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Archive for March 2007

first person (plural) shooter

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(Xposted to Long Sunday)

I’m sure soldiers, ever since there have been soldiers, have hooted adolescently in the throes of combat. What would we expect, that they’d go about their work gravely, constantly reminding themselves of the seriousness – the mortal seriousness – of the things that they do, the weapons that they discharge? That is undoubtedly too much to expect. The stupid talk and yells undoubtedly represent a release from the psychosis inspiring and inspired actions that they are committing.

It is not new, it is not groundbreaking, to think: “They sound like the subset of students that you see hooting and unawarely spewing stuff they heard in a movie somewhere. They always talk like this, yell like this. They likely feel most themselves when they most completely give themselves over to the canned material they have been served, night after night, for their entire lives.”

What we hear is not the organic, the militaristically gnomic, the earthy – it is the sitcomedic. MTV trashtalk, some Full Metal Jacketisms (Kubrick would have loved this, at least in a way) thrown in.

And, because you too have seen the same movies, at least a lot of them, you are able to try to reconstruct any possible reason, any scenario at all, in which the cars that speed in, crash, disgorge their occupants, who then are blown away by the Americans. The sniper was in a car? The insurgents, after a lengthy pause, get into their little cars and attempt, as an act of insane bravery perhaps, to speed past the marines’ position? Why?

Unlike the talk, no, the actions of the “insurgents” don’t fit into any plausible script, especially not the one posted at the end of the video.

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March 27, 2007 at 10:30 pm

Posted in impersonality, movies, war

“a fair share for all of us”

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Another brilliant post at Sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy one that happens to be indirectly apropos of so much that I’ve been saying on here. Go read it. Here’s the start:

Perhaps the most irksome element of ideology as currently practised is the belief that in the face of climate change the individual can make a difference. Hence the moronic plaint of various charities in sundry adverts that by not overfilling the kettle, or by not leaving your telly on standby, you can help avert the holocaust that rising temperatures will cause in the global south. What this serves to occlude is that the only measure that could really avert this is massive cutbacks in private cars, Rationing and some form of Central Planning: by curbing the individual, in other words.

(This lovely poster I’ve brought over… Interesting to think about the way that the relationship between the photo-hands and the abstract infographic image actually enacts the relationship between the individual and the state under planning….)

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March 27, 2007 at 11:30 am

dialectics at a standstill: bruce sterling as exemplary public intellectual, circa now

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(Xposted to Long Sunday….)

The current configuration of the fields of journalism, academia, and publishing – plus the advent of the blogsphere – have produced in turn a new configuration of public intellectualism. There’s something of a long tail effect at work – there are probably more PIs listened to by fewer than any time in history. All manner of blogpundits, evangelists, and visionaries abound.

One of these (actually, he’s officially the Visionary in Residence at the Art Center College of Design in California) is Bruce Sterling, who has recently produced his very own youtubed guide to Belgrade:

Let me clip in what I think is the key passage here:

OK. so bear around the corner of the street, and this Tito-era workers housing building with its crumbling substandard concrete, we have what’s basically an ideological declaration here: business, technology, communication. You notice it doesn’t seem to be actually selling much of anything, it’s more like a placard for the 21st century way of life. Just a layer, a thin layer, on top of an older building. But it is this layer, this thin layer, that actually allows me to live within this particular city and earn a living here… via internet. Oh but what kind of person am I? Well, you know, look at my clothing. Look at my possessions. Business, technology, communication. What are these objects, actually attached to my body. This one in particular, wireless communication, completely changes people’s physical relationship to the city grid. In order to assemble my crew here on this street corner, we had to make about 30 different wireless phone calls just this morning and this afternoon. And yet, thanks to wireless communication, this is it. Thanks to the internet, that’s what allows me to be here.

Dear Christ. So, let’s consult the scorecard. The public housing of the old regime sucked, sure, but now there’s, what, a weird placard and Sterling with a fucking cellphone. For a proper celebration to ensue, you’d think we’d catch sight of all the fabulous new housing for the underclasses since the arrival of the free market chez Belgrade. After all, one guesses that there still are, like, people living in the crumbling workers housing building. Just as the failure of the American welfare state doesn’t mean that no one has to live in towering projects, it’s just that the idea of building new residences for the working class has been abandoned.

I suppose it does change “people’s relationship to the city grid” to have a well-paid speculative fiction writer cum freelance consultant strolling the streets of your city, making 30 calls a day on his phone, escorted by a movie crew. The rise of communism. The death of Tito. The fall of the Wall. The arrival of Bruce Sterling in your city. It all makes sense now, no?

More seriously: the illogic of the paragraph I’ve typed in speaks to the strange situation of the nearly-depoliticized public intellectual in 2007. The past, its utopian politics, are recognized and then derided. Guffaw, guffaw. But when the part of the paragraph arrives when you’re meant to explain why you’re smiling and carrying on, the part about the world actually being a better place now that the nasty specter of communism has slinked back into the grave, you simply stare into the face of your cellphone, or flip it out for all to admire. You register the amazingness of the fact that you’re actually here, wherever you are: a post-communist city that still bears the scares of US bombing, or a Pizza Hut in Bangalore, or the Department of Defense media center in the green zone, wherever. Your voice rises, you get excited, but there’s nothing to show but a civic-boosterist information economy poster splayed across the face of a Worker’s Residence, gutted into condos.

In short, the past and its potentialities are everywhere confronted, but only to be at once disowned with a shrug….

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March 26, 2007 at 2:30 am

laissez-faire redistribution

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Eduardo Porter does the math in the Times today:

The mortgage interest deduction, the biggest single subsidy to homeowners, will cost the federal budget about $80 billion this year, according to the administration’s projections. Deductions for state and local property taxes will cost $15.5 billion.

Allowing homeowners to pocket tax-free much of the profit from selling their homes is expected to cost $37 billion more. Altogether, this amounts to almost 5 percent of the federal government’s total tax revenue, and almost three times HUD’s entire $42 billion budget. Now even some in Washington are questioning the soundness of pushing homeownership so broadly.

And just so we’re clear on who benefits:

Part of the reason is the structure of government subsidies, which are worth very little to low-income families but quite a bit to families with big incomes. Those well-off families typically do not need government support to buy a home but use it to buy bigger places than they would otherwise purchase.

The mortgage interest deduction alone is worth about $21,000 to a taxpayer in the highest bracket of income with a $1 million mortgage. But for a typical family that bought, say, a $220,000 house with 20 percent down, the break is worth about $1,600.

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March 17, 2007 at 12:02 am

Posted in america

do i contradict myself? very well, i contradict myself.

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My magazine budget is large, my rack contains multitudes.

I just a) resubscribed to Radical Philosophy and b) started a new subscription to Monocle.

I finally got myself a copy of the latter in a relatively unlikely place, a Barnes and Noble in the silly resort town on the west coast of Florida where I was staying. My wife said she saw tears well up in my eyes when I grabbed it from the magazine display.

I am a print junkie, despite all this on-line tapping about.

And if I could figure out the secret link between the two journals I plunked down, oh, well, let’s not name the price, my work would basically write itself.

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March 16, 2007 at 1:47 am

roman abramovich has always owned chelsea

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I don’t get much of a chance to read the UK papers, but today I bought a copy of of the “other” Times at JFK on the way home from our little warm-weather break. Roman Abramovich features much more centrally in the news cycles over there due to his ownership of Chelsea – we don’t get all that much on him over here – he’s strictly page 10 type stuff in the US, once a quarter or so…

He’s getting divorced, apparently, and there are a series of articles on just how much his ex will take. The headspinning, nausea-inducing aspect of all of this, of course, of course, is the fact that what we’re talking about is a divorce that divides up a large chunk of the fruits of the once publicly-owned assets and institutions of the USSR.

Mrs Abramovich appeared well-placed to become the world’s richest divorcée with her choice of property, Old Masters and opulent trinkets from the oligarch’s fortune. His empire was financed from his interests in the former state-owned natural assets of his once-communist homeland, notably oil and aluminium. Nobody has explained exactly how a Muscovite orphan rose from being a black-market toy trader to put the Duke of Westminster in the shade, but he clearly knows how to strike a deal.

A story that really can’t be told, here nor there, without fissuring several columnar stories of the hurray! End of History and the cancellation of the evil injustice that was communism.

Well, whatever else you can say about the fall of the soviet empire, at least the money’s being well spent.

£10.8bn Estimated total value of his fortune

£7.5bn Amount he and partners received for stake in Sibneft oil company in 2005

£1bn Holdings in Russian industry, including food and pharmaceuticals

£2bn Dividends from Sibneft and sales of stakes in other companies, such as aluminium holdings

£28m Six-storey house off Sloane Square, London

£189m Value of yachts: Pelorus, Esctasea, Le Grand Bleu, Sussurro

£119m Value of private Boeing 767 jet, Boeing business jet, and helicopter fleet

£12m Fryning Estate in West Sussex

£15m Château de la Croe in France

£1m Value of his and hers Maybach 62 limousines

Relatedly, turning back to the NY Times, I find this:

…which will replace this:

For fairly obvious reasons, I’m generally not very big on the idea of academic work / scholarship as an effort to preserve the best that was thought and said (and built) during dark times, etc etc etc. But it is nonetheless true that my youngest students this year were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and, even if they weren’t really cognizant of much, globo-politically speaking, during their wonder years, they certainly didn’t grow up with even the slightest inkling that another world was once thought possible, even really built, if only perversely, half-way or worse. Efforts both intentional and automatic are underway to shred this alternative space down rubble for landfill, the stuff that the mall pictured above will rest upon but never portray.

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March 15, 2007 at 11:48 pm

free trade / one way street

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From the AP:

One roadblock in the Bush-Silva ethanol talks is a 54-cent tariff the United States has imposed on every gallon of ethanol imported from Brazil. Bush says it’s not up for discussion.

Go figure.

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March 9, 2007 at 12:17 pm

Posted in america