30 October 2005

Who is Karl Marx?

Something hilarious happened to me today and I just have to share.

At around lunchtime, I was out and about in the old town centre of Trier. I was walking along Brückenstraße (Bridge St.), which happens to contain the house in which Karl Marx was born (Yes, yes, Karl Marx was indeed born in Trier - you didn't know that, did you?)

Needless to say, the house in question is now a museum, with a big bronze plaque on the wall saying "This is the house in which Karl Marx was born, on 5th May 1818", or something in German to that effect. It's pretty hard to miss.

I was directly opposite the Karl-Marx-Haus when I was approached for directions by a balding gentleman in his sixties with a fantastic grey combover, which was being whipped around a bit in the breeze, and with a tourist map in his hand. Now, normally when I get approached for directions in Trier, the tourist in question wants to know the way to the Porta Nigra, so before this chap even started speaking I was already working out the the quickest way to get there from where were standing. But he didn't ask the way to the Porta Nigra. He asked something entirely different, and I was quite unprepared for what came next.

The conversation went something like this:


Gentleman with Combover: *speaking broken German with French accent* "Entschuldigung. .... ummm ... Karl-Marx-Haus?"

BerlinBear: *stunned, and quickly reassessing prepared answer* "Ah, das Karl Marx Haus? Das ist da, direkt gegenüber" (= Um, the Karl Marx house? That is right there, directly opposite)

GwC: *switching to English with French accent, since "Entschuldigung" appeared to be the extent of his German* "Oh, thank you. Can you tell me? Who is Karl Marx?"

BB: *laughs heartily, assuming GwC is joking*

GwC: *smiles and shifts uncomfortably, indicating very clearly that he is in fact not joking at all*

BB: *quickly stifling laughter*"Who is Karl Marx? Umm, well ..." *cracks up again* "Well ... Karl Marx was a Communist. You must have heard of Karl Marx? ... No? ... Well, in fact, along with Engels, he pretty much invented Communism. That was in the 19th Century. He was born here in Trier. In that house.

GwC: *completely failing to be embarrassed about not knowing who Karl Marx was* "Oh, I see. I saw it on the map and was wondering where it was, and what it was."

BB: Well, that's it right there, the house in which Karl Marx was born. There's a big plaque on the wall.

GwC: OK, thank you. Good bye.


And I swear, every word of that is true. It took me quite a while to regain my composure and I'm sure lots of people in town must have thought I was bonkers as I wandered through the pedestrian zone grinning maniacally and chuckling to myself. Quite apart from the fact that it's quite something to ask for directions to the house you are standing directly opposite, to say nothing of the fact that it is a pretty impressive achievement to be a European and reach sixty-odd without ever having heard of Karl Marx, what really got me was that this guy was taking the trouble to find the house in which someone he had never heard of was born, just to look at it from the outside (Today being a Sunday, there was no chance that the museum would be open, after all.) I guess he must have been working his way through all the numbered sights on his map, but still, the whole episode amused me immensely. So, thank you to the (presumably) French gentleman with a combover, you made my day.

PS: Just in case, the Wikipedia article on Karl Marx is here, though I'm sure none of you need it!

Quizzing the Blogosphäre

Here's a post for any readers who live in Germany and/or speak German. (Actually, are there any, apart from Ms. Bear?). I'm afraid you need to be able to speak German for this one.

Dr. Jan Schmidt from the University of Bamberg is carrying out research into the German Blogosphäre. As part of an ongoing research project about blogging, he's created an online questionnaire called Wie ich blogge. It's directed not only at current bloggers, but also at readers of blogs and former bloggers. For current bloggers, the survey takes about 15 minutes, for readers and former bloggers considerably less. The questions are interesting, and you can sign up to receive details of the results of the research project. Seems like a worthwhile project to me, so if you're a blogger or a blog reader and can speak German, click the link above and go for it. I've also put a link in the right hand sidebar.

BlogMap update

My BlogMap in the right hand sidebar has been updated to reflect my new location. Thanks to Uroskin for the nudge. As you can see, the Trier blogosphere, or Blogosphäre as it's known in German, needs a bit of work. Ten bloggers in Trier! Crikey.

Good News Saturday

After a long hiatus, Good News Saturday finally returns to The Capital Letter. (OK, OK, I know it's strictly speaking already Sunday, but work with me here!)

This week's good news comes from eastern Germany, not the source of a whole lot of good tidings these days, given how grim the economic and unemployment situations are there. Specifically, it comes from Dresden, where tomorrow will see the consecration of the splendidly rebuilt Frauenkirche, destroyed by Allied bombing in February 1945.

Above: The bombed-out Frauenkirche in 1945. Below: Though the church is complete, work goes on in the surrounding square. [Source: Deutsche Welle]

Sixty years after its destruction the last throes of the Second World War (the bombing of Dresden remains to this day a deeply controversial episode. It has been described by some influential critics as a war crime. For more information, see this excellent Wikipedia article) and fully fifteen years after the effort to rebuild it finally began upon German reuinifcation in 1990, the Frauenkirche is now complete and has resumed its dominant place in the Dresden skyline.

The project has cost a total of €180 million, much of which was given by private donors. A particularly poignant piece is the golden cross atop the dome, which was donated by the city of Coventry and cast by a British goldsmith, whose father was one of the bombers who took part in the firebombing of Dresden in 1945.

A crowd in excess of 100,000 is expected at tomorrow's ceremony, which will be attended by the (still) Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, and the (not yet) Chancellor, Angela Merkel, amongst other dignitaries.

This is good news indeed. The last time I was in Dresden, the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche was already well under way, but I have not seen it, except in pictures, since the exterior was completed late last year. It was already impressive when it was only half rebuilt, so it must look quite something by now. I look forward to checking it out next time I head Dresden-ward.

Deutsche Welle and Wikipedia both have more detail on this story.

Daylight Savings - A Quick Reminder

Just a quick reminder to those of my readers who live in Europe. Don't forget that Daylight Savings ends tonight! At 3am, the clocks go back one hour to 2am. I've forgotten about it once or twice before and it sucks, not least because you miss out on the bonus hour of sleep. Don't say you weren't warned.

This has been a public service announcement.

27 October 2005

Looking Intelligent

I am a fairly keen reader. Or rather, I am a lapsed keen reader; or a keen reader who doesn't find any time to read any more. Something like that, anyway. Accordingly, this piece in Monday's Guardian caught my eye:
Books are the new snobbery, according to a survey today. Social competitiveness about which titles we read has become one of the new mass forces of the era and only middle-aged people are relatively free of it.

Driven partly by pressure from incessant literary prize shortlists, more than one in three consumers in London and the south-east admit having bought a book "solely to look intelligent", the YouGov survey says.


"The latest literary pressure is keeping up with the rest of your fellow travellers and commuters. Bookshelf contents are fast becoming as studied and planned as outfits as a way to impress others. Books shortlisted for prestigious literary panel awards are becoming 'de rigueur' reading for many."

Yet the results indicate that "reading" is a relative term. When asked about specific titles, only one in 25 people turn out to have read the novel chosen as the best in the Booker prize's 25-year history, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children - and half these had failed to finish it.

Only one in 100 had read Andrew Levy's Small Island, picked earlier this month as the best of all Orange prize winners. Not a single reader had yet opened this month's Booker winner, John Banville's The Sea.

Other strongly publicised titles endorsed by literary panels fare only slightly better. One in 20 members of the public has read Zadie Smith's White Teeth and only one in 25 Yann Martel's Life of Pi or Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.

Read the rest of One in three has bought a book just to look intelligent here.

I have a few thoughts on this. Firstly, just a couple of points about the article itself, or the journalist's take on this story: why is one in 25 people having read a given book considered a low number? When you consider how many books there are out there, and how many people don't read books at all it seems pretty respectable to me. And yet, the number of respondents having read, or half-read, Rushdie's Midnight's Children is described as "only one in 25". Same story for several other titles mentioned in the article. Odd. And also, since when is one in 20, i.e. 5%, "only slightly better" than one in 100, i.e. 1%? In my book (boom boom), that's exactly 5 times better, which is plenty. If my finances were exactly five times better than they currently are, I would consider that rather more than a slight improvement. Whatever.

Now that I've got my pernickety criticisms of the writing in the article out of the way, I can actually respond to the real point - that lots of people apparently buy books to impress other people, including people they don't know and will never meet. Hmmm. Interesting. I would not fall into that category, I don't think. I have never consciously bought a book because I thought owning it or being seen reading it would look good. That strikes me as a bit weird. And kind of pathetic.

Perhaps there would be a market for dust jackets and book covers? You know, forget the book, just sell copies of the dust jacket for a pound or so. That way, those who wish to be seen to be reading certain "in" books could just purchase the cover of, say, Jon Banville's The Sea or something by Harold Pinter, who has recently picked up the Nobel Prize for literature. Then, they could slip the relevant dust jacket onto the book they are actually reading, could go on enjoying Jilly Cooper or John Grisham, or whoever it is, but still get the Kudos. See? Remember, when it happens, you read about it here first! Although ... do you think that authors can demand royalties just on the dust jacket of a book they wrote? That could possibly be the sticking point.

Although I don't buy books that I think other people think I should be reading, I must confess that my booking-buying appetite is much more voracious than my book-reading appetite. Yes, I am guilty of buying books and then never getting around to reading them. And the thing is, I buy fewer than half the books I actually want to buy. I always force myself to hold back when I'm in a bookstore. But nonetheless, I have heaps of books that I bought with a view to reading them straight away but have never got around to reading. At least they're there when I do finally get around to it though. And at least they're books I actually wanted to read in the first place, not someone else's idea of what's hot and what's not.

And the final thing I noted about that article was this: embarrassingly enough, I discovered that I had read only three of the 23 books mentioned in the entire article (I will leaving you guessing at to which ones). Yikes! De rigueur reading indeed. See, I told you I was a lapsed keen reader.

Bit quiet in here

Gosh, it's been a bit quiet in here, hasn't it? My apologies. At the end of last week I had a little bit of a (read an enormous) computer crisis, and have spent the best part of a week recovering from that. That, coupled with the fact that my new job gets serious from the beginning of next week, is the reason there have been no posts at all for a week. However, things are up and running again now and pretty much under control, so I expect things to be back to normal from now on. That is likely to mean fresh posts most days, though probably not every day. So, those of you who are still dropping by to see what the Bear has to say, you can expect something to finally get your teeth into from this evening.

20 October 2005

One for Ms Bear

This is a post especially for Ms. Bear, who is a big fan of rats. I know she'll like this story about a world record-breaking rat from New Zealand. She'll be less thrilled by the fact that the story end with the rat being trapped and killed, but I think she'll like the way he stuck it to the man before his time was up. So, my dear Ms. Bear, this one's for you:

Yahoo! News reports on the world's most elusive rat. Here's the executive summary:

  • Scientists think that a good way to work out how best to trap a rat would be to release one solitary rat on an otherwise vermin-free island and then try to catch it again.
  • Scientists think that will be a piece of cake.
  • Scientists, however, had failed to take into account that rats are dead smart and crafty, as well as good swimmers.
  • Upshot: after an 18 week chase and numerous different attempted trapping methods, scientists finally catch the rat on a different island for the one he was released on.
  • In the meantime, rat has set a world record for the longest confirmed open-water crossing by a rat.
  • Lessons learned by scientists:
  1. Conventional rat-trapping methods are not that good
  2. Rats are indeed good swimmers, as previously suspected
  3. Rats are smarter than you average bear pretty darn smart
  • Result: research group has article published in the lastest edition of Nature, i.e. gets published despite being unable to catch rat for ages. (There's no justice in the world).
Anyway, nice one rat. Stuck it to the man! Well done.

Bird Flu

Like seemingly everyone else in Europe - or at least everyone who writes for a news publication of some sort - I am warily eyeing the Asian bird flu virus, H5N1, as it continues its seemingly inexorable march northwestward from the Far East, through Central Asia, and now into Russia and Eastern Europe. I have an uncomfortable feeling that this is going to be the big one, the influenza pandemic that is now almost twenty years overdue. And I also have the uncomfortable feeling that what European governments think are comprehensive plans and arrangements, are going to turn out to be woefully inadequate.

Imagine my pleasant sense of surprise, then, to receive an email from the New Zealand Embassy in Berlin yesterday about exactly this topic. It contained information about the virus and possible treatments, as well as an indication of what preparations and policies the New Zealand government has up its sleeve.

Granted, the news wasn't that good. Basically, it boiled down to 1) Tamiflu might help, but it might not; 2) If you're a New Zealander living overseas, we're afraid you're on your own. Good luck with that though; 3) If it gets really bad, we may close New Zealand's borders completely, in which case you'll be stuck overseas and you'll still be on your own. Good luck with that.

But hey, at least now I know! And I wouldn't have expected the New Zealand government to even attempt to make arrangements for those of us living overseas in any case. That would be way above and beyond the call of duty. But I do appreciate that they are well enough organised to have actually given it some thought and formulated a clear policy. And I appreciate even more that they went out of their way to make sure that I, as a New Zealander living abroad, was informed of the situation. Good on them.

And to other New Zealanders living abroad, I have a tip: send an email to your local embassy or consulate, letting them know you exist and where you are. Having done just that, I now receive frequent updates from the Embassy about anything New Zealand-related going on in Germany, and, well, now also this. It's excellent.

Point is: yay New Zealand Embassy. That is all.

17 October 2005

Sudoku sucks (Or should that be suck?)

What is it with the current trend for newspapers and magazines to publish sudoku all over the place? They are practically bloody everywhere! And personally, I think they suck.

There are three newspapers I read relatively frequently, and all three of them have started publishing sudoku in every single edition at some point in the last few months. Why? What is the point? Wouldn't the print space be better filled with something more interesting, more informative and, well, just better? Like more obituaries? Or more letters to the editor? Or, umm, heaven forbid, more international news? Why won't sudoku leave me alone?

In case you've been living on Mars throughout the course of 2005 and don't know what sudoku is, check out Sudokulist, which claims to set the standard for all sudoku games. Or better still, here's what Wikipedia has to say about this type of puzzle:
Sudoku (Japanese: 数独, sūdoku), sometimes spelled Su Doku, is a logic-based placement puzzle, also known as Number Place in the United States. The aim of the canonical puzzle is to enter a numeral from 1 through 9 in each cell of a 9×9 grid made up of 3×3 subgrids (called "regions"), starting with various numerals given in some cells (the "givens"). Each row, column and region must contain only one instance of each numeral. Completing the puzzle requires patience and logical ability. Its grid layout is reminiscent of other newspaper puzzles like crosswords and chess problems. Although first published in 1979, Sudoku initially became popular in Japan in 1986 and attained international popularity in 2005.
Yeah, "attained international popularity" is right. The author could just as well have written "became completely ubiquitous in 2005", or "finally became utterly unavoidable in 2005."

But the worst thing of all is that I have discovered, after reading round a few websites, that it is a New Zealander, in collusion with The Times, who has inflicted sudoku on us all. Wikipedia, again, has the painful details:
In 1997, retired Hong Kong judge Wayne Gould, 59, a New Zealander, was enticed by seeing a partly completed puzzle in a Japanese bookshop. He went on to develop a computer program to produce puzzles quickly; this took over six years. Knowing that British newspapers have a long history of publishing crosswords and other puzzles, he promoted Sudoku to The Times in Britain, which launched it on 12 November 2004. The puzzles by Pappocom, Gould's software house, have been printed daily in the Times ever since.

Three days later The Daily Mail began to publish the puzzle under the name "Codenumber". The Daily Telegraph introduced its first Sudoku by its puzzle compiler Michael Mepham on 19 January 2005 and other Telegraph Group newspapers took it up very quickly. Nationwide News Pty Ltd began publishing the puzzle in The Daily Telegraph of Sydney on 20 May 2005; five puzzles with solutions were printed that day. The immense surge in popularity of Sudoku in British newspapers and internationally has led to it being dubbed in the world media in 2005 variously as "the Rubik's cube of the 21st century" or the "fastest growing puzzle in the world".

That's just great, isn't it? Mr. Wayne Gould, New Zealander, I have four words for you: Thanks for nothing, mate.

So, presumably, since everyone under the sun is publishing them, there must be lots of people who actually do these sudoku things. But who? And, more to the point, why?

Or is it just me who is left completely cold by a partly filled out 9x9 grid featuring the numbers from 1 to 9, over and over again, and left wondering if the newspaper editors might not have been able to find a more worthwhile way to fill the column inches sacrificed in the name of trendy puzzles?

Perhaps I'm missing something? Perhaps I am just one vital piece of information or insight short of discovering the true wonder and beauty of sudoku and joining the rest of the apparently enraptured millions getting their sudoku thrills in every publication which still uses newsprint? If so, please help me out here. The comments thread is there, waiting. Convince me. Explain it. And allow me to feel a little bit less out of step with the rest of the world.

Please. Pretty please?

16 October 2005

Biting off more than you can chew

This is a couple of weeks old, so you may have already seen it. If so, I apologise for wasting your time, but it has only just come to my attention [hat-tip to Bostanio].

We've all heard of 'biting off more than you can chew,' right? But in your mind's eye, I bet you weren't picturing this sort of thing when you thought about such instances of overstretch and overcommitment.

Python 1 - Alligator 1 [Source: BBC News]

To summarise: Two deadly predators meet in Florida swamp. Thirteen foot long Burmese python and six foot long alligator establish that they are not exactly on speaking terms. Burmese python swallows alligator whole (as you do). Python gets his comeuppance for such gluttony and promptly, umm, explodes. No, really, it's true. Check out the full story at BBC News.

As Bostanio put it when he sent me the link. "I think that's called a draw." Quite. Nature certainly ain't always cute and fluffy, is it! I don't imagine anyone in Florida will particularly miss either of those two particular deadly predators, but it certainly makes a great piece of weird and quirky news.

14 October 2005


So, it's official: George W. Bush is a failure. It must be true, because Google says so. And as we know, Google knows everything.

Don't believe me? Go to the Google homepage and type in failure as your search term and click 'Google Search'. Check out the very first result (below the news results). See? I told you.

And for the geeks amongst you who are interested in the mathematics involved and how it works, check out this explanation. Let's here it for numberical linear algebra! [Hat-tip to Thomas Schmelzer]

10 October 2005

South Asia Quake

I find it difficult to find a way to express how disturbed I am by the news and pictures coming out of the earthquake zone in India and Pakistan. Terrible, just terrible. In particular I am having difficulty reconciling the discrepancy between how much coverage (some, but by no means overwhelming amounts) this tragedy on an enormous scale is receiving, when compared with the wall-to-wall coverage of recent disasters on a much, much smaller scale which have struck Western countries such as the US and the UK. It disturbs me how much less "Eastern" lives seem to be worth to us here in the West. Personally, I don't see it like that.

To that end, I would ask you to seriously consider donating what you can to a charity or NGO that is helping with the rescue mission. There are dozens to choose from. I know that after the Bam earthquake, the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, many people have given what they can already and others are suffering from "charity fatigue", but please give some thought to whether or not you can spare just a little bit more for the millions of victims of this earthquake who have been left homeless or lost loved ones.

We know all too painfully from previous disaster experience, that although governments around the world make grand, headline-grabbing pledges many then, once the media spotlight has faded, fail to follow through on their promises. Not so with personal pledges. Though much more modest in size, these are transferred directly and immediately to the relevant organisation to be put to good use without delay. Please give what you can.

Here are some websites of worthy charities helping out in the region to get you started, in no particular order of preference:

Unicef (United Nations Children's Fund)
UN World Food Programme
KIRF (Kashmir International Relief Fund)
Red Cross and Red Crescent

Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders)
Save the Children Fund

(In most cases I've provided links to the UK websites of these organisations. If you're not in the UK, you can easily find the relevant country link on each website, usually in the top title bar somewhere).

Of course, there are many other worthy organisations urgently seeking donations. The Quakehelp blog I linked to yesterday has links to lots more, as well as information for anyone looking for loved ones or friends who they think might have been caught up in the earthquake.

Once more for good measure: please give as generously as you can. There are millions of Pakistanis and Indians who need your help urgently.

(Meanwhile, here in Germany, we finally have a chancellor-designate, and it's a woman! Angela Merkel, the CDU/CSU's Chancellor candidate will lead a so-called grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD. Centre-right meets centre-left. More analysis on this big, and long overdue news tomorrow.)

09 October 2005

Sorry, access is difficult

My apologies for the lack of posting around these parts recently. Access remains difficut, as I am dependent on internet cafes until I get internet access either at home or at work. All being well, I'll be up and running at work from tomorrow or Tuesday (fingers crossed) and at home in 10 days time (apparently it takes that long to switch on a DSL connection in this country). In the meantime, posting will unfortunately remain sparse and I won't have time to respond to your comments either. Sorry, but it's beyond my control at present.

In the meantime, if you want to find a suitable charity to donate to in the wake of the horrendous earthquake on Saturday in Pakistan, in which
at least 19,000 people have been killed, 42,000 injured and countless thousands left homeless, then try this site:

South Asia Quake Help offers frequently updated news and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts after the earthquake. Click through now and find a suitable place to do your bit.

05 October 2005

Mad for Harry Potter

Some of you who used to read my previous blog over at tBlog may recall that a few weeks ago I posted about a collective of hobby translators who translated the latest Harry Potter book into German in a matter of hours. Desperate, but kind of cool, I thought at the time. But the definition of desperate in relation to Harry Potter has just shifted here in Germany, as expatica reports. (It's only a short article, so I'll inlcude it in full).

HANOVER, GERMANY - The stress of standing in line to buy the German edition of 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' proved too much for a man in Germany, who ran amok and threatened to kill people unless he got a book, police said Tuesday. The unnamed 24-year-old man stormed into a book shop in the Hanover railway station and absconded with six copies of the German-language edition, which went on sale nationwide on Saturday.

Finding it hard to carry the books while running, he dashed into another shop on the railway
concourse and pushed shoppers aside to demand a shopping bag from a sales clerk. He punched a customer in the face when admonished for being rude.

With police in hot pursuit, the Potter fan raced across a crowded train platform, threatening to kill anyone who got in his way. Officers finally tackled the man, who was unarmed aside from the six 900-page books.

"Suspect said he could not stand the suspense of not knowing who the half-blood prince was," a Hanover police spokesman said. "Suspect was informed that he will likely have plenty of time for reading long books in his jail cell."

J.K. Rowling's sixth instalment in the Harry Potter series has already broken all publishing records in Germany since its launch on Saturday, with more than a million copies sold nationwide.

I don't know who did the translation of what the police spokesman said, but it came out kind of funny. Everyone knows that german uses more definite articles (i.e. 'the') than English, not fewer, but never mind. That's not really the point. The point is this: OMFG, a Harry Potter fan did what? Umm, why? And why did he need six copies, I wonder? For five of his similarly desperate mates who were indisposed and couldn't make it to the train station? What a muppet. I reckon J.K. rowling has a lot to answer for, quite frankly.

Political progress in Germany?

It's been nearly three weeks since the general election here in Germany. In that time we've seen an awful lot of uming and ahing, of meetings to sound out the other parties, of political posturing and nothing but gigantic question marks over who is going to lead the country and with which flavour of government behind them. But now, finally, there seems to be a faint glimmer of hope that progress is being made towards a grand coalition between the centre-right CDU and CSU and the centre-left SPD. Deutsche Welle reports in brief:

Headway made in coalition talks

There is headway being made in the possible formation of a grand coaltion in Germany. The party heads of the Social Democrats and the two parties that make up the conservatives, the CDU and CSU, will meet in private talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Thursday. It is expected that, in the four-way meeting, the still unsolved issue of who will become chancellor will be discussed. CDU leader Angela Merkel said after exploratory talks on Wednesday the two sides had found common ground. Schroeder repeated after Wednesday's negotiations that he would not stand in the way of the formation of a stable coalition between the conservatives and his SPD.

Well, well, well. Wouldn't that be good and, umm, novel to be moving towards actually having a Chancellor and a government again? I get the feeling that the politicians have used up their patience and understanding-of-a-difficult-situation bonuses from the general public and they know it. It remains to be seen whether Schröder is only prepared to step aside if Merkel steps aside too, making way for a third to become Chancellor, or whether we will be seeing a woman Chancellor here in Germany for the first time ever. One thing's for certain, even if Merkel does become Chancellor at the head of a grand coalition, she will not be given the legroom to morph into Germany's version of Maggie Thatcher as so many here seem to have feared, and as so many British and American columnists and politicians seem to have wished so fervently for. A grand coalition will mean consensus and compromise have to be the order of the day and reforms will have to be gradual and carefully managed rather than sudden and sweeping. Depending on how it pans out, I'm not entirely convinced that that is such a bad thing either.

Deutsche Welle has more detailed coverage of the aspects of this latest development
here and here.

04 October 2005

Eating dirt

Well, here I am in Trier. The trip down was a nightmare. What should have been a 7 to 7 1/2 hour drive in a rental van turned into 10 1/2 hours, much of it stuck in traffic jams or winding my way through road works, accompanied by driving rain most of the way, thanks to a holiday weekend in Germany. Excellent! And to top it all off, once Ms. Bear and I finally arrived late on Saturday night, we had to cope with two days of everything but everything being closed (Sunday - as ever in Germany, and then Monday too due to the public holiday.) Let's just say that 24 petrol stations were our friend and saviour.

Ms. Bear has since boarded a train and headed back Berlinwards, so I'm all alone in my new flat. It's largely set up now and looking and feeling cozy. Still a few things which need sorting out, not the least of which is telephone and internet access, but it's coming along nicely.

I made my first appearance at work today, only to discover that most of my colleagues are on holiday and I am not really required for the next week. How nice! At least it gives me some time to get all the administrative-type stuff sorted before launching into my work.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, I'm run off my feet at the moment with trying to get everything sorted out. Couple that with the fact that there is no computer in my office yet and that I don't have an internet connection sorted out at home, and you'll understand why The Capital Letter has been so dead over the past few days.

This one too is just brief. All being well, I hope to get a chance to do a more substantial post tomorrow. To keep you entertained in the meantime, however, I offer a totally weird news item which found its way into my inbox today.

It melts in your mouth like chocolate, says Ruth Anne T. Joiner, describing her favorite treat.

"The good stuff is real smooth," she adds. "It's just like a piece of candy."

Joiner is describing the delectable taste of dirt — specifically, clay from the region around her home in Montezuma, Ga.

While most people would recoil at the thought of eating mud or clay, some medical experts say it may be beneficial, especially for pregnant women.

Continue reading Eating Dirt: It might be good for you.

The obvious questions to any of my readers who have had children: did you eat dirt or clay while you were pregnant? If not, a) did you experience dirt cravings?, or b) now that you know it might be good for you, would you try it if you got pregnant again? And finally, if you have eaten dirt, what's it like? Do tell!