31 March, 2009

Give This Man A Cigar

I'm speechless. Even if John Shimkus' speech was taken out of context, which surely it must be, there is no explaining away his ignorance.

This is where I first saw the video and it's worth your time to read Phil Plait's thoughts on the matter.

It might be worth the voters time as well, to ask their candidates about their thoughts on global warming before they cast their votes.

29 March, 2009



Spring has arrived. Well, to be honest, we've only seen only brief glimpses of this wonderful season to date. It is one of the most lovely seasons in northern Germany, because the losing of winter to the fullness of summer is drawn out over many months.

The weddings have started. The crocuses have blossomed. We are planning our summer holidays. And, lastly, the times of political rallies and demonstrations has come.

Yesterday, we had one of our city's most insipid and intensely anticipated "political rallies" of every spring. The fundamental right party (read neo-Nazis) petitions the town for the privilege of holding a rally. Since this right to "hold rally" is a part of any democracy, no matter that everyone knows these people political agenda poorly veils their despicable ideology, they are given the right to meet in public one Saturday in March.

What happens is an interesting study of the ludicrous. Two or three hundred people of this fundamental right party (read neo-Nazis)come to attend the rally. Two or three thousand people come to protest the rally. The protesters belong to all sorts of political parties or are just concerned citizens. Two or three hundred extreme left (read punks) come to stir up problems with the protesters and police. And, there are thousands of police lining the streets, trying to keep order.

The rally takes place in a small marketplace on the outskirts of Luebeck. The party members are given the rights to speak in public for half an hour. Most years, the protesters try to figure out means so that the people speaking at the rally can't be heard. This year, the nearby church took matters into their own hands and rang their church bells throughout the half hour. Legally, they were not allowed to do this (public ordinance). But, oddly, despite thousand of attending police present, none of them stopped the church from doing this.

After the rally, for the next five or six hours, riot reigns; the right try and beat up on the left, the left on the police, and everyone else hopes that their presence will restore peace. We have helicopters, riot police by the thousands, chained off streets, and endless escalations needed to be seen to. The costs! Ah, springtime. It's hard to explain.

22 March, 2009

Don't ask, won't tell


Don't know where this collage came from... a dream, a obscure association, a Freudian slip ... still, hope you enjoy.

21 March, 2009

This Is What Family Looks Like

My family is not much of a marrying family. Four siblings. Only my brother and sister-in-law married with a traditional wedding; expressing their love and making a promise of commitment before family and friends. My oldest sister married (eloped) in a garden ceremony in Stanley Park in Vancouver with two friends as witnesses.

I never wanted to marry. Never wanted a wedding. This was something I knew at an early age. And, because I knew this at an early age, I don’t remember the reasons I felt this way. I just plan didn’t want to marry.

The only reason my husband and I did marry was because a dear friend of mine, Tine, told us to. You see, Tine is a lawyer and was, for a time, a judge. She told me that in the eyes of the German government, my partner and two children were not a family. I am not a German citizen and my children, born out of wedlock, were considered illegitimate and under the guardianship of the State. If anything happened to me (prolonged illness, or death), the care of the children would not necessarily be bestowed upon my partner (now-husband).

To make a long story short, we did marry, and we had a nice ceremony in my sister’s living room in Montreal, which we celebrated with champagne and music and dance. There was no fuss and nothing particularly different about the celebration other than the short civil ceremony and the champagne afterwards.

Even though I never wanted to marry, I do believe in marriage. I feel that my husband and I have lived a marriage right from the beginning, by nurturing our relationship and by being committed to our family in the fullness of our hearts and in the privacy of our home. The fact we eventually formally married and thus had the approval of the government, seems secondary. I reconsidered this fact while watching the various videos on the website “13 love stories”. In particular, this video of a couple, one a non-US citizen, really cut home for me:

It made me wonder how easy it is for some (my husband and I) to form a family in the eyes of the State, and how difficult it is for others. It also made me wonder how a, supposedly, progressive society like the US, could be so fundamentally backward in their ethical practices.

17 March, 2009


All I could think when I saw this advertisement of Honda's was, OMG! Talk about savvy...

Can hate be good? Can hate be great?
Can hate be something we don't hate?

We'd like to know... why it is so.
That certain diesels must be slow
and thwack and thrum... and pong
and hum and clatter-clat

Hate something. Change something.
Hate something, change something,
make something better-r-r-r

Oh isn't it just bliss... when a diesel goes like this?

I don't know whether to tip my hat to Honda in praise for their ingenuity, or to indulge in my feelings that this is another creepy "clean coal" spin... but, one thing is certain, the Japanese car companies have not been sitting back twiddling their thumbs like the American car manufactures were these last 10 years.

They obviously read the signs on the wall and realised “green is gold” and not “hummer is the way” when it comes to their new product development. Even if the American auto manufactures receive great sums of money to bail them out of their financial crisis, there is probably no one out there that can jump start their brain dead new product development rut into a moving swiftly off the production line status. Their competitors are moving fast already.

15 March, 2009

Grey/White Clouded Sky

late winter

At long last, a new collage. Long grey winter days. Constant rainy mornings curb all my enthusiasm to go out for walks. It's Sunday. I finally manage a quick outing. OK, it is just a slight detour along the canal on the way to one of my favourite cafés.

Yet, this jaunt brings a sighting of spring flowers amongst the sparse bare winter branches that are silhouettes under the heavy grey/white clouded sky.

13 March, 2009

Trying To Chew The News Into Small Pieces

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine about the present economical crisis and how I am finding it hard to make any sense of it. Obviously, the situation is dire. It certainly is dire for many of my friends, as well in our own household.

Some friends have thankfully been spared. Not necessarily because they were smarter, but because the companies or institutions they work for or have invested their money in are thankfully (miraculously) solid. Yet, equally, many of the banks and institutions other people invested in (so called no-risk investments) are rapidly dwindling down to nothing.

This has left me with this need to make sense of it all. It is not so much that I want to point fingers at anyone rather I just want to understand what is happening. I am attempting to chew this monstrous disaster down into small pieces that I can swallow.

In this pursuit, I’ve been following a lot of online American news providers. The same news providers I've avidly read these last years while following (almost obsessively) the American election. Whereas the media’s reporting of the election was enthralling, their reporting of the economic crisis is, in my opinion, convoluted, somewhat hysterical, and lacking in insightfulness. Most of what I’m reading leaves my head spinning. Then I listened to this podcast, from This American Life. The podcast titled, Bad Banks, contains the following:

“Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson tackle a very tough subject: trying to explain exactly what a bank is and does. They talk to a number of experts about what has gone wrong in banking, but not before bringing us all up to speed on some banking basics, like understanding a bank balance sheet, and a bank’s assets and liabilities, and the squishy business of what banks say about their balance sheets compared to what they are.”

It was an enlightening presentation of what banks do and what are they’ve been doing differently the last 20 years to what they used to do 50 years ago. I’ve listened to it twice and find following the material in newspaper articles and interviews now easier to follow.

Listening to the podcast made me ask myself why I’ve been seeking advice from the very source/society that poisoned the well in the first place? And so, I’ve decided to take a radical step and shift my eyes somewhat away from American sources of information to other sources of information.

This got me watching The Guardians panel discussion series, “Capitalism in Crisis”. For instance, John Gray gave an interesting talk about the financial collapse. He says, “There can be no return to the status quo – we will now see geopolitical changes, as well as those to banking and economies.” He speaks about two matters that have been mulling around in my mind, but that I haven’t seen addressed explicitly in the articles I’ve read.

First, he speaks about how the attempt of the various types of capitalism to form a global free market was completely unrealistic. The debt-based financed capitalism of the past twenty years, the one practiced by Americans, is over. Listening to him speak about this, I realised that what often bothers me in the articles I read. It is the fact that the American journalists seem to promote only one form of capitalism, a type of capitalism they haven’t practiced in 20 years, as being the only type of capitalism existing, which is so blatantly untrue. Just as there wasn’t one form of communism.

The second item he addresses is the US dependency on China to continue lending them vast amounts of money. If you listen to American politicians, you’d think that it is the American taxpayer who is shouldering all the costs of the stimulus plan. And, that doesn’t make sense, because they and we are all living in a recession. Mr. Gray calmly points out that China is the one who is shouldering the loan, which makes the whole situation quite precarious don’t you think?

So, even though I will continue to read American news on the occasion, I am going to use it as a spice and not a substance for my daily reading.

09 March, 2009

War on Work

Mike Rowe gives an interesting talk about his experiences hosting the “Dirty Jobs” television show. I’ve never seen the show, but much of what Mr. Rowe talks about towards the end of this presentation strikes me as being contextually relevant to the present crisis.

He believes that the American society has declared a civil war on work. He mentions four players in this process: Hollywood’s contribution with laughable portrayals of workers, Madison Avenue's messages “life would be better if you could work less”, Washington’s deals and policies that negatively affect the working class, and, what he calls, Silicon Valley’s tendency to design “innovation without imitation”.

Mr. Rowe talks a “marginalization of lots and lots of jobs” and he feels the only way to battle the war of work, to counteract it, is to pursue vigorously a PR campaign about work (manual and skilled labour). The type of work he calls grandfather stuff.

This made me reminded me of a situation I encountered a year ago, when I supervised a grade 9 student’s two-week work internship. The student was to create a podcast about work. The content of his podcast was a series of interviews he made with people in his family and neighbourhood, all about their professions and trades. Amongst others, he interviewed his father an electrician, neighbour a hairdresser, aunt a kindergarten assistant, and grandfather a plumber.

He asked each of the interviewees whether any role model had inspired them to choose their professions. All the people he interviewed, except his grandfather, answered this question with no. No one helped them choose their profession; no one showed them the way. The grandfather though, he had the fellows working on and installing the water mains for the city with their blowtorches, toolkits, and bawdy sense of humour, that made him think, “That is what I want to do”.

What about you? Did you have a role model in choosing your profession?

08 March, 2009

On the Fly

I'm writing this blog post on the fly (i.e. no spell checker). Our last guest just left this morning and so I've come to a café to establish my freedom from household chores once again.

Our long run of hosting visitors and travelling to various places has come to an end for the moment. Phew. I need a few days to gather my senses again. Balance. Life balance. That is what I need.

Watched a video from Women for Women International the other day. Besides finding the content of discussoins interesting, I was particularly interested in their sponsoring scheme. Their's appears to be a micro-funding practice, which is not quite what our Village Phone Salon project is. Our's is micro-financed-based and not a micro-funding, but sponsorship could still be involved.

Some of our VPSs will be applying for credit at local micro-financing institutes (MFI), but others will have to be financed through, what I am calling, private micro-financing groups. It looks as though each VPS will need a start-up credit between 300 USD and 400 USD. We are in the process of forming small groups of business persons (1-3 per group) who will each lend the start-up credit for a VPS.

I've been thinking that it doesn't matter whether the VPS are financed through local MFIs and Kiva, or through a private group, the lenders might be interested in following the development of the businesses. At the moment, I'm thinking of maybe what we should do is continue the blogs on the VPS site with a monthly report, but a twitter feed in the sidebar. That way the sponsor can follow the daily goings on.

What do you think? would it make it more interesting for sponsors and sponsorees?

06 March, 2009

Head up And Eyes Forward

The other day, I received a comment from a high school teacher who said: she didn’t like digital technology in classrooms and the internet is a pain. She did give reasons for this attitude (e.g. frequent breakdowns of her whiteboard and strict internet censorship in her school), but her comment still saddened me.

Not because she has obviously not “got” how useful digital technology is as a motivator and communicator for young people’s learning. Not because she does not realise that part of her responsibility as a teacher is to prepare her students for their future and media literacy is part of that future. What saddened me was the fact that I hear this comment over and over again from teachers, and often from very dedicated, intelligent, and engaged teachers. The only problem is, when it comes to media literacy, they are engaged in teaching methodologies of the last century.

Well, not to be discouraged. Head up. Eyes forward…

02 March, 2009

Proud as a Peacock

If I was male and I was a peacock, I’d be strutting like this fellow. My darling daughter’s school’s big band performed in a concert along side the NDR big band this evening. And, they played well. That is, the band my daughter plays in played well. The NDR band played veryvery well. Unbelievable.

01 March, 2009

Subway Ride Out To Berlin Suburbs

30ish man dawning 60ish sideburns,
Nice business suit, pleasant face
Sits across from me on the subway car
Reading a library book titled,
“Divorce without Losers”.
Is knowing the answer not worth
The price of the book?
Is he trying to figure out
Where he went wrong?