Madam President

Yes! On the way back from an event in Zürich, I watched Commander in Chief and all I can say is: With that kind of a President, the USA might reëstablish her respectability. Competent, confident, intelligent, engaging & charming - all traits that the current one is sorely missing. But it's still fiction, of course. Also, I wonder whether we are going to get some more political substance. At any rate, it's good entertainment, and if it flops in the US as a liberal fantasy (which I hope it will not), then it would definitely do very well in Europe.


ID in der Schweiz!

Nein, es geht nicht darum, dass ich meine Identitätskarte verloren habe (das ist ein ganz anderes Thema) - laut dieser hervorragenden Kontext-Sendung auf DRS 2 hat unsere lokale Herde christlicher Fundamentalisten Blut gerochen und will nun mit einem eigenen Propaganda-Verein den "grossen" evangelikalen Vorbildern von jenseits des Atlantiks nacheifern und die Schöpfungslehre in den Biologieunterricht bringen! Biologie! Dank der unterschiedlichen Ausrichtung der Grundsätze Meinungsäusserungsfreiheit und Trennung von Kirche und Staat werden sie hierzulande aber hoffentlich erfolglos bleiben. Das einzige, was die Progenetiker tatsächlich erreichen, ist, dass die ansässigen Amerika-Kritiker ein weiteres Cliché-Argument verlieren: Wir sind im allgemeinen mindestens genauso dumm wie die Amis - nur langsamer!


Commander in Chief - Mrs. President

In a few hours on ABC, Commander in Chief will go on air for the first time. It's the story of the first female US president. That in itself & the public reactions thereto will be quite interesting, especially since the series puts some meat on the abstract concept for the benefit of a broader audience, perhaps in preparation for Hillary C.? Just the thing the Germans should have done a few months ago instead of the rather pathetic & untimely Du bist Deutschland-campaign, which will be utterly ineffective in these times of political chaos & has a rather distasteful collectivist undercurrent to it. Could those pundits really be right who insinuate that a considerable part of the German electorate did not choose CDU/CSU because their candidate for chancellor is a woman? Is Germany really that immature? In that broader context, the latest episode of the BBC's Talking Movies programme was very interesting: It deals with the state's influence on Hollywood (and vice versa). But this is about as heavy as film gets on the Captain's channel: Don't miss today's episode of rocketboom - it's hilarious!


There & back again

Borrowing from Tolkien, I am glad to say that I am back home after an uneventful trip. That is, the travelling was uneventful, but it's not at all true for the sojourn in Washington DC. I was very busy all the time, so I didn't really have the time & energy to post. Right now, I have a bit of time, but energy is fading quickly. But of course, I am very glad to return to a country which has made the right decision for a change ...

Lufthansa is an ok carrier, although it lacks a bit the fin de siècle, Titanic-style mood of Swiss - you judge for yourself whether that's a good thing or not. Unfortunately, Flynet was kaputt on the way back. Otherwise you would have been able to read a mile high post. Too bad. In exchange, I had a really good night's sleep, which is probably to no small extent due to the massage device built into those seats - splendid! Also, I had really interesting seat neighbours on both ways.

Having all those meetings during the short time I was there means that I couldn't possibly get a comprehensive impression of the place. I was totally blown away though by the extensive email guide that I received from Kirk - thank you so much! I did try to do as much of it as possible, but there simply wasn't enough time. Well, there's always a next time - perhaps? My very general first impression of the city is so - so, though. The place clearly carries a government stamp with a large part of its population being bureaucrats or diplomats. Power & its continued struggles is also quite thick in the air without really being moderated by much cultural or intellectual refinement. The operative term that comes to mind is bland, but not without a certain French-inspired pomp (I am talking about the monuments). I wonder who would be more insulted if I compared Washington to Paris? Mind you, I don't! More later ... probably much later. Over & out.


Punctuation is hot!

Here's a wonderfully manic ode to the semicolon, no less (via Whimsy). Very much worth your while, especially since The Style Guide is able to summarise it so succinctly: Don't overdo them.

Be that as it may - on Wednesday morning, I shall be leaving for a place where the semicolon generally seems to be frowned upon, with the notable exception of the ode's author, of course. I am going to spend the rest of the week in Washington DC, and I am looking forward to it greatly since I've never been there before & I am going to meet up with lots of friends. If you have any suggestions on what to see or do outside of the conference I am there for, they'd be much appreciated!


Flat tax flattened?

One of the most deplorable collateral casualties in the wake of the German election is likely going to be the concept of flat tax. After the flogging that its proponent Kirchhof, the professor from Heidelberg has received, no politician in his right mind will want to touch the subject with a barge pole any more, and all for the wrong reasons. The German left has succeeded in stigmatising the concept as beneficial to the well off, which is utter nonsense since the concept itself is free of any bias. Its real effect depends on the concrete implementation, and that has been ways away. But if we're lucky, the British will take the lead again and show us how it's done. Lead on, MacDuff!, as they say in a play connected to Scotland.


Germany chooses to loose

Unfortunately the growing apprehension concerning Germany appears to have been well founded: The German electorate continues to err towards the left, supported by Schröder's tactical deftness & Stoiber's total lack of it. I am prepared to revise my judgment on that specific instance in the hopefully unlikely event that Stoiber comes out on top after Merkel's more or less voluntary ultimate sacrifice, but I reserve to replace it by far worse in that case. Furthermore, I am flabbergasted by the outgoing Chancellor's incredible stomach (others might call it arrogance) & tactical resilience in already claiming a mandate to form a new government. There can be no doubt that he is indeed a virtuoso tactician, but the veneer of respectability has grown transparent a long time ago.

Nonetheless, congratulations to the German liberals on their surprise performance! Eventually, I hope they will recognise that the only responsible course of action will be to form a Jamaica-coalition with the pragmatic Greens & CDU/CSU. At any rate, Germany may use the humour & singlemindedness of the Jamaican bobsled team shown in Cool Runnings. Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme! Yeah, man! As for us Swiss, let's make sure next weekend that our borders remain open for the expected inflow of Germany's best & brightest!


Web censorship in China

This article (German) provides an interesting insight into the censorship & suppression that internet users are subject to in China. Since it is quite likely that free communication & access to information will be the straw that breaks the communist party's back, this behaviour is rather rational on their part, although its sustainability is questionable fortunately.

However, I am surprised that nobody calls for apartheid-like sanctions against western firms that actively support the Chinese regime in its censorship endeavour. The article explicitely names Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo and Google. The latter seems to be particularly vulnerable to criticism because this kind of activity appears to be in breach of at least two of their corporate ten commandments: 4. Democracy on the web works and 6. You can make money without doing evil. From the explanatory comments, it's quite obvious that those "things" are to be interpreted in a rather narrow, technical sense, but then why choose such sloppy phraseology in the first place? At the very least, this exposes the firm to ridicule.

Wealth of Nations

When I read about this the other day, I meant to look into it, but now the World Bank's Private Sector Development Blog has a pretty comprehensive post about the institution's recent report on the world's countries' total wealth. Should I mention that Switzerland tops the ranking on wealth per capita (shouldn't that be caput, I always wonder) by quite some healthy margin? Since this is a pretty uncommon capital stock perspective, as opposed to the GNP's flow perspective, it definitely deserves some attention, although the measurement, or rather, estimation challenges will be formidable.


The European social model?

Who would have thought that yours truly, a neo-liberal Thatcherite (and proud of it ;-) would ever refer to a Labour white paper as excellent? Well, Labour must have come a long way indeed ("Models that are not efficient are not sustainable and must be reformed"), and here is the paper in question which has been prepared as a backgrounder for last weekend's meeting of EU finance ministers under UK presidency. Its purpose is to dissolve the unfortunate notion of the one European social model, which is advanced with preference by our French friends in defence of their particularly rigid model. But at least Sarkozy has realised that it's not even a model, because it doesn't work. Worse: its failure might endanger the single market and the eurozone. This white paper proposes an interesting assessment of the four flavours of social models in Europe and points to the much vilified Services Directive as an important step towards completion of the single market. From a Swiss perspective, it would be interesting to see where our particular case fits into the landscape. My guess would be Anglo-Saxon, trending towards Continental.

FDP Strategie

Endlich hat die FDP Leitung ihr schon vor der Publikation umstrittenes Strategiepapier publik gemacht. War die Aufregung gerechtfertigt? Ich denke schon!

Zwar ist das Papier weitgehend windkanaltauglich formuliert und bietet an sich wenig Angriffsfläche. Dennoch setzt sich darin die Abkehr vom klassisch geprägten Liberalismus fort, der auf den Grundwerten Freiheit und Eigentum basiert. Freiheit kommt zwar vor (da kann auch kaum jemand etwas dagegen haben), aber das Institut des Eigentums figuriert nur noch mittelbar unter dem Titel schlanker, starker Staat, dessen Statur bekanntlich mit dem Eigentum negativ korreliert ist. Dem Eigentum haftet in unserer Neidgesellschaft eben der Makel an, dass es eine mehrheitsfähige Angriffsfläche bietet. Dem gegenüber steht die verdächtig häufige Nennung der Gerechtigkeit, unter deren Flagge bekanntlich schon viele Verbrechen begangen worden sind.

Materiell kommt das Papier mit seinen Visionen ebenfalls durchaus mehrheitsfähig (das ist eine Beschimpfung!) daher. Eine liberale Partei zieht aber nicht mit der Mehrheit in die falsche Richtung:
  • Staatsanteil & Fiskalquote sollen nurmehr "nicht weiter erhöht" werden - bezüglich Senkung beschränkt man sich auf die zwar systematische, aber nichtsdestotrotz unverbindliche Suche danach.
  • Das Ruhestandsalter 65 wird explizit in's Programm geschrieben, obwohl völlig klar ist, dass dies bei relativ sinkender Lebensarbeitszeit nicht nachhaltig finanzierbar ist. Zu allem Ueberfluss wird erst noch die Generationengerechtigkeit angerufen, um eine eigentlich zwingend notwendige Mehrbelastung der aktiven Generation auszuschliessen!
  • Notwendige Reformen der Parteistruktur werden nicht einmal ansatzweise erwähnt. Aber das ist ja auch nicht nötig, schliesslich werden die Delegierten des Parteivolkes das Papier am 22. Oktober bestimmt gutheissen.
  • Mal sehen, was die politische Blogosphäre davon hält - edemokratie hat mich jedenfalls beim Zieleinlauf schon geschlagen!


    Blogs auf DRS2

    Es freut mich, mein früheres Urteil über die Webfreundlichkeit von DRS 2 revidieren zu können! Aktuell gibt's einen Beitrag über weblogs in der Politik, der auch einen Abstecher über die CH Szene macht (konkret: frausinn). Zudem haben einige Sendungen einen eigenen RSS-feed gekriegt! Zum vollkommenen Glück fehlt jetzt nur noch eine Antwort auf die Frage, weshalb unter Safari der realplayer nicht startet, wenn ich einen Beitrag hören will ...

    P.S. Es hilft auf jeden Fall, die neuste Version des Realplayer installiert zu haben - danke, Andy!


    Fresse halten - wählen geh'n!

    Now that reforms may continue in Japan under the same government, it's time for Germany to face change. Listen to these cheeky hip hop election ad tracks (German, non-partisan).


    No comment

    This is not a comment, just a translation of the cartoon which relates to the forthcoming referendum about the extension of bilateral agreements with the EU in two weeks' time. From top to bottom: I fear for the Swiss identity! - What is the Swiss identity? - Fear. Fearsome. ;-)


    The myth of Tiananmen?

    If you are a faithful observer of my daily meanderings, you will know that I am all about different shades of gray, while trying to stick to decyphering what is right or wrong. That's why this article about Tiananmen has caught my eye a while ago. Since my own research on the matter was not very fruitful, I turned to a more competent authority, namely the Tokyo based far east correspondent of my preferred newspaper, Urs Schoettli. Evidently, I hit a nerve with him, because he returned my request with an invitation to an in person meeting.

    This meeting finally took place this afternoon. The discussion took off with a grand tour d'horizon touching on our northern neighbours' poor reform track record in comparison to the Japanese one with both big countries having important elections forthcoming. Then Schoettli gave me an outline of his forthcoming book which will contain a comparison of different approaches to globalisation of Japan, India and China.

    From there, the line to a discussion about China's perspectives of development was pretty straight. Despite of recent reforms incorporating certain individual rights and a guarantee of legally obtained property into the Chinese constitution, China will remain inherently unstable politically because of the communist party's absolute claim to power. Given that, rule of law as well as a system of checks & balances will remain illusionary. Nonetheless, the party deals with areas of increasing conflict in a rather transparent and open manner, as long as its preponderance is not questioned. Those battlefields are increasing differences in wealth, environmental issues and energy supply. I was speculating on whether there might be some party-like factions forming within the communist party. Those might gain control of government in a political competition similar to that of open societies, thus preparing a face-saving way out of the communist party's stability dilemma.

    Only when time was almost up, we actually discussed Tiananmen. Evidently this is still a festering wound in China herself. Due to the lack of independent and open analysis of the events, Tiananmen seems to have developed a semantic dynamism of its own which is likely to continue until the matter is finally brought out into the open. That's unlikely to happen under the present party regime, though. Nevertheless, it seems to be pretty safe to assume that the death toll at and around the square on June 4th, 1989 was nowhere near the thousands, as suggested my many reports. However, even if there were "only" several hundred casualties, it remains an unforgiveable massacre. At any rate, it would be highly interesting to read a competent analysis of Tiananmen, and maybe also compare open societies' responses to those to more recent events.


    Fuel oil discount

    This is fun! Migrol offers a tickdown auction of fuel oil where the price moves down 5 Centimes every minute from the top end of a 5% band to the bottom unless somebody orders. That way, you can get a fairly decent price (considering ...) - you just have to make sure that you check at an ungodly hour where noone else thinks of buying oil, and then you can extrapolate the time when the price touches the low band.

    The Perils of Sportswear

    I was not aware that Amazon also deals in instant literary gratification, but it's true. You can now purchase books for immediate download, which I've done today: I acquired The Perils of Sportswear by one Lord Whimsy for less than 50 Cents. And it's two quarters well spent! But Whimsy in Shorts? Somehow I doubt it.



    I still cannot quite make up my mind entirely about what to think of yesterday night's world première of Die ganzheitliche Kunst, an Areagraphie (no idea what that might be - neither Brockhaus nor the web know the term) for choir by Béatrice Mathez, performed at Leonhardskirche by the Fontesonante choir. What I do know for sure is that the experience was rather weird and uncomfortable for me, and that was probably not intended.

    Facts of the performance: An alternation of traditional romantic pieces (Schubert, Grieg, Marschner, Caccini), short poems by Barbara Groher and the centerpiece, Crystals I - V, a choral choreography (does that make sense?) on the theme of Masaru Emoto's water crystals. The members of the choir were all clad in white and illuminated with different colours. The only instrumentation of the Crystals were quartz sound bowls with their unique, yet literally monotonous sound.

    If all this appears rather esoteric, then that's probably because it was, really. Don't get me wrong: I don't mind a bit of hippidom now & again, but the vibes I received from that event were a strange combination of pagan rites, christian messages, germanic Hochkultur in the Wagnerian sense & sundry other oddities. I trust I will be forgiven for feeling queasy about this combination if I out myself as an utter philistine, but I have a feeling that there is more to it than meets the eye, and I am not sure I want to know more.

    Katrina's advice: household supplies

    The Swiss Federal Office for National Economic Supply has a nice brochure about houshold reserves - a last resort at times of shortage. Events like Katrina are good reminders for the usefulness of keeping such emergency supplies, especially if everything else fails. For that event, I would complement the shopping list with lots of water, any required medication, a couple of packs of batteries, matches, candles, a manually operated radio and, finally, a gun and enough ammunition ...


    Denkpause in Europa

    Das sieht nach einer interessanten Veranstaltung aus, die die aktuelle Denkpause in Europa auch tatsächlich als Pause zum Denken nutzen will, und nicht als Pause des Denkens ... sehnwermal.


    On being lost

    Who'd have thought? The Edinburgh Festival, Dante's Divina Comedia and Tiger's Spotlight search, all in one article! I think I'll really have to try & make it for the Festival next time round ...



    It's good to have a clear example now & then of how the movie industry turns out products of pure phantasy, just like this earthquake shocker 10.5. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is shown as a quite professional, efficient, forward looking and responsible unit, mandated by a caring, worrying President. None of which has any basis in reality whatsoever, as we now know. But that's about the only good thing in the movie ... which is yet another illustration of the old adage that nobody & nothing is totally useless: It can still serve as a good example of how not to do it.

    Liberale Frauen

    Abgesehen vom Bahnhofblues habe ich noch gar nicht über meine Samstagsaktivität berichtet. Ich war am Frauentag - Liberalismustag (flapsige Kommentare überflüssig), um mit einer der Organisatorinnen ein Projekt zu besprechen, von dem man bald hier lesen wird. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass der Anlass frühmorgens um 1030h in SG angefangen hat, habe ich natürlich den Anfang verpasst, aber der ebenfalls anwesende Mitblogger Christian hat sowieso einen Beitrag verfasst, dem es nichts mehr hinzuzufügen gibt. Es gibt höchstens was wegzunehmen, und zwar die Schlussbemerkung, die die allgegenwärtige, strukturkonservative Wettbewerbsangst stehen lässt. Dazu zwei Bemerkungen: 1. Es gibt immer jemanden, der noch besser qualifiziert ist, und 2. kann der weniger qualifizierte trotzdem seine Existenzgrundlage finden - die theoretische Untermauerung findet sich in Ricardos Lehre vom komparativen Vorteil.

    Ich bin gespannt auf Julikas offiziellen Kommentar zum Anlass, der im übrigen qualitativ äusserst hochstehend war. Ausser der Tatsache, dass Y-Chromosomen im Publikum nur spärlich vertreten waren, hat nichts auf den Frauentag hingewiesen, was wohl einerseits ein gutes Zeichen für die Emanzipation ist, andererseits aber die Notwendigkeit eines dergestalt spezifizierten Anlasses in Frage stellt. Man verstehe mich nicht falsch: Anlass & Fragestellung waren hervorragend, aber das Forum war keinesfalls zwingend. Gerade die "Herren der Schöpfung" sollten sich der Liberalismus-Debatte sehr viel ausführlicher stellen. Aber wie gesagt, man darf auf Julika gespannt sein, so ihr Internet-Anschluss innert nützlicher Frist wieder operativ werden sollte.

    P.S. Und hier ist er auch schon, der offizielle Kommentar ...

    P.P.S. Die für mich interessantesten, anderswo noch nicht erwähnten Aussagen waren Julia Onkens Hinweis auf ein Schleier-Experiment, das sie kenne: Einige Frauen hätten während einiger Tage einen typischen muslimischen Schleier getragen und sich dadurch nach kurzer Zeit in ihrer geistigen Beweglichkeit eingeschränkt gefühlt - ohne weiteres nachvollziehbar. Und Robert Nef hat darauf hingewiesen, dass auch Liberale in der praktischen Politik immer wieder Kompromisse eingehen müssten. Allerdings dürften sie das erst im Verlauf der Verhandlungen, und nicht schon in deren Vorwegnahme!


    German elections

    I was just wondering how the market expectations were behaving with regards to the election in Germany on September 18. Intrade is offering a few contracts on that event. According to the price of the CDU/CSU victory contract of 98 (victory pays 100), this looks pretty much like a done deal. Note low volumes, though.

    Basle train station blues

    It may have an eBay Xchange-Point, for which we are ever grateful, but when, oh when will the management of the Basle train station realise how very nerve saving fast lane indicators (standing and walking foot prints) on overly narrow escalators & staircases are. London has them, Paris has them, every civilised place has them. Even Zürich does ...



    Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville

    The pictures from New Orléans are tragic, sad & infuriating. But first and foremost, it is a big tragedy because of all the pain & suffering the good people of this city have to go through.

    It is sad because if the damage is as bad as it shapes up to be, it doesn't seem to make much sense to rebuild the city in the same location, thus one of the allegedly most charming places in the US might be lost for good. Even if it can be rebuilt, I doubt that it will retain its special charm, for which I always wanted to visit it at some stage - but not any more.

    If I were a citizen of the US, I'd be furious, albeit not surprised, about the apparent dilettantism that this catastrophe is being handled with. While the hurricane itself seems to have been pretty much standard procedure & luck, it is entirely incomprehensible to me how a foreseeable event such as a dam failure would not immediately trigger a premeditated, commensurate, large scale response, even if it is preceeded by a hurricane. Bad luck always comes in doubles. This is Iraq all over again, but now in the heartland of the US. And there are not even any terrorists to blame, although any sign of them would come in extremely handy, of course ... at any rate, it will be interesting to see whether this reflex will be triggered.

    But it's true (via andare), it's neither the president's nor his administration's dilettantism's fault. The ultimate culprit is Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, who in 1718 founded New Orléans contrary to better advice below sea level. "A Frenchman and a fool - what else is new?"

    Audiatur et altera pars ...

    ... as long as it is not creationism or its latest reïncarnation, intelligent design. Why? Because it's no science, duh! Here's the extended argument (via Leiter Reports).


    Only thanks to its 52 pages, it is a finite pleasure to amble along Rudolf Taschner's lecture on Musil, Gödel, Wittgenstein und das Unendliche in one evening, entertained by a wonderfully mellow 38 years old Glenfarclas. While the main topic is Gödel's rather arcane incompleteness theorem, Taschner approaches the matter very leisurely: We are treated to anecdotes about shy Gödel's habit of arranging precise time & location of meetings with nosey strangers without ever intending to meet them in the first place. Asked why he arranges the meeting so meticulously, he explained that this is so he knew where & when not to be. Another one is even more interesting: He actually started to explain to the US judge presiding over his naturalisation proceedings that he discovered a logical gap in the US constitution which would make it possible that the US becomes a dictatorship. More about this here.

    But that's not all. Wittgenstein is also featuring in this short book, and prominently so with his lie about caning one of his pupils, which apparently has haunted him for years afterwards. Not the caning, mind you, but the telling a lie! Apparently, that made him go to Cambridge, where he had his famous poker debate with Popper. Which reminds me of my bedside book, namely volume 2 of Popper's The Open Society & its enemies. Only yesterday, I came across Popper's slagging off of Wittgenstein - small world.