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'Exiting Central Park' by Marcela Sulak

And now, a poem from a fine young American poet, Marcela Sulak. It's the first in her new collection Of all the Things that Don't Exist, I Love You Best, which can be bought on Amazon at that link, or directly from the publisher here (it's a funky small press, so you'll have to scroll down 4/5 of the way):


Exiting Central Park

The important thing is to be burdened with your emptiness

– not as a pregnant woman balancing across the street,

for your emptiness belongs only to you and no one

placed it there. Nor are you like a barrel of rainwater


collecting ripples and images. Nor are you a shadow

or a sun. The necessary thing when you are

standing still is to have a place to go. To have something

that should be done or could be done


or at least begun. Consider when your hands

are gathering up strange letters—and they are prone

to slide—they are not grains or seed or keys to a mystery,

though they are not yours, or to a house or a heart.


Bells are not syllables, slaps are not chrysanthemums.

Dictionaries will give you nothing. There is no language

in your blood, no hurt under your boot heels.

What is gliding on the lake is gliding away,


it is looking for fish and frogs. It cannot speak

to you, nor can the oak that drops its button acorns

and moves its arms in the wind. And the children

walking hand in hand before you in the reeds


are only going home to supper. The sun

is setting. It is only the end of the day.

To remember: it's better not to look for things

or pick them up. Stay out of libraries and away


from electrical outlets, hospital rooms and theatres,

from secretaries, businessmen and all who traffic

in similes, stock, grain, meat, desire, daisies

snails and shipping. Stay out of suitcases,


closets, diaries, milk pails, washing machines,

Beware of stockroom boys, of grandmothers

with their heavy tablets of bread, bakers and their ilk.

And yet, it isn't good to be alone. Not too much alone.

The Passive House People

Germany's "passive houses" are attracting interest across the Atlantic, as Kevin Drum notes:

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

....Decades ago, attempts at creating sealed solar-heated homes failed, because of stagnant air and mold. But new passive houses use an ingenious central ventilation system. The warm air going out passes side by side with clean, cold air coming in, exchanging heat with 90 percent efficiency.

....In Germany the added construction costs of passive houses are modest and, because of their growing popularity and an ever larger array of attractive off-the-shelf components, are shrinking.

But be warned: no McMansion for you!

Most passive houses allow about 500 square feet per person, a comfortable though not expansive living space. Mr. Hasper said people who wanted thousands of square feet per person should look for another design.

“Anyone who feels they need that much space to live,” he said, “well, that’s a different discussion.”

I've seen a few documentaries on passive houses, and they're really engineering marvels. I still really don't understand how a heat exchanger works, but apparently it does.

The only problem is that some of the passive house's acceptance can be chalked up to the way Northern Europeans (here, Germans) think:

  1. Most Germans grew up in apartments or modest houses and are used to living in small spaces. Most have probably never had much more than 500 square feet of living space to themselves. Eng und wohl (snug and comfy) is the watchword here.
  2. You often encounter Germans who have an amusing paranoia about drafts and a surprisingly high tolerance for (what I would call) stale, recycled air. To these people, hermetically sealed house = paradise.
  3. The kind of Germans who could afford passive houses are the kind of Germans who care -- and want to be seen to care -- about the environment. For these people, a passive house is a status symbol.
  4. I'd be willing to bet passive houses probably don't get quite as warm as houses with traditional heating. But Germans love nature, and don't like to mess too much with what it dishes out (witness the aversion to genetically-modified food). This helps explain the scarcity of air-conditioning in Germany, even in places which could easily afford it and where it might be pretty handy for 2 months of the year.

When summer comes around, Germans just sweat! In fact, they seem to kind of like sweating. They vacation in really hot parts of the earth, and frequently visit saunas, places in which you actually pay to sweat. This attitude is inexplicable to people who come from hot, moist parts of the world in which you have no choice but to sweat like a French whore, day-in and day-out, for 9 months of the year.

Admiral Christmas

So I'm browsing through Alibris for books on "prisoner rehabilitation," and what do I come across but yet more christmas cheer:

Single sheet of stout card measuring approx. 4.5 x 7.5 inches (12.0 x 19.0 cms), obverse with gilt edges printed with the insignia of 'Admiral Inspector of the Fleet' in gilt and black and seasonal text in black; reverse blank. The seasonal text, SIGNED BY DONITZ IN BLUE INK, reads 'Grossadmiral Donitz dankt fur die guten Wunsche zum Weihachtsfest und zum neuen jahr und erwidert sie herzlich'. Grossadmiral Karl Donitz (1871-1980), German naval leader and Hitler's successor, commanded the Kriegsmarine during the latter half of WWII and is remembered particularly for his promotion of the U-boat offensive.

I suppose you could call Doenitz a rehabilitated (de-nazified) prisoner (of war). The card is yours for only $929.61!

Everything that Happens Will Happen Today

I'm a little slow on the uptake here, but I'd like to report that David Byrne and Brian Eno are at it again, almost 30 years after My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The new record was released a few months ago, and is called Everything that Happens Will Happen Today. It's available only online. I've bought it, and am glad I did. It's as poppy as anything Eno's done since Wrong Way Up, and David Byrne's occastional tendency to feyness is held well in check. Here's an embed featuring one of the songs on the album: 

The website is here, in case the embed doesn't work.

Santa Claus, Liquefied

[I first posted this just before Christmas, 2005, and, for want of time to post anything original, I thought I'd shamelessly recycle it. Enjoy!]

In January 1990, the American magazine Spy convened a panel of scientific experts to answer the question whether Santa Claus exists. 

Their conclusions, although somewhat dry and technical, have become a heart-warming Christmas classic.  I reprint it here to add a little dose of analytical objectivity to warm Christmas feelings:

1)    No known species of reindeer can fly. But there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.

2)    There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. Since Santa doesn't (appear to) handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total - 378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.

3)    Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc.

This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man- made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

4)    The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull ten times the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison - this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.

5)    353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh and liquefied by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

In conclusion - If Santa ever did deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now.

Where are the English-Language Lebkuchen?

German Christmas curmudgeons can scoff all they want, joined by their English comrades. But that'll never change the fact that the whole world, and especially American whole world looooves German Christmas markets:

Around us, the white tents are mood-lit to perfection, strung with fresh garlands of greenery and dotted with red bows. Formal-looking signs (old-fashioned gold-and-red surrounded by gold scrollwork) announce the goods for sale.

In one tent, big, heart-shaped cookies with corny sentiments written in German in curlicue frosting read "Grandma, you're super," and "With you, I'd go to the end of the world." Another tent, festooned with animal skins and antlers, is doing brisk business in bread bowls filled with wild boar goulash and wild mushrooms sauteed with berries. A group of friends tries on funky handmade wool hats at a stall nearby....

One hut is devoted to all things marzipan, with loaves of the almond paste and little soft pillows of the confection that look like bars of soap. Nearby, roasted almonds coated with ginger and chocolate are proffered in colorful paper cones. Another stand is devoted to printen: gingerbread fingers that come in different varieties, including almond and chocolate. There are mushrooms sauteing in giant pans. I gobble them up with a little wooden fork that threatens to get lost in a generous dollop of creamy garlic sauce. Bratwursts sizzle over open coals, and I can convince myself I'm still hungry. We even pass a Scandinavian section, with reindeer sausages from Norway.

And really, if we have to have things like Christmas markets -- and it appears we do -- the German variety is hard to beat. Up against the sparkling, aromatic wonders of any halfway-decent German Christmas market, the desperate, reeking 'Mall Santas' America fields are a humiliating debacle.

Factories, Cemeteries, Dike Associations

Germany's a biker's paradise, because there are trails everywhere, and odd little things to see even in the country's dullest backwater. As proof, here are a few photos I took last weekend, when the sky was uncharacteristically illuminated for a few hours by a gigantic, glowing orb last seen about 3 months ago. First, a piece of graffiti under the Fleher Bruecke -- featuring Street Denglish!

Graffito I dont looke alike under Fleher Bruecke

You know, I'd say that with that caramel-colored angora bodysuit, free-floating teeth, and multiple pupils, he actually does look "alike" a "psyco murda."

And now for something more dignified: a roadside altar from 1706.

Streetside Altar near Wahlscheid Overall View

I think the inscriptions's in Dutch. Anyone want to help translate?

Inscription on Roadside Altar near Wahlscheid

An interesting abandoned factories seen from the front (note the odd stepped platforms)...

Continue reading "Factories, Cemeteries, Dike Associations" »

German Word of the Week: Nothaft

The cruel reality of nothaft.

So I'm reading through the latest gout of news about The Continuing Crisis, when I come across this:

Interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates fell for the seventh consecutive week, moving these rates to the lowest since the survey began in April 1971," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac chief economist.

I wonder how Frank Nothaft would react if you told him his name was not a German word (g). I guess he probably wouldn't care. But how would he react on being told that if 'nothaft' were a German word, it would mean "emergency custody"? That might prompt some rumination.

And if you told him that the Nazis (would have) used it to terrorize dissidents and minorities? I bet that'd be good for at least 10 minutes of anguished reflection...

A Chinese Banker's Advice for Americans

The Atlantic reprints a fascinating interview by James Fallows with Gao Xiqing, the man who oversees $200 billion of China’s $2 trillion in U.S. dollar holdings (Gao went to Duke Law School and speaks fluent English):

This generation of Americans is so used to your supremacy. Your being treated nicely by everyone. It hurts to think, Okay, now we have to be on equal footing to other people. “On equal footing” would necessarily mean that sometimes you have to stoop to appear to be humble to other people.

And you can’t think as a soldier. You put yourself at the enemy end of everyone. I grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when people really treated other people like enemies. I grew up in an environment where our friends, our relatives, people I called Uncle or Auntie, could turn around and put a nasty face to me as a small child....

But over the years, I believe I learned to be humble. To treat other people nicely. I learned that, from a social point of view, no matter how lowly statured a person you are talking to, as a person, they are the same human being  as a person, they are the same human being as you are. You have to respect them. You have to apologize if you inadvertently hurt them. And often you have to go out of your way to be nice to them, because they will not like you simply because of the difference in social structure.

Americans are not sensitive in that regard. I mean, as a whole. The simple truth today is that your economy is built on the global economy. And it’s built on the support, the gratuitous support, of a lot of countries. So why don’t you come over and … I won’t say kowtow [with a laugh], but at least, be nice to the countries that lend you money.

Talk to the Chinese! Talk to the Middle Easterners! And pull your troops back! Take the troops back, demobilize many of the troops, so that you can save some money rather than spending $2 billion every day on them. And then tell your people that you need to save, and come out with a long-term, sustainable financial policy....

I have great admiration of American people. Creative, hard-working, trusting, and freedom-loving. But you have to have someone to tell you the truth. And then, start realizing it. And if you do it, just like what you did in the Second World War, then you’ll be great again!

The interview was held shortly before the 2008 election. In another part of interview, Gao sort of indirectly endorses Obama...