Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Charts and graphs

Just a couple of the more interesting visualisations of data that I've run across in the last 24 hours or so.

Evaluating the US health-care debate with regard to truthiness:

Background. Via.

Also, the number of nuclear weapons in the world:

Source, Wikimedia Commons. Source for underlying numbers. Via and discussion.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Love-hate relationship

David Pescovitz at Boing Boing posted a photo of that rare beast, police-positive graffiti (or, maybe more properly, graffito, but I'm not about to get picky).

It reminded me of a phrase we ran across a couple of years ago in a little Normandy town that we like to think of as a home away from home.

It's not exactly pro-police, but it is surprisingly...differentiated.

In the kingdom of the psychedelic Fledermaus

The Institute of Jurassic Technology points us to a remarkable collection of scanned images from German biologist Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, 1904.

I think my favourite is this one, of bats:

Though there are so many to choose from.

Monday, August 17, 2009

One after 909...

...considering that this is our 910th post.

And it features, guess what, the Mountain Goats.

The Mountain Goats, 'Raja Vocative', live at Zoop II

A very nice version of this song is available for free download here.

So don't say we've never been helpful.

(The OD Mountain Goats Collection.)

Was ist ein richtiger Deutscher und warum bleiben Ausländer hier?

Aus gegebenem Anlass (i.e., because it's appropriate) and to follow on from another recent post:

Funny van Dannen , 'Vaterland'

This too:

Beethoven, Ninth Symphony, end bit.

Though I'll go into the reasons for their appropriateness later.

But, in the meantime, I thank Chris W. for making me aware of this quote from Scottish science fiction author Ken MacLeod (responding to Robert Heinlein's quotation on the American spirit, 'The cowards never started and the weaklings died on the way'):

"Hey, this is Europe. We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left. The bones of our ancestors, and the stones of their works, are everywhere. Our liberties were won in wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers. We snap our fingers at kings. We laugh at popes. When we have built up tyrants, we have brought them down. And we have nuclear *fucking* weapons."

Well, it's a start.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ceterum censeo ....

As a child I was thoroughly indoctrinated by German Fear-TV, which is why to this day I'm unnaturally suspicious of things and situations other people merely find odd.

Example: This here camper van, which has been parked on the same spot on the lot of our local supermarket for weeks now. Day and night, night and day. We walk by it every time we go grocery shopping:

Thanks to the enduring influence of "Ganoven Ede" (rogue Ed), Eduard Zimmermann, whose serene voice and tales of murder and rapine haunted my childhood, I am convinced that this vehicle has not been dumped by the owner out of spite for not being granted the Abwrackprämie, but is likely to have been accessory in a crime. Either it contains robbery-ready tools or it is full of rotting body parts (start at 6:55 for gruesome footage) packed tightly in blue bin liners.

But that's not really the point I was going to make. Rather, I wanted to talk about the ... interesting name that car maker VW gave this particular model of holiday home. You can actually see it in the picture: "Carthago Malibu".

Savour it: "Carthago Malibu".

Car-tha-go Ma-li-bu.

I admit that I find this combination of terror and frivolousness slightly disturbing. Of course, "Carthago" sounds enticingly exotic, Carthage being in what is today Tunisia, but heck - don't these gearheads know that the city is no more and hasn't been for a long, long time? It was destroyed twice: by the Romans after the Third Punic War (before Brian) and then again in the wake of the Muslim conquest at the end of the seventh century c.e.

Carthage is, essentially, ruins.

What a creative, inspirational - and utterly stupid - moniker for a motor vehicle, especially one promising tourist adventure. Perhaps, though, the name is a bit better than your average Prius or Escort (though the latter at least has a certain alluring ambiguity). In fact, so intrigued have I been by this name, that it has generated the idea for another fabulous new party game.

The rules are simple: Combine the name of a site of bloodthirsty slaughter and total destruction with one that evokes fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun. I'll start you off with a few suggestions:

Passchendaele Paris Plage

Hiroshima Bondi Beach

Stalingrad Sylt

The rest is up to you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

On trackless deserts of print and footpaths thinly covered in grass

So The Husband (aka John) is "more than usually depressed ... about the relationship between the Internet and the stupidity of my fellow man".

Well, 'ee's lucky to be depressed about sumthin'. Ahm merely depressed, like.

Having said that, my lingering sense of frustration might be put down to the naturalist novels that I've been devouring lately. You know: hefty (though no longer triple decker) novels with intricate, tragic plots, believable but inevitably long-suffering characters and lengthy passages in local dialect. Usually, they describe the fates of figures born into unfortunate circumstances, who make disastrous decisions (often out of unfulfillable ambitions) and finally die in a garret, while the cheeky-go-lucky triumph.

One of the novels I've read is George Moore's Esther Waters (1894), the story of a humble but headstrong servant girl struggling to bring up her illegitimate son by herself. The most powerful part of the book is about the practice of baby farming which even upset a fundamentally unmaternal person such as myself.

But I couldn't help finding the following passage mildly funny (though I'm sure that this was not Moore's intention). Esther has just returned, pregnant from the relative comfort of the country manor where she had been in service, to her dismal London home and the brutal rule of her vicious stepfather:
"Poor mother!" said Esther, and, taking her mother's hand in hers, she passed her arm round her, drew her closer, and kissed her. "I know what he was; is he any worse now?"

"Well, I think he drinks more, and is even rougher. It was only the other day, just as I was attending to his dinner - it was a nice piece of steak, and it looked so nice that I cut off a weeny piece to taste. He sees me do it, and he cries out, 'Now then, guts, what are you interfering with my dinner for?' I says, 'I only cut off a tiny piece to taste.' 'Well, then, taste that,' he says, and strikes me clean between the eyes. Ah, yes, lucky for you to be in service; you've half forgot by now what we've to put up with 'ere."

"You was always too soft with him, mother; he never touched me since I dashed the hot water in his face."

Charming, what? This is the kind of stuff you come across in The Sun. But is it just me or is there something slightly Pythonesque about this passage? You can just hear Eric Idle's voice, can't you? And I guess that involuntary humour is always a potential danger in Balzacian hyperrealism, especially when it contains scenes of graphic domestic violence told by characters who drop their aitches.

There's nothing Python in George Gissing, another author I've been reading a lot lately, partly because his characters typically are far more genteel and refined - which makes for a very different kind of tragedy. In New Grub Street (1891), the noble Marian Yule, who works as a researcher and amanuensis for her patriarchal father, thinks the following thoughts - which self-critical students of the humanities might share - as she is working in the British Museum:

One day at the end of the month she sat with books open before her, but by no effort could fix her attention upon them. It was gloomy, and one could scarcely see to read; a taste of fog grew perceptible in the warm, headachy air. Such profound discouragement possessed her that she could not even maintain the pretence of study; heedless whether anyone observed her, she let her hands fall and her head droop. She kept asking herself what was the use and purpose of such a life as she was condemned to lead. When already there was more good literature in the world than any mortal could cope with in his lifetime, here was she exhausting herself in the manufacture of printed stuff which no one even pretended to be more than a commodity for the day's market. What unspeakable folly! To write - was not that the joy and the privilege of one who had an urgent message for the world? Her father, she knew well, had no such message; he had abandoned all thought of original production, and only wrote about writing. She herself would throw away her pen with joy but for the need of earning money. And all these people about her, what aim had they save to make new books out of those already existing, that yet newer books might in turn be made out of theirs? This huge library, growing into unwieldiness, threatening to become a trackless desert of print - how intolerably it weighed upon the spirit!

Need I say more? Gissing has an uncanny knack of speaking my mind (as well as expressing the gist of his character's thought in the format of his text). Some (most) of the debates led in my field are of an exasperating scholastic futility, even though those who fight them act as if they were in the process of saving the planet. Things would be easier if people stopped searching for an objective raison d'être for what they're doing and simply got on with life.

In a similarly disillusioned vein, though differently executed is the little-known work of Richard Jefferies, in whose post-apocalyptic novel After London or Wild England (1885) the sense of despair about mankind is replaced by the triumph of nature:

This is how the novel opens:

The old men say their father told them that soon afte the fields were left to themselves a change began to be visible. It became green everywhere in the first spring, after London ended, so that all the country looked alike.

The meadows were green, and so was the rising wheat which had been sown, but which neither had nor would receive any further care. Such arable fields as had not been sown, but where the last stubble had been ploughed up, were overrun with couch-grass, and where the short stubble had not been ploughed, the weeds hid it. So that there was no place which was not more or less green; the footpaths were the greenest of all, for such is the nature of grass where is has once been trodden on, and by-and-by, as the summer came on, the former roads were thinly covered with the grass that had spread out from the margin.

And so it continues, paragraph after paragraph, an early version of Life After People that sends shivers down your spine. Clearly, for Jefferies there is grandeur in this vision of resilient nature and the attendant awareness that the world will continue to exist even after mankind has failed (as fail it does). I find it as comforting as certain passages in Jim Crace's Being Dead (1999) - a novel that might have been inspired by After London - such as the following:

But once the tent and bodies were removed, and once the unsustaining night had passed, the wounded lissom grass perked up. Hope springs eternal in the natural world. Its leaves and blades sprang straight again. They dragged their bodies from the gluey sand to face the morning. They latched their protein-eyes on daylight. They photosynthesized. The grass's stored supplies of water and carbon dioxide conspired with the thin light of that misty, cloudy day to make its carbohydrates and put back into the world its by-product of oxygen. At last its bludgeoned chloroplasts could go about their work, capturing the enrgy of sunlight. They were the master craftsmen of the grass, the conjurors of chlorophyll. Gradually, as dawn was thickening, as day grew fat to slumber through the heavy afternoon, the pigments of the vegetable scar, its corpse stretched out across the grass, returned. By dusk the rectangle of time-paled lissom grass had gone. By dusk, next day, the ghost was sappy at its tips, and only yellow lower down where the leaves were closest to their stems. After that the lissom darkened, day after day. Spring green, then apple green. And bottle green. Envy green, and green as grass.

By final light on the ninth day since the murder all traces of any life and love that had been spilt had disappeared. The natural world had flooded back. The brightness of the universa returned. If there was any blood left in the soil from Joseph and Celice's hort stay in the dunes then it could only help to fortify the living murmur of the grass.

This sense of comfort is a not inconsiderable aspect of post-apocalyptic writing in general and explains its enduring attraction across genres and contexts. There is hope that someone, somewhere, will begin again, will turn tabula rasa into an inhabitable world, only one based on better, saner principles. To do that, however, there has to be tabula rasa first.

But then again, wouldn't we all like to start from scratch, at least once in a while?

Foul language

An description of a film's rating that you don't run across all the time:

“District 9” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has intense violence and violent swearing in the languages of two planets.

It looks a bit like a cross between Alien Nation, Terminator and V.

Review here. Trailer here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday evening culture report

An article at the New York Times has brought two fascinating looking films to my attention.

First, The Age of Stupid, a documentary about global warming framed in a backward-looking fictional future perspective starring Pete Postlethwaite. I very much liked the director's previous film, McLibel, and this looks good:

Also, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, a documentary about the eponymous Canadian heavy metal band:

And, for those of you who like this kind of music (and I count myself among you), here are sample of Anvil in action then ('School Love') and more recently ('Winged Assassins').

England, more than half English

[Ah, such are the pitfalls of using a shared computer: this post was written by the male half of our marital collective, even though it doesn't appear that way. Just saying, like, to avoid confusion.]

Well, close, but no cigar.

Two questions shy of passing: if only I had known the correct answers to 'What age must you be to be let into betting shops or gambling clubs?' (it's 18 whereas I thought it was 16) and 'How many days must UK schools be open for each year?' (190 instead of my foolish guess of 170), I'd have made it.

(While we're on the topic: why is it that you can legally have sex and join the army at 16 but not place a few bets? Political correctness gone mad, I tell you.)

Given that I'm not actually planning to become British, my failure to pass the test isn't all that tragic. In any case, as it says up there in the photo, only about one is seven Britons can themselves manage a passing score, and, in failing, I'm in illustrious company.

I assume that some provision is made to prepare people for the test (or for them to prepare themselves), and to learn all about council taxation, betting shops and the intricacies of school regulation.

More relevant to my life and future, I have recently taken the German citizenship test (Einbürgerungstest) that was introduced last year and consists of 33 questions: 30 nation-wide ones (drawn from a catalogue of 300) and 3 that are specific to the federal state in which you reside (from a list of ten that are provided beforehand).

And I am happy to report I managed 33 of 33. (There's a separate requirement for a language test, but I had that covered years ago.)

It helped that there were no tricky questions about betting shops (off-track betting not apparently considered an essential aspect of citizenship in this country). Instead, the questions tend to focus on general democratic principles, the basic functions of the various levels of government, the key dates in German history and the reasons why Germans need to feel guilty about their past.

There are also a few thrown in that signal clearly the populations at which this test is aimed, such as those asking how many wives a man may have -- the answer is one, in case you were wondering -- and the steps that parents may take if their daughter tells them she intends to marry a lad of whom they disapprove (the answer: nichts!).

Given that the bar for success is set generously low (17 of 33 correct), it occurs to me that theoretically one could be firmly of the view that Germany accepted polygamy and 'honour killing' and still pass the test as long as he or she has memorised the functions of the Bundesrat, the duties of the Bundespräsident and the fact that between 1933 and 1945 Germany was not a constitutional monarchy but rather a dictatorship. (And has, in addition, memorised the state-specific questions, which are actually the harder ones: without a little preparation, I'd likely not have been able to tell you the colours of the state seal of Rhineland-Palatinate.)

It seems to me that there is little knowledge that is useful on an everyday basis that is tested, such as how to pour Hefeweizen, knowing how to find and use the Wagenstandanzeiger or comprehending that 'there is no strong tradition of queuing in Germany'.

On a vaguely related note: Shuggy has pointed out that the British government's most recent plans for making life hard for immigrants grants them extra points if they agree to settle in Scotland.

I'm trying to think of what the German equivalent of this kind of plan would be.

And I'm stumped.

(Thanks to Dale, who is even somewhat less successfully British, for the link to the test.)

[Posted by JCW, aka The Husband]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This year: though time is relative when you have a TARDIS

What d'ya know: a video combining two things I love. The Mountain Goats and Dr. Who.

And, a bonus. As a couple of nights ago, I recognised a most un-doctorly scene in which two doctors met....

(From Jude, dir. Michael Winterbottom)

Lies, damn lies, etc.

I've been more than usually depressed recently about the relationship between the Internet and the stupidity of my fellow man.

Perhaps you have friends and/or acquaintances who send you all kinds of stupid shit via forwarded e-mails about all kinds of fucking nonsense. And yes, sadly, the only kinds of forwarded e-mails I seem to fall into those categories.

They have little to do with spreading Complex, Careful Thinking and everything to do with, say, the illegitimacy of one Barack Hussein Obama (born in the foreign nation of Hawaii) to serve in the highest office in the land. Or the way that said atheist muslim devilspawn wants to kill your granny. Or how climate change is just a figment of some capitalism-hating hippie's imagination. Or the ways that Muslims are so stupid they can't even manage to fly a plane.

Or, more recently and most grandly, that Muslims are, by mid-century, going to take over Europe.

This latter theme, however, has not just been part of the tin hat brigade's fevered imaginings. No, this notion -- that of a future 'Eurabia', overrun by the unwashed, fervently breeding, Mecca-worshiping masses -- has become a key theme of the semi-respectable -- or at least more established -- right.

Given the frequency with which this kind of shite has been able to circulate on the interwebs, I was pleased to see a sensible response that is also ready-for-YouTube.

The following information from BBC Radio 4 programme More or Less (with grateful thanks for the reference to Momus) is a healthy reminder that the Internet can just as easily spread thoughtful responses to deranged nonsense.

Responding to a much-viewed YouTube video raving the usual panicky Eurabian line, the BBC statistics show offers a page of text, a recorded programme and a specially produced YouTube video carefully examining the 'information' presented in the 'muslim takeover' video linked to above.

The latter two are offered here for your edification.

Listen, watch, consider and pass them on, if you so choose.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Disturbing and unhealthy

I've been noting with disappointment and concern (though not too much surprise) the lunacy and paroxysms of rage that have been accompanying right-wing responses to President Obama's efforts to somewhat expand existing forms of government health insurance so as to provide new opportunities for those that the current system does not seem to be serving well.

This is all a bit academic for me, as I live in a civilised country now (where the mainstream conservative parties know, conservative and disagreeable, but in the main sane), but I liked Ezra Klein's comment:

This is something broader then a reaction to particular provisions in particular pieces of legislation. This is about how the conservative movement reacts to progressive change. My colleague Steve Pearlstein got it right this morning. "Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society," he wrote. "Whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off."

That doesn't mean Obama's bill. It could mean a compromise like Wyden-Bennett, or something else. But what's going on out there isn't about a specific bill. It's about the fear of change. It doesn't really allow for negotiations and counter-offers. And it is very, very ugly.

Yes it is.

For better or for Wurst

One of the interesting things I've run across during newspaper research into a few specific topics in the 1920s is the fascination in the English press with Germany.

But few have managed to combine fascination with condescension as well as the following article from the Daily Mail, in spring 1928.

New Girls of Germany

who has just returned after spending over two years in various German towns.

Not so long ago the German girl conveyed the impression of an indifferently proportioned lugger, with sails square set, and unduly overweighted aft.

To-day, a more suitable analogy is that of a spick and span clipper with neat lines, the cut of her jib distinctly Parisian. Take a stroll along the Linden, visit the best dance restaurants in any large provincial town, and one beholds German girls dressed in almost the latest Paris creations. There are still a few frumps left, but they hail mostly from patrician houses, where it is considered proper to maintain the old German cult and to wear print frocks in the stalls.

The passion for slimness has reached Germany. The full-bosomed, perfunctorily dressed Gretchen with hair austerely combed is practically extinct among the younger generation. But though it is a comparatively simple affair to reduce one's figure, it is not always easy to reduce one's ankles in proportion. That is the one detail in which there is still room for improvement--that, and the lingering prejudice that more than just a touch of powder is not quite respectable. But women are adaptable creatures, and there is little doubt that nature and artifice will soon complete the transformation.

* * * * * * *

Temperamentally, too, the German girl has changed, and therein lies an element of tragedy.

Judged by British standards, many German husbands differ vastly from the conception of what a husband should be. They are inclined to be domineering; the standard of fidelity is lower on the whole in Germany than in some other countries; and they drink a good deal.

In pre-war days all this was taken for granted. A husband was frankly allowed his fling occasionally--was he not a man?--and his wife was accustomed to piloting him home after a beer party which had lasted well into the morning. She did not question him as to his whereabouts if he remained away from home longer than usual, and she accepted in humble spirit his rebukes if all was not quite in order in the household when he returned. And though there are--and always have been--many honourable exceptions, most German husbands are following the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers.

The German wife may now be found charlestoning--in the peculiar fashion common to German ballrooms--at the time of day when she used to be having a knitting party or cutting up the Wurst for supper. She is demanding to be taken to dine in restaurants on days when the cook or the maid-of-all-work is out, and she is giving up beer for cocktails. She has withal developed a sense of humour, rarely possessed in the old days, and is becoming a 'good sport' in the truly British sense.

At present she does little more that criticise her men folk, but the day is approaching when she will demand that husbands shall conform to the new ideal. When that day dawns we shall see German husbands allowing their wives to pass through the restaurant and tramway-cars, and transferring to their wives something of the respect which has been man's prerogative in the past.

(The Daily Mail, 27 March 1928, p. 12)

Ach, there's something here that makes one long for the subtle, good-humoured generalisations of a Jerome K. Jerome.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Perverting the course of justice

I know that the semester is over when I don't just listlessly flick through the London Review of Books but actually manage to read an article or two. My temporarily (slightly) reduced workload also allows me to finally add a belated comment inspired by my reading (yay!) to a political issue that other bloggers have been discussing at greater length (e.g. here, here and here).

The LRB of 23 July opens with Slavoj Žižek's disquisition on Iranian politics, promisingly entitled "Berlusconi in Tehran". The main argument of the article is that most Western commentators (the Seumas Milnes of this world or the intellectually challenged German extreme Left) underestimate the revolutionary dimension of the uprising in Iran as well as the dangerousness of the person at whom the protests have been directed. He argues that to take Ahmadinejad's posturing as mere buffoonery, let alone to defend him as a Muslim Robin Hood, means failing to see that he is a "corrupt Islamofascist populist." In turn, such a failure means overlooking how we can learn from the Iranian situation. If I understand Žižek correctly (and of course one never knows with him), he sees Iran as providing something of a distorted mirror image that shows the all-too self-satisfied democracies in no uncertain terms the direction in which they might be heading. Italy, in his view, is already halfway there - hence the title. (Though, hang on, shouldn't it really be "Ahmadinejad in Rome"?)

So far, so good. I'm more or less with Žižek on that. Beware of the gregarious clowns and doddery family guys dressed for a Captain's dinner, they are all political psychopaths in disguise.

But otherwise?

The article is about as typically Žižek as they come (if you've read one of them, you've read them all) and as always I'm in two minds about both argument and style. As is his wont, Žižek begins with a strawmannish exposition of opinion
s that he will subsequently discount. Then follows the obligatory reference to academia's latest dahling Alain Badiou, which - by introducing another of the French philosopher's perverted notions of democracy - provides a segue into Žižek's own take on whatever it is he discusses. He then inevitably turns to a (or a selection of) computer-generated Hollywood blockbusters - in this case Kung Fu Panda - to illustrate his point, which usually climaxes in a deus ex machina appearance of the Lacanian Real.

Žižek's work is based on the principle of the spin-off, and this article is no exception to the unwritten "Rule of Slavoj" that the same is beautiful. In fact, pattern-recognition is probably an evolved capacity, so I shouldn't dis him for exploiting the charm of derivation (especially since others do that kind of thing, too, and with less brio). However, one has to say that the article in question is stylistically particularly lacklustre, containing narcoleptic passages like the following: "But the film's pseudo-Oriental spiritualism is constantly undermined by cynical humour [my emphasis]" - Come on Slavoj, you can do better than "Advanced Academic Writing" c. 1997!

Still, the article has its moments, for instance in Žižek's criticism of Obama's Cairo speech on the need for a dialogue between religions:
No, we don't need a dialogue between religions (or civilisations), we need a bond of political solidarity between those who struggle for justice in Muslim countries and those who participate in the same struggle elsewhere.
"Political solidarity" and "justice" - now these are nicely reasonable, universalist categories, and this particular passage really raised my hopes regarding the rest. Sadly, though, Žižek seems so embarrassed by his own capacity of lucid rationality that he immediately seeks refuge in psychoanalysis. Part one of his argument is that the recent protests in Iran expressed the original spirit of the 1979 revolution:
Now is the time to remember the effervescence that followed the revolution, the explosion of political and social creativity, organsiational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. That this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the revolution was an authentic political event, an opening that unleashed altogether new forces of social transformation: a moment in which "everything seemed possible."
These possibilities, so Žižek, were gradually closed down with the triumph of the Ayatollahs - they were repressed. Which leads him to part two of his argument: What is happening now is a return of these repressed revolutionary forces:
To put it in Freudian terms, today's protest movement is the "return of the repressed of the Khomeini revolution."
"The Khomeini revolution"? I'm far from an expert on Iran, but this phrase strikes me as an oddly monolithic misrepresentation of what happened in 1979.

But that's just by-the-by. What really irritated me about this article - for the first time, although I've read more than my share of Žižek and never noticed - is his obsession with putting politics in psychoanalytical terms. And for the first time I understood that to do so is not only frivolous, but in fact fundamentally obscene (a term I use in its everyday, negatively connoted, sense, not in the way it has been reinterpreted).

Justice is not "the repressed". To desire justice ought to be the desired norm, for everyone. It is an ordinary, human need, not a pathological skeleton hidden away in a closet. It is not the symptom of my Oedipus complex, it is as real and as visceral as the needs of my species being can be. Justice might not be effervescent, revolutionary or apocalyptic - but the quiet stability that it provides has its attraction, too.

It seems to me that those in Iran who have died, been tortured and/or are currently humiliated in show trials that have nothing to do with justice for fighting for the very same, deserve better than being sent, metaphorically speaking, to the psychoanalyst's couch.

Topical window display, Bingen 2009.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A good start

How should we think?

Well, it's a complex issue.

But it's good to have a few cues.

Like these:

A starting point.

In short: 'Think about it'.


Between Scylla and Charybdis

Sometimes I feel like this:

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

And sometimes like that:

Not so random associationism

Ohne Worte ... I'm tired and speechless. But somewhere at the back of me head there seems to be a last speck of mental activity left. Which leads me to this:

If you think that XTC stole from the Beatles:

... think again:

Alexandra, "Zigeunerjunge" (1967)

In 1967 they were all doing the tree thing. The tree, I contend, is the essential prop of pre-video musical visuals. I shall, when all this is over (but what the heck is "this"? And will I live to see it "over"?), write a book on the topic of "The Tree is Pop".

In the meantime, you send me your own associations. I will mention you with eternal gratitude in the Acknowledgements.

Yes, I is tired.

PS: Richard Dawkins, if you're reading this: Scrap the endless John Lennon referencing and listen to some XTC!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Massengymnastik Italian Style

An interview in Süddeutsche Zeitung with the German band Zweiraumwohnung points us to a bewildering piece of musical history:

This is Adriano Celentano, godfather of Italopoppa, singing "Prisencolinensinainciusol" in a language that is only meant to remind one of English.

All the strutting and writhing is visually evocative, too, though:

Image via.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

For all you Jeremy Clarkson fans out there ....

Well, one might respond that it takes one to know one.

Exhibit A:

Case closed, I'd say. Auf die deutsch-polnische Freundschaft!

Living so close to death that any love is reckless

I discovered today a recent article at the New York Times that outlines the programme of an upcoming film series at Manhattan's Film Forum titled 'Brit Noir'. It will showcase post-war British crime films and thrillers that have perhaps been unjustly ignored.

It's an interesting collection of films, some of which I have seen, most of which I've not. But other than making me wish I had easy access to Manhattan for a little while, I can thank the Times for one thing.

They have reminded me of the title of a film I saw years ago in the UK; though I'd often had images from it running through my mind, I had forgotten what it was called.

It was, in fact, 'Hell Drivers', and the Times journalist seems quite taken with it as well:

One of the real discoveries of the Film Forum series is “Hell Drivers,” directed by the American expatriate Cy Endfield; a story of crazed competition among the drivers for a gravel-hauling company in a provincial town,it achieves an intensity of action and an existential resonance comparable to “The Wages of Fear.”

You'll have noted, perhaps, one of the reasons for the film having stuck in my mind: it's not all that often that you run across 'a story of crazed competition among the drivers for a gravel-hauling company in a provincial town' that manages quite this level of intensity:

I, for one, think there's still a lot of life in the crazed-provincial-gravel-lorry-driver genre.

I'm surprised there haven't been more films that have explored it.