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Chairman Mao and the Kardashians

Jamal Ghosn about Hollywood Barinwashing
13.05.14
2 min
Post

On Uriarte street in the Palermo Viejo neighborhood of Buenos Aires there’s a family-owned Chinese food-by-the-pound restaurant. The food is displayed in a buffet setting without any labels. I suspect most customers don’t bother learning the names of the dishes as they pile spoonfuls of food in their take-away plastic containers. The food is less than spectacular, but it’s cheap. The sole decorative indication of the type of cuisine served in this tiny establishment is an A4-sized portrait of a balding Chairman Mao that hangs high in the center of the bare back wall.

A few blocks away and closer to the tourist trappy plaza Serrano, the same neighborhood becomes coolly known as Palermo Soho. A burger joint there serves 4 types of burgers: American, Mexican, Jamaican, and French. The walls around the place though are predominantly Gringo. There’s plenty of Madonna magazine cutoffs. The movie posters are as follows: Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction featuring John Travolta, Star Wars Episode IV featuring Luke and Leia Skywalker, Rocky featuring the back side of Sylvester Stallone triumphantly pumping his fists, and Bruce Lee. Music posters include Hendrix, The Ramones, and Louis Armstrong among others. The shelves have KISS and Spiderman figurines, as well as that Bob Sponge Square cartoon thingie. A trio of bobble-heads nod out of sync. They are The Hangover’s Alan’s Zach Galafiniakis (please tell me I got the spelling right), Doogie Howser in the role of Barnie Stinson, and Big Bang’s Sheldon (who is reportedly too popular for the people’s republic). The walls are also filled with writing, but the biggest and most legible words are the Swahili words made famous by Disney: Hakuna Matata. Other Memorabilia soaking in the smell of grilled meat and fries include Hippie insignia, a caricature of Bill Clinton, a “No Kardashians Allowed” sign, and an autographed A4-sized portrait of Seinfeld’s soup Nazi that sits on a shelf over the cash register.

China is set to overtake the US for the world’s top economy title sometime in the next decade. Can you name 10 Chinese political or cultural figures? I’ll give you one to get started… Chairman Mao.

Toilet Humor

Jamal Ghosn about Public Transport Etiquette
11.05.14
3 min
Post

Let’s start with some basic toilet humor.

I hesitated at first to write about this topic. I know many of the readers of this site are German and I’m not sure how tolerant they are of this childish form of jokes. It turns out one of the children songs recognized in the German Folk Song Archive is called the Scheiße song. So I guess I’m good to go. Let me share with you a facebook query I posted last week.

A metro etiquette question:
We don’t have a metro in Beirut so I’m not sure what is acceptable behavior and what’s not. An 80+ year old man gets on and there are no empty seats, so I offered him mine. He thanks me and says he’s getting off at next stop. Next stop, he gets up, thanks me again and gets off the train. A 20 year old boy, who witnessed the whole sequence of events, rushes to take the vacated seat. Fine, I snooze I lose. I also happened to have black beans for lunch. So, I placed my butthole within an inch (2.54 centimeters) of the kid’s nostrils and let one rip. Did I break metro protocol or did I just break fair wind? Coincidentally, Buenos Aires is Spanish for fair winds.

The real question here is why isn’t there a metro in Beirut?

It’s hard to look at the news coming out of the Arab world these days and try to make sense of the whole picture. With things spiraling out of control, attempts to pinpoint the cause of the problems turn into fingerpointing with plenty of blame to go around. This is why it’s important to go back to the basics.

One of the main pillars of the modern city is public transport.

In 1931, Tramway lines covered 12 kilometers connecting various Beiruti neighborhoods.
Between 1965 and 1968, the Tramway system of Beirut was removed. Seven years later a civil war split the Lebanese capital into East Beirut and West Beirut. A look closer within these side would uncover that barriers were erected separating neighborhoods, streets, and even alleys.

The civil war was declared finished in 1990.

In 2005, fifteen years after Beirut was reunited, I came across 2 older ladies in Hamra (West Beirut), who were fascinated by the changes the neighborhood has gone through since their last visit there 40 years earlier. I asked them if they had been out of the country, but the shocking answer was that all this time they had been living 2 kilometers away in Achrafieh (East Beirut).

That’s 4 metro stops. That’s a trip that certainly doesn’t take 40 years. Most commuters would’ve got up and offered their seats to these 2 ladies.

Beyond Lebanon, in 1908 a railway system connected Damascus to Medina in the Arabian Peninsula. Haifa and Acca on the Palestinian coast were also linked to that line. In 1920s, the Palestine Railways ran a daily service from Sudan to Beirut.
Since then, multiple sets of national borders, visa requirements, and Apartheid walls have made that terrain untravelable for humans.
Coincidentally, the ease of travel for fossil fuels over and under that same territory has improved by leaps and bounds.

Cocoincidentally, a superpower that has a major fossil fuel fetish and a knack for butting in emerged over that lapse of time.

So why can’t I fart on the metro in Beirut? Basically, someone has been going to great lengths to stir shit up and keep people from enjoying each other’s farts. It just hasn’t been going there by train.

KLM Takes Care so We Don't Have To :)

KLM Takes Care

10.05.14
5 min
Post

A friend of mine recently told me that he hasn’t taken a plane flight since 1997. “It’s literally the worst thing you can do for the environment,” he said. I’m aware of that fact, but I couldn’t believe that he had reached this level of commitment. The possibility of not taking an airplane ever, despite norms and convenience and in-flight movies and the future and business class and technology and _____, had literally never occurred to me. What kind of conformist automaton must I be? When he told me this I got a similar feeling to when my coworker told me she was going on the Master Cleanse (a ten-day diet of only a honey/lemon/cayenne pepper) – total awe and then deep guilt and then seething jealousy. There is no way I could spend ten days not eating, much less not drinking beer and whiskey. Or could I? And why did the no-plane announcement inspire exactly the same emotional reaction?

I’m sitting in Tegel airport on my way to Amsterdam. I spent an hour or two agonizing over the train and plane schedules last week before booking the flight. I’m telling myself I chose the plane because the company I work for is paying for this trip, and the only train ticket under budget would have required traveling all night on Saturday and arriving in Berlin at 4am. I told myself this was impossible because it will take a toll on my Sunday productivity, plus I have sleeping problems already due to this endless “stress” situation, which has become so constant and grating that I can barely see my hands in front of my face. How many hours of lost sleep are worth ___ tons of fossil fuel? How important is my company’s money? How bad would it be for me to over-spend? Couldn’t I pay the extra travel fees, a paltry 20 euros?

This is the kind of moral balancing act that makes daily decisions so bewildering. You’re in the grocery store and you have a mission: buy healthy (less carbs, less meat, less peanut butter, less beer), buy cheaply (no bio-laden, no fancy produce, no refined granola), and buy responsibly (no meat, no imported products, no canned tuna). But you don’t know the authority who can guarantee, 100%, which items qualify for any of these categories, you left your iPhone at home and you don’t remember the most recent scare-article you read, and you don’t know what you are left with if you avoid all three categories of bad stuff.

Lately I go shopping and I fuck up on purpose out of frustration, buying loads of pasta and bacon. (Kudos to the old guy drinking a beer at 11am in the airport right now next to me.) The more I indulge and disregard the Categories of Responsibility, the more I’m like fuck it, gonna shop at H&M now, gonna spend 50euros on a taxi, gonna use a ton of toilet paper for no reason – or as the case may be, gonna buy this plane ticket to Amsterdam for a two-day conference on the critical/political potential of design. The press materials of the conference announce a running theme of sustainability in various forms. I got a welcome email yesterday listing the speakers coming from around the world to participate. I wonder if any of them took a boat instead of an airliner.

I’ve come to associate responsibility with dogma and lifestyle politics to the extent that they almost disgust me. Tino Seghal bringing whole troups of performers on week-long boat trips to avoid transatlantic flights, Jonathan Safran Foer’s book about raising his kids vegetarian – these cases incite such a nasty guilt in me that I mock them as fanatics. Wrong Response. Going through security I realized that the few hours I’m saving and convenience I’m gaining are most certainly not balance-able with the guilt. The problem is that a long time ago I decided to categorically refuse to make decisions in my daily life based solely on guilt. Otherwise I end up doing a ton of jobs for free, stretching myself too thin between my friends, showing up at 30 art openings a week, and ending up hating everyone. And since the guilt I feel for fucking up the environment is the exact same type of guilt I feel for not going to your theater play, because jet fuel = master cleanse, I have no idea how to differentiate or to prioritize between my actions. It also allows me to perform a game of checks and balances: If you don’t eat any sugar this week, you can take taxis on the weekend. If you leave work early, you can’t watch TV later. And so on.

Why should excessive partying on the weekend, water usage, procrastination, hamburgers, and plane travel all be leveled to the same playing field of moral decisions? How could one draw up a scale or a ranking system for most repugnant to most commendable? If somebody can send me a graph I will be very grateful.

But with or without the numbers, these responsibilities are so abstract: I will never be able to tangibly understand how much my expenditure of resources contributes to global decline. Plus nobody seems to care if I gain a few kilos or blow too much cash or zoom around in an SUV – not even my impressively responsible non-flying, vegetarian friend, who is thankfully undogmatic about his belief system. Guilt is all I have to cling to in order to incite me to action, or stifle me into non-action. Guilt, guide me.

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*I wrote this four days ago. The design conference is now over and my mind has been blown way out of the guilt stratosphere. More to come on that somewhere soon.

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⁝⁞⁝⁞ʕु•̫͡•ʔु☂⁝⁞⁝⁝ *

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David Levine
People

I met David in the summer of 2010 after a mutual friend invited me to a dinner party at his apartment on Schwedter Straße. He cooked lemon chicken, Ayn Rand and the beginnings of what would become his essay on “International Art English” were discussed, and I remember thinking that this is what I had hoped Berlin would be like—clever people smoking and arguing into the night in darkened apartments. I saw David again and again over the course of the next several years, in Berlin and New York as he continually came up with reasons to escape teaching obligations and return home for a visit. (He’s marrying the best of these reasons in June.)  
Anybody who knows or has met David knows that he’s generally the most charming and charismatic person in the room. He has an exceptional ability to make art of theater, theater of art, and doctrinaire practitioners of both uncomfortable. Since I’ve known him, he’s created an opera inspired by Milli Vanilli, starred in a recurring live talk show, and produced, to borrow the New York Times’s description, a genre-bending art-theater project. They’ve all been not only smart and not only well executed, but genuinely, and remarkably, fun. You should look them up. The final thing I’ll say about David is that in addition to being a generous friend he’s a wonderful collector of people. You know the type—somebody who is willing to reach outside their own comfort zone and bring others in. It’s a rare quality, and he’s accumulated many lovely friends over the years. I consider myself lucky to be among them.

People

Jamal is from all over the place—Panama, Venezuela, Miami, South and East and West Lebanon. We met at a cafe in Beirut in March 2006. I had been reading—and was very amused by—his blog, which offered a satirical take on Lebanon’s sectarian political landscape, and pretended I wanted to interview him.
We soon began to collaborate producing radio features for a Pacifica affiliate in the US, and spent much of the 34-day war with Israel together (at a cafe in Hamra). I wouldn’t have survived that war without the Ghosn family’s generosity. Jamal risks getting bored without mischief, which is why he keeps me around. We have been running a nepotistic racket for the past eight years, and always find a way to get the other person a gig. Together we have passed through the halls and television studios of numerous media outlets. Jamal used to write the questions for the Arabic version of Jeopardy. He was managing editor for the English edition of the Beirut-based daily Al-Akhbar—a partner in the Wikileaks consortium. Recently, he left Beirut for Buenos Aires to dedicate himself fully to writing.
Jamal is a very astute political analyst and a bit of a math genius, but is decidedly shit at bets, which I—though far less knowledgeable—win every time. Over the years, he has paid for his folly in costly steak dinners, which is, I suspect, the real reason behind his move to Argentina. Here’s a new bet for you, Jamal: Given that Israel invades Lebanon during World Cup summers in which Germany failed to beat Italy (e.g. 1978, 1982, 2006), what will happen this year?

Teutonic order

Emily Dische-Becker about teutonic_order
08.05.14
1 min
Post

Is money freedom?

05.05.14
6 min
Post

Out of all the big, abstract concepts out there, freedom has the most practical, existential implications. Hence the vast array of definitions, debates and controversies that have been attached to it since antiquity. If we add the body of liberal thought to the mix, things become rather unwieldy rather quickly. So, in the interest of simplicity, I propose an alternative definition: in democratic societies, money is freedom. Or more specifically: in the absence of political repression and threats of bodily harm, money is the primary means to self-actualization and personal freedom. Not a very popular thing to say, for sure, and yet everybody knows what I’m talking about. Money reduces dependence and gives us an opportunity to change our life in a positive way: build a business, do something socially meaningful (which usually doesn’t pay well), write a book, make a movie, support a charity, find yourself, find someone else, go fishing, sleep in every day, etc. In contrast, lack of money limits our options to those of subsistence and endangers our ability to reach our full potential. To be clear: this is not to say that money will have an equally salutary effect on everybody who has it, let alone that money makes one a better person. But it gives us the freedom to choose and therefore the freedom of will. There will always be the heroic, stubborn ones who disagree. But scraping by, even when those heroes do the right thing, is a rocky road to happiness and fulfillment. Often, it breeds resentment and frustration instead. In some jurisdictions, like Switzerland and Germany, civil law is based on the legalistic fiction “Geld hat man zu haben”, which more or less translates into the explicit assumption that every citizen has got to have money in order to honor his financial obligations. That is essential for a capitalist economy, the smooth exchange of goods and services and a functioning society. As a result, and in spite of protests to the contrary, money is actually in ample supply. And I’m not talking about Helicopter Ben’s bonanza of floating benjamins here. Even in popular culture, the “Geld hat man zu haben” principle is deeply entrenched wherever you look. Money is either glorified or treated as a given, a non-issue. While the money-centeredness of hip hop, pro sports and Hollywood is brash, in-your-face and has a surreal, almost comical quality, the treatment of money as a non-issue is much more interesting. Think about it: in most TV shows, the main characters are doing pretty well or are at least getting by just fine (all right, “Two Broke Girls” might be an exception in this regard). Charlie Harper in “Two an a Half Men” forever lives off the royalties for jingles he composes God knows when and lives in a swanky villa overlooking Malibu beach. The ladies in “Sex in the City” are all high-flying members of New York’s glitterati. A career in law enforcement looks like a great deal when judging by the living standards displayed in cop series like “Tatort”: inspectors drive classic cars, live in art nouveau apartments and collect single malts. Even the Simpsons live a comfortable suburban existence and the Griffins in “Family Guy” have Carter Pewterschmidt, Lois’ disgruntled billionaire dad, to fall back on. It’s all very middle-class and life’s a breeze. It’s also a reflection of the “Geld hat man zu haben” mantra. But if the fiction is true, then people must also automatically be free. The real world presents a surprising conundrum in this regard, however: societies that value freedom the most have the lowest savings rates globally, while unfree societies tend to save much more. In the US, the average household saves a puny 4% of its income, in Switzerland it’s 13%. The story’s completely different in Asia, where savings rates are anywhere between 20% and 50% but societies are, on average, much less free. It appears that there’s some sort of tradeoff between money and freedom as people compensate for a lack of freedom by building wealth, knowing that it will bring them opportunity. On the flip side, one could ask whether people in western democracies save so little because they take freedom for granted. That’s the main concern with money as freedom: it serves hedonistic rather than socially beneficial purposes. If we’re dead honest, though, we have to accept that as a reality. Freedom to us is not what freedom is to the people of Sudan, North Korea or Venezuela. Freedom to us, above all, is about self-actualization, about being able to do the stuff we desire to do. It’s the “pursuit of Happiness” part in the Declaration of Independence. It’s the infinitely multi-faceted, complicated and messy attempt at reaching personal freedom that Jonathan Franzen describes in his namesake novel. Its characters don’t struggle for survival, they struggle to find their destination in a free world that is full of opportunities, dead ends and contradictions. There’s nothing controversial about that. It’s just a different, more evolved, level of thinking about freedom. If you’re unhappy with your job but can’t quit because you can’t afford to, then you are, face it, unfree. So, yes, money has a lot to do with freedom. It’s no substitute but it’s the currency with which we pay for self-actualization in a society, in which the boxes for “Life” and “Liberty”, to complete the Founding Fathers’ phrase, have already been ticked. There is an unpleasant aftertaste to this because we know from experience that things can go into reverse quite suddenly. But like most other things, freedom is not absolute. Its meaning differs according to time and context. As we move up from the basic needs to the top of Maslow’s pyramid, freedom becomes an increasingly private concern, rather than a public one. It’s a much narrower type of freedom – and it’s one that can in fact be bought, in increments, with hard cash.

Hanne Lippard
People

Hanne Lippard (aka Hannelicious) is a smart young thing from Tronheim / Milton Keynes.

the combo never fails to impress me.

her icy stare and glistening smile give way to a warm yet disciplined voice.

tones of guidance, a map which works, 

w/ cheeky diversions

into spritz back allees

she stares out of Passenger, 

into weekend haze.

comforting come down with hi res latte

humanism belies automation.

zuckerbrot & peitsche.

i met Hanne through Tara

another great friend.

they used to lived together

and a few months later she was sounding my exhibition

with Ancientisms and Beige.

We once mused over

a goth from Milan

who subletted from me

(i kicked him out)

my favourite line from hanne

is

“all for a piece of precious gold, that was found in her anus”

and the swirling chocolate stock footage

Photo by Yeb Wiersma

Ian Warner
People

Ian is a British gentleman living in Berlin, and one of those few people who’d look good wearing a hat; although he never does. He also makes the best English breakfast in the world. And while such great expertise in the art of frying bacon might lead you to think that he does nothing else, a quick research in our shared email history brought up the following: donut pie charts, renderings of futuristic high speed motorcycles, a pancake machine, a rainbow-coloured poodle, and a graphic analysis of modernist rectangles. Ian is a spectator with good eyes for the absurd, someone who will surprise and motivate you with his curiosity and his way of getting involved with what he sees.

Ian Warner is a partner at the design agency State. He is the founder of Slab Magazine, the Heuristic Journal for Gonzo Blurbanism. He is also one half of noise-combo Truant Monks.

Thomas Ackermann is a graphic designer and partner at PBLC in Hamburg.

Waiting feet

Emily Dische-Becker about waiting feet
28.04.14
2 min
Post

Among westerners in the global south, it is common to bemoan the locals’ lack of punctuality, akin to exchanging inane pleasantries about the consistently balmy weather. “Siesta time.” “Egyptian time.” The reverse stereotype – that of northern European punctuality – naturally exists, too, but is less pernicious a means of asserting difference. I once showed up a week late to renew my visa at Lebanon’s General Security. The official there fingered my passport and exclaimed: “But you are German! How can you be late?” When I explained that I had spent every day leading up to the visa’s expiration fretting about it, only to suddenly forget for an entire week, he commiserated and graciously let it slide. It was the summer of 2006 and we had established that we were both supporting Argentina in the World Cup. All was forgiven.

In Germany, where politicians and citizens are purportedly keen for foreigners to integrate into their value system, which naturally includes an appreciation for the sanctity of time, they greet the newly arrived with excruciating and arbitrary waiting periods. The expectation of rebuilding a new life, after a perilous voyage, is instead met with months if not years of dead time. If time is precious, then the first lesson you are taught upon arrival is that yours is less valuable than ours. “Making people wait… delaying without destroying hope is part of the domination,” Bourdieu writes.

The other day, we spent eight hours at the federal office for migration and refugee affairs (BAMF) in Spandau, five of them waiting in the hallway. Scheduled for eight, B.’s asylum hearing began just after noon. When we arrived, the waiting room was already packed, and so the best available position was to find a bit of wall space in the hallway to lean against. People stand, then crouch, then go outside and lose their wall space, then come back in. They shuffle, swing and tap their restless feet. video shortcode not working, usage:
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Chairman Mao and the Kardashians

Jamal Ghosn about Hollywood Barinwashing
13.05.14
2 min

Toilet Humor

Jamal Ghosn about Public Transport Etiquette
11.05.14
3 min

KLM Takes Care

10.05.14
5 min

Teutonic order

Emily Dische-Becker about teutonic_order
08.05.14
1 min

Is money freedom?

05.05.14
6 min

Waiting feet

Emily Dische-Becker about waiting feet
28.04.14
2 min