Sunday, September 21, 2008

More Jury Duty

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Judging another competition for young musicians this weekend. It is heartbreaking to see all the effort and talent and not be able to give more prizes.
Got into a heated argument with another juror over one entry: a young boy soprano singer with the most extraordinary voice performed a piece by a modern German composer, fiendishly difficult, and he executed it flawlessly. Superb diction, perfect intonation, lovely sound. Aged 12.
But one of the fellow jurors (there were 6 of us) was a singer, and he insisted that the boy's teacher should not have given him such an adult piece (very much about Weltschmerz and Death) which required such outbreaks of passion. He called it a Circus Number, which is about as insulting as you can get in German.
The argument went on and on, and finally in the interests of peace and harmony in the jury room, we reduced the number of prizes (there were 3 big cash prizes, and we could have divided them up but in the end we didn't) and so he was left out (as were some other groups that I maintain were very deserving).
I am going to have a guilty conscience about this for months. I should have fought harder, because I could have convinced the others, I am sure.

Desperate Days

Excuse me, but I just have to have another short rant.
The ABC website reports on this ongoing story:
A group of historians is suing Vice-President Dick Cheney for refusing to promise not to destroy his records and documents pertaining to his time in the White House. His defence?
The lawsuit stems from Cheney's position that his office is not part of the executive branch of government.

OK. So I guess we learned that all wrong in history class.
It is a pity, because I was actually hoping to learn something of the real chronology of the lead-up to the Afghan-Iraq war.

And I am hoping someone can educate me as to what possible advantage to the average citizen this new bailout of the financial institutions is going to have? The government is basically going to buy the bad debts from the derivatives companies at their face value, not even (as is normal in such cases) at the usual rate of 10-15% of their book value-- which at least would give a reasonable chance of getting some of the money back.
Then of course there will be the almost impossible task of unravelling the infinitely complex mortgage holdings; even the companies owning them don't have a clue what is in them... this aspect alone is going to cost the government billions.

It is desperate days in the White House, let us all pray fervently that the next Administration can re-assert the law of reason and justice in America.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thinking about Sarah

We can all learn from Sarah P, potential Vice President. She is a quick learner and energetic. She is raising 5 kids and still has time to learn about Russia (by looking out her window) and buy cute glasses. She knows how to use the Internet (more than we can say about her running mate); she even has a striking and original email address:
Well, at least until yesterday that was her email address. It is not any more, which is sad because it is an address which is easy to memorise. It is an address which has "Hockey Mom" written all over it. The Founding Fathers would have liked it (even though they might have been woefully ignorant of either hockey or the Internet). I am sure the first GW would have gone for the address: Pres.George@Yippee.Com.
Not bad for a gal who knows so much about foreign thingys, despite the fact that she didn't bother to apply for her very first passport until last year.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why I Love my Job

These were my co-workers this summer. Nice bunch. And no, I am not in the picture, I am TAKING it.
They were younger than in some previous years, which means they were not as advanced technically in some cases, but it also meant I had more to teach them: that is FUN.
And the castle was great.

Switzerland, Watch Out!!

President Bush appeared on TV this afternoon, his backdrop this time neither cheering crowds nor an American flag, nor even tasteful blue curtains, but peaceful trees in the White House garden, and read a short prepared statement about the actions he and his advisors were taking on the rapidly unravelling financial system. He seemed unprepared and took no questions, which is perhaps just as well because even the most seasoned experts are not sure what actions are called for or even possible.
What is clear is that the US Treasury has poured acres of money into stopping various holes in the system, and reports are that behind the scenes they are also desperately buying dollars in order to prevent a disastrous devaluation of the $. These actions-- and there is every indication that the problems are not solved yet-- plus the enormous expenditure on the war effort, have already put America deeper into debt than at any time in our history. And this is without calculating in the cost of nationalizing Freddy and Fanny.
(Is there still someone out there who doesn't think GWB is the worst President in living memory?)
Now he and McCaine are calling for setting up a commission to find out Who Was Responsible. This commission will follow the money trail, and discover the guilty culprits to be none other than the dreaded...
Gnomes of Zurich!!
Then Bush will talk to various advisors and God and demand that Switzerland produce the Gnomes and hand them over to Justice. When (as is to be anticipated) the Swiss refuse, the President will call on the American Congress to move the troops from Iraq to a Nato base in the French Alps, and from there they will march victoriously through Geneva and fight their way north to Zurich, where they will search out and capture the furtive criminals in their underground palaces!
. The Gnomes must be defeated!

Friday, September 12, 2008

I hate Politics

Now I want to say, I am a firm believer in democracy. A society should have the means to choose its own leaders, they need to believe they are helping shape their own destiny.

But mygod, at least they should make an effort to make an informed choice! there should be a way to force voters to actally think about the candidates' credentials. Does being a Hockey Mom somehow automatically qualify someone (not mentioning any names here) to be President? Does the fact that she shows good taste in eyeglasses indicate an ability to understand complex issues of national sovereignty? Why is there so much more coverage in the media of this kind of fluff than on the actual issues-- so vital to America's future-- that the candidates must address??

McCaine's view of America is very much based on suspicion and mistrust, and is colored by a military background. Is it too cynical of me to suspect that a great many people who support him believe firmly that we somehow won the war in Vietnam because he was a prisoner? The same people who remember how we won the wars in Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq?

The fact is, there is only one war America has won in the last 60 years. And it wasn't the war in Vietnam or Korea or Granada or Cuba, or the war on poverty or illiteracy or obesity, no, it was the Cold War. And that one was not won on the battlefield, but because at some point the leaders got together and thought, this is a waste of time and money.
And now Bush is trying his best to reignite that war. Is this necessary?

I like Obama because he has a vision of America that reflects the ideals that made America a leader in the first place: Social conscience, youth, energy, faith in the future, integration of immigrants... above all, I like his optimism.
Maybe his vision has not been spelled out in detail, maybe his trust in humanity could get him into trouble-- but I believe he could help the country (and the world) see what is great about America.

My long stay working in Europe has probably turned me into pathetic Eurotrash,
perhaps I am not seeing the situation clearly. I will be in the US in October with my daughter, and intend to see if my view of American culture is jaundiced.

(The BBC posted an interesting set of interviews with American soldiers yesterday)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I don't Hate Sarah Palin..

.. but I am worried about some of the things she seems to stand for.
We have had a president the last 8 years who is convinced that faith and military might can cure all evils.
But I think the process in Iraq has probably demonstrated that shock and awe is not guaranteed to ensure peace and understanding in the region.
And his designated successor also has a military background, meaning perhaps a continuation of this philosophy?
So it was with a bit of relief that I read that he has a female running mate, a working mother with (I am hoping) some social sensitivity.
But I keep running across snippets of her biography that seem to point in another direction.
ABC News ran an article this morning which includes these quotes:
On the war in Iraq:
Pray for our military men and women who are striving do to what is right. Also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God.

.."a task that is from God"? Not "a task to help the Iraqi people" or even "to help America"-- but a "task from God"? Now that is calling in the Big Guns!! This reminds me forcibly of justification for the Crusades. And suggests that she may have that attitude that her God is somehow superior to theirs.
It is reported in the same article that the speaker at the last church service she attended in Alaska before the Republican convention had this to say:
He told congregants that terrorist attacks on Israel were God's "judgment" of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity. Brickner said, "Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. When a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment -- you can't miss it."

Anyhow I guess she is probably a good choice in the sense that she represents a logical continuation of the present course in the Middle East. Whether that is a Good Thing is perhaps debatable.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

My Computer Problems: update. Interesting.

My last post outlined a problem I am having with my laptop-- the latest Windows XP service pack effectively turned the machine into a brick.
In an unprecedented move (I am not a complainer, and not of literary bent), I actually wrote to Microsoft, outlining the problem and asking for advice.
To my great surprise, there was a response to my email. I received an email from Amy Zhang (presumably not her real name), who gave me a detailed set of instructions on how to roll back my installation to its previous level.
This was sweet, and I did appreciate it... but there were sveral aspects that made me sit up and think.
First: the very fact that Microsoft felt obliged to answer my mail means that they realize that something very serious is wrong with the latest XP update.
2. That "Amy" was able to give me such a detailed scenario means that I must be one of many thousands who have had a problem.
3. A quick Google of the the terms "XP SP3 Problem" shows that there is a real mess involved.
4. Many of the bloggers who got caught in this fiasco have admitted they bought copies of Vista to solve the problem. Now Vista is not an improvement; it just takes you deeper into the morass. IMHO.
5. Very Interesting: "Amy" suggests--in writing and obviously with the full support of Microsoft Inc.-- that in order to get into Windows (because the boot process has been bombed) I should(and I quote her email here):
please try to borrow a Windows XP installation CD from your friends. After that, please perform the following steps to remove SP3 from Recovery Console.

Now as far as I know, it is illegal to use a Windows Installation Disk that you don't own. And none of the last four Windows computers I have bought have come with Windows Installation disks, only with System Recovery CDs. These can restore the factory HD images, but the process erases ALL computer data and renders the machine absolutely helpless in the face of present-day viral dangers. (not to mention eradicating my parallel Linux installation.)

I am deeply, deeply suspicious. I CANNOT imagine that a company like MS, with its intimate knowledge of its own operating system, is not in a position to provide an emergency boot file to deal with this kind of situation. That I should be asked by them to beg for an installation disk from "friends"???!!! And what if the "friend"'s disk doesn't pass the MS Illegal Copy test? Does that mean I am then going to be prosecuted?

My conspiracy theory is that this is a ploy to force customers to upgrade to Vista (much of my software and hardware won't work with Vista, so this is not a n option anyhow). But-- at least in my case-- this is having more the effect that I want to leave Windows completly, and either join my sons (who are avid Macintoshians, or Applers or whatever they are called) or to use Linux exclusively.

I love the way the Mac laptops can just be shut, and when you open them up later, you are back where you were. Why can't Windows have this ?

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