The Empire Strikes Bush

Evidently, I am not alone in noticing the anti-Bush political message of Star Wars III. Also, listen in to #22 of the Theory of Everything podcast - there's a funny narrative about a disappointed republican Yoda!

It is also interesting to read that the war on terror strategy is being reviewed just now. Against all odds, I hope that this review will not only take into consideration the terrorists' more diversified tactics, but also the increasing abuse of the war on terror label at both the domestic as well as the foreign policy level. Interesting to see for instance that in the context of the recent violent oppression of an Uzbek uprising, the much heralded freedom rhetoric took second stage to tactical considerations on said war.

Maybe it's time to end the war on terror (not lowering the level of attention, of course), or to define clearly delimited war objectives. Otherwise, the US might end up in a 1984 situation where an unspecified world war serves as background and pretext for the establishment of a totalitarian system. Mind you, we're certainly not there (yet?), but there are plenty of alarming signs.

On a lighter note, a minor blogical (nice word, that!) problem arose in the context of this post: If a small additional item regarding an earlier post comes up, should it be added as a postscriptum to the earlier post, or should a new post be created, linking back to the earlier one? I think the latter solution is the better one, so that's what I do.


Sanity quants

"However far you may travel in this world,
you will still occupy the same volume of space.

Traditional Ur-Bororo saying."

It's been in the making for quite a long time, but I finally finished The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self. It is a bizarre book with an underpinning of radically absurd wit. Imagine a combination of The Sixth Sense, Six feet under and The Flying Circus and you get the beginning of it - literally (I am talking about the first story)! The book's format is a collection of six apparently unrelated short stories: The North London Book of the Dead, Ward 9, Understanding the Ur-Bororo, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Mono-Cellular and finally Waiting. But on closer inspection, you'll notice that each story is cleverly linked with others by means of some peripheral character. For a good review & summary, check this - I personally just loved the Ur-Bororo story. Oh, and Waiting with the permanent suspension between immanence & imminence!

Which leads me to a quick parenthetical note: I do not want to boast my vocabulary, but it doesn't happen often in non-technical literature that I have to use the dictionary. Not so in this case! Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Self occasionally uses technical jargon, particularly when the subject matter is anthropology, or psychiatry, as in the namesake story where he actually develops said quantity theory, complete with footnotes and bibliography ("Hurst, P., 'Nailbiting in Bournemouth versus Bed-Wetting in Poole: Action and Amelioration', Journal of Psychology, March, 1976") And it comes across incredibly ... credibly! It's just too bad that the frequently quoted British Journal of Ephemera (BJE) does not appear to exist in this world - I'd be an avid reader!

The quantity theory itself is obviously true (please abstain from applying Popper to this one): There is only a limited amount of sanity in any given social grouping. Hence a decay in the mental health of one member actually increases other members' sanity. Read it to believe it - and have a swell time in the process!!

P.S. The uncharacteristically high density of exclamation marks in this post correlates closely with how much I like the book.


Intelligent Life II

My prayers have indeed been heard - there is a second issue of Intelligent Life, and it is as good as the first one. Some pointers to items of interest:
  • The distinguished lady with a temporary budget shortage can actually borrow the handbag of her desire. So, how about that nice Ferragamo handbag with some usage marks, Frau Merkel?
  • The Economist is weighing in on the debate over premium chocolate, and it comes to a scandalous conclusion: the Belgian stuff (Marcolini) is best! Zürich's Teuscher comes 5th in 7! Fortunately, the comparison's rigour can be questioned - they only tried truffles, and they did it in a dinner party environment ... probably, those guys might have been better suited for the job!
  • Interesting piece about Rolex, allegedly the luxury timepiece of choice. Just not mine - I find those things disgustingly clunky! I'd rather go to that Vienna shop I discovered and get a pre-owned high-end Jaeger.
  • The article on podcasting mentions two interestings ones that I'll give a shot; Little Gray Books & Biddycast.
  • Tunes on tap makes the case for music utilities with a constant stream of music from central servers with artists paid per second of usage. Go with the flow - interesting!
  • Finally, we're told to forget the résumé because clever blogs are better suited for landing us that much sought after new job. Interesting indeed!
  • Overall, a worthwhile lifestyle magazine, for once! Just two shortcomings: The constant talk about $$$ (instead of £ or EUR) or NTSC doesn't exactly hint to the magazine's European origins, and this time round, they were a bit short on giving us weblinks - even in the online version! You can get it at your local (well stocked!) newsagent now.

    P.S. Their online survey is rather tedious. When will surveyors realise that surveyees realise quite acutely that a 9 by 4 matrix question is actually equivalent to 36 questions and not just one?!


    It's actually a bit too hot & stuffy out, so I am looking for a bit of refreshment in surfing. Here is a new, virtually glossy Swiss art & design magazine, artstübli. Fairly powerful visual language there and fun to leaf through, even though the computer to peruse it on may be a bit clunky for the coffee table ... do start it on Acrobat Reader 7, though - apparently, there is multimedia content available. I say apparently because it doesn't work on my Tiger / Acrobat 7 / QT 7 machine. But even so, have a gander, it's worth it!


    Summer is definitely here, although technically, it may be a bit premature. Nice nonetheless! The temperature displayed on the weather widget is even a couple of degrees short!
    Yesterday night, I went to see Three Miles Off, a Basle jazz quartett with (among others) Oliver Friedli on the piano and Alex Hendriksen on the sax at the culturium. I saw it mentioned in the paper and was wondering what Alex was up to these days, or nights as is probably more appropriate for a jazz musician. Well, it was great fun! They are playing a lot of Oliver's own music, which is a good combination of progressive and cool (I am probably wrong there). I am certainly looking forward to their new CD which will be hitting the market on September 9. I would no doubt point you to their website as well, if they had one, but what I can do is link to Alex' future website, once his brother gets moving ...


    Elementary, my dear Mrs. Watson!

    There's a fun little story (German, available today only) about an exchange of letters to the Sydney Morning Herald. The actual trigger was the need to save water, which got those Aussie letter writers rolling: One suggested to have one's whisky straight only, while a certain Tony Watson said that henceforth, he would be taking showers only with his wife. This stoked the fantasy of people, of course, who wanted to join in - literally. Anyway, a couple of months later, there was another letter by Tony, announcing that it worked and his wife was pregnant. Another couple of months later, there was the announcement of the birth of their baby daughter Miranda. And now they're famous not only in Sydney, but also in Switzerland and in the blogosphere.

    Koi29? Since we're at it, there's another fun article (which is not available online) about the somewhat unconventional use of French among young folk in the French speaking parts of Switzerland, which seems to arise out of the pervasive use of texting & blogs. There's a slang called Verlan, which is a permutation of l'envers (invers), and that's exactly what it means: words are turned upside down, c.f.: Vénèr is proper énervé, tof = foto, meuf = femme. Very drôle! Unsurprisingly, language purists (such as teachers) are throwing a fit! And the kids enjoy it, I am sure. But what's the meaning of that Koi29, you wonder? Well, it's Quoi de neuf? (what's new?)! Here's another one for you to work out on your own (a pint for the 1st correct answer): J'tapLDkej'pe ...


    The economics of deception

    Here is a very interesting & rather disturbing article on the pervasive behavioural pattern of lying. The article is disturbing because its main argument on why we keep doing it is simply this: Because it works.

    Baghdad jobs

    Andy is quoting a fun job vacancy ad on his blog. I think I can better that! From the current issue of The Economist:

    Baghdad Baghdad Professional Services Company requires senior executive. Finance/legal/accountancy or other professional qualification, management experience and sense of adventure required. Middle East experience and/or Arabic preferred but not essential. Excellent compensation package available. Operations based in secured zone in Baghdad. Send C.V.'s to: reply1@economist.com.

    Sense of adventure? It'd better be a good one!

    CTU London

    This site gives you a bit of a CTU feeling for the city of London, especially once the live feeds from the traffic jam cameras are on stream. Very smart! Until then, we'll have to make do with the real thing, episodes 4/23 & 24 ...


    Technology theater

    There's a couple of things that bug me about how our dear local theater treats technology as an afterthought, and I have to get that out now.

    First, there's their newsletter that you can subscribe to. Great thing, that, very informative. But it contains a very strange tombola system for two tickets each week: It is not a random drawing from the replies they get, but rather, it is the first email they get that wins the prize. Evidently, they don't have a clue as to how email distribution works, otherwise they wouldn't pretend same chances for every participant. That's probably not even legal.

    Far more serious however are the shortcomings of the online ticket ordering system. Theater Basel seems to be doing that through an unknown agent called eventris. According to their site, eventris receives a 10% commission on tickets ordered online. But the user gets a CHF 5 System Gebühr (sic!) slapped on his bill, without comment or explanation. What's more, tickets bought online cannot be refunded or exchanged, which is another disadvantage in comparison with the brick & mortar Billettkasse. And if all that hasn't discouraged you sufficiently yet, the ordering site looks and feels entirely unprofessional. So, evidently, the people responsible for this just couldn't care less and obviously do not want to have their b&m channel cannibalised while still wanting to keep up appearances of being in line with today's best practice.

    Naturally, they are entirely incommunicado about all this ...

    Sudoku, anyone?

    Remember, you've seen it here first!

    Well, unless you read The Economist which has an article (by subscription) on this latest attack on literacy originating from Japan of a numbers only and thus globally usable variety of cross word (or rather number) puzzle where you have to fill in numbers 1 to 9 so that they show up just once per row, column & block. The end product looks like this (only red numbers originally provided), and the solving process seems to be highly addictive (via sudoku.com):


    The Jane Doe's

    Thanks to an interesting language podcast, I just discovered a great soul band, The Jane Doe's. Check out the mp3 downloads on their site - You bring the devil is stunningly eerie ...


    Order 66

    Phew! I just made it back safe & dry in between two summer night showers, and now I can enjoy listening to the rain lashing down outside as well as my customary late night / early morning pot of Earl Grey simmering in the kettle.

    But probably, that's not what you wanted to know. In fact, I went to see The Revenge of the Sith with W, T, R & M tonight, and it was a fun evening! However, the general turnout for a Friday evening show on the third day after the première was surprisingly low. It looks like the story has indeed run its course.

    Generally speaking, I think Episode III is a worthy conclusion of the double trilogy, offering plenty of interesting background & explanations. Also, the historico-political plot with the fatherly character of the Chancellor provoking a constitutional crisis in the Republic in order to assume control and at the same time eliminate the Jedi order - much like the historic order of the Knights Templar - alone makes it worth seeing. Some of the political messages were none-too-subtly coined for the benefit of the present US administration. Likening the neo-cons to the Sith is maybe less fair than plausible ...

    And there is of course the big moment that everything has been building up to: Darth Vader's first machine supported breath, coïnciding with the same of his progeny Luke & Leïa.

    But unfortunately, all is not well: Some of the (numerous) dialogue scenes, especially the more intimate ones, were actually quite lengthy. That has to be attributed to the sub-par acting on the part of the main characters Anakin and the Chancellor turned Lord Sidious. While Anakin just lacks personal depth, Sidious gives the impression of a raving, hysterically cackling lunatic, which just does not add up, given how tactically wise and personable he was as Chancellor. That's a pity as well as quite an incomprehensible blunder of the direction.

    So, it's definitely worth seeing, if only via a downloaded version - amazing, that! May the force be with the studios and the MPAA. They can certainly use all the help they can get, although most of the time, they bear more semblance to the Sith rather than to the Jedi.

    P.S. Check out #22 of Theory of Everything!




    This excellent review (German) has intrigued me into investing a small fortune to see Alles nah, alles fern, a contemporary ballet performance on Gustav Mahler's 5. Symphony in the Zürich Opernhaus tonight. It has been very instructive.

    Lately, I have started listening more to more recent music than my usual renaissance / early classical stuff. And time and again, I've come across rave reviews of Spörli's choreography on Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge, which I keep missing. So I decided I needed to expose myself to this highly acclaimed production despite of my lack of understanding for romantic music. You never know, perhaps I am starting down that road come old age?

    But while I can appreciate the grandeur of the music and the powerful imagery created by masterful contemporary dance of a kind that I've never seen before, it all left me curiously cold. So, I've learnt a thing or two about myself tonight: 1) Clearly, I am not a romanticist, probably never will be, and 2) it is the allusion to classical themes, forms and formality that I like in more recent works of whatever style. But 3) I dislike the bland pathos, self-indulgence and excessiveness of romanticist emotionality, chiefly when it is expressed in symphonic works. I find that there is so much more freedom of expression of interpreters' ambivalent personalities in the small format of chamber music or early music. I am well aware that this is not the most fashionable of positions to hold in our day and age of high drama. Also, my taste in music might be deemed to be shallow because of its reliance on a certain degree of apparent formality, but as we know since Lord Henry, it is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances ...

    So, it was an interesting evening indeed. Despite of my evident scepticism, I will make sure to not miss Die Kunst der Fuge again, next time the opportunity presents itself! Given the proper text (for me), Spörli's production should be a memorable experience.

    Kicking couch potatoes

    Interesting, that - not sure though whether it's really good for kids only ...


    btefnet is dead, ...

    ... long live bittorrenting! Just a couple of days after the MPAA's raid on my preferred source of bittorrent trackers, I found an alternative for my weekly fix of 24: TorrentSpy - enjoy, and f*ck MPAA! I love the interweb's resilience ... but if you'll excuse me now - episode 22 has just started seeding.

    My world ...

    Here's the countries I visited up until now. So, now I'll have to make plans for the ROW ... ;-)
    create your own visited country map

    50 Fun Things To Do With Your iPod

    Nice! I especially liked #35 and 47!


    Jingoistic rodeo

    I just ordered The Anglosphere Challenge from the US Amazon site after working out that despite of free postage on the German site, it's still a couple $$ cheaper there. What gives?!

    There's a fun little anecdote connected to that title, btw. I tried to get it in Philadelphia, but neither Borders nor Barnes & Noble would have it in store. Undoubtedly the best response to my inquiry came from Robin's Bookstore however, where I was told that they didn't do Jingoistic Rodeo or something to that effect ...


    Home, sweet home

    It's about time that I start posting again - after all, I am back home after my trips to Philadelphia and Vienna. Both of them went very well, although it would be overdoing it if I said the return trip from Philly went smoothly. Arrival at the airport 45 minutes before scheduled departure for an international flight is a bit tight in all honesty - but there is one of the odd advantages of flying first class...

    Anyway, here's a great site linking to Swiss widgets - very useful. Oh, and I hate the MPAA for shutting down btefnet - now I'll have to look for a different source for the trackers of the remaining episodes of 24 - Grrr!!

    In other Swiss news, the Apple iTunes music store has finally opened - visit your local installation of iTunes now!

    More on Switzerland: There is a group called Police against Schengen which opposes the Swiss ratification of the Schengen treaty on June 5. They are free to do that, of course. But what really makes me angry is that they thought they had to do it disguised! Those guys are spineless cowards who are not worthy to be part of the force. They need to be identified and disciplined. Surprisingly, I am not the only one with that opinion: An formal inquiry will be started next week.
    By way of Tobistar.


    Sleepless in Philly

    While that may not be strictly true, my biological clock is still rather confused, so I have enough energy to give you the lowdown of my day here in Philadelphia. It can be summed up pretty easily, too - I did a lot of walking! And that's great, because Philly is a rather european place in that most places of consequence can be reached on foot quite easily. But that's not the only europeanish aspect: much of the city has a distintly european, or rather english flavour to it. Which probably won't be much of a surprise because it is in New England ... anyway, that's how I like it!

    Tonight, I went to see the Dave Ramsey Trio in the Café Habana, where I also had a good dinner. This trio of music students appears to have a very ecclectic repertoire - tonight, they gave us some all time jazz classics, what with Chet Baker & everything. It was great fun in a relaxed atmosphere. I knew about it because I met Dave at The Last Drop where I had breakfast. Since he seems to like e.s.t. as much as I do, I followed his recommendations to see them play tonight and also got the latest album of The Bad Plus, which I didn't have time to listen to, yet. Right about now, I think I am tired enough to go indulge myself in some sleep.

    Monitoring the future

    Just a couple of pointers to articles contained in Swissfuture, the official quarterly journal of the Swiss Society for Future Research. On the flight over, I had time to read it.
  • The preferred wild card of Dr. Karl-Heinz Steinmüller is the introduction of Latin as an official language of the European Union.
  • Arnold Brown is quoted as writing about the rising threat of thearchy, the rule by god as opposed to theocracy, the rule by priests. It's not only coming from islamic fundamentalism, but likewise from its christian counterpart.
  • The third food-revolution (after industrial production and ?) will happen through personalised sustenance as a consequence from advances in genom & nano technologies. The 3rd revolution might result in total emancipation from the need to ingest food. Maybe we will take up energy in other forms while simulating the desired sensations neuronally (Matrix, anyone?). There are indications that digestion is bad for our health and accelerates ageing. The metabolom will be an important concept.
  • Researchers around Carlo Montemagno have found ways to grow muscle cells on gold layers. This technology can be used to construct miniature engines in nano-machines.
  • Soon, we may be able to grow back our own teeth by reïmplanting the patient's own treated stem cells under his gum.
  • Geneticist Aubrey de Grey thinks that by using Strategies for engineered negligible senescence, it will be possible that people aged 60 today will be able to live for about 1000 years. Imagine the stresses on retirement systems!
  • Former music manager Tim Renner says in his book Kinder, der Tod ist gar nicht so schlimm! that the music industry is not evil, but just stupid. Operator of motor.fm, he expects to see the emergence of new business modells centered around targeted broadcasting.
  • 03/05/2005


    Thanks for the reminder about the loose end I've left here!

    I'd like to note the uncanny knack that the good people of Fox have for bringing current issues into 24 when they are ripe for discussion in the real world. A case in point is episode 18: Here the question comes up whether torture should be permissible if it can lead to the prevention of a terrorist act (to go for a safe measure, they took a nuclear strike, no less). Action oriented as 24 is, they also answer the question right away: Jack Bauer takes the matter into his own hands without waiting for the whimpy president's ok on the matter. All the surrounding vibe is very clear also: There can be no doubt about the need for such measures.

    I beg to disagree, and very strongly at that. The absolute prohibition of torture and the inviolability of the physical person is one, if not the major historic achievement of Open Societies under the rule of law. While I personally often find myself thinking in categories of Realpolitik, in this particular case, the realist's temptation to permit torture for the greater good would lead to the loss of legitimacy of the state in question and thus would play into the hands of the terrorist perpetrators. But that's not all: Maybe two weeks ago, there was an excellent article in NZZ summarising the positions on the matter of two judges of the highest courts in the UK and Israel respectively, who held up that position with the argument that the terrorist threat, while being bad indeed, does not go to the root of Society at large and therefore cannot justify such an extreme measure. The British Law Lord noted for instance that this would be unprecendented since not even under the threat of Nazi invasion in WWII, the prohibition had been given up.

    I'd like to add some public choice technicalities: Government is obviously interested in gaining said power because it would receive unprecedented levers. But, as Lord Acton had it: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is particularly true if the power to torture may be invoked on grounds of prevention of terrorist acts, which by necessity are defined loosely. Invariably, the matter will be shrouded a layer of secrecy, which brings us back to the good old age of raison d'état. Is that really what Messrs. B&B want? One might be tempted to harbour suspicions, if they were not referring to freedom so much ...

    Eventually I think the solution provided by 24 is not the worst: Let's keep the absolute prohibition in place. If there is crucial information accessible only by the use of force, the officers responsible always have the option of breaking the law and taking personal responsibility in the ensuing investigation. Then, and only then can it be ascertained that there is no rule that is prone to abuse, and only then are the barriers to the use of force high enough to ensure that it is only deployed in the most urgent & important cases. In the end, there is always the possibility of a formal Pardon. As figura showed in 24, torture didn't even yield success there ...

    With that, I'll take my leave from you for now. Next time you hear from me will likely be from Philadelphia, PA where I'll be spending the rest of the week.


    Today, I've finished Ian Rankin's latest Rebus novel, Fleshmarket Close. As always, it's a nice reminder of Edinburgh & a good read, even though this time, the suspense & cliffhanger bits have been replaced by a political message against xenophobia & racism. DI Rebus is indeed becoming more & more sympathetic!

    Talking of Edinburgh, there's another reason why I am feeling all Scot today, and that's not even because of the weather. I've just discovered the new Dictionary in Tiger, so now I feel much like Dr. Johnson. Sausage ... SAUSAGGEEE?!?! But seriously: the Dictionary is not even featured as noteworthy ... now, let's have the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and the Bard's Complete Works back, and NeXTSTEP is way up there again.


    Quod e.s.t. demonstrandum

    Wow! I am just back from the final concert of the Jazz Festival Basel with the Viktoria Tolstoy Quintet and, most notably, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, a.k.a. e.s.t.. Tell you what: Those guys would rock, if they weren't doing jazz!

    Last time I saw them live was at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, where they were playing in front of a rather select crowd, meaning that there were many empty seats. Not so tonight: The house was packed - and rightly so. They had a phantastic performance with many new pieces and thrilling variations on their known repertoire. On top of that, they were also boasting a background light show which, although bemoaned by purists, wasn't obtrusive and thus actually enhanced the experience.

    But the best thing of course is their music: They have an incredible spectrum, spanning from the melodiously lyrical to the elegantly sophisticated, classical piano trio jazz, to the rock inspired, distorted heavy stuff. Something for everybody and every mood, yet not arbitrary! But how do they do it? They seem to be playing away on the most intricate themes, each in his own world without any notes or visible interaction, and yet it comes across as an entirely compact, precisely measured performance. Magic!

    Naturally, I had to get their new album Viaticum right away, and it's playing right now. Fine stuff. Thank you very much, M&S for inviting me!


    Politiker-Blogs in der Schweiz

    Die Sonntagszeitung veröffentlicht heute neben einem Bericht über Tiger einen Artikel (offline, S. 118) zur Frage, weshalb es praktisch noch keine Schweizer Politiker mit eigenem Blog gibt. Die wenig überraschenden Antworten: Keine Zeit und natürlich: Weil die Schweizer Politik ja ach so sachorientiert sei, gebe es keinen Bedarf an persönlicher Selbstzelebrierung, wie blogs das eben seien (ich paraphrasiere). Unser aller Lieblings-Sozi Bodenmann hat allerdings noch eine ganz andere Erklärung parat, deren Wert sicher nicht zu unterschätzen ist: So viele schreibfähige Schweizer Politiker gibt es gar nicht. Die Partei-Mediendienste können ja kaum ein vernünftiges Communiqué 'brünzle'. Na also!