That's the German word for Carnival or Mardi Gras. (It's been going on here for centuries, so the folks in New Orleans imported/copied the Old World.)
It starts on the 11th of November (11th month, get it?) at 11 a.m. and runs until Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday, for all you non-Christian, lapsed Christian, or disinterested folks). Many towns have Carnival clubs, which are huge social affairs.
Festivities reach a climax (the wider population beyond club members) during the week before the end. Incidents of drunk driving, loss of license, and indecent behavior rise to annual peaks. It is time to act stupidly with impunity (except getting caught driving with too much alcohol in the blood). Silly costumes (wiht an occasional clever one) are mandatory. Groping of the opposite sex outside of wedlock is permitted and, perhaps even expected. Germans are normally rather stiff and humorless. The larger Carnival clubs broadcast their annual Sitzung (meeting, which is really a big show with a lot of drinking). These shows include skits and monologues, which roast politicians, businesses, and daily life. Irony has been witnessed. Some are rather clever. No one is safe from ridicule, until everyone turns back into pumpkins at midnight on the eve of Ash Wednesday.
As a bonus, below is a photograph of my wife, for anyone that might wonder what she looks like (since she has been mentioned in earlier posts.) She dresses like this infrequently, but entertains all year.
This will shock some people: I have a lot of respect for Oprah.
My wife has been a fan for as long as I can remember, so I am occasionally exposed to her program (if I can stand the subject) and often must listen to my wife expound on her wisdom.
Lately, perhaps because of the hype surrounding the launch of her own network (nice bit with the name, by the way), I had a thought: there must be a lot of angry, jealous white men in America. The clever ones among them must be asking: How could a woman--a black woman--achieve such success, wealth, and power? That's the kind of thing white men should do (although even few of those have achieved so much).
I got to thinking about this issue. No one will disagree that she is talented, intelligent, empathetic, etc. But, many others share similar traits and have not reached such heights. Others are also motivated by having difficult earlier years. Perhaps her success can be attributed to having hidden out in Chicago, away from sharp elbows, deadly hypocrisy, and phony camaraderie of LA and New York. After all, those characters would never want to live in Chicago. Or, maybe it was because she catered to a demographic that powerful men failed to understand, too busy chasing the elusive 18-25 male juggernaut, while thinking that women watch only Soaps. Could it be that, being black, she was able to sneak up on everyone. No one suspected that such a person could be successful. It was camouflage. For many men, that's not playing by the rules they write.
I can appreciate some of what Oprah preaches and often find her shows entertaining. Her ubiquity forces her to chase too many cringe-inducing, remote-grabbing topics and pseudo-celebrities, but that's the nature of the talk show beast. She does the best she can (better than others) with what the human race delivers and audiences demand. I like the fact that she does not appear to take herself too seriously (at least not on camera). Anyone in her position and with her life deserves moments of frustration and should be permitted to lash out. What other woman would show herself on camera without make-up, in moments best kept behind closed doors? Why wife won't answer the doorbell without full regalia.
I have already mentioned the bit about opinions being worthless, but it is difficult to remain silent and fill a blog. So, I'll provide my opinion about television shows.
I like sitcoms...but only clever ones. What is a good one? It is one that is well-written, has unusual and interesting characters, is well-acted, and is clever funny (as opposed to stupid funny).
At the moment, the best is Modern Family. This is the best-written show on television. Period.
In the past, I have liked Dharma and Greg (because it was counter-intuitive) in disagreement with Scott MacFarland; Family Guy (okay, it's not a sitcom); The Nanny; and Arrested Development. Two excellent ones, which Americans will probably not know, are the English Blackadder and Yes Minister. I did not like Friends, because I could not warm to the characters (except Rachel: a great comedic actress that has yet to find a good movie script) and hated the laugh track, or Seinfeld (ditto and it made little sense). But, humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the viewer.
Also not a sitcom, but something I watch religiously is The Daily Show. These guys are usually clever (occasionally, they can be stupid, but I cut them some slack). Why is it that Jewish people and left-leaning individuals come up with the best comedy? (That was rhetorical question!)
The Fool on the Hill sees the sun going down...
Except, in this instance, the fool was in a helicopter over Vietnam, being deceived by his government into believing that he was helping to make the world safe for democracy. Only later, after reading the history books, did he learn that he was actually helping to prop up a totalitarian regime against an indigenous people, who were trying to throw off foreign domination (sorta like the Founding Fathers of the United States). Don't believe me? I can suggest a long reading list. If time is limited, try these: The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam, Bright Shining Lie, by Niel Sheehan, Fire in the Lake, by Francis Fitzgerald, and the biography of Ho Chi Minh, by William Duiker. And, just for fun, read The Ugly American, which basically predicted the mess, but no one wanted to know.
(As evident in this photo, it was best to be in a helicopter. It was a bit damp on the ground).
It had to happen...although I had hoped that it would not. The sleazier of the German political parties are taking lessons from the US and employing character assassination. This happens in desperation and when unable to produce convincing ideas.
Attacks on personality and personal life have rarely been a feature of German politics or even raised their ugly head. Egregious conduct might be punished by silence, banishment to an obscure party post in the provinces, or some lucrative job in the private sector...and always a comfortable retirement package, compliments of taxpayers.
That has all changed with the recent aggressive attacks on the Minister of Defense, Dr. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He belongs to the ruling Christian Democrat party (here, conservatives are the good guys). His crime is being intelligent, good-looking, from a good family, and popular (not unlike JFK: my description). Although Hitler's caper managed to eradicate aristocratic privilege and most wealth, old family names still linger, which is also held against the poor guy.
The opposition, few of which are intelligent, well-educated, or attractive, has picked up on a minor infraction young Teddy made in writing his doctoral thesis: he missed a few quotation marks and footnotes. BFD. Unfortunately, crime is in the eye of the beholder and a doctor title is holy in this country. Listening to commentators, one would think that he had raped a child...which ranks only slightly higher in severity than manipulating a doctor title.
German politics used to be (mainly) about issues. If one chose, one could hear or read about serious debates on important matters. I regret to see another US import making inroads and sullying the quality of life.
As always, there is a deeper cause to the attacks. His crime: being the most popular politician with voters (inside and outside his party). It's an ego thing with stupid, unattractive, unpopular opposition politicians. They hope that mud-slinging will make him less attractive to voters and hurt his party's chances in forthcoming elections.
In one of his recent rambling speeches, Libyan dictator Gaddafi stated that he wanted to meet with protesters, but could not because it was raining.
Huh? The guy had an umbrella.
I recall an equally absurd weather excuse. I was in Army flight school, destined to play at war in Vietnam. The curriculum called for something about how to deal with becoming a prisoner of war. I can imagine few worse situations than being in a North Vietnam prison camp (if you don't believe me or have no imagination, read about Navy pilot Dieter Dengler's experience in Hero Found, by Bruce Henderson), other than a Soviet-era Siberian work camp. But, that's not the point...
Our P.O.W. training was canceled because of weather. Someone in the command hierarchy must have feared that a student pilot might write to his congressman and complain about harsh training conditions (some jerk unable to extrapolate Alabama woods to Vietnamese jungle). I recall being happy to have a day off...but am even happier to have never been faced with a situation for which the Army did not (could not) prepare me.
Unlike with, Muammar, an umbrella would not have been much help...
I'm sure that there are many intelligent men ruling the Catholic Church. But, self-preservation can often overpower the wisest thought.
There was an article today in The Guardian about the Vatican's position on certain "scientific" issues. The subhead read: "...may be engaging with astronomy, but the Catholic Church is unlikely to fully embrace science..."
Can you blame these guys?
I tried to imagine a bunch of cardinals sitting around a huge table in Rome, discussing how they should react to irrefutable "facts" (not a strong suit with this organization).
"It's so logical."
"They can prove everything. We can't."
"It doesn't matter. We have fear of the unknown on our side."
"And, don't forget ignorance."
"If we acknowledge scientific fact, we're out of business."
"We'd lose our jobs."
"But, I like to fly first class."
"I like my red robe and little beany."
"And what about all our servants?"
"Then it's decided: science must be discredited."
"Shall I call our Republican friends?"
If an over-developed power of observation can lead to cynicism, it can also lead to pedantry (some may have noticed!). But, there is a time and a place for everything...and a time to look the other way.
I learned something as an army officer, manager, and parent: there are times when one must ignore what one observes. "Letting it slide" is not always bad.
Soldiers are often totally incompetent, but an officer cannot be constantly "on their case". Workers do not often get it right, but must be given a chance to make mistakes and get it right on their own. As a parent, one learns to judge the severity of a fall: children must pick themselves up and get on with it.
This may be the most interesting photo (from an "arty" aspect) that I have taken. I like the composition and lighting, all by chance; I was on a moving boat. It's purpose here has no greater meaning than to change the mood away from more serious stuff.
It was taken in February 1972 in Bangkok. Imagine an impressionable young American, experiencing the fascinating world of klongs and having a new camera. This photo could have been taken in any number of locations (there is no evidence of the unique watery environment), but I was on a boat. I can still picture the location and try to imagine life in this house (impossible). Anyone not knowing the locale, can still imagine what might be going on in the cat's mind. Is it thinking about mice or deploring the daily invasion of tourists?
Someone noted a hint of cynicism in some of my writing. I guess that person missed my earlier posts on the subject. Guilty as charged.
I do not understand how anyone can avoid becoming cynical in this day and age, confronted by posturing in the media circus and garbage emanating from political classes in capitals around the world. It seems that too many eligible voters prefer the comfort of having their heads in sand (or some other equally sunless spot) or are too stupid to notice, drugged by phony entertainment, faked erudition, and their own inability to observe.
G.B. Shaw provided a less-negative connotation to the word, but it is no less concise.
"The power of accurate observation is commonly called
cynicism by those who have not got it."
Accurate observation is maligned in this world of p.c. (stupid concept!). Guilty parties that feel it's honest bite, hit back by attacking the messenger. The cynic should not be confused with nasty, hurtful, personal attacker.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.