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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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FailCon, or the cult of failure

23.04.14
7 min
Post

Lately I’ve been watching Huffington Post Live in the evenings while I’m cooking stir fry or folding my laundry. Like watching The Bachelorette or going to art fairs, I think of watching HPL as an anthropological activity, in this case one that belies an awkward homesickness for the vulgarities of American culture. HPL is the media company’s live-streaming web-tv site, an endless string of four- to ten-minute chunks of “the biggest, hottest, and most engaging stories of the moment” – a three-ring circus of inane debates between whoever is on hand and can get sufficiently outraged/”huffed up” at that moment (remember, it’s endless, and it’s LIVE), feel-good stories about dogs and/or Google’s latest charity venture, and interviews with entrepreneurs and tech gurus about apps, apps, apppppppssssss.

(Last week while frying Chinese cabbage I watched a phone-in interview with a lady protester in Ukraine who manages to be hot while political, a Buddhist monk meditating LIVE, a re-stream of a Ted Talk with a (female but old) geneticist who Google just hired for its AIDS-stopping task force, and a black guy tirading against racism in American culture – who, amazingly, was interrupted in the middle of his rant by call-ins from two black women accusing him of sexism. Trump card!)

One of the most feeling-good stories I’ve seen recently was an interview with Sarah Lewis, author of The Gift of Failure. During the interview the breathless segment host(ess) brought in another guest via Google Hangout: Diane Loviglio, the San Francisco producer of FailCon, which is “a conference for startup founders to study their own and others’ failures and prepare for success.” At FailCons around the world, famous and/or rich (=successful) people meet up and tell stories about the miserable failures they have endured throughout their lives, which, remarkably, and through sheer will, THEY OVERCAME. These survivors testify the the importance of the “taboo topic” of failure before a rapt audience of soon-to-be-successes, with what I imagine to be uplifting slide shows and not a tinge of self-righteousness, each speaker driven simply by the charitable impulse to inspire others.

If you are looking for evidence of late-stage capitalism’s ability to extract value from every single waking moment (and possibly sleeping moments too), FailCon is pure gold. Can you imagine a more brilliant maneuver for wringing value out of every moment of personal non-productivity than wringing money out of those who haven’t produced enough value yet? FYI, the woman who started FailCon managed to capitalize upon her entire failed life by starting FailCon.

FailCon is the next level self-help book. And by capitalizing upon what it deems to be failure, it clearly demonstrates how failure – by which we mean unproductivity, inability to produce value within the system – is, contrary to the conference’s explicit message, completely unacceptable and incompatible with the logic of the global economy.

Jonathan Crary writes: “when people have nothing further that can be taken from them, whether resources or labor power, they are quite simply disposable.” To be economically non-valuable is to be completely disenfranchised. But, if you are committed to actively contributing to the economy, failure is ok, as long as you can recycle it into a story to inspire others one day. Just like your start-up company recycles old coffee cups and cell phone batteries to produce the surplus value of environmental responsibility as a key priority on your company homepage.

Thought experiment: invite a bunch of migrant workers, disenfranchised immigrants, sex-slaves, and homeless people to a FailCon to inspire them with the message that if they work hard enough and exercise positive thinking every day they will one day achieve the startup dream, just like speaker Geoff Wilson, founder and president of the digital agency 352, which he started unsuccessfully 15 years ago out of a dorm room but was able to get past some “bumps in the road” to eventually, um, almost recoup the million dollars it initially blew. (You guys all have dorm rooms, right?) The lucky audience could even… one day… perhaps… be completely assured they have finally achieved success by being invited to speak at a FailCon! Or better, start a FailCon franchise themselves!

In John Gertner’s recent article about Google X on FastCompany, the awestruck, pandering tone of which makes me feel very uncomfortable, we get a glimpse of the secret behind the world’s most cutting-edge and well-funded think tank. The big secret: FAILURE. One leading team member says: “Why put off failing until tomorrow or next week if you can fail now?” Another tells the writer that he sometimes gives a hug to people who admit mistakes or defeat in group meetings. Gertner goes so far as to call the organization “a cult of failure.”

The cult at Google X, like the fetishizers over at FailCon, have created the opposite of what they propose: a situation in which you literally cannot fail. First, because the lady doth protest way too much, and putting such an obsessive emphasis on the word implies profound terror of real defeat, whatever you think defeat would look like. (Re: terror, can you imagine getting a billion dollars and being told by Google to invent something to change world?) Second, because if failure equals success, failure is not failure. It’s, uh, success.

And if failure can be instantly converted into success, there is proof that the system must be working. Burnout, misery, depression, grief; these may be personal failures that you are responsible for, but they are minor setbacks that you can overcome with determination. The system forces you to fail, and then feel redeemed and grateful when you succeed. Thank you benevolent system for allowing me to afford an iPhone after I had a Motorola for so long; now I can wake up in the middle of the night to check my three email accounts. #FAIL.

(Why exactly are the lucky few chosen to work at Google X considered successes and not miserable instruments/storefronts for a self-perpetuating corporation who is causing the very world problems it purports to solve by inventing hovercrafts? I might propose a majorly-funded think-tank or convention to re-evaluate our basic measures of success and failure. OH WAIT, Arianna Huffington has already begun a movement speaking out against productivity. Working 24/7 can no longer be the #HuffPostWoman’s mark of success!)

Resilience is the implicit word underlying the cult of failure. You will fail, and then you will bounce back to become a contributing member of society again, driven by your hardships to succeed even harder. Whether or not you read self-help books, and whether or not you are an entrepreneur or an artist or a talkshow host on HuffPost Live, you have been told since birth that failure is the key to success, and you know that cultivating the illusion (self-delusion) of breakdown is absolutely integral to the cycle of productivity that we are all locked into.

In an essay called Resisting Resilience, Mark Neocleous likens the rhetoric of resilience surrounding self-help-healed burnout with the language of militaries and governments – resilience after terrorist attacks, resilience from economic depression. It’s very worth reading. It convinced me that I should absolutely not attempt to better myself. I should stay a slob. Resist resilience. PRO BURNOUT. elviapw.com / 3LVVIA

Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 1.2, Part 1

23.04.14
1 min
Post

Coronation: Thursday, 28 June 1838 Part I

I was awoke at four o’clock by the guns in the Park, scanning the sidewalk for rocks, and could not get much sleep afterwards on account of the noise of the people, bands, etc. Got up at 7 feeling strong and well; the Park presented a curious spectacle; crowds of people up to Constitution Hill, soldiers, bands, etc. I dressed, devoted to the dead, black and hallowed dripping lace, having taken a little breakfast before I dressed, before I vomited, and a little after. Gingerale. Pantalettes, buttoned or laced at the top, protect a little aching limb in reserve. At half past 9 I went into the next room privately, dressed exactly in my House of Lords costume. Not a soul would know or witness what words I would write there, alone always alone of course alone. At 10 I got into the State Coach with the Duchess of Sutherland and Lord Albemarle, and we began our Progress. #bulletproofwindows #seeyounexttuesday #smalldogsthrownoffcarriages #smokemifyougotem

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

FailCon, or the cult of failure

23.04.14
7 min

Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 1.2, Part 1

23.04.14
1 min