Sunday, March 6, 2011

Brits, beards, bubbles

1. Simon Kuper (FT) has a mildly amusing go at the usual transatlantic-cultural-misunderstandings genre:

Americans won’t touch strangers, the French won’t talk to them, but Brits will neither touch nor talk to them. Passport to the Pub, a semi-official guide for foreign tourists to the UK, warns: “Don’t ever introduce yourself. The ‘Hi, I’m Chuck from Alabama’ approach does not go down well in British pubs.”
Nor are Britons permitted to make eye contact: the former French prime minister Edith Cresson, disconcerted that British men didn’t look at her, estimated that one in four was homosexual. No wonder Britons drink ever-increasing amounts of alcohol. Alcohol was first distilled so that British people could reproduce.

Re his observations about American friend-hugging and the gingerness thereof, I seem to remember there being a facebook group, back in the early days, that stood against "ass-out hugging."

2. I was briefly obsessed last year with this trustworthiness-of-beards infographic, and the obvious resulting question of how much of the sequence one could go through starting with an enormous beard and progressively excising various bits of it until one ended up with, say, a Hitler mustache or a "pencil-thin chinstrap." Related to this is an old Vanity Fair article I came upon yesterday, in which Rich Cohen -- ostensibly writing about his experiment with the Hitler mustache -- talks about its history:

The Toothbrush mustache was first introduced in Germany by Americans, who turned up with it at the end of the 19th century the way Americans would turn up with ducktails in the 1950s. It was a bit of modern efficiency, an answer to the ornate mustaches of Europe—pop effluvia that fell into the grip of a bad, bad man.[1] Before that, the most popular mustache in Germany and Austria had been the sort worn by the royals. It was called the Kaiser, and it was elaborate. It was perfumed, styled, teased and trained. It turned up at the ends. It was the old, monarchical world that was about to be crushed by the rising tide of assembly-line America. In other words, in the case of Hitler and his 'stache, America faced an extreme case of blowback.
By the beginning of the century, it had been taken up by enough Germans to draw notice in the foreign press. In 1907, The New York Times chronicled a growing distaste for the import under the headline "toothbrush" mustache: german women resent its usurpation of the "kaiserbart."
Cohen also attributes the decline of the mustache after WW2 to a sense that one had to navigate between the Scylla of Hitlerian brevity and the Charybdis of Stalinesque luxuriance, and it was therefore simpler to drop the thing altogether.

3. Mark Doty writes about the bubbles in his eyes:
Bubble number two has been with me since early January. At first I couldn't see anything, and then when I could make out light again I seemed to be looking a viscous gray field, translucent and rippling. If I moved much it made me feel disoriented and a little sick. This bubble was of a sturdier stuff than the first, so it took until early February for it to become a circle that almost filled my field of vision, and now in early March it's become surprisingly pleasing: it's the size of a perfectly round pea, near the bottom of the right-hand side of the world. It is dark at the rim, a Rothko-ish black-purple, and and then it pales to a light sky color and then in the center is a blotch of a darker gray roughly the shape of Australia. Somehow this conspires to make it look three dimensional, as if beautiful and oddly colored pearl is floating near the base of everything. It has, today, a tiny satellite. Yesterday there were three.

The two bubbles have given me a cataract (unavoidable side effect) so that may be contributing to the pearly aspect of the little sphere. Two oddities: at night, light bounces off the bubble into the upper reaches of my eye, so that I can see up high the double of a candle flame, a dashboard, a computer screen. And, if I tilt my head down and look at the floor, the bubble turns a magenta red, as if I'm looking at it through the screen of my own blood.

4. I enjoyed reading Jeffrey Friedman's essay on the trouble with libertarianism, viz. that it didn't stay true to its elitist, anti-democratic roots (!) -- and I agree locally with a considerable part of it, although in my view it is misguided to think of libertarianism as a philosophy at all.

5. It has occurred to me that, in these "closing-tabs" posts, I often misattribute or neglect to mention the sources of links. I'm sorry about this but it's inevitable as the tabs have usually been open for a while.

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