Back To The Fifties

Read ’em and weep. You thought the days of the ‘long-haired layabout’ were gone? Not in the great city of Flint, Michigan. I can just picture crew-cut police officers in starched uniforms rolling through the ‘hoods of Flint with the patrol car searchlight in their hands, looking for anyone wearing the wrong kind of clothing. The Clean Street Patrol for God and Nation.

This must be the quote of the year. Experts and other cities have said the “bare your britches look” reflects laziness… Laziness, now that’s a crime. Round ’em up and send ’em to Gitmo’s what I sez! and encourages gang activities.

It does what now? Gang activities? So let me get this straight. Poverty does not encourage gang activities. Hopelessness does not encourage gang activities. Drugs don’t encourage gang activities. The ‘projects’, ‘lower living’ (thank you Ice Cube) do not encourage gang activity. Hell no, Compton was a nature preserve for bunny rabbits (and thanks again, Ice Cube) before them saggers came along, right? It’s all just a matter of time before saggers start appearing in Bel Air or Beverly Hills. Man, those rich kids in their villas are so ready to join gangs. All it takes is a guy wearing his pants too low for them to turn against the neighbourhood drug store. Word up.

Of course, having a bunch of city officials with their heads firmly wedged up their asses, blaming everything but the cause, doesn’t encourage gang activities either. But it won’t help halting it, that’s for sure.

(Thanks to Harald V. for the link)

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On Lunchboxes And The WTA Upskirt Parade

I remember British athlete Linford Christie and I remember that there was much to do about his ‘lunchbox’ – some press people had deemed it necessary to comment on the man’s genitals, highly visible in his lycra track gear. It was inappropriate, Christie shouldn’t be distracted by all that, he was a serious sportsman – what were these press hounds thinking? The case even went to court.

How different is the treatment that top female tennis players get. Anna Sharapova may have been beaten straight off the centercourt this week by an unknown fellow Russian, but pictures of her – and especially her ‘revealing’ outfit (The Guardian) – graced the internet pages of lots of newspapers. And whereas the TV audience gets the usual view of the court from high above and behind one of the players, photographers all seem to have their cameras on hip height – when there’s ladies on the court, that is. And the shutters click especially when the Sharapovas or the Ivanovices of this world are lifting their little skirts or shorts to get a new ball. Lifting their skirts – now that’s 1950s ooh-la-la titillation for you. So how is it that talking about Christie’s lunchbox merits a court case, while the constant, incessant sexualization of female tennis is totally accepted?

Track gear as worn by Christie is, after such abominations as  speedskating suits, perhaps the least glamourous of all sports gear. It’s made with performance in mind rather than looks and consequently it’s not for sale in any old clothing shop like football jerseys or tennis shorts. And therin lies the catch, of course. Little blonde girls like Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova or hard-bodied sportswomen like former German star Steffi Graf wearing the latest, street-wearable Nike or Adidas outfits boost sales, while athletes like the charming Belgian sprint cannon Kim Gevaert by comparison don’t succeed in making the slightest bulge in the sales graphs.

Think about that. Gevaert’s gear is made with performance in mind and Sharapova’s gear is made with fashion and sales in mind. Gevaert may eek out a living from running around stadiums and Sharapova doesn’t need to work at all anymore. Gevaert is in the sports business while Sharapova, an athletic and highly skilled sportswoman in her own right, is in the fashion business.

I think it’s about time for WTA tennis players (and their male colleagues, by the way) to start wearing clothing made to perform, like all other serious sportsmen and -women do. Maybe that’s one way to force the one-track minds of the newspapers’ photo editors into another direction – that of sports, not upskirts. It’s not even too unlikely that soon one player in this highly competitive game will appear who chooses performance gear over flapping skirts and pointless frills. Let’s hope she will be a winner.

[For all those who come here looking for upskirts, I removed all the links.]

Teach Them Freedom

Education in the Netherlands has, since the days of what we refer to as the School Struggle in the early 20th Century, been a complicated affair. Public schools and schools on a religious basis get the same state funding and have to comply with the same regulations regarding curriculum. What seemed like a good idea then, with just Jews, Catholics and Protestants in the country, is becoming more of a problem now. One Christian lawmaker tried to get a debate on the merits of creationism off the ground, and some Islamic schools have found to be at odds with the regulations. Now it is revealed that on some unofficial (unsubsidized) ‘Sunday’ schools, connected to mosques, pupils are subjected to violent teachers and to anti-western teachings (link, in Dutch).

The Dutch Minister for Integration, Ella Vogelaar (PvdA / Dutch Labour), wants to resolve this problem by allowing lessons in Islam to be taught at public schools, in direct competition with the Sunday schools. It’s nothing new really – I had extracurricular lessons in religion on my public school as well. But it won’t work. Those Muslims interested in more fiery notions of Islam will simply not send their kids to lessons approved by the Dutch government, much like Jehovah’s Witnesses are sending their kids to public schools to avoid them hearing the ‘wrong’ teachings in Protestant schools.

Religion, according to me, is a private affair. You teach your kids about your almighty being of choice at home if you must. I fail to see why believers ask the state to help them indoctrinate their kids – the state is not supposed to have a religion or to forward religions at all. So let’s be done with all those Protestant schools which refuse to hire gays, those Catholic schools full of crucifixes and those Muslim schools which try so hard to insert Islam into every lesson. Public, state funded schools should be devoid of religion.

Furthermore I propose an emphasis on freethinking. Teach those kids about Galilei and the Inquisition, teach them that thinking outside the box is a good and admirable thing, and teach them how blindly obliging to some leader or other invariably leads to mayhem. History provides us with enough examples. Add some philosophy classes – Dutch schools hardly touch that subject and I would have loved to fill that gap in my knowledge. But by all means, teach them to challenge what they hear and read. Teach them freedom of thought.

I know – parents will object that that undercuts their freedom to raise their kids in accordance with their own tradition. They won’t say it of course, but they will claim the freedom to raise kids in a non-free manner. And they can, for all I care. In their spare time.

As for the Sunday schools with the violence and the rhetoric: there are laws for that. Investigate, prosecute, and be done with it. The incident-based policies of Vogelaar, emblematic of current Dutch politics, are not going to help anyone.

Lost In Translation

Once, long ago, I talked to a self-confessed movie lover from Germany and the first thing I asked him was what he thought about the ridiculous practice of overdubbing foreign movies with German dialogue, spoken by German voice actors. He thought that subtitles ‘spoiled the imagery’ and my retort – that voice dubbing spoiled the acting – was whisked away with all the arrogance of someone who knows he wouldn’t be able to follow movies in any other language than German: acting wasn’t that important.

Well alright then, try listening to Good Morning Vietnam’s Adrian Cronauer doing his routine of very very very American jokes for the Armed Forces Radio Service in Vietnam – in Italian. You can’t translate that and I should know, because translating is what I do when I am not writing blogs. And so… they don’t translate. They are desperately trying to stuff some of their own jokes into that onslaught of hi-speed comedy Robin Williams reportedly ad-libbed. Most translators are not half as funny as Robin Williams – hell I am not even mildly funny when I quote the man directly. So this is what happens when Cronauer talks about former Vice President Richard Nixon to his antagonist, Lieutenant Hauk, who loves abbreviations like a true Army man:

Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the VP is such a VIP, shouldn’t we keep the PC on the QT, ’cause if it leaks to the VC he could end up an MIA, and then we’d all be put on KP.

Now that makes perfect sense when you spell out the abbreviations: Seeing as how the Vice President is such a Very Important Person, shouldn’t we keep the Press Conference a secret because if it leaks to the Viet Cong he could end up Missing In Action and we would all be put on Kitchen Patrol (mess-hall duty). The joke only works because it makes sense. Not so in Italian.

S.O.S. Signore. Se l’ex VP ha un tale DNA, non dovremmo tenere la CS fuori TV? Perché senza questo ABC avremmo alla gola l’H2O o peggio il DDT dal KGB.

In English: S.O.S. Sir. If the ex-VP has such DNA, shouldn’t we keep the PC off of TV? Because without that ABC we’d have H2O up to our throats, or worse, DDT from the KGB.

More than something got lost there – I highly doubt if anyone ever laughed at that. Surely, subtitles would be hard to write for this movie as well. Probably harder still, because there’s the added hurdle of peoples’ reading speed to take. But a lot of people do understand at least parts of the original dialogue and they are better off for it. In Germany, in Italy, in France and in a number of other countries however, you’re denied that chance unless you get the DVD.

At age 10 or 11, before I’d ever learned any English, I could quote The Dukes of Hazzard and I was well aware of what I was saying. Granted, I always did have a knack for languages, but I sure wasn’t the only one who could say ‘You got your ears on, little buddy?’ – complete with Southern drawl. (It’s surprising that I later learned how to speak with a fairly British pronunciation, come to think of it.) I really believe that using subtitles instead of voice-overs helps children a lot when learning English. Here in Italy they get English in school right from the get-go at six, but most people wouldn’t know how to buy a loaf of bread in London or New York. It’s improving, but very very slowly. Let’s speed up the process and get rid of voice-overs. Older Italians will hate it, nationalists will cry havoc and, like in France, some will fear Americanization of our culture. But please… DDT from the KGB?

Nailing Your Theses To The Church Door

Wasn’t it great, that time before the Internet came along? You went to the local pub to hear menacing rants about foreigners and you went to the local incense-burning volunteer scene to hear all about the marvels of Tibetan singing bowl therapy. And if you wanted to spread your opinion about how the European Union is a vast conspiracy aimed at the “Islamisation” of the Old World, well, then you had to go to the local school or church and ask if you could use their stencilling machine. Or, less archaicly, to the copyshop. Consequently, you never succeeded in spreading your wisdom beyond a small circle of people who were already aware of your latent idiocy anyway. No harm done.

But these days you just make a website and spread the word. Your readers don’t know you – I could be writing these pages from a computer in the looney department of the local hospital, or from a swamp hut in southern Alabama with a shotgun on my lap to empty at any trespassers. Maybe I have a swastika tattood in my neck, maybe I have a long beard and a spot on my forehead, worn out from praying to Mecca – there’s no way for you to know. Yes, there’s a picture of me in the About section, or is that just a portrait I lifted from Flickr to look credible? (No, it’s not – to look credible I would have chosen one without sunglasses.)

Ah, you say, but there are just about a gazillion blogs out there so you are still a lonely voice in a sea of lonely voices, and so it’s just like it was when you were the village idiot. But then you’re forgetting about Google. I can find like-minded blogs all over the world in a second, leave my replies there to generate some traffic to The Edge of Europe and thus create a community of people with more or less the same opinion. Dissenting voices don’t exist in that group – we just delete those comments and create the illusion that everyone agrees with us. Call it a popular movement, start crying about the lack of attention from the biased media (whichever bias you want to blame them of), and you’re good to go.

And that’s not all – Google also works for you on the readers’ side. Even if a million Luthers would have nailed 95 million theses to church doors all over Germany, it could never have had the impact that the Internet is beginning to have, because there would have been no way for the people to sift through all those theses just to find what they were looking for. But we don’t need to read about the persecution of the Jews when we are looking for texts about the dangers of Islamic immigration – we can skip all that and go straight to the pages where radical solutions are proposed. History and it’s lessons, learned commentary, critical voices needn’t bother us at all. Better still – use the right search words and all that doesn’t even exist anymore.

The Internet, for most people, doesn’t mean having the world at their fingertips. Most people, it seems, are happy to just find longer and deeper tunnels which fit their own vision. And so some very unlikely alliances have sprung up, like a European network of people who generally consider foreigners to be lesser humans (think about that one to realise the absurdity of it). The consequences are that no government can take a decision, however well-meant and thought through, without millions decrying it, connecting conspiracy theories to it or heaping unproven allegations upon it. The world has become a neighbourhood bar, but this time everyone is listening to the drunk in the corner and his incoherent ranting. And they all bask in the warm glow that this community feeling is giving them. They’re understood, they’re home, they’re with someone who voices their own negative opinion. They are not challenged to think anymore, and they’re much stronger than they ever were. The impact of this is already being felt, and my guess is that it will readically change our world – and not for the better. The phrase “the winter of our discontent” springs to mind.

(Of course, anti-immigration groups are just one example and this blog might as well have been centered around radical leftwing action groups, fundamentalist Islam, 9/11 conspiration theorists, etcetera. Yes, there’s a spot for every village idiot on the Web.)

It’s Not “Just Music”

Anyone who has ever seen even a slightly scary movie understands that music is responsible for a large part of your emotional reaction to it. A clip of children playing in the surf is nothing, it’s not even worth watching for longer than five seconds – until the Jaws theme is played under it. If you don’t believe me, pull a horror DVD from your collection and watch how someone walks through a house and opens a door – with the sound off. I’m quite sure you’ll prefer to watch Oprah instead.

Music has that power and the film industry has used it to it’s fullest, combining images and sound so that innocent pictures turn into hair-raising experiences. The opposite works just as well. Pictures of 1960s Vietnam set to polka music (as per Good Morning Vietnam) make the whole war seem a silly affair: the strictly utilitarian, ugly, olive green Mitsubishi jeeps used in the movie suddenly become comical, wobbly vehicles. Director Barry Levinson knew very well what he was doing. Music is a very powerful tool indeed.

And that’s why I am surprised that in an article in today’s Guardian musicians mainly play down the effects of music when played extremely loud to Guantánamo prisoners. Never mind Metallica frontman James Hetfield’s comments – he seems to think his fans are still fourteen years old and still believe in his tough guy shtick. No, even Bob Singleton, the clasically trained composer of the theme of Barney the Dinosaur, an unlikely torture song alongside the metal and rap tracks of Guantánamo, doesn’t see it. “[W]e’re not talking about dynamite or nuclear devices here. Music is just music,” he says.

It strikes me as rather odd that someone whose career is music, can so easily dismiss the effects of it. I can very well imagine Stephen King using that Barney tune in one of his movies and I’m sure that Singleton can as well. Just play it to some scenes shot in a concentration camp or during a bombardment – I know that’s a sickening thought, but that’s just the point. And I can imagine wishing for that ‘nuclear device’ after a few hours of Barney played at full volume – especially under Guantánamo conditions.

However, where big pop acts are blatantly absent from the duty roster for gigs for the troops (The Lloyd Dobler Effect, anyone?), apparently rejecting the wars the US is entangled in, they clamp up when it gets really too close for comfort, unwilling even to find out if the US Marines are paying for the privilege of performing their tunes to an involuntary audience.

The days of Country Joe McDonald and the Fish are long gone. Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn. Indeed.

Oh Look, It’s A Chimp – TV Ads In Italy

In a country where a man in an oversized Muppet suit presents a show for adults, maybe it’s too much to expect well-made television ads. And maybe I am spoiled, because Dutch ads are usually quite funny and original. But Italy is said to be the country of fashion and style, with a great cinematographic history to boot.

There is so much more TV advertising here than in Holland, and there is so much less quality and humour. We seem stuck somewhere in the early seventies. Mobile phone provider Wind treats us to three men in vulture suits: ‘Watch out or I’ll call my nephew. He’s twice as big as me: El Condor Pasa.’ Apparently this is a famous comic trio. Class act, that.

Another all-time classic is an animated blob with an incredibly irritating squeaky voice: it’s a sodium particle in a bottle of Acqua Lete mineral water. That’s right, mineral water, and they succeeded in making an ad in true washing powder fashion. All that lacks is a piece of animated cloth with magically disappearing stains. Now that’s reaching for the skies – trying to imitate a washing powder ad.

The absolute low point is reached by 1240, a telephone number inquiry service. They use the oldest weapon in the book of movie comedy and it really guarantees howls of laughter every time you see it. A chimp in a shirt. And beware – that cheesy tune will get stuck in your brain.

But it’s not all bad. Barattolino Sammontana ice cream brings us two incredibly British guys, straight from Windsor Castle, discussing the delicate taste of their chocolaty treat – in flawless Tuscany dialect. The tagline is then delivered in Italian with a heavy British accent: Good taste speaks Italian. At least that made me giggle before I switched off the damn set.