Archive for the ‘oddities’ Category

Penmanship has never been my strong suit, the doodlings of my pen having been described both blandly as chicken scratch and more memorably as looking like those of a serial killer. Little did all my critics realize this little “flaw” of mine would give me insight and empathy into one of history’s most influential minds!

From The Worldly Philosophers, a thus far great book:

Marx had no work–except his never-ending stint in the British Museum from ten o’clock every morning until seven o’clock at night. He tried to make a little money by writing articles on the political situation for the New York Tribune, whose editor, Charles A. Dana, was a Fourierist and not averse to a few slaps at European politics. It helped for a while, although it was Engels who bailed Marx out by composing many of his pieces for him–Marx meanwhile advising by letter as follows: “You must your war-articles colour a little more*. When these articles stopped, he tried to get a clerical job with a railway, but was rejected for his atrocious handwriting.

p. 150

‘Tis true, however, that my horrid handwriting is sometimes a burden. The wine business for example requires me to make several bank transactions every week, and all the forms must be handwritten. How the tellers interpret my name, which I both print and sign on most of the forms, can be amusing:

Jeff Molmes indeed!

The interpretation can also confound:

That rogue Mr. Ildnes--my Moriarty

That last one had me puzzled for longer than I care to admit as to who exactly this Jeff Ildnes was and how he had gained access to the account.

*German syntax much?

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Every so often, usually after the house’s water tank has been dry for a few hours/days, the first flow from the faucet fills my bathroom sink with muddy water. The other day the mud was especially thick and of such a hue that for a moment I was sure the first of ten plagues had been visited upon my house:

Exodus 7:19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

The water soon cleared, thankfully, and as of yet no scores of frogs are hippity-hopping into mine bedchamber or kneading troughs.

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I haven’t  learned much Kinyarwanda yet–French is far more useful on the margin–but after a colleague showed me a phrase book (a scanned page of which is below), I’m having second thoughts:

After all, what if I’m stuck helpless in a situation where the following phrase might be needed?

  • Of what use are these little things? Just take them.
  • Outside help comes when the rain is over.
  • I’d rather die than give it up.
  • I worked harder than the others, but you didn’t see it.
  • I’m wet (from the rain). I’m going to find shelter.
  • Who is the mother of this child?
  • It’s my paternal uncle that you saw, my maternal uncle is dead.
  • Learning to whistle skins the mouth.

And my personal favorite:

  • The child’s small hands deprive him of his share of the sorghum.

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In Rostock, where I lived for several months, a 23-year-old state-level politician has lost his job and been fined 200 Euro for publishing this photo on the German rip-off of Facebook:

His crime was “Verunglimpfung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland,” or denigrating the Federal Republic of Germany (that’s a German flag in there). In the newspaper article, he claims the photo was intended to counter the nationalism that is accompanying the ongoing Eurocup.

Imagine how Westerners would react if the country were some South American autocracy, say, rather than Germany. Wouldn’t it be criticized–even haughtily so–as deeply illiberal and wrong?

A good way to check for bias is to perform that little thought experiment when considering your stance on any given policy.  Consider if your opinion on e.g. trade, torture, immigration, going to war, etc. would change if it were not your home country advocating it but some unfamiliar foreign land. If your opinion would change, or reverse, it’s worth attempting  to pin down why that is. You might discover your rationale was as soggy as a flushed flag.


Update: What about state-run media?

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A truly astounding series of German condom advertisements are making the rounds this morning—each features a sketch of a sperm made to look like Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden or Mao Zedong. Their not so subtle message being, “Better wrap it up… unless you want to bring evil into the world!”

On one hand, these ads make perfect sense due to their exploiting the potent Schuldgefühl–or guilty feeling–that is such an important part of German culture. On the other hand, Schuldgefühl was borne out of WWII and the Holocaust, and is one reason why joshin’ about that silly vegetarian painter called Hitler just doesn’t play in Germany even now.

Even scooping Hitler out of the pool, however, the ads pronounce an inscrutable message. Are sperm inherently evil, or just the sperm contributing to unplanned pregnancies? If someone is impregnated with these seeds of destruction, is it game over right then, or will some extra hugs in childhood purge the perversity? What is the cost to humanity of sheathing the good sperm? And most importantly, does the fact that sperm can be mustachioed or sport a turban indicate the prescience of Nicolaas Hartsoeker?

HT: Paul, who surprises me with his interest in prophylactics of the world

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Same nieces, same week, same state:

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Just overheard at the grocery store :

Hey Mom, they have your favorite kind of water!

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