16 posts categorized "It's a Living"

Bets of British

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The Monty Python crew were men of many talents, and one of them was selling out.   They ain't ashamed to cash in on their celebrity—indeed, they revel in it.  And none so well as that chuckledaddy darling of adland, John Cleese.  

In his endorsements, Cleese stops short of complete shamelessness, but it's often a close call.  I remember a series of ads he did for Planters Nuts in Australia.  (Check them out.)   The script joked about the client wanting to dissociate himself from the commercial; unfortunately, that's exactly what happened.  The spots ran, I believe, once.  

One day, while watching Austrian television—we watch a lot of that in Bavaria during the Strausssommernachtstraum season—I got an eerie sense of deja vu.   Cleese was hawking William Hill, Britain's behrümteste bookie.  

In it, a gorilla tires of lugging around a laptop just so he can log onto williamhill-punkt-com, and steals Cleese's Blackberry.   Another tells us that Austria has besseres Wetter (better weather),  but in Britain one can besser wetten (bet better)

Like I said, these gags stop just a bee's dick short of shameless.  But during the recent European Football Championship, the Hill turned from William to Benny.   Cleese says there are plenty of amusing things about the Euro Cup, but you shouldn't gamble with jokes.  A fat guy in his underwear appears, proving the point.

Why is this most British of British comedians famous in the German-speaking world?  Many forget that Cleese is part of it.  He speaks excellent (if accented) German, and was responsible for bringing the Pythons to Bavaria in 1972 for a series of TV specials.  YouTube contains most of the sketches from Monty Pythons Fliegender Zirkus, and I urge you to watch.  Personally, I think it some of their finest work.  Like the English version, it cracks the veneer of uptight order to release anarchy, but with a professional polish they never quite achieved at the BBC.

Visitors note: service in Bavarian restaurants has not improved in the last four decades.

Wealthy, but Why?

Diamond dominoes, in a jeweller's window on the Maximiilanstraße.
They won't leave you much change out of €20,000

Europe, bless us, is in technical recession, and it looks to get worse.  But—touch HolzGermany seems to be doing OK under the circumstances .  (Probably because Germany pretty much engineered those circumstances in the first place.)

When Germany does OK, Munich does very well indeed.  On a GDP-per-head basis, Munich ranks up there with bank-boated towns like Frankfurt. 

The average Münchener contributes 60% more to the Volkswirtschaft than his Hamburg or Berlin counterpart.  If the stats counted toney exurbs like Starnberg, the difference would prove greater, for sure.

Though Munich houses a modest million or so inhabitants, it is a city of corporate titans.  Alliance, Siemens, BMW, M*A*N, Airbus and scores of others are based here, with many more in nearby smaller Bavarian cities.  A brace of multinationals make Munich their regional HQs—McDonald's prominent among them.  Tech start-ups and media companies, as well as both Apple and Microsoft, operate out of the city.  A mammoth airport, a lively academic community, a refined arts scene, and an enviable sub-alpine lifestyle attract them.

But there's one curious fact.

Looking at the figures in the Wikipedia link above, why do Milan and Vienna do so well?  Not only does the average Milanese account for almost twice as much wealth than a Münchener does, he generates more than a Londoner, New Yorker or Tokyoite. And a Viennese does surprisingly well, too.

What gives?  I have my theories, but none explain why a Viennese should pump seventy-one thousand bucks in to the Austrian economy every year, when a New Yorker pushes only sixty-six through America.   Has it something to do with creative-class entrepeneurs?—A San Franciscan outperforms his counterparts in London and New York, but curiously, not Washington DC.  None of them match Milan, though, whose citizens are responsible for a whopping $88,000 of wealth each, last year.  That's a lot of shoes and handbags. Armchair economists, go wild in the comments.

Munich may not be qute as rich as some of its bigger counterparts, but it hasn't yet needed to pawn the silverware.  You might find those dominoes on eBay, soon, though.

I Love You @wowiezowietuna, and Other Matters of Internet Hygiene


How about that new Twitter interface!  When composing a post, it didn't allow me to place the cursor at a point of my own choosing through the use of a mouse, but hey, let's not quibble.  It performed well enough to deliver a private Tweet from a certain @wowiezowietuna.

I'm not sure how @wowiezowietuna came into my Twitter orbit.  I followed him after he retweeted me—first because I appreciated the gesture, and second because anyone with a handle like @wowiezowietuna must be a wild and crazy guy.  Right?

Not long after, I get a private tweet from a certain Mr. Alabaster Smooth, real name Karl.  It was @wowiezowietuna.  He asked me how I got so many followers.  Here's my reply.

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Gosh, the guy is really hurting, and all I could do was sound glib.  I didn't even spend all my 140 characters.  I'm a bastard.

As of 8.08 am CET on 12 December 2011, Karl had tweeted 2,713 tweets, and they earned him a measley 12 followers.  By contrast, the Honourable Husband had published a meagre 172 tweets, and had 98 followers...hang on.  Fuck.  That dropped to 97. 

(OK, which of my Twitter followers is in prison?)

The Honourable Husband is a run-of-the-mill private user of social media.  He blogs.  He facebooks.  He tweets.  He puts his LinkedIn profile at the bottom of his emails.  He writes pompous reviews on TripAdvisor and booking.com, in the hope that hotel management will read his disgust at their flea-pits and offer free stuff to shut him up, or will read of his delight and upgrade him just to say thank you. Neither has happened.  He is uncomfortable with check-ins and geolocator services.  He's chuffed that someone invited him to A Small World.  People don't find his amazon reviews very helpful.  He's thinking about Tumblr.

On the other hand, the Honourable Husband is a communications professional, so he knows a little about the finer points of our new online universe.  But he ain't gonna tell you those.  Because the Honourable Husband's Rule #1 of social media is never blog about work.

Pleased to Meet You!

Let's look at Karl's dilemma.  Here he is, in his Twitter debut.

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Let's assume that your interest in death, Karl, is purely poetic.  If not, click here.

God is Dead. Nature is Dead. Love is Dead. What's next?  Make sure it's not you.

If you're a death-head on philospohical or aesthetic grounds, that's a different story.   Tweeting about Poetry and Death is as legit as tweeting about Britney and Kittens.  But find the right people to tweet at. 

That means go to Vienna.  

No, srsly.  The Viennese love death.  After a funeral, people go all gooey about the schöne Leich, or the beautiful corpse.  (In Austrian dialect, the words for funeral and corpse are the same.  How cool is that?) 

The recent funeral of Otto von Habsburg brought the city to a standstill, and lasted five hours.  Five. Fucking. Hours.

In over six-hundred acres, Vienna's central cemetery holds the remains of three million late residents—artist Andre Heller described it as an "aphrodisiac for necrophiles".  Families often make a day's outing at the Zentralfriedhof, enjoying the buskers and hot-dog stands, even if they don't have a particular corpse to visit.

Bestattung museum 2
One of René Magritte's Seated Coffins, in the Vienna Funeral Museum
Photo links to source.

The reason you should go to Vienna is to obey the Honourable Husband's Rule #2 of social media.  Blend your online and offline communities. 

Those online friends whom I have never met, I feel familiar with—certainly familiar enough to talk in the flesh when the opportunity arises.  Neilochka, that treasured love-child of Mike Nichols and Bennet Cerf, is one example.  We have followed each other's blogs for so long now, he even put me on a Twitter list called Dated in a Previous Life.  He makes it a point to meet his online pals in 3D, and his online community is a place of generosity and love.  The next time I'm in Orange County, we're totally going out to one of those Onion Garden places for a pizza and margaritas because that's what you Californians do, right?

Another example, the marvellous nursemyra.  Why are we online friends?  Pretty much the same reason we'd be friends if we'd met offline.  She's warm, generous with affection and praise, knows art, loves human nature, likes to tell a good story, and looks hoochie-coo in lingerie.   Nursemyra is a big fan of Magritte's coffins.  You should follow her, Karl.

She and the much-admired Daisyfae, two women of like mind, began to comment on each other's blogs.  They met in Barcelona one year, and have become regular travel companions.  Young men quake before them, hovering between awe and arousal, as the pair cougar their way across the world every couple of years.  I feel sure that when we're in the same city, we'll meet in person over a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or two.  (Being gay, I am immune to their seductive weaponry.  Ha!  Take that, you vixens!)

Karl, you should seek online friends of the same calibre, and then make them your offline friends.  But here comes the sixty-four dollar question.  Will you find them on Twitter?


Karl sent me a pertinent follow-up question.

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Obnoxious?  Twitter is perfect.

Twitter seems to bring out the worst in people.  JetBlue needs to remind followers that their Twitter feed is, in fact, not their complaints department.  The little exchange in this link is the kind of venom that fuels Twitter, and it's only interesting if you're famous.  All the @s and #s ruin the comic timing.

Who makes a success on Twitter?  Justin Halpern, that's who.  The guy behind Shit My Dad Says. 

Probably, you've seen the TV show.  But have you read the book, and the tweets?  When Halpern was tossed out by his girlfriend, he went home to live with a father who did nothing but insult and humiliate him.  If you are raised in a home like that, you become the kind of guy who...well, gets tossed out by his girlfriend and has to go home and live with his—there is no other word for it—abusive father.   In the book, Halpern breaks up the onslaught of toxic tweets with anecdotes from his childhood, even more ghastly.  The cleaned-up version of Shit My Dad Says lasted a single season on CBS, but on Twitter, it has 2.9 million followers.  Sad.

Twitter culture?  I stopped following @buzzfeed when it told me about the most extreme Bagel Bites commercial ever, and the king of Sweden watching a strip show.

Twitter holds few joys for a sensitive soul.  And you're a sensitive soul.

Karl's Tweets: A Critique.

Since you asked, here are a few suggestions. 

First, a bit of tough love. You need to think long and hard about tweets like this one:

Charming, perhaps, to the right audience.  In a Haight-Ashbury coffee shop in 1968, after 11.00 pm and three bongs.  And to the following two tweets... 
  • We don't have to be cryptic; we have to be beautiful
  • Does everything have to mean something for me to say it?
...I reply yes, yes and yes.  You might like to put aside the brown spirits when you tweet; you don't want to become a tweeting drunk.  Or as the rad kids say, a twunk.  Alcohol and Twitter, I suspect, can lead to downbeat blurts:
  • I drink to get drunk like I write to get wrote.
  • The world sucks, get over it; it always did.
  • The Bell Jar isn't depressing enough
Of-fucking-course The Bell Jar isn't depressing enough, Karl!   Get yourself into Philip Larkin.  Compared to Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath plants tulips and plays with puppies. Larkin is man-sized maudlin. 
You're in the middle of getting a liberal education.  A liberal education demands a logical analysis of highly emotional subjects.  Relentless logic will reduce everything to the absurd. 
  • Absurdity is possible because we have reasoned it so.
  • Death is the nude absurd.
  • The Absurd is an imperative for ontological purity.
  • Is the idea of the Absurd rational? Is it rational to posit that such an idea is intellectually tangible?
I, for one, have ceased to be angry that our emotional investment in the world around us—with its beauty and joy and heartache—is pointless.  I could not engage my old college buddies with the following tweets—even if I could do it in such a nice way, reminiscent of Gertrude Stein. 
  • Because I'm passionate and crazy about poetry all the same; because I want to rail against it, abrogate it and detest it and throw it away.
  • Because I'm so torn and ensconced in the dialectic of confusion. Because it's cunning and petty and grandiose and rich, lofty and lowly.
  • Because logic has utility but is the warper of logic itself. AND more of what-the-fuckness.
What-the-fuckness is an elegant and vivid way to say meaninglessness.  But however elegantly expressed, Karl, it's snoozeville as subject matter.  Everything, when you  think about it, is absurd.  That's what thinking does to things.  Mankind spent much of the second half of the twentieth century kvetching about meaninglessness.  The time has come to resurrect the meaningful.

I wouldn't go too far with the Gertrude Steiney stuff, either.   I'm still scratching my head over this:

  • I looked for you looked for you I tried to look for you and wherever you were found I tried to look for you.
  • And if you were alone I tried to look for you and were found I looked for you I did not find tried looking for you.
  • These what is becoming is becoming is looking for I tried to look for what is becoming is becoming, come.
Which brings us to the ultimate question: why should you tweet about Poetry and Death, when you could write actual verse?  Every one of the following tweets show an exquisitely observant poetic sensibility.   Each could easily make a short poem.
  • Proportioned judiciously, we eat enough to die
  • Ghosts are just doing their job
  • Antique sounds, boots clopping on concrete
  • The morning yokes everything left behind in the night
"Eating enough to die" describes so many dieters, and their relationship to food—food as both life and death feels like a theme of our times.  The images we might see in a working world of ghosts demand a poetic description; the cubicle farm as haunted house.  Who makes the antique noise, and does he know how old-fashioned his footwear makes him sound? Is the strong clop of the boot, worn mainly by men, a statement of how dated strength as a measure of masculinity has become?  I wish I could write stuff like that.

Karl, when you do land a zinger in classic Twitter style, it's highly refined.  Again, these seek to be sentences in a larger, more involving work.

  • Never say: "I'm confused," Always say: "I'm not following you."
  • Work is a Christian ploy to tire us for sex.
  • One does not always need violence and destitution to live in a terrible neighborhood.
So, Karl, if you want to get the most out of the world of social media, don't seek a Twitter following.  You're too good for that.  Poems rarely fit in 140 characters.  (Unless, of course, they're haiku.  But don't get me started on haiku.)

Get a Tumblr.   It's the perfect venue for poetry.  Use it to find a community of like-minded souls who will enrich your art.  Then seek to meet them offline.  Go for quality friends, not quantity.

And as you say in a particularly nice tweet: Do not underestimate the value of simplicity and precision. 

Didn't mean to bust your chops, Karl.  But you did ask.  All my love to you, ol' cyber-buddy. 

Pixel Perfect

IDTBM square subtle
A messy desk acts as a lightning rod for scorn from some.   Far be it from me to judge those who would spend time clearing up papers, rather than thinking of ideas to write on them. 

No scratch that.  I judge, and judge hard.  Those people can bite me. 

But something happened on Thursday January 13th 2011, the Third Annual International Day to Bite Me, which gave pause. And it goes to the heart of what the day is all about.

I made a PowerPoint presentation.   Now, a lot of people may race ahead to the conclusion that this formed part of the problem.  Not at all.  I adore PowerPoint.  My decks are like poetry; not meant to be read, but to be spoken.   They are drama.   Everybody loves them.  For the first ten minutes, anyway.

APresentation1s ever, when setting up, the audience caught a glimpse of my laptop's desktop.  It held all the electronic documents that I was working on, or using. It showed a few bits of flotsam; scratch-spreadsheets, e-books, installers that had been downloaded and used, but not discarded.  You know, the usual stuff.

One audience member saw the screen, and gasped.  "Wow", he said.

This wasn't a good wow.  It was a that-must-have-hurt wow.  A three-car-pile-up wow.  It was an I-really-wanted-to-say-fucking-hell wow. 

"Hat der Herr ein Problem?" I asked in German.  Does the gentleman have a problem?

He replied in English.  "No, no problem.  Just...um, wow."

Think about this.  If there is one desktop which needs no tidiness, it's the desktop on your computer.  If you can't find something, hit search.  It can be anywhere, and you'll find it. 

But my colleague didn't get that far.  His hindbrain jerked his instincts.  It conflated the normal disorder of the active workbench, with dangerous chaos. 

Now there are some people with those instincts, and some not. I don't have those instincts to any great degree.  For me, the actual work is of more importance than the form it takes.

And real work takes mess; on yourdesk, on your desktop, in the library, on your workbench, in your kitchen, under your car, in your legislature. 

And that's what the International Day to Bite Me celebrates.  Actual work getting done, thoughts being thought, deals being closed and fun being had.

When somebody sneers at your desk tomorrow, tell them to bite you.   When someone sneers a your parking, tell them to bite you.  When someone sneers at your kitchen, tell them to bite you.  Then tell us on the IDTBM home page. Or the IDTBM facebook event page.   Or tweet about it with the tag #bitemeday.

Make us say "wow".   In a good way.

Photo Friday: Cars

Mercedes Benz Museum 057
Designers try to make cars look sexy.  And the sexiest car looks even sexier if you can show it in a tryst. 

Though not as famous as the gull-wing SL of the fifties, the original Mercedes-Benz SLR (Sport Leicht Rennwagen, or Sport Light Racing Car) was devoted to victory on the track.  It helped Stirling Moss make his name.   And it is a thing of beauty into the bargain.

Mercedes Benz Museum 057
Mercedes Benz Museum 057
In 1954, the Mercedes-Benz Rennabteilung (Racing Department)  designed a transporter around the car.   You can see that the racer doesn't rise above the roofline of the cab; a veritable vehicular cuddle.  Seldom do we see such automotive intimacy.  From the rear, the two vehicles even resemble each other.

Mercedes Benz Museum 057
The truck itself was no slouch in the performance stakes.  It could reach over 160 kph (100 mph).   This, the racing department argued, would let the team reach the track earlier for more prep time.  (Hat-tip to car photographer Chris Wevers for that tidbit.)

In fact, the odd looks of the transporter attract almost as much interest as its glamourous cargo.  The playful bermuda-shorts interior shouts 1954, doesn't it?

Mercedes Benz Museum 057

By the way, this week's Photo Friday challenge is deceptively difficult.   Cars are all shiny surfaces, rather like shooting a mirror. 

That's why this post shows two different SLRs.  The transporter and its cargo sit in a bright, windowed room in the Mecedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart; we see patches of white burnout everywhere on the car bodies.  The picture at the top was taken in a darker, windowless room with controlled light.  It's a street version of the SLR.  That means it sports turn signals, and a grille without the structural reinforcement of a lamella. 

A lamella, by the way, is a technical term for a bar which goes from one side of the car grille to the other.  It has its origins in biology, where it can refer to a ridge on the skin or elsewhere; technically, fingerprints are made up of lamellae.  A surprisingly useful word in car-talk.

An important disclaimer:  Daimler is a client of the company I work for, and my duties include services to them.  This post, though, expresses my own private views, and does not represent my client in any official capacity. 


I Like Selbstgemacht


Kid: "In America our fridges are way bigger. Our steaks too. And you can buy potato salad ready-made". American Dad: "WOW.  We can't buy anything so delicious!"  German hostess: "Not here, either. It's home made."  American Dad: "I like home-hade!"  Announcer: "Season it with a little Whip"

Cultural decode:

  • Americans are addicted to convenience food and have forgotten how to cook
  • Americans talk too much about America when abroad
  • Americans are cowboys who play baseball.
  • Many Americans speak heavily accented, but grammatically-correct, German.
  • Germans are more tasteful, dignified and restrained, and have a quiet, generous tolerance of others when they say something foolish.

Fair and accurate?  Deplorable stereotyping?  Go wild in the comments.

The Third Annual International Day to Bite Me, January 13.

Clean desk loafing
Look at the photo above.  What do you see? 

Here's what I see.  A clean desk.  And absolutely no work being done!

It astonishes me when self-righteous neat-freaks suggest that a desk with no sign of work upon it shows more evidence of industry than a desk which looks like it's actually used.

That's why the second Monday in January—National Clean Off Your Desk Day—gets my goat.

In 2009, Deutschland über Elvis declared an anti-holiday in response.  The International Day to Bite Me occurs every January 13, and celebrates a number of things. 

It celebrates creativity, thoughtfulness, and humanity.  It celebrates a temperate and relaxed order to one's life, as opposed to an obsessive quest for absolute control over everything that happens around you.   It empowers you to resist, when others tout their neuroses as virtues.


First, choose your target.  When they nag you, let'er rip.  Then  go to the Official International Day to Bite Me Page, and leave a comment.  Let us hear your stinging riposte. Tell us who you told off.  How did they take it? 

If you're feeling really riled up, you might like to post a story on your own blog.  Or show your support on the IDTBM facebook event page.

And you can get into practice for the big event on January 7.  It's I'm Mad as Hell and I'm Not Going to Take It Any More Day.  The perfect warm-up, wouldn't you agree?

Time to Flex Your Middle Finger.


The second annual International Day to Bite Me has arrived!  It's your day to flip the bird at the small-minded, the petty, the unreasonable, the insufferable.  Tell us your story in the comments, or you can blog about it, and link back here.

Whales and Dolphins are Delicious!

And to put you in the mood, here's the Tokyo Choir of Complaint.  I'm not sure whether they should bite us, or they want us to bite them.  No matter.  It's splendid discontent, if a little too polite. 

By the way, the government forbids the Complaints Choir of Singapore from performing in public.  Sounds like they need a National Bite Me Day, real bad.

I refuse to participate in your neurosis

Bite me woman

The second Monday in January, is special.  The day-declaring people declared it National Clean Off Your Desk Day.

Odd.  Studies, they say, show people with messy desks are as productive as those with tidy ones.  Perhaps even moreso, if they produce thinking

People use their desks to park information they may need, but which they can't keep top of mind.  Getting people to clean up their desk gives them, according to one expert, an "environmental lobotomy".

Yet companies still enforce clean-desk rules. And a veritable industry has grown up around getting people neat and organised. 

Last year, I was so outraged at National Clean Off Your Desk Day, that I declared the following day, January 13th, as National Bite Me Day.

Because it's about more than a messy desk, IMHO.

People make moral judgements about slobs.  Slobs obviously have more important things to do than clean their desks.  They might use the time to think beautiful, original thoughts.  Do you know how uncomfortable that makes the world's meddlers, busybodies, control-freaks and Calvinists? 

Be alert to those who pass off their own hangups as "helpful". Or just plain better.

This issue is about people with nothing better to do who seek to foist whatever it is on you that they have nothing better to do than.  (Hey, grammar police!  Suck on THAT.)


Refuse to accept someone else's emotional agenda.  Draw a boundary.  Don't let them bully you, with bogus arguments about what's best, what's right, what's more efficient, what's pretty, what's nice, what's necessary. Your emotional comfort is as important as theirs. Say so. 

Afterwards, leave a comment.  Let us hear your stinging riposte. Tell us who you told off.  How did they take it?  Not that you, like, care.

Click on the twink-link to your right to get the full story, or on this page.

You might like to post about it on your own blog, and link back to here.  You'll find some (if I do say so myself) cool graphics here, should you clever webophiles want to use them as a hotlink.  I've already paid the royalties on the images, which was rather well organised of me. Don't you think?

Park[ing] Day 2009


In 2005, San Francisco design collective Rebar declared the first annual Park[ing] Day.  In a gesture designed to liberate our streets from the scourge of the parked car, citizens claim a metered spot and turn it into a public park of the human sort; a place where ordinary people can interact.    In the words of the founders, Park[ing] Day is "intended to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play."

Groovy Munich communications agency Büro Gelb decamped from their offices on nearby Einsteinstraße to take part.  One of their staffers explained the creative rationale behind Gelb's 2009 Park[ing] Day concept. "Usually, most Park[ing] Day parks have trees and greenery.  We thought that was very predictable."  He then used an English word which I hear a lot in translation, when discussing high-concept affairs. "We wanted to do something unseen."

Germans, as has been observed, pursue irony with a passion.  Parking a car in a park which is supposed to reclaim the street from parked cars could do one of two things: 

  • Make a brilliantly ironic statement about the role of motorised transport in our lives and culture. 
  • Completely miss the point.

What do you think?