Liberalismus des schlechten Gewissens

Am Ende des alten Jahres gibt es hier ein grossartiges Denkstück für liberale Menschen, welches sich hervorragend als Vorsatzvorlage für das neue Jahr eignet. Danke, Herr Schwarz!

Hooked on classical music

There's this very nice little story about how the founder of that investment firm got to know classical music. I think everybody should have an Uncle Vince!

In my case, though, it was in music classes in high school where I was seriously confronted with classical music for the first time. Actually, it was Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which I then proceeded to listen to over and over, and over again. I pretty much stuck to that routine of serial repeats through the first couple of pieces that I exposed myself to - unfortunately there was no Uncle Vince who could have given me useful hints.

How did you get hooked on classical music?



I discovered podcasts! This is as good a portal to the medium as any, I guess. Currently, I am using iPodder, but you don't really need additional software, I think.

So, what is that podcasting thing? Well, I guess it's not so much different from an audioblog, only that the mp3 is usually published via an RSS feed. In principle, you can use any RSS newsreader to get first access to the mp3. What the specific software does for you is check your channels periodically and put the content on iTunes directly so that when you next sync your iPod for the road, the most recent podcasts are cast on your iPod - hence, unsurprisingly, the name!

It's basically a very simple, cheap & effective way of producing and distributing audio content to a specific group of people. To me, it looks like a great way of building a loyal following for creative people who are into music & program production - yep, that'd be you, Tomi!

P.S. Looks really easy to do, too! And here's what the Mother of all Dot Media has to say about it. Businessweek goes one step further, talking about vlogs already! But the final word belongs to the Beeb, of course.

P.P.S. In related news, it seems to be possible to install Linux on an iPod and use it as a high quality digital recorder without any additional gizmos. Check it out here.

Beijing on the Moskva...

If you want to read some thoroughly unorthodox (from a liberal, free market point of view), almost entirely apologetic research on the Russian market, then I'd recommend Sovlink's Truth & Beauty pieces written by Eric Kraus, whom I have been in contact with earlier. He mentioned that I'd find a lot to disagree with in there, and he was certainly right on that account.

I will credit him however with a sharp, yet often rather cynical tongue and some apparent intellectual honesty, trying to take recourse to Popper's critical rationalism. But given his vested interest of physically being in the market (quite close to the Kremlin, actually) and having had a good ride, I attribute the bigger part of his optimism to investor's hubris. I'll certainly keep watching, and when they'll finally pull out, I'll start thinking about getting back in again ...


The BitTorrent Effect

There's a quite interesting article in Wired on the effect that BitTorrent is having on the movies industry, bringing it close to the music industry: "The content distribution industry is going to evaporate."

Quite so. My current recommendation for an OS X client of BitTorrent is Java based Azureus.

Ocean's Dozen

How might the Merowingian from Matrix Revolutions have it? Quelle m*rde, avec des espèces de !£>*" ... this is an utterly ridiculous, badly done movie full of cliché'd fabrications suggesting European incompetence, even in matters of thievery, which the movie shamelessly glorifies!

On the other hand, I think it is a very easy going, fun piece playing on a lot of motives, clearly enamored with European style, despite of what everyone else might say. The introduction is a bit lengthy, but from there, everything accelerates constantly. Rather special camera - I have never seen a frontal final landing approach in landscape, just to give a detail. The cast is indeed legendary and must have had a lot of fun making the film - it shows.

Go see it! It's very enjoyable - as was catching up with M after far too much time. Thank you!


May the Force be with you

This is equivalent to "God bless America", if this article in Prospect is to be believed. The article is proposing a valid strategy change to the democrats and has some good arguments in support. It would be interesting, though, to have the author expand some more on how he sees Switzerland and France to be the most republican continental countries in Europe. FYI: I used to subscribe to Prospect before I returned to the more profane Economist.

More to the point re Force is this gap analysis of the Bush administrations foreign policy after 9/11 in Foreign Affairs. Very insightful analysis with a lot of good advice - we'll see whether it will be acted upon. I doubt it, somehow.


Xmas Dinner

I stray from my usual reluctance to publish menues (actually, it seems that I am not that reluctant, but that's just to get my readers salivating!) for the traditional treat we got at my sister's. Here's the menue:

Weihnachten 2004
Das Festessen beginnt mit einem

Gruss aus der Küche:
Gefüllte Artischockennestli
Champagner Guy Charlemagne
Grand Cru Millésimé 1999
* * * *

* * * *

?Däddys Nüssler?
im Ananas Bett
* * * *

mit Morcheln gefüllte Kohlrabi
Vanillerieble fürs Bieble
Corton Charlemagne 1995
Grand Cru
* * * *

Perlhuhnbrüstchen mit Ricotta & Granatäpfeln gefüllt, auf ihrem Spinatbett
Kostbar schimmernde Champignonperlen
Clos de la Roche
Grand Cru
Henry de Villamont 1996
* * * * *

Marroni Schokolade Baumstamm
* * * * *
Mit ihrem Sorbet gefüllte Mandarinen
* * * * *
* * * * *
Hausgemachter Caramelpudding
* * * * *
* * * * *


Spitzbuebe, Zimtstärne, Brunsli, Züriläggerle,
gfüllti Dattle, Kokosgutsi, Florentiner, Zitronehärzle

und vo dr Mame

Läckerli, Aenisbrötli


Here are some pictures of the stylish decoration. It was entirely delicious! Thank you very much, C&R!!


Of fools and GNH

The concluding issue of The Economist is remarkable indeed. Not only does it give us a summary of the past year in verse, as mentioned earlier. It also contains a critical review of modern day (perhaps) Shangri-La in its reïncarnation as Bhutan (subscription required) - a country which apparently is not looking to maximise its GNP, but rather its Gross National Happiness! Which would be nice, of course, if it were not to run some serious risk of Orwellian doublespeak.

But that's not all: in a fit of self-referentialism, it surveys - firmly tongue-in-cheek - the post-modernist academic literature deconstructing The Economist and comes to a surprising conclusion. Read it here if you can...

Equally surprising is the paper's finding that George Bush is not too religious, although it is not made that explicit. Personally, I am not so much worried about his religiousness, or asserted lack thereof, rather than the administration's increasing inability to listen to outside positions.

Finally, the wisest fool:

"He was deeply learned, without possessing useful knowledge; sagacious in many individual cases, without having real wisdom...He was fond of his dignity, while he was perpetually degrading it by undue familiarity; capable of much public labour, yet often neglecting it for the meanest amusement; a wit, though a pedant; and a scholar, though fond of the conversation of the ignorant and uneducated...He was laborious in trifles, and a trifler where serious labour was required; devout in his sentiments, and yet too often profane in his language..."

Even though some may think that this is a profile of yours truly, it's a description of King James I.. The Economist is running a competition for the Honourable Title of The Wisest Fool. The criteria are as follows: He or she must be fundamentally an idiot, but a shrewd or cunning one. Candidates need not inhabit Christendom, but they must be alive, or have been in the past 50 years. Submissions to reach competition@economist.com by January 17th!

P.S. My heartfelt congratulations to the Ukrainians! According to the exit polls and - more importantly - the Central Electoral Committee, the liberal candidate has ended up winning by a large majority, which is a major slap in the face of the Russian president. I don't think he qualifies for the competition ...


The magnificent iPod

When I saw the headline of this post in the RSS newsreader (incidentally, highly recommended V0.5 of Newsfire - yes, you PulpFictionLite101 users, this one's for you!), I had to double check whether the feed really was libertarian Samizdata - but it was alright! Even our ID-phobic friends from the far ... libertarian side have discovered the "frivolous" joys of portable music gadgets! Mind you, their colour scheme is suspiciously similar to MaCNN's! Next thing I know, we'll see the merry folk of the Adam Smith Institute rocking away on their iPods! I can imagine worse things happening ...

Seasonal Greetings


Teaching to read

That was apparently Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve's ambition - but he was not a teacher. Here is a rather enlightening article about this important French author & poet who would celebrate his 200th birthday today, too.

My takeaway: The critic's approach to a text, which in my view is by no means limited to literary criticism. The source quoted is Manzoni's Three-Questions Test:
«Quale sia l'intento del autore,
Se questo intento sia ragionevole,
Se l'autore l'abbia conseguito.»

What is the author's intention, is the intention reasonable and, finally, has the intention been achieved. The middle step of passing judgment on the author's intention will probably be met with scorn in today's age of anything goes, but it is nonetheless probably the critic's most valuable contribution to the actual criticism.

Happy Birthday!

It's got to be tough to have birthday the day before Xmas, but anyway ...

Buon Compleanno, Claudia!

Adaptor trouble

I need help! Any idea as to how and where I could have the jack in the picture professionally replaced by a mini USB matching the phone? Thanks!

Russia's Road to Serfdom

Apparently, the Russian president is on a roll today. This interesting article in the Beeb got me to get in touch with Eric Kraus, the Chief Investment Strategist of Sovlink, quoted there. Here is our little exchange (with permission):

Dear Mr. Kraus,

you are quoted by the BBC as saying that the Russian government cannot be sued because of its sovereign immunity. I wonder what makes you say that?

It may well be the self-conception of the neo-tsarist government with its "dictatorship of the law" that you are reflecting, but in the conventional conception of the rule of law, any government may be sued concerning its dealings within the commercial domain, and rightly so. However, if your argument re sovereign immunity aims at the effective re-nationalisation, then you would be right if the operation had been done openly, based on a formal act of parliament, following due process, and not in the cloak and dagger style which has effectively destroyed any pretence of the rule of law in Russia.

The reason for this email is my personal interest in the matter as a CFA Charterholder and a (former & potential) investor in Russia. I think it is wrong for financial market agents to accomodate the Russian governments actions, as you seem to be doing, which are clearly very damaging in the long term view.

After a lifetime in finance I have no indications that Western practices are substantially different from Russian ones. Simply, the West is rather better at sugar coating it - spin management has not made much of an impact here, yet.

As for whether or not the West wishes to tolerate such things, they do not have much choice in the matter. They may chose to stop importing gazprom gas, and freeze in the dark, or stop importing Rosneft oil, but the chinese, indians etc. are screaming for a chance to supplant the Wester offtakers, so, as always, this will be settled as a matter of interests, not one of abstract principal.

thank you for your quick and honest reply, which opens the "realist's" perspective to your BBC statement, which is an attempt at sugar coating on your side, I guess.

I do not agree with your position, however. The rule of law is more than just sugar coating, and the continued evasive action taken after the US court's judgment proves that.

More generally speaking, I do not understand why Russia has abandoned the road to freedom, to rephrase Charles Popper a bit. The only conceivable motive for that is the narrow self-interest of the ruling group of people. Your insight would be highly appreciated!

Russia has not abandonned the road to Freedom. It has abandonned a neo-liberal approach which has led to disaster once already, in the 1990s.

I am a great fan of Popper's but I find the applicability of his thoughts to be far greater in the developed world. Pluralism in countries where you have a small coterie of extremely rich and vicious men who can buy the entire political system leads to the worst excesses. Government of by and for the oligarchs.

The Russian political system looked far better to the West 6 years ago, but the people were starving. They are now living much better - Russia is not yet a happy place, but it is certainly a happier one - and for this, I thank Vladimir Putin.

I do not sugar coat anything. This is Russia. We are foreigners. If we wish to play here, we play by Russian rules. If not, nothing (save, perhaps, the fear of boredom) prevents us from returning to from whence we came!

Interesting! What way to Freedom is there other than the liberal one? Surely not the autocratic one - or do you honestly believe in the benevolent dictator (Putin)? I don't - and neither did Popper.

The road to freedom that Russia is on from your point of view looks like a very big detour to me ... and I still do not know the reason why it should be taken in the first place. Definitely not because of the starving people - that is a cynical pretence from a position subscribing to realpolitik.


Words of the Year

Everybody who is anybody seems to create a Word Of The Year - so today, the Swiss German contribution to that phenomenon has been made. It's actually not just a WOTY, we also get an Unwort (non-word, booh-word) OTY as well as a Phrase OTY and a press release OTY!

Apart from the fact that the designation of these items is largely an exercise in political correctness, they give us an interesting insight into the state of the union, as it were:

WOTY: Meh Dräck (more dirt) refers to the need for more emotional content in the Swiss TV program Musicstar, I guess, which I am proud to say that I have not watched one single installment of. Uninteresting.

More interesting are the runners-up to the WOTY: Spuckaffäre (spitting affair), Sahlenweidli, Kopftuchverbot, Krawattentragverbot, Jugo and Fürsorgestopp. The Spuckaffäre refers to this earth shattering event while the other terms designate either prohibitions (Verbot), a reduction in social contributions or negatively perceived foreigners from the Balkans. The only exception to the rule is Sahlenweidli: This is a hit TV production on Swiss TV which would go under the heading of reality TV, if it were not for the fact that it shows the life of a farmer family as it would have been 150 years ago. Kind of reality TV gone history channel. I find it rather disturbing that this naïve program attracts so much attention - I am afraid it shows a strong streak of structural conservatism in the Swiss population, which would love to have the whole place locked up in a museum.

The Unwort OTY is Oekoterror (ecological terrorism) which was used against the green opposition to a shopping center.

The Phrase OTY might be symptomatic: Switzerland, zero points which was uttered at the Eurovision Song Contest. That apparently was a low point in national confidence. Poor us.

Last, but by no means least: the Press Release OTY - the best ever! It is about a police sortie which was necessary subsequent to a man stealing two ... CROISSANTS at a train station! Go figure!


Horror movies?

I am not much into horror movies, unless I have the remote control close by ... but here is a great persiflage on some horror classics (Alien, The Exorcist, Jaws and - strangely enough - Titanic?), reënacted by bunnies, no less ('toon ones, mind you)! Enjoy!


Winter impressions

The first snow has fallen yesterday, but according to the weather forecast, it is not to stay until Xmas since it will be warming up starting tomorrow, apparently.

On another note, I went to Zurich by train today, and just some 12 hours after this serious onset of winter, the trains were running right on time. Even yesterday, went the weather went haywire, there were only a few delays by 20 mins at worst, although admittedly, a couple of trains had to be cancelled. That compares rather favourably to some postmodern railways where I hear they have to cancel trains because of leaves on tracks ...

But anyway, as promised, here are some impressions of the winter:


What have I done wrong again - that's not exactly my experience of the Genius bar at whichever Apple Store I've been to to date ... (just plain good service, if you want to know)



Tonight, thanks to my automatic lottery robot which procured free tickets, I went to see Max Frisch's Stiller in a production at the Basle theatre. Stiller was first published in 1954 as a pretty fat (440 pages) novel, so this 50th anniversary is a good reason for producing it on stage. And the house was practically sold, which is not really surprising since the novel has basically become staple diet of German literature classes at high school level. Thus, many people do have a personal connection to Stiller - not least myself: I did my German orals in it.

Nonetheless, asked yesterday, I couldn't remember what it was all about! But when I saw the play unfold today, it came back very quickly. Just to summarise: A man entering Switzerland is arrested because he is identified as the missing Anatol Stiller, which he denies vehemently. Prosecutor, defense attorney, ex-wife and ex-lover all try to convince him to basically admit to his identity. Eventually the court states that he is in fact Stiller.

From this, it is a safe bet that a lot of existentialist philosophy is put into action here. And this transported me back to my high school days when I was a sucker for that kind of thing. I don't think I ever really understood it, though - it was just fashionable at the time. By now, Kierkegaard is a very powerful soporific for me. You see, I am much more interested in the tragic art of Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Actually, not too long ago, I've seen the abstract of an essay positing that as a function of age, it's typical to progress from existentialist Frisch, who also goes in and out of fashion, to tragic & stable Dürrenmatt. My case would certainly confirm that. Unfortunately I cannot find the reference to that article now - your help is highly appreciated!

Anyway, it was good to revisit old times, and the on stage production of the novel is certainly very authentic. My next visit to the theatre however will be for even older times: Les Paladins by Jean-Philippe Rameau. From existentialism to tragedy to baroque opera - talk about regression, eh.

Exceptionally, soundtrack of the post: Elgar's Enigma Variations.

P.S. If someone has been to an earlier performance or is going to a later one, could they please confirm whether the national existentialism implicit in sawing a Swiss cross into the stage design is recurring or work in progress? Thanks!

P.P.S. Here is a rather enlightening article (in German) on the genesis of Stiller - enlightening in many respects.


Happy hippo

I just overheard this catching little Xmas song on WFMU. Enjoy!

The same procedure as last year?

The same procedure as every year, James.
If this short exchange doesn't ring a bell for you, then you probably haven't seen Dinner for One, the most successful TV sketch ever that is ritually being re-broadcast on TV stations the world over on New Year's eve. Here's more background information (in German) about this German-Swiss production of 1963. Skøl!


The End of the World!

Fear ye not, I am just quoting the motto of the year end issue of The Economist, which is raving mad!
DARK night gave way, that Jan the first,
To hopes that now the sun would burst
On where Saddam had once been king?
Tsar, caesar, lord?of everything,
And with his acolytes and thugs,
And poison gas and listening bugs,
Had ground the poor Iraqis down,
In field and dune and marsh and town.
The realisation soon would grow
That in his place was GI Joe,
A decent, fair and honest friend
Who had no wish his life to spend
In any country but his own?
So long as freedom had been grown.
For GI Joe had but one aim,
To make Iraq look just the same
As any democratic reach,
From Oregon to West Palm Beach.

And they go on like that for the whole year! Run, you might still get a copy.

Wenn nicht jetzt ...

zum Geburtstag gratuliert wird, dann vergesse ich es bestimmt wieder! Also:


Freimaurerei in der Schweiz

In Fortsetzung des schon früher festgestellten Trends zu höherer Transparenz der Freimaurer steht wohl dieser ausführliche Artikel in der BILANZ (Abonnenten haben Zugriff auf noch mehr Angaben). Er enthält u.a. eine detaillierte Beschreibung des Aufnahmerituals.

Interessanterweise haben sogar mehrere Logen jetzt eine eigene website, so die Catena Humanitatis und die von der englischen Grossloge nicht anerkannte (sie anerkennen Frauen!) Loge Heinrich Pestalozzi. Auf letzterer site sind auch Die Alten Pflichten von 1723 veröffentlicht, welche als Verfassung der Freimaurerei gelten.

Im Eden der Dichter

Das habe ich ja gar nicht mitgekriegt! Edinburg wurde - so scheint es - kürzlich von der UNESCO zur ersten Literaturstadt der Welt ernannt. Eine verdiente und angemessene Auszeichnung. Dieser kleine Führer hat mich in einigem an meine Zeit dort erinnert - anderes ist aber neu und will entdeckt werden!

Bach, Paganini

"The violinist looks at the script. He has his own ghosts in the room with him, and they surely include Ysaÿe alongside Bach and Paganini. He lifts his bow. He acts."

Today in the mail: A wonderful recording of Eugène Ysaÿe's 6 Sonates pour violon solo, played by Thomas Zehetmair. Paul Griffith's review in the booklet makes this album worth buying, even if you already had the music.
"The violinist has to cultivate his own aloneness, shut out (or digest) all the advice and warnings, in order to pursue his dialogue with the text, performing not as if in the twentieth century, the eighteenth or the twenty-first but in that never-now where music takes place. Hear him."

Books don't crash

"WN: How does writing compare to coding?

Hertzfeld: I would say the key difference is the rigor. Writing you can get away with being sloppy and your book doesn't crash. It's not quite as objective. The way they are similar: They are infinitely refineable. The more you work on it, the better you can make it -- in both code and prose. And of course, there's the similarity that in both of them, it's just me sitting in front of the keyboard just thinking about typing."

From an interview with former Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld, now turned author.


The Empire strikes back ...

Saddening. Remember Steve Geluso? As you can see on his blog now, he complains about a sudden writer's block which has befallen him and is expected to last 90 days. Very strange, especially since the writer's block has also forced him to wipe his website clean. Good thing that the internet never forgets! Here is the incriminating essay, together with the incompetent teacher's qualification - "splitting hairs" is obviously jargon for being on the wrong side of the argument, which in Bushistan is intolerable nowadays, it seems. Or, how's the catch all phrase on Fox: "Shut up!" Shame on Richland High!

This, for a change, calls for a BOTD: "[A]s you know, these are open forums, you're able to come and listen to what I have to say." - Washington, D.C., Oct. 28, 2003 Interestingly, I've been looking for Bushisms containing the word argument or tolerance, but there weren't any...

Anonymous workplace blogger

Very odd. I've been told about this blog which is purportedly an anonymous workplace blog, but its author matches exactly the profile of a good friend of mine - must be identity theft, I suppose ... ;-)

Welcome to the blogosphere, Paul!!

The End of photo printers?

I just realised that this post is part of the series of "The End of xy" posts - must have something to do with my predilection for Schumpeter's creative destruction.

Anyway, trusty old Beeb reports that home made photo prints using the latest in printers and photo paper is better in quality and cheaper in price than most professional high street photo printers. So I guess that's the end of that line of business.


Just back from watching The Incredibles with T. This is really incredibly good entertainment - you don't want to miss it! I am still having trouble wiping the big smile off of my face that the movie has put there, but that may have something to do with riding the bicycle home through a freezing night ...

Anyways, it's like a cartoon James Bond, but with super heroes and a not so super villain. Great soundtrack, very Bond like. The characters are just perfectly drawn, and no, I am not talking about technical issues. If you've enjoyed Ice Age, you will like this one even better. Go see it!

And don't miss the neat programme picture with the bouncing lamb, although you might initially think you're in the wrong theater (it's Disney after all). Thank you, Pixar!

Also, I am kinda looking forward to this film: The Ring Thing. Spot on! It is a persiflage on the Trinity of The Lord of the Rings - and it's coming from Switzerland. That's not much of a recommendation for comedy, I know, but we'll see. Stay tuned.


Teachers, beware!

I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of US high school student Steve Geluso's English teachers come today! They failed him in an English paper in which he made the case that piracy and stealing is not the same thing. The reason for failing the paper was that they didn't agree with its point. Not lazy, Steve turned to the web for support, where his story got picked up and his hit counter went through the roof. Uninvolved teachers have also commented on the story.

So, teachers, be careful what you do - your students might easily go and turn the whole world against you over the weekend!


(Post)modern railways?

The Financial Times runs an editorial on today's changeover to the totally new timetable of the Swiss Railways. Thank you, Expatter for making us aware of it!

Knowing the FT's traditional antagonism towards Switzerland and the Swiss in general, which is matched by its ignorance and lack of precision on all matters Swiss, it's hardly surprising that it would rather have us adopt the "postmodern" British model with its "shifting, relative and provisional" train times in order to be less glum.

Nice try at (sarcastic) irony there, but I've got bad news: the changeover worked just fine. At the risk of remaining glum, I prefer the "modern" model to the "postmodern" one any day, thank you very much! I assume the Brits would rather have a bit of glumness injected into their system as well, if I am not very much mistaken. Most likely, the FT's commentator is just not dependent upon a reliable train system, so he can afford to poke cheap fun at people who are, not least his own countrymen.

I am not amused. Can you tell?


Nice going!

MacAddict runs a nice, if somewhat redundant (we're talking Macs here) troubleshooting guide. Just a quote that might make some people out there cringe: "While Mac OS X is quite reliable, we recommend rebooting at least once a month just to ensure that you don't have some renegade process unnecessarily eating up CPU time and memory." That's probably one of the less redundant recommendations ...


Vario & copioso

That was fun! Today I was in town during lunchtime, when I discovered the wine bar in Unternehmen Mitte which is a fairly trendy location that used to be a bank (what else - here's a picture dating back to 1912).
The special discovery however was not that they served lunch there, which is good & dirt cheap at CHF 15. Even more interesting was the fact that there is a science lunch, a series of lunchtime presentations on the general subject of - eating & drinking! How very appropriate!

Today's presentation was held by an art historian (Dr. Axel Gampp) on painting, eating & drinking. It helps to know that in German, das Mahl (the meal) and das Gemälde (the painting) sound very similar and related, so the speaker expanded very humourously on that topic by drawing parallels between Alberti's tenet that a painting had to be vario & copioso (diverse & plenty) and the mediaeval practice of having extremely diverse and plentiful menues, which I never really understood. Along the way, we learned a lot about humoral pathology and the different temperaments' preferred sustenance. All in very good humour.

Also, I set a book free. And since this is one of my more European posts, a BOTD is entirely inappropriate, I guess.

No SwiMP3 for Mac!

The perspective of having music on an amphibious MP3 player during my swimming routine was just too tempting, so I bought a SwiMP3 on my last trip to NY. They're boasting that it's working with PC or Mac, and well it should, because it is basically just a waterproof USB storage device with bone conduction sound transfer.

But unfortunately, it does not work with Mac OS X 10.3.6 for the time being. Technical support at Finis Inc. claims a OS X bug in USB handling responsible for the problem. So Mac users, do not buy the SwiMP3 just yet!


Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I have been doing a bit of research on Ayaan Hirsi Ali today. Just to give you a quick summary: She is a liberal member of the Dutch Parliament and currently in hiding because of death threats for the movie she has made together with Theo von Gogh who has been killed a while ago. Being a Somali immigrant and a former muslim (a contradiction in terms?), she is now firmly convinced that open societies do not just have a problem with fundamentalist islamism, but with islam as such, which she deems irreformable and incompatible with open societies. An impressive, courageous character who deserves all our support!

Doing that, I came across the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling, which I liked very much. It reminds me a lot of another one of my preferred works by The Bard, namely Sonnet 94. I think they both go very well with what Ayaan Hirsi Ali stands for.

Syria is "red" ...

Interesting, this. I guess I better not comment ...


Well off blogging objects

Remember my review of Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel? I was quite surprised to read in the current edition of BILANZ that the de Botton family is part of the 300 richest people in Switzerland, worth some CHF 500 to 600 million. Here's the article excerpt:

Familie Alain de Botton
Finanzgeschäfte, Literatur
500?600 Millionen

Der 35-jährige Schweizer Erfolgsautor Alain de Botton scheint auf Literaturpreise abonniert zu sein; jüngst wurde er für sein siebtes Buch, «Die Kunst des Reisens», mit dem Prix européen de l?essai Charles Veillon ausgezeichnet. Die Verkaufszahlen seiner Bestseller hätten längst für ein Leben in aller Annehmlichkeit gereicht, doch verglichen mit dem Familienvermögen, sind die Einkünfte aus dem Buchverkauf ein Taschengeld. Sein Vater Gilbert de Botton, der für die Bankierfamilie Rothschild arbeitete, hat 1983 die Finanzgesellschaft Global Asset Management (GAM) gegründet. Vier Jahre später heiratete er in zweiter Ehe Janet Wolfson, die zwölftreichste Engländerin. Wolfson ist Erbin der Great Universal Stores und erfolgreiche Kunsthändlerin. Zusammen mit ihrem Mann trug sie massgeblich zur Gründung der Tate Modern Gallery in London bei. 2000 verkaufte Gilbert de Botton die GAM für 600 Millionen Dollar an die UBS, ein Jahr später starb er. Alain und seine ältere Schwester Miel verfügen also über ein komfortables Finanzpolster. Der Autor kann sich in seinem Zuhause in Chelsea voll auf seine Bücher konzentrieren.

But topping off everybody is somebody else who may be of interest to some readers of my blog: Ingvar Kamprad with 15 to 16 billion Swissies. Who is Ingvar Kamprad? He is of course the founder of IKEA. Again, here's the article about him:

Ingvar Kamprad
Möbelhandel, Finanzgeschäfte
15?16 Milliarden

Patriotische Gefühle müssen schwedischen Wirtschaftsjournalisten der Wochenzeitung «Vekans Affarer» den Blick getrübt haben, als sie unlängst am Imperium des Ikea-Möbelmagnaten Ingvar Kamprad Mass nahmen. Die Redaktoren kamen zu einem unglaublichen Ergebnis: Auf 400 Milliarden schwedische Kronen oder umgerechnet 53 Milliarden Dollar taxierten die Rechenkünstler das Kamprad-Vermögen und damit höher als den Besitz des gemeinhin als reichster Erdenbürger geltenden Microsoft-Gründers Bill Gates. Der 78-jährige Wahlwaadtländer selbst stellt sich hingegen gern als vermögenslos dar ? oder zumindest fast. Seiner Stichting Ingka Foundation in den Niederlanden will er all seine Habe geschenkt haben.

Die Wahrheit liegt in der Mitte. Wie die Kapitalströme innerhalb des Ikea-Konzerns fliessen, wo zum Beispiel die Lizenzgebühren aus dem Verkaufsgeschäft mit mehr als 19 Milliarden Franken Umsatz eingelagert werden und was das stetig aufgestockte Immobilienvermögen abwirft, wissen neben dem Konzernarchitekten Kamprad nur wenige Geheimnisträger. Die milliardenschwere Ikano Group der Familie mit ihren Banken und Versicherungen in Skandinavien und mehr als 250 000 Quadratmetern Verkaufs- und Büroflächen taucht nicht im Schaubild auf, das Kamprads kultivierte Armut beweisen soll.

Das Ikea-Kerngeschäft dreht gleichfalls unverändert hochtourig. Bei der Eröffnung neuer Märkte lässt sich der Patriarch jetzt auch von Ehefrau Margareta Kamprad vertreten, der Mutter seiner drei Söhne Peter (40), Jonas (37) und Mathias (35). An der Nachfolgeregelung, wer ihm aus dem Erbentrio als Primus inter Pares folgen wird, bastelt der Senior noch immer. War es zunächst der Erstgeborene, drängt nun Nesthäkchen Mathias ins Rampenlicht. Kamprads Jüngster rückte gerade zum Ikea-Landeschef in Dänemark auf.

The Cult of Mac

Still prowling for the perfect Xmas gift for your Machead friend? Here's a really cool one, if you can still get hold of a copy (I think they sold out the first run): The Cult of Mac, a great coffee table book and a good laugh! But I've already got it now, sorry ...



Rechtzeitig zur Weihnachtssaison und zur aktuellen Religionsdiskussion bringt das NZZ Folio eine Nummer zum Thema ABERglauben. Aus meiner Sicht besonders lesenswert sind das aufklärerische Editorial sowie ein schöner Artikel über den Konflikt von Wissenschaft und Glauben. Im Sinne einer Warnung: Natürlich würde ich diese Artikel kaum zur Lektüre empfehlen, wenn sie nicht weitgehend meiner persönlichen Auffassung entsprächen.

Fair & balanced?

When I first saw Fox News on US TV, I was quite taken aback by its obvious lopsidedness and apparent lack of intelligence. At that time, I just put it down to the diversity of the US media landscape. Little did I know that it seems to have become rather the dominant force in said landscape - which is a shocking insight from highly commendable documentary Outfoxed (thanks, Jay!). But again, it's absolutely in line with the current shutdown of critical discourse in the power circles of the USA.

However, from a Macchiavellian (or Orwellian, if you prefer) point of view, it is very well orchestrated! Already the network's slogan "Real journalism - fair & balanced" is amazing: they brazenly claim balanced journalism while they totally disregard any established journalistic best practice of differentiating between fact & personal opinion without batting an eyelash! Watch Outfoxed, it's quite an eyeopener!

Incidentally, this reminds me of a whole lot of parallels with our southern neighbours. Its banana republic style prime minister has direct control over the dominant media empire in Italy, and he seems to be a good friend and staunch supporter of the US president who for his part lives in a symbiotic relationship with Berlusconi's commercial alter ego Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox. As it happens, I am very keen to hear about the outcome of Berlusconi's trial.

Fair & balanced? My backside ...

Obviously, this calls for the BOTD: "We thought we were protected forever from trade policy or terrorist attacks because oceans protected us." - Speech to business leaders at APEC Summit, Santiago, Chile, Nov. 20, 2004


Apple of IBM's eye?

Wow, there's a fascinating story - and it would also sound rather plausible. Great food for rumour-mongering - and already, AAPL is moving up again!

There's just one big BUT: There's a thing called corporate culture. The compatibility between the two corporations' cultures is not obvious to me.


Whoa, this is vicious! View at your own peril!


Myers-Briggs, recounted

Now that's interesting: I knew I was a rare bird, but that rare? According to this site, my personality type (INTP) is the absolutely rarest with just 1% of the population. Cheers to that!

Marché aux Puces

Good times! This morning, C, K and I went to Belfort in France for the traditional flea market there. It was nasty cold already, but the traders felt that also, so they were relatively modest in their prices - with the exception of what the dealer wanted for this fine period bronze of an homme de lettres in full debating mode:
So I didn't get it, which I am sure I will regret before long.

Shake it - the sequel!

It happened again! Tonight at 0252 CET, we've had another earthquake of a magnitude of 5.1. This is getting annoying, particularly since they seem to be ramping up in terms of magnitude. This quake's epicenter was quite a couple of kilometers north, but it still woke me. So I guess this map depicting risk areas is right (I am in the reddish spot in the northwest):

More resources about Swiss earthquakes are available here.

Rumsfeld Rules

Now that "Rummy" has been reconfirmed as Secretary of Defense (not surprisingly, since it was to be expected that the "team" becomes more & more ideologically constricted), be may try to put more of his rules into practice than he did in the past. His set of rules as published in the WSJ (subscription probably not required) are really good & surprisingly thoughtful - pity that on a rough reading he keeps breaking more than half of them: "It is easier to get into something than to get out of it."

Bushism implicitly provided.


New music

In New York, I got three new CDs, all of which have a strong connection to the city, which I discovered only now. And none of them is classical.

The first truly is a desert island disc: Sarah Vaughan. She has an immensely rich, variable voice which never fails to capture me. Her timbre is just out of this world. I'd say she is the Maria Callas of Jazz. You'll have to hear to believe - which is why I put a piece in the sidebar. The connection to NY is that it has been recorded there exactly 50 years ago.

The second one is also a jazz classic: John Coltrane's Blue Train.. I cannot say a lot about it yet because iTunes refuses to disengage the repeat on Sarah Vaughan ... the connection to NY is similar: it's been recorded there in September 1957.

The third CD is different in that it is not a jazz classic (yet?) and the booklet doesn't say where it has been recorded. But at least, the world première of Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians was in New York in 1976. A strangely hypnotic kind of music, best listened to with your eyes shut and mildly inebriated (my airplane condition).

I just realised I haven'd deployed a Bushism in a while! Can't have that, here you go: "I think anybody who doesn't think I'm smart enough to handle the job is underestimating." - U.S. News & World Report, April 3, 2000


Hecatomb disposal

Sorry about the literally morbid choice of subject, but this article in NZZ (hence German) contains quite surprising information which hopefully will never be relevant for me, but as the person responsible for civil protection in the village, you never know. It's basically saying that a large number of dead bodies does not per se create an epidemic health hazard, hence a rushed disposal of such bodies is not required. Quite on the contrary, it is argued that rushed disposal is detrimental to the survivors' mourning process and because of the lack of assured identifications, it will also create a lot of legal problems.

Here is a reference to the original work in English.

On buying votes

Here's an interesting idea: Why not improve voter turnout and thereby democracy by just paying voters money for their participation?

Even though the outright purchase of votes is only a marginal stepup from generally accepted practice in most democratic countries where politicians are all about buying in to the interests of their respective clientèle, and thereby may be welcomed for its additional transparency, I think the idea is ludicrous. A vote must not be seen as a product or service up for the highest bidder - it is the statement of an individual's political will and preference, which may or may not be in line with the individual's economic interest. Linking those two distinct areas is fundamentally wrong.



I forgot to mention in my previous post: I am home again, having returned safely from a short trip to NYC, where they keep overdoing it with their star spangled banners, cf:

As usually, it was fun, even though the second day's walking through the city got to me. But there's a story to it!

I was booked on Swiss flight 19 from Newark to Zürich, leaving on 2205h on Tuesday night to arrive at 1130h on Wednesday. I was expected to speak at a conference in Zurich at 1600h on Wednesday, so I took an upgrade from business to 1st class. Fortunately, I can say now. Because the flight was delayed substantially! It already started in the afternoon when I first received a text message and afterwards a phone call notifying the bad news. Fair enough, so there was a bit more time to kill in NY - not a bad thing, although it still was too early for the shows. It only dawned on me later that it was bad because the arrival lounge in Zürich where I intended to freshen up for the presentation closed at noon - too early for a late arrival! So I created a bit of a ruckus at Newark check in, letting it be known in no uncertain terms that I expected 1st class service. And surprisingly, I got it! Upon arrival in Zürich, I was welcomed by a VIP staffer who whisked me past everybody in one of those shuttle things and escorted me to the 1st class lounge where I could leisurely prepare for the presentation, which went by in a breeze. Good times - thank you, Swiss! The only letdown was the lounge at Newark (a Delta Crown Room), which is distinctly dingy if you compare it to Swiss' 1st class lounge at JFK.

Later that night, the distinct lack of sleep became overpowering and I was soon dead to the world. And if you wonder what the heck the title is about: We're just having a heavy winter thunderstorm with lightning and the full Monty!


It's a well know secret that I am an avid reader of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung - ever have been, ever will be, as far as I can see. To the unadulterated surprise of my housemates at Edinburgh University's Masson Hall, I had it even sent up to Scotland in those gray days before the advent of online editions. There's something soothingly agreeable about lying on the lawn in the scorching Scottish sun (sic!), reading the NZZ Auslandsausgabe while some fellow students are engaged in a game of cricket.

But what's NBaZ? It jokingly stands for Neue Basler Zeitung, an idea put forward by some 2500 people asking for a Basle edition of the NZZ because they were disgruntled with Basle's flagship press monopoly's paper, the Basler Zeitung, also behatedly known as BaZ. The up front reason for the long cultivated bad temper lies generally in the BaZ's recent new format, but more specifically in its tabloid treatment of hallowed Basle culture, and directly in the opening up of the events section for everyone against payment of a (modest) CHF 20 for an event ad. This got people going! And now they're asking rival town Zürich's NZZ for a Basle edition, or rather, an edition with the Zürich section replaced by a section on Basle. The NZZ's editor had nothing smarter to reply than that everything of consequence that happens in Basle is being noted in the NZZ already anyway ...

Being a long standing subscriber to both papers, I am certainly not opposed to actually getting a renowned quality paper to compete with our provincial one. But the project is being promoted for all the wrong reasons. I am supporting it anyway.