This is the most outrageous wikileak so far.
Michael Walzer on global and local justice (26.11.10)
The Illusionist (22.8.10)
Went to see Sylvain Chomet's new animated film The Illusionist last night. It's the follow-up to his 2003 Les Triplettes de Belleville, a brilliant black comedy about the kidnap of a defeated cyclist from Le Tour de France by the French Mafia. Chomet's unique style seemed to me even more refined and accomplished in The Illusionist, with the movements and interactions of every character overflowing with both comic accuracy and tearjerking honesty. The film realizes a previously unmade screenplay written by Jacques Tati; a contrast with the fantastical Triplettes de Belleville, Tati's down-to-earth story of everyday human generosity and frailty finds its perfect storyteller in Chomet, truly a master of hand-drawn animation.
What do you do when you wake up at 4am with a muscle in your leg that won't stop twitching? Cycle 120km before lunch, that's what. It's a beautiful day in Manchester, the first proper sunshine for about six weeks...1 always windy up the top of Long Hill though. I'm peaking in two months.
See that satan pollarding a tree,
That geometric man straightening a road:
Surely such passions are perverse and odd
That violate windows and set the north wind free.
No doubt tomorrow the world will be too straight.
Five hundred miles an hour will churn our dreams
Like surprised whales, when we lie a dead weight
In an ignorant sleep, and things will be what they seem.
— Francis Scarfe, from "Progression" (1940)
Custard Creams Crumble (10.8.10)
I enjoyed the Torygraph's phrase "ever more indulgent cookies". It's laced with an endearing moral regret. I wonder if they gave Conrad Black custard creams in prison?
Last night I experienced my first breakthrough about phenomenology to occur in a dream (that I can recall). I take this as evidence that spending several drunken hours on the dancefloor at Cruz 101, then falling asleep on the sofa in front of Eddie Izzard's "Dress to Kill" on at full volume, are valid research strategies.
It never gets easier, you just go faster. To put it another way, per Greg Henderson: "Training is like fighting with a gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired."
Hurricane passes over (24.7.10)
Snooker legend Alex Higgins has died. Rest in peace. You were, as Dave Hendon says, "a complete one off".
Leaving Toulouse (11.7.10)
I'm sat in Toulouse Blagnac Airport, with a light suitcase and a heavy heart. It's been a great trip: an engaging conference (more about which another time), an eccentric auberge, a succession of genuinely interesting room-mates, fantastic weather, a catch-up in Bordeaux with an old friend, and this morning the joy of hearing some A-MAZING improvisations on the Cavaillé-Coll organ at St Sernin Basilica. The latter was an unexpectedly emotional experience, perhaps because the music so effectively complemented both today's Gospel reading (the good Samaritan) and the sensitive and intelligent homily that followed it. The simple but profound themes of that passage of scripture are also those of Emmanuel Levinas's philosophy: the responsibility for others that must always divert my route; the dignity and contingency of our differences; and the irrecusable and universal moral demands that are made of us by the presence of suffering in the world.
Holocaust Memorial in Toulouse (9.7.10)
This is a very effective and understated Holocaust memorial: its shape is a subtle star of David; it is not labelled or signposted; the raised text is very discreet; and the texts themselves are poignant representations of the questions asked by so many real human voices.
Quelle chaleur! (8.7.10)
Whoa, it's hot today in Toulouse. I don't envy the guys in the Tour de France! It's 5.30pm and currently 37C outside according to Google. A combination of this heat, a darkened lecture theatre, uninspiring papers, and double-dosing on hay fever tablets resulted in my skipping half of today's conference. Not much to be done in this weather except to sit and drink water/beer. Speaking of which, I'm currently sipping from a can of "8.6 Original Bavaria" blond. Only thing is, its ABV is 7.9 and it's from Belgium. Whaaaaa?
Grand Orgue, St Etienne, Toulouse (7.7.10)
This is the perilously cantilevered Grand Orgue in le Cathédrale St Etienne de Toulouse. Note the cracks down the wall. I would not feel safe up there bashing the pedals! Still impressed with my little Kodak V550. In spite of being a compact and five years old, it still managed this picture inside a very dark building with the ISO ratcheted up. Your average compact would have gone all grainy and then crashed.
C'est parce qu'une chose est juste qu'elle est loi (6.7.10)
By contrast, here is some sage graffiti. "Something is not just because it is the law; something is the law because it is just." I suggest a better formulation in English (and perhaps French, I don't know) would be: "Something is not just simply because it's the law; something should be the law because it is just." Better to make the normativity of the statement plain; after all, we are dealing with two kind of normativity here: what one is legally required to do, and what one is morally required to do in the interests of justice. Sound though this artist's formulation is, the statement still leaves open a third question: are there situations in which the pursuit of certain moral duties must subjunctively perpetrate injustice and break the law?
La propreté c'est le viol (5.7.10)
"Property is rape." A classic piece of French student graffiti! Toulouse Le Mirail Université is full of these slogans. But this one struck me as particularly unintelligent. Because rape as an act is rather more similar to theft, ie, to a violation of property, than to property itself. An act of rape contravenes a person's property rights concerning their own body. So, the graffiti artist is perhaps trying to make the rather more nuanced point, "Property can be obtained by theft (ie, by rape)". And yet this nuance implies, correctly, that property can also be obtained by means other than theft, ie, by just means. S/he would therefore have to accept that it is not the concept of property that is at fault, but rather some specific mode of appropriation. It is therefore the unjust violation or denial of property to persons that s/he should protest, not property itself.
Cycling in Toulouse (5.7.10)
I arrived in France (for the first time in 18 years) with the prejudice that this would be a better place for cycling than the UK. So is it? Well, yes and no.
Why yes? Well, before I departed Manchester, I'd resigned myself to the sad prospect that I would have to go ten days without cycling. As it turns out, here in Toulouse there is a bike hire system called Vélo Toulouse that ensures you can cycle everywhere you want -- and not just in the city centre, but far out into the suburbs. (A colleague from Ireland told me today that they have the same system in Dublin.) It works like this. There are bike stations all over the place (pretty much on every other street). At each station, there are racks of bikes electronically locked. At each station there is also a machine which will sell you tickets to ride; they last either a day, a week, a month or a year. A week's subscription costs €5. Within that time, you can pick up and drop off bikes at any station. The first half hour of each ride is free; after that you get charged about €1 per hour of use. It's a cheap and simple public transport solution, and a great way to explore the city. It's also well used -- you see people on these bikes everywhere.
Why no? Well, the cycle network is pretty appalling. In some places it is better than your average British road, while in others it is noticeably worse. Just like in Britain, cycle "lanes" abandon you in the middle of complicated junctions. As for the advanced signals for bikes at traffic lights -- what a waste of time! They are barely visible, and generally change at the same time as the main signal anyway. And even when they do change in advance, the crossings are often still busy. (The Conservatives have talked about introducing them in the UK before now; I hope they don't! Spend the money on proper cycle routes or, failing that, make bigger advanced stop line boxes and paint them bright red.) The signing is certainly worse than the UK. This afternoon I had to reverse my poor bicycle down a motorway slip road, much to the consternation of French drivers. I rather enjoyed it. And speaking of drivers -- they really *are* worse. I thought Brits' all-too-regular indulgence in the mortally dangerous manoeuvre of overtaking bikes before nearside turns was bad, but the French seem to have turned this quintessentially bad piece of driving into a form of art. In a country that is allegedly so laid back, this is quite a paradox. Like François Mitterand at the wheel of a rally car. Thankfully, the Vélo Toulouse bikes go so slowly that evasive action is possible.
No doubt things would be easier on a proper bike and once I'd got used to driving on the right. But all the same, it wouldn't be any better than Britain.
Papeterie La Mucca (5.7.10)
Papeterie = stationer (il y en a beaucoup à Toulouse! Mais je n'ai rien acheté, parce que ma valise débord déjà!)
portrait of a memory (5.5.10)
a boy stands next a wall,
eyes fixed on something out of shot,
left knee inclined, the other locked.
hands rest somewhere beneath a blazer.
he's short black shorts and long grey socks,
a games bag and two muddy Reeboks.
Campaign Fever (19.4.10)
We woke drugged and naked. Did our flowers
rob us and beat us over the head while we were asleep?
They were competing for the same air as us --
the thick, vegetable breath of under the eaves.
It seems like several days ago that I went
to see you to your train. A cuckoo called
and our vision drizzled, though the air was dry.
In a place I'd never noticed before, a low siren
was sounding alternate notes. I remembered
it had been going all night. Was it in distress?
I slept four times, and ate with the base,
groundless haste of someone eating alone.
Afterwards I smoked a cigarette and lay on my back
panting, as heavy and immobile as my own saliva.
The newspapers preyed on my mind. On the radio,
the National Front had five minutes to put their case.
The fiction of an all-white Albion, deludedness
and control, like my landlady's white-haired old bitch,
who confuses home with the world, pees just inside the door,
and shits trivially in a bend in the corridor.
Mr Thatcher made his pile by clearing railway lines
with sheep dip (the millionaire's statutory one idea).
When he sold his shares, they grew neglected,
plants break out and reclaim the very pavements...
I think of you trundling across Middle England,
Peterborough, Leicester, Birmingham New Street --
the onetime marginals -- up to your eyes in a vigorous,
delinquent haze of buttercups, milfoil and maple scrub.
— Michael Hofmann (1986)
Cosy Dell Road (20.1.10)
A solitary lamp, a solitary walk, a solitary departure
Yet such fellowship in gathering our solitudes