Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On not blowing your cover

Russian spies in New Jersey?

Maybe. Maybe not:

"They couldn't have been spies," said Jessie Gugig. "Look what she did with the hydrangeas."

Sounds logical to me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Of quarks and carrots

The Large Hadron Collider is doing...something. Something that I don't thoroughly understand.

However: it's clearly, really, truly, genuinely amazing.

Still, I'm not sure whether the metaphor chosen by one of the top scientists in charge is really doing that...something...justice:

"Protons are complicated particles, they've got quarks, [and other small particles], and colliding them is like colliding two garbage cans and watching carrots come out," he told BBC News. [Emphasis added]

I imagine the imagery used in the funding bids to build this enormously expensive (and, did I say it already, amazing!) thing was a little more...expressive.

But, then, you know, I'm not in the natural sciences. They seem to do things differently there.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

See you in the penalty area!

Having followed The Wife's link to a Daily Mail article on the impending Germany-England match, I was struck not only by the stirring words from Herr Battenberg Windsor, but also by the immediate reference to the war.

The Boer War.

Biggest invasion since Boer War: 20,000 England fans arrive in Bloemfontein

Sigh. [Dammit: they've changed it since I commented. I should always, always, always do screenshots on these things.]

It occurred to me among all this martial breast-beating that there is another association that comes to mind when adding the words Germany + England + Football + War: the 'Christmas Truce' from 1914, when, for a brief period soldiers on both sides of the lines put down their arms and shared some kind words, alcohol and, legend has it, an impromptu football match or two.

The football bit isn't in this excerpt from Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), but it's still wonderful.

I know it's too early for Christmas.

And certainly -- in football terms -- for a truce.


(PS: I know that some of the soldiers in that excerpt are Scottish rather than English. But not all of them.)

Straight from the royal horse's mouth

My favourite shitty Britrag cites one Prince Harry doing his bit for an English victory in the historical football clash that will start at 1-6-0-0 today:

I just hope we beat Germany because there has been a bit of a past history between England and Germany, but you know as long as our guys do their best, the country will be hugely proud of them.

Which "bit of a past history" (whatever that may mean anyway) is he referring to, I wonder. The House of Hannover? The House of Coburg Saxe-Gotha? The royal House formerly known as The Battenbergs?

From a monarchist perspective, today's match is merely another family get-together, no matter how plebeian the English players might be.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

44 years of hurt...and with any luck, four more

Quite apart from the sporting relevance of Sunday's England-Germany match, I'm really looking forward to the next few days of commentary from the English tabloid press and from English fans.

Matches involving ze Germans have always tended to bring out their best instincts.

If nothing else, it gives them an opportunity to try out the dimly remembered pidgin German they learned from endless reading and re-reading of black-and-white war comics.

Earlier this month, a Sun article (otherwise full of praise for the German team) responded to Franz Beckenbauer's criticism of England's performance hitherto in the World Cup by referring to him '[putting] the jackboot in'.


Not that one need be overly sensitive about this stuff, but still: how ridiculous does this verbal goosestepping become when most of those on the German side, with an average age of under 25, would struggle to remember the Cold War let alone the one with Britain's finest hour or two?

With that background in mind, I found this advert from South African telecommunications company MTN as good a comment as any:

As to what might happen a few days hence in Bloemfontein, I have no idea. But I'm cultivating a Teutonic Zweckpessimismus and expecting a Zitterpartie.

But I believe it was an Englander who said, 'Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.'


[UPDATE]: An explanation of the above video for non-Germans.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

These wrinkles masterfully disguise the youthful boy below

I turn 40 this week.

It's neither with a sense of despair nor a sense of dread that I face the beginnings of my fifth decade on this planet; however, I must admit to a certain disbelief.

I mean: have 40 years really gone by since I looked like this?

Not to mention the fact that I still have quite vivid memories of being this little boy, at about the time of the Watergate hearings.

Thanks to a thoughtful gift from a sibling, I now have a larger collection of photos from what we might call The Awkward Years (also known as the 1980s), but I'll be keeping those to myself for now.

I can't imagine I'm the only one who looks at past pictures of oneself and struggles to believe that it's really them in there.

On the other hand, I look at something like the following, and remember almost exactly what it felt like.

A scraped knee, some unflattering sandals and a tricycle several sizes too small: no wonder that little guy seems to be having an insight into the absurdity of existence.

Anyway: onward!

Title reference:

Death Cab for Cutie, 'Brothers on a Hotel Bed'

[UPDATE] While we're getting all nostalgic and all (and maybe picking up on Francis's 'heart still in Illinois' comment), here's Wilco, missing the innocence they've known.

Wilco, 'Heavy Metal Drummer'

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grattis till bröloppet!

I simply love royal weddings. They always provide wonderful opportunities for the deployment of long-forgotten lexical treasures dug up from the murky depths of our linguistic unconscious.

Underused words such as "Schaluppe." As in "Die königliche Schaluppe" (i.e. "the royal sloop"). Like the one visible in the background of this wedding snapshot:

Now this is, you will agree, a mighty fine word. And the boat itself isn't bad either - the kind of object you won't ever get at IKEA's.

There's only one song to go with this, of course, which I hereby dedicate to Princess Victoria of Sweden and Commoner Daniel:

Friday, June 18, 2010

A picture and a thousand words

Oh, yes....

...that pretty much sums it up.

But, still, it was a more dynamic showing (despite the end result) than England.

But all credit to the US for a good show today.

Concentrating the mind. On...Middle Earth.

Quite apart from the issue of the rights and wrongs of capital punishment, I must confess to a strange fascination with how the condemned spend their last moments:

The meal included steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7-Up, all prepared and served at the Utah State Prison, where the execution took place, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. After being moved to an observation cell on Wednesday night, Mr. Gardner spent his time sleeping, reading and watching the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the Utah Department of Corrections said on its Web site.

Now, I'm quite an admirer of both the book and film versions of The Lord of the Rings, but I'm trying to imagine what it would feel like to watch all three films knowing they were the last films I'd ever watch before dying in a hail of bullets.

I'm not sure there's a word for that feeling.

Even in German.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Germans being (musical) Germans

After a long train trip home, I thought a selection of music Made in Germany (tm) might be called for. (Although, these are all a few years old...)


The Notwist, 'One With the Freaks' (i.e., 'Have you ever been all messed up?')

Tomte, 'Schreit den Namen meiner Mutter' (i.e., 'da ist zu viel Krebs in deiner Familie, da ist zu viel Angst in meiner Welt')

Tocotronic, 'Hi Freaks' (i.e. 'dein Gesicht ist eine Welt, deren Umriss mir gefällt')

Erdmöbel, 'In den Schuhen von Audrey Hepburn' (i.e., 'Sie singt stapfend Sachen wie, "If you are feeling fancy free, und ihr Glück endet nie"')

Olli Schulz und der Hund Marie, 'Der Moment' (i.e, 'der Augenblick, in dem du stehenbleibst und nicht mehr wegrennst')

The Robocop Kraus, 'After Laughter Comes Tears', (i.e. La la la la la.)

And, you know, we're going to destroy (in football terms) Serbia tomorrow.

Or not.

I don't know.

But I hope so.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Born to

Funniest headline this week this month ever: 'German student attacks Hell's Angels with puppy'.

I mean: we're not quite in Sophie Scholl territory, but still, it takes some guts to attack a violent motorcycle gang armed with nothing but a puppy.

(Said puppy, it is to be noted, is 'now in safe hands', hence my ability to be so flippant about this weird story.)

(via German Joys)

Bild Bikini Blockage

There I was -- in the bar in the hotel where I'm staying in London tonight before heading back to Germany tomorrow morning -- innocently checking, as part of my trawl through the German press, whether Bild had anything interesting to say about, say, football or the current (though still somewhat low-key) political crisis back home, when I encountered the following:

The key line being that is disallowed on this network as it was categorised as 'News/Media, Lingerie/Bikini, Nudity'.

I'm assuming that the blockage derives more from the 'Lingerie/Bikini' and 'Nudity' parts of the description (thought Bild's politics are, all on their own, reason enough).

It's not that this is an inaccurate description of Bild's contents (apart from the absence of 'sport', 'cars' and 'interminable griping about everything'); still, I would note that other 'Bikini/Lingerie' and 'Nudity' specialists as the Sun and the Daily Mail are freely available from the same network.

Was it something we said?

Ach, die Englander....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Oh, ja!

What a surprisingly happifying evening (seen in London):

Germany tend to be called "efficient", "robotic" or even "dour". They deserve more glowing praise and it would be a good thing for the World Cup as a whole if some of the other countries were to take note and replicate their commitment to attack.

Weiter so, Jungs!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Everybody check for swamp leeches

Jacques Cousteau was born 100 years ago. He is remembered by people of a certain age group not only for bringing the myterious beauty of the ocean to their notice at an impressionable age (thus fostering a powerful infatuation with molluscs and crustaceans).*

He also was a master of effortless French chic:

Until Wes Anderson came along and shattered the Cousteau Supremacy. Well, sort of:

*I am, actually, not joking. Cousteau probably helped pave the way for the Green Movement and I clearly remember developing a certain awareness about nature - that the oceans are worlds of their own full of wonderful life forms even on the level of zooplankton, that fish stocks are not endless, that we are in the process of destroying these environments - thanks to his documentaries.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Meaning of History

I recently saw Karel Reisz's We Are the Lambeth Boys, his Free Cinema documentary from 1959. It had an oddly happifying effect on me. What can happen to a world where we have moving, talking images of the past? No vicious tampering, no calculating denial - just the strangely enduring similarity of humanity across time.

I am being naive, I know. But the older I get, the more I am moved by this kind of stuff.

Watching the documentary I was reminded of Slavoj Zizek's comment that in Children of Men "the true infertility [depicted in the movie] is the very lack of meaningful historical experience." In Cuaron's movie, this historical experience is encapsulated in a significant scene by Michelangelo and Picasso. In Reisz's film, history is the likes of Beryl, the damn serious dancer with the curly blonde hair. I wonder what she's doing these days.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ohne Worte

Allium "Globemaster"

Dorcus parallelepipedus

Penile Mandrake

Sunday running, brand new trainers

Thursday, June 03, 2010


Speaking of Björk ....

Running amok: make it 'as boring as possible'

I'm not currently in a position to judge how the British television media is handling yesterday's terrible shooting spree in Cumbria, and I'm also a bit agnostic about the argument that such incidents are significantly caused by the media.

But I thought this segment from Screenwipe by Charlie Brooker makes some good points about the way these events are too often presented. (His comments were sparked by coverage of the most recent Amoklauf in Germany -- a little more than a year ago in Winnenden.)

(Via the Guardian.)

One thing I do dislike, though, are the instant diagnoses that inevitably follow.

Like this one:

So a proud, insecure middle-aged man cannot bear to lose face. Unable to ignore a slight, he seethes inwardly with resentment until he explodes.


One thing is certain: While he was at the peak of the murderous quest, the adrenalin would have been pumping through his body. He would have been on a monstrous high, feeling almost invincible, like Superman, as he discharged the weapon.

Yes, indeed: we can be 'certain' he felt like 'Superman'.

(Taking off on Brooker's point: doesn't this fall into the same kind of category of serving to 'turn this murdering little twat into a sort of nihilistic pin-up boy', albeit this time for the proud, middle-aged and insecure? No doubt many of them wouldn't mind feeling a 'monstrous high' themselves. Sounds almost appealing, now that you mention it....)

Still, Blood and Treasure is on to something in observing that the descriptions being offered by people who knew the shooter -- nice, quiet, normal -- sound a bit familiar:

Obviously, people are partly playing as cast here: he was normal in the sense that no-one was going to think that he was just the kind of chap that would go on a spree killing rampage. The opinions seem to be more a product of people finding something to say to the media rather than a commentary on the individual concerned. But you can get a sort of oblique view of a man smiling maybe twenty times a day, saying the appropriate things at the appropriate times to familiar faces and slowly going mad. Maybe that’s just a product of the standard murderer story too.

For its part, the BBC describes how tough British gun laws are and notes the rarity with which guns are used in crimes there:

Police figures show that there were 39 firearms-related deaths in 2008-09 and that seven of these involved a shotgun. That total was the lowest recorded by the police in 20 years. Guns play a role in just 0.3% of all recorded crimes - one in every 330 incidents.

Though it is, of course, no comfort at all if you or someone you know ends up at the sharp end of that 0.3%.

A few thoughts on force

This sounds sensible to me, though it remains on the level of generality.

I do not discount the importance of force. Woe to the country that discounts the efficacy of force. Without it Israel would not be able to survive a single day. But we cannot allow ourselves to forget for even a moment that force is effective only as a preventative — to prevent the destruction and conquest of Israel, to protect our lives and freedom. Every attempt to use force not as a preventive measure, not in self-defense, but instead as a means of smashing problems and squashing ideas, will lead to more disasters, just like the one we brought on ourselves in international waters, opposite Gaza’s shores.

By Amos Oz, who, quite personally, learned a thing or two about using force.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Continental flavour

Run across in a search for information on, of all things, an execution (click for larger image):

The Times, 17 December 1959, p. 4.

I'm too young to remember such days, but was it ever that easy to be so effortlessly cool?

I have my doubts.

For you trivia fans: Wikipedia tells us that 'Noilly Prat' was the name that T.S. Eliot gave to his cat.

I feel I have done my educational duty for the day.