Radetzky March


So far I've read 6.5* of the 10 (purportedly) greatest German novels of the 20th century, and just now have come to Joseph Roth's Radetzky March. The faded elegance of the K.u.K. monarchy gives me such a whack of nostalgia that I begin to believe I may have lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a former life. I'd like to think I was a cavalry captain, but I probably was an assistant junior scrivener in the Hungarian Land Tax (g) Assessment Subdirectorate.

In any case, I am loving Radetzky March. The unsentimental melancholy, the heel-clicking manners, Roth's bemused irony, alles so mitteleuropäisch. The father-son dialogue is priceless: 'Watch out for the girls! Most of them are sick!' — 'Jawohl, papa!' I hope it never ends, but when it does I'll post a few comments. 

* I'm still wandering through the third book of The Man Without Qualities, which meanders a bit. Kind of like the second part of Faust.

Kant’s Heteronormative Othering Microaggressions Exposed


Open Culture mocks this disclaimer here. Splintered Mind points to some of Kant's microagressions unfashionable views on homosexuality (the vice so horrible it must not be named), masturbation, marriage, killing bastards, and other topics here. Interestingly, Kant had this to say on organ donation: "To deprive oneself of an integral part or organ (to maim oneself) — for example, to give away or sell a tooth to be transplanted into another's mouth… are ways of partially murdering oneself… cutting one's hair in order to sell it is not altogether free from blame."

The Land of Poets and Thinkers and Ruthless Capitalists

A Montreal blogger got an email from a German academic publisher:

This one’s mostly for the search engines as I’m sure most of my readers don’t need to hear this.

I keep getting this spam email sent to me:

Begin forwarded message:

From: Yasmine Watson 
Date: February 2, 2012 2:15:30 AM EST
Subject: Our Publication Offer: Your end-of-studies work

Dear Essam Hallak,

Some time ago I offered you the possibility of making your academic paper
entitled «Beyond Boundaries A Philosophical Mapping of the PreModern City of
the Levant» submitted to McGill University Montreal as part of your
postgraduate studies available as printed book. Our publishing company is
interested in your subject area for future publications. Since we did not
hear back from you, I am now wondering if you received my first email.

I would appreciate if you could confirm your interest in our publishing
house and I will be glad to provide you with detailed information about our

I am looking forward to receiving a positive response from you.

Best Regards,
Yasmine Watson
Acquisition Editor

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing GmbH & Co. KG
Heinrich-Böcking-Str. 6-8
66121, Saarbrücken, Germany

Fon +49 681 3720-310
Fax +49 681 3720-3109

y.watson(at)lappublishing.com / http://www.lap-publishing.com

Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRA 10752
General unlimited partner: VDM Management GmbH
Managing directors: Thorsten Ohm (CEO), Dr. Wolfgang Philipp Müller, Esther
von Krosigk

Joseph Stromberg got an email from someone 'named' Holmes at Lambert, which made him curious:

At this point, I did a bit more research into LAP Lambert and found that it’s really just the tip of the book-mill iceberg. Both it and AV Akademikerverlag GmbH & Co. KG are part of an enormous German publishing group called VDM that publishes 78 imprints and 27 subsidiary houses in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Russian, and plans to soon open up shop in Turkey and China. It has satellite offices in Latvia and Uruguay, but the majority of its English- and French-speaking staff are based in the tax haven of Mauritius, off the coast of Madagascar. Founded in Düsseldorf, Germany, in 2002 by a man named Dr. Wolfgang Philipp Müller, the company is notorious for using on-demand printing technology to package all sorts of strange content in book form and selling it online. The company declines to release financial data but claims to publish 50,000 books every month, making it, by its own accounting, one of the largest book publishers in the world.

How can it possibly churn out this many titles? Although a huge number are academic texts, hundreds of thousands result from an even stranger process: They’re built entirely from text copied from Wikipedia articles. On VDM’s own online bookstore, Morebooks.de, the listings for books like Tidal PowerPeriod (number),and Swimming Pool Sanitation (published by VDM’s Alphascript and Betascriptimprints) directly acknowledge this fact. Thousands are listed for sale on Amazon, all with the same cover design (albeit with different stock photos swapped in) and the same three names (Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, and John McBrewster) listed as the “authors.” Some go for as much as $100. Though the practice is technically legal—most Wikipedia content is published under licenses that allow it to be reproduced—critics say that it’s unethical and deceitful for the company to profit from content freely available on the Web.

But plenty of people consider the company’s strategy predatory—and in his research, Hodgkinson uncovered a curious pattern that lends credence to this view.He found that the Facebook profile of Kevin Woodmann, one of the acquisition editors, featured a “low budget royalty free” stock photo entitled “Confident middle aged man sitting and smiling in front of white background.” (The photo has since been removed from the Facebook profile.) Other acquisition editors used stock photos for profile pictures as well.

Ohm told me that after Hodgkinson’s article alerted him and other LAP Lambert management that their editors were using stock photos, they were instructed to immediately discontinue the practice and haven’t done it since. His explanation for the strange pattern is benign. “I know that not all editors, especially females, want to have their picture on Facebook,” he said. “This is especially a matter in some of our sites—for example, Mauritius—where we have Muslim and Hindu employees.”

But Hodgkinson thinks the editors’ use of stock photos—along with suspiciously Anglo-sounding names for staff that are largely based in Mauritius—are part of something more nefarious: a deceptive effort to seem more prestigious, especially for the large number of authors based in Africa, India, and other regions of the developing world. LAP Lambert doesn’t publish data on the countries of authors, but a casual search of its online bookstore and comments on blog posts reveals that a huge amount of authors appear to live in these areas. “Especially at many universities in developing countries, there are expectations or requirements that graduate students need to publish to receive a degree,” Hodgkinson told me, “and that pressure is leading them into the arms of these disreputable publishers.”

The business model, apparently, is to sell the books back to authors:

Over the next two weeks, I got three more emails from Holmes pressuring me to buy, each more aggressive than the last. She used several strategies: guilt (“We agreed to provide you free ISBN, free cataloguing of your book in thousands of bookstores, free book cover, market coverage, support and assistance. We are now offering you the opportunity to support your project.”); optimism (“You can also purchase some copies and market them in your locality or maybe even sell them at your own price, thus not only generating profit, but also getting to know your target audience and perhaps establishing valuable contacts.”); and finally, hostility (“We would have thought that you would have at least liked to have some copies of your new published book and that is why proposed this offer to you in the first place. Maybe you have not realized the importance of having some printed copies of your book in hand?”). Each warned that my window of opportunity to take advantage of the deal was rapidly closing, but I declined repeatedly.
I like the choice of (presumably) fake names for the editors: Holmes and Watson. I anticipate an email soon from June Christie.

There are No Atheists in Prison Cells

This from Salon:

This week, Pew Research Center published the results of a survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: is belief in God essential to morality? 

…In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report. No surprise there, but Asian and Latin countries such as Indonesia (99%), Malaysia (89%), the Philippines (99%), El Salvador (93%), and Brazil (86%) all fell in the highest percentile of respondents believing belief in a god (small G) is central to having good values.

Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the U.S.A.

Only 15 percent of the French population answered in the affirmative. Spain: 19%. Australia: 23%. Britain: 20%. Italy: 27%. Canada: 31%. Germany 33%. Israel: 37%.

So what of the U.S.? A comparatively eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are living in sin. Despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly under-represented in the places where rapists, thieves and murders invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.

The result for Germany's a bit surprising — just a reminder that despite green energy, a gay foreign minister, and swinger-club sex-and-suckling-pig parties (g – as a friend of mine once said, 'the ultimate integration test for foreigners'), large parts of Germany are still quite conservative. Also, these results are yet another reason no lazy reporter should ever mention 'Catholic Spain/Italy' again.

The atheist result is pretty interesting, although I'm sure it's mostly an artifact of the fact that atheists are richer and more educated than the general population, and are therefore less likely to end up in prison for various reasons. But still, if the New Atheists need a rallying cry, why not 'There are no Atheists in Prison Cells?' NAs, you can have this one for a reasonable licensing fee.


Bernd Brunner, a native German speaker, reflects on how and why languages get a reputation for ugliness or beauty:

As far as I can tell, many people – including not only many Germans, but Americans – consider Italian to be the most beautiful language. Nasal French earns mixed reviews; some people find it elegant and sophisticated, while it sounds somehow stilted to others’ ears. Those who see fit to praise English – at least, if they’re from Europe – usually add in the same breath that “of course” they mean British English; specifically, the Oxford kind. Sadly, they forget that American English, especially as spoken on the East Coast, can express tremendous elegance and, yes, class. (And this judgment, of course, is quite objective). I think so, in any case, especially when I recall Bobbie Battista, the unforgettable, slightly and sexily cross-eyed former anchor for CNN International. It was a pleasure to listen to her, even when she was presenting terrible news from the first Gulf War. Anyway, you can make a mess of any language. It all depends on who is doing the talking and how he or she speaks – the speed, rhythm, and tone of voice. When some people open their mouths, the results sound more like yelling than talking. So isn’t it a little presumptuous to claim that one language is beautiful and another is ugly? Isn’t beauty entirely subjective? And what’s more: who actually knows every language and is in a position to make such a definitive judgment? The Japanese  – to take just one example of a non-Western culture – seem to see the whole matter differently. A friend who is a professor in Tokyo explained to me that Japanese people generally consider their mother tongue to be the most beautiful, but also have a high opinion of French and the Polynesian languages.

…In the beauty contest of languages, Danish, Chinese, and Arabic usually bring up the rear. As a nonlinguist with no need to fear for my reputation – at least my academic one – I freely admit that I can’t warm up to the sound of Danish, especially when compared to Norwegian or, even better, unbelievably musical Swedish. But I pull myself together and remember that some people find beauty precisely where others don’t. To use a musical analogy, talking about languages this way is a little bit like trying to compare Vivaldi and Shostakovich.

…Don’t judgments about a language’s beauty or ugliness generally depend on our personal experiences with people who speak it, and the associations it evokes? Brazilian Portuguese is considered especially soft and melodic – and it inspires thoughts of the bossa nova and Copacabana. Spanish calls up visions of flamenco, bullfights, and – maybe – especially attractive people, and Italian calls to mind great architecture and delicious food, wine and, yes, Mafia. Of course these are clichés, but they still play a role in our perception that we simply can’t ignore.

I think a more apt analogy than Vivaldi v. Shostakovich is any musical instrument played badly or well. American vocal fry is ghastly, but a well-modulated announcer (Bobbie) can be pleasant. Received Pronunciation British English charms even Anglophobes, whereas scouse or geordie are an acquired taste. German's reputed to be harsh and guttural (people think of ranting Hitler), but in the right hands it is hypnotically rhythmic and melancholy: 

In my personal league table Brazilian Portuguese comes out on top, because it's an instrument that just can't be played badly. It sounds playful and sexy even coming from a doofus like Ronaldinho: 


But pair it with a voice like Marisa Monte's, and you have the soundtrack to nibbana nirvana:


‘Let’s Get this Out of the Way’

One thing about Obama — he's full of surprises. Millions of people across the globe will be puzzled at this: 


Houston’s Awesome, You Effete Snob

A friend in Houston, Texas sends me these two pictures. First, a scholarship fundraising drive with max killpower:

Scholarship Drive
Second, a message from some Houston-boosters. Some background: Houston has a nationwide — nay, global — reputation for being a crappy place to live, although it's got its share of charms for the visitor. Hours-long commutes in the spaghetti bowl of freeways; endless soul-crushing hellscapes of fast-food chains, seedy strip malls


…pawn shops, titty bars, and junkyards; a sweltering humid, broiling subtropical climate; megachurches on every streetcorner; giant flying cockroaches, swarms of mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, not only fire ants but also crazy ants, the two of which are currently battling for supremacy.

To which Houston boosters have a simple four-word response:


Get this inspiring message on T-shirts, caps, and other gear here