Today is the end of days…ish


New logo
New logo for everyone’s favourite ‘book’

Today, after much too-ing and fro-ing over the past month or so, I eventually deleted my facebook account. It was one of those things that I had to do; deactivating or just ignoring it just wouldn’t be enough, I had to remove myself from the entire world of it.

Being, as it is well known, very addictive and time consuming, for me I couldn’t just leave it there to just pop in  on occasionally. I tried doing that for a while but with any sign of idleness where I felt I was restraining myself to avoid it, I’d end up just drifting back to see what could be a less pointless way to spend my time. Being big-eyed and full of dreams, I’ve great plans for taking over the world, and facebook was just one of those things that got in my way of doing what I wanted to do.

Of course it’s not facebook’s actual fault, it really didn’t do anything wrong or do anything it said it wouldn’t. For many the privacy issue is a big deal (and even by deleting your account you can’t be guaranteed that your information is deleted), but perhaps the voyeurism on my part just messes with my head a little bit and I get the idea that I am in touch with people when all that I am in touch with is what they post on facebook and not what is actually happening in their lives, or in fact in anyone’s lives.

These faults that I have with facebook are no ones faults but my own. For example, I’ve spent so much time poking my noses in peoples pages that for some reason I feel that I know what is going on in a persons life. But there’s no  reason to even expect me understand anything about what people are doing with themselves just by a few likes and dislikes, what job they have and whether or not they make witty status updates. There are so many people who use facebook, and the three hundred or so who were my ‘friends’ are not even all avid users. In fact, the people who regularly open their page and actively use the website has grown smaller and smaller, leaving me to sit around waiting for them to open up and use the whole thing like I do as a gateway into my brain, or something pointless and irritating that has made me sit refreshing my home page for hours on end in the summer, winter,  spring and autumn.

I suppose I’m leaving myself open to be found, instead of waving my arms wildly in the air shouting, ‘I’m here, I’m here, look how great I am and all the great stuff I do and follow and, oh how many witticisms an hour I can come out with’ etc. Or something to that effect.

I suppose, I will either isolate myself or I will just stop caring. I suppose I am everywhere else these days and am easier to be found than before, and probably this has something to do with facebook. But here I have a genuine problem with facebook, and not one that toys with my vanity, among other things. I have problems with relying on one corporate website for sharing and spreading the world’s news, photos, friendships, events, loves, in fact practically everything is touched and ruled by facebook.

As a further to this, I went for a few drinks recently and not for the first time, the conversation turned to a topic related to the infamous book of faces. Somebody said something who said another thing to another person and then they all got pissed off because the written word isn’t as understandable as the spoken word because it lacks important tones such as sarcasm, humour, anger, desperation. This happens all the time, have a look at a website like lamebook.com if you want to see the problems with this device.

So, like a bitchy neighbour, not only does it know everything about us, it also acts as the one who helps to spread malicious rumours and excuses, while it chuckles as everyone comes running for more and more.

But aside from this little relevant rant, short of giving a psychological and sociological investigation of the goods and bads of facebook, most of my problems are my own, and I’ll solve them myself.

As I said in an email earlier today that I sent out to the majority of my facebook friends, at least the people I think who deserved a hello/goodbye message (because let’s be honest most people have many friends who just are facebook ‘friends’ and we don’t really care about the other people, and I mean what I say, I don’t really care about a lot of everything), “I have finally decided to delete my facebook account, and I’m going through with it. For more reasons that one, I’ve decided that I can do more with less. If you want to keep in touch, you can email me, or I’m also open to other traditional methods of communication, namely:

Telephone
Homing pigeon
Face-to-face conversation
Letters
Song requests
I know I’ve met many of you over the years, and many of the times we’ve only been connected through facebook. This connection is a little to tenuous for me, among other reasons, and I think that relationships should be built on something a little stronger than a website. I’ll always say hello, and I’ll always do my best to be up for a pint.
As usual, I’ll try to continue talking shite here (yes here, this very web page, ifihadaminutetospare.wordpress.com, and among other places, I might send an email with the odd link or whatnot. Don’t be afraid to drop by from time to time, or drop me a line, or whatever it is you do that helps you keep in touch. God knows I know I’ve forgotten how to.”Peace friends. Indeed, peace. Aaaand sleep.

Also, if you’re interested check out these links for some nice thought provoking anti-facebook reading:

Taking it apart and having a look to see what’s really inside

Article about privacy

A niecly made video explaining why anyone bothered making something as innocent as facebook:

I went here to find out how to delete my facebook account.

…and in case you’re thinking I’m totally biased, you can visit http://www.facebook.com if you want to open your own account. Why?

– At least 400 million people log onto their facebook account every month, 50% of whom log on daily.
– 70% of facebook account users are not from the United States
– Facebook is available in 70 languages
– Facebook is the second busiest website by traffic in the world.
– Facebook is valued between 8 and 11 Billion US$
– Psychologists (apparently) have identified ‘facebook addiction disorder’.
– In the Australian legal system (apparently) a facebook legal summons to court is legally binding.

(facts courtesy of mashable.com)

Thinking “West” with the help of Said


Edward Said 1935-2003

‘How can one today speak of “Western Civilisation” except as in large measure an ideological fiction, implying a sort of detached superiority for a handful of values and ideas, none of which has much meaning outside the history of conquest, immigration, travel and the mingling of peoples that give the Western nations their present mixed identities?’

I am not sure if a review and a critique of Edward W. Said’s Orientalism are necessary, considering so much has been said before. If you combine this with the fact that I am far from an expert on either orientalism, or the Middle East and its relationship with ‘The West’, any proclamations that I make on this subject can be automatically considered redundant. But I am not going to let these two factors stop me.

The quote above is taken from the afterword written in 1995, some eighteen years after the book was first published, and it is from this quote that I would like to continue in my own words and with my own thoughts, and elaborate on what Said said.

**X**

There is no barometer to measure the imperfect against the perfect. Equally there is no way of comparing the wealth of two kingdoms, nations or societies, who previously have had no interaction. To apply social norms across an entire planet, for me, is like enforcing the four seasons in a tropical climate; while it may make organisational sense to divide the year evenly, it just doesn’t work and it never will, outside of the confines of an official’s diary. Established social and political norms may appear sound, but that is because a better alternative is unknown.

The past two hundred years for the west has seen unrivalled technological progress, but what about social progress? Because there are laws does that mean that they are just and society is happy? Because there is wealth, does this not neglect mention of the poverty and social divisions caused by wealth? There are too many critics of modernity to spend time complaining about the ups and downs and mishaps and wrongdoings of western society. What I will question is the structure that holds western society together is the belief that it is, above all, the most civilised.

“Western Civilisation” is itself a tenuous term. Civilisation ties so many different eras together within the characteristics of social and technological progress over time by a specific ethnic or national group. Civilisation relies on so many different factors; like building a house it needs to built on a strong foundation with walls to define its boundaries, windows to offer a view inside and outside, furnishings to add character, and people to function within to define and build society. Civilisation is knitted together into a beautiful, diverse, and complicated construction that cannot be separated and individually defined within the confines of a unique concept. What is unique is incomparable, because it is only one and it has no other. The other that is imbedded in a civilisation is part of the civilisation, and only that civilisation has a right to condemn or criticise it, no matter how right or wrong it may appear from the outside.

I share Said’s view that there is no such thing as the right way, and that the West’s way cannot be superior to the East. They are both fundamentally different societies that have grown organically with established traditions which have held millions together for centuries, but without each others influence, neither could conceivably exist in its present state, despite the lessons history books attempt to teach us. Our society and civilisation has preached its own hierarchy since before most modern nations were formed, before it was known the East could be reached by travelling west.

We, as people, are immersed deeply in the West, while the East is seen as an exotic accessory, something mystical and distant, something that cannot be understood and something that is quite foreign. This is to an extent understandable, but there is nothing that cannot be understood in modern Asia. Asia, or in fact anywhere I should add, should not be interpreted from a different perspective because it is not a comparable entity, like two different coloured balls or two different kinds of food. A society is a very complex formation with similarities and massive differences in every aspect of its life. In the twenty-first century civilisation has expanded beyond previously defined physical borders, and now relies as much on its internal elements as it does on external influences to survive.

In the years following World War II, words like ‘globalisation’ and ‘coco-colonisation’ have crept into vocabularies and resurfaced within East-West (or West-East) discussions. Yet this process is often viewed as one-way traffic with negative connotations due to the commercial nature of much of the neo-colonial commercial domination by many major corporations whose origins lie in North American and Western European states. By allowing corporations to grow beyond their borders we permit the impression that the West is dominant culturally, and this grows to be a shared opinion across the globe.

To say that one Civilisation is superior is white-washing the whole painting and ignoring the reality of the cross-cultural-multi-dimensionality of the twenty-first century. I’ve heard a saying that goes something like ‘the Chinese built the rail-roads’; it leaves me thinking that this was only the beginning, now ‘the Chinese’ have built most of the electronic goods that are used in most western households. If that doesn’t surprise you then a lesser known fact would be that it was the Japanese who led the drive to remove European colonialism from South-East Asia, a drive which ruined the country temporarily but which opened up the markets, so that while its two nearest and closest potential rivals were locked in civil war, Japan was able to establish an economic and political dominance over the rest of the continent, laying the foundation for companies like Honda and Toyota to lead the way with a standard of engineering as benchmark that, recent upsets aside, the rest of the world is only gradually catching up with. The opening up of the continent allowed multinationals from all over the globe to establish bases and exploit previously protected indigenous economies and fostered extreme reactions to the international abuse of national identity in places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and also arguably Indonesia under Suharto.

There is more to the cross-cultural-multi-dimensionality of the twenty-first century than just commercial and economic superiority. Culturally, just as the East looks to the West for brand recognition, the West looks to the East for the unfamiliarity that is hidden behind the unpronounceable and illegible languages. Countries who interpret social behaviour differently lure travellers looking to advertise their bravery in daydreams of jungle treks and peculiar gastronomic experiences. As one of these travellers myself, I can personally list the values of the world I once sought; loud markets, spicy aromas, sweating twenty-four hours a day, crowded spaces, ancient literary traditions, cities with more people than the population of my own country, palm trees everywhere, coconuts, slanted eyes, kimonos and rice for breakfast lunch and dinner.. All this attracted my young and ignorant ego, and they still do. When I go home after being away I boast of strange experiences of laissez faire attitudes to public safety and an apparent disregard for the values that were beaten into us for years in primary and secondary school. When I first went to Asia straight out of university it was a personal escape, and one that is shared by so many other young and old men and women who leave the apparent safety and familiarity of their Western homes to learn the mysteries of the East.

But what is mystical about it? Globalisation has made it as easy for me to buy a Guinness in Shang Hai as it is in Dublin (easier in fact as you can’t buy alcohol after half past eleven in most places in Dublin) and Coca Cola has the same advertisements in Tokyo as it does in New York. The world has marvelled at the growth of Shang Hai and Dubai, Tokyo has long been considered a glittering megalopolis, and Seoul is World Design Capital for 2010. The West lags behind the Asian determination to succeed on the international stage (if we did a list of ‘World Capitals’ of modernity, Asian cities would outplace the West considerably). Is it mystical that countries and societies that were under-developed after World War II now out perform the societies which have grown accustomed to being looked upon as the leaders of modernity?

The people in the cities of Asia, despite what may be apparent, still worry about the same things; unemployment, marriage, education, taxes and what they will have for breakfast lunch and dinner. The brains behind the faces of the countless anonymous faces that pass by also want to enjoy foreign, exotic food like pizza, spaghetti, sausages, steak, and deep fried food, just like westerners obsess over curry, sushi, chow-mien and pad-thai. The expensive tour groups that travel West all seek the opposite of the individuals who migrate east; organised, peaceful and aged sensible architecture with restaurants selling food that can’t be found on your local corner. The talk in the restaurants of peculiar habits echoes and reverberates as globally as the food that they exchange and prepare so differently than what can be called authentic.

A hierarchy of societies exists only in our minds, and the minds that propagate these hierarchies are possibly the ones least open to the criticism that they are not right. The pillars that built their world may in fact be built without enough cement to hold them strong, and the only reason that they are still standing is because the wind hasn’t blown strong enough to knock them over.

Let me conclude by saying that as the world grows in population more and more every day, the environments in which we live change with every birth, for better or worse, prompting a situation that abandons any chance of a status quo. Recycling only works on plastic and metals. Everything that begins must conclude, and in anticipation of a storm that might one day be the final gust to topple the pediment supporting pillars, I will also.

"X-Men" – segregation and separation


I was watching the new X-men Origins film yesterday (OK, I know it’s not new but relatively new). It brought a lot of ideas forward and can show something about the twentieth century that perhaps can only be shown to its full ferocity through the medium of fantasy comic book movie remakes.

In the twentieth century experiments on the human body became widespread; through assorted eugenic societies in the majority of western nations, to the Nazi genocide and on to the racial segregation that characterised the final third of the twentieth century, humanity has proven itself more adept at attempting to create and to go to whatever means it can to be better than its rival. This film, and in fact the entire franchise is a chronicle to this past and the future that will involve us all.

I am going to use my very scant knowledge of the X-men series and of the entire background to twentieth century eugenic biopolitics to give you an opinion. This opinion will include grave over-generalisations and numerous presumptions but I hope that it will incite you to think about cult-media in a different manner.

In the film there is an extended scene where Wolverine or Logan, a ‘mutant’ (in this case someone who is human but who has a genetic malfunction that has mutated and given him some form of ‘power’ – incidentally all mutants have powers, this is why they are feared and excluded), who has been taken to a secret military facility deep in the mountains to allow an experiment to be carried out on him for whatever reason. The key thing here is how he was tricked into allowing the experiment be carried out. By fear. By threatening his life. By taking the life of the one he loved. By placing him far from safety and alienating him from his own family and his own ‘kind’.

He is, in a sense, a mercenary, hired at the price of his own life’s safety. By agreeing to allow the experiment to be conducted on him he admits that he must rely on the scientific strengths of his enemy for his own survival – by altering his body he reduces his own humanity, objectifies himself and allows himself to be treated as part of the ‘mutant problem’. True, he does survive in the end. But at what price? The only way that he can be stopped is by a bullet into his brain which erases his memory and his identity, further alienating himself from what he truly believed himself to be; a quiet, Canadian, lumberjack who was in love with a local schoolteacher.

Now at this point I may seem to have drifted from the intended direction of this discourse. I am still attempting to give a broad interpretation of the film and what is going on in relation to international relevancy. Here I think we should think about who allows themselves to be used for human experiments? And I mean any experiment. From medical trials of a new treatment to allow genetic or artificial implants to enhance the body, we as humans admit our own frailty and inability to deal with the reality of what we have made our won lives.

This film or series builds itself on the difference between humans and mutants. The broad range of mutants against the closely defined category of humans again turns on the emergency lights and presents the segregation of individuals as a worldwide struggle – a war, one between those who are different and those who are normal. Not a very definite boundary I think you’ll agree. Even if you throw in politically correct terms like special needs and talented/gifted people, they are still different and separated, categorised and placed on the outside of society.

Now, no doubt you’re coming to understand the angle that I’m approaching this film from. It is essentially a story about racism. When I use the word racism I use it as a term that implies all manners of discrimination because of a physical difference in a person’s body. The act of racism is the discriminatory prejudice preventing access to a service or quality of life. The act of racism also employs tools such as ‘assimilation’. ‘Assimilation’ requires the victim, broadly speaking, to accept that they are different and to make a conscious effort to be less like them and to be more like the perpetrators of the discriminatory actions.

The film, X-men Origins: Wolverine, brings all of these topics together. We see people employed because they are ‘mutants’, then used for their skills but abused because that is all they are seen as, tools for obtaining something. We see mutants trying to move on, we see mutants fighting for survival against each other but always being subjected to the whim of the human authority, we see mutants suffering from scientific experiments, we see them escape but do they really escape? Is there real sanctuary in a world where they will always be hunted for what they are not who they are?

I cannot list the situations that this movie brought to my consciousness because the list itself is too long and I think it would not do justice to those who I did not include because of my own ignorance. It is rare that such a film questions such hard fought truths that we are led to believe everyday. Films regularly talk of freedom and survival and Hollywood is often the mightiest herald of them all, but this film is different. This film talks about the freedom of the masses, including individual freedom, and no matter who they are or what their genetic makeup is. This film exposes the world for the prejudice we accept as due process and questions what we ourselves are a party to.

We can choose to watch and enjoy or we can chose to watch, watch again, read between the lines and respond beyond the doors of the cinema or the couch in the living room.

I will leave it to you to decide.

Contemporary Culture and the Letter ‘K’


(I came across this today and thought it would be a point in which I could begin my work here – more from the author, Alfred Corn, here)

First inroads were made in our 19-aughts
(Foreshadowed during the last century by nothing
More central than “Kubla Khan,” Kipling, Greek
Letter societies, including grotesque KKK –
Plus the kiwi, koala, and kookaburra from Down Under)
When certain women applied to their moist eyelids
A substance pronounced coal but spelled kohl,
Much of the effect captured on Kodak film
With results on and off the camera now notorious.
They were followed and sometimes chased by a platoon
Of helmeted cutups styled the Keystone Kops, who’d
Freeze in the balletic pose of the letter itself
Left arm on hi, leg pointed back at an angle,
Waiting under klieg lights next to a worried kiosk
To put the kibosh on Knickerbocker misbehavior.
Long gone, they couldn’t help when that hirsute royal
King Kong arrived to make a desperate last stand,
Clinging from the Empire State, swatting at biplanes,
Fay Wray fainting away in his leathern palm
As i the grip of African might. Next, marketing
Stepped up with menthol tobacco and the brand name
Kool, smoked presumably by models and archetypes
Superior in ever way to Jukes and Kallikaks.
By then the race was on, if only because
Of German Kultur‘s increasing newsworthiness
On the international front. The nation that had canned
Its Kaiser went on to sponsor debuts for the hero
of Mein Kampf, Wotan of his day, launching thunderbolts
And Stukkas, along with a new social order astonishing
In its industrial efficiency. His annexing
Of Bohemia cannot have been spurred by reflecting
That after all Prague had sheltered the creator
And in some sense alter ego of Josef K.,
Whose trial remained a local fact until the fall
Of the Empire of a Thousand Years, unheard of in “Amerika”
Of the Jazz Age. But musicians Bix Beiderbecke and Duke
Ellington somehow always took care to include the token
Grapheme in their names,for which precaution fans
Of certain priceless ’78s can only be grateful.
They skipped and rippled through a long post-war glow
Still luminous in the memory of  whoever recalls
Krazy Kat, Kleenex, Deborah Kerr, Korea, Kool-Aid,
And Jack Kennedy. Small wonder if New York had
A special feeling for the theme, considering radical
Innovations of De Kooning, Kline, and Rothko. This last
Can remind us that bearers of the letter often suffered
Bereavement and despair (cf. Chester Kallman) and even,
As with Weldon Kees, self slaying. Impossible not to see
Symptoms of a malaise more widespread still in culture
The collects kitsch and Krugerrands, with a just-kids lifestyle
Whose central shrine is the shopping mall – K-Mart, hail to thee!
To “Kuntry Kitchen,” “Kanine Kennels,” and a host of other
Kreative misspellings kreeping through the korpus
Of kontemporary lingo like an illnesss someone someday
(The trespass of metaphor) is going to spell “Kancer.”

True, there have been recidivists in opposite
Direction (a falling away perhaps from the Platonic ideal
Of tó kalón) like “calisthenics” and Maria Callas,
ho seem  to have preferred te less marblelike romance
Of traditonal English. This and related factors make all
Supporters of the letter “k” in legitimate forms
And Avatars cherish it with fiery intensity –
All the more when besieged by forces beyond
Anyone’s control, at least, with social or medical
Remedies now available. Dr. Kaposi named it,
That sarcoma earmarking a mortal syndrome thus far
Incurable and spreading overland like acid rain.
A sense of helplessness is not in the repertory
Of our national consciousness, we have no aptitude
For standing by as chill winds rise, the shadows gather,
And gray light glides into the room where a seated figure
Has taken up his post by the window, facing away from us,
No longer bothering to speak, his mind at one with whatever
Is beyond the ordinary spell of language, whatever dreams us
Into that placeless place, its nearest image a cloudless
Sky at dusk, just before the slow ascent of the moon.