Archive for June 2008
If we Lombrosoed the best, wide-panning footage from recent collapse/catastrophe/dystopian films, we might well come up with something like this still I’ve just sniffed out of a HD version of the trailer of Blindness. From what I can tell / remember, looks like downtown Shanghai, though I’m probably wrong. The empty-tank abandoned cars, the gray-scale midrise blocks smothering the tight highway in the center. No one’s been around to sweep up casual debris for awhile.
Whether from environmental catastrophe or meteor strike, heatwave or coldwave, terror attack or ultra-SARS, vampires or the end of female fecundity, the mass blindness or bad politics or cannibalistic rage, we always end up here, under a gray sky, walking where we shouldn’t with shopping bags.
We even build the scenario into our fanciest new parks:
There’s lots to say about this. The least interesting thing, perhaps, is that, sure, everyone’s writing allegories and slantsenses of the same imminent catastrophe that really is around the corner, involving peak oil and the like. (It’s a bit more interesting to consider why they don’t simply make a movie about that. No fun, I guess, to see the shit that’s really about to hit the fan, but I don’t think that’s it. More pertinent is the trouble it takes to narrativize / visualize it, as it moves slow and mostly out of sight).
And more interesting, I think, are a few things that are a bit more obliquely there. A sense of possible or even manditory trespass on public grounds where you’re not, in normal times, supposed to walk. It’s a form of desperate liberation, and has a childlike fun adhering to it I think.
Also, there’s the entire question of the role of these gray ersatz buildings, the way they signal a catastrophe that had perhaps already started, that began perhaps even when the first nomadic sheepherders decided to put their tents up along a single path, then some travelling salesman came along and decided to stay put and just sell to them. Or maybe it’s the modernness of the architecture – the way the non-descript individuality of each building mirrors and matches that of the folks walking on the street. A generic family, a kid generically holding a parent’s hand, just as the building on the left has balconies you can enclose if you want, and the one next to it has a different sort of balcony, etc…
The uncollected rubish (you can imagine a crew sprinkling the set with little strips of paper, cuttings of plastic bags. Maybe someone even wedged that one down in the sewer inlet) brings to mind both a street party, a parade, before the cleanup crews pass through. Or is it just the everyday trash that flutters on city streets that aren’t well kept (like mine, I’ve quickly noticed…) because there’s no one left to collect it. The failure of services, of the civic, of public employment. The wind will take care of that, the ocean will collect it, as there simply isn’t the cash on hand, we’re in a crisis don’t you know, structural adjustments will have to be made, sacrifice the clean streets for the sake of…
The gray sky, of course, is more than just a marker of the weather. Sure, of course, it’s global warming, polution, the hot and damp that will soon enough mark the other season, all over the world, in its oscillation with hot and dry. But it’s also the lidness that keeps us in, that keeps our thoughts cycling on two-axes, the axes that run through this picture and these films and our gasping lack of hope for change – the wider weather that means the furtherest left we know how to get is the circulation of fantasies, like this one and all the rest it stands for, of our imminent and increasingly visible demise.
MoveOn.org’s latest ad is tailor-made to fuel the usual semi-automatic exchange of fire about “hating our troops,” “loving our troops by hating the war,” and the rest of the dreary playout. But you don’t have to be a right-winger to think this ad is awful. Could the organization have come up with a clearer materialization of the class gap that undergirds any ideological question in this country? Is it possible to show more clearly that the sides of the struggle have formed, that that the game is played between the right and the wealthy center?
(I’m afraid that Obama is yet another vivid materialization of the situation… But let’s hope for the best as we take what we got…)
Alex, I’m afraid, will never fight this war. Not in eighteen years, not ever. He and his mom have been cast as relatively well-to-do (see the hardwood floors, and her BKLYN yummie mummie-ness, and the antique-ish chair in the corner), and the well-to-do will never fight wars again, not in America. There are, however, lots and lots and lots of people with more immediate reasons to worry about what is going on – among other things, their kids are there now. It’s a bit like one of those Save the Children ads, except recast with chubby American kids. “What would happen if the food supply ran out? What would become of young Timmy here? Where would he find his daily bag of Cheez Doodles, his four liters of Mountain Dew? What if, in eighteen years, Timmy can’t afford his snacks?”
It would be an offensive ad, of course. But really, not much more offensive than this one.
(Actually, there is probably a simple fix. Think of how much more sneakily effective an ad would be with a different mom and kid, this time from the sticks, and he’s seventeen, and he wants to enlist because he’s a patriot and there’s shit all else to do in Nowheresville, the plant closed long ago, and now there’s just the hotdog stand at Walmart etc etc. But he can’t enlist, or mom doesn’t want him to, because rather than actually defending the country, he’ll be sent into some quixotic imperialist meat-grinder, come back scarred psychologically like his cousin or in little pieces, and for what??? Wow, that’d be fucking amazing – make that ad MoveOn. Or just Obama – you could be properly dialectical for once, and do a turn on the “against our troops” flag wavers. And then we can talk about my consulting rates…)
Obviously, the well-to-do have just as much reason, and perhaps even a greater duty, to resist the war. But it might be helpful to think through the gut reaction semiotics of your response, what it signals about you and your investments, and what it tells others about where your head and heart really are.
Hey, I didn’t know that Patrick Keiller’s London is available on-line… You have to watch it very, very small though.
Strange thing, how centrally important this film is over here, how relatively unknown it is on the US side. (I have to admit, I’d never heard of it before I arrived…)
(I hope this link works outside of the UK – please do let me know if it doesn’t…)
A question for another day: why is it that New York City seems to resist or at least has proved unfertileground for the production of psychogeographic / hauntological materials? Is it simply the relative youth of NYC as a city? Does it have something to do with the wider arc of political aspiration / disappointment that exists in London? An issue of the co-location of political and economic and cultural power in London, whereas NYC only has two of the three? Or is the answer more material, more architectural? London’s weird (to me, anyway) chaos of hub-and-spoke villages provokes more ruin sifting than the rectilinearity of NYC? Or does the significant difference lie at the site of intellectual production, the funding of a documentary culture in the UK that’s missing in New York. (The exception, in a way, proves the rule on this point – as WNET has made forays in this direction…. such as this series, but it’s still far too sunny and touristical to qualify). Or, there’s the last chapter of Marshall Berman’s generally under-appreciated All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, which is far far closer….
WASHINGTON — Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military’s capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran’s nuclear program.
More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the
maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and
over Greece during the first week of June, American officials said.
exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue
downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900
miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran’s
uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.
The final piece of the banana pricing equation is genetics. Unlike apple and orange growers, banana importers sell only a single variety of their fruit, the Cavendish. There are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas — most of them in Africa and Asia — but except for an occasional exotic, the Cavendish is the only banana we see in our markets. It is the only kind that is shipped and eaten everywhere from Beijing to Berlin, Moscow to Minneapolis.
By sticking to this single variety, the banana industry ensures that all the bananas in a shipment ripen at the same rate, creating huge economies of scale. The Cavendish is the fruit equivalent of a fast-food hamburger: efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable.
That comes, unexpectedly, as Royte stands at the edge of the Ashokan
Reservoir in upstate New York. “Ignoring the bluish mountains that form
its backdrop and the phalanx of security guards in our foreground,” she
gazes “down onto the spillway which curves and drops like a wedding
cake, in four tiers, before sending its excess through a granite
passage,” supplying 1.2 billion gallons a day through 300 miles of
tunnels and aqueducts and 6,200 miles of distribution mains. There once
was grandeur in public works, and Royte captures the mythic heroism
that inspired the politicians and engineers to build great reservoirs
more than a century ago. Their outsize civic largesse makes our current
culture of single-serving bottles feel decidedly crummy. But returning
to public water’s golden age, if it’s possible, will not come cheap.
Royte says the country needs to invest $390 billion in our failing
water infrastructure by 2020.
A young man whose English is of rather recent vintage has been coming around just about every other day in a very sharp if cheap suit to knock on our door and educate us on the amazing opportunities to save! big! bucks! via energy deregulation. He’s caught me in moments of rage in my sleepy clothes (rage re: the previous post) and yesterday he woke up my daughter after my wife had painstakingly gotten her down for a nap so that she could get some work in.
We tell him to come back later, every time he knocks, but yesterday he caught me coming in from a smoke on the street and I got to hear the pitch. I had a bit of trouble making out what he was exactly talking about, what he was selling – I think electricty, from some company that’s not British Gas, which is what we’ve got. But what I could make out – and christ if he didn’t say the word six or seven times in the course of his 90 second pitch – was deregulation. I had not heard of deregulation, had I? I did not know what deregulation was, did I, and that what it was was an opportunity for me to save several pence per unit on my electricity consumption? Did I know that deregulation afforded me choice, unprecedented choice, whereas in previous years, the years Before Deregulation, I was forced to simply pay the rate they wanted me to pay for my energy?
It made me think of Conrad, actually, though almost everything nowadays does:
“I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.
I guess Enron, not just its final implosion but more the summer of rolling blackouts that it orchestrated in California in 2000 (see the last paragraphs here) wasn’t as big a story over here. But then again, I guess you can still here the pitch back home – more to would-be pyramid scheme early-entryists than to end users, but still…
Perhaps that’s the sort of video my young travelling salesman friend has seen. Perhaps that’s what he’s up to. I love the part about the “greatest redistribution of wealth ever seen in our nation.” There’s a specter haunting America, the specter of infotainment driven microenronbots knocking on yr doors, redistributing yr wealths…
Mine is a bit more perverse perhaps and frontminded, but I think there are actually tons and tons of people who share a tendency to stick with what once were state-run monopoly operators out of a set of wholly comprehensible (if often, now, illusory) reasons. Nostalgia for simplicity and security would probably lead the pack. It drives the slimy-laissez fairists mad, the unwillingness to take the time to consider our options in full (maybe set a weekend aside to go over our literature and those of our competitors with your spouse) and to be brave and self-standing enough to take the great leap forward into market choice! This tendency – see this clip for an interesting case study – is again something that might well be a popular instinct with potential to be activated into something useful indeed.
Despite rising energy and food prices, Trichet said it was vital for workers in Western countries to moderate wage increases, which economists regard as the best way to avoid an inflationary spiral.
We are being trained. There is no need to allege conspiracy – there isn’t one. The Zeitgeist gusts and guesses, and governments and the media follows the lead. It is a time for austerity, clearly, so that’s the route that the stream of instruction and soft indictment flows.
It is the nasty plastic bag you take from the supermarket that has caused the climate crisis, the spike in fuel prices! It is your wage demand, unionist, that has lodged us between the rockandhardplace of stagflation! Moderate your consumption, learn to live with less, police yourself lest you, through negligence or bad intent, set fire to the housing stock, destroy the savings in your or your family’s or your friends’ and colleagues’ savings account! It is because of you, schoolteacher or tram driver, that the children of Egypt have less bread, that the UN has no rice to bring to the hungry of Asia!
Most unexpectedly, we will soon learn that it was socialism itself, the last living, deep rooted, if withering stalks of it, that was behind all of this that is tipping our time toward catastrophe (reported daily, believed by none, but coming nonetheless). User fees, user fees, carbon based taxation. We do not, so we are told, understand that we must pay for what we use. We have learned to take for free, we have come to expect progress without pain – this was our great sin.
The joining of the fight against inflation with anti-union rhetoric and self-aggrandizing self-flagellation is not, of course, without precedent.
I.A. Richards in Principles of Literary Criticism (1924/1926):
The critic and the Sales Manager are not ordinarily regarded as of the same craft, nor are the poet and the advertising agent. It is true that some serious artists are occassionally tempted into poster designing. It is, however, doubtful whether their work pays. But the written appeals which have the soundest financial prospects as estimated by the most able American advertisers are such that no critic can safely ignore them. For they do undoubtedly represent the literary ideals present and future of the people to whom they are addressed. They are tested in a way which few other forms of literature are tested, their effects are watched by adepts whose livelihood depends upon the accuracy of their judgement, and they are among the best indicies available of what is happening to taste. Criticism will justify itself as an applied science when it is able to indicate how an advertisement may be profitable without necessarily being crass. We shall see later under what conditions popularity and possible high value are compatible.
And the very next paragraph blurs the logic of poetry itself into the logic that has to be that of the less cynical ad writer, who fancies himself or herself to simply an engineer constructing the conduits that facilitate the efficient meeting and mating of individual choice and the offerings of the market.
The strongest objection to, let us say, the sonnet we have quoted, is that a person who enjoys it, through the very organization of his responses which enables him to enjoy it, is debarred from appreciating many things which, if he could appreciate them, he would prefer.
The bad poem, then, is bad because it at once erodes the capability to receive a better poem, and with a better poem, better attitudes and expectations about life and the world. Lots to say about this, but for now, see the relevance in light of this?
But as I said, this time around there’s no wage-price spiral in sight.
The inflation hawks point out that consumers are, for the first time in decades, telling pollsters that they expect a sharp rise in prices over the next year. Fair enough.
But where are the unions demanding 11-percent-a-year wage increases? (Where are the unions, period?) Consumers are worried about inflation, but you have to search far and wide to find workers demanding compensation in the form of higher wages, let alone employers willing to accept those demands. In fact, wage growth actually seems to be slowing, thanks to the weakness of the job market.
And since there isn’t a wage-price spiral, we don’t need higher interest rates to get inflation under control. When the surge in commodity prices levels off — and it will; the laws of supply and demand haven’t been repealed — inflation will subside on its own.
Still, why not raise interest rates a bit, as extra insurance against inflation?
Part of the answer is that the financial crisis, which seems to be in remission right now, could flare up again if money gets more expensive.
And even if the financial crisis doesn’t come back, higher rates would further weaken an already weak real economy. Never mind whether we’re technically in a recession: it feels like a recession to most people, and higher interest rates would make it worse.
The bottom line is that while expensive gas and food are inflicting real harm on American families, they aren’t setting off a ’70s-type inflationary spiral. The only thing we have to fear on that front is inflation fear itself, which could lead to policies that make a bad economic situation worse.
In other words, due to the evisceration of unions and, above all, a serious shift rightward in the borders of the thinkable, in the politico-ideological horizons, the American worker herself is eating this crisis – or, that is to say, not eating through this crisis. Notice, notice, Krugman doesn’t have lots to say about this fact.
He seems to have, it is sad to report, returned to form in the last few months.