Sunday, May 27, 2007

angel with a bushy ponytail

the write-up yesterday in the El País, Babelia supplement about a Joseph Beuys exhibition in Spain, reminded me of this angel (in the pic, 2 inch / 5cm high -- you wouldn´t say from the pic) i´d bought in Helsinki. when there, browsing, seeing all kinds of stuff made from raw materials: felt, wood, natural fibres, i thought "i feel that i am in joseph beuys country". which, is of course, erroneous, since he was German. but somehow it just all made sense, those materials, there in Finland.
so, then i was reminded of the first time i saw some of Joseph Beuys´ works in the Tate (Modern), and of how that felt seeing it all up close, after having seen his works in books through the years. it was amazing the complex feelings that these works, made from simple materials, generated.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007


yesterday was a bit of an odd day. firstly, i swear i saw someone that i know. i was in london. upon first seeing this person there was that momentary recognition (i thought), but then, since the person (on the face of it) looked different appearance-wise, i said to myself "how could it be him. it´s impossible". so, i didn´t think about it again. there was another event, but i won´t elaborate on that now.

then, as i walk to marble arch to take the bus back to oxf, i swear i saw ashley judd. yes. but i am not one to intrude when i see well-known people. i don´t rush up and say "aren´t you so-and-so?". after all, if they are out in public just to be out shopping say, then i don´t think it´s okay for me to run over and intrude on what is a private moment/space (even if they are out in public).

later that evening i went to my first oxford union debate. there i saw peter gabriel. no doubt that it was him. not really surprising to see him there either. and then when he spoke, his unmistakable voice confirmed what i had already known (i.e. that it was him). after the debate i´d wondered for a moment or so whether i should go over to him and say something. i didn´t want to go into gush-gush-you´re-such-a-wonderful-artist kind of thing. no.

it is that upon the death-in-detention of one of the (if not _the_) foremost black South African intellectuals, Steve Biko, in 1977, Peter Gabriel wrote a song about and dedicated to Biko, titled "Biko". i was way too young to have actual meaningful political memory of 1977, but i remember there was a wall over a canal in my neighbourhood scrawled with Biko´s name on it. it stayed there all through my childhood, which was surprising since the police station was not so far away, and i would have thought that they (the authorities) would have white-washed the graffiti, but they didn´t. Gabriel´s "Biko" song had been banned in South Africa throughout the apartheid era. eventually it was unbanned, and then some years ago during the first 46664 AIDS benefit concert (hosted by Nelson Mandela) in Green Point, Cape Town, i remember it as a great moment when Peter Gabriel came on stage to perform "Biko" _in_ South Africa. i remember thinking then, proudly, "wow, look how far we´ve come".
i do have a copy of the song. i´d bought the CD last year when in Madrid.

well, i wanted to thank Peter Gabriel somehow, for his writing the song, etc. but in the end, no he aprovechado del momento justo para hacerlo.

i will write later about the oxford debate, and also on the conference i had attended in london all day, titled "the rule of law and post-conflict states"
what was striking to me was the stark contrast between the seriousness of the engagement in the day´s conference, versus the near-ridicularization of the politics of oppression in the evening´s event. the reasons for which i will explain later.

for now, here´s the blurb from the conference site:

“The Institute’s Annual Conference in 2007 will focus upon a single theme: the International Legal Issues Raised for Societies in Post–Conflict Situations.

The application of the international rule of law in the aftermath of civil and international conflicts – while vitally important in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierre Leone, East Timor, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – is by no means clear. Speakers will consider the obligations of occupying powers, economic reconstruction and trade, access of foreign investors to natural resource exploitation, war crimes trials, the relationship between human rights and the 1949 Geneva ‘Red Cross’ Conventions and the role of non state actors, particularly the United Nations, World Bank and the EU. A core question is whether treaty-based and customary international law provides an adequate response to the contemporary problems faced by States post–conflict where the objectives of key players may range from conserving prior rights to regime change.”

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Friday, May 18, 2007

something good

the other evening i watched "the sound of music". saw it last when i was very small, but i remember it well. here, the lyrics of one of the songs i did not remember came from that movie.

Maria and the Captain - Something Good Lyrics

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somwhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should

So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

[Maria and the Captain:]
Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could

So somewhere in my youth
Or childhood
I must have done something . . .
[Maria and the Captain:]
Something good

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

the weather doesn´t get better?

here i am, sitting in not-so-sunny England. in fact, it is very rainy. very. i am sitting at the OII looking out onto St. Giles and there has been some thunder and a cloudburst. a friend this afternoon sent me a mail, which he said was a german joke, & wrang:

Q: how do you tell the difference between summer and winter in England?
A: the rain´s warmer in summer

como se nota en UK la diferencia entre verano y invierno¿? Pues fácil en verano la lluvia es mas calido que en el invierno.

jeez. it´s raining more now. a complete downpour. if this continues i might have to swim home...

this afternoon i was sitting thinking about the things that can annoy. that are almost inexplicable, but are those things which make your hair stand on end.
e.g. you see someone with a mullet and have the irresistible urge to grab a pair of scissors and get rid of the offending pseudo-ponytail.
ok. that´s one example. another for me would be food grease underneath plates _after_ they´ve been washed. the reason why i mention this is that this afternoon one of these phenomena confronted me (and different from the above) i.e. someone was wearing shoes but they still had the huge visible price stickers on the bottom. there´s something about that, that just makes my skin crawl. i guess that´s weird(?). but hey.

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Open Research: Third London Conference on Opening Access to Research Publications

Date: Monday 11 June 2007, 13.00 - 16.30
Venue: Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London
Who: Academic and research active staff
Cost: free

The conference will address a range of themes relating to Open Access, including perspectives from researchers, publishers and funders.

Confirmed speakers and conference topics include:
Dr Alma Swan, Director, Key Perspectives, UK (abstract) (biography) The present Open Access landscape and what might be over the horizon
Dr David Prosser, Director, SPARC Europe, UK (abstract) (biography) Repositories and research publications: policies and politics (working title TBC)
Frank Scholze, Stuttgart University, Germany (abstract) (biography) Metrics in an Open Access environment: an infrastructure for collecting and aggregating usage data
Dr Astrid Wissenburg, Director of Information and Communication, Economic and Social Research Council, UK (abstract) (biography) RCUK position on scholarly publishing
Nick Evans, Chief Operating Officer, Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP)(abstract) (biography) Institutional Repositories and Open Access - a threat to society publishers or an opportunity?

The Conference will be chaired by Professor Nicholas Mann, Dean of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.
There will also be an opportunity for discussion and to put questions before the panel of speakers.
Lunch will be provided from 1pm, with the conference starting at 1.50pm.
Booking: [click here to reserve a place]

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Monday, May 14, 2007

waiting to exhale?

remember that movie? yeah.

well, it´s been months where i´ve just not felt okay. in fact, looking back, it felt that i had been holding my breath. ah. you will say "she´s busy with a thesis. of course she feels like that." no. this has nothing to do with thesis-writing; absolutely nothing to do with work whatsoever.
importantly, however, today i exhaled. and it felt súper good. funny how one forgets what that can feel like.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

some quotes re research methods (funny)

i have a healthy scepticism ( i guess, what else to call it) when it comes to all things "research methodology". well, i remember when in SA my experiences there were such that once in a while you would bump into someone who would swear (very high and very low) by research method x, and that other methods were, by implication, inferior. that always annoyed me somehow because the person did not seem to recognise the limits of their own thinking in this regard. the method used is the one that is the best tool at getting you to the/some answers to your research questions, no? so, quantitative, qualitative. you choose. obviously, i think often/usually people have a preference, or a natural bent with one method or approach, or the other.

but thinking about these things. and having attended the seminar of a DPhil colleague this morning, I thought some light humour (what I regard as humorous at least) would bring some general mirth, and remind folks that in the end, it´s got to be a fun thing, the research that you do.

ok. some quotes:

"Methodological discussions, it has been said, are a good cure for insomnia." (Vernon Valentine Palmer. 53 AJCL 261)

so, i guess all my friends are forewarned re what kinds of mails to expect from me when the next bout of insomnia strikes ;-)

"...sciences which have to busy themselves with their own methodology are sick sciences... (Ralf Michaels quoting Zweigert, Kötz, and further:

"Usually, the scholars who deal with issues of methodology are not the most productive ones."

these are the funny recent ones. if you were expecting more, sorry :-)

hhhmmm. quisiera decirles algo. hoy conocí a una chica de Mallorca en una cafetería a la que suelo ir. no sé su nombre, pero hablábamos por un rato y me dí cuenta después: no sé cuándo voy a viajar a Madrid de nuevo. de veras, ahora no me apetece viajar a ningún lado. ah. me acuerdo de una cosa: yesterday´s posting re the movie pan´s labyrinth. it was a story well told, not forgetting that it was set in rather horrid times, near the end of the civil war in Spain. so, not an easy story to tell, nor watch.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

spanish shorts (films)

the other day i took a mini-break and watched some spanish short films. not usually the thing i watch, but they can be quite innovative i suppose. but short films, like short stories, have never been my thing. in this compilation, one of the movies i link to here. the rest i have no time to go through/review now. maybe later. speaking of spanish things (as if i seldom do (smile)) i did watch the movie el laberinto del fauno -- or pan´s labyrinth. unsurprisingly, i loved the scene where the praying mantis autoconverts into a fairy. it was a story well told, in the end.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

poniendo a prueba la naturaleza humana

"En una dictadura no sabes quién se esconde en la sombra"

today there is an interview with Romanian author Norman Manea, titled as above, and which translates as "in a dictatorship you don´t know who is hiding in the shadows". i have been thinking about these things of late, prompted by a series of readings in the past year or so. but also, last Friday i went with friends to watch "The Lives of Others" ("Das Leben der Anderen" in its original German, "La vida de los otros" to Spanish friends). on the one hand i wondered then how you must feel if as a German one watches the movie. i mean, yes, some points in the movie are funny in an absurd way e.g. where an informer puts his/her spin on events that the observed persons are engaging in. but looking beyond the two+ hrs of entertainment that a movie brings, the sad truth at base is that the scenarios depicted in the movie was what people had to live with for decades. the link between the movie and the Norman Manea interview is the following: he says that a close friend of his had spied on him. but the friend had told him from the get-go. but still that this does not change the fact for the effect that it had, because the sense of intimacy of the private life is lost in this kind of circumstance. think about it for a second; put yourself in his shoes. he might sit back and think: my best friend is informing on me, but he has confessed to doing so. am i supposed to feel better for having received the confession? after all, still intimate details of my life get passed on to others.

which brings me to a question about national psyche. as i had asked a friend the other day: how does a nation recover where almost everyone (and i think the statistics would indicate (if i remember Timothy Garton Ash correctly re the Stasi and its system of informers -- as many as three out of four persons were informers (i might be wrong with this stat) ) is spying on their loved ones, friends, and neighbours, how do you, as a nation, get over that? yes, you can rather clinically state that when the infrastructure that supported such a system is no longer there; when people lack the incentive, the behaviour does not persist. but still, how do people start to trust one another? surely a lack of trust persists somehow? for instance, Manea says in the interview
(legend: R = his reply; P = interviewer´s question; my translation in brackets)

R...En un sistema totalitario, todo el mundo sospecha del otro, no sabes quién se esconde en la sombra.
(in a totalitarian system, the whole world suspects the other, you don´t know who´s hiding in the shadows)

P. Como en la película La vida de los otros.... (like in the movie The Lives of Others...)


P. Las dictaduras ponen a prueba la naturaleza humana.
(dictatorships put to the test human nature)

R. Una prueba muy difícil. Y es mejor no poner a prueba a las personas. Te juegas la vida, la de tu familia, la de tus hijos... Es difícil encontrar una solución aceptable con la que puedas vivir sin sentir vergüenza.
(a very difficult test. and it is best to not test people. you play with their lives, the lives fo their families, their children... it is difficult fidning an acceptable solution with which you can live without feeling ashamed)

P. ¿Cómo le afectó a usted esto?
(how did this affect you?)

R. La censura siempre estaba cambiando las reglas. El sistema era una pirámide absurda, y era imposible expresarse de manera crítica. Pertenecías al Estado. Para trabajar necesitabas el permiso del partido. Te entrenaban para ser prudente, suspicaz, inhibido. Y tampoco te sentías seguro en la intimidad.
(censorship always changed the rules. the system was an absurd pyramid, and it was difficult to express yourself critically. you belonged to the State. to work you needed the party membership card (or also translates as: you needed permission from the Party). you were trained to be prudent, distrustful, inhibited. and even in the sphere of the intimate did you not feel secure.)

P. ¿Hasta en la intimidad? (even in the private sphere?)

he then goes on to describe the case of a close friend informing on him. to me, the question is of interest because i do wonder how nations recover. i mean, yes, in south africa we had "truth and reconciliation", but still, sometimes people still don´t know how to trust one another. i´ve seen this most pressingly in cases, very much post-apartheid, where we had attempts at regional cooperation, but where the levels of distrust were such that cooperation was very difficult. even today, so many years later, this can still apply.

i guess, and zooming out a bit, you have this notion of "how to trust" in any society where there has been division of some sort.

moving to another point:
today i was reading about the case of a judge in Spain whose reputation has been brought into question by the Spanish opposition party, the Partido Popular. the latter had said that the judge had effected a certain judicial action so as to create a diversion from something else which was happening on the Spanish political scene and which was damaging to the current ruling party. today, the Spanish president responds that he is concerned by the kind of opposition politics that the opposition were entering into; that their questionning of the integrity of the judicial system was damaging for the state of democracy in Spain. the details are somehow irrelevant, in that the point i want to bring in here is that some time ago i had attended a public lecture by Ronald Dworkin. a lot of the talk espoused the arguments set forth in his book "Is Democracy Possible Here?" one of the main points he made was of how the level of political debate e.g. in the US, in Britain, needed to be raised, since latrerday politics had devolved into mutual acts of mudslinging, which then becomes (unfortunately) the popular standard for a notion of democracy, a là "if i can sling mud, then we must have a healthy democracy (because in non-democratic regimes you don´t even get to sling mud of course). i remember speaking with friends after, and i´d commented that this same US/UK view of politics got exported to other parts of the globe, and imported then wholesale into young democracies (e.g. Spain, e.g. South Africa). and people then in these places adopted the same reasoning of "well, we must be a healthy democracy if we can sling mud". moreover, the error being that the mudslinging is mistaken for (or masquerading as) engaging political debate.

so, my half-baked thoughts then. i´m sure i could re-write what´s above if i re-read what´s there. weave through some other pertinent thoughts. adding coherence, etc. but no. not now.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

continuing w/ rilke and berger

this afternoon was great. i read the El Pais, a lovely article by Rafael Argullol, p 17 of today´s edición. He writesa in reference to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the European Community/European Union. He writes that Rainer Maria Rilke is the writer who to him encompasses the notion of the European. Argullol writes:

Naturalmente, la lista de los escritores que podemos asociar a la idea de Europa es muy amplia pero hay uno que, por diversas razones, siempre me parece que es más merecedor que nadie en el momento de los homenajes no realizados. Se trata de Rainer Maria Rilke. Y entre las diversas razones hay una que justifica mi predilección. Este poeta nacido en Praga, que escribía en alemán y también en francés, y que jamás tuvo casa propia, desperdigó su vida en una cincuentena de domicilios situados en los más diferentes rincones del continente. Gracias a esa condición nómada, Rilke fue algo así como el habitante par excellence de una Europa que, si bien todavía no existía como tal, tenía una vigorosa presencia en su imaginación.

Translated (by me):
Naturally, the list of authors we can associate with the idea of Europe is extensive, but there is one (author) who, for various reasons, always seems to me more deserving than anyone else when these homages are made. It is Rainer Maria Rilke. And of the varied reasons, there is one which justifies my predeliction. This poet born in Prague, who wrote in German and French, and even did not have his own house, led his life in fifty-odd houses located in the most different corners of the continent. Thanks to this nomadic condition, Rilke was (as a result) something like the quintessential inhabitant of a Europe that, even if it did not exist formally at the time, existed vigorously in his imagination.

Argullol continues later in the piece: "..., pues Rilke seguramente se dio por satisfecho con encontrar su Toledo, aunque no fuera Toledo sino en Ronda. Bajo esta segunda perspectiva lo aconsejable es la búsqueda independientemente de que el hallazgo se produzca en un paisaje imprevisto."

It is that Rilke had travelled to Spain, with certain expectations vis-a-vis what the journey would be like. But those expectations were not met in the places he had envisioned that they would occur.

(Aye. Sometimes one gets to a point where translation seems inadequate, insufficient. Like an act akin to trying to explain a joke: never as funny, and the punchline is lost in the act of explaining. That is how I feel sometimes when trying to translate Eng-Spanish.) Anyhow, what the paragraph suggests to me very strongly is that sometimes you find what it is that you´re looking for (a sense of home, sometimes a sense of identity), not in the place that you had thought it would be. And sometimes, you do so in the/a place where you least expected that this "finding" would have occurred.

So, speaking of Rilke. One of my all-time favourite reads is the Duino Elegies. I must have read it at least three times already, and it remains beautiful.


But, about John Berger :)

I went out, and bought a copy of "and our faces, my heart, brief as photos". An excerpt follows:

My heart born naked
was swaddled in lullabies.
Later alone it wore
poems for clothes.
Like a shirt
I carried on my back
the poetry I had read.

So I lived for half a century
until wordlessly we met.

From my shirt on the back of the chair
I learn tonight
how many years
of learning by heart
I waited for you.

p32. (c) John Berger. originally published 1984. Bloomsbury edition (from which I quote) is 2005.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Group re Africa on Facebook

Strikes a funny chord, for all those who have ever had to "suffer" the kind of verbal exchanges below, as compiled by Sidumiso Dahlia Sibanda at U Sheffield. & thanks to her for creating the group :))

Group name: Africa is not one bloody country!!
Group Type: Geography - General
Group Description: For anyone who is from or lives in or has ever lived in one of the 53 COUNTRIES on the CONTINENT of Africa. Or anyone who has ever said, (or been tempted to say...)

* Just like you're not from "Europe", I am not from "Africa".

* No, I don't speak African, do you speak European?

*(On being congratulated on your good English): "Thank you, I practice every day."

* No, I don't know your friend Anna from Kenya, (even if I was from Kenya, which I'm not!).

* 'o your from Nairobi ei?.......I have a friend in Cape town'

*Swinging from trees is an Olympic sport.

* Yes, I miss my pet cheetah - he was so convenient for taking me to and from school.

* Oh yes, my father's loaded. We lived in the largest cave for miles around!

* Back home in the country 'Africa' we don't wear much - we save our loin cloths and paint for the festive seasons, harvest, marriage and is not very popular we tend to keep it natural.

Anyone who has anything to add on, please feel free...


Thursday, May 03, 2007

my life is a trail of breadcrumbs

that´s a possible title for an autobiography ;)
well, note actually, this is my feeble attempt at a title which rings magically like that of Berger´s work. a work which I today remember I had read (this in addition to "Ways of Seeing" as mentioned some days ago). The work in question is "And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos". I just LOVE that title. And I have read the book. It is a title which makes you smile with recognition, sigh, and maybe even shed a tear, all at the same time!

After days of academic intensity I always feel in the mood for creative/artistic endeavours. Well, yesterday I attended day 2 of a conference titled the "The Seventh Annual Trans-Atlantic Antitrust Dialogue", hosted by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, where I play a small role in a project of Dr. Philip Marsden. It was a good event. And I say that not motivated by sheer politeness. For one, the meta-nature of the discussions were quite interesting to note (Competition Law folks seem to be a quite amiable bunch (smile)). Though Competition Law is, ostensibly, quite remote from anything else that I do, I did find the discussions and presentations quite helpful in churning up my thinking (If my supervisor must read this, probably he shrieks in horror and says "Oh god, there she goes with her mind running in yet another direction!!" (hahahah)). But ever since my first encounter with Competition Law during my Telecomms Law studies, it is something that I am intrigued by. But, so the breadcrumbs reference is to this notion of my picking up clues here, there and everywhere in some attempt at building a picture of what I want to work on. For instance, I am now browsing the work of Susan DeSanti, which was referred to yesterday.

The artistic endeavour for today has been my search for printed works of Borges. In the end, I walked away from Blackwell´s with Borges´ "Ficciones" (yes, the Spanish); "Las Bicicletas son para el Verano" by Fernando Fernán- Gómez, and "Todas las Almas" by Javier Marías. It is doubtful that I will read any of these _any_ time soon, but I _will_ get to them in the near future. The one by Marías is a novel set in Oxford, so should be interesting, getting his perspective on "here".

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