Thursday, 28 June 2007

late night reading Austen-Smith and Banks

... and listening to somebody else's music on the iTunes shared thingy. A new group of people have arrived in the building: they are coming for the 16th C. Elegans conference. (Apparently it's a kind of worm.)

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Just arrived in EITM

My brother got married yesterday, in a very nice and sweet ceremony. Now I'm arrived at UCLA. We are surrounded by high school summer campers, it's a bit like Essex Summer School with the Italian kids. Everyone is just getting to know each other (i.e. we are all showing off like mad) - no doubt it will settle down after a few days. Rebecca Morton is my "mentor" and seems very nice. As massive amounts of academic gossip seem to be de rigueur, here's my contribution: Skip Lupia owns an Apple Mac. Make of it what you will.

So, Tony Blair then.

(Warning: nothing that follows is promised to be original, clever, based on deep knowledge of the political scene, or plausible to someone who doesn’t share a certain view of recent intellectual history.)

Blair’s genius was to realized that the left wing needed to adapt to the ideas of the Thatcherite New Right, and develop new means to achieve its traditional goals. Now there is nothing special about that: by the end of the 80s, everybody knew that the ideas of the old Left were out of date; even Marxists like Stuart Hall et al. realised that Thatcherism posed a novel challenge which required new analysis and new political responses. Blair’s genius was how he took up this challenge politically: he would simply apply Thatcherite ideas about the reform of public services with more dedication and plausibility than the Right could.

That doesn’t sound particularly clever, but at the time it was. The rest of the Left thought their response must consist of their own Big New Ideas to match those of the New Right. They were waiting for a bus that never came. (As Jerry Cohen puts it somewhere, new political ideas are not arrived at just by fishing in the intellectual sea.) Blair saw the important thing and did it. Most importantly, he persuaded the rest of Labour to do it too. Although you could fault the execution, the principles have become completely dominant. We are all Blairites now. Choice and competition in public services is the widely accepted agenda.

So what went wrong? Blair’s political genius was to read the winds and build a consensus round new ideas. But as I said, this was not an act of original thought and in fact Blair is not at all a thinker. After 9/11, he again sensed the way the wind was blowing. He understood that “everything changed” and that a new set of ideas would come to prominence – neoconservatism. And again he tried and to a large degree succeeded in building a consensus around them. The problem is that the ideas of the New Right were basically good ones – at least in terms of the reform of public services (I appreciate you may be choking on your sandwich). But neoconservatism contains mostly bad ideas, partly because it lacks a sound intellectual foundation and is instead an ideology which serves the interests of military and security bureaucrats. In particular, it contained the idea that Western democracies could and should wage preemptive wars and spread democracy by force. (Which doesn’t even have the excuse of novelty; it is the domino theory that got America into Vietnam, writ larger, stupider and more aggressive.) So Blair, who is not smart enough to distinguish good from bad ideas, and who built his political career as an evangelist, evangelized us into Iraq.

Apart from that one cock up - which admittedly spoils everything - Blair makes me think Britain has been fortunate in its leaders during my lifetime. The scene now looks much less promising, but that is a story for a different day.

Monday, 18 June 2007

LA vs Chicago

It's a tough one but I think in the abstract LA wins. Because Chicago's quite like Europe, there are loads of concerts and events put on by the mayor, like a medieval lord providing pigroasts for the peasants. Cf. Ken Livingstone, though I don't think Ken ever let the police get away with torturing black people. Whereas LA is just barbaric, it's Baudrillard's America, a primitive culture of strange tribal music (soft rock) and ritual scarification (nose jobs).

And Tzvika is their monkey god.

Chatting with someone today: "So, what have you been doing?" "Not much." And I feel the joy and pain of coming home.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

British films that think they're left wing but secretly hate the oiks

V For Vendetta, 28 Days Later, Children of Men. 28 Days Later is ok, the other two are utterly shit.

Friday, 15 June 2007

deep thoughts, I don't really have those

In American English you can turn adjectives into nouns, like "my bad", or one prof told me "no worries about the late"
The squirrels and deer really look much more like Disney squirrels and deer. True!
People say "You're welcome!" when you say "Thanks".
The national conversation is less self-righteous and better informed, on the whole.
Public employees who actually know their job and want to help

Straight lines everywhere
Girls' voices that span the octaves in a single syllable
No countryside, just wilderness instead. Maybe not true everywhere.
Yay! Woo!! Let's all give ourselves a round of applause!!! This makes me want to join the Taliban
Weird-tasting butter

So to sum up, Chelsea are playing the LA Galactic and this must be the best of both worlds, I guess.


I'm done, finished, complete - today I handed in my last bit of work and tomorrow i graduate. W00t! So after doing that I sat around in the library and read H.P. Lovecraft. Things I learnt today: H.P. Lovecraft was fully a white supremacist.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Los Angeles

Arrived here on Saturday after a big drink on Friday, saying goodbye to people. The past few day's I've been staying at Dan's and busing it into UCLA campus every day, to complete the very last bit of Northwestern work. For some reason I have never, once, managed to come to LA and have a car. So LA makes me feel like a hobo. Anyway, the campus here is cool and high on the hillside and has rather nice architecture, not 19th-century Oxford knockoff and not 20th-century modernist brutalism, just nice red brick buildings in a kind of art nouveau style.

Dan and Kate are busy preparing for the wedding - major project management - and have a sweet black cat called Booboo.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

almost finished!

just one more exam to go. sheesh, i'm pooped.

they actually called him a fascist

so Pat and Chris came over and we headed to the Red Line Tap which is part of the Heartland megaconglomerate. For some reason the talk turned to politics, now those of you who know Chris B will appreciate that he is pretty fully leftwing, whereas Pat is slightly more to the right, by which I mean that he makes me look like a bleeding-heart communist. The conversation ranged on various topics from Islam to immigration (that was when some girl at the bar started calling Pat a fascist, which didn't go down too well) and after some wavering during which the Petty Bourgeois Napoleonist Philistine (moi) joined the Running Dog Imperialist Warmongerer (Pat) to oppress the Glorious Future of Socialist Youth (Chris), eventually PBNP and GFSY formed a Patriotic Left Front and denounced RDIW for his right deviationism - by this time things had progressed back to the flat and Giorgios' whisky and in the heat of the revolutionary moment it all became a bit blurry. So that is why I did not achieve a great deal today, except if you count staring at the porcelain and having intimations of life's absurdity as a great achievement, or maybe lying on the grass and falling asleep or reading webcomics for two hours. 'S'all good. Over and out.