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.


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.


Germany's Dumbest Inadvertent Condom-Machine Suicides

There's a show in the United States called "America's Dumbest Criminals", which does what it said on the tin. The show's main fodder is grainy surveillance camera footage, with some "dramatic re-enactments" when that wasn't available. Über-stoned robbers who forgot their wallets at the crime scene or shoot themselves, drunk drivers plowing into anything you can imagine, inadvertent confessions, you name it. The show's tagline was "names have been changed to protect...the ignorant".

I have the feeling this show has probably launched a thousand jargon-clogged dissertations ("Social Exclusion, the Authoritarian Personality, Cognitive Shaming, and the Re/In-Scription of Culpability on the 'Ghost' Body of the Offender in 'America's Dumbest Criminals'"), which we may safely ignore. Germany doesn't seem have an equivalent of this show, but there are plenty of articles (g) and video features (g) with the same theme (some variant of Deutschlands dümmste Verbrecher).

Mocking criminals for their stupidity seems a pretty harmless response to crime. From a criminological point of view, these shows seem to be a useful counterweight to the stereotypical movie portrayal of criminals either as ruthless masterminds (USA) or the hapless victims of psychological disturbance or turbo-capitalism (Germany). In fact, most criminals are neither cunning nor mentally ill, but generally are indeed very, very dumb. Studies from both the US and UK show that prison inmates, on average, have IQs in the mid-80s, about 1 standard deviation below the mean of 100, which is a big difference, and that lower intelligence is associated with more violence among prisoners. I can't find numbers for Germany offhand, but I can't imagine why they would be significantly different.

Which brings us to the guy who blew himself up yesterday in Dortmund. He was trying to rob a Deutsche Bahn ticket machine in Scharnhorst (g) in Dortmund, but instead inflicted "massive facial injuries" on himself and died at the scene. A few years ago, another young man killed himself while trying to blow up a condom machine (g) in sleepy little Borken (pop. 42,000), Germany. 

The first level of stupidity here is that these guys killed themselves. And that's a pretty significant level of stupidity! But the second level is why ticket and condom machines? I travel a lot on the German railways, and trust me, it is the exception to see someone paying for an expensive ticket with cash. Although perhaps the machines aren't cleaned out very regularly, and it piles up. I can't really say, since I've never broken into one.

But a streetside condom machine? I haven't ever seen anyone use one of these, have you? Besides, the maximum value of anything there is usually no more than 6-8 euros for the "luxury items" such as the notorious "Travel Pu**y" (let's keep it clean here, folks) or the "Vibrating Penis Ring"*. I have no idea how much is inside the average German condom machine, but I bet the explosive was probably more expensive. And even if the explosive was made from cheap homemade materials, the risk is obviously fairly astronomical.

Are these criminals really stupid for targeting ticket and condom machines here, or am I missing something?

Continue reading "Germany's Dumbest Inadvertent Condom-Machine Suicides" »


Rifle Grenades Roasting on an Open Fire

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71 years ago, near the town of Rees, in far west Germany near the Dutch border, there was heavy fighting between the invading Allies and German defenders. A German soldier fired a rifle grenade which hit a tree and stuck there. Over the years, the tree grew, enveloping the grenade. Then the tree was cut down and sold for firewood. The woman in this photo was enjoying a pleasant Advent Sunday afternoon with friends, and put another log in the stove in her living room.

A fateful log.

A log of destiny.

A log, almost, of doom.

You can see the result above (g). The woman was unlucky in that the grenade destroyed her stove and sent bits flying around her living room. But she was lucky in another way: because the grenade was damaged when it hit the tree, its full explosive charge didn't go off. Otherwise she'd probably be drinking her Christmas goose through a straw.

It's things like this that help explain why Germans tend to have a strong pacifist bent.


Operation Glasshole™ Concluded

Yesterday, I donned protective gloves and wading boots, and finally finished cleaning up one short stretch of the Düssel river. Here's the video: 

As you can see, another 100 or so bottles, to add to the 100 or so I had fished out before. Plus, this round brought us:

  • A steak knife
  • 7 more bicycle locks
  • a pair of sunglasses
  • one (1) women's boot
  • a 1.5- meter length of rusting steel re-bar
  • a disc-shaped battery-operated IKEA light fixture, complete with rotting batteries
  • 5 plastic bags or pieces of plastic sheeting
  • 1 more umbrella
  • 1 section of metal grille
  • several plastic cups
  • three metal rods and/or picture frame elements
  • one laminated official notice on white A4 paper from the City of Düsseldorf which was formerly attached to the bridge, warning people not to lock their bikes to it until 16 October 2016 because of bridge maintenance.
  • what appeared to be one-half of a foam soccer ball
  • a still-stoppered fake mother-of-pearl perfume bottle
  • several parts of an ironing board
  • a few unclassifiable pieces of metal and plastic which looked like auto or machine parts

I displaced at least 10 juvenile and 2 adult spiny-cheeked crayfish from inside various bottles.

At the end of the day after making several tours of inspection, I could see no more junk. There were still hundreds of bottle caps, but I have my limits. One couple passing by asked me whether I was fishing for eels. After I was done, I had a chat with the Slavic woman who runs the convenience store next to the bridge. She called me "poor guy", and apparently assumed my clean-up operation was a form of punishment. I informed her that I had just gotten fed up and decided to clean up the river. She said "Well, that's nice of you, but let me tell you, people are just going to keep throwing stuff into it. I sit here all day and watch them."

I said that almost all the stuff was covered in silt, which made it seem as if it had been there a long time. She said that, on second thought, that she hadn't seen much littering lately: "There was a group of people who were doing most of it who moved away." She made a certain gesture indicating what sort of people they were, but I couldn't really decipher it. It sort of looked like a mixture of air-bottle glug-glug (drunks) mixed with some kind of arm-waving. Possibly a Nazi salute. But I can't be sure.

This gives me some hope that most of the garbage came from short bursts of antisocial behavior years ago; possibly a gaggle of winos colonizing the riverbank for a few days, throwing their empties (mostly 200 ml flasks of Stepanoff vodka) into the stream. And then, of course, the garbage was passively tolerated by thousands of local residents who crossed the bridge over the years, wrinkling their noses in disapproval but doing nothing about it.

One mystery that's provoked plenty of discussion on my Facebook page is the bicycle locks. A few of them had obviously been cut, but most of them seemed to be intact. Which raises the question of why anyone would throw what appears to be an intact bicycle lock into the stream? My only guess is that some people steal bikes by picking the locks. Then they reattach the lock and throw it in the river, presumably to get rid of evidence. It seems like a fairly ludicrous precaution, given that local police don't even try to solve individual bike thefts. But who knows?

Any guesses about this mystery?


German Word of the Week: Engländer

The blog pommesbuddha teaches me something I did not know:

And even our toolboxes are full of our favourite islanders: the colloquial word for an adjustable wrench in German is Engländer.

An adjustable wrench (Verstellschlüssel) is called an Englishman (or person, if you prefer). According to Wikipedia (g), this is either because the first such wrench was patented in England, or because when German workmen encountered English nuts and bolts measured in inches, the adjustable wrench was the fastest and cheapest way to handle them.


Small German Leather Postal Bag from 1952

For funky charm, there's nothing like a German flea market. One of the finest is just a short bike ride away, in a street called Im Dahlacker (g). It's a covered indoor market open every Wednesday and Saturday. There, you can find anything from commemorative egg spoons to used letters to Richard Clayderman CDs. A large selection of eerie dolls. A pamphlet on how to make your own clown figurines. A painting featuring a black-painted banana being slit with a knife, with red paint oozing out.

And this square black leather case for a postman:

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Hard to tell exactly what it was for: I presume that even in the dire post-war year of 1952, the average German postman had more mail than would fit into this wine-bottle-sized square case. Maybe it was for a flashlight? Who can say? At any rate, based on the liberal use of stamps on the inside of the cover, I bet there are dozens of bureaucratic entries tracing the entire history of this piece of West German government property. In fact, I'm not even sure it was legal for me to buy it under the Government Property Registration and Transfer Act of 1973. I suppose I'll find out soon enough.