If the news pretty reliably makes you seize up every morning, and perspective is critical, we draw your attention to the launch of Amazon Sweden. It has gone comically badly, thanks to that banana peel of the modern world, the less-than-stellar computer translation program. Among the blunders being reported in the press are: describing a baking mold as suitable for “chocolate, faeces, goose water and bread”; translating a video game called Need for Speed: Payback as “Do You Require Speed: Refund”; and pitching one toy as a “Star Wars grievous bodily harm tank” and an Adidas jersey as a “child sexual assault” football shirt. “Some of the errors were more offensive,” noted The Times of London. “The word for a cockerel was often translated as kuk, a faintly vulgar word for penis. Thus an embroidery pattern depicting a rooster became ‘cross-stitch for adults—big dick, do it yourself.’” Amazon also managed to confuse the Swedish and Argentine flags.
Surely this all could have been avoided. Swedish-American commercial cross-pollination can be a beautiful thing. Stateside, for instance, we placidly wander Ikea for days on end—lost and dehydrated, it’s true, but in a pinch still able to explain the difference between a Koppang and a Knarrevik. For now, Amazon is thanking everyone for pointing out errors and inviting more corrections: “It is only day one for us here in Sweden, and we are committed to constantly improving the customer experience.” Or, to put that into language we can all understand, “Our Kingdom of Sweden epoch is at the initial only, and we are persistently perking up the frequenter escapades.”
On your marks … get set … list! The British press is reporting that Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith has put her Gloucestershire manor house up for sale for $13 million. Also that she has, in a sense, left the tent: resigned from her local Conservative Party because she disapproves of the government’s decision to weaken standards for imported foods. Adding to what was evidently a busy week for Leith, the government has released an evaluation of hospital food that she’d contributed to. She thought the food was “unpalatable.” Just imagine what Paul Hollywood would have had to say.
Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers exist for one reason above all others: to break ice spectacularly, in ways the West can only dream of. How disappointing, then, to find the Arktika at home again in its Murmansk port, mission unaccomplished, cooling its turbogenerators just a few weeks after having sailed from St. Petersburg on its maiden voyage—without having encountered any self-respecting ice to break. Russia’s new giant icebreaker sailed straight to the North Pole, ran the headline in Norway’s Barents Observer, and while that might sound like a good thing, it wasn’t. The Arktika was designed to make quick work of three-yard-thick floes, but a record Arctic heat wave made finding such ice impossible. “It was thin and loose, the icebreaker experienced no resistance at all,” the ship’s captain, Oleg Shchapin, told the Russian news agency TASS. “We tried to find a three-meter ice floe, but could not find one.” The icebreaker’s search for suitable ice to break will resume at some point.
Master perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain, 83 and suffering from senile dementia, wants to marry again. His son Stéphane, a lawyer and now his father’s legal guardian, has prevented the marriage—to a 62-year-old Franco-Danish racehorse owner, Kirsten Kragh Michelsen—and the couple, who have lived together for more than 10 years, are asking a Versailles appeals court to overturn the banns ban. At issue, in part, is the fact that the elder Guerlain signed a letter in July that read, “I reiterate that I do not wish to marry Kirsten Michelsen”—but that he also said in a hearing last week, “I adore [Kirsten]. We’ve lived together for years, I get on very well with her, we share the same tastes … I’m an adult and vaccinated, and I have the right to marry who I wish.” Cynics would add that something else might also be at issue: the Guerlain perfume and skincare house, founded in 1828 in Paris, was sold by the Guerlains to LVMH in 1994, and the family is said to be worth $2.4 billion.
Now a tweet from Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise: “UK folks, Looks like your government is wanting to force vendors outside of your country to collect VAT on orders being shipped to the UK staring [sic] 1 Jan. I had my staff investigate costs & it’s over £1000/yr just to file these forms via a service. That’s too much for a small store to absorb.” What William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk, is saying is that, post-Brexit, his memorabilia might no longer be available for sale to U.K. fans. That includes, in case you were wondering, both the nine-inch Captain Kirk in an Environmental Suit Action Figure (currently marked down to $24.95 from $39.95 on the Shatner-store site) and the Spock Kite (also on sale, $24.99). In Shatner’s view, the new rules are clearly—to use his pal Spock’s phrase—highly illogical.
Plausible arguments have been made for the rehabilitation of Richard III, but a recent find in the National Archives isn’t likely to raise similar hopes among Henry VIII buffs. The discovery of a passage in a 16th-century Tudor warrant only “reinforc[es] the image of Henry VIII as a ‘pathological monster,’” according to Tracy Borman, a leading Tudor historian, as quoted in The Guardian. The paper notes as well that the warrant, Henry’s dispatch in 1536 of Anne Boleyn, wife No. 2, is planned with chilling reasoning and attention to detail: “The king stipulated that, although his queen had been ‘adjudged to death… by burning of fire… or decapitation’, he had been ‘moved by pity’ to spare her the more painful death of being ‘burned by fire’. But he continued: ‘We, however, command that… the head of the same Anne shall be… cut off.’” Well, if revisionist history is your goal, you’d be off to a wobbly start. Although … that “moved by pity” bit, maybe that’s something to work with? “Henry the Empathic”? Just spitballing here.
It’s eight a.m. somewhere! Certainly in Lyon, where the cocktail flag has been going up early recently. France’s evening curfew inspired some of the city’s 70 bouchons—tiny, traditional bistros that made Lyon famous—to shift the eating-and-drinking focus to the morning and revive the boozy breakfast they call the mâchon. The philosophy seems to be that it’s never too early in the day for andouillette sausages, mashed potatoes, and, especially, red wine. “We’re adapting to the hours imposed on us,” one bouchon owner told The Local, with an implied Gallic shrug—a gesture that undoubtedly became more pronounced now that those “hours imposed” are down to zero, with the just-announced temporary lockdown.
It’s called “The Global Satisfaction with Democracy Report 2020,” but “Global Dissatisfaction” would have been more accurate, at least as regards the notably disillusioned millennials and Gen Xers in 160 countries around the world. “This is the first generation in living memory to have a global majority who are dissatisfied with the way democracy works while in their twenties and thirties,” the study’s lead author, Roberto Foa, told The Times of London. (Boomers and the even-older-still give democracy a thumbs-up.) Among the report’s key findings: “Many of the world’s most populous democracies—including the United States, Brazil, Nigeria, and Mexico—have led the downward trend. In the United States, levels of dissatisfaction with democracy have risen by over a third of the population in one generation.” And yet: “Many small, high-income democracies have moved in the direction of greater civic confidence in their institutions. In Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, for example, democratic satisfaction is reaching all-time highs.” Also reasonably contented: much of Asia.
The note on the Web site begins dryly enough—“I, Tom Lehrer, and the Tom Lehrer Trust 2000, hereby grant the following permission … ”—but what comes next is giddy good news. The brilliant, sui generis musical satirist, now 92, is putting his work in the public domain: the lyrics and in some cases sheet music of a hundred or so Lehrer gems, including alternate versions, are available for download. “In particular,” reads the announcement, “permission is hereby granted to anyone to set any of these lyrics to their own music and publish or perform their own versions without fear of legal action.” The Lehrer Web site will be shut down on December 31, 2024, by which point, one hopes, it will have long since been safe again for families and friends to gather around the spinet for a jolly chorus of “The Masochism Tango” or “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for air mail