Sunday, January 28, 2007

Where do morals come from?

This is a question I have asked myself for quite some time. Recently I've seen a feature about scientists who claim morals have nothing to do with our religion, but with our upbringing and genes. What a drawback for the conservatives and fundamentalists (who won't believe this anyway, as it's science).

So what do those scientists really tell us?

Experiments show, they claim, that little children (about 2-4 years old, which means they've not received a 'moral education', or at least not a lot of it) show helpfulness as well as adults (or not...). This suggests that the will to help others of our kind is somehow build into our genes - just like instinctive behaviour of every creature on earth.

Other experiments, which were conducted with adult people, also show that we share more liberally than economists would give us credit for. When faced with the task of sharing a certain amount of money with another, unknown person, most prefer to offer the other one 50% (they do not share money they've earned, but money freely given by a third source). Economists would expect the offers to be something like 70-80% to the person itself and 30-20% to the one they're supposed to share with. Mostly Economists are wrong. Now, the interesting part is that the people taking part in this experiment came from different countries and different religions. Some were very religious while others weren't religious at all.

This shows that religion as a such (no matter which one) is not an important factor in our morals.

It is indirectly one, though, because society is something which defines our morals and society itself is to a certain degree influenced by the main religion.

This doesn't mean the basic morals differ a lot because of religion, since basically all religion damn the same sins and approve of the same actions. Hurting others and stealing from them is a sin, thus it is damned. Being kind to others and giving is approved of and thus a 'good deed'. Realizing this made me suspect that maybe our religions also come from our genes - if we tend to behave in a certain way towards others of our kind, is it unrealistic to think that our 'natural' behaviour will have an influence on our philosophies and religions? We may have stopped to give our gods a human body, as the people of Ancient times did. We may have stopped to see our gods as someone you can simply meet (even though at least the Christians somehow don't manage to keep away from seeing God as some sort of old man with a long, white beard). But we still see the morals as something that should go with what we feel is right.

This is the main difference between our moral feelings and the law. The law is based on our morals, but it doesn't change as fast as they may. So while something is still legal or illegal by the law book, this might have changed in our minds already.

But back to the question about the origins of morals.

If we inherit the most basic morals we have, then there would be no need to teach them to anyone - but we still don't know what the most basic morals are.

Most of our morals seem to come from the society we live in, though. We may be naturally inclined to help our own kind, but apart from that we are sometimes worse for our own species than any other creature. (Homo hominis lupus, just for those of you who had Latin at school, though I personally learned this saying from a novel for adolescents when I was about 12.) The way we act towards others is mostly determined by what the society approves of. As we all are social beings, we want to be accepted and respected by the society we live in (i.e. all other humans around us) and therefore we are ready to accept the rules of society (not to be confused with laws, see above) and at least openly agree with it's morals. What we think about them stays in our own mind.

So in essence moral isn't given to us by God - and if He approves of it or not we'll all learn after we've died, I think. We (as a society) make our own morals - and this is something especially conservatives should realize soon.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What is 'natural' for a woman?

A couple of months ago a woman in Germany published a book essentially saying "we were all wrong when we started working and looking for a career, only a woman having children and a husband and staying at home to care for them can ever hope to be happy". The really funny thing about this isn't the theory, it's the fact that the woman writing the book actually was a well-known figure of public life and had surely put her career before a family. As she still is working, she somehow counteracts her own theory ... and that surely doesn't make the theory any more believably.

Now another very well-known woman has written an answer to this book - and this answer isn't kind (you wouldn't expect a kind answer if you knew that woman...).

I've not given names here before, because I don't think either Eva Hermanns (author of the first book mentioned) or Desirée Nick (author of the answering book) are famous outside Germany.

The whole thing got me thinking about what could be 'natural behaviour' for a woman. A lot of people (usually men) might claim that women were always the ones taking care of the children and the home, doing whatever necessary to make their husbands content. The facts are quite different, especially during the 'old' times.

There are various tribes all over Asia Minor in which the women fought at their men's side (it's one of those tribes that inspired the Greek myth of the Amazons). Among the Vikings a woman had the right to kick out a husband who didn't bring back enough loot (meaning he wasn't fierce enough a warrior). Among the Egyptians there were powerful women, too - even some female pharaohs have been recorded (though usually only grudgingly). It's our own limitation (seeing the Greek and the Romans, two people where women had no rights, as the whole 'Ancient' times) that makes us think women spent millennia just delivering and raising children, cooking their husband's meals and cleaning their husband's houses.

What did nature have in mind for us? It's true, only women have the necessary 'parts' to deliver children, but so does the lioness (which is a fierce hunter, as the only things the male lion ever does is defending his territory and making little lions). From all the species on earth coming with more than one gender (not counting bacteria and other cells just duplicating or snails and other hermaphrodites), only one is currently know to have the male deliver the children - the family of the sea horses.

But this doesn't mean the females are always weaker, quite the opposite, actually. Among the insects females often are bigger and stronger. Among the fish females often are bigger as well (some deep-sea fish put this to extremes, because the male is so small, it actually fuses with the female, living off her blood and doing nothing but donating sperm whenever necessary). The same goes for amphibians (take toads and frogs as an example). Reptilians usually don't differ much by gender. It's mainly the birds (where males have to impress the females in most species and therefore have to look more eye-catching) and the mammals where the males are bigger or more noticeable. And even those parts of the large Tree of Life know exceptions. There's a species of swamp bird where the female keeps a harem of males, laying the eggs, but letting the males hatch them and raise the young. Hyenas have a matriarchy so strict even the weakest female still stands higher in the hierarchy than the strongest male, the females doing the hunting and the males rising the young.

Nature obviously did not intend every female on this planet to stay at home and take care of the children. Now one could argue that the females of our own species aren't lionesses, praying mantises or hyenas (though we're sometimes compared to all those species by men) and we were designed to just take care of the children and leave the outside world to the men. A lot of people set against Feminism did so in the past (either arguing with nature or God, depending on the time). But where is the proof to that?

With equal chances at school, girls usually do better than boys - just to stay at home afterwards? Women live about 10 years longer than men - just to spent more time raising children? Women seem to possess more of those abilities people working in high places inside companies are said to need today - just to use them at home with the kids?

In a world where pure physical strength is the only thing needed for 'work', men are in a better position, but even the very first tribes had a lot of jobs which rather required fast and nimble fingers or a good mind.

And what does the fact that males went out hunting in the dawn of time really mean? It means, in essence, that they were more dispensable than women. In a society that doesn't know the tight boundaries of marriage, but just the tribe as a such, the individual man is not needed after fathering at least one child to carry his genes (or half of them). So if he goes out and gets trampled by a mammoth, it's not tragic, the woman and the child will be fed by other males from the tribe. The woman on the other hand is needed for almost ten months to carry the child (it's actually nine full month until birth), then for a variable time to breast-feed the child (and even up to two or three years were not an exception then) and further to teach it and care for it. The more powerful and strong men had the chance to father more children (because they were less likely to get killed on the hunt), just as nature (and evolution) had intended. Today, with the chances of getting killed during a day's work very minute, nature seems to act on this and slowly minimize the 'production' of males (from a 50:50 ratio until a couple of decades ago to a ratio of 51(women):49(men) today - still falling for men).

So I don't think nature intended us to stay at home and just raise the kids. It probably didn't intend us to get married as well, as in our species genders differ greatly at first look (something which biologists see as a sure sign a species was meant for polygamy). And if we start arguing that today we have overcome the boundaries of nature (which we haven't, physically, we're just good at building tools to cancel out our deficits), then we don't have any argument for keeping women away from work left.

Still discussion, still pointless

I've written a lot about the discussion whether or not to ban 'Killerspiele' from German shops. I've also pointed out already why I think the whole discussion is pointless for me. But nevertheless, before I launch a new chapter of this "Neverending Story", I'll give you a short overview to the topic on the whole.

After several murders committed by young men in Germany, the politicians have - again - found an easy scapegoat: the computer game, or rather the kind of computer game they refer to as 'Killerspiele'. Of course, there's a lot of different kinds of games out there and the games the politicians refer to usually belong to a group known as 'ego-shooters'. The name also gives a basic description of the games: there's a lot of shooting and you do it from an ego-perspective. In addition to those games, some other games which feature violence and a lot of free will (meaning a lot of different means for a player to solve a problem) are also seen as 'Killerspiele'.

What I find most infuriating about the discussion is not simply saying "they owned certain games and because of that they killed those people" - even though that is rubbish, too, from my point of view - but the fact that most politicians and journalists who talk and write about the bad influence those games have on the player have never in their lives played one of those games or talked seriously to a person playing them. It's pretty much like a deep-sea fish talking about the vision an eagle has from it's highest place in the sky. The fish might just grasp the fact that there is a place where there's more than just darkness, it might even grasp the fact that there is a place without water, but it surely can't understand what feeling it is to soar through the skies, carried by the wind, and watching the earth (or the ocean) deep underneath you.

But back to the topic. Apart from those talking about banning those games from German shops (or forcing them to put up something like the '18'-section of video rentals in Germany, where you can get very violent and pornographic movies) who don't know what they are talking about, the whole idea of banning computer games and even declaring them illegal is rubbish. First of all there is no clear line between a normal computer game and a 'Killerspiel'. It's defined in a certain way, but the definition leaves a lot of space for interpretation. Second most of those games aren't produced in Germany or specifically for Germans, so why should anybody outside my home country be interested in such a law? We are a large market for this kind of electronic entertainment, but neither the largest nor the one with most producers in our own country. We are important, but not important enough for the big companies to change the design of their games just because of us.

There hasn't been much actual output of this discussion recently in German media and I'm not sure whether it's a good or a bad sign (whether this means the politicians and journalists have left the topic behind or whether there's some plotting going on). Nevertheless I've read a couple of interviews with various people concerning computer games done by a games magazine. There were a couple of politicians, a teacher and head of an association of teachers and even a psychologist. The only person trying to see the whole topic without the usual 'tunnel vision' of computer game = 'Killerspiel' was the psychologist who pointed out that in the long run it's not proven whether or not playing violent games makes the player more violent. The others all were following the usual lead.

This (together with the fact that the "World of WarCraft"-Add-On "The Burning Crusade" came out this week - and no, I'm not playing this online game at all) reminded me of an "p.m."-article ("p.m." is a magazine for science and social topics) about "World of WarCraft" published a couple of months ago. The article was surprisingly positive - but that wasn't a real surprise, as the journalist writing it was a player himself. Of course, the 'real' specialists for all kinds of behaviour could not let this pass unnoticed. The very next magazine featured an article countering all the positive aspects of playing an online game the other one had mentioned (like building up the ability to work in a team, positive experiences like having success and influence on the world around you and so on). The man writing it might be a specialist for behaviour (and I rather hope he is, for his own sake and for his ability to keep his current job), but he knew next to nothing about computer games. I hadn't even finished the first paragraph of his article before finding the first two or three mistakes. Of course, I couldn't take the whole article seriously after that ... but I doubt many people reading the magazine have my vast knowledge about computer games.

And that's what I hate most about this biased reporting: those who don't know anything about the topic get a very wrong and, in this case, very negative picture.

I was very tempted to counter this article by writing my very first and a very long letter to the editor, just to put the mistakes right, but I didn't do it. In hindsight it probably was a mistake, I should have done it. Others were doing it, so the put all those letters together in the next edition, but cleverly started with those of people seeing computer games as something positive and putting the negative letters in towards the end. That's a very simple rhetoric trick (it's so simple, I actually learned it in German class at school), because most people will remember best what they read or saw last. So when building up a list of arguments, you start with the weakest argument and build up to the strongest. And if you want to publish another negative article without obviously doing so, you start with the positive aspects and finish with the negative ones...

Again, I saw through it, but I doubt a lot of the other readers did. That's pissing me off to no end as well.

I didn't write anything really new in this post and I know it, but I don't want to let this discussion go into hiding like most magazines do at the moment, so I at least wanted to recycle some facts and keep the topic on my mind ... and those of my readers - if there is somebody out there reading this (my counter at least suggests it).

Power = Politics

Another post about politics, I'm afraid.

I don't read many newspapers - though by now I'm regularly (almost daily) browsing through the online-news of various German newspapers. This way I get information that's a lot fresher. But this is not what this post will be about.

If you want to hear something about politics, it's far easier to just watch the evening news and browse the net. If you want 'home-stories' and other stuff about politicians you don't really need to know, it's better to read the newspapers. The real important stuff is usually out there somewhere, either mentioned by various news-magazines and other TV-programs or easy enough to find on the internet. I personally don't need the 'home-stories' and other stuff about politicians. I don't vote for the guy with the nicest home or best-looking wife, I vote for the person with the politic views closest to my own. Or rather, as it was during the last two years, I don't vote at all (you usually vote about three time in two years in Germany due to the many levels of government here - or at least so it seems to me). If the only choice I have is to vote for the lesser of two evils, I usually don't choose at all. What is the point in that?

I watched a TV-program about politics and politicians earlier this evening and the main question there was whether politics are some sort of drug. I thought this question quite funny, because to me politicians often seem a bit dazed and confused, just like a person on drugs. Some of them seem aggressive, some of them seem sleepy, others seem hyperactive or disinterested.

What I mostly wonder about is why people do want to become politicians while at the same time obviously don't want to do what's right for the people they rule. Is it just the simple equation from the title of this post? Do people want to become politicians for the power alone? It seems quite possible.

Humans like power, because it makes them feel safe. It might also make them quite unsafe, just think about this:

Absolute: [...] An absolute monarchy is one in which the sovereign does as he pleases as long as he pleases the assassins. [...]

From: Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

In other words: any human being with power always is in danger of being killed (physically, socially or mentally) by those who think the power is used against them. Today (at least in most parts of Western Europe) politicians are not in danger of being really killed because of their politics, but killing somebody socially (a crime for which you only need pen and paper or, these days, an internet connection) often is far more effective. And especially a powerful and well-known politician has a long way to fall.

Is this need (or maybe hunger) for power a male trait? Is it a female one? Most Feminists will tell you it's a male trait (and indeed those women who are holding the power, like Angela Merkel or Condoleza [sorry if it's written wrong] Rice, seem to use it differently). But I'm not sure. There's many levels of power from the obvious one (being the ruler of a kingdom or democracy) to the very invisible ones (like controlling your husband, something a lot of women seem to manage quite easily). The point is that those holding obvious power are an easy mark for assassins of every kind whereas those only having invisible power (what's often called 'influence') can rule for a long time without being in any danger. So who will in the end control more? That's something to think about.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Winter has finally come

... with a vengeance.

Ever since November, when winter was supposed to begin in Germany, we've had the strangest weather possible. It didn't get cold, it didn't snow. We've had temperatures mostly associated with early spring (even last week still up to 59 degrees) and quite a lot of overcast sky and rain.

It seems as if yesterday winter has decided to finally do its job. During the early afternoon it started to snow - and it hasn't stopped yet. The spruces and the yew tree in front of my flat are heavily loaded with snow by now and the whole area looks like the modern version (I can see an industrial complex from my front windows) of "Winter Wonderland".

Of course, a lot of people have not been prepared for this sudden winter. And with the storms we've just had a couple of days ago, they aren't really happy about the weather.

I would have preferred the snow not to come this week, to be honest (because I've got street duty next week and that might mean a lot of work, provided the snow keeps). On the whole I hope it will stop snowing today and at least some of the snow will thaw until Friday when I have to go shopping (like every week). I usually drive to the mega-supermarket and it would be easier if the snow had disappeared (at least mostly) until then. Currently it's still falling, though.

At least the weather now fits with the time of the year. We didn't get white Christmas this time, but at least we see some snow. I can still remember years with next to no snow at all...

Monday, January 22, 2007

About Cheating

On Saturday I was searching the internet for cheats ... unsuccessfully, but that's another story entirely. For those of you who don't know the word ... at least how it's used among gamers: Cheats are special commands or actions build into a program (usually a computer game) through which it becomes easier. Normally they are build in during the development of the game so the programmers and testers can get through easier to, for example, check whether a change somewhere inside really works. Sometimes those cheats are removed before a program is released, but most often they are not.

The game I was checking for cheats on Saturday was "SpellForce 2". I didn't find any, just in case you wondered. This post isn't about the cheats of "SpellForce 2", it's not even about the principle of cheating, although I'll give you my view on the subject first. It's about the reactions I read in a thread in the official "SpellForce 2"-forum.

My views on the subject of cheating are like this: I do it in single-player games quite often - whenever I feel like it, actually. Sometimes I just get too frustrated or want to know how the story continues. As long as it's a single-player game (in other words with the computer as my only adversary), I don't see a problem in this. I would never do it in a multi-player game, because then I'd have an unfair advantage over others ... and thus a victory would be pointless. The same goes for online games. So now you know how I see it, keep it in mind for what I'm going to say now.

I stumbled over the forum while searching Google for "SpellForce 2"+cheats. The thread I was linked to had been started by a member of the forum asking whether or not the new game (which wasn't even out then) would have the same cheats as the first one. Of course, right then nobody could give a clear "yes" or "no". But the second or third answer to it was the first 'anti-cheater'-post in a thread that has 36 pages currently. Most of them don't deal with the real subject (if and how can I cheat in "SpellForce 2"?), but are from either users who hate cheaters or users who, like me, sometimes use cheats in single-player mode.

Apart from the fact that in "Gespensterweb", where I am a mod for the forum by now as well as a chat-admin, those posts would have been erased already (and the users posting them would have been warned about not doing it again), I also find the whole discussion a) pointless and b) intolerant.

It's pointless because, as far as is known, there are no cheats for the game anyway. Discussing whether or not to cheat in this game while nobody can cheat (at least without using additional programs) in my eyes is pretty much like discussing how many angels can dance on a pinhead (my personal guess would be an indefinite number). It's philosophical (even though a lot of people will tell you a discussion about something as horrible and useless as a computer game can't be philosophical) and of no further use. It's not something to discuss in this thread either, because the question whether cheating is good or evil isn't the topic of this thread.

But what shocked me far more than the pointlessness of the discussion (read forums for a couple of months and you know all about pointlessness), was the intolerance. I can understand a gamer getting angry about cheaters in a multi-player game. There a cheater has an unfair advantage over other gamers (who are human). Therefore the cheater will almost always win. In fact some people who are extremely good at games (especially ego-shooters) have already been accused of cheating, because other thought with training alone nobody could control a game like this. What I can't understand is people getting angry and discussing at great length about people cheating in a single-player game. That's pretty much like discussing about people reading the last few pages of a book to find out how it ends (this, by the way, doesn't necessarily work in modern books, because the real important stuff often doesn't come up in the last chapter). It's every person's choice to do it ... or not. I wondered about how those 'anti-cheaters' found this thread anyway. If they don't use cheats, then why did they check out a thread which had the word 'cheats' in it's title? Just to flame, probably - which says a lot about their personalities. Nobody forces them to cheat, so why do they bother with gamers who like to cheat (or at least use some possibilities such as clearing the Fog of War) in single-player mode? This pretty much comes down to a modern form of witch hunting.

What I wondered about next was the policies of the forum. In both forums I regularly post in ("Gespensterweb" and "MangasZene", as I've already pointed out various times) the moderators would already have deleted posts and warned off the users posting them to stop the thread from a) going off topic and b)getting insulting and intolerant. Even in those forums I only use sometimes ("" and "Giga"), something like that would not have been allowed to go on for the best part of 36 pages (each page holding between 10 and 15 posts, as far as I remember). Apart from "Giga" the other forums are managed more or less on a non-profit basis (which is why I am a mod for one of them). This means that the people taking care of them do it for no money and just because they want the forum to continue.

The official "SpellForce"-forum, on the other side, sure should be even better than one on non-profit basis, because there's real money behind it. It isn't, at least not in this thread (and I've checked a few other threads about cheats as well, they're just the same).

By now I know which power a moderator in a forum holds (as I'm a fledgling mod myself), so this obvious weakness makes me wonder about the forum as a such. Sure, everybody in Germany has the right of free speech (which I am exercising here), but even this right has it's limits when it insults someone else. What I would have done in a case like this would have been this:

The first post from an 'anti-cheater' would have stayed in the thread, but I would have edited it, saying something like "this isn't the topic of this thread and further comments like this will be deleted without further notice". Then I would have done just that, deleted the posts. If a user would have continued posting them, I would have warned him/her per personal notice (which is possible in this forum, as I learned by reading some of the posts which referred to it). If this user would have continued after that, I would have banned him/her for a couple of days to show I mean business. If he/she had continued after that, I would have talked it over with the admin of the forum and then completely kicked that user out.

And if you think that's very strict, you should hear my chief admin at "Gespensterweb". He's far more strict than me, he probably wouldn't have warned that user first, but just banned him and kicked him out.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

English vs. French

I've been following a discussion between the local government in Stuttgart and the parents in my state (theoretically Germany is a union of states just like the USA, we've got 15 union states that form our country). The government wants to make sure that the pupils in the Gymnasium (in Germany that's the highest form of secondary school, although the English meaning of the word is closer to the original Greek meaning than the German one) in Baden-Wuerttemberg (that's my state) learn French as their first foreign language (it's normal for pupils in the Gymnasium to learn two foreign languages). The parents are set against it and want to keep English as the first foreign languages - and I have to agree with them.

I can understand the background of the decision the local government has made. We're close to France here (the south-western part of Germany) and so it's just a matter of perhaps an hour to drive there for shopping or other reasons (and especially on Sundays, when most shops in Germany are closed, a lot of people drive to France for shopping). It's not bad to think that people might profit from learning French.

But first of all the area of France we're closest to (and usually go shopping in) is Alsace, a slip of land continually pulled back and forth between France and Germany ever since the Middle Ages. As a result of this history, the people living there have developed their own language, Alsatian. It is a mixture between French and German that's easy enough to understand (for Germans, I'm not completely sure how well the French understand it). Most people from Alsace also understand German quite well (it's the same with the Netherlands, actually, but that's another topic).

So the real 'reason' why pupils should learn French first (and only those who in most cases will take it as their second foreign language later on anyway; the number of pupils today taking Latin is very, very, very, very small) doesn't work out well. In addition pupils from the 'lower' branches of secondary school in Germany won't learn French in my state, they'll learn English just as always.

The most important language for anyone on this planet to learn these days isn't French (it has been, in Europe, once upon a time), it's English. Whether you want to become a scientist or a businessman, you'll need it. If you want to do anything with computers, you'll need it. Wherever on this planet you go for your holidays, the people you mostly have to deal with in most cases will speak English.

I have learned French in school (and part of it was dreadful, for even though the language as a such is beautiful, the grammar is not) and I still can understand most of it, basically, but English is not just easier to learn, it's also more useful.

I fear that Baden-Wuerttemberg (which has, in the past, been quite high up in education, even with PISA) will give it's future students (as only pupils going through Gymnasium are allowed to go to university in Germany) many problems to overcome, because they'll have to compete with students from states where English is the first foreign language.

Stuttgart doesn't want to back down. The parents don't want to either, from what I have gathered over the news. I personally think that it's those who have not been asked (the pupils) who will suffer for it. Stuttgart (or rather the local government there) has the power, of course, but parents have quite strong means of counteracting it these days (lawsuits, mostly).

I'll be following the discussion, even though I don't have anything to with it as I have neither children nor am I in school any longer.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Easy Communication

As I've already pointed out in previous posts, I've got ICQ (and YIM and even Instant Messaging over MSN by now). Normally that would mean keeping three programs open during my surfing. With "Trillian" this is no longer necessary, nor do I need to keep them all open. "Trillian" connects me at the same time to each of the services, I can see all my contacts in the same window and communicate to them the same way. I can change my status from 'online' to 'away' or 'invisible' everywhere at once as well.

In addition - and this would be especially important for my best friend - I don't need to download programs from different sources, just the "Trillian"-software (plus German-Language-pack) once. I'll ask her about this someday, but not right now. I even could give her my files which surely are non-virulent.

"Trillian" for me is a good way to keep on top of my various chat- and other duties (yesterday I was appointed as a moderator at the forum of Gespensterweb as well).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Laughing about the monster

Currently a comedy about Hitler is discussed very heatedly in Germany. In essence most people think it's inappropriate to laugh about this man. I disagree.

One of those critics has pointed out in an interview that Hitler was a monster - and he thinks it's wrong to laugh about a monster. From my point of view Chaplin was right when he made "The big Dictator", to make Hitler laughing stock.

A lot of people might wonder about this, but I can explain. A monster is something you fear ... and surely the Nazis and especially Hitler were rightfully feared. But what most people either have never understood or have forgotten a long time ago, is this: to laugh about a monster is the one sure way do make sure it looses power. A monster gathers power by fear. Every person who fears it, will give it power. The best way to diminish this power is to fear the monster less. And the best way to do this is to laugh about the monster.

While the style of a comedy can always be discussed - as not everyone has the same sense of humour (and I sometimes have the feeling critics get their humour surgically removed at the beginning of their career) -, the basic question whether it is allowed to laugh about Hitler should be answered with "Yes".

While we should never forget about the Nazis and their crimes, we yet have to learn not to give them too much power over our lives … this is the one lesson from World War II we Germans obviously still have to learn.

Laughing about the monster

Currently a comedy about Hitler is discussed very heatedly in Germany. In essence most people think it's inappropriate to laugh about this man. I disagree.

One of those critics has pointed out in an interview that Hitler was a monster - and he thinks it's wrong to laugh about a monster. From my point of view Chaplin was right when he made "The big Dictator", to make Hitler laughing stock.

A lot of people might wonder about this, but I can explain. A monster is something you fear ... and surely the Nazis and especially Hitler were rightfully feared. But what most people either have never understood or have forgotten a long time ago, is this: to laugh about a monster is the one sure way do make sure it looses power. A monster gathers power by fear. Every person who fears it, will give it power. The best way to diminish this power is to fear the monster less. And the best way to do this is to laugh about the monster.

While the style of a comedy can always be discussed - as not everyone has the same sense of humour (and I sometimes have the feeling critics get their humour surgically removed at the beginning of their career) -, the basic question whether it is allowed to laugh about Hitler should be answered with "Yes".

While we should never forget about the Nazis and their crimes, we yet have to learn not to give them too much power over our lives … this is the one lesson from World War II we Germans obviously still have to learn.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The usefulness of useless knowledge

Whenever you tackle a subject others don't find useful, you get asked "what good will it do you to know about it". I should know, because I've gathered quite a lot of this 'useless knowledge' over the years.

What I've found out about 'useless knowledge' is that quite often it comes in handy. For example I've been reading up on ghosts and other supernatural topics for years and now, by coincidence or fate (depending on your view of the world) I've become a chat-admin at Gespensterweb, dealing with such topics on a daily basis. Another example is the fact that after years of working with my computer and trying to build up my (and some other) websites, I've decided to make a job out of it.

And of course, as a writer, I can make use of a lot of different knowledge anyway. It only depends on the kind of story you want to write whether you need scientific facts, something about history or something about people as a such. Superstitions and beliefs are also a thing you can make use of quite often as a writer.

What I want to tell you, is this: Don't think of any piece of knowledge as 'useless'. You might one day find yourself in a situation in which it becomes very useful indeed. You can, of course, spent your whole life without needing that knowledge, but you will go through a lot of knowledge in school which later on turns out to be absolutely useless - nevertheless you will get marks for it. So the next time anybody asks you why you learn something that useless, ask him or her (provided it's not a mathematician) when in life he or she has ever needed higher maths (like imaginary numbers).

Books that are better not read

If you like to read non-fictional books in your spare time, not for work, school or university, you will soon have realized how bad some books are written.

While there's quite a lot of good books about most topics on the free market by now (I'm currently reading Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and will afterwards read Jared Diamond's "Collapse"), most of them are not used for educating those who have no choice in their reading matters, namely the pupils and the students. I've learned a lot about physics from "Scrooge's Cryptic Carol", I've learned a lot about the world and mankind from the three "The Science of Discworld"-books, I've learned a lot about the oceans from Frank Schätzling's "Nachrichten aus einem unbekannten Universum" ("News from an Unknown Universe" would be the correct translation). All those things I haven't learned from school books, even though I had physics and other sciences at school.

It seems as if those who write textbooks or books about the fundamentals of a topic think the less interesting things are described, the more people can learn from them. That's wrong, of course. Especially in school where people - at least in Germany - are not taking classes they are interested in, but have to attend all classes of their year, interesting textbooks would probably lead to better results. There are certain classes in school (such as history and most sciences) which a lot of pupils find boring. Those classes are not boring by themselves, but they usually are taught in a boring way.

You can teach history by just going through the numbers of the years in which something interesting (more or less interesting, that is) happened. This is the way history is taught at most schools. You can also teach history by telling the pupils stories about what happened, by telling them how life was in the Middle Ages for a peasant, a citizen or a lord, by describing why certain events were so important. This is the way history students learn about history in university, actually. But why wait until you decide to study something? Most people won't get that far because the only see history as something boring with a lot of numbers attached to it (while the student of history learns where to look for such a number when he or she needs it...).

It's the same way with sciences. Of course you can teach physics by just writing down the formulas necessary to calculate certain things. But pupils won't react positive to this - except for those few who really like physics (or chemistry or biology or various other sciences).

So I've often wondered - especially since I discovered scientific books could be interesting and easy enough to read - why those books about certain topics a lot of people have to read to get the basics can't be written more interesting. Given the fact that pupils in Germany don't seem to favour reading at all any more and aren't the most clever (or at least the most well-educated) pupils in Europe, I would suggest to the ministry for education changing the textbooks to make them more readable - instead of, for example, changing grammar and spelling of our language to "make it easier" (which by the way it isn't...).

Why I like travelling by train

As I already wrote, I was travelling by train for two and a half hours this weekend. I am one of the dwindling number of people who prefer travelling by train to travelling by car and in this post I want to tell you why.

As you might have gathered from previous posts, I like reading a lot. In addition I also like listening to music and I like travelling comfortable. While riding a train, I get all of this at the same time.

Normally I like driving my car, especially since I got myself a new one last year. But while travelling over short distances by car surely is more comfortable and, for example, better than trying to take home your weekly shopping by bus, it also means a lot of concentration and - with the way the road situation is in Germany - a lot of frustration as well. There'll be traffic jams, there'll be idiots on the road and so on.

All this will not happen in a train. There may be idiots riding it with you, but you don't have to deal with them or look out for them. And instead of always staring ahead with concentration, you can nod off a bit, read a book or a newspaper, listen to music or just stare out of the window and look at the landscape you pass by.

Another reason why I like travelling by train is the fact that you can study a lot of different people there. If you're a writer like me, or interested in mankind as a such, that alone is a good reason to prefer the train to the car - in which you usually are by your own or with a person you already know quite well.

I've also found that I tend to think about things a lot more while riding a train. The fact that you have nothing to do but sit and wait for the moment the train arrives at the station you're bound for, allows you to spend your time just thinking. I don't know how other people see this, but for me it's the ideal situation in which to either work on my stories or think about topics I can and will sooner or later post in this blog.

Travelling enlargens the mind

... although not the brain, luckily, because that would lead to headaches. This old saying (that saying is just the part from the headline) is true, as I found out while travelling this Saturday. I was 'on the road' - or rather 'inside a train' for about four hours, going to Mainz to visit my friend Heike and back again. The roughly six and a half hours I spent with my friend were also quite interesting, but from my past experiences travelling also makes me think a lot - and as this is the first longer trip I took after starting this blog (the twenty or so minutes to the next big city don't really count), I came up with quite some ideas, so expect a couple of new posts during the next days.

First of all there'll be something about travelling by train and why it is my favourite way of travelling. Then there'll be something about the way books about the foundations of science usually are written (which is just boring and bad). And maybe I'll add something about the uses of dabbing into a lot of different subjects ... we'll see.

In addition to the travelling a couple of TV-programs I saw this weekend have left me with new things to write about, so expect a couple of new posts this week, starting with Monday.

Let's talk about sex, let's talk about you and me, let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that can be..."

If you've grown up in the late eighties and early nineties, just like me, you probably know this song, it was both quite popular and quite controversial at that time. But the music of my youth is not the topic of this post...

It's really about sex ... or rather about our problems of talking about it. I don't mean 'men's talk' in a pub or what women might or might not tell each other when going to the toilet in a double-pack during dates (no, I'm not going to tell this secret). I mean that, apart from the girls of "Sex and the City", we don't really talk all that open about sex. We might - women as much as men - sometimes enjoy a little ambiguous joke, but that's very far from 'talking about sex'. This is not a problem of men or women alone and it doesn't matter whether you're talking about sex with people of the same gender or a mixed group. Whenever we talk about sex, we don't really seem to be at ease ... although we surely are more at ease with doing it theses days as we were before the pill.

Most other topics of our society can be discussed quite openly and usually we are at ease while talking about them. Sure, a discussion about politics might get a bit heated, depending on who is or is not involved in it. But 'a bit heated' isn't the way we talk about sex. It seems as if we can either talk about it in a cold, scientific kind of way ... discussing the pros and cons of specific positions or toys, for example ... or in a very dirty way ... talking about it very much as two actors in a porn movie might before they get down to the point (and what else than sex could be the point in a porn movie?). Because of those two possible ways, we tend not to talk about it at all.

I want to bring in a little anecdote at this point. I'm writing in certain forums regularly, as I've already pointed out before. They do block certain words (or rather combinations of letters) out at least at one forum (Gespensterweb). This has, because German does offer a lot of different words for having sex, some rather strange effects. For example I once found the word 'Nachttischlampe' as 'Nachtti********', because it contains the word 'Schlampe' (though with a low-case 's'), which is a very unfriendly word to use on a woman. The whole word, though, means 'night light' and has nothing dirty or sexual about it. The same way the word 'Vögeln' was once blocked from a post I had written, because it can mean 'having sex', although I meant it as a grammatical case of the word 'Vögel', meaning 'birds'.

Shows how much we still worry about certain words, even though admittedly most of those words probably get blocked because they're not necessary for a forum about ghosts and the supernatural and usually only used to insult others.

But back to talking about sex ... and our problem with it. What the group demanded in the song I cited at the beginning of this post, is to talk about having sex, to discuss the problems and the joys of it. And this is what we still have problems doing.

If, as a woman, you tell a man before first having sex with him "I like doing this and this and I don't do that on principles", you're a whore or at least a woman of questionable morals. If, as a man, you tell a woman "I like this and I don't get off on that", you're a macho who just wants to have fun in bed and is not thinking about the woman's pleasure. I personally think the sex would be much better if both first got down and talked about their preferences.

At the same time a woman who carries condoms with her is seen as a slut (again, as the fear of HIV has gone down), because obviously she's always ready. Most men are supposed to have a couple of condoms in their wallets, but they usually don't have any with them. And most men still just expect a woman who is ready to have sex with (I was sorely tempted to write 'fuck' instead, but somehow I don't think it would be appropriate here) them to take the pill regularly - ignoring the fact that even the pill isn't 100 percent safe. One out of one thousand might seem a small number, but there's millions of people on this globe and roughly half of them are women. If we all had sex at the same time, there'd be a lot of babies, even if we all took the pill regularly. And - listen well now, men - not all women can take the pill and stay healthy, the bodies of some just don't tolerate the hormones.

If we can't talk about sex, we can't say we're open-minded about it, at least that's my opinion. If I can talk about sex the same way I can talk about politics or religion or books, I can say "it's just natural" without lying. Talking dirty or scientific is not seeing the topic of conversation as something 'natural', even though sex actually is ... it's what we're all supposed to do, as far as Mother Nature is concerned.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Talking about politics

... is very much like talking about the weather. You can talk about it with everyone you meet, you can rant at great length about the bad things, you can go on telling people "when I was young, everything was better" ... and you can't change it.

What I don't like about politics is that they are made by politicians. Now you might rightfully point out that this is what politicians are for. That's true, of course. But politicians in most countries are politicians by profession. In other words: They make a living by making politics. While I would never deny a dentist, shoemaker, vendor or other 'normal' professional the right to make a living by doing his or her job, I don't really think people should be making politics like that.

I don't have anything against the idea of people getting paid while they are members of parliament (and better paid by the state than by lobbyists). They usually have a family and can't do the job they've done before while being politicians. From my point of view there should be a limit both to the payment (which is far higher than the average people make in Germany) and the time they spent as members of parliament. Besides, it would be a lot more difficult for lobbyists to get their job done with the politicians changing more often. I'd suggest four years – that's one reigning period – for the government (and we'd never get 16 years of Kohl again) and eight or twelve years for local parliaments (counties or cities). After a couple of years they could become members of parliament again, but not ongoing for twenty or more years. As most of the actual governing is done by officials and bureaucrats anyway, there shouldn't be any problem in this. For one thing there would be a lot more different people making politics and that might just solve more problems (because more different people would try to find a solution and everybody thinks at least slightly different).

This is not going to happen, of course, but one can dream. I'd also like to get everybody kicked out of both parliament and his or her party the moment it is proven that he or she has taken money from lobbyists. And yes, you might say I only want this because I (like a lot of people) don't have a lobby. But I also think that people official working for all inhabitants of one country should not take money from groups only representing a little part of this country.

The sad thing is that in the past things sometimes were better, because people who wanted to become politicians needed to be rich – or at least well off. Those people only made politics that suited them, but, on the other hand, they were not susceptible to bribes (and thus to lobbyists). While this system was inherently unfair, at the same time it was much more difficult to indirectly influence politics. Today that's different.

As you can gather from this post, I don't like politicians very much and, like a lot of people in Germany and elsewhere on this globe, I don't trust them. Even though I think that Angela Merkel is doing a very good job, as far as politicians go, I don't like her as a person much either – and I don't like her party at all.

I know politicians are a necessary evil in a democracy and sure don't want to live in an absolute monarchy or tyranny, but that doesn't mean I will say "everything is going as it should" – as long as it doesn't.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The evil virus

My friend Heike and I spoke today about my visit this weekend and she told me her computer had been totally infected with viruses (which is why she still didn't know when I'm going to arrive on Saturday). They're getting the computer back today, it's been completely overhauled by a pro. Imagine ... they didn't have any anti-virus software on it before. But I won't blame them, they bought a used one and thought it was installed already.

Unfortunately she has decided now not to get the Yahoo! Messenger which would have allowed us more direct communication. On the other hand there's still email and so on. A few years ago the only thing we had on a regular basis was a letter from each other - so this is waaaay better.

Now I've sent her a loooong email about what to look out for and beware of on the internet. I still hope she'll install the messenger or maybe ICQ one day, but I can wait. And if I personally ever meet the guy who's sold them this computer without telling them about the anti-virus, he's going to ... suffer. Oh, yeah, I'm going to make him really, really, really, really pay.

Being (Be)Trapped

I usually don't buy things online ... usually.

On Monday while starting up my ICQ for my admin-stuff, I stumbled over a game on the site accompanying the start-up. It's called "BeTrapped!" and I downloaded the 60 minutes demo-version. I found it very interesting and so I ventured forth yesterday and checked out the price - and was glad again to find that the Euro has gotten quite strong compared to the Dollar (19,99 $ compared to 15,33 €). So I ordered the full version and soon enough got the registry code to unlock the game.

I've been making good use of it for the rest of the afternoon and the evening, finishing the game twice already ... which isn't that uncommon for me, I usually replay games a couple of times. In addition as it doesn't need a CD to run and can be started in windowed mode, I can play it while doing other things ... like writing down this post.

I like that in games, it is why I keep a freeware SuDoKu and a Mahjongg-version on my hard drive. Especially while I'm writing my stories, I sometimes need a few minutes of distraction ... which is exactly what those games provide.

Basically "BeTrapped!" is a logical game. You have a couple of levels (37), each of which consists of one room of the old castle the game is set in. First you have to disarm all traps in the room (the number is shown on screen). To do this you wander over the tiles of the room with the main character, Chief Inspector Parker from Scotland Yard. The tiles turn to certain colours (blue means 'no traps next to the tile', green means 'one trap' and so on), so you can at least guess the place where the traps are hidden (they change every time you retry the level). When you're sure you've found a trap, you right-click on it and it is disarmed. Once you've disarmed all the traps you can check the room for clues or talk to the people there. This way you can solve the mystery behind the logic riddle. On the left of this paragraph you can see a partially disarmed room and on the right of the next you see a completely disarmed one (but it's not the same room, just in case you wonder about it).

For someone who, like me, loves those old fashioned murder mysteries set in haunted castles or large mansions with a group of strange suspects and more murders happening during the investigation, "BeTrapped!" is just perfect. So I guess I'll be "BeTrapped!" for quite some time now...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Man, I'm good

... at keeping this blog running, it seems. I just read at "Sex Ed in Higher Ed", one of the blogs I follow, that most bloggers give up their blog about two month after they've started blogging, because they realize that they don't have anything to say. Well ... I have, obviously.

But this sort of elevates me ... I've been a quitter quite often, but I really want to keep this going. Believe me, I've probably got topics enough for a year ... and in a year I'll probably have new topics to write about anyway.

I'll try to keep up posting things about myself in the future as well ... as a balance to all the bitching and moaning I'm doing quite often. But sooner or later the bitching is probably going to get the best of me ... again.

About Beowulf ... and Grendel

I stumbled over a good version of the old tale of Beowulf and Grendel on Friday - by accident.

For those of you unaccustomed to the story I'll give a short version (and direct you to a website on which you can find the original tale). Beowulf is a mighty warrior ... and a true hero ... of the northern tales. The story itself comes from Scandinavia and "Lord of the Rings"-author Tolkien did a very good translation of the original epos into English. Beowulf is actually considered to be the genuine hero all others were inspired by - at least by some people. There are two main stories told about him: how he defeated Grendel and his mother and how he did slay a dragon. The story about Grendel and his mother is more widely known.

In the story the king of what would later on be known as Denmark, Hrothgar by name, build a large hall - then a meeting place for warriors to celebrate their lives - in order to hold his many banquets in the right place. This hall was said to be larger and more wonderful than all the others and soon the heroes gathered there. But then the killing started. Every night something (Grendel, as you might have guessed already) came into the hall as silent as a shadow and killed the men there in their sleep (it was customary to sleep in such a hall after a banquet at that time). Hrothgar soon was at wits end, his people and his friends were dying and nobody knew the reason for this.

Help came in the form of Beowulf and his men, hearing about Hrothgar's misfortune and coming to his aide - very much as a hero should. The fact, that Beowulf was a king himself, surely helped matters. The new warriors were greeted most warmly by Hrothgar and his people. And in the night after their arrival Beowulf - who was said to be exceptionally brave and strong - killed the mighty monster Grendel ... and cut off it's arm to nail it to the hall, then a symbol of victory.

Unfortunately Grendel was not alone and in the night after he was killed - while Beowulf and his men were celebrating their victory (which took its time then, the people from Scandinavia were accustomed to long drinking) - another creature appeared, killing some of Beowulf's men and disappearing. It was Grendel's mother who had come to avenge her son. So Beowulf set out again, followed the creature into a swamp and killed her there. Grendel's father does not appear in the story, maybe he just wasn't in the mood to avenge his son, maybe he had been eaten by his wife ... who knows with monsters?

The original tale offers no real explanation for Grendel's motives. Maybe the creature was disturbed by the loud banquets, maybe it just was out for blood. In tales that old the evil does not need a reason to be evil. Grendel was - as he was later described by people writing about Beowulf - a "Natural Born Killer". He was - or seemed to be - nothing but a killing machine.

That much for the original tale. In recent years I've found two movie versions of it. The first one I found is a bit strange, to say the least. It's titled "Beowulf" and features "Highlander"-star Christopher Lambert in the title role. The whole story has been put into some sort of "Cyberpunk" fantasy world where the hall of Hrothgar has become an outpost under siege. But the people besieging it don't have to do much, the numbers inside dwindle every night because the creature is striking. Beowulf (in the story the son of a demon and a human mother and destined to find and kill all evil creatures in the world) of course kills the heinous creature. Grendel looks like some sort of walking mixture between various reptiles and a human. The mother comes in as well afterwards, first in the form of an alluring woman (something the original story has not mentioned at all), then in the form of something always reminding me of the Spider-Queen from Hell. It also turns out that Hrothgar does not only have a very charming daughter Beowulf falls in love with, but is also the father of Grendel (seduced by Grendel's mother in her human form). As she was there before the outpost was even build, she considers her son to be the rightful owner, especially as his father currently holds it.

As far as action movies go, "Beowulf" is not bad. It's not exceptionally good either, though. The whole story seems to fit too well. There's the hero, there's the first monster, there's the second monster and there's the final when he leaves the now deserted outpost with the lovely girl. Something you can watch - and should watch if you like fast-paced sword fights and other close combat -, but not something for the large audience. The effects of the 'invisible' Grendel in the large cistern of the castle and the change of Grendel's mother from a very attractive blonde into the aforementioned Spider-Queen from Hell are quite good - but nothing out of the ordinary either.

The movie I stumbled over on Friday is quite different. It's called "Beowulf & Grendel" and gives the story an interesting spin. For one thing a lot of the actors are Scandinavian and so is the producer. The whole story was produced somewhere in that area, too. The costumes look genuine enough and the whole movie as a good 'feeling' to me. Unlike Lambert's "Beowulf" this one feels like the people working on it took the original story seriously.

This story begins with Hrothgar making a grave mistake. Whether this mistake is killing one troll (trolls are monsters often found in Scandinavian folklore, but the original story does not indicate Grendel is one of them) or sparing the life of his child (Grendel), is very much up to your individual view. Grendel grows up learning about the humans, always remembering the day his father was slain. So when he has become a strong adult troll (and that's really strong), he comes to Hrothgar's hall and starts the killing. Unlike the original creature from the old tale - or the version from Lambert's "Beowulf" -, he only kills armed opponents, neither the women, nor the children, nor the old men. And he restricts himself to Hrothgar's subjects - which is why Beowulf and his men are not attacked - they are no members of Hrothgar's court.

Beowulf seeks information about this 'monster' which seems to mock him and his men and he does so by asking a 'witch' living outside the human settlements in the wild. This woman actually is a key to the story of the movie ... and a character you won't find in the original tale. She knows a lot about Grendel ... and is the mother of his only child, although you only find out about that in the end.

Instead of killing the troll, Beowulf tries to catch him - he has realized that the creature has been wronged and is 'justified' in hating the humans -, but Grendel, probably not realizing this himself, fatally wounds himself to get out of Beowulf's trap - cutting off his own arm. He flees to the seaside and wades into the water, letting himself drift. A pale hand we've seen appear (and trying to drag people under) before in the movie takes the dying Grendel away.

The next night - while Beowulf is 'visiting' the witch - the hall is attacked again, this time not by Grendel, but by his mother who is less muscular than her son, but far more aggressive. With the rest of his men, Beowulf follows her trail and enters her cave, finding a second one only reachable by diving. He is alone in that second cave, finding the dead Grendel, reunited with his severed arm (which his mother took from Hrothgar's hall). While he still tries to find out whether or not Grendel is really dead, his mother appears and Beowulf is forced to kill her as well. Suddenly he faces a child, red-haired and blue-eyed like the witch, but with some of Grendel's characteristics as well. Beowulf, realizing that this is Grendel's son, does not kill the child, but instead retreats.

When he and his men sail back home, he sees the child and its mother one last time ... hoping that this child will not grow up with nothing but the wish to kill its father's murderer.

The movie reminded me in some ways of "The 13th Warrior", an older movie with Antonio Banderas. Both are set in northern Europe, both feature two different 'types' of humans and both force the hero into an reluctant war against them (neither the Banderas character nor Beowulf really want to kill, no questions asked). Grendel and his family are described as trolls (as the other tribe in the Banderas movie is described as some form of cave-dwellers), but in essence they all seem human enough. They care for each other, Grendel for his father, his mother for him. That is not so far from the original tale when Grendel's mother comes to avenge her son. In addition this Grendel is able to father a child with a human mother, so he can't be too far from mankind biologically either. The design of the trolls (humans with more body-hair, a strong brow ridge and the limited ability to 'speak' human tongue) also suggests they are some kind of 'ancient' humans, some early form.

It's a novel approach to the story of Beowulf, but not a bad one ... and surely a lot better than Lambert's "Beowulf".

I found a use for ICQ

When I installed ICQ for the first time ... a couple of months ago ... the only thing I got out of it was men trying to flirt with me. So after a while I turned my profile to 'neutral', not giving my gender, and stopped activating it when I went online.

Now, after I've become chat-admin ... as I just pointed out in my post on Friday ... I've finally found a use for it: keeping in touch with other admins who tip me off and help me at the moment. This way I don't have to whisper the whole time - which is getting old soon enough. I flatter myself I've gotten quite good at the new job already ... even though I have just been doing it for two days. I'll be online again as often as possible, but mostly in the early evening ... when there's not many admins around, it seems ... or during the afternoon. We're pretty low on the admins late at night, or so a colleague told me this afternoon while we were alone in the chat, but that can't be helped as long as most members come from Germany. We mostly have our jobs to do (or in my case at the moment: find) during the day, so we have to get up early again. I've decided to at least keep an eye out for the chat whenever I'm online. And I'll go online with ICQ from now on ... and the Yahoo! Messenger as soon as my friend Heike has got hers.

Kicking the user wasn't fun ... well, it was 'fun', but not 'fun-fun', if you know what I mean ... but it was necessary and I rather will risk getting thrown out of my new position for being too strict than for letting the chat getting interrupted by people just fooling about or actually offend others. They get gagged once, maybe twice ... and if they don't learn their lesson afterwards ... maybe after a whispered third warning ... they're out. And if they come back and complain about it, daring me to do something ... they learn how to fly and stay out for good. That's me, Cay the Merciless...

But back to ICQ. I've found it useful today ... and will find it useful on other occasions as well, no doubt about it. So in the end it was worth it.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I'm a chat-administrator ... beware!

There are strange people on the web ... and I'm just chatting with one.

A few days ago I was approached by the admin of one of my favourite forums, asking me to become a chat-administrator. After a little ICQ-chat with the admin I agreed to do it, so I'm currently watching the sleeping chat of Gespensterweb and chatting with the only person there - except for me, of course. He (or she) is a little strange, to say the least, and under normal circumstances ... with a real chat going on ... I would warn him (or her) to stop it, but currently I don't see the point.

Now we've got company, let's see what is going to happen. (This comment makes me feel a bit like some sort of adventurer ... Indiana Cay, woo-hoo). "The return of the airbus-shark" (please don't ask!), I wonder if that title is already taken? If I ever write a story like that I'll dedicate it to PinkyPanky ... the strangest chatter I've met so far.

We're still making fun, mostly, but as long as the other chatters are okay with it - and it stays within legal boundaries, I'm not going to intervene. Ah, the wonderful feeling of power...

Now it's getting fuller, but I'm still the only admin .

Okay, a colleague has arrived, let's see what will happen. "The airbus-shark is still alive". Oh god, it's going to be a three-parter soon.

My colleague has gagged that chatter for five minutes. Let's see what will happen after that...

As far as the chat is concerned, we're going towards "talking to the dead" right now. But it seems as if our 'medium' isn't really connecting to the dead. Now he has left ... and our strange chatter has calmed down.

My colleague left, too, and I'm still settled with two jokers...

Just gagged them again ... this is getting fun.

Just really kicked one of them out for good ... and watching the other one. And now I'm not alone any more, a good thing. As far as I know the new admin is a very experienced one.

It's getting lively ... good.

I've unofficially logged out for the moment ... like I'm gone only for a couple of minutes.

This probably is the strangest post I've had so far ... but then, it's a real-life documentary.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A fact about sharks

... which you probably didn't know and will never hear in one of those 'monstrous sharks kill little children'-movies Hollywood is so fond of every couple of years.

Just watch this:


In case you don't want to (or can't) watch the clip (it's the first time I link to a video online, so I might get it wrong), a short summary of the facts: 10 humans are killed each year by sharks (in words: ten); 200,000,000 sharks are killed each year by humans (in words: two hundred million). That's - as you can easily see, a 2 with 8 zeros. Man, that's a number I wish I had in black on my bank account. Let's don't be greedy: say I'd gotten a cent for each shark killed last year, that'll still be two million. On the other hand if I'd gotten an Euro for each human killed last year, I'd still only have ten Euros ... that wouldn't be enough to buy the book I just ordered online.

What do we learn from this?

a) I order books online

b) I don't have 200,000,000 Euros, neither do I have 2,000,000 Euros

c) the danger sharks present to humans is highly overrated

While a) and b) probably are of no interest to you, c) should be. Let's continue to play with the numbers, shall we?

Normally it's said that our world has 5 continents (Antarctica being the mostly forgotten No. 6), so statistically only 2 persons on each continent risk being killed by a shark each year. That's two people for North America, two people for South America, two people for Europe, two people for Asia, two people for Africa (you could - and probably should - also say: two people for America, two people for Australia). Now, I haven't checked lately, but even forgotten Antarctica has more than two inhabitants, as far as I know.

On the other hand my hometown has about 40,000 inhabitants (I've checked: at the end of 2004 we were 42,757 people in my hometown, says our "Statistisches Bundesamt" ... and I doubt the number's gotten much higher during the last two years). If we were sharks, you'd need almost 5,000 times my town to get the amount of sharks killed each year by humans. At least in Germany my hometown is not considered that small. Actually, as I've just checked, Germany on the whole had 82,438,000 inhabitants at the end of 2005 (and I doubt we've grown much as a country last year), so it's even more than twice the inhabitants of Germany. There are still people out there who think only a dead German is a good German, but obviously there are more people out there who still think only a dead shark is a good shark.

Now, I'm not good with all those statistics about the ways you can get killed, but I know for sure, that driving, flying and every other outdoor activity result in more deaths each year than sharks. And even inside your home you run a higher risk of dying than by meeting a shark.

So why do people still think sharks are that dangerous? Just two words: public relations.

When did you last hear something positive about sharks? Come on, think, there must have been something. No? Right, proves my point...

The only good things you even hear about sharks is that their bodies may contain the keys to curing some serious diseases, like cancer. But most sharks are not killed because people want to find a cure for cancer, they are killed for sports ... or even worse: for their fins.

Finning is the worst thing you can do to any living creature. Imagine swimming somewhere in the ocean. The only thing you're thinking about is your next meal ... and maybe the cute female shark you met a couple of hours ago. Then you get pulled out of the water - and as a fish you can't breathe air, it's pretty much like being pulled underwater for a human - and people with knives bent over you. They cut off your fins: the two on the back and the four on the sides. Then, while you're bleeding profoundly, they simply throw you back into the water. But you don't have the time to die on your own. No, your shark colleagues zoom in on you - somewhere in the crowd you spy the cute she-shark from a couple of hours ago - and rip you to pieces because now you're bleeding and dying, just like any other fish. The monsters in this tale aren't the other sharks, they just act on their instincts: it's bleeding, it's dying, let's eat it! The real monsters are the humans doing this to a living creature.

And what for? A couple of fins that get dried and are the main ingredient to a soup. Now the worst part of this is: the fins themselves have no taste at all. They are heavily spiced and there's a lot more added to the soup, like vegetables and noodles. In essence the fin is that part of the soup you can't define once you bite on it.

Yes, I know, sharks are not cute and they are not cuddly. They don't look as furry as a young lion or a young tiger. But what would our oceans be without sharks? They're an important force in our ecosystem. Let's just hope we don't end up in a world where the movie "Jaws" stands right next to "Jurassic Park" and other movies about dinosaurs, showing creatures from a time long past. The world has survived the end of the dinosaurs, but I'm not sure it will survive the end of the sharks as well...