Contesting

In fact, tried and tested is the best. Here’s a list of the top TV series, for example. Notice that the #1, Breaking Bad, ended in 2013. If people are still talking about it after so many years, it must be really good. Whatever effect marketing or “coolness” have has dissipated after some years.

Enjoy the Best, Not The Latest, Media – Kartick’s Blog

I’ve heard this sentiment before: “I don’t go for the latest, I only read classics.” Or: “There’s no point in wasting time on new TV shows, just watch ‘The West Wing.'” Admittedly, there’s value is coming back to classics, be in literature, music or movies and television, but while being a safe option, it leaves little room for formulating one’s own opinion. No matter what people say, it’s hard to approach “The Brothers Karamazov” with a “clean slate” sort of mind, unless of course you haven’t heard about it before (which can’t be the case if your goal is to reach for the classics).

I say: don’t.

Go to the contemporariest of contemporary art galleries, watch latest movies before you get the chance to read their reviews, read latest novels. That way you can contest, evaluate on your own, be part of the community that establishes what is to become “a classic,” what is good and what isn’t. Or better yet, screw the community and formulate your own judgments.

Experiencing culture without being able to contest it kills half of the experience.

“Twilight of Democracy”

Here’s what’s good about Anne Applebaum’s new book: it’s anecdotal in all the right places.

Note the soft carpet of my living room and the greasy fingerprints on the cover.
That’s realism for ya.

This is a book that attempts to explain the authoritarian turns across Europe and in the United States, and Applebaum, as you’d expect from her, provides a convincing, well-reasoned and insightful explanation as to why they are happening. And since she’s a well renowned international journalist and a wife to Poland’s former minister of foreign affairs, she’s been at the center of many of the important political events of the last decades (hence the anecdotes). It’s a very good book, well worth a read if you’d like to get a better understanding of what’s going on with the world, and it’s so up-to-date that it even covers the beginning of the pandemic.

One caveat though: Applebaum is what American political scientists would call a neoconservative, and thus her view of the events of the last 20 years is McCainy a bit. It’s not wrong and I’d say she keeps relatively neutral. But if you want a very different take, try Monbiots “How did we get into this mess?”—a worse book, but a somewhat fresher (i.e. left wing) view on things.

Ah and one final note: this book is short. Not too-short short, but short enough for people like me who use Piketty as a monitor stand. Digestible, that’s the word I was looking for. This book is digestible for software engineers.

“And the Weak Suffer What They Must?”

I always slightly disliked Yanis Varoufakis. Strike that, actually I always thought he’s a bit of a clown. Motorbike-riding, leather-jacket-clad, attention-seeking, populist, arrogant clown. Worst of all, he was part of that annoying movement of European politicians that rejected the narrative I believed in, namely that:

  1. One must always pay ones debts.1
  2. EU and its institutions always know what they’re doing.
  3. Countries must be extremely careful with public spending and apply strict austerity measures when facing economic difficulties.2

Varoufakis, an outspoken critic of European Union and its institutions, and a prime minister in a populist government was in stark opposition to that narrative, and thus to everything I knew about public-sector economics (gives you an idea of how deep my knowledge was). I really hated the man, and felt sorry for the Greek people that they had a politician like this, in as critical a function as their finance minister, in the midst of such an enormous crisis.
Continue reading ““And the Weak Suffer What They Must?””

“Hunger makes me a modern girl”

I know Carrie Brownstein through “Portlandia,” a quirky sketch show she’s been doing with Fred Armisen for the last couple of years. I’m a huge fan of how accurately “Portlandia” pokes fun at alternative-culture so commonly associated with Pacific Northwest.1 What I learned later, only after doing some research on Fred and Carrie, is that they were both well-known before the show even started. Fred, to a perhaps lesser extent, through SNL, and Carrie, probably to a much greater extent, through Sleater-Kinney.

SNL is obviously not very popular in Europe, but the fact that during my teenage years I have never heard about Sleater-Kinney was always a bit surprising to me. Sure, alternative-scene rock bands from Seattle like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam made its way to (even Eastern) European radio stations, but the much larger phenomenon of what’s known as the “Pacific Northwest scene” remained rather unknown, or at least not commonly known. This way one could, as it turns out, live one’s life all through the crazy 90s and only discover Sleater-Kinney in 2012. Oh, and what a fantastic discovery that was. Continue reading ““Hunger makes me a modern girl””

New Atheism

Stephen LeDrew wrote an interesting post about the influence the so-called “New Atheism” movement had on society, pointing out some intriguing similarities between our militant atheists and, surprisingly, the far right wing conservatism. The one observation which I don’t find completely accurate, and I think it’s because I live in Europe, is that the “New Atheism” isn’t regarded highly in well-educated circles any more. I found a surprising number of people working in philosophy, logic, computer science and especially in natural sciences to still cherish Dawkins et al., which was always rather surprising to me. It most likely has to do with a rather loose coupling between “New Atheists” and any political movements in Europe (modulo UK perhaps?). 1

In any case, the article is worth a read, and LeDrew’s book lands on my wishlist.

Thanks for the link, Truls.


  1. K made a good comment here by pointing out another difference between aggressive atheists in Europe and in the US: here they don’t have an aggressive counterpart. Religious fundamentalism especially in its protestant form is extremely rare in Europe, and there isn’t much political debate in which Christian fundamentalists would be visible. This may also explain why “New Atheists” don’t see themselves as avantgarde on the old continent. 

“The rise of the image, the fall of the word”

I’ve been trying to read as many books as I can these Christmas holidays since I have plenty of free time and the weather outside is particularly cold,1 so another book that I’ve read is Mitchell Stephens classic: “The rise of the image, the fall of the word.” It’s obligatory reading for anyone studying journalism and new media these days, as it tries to argue for cultural significance of television, or specifically something that Stephens calls the new video. A very interesting book indeed, and although I don’t quite agree with some opinions about montage and fast cutting, Stephens’ book is well worth reading if only for the very insightful analysis of history and significance of the written word, and then later development of film and video.

Continue reading ““The rise of the image, the fall of the word””

“Where the Conflict Really Lies”

Since it’s Christmas, I feel it’s only appropriate to share some thoughts about a book on philosophy of religion I recently read.

Written by contemporary analytic philosophy’s chief theist and protestant, Alvin Plantinga, “Where the Conflict Really Lies” is a careful and systematic study of the (alleged) conflicts between science, naturalism and religion.1 As far as I am aware, this book is the only such comprehensive and earnest account of what exactly Christianity says about, e.g., theory of evolution and natural selection, among other controversial topics. I don’t feel competent enough to argue about some points and original arguments Plantinga makes about naturalism, I think it’s best I refer the interested reader to a long review by Thomas Nagel, but at the same time I can wholeheartedly recommend Plantinga’s book to atheists and theists alike—to the former, because it’s good to know what you’re fighting against, and to the latter, because it’s good to know what it is exactly that you believe in. And it really is surprising to see how poorly researched are the many arguments made by scientific, militant atheists of Dawkins-kind. Actually, regardless of whether you agree with Plantinga’s religious stance and his strongly theistic point of view, you have to give him credit for defending theism and Christianity in a strongly atheistic environment which analytic philosophy most definitely is. It really is a shame there’s so few serious religious analytic philosophers.

So, whether you want to feel stronger about your atheism or want to get better at fighting off those pesky atheist’s attacks, read Plangina’s book. What better time to do this than Christmas holidays?

Merry Christmas everyone!


  1. Plantinga argues that his points are not Christianity-centric and can be applied to theism in general, although he stays away from “indecisive deism” or agnosticism. And he is himself a Christian, and can’t speak for Muslims or Buddhists, or others. 

I’m looking for good sci-fi recommendations

I’ve been wandering around the Internet looking for good, new sci-fi shows, and I have to say I’m a bit underwhelmed with what’s out there. Canadians seems to be making some, with Continuum and Orphan Black, but I’m a bit disappointed with the storyline1 of the former, and not exactly convinced by the latter. I haven’t seen Fringe before and someone recommended it to me, so I watched one episode, but probably won’t watch any more – too much X-Files-like, except without Anderson or Duchovny. Where are proper sci-fi shows like BSG or Babylon-5?2

And how about books? Some time ago someone recommended “The Windup Girl” (was that you, @tTikitu?) and I enjoyed it, as well as “The City & The City”, but I didn’t find anything else that would resemble science-fiction.

Could you please recommend something, Internet? Just no military sci-fi, please.


  1. Once you watch Primer, any other sci-fi that involves time travel looks just silly.
  2. Which I never really liked, but respect nevertheless.

“Cosmos”

(some spoilers)

So here’s the thing: I didn’t want to read this book. It’s been on my girlfriend’s shelf for a while, and even though the younger me would certainly read it eagerly, the current me avoids such titles. I read it though, and even worse, I’m writing a review.

The problem with books like ‘Cosmos’ is that you can either give 5 stars or 2 (or perhaps even 1). Giving 5 makes you a pretentious intellectual, giving 2 means you didn’t understand the book and you’re trying to rationalize it by saying you don’t want to be a pretentious intellectual. Fair enough. I’m giving 5 stars primarily because it’s been the first book that I managed to read almost in one seating (with interest and joy) in a long, long time, and of course because I am a pretentious intellectual.

This book is about the relationship between language and meaning, reality and thought. It’s a story of two young men visiting the Polish countryside somewhere in Tatra mountains, trying to get away from problems they have in Warsaw. The narrator is a paranoid fella who obsesses over dead sparrows and disfigured lips, and as the story progresses, over his own thoughts and phrases. This is what Cosmos really is about: an illusion of oppression created by human mind, a paranoia fueled by words, sentences and phrases. There is no other plot here, it’s essentially a plotless story. While some may find Gombrowicz’s style annoying and tedious, I found it absolutely brilliant. It serves the purpose of creating an atmosphere of absurd paranoia perfectly well, and manages to create tension (and humor) out of thin air.

‘How many sentences can one create out of the twenty-four letters of the alphabet? How many meanings can one gleam from hundreds of weeds, colds of dirt, and other trifles?’

(I read the Polish original, so if you’re reading the English version you should probably try to get Borchardt’s 2005 translation)

“Debt”

Debt David Graeber’s Debt is one of the best books I have read in my life.

It is a thorough historical and anthropological investigation into the nature of money and, nomen omen, debt. Across about 400 pages Graeber analyzes all aspects of these: moral, economical and philosophical. He lays out a fresh and somewhat bold view that challenges classical economic theories, namely that debt has been the true essence of human economies for at least 5000 years now, and provides lots of compelling evidence to support this claim. His original analysis is very thought-provoking, and makes the reader wonder about the very foundations of our society, global economy, and certain aspects of human nature (like greed and love).

To a reader unfamiliar with economics and anthropology (such as myself), Graeber’s book is also an eye-opener when it comes to explaining how the world works, and even more, how it has been working for the last couple of thousands of years. The author is a true erudite in how he manages to show numerous connections between religion, economy, history and human nature. And through last chapters, where he relates his historical presentation to present day and the financial crisis of 2007–2008, it is also a bit scary to read (again, to a poorly educated person such as myself) about how global economy ‘works’.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in economics and history of money and markets, but also to those who’d like to read about the history of the world from a different perspective.