Saturday, October 30, 2010

I know you're with me

The Wife is away for a couple of nights.

Which means, of course, that I'm missing her terribly.

And it makes me think that it's a good time to post this song by Nuremberg-based The Green Apple Sea, which she made me aware of last week, having heard it, I believe, on the radio.

It's lovely.

The Green Apple Sea, 'Satellite Wings 7'

Though I must admit, I am a sucker for that kind of train-beat, brush thing. When I was in a band in college, our drummer was good at that sort of thing, and it's stuck.

Have a good weekend, people.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Re: The Fecking Aging Process

Discussing 1980s mainstream pop in Britpop: Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock (2003/04), John Harris writes about the "swaggering masculinity that united the likes of Simon Le Bon, Spandau Ballet, Tony Hadley and - ironically - Wham!'s George Michael" (4).

"Swaggering masculinity"? I seem to have watched a different movie. Spandau Ballet were only ever one thing: poofy - and Simon "Doughnut" Le Bon (by appointment to her Royal Highness Daft Di) simply fat.

But anyway, Harris's tedious and staunchly insular fan-journalism (hey, how about an international take on Oasis?) only serves as a cue-giver here. Really, what I want to write about is that Annette Humpe - icily androgynous godmother of what was known in these here climes as "Neue Deutsche Welle" - is 60 today.

Congratulations are in order (although I have to admit that it took me a while to get over the shock - I hadn't realised that it was that late already), not least because things like the following did send shockwaves through the cosy beige polyester living-rooms of late Cold War Germany (more than the pseudo-perviness of sweaty nonsense like "Wild Boys" ever would):

Oh, the Peroxide and lipstick combo! So cool!

And me still a mere babe with my whole life before me ....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Filling in the blanks

Andrew recently posted an interesting diagram of the different kinds of suggestions that Google autocomplete offers when you start typing in phrases to the search box, which are, in turn, based on the number of people typing in similar questions.

The diagram in question focused on religions, so, typing in 'Why are Christians so' would, it is reported, bring up suggestions such as 'crazy', 'hateful', 'intolerant' and 'stupid'...and these are just the ones that overlap with the same question about Muslims. And so on.

I've just tried it and am not getting any suggestions whatsoever, so it seems that somebody might have deactivated this particular suggestion string. As the company explains, they 'exclude a narrow class of search queries related to pornography, violence, and hate speech.' (This would, however, it also seems to exclude the search phrase 'Why are Buddhists so happy' -- noted on the diagram at Andrew's post -- which doesn't seem hateful to me at all.)

Apparently, though, turning off the hateful autocompletes only applies, it seems, to religions and ethnic groups and not so far to countries.

I tried typing in 'Why are Americans' to see what would come up. I received -- along with the expected 'so fat' and 'so stupid' -- the rather surprising suggestion 'afraid of dragons'.

I was not aware, previously, that this was a problem, I must admit. Has the dragon plague gotten worse since I left?

If you type in 'Why are Germans so' you get the completion suggestions: 'rude', 'mean', 'smart', 'tall' and, erm, 'hot'.

Interestingly, typing in the equivalent 'Warum sind die Deutschen' offers the suggestions 'pünktlich' (punctual), 'so dumm' (so dumb), 'so unbeliebt' (so unpopular) and 'in Afghanistan'.

Which seems to suggest, respectively, a desire for practical knowledge, a capacity for self criticism, a tendency toward self-pity and, finally, some remaining political interest in the big questions of the day.

Not that I'm dismissing for a moment the American fear of dragons.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Historical interest

I don't think that I need to do anything to prove, shall we say, my interest in history.

Still, it's never even occured to me that I might express this by, say, dressing up in a Nazi uniform and giving a Hitler salute or, say, 'reenacting' not simply a Wehrmacht unit but specifically an SS one.

Of course I'm not a Tory/Republican politician, for whom such things seem pretty excusable these days. ("It was fancy dress and a piece of fun."/It's purely historical interest in World War II.")

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

(Promotional video from "5th SS Wiking Reenactment Unit", to which Republican candidate Rich Iott belonged)

Am I missing something? Is my interest in history, ultimately, only superficial?

(At least the former can claim he's merely following the example of his royal family...)


The Wife recently ordered an edition of George Gissing's commonplace book (published in 1962 by the New York Public Library).

It's as delightful as it is diverse.

A few samples of Gissing's musings (with page numbers in parentheses), written between 1887 and 1903:

In youth one marvels that man remains at so low a stage of civilization; in later life one marvels that he has got so far. (25)

In J.S. Mill’s Autobiography, there is no mention whatever of his mother. (37)

A highly comical name, that of the consul Spurius Furius. Livy III. ad init. (41)

How many people can spell the word Eighth? (42)

In France, the accents of ordinary conversation are those which English people reserve for exceptional moments of protest, annoyance, expostulation, & so on. (43)

English police readily display ruffiandom. They fight with individual members of a crowd. Their faces become pale with ferocity, & they make furious rushes, with doubled fists, at this man & that. Remember Picadilly on night before Jubilee. (44)

Dec. 23. ’90. Was awakened this morning at 9.30 by man outside bellowing “Execution of Mrs Pearcy! Scene on the Scaffold! – Paper!” (I suppose the execution was at 8 o’clock, so that the paper must have been got out speedily). Such cries harmonized with the morning; snow lying everywhere, grimy with soot, & a muddy fog obscuring the sky. Yesterday one of the most hideous fogs I ever knew, unintermittent. One might describe the weather, & connect with it reflections on capital punishment. (44)

The one thing which most excites me to irresistible laughter, when I get a good view of it, is the existence of religious prejudice. To think that people will loathe you, because you cannot enter into their way of thought with regard to the Universe! It is far more comical than “You be eternally damned for your theory of Irregular Verbs!” But you must happen to catch it in the right light. (47)

I have never discovered any greater tenderness in women than may be observed in men, but I have often been struck by the superior energy & pertinacity of their hatred. (50)

The best English men & women are the most delightful of human kind. All save the best are endurable only to their intimates. (51)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In the land of the thorn, the hurtin' man is troll

Now don't be taken aback by the bad lip-syncing (or the announcer's rhotic icelandic) because this is really nice:

Snorri Helgason, "Don't Let Her"

Yeah, and stop sniggering about the name. Apparently oodles of people are called that in Reykjavik - you go google!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bad Metaphor Day

You do come across odd metaphors sometimes:

The hounds of scepticism, criticism and fearless enquiry which Erasmus and the humanists had unleashed had begun to sink their teeth into the more vulnerable parts of western Christendom's anatomy.
Derek Wilson, Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man (London, 1996): 66.

Did they now? Whatever was Derek Wilson thinking when he wrote that sentence? And what was the editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson thinking, when he or she read it - and decided not to delete it? Sloppy stuff like this really spoils what otherwise is a rather good book.

I hate to say it, but this is almost as bad as something I came across during my Christmas reading of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's La Princesse et le Président - a sordid little fantasy about the amorous affair between a (fictional) French head of state and a (fictional) English princess (Patricia of Cardiff - of course you get the gist). Because in that novel, the princess gets to say the following during the protracted negotiations that precede her love affair with the president:
Et surtout, surtout, comme je vous l'ai dit, j'ai besoin qu'on m'aime. Pas d'eau tiède. Qu'on m'aime vraiment, comme une algue agrippée à un rocher.

[And especially, especially, as I have told you, I need to be loved. Nothing half-hearted. That one really loves me, like an alga gripping a rock.]

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, La Princesse et le Président (Paris, 2009): 92
Savour it: "Comme une algue agrippée à un rocher."

Maybe this is what Giscard d'Estaing considers erotic symbolism. I can hear sucking noises and faintly smell a fishy tang.

When the novel flopped, the publishing house immediately suggested that this was down to Giscard announcing (before publication) that the plot was entirely fictitious: "Public curiosity has been extinguished," editor Bernard de Fallois explained.

That, of course, was mere flattery. Because, really, as the above quote documents, the former president of La République Francaise is simply not a very good writer.

We will fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds....

...but, no longer, it seems, on the train platforms.

By the end of 2013, Germany's rail company Deutsche Bahn wants to include the Cologne-London route in its regular offerings. From that point onwards, high-speed ICE trains will rocket through the French countryside at 300 kilometers an hour before travelling -- slightly slower -- under the English Channel to London.

Preparations for that date, however, are well underway -- and on Tuesday, the first ICE pulled into St. Pancras Station in London following a test run. The train was received by the head of Deutsche Bahn Rüdiger Grube and German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer.

Of course, Jerry has this time cleverly disguised himself with British markings.

We've seen this trick before...

(And, of course, here.)

For you, Tommy, ze journey is just beginning!

(Photo via)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yesterday's News

A striking passage from Orwell's diary, 19 October 1940:

The unspeakable depression of lighting the fires every morning with papers of a year ago, and getting glimpses of optimistic headlines as they go up in smoke.

Gave me a bit of a shiver, and not just because it's turned right nippy here in the last week.

A man walks into a bar...

I've always found "Prohibition" to be one of the harder-to-believe-it-really-happened episodes in American history.

A little glimpse into its workings early on:

New York in Search of a Drink

Circumventing the Law

(From our correspondent)

New York, Aug. 4

After a month of prohibition New York much resembles London “after hours.” That is to say, any man can get a drink if he knows where to go for it.

With so much legislation on the subject being turned out by Congress and with so many appeals and motions to test the validity of prohibition before the Courts, few people, whether vendors or consumers of drink, could say what exactly may be legally sold and what is taboo, but the situation is roughly this: whisky and other spirits are definitely outside the pale, but the legal situation of beer and light wine is so uncertain that a great number of bars and restaurants continue to sell them.

Also a number of places continue to sell spirits and cocktails more or less sub rosa. None of the large hotels and restaurants are included in either of these classes, but plenty of proprietors of smaller establishments intend to carry on till caught. Then, in the words of one of them, “I’ll pay my fine, close down, and go and live in Europe.”

What happens in these places is something like this:--A man enters and asks for a glass of white wine.

“We don’t sell white wine. We sell sherry,” answers the bartender, and he hands over a glass of rather light-brown liquid.

The customer repeats that he wants Rhine wine. The barman replies:--
“That stuff is just as good. Try it.”

The customer, who by this time has an inkling of how the land lies, drinks up his glass of—whisky.

In restaurants this sort of thing happens. The customer, on the chance of receiving an affirmative answer, asks the waiter if it is possible to have a cocktail before dinner. The waiter says he does not know, but will find out, and he departs. A few moments later a second waiter appears and informs the diner that he is wanted on the telephone. The latter proceeds to the telephone box and finds a cocktail on the shelf. At another establishment a request for special coffee produces a cocktail served in a coffee cup; at another the password is “special sherry.”

This is one side of the picture. On the other there are large hotels which are losing £200 a day in their takings since July 1, while it is reliably established that the sale of ice-ream and soft drinks has increased 40 per cent. in this small period.

From the Passport Bureau there comes the story of 50 persons who have taken out passports to Havana and who, in filling out their applications, put “prohibition” in the column headed “Reasons for making the journey.” Dozens of saloons in various parts of the city have closed their doors during the last fortnight and the only thing that prevents many restaurant proprietors from following the same course is that they have their premises on long leases under which they are not allowed to sublet.

The question also affects the shipping companies, as ships sailing under the American flag must be dry, whereas in other ships the bars open and the wine lists appear in the restaurants as soon as the three-mile limit is passed. It is feared that this will drive many passengers into French, British, and Dutch boats.

The Times, 5 August 1919, p. 15

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday evening musical associations

We've had a visit and some hikes and musical exchanges this weekend. Which has reminded me of:

The Mountain Goats 'Going to Georgia'

The Human League 'Blind Youth'

R.E.M. 'Finest Worksong'

Beck 'Loser'

Jarvis Cocker 'Running the World'

Pulp 'Do you remember the first time?'

Aeternus, '...And So The night Became'

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Simply music

Opinions on the new Belle & Sebastian album have been divided (Guardian says yay, the Spiegel nay, but mainly because of the Norah Jones contribution), but in view (or hear) of the following (listened to while driving to work on this mildly misty morning promising another sparkly autumn day), I have to say I like:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On not understanding a thing

This, apparently, is about photography (via):

"I adjust some levels in Photogene, crop the image, run it through one of a handful of CameraBag or Lo-Mob filters, then use TiltShiftGen not to make a tilt-shift image but because a little bit of blur goes a long way, and because TiltShiftGen has a killer vignetting tool."

I...uh...point and shoot.

I'm beginning to wonder whether, at the tender age of 40, I may just be too old for this world.

(Or, as ICP might put it: "Fuckin' iPhones, how do they work?")

Remember kids: 'A little bit of blur goes a long way.'


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Word is the wrong word

Something new and nice from Erdmöbel:

Erdmöbel, 'Wort ist das falsche Wort'

And for your reading pleasure, a related article/interview thingy from the current issue of Die Zeit.

Is it safe?

I was pondering, this morning, the rather confusing signals regarding the threat of terrorist attacks (specifically, 'Mumbai-style commando attacks') in European cities. There they were, the American and British counter-terrorism sources, issuing their scary-sounding warnings (followed by press reports naming specific targets); on the other hand, Die Zeit, citing German 'security experts', says that the likelihood of an attack is no higher than it has already been and downplays the likelihood of specific warnings about particular places.

So, I'm with Anne Applebaum on this one:

Speaking as an American who lives in Europe, I feel it is incumbent upon me to describe what people like me do when we hear warnings like the one issued on Sunday by the U.S. State Department and cited above: We do nothing.

We do nothing, first and foremost, because there is nothing we can do. Unless the State Department gets specific—e.g., "don't go to the Eiffel Tower tomorrow"—information at that level of generality is completely meaningless.

Speaking as a European living in Europe, though perhaps one with slightly more apocalyptic leanings than is generally common, I have pretty much been expecting some kind of new horror for years. And not just in those high-profile places that have been named in recent warnings: it was in 2006, after all, that two Jihadi scumbags would-be suitcase bombers were foiled only by their own incompetence in blowing up local commuter trains on their way from Cologne to Koblenz and Hamm.

One of the experts quoted by Die Zeit--the head of Saarland's state Office for the Protection of the Constitution--notes that there are several known potential terrorists who were raised in Germany and have had or are seeking out military training in Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere. (Though since the weekend --presuming the reports are correct--their number might now be slightly reduced.) Getting the weaponry here, he says, would 'not be difficult' and even only a few terrorists would be capable of committing some serious media-friendly mayhem.

I think this is probably true.

So, my view on these latest warnings is not driven by a lack of concern, and if there's an attack tomorrow morning I'll be horrified and outraged, certainly, but hardly surprised.

I also understand that governments are in a kind of damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't position on this issue; but, still, this kind of warning that, as Andrew puts it, 'something bad may happen somewhere' reminded me of our last trip to the US.

Spending a couple of hours in a Chicago departure lounge waiting to come back, we were treated to the endless loop of a recorded message informing us that 'today's threat level as determined by the Department of Homeland Security is...[pause for effect]...ORANGE.' What, exactly, this was supposed to impart to us--not least on the thirtieth repetition--is a mystery to me.

I just checked and at the moment it's still orange; at least that's true in the 'airline sector', elsewhere, it's the comparatively calm yellow, though I'm a bit stumped about where to draw the line between a 'high' and 'significant' threat of terror attack and how much comfort one might gain, say, from being 'only' at the former.

I can't see that such vague warnings serve any purpose.

Other than, perhaps, treating us to the spectacle of Lily Allen acting like a twit. (Auch auf Deutsch erhältlich.)

(Via Andrew, who seems to have been blatantly ignoring State Department advice about avoiding public spaces in European capitals and has brought back the photographic evidence to prove it. Like any good Texan, he has no fear.)

Mixed news

Félix Fénéon, bringing things to a fine point, around the turn of the last century: 

“There is no longer a God even for drunkards. Kersilie, of St.-Germain, who had mistaken the window for the door, is dead.” 

From Novels in Three Lines, described here.

(Via Blood & Treasure)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Jetzt verschlungen vom Wald, jetzt an den Bergen hinauf

As far as I can tell, there seems to be little established tradition about how one should celebrate the Day of German Unity.

We did so in what seems as appropriate a way as any: going for a hike through a nearby forest, the sort of place where the German soul feels most at home.

A place rather like this:

Since the forest was so dark (even on a sunny day), most of my shots turned out blurry...except for this one. Which I feel sort of makes up for the others.

The route we took was 'Michel's Vitaltour', whose name derives in part from the 'German Michel' figure associated, according to some arguments, with our region (and with Stromberg -- where the route begins and ends -- in particular).

At 13.2km (with a lot of ups and downs...though I noted the ups more than the downs), it was a good way to spend our Sunday morning.

 Just off to the left of this image and further along the path was a small gathering featuring not only a stand selling grilled steak but also a brass band. Sadly, they stopped playing and took a break just before we got there.

A few further photos can be seen at our Flickr page.

(Title reference)

Saturday, October 02, 2010

20 years

It's 20 years (tomorrow) since German reunification. This is the first song that comes to mind:

And this the second (for better or for worse...):

And the third:

Friday, October 01, 2010

Feeling disinclined to read the New Left Review ...

... after perusing the ad for issue 64 on the back of the London Review of Books, more specifically, a passage from an article by Fredric Jameson on "Global Wagner":

In one of those paradoxical genealogies in which cultural history is so rich, it seems that we may trace Regieoper back to that East German cultural production which, in the almost universal obloquy of that state, has until recently been virtually ignored. But the theatrical practice of the GDR, from Brecht to opera, was in far more lineal continuity with Weimar traditions - Klemperer, the Kroll Opera - than that of provincial West German culture.

What is it with Anglo-American Marxists that - twenty years after the fall of the wall - they continue to cling to the by now seriously frayed fairy tale of East Germany as the sanctuary of intellectual innovation and aesthetic radicalism, heroically rising above the powerful (but provincial) other beyond the iron curtain?