Archive for December, 2007

Coffee

I came across this letter to the NYT on the Angry Arab site.

Sipping strong coffee while reading The New York Times, I noticed a glaring omission in P. J. O’Rourke’s review. To coffee addicts like myself, the reason for Starbucks’s unprecedented success is quite clear. Caffeine is an addictive, albeit legal, stimulant. A 16-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee contains on average twice the amount of caffeine found in a similar cup purchased elsewhere (see The Journal of Analytical Toxicology, October 2006), sometimes approaching the amount in three NoDoz tablets. Starbucks in fact publishes the caffeine content of its brewed coffee: a venti cup has 415 milligrams.

Despite the espresso machine in my office, I often find myself sleepwalking to the nearest Starbucks to get a fix. Indeed, as a friend once said, Starbucks is the methadone clinic of the bourgeoisie.

Now I refuse to enter Starbucks cafes myself, not for any high-minded anti-corporate reasons, but because they’re full of dicks. But the strength of the coffee in other cafes is also notable: what should be a Caffe Latte is very often in fact a Latte Caffe. The effect of this on your system is to make you want to poo urgently. It would not be surprising if coffee providers sought to strike a winning mix of strong coffee and unhygienic toilets to ensure a brisk turnover in occupied tables and therefore maximise profits.

Right, that’s almost it for another year. Heading north for a few days, but after that will try and post something, assuming certain people don’t have other ideas:

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Happy Christmas!

Des-POTUS

Like a dog returning to its own vomit, I found myself being drawn into the minutiae of the 2008 presidential candidacy races. I was going to do a post on how Republican candidate Mike Huckabee’s use of Chuck Norris tied in perfectly with what appear to be two focus areas of his campaign: purporting to be on the side of the downtrodden (with class war talk about ‘servant classes and ruling classes’) whilst demanding the righteous macho kicking of foreign ass.

Huckabee, in the video above, says:

‘We elevate and we celebrate human life, and if you look at us with a contrast to the Islamic Jihadist, who would strap a bomb to the belly of their own child, march ’em into a crowded room, set the detonator, and kill innocent people..they celebrate death, we celebrate life. It’s the fundamental thing that makes us unique, it keeps us free. I pray we never, ever, abandon that basic principle.’

And I don’t know precisely where I was going to take it from there, but then I came across an article from Allan Nairn with a sensible line on the President of the United States, the job for which Huckabee and the rest of them are applying. I am grateful to it for saving me from writing a tortured post weighing up the merits of different candidates and speculating on outcomes.

One American deciding. Millions of lives. Fates determined almost in passing.

If you pull back and think about it — slowly — doesn’t it all seem a bit improper?

For most political Americans the answer would probably be that they haven’t yet thought about it, because in US politics, the existence of such power is taken as a no-need-to-think-of given.

But at the other end of the stick — or the other end of the rifle, where the bullets come out — there is a bit more consciousness of this remarkable fact about today’s wildly unbalanced world.

Its why the US presidential campaign gets heavily covered in the popular press of, say, Malaysia, while on the other, US, end — the trigger end — editors are only dimly aware that that country exists.

It is also why, say, junior US Congressional or Executive Branch aides — or, for that matter, US journalists — can get treated like pashas when they visit weaker countries overseas.

If people figure out that you or your perceived (or real) team have the power to kill them or feed them, they tend to — as one would rationally expect — act toward you accordingly.

For years, those actions have tended toward deference — though lately there’s sometimes been more anger — but both the deference and the anger flow from the same realization: that when you talk to extremely powerful people, you are talking to he (or she) who can shape your fate.

Of course, concentrated power is not a modern or a US invention, and it will always exist to some degree. But, as with many things, it is a question of, first,: to exactly what degree? And second, power to do what? To take my life, if you feel like it?

In today’s world, power is so skewed — in its distribution, its nature, and in its very scale — that people like, say, American presidents can take out villages and barely know or remember it.

I once interviewed former President Ford on the phone and asked him if it was true that in a meeting with the dictator Suharto he had authorized the East Timor invasion.

Although I had told Ford’s staff in advance that I was going to ask him about that meeting, he replied — I think, honestly — that he just could not remember.

He said the meeting had had a long agenda — a fact confirmed by the later-declassified transcript — and Timor was somewhere down the list, so he apologetically said that he couldn’t be sure.

In fact, Ford did give the thumbs-up and, thereby, launched — within a day — what would become the greatest proportional slaughter since the Nazis.

If you’re the ruler of any other country (including China, Russia, England, or France, the arguable candidates for distant — very distant — #2 world killing power), you don’t have to stick Post-It notes on your computer to remember what countries you’ve caused to be invaded, or have provided with “lethal aid” (the actual Washington term for US assistance to the killing capacities of friendly forces).

How could such power possibly be legitimate? It can’t be, by definition.

Even though you may have won a vote, and the voters are sovereign, the voters do not have the right to authorize you to facilitate murder.

People should not be running for president, they should be running to abolish the American presidency — and state — as they are now constituted, that is, as institutions that assume killing rights that no one has the right to give them.

Bold emphasis mine.

As Good As It Gets

Maurice Hayes has been doing up the box room:

IKEA is thus an important part of the regeneration of Belfast and of Northern Ireland, a symbol of hope and of restored morale.

The portrayal of IKEA as a symbol of hope and restored morale strikes me as a symbol of despair and flagging morale. My hope is that people will look back in 50 years time and laugh at the times their parents went apeshit for IKEA.

Oh Calcutta

Dublin’s traffic congestion ranks as among the worst in Europe, with a survey of international cities revealing that congestion was only worse in Calcutta.

You’ll never guess where I was mid-morning yesterday. On the M1, north of the port tunnel, busting for a slash. Operation Freeflow indeed.

Tell you what though, whatever the hellfire and brimstone they might spit over the phone to their TD when their second provisional licence is no longer valid, Irish drivers are oddly accepting of their gridlocked fate. Not one of the thousands of drivers beeped their horn in anger at the situation. Maybe they were all fiddling with their satnav equipment, in case they might ever need to use it.

I was thinking about the proliferation of big ignorant cars on Irish roads. At first glance, one is inclined to think that this is evidence of chronic status-seeking on the part of a substantial whack of the population. Yet this ignores the fact that many people have to live in their cars. Would you deny them the luxury? Have a heart. It’s Christmas.

Next year’s Christmas toy: In-car fart filters.

Engrave Difficulty

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There are losses in translation, but there are also gains. This most practical of baby gifts, which we have not used (we prefer the watchtower and electric fence method now recommended by experts), merely records the images in Spanish, but in English it turns the user into William Hogarth.

Full Of It

Today’s Independent:

Michael Colgan said yesterday that four “stuffers and swallowers” — couriers who ingest drugs or carry them internally — have been caught in Dublin Airport so far this year.

But some couriers have died after packages have ruptured and poisoned their systems with massive doses of narcotics.

I watched Maria Llena Eres De Gracia (Maria Full Of Grace) this weekend. Tell you what, it put me off becoming a drug mule. I literally wouldn’t have the neck on me to swallow those massive pellets.

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The film is told from the point of view of a pregnant Colombian teenager who decides to ditch her rose-stripping job (where you are under constant observation and have to ask permission from the despotic boss to go to the toilet) and head for the city, but ends up becoming a drug mule instead. She makes it to the US, after evading the customary X-ray for suspected drug mules in the US airport due to the urine sample showing that she’s pregnant. She and two other teenage girls get taken to a motel, where they are made to come up with the goods. One of the girls dies, and is cut open in the bathroom by her captors. The other two escape while the captors are dumping the body. They speak no English, and the only person María can get in touch with is the sister of the dead girl.

As the title indicates, there is an ironic undercurrent to this story: in the New Testament, the pregnant teenager María has to go to Bethlehem on a little mule, only to find there is no room at the inn. The pregnant teenager María in this story goes to New York as a little mule.

Recommended.


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