US tourism

If you’re traveling to the US from Europe, you can enter without a prearranged visa via the Visa Waiver Program. However, if you plan to do so, then it’s worth noting that US authorities reserve the right to put you in shackles and throw you in a jail for 10 days, based on nothing more than a “hunch”. This is not a theoretical right, it’s one they’ve happily made use of.

Not going deaf for a living

Well, at the weekend I had my first SXSW experience, and it was a good one. Last year I managed to miss John Watts, but this year I was prepared. We went to The Hideout downtown about an hour early, and waited in line. The rule was SXSW badges first, then wristband holders, then if there was still space in the venue proletarians could pay $8 each to get in.

Who was that masked critter?

I’ve encountered another of those real life true stories so bizarre that in a year’s time I’m probably going to think I dreamed it. Herman Göring’s Nazi raccoons are invading Europe. I think that’s even better than the Fanta story.

How to look German

Hamburg sits on the Elbe river, a few kilometers inland. A cunning tax dodge in 1189 propelled it into becoming Europe’s second largest port, and a world class red light district soon followed, surrounded by dive bars and seedy nightclubs. These days the city is keener to present the area through rose-tinted John Lennon glasses, omitting to mention that the Beatles played the Star-Club mostly because they couldn’t get a paying gig anywhere else in 1962.

The Elbe is apparently pretty deep, because the Queen Mary 2 was there. She’s the largest ocean liner in the world, making the Titanic look small in comparison. She takes around 7 days to cross the Atlantic, at a price of $1000+. Mind you, that’s not much more than we paid for our tickets, and if they have broadband on the ship I wouldn’t even need to use up vacation days on the crossing. I bet the food’s nicer than Continental. If they toned down the swanky ballrooms a bit and made it cheaper, they could have a compelling business proposition. But I digress.

Wallowing in the past

We like to think that we are immune to propaganda. Yes, other feeble-minded individuals may allow their attitudes to be shaped by the media and their surroundings, but we’re sure that we are far too smart for that.

In 1975, John Cleese savagely satirized British attitudes to Germany, in the classic Fawlty Towers episode The Germans. After a blow to the head, hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty loses his ability to self-censor. While taking a dinner order from some German guests, he proceeds to blurt out the names of Nazis; eventually he descends into xenophobic ranting.

The sad thing is that after 30 more years, nothing much has changed.

Yahoo Answers

Yahoo added this area where people ask (mostly dumb) questions, and anyone can offer their (frequently uninformed) answers. It’s strangely addictive. It’s a bit like the Internet Oracle, without the stale old traditions said institution picked up over the years. I tend to alternate between useful and bizarre/smartass answers. Some examples of the latter: Q: What in your toilet can make the water blue? I haven’t put tabs in for months.

Support our Barbarians

The Guardian yesterday had interesting news from Iraq: Babylon, a city renowned for its beauty and its splendour 1,000 years before Europe built anything comparable, was chosen as the site for a US military base in April 2003, just after the invasion of Iraq. Military commanders set up their camp in the heart of one of the world’s most important archaeological sites and surrounded the enclosed part of the ancient city.

Fanta über alles

A few days ago I woke up and was thinking about caffeinated beverages, when I vaguely remembered how the current attempts to revive the Fanta brand were covering up the sinister secret–that Fanta was actually a drink invented specifically for Nazi Germany. I mentioned this to sara. We laughed, both agreeing that it was obviously some crazy stuff I’d come up with in a dream. Coke sponsoring the 1936 Nazi Olympics.

Vegas Day 5: Christmas

We left our Christmas presents under the tree at home, so we come up with a special gift for ourselves in Las Vegas: we book a day at the hotel spa on the 25th. Mandalay Bay spa is focused on a relaxing experience, rather than exercise per se; it’s all about reflexology, aromatherapy, massage, yoga, and so on. I’ve booked a back, shoulder and neck massage, but first I need to take a shower and soak in the hot pool to loosen up my muscles.


Ho ho, tell me another: In Europe last week, French fighter jets almost shot down a civilian helicopter that wandered over Lake Geneva, after a Swiss controller jokingly labeled the helicopter as “al-Qaeda” on his radar screen. —Aviation Web Newswire