Slav to the Rhythm

A blog comment that grew into a blog post. Aethelread writes about Slavoj Zizek here, and this is my response.

Ah, you've chosen to write about one of my favourite entertainers. I've seen him speak live several times, and watched several dozen of his presentations on youtube.

And yes, read a bit too - the writing is much more dense and properly philosophical. His latest "big fat book" (his words), Less than Nothing is an attempt to re-present (as opposed to update) Hegel for the modern world.

Some parts, such as his attempt to read the Hegelian Aufheben into the equations of the Higgs Boson, are actually quite embarrassing in their ineptness. But the 'two kinds of idiot' in the introduction - the person who doesn't grasp that some rules are unwritten, versus the one who thinks the folkways of his tribe are the laws of nature - is I think true and helpful.

I was recently a consultant for an upcoming 'intro to marxist philosophy' book, and asked to summarise Zizek's idea. My eventual conclusion was:
"Zizek doesn't have a system. He has a big bag of mostly valid and useful insights into western culture and the left, ranging from major points to intriguing byways to common platitudes.

The trouble is, they're all presented on the same level, as though all were equally important. More than that, they're all phrased as pseudoparadoxes and/or jokes, when they could all be phrased quite clearly and directly.

For instance, he says 'Julius Ceasar had to die to become immortal'. The is fairly trivially true if you interpret it to mean 'The name Caesar could only become a title if its original bearer were dead'.

Zizek is the modern representative of Hegel, in style as well as substance. The genuine insights, the dressed-up platitudes, and the pseudoprofundity of the pseudoparadoxical formulations are all there.

And, having now read some Hegel, I think Hegel also shares the lack of an overarching insight or core. The closest Hegel had to a method (so far as I've been able to read) was the view he retained from medieval christianity of paradox as condition of truth, but I don't think Zizek has retained that. Engels did, Marx didn't, and Lenin vacillated - Zizek is a Hegelian through the prism of Marx.
The 'rational core' of Hegel which Marx claimed to have extracted but somehow never got around to explaining - I'm pretty certain it didn't exist. The geist...was a ghost."
This doesn't mean Zizek is a complete fraud. It means he's like Freud - bursting full of ideas, and the worst thing we can do is treat them as all useful, true, or even meaningful. There's some good stuff in there, but you have to sort through it.

And like Freud, he doesn't intend for us to accept his work uncritically. Freudians and Zizekians of course are a different matter.
steps such as publishing in English rather than their native language – a clear attempt to appeal to a broader audience.
Zizek is fluent in Slovenian, French, German and English. He writes and gives presentations in all these languages. And I'm not sure what's wrong with trying to have broad appeal, especially if one's trying to have a political effect.
an example of an interviewee trolling a journalist
Considering what hacks journalists tend to be, I have absolutely no problems with trying to unsettle them. Or indeed doing a Chris Morris and telling them a pack of lies escalating in absurdity, just to see if they ever catch on.

Remember when Michael Gambon was interviewed by someone worried that he'd once 'played a homosexual'? Gambon said "It wasn't a problem, because I used to be a homosexual. But my doctor made me stop - it was making my eyes water."
[Zizek says] "99% are boring idiots."

for people on the left, support for reason we’re leftwingers in the first place.

Having sympathy for downtrodden people isn't the same thing as having respect for their idiotic opinions, even if their idiocy is a result of their downtroddenness.

There's a difference between respecting someone's right to make a choice, and respecting the choice.

leftwing politics is not the exclusive playground of the intelligentsia.

Zizek has never said it is. What he says is that theory is something everyone on the left needs.

On most of anarchist left, there's a deliberate refusal to theorise, on anything. Theory is seen as bourgeois, and a straitjacket. If you've read the publications of the minority of anarchist groups who do go in for theory, it tends to be both micromanaging and highly abstract. Also almost unreadable.

On most of the socialist left - and broadly that means trotskyists, which most of the time means leninists - there's a long standing habit of having a few comrades whose full time job is to produce that none of the other members need to worry their delicate little heads about it. The ordinary members just need to keep current with the party line, and protest and campaign when head office tells them. Yes, this is the authoritarian left you wrote of.

Zizek is against both of these. For him, (to quote Lenin) "action without theory is blind". The more theory you have, and the more people do it, and the deeper it gets, the less blind you are.

As to whether he's right, that's a good question, but whatever else he is, he's not an intellectual elitest. If you want to criticise Zizek's ideas...criticise Zizek's ideas, or if you think he doesn't have any, critisise that.

Georg, tun das nicht

I have a summer job.

It involves standing in front of a class of German teenagers for three and a half hours a day, trying to make them practice their English.

The fashion in teaching is to speak as little as possible, on the grounds that the less you speak, the more they will.  Obviously that doesn't work.

The fashion is also to avoid teaching grammar - the idea being that the students will learn it by osmosis from just being in England.

Obviously that doesn't work either, especially as when they're not in the classroom, there's no other activities laid on, so they wander around the town in groups...communicating mostly with each other in their own language.

There's a lot of vague theory about how teaching grammar ossifies speech and isn't the 'natural' way to learn a second language, but the real reason is that most teachers don't know much about grammar.

Which is odd, as generally Germans and East Europeans know a great deal about it.

This particular school has also produced its own textbook - which is to say, it's cut and pasted several existing textbooks together into an incoherent mess.

And having sold this mess expensively to all the students, they require teachers to try teaching from it, and only it, on the grounds that if we used a decent textbook, the students might feel ripped off.

Which of course they were. This is the logic of the market.

When I was at university, there was a joke among lecturers that they could do their job a whole lot better without having students around. In the TEFL world, we could all do our job better without the schools.

3.14: Joshua

My second project. It was 1989, I had no drum machine, no effects, no knowledge of EQ and no MIDI.

What I did have was a 4-track Tascam cassette machine, an 8-bit sampling keyboard, a third generation cassette copy of sounds to put in the sampler, a decades-old reel-to-reel tape machine rescued and repaired by my grandfather...and a cheap tape-splicing kit for making tape loops.

Oh, and a (betamax!) video recorder. With a copy of the previous night's movie, the soundtrack of which to be recorded onto the tape machine, to be played back in snippets of the music. My version of vocals.

"Famous remarks are very seldom quoted correctly."

- Simeon Strunsky

"You know more than you think you do."

- Benjamin Spock

"You cannot be both fashionable and first-rate."

- Logan Pearsall Smith

"It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid."

- George Bernard Shaw

"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it."

- George Bernard Shaw

"An Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable."

- George Bernard Shaw

"The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is."

- George Bernard Shaw

3.14: Space Mix

The usual way to get over the loss of your youth is to try reliving it. I spent most of my youth making music. Or rather, musicalised sound.

Most of it hasn't survived, and most of what survived isn't very good, and most of the good stuff has terrible sound quality. Which leaves about 15 tracks of fairly listenable quality...that you'd actually want to listen to. Once, at any rate.

I've found the cassette dumps, digitised them, cleaned up the sound as much as I can...and now I'm going to post them.

I'd been messing around with primitive dubbing and drumming household objects with knitting needles since age 12, but it really started in 1988 at 16, when I cleaned out my junior bank account to buy a second hand four-track cassette recorder.

My very first project on it was a mix (or 'medley' if you're over 50) of sci-fi themes. Stand by for kitch.

Oh yes, I wasn't Kapitano back then. I'd tried being Pinc Noyz, but settled on 3.14 - on the grounds that it sounded computery and slighly gnomic, but instantly recognisable.

Except no one recognised it. Sigh.

"Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done."

- George Bernard Shaw

"What really flatters a man is that you think him worth flattering."

- George Bernard Shaw

"My way of joking is to tell the truth. Its the funniest joke in the world."

- George Bernard Shaw

"When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty."

- George Bernard Shaw

"One man that has a mind and knows it can always beat ten men who havn't and don't."

- George Bernard Shaw

"Comment is free, but facts are sacred."

- CP Scott

"I hate victims who respect their executioners."

- Jean-Paul Sartre

Six, Minus Seven

Some useful free software.

Some programs are bigger than your screen. They've got large, complex, multiple windows, and you don't have enough pixels on your screen to display them all at the same time.

One solution is to have tabs, or some other way to quickly flip between them. Another is to enable the user to cut down the display to only those modules or windows which they use a lot - calling up the others when necessary.

Or you could get a second display screen to sit on your desk next to your main one, displaying different windows of the same program. Or you could just get a really big screen - which if you're using a laptop, does rather defeat the point of having a laptop.

If you're running Windows XP with an ATI video card, you can set up your physical screen as a scrollable 'viewport', showing part of a larger, virtual screen. You pan-and-scan around the larger screen with the mouse.

You can right click on the desktop, go to Settings > Advanced > Monitor, uncheck the 'Hide modes that this monitor cannot display', then find the control panel of your video card, and set up a custom resolution.

My physical screen is 1280x800 pixels, and my custom resolution is 2560x800 - double width, and extremely useful. In fact I couldn't work without it.

Microsoft, being fuckwitted as usual, have disabled this feature on Vista, Windows 7, and 8. So the userbase have come up with ways undo the damage.

The free version of GiMiSpace gives you an endless horizontal ribbon to scroll along. 360 Desktop gives you an extended horizontal space that you can loop around like a carousel. Both work on Windows 7, leaving me with only 199 reasons to stay with XP intead of 200.

A slightly different solution to a slightly different problem is to have several virtual desktops, and switch between them.

One has a browser open streaming golden-shower midget porn, and another shows the accounting program you're supposed to be using. Your boss/parent/partner walks into the room, you click a hotkey, and you look for all the world to have the exact same figures on screen as you did when they walked in an hour before.

Of course, it's the same mouse, pointer, screen, speakers etc on all the desktops, so pressing Space will enter a blank character onto the spreadsheet, but also unpause the video window on the other desktop, complete with moans and 70s funk on the soundtrack.

VirtuaWin lets you have up to ten desktops, and DexPot has a load more features.

If you want a separate desktop running in the background, you'll need a full virtual machine - and I'd recommend VirtualBox.

People are nosey. Label a folder 'Private' or 'Personal - Keep Out', and they'll look in it while your back's turned. Label it 'Misc Backup 1997B', and they might be less tempted.

People are also extremely stupid. Label a folder 'Current Working' or 'Very Important - Do Not Delete', and they'll assume it's okay to delete it. In one place I worked, the IT department was forced to plaster notices on every wall reading "Do not delete any folders marked as 'DO NOT DELETE".

Much better to hide the folders than trust to people's decency or basic intelligence. But most methods of hiding are quite easy to get around. The one I like at the moment is Folder Hidden. It makes folders invisible, lets you set passwords to unhide them, and it'll run from a USB stick.

A screen strewn with windows is a messy thing, with wasted space and confusion. What if you could neatly dock them together, and prevent them drifting offscreen, while aligning them to the edge?

What if you had a tiny little program like AllSnap to do all that for you? Instead of the pointless and annoying feature of fullsizing a window if you move it near the screen edge, and back again when you move it away. Did I mention how much Windows 7 annoys me?

And finally, how often have you switched on your computer at four in the morning...and had your eyes seared with the white harshness of the display? Screens are designed to be seen clearly in a brightly lit office in full daylight - even when all you need or want is a gentle glow.

F.lux is a little Windows program which gradually adjusts the colours of your screen to match the probably ambient natural light.

 Six good ideas which in any sane world would come as standard in any operating system.

"There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy."

- Thomas Friedman

"The meaning of a proposition is the method of its verification."

- Moritz Schlick


When the viewers of a TV show hail every episode as the 'Best. Episode. Evah.".

When the users of a piece of software insist every minor change is a major upgrade, and its forum is a wasteland of LOL, STFU and RTFM.

When the followers of a philosophical system start talking about how it's completely triumphed over all competitors and ended philosophy forever.

When a church or political party gets into the habit or expelling members for insufficient loyalty.

When a country's media repeatedly tells its own citizens that they own the rest of the world.

In short, when you have a milieu full of're fucked.

That TV show has jumped the shark, that software is hemorrhaging users, that philosophy has nothing more to say, that church is a cult around one person, that party is in meltdown, and that country may well start a thermonuclear war in a fit of pique.

Sycophancy isn't just unconditional love for a person of a cause, it's unconditional defence too. Which means unconditional hatred for doubters and rivals.

When the British Empire ruled a quarter of the world, they didn't feel the need to remind everyone of the fact, because they weren't afraid that people would have forgotten. At that time, they didn't need or produce many sycophants.

Sociobiologists only started churning out books like 'The Triumph of Sociobiology' a decade after the field stopped making new claims. Socialists only talked about having faith in 'the international working class movement' when there wasn't such a thing anymore.

The sycophant is always on the defensive, because they're constantly afraid that the object of their affections is under attack, by a competitor...or by reality itself. Thus the sycophant is constantly afraid that their love is unjustified and their doctrine is wrong.

The sycophant is someone with a faith, as opposed to a simple belief. But more than that, they're someone with a great faith - a faith that has to be great because their doubt is so great.

Ultimately, although they'll claim to have the perfect and unalterable truth, the truth isn't what's important to them. What's important is leadership, authority, power, control.

Their world is a metaphorical S&M dungeon - and sometimes not so metaphorical. It's not an accident that so many people with power - or those who crave power - also crave to dominate or be dominated in bed. It's not just that power can be sexy, it can be sexuality itself.

Incidentally, there's a reason why the easiest person to bully is a bully. It's because they don't believe in rights, except the right of power. Which means if you have power over them, you must have the right.

My point though is that this isn't a rare type of person on the fringes of society. They're common, perhaps even the majority. And they're a barometer.

It may well be that your church really is going from strength to strength, just like the pastor says. To check, try expressing some mild doubts or caution. If the response is to provide some evidence of why you're wrong, fair enough. But if there's an implication that you're morally defective for having doubts, it's time to get out quick.

When doubt is a sin - indeed, when doubt is punished - then doubt is exactly what you need.

"I was confronted with a new problem: What do you do after the orgy?"

- Nikki Sixx

"We want better reasons for having children than not knowing how to prevent them."

- Dora Russell

"No organizations, including organized religion, can live up to the letter of its own book."

- Saul Alinsky

Stuck in Second Gear

I just spent an hour arguing with myself over whether I should delete this blog.

Or mothball it, or make it private for a time, or revert all the posts to draft form and repost the good ones.

The first version of this post began:

I started this blog eight years ago, and the theme was very simple: My life.

Well, it's taken eight years to discover that my life isn't very interesting. There's only so many aborted projects, bad relationships and philsophical speculations I can write about.

But then I thought: I can't suddenly give myself a life worth blogging about by melodramatically airbrushing out the life that, er, wasn't worth blogging about.

So, the patchy record of eight years of mostly not much...stays. Dramatic gestures are usually a substitute for action, not an impetus.

There's a few dozen not-quite-finished drafts that I could try to finish, and a couple of stalled short stories too. In a few days I'll be trying to start a new life - or at least a new phase of the old one - so with luck there'll be something to write about.

"With very rare exceptions, the right things are done for the wrong reasons."

- Saul Alinsky

"A people asking "why" are beginning to rebel"

- Saul Alinsky

"You do what you can with what you have and clothe it in moral arguments."

- Saul Alinsky

"There can be no such thing as a successful traitor, for if one succeeds he becomes a founding father."

- Saul Alinsky

Dicking About

I'd like to talk about what I've been doing with my penis.

With pictures.

I have type 2 diabetes, which means among other things:

1) My immune system is weakened, and like everyone else I'm covered in miscellaneous bacteria and funguses, which in most people, most of the time, don't flare up into visible infections.

But they do with me, so I get rashes and minor infections.

2) The sugar in my blood has difficulty getting into the organs which need it, so it hangs around, triggering the kidneys to work overtime flushing it out, triggering excessive thirst for water to flush with, and excessive urination.

Which means my urine contains a lot of sugar. Yes, I have sweet pee.

Which means any drops that leak out late after a bathroom visit, leak onto the surface of the glans. Giving the native fungi and bacteria all the nutrition they could want. Turning my bellend into a hemispherical petri dish, with sore red blotches.

So for two distinct reasons, I get rashes, and especially in places I especially don't want them.

The practical upshots of which are:

1) If I weed in your coffee, you wouldn't need sugar, and

2) I'm probably cleaner than you are, because I scrub pretty thoroughly, with anti-bacteriological soap.

But, last February, an infection got through. I had a recurrence of shingles, and simultaneously...something else, more minor, possibly let through by the shingles, probably something fungal. Under the arms and...yes.

I'd had it before - in fact, it was what got me diagnosed diabetic - and as before I got rid of it with clotrimazone and hydrocortisone. You can use the same stuff for athlete's foot...and thrush. I have to wonder how much athlete's foot medication gets bought to be put on other areas.

Now, something I didn't know at the time. Clotrimazole is an anti-fungal, and hyrdocortisone is a steroid anti-inflammatory. And you can get them individually or in combination without prescription, if the affected area isn't the face, genitals or anus.

If the areas are (for instance) the armpits and the groin, you can get it. If it's just the groin, or just the anus, or just the face, you need a doctor's prescription for it. It's exactly the same stuff, at exactly the same strength (1%), but there's an extra bureaucratic hoop to jump through.

So if you need it for your knob, you have to say it's for something else. Or you do what I did - get a prescription from your doctor. Except I couldn't, because I'm planning to leave the country in a fortnight, and my doctor decided to deregister me immediately. And it takes several weeks and a shedload of hassle to re-register.

So I found a drop-in clinic instead. But first...a detour.

I'd treated the infection, and my skin was back to it's healthy pink - or purple - colour. But there was ... (dramatic music stab) ... an aftermath.

About 5% of uncircumcised men have something called 'frenulum breve'. Or 'short bowstring'. The frenulum is that cord of skin along the underside of the glans which connects it to the foreskin. It's essentially an anchoring device. It's also the most sensitive part of the penis - which means tickling it gives the greatest pleasures...and damaging it is agony.

If your bowstring is short, it'll probably make zero difference, unless you're very unlucky and very, uh, vigorous with your pulling, stroking and thrusting. It can rip, and that's just as bad as it sounds.

Or if the area's been infected, it can get swollen, and sensitive in a bad way. Feeling like it's been ripped. And stay that way for months after infection.

My string's always been short. But now it's short and swollen and feels like there's a needle through it. Pulling back to have a wee is a delicate process. And as for wanking, forget it.

Doesn't stop me sucking off other men, so that's been a great comfort to me in these trying times.

Now, guess what the treatment for a swollen string is? For the pain, lidocaine. Not novocaine for the soul, but lidocaine for the pole. And for the actual condition? That's right, it's clotrimazole and hydrocortisone again.

I tried to buy them over the counter - the same counter I'd got them from twice before - only to be told that now I needed a prescription. Which I couldn't get. So I tried other things.

Savlon, everyone's go-to antiseptic cream.

Sudocrem, which is useful for many things, and at a pinch could be used as greasepaint if you're a clown, but no use to me here.
E45 lotion - except they didn't have any so I got, er, the next best thing.

Some things I did not try.
But I did try a lot of things for my painful penis. There were a lot of gunks on my junk, before I discovered the drop-in clinic. And a nurse who was much more clued-up and understanding than my doctor had ever been. In fact, I've generally found female nurses more use than male doctors.

True, she did mention circumcision as an option, but I've got no desire to lose 60% of the nerve endings in my second favourite organ. So I got a prescription for the same stuff again over the same counter.

So with luck in about a week...I'll be able to make use of that extensive free porn collection.

Eventually though, there will probably have to be frenular surgery. Which I shall of course tell you all about.

"If merely "feeling good" could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience."

- William James

"There is no worse lie than a truth misunderstood by those who hear it."

- William James

"Many people believe that they are attracted by God, or by Nature, when they are only repelled by man."

- William Ralph Inge

"To become a popular religion, it is only necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy."

- William Ralph Inge

"The first requirement for a composer is to be dead."

- Arthur Honegger

"It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one's neighbour."

- Eric Hoffer

"Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth."

- Lillian Hellman