January 2nd, 2006


Jet lag has its uses

You're lying in bed, but your head won't stay down. Your brain rushes, your body twitches. Life refuses to be extinguished. So you turn to the web, catch up with some reading. Jet lag has its uses. Let's see, what's interesting? Blogs are quiet, people are at home, eating and drinking, or sleeping off hangovers. But there are some big articles worth reading.

The indefatigable Jerry Saltz in the Village Voice is railing against artists who ponce about as celebrities in magazines: "Art magazines are also indulging in the celebritization of artists, but they're bringing something stinky to the mix," he writes. "Take ArtReview's annual "Power 100 List" and Art + Auction's "Power Issue," both considered art world jokes since they first appeared in 2001 and 1996, respectively. Recently each came out with a list; both were based on money and as self-interested as ever. In addition to museum directors, mega- collectors, auction house bigwigs, art fair pashas, art advisers, and the below-average overhyped painter Marlene Dumas, both lists are stocked with the magazine's advertisers and the artists they represent. It would be a hoot if it weren't so craven."

The Coming Meltdown by Bill McKibbin in the New York Review of Books concludes: "We are forced to face the fact that a century's carelessness is now melting away the world's storehouses of ice, a melting whose momentum may be nearing the irreversible. It's as if we were stripping the spectrum of a color, or eradicating one note from every octave. There are almost no words for such a change: it's no wonder that scientists have to struggle to get across the enormity of what is happening."

Meanwhile, over in the London Review of Books, Ross McKibbin (no relation) is lamenting The Destruction of the Public Sphere. It makes little difference, he argues, whether Cameron or Brown wins the next UK election, because "the two major parties fundamentally share the same ideology. Despite assurances that the political elite is interested only in what works, this is the most intensely ideological period of government we have known in more than a hundred years. The model of market-managerialism has largely destroyed all alternatives, traditional and untraditional. Its most powerful weapon has been its vocabulary. We are familiar with the way this language has carried all before it. We must sit on the cusp, hope to be in a centre of excellence, dislike producer-dominated industries, wish for a multiplicity of providers, grovel to our line managers, even more to the senior management team, deliver outcomes downstream, provide choice. Our students are now clients, our patients and passengers customers. It is a language which was first devised in business schools, then broke into government and now infests all institutions. It has no real historical predecessor – there was no equivalent ‘Keynesian’ vocabulary in the 1940s and 1950s – and is peculiarly seductive. It purports to be neutral: thus all procedures must be ‘transparent’ and ‘robust’, everyone ‘accountable’. It is hard-nosed but successful because the private sector on which it is based is hard-nosed and successful. It is efficient; it abhors waste; it provides all the answers. It drove Thatcher’s enterprise culture. It lies behind Cameron’s social entrepreneurs. It is more powerful than the kind of language Flaubert satirised in the Dictionnaire des idées reçues since, however ridiculous it might be, it determines the way our political (and economic) elites think of the world."

Also in the LRB, Eliot Weinberger updates his brilliant What I Heard About Iraq with What I Heard About Iraq in 2005. "I heard a man who had been in Abu Ghraib prison say: ‘The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house.’"

Finally, another Google service: Google Zeitgeist is a kind of stock exchange of people's interests as measured by Google searches. Its 2005 search summary confirms the triumph of MySpace, Wikipedia, and Britney Spears. The international variations are interesting; whereas many Western countries seem to differ only in whether they think Paris Hilton or Britney Spears more searchable, China is busy googling analysis documents of the communist party (number 3) and "Inner Mongolian Cow Sour Yoghurt Super Girl", the number 4 search. The brilliantly-titled show is their own version of Pop Idol (and happens to be referenced in one of the Momus tracks recorded with Rusty Santos in November). Japan seems most interested in typhoons... and Ayumi Hamasaki, who bears the burden of being the domestic Britney Spears. I must be weird, because, just as Britney and Paris completely fail to interest me sexually, Ayumi "perfect teeth" Hamasaki strikes me as perhaps the least attractive Japanese woman. I'd rather seach for... well, sleep, actually. Good night... no, day... whatever.