Laws of men

August 31, 2003 at 10:10 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

The case of Amina Lawal drags on, again, with the case now adjourned until September 25. Perhaps her lawyers will manage to argue a loophole that allows the men of the Shariah court to “save face” and acquit her. Instead of saving their faces, they should be rubbing the medieval scales from their eyes to see the Enlightenment. But perhaps it’s too comfortable, from where they sit.

Wanted: allies in love

August 31, 2003 at 5:17 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Thank god for the Raging Grannies, thank god for the old crones who won’t shut the hell up. There’s Doris “Granny D.” Haddock, who spoke in Hood River, Oregon, on August 16, 2003, A Small Group of Dedicated People Might Actually Do Something, to name the two politics possible in today’s world: the politics of fear and the politics of love. Read the whole article for a succinct history lesson. This excerpt is the closing plea:

The Libertarians are our new and brave allies in the defending of the Bill of Rights from Bush’s anti-American attacks through his henchmen Ashcroft and Ridge. But our friends the Libertarians would have us do away with most all of our government. Anyone who has paid too many taxes or dealt with too many rude and overly powerful bureaucrats understands the Libertarian’s feelings, but I ask at least the intellectually honest Libertarians – and there are many of them – to wisely see that government, which is indeed a system of restraint – must be matched in strength and scale to the corporate monstrosities that now have the ability and the willingness to destroy us – to blow up the entire Appalachian Range for the profits of coal, for example, as is now happening – or to steal for profit the water supply of whole regions, or to enslave whole regions at low wages rather than allow fair trade. Or to move every one of our good jobs overseas. These inhuman and inhumane organizations are stealing our lives and all nature around us.

Only government is large enough and powerful enough to reign in the corporations whose cold heartedness trades lives for profits all over the world. Republican Teddy Roosevelt began the buildup of big government solely to protect us from overlarge corporations so that they might not overwhelm us human beings. In doing so, he created a split in the Republican Party, and big business interests won. Perhaps the rational solution is to scale them both back – corporations and government – and let individual enterprise and individual freedom, and its many middle class treasures and blessings, blossom in the old battlefield. But there is no leadership for that, and governments are being stripped of all regulatory powers by the false religion of a new deity, the unfettered, liberated market. So, no longer protected by governments, we must fight the battle that is before us: human beings versus monstrous corporations and their bodysnatched government puppets. It is a battle of human scale versus monstrous scale, love versus fear.

Visit her website Granny D. for more. Here in British Columbia, a neoliberal (colonialist) heaven courtesy of Gordon Campbell and gang, we also have warrior crones young and old, fighting for what’s right: Betty Krawczyk and the Women in the Woods. They give the ad slogan “no fear” its true meaning back.

Hurry up, Johnny

August 31, 2003 at 4:42 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

As a homeschooling parent and someone opposed to the factory school, this “only in the well-off industrialized world” bit of news totally cracks me up:

Officials are determined to crack down on parents who drive their children to school in journeys that sometimes involve less than a mile. The habit is blamed for a fifth of all traffic in peak hours, as well as pollution and child obesity.

Repeat after me: you are a slave to your car, to your technology, to your institutions, to your routine. Success is all that matters. Fear is what determines your life, this is double-plus good:

But the plans are likely to be opposed by parents who believe it is not safe for children to walk or cycle to school, or do not feel public transport is good enough.

Why can’t the parents accompany their child to school on foot or bicycle, if they truly believe it’s not safe for the child to go alone? No time? Too lazy? Odd messages we adults are giving children.

Johnny, komm, wir fressen eine Leiche…., Johnny, come, we’ll feast on a cadaver, let me seal you up in my car, create a bubble, you’ll never have to touch a thing, Johnny, come, I’ll make sure only pre-processed stuff gets through the barrier, Johnny, come, you don’t need those legs, Johnny, come, a car and a screen, a screen and a vacuum tube, Johnny, come, I’ll program the remote, Johnny, come, we can tape it for later, it’s as good as the real thing, safer, too Johnny, come….

Action and-or talk-talk

August 31, 2003 at 10:08 am | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

Both The River and Wood’s Lot point to a couple of interesting Noam Chomsky links. One is on the Interactivist Info Exchange, in which, among other things, Chomsky addresses the following question: “When you talk about the role of intellectuals you say that the first duty is to concentrate on your own country. Could you explain this assertion?” The other is an article by Arundhati Roy in The Hindu, The loneliness of Noam Chomsky, which shines a light on what it means to cultivate awareness of how public opinion in “free market” democracies is manufactured just like any other mass market product. In the Interactivist article, Chomsky reiterates the argument that jargon-y, complex speech, which makes the ideas presented opaque and difficult for the non-specialized reader, is typical of power-critiquing theory produced by theorists who remain ensconced in power structures and institutions. Ok, let me simplify that sentence: if you have something critical to say, do so in a language that non-specialists can understand. If you do it a language that only post-graduate specialists within the ivory tower “get,” you’ve cut yourself off from the base — the people — that might put your critique into action, and instead kept it at the level of theory-only, and you have thereby restricted your critique to an ivory tower ghetto. Ok? Foucault might be very complicated and have some interesting things to say, but if you have to study deconstructionist theory at the graduate level for 3 years before you get it, what exactly is being reinforced here? If you answered “the power of the institution which disseminates that specialised knowledge,” you move to the head of the deconstructed class. “But, but, but….,” you stammer, “But I want to be in the embrace of power so that I may feel powerful myself, because if I leave the institution, I am bereft of power…. I will be afraid….” Exactly. This is another one of Chomsky’s points: too many people are afraid, and the feeling of fear — a subjective one — contributes to the objective growth of fascism in democracies where liberalized capital calls the tune. Here, listen: “People in the United States work really hard, much harder than any other advanced industrial society, and this causes a lot of stress. People are always concerned about their work and they live in fear. Although there is a lot of crime in the United States, it is approximately the same as comparable societies, but fear of crime is far higher. In many ways, this is the most frightened nation in the world!” Part of the fear (fear of losing your job, fear of being excluded, fear of poverty, fear of crime, fear of others) comes from economic insecurity, and from the disconnect we feel in the face of lost democracy. We all know, intuitively and concretely, that what Chomsky and others have called the virtual senate, that is, international organizations and treaties like the IMF, trade agreements, world banks, copyright laws, mass media, and so forth, that these virtual entities, unelected and not representative of any populace, permeate our lives as surely and perhaps even more exactingly than the laws made by the people we elected to serve us. A long time ago, the critique coursing through the institutions was “who may speak?” — to pose the question was an act of criticism that could actually lead to consequences. Women weren’t allowed to speak, children weren’t allowed to speak, minorities weren’t allowed to speak: simply pointing out that this was a social construct, vs. a “natural” state of affairs, was to poke at power structures. But while speech has by and large been set free, action is increasingly restricted. Sure, let those others talk, but let’s hope the hell they don’t get to act — we’re afraid they’ll make a mess of it. Hence, keep the jargon; remember, the masses are revolting. I guess I’m pissed off because I read the Arundhati Roy article and I’m reminded of Adorno, who was an ivory tower jargon specialist par excellence, but who — along with Horkheimer & the rest of the Frankfurt School — had already nailed so much of this in the late 1930s and 40s when European fascism learned to throw its weight around. How can it be, I wonder, that we’re at such a congruent turning point again? Here’s Roy: “Today, thanks to Noam Chomsky and his fellow media analysts, it is almost axiomatic for thousands, possibly millions, of us that public opinion in ‘free market’ democracies is manufactured just like any other mass market product — soap, switches, or sliced bread. We know that while, legally and constitutionally, speech may be free, the space in which that freedom can be exercised has been snatched from us and auctioned to the highest bidders. Neoliberal capitalism isn’t just about the accumulation of capital (for some). It’s also about the accumulation of power (for some), the accumulation of freedom (for some). Conversely, for the rest of the world, the people who are excluded from neoliberalism’s governing body, it’s about the erosion of capital, the erosion of power, the erosion of freedom. In the ‘free’ market, free speech has become a commodity like everything else — justice, human rights, drinking water, clean air. It’s available only to those who can afford it. And naturally, those who can afford it use free speech to manufacture the kind of product, confect the kind of public opinion, that best suits their purpose. (News they can use.)” Adorno and Horkheimer said pretty much the same thing 60 years ago. And then Adorno busily retreated into academia’s ivory tower. He never did like the rabble who might implement his critique, and the rowdy students of ’68 pretty much killed him (they, and all the female students who exposed him by exposing themselves at the infamous final lecture). Sometimes I think fascism has gotten much worse than it was. After all, we have technologies and pharmaceuticals today that allow us to alter our inner structure as radically as the outer. If my job, for example, is unreasonably stressful, if I’m killing myself trying to live up to the American dream of having it all (you know, career and kids, beautiful home, 24-hour shopping, work-out time, private time, friends time, quality time, fantastic sex, true love, success, success, success in measurable amounts, puh-lease because you sure don’t want to be called a loser, which is the worst thing of all, because winning is even more important than telling the truth), and it’s depressing me because my body is trying to stop me, well, hey, if that happens, I can, instead of retreating and reassessing, or becoming a functional drunk, or beating my kids (options previously available to the elites and the masses alike), I can take medication so I can keep going. Not because I’m mentally ill, but to quell the protest in my bones. That takes fascism to a whole new level, namely the level of the dream.

Emma is

August 28, 2003 at 9:18 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Emma is

Emma finally posted something again on her blog. It’s hilarious, and I’m not just saying that because she’s many sided and ungirlishly terrific and completely out of the box.

Do leopards change their spots? No? Thanks for all the fish….

August 27, 2003 at 8:52 pm | In yulelogStories | 8 Comments

If you’re reading this and don’t know me, you might not know that I am a homeschooling parent. Shudder. Lunatic fringe. We — spouse & I — pulled our kids out of a “one-room school house” school in Salem, Massachusetts in June 2000 when he was 9 and she was 6. Then, last year was of course a chaotic business, what with moving to BC and settling into an oldish house that needed lots of renovation. …And I have to say that it was really really great to have that excuse: sorry, can’t put nose to grindstone, have the electrician in; sorry, haven’t cracked that material yet — the painters were in; sorry, the general contractor turned out to be a sorry crook who fired all the good crew and hired idiots, and we just can’t get to that math module at this time: sorry, sorry, sorry. Yet somehow we got a lot of work done, even though I wasn’t standing there like Dominatrix Docent, making them assume the position.

But this year is supposed to be “better” (more organized) which of course worries me. Aside from physical improvements, I’m pretty sure that there is no “better.” For example, right now she is voting against watching A Fish Called Wanda for the umpteenth time by singing/ reciting the entire repertoire of this Smiths album. She wants to see Black Adder instead. As you can see, my parenting style is immensely serious and it has coloured the offspring. Actually, it is of course perpetually insane around here and there is no better. Repeat.

It’s almost September, and it’s time to think about yet another school year, even if you wouldn’t be caught dead in an actual school.

One of the benefits of now living in Victoria, however, is access to South Island Distance Education School, S.I.D.E.S., one of 9 public distance ed. schools in BC, and probably the best of the lot. We began taking courses with S.I.D.E.S. last October, albeit part-time (all that renovation, remember?), which was fine since we’re slightly anarchistic types who don’t want to do “school at home.”

There are different homeschooling approaches — unschoolers, school-at-homers, the religious ones, the ideological ones, etc. We’ve been typically unschoolish, with occasional forays into fixed curricula. S.I.D.E.S. lets us keep some of the flexibility of unschooling, even as we pursue B.C. Ministry of Education curricula identical to the ones taught in the regular schools. With one major exception: the kids get to take courses appropriate to their level, regardless of chronological or “grade” age. She can take Math 7, Socials 8, and English 9 or 10; he can take Math 8, Socials 11, English 9; they both can take Science 8 and German 10. It doesn’t matter what age they are. But make no mistake about it; in just one week I’ll be back in harness as surely as if I were teaching courses somewhere. It will change my blogging, when I shift attention next week to their stuff. This might become the homeschooler’s blog.

But then again, it might not.

After all, there are always funny lines like “I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs than yours” (Wanda Gershowitz of the Fish movie, see above). “Aristotle was not Belgian”: ibid. Thanks Wanda, that’s an education.

All’s well that …runs retrograde? Something about Mars

August 25, 2003 at 11:51 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

I haven’t gone out to spy on Mars yet, but on the 27th I’m hoping for clear skies and a good view. In the meantime, I remembered a Shakespeare quote I used for a calligraphy project when I was 15 or 16 (i.e., about the last time that Mars was this close to Earth). I recall it perfectly: Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie which we ascribe to heaven: The fated sky gives us free scope; only doth backward pull our slow designs when we ourselves are dull.

The quote came from a grab-bag of quotation fragments, but other than “- Shakespeare,” it was unattributed. Thanks to google & the internet, I now know that it’s from All’s Well That Ends Well. The speaker is Helena, “a Gentlewoman protected by the Countess of Rousillon, mother of Bertram”; her musings are in reaction to Parolles, “a follower of Bertram, the Count of Rousillon.” The two of them have been speaking of the virtues, uses, and redundancy of virginity. He advises her, and she compliments him afterward for being born under such a charitable star. But he’s a soldier, hence his ruling planet is Mars, of course. Before he can savour his manly pride, however, she reminds him that Mars appears to be running retrograde:


“Forget if it’s working or not, the model is good.”

August 24, 2003 at 4:40 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Or: how to get in deeper. Interesting article in today’s Toronto Star, Why U.N. is a target; Tuesday’s bombing of civilian aid workers in Baghdad signals a dramatic escalation, by Lynda Hurst. Lots of detail and background. She quotes Maurice Strong, a Canadian businessman who has in the past acted as a special for the U.N. Secretary-General: “Iraq was not a terrorist threat before the war, Strong pointedly notes, ‘but the U.S. has now made it a centre of terrorism. There’s the paradox.’ Advisors in Washington, meanwhile, recommend committing more troops, according to “the model” of previous campaigns, viz. Afghanistan. Makes you wonder.

De-pattern language

August 22, 2003 at 10:01 pm | In yulelogStories | 11 Comments

See this AlterNet article by Kim Eisele, Poverty-Chic: Diesel’s New Line, on fashion and advertising strategies — two of your friendly host’s favourite betes-noir. Writing from Tucson, Arizona and within spitting distance of Mexico, Eisele asks: As the number of undocumented, would-be migrant workers found dead in the deserts of the Southwest since last October climbs into the hundreds, why does a multi-million dollar European clothing company want me to dress like a Spanish-speaking laborer?
Diesel’s new “hook” to catch consumer interest consists of calling a recent fashion line Trabajadores, Spanish for “workers.” It seems that while Diesel makes its jeans in Italy, it subsidizes that production by having everything else manufactured in offshore production zones. From the UHC Collective site in the UK (pointed to by Eisele), which mounted an anti-Diesel protest campaign, I found this 1998 Adbusters Magazine article by Bruce Grierson, Shock’s Next Wave, which addresses so much of what consists of advertising’s keenest bag of tricks:

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, dozens of psychiatric patients at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, fell under the care of Dr. Ewen Cameron, a man with some radical ideas about how the human mind is wired, and how it might be therapeutically rewired by a skilled psychiatrist such as himself. Cameron believed the roots of mental illness lay in faulty thought patterns patients developed over time. He reckoned patients could be “depatterned” through the ceaseless repetition of a key word or phrase — a technique he called “psychic driving.” Confining the patients to “sleep rooms” in the Institute, Cameron “implanted” a carefully chosen “driving message” (usually a negative message, followed much later by an affirming message) into their heads via speakers or earphones. Each message — for example, “You have no confidence in yourself. You are weak and inadequate” — was broadcast continuously for 15 hours a day, seven days a week, for up to two months.
Not surprisingly, “psychic driving” quickly became a torturous ordeal for the subjects. Indeed, Cameron’s depatterning work suggested the mind-control experiments being carried out in North Korea, where Communist soldiers were allegedly turning captured POWs into robotically programmed acolytes. (The CIA, eager to know more about brainwashing, and to develop countervailing techniques of its own, funded Cameron’s work for three years under a project code-named MKULTRA). To “break down their resistance” to the incoming messages, Cameron tranquilized his subjects with electroshocks, LSD, hypnosis, or sleeping pills that kept them in unconscious suspension for up to 22 hours a day as the driving messages played on.

While brain-washing experiments have stopped, driving messages still exist and have become more sophisticated: we call them ads: “You have no confidence in yourself. You are weak and inadequate. Try these jeans.” Today, however, traditional advertising agencies are left behind in the dust as newer advertising strategies go ever further:

Traditional agencies like Leo Burnett and J. Walter Thompson are hemorrhaging business to smaller, balls-out agencies like Fallon McElligott and Wieden & Kennedy, who understand that you can’t play chess with an attention-deficit-disordered kid: he’ll walk away from the board. It’s got to be strip chess now, or chess for money. Or you’ve got to pelt the kid with the pieces.
All of which explains the rise, in recent years, of so-called “shock” advertising. For ads to work, the industry is conceding, they have to be rare and juicy and in your face. They have to offer back-of-the-cabinet images few of us have ever seen — like a black horse humping a white one, or a supermodel taking a dump, or a woman aiming a jet of breast milk into another woman’s cup of coffee.

While art has relied on shocking the bourgeoisie since the early 19th century to the point that every sophisticated bourgeois worth his salt can no longer be shocked, advertising still needs The Shock, the value of shock, to sell products. Advertisers need to sniff out, as Grierson puts it, “the ripest cultural taboo.” The problem is that while Conservatives can still be shocked, the rest of us can’t:

The rest of us, not wanting to be mistaken for anyone liable to revoke arts grants or suppress free expression, adopt an open position of blanket permissiveness. Two horses fucking shocks you? Hey, you don’t get out much, do you, friend? I’ll bet you found A Clockwork Orange troubling, too.
And so we’ve learned not to be fazed by anything. Even as advertisers mine the most sacred parts of ourselves for distribution and resale, we sit passively by, pretending not to care and ultimately not caring. Baby, we are teflon-coated, like those skillets from France. The media can’t touch us because we are cynics.
But could it be that we are cynics because the media has already touched us? Touched us
The almost banal truth is, it’s very hard to shock us now. So advertisers are giving up trying to shock in the conventional way, and are working on a kind of silent electromagnetic pulse aimed to inflict grave, undefinable damage on any circuitry it hits.
I’m going to argue that there are now three levels of shock in advertising: visceral shock, intellectual shock and, for lack of a better term, “soul” shock.

Since we’re all cynics now — overstimulated ones, to boot — advertisers find themselves in a strange fix, like 70s punk stars imploding in their own popularity. Hence, new strategies have to be worked out, resulting in what Grierson calls “faux-naif ads” that apparently declare their duplicity and make knowing fun of it. But the result leads us back to Montreal and those early brain-washing experiments:

Why do faux-naif ads work? One reason is that the advertiser is trafficking in paradox. The consumer gets two conflicting messages. One is, Since advertising itself is bogus, you should be deeply suspicious of the worth of any product you see advertised these days. The other is, We’ve been so honest with you about everything; would we lie to you about the worth of this product?
In effect: Don’t trust us. Trust us.
Something very strange happens when people receive a mixed message. They are temporarily paralyzed.(…)
Intellectually shocking ads, then, are not high-voltage electrodes applied at the scalp and the ankle, but a dilute concentration of nerve gas sent through the air ducts. Over time they can break down your confidence in your opinions, judgments, values. It becomes very confusing to consumers when antagonists (advertisers and subvertisers) start using the same language. When identical words are used to, as situationist Guy Debord might have put it, create the spectacle and to attack it, the consumer does not know whom to trust, if anyone.
For advertisers, this is a delicate game. It’s as if, by parodying themselves, stealing the subvertisers’ thunder, they are challenging subvertisers to make a counter-move–to jam the negative with a positive.

Grierson closes with a discussion of what he calls “soul shock,” which goes deeper and becomes unsettling. Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield called them “advertrocities” and Grierson includes examples such as Benetton’s dying AIDS patients and dead Bosnian soldiers, and Diesel: Recently the Italian jeansmaker Diesel launched an extremely disturbing print campaign. The company’s cryptic ads-within-ads, set in North Korea, feature images of, for example, skinny models on the side of a bus packed with (presumably) starving, suffering locals. “There’s no limit to how thin you can get,” says the ad on the bus.
Take a look at Diesel’s savvy ads and decide for yourself if Grierson’s conclusion is over the top or on the mark:

More than we care to admit, maybe we have already been depatterned, like Ewen Cameron’s psychiatric patients. Maybe we are the Manchurian Candidates of the consumer village, wandering through malls with our heads full of messages driving our behavior (“You have no confidence in yourself. You are weak and inadequate.”), messages we cannot repeat back even once.

These particular ads aren’t “advertrocities,” but ask yourself how they mess with your cynicism, and how they contribute to what decades ago Peter Sloterdijk called enlightened false consciousness, (modern cynicism) signalling with that phrase our final exit from the ideals premissed on the late 18th century.

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