Slavic Saturday

Some trivial trivia about Czech beer.

The juvenile joke about feminism aside, it is indeed true that one of the persistent gender-assigned “roles” in the Czech republic is that men drink 0,5 l beers and women drink 0,3 l beers.

I did drink a fair amount of beer during my studies in Pilsen, but I have never heard the terms “šnyt” or “mlíko” shown in this video. That leads me to believe that either they are relatively new, or they are Prague-specific.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 33 – McGyver in Every Household

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


“Zlaté české ručičky” (Golden Czech Hands) – a self-flattering saying that Czechs like to say about themselves for fairly long time. I was not able to google-fu the origin of the phrase, but one of the speculations I believe the most is that it originated during the times of the Iron Curtain.

I have already mentioned the centrally planned economy and the many negatives it has lead to. But I did not mention one of the at least somewhat positive things – the widespread ability to get the most out of whatever little there was available.

For example one of my uncles wanted to have a gramophone, but those were hard to get by. So he scraped and scrounged parts from defunct gramophones and has built a functioning one out of them. He also has built two high-quality loudspeakers for it – and they worked and sounded good for a long time. Previously he also has built a simple radio. And a bicycle from parts.

This uncle, a Ph.D. mathematician, has emigrated to USA when I was only about six years old and he took this mindset with him. He married a Korean-American woman, whom I have met in 1999 during my only visit there. One of her complaints about her husband was that she rarely gets to buy new stuff, because whenever something breaks – be it TV, vacuum, microwave or a kitchen robot – he repairs it. And indeed all these items around the house were visibly repaired.

I have this mindset too. I wanted a nice sturdy knife to take with me on forest walks, but they were expensive and hard to get by, so I have made one. I am not as handy with electronic as my uncle is, but have repurposed parts from his old radio project and used the speakers for building myself high-quality horn-speakers. And many other things.

But around here, this was not exceptional. Every man had to be a handyman, knowing a bit about electronics, plumbing, carpentry, masonry and, if you were lucky, car repair and maintenance. Because when something broke in the household, buying replacement was often not an option and getting a professional to do the job for you was not easy or fast enough. Of course, some were better at somethings than others, and a thriving black market of skills has emerged. Indeed the only way to thrive was to have a network of skilled friends or you were screwed.

Towards the end of the regime, in 1987, there emerged a TV show dedicated to this kind of “DIY” thing, named “Receptář nejen na neděli” (Recipe book not only for Sundays), whose spinoffs and follow-ups run until today under different names. There was also a periodical of the same name as the TV show, another periodical “Udělej si sám” (Do It Yourself :-)) and even one of the periodicals for children that I have previously mentioned (ABC) had sections dedicated to small crafts.

Today there is a lot of moaning about how this aspect of our culture is slowly disappearing. The availability of cheap goods on demand did lead to a decreased need to be inventive and frugal. Some of the moaning is just that – the regular moaning about the corruption of youth and the good old times – but some of it is to my mind justified. Indeed when working in Germany, I was often able to come up with creative solutions to some problems with the things I found in a drawer, exactly because that is what I was used to doing, whilst some of my colleagues were content with listing through a catalog.

I think that being poor is not a virtue, but being frugal and inventive is. The only problem that remains is how to raise inventive and frugal people when being lazy and wasteful is easier.

I Watched Frozen 2 (and I liked it)

Yesterday we went to watch Frozen 2 in the cinema. My friends took their grandkid and we took ours and the little one’s BFF. They were chatting so much in the car, and our friends arrived a bit late and once we all had our popcorn I was already so confused that we first accidentally ended up in the wrong theatre (I noticed when I could see clearly despite not wearing my 3D classes). Sorry to the other folks.

Once we found space in the right theatre, the movie could start and it was great fun. First, there’s a lot of the silly fun that these movies are known for. Olaf is reliable as in the first one, but there’s also lots of situational humour that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Also, there’s new fun characters, with the spirit of fire probably being the cutest.

 

I’m definitely waiting for merchandise.

There’s also the usual adult joke or two thrown into that Disney is famous for. You know the ones that completely fly over the head of the kids and make the adults giggle and I also think that makes a great family movie. Things can be understood at different levels.

I absolutely liked how they handled the Anna – Kristof relationship. The two of them are lovers, but they are also friends. The whole gang meets up at night in the castle to play games and all the characters care for each other.

Another great part was the costuming. Now, I have no idea how they got spandex in Arendelle, but both Elsa’s and Anna’s travel gear looks like they can actually do the things they are doing in them. Still no pockets, but Anna gets a bag.

Now, for the great “Elsa is gay” controversy:

If that ain’t a “coming out” song I don’t know what it is. She’s always been torn, and different and now she’s singing a duet with a female voice who holds the answer and who is supposed to show herself. I am not quite sure what she’s coming out as, but I think that “queer” definitely counts.

Lastly, an unexpected aspect. While the trailer already hinted at Sami culture, I expected some nod at cultural diversity and you know what. I didn’t expect colonialism to be actually a topic and I didn’t expect the solution to “past wrongs” to be so radical. Without spoiling it: That’s what actual recompensation looks like.

The Art of Book Design: I am a Cat

 

Natsume Soseki. I am a Cat. (1906) First English translation published in 1909. Translated by K. Ando and revised by K. Natsume. Tokyo, Hatori Shorten, 1906-1909.

This classic book, written by one of Japan’s most celebrated novelists, is a satire of Japanese society during the Meiji period (1868 – 1912) when western customs were first being incorporated into the country. It’s written from the perspective of a supercilious and eloquent housecat who humorously comments on the people and events that fill his life.

I couldn’t find a copy of the book for you to read, but it’s been reissued many times (and in many languages) and is available at most major booksellers. If you’d like to read a few quotes before deciding to buy, the site Cocosse-Journal is the place to go. I’ll share just this one quote from the book:

“Thus, as I review the list of my friends and acquaintances, most of them emerge as stained with
 maniac stigmata of one sort or another. I begin to feel considerably reassured. The truth may
simply be that human society is no more than a massing of lunatics.”
                                                                    – from I am a Cat via Cocosse-Journal

Cover photo via: Old Timey Cats

Tummy Thursday: Me gusta la cocina mexicana

Earlier this week I told you about our trip to the Sagrada Familia and that we wanted to see it at night time. This meant that after we left the cathedral we went for dinner. Of course a tourist city like Barcelona has restaurants galore, many of them trying to push the menu into your hand while you’re walking past them and for me that’s the most failproof way to make me avoid a place. Yet still you find lots of small places that offer good food, especially if you love international cooking. For this meal we found a nice Mexican place where we ate while it got dark.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Starters: Frijoles refritos (mushed baked beans) and nachos with cheese.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

My main course: marinated grilled beef, cactus, pumpkin flower and sweetcorn, guacamole and stuffed habanero, served with tortillas.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Dessert: Guayaba marguerita. I love guavas and they’re so rare here that I consume them whenever I can find them or their derivates. It was delicious.

 

Dance Dance Snowball!

It’s been hitting other media sites as well, but I first caught the news of Snowball the dancing parrot at The Atlantic:

His owner had realized that he couldn’t care for the sulfur-crested cockatoo any longer. So in August 2007, he dropped Snowball off at the Bird Lovers Only rescue center in Dyer, Indiana—along with a Backstreet Boys CD, and a tip that the bird loved to dance. Sure enough, when the center’s director, Irena Schulz, played “Everybody,” Snowball “immediately broke out into his headbanging, bad-boy dance,” she recalls. She took a grainy video, uploaded it to YouTube, and sent a link to some bird-enthusiast friends. Within a month, Snowball became a celebrity.

What’s unusual about Snowball is his choreographic development:

Snowball wasn’t copying Schulz. When she danced with him, she’d only ever sway or wave her arms. He, meanwhile, kept innovating. In 2008, Patel’s undergraduate student R. Joanne Jao Keehn filmed these moves, while Snowball danced to “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” And recently, after a long delay caused by various life events, she combed through the muted footage and cataloged 14 individual moves (plus two combinations). Snowball strikes poses. He body rolls, and swings his head through half circles, and headbangs with a raised foot. To the extent that a parrot can, he vogues.

See?

The article explains more about how his rhythmic ability was noticed and tested, but I will say this: he’s quite the talented bird, I definitely cannot lift my leg like that and still keep headbanging.

What’s interesting is the conclusions being drawn from Snowball’s dancing ability:

“Parrots are more closely related to dinosaurs than to us,” Patel says, and yet they are the only other animals known to show both spontaneous and diverse dancing to music. “This suggests to me that dancing in human cultures isn’t a purely arbitrary invention,” Patel says. Instead, he suggests that it arises when animals have a particular quintet of mental skills and predilections:

  1. They must be complex vocal learners, with the accompanying ability to connect sound and movement.
  2. They must be able to imitate movements.
  3. They must be able to learn complex sequences of actions.
  4. They must be attentive to the movements of others.
  5. They must form long-term social bonds.

A brain that checks off all five traits is “the kind of brain that has the impulse to move to music,” Patel says. “In our own evolution, when these five things came together, we were primed to become dancers.” If he’s right, that settles the eternal question posed by The KillersAre we human, or are we dancer? We’re both.

Parrots also tick off all five traits, as do elephants and dolphins. But outside of trained performances, “do you ever see a dolphin do anything to music spontaneously, creatively, and diversely?” Patel asks. “I don’t know if it’s been studied.” He wonders whether animals need not only five traits that create an impulse to dance, but also a lot of exposure to humans and our music. Captive dolphins don’t get much musical experience, and even though they interact with trainers, their main social bonds are still with other dolphins. But Snowball, from an early age, lived with humans. He seemingly dances for attention, rather than for food or other rewards. And he appears to dance more continuously when Schulz dances with him—something that Patel will formally analyze in a future study.

More fascinating information in the article, also here’s the CBC link.

I say, keep dancing, Snowball! And here’s two dancing songs for the rest of us:

 

Once Upon A Time in Madrid

Or should I say “madrid”? ;D

Second week of May, I spent a full workweek in Madrid for a working group meeting, and it was a fantastic time (as always). Besides the science-y, political-y days (there’s a lot of discussion about legislation and quality standards, not just the fun research and applications stuff), the organizers had planned out a couple of very interesting cultural evenings, and I found myself quite pleasantly surprised by the city in general. It had a very different feel from Rome (last year) – much cleaner, much more organized, more expansive – which I liked, but the organized part works mostly if you’re not driving a car – never mind the six lanes and wide roads, vehicle traffic in Madrid is atrocious (in my opinion!).

Anyway, the weather held out, the people were wonderful, and my first night the lovely hotel staff pointed me towards (what felt like a) very local cafe-restaurant, where, despite the language barrier and despite clearly being not local, I felt very welcome and extremely well-fed (I had octopus). I went back a second time prior to leaving, which I usually don’t do, but it had that perfect mix of being taken care of and being left alone, which was exactly what I needed.

I have a series on chandeliers in the Royal Palace, but for now, here’s just some small details from that particular cultural visit:

Just a small house… © rq, all rights reserved.

If I was a moth… © rq, all rights reserved.

… there would be so much to love. © rq, all rights reserved.

Secret lions peeking out everywhere! © rq, all rights reserved.

To be honest, they look a little sad. © rq, all rights reserved.

It’s all fun and games. © rq, all rights reserved.

And maybe some more serious faces. © rq, all rights reserved.

One thing that did leave an impression was the collection of Stradivarius instruments – it’s true that brands are often over-rated, and I’m not too big on the detailed decorations on my instruments, but as a former violinist, it still left an impact to see these famous instruments in one room. I’d have to hear them to judge their quality, but the craftspersonship of the construction (and the artistry of the detail) is undoubtedly something else.

© rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

Today’s music selection, which felt like it suits the historical theme, is from Latvian Voices – I found this particular performance of theirs via a post answering the question “what is it like to be a woman in the music business?” (that’s a link to their FB page, I don’t know how to link to that post specifically):

As a female group, we’ve been questioned many times about the topic of “how it is to be a woman in the music business?!” We took it very seriously and made research in music history looking on our female colleagues back in the day. As a result, we found ourselves willing to perform more music written by female composers or music which is dedicated to strong and powerful women all over the world.
Please, enjoy our contribution to Frau Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn – the song “Die Mainacht”, poem by Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty.

Video: Kaspars Teilāns
Sound: Andris Ūze
Make-up: Ilona Zariņa
Style Cita Rota

Is This What The Bullies Want?

I am beyond saddened by this news story in yesterday’s Toronto Star. A 9 year old girl in Calgary, a recent legal arrival to our country from Syria, has committed suicide. The paper reports:

 

A Calgary Syrian refugee family is dealing with the tragic death of their 9-year-old daughter, who died by suicide after being bullied at school. Amal Alshteiwi is shown here in a screen capture of a YouTube video. (SCREEN CAPTURE)

 

A Calgary Syrian refugee family is dealing with the tragic death of their 9-year-old daughter, who they say died by suicide after being bullied at school.

Aref Alshteiwi discovered his daughter Amal’s body March 6, according to Sam Nammoura, co-founder of Calgary Immigrant Support Society. Nammoura has worked with the family, and details of Amal’s death were relayed to him by the parents.

Police conducted more than a dozen interviews following Amal’s death, and found no evidence of foul play, according to Calgary Police Service media relations.

The family escaped war in Syria more than three years ago as government-sponsored refugees.

Amal’s parents told Nammoura that Amal had been coming home from school upset, telling them she was being bullied. She had been fine until around six months ago, they told him, when she moved to a new school and began having issues in math. Nammoura said they told him that’s when the bullying started — Amal was called stupid and ugly on a daily basis by several classmates.

The parents told Nammoura they raised the issue with the school, but that their daughter didn’t get any help. She went to school happy, they told him, and came home sad. However, Nammoura wasn’t aware of the issues Amal was having until after she died.

In an emailed statement, the Calgary Board of Education said it is working with the school’s staff and students “to try to understand if there were concerns or issues.”

“The school is closely working with both students and families to heal from this tragic event and come together as a community,” the statement read.

The family eventually moved schools to try to get Amal away from the bullying. Before she left, Nammoura said Amal was told by her bullies that moving wouldn’t fix anything.

Four days after she switched schools, Amal’s father found the girl dead in her room.

Story by Rose Saba, Star Calgary

She’s a beautiful girl who had a whole life ahead of her. She’ll never get her first kiss or go to the prom. She won’t graduate high school or go to college or fall in love and have children of her own. And she isn’t unique. This is what happens where hate lives and it sickens me. Is this what the bullies want? Are there really people in my country who would celebrate this loss? It is my hope that the the people who bullied Amal feel shame and remorse at what has happened and will carry that forward instead of the hate. Some will, but much work needs to be done to remove this cancer of fear and hate of otherness from our society. Lives are depending on it.

Mould Making

Yesterday we saw the birth of a couple of little Mermaids, today it’s two steps back in the process: mould making.

I have long wanted some more natural looking moulds and with the mermaid moulds being so frustrating I finally decided to use the materials Marcus sent me last year.

I’ll only show the process for the pebbles, but describe the squares as well.

While you can embed almost everything into silicone, if you want a mould that creates shiny resin pieces, your positive has to be smooth as a baby’s butt, so my first step was to cover some pebbles and pieces of wood in resin.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The problem with the wood was that the cut sides soaked up the resin, staying rough, so I decided to cover the whole thing again the next day. This times the sides became smooth, but the resin decided not to stick to itself on the top…

After I covered my pieces in resin I created the “mould box”. Marcus made those four pieces you can clamp to each other, allowing for variable sizes. You just need to put some putty into the cracks to seal it, something that worked well here, but not that well with the wood pieces, so I drowned my kitchen table in silicone and then had to somehow scoop it up again because I didn’t have enough to replace it.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The resin had created a flat foot on the pebbles that I worked a little with sanding paper, so i could put the flat on the surface and pour the silicone on top with little worries that they’d rise to the top…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

All poured, now wait…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

This is the mould with the pebbles still inside. They came out nice and clean and I

really like that mould. Now for trying it out…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The green one on the right was a different mould, one where I tried to make all round pieces. Those still need some working on.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

You can see that they’re really glossy while also really pebble-irregular.

The square ones are fine for making pieces that you sand down, but due to the issues with the resin not that nice and clean. Afterwards I remembered that Marcus had once sent me a “book club” block that would have made a nice clean mould…

I also tried some small globe shaped moulds, which still need some tinkering, so the next time I need to order resin I’ll also order some more silicon.

Harakka in Autumn: Chapter 10

Ice Swimmer’s here and today he has rocks to show us. Be still my heart…..

Chapter 10 – Southwestern Rocks on Sunday, I

Shaped by Ice Age. ©Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved 

The rounded forms of the rocks come from the Ice Age. The bottom of the glacier was full of rocks embedded into the ice that was quite flexible under the huge pressure, grinding the rocks into rounded shapes. [Read more…]

Reinterpreting Propaganda

To get it out of the way, Charly started it. And reminded me of a delightful bit of propaganda reinterpretation. Puts a smile on my face every time.

The original FB post was this nice, succinct narrative:

The Soviet-Chinese propaganda posters seem to be the story of a beautiful interracial gay couple who met in a metallurgical, got married and had beautiful children and a farm

In any case, some explanation:

In October 1949, Mao Zedong announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China. China and Russia had long been allies and now, as communist states, that relationship was more important to both countries than ever before.

Communist propaganda has always been an integral part of that particular political structure, and Chinese-Russian propaganda attests to how much each country wanted to show the world they had a united front – China and Russia walking hand-in-hand, happy and gay, so to speak. The posters they used to get this idea across, however, may have been a bit too literal.

Here’s a quick sample of a couple of my favourites. Commentary at the link:

Slightly different, but no less amusing, captions available at imgur, too. If only real-life international relations were as friendly.

And too bad modern day propaganda doesn’t lend itself so easily to left-leaning reinterpretation (please point out if I’m wrong).

 

Behind the Iron Curtain part 27 – Propaganda

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Marcus has shown old propaganda posters on his blog from time to time, and they are interesting to see, but that is not actually how the main bulk of the propaganda was done during my lifetime. In fact, that is not how it was done in my lifetime at all.

Of course I lived after Stalin has been dead and rotten for a while and the regime has mellowed a bit. But I got to see a lot of propaganda from earlier times nevertheless. And I – and most of my countrymen – do occasionally see it to this very day, and enjoy it. How come?

Because it was in the movies. Czech cinematography during the regime was quite well-off. The regime has recognized the importance of a good story for persuading people, especially children, and they capitalized on this. They shot a lot, and I mean a lot, of fairy-tales and movies for children and young people. The quality was often very high, which is why they are still popular until today – and quite frankly, Hollywood flicks cannot hold a candle to many of them in terms of historical(ish) accuracy and detail regarding the costumes and settings. If this -click- is accessible to you click through a few scenes of the movie and see for yourself. What has helped of course is that medieval architecture of whole streets and even towns is not hard to come by here and need not be built from scratch.

The movie that I linked to is first in a two-movie series about Prague during the reign of Rudolf II, the last Habsburg who made Prague the capital city of the Austrian empire and elected to live there permanently. It is a story of a young baker, who is the emperor’s doppelgänger and gets coincidentally swapped for the emperor at a time when the emperor has drunk a youth potion. The movie was very succesful and according to Wikipedia it was even distributed in USA with english subtitles -click-.

I am not going to relate the whole story to you, but in short the whole movie is about exposing the corruption of a feudal system, the shallowness of people who are always out there for themselves. And the importance of us all just getting along and pulling together in one direction. The selfish and greedy are to be ostracised and punished, and there is no greater achievement than to work for the good of the collective. The good ol’ communism in a nutshell.

And that theme was common in movie production of that time, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, but it was always there. As a child I of course did not see anything wrong with that message. As an adult I see plenty wrong with that message.

I agree with the principle in theory, but not in praxis. Because, in the words of Terry Pratchett, it approaches societal problems instead with “this is how people are, what can we do about it?” with “this is how people should be, how can we make them?”. Trying to build a society that depends on most people being an ideal that said society requires to work properly is just as silly as trying to build a society depending on ideal environmental/economic conditions*. The world contains neither ideal conditions, nor ideal people. All people are a complex mixture of selfishness and altruism, bigotry and acceptance, wisdom and stupidity and a lot more in the mix. Similarly all societies contain hierarchies and barriers that are outside of an individual’s control, and a plenty of built-in inequalities and unfairness. And it all changes continuously.

I admit that even today I watch these movies with a pang of nostalgia. I wish the message in them were applicable in real world. It isn’t. It only works in fairy tales.


*I summed it up for myself a few years ago thus: Communism can only work with perfectly round people and libertarianism can only work in perfect vacuum.