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manufacturing-consent.jpgSurfing on Youtube the other day, I came across a documentary on Noam Chomsky entitled Manufacturing Content. It deals with the way media is used to control the people in modern democracies. Even though it was made more than a decade ago, I was hooked, and I spent the entire weekend going through the 17-part opus.

Chomsky argues that every state needs to control its people. Totalitarian states do so by means of violence, but democracies to a large extent do not have that option. Media, and especially the news media, fill that gap. In more honest times, Chomsky states, this was called propaganda, but nowadays media manipulation goes largely unnoticed by the common man.

If you have the time, this documentary is definitely worth a watch. It’s thought provoking, though I feel that it misses when trying to explain how the process works in practice. In a way the documentary doesn’t explain at all. You are just left with an ominous feeling that somewhere there’s a government offical preparing the day’s news brief for the press. I don’t think that’s correct. The state doesn’t control these matters. Instead, I believe that it is largely self-inflicted.

chomsky.jpgI can give you an example that deals with reporting during the Iraq War. I happened to be living in Paris at the time and got my news from a mixture of French, US and Dutch sources. On the 6th of April 2003, American F-14s accidentaly bombed a Kurdish convoy, seriously injuring a senior Kurdish commander and killing some 18 others.

The incident was reported in all media. In American broadcasting the event was described as a tragic case of friendly fire and a Kurdish spokesman was quoted as saying that an unfortunate mistake was made, but that these things happen in war. The French press stuck with the same story, but concluded it with an op-ed statement by the reporter that in spite of these conciliatory words, it was obvious that US – Kurdish relations would be strained for quite some time. The Dutch media reported the event and left it at that.

The point is that each news outlet was trying to frame the story in a way that was most appetizing for its own consumers. The Americans optimistic, the French pessismistic, the Dutch neutral. It’s consumer behaviour, advertising eyeballs, that control the media manipulation.

No one forced US viewers to switch to Fox in droves, but they did. The fact of the matter is that we like our news to be sanitized, to be made fair and balanced per our pre-existing beliefs. We go to church and sit in the choir expecting nothing but the usual sermon.

The truth will set you free, but freedom isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, it seems.

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Today’s post is a sad one. It is sad because a dear friend, an old eye-sore, passed away: the Grand Canal Dock Ruin. Once belonging to Iarnrod Eireann (Irish Rail), it stood proudly and dilapidated between the gleaming new offices of the south docklands: A child of unscrupulous property developers who let it decay waiting for prices to go up.

I passed by its empty shell every day, and in the evenings, homeward bound, I could often see teenagers climbing across the fence to use the building as a meeting place, the orange tips of cigarette buds flickering in the night, whispered chatter making its way to the platform where I awaited my train. One day, shortly after the burning out of the structure, the teenagers disappeared.

For a while it was quiet, but then, a few months ago, I noticed a big piece of blue plastic covering a small shed, which suddenly jutted out from the back of the building. I heard some voices that evening and could make out the silhouettes of three or four people huddling around a makeshift campfire, trying to stave off the wintry cold. They must have been refugees, working the streets during the day and seeking shelter here at night.

Over the next few weeks, small improvements were made to the shed. The plastic was fastened, sealing the roof; a door was put in place and a chimney installed, smoke rising into the February air. It seemed they had officially moved in, but in spite of my daily passing-by, I never saw any movement outside, though one of my colleagues noticed half a dozen or so people leaving one morning.

Spot the SimpsonsUnfortunately, she wasn’t the only one to notice, because a week later the shed had been smashed to bits. Maybe it was the authorities, police had been around lately. The inhabitants were nowhere to be seen and never returned. In the debris you could make out two double beds, mattresses and duvets still in place, and a pink up-turned stroller. A tiny family home.

And that was the end of it. A few weeks ago a demolition team moved in and in a matter of hours the ruin was knocked down. The remains, including beds and stroller, were unceremoniously dumped in a container and driven off the lot. Soon, a new office/hotel/apartment development will stand here and another bit of modern Irish history will be lost. I’m glad I took some pictures.

Ireland is one of those countries where you don’t see a lot of vandalism. Bus stops are usually un-smashed, newspaper stands  survive most Saturday nights and even though I wouldn’t recommend leaving your bike outside, chances are it won’t be wrapped around the telephone pole you locked it to when you pick it up the following morning.

There’s one exception to the rule, though. Traffic cones! I don’t know why, but if you happen to be a traffic cone, you’re fair game for any passer-by. You’ll be dragged off the road, taken home to adorn a campus bedroom, or more commonly they’ll chug you off a bridge somewhere. It’s the last Irish rebellion. Death to all traffic cones! Must be because they’re orange…

Here’s my hommage to these fallen conical heroes.

Nonchalant PicturesThe Japanese, as everyone I’m sure is aware, are mad about fish and especially fresh fish. They’ll do anything to get their hands on it and even in the urban jungle of Tokyo they’ll go out of their way for a fresh catch. The picture shows dead centre Tokyo and the people you see are business men who’ve just paid $6 for an hour of back-to-nature escapism. Next to the railroad tracks, underneath a busy overpass, that is.

I always thought that the freshness of the fish is the overriding concern when making good sushi and to some degree that is true. I once saw an eel taken from an aquarium by two chefs, one holding it down while the other filleted and sliced it. It required two men, because eel do a terrible job at dying easily, writhing and wriggling all the way through the process. In this particular instance, it stopped moving a second before being placed on a piece of rice and disappearing into an eager mouth.

So freshness is important, but after that it is all down to meticulous preparation and skill, and that brings us to the Zen aspect. If you ever have the opportunity to sit in a sushi bar and watch the chef create one piece of nigiri after another with incredible speed, you might be forgiven for thinking that there is not much to it, but once you give it a shot yourself, you realise the mistake.

Take the rice, for instance. It’s just rice isn’t it? Well, no. First of all, you need to wash the (short-grain) rice very thoroughly for five minutes or so to remove excess starch. Then you let it stand for half an hour to soak up the moisture, before placing it in a rice cooker. After it’s done, you let it stand for another ten minutes. In the meantime you prepare a rice vinegar, sugar and salt mixture, which you fold through the rice, fanning it down to room temperature until it begins to look glossy. And that’s just the rice.

To be fair, all of this isn’t particularly difficult, it just takes time. While the rice is cooking, you can slice the fish, and prepare the wasabi, and then you get to the best part: making the sushi. So far I’ve only tried nigiri sushi, which you shape by hand instead of rolling it in seaweed sheets. It’s more fun sculpting the pieces yourself, I think, and they taste better too.

Once again the act of fusing a slice of fish with a clump of rice is one of many steps, eight in total according to my cook book. If you skip one, such as dipping your hands in vinegared water, you run into trouble; in this case the rice will stick to your hands like cookie dough. The whole thing is like a ritual. If you perform all the necessary steps pre-ordained by tradition you will be rewarded with the perfectly shaped piece of sushi. I haven’t really gotten that far yet, I assume that’s where the skill-bit comes in, but as they say practice makes perfect.

doll.jpg“Impressive, eh? To have so much… and do so little with it.”

As quotes go this is a short one. Not so strange though, it being from a comic novel, Doll, a Manga by Mitsukazu Mihara. After my trip to Japan, back in October, I’ve picked up a book or two, mostly Samurai stuff, but Doll is not your standard comic book fare, even though the ingredients look very familiar.

It is set in the near future when technological advances have created androids (the titular Dolls) that are incredibly life-like. They work as personal assistants, housekeepers and lovers.

doll2.jpgNormally in these type of stories, the androids begin to develop thoughts or emotions and make the humans question where life begins and man’s authority over machines ends. See AI or The Matrix for versions of this. In Doll there is no doubt as to the artificiality of the android and that makes it all the more interesting and ultimately tragic. The dolls become vessels for people’s desires, hopes and obessions. In one of the stories, a husband creates a doll in the image of his late wife, but is then tormented by her presence: the woman he loved now a machine that obeys his every command.

Mihara asks some fundamental questions. What if we could give in to our obsessions? What if we could postpone our sorrow and hurt indefinitely with artificial recreations of life? A bittersweet world it would be…

goth.jpg

Her work has also had a lasting influence on Japanese fashion, being responsible for ‘Goth Loli‘, a truly bizarre style that tries to recreate the look of Victorian porcelain dolls.

‘I pray they find a place in this world to call home!’

From Nonchalant Pictures

Trafalgar Terrace is quiet. It is late. Outside, the Mercedeses – the SLK-convertibles, the A-class – await the start of a new working day. The battered Fiat Punto, poison green, cheapest car on the block, is picked out mercilessly by a street lantern. On the side walk, at the bottom of a short staircase, a mobility scooter hides under an impermeable cover. A little further down, a bright red Alfa Romeo Spider protects its delicate fender with a taped-up traffic cone.

Bright lights emanate from the basement apartments: The nursery filled with stuffed animals, a pink carpet on the polished wooden floorboards. The adolescent’s room, Audioslave poster on the back wall, a drum set by the window, weight bench taking up the center. The small Indian family’s empty living, working father, working mother, two children, every Sunday packed into an aging Renault Espace, off to visit relatives.

My downstairs neighbour Jack walks past outside. Jacket buttoned up, square glasses with tufts of white eyebrows rising above the thick frame, returning slightly befuddled from his evening constitutional. Almost time for bed now.

Metro-man“Where have all the real men gone?” Ever since Men’s Health began to catch up with Cosmopolitan and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy showed us how stylish we could be if only we tried, that question has been thrown out there a lot. I always thought it was overly hyped by the media. I mean, I still drink beer, watch football and occasionaly mismatch my clothes. So do most of my friends. And that’s what being a man is all about, right?

But then the other week I began to wonder if I had been missing the signs. I was sitting in the cafeteria with a couple of my colleagues – all men – talking the usual nonsense you talk at these times when I noticed a couple of disturbing things. First of all we were wearing the same outfits. All four of us, independently, had opted for blue jeans, a grey sweater or t-shirt, with a white crewneck just visible at the collar. A coincidence maybe, but freaky nonetheless.

Secondly, the topic of conversation. We had started off on the weekend’s football scores, but very quickly had turned to lasagne-making. How this happened I’m not quite sure. One of us had tried making lasagna on Sunday, but the pasta sheets hadn’t been properly cooked so the thing was basically ruined. On all accounts that should have been the end of it, but someone else jumped in with a tip on how to get it right the next time and before we knew it we were having a fully fledged Italian culinary discussion. Jamie Oliver eat your heart out !

I now had my eyes wide open. Was this a once-off or was there something else going on? A few days later the four of us gathered in the cafetaria again, all wearing light blue shirts on dark blue jeans, once again white crewnecks underneath. I mean, how was this possible?? Did we get subliminal input, telling us what to wear on which day? Or even worse, did it just feel like a light-blue kind of day? To all of us?

The conversation that day didn’t even touch on sports, but went straight to hairdressers. I’m not even joking here. I’d like to say barbers, but really it was hairdressers. We talked about a new shop that had opened up on the Liffey where they served champagne, gave you a relaxing scalp massage, had St Germain tunes playing in the background, and gave you a trendy do, ending each session with a quick recap: So what I’ve done is get some of the weight out of the sides and then bring back the hair on top to give you that choppy natural look….

One guy at the table hadn’t heard of the place, but not to worry: a card appeared from a wallet and he was set to make an appoint for the next weekend. Two women were eating with us that day. They listened in silence, aghast.

So the metro-man has obviously arrived and seems to be here to stay. Who created him? Was it the feminists, who in their attacks on male chauvinism ended up creating a monster? Is it our newfound wealth, which gives men the spare time and required amount of wealthy boredom to pursue the perfect look? Personally I like to blame advertising. After destroying the self-esteem of the female part of our population, they realised that men are just as susceptible to commercial brainwash.

The ‘Because You’re Worth It Too’ anti-wrinkle campaign by L’Oreal is a fantastic example. It shows a man in his thirties, the camera zooms in on his face and the voice over says: ‘What you think are great lines, she thinks is premature aging!’ Whack ! There goes your self-image. You’re not aging well. You’re no Sean Connery or George Clooney. You’re ugly or at least on your way there. But not to fear, once your self-esteem is destroyed, you can buy the new Men’s Expert by L’Oreal Paris line of products to rebuild it.

Maybe the metro-man has the future. Maybe that’s what women want as well. Check out the L’Oreal for Men website for a glimpse of that future, my favorites are the how-to videos with Kyan (from queer eye fame) on applying moisturiser and the like, scary stuff…

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