Dec 29, 2011

Fundamentalism in trouble (Dirk)


And while we are at it, lets reminisce: We are driving across the US, as usual, have spent the previous night in a hotel in Wyoming where the Gideon Bible is an accessory to every night table, have read the Genesis chapter, have crossed into the God-fearing state of South Dakota, and are driving past a evangelical billboard saying: "Noah planned ahead.." (the import being that you should plan ahead, too, etc). Well, no, Noah did not plan ahead. He was ordered by God to build the arc.

One of the tricks of today's American fundamentalists is their illiteracy; they have, in fact, not read the Bible.

Dec 26, 2011

And now for our final, and definitive Christmas post (Jacki)



(We performed it on Christmas eve 1985 during our visiting stint at the Rockefeller College, SUNY, Albany to rave reviews from a disoriented faculty)

Dec 25, 2011

We wish you a happy X-mas

When we entered la bonne bourgeoisie in 2003 by buying our house here on the coast, we learned a lot about the world, including the world of X-mas cards. Such cards are sent across social networks to maintain ties by exploiting the pivotal holiday occasion, and then exhibited proudly near the entrance of one's dwelling for all visitors to see. Obviously, one's social status is related to the quantity of cards on display, as well as their quality (cards can cost up to 20£$€, and look the part).  But quantity --- as the philosopher would say --- converts ("schlägt um") to ("in") quality, and it's not necessarily the other way round, in particular since visitors are not supposed to inspect cards too closely (privacy). Am I making this sound very French?

Sheraton sécretaire in the hall

The first year, we received ca. 10 cards. Since we were new to the game, we didn't write any. That didn't keep the cards from coming. Their numbers grew, and we wrote back. Our best year was 2007, when we were able to over-decorate the pretty sécretaire in the hall (a Sheraton replica) with more than 25 cards, although it was already clear that we would never make the cut of the better society here on the hill. @ some neighbo(u)rs the cards would overload the table in the hall (we are the only ones with a Sheraton replica, but it doesn't matter, nobody else here has ever heard of the guy, and I wouldn't raise the issue if not Alan Hollinghurst had mentioned the Regency éboniste in his first and absolutely oversexed gay novel The Swimmingpool Library), enfin, @ our neighbo(u)rs the cards would overload the table in the hall --- and additional auxiliary furniture --- summing up to a total of 200, or 300 X-mas greetings.

To repeat, it was clear that we would never reach the exalted station of 300 cards, but we were entering the year 2008, and candidate Obama was winning the presidential elections with, yes, what was it, something about HOPE. The card numbers were growing, and the trend is your friend, as they say on Wall Street.

Come Christmas 2008. I am not going to elaborate about my peeking out of the door in merry expectation of the card-carrying postwoman ("facteur"), as lesser bloggers would. Bref, there were fewer cards. We blamed it on Wall Street and the crisis. But 2009 wasn't better. And 2010, when the crisis had abated, the card number had shrunken to 2003 values, around 10.

Doris (picture taken by her husband, Dirk (yes, the Dirk) ca. 1968)
A trend is a trend unless reversed, as they say on Wall Street. Today, one day before Christmas, we may expect the X-mas card business to have plateaued. Cards are sent early, it's too late for more. Time for the final count. How are we doing this year? We received 2  ("two") cards, both from the same person (Doris, also a neighbor, and she does not have a computer).

How is this going to end? Will we drop out of the world? Will the numbers turn negative next year? "Why can't we live together in peace?" (Jack Nicholson, as American president, in Mars Attacks).

It's the internet, stupid, I hear Bill Clinton say, who has possibly received 100,000 cards.

Find a caption

Dec 20, 2011

Ordinateur (French for beginners) (Vincent)

The "urban word" of today, Computer, is defined as a "machine for downloading porn."


And, by sheer coincidence, Vincent sends this:

Une enseignante francophone expliquait à sa classe que dans la langue française, les noms, contrairement à l'anglais, sont désignés au masculin et au féminin. Par exemple : maison est féminin.. une maison ; crayon par contre, est masculin...un crayon.

Un élève demanda à l'enseignante de quel genre est donc le nom ordinateur [computer].

Au lieu de donner la réponse, l'enseignante a séparé la classe en deux groupes, garçons et filles, leur demandant de décider d'eux-mêmes si ordinateur est masculin ou féminin. Elle a demandé à chaque groupe de donner quatre bonnes raisons pour appuyer sa recommandation.

Les garçons ont décidé à l'unanimité que "ordinateur" est effectivement du genre féminin (une ordinateur) parce que:

1. Personne d'autre que son créateur ne comprend sa logique intérieure;
2. Le langage de base que les ordinateurs utilisent avec d'autres ordinateurs est incompréhensible pour quiconque;
3. Même la plus petite erreur est conservée en mémoire à long terme pour être ramenée à la surface plus tard;
4. Aussitôt que vous utilisez régulièrement une ordinateur, vous vous exposez à dépenser la moitié de votre chèque de paie pour acheter des accessoires pour elle.

Le groupe de filles, toutefois, a conclu que l'ordinateur est de genre masculin parce que:

1. Afin d'accomplir quoi que ce soit avec lui, tu dois l'allumer;
2. Il est bourré de matériel de base, mais ne peut penser par lui même;
3. Il est censé régler beaucoup de problèmes, mais la moitié du temps, c'est lui le problème;
4. Aussitôt que tu en utilises un régulièrement, tu te rends compte que si tu avais attendu un peu, tu aurais obtenu un meilleur modèle.

Les filles ont gagné !

Dec 18, 2011

A Christmas Carol (Jacki)

A married couple has been out Christmas shopping at the mall most of the afternoon, when she suddenly realizes that her husband has “disappeared.”


Disoriented, she calls her husband’s cell and asks “where the hell are you ?”
“Darling, remember that jewelry shop where you saw the diamond necklace and totally fell in love with it; and remember that I didn’t have the money at the time and said ‘Baby it’ll be yours one day.”

Somewhat embarrassed and with a blushing smile, she replies “Yes. I remember that my love.”
“Well, I’m in the bar next to that store.”

Dec 17, 2011

Ditto (Siggi, Dirk)

Dirk sends this...



...and writes: "This has been around for a while but still. As the story goes, the guy that owns this house lives north of Cincinnati, Ohio .. Police were constantly being called for traffic jams and accidents in the neighborhood so they asked him to shut it down during certain hours. Instead he started charging by car load to pay off duty police to be there."

And while we are at it:

Oct 29, 2011

Why banks have become dysfunctional

James Saft, the Reuters' columnist, has a piece in the IHT about a talk by Andrew Haldane, the executive director for financial stability of the Bank of England. Once in a while, somebody writes a few lines we ("we") really should read, and here they are:

The purchaser of a portfolio of global banking stocks in the early 1990s is today sitting on a real loss. So who exactly is it extracting value from today's banks? The answer is twofold: shorter-term investors and bank management. Because banks have, over the past two centuries, migrated to a limited liability, shareholder-owned model, there is a natural tendency for owners to make riskier loans and trades and to increase the bank's assets.

Andrew Haldane
A bigger, riskier balance sheet with more leverage produces terribly volatile results, with many good-size profits mixed in with the occasional catastrophic loss. But with limited liability, executives and shareholders can simply walk away from the smoking wreckage, having pocketed the gains when times were good.

Bank of England
Banks then have a built-in incentive always to increase leverage, and the tyranny of quarterly earnings places huge pressure on them to enlarge their asset books, even if there is no one creditworthy left to lend to.
That was one of the main causes of the subprime episode. Faced with the prospect of not increasing earnings, banks simply began to manufacture borrowers where none really should have existed.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that debt is tax-deductible while equity is not, giving banks even more incentive to borrow. While the typical leverage of an American or British bank in 1900 was five or six times equity, that figure peaked at about 30 times before the crisis, and is higher still now for many euro zone banks.
Bank bondholders have been unwilling to play their role as vigilantes, in part because they quite rightly expect to be bailed out by governments if banks go to the wall.
In the past 30 years, many banks have moved to measure their performance -and set their bonuses -on the basis of a measure called return on equity, which measures profit compared with equity. What return on equity does not adjust for, of course, is risk, and it looks as if return-on-equity targets in a leverage driven business have produced a lot of risk in the form of extreme bank earnings volatility, and badly compensated volatility at that.

PS: Conspiracy, conspiracy. If you search for James Saft on IHT's web site, it comes back with " 'James Saft' did not match any documents under Past 30 Days." If you search for the column's title "Why banks take such huge risks," it comes back with all sorts of articles (about Berlusconi, among others), but not with Saft's column. However, if your search for the same title on Google, it comes back with a mirror site of the column as first result. (Lol)

Oct 22, 2011

We missed rapture day

Rapture had been scheduled for May 21, and was then rescheduled for Oct 21 (an error in the calculations). Yesterday, folks. And we missed it.

 

An alternative explanations is, of course, that we all got raptured yesterday (or at least everybody we know), and are now in heaven. You decide.

Oct 19, 2011

History of the world: Apple Computers

Act II. Somewhere in 1978 or 79, the Amsterdam department store De Bijenkorff opened a new sales corner on its 4th floor, mysteriously named "huiscomputers" and it featured a new product, the Apple II home computer. At that time most people, including myself, would conceive of computers as "electronic brains" (Germans called them "Elektronengehirne," before they called them "computers," before they called them "Rechner,") all built by IBM, all infinitely expensive, large, and remote.

Act I. My first contact with computer had been in 1972, when I took an algebra class at the Free University of Berlin and we were tasked to program matrix inversions and some such in Algol68, the programming language du jour. This was done by (1) punching Hollerith cards in the right places, on special machines located in the university's computing center, then (2) placing the cards in the intray located in the hallway outside the main operating room where the computer was located (there was only one), (3) waiting for an operator to appear to empty the intray (he would open a wing door, and allow you a glimpse at the electronic brain, humming and chugging along in fluorescent light, tape decks clicking back and forth), (4) then waiting another hour or so for the operator to reappear with the "output," --- folded stacks of paper in a very large format, the name of the "job" (no pun intended) printed in very large letters on the first page. If your stack was very thin (as it usually was) this could mean only one thing: something had gone wrong. You would (5) try to find the error, or try to find some help to find the error, correct it, (6) resubmit your job, and repeat the process ad infinitum. Usually, it would take only a few days  until a program of a few lines code would finally run properly.

Act II, cont'd. So far so good. Back to the department store. What could you do with a home computer, I asked the sales person. Well, he said, you could store cooking recipes and call them up as appropriate. I didn't buy one.

Act III. We're now at Dartmouth College, NH, and the day is Jan 16, 1984. In  between, I had become interested in a computer simulations,  and was visiting there Dartmouth's Research Policy Center, run by Dennis Meadows of The Limits to Growth fame (the book) to learn more about his approach, called "System Dynamics." To repeat, the day is Jan 16, a Monday, and we all must go and have a look at the new Apple computer, the Macintosh. So we cross the icy, snowy campus, and arrive in a dedicated room of the computing center, where a passionate lady demonstrates to us what a rectangular box, white, with a small screen, and a funny device, called "mouse," linked to the computer could achieve together. There was also a small matrix printer with ugly output. But, but, you could create sketches on the Macintosh screen by moving the mouse across the table, and then print them on the printer. Also, you could use different fonts, when printing a text. This led to typographic orgies of the worst kind for months on end (don't ask).


Act IV.  A year and a half later. I'm returning to Dartmouth College on a regular basis for various projects, and spend a lot of time with Perry LaPotin, the polymath grad student, who has become an invaluable part of the Cold Region Research Lab of the Corps of Engineers, conveniently located next to the college. Perry was already writing programs for the Macintosh. There was only one small problem. You could not write Macintosh programs on the Macintosh, since its memory was too small. Apple had built another machine, the Lisa, sold only to professionals, whose memory was large enough, since it had a hard disk (HARD DISK). The hard disk was really large, 10 megabytes, but the was a little glitch in the hard disk space management. Lisa didn't always know when the hard disk capacity was exhausted, which led to hard disk malfunction, which then Perry had to repair by using a mix of erratic reset activity (the escape button, yes), brawn, and black arts. He spent roughly half of his working day resetting the hard disk. I still see him sitting there, patiently kicking our Lisa back to work. When we would finally go home, belatedly, exhausted, we turned our attention to the regrettable downward tendency of the Apple Computer stock price. Apple was already on its way out, since the Macintosh was fairly useless.

Act V. Now comes the part that is omitted in all the obituaries. A few weeks later, still 1985. The Apple laser printer appears on the market. And it prints like a professional printer, plug and play, 50 different fonts, some very convincing ones. Your manuscript looks just great, your letter looks just great, your writ, opinion, table of content, graphics (Graphics) they all look great. It looks almost as if you can stop arguing, just putting your breath-taking graphics of the front page of your important contribution (the PC-world of MS-DOS, might, just might be able to connect to some laser printer and print something in Courier font until the next software glitch puts an end to such pretentiousness) but we, with our Apple laser printer, we rool (we meant "rule," but rool is even better) we rule the world. My research grant applications are looking so much better than those of the competition, I'm collecting one grant after the other, until I get a Pioneer Grant from the Dutch goverment that allows me to start my own research institute, the Applied Logic Laboratory. I'm still convinced that my success in those years hinged on the flawless Macintosh laser print of my submission, and in particular on the flawless laserprinted  tables of content done by the best text processor of those days, Wordperfect. For example, the committee for the Pioneer grant met only once, with forty longish application to evaluate, and only one grant to award. You an bet that they started reading the stuff when stepping on the train for their meeting in The Hague (much Dutch work gets done on trains, as Paul Krugman), and they had barely time to read the tables of content. Mine was the best.

Anyhow, the laser printer constituted a quantum leap, and many people understood, got their Macintosh laser act together, bought the stuff. and saved the company.

Stay tuned.


Act VI.  It's three years later 1988, and I'm back in Amsterdam. The Macintosh II appears on the market, the first bona fide machine with a color screen. Somebody wrote a program that would generate Mandelbrot's fractals in real time and the annual Dutch software exhibition features nothing but magic lanterns that move according to the incorruptible logic of Mandelbrot's algorithm.

A typical Mandelbrot image (Helix 2)

Interlude (short). We're also getting a research contract with IBM, since IBM has now a Unix machine, a mini computer, half way between a PC and a small mainframe (for insiders only: think VAX). We would get the computer for free (listprice perhaps 100 kay, regardless of the currency), work with it, and produce a report. Nerd alert: IBM has a Unix machine. Not Unix of course (nor Linux, which didn't exist in those days), but some Unix dialect that is supposedly compatible with standards Unix (of course it isn't). A small step for mankind, but a big step for IBM.

Now, in order to use the machine, we had to connect it to our network. And it's an ethernet-(work). "Is your new machine ethernet-compatible," we ask IBM. "We are the best," the man in the blue suits sing in unison while pummeling their breasts (there was a dress code at IBM in those days, blue suits, white shirt, tie), "so our machine is ethernet compatible."

So we connect the IBM machine (something with lot's of "8" in the name) to our Ethernet. Nothing happens, of course. We call IBM. "It's your fault," the men in the blue suits sing over the telephone while pummeling their breast, have you though of switching your network on?" This goes back and forth for a few month. "Have you thought of this, have you thought of that?" Yes, we have. One fine day, A delegation from IBM descends from heaven in the spaceships that Emmerich's Independence Day made so famous. Several people. They switch on the machine, they think of this and of that, but nothing happens. This takes the whole day. Finally, finally, they have the answer. "Yes, they say, it's obvious, you are using the latest Ethernet version, and our machine is not yet compatible with your version. It's your fault."

I'm not making this up.



Act VII. My research center (initially cursed with the hopeless name CCSOM) is growing, and we need more computers

Oct 15, 2011

History of the world: Apple Computers (5)

(Go  here for earlier acts)

Act V. Now comes the part that is omitted in all the obituaries. A few weeks later, still 1985. The Apple laser printer appears on the market. And it prints like a professional printer, plug and play, 50 different fonts, some very convincing ones. Your manuscript looks just great, your letters look just great, your writs, opinions, protestations, tables of content, graphics (Graphics), indexes, they all look great. You look great. A picture values a thousand words, a laser-printed graphic is invaluable; (in the PC-world of MS-DOS of 1985, you might, just might have been able to connect to some third party laser printer and print something in Courier font until the next software glitch put an end to your pretentiousness, but graphics where an entirely different animal and would have had to be printed separately anyhow).

My research grant applications are looking so much better than those of the competition, I'm collecting one grant after the other, until I get a Pioneer Grant from the Dutch government that allows me to start my own research institute, the Applied Logic Laboratory. I'm still convinced that my success in those years hinged on the flawless Macintosh laser print of my submissions, and in particular on the flawless laser-printed  tables of content. For example, the committee for the Pioneer grant met only once, with forty longish applications to evaluate, and only one grant to award. You can bet that the committee members, all busy, distinguished scholars, didn't start reading the stuff until they stepped on the train for their meeting in The Hague (much Dutch work gets done on trains, ask Paul Krugman), and they had barely time to read the tables of content during the journey. Mine was the best.

First Apple laser printer (plug & play)

Anyhow, the laser printer constituted a quantum leap, and many people understood, got their Macintosh laser act together, bought it together with the Macintosh, and saved the company.

Go here for the next act.

Oct 12, 2011

History of the world: Apple Computers (3)

(Go  here for earlier acts)

Interlude. A friend sends this picture and writes...

Apple store in Palo Alto, CA
Apple Store, Palo Alto, CA.

..."did you know I hate Post-It stickers, and the people who use them, almost as much as I hate Apple?" 

Go here for the next act.

Oct 10, 2011

History of the world: Apple Computers (2)

(Go  here for earlier acts)


Act III. We're now at Dartmouth College, NH, and the day is Jan 16, 1984. I had become interested in computer simulations,  and was visiting Dartmouth's Research Policy Center, run by Dennis Meadows of The Limits to Growth fame, to learn more about his approach, called "System Dynamics." To repeat, the day is Jan 16, a Monday, and we all must go and have a look at the new Apple computer, the Macintosh. So we cross the icy, snowy campus, and arrive in a dedicated room of the computing center, where a passionate lady demonstrates to us what a rectangular box, white, with a small screen, and a funny little device on the desktop, called "mouse," could achieve together. There is also a small matrix printer with very ugly output. But, but, you could create sketches on the Macintosh screen by moving the mouse across the table, and then print them on the printer. Also, you could use different fonts for your text, and print them as they appeared on the screen (WYSIWYG). This led to typographic orgies of the worst kind for months on end, campuswide (don't ask), printed in very ugly ways by this matrix printer.

Apple Macintosh

Act IV.  A year and a half later. I'm returning to Dartmouth College on a regular basis for various projects, and spend a lot of time with Perry LaPotin, the polymath grad student, who has become an invaluable part of the Cold Regions Research Lab of the Corps of Engineers, conveniently located next to the college. Perry was already writing programs for the Macintosh. There was only one small problem. You could not write Macintosh programs on the Macintosh itself, its memory was too small. Apple had built another machine, the Lisa, available only to professionals, whose memory was large enough for Macintosh programming since it had a hard disk (HARD DISK) that could be made to work as virtual memory. The hard disk was really large, 10 megabytes, (MEGABYTES) but there were glitches. Lisa didn't always know when the hard disk's capacity was exhausted, which led to hard disk malfunction, which then Perry had to repair using a mix of erratic reset activities (eg. the escape button), brawn, and black arts. He spent roughly half of his working day resetting the hard disk. I still see him sitting there, patiently kicking the Lisa back to work. When we would finally go home, belatedly, exhausted, we would turn our attention to the regrettable downward spiral that constituted the Apple Computer stock price. Apple was on its way out, since the Macintosh was fairly useless.

Perry LaPotin


Go here for the next act.

Oct 8, 2011

History of the world: Apple Computers (I)


Act II. Somewhere in 1978 or 79, the Amsterdam department store De Bijenkorff opened a new sales corner on its 4th floor, mysteriously named "huiscomputers," which featured a new product, the Apple II home computer. At that time most people, including myself, would conceive of computers as "electronic brains" (Germans called them "Elektronengehirne" before they called them "computers" before they called them "Rechner"), all built by IBM, all infinitely expensive, large, and remote.

Standard IBM Hollerith punch card

Act I. My first contact with computers had been in 1972, when I took an algebra class at the Free University of Berlin and was tasked to program matrix inversions and some such in Algol68, the programming language du jour. This was done by (1) punching Hollerith cards in the right places, on special machines located in the university's computing center, then (2) placing the cards in the intray located in the hallway outside the main operating room where the computer was located (there was only one computer), (3) waiting for an operator to appear to empty the intray (he would open a wing door, and allow you a glimpse at the electronic brain, humming and chugging along in fluorescent light, tape decks clicking back and forth), (4) then waiting another hour or so for the operator to reappear with the "output," --- folded stacks of paper in a very large format, the name of the "job" (no pun intended) printed in very large letters on the first page. If your stack was very thin (as it usually was) this could mean only one thing: something had gone wrong. You would (5) try to find the error, or try to find some help to find the error, (6) correct it, (7) resubmit your job, and repeat the correction loop as appropriate. Usually, it would take only a few days  until a program of a few lines of code would finally run properly. 

IBM mainframe, system 360 (1964 - 78)


Act II, cont'd.  So far so good. Back to the department store. What could you do with a home computer, I asked the sales person. Well, he said, you could store cooking recipes and call them up when needed. I didn't buy the Apple II.

Go here for the next act.

Sep 30, 2011

Progress

Progressives are convinced that mankind can progress, in particular modern mankind, us. And we do, in fact, progress on many measures, such as literacy, life expectancy, technological advance, women's rights, and the spread of democratic regimes. Not so sure about other some others. Corruption? It may be getting worse. Politics? With the Tea Party as their pivotal force, the US are clearly in trouble. How about wars? We did not know:



Well, it's getting better too.

Sep 12, 2011

No comment

This is a FamousAuthor, isn't it?

Help me, help me (washed-up script writer)

We haven't heard from the washed-up scriptwriter in quite some time. He was washed up in Kazakhstan, and wrote some poems for President Brftzerk, the guy from the rotating golden statue, and then Brftzerk got arrested or something, and Sacha, who was supposed to keep him company, is back in Europe.

Finally, finally, we have some new news from the washed up scriptwriter.

"For obvious reasons," he writes, "I am setting my next script in the realm of financial stability. And here is my first try. A brief soliloquy (we want our soliloquies short these day's, don't we), that I put into the mouth of this Trichet person, you know who I mean, the president of this European Bank:
Reporter:

What is your answer to German people and economists who want the return of the DM? Trichet: You want answers?
Reporter: I think the Germans are entitled.
Trichet: You want answers? (SHOUTING)
Reporter: Germans want the truth! (SHOUTING)
Trichet: *You can’t handle the truth!* (SHOUTING) [pauses]…
Trichet: Son, we live in a world that has prices, and those prices have to be guarded by men with bonds. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Sylvia Wadhwa? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Lehman Brothers, and you curse Ben Bernanke. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Lehman’s collapse, while tragic, probably saved banks. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves banks. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that committee, you need me on that committee. We use words like rate, target, expectation. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a profitline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of price stability that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said congratulations and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a Greek bond, and suffer a haircut. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

And you know what? I didn't make this up. Heres what Trichet really said:

“We have delivered price stability over the first 12 years and 13 years of the euro — impeccably, impeccably!” Trichet said, his voice rising. “I would like very much to hear the ‘congratulations’ for an institution that has delivered price stability in Germany for … almost 13 years at an annual inflation rate of around 1.55%. It was not by chance; it was because we decided very frequently to do things that were not recommended by the various governments. Our independence is inflexible… We are in the worst crisis since World War II. We do our job. It is not an easy job.”

Sep 11, 2011

The gay flight attendant (Dirk)

A friend of Dirk relates:

"My flight was being served by an obviously gay flight attendant, who seemed to put everyone in a good mood as he served us food and drinks.

As the plane prepared to descend, he came swishing down the aisle and said....

'Captain Marvey has asked me to announce that he'll be landing the big scary plane shortly, so lovely people, if you could just put your trays up, that would be super.' On his trip back up the aisle, he noticed this well-dressed and rather Arabic looking woman hadn't moved a muscle. 'Perhaps you didn't hear me over those big brute engines when I asked you to raise your trazy-poo, so the main man can pitty-pat us on the ground.'

She calmly turned her head and said, 'In my country, I am called a Princess and I take orders from no one.'

To which (I swear) the flight attendant replied, without missing a beat, 'Well, sweet-cheeks, in my country I'm called a Queen, so I outrank you. Tray-up, Bitch'"

Seen on a Greek beach



Jul 11, 2011

Inappropriate same-gender or opposite-gender sexual harassment, adultery or intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds (restrooms, showers, barracks, tents, etc.)

Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have signed a pledge, which obliges them to monogamy and more.

Michele Bachmann (note the flag)
Rick Santorum (note the flag)

The pledge, in its preamble, carried the following statement (later removed from the website):
Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA‟s first African-American President.
As to the pledge itself, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum "vow":
Support for the enactment of safeguards for all married and unmarried U.S. Military and National Guard personnel, especially our combat troops, from inappropriate same-gender or opposite-gender sexual harassment, adultery or intrusively intimate commingling among attracted (restrooms, showers, barracks, tents, etc.)
You've any idea what this could mean, "same gender commingling among attracted?"

M& is glad to help out (ranking on the scale of 1 - 10)

Same gender commingling among attracted (3)

Same gender commingling among attracted (6)

Same gender commingling among attracted (9)

Can you read this (1) (Dirk)

Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg.


The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! If you can raed this forwrad it.

-"Apparently, word order doesn't really matter either."
-"Which brings us one step closer to the fulfillment of the Philosopher's Dream: a sentence that says it all." 

Jul 8, 2011

Bible Studies (3)

We find ourselves in the hospital with a broken leg, it’s Saturday night, and the surgeon on duty, Dr. Eva Ursprung, is tired after an emergency operation. We joke about her name (“origin”). Her face darkens --- such were the dire specs of our second Bible Studies cliff hanger.

Dr. Ursprung, entourage, patient, on a Saturday night

Relax. Dr. Ursprung keeps her cool and tweaks my hurt leg with her professional fingers. “It’s very swollen, your foot,” she remarks with her perfect Polish accent. “We can’t do much until the swelling recedes.”

My world falls apart. My brain, still awash in the stress hormones triggered by the accident, had floated in the delusion (this is so overwritten, sorry) that the man in the white coats would coat my broken parts in plaster stante pede and send me back to the Black Run Café, where my loutish friends are already waiting with highballs in one hand and ballpoints in the other, eager to leave obscene messages on the freshly paved landscape of my stricken parts. I explain myself to Dr. Ursprung and entourage. They keep their professional cool. “We rarely plaster these days,” her assistant replies, “98 point five percent of leg fractures receive surgery now.” Dr. Ursprung tweaks my foot some more, shakes her head, waves a good-bye with the x-ray pictures, and leaves. “We’ll have to find you a room,” Nurse Ernst remarks, while pushing my bed towards the elevator. Two minutes later I’ll find myself in a dark hospital room with another man who watches TV. We waive to each other. “Make yourself comfortable,” Ernst remarks helpfully.

I can’t sleep, I know. Ernst has left, and I inspect the night table next to the bed. There’s a copy of the New Testament in the top drawer, compliments of the Gideons. It’s in German, of course (we’re in the German speaking part of the Valais (“Wallis”)), in a modernized Luther translation.

Stay Tuned.

Jul 1, 2011

Bible studies (2)

Lying on the ground with a broken leg in the pouring rain, crying for help while the Swiss Frank keeps co-tourists out of the country --- such were the dire specs of our first Bible Studies cliff hanger.

Relax. Arch Angel Gabriel hears our call, and appears in the emanation of Linda, the girl next door. She calls the ambulance (# 144, Swiss-wide,  they would also know your location if you call from a cell-phone),  while we find shelter under the roof of a neighboring chalet. The sun breaks through the clouds, we sit down in a plastic garden chair. Our tired, broken legs are now dangling in the late-afternoon sunshine. We think philosophical thoughts but feel no pain.  Linda prepares a cup of hot peppermint tea. It’s the first time we break something, the first time we will be doing some time in a hospital. Our life will never be the same.

The ambulance is delayed, delayed, but two sturdy men finally arrive and put me on a walking chair and heave me up the slippery, treacherous path towards the rescue vehicle. Rich, antique Romans were carried that way by their slaves, and we feel the fun.

At the hospital (“Spital Visp”) the reception nurse makes reassuring noises. The spital does the ski resorts of Zermatt and Saas Fee, she informs us, and broken legs are their specialty. An X-ray confirms the break. It’s the fibula --- if Google Translate is correct (“Wadenbein” in German). Now what? The Upper Surgeon (our translation of “Oberarzt”) is stuck in emergency surgery. She will decide. We will wait. (Perhaps we forgot to mention that all this is happening on a Saturday night?)

Dr. Ursprung (with colleagues), shortly before we drop the bomb

The Oberarzt, a petite blonde, arrives 2 hours later, around 9pm. She speaks perfect German with a perfect Polish accent, and she’s tired. A tag on her left bosom features her picture and her name: Dr. Eva Ursprung. Ursprung --- that means “origin” in English. “Ursprung,” I say to her in German, perhaps not fully cognizant of the situation, “Ursprung, that would be a nice name for a philosopher.” Her face darkens. Her mouth drops. Her eyes close. The end of the world is near.

Stay tuned.

Jun 26, 2011

Bible Studies (1)

We wear hiking boots and sticks and are well-prepared for our walk along the squirrel path here in Bürchen, where the life of the squirrel is explained on educative tableaux, while little man-made squirrel nests are invitingly set next to the path every hundred meters or so. Occasionally, a real squirrel shows up. Almost back home in the chalet zone, we have to descend a steep trail, the Oberer Eggaweg. It rains, we slip, we lie on the ground. Something is amiss. It must be the right foot. We can still move it, though. So we should be OK. We’re trying to get back up, but a sudden pain sets our sensitive nerves alight. We’re hurt. Hit. We’ve broken something. We’re lying on the ground in the pouring rain. We're not feeling well, not at all. Chang cries out aloud, in the middle of all these chalets, "HELP, HELP." But the Swiss Frank is too strong,   the chalets are empty (Switzerland has become too expensive for tourists), nobody comes to help us, and we will die. 

Stay tuned.

Jun 9, 2011

"We have the best health-care system in the world"


And here is a longish quote from The Economist, the well-know communist magazine, published under the heading:"One way capitalism can make health care worse and more expensive":

Here's one example among a million. The other day I went to the IPO announcement of a company that does some fairly state-of-the-art medical stuff. The company was spun off from a public institute a few years back to exploit this technology, but it's been unable to establish significant revenue or market share, or to get within shouting distance of breaking even. Meanwhile, competitors with similar technologies have gobbled up most of the market share, and one is already quite profitable. The company said it planned to raise some tens of millions of dollars with the share issue, many times its current annual expenditures and about a third of its overall market cap. And what would it do with this money? It was going to use half of it to finance a marketing drive, targeting key decisionmakers at American health-care providers and health insurers, and doctors.

Why hadn't this company been able to generate significant revenues? Were its technologies inferior? No, said an independent molecular biologist I talked to. Its product was certainly as good as the competition's. Moreover, it had actually gone to the trouble of getting its technology approved by the FDA, which the competition hadn't. (In this sub-sector FDA approval isn't yet mandatory.) But it hadn't marketed itself well. It hadn't established the relationships with providers and insurers that would ensure that its product was the one they selected. Doing so would require a marketing budget of tens of millions of dollars, in a sub-sector where the entire annual market is a few hundred million dollars.

Just think about this for a minute. A medical technology company is going public to generate the money it needs to advertise its products to hospital directors and insurance-company reimbursement officers. This entails significant extra expenditures for marketing, the new stocks issued to fund the marketing will ultimately have to pay dividends, banks will have to be paid to supervise the IPO that was needed to generate the funds to finance the marketing campaign (presumably charging the industry-cartel standard 7%)...and all this will have to be paid for by driving up the price the company charges to deliver its technologies. But beyond the added expense, why would anyone think that a system in which marketing plays such a large role is likely to be more effective, to lead to better treatment, than the kind of process of expert review that governs grant awards at NIH or publishing decisions at peer-reviewed journals? Why do we think that a system in which ads for Claritin are all over the subways will generate better overall health results than one where a national review board determines whether Claritin delivers treatment outcomes for some populations sufficiently superior to justify its added expense over similar generics? What do we expect from a system in which, as ProPublica reports today, body imaging companies hire telemarketers to sell random people CT scans over the phone?

Jun 6, 2011

Paul Revere: our view

Here's M&'s, admittedly borrowed, view on Paul Revere (reposted)

Editor’s prescript: a close friend discovered an important manuscript that sheds new light on the actor and director George Clooney of Hollywood, California, and on an important historical American figure of recent Sarah Palin fame, ie. Paul Revere.  The fragment was found on the pages of aceonlineschools, and we provide its entire transcription here:

"Many people throughout history have influenced the nation through music, literature, and media. These individuals have left a lasting impression on the people they impressed. They have influenced people's lives. George Clooney is one of these individuals. He has left a lasting impression on the nation and his story is worthy of elaboration.


"George Clooney was born in 1692, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. His mother and father were both on the Mayflower heading east. His father was native to Spain, while his mother was native to Spain. When little Georgie was born, they knew he was destined for greatness because his hair shone like the morning sun and he had the eye of the tiger. He was also really, really tall. When he came to America, he said, “I claim this land,” And it was so. He and his family grew up as royalty in a cottage in Jamestown, Illinois. Everyone in the village worshiped them because they were royalty. By the age of four, George Clooney was 90 stories tall and could spell the word “psedoantidis-establishmentatianism”. This was pretty cool because even I can’t spell that. In his spare time, George Clooney liked to record hit country-rap singles and go on walks around town with his huge blue cow, Oprah Winfrey. But then Oprah got a talk show and started to get famous, so they grew apart. Little did he know, but his connections with Oprah would soon bring him stardom. George Clooney’s rein as “King of movies” began one quiet summer afternoon. He had just gotten back from the country bathouse [sic] after signing the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta. Needless to say, he was beat, and decided to go to his bed for a little catnap. While he was sleeping, Paul Revere came to his doorstep and said, “Hey, George Clooney, we’re finally pulling out of Iraq! Are you up for some billiards?” George Clooney replied, “Anything for you, Paul Revere ,” because, as you may not know, George Clooney and Paul Revere   are both raging homosexuals. So they went on their date. But was everything as well as it seemed?


"Everything was indeed as well as it seemed. You may be asking, “what does this have to do with his television career?” or “why does Paul Revere   want to play billiards?” Well I’ll start by answering the latter. Paul Revere  , being a raging homosexual, was part of Hitler’s Raging Homosexual Nazi Party. George Clooney, on the other hand, was simply a Homosexual Royal Spaniard. Because of their differences, Paul Revere   invited George Clooney to play billiards to settle their differences. But instead of settling their differences, he killed him. After this ordeal, George Clooney was in the hospital for months regaining his life force. Some say he went to monkey heaven, where he ate a banana with Austin, but others say that he in fact did not. The world may never know.



"When George Clooney had fully recovered, he started filming for Oceans Thirteen. One day, whilst drinking Prapel(…)Water (?????) Havored. (That’s the worst one) he revelated…

Editor’s postscript: This is where the fragment ends.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: The secrets of a proper blow job (I) (French for beginners: "bien sucer")


Experte en succion 1 par Miss_Trash
-"Didn't understand a word of it."
-"The more often you listen to this, the better you understand."
-"Listen?"
-"Well, subtitles would help, but the French don't do subtitles; they synchronize."
-"Language, movements?"
-"Both."

May 29, 2011

Sex and the camels: how the scene was shot




And here is the link. Topical! Timely! Director has a campy voice! They used "blond" camels from Egypt, because the local ones looked too "stingy(?)"!

May 25, 2011

Modernization and progress

Yes, we believe in it. It's perhaps hard to read between the lines of this blog, but it's true: we think that mankind is on the road towards a better future, a future characterized by individual and collective freedom, rationality, scientific and technological progress, common sense, and solidarity. And we are not the only ones. There's at least one other individual, Emmanuel Todd, a demographer working at the National Institute of Demographic Studies in Paris, who thinks along the same lines. He predicted the end of the Soviet Empire (although we did that, too), the demise of America's world dominance (not so difficult), and the Arab Spring (which we did not anticipate). He has given an interview to Der Spiegel. Here are some highlights:

The factors behind the Arab Spring: The rapid increase in literacy, particularly among women, a falling birthrate and a significant decline in the widespread custom of endogamy, or marriage between first cousins. This shows that the Arab societies were on a path toward cultural and mental modernization, in the course of which the individual becomes much more important as an autonomous entity.

The Arab Spring in Tunesia

Liberalization guaranteed? No. At this point, no one can say what the liberal movements in these countries will turn into. Revolutions often end up as something different from what their supporters proclaim at the beginning. Democracies are fragile systems that require deep historic roots. It took almost a century from the time of the French Revolution in 1789 until the democratic form of government, in the form of the Third Republic, finally took shape after France had lost a war against the Germans in 1871. In the interim, there was Napoleon, the royalist restoration and the Second Empire under Napoleon III.

How about other religious and economic factors? The condition for any modernization is demographic modernization. It goes hand-in-hand with a decline in experienced and practiced religiosity. We are already experiencing a de-Islamization of Arab societies, a demystification of the world, as Max Weber called it, and it will inevitably continue, just as a de-Christianization occurred in Europe.

How about the increasing popularity of the veil for women in Turkey and Egypt, for example. Or the retrogression in Iran? The Islamist convulsions are classic companion elements of the disorientation that characterizes every upheaval. But according to the law of history that states that educational progress and a decline in the birth rate are indicators of growing rationalization and secularization, Islamism is a temporary defensive reaction to the shock of modernization.

How about poverty? Of course, one can placate the people with bread and money, but only for a while. Revolutions usually erupt during phases of cultural growth and economic downturn. For me, as a demographer, the key variable is not the per capita gross domestic product but the literacy rate. The British historian Lawrence Stone pointed out this relationship in his study of the English revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries. He saw the critical threshold at 40 to 60 percent.

The Arab culture stagnated in the 13th century already. Why did it take so long? There is a simple explanation, which has the benefit of also being applicable to northern India and China, that is, to three completely differently religious communities: Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism. It has to do with the structure of the traditional family in these regions, with its debasement and with the disenfranchisement of women. And in Mesopotamia, for example, it extends well into the pre-Islamic world. Mohammed, the founder of Islam, granted women far more rights than they have had in most Arab societies to this day. The patrilinear, patrilocal system, in which only male succession is considered valid and newlyweds, preferably cousins in the ideal Arab marriage, live under the roof and authority of the father, inhibits all social progress. The disenfranchisement of women deprives them of the ability to raise their children in a progressive, dynamic fashion. Society calcifies and, in a sense, falls asleep. The powers of the individual cannot develop. The bourgeois achievement of marriage for love, and the free choice of one's partner, replaced the hierarchies of honor in Europe in the 19th century and reinforced the desire for freedom.

Female emancipation with a headscarf? The headscarf debate is missing the point. The number of marriages between cousins is dropping just as spectacularly as the birth rate, thereby blasting away a barrier. The free individual or active citizen can enter the public arena. When more than 90 percent of young people can read and write and have a modicum of education, no traditional authoritarian regime will last for long. Have you noticed how many women are marching along in the protests? Even in Yemen, the most backward country in the Arab world, thousands of women were among the protesters.

Western values... where do you draw the boundaries of the West? In fact, only Great Britain, France and the United States, in that historic order, constitute the core of the West. But not Germany.

Did Germany contribute otherwise? The Reformation -- and, with it, the strengthening of the individual, supported by his knowledge -- and the spread of reading through the printing press -- that's the German contribution. The fight over the Reformation was waged in a journalistic manner, with pamphlets and flyers. The spread of literacy among the masses was invented in Germany. Prussia, and even the small Catholic states, had a higher literacy rate than France early on. Literacy came to France from the east, that is, from Germany. Germany was a nation of education and a constitutional state long before it became a democracy. But Martin Luther also proved that religious reforms did not by any means require the support of a spirit of liberalism.

A nice word about Europe in these troubled times? If the European Union recognizes its diversity, even its anthropological differences, instead of trying to force everyone into the same mold with the false incantation of a shared European civilization, then Europe will also be able to treat the pluralism of cultures in the world in a reasonable and enlightened way. I'm not sure that the United States can do that.

May 24, 2011

Rapture retry: don't give up hope

Rapture warning in the Phillipines

Harold Camping, the author of the latest rapture prediction, went public following a few days of silence after the failed rapture of last Saturday:

"I can tell you when 21 May came and went it was a very difficult time for me – a very difficult time. I was truly wondering what is going on. In my mind, I went back through all the promises God had made. What in the world was happening. I really was praying and praying: 'Lord, what happened?'"

Meanwhile, our thoughts are with raptionado (or is it rapturionado?) Robert Fitzpatrick, who spent all his live savings of $140,000 spreading the word of the world's end, and also with Jeff Hopkins, who erected a doomsday sign on top his car and spent the past few months driving from Long Island to New York city to publicize it.

"I've been mocked and scoffed and cursed at and I've been through a lot with this lighted sign on top of my car," he told Associated Press. "I was doing what I've been instructed to do through the Bible, but now I've been stymied. It's like getting slapped in the face."

And here's the unabridged post-rapture Harold Camping:



Stay tuned for a new Q/A with Babette Bienpensant coming up soon.

May 22, 2011

Rapture reversal: rapture mockers stand corrected


Rapture mockers stand corrected as new rapture evidence is coming to light:




We've tried to reach Babette Bienpensant for comments, but she is holed up in an emergency meeting of the Metaphysical University.

Rapture recap: Hitler is not fooled



A friend sends this picture and writes: "Tell Hitler I found him."

Rapture recap: fooled again (2) --- the song

Rapture recap: fooled again?

Babette Bienpensant at rapture hour
We've asked Babette Bienpensant, Metaphysical University's rapture expert, to share her post rapture thoughts with us. Here is her reaction:

"Atheists and other rationality addicts have been quick to exploit certain shortcomings of yesterday's events and to prematurely throw the baby out with the winds of change. Yet most real Americans will agree that we have witnessed a rapture success of numerous dimensions, including a volcano eruption in Island, an earthquake in the gay-infested San Francisco Bay area, and many other occurrences of medium to high significance. We at the Metaphysical University are proud of our contribution and excited about our ability to again split the infinitive and share our thoughts in unprecedented ways."