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"A weblog is a frequently updated web site where the content is often in reverse chronological order." (Mena Trott)
It contains a perfectly random assortment of thoughts, ideas, references and complaints, and they are all mine! (CD)

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Name: Christian Dreyer
Location: Switzerland

September 13, 2009

Witzig, witzig

On rare occasions, there's a German post on this blog. This is one of those rare occasions, because the post's object is a German language talk that I attended. Sorry about that.

Vor ein paar Tagen habe ich im Rahmen einer Flying Science Reihe einen ausgezeichneten Vortrag von Jochen H�risch mit dem Titel Witzig, witzig - was ist lustig? geh�rt. Meine Aufnahme des Vortrags ist - mit Placet des Referenten - hier verf�gbar. Die Kernthese des Vortrags hat mich schockiert: Das einzige, wor�ber man heute nicht lachen d�rfe, sei die Religion. Begr�ndet wurde diese Feststellung mit den m�glichen Folgen solcher Witze - d�nische Karikaturen usw lassen gr�ssen.

Meiner Meinung nach ist diese These falsch auf so vielen Ebenen, dass ich ohne umfangreiche Abhandlung nicht darauf eingehen kann. Nur soviel: allein die Fixierung auf die Religion ist viel zu allgemein, da sich nur monotheistische Religionen so ernst nehmen, dass sie Humor nicht zulassen. Den G�ttern sei Dank kann ich mir eine detaillierte Kritik aber ersparen, weil der Referent selbst seine These in derart vielf�ltiger Weise k�stlich gebrochen hat, dass er sie offensichtlich selbst nicht Ernst nimmt. Ein wahres Lehrst�ck der Selbstironie und echtes Vergn�gen also - nur schade, dass nach dem (kurzen) Referat keine Diskussion zugelassen worden ist.

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December 01, 2008


This is quite a magic moment in Swiss TV, indeed - it's an interview with Harro von Senger, Swiss sinologist who popularised the Chinese 36 Stratagems in western thinking. In this programme, he discusses both the concept of stratagems as well as his most recent book�Moul�e�which reveals an ultra-long term, targeted thinking that is beyond what we consider to be strategic. The discussion, or rather, the somewhat clumsily scripted monologue is a useful first introduction into von Senger's subject. It is interesting to observe how very outlandish that subject appears to be to his interviewers, even though they have evidently done their homework.�

I've read Moul�e a while back, and I've been fascinated by the book. Von Senger's writing is chattier than his TV presence, meaning that it has its lengths. But these lengths are filled with a lot of erudite detail about Chinese literature and practice, so they are easily suffered. The concept itself of thinking "strategically" (for lack of a better word) over multiple generations with a view to a defined objective is quite an eye-opener, especially in conjunction with dialectical materialism as practised by the Communist Party. Many think that China has gone native with capitalism, but I have my doubts ...

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September 20, 2008

The way out of the moral matrix

Here's an excellent presentation about moral psychology. I particularly like the way in which the speaker comes across as very confident of his own political position despite of the apparent moral relativism (but it's actually moral humility) that he proposes. Being aware of and respecting your opponent's standpoint doesn't have to mean that your own position is weak.

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August 27, 2008

The Dark Knight

On Sunday night, I went to see The Dark Knight, the latest movie theatre incarnation of Batman. I've spent entirely too much of my scarce teenage pocket money on Batman comics, so I still never miss the movie editions, especially since I really like Tim Burton's work as a director. Burton's Batman is an extraordinary rendition of the dark comic strip character executed with the means of motion picture, but doing justice to its origin as a comic hero.

The Dark Knight is very different. I think that Christopher Nolan, its new director recognised that Burton's version cannot be topped, so he changed tack completely. Where Burton's Batman does not claim to be anything else but an entirely�fictitious�comic hero, Nolan has transformed Batman to a contemporary political metaphor - the Batman of the 21st century, so to speak. Any similarities with real events and persons are fully intentional, I am sure. And let me say that it is all very well done, with one exception: the transformation of the state prosecutor from Gotham's white knight to a madman is less than authentic. The night is darkest just before dawn - which is scheduled for November 4th.�

Incidentally, this movie reminded me of a quote by Max Frisch that I've stumbled on the other day. It's from his New York lectures on journalism, I think, and I cannot recall it verbatim, plus it was in German: You can never describe truth, you can only reinvent it. I think this is quite true, as however much you try to be objective, your description is always a function of your perception and your values. Hence, the most honest (but maybe not the most efficient) way to go about describing the truth is to invent a story that transports clearly what you want to say. In that way, The Dark Knight has quite an unexpected lot of truth.

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August 12, 2008

Clarity of mind

Via 43 Folders, I came across the essay Politics and the English Language by George Orwell. Written in 1946, its subject matter is just as current today, although complicated (and amplified!) by the fact that written language becomes increasingly obsolete in the immediacy of the spoken word.�Does the written language still matter in politics, or would it enter the realm of the law with its own technicalities?

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December 28, 2007

Sir Peter's taste for swan

Speaking of Scotland: I came across a reference to Udal law and feudal tenure in Scotland in an article in the University of Edinburgh Journal. This led me to this rather amusing article about Sir Peter's alleged felony to partake of the remains of a deceased swan (Monty Python, anyone?). I guess I'll never know whether Sir Peter actually did time in the Tower, but it certainly was enlightening to read about it.�

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December 01, 2007

Fear, engagement, transcendence

On a US trip a few years back, I read a text about Abraham Lincoln's clinical depression. This text occasionally still resonates today with me because of its empathetic description of a complex man who paradoxically depended on his clinical condition for superhuman strength. The article was published in The Atlantic, and it is now available online.

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November 11, 2007


On my recent London trip, I also went to see the Weapons of Mass Communication exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. This is a chronological display of propaganda posters from different countries for WW I & II, interwar Europe as well as for the cold war and the new world order. It is fascinating to compare the different countries' different approaches to the same thing, using an eerily appealing visual language. In fact, it's so fascinating that I got the�book, too!

Speaking of books: walking past Waterstone's, I noticed that Ian Rankin's latest book, Exit Music, is already on half price sale there. So I bought it also.�

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July 21, 2007

Blogging against music taxes

The Swiss Supreme Court has upheld a decision to introduce a hefty levy on digital music players and HD recorders. The proceeds go to collecting societies, which then redistribute the leftovers (after admin) to artists. The levy will be substantial, and consumers will start paying it on 1 September, irrespective of whether they use the player for music they bought legally. This is grossly inappropriate.

The Swiss Consumer Protection is requesting your support to mount a political campaign in the Swiss Federal Parliament to change the law which allows for this nonsense. Please give your support by sending an email - just click here!

This blog campaign has been started at freilich. If you want to support it, just use the following code in your own blog to encourage your readers to protest:
<a href="mailto:mp3@konsumentenschutz.ch?subject=freilich.ch gegen Musiksteuer!&body=Sehr geehrter Herr Parteipr�sident%0ASehr geehrte Frau Parteipr�sidentin%0A%0AHiermit fordere ich Sie auf, das Urheberrechtsgesetz so zu �ndern, dass Abgaben auf digitalen Abspielger�ten und Festplatten-Recordern nicht mehr m�glich sind. Es liegt in Ihrer Hand, die Abgabe zu verhindern, die vom Bundesgericht aufgrund unklarer Gesetzeslage beschlossen wurde. %0a%0aBesten Dank f�r Ihr Engagement!%0aDer Absender" rel="nofollow">Mit zwei Clicks ist es schon getan!</a>

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July 09, 2007

Obama for president? Yes, please.

In a recent conversation, I reserved judgment over whether I would support Mr Obama's candidacy until after having read his recent Foreign Affairs essay - as if anyone cared. I can now say that indeed I would. Mr Obama's foreign policy programme seems to be a well considered mix of hard action items while not forgetting about the softer repair operations in international trust & confidence necessitated by the current administration's dilettantism. Unfortunately he doesn't mention how this policy is supposed to be financed - it probably won't come cheaper than the unsustainable ongoing Iraq operation, which he proposes to conclude.


Live hypocrisy

There's really nothing much favourable I can say about spin events such as Live Earth. Not only were most participants quite hypocritical in their own answer to the call, other than jumping on a well prepared PR bandwaggon. What's more, the message promulgated by Messrs Gore et al is one of pathetic over-dramatisation. The planet needs no saving, nor does mankind as such. I don't contend that "we" are likely to run into quite a lot of trouble and pain in adapting to the changing environment, and that it may be reasonable to take mitigating measures now, but the missionary zeal in evidence does little to alleviate my suspicion that there is more to it than meets the eye: Politicians will jump at every opportunity to expand their own sphere of influence, even though the single most effective strategy would be one of a government-neutral increase of the relative price of fossil fuels. Politicians however are loath to hear the bit about government-neutral, of course ... they are part of the problem rather than of the solution.

In fact, I am wondering whether we're on the way to a carbon standard economy. This refers to the world currency system, as in gold standard, or the Bretton Woods system. Already today, the influence of one form of carbon (i.e. oil) on the global economy is very strong and may be seen as an alternative currency.

Anyway, arcane considerations such as that apart, I've come across a good evaluation of voluntary carbon offset programmes by Tufts University. I am glad to see that one of the recommended companies is Swiss MyClimate. Amazing that my forthcoming trip to Singapore for instance will release about 10 tons of CO2, the offset of which would set me back some ?260. I need to consider my policy options.

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May 20, 2007

Scientology & me

Well, not me personally, as I do not have any business with the devious & dangerous cult of Scientology myself, other than having lost a member of my extended family to its following. But you'll have to see the BBC's excellent eponymous documentary which tracks the unpleasant experience of the Beeb's John Sweeney when approaching Scientology critically. Up until now, I thought that, surely, urban lore about the cult's nature is overdone, but now I think it's even worse! Have a look at the list of celebrities associated with Scientology - I'll avoid their work going forward.

You can also watch the documentary in three installments on Youtube.

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April 21, 2007

Political analyses

Mr Fukuyama seems to have found his way out of the end of history quite well. Prospect has a great article about Identity & Migration which gives a lot of food for thought. So, he refers to Olivier Roy's Globalized Islam which seems to imply that radical islamism can actually be interpreted as akin to the Reformation. That's a tantalising thought, especially since many think that Islam's fundamentalist tendencies are due to its lack of something like an Age of Enlightenment - which followed the Reformation.

But that's not all - Mr Fukuyama also addresses the need for liberal European societies to strengthen their identity:
The civilisation of the European Enlightenment, of which contemporary liberal democracy is the heir, cannot be culturally neutral, since liberal societies have their own values regarding the equal worth and dignity of individuals. Cultures that do not accept these premises do not deserve equal protection in a liberal democracy. Members of immigrant communities and their offspring deserve to be treated equally as individuals, not as members of cultural communities. There is no reason for a Muslim girl to be treated differently under the law from a Christian or Jewish one, whatever the feelings of her relatives.
I fully subscribe to that, as to most of the rest of the article.

Secondly, I'd like to refer you to a great piece of contemporary Realpolitik, namely Containing Russia, by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. Ms Tymoshenko seems to have a pretty level-headed, fair view of her country's titanic North-Eastern neighbour. Let's hope she will be in a position to put it into practical policy again soon ...


April 20, 2007

A Parisian in America?

Here's a rare thing: a useful review of one of French presidential candidate Sarkozy's (who would get my vote, for lack of a more reformist candidate) books in an American online magazine. American.com is quite good, btw!

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March 12, 2007

Global warming

What with the raging debate about man made global warming and all its derivative industry pro & con, I am still trying to get my head around it, although I must admit that I am growing increasingly weary about the blatantly partisan direction that the debate is taking. Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle takes a refreshingly contrarian position: it not just questions the economics of counter measures (it barely does, in fact), but it goes so far as to question the received wisdom that global warming is scientifically proven (yes, yes ...) to be man made. It offers alternative explanations for unquestioned climatic variability (unsurprisingly, the sun), plus a set of more or less obvious conspiracy theories. Well worth watching for every open minded contrarian.

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February 12, 2007

A new Cold War?

Mr Putin's recent speech at the Munich Security Conference seems to have caused a bit of unrest in the corridors of power worldwide. Talk of a new cold war abounds. Is it justified? Only time will tell, of course. Meanwhile, have a go at the speech - it is very oddly disparate in my view, so much so that some substance must have been lost in translation, I suppose.


December 29, 2006

No, Prime Minister

If you are interested in all things happening on the Fairest Isle, this is for you! 10 Downing Street has opened its door to virtual visitors. The rooms do in fact very much look like those we already know from the famous TV serial. One wonders whether they were shot on location?

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December 27, 2006

Reason's Greetings

In line with my favourite English language newspaper's current promotional slogan, I finally got round to reading this comprehensive, yet somewhat contrarian piece on the New Atheism. It is probably in reaction to the ascendancy of religious fundamentalism that there have been some topical publications which now serve as focal points for the New Atheist movement called The Brights.

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.

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December 15, 2006

UK condones corruption

This story is very bad news for the rule of law in the UK and removes the last vestiges of credibility of Prime Minister Blair's whiter than white cabinet. "It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest" (Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in the House of Lords this afternoon). Furthermore, our conclusion about the motivation for the Saudis' opposition against the SFO investigation in question is now inevitable indeed.