Friday, December 31, 2010

And I don't feel any different

Another year, another new year.

Though I have to say, all in all, this one was, personally, better than the previous one. Despite a few painful losses.

Indeed, by my standards, I'm feeling positively optimistic.

Still, this is the song that's running through my head right now.

Best wishes to all our friends and family for a happy, prosperous (or at least not impoverishing) and, above all, healthy 2011.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's the night before Christmas...

...and the Daily Mail, as always, knows how to bring the holiday cheer:

Ah, it warms the old cockles of me 'eart, it does.

Of course, the idea that Hitler saw 'no place for religion in his 1,000-year Reich' is wrong: it's a complicated story, but since we're all a bit busy at this time of year it may be worth simply reminding ourselves that point 24 of the NSDAP's party programme stated:

24. We demand freedom of religion for all religious denominations within the state so long as they do not endanger its existence or oppose the moral senses of the Germanic race. The Party as such advocates the standpoint of a positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and around us, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: common utility precedes individual utility.

Just reading that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

So, to cleanse the palate, please accept our best wishes (plagued by the 'Jewish-materialistic spirit' as they may be) for a happy holiday.

In whatever airport or train station you may happen to be stranded.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Assumptions and associations

In my dream last night John and I were drowning in the cabin of a rusty trawler on which we were travelling to God knows where.

Of course I know why I dreamt that dream. See, I have to review this book about Shakespeare and the sea, and reading its preface yesterday somehow seems to have set my mind on maritime matters. Though I didn't expect to be troubled during my sleep by the author's references to the Titanic, as I was more disconcerted during reading the book by his bold assumptions and wild associations (bold assumptions and wild associations, I hasten to admit, that are entirely characteristic of recent research in the Humanities).

The bold assumptions start about four sentences into the book's preface, when the author claims that "we need a poetic history of the oceans."

Well do we? How can a "poetic history of the oceans" improve upon a humble (traditional) "history of the oceans"? Why would an "offshore perspective" review our understanding of "terrestrial literary culture", as the author maintains it would in a later chapter - especially since that perspective is that of terrestrial beings whose view of the sea is inevitably second-hand and imagined?

And anyway, to tell you the truth, what we need is more reason and less rhapsodising, but that's just me being a boring old fart.

This bold assumption is complemented by the claim that one could call, with reference to a not uncontroversial book by Peter Laslett, "the maritime world we have lost" motif. "We need Shakespeare's ocean, now," the author claims, "because late-twentieth-century culture has frayed our connections to the sea." To "postwar Anglophone culture" we are told, "the sea is less important [...] than to prior generations" - you only have to consider how in a city like New York the harbour has changed location: "On the southern tip of Manhattan island, where sailors and longshoremen once walked, bankers stride in isolation."

"In isolation"? So, its communal sailors versus monadic bankers? All very evocative stuff, this, but how true is it, say, when applied to life in nineteenth-century Barnsley or Des Moines?

The wild associations come on top of this rather forced conceit. They're erudite, yes, but they fail to convince at least this reader:
Less obsessive than Melville and more variable than Walcott, Shakespeare presents an always-moving ocean whose full meanings emerge through counterpoint with his literary heirs. Reading these authors together produces multiple visions of oceanic meaning, so that the doomed hunt for Moby-Dick speaks to Walcott's historicized sea and both reconfigure the sea-music of Shakespeare's depths.
We're back to the old "Did Shakespeare read Joyce" question - and we all know how unimpressed I am by academics' clever-clever reconfigurations of logic and chronology. Did Shakespeare read Walcott? Only in the mind of a scholar who had read both and realised that Walcott had read Shakespeare.

Look, this is nought but a shell game for academics!

Still, I'm kind of prone to associations myself, so I know what it's like. Here is a run down of what I had to think of while reading the book that I shall not name:

a) A bit of Purcell

b) A bit of 1970s Brit-Trash

c) Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

Now, thass how cool I is.


I've run across various things relating to words recently; they don't really fit together in any way, but I thought I'd mention them here anyway.

1.) The most important German word of the year, at least as determined by the German Language Society is 'Wutbürger', which means 'enraged citizen'. This has been quite a year for Wutbürger in Germany, what, the controversial building of train stations. And, um, the lowest unemployment rate in two decades.

Lots to be angry about here, indeed.

Perhaps this word, Wutbürger, will become a glorious part of our export-oriented economy and have a great career in other--potentially more justifiably angry--societies, just as Schadenfreude once did; or perhaps, more like Fremdscham, it may remain an under-utilised gem.


2.) Also under the heading of interesting Germanisms: I ran across something unexpected while walking around in Mainz a few weeks ago. I saw a man in a uniform (and with, I think, a gun) emerge from a car on which was printed the striking phrase word Polizeipuppenbühne.

I read that a couple of times, wondering whether my non-native German had it quite...right: was it really 'police puppet stage'?.

I made a point of looking it up when I got home, and, indeed, there is, in our state of Rhineland-Palatinate, a police puppet theatre. And our state is not the only one: Wikipedia (German only, unfortunately) tells us that police puppet theatres emerged in the 1950s as part of various forces' public education activities.

Now, police puppetry is interesting enough; however, research along these lines led me to the wonderful German word Verkehrserziehung, which means, essentially, 'road safety training', and is, of course, one of the main activities of the police puppeteers.

It's a lot more fun as one word, and the success of childhood Verkehrserziehung is part of the reason for the charming German habit (one that I've taken on for myself) of waiting to cross the street until the light says you can.

Not all Germans do this, of course, but still, a large enough number of them do to make it a national characteristic.

3.) Finally, thanks to Andrew, I have been made aware of Google's new Ngram viewer.

This new toy is a certain way for me to lose hours at a time on intriguing but economically worthless inquiries, so I've been trying to avoid it since finding out about it.

However, having written a recently published article about the (American) origins and use (in Britain) of the phrase 'the third degree' (in the sense of illegitimate interrogation), I couldn't resist putting the comparative phrases 'give him the third degree' and 'give her the third degree' into Ngram. (Submitting 'the third degree' would give too many false positives on this topic, as this might refer either to burns or freemasonry.)

This was the result (click to make it larger):

Which is interesting.

My suggestion in the article is that the concept of 'third degree' interrogation was introduced into Britain around 1900 (the first press reference I found was from The Scotsman commenting on the police treatment of Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901).

In the graph above, the references emerge first in the late 1890s. The peaks between the 'him' and 'her' versions match in pattern (if not in magnitude) rather well (most of these seem to come from fictional contexts, i.e., crime thrillers), except for the post WWII period, when the 'him' version is clearly dominant.

Given that I'm still not entirely sure of the nature of the source base, I would rather not make too much of this result, but I find it interesting.

My research stopped in 1939: the rise in references to 'the third degree' since 1990 is a bit of a mystery. I'm wondering whether it has to do with an increase of re-prints of early 20th-century works?

Anyway: that was enough thinking for an evening this close to Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

He can see it on the radar, only seven hours away

There is, like, a crazy amount of snow outside.

It's been a fun weekend overall here in Europaland with regard to the cold'n'white stuff; fortunately, our drive back from northern Bavaria to the middle Rhine region went smoothly today.

And, I think, it is a good time to remember this song, which was one of my favourites from a favourite album from a favourite band back in the college daze:

Galaxie 500, 'Snowstorm'

Friday, December 10, 2010

I hope we're all in crash position when we hit

And, while we're considering the Mountain Goats.

The Mountain Goats, 'Matthew 25:21'.

Nothing like a little Christmas-season vengeance

Speaking of things to look forward to:

And here's a review to accompany the trailer.

Emerging from the long-locked basement

We're still in that dread condition known as Extraordinarily Busy (although things have actually been going pretty well); in combination with some travel and a general fed-upness with the dark and the wintry cold, this has not been an ideal situation for blogging. 

We'll be back soon as soon as we can.

But I wanted to share my joy about the fact that the Mountain Goats have announced a new album, All Eternals Deck.

John Darnielle describes it thus:

If you know the feeling of exultation that comes with having recognized the oncoming train of fate, then that's the other thing the album's about. JD, wouldn't it be easier to write an album of, like, love songs? Probably, I would not know, my focus is mainly death scenes and downtown Portland. It's not like there aren't people in love either dying or getting arrested at 3rd and Yamhill, so really, if you can stretch your definition of "love song" we can all be happy. Other possible points of reference include Burnt Offerings, Go Ask Alice, and that one scene in The Warriors where they're on the train and the sun's coming up and they're safe but you know the scars are permanent now. Reversals of fortune and faces at the window and sudden unexpected screams of triumph here and there. Possible exits from the long-locked basement. These sorts of moments.
The bittersweet part of this, of course, is that the album's not out till the end of March 2011. With song titles such as 'Damn Those Vampires', 'The Autopsy Garland' and 'For Charles Bronson', I, for one, dear reader, am full of the old antici.....pation.

Via some looking into this issue, I see that TMG does the Twitter. Which is helpful, since they've been able to quash the rumour that All Eternals Deck is death metal.

Which is probably all to the good, however, someone should really do a death metal song about that scene from The Warriors.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Loving ze Germans

Quite a week. Not only is the BBC showing a documentary on the 'Real Germany' (in which the war is not mentioned, though, of course, only after the ritual show of pointing out that it's not being mentioned) and now someone at the Guardian goes and declares Germany the 'greatest European art nation of the 20th century'.

Gott im Himmel!, as they used to say in my old black and white comics....

Vaz it zomezing vee zaid?

Friday, November 26, 2010

There's a very thin line between torture and cosmetics

We've been absent for a while. Which is partly because...well, we've been absent. And, you know, really busy.

But we'll be back in action soonish.

But till then, this seems to...well, make sense.

At least as much as anything does these days.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tales of the unexpected

On a lighter note: I think I can assure you that among the more unlikely headlines I ever expected to read in my life, 'Porpoises rescue Dick Van Dyke' ranks very highly.

I'm rather at a loss for words on this one.

Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden

In somehow trying to observe both Kristallnacht and Armistice Day, I thought I would draw attention to this intriguing article at the New York Times on a commemoration a few days ago of Jewish soldiers who fought for Germany in the First World War:

The memorial, the first public service at the site for as long as anyone can remember, was organized by the Association of Jewish Soldiers, a small but growing group in the German military whose existence testifies to the feeling by at least some Jews that it is possible for them to be patriots again in the nation that once tried to wipe them out. 

If you're interested, there's more information (in German) on the Bund jüdischer Soldaten at their website.

One striking quote:

Abraham Ben, the son of a concentration camp survivor who has helped organize similar events in Munich, said that he saw no problem with Jews serving in the modern German army.

“Ten years ago I would have given you a different answer,” he said.

But, he said, “Jews in Germany are no longer sitting around with their bags packed. This is home.”

In a different context, I wrote about related matters.

And about other soldiers

Blunt by name ....

Oh how sweet: In today's Telegraph James Blunt promises to "sing the Taliban into surrender."

Blessed be the meek and don't just just love the smell of humility in the morning?

Still, I don't know whether to pity the Taliban, 'cos this is a palpable threat indeed.

All this reminds me of a song that recently made me think of Blunt:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sudden sadness

Since we were away at a conference last weekend and I was not paying much attention to the internet, I've only made the sad discovery today that one of my colleagues in the History Department, Dr. Mark Pittaway -- a specialist on the political, social and economic history of eastern and central Europe, particularly Hungary -- died last week, aged only 39.

I didn't know Mark as well as I'd have liked, but he was consistently (though humbly) brilliant and always good company. When he drove me back to the train station after another colleague's retirement party last year, we agreed that we really needed to be in touch more often. Sadly, we never really managed it (always, as ever, too much to do....), and I for one am now sorry I'll never have the chance to follow up on that suggestion of his.

Chris has left a fine tribute at Blood & Treasure that captures something essential about what it was like being around Mark:

I remember him laughing as he showed me a pair of peer reviews he'd received for an article: one called it an incisive and nuanced view of labour relations and regime legitimacy in postwar Hungary; the other said that Dr Pittaway was an evil charlatan and an apologist for Stalinist genocide, and thus the article must under no circumstances be published. The editor, safe in the (nearly always) less politicized atmosphere of British historiography, plumped for the former.

Yes, that's how I'll remember Mark: laughing.

As Chris notes, Mark 'made the right enemies for some damn fine reasons, and that's not a bad measure of a man'.

True. And as the tributes here testify, he also made some good friends for some equally fine reasons.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

With death and destruction coming through

Heard today on the Autobahn between Bonn and Home:

Jarvis Cocker, 'Heavy Weather'

And heard in my dreams last night:

Pulp 'Do You Remember the First Time'

[UPDATE] Like this one too.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Official: The Guardian, paper of the bleeding obvious

Writes Miss Madeleine Bunting in today's paper:

Middle-class family ambitions are becoming a stretch

Tuition fees and property prices mean middle-class parents will find it harder and harder to secure their children's future status

Well, duh-dee-bloody-duh!

Vorhut durch Technik

The sociology of the Chinese elite, read through German automobiles at the Wall Street Journal:

According to Yang Jian, managing editor of Automotive News China, a trade magazine based in Shanghai, BMW consumers are “typically young business people — entrepreneurs who have made a lot of money.”

Sounds obvious, until you compare to the brand’s competition: BMW is the No. 2 luxury-car brand in China — it sold 102,916 units in the first 10 months of the year, according to data from market-research firm J.D. Power & Associates. The top brand is Audi, with 172,180 units sold through October. The Audi demographic consists mostly of government officials, the leading consumers of luxury cars in China. The third most-popular brand in China? Mercedes-Benz, which sold 90,306 units from January to October — its models are the preferred choice of older businessmen and government officials in higher positions.


(Via and comment)

Monotony, lassitude and the brutal exposure of skin

Something I just ran across while looking through my files for something else:

Chorus Girls' Clothes

The Monotony of Nudity

From our own correspondent.

Paris, Wednesday

Too many undressed chorus girls, Paris has decided, are monotonous.

In a new revue to open this week in one of the largest and most popular Montmartre music-halls well known to British visitors to Paris and noted hitherto for its 'daring' productions, the female form which has offended by becoming too familiar will, it is announced, be veiled from top to toe in muslin drapery and filmy lace.

This reform, according to M. Antoine, a Paris theatrical critic, was inevitable. 'Nudity on the stage', he writes, 'was leading to lassitude and boredom among spectators from its very dreary monotony.' Long clinging costumes, he contends, are more artistic than the brutal exposure of skin. Paris is watching the experiment with deep interest.

Daily News and Westminster Gazette, Thursday, 20 September 1928, p. 9.

It seems though, sadly, that I don't have any articles detailing the result of this particular 'experiment'.

(The 'historical bycatch' series; explanation.)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What's Greek for 'ruthless monomaniac'?

Whatever other problems our Greek friends are having with their economy, it seems -- but this is based only on initial indications -- they're cornering the market on parcel bombs.

(Although there is suddenly some stiff competition on that front, with better technology and a more ambitious distribution strategy.)

I fear we're going to be subjected to reading and hearing more than any reasonable person should possibly need to about the politics of Greek 'anarchism' in the coming days; in particular, (if suspicions are confirmed) this may involve an obscure sect with a bizarre absurdly pompous name that seems to think that trying to blow up politicians and diplomats from not only France and Germany but also Bulgaria, Switzerland, Chile and Mexico is a coherent response to to Greece's economic crisis.

I'll be intrigued (read: exasperated) to hear that explanation.

Somehow, I suspect it'll sound a bit familiar and its authors will somehow resemble those other, more famous urban hipsters of the apocalypse, the RAF. About whom our perceptive friend made some perceptive comments:

Active RAF members fell, as near as I can tell, into two general groups: ruthless monomaniacs or deluded dupes. What united both camps was their second-rateness and insufferable pomposity. Their "manifestos" are dull and turgid; their personalities one-dimensional and unappealing. Once they began their RAF careers -- at the very latest -- most RAF cadres morphed into Godzillas of screechy self-righteous bitterness.

It might turn out rather differently, of course. We'll see. I just hope nobody else gets hurt along the way.

Gemütlichkeit, pixelated

The Bavarian town of Oberstaufen is the among the first location in Germany to feature in Street View.

It looks like a charming place.

Even if it seems to suffer from periodic blurriness:

But, rest assured, dear reader: this is only a problem in virtual Germany.

(Pictures source)

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?

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

Friday night Mountain Goats dance music live video blog post

Like it says in the title.

Yeah, the bass is a bit over-present, but otherwise it's not bad for YouTube.

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."


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.


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.


Why do you say that?


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 -- least from the Guardian -- do do tourism in Germany, and in our little corner of it, even.]

On inspiration:

In your preface to The Possibility of an Island, you mentioned a journalist who inspired the idea for the novel. Can you explain?
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'.


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.


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 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?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

'Germany does not stand alone in organizing for good looks'

I'm not entirely sure exactly what sparked this item from the editorial page of The Times in 1929, but it seems likely to have been a move by Berlin doctors to offer cosmetic surgery to disfigured people; somehow (at least in the mind of The Times's editorial writer) this was generalised into an 'anti-ugliness league' and provided inspiration for the following (paragraph breaks have been added):

An Anti-Ugliness League

There is plenty to be said for the newest movement in Germany. To form a League to raise the standard of human looks is but to apply to a very important field that principle of cooperation which has worked so well elsewhere. Nothing will strike posterity as more absurd than the way movement after movement is started in England to preserve or beautify buildings or places that are only seen at rare intervals, while nothing whatever is done to improve the faces which everybody sits opposite in tramcars and omnibuses or passes in procession in the street.

For town dwellers the face of England is a human face endlessly repeated, and we shall do well to watch the new League in Germany and to regard with eager expectancy each slight improvement it brings about in the national face and figure over there. It is an old and deep-rooted belief that ugliness and sin go hand in hand, and that the beautiful face goes with the beautiful nature. Remembering this, we may find the motive power behind the new League in Germany in a recent announcement by the Berlin police of their next step in the war against crime.

Hitherto they have broadcast finger prints, but that is boring work and the patterns on fingers rarely give much aesthetic satisfaction. They seldom suggest a new and successful wallpaper and the fun of tracing their unique differences soon palls. So the Berlin police are going to broadcast faces, and they have a double inducement to raise the standard of the German face. If a nation can be produced whose most hardened criminals are good to look at, the policeman who spends his days scrutinizing countenances, broadcasting them and measuring them, will live his life amid beautiful surroundings, which is well known to be worth a large salary in itself. A more beautiful nation will enjoy a cheaper police force.

What is more, it will need fewer policemen, for it is the teaching of psychology, which the Germans at any rate are not likely to disobey, that the way to gain a good character is to behave cold-bloodedly as if you had it. Men of noble mien, such as the League will aim at producing, will find their lower natures overcome by their fine faces and will cease first to do wrong and then to wish to do it.

Germany does not stand alone in organizing for good looks, for there has been talk in Italy of providing free plastic surgery at the state’s expense for those who think that alterations would improve their prospects in business or marriage. Nothing has yet been said about how many signature of neighbours, hotel proprietors and the like, will be needed to bring about compulsory alterations in the interests of the locality where an ugly person resides, but the highly controversial question will soon arise who is fix the norm of beauty and lay down the German, or Italian, or English face.

Aesthetics generally lead to blows from lack of fixed standards, and the best solution will probably be a strict adherence to the standards of antiquity. The arms of the Venus de Milo are still being fished for in the Aegean, and if they are found it will be a great help. The future in this, as in other matters, must be built upon the past, and it will only be by starting with the ship-launching features of Helen of Troy as the type that we shall learn to build the two-thousand-ship face of the future.

The Times, Saturday, 6 April 1929, p. 11