Sunday, 15 November 2009

Oh dear god

When I scrolled down the picture below, I was thinking to myself "that's gotta be somewhere in Germany" before I even got to the shopping bag.

epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails

Of course, that may be because I haven't spent much time in Eastern Europe.

(I also overlooked the word "Juwelier". Both times it appears. And right up until I previewed this post, in fact. Look, I haven't been getting much sleep lately, okay?)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Oh, I'm the bitch of the piece, am I?

Some brilliant person has enriched YouTube with a whole bunch of the classic Lynne and Carmel skits from the eighties and nineties,  by Magda Szubanski and Jane Turner  -  of Kath & Kim fame for those who weren't watching Australian television twenty years ago.  I always thought Magda's talents were terribly underused on Kath &  Kim.  The woman is an utter genius.

There's a few clips there too of another hilarious character of hers from that era,  Chenille,  on  "Janelle's Beauty Spot"  with Marg Downey.  Alas,  not nearly as much of Chenille as there is of Lynne,  but still classic stuff.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Oh, now that's a good one

From what looks like the laugh-out-loud story of the month comes what may be the euphemism of the year:

A statement released by the National Transportation Safety Board said: "The crew stated they were in a heated discussion over airline policy and lost situational awareness."

Remember,  next time you're totally out of it and have no idea where you are or what you are doing,  you've merely "lost situational awareness".  I can't wait to use that.

Update:  I currently have before me a text to translate in which the word "Situationsbewusstsein" appears, multiple times, including once in the title...  it's even in the right context (piloting aircraft).  Which was another laugh-out-loud moment (yes,  I'm easily amused).  There I was longing for an excuse to use this term, and this comes along.  It's almost enough to make you believe in divine intervention.  The word,  evidently a fairly common term in the industry,  is explained to mean "die Fähigkeit,  seine eigene Situation in Abhängigkeit des jeweiligen Umfeldes zutreffend beurteilen zu können"  -  "the ability to correctly assess one's own situation in relation to one's specific environment".  Hmm,  yes, that pretty much fits perfectly with the pilot story...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

It's hip to be square

I think I know now what it is about Melbourne that makes me slightly uncomfortable here.  The place  -  or specifically its hip,  "alternative",  arty scene  -  is just a little too damn hip.  Not just content to be fashionable and cutting-edge,  they're all terribly conscious of just how cutting-edge they are;  they're far too focused on it the whole time.  The great thing about Berlin  (by comparison)  is that although it's got a flourishing,  cutting-edge cultural scene,  it manages at the same time to be largely relaxed and unpretentious  -  which I believe has a lot to do with the deep-seated provinciality of the place.  (Might also have something to do with the lack of money;  Melbourne certainly doesn't have that problem.)  Berlin manages to be extremely cool and deeply uncool at the same time,  and I love that.

Whereas I saw a young hipster dude in the gym today wearing a white T-shirt,  bright green trousers and a green baseball cap in exactly the same colour.  The hipsters here are the kind of people who colour-coordinate their gym outfits.  I'm sorry,  but that's just so Barcelona.

Which is why I'm outta here.  Heading back to Brisbane,  which still has enough of its old provincial,  uncool character for me to feel completely comfortable there,  just like Berlin  (or,  I might add,  Madrid).  Being in places like that is like curling up in a favourite old armchair,  or wearing a pair of ancient but unbelievably comfy old slippers.  Might not get you into the right clubs,  but hey,  you're not going to care.

Monday, 22 June 2009


Last night I was reading a bit of the book I'm reading at the moment,  Cosmo Cosmolino by Helen Garner.  It's set in Melbourne.  Halfway through the scene I was reading,  one of the characters says to another,  "By the way – do you realise that this is the longest night of the year?"

And she was right.

Sunday, 21 June 2009


They did it again.

Yesterday should have been a good one for the Iranian government - brutal and effective suppression of small,  disorganised protests,  near-silence from Mousavi,  opposition in disarray.

Unfortunately the day was marred by yet another own goal.  They faked a suicide bombing.  They faked a suicide bombing.  They justified all those American accusations of being a terrorist state by actually attempting to terrorise their own people into staying away from the protests.  And once again,  they did it in a really stupid,  blatant way.  First there was again the all-too-obvious foreshadowing in ominous remarks from on high - this time in Khamenei's address the previous day:  "Street demonstrations are a target for terrorist plots.  Who would be responsible if something happened?".  Then the suspicious choice of location - the tomb of Khomeini,  a long way from the protests  (perhaps so that the fraud would escape scrutiny,  perhaps so the state media could avoid showing images of the demonstrators)  and all-too-obviously symbolic:  Khomeini represents the Islamic Republic,  the established order.  Thereby associating the protesters with suicide-bombing terrorists.  And then they gave it coverage on the state media all day and night.  Just to make sure everyone heard about it.

Honestly people.  You're under attack for faking an election.  You're not going to fix that by faking a suicide bombing!!

They might still get away with it - something like this could be a button-pusher for the government's conservative supporters,  and the regime will certainly try to use it to justify greater brutality in future.  Much depends on how many people are prepared to believe that it was for real.  If they see through it - as I think they will - well,  even if the Assembly of Experts doesn't care about the protests,  they might still have to remove Khamenei for gross incompetence.  The man can't even do a reign of terror properly.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The point of no return?

I'm beginning to think that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, may have been personally responsible for the various silly decisions mentioned in my previous post. His address to the nation today - his first since the election - also demonstrates some pretty questionable thinking. He tells the opposition that they must pursue their complaints within the established legal channels, but also effectively tells them that doing so will be completely pointless, by stating that Ahmadinejad's victory is beyond question. As if that wasn't stupid enough, he reiterated his own personal support of Ahmadinejad. In other words, "the candidate I wanted to win has won. Because the margin of victory was too large for any cheating. Any complaints must be made to the official bodies, who will ignore them." Well that'll certainly restore everyone's faith in Iranian democracy.

With that speech, it looks like the Supreme Leader has effectively brought an end to the constitutional status quo in Iran. Up until now, the Iranian constitution contained an essential contradiction: an unelected head of state with a huge amount of power, but an elected head of government. They'd more or less kept it together pretty well before now, but conflict - between the elected and the unelected, the democratic and the non-democratic - was perhaps ultimately inevitable. It's certainly reached crisis point now. Regardless of the actual election result, it's clear that a very large number of Iranians have lost confidence in the Supreme Leader's willingness to accept their democratic decisions. Unless Khamenei can go back on what he's just said, Iran must now become either less democratic or more democratic: the former if the opposition backs down and the Supreme Leader gets the President he wants; the latter if the Supreme Leader is forced to accept new elections or is forced from office, either directly by a popular uprising or by the Assembly of Experts acting in response to the protests. It'll probably all come down to the resolve of the Iranians who support Mousavi. How far are they willing to go?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

If I were an evil overlord

The really surprising thing about the Iranian presidential election is not that the result was manipulated,  but that it was manipulated so ineptly.

The past few presidential elections in Iran were generally regarded to have been more or less fair,  and this time it seems that the regime was  (mistakenly,  as it turned out)  relying on the weakness of the other candidates  (selected as always by the regime itself)  to get Ahmadinejad over the line.  So perhaps we can put the regime's ham-fisted effort down to inexperience and lack of planning.  But you would think that it would be fairly obvious that you should make the announcement of the results follow the pattern established by previous elections.  It should at least look and feel as much as possible like it did on previous occasions,  yes?

Well,  the Iranian Interior Ministry apparently didn't feel the need.  In previous elections,  the results would begin trickling through slowly hours after voting finished;  this time the authorities were able to announce that more than a third of the votes had been counted within just one hour of polls closing,  showing a commanding lead for Ahmadinejad.  They allowed that lead to shrink a little in subsequent announcements  (as the rest of the votes were  "counted")  but they still ended up giving him 62.63%,  compared with 33.75% for Mousavi.  With voter turnout acknowledged even by the Interior Ministry to have been at a record high,  nearly all observers had expected that those figures would be approximately the other way around.  Instead,  the figures announced give Ahmadinejad a much greater margin of victory than he received in 2005,  when he was still relatively popular.

Surely a smaller margin of victory would have been more plausible??  Such as, say, 52.7% for Ahmadinejad?  Sure,  it would still have looked fraudulent,  but not blatantly, contemptuously and unbelievably so.  Many would have been willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.  But 62.63?  That really leaves no room for doubt at all.  Incredibly,  they didn't even allow Mousavi to get a majority in his own home town  -  the announced result seems to have been a more or less even 60+%  for the incumbent right across the country.

Why would the Interior Ministry do something so daft?  Their misguided idea seems to have been to give Ahmadinejad such a huge margin that accusations of  "irregularities"  would seem pointless.  The Ministry made a statement to that effect in their announcement of the official results,  and it was echoed by Ahmadinejad himself the following day:  "The margin between my votes and the others is too much and no one can question it."  Um,  no.  The margin is so large that EVERYONE is going to question it.  Sigh.  These people have so much to learn.

I could also mention all the ominous and all-too-obvious comments made by authority figures in the leadup to voting about how any attempts at  "revolution"  would be  "firmly dealt with";  even the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,  when casting his vote,  pointedly warned that  "nobody should think about trying to harm the state"  (or something to that effect).  But perhaps the single silliest thing the regime did was their apparent failure to announce any figure for spoiled ballots  -  it's as if they simply forgot about them completely.

The result of all this,  of course,  is that the legitimacy of the whole regime in Iran has been called into question as never before.  Even the authority of the Supreme Leader has been shaken  -  the rioting crowds are chanting slogans criticising him, which seems to be just about as radical as it ever gets in Iran.  The regime will probably survive this storm  -  the security forces appear to remain largely loyal  -  but this own goal is going to make things a lot tougher for them from now on.

Friday, 10 April 2009


The internet has done such wonderful things to our perception of concepts like "private"  and  "personal"...

3:44pm Psychopompous

you won't believe what i am doing now

actually you will but you won't approve

christ,  i don't approve

3:45pm John


3:46pm Psychopompous

you know that guy last night i said i was slightly obsessed with?

3:47pm John


3:48pm Psychopompous

well I'm working on removing the "slightly"

this is so unhealthy

I'm internet stalking him.  It's turned out to be incredibly easy

I was introduced to him exremely fleetingly at the queer film festival by a guy whose blog i read

i found a comment by him on that blog

it links to his own blog profile

he ran his blog for two years (2006 and 2007) but it's still all up there and he used it to basically tell the story of his entire life up to that point...

I am excercising a tiny bit of self-discipline by not actually reading all of it

especially the stuff about his early life

he's even got a link on it to a flickr feed for crissakes

3:51pm John

I think you may have a problem...  hehehe

3:51pm Psychopompous

honestly,  when people are going to make it this easy...

the good news:  I seem to be an amazingly good judge of people

this guy is SOOOO my kind of guy.

the bad news:  i am seriously fucked up

3:53pm John

LOL I kinda always guessed that to be so

3:53pm Psychopompous

you know i even found a photo on his flickr site which features an american guy i knew in berlin.  [Ed.:  probably incorrect - pretty sure it's just an uncanny resemblance.]  i'm thinking if i keep looking through i'll see my own fucking self on there...

the dude spent a couple of years in europe

3:54pm John

mmmmm cultured

3:57pm Psychopompous

he has similar interests to me, similar life history (long-term girlfriend check,  spanish boyfriend check,  time spent in europe check -  and it goes on [Ed.:  but still doesn't get much less superficial than this]),  and he's even been hanging out in the same places and with the same people!

3:58pm John

It must be destiny then...


3:58pm Psychopompous

only problem is i'll find out so much about him that i'll get bored and move on without ever actually talking to him :)

Friday, 3 April 2009

Newsflash: word borrowed from German into English!!

The G20 summit in London has highlighted a recent borrowing of a German word into English,  an occurrence sufficiently rare these days to warrant trumpeting it.  Plenty of words get borrowed from English into other languages,  but borrowings in the other direction don't seem to happen a lot anymore.

This one is not just a borrowing,  but that subtle breed of borrowing known to linguists as a calque,  or loan translation.  This is a rather nifty pair of terms for it,  since "calque" is itself a loanword from French,  whereas "loan translation" is even more apt,  being itself a loan translation from the German word Lehnübersetzung.

The marvellous term in question is "to kettle",  with its derived noun "kettle".  The Word Spy website (devoted to English neologisms) defines the verb as "to maneuver protesters into a small area using a cordon of police personnel and vehicles."  The idea is for police to contain groups of protesters - usually those thought to be most likely to "cause trouble" - by effectively sealing them off into a small space,  and holding them in that space for several hours, up to a whole day in some cases.  The noun refers to the tight circle of frustrated protesters thus created.  In German the verb is "einkesseln";  the related noun is usually "Einkesselung".  It's a term I'm personally very well acquainted with in German from street protests in Berlin about five or six years ago.

There are two things that tell us the term was borrowed from German into English and not the other way around:  in German its meaning is broader,  and is used to refer not only to police operations but also and originally to military manoeuvres,  where in English one would say "encircle" or "surround".  It's very commonly the case when a word is borrowed that its meaning in the original language will be broader than its meaning in the adoptive language.

Also, the word is very well-established in German,  going back decades if not centuries in its military sense,  whereas the first instance in English that Word Spy could find is from 2006.  The form in which it then appeared,  namely "kettling in",  is further confirmation of its German origin;  the "in" seems to have dropped off since.  When I first read the term a few weeks ago,  I thought it might have made the leap during the protests in Heiligendamm against the G8 in 2007,  but evidently international solidarity among European protesters has deeper foundations than that.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


So nice to know it's not just me.

(Then again, my last stint at university finished less than two years ago...)

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Great Man theory

In the past couple of years I've often pondered the effect that just one individual can have on the course of world events.  That one individual usually being George W.  Bush,  of course.  I used to view history as primarily the result of complex,  slow-moving forces all coming together,  a kaleidoscope of factors continually changing to create events,  and was very sceptical of the "Great Man" theory of history.

Then Dubya came along.  It's simply inescapable that the situation the world is in right now could have been radically different if the Bush regime had not taken power following the US predential election in 2000.  An election which ultimately ceased to be Bush versus Gore at the ballot box and became Bush v. Gore,  a case before the Supreme Court to decide whether Florida's recount of votes could proceed,  a recount widely expected to give Gore the presidency.  The case was decided by just one vote.  So one decision,  by one person,  on one day in December 2000,  had a massive,  far-reaching effect on the course of world history for the next eight years and beyond.

That one person is generally considered to have been Sandra Day O'Connor,  the politically centrist judge who usually decided cases in which her colleagues were split along predictable ideological lines:  four conservative,  four liberal.  That day she voted with the conservatives.  I've just watched the interview she did yesterday with John Stewart,  where he asks her to recall that decision;  it's one of the things that motivated this post.

Obviously the word "Man" in my title there is meant in the old-fashioned,  gender-neutral sense.

Now,  thanks to that 5-4 decision,  we are left with an almost impossible challenge to prevent further climate change,  the worst economic mess since the Great Depression,  and a vastly greater threat from Islamist terrorism than that which existed on 11 September,  2001.  To quote an analysis in The Guardian today:

Eight years of neocon foreign policies have been a spectacular disaster for American interests in the Islamic world,  leading to the advance of Hamas and Hezbollah,  the wreckage of Iraq,  with more than two million external refugees and the ethnic cleansing of its Christian population,  the rise of Iran as a major regional power,  and now the implosion of Afghanistan and Pakistan,  probably the most dangerous development of all.

When it comes to the terrorist threat and especially the mess in Pakistan and Afghanistan,  I'm increasingly thinking that Obama just may not have time to undo the massive damage wrought by the previous regime.  He needs to reduce the American presence in Iraq,  force Israel to finally get serious about peace,  and radically revise the entire Western approach to Pakistan and Afghanistan,  all before Pakistan implodes to the point where the risks get nuclear.  While of course simultaneously pushing through tough moves on climate change and warding off the worst recession in seventy years.

Time will tell,  but can anyone be that Great?

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

If you're in a horrible car accident whatever you do don't rub your eyes

Just came across this line in something I was translating:

Nach dem Berühren von gezündeten Airbags sind die Hände zu waschen
[Hands must be washed after touching inflated airbags]

Huh?  Why??  I mean, airbags are meant to cushion your face and the upper parts of your body - arms, hands etc. - in an impact.  Why would there be something on them that would be harmful to the skin??

But it turns out that there is,  or at least was until very recently.  After being "deployed",  airbags are covered in a kind of dust,  which also flies up into the air in the vehicle.  The dust is mostly stuff like talcum powder,  but on the older airbags it will also contain "a small amount of a potential skin irritant,  sodium hydroxide."  The website I'm quoting there is a guideline for emergency rescue personnel,  which goes on to say:

Hands should be washed with mild soap and water after handeling [sic] a deployed bag.  Also avoid rubbing your eyes,  eating,  or smoking after handeling the bag until you have removed the gloves and washed your hands.  Rescuers also should take care to avoid introducing the residue into the eyes or any wounds of the patient.

Is this widely known?? Wikipedia knew, but wikipedia knows everything.  It was obviously news to me but then I spend virtually no time in cars and don't get out much. 

I find it all slightly distressing. You'd think people in car accidents would have enough to worry about already.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Nothing can be translated. Fortunately, so can everything

Not even a single word in any given language can ever be translated perfectly into any other language.  Every word occupies a unique position in the vast,  incredibly complex interwoven web of words and meanings that is a language,  and no two of those complex interwoven webs will ever be the same.

On the other hand,  there is not a single concept or idea familiar to the speakers of any language which cannot be explained to the speakers of any other human language.  There is not a single human sentiment expressable in one language which cannot be expressed in every other language.  Ultimately,  given enough time and patience,  anything which can be said in one language can be said in another.

In conclusion,  therefore,  do NOT ask me to translate an Excel list of random words and phrases plucked from somewhere in your latest catalogue,  because you offend against the fundamental principles of translation.  And you piss me off.
To say nothing of what you're doing to your customers.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

John Howard ruined my sister's wedding

I went to my sister's wedding on Saturday.  Haven't been to a wedding in years.  So I was unpleasantly surprised at the beginning of the ceremony to hear the celebrant come out with this:  "Marriage,  in Australia,  is the union of a man and a woman,  to the exclusion of all others".

It's not that I'd never heard that before,  of course;  it's the definition of marriage notoriously enshrined in the Marriage Legislation Amendment Act passed by John Howard's government back in 2004,  in order to explicitly ban gay marriage in Australia.  The sentence was all too familiar to me.  I just didn't expect to hear it proclaimed at my sister's wedding.  It was as if Howard himself had stuck his head up out of the ground to spew forth his homophobic bile.  It made me quite angry and I couldn't get it out of my head for the rest of the ceremony.

Of course it turns out that all civil celebrants are now required by law (by said Amendment Act, to be precise) to utter those words during the course of the ceremony.  Which is quite literally adding insult to injury.  It's not as though the ban is any less effective if celebrants do not declare it at every wedding.  Hearing those words is like receiving a small slap in the face,  which is no doubt exactly what Howard and his cronies had in mind.

That evil little bastard isn't in power any more,  but there's no likelihood of this little bit of ugliness being removed from wedding ceremonies any time soon,  since Kevin Rudd and his Labor Party not only supported Howard's gay marriage ban back in 2004 but continue to support it today,  despite their claim to be opposed to discrimination against same-sex couples.  If Labor had drafted the law I very much doubt they would have included this offensive ceremonial extra,  but they can't very well repeal that bit and not the rest without looking even more hypocritical than they already do.  The only solution is to have a religious ceremony,  since the wording of those is not bound by the law.  I'd recommend your local Unitarians, for preference.

The whole business has actually turned me into a fervent supporter of gay marriage.  I think I feel more strongly about this ceremonial proclamation than I do about gay marriage itself;  I'd always sympathized with those who want to achieve marriage equality by banning heterosexual marriage as well...  but that's probably never going to happen,  so I'm now prepared to do just about anything to further the gay marriage cause.  Because I never want to have to hear those words again.

With that in mind,  I'll end with one of the best presentations I've ever seen in favour of same-sex marriage  -  from the folks in California,  who are facing a slightly uglier situation than the one in Australia:

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Take my helmet off when you speak to me, you horrible little debtor

Just came across the following assessment by an American pundit of Obama's actions regarding China thus far:

In his inaugural address Tuesday, President Barack Obama spoke of how earlier generations of Americans had "faced down fascism and communism." China's state broadcaster quickly faded out the audio of its live broadcast, the camera cutting back to a flustered studio anchor.

Then, on Thursday, Obama's choice to lead the Treasury Department, Timothy Geithner, wrote that Obama believes China is "manipulating" its currency, which American manufacturers say Beijing does to make its goods cheaper for U.S. consumers and American products more expensive in China.

Selig Harrison, director of the Asia program at the U.S.-based Center for International Policy, said it was "very ill-advised for the new administration to confront China as if this were 10 years ago and we were in a strong financial position internationally."

"We are dependent on Chinese goodwill for our economic survival and viability, and, therefore, it seems to me that this type of posture is very risky," he said.
Seems that rather often these days when reading news stories about US-China relations I find myself thinking of Terry Pratchett and his Discworld. An odd association, you might think. But Pratchett is a pretty astute if rather cynical observer of the way the world works and in a novel published in 1996, he summarized the foreign policy of the Discworld's venal, wealthy and highly enterprising city-state of Ankh-Morpork thusly:

Thousands of years ago the old empire had enforced the Pax Morporkia, which had said to the world: 'Do not fight, or we will kill you'. The Pax had risen again, but this time it said: 'If you fight, we'll call in your mortgages. And incidentally that's  my pike you're pointing at me.  I paid for that shield you're holding. And take my helmet off when you speak to me, you horrible little debtor.'
The Ankh-Morpork national anthem is now apparently something entitled "We Can Rule You Wholesale" ("Touch us and you'll pay / Credit where it's due"). Perhaps China will want to rewrite theirs along similar lines?