Good taste

I read about a website and a book called Stuff White People Like in the Sunday Times. It both fascinated and irritated me and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I believe that I have a fairly good eye for things that’ll trend, except in the world of fashion. When looking through this weeks Style Magazine in Sunday Times, I just cannot believe that anyone likes that stuff. Anyway, what I have an eye for is probably more What White People Like, or, as I’m not overly fond of the term and find it too American for us Europeans, The Aspiring Classes.

While I’m definitely not blind to the many foibles that mar us who belong to the Aspiring Classes, I’m also uncomfortable with Mr. Lander’s generalisations. For instance I don’t like his attitude towards charity – charity here means anything we do for other people in a charitable fashion. I think – and hope – that it’s not only the Aspiring Classes who feel inclined to be charitable. Actually, I find that it’s a thing that defines a, luckily large, subset of the Working Class, that they take time and money they don’t have out to help others. Just think of some of the incredible people we’ve seen on the TV-programme The Secret Millionaire. But he’s right when he says that some charities appeal a lot more to the Aspiring Classes than others. A few years ago, the ones that came with a plastic armband were top of the pops. I had one too…

The phenomenon of Good Taste is not exactly new. Neither is it new that it’s a term with special significance to the aspiring and upper classes. We’re brought up to believe that the Upper Classes (no no, not in money terms, obviously) are born with Good Taste, whereas the rest of us must strive to achieve it and some of us get it wrong. Big Time.

According to a lovely programme I heard on Radio 4, Taste, as in Good Taste, was an invention of the 18th Century, and, as it was so beautifully put in the programme, a marriage of wealth and virtue. Chew on that for a bit, will you? The reason why it’s a bit complicated and fraught with traps and pit-holes is that we’re protestants. So we can’t just lean back and enjoy all the opulence money can buy, we have to always justify the things we purchase – everything is tinged with guilt. “Residual anxiety about material things” as historian Amanda Vickery puts it.

I decided not to read through the full list of Things White People Like, because I thought It would disturb my own feeling of what the Aspiring Classes like. So I’ve wandered around my own home and taken random pictures of things that I believe belong in this category. It is very, very far from exhaustive – I’m hoping to make this into a series with pictures of my own stuff, pictures of other people’s stuff, stuff in shops and in the street and even lots of stuff that isn’t stuff at all, but more concepts and ideas. I’ll post them as I think of them. And I certainly hope you’ll find inspiration to post your own additions. I have a friend in Denmark who has a truly exceptional eye for this (you know who you are M-L!) and I really hope she’ll contribute.

We have a thermos cum cafetière. That is now old-school. The thing to have is a Nespresso machine. I try hard not to covet it. I have and love my Kitchen Aid mixer. It matches my other red kitchen thingies, but where I beg to differ from the description of Kitchen Aid owners in the Sunday Times, I actually use mine at least once a week. We use Maldon sea salt and whole spices where possible. Maybe we’re just posh, but we actually believe we can taste the difference – especially with spices like cardamom. We have two pepper mills, both with a Peugeot grinder. That should guarantee that it lasts for life. Electric pepper grinders are NOT good taste. Wasting a battery on a pepper mill?!?

We have a Philippe Starck dining table. That’s not quite good taste – it borders too much on show-off. Candles on the table however, is good taste. But one must be very careful not to go overboard and become shabby chic, which is sooo 90’s. Antique silver candlesticks with white candles on the other hand – that’s a classic :-) As are paintings, new and old, which are NOT purchased to match the curtains. The Aspiring Classes know that that’s not done. That’s something the nouveau riche do. The thought makes us shudder.

We own Apple stuff. Lots of it. Nuff said. There are quite a few magazines to read for the Aspiring, in fact Vanity Fair might be considered a tad too American and eh, aspiring. For an almost 50-year old woman, reading Wired is probably not quite the right thing either – something literary perhaps? Intelligent Life, which is not in the picture, fits the mould. And I read that too…

We believe in healthy good food and we want to cook it ourselves. Not always successful, we can always resort to M&S, where the food department caters almost exclusively to us. So nice with a shop that understands our needs!

Obviously, there are hundreds more items and it’s possible to go into nitty gritty detail. For instance, reading books is not enough. It must be the right books at the right time. And THOU MAY NOT LIKE DAN BROWN (but it’s OK to have read one, like yours truly).

I think I will come back to this…

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Like walking in water

is what my intellectual life has felt like lately. I’ve read a lot of very inspiring stuff but felt completely incapable of commenting on it in a way suitable for publication. But then I read how a children’s author found the courage to start writing: After decades of reading all the masters of both adult and children’s fiction, she’d built up a sizeable inferiority complex and felt incapable of writing anything of substance. But then she got the idea of approaching it the other way round. She went to the library and borrowed some really cr** children’s books and went home and read them. And then she read some more. And suddenly the writer’s block was gone  – ’cause anyone could write prose more engaging and interesting than what she’d just been reading.

So – after having read stuff by some of the world’s leading journalists and writers over the summer in Vanity Fair, Sunday Times, Wired etc., I’ve now stumbled around a bit and read some bits and bobs by more inferior writers and got my courage up :-)

I’ve been following the debate around Free. The debate started long before Chris Anderson’s book*, but it really took off after. And News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch has certainly stirred the pot with his claim that he’s very close to creating a pay-wall around his empire. What to think about all this? I’m still in doubt. I’m against downloading music without paying for it, but I happily use Grooveshark and Spotify to stream music. And I’m the first to say that the music industry has only itself to thank for its current predicament. I can still recall how my bosses in the Danish music industry laughed at me when I – in the very early 90ties – came home from a seminar in New York and told them that music was about to become digital and how that might have implications for copyright protection…

Would I pay for content? Yes, I think I would gladly pay for some content, if it were of high quality and delivered to me in a convenient and tailored format. I’m having news from BBC, Times of London, New York Times, The Guardian and Washington Post among others delivered to my computer and/or my phone on a daily basis. What if these could be tailored even more specifically to my needs and delivered in more reader friendly ways? Personally, I think micro-payment, as practised on Itunes and in the App store, is on the up and that our future credit card statements/phone bills will be full of miniature payments for all sorts of things, not only songs and apps, but news stories, TV-programmes, films, parking, bus tickets etc.

Anyway, if you haven’t followed the debate, here’s a few important articles on the subject: Anderson himself, Malcolm Gladwell’s dismissal of the idea, Murdoch’s vow to install a pay-wall, Andrew Keen‘s treatment of Pirate Bay and finally a summary on The Guardian’s tech pages (the best place to follow this debate, the Guardian’s online presence is by far the best on the web).

Another Big Story that I’ve been following over the summer is the story about the greatest swindler of them all, Bernie Madoff. Incredibly interesting and intriguing stuff! Vanity Fair is best for this story. Just go to their site and type in Madoff in the search field. The Guardian has collected everything about Madoff very neatly in one place if your time is too short for 3-4 VF articles…

Of course I’ve also been following the development in Iran – mostly via Twitter – and the situation in Afghanistan, which seems to deteriorate on a daily basis.

And then there’s the Birther movement and the “If Stephen Hawking had been English, he’d be dead” debate in the US. I absolutely love the latter – isn’t it just exceptional how the American right can get away with blatant lies. How can the people who work on Fox News and a whole host of other media spreading these insane rumours call themselves journalists? (Oh well, people who write about the latest shenanigans of 3rd rate TV stars also call themselves journalists – so much for that).

And I’ve been away on holiday – will not use the word st**cation – some of my Twitterfriends get sick when they hear the word – on the Sussex coast. We had a lovely totally holidayish time, kiting, crabbing, touring, playing Monopoly and Canasta, reading reading reading. Best book I read was Turbulence by Giles Foden. Absolutely brilliant – a must read. I’ll never badmouth the meteorologists again, promise! Above pictures are from holiday, inspired by Turbulence.

Finally, a recommendation. Youngest son Dane has been busy with scissors and glue since we came back. See the rather surprising results of his endeavours here.

* A funny aberdabei about Anderson’s book Free, is that it’s actually only free in the US. Over here we have to pay for it. So much for Free!

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A Film Meme

I’ve been tagged by my friend Gabs. She’s a real film buff and we used to go to the cinema together at least once every week…

She stole the meme from a British blogger, a Labour MP by the name of Tom Harris (can’t say I’ve ever heard of him, but then he’s from Scotland…)

It’s about the 25 films Obama gave Prime Minister Brown on his recent visit to the White House. Have we seen them? Do we own them?

Here’s the rules: Take two points for every film you own and have seen (only one if you own it but haven’t got round to watching it yet), one point if you’ve seen it but don’t own the DVD, and no points for those you haven’t either watched, purchased or been given.

Actually, I’m not keen on owning films, since I’ve noticed that I very rarely watch them more than once or twice, so I don’t really approve of the idea that owning it is worth as much as having seen it – what if you’ve seen it many, many times, but still don’t own it? When we left Denmark we gave away quite a few films and since then we’ve only bought a few, mostly for young son.

Anyway, a rule’s a rule, so here goes:

Citizen Kane – exactly as good as it is made out to be.

The Godfather – and that goes for this one as well. Btw, if you’re a fan of the Godfather films, you’ll truly enjoy this article from Vanity Fair about the making of the first film. Truly amazing!

Casablanca – this one has become somewhat iconic, so that the iconic stands in the way of our appreciation of the film, don’t you think? But heck, I like all films with good  old Humphrey in them!

Raging Bull – This one I’ve strangely managed to avoid all these years. But I will see it one day.

Singin’ in the Rain – saw it as a child, remember it quite clearly.

Gone with the Wind – this one too, and again as a young girl.

Lawrence of Arabia – great film – still good.

Schindler’s List – very touching. Pity there weren’t more good Germans around then.

Vertigo – probably my favourite Hitchcock, only surpassed by Rear Window (which I do own).

The Wizard of Oz – never saw that one.

City Lights – oh yes, still brings a tear to my eye.

The Searchers – great Western. All young people should see it. First then do they know what A Western is. You want to get a horse and ride out there with them.

Starwars: Episode IV – don’t know!? Cant’ tell one episode from the other. I’ve seen 2-3 of them??!! (just checked on ImdB – this is the first one, only later renamed Episode IV. So I have definitely seen it.)

Psycho – yes. Not a favourite.

2001: A Space Odyssey – yes. Ok. Not wild about Sci-Fi.

Sunset Boulevard – Had to check this clip from the film to see if I’d seen it. Can’t remember it, so probably haven’t.

The Graduate – well of course.

The General – not sure I ever saw this one. But since I’ve translated this brilliant book into Danish I know a lot about it – and about a lot of the other films on this list.

On the Waterfront – Shame on me. I never saw it!

It’s a Wonderful Life – If you haven’t seen it. See it. It’s just eh, just eh, hm. Rent it, buy it, whatever. See it.

Chinatown – Seen this one at least 10 times. Always good.

Some Like it Hot – saw that when I was a child. Not sure if I’ve seen it since. When MM enters the screen you know right away what made her such a superstar.

The Grapes of Wrath – yes. And read the book. Book made a huge impression on young, impressionable me.

ET: The Extra-Terristrial – quite a few times. Just said to my husband the other day that we should get it on Film on Demand for young son – he’s got just the age (7) for it.

To Kill a Mockingbird – I’m actually not sure if I’ve ever actually seen this film? It seems very familiar, but I remember the book so clearly that it may stand in the way of remembering the film – if ever I saw it. See this trailer for the film. The art of making trailers has come a long way…

Time to add up the points. I’ve seen 20 of them. So that’s 20 points. And I own On the Waterfront (which I haven’t seen, silly in’it?), Citizen Kane, Schindler’s List & Lawrence of Arabia. That’s 4. 24 points in all.

Now, who should I tag? Hm. OK:

Onesentenceafteranother – H. is a sweet New Zealand girl whom I’ve met here. Now she goes back to NZ, so I’m hoping to keep the blog-contact by harassing her like this…

And Josh Ganz – he’s also down under, an economist who writes about that (economy…) and children and has recently published a book about the combination called Parentonomics. Read his funny post about being obsesses with Amazon’s ranking.

Dorthe må lide under, at hendes blog har nyhedens interesse for mig – jeg har kun lige opdaget den og er ret begejstret. Hvorfor skriver jeg nu det her på dansk? Jamen, det er jo fordi Dorte skriver på dansk…




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Double standards

Picture from after the attack of UN run international school in Gaza. Picture from BBC.
Picture from after the attack of UN run international school in Gaza. Picture from BBC.

The Gaza conflict makes me even more angry than so many other international conflicts. I think what makes me fume is that America supports Saudi Arabia so strongly, overtly and unconditioned – America that claims to be on a “Nation Building” & “Democracy Exporting” Crusade. Palestine is definitely more democratic than any little bit of desert in Saudi Arabia! And think of the Sauds who were allowed to leave the US during the flying ban after 9/11. And consider that there’s every proof you’d want that it’s the Saudis who finance most of the religious madmen in the Arab world and thus more or less pushed Hamas into power. Because at the same time as supporting Hamas and all the other religious nutters, they – and the US and Israel – have done everything to discredit Fatah. It simply defies belief that the whole world is standing by and idly watching this!

Today’s story about the Israeli “proof” that they only shoot at “legitimate” targets – the Youtube video with the “missiles” being loaded onto the truck – is probably only scratching the surface of the deception the Western press gladly falls for.

A Washington Post story from right after the Hamas take-over.

Here’s evidence of Saudi Arabia financing terrorism, which was delivered to the American senate in 2003.

Here’s some back ground information about Saudi Arabia, Wahabism and terror financing from the Independent.

Wikipedia’s article about Wahabism (state religion in Saudi Arabia). And here about the House of Saud, who rule Saudi Arabia.

A bone chilling story from Vanity Fair about the US deepening the crisis in Gaza.

I could go on, but I won’t.

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A “dunk in the water”

The above is a quote from Donald Rumsfeld. And no, he wasn’t talking about his latest holiday by the sea or one of his grandchildren falling into the pool.

He was referring to waterboarding. If you don’t know what that is, it’s an “interrogation technique” which the top of the American administration has allowed to be used in Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Get a definition on Waterboarding.org or on Wikipedia.

Picture from Waterboarding.org

The top guys in Washington did their very best to cover their tracks and make it look like the ideas for waterboarding and a number of other “interrogation techniques” came from the bottom: the soldiers and officers stationed at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But luckily there are people out there, some of which are even journalists, who have been digging through heaps and heaps of documents and uncovered the paper trail, which points directly to Rumsfeld and Bush.

An army of lawyers have been deployed to “legalize” these interrogation methods, which are most certainly not allowed in the Geneva Convention. Or in the American constitution…

Two lawyers at the Justice Department’s office of Legal Council came up with this brand new definition of torture: Physical torture occurs only when the pain is

equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death

and that mental torture requires

suffering not just at the moment of infliction but… lasting psychological harm.

These quotes are from a memo written by the two lawyers Jay Bybee (now a federal judge) and John Yoo (now teaches law at Berkeley!!!!!!!). The quotes are from an article in Vanity Fair by British law professor Philippe Sands. It’s a very long article (8 pages), but well worth reading.

A shorter article, to some extent based on the findings by Philippe Sands, is on today’s BBC Online.

Presidential hopeful John McCain, who consistently claims to be against torture (he himself has been a prisoner of war) voted against a bill proposed to the senate about banning waterboarding and other kinds of torture. Article in New York Times.

Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama (or Barack HUSSEIN Obama as all the right wing newsletters and blogs scrupulously write) made this statement last year about torture:

The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer – it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. Torture is how you set back America’s standing in the world, not how you strengthen it. It’s time to tell the world that America rejects torture without exception or equivocation. It’s time to stop telling the American people one thing in public while doing something else in the shadows. No more secret authorization of methods like simulated drowning. When I am president America will once again be the country that stands up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values.

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Baseball

Yesterday was about baseball. Our host Matt is a devoted fan of local team The Boston Red Sox and has been since he – like all good American litterary heroes – as a little boy was taken to the stadium on hot Saturdays by his father. Matt took us on a tour of the old (1912) stadium Fenway Park in the middle of Boston, and it was great fun to get an insight in this sport, which you invariably come across if you ever watch an American film, read an American book or browse an American newspaper.

The weather was lovely and the female guide far above average as American guides go, she clearly wasn’t paid on a words-per-minute basis. We browsed around the Red Sox merchandise shop, approximately the size of a middlesized supermarket back home. There really is no end to the fan gear you can purchase there. And there’s something in the air that really makes you want to buy the stuff, heavily overpriced as it is. We resisted the urge, having already received Red Sox-stuff as presents from Matt and Jackie and having bought a few caps and a t-shirt earlier in the day at Wal-Mart at a far lower price.

The air was heavy with anxious anticipation, because later that evening The Boston Red Sox were playing a very important game in Cleveland, Ohio, determining their fate in the series. They’d apparently done pretty badly in the previous games, so spirits were a bit low. But lo and behold if they didn’t win! For David, Dane, Emil and me it was our lives’ first baseball game and it was fun to watch it in the RV, eating crisps and drinking beer. Dane fell asleep after a while and a little later also Emil. I couldn’t fall asleep, since my seat was so bl…. uncomfortable, and I could surf a little and read a little during all the commercials (which really is what kills you) and David almost managed to sit through it, only dozing off during commercials. As David put it, half of the commentary was double dutch to us, but the general idea of the game dawned on us. And we had to admire the Red Sox pitcher who saved the game. He was SO cool! Watching him chew his gum, spit, look completely stonefaced and then throw the ball with astonishing speed and curve, so the Cleveland Indians practicallly never hit it, was absolutely worth the sore bum I had afterwards.

If any Americans with baseball knowledge read this: What is it with the spitting? They all do it – all the time. The coach more so than any of the others. What on earth is it good for?

Today it’s really warm, but raining. The boys have gone fishing again, I’ve been reading Vanity Fair, a luxury I’m warming to considerably. Compared with your average monthly fashion magazine, it certainly takes a long time to read! OK, the print is very small and clearly not intended for middle-aged women with bi-focals. And the language is not exactly easy. But, wow, it’s rewarding once you find the peace and quiet to read it. I read a hair-rising story about the involvement of a Halliburton subsidiary in the Iraq war. It was so well researched, and so disquieting! The American tax payers certainly have reasons to worry! It really doesn’t matter if you’re for the war or against it. Nobody can be in favour of private companies overcharging the American government by a routine 500-1000% for services rendered? If you have the patience to read 8 pages online, start here.

There’s also an article by Christopher Hitchens of whom I’m not usually a fan. But this one is good and strangely touching. The Shakespeare quote towards the end certainly provoked a few tears. The article is about how Hitchens finds himself partly responsible for the death of a young man in Iraq and how he deals with this emotion. Pretty good.

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