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Updated: 2018-03-20T16:45:56.347+01:00




No, I have no idea whatsoever why they thought that funny hats should figure in the greeting I received on the occasion of my seventy-eighth birthday. I suspect the idea came from the crazy canine, Felix, with Mickey, Jessica and Tino happily colluding. 

My own excuse for wearing that beanie indoors is that, felled with the discomfort of lumbago, I am more or less immobilised, unable to shuffle beyond the front door of my flat. In consequence, I feel chilly all the time, especially after our debilitating phase of sub-zero temperatures.

Be that as it may, it was a joy to have all of them come to my place for coffee laden with delights. My 'wish list', I'd told them, was for 'consumables' rather than any tchotchkes as gifts which might contribute to the clutter I am valiantly combating. No, I'll not be munching on the lovely tulips(my favourite flower) but supper in the coming days will be just great!




In 1979 I was professionally well situated and, I fear, far too smug. I never dreamed then that the day would come when I would be twice as old!

After a week of persistent sub-zero temperatures in Munich, the forecast today is for a high of ten degrees. I'll take that as a positive augury.



The American presidential election system overhaul comes under fire in a suspenseful political technothriller I recently finished. The conspiratorial villains aim to take over the United States through election fraud brought on by manipulating newly introduced electronic voting technology. But the platform of the feisty female aspirant determined to move into the White House is elaborated at great length and there are extended excerpts from stirring speeches. I think I’d have given her my vote!

But was the manifesto perhaps drafted in comprehensive detail before the thriller attributes were bolted on? I’ve read a few other books which hint at this authorial approach and I must admit I’ve enjoyed them. They allow non-fiction issues to be expounded upon in depth, even if the content is paradoxically fictitious.

There is nothing new about garnishing police and courtroom procedurals with sub-plots and story strands that reflect an author’s concern about real-world iniquities, from climate change denial to people trafficking, from toxic masculinity to the vilification of an underclass.

Recently, however, I as reader get the feeling that sometimes the societal issue is the primary content of a book. A signpost pointing in this direction is a lack of originality in terms of the thriller elements which are secondary when employed by the writer as ’packaging’.

This is something I must think about more as I look for the direction my future storytelling should take. A manifesto thriller?    



At the Winter Olympics in Korea, the British contingent is delivering both surprising successes and heart-rending failures. All of this makes for compelling television entertainment. But the sport I follow is curling, since watching it for the first time when the action on the ice was transmitted from Sochi.

That a certain Peter Thomson in Perth fills ceramic miniatures of curling stones with his blended whisky, brings a smile to this Scot of the diaspora. The smile broadens with the realisation that the girls of the curling team representing the United Kingdom all hail from north of the border. Again this year their skip is the delightful and talented Eve Muirhead. She is also said to be a very competent player of the bagpipes and wears the kilt with aplomb! 

As things stand, a medal could well be a possibility. In 2014 it was bronze. Can the lassies better that result this year? 



There are undoubtedly Ultra High-Net-Worth Individuals, UHNWIs, with homes in Belgravia and other posh London neighbourhoods who wish they lived in a gated community.

From The Guardian
“A meet-and-greet service from your car or nearest Tube station. A hotline to your local bobby, whose location you can track on your iPad. Dedicated patrols. A 100% conviction rate. For up to £200 a month, this is what residents on some of London’s most expensive streets in Belgravia, Mayfair and Kensington can sign up for with TM Eye, Britain’s first ‘private police force’.”




From TheMunichEye
“Numerous protest rallies are expected to take place today around the Munich Security Conference at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof. Four thousand demonstrators are expected for this, while four thousand members of the police force will be in action around the premises.”

Light snowfall, as I write, and a maximum temperature only just above freezing will probably not discourage the activists.   



There is also this year’s second calendrical coincidence to savour as, in 40 days’ time, Easter falls unusually on April Fools’ Day.



No reason to post these photos, except that I find them delightful. In all my Paris years I never saw the likes of this.



Yesterday's observation of the hundredth anniversary of the first step towards universal suffrage dominated the British news. It was a centennial which would have been celebrated under any circumstances, and rightly so.

But I cannot escape the feeling that this year, the fervour was intensified in consequence of the recent focus on the gender pay gap in the United Kingdom and the increasing disgust as each new case of sexual harassment hits the headlines.

I think the poster published back in the day by the suffragist movement still sends a timely message.



It's always great when Mickey is able to travel to Berlin and visit our daughter. This past weekend there was the chance to introduce Jessi to one of my favourite places in the city. I find it satisfying that in Paris, too, Jessica learned about La Coupole and the Café Flore. Although it may sound whimsical, I like the notion of passing on a kind of cultural legacy. I think Pierre Bourdieu would have approved of my effort to pass on a small element of what he called 'social capital'..



"Who wants to be a trillionaire!"

from The Guardian
"The flow of data now contributes more to world GDP than the flow of physical goods. In other words, there’s more money in moving information across borders than in moving soybeans and refrigerators. This is a big shift and one that has yet to fully sink in for most people. Corporate America, on the other hand, understands it well. The crusade against data governance is only getting started. If it succeeds, the world’s most important resource will be entrusted to the private sector and the profit motive, and the rest of us will have even less power to participate in the decisions that most affect our lives. A growing number of people have come to realize that data has a dark side. The information revolution has turned out to be something less than total liberation."  



Billy weeps... Having started the company aged 17, Ingvar Kamprad went on to pioneer flat-pack furniture, an innovation that would see the company revolutionise furniture design for the mainstream market, and become one of the best-known brands in the world.from DezeenIn 1956 the Lövet table, a three-legged, leaf-shaped side table, started a revolution in self-assembly furniture. According to legend, Swedish designer Gillis Lundgren was transporting the table to a photo shoot but was unable to fit it into his car, so he sawed off the legs, to simply reattach later. from The Guardian"Ingvar Kamprad’s journey to world furniture domination was punctuated by problems. He liked to say, self-deprecatingly, that 'no one has had as many fiascos as I have'. These included boycotts, accusations of Nazism, tax avoidance and plagiarism, and alcoholism. Yet those who worked closely with him have suggested he found it painful if things seemed to be going too well, that the struggle and the solution were part of the same continuum. You can perhaps take the farmer’s son out of Småland, but in Kamprad’s case you can’t take Småland, a harsh, agricultural and punishing region, out of the boy."When we think back to the way we lived before, it is hard to overestimate the revolution that was Ikea. [...]



It's Haggis Day, and inevitably this year there are voices raised to protest that our Scottish national poet, Rabbie Burns, was a despicable sexist rogue. Hmm... I'll concede that he is guilty of having atrocious taste in sunglasses!



In 1846, Søren Kierkegaard, one of the fathers of existentialism, argued that the pursuit of knowledge was distracting people from finding meaning, writing ‘people in our time, because of so much knowledge, have forgotten what it means to exist’. He argued that when presented with unlimited choices, we face a dizzying anxiety. ‘Standing on a cliff, a sense of disorientation and confusion clouds you. Not only are you afraid of falling, you also fear succumbing to the impulse of throwing yourself off. Nothing is holding you back. Dread, anxiety and anguish rise to the surface’.From Wired“Alarm at the corrosive effects of new technologies is not new. Rather, it is deeply rooted in our history. In ancient Greece, Socrates cautioned that writing would undermine the ability of children and then adults to commit things to memory. The advent of the printing press in the 15th century led Church authorities to caution that the written word might undermine the Church’s ability to lead (which it did) and that rigour and knowledge would vanish once manuscripts no longer needed to be copied manually.”But let’s not forget what the Danish philosopher said about meaning.[...]



(image) Last Sunday the editorialist at The Observer found words to sum up the characteristics of the 'great dealmaker' whose latest feat, as his presidency is exactly a year old, is his failure to avoid a shutdown of the federal government.



Today's re-launch of The Guardian in tabloid format reminds me that it was the newspaper's design that prompted me to buy it for the very first time. I was on holiday, naked and unashamed and far removed from my working environment in Berlin, at the Cap d'Agde naturist resort complex. At the tabac, the masthead of the broadsheet caught my eye, modern and bold and very different from those of most competing publications of the time. And The Guardian had run colour photographs on the front page since the beginning of the year 1995. I quickly realised that the newspaper's journalism fitted my 'world view' and becoming a regular reader was an inevitability. My copy was always waiting for me at the kiosk in Cologne in the late nineties, then at the stand in the lobby of the Novotel in Abu Dhabi. By that time I could also access the online edition, but it was only when I returned to Germany that the digital version became my regular source of news and comment.  Shall I be a buyer of the new tabloid? Probably not, given that I've become so used to inhabiting cyberspace in preference to the real world outside in Munich. But the re-design is, in my opinion, brilliant and will quite possibly attract new readers.   [...]



Quo usque tandem abutere, Herr Drumpf, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia? 
(Cicero, 63 BC, adapted)



Unshuffled in Theresa May's new cabinet, more's the pity.



All the quibbling concerning the veracity of what Michael Wolff has reported is surely neither here nor there. Herr Drumpf has promised us in a very recent volley of tweets that he “would qualify as not smart, but genius ... and a very stable genius at that!” Does such a preposterous claim from the man himself not suffice?



...they Tweet not, neither do they spin.



In June 2015, Good Will-Hinckley, a charitable organisation for at-risk youths that runs two schools in the State of Maine, hired Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves to be their next president. Governor Paul LePage, however, threatened to withhold $500,000 of state funding for the school if they hired Eves, due to his voting record against charter schools in the state. LePage’s choice to do so was labelled as ‘blackmail’ as well as ‘political interference’. As governor, he has made controversial remarks regarding abortion, the LGBTQ community, racial minorities, the death penalty, voting rights, campaign financing, the government and the environment that has sparked widespread national criticism including calls for impeachment. The Good Will-Hinckley board of directors rescinded its offer to Eves to be the next president of the organisation. Why do I single out this example of political chicanery from the year before the shadow of the dire Drumpf fell upon the whole of the United States? Because the offer made to Mark Eve was that proposed to my father in 1955, albeit at a salary rather less than the annual $120,000 offered to the Democratic House Speaker. Pa accepted the position, moved us as a family from Scotland to the banks of the Kennebec River and for a couple of years ran Good Will-Hinckley in the spirit of its founder. I noted in my memoir as follows: "Founded in 1889 by Rev. George Walter Hinckley, Good Will was seen as both a philanthropic and educational venture. It was dedicated to the provision not only of schooling but also a true home ‘dedicated to the needy and deserving youth of character and ability from either broken homes or homes of extreme destitution’ to quote a 1958 brochure. The Good Will Home Association; an altruistic experiment in a three thousand acre campus.” Averill High School, where I graduated in 1957, was part of this quasi-utopia in which at the time a dangerous clown like Paul LePage could never have been imagined.[...]



To start 2018 with depressing news from the United Kingdom, the country where the railways were for so long a matter of national pride. We learn now that anyone using a train for his or her daily commute to a workplace around 30 miles away will spend about 14% of their earnings for their season ticket.

In Germany, the cost would be half as high. In France, just 2.4% of monthly salaries would be asked of passengers riding trains that in general will be more modern than those deployed on British routes.

Sic transit... (pun intended!)



The promise of the internet was that it would gift us greater choice than we had ever had in the pre-digital era. But the web has enmeshed us in a systemic constraint of our options. According to our personal preferences, as construed from our online histories, we are increasingly targeted by algorithms that make recommendations on our behalf, ensuring that we inhabit in complicit complacent comfort our essentially self-determined echo chambers. Inside a figurative echo chamber, as Wiki baldly states, “official sources often go unquestioned and different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented. The echo chamber effect reinforces a person’s own present worldview, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is”. At worst this gives us inanities like Brexit and Herr Drumpf. But it is easy to be lazy, with streaming music platforms well aware of the kind of sounds we prefer, Amazon knowing what we’ll probably enjoy reading, Netflix not only confidently proposing our next binge viewing orgy but using the data they have collected from us, the audience, to decide what movies they should invest in and actually put into production.It was this latter that prompted me to think a bit more about the ways our choices are more and more circumscribed. The manipulation is ever more efficient and quite blatant. For example, Netflix is constantly looking at ways to ensure its eighty-one million members find something they want to watch. One ruse is to present us as viewers with customised thumbnail images when we consult the homepage menu illustrating what is on offer. They claim that if nothing catches our eye within ninety seconds, we will lose interest and move on to other activities. And so the company adjusts the feed of promotional thumbnails depending on demographics, including nationality and gender, and on what they can deduct from our individual user profile. With the new ‘content providers’ of the FANG fraternity (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) accelerating the billion dollar disruption of the entertainment industry, at least in its Hollywood iteration, we will soon have only the illusion of choice.However, we need not be completely disenfranchised. In parallel with the dystopian developments I’ve mentioned, there is a contrarian trend that can be seen as positive. While the new media tycoons produce their big-budget blockbuster movies and series, there is a generation of independents content to work on a shoestring and take advantage of affordable technology allowing them to make films that are personal in the tradition of the cinema d’auteur. Such work may reach only a niche audience, people who find the echo chamber stultifying if not downright dangerous. I dare to hope that this is an audience which will in 2018 and over time grow to become a small but significant countervailing feature of the media landscape.    [...]



Should we have seen it coming, the confusion of 2017? The year of unrepentant 'pussy grabbers', Little Englanders and assorted purveyors of fake news left us lost for words. Maybe in 2018 we'll all simply relax and accept a 'new normal'.



Before Mickey's birthday (her 61st) in November, and possibly even before Jessi's (her 29th) in October, we all solemnly agreed that our 'wish lists' for Christmas should be kept short. But yesterday evening when the ladies in red descended upon my little flat, all looked quite splendid and by no means reflected the fact that not one of us is currently at all prosperous.Wishes were granted, champagne was quaffed and we agreed that sushi made a pleasant change from the traditional goose.But before afternoon became evening there was time to watch the movie file that Jessi had been given by her BFF and quasi-sister the day before. It documented the August nuptials in Mexico City, and I have never seen a more spectacular wedding video. It was professionally shot and edited with great sensitivity, and in spite of the incredibly lavish celebrations staged for the marriage of Dominique and Daniel, it was very touching. We agreed that it struck a welcome positive and optimistic note in a 2017 that had not been joyful for too many people we knew.   We count ourselves very fortunate indeed. There are fathers of Jessica's contemporaries, approaching retirement, who have just been abandoned by their wives, others slipping into alcohol dependency or incapacitated by illnesses. In comparison, Auld Da feels reasonably chipper and is not tempted to touch the Glenkinchie 12-year-old malt (yes, it was as always on the 'wish list') until the computer is turned off at the end of a day's work!Another wish was granted in the form of a new portrait of Jessi which needed to be properly displayed on my desk. This implied that much of today would be taken up with the task of getting rid of a lot of rubbish which has accumulated over the past few years. In many ways, I am not the minimalist I pretend to be, but one who is easily seduced by quirky and ephemeral tchotchkes. Not that I have consigned such items to the trash can, I have merely moved them to other places in my flat! The result now? Jessi grins at me over her shoulder and reminds me of my very good luck.   [...]