Montag, 17. Dezember 2012

Don't Make Fun Of...

beabeenMonty Python already realised it in 1980: "there's fools and idiots sitting on the trigger".

Bear with me, for I am leaving my comfort zone of travel reflections to grapple with something that is confounding me, and quite frankly scared me, more and more. I realise there is a danger of sounding patronising, but if this is the case, then so be it. You see, unlike the people who could have wiped out our very existence (if you want to look at the bright side, including what would have been Justin Bieber....yeah, it's a cheap shot, but I'm trying to lighten the subject just a bit), the motives of the men (and some women) during the Cold War were, at least to me, understandable. Cold, naked power has always led to rivalry, wars, and you could even say (mostly testosterone-fuelled) stupidity. But it's human nature. And so it is, too, human nature to believe in a greater entity, something that makes the suffering in our earthly form comprehensible. A very much needed respite from lives that, until not too long ago, lasted a fraction of the time we live now. Where work was more physical than mental and earthly pleasures were few. And hardship has by no means be eradicated on this planet, so it is natural for people to go on believing in a benign being to guide the way.

More and more people are being lifted out of abject poverty and dire material situations; people live longer, more fulfilling lives. Many people in the "developed world" (Global North, the core, the Western world, however you wish to call it) have turned to atheism or a more spiritual form of religion as times got better. But there are exceptions, and these are what scare me. One form is what can be witnessed in the Middle East. Yes, the people finally laying down their lives for religion are true believers in literal sense of the word. But these are not the men behind the plots, the minds that think up the atrocities. These people actively use the ideas of others to manipulate them; blatantly exploit misery for political gains. This is not a new phenomenon, pick up a history of the Borgia family and you'll know what I mean. And it comes back to power. Explanation is not a justification, but this form of religious over-enthusiasm I can at least begin to fathom.

What scares me the most is that there are people who lead satisfying lives and yet still believe there is a literal big man in the sky who watches their every move. That educated and by all means intelligent people are capable of blaming atrocities blatantly committed by men to such a man and that by simply showing more loyalty to one deity, without any reflection of the meaning behind this reverence can magically make all bad disappear. I am not criticising anyone's beliefs per se, but the translation of beliefs into actual actions, often without any critical reflection. I could go on, but I believe I've made my point.

I am not calling on you to change your ways or to petition for this or that. I have respect for religion and I recognise the comfort it can give. But sometimes, just naming a fear is enough to put it into perspective. This has done so, and I believe it scares me more.

Mittwoch, 5. September 2012

Signal Right and then Turn Left?

Contrary to what the inactivity of this blog might suggest, the past year has been anything but inactive. It’s been filled with theses that managed to satisfy my need to spout my opinion on the internet (if you do however feel the need for some opinionated comments, I recommend and some travelling, however not lengthy enough to get an inside view.
So instead of foreign cultures, maybe it is time to take a candid look at my own native society. But with so much fodder being thrown my way in the form of the US presidential elections, I find myself unable to resist at least a very short commentary on the goings-on on the other side of the ‘big pond’.
So here goes: The Presidential Elections As Seen By [A] German[s] (abridged version; trust me, I could go on about this all day).
  1. The Social Issues: At its starkest, Todd Akin stands against Mr. Obama. Somewhat reassuringly, the GOP has urged Mr. Akin to give up his candidature for the Senate (which he has yet to do), but on the whole this discussion cannot but leave the sour aftertaste in your mouth that America may be the Land of the Free, but the Free doesn’t quite manage to cover those citizens with a uterus. Seen from a country where the freedom to choose when in comes to abortion, especially if a criminal offence is involved, is and has been the norm for more than forty years, this discussion strikes one as just as outdated as the ongoing claim that homosexuality is a curable disease or (my personal favourite) the controversy surrounding the religious beliefs of the President. In Germany, as in much of the rest of Europe, secularism in general is on the rise and the latest discussion about same-sex marriages here to hit the headlines focussed on tax breaks.
  2. The Economic Issues: Quite frankly, since the PIGS (I swear I didn’t make that up) are on the verge of bankruptcy here in our own back yard, the plight of the American finances is only of marginal importance. Add to that the growing importance of Asia and the already established dominance of other EU states as the main German trading partners, and you have the perfect ingredients for an ‘As long as you don’t want money from the ESM, you can do whatever you want’ attitude. Which is fortunate, since the candidates seem to have forgotten their own economic plans and their voting history (yes, I’m talking about you Mr. Ryan. That’s right, blush in shame) in all the fervour of digging up dirt on the opponent. So it doesn’t really matter that Mr. Romney was a successful businessman or that Mr. Obama actually didn’t do so badly when dealing with the crisis in 2009. Just don’t sell off Rhode Island quite yet, the market for islands is already saturated.
  3. The Foreign Policy Issues: There’s a reason why the word Schadenfreude only exists in German. Yes, a part of us would have loved to see the London Olympics go wrong. But for an American to come over here and lord over our next-door neighbour? Not cool, Mitt, not cool. On the whole, however, German expectations of US geographical knowledge are so low, we’re quite content if you don’t invade Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan by mistake.
On a more serious note, even though I am a supporter of Barack Obama and would be a Democrat were I a US citizen (for numerous reasons), I didn’t always believe Mitt Romney would be a complete catastrophe; his record as governor of Massachusetts is quite heartening. Sadly, however, he has chosen to renounce his ideas and beliefs from his time as governor to instead pander to the right wing of his party. This is not only disturbing in regards to content, but more so in that he seems to be willing to give up what he stood for at the bat of an eye for a chance at the top job. And in today’s world, where all countries are in the end interconnected in some way, is it really wise to have a leader, any leader, much less of one of the most influential countries in the world, who seems able to change his mind faster than you can say “I’m generally suspicious of people who don’t drink anyway”? I didn’t think so either.

Mittwoch, 7. September 2011

The Young Girl

There was a young girl in Nic'ragua
Who smiled as she rode on a jaguar.
They returned from the ride
With the young girl inside
And the smile on the face of the jaguar.

This limerick, credited to Anonymous, can be found on the first page of Salman Rushdie's "Jaguar Smile". When I started reading this book, which is set in the Nigaragua of the 80's, I realised that Mr. Rushdie had done it again. "Midnight's Children" taught me more about India than any Lonely Planet ever could; now, Central America started making more sense. Most striking was his observation that, although the busses were full, the city was empty. I sometimes have the same impression: the traffic ('El Tranque') is legendary, the many fast-food restaurants here in Panama always seem to be packed. But take a stroll in the old part of town, and you can count the number of people you encounter on two hands.
But without further ado, here today's special treat, a rewritten version of the limerick by yours truly. Adapted to fit the geographical setting (clears throat):

There was a young girl in Panama
Who was in a great big dilemma.
But she couldn't decide
If to run or to hide
So she stayed and just ate a banana.
(Don't worry. I plan to keep my day job.)

Donnerstag, 25. August 2011

Shake It, Shake It, Shake It!

I suppose it is an automatic response, a coping mechanism, or just good ol' human nature, but I cannot stop comparing Panama with Sweden. And nowhere is the contrast more stark than in the gym (I wouldn't be surprised if the bureaucrats went to sister schools). Where in Sweden you have hard-working, serious, dedicated trainers who make sure you get the most out of yourself without feeling pressured; who use their strap-on microphones to educate you on the exact effect of this or that exercise, and who keep their lofty presence on a stage away from the sweating masses (while managing to look pristine), the Panamanian trainer will be right in there with you, shaking his hips to music loud enough to blow you ear drum and shamelessly flirting with each and every female. I guess both sides have their advantages and disadvantages, but honestly, do the Panamanian girls really have to wear push-ups to work out?

Montag, 22. August 2011

The Red Devil

In any other part of the world, the passenger is the person who decides where a taxi should go. Not in Panama: here, the driver decides if he can be bothered taking you. So even though a trip from my home to the office costs about half of what a train trip of twenty minutes would cost in Germany, I have decided to find alternative transport. This is a so-called 'diablo rojo', a red devil which is basically a brightly-coloured old US school bus. It's a bit sweatier and generally more crowded than a taxi, but it does make every trip to work an experience. And the up side is, they can also be used as party busses. Literally. Just take out the seats and put in a bar...

Samstag, 13. August 2011

Oh wie schön ist Panama!

I woke up last night (alright, late evening) to oppressing humidity. And weird noises (case in point, a squirrel just came and sat on my window ledge). My first thought, all jet-lagged, was dammit, am I back in India? Cause it sure felt that way. But then I saw the blinking of the microwave in front of my bed and I realised that India, this was not.
I am currently in Panama. Arrived yesterday morning, was picked up by my beautiful landlords, and deposited in my own room which, along with the aforementioned microwave sports a fridge, a small cooking stove and, most importantly, a coffee machine.
I admit, I haven't seen much of the city yet. But the glimpses I have managed to get are promising. From concrete ocean promenades to more skyscrapers than I have ever seen wedged into a small area. And they're still building. But all the towers still can't keep out the pervasive smell of the ocean. Not that I'm complaining, makes me feel as if I were on holiday. However, this is not a holiday, I shall be hard at work. But I shall do my best to keep you updated on the adventures of "La Alemana Latina" (for now limited to trying out the stove for the first time. Wish me luck)!

Mittwoch, 27. April 2011

Tempting. But probably not true.

Have you ever noticed just how easy life is? We are told which side of the train to disembark. There are instructions of use on my tube of toothpaste. And should you come across a gimmick, thing, whatsit, and aren't quite sure of how to use, hold, work or process this, well jeez, google it. What are you, born yesterday?
I would be the first to criticise any linkage between, say, someone's disability to independently ascertain the side of the train where the platform is and the (somewhat disturbingly) high chances of Donald Trump becoming President. But it is tempting. You gotta admit.
Since, however, the sun is shining (on a completely unrelated note, I never did realise just how dependent I was on this ball of fire. Seven months of darkness would break anyone. Goes to show you really don't know what you got till it's gone), instead of sending a lament out into cyberspace, here's something (slightly addictive) to keep those brain cells active: Word Bubbles. Also useful for procrastination. And might want to be used just before making a big decision. Just in case.