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Now Cool really Rules - in Russia!

Back in 1999 when the late David Robins and I were writing Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude we reluctantly accepted that due to both space constraints and our intended popular audience, we wouldn't be offering an adequate definition of what sort of a thing "Cool" is. Instead, as the subtitle confirms, we confined ourselves to calling it an "attitude" - basically a collection of psychological characteristics - and suggested that we (and you) would recognise it when we saw it. We did go so far as to identify the major personality-forming components of this attitude, which we proposed are narcissism, hedonism and ironic detachment. In the last chapter of our book we discussed the geographical distribution and spread of the Cool phenomenon, and in particular we mentioned the prospect of the Cool attitude invading the ex-Soviet Union. After jokingly raising the question "Is Russia perhaps too cold (or too broke) to enjoy being Cool?" we went on to say:
&…

Tightening the Web

David Cameron has promised to “do whatever it takes to restore law and order and to rebuild our communities”, which may include a law to permit removal of face masks and plans to block access to social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry messaging. He said in Parliament:     "Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."Facebook has already replied to Cameron by announcing that it has "already actively removed several 'credible threats of violence' related to the riots across England" but the maj…

How VeryTaxing

photo: David Jones/PA from The Guardian Aug 11th One grimly humorous moment in the London Riots was video footage by a journalist with a "well-bred" voice chasing along the street after a young girl who was carrying a huge flat-screen TV. Asked why she was doing it she said she was "taking back her taxes". Several people have accused her of hypocrisy since they're pretty sure she doesn't work or pay taxes. But of course in gang-speak "tax" means to steal:

URBAN DICTIONARY  1. Tax
Verb. - To steal.
Noun (Taxer) - Thief  "im going to tax that guys cash back in a sec"

where'd you get that from
"oh i just taxed it from some old lady"
She was quite literally carrying her taxes home. But the humour gets grimmer still once you recall that the US government has recently been reduced to impotence and near default by a group of Tea Party Republicans who actually share this young girl's attitude to tax - that it's simply theft…

Fashion Fascism and Malignant Self-esteem

An article on the John Galliano debacle in a recent New York Times sparked me off on a roundabout but productive train of thought. In this article, Professor Rhonda Garelick pointed out that Galliano's anti-semitic outburst was significant for far more than its racism, upon which the press has mostly concentrated (and for which he was sacked). Garelick notes that Galliano was behaving in perfect congruence with the profoundly anti-democratic aesthetic that underlies the fashion industry - an emphasis on bodily perfection, disgust with the common and ugly, extreme economic elitism  - and that the French fashion industry in particular collaborated enthusiastically with the Nazis during WWII. Here's a sample of her conclusions:
"Which brings us back to Mr. Galliano in the Paris bar. His was not a generic anti-Semitic tirade, but the self-conscious pronouncement of a world-class arbiter of taste (“I am John Galliano!”). Not only did he use ethnic slurs, he accused the woman of…

Humanism: An Exchange with Nina Fishman

In an earlier blog post, on the 1st anniversary of Nina Fishman’s death, I referred to a project that Nina and I conceived back in November 2002 to write a collaborative essay on the inadequacy of contemporary humanist defences against religious fundamentalism in the shadow of 9/11. In the end we never wrote the paper, but I’ve recently discovered, in an obscure folder on my hard disk, the notes that we exchanged at the start of the project. On reading them I was struck firstly by the remarkable quality of Nina’s contribution (which beautifully demonstrates her instinct for a historical approach to any problem), and secondly by regret that we didn’t persevere with the project and overcome our differences of approach. I’m therefore publishing both of our contributions here, starting with my notes: 

My First Try If you believe George Bush, we are already engaged in a war that pits western values against an axis of evil forces led by the Islamic fundamentalists of Al Qaeda. Ignoring for th…

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

One of the more depressing trends of recent years has been the collapse of TV comedy, a field in which the UK once lead the world (think Monty Python, Blackadder, The Fast Show, Green Wing). It's not lack of volume but of quality and tone: ever since Little Britain the mental age of the comics has been following a roughly parabolic downward trajectory*. However rescue is at hand, and from the a unlikely direction - Horizon.

The much hyped episode What Is Reality? (shown on January 17th 2011) showed us a bunch of bleeding-edge particle physicists musing about what the universe really consists of, all of them in thrall to the now-over-familiar paradoxes generated by the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. We saw an Austrian gentleman with a magnificent beard perform the two-slit experiment yet again, and go into a swoon of confusion over "where is the photon now" that would have done credit to a three-card trickster in Oxford Street. It all got weirder and weir…