Wednesday, December 23, 2009

European values 2009

A number is lodged in my head and won't drift away. During the night between last Saturday and Sunday, 15 homeless people froze to death in Warsaw. I truly wish the price of freedom weren't that high...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The end of repugnance?

A striking NYT article ("Building a Baby, with Few Ground Rules," 13 Dec.) gives sense of the legal and ethical conundrums surrounding "gestational surrogacy" in the US. The first couple of paragraphs, describing how a woman was able to order a set of twins using information she obtained over the internet, really made me cringe. This, I hope, is the normal human reaction behind the exclusion of certain transactions from the market economy - what economists call "repugnant markets." A court did rule in one case involving surrogacy that "there are, in a civilized society, some things that money cannot buy." Which begs the question: for how much longer?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Brave new philosopher's persona

An interview with Martha Nussbaum in the New York Times carries a really striking photo of her - clad in mini skirt and stiletto shoes. This left me wondering - why would someone at her age and with her reputation try to look youthful and sexy?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My favorite conservative

Theodore Dalrymple (“The Architect as Totalitarian,” City Journal, Autumn 2009) uses some very strong language (ugly, appalling, prone to “ahumanity” and “mad egotism”) to covey his disgust of Le Corbusier’s totalitarian mindset. Intriguingly, he suggests that the much hyped architect might have suffered from Asperger’s syndrome: perhaps “he knew that people talked, walked, slept, and ate, but had no idea that anything went on in their heads, or what it might be, and consequently treated them as if they were mere things.” He was also obsessed with reinforced concrete and believed that “the masonry wall no longer has a right to exist.” There has been much debate around this issue recently, with many commentators arguing that the special gifts many autistic individuals have – and even their generally peculiar attitudes – need to be appreciated, not denigrated in the popular mind. I hope high-functioning mildly autistic people can get all the care and sympathy available from their families and strangers; yet I do find it problematic that ideas developed by solipsistic nerds (like “Nash’s equilibrium” and the inhumanely crude assumptions behind much of game theory) have come to dominate the social sciences, and to be used as “scientific” justification for tragically misdirected economic and social policies.

Charlie Brooker is a genius

If anyone doubts the awesome creative power of the Guardian columnist, here are two excerpts from recent articles:

"'Yep, it's that time of year again – and the Christmas adverts are already on the telly," remarks a man at the start of this year's B&Q Christmas advert, proving that the grand tradition of moaning about premature Yuletide ads has itself been absorbed by the Matrix and turned into a stick to beat us with. Let's hope this kind of jokey fourth-wall-breaking doesn't become a trend, or before long we'll all be moaning about the number of early Christmas ads that moan about the number of early Christmas ads, and then our moans about their moans will in turn form the basis of the next wave of ads, and so on and so on ad nauseam, until they're producing intricately constructed navel-gazing meta-commercials that are actually more self-aware than we are: fully sentient beings with thoughts and feelings of their own. And they'll rise up and strangle us in our beds. While humming Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie." ("Christmas is the season of awful adverts," Nov. 16)

"Last week Mariah Carey turned on the Christmas lights at the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush, west London. That might sound like a trivial event of interest only to cretins, but remember: hundreds of thousands of brave men and women died in combat so the current generation could enjoy such freedoms. The assembled masses weren't simply taking mobile phone snapshots of a vastly overrated singer emptily promoting a commercially- appropriated religious festival celebrating the birth of a man who would have doubtless vomited up his own ribcage in disgust at the mere sight of the hollow, anaesthetising capitalist moonbase that is the Westfield Centre. No. They were honouring the fallen. Sort of. Vaguely. OK: not at all." ("The life of Mariah Carey sounds terribly demanding" Nov. 23)

"The Sicario: A Juárez Hit Man Speaks," by Charles Bowden

A friend passed on this article (from Harper's, May 2009) in which a contract killer describes the unspeakable cruelty he and fellow assassins practiced on an unfathomable scale in democratic Mexico. He repeatedly insists he had intact feelings, and seems very proud of his professionalism. And he started his career as a teenager while working for the Mexican police and after receiving US training. There has been some debate on whether Mexico is or is becoming yet another "failed state." I am wondering if this technical jargon can really capture the enormity of the tragedy Bowden' inteview conveys with such hair-raising, visceral sharpness. Woe to the society ruled, albeit informally, by sociopaths and their proud henchmen.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Toys for grown-up boys

The NYT carries a glowing review of the updated X6 M, the BMW űber-crossover - laced with the obligatory post-modernist ironic remarks ("Challenging the Laws of Physics," 19 Nov. 2009). The author chides all those uptight skeptics who still hold to the old-fashioned notion that a 2.5 ton gas-guzzler should be, well, "practical." His retort: "Fun is the X6 M’s raison d’être." What can beat that, really?

Manipulation everywhere?

"The budget airline easyJet has been forced to withdraw almost 300,000 copies of its in-flight magazine because of protests over its use of Holocaust memorial sites [in Berlin] as a backdrop for a fashion feature." (Guardian, Nov. 24)

I am wondering if this was a really dumb marketing move, or calculated courting of publicity by some clever account planners.

I do wish more people (and students) were aware of the inherently problematic ethical nature of marketing and advertising.