Heineken's "World Apart" and Corporate Sociopathy

Watching the recent Heineken ad I was instantly reminded of when Donald Trump told Caitlyn Jenner she could use any bathroom she liked at Trump Tower. Then I realized it was nowhere near that dignified. The ad is apparently working quite spectacularly. It's a successful ad, in that it made more people feel positively toward the Heineken brand without undermining the company's bottom line. That is its job. To artistically convey a message. Much like propaganda. When propaganda truly has warmed your heart, you know you've been had.

If you think I'm cynical, consider how cynical this ad is.

What actual substantive discussion did we even see the climate change guys engage in? Do you think this is an accident?

How plausible is it that the cause of the sudden(ly visible) political polarization in the present moment honestly can be explained by reference to questions of gender, gender identity and opinions on climate change? How plausible is it that the good people of Heineken or Publicis London think that?

Heineken claimed in a tweet that these are not actors, and that what we see is not staged. Despite the fact that people do seem to have been rather selectively "cast" for their roles in this experiment, it hasn't been staged or scripted. It's simply been directed and edited.

Toby Dye, who directed the commercial for Publicis London, also directed a vile commercial for Persil, a laundry detergent, in which he told prison inmates that they spent more time outside than the average child and filmed their reactions, and then featured a prison guard telling the audience that if kids aren't filthy with dirt and in need of a bath, they haven't played outside hard enough. The man's editing and direction were able to make it look like incarcerated prisoners thought that kids growing up at home had it better than they did behind bars.

Consider moreover some of the things these people you see in the ad probably already agreed on, but which Heineken would never dare allow to be aired in a commercial. For example, a majority of Britons believe that big business and wealthy donors have too much influence on government and politics. I dare any beer company to show beer drinkers of different walks of life agreeing — as in reality they often do — on that point.

What else might these people actually have in common? For one, they were all part of a social experiment whose purpose they did not understand. Presumably they were paid to participate. In other words, if anything actually binds these people together is that they have to work for a living, and really could use the money.

Finally: just how many pairs of people do you suppose Toby Dye actually had to film before he got a handful that could serve as beer ad posterchildren in ways that played to all the right demographics' sensibilities without actually saying anything dangerously substantive?

Publicis London's slogan of “You have to lead the change, if you don’t want to be led by change” sounds rather unintentionally sinister in this light.

If you wonder what the full unedited substance of these people's conversations was, too bad. As like as not, they probably were made at some point to sign away the rights to publicly disclose any of it.

It's true. Heineken is indeed Socially Aware. This ad proves it. All the social awareness of a highly successful sociopath.

Call to Action

Let us devote ourselves to the cause of eliminating all witch hunters. Anyone who does not agree to my program of eradicating witch hunters is under suspicion of being a witch hunter themselves.


No greater memory we have
Than of all things that were not so
Stock footage dug out of the grave
Of mind to make the old days grow

Good. Glimmering coasts of might-have-been
Are there for having not been once.
The ugly statue rots to green
Before you sigh at thoughts of bronze.

Forget the way that lovers lie
To each other through their teeth
Pulled to be gentle You And I.
Recall his smile, her human breath.

Blindsight is 20/20, then.
You knew what you can't bear to know.
A gaping wound of 2010
No 2020 would dare show.

Fiction Spéculative

I find there is a curious flavor to French Speculative Fiction from the 80s onward written under the overwhelming influence of a peculiarly French brand of postmodernism. If you read this wall, you know how I feel about French postmodernism. But SF written under its influence, by people like Roland Wagner, is interesting. There's a lot of Weird For Weird's Sake, to be sure. And it is irritating. But there is more than that. I don't think "weird" quite describes it. An overall air of unreality seems to suffuse the writing of SF authors in France who came to their craft in the 80s and 90s. Demands placed upon the reader's suspension of disbelief are much greater and of a subtly different nature. I can see why Norman Spinrad felt some affinity for French SF.

The stories are sometimes outright silly in ways that are used to quite grave effect. Deadly serious in its silliness one might say. It's something that one used to Anglophone SF would not expect, and I doubt that much of this would even sell well in translation in the US outside very select circles, like Yale literary critics — most of whom I assume read French anyway.

Overall these stories aren't worse, or better, than those I've read from the previous generation, I think. They're just different. An increasing dose of of the outright fantastical permeates the stories as well. When they take their breaks from plausibility, what really disturbs me is that I don't think the authors even realize that that's what they're doing. One could be forgiven for thinking the writers themselves were sometimes prey to the Philip K Dick syndrome of not being able to grasp reality.

Some of the best stories from this period that I've found aren't even strictly speaking SF at all. Gonthier's stories such as "Le Dernier Mot" are of this type. The speculative possibilities are neither confirmed nor disconfirmed. They are eerie. They force (or affect to force) one to question what is and isn't real, leaving open disturbing possibilities of what might actually be true about the world. They make you think a thing is true in this world, but make you realize that that is your own assumption. The story suggests, but refuses to confirm.


Black the night. Deep seamless oh-dark-thirty.
Armor. Eyes in a gunbarrel. Unseen
Black falls from overhead upon the head
I think, and kills the view— a guillotine.

Black like a facelift given by the blind,
Thick to the eye, to breath. Black dense as bars
That block all wind and cloud or shape of mind
That could discover such a thing as stars.

Opaque tar black. Heading from overhead
Or ground up from the ground? I wouldn't know.
Black jets gushed, hardened to obsidian.
A firm-surged wall. Whether I come or go

Black ramparts close in, solitarily
Confine me and corral me. Blind and dumb
I grope and cling against the wall. I feel
Bastille about me, whether I go or come.

Benighted thus against this wall and faced
With tar that has killed space, I can't be right
To think I do not disbelieve in life
In noise, in light. I burrow. Black the night.

Not Much Left

People for whom the left is little more than a cultural sensibility, whose idea of social justice doesn't go beyond disparities between ascriptively reified groups, sometimes irritate me on a deeper level than libertarian conservative intellectuals. Why? Probably because I am fed up with the weaselish hypocrisy, the racial bad faith, the ease with which they rationalize the substantially inhumane for the sake of the symbolically satisfying. Few things are more emblematic of modern political dishonesty than a transparently narrow-minded person screaming that the only way to truly be openminded is to agree with them.

I once knew an asshole in college who would treat the dining hall staff like dogshit and insisted that true "oppression" was the absence of halal food from the dining hall. I have far more contempt for him than I do for Milton Friedman.

Between someone who is honestly wrong, and someone who is dishonestly half-right, I'm not so sure that the latter is always preferable.

At least the honestly wrong can —some of the time — have honest discussions, and may be open to new information.

The dishonestly half-right are on a steady diet of bromides.

Studying Down and Never Up

The more marginalized, disenfranchised or downtrodden a group is, the more likely they are to be an object of scholarly study. The Amish, the Roma, Middle Eastern Doms, Israeli Mizraḥim, Native American nations, Irish Travellers, Chukchis and dozens of other groups spring to mind off the top of my head.

The poor and the underclass in any modern industrialized country are objects of perennial fascination to sociologists and anthropologists, in everything from their speech habits to their driving styles. Conventional sociology of the well-bred, well-read and well fed is rife with bromides about the poor.

Few attempt to study the rich and powerful.

Fewer still of those who make the attempt have managed to gain a useful amount of access to really succeed.

And almost none of those who succeed have any impact in the larger culture. An anthropologist working in Beverly Hills is unlikely to gain much renown or notice for whatever work they put out. Such a work will simply not be read or heard of by policy-makers, anymore than was Ronald Dore's analysis of relations between large firms in Japan, or Mark Granovetter's study of the agents and executives of large American corporate firms.

The rich and powerful have historically had the means to craft their image to their liking, and every reason to divert as much attention as possible from the more discreditable aspects of their own behavior.

I often feel that societal curiosity of the academe is directed in precisely the wrong direction.

His Love Poem

My eyes had long forgotten how to see,
Blind tired of everything already known,
Until your sight knew them. You were for me
Water. There is such pain in drinking stone.

Some things will fall away from me: this hair,
These cheeks the years caress even in our bed.
Last night's sex will fall lost in mind, and there
Will come a day when one of us is dead.

Some things will fall away from me, not you
Who are as much as I could be of me.
Some things fall false, and others may come true
But I cannot forget now how to see.

Or so I wrote two years ago. Today
I got the stuff of mine you sent by mail.
Jack-moments jump from all boxes to bray
"Some things fall false. Others just fail."

Now all you were has left, remains in me
A memoir for my future to parse out.
I know, beyond our shadow, of a doubt
That I can not forget now how to see. 

Future Ex-Husband

"This is the therapy of the insecure
Pretending we are younger than we were" 

Now Is The Winter Of Approximately 1592

Another Shakespearean monologue in 16th century English. Click below to download

"Now is the winter of our discontent"

Little Left

I see little political consciousness whatsoever in my circles. Least of all among the most "politically-minded." There is such personalization of structural issues, a profound failure to think strategically, and a near-total inability to see politics as something other than a mere mode of self-expression and self-affirmation.

Now that Trump has won, even some of the more sensible have hopelessly devolved.

Is This A Dagger Which I See Before Me?

You ask for more and so more I deliver.

The "Dagger of the Mind" speech from MacBeth in 16th century English

Click to Download


The Poem Not Itself

Opinions like this make me headdesk.
"The poem's lyric qualities can hardly be brought over into English. The clear strong articulation of the Spanish vowels gives them a beauty not easily reproducible in Northern tongues"-Paul Rogers (The Poem Itself)
Leaving aside the fact that "clear" vowels are indeed to be found in more northerly languages (such as Welsh) and that complex phonology and many slurred or reduced vowels can be found in other southerly Mediterranean languages (such as European Portuguese, or Moroccan Arabic), stuff like this pisses me off because it assumes that native or native-like Spanish speakers aestheticize their vowel inventory in the same way a non-native would.

English vowels often seem complex and varied and reduced even to Spanish speakers who are fluent in it. But when we Anglophones read, say, Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson we do not experience their sound-play in terms of varied complex or unclear sounds.

There are some aesthetic universals related to phonology. For example high front unrounded vowels (as in the "ee" of sheen) have been experimentally demonstrated to sound more sprightly and happy (and, in names, more feminine) than low back rounded vowels (like the oo of boom) which in turn sound slow, heavy and sad (and, in names, more masculine) in a variety of different cultures from Scotland to Japan to Lebanon.

But such constancies are few and far between.

In understanding the sound-texture of verbal art in another language, it is important to not look at the sounds of one language in terms of another.

Stranger in a Strange Tongue


Germanic-speakers developed the habit in the middle Ages of calling their language variants of the word þeodisk meaning "What People Speak." (Whence the words Diets, Duits, Dutch, Deutsch, Tysk, Taytsh in various Germanic languages. If the cognate had survived into modern English, it would have been "theedish" or "theech")

By contrast, the word þeodisk was borrowed into Proto-Slavic as *tiudžǐ "foreign, strange, unintelligible." (c.f. Russian чужой, Czech cizí, OCS tuždǐ.) It is the word used in Saint Cyril's prologue to the Slavonic gospels to describe the unintelligible languages of Hebrew and Greek, as opposed to the clear language of the Slavonic translation.

A Sinical Question

Despite the absurd saturation of Arabic studies and the insane amount of students graduating in the US every year with Arabic degrees, majors, and/or minors, very, very, very few of them are at all proficient in the language. Few can read an academic article in Arabic without a dictionary, or discuss it with a native speaker. It's rather hilarious. And don't anybody tell me it's because Arabic is so hard. Sinologists do a far better job with Chinese, after all, than Arabists or even Persianists do with their languages of specialization. And Persian is quite frankly very easy as languages go.

When, I wonder, is the study of Arabic and Persian literature going to reach the maturity of literary Sinology? Arabists and Persianists ought to be roundly embarrassed by what they look like compared to Sinologists. They are in a lot of ways where Sinologists were in the 60s.

Loanwords: Who Cares?

Medieval Arabic had terms for various concepts but these have often been jettisoned in modern Arabic in favor of western calques, and oftentimes western loanwords. Despite the nationalist tirades, there really is nothing wrong with this. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is. The only good and bad things are what you do with this. English after all has borrowed something like 90-98% of its words from other languages, and it is doing just fine.

Trojan limerick

There once was a goddess named Venus
Whose beauty outshone Athena's
In the contest of Eris
For the judge was Paris
Who had taken a bribe through the penis


You can be shredded up by anything.
While rose and blood still color up the earth
There always will be certain times that bring
Good things that are not merely things of worth.

My heart is joltings, or merely reprieve
From more calculable intervals. Such great
Cenotaphs rise for those who got no leave
From going out against the obstinate.

The rocket be a symbol. Let it fly
And go when all its din is done on high
A senile flaccid tubulet dumbed to fall

On men who launch it... Just the fucking thing
A kid finds on the ground, is what I sing.
To hear the weird old pyrotechnics call.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Ok so you all want more Shakespeare in 16th century London English, do you?

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..."


Gods, I have left behind your little Dames.
There are far better ways the Word can fix
The Weird. I fart against your murderous games.
You are pre-me now, past as a prefix.

Am I an olden man? I hew to craft
Such lines as simply do not mean a thing
Without that swing. No sleep in cenotaphs.
Give me the wine Hafiz and Horace sing.

I'll not forget all that is ours and mine.
I shall go forth because I will not budge.
I watch the brine-dark sea and drink of wine
Knowing the muck and murk that brave feet trudge,

Yet glad to be alive. No gods I see
But Homer's stars on the Aegean sea.