27 January 2007

new logo

You may have noticed that I'm testing out a new logo - hopefully the first step in a slow process of redesigning the whole site. Any thoughts?
I'm also hoping to integrate more RSS feeds, Del.icio.us links, tag clouds, etc. in an interesting way - I'm finding that the linking of links has been the most productive means of finding information these days. If anyone has some websites that are worth looking at for this kind of thing- let me know.


26 January 2007

russian airports, cured meat, and postmodernism

I'm a bit behind on the posting (as usual) - but here's a quick note on the Economist fantastic year-end issue that by now is already a month old. The fabulously British newspaper uses this annual issue as an excuse to write about odd and offbeat topics, while at the same time using these unlikely news items as critiques of or commentaries on the world at large. And it's all infused, of course, with that characteristic Economist wit that we know and love. It's always something to look forward to, and this year's holiday dispatch is certainly no disappointment. A few favorites (if the links require subscription - I apologize):

"Russian airports: Kama Sutra and feral cats." A fascinating tour of the airports of the former Soviet Union, this article reads like some sort of perverse travelogue. It's brilliant. The story begins with Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and goes on to explore the nation's other major airports, all of which seem to be characterized primarily by a permanent state of chaos. The insanity, however, nonetheless inspires within the writer a small measure of awe and - dare i say - admiration; the Russian airport becomes a metaphor for the Russian nation itself: a chaotic state of (heretofore) untapped potential. Some choice moments:

[image: Wikipedia]

On Sheremetyevo:

Sheremetyevo is war. The international terminal was built for the 1980 Olympics, to showcase the Soviet Union's modernity; now it recalls the old regime's everyday callousness (the anarchic domestic terminal is even worse). On a bad day, the queue at passport control stretches almost to the runway.

The Sheremetyevo virgin soon meets the various species of Moscow queue-jumper: the brazen hoodlum; the incremental babushka; the queue-surfing clans who relocate in groups when one of their number reaches the front. The immigration officer—usually sporting peroxide blond hair, six-inch heels and an abbreviated skirt—offers an early insight into Russian notions of customer service. Reflecting the country's neo-imperialist confidence, the immigration form was for most of this year available only in Russian (“distributed free”, it says, in case anyone is tempted to pay).

On Mineralnye Vody (in the north Caucasus):

Mineralnye Vody airport is a lower circle of hell.... It is weirdly cold inside. Feral cats have been sighted. The floor has not been cleaned since perestroika; the toilets are hauntingly squalid. On the wall there are arrival and departure boards that no longer work, and a big, proud map of the Soviet Union.
On Irkutsk (in eastern Siberia):

Planes descend into the city's airport over identikit Soviet apartment blocks and rickety Siberian dachas. The current arrivals terminal is a hut on the apron of the tarmac. Passengers wait in the street until the baggage-handlers feel inclined to pass their bags through a hole in the hut's wall. The bags then circulate on a terrifying metal device apparently borrowed from a medieval torture chamber. The nearby departure terminal is chaos, though by ascending an obscure staircase passengers can find an interesting photographic display on “minerals of eastern Siberia”.
On a side note: some quick Google Image searching found a photo of the (in)famous Domestic terminal at Sheremetyevo -- from the article, it sounds like a nightmare on the inside, but it sure looks pretty cool.

[image: link]

"Cured meat: Feet in the trough." A survey of the long tradition of smoking and curing pork that begins with Cato the Elder and ends with the new start-up of Paul Bertolli, formerly of the famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Vegetarians should refrain from this one.

"Shopping and philosophy: Postmodernism is the new black." This article is a surprisingly accessible and lucid account of how the "postmodern" critiques of consumer capitalism espoused by writers like Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida have been assimilated into and coopted by the very Establishment they sought to undermine. I'm continually fascinated by how so-called "oppositional" strategies and techniques are redeployed by those in control to undermine that opposition (and vice-versa: how reactionary strategies can be directed into progressive tactics... but that's another story). An obvious example of this is the amazing ability of the Bush administration to repackage conservative policies under the mantle of supposedly progressive aims like education and environmental concerns -- often branding them under intentional misnomers like "No Child Left Behind," "Healthy Forests," or "Clean Skies."
The Economist article, however, focuses less on politics and more on how consumer marketing has latched onto postmodern theories of difference, fragmentation, and extreme individualism as a means to reinvent marketing practices. Perhaps Apple is the most successful at this strategy -- telling its consumers to "Think Different," as if each individual iPod with its mass-customized engraving, color choice, and playlist preserves some sort of sense of individuality. Regardless - an interesting read, and it makes me wonder more and more where now (with regard to postmodernism) if a newspaper like the Economist, capitalist champion extraordinaire, is writing about postmodern strategies of mass marketing. If capitalism has absorbed and repackaged its own critique, then what's next?

11 January 2007

"walt disney meets albert speer on the shores of araby"

NOTHING YOU HAVEN'T HEARD before -- but I came across a good article from a while back by Mike Davis on Dubai and its eccentricities, both awesome and terrifying.

The most interesting part -- and the most provocative, I thought -- is Davis's assertion that "The utopian character of Dubai, it must be emphasized, is no mirage," which is to say that the city's boom is actually the result of a carefully planned and carefully executed experiment. It's a unique reading of the whole Dubai phenomenon as a misguided, perverse utopia-gone-wrong that makes us reconsider the very concept of utopia itself. Sure, Dubai imagines (and, indeed, constructs) itself as an alternate, better future. But the question is: better for whom? If we now live in an age when "utopia" can now be realized, the stakes become that much greater.

Think about it.

link: "Sinister Paradise: Does the Road the Future End at Dubai?" by Mike Davis (from TomDispatch.com)