A civilised place

London is without a doubt one of the most civilised places in the world that I know, although I'll never know quite how it manages to pull off that aura. In between two passing thunderstorms, I walked back from a very nice dinner at the Garrick Club to Over-Seas House in St. James's tonight, and despite of giving off the restless vibes of a metropolis, the place appears to maintain its peace. Rather embarrassing though having to borrow a tie from the porter's in order to comply with Club rules, even more so taking into account my short sleeved shirt...

It was wonderfully calming however later on to sit at the bar in front of an open door overlooking a thunderstorm passing over St. James's Park while studying some accounting documentation (just don't comment). Yet, in spite of the apparent peacefulness of the place, shops are bustling with Sales-induced business, which I have taken advantage of as well, of course. I actually got Seasons 1-3 of Six Feet Under, which i am very much looking forward to watching. Tomorrow will be a full day of meetings, to be followed by my first Friends of ROSL Arts Garden Party, which I am looking forward to. More meetings on Thursday, hopefully to be concluded by a visit to the Churchill Museum and a quiet pre-flight pint with J.


Smart goggles

No, this is not a typo, referring erroneously to a well known search engine. A British design student has actually designed smart swimming goggles that keep track of your lap count and time in an in-goggle projection, or whatever you call that. I want them - now! OK, Thursday will do also when I'll be back from London ...


NZZ Leserbrief

Die NZZ hat ihr Wort eingelöst und meinen Leserbrief zur Buchpreisbindung heute in leicht gekürzter Form abgedruckt (s. 26) - leider ist mein abschliessender Aufruf an den Autor einer "Kürzung" zum Opfer gefallen ... immerhin ist es aber bezeichnend, dass keiner der drei abgedruckten Leserbriefe eine positive Reaktion auf den Kommentar enthält. Der verantwortliche Redaktor hätte eine solche ganz sicher berücksichtigt, so er sie bekommen hätte. Das Publikum wird also weitgehend meiner Meinung sein, die bestimmt auch jener der Wirtschaftsredaktion entspricht, die keine Freude am Kommentar gehabt hat.


EU crisis

The EU is in one of its periodic crisis. That's nothing unusual for that institution, and contrary to many a widespread expectation, it will be stronger for it, especially if the road proposed by the incoming EU presidency will be taken. Read the impressive Speech to the EU Parliament by the British Prime Minister - der Text ist auch in Deutsch verfügbar! Il y a aussi une version française.


Greatest Philosopher?

BBC Radio 4's In Our Time is still running the Greatest Philosopher Vote (until early July). The current frontrunner - according to the moderator, you don't get to see it online - is, rather questionably, Karl Marx! Since he is probably the one contestant with the best claim to the scrapheap of history, we cannot have him winning, can we. So go and vote your personal favourite (mine's Sir Charles Popper, of course)! There's a lot of interesting material there, too, not least a philosophy quiz, which I pretty much flunked with a reasonable score ...

Fertig lustig

Die Zugabe von Das Magazin zum Abonnement der Basler Zeitung erweist sich zum wiederholten Mal als massiv wertschöpfender Glücksgriff der BaZ-Strategen. Die heutige Ausgabe ist dem Zustand des Humors in der Schweiz gewidmet, und das ist wahrlich eine traurige Angelegenheit:

"In ihrem Humor einigt sich eine Gesellschaft auf ihre gemeinsamen Werte, auf ihr geteiltes Wissen über die Welt. (...) Humor ist seinem Wesen nach konservativ. (...) Wenn die Realsatire überall ist, gibt es keine Satire mehr. Oder: Wenn alle Tabus gebrochen sind, gibt es keine Unkorrektheit, keine Minderheitenwitze mehr. Erschwerend hinzu kommt, dass in der Mediengesellschaft zur Wirklichkeit die Karikatur immer gleich mitgeliefert wird. Die Welt ist lückenlos umstellt vom Spiegelkabinett des Fernsehens, der Zeitschriften, des Internets, des Digitalkameras, die jede Regung tausendfach reflektieren, umordnen, nachäffen, sodass sich zur These sofort die Antithese gesellt, jede Szene in sämtlichen Blickwinkeln zu sehen ist. Weil so nichts mehr für wahr, nichts mehr wirklich ernst genommen werden kann, hat auch der Unernst einen schweren Stand. (...) Es sind schlechte Zeiten für guten Humor."

Selbstverständlich wird in diesem Zusammenhang auch Frank Baumann erwähnt, der mit seiner genialen Sendung Ventil vor bald 10 Jahren das humoristische Verständnis der Schweiz völlig überfordert hat. "Frank Baumann ist überzeugt, dass der Schweizer generell erst dann lacht, wenn er sich ganz sicher sein kann, dass er auch darf. Das heisst: Die Pointe muss klar sein und die Situation dergestalt, dass man niemanden verletzt mit seinem Lachen. (...) In der Schweiz gilt für jede öffentliche Kommunikation: Seid nett zueinander. Auch über die Lebenden nur Gutes." Wer weiss, vielleicht hat uns die Entwicklung der letzten Jahre ja Humor gelehrt? Hoffen wir, dass SFDRS bald eine Reprise bringt!


I realise now that I haven't exactly over-reported my short trip to Madrid. That probably has something to do with my lack of enthusiasm for the place, which to no small degree may be attributed to the scorching heat there. Granted, I've only had a full day to spend there, but often times, you only confirm your first impression anyway. And since I've been to Madrid before a few years ago, that was my second impression in fact.

No doubt impressive and an excellent way to escape the heat are the art collections. I only visited Thyssen & the Prado, where a lot of copying seems to be happening:
Never saw that before, so that was quite interesting. I also enjoyed seeing those Goyas and of course El Grecos @home, so to speak. I definitely want to find out more about Goya's black paintings - very enigmatic! However, what absolutely took my breath away was Sargent's life size picture of Millicent, the Duchess of Sutherland, at the Museo Thyssen.
Naturally, the reproduction on your screen doesn't even begin to do her justice, if only for size. She's stunningly beautiful, elegant, arrogant & smart - I guess they just don't make them like that any more. I am entirely smitten, you can tell!
But that's enough gushing for the day. I'll leave you with yet another picture, this time from the great flight home. To the left, you can see lake Geneva and to the right, that would be lake Neuenburg.


Adopt a blog

I am considering adopting a Chinese blog in order to help them get around the ban on freedom of expression imposed by the Chinese government. Does anyone have any thoughts on / experience with that?


Holà de Madrid!

First of all, I need to get rid of a to do item from Art. Strangely enough, I forgot to include one of the weirdest pictures in my collage. So, here goes Che ...
Nice, isn't it!

Well, Madrid is also - and very hot! It was about 37 degrees today, which is definitely too much for a city. But nonetheless, I think I have seen most of it already. There doesn't seem to be much more to do than the museums, so I had another very "cultural" day today. Any hints? I still have half a day to spend here tomorrow morning. Oh, and I hear that NZZ is going to publish my letter to the editor - great!


Funday, bloody funday

That was a pretty good day today! It started off with mopping up the remainders of a class reunion of our highschool class of Saturday night. It was good fun with almost everybody showing up in the back of beyond of M's home in Bärschwil. Thanks to everybody who was involved in organising it - I am looking forward to seeing some pictures, and the digital version of that video tape of yonder!

Somewhat less fun was being woken my the marching practise of the Musikverein Schönenbuch at the ungodly hour of 10am on a Sunday morning - argh!

But all was well after a nice day in the sun and the pool and finally, a quick visit to Art Basel - and thanks to P for the ticket! A lot of the stuff on display is not worth much more than a passing smirk, but strolling through the exhibits is always fun, if only for the people watching. Here's a small collage of phone pictures taken. Next time you read from me here is probably coming from el la ciudad real de Madrid!


Das geringere Uebel?

Hier ist der Leserbrief, den ich soeben an die NZZ geschickt habe in Reaktion auf den skandalösen Kommentar Das geringere Uebel von rbl. in der heutigen NZZ. Leider ist der Kommentar im Gegensatz zum Artikel, auf den er sich bezieht, nicht online verfügbar. Mal sehen, ob er abgedruckt wird.

Es liegt mir fern, in den politischerseits so beliebten wie beliebigen Entrüstungschor einzustimmen. Dennoch ist es mir wichtig, meiner bitteren Enttäuschung ob des Kommentars von rbl. (NZZ 140)in der leidigen Sache der Buchpreisbindung Ausdruck zu geben. Es darf doch nicht sein, dass gerade die NZZ die gesetzliche Begründung eines neuen Kartells begrüsst, auch wenn dieses als das geringere Uebel im Vergleich zu andernfalls angeblich erforderlichen Förderungsmassnahmen bezeichnet wird. Zum einen hält diese Begründung einer sachlichen Ueberprüfung nicht stand, zum anderen sind es derart vorauseilende, vermeintlich konkordante Vorwegnahmen des Ergebnisses politischer Auseinandersetzung, welche zum galoppierenden Profilverlust der FDP wie auch zum Niedergang des Liberalismus in der Schweiz geführt haben. Genug des Sonntagsliberalismus - rbl., widerrufen Sie!

English eyes on Switzerland

His Honour points us to this recent BBC Radio 4 documentary on Switzerland, which is a fair view from abroad. With the notable exception of comrade Ziegler of course, whose rather, let's put it mildly, excentric views nobody takes seriously anymore. It is probably due to his excentricity that especially the British media seem to be so fond of him - in a jester Michael Moore kind of way. In the country, he's lost all credit, even in critical circles.

Another peculiarly English eye is represented in tiny The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss, which is an entertaining, yet no less astutely observed account of the author's years spent in Switzerland. This little book should be a must-read for every foreign visitor!


Nice going, Ma'am!

Next thing, we'll be seeing the Royal Warrant creeping up on those iPod boxes, and I cannot actually wait to see a picture of HRH with tell tale white earplugs! Great story, this!

Replicators & law

Remarkable! Some of the most interesting stories in the still current issue (the next one comes today, I think) of the Economist are freely available - good for you non-subscribers out there!

Read this story from the Technology Quarterly about fab labs, or personal fabricators. Think of a fab lab as a relatively inexpensive device akin to a printer, but with the important difference that it's output comes in three dimensions - a bit like the replicator. And now start imagining ...

Somewhat more down to earth is this very enlightening backgrounder on the relationship between US law and international law.


Quality newspaper

Now that the high drama surrounding the court proceedings concerning a strange US pop star's even stranger personality seems to have blown over in a huge non-sequitur, it is time to evaluate your preferred newspaper's attitude towards it and infer its quality orientation. There are three rough approaches:
  • Go with the flow irrespective of what the flow is worth. Consequently, aforementioned affair is frontpage material.
  • Recognise that the subject matter is next to irrelevant and certainly not international news, but be cognisant about the general public's interest in a past world star's fate and thus relegate it to Miscellany.
  • Ignore it altogether due to its irrelevance.
  • Being a bit of a fundamentalist occasionally, I personally sympathise with the last approach, but I can see that a quality paper (or editor) should go for the second one. Needless to say that my paper (NZZ) did and earned itself yet another mark of distinction. The prize for editorial ridicule goes to Telebasel, our (successful) backwater local TV station which did indeed think it necessary to regurgitate the topic, too! How do you rate your paper?

    ArtCast Basel

    Art|36|Basel is up and running (until Monday), and I still don't feel quite up to half a day of walking & talking after my three days in bed with a nasty summer flu!

    Meanwhile, I enjoy the fair in form of a podcast: ArtCast is a most commendable initiative by Barbara Strebel & Patrik Tschudin who allow us to listen in on their Art experience in a pretty unadulterated way. Great stuff! There's just one small thing: the mp3 file resides on their .mac homepage and is not in an RSS enclosure, or whatever those things are called, so my RSS reader is unable to deal with it directly. Unfortunately, I am not knowledgable enough to tell them what to do to put it right, but maybe somebody else could give them a hand? If I can ramp up my energy level to actually partake of the event, I'll certainly be on the lookout for some folks running about with a mike'd iPod! Perhaps you'll hear me soon?

    Oh yeah, lest I forget: the soap is gone - sold! Interestingly, it hasn't gone "south", we're told ... but il Cavaliere certainly has a good selection of front men.


    Betting the farm

    ... or not! In the current issue of Esquire (British edition), there's an article about financial spread betting which enables holders of UK real estate to hedge the value of their assets (and do many other, less adviseable things, really) by betting against, i.e. selling short the appropriate amount of their regional house index. Fascinating - why isn't that available in Switzerland?! Well, it's certainly worth looking into if I ever got that country manor in the Shires ... but then again, some due diligence of the counter party would be in order first.

    P.S. On second thought, though there is probably a cheaper way to achieve the same effect in the financial market directly since that spread betting bookmaker doesn't take any risk of its own, so it has to hedge it somewhere.

    Microsoft bans "human rights"

    ... and so does Yahoo & Google, according to this BBC story. Apparently, those firms actively support the Chinese government in its efforts to censor the internet, which also applies to blogs, of course. This is scandalous, especially for Google, which owns Blogger and has some interesting commandments. Democracy on the web works? BS (& I know it's out of context, but it works)!


    Marmalada Skies

    Interesting! I just read this NYT story on Apple's latest big move. As a departing shot, the story refers to the name of Steve Jobs' business jet's holding company as an example of his capacity to set himself apart from other corporate execs: the name is Marmalada Skies. A search of the web for that term reveals that this term appears to be closely connected to the Beatles. And what's the Beatles' label? Correct: Apple Corps Ltd. So now Jobs is coming full circle. And if you don't find this quite as funny as I do, then that's probably got to do with the nice summer cold that I am suffering from just now, complete with a lost voice, sore throat and raised temperature ...



    Do you like telemarketing? Thought so ...

    Here (via Tobistar) is an excellent Telemarketeer Countermeasures Script to reëstablish the balance of Mutually Assured Annoyance! I am looking forward to that next call now ... (is there a smiley with an evil grin?)

    Mani pulite

    Next week, the world's most prestigious contemporary art fair Art Basel will be opening its doors. Here's a sneak preview of what is likely going to be the most talked about exhibit (via Weltwoche.ch):
    You're right, it's an inconspicious looking piece of soap. It is the origin of its raw material that makes it rather extraordinary:
    Apparently, this plain looking piece of soap has been manufactured from the ... uhm, waste from Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's liposuction that the man had performed on him a while ago. The piece of soap is on sale for EUR 15K (ca. $18000) from Italian artist Gianni Motti. Knowing the track record of its originator, I doubt whether it will be very effective in its primary purpose.

    Si non e vero, e ben trovato ...


    I've always been wondering about the peculiar rôle that the Gallipoli campaign still holds in the British mind after 90 years, and even more so in the Australian and the New Zealander's of course. That's why I went to see the new Turkish documentary Gallipoli with T tonight.

    The movie is an old fashioned incarnation of the documentary genre. Knowing me, you'll be well aware that old fashioned is not a pejorative in my vocabulary. It is very carefully done, explaining the campaign's political & strategic background, using a lot of original quotes from participants on both sides of the battle line. While I do not know the details of course, I don't think it can be classified as partisan at all. They also resisted the temptation to turn this into a historic action movie - maybe with a little help from budgetary restrictions. The harrowing battle scenes were only alluded to ever so delicately - a quality that's hardly ever seen any more.

    Unfortunately, they were showing the original language version (Turkish) with German subtitles, and not the English language one. While I enjoyed listening to the Turkish narration from an accoustic point of view (naturally I didn't understand a word of it), the quality of the subtitles was quite horrendous. There has to be a way of punishing subtitle translators for what they're putting us through, isn't there?

    So, I still don't know much more about Gallipoli's peculiar rôle, but I know a lot more about its circumstances. I'll be looking out for more in the new Churchill Museum which I intend to visit on my next trip to London. But who knows, perhaps we'll get some insights from our English Kiwi correspondent before then?



    Starfrosch has issued a fun podcast on the subject whether Dub enhances milk production in cows (up to 10% guaranteed!) - cool listening with subtly (well, maybe not) ironic comments in heavily accented German, making fun of our occasional agricultural backwateriness. Have fun!

    On the matter of cows: My home village is hitting the news (subscription)! Actually, this one is not funny: Last Friday, a cow has been mutilated at her udders. This is already the third such incident in the region in the last couple of days, with the previous incidents involving similar attacks on horses. Sick bastards! But what's even more worrying is that psychiatrists say that these could be precursory acts of a sick mind, gathering courage for the real thing, an attack on a human. Let's hope they're wrong and the bastard can be caught.

    In fact, this place is having a string of negative news lately: There are two well known chemical waste disposal sites in the immediate French neighbourhood, which Greenpeace is now pushing for a decontamination of. Since those sites appear to have been inert ever since their dump in the 50ies & 60ies, the locals (including myself) have been pretty mum about it. But I guess it's better if it gets taken care of, seeing that I live only a few hundred meters downstream ...


    Children's art

    This stuff is spooky in a Stephen King kind of way.

    Collective perception

    The mechanics of collective perception are forever fascinating. They are particularly evidently at work in collectively traumatic situations, such as the Holocaust, Armenia 1915, Tiananmen 1989, Rwanda 1994.

    The most interesting case in point right now is related to the 1995 massacre of about 8000 civilian men & boys in Srebrenica, perpetrated by Serb forces. This is a well known fact which is the object of proceedings before the ICTY. Despite of, or maybe because of mounting international pressure, the Serb public opinion has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that fact and to deliver, let alone prosecute war criminals.

    But this is changing fast now. In the wake of the recent unearthing of incriminating video footage a few days ago, Serb public opinion is performing an amazing about-face, complete with presidential apology and arrests of suspects who were able to roam freely for the last couple of years. It wouldn't be very surprising if war criminals on the "run" would be found and delivered quite soon.

    While this is an exciting and entirely welcome development which will do a ton of good for the Serb public image and their collective spirit, I am very curious as to how it may have come to pass. I am looking forward to seeing more backgrounders like this.


    A good Sunday

    Well, this was a good Sunday, all in all. First, all the referenda went my way, both in the borough as well as in the country as a whole: The accession to the Schengen & Dublin treaties passed rather comfortably just as well as the new law on domestic partnership & two other cantonal matters of far less consequence. To make it even more satisfactory, the rate of participation was unusually high. So all is well, and for once, those loony scaremongerers didn't get their way.

    To celebrate, have a look at this bit of satirical Swiss TV (German & DivX) which actually is quite good! (via timbuk2)

    And then, we got to belatedly celebrate my sister's birthday in her garden. The weather may not have been quite as nice as it could have been, but it was great fun regardless! Pity that my nephew Tomi wasn't there - while he wasn't elected, he still made a respectable 3491 votes for the Green Party in the Basle elections for the citizens' council. Congratulations!

    Oh yeah, & don't forget, while today's referenda may be over, I still want your opinion on introducing English as the 5th language of the country in Switzerland!


    Legalise English

    I herewith propose to amend Art. 4 of the Swiss Federal Constitution to contain German, French Italian, Retoromantsh and English as languages of the country.

    Such a move would have lots of advantages: For starters, it's just a reflection of reality. Just look at commercials & day to day language. When people from different parts of the country meet, they tend to resort to speaking English because that's the second language most people have the best active command of. The traditional federal practice of everybody speaking his mother tongue with the expectation that everyone understands it passively is slowly disappearing from daily use. Then we would be able to end an unspeakably boring debate about which language should be the second language to be taught at school. And thirdly, such a move would be perceived as rather innovative & daring.

    There's not many arguments against it. The cost argument about having to translate official documents in yet another language can be moderated by a phased introduction. But I suspect that very many documents would then be drafted in English first. The only serious argument - which is one of fiat, not of ratio - is that English is not in our tradition or history. To that, I say: Let's put it there!

    Please give me your vote in the new online survey in the sidebar!

    Political blogging

    Effective this week, blogs are a political force to be reckoned with in Europe, too (not sure whether that's true for Switzerland as well).

    What makes me say that? According to this BBC story, blogs have made an important contribution to the success of the No-campaigns in both France & the Netherlands. Etienne Chouard's blog (French, naturellement) is mentioned as an example: Being a highschool teacher (formerly of law), he's done a rather lengthy assessment of the Constitutional Treaty and comes to a negative conclusion. Interestingly, the conclusion is drawn from the viewpoint of statehood, i.e. the Constitutional Treaty doesn't go far enough. So, on a very cursory first read, it doesn't seem to make any scare mongering points about globalisation / liberalisation, which have been quoted as the main reason for the no. There is of course an agenda for that interpretation, but let's not go there now.

    We'll see what happens in Switzerland. The Anti-Schengen/Dublin scare mongerers have certainly discovered anonymous spam mailing as a means of propaganda distribution - interestingly with non-Swiss email addresses that do not receive answers either.


    No to Noise!

    Obviously, I have a thing for headphones by land, sea & air!

    This morning, I bought a set of noise reduction readphones from macally to replace the Sennheiser set that I've misplaced somewhere on a trip. You see, I don't like the low-frequency hum that usually comes with transportation of any kind, so there's two ways to get rid of it, either by in-ear headphones, which I cannot stand, or by active anti-noise headphones producing de-phased anti-noise which cancels out a good bit of that sort of noise. I just love the smart technical concept, and it works! When I saw the price tag of the macally set, I was a bit doubtful as to its quality, because the Sennheiser (as well as the Bose) cost about thrice as much, but I got it anyway - fortunately! It is really very comfortable to wear, sounds good (although the trebles seem a bit weakish) and does a rather good job at noise reduction. Plus it doesn't have the silly battery stick that's connected with the Sennheiser. The only negative point is when you have low-frequency short noise peaks like they sometimes occur on a train. The macally has some latency when the signal's gone, so you actually get to hear it with a minor delay. But it's rare, so that's ok. But wait, there's another minus: my iPod was running out of power in the afternoon, but when I tried switching from the macally back to the conventional headphones that came with the iPod, I got another hour or so of music out of the charge. Very strange - evidently, the macally requires more power. I'll have to look into that.

    As for the seaborne headset, there's news, too! Finis has finally found out that their SwiMP3 does not work well with Mac OS X, so they patched their devices to work with Panther (at least). For me that means I have to find a cost-effective way of exchanging my old, never used one with a patched one. Fortunately, they offered to make the switch next time I am in the US, which is probably going to be DC in September. I hope it'll work out!


    Just say No

    (aes via pieceoplastic)
    That's the kind of advice many Europeans seem to be following these days. Today the Dutch have overwhelmingly joined the French in saying No to the EU Constitutional Treaty, which is clinically dead now.

    It appears that the bet I've placed with an EU lobbyist some two years ago is paying off now. There are many good material reasons for not accepting the draft treaty as a European Constitution. One, it's definitely not a Constitution in the traditional sense, establishing statehood for Europe - in fact, it is (or was) an update to the Treaties of Rome with some new features to accomodate the expanded Union. Two, it was almost exclusively an executive led project which was supposed to bring the EU closer to the citizen. Yet, there is no sign of a European citizenry in the ratification procedure. Three, the text lacks the elegance & brevity of a real Constitution - sorely. In Philadelphia, I bought a facsimile of the US Constitution with its seven articles which can be put on one parchment.

    So, that's the formalistic argument, which certainly does not justify to kill the project, unless you're really pedantic. I know for a fact that the French are not (not so sure about the Dutch). But unfortunately, there's more. One is the ratification procedure by referendum in some countries. We know our referenda here in Switzerland, having a couple of them each quarter. Believe me, the best thing to do if you want to get a No is to tell the electorate that their only choice is to say yes. Then there's the current political & economic situation in most continental European countries which are in denial (both, governments & electorates) about their serious need to open up & reform & get their government finances in order. A climate of fear does not allow for courageous projects, unless there is a perspective for change & strong leadership. Strong leadership? Just look at that loser couple Chirac & Schröder. And as to the perspective of change: the draft Treaty is the outcome of a long process of horse-trading and thus a convolute of institutional rules & material policies devoid of any potential inspiration. Consequently people have been voting against their current dissatisfaction rather than against the Treaty itself. Thus, given a bit of time & an upturn in the economy, they might even vote for it without any changes to it, if that were not so outrageously undemocratic...

    But here is my most important criticism of the Treaty: As a would be Constitution, it should only contain institutional rules & procedures that are devised for eternity (in principle). Never should there be material policies, which are prone to interested parties' support and opposition. For hence comes the probably fatal equation of the Treaty with much despised globalisation and vulture (or was it locusts?) capitalism. Which of course disrespects the fact that we're all locusts!

    So, what happens now? Will the EU brake down and will the Euro be abolished? Of course not. The EU will continue to work as an institution. The Treaty however will be shelved with key provisions being put into place pragmatically. And the pressure to reform will keep building regardless.