The tragedy of choice

 "To me, there is not only right or wrong, but many shades in between. The real tragedies in life are not in choices between right and wrong. Only the most callous of persons chose what they know to be wrong. Real tragedy comes in a dilemma of evaluating what is right. Real dilemmas are difficulties of the soul, provoking agonies, which you in your world of black and white can't even begin to comprehend."
Nial Ferguson has quoted Henry Kissinger from a 1948 letter to his parents during his magisterial LSE lecture The Grand Strategy of Detente. I've been a fan of Kissinger's analysis ever since reading A World Restored way back in university, and this as yet apparently unpublished quotation reflects his approach very well indeed. Ferguson's lecture is a must-watch video, as I am sure his book on Kissinger is going to be mandatory reading when it appears in a few years' time.


Simba, 1995-2010

Thank you for choosing to stay with us. 
You'll be missed.


What would you do?

Here's your Sunday Philosophy Club ethical problem: The other day, I bought an iPad Case from an auction site. The seller (100% straight positive ratings) advertised it using Apple's original photos and description, the price was 29 instead of the original 49. Prior to the purchase, I asked whether it was the real thing - no reply.

The inevitable happened: The case arrived, but turned out to be an inferior imitation. I contacted the seller straight away, demanding a return. He agreed immediately, and the transaction was reversed at minimal cost to me.

Next stop was the seller rating: I opted for a Neutral (rather than negative) rating because the transaction was reversed without trouble. But the seller wouldn't have it as he preferred 100% happy customers, and my Neutral would be a spot on his clean bill. So he offered a tenner in exchange for my removal of the rating. I refused. And now, he's offering 50 or the original iPad case for free.

What would you do? I feel obliged to the user community of the auction site because I rely on user ratings myself to a substantial degree. Plus the seller did not respond to my pre-sale question. And he came up with some form of compensation only after his clean bill of health came under threat. So the transaction was objectively flawed.

On the other hand, he is now voluntarily prepared to pay up in order to maintain his reputation to the outside world, and presumably, every other buyer could do likewise in the similar situation (he has collected 4 Neutrals in the meantime, btw). Taking the point of view of my original intention of the transaction, I would get for free what I was prepared to pay for in the first place. So the both of us would be happy, and my Neutral rating wouldn't be justifiable anymore.

This is a trivial case, of course, but it's a nice illustration of an ethical dilemma. Just transpose the situation to the value of, say, a house ... so, what would you do?


Une soirée au salon bleu

After far too long an absence, I was lucky to be invited to yesterday's Salon Bleu. This is a chamber art format curated by Claudia Sutter, aka Madame Bleu, who also plays the piano. Yesterday's instalment Es war einmal was war was all about the language of symbols, interwoven with piano and violin music by Brahms, Carlo Bonferroni, Kurtag and Kreisler. The violin was played by my friend and teacher Claudia Dora. The programme was an intense progression of lyric poetry and short texts by Claudia Sutter herself, Walter Muschg, Hauff, Zweig and others with the musical choreography tailored to Claudia Sutter's captivating recital.

The Salon is a unique experience because, much like its 19th century bourgeois predecessors, it takes place in Madame Bleu's very own living room with an audience of no more than 20. Due to that intimate setting, a close and personal engagement with the high art on offer is virtually inescapable. Don't miss it if you have the opportunity to go!


Another day, another iPhone

You may be interested to hear that my trusty new iPhone 3GS is up for sale over on ricardo. It served me well, but now it's time to move on - iPhone 4, here I am. Btw Applecare is really worth while - I've just had my used phone swapped for a brand new one because of a tiny crack in its back. Good for the happy buyer!



Keyifli is manifold - for some Istanbullus it is casting a line from a pontoon on one of the nearby Princes' Islands, to others it is crunching through the first green erik plum of the season or blowing on a glass of çay to cool it in the shade, and for many it is all of the above. 
So much of life in Istanbul is given to the pursuit of keyifli. A life lived on the streets; from rooftop to rooftop; afloat or by boat; in taxis and in traffic jams; at prayer, in sin or somewhere in between; from Karaköy to Kadaköy; at 20 to a table; at two to a nargile; laying back at top speed; with bellies full and glasses empty; smoking, joking and forever in gesticulation.

From Saul Taylor's essay on Istanbul in issue 35 of Monocle.



Yesterday night, I finished Glister, a novel that I started reading following a tantalising review of its German edition. It is an extraordinarily dark, gothic story involving a premature teenager by the name of Leonard who meets his tragic end in classic greek style . The atmosphere is dense and overpowering, but the characters somehow lack credibility. I understand their precocity as a dramatic device representing the Innertown's venomous environment, but still ... and yet, there are a few gems like this that make it worth your while, although they may not be to everybody's taste:
"the soul is wet and dark, a creature that takes up residence in the human body like a parasite and feeds on it, a creature hungry for experience and power and possessed of an inhuman joy that cares nothing for its host, but lives, as it must live, in perpetual, disfigured longing."


An incredible story

The small, border village of Schönenbuch has suffered a high incidence of break-ins of late. Some say it coïncides with the abolition of border controls due to Schengen, but I'd say that's a post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Anyway, here's the stupid story: There was an attempted break-in at my neighbours' house across the street yesterday night. Their house is secured by an alarm, which I heard going off, but didn't do anything about it because I thought it was a car alarm of one of the visitors they had earlier. I didn't realise that everybody had left, so I didn't care, and that was stupid of me because I could have and should have intervened.

But that's not the end of the story. Because of the aforementioned break-in activity, we often have a police patrol positioned behind the house to watch for suspect activity - so yesterday night. But they hadn't heard the alarm either! So there was in fact a police patrol less than 100 metres away from the attempted break-in, and the perpetrators are no worse for wear, except maybe for the thrill when the alarm went off! How embarrassing is that?! Touch wood, but I'm increasingly convinced that we would have had break-ins in my house a long time ago, were it not for the evil Laika!


Discovering Sir John

During my last trip to London (which was a 13h stint on a splendid day), I discovered Sir John Soane's Museum. This is an absolutely marvellous little big place which bristles with classical erudition, wit and beauty. I shall definitely go back and try out the audio tour available on the Museum's website. You should do the same. In the meantime, have a gander via this virtual reality gadget. It cannot do the place justice, but you get an idea.


Closing that chapter

As flagged to my facebook friends a few weeks ago, I've just deleted my account, removed the profile badge from this blog, deleted the fb app on iPhone as well as the bookmarks in the browser, so this is my good-bye from facebook.

The reason why I've decided to take that contrarian step is that I simply don't trust the firm, hence do not want to support them and add to their valuation by being a member. That lack of trust has been on the way up ever since I joined. The firm is apparently incompetent in security matters (serial incidents over the recent past) and always tries to push as far ahead as it can in terms of capitalising on their users' content and personal details, only to take a reluctant step back when they absolutely have to. What's more, their recently announced technology strategy give us a hint of how they want to position their firm as an even more important hub of the internets than it already is by putting in centralising features hosted on their own servers. Also, they seem to have started to act politically by compromising free speech in cooperation with governments. Et ceteris praeteritis propositis ... 

So, that's me gone then. Will I come back? Probably not. I might reconsider if their privacy declaration shrunk from being bigger than the US Constitution to - say - five points, one of them saying that user data and content always belongs to users. Secondly, they have to commit to always having a complete & comprehensive export feature with which users can pull their info from the greedy clutches of the provider (Google does that, and it's a great exercise in self-discipline, I think). Meanwhile, you can always connect with me here or on Google Buzz or LinkedIn or elsewhere. Looking forward to hearing from you!