If this answers all your questions already, then you don't need to read on.

For everybody else, I saw The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy yesterday, and fortunately it was the English version.

So, what do I think of it? Well, it's been a while since my last exposure to HG2G in its various other incarnations, so I forgot a lot of the material funniness & whimsicality of it and simply judged it on its merits alone, without reference to the original : Quite nice - (suppressed yawn, but don't miss the credits!) - Next! But then, it hit me: Wait a sec, that cannot be it! After all, they're playing an expectations game based on the original's success, so the standalone performance just won't cut it.

And indeed, some further research proved the movie's non-existence in all parallel universes: They simply cut out most of the really funny stuff, especially the jokes. So that's what accounted for the suppressed yawn! I really like this review with its conclusion of vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad. About the only thing that was really good was Stephen Fry's voice with his Jeevesish accent - I wonder whether they dubbed it for the north-american market, where I presume even this highly watered down version earned blank faces mostly. Correspondent's observations, anyone?

Sofia pictures

Finally, I got round to sorting through my pictures of Sofia. I've had a great time there, mostly thanks to the hospitality of my "guides" Rosy, Plamen & Kalin - thanks very much!

I've got the impression that Sofia is a unique place with great potential. No other European capital can boast that intricate a mix of a major orthodox community with important turkish & roma minorities, combined with half a millennium's history of ottoman rule which almost seems a short episode compared to the place's long history. Economically, Bulgaria has a lot of catching up to do of course, but that's the potential, and they seem to be doing just fine. There is one major risk, though, and that is the huge orthodox majority dominating the tiny minorities of Turks & Roma - looking at the nationalistic Ataka movement, that could even become dangerous. Occasionally, I even got the impression of ethnic relations being tinged by more than just a touch of racism. But I guess these are issues Bulgaria just has to work through and find a productive way of integrating all groups in its potentially rich identity!



I freely admit that the number of hip-hop or rap records in my CD collection is limited. Very limited. No surprise I felt slightly out of place entering Basle specialist store Ace Records with its lots of vinyl & other pertinent goodies. Nevertheless, I quite dig the sound of German rapper Doppel-U who produced a very cool album Zeitgeist using texts of German poet Friedrich Schiller in celebration of the Schillerjahr. You can get some of the tracks in Doppel-U's download section. Classical education meets the ghetto - check it out!


Sour grapes

You know that the sour grape season (a.k.a. sour cucumbers, if translated directly from the German) is in full swing when there's a rather longish report on Swiss TV prime time news about Economiesuisse's efforts to promote online the campaign in favour of the forthcoming referendum on free movement of persons, or Personenfreizügigkeit, as it were, but by using the opponent motto in a kind of trap: Personenfreizügigkeit Nein. The only problem with that smart move is that the site is not found by Google etc - only the opponents' real sites. But since I am all for it, I'll help by linking to it in this post. Maybe other supportive bloggers will also?

Since we're in media critical mood, let's add yet another useless bit: It was mentioned on the radio today that Deutschlandradio Kultur would be broadcasting in Swiss German in celebration of the Swiss national holiday on 1 August, but that this station unfortunately could not be received in Switzerland. What they forgot to mention of course is that the station has a live stream available in a number of formats.

Mixed stuff

On the way back from Sofia, I stumbled across a couple of things I'd like to share with you. First is La Claustra, probably one of the most unusual hotels you can find. It is a converted alpine fortress of the Swiss army in the Gotthard massive. And for all the money in the world, you cannot buy a room with a view ...

Secondly, I came across a report (NZZ) about a research project by Indem which has found that since 2001, the total amount of money paid by Russian businesses for corruption purposes has increased eightfold while the average payment has shot up thirteenfold! Well done, Vladimir ...

Thirdly, here (German, subscription) is a very good article by Michael Lind describing a liberal, technology-based scenario of our planet supporting 9 billion people sharing today's US average standard of living. And here (English, subscription) is the original article. It's very refreshing, not least because it breaks quite a few mantras of political correctness ...

That's it for now. More about Bulgaria later. Meanwhile, here's my updated European countries map from myworld. How embarrassing having to admit that I've never been to Wales, of all places ...

Your travel type: Travel Yup

The Travel Yup likes exotic and adventurous travel, but prefers big cities with fast paced life. He has a keen interest in other cultures and always brings home a few souvenirs.

Shopping in Bangkok, getting a tailor made suite in Kuala Lumpur, that's the kind of thing the Travel Yup is into. Even though he likes to get away, he prefers his travels to be comfortable.

top destinations:

Hong Kong

stay away from:

Ciudad Perdida
Darien Gap
get your own travel profile



In order to hear a performance of the Alexander Nevsky Choir, which is known as the best orthodox choir in Bulgaria, I attended an orthodox service at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Saturday - a very impressive place indeed! As was the service, of course, even though, if you think that the roman-catholic church is conservative, think again! Compared to the orthodox church, it's highly progressive.

For starters, I don't know much, if anything, about the orthodox liturgy, but observing the service as an outsider was very instructive. And of course it reminded me of that time when I was the best man for my friend F.'s orthodox wedding in a tiny historical church just outside Kiev (Ukraine). That was a memorable, albeit somewhat strenuous experience, since it included holding a rather heavy brass crown over the groom's head for the duration of the service at a temperature that felt like 50 degrees ...

The language used is a mediaeval slavonic bulgarian that hardly anyone understands anymore nowadays. Then, the priests (or popes, I think - all 8 of them) usually turn their backs towards their congregation (which incidentally was quite small, and standing (there's no seats), and interestingly enough including the outgoing Bulgarian Prime Minister & former king, Simeon II Sakskoburgotski with two bodyguards - there's a government crisis going on just now, don't you know). Also, I don't think there is an actual sermon given - the service seems to consist of a rather byzantine (literally!) sequence of scripture readings, benedictions, sung interaction between popes & choir, and several incense equipped walkabouts. Instead of the communion, people line up to kiss an icon, which is evidently something done very regularly. Another thing that is to be kissed is a visiting pope's hand. It might even have been Patriarch Maxim, judging by his looks, age & the reverence paid to him - what's more, his residence is just across the street, so he probably just drops in occasionally.

As for the music, that was altogether otherworldly. Naturally, it is only vocal since there are no instruments in an orthodox service. And there is no polyphony either (that was considered sinfully profane), but the singing is extremely polychromatic and goes straight to your heart. Indescribable, so I won't try it.


First report from Sofia

This is the first installment of my report from Sofia, and it's of mixed blessings. First, I arrived at the Sheraton Sofia, sure to have found a very nice place to stay for the couple of days - only to find out that the place does not have broadband internet. Period. Obviously, that does not do for a top rate business travellers' hotel, which I made sure to make the hotel manager aware of. He is a very nice Greek person who only arrived at his post 5 days ago and is already in the process of setting up a wireless broadband connection, so he sure has his priorities right. Good - even though that won't do me much good for the duration of my stay. So now I am sitting in the reception area of the Radisson, to which I will be returning periodically, I am afraid ...

Off again

After Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna & Madrid, I am off to Sofia tomorrow to talk about my pet subject of pension funds. I am very much looking forward to the trip as such since I've never been to Bulgaria before. And there's more firsts: I'll actually be flying Lufthansa for the first time (not sure, though). The timing couldn't be better for that because Lufthansa and the Swiss (frequent flyer) Travelclub are in full cooperation only since yesterday! Hmm, that's about it. More from Bulgaria!



You have to watch yesterday's Rocketboom, it's hilarious!! And since it's totally easy to subscribe to on iTunes, you might just go for it anyway.

In other news, I've been to the chiropractor's for the first time today. She found out that my left shoulder is quite the cramped wreck, which is the main reason for its limited flexibility. But she says she'll be able to work it out, and I believe it! She made me lie down on something that looked very suspiciously like a torture instrument & moved my head around, which resulted in some very weird cracking sounds deep within. But if felt good - highly commendable!


The next pandemic

Foreign Affairs has an interesting, yet rather chilly section on the threat from an influenza pandemic which might already have broken out as you read this. Particularly interesting are the practical scenarios to be put in place if the pandemic struck now, in one or in ten years' time. Strangely, they seem to have missed out on a country which is also in the business of influenza vaccination - Switzerland's Berna Biotech has been doing that for quite a while now.

Bond. James Bond.

Did you know that Bond actually was half Swiss, born in Zürich & raised for a couple of years in a large house in the countryside outside Basle, Switzerland? I wonder where exactly that might have been ... find out more for yourself in Silverfin.


Swiss Apple Store!

Brilliant! According to this rather reliable looking FACTS-report (via stefanbucher.net), Apple plans to bring a flagship store to a top address (Bahnhofstrasse?) in Zürich! Which would make it the first continental European Apple store in my book. The spokesperson is reluctant to comment on the time horizon, but FACTS expects that the launch will not take place this year. A bit strange though is the mentioning of the number of Apple stores going up to 125 until September - the Swiss store included. Whatever - it's great to have a Genius Bar in Zürich soon!

Precious Ramotswe

Believe it or not, but that's actually a name, albeit of a fictitious person: It's the name of the very first lady detective in Botswana & the hero of McCall Smith's best selling The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Although the story entails a pleasant enough change of perspective (picture Miss Marple as a youngish, gravitationally challenged, African lady in Botswana - 'nough said), it's not quite my cup of tea, however amazing the totally different beat of the
language and the story's atmosphere is, compared to the same author's The Sunday Philosophy Club. As you can see from my rather pleased earlier review of that particular book, which I intend to follow btw, I rather prefer the urban, intellectually stimulating to the rustic.

Logbuch Arlesheim

Who said there were no political blogs in Switzerland? Apparently, the well written Logbuch Arlesheim (German) is just that, and with its wicked sense of humour and critical observation, it even has an impact in the real world of the sleepy, well off Basle suburb of Arlesheim. So much so that even the Basler Zeitung notices (subscription) - wow! Too bad that it's anonymous, though ... but I suppose that that is only a question of time, because I wouldn't really be surprised if the authors ended up forming a political party. Finally, it also lacks an hides its RSS feed well!


Suppression, China, Oil

Final pointer to an extraordinarily interesting article in this Economist (subscription). My hunch concerning the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation seems to inch its way into geopolitics ... and it is hardly being noticed!


Going nuclear?

The Economist has published a very timely special report on the nuclear power industry in its current issue. It's particularly timely for Switzerland as well since the debate about nuclear power has been reïnitiated here very recently.

Obviously the debate is a very important one, particularly given the long lead times of building power plants, and the even longer half life period of those plants' output ... I am not convinced it's a good thing that the nuclear power industry is aiming for a revival, this time even with the uncomfortable support of the environmentalist faction because of nuclear power's alleged zero carbon emission. This allegation is simply not true because mining & refining uranium requires a lot of fossil fuel (would that be grey carbon, I wonder?), so it's a question of degree again. I seem to remember to have read somewhere that the carbon content in a nuclear MW is comparable to conventionally produced power on fossil base. Strangely, the Economist does not talk about this, nor does it take into its economic consideration the very high cost of low probability accidents which are externalised to the public because there is no insurance protection available for that kind of liability. In order to be able to take sides, I would need to have these two issues clarified as well.



Name rings a bell, does it? It certainly did for me just now when I came across a reference to Biggles-style goggles. Nostalgia-time, big time! Captain James Bigglesworth a.k.a. Biggles is the hero of a wartime series of children's books featuring the adventures of the fighter pilot hero all around the globe. Back in highschool, when geeky me was auxiliary school librarian, I raided the shelves for every available tome of that series - back then, in German of course. Dashing good read it was, too, if I recall correctly, and not putting too much weight on the occasional imperialist (sic!) jingoism. That's probably why it would come across as rather dated nowadays - and yet, there is the International Biggles Association!


Blogs & Medienkritik

Eigentlich interessiert mich das Thema ja nicht wirklich so sehr, aber ich nehme doch erstaunt zur Kenntnis, dass die Schweizer Blogosphäre die am Freitag in der Medienbeilage der NZZ veröffentlichten beiden (!) guten (!!) Artikel zum Thema offenbar gerade nicht zur Kenntnis genommen hat. Vielleicht hilft dieser Eintrag ja - sofern er überhaupt gelesen wird ... und überhaupt bin ich froh, dass ich das BBQ abgesagt habe, wenn ich so nach draussen schaue!


Here (German) is an excellent text, advocating sobriety in the face of terrorism, if it were at all possible. The sobriety advocated is of a rational kind, seeing that the risk of being the victim of a terrorist act is much smaller than that of being involved in a traffic accident for instance. However, sobriety must not become indolence towards victims, once the inevitable happened. And yet, the repeat use of the subjunctive indicates the author's awareness of the danger involved in that approach: cynicism.

What can we do in the face of the terrorist threat? The political response by the authorities is one thing of course, althought the strategies chosen are open to debate, and must remain so by all means. Seeing that the new breed of terrorism is perpetrated by loosely, maybe even only ideologically connected cells instead of a hierarchical organisation with a command & control infrastructure that can be destroyed, I wonder whether there is a proportionate citizen response that is not subject to the dangers of vigilantism. I suppose vigilance & loyalty towards open societies may have a particularly appropriate place for instance in immigrant groups where fundamentalism & extremism can thrive if unchecked. For the rest, it is trying to remain sober, of course, and engaging those in debate who mistakenly think that terrorism is the weapon of the weak against the strong - it is the rage of the angry against the defenceless and innocent. "It is an evil means to an evil end." (Sir Jonathan Sacks)

Die Verrohung der Seele

"Dummheit entsteht aus der Trägheit des Gehirns, Bosheit aus der Trägheit des Herzens. Das Böse ist nicht ein Mangel an Gutem. Es ist eine Möglichkeit, die Menschen jederzeit gegeben ist. Und da Indolenz der Normalzustand des Gattungswesens ist, liegt das Böse stets näher als die Mühsal der Tugend. Es ist ein treuherziger Irrtum, Akte des Quälens und Tötens hinterliessen bei den Mordbrennern eine tiefe Wunde, die sorgsam kuriert werden müsste. Dass Täter von einem Trauma befreit werden müssten, gehört zu den Illusionen der therapeutischen Gesellschaft. Sie erträgt die Erkenntnis nicht, dass Verbrecher ohne bleibende Schäden weiterzuleben pflegen."

Der ausgezeichnete Artikel von Wolfgang Sofsky steht im Zusammenhang mit Srebrenica und ist nur Abonnenten der Weltwoche zugänglich.


Neugier, Geschwätzigkeit & Gedächtnis

Hier gibt's einen lesenswerten kleinen Essay über's bloggen, der sich durch seine - ja, ich sage es so - literarische Qualität wohltuend von den meisten bisherigen Artikeln zum Thema abhebt.

Since we're in the business of curiousity & garrulity, read this calm report about how Londoners cope the day after.


Blood, toil, tears & sweat

The dust has settled and the carnage is tallied. My heartfelt condolences go to the families of the victims of today's attack on London, and my best wishes to those who have been hurt. May they get well soon. As for the rest, suffice it to say that they picked the wrong target. It's time to quote Sir Winston Churchill again:

Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

this is the biz

My previous post was about time travel. I am just back from a time journey of a different kind - the rather discreet Bank for International Settlements, an international organisation banking for central banks, is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary by means of a public exhibition which entails a guided tour around the very recently refurbished "public" (i.e. for those few people who normally have access to the building) area. And that's where the time journey bit kicks in: Although the interior redesign has been done by our local world champions Herzog & de Meuron who evidently do not even need a website, it has been done in an absolutely horrible gentrified 70ies style! This may please some of the good folk over at Wallpaper*, but certainly not me. I wonder whether this is indicative of central bankers' retro oriented taste, or, contrarily, of their being at the avant garde - I hope it's the former!

OK, that much for rambling. Otherwise, the exhibition is surprisingly good. There is a comprehensive section on the institution's long & complex history which does not spare the difficult wartime period, including for example the Czech gold affair which is documented with the original transfer files. Following the timeline, it is easy to see how the BIS adjusted from the rigid world of central banks under the gold standard via the highly secretive regime of the Bretton Woods system to today's free flotation of exchange rates. The change is easy to see now, but it was probably not easy to accomplish at the time. Today, the BIS has completely relinquished its incumbent rôle as clearing house for German war reparations and operates as a highly liquid commercial bank serving central banks as well as a discreet meeting point for central bankers and provider & facilitator of research into financial system stability & regulation (hence Basel II).

There is also a section describing today's financial system and the BIS' rôle in trying to maintain its stability, but naturally this can only really scratch the surface of this highly technical matter. The evidently fundamentalist people who were distributing flyers voicing their opposition to the BIS probably haven't even gone so far as to try & understand what it's all about. Their critique is really quite out of proportion and thus almost comical, especially since they apply double standards themselves: They accuse the BIS of lack of public accountability & transparency, but they don't sign their flyer and just give us no_biz@gmx.ch as a point of contact - rather cowardly, I'd say.

Personally, I am happy to have the BIS in Basle and would still be a proud stockowner if those stocks held by the general public hadn't been bought out at a very healthy profit back in 2001 ... thanks for that, too! If you want to go & see the exhibition, you'd better hurry - it only lasts until Tuesday, July 12th.


Free will & the grandpa paradoxon

If you're interested in science fiction, quantum physics &c, then you've certainly come across the brain wracking grandfather paradoxon arising out of the concept of time travel: A time traveller could go back in time and kill his own grandfather, thereby preventing his own subsequent conception.

Here is a quantum mechanical, thus somewhat technical paper (via NZZ) that introduces an interesting solution to this paradoxon which also impinges on the free will vs. determinism debate. For the philosophical bits, cut right through the equations to section V (p. 10): (...) it is perfectly logical to assume that one has many choices and that one is free to take any one of them. Until
a choice is taken, the future is not determined. However, once a choice is taken, and it leads to a particular future, it was inevitable. It could not have been otherwise. The boundary conditions that the future events happen as they already have, guarantees that they must have been prepared for in the past. So, looking backwards, the world is deterministic. However, looking forwards, the future is probabilistic.


War of the Worlds

Yesterday, I went to see War of the Worlds with A & R. But I already forgot all about it, so only go see it if you want to have a 2 hours amnesic blank in your memory.

Trying to be a little bit more specific, the film doesn't add anything to what its Wellesian predecessor has already shown us about Wells' novel. It's really just an updated version with better special effects, contemporary gear, mediocre acting & a dysfunctional family story as an aside. Plus it probably brings the church of scientology a windfall of a million or two, so it's really quite redundant. The only positive is that its a rather authentic remake of a sci-fi classic which will probably give lots of teachers of English the opportunity of having a few low preparation intensity classes & a pleasant outing ...

Here is the famous 1938 wireless (i.e. radio!) broadcast by Orson Welles, which notoriously created a panic across the US because of its authenticity.


McCall Smith

I have a bad habit when I am having dinner on my own - I like to read, especially when the food is not such that it occupies all my senses, as sadly was often the case in Madrid. So I studied the the latest edition of the University of Edinburgh Journal which has notably entered its 80th year of continuous publication. One article by Prof. Alexander McCall Smith caught my attention. McCall Smith is a professor of law at Edinburgh University, and being an alumnus of that proud faculty, I know him. I was not aware however of the fact that he has become a highly successful writer of crime fiction, and I resolved right there to read some of his lighter works.

In German literature, there is a sharp distinction between real, serious literatur (or E-Literatur, where E stands for earnest), which is debated by literary critics in the Literarisches Quartett, and then, there's the stuff people actually read (U-Literatur), if they feel so inclined at all. It's just an aside that the German book trade thinks it's necessary to maintain a price fixing cartel in order to sustain literary diversity - after all, people need to be told what's good by their editors.

McCall Smith's The Sunday Philosophy Club would fall right in between these categories. It's a wonderfully quirky & humane story about a young man falling from the gods in Edinburgh's Usher Hall, involving insider trading, whisky tasting at The Vaults and Isabel Dalhousie, the editor of The Journal of Applied Ethics as the heroïne amateur sleuth perfunctorily going into investigative mode. Her being a philosopher at heart, the reader is constantly treated to philosophical tangents & conundrums at every turn, and it's an entirely enjoyable experience! Have you ever heard of crime fiction going into some detail of Hume, Constant, Schönberg (I know), Kant (frequently!), Wittgenstein and others? The only real comparison I know is Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey stories, which I devoured during my time in Edinburgh. This is the same league, with a subtle sense of humour: In a purely philosophical sense, it must be very demanding to be German. Far better to be French (irresponsible and playful) or Greek (grave, but with a light touch). (...) If x, then y. But y? I highly recommend this!

Welcome back, Internet!

Yay! You may have been wondering what happened to me during the last few days, but then again, you probably haven't ... anyway: I've returned from London on Thursday to a thunderstorm & lightning striken house where much of the electr(on)ic infrastructure was/is out of order after a massive electric storm has hit during my absence. Right now, I've managed to come back online on a makeshift connection to the web until the repair man comes around on Monday. It's just one of those occasions where you realise how dependent on those modern amenities you have become!

So I guess I should try & catch up with a bit of posting. The London trip was very satisfactory all around. The garden reception at the friends of ROSL Arts was very pleasant, & I made some new acquaintances, who might eventually introduce me to the Lansdowne Club which looks quite attractive because of its 25m indoors pool (in central London!) and a snooker table. We'll see. The subsequent meetings also went very well I think, and I am looking forward to their follow ups.

The trip found its most instructive conclusion in a 2.5 hours visit to the new Churchill Museum. Let me just give you one important piece of advice before I go into more detail: give it more time than I did! Fortunately, I have already seen the Cabinet War Rooms before, so I could dash right through to the actual Churchill Museum, but even so, I was rather pressed for time. The museum is very comprehensive and has a lot of multimedia exhibits & modern technology. That's all very well, but if you really want to extract their message, then each piece takes quite a bit of time. Some of the user interfaces take a bit of getting used to as well. The museum's underground location, while not very visually attractive, certainly fosters concentration on the exhibition. Throughout, the mood is a bit oppressive, though, and the museum definitely lacks the grandeur of some of the other places in town. Let's just put it that way: Thanks to its location, the museum designers would have had a really hard time to succumb to the temptation of giving in to the personality cult surrounding Churchill. So they created a very factual, informative museum that does probably not fully reflect Churchill's emotional weight in the public perception. If you're interested in Churchill and haven't seen the Cabinett war rooms, then you'll have to give the museum at least a full afternoon. That way, the fairly steep entrance fee of £10 is justified, but I'd say there should be separate tickets.