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May 5, 2006

Joy
Posted by Patrick at 11:13 PM * 135 comments

The Sultan and his giant time-travelling mechanical Elephant wander through London streets, encountering, among other things, the girl from the space capsule that crash-landed in Waterloo Place.

More from the drab, cheerless, socialist hell that is Europe today.

For some reason I’m reminded of Ken MacLeod:

This is Europe. We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left. The bones of our ancestors, and the stones of their works, are everywhere. Our liberties were won in wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers. We snap our fingers at kings. We laugh at popes.

The “American century.” So over.

UPDATE: Before jumping in to argue with MacLeod’s fantasia, read this.

Comments on Joy:
#1 ::: Things That Ain't So ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2006, 11:40 PM:

And what do we get in America? Giant rubber balloons that lurch out of control regularly.

And video games.

Heavy sigh.

#2 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 12:10 AM:

Okay, he's seen Paris and he's in London now. When is he coming to New York?

We really really need a gigantic time-travelling mechanical elephant to come visit us. Please?

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 12:14 AM:

Hey, don't forget the wholesome entertainments of Branson, MO.

And NASCAR!

* * *

But don't discount the Kinetic Sculpture Races that take place in various cities. I went to the "nationals" in Arcata a few years back. A lot of fun.

Of course, that WAS Arcata.

#4 ::: Stuart ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 12:16 AM:

Sometimes it is not so simple. My cousin, the family historian, went to work on tracing down our English ancestors. He found a family in Pennsylvania who looked like probable relatives. With the miracle of genetic testing he proved that we were related. We have in common the M3 haplotype. We are descended from some Mohican boys who were adopted by an English family in the eighteenth century. We have buried the bones of our ancestors in the earth of this continent for 13,000 years.

#5 ::: Loreen Heneghan ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 01:25 AM:

My desire to see the elefant and girl is so powerful it's physical.

#6 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 03:25 AM:

Pickled politics reveals the sinister truth: Al Qaeda in trojan elephant shocker

#7 ::: deborah ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 03:39 AM:

What do we get in America? You mean, besides peanut butter/chocolate combinations, Zombie Marches shambling across cities, bridges measured in Smoots, pornographic Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas, the Rocky Mountains, livejournal, the Ig Nobels, cranberry bogs, the last few remaining decent bagels, the Natchez Trace, Bourbon Street (even still!), Tor (*sucks up*), the Banana Slug Festival...

Don't get me wrong, I love Europe. But we've got our share of awesome.

#8 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 03:53 AM:

It was pretty damn cosmic in fact.

It's very interesting to look at the role of the revitalised mayor and London assembly. They're not responsible for many of London's services. But they do deliver grand public entertainments. The mayor has said he wants there to be something free and exciting going on in London every month. The women who brought the elephant to London explained that this would have been much harder five years ago, pre-assembly. So the mayor is handling the circuses bit of bread-and-circuses. And this does feel like a much better use of public arts funding than subsidising seats at the opera.

I had believed that the elephant would walk up the Mall and through Admiralty Arch. But it didn't. I have discovered this morning that the reason for this is that the elephant is taller than Admiralty Arch. Woo.

#9 ::: Pat Cadigan ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 04:51 AM:

In order for The Sultan's Elephant to come to the US, you'd need an art group as devoted as the people at Artichoke. Not to mention people who could raise the funds. This event is free.

#10 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 06:20 AM:

If you think of Europe as one place and ignore immigrants from other continents, you can say "we took it from nobody". If you get a little more fine-grained about ancestry, there was plenty of taking.

As for the American century being over, I wouldn't bet much on America being the dominant force for the rest of the upcoming century, but I'd bet less on anyone's ability to predict what's going to happen fifty years from now.

#11 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 06:31 AM:

Um, yes, what Nancy said. We've spent hundreds of years busily taking bits of it from each other and grabbing them back. And while we may snap our fingers at kings and laugh at popes (and what exactly does that achieve?) a grey-souled puppet bureaucrat with a plastic smile and terror behind his eyes can twist our lives into pretzels for the amusement of the shadowy monolithic demons that pull his strings. Now there's a show I'd like to see brought out into the open.

#12 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 06:38 AM:

Lots of defensiveness here!

Speaking as an American expat living in Europe, I like seeing one thread, in one place on the internet, where Europe is allowed to be cool, interesting and fun. 'Cause we have America is neat and innovative and Europe is old and stodgy everywhere. Really. We're clear on that.

And yes, it is more complicated. I have as many Native American ancestors as I do Irish ones. Was moving to Europe a return? Or an immigration?

But the elephant is pretty amazing.

#13 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 08:59 AM:

Though I've seen the pictures of that before and they are wonderful (and I'm kind of a francophile going way back, as a result of random educational choices made in junior high school), my initial reaction to Patrick's post was similarly defensive--I guess it's because I no longer hang out in the fora, increasingly dominated by right-wing whackjobs, where America is the neat and innovative one. I haven't heard that in a long time except ironically among people mocking Donald Rumsfeld.

I do worry about this because to the extent progressivism has an appeal it has to do with an idea of progress. The American left has been emotionally beaten down so thoroughly that it's gradually losing the idea that progress can even happen, even as its potential for regaining political power starts to build up again. I hope all it'll take to turn attitudes around a bit is winning a national election; because they have to turn around for the longer fight.

As for the world, people talk a lot about the coming century being Chinese or Indian, but from here it looks like, aside from some worrying friction over ethnicity and immigration, the Scandinavian countries now have their shit together in a way nobody else in human history ever really has. Maybe it's just the view from a distance.

Centuries belonging to countries are a pretty creepy idea, anyway. Granted, the amount of genius-level creating you can do when you're wracked with war or living on the edge of starvation is limited (the Russians seem pretty good at it, though), but there's something wrong with the idea that not being Number One in every way makes you just lay down and die. The European empires had to learn that the hard way last century, and to some extent I think they're reaping the benefits now.

I remember reading an account a few years ago of some European academics talking about the imminent fall of the American empire, and saying they hoped it came very soon. It thoroughly creeped me out before I realized that they were probably thinking of something along the lines of Britain, France and Belgium giving up their colonial empires, whereas I was thinking of the sack of Rome. All-or-nothing thinking.

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 09:00 AM:

What Abi said. I'm happy with who, what, and where I am. But looking at these pictures and playing these videos (thank you, AS), I was forcibly struck by the fact that if this extravaganza had been created and produced in New York, it would be surrounded by blowhard "only in New York" and "only in America" commentary.

There's no "New World" and "Old World" any more. America is an old, old country. Europe is full of newness. Yes, the opposite is also true, but the opposite is what's gotten all the press forever. While Americans sit around congratulating one another our new dynamical youthful dynamic newness, Europeans get healthier, longer-lived, and happier. We could easily become the Ottoman Empire as the 21st century grinds on.

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 09:31 AM:

"I guess it's because I no longer hang out in the fora, increasingly dominated by right-wing whackjobs, where America is the neat and innovative one"

You mean "the American mass media". Pick up a paper or turn on the Sunday-morning politics shows. Start clocking the number of times you see this kind of thing simply assumed.

"The American left has been emotionally beaten down so thoroughly that it's gradually losing the idea that progress can even happen"

I'm reminded of Joanna Russ's brilliant novel We Who Are About To..., in which some of the survivors of a spaceship that's crashed on a faraway alien planet, light-years from any prospect of rescue, talk about the importance of getting humanity going again. The protagonist, a young woman increasingly alarmed by discussions of her "breeding potential," says, more or less, "What are you talking about? Humanity is doing fine. It's just not here." Likewise, I believe perfectly well that "progress can happen." In fact I'm certain that it is happening. It's just not here.

(And even there I'm more cheerful than you're suggesting. America is full of smart ideas and progressive energy; it's just that very little of it is currently at the Federal level, and the fools currently at that level have a dangerous amount of power to screw everything else up.)

Centuries belonging to countries are a pretty creepy idea, anyway.

Kind of one of the things I was getting at, actually.

#16 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 09:41 AM:

Sunday-morning politics shows make me so ill I can't watch them for more than about thirty seconds at a sitting.

#17 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 09:44 AM:

"Only in America"--yes! This phrase has been a pet irritant of mine for many years. It's used both positively and negatively, but I don't think I've ever encountered an instance in which it was true.

#18 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 09:51 AM:

Perhaps because I'm not a "native American" but I've always thought the American fixation with superlatives to be a borderline psychopathy. It's a fostered disease, used very cleverly by those in power to keep citizens' eyes diverted from reality. Have you tried to have a reasonable discussion about health care lately? (present company excluded)
And here endeth my paranoid lesson of the week. I don't really think it's a conspiracy, in the Illuminati sense, it's just...a comfortable tool anyone can use.

#19 ::: Raw Data ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 10:07 AM:

"...We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice lefty..."

Untrue. (Or meaningless.) But definitely dangerous fantasy because it allows someone (I don't know who is speaking in that passage) to claim moral superiority. (Of course that's my sense of this blog -- enormous sense of moral superiority...not merely justified anger at an idiot President but a real sense that we here are pure and clean and moral. The quote above is just so Making Light)

And that line about the Amerian Century being "so over." You may well be accurate. And who would you prefer as top dog? Or would you prefer multi-polar world of rough equals...say China and India and Russia and some Moslem coalition based in Indonesia? You'd prefer any one of them? No, I think that for all our American stupidity and bumbling, we'd look back on a world with one bully -- the USA -- as a golden age.

#20 ::: marek ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 10:16 AM:

To go back momentarily to the elephant...

What may not come across clearly is the wonderfully incongruous juxtaposition of it all. I was walking along Whitehall yesterday past the massive seriousness of government buildings, and got to Horseguards, where the soldiers in gleaming helments and scarlet tunics sit on their black tunics (chiefly for the entertainment of tourists, it must be admitted, rather than seriously forming the first line of defence against attacks on the Sovereign, but a fine show for all that). I turned through the archway, passing another soldier (on foot, but dressed as above) with naked sword in hand, and came out into the parade ground - and there in brilliant sunlight was the elephant in full glory surrounded by an admiring crowd of apparent pygmies, precisely in the best spot to be seen perfectly from one of the reception rooms at 10 Downing Street. Two very different forms of pomp and circumstance in splendid collision.

#21 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 10:19 AM:

Patrick did start this discussion not on the topic of how cool the Sultan's Elephant is, but with a pretty explicit comparison of America and Europe: "The “American century.” So over."

Anyway, I totally agree with Alison Scott: I don't see how you can get a better use of public arts funding than this.

#22 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 10:29 AM:

It's the century, I think, of federal hyperpowers, of which the USA is only the first. Or is that "Period of Contending States?" And the 22nd century will be the century of world federation.

...but we have really cool performance art, too. Of course, sometimes its hard to tell from our politics.

#23 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 10:57 AM:

Speaking of the drab, cheerless socialist hell that is Europe today - - there's a recent study out (I think I saw it over at Brad DeLong's) that points out that America (The Country Formerly Known as 'The Land of Opportunity') now has LESS social mobility than the socialist-nightmare countries of Scandinavia.

We're well on our way to a hereditary caste system here.

#24 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 11:13 AM:

As a native Londoner whose parents were immigrants -- one from Jamaica, the other from Spain -- all I can say is 'Wow!'

Of course, what London does today New York does day-after-tomorrow....

I'd love to see the Sultan, the elephant, and everything else come to Atlanta sometime.

#25 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 11:43 AM:

If I recall correctly, that bit of Ken's wasn't meant to be a sincere claim about the facts of European history; rather, it was an exercise in speculation, in the context of an online discussion of different countries' and cultures' patriotic myths about themselves.

The question was, what would be a modern "European" myth look like, analagous to the American oversimplifications about freedom-loving individualists carving liberty's redoubt from an empty continent? If I'm remembering correctly, the bit of Ken's that I quoted was part of an attempt to imagine such a thing.

#26 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 11:44 AM:

Re the elephant:

Holy mother of pearl! My mouth was hanging open. I'm like an awe-struck kid, gaping at a spectacle for the first time.

Thanks for pointing me to the links, PNH!

#27 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 12:02 PM:

Thanks for clarifying that, Patrick. I was about to comment starting with "Well, for certain values of 'we' and 'nobody'..."

Saved me from an embarrassingly pompous post. That's n-1 for large n, but every little bit helps.

#28 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 12:25 PM:

It looks like the kind of fun a Renaissance Festival is supposed to be and rarely is.

#29 ::: jill ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 12:58 PM:

I'm going to see it tomorrow. :)

Sorry, but I couldn't help bragging.

#30 ::: Pat Kight ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 01:15 PM:

In the mid-19th century, people engaging in the bit of westerward expansionism known as the Gold Rush used to speak of "going to see the elephant" as a way of describing the wonders they hoped to find at the end of the trail.

I'm getting some poetic satisfaction out of the knowledge that, in post-modern Europe, the elephant comes to see you.

#31 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 01:20 PM:

There's been some mention elsewhere of a tendency to over-rate Americanism, but it's a friends-locked LJ. Still, the interesting question was, more or less, when it's a choice between Emptiness and Enlightenment, what made it so wonderful to go to the Americas?

The context of the discussion went off in interesting directions, and it rather missed the cultural development on the East Coast, but why the assumption that everyone wants the frontier?

That's one of those cultural myths. Yet Britain had India, and notable Indians travelled to Europe. India is the country it is today because they came to Europe, not because it was a frontier.

But be careful about mentioning Indians with nukes. It's likely to worry some people.

If you take the Frontier as the American Myth, what's the European equivalent. I'm not sure that Ken has it, but he hits on some things. Perhaps, instead of running away from strangers, the European myth is about getting organised. Organised to fight, and sometimes to do vile things, And also organised to do great things; organised to find ways of not fighting.

And maybe the myth is something totally different.

#32 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 01:48 PM:

Funnily enough, I've been thinking a lot about the frontier, lately. Not that I think I could live there, but rather that, with Real ID and computerized enemies lists all over the place, I expect a lot of people will begin longing for it for very real and practical reasons.

Where do you go when They've Got Your Number?

#33 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 02:14 PM:

"Where do you go when They've Got Your Number?"

The Village?

Sorry, that's where you go when you they give you a number.

#34 ::: Wendy Bradley ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 03:35 PM:

Patrick, thank you so much for posting this! I came back home from an exhausting afternoon, logged on and checked out your blog purely for the advertising (!) and then read about the elephant. So I put my shoes back on, jammed a hat on my head (it's pouring in London) and walked down to Trafalgar Square just at six o'clock...
...and was gloriously in time to see the Sultan, his Elephant and the Giant Time Travelling Little Girl parading down the Mall towards Admiralty Arch and follow them into Horseguards.

I think I texted everyone I know with "I'm following the elephant down Horseguards!"

And what did they text back?

"Of course u r."

#35 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 04:23 PM:

I saw two elephants today. One was a museum specimen (I also got to feel a specimen of what elephant hide feels like, though I'm not sure what I stroked was actually that or a clever simulation), and the other was a large statue of Horton in the Dr. Seuss sculpture garden in the museum quadrangle of Springfield, MA. As far as I was able to determine on short notice, however, neither of these could time travel, or even move.

I think other parts of the world sometimes say "only in America," but only in America is it automatically assumed to be a boast.

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 05:50 PM:

The 'only in America' meme....

... There is a frequent, and completely unjustified, assumption that because America is a country of immigration, it is the only country of immigration, and the hybridities that arise here are unique to the United States. I'm not sure this would survive a trip to Canada, much less Europe, or even, for that matter, Mexico.

#37 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 07:57 PM:

Or Brazil, Fragano Ledgister, AFAICT.

I have kin of the all-good-things-only-in-America strain who said it, as a kneejerk reaction, when I was expressing satisfaction that I'd managed to run four distinct errands without use of a car. I know she lives somewhere she can't get milk without a car; and, wierder, that she travelled the Old World in her youth and saw plenty of places there with less auto-dependency than most US cities. But she's a generation older than I am, and I didn't argue.

#38 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 08:07 PM:

clew: Oh, very definitely Brazil.

I know what you mean about not arguing.

#39 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 09:49 PM:

Well, one could quibble and say that Canada and Mexico are in America, but that would be a rib and not a serious argument. We know what the phrase generally means, even if the rest of the Americas occasionally say, "Hey! What about us?"

Last time I saw England, it seemed like a melting pot anyway, though maybe that was just London.

#40 ::: Simstim ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 10:26 PM:

London is definitely more cosmopolitan than the rest of the country, although pretty much every decent-sized British city has a fair proportion of first, second and third generation immigrants. It's only out in the rural areas that it's a white monoculture and even that's beginning to change. Here's a bunch of reports from the Guardian on London's ethnic mix.

#41 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 11:20 PM:

Some centuries ago, Europeans went out to other continents. Here they found other societies, other peoples. In many cases they colonised them, imposed their own economic, cultural, religious and political systems, and destroyed native ones that had stood for centuries. They drove indigenous peoples out, they appropriated their land and resources, they fought them and each other over territory and dominance, often imposing alien rule.

This is held by most historians of the left and centre to be a tragedy, an outrage and a very gross injustice, amounting to a catalogue of vile crimes.

So how come it's so very wonderful and enriching and vibrant and to be wholeheartedly welcomed when those native peoples do it back to us? Just asking.

#42 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2006, 11:59 PM:

Dave Luckett: Your comment, in the context of this thread, seems to be comparing a pleasant piece of performance art to robbery, slavery, and murder. Am I misreading you? Is there some reference you're making that I'm missing? r y brn-dmgd?

#43 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 12:18 AM:

David Goldfarb: the reference is to the Guardian links in the post immediately previous, not to the Emperor's elephant, which is clearly a marvellous thing.

#44 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 01:20 AM:

Well, mainly because we (Europeans) have the Maxim gun, and they don't. More to it than that, but basically, because we have the Maxim gun, and they don't.

Arising from that, we may pick and choose the best of other cultures. Thus, we in NZ may enjoy the vibrant PI communities, with their musical proclivities, etc., without having to take the tribal strong men that dominate many PI nations.

This was not a luxury afforded to most of the victims of imperialism, cultural or otherwise

Also, of course, there is a huge difference between the genocides of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, the betrayal of the Native Americans, even the comparatively mild treatment of the Maori people here in New Zealand, and the effects of some people from the subcontinent opening up curry houses in Bradford.

I.e. it is a nonsense to speak of anything comparable to the imperialistic adventures of Europe happening nowadays in the West.

As for the quote, it is actually an interesting exercise to try and write jingoistic nonsense like that about other countries. Take, say Thailand. You have to think about the good things about Thailand, the things that would be needed to gloss over, the ways in which you can, avoiding outright lies, stretch the truth.

As for the American Century, have we had one yet? If we take 1914 as the end of British supremacy, then you've still some 10 years left before you can start claiming an American century. And, after all, a century is nothing in terms of the European powers. Take the Habsburgs. Holy Roman Emperors in 1280, Kings and Queens of Spain and Imperial masters of the New World in the sixteenth century, rulers of Austria-Hungary after Napoleon, and then the protagonists in the greatest war of all, before being cast aside by Lloyd George in 1918. Given that, any American Century looks slightly pathetic. Even the Dutch managed a century or so of dominance of world trade. (And only lost Batavia in 1945.)

Raw Data: The notion of Indonesia as the centre of any Islamic coalition is ludicrous; Indonesia can barely keep itself in one piece, let alone form the HQ of any Islamic coalition. (See Aceh, Timor Leste. Then note that the Balinese are mainly Hindu. They are not alone.) Indeed, it has only existed some fifty years as an independent entity. The Brasil/Russia/India/China grouping is a prennial favorite of economic prophets, and not much has came of them. If anything, I'd say that, long term, it'll be the EU, America, and maybe China, or maybe Japan, or maybe India.

But who'd have predicted, in 1905, after Tushima Straits, that Russia would be one of the two nations locked in a battle for supremacy over most of the world for the better part of the century?

#45 ::: Raw Data ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 01:26 AM:

Keir,
You are missing my point.

#46 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 02:08 AM:

"This is held by most historians of the left and centre to be a tragedy, an outrage and a very gross injustice, amounting to a catalogue of vile crimes.

So how come it's so very wonderful and enriching and vibrant and to be wholeheartedly welcomed when those native peoples do it back to us? Just asking. "

Why yes, just yesterday I got up, went outside. It was a beautiful day in my slightly bucolic outer division of the Greater Copenhagen area, smiling people pushing little kids along in carriages, girls eating ice cream.

Suddenly the air was charged with tension. Out of nowhere a platoon of the Mohammedan cavalry came thundering, firing their guns at the defenceless natives, and killing indiscriminate of age or gender. It was over in mere minutes, almost everyone was killed (I survived by pulling the bodies of several of the dead over me), before they rode off they set the local supermarket and bakery on fire.

Today I will go to the great chiefs of our tribe, with the warpaint on my face, and I will call them for old men if they do not accede to my requests for war. My heart is hard and heavy, and I know if we do not fight now the darkfaces will overrun us, and the way of the people will be obliterated from the earth, burned as the supermarket and bakery of my outer division of Copenhagen were.

#47 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 02:55 AM:

I didn't miss the point. You tried to invent some fantasist future as a fright away from any discussion of American power. I pointed out why it was unlikely.

What you are actually saying, that America is better than anyone else, is obviously indefensible. Therefore, you say, oh, America isn't perfect, but it is better than `China and India and Russia and some Moslem coalition based in Indonesia'. This is on the lines of: yes, the Stasi are bad. But would you rather be policed by the Witch-King of Angmar? (Not, of course, that America is as bad as the Stasi.)

#48 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 03:51 AM:

I have a colleague who does some good work. He does some pretty bad work too, from time to time, but he's put some pretty amazing stuff together in the past, and we put up with him now when he's in a bad patch. I understand that things are troubled at home. We cut him slack.

What gets us down is how he treats the rest of us. If he does something good - or something he thinks is good - he always has to boast about it, and how he's the only one who could have pulled it off (rarely true). He refines others' work and then takes full credit for it. And he takes against colleagues sometimes, so that whenever they disagree with him, he goes around sneering at them (nobody else thinks this is nearly as funny as he does).

On a recent project, he was supposed to work within a larger team to get a particularly challenging thing done. His ideas of what to do didn't match the rest of ours, so he decided to form a subteam and do it with just the few who wanted to do things his way. It went horribly wrong, but we're watching him do the same thing on another project coming up now.

Is it any wonder that sometimes we go off at lunchtime and roll our eyes at him? Even those of us that are fond of him.

#49 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 07:31 AM:

I used to have that quote of Ken's up on my website, which caused Jim MacDonald some (not very serious) anguish, I seem to remember...

Ethnic mixes in Europe: Amsterdam proudly boasts 107 (iirc) different nationalities living in the city, with those of non-hollands descent making up almost half of the city.

Dave Bell:

"If you take the Frontier as the American Myth, what's the European equivalent. I'm not sure that Ken has it, but he hits on some things. Perhaps, instead of running away from strangers, the European myth is about getting organised. Organised to fight, and sometimes to do vile things, And also organised to do great things; organised to find ways of not fighting."

I'm not sure there's an European myth yet, but despite all the drearyness that surrounds it, I think the founding of the EU could become it: the peaceful formation of a continent wide country, formed from the ashes of half a century of disasttous wars, uniting hundreds of different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, creeds, and races peacefully.

#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 08:28 AM:

Raw Data --

It's entirely possible for there not to be a 'top dog'; just a bunch of big dogs, variously leery of one another.

This is generally preferable to a situation in which there is a top dog, since the economic rot to which unchallenged empires are prone is less likely, and less extensive. (And we might someday get, through the salutary effects of competition, an empire that doesn't have that bug.)

You are also gravely mistaken if you think that the experience of outsiders dealing with the United States is generally one of fair dealing and honest practice; the only consistent element of US foreign policy in the last century has been forced market access, on advantageous terms, obtained by the threat or exercise of force.

It is also presently impossible for the United States to claim superiority to any of those proposed powers on anything but narrow statistical grounds, and those are getting narrower by the day.

#51 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 11:36 AM:

I think the European myth is the struggle to create the modern state from the wreckage of Kings, Emperors, Popes, wars, genocides and all. Ken's thing has some of that.

Europeans and Americans are more alike than different, which is why our quarrels, sniping and backbiting are so nasty: we know each other too well.

As for the "American Century"; as currently constituted, a "Chinese Century" or an "Indian Century" or a "Muslim Century" doesn't look too appetizing. All three of those potential powers, though presently on the rise, might yet falter. Remember how we all figured the Japanese would rule the world less than a generation ago? Before that it was the USSR, and so on back into the mists of semi-recent history.

#52 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 12:11 PM:

Well, given the probable climate regime, sometime post 2050 or so, drought driven famine gets the US and the Indians; rising water drowns the principle cities of the US and China and Malaysia; hypercanes render the east coast of the US uninhabitable; the shutdown of the North Atlantic Conveyor Current runs the tundra line down to Paris, with disastrous consequences for European agriculture; and the expanding Gobi blankets large parts of China in choking dust, spoiling most food crops not drowned or affected by rising salt water.

The collapse of oil revenues, migratory populations seeking to escape drought-driven famine, and the displaced populations of the coastal cities produce social collapse pretty much everywhere. (Somebody may get lucky, and be skilled and ruthless enough to maintain a city-building, steam-engine-or-better, level of industry.)

The widespread recognition of "peak oil" triggers a number of expanding wars, neo-colonial masacres of indigenous peoples, rationing, forcible suppression of dissent up to and including massacre, and the general slow death by strangulation of industrial society, because no one is willing to loose relative social status now in favor of a better general outcome.

This is a good time to get into prognosticatory dick-waving over the relative aesthetic merits of proposed dominate powers?

#53 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 02:03 PM:

giant time-travelling mechanical Elephant
** I ** WANT ** ONE **

It's even maybe better than the Tactical Ice Cream Unit.


As for all the other harrumphing in the Comments: As a Hellenized Jew, I think it's pretty funny. We've lived everywhere, amongst everyone, and sometimes it's ok, occasionally it's great, and eventually it gets awful almost everywhere.

#54 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 02:36 PM:

Now *this* is art. I've been annoyed lately at the people (boingboing, etc) promoting homemade 'disposable' (ie, polluting) magnet+LED+lithium-battery 'Throwies', meant to be tossed at a ferrous surface and left as a form of bored-rich-guy's graffiti.

And they call *that* 'art'.

#55 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 03:16 PM:

Raw Data says, of my statement, "We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left."

Untrue. (Or meaningless.) But definitely dangerous fantasy because it allows someone (I don't know who is speaking in that passage) to claim moral superiority.

I don't understand this at all. Is it not the case that the majority of the present Europeans are, by and large, the descendants of the first post-glacial populations (of the European continent, not necessarily of the part of it they currently inhabit)? If not, at the very least their ancestry (not unmixed, of course) in Europe goes back for thousands of years.

Does this make them morally superior to people of European descent who live in the Americas? Of course not. Does this make them better in any respect than people in Europe who have arrived, or are descended from people who arrived, more recently? Of course not.

My rant was a rhetorical retort to a rhetoric about Europe that some people who posted to the newsgroup it originally appeared on were inclined to indulge in. That's all.


#56 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 03:58 PM:

My rant was a rhetorical retort to a rhetoric about Europe that some people who posted to the newsgroup it originally appeared on were inclined to indulge in.

On a complete meta-level tangent, I find myself deeply fascinated by the syntax of the above sentence, although I've probably written sentences similarly convoluted without noticing.

I think it's the center embedding.


And regarding elephants - "seen the elephant" appears to have been military slang for "experienced one's first battle". I see that the phrase is claimed for both American & British military in the 19th century. I am not sure which one used it first, although I suspect there must have been a definite transfer of phrase from one to the other, perhaps by one individual or group performing military training.

However, I think Heinlein's "The Man who Traveled in Elephants" is more appropriate given the described spectacle.

#57 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 04:51 PM:

At least in the US, the phrase "see[ing] the elephant" comes from the days when one only saw elephants when a showman brought one to town, and usually charged for a look. "Seeing the elephant" became a general term for going off to see anything much-spoken-of and supposedly a Great Marvel, with a distinct suggestion that, once seen, the elephant wasn't quite all it had been advertised as. The transfer to one's first experience of battle is obvious. It was definitely in general use during the ACW, by both sides.

#58 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 07:25 PM:

As a European I can state with some authority that Ken is entirely correct: the people of Europe won this land by beating back the glaciers bare-handed. That's why we are still fond of traditional warming dishes like Mammoth Jalfrezi, Woolly Rhinoceros Madras and that thing Ken did with the giant Elk steaks, the wild boar sausages and those lethal little dried chillies over the barbeque last midsommar.

#59 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 08:44 PM:

omigod, I love the elephant! Why don't we have giant marionette little girls wandering around New York?

#60 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 09:04 PM:

I do love that Ken MacLeod quote. Myth, sure, but so is the American Frontier and British Indomitability and all the rest of it. And if there is one thing America could stand to re-learn lately, it's that kings & rulers ought to be laughed at.

But drab & cheerless would be a fair way of describing much of Britain's mid-late century malaise. That's how I felt about growing up there through the 80s and the early 90s, until it finally became apparent that stamping out fun in any form was no longer a winning electoral strategy for the Tories.

I was lucky enough to grow up in Norwich, a city without significant industry and of firm left-wing beliefs, where cultural development was nurtured even through the days of Thatcherism, being a hippie never quite went out of style, and a certain bucolic haze seemed to keep the stresses of industrial decline and right-wing politics at bay. Our hero was Kett, who led a rebellion against Enclosure in 1549, demanded an end to private land ownership, fortified the city against the Royal forces, and was hanged for his trouble.

Of course, it was so desperately boring to me that I had to move thousands of miles away as soon as I was able. But it's probably telling that I now live right next to Berkeley, which has something of the same character.

I'd love to have seen the elephant, and I'm so glad that Britain has managed to get over itself enough to let the common people enjoy their street spectacle again. Where America's rural rightists still take pride in their political power and protect their right to shoot trespassers, Britain's castrated rural rich put up with a fox-hunting ban and Freedom to Roam legislation. We've come a long way. And the union of Europe may mean a permanent end to the bloody wars that have plagued the region since the Romans. That's what you call "progress", now.

#61 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 09:07 PM:

Patrick - the bit about Europe that you quote from Ken MacLeod - where did that originally appear? It's a fine piece of rhetoric, as is only to be expected from him.

Also - apologies if this is mentioned upthread, but this is the elephant & co. that was wanderinga round France a year or so ago?

#62 ::: Raw Data ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 09:23 PM:

"Is it not the case that the majority of the present Europeans are, by and large, the descendants of the first post-glacial populations (of the European continent, not necessarily of the part of it they currently inhabit)?"

I was implying (at least) your last clause -- "not necessarily of the part of it they currently inhabit.." -- which makes my point clearer. There has been so much pushing and shoving and moving into others' territories in Europe (by Europeans, Asiastics, Arabs etc) that it gives a lie to what I took to the basic sense of your quote -- i.e. that Europeans have some higher right to the land because "we took it from nobody."

At some point or another, everyone's ancestors probably displaced someone and now, as it always has been, the right that Europeans have is as long as they can -- and we'll see about it -- hold the land against what I know many/most people on this blog thinks is a right-wing fantasy: Islam. The battle of course now must be to integrate those which are there and unfortunately, because Europe doesn't have our melting pot myth, it will be much tougher for them.

And if I got it wrong, then what did you mean?

•••

And btw, of course those post-glacial migrations happened (I believe) in waves over many generations with succeeding waves making room for themselves by force if needed amongs people who may have gotten there just 50 years before. So I guess I was puzzled that you would be trying to tease out some moral superiority from our ancestors, all of who were at some time or another pretty capable of killing other humans.

#63 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 09:25 PM:

Jacob: Credit where credit's due. Perhaps you might call it progress because it actually is progress.

#64 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 09:34 PM:

May I put up my hand to state that I do not believe (militant, fundamentalist) Islam to be a right-wing fantasy. It might not be an actual threat to the West in the West, but there are rather too many bodies strewn about to dismiss it as a mere fantasy.

#66 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 09:52 PM:

I would love to see the Sultan, the Elephant and the Girl in the Spaceship!

On a less spectacular scale, we did something of the same kind in the Twin Cities. It was fun, and a bit surreal.

#67 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 10:12 PM:

I think this whole topic has taken a great shift from something serindipitous to a great deal of unpleasantness.

Dave, I don't so much think militant Islamism is an organized threat as a disorganized, "one-off-but-there-are-thousands-who-want-to-be-one-off" threats. I believe if you got all the 'strict practicing Islamists' into one area, you'd only have to wait a year or so before they'd sterilize the area they were shoved into, because they're ALL so much into 'you killed my blood relative 100 or even 1000 years ago and now you must die" that there'd be no one left. Holding blood grudges is one of the reasons we have so much war and hurt. And they're into it in spades.

I may be wrong. Ymmv as always.

#68 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 10:14 PM:

The “American century.” So over.

America is but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

Woah, that was a bit of a lark, but reading it again, it's kinda spooky...

#69 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 10:25 PM:

Elephant!

PLEASE let the Elephant come to Ottawa ... oh PLEASE!

My world is a happier place just because it happened somewhere, though.

#70 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 10:51 PM:

Sounds like a Burning Man art project on steroids.

#71 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 11:58 PM:

I was lucky enough to grow up in Norwich...

That's not a sentence-starter I've heard very often, and it isn't for lack of experience of people who grew up in Norwich. But I think you beat me to this snark in the same post. (I grew up in Bedford, and while I'm quite attached to the place as an artefact of geography and history, I plan never to live there again.)

As all this might suggest, the Europe/America split is of course unreasonably artificial anyway. London is wonderfully cosmopolitan (which I take to be the opposite of colonialist), but I remember spending a summer trying and failing to find a copy of the TLS in Devon. And "only in America" rarely seems to cover Salem, OR.

Meanwhile, I don't think radical, militant Islam to be a right-wing fantasy. On the other hand, I think of a lot of European Muslims as, er, Europeans.

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 12:01 AM:

I knew there was a reason why, when I first saw the photo of that Elephant, I immediately thought of Agatha Heterodyne. I did some digging and sure enough, here's what one Sandy (aka nebulousmenace@yahoo.com) had posted on this site when the subject of 'Mary Sue' had come up again, circa January 19...

"...My opinion is that Agatha H. is not a Mary Sue. I actually had a discussion on the topic in Kaja Foglio's livejournal; my argument was, if you're going to be a Mary Sue, there have to be moments where everyone else just stands back and admires you. Often while you're not DOING anything, just BEING.... If Agatha took a second to look beautiful, she'd get run over by a crazed mechanical elephant, with six Jaegermonsters trying to control it, pulling an entire circus tent. That was on fire. And full of sinister assassins... And it would then hurtle off a cliff, forcing someone to disassemble the elephant/tent combo in midfall and build a powered kite- and if it wasn't Agatha, it would be some other Spark . Possibly two, working on opposite ends of the tent and arguing about laminar airflow and who stole whose idea..."

#73 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 12:21 AM:

I had thought that "seen the elephant" was vaguely Kipling-ish, but Kipling was born much too late to have originated the phrase.

Checking the OED, the earliest citation is from 1835, and they point definitively at the USA as the source of the phrase.

to see the elephant (U.S. slang): to see life, the world, or the sights (as of a large city); to get experience of life, to gain knowledge by experience. Also to show or get a look at the elephant.

Although the OED does also point at the entry for "Lion", which has this:

Things of note, celebrity, or curiosity (in a town, etc.); sights worth seeing: esp. in phr. to see, or show, the lions. In early use, to have seen the lions often meant to have had experience of life.

This use of the word is derived from the practice of taking visitors to see the lions which used to be kept in the Tower of London. See the introductory quots.

And the earliest quotation is this:

1590 GREENE Neuer too Late (1600) 34 Francesco was no other but a meere nouice, and that so newly, that to vse the olde prouerbe, he had scarce seene the Lions.
#74 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 01:29 AM:

Avram: thanks for the pointer

#75 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 01:34 AM:
As a European I can state with some authority that Ken is entirely correct: the people of Europe won this land by beating back the glaciers bare-handed. That's why we are still fond of traditional warming dishes like Mammoth Jalfrezi, Woolly Rhinoceros Madras and that thing Ken did with the giant Elk steaks, the wild boar sausages and those lethal little dried chillies over the barbeque last midsommar.

Shh! You're not to let on! The UN might start sniffing around, looking for the mammoths. Probably declare them a `heritage' site or something. And then the WWF, and, dear God be merciful, Greenpeace! You've seen what they did to the Japanese whaling industry, right? Do you want that to happen to the Mammoth farms?

#76 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 02:16 AM:

Who mucks out the Mammoth farms?

#77 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 02:40 AM:

The Neanderthals. (Quite intelligent. Bad rap they got, mostly undeserved. Of course, you should hear them go on about the australopitheci.)

#78 ::: Keith Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 06:05 AM:

Speaking of the "only in America" meme:

When Yogi Berra heard that the Lord Mayor of Dublin was Jewish, he supposedly exclaimed, "Only in America!".

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 06:38 AM:

Say, Keir, didn't Stephen Baxter write a story about mammoths still being alive somewhere in England, although in a miniature form?

#80 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 07:27 AM:

Wouldn't know off the top of my head, to be honest. A theme in NZ children's stories is the living moa in Fiordland. Quite a good plot notion, as you can even have DOC* cover up the findings.

This did occur (without the DOC cover up); takahe were thought extinct for quite a time, then rediscovered in the 1940's, I believe. They are now reasonably well established.

*DOC are the NZ CIA, FBI, and NSA all rolled into one. (OK, I lie. Actually they run the national parks, conservation, etc. However, they can be seen as overzealous in their attempts to deal to pests.

The joke about DOC is that, after they have eradicated the possums, they'll move onto cats and dogs. Following that, sheep, cattle, and they'll let the farmers deal to the rabbits. At this point, they will start on the people, restoring NZ to its natural, pristine state.

#81 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 08:34 AM:

Stephen Baxter wrote a trilogy starring a mammoth family surviving to modern times, being discovered and rescued by greenpeace people, to end up on Mars while Earth commits suicide.

As most of Baxter's fiction it is not as heavyhanded as it sounds like --it's worse.

Not as good as _Titan_.

#82 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 08:48 AM:

candle, it's my experience that there's nothing wrong with Bedford as long as you don't live there: it has a lovely green patch in the centre, pleasant inhabitants... and horrible politics.

Myself, I moved towards it, and walk fairly regularly from Bedford back home to Sandy along the old railway line (now a cycle-path). Bedfordshire may be dull, but I prefer dull to London's rats.

#83 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 09:11 AM:

Yes, the Elephant was first seen in Nantes, where it celebrated in a great deal of style the centennial of the death (or birth, I forget) of Our Revered Father - Jules Verne.

Which, as you know, Bob, founded Science Ficction.

In fact, the Elephant Echo, the official broadside of the Elephant, has a section inside called "The Jules Verne", with period illustration and all, detailing the story of the elephant.

(I went to see the elephant. I delighted in asking of as many Official Figures Wearing Funny Hats and/or Fluorescent Jackets "Excuse me sir, I realize this must be the millionth time you've been asked, but where's the elephant?" The Show And Event people either smiled a lot and replied with a French Accent or grumbled a lot and replied in true-blue Cockney accent. The elephant itself, alas, was taking a nap. I did see the Little Giant playing with kids in St. James' Park. It was one of those days in which you love this bloody place.)

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 09:31 AM:

Martin... I've heard of that Mammoth trilogy by Baxter, but it came out during my I'm-DISGUSTED-with-Baxter period, which started with his Moonseed, probably the only book I've ever wanted to throw at a wall when I was done.

#85 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 10:23 AM:

This is Europe. We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left. The bones of our ancestors, and the stones of their works, are everywhere. Our liberties were won in wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers. We snap our fingers at kings. We laugh at popes.

There's a bit by Bill Maher where he quotes some knucklehead saying "We built this country" to which he replies "You built nothing. I'm pretty sure the railroads were installed before you were born."

Maybe what we need is a meme that disables or disconnects the feats of our ancestors with our own personal pride. It's interesting to see a July 4th celebration talk about the founding fathers and independence and freedom like we were there in our younger days helping fight the good fight, and yet we've got a quagmire military occupation with Abu Graib and other attrocities that likens more like occupying England than the colonists who fought them.

new rule: you can only be proud of the living.

#86 ::: Donald Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 11:13 AM:

Someone mentioned the Neadertals above. Isn't there a theory that they were wiped out by the ancestors of the current Europeans, the proto-Nazi Cro Magnon scum?

#87 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 12:29 PM:

The TRUTH is that Neanderthals exterminated 2.5 million Cro-Magnon people in pre-Soviet Armenia and Eastern Anatolia between 30,000 BC and 55,000 BC.

#88 ::: Ken Mann ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 12:35 PM:

Yes it was as magnificent as it seems. One sour note: the deputy mayor welcomed the sultan to London and then went on about how having a giant time-travelling elephant stopping traffic showed how well London would cope with the Olympics. Given how much cooler the elephant is than any possible sporting event this was a bit of an atmosphere killer. Couldn't they give the 2 billion pounds budgeted for the games to Artichoke instead? Most of us already know that some people can run faster than others.

#89 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 12:59 PM:

I have to say that while I sympathize with the concerns, I find this quasi-universal resentment of the Olympics in London a bit petty. I don't think it's a terribly good idea to inflict the Olympics on somebody who doesn't want it, since so many others, including Paris, DID want them. But I keep remembering how Sydney managed to genuinely be welcoming and embracing to the world when their time came and I'll be really sorry if all my city will be able to do is whine about the traffic jams and the bloody forreigners.

Also, I am regularly entertained by the Londoner's complaints about the terrible weather and horrible congestion of their town. All I can say is, folks, try living in Padua for a week. Rain all the time, below zero in November, 35 C in June, no metro, precious few buses, thirty minutes to cover three kilometers.

Some people actually complained because on Thursday it was "baking hot". For the record, that was 25 C, that is, about 72 F.

#90 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 01:06 PM:

Neanderthals exterminated 2.5 million Cro-Magnon people in pre-Soviet Armenia and Eastern Anatolia between 30,000 BC and 55,000 BC.

geesh, I wonder if they'll have a war crimes investigation, maybe hunt down all remaining Neanderthals for prosecution, something.

#91 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 02:27 PM:

I think Niall is trying to start a new birth of S*rg*r *rg*c.

I don't know much about Norwich. It seemed pleasant enough when Avedon Carol and Rob Hansen and I got lost navigating its many roundabouts in June 2001. As it happens the Haydens from whom I'm descended spent several centuries in and around Norwich, notably in the nearby village of Heydon. I don't think we're related to the new DCI nominee. But you never know.

#92 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 03:25 PM:

Juli Thompson, the link doesn't work. Was it to pictures of the HotB Parade and Celebration yesterday?

#93 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 05:04 PM:

I've been quoted back to myself. I don't know whether to be proud or startled that I've seemingly influenced someone's thought processes, in public.

I'd like to thank Phil and Kaja Foglio, for creating an environment I can play in.

. . . I didn't realize it until just now, but I told a Heterodyne Girl Story there.

#94 ::: Electric Landlady ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 05:07 PM:

Love the elephant!

Apropos the rest of the discussion, Sir Wilfrid Laurier proclaimed that the 20th century would be Canada's century (if you google for "Canada's century" you'll find reams of self-congratulatory prose on the subject). That worked out so-so. Canada certainly has plenty of its own national myths, although I'm not sure I can encapsulate them as neatly as that.

#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 05:15 PM:

Sandy B... I remembered your Agatha Heterodyne post from January because it was hilarious. Still is.

#96 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 05:35 PM:

Re: "Only in America!": last Friday at my daughter's college graduation ceremony, the college president made the amazingly offensive claim that "only in America" do you find selfless, generous, philanthropic people. I don't know if he was on crack, or what. (This was part of his introduction of a gentleman about to receive an honorary doctorate.)

Greg: "Maybe what we need is a meme that disables or disconnects the feats of our ancestors with our own personal pride."
We already have such a meme. In the words of my great-grandfather, "Every pot has to sit on its own bottom." He used to trot that one out when the illustrious-ancestors faction of the family started bragging.

Re Norwich: any city that housed the Blessed Julian of Norwich has to have something special going for it. The woman was even able to make Margery Kempe listen to sensible advice, for God's sake!

#97 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 05:39 PM:

"Every pot has to sit on its own bottom."

OK, maybe we need a slightly more popular meme? I can't say I've ever heard of that one. But I don't get out much. But I do get his meaning. Will have to ponder some more.

#98 ::: Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 06:15 PM:

The question was, what would be a modern "European" myth look like, analagous to the American oversimplifications about freedom-loving individualists carving liberty's redoubt from an empty continent?

People seem to object only to the second sentence of MacLeod's line: We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left. Cutting that, reordering, adjusting some words, restoring the rest of the quote and expanding on the third sentence a touch, I might propose the following:

This is Europe. This land covers the bones of our ancestors and the stones of their works are everywhere. We have built our nations on the ruins of empires. We beat back the Moors, we assimilated the Huns, we held back the likes of Genghis Khan and the Janissaries. We are the children of the survivors of genocides and of their perpetrators. We have conquered continents and shattered empires. We build up tyrants and we tear them down. Our liberties were won in wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers. We snap our fingers at kings. We laugh at popes.

There is no European century because we have dominated the world for half a millennium.

If we enjoy our present security and comforts, do not mistake that for decadence. We won those luxuries through threats of violence against those who would deny them to us. If we retain our privileges when others so easily give them up, if our governments back down when they want to take them away, it is a sign of the terror we instill in those who would govern us.

We are a continent of energetic mongrels and we are very hard to kill. And we have nuclear - fucking - weapons.

It's aggressive and pseudo-nationalist and not all that historically accurate (much like the remarks MacLeod was originally responding to), but at least it focuses on the notion of an empowered people rather than a race or an "ancient" tradition that is usually no more than 150 years old. But it's hard to sell to Europeans.

#99 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 06:28 PM:

Magenta Griffith wrote:

Juli Thompson, the link doesn't work. Was it to pictures of the HotB Parade and Celebration yesterday?

No, it was intended to be a link to the Big Urban Game. Short version - the University of Minnesota School of Design made big inflatable game pieces (~20 feet tall) and turned the Twin Cities into a game board. There were rules about how pieces could move, and people went online and made suggestions and voted, and then the next day the pieces were moved around town by crowds of volunteers who carried them. This went on for three days, IIRC, and then the pieces all met up at the finish line, the bridge between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

If you do a Google search (Big Urban Game St. Paul) you can find lots of pictures of game pieces at traffic lights, game pieces sitting in parks, game pieces waiting while the players try to read their maps, etc.

Like I said, cool and fun, but not nearly as wondrous as the Elephant.

I'm off to figure out why the link didn't work, when I copied it so carefully and it worked on preview. (This is further proof that computers hate me.

#100 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 07:57 PM:

Never heard of Heydon, but a little Google Maps tells me it's out by Aylsham in the middle of nowhere (i.e. about 2 miles from the A140, or half a day's walk from Norwich). If you'd lived there back in the day, you'd probably have grown potatoes or wheat and gone to the village church a lot. Norfolk was quite keen on churches.

It'd be a short day trip to Cromer or Sheringham on the coast for some crabs or fish & chips, or wander over to Blakeney Point, a picture-perfect sandbar (but try not to get cut off at high tide). (Funny, utterly off-topic story about that, well, sort of: we were having a little picnic out there when we decided to call it a day as the waves were beginning to lap at the wheels of the helicopter. We took off but then found a couple of hiking women waving at us in that "please rescue us" way, so we landed again. As the helicopter was a giant jet-engined Westland Whirlwind with RAF markings, Imagine Their Surprise™ on finding my scruffy, decidedly non-RAF step-father flying it and three equally scruffy kids & my mum in the back with the remnants of the picnic. "Hello!" we said. "Are you the RAF?" "Not exactly..." But they took the ride anyway.)

Um, back to street pageantry, on St George's day you could have gone to Norwich and see the Snap-Dragon, at least since the 14th century. I've never quite understood why some Turkish guy was the patron saint of England, myself.

Let's see, other charms of Norwich: the first multi-denominational cemetery in Britain (and my short-cut to school - no wonder I've always like cemeteries), Julian of Norwich of course, the 2nd-tallest cathedral spire in England, a brutalist Norman castle built right after the invasion - shades of the US embassy in Baghdad, there - long since a musty museum with, amongst other things, an extensive collection of teapots. More interesting than you'd think! But still, not that interesting. Also more churches than you could possibly need - one on every corner, like Starbucks now, but more Jesus-y - a great university with ziggurats and one of my favourite Norman Foster buildings, built from stainless steel, glass, and big tubes, as all buildings ought to be (if you like your buildings to leak, overheat, and freeze, that is), and a fair number of second-hand bookstores whose science-fiction sections I knew by heart (frankly, that information is probably still pretty current, ten years out). Also a fine selection of local hippie fairs, marginally more tolerance than the rest of the country for travellers & gypsies, and really, not all that much rain at all compared to everywhere else in that most-moist country.

Still, deadly boring & utterly provincial. The best restaurant there would be one you'd say "Well, let's never bother going there again" in San Francisco. 98.3% white, which probably is the reason a friend of mine taking a physics degree at the UEA was asked for dope every single time he walked in the Student's Union because, after all, he was black & he had dreadlocks.

I left at high speed, charms or no.

"The American Century" always reminded me of that pompous (if sometimes not entirely serious) habit of Americans of referring to the President as the "Leader of the Free World". Still, in my adopted nation's defence, the Bay Area has illegal soapbox racing, power tool drag racing, dykes on bikes, any number of street murals and bay to breakers (SF even tight-ass W, even if it doesn't look like it). It's something.

#101 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 09:06 PM:

Anna FDD, many of us near Washington DC are very happy to have the Olympics in London.

#102 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 11:43 PM:

I actually have nothing against Norwich. (But living in Sandy...? No, I suppose that's OK too.) I'm just amused that I have a strange relationship to where I grew up, in that I am perfectly allowed to disparage it, but nobody else is. I imagine that's probably pretty common.

My favourite fact (sorry, "fact") about Bedford comes courtesy of the Panacea Society:

"England has always been a favoured country and Bedford is right at the centre of England," she said. It is the site of garden of Eden, which is why Christ will return to earth here. "And it's a lovely town, very pretty, with the river..."

For Nancy Banks-Smith's view of this, see here.

Almost enough to make me want to live there again.

#103 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2006, 11:45 PM:

We beat back the Moors

Probably this is going to get you into trouble. Although I suppose it is an important element of any myth of Europe.

#104 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 01:33 AM:

I think we are verging on a discussion of what exactly it is to be a European. As opposed to an American, or, in my own case, an Australian.

#105 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 05:58 AM:

Raw Data asks: And if I got it wrong, then what did you mean?

Sorry, I misunderstood what you meant by 'to claim moral superiority'.

Sure, part of a European chauvinist rant nationalist discourse would have to include the claim that Europeans had a stronger moral claim to the continent of Europe than they had to, say, the continent of Australia. This land is our land, and so on.

But the main point of that Usenet post was to imagine a European equivalent of a form of American self-regard, typified in the context by Heinlein's 'The cowards never started and the weaklings died on the way'.

It was a flight of rhetorical fancy, some of it true. Scott Martens' version says it better.

#106 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 06:14 AM:

What do you mean, "This land is our land"?

When Julius Fabricius, Sub-Prefect of the Weald,
In the days of Diocletian owned our Lower River-field,
He called to him Hobdenius-a Briton of the Clay,
Saying: "What about that River-piece for layin'' in to hay?"

I've known a few Hobdens in my time.

#107 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 06:34 AM:

There will be a programme on BBC4 about the Sultan and the Elephant, broadcast Thursday next week.

Incidentally, my father was asking me why there wasn't anything good on TV these days. He doesn't watch Doctor Who. Spoilerphobes probably don't like reading Radio Times.

#108 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 06:59 AM:

Provisionally, I'll go with; all citizens of the EU, or countries in accension talks with the EU, are Europeans. (Yes, this includes Turkey. Byzantium has the right to join any Europe.)

For a discussion of `belonging', with an eye to Australia/New Zealand, see the Metics series by Che Tibby.

As for jingoism, you should see some NZ lefties go. Given a good run at it, your garden variety NZ lefty can make NZ out to be God's Own Country. Patriotism is a left-wing virtue here. The really popular one is the nuclear ships ban. Very strong narrative of `plucky NZ stands up to nasty US', and bound up in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.

The first pan-European nationalist party will be interesting, though. Possibly really scary at the same time, but it'll be interesting.

#109 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 11:14 AM:

candle, I have a friend who's a Cuban of mostly-Spanish descent. He looks distinctly North African, though it would be more than my life is worth to tell him so.

#110 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 02:33 PM:

The Moor the merrier, I say.

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 02:50 PM:

candle...I've decided I love you. Not in a slap-and-tickle let's-get-sweaty way, but in the pure, chaste, and distant adoration of the knight-errant.

My friend, however, I love in the s&t, lgs way. Not that he's any more amenable to that than being told he looks more Moroccan than Spanish.

#112 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 04:22 PM:

okay how about:

Europe, we're not so fucking special as all you prissy narcissists.

Europe: still your daddy.

Europe, we haven't quite gone off our beer with all your bragging up your manly attributes, but we're close.

Europe, I think something short should go here, but wittier than what you pack your trousers with.


#113 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 04:26 PM:

Europe: excuse our grammatical errors but we're multilingual, what's your excuse?

thought I should put that in after skipping too fast past preview on the last comment.

hmm, I guess also that means my real reason is not being multilingual but having skpped past preview too fast on the last comment.

but that's not funny.


#114 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 04:31 PM:

i got one, this is the one

Europe, I'm tired and should probably go to sleep, explain to me the endless renewability and glories of America please.

okay, I'm going to sleep now.

#115 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 04:35 PM:

candle suggests that The Moor the merrier... What a coincidence, today's World o'Crap reviews a French movie about Vercingetorix, and they refer to it as Gauls Gone Wild.

#116 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 04:57 PM:

I guess I moved from the myth of europe to slogans of europe. but sometimes the right wing myths of the U.S just seem like so many damn slogans of the U.S.

okay, really going to sleep this time.

#117 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 06:44 PM:

Don't have anything to add on the Europe/US thing, but was in London for the weekend and saw the elephant. My oldest friend said "OK, I want to take you to see something that's meant to be amazing. If I say the words 'street theatre' will you promise not to thump me provided I put 'giant mechanical elephant' in the same sentence?"

It was truly amazing. What got me was that it was so obviously a machine with all the mechanism visible, and yet it looked and moved so much like a real elephant. Everyone said that what impressed them most of all were the ears. You could see that they were made out of leather with rivets holding them together, and yet they were perfect elephant ears.

Has anyone mentioned that it squirted water through its trunk? We got a great video of the elephant swinging its trunk towards our section of the crowd, and somebody held their little girl up into the jet of water.

#118 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 09:04 PM:

Gauls Gone Wild

Gauls on Film, shurely?

*shameless bid for Xopher's attention again*

#119 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2006, 10:42 PM:

When I was in Montreal last month, we were walking past the Olympic Stadium (on our way to the Jardin Botanique) and it occurred to me that it would be a gorgeous piece of public art and commentary to paint the roof with a rubber-stamped "Paid In Full."

#120 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 08:57 AM:

From somewhat upthread, Lila wrote:

Re: "Only in America!": last Friday at my daughter's college graduation ceremony, the college president made the amazingly offensive claim that "only in America" do you find selfless, generous, philanthropic people....

While saying 'only in America' is definitely asking for rotten tomatoes, it is true that the US has much more of a culture of philanthropy than many other countries. In fact, there is an article on BBC World News today on this very subject.

I think deciding whether this culture of philanthropy has arisen from an historic lack of public funding, or vice versa, would be pretty hard to answer. While I personally would like to see the public good funded by the public purse, I am sure not going to boycott the Smithsonian, or the MoMA, or my college.

#121 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 09:20 AM:

You know, if you just want a big giant artificial elephant, there's a 65-foot tall one along the Jersey shore; that is, the shore of New Jersey, in the town of Margate, just a short drive or long walk south from Atlantic City. Lucy is less mobile than the French version; moving her is/was a huge major production on the order of moving a house. (Lucy the Elephant was even, at one point in the distant past, used as a house for a family of 5)

#122 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 10:14 AM:

What got me was that it was so obviously a machine with all the mechanism visible, and yet it looked and moved so much like a real elephant. Everyone said that what impressed them most of all were the ears. You could see that they were made out of leather with rivets holding them together, and yet they were perfect elephant ears.

There's a writing metaphor lurking just out of sight in there, but damned if I can coax it out into the open.

#123 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 10:29 AM:

Living inside an elephant would be a bit too Enchanted Castle for me!

#124 ::: Jack Ruttan ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 12:44 PM:

Interesting about spectacles bringing people together. There was a lot of writing about Christo's gates, last year.

My favourite in the 1980s was "Urban Sax," a group of 100 or so radiation-suited saxophonists based in France, who would "take over" and scale with mountain ropes some local landmark, while playing minimalist chords on their instruments.

#125 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 01:06 PM:

candle, that's very gauling. And please don't call me Shurely!

#126 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 02:01 PM:

TexAnne: It wouldn't be a bit too Moulin Rouge for you?

#127 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 02:39 PM:

Fragano: Not at all. I love Luhrmann, but I need Nesbit. Or to put it another way, Baz is beautiful, but Edith is everything.

#128 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2006, 03:16 PM:

TexAnne: You have a point there!

#129 ::: Pat Cadigan ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2006, 10:50 AM:

Belatedly commenting on "only in America."

Strangely, while I was dancing through London with a 40-foot elephant and several thousand people, the thought popped into my head: "Only in London."

And then I thought, "Well, that's patently not true--the elephant's from France!"

And then I thought, "Only in France? That's not true, either, seeing as how the elephant is here at the moment."

And then I thought, "What the hell. This whole experience is ineffable and I'm only human."

#130 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2006, 03:08 PM:

"Only humanity!"

#131 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2006, 04:36 PM:

The dolphins have made a giant mechanical blue whale. But I fear their purposes are not peaceful.

#132 ::: Kathryn from sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2006, 07:02 AM:

A belated posting on Joy (and 'only in America'), as I'm tired of thinking about stress (today's news can't be from *my* America). The Elephant reminds me very much of an 'only in America' (so far) event just briefly mentioned upthread...

I love Elephant moments- sheer odd creativity made solid, where reading about it ahead of time doesn't make the sight less wonderful. Just knowing that other people will be walking around the corner and suddenly seeing an elephant makes for joy. And I haven't found a place that has more moments like that than Black Rock City / BurningMan. Its why I've skipped Worldcons recently: they usually overlap. Although (joy!) not this year. The con-com didn't want to choose in 2006, so they moved WorldCon back one week.

If Worldcon is theoretical science fiction, BurningMan is applied SF, filled with Elephants. Except at BurningMan, everyone can build elephants. Talking about the event often ends up sounding like preaching, but, well, it's a great place to go and hard to describe. Like the blind men and the elephant: fan, rope, tent, dragon, fire-tornado, Santa Claus.

This year its just 600 miles from Worldcon, so stay another week, experience post-scarcity life, have hallway costumes with subwoofers and fireworks. Although "costume" isn't the right term- everything's a costume, therefore nothing is. (Of course nothing plus a light coat of teal (and sunscreen) is a fine outfit for anyone.) This year's theme is The Future, so what's already sfnal will be far more so. There'll be robot spiders *and* a roller skating rink.

Elephant moments.
The largest fossil mammoth found died 17,000 years ago near Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, now part of the Black Rock Desert. Folks I know thought to build a 13 foot high replica. And have it be bicycle powered. My neighbor's mammoth.

Or, during a fight between gods in a brothel of heaven, when one god angrily pulled down a chandelier and threw it through the floor, it landed nearby.

Alien semaphore. A field of sunflower robots. Fire Pendulums. The galleon La Contessa carrying a band to a marching band show-down, a 50 foot white whale illumining the musicians. Really good marching bands, too. Plus the usual interesting conversations and learning new skills and all that.

"Only in America."
BurningMan is simultaneously an 'only in America' event and an unamerican event. The former is in part the luck of geography/ geology (flat playa remnants of a dead lake = good for experimental fires. Silicon Valley= good makers of fire). The latter because Black Rock City is a foreign culture to heartland America, yet it's also orthogonal to counter-culture hippies, libertarian techies, hollywood pagans and the other usual burner comparisons. As a reaction to late 20th century America it had to start here- only in America. But burners now come from around the world (ratios similar to Worldcon), and as a way of life it's starting to spread out.

Applied Science Fiction.
BurningMan starts off with SF elements- anarcholibertarian culture in a lifeless desert, love of gadgets, Heinleinesque dress codes (although it's not so much 'code' as just that no one cares what you wear. Unless it sheds- glitter is bad), a Fremen attention to certain aspects of water-use. While all of those can be found elsewhere, being at BurningMan also includes living in a post-scarcity economy: this you usually find only in books.

Not that it doesn't take money to prepare (like Worldcon, it can be done on the cheap or on the lux). But out on the playa- it's a gift economy. Not trading or bartering 'gifts': participants do what they do, make what they make, for the joy of it. Not that BRC's attention-based economy is entirely scarcity-free, but the look and feel are evocative.

#133 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2006, 11:21 AM:

"Only in America" can mean so many things, for good or ill, someone should do a SF/F anthology on the topic. Or has one been done (recently)?

For Burning Man, of course, you have to count the West Coast as part of America -- and a lot of conservatives don't.

#134 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2006, 04:31 AM:

@Karen: a burner friend related a Burning Man story about the Extra Action Marching Band aboard the Contessa, bearing down on the Space Cowboys collective.

Now, the Cowboys have a Unimog (see the above link for photo,) that deploys giant freaking banks of speakers on extensible arms.

So here's the Contessa, bearing down on the Unimog like Jack Aubrey trying to take a PG&E repair truck as a prize. Extra Action's bumping and grinding and ompah-ompahing.

The Cowboys bring their batteries to bear on the warship and let loose with the techno.

It's like an Aegis-class cruiser appearing at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Contessa breaks off lest the umpteen decibel barrage turns the crews' brains to jelly.

#135 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2015, 09:54 AM:

Looking for Ken's quote, I found this thread - almost exactly nine years after coming back from herding the Elephant around central London....

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