26 April 2010

Are aliens as cruel as matadors? An answer to Hawking's warning

I don't know if it was the bacteria found in outer space that did it but many years ago I saw a long astronomy special on PBS with a panel of astrophysicists and all participants claimed any form of life out there to be "unlikely".

As time went by, I found more and more astronomers quoted as saying intelligent life out there was "possible". Setting aside the unlikelihood that both aliens and we would be able to come across one another within our same life times using radio signals (or other signs of life which might allow us to notice one another), Stephen Hawking says we should be wary.

"Aliens almost certainly exist but humans should avoid making contact", Professor Stephen Hawking has warned.

I've been thinking this the entire time. We're bobbing up and down and screaming and waving our arms madly to attract the attention of the likes of Darth Vader, the Vs and Daleks.

"[Hawking] warned that aliens might simply raid Earth for resources, then move on. 'If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans,' he said."

Damn right! Hasn't anybody over at SETI, or any other alien enthusiast, seen "Signs" and every other movie in which aliens come to harvest our resources? And, no, I am not only talking about Escalade-driving Americans.

You'll say some aliens are nice, just look at E.T. and my answer to this is first of all that E.T.'s compadres were taking samples from Earth and who knows what their motives were. And then we're supposed to think E.T. is left there by mistake. And he's sweet and empathic. All these heartening tidbits can be explained in two words: "recon mission". Note E.T.'s marked interest in our botany.

I'm just glad Hawking is using his influence to remind us, like Jack Nicholson in that movie, humanity, this life is probably "as good as it gets". Non-humans could be worse than Sarah Palin. Aliens could be more cruel than matadors who, thank God, are fallible enough to get gored once in a while. Aliens could be worse than those human beings who put other human beings in gas chamber. Worse than human beings who lynch other human beings. The worst of alien life could be more cruel and lethal than the worst of human life.

Or maybe we just think that because the sickest part of our imagination is very sick indeed. Who knows what the universe holds. I know one thing for sure: when I see Sarah Palin and her chances at becoming President and mass murderers, I think of Scotty and wish he was real and wish I could take my chances somewhere else. Human beings are great at imagining horror. We can't even come up with a purely benevolent God. I'm no Hawking, maybe he has a scientific basis for what he says. But I think we associate the amount of energy and determination required for space travel and/or space communication with potential because our human experience shows so much technological advancement in war time. Surely, curiosity ties in with success in our evolution and there is as much chance that the same can be said for aliens.

I'm going to re-edit this blog later today because I've got an astrophysicist coming over for tea and I'll ask her the name of that craft we sent into space with Glenn Gould's recording of the Goldberg Variations, with Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man and data about who we are in case there is intelligent life out there to appreciate it. When people speak of it, they light up. Imagine the aliens' surprise at hearing Bach (and Gould annoyingly/charmingly humming over bits of it). I'm not a scientist but if I'm right about curiosity and the energy and determination it can garner, then we have little to fear. I just don't believe we should project our darkness onto creatures we know nothing about, creatures we haven't even met yet. After all, the only non-humans we know are animals and the better we are at knowing them, the more intelligent we realise they are -- and animals remain utterly without evil.


23 April 2010

Common People Spoof - David Cameron

The Indomitable Barbara, my friend who is an MP Labour candidate in Penrith and the Borders, posted this link. It's a very funny and very true David Cameron version of the Pulp song.

Vote for Barbara Cannon!


"Bob is not authentic at all. He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I." Joni Mitchell tells the L.A. Times.

If you don't believe her, just watch  No Direction Home. I don't know why fans ignore how Scorsese's documentary shows that Dylan only became a protest song singer because that was where the market was at. He was a complete bastard to Joan Baez. He never went to a rally in his life. And when an acquaintance who had a magnificent LPs  got Dylan to housesit for him, he came back to a collection sans all the rarest records he owned. When asked about it for the documentary, without one ounce of guilt, Dylan answers that he a musical expeditionary. That's his excuse.

I love artists but Dylan is in the same league as Philip Roth and Ted Hugues: men who hate women, megalomaniac who trample over everybody for their own gratification.

Ok, so maybe I'm going beyond what Joni meant here. Tee hee.

Cold Spring Rolls

This is great for Spring and Summer. I never had a recipe for this and I'm not including quantities because it's just too easy to carter the dish to your specific needs, one, two or three people. One pack of rice paper and one pack of vermicelli rice should be enough to feed an army. So you will need:

to soak rice paper in hot water for 5 to 10 seconds

put the rice paper on a wet towel


chopped coriander

AND LETTUCE LEAVES (sorry, no pic)

rice vermicelli soaked in boiling water for 2 minutes

carrots and cucumbers cut julienne

grilled tofu or chicken or nothing (cut in pieces)

fold the botton first and then roll like so


Keep the rolls separated and keep them rolled in a yet towel until serving.

Serve with your favourite peanut sauce.

21 April 2010

That David Mitchell guy

I hadn't read David Mitchell's Observer column in weeks when a FB friend attracted my attention to puzzling David Mitchell "soapbox" clip in which he takes an utterly unnecessary pot shot at Gaelic languages. Never mind. The man is entitled to his opinions and most of the time I agree with him.


Back on the Observer site, I found Mitchell in great form this week with a column about the Cambridge University debating society offering pole dancing lessons to its female members. Mitchell rightfully attacks the society's spokeswoman who uses the word "empowering" in reference to the classes: "having stumbled upon the word "empowering", which can be deployed under so many circumstances – I use it about charging my phone – they've let it trick them into thinking that they've framed an argument," he writes.

Mitchell very perspicaciously adds that at 20, from the vintage point of a Cambridge college, a young woman may have little idea that the world is a misogynistic place.

"Pole dancing is grim and I don't see anything empowering about learning it". And any look at youtube clips under that heading will make you feel simply horrible about the state of human kind. But that is not the point of this blog.

Mitchell goes on to talk about the backlash against feminism and the pity that some men demand nowadays. Last week, I saw a headline about a Men Studies programme at some university somewhere with a sub-headline about men being a minority these days. It's sad enough that young students pull a pole dancing stunt to get in the papers but the level of cynicism that leads a university to create a reactionary curriculum to garner publicity (and boast applications) is beyond depressing. Really, I'm so sad that only 498 men are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I weep for them on a regular basis. But, again, I digress.

So this guy, David Mitchell, is not just a columnist but the creator of a television show which just finished it's third season, That Mitchell and Webb Look. He also stars with Webb in the hilarious, and hilariously cruel, Peep Show which after became a hit after Ricky Gervais called it the best comedy of television. After six seasons, Peep Show shows no sign are wavering. He also hosts those incomprehensible British game shows, but since Stephen Fry does them too, I guess it comes with the territory.

In the soapbox clip about Gaelic languages, Mitchell makes half a convincing case questioning the artificial revival of languages. He states that Scottish Gaelic has not been spoken in the Lowlands since the Middle Ages. If he's right that's certainly a little tidbit that Lowlanders have been keeping on the down low. On the other hand, one wonders whether the English crown did not do its best to eradicate the language and if it did Lowlanders (am I making up a word here, Lowlanders? Outlander exists, Gabladon says so) are entitled to take taxpayer money to re-acquaint themselves with the old tongue if they so deisre. The amount of resources outlaid for such a reinstitution of languages is part of Mitchell's argument. 

Nevertheless, Mitchell's Sunday Observer columns are definitely worth a look. In this week's one about pole dancing, he diverges into a discussion about women in politics. He ties his column back to pole dancing only alluding to a point that needs making. All this stuff about pornography, prostitution, and female chauvinist pigness being a form of empowerment is a complete load.

And you and I, reader, will have to have this discussion one day. In the mean time, here's a nice, single man who also happens to be a feminist.

19 April 2010

Authors Dissin' Authors

From the Examiner. Poor Jane Austen gets a thrashing. I snerched a few of them and made a chain of disparagement:

Jane Austen, according to Mark Twain (1898)
I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Mark Twain, according to William Faulker (1922)
A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy

William Faulkner, according to Ernest Hemingway
Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You're thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes -- and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he's had his first one.

Ernest Hemingway, according to Vladimir Navokov (1972)
As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early 'forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.

16 April 2010

Immigrants don't steal jobs from low-wage earners

“Americans, whether they are rich or poor, are much more in favor of high-skilled immigrants,” says M.I.T. scientist Jens Hainmueller.

Moreover, census data shows that cities with high immigrant populations are the ones  which thrive. Economic growth in specific cities, like Atlanta, is connected to low-wage immigrant labour.

This seems to indicate that not only is the US not suffering from low-wage labour, but that people are wrong to favour high skilled immigrants over immigrants who perform blue-collar work. Such low-skill workers help the economy.


Rowling speaks out for single mothers (hurray) and Labour

Billionaire author J.K. Rowling writes for the Times explaining why she still votes Labour. She remembers becoming a hated figure of sections of society when her marriage broke down and she became a single mother. She quotes Tory politicians saying “young ladies get pregnant just to jump the housing list” and that single mothers are “one of the biggest social problems of our day”. Rowling continues:

"An easy life. Between 1993 and 1997 I did the job of two parents, qualified and then worked as a secondary school teacher, wrote one and a half novels and did the planning for a further five. For a while, I was clinically depressed. To be told, over and over again, that I was feckless, lazy — even immoral — did not help.

The new Labour landslide marked a cessation in government hostilities towards families like mine."

Rowling points to substantial policies the Labour government has put in place since 1997 and mentions the need for improvement. Labour is a mainstream party which prays at the church of the nuclear family like all centre and right-wing parties must, but the party never sinks to utter ridiculousness like the Tories who are proposing a tax cut for married couples. It really shouldn't be the job of a political party to fund certain behaviours it deems morally desirable. It amounts to a passive form of repression against non-married people.

For a myriad of reasons, single mothers won't go away and it's time we stop blaming them for everything. Comprehensive studies show that children who under-perform at school or misbehave, sometimes turning to criminal behaviour, are not disproportionately from single-parent families, they are disproportionally poor. Children in single-families with money do just as well as other children. I've never heard a politician, not even a Labour politician, mention this. Labour at least doesn't demonise single-mothers and Rowling's article serves as a useful reminder.

14 April 2010

Bikers should pay a bike tax Toronto mayoral hopeful says

While Rocco Rossi and George Smitherman walk the dotted line of the touchy debate, not wanting to appear too for, or against, bike lane expansion, Mammoliti has dove right in with a heck no! And in fact, if cyclists want bike expansion, then they should pay for it!

via thestar.blogs.com

Cat with hands

Robert Morgan - The Cat With Hands from James Burke on Vimeo.

Préparez vos mouchoirs: puppy rescue

Keep Gordon Brown Ian McEwan tells Tina Brown

09 April 2010

The David Foster Wallace Archive

DFW's notes on a DeLillo book

I try not to think about David Foster Wallace's passing anymore but when I do the idea that the best author of his generation hug himself at the age of forty-six is almost unbearable. Studying writing around the time DFW published Infinite Jest was a hopeful time, a time for the possibilities of renewal in the much worn-out form of fiction writing. And that was all due to this Gargantuesque, avant-garde book. We didn't all like him but he inspired us. As precise and as disciplined as DFW must have been with his writing, the riffs, the footnotes, the erudition which made every turn of the page a 52 pick-up move, all those scattered pieces of writing arranged themselves into seemingly easy brilliance. We can't all be geniuses but a genius like DFW jacked up our writing up to the next level.

If writers like Pynchon are brilliant, that sort of twenty-minute-drum-solo writing never inspired me. It intimidates and it's difficult to read. DFW by contrast gives the reader so much pleasure. Reading the title piece in the collection of essays A Supposed Fun Thing I'll Ever Do Again, I had to stop reading it on public transport. I wasn't simply laughing out loud, I kept hurting my ribs and chocking due to uncontrollable laughing fits which never seemed to end. The type of display which is more than other commuters can bear at 8 in the morning.

He was the writer of my generation and his passing in 2008 reminded me of long discussions with Claire and Carmine and Peter and Rob about DFW over pitchers of beer at the Copa. All these came back to the surface a couple of weeks ago via a New Yorker article announced the University of Texas had acquired the David Foster Wallace Archive. The collection includes multiple drafts of his published writings, graffitied copies of books by other authors, "the archive also contains an extensive amount of writing from Wallace’s childhood and youth: a whimsical childhood poem about vikings, signed “David Foster Wallace”; school essays about “Pride and Prejudice” and “Moby Dick”; four issues of “Sabrina,” the Amherst humor magazine he co-founded with his roommate, Mark Costello. For an author who leapt with astonishing rapidity from youthful promise into adult virtuosity, the juvenilia may prove especially illuminating."

The archive will be open to the public this autumn. It just might be worth the trip to Texas.

08 April 2010

To all my artist friends, performers and creators alike

It's "morans" not "morons"; plus, standing kitty!

Because Comrade Bingo readers are a secretive bunch (apparently reading us has the same effect as reading Hustler, if Comrade Bingo were on paper, people would hide copies in their closet), I get most comments through personal email. Yesterday, a couple of readers pointed out a typo that wasn't one and I guess I should be thankful Comrade Bingo readers are of a higher breed than the kind of readers who write unimaginably vile comments on other blogs. So, although I would prefer having more comments on the blog itself, thank you for the emails and for your sensitivity.

Yesterday, a few of you commented on the National Post piece to let me know that I spelled "morons" wrong. I did not. I meant to write "morans". Ever since the last presidential election, when we thought right-wing populism could not sink any lower, there came Moran. Moran standing with his Cardinals t-shirt, a USA flag wrapped around his head, he's proudly posing for the camera with two signs: "Get a brain! Morans". 

Since then, calling right-wingers "morons" just doesn't seem to suffice. "Morans" seems for more adequate.

Standing Kitty

Looks like he is possessed by the same demon that got Katie in Paranormal Activity:

07 April 2010

Video: guaranteed to make you happy

"White Canadians are racists": the dark art of the National Post headline

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call. I was going to receive the National Post for several weeks free gratis with no obligation on my part and this phone call was only to inform me of that fact kthxbai. Hang up. Well, that was sly. All that recycling, I thought. Dead trees. But free sudokus. Not that I do sudokus anymore but maybe next time I'm on a plane and too on-edge to read a book. And crossword puzzles. Another game I prefer to play on paper rather than on screen. 

For weeks, I ignored the newspaper, just piling it onto my recycling and I did feel guilty about not calling and cancelling but with life so encumbered with daily contingencies, it just wasn't going to happen. And then, one day, as I took that morning's instalment to the recycling, I saw a big headline about what Canada's "new face" would look like soon. Not white enough was the answer. Of course, the idea the white people weren't the first inhabitants of this land we stole wouldn't occur to people of the National Post. Such people have the less level of self-consciousness of some Quebec protesters back to the 1989 Mohawk standoff self-righteously chanting "le Québec aux Québecois". The French People. To the Mohawk people.

It's always disheartening when Canadians show they can be as moranic as American Tea Partiers and Sarah Palin fans. We're Canadians, we're supposed to be immune to facile, logic-free scapegoating that targets the poor and the meek. And then one sees Ann Coulter on the front page across the country with the National Post in tow to show she's has support here (the Post can only support her indirectly, because, ya know, they may be right-wing but this is Canada and even the Post fancies itself somewhat above the uncouthness of American right-wing politics). 

Between the "new face" of Canada and Coulter were headlines that showcase the National Post's deviousness brilliantly: "Immigrants want less immigration". I'll admit this is barely one notch above some kind of "Black people who hate blacks" Jerry Springer fare. But the problem is that even in our contemporary times, readers will allow themselves to fall for an Uncle Tom. No wait, it's much worse than that, but you catch my drift.

And yesterday, I came across a NP article in which the writer was sent to a "Whiteness" workshop. The level of maturity (and cynicism) in the editorial meeting that ok'ed this article is risible. The tone of the article shows that the writer, if not entirely disingenuous, is at least appallingly unschooled in modern day subject-positioning:

"Moreover, I was guilty of "democratic racism" -- by which we apply ostensibly race-neutral principles such as "due process," constantly demanding clear "evidence" of wrongdoing, rather than confronting prima facie instances of racism head-on. "It seems we're always looking for more proof," said the instructor, an energetic left-wing activist who's been teaching this course for several years. "When it comes to racism, you have to trust your gut."
I felt the urge to pipe up at this. Racism is either a serious charge or it's not. And if it is, as everyone in this room clearly believed, then it cannot be flung around casually without giving the accused a chance to explain his actions. But I said nothing, and nodded my head along with everyone else. I'd come to this class not to impose my democratic racism on people, but to observe."

Sexual harassment was designed with people like the writer in mind. People who impose a standard a high objectivity without ever acknowledging that the standard is highly biased against difference to begin with; people who cannot begin to fathom subject-positioning. 

The headline for the article is accompanied by a photo of where the workshop took place: Toronto Women's Bookstore. Surely an ominous sight for the average National Post reader. I mean, I sure am feeling a shudder at the thought of "women" and "books" in the same phrase. 

Even if one believes that workshop was as bad as the writer describes it to be (overall, he makes it seem rather dismal), the article is designed to egg the reader into ridiculing any attempt at sensitivity or self-reflection regarding our conduct with each other based on origin or race. The article presses the kinds of buttons that seeks to produce, and did produce, hundreds of comments which have nothing to do with the workshop but which provide an outlet for the tortuous existence of the Canadian of European origin. Yes, reading the comments you'd think Canadians of European descent are about to be rounded up to be transported upon those Chinese immigrant-built railroads and taken to suspicious work camps.

Needless to say, right-wing papers thrive on stoking up hatred. It keeps readers coming back. It keeps that crowd that tells single-mothers to get off welfare and take control of their lives from taking responsibility for their own misery and off load it onto the easiest targets.

So the result is I've reverted back to barely being able to glance at the National Post. I understand Mother Nature was fair to distribute moral deprivation, cowardice and stupidity equally throughout North America and the world but that doesn't stop me from being embarrassed. My big headline today is "The National Post makes me embarrassed to be Canadian". 

(and as I looked for links for the article, I found "It's not easy being white", a musing on the kermit song written by Barbara Kay. I didn't bother with more than a glance, and, yes, she's dead serious about it)

01 April 2010

Cthulhoid snack-food

This one's for Kingsley. Of course, he would never eat it.

[boing boing]