You did know the Titanic was a real ship, didn’t you? Laughing Squid did a Twitter-trawl to find people for whom this came as news. Amusing as it is, it’s not so surprising that there are now adults who have no memory of the Titanic from before James Cameron’s film. Those who were five when it came out are twenty now. They’ve grown up in a world where Titanic is, and has always been, the most successful film ever.
And the opposite misconception – that it was the worst tragedy in maritime history – is far more widespread, and every bit as wrong. Believe it or not, it doesn’t come close. Even if you restrict the definition of disaster to accidental losses, it doesn’t appear in the five worst on record. If we include deliberate sinkings such as acts of war and piracy, it’s hardly on the radar.
So why is this the sinking everyone remembers? To be blunt, because it’s a great story. The key factor is that the Titanic had just become the largest ship ever afloat. At once you have a story of hubris; overambitious humans tempting fate is one of the great templates of drama. And to stoke the irony, the owners had unguardedly described it as “virtually unsinkable”. Then there’s the needlessness of the deaths caused by the under-provision of lifeboats. That gives the story a terrible pathos. And her passengers included some of the richest people in the world, so you have the vital celebrity angle. The rich surviving at the expense of the poor makes it a story about injustice too.
No wonder so many people think it was invented for the cinema. It’s ideal. The first film about it was made within a month! And even before that it was entering folklore as story and song – hundreds and hundreds of songs, including one I remember my grandfather singing. The Titanic was an instant legend.
The actual greatest tragedy at sea? For a single ship, almost certainly the Wilhelm Gustloff, on which at least six times as many lives were lost as aboard the Titanic. Six times. Why is this not the subject of a wildly successful film?
Because we sank it.
Well, “we” if you identify with the Allied side in World War II. Though it was packed to the gunwales – literally – with civilian refugees, it was also carrying Nazi officers and troops retreating from the Russian advance in 1945. No icebergs, no Edwardian frocks. Germans sunk by Soviets as part of a bitter and ruthless war. Tragic, yes. But not in the least romantic. So no multi-Oscar film for the Wilhelm Gustloff and her nine thousand dead.
Whatever the exact mechanism, it seems beyond dispute that the German parliament knew details of our budget before ours did. It may not have been the whole budget of course, but it still doesn’t look good.
Particularly in this context. What Merkel has proposed for the Eurozone is EU oversight of members’ budgets. Critics will say that that amounts to German oversight. So this is embarrassing even more for Germany than it is for Ireland.
The British seem to be going particularly overboard for poppies this year, presumably inspired by the calendrical happenstance of all those ones lining up in a row. But unthinkingly, they only emphasize the tragic aspect of this occasion.
Why eleven? The agreement to end hostilities had been signed more than five hours earlier. The war officially ceased only at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month because that seemed a suitably grand and historic way to end a ‘Great War’. So they kept on fighting, and they kept on killing, until that eleventh hour came.
How can one feel anything but contempt for that?
But this act of inhumanity was just the start. The victorious powers chose to accept no portion of blame for the hostilities. On the contrary, and despite the fact that a great deal of the credit for the war’s end belonged to the German people for rising up against their leaders, despite the fact that the Kaiser had abdicated and the empire been abolished, they chose to heap all blame – and punishment – onto the people of the new German democracy. The terms of this ‘armistice’ would lead directly to disaster on a previously unimagined scale.
This hour marks not the end of war, but the beginning of revenge.
This morning my mother received a call claiming to be from some sort of technical support, warning her that everything possible was wrong with her computer. And more. Fortunately I was staying, so she passed the call to me.
If you haven’t heard about these scams, they call you up – often using your name, wherever they get it – and tell you horror stories. Sometimes they claim to be from Microsoft or perhaps a well-known vendor of computers or antivirus software, something that sounds vaguely familiar and worrying to the inexperienced user.
Then they may ask you for a credit card number to pay for their ‘repair service’, or tell you to download a program or security patch – which will actually be a virus. They will do terrible things to your computer and/or bank account. I regret now that I didn’t patiently sit through the whole spiel so that I could reproduce its exact details here. But the idea of what these people do, lying to me in a pleasant voice, out to rob my mother, that got to me.
So someone who works a scam for a living now has little reason to doubt that they are doing evil. I was fairly explicit on that point. They also have grounds to believe that the police are on their way. Far fetched as that claim might seem, I backed it up with action. It was German number – +495188859403 – and since the call I found a computer crime authority in Germany to forward it to.
I also had quite an exciting stream of invective lined up, of which ‘scum’ was perhaps the most – indeed, only – printable word. Sadly though she picked up on my general drift and hung up, on or about the word ‘arrested’.
I have too much anger.
Anyway, don’t believe the bastards. Legitimate companies simply do not call and tell you there is something wrong with your computer. So warn the less savvy computer users you know. If these people called one number in Ireland from Germany they’ll probably call many, and it seems likely they’ll be trying UK numbers too.
This has been an emergency interruption to your service. The usual (?) afternoon update will now go up in two hours’ time.
Sometimes I miss the old lead-times of print publishing, where you’d submit copy to be published hours or even days later. You had to predict, think about the future. So I’m writing this last thing at night, but setting it to be published at 11 a.m. (GMT+1) – seven hours from now, and hopefully when I’ll be getting up.
What I’m wondering is whether, by the time you read this, there will still be a Euro.
How does a currency cease to be? We know of one mode of course. Hyperinflation – when its value evaporates until it’s worthless. However the Euro remains strong – ridiculously strong perhaps, when you consider the condition of the economies that use it. We may in fact be witnessing the previously-inconceivable opposite phenomenon: runaway hypoinflation.
Alas, this doesn’t mean that the Euro notes in your pocket are going to become infinitely valuable. It’s not that opposite. But it means money is getting too expensive. We can’t afford to borrow as much as we need. And that leads to economic collapse just as surely as it becoming valueless would. Unfortunately however, some countries can’t afford it much sooner than others can’t. So the Euro is dying by a process of killing the economies that use it, one by one.
How can we get out of this? We could print the extra Euro notes we need, but that’s illegal. We could drop out off the Eurozone system and print our own currency again, but that’s a drastic extreme that will lose us a lot of friends.
I can think of a simpler way.
Stop checking for forgeries. Don’t accept obvious fakes of course, but quietly turn off the UV lamps and other hi-tech testing devices. If it looks real, take it. There are a hell of a lot of good fake notes floating around the continent, and we could bring them all here, vastly increasing the money supply. At a stroke, we’d have all the cash in circulation we needed. And there’s not a darn thing they could do.
Flicking through the channels, I came across Judge Judy saying “Just take out what you can identify as your own hair, Madam.”
I kept going.
So I’m sitting here eating a lovely herren cake, actually German-made. How our little local shop came to stock this I am not at all sure. But it’s one of those great country stores where you can buy anything from bicycle pumps and glue to inner tubes and sulphuric acid. You can tell I’m designing some sort of weapon already, can’t you? I shouldn’t be surprised by anything turning up there.
But it’s the name that bugs me. Herren cake. Correct me if I’m wrong, but herren means “men”. As in Damen und Herren, which is how you formally address toilets. So this is… Men’s cake?
That’s great, I’d like to see that on a shop sign. Men’s Cake. Nothing pink and fancy about this cake, ladies. It’s a man’s cake. From Germany.