The Aardvark Speaks - June 2003 Archive



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Monday, June 30, 2003

1. Ministers knew war papers were forged, says diplomat.
2. The BBC will present fresh details about how the Iraqi weapons dossier was allegedly "sexed up" by Downing Street and accuse Alastair Campbell of giving "inaccurate" evidence to the official inquiry into the affair. [via The Cartoonist]
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Katharine HepburnKatharine Hepburn, one of the most prolific and most accomplished Hollywood actresses of all times, died yesterday aged 96 in her home in Connecticut. Hepburn's career spanned more than sixty years and includes film highlights such as Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Adam's Rib (1949), The African Queen (1951), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) and On Golden Pond (1981), even though she was dubbed "box-office poison" in the late 1930s, which almost ended her career. A strong-willed and highly intelligent woman and a very gifted actress, Hepburn is so far the only woman to have won four Academy Awards.

Hepburn was and still is one of the defining factors of American cinema. Unlike many others, I daresay she won't be forgotten. Says Andrew Gumbel in today's Independent: "When people say they don't make movies like they used to, what they really mean is they don't make movies with Katharine Hepburn any more."
Katharine Hepburn

Obituaries from The Washington Post, ABC News, The Independent, Der Standard (in German), Salon.com, The Guardian, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Glasgow Herald.
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In the land of Guantánamo. [NYT Magazine via Godany]
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It seems like Wednesday Addams is becoming some sort of role model in Japan. [via Boing Boing Blog]
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Today is your last opportunity to listen to Radio Austria International, the international Austrian shortwave radio broadcast (Internet live feed available). Due to internal a restructuring, as of tomorrow the station will merely be relaying the national Radio Österreich 1 programme, thereby killing off the French and Spanish broadcasts and reducing the English programme to a mere 15 minutes per day (the broadcasts in Arabic and Esperanto had already been discontinued about a year ago).

A recent winner of the Presseklub Concordia's Journalism Prize for Press Freedom, Radio Austria International wil be sorely missed, and Austria is closing an important window to the world. Feel free to send your letters of complaint to roi.service@orf.at
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Saturday, June 28, 2003

George W. Bush 1:15 minutes after the second WTC tower was hit on 9/11/2001

Did the president really need five full minutes to understand what he had been told? [via Der Standard]
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"During [George W.] Bush's six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas," Alan Berlow reports in the Atlantic, "a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history."

From 1995 to 1997, Alberto Gonzales acted as his legal counsel when the then-Governor decided whether to grant clemency, or to allow the executions to go forward. What kind of counsel did Gonzales provide? According to Berlow, he "repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence."

Now Gonzales is said to be on President Bush's short list of potential nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court. "In another country," John W. Dean writes in FindLaw's Writ, "Gonzales's paper trail might haunt him. (112 of the world's 195 countries have abolished the death penalty, either as a matter of law or of practice.) In this country [the USA], it may well put him on the Supreme Court." [from FindLaw's Writ via Heli's Heaven and Hell Radio]
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Here's an interview with a librarian that was published in the Portsmouth Herald, and it's just plain weird. Here's an excerpt, and it's not a re-enacting of Waiting for Godot:
J.L.: You've never read any kind of romance?
CELESTE: No.
J.L.: That's fascinating.
I just hope people don't start to think that all are librarians like this (well, I'm certainly not). I mean, what exactly are these people talking about? And why would a newspaper actually bother to print this? Am I missing something or is this really just pure weirdness, one librarian's five minutes of fame? I wish somebody did an interview like that with me one day. [via Library Stuff]
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Scott Granneman writes on Security Focus about RFID Chips: "Invented in 1969 and patented in 1973, but only now becoming commercially and technologically viable, RFID tags are essentially microchips, the tinier the better. Some are only 1/3 of a millimeter across. These chips act as transponders (transmitters/responders), always listening for a radio signal sent by transceivers, or RFID readers. When a transponder receives a certain radio query, it responds by transmitting its unique ID code, perhaps a 128-bit number, back to the transceiver. RFID chips are now being embedded in everything from jeans to paper money, and your privacy is at stake." This is required reading. [Privacy Digest]
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Great new music video featuring George and Tony. [Gavin's Blog < Back Seat Drivers]
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Friday, June 27, 2003

meatThe Baronesse reports that she recently had a supermarket bill of exactly €7.77. Which reminded me that I recently had a supermarket bill of exactly €6.66.

Now while 7.77 seems a mere numerological oddity, 6.66 looks a lot like the number of The Beast. Add to that that I did have meat in my shopping basket, and that the dish I cooked with it tasted particularly vile.

I had put this down to incompetent cooking on my part, but it could of course mean that I accidentally ate The Beast (or part of it). Some of the stuff you find on Google when you look for "chicken" sure looks evil. So if I did, what could be the consequences? I mean, I could either have saved the world from perdition, or, on the other hand, I could be doomed forever. The Revelation remains mum on this one.
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I think I already mentioned that Austrian car drivers must be the worst in the world (even though a friend of mine maintains the the Belgians are worse). Bicyclists, at least in Vienna, are no less competent just as incompetent. Or maybe there is some kind of odd radiation coming from the tarmac, I don't know, but some of these things cannot be logically explained.

Every time I stop with my bicycle at the white line in front of a red traffic light, I am witness to the strange mystery that other cyclists seem to be physically unable to stop behind me. All of them will invariably pass by and stop in front of me, the one that arrives last typically ending up frontmost (sometimes in a position where he's even unable to see the traffic lights).

And they're never ever faster than I am. Most of the time I can overtake them within the first five metres, because they're so slow. I simply don't see the attraction of standing almost in the middle of a busy crossroads while you're waiting for the traffic lights to change, but it could have to do with the innate Austrian inability to queue properly pretty much everywhere.

The other thing is the apparent inability of people to interpret arrows, especially straight ones (I already mentioned this a while ago). Every time I find myself on a cycle path that's barely as wide as my bicycle, with arrows pointing the right way every 50 metres or so, there's always people going in the wrong direction.

Is it stupidity? Blindness? The inability to interpret simple geometrical forms? Are they all Men Who Mistake Their Wives for Hats? Or do people get a sexual kick out of disobeying the most basic traffic rules?
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The BBC reports that most surfers are not prepared to spend more than a minute on a web page and are unlikely to spend long searching for what they want.

Yes, I noticed that, too. There is the widespread illusion, even here at the university library, that the Internet will enable you to find everything within 30 seconds, and that, if you don't find it within 30 seconds, it just doesn't exist. Wrong.

To conduct a search, you should spend ample time figuring out which search terms you are going to use. After this, you will have to figure out which query tools you should use (hint: Google alone is nowhere near sufficient). Then you can actually start to feed your query tools with your search terms, but chances are that you'll still have to spend hours browsing through endless lists of serach results.

It's an illusion to think that the Internet has made looking for information much faster. On the contrary, as the Internet offers so many more additional resources, you spend significantly more time looking for things than you would have in the past.
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Thursday, June 26, 2003

There's a report in The Guardian that allergies are soaring in the UK, where one in every three people suffers a sometimes dangerous reaction to food or their environment. Nearly 40% of children and 30% of adults have been diagnosed with either asthma, eczema or hay fever or, quite frequently, a combination. The reason seems to be that children aren't sick and/or exposed to germs often enough. turns out of you're too healthy when you're small, you get sick when you're older. [Guardian Unlimited]

On a not particularly related note, the Centre for Retail Research in Britain has published a list of the 10 most shoplifted items in the UK. Not surprisingly, Gilette's hideously overpriced Mach 3 razor blades are number 1. [via Antipixel]
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The rector of Vienna University today held a meeting where he announced the university's budget situation for 2003, which he himself had only learned yesterday at a briefing with the minister of science and education. (NB.: Vienna University, like almost all Austrian universities, is run by the state.)

There was some good news and a lot of bad news. The good news is that the university was allowed to divert money from the budget for material expenses to that for personnel expenses. Thus, the university will now be able to pay its employees this year. I think I'll spare you the bad news. It was a bit depressing.
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Haldur Gislufsson reads Maurice Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things are'

Haldur Gislufsson would very much like to thank Becky for her present!
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Quick Links: I think that's it for now.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that filtering Internet content is a must in order for libraries to receive certain types of federal funding: "The U.S. wants to maintain the pure, pristine state of its youth. Blocking large breasts and exposed behinds is a must even if it means some information about the Holocaust, Emma Goldman or the KKK goes missing." [The Register]

More links to articles about this rather outrageous decision can be found here. [The Shifted Librarian]
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All of Austria is currently confused about the weird vote by nine right-wing Freedom Party members in the upper chamber of parliament (Bundesrat) on Monday. They had announced that they would veto the budget laws for 2003 and 2004, which had already passed the lower house of parliament and which contain the controversial pension reform (because of which many Austrians went on strike a earlier this month) and the even more controversial purchase of 18 fighter jets (against which half the Austrian electorate signed a petition last year).

What the nine MPs decided to do has since baffled the Austrian public: they voted against the laws, but they also voted against the veto.

As a result, the bill can neither become law now, nor is it sent back to the lower chamber for further debate. It's also not dead -- it'll simply become law after a delay of eight weeks.

The vote has been called anything from "grotesque" to "a farce", but I'm not sure that's what it is. Reading through commentaries in Austrian newspapers, I seem to be pretty much alone in thinking that the Freedom Party has plans for the next eight weeks, although I have no idea what they are.

One thing is sure: the purchase contract for the fighter jets needs to be signed by July 1st. Due to the eight-week delay, this is no longer possible, so the negotiated deal could be off. Let's see if there'll be other surprises in store in the next eight weeks.
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So everything is under control in Iraq, huh? [via Google News]
Now parts of Iraq seem to be contaminated with nuclear radiation. Now how did that happen?
Well, at least we now got the American Traveler Apology Shirt. [via Memepool]

In the meantime back in the USA, the land of the free and the home of the brave has no more room for the free or the brave, unless they support the Bush regime. [via This Modern World]
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Oh my, what does this tell us about the Germans: "Nearly every euro banknote in circulation in Germany carries traces of cocaine, a professor with highly sensitive drug-testing equipment said Tuesday. [...] In August last year, 9 out of every 10 notes had cocaine on them, his Institute for Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research in the southern city of Nuremberg said."

Now let's just hope the US government in its war against drugs doesn't declare the euro currency an illegal drug.
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Here's a follow-up to my recent post on a forwarded call for help for a sick child. Everyone I know gets mails like this on a regular basis, and I havce often been asked what to do about them, especially if the cause seems worthy.

My advice is: Don't forward it.

99.9% of these mails are hoaxes. If the mail seems very credible and the cause seems very worthy, be sure to check Hoaxbusters (English) or the Hoax Newsletter Archive (German) to check whether the story is a confirmed hoax. If it is not, check the following:
  • Does it mention Microsoft? If yes, it's a hoax.
  • Does it tell you to send it to everybody you know? If yes, it's a hoax.
  • Does it promise you money? If yes, it's a hoax.
If none of these criteria apply and you feel that you absolutely have to forward it, be sure to do the following:
  • Delete all references to real personal addresses and telephone numbers in the mail, especially if they may not belong to the original author.
  • Delete all e-mail addresses that do not seem to belong to the original author, especially those of other people who sent or received the mail.
  • Never use the "To" or "Cc" field for the addresses you're forwarding it to. Always enter all addresses in the "Bcc" field (Blind carbon copy, in German Blindkopie). If the Bcc field isn't shown, find out how to have it displayed.
  • Make sure you are not using a mail signature which is added to the mail and sent out along with it, or else your address and telephone number will be sent to hundreds of thousands of people.
I can't say it often enough: Guard your own and other people's privacy. Some of these chain letter stories will not die. Make sure neither you nor anybody you know gets 50 phonecalls a day about their sick child or has 200 postcards delivered on a daily basis. These things have happened. Repeatedly. Be responsible.

About the recent story, aparently the sick child's father himself asked that his telephone number be published. Okay, now that's clearly an emotional overreaction of a worried parent, and the proper reaction should be to discourage him, especially as in this case, the telephone number doesn't accomplish anything other than cause trouble.

As for myself and my refusal to link to the story, it doesn't really change anything, as the father didn't speak to me, I have no way of telling whether the whole thing is true, and I will therefore not disclose any private information.

I have, though, linked to the web resources where you can find out why you should become a bone marrow donor and how this works, and I very much encourage you to visit these sites. Here they are again: These resources are highly relevant. The name and telephone number of one distressed father is, I am sorry to say, at least in this case absolutely irrelevant.
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David Weinberger is having trouble with his computer, and it seems to be getting worse every day. Even though he has specifically asked not to come up with advice like this, I really think he should get a Mac.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I believe that, under normal circumstances, I am very patient. Actually, I hesitated a long time before publishing this, but this is a matter of losing my patience, and there is no other way of expressing my dissatisfaction, so yes, telling on others is probably cheap, but please judge for yourself if it's justified or not:

In September 2002, I ordered a couple of items from Amazon.co.uk. Unfortunately, pretty much at the same time, while my order was being processed, a friend who knew nothing about my order (yes Nora, I'm talking about you) decided to give me one of the DVDs from my order as a present. It so happened that I got both DVDs on the same day.

I decided to take advantage of Amazon.co.uk's "no quibbles" 30-day return policy and sent one of the DVDs back to Great Britain. My credit card statements arrive monthly, so I had to wait a while to see if they had sent a refund.

I waited. Nothing happened.

When nothing had happened until December, I sent them an email. They confirmed that they had received the DVD and apologized for not having been able to refund the money due to technical problems. That was now sorted out, they assured me, and I would receive my refund shortly.

I waited. Nothing happened.

I mailed them again a few months later (March, I think). They acknowledged that they had received the parcel and not yet sent me the refund and assured me that I would get the refund within a week.

I waited. Nothing happened.

It's now nine months since I returned the DVD. I have not received any kind of refund so far. I therefore cannot confirm that the "no quibbles" return policy is without quibbles. Actually, it seems to come with a lot of quibbles. Today, I wrote them another email, telling them that I'll be publishing the story on my website. I no longer have any patience. I hope that at least I have your sympathy.
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It's still pretty hot here in Vienna. I'm sweating a lot, and other people are sweating a lot. I was riding up the escalator behind some guy the other day, and his sweat smelled totally like a McDonalds hamburger with fries. I'm not making this up. I don't know how much this guy eats at McDonald's, or how much flavouring McD's puts into their hamburgers, but certainly enough to make this guy smell like a hamburger with fries. You are what you eat. It was spooky.
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Leberkäsesemmel (liver cheese roll, an extremely smelly Austrian snack)Ralf sent in a number of spam reports to various ISPs today. I, on the other hand, discovered the "report as spam" feature in Excite Mail and reported no less than 234 spams, which had accumulated there over the past week or so. I wonder whether this will have any effect though. I activated their Bulk Mail feature, which is supposed to filter out spam, over a month ago, and so far it hasn't filtered out one single piece of junk mail. And I think spam should have been called Leberkäse in the first place, because it stinks.
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I guess it's time for an update about the recently imbibed specimen from my Belgian beer shipment. Not much to say, as I mainly ingested the second bottles of stuff I had already tried earlier: Gueuze Mort Subite, brilliant as always, plus some disappointments, such Dentergems, Florisgaarden and Saison Voisin. The bottle of Artevelde wasn't like the one I already knew; I guess I must have had the Grand Cru earlier, and the normal stuff just isn't as good. I also already knew Gulden Draak, an extremely tasty, but also extremely potent drink at 10.5% vol alcohol. And no, that's not the strongest Belgian beer you can get, but the strongest one that I've drunk so far. To be consumed with extreme caution.

Here's the tally:
Pleasant surprises: 4 | Already knew the brew: 7 | Disappointments: 5
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Tom: "If you want to destroy the nascent democracy movement in Iran and solidify the shaky power of the mullahs, well, there is no quicker path to that goal than a US invasion." [This Modern World]

Proof? The Taliban are back in Afghanistan. The Mullahs are getting active in Iraq. All thanks to US intervention.
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Monday, June 23, 2003

Still from Ikea lamp commercialThe famous Ikea Lamp Spot directed by Spike Jonze won the Grand Prix at this year's Cannes Lions, the International Advertising Festival. You may remember the spot, as it was all over the blogosphere when it came out, but in case you haven't seen it yet, watch it now (requires QuickTime). It's brilliant.
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I doubt that this is going to help peace in the Middle East:
Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet yesterday that Israel can continue to quietly build settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "Just build, but just don't publicize it," Sharon said, according to a Cabinet official.
This is not exactly compliant with UN resolution 242 and a recent US-backed peace plan, according to which Israel must end construction of settlements in this area.

A good summary of the historical background of the settlements and the disputed area can be found at mideastweb.org.
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Why is it that Americans are buying less French wine these days? Is it, as this gentleman suggests, because the French hate Americans, or could it be because the euro has risen over 40 per cent compared to the US dollar over the past two years, and therefore the prices of French wines have risen accordingly, making them rather costly in the US?
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An article by Robert Jensen called Blow bangs and cluster bombs links pornography and US warfare, ejaculation and the dropping of bombs, and talks about why US bomber pilots were given pornographic videos to watch before they were sent on their missions in Iraq.

Lengthy, but give it a read. I'm not sure yet what to make of it, but it does contain a number of provocative points that are worth thinking about. [via Heli's Heaven and Hell Radio]
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Currently, there's yet another call for a bone marrow donor for a child suffering from leukemia making the rounds via email, but even through a number of blogs. Contrary to a large number of hoaxes about selfsame topic, this one seems to be genuine.

How do I know? Because the only link on the accompanying web page goes to a local Bone Marrow Donors' Association. I still won't link to the story or disclose any further details.

Why? Because the mail and blog entries contain real names and telephone numbers, and this is a strict no-no. Even if the child is real and the story is real, and no matter how desperate the parents are, you do never, repeat, NEVER forward any e-mails or blog entries containing addresses or phone numbers of people whom you haven't personally spoken to and who have personally asked you to do it. One person who forwarded one of these mails five years ago and accidentally included her phone number still gets 50 calls a day. The problem is that these chain letters just don't die.

If you want to become a bone marrow donor (which you should seriously consider, details are here), contact your nearest hospital, and/or visit the following web sites: The names, addresses and telephone numbers of the people who need the bone marrow are absolutely inconsequential. They should not be published or forwarded unless they personally ask you to do it (and even them you should discourage them from doing it).

Imagine I publish your phone number in a chain letter or on a website and you get a hundred phone calls per day. What, you say you don't need a bone marrow donation? Well, tough luck, how do you know the names and telephone numbers in that chain letter that you received are genuine?
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Saturday, June 21, 2003

still from 'Farm Sluts'

If you still think that junk e-mail is just a nuisance but not really dangerous, think again. Here's a 20-minute movie that shows you how it can ruin your entire life: Farm Sluts, written and directed by Collin Friesen (approx. 40 MB, QuickTime and a pretty black sense of humour required). [from Fox Searchlab via netbib weblog]

N.B.: The previous version of this posting contained an incorrect link. This has now been corrected (thanks Joe). If anybody has relayed this, please make sure your link points to the Fox site, not the blank page. Thank you.
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A quick set of assorted miscellanea: Enjoy.
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In good humour, David Weinberger responded to my longish piece on anonymous blogs. And essentially he's touching upon a feeling that I had while I was writing my article, namely that the meaning of "anonymous" was suddenly getting all blurred.

I realised that I was using the term in the fairly narrow sense of "having no name under it", but what I was really talking about was anonymity in terms of sincerity, personality, identity and responsibility, for it seemed that most (not all) anonymous blogs also seemed to lack these qualities.

Ultimately, the four qualities are of course more important than the presence of a real name. I still can't explain it properly, but a blog that has all four qualities is somehow not really anonymous, even if the name below it is not the one in the author's passport. Fact is, however, much of the time when you don't get a name you also don't get all of the four qualities, and there seems to be some kind of correlation that I haven't fully figured out yet.

Perhaps that's why a few people misunderstood it.
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Clarus the Dogcow, who had gone mysteriously missing in action during the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X (only to be replaced by The Boring Guy) can now be reinstated thanks to a piece of shareware from Roby Sherman. [via Der Schockwellenreiter]
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The new Harry Potter novel is out, and Viennese booksellers are totally unprepared for the masses of people wanting to buy the book, which is all the more surprising as it's the English edition (the German translation isn't out yet): "We never expected an English book to sell so well," said one bookseller. "Many kids are buing it -- it seems Harry Potter is even able to promote reading in English." Phew. Thinking of how hard it is to get my students to read in English, Harry Potter must indeed be wizardry. (On the whole, though, it turns out that children are reading less than ever before.)

I ordered the book for our library about two months ago. Now it'll be interesting to see when it arrives and how soon it'll be stolen. All our Harry Potter books (even the English originals) were stolen at some point, some even had to be replaced twice. I'll give it a month or so until it disappers.

I wonder what it is that makes the Harry Potter novels so successful. Here are some explanations from other people: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6].

And here, hot from the presses, is the review of the new Harry Potter novel from The Guardian.
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Friday, June 20, 2003

My rant about the suckiness of anonymous weblogs has evoked quite a resonance. I realise that the subject is somewhat touchy, and I wasn't saying that people shouldn't blog anonymously (or psydonymously), I'm just saying that I don't like anonymous blogs, and with a handful of exceptions, I don't read them. Here's a number of reasons why:
Click here to read more...
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truth and error

If this was a "completely unintentional mistake", then it must have been a severely Freudian slip insert... [via Godany]
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Can you stop global warming by suppressing evidence about it? Apparently, the Bush regime thinks that what helped in the war against Iraq may also help in its fight against the Kyoto protocol, as the NY Times reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs. [...]

The editing eliminated references to many studies concluding that warming is at least partly caused by rising concentrations of smokestack and tail-pipe emissions and could threaten health and ecosystems.

Among the deletions were conclusions about the likely human contribution to warming from a 2001 report on climate [...]. White House officials also deleted a reference to a 1999 study showing that global temperatures had risen sharply in the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion.
Here's more. Makes you wonder just what must happen that some people value their wallets less than their lives. [via Bob Harris]

Which reminds me of an interesting definition of the Christian concept of original sin that I accidentally stumbled over yesterday. I hadn't seen it this way, but it makes sense.
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Lo and behold! PapaScott has found a positive German link from Instapundit, and it seems Glenn Reynolds isn't even being sarcastic. It seems the old Europhobe agrees with Phil Carter in admitting that the Germans and French are actually better at peacekeeping than the Americans. Finally some proof that the man isn't totally clueless about Europe.

Speaking of which: here's some excellent anti-Europe warblog satire. These guys are hilarious. I almost thought they were serious, but the posting about the EU being a Catholic conspiracy to revive the Holy Roman Empire gave them away: not even The Onion ever came up with a story as good as this one (and in case they are serious, then they're serious crackpots).

Which reminds me that I still haven't written Glenn Reynolds a thank-you note for calling me a crackpot. I'm still sure this has had a pretty positive effect on my online ratings, so I'd better drop him that note soon.
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The Mirror is running a disturbing story, in which US troops freely admit shooting Iraqi civilians. [via Adam Curry]

The story, if true, paints a grim picture of the state of mind of soldiers that seem pretty lost and without any kind of moral or psychological backing in a country that they do not understand. People are shot out of fear because they could be potentially dangerous; they're shot out of hatred, and one soldier even admitted he's shooting them as a kind of retaliation for 9/11. Pretty grim.
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There was another piece of paper in the box that contained my new Ikea table. It looked something like this:
T. Martinkus
I find this oddly compelling. A whole new mystery opens up to me: who is T. Martinkus? What does s/he want to tell me? Where is s/he? Could it be a call for help of some sort? How can I contact him/her to find out more?

I guess s/he's probably just one of the people who control the boxes to see that everything (including the note telling customers that they shouldn't have carried the box alone) is inside. In the past, they used to have little stickers for this saying something like "controlled by: 19". Giving "19" a name surely seems to change a lot, even though it tells me nothing about T. -- other than that s/he's a person. Funny, that. (By the way, that's one of the reasons why I ranted against anonymous blogs last Wednesday. See the point?)

I still feel like contacting T. Martinkus, though. Perhaps s/he can tell me why the note about not carrying the box alone is inside rather than on the outside of the box?
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Thursday, June 19, 2003

Okay, so I bought this really nice, but awfully heavy table at Ikea, and I had some trouble carrying it from the store to the car and then up the stairs to my apartment. Then, ready to assemble it, I open the box and I find this piece of paper inside:
This table is to heavy to carry for one person
I'm still wondering about the logic behind telling me afterwards that I shouldn't really have carried this alone. I'm sure there's a deeper meaning to it, I just haven't figured it out yet.
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Sometimes incoming news items produce strange echoes: UN warned over Afghan 'time bomb'. Iraq 'too dangerous to rebuild'. Seems like dropping bombs is much easier than cleaning up the mess. And then there's this one: Cook denies Saddam was threat. Straw issues warning over Iran. Can you see a pattern there? I've got more: Bush challenged over Iraq weapons. Blair faces commons grilling. Hey, our leaders are under a lot of pressure these days. And what about this: Blair's secret war pact. Bush's 9/11 coverup. Lotsa secrecy there, too.

And while you're still recovering from the effects of the news echo chamber read about just another day in Baghdad. No immediate echo for this one, but apparently the events repeat themselves every day. [via aggregated news]
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Carol Lay on what's sexy

Carol Lay's latest cartoon on whether Bush's America is sexy or not. [from Salon.com; you must be a subscriber or watch a commercial to view the entire cartoon]
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No more mysterious males: scientists have decoded the Y chromosome, and it's seriously weird. Explains a lot. [via Wired News]

In related news, cat owners track humongous quantities of highly allergenic dried cat saliva wherever they go, which is why cinema seats can trigger asthma in cat-allergics. Explains a lot. Makes me wonder: now that they can make genetically engineered decaf coffee plants, can't they try making genetically engineered non-allergenic cats? [links via Boing Boing Blog]
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So you'd expect I'd know where to find pictures of the city I live in, but apparently I don't: it took netbib weblog to make me aware of VR Vienna, a website of 360° panoramic VR photographs (requires QuickTime; in case you don't find your way in, try this link).

And while we're at it, if you want to see VR panoramas of where I work, have a look at this page.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Oops, I'm getting a lot of readers via Gavin's Blog today. If you're one of them, the story you're probably looking for is this one.
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I hate anonymous blogs. I believe that identity and personality are the key elements of weblogs, and therefore I regard a name and an "about the author" page as a minimum requirement. I get fed up every time I stumble across a blog that seems to be interesting, but tells me nothing whatsoever about the person behind it. May I quote Mark Pilgrim:
Visible authorship is the who of weblogging. Weblogging is about voice: finding your own, and recognizing others. Sign your name on everything you write. [...] Build an identity.
Anonymous blogs suck. Anonymous bloggers are suckers (and yes, anonymous UseNet posters are suckers, too). Ever wonder why so many warblogs are anonymous? Now you know. What I don't get is: if you can't stand up to what you're writing, why bother writing at all? If you don't want your writing to be read and associated with you, for God's sake buy a paper diary and write in it, but don't publish it on the Internet for millions to read.

I guess there are two philosophies:
  • write under your name and think about what you write
  • write anonymously and just write whatever comes to mind
I can see why philosophy #2 would appeal to a certain kind of people. It still sucks, though, and it's not what blogging is about.
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S asks: why are women with severe cases of cellulite always wearing beige stretch pants - the safest choice of colour to make sure that everyone can see every wrinkle and crease of the skin underneath? Is it a show-off contest of "hah, I win, my cellulite is worse than yours"?

I ask: why is it that so many women like to wear white see-through trousers? I'd assume that there are all sorts of white fabrics (including opaque ones), but they always wear the thin, tight, see-through variety, which give everyone a full view of whatever underwear they're wearing. This makes me feel uncomfortable. Is this some kind of game where I am supposed to see their underwear, or is it all one big accident and it's just because nobody is telling them that their trousers are transparent?

Or is there something I and S don't know about women's trousers?
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Austrian minister Martin Bartenstein may be getting a lot of shoes in his mail during the next few weeks: following an incident at a Viennese shoe store, where he bought a new pair of shoes, asked for a special discount and took the trouble to phone the store's head office in Graz to complain when he didn't get it, today the Austrian Social Democrats' youth organisation presented the initiative Schuhe für Bartenstein (shoes for Bartenstein), in which they're asking citizens to send shoes to the minister.

Already last week, a different Austrian shoe store chain had quickly jumped the opportunity and offered a 15 per cent "ministerial discount for non-ministers" on all of its products.

On the plus side, Mr Bartenstein's office has now announced that they will be forwarding all donated shoes to a homeless shelter, where they -- and other items of clothing -- are desperately needed.
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In Italy, courts and parliament are currently engaging in a strange race of sorts over prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi is currently before court on bribery charges, and the courts are working feverishly to collect evidence so that Berlusconi can be convicted before parliament approves an immunity bill that will effectively protect him from prosecution.

Berlusconi has already had several Italian laws changed in order to escape a conviction, so far to no avail. It seems as if his final trump card, the immunity bill, may save him just in time. However, while this may prevent him from becoming a convicted criminal, it doesn't make him anything less of a criminal; it just makes him a criminal that is protected by law.

Well, he's not in bad company, although it must be said in all fairness that Berlusconi's attempts to change laws in order to evade prosecution are fairly audacious and unprecedented in Europe.

Update: The Italian parliament has just passed the immunity law. Berlusconi is now safe for as long as he's in office. And even afterwards, for when his term expires in 2006, too much time will have elapsed for a resumption of the trial to be legally possible.
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Sheesh, it seems like somebody is really happening on the spam front: Microsoft sues spammers (NY Times story here). Surely there's barely anyone better suited to fight spammers than Microsoft, because it's pretty much the only company that has enough money to just bug the spammers continuously with lawsuits until they go out of business from sheer financial exhaustion. However, The Register is not too optimistic.

In the meantime, Gary Turner suspects that the whole spam and anti-spam thing is nothing but an elaborate conspiracy against people with alternative sexual lifestyles. He may actually have something like a point there.

More seriously, Tomalak linked to an article on the possible harms of anti-spam software from the MIT Technology Review.
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Yum
A 35 year-old man in Upper Austria ate his left big toe yesterday. Around 10pm, he sat down at his kitchen table, inhaled a can of butane, hacked off his left big toe with an axe and then fried it in a pan. He was just eating it when the ambulance arrived.

Two mysteries remain: who called the ambulance? And why on earth would somebody eat his left big toe?

No, I am not going to publish any toe recipes in The Aardvark Cooks.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

If an American newspaper writes about it, you can guess the reality must be pretty tough: Tales of despair from Guantanamo: "Afghans and Pakistanis who were detained for many months by the American military at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba before being released without charges are describing the conditions as so desperate that some captives tried to kill themselves." [NY Times via Godany]

In the meantime, a court rules that the US Government does not have to reveal the names of hundreds of people arrested after the 11 September attacks. [BBC News]
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Hmm, now this is interesting: Why Americans will believe almost anything. Not just Americans, mind you. While Americans seem to be particularly susceptible, the same thing applies to the populations of most capitalist, industrialised countries that have developed a spinindustry to keep their economy going. [via Heli's Heaven and Hell Radio]

And while we're talking about believing anything, according to recent polls, a third of the American public believes U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and 22 percent said Iraq actually used chemical or biological weapons in the war. Before the war, half of those polled in a survey said Iraqis were among the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001. Tell a lie often enough, and people will eventually believe it.

And here's the latest Mark Fiore for people who don't believe everything.
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I was on the point of writing some kind of response to Andrew Sullivan's latest article, but I guess David Weinberger was right when he referred to Andrew as "a troubled mind" -- so let me just say that only very rarely have I seen such profound insight and such deeply rooted paranoia (oh, and such a clinical case of francophobia) so close together.

In his last paragraph, Andrew advocates what the Bush regime is doing already (see also here): he says it is necessary to disintegrate Europe because it might otherwise become a challenge to US power. Why, that's a good point. I guess this neatly summarizes why EU integration is more important than ever, why the EU reform and constitution is such a necessity, and why EU states should leave NATO and form their own military alliance as soon as possible (it's also why the UK should stop procrastinating and decide whether it wants to be part of the US or the EU).

On a related note, it turns out that anti-Americanism (or actually anti-Bushism) is now a worldwide phenomenon. Seems like it took the Bush regime only three years to turn a government that was pretty much respected everywhere into one that's hated by almost two thirds of other countries' populations. And apparently it's not because Bush is a liar. I for one am convinced it's his table manners.
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Monday, June 16, 2003

The Economist puts an interesting proposition, half seriously, that based on UK chancellor Gordon Brown's five tests, there is a much stronger case for Germany leaving the euro zone than the UK joining it. Interesting comparison. [via Keys Corner]

One note about the frequently mentioned danger of deflation in Germany: I'm well aware that there are several factors that are causing it, but one important psychological factor is often overlooked: it's the fact that people are perceiving inflation as much higher than it is that may now speed up deflation.

The euro conversion in 2002 was a significant cut in that many shops and restaurants used the new currency to significantly raise their prices -- it's for this reason that the euro has often been called the "teuro" (from "teuer"=expensive). In Austria, prices rose as much as 37% (from ATS10 to €1); in Germany, increases of up to 100% (from DEM1 to €1) were reported.

Even if those reports were not true in all cases -- official inflation rates were still below 2% in both countries -- this is the way it was perceived by most people, and part of the slow (or lack of) growth is certainly a kind of consumer revolt against grossly inflated prices (which hurt even more as taxes had also risen to new heights).

I'm not sure why the fact that prices are now being lowered shows up in the inflation rate whereas the raised prices of 2002 did not; my guess is that the general consumer unease now also forces those to lower their prices who hadn't even raised them before. The point is that, other factors aside, the current potentially deflationary situation is also a psychological corrective for the perceived disproportional inflation after the euro conversion. That doesn't make it any less dangerous for the economy, but it's notable that it was to some degree caused by the same greedy managers that are now lamenting that it'll ruin their business.
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Eric Hobsbawm on America's imperial delusion: "[T]he US, like revolutionary France and revolutionary Russia, is a great power based on a universalist revolution - and therefore on the belief that the rest of the world should follow its example, or even that it should help liberate the rest of the world. Few things are more dangerous than empires pursuing their own interest in the belief that they are doing humanity a favour." More... [via Gavin's Blog]
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So, are Harry Potter books sparking a rise in Satanism among children? [Urban Legends Reference Pages via Library Link of the Day]

Plus, I think our library should really order these T-shirts. Or these. Although I might order one of these privately. [via netbib weblog]
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Adam Curry has spotted a website that shows the real reason for mobile phone cameras: MobileAsses.com.

However, may I point out that even though I also suspect that mobile phone cameras are mostly used for indecent purposes (see also here), and are therefore already banned in some countries, MobileAsses.com seems to be mostly an exercise in futility.

MAOkay, so call me a male chauvinist pig for saying this, but I for one can't see a reason why anyone would bother to photograph (let alone even set up a website for) hundreds of nonexistent posteriors. One explanation (unlikely) is that it's really a feminist ploy to frustrate lustful males like myself, as the average photo rating of 4 out of 10 would confirm that most viewers are indeed not satisfied. Another explanation (more likely) is that the people taking these photographs are simply geeks without the ability to appreciate the female form, and will, on some kind of primordial reflex, simply take pictures of anything that looks remotely female and moves, regardless of what it looks like. Or, thirdly, it could be that the female form is really evolving towards asslessness. Now that would be a bummer.

The author would like to apologise for the dreadful pun in the final sentence.
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It's the 16th of June, also known to James Joyce enthusiasts as Bloomsday. Joyce's novel Ulysses is set on the 16th of June, 1904 and tracks events in the lives of two ordinary Dublin people, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, as it follows them through the city. There's a useful Internet edition of Ulysses, complete with summaries and Homeric parallels (Ulysses was inspired by Homer's Odyssey), but I believe that the book is best enjoyed in printed form. However, be sure you get an edition with good annotations like this one if you read it the first time to help you over some of the initial hurdles (also be prepared to skip the "difficult" chapters 3 and 14 if it's your first time).

What's important is that you're not afraid of the book. Okay, so it's been called the greatest book in the English language, and it certainly is one of the best, but it's also eminently funny and entertaining, while at the same time sorrowful and deeply human -- a fact you'll recognize easily once you get used to Joyce's language games. I've taught several beginners' classes to Ulysses, mostly to people with little or no formal education in English literature, and none of them ever complained that, despite a few difficulties, it wasn't worthwhile -- on the contrary, several people assured me, when I met them again, that they had read the book again and found it even better on a second or third read.

If you don't seem to get it, there's always the Ulysses for Dummies website, which summarizes each chapter in a sentence (but I warn you, it's nowhere near as funny as the original!). There's also a reasonably good movie, which gives you the basics of the plot, but lacks most of the novel's depth. More on Bloomsday here. [thx Ralf for some of the links]
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Saturday, June 14, 2003

Here are four things that are completely, totally, utterly unacceptable on an overcrowded underground train on a hot day like today:

Leberkäsesemmel (liver cheese roll, an extremely smelly Austrian snack)   Deutsche Dogge (German mastiff, a huge, smelly, continuously salivating kind of dog)   Huge rucksack   Elvis impersonator

Guess who was confronted with all four of these simultaneously on a very crowded, very hot underground train today.
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The Guardian's Simon Bush is having a 'Full English' at a local British caff and wonders whether Britain is really undergoing a culinary renaissance.
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I wonder if the plan behind Operation Free Iraq was really to replace a fairly westernized regime with a fundamentalist Muslim one. But it seems to be happening, and it's the women who suffer first. But hey, even in the USA it's the religious fundamentalists who decide politics. So what did you expect?

And if I were a religious fundamentalist, I'd call this a case of Biblical justice. But I'm not.
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Viennese vintage tramwaysAs you may or may not know, Vienna has one of the largest tramway networks in Europe. Today was the Vienna tram day, an annual event at which the public can get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the tramway, bus or underground depots in Vienna. There's some entertainment and stuff, usually nothing too exciting, but sometimes there's talkative staff (not today), and they always have some vintage vehicles from the Vienna tramway museum (the world's largest) on display.

I had brought my digital camera, and as there wasn't much interesting stuff going on, I took some pictures of old and new trams and a couple of other things. Have a look if you're interested.
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There's schadenfreude pretty much everywhere (e.g. here) about one man falling off his Segway transporter.
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Haldur Gislufsson has a new job watching over invalid URLs like this one: http://www.aardvark.at/blog/foo.bar
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Friday, June 13, 2003

Over at Draxblog, Dragan links to the story of one of the more unlikely American pundits - Kyle Williams, who has just published his first book of political commentary. Williams is a staunch conservative with very strong views on education, the media, homosexuality and abortion. He is also just 14 years old. I suppose this means that in ten years from now, he'll either be even more radical, or he'll be wearing a brown paper bag with eyeholes over his head most of the time.

Still, however brilliant he may or may not be, I'd rather forgive Kyle for writing nonsense than your average warblogger or online pundit, who by all accounts has brains and should have the necessary experience, but is still blissfully without the slightest clue about the things he's writing about.
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If your worst enemy happens to be a Scotsman, find some pretext and lure him to York on a Sunday, where it's apparently perfectly legal to shoot him with a bow and arrow. If he's a Welshman, get him to travel to Chester, where you're free to to do the same thing every day, after midnight. But while you're there, don't stick any postage stamps upside-down on the postcards you're writing to your friends, or you might end up dead yourself...

These little gems are from How dodgy are you?, an online quiz determining how likely you are to end up in prison, with interesting notes on what's illegal in some countries. I might add that I'm apparently a boringly honest person, scoring zero years in prison, even though I pleaded guilty to some of the "crimes" mentioned in the text... [via Greengrl]
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Salon.com has a compelling article by Farhad Manjoo on The plot to kill Social Security (must be a subscriber or watch a commercial to read the article). Manjoo asks for the reason behind Bush's tax cuts and how they might affect US social security, and comes up with this explanation, which seems sensible enough:
Bush wants to allow people to divert some of the money they pay to Social Security taxes into "private accounts" invested in the stock market. In the days of the market boom, this didn't seem like a terrible idea -- at the time, remember, betting your retirement on the fortunes of a high-flying firm like Enron was an eminently sensible thing to do. Well, we know how that story ended. Now, after the Wall Street scandals, voters may be more inclined to keep their money in old-fashioned, government-run Social Security. And so, pro-privatization Republicans find themselves with a problem: How do you get people to think that Enron is a better investment than Social Security? The answer is obvious: You make the government's finances worse than Enron's. [...]

If Bush is reelected, Social Security "reform" could be his main goal for his second term. [...] The Democrats, at that point, will face a choice. They can give in to Social Security reform. Or they can call for tax increases to "save" the program. Either one is a political victory for Bush.
Here's more [Salon.com].

Sadly, I can see a similar trend in Europe, where governments in several countries (including Austria) are "reforming" state pension systems and thus nudging people towards private pensions, which, however, in the current economic climate seem more like elaborate pyramid schemes than trustworthy investments. Seems like pretty much everywhere governments have decided that the well-being of big corporations is more important than that of their citizens. But will the citizens realize this and get rid of them in time?
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Oh no -- not Bananabob, too?!?
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Thursday, June 12, 2003

Are European copyright regulations heading us towards a New Dark Age, as this article on Spiegel Online [via netbib weblog] suggests?

At any rate, in Austria and Germany we now have the absurd situation that every customer has the legal right to make a private copy of any audio or video recording s/he owns for pivate use -- in Austria there's even a tax on blank tapes and CDs that goes directly to the media industry in exchange for that right -- but the new laws also state that customers must not circumvent any kind of copy protection on audio or video recordings, thus effectively nullifying the right to a private copy.

What kind of weird situation is this? I have the right to a private copy, but the recording industry can prevent me from making this copy, even though (in Austria) I have paid the recording industry money for the right to make the copy? I smell a serious contradiction here. Logic would dictate that I should be able to sue any record company to make them sell me non-copy-protected media so that I can exercise my right to my free copy, for which I have, after all, paid.

However, I fear that recording companies are based on money, not logic, and it seems increasingly that, sadly, so is law. I just hope somebody with a lot of money sues the hell out of them at some point.
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A new rift between the U.S. and the EU is opening as the USA demands immunity from being accused of war crimes. Now some people might ask why they would want it -- it'd only make sense if they were guilty of war crimes, wouldn't it?

Well, thanks to vigorous blackmailing campaigning, they got it, but not without a word of warning from Kofi Annan and further anti-American sentiment all over Europe. The number of people outside the US who can still stand American self-righteousness and claim to moral superiority abovce all laws is shrinking rapidly, and the Bush regime is doing everything to speed up this process.

On the Iraq front, it now seems that Hans Blix, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, has lost his seemingly neverending patience is now speaking up. Also on the Iraq front, the war is not over yet, despite what the Bush regime is saying.
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Great Britain is preparing for the times when, thanks to global warming, parts of it will disappear in the sea. In an article for The Guardian, Alok Jha discovers the places being sacrificed in our battle with global warming: Who needs Essex anyway?. [Guardian Unlimited]
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A refreshing dish for a hot day like today. Serves 2.
  • 500g asparagus spears
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1 teasponn dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped onion
  • 1 finely chopped clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper
  • 50ml red wine vinegar
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 50ml sunflower oil
  • 3 teaspoons finely chopped chives
  • 150g shrimps without shells
Cut the base of the asparagus stalks and peel them until about half way up the stalks. Tie them together with string and cook them for about 15 minutes in salted water. Get them out of the pan, rinse under cold water, then put them in the fridge to let them cool down.

In a bowl, mix the mustard, thyme, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar. Slowly pour the two oils over the mixture, whisking vigorously all the time to produce a smooth vinaigrette.

Mix the shrimps and the chopped chives.

Arrange half the asparagus stalks on a plate, pour half the vinaigrette over it, then put the half the shrimps on top of it. Serve with some bread and a fresh white wine.

As the asparagus season is almost over, this dish can also be prepared with leeks instead of asparagus. Simply remove the dark green leaves from the leeks, boil them for 20 minutes, season with lemon juice and let them cool down in the fridge. Then proceed as with the asparagus recipe.
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It's too hot to blog today. At 8pm, the temperature was still 33°C. Currently, at 11:30pm, it's 29°C. The newspapers report that electric fans are completely sold out in Vienna. I'm producing more sweat than can be healthy, and I'm drinking more liquid than a sponge. And it's not even officially summer yet.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2003

On 25-31 May, Nabil Al-Tikriti from the University of Chicago visited Baghdad and interviewed a number of officials working with manuscript collections, libraries, and academic research facilities. He has compiled a situation report summarizing the current state of affairs. His summary: "While in certain key cases the damage sustained by collections was not as severe as initially reported, there are significant losses and a great deal of work lies ahead to reconstitute such facilities in the coming months and years." [via netbib weblog < ARCHIVALIA]
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As Google has moved toward holding a de facto monopoly on Web searches, critics have started to see another side -- one that worries them. Privacy advocates have begun to question what Google is doing with all the data it collects on the people who do the hundreds of millions of searches it processes. According to the Web site Google-Watch.org, a nonprofit group dedicated to informing the public about the search giant's inner workings, Google has no policies protecting the confidentiality of information it collects on its visitors via Web cookies. [...]

As Americans, especially young ones, come to regard the leading search site as the source of all human knowledge, the effect could become pernicious. "People perceive it as the one and only place they need to go for information," says James Rettig, head librarian of the University of Richmond's Boatwright Memorial Library, in Richmond, Va. "That's unfortunate, because people who use only search engines will miss things." [...]

Call it the Google Gap -- the difference between the growing perception that the site is omniscient and the fact that it isn't. [from BusinessWeek via ResourceShelf]
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I think I'm caught in some kind of time warp. Today, I bought the July issue of a computer magazine, and it contained news that I had read on the Internet in April.
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Niek offers Some Heretic Thoughts On Blogging, which, frankly, (and perhaps sadly) make more sense than what some of the panelists at the BlogTalk conference said. And I must agree that Jeneane's observation that "there is something really creepy about a boatload of bloggers blogging a blogging conference." and Niek's opinion that "live blog blogging in most cases is just geeky mind masturbation [a]nd with so many people all blog blogging the exact same blog thing it's a wi-fi geek group orgy at best" is a frighteningly adequate description of what I felt at BlogTalk when twenty or more bloggers in the first two rows were hacking into their laptops -- whatever it was that they were typing; they clearly seemed to be caught in a world of their own.

Of course I'm not saying that blogging is pointless, just that some of the uses it's put to are, and I still fail to be convinced as to the full extent of uses it can be put to. While some of them are certainly valid, some of them are applied mind masturbation. Speaking of which, I wonder whether there's a Dutch term for "mind masturbation" that's as nice as the Austrian one.

Finally, a few semi-cryptic words from Jeneane: "I think two classes of bloggers will emerge: those who show themselves and those who replicate old media traditions, including conferences about disciplines that don't really have any discipline. I think I know which type will make money. I think I know which type will make art."
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If you like comics and graphic novels, have a look at Nowhere Girl by Justine Shaw. Sadly there's no print edition, and I prefer my comics printed. That said, if you like printed comics, have a look at Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine. Sadly there's no online edition, so you'll have to consult your local bookseller or library, but trust me, it's good. [via Boing Boing Blog and Time]
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So how many items were really looted from Iraq's National Museum? Gulf News Online today reports that only 33 pieces are missing, whereas today's edition of the Austrian daily Der Standard has an interview with museum director Nawala al-Mutwalli (in German; free registration required; see note below), in which al-Mutwalli states that more than 10,000 objects, including the most valuable pieces, are gone:
"What's missing is 47 objects from the exhibition and about 10,000 pieces from the storerooms. Our inventory lists are not yet complete. [...] We still don't have electricity, and a lot of the female employees can't get to their work. [...]

"Only a few specific containers were empty. These pieces are as famous as the Mona Lisa. You can't sell or trade them easily. It only makes sense if somebody buys these items on order and then hides them somewhere in his vaults." (my translation)
So who is not doing their maths properly? I mean, call me picky, but I think there's quite a difference between "33" and "the 10,000 most valuable" pieces.

At least both articles state that the initially purported number of 170,000 stolen artefacts was wrong: according to al-Mutwalli, it was probably a misunderstanding: "One of our employees told a journalist that we have a total of 170,000 pieces in the museum. The journalist must have thought that this was the number of stolen objects."

Note: If you get an error message when trying to access the al-Mutwalli interview via the link above, go to http://derstandard.at/Archiv and do a search for "al-Mutwalli". It's the first of the two found articles. Remember that you must register to read the article.
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FantomeNew day, old topic: today's report of recently opened bottles from my Belgian beer shipment deals with a number of fairly interesting brews:

Rodenbach Grand Cru is even more sour than the standard stuff, but boy, does it have a bouquet, and what a range of tastes. Certainly one of the most sophisticated beers I ever had, even though some people would debate whether this actually qualifies as "beer". Watou Witbier seems to be the most promising type of blanche so far (apart from my all-time favourite, Hoegaarden). Fairly round, but not sweetish, and quite refreshing. The Blanche de Haecht is spiced with oranges and coriander like Hoegaarden, but it uses a bit more coriander and slightly less orange. It's also a bit hoppier and overall not quite as successful in terms of freshness. Which leads me to today's final candidate, Fantôme Strange Ghost, a spicy, gingery brew, with a tart, Gueuze-like edge, fairly intense, and fairly strange for your average beer drinker. Not a beer you'd drink on a regular basis, but one you can enjoy from time to time. Plus, you gotta love that ghost.

Here's the tally:
Pleasant surprises: 4 | Already knew the brew: 2 | Disappointments: 4
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Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Martin Luther King: "Don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of the policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, 'You are too arrogant. If you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power and I'll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I am God.'" - Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam, April 16, 1967.

Many thanks to Mike for finding this. Feel free to check out his weblog entry of today, in which he presents two pretty blunt anti-Bush, anti-war animations by Eric Blumrich.
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As the British decision indecision on whether and/or when to join the euro currency is made public (in case you were wondering, the result is "maybe later"), one can only marvel at how long this fairly important and, for both the UK and the EU, positively beneficial decision is taking -- especially if compared to how the British government couldn't wait, and even forged evidence, to join the USA in a war that was clearly in violation of international law. However, since UK membership in the euro would seriously hurt the US Dollar and the USA is, after all, closer to the UK than the rest of Europe, the decision is probably not an easy one. A special report on Britain and the euro from The Guardian is available here.

Call for help: I need someone to explain to me the concept of the UK housing market. As I understand it, housing prices seem to be an all-important factor of the UK economy, with the whole country in awe when they rise or fall. They are also frequently cited as a reason not to join the Euro currency. However, in no other European country that I know of do housing prices seem to be of even remotely similar importance (plus, contrary to what UK economists are saying now, housing was one of the very few things that were totally unaffected by the euro conversion in Austria). Even as someone who has lived in the UK for quite some time, I still don't get the concept. Can somebody please tell me why housing prices are such a disproportionately large economic factor in the UK? Are UK citizens really buying and selling property at such a high rate? Please use the mail link on the left or leave a comment. Thank you.
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Arundhati Roy, formerly a celebrated novelist, is quickly becoming one of the most poignant political commentators of our times. In this new article, she gives an excellent analysis of how capitalism has totally subverted democracy: "Democracy did once seem as though it might actually succeed in delivering a degree of real social justice. But modern democracies have been around for long enough for neoliberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of democracy -- the 'independent' judiciary, the 'free' press, the parliament -- and molding them to their purpose." More... [via Heli's Heaven and Hell Radio]
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An article on Wired.com mentions a recent Symantec study, which found out that 80% of children receive inappropriate spam via e-mail, and about half receive e-mail with links to porn. About a third of the kids surveyed say they feel uncomfortable receiving spam, but more than half check e-mail without their parents' supervision. [via Privacy Digest]

I wonder whether this could be the one step that the spammers took to far? As Americans are notoriously paranoid extremely protective when it comes to shielding children from anything that only remotely has to do with sex (not that I'd want my children to receive the kind of spam that I'm getting, mind you), we surely, hopefully, can expect draconic anti-spam laws now? Please?
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Today on This Modern World: The (revised) official Bush administration history of the war in Iraq.
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Monday, June 9, 2003

I'm not sure what's wrong with my eyes, or wth my imagination, or both. Or whether there's anything wrong with them at all. It's about those magazines that are hanging around on trams and subway trains here in Vienna in case you get bored during your journey. There's the pointless, ad-laden "VOR-Magazin", and now there's apparently a new one called "Ticket", and it's the latter that I had this strange experience with.

You see, the lettering is almost red on red, and the layouter had placed all kinds of "New! Free!" captions over and around the heading, so that the title is only partly visible. At a bit of a distance, and with my eyesight not being the best, I was more than just stunned when I saw what I thought was the title. Or maybe it's really just me and my dirty imagination. Or it could be a male thing. I'm not sure. I should ask a few male native speakers of German what they think when they see ΓICKE_ (first letter partly, last letter mostly obscured). I thought dirty. Shame on me. But maybe it was a deliberate layout trick to make people look twice.

I apologize to all non-native speakers of German who probably don't understand this entry. It's about rude language, and the joke doesn't translate too well.
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The British Medical Associationis discussing a proposal to charge 17.5% VAT on high-fat foods such as biscuits, cakes and processed mealsin an effort to beat what they call "an epidemic of obesity and obesity-related disorders". Especially people on lower incomes tend to eat proportionally larger quantities of cheap, high-fat food. [via Boing Boing Blog]

Not that it's going to change their eating habits: Even with the additional tax, the cheap fat food will still be cheaper then the healthy stuff, so that the whole thing is merely taxing the poor, who have less choice about where they shop and what they can buy.
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You know it's a slow day when I tell you I was amused by this reversal of, um, golb. Or how they teach this dog new tricks. [via WorldWideKlein and Sugarfused]
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[10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]
[via Craig, Hetty, Mike and aggregated news]
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Saturday, June 7, 2003

Noticing that nobody ever checked his signature on credit card transactions, John Hargrave asked himself, "How crazy would I have to make my signature before someone would actually notice? He talks about the results in The Credit Card Prank [via The Cartoonist]
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Boing Boing Blog reports about The Library Hotel in Manhattan, which organizes its rooms along the Dewey Decimal system. Eek. Like I want to think of Dewey when I'm on holiday: Not that anybody other than librarians gets the concept anyway. If I were you, I'd stay clear of this hotel; logic dictates that it's populated only by the worst cases of obsessive-compulsive librarians.
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Kastner+Öhler-LöweThis friendly lion is one of the icons of my childhood. Created in 1973 by Polish artists Grabianski and Jablonski, it served for almost 30 years as the logo of the Kastner+Öhler department store in Graz. I encountered the lion again in Graz today, where he is almost omnipresent, advertising a remarkable exhibition (sponsored, of course, by Kastner+Öhler) called "Berg der Erinnerungen" (Mountain of Memories).

Hindenburg over GrazThis exhibition is remarkable both in the extent of its scope and its location: it is the result of a huge project for which citizens of Graz submitted approximately 20,000 memorabilia of all kinds, along with the stories connected with them; about 1,000 of them were selected for the exhibition. Thus the exhibition spans about 100 years of individual and collective memories. The exhibition takes place in the maze-like tunnel system in the interior of the Schlossberg mountain, which served as an air-raid shelter in WWII and is now open to the public for the first time. An online database of the exhibited objects is available (in German only) at http://www.berg03.at/
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Uhrturm Graz

I only just returned from a trip to Graz, the cultural capital of Europe 2003. I must say that the city gets more picturesque every time I visit, and I've certainly never seen as many tourists there as I did today. Seems the cultural capital thing actually works. On the picture above you can see the city's famous clock tower, along with its shadow, constructed by the Austrian artist Markus Wilfling, one of the more childish, if cute, ideas they came up with for this festival.
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Bob Harris: "Our Attorney General wants to make terrorist attacks against military bases or nuclear plants a capital offense. Obviously. Nothing deters a suicide bomber quite like the death penalty." [This Modern World]
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Friday, June 6, 2003

You're the Cheshire Cat!
You're the Cheshire Cat. Your mysterious aura and your penchant for riddles keep your friends guessing. You dislike staying too long in any one place. Your advice is always sound, if somewhat enigmatic. The sum total of this is that people are always following you and you just WANT TO GET AWAY!

Which famous feline are you? [via The Rabid Librarian < Quizilla]
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Today MSNBC published an article that should prove to the last doubting Thomases that the pills offered by spammers to enlarge your penis or breasts, make you taller or hairier or improve your golf game are a scam -- especially if all of them have the same ingredients. In Anatomy of a penis pill swindle, we learn about CP Direct, a company at the center of a $74 million scam that not only sold useless pills, but also charged their customers' credit cards for things they never ordered and never received. [via WorldWideKlein - The Daily Durchblick]

And because we all love spam so much, now even virus authors use it: a study of e-mail messages containing the Sobig.C worm revealed that the virus writer apparently enhanced the virus's replication with spam technology to achieve greater spreading speed and global distribution. [Computerworld Security News]
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[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]
[via Ralf and Hetty]
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Sunny Worel and Allan Barclay have made a website on which they present clothing that was offered on eBay and described as "librarian-ish" in an attempt to assess the public's attitudes about the clothing librarians wear. The results are frightening, if not threatening, for a librarian such as myself. And nowhere on the site did I find a Hawaii shirt like the one I was wearing to work today. [via netbib weblog < librarian.net]
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Michelle Delio writes for Wired.com that Indian tech workers employed by American companies may soon find themselves in the same position as American workers who say their jobs were 'outsourced' as U.S. companies are looking for even cheaper labor elsewhere. [Wired News]

On a related note, Hetty Litjens wrote recently,
Either capitalism is not able to provide a decent life for all people, or those in power do not want to share the wealth that capitalism is said to produce. In both cases capitalism will have to reform to survive.
Nope. Capitalism has gone to an extent where it will provide a more-than-decent life for those who have anough capital, whereas those who don't will increasingly run into problems.

Michael Bedard: The Failure of CapitalismIn fact, most of the capital is now in the hand of a relatively small number of capitalists. Most countries are deeply in debt, and individual citizens either have no money at all (as in third-world countries) or they own large amounts of money to the banks (in industrialized countries).

From this results a problem, of which we are already experiencing the first symptoms: with all the money in the hands of a few, fewer and fewer people will be able to buy anything anymore, and ultimately the economy as we know it will crash. We are witnessing the failure of capitalism, no less. The one consolation is that all the capitalists will go down with us.
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Thursday, June 5, 2003

Jump The Shark is a website chronicling the moments when TV shows have reached their peak and go downhill. Over 2000 shows are listed, it's fully searchable by actor, title and category of shark jump and has some great user comments.
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In a possible attempt to attract the world's attention to Belgium (just kidding -- they're just playing good tennis), this years's women's final at the French Open will see Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters. It'll be the first-ever all-Belgian final of a Grand Slam -- even though it seems to be a Flanders vs. Wallonia match, which is almost like two different countries. Still, I wonder if they'll celebrate the inevitable Belgian victory with champagne or Trappist brews...
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German politician Jürgen Möllemann apparently committed suicide (although conspiracy theorists are already busy claiming otherwise) by jumping out of an airplane without opening his parachute. Möllemann had apparently been the target of police investigations for possible tax evasion charges. Still, what kind of way to go is that? It seems that Möllemann, who had spawned quite a controversy with anti-foreigner and anti-American statements before the last German elections, also wanted to exit this life spectacularly.

As I was talking about corrupt politicians earlier today, Möllemann's suicide seems to confirm my statement: the truly corrupt ones (like Helmut Kohl or Silvio Berlusconi) simply refuse to accept responsibility and thus get away with no bruises at all, whereas those with some spark of decency in them inevitably disappear from the political scene, be it quietly like Gregor Gysi or spectacularly like Jürgen Möllemann. At some point, I assume, we're left with only the corrupt ones. It seems unfair somehow.
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Yesterday I opened the next two bottles from my Belgian beer shipment and I wasn't too thrilled: Dentergems Witbier is a brew that is very reminiscent of Austrian or Bavarian wheat beers; good, but not exactly a novelty. And Saison Voisin (which I had received as a replacement for Saison 1900, which was out of stock) also left me unimpressed; a darkish, cloudy brew with a mild hoppy taste reminiscent of Austrian Zwickl-style beers. Not particularly bad either, but no reason to rejoice. Hm.

The tally so far:
Pleasant surprises: 1 | Already knew the brew: 2 | Unpleasant surprises: 3.
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I have been accused of being paranoidly (is that a word?) anti-American. Not true. I just have a serious aversion against corrupt, lying politicians. So yes, the Bush regime does inspire my rants a lot, but sadly, these people are also in lots of other places. Like Italy, for example. From the BBC: Italian senate backs PM immunity. The country's upper house approves a law effectively halting the prosecution of Silvio Berlusconi. [via BBC News]

Question: why can't the good guys win for a change? Answer: because the good guys are too good to apply dirty tactics. If you're totally unscrupulous and have enough money, you can do what you want. It's evolution, baby.
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Thank you Fiona for the surprise package. It's much, much appreciated! :-)
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Wednesday, June 4, 2003

I had this recently, and it's a feast, although it's almost too simple to prepare to warrant a recipe of its own. Still, as it's asparagus season, here we go (serves two):
  • 500g asparagus
  • sugar
  • salt
  • balsamic vinegar
  • 200g thinly sliced gravad lax (Swedish marinated salmon with dill)
  • 1 piece horseradish
Cut the base ends off the asparagus, then peel about two thirds up the stalks. Tie about half the stalks together with string, so that you have two bunches of asparagus (this is important so you can get them out of the pot later).

In a large pot, bring salted, sugared water to the boil, then put in the asparagus and let simmer until very tender, up to 20 minutes. Remove asparagus from the pot, cut the strings and let them dry and cool a bit.

Arrange the gravad lax (salmon) on one half of a plate and grate the horseradish over it. Put the asparagus on the other half; gently pour a little balsamic vinegar over the asparagus stalks, but make sure it doesn't mingle with the fish.

Serve with white bread and a glass of dry, fresh white wine like a young Austrian Grüner Veltliner.

(If you don't have gravad lax, smoked salmon will do, although this has a less subtle taste. If you don't have balsamic vinegar, you can use other kinds of vinegar, but again this might taste too intense. Also avoid wines that are too fruity or too sweet.)
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MacCentral: iSync 1.1 adds support for Safari bookmarks. Yessss! Seems like somebody at Apple listened to my pleas. And I wrote only 3 emails.
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The discussion about cost-saving measures in European healthcare systems is getting more inhuman all the time: now German so-called "experts" are demanding that people over the age of 75 should no longer have the right to free life-extending medical procedures. They say it's just too expensive, and everybody over 75 should pay for medical care themselves. Just where the heck do they think they are -- the USA? The next thing they'll demand is free euthanasia for eveybody over 60, I suppose. And I always thought that Logan's Run was just a bad sci-fi flick from the 1970s -- nope, folks, it's right where we're heading. [via Der Schockwellenreiter < Hugo's House of Weblog Horror]
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So apparently Australia's spies knew the United States was lying about Iraq's WMD programme. The US is at the moment trying to determine whether it was lying about Iraq's WMD programme or not. And Tony Blair is torn between the realisation that his spies were 100% correct and at the same time making things up. Things could get tough for him now, though. In the meantime, most people couldn't care less if anyone was lying. On to the next war against the evildoers!
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Images of England, working in partnership with over 1,500 volunteer photographers, is building a digital library of photographs of England's 370,000 Listed Buildings. Text and images will be added to this site regularly during the project and many thousands are there for you to view now. [Peter Scott's Library Blog]
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Some kind of technical problem with my cable ISP had me disconnected on both phone and Internet for almost 24 hours. Now while I have no problem choosing not to go online, being disconnected when I want to go online is a major nuisance.

Besides, there were several things I wanted to blog about, and now I seem to have forgotten all of them. I'm getting old.
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Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Like pretty much everybody else in Austria, this blog is on strike today (see also here; information in German: [1] [2]).
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Monday, June 2, 2003

While I'm talking about food and things, the last two bottles I opened from my beer shipment were a bottle of Gueuze Mort Subite ("sudden death"), whose taste I was already familiar with and which is perfectly refreshing on a hot day (and which, thankfully, doesn't live up to its name) and Liefmans Goudenband, quite a potent brew which I had expected to be a bit on the sour side like Rodenbach, but which turned out to be much closer to some Trappist brews like Chimay Bleu, but on a fresher, less malty note. Excellent stuff.
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The Austrian Chamber of Employees (a consumer and employees' rights protection agency) tested a number of schnitzel and kebab stands in Vienna and found, pretty much to everybody's surprise, that the kebabs were of better quality than the schnitzels. 1 in 4 schnitzels, but only 1 in 18 kebabs were made with meat that had obviously gone past its expiry date. So much for traditional Austrian food. At least none of the specimen contained any dangerous bacteria such as salmonella or enterococci.
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Blockheide

Took a trip to the Blockheide near Gmünd in northern Lower Austria yesterday. "Blockheide" means something like "field of stones"; in fact it's a nature preserve with lots of impressive granite rocks in weird shapes as formed by the glaciers of the last ice age and centuries of bad weather. More photos here...
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Heh
Today, Dave Winer takes a swing at warblogging, which he calls "an exercise in futility": "what did they [the warbloggers] actually do other than act self-important? They got no stories, no new data [...]." [Scripting News]

There are days when I like the man.
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In one of the many conflicts between the US and the EU, Jeremy Rifkind writes in The Guardian about how Bush's evangelising about food chills European hearts: "In case you thought that the Bush administration's rift with its European allies ended with the Iraqi military campaign, think again. The White House has now set its sights on something far more personal - the question of what kind of food Europeans should put on their table. [...] [However,] Bush's misguided plan to force Europeans to accept GM food is likely to backfire. Indeed, it may well turn out to be the straw that breaks the camel's back for European-US relations. The battle over GM food is uniting the European public and giving people a new sense of their common European identity, while distancing them even further from their old ally across the Atlantic." Here's more. [via Der Schockwellenreiter]
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BollyWHAT? is a web site that wants to make "Bollywood movies accessible to fans everywhere and anywho". Find out all about Indian actors, actresses and blockbusters, why lovers barely ever kiss on screen, and why actors keep wagging their thumbs. [via ORF]
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