Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No country for old mogs

Well here we are, back in dear old Blighty, the country whose inhabitants have every reason in the world to be worried indeed: The country's plumbing is essentially a piece of Victoriana nicked from a working museum, THE CREDIT CRUNCHY has slowed down sales of UGG-boots, skinny jeans and Red Bull to a worrying extent, 98.7% of Britons believe the earth is a 48-year old Blue Peter experiment and The Battle of the Girl Giants is likely to be won by the new Queen of Hearts and her criminal consort.

To cite that marvellous snob Noel Coward: There are bad times just around the corner - and there's no reason to indulge the optimistic belief that obese, inert and generally gaga Britain can take it.

This country is doooooomeed.

So, Britons ought to be worried about all those truly terrifying things that await them - and yet what do they seem to fear most (after flying, at least if you try to answer that question with the help of dubious research methods conducted on the internet)?

Cats. As in kitties. Pussymogs.

This is a displacement activity with distinct Jungian undertones, if you ask me. It's all about the all-engulfing cosmic maternal yoni.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Let me die, let me die, surrounded by machines

A little Nachtmusik for Friday.

Which comes from this pretty remarkable looking songwriter get-together that I linked to before.

John Darnielle does a track from what I hope to be a real side-project, and his introduction to the song helps to maybe partly explain why I feel drawn to his music, seeing that in his youth he 1) was a stoner 2) read a lot of science fiction and 3) listened to a lot of prog rock.

That sounds awfully familiar.

This wasn't a very rare set of characteristics for boys in the 1980s, I know, but it was not quite universal.

(In my case, though, it wasn't really so much about Genesis).

And this song seems to combine these elements pretty well.

The other song is from the Weakerthans songwriter, John K. Samson, and it's quite a lovely...um...tribute to his hometown.

'It's always February', he says, 'in the soul of Winnipeg.'

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Storage solutions

Apparently there's been some brouhaha over the comment by New York's new Hillary-replacing senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, that she keeps two rifles under her bed. The weapons have since been moved to a more secure hiding place, apparently out of concern that their previous location had been revealed.

This is the occasion for Michael Schulman at The New Yorker to pose somewhat snarky questions to Thomas H. King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association about 'where to hide your rifles'.

We do learn, though, just in case you were wondering, about a few bad ideas for gun storage.


One place to avoid: the refrigerator. “It would probably cause rust because of the moisture.”

Very helpful.

I like King's responses at the end:

King, who lives about thirty-five miles from Gillibrand’s house, added that he owns rifles himself, but wouldn’t say how many (“That’s none of your business”) or where he keeps them (“That’s none of your business, either”). He did confirm, however, that they are not under his bed.

In Germany, in case you're interested in these things, the law requires all firearms to be stored, unloaded, in safes. The ammunition has to be kept seperately (and not in the refrigerator).

Where the safe resides?

None of your business.

Springtime for Winslet?

Is it just me, or is this headline in today's Mirror about the whole Kate Winslet-The Reader brouhaha kind of ... funny?

Yeah, because what you really want is to coast into Oscar-Night on a wave of pro-Nazi sentiment.

Bogotá am Rhein

One of the many things I learned while reading Marek Kohn's much-recommended book Dope Girls was that there was a time when the leading cocaine production powerhouse in the world was...Germany.

I did not know that.

Kohn notes:

Agreement was reached in principle, at the Hague in 1912, to limit the use of opium, morphine and cocaine to 'legitimate medical purposes', but in practice it was stymied by the commercial interests of Germany, the world's leading cocaine manufacturer, and Britain, which dominated the world's morphine industry. (42, emphasis added)

Indeed, the process of isolating the active ingredients from coca leaves was pioneered by a Göttingen grad student, Alfred Niemann. Niemann not only named the alkaloid that he isolated 'cocaine', he also wrote his dissertation on the topic, which was published in 1860. (Niemann, sadly, died the following year.)

As H. Richard Friman observes in a 1999 essay, by the 1880s, the German pharmaceutical company Merck was the 'prime source for cocaine'.*

One of Merck's later rivals, I was interested to see, was C.H. Böhringer, which is located, not far from here, in Ingelheim am Rhein.

After the First World War, due to a variety of issues, Germany followed trends elsewhere and moved toward regulation of the drug. However, it appears to have remained a key producer of the (increasingly criminalised) drug at least through the 1920s.

Which brings me to another of the articles I ran across recently.

Cocaine in His Socks.

Arrest of London Man Who Made Frequent Visits to Germany.

Paris, Monday.

With cocaine in his socks, a Londoner living in a small Paris hotel was arrested by the Paris police in a Montmartre night restaurant.

The man, has been a frequent visitor to Berlin, coming back always with a load of flash jewellery,which he sold in Paris cafés and night restaurants.

The cocaine smugglers are busier than ever trying to bring secret stocks into France from Germany. Much of the narcotics which are thus fraudulently introduced across the French frontier eventually reach England.

Two days ago the French frontier police at Forbach found in the Wiesbaden—Paris express a huge store of contraband, of which cocaine done up in tiny glass tubes formed a large part. Eight men have been arrested, and the French police have obtained warrants against a number of German exporters.

(The Daily Mirror, 2 May 1922, 4)
Ah, night cafés in Montmartre and international express trains. That's the drug underground as it should be. Better that than Scarface.

These days, of course, this part of the Rhineland is far more famous for a different drug.

*'Germany and the Transformations of Cocaine, 1860-1920', in Cocaine: Global Histories, ed. Paul Gootenberg (Routledge, 1999), 83-104, p. 84.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A note to Bristol Palin

From a German perspective, to call one's baby "Tripp" is a trifle ambiguous. For "Tripper", as you probably won't know Swansea Nuneaton Bristol, is a colloquial (to put it mildly) German term for "the clap".

Now of course it's highly unlikely that anybody in Wasilla middle school would call your little nipper "Tripper" during recess, with the express intention to make a nasty joke worthy of a Pinkerian analysis at his expense. But (even) you must admit that in the right light, and from the right angle your child's name might be seen as infelicitous.

And of course the clap is the last thing we would wish upon that innocent little babby of yours. Especially as he is doomed to live in this naughty cesspit of immorality that is our world, where - as you have (almost) candidly garbled pointed out yourself - abstinence is one heck of an unrealistic idea.

Naked mole rats have particularly perky proteins, yay!

One of the weirdest dreams I've had in recent years featured a children's book with a cartoonish cover in hot pink decorated with sparkly stuff called "Billie, Stefan and the Naked Mole Rat."

Honi soit qui mal y pense. We don't do Freudian dream analysis in this house anymore.

The dream was so vivid it felt more like a memory, and immediately on getting out of bed I embarked upon a deep online search for a book which - for about two waking hours - I was convinced I had read at one point of my life.

'Course I didn't find the book - it had been a figment of my imagination, after all. My great brain, having nowt better to do, made it all up.

Ever since then, the naked mole rat has had a particular place in our personal mythology, ugly as hell though it is.

And this is why I was happy to learn today via Der Spiegel that the amazing longevity of the naked mole rat is down to the species's unusually stable proteins. These hideous creatures can live to thirty years in their underground burrows, doing whatever it is naked mole rats are doing and not get bored for a second.

Which is more than can be said about many human beings I know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

All the things we've sewn together, splitting at the seams

How awesome is John Darnielle?

So awesome that he overcomes poor sound quality.

John D., 'My Inner Joan Crawford Vehicle.'

Saturday, February 14, 2009

American nightmare

This is the World Press Photo of the Year 2008:

Taken by Anthony Suau, it shows, as the WPP site explains:

an armed officer of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department moving through a home in Cleveland, Ohio, following eviction as a result of mortgage foreclosure. Officers have to ensure that the house is clear of weapons, and that the residents have moved out.

It is certainly...striking.

Der Spiegel has a nice collection of the other winners.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I, too, once had a Quick Curl Barbie*

Fascinating stuff that takes me back via David Thompson. Not joking. These photos make the production of Barbie dolls appear like fine art.

* I had the blonde one in the pink dress. I remember to this day how, on my birthday (my fourth, I believe), my mother came into my bedroom early in the morning, holding the doll that apparently I had craved so intensely in the pool of orangey light made by the basket-weave lamp. Her smile was eerie. It said: "Child, this is your future ...."

Sadly, Barbie didn't curl as quickly as the name promised. Or rather: it quickly curled into a wiry mass, making Barbie look vaguely like my granny. Especially with the 'seventies maxi-dress she was wearing.

Oh well, I reckon you all wanted to know that ....

The Daily Nail ....

... don't you just love it?

Keeping Track

For those few of you who are interested in such things, we have both recently updated our lecture/publication lists (his 'n' hers) and, where possible, provided links.

Some of the latter, unfortunately, require subscriptions or research library access, but a few are free.

Knock yourselves out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Alien Moment

Since even the normally serious-thinking Ophelia over at B&W has taken to talking about trout-pout octomum (I agree with Ophelia: those lippy things are not Ms Suleman's own), I thought I might chip in, having formed a vehement opinion of my own about this particular case of egomania.

This is truly horrifying.

On suffering

So, I had read this New York Times article last week and was unsure about how to put my feelings about it into words.

Ezra does better:
The New York Times article on how hard it will be for senior executives to live in New York on $500,000 is the sort of thing that makes me want to burn this rotted society to the ground and salt the earth atop which it once stood.
Yeah, that's about right.

Disharmonic convergence

I experienced an interestingly discordant moment at the Guardian just now.

(Click for larger image.)

Yes, there I was reading a story on Geert Wilders when I noticed that the ad that popped up (in German, as it had recognised the location of my IP address) was for an... international Muslim internet dating service! ('See photos now!')

Chance? Or some techie's subtle sense of humour at work?

Darwin for afters

Someone just dropped by having found us while looking for 'Darwin themed desserts'. (Yeah, we get an astounding amount of visitors looking for tasty treats here. They must be so disappointed.)

Anyway, may I recommend, perhaps, glazed beetle?

Or some crunchy frog?

Saints and scholars

Thank you, Guardian, for getting it so wrong, today of all days....

'Secular saint' is up there with 'evangelical atheist' amongst my least favourite terms.

For a corrective, see Dale's evaluation of Darwin's writing, which concludes:

Then again, maybe Charles Darwin could not help but write so eloquently. He was, after all, not a saint.


By the shadowy and inconclusive light of contingency

I don't know nearly as much as I would like about American history, and I'm no expert on Abraham Lincoln.

However, there are a couple of excellent passages in Wilfred W. McClay's essay at Humanities on the sixteenth president:

Out of respect to the man, we should at least try to recover a sense of both the grandeur and the contingency of the history that he lived through, and helped to shape. To see a statesman in full, and thereby learn something about the nature of statesmanship, one needs to see him not only in the overly clear light of retrospection, but in the shadowy and inconclusive light of the conditions he faced as they were unfolding. “I claim not to have controlled events,” Lincoln mused during the course of his presidency, “but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”


We need to remember that this is often how history happens. Background music does not swell at the crucial moment, and trumpets do not sound, when the events of history are actually taking place. The orator or the soldier has to wonder whether he is acting in vain, whether the criticisms of others are in fact warranted, whether time will judge him harshly. Few great men have felt this burden more completely than Lincoln.

We also need to remember how likely it seemed to Lincoln and others that he would lose the 1864 election, and thereby experience ignominious defeat and see the disintegration of the Union cause as he had fought for it. Had it not been for the miracle of Sherman’s and Grant’s decisive victories in the field, such a defeat at the polls would have been likely, as the American people had grown weary of this frustrating struggle. Add to this bleak outlook the weight of Lincoln’s relentlessly self-examining and depressive temperament and his constant, lonely struggles with a crippling sense of failure, and the sheer resiliency of the man becomes awe-inspiring, in ways a marble temple could never convey.

Having been no stranger (in my own humble way) either to relentless self-examination or an occasionally debilitating sense of failure, there is much to agree with there.

Bitchin' Camaro

Winning the Obscene Desserts Award for the Best Metaphor to Explain the Current Economic Crisis (At Least This Week): Thers, at Whiskey Fire:

So, in conclusion, we're all fucked because of crazy drunken teenaged priests using your credit cards to buy each other Camaros.

Extra points were awarded for embedding a Dead Milkmen song and making it seem like it was relevant.

The Dead Milkmen: 'Methodist Coloring Book'

‘You know, Bob, Darwin really knew a lot of biology.’

As we have for the past couple of years, we join some of our friends in marking the 200th birthday of one of the more remarkable individuals our species has brought forth, Charles Darwin. (And, this year, we'd suggest you also raise a glass to the equally aged Abraham Lincoln, who was not only a remarkable primate himself but who has long been especially regarded -- by one of us -- as a fellow Illinoisan.)

I have little to add to the general festivities, other than, perhaps, to again post this image of Darwin, which I like since it shows him a bit younger and less austere than most portraits.

He's sans beard, you'll note, but the extraordinary sideburns hint at the (ahem) tangled bank to come.

There will be countless articles on Darwin today, but I thought one at the New York Times by Nicholas Wade was worthwhile.

It concludes:

Historians who are aware of the long eclipse endured by Darwin’s ideas perhaps have a clearer idea of his extraordinary contribution than do biologists, many of whom assume Darwin’s theory has always been seen to offer, as now, a grand explanatory framework for all biology. Dr. Richards, the University of Chicago historian, recalls that a biologist colleague “had occasion to read the ‘Origin’ for the first time — most biologists have never read the ‘Origin’ — because of a class he was teaching. We met on the street and he remarked, ‘You know, Bob, Darwin really knew a lot of biology.’ ”

Darwin knew a lot of biology: more than any of his contemporaries, more than a surprising number of his successors. From prolonged thought and study, he was able to intuit how evolution worked without having access to all the subsequent scientific knowledge that others required to be convinced of natural selection. He had the objectivity to put aside criteria with powerful emotional resonance, like the conviction that evolution should be purposeful. As a result, he saw deep into the strange workings of the evolutionary mechanism, an insight not really exceeded until a century after his great work of synthesis.

And, once again, here's the closing sentence from the Origin of Species, which I always like to imagine being read in the voice of James Earl Jones.

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bloodthirsty females of the worst description

I'm feeling a bit blue at the moment (long story, not very interesting), but running across the following -- an article from an issue of The Scotsman, 1823 -- was somehow cheering.

So, I thought I'd share a little ultraviolence from old Edinburgh. Perhaps it'll brighten your day too.

Yesterday morning most alarming cries were heard by the watchman upon the South Bridge, proceeding from a house occupied by females of the worst description. Having procured assistance and forced his way in, he observed eight females, some of them in a state of nudity, engaged in a deadly affray, and the landlady stretched upon the floor, and weltering in her blood. One of these amazons, a woman of amazing strength, was armed with a smoothing-iron, with which she was dealing blows around her in every direction. The whole party were conveyed to the watch-house, and surgical aid was procured for the landlady, whose temporal artery was cut with the smoothing-iron, and had discharged about a choppin and a half of blood. The same day the whole of the combatants, with the exception of the landlady, were sent to operate upon the tread-mill for thirty days.

By the way, a 'chopin' (spelled 'choppin' in the article) is a now-obsolete Scottish unit of measurement, equal to .848 litres or, if you prefer, 2 mutchkins.

(More obsolete Scottish units of measurement here.)

Monday, February 09, 2009

On (not even) keeping your hands to yourselves

I would so much like to think that the new 'Ex-' series of merchandise from the 'Passion-for-Christ Movement' is a secret ploy by a non-believer with an excellent sense of humour.

I mean: how else can you explain a campaign that seems to have convinced Christian teens to go around wearing 'Ex-Masturbator' t-shirts?

But I think it's genuine.

I'm sorry, this is beyond my ability to satirise. But have a go if you like.

Eastern front

Luke Harding's chilling article on Russian neo-Nazis is fascinating for many reasons, not least the image of Russian fascists dressing like British fascists and worshipping a German fascist, while at the same time believing that anything not Russian is to be kicked, stabbed and mutilated:

I later discover that most Russian skinheads revere the Führer, believing that his only mistake was to attack Russia. The average age here is about 15 or 16; the style is baseball caps, Burberry scarves and Lonsdale - the uniform of the British far-right. One skinhead even has a Union Flag jacket. There are several girls. The skinheads adhere to two ultra-nationalist groups - the Movement Against Illegal Immigration and the Slavic Union.
If these people weren't so vicious--a fact made abundantly clear in the article--they'd be laughable.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The cheek, the gobsmacking, exasperating cheek

After a week of heated and hysterical debate, which culminated in the pope's somewhat silly command that Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson spontaneously distance himself from his "beliefs" in order to be reintegrated into the fold, the man at the centre of it all has finally deigned to comment.

Before distancing himself from his notorious ideas about the Holocaust, Williamson stated in an interview with Der Spiegel, he will first "examine" the historical evidence. Only if that historical evidence yields the appropriate insight will he rethink his attitude. This will take time, however - a prediction we can safely take to mean that Williamson has no inclination whatsoever to rethink his views of the Holocaust.

The real kick in the gob of reason and sanity, of course, is his obscene suggestion that the historical evidence needs to be examined. By him.

As always when confronted with the conspiracy theorist's claim to the right to form her/his own opinion about firmly established facts, I feel a blinding, palpitating wave of exasperation wash over me. Right now I wish I did believe in a wrathful god, because if I did I would pray for him to strike Mr. Williamson with particular vehemence (and would probably feel better for it), but since I don't, all I can do is hit my own head against the wall and wail.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Feel-good tragedy

Already some time ago, Norm Geras took issue with attempts to make evaluative distinctions between types or grades of tragedy. This is what he wrote in response to the suggestion that the known identity of the perpetrator of a terrorist attack makes such an event more tragic than, say, a natural catastrophe:
We differentiate between situations in which someone is to blame and those in which no one is to blame, that's all. If we didn't do that, we'd either have to blame the elements or excuse deliberate wrong-doing. Well, both of these things are sometimes done, but only in the way of obscuring how the world works.
Whilst I too find the differentiation in question flawed and potentially dangerous, I wish that at other times – and the topic of "tragedy" is an excellent instance – we were a little more rather than less differentiated.

For instance, I wonder whether the term "tragedy" ought to be used for the examples discussed by Norm at all. These days, unfortunately, the term tragedy has become the default descriptor for most aspects of human experience, from genocide to teenage obesity, and I believe that this is part of the problem addressed here.

I think it's about time we refined our own lackadaisical use of the concept of tragedy, for instance by returning to its roots in classical theatre.

In Aristotle's theory of tragedy, few plots and topics are truly tragic. Natural disasters, for instance, don't come under the headword "tragedy", as they are the result of an overriding force - call it contingency, call it fate - beyond the reach of the individual. Terrorist attacks differ from this kind of disaster only in so far that they are historical, man-made and somewhat more selective.

Otherwise, both types of catastrophes are similar in their indifference and their effect: they are reminders of the terrible coincidences that determine human existence: the frightening fact that for as long as we live we are always potentially in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is terrible indeed, but it is clearly not tragic in the strict sense of the term, nor are the victims of this terrible contingency tragic heroes. The tragic hero in Aristotle's theory - always an exceptional human being, but morally a mutt (neither entirely bad nor completely good) - is the victim of his/her own misguided actions of which he/she is crucially unaware. His/her destruction is brought on by the tragic flaw that marks his/her character, be that blindness or hubris or a mixture of both.

Can we say this of the people who die in a natural catastrophe? Is this true of people who unknowingly board a plane/train/bus with a person who has a belt of explosives strapped around her or his waist? And what do we gain by calling these events and their victims "tragic"? What do their victims (or their loved ones) gain from this label?

As far as the victims of such events go, nothing. Quite to the contrary, by labelling their deaths "tragic" and lifting them onto a level of transcendent significance, we only deny what makes death - theirs and ours - so terrible in the eyes of the living: its meaningless immensity.

The winners of this discourse are those who live to apply the label. Like all euphemisms, the term tragedy is ahistorical, providing a cover for sanctimonious displays of extreme emotion that allow us to deny life's murky realities and ignore the true terror of human existence - in other words: make us feel great.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

They're coming to get you, Elizabeth

Something curious, at a New York Times book blog: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Opening line:

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

I'm never going to read this.

But part of me very much likes the fact that it exists.

(Brain-munching, bone-crunching thanks to Andrew for the reference.)

The black-magic love-gurus of Mayfair

As a further addition to a few of the more interesting things I ran across in the newspaper archive last week, I offer a somewhat different take on 'what the young people were going for', this time from 1928.

Inside the "Love Temples"

Sense-Stealing "Dance Adoration"

Black magic is the latest craze among certain "smart" people of Mayfair. Weird séances with all the paraphernalia of the black arts are rapidly becoming popular with a number of wealthy "do-nothings" who are ever in pursuit of new sensations. Weird ceremonies take place almost every night in two or three luxurious flats within a stone’s throw of Piccadilly and Park-lane. A World’s Pictorial News representative who gained admittance to two of these gatherings found them attended by wealthy young people.

At one of these affairs, which took place in a dimly-lighted room furnished as a temple, the atmosphere was heavy with incense which came from two silk-clad boys who swung censers.

When the "love master" entered the "temple" to the sound of processional music his entrance was signified by three taps on a concealed drum, while the assembled worshippers, with bowed heads to the floor, chanted "We greet you, O Master, we greet you."

One glance at the "master" as he adjusted his scarlet and gold robe before sitting on his throne in the centre of a circle marked on the floor revealed him as a middle-aged intellectual.


The atmosphere of these weird séances is difficult to describe, except to say that they are of such a nature that they leave a smear on the soul and mind of the onlooker.

Picture one of these "temples" with the atmosphere of a hot-house. Dim shaded lights throw faint beams of illumination through the incense-laden air while the figure of the "master," robed in a mantle of rich colouring, is thrown into prominence by the gaudy throne on which he is seated.

Eastern music floats in faintly from an adjoining room and above the weird melodies of an ancient religion rises the sound of the deep throbbing voice of the "master" intoning strange incantations.

Occasionally the laugh of an over-wrought and hysterical woman is heard above the faint music, and the voice of the "master." A clap of the hands from the figure on the throne and a circle on the floor is cleared for the "dance of adoration."

Music sweeps through the temple as the scantily-dressed devotees begin their exhibition. This dance cannot be described in detail, but it is enough to say that all the viciousness and sensuality of the ages is in the dance. Above it all sits the "Master" chanting words that lash the dancers to wilder abandon.


"We are beyond good and evil; we do what we will." Again and again these phrases are intoned by the richly-dressed devotees and the ceremony in the "temple" comes to an evil end. The "Master" vacates his throne.

Sorcery and ancient magic ritual are part of these strange proceedings, but the dominant motive behind this new craze is erotic. "Love, all is love, there is no evil in love" chant the half-draped dancers in the Mayfair temples.

What sacrifices of virtue, what black horrors of magic are perpetrated at these gatherings are spoken of in whispers by sensation-loving degenerates. Black magic mystic "temples" with their erotic ceremonies, dim lights and muffled music are the "fashion" of the moment.

Scotland Yard has its eyes on this new cult and inquiries concerning the past records of some of these new masters of magic are being made. Whether it is possible for any of them to be deported is under consideration.

The World's Pictorial News, 12 Feb 1928, p. 18

Ah, those 'middle-aged intellectuals' with their scarlet and gold robes, silk-clad boys, Eastern music and scantily clad devotees. What was the world coming to, eh?

(Fans of the trashy horror genre may recognise a certain element here reminiscent of the excellent 1968 Hammer film, The Devil Rides Out, which was based on a 1934 novel and featured then-'controversial' depictions of posh people worshipping Satan.)

This sort of article -- revealing an allegedly disturbing, degenerate underworld -- was pretty standard in the 1920s, but it most commonly took the form of accounts of visits to "opium dens."

As Marek Kohn suggests in his very informative and entertaining book Dope Girls -- an examination of Britain's first illegal drug scene (because drugs were previously legal) -- much of the press concern about drugs following the First World War wasn't actually focused on drugs themselves. (Many of the early drug panic stories didn't even seem to understand the evil substances very well: some suggested, for instance, that cocaine had a sedative effect.)

Rather, often fictionalised 'undercover' reports decried the accompanying danger that drugs made young white women vulnerable to the manipulation (and, more to the point, sexual advances) of foreign men, mainly Chinese and blacks.

That element is suggested here -- but very subtly, by the standards of the time -- with the references to 'Eastern music' and the possible deportation of presumably foreign 'masters of magic'.

But a full-on Fu Manchu meme it's not.

As an aside, I was reminded last week -- in scanning through five years' worth of Sunday papers -- of one of the reasons why I find the interwar period so interesting. Despite all its manifold differences, it was in some ways already a very familiar world. This comes out clearly in the popular press. We're obviously going back a couple of generations (though my parents were born in the mid 20s, so it's not that long ago), but it's hardly an alien era, as the 19th and earlier centuries somestimes seem to be. (I mean largely on the level of surface appearances: there are, of course, continuities in broad aspects of human behaviour and mentalities in all historical periods.)

By the late 1920s, people drove cars (and complained about speeding tickets), travelled by airplane and went to the cinema (or 'kinema' as it was often known). They also obsessed about the scandals of Hollywood actors and the removal of 'excess' body hair (Veet ads abounded in those papers aimed presumably at women). They listened to records, went dancing in nightclubs and hung out in all-night cafes.

Probably the most jarring experiences in reading through that period's press -- the ones that make the historical distance clear -- are the occasional eruptions of blunt, vicious racism. Even the -- quite standard -- sexism, if grating, seems less virulent somehow, balanced as it was by more positive (if still dated) evaluations of the 'modern woman', by articles highlighting women's achievements (whether in becoming surgeons, lawyers or politicians or in climbing mountains, flying planes or swimming the Channel) and by the fact that women's roles in society had already become a lively debate rather than simply a fact taken for granted. (In 1928 -- not that long ago, if you think about it -- women in Britain also finally achieved the vote on an equal footing with men.)

The fascination, especially at the more popular end of the press market, with all things esoteric -- séances, spiritualism, magic, fortune telling, palmistry -- is also remarkable, as it mixes seamlessly, sometimes on the same newspaper page, with an equally visible scientific technophilia.

There will be more occasional dispatches from this weird time in the future.

For now: keep an eye out for any dodgy-looking, sartorially challenged, middle-aged intellectuals reeking of incense, and report any suspicions to Scotland Yard.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Oh joy, oh rapture ....

... la déesse might be back!

The great news that Citroën is to launch a new version of the legendary Citroën DS in 2010 (yes, ok -- we should probably wait until the first studies are released before we get overexcited) put me in the mind of this:

Jean-Luc Godard, Bande à Part (1964)

UPDATE: Les Echos has pictures!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Keeping a nice open mind about what the young people go for

If Buddy Holly hadn't died on 3 February 1959, he'd be in his seventies today.

Truthfully, I think we ought to be grateful that he was around long enough to teach the world about the fundamental coolness of the nerd.

Thank you Buddy. We've been missing you all those years!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sunday morning, praise the dawning

And yes, an insightful Sunday morning it has been, with plenty of things dawning on me during my perusal of various British newspapers. Oh, the seductions of the internet ....

First (thanks to The Times): Miss Cauliflower is truly the silly prude that I have always suspected her to be:
I clean myself, which surprises people. I shower every day. I shave all the parts you’re meant to shave as a woman nowadays. Obviously, nobody is like Helen [the "protagonist" of Wetlands]. But the fun in writing the book was getting all the secret stuff out — all the things women are ashamed about. For instance, with my husband, I don’t leave dirty knickers lying around. I hide them, take them myself to the washing machine. Why am I so embarrassed, even in my own flat?
Haven't I said it all along: Miss Roche is a frigging nut case. I mean: how dirty do the knickers of a well-showered woman get in 24 hours?

Would someone please find her a sensible psychologist specialising in behaviour therapy to sort out her various spleens? How this person managed to conceive a child, let alone go through pregnancy, give birth and then mop up kid poo and puke is beyond me.

And would someone please find me a sensible psychologist specialising in behaviour therapy to sort out my obsession with Charlotte Roche?

Secondly, over at the Guardian, Ruth Sunderland finally heralds this paper's long overdue entry into the 1970s. In her Comment is Free post on the Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum she writes:

The big theme at this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) was "Shaping the Post-Crisis World". The idea that that can be achieved while excluding half the population is breathtaking in its arrogance and shows that the male Davos elite remains mired in its own preening self-regard and complacency. They have wrecked the world economy, but seem oblivious to the idea they may not be the best people to rebuild it. Ignoring the contribution women can make is ridiculous at any time, but how much more so when there is a clear need to reflect on the macho, tooth- and-claw brand of capitalism that caused the crunch in the first place.

Macho capitalism ... Ruthy, sister -- your brave attempt to keep the purple flag flying is very sweet indeed, but I really think that in perpetuating the myth -- comforting though it may be -- that women are better people than men you are oversimplifying matters.

Let me draw your attention to a case that is currently occupying the public debate in German (which you probably haven't heard about, the only German topic Britons have been willing to engage with for months being bloody Wetlands).

This case involves a representative of what you, Ruthy, would probably consider "the better sex": Maria-Elizabeth Schaeffler, a Franconian entrepreneur who last year took over the German tire manufacturer Continental with the aim of putting her family business on the global economic map helping the ailing firm -- on tick, of course.

Realising that she has overextended herself financially with this deal, Mrs Schaeffler has been doing a fair bit of canvassing for state funding amongst her cronies in the CSU, much to the dismay of the rest of the government. Both Peer Steinbrück and Angela Merkel have refused point blank to come to her aid.

Of course Schaeffler's recent mink-clad appearance at some Audi-sponsored VIP-event in the socialite hot spot of Kitzbühel didn't help. Somehow she doesn't quite manage to pull off the image of the caring businesswoman slogging her guts out for the German job market that she likes to flaunt.

UPDATE: The German press is all aflutter, because -- ooh, aah -- Charlie Roach is getting plenty of media attention in Britain right now. Here's the link for the more than meta-information.