Friday, February 15, 2008


There's a really beautiful short piece today in the University City Review about a dying dog:
...I'd seen death in pictures, on the side of the road, but never so immediately or violently. It wasn't pain by degrees, the bumps and scrapes we accrue every day, lessened by love and whatever gives us comfort. It was final, irrevocable. I stood there for ten minutes,unable to look at anything but this nameless dying dog.
I really suggest you read the whole thing - it's not long. You'll find: the empathy of a nameless narrator. The indifference of passerby. The character of our community. The almost-humanity of a dog. The finality of death.

I'm a big fan of any newspaper that puts this kind of thing on its front page.

I say the almost-humanity of a dog. It's interesting to me - if dogs possessed nothing like humanity, the article wouldn't be evocative at all. If dogs possessed complete humanity, it would be too horrifying to view in a detached manner.

Something about other mammals is just right - they're like us enough to be loved, but unlike us enough that their loss isn't crippling to us. And their experiences are a great proxy for understanding our own.

Is that why they sent chimps into space first?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Shopping has never been more important."

This quote from Swedish clothing company H&M, the same people who bring us this lovely advertisement on the bus stop outside DRL:
We "believe" that you're all morons.

You may have heard about AIDS. You may have wished you could do something about it. Well, great news - you can go on doing what you've always been doing and wonderful companies like H&M will save the world for you. All you have to do is buy their quality products. "Designers Against AIDS" joins initiatives like the RED campaign (critiqued here by my lovely friend leighcia) which bundle virtue with their products to superficially fight the world's great ills.

Everybody wins. The designers get their names advertised and associated with a "good cause." H&M gets the revenue spike associated with a successful campaign. You get to feel great about yourself for your altruism.

And those suffering from AIDS? They don't actually get anything. It took some digging on the web site, but I eventually found something which told me goals more concrete than "fighting AIDS," though not much more concrete. A whopping 25% of these proceeds go to "raise awareness and prevent the spread of AIDS worldwide."

I wouldn't be surprised at all if advertising for this campaign qualifies as "raising awareness."

Their other efforts appear to be centered on getting people to use condoms, which puzzles me. Do they not consider research for a cure a worthwhile investment? Do they think that since those who have already contracted HIV are going to die anyway, it's not worth caring for them? Both of these areas seem at least as important to me as preventing the spread of the disease (and I imagine that it's controversial how much good condom campaigns actually do). Their exclusion seems to betray some hypocrisy that I can't put my finger on.

So, for all of its noise, the campaign actually does very little more than repeat a message harped on since middle school to wealthy young Westerners.

Meaningless as the stated goals of these campaigns may be, I would go as far as to say their unstated goals are actually sinister. They seek to establish corporations as the agents for moral action in our society, rather than encouraging people to actually care about the problems and actually do something with their lives to solve them. They are a sedative, deepening complicity in an existence centered around consumption and self-gratification. They are poison.

Ezekiel speaks well of such false prophets (and false profits?):
Because, indeed, because they have seduced My people, saying, 'Peace!' when there is no peace--and one builds a wall, and they plaster it with untempered mortar*--

say to those who plaster it with untempered mortar, that it will fall. There will be flooding rain, and you, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall tear it down.

Surely, when the wall has fallen, will it not be said to you, 'Where is the mortar with which you plastered it?' "

Therefore thus says the Lord God: "I will cause a stormy wind to break forth in My fury; and there shall be a flooding rain in My anger, and great hailstones in fury to consume it.

So I will break down the wall you have plastered with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be uncovered; it will fall, and you shall be consumed in the midst of it. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.
Ezekiel 13:10-14
*Other translations render "untempered mortar" as "whitewash."

P.S. H&M is also behind a gigantic photo of a reclining and nearly nude woman above the Philly Car Share pod at 21st and Chestnut - nothing like filling a public space with an image damaging to men and women alike. They also appear to have a penchant for giant murals (like this giant Madonna in New York) which are actually ads - nothing like mixing advertising with art. I hate this company.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Photos of the Week - 1/27-2/2, 2008

A colleague of mine on the blog last semester referred to my style as "taking pictures of things that annoy you." Given gems like this I could see his point.

In any case, I carry my trusty digital camera most places I go, and I take pictures of things which catch my fancy. Here're a few pictures I took last week:

Banana Blues

First, I discovered at Trader Joe's what it means for a banana to be organic: they don't put in any yellow.

I think there's something wrong with an ethic of organic food which still allows for picking completely unripe fruit out of season and shipping it long distance to mock residents of northern climes.

The stuff grown with petrochemical fertilizers wasn't really any yellower, but that's at least what you would expect from industrial produce.

Burger Bonanza

Don't forget the milk. Oh, yeah. Mmm mm. Delicious.

A conversation with my housemate Carlos about his love of fast food led me to indulge in my semi-annual Whopper.

I give the whole experience three and a half out of five stars. First, there's the drive-through. I probably derived most of the enjoyment from nostalgia, but to smell the indistinct Burger King aroma while waiting in the car was delightful. The price was cheap and the service was fast.

The actual Whopper was filled with indistinct Burger King flavor, which for the most part was a good thing. The experience was over quickly, but not altogether unsatisfying. Lots of pickles.

Mostly it was just great to give the middle finger to forces which tell me fast food is a horrible thing and enjoy it for half an hour. I suspect this is what is behind much of Burger King's recent success. They've come out with new sandwiches which take calorie density to unreached heights, and Americans have responded enthusiastically.

Have you seen the recent commercials where they tell Burger King customers they can't have a Whopper? It's an astounding feat that you can make beloved intellectual property out of a cheeseburger. There are essentially the same ingredients in a Whopper as in any other burger, yet I know one when I taste one. I guess it's the indistinct Burger King flavor.

Thinking about it, that happens all across the American foodscape. Chips Ahoy tastes different from Chips Deluxe. Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup tastes different from Progresso. Somehow value is added by affixing a brand to the commodity in question: you know what you're getting. The soup may not be any good, but at least you know that this can tastes the same as that can. Familiarity breeds comfort.

Bummer Buster

Thanks, Mark. Thanks a lot.

My (Catholic) stepdad heard that I had been turned down by a (wonderful) girl recently, so he put this ad for the priesthood in my bedroom mirror at home.

What a guy, huh? Sometimes a gentle ribbing is much better than straight sympathy. It's great to have an older man who can tell me not to take myself so seriously.

Note that this ad's strategy is to reassure you that life as a priest is preferable to suicide. "Hey, is your life not worth living? You sound like just the kind of man we're looking for!" If I were them, I would set the bar higher.