31 Aug 2010

Adam Curtis on why Mad Men is so fascinating

Here's an excellent article by Adam Curtis on why Mad Men is so fascinating. Curtis's grasp of the historic moment we live in is phenomenal, very few people are able to see beyond the prevailing dogmas in the same manner. If you're not familiar with his work, he's the documentary film maker behind The Power of Nightmares, The Century of the Self, and The Trap among others. 

In this blog, he perceptively identifies the source of our contemporary anxiety:

"In Mad Men we watch a group of people who live in a prosperous society that offers happiness and order like never before in history and yet are full of anxiety and unease. They feel there is something more, something beyond. And they feel stuck.

I think we are fascinated because we have a lurking feeling that we are living in a very similar time. A time that, despite all the great forces of history whirling around in the world outside, somehow feels stuck. And above all has no real vision of the future."

The clips he uses with the article are fascinating to watch, a must see for sure.

Wars must stop because they're preventing us from dealing with climate change!!

If you ever doubted that the carbon fetish has completely blinded climate change campaigners, then you must read Howard Friel's bizarre anti-war argument in The Guardian. Commenting on Bjørn Lomborg's new book Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Friel ended his article with this sublimely surreal paragraph:

"If Lomborg were really looking for smart solutions, he would push for an end to perpetual and brutal war, which diverts scarce resources and public focus from what Lomborg accurately says needs more money, including some of the research and policy projects recommended by the contributors to this volume. There might even be a few hundred billion dollars left to invest annually in new energy and mass transit economies, and science-mandated CO2 reductions. We're only two questions short of achieving those goals. Sounds pretty economical to me."

The politically incorrect necktie: on boycotts and secular coercion

A Lebanese friend recently revealed on a social networking website that he had bought a tie from Marks and Spencer. This otherwise insignificant revelation provoked a tirade of angry comments from Lebanese vigilantes that chided the irresponsible tie-wearer on his unpatriotic choice of neck wear. Even though I was aware of the M&S boycott policy as being one of the cornerstones of anti-Zionism among the Arab Diaspora, I was taken aback by the intensity of the reaction and people’s willingness to publicly chastise someone simply because of their fashion choices. This militant censoriousness is chiefly practiced by people who regard themselves as ‘secular’, and even liberal, making it much more problematic. It points to the disturbing emergence of a secular piety that is far more insidious than one stemming from a religious worldview.

Before I left for Britain several years ago, I was instructed by several Lebanese friends on the necessity of boycotting M&S because of its ‘support for Israel’. Some assured me that all the profits that it made on Saturdays went directly to the IDF. The blunt way of phrasing the argument insisted that every pound spent in M&S translated into bullets fired at the Palestinians and the Lebanese, and no one would want to live with this burden on their conscience. But aside from the veracity of the claims, which I will come back to, this argument fails to comprehend the reasons for Israel’s military superiority. This superiority is not attained through private and public foreign aid but because Israel is an advanced industrial economy that is capable of developing advanced weapons through a combination of industrial and technological development.

30 Aug 2010

Beirut's Friendly Fire

Read my latest blog in Arabic on the clashes last week in Beirut.

26 Aug 2010

Urban Farming: The future of food or Arcadia on the cheap?

In a thought-provoking article in The Global Urbanist, the urban designer Mike Duff discusses How cities can embrace urban agriculture and weaken the grip of 'big food'.  The issue of urban farming has been attracting much attention recently and Duff makes an appealing argument in favour of this form of agriculture. Duff realizes that the main limitation to the growth of urban agriculture from a marginal activity into a significant source of food is its limited scale and therefore urges the loosening of regulation to allow the development of larger, more efficient urban farms capable of competing with large supermarkets. But portraying this important discussion as a David versus Goliath confrontation reveals the romanticised view of the world that drives support for urban farming today. This is no longer a discussion about cities or food but another symptom of our discontent with modernity.

A few months ago, the BBC screened the sublime film Requiem for Detroit? which powerfully captured the decline of the city from a major industrial centre into a post-industrial wasteland. The film provided a snapshot of the extent of land reclaimed by ‘nature’, a staggering area of 40sq miles out of the 139sq mile inner city. Since the national supermarket chains had long abandoned the inner city, thereby cutting off the supply of fresh produce, the locals turned to farming thus sparking off a large-scale movement. The availability of land naturally facilitated this process.

25 Aug 2010

A Christian journalist walks into a bar during Ramadan...

A hot summer evening in Beirut, the traffic is dwindling as people head home for the Iftar. The sun is about to set behind the beautiful Mediterranean horizon, the crimson glow gently caresses the rooftops of Beirut's downtown area. The air is gently perfumed with oriental spices as the evening meal is being prepared. Nearby, an argument over a parking spot kicks off, people are anxious to get home to break their fast. The youth involved decide not to bother with the preliminary fistfights and the automatic rifles make an appearance. A few rocket-propelled grenades are fired in haste, three people die then everyone goes home. Just another typical summer evening in the Paris of the Middle East.

17 Aug 2010

The 'Ground Zero Mosque': Why are we having the wrong debate?

The ongoing debate around the 'Ground Zero Mosque' is astounding for two reasons: firstly because it's taking place at all, and secondly because it has degenerated from a debate about principles into a cultural conflict allowing identity politics to dictate the terms of the debate. This a product of the contemporary inability to debate principles, a situation which sees opponents switching positions depending on circumstances and convenience. Much like with freedom of speech, there should be no ifs and buts when it comes to the freedom of religion. But also much like freedom of speech, we have grown accustomed to accepting statements like 'I'm for freedom of speech but...' The general test in both cases is not how zealous we are in defending what we like and subscribe to, but our commitment to the freedom of ideas and practices that we oppose and even abhor.

13 Aug 2010

The Christians are in despair? Yes, but that's only half the story

Michael Young caused some controversy today when he claimed, in an opinion column entitled Downward, Christian soldiers, that Lebanon's Christians are being increasingly marginalised and becoming less important in shaping the country's development. Young argued that much of the Christian community's woes are self-inflicted, particularly as reflected in the decline of the Maronites which he sees as stemming from their political choices. This decline, Young argues, manifests itself in "...a disturbing lack of political vigor, economic innovation or intellectual dynamism in the community."

12 Aug 2010

Plus ça change: The Chronicles of a Juvenile Nation

There's a central preoccupation in Milan Kundera's work that revolves around the theme of the small nation experiencing the uncertainties of such a precarious condition. His superb intermingling of love and politics often crosses the boundaries between both, asserting once that we are witness to much larger forces than ourselves and often that we are capable of creating a path and a persona that are uniquely ours. What's true of the individual is also true of the small nation. In many respects, Lebanon's modern history has primarily been defined by being a small nation. Too often though, it seemed that Lebanon accepted that it is small, but never figured the nation part out. In what follows are some thoughts on how this failure continues to place the country in a perpetual state of emergency.

9 Aug 2010

The Forensic Alternative to the Truth: Thoughts on the Nasrallah Speech and the Difficulty of Writing History in Lebanon

The artist Walid Raad (The Atlas Project) observed a curious aspect of the Lebanese Civil War: confronted by their own powerlessness in the face of car bombs, the police turned to recording meticulously all details of the crime scene without any serious hope of finding the perpetrators. The press would always report the license plate and engine numbers of the cars used in the bombing, as well as other details such as colour and make. Many questions about the war remain unanswered, but we have an encyclopedic record of all the secondary facts, and this is as close as we ever got to writing the history of the war. As the state disintegrated its agents went through the motions, reducing their official roles to that of skilled scribes.

1 Aug 2010

A style guide to burning effigies

Two comments on burning effigies: 1- how the hell do people get hold of one so quickly, do they have a stash for a rainy day? (well, maybe not a rainy day) 2 - these things never really look like the people they're supposed to represent. If you want to make an impact on the international stage, put some thought into it, don't just do a sloppy job. David Cameron's effigy looked nothing like him, the clothes were all wrong and the head frankly could have been anyone from Eton. Do some research, look at some photographs and choose the right clothes, otherwise, you're just making a fool of yourself.