Piercing the Shields of Icelandic Homosexuals

Sadly, the late website Stuff White People Like (dogs, roller derby, TED talks, the World Cup, black music that black people don't listen to anymore) lives on only as a kind of never-updated Internet ghost ship. If it were still active, one of the best candidates for a new entry would be testing medieval weapons. The internet now abounds with videos of middle-aged white men testing out halberds, cross-bows, murder holes, and various other instruments of medieval mayhem. As a middle-aged white male, I confess to scoping a few of these with interest: The ancient way sing in my blood, as well!

Here's a recent video from Hurstwic, a Massachusetts-based martial-arts school which specializes in recreating weapons and battles described in Icelandic Sagas: 

As the video amply shows, these white people are Not Screwing Around -- there are interviews with Icelandic professors and other Icelanders, in an attempt to recreate conditions as faithfully as possible.

A recent video was a bit more unpreposessing. Here, we see Steve the Beer-Guzzler shooting arrows at Doug, Merciless Conqueror of the Sprinkler System, who attempts to protect himself with an authentic Icelandic shield: 

Hurstwic comments: "We’ve been curious about swimmers using their shields to protect their backs (such as Björn in Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa)."

I looked up this saga on Wikipedia, where I stumbled across this startling revelation:

It is notable for a passage that appears to describe a man being found to possess primitive pornography; a woodcutting depicting anal sex between two men.

Þess er nú við getið að hlutur sá fannst í hafnarmarki Þórðar er þvígit vinveittlegra þótti. Það voru karlar tveir og hafði annar hött blán á höfði. Þeir stóðu lútir og horfði annar eftir öðrum. Það þótti illur fundur og mæltu menn að hvorskis hlutur væri góður þeirra er þar stóðu og enn verri er fyrir stóð.

Translation:

Now it is mentioned that an item was found amongst the possessions Thordur left behind at shore, an item that was no more friendly. It was two men, and one bore a blue hat on his head. They were leaning over and one was looking over from behind the other. This was considered a terrible find and all were agreed that both parties seen standing there were in a bad position, but the one in front a much worse position still.

Well, I suppose that depends on your preferences, doesn't it? In any case, this proves the pen really is mightier than the sword. Thordur the man is long gone, but 'Thordur the Shirt-Lifter' (forebear of Tom of Finland?) will never be forgotten.

I can't find any attempts by these groups to authentically recreate Thordur's Woodcut. Maybe I'm searching the wrong websites.


German Word of the Week: Hä?

Ahh, German women. What can you say about them? On average, they tend to be clean, orderly, practical, tallish, amply-chested, of normal weight, with shoulder-length straight hair, and less heavily-tattooed than their sisters to the North, at least for now. They also really like to attach tiny stuffed animals to the zippers on their backpacks.

There, was that inoffensive enough? 

But enough of flimsy stereotypes and ignorant generalizations. One thing that German women, and only German women do, is say "hä?". The sound of this is about halfway between the English "heh" and "Hey!". It's an exclamation, said as a reaction to something the woman finds distasteful or implausible. It's universally accompanied by an unflattering grimace. Its meaning is basically: WTF?

But good writer not tell, he show.

So here's a hä? caught in the wild. This is 2 seconds from a recent commentary by German TV host Anja Reschke:

We'll ignore the substance, as we so often do on this blog. What's important is that Reschke has just summarized an argument she disagrees with, and inserted her very own hä? to show her disgust. Let's have a closer look at that expression:
Hae

The hä? is the German answer to American vocal fry -- a speech pattern that is almost exclusively female. I've only ever seen men do it when imitating women.

The hä? seems to be unique to Germany. In fact, it's one of the first thing people notice about German women, once they get to know them well enough to see them drop a hä? Once, at a party, I had the chance to watch a French man react to his first hä?, which was delivered with gusto by a sozzled German co-ed.

He instinctively backed up and dragged me with him, saying: "Oh my God, she's about to throw up!"


Cities Which Don't Punish Human Nature

Dutch pissoirs, which reduce problems with public urination. Some of them even retract into the ground outside peak hours. There are many of these in Germany as well.

This is one of the reasons Northern Europe has the most livable cities in the world -- because they are easy to live in. In so many other cities, if you have to take a leak, this begins a desperate search for nearby cafes. The cafe owners are well aware you might just want to piss there, and will be guarding the bathrooms like hawks. Wait staff apparently go through a rigorous training program to detect and deter bathroom walk-ins. Some of the cafe owners decide to profit from the situation, locking their bathrooms (or stationing a beefy Slavic chambermaid in front of the entrance, which amounts to the same thing) and charging you 50 cents.

So what do you do? You do what any normal male human would, you find a secluded spot, and bleed the lizard. 

The typical response to public urination outside Northern Europe is camera surveillance, increased police patrols, Draconian penalties, and/or public humiliation. This might be necessary to protect sensitive buildings, but it also applies to even relatively harmless pissing beside a garbage dumpster. There are no public bathrooms even in the areas where people are constantly drinking and walking. The city is designed in such a way as to make it impossible to follow the law, and then, when people predictably don't, the law is made ever more intrusive and coercive. No account is taken of human frailty or weakness.

This is not to say that public urination isn't a problem. Rampant public urination is nasty, unhygienic, and fosters a dangerous sense of social decay. Many states are too disorganized or underfunded to even address a relatively insignificant problem like this, and it shows.

The Dutch, with their pragmatism, simply build human frailty into their calculation. They understand that it's humiliating to citizens and visitors to make them run an obstacle course or fork over money just because they have to pee. This is just another way in which Dutch cities aren't designed to extract the maximum amount of cash and work from the people who live in them, but to actually offer them safe, comfortable, affordable places to work, play, and live. People like getting high and are gonna do it anyway, so in the Netherlands, they can if they want. People like screwing and are gonna do it anyway, so in the Netherlands, they can pay for sex. People are gonna need to pee, so let them do it in comfort and privacy. 

It's all so simple, once you think about it.


Allahu Akbar, Mr. Muffinpaws

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(source)

There are around 600 so-called "dangerous persons" (g) (Gefährder) living in Germany. These are people on an official government watch list because they're considered at high risk of committing terrorist attacks or other acts of violence. Most of them are Islamists. Some of them are in custody, others are not, some are under strict surveillance, others aren't. As with a lot of things in Germany, it's complicated.

In February of this year, German cops raided one of these men. He was a foreign national from "country N" (I'll presume Nigeria), born and raised in Germany, now a radical Islamist. He wanted to join up with ISIS in Syria, but couldn't manage the funds and paperwork, so he mulled over attacks in Germany with his chat partner, Abdullah K. who either was or pretended to be an ISIS recruiter.

The opinion (g) of the Federal Administrative Court authorizing his deportation lists the possible targets identified in these chats: stabbing police officers, building a car bomb, attacking a "university party or gay parade", attacking people in a pedestrian zone with a kitchen knife or car bomb, throwing stones from a highway bridge, or driving a car or truck into a crowd. In messages marked by truly shitty spelling, our nice Nigerian friend went on for pages and pages about how it was necessary to set Germany "in flames", spread "fear", "we can do more damage here at home", etc.

To prove he wasn't as dangerous as all that, his lawyers tried a novel defense:

The danger posed by the applicant is not contradicted by the fact that he recently acquired a young cat, since the symbol of the cat is an Islamically-justified expression of masculine tenderness and Salafist fighters from the West, in particular have used cats to convey the message of the masculinity of Jihadis. (see Dr. Mariella Ourghi, Ideas of Masculinity Among Salafists, Website of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation)

And here is what Ms. Ourghi has to say (g):

In 2014, we encountered a new aspect of the presentation of Jihadi masculinity, observed mainly among militants from the West. They present themselves in videos giving sweets to children, which is intended to express caring affection. Even more frequently, they post photos of themselves hugging and petting cats. The symbol of a cat as a sign of masculine tenderness in Islam is explained by the fact that the Prophet Muhammad and his companion Abu Huraira (literally "Father of the kitten") were known to be cat-lovers. The fact that it is primarily fighters socialized in the West who used cat photos appears not to be coincidental, since it corresponds to modern conceptions of masculinity in the West. One part of this is that most women today view tenderness and affection as an important part of a fulfilled relationship, and demands this from men.... Posing with cats therefore is aimed at potential marriage candidates, to convey the image of an affectionate lover in addition to that of strong masculinity.

German intelligence, if you're reading this blog (which would be flattering), I admit that I have two cats. However, I swear I'm a peaceful guy. Please don't deport me back to the USA -- can you really call it a safe country of origin?


"Cartoon Rabbits in Nazi Uniforms"

Fascism in the ranks of adults who dress up like animals. Is nothing sacred?

The war began when a fascist party and its armband-clad leader led a putsch. Antifascists mobilized in response. Threats of violence ensued.

Then the Rocky Mountain Fur Con canceled all future events.

The Fur Con is an annual summit in Denver, Colorado, for “furries,” people who present themselves as animals, from donning full-body fur suits to adopting “fursonas” for their character. And just as in the rest of America, a lot of furries resemble Nazis lately....

Fascist furries are nothing new, but until recently, “they were rare individuals who were more interested in uniform fetish than espousing Nazi ideology,” Deo, another furry told The Daily Beast.

But the rise of the alt-right has ushered in the #AltFurry, a hashtag under which right-leaning furries can organize, and the uninitiated can encounter more cartoon rabbits in Nazi uniform than they possibly expected to see in their lifetimes.

"Right-leaning furries."

Also this:

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The Audits Suck, But The Food's Tasty

Here's a screenshot of the Google entry for the Düsseldorf-South tax headquarters:

Order your tax office

The tax bureaucrats get only 2.3 stars? Sounds like a certain ungrateful city on the Rhine could use a lot more tax audits to boost morale.

But what's more surprising: At the bottom there's a link to the meal-delivery service lieferando! Click on it (g), and you find that Düsseldorf's tax bureaucrats will be happy to whip up some vegan sweet potato curry, chia pudding with chocolate, or a Japanese teriyaki plate.


The Simple Joy of Bashing A Culture

Mystery of the Missing Million from Phil Rees on Vimeo.

Germans love Japan. I live in Düsseldorf, home to one of the largest Japanese expat communities in Europe, and it shows. There's an annual Japan Day, a cultural institute (the Eko-Haus) -- complete with temple, garden, bell, and a traditional Japanese house -- and excellent Japanese food everywhere you turn.

When I visited Japan, most of the other tourists seemed to be from Northern Europe. Like me, they all raved about the discreet hospitality, the cleanliness, the attention to detail, the love of traditional handicrafts, the organization, the quiet, the world-class museums, the excellent fresh food everywhere, and all the many other things that make Japan such an intense pleasure to visit (seriously, drop everything and go now). Northern Europeans have an instinctive preference for cleanliness, order, and discretion, and they immediately sense they are among kindred spirits in the Japanese. And if you think that's a crude generalization based on outdated national stereotypes, loosen up. We're not in a seminar room here.

But of course these are only surface impressions. They obscure two central facts: First, many of the things cultured Europeans love about Japan (the tea ceremony, Noh theatre, Kabuki) are like organ music in Europe: followed only by a tiny, graying minority of aficionados.

Second, Japanese society overall is in long, possibly near-terminal decline.

Which brings us to an interesting 2007 book about Japan written by an American journalist who spent years there: Shutting Out The Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation (book excerpt and interview here). The first part of the book deals with the bizarre Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori: young people, 80% male, who simply drop out of society altogether. They cannot take the pressure to conform, the endless high-stakes testing, the cram schools, the bitter rivalry to get into the best colleges, and the myriad other pressures of Japanese life. 

So they simply drop out, like Bartleby. They retire to a room in their parents' house, and never leave. They usually change their sleep schedule to stay inside during the day and leave, if at all, only at night. They don't go to school, don't work, just sketch or read or play video games or watch porn. Their parents allow them to stay and provide them with food and other necessities, and often cover up the fact that their son or daughter has become a recluse to save face.

The defining factor of hikikomori is that they're not mentally ill. They are also usually of above-average intelligence, since it is these children who are under the most pressure to perform. Usually, their reclusion starts after some stinging failure (failed exam, university rejection, bullying) along the assembly-line route of school-college-job. These people have simply decided to reject a society which they see as forcing them through a bunch of meaningless and terrifying hoops, all in service to a failing and irrelevant social model which nobody seems to be able to change. Estimates are that there are between 500,000 and a million hikikomori in Japan. The consensus seems to be that this precise phenomenon happens only in Japan.

The author, Michael Zielenziger (who speaks Japanese) interviews a number of hikikomori and the counselors and psychologists who try to help them. What's refreshing about his book is that Z pulls no punches. He obviously likes the Japanese, has enormous admiration for their many achievements as a society. He's not simply spewing a rant, he backs up many of his assertions with interviews, statistics, and other staples of good journalism. And many of the harshest indictments come from Japanese themselves. But still, to use an appropriately American phrase, he tears Japan a new asshole

American and Japanese psychologists have demonstrated that when faced with a social situation they do not like, Americans readily try to influence others to change their behavior. Japanese, by contrast, are far more likely to adjust their own behavior to the demands others make upon them, to accommodate the wishes of the collective....

The group harmony this homogeneous people struggled so obsessively to achieve—through the pressure to conform, the resistance to criticism, the repression of dissenters, and a desperate, almost pathological need to keep “outsiders” at bay—carried a dark and destructive seed. Not only did this system seriously constrain individuality to the point of “infantilizing” many of it own people, effectively robbing them of their own identities; it also stripped the nation of its ability to adjust to the unforeseen changes in the world and in business practices that the inexorable process of globalization was now stirring up. Until this moment, Japan had been able to appropriate the trappings of the modern world without creating for itself a critical consciousness, a truly democratic sensibility, or a vision of how a “unique” people might interact easily and equally with the rest of the world. “The essence of Japan is to have no essence,” one famous Japanese political scientist concluded, arguing Japanese had never learned to properly differentiate between the instrumental and the ideal. His society, he said, was like a pot crammed with octopus, unable to discern a world separate from its own outsized tentacles. By analogy, he suggested, Western societies, where Judeo-Christian values had taken hold, or the Chinese culture, where Confucianism remains central, more resembled the sort of whisk broom used in a traditional tea ceremony, in which a sturdy, unitary wooden base splays itself into a finely separated tip, with space for each long and articulated tine of bamboo fiber to stand free and apart from the others....

As I got to understand it better, I saw that, rather than a vibrant free market, Japan actually functions more like a highly controlled, quasi-socialist system where bureaucrats feel they know best how to organize the system of production, and have the power to make life unpleasant for those who don't agree....

Predictably, the book has stimulated as many howls of outrage as it has nods of understanding. Which is a good thing.

Polite society these days enforces an unspoken code of never criticizing other cultures. You wouldn't want to be accused of cultural imperialism, or Orientalism, or condescension, or any of the other mortal sins of orthodox politically-correct sensitivity. But these taboos do what taboos always do: reduce everything to mush.

Some cultures are just more successful at certain things than others. In fact, some cultures are more successful at almost everything than others (here's lookin' at you, Scandinavia!). Everyone who's lived abroad understands this. And a bracing, well-informed critique is more honest and useful than a bunch of feel-good pabulum. The book was published in Japan. Many of his interviewees told him, they would never have spoken to a Japanese journalist, since they would be ashamed to discuss embarrassing secrets with someone who shared the same complex social codes.

It's not the be-all and end-all, but is a refreshingly blunt and lively book. Perhaps one day I'll write something similar about Germany. Germany, I love you, but I know just about all of your dirty secrets....