Monday, November 22, 2010

I decided to append new text to the bottom of this page because adding it at the top meant shifting pictures all the time. So scroll down to November 22 if you wish.

Sunday, March 29, 2010

In the course of some online research, I chanced upon this page:

In 2007, a 13-year-old girl hugged a 12-year-old female classmate who had just returned to school after having grieved the loss of a parent. Both girls were given detention by their middle schools for violating bans against public displays of affection. I think that's about as bad as it gets.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Swiss teenagers who clobbered 5 people in Munich some time ago, including a 45-year-old man whose face they disfigured by repeatedly kicking his head, are a disgrace to society. Now, Australia has a similar case: a young man in a wheelchair was beaten to near death by two youngsters. They were filmed by a security camera in an elevator where it happened. As if it were a video game.

Last night, when most people were already asleep, ARD broadcast a docmentary about salmon farming in Chile and how its various manifestations drove "regular" fishermen into poverty. One big corporation runs most of the farms. It dumps hundreds of tons of antibiotics in the sea, along with huge volumes of chemicals and dyes. When the ocean floor is littered with cadavers and feces, it shuts down the pens and moves on south. Patagonia is next. The government does nothing.

Oh, amost forgot: the company responsible for this never-ending disaster, run by Norwegian mogul John Fredriksen, secured a WWF endorsement for the paltry sum of EUR 100,000 p.a. - which will forever change my attitude to WWF.

There's not much uplifting stuff in the news these days. Greed is still the underlying theme everywhere.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

OK, it's just a tiny picture, but on a Mac, you can latch your mouse onto it, drag it to your desktop, and double-click it to get a decent size that shows those silly little pompoms on the guards' slippers. WAIT: I don't even remotely want to bash Greek traditions. I could just as well have taken Switzerland's Vatican Guard, a gathering of members of the Order of the Garter with their fluffy headgear, the Beefeaters with their interesting high hats, ruffs, and tassels (not to mention stockings), or some Pashtuns wearing Pakols. Does anyone remember ten-gallon hats? Then, there was the Ministry of Silly Walks. If you don't know what that is, Google it by all means.


The picture is a metaphor for really, really ridiculous traditions. Some traditions are absolutely bona fide, such as honesty (also in politics), benevolence, and helping your neighbors get through difficult times. Or, say, the way decent beer is brewed. But others are poised to be the downfall of the human race or at least of some very fine examples of fauna, like the Bengal tiger or the rhinoceros. Both face extinction because some people think their personal erections are more important than the survival of the animals to whose parts they attribute aphrodisiacal properties.

Some really stubborn traditions need to be abolished. Like FMG. Or parliamentary sessions populated by thousands of money-greedy, anonymous fourth-tier politicians with no track records, whose sole purposes in life are to hang on to privileges like chauffered limousines and five-star accommodation and opportunities to bask in the limelight of a third-tier sub-alpha politician. Copenhagen was one of those things. The United Nations Security Council is another example that the broth can never succeed with so many cooks. A kitchen brigade has an executive chef. A clan has an elder. A tribe has a chief. A company has a CEO. Political factions have phalanxes of infighters who stalemate progress.

And of course, the executive chef, the elder, the chief, the CEO or the political honcho can be incompetent or corrupt or both. The problem is always how to get rid of such individuals. In the case of parliaments, it is impossible, because such institutions are tradition.


On another note: after having taken in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis recently, I can only hope to live long enough to listen to all the Schumann, Chopin, Mozart, Bach, and E.S. Posthumus pieces that I don't know yet.


Why don't the world's leading economies merge their FDAs? How can it be that some substances are deemed carcinogenic in Canada but not in the USA? (added on March 16, 2010: I just read somewhere that men who grow bald by around 30 are less likely to develop prostate cancer. Now, it's time for a study which proves that the same holds true for women. It would also be useful if scientists could corroborate that men who buy Sears refrigerators are less likely to grow bald - so these clueless consumers could sue Sears for promoting a carcinogenic appliance. Sears is just a metaphor here, please!)

Crowdsourcing and collaborative sites

Of course I pop into proz,, linguee, and LEO sometimes. I also have this dictionary/thesaurus application that comes standard with Mac OS. The trouble is: there's a lot of dead rhino stuff in these places. proz has a points system that entices lots of people who might otherwise be lurkers to propose ways of translating terms like Mehrfachnutzen. That's a really tough one, originally from the printing industry. When I see suggestions like "multiple uses", and realize that if a sufficient number of people second the motion, it will be carved in stone, I get really worked up. Translating is not a democratic process. And when a text really becomes involved and you run across a word like "beitragsorientiert" (as applied to pension plans), answers are not available on any of the four sites mentioned above. My experience is that about 20% of the suggestions provided by eager helpers are wrong. Wikipedia, so far, is a much better source of peer-reviewed knowledge, and I fervently hope that its quality will not be diluted by zealous contributors. But my visits to these sites are also humbling: there's so much I don't know.

India and translation

Coming back to proz, I see a growing number of Indian translators who are offering virtually every combination of source and target languages, even German to Swiss German! That's extremely surprising, because obviously, a German company that wants to localize its material for Swiss users has asked an Indian outfit to quote on the project, and the Indian outfit, obviously, has to find an extremely cheap provider in Switzerland to do the job. If I ever needed a translation from German to Korean, I would try to find someone in Korea with good references. That's globalization for you.


What I won't go into at this point is Helmand, Leuchtpetarden (not translated in proz, linguee, or leo), highly incendiary and extremely dangerous pyrotechnical flares thrown into grandstands by brain-damaged soccer fans, Palin and the GOP, the expense accounts handed in by EU officials, the arranged marriage in Saudi Arabia of a 12-year-old girl to an 80-year-old man, and how Goldman Sachs helped camouflage Greece's debt. Oh yes, and Switzerland-bashing. Which percentage of Germany's population is composed of civil servants, anyway? Wherever you are and whatever day it is: keep out of trouble.

Monday, November 22, 2010

OK, here are my latest thoughts. Cholera is the next big potentially apocalyptic issue in Haiti. Wait a minute: $1.6 billion in aid was sent to or pledged to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake that killed 230,000 people in January 2010 (nearly a year ago now). Who got the money? And what exactly was done with it? Plus: over 100 relief organizations are in Haiti right now. But it seems they are not doing anything constructive. More likely, they are debating which organization is responsible for what kind of relief, so all the donations are being used for meetings in expensive hotels and chauffeured limousines, and big-ticket meals. The same applies to the victims of the devastating floods in Pakistan. My take: a lot of NGOs are pretty darn useless.

I just read an article in the Atlantic about medical research. It comes to the conclusion that much (up to 80%) of what researchers say in their reports is misleading, exaggerated, or downright wrong. Considering that about $100 billion is invested in medical research in the USA alone, that's quite disconcerting. David H. Freedman wrote the article. You might be able to find it online.

During the two weeks I spent in North Africa recently, I read a lot of magazines in French, because that's what they have there. About half of the news concerns problems that France is facing with its vast Muslim population. One thing that surprised me is the insistence that school cafeterias offer youngsters of this faith special halal meals. If I decided to move to Saudi Arabia, say, it would never occur to me to demand that my kids in school be provided with pork sausages and rösti for lunch. OK, moot point. But if extremists do succeed in bombing Germany's Reichstag, as has been suggested these past days, their moderate and sensible fellow adherents will be ostracized to an unprecedented degree. Enough, already.

Oh, and one other thing: A conservative Muslim government minister admits he shook hands with First Lady Michelle Obama in welcoming her to Indonesia but says it wasn't his choice. Footage on YouTube shows otherwise, sparking a debate that has lit up Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the blogosphere. "I tried to prevent (being touched) with my hands but Mrs Michelle held her hands too far toward me (so) we touched,'' Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring told tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. I guess the poor chap is now soiled forever. What an extraordinary religion!

In a similar vein, Israel is likely to freeze the construction of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories for 90 days if it gets a lot of money from the US, including advanced fighter jets worth about 3 billion dollars. After that, building can resume with no contractual penalty to speak of. Al-Jazeera ( says:" When Obama took office, his position was that the settlements are illegal as they are built on occupied land. ... [The freeze] has served to reduce the settlement issue to a mere bargaining chip that pertains more to US-Israeli relations than to international law. And in so doing, it has distracted attention from the fact that the real differences between the Palestinians and Israelis are not about the settlements per se, but about whether Israel acknowledges that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied Palestinian territory." It's another example of how politics has eclipsed the meanwhile almost endearing dimension of corruption. It seems as if war has become the ultimate money-making machine. Maybe that's what's brewing in the Koreas as well.