Sunday, November 9, 2008

Celebrating Victory With Barack Obama

It was a long night on Tuesday, but worth the wait. We went to the Democrats Abroad pre-election party and had a few beers to loosen up nerves that were tense even though we were all pretty confident about the outcome of the vote. Comrade Jen G. had to take it easy because she had been selected to debate the head of Republicans Abroad later in the evening. The debate took place at GZ Riesbach here in Zurich, at an SP election night party. The Republican dude was let off easy because everybody knew his sorry ass was going down anyway, and the other panelists were (unnecessarily) gracious, leaving the booing and ridicule to an audience of 99% Obama supporters. Jen turned on her considerable charm while the Republican became increasingly irritated, ending up with a beet-root red face (tsk, tsk, those angry white men).

I went home at 4:30am local time, when Pennsylvania and Ohio were called for Obama and it was increasingly clear that McCain was not just going to lose, but was losing in a landslide. Walking home along the lake in the cold November morning, I felt very tired but cheerful - not necessarily elated... but as I came home, my dear lady (who had left the party early and nodded off watching the election coverage on the sofa) told me that CNN had just officially declared Obama the President-Elect.

John McCain gave a remarkably graceful
concession speech before a crowd that was visibly reeling between shock and anger that the impossible had happened - enraged bellows were heard as McCain said he had called Obama "to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country we both love". Buh-buh-but... isn't he a Muslim communist?! Like many others, I felt that the race would have been a much closer one had McCain not pandered to the lunatic base of his party by insinuating that Obama was some kind of strange, radical alien - and nominating a dumb Pentecostal gasbag for VP, of course.

Obama's acceptance speech was tremendous in form and delivery. It allowed even me, a cynical political junkie, to set aside for a few minutes the terrible disappointments, shortcomings, and mistakes that the next four years will undoubtedly bring, and to imagine for a brief moment that change for the better is possible - that the problems we are currently facing can be resolved with intelligence and goodwill, and that as both Abraham Lincoln and Bob Marley have observed:
It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time;
you can even fool some of the people all of the time;
but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
Anyway, on Wednesday morning or rather around noon, I woke up feeling quite good about the world I live in, and after work, Jen (who hadn't slept all night), Manu, and I decided the time was right for a glass or two of celebratory prosecco at Safari... and since Obama deserved a few beers after two years of hard campaigning, we thought it would be a nice gesture of our appreciation to ask him to come along. Imagine our surprise when Barry said he was going to leave the nomination of his chief of staff for another day and hit the bar with us.

It didn't take long before old Barack was more than a little sozzled and started mumbling into his beer about how "that honky bastard Dubya" had stuck him with a country in tatters, a divided society, and an economy that was "totally roached", and how once again it was the black man who was going to have to "clean up their shit after them". Fortunately, he soon cheered up and started flirting with Comrade Jen, who was not completely averse to his advances (she likes tall dark guys, which is why George Clooney didn't stand a chance with her at the Geneva fundraiser held by the Democrats Abroad).

After we had left the Safari Bar, Barry wanted to go to a strip club, but we convinced him this was probably not a good idea (though part of me was screaming at myself that we could take photos and sell them to Fox News for a fee that would put not just our children, but our grandchildren through university).

Instead, we went to the Kon-Tiki Bar, where Obama has some fans too. While the Safari bartender had offered him a beer on the house, the pierced/tatooed/redheaded lady behind the Kon-Tiki bar stood us a round of suspicious-looking red drinks that seemed to be vodka-based. By this time, Barack was totally relaxed and decided he wanted to play some good music on the jukebox. He put on "Paint the White House Black" by George Clinton and started laughing hysterically, shouting something about how he would have liked to "buy that crazy-ass bitch Hillary a quart of rye whiskey if she were here right now."

Afterwards, we went to the Regenbogen Bar, where the election night warm-up party had taken place. All night long, we had been making new friends and getting big smiles from absolute strangers. In this bar, we got into an argument with a belligerent jerk who took the whole thing a little too seriously. The less said about that conversation, the better - all I want to add is that apparently you can hang out in a chic gay bar and still be a nasty, uptight, angry asshole. Who knew.

In traditional continental European style, we wrapped up the night in a kebab shop, where the döner jockey announced that Obama was "far too thin" and needed to "get some meat on that skinny frame". By this point, Barack seemed to be getting a little bleary-eyed (he had taken off his glasses, as you can see) and his grin was starting to look unnaturally fixed, so we decided to head home after one more round of beers. Outside, another group of complete strangers (they looked decidedly Middle Eastern) begged him to have their picture taken with him.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable night out with Barack (or "Hussein", as we, his friends, call him), and to paraphrase his already legendary acceptance speech in Grant Park on the night of 4 November... if there is anyone out there who still doubts that this is a president you would like to have a beer with, tonight was your answer!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 35 Articles of Impeachment

... and the Case for Prosecuting George W. Bush, by Dennis Kuchinich with David Swanson and Elizabeth de la Vega, available as a paperback from Feral House and available for free download as a PDF from the same publisher. Read it and pass it on, then lobby your local Democratic Party to push for impeaching the Chimp when Obama takes office in January.

In the best case, we will see GWB and his coterie sentenced to long prison sentences. Do I believe this? No, because even though I am supporting Obama, I think he is an establishment candidate and will not violate the unwritten rule that incoming administrations let sleeping dogs lie. But even in the worst case, you will be able to tell your grandchildren that it was through no fault of your own that Bush got away with murder.

"Kärntens 9/11" - Zum Tod von Jörg Haider

Heute ausnahmsweise mal in meiner Mutter- statt Vatersprache, denn es geht um ein Thema, das primär den deutschsprachigen Raum betrifft. De mortuis nihil nisi bene, sagt man, und meint damit, dass man von den Toten nicht sprechen soll, wenn man nichts Nettes über sie zu sagen hat. Nun dürfte es vielen schwerfallen, etwas Gutes über Jörg Haider zu sagen, und selbst seinen unterbelichteten Anhängern fällt laut Basler Zeitung nichts wirklich Eloquentes ein. Sprüche an der Unfallstelle wie "Wir leben durch dich!" oder "Danke, dass du mir einmal die Hand gereicht hast" bringen den Schmalspur-Führerkult des dauergrinsenden Caudillo von Kärnten noch einmal auf den Punkt, während das flehentliche "Bitte Jörg, du musst noch einmal vorbeikommen" ein frommer Wunsch bleiben dürfte.

Die Umstände von Haiders Tod - als Raser auf der Überholspur - sind von einigen Kommentatoren als bezeichnend für seine politische Karriere gedeutet worden: "Bevor er sich mehrmals überschlug, rammte der VW Phaeton ein Schild mit Tempolimit 50", heisst es in dem obigen Artikel, und wenn man des weiteren darauf hinweist, dass der Jörgl mit 142 km/h unterwegs war, werden wir mal wieder daran erinnert, dass gerade für Law-and-Order-Politiker der Grundsatz gilt: "Do as I say, not as I do," was auch die CSU-Politiker im benachbarten Bayern ein ums andere Mal demonstriert haben - siehe die zahllosen Titanic-"Briefe an die Leser", die sich mit diesem Thema über die Jahre beschäftigt haben.

Apropos Titanic: Natürlich hat sich das Pflichtblatt für Rechtsabbieger auch mit dem Haider-Exitus in gewohnt pietätvoller Manier beschäftigt. "Rechtsruck in Österreich" war die Schlagzeile bereits am Sonntag, während die folgende Meldung unter dem Titel "Wie Jörg Haider vom rechten Weg abkam" eine Grafik präsentiert, wie wir sie bereits vom Tod der Prinzessin Diana kennen ("1.: Haider blinkt auf der Überholspur mehrere Jahre lang rechts. ... 3.: Haider versucht, das Steuer in Österreich herumzureissen...").

Als ich die erste Meldung von seinem Crash gelesen hatte, war ich zunächst verwirrt, weil ich dachte, es sei dies wieder ein Haiderscher PR-Stunt, genauer: eine neue Runde im Streit über slowenisch- und deutschsprachige Strassenschilder gewesen, mit dem der Landeshauptmann immer wieder bei den Deppen und Arschgeigen unter den Wählern in seinem Bundesland zu punkten wusste:
Mit dem Umsetzen des Schildes will Haider erreichen, dass das Verfahren vor dem Verfassungsgericht neu aufgerollt werden muss (...) Ausgelöst hatte das Verfahren in Wien ein Anwalt aus Klagenfurt. Der bekennende Slowene war mit überhöhter Geschwindigkeit durch eine geschlossene Ortschaft gefahren, wurde geblitzt und bezahlte sein Strafmandat nicht. Das Ortsschild, das auch in Österreich "Tempo 50" bedeutet, sei, weil einsprachig, nicht korrekt und das Tempo-Limit somit nicht rechtmäßig gewesen.
Dies schien mir dann aber eher nicht plausibel, zumal Populisten vom Schlage eines J.H. solche Kampagnen ja meistens eher auf dem Rücken anderer austragen, anstatt selber mit gutem Beispiel voranzugehen bzw. zu -fahren.

So bleibt Haiders Tod letzlich komplett sinnfrei und schliesst auch in dieser Hinsicht nahtlos an sein Leben an. Nur eines blieb mir in der ganzen Berichterstattung völlig unerklärlich: "Öfters fällt das Schlagwort von 'Kärntens 9/11'", so die BAZ - wieso? Erstens war Haider kein Muslim, und zweitens ist er nur in die Leitplanke und nicht in ein Hochhaus gebrettert.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rensselaer County "Mistakenly" Mislabels Election Ballot For "Osama"

I have just voted for Obama as an overseas voter, and am happy to have done so. Now this... does anybody believe the "Barack Osama" ballot handed out by Rensselaer County was the result of an honest mistake? Yeah, right, just one of those mistakes that happen from time to time. I'm sure the good people administering Rensselaer County will appreciate your honest and respectful criticism at this address.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

McCain Must Really Hate America

Last night, watching the presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, I was disturbed to note that while Obama displayed a US flag lapel pin, his opponent did not. Apparently, McCain's brazen rejection of all the values America stands for went unnoticed by Fox News, which had previously spoken out on behalf of all red-blooded freedom-lovers thusly:
Some Americans, however, say they question the patriotism of a candidate who makes such a choice, a sentiment that shows up in polls.
Perhaps McCain could have borrowed US$2,500 from his beer heiress wife to purchase one of the lapel pins on sale by his own campaign management. Surely, that would not be too steep a price to show a little pride in the country he wants to lead.

Update: Raquel Laneri of Forbes magazine noticed, too.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dear Boy

Keith Moon died 30 years ago yesterday. Besides being the greatest drummer of all times with The Who, he also earned a reputation for inventing the rock-star cliche of smashing up hotel rooms on an epic scale. I remember when I was about 11 years old visiting my family in Scotland, I stayed in the room of my older cousin. Every inch of this room was completely covered in Who memorabilia, and what particularly impressed me were the clippings from The Sun and other tabloids describing the various exploits of Moon the Loon - how he had crashed his Rolls into the pool of a Holiday Inn hotel, how he habitually destroyed his drum kit on stage, and - most memorably in the mind of this pre-pubescent kid - how a naked stripper had emerged from his birthday cake (I was almost as impressed by the fact that my cousin was allowed to have the article, with photo of the lady in question, up on his wall; my mom would have had my head on a stake had I suggested redecorating my room in similar fashion).

When, several years later, I started getting seriously into the music of The Who myself, it was Moon's drumming that convinced me this was the best band ever. Especially in recordings of live concerts, his power and speed are unreal (just listen to his drumming on
I Can See For Miles - and I still consider Live at Leeds the best live album ever recorded by any band).

On a trip to the UK, my buddy Felix (if at all possible, an even bigger Who fan than myself) bought
Full Moon, a biography of Keith by his driver, bodyguard, and drug purchaser Dougal Butler. In addition to introducing me to the concept of cockney rhyming slang, this account of life as a rock star also made clear that besides Moonie's charming and comical personality, he also had a vicious Mr Hyde side to him that came out when he was drunk, i.e., near-permanently as his career evolved. After hurling a bottle of champagne at his wife, which thankfully missed and became embedded intact in the wall of their living room, he framed the corpus delicti, turning violence simultaneously into a joke and into a work of art, perfectly encapsulating his approach to life and the two sides of his increasingly psychotic personality.

A 1970s cartoon showed a hotel lobby with what looks like a fire alarm and the notice, "In Case of Keith Moon, Break Glass". The Wikipedia entry on Moonie contains the following anecdote:
According to Townshend, Moon's reputation for erratic behaviour was something he cultivated. Once, on the way to an airport, Moon insisted they return to their hotel, saying , "I forgot something. We've got to go back!" When the limo returned, Moon ran to his room, grabbed the TV while it was plugged in, threw it out the window and into the pool. He then jumped back into the limousine, sighing "I nearly forgot."
Another nice story is recounted by Graham Chapman:
"He had a little bit of a problem in a hotel in Los Angeles, in the Hyatt House on Sunset Strip in fact it was, he was returning home one afternoon after rehearsing with the band, and was walking through the lobby at the hotel listening to this old cassette recorder - listening to the rehearsal of the band that morning, in fact, and evidently there was some kind of complaint about this, because the manager approached him and told him to turn that noise off, please. Well, Keith immediately complied, turned it off, and went up to his room, where he happened to have a large supply of detonator caps. He'd been saving these up for the acts later on in the week. And he spent the next 20 minutes meticulously wiring these up to the back of his door. He then rang down to the manager's office and told the man that he wanted to see him immediately. He popped his head out of the door to check that the manager had indeed got out of the elevator, popped back in again, and the manager subsequently arrived just outside of Keith's door to see the whole thing blown off its hinges in front of his eyes, and Keith, stepping out of the rubble and smoke, holding up this little cassette recorder, saying: 'That was noise, mate; this was The Who.' He certainly had a way with authority".
Not the kind of person you would wish to married to, then; but certainly if I had the choice of which resurrected dead rock star I could spend a night of drinking with, I would have to go with Keith, no contest. If you are unfamiliar with his drumming style, the difference between noise and The Who is showcased in Cobwebs and Strange on the album "A Quick One", and this video gives a good impression of both his mastery of the drums and of the charming part of his personality (with a cameo appearance by Steve Martin, from the movie The Kids Are Alright). The other side of the Moon, the bombastic stadium rock power drumming, can be seen in the final scene of the aforementioned movie as The Who give a monster performance of Won't Get Fooled Again. At 7:37 minutes, Moonie breaks into the synthesizer track with a fantastic extended drum roll that still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

But there can be no better way to honor his memory than with this clip of Moon the Loon performing his beloved surf music: a lovely smile, terrific drumming, and atrocious singing (though his version of Barbara Ann still better than John McCain's obscenity)... we shall not see his like again.

Recommended reading: Tony Fletcher, Dear Boy - The Life Of Keith Moon, London: Omnibus Press, 1998.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Wikigroaning is an amusing way to point out the obvious bias of Wikipedia towards pop culture as compared to other subjects of serious academic discourse. Compare, for example, the length, incisiveness, and relative value to the general public of the Wikipedia articles on God and on Kevin Smith (don't worry, I had no idea who Kevin Smith was, either). Looking at the examples collected by Something Awful, I marvel both at the brevity with which many important topics are treated by Wikipedia authors, and at the level of detail devoted to completely irrelevant stuff like anime characters, storylines from computer game plots, or other ficititious items (cf. the respective articles on lizards and dragons, for example).

Here's one I found myself: Monopoly (economic term) vs. Monopoly (board game) - examples abound once one starts looking, and many hours of boring office time can be killed this way. Feel free to submit your own example in the comments.

(Found via Encyclopedia Dramatica)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Phrase Cloud lets you create a cloud of most frequently used words for a given website. It's not only a nice little free gimmick, but also an interesting visualization tool for written content. For example, The Boston Globe finds that John McCain's blog has an unhealthy fixation on Barack Obama and on negative terms... by the same token, it could be said that Security Hippo is skewed towards the term "counterterrorism" - certainly something to consider.

Maybe in a few months' time I will try this out again to see whether the semantic center of gravity, and thus the focus of my attention, has shifted at all.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Thought for the Day

As of the time of writing, Bush has 167 days, 4 hours, 4 minutes, 27.2 seconds left in office. Not a fifth of a second too soon.
I'm not a believer in end-times prophecy, but H.L. Mencken saw this coming:

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

Making the World Safe for Business

Two unrelated stories that may nevertheless be linked on a deeper, karmic level (or, since this blog is run from the heartlands of the Occident: on the level of what Boethius might have recognized as a fati series) have recently failed to make the headlines.

First of all, The Washington Post tells us that:
The Air Force's top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on "comfort capsules" to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules' carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents.
In order to be able to fight evildoers in style, the US Air Force generals decided to take taxpayers' money that was earmarked for counterterrorism and spend it to ensure that
each of the capsules is to be "aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule," with beds, a couch, a table, a 37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers, and a full-length mirror.
Over the past three years, the Air Force has demanded that over US$16 million be taken from funding from the "war on terrorism" and spent instead on more comfortable "capsules" for air travel in the style that its commanders deserve.
Changing the seat color and pockets alone was estimated in a March 12 internal document to cost at least $68,240.
Never mind that Congress has told the USAF - not once, but twice - that the funds reserved for counterterrorism should be spent on "higher priority" needs, meaning something more useful than cushy seats and in-flight entertainment systems, such as, oh, let's say, counterterrorism. Despite the hysteria we have been subjected to in the past seven years of madness and cretinism, and despite the billions of dollars that have been taken away from essential state services, and despite the fact that bin Laden and al-Zawahri have not yet been found, the main funding priority at this point in time seems to be that some top Air Force brass are provided with
what one (lower-ranking officer) described as "world class" accommodations exceeding the standards of a regular business-class flight.
Oh, sorry, did I say "despite"? Seems I may have gotten the causality inversed here, which happens to me occasionally after a long day. What I meant to say was that in order to justify the splooging-out of unfathomably huge quantities of cash for the benefit of their buddies in the oil and arms industries, while "starving the beast" of the welfare state, the Bush administration has turned the US into a nation of bedwetters, transfixed by the specter of an undefined and ominous threat to All that is Good and Right. Those generals must be having a grand old chuckle as they hook up the X-Box 360 to their 37" flatscreen for another few hours of "Call of Duty 4", killing time in non-stop transit from Andrews AFB to Diego Garcia for another round of waterboarding some poor Afghan goatherd.

The second and prima facie unrelated story makes the above "comfort pod" look like a tame joke by comparison. The New York Times' Eric Schmitt reports that:
The Bush administration plans to shift nearly $230 million in aid to Pakistan from counterterrorism programs to upgrading that country’s aging F-16 attack planes, which Pakistan prizes more for their contribution to its military rivalry with India than for fighting insurgents along its Afghan border.
So again, we see the diversion of funding reserved for counter-terrorism (and let's save the discussion on how effectively that money has been used so far for another time), but this time, the money isn't being spent on hi-tech travel capsules. The US$16 million of de-facto embezzled funds wasted by the Air Force are peanuts compared to the almost quarter of a billion dollars that will not be available for combating al-Qaida. Instead, the money will go to Lockheed Martin, the makers of the F-16 (who, in another of those strange coincidences, are among the top donors to the Republican Party this year).

There has been an ongoing debate over whether air power is useful or even sufficient for subduing insurgencies, but the experiences made by the Israeli Air Force in Lebanon in 2006 and since the withdrawal from Gaza seem to have more or less settled the matter: While tactical air superiority may be useful, an insurgency cannot be defeated without boots on the ground. Why, then, would the US want to use its counterterrorism budget for Pakistan to upgrade fighter jets that have so far not been used against militant in the North-West Frontier Province? After all, as the NY Times notes,

The financing for the F-16s would represent more than two-thirds of the $300 million that Pakistan will receive this year in American military financing for equipment and training. Last year, Congress specified that those funds be used for law enforcement or counterterrorism. Pakistan’s military has rarely used its current fleet of F-16s, which were built in the 1980s, for close-air support of counterterrorism missions, largely because the risks of civilian casualties would inflame anti-government sentiments in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Even by the obscene standards of the US military, that's quite a lot of money that will not be spent on securing the Pakistani-Afghan border region. However, the upgrades will go some way towards restoring parity between the Pakistani and Indian air forces.

The US sold Pakistan F-16s in the 1980s, but then cut off Islamabad from further arms deliveries due to its nuclear weapons program. In the meantime, India had acquired Russian MiG-29s and Sukhoi-30s, as well as French Mirage fighters, which had given it an edge over the Pakistani Air Force's F-16s in the 1999 Kargil crisis.

A new deal was struck after the Sept. 11 attacks to allow Pakistan to buy newer models, in part to reward Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting terrorism. In 2006, Pakistan was a major recipient of American arms sales, including the $1.4 billion purchase of up to 36 new F-16C/D fighter aircraft and $640 million in missiles and bombs. The deal included a package for $891 million in upgrades for Pakistan’s older F-16s.
The current delivery and upgrade of F-16s is not a recent decision, but the financing of the deal using funds earmarked for counterterrorism and law enforcement contravenes assurances made by the White House to Congress. The Bush administration, in addition to ensuring that its financial aid to Pakistan flows back to the US arms industry, is also calculating that the deal will help stabilize the political leadership of Pakistan vis-à-vis the army, and will prevent India from acquiring a strategic edge - especially with non-US weapons systems - in a possible future conflict over disputed territory with Pakistan.

All of these considerations are, of course, not part of polite conversation in American public discourse, where expenditures on security and especially "counterterrorism" go largely unquestioned.

Does that make you sad, depressed, or even fill you with despair when you consider the prospects for the survival of democracy, not to mention human existence as we know it?

If so, you may now view the following short video clip, which will make you feel much better. It has been approved by the Security Hippo for all audiences.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Neighborhood Patrol II

Hmmmmm. Where to begin. Maybe by saying "so much for New Year's resolutions". I had promised in January to write more, but somehow that didn't work out. It is now the end of May, the smell of summer is in the air, and even at 11pm, it is still comfortably warm out on the balcony. And the last blog entry was in mid-January. Sometime in the past two weeks, the page registered 1,000 hits. Nice! Know that the Security Hippo loves and cherishes every single visitor to the old mudflat.

Maybe the best thing to do is simply to act as if nothing had happened, and to carry on as before. The first item will therefore be a traditional "what I did on my holidays" effort, a short pictorial review of some impressions gained during the past weeks and months.

When we moved to this flat, I decided to throw out some old T-shirts that had only nostalgic value, but weren't being worn any more. I decided this one had to be documented for posterity, fondly picturing the chap (for some reason I am sure it was a man) who came up with this extremely hip statement of near-haiku quality: "Acting Up/Who Make The/First Move/The Dramatic/American/What Guys Think".

What guys think, indeed. You have to wonder sometimes. No less amusing was this shirt seen last year while visiting the Locarno Film Festival, on sale at a market in Luino across the border in Italy:

"Die Liebe/Sommer ist/Nur Geschlecht" ("Love/Summer Is/Only Gender"). Note the elegant layout and typesetting. No doubt somebody found this to be a profound statement on the nature of human attraction and the passing of the seasons.

Anyway, here are some more bits and pieces seen while walking in my neighborhood - graffiti, art, stickers, and other stuff that caught my eye.

The offer still stands, by the way, for the next person to leave a comment (see last post) - you can win original art featuring the above observation, plus the chance to set a topic for the next blog entry.
This poster, calling for a strike in the construction business, states that your boss can never be your partner. Somebody left comments indicating their agreement.

EIMER's panda asks the cassette tape: "Soll ich in den Wald gehen, um als Räuber zu leben?" - "Should I go and live as an outlaw in the forest?" - No, you should publish a book of awesome cartoons and get really rich.

More graffiti can be seen on this short stretch of fence along a construction site:

Kreis 4 in Zurich is kosher city, baby. Just across from this Jewish supermarket was more nice graffiti:

The lovely lady accompanying me thought this mural was spooky - it reminded her of the little girls in "The Shining", which is admittedly one of the most crap-your-pants terrifying scenes in the history of cinema. Still, the effect for me was different. These ladies exude a self-assured serenity that I find enviable and reassuring at the same time. Then again, a very similar atmosphere may also be part of what makes the scene in "The Shining" so scary.

The Art of Security

Anyway... more bric-a-brac on this blog's theme of "Security in Everyday Life", or "Why You Should be Very Very Afraid" follows here, no comment necessary.

Actually, the last two are worth commenting on. The lock, on sale at the Swiss Post Office near Zurich main train station, is advertised as follows: "Lock for travel to the USA. Allows American security personnel to examine luggage without damage to lock or bag". The lock can apparently be opened with a skeleton key held by US airport security, so that they can graciously refrain from completely destroying your luggage while they rifle through it. Oh, great, that makes me feel much safer. The second picture was taken outside a meeting room of the Taliban Grand Shura in Kandahar. As you may know, many Taliban commanders are (multiple) amputees, in some cases dating back to the mujahideen struggle against the Soviets. No doubt the "international community" has now added to their number. Oh, and just in case it wasn't clear: That was a joke. The picture was actually taken in the second-hand store around the corner from our house. If you need cheap crutches, this would be the place to go.

When in Rome...

I saw lots more interesting graffiti when we went to Rome over the Pentecost weekend. A lot of political stuff, obviously, since there had just been an election a few weeks earlier, which the utterly corrupt Silvio Berlusconi won with support from self-styled "post-Fascists" and Lega Nord separatists.

Amusingly, the transparent attempt to establish a sense of continuity between the Roman empire and Mussolini's Italy through the use of Latin (in the bottom picture) fails completely. "Semper Dux Mea Lux" would translate roughly as "The Duce is forever my light". However, "sempre" is not Latin. Proximus, sed abest banana - close, but no cigar.

The origins of the term "fascist" are nicely illustrated by this part of a frieze we saw near the tomb of the noblewoman Caecilia Metella Cretica alongside the old Appian Way (Via Appia Antica) south of Rome's ancient city walls: It shows the insignia of Roman state power, the fasces, which were bundles of birch rods tied around an axe, symbolizing the authority to mete out corporal and capital punishment. They were carried by Roman civil servants known as lictores.

It seems that old-school polical propaganda is generally held in high esteem in Italy, however; I could not tell whether these posters were Communist or (post-?) Fascist or something completely different. Which is also interesting in a way, maybe:

Other messages included the following lovely sign at the entrance to St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican,

and a sign indicating the next bunker, presumably intended for blasphemers to take cover from bolts of lightning -

why is it that in Catholic countries, profanities are mainly based on blasphemy, while Protestant regions of the world swear using words related to sex and bowel movements? Does anybody know what swearing in Muslim countries is based on? Of course there was also anti-US graffiti:

Why oh why do they hate us? I am reminded of this picture recently found on the web, advertising an old arcade game from the late 1960s or early 1970s; unrelated to any of the above, of course. Res ipsa loquitur:

"Rifle gallery featuring Realistic Running Indians - Continuous Action! 17 Different Moving, Spinning, Vanishing Targets"! Looking at this vintage training equipment, one would think that the US should have been well prepared to make Iraq safe for profits ("Double Mirrors" - how prophetic). But I digress... getting back to the wonders of Rome, here are some assorted pictures of the fantastic art that can be found just about everywhere in the Eternal City.

The last two of these pictures are quite interesting as the sculptures of Moses depict him with horns, due to Jerome's mistranslation of Exodus 34: 29-35 in the Vulgate version. The Hebrew root letters kof, resh, and nun can be vocalized in different ways to spell the Hebrew words for "ray of light" or for "horn".

I had been to the Vatican several times before, but there is always more left to discover. For example, who knew that there is a sculpture of Attila the Hun in St Peter's?

This frieze shows Attila being told, in no uncertain terms, to get lost by a pope whose name I failed to note, and by the Apostles Paul and Peter, who are swooping down from on high, as they were apparently wont to do - Peter of course always having been handy with the sword (John 18: 10-11), and to judge by this statue of St Paul outside San Paolo Fuori le Mura, he was no slouch either when the chips were down:

The inscription reads "To the Preacher of Truth and the Teacher of the Gentiles". Certainly he seems to have taught Attila a thing or two, as the Huns took his message to heart and never came back ("Verily, I say unto you, speak softly and carry a huge sword; and now, scram!"; Paul's Epistle to the Huns, 12:23-24). Of course, Caesar - a certified nutcase and degenerate sex maniac (Suetonius tells us he was "every woman's man and every man's woman") -

had a few things to say on that matter too in his account of his dealings with the Helvetii tribe in De Bello Gallico. They were made up of four sub-tribes, who spoke Latin, Gaulish, Germanic, and an unintellegible dialect that nobody else understood, which didn't matter afterwards, because Caesar slaughtered every last one of them. No relation to my present-day neighbors the Swiss, who are very nice people, and adherents of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Huns - every Swiss male has a sword, pike, or halberd stored at home, yet they enjoy a fully deserved reputation as peaceful folk.

Which kind of brings me full circle; much as we enjoyed Rome, there were certain moments when, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I had a sudden feeling of "Toto, I don't think we're in Switzerland any more":

It's nice to be back in Zurich, a town that is always beautiful, but at its best in summertime. I am looking forward to BBQ on the balcony, nighttime bars on the lake, and of course I will continue to promote the cause of Bara Bröst; in conclusion, I offer the following evidence that theirs is an ancient and time-honored prerogative (statue of Diana of Ephesus, originally from the mind-blowing Villa d'Este in Tivoli, now in the Vatican Museum).

That's it for now; watch this space, and feel free to leave your comments - the Hippo wants to hear from you.