The Null Device

2010/6/30

An interesting piece by Financial Times writer Simon Kuper on the cultural impact of Eurostar; how the cross-channel train service between London and Paris (Brussels doesn't rate a mention) has transformed the cultures of both cities; before, things used to be much different:

Until the 1990s, To Britons Paris seemed almost as exotic as Jakarta, and more so than Sydney or San Francisco. There was that famous smell of the French Métro, the mix of perfume and Gauloises cigarettes. There was the bizarre sight of people drinking wine on pavements. There was all that philosophy. The exoticism of Paris became such a staple of English-language writing that comedians began to parody it. “I come upon a man at an outdoor café,” writes Woody Allen. “It is André Malraux. Oddly, he thinks that I am André Malraux.”
Those first trains connected two fairly insular cities. I had returned to Britain from Boston the summer before the Eurostar was launched, and after the Technicolor US, I was shocked by dingy London. Tired people in grey clothes waited eternities on packed platforms for 1950s Tube trains. Coffee was an exotic drink that barely existed, like ambrosia. Having a meal outside was illegal. The city centre was uninhabited, and closed at 11pm anyway. Air travel was heavily regulated, and so flying to Paris was expensive. Going by ferry took a whole miserable day. If you did get across, and only spoke the bad French most of us learnt at school, it was hard to communicate with any natives.
Now, London and Paris have converged somewhat; London has shaken off some of its Anglo-Saxon austerity and embraced a more Continental lifestyle, with outdoor bdining, late-closing bars and gourmet food markets, and even got a taste for French-style grands projets, not least of all St. Pancras International, the Eurostar terminus. (As for coffee, I can only imagine that, before 1994 or so, anyone requesting coffee rather than tea would be met with a mug of Nescafé Blend 43 or similar.) Meanwhile, Paris has shed some of its Gallic hauteur and become more London-like:
But with the inventions of the internet and Eurostar, and globalisation in general, many Parisians began to see that there was a wonderful new life to be seized if you spoke English. Paris could choose to become an inhabited museum, a sort of chilly Rome, but if it wanted to remain in touch with the latest ideas, the Parisian establishment would have to learn English. By and large, the younger members did. The canard that Parisians refuse to speak English is a decade out of date. As I write, every car on the street outside my office is festooned with a flyer for English lessons for children. Parisian parents are now so keen to induct their toddlers into the global language that speaking English has become a weapon for us Anglophone parents in the battle for a spot in a crèche.
Of course, some differences remain (French children are apparently quieter and cleaner than the mowfy brats of Britain, while Britons dress more colourfully, in "weird youth-culture outfits"), but they're becoming less distinct, as more people commute or travel between the two cities. (London is apparently now, by population, the sixth-largest French city.)

Kuper goes on to describe a bright future for western Europe, largely due to its compact geography, further amplified by the promise of high-speed rail. Indeed, shiny, aerodynamic high-speed trains seem to be the unchallenged future of travel, with air travel, that darling of the 1990s, looking a bit shabby, between rising oil prices, the Long Siege and things like the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.

(via Infrastructurist) culture europe eurostar london paris psychogeography railway 3

2010/6/29

Q: What do (US) Chicken McNuggets™ and Silly Putty have in common? A: dimethylpolysiloxane, an "anti-foaming agent".

American McNuggets (190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain the chemical preservative tBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product. They also contain dimethylpolysiloxane, “an anti-foaming agent” also used in Silly Putty.
Christopher Kimball, the founder and publisher of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and host of the syndicated cooking show America’s Test Kitchen, says he suspects these chemicals are required for the nuggets to hold their shape and texture after being extruded into nugget-shaped molds.
These chemicals don't show up in McNuggets in Britain, apparently due to the EU's stricter food laws.

(via Boing Boing) better living through chemistry food junk food mcdonalds 1

In Paris, fare evaders on the Métro have organised into outlaw insurance societies. The mutuelles des fraudeurs take a monthly fee of somewhere around 7 euros, and in turn offer to pay the fraudsters' fines, should they get caught. They also compile databases of fare-evading tips and encourage those who would otherwise be too timid.

Back in 2001 or so, he and a group of fellow travelers, in both the literal and metaphorical senses, formed the Network for the Abolition of Paid Transport, "the beginning of our struggle," Gildas calls it. The group's initials in French mimic those of the agency that runs the Metro and buses, and to the agency's logo, which looks like the outline of a face, abolitionists added a raised fist.
The mutuelles claim justification, oddly enough, from left-wing ideology. Defrauding the Métro of ticket revenue is not an act of individual greed, you see, but a collective blow against capitalism. It's true that the Paris Métro may not be run for profit as public transport systems in the Anglosphere tend to be, but such trivialities are of no matter when issues of sweeping ideology are at stake. The Métro, they contend, should be free to ride, with the €8bn or so it costs to run each year being paid for by expropriating the rich. (What they'll do when the rich have all been expropriated, or have fled to Russia or Dubai or a floating Galtian utopia on the high seas, they do not explain; nor do they explain how they'll prevent a free, ungated public transport system turning into an expensive homeless shelter, driving away those passengers who have a choice of where to go.) No, they're striking a blow against the fascist regime that is the RATP, and helping to bring forward the advent of the Another World that Is Possible. And, quite probably, breaking the law; insurance against penalties for unlawful acts is generally frowned upon.

(It occurred to me that, were something like the mutuelles des fraudeurs to arise in the English-speaking world, it'd be couched in the language of free-market libertarianism rather than macaronic pseudo-socialism. Rather than attempting to sell a nebulous collective solidarity, it'd speak out to the individual in the language of self-improvement and competition, imploring them to be a winner and not a loser (like the chumps who pay full fare), and would defend itself as the invisible hand of the free market providing a service and/or striking a blow against socialism.)

crime economics france leftwingers paris public transport stupidity 1