Archive for May, 2008

The false consciousness parade

Maybe it’s because I’ve been studying for exams the last few weeks, so that my mind has become like the eyes when they’ve been staring too hard for too long, and things come into and go out of focus chaotically and lose depth and proportion, but there has been something strange about watching the NBA the last few days, especially the commercials.

I don’t know if there are so many commercials for the military just because it’s Memorial Day, but commercial breaks are starting to just look like different wings of the military vying with each other for fresh meat. Yes, it’s truly a new era of cooperation and harmony between the branches of the armed services in the post-9/11 world. I assume they think that basketball is the sort of manly spectacle that many potential recruits will be watching, but then again one of the series prominently features Manu Ginobili and Sasha “everyone wants to punch him in the face” Vujacic. Anyway, I was watching the game with an Indian guy the other night when a commercial for the Air Force “unmanned surveillance drone” came on. I glanced over at him and thought about asking him whether in his country military equipment gets advertised between commercials for Dockers and SUVs, but I still have a vestigial stump of national pride that, like a tail bone, might be painful to shatter.

I also like how they emphasize the “leadership and career skills” you supposedly learn as a soldier, as if the real goal of following the glorious calling of arms is to develop competence as a data enterer. And what are these delectable “leadership positions” that strafing Afghan shepherds with an M-16 gets you? The commercials seem to show a lot of car mechanics and TV camera operators. Funny, if I was lured by promises of career success it would be to escape from a future as a car mechanic or an equipment operator. So I’m not exactly sure what lower rung on the career ladder all this risking death or disfigurement is sparing them.

Nor can I quite determine what skill is necessary for becoming a car mechanic that any random person that has two hands and isn’t retarded can’t develop going to work at 17. And if that is all that’s necessary it might be a good thing for all the ex-soldiers, since although in the commercials they show montages of, for example, a soldier operating a rotating machine gun turret fading into the same person operating a video camera as if there was a seamless transition between the two, I can think of many career uses for proficiency with automatic weapons, but few of them are legal. Michael Corleone in The Godfather started out in the military, as did John Allen Muhammad, the “D.C. sniper,” so I guess those are advertisements for the military “providing the tools” for some kind of “career success.”

It begs the question, though, given that the main tangible career benefit of being a soldier, apart from the salary, is the GI Bill, which is supposed to allow poor kids to go to college, if the career paths that the brains behind the military advertising see as most likely for soldiers are fixing cars or operating a camera, how many soldiers do they expect to actually take up that opportunity to go to college? In other words, it could be a cheap way of luring in the less rational sort with promises of career “benefits” which turn out to be of a nature, i.e. money for college, that most recruits aren’t interested in and won’t use.

Even the cops are joining in the nationalization of commercial breaks with their ads warning us all to wear seat belts. One of them does so by just camera-staring at a quadrapalegic for 30 seconds, a message I could respect more if not for all those afore-mentioned military recruitment commercials. If the fine for risking paralysis or death by not wearing a seatbelt is $500, how much is the one for volunteering for the Marines? Or better yet, what about for enticing someone into volunteering? Oh, but as the ad says, “when you see a Marine you can’t help but look up to them.” Especially if you’re a Hadithan laying on the ground because they’ve ordered you to get out of your car and lie down in the road as a prelude to shooting you in the head. Wait, I forgot, there’s no judicially usable evidence of that happening because none of the witnesses are willing to come to America to testify. Yes, the fact that people aren’t willing to let the soldiers that they watched kill their neighbors take them into custody and out of the sight and reach of anyone who knows and cares about them in order to supposedly bring them to give evidence that would be hugely damaging to those same soldiers makes them completely irrational and unreliable witnesses.

Of course the military hasn’t been able to prevent a scandal simply by avoiding some farce military trial, but on the plus side for them, studies have found that home-field advantage yields up to up to an 84.6 % winning percentage for non-professional teams when visitors have to travel more than 200 miles. Since like all self-respecting imperialists the U.S. military has progressively invaded more and more distant locales, this could be a comprehensive excuse for its declining winning percentage.

Links for 2008-05-25

Since my auto-link-posting thingy seems to be broken, here’s a manual version:

  • Agenbites
    Nice column about words that “resound with their own verbal truthfulness”. Another great example: cherubic.

  • In the Basement of the Ivory Tower
    “America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track. We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options. Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. I sympathize with this stance; I subscribe to the American ideal. Unfortunately, it is with me and my red pen that that ideal crashes and burns.?

  • Lies We Tell Kids
    “One of the most remarkable things about the way we lie to kids is how broad the conspiracy is. All adults know what their culture lies to kids about: they’re the questions you answer ‘Ask your parents.’?

To the barricades (between the cubicles), comrades!

I tend to think that whether or not you believe there’s a God is less important than what kind of God you envision. After all, it’s not like searching for Bob, where you have a name and just need to find whether someone answers to it. Here what you imagine you’re searching for will largely determine what you find. For some, God lies in everything around them. For others, the divine is anything but the perceptible–it’s like the hole in which our universe rests. I would give you my opinion about the merits of these views, but I’m still trying to apply for my Russian visa, and I’m not sure which direction they’re leaning these days there.

And that process already has enough pains. For instance, I have to get an AIDS test to apply for the visa. Apparently testimonials from ex-girlfriends aren’t enough. This requirement is all backwards though. Americans should be testing Russians when they come here, not the other way around, since it’s Russia that’s the AIDS cesspool that has managed to become practically the only place outside the damp bit of Africa to have a male life expectancy under 60 and a rising rate of HIV infection.

On the other hand, there’s not much point in getting old in Russia since old people there are completely worthless after being pressed for their entire lives into a mold that’s the complete opposite of anything that might be needed to make money and survive independently. Of course the old have trouble communicating across the generations in any society. Life is like a pool with parallel lanes and the elderly are like the 400-lb.-dead-lifting East Germans that have almost reached the finishing point at the far end and for someone like me, the Equatorial Guinean that doesn’t even have a pool to practice in and who’s still back near the starting line, has to shout even to make himself heard by them that far away. No wonder they usually have a hard time hearing.

In any event, fortunately we are spared the fate of Russia by a nimble army of great-hearted warriors of freedom, namely the ACLU. Just today I saw a flyer of theirs advertising internships with the slogan: “Because civil liberties can’t defend themselves.? Since, in keeping with current advertising-slogan fashion, that’s neither a complete sentence nor a complete thought, I think they should have added: “they need the high ethical standards of the legal profession looking after them.?

Hard-core hagiography

Behold perhaps the most ludicrous movie trailer I’ve ever seen. The unintentional comedy is too various to even mention here, but when are people going to get off this subject? After accepting that the Virgin Mary was impregnated by a beam of light and the doctrine of consubstantiality, why are we pretending to be skeptical and look for evidence for our theories now? On the other hand it doesn’t surprise me that the people that Jesus was supposed to have become the father of are French, or that the French renouncing of the authority of the Catholic Church has by an admirably circuitous act of deviousness now allowed them to claim to be the children of the Son of God.

At any rate, this scanning of old paintings is turning the museums and cathedrals of Europe into Us fucking Weekly. “Is she pregnant?” “Do they look together in this picture?” So far fundamentalist Christians have been locked in a long and extremely un-scary feud with the entertainment industry, but now my biggest fear if Jesus does come back to earth is that religious veneration and its idolatrous cousin celebrity culture will merge. The Beatific Vision is basically the same principle as one long gratuitously doting photo shoot. The Rapture will probably be some interminable red-carpet ceremony and all eternity will be Oscar night, with the blessed collecting their trophies and the condemned passed up for the award for “Most Convincing Design of Prosthetics for 70-year-olds” forced to sit there and stare at the doors with fire-exit signs saying “No Exit” above them.

Whatever the Future Business Leaders of America say, no society would work if everyone were a leader. Most people have to be followers. So it makes sense that most people have an innate tendency to fawn on those that seem to be leaders. But just like with porn, religion and celebrity worship have both managed to lure an instinct with a perfectly useful and necessary biological function for survival off the path and trick it into rubbing its leadership-worshiping member for something that’s either not there or has been created purely to agitate this very feeling.

links for 2008-05-12

  • “If content is king, why is there so little of it on the web? And why are content providers like Salon always whining about their huge bandwidth costs, given that 99% of what they ship — and that is an exact measurement, not hyperbole — is spam?”

Involuntary embodiment

If the eyes really are the window to the soul, that makes my body the building and me the little homunculus trapped inside; maybe there’s even a notice in there somewhere, like the one on my floor, telling me that I have to vacate the premises by May 29. Of course that’s not the way people like to think about it. People generally seem to believe that they possess their bodies so closely and completely that they continue to own them even after they’ve left them for good.

But as the late great Bill Hicks once said, beliefs are odd. Most property rights exist so people can make use of something without being disturbed, but this one seems to exist exclusively so that no one can use it in any way whatsoever. I admit I can’t think of a whole lot of uses for a lifeless body, but it’s still a strange belief. I suppose in a sense most bodies wind up serving as fertilizer once they’re in the ground, but it doesn’t do any good since they’re buried in huge swaths of land that are also set aside precisely so that no one can ever use them for anything.

Or maybe it’s more for the sake of their friends and family, who still believe that in some strange sense the body still is the person. Of course, if that’s the case, why they burn them to a crisp or nail them shut into a wooden box and bury them in a hole in the ground we may never know. Still though, this idea seems to persist that the body is so close to you that it is in fact a part of you. But then why is it that a disembodied head, if it could be kept alive, would still presumably be considered the same person as if the head had a body?

Besides, in many ways you have a lot more control over ordinary possessions than you do your body. If you turn your computer off for the night, unlike when you pop off yourself, it won’t move around or wander off, or flash twisted fantasies across its interface all night and reveal in the morning that it has used your bedsheets to pitch a big-top tent. And maybe other people can enter your apartment or even take it over, but at least you have a choice to move into it, and if you move out you can still move back later. Life, on the other hand, really is a blessing, after all, at least in the sense that you have no control over receiving it or not, and it generally seems to maintain itself with about as much regard for the sound and fury of consciousness as a communist country’s legislative assembly gets.

Still, it’s probably for the best. As much as humanity brags about its vaunted consciousness, which apparently confers the right to murder or destroy anything not possessing it in the exact same form, any task that both the unconscious and conscious mind can perform the unconscious generally does much, much better. Just try consciously regulating your own breathing for a couple of minutes. Maybe we should hope for less consciousness, not more.

links for 2008-05-09

links for 2008-05-04

links for 2008-05-02