All The More Reason


You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
February 25, 2007, 8:34 pm
Filed under: Interesting Idea of the Week

When one sees a visual illusion, one experiences a frisson which I believe communicates knowledge to ourselves. The following illusion is but one of many that exist out there, and its effect is quite startling. It’s a shame that philosophers have often taken the existence of illusions as a gateway to question the possibility of perception at all. This binary manner of looking at perception and accuracy, either all or nothing at all, misses the individual complexity and interest of each illusion.

J.S.

Advertisements


Beethoven and Beauty
February 24, 2007, 1:13 am
Filed under: Music

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 is a delight to the ears. The Pastoral charms both the heart and the mind. These last two sentences could be written about almost any piece of classical music ; such is the nature of the rhetoric of classical music. It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way, and there are certainly writers who go to great extremes, perhaps at the risk of being awkward, to avoid this sentimental manner of writing about music.

Hopefully one of the possibilities of this blog in 2007 will be to explore some of the ideas classical music has in common with reason. Why do we listen to classical music? Will future generations listen to the music written during our time? Is the concert hall a vestige of another time? How is our relationship to music changing? So many questions… And even though a large percentage of them have been explored elsewhere, perhaps sifting through trodden territory may yet uncover deeper and richer soil.

As for the Pastoral symphony, it truly is a delight to the ear. One can download a fantastic live performance to it here.

J.S.



Presidentielles 2007: The Royal Mint
February 20, 2007, 8:10 pm
Filed under: French Politics, French Presidential Elections

Segolene Royal seems to have performed satisfactorily in her first ‘grand oral’; an exercise that sounds much more interesting than it actually is. If French television does one thing well, it’s three hour long, live political debates. The socialist party candidate, ‘resplendent in a white jacket’, as one incorrigibly male French journalist had it, will hope that her performance onTF1’s I Have a Question to Ask You can arrest the decline in the polls that, we learn today, has prompted her to reshuffle her campaign team.

It speaks rather well of the French public that last night’s marathon broadcast – not so much a debate as an epic Q&A session with her cocitoyens – managed to garner almost 10 million viewers; that’s some 30% of the audience for a programme that started just after dinner and ended just before bedtime.

The ‘representatively sampled’ members of the studio audience in these programmes are not so much participants as useful props for the politicians to illustrate the pertinent parts of their programme. And what a well selected collection of props they were! All human life was here: from the slightly unhinged oldster who opened the questioning with a rambling and schizophrenic metaphor involving ‘passing the rugby ball of responsibility’ at the same time as ‘performing surgery’ on the nation’s finances, and who gave ‘Dr Royal’ the chance to promise a 5% increase in pensions for the poorest pensioners; to the wheelchair-bound man with multiple sclerosis who had been somewhat unceremoniously plonked in the middle of one of the aisles. Royal deftly, and much to the chagrin of one hapless TF1 producer, used this as an example of the discrimination that disabled people still face in France today. Without pausing for breath, she laid a consoling hand on the chap’s shoulder and promised that the particular administrative defect in the allocation of disability benefit that he had been wheeled on to bring her attention to would be ‘sorted out’.

Royal, it seems, had promises for everyone: for the young and the elderly, the promise of free healthcare- ‘the mark of a civilised society’; for those in low paid work, a promise to increase the minimum wage ; for pupils, the promise of ‘made-to-measure’ education with personal tutoring; to parents, a doubling of the ‘back-to-school’ allowance; and for the cynical small businesswoman who questioned la candidate socialiste‘s ‘figures’, there was even a promise that she ‘would not promise what she could not deliver.’

The question of costings could well prove to be the undoing of Royal. Apart from vague generalisations about ‘the virtuous circle’ and ‘win-win situations’, her flagship proposal to link the rate of corporation tax to the way companies use their profits – lower rates to those that invest in research, development and training; higher rates to those that give more to their shareholders – was the only concrete euro-raising measure to be mentioned. Unlike in the days of Mitterrand, for whom many of Royal’s team – herself included- once worked, the strictures of the single currency now limit the potential for fiscal largesse. Banks cannot be nationalised, and the government no longer has the ability to produce money from thin air. Predictably, Royal has already cast herself in the role of the mother who wants to ‘get France’s house into shape’. Unless she gets her story straight, opponents in the UMP will be only too happy to portray her as the profligate ma who shuts her children up by showering them with sweets.

Elsewhere, the ‘third man’ of the Presidential election, the centrist Francois Bayrou, is starting to get underneath the skin of the UMP. We know this because the latter have officially announced that they are not worried about polls showing that Bayrou would beat their man, Sarkozy, by 52% to 48% in a second round tete-a-tete . Of course, Bayrou has to get to the second round first, and – barring an improbable, but not impossible kamikaze candidacy by Jacques Chirac- he will most likely have to woo the left in order to get through at Royal’s expense. In recent days, Bayrou has made heavy-handed advances to this constituency, stating that he would be minded to appoint a socialist Prime Minister should he get to the Elysee. The last two presidential elections have both seen third placed candidates unexpectedly come through the middle to reach the second round: in 1995, it was Chirac; in 2002, it was Le Pen. Bayrou can only hope that 2007 is his year.

Michael P



My secularism knows no bounds
February 20, 2007, 7:56 pm
Filed under: Iraq, Religion

Another cracker by Christopher Hitchens at Slate. My only main quibble is his paragraph on the apathy of those not caring about a war within Islam.

Religious warfare is the worst thing that can happen to any society, and it now has the potential to spread to societies that are not directly involved…We cannot flirt, either morally or politically, with divide and rule.

I don’t necessarily disagree with him. I just think that such a meaty topic isn’t easily dealt with in one paragraph writing assertions as points. Is religious warfare really worse than epidemics, for example? In what way has it the potential to spread to societies not directly involved? Are we talking Algeria, Saudi Arabia, where? How could we flirt with the idea of divide and rule? Perhaps some of these questions have answers elsewhere, or could be fleshed out here in the future.

J.S.



the Uncanny Valley
February 18, 2007, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Interesting Idea of the Week

In our celebratory first Interesting Idea of the Week segment, we have the Uncanny Valley. The idea, in brief, is that once a robot reaches a certain likeness to humans our reaction to it will turn from empathy to disgust as the dissimilarities draw our attention more than their similarities. However, if robots reach a new level of likeness than our empathy will grow again. And so the gap between these two levels of empathy is the “Uncanny Valley”.

I have no idea how accurate this idea is. However, as an idea to float around at the theatre bar – gin and tonic in hand – during the intermission of a play, it’s an eight out of ten.

J.S.



François Bayrou
February 18, 2007, 5:40 am
Filed under: French Politics

This week, on the French TV programme A vous de juger, François Bayrou was the guest. He is presenting himself as a centrist who is an alternative to the frontrunners of Royal or Sarkozy. Some of his ideas and points were the following:

– No police or military in the schools (this was based on the statements from both the left and the right of putting gendarmes or militaires in schools for restoring order). According to Bayrou, the point of education is to learn that the law of might is right is not the only law of the land, and that the presence of the military would undermine this point. His solution for the problems of discipline in the schools would be to remove those students that were causing the greatest problems and to encourage the presence of more male teachers as role models, and authority figures bien sûr, for the students.

– He had spoken with some muslim single mothers who had considered or had already, I can only assume, put their children in private catholic schools because their safety could not be guaranteed in public schools.

– In order to fight against the dominance of China in manual labour, France and the EU would have to put pressure on the value of the undervalued Chinese currency. Bayrou believes that the U.S. is incapable of doing this because the Chinese have already bought so many U.S. dollars.

– Non–French citizens living in France for 10 years or more should have the right to vote in local elections, but not in presidential elections.

Perhaps of most interest to me in the debate was an idea that I’ve never heard before. One woman complained about how she couldn’t get together the three months rent required in order to get an apartment with heating (the landlord refused to fix the heating where she was staying). This requirement in France to have a guarantor and two or three months rent (it really depends on the apartment) can be a difficult hurdle for many people to jump. Bayrou stated that there should be an insurance that an individual could pay, of roughly 5 euros a month, to cover the default on a lease or rent of an apartment. Selon moi, that’s a good idea.

J.S.



Je ne suis pas raciste, mais…
February 16, 2007, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the fascist French ‘Front National’ party, has had a novel idea for attracting votes. Well, novel for a French fascist, anyhow.

In this year’s Presidential election, he will be crafting the FN’s message to appeal to non-white voters; even to those who may not have been born in France.

 “I invite you to join us! As long as you respect our customs and our laws; as long as you only try to get ahead in this country by working, we are prepared… to add you to the melting pot of the nation and of the republic, with the same rights but also the same responsibilities

The usual inferences contained within this unusual quote aren’t all that difficult to elicit. And in case you think I have wilfully mistranslated the rather sinister metaphor describing the way in which naturalised immigrants will be ‘added…to the melting pot’, I should say that the phrase used by Le Pen was ‘fondre dans le creuset‘. It can also mean, keeping with the sinister culinary theme, ‘to blend’. Either way, the sentence is constructed in such a way as to make it very clear that the people in question are not so much ‘assimilating’ as ‘being assimilated’.

I suppose that in this age of triangulation every successful political party must eventually decide to bend its principles a little in order to make itself more electable. Quite how Le Pen will be able to articulate his new message to maghrebins and seasoned racists alike remains to be seen. It will certainly make for interesting public meetings.

According to one of Monsieur Le Pen’s advisors, the riots in les banlieues persuaded the leader of the Front National that this could be a vote-winning ruse. ‘He was struck by a news report in which young maghrebins complained about “voyous” (thugs) and claimed that they would “vote Le Pen” (on the basis that thugs know how to deal with thugs, this is probably sound enough logic). The party has also found a few useful immigrants to lend their support, including Cameroonian born singer Patrice Nouma. He recently brought out a record, subtly entitled ‘If you don’t like France, leave France’.  

More interesting though is the deliciously ironic idea that some of the very people routinely portrayed by Le Pen as being an ‘unrepublican’ fifth column may well heed the call to vote for him, but simply as a vote revolutionnaire designed to ‘fuck the system’. ‘Rost’, a French rappeur has gone on the record to say that ‘if the second round is between Sarkozy and Le Pen…I’m voting Le Pen’. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters. Fascism tends to do rather well in an atmosphere of national crisis, and one only needs to look back onFrance’s relatively recent past to see this principle in action.

Michael P