Eagle and serpent

explorations and philosophy: in the world, of the world

Category: General

Sweet, toxic

Not trying to address it now myself, just take a look at the interview!

This opens up a variety of threads of thought; food safety and regulation of substances only among them.

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On the origin of food

Writing about the origin of food for us contemporary supermarket-bound and slow-food-preferring culinarily-minded individuals has been tickling my mind for over a year now. Maybe it’s a good reason to start blogging again, who knows?

It started last year as I ordered a grilled rock lobster in a fine restaurant in Lisbon. Picked up living, the waiter squeezed his eyes to make him “say goodbye” by waving his only remaining arm (the other one had been taken away for a reason unknown to me, probably for the reasons of economic profit). As it happened, Luis tried to jump off the plate, but the laughing executioner aptly caught him. Within minutes, Luis returned to me, halved, grilled and scenting of saffron. Tasteful.

Although I failed to blog about this funny incident back then, I was reminded by it this year as I was fishing with my brave niece and nephew. Catching the numerous fish, mostly zander and the pike, was of course exhilarating. It was also exiting for everyone to row to the shore and meet the children’s mother and grandmother and tell them about the epic trip, wondering the beasts. But…the question emerged…then what? What was to be the destiny of those pritive, sharp-toothed beings?

Well, this brings us to the crossroads of real life and philosophy; and how the use of language ‘sanitises’ our life-experiences. What I did with the fish was I killed, slaughtered and cut them to pieces. Intriguingly, my choices of words of explaining the then-on-going process were not extremely highly regarded by the gate-keepers of family morality. Why? Should we clean our vocabularies of violence, even if that is exactly what we do to living beings to keep ourselves (well-)fed?

In our contemporary society, death and violence are highly regulated, conceptually and rhetorically. Meat comes from the supermarket and when people grow old they end up dying in hospitals (this gives a whole new meaning to ‘taking care’, doesn’t it?). Violence is abundant in entertainment, but daycare aunties and other professionals of education condemn boyish wrestling as ‘gendered violence’. In this post, I’m only concentrating on the un-knowability of the origin of food and how children should be protected from knowing it? Or should they?

The main reason for this seems to be to save them from the emotional distress of losing their cuddly animal friends. On the other hand, our whole Western lifestyle depends on killing; not only animals, but other human beings as well. What a hypocritical dilemma! In other words, we want to whitewash our life-worlds by the proper use of words. Everyone knows that ‘killing’ doesn’t sound that good.

This might be a thread in the development of ‘cleaning’ media-vocabularies as well: is this not similar to ‘neutralising’ terrorists? In a sense, this combines patronising, neo-colonialism and compassion. ‘Cleaning’ fish and ‘terrorist training facilities’ doesn’t sound that bad after all…

The innocence of organised professionals

The newly-leaked video showing the unprovoked killing of twelve people in Baghdad reminded me of an old theme. Namely, that of individuals, organisations and the responsibility of action.

I remember Henry Rollins (in one of his spoken word shows) justifying his visits to the ‘boys overseas’ with something like: “…there’s nothing wrong with the military itself–they’re just doing what they’re told…the leaders are the real criminals…”

Now, as this seems to be very easy to agree with, initially, I happened to travel to Viet Nam only few months later.

And lo! A photograph of grinning marines holding the heads of decapitated Vietnamese villagers reminded me of Henry’s words, “nothing wrong with the military…” Sure. I couln’t help but think of the role of the organisation and its culture while they were ‘helping’ the Vietnamese. This was especially evident after seeing the text behind the photo, scribbled by a soldier having witnessed the atrocity, lamenting “what this f*@#ing army does to the minds of normal boys”.

Similarly, in the recent video provided by Wikileaks, the soldiers comment their work with a charming phrase, only to chuckle about running over a body with a tank just a while later:

“Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.”…”Nice.”

A similar argument to Henry’s is heard quite often, only the context changes: concentration camp guards (they were following orders), informers (they were worried about the nation’s survival during the cold war), Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo torture cases perhaps serving as the relevant recent examples. Although my personal experience of military is very limited (I have not participated in any of the ‘humanitarian military interventions’), I still think I have some insight of the functioning of such ‘firms’. During my year in the compulsory national service, I most probably experienced the most sexist, racist, nationalistic and (surprise, surprise) militaristic organisation in this country. What else should one expect from an institution run by half-wits and built on the foundation of mythico-eternal enmity?

Now, as the so-called Western democracies take great pains in demonising the Taleban and whichever movement comes between them and their strategic interests, isn’t it interesting that sexist slavery still exist in our very own societies? And, as a corollary, is it a surprise that organisations like these, having gone ‘abroad’ on pretexts lingering criminal insanity, also carry on the gravest injustices, defined by their very own propaganda?

This post neither solves the problem of agency and structure in social theory (and I’m not even sure if it is the right question), nor the role of culture and individual will in organisational behaviour. What it hopefully does, is it shows that what we do we end up doing. In other words, killers look for something to kill. Their best intentions and articulated mission statements only serve as rationalisations for the atrocities that have to be retrospectively justified.

Violent, us?

Once someone criticises this place, the righteous appear to come up with all kinds of explanations and feeble defenses. Quite recently, an Estonia-born author noted Ultima Thule to have a culture that embraces violence at all its levels. With the obvious reactions.

One doesn’t have to refer to the national statistics to note that here people are unfriendly, untactful and unappealing. Added to the visions of war and mythical relationship to the existence of the nation make the obvious contribution. Everything here seems to be just one more instance of the ‘miracle of the winter war’.

Luckily, we’ll once again see how the nation lies (as independence day looms just one away). It’s interesting to see in practice and festive speeches how ‘our’ security is nowadays extended to participate in the coalition of the willing, defending what the Americans call ‘human rights’.

It might also be intriguing to psycho-analyse our militaristic right, as it seems to be suffering of the fact that they cannot openly and with the fullest of their ability participate in the so-called ‘peacekeeping’ operations.

UPDATE: Breaking news–the defense minister visiting Afghanistan over i-day! How metaphorical!

Tortured gods, institutions

Noticing the amusing outrage about the status of crucifixes in Italian schools, one’s tempted to have a multitude of reactions. On one hand, keeping these kind of religious symbols in classrooms in these times of (at least outspoken) secularism, is rather weird. On the other, is it a surprise that the populace is outraged? Third, what’s the point of court orders which no-one can (or is willing to) enforce?

Culturally, the whole issue triggers an interesting set of questions. Moving beyond the obvious “this-is-our-culture” identity-fortifying outcry, what is the source of this reaction? Could it be that somehow unconsciously, Italians are proud of the cross and their god being tortured to death on it? Thus, Italians (in the loving memory of the Roman empire) want to embrace the heritage of introducing that particular torturing/execution method. Sweet.

Pseudo-scientific comparative analysis

I think it’s time for one. Some ten days here in the land of sunshine, culinary excellence and friendly people give the needed backrest for some reflections of my time on the island.

Food: London is simply wonderful, even traditional British treats are excellent; one just has to know where to go. No need to elaborate here further, the interested ones should just research TimeOut or book a flight. Compared to London Helsinki is generally miserable, sometimes positively surprising in its exoticism, the peak being narrow, boring and very pricey.

Prices: Nominal prices are what they are, currency rates fluctuating, added to cultural and geographical differences of availability. If ‘expensive’ is perceived as “the cost of what you get”, London wins 6-0. By the river the scope varies from good and cheap to exquisite in both ways, by the sea one can choose between expensive mediocrities and very expensive haute stuff.

Alcohol: Both are pathologically infested with alcoholics and a culture of excessive consumption. The North leans more towards binging and glorification of non-controlled drunken idiocy, whereas the Brits sip all the time. After work, the streets in front of pubs are crowded at least four evenings a week, full of shouting and smoking office labour. Splendid. On the other hand, Helsinki is drunkard-littered ‘only’ two times a week (summertime is another matter), and has more brawling and aggressive behaviour (in London one has to seek a bit).

Housing: In this sense, Helsinki is a clear winner (except for the geo-location). At the price of a nice studio in Helsinki city centre, in London the same money buys you a garage with dust, mould and free street entertainment. Crumbling infra is a big turn-off, added to the almost inescapable need to commute (in similarly crumbling) mass transit establishment.

People: One thing I’ll definitely miss is the politeness and considerateness of the people around. Everyone is simply used to taking other people’s space and person into account, physically and verbally, which is definitely not the case in Ultima Thule. Maybe it’s due to the long history of people living together, don’t know. Nevertheless the archetypical, rude Finnish redneck with two modes of talking—complete silence and verbal abuse—is not appealing.

Hubris levels (ungrounded self-satisfaction added to ignorance about the exterior world) are pretty much the same in both countries. In the UK, however, they have far better reasons for that; hence it’s slightly less ridiculous.

Couple in the cabin

Lars von Trier’s newest is a disturbing one. Careful with the reviews though, discussions of Antichrist’s disturbance often become spoilers.

The flick has absolutely stunning cinematography. Slow motions and art-like colours are combined throughout the film with an eerie soundtrack. Depending on the viewer, it might also be viewed either as a feminist or a misogynistic film. Beauty/ugliness, inside/outside, bliss/pain, life/death, you name it. Lars likes to disturb. In a way, this play with contrasts is an old one.

One likable feature in von Trier’s story-telling is his habit of dropping hints along the journey. On the other hand, these traces, picked up and followed, can lead to an underlined use of symbolism. What he discusses nicely is man’s relationship with nature, fear, the forest around him and how it gazes him from within himself.

The cabin becomes the self.

Back on the island

After a month of wandering in the belt of good life (south of the Alps, north of the Atlas), it was time to return to the fog. It took some time and pain to re-adjust to the rain and cold.

+13 degrees, wind and rain just don’t do it for me anymore. Yes, many things are better here than in the south (infra etc. you know it). Sadly, the benefits hardly outweigh good food, nice people and excellent weather… Cold fingers no good.

There must be something in the notion that bad outdoors makes people concentrate on the indoors (and vice versa). No surprise that doing a PhD right next to a beach takes a very curious mind…

The cowboy’s burden

First reflections after seeing Clint Eastwood’s newest—Gran Torino—were quite confused. The immediate reaction was that the film is Eastwood’s will—summation of the things he’s famous of, spiced up with some criticisms.

Initially, his main character seems like a rather good depiction of a ghettoised, white, racist veteran. After a while, though, this picture starts to show some signs of overemphasis—sometimes he’s just too much himself.

Apologetic and obvious to start with, the movie proceeds to its non-surprising end. The critical viewer is also tempted to see white man’s heroism as a form of neo-colonialism. It’s after all him that saves the aborigines—from themselves.

And yes—the winner gets a car.

Lever attitude

It’s such a long time since reading a blog moved something inside. And…oh, yes.

Would it be cool to have an espresso bar in the middle of the town that would inhabit lever machines, skilled baristas and a flow of interested customers—only? Single 1, doppio 2 units of currency.

Fancy milk? F*ck off!