Wednesday, September 30, 2009

See Spotski Run

While quickly trying to research particular references in 1920s and 30s Britain to the Cheka (i.e., the Soviet secret police), I found an article in the Manchester Guardian reporting on the results of a contest the paper had run soliciting the best names for a dog owned by particular categories of people: a small child, a shepherd, a poacher, a parson, a Bolshevik, and a prime minister.

Among the article's comments:

One doubts how far a true Bolshevik would permit his dog to be called 'Lenin,' 'Nicholas,' 'Trot' (for Trotsky), 'Karl,' or 'Rosa,' but he could not boggle at 'Tovarish' (suggested by a nameless reader) or 'Polit.' As a Bolshevik, he would disapprove 'Anarchy,' and he would regard 'Spotski' and 'Rin-Tin-Tinski' as frivolous and 'Nep' as controversial. But whatever he thought of 'Red,' 'Rufus,' 'Comrade,' and 'Cheka,' he would, as we did, fall down in admiration before 'Pecci,' which is 'President of the Executive Committee of the Canine International.'

'Saturday Competition', Manchester Guardian, 27 February 1929, p. 20.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More film-related thoughts

The great revival of Hildegard von Bingen began when I was in my late teens. All of a sudden people of a certain spiritual bent (like me, at the time) began herb-growing, spelt-chewing and parting their hair in the middle, hoping to emulate a woman whom a certain type of feminist claimed as a medieval Alice Schwarzer. After all, didn't she found a quasi-lesbian commune and stand up to the patriarchal power of the church?

For fans with a more materialist mind-set (like me, too, at the time, though I wasn't aware of this as yet), Hildegard was above all a great dieting role model healer and epitome of alternative medicine. In those days before the Atkins diet, slimming was still associated with asceticism rather than gluttony and nut-roasts were all the rage. Small wonder that Hildegard cookbooks shot up like mushrooms. For a short while, German supermarkets sold packet soups based on Hildegard's recipes (the irony!) which I sometimes bought, being quite obsessed with my weight health myself (and a lousy cook at the same time).

Little did I know in them days that one day I would live where old Hildy had once haunted the happy hills above the Nahe river. Had I moved here then I might have gone the whole Hildegard hog and turned to dancing naked in the moonlight. Now that I've mellowed and read plenty of popular cognitive science, I've changed my mind about Hildegard. Today, I'm inclined to think that our local saint in all likelihood was either an annoyingly precocious brat, an egocentric nut case or an epileptic.

Whatever the cause of Hildegard's famous visions, they (or the artwork based on them) document that she was thoroughly indoctrinated by the medieval church's hatred of the body, sexuality and women. Here is Hildegard's version of the "vagina dentata" (complete with Arab strap):

I don't know whether Margarete von Trotta, she of the epic feminist biopic, is interested in her heroine's fearful frigidity in her Hildegard-movie Vision. And I probably won't ever know, because the trailer is too abysmal to invite the waste of 10 Euros or so (let alone two hours of precious life time) on the whole film:

What can I say? The movie has Heino Ferch in it (aka "The Actor Who Don't Look So Intelligent"), which is always a bad sign. I really think the German film board should introduce a Heino Ferch-rating, so that the discerning viewer can give products that feature the man a wide berth.

More promising, by contrast, is this grittily realistic piece of TV nostalgia, also set in and around here:

The touristy bit begins at around 9:07. In part 2 a body is fished out of the Rhine in what the voice-over claims to be Trechtingshausen, but which actually is the harbour in Bingen. Clearly visible in the background is the Niederwalddenkmal in Rüdesheim, which is directly opposite from Bingen, on the other side of the Rhine.

NB: You cannot see the Niederwalddenkmal from Trechtingshausen.

This not only proves that mundus vult decipi is a fundamental principle of film narrative. It also goes to show that Bingen has far more to offer than Hildegard and her biscuits - though some things might be better for tourism (and one's general health) than others.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Probably not a film that's going to be beloved by the German tourist industry

One of the more interesting exchanges I've seen in any recent interviews with an actor:

What's your impression of Germany after spending two months in a dark forest and a deserted hotel?

The hotel and the forest were two separate worlds. The forest was incredibly beautiful but I also found it extremely frightening.

That doesn't sound like a declaration of love...

Put it this way: my impression is not nearly as bad as you might think.

'Not as bad as you might think'. That sounds positive? Or...maybe not.

During the filming I spent two months covered in blood and running through the woods screaming.


Not your typical German holiday, then.

From Martina Meister's interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg, star of Antichrist, originally in the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Paint it black (and yellow)

OK, a few more things election-oriented, before we move on...

First, to my own surprise, I have found something rather fascinating and worthwhile in Germany's sensationalist tabloid Bild: an interactive map showing how different electoral districts voted, viewable on either a national or federal-state level, and selectable by party.

This is how things panned out locally:

And, while the success of the SED PDS 'the Left' has been remarkable (and probably the single greatest blow to the social democrats), it's notable that their popularity is...well, let's just say somewhat regional.

Second, very unsurprisingly, I have found Ario making insightful comments at his blog. Among other things:

Anyone notice that Germany will now be reigned by a female chancellor and an openly gay vice-chancellor? And it’s not even an issue.

This is a good point that -- probably because it's not really an issue -- I hadn't considered.

Finally, it seems that Guido Westerwelle (the said likely future foreign minister/vice-chancellor) doesn't like to speak English.

One can understand why.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The next election campaign ....

.... is to make J. Carter Wood Guardian editor for all things German - at least he would know what he is frigging talking about. He would surely never have chosen this here picture to make a tasteless, racist comment on the German elections/electorate:

The subtitle to the photo (which is one of a string of other, similarly folkloric images from Honduras, Transsylvania and the Vatican) runs: "A woman wearing traditional costume casts her election ballot at a polling station."

No mention of context, no explanation as to why the woman might have donned this dress (Has she just hailed from a CDU election party? Her shift at McDonald's, where it's Black Forest Gateau Week? Or might she be suffering from a mild case of madness due to centuries of inbreeding?)

No: The dimwits at the Grauniad make it sound as if German women in the Black Forest simply wear this kind of Sound of Music stuff. All day long. Even when we're off to see our divorce lawyers, gynaecologists or, indeed, our favourite ballot box. Bobbly bits on our heads - we love it!

Dear, benighted Guardian editors: This country has reached the 21st century. Hitler is dead (though he might have been a woman). We have a functioning health service. And we are canny inventors/users of the Einhebel Mischbatterie - a sublimely practical device which you silly folk of showerless island dwellers still view with the same terrified disdain displayed by Catweazle when confronted with Carrot's electrickery.

So would you please f-off and write about Katie Price (the only topic you seem to understand)!

Living for the moment

Especially on a night of such electoral disappointment, it's important to appreciate the small pleasures in life.


Rechts (unfortunately) vor links*

OK, so it's a somewhat grim night here, election-wise.

But it's not without its humour, provided in this case by The Guardian:

The Greens secured 10%, an increase of 2.3%, and the extreme-left Links party took 12.5%, an increase of 3.8%.

Figures showed that 26% of Germany's jobless voted for Links, underlining the extent to which the two-year old party – a conglomeration of former communists and disillusioned Social Democrats – has won voters from the SPD.

Given the references to 'the Links party' you might be forgiven for thinking that a party of radical golfers had won a significant victory this evening. And you might be wondering just why they'd attracted so many unemployed votes.

If you want to stick with the original German, obviously, 'links' does mean 'left'. However, the party is actually called 'die Linke', but since none of the other party names remained in their original language (i.e., the Greens are not referred to as die Grünen or even more correctly, if somewhat more unwieldly, as Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) it would seem to be more correct to refer to them as 'The Left'. 'The Links party' makes no sense at all.

Not that this correction would make them any more worth voting for.

(For what it's worth: My first vote in a German election went to a different left-of-centre party with a more realistic programme and -- for all its imperfections -- more noble tradition reaching back to the nineteenth century.)

And this evening sees the beginning of a new campaign: that the Guardian makes me their chief Germany correspondent.

I'll at least avoid the most obvious mistakes.

And if that's not an honest campaign slogan you can get behind, then what is, nicht wahr?

*Reference: DE/EN

[UPDATE]: I see that somebody has ensured that this mistake does not recur.

Election update...

... from the Waggly Tail. Not exactly "fresh", as the headline proclaims - but then what do you expect from a country that has chosen to live in the past?

Well folks, here's your kind of music.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another academic clanger

In his review of Margaret Atwood's latest novel The Year of the Flood (LRB 10 September 2009), Fredric Jameson ventilates his thoughts in progress about apocalyptic plots in literature:

My current feeling is that the post-catastrophe situation [in literature] in reality constitutes the preparation for the emergence of Utopia itself, which, to be sure, in Atwood's new instalment we reach only in anticipation ....

Oh what a canny little twist to the banal little commonplace sometimes uttered by clever literary scholars that "all utopias contain the seed of dystopia"! I've always found that a consummately cowardly trope - after all, aren't utopia and dystopia one and the same thing, one person's notion of paradise being another person's idea of hell?* - but Jameson's formulation is even more annoyingly slick. By taking Utopia (with a capital "U") to be that which emerges after the dystopian catastrophe, he squarely and simplistically places it on the side of the good. Out goes the last bit of ambiguity, in comes a streamlined, homogenised Hades.

What's that you're saying? Millenarian optimism is just the kind of world view staunch Marxists would purport (especially staunch American Marxists)? Well, whatever. I still think it's a sloppy, cheesy and frightening idea.

*Just referring to the title, not the image!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'The knowledge of German...must be widespread throughout the people.'

A missive from Britain's Daily Herald, 1929:


'Too Much French Taught in Our Schools'

Too much French and too little German and Spanish is taught in English secondary schools, according to the Board of Education, which in a report issued yesterday states that at the school certificate examinations in 1928 the number of students offered French was 54,273; German, 3,837; and Spanish, only 719.

Stressing the fact that Germany is again one of the leading commercial countries, the Committee states that 'if Germany after the war is still enterprising, industrious, highly organised, formidable no less in trade than in arms, we cannot afford to neglect or ignore her for a moment; we cannot leave any of her activities unstudied. The knowledge of German by specialists will not suffice; it must be widespread throught the people.'

The importance of German to commercial students is being considered by the Board of Education, and a further report will be issued.

The Daily Herald, 18 September 1929, p. 3

Some issues are evergreen, it would seem.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happiness is a film gun

I've no doubt that everyone coming here has at some point used IMDB, the internet movie database.

And a very handy, wonderful thing it is.

A while ago (I can't recall now how), I ran across IMFDB: the internet movie firearms database.

And a very handy, wonderful thing it is.

I now know, for example, that Kate Beckinsale's signature weapons in the ridiculous but thoroughly enjoyable Underworld (I can't speak for the sequels...) were 'two Beretta 92FS handguns modified to fire in full auto with compensators attached.'

Like these:

Good to know.

Also: in Bullitt, Steve McQueen's character carries a Colt Diamondback snubnose 'fitted with grips from a Colt Detective Special.'

The distinctive fictional pistol carried by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, we learn, was a complicated construction:

The prop was constructed from parts of a Steyr-Mannlicher Model SL rifle and a Charter Arms Bulldog revolver. Side covers were added to cover the bulldog's cylinder, and different bolt heads and screw heads were used to offer an illusion of [knobs] and controls. The gun was also equipped with at least 6 LED lights, though not all of them worked throughout the production.

If you're a fan of gunplay and action films (and, indeed, I am) there's a lot of fun to be had. The entries for films like No Country for Old Men or The Way of the Gun or Hard Boiled are, as to be expected, pretty extensive.

But I also see that there are entries for The Big Lebowski and Borat.

IMFDB can, I admit, be kind of addictive.

Happy hunting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Freundliche Kundschaft

Here's to the power of small differences:

"The Gay Days visitors are really no different to other Oktoberfest revellers," said Claudia, a long-time waitress in the Bräurosl. "Except for the fact that they do give us better tips and they are less likely to throw beer glasses at each other when the evening gets going."

Hey, it's the autumnal equinox...and Oktoberfest. Reason enough to celebrate.

But mind the flying glasses.

'Lass mich vor dir sterben'

And further on our random musical journey: A few in German (or at least from German bands).

Tomte, 'Schreit den Namen meiner Mutter'

Wir Sind Helden, 'Nur ein Wort' (of course, the reference)

The Notwist, 'Gloomy Planets'

You've got to spend some time, love

Because of the contingencies of pressing the 'random play all' button on my mp3 player on a recent long-haul train journey, I was reminded of how much I like many of the songs by Death Cab for Cutie.

Worth sharing, I thought.


'I Will Possess Your Heart' (live on David Letterman)

'A Movie Script Ending'

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Women: Strike the toothless foreign types savagely into the dirt

It's a quiet Sunday evening here at the OD homestead, not least since though one of us has just returned from abroad, the other is, for most of the next week, verreist.

But, to fill the empty silence, there are worse things than the comedic sketch-films of one Harry Enfield, which comments from Mike have brought to my attention.

First, two which quite nicely capture the tone of the Express articles I recounted recently.

Women: Know your limits.

Women: Keep your virtue

And, finally, something...completely different.

Methods of self-defence

And here the simpler version:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Notes from a dangerous age

Here's something I just ran across in Vincent's Police Code and General Manual of the Criminal Law, 16th edn., 1924, which contains an alphabetical survey of all the duties of police officers.

Under 'O', we find:

Orange or Banana Peel.--1. The police should remove pieces of orange or banana peel when seen on the pavement, frequent accidents occurring by passengers slipping thereon.

2. If orange or banana peel is wilfully and continually thrown on a pavement, with the evident design of causing annoyance and exposing the public to danger, the delinquent may be summoned or apprehended, and charged with throwing rubbish on a thoroughfare. (See Highways.) [p. 171]
Insight into the concerns of the period is also provided by the fact that this edition contained a lengthy entry under 'Anarchism', drawing particular attention to the dangers of 'outrages' caused by the throwing of bombs or, more mysteriously, 'infernal machines'.

Of your run-of-the-mill anarchist, however, it is noted: 'This class of person is often, apart from the dangerous opinions he possesses, harmless in himself.' [p.13]

The lord god made them all

Did you hear the one about the dog that got left behind after the rapture?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gissing reads Adorno

I don't usually go for the kind of cute anachronism that is a popular argumentative device amongst postmodern Humanities scholars. You know what I mean: using the past to legitimise the present (more specifically, present-day research) in publications and lectures with quaffable titles like "The Postmodern Renaissance". "Shakespeare reading Joyce". "Did Jane Austen watch Sex and the City?"

But then I couldn't resist pirating that little intellectual sleight of hand when I came across the following passage from George Gissing's The Nether World (yes, still reading Gissing here), which proves the writer's prophetic - nay, clairvoyant - capacities. It is a passage dedicated to plebeian bank holiday pleasures; the scene is Crystal Palace:
Ha! Pennyloaf was happy! The last trace of tears vanished. She too was sensible of the influences of music; her heart throbbed as she let herself lean against her husband.

Well, as every one must needs have his panacea for the ills of society, let me inform you of mine. To humanise the multitude two things are necessary - two things of the simplest kind conceivable. In the first place, you must effect an entire change of economic conditions: a preliminary step of which every tyro will recognise the easiness; then you must bring to bear on the new order of things the constant influence of music. Does not the prescription recommend itself? It is jesting in earnest. For, work as you will, there is no chance of a new and better world until the old be utterly destroyed. Destroy, sweep away, prepare the ground; then shall music the holy, music the civiliser, breathe over the renewed earth, and with Orphean magic raise in perfected beauty the towers of the City of Man.
I felt oddly reminded of a passage from a text published half a century later, Theodor Adorno's essay on popular music from 1941:
In our present society the masses themselves are kneaded by the same mode of production as the arti-craft material foisted upon them .... They want standardized goods and pseudo-individualization, because their leisure is an escape from work and at the same time is moulded after those psychological attitudes to which their workaday world exclusively habituates them. Popular music is for the masses a perpetual bus man's holiday. Thus, there is justification for speaking of a preestablished harmony today between production and consumption of popular music. The people clamour for what they are going to get anyhow.

To escape boredom and avoid effort are incompatible — hence the reproduction of the very attitude from which escape is sought. To be sure, the way in which they must work on the assembly line, in the factory, or at office machines denies people any novelty. They seek novelty, but the strain and boredom associated with actual work leads to avoidance of effort in that leisure time which offers the only chance for really new experience. As a substitute, they crave a stimulant. Popular music comes to offer it. Its stimulations are met with the inability to vest effort in the ever-identical. This means boredom again. It is a circle which makes escape impossible. The impossibility of escape causes the widespread attitude of inattention toward popular music. The moment of recognition is that of effortless sensation. The sudden attention attached to this moment burns itself out instanter and relegates the listener to a realm of inattention and distraction. On the one hand, the domain of production and plugging presupposes distraction and, on the other, produces it.
So they both are concerned with how music helps sustain our mind-forg'd manacles. But I can't help feeling that Gissing's sarcasm is so much more effective than Adorno's school masterly pomposity.

Oops - How dare I doubt a member of the Frankfurt School pantheon? But really, Adorno's hatred of popular music - which in 1941 of course meant jazz - is infuriatingly crude.

He'd have found "Leaving on a Jet Plane" abominable, too.

Interesting footage with Adorno on pop music and the Vietnam War here.

'Woman must hold her venturesome desires severely in check if she is to fulfil her natural functions.'

As a contribution to the (recently neglected) historical bycatch series, some enlightented commentaries on women that I found over the last couple of days in the pages of the ever-thoughtful Sunday Express.



Bath, Saturday.

Mr. A. W. Cuninghame, headmaster of Victoria College, Bath, in distributing the sports prizes at Duke-street High School, Bath, said in some girls’ schools the importance of athletics was exaggerated, and girls thought of nothing but sport.

‘The modern girl to-day is trying to do too much,’ he added. ‘Football, for instance, is not suited to girls. Their charm, balance and poise would all be lost and their dignity lowered by it.’

‘Girls,’ Mr. Cuninghame added, ‘are losing their former appreciation of chivalry. If a man to-day offered a woman his seat in a tram he would probably be told that she preferred to stand. That attitude does not respect courtesy and chivalry. I appeal to girls not to become mannish through too much athletics.’

Sunday Express, 1 October 1922, p. 7.

Why Women Love Getting “The Creeps”
By C. F. Burghes

A darkened stage. A sofa in the solitary bright spot near the footlights. On the sofa a pair of unsuspecting lovers. A door behind them opening slowly. A claw-like hand with ghostly, emaciated fingers feeling its way around the door-panel. In blissful ignorance of the horror about to befall them, they continue their affectionate prattle.

A woman’s voice from the pit, in a sibilant whisper: ‘I can’t bear it! Oh! I can’t bear it!’

This is an incident from ‘The Cat and the Canary,’ the latest dramatic thriller produced on the London stage.

Women, from the gallery to the stalls, clenched their hands while the shivers of apprehension ran down their backs as horror upon horror was piled up before their eyes. They laughed hysterically at every semi-comical moment, glad of the relief afforded their tortured nerves, and at the end applauded ecstatically.

No need to ask whether women like getting ‘the creeps.’ They revel in it.


Women love being thrilled, as men do, because they also possess a very strong streak of primitive curiosity and craving for adventure.

Man’s curiosity has a thousand appeasing outlets. He can expend it on exploration, on scientific discovery, on unlimited daring quests of mind and body. Woman must hold her venturesome desires severely in check if she is to fulfil her natural functions. But they will not be denied. They fasten on the unseen and the intangible. They revel in ghost stories, in superstitions of all kinds, in spiritualism, in a riot of thrills, the madder the merrier.

Every woman would prefer to live for an hour in danger than to vegetate for a lifetime in security.

The woman who, in an agony of pleasure, exclaimed at the play, ‘I can’t bear it!’ not only did, but enjoyed herself thoroughly during every moment of the dreadful experience.

When her primitive curiosity longs in vain for an object on which to expend itself, when she is bored and discontented, when she is nervy and nothing can appease her irritability, take your wife to the creepiest play or give her the most hair-raising book you can find.

Horror is a tonic too seldom prescribed for horror-loving woman.

Sunday Express, 3 November 1922, p. 6

‘Sex Stuff’ and the Cinema

No matter who pays the piper in film entertainment, it is Woman who calls the tune, and Woman is slowly but certainly bringing the business of film entertainment to a dead end, from which, at the moment, there seems to be no means of escape.

The difficulty can be quite simply stated. Since women form not less than 70 per cent of the five million people who daily attend this country’s 4,000 place of film exhibition, it follows that the film producer who wishes to be commercially successful must cater almost exclusively for women.

The plain fact to be faced is that what pleases the women is strong sex drama, highly spiced and seasoned, of the type that throws into the melting-pot of social controversy the ramshackle and shot-riddled institution called matrimony.


The titles of current and prospective films give a clear indication of what is going on. Among them I note: ‘What’s Wrong with Women?’ ‘What Women Love,’ ‘When a Woman Strikes,’ ‘Woman against Woman,’ ‘The Woman of Lies,’ ‘A Woman of Pleasure,’ ‘A Woman’s Man,’ ‘Women Men Forget,’ ‘Women Men Love,’ ‘The Wrong Woman,’ ‘Woman Who Walked Alone,’ and ‘Hail the Woman.’ The list, if extended to including such words as ‘Passion,’ ‘Marriage,’ ‘Divorce,’ ‘Wife,’ and ‘Husband,’ would fill a column.

It is not so much my business to comment on this striking social phenomenon as to call attention to its consequences. There are no fewer than 10,000 notable films, long and short, which cannot circulate to a commercially profitable extent because cinema programmes are freighted with this dreadful load of ‘sex stuff.’ ....

Sunday Express, 14 December 1922, p. 6.

Thursday weeps

I defy anyone not to well up when listening to "Leaving on a Jet Plane":

Yes, even you, Mike "Soulman" ov Swinton.

R. I. P. Mary Travers.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

When I get that feeling ....

Who said that ours is a meaningless existence in an indifferent universe? Here's evidence of the truly divine design of things. This morning, on my way to work, I was introduced to the following charmingly wonky version of Marvin Gaye's most famous tune:

I admit, I was intrigued. I have a particular liking for brass bands, especially of the colliery sort (and when they play "Jerusalem"), but this is quite fun, too.

So far, so good. Little did I know that on my return home from an almost efficient day in the office, as I was granting myself my daily half hour internet chill, my morning serenade would be echoed by the following ad for some kind of sponsored web chat on feminine sexual dysfunction on a celebrity website I sometimes read accidentally stumbled upon.

Oh, don't the the world work in mysteriously circular ways? From "Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up" to "The Vagina Dialogues" in eight and a half hours - not bad for a day's work.

What struck me most about this otherwise mildly puzzling piece of public debate, however, is the line at the very bottom:

"Sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc."

For Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., you must know, is a mere ten kilometres down the road from here - an old family firm (still), one of the most important employers in the area and, indeed, a great public sponsor. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. not only supports internet debates on feminine desire loss in the US - it also sponsors a local university with which I'm on rather intimate ... ahem ... professional terms (to keep up the metaphor).

And this morning I was almost exactly level with Boehringer Ingelheim Inc.'s local plant when I listened to Hot 8 Brass Band's version of "Sexual Healing" on the radio.

There must be a God!

Disclaimer: This is not a clandestine ad for ... well, you know who.

What do women want?

This is a question that has baffled generations. It occurred to me while reading an article on European women who apparently fall in love with -- and sometimes marry -- American death row inmates. (Via Andrew.)

A German woman who runs a guest house near death row in Texas put it this way:

"I think violence is very interesting," she said. "Most normal men are boring, but if you are in a relationship with a violent man, you have something to tell others and ... you are interesting, too."

Ah, 'interesting'.

Maybe that's what makes Chris Brown so 'interesting', at least to the tabloid press. I mean, he never killed anyone so far as I know, but he seems to have beaten up his girlfriend pretty good.

But now he wants to make that up. Sort of.

I want to understand my feelings. I want to find out what really transpired as far as me that night.

Momentary pause: 'What transpired as far as me'... What kind of English is this, exactly? OK, onward; it gets better:

If I do [have a problem], I will work with my counselor and hopefully channel my anger into something like dancing.

Talk about restorative justice! I'm sure some fancy footwork will make your victim feel much better.

On the other hand, there's a woman who runs a guest house in Texas who may find'interesting'.


(Thanks to The Wife for sending me this.)

Just Because (or, still amongst the living)

This one's for John. One remains a Chicagoan, even after acquiring the privilege to vote for Matron Merkel at a later stage in his life.

PS: Take note, Tony Paterson: Berlin is NOT Pyonyang!

Home movies in space

There's normal, and there's strange. But when the strange becomes normal, then I find it even, somehow, weirder.

This is a fifteen-minute video of astronauts doing...well, something that involves an EVA a few days ago during the current Space Shuttle mission.

OK, Wikipedia lets us know more or less what's going on here:

On flight day 7, Danny Olivas and Christer Fuglesang performed the second spacewalk of the STS-128 mission. Olivas and Fuglesang installed and connected the new Ammonia Tank Assembly (ATA), and also performed two get aheads. The get ahead tasks included installing protective lens covers on the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) End B cameras . Once the ATA was installed, the tank was integrated into the cooling loop. While Olivas and Fugelsang were outside, the rest of the crew continued on transferring items to and from both the shuttle mid-deck and MPLM.

All clear?

Right, here's the video. Most of it is silent for some reason, so you may want to put on some background music. (I happened to be listening to 'Phaedra' from Tangerine Dream at the time, which worked pretty well.) And if you want to see it in a larger format, you can do so here.

What I find so remarkable about this video is how normal it all seems. Just a bunch of people hanging out in their shirtsleeves, unpacking some bubble-wrapped equipment (rather tricky in zero-g, it seems) and using their laptops (which are running Windows XP, it seems...somehow, seeing that all-too-familiar screensaver is the most unsettling thing about this).

Meanwhile, looking over their shoulders, we see...the Earth.


(Via Boing Boing)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh is free

In probably the most pleasant message I've yet received via Facebook, I (along with many other people) heard via Ophelia that Sayed Pervez Kambaksh (about whom we have previously posted) has been freed.

Although 'free' is, I suppose relative: he's currently 'in hiding', and, as an Independent article notes:

Prior to his departure, he spoke of how his relief was mixed with deep regret at knowing he was unlikely to see his family or country again.

Still, considering he was first sentenced to death and then had his sentence commuted to a lengthy term of imprisonment, this is, of course, good news.

Wherever you are, Mr. Kambaksh, we wish you well. And hope that you may one day return to a free Afghanistan.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

From an age of more elevated political discourse

Being a firm believer in both holding grudges and taking a creative approach to avenging personal wrongs, I enjoyed this passage from Hilary Mantel's LRB review of David Lawday's new biography of George-Jacques Danton:

His childhood was rural but eventful. Encounters with livestock left him broken-nosed, with a gash from a bull’s horn across his lips; smallpox left him scarred; he was tall, and grew burly if not obese. His ugliness was not of the craggy kind: ‘His bulbous cheeks,’ Lawday says, ‘gave him the look of an enormous cherub.’ To his political opponent Vadier, during the Terror, he was a turbot farci, a huge fish to be gutted. Danton’s riposte embodied all his smooth elegance: ‘I’ll eat his brains and use his skull to shit in.’

I'm sure it sounded even more smoothly elegant in French.

Nobody fucks with the Danton.

(Except, of course, a few years later, one Robespierre, but you can't win 'em all.)

Friday, September 04, 2009

They laughed back when I tried to dance with you

It suddenly turned a bit autumnal here today.

These seemed to fit.

Tiny Vipers, 'On This Side'

Bowerbirds, 'My Oldest Memory'

Essay surfing: Inglourious false consciousness special relationship edition

A few passages from things I've read in the last day or so which I've found interesting.

From Michael Wood's review of Inglourious Basterds in the LRB, which actually makes me enthused about seeing the film, despite what sounds like a fair amount of deranged incoherence (otherwise possibly known as reinventing the grammar of film).

I mean, this sounds intriguing:
Next, the film is spoken in German and French for most of its duration, with large excursions into English and a brief comic scene in Italian. The language in each case is very elaborate, almost baroque, and an essential part of the fun. What are we to do if we have only the subtitles to go by? How shall we grasp, let alone enjoy the moment when a German actor playing an English soldier is caught out by another German because of the imperfections of his German accent?
This, of course, means that I'll have to wait to see the film in its original version, as watching it dubbed into German is going to be...defeating this point.

From Xan Brooks in the Guardian on cinematic nostalgia for the 80s:
My view is this: by and large, the 80s sucked. They made me feel awkward and out-of-joint, and I was not sad to see them go. Yet now I find I miss them. By the same token, I was never particularly enamoured of John Hughes, the bard of the 80s teen genre – until he died earlier this year, at which point I decided that I'd really liked him all along. This is how nostalgia works. It plays tricks on the memory and reorders the past. Nostalgia, wrote the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, is a false consciousness, "a historical inversion". Those early years look warmer, safer and more seductive when viewed through the rear-view mirror of advancing age.
From Geoffrey Wheatcroft's review of two books on British Palestine and the creation of Israel, also in the LRB.

I can't judge Wheatcroft's larger points in the review, but I was struck by this bit:
After Truman's 'Yom Kippur speech' of October 1946, timed for the midterm elections, in which he demanded the admission of more Jews to Palestine, [British Prime Minister] Attlee lost patience. He bitterly rebuked Truman for not having consulted the prime minister 'of the country which has the actual responsibility for the government of Palestine in order that he might acquaint you with the actual situation and probable results of your action'. But then Attlee had early stumbled on the truth about the 'special relationship', which Gerhard Schroeder has said is so special that only the English know it exists.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

'It started in a railway tunnel'

Let it never be said of a 'traditional bourgeois lifestyle' that it was boring.

This thought brought to you via Geoffrey Hawthorn's review (sorry, for subscribers only) of Joachim Radkau's recent biography of Max Weber in the London Review of Books.

In the manner of much biography now, he writes about Weber’s character, illness and relations with others more than about the work, which he tends to regard as little more than an expression of how Weber was feeling: about his mother, Helene; about [his wife] Marianne herself, with whom Weber appears not to have had any sexual connection and who confided her difficulties and disappointments to Helene; about his brother Alfred, ‘MiniMax’ as students called him, who, like both Max and Marianne, was in love with Else Jaffé; about Mina Tobler, Max’s other lover, who after his death tried to seduce Alfred; and about Else herself, who when she was coming closer to Max was still married to the economist Edgar Jaffé, but was already with Alfred and had recently had an affair and a child with the psychoanalyst Otto Gross, who briefly upset her by starting a relationship with her sister Frieda. (Frieda’s next husband but one was D.H. Lawrence.) Marianne and Else were at Weber’s bedside together when he died, aged 56, in 1920. Marianne died in Else’s arms at 84 in 1954. Mina died in her arms at 87 in 1967. Else herself lived to 99 and died in 1973, in the same home in Heidelberg as the other two.


Radkau reads him against the backdrop of his own erotic life. In 1909, Weber had realised that he was in love (as much of Heidelberg had been) with Else Jaffé, his aristocratic, intelligent and desirable doctoral student of years before. Marianne, torn between her own feelings for Else, a sharpened disappointment with her marriage, and her commitment to independence and expressiveness in women, was in some agony. Max was soon not pleased either, for in 1910 Else was to prefer the more open and sexually abandoned Alfred (they stayed together for the next 40 years). She and Max were not to connect again until she came to a lecture of his on Judaism in 1917 and allowed a brief affair (it started in a railway tunnel) two years later. In 1912, he turned to Mina Tobler, a pianist, younger and no less perceptive, who had delighted him by reading the argument on the Protestant ethic as if it were a novel, took him to Bayreuth and elsewhere, and adored him for the rest of his life.

One wonders: where, in the midst of all this romantic intrigue, did these people find the time and energy to write?

I must admit, had I known all of this, my reading of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism back in grad school would have been considerably more...well...interesting.

I mean...'Bayreuth and elsewhere': talk about romance!

What, in the end, was Weber so disenchanted about?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

1 September 1939

My ability to think complex thoughts is still recovering from the holiday, but I feel the need to mark this day somehow.

The chance circumstance of being a latecomer to my family means that, for me, the Second World War was an event of my parents' generation rather than my grandparents', unlike nearly all the other people I know under 40.

Their efforts in that conflict stretched from western Europe to Burma, on land, sea and air. Something of which I have always been intensely aware -- and proud. I am now -- by family and naturalisation -- connected with the other side of that story, which began seventy years ago today.

Which seems to make my feelings both more complex and, curiously, far simpler.

Seventy years. An eternity or a blink of an eye, depending on your perspective.

And while the day has been full of symbolism, the gesture that I've thought of most is separated from us now by nearly four decades.

Here's to a Europe (almost) without borders and (almost completely) at peace.

For all your many frustrations, you've come a long way.

Let's not forget that.