Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I guess that means we can start saving up for the next one?

It's taken a while, but it seems that Germany is finally paying off its reparations from the First World War.

The Daily Mail is thrilled at the opportunity presented by this exercise in Vergangenheitskriegsschuldenbewältigung to print a picture of its favourite German politician.

Notes from the stein age

It may be because I'm currently working on a conference presentation on alcohol and violence in the nineteenth century, but this article in Der Spiegel caught my eye:

Police at the Munich Oktoberfest say crimes such as rape and theft are down this year but attacks with glass beer steins are on the rise.

The heavy glasses that hold one liter of beer are a symbol of the annual folk festival. But they can also be deadly weapons. And at this year's fest they have already sent some to the hospital with serious injuries, such as concussions, and bleeding in the brain.

"At Oktoberfest it's happening unfortunately more and more," physicist Erich Schuller, of the Institute for Forensic Medicine at Munich University told SPIEGEL this week. "A stein like that weighs 1.3 kg (2.9 lbs) and thanks to the handle, it's easy to grip, and that makes it an effective striking tool."

But it's good to see that the amber nectar is serving to bring people and nations together:

One of the most serious cases this year of an attack with a beer stein happened on Sept. 18, when a 20-year-old resident of Munich got into a fight in a beer tent with a 29-year-old Canadian tourist. The German then hit the Canadian with his beer stein on his head. The beer stein broke, and its shards injured two of the Canadian's companions. The Canadian survived with a concussion, and the German remains in detention awaiting trial.

On the same day, two more Oktoberfest partygoers were brought to the hospital after being hit in the head with beer steins in beer tent altercations. One of them, an Australian tourist, had bleeding in the brain after he was hit by a Frenchman.

...

On Sept. 25, at 2 p.m., a group of French festival-goers and a group of Italians got into a brawl in which one Frenchman threw his stein into the group of Italians. No one was hurt by that mug, but the Italians then took their steins and charged at the French. One Frenchman was hit directly in the head and was brought to a Munich hospital with a fractured skull.

Of course, given that Oktoberfest attracts something like 6 million visitors and then quickly intoxicates them in crowded, sweaty tents, this seems pretty much like what you'd expect to happen.

No need to get overly upset about it. Overall, it seems like quite a safe event, at which the worst thing you are likely to encounter are washed-up celebrities and bad dress sense. (Though I've never attended myself. Your experiences may be different.)

And, if nothing else, the beer stein menace is serving the advance of German science:

Erich Schuller, of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, said his lab has recently carried out tests in which they used brand new steins and hit them against human skulls. "The bones often will break, but we haven't been able to break the steins," Schuller told SPIEGEL. "A hard hit with a stein packs more than 8,500 newtons of power -- the human head in the parietal region breaks with about 4,000 newtons."

Man, I'm in the wrong line of research.

Just imagine the frustrations you could work out spending a day smashing steins against skulls. Sign me up!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Es kann so viel passieren*

I'm far from being either very knowledgeable or very obsessive about football, but I am (for better or worse) susceptible to a benign strain of Lokalpatriotismus, i.e., a tendency to develop a deeply felt attachment to where I live. (By 'benign' I mean that this comes without the usually accompanying animosities against neighbouring towns or regions.)

In any case, that's all by way of explaining my pleasure at yesterday's 2-1 victory by local football club Mainz 05 over Bayern Munich (followed here on the radio; match details in German or English).

This has enabled Mainz's remarkable unbeaten record so far this season, catapulting them to the top of the 1. Bundesliga, to which they are relatively recent arrivals.

As I pointed out before the current season began, compared to other teams in the league, Mainz is a small club with relatively few resources; beating Bayern (in Munich no less) is an event in the national football context.

(Mainz, as ever, even showed its generosity, giving away an own-goal to the hosts shortly before half-time.)

Anyway, in a nicely harmonic convergence, we had tickets last night to see one of our favourite German musicians, Funny van Dannen, who was playing down the road and across the river in Wiesbaden.

And van Dannen was one of the writers of a song made famous (well, at least in these parts) by Die Toten Hosen: the anti-Bayern anthem titled....well, 'Bayern' (lyrics).

Herr van Dannen didn't play this one, though he did play a number of other favourites, such as 'Saufen', 'Vaterland', 'Herzscheiße' and 'Posex und Poesie'.

And a very fine time was had by all.

Like our current economic Aufschwung, there's no telling how long Mainz's football carnival will last.

But still, it's been fun while it's lasted.

*Title translation: 'So many things can happen'

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On contrast

A piece of Hollywood kitsch on which I will most certainly not be wasting any money:



Though it contrasts nicely with the pictures of the athletes' village at this year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi that have been making the rounds these past couple of days.

As the lady with the big mouth says somewhere in the above: "I want to find a place where I can marvel at something."

Indeed.

Notes from the phone booth at the end of the world

I've never read any of his novels, and I wouldn't say that I agree with all of his views.

Still, Michel Houellebecq certainly interviews well. (Via A&L Daily)

On what seem to be the enormous challenges of French childhood reading:

And then there was Pif le chien, a comic book published by Editions Vaillant and sponsored by the Communist Party. I realize now when I reread it that there was a Communist bent to many of Pif’s adventures. For example, a prehistoric man would bring down the local sorcerer in single combat and explain to the tribe that they didn’t need a sorcerer and that there was no need to fear thunder. The series was very innovative and of exceptional quality. I read Baudelaire oddly early, when I was about thirteen, but Pascal was the shock of my life. I was fifteen. I was on a class trip to Germany, my first trip abroad, and strangely I had brought the Pensées of Pascal. I was terrified by this passage: “Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition.” I think it affected me so deeply because I was raised by my grandparents. Suddenly I realized that they were going to die and probably soon. That’s when I discovered death.

Yes....and American parents are afraid of the damage that might be caused by Heather Has Two Mommies.

Anyway...

On visiting your neighbours:

The biggest consequence of The Elementary Particles, apart from the money and not having to work, is that I have become known internationally. I’ve stopped being a tourist, for example, because my book tours have satisfied any desire I might have to travel. And as a result there are countries I have visited that you wouldn’t ordinarily go to, like Germany.

INTERVIEWER

Why do you say that?

HOUELLEBECQ

Nobody does tourism in Germany. It doesn’t exist. But they’re wrong not to. It’s not so bad.

[Ahem: as pleased as I am with this glowing appraisal, it is apparent that some people -- well...at least from the Guardian -- do do tourism in Germany, and in our little corner of it, even.]

On inspiration:

INTERVIEWER
In your preface to The Possibility of an Island, you mentioned a journalist who inspired the idea for the novel. Can you explain?
HOUELLEBECQ
It was a pretty strange moment. I was in Berlin at a café on a lake, waiting to be interviewed. It was very quiet. It was ten o’clock in the morning. There was no one around. And this German journalist arrives and, it was very curious, she wasn’t behaving normally. She didn’t have a tape recorder and she wasn’t taking notes. And she said, “I had a dream that you were in a phone booth after the end of the world and you were speaking to all of humanity but without knowing whether anyone was listening.” It was like being in a zombie film.

I'm thinking of putting him on my to-read list, not least since he's written what sounds like an intriguing book about one of my favourite authors, H.P. Lovecraft.

Any views on the matter you might wish to share?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Avoiding all thoughts of the coming night

Quite a nice image from Orwell, 21 September 1940:

Withal, huge areas of London almost normal, and everyone quite happy in the daytime, never seeming to think about the coming night, like animals which are unable to foresee the future so long as they have a bit of food and a place in the sun. 

Along with noting the imagery, it occurs to me that 'withal' is used far too seldom these days.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday papal zombie meme blogging

The Pope, on tour in Britain today, uttered the usual banal waffle that you'd expect him to on such occasions.

Among other things, he linked Nazism to 'aggressive secularism' and 'the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life'.

Sigh.

Been there, done that, wrote the blog post.

Frankenmouse follies

There's been a lot of (justified) laughter at the views of Delaware's Republican senatorial primary victor Christine O'Donnell on self-abuse and such like.

Still, I would agree with those observers who have recommended that the Democrats not stroke push those, um, buttons too vigorously hard, as her arguments, as goofy as they are, accord with the views of a fair number of her fellow citizens.

But I was interested to run across another comment that she made in 2007 on Bill O'Reilly's talkshow.

The topic was 'Is cloning monkeys morally wrong?':

O'DONNELL: ... these groups admitted that the report that said, "Hey, yay, we cloned a monkey. Now we're using this to start cloning humans." We have to keep...

O'REILLY: Let them admit anything they want. But they won't do that here in the United States unless all craziness is going on.

O'DONNELL: They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they're already into this experiment.

Yeah.

Sadly, science hasn't yet advanced that far. (And as Douglas Adams knew, the mice are already well ahead of us in the brain department.)

However, I can't help thinking that, were her delusional fantasy true, said mice would have been more qualified than Ms. O'Donnell to hold political office.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It is seriously foolish to take the foolish seriously

It depresses me that I, along with much of the rest of the world, have had to bother with the mad rantings of a deranged pastor of a tiny congregation.

The situation is not a good one.

As things stand, a substantial collection of what are supposed to be the most powerful people in the world, from President Smartest Guy in the Room, through the country’s most senior soldier, the secretary of Defence and the head of the State Department have felt the need to cajole and plead with an individual with all the credibility of the protein man who used to parade up and down Oxford Street denouncing peanuts.

Pastor Jones is far from the only one of his ilk, and he's offered the rest of them an ideal model to follow.

I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more of this kind of thing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday night music randomness

I just love this song:



And, while we're talking about weapons, this one:



And, while we're talking Warren Zevon:

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

'More heavy even than the Germans'

From a fascinating book on journals kept by Britons while travelling around the British Isles and elsewhere in the late nineteenth century (paragraph breaks have been added, and footnotes removed):

It is clear from discussions on the rowdiness and bad manners of the British populace that drinking to excess was indulged in often enough to be considered a national pastime. Drunkenness was so common in Britain as to be designated ‘the great sin of our great cities’ and ‘that great curse of our population’ by two travellers.

Journals suggest that [continental] Europeans consumed large quantities of drink, but did so quietly and without giving offence. Their civility sharpened travellers’ awareness of the vulgar British way of drinking as if the goal were to get loud and rowdy. On the streets and at fairs in Britain drunkenness and blackguardism were common and very visible. Public festivities in Italy were thus a surprise to George Gissing who declared, ‘Ever since I came to Italy I have not seen one drunken man, not one.’

Many travellers found it refreshing to see so many Europeans able to amuse themselves in public without getting tipsy. Perhaps the British drank to excess because they were not as adept at amusing themselves naturally while in a sober state. Travel journals certainly suggest a deficiency in this area, as if amusement and pleasure aroused twinges of guilt in the British.

After attending a carnival in Italy, J.R. Green commented on the joyousness characterizing the revellers. Their naturally fun-loving spirit contrasted markedly in his mind with the typical crowd at an English fair whose fun and amusement had to be artificially created, not only by alcohol, but also by such ‘complicated apparatus’ as clowns, moveable theatres, vans with fat women and two-headed calves. Summing up the difference between English and Italian festivals, Green [135] remarked, ‘An English peasant goes to be amused, and the clown finds it wonderfully hard work to amuse him. The peasant of Italy goes to Carnival to amuse himself.... He is full of joyousness and fun...is himself the fun of the fair. His neighbour does the same.’

Travelling in Portugal, Margaret Law concluded that the rigorous work schedule in England accounted for people’s inability to amuse themselves. Unlike the Portuguese, the English worked too much, in her view, and were thus too weary to relax and enjoy their leisure time.

Admittedly, the southern Europeans were renowned for their pleasure loving cultures, but even the Germans seemed more amenable to relaxing and having fun that the English. Watching evening strolls in the gardens of Germany, Charles Wood thought them more lighthearted than any entertainments in England. People walked, sat on benches, talked and listened to music in such an easy, carefree manner, that Wood noted, ‘The English do not understand amusing themselves after this manner; they are more heavy even than the Germans, at any rate in their recreations.'

Marjorie Morgan, National Identities and Travel in Victorian Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 134-35.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Who reads the readers?

There are, off the top of my head, several hundred things I'd rather do than read Tony Blair's memoir.

This isn't out of any particular dislike for the man; indeed, I find it difficult generating any significant emotion toward him one way or another, at least one strong enough to make me want to wade through more than 600 pages of political prose and...yes, sex scenes.

But I've found it can be very enjoyable to read people who have been reading him, such as this post and ensuing discussion at Blood & Treasure.

In particular, I like the suggestion that the book may reveal Blair's 'hidden shallows'.

Thought for the day

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth's centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O'Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

What puzzles me most about the Humanities in general and "my discipline" in particular is that, for decades now, they have been pawning off an Orwellian nightmare as liberation.

How ever did that come about?