Archive for August, 2009

I Want To Wake Up

Just back after a week in New York. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me. No siree. But then again, I appear to be living in Ireland for free, so I can’t complain too much. I don’t have much to say about the place that hasn’t already been said many times before, but some superficial remarks shall follow nonetheless. I managed to go a week without hearing the word ‘fuck’ spoken in the street, which ended almost as soon as I stepped onto Irish asphalt again. I saw a couple of rats. One was in Macy’s main store. Another one was on the platform at Madison Square Garden. I think they were visiting McDonalds and waiting on a subway train respectively. I was surprised but not particularly bothered at the lack of an animated countenance on people working in shops and restaurants. A lot of people working there had the face of someone who was being treated like crap. I saw queues of people waiting to get into Abercrombie and Fitch on Fifth Avenue who would not have looked out of place on a fascist propaganda video: muscular, what Veblen refers to as ‘dolicho-blond’ families. I had never paid any attention to this brand before. It is marketed as a ‘the highest quality, casual, All-American lifestyle clothing for aspirational men and women’. I found out today they just lost a case for wrongful dismissal against a worker in London whom they hid in a stockroom because she had a prosthetic arm. That figures. Then there were the many families who proceeded down the streets wearing an I Love NY uniform. I was not loving this. The I Love New York logo, as David Harvey points out in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, was an invention of the city’s elite institutions in order to sell the image of a city as a cultural centre and tourist destination, subsequent to what Harvey describes as a ‘coup by the financial institutions against the democraticaly elected government of New York City’. This coup had consisted, among other things, of wage freezes, cutbacks in education, public health, and transport services, as well as user fees, including the introduction of university tuition fees. Nor was I loving the general picture of a city owned by rich white people being served by people of color, though one should not be especially scandalised simply because these relations are visible. I have seen people pick through rubbish bins before, but I had never seen anyone reach into a bin and start eating a discarded meal. Perhaps destitute Europeans have more compunction about being seen eating rubbish. The museums were packed with people intent on getting photos of themselves beside famous artworks. This happens in Europe too, of course, but this does not make it any easier to figure out someone who plans to say to their friends and relatives that ‘this is me standing beside Warhol’s Mao’. A strange sensation standing outside the New York Stock Exchange. The massive stars and stripes draped out the front is quite a statement: America=Capitalism. But it felt like there was nothing there. If Wall Street is considered a centre of global power, the belly of the beast, it is a oddly empty centre. Boots Riley says the new Street Sweeper Social club album is ‘something for the working class to listen to on their iPods while storming Wall Street’. But suppose they did. At the moment, they couldn’t, because it would be cordoned off in advance. But suppose they could. What would happen? Traders would work from home for the duration. The taped recording on the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty talked about how the statue was a symbol of liberty, opportunity and security, but ‘security’ sounded like a recent urgent insertion.

Lions And Oxen

The Irish Times – Letters

Madam, – Jimmy Kelly of Unite argues that “these are ordinary people standing up for their rights” (Breaking News, August 4th). What rights exactly, he does not clarify. They have a right to statutory redundancy, nothing more. I will certainly be cheering if Thomas Cook withdraw their already significant severance offerings and give these individuals no more than Irish redundancy law affords. I certainly hope and trust that none of these people will be offered free legal aid after their blatant contempt for the rule of law. One company has stood up and fended off the bullying tactics of Irish trade unionism – hopefully other companies will follow. – Yours, etc,


Dun Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Firms of the world should unite, having nothing to lose but human interference in the generation of profit. What genius thought it was a good idea to not obey the law? Human history shows us that the law is there to be deified. Back in the day you had kings and tyrants who enacted laws for their own ends. But now we have liberal democracy, which means everyone is equal before the law. So the wage-labourer who needs to sell his labour capacity in order to live and his equal the transnational corporation will often freely enter into contracts to their mutual benefit, and that in itself is one excellent reason why we should elevate the law to the status of a god, and call forth the law’s righteous anger, like a vengeful dove from above, upon all who should challenge its rule.

When I say that the law should have the status of a god, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should wear ceremonial robes or anything like that in order to symbolise its sacred authority. Besides being a mental suggestion, we certainly don’t want the likes of Richard Dawkins scoffing at us. OK, so laws are made by men, and, latterly and to a lesser extent, some women, and they may have a fair few wealthy people whispering nicely compelling things in their ears when they do. But that doesn’t mean that the law doesn’t rule. The very fact that it is the law means that it does rule. And you better believe it buster. Hurrah for private property and the law!

Teachable Moments In Outsourcing

Case study 1: Selecting the appropriate service provider.

Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder

The two declarations are each five pages long and contain a series of devastating allegations concerning Erik Prince and his network of companies, which now operate under the banner of Xe Services LLC. Among those leveled by Doe #2 is that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”:

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince’s executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard.” Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as “ragheads” or “hajiis.”

Among the additional allegations made by Doe #1 is that “Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq.” He states that he personally witnessed weapons being “pulled out” from dog food bags. Doe #2 alleges that “Prince and his employees arranged for the weapons to be polywrapped and smuggled into Iraq on Mr. Prince’s private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines,” adding that Prince “generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade.”

Lustful slips

My Spanish is pretty good, but when I’m tired I sometimes lapse into elementary mistakes. For instance last night the youngster was spitting out his green beans, to the horror of his grandmother, and I said ‘es que no le gustan los judíos’, which means ‘he doesn’t like Jews’. The lapse here was confusing the gender of the noun. The Spanish for green bean is judía, which, of course, is the feminine equivalent of judío, and could therefore be used as an adjective to describe a woman who is a Jew. But had I said ‘es que no le gustan las judías’ no-one would have interpreted this as meaning ‘he doesn’t like Jewish women’, since the context -him spitting out green beans would have rendered the meaning abundantly clear.

About 10 seconds later the conversation turned to NAMA. I started to talk about how the government had bought a massive property portfolio, and, speculating as to the content of that portfolio, suggested that it may have bought ‘unas cuantas mansiones lujuriosas’, which I meant to mean ‘a fair few luxurious mansions’. Problem is, lujurioso in Spanish is a false friend of luxurious in English, i.e. it looks as though it might mean the same thing, but it doesn’t. Lujuria in Spanish means lust, not luxury (lujo). So I ought to have said ‘mansiones lujosas’, when I said ‘lustful mansions’, and whilst the latter may very well be true, it was not quite what I was concerned with.

Bring Out Your Inner Asshole

Most of the time when afflicted by the inclination to write about some TV advertisement or other I resist, because I’m conscious of the fact that any sort of publicity for an advertised product is good publicity. But I’m going to make an exception in this case for what I think is an exceptional advert.

Friday night I was slumped in front of the TV, making a poor fist of digesting a pizza and watching the horrific crypto-Christian conservative film Nine Months, a celebration of biological determinism featuring an extravagantly foppish Hugh Grant. Watching it, I gained a deeper understanding of the potential motives for Grant’s kerb-crawling during the shooting of the film. During a break an ad for IKEA was shown.

If you haven’t seen it, the storyboard is this: palely-lit shots of a First Holy Communion procession in a rural churchyard, to the music of Make Your Own Kind Of Music by The Mamas and The Papas (or was it just Mama Cass). Both priest’s garments and girls’ communion dresses are unusually dull. As procession passes, expression on faces of proud parents turns to dismay, and girl at end of procession appears in radiant dress with bright red and black blotches, not unlike a dalmatian riddled with bullets. Cut to proud, business casual parents smiling proudly as the chorus ‘make your own kind of music/sing your own special song’ swells, and IKEA logo with caption “Bring out your inner rebel” appears.

I am a poor judge of public sentiment, since I thought that it was the sort of thing, given the spirit of the times, that would have hordes descending on IKEA to burn it to the ground, but on Bank Holiday Monday the store had to turn away aspirant shoppers. I’ve mentioned before the frequent resort to images of rebellion and insurrection to incite bouts of consumption (the activity, not the unfortunate medical condition), but this example is still worthy of consideration, because of its brazen falsity.

There were no images of furniture. But the implied message was fairly clear: the history of furniture in Ireland hitherto is the history of church domination and repression. If you want to cast off that history, buy yourself a bright new sofa. The point of most advertising of this nature, which is ultimately intended to stimulate consumer appetites, is to make people feel like shit, so that only by going out and buying whatever it is that is being sold can the appetite be sated and the buyer be restored to spiritual equilibrium.

‘Rebellion’ here is shown to have nothing to do with rejection of the prevailing order: it means resorting to a private choice available within the prevailing order. If a church-dominated society is dull and oppressive, then the remedy to it is canny consumer choice; there is nothing wrong with the basic co-ordinates of the society that a splash of colour cannot remedy. IKEA is therefore following down a trail blazed by Sunday Independent columnists.

The ad storyline reminded me of -and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in part inspired by- the Hollywood movie Little Miss Sunshine, in which a little girl performs a salacious-yet-clodhopping dance routine to a Rick James track at a beauty contest in which all the rest of the contestants give accomplished performances in line with their parents’ desires. Her performance bombs: nearly everyone, except her own family -who are well aware of the absurdity of the event-, finds the routine horrifying. But the story in Little Miss Sunshine is radically different to the IKEA ad. Whereas the family and the young girl in the film are misfits well aware of the absurdity and the stupidity of the entire event, the urbane family in the IKEA ad are fully committed to the spectacle of the First Communion procession: they just want to spruce it up a bit with their own private success story. Utterly revolting.

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August 2009
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