I am not sure whether I should be pleased or disconcerted about the fact that several of the tabled items have been discussed on this blog during the year ... at any rate, Happy New Year to you & your family, dear Reader, and thanks for all your comments and contributions during the past year!
Personally I harbour strong sympathies towards that movement, although I accept some people's need to hedge against the negligible, but non-zero probability of god's existence. However, I wouldn't go as far as to reject the approach on that ground, as the article's author does in conclusion. My biggest problem with it is the apparent doctrinary approach, which brings it into the vicinity of another neo-movement. Combine that with the contingency of faith's reality and you have a recipe for failure. It is much more promising to just let the idea quietly run its course. The genie of Reason is out of the lamp ...
P.S. It just crossed my mind that another reason against being a fervent New Atheist is that faith can be, and in the posited absence of freedom of religion rightly should be, seen as an instance of the freedom of thought. To which The Brights surely cannot object.
It is consoling no end however that despite of the apparent superiority of mathematical language, mathematicians themselves are not aloof from the fickle deficiencies of human nature even in the conduct of their business. Which is probably just another piece of anecdotal evidence supporting my conjecture.
As it is winter in the northern hemisphere now, this is the season for fondue, so we've had some yesterday. But it was a fondue with a twist; a twist that I heavily recommend. If you've never had a fondue, then try the recipe mentioned above first.
Now that you're a seasoned cheese soup eater (remember the rules: if you loose your bread in the fondue, you have to sing a song or do something else embarrassing), you can go for the twist - a morel fondue! Prepare by soaking 40 grams of dried morels in a 50/50 mix of milk & water for two hours. Then, instead of using Kirsch according to the recipe, use the same quantity of brandy and add the morels (without the water!) to the fondue when the last cheese lumps are gone.
Then, after the conference, I spent too much money on Belgian chocolate. Have a look at the flickr gallery for some pics. Galler's Kaori is incredibly imaginative, and delicious. Culinary calligraphy - awesome! Equally fanciful, and in keeping with the nuclear theme, is Pierre Marcolini's winter collection Molecule de Chocolat. It's a pity though that Belgian chocolatiers are running circles around their Swiss competitors these days - I guess they've just become too inert.
P.S. For more entertaining references to nucelar, erm, nuclear food & weaponry, check out this week's The Now Show.
Here is the special page of the Swiss Seismological Service, and they even have a bloody blog - fortunately for them, the comment function is not available there!
Thanks to Schweiz aktuell for telling us about this!
On top of that, there is a country wide pet identification system called ANIS, which involves tagging your pet subcutaneously with an RFID tag. This system has been declared mandatory for all dogs beginning this year. Seeing how there are certainly about one million dogs in this country, and assuming an average life expectancy of 10 years apiece, there are 274 database modifications from natural reasons only each and every day, and that's not counting address changes. So I was expecting to get access to an efficient online workflow. But nothing could be further from the truth. The good people at ANIS actually insist on sending paper forms to and fro! What's wrong here?!?!
Authenticity starts at the opening credits. No psychedelic floating soft porn, but new, theme based, old school visual language. The story is based closely on the first Bond novel with added leverage (literally). Bond's character has been very appropriately adapted to the new actor, and, incidentally, to Ian Fleming's original design: In M's words, Bond is a "blunt instrument", he doesn't care much about subtle and finesse, effectivity will do. But despite of his dry business sense, he is passionate and smart. I should add though that the passion gets beaten out of him very painfully in the course of action, but his smartness remains. In that sense, Bond is much like Jack Bauer in 24.
There's some really good extensive dialogue even - probably the longest ever, without intermittent casualties. The high tech gadgetry is there, but lacking resourceful Q, it is kept in the background, as is the unusually discreet product placement. Amazingly, the hallmark Bond tune is entirely absent, which is only logical, seeing how Casino Royale is about the making of James Bond as a Double-0 agent.
Switzerland features fairly prominently, as it often does in Bond movies. Some of the great scenery is probably shot in southern Switzerland, and there's Mr Mendel, a somewhat featherbrained Swiss banker with his suitcased account remote control. But I shouldn't forget Mr Mendel's employer, Basle Bank! I say, may home town makes the new Bond! Too bad there is no such bank.
Casino Royale is worth seeing. Sean Connery is definitely last century.
P.S. Watch this interview with former CIA director James Woolsey. Its takeaway: The better you are at what you do, the less people know about it.
His masterly performance can be seen during each rush hour for just a few yenteli. Sit back in awe and enjoy!
Since it's not worth while entering a bookstore to buy just one book, I stocked up on more recent Scottish crime literature, namely the new Rankin as well as the new McCall-Smith. Since Mr McCall has been rather prolific lately, make that two. But Dream Angus is part of Waterstone's 3 for 2 offer, so it's only natural for the parsimonious Swiss to get another two books: this rather rather useful almanach and, in preparation for next week's trip to Istanbul, Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul. Memories of a City.
Until further notice, all time wasting is off!
P.S. Have a look at the amazing new Alice in Wonderland decorations in Fortnum & Mason's shop window. Pictures are available in my flickr gallery.
Update 1 November: Oh well, the surprise delivery wasn't to be, it was something else. But now, ETA is tomorrow.
The reason for this accumulation of articles about the Armenian genocide is an ongoing political controversy in France and Switzerland these days.
A case in point is an issue with Mail that I was able to fix yesterday, with the assistance from a friend I didn't know I had who lives in Barcelona, Spain. ¡Muchas gracias, David!
It is one of my maxims never to assume bad will where sheer incompetence suffices ...
However, I cannot tell you what makes a commercial a good commercial - otherwise I'd be in the wrong industry, I guess. After all, even Henry Ford (I think) said that half of his marketing budget was a waste of money - he just didn't know which half. So I'll confine myself to giving you two examples of bad commercials. The first one is the ad for Swiss wine shown in this post. The caption says: "Sex is just a substitute". And the second one is a TV commercial for a French car, featuring Sean Connery. Both are prime examples of bland, boring, guaranteed brain-free advertising of the worst kind. That's the stuff that should have been rejected and probably would not show up here either. What does that tell us about buyers of advertisements?
If you wonder what mead is, then rest assured that you're not alone. It's the first time that I've tasted it myself. Mead, or German Met is the ancient beverage of the Germanic gods imbibed (copiously, I am sure) in Walhalla. It is a gold coloured wine made of fermented honey and it tastes accordingly - very sweet. If you have a sweet tooth like I do, then this is a desert wine for you. It is pretty much like a Sauternes, but mostly without the underlying slight acidity, or complexity for that matter. But nice no less. I am surprised that mead is not better known. But then again, the other day when I tasted an excellent Sauternes on a Swiss flight and they had to open the bottle for me, I learnt that this is not a widely held taste among Europeans, whereas people from the Middle East seem to like it much more. Interesting.
The reason for that uncharacteristic lack of curiosity is that I think those games are terminally boring; they can be played in single player mode, which presupposes a defined set of algorithms within which the parameters of the game are set. These algorithms probably do not allow for evolutionary change of conditions, which is the domain of real life. Hence these games will only happen within the limits of the parametric equations that the developers could think of, however creatively this fact will be disguised. Incorporating other human players into the game does not fundamentally change that characteristic since they also will be subject to the same parameters. In fact, I wonder whether other human players are distinguishable from random robots - what was the name of that test again??
Whilst there is no way (yet?) that Second Life can get around some parametric limitations of a virtual reality, the available degree of creativity seems to be of a different order, so that it appears to be a better approximation of reality. That's why I was interested in it. Ironically, the proof of the pudding is not available to me because of a stupid video card incompatibility ...
Speaking of buying & selling ... the phone is gone!
Nonetheless, it is a phenomenal film - I don't have a single complaint about it. It is high drama based on recent history, executed with the acutest care for detail imaginable, incredible casting as well as acting (dare one say Oscar?) - and yet, the movie breathes a quiet air of subdued energy & moderation. If that sounds contradictory, then it's very well, because tension is at the heart of the matter. It is all about the tension between the institution of monarchy and the person holding that position during a defining moment. And incidentally, it is about to become an epitaph for Mr Blair's time as Prime Minister, the greatest achievement of which it will have been - apart from having civilised Labour - to have been instrumental in securing the survival of the British monarchy.
But before I do, I'd like to share my view of Das Parfum with you. I am talking about the film version of Patrick Süskind's bestseller, of course. It's a serial killer crime story about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an 18th century Parisian X-man avant la lettre. His special power is that he has an overly acute and analytical nose, plus he is entirely devoid of any personal body odour. Thus lacking of an olfactory personality himself, he goes on to collect all possible sorts of scents, which conclusively leads him to becoming a master perfumer. However, to cure his personal deficit, he starts to compose a miraculous perfume consisting of the essence of thirteen beautiful young women, for whose survival in the scent extracting process of enfleurage he has no concern whatsoever. In this endeavour, he is inspired by his master's tale of a mythological egyptian perfume which, when released, made everyone love its wearer. Allegedly, it consisted of thirteen components, the last of which remained unknown.
While the book is well made, it struck me as overly artistic and metaphorical when I read it - so I was never really convinced. The movie however is a different story. The camera & direction are superb, the acting is fine (with the notable exception of a rather disappointing Alan Rickman); setting and atmosphere seem ingeniously authentic. The frequent heartbeats in the soundtrack did get on my nerves occasionally, though. The film is a great rendition of an essentially "German" (by way of its author) story in that it has for object the pursuit of an ideal goal without moral considerations or compassion. Süskind's "Gollum" Grenouille is completely absorbed in the banality of his wrongdoing, and we pity him for it! Not even the perfume induced mass orgies towards the end appear particularly absurd - they just put on display the penchant of the masses to be manipulated & seduced, for everyone to see.
This I think is the key deficit of the film relative to the book, and it is altering the message: The film character of Grenouille comes across as almost innocent, naïve and pitiable, whereas in the book, he is perfectly repulsive! But apart from that, the Perfume is a very entertaining and very "European" movie.
Textkasten in einem Artikel über Pilze in der heutigen NZZ.
The lecture in itself is a very comprehensive assessment of the classical dialectic relationship between Reason and Faith, setting out with a classical quotation of the byzantine emperor Manuel II. Palaeologos, demonstrating the differences between how christianity and islam think that their supreme being is related to reason. While the christian god is thought to be bound by reason, the muslim god is considered to be totally transcendental and independent of any human concepts such as reason, hence spreading the faith through the sword is thought to be legitimate.
This is my weak summary of the part of the lecture that seems to have irritated some muslim scholars. They probably haven't even read the lecture. The reactions are certainly interesting at any rate.
There's not much point in further tracing the lecture, which looks at the de-hellenisation (i.e. de-linking of christian faith and greek philosophy) in three waves since the reformation in some detail. The key point is - unsurprisingly - that the pope rejects the way in which critical rationalism has pushed back faith from the communitarian field to the individually subjective. The problem though is, IMHO, that he argues from the outcome, which he cannot accept - weil nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf? This, IMHO again, is simply bad logic and not very convincing.
But regular religion is not very much about learning, since it already knows the truth. The question is just how tolerant it is towards realities that are out of line with its own perception of reality. One man's cognitive dissonance is the next man's fundamentalism. Foreign Affairs has a remarkable article about the rôle of religion in US politics in general and foreign policy in particular. The material distinctions drawn between evangelicals and fundamentalists are quite enlightening, as are the explanations for the unwaivering US support for Israel. Essential reading!
To pimp up the phone, I also ordered a massive 2GB MiniSD card for a measly 80 Swissies. Amazing!
I had another thoroughly enjoyable cinema evening yesterday night, seeing Superman returns with W & T. This is a perfectly worthy successor and update of the 80's classic - something that you rarely get with remakes nowadays. I guess it takes a lot of moderation and confidence on the part of the director not to overshoot. Superman Returns is a well balanced template with online resources aplenty - bluetights.net???
What's becoming increasingly more annoying though, despite of the first digital projection to my knowledge, is the rather poor experience with online reservation system of Kino Basel AG. It's perfectly obvious that the internet is an inevitable nuisance to those guys. Their competitors at KITAG are so much more professional. I think I'll have to take care not to leave too much credit on that Moviecard ...
Fascinating to see how it was 40 years back: This day 40 years back, the "Cultural" Revolution was kicked off in China, one of the most traumatic totalitarian events in recent history. And five years before that, the dividing wall between east and west Berlin was erected.
Fortunately, both apparently monumental events are now superseded by subsequent changes after just one generation. What will remain of today's big news? Hardly anything, I presume - certainly not the "war on terror".
Also new in the webspace is pianoforte, the minimal art website of my nephew N's drumming band. Not yet very informative, really ...
Btw, the heaviest iPod weighs about 86 times less (without tapes for the machine) and holds about 672 times more music. And it does a few more things, like doubling for a watch, calendar, toy etc ... talk about
In other news, I finally downgraded my 5 MBit/s service to a 3 MBit/s one from Cablecom. The difference will more than pay for the VoIP landline that I am switching to at the same time, which in turn pulls the last plug on my Swisscom connection. About the CHF 100 downgrade fee that Cablecom charges ... let's just say that it doesn't take much clever negotiating, seeing how the contract's notice is three months at no cost.
Speaking of all that connectivity - you already know that I am a FONero, and I am still happy with the idea, even though the router turned out to be dramatically (+100%) more expensive than almost free because of unexpected customs & VAT. See my gripes here.
This double-CD album is fabulous. It pretty much retains the structure of the original work, while the half-hour musical substance is almost tripled by the "minimal big band's" very own variations on the themes presented. I have a feeling that Mussorgsky would have absolutely loved it! While this recording is a very interesting and pleasant standalone jazz record, it might also be a good starting point for an amateur of classical music who is interested to know what that jazz thing is all about ...
On a slightly different note, I am beginning to think that there is a big artistic vacuum beginning with WWII - I don't know any contemporary art that has made as big a step forward comparable to what classical modernism did in relation to its predecessors. Care to debate?
Cheekily, Wired even steals the generic creativity excuse by means of a very nice moral of the story: Of course, not every unaccomplished 65-year-old is some undiscovered experimental innovator. This is a universal theory of creativity, not a Viagra for sagging baby boomer self-esteem. It?s no justification for laziness or procrastination or indifference. But it might bolster the resolve of the relentlessly curious, the constantly tinkering, the dedicated tortoises undaunted by the blur of the hares.
From The Diary of Samuel Pepys
Speaking of stereotypes: Do you know Overheard in New York? It's full of dry wit and sitcom. I'm thinking about starting a knockoff: Mitgehört im Schweizerland. Not sure whether there's enough wit to go round, though ...
The first one is a detailed and well written assessment of the different approaches of Leslie Stephens & John Ruskin in appraising the Swiss mountains. It is also a very instructive confirmation of how instrumental English Victorians were in laying the foundations of Swiss tourism, if not philanthropic development assistance to Swiss farmers (that's the Swiss government's job nowadays) through his Guild of St. George, although I have been unable to find confirmation of that trust's Switzerland related origins.
The next one describes the semi-autobiographical background of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Now, I wonder whether it's just a coïncidence that the hero of Harold and Maude is called the way he is?
Solvitur ambulando, at last. Here, the author reviews the German edition of Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts, an account of his epic walking journey from London to Istanbul (or Constantinople, as he seems to prefer to call it) that took him almost one and a half year until March 1935. I think I'll have to read that work in progress!
Yours truly of course was entirely unaware of his prominent namesake (no relation), until that sad state of affairs was corrected by DD - a strong case in point for not expecting much in terms of knowledge of naval history from a citizen of a landlocked nation. So I guess I deserve all the friendly fire I am getting ever since!
This is the rather long-winded explanation for why I was happy about the opportunity to learn more by visiting the Ghosts of Jutland Exhibition currently on display on HMS Belfast on the occasion of the battle's 90th anniversary. The small commemorative exhibition is rather impressive, especially in that environment. Being on that ship reminded me that I'd always been fascinated by the Navy as a kid. What you're not so much aware of as a kid is the fact that such battleships, however powerful and impressive they may appear, can be swallowed by the ocean and literally disappear from the face of the earth with their crew within minutes. The ghosts of Jutland are still in the Skagerrak ... and tourists such as I complain about hitting their shins on HMS Belfast.
P.S. I knew all along that there was something wrong with the title! The command in question actually was: Dreyer, commence the deployment! Sounds much better, doesn't it.
Unfortunately my astigmatism combined with a rather thin cornea seems to not permit that for the moment. Otherwise I would have had it done in the blink of an eye, in a manner of speaking, which obviously is testimony to my confidence in technology. Just the other day, I talked to a guy who said he'd never do something like that. But why post about this now? Well, I just came across this NYT article describing how the US military uses this technology in its personel in a serial manner (via slashdot). Interesting!
P.S. Speaking of medical issues - do you know Dr. House, MD? I like that programme's twisted, cynical & humanistic attitude.
The train ride was a rather good, effortless experience to be repeated on future trips, even though I didn't quite get the TGV despite of having booked on said site, but I guess they wouldn't route that miracle of transport technology via Basle just for yours truly. I arrived in time, had an interesting luncheon meeting and subsequently a nice evening reception at the British Embassy as part of the Edinburgh University General Council meetings in Paris. It was good to see acquaintances from earlier events and meet new ones!
The event was continued with a formal lunch in the Cité Internationale Universitaire on Saturday. There was also a guided tour through this rather grand, albeit somewhat uninspiring collection of student halls. The evening found its conclusion with a Gala Dinner at the Restaurant of the French Senat, and a great chat with P. over an interesting bottle of Pelforth.
Sunday was dedicated to window shopping (in what kind of metropole do shops close on Sundays??) and discovering the streets until the train's departure. I think I quite like the Quartier St. Germain, where I discovered something very French, namely the Marché de la Poésie. This is a big open air affair where carefully and sometimes even artistically edited poetry is on sale in small editors' booths in front of Saint Sulpice. And what's even more French than that is the fact that the Marché has a podium discussion where alternatives to the market economy and more state intervention for the support of literature are demanded. It's surprising that those undoubtedly very intelligent people don't realise that with government funding of the arts comes stagnation, crustification and red tape.
On the way home, I read Le Figaro's interesting overview of who owns Paris (neither government nor church, surprisingly). Coïncidentally, the Magazine also had an article about traveling in Scotland. Nice! Last, but not least I discovered that my preferred newspaper is now available for complete download to all subscribers, so I had something else to entertain me on the long way back.
I am signing off to go to sweltering Paris tomorrow far too early in the morning, staying until Sunday. Since I'll have this miracle of a machine with me, expect to read about it.
It's fascinating to follow Popper's differentiated assessment of Hegel & Marx: Hegel gets the nuclear treatment while Popper finds many instances of agreement with Marx, which is rather surprising. But naturally, there is complete disagreement with regards to Marx's historicistic prophecies concerning the inevitable advent of socialism.
The most fascinating part are the closing chapters however, where Popper explains in some details his philosophical approach of critical rationalism. I think that his assessment of the sociology of knowledge and his rebuttal of the meaning of history still have an enormous political impact today. These two volumes are studied far too rarely!
This post is actually to announce that the Blackbook is in full operation now, rather than talk about occupational hazards. Admittedly, I struggled a bit to work around the harddisk failure that had occured involving my encrypted home directory, but all the files are safely transferred and backed up now - whew! When you have to do a manual batch file transfer sometime, just make sure that you not only use the identical username on the new system, but also that that user's UID is the same - sometimes, a bit of earlier UNIX exposure comes in handy ...
Otherwise, the new box works like a breeze!! It's amazingly fast, even with Office on Rosetta. The matte black finish looks very sophisticated and is actually reminiscent of the good old black Wall Street Powerbook, minus the curves. The glossy screen is a real beauty to look at, even in bright sunlight on the patio (none of those heat issues, either), where Airport reception is much better thanks to the non-metallic frame. Oh, and if you want to keep your iTunes library away from your home directory, then try this - it actually works perfectly!
In other news, I have received word from my trusty purveyor of fine fruit that my recently ordered Blackbook has begun its long journey to its new home today, while in India, others have joined the club. Godspeed!
But this post would not be complete without mentioning my nephew's recently completed second part of his Playmobil pirate saga. But watch out - this time, it is a gory splatter movie! Don't believe me? Go check it out!
Alright. To top off the miscellaneous nature of this post, here is the story about the 2004 US election that is currently getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere. I have yet to read it, but I will, I promise.
There seems to be about a dozen or so distilleries producing whisky in Switzerland. The best reviews (according to Coop Zeitung) are accorded to Zürcher and Swissky. I am still not sure whether that's the right present to bring around next time I go to Scotland ...
The other instance is political, and thus more conventional in nature: Addio Pizzo does not say good bye to pizze, but rather to pizzo, which is the racket paid in Sicily, Italy. Addiopizzo is a movement started by young folk in Palermo. Sick of the Mafia, they flooded the city with stickers stating that An entire people paying the racket is a people without dignity. Now, the movement seems to gain traction - there's shopkeepers openly stating that they don't pay up, and a consumers' movement to only shop at those shops. This approach addressing the Mafia's business modell is much more promising that decades of police work. Avanti, Addiopizzo!
At any rate, it is certainly no coïncidence that that store's opening period encompasses Art | 37 | Basel, which will bring oodles of artsy folk to our shores.
Occasionally, I feel to urge to do a bit of political analysis. This urge has grasped me yesterday, so I did an analysis of Mr. Putin's State of the Union Address of yesterday. It's also published on Newsvine.
It is interesting to analyse the State of the Union Address given yesterday by Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, especially if read after US Vice-President Cheney's remarks at the 2006 Vilnius conference a few days earlier.
Surely, nobody will object to Mr. Putin's strategic goal for Russia to become a country with a flourishing civil society and stable democracy, guaranteeing human rights as well as civil & political freedoms while building a competitive market economy protecting property rights and improving the nations defence.
Yet, the speech breathes an oppressive combination of swaggering calls for unity in the face of menacing competition, and a lack of self-assured confidence that is the prerequisite for a dependable great power and international partner. Seeing how this State of the Union Address is a carefully crafted piece of consensus opinion of the ruling Russian administration, it would indeed appear that Russia is returning to its age old paradigm of feeling surrounded by ominous foreign powers which are vying after the nation's sovereignty, as very recently explicitly stated by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
This does not bode well for Russia and the world.
On domestic issues, there is a lot of very clear sighted analysis of present problems as well as awareness of the current window of opportunity to resolve many of those problems, due to the "favourable economic situation" (read: oil price). Since the oil price is not explicitly mentioned, it is obviously a somewhat painful recognition that this window of opportunity has opened without Russia's initiative and thus might close again at any time.
Mr. Putin pays a lot of attention to necessary changes in bureaucratic and economic structures, stressing the importance above all of economic growth which is to achieve a doubling of the Russian GDP by 2010. This is to be reached by changes in infrastructure monopolies, which account for an ever increasing share of the economy, and by a reduction in the scope of government intervention. We almost think of laissez-faire when reading about the Russian people who "can achieve this better life if only we do not get in their way. At the very least, we must not get in the way, and it would [be] better still if we help." Competition appears to be accepted in the abstract as a governing principle of order, but it is considered to be a zero-sum game and not one to mutual advantage.
Yet, despite of all the recognised need for growth and change, there is a surprising reluctance, if not resistance to reform: "We do not need reforms purely for the sake of reforms. We do not need a permanent revolution." This, I think, is a clear indication of the deeply rooted fear that the administration harbours towards the mutual interaction between the political and the economic sphere in an open society. Witness the very opaque elimination from political life of Mr. Putin's potential rival, Mr. Kodorkhovsky. Evidently, Mr. Putin still thinks in terms of a command economy which has to supply growth, but must not interfere with politics. While such an approach is comprehensible in the aftermath of some chaotic transformation years dominated by a financial oligarchy, it is doomed to fail in the long run. One of the key factors to be observed is Mr. Putin's hope for greater transparency of how political parties are financed.
Sustainable growth in the face of technological and organisational innovation requires constant reconfiguration of the economy and the regulatory environment. Failure to do so will lead to stagnation and the breakdown of growth, which Russia is already beginning to suffer from.
I'd like to note some specific points of interest now.
1) Russia's membership in G8 seems to be of outstanding reputational relevance.
2) The Russian currency should become fully convertible.
3) Russian demographics poses a formidable challenge to growth, especially given the low overall density of population. The relative attractiveness of Russia as an immigration targets from other CIS Member States requires an effective immigration policy.
The address also contains several foreign policy statements, not the least important of which is an outright declaration that the CIS is Russia's sphere of strategic interest. This constitutes an explicit demarcation of scope of the Putin doctrine, which some CIS members will fail to agree with.
Otherwise, Russia aims for stability and predictability of the international order under the rule of international law.
Russia aims for true integration into Europe as a foregone historical choice. In that choice, Mr. Putin fails to realise however that the establishment of a cordon sanitaire of formally indepentent satellite states between herself and her partners of integration cannot be seen as a committment to equitable partnership.
The State of the Union Address also touches on the modernisation of the armed forces. While there is talk about the move to a professional army, air force and navy, to be completed by 2007, it is not clear at all that this means the abolition of compulsory military service - on the contrary: From 2008, the much feared compulsory service is halved to one year. Russia is also planning to introduce new strategic weaponry.
By way of introduction, I mentioned US Vice-President Cheney's speech in Vilnius, former part of the Soviet Union and now firmly entrenched in the EU and NATO. Already the fact that Mr. Cheney is able to launch his attack on Belarus and opponents of reform and further opening in Russia - or imitation of the West, as Mr. Solzhenitsyn would put it - from that vantage point must be perceived as an act of aggression on the part of the Russian administration. For, whether one agrees with the current US administration's evangelism for formal democracy or not, it is hard to overlook the discrepancy between Russia's strategic goal as stated in Mr. Putin's address, and its present day political life, where foreign support of broad voter participation and the promotion of independent news media organisations are suppressed, and influential political rivals jailed.
One of the key issues of Russian self-confidence remains with its perception of its own history. As long as Russia fails to accept that there are dark spots in its history (as in every other nation's), it is unlikely to be a fully dependable member of the international community of open societies. But there is hope: Earlier this year, we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Secret Speech with which Nikita Khrushchev started the first reform movement within the Soviet Union, doing away with Stalinism (which, incidentally, is being revived in today's Russia). It may be the next President of Russia who realises that the breakdown of the Soviet Union was a historical bonanza rather than a catastrophe - even for the Russian people.
Going to Paris just for lunch might seem slightly out of proportion, but I am looking forward to combining that with the half-yearly meeting of the General Council of the University of Edinburgh, which is held abroad for the second time already, with London being counted as a foreign country from a Scottish perspective ... well, I am certainly looking forward to a reception at the British Embassy in Paris (remember see ivil French revölüshönairies from Blackadder ?) and a Dinner at the Palais du Luxembourg.