing in the US, where he makes friends with the Ku Klux Klan. With all Pyat’s faults, it may be excessive of Moorcock to also give him a cocaine addiction and a 13-year old lover, but what’s impressive about these novels is how reasonable Pyat appears in his own voice. And his voice is all we hear, apart from Moorcock’s introduction. The real story is a puzzle for observant readers to solve.

The novels are narrated by Pyat as an old man, a shopkeeper in London. This gives his story a melancholic slant. Pyat’s life has been a failure in every way. The stories he tells of his glorious youth are merely the rants of a bitter old man. The reader pities him. But it’s a cautious pity. Moorcock’s achievement is to show that the Europe Pyat personifies is neither remote nor fully dead.

Har du ti klikk til en kopp kaffe?

Alle som skriver på nett er klikkhorer. Her er noen av dagens overskrifter fra norske nettaviser:

- Russiske soldater skjøt mot to presidenter (Hvilke presidenter? Klikk for å finne ut!)

28 minutter som forandret metallverdenen. I kveld spilles de i Spektrum. (Hvem? Hva? Vær så snill å klikk meg!)

PASSOPP! Denne saken bør du lese hvis du har barn (Jawohl!)

Alle linkene har blitt endret for å forhindre inntjening.

En god overskrift oppsummerer saken slik at du kan vurdere om du har lyst til å lese videre. Nettavisoverskrifter kommer pakket inn i neonfarger, vedlagt et tårevått brev fra journalisten som ber deg om å klikke slik at de får bonus i år og slipper å feire jula på fattighuset, (ja det finnes fattighus i Norge og journalisten må dra dit med hele sin familie hvis du ikke klikker her nå med en eneste gang, klikk da for faen, neimen så klikk da, klikk, kom igjen! klikk klikk klikk!)

Klikkfangstkunsten er fremdeles ung i Norge. Resten av webben viser vei. har foredlet den klikkvennlige listesjangeren. På plukker leserne selv ut de linkene som gir dem størst klikketrang. Jeg ønsker å fremskynde denne forklikkelsesprosessen, slik at nettavisene dør og folk heller leser bloggen min. Eventuelle nettavisskribenter blant leserne står derfor fritt til å låne følgende overskrifter:

9 ting Støre sa på pressekonferansen i dag som vil SJOKKERE DEG

De 5 mest sexy statsministrene i norsk historie

Klikk her hvis du synes FrP ikke bør vinne valget i 2009


30′s movies marathon – part 2

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932, USA) – It is good that the world has a group of clumsy British archeologists to protect us from hundreds of millions of obedient and ruthless Chinamen. Watched: 18 minutes. IMDB reviewers call it “politically incorrect”, by which they mean racist.

Mata Hari (1931, USA) – Greta Garbo is a tease, for which she is shot by the French government. Good and weepy, and not true to history.

The Blood of a Poet
(1933, France) – French surrealism again. Okay, I get it, it’s clever. But – why?! Watched: 10 minutes.

Smart Money
(1931, USA) – Small-town gambler learns swindling and street smarts in the big city, (inoffensively named “The Big City”). Charming.

The Mummy (1932, USA) – A reawakened mummy bores archeologists to death. Watched: 14 minutes.

The Old Dark House (1932, USA) – It was a dark and stormy night, in every conceivable way. Makes up for being bad by being peculiar, which is the definition of cult. Watched all of it, and so should you.

Morocco (1930, USA) – Marlene Dietrich’s too sexy for this crappy movie. Watched: 30 minutes.

Ain’t it fun when you know that you’re gonna die young

Dead Boys – Ain’t it fun


Stiff Little Fingers – Suspect Device


Corporate Avenger – Fault the Police (I Don’t)


Frank Black – Bullet


Jeg, en demokrat?

Så var det på tide med den store demokratidebatten igjen. Er du en demokrat? Mange vil i dag nøle med å svare ja. Det var enklere før. Da var du en demokrat hvis du trodde på allmenn stemmerett og maktdeling. Så fikk vi politikerskandaler, demokratiske folkerepublikker og Kleppe-demokrater. Ordet tynger. Jeg føler at jeg forplikter meg til noe jeg ikke helt vet hva er. Kan jeg være demokrat, og samtidig være uenig med regjeringen?

I dag vet vi at det rene demokratiet ikke alltid er løsningen. Demokrati kan trekkes for langt, noe ekstremdemokrater aldri har villet innrømme. I blant blir det bare kaos når alle skal være med å bestemme. Og det er ikke alltid folket har rett. Visste du f.eks. at Hitler ble demokratisk valgt? Grunn til ettertanke!

Jeg vil nok heller kalle meg selv en post-demokrat. Jeg tror på stemmerett og sånn, men jeg går ikke i tog av den grunn. Og om noen velger å bo i et land som styres av en tyrann, så respekterer jeg faktisk det. Så vidsynte bør vi være. Mange demokratiforkjempere er så intolerante. Bittelitt politivold, så er de på barrikadene. Er det rart folk nøler med å kalle seg selv demokrater?

Gi meg heller en ny og åpen demokratibevegelse. Som anerkjenner det verdifulle arbeidet tidligere generasjoners demokrater har gjort, men samtidig ser at verden nå er annerledes. Alt er ikke svart-hvitt. En sånn demokrat vil jeg være, (men det er greit hvis du er uenig).