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June 2006

A Parable of Capitalism

stereogum posts links, in your choice of streaming formats, to the video for "Throw It All Away," from the forthcoming Zero 7 album, The Garden

The video tells a charming rags/riches/rags/riches tale of a man and his polygon -- a sort of fantasy version of eBay's "it" ad campaign.  Guaranteed to raise a smile.

The song is pretty good, too.

Through the Window, Pain

"It all came rushing back, like the hot kiss at the end of a wet fist."
    -- Nick Danger, 3rd Eye

Painful memories of a misspent youth:

Because it's what all the weblogging kids are doing this week, Professor Bainbridge has posted a photo of The View from [his] Window at the UCLA School of Law.

For those who can't figure out what they are looking at in that picture, it depicts a walkway that goes across the roof of the law school.  As I note in a comment at the Bainbridgeblog, I used that very walkway one day in my own law school days (ca. 1980) as a shortcut to run between classes.

I was late, and I seem to recall that it was beginning to rain, and in my haste I did not pay close attention to details.   As I raced to reenter the building (out of frame to the left of the Professor's shot) I did not notice that the overhead clearance was very low, and I resoundingly clobbered the front of my skull with the top of the low-lying door jamb.   Yes, it left a mark.   But like the poor fellow who was turned into a newt, I got better.

So let that be a lesson to you all: when in haste, be sure to duck.

Bonus Literary Link:  On a lighter note ("In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat . . . .") this is as good an excuse as any to link to the immortal Saki's wicked short short tale, "The Open Window."

Smiles of a Sommer Night

Achtung, baby!

Sure, Sweden is the nation of "Old Europe" that Americans immediately associate with, ahem, sex.

The French, of course, are not to be counted out in the all-world sensuality competition.

And heaven only knows what may be going on in Amsterdam at this moment. 

But we must not, no we must not, forget the Germans.

Der Spiegel's English-language site continues its education of anglophones in What Makes Germany Germany with the revelation that German teens in their thousands obtain a weekly ration of advice on their burgeoning sexuality from "Dr. Sommer," writing in the pages of Bravo, a magazine otherwise devoted to music and pop culture.  Germany is very different from the USofA, don'cha know:

Lodged between the ads for tampons, zit concealers and mobile phone ring tones is a weekly sex advice column splashed with photos of teenagers, au naturel -- kind of like Penthouse Letters for kids.  It's the kind of thing that would land the publishers in jail were it to hit newsstands on the other side of the Atlantic.  If the Christian right or America's comb-over Congress got their hands on this, the courts would be busy for months.

But this is sex-positive Germany, not the Bible Belt.  And here there are few taboos when it comes to telling kids where to insert the dipstick should they need to check the oil.  The cultural epicenter of this sex-friendly youth society is 'Dr. Sommer,' the weekly Bravo column that has been providing teens with sex advice since its birth during the 1969 Summer of Love.  And the Germans love it.  The column's liberating message to teens has been greeted with open arms from across the religious and political spectrum.  Indeed, it's not unusual for the column's staff to receive invitations to church groups to deliver youth sexuality sermons.

Even here in swingin' California -- where the Summer of Love arrived two years sooner than it apparently did in Germany -- I doubt that very many congregations would roll out the willkommen mat for Dr. Sommer. 

Spiegel itself is coy about exposing Americans to the legal and spiritual risks inherent in the good doktor's columns, but nonetheless provides a "Photo Gallery Made Office Safe for our American Readers." 

One suspects we are being gently mocked here: in several cases the potentially offensive features of the young Germans that would otherwise be on display have been covered over with variants on the "smiley face," and each expurgated photo comes with the disclaimer:

Sensitive parts of this image have been censored to adhere to American anti child pornography laws.

If you have a German-speaking teen in your household and don't object to him or her learning a great deal about her or his natural urges and what to do with them, the Spiegel story provides a direct link to Dr. Sommer's pages at the Bravo magazine site.  You won't find such a link here, however, because I am not a teenager, I do not speak or read German, and I would not want it to be suggested that those American anti-pornography laws were being violated on my site.

An Important Policy Initiative

In light of these discoveries, the Prudish Protective Puritanical Parents of America may wish to launch a campaign to have the insidious German language banned from those few U.S. classrooms in which it is still being taught. 

Not only does learning German give our teens access to the perilous advice of Dr. Sommer, it might ultimately lead the young and innocent to read Goethe's Faust which, even when translated into French and sung in impenetrable operatic voices by sock puppets, has recently been found to pose supreme moral dangers to the young and to those who teach them. 

In this regard, it is a good thing that America's schools do such an ineffectual job of teaching English.  Developing skills in that language might lead the kids to Marlowe's version of the Faust story, and then all -- well, you know -- Helen might break loose.

Buzz Cuts and Bedrooms and Byrne

The weekend is upon us, and that is as good an excuse as any to look at music forthcoming from two tuneful laborers in relative obscurity mentioned here previously:

The Singleman Affair

In a January post about his band Hummingbiird, I mentioned Chicago musician Dan Schneider in his role as "The Singleman Affair" and the fact of his recent signing to the UK Poptones label.  [The good folk at Poptones even saw fit to quote that post on the label's site.  I bear no ill will over their not quite getting the name of this weblog right.]

I checked back this week on the upcoming release of the Singleman Affair album -- it's due out on July 17 -- and found another reason to look forward to it.  Originally posted in mid-March on the Poptones site, here is an airy, echoing and altogether effective recording of The Singleman Affair covering a classic Tim Buckley tune:

Bedroom Walls

Back in March of 2004, I praised the "Romanticore" stylings of Los Angeles' own Bedroom Walls; later that year I recommended the band's now-unavailable EP, "A Species of Idleness."  Many moons later, the band's second full-length release, All Good Dreamers Pass This Way, is scheduled to come out next week.  (I've gone ahead and preordered a copy for myself.) 

All Good Dreamers... is mostly new material but also includes one of the highlights of the Walls' self-released first album ("Do the Buildings and Cops Make You Smile?"), some longstanding fixtures of the Walls repertoire hitherto not issued in studio versions ("In Anticipation of Your Suicide" and "Who's Been Driving Around for Days" were both included in the band's on-air KCRW performance in December 2003) and one of the "bonus" tracks from the "Idleness" EP, the woozily affectionate "Hello Mrs. Jones."

When I last mentioned Bedroom Walls, I quoted a lyric about being "stuck inside with your books and your sad songs."  The line comes from "Your Idea of a Holiday," a song that I quite like and that the band has since seen fit to make available for download on their MP3 page and that also follows this next punctuation mark:

Bonus Think Piece
[That's a subject sub-heading, not the name of a band.]

Increasingly, I purchase Popular Music by download rather than physical CD, and my major recurring complaint with downloadable music is the absence of the sort of supporting information and graphical goodies that are incorporated in physical packaging: LP sleeves and CD insert booklets and the like.  No less an eminence than David Byrne has some thoughts on the subject in his online journal.  Excerpts:

There are those who mourn the vanishing of the nice big cardboard packages that vinyl came in.  The format allowed fairly large images, credits, and photos.  The usual assumption is that much of this imagery, like music videos, is a reflection of, and extension of, the music creator’s sensibility.  As if the packaging and the videos were usually under the direct control of the author.  This is absurd. . . .

. . . Our sense of the author and the music being represented and embodied graphically is imaginary.  We see the music and its package as all of a piece.  This of course is what good packaging does. Salty snacks and washing detergents are sold mostly based on their brightly colored packaging.  Most people don’t make this assumption about books — we don’t assume that the cover of a book is a visual representation of the writing, as imagined by the author, but with music we sometimes do make this leap.  Hence the love of LP sleeves… and even CD booklets.

I imagine that record companies in the 60s realized that selling to a new market — one that saw itself as hip beyond the generic record sleeves then prevalent, a new demographic who saw itself as outside and distinct from the mainstream — would require some new approaches to design.  They, the record companies, realized that to make a credible product for this reluctant market the inclusion of the bizarre and funky imagery made by their graphic pals was probably essential.  In addition, the music artists themselves began to demand control over their own sleeves, when they realized that they could.

The post goes on for quite a bit beyond that, covering a broad range of related subjects, and ends with quite an optimistic view of the expansive 'packaging' possibilities of the downloadable future.  [Link via Coolfer.]

  • Bonus Bonus: Another thoughtful Byrne post from earlier in the month on photography, expectations of privacy in public places, importing imagery from one medium to another and, above all, how "the law changes what people create."

Enjoy the weekend.

German Toymaker Eaten by Lion!

UPDATE 2010:  This post from May 16, 2006, has been receiving a lot of search-related hits this week in light of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  For that reason -- and as a reminder that I have been at this blogging thing for a while -- I temporarily re-published it atop the blog.  It has now disappeared back into the archives.

Here, by the way, is Zakumi, the 2010 World Cup Mascot. He is what you get if poor old Goleo had worked hard for four years to turn "mascot" into one of those much-vaunted "Green Jobs."




I am no sports fan -- that two southern California teams (the basketball-bouncing L.A. Clippers and the slapshotting Mighty Ducks of Anaheim) are actively in the hunt for their respective sports' championships raises barely a blip on this fool's mental radar-- and among popular sports, perhaps the least interesting of all is soccer.  Sports mascots, however, are a frequent source of amusement (or amoosement, as the case may be).

From Der Spiegel, a sad story of mascot-based marketing gone bad in Germany:

Unpopular World Cup Mascot Wrecks German Toy Firm

A German stuffed toy manufacturer that has exclusive rights to produce the official World Cup mascot -- Goleo VI, a shaggy-maned lion in a football shirt -- has filed for insolvency because no one wants to buy it.

            * * *

'The loveable lion', as football's world governing body FIFA describes it, has had a mixed response since he was introduced in late 2004.  Designed by Jim Henson Company, which made the Muppets and Sesame Street characters, the clumsy looking figure has more than a fleeting resemblance to Big Bird.  It has also been ridiculed for lacking football shorts. 

Even his debut on a German game show backfired when show host Thomas Gottschalk wondered out loud whether Goleo's grandmother was a llama.

Deutsche Welle also reports the story, contributing its own selection of anti-Goleo insults:

Somebody should have seen it coming.  We live in a superficial age, in which Joan Collins and Linda Evans, who recently got together for a Dynasty reunion, look exactly the same as they did 20 years ago at the peak of the international shoulder-pad mania.  Good looks are important. Good looks will get you anywhere. 

Goleo, on the other hand, is not exactly what you'd call an attractive fellow. He could easily pass for an out-of-the-wedlock child of mumbling Star Wars monster Chewbacca and US 80's sitcom teddy-bear starlet Alf.  And now, it turns out, nobody wants to hold him, hug him, and call him George.

The fine gentlemen of FIFA probably couldn't care less.  For all their declared love of sport and international understanding -- which sometimes makes them sound as if they were running a charity founded by Mother Theresa and not an international money-making machine with a surplus of 138 million euros ($178 million) in 2005 alone -- FIFA officials were clever enough to diversify into the obsessive-compulsive world of computer games.  Teddy bears are so 20th century. But the German company, which licensed the European rights to Goleo, filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday.

(Read on to learn more of Goleo's childhood and his deeply Freudian aversion to . . . fishnet stockings.  The German national fondness for nudism is also discussed.)

Here, from the official FIFA Mascot Zone, is the lion in question, settling a dispute of some kind with his pal Pille, an anthropomorphized cephalocentric soccer ball:


And here are examples of the poorly-selling toys, from the site of the suffering manufacturer:


More mascotery:

  • This series of photos from a German sports site shows Goleo VI in typically mascotian action, frightening small children, posing with attractive models and being set upon by sarcastic mobs of photojournalists.
  • The "Football World Cup mascot" entry at Wikipedia collects 'em all.  In this company, Goleo VI actually looks pretty good.  Pille, sadly, fits right in.

Berlin Alexandriaplatz

Caesarion_detail Still more references to the ancient city of Alexandria, a recurring theme here lately:

Pointers at 3quarksdaily and Arts & Letters Daily lead to the English language online version of DER SPIEGEL, where we find a long and interesting article on the occasion of the public display in Berlin of a variety of artifacts excavated from the sea floor where much of the antique metropolis now lies. 

The 13-part photo gallery accompanying the article features some simply gorgeous underwater photography of artifacts in place beneath the deep.  At left, by way of example, a detail from a larger photograph of a head of Ptolemy XV, also known as Caesarion -- yes, he's the original "little Caesar" --  the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.

The article provides a juicy rundown of Alexandria at its height, of its Ptolemaic rulers and of their various familial, political and sexual scandals, and includes the revelation that the Alexandrian state for a time adopted the worship of Dionysus and seemingly invented Mardi Gras in his honor.  Here is how one parties like an Egyptian:

In 275 B.C., the Alexandrians gave the god of wine a parade, the likes of which the world had never seen -- a procession attended by crowds from as far away as Athens, Thebes, Crete and Ionia.  Some 57,000 soldiers and 1,600 boys carrying costly vessels marched at the head of the procession, followed by 24 elephant-drawn carts and an assortment of exotic animals.  At the center of the caravan, 180 men carried a statue of the god Dionysus wrapped in a purple embroidered coat.  Bringing up the rear was a rolling wine press where 60 satyrs pressed grapes and served wine to the masses through a giant hose.

Lying on the seabed, Ptolemy XV's statue recalls the shattered visage of our old friend, Shelley's Ozymandias, and on the subject of fleeting earthly glory poor Caesarion -- after defeating Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium, Octavian (later the Emperor Augustus) was quick to dispatch his potential rival for the title of Caesar's heir -- and his half-siblings (fathered by Marcus Antonius) feature in several sad poems by their latter day fellow Alexandrian, C.P. Cavafy.  In "Caesarion" (1918), Cavafy imagines himself imagining the young ruler, and is visited by him in a dream as the poem concludes:

And so fully did I envision you,
that late last night, as my lamp
was going out -- I let it go out on purpose --
I fancied that you entered my room,
it seemed that you stood before me; as you might have been
in vanquished Alexandria,
pale and tired, idealistic in your sorrow,
still hoping that they would pity you,
the wicked -- who whispered 'Too many Caesars.'

In "Alexandrian Kings" (1912), Cavafy captures the polyglot vibration of Alexandria in its prime, as Cleopatra's children are presented to the citizenry:

But the day was warm and poetic,
the sky was a light azure,
the Alexandrian Gymnasium was
a triumphant achievement of art,
the opulence of the courtiers was extraordinary,
Caesarion was full of grace and beauty
(son of Cleopatra, blood of the Lagidae);
and the Alexandrians rushed to the ceremony,
and got enthusiastic, and cheered
in greek, and egyptian, and some in hebrew,
enchanted by the beautiful spectacle --
although they full well knew what all these were worth,
what hollow words these kingships were.

"Bravado, in all its true essences"

Anglo_mania Here are some fine strange bedfellows for you: New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and . . . Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten.  The occasion for their conjugation is an exhibition that opened this past week at the Met, "AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion," to which Mr. Rotten has contributed an 8-minute audio commentary, which is available for free download as an MP3 file/podcast at the immediately preceding link. 

Sex_pistols_cover In addition to providing a dramatic recitation of the complete lyrics to the Pistols' infamous "God Save the Queen" -- he's the New Wave William Shatner, I tell you! -- Rotten expounds upon the origins of such staples of Punk style as the safety pin

What does one do when the sleeve falls off one's jumper?  One safety-pins it up, that's what one does!

and "bondage-suits":

I did a photo session in a straitjacket . . . and I liked the feeling of that restriction.  I also liked the sheer danger of it, the fact that if I got caught out in the street by a mob that did not particularly like me I had no way of running away.  Ha ha: essential! That's Johnny Rotten style, that.

He offers advice to the Royal Family and a "monanarchist" vision of human equality, and remarks approvingly upon the Met's decision to install the show in its English period rooms:

Punk clobber in 17th Century designer rooms!  Excellent choice.  Excellent.  This sums up Britain perfectly, as it did then, as it does now.  This is what class will get you.  True distinction.  True diversity.  And out of that diversity, we smile in the face of adversity, to quote Shakespeare. 

Sorry: not bein' a snob, bein' a yob.

Well worth a listen, if only to be reminded of how essentially "sophisticated" is the sound, to American ears, of even a lowest-class British accent.  Somehow there will always be an England, even if it has No Future.

[Links by way of WFMU's Beware of the Blog.]


Related Reading:

In an early post on this weblog, I reminisced about having attended what proved to be the final public performance by The Sex Pistols, in San Francisco on a rainy night in January 1978.  Rick Coencas, who is on weblog hiatus at the moment, was also there.

In my prior Pistols post, I linked the then-weblogs of Brian Micklethwait and Alice Bachini, neither of which currently exists in the form it did in 2003.  Brian Micklethwait's current weblog on matters political, cultural and photographical is here.  Alice Bachini has relocated to Austin, Texas, where  under the rubric of 'like a tea-tray in the sky', she remarks upon whatever strikes her fancy, such as:

Who needs free wi-fi by the side of a creek in a camper van?  The answer would be 'Texans' clearly.

Additional Update:

John Rotten is apparently being cheeky with his "to quote Shakespeare."  While WS mentions adversity on several occasions -- e.g., the Duke in Act II of As You Like It, "Sweet are the uses of adversity . . ." -- it was actually the American Edgar Watson Howe who remarked:

No man can smile in the face of adversity and mean it.

Ye Gods!
Retro Greeks Strike a Blow for Religious Freedom

Having recently hosted weblogogic visitations by the Greek deities Dionysus and Apollo, I am pleased to learn that they and their fellow Olympians may soon be called out of retirement.  The Guardian reports:

It has taken almost 2,000 years, but those who worship the 12 gods of ancient Greece have finally triumphed.  An Athens court has ordered that the adulation of Zeus, Hera, Hermes, Athena and co is to be unbanned, paving the way for a comeback of pagans on Mount Olympus.

The followers, who say they 'defend the genuine traditions, religion and ethos' of the ancients by adhering to a pre-Christian polytheistic culture, are poised to take their battle to the temples of Greece.

Cornelis van Poelenbergh - Feast of the Gods - 1623

In terms of civil liberties the Greek court's ruling is actually somewhat of a big deal, as Greece has hitherto not been particularly open to the free exercise of religion.  Per the Guardian story: "About 98% of Greeks are Orthodox Christian, and all other religions except Judaism and Islam had been banned." 

The Orthodox authorities are none too pleased by the Court's decision, accusing the Olympophiles of "idolatry" and tarring them as "miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion."

The Oracle at Delphi could not be reached for comment.

[Guardian link via Colby Cosh's world press roundup.]

Nothing Foolish is Alien to Me

I like to reach out across cultural boundaries as much as the next man, so I am happy (thanks to an entry in my referrer logs) to have my curiosity satisfied as to what my weblog would look like if only it were written in Arabic.  The transformation is particularly apropos for this post, which coincidentally was all about translation into Arabic.  For an extra dollop of international brotherhood, most hyperlinks now operate to translate their target sites into Arabic as well. 

[Concluding sentence deleted after original posting because I decided I just didn't like it.]

"Who's That Girl on May the 3rd?"

Alice advises: Do not come between a girl and her spices... I have been saving this one since December.  My indispensable, patient and beloved lady wife, in whose honor I post it, will probably not be nearly so amused by it as I am, but that will not stop me.

At Christmas time this past year, Craig Bonell of the fine mp3 weblog songs:illinois posted as many seasonally-appropriate songs as he could find.  Just after Christmas, he was able to post this one, "Pink Christmas" from the Swedish band, Envelopes.

As Craig noted at the time, you will be hard pressed to find any reference to Christmas anywhere in this song, other than in the title.  The singer declares himself to be out of spices.  He suggests that you'd better get the door.  He is surrounded by what sounds like a wind-up Duran Duran cover band with kazoos on helium, and it all lilts along in cheery cheesy happily silly style as he asks the climactic musical question:

Who's that girl on May the 3rd?

Well I'll tell you who's that girl: that girl's my wife, whose birthday that day -- this day, the 3rd day of May -- is. 

So in honor of that occasion, even though this song is not likely to suit the honoree's personal tastes at all, I offer the eccentric musical stylings of Envelopes and "Pink Christmas".  More appealing acknowledgments of the day will take place outside the bounds of this weblog.  Now where the devil did I leave those spices . . . . ?

Envelopes - Pink Christmas [mp3 link]