25 May 2007

Dancing to BBC World

It's been an intensively social week back in Budapest, so much so that I am in some ways looking forward to travelling to the alcohol-free environment of Qatar tomorrow. In keeping with Nomadicity's strict policy of protecting the guilty through the use of nicknames, each of the numerous people I have been sharing thoughts, space and beer with over the past few days has been assigned a nickname, using Nomadicity's unique nickname generating methodology. In order to keep real world identities secure, and to prevent readers of Nomadicity from illegally profiting from information that might be used for inside trading purposes, this methodology employs a unique and powerful randomisation engine. How this works in practice is that after a random number of beers, I randomly ask someone who happens to be sitting nearby to randomly suggest nicknames for themselves and the others at the table. In this case, I was sitting at Bar Ellato -- my favourite in Budapest -- with a friend who designated himself "Akido Monkey" and then unhesitatingly declared the others to be named C3PO, Jaba the Hut, Han Solo and Adri. (Actually, he wanted Adri to be named R2D2, but C3PO insisted she already had the nickname "Adri", so why mess with it?). You might think from this response that Akido Monkey is some sort of nerdy Star Wars freak, but in fact, it's simply that he is a Scotsman with a somewhat limited imagination, and he was probably remembering those names from the commemorative glass he picked up at a Glasgow McDonalds 3 years ago that has since become a treasured possession. He undoubtedly used that glass earlier that day to serve himself a bracing belt of 18-year-old Glengoyne, inadvertently imprinting those names into his short term memory in the process, and they popped out of his consciousness again when prompted by me for suggestions.

C3Po is the latest in a series of petite women who have decided to take on the not insignificant challenge of being Akido Monkey's girlfriend. In exchange, Akido Monkey teaches her Akido self-defence techniques and English. Adri is C3PO's best friend, and both of them are prime examples of why Akido Monkey and Jaba the Hut decided to move to Budapest. That night in Ellato I asked a group of male expatriates "Why Hungary"? The instantaneous consensus response was "the women." Nobody seemed to think the food was particularly good, although "climate" came in a distant second. Apparently, I am the only foreigner in Hungary who would like to move there because of the national internet domain name, ".hu", which -- as far as I am aware -- is the only country domain that sounds like a sneeze when you say it, and thereby prompting others to say "bless you" every time you finish pronouncing your email address.

9 out of 10 expatriates polled believe "Hungarian women" are the best reason to live in Hungary (the 10th has since been demostrated to be clinically brain-dead and very possibly gay as well). Nomadicity plans to explore this issue further through a series of in-depth research projects.

All this fun was having a profoundly negative impact on my productivity. Sunday I spent mostly recovering from Saturday. Monday I managed to get a bit of work done, but Monday night found me back at Ellato, and Tuesday was another lost cause. Wednesday I managed to get a bit done, and then went to an excercise class led by a former ballet instructor named Zsolt, a powerful but compact trainer with almost no body fat and even less body hair (or head hair, for that matter). After the class, I was feeling pretty good (despite Zsolt's comment to me during the class that "I think you do not dance, no? Am I right?") and feeling optimistic that I could finally catch up on some of my work the next day. Then Akido Monkey suggested we go to Ellato "just for one drink."

I don't recall every detail of the next 9 hours, but the evening ended with four of us back in Akido Monkey's flat, polishing off his supply of Russian vodka and Scotch whiskey, and dancing on the hardwood floor as the sky was growing light. Actually, I'm not sure if C3PO agreed that what I was doing could properly be called "dancing", as she noted with some amusement that I have "completely no rhythm," and "I think you do not dance, no?" Gypsy-blooded girls like C3PO go through life in time with a powerful internal beat that carries on even when the music stops playing. She had proved this a couple days earlier when she and Akido Monkey demonstrated their ability to dance to a BBC World news cast.

Fortunately for me, Akido Monkey made the spontaneous decision to depart for Croatia early the next morning (in other words, about an hour after we finally went to sleep) with JtH and Han Solo. I didn't get out of bed until about 14:00, and spent the rest of the day nursing a terrible hangover. I went to bed early and this morning was up at 5:00 and have since spent 12 highly productive hours finishing off the Mexico project and a few other loose ends. Or maybe they were simply "productive," rather than "highly productive." It was a welcome distraction from my work when Adri and C3PO joined me for a final drink in Budapest earlier this evening, but Akido Monkey -- being a rather clever monkey -- discovered how he could be almost as disruptive remotely as he could in Budapest by finding an internet café in Split and -- not having anything better to do -- spending a few hours drinking expresso and sending me annoying messages via Skype. I do have to credit him for the fact that I now know how to make "mooning," "puking," "swearing," "middle finger salute," and other socially dodgy emoticons on Skype thanks to this interchange, a skill I will of course rush to add to my CV and make a point of highlighting during my next job interview. All concerned also agree that Wednesday night's drunken fiasco was entirely Akido Monkey's fault. Tomorrow I'm off to Doha, in Qatar, for a new project and possibly a new life.

As I suspected would eventually happen when I made the decision to start this blog without having sorted out my own nickname, I am pleased to announce that inspiration has struck, and that I will henceforth being signing off under the moniker "BlognDog." I have no explanation to offer for this choice, but am thoroughly pleased with it for a number of linguistic, cultural and personal reasons, including the fact that I think it has a nice rhythm to it when articulated. Not that I'm any sort of expert on such things.

25 May 2007

19 May 2007


Back in Budapest after a gruelling 24 hour journey from Mexico City. I had hoped to hold on to the spirit of Mexico for at least a few days longer through the special power of a bottle of premium añejo tequila, but thanks to global paranoid security culture, Lufthansa would not let me connect with it as cabin baggage in Frankfurt, and there was not sufficient time to check it. I do, however, have to thank the Lufthansa check-in staffer, who tried everything he could think of to try to find a way to let me bring it along, but in the end, his hands were tied by the security fascists, and I was forced to abandon my precious bottles at the check point.

Connecting through FRA does have its compensations, however. Generally, I do not like Germans or the German language, but I do have to admit to taking an inordinate amount of pleasure from saying the word "anschlußflug," a word which -- despite being German -- seems to roll off the tongue in the most satisfying way imaginable. I make a point of saying it several times whenever I connect through FRA, and this time was no exception.

But there were some more meaningful events in the world yesterday. Last winter, I had the pleasure of summitting Ben Nevis with some other London Business School alumni and students. For me it was short but pleasant escape from the work I was doing in Jordan at the time. For them, it was the first step in their 15 months of preparation for climbing Mt. Everest. Last I heard from them was a few weeks ago, when I received an email announcing their imminent departure for Nepal, and for no particular reason I was yesterday seized with the spontaneous urge to have a peek at their website. To my surprise and pleasure, I learned that two team members -- South African Greg Maud and Egyptian Omar Samra -- had successfully summitted just that morning. This was a first not only for London Business School, but Omar has now become the first Egyptian to reach the highest spot on the globe, so Nomadicity joins LBS and Egypt in wishing him a special "!مبروك" (congratulations!) on his effort.

18 May 2007

Adíos a Mexico

A quick update from the airport -- leaving Mexico and Budapest-bound once again. I'm not in the least bit eager to say "adíos" to Mexico, but I've delivered my deliverables to my client, packed up, checked out, gotten into a taxi, checked-in, passed through security and immigration, done my mandatory duty free shopping, found my gate, a bar, a power point, and a wireless internet connection. God willing, I'll be in Budapest after spending only most of a day strapped into a cramped seat in a tiny metal tube hurtling through the stratosphere at Mach 0,8. I'll blog you when I get there.

15 May 2007

Final Weekend in Mexico

Life flashes by -- although I still feel as if I just arrived here in Mexico, soon it will be time to pack up the metaphorical camels and wander off into the proverbial desert on the figurative saddle. This past weekend was my last weekend here, and although a part of me was tempted to spend it lounging poolside and drinking Pacifica Lager, I decided to make the most of it, hence my sore feet, aching legs and sunburned face. Saturday I headed up the Avenida de la Reforma to the Bosque de Chapultepec. Every decent city has such a park -- London has its Hyde Park, New York has its Central Park, Warsaw has Łażienki, and Berlin the Tiergarten -- and any city that doesn't isn't livable as far as I am concerned. That's one of the things I hated about my 3 1/2 years in Amman -- not a single decent park there.

Trying to compare parks is an apples and oranges thing, so I won't venture to rate Chapultepec against its peers, but I found it to be one of the best large urban parks anywhere, with a good mix of formally landscaped areas and more natural zones, monumental monuments and intimate corners. The other thing this particular park has is a large number of world-class museums. I only attempted to "do" two of them - the Museo Nacional Historia and the Museo Nacional Antropologia. The Museo Historia is housed in the Castillo Chapultepec, which is a former grand residence perched on bluff in the centre of the park, with a view straight down the Avenida de la Reforma. Formerly it has been the residence of the Presidents and Emperors of Mexico, as well as a military academy. It is a beautiful building, inside and out, and the exhibits describing Mexico's history from the Empire of the Mexica to the Spanish Conquest, the fight for independence, the wars with France and the United States, and the revolution of Villa and Zapata were really well done. I must admit that the swelling of outrage you cannot help but experience on reading the exhibits on the Texan and American aggression against Mexico, and the fabricated charges that were used to start the war (echoes of which were heard in subsequent conflicts initiated by the U.S.A. - the trumped up nonsense used to justify the coup d'etat carried out by the U.S. Marines that deposed Queen Lilioukalani of Hawaii, the cries of "Remember the Maine!" -- the falsified terror attack used to justify the Spanish-American War -- the war with Colombia started in order to sieze the Panama Canal Zone, the Tonkin Gulf incident, the "rescue" of medical students in Grenada, and most recently, Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction) is in part responsible for the recent strain of anti-Americanism on Nomadicity. More than the exhibits, though, I enjoyed simply wandering around the public and private rooms of the residence, and particularly the gardens and terraces. At one point I found myself on a huge terrace, surrounded by gardens and with a spectacular view of all of Mexico City in front of me, and despite the fact that it was mid-morning on a Saturday in city with more inhabitants than Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland combined, I had the entire place to myself, except for a few song-birds.

A corridor in the Castillo

A view of the gardens

After four hours of this, an ordinary correspondent would have called it a day, but I still had yet to see the Museo de Antropologia, which had been highly recommended to me as an don't-miss destination by several sources. As it turns out, they did not exaggerate. If you like Pre-Columbian New World history like I do, this museum is more fun than a drunken, under-aged congressional page and tube of K-Y is for a Republican Senator. I spent another four hours here, wandering through the Olmec, Toltec, Maya, Mexica, and other exhibits, and still managed to see only around 40% of the place. But one of my favourite things about the place was not an exhibit at all, but rather the unique fountain in the courtyard, which features water cascading from a ring shaped aperature in the roof around a central bronze column covered in Aztec reliefs.

Yesterday, Sunday, didn't begin auspiciously. My colleagues and I had agreed to meet early and to make the trek together by metro and bus to Teotihuacan, the site of Mexico's famous Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. The day started a bit bizarrely, as I headed to the small church down the street from our hotel for mass. I had been there the week before, but didn't notice the plaque on the wall -- written in Spanish and Hungarian -- noting the Hungarian embassy's assistance in restoring the stained glass windows with the images of Hungarian saints. It was really bizarre -- there was St. Stephen and a host of other Hungarian saints, along with the Hungarian shield with its double cross.

After mass, as I was getting a bit sick of our second rate hotel breakfast, I decided to head for a nearby restaurant. Hurrying back to meet my colleagues after breakfast, I stepped on an iron access plate in the pavement and had it give way under my foot. I was hurled forward, my fall broken by my hands, knees, and my head striking a metal pole. It took a few minutes to regain my feet and my dignity, and on inspecting the damage found I had lost skin on both knees and both hands, and had a lump on my head. Only later did it start to sink how much worse it could have been -- a multiple fracture or knocked out teeth would not have been difficult to manage, but aside from the sensation that I've recently been beaten up, I'm mostly OK.

Certainly OK enough to get myself out to the pyramids and climb several of them, including the Pyramid of the Sun.

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan

Another view of the Pyramid

The Pyramid of the Sun as seen from the Pyramid of the Moon

Stairway to Heaven?

As you can imagine, the place was brimming with the usual assortment of annoying tourists and obnoxious souvenir vendors. It's this part of the experience of such places that makes me hesitate to visit them, but I find it difficult to avoid feeling compelled to see certain places. You delude yourself by convincing yourself that by going you rid yourself of the compulsion, but if you have (as I have) visited Copán and Petra and Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall and the Kremlin and Mahabalipuram and Samarkand and the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, you still have the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids and the Acropolis and Ankgor Wat and Mt. Rushmore nagging at your conscience. I have no answers, no solutions, no insights; only sympathy for those who share my affliction -- so I raise my tequila glass to the weary, the shorts-clad, the camera-toting, souvenir-buying masses, and pray to the gods of Kyoto, Kandy, Cairo, and Canterbury; of the Blue Mosque, Borobdopur, and Beijing; and of Palmyra, Persepolis and Isfashan, to bring soothing relief to their blistered feet, to spare them the tedium of indifferent tour guides, the humiliation of abusive taxi drivers and the frustration of garbled translations, filthy toilets and over-priced snack bars, and the sincerest wishes that their treks bring them some small measure of the transcendental experience they imagined and aspired to during the guide-book inspired travel planning reveries that proceeded their visit. Cheers and Amen.

Mexico City
17 May 2007

14 May 2007

The View from Jamestowne

The big news from the Fourth Reich this past week has been the 400th anniversary of the Jamestowne settlement, which as I noted in my last entry was the first successful English colony in the Americas. Elizabeth II herself was in the U.S.A. this past week to help with festivities, and as a result, Bush had to go and get a crash course on how to behave in civilised society.

As might be expected, Bush used the occasion of his recent visit to Jamestowne to talk about how the 400th anniversary celebrations represent a chance to "honour the beginnings of our democracy" and "to renew our commitment to help others around the world realise the great blessings of liberty." (Reuters News via Yahoo!)

As I noted in my last entry, the English settlement at Jamestowne, and the subsequent establishment of the Commonwealth of Virginia are anything but examples of liberty and democracy. On the contrary, they represent the worst of America, and are the prototype of the dark side of the moral dichotomy that Anglo-America has been from the start. Jamestowne and Virginia owe their survival and subsequent prosperity to the cultivation of a highly addictive weed, nicotiania, and this cultivation in turn could not have succeeded without the institution of slavery. The English settlers initially relied primarily on white indentured servants from Britain to provide labour to the colony, although the first black slaves, imported from Portuguese Angola, arrived not long after the colony was founded. The reason for the preference was simple -- whites were cheaper. Over the course of the 17th century, as increased slaving brought prices down, the economic dynamics changed, and from the middle of the century, Virginia's aristocracy began favouring imported black labour, and set about changing the colony's legal framework to suit their greed. In 1662 an unprecedented law was passed -- from then on, all children born to slave women were to be considered slaves. Slavery had previously existed in Europe, Asia and Africa for millenia -- Persia, Rome, Turkey and other empires had previously supported their economies by using the labour of captives, POWs and others, but never had any society made the condition of slavery hereditary. In 1667, laws which made it illegal to keep Christians as slaves were abolished in Virginia and in 1669, it was made legal for a slave owner to kill a slave as his personal property. Again, there been numerous other slave owning societies, but rarely were masters given the legal right to kill a slave, nor was it ever previously common for economic status to be explicitly and legally associated with skin colour. It has been often noted that the "democratic" Greeks owned slaves, but there was no ethnic difference between patrician, plebeian and slave in Greek society.

By the end of the century, black persons in Virginia were presumed to be slaves, and freed slaves were obliged to leave the Commonwealth. Even in other slave-labour dependent European colonies -- Spanish Cuba, French Guadeloupe, Dutch Suriname and British Antigua -- manumission was common and free blacks were an accepted part of society. Not so in proto-Fascist Virginia. According to the historian Edmund Morgan (author of American Slavery, American Freedom) Virginia whites began actively promoting racist ideology as a means to dividing black slave labourers from the white rural proletariat (otherwise known as "white trash"), which might have otherwise been natural allies in class struggle.

A century later, the whole racist house of cards was threatened by developments in England. On 22 June 1772, the Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, ruling at the court at Westminster Hall, rendered judgement in a case involving a slave, James Somerset, who had been bought by one Charles Stewart in Virginia in 1749, and had subsequently followed in his service to Massachusetts, and then to London in 1769. Somerset, knowing that Stewart's visit in London was to be temporary, took the opportunity to escape, and in September 1771, disappeared from his master's service. Somerset was recaptured by slave catchers and placed in chains on a ship-- the Ann and Mary -- bound for the Caribbean and a life of labour in the cane fields. However, a witness to the seizure managed to secure a writ of habeus corpus, and the subsequent civil case revolved around whether or not a person could legally be considered property in the "free air" of England. Fortunately for Somerset, Mansfield's judgement was that "the exercise of the power of a master over his slave must be supported by the Laws of particular Countries; but no foreigner can in England claim such a right over a man." The consequence of this ruling was that regardless of his or her legal status in their master's home country, any slave was thenceforth considered to be legally free the instant they set foot on English soil.

Subsequently, opponents of slavery in Britain's American colonies sought to have the ruling applied to British America -- as well as England -- and the racist-capitalists of Georgia, the Carolinas, and above all, Virginia, knew that if they were successful, the party was over for them. Therefore, a handful of them, led by slave owners such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, Arthur Middleton and John Rutledge, joined with northern abolitionists John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and others in revolting against British rule, under the strict understanding with their northern compatriots that their rights as slave-owners were to be preserved under the new, independent government. Without the support of the Virginians, the enterprise was doomed to failure, and the country founded on this compromise was ever since fundamentally flawed.

This pact with devil is the source of the contradictions in American society that continue to today. The first manifestation of this fissure was the American Civil War, which resulted in the deaths of millions and legal eradication of slavery. During the subsequent Reconstruction period, when the southern United States was under military occupation, the southerners found more subtle ways to continue their racist domination, most notably through the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. To this day, a number of southern American states officially fly the flag of the Confederacy, the moral equivalent of, for example, allowing Bavaria to continue to use the Nazi swastika flag as a state symbol. Despite losing the war, the Virginians have managed to cling to their privileges; until recently forcing blacks into legal second class status through segregation. The Norfolk and Western Rail yard near Alexandria, in northern Virginia, was the spot where for decades Negroes travelling by rail from north to south had to move from integrated to segregated carriages. The The Civil Rights Movement has been no more successful than the Civil War in shaking the white trash grip on power and society. Recently, a Virginia candidate for the United States Senate only narrowly lost an election despite being caught on videotape using a blatantly racist slur to refer to a dark-skinned American of South Asian ethnicity. To the millions of Virginians who voted for him anyway, there was nothing wrong with this, as this sort of knee-jerk racism is what passes for thinking with this crowd. When John Ashcroft needed a bunch of racist, red-neck, inbred, sibling-fucking, xenophobic, white-trash crackers to serve as a jury in his show trial of the "American Taliban," John Walker Lindh (a trial he could have staged in any state in the U.S.A. as he claimed universal jurisdiction), he unhesitatingly chose Virginia as the most dependably racist jury pool, one that undoubtedly would have found Lindh's choice of religion reason enough to send him to prison. And of course, most recently, this warped and corrupt society produced Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman who carried out the Virginia Tech massacre. Despite the fact that Virginia Tech is nestled in the most violent, racist, red-neck corner of this violent, racist, red-neck state, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh lost no time in declaring the source of the problem to be "liberalism."

So ramble on all you want from the podium in Jamestowne, George, about liberty, democracy and all that, but the fact is that the Jamestowne colony and its legacy, the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a society based on violence, racism and exploitation, and is the first economy to be based on narco-terrorism. It is the origin of the problem America has faced throughout its history. The United States was meant to be a product of the Age of the Enlightenment, a liberal, egalitarian democracy founded on the principles of reason and intellect, and freed from the burdens of race, class and birth. Instead, it has been repeatedly co-opted by proponents of some of the lowest and most despicable social theories ever to be inflicted upon humanity. The proponents of this philosophy have been been repeatedly crushed -- legally, morally and militarily -- in the American Civil War, in World War II, and in the Civil Rights movement, yet they still keep coming back like a bad case of acne, most recently in the form of "Neo-Cons" and "Red States". Final victory will no doubt one day be achieved, but no doubt the battle will make even the mass carnage of the Civil War and the Second World War look relatively modest in comparison.

Mexico City
13 May 2007

13 May 2007

Try, Try Again

I'm interrupting what has so far been an absolutely flawless weekend day here in Mexico City to have another go at wireless posting. Some of you may have seen the embarassingly unsuccessful first attempt I made earlier, using MMS, although I only allowed the results to remain on Nomadicity for a few hours. Despite the obvious problems, I did gain some valuable insights into the process, although these do not include how to post images wirelessly.

I also noted with some chagrin that in fact there are some Jaiku-nauts who have figured out how to post image Jaikus (yes, none of them have started shaving yet).

Irregardless, I have not today been blessed with the ambition to try to figure this out right now. After a very pleasant morning of exploring the positively exquisite Bosque de Chapultepec (Mexico's answer to London's Hyde Park or New York's Central) and several of it's numerous incredible museums, I am now waiting out a pleasant afternoon downpour in a very comfy chair in the bar at the Four Seasons. After depressing myself by reading what passes what passes for a newspaper in Florida's Guisano community (the Miami Herald), I kind of naturally thought to try again with wireless posting, this time using an email client. So once again - if you are reading this, it means I've been successful.

The news from and about the U.S.A. (as related by the Mexican edition of the Miami Herald) is depressingly moronic as always. The front page is depressing for what isn't there - still no impeachment and indictment of Bush or Cheney, no discussion of the cult of violence that led to the Virginia Tech massacre, no bold initiatives to tackle carbon emissions, no acknowledgent or recognition that the plagues of poverty, waste, fast food, urban sprawl, Christian fundamentalism, homelessness, racism, income disparity, and Windows Vista might all be rooted in single core problem - free markets. On page two, there is an article about how some communities in Texas are opposing innoculating girls with a safe and effective vaccine against a sexually-transmitted virus because of fears that it will "encourage them to be sexually active." On page 3, Cheney the draft-dodging apartheid supporter is on board a carrier in the PERSIAN Gulf, waving his big stick threatingly at Iran, declaring "we'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region." Dick didn't mention that most of us are far more concerned with American dominance, and American nuclear weapons. Hint, Dick, there is only one country in history that has demonstrated itself untrustworthy in this respect by using it's nuclear arsenal to carry out mass slaughter of civilians, and it's not Iran.

Page 4 has a editorial diatribe by a certain Leonard Pitts, Jr., who rejoices in the recent sentencing of Paris Hilton to 45 days in jail for being "pulled over three times for driving on a suspended licence while on probation for drunken driving." Pitts thinks this is "poetic justice" because he thinks Hilton has for too long set a bad example for "the kids who admire her" by demonstrating indifference to "the rules that govern life here on Planet Earth." He goes on to muse gleefully on the mental image of Hilton in "an orange jumpsuit." Never once in his ramblings on the topic does he venture to make the painfully obvious logical leap (or more properly, "logical baby step") to the lack of consequences for George Bush, who started his career as a member of the privileged class (and whose vacuousness far surpasses that of Hilton) with getting let off for a drink-driving charge, and then went on to dodge the draft, steal two elections, lie to Congress, defy the security council, start an illegal war, and kidnap and torture thousands, and he is still yet to see the orange prison jumpsuit he deserves. I agree Hilton hasn't been a model member of society, but when you are a columnist and you have a choice between writing about the unpunished trangressions of serial commissioner of moving violations, and those of the biggest war criminal of the 21st century, focussing on Hilton doesn't suggest a good sense of priorities.

Moving on to page 5, an article on the 400th anniversery of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia (the first permanent English colony in the Americas) makes no mention of the fact that Virginia suceeded where the others failed because the twin economic pillars of race-based slavery and tobacco, which not only got the colony going, but 200 years later led the colony's elite (led by Washington, Jefferson and Mason) to revolt against a British Crown when it threatened to bring an end to the institution of slavery. Today the racist aristocracy of this state continues to rely on racial oppression, tobacco addiction and massive transfers of funds in the form of "defence" spending at the Pentagon, C.I.A. and Hampton Roads in order to keep their corrupt lifestyles afloat.

On page 6 is a story about continuing U.S. efforts to prevent Guantanamo detainees from getting a fair trial, and page 7 summarises the latest buffoonery of U.S. clients Olmert and Musharraf, as well as an accounting of US violations of the Nuclear NPT.

To Bush's undoubted relief, page 8 was dedicated to Mother's Day gift ideas (too late to give Barbara an abortion gift certificate?). On 9, Garry Trudeau once again gave thanks to the Bush administration for making life so easy for political humourists.

Page 10 was dedicated to "Home Stuff," but in the Opinion section on page 11, some moron by the name of James Pinkerton turned a blind eye to the poverty and despair of America, the the misery of slums of Rio de Janiero, the repression of Hong Kong and Singapore, and the skyrocketing rates of poverty in Russia since 1991 (as well as the mirror-image success stories in Socialist countries like Sweden, Viet Nam, Cuba, Botswana, Venezuela and elsewhere) to wax poetic about how Sarkhozy's election victory was an indication that the entire world now regarded Socialism as a big mistake and realised, with the benefit of hindsight, how much better off we all would have been if we had simply kept the Bourbon monarchs and Marie Antoinette in power in the first place. This is what passes for reasoning with these morons.

Also in the page 11 opinion section was this little update on the Millenium Development Goals by Jeffrey Sachs titled "The Poor Need Aid, not Lectures." Although Sachs, as a Harvard Business School professor and a long-time cheerleader for free-markets, might be expected to be a promoter of the Bush administration (which wraps itself in free-market ideology), this opinion piece was a litany of failed promises, unmet obligations and disappointments in the years since the Millenium Development Goals were established and committed to by the G-8 in 2000. Unsurprisingly, the biggest single dead-beat is Bush's America, which not only has completely failed to meet it's committments to contribute the 1% of GDP that economists almost universally agree is required address the massive economic imbalances that plague most of the world, but is now slipping even from the pathetic 0,1% level it managed under the Clinton Administration. On top of this, it appears the Bush Administration is engaging in an incredibly cynical (even for this bunch) attempt to obfuscate its failings by using misleading accounting (guess those ex-Enron guys have to work somewhere) and cooked numbers. Jeffrey seems honestly surprised to learn that the greedy capitalists who infest the White House aren't willing to meet the committments they themselves made, even though it's a well-known fact that the costs are minimal and the benefits are enormous. Why? Because the costs will hit a handful of Wall Street slimeballs who contributed heavily to Bush's last "election" campaign, and the benefits will fall mostly on some African families; although they number close to a billion, none of them helped Bush steal his last election.

Finally, page 12 contains an account of yet another failed American Conservative policy, the "War on Drugs". Thanks to Conservatives, it's become nearly impossible to get a job In the U.S.A without submitting to a urine test. As a result, millions of Americans have become desparate to find ways to defeat these tests, giving rise to an internet-driven myth that massive doses of Niacin will purge the system of drug traces. Instead, they are ending up in emergency rooms suffering from "heart palpitations, vomiting, blood sugar analomies and liver failure."

That's the news from what the Grouper has aptly named "The Fourth Reich," and that's my rant for the day. This was supposed to be just a technical test, but there you go - once I get started there's just no stopping. Makes me wonder if anyone has ever composed an entire novel using a telephone key pad.

Mexico City
12 May 2007

12 May 2007

An Update from Washington

Last week Nomadicity brought you some brief information relayed to us by our Washington correspondent, OD, about the tragic fire at Washington's historic Eastern Market. Since then, we've received OD's own words on the event, reflecting the deep sense of personal loss she and the other long-time vendors felt upon hearing the news. She also tried to send a few images, but unfortunately OD is one of the few living internet users whose technical skills are below even those of my own. So instead, I give you a selection of images available from public sources. OD's words on the event follow.

Dearest friends, I send this with the heaviest heart:I'm sure by now you have heard about the fire at Eastern market. I don't have much to say at this point because I really am in a state of shock, but I wanted to pass this along. Please, please tell everyone you know that the Market Lives and we will continue to vend there, every Saturday and Sunday. the North Hall, which is Market 5 Gallery, was completely untouched by some miracle, and a very heavy duty Fire wall between the two halls. They would not let me into the Gallery to check on my belongings which I keep right up against that fire wall, but I was told by staff that it was OK. The meeting I went to this morning with the Mayor indicated that the South Hall would take at least 18 months to rebuild. Some of the inside vendors had no insurance, so they have lost everything. It was also mentioned that some type of temporary shelter would be made so that the food vendors could continue to sell. also, 7th Street will be closed to traffic Saturday and sunday, to provide more space for more vendors to sell. And the 44th Annual Market Day will be held this Sunday May 6th. If you can, please try to come out and support us. I'm not sure about my space along the wall because they have erected a fence the entire parameter of the building. I'm hoping not to be moved, but I may be. Please say a prayer for those who lost everything and for the death of one of the best, most vibrant, interesting and last of it's kind markets. I could feel the pain from the building as I sat there last night, stunned, just watching it for over 4 hours.

So far, I haven't received any any specfic reports of Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrinch attempting to blame the fire on "liberalism," although I'm sure we can expect that soon. If you're confused by this, it's probably because you are not aware that in additional to their nearly limitless ignorance about society, religion, economics, etc., American Conservatives also have difficulties with basic English, incorrectly applying the term "liberalism" (which for you non-Political Science majors out there is a term that properly refers to a laissez-faire approach to economic management) when they mean to say "Socialism." American Conservatives hate Socialism, because they hate any anything that hints at fairness or justice.

Again, I do hope those of you who are able to make your way to Eastern Market this weekend and show your support, preferably by spending generously on the jewelry, paintings, clothing, handcrafts and other items they sell there. You'll help raise their spirits, and in the process, you'll get to take home some very cool shit from one or more of the artists and artisans that sell from this venerable venue.

Mexico City
11 May 2007

07 May 2007

¡Viva Mexico!

More technical failures on the mobile blogging front, but I'm figuring it out bit by bit, and hopefully at some point soon will have the entire process mastered sufficiently to produce a "G's guide to mobile blogging for the dim-witted, post-puberty set." But for now, I'm bored with the whole mechanics of blogging thing and having now had the weekend free from my project, I was able to do a bit of exploring in Mexico City, and I'd much rather write a few lines about that.

I did a bit of preparatory research on Mexico City before I came here, and the expectations created by my readings were mixed at best. (By "mixed" I mean that I was led to expect to alternate between being robbed by armed thugs and suffering from an attack of explosive diarrhœa every 10 minutes, whilst all the time choking on smog so thick you could spread it on toast for breakfast). Having now been here for over a week, I believe I can say with some authority that the city overall is under-rated, the dangers are wildly exaggerated, and as someone with no small amount of travel experience, I would put this place in my top ten urban destinations world-wide.

One of the main reasons I like Mexico City is that it has excellent transport infrastructure. Personally, I love good public transportation, and any place that lacks good transport is never going to score good marks in my book. The Mexico City metro is famous mostly for its size and the number of passengers (millions) it transports every day, but in my opinion it deserves recognition for other reasons as well. One of the many clever things they do is give every station a simple graphic identity, like this route description shows:

They've done this of course, because many of the system users are illiterate, but I found it useful just to commit to memory that I was to disembark, for example, at the station with bell logo, rather than trying to remember the name of the station. I certainly would have appreciated this approach if I my native language didn't use the roman alphabet, as I recall the challenges of travelling by train and bus in places like the Middle East and China, and trying to recognise the name of my destination when written in an unfamiliar script on a departure board.

But for all the media attention given the Metro system, I've heard little about the other elements of the transport infrastructure here. Electric trolley-buses running in dedicated lanes move people quickly around the city even during rush hour (without adding to the smog level), and the "Metro Bus" is a unique hybrid transportation approach I've never seen anywhere else, although my colleagues inform me they are also used in Bogotá and Buenos Aires, amongst other places. Metro Buses run through the city on dedicated lanes, which allows them to cruise through rush hour traffic, but the really cool thing about them is the way you pay your fare and board.

The buses stop at metro-style elevated platforms located in the median in the middle of the street, rather than at traditional bus stops on the side. Doors in the bus align with doors in the platform, so you just step directly on board.

Even better is the fact that you pay your fare in order to access the platform by passing through a turnstile. So when the bus arrives, there is no delays while the driver sells tickets, etc. And because each bus has four wide doors, boarding and disembarking are completed in seconds. These are big buses, and during rush hour they are completely jammed, despite the fact that they run only about 60 - 90 seconds apart.

Finally, I was pleased to see that Mexico has what every livable city has to have -- a network of dedicated bicyle lanes.

Seeing the simple but creative things cities have done to reduce automobile usage (and hence polloution and CO2 emissions), it makes me particularly angry to hear Bush rambling on about how America can't do anything about carbon emissions until we develop some new technologies. A few million invested in dedicated bus and bicycle lanes in the USA (which has very few of them) would probably be all it would take for the USA to meet it's Kyoto obligations.

Of course I had to do the obligatory tourist stuff -- the Cathedral, the Plaza de la Constitucíon, etc., and I wouldn't suggest you pass these things up. But those weren't the things I enjoyed the most. At the suggestion of the Grouper, whom I awoke at 2 a.m. in Kawasaki by ringing him for directions, I decided to seek out the Cantina Guadalupana, a very old and very famous Mexican restaurant. I tried without success to locate it using the directions the Grouper gave me based on his memory of his time there nearly 2 decades ago, but finally resorted to walking into a 5-star hotel and asking the concierge. As I suspected, the Grouper's recollection was a bit fogged, in part no doubt because of his massive daily intake of tequila at the time he was a frequent patron, compounded by an apparently severe case of love-sickness involving a Volkswagen-beetle driving Mexican girl named Rebecca. Rather than being near the Cathedral in the Centro Historico as the Grouper recollected, it was many kilometers to the south, on another colonial era square, behind another colonial era church, in absolutely beautiful neighbourhood called Coyoacán, where I've since learned Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leo Trotsky once made their homes. It was quite an effort to get there -- about an hour on the metro, 2 line changes, and about 15 stations -- then a walk through a beautiful park called Viveros, then some residential streets with graceful 17th, 18th and 19th century homes and beautiful landscaping, then a commercial area with trendy restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and boutiques, then finally an exquisite colonial square with a baroque church, and behind the church, the Cantina Guadalupana, looking every bit as old and authentic as lettering on the façade that claimed it had been in business "desde 1932".

Even the Grouper's love and tequila-addled brain remembered the classic swinging saloon doors you passed through to enter, and inside was an interior every bit as authentic and original as the façade. I'm also happy to say the food lived up to the rather high expectations created by this atmosphere heavy with character and authenticity, and I re-emerged a couple of hours later refreshed and revived after my long trek from the centre. I wandered around the area a bit more, and found more tree-shaded streets lined with more cafés, restaurants and boutiques populated, naturally with the same painfully hip people who inhabit all such neighbourhoods world-wide.

I found myself involuntarily quoting the immortal words of a friend I shall refer to as "Wally Joe": -- "I could live here."

Finally, I have to thank the anonymous poster on Virtual Tourist who woefully related her own Mexico experience, brushing her teeth with tap water her first day in town and as a result being stricken with a particularly virulent bout of Moctezuma's revenge that lasted the remainder of her two week trip. Her post reminded me to be extra careful with the water here; I have't let a drop of it pass my lips and I'm pleased to report that after 10 days here, I have yet to have the slightest problems with my digestive system. Salads and street food I have decided to risk, and despite other warnings I've been liberally partaking of chilis in every form -- so far with no adverse consequences.

Mexico City
9 May 2007

04 May 2007

Disappointments Large and Small

The photo below represents my first -- but failed -- attempt to use Jaiku for wirelessly blogging a quick text and photo update. This is exactly the kind of situation I imagined these sites would be good for -- I was transiting through Frankfort (FRA) on my way from Budapest to Mexico City, and so wanted first of all just to let a few people know I was re-locating to a different time zone. But rather than just send a simple update, it's cool to be able to grab an image like this out the stream of stimuli you're inundated with every day and share it with a few people.

The shot is in the tunnel between terminals 1A and 1B. I tried to send it directly to the Jaiku site by MMS moments after snapping it on tuesday morning, but have since found that you can only send text to that number. The site does at least imply that it's possible to send "blogs, photos, bookmarks, music, places, events, videos and RSS feeds" to Jaikus, but doesn't really give you much details on how to do so. Irregardless of which option you click on (e.g. music or photos), it simply gives you a field where you can enter a URL to a web page with a content feed. I've got Nomadicity connected into mine, so a Jaiku gets generated every time I update the blog, but I don't see any way to actually get an image or other type of file to appear. And in this case, I don't think the clever 13-year-olds have figured it out either (which means it is truly impossible), as none of the public Jaikus visible on the site have anything but text or the standard graphics that Jaiku allows you to add.

One thing I do have to give Jaiku a gold star for, however, is its apparently flawless support for non-ASCII characters. I noted with pleasure that all the characters in the hungarian language titled post I added were displayed correctly on both the blogger and the Jaiku sites; developers who forget the world is a lot bigger than the 105 character ASCII set are a pet peeve of mine.

Trying to remain optimistic and maintain my trust in technology, I was excited to find that Blogger itself has a mobile posting option. As with most of sites these, the directions are rather thin (yes, I am one of those annoying people that actually likes to read the manual before attempting something), basically consisting of "just send your text and photos to go@blogger.com! That's it!" Unfortunately the actual experience was all too typical. I snapped the photo below and sent it off to the email address whilst wandering around Mexico City yesterday.

Supposedly, "Blogger" was supposed to message me back with some sort of code, which I then am supposed to enter in the web site and thereby link my mobile number to my blog. No message was received, so I searched around the site a bit more and -- no surprise -- I find buried in some long FAQ the precious little tit-bit of information that "[t]he initial launch of Blogger Mobile will work with your phone if you are a US customer of Verizon, AT&T, Cingular, Sprint, or T-Mobile". Oh well -- typical American site -- they just kind of forget to mention that for the 97% of the world that doesn't live in the USA, it doesn't work (and in fact the main page on the topic says "We support most popular mobile carriers in the US and worldwide"). Liars.

Well, all is not lost. Apparently, there is a way to post by email, and that I can do direct from the handset. I'll try that later. But before I finish with my U.S. website bashing, you may have read the comment I received from Derrick Oien at Rabble's parent company. Derrick corrected my observation that Rabble only works on the Brew platform by pointing out that it also works on a number of others, including "Blackberry and the Hiptop." So looks like they have all the platforms-that-Americans-have-gone-crazy-over-and-nobody-else-have-ever-heard-of covered. For my fellow non-residents of North America, Blackberry is a proprietary messaging platform offered by Research in Motion (RIM), a company based in Ottowa, Canada if I recall correctly. Although a few carriers in Europe, Asia and Africa offer the service, 99,9% of their customer base is in the USA and Canada. I've seen the devices, and like most non-Americans, my response to the whole "push" email thing pioneered by Blackberry has been lukewarm at best. Pero los norteamericanos estan locos para sus Blackberries. The "HipTop" is kind of cool device, designed by Steve Wozniak (the "other" Apple founder) but I've yet to see a single device of theirs for sale anywhere outside North America. No offence, Derrick, but you aren't going to reach any more than a niche audience if your application isn't available on the Symbian platform (which has 75%+ market share of smart phone operating systems) for at least the Nokia series 60 phones, and preferably for Sony Ericsson as well. It's not just the limitation of devices, but you are reaching an audience that is overwhelmingly concentrated in one place (North America), that sort of goes against the whole concept of any social networking tool, be it blogging, skyping, youtubing or whatever, which is all about connecting with others you wouldn't meet otherwise. Again, a pity, because, I've spent some more time on the Rabble site since my last post on the topic and I'm becoming convinced that they've got the most powerful micro-blogging tools, except maybe for Kyte.

But to keep my frustrations in perspective, I should mention that I received a rather distressed and excited voice mail in the middle of my last night in Budapest from the divinità nella potomac herself, the acolyte of Aurora and priestess of the cherry orchard, whom I shall refer to simply as OD. In her quest to make the world a more peaceful and beautiful place (or at least to make it smell a little better), OD has been selling her bath and beauty products to humans and Republicans alike from her spot at Washington's historic Eastern Market for over a decade now, and at some point Monday, the place caught fire and the south market hall was gutted. Fortunately, the 134 year old solid brick walls were not permanently damaged; more details in this article from the IHT. I finally caught up with OD by telephone from my taxi on my way into Mexico from the airport; she sounded as if she has just lost a child, or at least a beloved pet. I'm sure a lot of her fellow vendors feel the same way, but by now they're probably already planning how to bring it back better than ever. Have a look at the Eastern Market website, and if you find yourself in Washington, be sure to put the place on your itinerary (Eastern Market metro on the red line is your metro stop) and give the vendors there a little moral and financial support. It's a unique and wonderful place, a warm little bubble of soul and creativity in the otherwise mercenary and avaricious moral vacuum that is Washington's Capitol Hill.

Mexico City
4 May 2007

03 May 2007

Social Networking for Dummies (like me)

The tech press and the blogosphere are innundated with references to "social networking" sites like YouTube, MySpace and FaceBook, which to most of us over the age of 30 look at and ask "why?" That's an acceptable enough reason to avoid them for most people, but in my case, I'm a telecommunications marketing executive, so I'm supposed to be all over this stuff and felt it was time to catch up with my customers.

The genre is evolving, too, and merging and converging into mobile and other services. The latest stuff to emerge (by "emerge" in this context, I mean hit the mainstream press, so that even people as uncool as myself have heard about it, signalling the teen digeratti that it's time to move on to the next thing) is the new Google personal maps site, where I'm keeping a running update of my wanderings from here, beginning when I left my home in Stockholm on New Year's Eve 2007. Another is a new genre of social networking site, sometimes referred to as "micro-blogs." I read about them in the IHT (my favourite newspaper), in this article from 27 April. These sites allow you to post photos and texts directly to the site, much in the way people SMS or MMS their friends with moronic little messages about everyday experience, like "dinner at Habana Cafe - awesome tapas" or "dude - u were right - snorting wasabi is a really dumb idea - can't make it tonight", etc. The difference is with these sites, you can post text or photos directly from your mobile, and your friends (or perfect strangers) can choose to receive them, either on the web or on their phone.

What the IHT didn't explain too well is that most of these sites were designed by and for 13-year-olds, so the pages explaining how it works are a bit short on detail, with instructions like "download the client, log in with your user name, and start producing shows on the go!" These are all the instructions 13-year-olds need to master new technologies -- by the time the time they finish reading that sentence, they've already got their first video live on the net, and they didn't interrupt the PSP game they were playing simultaneously in order to do it. People like me on the other hand, are still trying to figure out the "download the client" part three weeks later.

In addition to the four reviewed by the IHT (Twitter, Kyte, Radar, and Jaiku), I also found another similar site, called Rabble, which claims to offer "super cool awesome stuff," but which I found to be the weakest of the five. I'm hoping to play around with a few of them and perhaps later post a more detailed review, but my initial impressions of these sites are as follows:

1) Twitter and Jaiku are the most similar to each other, basically allowing you to post text and photos by SMS and MMS. Twitter, by the way, is used by at least two candidates in the U.S. presidential election -- John Edwards and Barack Obama -- to keep their supporters informed about campaign events and developments. Twitter's big downside is that it only allows you to post text, not pictures.

2) Kyte seems the most flexible and powerful, with all kinds of features like "channels," "shows," and "lifestream shows," as well as a mobile client that appears to allow users to everything from either web or mobile, although I haven't tried it yet. There is a pretty good range of Nokia and SonyEricsson phones that support the mobile client. Postings in text, pictures, video and slide shows are all supported. Posted pictures and videos can be embedded in blogs, etc., similarly to embedding a YouTube video. But Kyte seems more of a YouTube competitor rather than a true "micro-blogging" tool, so I decided to pass it up.

3) Radar I liked -- it was simple and straightforward. You sign up, you get a dedicated email address, you send text, pictures or video by email or MMS to that email address, and it shows up on your site. The email subject becomes the picture title, and the body becomes the descriptive text. A big difference between Radar and the others is that there is no way to make Radar pictures publicly available -- you have to send an invitation to friends in order for them to view your posts. The other sites allow to choose to make your posts public or private. Other than that, I thought it was a simple, elegant service, although the picture sizes are a bit small.

4) Rabble I never seriously considered, since its mobile client is based on the Qualcomm Brew platform, meaning that's basically useless to all except a few thousand North Americans clinging stubbornly to their proprietary technology. It's a pity, because it seems like a well designed, flexible, feature-rich service -- sort of the power of Kyte with the elegance of Radar. Also cool was the real-time stream of posts showing up on the home page, which gave some hint of why Radar may have chosen to make all images private -- it seems that for many, "social networking" means "trying to get laid".

5) Overall, I liked Jaiku the best. First of all, it's based in Finland, not San Francisco like most of the others, which means that it doesn't have the U.S.-biased perspective most American companies do. It has a really simple way of adding posts, which can include all kinds of media, it has a good mobile client, and it has a bunch of cool functionalities. You can share things like your availability, based on your phone's active profile (e.g., in a meeting), share your location information based on the cell tower you are connected to, items from your calendar, etc. You can add new posts by simply SMSing to a regular number in your home country, and you can link it to RSS feeds, other websites, and -- of course -- your blog. So I've set Nomadicity up that way, so that blog updates generate a new "Jaiku". This icon shows when I'm on-line: My Jaiku presence
Some of this stuff is pretty cool. However, I still think it's not quite mature. What's needed is a Niklas Zennström to come along and integrate it all into a slick, user-friendly cohesive package like Skype. Jaiku comes close, but we're not quite there yet.

Mexico City
2 May 2007

Széchenyi Fürdő

Just ending a really great three week stay in Budapest, Hungary. Great except for the fact that I was ill most of the time. If you're not feeling well in Budapest, best thing to do is to head for the baths at Széchenyi Fürdő.

Can't say I've bothered to inform myself much about the history of the place or anything, but the architecture is incredible -- couldn't resist snapping a few shots.

I can't count how many different pools there are, indoors and outdoors -- ranging from 16° to 38°, steam rooms, saunas, mud treatments, massage rooms, etc. My favourite was to sit in the downstairs sauna until I couldn't stand it any more, plunge myself into the 16° pool, then back to the sauna, have a warm shower, then go change and have a beer. You feel weightless.

30 April 2007