Superficial Reflections in Berlin – Part I

Ages since I wrote anything in here. Terrible stuff altogether. I’ve been distracted with, in order; preparing to emigrate, settling into our new home upon emigrating, watching all of Euro 2016, playing PS4. Note absolutely no mention of a job there…but that’s for another time and panic attack.

I won’t bore you with broad strokes on how Berlin is, like, SO much better than Dublin you guys. Instead, this missive will predominantly involve the little things I’ve picked up and enjoyed in the 7 weeks spent living in Germany’s capital. Just take it as read that almost everything is cheaper than in Ireland, of higher quality to boot, and that the only thing missing is the sad fact that we couldn’t bring all of our friends & family to live with us when we moved.

So anyway. Fritz Kola. I fucking❤ this stuff like an absolute nutcase. There’s Club-Mate Cola too, which is excellent as well, but Fritz is the tits. As well as their regular black stuff, there’s loads of other flavours to guzzle – so far the only one I’ve tried is the apfelschorle, and that’s easily the best fizzy apple drink I’ve ever tasted. This is all wonderful as far as I’m concerned, as I grew up loving Coca Cola before beginning a boycott in university that lasts to this day – thanks UCD and Mark Thomas. Now I can finally renew my love of cola, free from any shameful associations with union-busting, environmental destruction, activist murders and Nazi-supporting! Best of all, only a few weeks after Saoirse & I touched down in Schonefeld (apologies for the absence of an umlaut over the ‘o’ – I can’t work out how to program this sodding keyboard to make umlauts easier to insert), Fritz Kola joined the ranks sponsoring my favourite Bundesliga club… St. Pauli. I’ll drink to that!

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Right, I’m tired and bored now, so I’m going to sign off. Join me next time, for a paean to another object of commodity fetishism! What’ll it be; some local confectionary? A bike? The microwave-oven? You’ll have to wait to find out!

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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How Left Remain Campaigners Sold Out the Working Class: Lesser Evilism in the EU Referendum

Leicester Socialist Students

There are few illusions about the reformability of the EU on the left, even amongst those campaigning for Remain. Paul Mason has stated that “it is impossible for the EU to be a democracy”. The ex-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has described the “point blank refusal” of Greek creditors to “engage in economic arguments.” He explains, “you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken.” No doubt fuelled by these experiences, Varoufakis has since expressed serious doubts about the prospect of his own campaign succeeding – “It will probably end up in failure like all the best intentions.”

In this respect, they are in harmony with the left opposition, who argue that the prospect of reform will inevitably fail because the EU lacks a democratic structure.

But this has not been the main focus of the debate. Instead, the main issue has been less the objective…

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The Hell Where Youth and Laughter Go

This past week it was announced that the next release in the Battlefield franchise will be set in the Great War, a period hitherto under-explored in video games. While this had been rumoured for some time, due to leaks and soforth, it still surprised me when I finally saw the teaser and subsequent trailer; put simply, it is a pretty mammoth task to make a compelling video game out of the First World War, given the lack of cultural touchstones in the collective consciousness other than trenches, foot rot, shell shock, and gas masks. Fair play to DICE and EA for looking past such clichés and shibboleths to examine the whole of what occurred between 1914 and 1918 and seek out the events that lend themselves more aptly to gaming adaptation. Me, I’ve been dying to see World War One become the focus of a AAA title for a long, long time, so to say that I’m excited would be a zeppelin-sized understatement!

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The title isn’t one I would have chosen. They’ve gone for Battlefield 1, which has earned a great deal of criticism online. I don’t hate it, I understand that it refers to the setting – 1st World War, World War 1 – but I would have gone for the slightly more clever Battlefield ’16; the number representing both the middle of the war, 1916, and the year of release, 2016. If only they had as finely-tuned a mind as mine on their naming team. Alas…

It is so refreshing to see a triple-A developer and publisher actually take a punt on something that hasn’t been done before and represents a risk. I can’t stress enough how much of a rarity that is becoming in an industry that frequently spends much, much more on ‘dead certs’ than they can possibly recoup in sales; great games like Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and others with ‘Brand Recognition’ did not do as well as projected…because the projections were ludicrously optimistic. These companies are built to make profits, not art; they are, by necessity, risk-averse. So it is lovely to see – especially from EA, of all people! – that there remain individuals who are willing to explore relatively unknown settings in order to produce something that has not been seen before.

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Judging by the cover (sorry Yahtzee, no copyright infringement intended), the game will also attempt to shine a light on the experiences of soldiers of colour during the conflict. Certainly, there are items in the slated DLC which refer to the Harlem Hellfighters; they were a regiment almost entirely made up of African-Americans drawn from the boroughs of New York City, and they achieved fame and notoriety in battle on the Western Front in 1918. In fact, the ‘Hellfighters’ moniker was not one they chose themselves – it was one their German opponents came up with as a mark of respect…and, probably, terror.

Battlefield 1 is due out in October, and I for one cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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We’ve come a long way, crazy…

As recently as the mid-20th Century, psychiatry was in its infancy. A lot of ideas had to be thrown out, shot down and discredited before scientific, medical and therapeutic practice became humane and effective. Therefore it is perhaps normal to note that a few hundred years ago, some pretty whacked out notions were accepted as fact.

Nonetheless, it might surprise you to know just what were believed at the time to be the major causes of mental illness. In 1805, the leading French authority on the subject, Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol published his seminal work; Les Passions considérées comme causes, symptômes et moyens curatifs de l’aliénation mentale.

‘The Passions considered as Causes, Symptoms & Cures of Mental Instability’.

Esquirol essentially believed that all psychological ailments derived from ‘passions within the soul’ rather than from ludicrous notions like hereditary biological conditions or environmental factors. He also was convinced that no form of madness could fully and/or permanently affect a patient’s reason.

Wanna know what the ten most common causes of insanity were, according to this quack?

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TOP TEN CAUSES OF MADNESS IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

1. Moving into a new home

Pretty stressful, granted, but would you really believe that such an experience could cause someone to completely lose their shit? Maybe if they’d just moved into the house in Poltergeist, that’s probably the only way this could happen.

2. Squeezing a pimple

So adolescence, basically? Ok, I can buy that. Unless…unless you’re seriously suggesting that the mere act of popping just one spot leads to…ah. That’s exactly what you’re saying. How big would that zit have to be? Is the pus your sanity, in this metaphor-taken-literally? You know what, scratch that. Some things man was not meant to know.

3. Old age

Alright yeah, we kinda still believe this one. Next!

4. Childbirth

Well, there is Post-Natal Depression so…partial credit? Give ya a pass on this one too, Jean-Étienne.

5. The Menstrual Cycle

Not touching this with a fucking barge pole…

6. Shrinkage of haemorrhoids

You just know he was venting, don’t ya; “These things are driving me CRAZY – oh yes, that’ll do…” Only thing is, why would the shrinking, in particular, cause people to go off their rocker? I mean, logically – and I’m using the word ‘logically’ extremely loosely, I know – wouldn’t you become more unhinged the larger the haemorrhoids got? Do…do people with haemorrhoids become insecure if their dangly grapes lose their vim? Urgh. Just… Urgh.

7. Misuse of mercury

Shit, what’s the correct use of mercury? Can you be a bit more specific? I mean, if you eat it then, yeah, madness is probably the least of your worries… Were people snorting the stuff at this time? Using it as an acceptable substitute for salt? We’re talking about a time when lead-based cosmetics were used by fucking everyone, so nothing is beyond the realms of possibility here. Maybe they were using it to beef up their ‘roids…

8. Disappointment in love

D’awwwwwwwwww…

9. Masturbation

Wankers are nuts, no doubt. It probably didn’t help that French shrinks were watching them perform the act, though.

10. Bloodletting

‘Sure’, you might think, ‘Self-harm is a signifier of torment and distress, they were on to something there.’ Ah, but you see, standard practice at the time was to treat individuals adjudged to be of unsound mind…with bloodletting. So you can imagine the confusion this last entry caused, as the medical community still believed that cutting someone and letting some liquid drain out was a foolproof cure for psychological trauma.

Sums it up, doesn’t it? A bunch of nonsense, and the only objection most psychiatrists in the early 19th century had was that Esquirol was being a bit harsh on the benefits of bloodletting.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Raw Nerves

You don’t know what it’s like in my head, living every day afraid. That’s no fault of yours, it’s just a statement of fact. Unless you’re a psychic or something…and I’m reasonably sure that they don’t exist. Given that reality, I’m going to try providing some insight into the total mess of neuroses that is my daily existence.

I don’t know who would read this, or want to read this. Maybe nobody. Maybe a few people, though God alone knows why. Might it help someone? Probably not. Possibly me. It might even hurt somebody, triggers being what they are.

In Carrie, Laurie Piper’s repeated line sums up the main fear of yours truly; “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” Suffering humiliation. Betraying ignorance. Being ridiculed. You get so, so angry when made to feel this way. It’s always there – the threat. You never escape it entirely. You can be on cloud nine and the slightest, most insignificant event sends you tumbling into the abyss.

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You’re in a pan on a cooker, the heat of which is turned up a little more with every derisive look…every verbal put-down…every mocking cackle… You simmer. You bubble. You boil. Eventually, apparently out of nowhere as far as onlookers are concerned, you spill over…into rage.

This is known as the Fight-or-Flight response. Mental Health practitioners and anyone suffering with a wide variety of mental illnesses will recognise it as a common experience of those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Never been diagnosed with that myself, I’m GAD & proud…and in any case, my idiosyncratic response is more Fight-and-Flight; I briefly lash out, then flee the scene. Charming, I’m sure. For all concerned.

Why would anyone put themselves – never mind others, the potential unwitting victims – through this?

Vent over.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters… ;

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Nostalgia for the Never-was

(Inspired by the work of Laurent Kronental, in particular this photograph)

Dregs. Scum. Rabble. Undesirables. Canailles.

Guillaume hated them all with a dour passion. His hatred had not made him become a gendarme, but it had kept him one through the subsequent years of thankless state service. When he achieved the rank of Inspecteur, he paid lip service to the notion of going after the power behind the streets – the organised criminal hierarchies who played the common thugs like marionettes – but such idealistic claims were far removed from his real aims. In short, he wanted to lock up every single clochard and malfrat he could get his hands on. It was they who he blamed for sullying the alleys and boulevards of his once-spotless locality. It was they who would draw the full force of his ire.

Glumly mulling over such feelings, Inspector Guillaume Ouvrier was unaware that the thoughts of loathing had painted an expression of sneering disgust across his face. Thus, any passers-by who walked past the towering flats and happened to look up through the second floor window would catch a glimpse of a most intimidating visage. Ouvrier was pushing sixty, and his work had aged his features so that he looked at least a decade older, but he wore a fearsome countenance underneath his dark brown fedora with its thick black hatband. His messy mop of white hair was just visible around the tips of his ears, and though eternally clean-shaven he had the craggy, lined face of an old sea dog. Though blessed with big blue eyes, his permanent squint of disdain lessened their attractiveness quite a bit. To call his demeanour ‘frosty’ would be akin to describing the Antarctic as ‘cool’.

The dull-witted Lieutenant Student rushed back into the living room, as if burdened with explosive news, but Ouvrier knew the rookie well enough at this stage to know that this was simply down to the naive officer’s inability to discern information that was useful from that which was useless. Snapping to attention – as if on the parade ground, noted Ouvrier derisively – he began to speak, before being immediately interrupted by his superior.

“Sir, I’ve just-”

“I’m sure you have, garçon. Any chance at all that whatever-it-is that you have just done has any bearing whatsoever on our case?”

Mouth agape, eyes wide, cheeks blushing… The inexperience – or was it incompetence? – was writ large on the youngster’s face.

“Dismissed.”

“But sir-”

“GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!”

With his superior’s roar hot on his heels, the Lieutenant Student fled, cursing once more his misfortune in being seconded to this crazed detective.

Inspecteur Ouvrier turned back to the window, resuming his rumination. Though barely taking in all that was before him, he nonetheless gazed out over sights of utter magnificence. These buildings were architecturally daring, inspired by visions of the future that were extraordinary in their originality, and fearless in the unbound nature of their construction. Even the parks weaved around as if designed to mimic the rolling waves of the sea, while the apartment blocks surrounding them resembled grand cruise-liners from the age of steam. Futuristic novelty was everywhere, and yet…and yet…

Yet the inhabitants looked more like him; old, cantankerous, grizzled, aching. Nouveau et ancien. You would think that it would be the young, the bohemian, the artistic, the energetic…that those would be the ones drawn to such a unique environment. Mais non. The elderly and the frightened came to live here…because, in this district, they could depend on the police to uphold law and order with an iron fist. An iron fist that, in the case of Inspecteurs like Ouvrier, meant zero tolerance towards anyone who disturbed the peace.

Given that all the residents in the Victoire apartment block had been discovered dead that grey morning, it was fair to say that Guillaume Ouvrier’s peace was now thoroughly disturbed.

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Solidarité, fréres et soeurs…

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Shopping in Ancient Times

Excerpt from ‘Final Stores: Consumerism in the Pre-Internet Age’, Pietro Mulligan & Sascha Bordstrøm (eds.), 2150

In the era before ubiquitous home delivery services and DroneDrops™ made leaving the home to purchase goods an unnecessary inconvenience, consumers had to travel into a certain district, known as Retailia, in order to obtain the items they desired or required. Retailia was made up of numerous structures, called ‘shops’, which each specialised in a unique area of commerce; home entertainment, pharmaceuticals, plastic surgery, and so on. In these urban markets, people could purchase a variety of commodities with relative ease.

However, it soon became apparent that this was not enough. This was spotted by the great industrial entrepreneur Walton Debenham, who in 1955 invented the first ‘shopping mall’; the giant building, constructed out of necessity in the badlands of Beverly Hills, contained an array of boutiques under one roof. The idea, simplicity in itself, was to provide customers with a cathedral of capitalism, a prison from which the only escape was earned by the spending of cold, hard currency. Everything a person needed could be found among the various outlets, along an impressive amount of pure, unadulterated tat.

Often, these malls would have two or more levels, in order to increase capacity and choice, and the levels would be connected by moving staircases or ‘escalators’. These mobile steps would travel at soul-crushingly slow pace, and this in turn would induce a kind of mania in the mall-goers unfortunate enough to find themselves aboard.

Going to a shopping mall was therefore both unavoidable and incredibly distressing, as those who disliked crowds had no alternative but to brave the irksome throngs of fellow shoppers…

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ALL HAIL RETAILIA

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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