Friday, July 23, 2004

Kasparov on Bobby Fischer 

Those of you who follow the chess world will know that Bobby Fischer has long since disappeared up his own demented genius and pronounced reality a fictitious concoction of Jewish Matrix-machines. Or something like that. Garry Kasparov has an article for the WSJ on the sad decline of this once brilliant player. And by the way, isn't it so bloody typical of Kasparov to be writing for the guard dog of capitalism? Anyway, here's an excerpt :

Despite his short stay at the top there is little to debate about the chess of Bobby Fischer. He changed the game in a way that hadn't been seen since the late 19th century. The gap between Mr. Fischer and his contemporaries was the largest ever. He singlehandedly revitalized a game that had been stagnating under the control of the Communists of the Soviet sports hierarchy.

When Bobby Fischer rocketed to the top of the chess world in the early 1970s he was a fine wine in a flawed vessel. His contributions to the game, both at the board and from a commercial perspective, were nothing short of a revolution in the chess world. At the same time, his brittle and abusive character showed cracks that deepened with his every step toward the highest title.

Today, it is hard to imagine the sensation of Mr. Fischer's success when he wrested the world championship away from Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972. In the middle of the Cold War, the Brooklyn-raised iconoclast took the crown from the well-oiled Soviet machine that had dominated the chess world for decades. And this after he barely showed up for the match at all, and then lost the first game and forfeited the second!

Please go read the rest...

Thursday, July 01, 2004


Take it from me. If you feel like wasting your money during a holiday period, you'd be better pissing it into the wind than wasting your time visiting a shit-stack like Warwick. I don't know if its because the people are pig-snouted halfwits with Brummie accents. Or if its because its a depressing suburb with a few preserved tudor houses on the far edge of town near the castle. But I can safely say that this place is probably responsible for more teen suicides than anywhere else in the country.
First of all. Warwick Castle is beautiful on the outside and from afar. Sitting majestically over Avon River and a sloping land mass of fields and forestry, it is reminiscent of all those Robin Hood episodes I used to watch when Baywatch was over. However. Soon as you step inside the motherfucker it becomes the most Disneyfied touristy piece of dried up rat's cum you'll ever set eyes on. Apart from swarms of bratty kids charging about with plastic swords thinking they're Arthur the Great (or more likely, Luke Skywalker, the little chugnut pigheaded fucks), and quite apart from the Legions of Grey, the milk-sop grannies pointing a shaky finger at the Mound and saying 'that's where my house is'... apart from all that, they've turned it into a theme park of Olde England, a saleable commodity to con fuck-ignorant toursits like... oooh... me?
The Coca-Cola carts don't really convince and the young girls with Brummie accents dressed up as medieval damsels are somewhat over-dressed. The 'Twister Fries' are definitely an anachronism, and those fencing tough guys were pulling em more than your average pro-wrestler. As for the Ghost Tower, I can only say that it left me with a soulful longing for the Spectre of Communism to sweep in and blow this Big Mac Sanctuary of pseudo-History into the river, brick by stinking brick.
Now. Let's take a walk to the town centre. Shall we? Great. There doesn't appear to be a super-market there, and the market stalls could easily be outmatched by the Sunday car-boot sale in Woolwich in terms of both range and quality. Never mind. There are one or two shops which seem to be of this century, or at least the last. Woolworths, for example, offers local customers a spectacular "3 Easter Eggs for the Price of 2". Good offer, I think. Except that upon entering, you scan the racks in vain for a single chocolating buggery egg. Up and down the aisles you may search, but to no avail. You might, however, notice a small dingy rack on the way out. On it are a few things which may appear to resemble Easter Eggs, but which on closer exception turn out to be "Kinder Chocolate Christmas Balls". CHRISTMAS BALLS!! That's how often they update their fucking supplies round here, the no good backwater hillbilly fucking bullshit merchants!! What can I expect come Christmas time? Seasonal pumpkins, scary masks and toffee apples?
I've had enough of this. Fuck shopping, I just want to get a drink and get the fuck out of this miserable conurbation of clapped out warehouses. You'll find, next to the 'market' (which is a glorified second-hand jumble sale), a pub belonging to the venerable JD Wetherspoon's dynasty. It's the only faintly enjoyable place in the whole putrescent trough. Drinks, at least, are cheaper than London even if the clientelle look like they could use a kick up the arse to remove the sullen inbred look from their faces.
And then there's the joy of local ceremonies. This is the sort of small town community where everyone knows everyone else, bear in mind. The sort of place where everyone can hear you scream, but only the priest pays any mind as he stuffs his cock up your pre-teen backside and demands silence. The sort of place where a couple of children might be discovered by a riverside collecting horseflies and maggots, and suddenly the media swoop in like vultures looking for carrion. So, what do you think a wedding ceremony looks like?
Try, two young slappers in home-made dresses standing outside the church sharing a fag. I know the dresses are home-made because they look exactly like the curtains someone's house had on the way here. Then add, the groom charging down to the ceremony, pissed, flanked on both sides by a couple of 'hos in their Sunday bests, tucking an unironed shirt into a pair of unwashed blue jeans. Either this guy had a wild stag night or he's the most untidy fucking groom in the whole of Europe. And given the odds of having a wild time of anything in this shit-hole, I'm guessing he was just a slovenly, lazy, unshaven little slut.
Unfortunately, although they patronise tourists with simple maps all over the joint, they never seem to put them in the right place. So, having had a few pints just to stop yourself from lapsing into a coma, you may find your sense of direction fails you, and the road you thought led to the station in fact leads to a shitty little park and thence into a dark and scary woods where you could swear you've seen something like a Jason Mask flitting about between the trees. Some helpful soul has spray-painted a pentacle on the pavement - apparently it's what they do round here for kicks. That ain't a barbecue you're smelling, that's a baby sacrifice.
Suffice to say, I got out in one piece. Not before stopping in at a pub near the station and leaving a top-loader. That is, I opened the upper chamber of the toilet and took a crap in it. It'll stink the place out, and they won't find it for some time. Unfortunately, when they do find it I just know it's going to end up in someone's beef stroganoff.
Warwick's just that kind of town.

If I Get Locked Up Tonight... 

The pub isn't all its cracked up to be. But it says something about the way booze and social company loosens the spinchter when beggars find it vital to come in and ask for some change. Last night, I was at a boozer in Central London and a bloke comes in with a tattered copy of the Big Issue which he pretended to be selling, and asked each table if they had change. By day, I'm tight as a duck's butthole, but in the pub I was feeling kind of loose about it. So I gave him two quid. Strange to relate, my drinking companions thought that this was an appropriate occasion to commend my virtue and deliver a polite round of applause.

"Fuck off!" I snarled. "I don't want yer fucking moral approbation."

I'm kind of anal about my probity that way.

Anyway, we talked about work, politics, the war. Yeah, if you want a good night's entertainment, round up your drunk friends and get them chatting about the war. You're about to par-tay down.

One of the wierdest thing people say to me about this is: "So, okay, I know you think it's all bullshit, just for the Americans to get the oil and that, but you support the troops don't you?"

"Sure. Sure I do. Is that the bus?"

Support the troops? As a certain someone once said "like a rope supports a hanging man". Maybe I'm way out of line here, but last time I checked these guys were armed to the teeth, blasting the fuck out of anything that got in the way and they weren't taking opinion polls on the matter. These guys are trained killers, since when were they worthy of public deification? Can you imagine them in their B-52 planes, hovering over the desert, enemy city in sight, bombs ready to fall? The finger's on the fucking button, and someone says "wait! I get the feeling some London voter isn't entirely behind our venture... I dunno if I can go through with this, what with my morale being so wounded."

And these fucking media mongrel brats suck up to the Golden Retard and his simpering care assistant, Reverend Blair and expect us to become sheep because "our boys" are out there risking their lives. Pity that during the war it was mainly because the US is employing National Security guards on their weekends off to conduct the bombing raids, and these crackers can't tell shit from shoeshine. Allied vehicles have big 'V's on them, and they still manage to mistake them for Iraqi convoys... Jesus fucking Christ.

I swear to God, I woke up in the best mood.

Well, that is roughly the quality and content of my drunken rant. Fist-fights ensued.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Lacan avec Shrek. 

Shrek 2 is a fantastically funny film, and if you intend to go see it, then I suggest you do two things:

1) Go at the latest possible showing to avoid the presence of large numbers of kids, many of whom will sniffle, cry, pee and aim red laser-beams at the screen.

2) Stop reading right now. Because I'm going to give away some plot details.

Look, here's the deal. Princess Fiona's maw and paw want her back now that she's been freed from the tower, so she's only gone and brought Shrek back to the fricking palace (in Far, Far Away, which is a medievalised Hollywood) to have it out with her folks. Then it's all that "oh 'allo, he's an ogre!" business. The Queen has no problems with this, but the King gets in a right old barney with Shrek. Anyway, the fairy godmother, who runs a non-union sweatshop making charms and magical spells, turns up and tells Princess Fiona to get over the ogre and marry Prince Charming (who happens to be her son). So, Shrek figures that Fiona really wants a Prince Charming, even if she's not up for the effete toss-pot who happens to be the fairy godmother's son. So, he runs off to the sweatshop, nicks some of the potion, changes himself into a dashing stud (while the donkey becomes a white stallion), runs up to Princess Fiona who has also had a miraculous transformation on account of the work of the magic, and says "do you want some of this or what? We have to kiss by midnight or we'll go back to being ugly." She plumps for ugly, he lets out a fart of relief and they dance.

So, what does this have to do with Lacan? Well, as Alain Badiou explains in an interview reproduced at the end of Infinite Thought, (2002), Lacan introduces to psychoanalysis a theory and even a philosophy of love which departs radically from Freud. Freud saw love as a manifestation of desire, where Lacan insisted that desire related to objects and love to being. Anyone who has been in love can attest to that without pause. You may have desired many things, but what distinguishes love from desire is that one's whole being is implicated in the transaction. And that, essentially, is what both Shreks stipulate in their ironic-aggressive manner - in the first Shrek, the evil would-be King desires Princess Fiona purely for the symbolic reward. He isn't interested in her subjective position. Shrek, on the other hand, almost loses his chance over what he mistakes as Fiona's subjective position. His whole being is involved.

Can you will what you will? Human Freedom and my Revision Notes. 

Sorry, but I've not quite got a handle on this. If Daniel Dennett is right, as I think he must be, in saying that human freedom is not incompatible with a causal, or even a deterministic universe (Dennett, Freedom Evolves, 2003), then why is Schopenhauer so bleakly persuasive?

Here's my notes:

Arthur Schopenhauer, “Freedom of the Will”.

The concept of freedom is a negative concept – it implies the absence of restraint and obstruction.

By physical freedom, we mean the absence of material impediment. “The characteristic of animals is that their movements proceed from their will, are voluntary, and consequently are called free when no material object makes this impossible.” (p 174).

We move, therefore, to a positive concept of freedom and say that such things are free as move according to their will.

“For as soon as an animal acts only from its will, it is in this sense free; and no account is taken here of what may have influenced its will itself.” (p 174).

“A people is also called free, and by this we understand that it is governed only by laws and that it itself has issued them; for then in every case it obeys only its own will. Accordingly, political freedom is to be classed under physical freedom.” (p 175).

Intellectual freedom is the matter of the voluntary and involuntary with respect to thought.

Moral freedom, the liberum arbitrium, is related to physical freedom: “In a good many cases it was observed that, without being impeded by material obstacles, a human being was restrained from acting as otherwise would certainly have been in accordance with his will, by mere motives, such as threats, promises, dangers, and the like” (p175).

Is such a person therefore still free, or has a counter-motive been imposed to obstruct the free will? In a common way of speaking, one might say that physical obstacles can easily overcome the human being, whereas no motive is ever entirely irresistible. Even the strongest of motives such as the preservation of life can be overcome – one may sacrifice oneself for others, for one’s ideals etc. Conversely, one may endure all sorts of physical impositions for the sake of one’s motive – one may endure the torture rack to spare the lives of others.

Motives have “no purely objective and absolute compulsion”, yet “a subjective and relative one could nevertheless belong to them, namely for the person concerned” (p 176).

The question therefore is, “can you also will what you will?” Is a person completely self-determining? As the question is posed, it appears as if willing were determined by yet another will behind it, and if we pursue it to its logical extreme, “can you will what you will what you will what you will etc”, we find that we may as well settle on the final instance of willing and ask, simply, “can you will?” (p 176).

As we noted, freedom has a generally negative character, but this negative character derives from the positive concept of necessity. What, therefore, is necessary?

“Necessary is that which follows from a given, sufficient ground”. (p 177).

“In each case, the necessary adheres to the consequent with equal strictness if the ground is given. Only insofar as we understand something as the consequent of a given ground do we recognise it as necessary … for all grounds are compelling”. (p 177).

“The contingent is conceived as the opposite of the necessary; but the one does not contradict the other. For everything contingent is only relatively so. For in the real world, where only the contingent is to be found, every event is necessary in regard to its cause; but in regard to everything else with which it coincides in time and space, it is contingent ” (p177).

“Now as the absence of necessity is characteristic of what is free, the latter would have to be dependent on absolutely no cause at all, and consequently would have to be defined as absolutely contingent.” (p 177).

Schopenhauer cannot vouch for the conceivability of this concept (although he has just conceived of it).

However, such a concept of freedom, applied to the human will, “would state that in its manifestations (acts of will) an individual will would not be determined by causes or sufficient reasons in general … On this rests Kant’s definition according to which freedom is the power to initiate of itself a series of changes.” (p 177).

“Of itself”, in this case, means “without antecedent cause”, which is identical to “without necessity”. Therefore, we are once again left with a purely negative definition of freedom.

“The particular manifestations of such a will (acts of will) would therefore proceed absolutely and quite originally from itself” (p178).

“In the case of such a concept, clear thinking is at an end because the principle of sufficient reason in all its meaning is essential to our whole faculty of cognition” (p178).

Such a concept, however, may be given a name: liberum arbitrium indifferentiae (free choice of indifference). This is “the only clearly determined, firm, and settled concept of that which is called freedom of the will” (p 178), and the corollary is that for a person endowed with such a quality, under any given circumstances, two diametrically opposite actions are just as possible.

We are therefore only truly free when we will nothing.

Our self-conscious selves repeat the inner mantra “I can do what I will”, yet all this means is that decisions arising from the dim depths of our souls must pass through our intuitive sense – it is the intuition which bridges the inner and outer worlds, which would otherwise be separated by an insurmountable chasm.

The self-consciousness of will is roughly expressed thus: “I can do what I will; if I want to go to the left, I go to the left; if I want to go to the right, I go to the right. This depends entirely on my will alone. I am therefore free.” “Certainly this statement is perfectly true and correct, yet with it the will is already presupposed” (p179).

Human beings may tend to regard this certainty as so obvious, and all questions about it only so much dialectical horseplay, but Schopenhauer thinks this is possibly because the human being is “primarily and essentially a practical and not a theoretical being” who is more conscious of the active side of his will – its effects – than of the passive side of his will – its dependency. The question, however, is not whether one’s decision is predicated purely on one’s will, but rather whether one can freely will – one what does willing depend? (p 179).

“For example, when choosing between two mutually exclusive objects, can you prefer the possession of one just as much as that of the other” (p 179).

The counter-argument may come – I admit the choice would be difficult, but it will always depend entirely on me whether I will choose one or the other. If we ask, “but on what does your willing itself depend?” He may reply – on nothing other than myself! I will, I will, I will! I will what I will, and what I will, that I will. Pressed to the limit, this imaginary speaker therefore identifies a will within the will – as if he might have an I within the I. (p 179).

The ordinary human, untutored in philosophy, will take flight from the perplexity that such a question – seriously posed – is likely to cause. (p180).

Schopenhauer, on the other hand, fearless cynic that he is, stands firm on his groundless ground and warns us that we have no freedom. Except that he did later come to the view, derived from Buddhism, that it was possible to will exactly nothing, perfect nothing, and therefore be truly free.

But now, I see why he is so persuasive. G. E. M. Anscombe demonstrated that Hume, in his overthrowing of the concept of causality, in fact only overthrew one kind of causality - that kind which we associate with a "necessary connection". But, as she "shews", Hume did not make a persuasive argument for suggesting that causality had to involve necessary connection. In fact, such a notion would have utterly perplexed most of the world's citizens who were either believer, astrologers or magical adepts, and consequently expected the "laws" of nature to be suspended at any moment. It was only in the Republic of Letters that the idea of a necessary connection gained any purchase whatsoever. Since neither Hume nor Schopenhauer make any persuasive case for suggesting that causality must involve necessary connection, Anscombe argues that we are entitled to a more modest notion of causality, that which involves simply one thing following from another - not inevitably, not without exception but simply in the sense that in this instance my pressing the light switch caused the bedroom to be illumined. To Hume's challenge to his readers that they might find an example of causal "efficacy", Anscombe makes the excellent contrarian reply: "Nothing easier: are not cutting, chewing, purring all kinds of efficacy?" This goes to the heart of the matter in my view. Causality is something we learn from human action, from our own ability to impact on the world. And, in PF Strawson's idiom, it is our ability to resent the impact of others that is the essence of human freedom.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Kasparov versus Deep Blue 

Click here to replay all the games from Kasparov's losing match against the Deep Blue computer. The Turing Test is nearing satisfactory completion...

Bloggers of the World, Unite! 

I know I promised that this section of the blog would be non-political stuff, but I have to note here that Nick Barlow has offered Norman Geras an admirable suggestion as to what should be done with the UN:

Either make it into a genuine force for promoting democracy, freedom and human rights throughout the world or just replace it with a randomly selected panel of bloggers, as they seem to think they have all the answers.

I hadn't toured the Barlow blog very much before, but it turns out to be witty, concise and occasionally erudite. How I envied him until I discovered he was a Liberal Democrat! He also runs A Fistful of Euros which seems to be pro-EU & pro-Euro from a soft-left point of view.

One of his many redeeming features, however, is that he is a fan of Bill Hicks .

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