Yale's Beinecke Library has scanned in and put online the entire Voynich manuscipt, a book written in a yet-to-be deciphered text whose contents are as follows:
Based on the subject matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls into six sections: 1) botanicals containing drawings of 113 unidentified plant species; 2) astronomical and astrological drawings including astral charts with radiating circles, suns and moons, Zodiac symbols such as fish (Pisces), a bull (Taurus), and an archer (Sagittarius), nude females emerging from pipes or chimneys, and courtly figures; 3) a biological section containing a myriad of drawings of miniature female nudes, most with swelled abdomens, immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules; 4) an elaborate array of nine cosmological medallions, many drawn across several folded folios and depicting possible geographical forms; 5) pharmaceutical drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots portrayed with jars or vessels in red, blue, or green, and 6) continuous pages of text, possibly recipes, with star-like flowers marking each entry in the margins.
There's an English phrase that always comes to my mind when I watch a particularly preachy episode of Tatort ("crime scene"), the weekly crime show that is a German institution. The phrase is "after-school special". An after-school special, was a TV show, usually a drama, that played at 4 pm or so, just as kids would come home from school. The scripts taught us kids to to tolerate all races; be proud of who we were; accept people who are different; be kind to the handicapped; avoid drugs, smoking, alcohol, and sex; not let strangers touch us "there"; and so on. The clip above gives you an idea of what we're dealing with (and, as an extra bonus, it features the title "The Boy who Drank Too Much"!).*
German publicly-financed television has a so-called Bildungsauftrag, roughly, "duty to educate". Now there's nothing wrong with requiring broadcasters who are financed by TV fees to provide educational programming. The talk shows and documentaries you see on regular German television — as much as we might mock them — are streets ahead of anything on American TV. The show Titel Thesen Temperamente (g) which runs every Sunday on the main German broadcast station, shows a fantastic dog's breakfast of 8-10 minute long clips about everything from jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani to discrimination against homosexuals in Turkey to Tiken Jah Fakoly (including a tour of his home and studio in Bamako, Mali), to anti-right-wing activists to Werner Herzog's new films to the Nazi past of the Alpine climbing group. Just about every one of these segments would have been deemed too controversial/hifalutin/boring/full of non-Americans for any of the 500 channels of American television. Except the stuff about Nazis, of course. Nazis always sell.
The problem is that this duty to educate often seeps into the dramas. Tatort, nominally a crime thriller, often reeks of after-school special. Frank Junghänel provides an example (g) in the Frankfurter Rundschau (my translation):
The problem is often the stories…they always have to be relevant. If there's a case from the 'beekeeper milieu', we're guaranteed to find out that the bees ate some genetically-modified rapeseed. Then the detectives will spontaneously discuss the dangers of adulterated honey, [Detective] Freddy Schenk will wring his hands over his granddaughter's future, and, at the end, the pharmaceutical industry will be outed as the villain, having sponsored experiments with rapeseed…
These after-school-special theme episodes are rarely highlights. But Tatort produders want to remain true to their mission to educate the public. "I'm trying to motivate the screenwriters to be more flexible with their narrative structures", says Tönsmann. "The theme should develop from the story, not be imposed beforehand." Screenwriters tend to want to explain too much. "We want to reduce the didactic element." At home, he likes to watch DVD series such as "The Wire." It plays in Baltimore, and shows police mostly at work.
The article goes through an entire laundry list of weaknesses in Tatort scripts: the sensitive would-be literati who write them have no idea about real police work, the situations are often ludicrously exaggerated, the characters make implausibly long and well-organized speeches, didacticism makes things boring and predictable, the same targets get whacked again and again. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the after-school special in the USA was designed for teenagers, while Tatort, broadcast on Sunday night, is watched (mostly) by adults.
Which leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that the people who write for German public TV stations think of their audience as largish children still in need of moral instruction. According to Tatort, adult Germans need to be taught that neo-fascists are bad, asylum seekers/transvestites/nonconformist teenagers are misunderstood and unjustly persecuted, corporations (especially pharmaceutical and agricultural corporations) are evil, sexual abuse destroys lives, yet even pedophiles deserve a second chance, vengeance is always an wrong, Eastern European crime gangs and their rich German customers exploit women, your cheap clothes come from stinking sweatshops, etc.*
As Junghänel's article shows, there are some producers and writers for Tatort who are aware of the after-school special problem. The mention of The Wire is promising: High-end American TV has recently gotten very good indeed at Balzacian realism, and The Wire is among the best shows ever made. It's based on careful observation of reality, and its writers generally let the chips fall where they may: if a scene was logical and right, it got shot, regardless of whether it might have happened to confound or confirm a stereotype.
An example: one character, Kima Greggs, is a detective who — even though she's a a gay black woman — is not shown to be unusually noble, self-sacrificing, or wise. She's out on patrol when a bunch of mostly-white officers are arresting some black men, and one of them turns around and assaults a cop. Big mistake. A cluster of uniforms surrounds the hapless arrestee, beating the living crap out of him. Greggs runs over to the scene. Does she deliver a lecture on racial tolerance or police brutality to the beefy white cops? No, she joins in — because a good cop always protects fellow officers, and that includes making sure anybody who attacks a cop lives to regret it. And of course there's no disciplinary proceeding, because (a) the guy really was resisting arrest, and (b) nobody's going to snitch. This would be the point at which a robot programmed with politically-correct Tatort episodes would begin shrieking "does not compute" and finally explode in a shower of sparks. Good riddance.
* Now, just to clear the air: I agree with most of these messages. We should be nice to other people! Kids should steer clear of drugs and alcohol! Neo-nazis are bad! Etc. etc. My issue is with crappy dramas caused by political stances, not political stances as such.
Das Programm, an English company, sells only works designed by Dieter Rams for Braun:
As incorrigible Dieter Rams collectors we are all too aware of the gap between the desirability and availability of his work. Das Programm was conceived to correct this. We only sell Dieter Rams designs and Braun products issued between 1955 and 1995, the period of Rams’ office as Braun’s Director of Design. The site is a unique online resource offering some of the most desirable and important examples of Twentieth Century industrial design, until now largely unobtainable without travel or risk of e-auction frustration.
Americans' … annual consumption is around one bottle per month (PDF) per capita—but perhaps they would if the industry hadn’t taught them that truly affordable wine isn’t worth drinking. The evidence is right across the Atlantic: In Europe, consumption is 3-to-6 times higher than in the United States. But only the most affluent would spend 11 euros to drink a bottle of wine at home on a Wednesday night. Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests. Germans, for example, pay just $1.79 on average for a bottle of wine.
Not long ago, American wine-buying habits were very similar to the Germans’. In 1995, 59 percent of the wine purchased in the United States sold for less than $3 per bottle. By 2006, controlling for inflation, that share had dropped to 29 percent. Wines over $14 per bottle more than quadrupled their share of the market during the same period. Looking at raw consumption rather than market share, sales of over-$14 wine increased sevenfold. Sales of wines that cost less than $3 per bottle actually declined 28 percent, during a period when overall wine consumption was rapidly increasing.
The pretty stunning figure of $1.79 per bottle comes from the linked report here, which is a pretty interesting analysis of German wine-buying habits, although it'S from 2007. Here's the relevant passage:
Despite the increasing sales of premium quality wines, Germany still is a market with a low average price of €1.77 (US$2.38) per litre in the off-trade in 2006. This is due mainly to the fact that the discount chains, which sell more than half of the total volume, move over 77% of their portfolio at below €1.99 (US$2.68) per bottle. When looking at all trade channels other than direct sales, the category under €2 a bottle has a 74.7% market share.
Yep, it must be the discounters, all right. In their scuffed and dingy aisles, you can find cardboard cartons of wine from all over the world for 1-2€ per bottle. And if you try enough bottles, you can often find something relatively drinkable. I remember Netto had a line of €1.50 Argentine cabernet that that was not half bad. Right now, my source of cheap tipple is my man Werner März, of the Natürlich Natürlich organic food store at Brunnenstr. 32 in Düsseldorf. In addition to plenty of other organic treats, he sells Vida Feliz organic wine from Spain. The absurdly low price of €3 per liter can't be beat, and the stuff is thoroughly drinkable. Since it's organic, you never know exactly what you'll get, which I find a feature, not a bug. But it's usually a simple, ripe, fruity red. Plus, you often actually see lees at the bottom of the bottle!