Author Archives: Eike Pierstorff
Siobhan and I met for the first time some ten years ago, at the birthday party of a mutual friend, and totally failed to hit it off. This was even before Siobhan had adopted Tati, and maybe that was a part of the reason – a crazy love for dogs in general, and that specific dog in particular, is very much the glue that holds our relationship together.
More realistically the reason was that ten years ago I was gloomy, wild-haired, with a certain predilection for flannel shirts and a distinct lack of social grace. Being unable to focus on more than one person at a time meant that I wasn’t exactly a hit at parties, and I escaped by doing what I always did in such situations, which was to avoid people as much as possible while, and at the same time, not at all avoiding the birthday cake.
Some time later it turned out that the gloom and the lust for cake had a common cause, to wit Hashimoto’s disease, which was overlooked for many years; I was treated with various medications, underwent needless surgery and in the end was threatened with psychotherapie for alleged depression. In the end I was diagnosed over lunch by a doctor who was just getting started and wanted to commission a website for his new practice. It took him three questions to find the cause of my ailements, and I had a proper prescription before we had finished our starters. After I started to substitute thyroid hormone I still did like cake, but I became a lot less gloomy, which was slightly depressing in its own right – for almost forty years I had thought that I had an, albeit gloomy, personality and then it turned out I had a thyroid instead!
But at the time I did not know that and was hogging the cake buffet, when Siobhan came by to liberate one of the remaining slices from my gloomy embrace. I watched her as she fiddled with her insulin pump. University days weren’t too far back, and among peers we were still discussing gender theory and Donna Haraway’s essay on cyborgs and, for some reason, Star Trek, and so I was fascinated by the fact that somebody regulated a vital body function via an external device. We discussed (i.e. I blathered on about) how the thing was less capable than it appeared (as it doesn’t measure blood sugar, it merely, well, pumps insulin), but how that need for manual intervention really just added to the steampunkish and slightly Borg-ish charm and so on and so forth. Siobhan nodded, selected her cake, and went along her way.
When years later we recalled our first encounter I asked her what impression I had made on her. With typical candour she said that at the time she found me boring, somewhat strange and, as she put it, “unappealingly depressive” (must have been that thyroid).
I have no idea why some two years later she still agreed to meet with me, but am I ever so glad that she did.
Some eighteen months ago my father, whom I loved very much, died from arterial embolism. There wasn’t a single day since I did not cry, and I just wished that something would happen to take my mind of things. Then my wife suffered a stroke, which just shows that you should be careful what you wish for.
Or maybe not. For the better or the worse, the universe is not moved by our wishes, and things do not usually happen for a reason. This is in fact my single comfort in these times, that events did not happen because we did anything wrong, or because we are somehow bad people, or we failed to do or not do something that we should or shouldn’t have done. Events occurred as they did simply because something always happens to somebody, only the things that happened to us were pretty bad.
What happened is this.
On January 11th Siobhan, my wife, called me at work and asked if I could return home immediately; she had caught a flu, or so she thought, and needed me to look after her. When I got home she lay on the sofa, unable to walk, had already thrown up several times and spoke only slowly, with a slur and uncharacteristic trouble to find the proper words. My wife is a type one diabetic, so I checked her blood sugar which turned out to be normal. That was when I called the ambulance.
In the hospital they did a cat scan, and discovered an aneurysm at the brain stem partially closed with a thrombus. She was immediately committed to the neurosurgical ward at Klinikum Neukölln.
The doctors there said that we had come just in time. The aneurysm had not yet ruptured, so they would insert a metal coil to stabilize the walls of the affected artery. This was introduced to us as a standard procedure with a success rate above 95%. Four or five weeks of speech therapy, so a nurse suggested, and everything would be alright again.
Surgery was the next day. I called Siobhan at the hospital to wish her luck, and then went online to order her an iPad so she would have something to keep her busy during her stay at the hospital. Then I sat down and waited.
In the evening the hospital called. They said if it would help me to calm down then I should come down to the hospital and watch Siobhan waking up, only she didn’t. I sat by her bed waiting for her to wake up, until finally the hospital staff started to get worried and she was rushed off again for another cat scan.
It turned out the blood clots in the aneurysm had not completely dissolved despite the blood thinning medication; some coagulated blood had escaped, and blocked the neighbouring blood vessels, resulting in a brain stroke. There was damage to the thalamus, and the cerebellum, and alas even some damage to the left side of the cerebrum.
I was worried sick, literally. My short term memory disappeared almost completely, I developed tunnel vision to a point where I was half blind on the left eye and I suffered from chest pain (eventually I had this checked by a doctor who confirmed that there was no organic cause; this was mere panic). I was on sick leave for almost eight weeks.
For forty-seven days I spent my waking hours at the hospital, while Siobhan suffered through a double craniectomy to reduce pressure on the brain, a tracheostomy, pneumonia and a systemic fever that only went down many weeks later after the swelling of the brain subsided, all the while she was in a first natural, later artificial coma. Eventually I had to return to work, and Siobhan was transferred to a rehabilitation facility where they started to wake her up. She has made some progress since, but it is still not clear what we can hope for as a result of the therapy; the only thing doctors have categorically ruled out is a full recovery, she will remain paralyzed on her right side.
Some nice people have suggested that I am somehow praiseworthy for staying with the wife. This is not exactly true, or at least not relevant; rather I am horribly selfish.
I was not a very happy person before I met Siobhan – not particularly unhappy, either; just idling in neutral gear, waiting if someday, something would happen that was worth the effort. With Siobhan I was tremendously happy, and she did not have to do very much at all – it was enough that she would sit on the sofa and smile at me before she carefully selected another episode of some english panel show, or silently and diligently drew her plans to make me change my hoodies for proper shirts or make me join civilization in some other way. I want that back, to the extent possible (if anything I am worried that I am too selfish – the worst thing that could still happen that the life she returns to is not a life that she deems worth living).
And of course I made a vow, quite purposefully and deliberately, that very distinctly included the phrase “in good times, and in bad”. Now the good times have been much, much better than I had any right to expect, so it it unthinkable that I would not be at her side during the the bad times.
So to make you understand what Siobhan means to me and why it is so important that she returns home (and what the dog Tati has to do with all of this) I want to share over the next months a few thoughts and memories with you. Some of those are Siobhan’s memories, too; I know she would not like this, but at the moment I am the one who has to function out in the world and make plans for us both, and if telling stories helps me to cope then so be it.
I just watched this segment from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah:
While this is rather funny I do not think they are technically correct, as various people throughout the video claim that the US are the only democracy where the president is not elected by popular vote but by an electoral college.
In an interesting twist the electors of the federal convention are not elected in a popular vote, or at least only to the extent that the members of parliament are automatically electors; they make up half of the federal convention.
The other half is determined not by popular vote, but elected by the parliaments of the individual federal states. The various political factions in the parliaments create lists of candidates (and frankly I haven’t the faintest idea which criteria they use, but given that almost all members of the last federal convention have their own Wikipedia page I wager that they do not exactly pick the simple citizen from the street). The candidates are elected by the parliaments (the number for each state is proportional to the size of the state’s population), and they meet a single time to elect the president. While in theory every member of the federal convention can suggest a candidate, “electing” a president usually means to pick a person from a shortlist that has been prepared by the governing faction in the Bundestag, the federal parliament (and I mean “short list” like in “a single name”). So all US Americans who are unhappy with the election result can comfort themselves with the thought that the US presidential election is at least more democratic than the German one.
Of course being the president of Germany is not a big deal – the Bundespräsident is nominally the head of state, but the office is largely ceremonial. The real power rests with the Chancellor, the head of goverment – who is not elected by popular vote, but by vote in the German parliament, the Bundestag. And since political factions are free to form coalitions – “majorities” in the english sense, i.e. more than 50% are almost unheard of in Germany anyway; without a qualifier (like “absolute” majority) the German “Mehrheit” is a plurality rather – they could very well team up against the largest faction, making sure that basically no one gets what he voted for.
Normalerweise interessiert mich nichts weniger als das Familienleben anderer Leute, aber weil ich weiß das der Author boxen kann wollte ich ihm nicht auf der Strasse begegnen ohne sein Buch gelesen zu haben. Außerdem habe ich gewisses akademisches Interesse an LGBT-Themen, wahrscheinlich weil das einer der wenigen Bereiche ist in dem die westliche Zivilisation ernsthafte Fortschritte zu verzeichnen hat. Als ich ein Kind war gab es keine schwulen oder lesbischen Jugendlichen. Allenfalls gab es Jungs die sich nicht für Mädchen interessierten und Mädchen die lieber unter sich blieben, und wenn sie weit genug aus sich herauskamen um sich als lesbisch oder schwul zu bezeichnen war das was danach kam normalerweise keine Jugend mehr. Was Erwachsene anging – nun, unsere Nachbarin hatte aus beruflichen Gründen öfter die Schauspieler des örtlichen Ensembles zu Besuch und wir durften nicht alleine mit ihnen in einem Zimmer sein, weil ja jeder weiß was die so (ich wusste tatsächlich ziemlich lange nicht was die so. Anspielungen funktionieren immer erst wenn man sie erklärt bekommt, und Gott sei Dank manchmal auch dann nicht). Heute können sich Teenager verlieben und Erwachsene zusammenleben und, wie das Buch nochmal demonstriert, Familien gründen und die Welt ist ein kleines bißchen besser deswegen. Klar gibt es immer noch Diskriminierung bei Besuchsrechten, Adoptionen, Steuern etc., aber das sind Dinge die sich, ein paar ewiggestrige Stoffel hin oder her, durch das konsequente Breittreten existierender Rechtsnormen in ein paar Jahrzehnten erledigt haben werden. Es geht, zumindest in unserer Oase der Glücklichen, nicht mehr um existenzielle Grundsatzfragen.
Der Autor weiß das (klar, er war ja dabei), aber es mag zur Erinnerung dienen das sich heute auf verhältnismässig hohem Niveau jammern lässt. Das Buch handelt von einem queeren Paar das ein Pflegekind aufnimmt, und der Fragebogen der zur Vorbereitung für das Jugendamt ausgefüllt werden muss dient als thematische Klammer über die verschiedenen Kapitel hinweg.
Die Behauptung dass “Heteropaare keine Fragebögen ausfüllen müssen, die können einfach poppen” finde ich ein bißchen unsensibel gegenüber Heteropaaren die aus verschiedenen Gründen nicht einfach poppen können oder wollen (mal abgesehen davon dass noch andere Motive für die Aufnahme von Pflegekindern gibt), aber vor allen ist das keine genderspezifische Diskriminierung, den muss jede/r Bewerber/in ausmalen. Das Buch kommt auch mit einem netten Disclaimer das es sich nicht als Anleitung zur Aufnahme vom Pflegekindern eignet. Apropos, Bladerunner eignet sich nicht als Anleitung zum Betrieb elektrischer Schafe.
Das (handwerklich rundum gelungene) Buch hat den Untertitel “Roman über eine queere Familie”, aber “zwei Papas” und einer davon trans und jeder weiß was die so hin und her, es ist halt hauptsächlich mal ein Roman über eine Familie. Es läuft mal besser und mal schlechter, und das Kind ist manchmal anstrengend (sind die fast immer), und natürlich lohnt sich die ganze Anstrengung total und der Erzähler hat einen Hund der alles denken darf was der Erzähler selbst nicht denken darf und der stirbt kurz bevor das Kind da ist. Das ist wahrscheinlich sehr symbolisch, oder vielleicht ist auch nur der Hund gestorben. Das alles sehr zauberhaft und da liegt dann auch das Problem: Je mehr queere Geschichten Lebens- statt Leidensgeschichten sind um so mehr sind sie eben genauso öde wie die Lebensgeschichten von allen anderen auch, zumindest wenn man so weit von der Zielgruppe entfernt ist wie ich – das ist die Art von Buch die ein Paar einem anderen (oder vielleicht auch ein Partner dem anderen) schenkt wenn mit winkenden Zaunpfählen darauf aufmerksam gemacht werden soll das es jetzt mal Zeit für eigenen Nachwuchs wird. Also wirklich wundervoll, und schön das es das Buch gibt, aber für meine Zwecke hätte es auch gereicht, das zu kaufen und ungelesen ins Regal zu stellen.
Ein schönes Kleid – Roman über eine queere Familie
¶ Featured post
For some time now my day job is that of a web analyst, something that is not at all reflected in this blog. Rather than starting a new category here I decided to set up a second blog for analytics-related topics, which now is online.
A piece of the future that has been promised to me in my childhood had finally arrived when the reusable first stage of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed upright after the mission successfully delivered a commercial payload to orbit.
There is a bit of a discussion if this indeed a historic event or if Space X merely comes second after Blue Origins successful landing a few weeks earlier. Needless to say that I side with history on that one. Falcon 9 was not a prototype tourist spacehopper on a test flight, it is a rather massive orbital vehicle that added an upright first stage landing to an already successful commercial mission.
The stackexchange space exploration site has a nice post discussing the differences. I was a bit amused to see that Blue Origins (and Amazons, evidently) Jeff Bezos congratulated Space X on the landing of its “suborbital booster stage” (as a repartee to Elon Musk congratulating to the suborbital Blue Origins test flight earlier), but really this is a bit petty. Yes, the first stage did not go to orbit (first stages never do – if they could we wouldn’t need staged rockets at all), but its flight profile was still quite more ambitious than Blue Origins hovering (albeit at great height) in the air.
Next step (well maybe not the next, but it is getting closer): Mars. Other than I imagined as child I will not be on board the future ships that go there, but at least I might live to see the day, and that’s really quite something.
25th of May is Towel Day, a tribute to the late Douglas Adams who died 11th May 2001. I do not actually wear a towel (at least not physically – I guess whosoever read Adams will forever wear a towel in their mind), but I found the obituary I wrote all those years ago and so it might as well republish it for the occasion.
“nothing travels faster than light, with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys it`s own special rules. the hingefreed people of arkintoofle minor did try to build spaceships that were powered by bad news but they didn`t work particular well and were so extremenly unwelcome when they arrived anywhere that there wasn`t really any point in being there.”
douglas adams “mostly harmless”
we’ve now spent more than a month looking for the hingefreed people of arkintoofle minor, since we felt an urgent desire to meet them, to shake tentacles with them and to tell them to piss off immidiately. most suprisingly we didn`t find them, although there were certainly very bad news around.
could it be true? could the man who inventend the man who invented the pangalatic gargleblaster just, you know, die? we hoped it would turn out as a joke. this was infinitly impropable, since the jokes of this particular man used to be particular funny in almost exactly the same way the bad news mentioned above wasn`t. but because of the quasi-reciprocial and circular nature of all improbalitiy calculations, everything that was infinitely improbable was actually very likely to happen, so there was a glimpse of hope. unfortunately, bad news obeys it’s own special rules, so the joke turned out to be plain true: douglas noel adams died on friday, 11th of may, following an heart attack.
douglas adams as a writer guided his readers hitchhiking through the galaxy, took them for dinner at the restaurant at the end of the universe, provided the answer (alas not the question) to life, the universe and everything, bade a prophetic so long and thanks for all the fish before he classified – his only known error – earth as mostly harmless. he wrote dirk gently’s holistic detective agency, the long dark tea-time of the soul, and, together with john loyd, the meaning of liff, which, in many of the more relaxed english speaking civilizations, has already supplanted websters complete and unabriged new riverside university dictionary as the standard repository of all knowlegde and wisdom. in 1990 he teamed up with zoologist mark carwardine and wrote last chance to see, a tremendously funny book about the tremendously desperate efforts to save tremendously endangered species.
adams, who was admittedly fond of computers, was also a founder-director of digital village, a digital media and internet company that launched the starship titanic and he successfully adapted the ‘hitchhikers guide’ to earthling conditions and to the internet.
from his writings, one can characterize adams as a gentle, goodhearted, graceful genius, although we guess that any appropriate alternative alliteration also applies.
with adams´ untimely demise, a unique sense of humor has become extinct. if you want to spare some amiable creatures a similar fate, please donate to the dna memorial funds of douglas’ favourite charities:
To sum up: Professor X, Magneto, Storm, the black guy who wasn’t really introduced, burning man, the clanking metal boy who had showed up for like two seconds in X2, China’s answer to that gun from “Portal” and a condescendingly portrayed native-indian type of fellow get slaughtered amongst some thee lines of dialogue in a not to distant future that has moved on form Harrier-like VTOL and machine guns to almost non-newtonian motion by shapeshifting killer robots in just a few decades while Wolverine, sent back by Shadowcat (who has hooked up with Iceman which tells us something about the fate of Rogue and possibly something other about the moral character of Bobby Drake), mucks about with the past to erase all memory of the stinker that was formerly known as X3 – The Last Stand.
Okay, so that wasn’t the most concise sentence ever but I propose that the problem is with the movie rather than with my writing. Which really is a bit of a pity, since for me personally this was the most expected feature this year and after it had turned out as a bit of a meh – experience (not really good, not really bad, just “meh”) all I have to look forward to this summer is a movie about a talking specimen of the species Procyon lotor.
First the good points: The wonderful escape scene from the Pentagon featuring Quicksilver accompanied by Jim Croce’s “Time in a bottle” – I have to admit that alone would have made the movie worth watching. Also a few of the in-jokes, like Quicksilver saying “So you control metal ? My mum used to know a guy like that”, or James McAvoy asking “who can curve a bullet” (he did, or at least his character, in “Wanted”). The rest was neither bad nor good, just, as I’ve said, meh.
What I had expected was indeed not meh but, as would befit a Marvel timetravel story, two carefully entwined timelines that interact with and influence each other. However the future in those days of future past is just a thin foil – we see just enough of it to get the action started, then it’s for most intents and purposes dismissed and forgotten (Meta-objection: this is the future that will not have happened, so it does not need to look real. Meta-objection hereby happily dismissed). And it seems rather gratuitous to deploy major Marvel assets like Bishop or Colossus (and yes, even Sunspot, Blink or Warpath) and send them to rather gruesome deaths without giving the audience any opportunity, or reason, to relate to them. That is simply not good storytelling, especially in a franchise that so far spent most of it’s time on building elaborate backstories for it’s characters.
And talking of bad, the science in the movie is even worse. And I’m not talking about telepathy or people who shoot flames from their body; with an X-Men movie that comes under “suspension of disbelief”. I’m talking about the quaint idea espoused in the Singer movies (also Vaughn in “First Class”, which has Singer as producer and with a story credit) that evolution works hierarchically and that there are “higher” and “lower” forms of evolved live. That is not at all how it works; evolution is not a ladder that goes upwards; Homo sapiens did not drive the Neanderthal to extinction because they were superior; Homo sapiens is the “dominant species on the planet” only inasfar as they are the ones who made up words like “superior” (if you’re the only one talking you might as well brag). “Survival of the fittest”  does not mean that the physically or mentally strongest (whatever that means) will inherit the earth; it means that an organism is adapted to fit a niche (think a Paramyxovirus in a kindergarten run by Jenny Mccarthy).
If you claim, as both the “good” and the “bad” guys do in X-Men, that it is the natural order of things that lower species are superseded by “superior” species you are no longer talking theory of evolution; your talking Social Darwinism, i.e. bloody, dangerous nonsense. With the rise of the internet the argument has not, alas, progressed, rather is has evolved to a point where it fills a thousand niches that haven’t existed before.
That brings us back, rather unhappily, to the topic of backstories. I think it was the first Singer movie that turned Magneto into a jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps (the idea has since adapted for the comics), taking on the old adage about the victim that becomes the perpetrator – a bit tasteless if you talk about a member of group that is regularly, if quite absurdly, accused of doing to the Arabs what the Nazis once did to them. However it is “First Class” that took “tasteless” to a new level when Erik Lensherr tells the Mengele stand-in Sebastian Shaw: “I’d like you to know that I agree with every word you said. We are the future. But, unfortunately, you killed my mother”. So the Jew is the Nazi, the only thing that separates them are some misgivings about a mishandled family matter. No wonder the homo goyim sapiens try to defend themselves in DOPF, especially as their society had already been infiltrated by mutant zionist fascists at the highest level (Kennedy!) .
At least that tells us where Singer et al. got there views about evolution from – not from Darwin, but from the likes of “evolutionary psychologist” Kevin B. MacDonald who claimed that Judaism (Magnetos Brotherhood of mutants) is a group strategy to acquire and maintain genetic traits superior to those of the goyim. So the X-Men movies are not only extremely well-made and entertaining, they are also anti-semitic and anti-scientific claptrap that will stick in our heads far more pertinently than the somewhat haphazard science lessons our educational systems occasionally afford.
What lesson do we take away from all this ? Well, if in the olden days a middle-aged man wanted to get really grumpy about something he had to turn to the Sunday newspapers and compose letters to the editor complaining that the funnies were not as entertaining as they used to be. Today I can replicate the very same thing using merely a blog, a pair of 3D glasses and a 200 million CGI-spectacle. Thus it would seem there has been some progress after all.